Filling the Void

A New Search
Advent 22
Baby Food Bundt Cake

Music is considered a universal language. It actually is considered an intergalactic language since music has been the language used on space probes to illustrate to any life forms that might be encountered that an intelligent species sent the probe from planet Earth. While there are differing tonalities which are quite evident and assist in indentifying the culture from which a folk song originated, all music shares some commonality – the musical tone.

A musical tone or note is identified by its pitch, a specific frequency measured in the number of cycles or vibrations per second. If you have ever attended a symphonic orchestra concert, you might have heard the musicians tuning their instruments to a specific tone before the concert. The tuning pitch is known as A’, the second note to the left of Middle C on a piano keyboard. It is also called A-440 because it has 440 cycles per second.

The ration of distance between two pitches is called an interval. Notes with a ratio of small numbers or integers are thought to sound good together and are considered consonant, although this is really a subjective determination. Those with a larger ratio are called dissonant and are not as pleasing to the human ear. A scale of twelve tones was developed as it was found to contain all seven of the basic consonant intervals while having more consonant intervals than dissonant intervals. In other words, it was very pleasing to the basic person.

However, as mentioned before, cultural identifying markers are found on the folk songs of different regions. Indonesian music employs what is known as an equal-spaced five tone scale called a gamelan slendro scale. Indian music uses a twenty-two scale known as a shruti scale and Arabic and Middle Eastern music uses a twenty-four tone scale. Even the music of the Western world used other scales. Debussy used a six tone scale known as the whole tone scale while other composers like Boulez and Ives used a quarter-tone scale. The Composer Hyugens, from the Netherlands, increased popularity of using a thirty-one equal-tempered scale. It is still all music, all using the same pitches based upon the same frequencies, just interpreted differently.

The so-called “new religions” of the world have done similar things to the ancient beliefs of man. Just as one can get bogged down in trying to find one universal definition for the word religion or theology, the designation for what a new religion is can be equally as daunting. Generally referred to as new religious movements, it is considered that a new religion must be of a more recent origin (which can mean anything after the fifteenth century) and have major differences from existing religions or spiritualities. However, just as all the various scales used in music are based upon the same basic pitches, there are some inescapable common themes in all religions. Thus, some new religions are those which had different interpretations and thus different creeds than the original religious sect from whence they came. Other new religions are belief systems similar to older ones but have resurfaced in new locations outside of their cultural beginning.

Like the more conventionally known religions, new religions vary in their types and forms of leadership, their concept of family, the role gender plays in the faith, their organization, and their definition of deities, if in fact any exist. Thus, some new religions are sometimes viewed as fusion religions and vice versa. While based upon beliefs that comprise Christianity, the Church of Latter Day Saints and the Jehovah’s Witnesses are classified by some as new religions. Even the Shaker Movement of the eighteenth to early twentieth century is considered a new religious movement by many.

A book published in the 1950’s written by L. Ron Hubbard led to the new religion of Scientology. Scientology encourages an improvement of human awareness and functioning so that secrets of the universe might be revealed. It incorporates the scientific process of bio-feedback in erasing one’s past negative experiences that cloud the psych and prevent future progress and success. The Rastafarian Movement is a new religion of the 1930’s originating in Ethiopia. It proclaimed Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia, as its prophet and preached that God would redeem all black people from oppression by white people. The history of Africa is paramount to this religion and it speaks of the unification of black families, torn apart by slavery and the colonization of Africa by other countries, as black people are said to return to Africa. Rastafarians live simply, using only herbal medicine, eating a vegetarian diet, and known by their trademark dreadlocks. Shinshukyo is another new religion which practices a fusion of rituals. A birth is marked by a Shinto ceremony and funerals are held in the Buddhist tradition. Shinshukyo refers more to the reemergence of religion rather than to specific belief systems and has been marked by the fanaticism of a few. Soju Gakkai is a new Japanese religion which incorporates the reading of the Buddhist Lotus Sutra but believes in more concrete benefits than just spiritual ones. Various Christian cults have also emerged as new religions but these also have fallen victim to the fanaticism of their leaders.

Rejecting the organized scales of twelve tones that Western and his native German composers had used for centuries, Arthur Schoenberg composed music using the same twelve tones of the musical scale but ignoring the accepted tonalities of the major and minor scales. By manipulating the twelve tones into seemingly random patterns, Schoenberg invented a new style of musical composition, the twelve-tone style. Wisely he used repetitive motifs or patterns, similar to the repeated themes found in the fugues first composed by Bach to teach scales to his students. This new type did not meet instant success, though. Much like the new religions of the world and even the older ones, it also met criticism and even persecution. Audiences were known to walk out of his performances. “The Rites of Springs”, now hailed as perhaps the most influential piece of the twentieth century and in all of music, was never heard in its entirety during its first performance because the audience left in disgust.

Whether or not all new religions will last as long as some of the others we have studied is a question for time. What is a certainty is that religion has been around as long as man has and so has science. Do the three coexist?

Baby Food Bundt Cake
Just as religion filled a void in the lives of man, a Minnesota man filled a void with…a void. He answered a request to make a kugelhopf pan, reminiscent of the ceramic cake pans used in Europe. Kugelhopf, also called Gugelhupf and many other named based upon the nationality, is a yeast cake formed in the shape of a torus which is a circular ring-shaped form. H. David Dalquist came up with an aluminum cake pan that would bake a cake into a ring shape. Rather than the traditional round cake that was solid all the way across, Dalquist’s cake form caused the cake to bake into a ring form. He named it after a German word for “bundled” since the batter was bundled around the empty void in the middle of the tube pan. However, that was also the name of a pro-Hitler ethnic group in Germany so he added a “t” to the name which went from “bund” to “bundt”, word that fittingly means…nothing.
2 cups self-rising flour
2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
2 small jars of plum or banana baby food
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1 cup pecans, finely chopped (optional)
3 eggs
Mix all ingredients except nuts in bowl until thick and creamy. Stir in nuts. Bake in a greased tube (Bundt) pan for one hour in a 350-degrees Fahrenheit oven.

Fusion: Old into New

Fusion: Old into New
Advent 21
Healthier Choco-Chip Cookies

The Latin word “fusio” came upon the scene in the sixteenth century. It meant something was melted, not so much to be destroyed but to be changed – a type of evolution if you will. Fusion religions are just that. And while you might not be able to name three fusion religions off the top of your head, you do know elements of them – mediums, zombies, black magic, séance, and the word that was made popular in the Ghostbusters films, ectoplasm.

Syncretism is a word similar to fusion but where fusion is the combination of things into a melting of something new, syncretism relies on combining seemingly opposite things. The conquests of Alexander the Great brought about a fusion of cultures which led to syncretism as the Roman Empire conquered and spread. One of the first philosophical and religious meltings in the Greco-Roman world became known as Gnosticism. The term Gnostic was used by English poet and philosopher Henry More but it came from an adjective meaning “pertaining to knowledge – gnostikos”, fist coined by Plato in describing the intellectual dimension of learning as compared to the practical use of learning. Gnosticism incorporated elements of Oriental mysticisms and spiritualities with some from Judaism, Christianity, and Greek religious concepts and was quite popular during the Hellenistic period of 300 BCE to 300 ACE.

An Iranian prophet called Mani, living in the third century, combined elements of Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Buddhism in creating a fusion religion named after him, Manichaeism. An Indian reformer known as Guru Nanak, living in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, combined Hinduism and Islam to create Sikhism. Attempts to create a syncretism of Protestant Christian faiths in the seventeenth century by Theologian George Calixtus resulted in the same disapproval by orthodox religions as previous fusion religions received – disapproval and negativity.

