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Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza

When I was a junior in high school, I joined the show choir.

This was both a totally expected and yet bizarrely unexpected development. In high school, I absolutely belonged to the “music kids” clique. I had been in the band since my freshman year, and played in every group available, including something called the “Hobo Band” which was exactly as ridiculous and awesome as it sounds. I joined the choir finally after spending several months singing at the top of my lungs with my friend Nathan on our commute to work, who then pushed me into first joining the concert choir, then the show choir. But I was also an overweight and uncoordinated buffoon who had foot surgery right before the start of the school year. So I not only joined this song and dance crew as a horrible dancer, I joined it as a horrible dancer with a gigantic cast on his leg. I literally managed to dance off the back end of the stage at one point, and had the risers collapse on me at another.

However, the rest of the group was very very good, and I managed to make nominal enough improvement (as well as being strategically placed in the backstage of every routine) that we were accepted to go to a competition in Chicago. This was a massive event for me at the time, and for years represented the furthest from home I had ever been. There were so many memories from the trip that lived with me for ages, including my first ever latte followed by my first espresso, my only trip to Medieval Times (which remains my favorite restaurant experience), and most relevant to today’s discussion, my only taste of Chicago style deep dish  pizza.

This memory was then haunting me lately for some unknown reason, and I became increasingly determined to revisit that lost flavor. However, as should not surprise, Chicago deep dish pizza is not exactly easy to find in northern Kentucky. So I turned to the internet and looked over several recipes to get a feel for what I would be needing, then set out to make it happen, setting aside an entire Saturday for the mission. I had decided that as much as possible, I’d make the pizza from scratch myself, with homemade sauce and a homemade crust. So it was that at 10 o’clock in the morning, I was starting my dinner with this:

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Looks delicious, doesn’t it?

Two cups of warm milk, mixed with an envelope of instant dry active yeast. I allowed the yeast to sit and bloom for a half hour before I began the rest of the process.

I have freely admitted my admiration for a man by the name of Father Dominic Garramone, known by many as the “Bread Monk” who not only has a series of baking cook books available, but also his book on prayer “Bake and Be Blessed” is one of the most formative books on the spiritual life I have ever read. (check out his blog here!) So it’s no surprise he was on my mind this morning as I began baking. I took a page from his book and utilized a technique he often recommends, incorporating leftover mashed potatoes into my bread dough. Though I certainly chose a more low class version than his leftover made from scratch mashed potatoes, as I wanted to use up a packet of instant roasted garlic mashed potato flakes I had from a previous attempt to make mashed potato-breaded fried chicken. (That recipe may get posted at some point down the road, but I need to work with it a bit more) I took the warm milk and yeast mixture and added it to my instant mashed potato flakes in a large mixing bowl.

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You can tell it’s high class because of the shiny plastic packaging.

From here I’ll begin incorporating the rest of my crust ingredients. Now I’ll be honest, I don’t have an actual recipe for this. I’ve been trying to bake more often by touch and feel, which is taking some practice. I started by adding two eggs, some all purpose flour, a tablespoon or two of honey, and a few glugs of olive oil. I then started mixing using a metal spoon, ensuring that I’m scraping up the bits stuck on the sides of the bowl. As the dough comes together, I’ll add a few splashes of water and flour as needed to keep it together, letting a shaggy dough form.

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This is a shaggy dough. A Scooby dough would look completely different.

Once this dough as formed, I’ll cover with a tea towel and let it sit for a few hours to let the yeast do it’s magic. I’m expecting the dough to double in size. I go sit in the living room and binge watch a few episodes of Bojack Horseman when I should be getting caught up on my Bible reading or my book club selection “A Gentleman in Moscow” which is due next Friday. I will repeatedly walk back into the kitchen to lift the towel and check on the dough, looking forward to the opportunity to start kneading.

This is the part of bread baking that is actually the hardest for me. I hate letting the dough rise if I don’t have something to distract me. (Bojack is great an all, but doesn’t do the trick) Rest is all too often hard in life. Kneading the dough is great, because I can feel active and a part of the process. There’s a  visceral joy I get from having my hands on the dough and smashing the flour and water particles together to form a nice strong gluten. (My vigorous enjoyment of the kneading process is a part of why my home baked doughs always come out a little on the tough side) But resting is an entirely different story. It just has to sit while some microscopic flora (or is it fauna) does all the work. Our part as the baker is just to sit and anticipate, hopefully while enjoying the yeasty smell of rising dough as it permeates the entire household.

