Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bakefest 2010

Mexican hot chocolate and cinnamon

chocolate and mint
meyer lemon and cranberry

eggnog and spiced rum

Last Saturday night we had a bakefest at the Elliott house.  We made approximately a billion mini-cupcakes, maybe a few more than that.  We made four varieties:  eggnog cupcakes with spiced rum buttercream, chocolate cupcakes with mint buttercream, meyer lemon and cranberry cupcakes with meyer lemon buttercream, and Mexican hot chocolate cupcakes with cinnamon buttercream.  We boxed most of them up for our coworkers at both churches...and I sent one tin to Shreveport, Louisiana. 

These cupcakes were the product of a recipe hunt online.  There are two cupcake blogs that I really like, so they were a major source of inspiration.  I also wanted to vary the flavors so that each box would have something for everyone.

I now wish that I had taken a picture of the MASSIVE amount of buttercream I made before splitting it into four parts to make the different flavors.  Picture six sticks of butter (or seven?), 3.5 pounds of powdered sugar, and some heavy cream.  It wouldn't all fit in my KitchenAid.  And that's saying something.  I definitely did not stick to the icing recipes - just added the spices and flavors until Gates said they tasted right.

Here are links to the recipes:

Mexican Hot Chocolate Mini-Cupcakes
Cinnamon Buttercream

Eggnog Cake and Spiced Rum Buttercream

Chocolate Cake and Mint Buttercream (I skipped the filling)

Meyer Lemon and Cranberry Cake (I mixed the filling into the batter)
Meyer Lemon Buttercream

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

sermon from last week

          I love to sleep.  I have loved to sleep for as long as I can remember.  I never cared much about Saturday cartoons as a child.  I never particularly liked breakfast.  I preferred to sleep through all of those things.
But my parents swear that there was a time in which I never slept, pretty much from birth until eighteen months.   My younger sister, Sara, on the other hand, slept all the time as an infant.  She was one of those quote un-quote perfect babies.   So when Sara had baby, my niece Addalie, two weeks ago, we were all hoping that she would take after her mother.  Unfortunately for Sara and her husband, their newborn seems to be more like me.  My sweet niece doesn’t sleep much at all, and she certainly does not sleep at night.  I am positive that my sister is telling the truth about this, because I spent one night last week with the baby so her parents could rest. 
At about two AM, I was tired enough that my thoughts started to wander.  I began thinking about my niece, wondering what she would be like in a year, or two years, or sixteen years.  Would she have my sister’s curly hair and ability to sing?  Would she take after her aunt and have a terrible allergy to mold?  Would she be more like Bradley’s family – have qualities that I don’t even really know about?  This precious child has been born with so many questions left unanswered -  we will all have to wait and see in order to know what she will become, who she will be.
Most people come into our lives with these question marks.  Throughout our lives we meet new people.  Some of them become our husbands, wives, life-long friends.    We sometimes know things about people before we meet them – sometimes we have heard stories or anecdotes that convince us to be someone’s roommate our freshman year of college or go on a blind date.   And sometimes, we are introduced to people by a mutual friend. 
For scores of people in Judea and Jerusalem, John the Baptist was the person that introduced them to Jesus. John the Baptist appeared on the scene to make sure that everyone would know Jesus before he arrived.  Wearing his strange clothing and eating his strange food, John went forth proclaiming that all should “prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” for the
“one who was more powerful than John was coming…to baptize the people with fire and the Holy Spirit.”  He told everyone he encountered that they had to change their lives, had to confess their sins and repent, before they encountered Christ. 
         That order of things is certainly familiar to us.  We confess our sins each week before we encounter Christ in the Eucharist.  But imagine how confusing this must have been for those who had never heard about Jesus at all.  To be told that you needed to change your life, right the wrongs you have been doing, and to be told that by someone wearing strange clothing and eating bugs?  How impossibly strange would that be?
         Almost as impossibly strange, perhaps, as trying to digest John the Baptist’s words today.  After all, for most of us, this is hardly the time to be thinking through all of the things we do and trying to decide what we need to change, what we need to confess, how we need to repent.  Instead, this is the time of year to spend a couple hours online designing a Christmas card, spend a couple more hours waiting in lines to buy presents or groceries, spend our last few hours wrapping and packing to make sure we are ready for the flurry of excitement and activity that is the holiday season.
Self-reflection?  Prayers?  Who has time for that?  After all, it will be Lent soon enough, and Lent offers plenty of opportunities to do those things.  And yet, we, like those Judean residents so many years ago, are being called to make straight the way for the Lord.  John the Baptist is calling upon us to pull our lives together, find the things that we need to change and act on them.  Lucky for us, this season has a tendency to bring out the worst in some of us – making it all the more easy to see where we might need to make a few changes. 
And we do this all in preparation for Christmas – the time in which the world first met Jesus Christ as a small baby in a manger.  A baby that surely, upon first glance, seemed just like any other baby.  And yet he would in fact become the person that would change the world. 
What if we all took this time to remember that we, too, were once babies.  We were all once very small people with very large question marks.  Nobody knew if we would be the ones to cure a dread disease or become President or be willing to host the family for Christmas.  Nobody knew if we would be the ones to adopt angels off the Clarence tree or if we would be the ones needing to be adopted.  By now, I know it seems that many of our question marks have probably been answered.  But this passage today stands as a reminder to us all that it is not too late to change some of those answers.  It’s not too late to straighten ourselves out and make changes for the better.  It’s not too late to find new questions in our lives and do our best to answer them while following Christ.
For myself, there is no way that I will ever have a hit song on the radio.  I am pretty sure we can rule out curing a disease, too.  And being an Olympic athlete.  And well, frankly, a lot of things.  But there are still so many questions left unanswered – about what kind of aunt I will be, and wife, and parent.  Will I be the person that invites my in-laws, and my sister’s in-laws, and just about anyone to Christmas?  Will I be the person who declines receiving a gift from my aunt and instructs her to buy an alternative giving card instead?  Will I be willing to take stock of my life during this season and figure out how to give more of myself to the things that delight God and bring me life?  Hopefully, I will.  And, hopefully, you will too.  ‘Tis the season, after all.  AMEN.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