Some historians have argued that all religion is syncretistic and studying the histories of the major religions might just bear witness to this claim. After all, the Mesopotamian Code of Hammurabi is said to be the original Ten Commandments that is so important in the Jewish and Christian faiths. The Romans used Greek deities and later combined them with Celtic gods. As the Roman Army moved across Europe to the Atlantic Ocean, they not only gained territory, they combined their existing culture with that of the people they conquered. While syncretism was not a factor in the split of the Christian Church into the Roman and Eastern Orthodox faiths, it did become a factor in the Protestant Reformation. It is important, however, to note the differences between contextualization and syncretism. Contextualization is an interpretation of the religion into the culture whereas syncretism is a combining of different religions into a new one.

To this end, elements of Christianity were combined with mysticism to create a new type of Christian spiritualists who believe in the ability to contact the dead by holding séances, etc. in spite of passages from Deuteronomy and Luke which expressly forbid contact with the dead. Neo-Paganism is a fusion religion combining living with nature harmoniously with the worship of ancient gods and goddesses. The modern day religion of Wicca is one example of a Neo-Paganistic religion. Spiritualism is another old made new fusion religion. It has led to a new economical upswing in the paranormal industry and is sometimes seen more as a branch of science rather than religion. Condomble is a fusion of African religions such as Yoruba and Roman Catholic rituals which include animal sacrifices as the devout followers exchange offerings to the gods for security and eternal protection. Another fusion religion is the Hare Krishna movement, officially called the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Hara Krishna, made famous by musician celebrity Beatle George Harrison, believes the Hindu deity Krishna is a supreme manifestation of God, as was the Buddha and Rama. Today some Hindus will even worship at Krishna temples.

Some agree with Sigmund Freud in considering fusion religions are simply a matter of man’s life on earth, an evolution of cultures and faith. In his book: Civilization and Its Discontents”, Freud wrote: “Long ago he formed an ideal conception of omnipotence and omniscience which he embodied in his gods. Whatever seemed unattainable to his desires – or forbidden to him – he attributed to these gods. One may say, therefore, that these gods were the ideals of his culture. Now he has himself approached very near to realizing this ideal, he has nearly become a god himself. But only, it is true, in the way that ideals are usually realized in the general experience of humanity. Not completely; in some respects not at all, in others only by halves.”

Albert Einstein once said “What a sad era when it is easier to smash an atom than a prejudice.” Perhaps syncretism is the evolution of religious thought. Perhaps it is diversity of belief. Whatever and however one defines them, fusion religions have been around for quite a long time and evidently are here to stay. They, too, have given birth and some have evolved into completely new religions which we will next discuss. As actor John Wayne once said, “Tomorrow hopes we have learned something from yesterday.”

Healthier Choco-Chip Cookies

Let’s face it, cookies are not a health food item. However, you can healthier and still enjoy the occasional cookie. One way to make mealtime healthier is to make smarter choices. Instead of having a calorie and fat-ladened dessert, pick a fruit. Exchange pureed fruit for oils and/or butter in a favorite recipe and use spices and herbs instead of salt and sugar for flavoring. Skim evaporated milk makes a great substance for cream in many dishes and helps not only in counting calories but also in fighting high cholesterol.

Wet Ingredients:
3 large overripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ olive oil
Dry Ingredients:
2 cups oats
2/3 cup almond meal
1/3 c shredded coconut
1/3 cup raisins and/or chopped nuts
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
6 oz carob chips (chocolate chips may be substituted)

In one bowl combine all the wet ingredients and stir. In another bowl, mix all the dry ingredients. When fully incorporated add the wet ingredients to the dry. Using a large soup spoon, place one spoonful onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake in a 350-degree Fahrenheit oven for approximately twelve minutes. Cooking times will vary depending upon the oven.

Prayers of the Progeny

Progeny of the Abrahamic Religions
Advent 20
Triune Tuna Pasta

Prayers of the Progeny

We discussed the Abrahamic religions, those religions based upon a belief that their believers are descended from the scriptural character known as Abraham or Ibrahim. Just as a man has progeny, the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity have offspring. And, like a child to the parent, there are similar characteristics based upon a basic DNA of beliefs but also some variance in the different sects or versions of these three basic religions.

We will begin with Judaism as it was the first of the Abrahamic religions discussed earlier this week. (In case you are wondering the names of the three religions were placed in a hat and drawn to determine the order for discussion.) The Orthodox Jews are those who believe in God and follow the Torah as closely as possible in keeping the commandments. Technically, Orthodox Judaism is “the Judaism and the other offspring are known as branches or assemblies to which one may join. Conservative Judaism or Masorti Jew believe in the historical Jewish doctrine but believe the ways of living should be preserved but adapted to modern living and culture.

Reform Judaism includes both Liberal and Progressive Judaism. These Jewish followers are often considered to not be living according to the Halachah and their congregations are found to have different opinions and attitudes towards most things, including how they observe their faith. These Reformed Jews believe in God but hold very liberal beliefs, observe only a few of the traditional customs, and may have more informal meetings rather than the more solemn congregations in Orthodox temples. Viewpoints of both Conservative and Reformed Jews may also differ in the Divine origin of the Torah.

Messianic Jews reflect a Christian projection of accepting Jesus as the Messiah. They often have Jewish ethnicity in their ancestry but tend to hold different views about the ten lost tribes of Israel than those of Orthodox or even Reformed Jews. In response to this movement, the Ephraimites were established. They adopted Jewish and Old Testament rituals but altered them somewhat. Similar to this group are the Brit-Am. Brit-Am is a British Israeli group begun by Yair Davidiy. It sees Christianity as a tool for bringing the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel closer together. It encourages Jews to be Orthodox and keep the Law as well as supporting Christians to study the Bible, believe in God, and improve their “Israeli consciousness”.

There are three expansive categories of Islam. A Conservative Muslim believes that the Koran and the Hadith are to be followed and used for every hour and day. Liberals Muslims usually observe the five periods of daily prayers and study the Koran but might forego the traditional dress or women wearing veils or head coverings. The Innovative Muslims groups have created their own theology loosely based upon their own interpretations of the Koran. As with Judaism, Islam refers to more than just one’s religion; it is also a culture. The acronym SCHISM is used by the website “” to explain the various cultural groupings of Muslims within Islam: “S – Successors, Shi’ites; C – Classic, Kharijites or Wahhabis; H – Human tradition, Sunnis; I – Inventors, Ghulat; S – Spiritual Mystics, Sufis; M – Modern Muslims.

The land of Jesus’ crucifiers gave birth to the Roman Catholic Church, based upon the travels and teachings of the successors of the apostles and the original disciples of the man known as Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ. The Protestant movement, begun by the Anglicans and Lutherans, adapted the faith for the common man and the culture so that prayers were no longer only understood or said by the priests and bishops. The Eastern Orthodox Church split from the Roman Church due to political separation and has its own set of rituals and church calendar with varying differences. The Church of Latter Day Saints, the Mormons, and the other groups such as the Anabaptists became Inventors of new rituals and changed some of the previous teachings, reverting in some instances to those not unlike to the Torah and Islam.

Christianity also has its spiritual mystics who had much in common with other mystical movements of the periods. Finally we have the modern Christian, the liberals and those who have a very lenient viewpoint of the need for organized worship. Christianity has the greatest number of followers but also of differing sects and denominations. Roughly forty percent of all Christians are considered Protestant.

On a May 1999 day on the island of Cypress, Helmut Schmidt, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1974-1982, delivered the following remarks at a conference organized by the Centre for World Dialogue. He referenced “one of the many lessons which the three holy books have in common, namely the fact that all three of them call for peace, or shalom in the Torah and salaam in the Qur’an. In the Jewish Torah (which Christians call the “Old Testament”) we read in Psalm 34: “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” In the Christian New Testament, we read in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers; they shall be called the children of God.” And the Qur’an in Sura 4 tells Muslims: “If they do not bother you and do not fight against you and if they offer peace to you, then God does not permit you to fight against them.” Chancellor Schmidt concluded “What you do not wish to be done to yourself, do not do to others.”