Unfortunately, this did not go according to plan, after an hour or so, the dough had not risen at all. So I decided to take some matters into my own hands. I added some warm water and honey to a small glass, then let that sit for about ten or fifteen minutes while it got nice and bubbly, then added it to the dough with some more flour. I’m guessing when I heated the milk to make the mashed potatoes I heated it too hot and killed the yeast. I’m hoping a second dose will save the day. I’ll knead the dough a bit on a floured kitchen counter, then toss it back into a mixing bowl lightly coated in oil, then cover back with the tea towel and wait.

This time definitely does the trick, the whole house now smells like fresh bread and the dough has doubled in size. I’ll punch it down lightly, then turn back onto a floured surface to knead some more. I’m also adding in some Parmesan cheese (the cheap stuff that resembles sawdust) as well as dried oregano and some corn meal for a deeper flavor and texture. I’ll then let it sit again for a while, then get started on my sauce.

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Seriously, not only is kneading bread dough a great upper body workout, there’s something amazingly cathartic about it. And unlike other expensive workouts, you get fresh bread at the end!

Now, I had intended to get some photos of my sauce process, but it honestly slipped my mind. I started by cutting up some sweet Italian sausage, then cooking it in the pan with a touch of olive oil and a few tablespoons of water. The water lets the fat render out of the sausage to help fry without burning the meat. Once the water has evaporated, enough sausage fat has rendered out to not only cook our sausage, but serve to cook our vegetables next. I’ll remove the sausage just before it’s completely cooked through, leaving all the fat in the pan. Next, I’ll use that fat so sweat some diced onion, carrots, and garlic. The carrots may surprise you, but I take it from some traditional recipes for bolognese I’ve used, and merely a tablespoon or two of finely diced carrots will bring some balance and sweetness to the sauce you’ll appreciate. Once the vegetables are sweated, I’ll add a can of crushed tomatoes, fennel seeds, oregano, and parsley. I should also be adding basil here, and I swear I had some but after searching through the kitchen, none can be found, so we’ll do without. Also add back in the par cooked sausage, and I’ll cook this on medium high heat until it starts to bubble, then reduce to a simmer for an hour.

 

Once the sauce is done, I’ll start preheating the oven to 450 degrees, then get out my favorite kitchen tool, my cast iron skillet. I’m going to coat the inside with a liberal amount of olive oil, dust with some corn meal, then set it aside. I’ll roll out my dough to be just a few inches larger around than the skillet, then place it inside. Layer directly on the dough some fresh mozzarella and provolone cheese, about a half a pound each. Shake on a liberal layer of the Parmesan cheese, then ladle in our sauce. We’ll take the sauce to just below the top of the cast iron (I was lucky enough to have made EXACTLY the correct amount of sauce!) then we’ll fold over our remaining dough to cover, making an open pie construction. Brush this extra dough with some olive oil and shake on some dried herbs like oregano, parsley, or basil (if you have it, I didn’t) and some Parmesan cheese again.

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A romance more important than Romeo and Juliet, pizza and cast iron

I had some extra dough, (side effect of needing to add the extra yeast) so I rolled out the extra dough and tossed it on a sheet pan, docked it, then brushed on some olive oil, dusted with some of my herbs, and a healthy sized layer of cheese. Delicious bread sticks!

Put the deep dish pizza in for about 25-30 minutes, checking every ten. If the top crust gets too brown, cover with aluminum foil and let it continue cooking. About ten minutes before it’s done, put in the breadsticks. Once everything is completed, pull and allow to rest for at least 20 minutes. This will allow the pizza to set so that we can cut the pieces without the lava hot sauce flowing all over the place.

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If patience were easy, it would not be a virtue

Now we’ll slice up the pizza and serve. The breadsticks were a bit dry, so I recommend melting down some butter and warm olive oil with garlic to make an excellent dipping sauce, but your carb and fat heavy dinner is now ready to roll!

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Be sure to set aside a nice dry bottle of red wine to go with, and then put in an hour at the gym.
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Why I left the Trail, and why I want to go to the Middle East

I’ve been home from the Appalachian Trail now for about four months, and I’m still working to settle back into a “regular” life. When you’ve spent months on end hiking up and down mountains, getting caught in the rain, and living a life of complete adventure, coming back to sitting at a desk eight and a half hours a day, commuting back and forth via car, and regaining weight at a rate that leaves one feeling like a beached whale much of the time is, for lack of a better term, a “downer.”

So why did I do it? Why not stay out on the Trail, or if I had to come home for the winter, why not take a short term job so I can plan on going back out to hike next summer? Why not take a temp job near a trail town so I could still get hiking in on the weekends instead of returning to my home in Kentucky, far enough away from the Appalachian Trail to make short excursions difficult if not impossible? For me, it all comes down to privilege.

