Friday, August 28, 2009

A Personal Health Care Reform Plea

It is all so new that we do not yet know how it will all sort out, but my husband and I are perilously close to becoming poster children for health care reform.
We are both closer to retirement age than we are to the beginnings of our careers and we have worked very hard to overcome the vagueries of the financial market to build what we hope is an adequate retirement fund. We hope for a few more good working years for Robert and I am hoping to find a reasonable job with health insurance.
But now there is reason to think Robert has cancer and all our carefully laid plans seem futile. Robert's company offers Family and Medical leave of 12 weeks without pay and the disability insurance we never expected to need would not even cover our house payment let alone the cobra payments to continue our health insurance. If Robert needs chemo, what will happen if he cannot continue to work? More importantly, how will we afford the chemo if he is unable to work? How long will our retirement funds last?
These are the very real questions of people who have tried all their lives to be fiscally responsible. These are the very real questions that health care reform would answer by making sure that no one has to bankrupt themselves to stay alive, by making sure everyone has health insurance, by eliminating from our fear list those words "pre-existing condition." I wonder how many of those who are protesting health care reform and yelling at town hall meetings and distributing the negative emails would be in better shape confronted with the same situation my husband and I face.
Health care reform may well come too late for me and for Robert, but I pray it is not too late for you, gentle reader.

Sweet Freedom Cookbook Offers Treats for People Who Have to Watch Their Eats

One of the new perks of belonging to BloggerAid: Changing the Face of Famine (hereafter BACFF) is the new View and Review program where we get to review cookbooks and products. I just received my copy of Sweet Freedom: Desserts You'll Love without Wheat, Eggs, Dairy or Refined Sugar by Ricki Heller. Ricki has a Toronto bakery specializing in offering sweet treats to people who have to avoid gluten, soy, sugar and/or dairy.
I haven't had a chance to bake anything yet, but I have been looking at the 100+ recipes in the book and planning my course of action. First, I need to find a few ingredients...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Long, Long History of Misinformation

As I watch the procession of Teddy Kennedy's body to the Kennedy Library and listen to the media folks discuss his heritage, I can't help but hear a bit of my mother's voice. My mother was scared, very scared of the Kennedy family. I remember her uncontrollable sobs the night John F. Kennedy was elected. She was convinced that the Pope would be taking over the United States with JFK as his mouthpiece and we would all be forced to become Catholics. It was a very real fear for her and one she never overcame, even later in life when she became (gasp) a Democrat. I carefully hid my Kennedy campaign buttons from her!
Mom had lots of these fears, including the fear so common at the time of the "niggers" who were going to take over the world and commit some unmentionable atrocities against innocent, unsuspecting white folks.
So, remembering Mom's fears, I have some familiarity with the fears we have heard expressed lately at the town hall meetings. Now Mom would never have expressed her views publicly, but times have changed and people seem to be willing to share all kinds of things publicly these days. I have no idea where she got her crazy ideas about Kennedy or, for that matter, blacks. In the case of blacks, I suspect she came by those fears almost genetically from her parents. As for the Kennedy's, I do not know. I suspect it was more fear of Catholicism than of the actual Kennedy family. And that may have been from her family as well.
At any rate, it all made me realize that fears, unreasonable and uninformed fears, are not unique to those who fear health care reform. There may be more ready access to misinformation that feeds the fears, but the fears themselves are ageless. The public way in which they are revealed and the screaming nature of their presentation are new, but the fears are "same old, same old" and they are as stubbornly resistant to facts and truth as they ever were.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Food Bloggers Compile Charity Cookbook to Benefit World Food Programme

Here is the latest information on the food blogger cookbook I have been telling about. I've been very involved in editing and proofreading lately and I assure you the recipes (about 50 of them) are spectacular. It is killing me not to make some of the recipes, but I am honor-bound to wait until you can make them too. It sounds like we may make it for November on amazon. com -- think holiday gifts!

This fall, a dedicated group of food bloggers will make their mark on global hunger and kitchens around the world when they release “The BloggerAid Cookbook." The proceeds from the sale of this cookbook will benefit United Nations' Friends of World Food Programme (WFP).