Triune Tuna Pasta
8 oz uncooked pasta such as penne or bowtie
1 can drained green beans, one bag frozen which has thawed or 2 cups fresh and diagonally sliced
3 tsp olive oil
1 garlic clove minced
1 can diced tomatoes or 2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
1/3 tsp Italian seasoning
1 large can tuna (usually 8-12 oz depending on brand but can use more or less as you prefer) packed in water, rinsed, drained and flaked
Chopped parsley for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook pasta according to directions on bag or box. If green beans are still frozen, use last ten minutes of cooking pasta and add beans to pasta. Drain both beans and pasta when cooked.
In large skillet heat 2 tsp olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and stir for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and seasonings and cook for approximately four to five minutes. Turn off heat. Add pasta and green beans, tuna, and remaining tsp of olive oil and toss gently. Garnish with parsley. [Onions, bell peppers and mushrooms can be added. Sauté with the garlic and cook until all are tender before adding the tomatoes, pasta, beans, and tuna.]

Conception of Christianity

Abraham’s Many Sons – Christianity
Advent 19
Thursday Two-Day Burgers

Father Abraham had many sons but ….We sometimes forget that Abraham was himself a son. The story of Abraham begins twenty-one generation before his birth. The setting is a land known as Eden, a Latin word defined as “paradise” from the Greek word “Ēdēn” and the Hebrew” Ēḏen” which most likely came from the Akkadian word “edinu” which was derived from the Sumerian word “eden” which is translated as “a plain or desert” but also most definitely a derivative of the Hebrew “ēḏen” which translates as “delight”. In the creation myth of Christianity, Eden was a locale created by a supreme deity called God for a man known as Adam and his helpmate, a female called Eve. Thus Adam became the first father or patriarch of the religion we know as Christianity.

In the Christian tradition, time was kept by the recording of the family. Thus, the story of Abraham begins with his great-great-great- great-great-great- great-great-great- great-great-great- great-great-great- great-great-great- great-great-great-grandfather, the man known only to us as Adam. We know through the stories and religious literature of the Abrahamic faiths that Adam had two sons who would later marry but there are no records of the families of their spouses. The story that begins with “In the beginning” lists a long line of patriarchs, male heads of their families and tribes through whom the religion and faith would be passed from generation to generation.

Jared or Melchizedek was sixth generation in the genealogy of Abraham and, according to the writings, was the second longest-living man in the time of the Bible. His son was Enoch who fathered Methuselah, eighth generation from Adam and the oldest living male mentioned in the stories of Christianity. Like many cultures, the Christian faith has not only a Creation Myth but also a Flood Myth and this occurs in the tenth generation of Adam with a grandson named Noah. The patriarchs between Noah and Abraham are less important and not much is known about them. The story, however, does not end with Father Abraham. It is just getting started. While it is at this point that Islam leaves the other two Abrahamic religions and Judaism and Christianity seem to still be parallel, it is at this juncture that interpretation becomes paramount in the differing religions.

Father Abraham’s two oldest sons, Ishmael and Israel, gave birth to their own tribes and religions. Jacob’s son Isaac, later known as Israel and twenty-second in generation from Adam, would become the father of twelve sons and be famous for being the father of Joseph. From Joseph to the thirty-fourth generation King David and thirty-fifth generation King Solomon and Nathan to Jesus, the man who would become the father of the reason for Christianity, the story becomes one of political power and humanity, or rather the lack thereof. The times were harsh and the living was often even harsher. Territory exchanged hands as emperors, pharaohs, and rulers conquered and were conquered. The religion that had given people a reason for living became the reason they were killed or enslaved. The value of human life became how much it could be bent and tortured as well as taxed.

It was at this time that the seventy-fifth generation grandson of Adam lived. His name was Joseph and he, in the custom of the time and culture, had become engaged to a young woman of a most devout family. The woman was named Mary and she went to him with an incredulous story. She had been visited by an angel who told her she would find herself pregnant with child. As proof, the angel told her that an older cousin, a woman who had tried unsuccessfully to bear children, was also pregnant. The cousin’s name is Elizabeth, a common name of the period and as such, somewhat muddies the story for many. [When wanting proof of religion, archaeologists are often stumped by the frequent use of common names. As with the ancient religions, even with modern technologies, sometimes the core is simply what one believes, what one has faith in being the truth.]

The child of Mary and Joseph has an impressive birth because it is not only occurring before evidence that Mary and Joseph had marital relations but because, having been told it is a child of God, it is born as the most common of all mankind – in a stable surrounded by animals. Joseph and Mary, proving their worth as taxpayers, have had to travel to Bethlehem, Joseph’s patriarchal land, to pay the tax on their heads. It is during the journey that the baby named Jesus is born. His birth is celebrated by Christians at Christmas. We know very little of Jesus’ childhood but as a man just turning thirty, details of his life become paramount to the religion and he is joined by a cousin, born of a woman named Elizabeth.

The cousin of Jesus is also not what one would expect from a man who is said to be a son of God. The cousin, known as John, is considered odd and dirty, even for a period in which personal hygiene is not of utmost importance for commoners. John travels as a beggar, wearing clothes made of camel hair and eating an organic diet of nuts and honey. He has a loud voice and seemingly little fear as he tells everyone of the coming messiah who will save them all. Life is hard, especially for the Jewish people but the coming promised one is nothing new. John’s story is different than what the rabbis are saying, though. John proclaims that the messiah is coming soon, like tomorrow! John preaches that all need to be ready, need to be prepared, need to become clean and to this end he starts baptizing people.

John the Baptist, as he becomes known, is considered crazy by the authorities and a nuisance but when his cousin, a more average looking man with a charismatic charm begins preaching a similar doctrine as John of love and charity with people having personal value and accountability, they take note. This cousin, a man called Jesus, is teaching people that they should make decisions for themselves and not rely on the king or emperor to tell them how to live, what to do, or which deity to worship. This man Jesus is clever, drawing multitudes and feeding the poor. He enlists the aid of twelve others and together, they are creating quite uproar. Politically and religiously, Jesus is walking a very independent path and yet, he has harmed no one, committed no actual crimes. Finally, two previous enemies come together to decide how best to resolve the “Jesus” issue. They interpret his teachings as being treason and so he is arrested, tried, and crucified. This man Jesus who seemed to have a silver tongue suddenly is quiet but promises to return. After all, his birth was something of a miracle so why shouldn’t his death be one as well?

Christians believe Jesus kept his word, both in being the son of God but in also returning. Their celebration of Easter commemorates his rising from his grave after three days. For Christians, the Messiah Jesus ascends to heaven fifty days later on the feast of Pentecost but is followed by the presence of the Holy Spirit, formerly known as the Holy Ghost. The first thirty-nine books of their Holy Bible are called the Old Testament and based upon Jewish religious literature. The last twenty-six books are called the New Testament and tell of Jesus’ life, his teachings, and how a Christian is to live the faith. The Roman government that crucified Jesus would become the setting for the largest seat of the Christian religion but….That is a story for tomorrow when we discuss the grandsons of Father Abraham.