“Privilege” is a loaded term, both in our current societal discussion and for me as a whole. I did not grow up in a wealthy or even firmly middle class background. While I love my family and my parents worked hard to provide a healthy environment growing up, and had a strong social net that helped them achieve that, we nonetheless certainly had our difficulties and struggles. So when I hear the term “white privilege” it can certainly bring a conflicted set of emotions to the forefront. Having periods of homelessness not to mention years with pediatric cancer in my life means I might balk at the idea of saying I am from a privileged upbringing. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as an adult though is that saying I was privileged does not mean I had it easy. It simply means I had opportunities and advantages that someone else in a similar situation would not necessarily have had.

Now for most of my adult life, this was not a debate that carried much meaning for me. I struggled through most of my adulthood just to get by. I first left for college at the age of 17 believing I had been “called” by God to serve in the ministry, attending a traditional Bible college to major in preaching ministry, however even with financial aid, I simply could not get by paying tuition, and I had to drop out. I was determined that I was still supposed to push forward on this path though, so I took a job initially washing dishes and unloading delivery trucks for the campus cafeteria. This allowed me to stay on campus and audit courses as a non traditional student. I was never able to complete an accredited degree, but I was still able to spend years studying the Bible and learning through a dedicated community. (This is also when I began to hone my cooking skills with the help of Brian, Chef Eddie, and the rest of the kitchen crew to boot) Eventually, I left the campus to pursue ministry, taking first a job as an associate preacher and youth pastor at a small country church in southeastern Indiana. After a year there, I moved to take a job working on a large staff in children’s ministry at a megachurch in northern greater Cincinnati. But even this was a struggle, as I repeatedly was laid off while working for churches, and never had a ministry job that paid more than the cost of gas and a portion of groceries. I continued to work full time jobs, usually in the food service industry, and usually for low wages, as I had to find jobs with little responsibility to allow a flexible schedule to be as open and available for these ministry positions as possible. In addition, to this, I began taking classes through another unaccredited training program to try to further my training.

All of this led to burnout. I was constantly broke and tired, and growing increasingly frustrated with God. I certainly didn’t feel privileged by any stretch of the imagination. I felt used up and wasted. Finally, after another layoff, I gave up. On the Church, on God, on my faith, all of it. So I took an opportunity to jump into a full time tech support job and never looked back. I pursued a more stable family life and 9-5 existence. I’ve detailed elsewhere how this eventually lead to my returning to my faith and eventually casting that 9-5 aside to pursue the outdoors, but even in this phase of my life I think I would have struggled with the idea of being privileged. I still made little enough money to barely pay the bills, constantly had to work to find affordable housing, and felt at all times that financial ruin was merely a car breakdown away.

Hiking gave me distance though. Especially in my first summer on the trail, I had time to finally get some sections of my life into a broader perspective. What’s more, I took the time to consider the absolute blessings I’d had in life. True, there were several struggles, but if it weren’t for the family and church support we’d had as I was growing up, the fortunate chances I’d received, and the hard work and upbringing of my parents, my situation could have been much much worse, and what’s more there was no connection between those opportunities and the work I’d personally put in. I definitely worked hard, but those unconnected opportunities made the difference.

On my second hike, this question of privilege became far more prevalent in my own thoughts and meditations. I spent a significant amount of time reading and learning about backgrounds outside of my own, putting a concerted effort into reading more non-white and even non-Christian authors to gain greater perspective, to say nothing of broadening my own social interactions. But I still came back to the issue that while I could certainly admit to some privileges in my life, I couldn’t help but also count all the disadvantages I’d also had. Then came the story of Esther.

Esther has always been one of my favorite books of the Bible. Setting aside any moral or spiritual lessons, it is simply good story telling, in a succinct passage you get a story of a young woman forced into extraordinary circumstances, and an entire people group saved because of how she reacted to those circumstances. But listening to the story again while hiking, I heard it from a different perspective than I usually had considered it before. Esther was a victim, pure and simple. She was as a Hebrew woman disadvantaged in her society both because of her race and her gender, she had little or no voice on her life, and because of her beauty she was taken advantage of, and forced into a life of captivity in a palace, where she was required to serve for the sexual gratification of a king she may have had no reason to love or respect. Indeed, despite marriage playing a central role in the story, love does not – nor would it have for any royal marriage of the day. Esther is merely seen as a package to display the power and influence of the king, she is treated as a mere object for the court’s amusement.

