Family Dinners and Teen Drinking

Growing up, being at the breakfast and dinner table together was mandatory. Even when my older sister had to be at high school at 7:00am, we would all have to be up and dressed for breakfast at 6:30am. And at dinner time, the television was off, and the phone was left unanswered. My parents clearly valued family time around the table. It was a rare and special occasion to watch a movie while eating around the table.

So for me growing up the table represented a place of security and stability. There could be turmoil and havoc during the rest of the day, but in that sacred time and place, I knew that I was loved and cared for and that we as a family would be okay.

I just found out that yesterday, September 27, was designated by all 50 states to be “Family Day – A Day to Eat Dinner with your Children.” In correlation with the tenth anniversary of Family Day, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse released new statistics on the importance of eating dinner together as a family (you can view the full report in .pdf format here). I myself have yet to read the full report.

Time Healthland summarized the results. The article states: “Teens who have infrequent family dinners — less than three per week — are more than twice as likely as teens who eat with their families at least five times each week to say they expect to try drugs in the future. Those same teens are twice as likely to have used tobacco and alcohol and 1.5 times as likely to have used marijuana.”

The study also asked students if eating together as a family was important to them – 72% said it was very or fairly important to them; however, only 60% of those students say they eat with their families at least five times a week.

Time Healthland reports, “The figures come from CASA’s annual teen survey, which this year interviewed 1,055 teenagers ages 12 to 17 and 456 parents of these teens via the Internet.”

While I am thrilled to see studies done on the importance of eating together as a family, I also am skeptical of the demographics of the students surveyed. I don’t think it is simply a matter of eating together that will prevent children from drinking and doing drugs, but rather those families that do eat together probably possess more foundational beliefs and traditions which enable the children to say no to drugs and drinking.

The key then is not simply eating dinner together, but parents wanting to and purposefully engaging with their teenage students. However, at the same time, I believe that a shared meal as a family can do a lot to foster such communication and openness.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches on a Hot Day

I absolutely love pulled pork sandwiches. Nothing is more enjoyable especially in the summer than barbeque pork sandwich topped with some fresh coleslaw. The tenderness of the pork, the messiness of the sauce, the crispness of the cabbage, the interplay between the pork and the cabbage. And then to wash it all down with an ice cold beer and maybe a few pieces of watermelon…does it get any better?

However, I have a confession: I have never been to the south for true barbeque. So my knowledge of pulled pork sandwiches has come from the cheap imitations of Los Angeles restaurants. So I can only imagine what the real deal would taste like from South Carolina or Texas. Some day.

The past few days have brought unseasonably hot temperatures to the Los Angeles area – we topped out at over 110 degrees today – therefore, any dinner plans would have to involve minimal contact with a hot stove or hot over, preferably not having to turn them on at all.

Fortunately the solution came in the Crock Pot that Grandpa Camp had given Claire and me for our wedding. And doing pulled pork in the Crock Pot made my mouth salivate just at the mere thought. Any barbeque traditionalists will have to forgive me for doing pulled pork in said manner, but currently I do not own any barbeque…no smoker, no gas grill, not even a charcoal grill.

I found this recipe online at allrecipes.com, and both Claire and I absolutely loved it.

Slow Cooker Texas Pulled Pork

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1 (4 pound) pork shoulder roast
  • 1 cup barbeque sauce
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 extra large onion, chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 8 hamburger buns, split
  • 2 tablespoons butter, or as needed

Directions

  1. Pour the vegetable oil into the bottom of a slow cooker. Place the pork roast into the slow cooker; pour in the barbecue sauce, apple cider vinegar, and chicken broth. Stir in the brown sugar, yellow mustard, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, onion, garlic, and thyme. Cover and cook on High until the roast shreds easily with a fork, 5 to 6 hours.
  2. Remove the roast from the slow cooker, and shred the meat using two forks. Return the shredded pork to the slow cooker, and stir the meat into the juices.
  3. Spread the inside of both halves of hamburger buns with butter. Toast the buns, butter side down, in a skillet over medium heat until golden brown. Spoon pork into the toasted buns.