Two-Day Burgers – Meatloaf Grilled
The U.S.A. is the largest predominantly Christian nation in the world and the only one created based upon religious freedoms and the right to worship, all derived from the beliefs of different Christian faiths. Therefore, it was a typically American dish that seemed most fitting – the meatloaf. Just as the religious freedoms guaranteed in the US Constitution covered various religious faiths, the typical meatloaf is comprised on different ground meats such as beef, pork, veal, and ground sausages. However, it can also be made with just one kind like ground beef or even ground turkey. The meatloaf can also be prepared in a loaf pan or on a baking sheet or even in a muffin tin. Use any basic meatloaf recipe you like. The trick is to make a double batch. One can be frozen for a later time and one is put in the refrigerator. What? Not eaten? Yes – put it in the fridge! Then the next day, remove and slice. After slicing place on a hot grill or griddle pan and grill until heated through. Then place on a bun or toasted bread and add condiments just like you would for any other burger.

This recipe is one from when my kids were little. Shhh, don’t tell them they were eating vegetables instead of just a really great burger!
3 lbs meat (I often used just ground beef but you can use the typical mixture of meats)
3/4 cup pureed vegetables (green beans, carrots, even beets work well). Left-overs are great for this and any excess pureed vegetables can be used as soup stock.
1 egg
½ cup ketchup
1 cup oats
Seasonings to taste (I use garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, basil, and lemon pepper)
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: Sauté or grill sliced bell peppers, mushrooms, and onions to put on top of your burger for added taste and – bonus – extra vegetables!
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. I usually pre-beat the egg before adding but not always. Just make sure everything is well incorporated. You can alter the wet and dry ingredients to your own preference and add or subtract as needed. Bake at 350-degrees Fahrenheit for approximately forty minutes. Cooking time will be dependent on the size and shape of your loaf. Test doneness by using a meat thermometer or sticking a skewer into the thickest part. Remember, all meat should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160-degrees Fahrenheit.

Mecca to Medina

Abraham’s Many Sons – Islam
Advent 18
Quick Yogurt Wake-up

The children’s song, though usually sung by just one religion, applies to three. “Father Abraham had many sons; had many sons had Father Abraham; I am one of them; and so are you.” Abraham believed he was to leave his homeland and travel so that he could become the father of a new nation. He would become the father of three of the world’s largest and most influential religions. The oldest of his sons by a servant of his wife was Ishmael. Approximately seventeen generations later, though the exact number of generations is debatable, a son was born to a descendant of Ishmael and named Mohammed, also spelled Muhammad.

Mohammed was born in Mecca in what is now Saudi Arabia. He was drawn to religious study and one day, while meditating in a cave on Mount Hira in modern-day Hejaz, an angel appeared to him. This messenger angel, known as Jibreel in Arabic and Gabriel in other faiths, would over a period of twenty-three years speak to Mohammed words from Allah or God. These utterances were rules for how one was to live and worship and became what we today know as the Koran, also spelled Quran. The Koran has one hundred and fourteen chapters. The first half provides proof of the oneness of God while the second half gives guidance on how a believer is supposed to live.

“Assalamu alaukuni!” means “May peace be with you!” The word Islam literally means “submission to the will of God” and Muslim, the adjective for believers of Islam, means “one who is submissive to Allah”. The Islamic faith recognizes as prophets Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, but believes Mohammed to be God’s final prophet. Islam is now considered to be the world’s second largest organized religion with believers and followers in every country on the planet.

The year 622 is recognized as the beginning of the Islamic calendar, a lunar based calendar. As Mohammed heard the words from Jibreel, he committed the words to memory and later taught them to his followers. His teachings, though, were all by word of mouth and the years following his death would see two major divisions arise in Islam.

First and foremost was the question of who would take his place as the leader of the new Islamic state. Mohammed had led his followers to Yathrib and established the first Islamic state and renamed the city as Medina. Several years later he conquered Mecca and Arabia became the home of Islam forever. As he lay dying, Mohammed had asked his friend and father-in-law to lead prayers. Thus, many believed this man, Abu Bakr, should be the caliph or civil and religious ruler. However, others who had accompanied Mohammed on his final pilgrimage from Medina to Mecca believed Mohammed had named his cousin and son-in-law Ali as the next spiritual guide and leader of Islam. Controversy also arose regarding the Koran which was accompanied by the Hadith, a compilation of Mohammed’s saying,s which had been compiled after his death as was the Sunnah, a guide for the type of life a Muslim should follow as a devout believer of Islam. The two major divisions of Islam, the Sunni and the Shia, are based upon different interpretations and beliefs arising from this period. Muslims who believe all three, the Koran, the Hadith, and the Sunnah, to be equally reliable are called Sunnis while those doubtful of the interpretations by the followers of Abu Bakr ware known as Shia. There is also the book known as Sharia which provides the basis for canonical law within Islam.

All Muslims believe in what are called five obligations – the Five Pillars of Islam, which are seen as one’s manifestation of obedience to Allah or God. The first is “shahadah” which is the Muslim profession of faith. The second pillar is “salat” which references the Muslim ritual of prayer. Praying is done five times daily: at dawn, before the full sunrise, midday, just after sunset in late afternoon, and between sunset and midnight. Before one prays, a ritual washing occurs. In the Islamic faith, an Imam leads the prayer but the worshipper speaks directly to Allah or God. The third pillar, “zakat”, is a compulsory annual payment. Known as a charity tax, the monies collected are used to benefit the poor and needy. It is seen as a type of self-purification but also serves to distance one from a dependency or pride in material possessions. The fourth pillar is “sawm” and is the ritual fasting of Ramadan, a holy period or month for Muslims. During Ramadan, fasting occurs between dawn and sunset. It is believed this fasting encourages self-discipline and spiritual strength as well as furthering an understanding of the poor and needy. The fifth pillar is the “hajj”, the pilgrimage to Mecca. The end of the hajj includes a festival of sacrifice which honors the giving of a lamb to Abraham/Ibrahim to be used as a sacrifice instead of his son who, in Islamic beliefs, was Ishmael, not Isaac.

It is hard on a day that will continue news coverage of the killing of over one hundred and thirty children and almost ten adults in a school in Pakistan to think of Islam as a religion of peace and tolerance, of introspection and charity. It is far easier to see all Muslims as reflections of those who committed this grievous act. However, the actions of men are seldom the personifications of the credo of their faith. We must remember to study the religion and not condemn it just because of the actions of some. No belief system on earth has ever been comprised solely of perfect individuals. Violence is in direct contrast to any spiritual teachings based upon goodness and belief in a benevolent deity. The followers of Islam are the sons of Ibrahim or Abraham. What seems to have been forgotten is that those who perished simply because they sought to educate and be educated were also the sons and daughters of Abraham/Ibrahim. The enemy, in my humble opinion, is not Islam but rather the shortcomings of man – greed, fear, and a choice to act in violence rather than as the prophets, all the prophets, taught.

I end with Mohammed’s own words: “”The heart grieves, the eye tears, and for your departure, Ibrahim, we are sad. But the tongue never utters an objection that wouldn’t please God.” Assalamu alaukuni!

Yogurt Yummy!

Yogurt – Legend goes that Genghis Khan encouraged his men to drink, kumis. Religious texts mention Abraham/Ibrahim serving yogurt to his guests. Yogurt was believed to provide strength as well as refreshment. During the sixteenth century a Turkish doctor attended King Francis I and gave him yogurt made from goat’s milk for an intestinal inflammation. It is recorded that the yogurt saved the kind’s life.
Yogurt has regained popularity in recent years, although more as a breakfast food rather than as a drink. This simple yogurt beverage is both refreshing and healthy.

Plain yogurt – one regular cup works well for one glass
Water – prepare 6 oz or ¾ cup; use as needed
Salt, ginger, garlic powder, and pepper to taste
Cilantro or Mint to garnish

Chop the ginger and garlic (if using garlic clove). Blend with the cilantro and/or mint in a blender, adding 1 Tblsp of water. Pour the yogurt in a bowl and stir, adding the ginger, garlic, cilantro, and/or mint to the yogurt. Stir until smooth, adding water to thicken to your personal preference. Salt and pepper to taste. Pour into a glass, garnish with additional mint and serve cold. Obviously, this can be made simply in one glass, especially if you mince the cilantro and mint prior to adding. By using a blender and adding fruit, this can become a delicious fruit smoothie.