the sixth of December

Last night, we went to Babalu, because I was in a horrid mood after an encounter with Williams-Sonoma.  The food was very good, particularly the shrimp tacos (shrimp was the fish of the day).  I may have to go eat the fish tacos again very soon.  We also had Mexican street corn, guac, and empanadas.  Delicious.  The best part came at the end of the evening.  I had asked to see the menu again because I thought I might try one more thing.  I decided on the corn.  Just as I said to Gates, "I really wish the waitress would come by so I could order the corn," our waitress appeared and put an order of corn on our table.  We immediately came to the conclusion that either a) Babalu has hidden recording devices listening for what people want OR b) our server was psychic.    Sadly, we soon found out that neither was true.  We had gotten the corn meant for another table.   Unbelievably, that possibility had not occurred to me. 

So, Babalu = WIN

Williams-Sonoma on the other hand...whoa.  Basically, I placed an order online using 8 different gift cards.  I know, ridiculous, but we had bunch of cards in varying denominations and we wanted a knife set.  Knives are expensive.  I arranged things so that all of my gift cards would be used except one, which had a fairly large amount of money on it (it was our merchandise return credit from returning things that we got doubles of after the wedding).   I did this so that we would only have to carry one card around.  The W-S website told me that all of my cards were cashed out except the one, so I threw the cashed out cards away.  And then...yesterday, I went to buy a few things at W-S and was told that my card had a zero balance.  Turns out, the W-S website does not take credit off the cards in either a) the order you input them or b) the order in which it says it will take the credit off.  So, their ordering system used all of my credit on one card and left the other cards active - you know, the ones I threw away!!!  because their website said they were without value!!!!   Customer service admitted that this was their fault, but was not sure that they could do anything.  They were supposed to call me back today, but I haven't heard a thing.   SOOOO frustrating.

Williams-Sonoma = epic, monumental fail. 

Before going to W-S though, I stopped by the Apple Store to get my poor sad iPhone face fixed.  It had been broken since the week of our wedding.  Much to my surprise, the guy said that they have an unofficial policy that everyone get's one do-over with the iPhone.  Since I had not taken my do-over yet, I got a brand new phone for free.  SWEET.

Apple = WIN!!

quite the day, it was.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Turkey Day

I have been meaning to post about Thanksgiving since it happened.  It was a Thanksgiving of firsts for Gates and I.  Our first to be married AND our first to have people over.  We don't have our good china together yet, but I think we made a solid effort on the table.  Here's what it looked like - before the food, of course:

It's such a joy to just have the things that you need to set a table.  That's definitely new to me.  A special shout out goes to my sister, who gave me those great placemats by TAG.  I love TAG. 

