Go Ahead. Ask me!

Over the past few months, I've had interviews with several different churches for positions in youth ministry and/or Christian education. This post isn't really about that, but I wanted to let you know I'm jobless and that you should pity me, unless, of course, you are also jobless. In that case, we should commiserate. Or, if you're a church that's hiring, you should check me out. I'm thoughtful and articulate. Anyway, on with it.

Most of the questions interviewers ask are pretty standard fare (as is to be expected).

"Describe your call into Christian ministry."

"What is your vision of youth ministry?"

"How would you recruit and train volunteers?"

There are other questions that could only be adequately answered after weeks or months of thought and would be most effectively expressed in writing (maybe 5-10 typed pages), but that I am expected to answer on the spot in five minutes or less. Then there are the clever questions: the ones that seem deep, but really offer little to no insight into me as a person, employee, or minister. Some questions, though, make me think not only during the interview, but for a long time afterward. For the most part, it's the questions that seem most innocuous that have this effect on me.

During one of my recent interviews, a fellow asked a question of the latter variety: "What kind of music do you like?" I think it was meant to be a throwaway, something to lighten the mood.

It wasn't until after I'd insulted country music, divulged my love of bluegrass, and listed a few of my favorite Indie groups, singer-songwriters, and artists popular in the 1960s and 1970s that I realized it was a trick. Okay, he wasn't really trying to trick me, but he was definitely looking for a specific answer.

After a moment's silence, he looked at me (or my image on the computer screen) and asked, "What about contemporary Christian music?"


I think the next words out of my mouth may have put at least one nail in the coffin of any hopes I'd had of working with these good folks. Perhaps I shouldn't have been such an elitist prig...

"I prefer not to listen to music that's marketed to a captive audience. Too many Christian groups are successful because parents won't let their kids listen to or good church folk feel guilty listening to or buying anything not labeled 'Christian.'  And, unfortunately, much music labeled Christian is a sub-par imitation of other music."


I know this is not a new rant. Every audiophile Christian and her brother has told us that music bearing the label Christian is (far too often) bland, uncreative pap (just like so-called Christian art - but that's a whole other issue). So, anyway, I won't get into that. What I'd like to do is offer some beautiful, honest, creative music written and/or sung by Christians who didn't take advantage of a religious label to boost sales. And I'd like to thank that fellow, who may or may not have intended to make me think for weeks after hearing his question. This one's for you!


Please offer some of your own suggestions. I love to find new music or be reminded of great old stuff!

Try It, You'll Like It

Having grown up on the typical American diet of meat and potatoes (with an occasional foray into the world or rice), I wasn't introduced to tofu until high school. Not that I tried tofu in high school, but I heard about it and was convinced that it couldn't possibly be delicious. In college, I tried the "blackened tofu" that our cafeteria offered. It was detestable: firm tofu sprinkled with cajun seasoning and grilled. It even sounds disgusting.

Finally, in seminary, I was served pan-fried, extra-firm tofu and fell in love. Marinated in a small amount of soy sauce and sesame oil, I could have eaten it like popcorn. In fact, after using it to top our salads or stir fries, the extra bits would disappear quickly. These perfectly crisp, delectably seasoned bits of flash-fried goodness constituted the perfect re-introduction to a food I once considered unfit for human consumption.

Since my re-introduction, I've enjoyed tofu in many forms, but it wasn't until very recently that I prepared a recipe that included tofu for myself. Inspired by my vegetarian friend, Matthew, who promised to post any number of hippie tofu recipes on Recipe Awesomeness, I decided to post one of my own. I would love to claim this as my own creation, but it comes from The Commonsense Kitchen, by Tom Hudgens, my favorite cookbook of the past few months. This Curry Tofu Salad is terrific as a sandwich filling or served atop a delicious lettuce.

1 pound firm tofu
3/4 teaspoon of salt, plus more as needed
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons canola oil of other vegetable oil
6 large white mushrooms, wiped clean, trimmed, halved, and sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons mild or hot curry powder
1 small carrot, peeled and finely shredded
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 medium stalk celery, finely diced
1/4 cup mayonnaise, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus more as needed
freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, parsley, or cilantro (optional)

Crumble the tofu finely in a medium bowl, sprinkle with 3/4 teaspoon salt, and mix well.

Finely mince together the ginger and garlic. In a wide skillet over a medium-high flame, heat the oil. Throw in the garlic and ginger with a pinch of salt and saute, stirring, for 20 to 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms with a pinch of salt, then add the curry powder and cook, stirring, for another minute. Add the tofu, continuing to stir as the tofu heats through and excess water evaporates, 4 to 5 mintues. When there is no more excess water, remove from the heat and let the tofu cool completely in the pan, about 30 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients: carrot, green onion, celery, mayonnaise, mustard, soy sauce, lemon, black pepper to taste, and optional herbs. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt, pepper, lemon juice, or mayonnaise to balance. Serve immediately or refrigerate.