Abrahma’s Many Sons – Judaism

Abraham’s Many Sons – Judaism
Advent 17
Oven-baked Potato Latkes

His story began simply enough. He was from the other side of the Euphrates and a descendant of Eber whose name meant “eyver”. He was one of three sons of Terah, a tenth generation grandson of a man known as Noah. His story and the creation of his lineage involve themes of posterity, faith, and property. He ended up in the land of Canaan and when his wife Sarah died, he became a landowner by purchasing land for her burial in a place known as Hebron.

The time of this man’s life is one of great discussion. The religious literature describing his life places him living somewhere around 2000 BCE. However, archaeological proof of events mentioned in these writings indicates a more recent timeframe of 520-320 BCE. His life was chronicled in what would later become known as religious laws and scripture, forming the basis for three of the world’s most influential religions. He had bore a son to his wife’s personal servant, a son to fist first wife, and six sons to his second wife but it was the son to his first wife that became his heir. A song about him is indicative of how many things known about him are not quite accurate. Father Abraham, born Abram, did not just have seven sons. He was the father not only to Isaac, later known as Israel, by his wife Sarah, but also Ishmael, the first son of his servant, and six other sons born to Keturah, his second wife.

For the children of Abraham who trace their lineage through Isaac/Israel, the story of creation is told in Genesis, chapter one, of the Torah. It is also retold in Genesis, chapter2 and for some, these two telling do not convey the same story. For others, it is the same story, told from a different perspective. The Torah, for the faithful, was more than a collection of religious writings. It told of their beginnings, their culture, and their faith. Even today it is considered a living testament, a way of life to be followed, lived, and believed. Still, duality exists for the Jewish people. They were known as the “Ivri” or Hebrew people and Hebrew is the term used in the Torah when he appears in Genesis chapter 14. An ancestor of Abraham was called Eber, the name coming from the word “eyver” which meant from the other place. Abraham was from the other side of the Euphrates so some believe this refers to that fact.

The Greek word for Judaism was loudalos and then later loudaismos. The Latin became Judaismus and later Judaism. Judah was the name of one of Jacob’s sons, the ancestor of one of the tribes of Israel, another name for Jacob. However, in Hebrew the word for Judah is Yeduhi and many believe Judaism came from Yeduhim or Yeduhism which later became Judah-ism and eventually Judaism. In the Jewish faith the supreme deity is never called God but referenced as G-d. The first three letters of “Yeduhad” are the same as the first three letters of the four letter name for G-d.

At first the term Yehudi was used only for member of the tribe of Judah. However, the nation of Israel would become split into two kingdoms, the kingdom of Judah and the kingdom of Israel, and the term was used for anyone from the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi. During the sixth century BCE, the kingdom of Israel was overtaken by the Assyrians. It was left to the kingdom of Judah to carry on their faith and culture and they became known as the Jews.

Often the term Jew is used to refer specifically to the nationality and ethnicity while Judaism refers to the religion. This however, also has a duality in usage and understanding. A person who converts to the Jewish faith but is not of Jewish ethnicity may not be considered to be a Jew. The lineage has always been passed down through the matriarchal lineage.

The Jewish faith is based on a vast body of writings beginning with the Babylonian Talmud which was collated in fifth century BCE. The Hebrew Bible is divided into three parts: Torah, the laws; Nevi’im, the prophets; Keturim, the writings. The first five books, the Torah, contained over six hundred commandments, the Mitzvot, which form the basis of the Jewish faith. Orthodox Judaism is not a specific organized religion but a resistance to changes in the practice of Judaism. Its origin dates back to mid-nineteenth century Germany. Ultraorthodox Jews or Hasidic Jews are known by their distinctive clothing and strict adherence to food consumption based upon Jewish tradition. The Reformed Jewish movement is older and dates back to eighteenth century Europe. Reformed Jews sought to keep up with the changing times and have a greater tendency to become involved in interfaith marriages. Reform Judaism views the modern world as an opportunity to work with other faiths in advancing peace and understanding among all peoples.

For many Jews, immigration has led to a duality of cultures and citizenship. One such young lad entered Ellis Island as Israel Baline from Russia. A cantor in the old country, his father worked as a kosher poultry inspector and took his son with him to sing schul every Friday evening. The chants of his faith were the first introduction Izzy had to music. It would be through music, which he never learned to read or write, that young Izzy would make his mark on the world, though. After the death of his father, Izzy left home to work so that he could help his mother. He lived, slept, and worked in the less than desirable parts of New York City. He got a job at a singing waiter and, together with the café’s owner penned a song under his new name, Irving Berlin.

Irving Berlin represents the creation many Jewish people faced in coming to a new continent and trying to keep their traditional values and ways. Berlin himself married a Roman Catholic girl after the death of his first wife due to typhoid fever. When she died, they had been married sixty-three years. Berlin applied the regimen of his faith to his craft. He considered the holiday songs he wrote to be more American than religious. He called “White Christmas” more about the feeling of the winter season and combined holidays than about a Christian celebration. He could be stubborn and overly protective but his efforts protected composers and musicians as they strove for validity in the art world. Humble and proud, Izzy Baline/Irving Berlin lived one hundred and one years and never once forgot who he was, his gratitude for the chance to live where he did and be who he was, nor the religion that guided him. One of America and Judaism’s most prolific composers, Irving Berlin’s music remains today a bridge between faiths, cultures, and the spirit of living that his music portrayed.

Oven-Baked Potato Latkes
Within twenty-four hours, Jewish people worldwide will begin their observance of Hanukkah, an eight-day remembrance of one of the miracles of Judaism. There is great meaning and symbolism attached to the food of Jewish celebrations. Whether it is the weekly meal or a major celebration, the meanings are beautiful and noteworthy and many will have potato latkes on their festive Hanukkah table. A common dish in European and Middle Eastern cultures, this potato pancake is baked rather than fried. Latke can also be made using carrots and although traditionally fried, taste great when baked for a healthier version.
Non-stick cooking spray for use on a cookie or baking sheet
¾ lb russet potatoes (I have also used the Yukon gold and smaller red potatoes. Adjust cooking time accordingly as these other varieties cook faster.)
1 large egg or equivalent egg white mixture
1/3 cup minced scallions
Salt (kosher) and pepper to taste
½ cup applesauce
½ cup sour cream
Traditionally the potatoes would be peeled and then grated. I tend to insert a step and partially bake my potatoes in a microwave or par-boil on the stove for red potatoes. If using raw potatoes, let them sit and drain for about ten minutes after grating to allow for any excess moisture to collect. This can be added back into the mixture just before baking if the potato mixture seems dry. If using partially baked potatoes, you will not have any mixture. I sometimes add a Tblsp of butter for extra moisture and flavor to my pre-cooked potatoes. At any rate, you end up with grated potatoes! Beat the egg/egg whites until very well mixed or, if using only egg whites, until stiff peaks form. Gently combine the egg whites and potatoes, scallions, and seasonings. Drop this mixture by spoon onto the pre-sprayed baking sheet and bake for about ten minutes in a 350-degree Fahrenheit oven. Flip once and continue baking for another five minutes. Serve with applesauce and sour cream or use as a brunch item with eggs, etc. You can also use with left-over mashed potatoes, also this is best done when frying the latkes.

The Heavens are Telling..Aren’t They?