We got our turkey and ham from the honeybaked ham store and my parents brought dressing.  We made the sweet potatoes and the creamed potatoes.  Actually, it's a bit misleading to say, "we," as really I went to the Cathedral for the Thanksgiving Day service and Gates made the side dishes.  (He did a great job.)  My sister brought her husband and her newborn daughter, and Sister Schubert graciously provided the rolls.

And...I made cupcakes for the occasion:  Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcakes with Cinnamon Buttercream as the frosting.  I was a bit disappointed with the cake, because it to be more spicy, but I loved the buttercream.  Everyone who was not me thought that both the cake and frosting were delicious.  I used the recipes found here.  Next time I want to use this recipe, as I think it has more of the flavors I was hoping to taste. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pumpkin Butter = Awesome

Pumpkin Butter is delicious and easy to make.   If you like apple butter, then you should try it!  If you google pumpkin butter, pay no attention to the pictures.   Somehow photos make this wonderful food product look totally disgusting.

I used an online recipe last year, which can be found here or below.
  • 1 (29 ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 cup apple juice
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg    
Combine pumpkin, apple juice, spices, and sugar in a large saucepan; stir well. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes or until thickened. Stir frequently.  Transfer to sterile containers and chill in the refrigerator until serving. 

Besides using pumpkin butter as a spread for bread or as a topping for desserts, you can make pumpkin martinis.   A very nice bartender in Houston gave me this recipe - they do require a bit of work, but they are well worth it and perfect for Thanksgiving!

Pumpkin Martinis
1 part pumpkin butter
1 part vodka
2 parts apple juice
Cinnamon-infused simple syrup to taste

Mix all ingredients together, then chill. 

NOTE:  To make cinnamon-infused simple syrup, combine two cups of water and four cinnamon sticks.  Bring the mixture to a boil.  Simmer for ten minutes then remove the cinnamon sticks.  Bring water back to a boil, add one and a half cups of sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved.  Let it cool then refrigerate.  This recipe can be found here.

I hope you enjoy! 