“Food bloggers can best relate to a cookbook,” explained Mary Berchard, who co-founded BloggerAid…Changing the Face of Famine. “It just seemed like the most natural way of being able to make a difference.”

BloggerAid…Changing the Face of Famine is an international network of food bloggers united behind the cause of ending global hunger. Members use their blogs as a platform for raising awareness about hunger in communities at home and abroad. A team of over two dozen volunteers is responsible for editing and formatting the cookbook, which will contain about 137 recipes contributed by BloggerAid members.

“Many of our members are from poor countries and have seen the work of WFP, so they relate to it very well,” said Berchard. “We chose Friends of WFP to receive funds from the cookbook because of the work it does, and because we felt it has touched the lives of our membership.”

The cookbook’s profits will benefit the United Nations World Food Program (WFP)’s school meals program, which reaches an average of 22 million children each year. School meals programs improve the capacity to learn, reduce child hunger and undernutrition and encourage parents to send their children to school each day.

“School meals are important on many levels – it’s not only about raising money, but also about raising awareness in younger generations so that they grow to be strong role models for their own children,” said Berchard. “Many of our bloggers have small children, and their involvement becomes much more personal when they can relate to the issue.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Returning to an Old Favorite

Ali Baba's on that tiny strip of Colorado Blvd. in Highlands Ranch has been a favorite middle eastern restaurant of mine almost from the time they opened. I was floored by their Baba Ganouj, which I think might be one of the best I've ever tasted. I made many meals off the appetizer page, but I sometimes wandered to the other pages of the menu to enjoy a vegetarian platter and a falafel plate.
About a year ago, two things conspired to come between me and Ali Baba. First, they hired a cook who was serviceable, but his dishes didn't make my tastebuds sing. Second, I got sick and found I just couldn't eat the way I did before.
After our trip to the Mosque last Friday, I had a hankering for baba ganouj and wandered in to my old favorite. The tables were new, but the waiter was my old friend Michael who welcomed me as if I had been there just the day before. He told me there was a new chef and there would be a new menu soon. I ordered the vegetarian platter and quickly realized there may be a new chef, but the baba ganouj was exactly how I remembered it. The stuffed grape leaves were a bit different and there were two small ones instead of the one larger one I used to get. In time, a serving of baklava magically appeared before me. "A treat from the chef," Michael told me. I told Michael I would come in after the new menu and take pictures and such for my blog.
In mere minutes, I met the new chef, Hasan, who brought me one of the new items on the menu, a spinach pie. We discussed the pros and cons of adding feta to the pie.
Yesterday, I returned with my husband to do a serious review of the restaurant. I had generous tastes of both hummus and baba ganouj. Michael swears the secret to the hummus is adding an ice cube to the blender when making it. I tried that after he told me that the first time, but I still can't match the texture.
The baba ganouj is on the left and the hummus on the right. The baba is almost creamy in taste and lacks the characteristic bite one expects from lesser versions. The hummus is unbelievably smooth. Even my little taster portions allowed me plenty for leftovers. The secret to keeping the leftovers of these dishes tasting good the next day is to lay plastic wrap directly on the surface to keep the air out.
Robert ordered a dinner which came with a similar sized portion of hummus and a substantial and classic salad of lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers in an olive oil and lemon dressing.
His main course was chicken marinated in Dijon mustard and special spices that my new best friend Hasan would not reveal. The ample portion of three half breasts was accompanied by a huge portion of very fluffy white rice appropriately garnished with parsley and a sprinkle of spices. Also on the platter, a grilled whole tomato and a mysterious dollop of something that turned out to be garlic paste. Robert is not fond of grilled tomatoes and the dollop of garlic paste didn't seem to him to be needed, but he loved the flavor of the chicken and rice.

Fully half of the chicken and half of the rice made their way into a to-go box that provided a nice supper for the next evening.
My entry was, true to form, off the appetizer menu. I had two of the lovely spinach pies and found they were plenty of food for me. The crust is a nice bread that is very similar to a brioche in richness. the filling involves cooked spinach, generous application of garlic and perhaps some onion. There was a definite touch of lemon and, perhaps, a touch of olive oil. I was bemoaning the loss of two of my old favorites on the appetizer menu -- samusek and muhamara. Call me fickle, but the spinach pie has replaced them both.