Immortal but not Everlasting –What are the Heavens Telling?
Advent 16
Eggless Egg Salad Wrap

Ask anyone about ancient Egypt and the subject of mummies will be discussed. What often is not discussed is Atenism, the one god or monotheistic religion King Tut’s father introduced as the official religion of Egypt. Known by the name of the sun god Aten, this religion was not widely accepted for a number of reasons. Pharaoh Akhenaten, later known as Amenhotep IV, wisely did not insist on immediate acceptance by the people of the one-god theory. Atenism allowed the people to continue to worship their other deities and they did. Aten had been a rather unknown deity but the religion centered around him became the focal point of Amenhotep IV’s world after the death of his wife, Queen Nefertiti. Amenhotep was the only one who could speak or pray to Aten. The religion quickly died out during the reign of his son Tutankhaten, the ruler history now calls King Tut.

It is important to note that while Atenism is often designated as the world’s first monotheistic religion, Judaism has also been called that. In the book “When Our Worlds Became Christian”, author Paul Veyne discussed the need for careful definition. Monotheism means a religion with one deity or god. Monolatrism refers to the command to worship only one such deity or god.

Amenhotep did not allow any images of the god Aten but it was described as being similar to a sun dial with outstretched wings. This description was symbolic of the concept within the religion that spoke of the Pharaoh returning to Aten the Creator upon his death. One might argue that rather than being monotheistic, meaning the recognition of only one deity, Atenism was monolatristic which refers to the acknowledgement of many deities but worshipping only one. To further complicate the religious waters, there is also henoism which is the belief and worship of one deity without denying that there are others. Some feel Atenism, much like Hinduism, was this. Max Muller, the man who first coined the term “henoism” puts it this way: monotheism in principle and a polytheism in fact”.

There are other religions which were around for a period but did not last. Pythagoras, the father of mathematics, is considered the father of a religion that bears his name, Pythagoreanism. It combined mathematics, aesthetics, and philosophy. It advanced concepts like vegetarianism and the transmigration of the soul. Aristotle described this as “the breath entering the void” which “distinguishes the natures of things”.

Manichaeism was founded in the third century ACE by a Persian named Mani. Once considered a Christian sect, it is now recognized as its own religion. The Manichaeans are credited with the saving of many Christian writings, however, so the connection is understandable. They believed in the difference between good and evil and claimed expansive knowledge as the road to one’s salvation. The strongest of the Manichaean faithful were called the “Elect” or “Perfect” and were required to be nomadic, traveling and teaching in a manner not unlike those of Buddhist monks. These “Elect” were universally persecuted by the Chinese and Roman governments as well as by the early Roman church. Their creation myth is based upon a war between the World of Light and the World of Darkness. Each realm created two beings. Adam and Eve were created by the World of Darkness and Mani and Jesus were created by the World of Light. The two pairs, one being evil and the other representing good, were said to be symbolic of the spirituality of the human race.

Another ancient religion is Tengrism which originated during the Bronze Age. Focusing strongly on ancestor worship, the people of the Altai Mountains in Central Asia had one deity, called by the Huns of the Northern Caucasus region “Tengri”. Once out of favor during the Mongrol era, Tengrism is today being advocated as the official state religion of Kyrgyzstan, a now independent country but once a part of the former U.S.S.R. Tengrism had many rituals and festivals similar to the pagan traditions adopted and celebrated by the early Christians. The most prominent was their Epiphany which occurred around the date December 23rd. A Yule tree would be cut down and taken inside one’s home and decorated.

Other ancient religions include Ashurism, the national cult of the Assyrian people, and Vedaism, a religion of the ancient Indo-Aryans often considered the forerunner and perhaps origin of the more modern Hindu belief system. If you have followed along our preparation in study of other beliefs during this Advent season, then you might understand the words of Spanish philosopher George Santayana: “Any attempt to speak without speaking any particular language is not more hopeless than the attempt to have a religion that shall be no religion in particular . . . . Thus every living and healthy religion has a marked idiosyncrasy. Its power consists in its special and surprising message and in the bias which that revelation gives to life. The vistas it opens and the mysteries it propounds are another world to live in; and another world to live in—whether we expect ever to pass wholly over into it or no—is what we mean by having a religion.”

The religions and the cultures from which they arose are all footsteps in the walk of humanity as it sought out not only reasons for living but its purpose for existence. Now on the final leg of our preparatory journey, we will enter the realm of more modern belief systems. As with our discussion of ancient religions, I will only introduce basic concepts and not give exacting doctrines. I hope if any have or in the future will interest you, you will seek to learn more about them. In my humble opinion, all of mankind and its beliefs deserve that respect. Quoting Santayana, “We must welcome the future, remembering that soon it will be the past; and we must respect the past, remembering that it was once all that was humanly possible.”

Eggless Egg Wraps

16 oz firm tofu, drained, pressed, and crumbled
1 large stalk celery, finely chopped or diced
2 green onions, minced
2 Tblsp fresh parsley minced (1 ½ Tblsp dried)
½ cup Tblsp mayonnaise (fat free makes this even healthier!)
3 Tblsp pickle relish (sweet pickle relish is traditionally used but I like any of them)
2 tsp lemon juice
1 ½ tsp prepared mustard (your choice)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 ½ cups alfalfa sprouts, rinsed and patter dry
2 whole tomatoes sliced
Tortilla wraps (spinach wraps make this even more tasty and add color!)

Combine tofu, celery, onions, and parsley in large bowl. In smaller bowl whisk together mayonnaise, relish, lemon juice and mustard. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add to tofu mixture and stir together. Spread the mixture on the tortilla wrap, adding the alfalfa sprouts and sliced tomatoes, and roll. Bon appetite!

Search for Love

The Unnamed Religions – A Search for Love
Advent 14
Pink Fruit of Paradise Recipes

It is considered a delicate color. Associated with romance, tenderness, sweetness, and charm, pink is the color of universal love of ones’self and of others. Representing compassion and nurturing, as well as love, pink is comprised of red’s sense of action and the insight of white.

In color psychology, pink is a sign of hope. Studies completed using scientific methods have proven that exposure to pink can have a calming effect on one’s nerves. It is even used to calm violent prisoners, although prolonged exposure to the color can have the opposite effect.

On this the third Sunday of the season of Advent, many will light a pink candle to represent love. The need one has to express and receive love is universal. A common theme in the previously ancient religions discusses of Confucianism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, the Golden Rule, also found in future to-be-discussed Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, is predicated upon this universal love. The Golden Rule of doing unto others what you yourself would want done to you is two-way thinking. It is a reciprocal acknowledgement that we are indeed equal and alike in our need for respect, kindness, consideration, and happiness – all the components of the emotion we call love.

The indigenous religion of Finland was an unnamed polytheistic religion. It evolved from shamanism and included animism and spirit recognition for animate and inanimate objects. Finnish pagans revered nature and their creation myth had the world being created from the egg of a diving duck. Their main god was Ukko, the sky and thunder god who was celebrated on April 4th. Similar to the Norse god Thor, he also had a magic hammer. Thunderstorms were believed to be the result of Ukko sleeping with his wife, Akka. His sacred animal was said to be the ladybug which was called by the Finnish a word that translates into “Ukko’s cow”.

Common in the stories of the Torah and the Bible are the Canaanites, a people who lived in the area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. They feature in many scriptures as enemies of the Israelites. However, during the first part of the twentieth century, on the coast of Syria, archaeological findings were unearthed that referenced the unnamed polytheistic religion of the Canaanites. Their supreme deity was El and his son Baal, also a god of thunder. One of its most popular myths told of a battle between Baal and Mot, the Canaanite god of death. Baal began the fight and was easily overcome by Not. Without their god of thunder and thunderstorms, the land falls into a devastating drought. All the other gods, led by El, worked together to free Baal. It is the Canaanite goddess of war, Anat, was finally goes to the underworld empire of Mot to free Ball and slay the god of death. The religion slowly became the victim of Israeli conquests until it, like Mot, was vanquished and disappeared.