But the story isn’t about Esther fighting against her oppression, rather it’s about her using her privilege. Despite her clear victim hood, she still has privilege over Mordecai, her uncle, who even though as a male he has more autonomy in their society, and doesn’t have to fear his own abduction and sexual enslavement, does have to fear the execution pole of Haman. Esther is someone who utilizes her incomplete privilege to help someone else. The key theme verse of the story is Esther 4:14 “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” 

Privilege, be it white privilege, financial privilege,  does not make you the bad guy, nor does it mean you are living the easy life. Instead, Scripture makes it clear that privilege such as this is simply an opportunity for you to help someone else who does not have that advantage. A significant chunk of the Law of Moses lays out ways that privilege should be used to protect others, be it leaving gleanings in your field or ensuring that if you have a home it is built and cared for in a way that protects the community.  This is a core principle of the Kingdom of God as displayed in the texts but does not often get attention in most western white evangelical churches.

So as I considered this perspective on my own privilege, I was forced to confront some uncomfortable questions about how I was living my life. I certainly had set aside some privileges to go out into the wilderness, no longer earning a regular paycheck or living in comfort, but I nonetheless was transferring that to a different set of privileges of freedom and rest. What’s more, I did not set aside these privileges in the service of others, but did so for myself. I certainly met several wonderful individuals who told me that my journeys and my writings inspired them or gave them hope, but that had not been the core concern when I set off on my journey. My core concern was largely self serving.

So what to do then? As I continued to pray and examine the world around me, I became increasingly troubled. Following the news back in civilization did not give me good heart either, rather I became increasingly concerned that there were things to be done and I was hiding out of the way instead. So I made the difficult decision to come home. I wasn’t sure what my next step would be at that time, but I felt the need to lean into my opportunities a bit. I would return to a stable job with some decent (though certainly not great) pay, and work for an open schedule that would allow me the opportunity to put myself at some kind of service to others. Again, I am not in a place of complete comfort and certainly not wealth, but I was able to establish a base from which to work.

I’ve pursued a few smaller opportunities, giving financially to organizations I feel are doing necessary work, as well as giving time, going into a local homeless shelter to help out during extreme cold, going on outings with local churches to give out food, and generally try to look for opportunities in my daily life. But I couldn’t help but feel like more was called for.

After returning home, one thing I found as crucial to jump into as quickly as possible was to establish new social connections, and as a part of this jumped at an opportunity to join a monthly book club. The first reading choice was “Kindred” by Octavia Butler, a fantastic book I’d highly recommend that further brought these issues to focus for me. The main character finds herself dragged through time as an African American woman in the American slave south who repeatedly saves the life of a white slave owning ancestor. There is so much to unpack in the story, but the dynamic of privilege kept coming to me. How the main character was certainly not “privileged” as we might normally view the term, but she certainly had a situational privilege which she put to use to save her white ancestor, a decidedly unworthy recipient of such care. What’s more, a secondary character, her white husband who was also dragged back in time at one point in the story, is disturbingly unaware of how the position of his own skin color affects the different experiences they have in the past, that is until he is forced to remain there for an extended period of time, at which point he throws himself into helping on the Underground Railroad and providing cover for slaves where he can.

I again was forced to ask myself if I was sufficiently using my position of privilege to pursue a better world for others. If I was considering for “just such a time as this” I was intended to do.

My journey as someone who gave up on my faith and returned to it has gifted me with a special perspective on a number of points because I was forced to re-examine many assumptions I had originally brought along with me. Ideas of what Christianity is meant to look like is often colored less by the Scripture and direct experience of God and more of the cultural conditions in which we live. The early Church struggled with the idea of separating life of a Christian from Jewish dietary and holy day practices, and modern American Christians, at least in the social context I was familiar with, carried it’s own baggage. Perhaps chief among these is a devotion to nationalism and respect for military power. The more I have examined the teachings of Jesus, the more foreign these concepts should seem to be as often taught in the Church. Again, I want to stress, this is based on my own church life, I know of many traditions, even in the United States that do not carry this particular set of assumptions.

Because of this clash of viewpoints that I see as core contradiction between my own faith background and a more “true orthodox” teaching of Scripture as I’ve come to understand it, the greater need I’ve seen for the celebration of a devotion to peacemaking in the Christian life. This then lead me to considering the emission of Christian Peacekeeper Teams. CPT works in areas around the world to pursue a goal of building peace through nonviolent means. They have long term and short term missions available. I certainly could have simply donated funds, but I felt the need to involve myself in a more hands on way. After some prayer, I applied to join their delegation to the Palestinian region. This is a region that has often been on my heart as echoing too closely the tragedies of the Old Testament as the people of God fail to fulfill the promises given to Abraham that through his line “all nations on earth will be blessed” (Genesis 22:18) The recent news of the so-called “Muslim ban” and the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel brought to highlight how my own community of white evangelical Christians in the United States had served to exacerbate the pain of this difficult, fraught, and complicated issue rather than serving as a voice for peace and mutual service.