Monday, November 8, 2010

All Saints Sermon

This is my sermon for last week.  I really wanted to demonstrate the motions that go with the Father Abraham song, but couldn't figure out how to make it work.  Click here to see a video if you missed this song growing up.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Twenty-nine years ago, give or take a few days, I was baptized at Druid Hills Methodist Church in Meridian.  I was a baby, about the same age as several of our baptismal candidates this morning.  The baptism stuck, but the Methodist part didn’t.  By the time I was old enough to remember Sunday school, we had moved to the Episcopal church.  Every week the Sunday School teachers at my church gathered all the children to sing before we went to our own classes. Now, some of the songs didn’t require any outside knowledge to get the point of the song – Jesus Loves me, for example.  Others, however, you had to know something to understand why we were singing them.  When I was not given the information I needed, I supplied it for myself, as many children do. 
That’s why, whenever we sang, “Father Abraham had many sons,” I pictured Abraham Lincoln.  He was, after all, not only the most famous Abraham I knew, he was the only Abraham I had ever heard of.   So it wasn’t a huge leap to imagine that Lincoln was one of the fathers of our country, and therefore, “Father Abraham.”  (ETA:  now imagine top hats on everyone singing the song and doing the motions.  hilarious)
 It’s also why, when we sang When the Saints go Marching In, I pictured the football stadium at Meridian High School, with me sitting in the bleachers with all of my friends waiting for the New Orleans Saints to run onto the field. 
         It would be years before I found out that my interpretation of the Saints was, shall we say, non-traditional.   As I was introduced to Saints George and Jerome and Clare and all the other Saints that you study in history class, I began to see the concept of being a saint in a new light.  Clearly, being a saint meant traveling a road that no one had ever traveled before, accomplishing tasks that no one had ever accomplished before, performing miracles that no one else could even dream of performing.  Being a saint became akin to being a hero, someone who could save a child from a burning building, or cure a fatal disease, or maybe even run faster than a speeding bullet. 
But unfortunately, that notion of sainthood was not so much better than my original assumptions about those football players from Louisiana.  For as it turns out we in this church believe that everyone who takes their faith in Jesus and figures out some way to live in this world as a believer is a saint.  Sainthood is not tied to deeds or heritage or abilities.  Sainthood is rather based on living one’s life in intentional and meaningful ways – choosing to do the things that will be evidence of God’s love and grace in this broken world.
That news should be a relief.  It should be exciting to learn that we are all eligible to be saints of God.  And yet, it seems to me that it is more intimidating than exciting.  After all, it’s far easier to for me to look at a list of saints and their accomplishments, realize that I can’t perform miracles, and accept defeat.  It’s always easier to let ourselves off the hook, to imagine that being a saint of God is never going to work out for us, than it is to begin the process of living into the inheritance we have obtained in Christ.
But Ephesians is here to give us some good news.  Ephesians tells us that when we hear the word of truth and believe, then we are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit.  And with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will come to know the things that God is calling us to do in our lives.  We will come to know what our part in bringing about God’s Kingdom on earth will be. 
Last December, I was privileged to meet someone that knew exactly what her calling was.  I would not have met her had my husband Gates not needed surgery to repair a hernia.  The surgery was not particularly dangerous, but it was nonetheless a bit overwhelming for us.  He had avoided having the surgery for some time, and did not have a support system in his native Texas, so he traveled here to Jackson to have the surgery and recover.  This was the first time that I was to be his official caregiver – his family would be calling me, I was in charge of making sure that he was well-taken care of – it was all very new and very different, but it needed to be done and this was the best way to do it.   So on one very cold morning we got up early and went to Saint Dominic’s.  We went through all the pre-surgery forms and routines, and then Gates was wheeled away.  I reported, as all family members do, to the surgery waiting room.
         Now, though this was the first time I had walked this path with Gates, it was not the first time I had been in a surgery waiting room.  I felt like I knew what to expect – like I knew the drill.  Everyone whose loved ones were having surgery would be sitting in a room together, waiting on phone calls from the operating rooms.   Occasionally a very loud phone would ring, and the nearest family member would answer, shouting out the name of whoever should come to the phone for a report. 
         Imagine my surprise when I was greeted in that waiting room by a friendly older woman wearing maroon.  She explained to me that she would be answering the phone, that she would let me know when Gates’s doctors or nurses had a message for me.   She told me that I could go to get breakfast or go to the restroom and she would be happy to take a message for me if I missed a call.  And over the next few hours, through the surgery and the time in recovery, she lived up to those promises.  Though I was by myself for most of the morning, I knew that I was not alone as I waited for news.  There would always be a kind smile there as I took the phone calls from the operating room.  I can’t tell you how much that smile improved my stressful morning.
Before I left to meet Gates in the room, we chatted for a few minutes.  I learned that she was retired, but that she volunteered at St. Dominic’s several days a week.  When I expressed surprise that she would be willing to spend so much time at the hospital, she explained that she credited her church with teaching her the importance of doing what she could for other people, of taking what time she had and putting some of it aside to serve others.  She was not an Episcopalian; in fact she was from a church that, as far as I know, never talks about the communion of saints.  But she was nevertheless able to relate her work at St. Dominic’s to God’s hopes for the world.   In a few sentences, she was able to tell me how she was, in fact, a saint. 
It was a rare and holy moment for me.  I have met many, many people that I considered saints, but until that point I had never met someone who, within a few minutes of conversation, could describe what she believed that God wished for her to do and how she was trying to live into that call.   
We need more of those moments – more time spent talking about our lives as Christians.  For there are people hungry to hear that God is working in this world.  There are people thirsty for news of how the kingdom of God is present in this city right now.  And we know, that like children trying to decipher the meaning of song lyrics, when people supply information for themselves, all too often they come up with the wrong conclusions.  Without our stories of how we are part of the communion of saints, it might seem that God has no part in our lives. 
And so I hope that we will each have some time to consider our own lives today, a day that we remember all the saints that have gone before us, all of the prophets and teachers and volunteers and countless others that have been examples of God’s grace and love.  I hope that we will have time today to let the Holy Spirit guide us to those special things to which God is calling us.  And, I hope that once we have realized how our lives can be part of God’s will, that we will find the words to express that calling to other people.  
For I believe that more than the stories of the early martyrs of the church, more than the stories of the great theologians that influence church doctrine and policy today, more than any story of saints gone by, it is our stories that will make the Christian faith come alive not just for the people we baptize today but for all others who are seeking God.  Amen.