Another unnamed religion intertwined with nature was found to have been worshipped by the Minoans on the island of Crete. Bull masks and horns were thought to be used in their rituals and some have been discovered in recent excavations. Also discovered was evidence that some of these rituals involved contests in which the faithful would attempt to chase a bull, capture it, and ride it – much like our modern-day rodeo events! Of particular note is that the main deity in this Minoan unnamed polytheistic religion was a female nature goddess. There are only a handful of religions that are matriarchal. The Minoans did have male deities but they were smaller than the females and some archaeologists doubt they were even considered gods at all. Snakes and double-headed axes were also used in their rituals and there is evidence of human sacrifice which probably is the basis for the myth of Thesus and the Minotaur.

Another religion, semi-unnamed but known by the people of the region, is the Olmec religion. These Mesoamerican people are considered to be the forefathers of the Mesoamerican religions previously (along with what has to be my favorite recipe name – Spotted Rooster!). It is the universal need for love and the resulting questions of where one came from and how one is loved in life that leads historians, theologians, and archaeologists to be certain these ancient inhabitants of lower North America and Central America as well as northern South America had their own religion. Evidence indicates a jaguar god of rain and fertility but it is unclear as to whether the jaguar was the highest deity or one of eight separate yet equal gods. Considered related to shamanism, the religion of the Olmec people appears to have involved dancing, the wearing of masks, and the use of hallucinogenic herbs.

So why does religion seem to be a part of every culture? George Saunders explains it this way: “The universal human laws – need, love for the beloved, fear, hunger, periodic exaltation, the kindness that rises up naturally in the absence of hunger/fear/pain – are constant, predictable, reliable, universal, and are merely ornamented with the details of local culture.”

In an essay discussing Abraham Maslow’s “Need Hierarchy”, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at UCSB Dr. Thomas J. Scheff related how the need for universal love is predicated upon our existence and how it leads to having a belief system that directs our social and personal interactions. “ Maslow ranked needs at each level in terms of their immediacy for survival. For example, breathing is more immediate than the need for food: avoiding suffocation takes precedence over the absence of food and water. But immediacy is only one way of ranking needs. Another way would be in terms of long term, rather than moment-by-moment dependency. As will be apparent in the discussion below, in ranking of this kind, there may be virtually no difference in rank between the various levels. For example, in modern societies, one is completely dependent on others to provide sustenance and security for survival, so the level of belonging is just as important as the first two levels.”

One the needs required for survival, both physical and psychological, are met, then the need for love is recognized and conveyed to others. Self-esteem is based in part on what others think of us and what we think of ourselves. The need for a belief system becomes a part of how we show self love and social love. It is how we give respect to the creation around us. The lack of love is often seen as a main component in mental health issues. Of course, seldom does a person really lack in having love. It might be hard to hear in what one is told or to see in one’s self-perception. Maybe it was that fact that led to the believing in higher existence, in spirits that could love in spite of our humanness. However a religion came into being, the love expressed and sought goes without saying as being paramount to life.

Pink Grapefruit – the Fruit of Paradise
The name grapefruit really comes from the Latin for fruit of paradise and the pink grapefruit is considered the sweetest variety. Coupled with some sliced raw kohlrabi, it makes a simple yet delightful appetizer. Combine it with a vegetable-filled cold tabouli salad and you have a great yet easy luncheon. In fact, use some left-over brown rice instead of tabouli and those left-over veggies and you’ve not only fixed a healthy meal, you’ve cleans out the refrigerator! Grapefruit adds an interesting flavor to a salsa and can substitute for lime in a guacamole. However, for a surprising and unexpected dish, serve this delectable soup!

Easy Carrot and Grapefruit Soup
2 Tblsp butter
1 cup each diced carrots and potatoes
½ cup minced onions
3 cups chicken broth
½ cup pink grapefruit juice
½ cup cream (or half-and-half)

Over a medium heat, melt the butter and then sauté the onions until tender. Deglaze the pan with the grapefruit juice and then add the carrots and potatoes. Cook them until tender, mashable tender. Add the chicken broth and heat over a medium-low heat for about ten minutes. Slowly add the cream or half-and-half and continue heating for another five minutes over a reduced heat. The mixture can be pureed in a food processor or blender is you prefer a creamier mixture. This should be done prior to adding the cream. The substance of the potatoes combined with the tartness of the grapefruit and the sweetness of the carrots make this a wonderful addition to any soup repertoire!

Light in the Darkness

Light in the Darkness
Advent 14
Hot Chinese Chicken Salad

It is a debate of long-standing: What is a religion? Is it a way of living? Is it a belief system? Is it spirituality? Is it all of the above? How a person lives reflects what they believe and what they hold dear. Can a person really be believed to have adopted a certain religion as their own if they do not live according to that religion? How does one adapt their lifestyle to their faith? The answer to that question is most likely the reason we have different varieties of Judaism, Islam, Christianity, and other beliefs. Even something as simple and strict as the Amish faith has different synods or ways to interpret and live their beliefs. After all, the best belief system is that which one can live.

Confucianism is said to be, by many, more a lifestyle than a religion and Confucius himself would probably agree. However, that might be said of many other religions so today we will discuss Confucianism. In trying to bring harmony into one’s life and community, Confucius sought a way to live the Tao.

It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. The history of China gave birth to many new inventions and the integration of beliefs into daily living is just one of them. It was a turbulent and harsh time to be living and yet, Confucianism is just one example of the juxtaposition that existed within China and within the lives of each of us today. Confucius saw himself as something of a teacher and valued the old with the new: “A good teacher is one who brings understanding of the new while keeping the old warm.”

The China of Confucius’ time was one that saw much military action. It was, however, also a time of aesthetics. Confucius advocated four basic themes: mutual consideration, loyalty of family, humaneness, and ritual. Mutual consideration was what we today call the Golden Rule. It involved thinking of others not as being different, foreigners, or enemies but rather as someone just like one’s self. It meant no doing to someone what you yourself would not want done to yourself. Loyalty of family stressed respect for elders, especially in one’s family, but also respect for one’s siblings. In an age where a sibling was often a person’s biggest rival, Confucius stressed the bonds of family as strong ladders of love.

Life was harsh and niceness was seldom seen during this period of mankind. Confucius emphasized that humans should be…well, human and humane. Courtesy, Generosity, and honesty were the trinity for which one built character. They were seen in the diligence of a person and in the kindness one showed to all living beings. Many of the Chinese ways, such as the ancient tea ceremony, were illustrations of the types of public and private rituals Confucius believed would assist a person in remembering who they were, in living the other three themes, in following the Tao of one’s path. Not just something a person did on a Sunday morning or Friday evening, rituals were the daily patterns of life that took the time to be. Today we would call it to “be in the moment”. Confucius saw the value in simply taking the time to show respect…respect for the liquid of tea that was both life affirming and life sustaining, for example.

A fragment of bone discovered from the Neolithic Age has confirmed the existence of musical Instruments in ancient China. Marco Polo is credited for introducing them to the rest of the world. The horse-headed fiddle was the ancient stringed instrument, so named because the end of the fret board displayed the carving of a horse’s head. The first Chinese wind instrument, made from a reed and named after the loquat fruit, was first called the pipa and then the lute. As armies traversed borders, so did belief systems like Buddhism and the music of the Islamic religious chants. All of these were incorporated into the ancient Chinese folk music with lyrics added.

Today it is hard to attend a celebration without seeing a Chinese lantern, those paper lanterns that are used for everything. However, in true ancient form, their invention was not for aesthetic purpose but one of necessity. China lacked the basic building blocks for glass and their buildings had neither windows nor inside lighting. However, their paper-making technology led the world in its advancements. Chinese paper was rich in color and embellishment but so fine one could see light through it. One of the first recorded uses was by the military genius, Zhuge Liang. His use of paper lanterns, the first being shaped like his own hat, allowed the Chinese armies to advance under cover of darkness.