This recipe is practically fool-proof. You combine the ingredients in the Crock Pot, turn it on for 6 hours, and it is done. Try it and you will be amazed at how easy it is.

The pork turned out moist and tender, yet still had a very nice body to it. The sauce left from cooking was not too much where it drowned out the great flavor of the pork, but provided a great flavor and moisture to the sandwich. For pulled pork from the Crock Pot, I think it was quite tasty.

I made some coleslaw to go along with our sandwiches. My dressing was mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, sugar, granulated garlic, a dash of Tabasco, and salt and pepper to taste. For me the key to great coleslaw is the balance of vinegar and sugar and adequately dressing the cabbage so that while it is not soup nor is it dry, although if I am to err, I will err on the side of too much dressing.

It was a great meal and we have plenty of leftovers for lunches and dinners in which Claire and my schedule do not allow us to sit down together.

Was it as good as authentic Southern Barbeque? Of course not, but for a boy raised in Los Angeles, it satisfies my craving quite well.

The Ordinariness of Sanctification

I recently finished Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing up in Christ by Eugene Peterson, his fifth and final volume on conversations in spiritual theology. I have absolutely loved this series, eagerly anticipating the arrival of each volume, so I am a little sad to see the series completed.

While Eugene Peterson writes in such a manner that invites and encourages participation in the Kingdom of God, he in no way mixes his words. Since Practice Resurrection is a book on spiritual maturity, he speaks out against much of modern American Evangelicalism: “The American church runs on the euphoria and adrenaline of new birth – getting people into the church, into the kingdom, into causes, into crusades, into programs…. Americans in general have little tolerance for a centering way of life that is submissive to the conditions in which growth takes place: quiet, obscure, patient, not subject to human control and management” (pp. 5-6).

Throughout the book, Eugene Peterson immerses us in Ephesians arguing that the process of maturity comes about as we get acquainted with the persons of the Trinity – how Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work, how they talk, how they invite, all that they do together in relation – and then as we live in community with the people around us, most notably and forcibly the church, but also in the family and in the workplace.

The process of sanctification has its place in the day-to-day living conditions of normal human life. How I interact with Claire, how I interact with Liz, Thomas, Kris, Seth, Theresa and my other coworkers, how I interact with the named people, like Harry Brandt, sitting with Claire and me at the church we are beginning to attend, contributes more to my growth than any crusade, any week at camp, or any two week missions trip to Africa ever could. All except Claire, I do not get to handpick the people I am in relationship with on a day-to-day basis as I go through life; Jesus has placed them in my life. And while they may be difficult to love at times, and they, in turn, find me difficult to love at times, these named people whom I rub up with on a daily basis must never be reduced to “Its,” nor must the community ever refer to others outside the community as “Them.”

Eugene Peterson explains:

“God reveals himself in personal relationship and only in personal relationship. God is not a phenomenon to be considered. God is not a force to be used. God is not a proposition to be argued. There is nothing in or of God that is impersonal, nothing abstract, nothing imposed. And God treats us with an equivalent personal dignity. He isn’t out to impress us. He’s here to eat bread with us and receive us into his love just as we are, just where we are” (p. 87).

Yes there are moments where Jesus lavishes me in his love and goodness and there are meals that are extravagant and abundant. After all I am now a citizen of God’s Kingdom – a Kingdom in which God has blessed me, chose me, destined me, bestowed his grace upon me, lavished me, and made known to me (Eph. 1:3-14). There is no shortage of God’s goodness to his children, or as Eugene Peterson writes, “Get used to abundance” (p. 63). But where I can easily get myself into danger is beginning to think that those moments are normative and dismiss the ordinary as purely physical and devoid of meaning.