So that’s why this year, instead of heading back out into my beloved Appalachian Mountains, I’m saving my vacation time and working through the year to prepare for a new journey, that will take me even further from home than I ever have been before, both literally and figuratively. While I’ll still occasionally use this blog to talk about local hiking, cooking recipes, and occasional Bible studies, I’m also going to be working to keep you all up to date on my preparations for this new journey, and what I’ll be learning along the way.

I am also going to be asking you to help out. I am devoting my own finances to this journey, but would like to invite you to participate as well. Donations can be made at https://cpt.org/donate just be sure where it says “If you have a special purpose for your donation, please let us know. I want my donation to be dedicated:” please include a note “James Scott October Hebron delegation.”

I look forward to your questions and our discussions as this journey progresses, I am going to do everything I can to share as much of it with all of you as possible!

 

Picking up where we left off

So I came home from the Appalachian Trail in October of 2017, and since then I’ve been settling back into the regular rhythm of life.

This is often easier said than done, but it’s gone more smoothly than I might have hoped. I was fortunate enough to find a job quickly, and got plugged into a place to live right away. I was also able to get back into regular volunteering with my local church community which was a huge help. All of these things mean that I didn’t get stuck in the kind of emotional morass that I did when I left the trail the year before. Post trail depression is a common occurrence for a lot of hikers, and different things work for different people. For me, getting back to “normal” as quickly as possible was a huge help.

But that said, there are still some things I’m struggling with. The biggest is staying productive as a writer. My favorite luxury I had on the trail was the ability to write every day, and more importantly have something fun to write about regularly. It’s easy to want to document what you did with your day when you’re living under the stars and spending every day hiking on one of world’s greatest long distance trails with a fantastic community. It’s a far different thing to write while spending every day going to an office to take incredibly repetitive phone calls fixing banal computer issues.

I am fortunate to have my job, it pays relatively well and has a schedule that leaves me open for having a life outside of the office. I don’t deal with an overwhelming amount of stress, and there’s enough stability that I don’t have to regularly worry about getting laid off or fired. But it is also fairly predictable and safe, and that does not contribute well to the writing juices. I was able to get an opportunity to write some small group discussion guides for a local church in the Advent season, which kept me in some small amount of practice, but those had a fairly focused purpose so the audience was not very wide.

I have been working in the last few weeks to find ways to expand my opportunities in the world of volunteering, with a local homeless emergency shelter and the local Democratic party. These are things that let me feel that I am serving a purpose, but don’t yet have any kind of writing outlet for me. I’m struggling to catch my spinning wheels on something as I try to find the right road.

But all is not lost, I do have a few projects I’ll be working on this year, and I want to take this chance to share those with you, as well as set some expectations on what the next year is going to look like on this site.

First, I am working on a short story collection/novella (the exact format isn’t set quite yet) that consists of a retelling of the life of Jesus as set in the modern day. I’ve written about a dozen individual stories for this so far, and am working on fleshing those existing stories out a bit more as well as completing others in the collection. Those will be posted here on a regular basis as I complete the series, hopefully for some kind of publication around the end of the summer.

Second, I am going to be working on some kind of larger project covering my time on the trail. This will likely be taking the form of a book, though I’m still undecided what that book will exactly look like. Possibly a memoir, possibly taking on a different topic but using my hiking experience as a metaphor for personal or spiritual development. I’m honestly not sure. As I try to work through this, what I’m going to do is regularly post here copies of blog updates from when I was hiking. I have rough draft notes that I kept each day of hiking, plus almost three thousand photos taken over the course of two summers. I’m going to try blending these into something a little more meaningful post these “enhanced” blog entries on a semi-weekly basis. Hopefully, this will help me get a firmer grip on what a hiking book written by a chubby IT worker slash armchair theologian would look like, as well as put me further on the path to a rough draft edition.

Finally, this October I am going to be taking part in a trip to Palestine with the Christian Peacemakers Team. We will be visiting Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Al Khalil (Hebron) where we will document violence by the Israeli military against Palestinian civilians and help organize peace work within the community. I plan to spend some time this year documenting why I decided to take this step, what I’m learning as I prepare for it, and hopefully document some of my experiences while there.

All of this will be in addition to the continued work on new recipes, Bible study materials, and my occasional comments on the new of the day. I’m playing around with other ideas that are in even more of a rough draft stage, like a possible podcast, and I’m hoping you will all enjoy the journey along the way!