Ten Times Better than Kraft Dinner

Yesterday, I let you all in on my newest passion: good food. Well, the two best ways for me to share that passion seem to be sharing food and sharing recipes. Since I can't pass a plate through the computer screen, I'll do the next best thing - share a recipe.

Since mac 'n' cheese was the dish that finally convinced me of the superiority of fresh ingredients and deliciousness of cooking from scratch, it seems appropriate that it be the first recipe I share here. So, here goes!

1 lb. pasta (any kind you like, but fun shapes are always better)
2 cups shredded cheese (2-3 kinds with complementary flavors, not pre-shredded - cheddar and monterey jack are good ones to start with)
3 tbsp unsalted butter
3 tbsp flour
1-2 cups milk or cream
salt (anything but table salt...blech)
freshly ground pepper (white if you don't like black flecks in your cheese sauce)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Generously salt the water and add the pasta. Stir to avoid clumping. Pay attention to how much time your pasta needs to cook. Overcooked pasta is one of the worst parts of boxed mac 'n' cheese. When it is finished cooking, drain the pasta, but do not rinse it.

As the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When it's completely melted and bubbly, add the flour, some salt and pepper, and a dash of nutmeg (This is called roux, pronounced "roo." All the best cooking words are French). Stir continuously to ensure that the flour doesn't burn.

After about a minute, slowly add the first cup of milk. Using a whisk will help you avoid lumps in the sauce. When the milk is fully incorporated and bubbly, slowly add the cheese, a handful at a time. Stir in a figure eight pattern to avoid slopping the sauce over the edges. If the sauce gets too thick, add more milk. If it's too thin, let the heat work its magic of evaporation.

Taste the cheese sauce to determine whether it needs more seasoning. Add salt and pepper as needed. Some folks like to add mustard for a little tang. Hot sauce and garlic are more my style. When the sauce is finished to your taste, toss it with the pasta and enjoy. This amount will probably serve 4-6 people (more as a side dish).

Once you master this basic recipe (a matter of making it once or twice), experiment. One of my favorite variations includes onions, carrots and celery that have been sauteed in butter (a.k.a. - mirapoix, another fancy French cooking word). Another involves the addition of chopped ham or bacon. When I was working as a nanny, I would add a bag of mixed vegetables to the boiling water three or four minutes before the pasta was ready and brown some hamburger. Mix it all together and you've got the most "incredible hamburger helper" ever. I've never tried it, but I imagine various nuts and fruit could be delicious depending on the cheeses you use and your level of culinary adventurousness.

The point is, once you've got a recipe under your belt, you own it and can change it however you like. Go crazy, people!

Good Food

Over the course of the past couple years (particularly the past few months), I have become a bit of a food snob. No, I don't eat much in the way of exotic foods. Caviar and foie gras hold little appeal for me. My snobbery takes a different form; I can't abide mediocre food.

Why dump canned, boxed or frozen food into a pot and call it supper when only a little more work would produce an infinitely more delicious meal? Though I once hearkened to the siren song of time-saving convenience foods, the experience of scrumptious, yet uncomplicated dishes has convinced me that a little more effort is worth the abundance of flavor gained.

The dish that finally convinced me was macaroni-and-cheese. One night, I decided that Kraft dinner just wasn't cutting it anymore and purchased the ingredients to make some mac 'n' cheese from scratch. As the pasta cooked, I made the sauce, flavored with three cheeses, nutmeg and mustard. By the time the pasta was done, the sauce was also ready to go. In the same amount of time it would have taken to prepare a boxed mix (in which the pasta is inevitably overcooked and the sauce made from neon orange powder), I had a delectable, creamy, tangy, utterly satisfying meal. To make it even more satisfying, sometimes I add a little ham or some veggies or both! Of course, not all from scratch food takes the same amount of time as the boxed version, but the difference in satisfaction level between the two is light years apart, though. At least, for me.

So, anyway, I just don't get the point of food that's merely good enough. If we have to engage in a particular activity multiple times each day for our survival, isn't it worth our while to make said activity as enjoyable as possible instead of just getting it done?

Stop feeding yourself the slop the TV tells you is delicious. Buy ingredients instead of prepared foods. Make a fresh version of a boxed meal and marvel at the difference. Don't waste your time or calories on good enough. Life is too short for mediocre food. Join me in my food snobbery that demands robust flavor, wonderful texture and complete satisfaction.