And this is where I would draw the correlation between sanctification and food. If sanctification occurs in the ordinary, there is nothing more ordinary than eating. I have to eat everyday, and if I can train myself to see the Risen Jesus in this most simplest of acts, I may begin to realize that Jesus is at work in me and everyone else around me far more than I ever realized. The ordinary is no longer so plain and dull, but rather filled with hope, love, grace, abundance, and richness. (After all, a perfectly ripe tomato is just as beautiful as white truffle risotto.) I then might be able to see the named-others around me as full of that same hope, love, grace, abundance and richness.

When Jesus returns, I, along with my brothers and sisters, will be ushered into the beauty and grandeur of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, but until then, I shall feast on the bread and the wine, for Jesus has commanded me to remember him through the breaking of an ordinary loaf of bread and an ordinary glass of wine.

“When [Jesus] was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized them” (Luke 24:30-31).

Roasted Chicken

Claire and I hosted Becky Burton (Claire’s best friend; the two of them worked together for a year in Mexico at an orphanage) on Saturday night. In the days leading up to Becky’s visit, Claire and I enjoyed talking about what we—or more accurately, I—should make. We settled on roasted chicken and roasted potatoes.

We had roasted a chicken before and loved how simple yet completely delicious it was. I found Thomas Keller’s recipe for My Favorite Simple Roast Chicken on Epicurious. The recipe calls for a chicken and salt and pepper. Rinse and dry the chicken really well (the less moisture in the bird, the crispier the skin will be). Truss the chicken, which is not all that difficult. Heavily salt the chicken (Chef Keller calls for one tablespoon). Place the chicken in an oven safe pan and roast it in a preheated 450 degree oven (the roasting time will vary depending on the size of the bird, but one hour works well.) If you want to make gravy, roast the chicken in a pan that will allow you to make the gravy after the chicken is done. It is that easy. The chicken turns out beautifully golden brown; it is moist; and best of all, the skin is absolutely to die for. Another reason why this is such a great dish is because whole chickens are the most economical way to buy a chicken.

For the potatoes, we used Yukon Gold and tossed the diced pieces in olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs. I put them on a rimmed baking sheet and threw them in the lower part of the oven after the chicken had roasted 30 minutes. I will admit: I think this adversely affected my chicken as the skin this time was not nearly as crisp. My bet is that it was the moisture from the potatoes. However, the potatoes browned beautifully and were crisp on the outside while still being light, fluffy and tender on the inside.

The aromas that filled the house were enough to convert a vegetarian in my opinion.

We rounded off the meal by starting with the beautiful tomato salad. We also served sautéed asparagus with the chicken and potatoes. For dessert we had orange-cream sorbet, an amazingly easy dessert that both Claire and I love. As I remarked right before Becky arrived, “Here at the Camp house, we do three course meals.”

However, the best part of the process was not the cooking or the aromas, but rather sharing our table with a dear friend of Claire’s who I hope will become a good friend of mine over the years. Becky was the second house guest of ours (the Costillos being the first), and Claire and I have enjoyed learning how to entertain together as a couple.

As Claire and I talked before the wedding and continue to talk about, we desire to have a home where people feel welcomed and loved. And not just because we fill their bellies with good food, but because hopefully in some small way we welcome them further into the house and family of God.

Tomato Soup

Claire and I have just finished dinner…dishes are done and I am working on my blog while Claire is continuing to study (she is currently pursuing her doctorate in clinical psychology at Azusa Pacific University).

The tomato soup turned out fantastic! I used a recipe from Alice Water’s book The Art of Simple Food. The soup came together in no time and was amazing which again has to do with the fact that we started with great tomatoes.