If you loved the muhamara as I did and you eat chicken, there is an interesting dish you might want to try. It is described as pieces of chicken in a sauce of pomegranate and walnuts. I tried very hard to get Robert to try it, but it is not his kind of dish.
We made generous use of the to-go boxes because I was determined we would share a piece of the delightful baklava. We wound up not sharing, but the baklava was nearly what I remembered from the previous visit. It might have been just the tiniest bit under-cooked, but there was a nice balance of crust, nuts and honey and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
If you are hungry for Persian or Lebanese food, this is the place. There are ample options for vegetarians and maybe too many choices for meat eaters. Just be sure to leave room for the baklava!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Many Rooms

As I was talking about the summer adult education program at my church, someone told me they thought I needed to remember Jesus' words "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Lord except by Me." The implication was that none of the people we met in our summer explorations are going to Heaven.
My mother had that sort of view, bless her heart. Somehow, she was convinced that somewhere in the Bible one could find a verse that said "Thou Shalt Believe and be a Missouri Synod Lutheran or suffer the torment of eternal Hell." Note the King James language. There was a time she criticized a Biblical translation I was using by saying, "Why can't you just read the Bible the way God gave it to us?" In her mind, God uttered the words of the Bible in King James English. There were some battles just not worth fighting with my mother...
I'm not a Greek scholar and what little knowledge of Greek I used to have is rapidly leaving me, but what if Jesus' words (which were probably Aramaic anyway) had to do with I am showing you the way, the truth that leads to true life? The emphasis then becomes looking at the teachings of Jesus and the examples set in Jesus' life rather than the belief in Jesus that characterizes the Christian. I happen to believe that Jesus is both fully divine and fully human, but I rather like the idea that Jesus showed us how to live our faith in every day life.
I especially like this interpretation of the verse when I consider another verse, "In my Father's house, there are many rooms." If Jesus, the fully divine, became fully human to demonstrate for us a way of living, it means there may be other ways besides believing in Jesus as God to get to the end result -- the Father's house of the second verse. One of the things that has woven itself into our summer experiences of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Islam has been the universal seeking of enlightenment which some define as the God Within, some call Enlightenment, still others describe as walking with God or the still, small voice. Regardless of the terminology, all of us are seeking something beyond ourselves that I personally call God. I wonder if the many rooms are the many ways that people find God?
Our priest this morning talked about faith in God as the most elaborate, surprising, exotic meal -- beyond anything we could ever imagine that shocks and surprises us with each course to be treasured. He described this meal in terms of constantly revealing to us new aspects of our relationship to Jesus. Our summer of field trips has been just like that and, perhaps surprisingly, the experiences of the summer have strengthened our individual relationships with our Lord. Our Father's house has many rooms and we are constantly finding new ways to get to that glorious home!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Muslim Hospitality

