A Catholic perspective on the world and all the good things therein, especially books and food. Literature cum chocolate is the order of the day at The Crockery.

Location: A Collegetown, Undisclosed Location, United States

No longer a graduate student, Teresa is now a professional know-it-all.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

2 Corinthians and the failure of Christian charity

I know that I've said that I don't like to talk politics, and I don't. What I'm going to talk about isn't explicity political. Rather, it's Biblical. I want simply to call my readers' attention to the Biblical model of charitable giving outlined by the Apostle Paul in his second epistle to the Corinthians.

In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul instructs the Corinthians to make good on their promises to send aid to the Church in Jerusalem. He exorts them to follow the example of their fellow Greeks, the Macedonians. And he tells them, in verses 13-15: "I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their want, so that their abundance may supply your want, that there may be equality. As it is written, 'He who gathered much had nothing over, and he who gathered little had no lack.'" (RSV) Note that quote at the end- it's from Exodus 16:18, and it describes the gathering of manna. Remember how that whole manna thing worked? It was impossible to hoard manna. Everyone had enough of it, and no one had more than enough. No matter how hard anyone worked to gather it, no one could keep more of it than anyone else. This, the apostle indicates, is how the Corinthian Christians are to behave with regard to their worldy possessions. They are not to keep the abundance: they are to give it away, and all their needs in time of trouble will be met by other churches.

I don't know about you, but this isn't how I live. I don't know anyone who does live this way, though I know some people who try to do so. I read this chapter today because I was supposed to help write up questions for a graduate student Bible study tomorrow, but when I started talking about this verse, I couldn't think of anything else. It was like a punch in the stomach, because I know that I have only to take a glance around my apartment to see that, despite my complaints of graduate student poverty, I am living in what to most of Christianity would count as the lap of luxury. This computer? It's mine- and my husband has his own. We have two DVD players, plus a portable. We have two cars. We have two stereo players. We even have two crockpots! We have DSL, not the free dial-up service offered by our university; we get our DVDs mailed to us by Blockbuster every week. Those books on the shelves? Some are necessary for work, but the vast majority are not. (Sadly, it is not the case that learning is so good that owning more books than you can ever read is a virtue.)

Whatever we are doing, we are certainly not giving our abundance to those in need. We are keeping it for ourselves: saving it up to buy a McMansion some day, or investing it in more books, dvds, and kitchen gizmos. I have to say that right now, I'm really not proud of how I live.

But enough about me- how about you? What do you do with your abundance? Read 2 Corinthians 8, and think about it. You might pray about it, too.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Posting frequency, plus ribs

I don't know if anyone is actually reading this blog -I haven't exactly advertised it widely- but just so you know, I'm not planning on posting every day. About 2-3 posts a week is the plan. I am informing you now so that you don't get puzzled and/or disappointed. I can also promise that not every post will be about food. I do have other things to talk about. Really.

Right now I want to address a question which is neither profound nor of great political importance (did I mention that I will virtually never talk about politics here? Me no like) but which concerned my attention for at least an hour last night: what to do with beef boneless chuck country style ribs. I am not talking about "short ribs." If I were, the answer to the question would be simpler. There are a number of recipes for short ribs out there on the internet. And I'm not talking about pork country style ribs. There are lots of recipes for those, too, including some for boneless pork country style ribs. But I didn't find any recipes for boneless BEEF Chuck country style ribs.

Why does it matter? you may ask. Can't you just pour barbecue sauce on them and cook 'em like any barbecue meat? Yes, I could have. What I wanted to know, though, was how best to cook them, and how long. The most I got was the general hint from Betty Crocker that they should be "braised" or cooked in liquid. But Betty didn't seem to know how long to cook them either way, or if she knew, she wasn't saying. All I wanted was an approximate cooking time, so that I didn't severly overcook them. The only internet recipe I found that seemed to be specifically for this meat said to "cook until done." Well, thpppthpthp to you, too.

What I finally did, of course, was turn to my crockpot. I loosely followed the crockpot cooking instructions for ribs, using a bottle of barbecue sauce rather than making my own. Here's what I did:

1) sliced up half an onion, then for good measure cut the onion rings in half
2) sprinkled salt and pepper over the ribs
3) put the ribs and onions in a small (3 quart) crockpot
4) liberally covered the ribs with barbecue sauce
5) turned the crockpot on low and walked away.

Normally, I'd say that that's all I have to do for the next eight hours, except of course for preparing the other dishes for tonight's meal. But in this case, my crockpot is less than half full, which means I'll have to keep watching it to make sure the ribs don't overcook or even burn. That's what I get for making only 1 1/2 pounds of meat, rather than 2 or 3 pounds.

That can be today's lesson, kids: Crockpots work best when 1/2- 3/4 full. If you're going to buy only one crockpot, do not buy the 6 quart pot unless you are actually going to make 4-5 quarts of food in it on a regular basis. If you make small meals, get a small pot. Oh, and if I may pass on a tip someone passed on to me: if you need more than one crockpot, look for auxillary pots at the thrift store. The only real drawback to a used pot is that it may look ugly. It may also not have a removable crockery insert which is dishwasher safe, but them's the breaks. I find that my old pot is not really any harder to clean than the new one, even though the crockery part isn't removable.