Here is the recipe from the book (my own comments are in italics):

Tomato Soup
Makes about 4 servings

Warm a heavy-bottomed pan (I used a 5 qt enamel Dutch oven). Add:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, sliced/chopped
1 small leek, white and light green parts, sliced (I omitted this)
A pinch of salt

Cover and cook until soft but not brown. Add water to keep from browning if necessary. Add:
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

Cook for about 2 minutes, then add:
2 pounds ripe tomatoes washed, cored and sliced
1 scant tablespoon white rice
(helps to thicken the soup)
A large pinch of salt
½ bay leaf
1 small sprig of savory, thyme, or basil
(I actually used dry herbs only because that is what we had)

Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes fall apart. Add:
1 cup water (I used chicken stock)
1 tablespoon butter

Continue cooking for another 10 minutes, until the rice is tender. Remove the herb sprig. Carefully ladle the soup into a blender not more than one-third full. Blend until smooth, about 1 minute. Pass the pureed soup through a medium strainer to remove the skins and seeds. Taste for salt. Add more water if the soup is too thick. (I actually used an immersion blender and just blended the soup in the pot and did not strain it. Claire and I prefer the slight chunks as the soup is heartier and has a more rustic feeling. I also added ½ cup of heavy cream).

We enjoyed the soup with some bread that Claire had made earlier in the week. It did feel a little weird to be eating soup on a warm summer day, as tomato soup is a staple of cold wintery days, but sadly tomato season is during the summer. However, Claire did mention how much she enjoys eating fruits and vegetables that are at the peak of their season, to which I heartily agree.

She remarked that eating local, in season food connects us to the creation and the seasons which God created. In a day where we can go to the supermarket and get practically any vegetable or fruit that we want (however bland and tasteless it may be), there is something very enjoyable and grounding about eating the fruits in their due season. Not to mention they taste so much incredibly better as God created them to be enjoyed.

So if you have the chance, enjoy a bowl of tomato soup even if it is 100 degrees out. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

The Beauty of Tomatoes

Aren't they beautiful?!

On my way to work at Forest Home, I pass Jacinto Farms, on the corner of Mentone Blvd. and Crafton Ave. Last Friday, knowing that the Costillos were coming over to our place to celebrate the one year anniversary of the blind-date with fresh pasta and tomato sauce, I stopped in to see their produce. And immediately I was blown away by the selection and the beauty of their heirloom tomatoes. Having done most of my shopping at big supermarkets, I have never been impressed with tomatoes, but as you can see from the photo it is literally a rainbow of tomatoes at Jacinto Farms.

Given the momentous nature of the day in which was being celebrated, Claire and I decided that purchasing beautiful, fresh tomatoes felt more apropos than using tomatoes from a can. So on Saturday I returned to buy tomatoes. The farm even provides the names and a brief description of each variety, and since I was making a tomato sauce and wanted a deep rich flavor, I bought the darker varieties (I should have written down the names, but sadly forgot to).

As I was preparing the sauce I tasted the raw tomatoes and was again blown away by the flavor. I quickly called Claire over to try them. Again having lived so long on mass produced grocery ripened tomatoes, it had been a really long time since I had truly tasted the beauty of tomato. I was practically giddy with excitement. And as the sauce came together, it barely needed any season because of the depth and richness of the tomatoes.

At one point I exclaimed to Claire, “How amazing and bountiful is our God who has not given us merely one type of tomato but a cornucopia of different tomatoes each with a slightly different flavor and a beauty all onto its own!”

This past weekend, Claire’s best friend, Becky, came out to visit us and have dinner. So again I stopped by to pick up some more tomatoes. This time, I got a variety of color—yellow, orange and mahogany—to make a salad with. On each plate was a slice of the different tomatoes with a slice of Port Salut cheese in between (we still have quite a bit left over from our wedding). I simply drizzled the plates with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar and a little sea salt. Very simple, but when you have such beautiful produce, there is no need to do too much with it.

What is also great about the little shop, they sell the tomatoes that are getting a little too ripe for a dollar per pound, so I got a few pounds to make soup with. So if you don’t mind I am off to enjoy more tomato goodness before the season is over.

More Than Just a Cheesecake…Revisted

As wedding favors, we gave little bags of chocolate malt balls with the recipe for the Cheesecake

A year ago I wrote this after having gone on my blind-date with Claire. Little did I know that a year later we would be married, but it has been a great adventure thus far, and I know the best is yet to come.

