Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sunday Dinner: Maple Mustard Chicken and Bleu Cheese Hasselback Potatoes

We were supposed to have company today, but I woke up feeling unwell, and we reluctantly called our friends to reschedule our get-together. But I recovered somewhat during the day, and decided to go ahead with our menu, just for us.

First the chicken. This past week we picked up ten lovely shrink-wrapped chickens from the Amish family where we get most of our poultry, and one of these became our dinner. I marinated the parts in the following:

1/2 cup real maple syrup
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp herbs of choice, or to taste (I used thyme; the original recipe suggested rosemary)
(reserve a bit of marinade for later)

We had intended to grill the chicken, but threatening skies moved the process indoors; I baked it at 375 degrees for an hour, turning and brushing the pieces with the reserved marinade. 

Along with the chicken I made bleu cheese hasselback potatoes, which are kind of a cross between scalloped and baked potatoes. Unskinned baking potatoes are sliced partway through, creating a kind of fan; the potatoes are then placed in cold water, fanning out the slices a bit, and soaked for a few minutes, then dried off, wrapped in some waxed paper and microwaved: 5 minutes; reposition, 5 more minutes. After cooling for a bit, you transfer the potatoes to aluminum foil rectangles that will become their jackets; brush the potatoes with melted butter, opening the slices to get all that buttery goodness inside. Add some thin slices of garlic to some of the slices. Usually recipes for hasselback potatoes call for Parmesan cheese, but we wanted to try bleu cheese, so I stuffed the slices with crumbles of that. Finally, some pepper and salt into the crevices. Wrap up the potatoes and either grill or bake them for about 20 minutes. These turned out very tasty; I think bacon would be another great addition. We also roasted some asparagus to complete the feast.

We were sad that we didn't have our friends around to enjoy dinner, but I was glad we had a successful trial run of this menu...which will return to our plates, with or without guests, in the future.

Note: Speaking of slackage, as I was in the prior post -- I'm a very inconsistent photographer, which means that I'll never be the Pioneer Woman of Lutheranism. I could have taken a photo of our excellent meal...but I didn't. You'll have to imagine the shiny golden glaze on the chicken, the tantalizing promise of a baked potato fan holding treasures of cheese and garlic between each slice, the emerald green of fresh Michigan asparagus in season. Maybe next time.

Notes From Slackerville

Once upon a time I used to be irritated by church slackers. You know, people who show up maybe once a month; who never volunteer for anything; whose seemingly indifferent involvement in congregational life placed a greater burden on the dozen people who always wind up doing everything; whose non-participation killed one program after another and whose silence always left the leadership guessing about what they were thinking, what we might be doing right or wrong.

I used to be irritated by such people. Then I became one.

We are actually on the verge of joining a new congregation. If this were a relationship, we have gone beyond casual dating; we've met the parents, so to speak; we're going steady but haven't set a date. (And for their part, they're between pastors, so things seem a bit in flux there as well.) But we haven't really become joiners; we haven't volunteered for anything other than contributing items to the church yard sale. And, truth be told, we don't attend church as regularly as we used to, even though this congregation is closer to our home.

Sometimes I get the guilts here in Slackerville. But other times -- well, it feels good to simply sit in a church pew without feeling the compulsion to sign up for the lector rota or that new discussion group; without knowing where the congregational bodies are buried and what interpersonal or political Sturm und Drang is roiling beneath the calm surface of the worship service.  Sometimes it feels just as good, if not better, to commune with the Holy in the context of a peaceful Sunday morning with Fellow Traveler and the four-leggeds, sitting in our pajama pants (the humans, not the animals) and enjoying one another's company.

I know that admission will not endear me to some of you reading this; certainly not to the Internet church nerds constantly bemoaning churchgoers who want congregations to do things for them instead of wanting to do things on behalf of the congregation. In my defense, I can only point to a former function of churches that seems to have gotten lost amid the contemporary emphasis on looking outward, not inward: care of souls. I don't hear a concern about that in circles where the compulsion is to scold churchgoers for not being more active and engaged; I don't detect a lot of interest in learning the why of people like me; people who've dialed back their participation in the life of their congregations, or who linger at the margins. Maybe some of the citizens of Slackerville aren't slackers; maybe they're the exhausted, the wounded, who need a stretcher to carry them off the field -- maybe even affirmation that the sidelines are where they need to be.

The thing is...I'm tired. I have been the good church do-bee for a long time, but now, in the words of Scotty the engineer, I canna do it. I canna do it physically or psychologically. When I go to church, I am going there for rest and refuge, not to get an assignment. Perhaps this is a temporary state until my health resolves. Perhaps it's going to define my participation in a congregation for the long haul. I'd like to think that, in the latter case, there would still be a place for me in the Church to just be.