Remembering Batman 

I grew up loving the Batman ’66 TV show. That, along with episodes of the Lone Ranger, was a nightly ritual with my dad when I was a kid. He’d wake me up at 10 o’clock at night so we could watch it. ( I think the reruns were on TBS) As I got older, I never lost respect and admiration for Adam West. I still got a thrill when I recognized his voice. For years, it was a tradition that any new Batman animated series would have a cameo for West, The Batman series even went so far as to cast him as a reoccurring character as the mayor of Gotham. 
For my money though, my favorite will always be “The Gray Ghost” when Adam West plays an out of luck actor who was once famous as the pulp crime fighter (a la “The Shadow”) who was a childhood hero of Bruce Wayne’s. I saw the episode when I was a teenager, and despite the necessary jaded view of that age, I was moved by West’s portrayal of a bitter and angry actor, who feels burdened by the typecast role from his past. 
What’s perhaps most moving though, is that while it’s entirely possible West felt this way, he kept it largely away from the public eye. Instead, he for years referred fondly to the “Bright Knight” as he preferred to call the great Cape Crusader. He treated his adoring fans with class and charm, and he embraced his late in life career resurgence of playing lampooned versions of himself, something it might be hard to imagine other actors being willing to do. 
He’s gone now, but more than the legacy of his time on the screen, we have the many memories and stories of fans who met and were charmed by him. Whether it was a persona or his genuine character, we remember a style that carried a wry smile, and a “chum” for all comers, and represented the possibility that we could all rise to be kinder people. 
Rest well, old chum, and thank you for the adventure. Cheers to the next one.

Book Review: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of NazarethZealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Disappointing. The author starts out by giving a well done and well explained historical context for the teaching of Jesus. However, the author then spends the majority of the book presenting a series of arguments from a vacuum. Using an absence of data as his basis, the author presents a very different version of Jesus than is presented by either the gospels or the various traditional teachings. Stripping away what the author feels is anachronistic editing by later teachers, he then adds his own teachings and traditions to replace them, with little or no evidence to support it. Using thin justification, he posits a strenuous – even violent – schism between Paul and the original disciples of Jesus. He presents a background of Jesus as a long time follower of John the Baptist and a picture of Jesus as an illiterate spiritual teacher who struggles to understand the Hebrew scriptures, but is unable to present any compelling textual basis for this theory. The author repeatedly references the Q document, citing passages from it as an authority, then only in a passing comment at the end of the book admits, almost sheepishly, that the Q document is a purely theoretical one, assumed only by an editorial reading of Matthew and Luke. The author casts aside the gospels as any kind of authentic record, but then pulls in verses out of context to support his arguments when it suits him.

The author concludes that his version of the historical Jesus is one just as worthy of devotion and respect as the religious one of the Christian tradition, but gives us no argument to support this. Indeed, after his editing the Jesus we are left with is a boring one, with nothing to set him apart from the other zealous would be Messiahs of the time. Perhaps just as importantly, by removing the distinctive aspects of Jesus, the author leaves us without the rich and meaningful tension of seeming disagreements between the traditional teachings of Jesus and the traditions of the Hebrew scriptures. We are robbed of the chance to rest in those tensions, where we can be stretched and forced to grow, in a place far closer to regular life than some esoteric spiritual Jesus that can only live on the page.

Ultimately, the Jesus the author gives us may be a Jesus that is far more comfortable to contemplate as a historical figure(though again without any historical text to support him), but it is one with no distinguishing characteristics to make him worth remembering thousands of years later

View all my reviews

Death and Criss-Crossed Paths 

I’ve been struggling lately with activity. I’m still working third shift, but I’m going on three months on this schedule now, but my body still doesn’t want to adjust to a proper sleep schedule. I toss and turn almost all day, and when I finally fall asleep it’s just about time to go to work where I feel groggy and tired all shift. I get off work in the morning too exhausted to feel like doing anything, so I go straight home where I toss and turn and the cycle continues. I get an average of three to five hours of sleep a day, then sleep through most of my days off when my body decides to catch up. Consequently, my exercise routine has been paltry at best, and with most parks closed during my peak activity hours of the middle of the night, I get almost no real hiking in. 

I have recently though started forcing myself to at least go for a walk for an hour or so each morning right after I get off work. I haven’t been doing great, but I manage to hit three or four days a week, which is a decent start I think. Usually I go to the Arboretum close to where I’m staying for the winter, and if the weather isn’t great I’ll go to the mall, which opens early specifically for walkers, and each lap gets me a half mile. 

This past Sunday though I went to a cemetery close to where I work. It was a chilly morning, at least in comparison to the overall oddly warm February we’ve had here in Kentucky, but it was bright and sunny, so I enjoyed some pleasant views. I really enjoy cemeteries as a place to walk. They’re obviously quiet, they  have well maintained walking paths, there’s usually good views, and there’s enough variety of sloping turns to make it a decent workout you can vary each time you visit. 