Here is to a year of throwing out recipes and creating something new and exciting with Claire! What I wrote a year ago is still true: It is a work in progress. I have a feeling that this is (Lord willing) a 50 plus year slow braise and not a quick saute as Claire and I discern through the Holy Spirit life together.

A Cheesecake that is more than a Cheesecake

Some friends recently set me up on a blind-date. Usually I am not a big fan of blind-dates, but for whatever reason, I quickly agreed to the idea. It took a couple of weeks to find a time that worked for all of our schedules, but we finally set a date, in which we would all meet at this couple’s house for dinner and games.

I was asked to bring a dessert, so I immediately started the internal conversation with myself about what to bring. Obviously I was not going to pick up something, nor do brownies from a box, but neither was I going to go all out and make something extravagant (I can’t after all show all of my cards!). Originally, I settled on a cheesecake, namely an old fashioned cheesecake. Having made this and other cheesecakes dozens of times before, it would be easy enough for me to do, yet would still show some thought and care. Not to mention it was safe…chances for failure were close to zero.

But here is where things got interesting. The night before I was going to make the cheesecake, I was relaxing at my parents’ house, enjoying a bowl of chocolate malt crunch ice cream. About half way through the bowl, I had a stark revelation…these flavors would make an excellent cheesecake. All night I thought about how I could pull this off and as I thought about it more and more, I literally felt the Holy Spirit urging me to go ahead and try it. To create, to experiment, to risk, instead of sticking with the safe, easy old fashioned cheesecake.

Here is how I planned the cheesecake in my mind. The crust would be a combination of chocolate graham crackers and crushed Whoppers. The cheesecake itself would be flavored with chocolate malt and Hershey’s chocolate syrup (I did find recipes for chocolate malt cheesecake, but tweaked the recipe). I figured the Hershey’s syrup would provide a sweeter chocolate taste than say melted semi-sweet chocolate to mimic the flavor of the ice cream. I would top the cheesecake with a Kahlua-chocolate ganache. And finally, right before serving it I would top the cheesecake with crushed Whoppers. I did not think Whoppers inside the cheesecake would hold up to baking plus refrigeration, mainly because I was afraid that the Whoppers would get soggy.

I made the cheesecake, and was quite happy with how it all came out. The crust did not turn out as I had hoped—the Whoppers candied up during baking, so that it became really chewy, plus I added too much butter to the crust. It still tasted great, but it was not what I wanted.

As I thought about the cheesecake, and the process of creating a cheesecake without a recipe—my first by the way—I began to wonder if me making it had a deeper meaning than me just exercising my knowledge of food. I could have played it safe and stuck with the old fashioned cheesecake, and it would have been enjoyed by all. But I chose to not do this. I chose to risk making something that had the possibility of tasting great, instead of just good. I had a pretty good hunch that the cheesecake would turn out really well, having made enough cheesecakes and trusting my prior experience with flavors. There was still, however, the risk that the cheesecake would fail, and taste like shit (pardon my French). But it was a risk worth taking because the rewards were much more sweet.

Maybe I need to take this attitude more often. Throw away the recipes and risk. Those recipes were and are needed, as they provide the framework and structure for me to create a new cheesecake. But there comes a point where I need to trust my training and my experience to risk and show people who I really am, not only as a cook but as a person. I need to risk and show people what I am truly made of instead of playing it safe. Yes, at times my shit will come out, and yes, at times I will fail, and yes, people might not like what they see or taste, but the rewards are greater as people will know me and not just the safe, contained Andrew, which is not bad; it’s just not the full, flavorful Andrew that has lied buried for way too long.

Crazy how a simple cheesecake can turn into a deep metaphor that God uses to teach me about myself and life.

Oh…and by the way…the cheesecake and the date turned out really well. Neither is final; both are works in progress, but the process is exciting and fun, yet at the same time incredibly scary.