Just as Liang’s first lantern was made out of oiled rich paper, fitted with a bamboo frame and lighted candle which produced hot air and enabled the lantern to float in the sky, Confucius sought to teach people how to walk through life using their personal beliefs and humanity. Many of his teachings hold true today and display an element of humor seldom found in such religious-centered content. One of my favorites is “I have yet to come across anyone who admires virtue as much as sexual attractiveness.”

Truly, for me, the greatness of Confucius lies in his simple but sincere appreciation of the complexity of living against the simple act of being. I will leave you with a few of his comments. “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” ““The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.” And Confucius even had something to say about why I have chosen to study religions as we prepare for the coming new year during this season of Advent: ““Study the past if you would define the future.”

Hot Chinese Chicken Salad*
8 oz fresh or steamed Chinese egg noodles (spaghetti can be used)
¼ cup chicken broth
2 Tblsp rice wine vinegar
1 Tblsp white grape juice (rice wine or dry sherry can be used)
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp red pepper flakes
3 separate tsp of cooking oil (vegetable or canola, not olive oil)
1 ½ cups fresh pea pods (frozen can be used if thawed)
1 cup thinly sliced bell pepper
1 clove minced garlic
¾ lb chicken breast, skinned and deboned, diced into small chunks
1 cup thinly sliced cabbage (either red or green. I like to vary colors so use a contrasting color to the bell peppers used)
2 green onions, thinly sliced
Cook noodles until tender and drain. Whisk next six ingredients sown to pepper flakes in small bowl. Heat 1 tsp oil in skillet or wok over medium heat. Add vegetables and garlic and cook for 2 minutes or until crisp-tender. Remove from skillet. Add remaining 2 tsp of oil to skillet and cook chicken. Add cabbage, vegetable mixture, and noodles. Toss. Stir in sauce mixture and cook for another two minutes. Garnish with green onions and serve.

*This can easily be made into a vegetarian meal by adding eggplant, broccoli and cauliflower, etc.

Who do?

Who Do? Voodoo!
Advent 13
Haitian Holiday Hash

You might be thinking: “Voodoo? In a series about world religions?” The answer is a resounding YES! We began this series discussing Yoruba, a religion from Africa whose beginnings were from Odun and his sixteen sons. Those sons went on to have their own kingdoms and their faith spread. Voodoo, also known as Vodun, comes from the Yoruba spirituality. Based also on Catholic beliefs, Voodoo is a Fon-Ewe word meaning “spirit”.

As with the more recently discussed Eastern spiritualities that valued their ancestors, Voodoo is a religion that honors the spirits of both the living and those of passed ancestors. With the use of music and drums, Voodoo rituals celebrate the spirit in all and pray that spirits of the deceased will return and inhabit one’s living body. These spirits are thought to be full of wisdom and healing powers..

Known as Vodu in Africa, the religion migrated with its believers to Haiti. As with any translocation of peoples and beliefs, some things were left behind and other things evolved into different rituals. The animal sacrifices common in Africa were not practiced in Haiti and the more prevalent Catholic rituals from the Spianish explorers were incorporated.

A war for independence in Haiti led the people to believe Voodoo had helped them defeat the French. It was in Haiti that the bokor, or religious policeman/sorcerer came into being. The bokor would sentence those seen as being evil and deny them the right to have a soul. These people, living without the benefit of the belief’s spirits to inhabit them, became known as the walking dead or zombies. Because the Voodoo culture considered someone who did not have the benefit of an ancestor’s soul to be dead, these people were seen as being condemned to wander aimlessly throughout eternity.

As the Port of New Orleans became an international port, immigrants from both Africa and Haiti arrived in Louisiana and brought with them their Voodoo faith. Marie LaVeau was one such practitioner who was allowed by the Roman Catholic Church in Louisiana to practice the culture within the Church. Many continued the practice of Voodoo as a way to regain and maintain the culture of their heritage.

The most commonly known aspect of Voodoo is the zombie. However, what you might have learned from pop culture is largely incorrect. The original word from which zombie has come is “nbzambi”. This refers to the primary spirit of a person. Voodoo has four types of zombie, none of which results from the bite of another. Hollywood made that up and today it is a public relations theme that many believe.

The Four types of Voodoo zombies are the Great Spirit, the Spiritual Soul, the Herbal Zombie, and the Bargained Zombie. While the names have been used in negative or scary connotations, it is really important to remember the beginnings and story of the Yoruba faith and the purpose of calling on the wisdom of one’s ancestors when studying Voodoo. It was a belief in the healing powers of the elders that drives this faith.

One cannot ignore, however, the prevalence of misconceptions that surround Voodoo. Most are the result of its popularity in popular culture and the ease with which the entertainment industry both used and abused it. From the concluding joke in the Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, and Shirley Temple movie “The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer” to the David Bowie song “Magic Dance”, the mystical powers of Voodoo have been immortalized. “You remind me of the babe [man]. (What babe? [man]) The babe [man] with the power. (What power?) The Power of voodoo. (Who do?) You do. (Do what?) Remind me of the babe.”

At the turn of the twentieth century, the African and Haitian immigrants in New Orleans, found themselves with new musical instruments to play and a new type of music was heard. These followers of their African heritage and cultural faith in Voodoo soon had people snapping their fingers and moving their feet to new rhythms. For audiences accustomed to the regality of classical music, this new art form called jazz seemed to possess people. Soon people like Jelly Roll Morton were said to play music that reached into one’s soul and his music was accused of eliciting wicked desires.

The intent of the Voodoo religion, much like Odun’s request to his son’s to seek out the salt water that would heal his eyes, was for healing and spiritual fortitude. While many may know the word and delight in pretending to play with certain mistaken aspects, Voodoo should be remembered for the belief system it is – a belief system based upon honoring one’s ancestors and the intent to lead the best life one can. The Hollywood aspects, however, will not fade any time soon. Hopefully, though, neither will the jazz that its children gave the world. Rather than being possessed, jazz opens the soul and lets us smile, move, and celebrate life – the real intentions of the ancient beliefs of Vodu.

Haitian Holiday Hash
In case you think I have forgotten that not everyone in a vegetarian, you will be happy to learn that meat is permissible in the Voodoo culture. Usually chickens were eaten but that was more a matter of practicality than religious edict. Chickens are easy to maintain on an island and were less likely to die en route from larger continents. They would also provide eggs as well and thus were a double source of protein. This recipe calls for ground beef but chopped grilled or broiled chicken can be used as well. In fact, for a quick evening meal, stop by a grocery store and pick up a rotisserie chicken and half the cooking will already be done for you! You can also use black beans in place of the meat for a great vegetarian meal.
½ lb cooked ground beef or diced chicken; 1 can of black beans drained as meat substitute
1 Tblsp cooking oil
½ cup sliced mushrooms
½ cup diced tomatoes
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup dried bread crumbs
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
1 clove or ¼ tsp minced garlic
1 can artichoke hearts, drained
1 tsp each of rosemary, thyme, marjoram – chopped finely or dried (To taste)
3 egg whites
Heat oil over medium heat and add the mushrooms, onion, and garlic. Cook for about 8 minutes or until tender. Turn heat off or remove to a large bowl. Add the meat or beans, artichokes, tomatoes, cheese, herbs, and bread crumbs. Beat egg whites with mixture until stiff peaks form and fold into your meat/vegetable mixture. Pour into a casserole dish and bake for twenty minutes at 350-degree Fahrenheit.
For a more colorful casserole, feel free to add creamed corn and ½ cup of red and green bell peppers.