You have to admit, it is restful 

Growing up, my dad took us walking in cemeteries pretty often. Usually we’d go somewhere a family member was buried so we could check on the gravesite and plant some flowers. (there’s a memorable occasion when he mixed up some of his starters and accidentally planted tomatoes at my great-grandmother’s grave. Despite the idea being creepy to others, he still ate the produced tomatoes because why let them go to waste?) We often lived in neighborhoods that didn’t allow for much walking around, with roads that had no sidewalks and drivers that paid little attention to their speed or tendency to stay in the lines, and there were few if any local parks, none of which were large enough to have good walking paths. So cemeteries were a good place to take my sister and I to walk off our energy and get some decent outdoors time. 

Plus the mausoleums make great jungle gyms

So I feel oddly comfortable with walking through this cemetery early on a Sunday morning. I pass one or two other people who are there visiting loved ones and do my best to let them pass their time in peace. There are a few buildings on the grounds that I’ll stop to admire. A chapel and a small house that I’m guessing was originally for the grounds keeper but now looks like it’s set aside for gatherings. It’s still too early in the year for much blooming, but there are some recently cut flowers out, and some rather high quality fabric ones that add to a serene sense of rest to the place. It’s set up on a hill that overlooks several valley areas leading down to the Ohio River, so I can see for miles from some spots. With the sun just past its morning rise, there’s a fresh feeling to the day. 


Cemeteries tend to be designed with a variety of criss-crossed pathways separating the various lots, and I take several different turns to stretch out my distance, with occasional references to my phone to figure out exactly where I am in relation to my car parked off to the side close to the entrance. There’s no determined route that I’m taking and each turn is pretty much at random. 

Left at the Smith family plot, right at the Dunnes

This fits my mood pretty well for the morning. For a while now I’ve been racking my brain trying to make some decisions regarding my long term plans. Part of me still wants to return to the Trail in the summer, probably around early June. I’d be heading straight to Katahdin, where I’ll then hike south to complete my journey where I last left off in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. I’m thinking 4 months would be sufficient to finish the roughly thousand miles I have left. It’s a welcome opportunity to get back to a basic set of life that I’ve found myself missing ever since I came home. And a clear cut sense of direction that’s difficult to find in any other way. Rarely in life do you get such a straightforward sense of your day as “wake up, eat, walk forward till you’re too tired. Camp for bed.” 

Occasionally a tree falls across a path, and that’s always an exciting change for the day

But at the same time, I continue to have a nagging sense that maybe the more responsible choice is to stay. Put down roots and move forward with life. I’ve got decent job, if low paying, that carries good benefits and some sense of purpose and good will. I’m still very much living in temporary conditions though since I came home with plans for leaving again soon. I could instead be signing a lease for an apartment, or saving up to buy some foreclosed home in a developing part of town. I could be paying off my ever present student loans and building a better personal financial future. I could go back to school and find something other than my years of Bible school and ministry training to put down on job applications, since those haven’t exactly opened a variety of doors for me yet. 

Something something, door pun

I struggle, I think, because when I last left for the Trail, I was given very clear direction. I’ve said before that I’ve never felt so clearly that God was telling me to do something. It was a dream that had been on my heart for years before that, but in the immediate time leading up to my departure I had a number of signals that it was time. Unprovoked conversations with friends that reaffirmed it, repeatedly coming across articles and advice when I least expected to. Several bits of “wool being left out.”(see the story of Gideon in the biblical book of Judges for context on that) Not to mention the way my gear came together, almost at the last minute and seemingly with easy speed and chance deals through a variety of online vendors and even donations. 

This time though, I don’t feel like I’ve got such a clear direction. Some days I wake up and my heart feels so firmly fixed on leaving, but other times I’ll get a sense of conviction that my time for running away to professionally play outside is done and I need to get back to work on being an adult. 

Though it’s worth remembering that I’ll get the same ultimate result either way

But how often in life does one find themselves with an opportunity like this? I’m not tied down with a lease. There’s no commitment to romantic relationship or a family. While I enjoy my job (some days) I also know that I won’t particularly miss it when I’m gone, and the turnover rate is so high I can pretty much guarantee an opening when I come back so long as I don’t burn my bridges on the way out. Why not enjoy this chance to travel the rest of the way, and avoid having this incomplete task hanging over my head for the rest of my days? 

Ultimately, I think it comes down to the idea that there is no “wrong choice” in this case. While there are certainly times in life where you might be given a clear direction as I was last summer, at most other points I think God treats our lives like the way I treat this walk through the cemetery. Take the whole thing as your boundaries, but you can choose whatever path you like. Just have the decency to not go stepping on anyone along way. 

And again, no matter what you do, you’re still gonna get the same ultimate ending

Bacon Cheese Potato Soup 

Years ago I was a student in college, but struggled to pay the tuition. After two years of constantly struggling, I dropped out and took a full time job working for the food service company that ran the campus cafeteria. This meant that I could stay on campus, still have access to the library, and occasionally audit classes. 