This has been a most interesting summer for participants in our adult education program. We've been studying what one of our number calls "Pillars of Faith." That is actually the title of a good DVD about Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and some other faith traditions which we watched at the beginning of the summer, but I don't want to violate copyright.
At any rate, today was a day many of us have been looking forward to -- the day we attended Friday noon prayer at the Mosque. We were nervous in the way you always are when you are doing something you've never done before. The women in the group were more than a tiny bit worried about scarves. Four of us sat in the car watching for the rest of the group and for our hosts. A kind gentleman came up to the car to ask if we were looking for someone. He did not know our hosts, but he urged us to come in. Such a gracious person he was.
Eventually we got a bit more brave and wandered up to the front steps. Person after person greeted us, asked us if we needed help. They were the epitome of hospitality! Finally our hostess arrived, bringing with her the other hosts who had been waiting for us at the back door. The men went off their way and the women went up the stairs to the women's area. Andrea, our hostess and guide from the Mosaic Foundation, was gracious in explaining to us all aspects of the service and the men in our group said Hasan and Ishan were equally helpful. Not only were our assigned hosts helpful, but many other women came up to us before and after the prayers to answer our questions.
One thing that was apparent to me, sitting in the women's balcony, was the variety of cultures where Islam is practiced. Andrea is an American-born woman and in the minority. Some of the dresses reminded me very much of those worn by the Sudanese women who worship at our cathedral. Still others were distinctly Asian or Middle Eastern. The clothing and, especially the scarves, ranged from very conservative black robes to light and airy floral prints. Some of the scarves shimmered with metallic threads, others were elaborately embroidered and still others were very plain. The variety of nationalities was could be noted among the men, but it was amazingly beautiful among the women.
While none of our group understood the Arabic language, there was a beauty to the chant as it washed over us. Parts of the sermon were in English and similar messages might have been heard in many a Christian church on a Sunday morning. Much of the message was about the upcoming Ramadan with admonishments that Ramadan is a good time to quit smoking, a good time for women to adopt the practice of covering their heads, a time to give to charity -- not so very different than our priest urging us to adopt a discipline during Lent. In a very different setting than we were used to, the urging to adopt practices that bring us to a closer relationship with God was a very comfortable message. When a woman visiting from Dallas told us that whatever we needed to know, the answer was in the book (referring, of course to the Koran), it was not so different from someone telling a new convert to Christianity that the Bible is a good place to look for answers.
By the time we took a picture with our new friends, Andrea, Hasan and Ishan, we were almost comfortable in our scarves:

After the service, we browsed among the vendors who set up outside the Mosque with books, games, produce and such. Another woman, "call me Sam," invited us to partake of the post service meal in the fellowship hall.
If you have been following this blog at all, you'll know that the group jumped at the chance to share a meal.
My special order meal looked good:
but Mike's meal with the chicken probably looked even better:
Many of us will be attending a Ramadan event with the Mosaic Foundation on September 1, so expect to hear more about our new friends.

After five long years...

As I said recently, a dear and wise woman was recently installed at her new parish. A hearty bunch of us from her old parish made the trek to support her. After the service, we gathered for a picture. Organizing Episcopalians often resembles herding cats and our post-service picture clearly shows that!

Among those not facing the camera is a dark haired woman in a white robe -- that is our friend and the newly installed rector, Rev. Bonnie Sarah Spencer.
A second picture shows different people facing the camera. In fact, Bonnie is facing the camera, but not everyone had joined the group yet, or people had already left:

Rev. Canon Lou Blanchard preached a marvelous sermon around a theme from Henri Nouwen about the communion cup. First we hold the cup and in it we see our face reflected. In that reflection, we see the faces of those who have supported and shaped the life behind that face. Then we raise the cup, giving thanks and then we serve the cup. Those are not her exact words, but the idea of seeing in the communion cup the face, not just of the priest, but of all those who've been involved in the formation of that priest really had a power for me. I was in the back of the worship area, so this is not a great picture of Lou, but it reminds me of the sermon and how it touched me.


Some folks have been pointedly asking when I planned to write about our visit to Shabbat services. The simple answer is that I forgot I had not written about the excursion until I downloaded pictures today. The hard core 6 of us who went to the Hindu Temple and the Zen Center also went to Shabbat service. Shabbat is the service that spoke most directly to my heart. I'm an adopted kid whose biological parents came from Germany shortly after WW II. Their marriage did not survive the move. How odd that a marriage that survived an SS prison and who know what other challenges in the Hitler Germany, could not survive a move to the United States.
At any rate, Jewish services have always spoken to my heart. Maybe it is the sense that being Jewish is not just what you believe, but what you are.