Finally, if anyone knows how boneless beef chuck country style ribs are supposed to be cooked, do let me know.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Corpse Bride: Notes on Christianity and the Creepy

Last summer, I attended a chick flick which I will not here identify, in the company of some female friends of mine who will also remain nameless for the protection of the innocent. One of the previews shown before the movie was for Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, a film probably soon to be showing in the second-run theater nearest you, as it seems to be wrapping up its run in the normal theaters. After the Corpse Bride preview ended, one of my fellow movie-goers made a comment about it looking weird, or some such thing. I replied something along the lines of "Really? It looks like something I'd like to see." And, having seen it this Friday, I can say that I did in fact enjoy it; see Steven Greydanus' review to get a good explanation of some of the things Christian viewers might take away from this movie.

Nevertheless, it seemed to me that I was one of the few people I knew who wanted to see Corpse Bride. Somehow, it never came up as a suggested selection for movie night. This, coupled with perennial online debates about "What are Christians to do about Halloween?" has led me to ruminate a bit about Christianity and what, for lack of a better phrase, I will call "the creepy." (If there were a word that included scary stories, morbid humor, and the grotesque, I'd use that word instead, but if it exists, alas, no middle-school vocabulary list included it.)

There are some people, I know, who do not like morbid humor, the grotesque, or the whole world of scary movies and stories. That is fine. We don't all have to like Tim Burton flicks or well-done ghost stories. But there are some people who mistake morbidity for sinfulness, who think that because a work -say, one of Roald Dahl's books, or the more timely Series of Unfortunate Events- is dark, it must be bad, or somehow not acceptable for Christians, at least for children. (I can only assume that these people have never read Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Tales, or that they would burn them if they had the chance.) This, to me, does not seem fine. This seems ignorant: those who hold the view that what is scary or morbid must be bad are acting without reference to a good chunk of Christian art history.

In truth, Christianity has long made use of the grotesque. Wealthy Medieval Christians sometimes decorated their tombs with skeletal statues of themselves- right within the walls of the church buildings. The Dance of Death was a popular subject for religious artwork; images of Death and the Maiden are perhaps even more disturbing. Such morbid artwork served the theological purpose of reminding viewers of their own mortality. I suspect it was also enjoyable simply as- well, as something creepy.

Christian use of the creepy or the grotesque did not die with the ending of the Middle Ages. Some cultures still celebrate "The Day of the Dead" as a festival reminding participants that under their flesh their lies a skeleton which will one day be exposed in death. In literature, Flannery O'Connor made good use of the grotesque in stories that are, in many cases, simply well-crafted morality tales. Some would probably call her stories morbid- but that's the point. In the later half of the twentieth century, Russel Kirk (yes, Russell Kirk!) and others have written supernatural thrillers -authentically creepy stories- for more or less theological purposes. Even more of this type of literature has been produced in the '90s and the early part of the twenty-first century, but the present of "Christian chillers" should not be surprising.

If all of the above establishes that Christians should not feel threatened by works simply because they are "morbid" or "scary," it may not address the issue of scary works which aren't explicitly religious. Of course, Roald Dahl, "Limony Snicket" and Tim Burton are not creating morbid works for any specific theological purposes. Such works have to be evaluated on their own merits, both moral and artistic. And in the field of children's literature and children's movies, parents have to use their discretion in determining whether something it too scary for a sensitive child, regardless of whether that scariness serves a religious function as a reminder of mortality. In short, I'm not recommending the Corpse Bride to all ages and dispositions. I'm just pointing out that there's no need to worry about the film simply because it makes use of the comically grotesque. In fact, the grotesque has long served venerable societal purposes: just ask the gargoyles!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Welcome to TheCrockery

Greetings, citizens of Earth!

Welcome to the Crockery, home to the random and erratic thoughts of Teresa, sometimes known as The_Spacemouse. This blog will contain posts on religion, literature and movies- and cooking. (I am, after all, a woman.) This blog is cheerfully misnamed, mostly because I like the sound of the word "crockery." Although the blog will not, in fact, focus on crockpot cookery, there will be occasional recipes shared here, such as the one below. (Please do try this at home!)

The second meaning of the word "crockery" stems from a quaint expression regarding an unpleasant situation being a crock of something-I-will-not-here-name. Here at the Crockery, I firmly hold to the belief that "All the world's a crock," but I will leave it to you to decide what that crock contains. Lunchmeat? Peaches? Unpleasant waste?

To begin, I'd like to share The World's Greatest Cider Recipe, adapted by me from Better Homes and Gardens' Five Ingredient Slow Cooking cookbook.

Sweet Apple Cider

2 1/2 quarts of apple cider (10 cups)
1/3 cup brown sugar or honey (we used brown sugar)
2-3 teaspoons of cinnamon
1 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. cloves

Put in a 3-4 quart crockpot and cook on high for 2 1/2 - 3 hours, or on low for 5-6. You can also cook it on high for 2 hours, then switch to low for as long as you want. This way the cider is sure to be ready when needed, but there's no need to hurry to consume it.