One of the unplanned benefits of this arrangement was that I got a chance to learn a variety of recipes I hadn’t come across before, plus had the opportunity to learn how to create new ones of my own. I learned an especially important lesson for life, which is that in the workplace if you are ever asked if you can do something, say yes. You can always learn if you are willing to. When I was hired on, it was actually to be a “stockboy” putting away the daily deliveries of dry pantry goods or frozen foods. Within the first few days though I had a moment that probably changed my life more than a number of planned decisions ever did. The morning breakfast cook called in late and the manager came out and asked if I could make breakfast. I didn’t hesitate to say sure, despite the fact that I had almost no professional cooking experience whatsoever. I’d seen how the regular cook made the scrambled eggs in large batches, and pretty much everything else was self explanatory if you read the directions on the boxes they came in. I screwed up quite a bit, including overlooking the eggs, but I made sure to listen to the critiques of the manager (who’s patience was likely driven by the fact that there wasn’t anyone else available at 6 am) and each new pan of food I made that morning was a little better than the last. From that day on, I got to cover other occasional shifts until one day I just got added to the schedule as a full time cook. After a few months, the woman who had the full time job of Baker for the campus kitchen announced she was pregnant and I volunteered to cover. Again, I hadn’t made more than a small handful of dessert recipes, but I was willing to learn. 

Overall, I worked in that kitchen for three years. I got to learn not only how to cook, but also learned the hard way how to work with a team, and how to manage time. I learned Excel for the first time, and perhaps most importantly I learned the importance of always being willing to learn. All of that sits in my head then when I start to cook this recipe in particular. It’s my own version of a dish that I first learned working in that kitchen, and like so many others, I change it almost every time. I didn’t create the recipe, but I learned how to make it my own by always being willing to change and learn something new each time. 

We’re going to start by cutting up two or three pounds of red potatoes. You can use any variety of potato for this really, but I find the red ones keep a great texture and hold together well. Idaho russets occasionally work for a variation on this recipe that I refer to as “baked potato soup” where I add chives and sour cream, and I allow the potato to fall apart and create a more granular texture and a thicker soup overall. 

Once we’ve cut up the potatoes, we’ll put them in a bowl and cover with water. This will keep them from turning brown while we get the rest of the ingredients together. With that done, we’ll dice up three stalks of celery and one medium onion. We’ll also need some carrots. You can dice up three large carrots or do what I did and buy a pound of shredded carrots. I like the final texture of the shredded carrots better when cooked, but you can certainly go with the hand cut instead. I also like to dice up a few garlic cloves, but you can skip those if you want.  With these vegetables prepped, we’ll take a pound of bacon and dice that as well and we’re ready to start! 

Put a large stock or soup pot on the stove and add your bacon. Turn on medium heat. By starting with a cold pan we’ll give the bacon a chance to slowly render out its fat. Stir regularly and cook until the bacon is completely crisp. Remove the bacon but leave the rendered fat in the pan. Add your celery, onions, garlic and carrots and stir in with the fat and add a healthy sized sprinkle of kosher salt. We don’t want to brown these veggies, so you may need to reduce the heat to medium low. Stir occasionally until the onions are semi-translucent. Add two tablespoons of all purpose flour sprinkled over the veggies and stir until it’s completely absorbed. Cook for a few minutes then add your potatoes followed by two or three cups of low sodium chicken broth. Let this build to a slow simmer. In a large mixing bowl, pour one pound of shredded cheddar cheese and two cups of whole milk. Slowly add some of your soup one ladle full at a time, mixing with each addition. One the cheese looks like it’s starting to melt, pour everything back into the soup pot. Bring to a low boil then reduce to a simmer. Let this cook another 20-30 minutes. Final seasoning to taste, I like to add some fresh cracked black pepper and salt if needed. (what kind of bacon you used will affect this) Serve with the bacon pieces either added back into the pot or you can sprinkle them over each bowl. 

I like the fact that this recipe is incredibly easy to change up. Like I said, I rarely cook it the same way each time. If you want a vegetarian option, skip the bacon and use mild olive oil to sweat your vegetables instead of the bacon drippings. I occasionally will add some peppers to the vegetable mix. Corn is great in this too. Like I said before, use some Idaho russets instead of the red potatoes for a thicker and more granular texture and sour cream and chives can give you a more hearty baked potato flavor. You can swap in some low fat buttermilk instead of the whole milk for a tangy flavor change. And of course try different cheeses for different tastes too! Always remember, no matter what recipe you’re looking at, you can always change it around to make it yours. And anytime someone asks you if you can do something  give it a try!