Episcopalians are not the only ones who like to shake things up a bit in the summer. Jews, or at least the ones at the particular Temple we attend do the same. Our particular Friday included three counselors from Camp Swayder, the local Jewish camp sponsored bu that congregation. Two of the counselors were from the Tel Aviv area and one from the Golan. How interesting to hear these young people talk about learning Arabic in school, about their friends being Arab, about the expectation that they would do a tour of army duty. In fact, One of the counselors freely admitted that he gave little attention to the faith until a rough time during his Army stint when he inexplicably felt a need to do a Shabbat with his fellow soldiers in near darkness in a building where they were avoiding their enemies.
How similar that is to what I hear from my niece in Iraq -- how faith seems to take on a different perspective in a war situation.
One of the things that has become important to some of us is the fellowship of a meal before our experience of a different faith. Serioz fit our requirements of being reasonably close to the Temple, willing to take a reservation and willing to do separate checks. I was a terrible food blogger and forgot to take a picture of my wonderful veggie sandwich. I did, however, get a picture of the bunch eating.

From left to right, Mike Marfia, Sally Marfia, Judy Rogers, Marjorie Lell, Chris Hansen.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Twists and Turns

I'm going to watch an old friend be installed as Rector of a nearby parish this evening. Her past five years have mirrored the past five years in the Episcopal Church. She was a wonderful, wise leader at the church I attend. When she fell in love, she and her partner were most discreet, but they, like many people in love, wanted to make a public commitment to each other. They did so and things got crazy. She lost her chance to be Rector of a nearby parish, her sexual orientation was discussed in one of the local newspapers and she wound up moving back East to serve at a parish in a diocese where her sexuality was less of an issue.
Meanwhile, the priest who leaked the information about her relationship to the newspaper is no longer in the Episcopal Church, his financial misdeeds and activities discussed in local and national newspapers and in the courts. Our General Convention acknowledged that God calls a variety of people, including gays and lesbians, to ministry. Time has past and much has changed. God, however, has remained constant.
I'm going to watch an old friend be installed as Rector this evening. She will be a wonderful, wise leader at her new church, just as she was for us and just as God has always called her to be.

Monday, August 3, 2009

More Notes on Cheese

I went to another of those cheese pairing events done by Fromage to Yours a couple of weeks ago. Jackie and Paul Bonacquisti of Bonacquisti Wines paired Colorado cheeses (with one gorgonzola exception) with Colorado wines (specifically, Bonacquisti wines. In the course of the descriptions, Jackie mentioned that there were 6 major cheesemakers in Colorado, but she neglected to specify them. Next time I visited with Jackie, I asked her for the names of the companies and she listed Haystack, Rocking W, and Sunny Breeze as companies she currently carries. She is hoping to carry cheeses from Jumpin' Good Goat. She does not carry cheeses from MouCo, James Ranch and Windsor because she carries only vegetarian cheese. This led me to ask about vegetarian cheese. I mean, I understand that cheese is not in the equation for vegans, but I am basically ovo-lacto (I eat eggs and milk products), so why not all cheese. The answer has to do with rennet and that is quite the tale!
Jackie did not go into great detail, saying only that some cheesemakers use animal rennet, but the cheeses she carries are made with microbial enzymes. When I used those definitions in a general conversation, wouldn't you know that someone wanted to know where animal rennets came from. So here's the longer story:
Animal rennet relates to a natural complex of enzymes in mammalian stomachs to digest mother's milk. Traditionally, stomachs of young calves are dried, cleaned, diced and soaked in saltwater or whey with vinegar or wine. This is then strained and used to coagulate milk in cheesemaking. There are some modern alternatives with freeze-drying and such. As you might guess, there are too few stomachs for modern cheesemaking requirements. In fact, cheesemakers were already seeking alternatives in Homer's time when an extract of fig was used. There are other vegetable rennets, microbial enzymes (mostly from molds and with a bit of bitter taste) and genetically engineered enzymes, all of which are considered vegetarian acceptable and most of which are qualify for Kosher cheese. Cottage cheese, cream cheese, paneer and farmer's cheese are examples of cheese that use acid (generally citric acid) to coagulate the milk.
So now you know more than you ever thought to know about coagulating milk for cheese!

A Twist of Truth

I've written about it before -- the scare tactics of misinformation. I guess I didn't quite understand how it came to be and why it was so successful. Recently a friend sent me an email that was really a forward of something she got from her gynecologist. It detailed, by line and section for extra authority, horrible things in the health care reform bill.
I wandered around on the Internet until I found a bill that sort of matched up with the page numbers in the email and found that the doctor was probably looking at the Energy and Labor bill. Within the long list of complaints was "Page 42 --The 'Health Choices Commissioner' will choose your Healthcare Benefits for you. You have no choice." First of all, putting Health Choices Commissioner in parentheses is like sneering or making fun of the proposed title. The reality in the bill is the Commissioner is responsible for, among other things, establishing the health plan benefits standards. The particular reference in the doctor's analysis is to the responsibilities of the position. Later in the bill are the specifics that would provide for tiers of coverage with basics required and others available for purchase.
What the doctor, or his source, did was to slightly twist what was said to make it sound very threatening.
Another example from the doctor -- "Page 58 - Government will have real-time access to individual's finances and a National ID Healthcard will be issued." What the bill actually says:
(D) enable the real-time (or near real-time) determination of an individual’s financial responsibility at the point of service and, to the extent possible, prior to service, including whether the individual is eligible for a specific service with a specific physician at a specific facility, which may include utilization of a machine-readable health plan beneficiary identification card;
If you have had a medical procedure done at a hospital lately, the hospital may have pre-certified you with your insurance company. Recently, I had a procedure done at my local hospital where they checked with my insurance company and could tell me "Your insurance covers this procedure and your co-pay is $250 which you will need to be prepared to pay at the time of service." This is the same thing described in the bill with the addition of a machine-readable ID card that would allow the health care provider to scan rather than typing to get the information more quickly. Nothing in this says to me that the government would have real-time access to my financials. As for the Healthcare ID card, I have one already called a health insurance card. You probably do also if you are lucky enough to have health insurance. Again, there is twisting of information to make it all sound very scary and "socialist."
In another case, the doctor's information indicated "Page 59 lines 21-24- Government will have direct access to your bank fund accounts for electronic funds transfer." Yep, those lines talk about electronic funds transfer from the insurance provider to the healthcare provider. Nothing about direct access from a personal account. Either the doctor (or his source) did not read the entire section, or the doctor wanted to make it sound very scary.
I could go on and on as the doctor did listing 55 instances in the first half of the bill. But I will limit myself to just one more category of these misstatements, one that received a fair amount of media coverage in connection with the President's forum with AARP. All are contained in a section about Advanced Care Planning Consultation.
The doctor's information calls it a mandate that would require EVERYONE who is on Social Security to undergo a counseling session every 5 years with "end of life counseling." It goes on to say the government will instruct and consult regarding living wills, durable powers of attorney and it will be mandatory. The government will provide an approved list of end of life resources, guiding you in death. The government mandates program for end of life. The government has a say in how your life ends. He says an advanced care consultation may include an ORDER for end of life plans -- AN ORDER from the government. The government will specify which doctors can write an end of life order and the government will decide what level of treatment you will have at end of life. As this doctor's information describes, the government would take charge of an individual's end of life.
In reality, what the doctor describes could not be farther from the truth. The bill adds to medicare benefits periodic counseling on advanced directives. Thus, the government would pay for an individual to talk to his or her doctor or physician's assistant or nurse practitioner about how they want to be treated under different sets of conditions. The bill also provides for the doctor to write an order describing the individual's wishes and for that order to be enforceable throughout the country.
To understand the benefits of this legislation, one must understand the current situation. As things stand right now, an individual can have the necessary advanced directives to assure how they would be treated in conditions that are potentially life ending. Those directives, however, might not apply if you are in a different state from where they were written. Those directives would most certainly not be followed if the people where the accident or heart attack or whatever happens have no way of knowing that advanced directives even exist. This proposed legislation would provide consistency throughout the country that actually gives the individual more say over end of life issues.
These are just a few examples out of many in one particular email, but they are representative of a very sad story going on in our country as misinformation, distortions and outright lies are substituting for education. I am glad my friend sent me this email, but she is probably very sorry she sent it. I think she wanted to "educate" me about the terrible things our government supposedly wants to impose on me. What she got back from me was a lecture on educating herself, not taking as truth what someone else interprets for her. What I got was an up-close look at how the truth gets twisted and an education in how these things are manufactured to create propaganda.