Bachelor Food: Matzah Ball Soup

MatzahBallSoup2

I’ve got this habit – some might call it a bad habit – of posting photos on Facebook of what I’m having for dinner.

Okay, yeah. It’s goofy. Who does that?  Well, actually, probably tons of your friends do; but hey, at least it’s food that I made myself, not just some cool-lighting shot of a scone I bought with a Starbucks venti latte.

And oddly, I usually get complimentary comments on the stuff – along with questions about why I never cook for friends, or how come they’re never invited over for dinner. (Does the word “introvert” mean anyting to you?)  But as often as not, I also get asked how I made it. There are days when I don’t mind spending a little time in the kitchen chopping vegetables or experimenting with some impromptu Thai sauce I threw together with coconut milk, ginger paste and peanut butter (I’ll save that for another day).  But most times, I just want something fast and easy.  And before your mind goes where I know most of your minds are already going, I’m talking food here, not romance.  That’s the whole nature of “Bachelor food.”  Like a good date, it’s fast, it’s easy, it tastes good, and hopefully, there’s very little clean up afterwards.

So, this past week after getting home from work and staring into my cupboards for long hypnotic moments, I pulled out a box of matzah ball mix.  Yeah, I had that in there. I used to have a lot of Jewish friends, and got invited to a lot of Shabbat dinners. In fact, that’s where I first experienced this culinary delight. It’s basically peasant food. Meat substitute. And it’s even kosher, if that means anything to you. And it fits all the criteria I was looking for at that moment.

MatzahBallSoup_simple
At its most basic. Who can’t do this?

Matzah balls are basically just dumplings made from matzah. Think saltine crackers, only blander. And in fact, if you don’t happen to have matzah ball mix in your cupboard, you could probably just as easily substitute a handful of Zesta saltines.  Just crumble them up into … well, crumbs … add in a bit of onion and garlic powder, maybe celery seed if you’ve got it, and that’s basically it.

Then it’s just chicken broth. You drop the matzah dumplings in boiling broth where they’ll absorb all that chicken flavor, cook for 20 minutes, and out comes this incredible tasting ball of deliciousness, you’ll roll your eyes in disbelief that something so simple could be so good.

Like I said, it’s a soup, so you can keep it that simple (just chicken broth and the matzah balls) or you can do it up and add real chicken and vegetables.

And since it was a week night, I wasn’t in the mood to do much chopping, so I just pulled a can of sliced carrots out of the cupboard, and that was just fine. Oh, I did slice up some onion, cuz I always keep those in the fridge anyway, and I like them in soup.

So here’s the basic recipe.  Do it simple, or do it with a bit more cooking. Either way … it’s a very satisfying dish to enjoy when you’ve got a date with Netflix.

Ingredients

  • 1 packet matzah ball mix (or the handful of crumbled crackers and seasoning mentioned above)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 quarts of chicken broth (either instant, or the boxed kind from the supermarket. Get the reduced sodium variety, and organic if you can find it and are willing to spend a bit extra for it.)
MatzahBallSoup_2
With a few extras — but still “Bachelor friendly!”

That’s it for the basic recipe.  For a bit more substance, here’s what I pulled together Tuesday night:

  • ½ package of chicken breast tenders. I wanted some real chicken in that broth. You can just as easily use chicken thighs, breasts … whatever, just to get some meat in the soup.
  • 1 can of sliced carrots
  • ¼ onion, sliced
  • Whatever earthy herbs you prefer.  I added a bit of oregano, celery seed, and ground pepper.

When making chicken soup, you normally add onion, celery and carrots – the Holy Trinity of soup ingredients.  I had the onion, but no celery. The celery seed made up for that in flavor. (And guys, note: it’s celery seed, not celery salt.  Huge difference.)  The carrots – fresh out of the can.

Do it

Okay: preparing the matzah balls.  Beat the two eggs and the vegetable oil in a bowl, and then add the crumbs. Mix until the crumbs are moist. Then refrigerate for 15 minutes to give the crumbs time to absorb the egg – and give you time to prepare the chicken and get the broth boiling.

I thawed the chicken in the microwave, and then fried it in a skillet with salt and pepper and bit of vegetable oil.  It only took a few minutes to cook since the tenders where sliced thin. If you’re using chunks of meat (like whole thighs), you may want to cook them thoroughly in the microwave, before dropping them in the soup. Then just cook in the soup until the meat begins to fall off the bone.  They’ll add more flavor to the soup that way, but this time, I was just looking for some meat. The broth would have enough flavor on its own.

Dump the 2 quarts of broth into a decent sized sauce pan. Then add your chicken, chopped onions and the can of carrots (if you’re going that route).  Throw in your extra seasonings / herbs / whatever. Bring to a boil.

Take the matzah ball mix out of the fridge, and pinch off enough to roll between your palms to make ½ inch balls.  (They’ll swell up 2 to 3 times that size as they cook and absorb the broth.) Drop the balls into the boiling soup.  Depending on how large you make the balls, you should end up with anywhere from 6 to 10.  Put a lid on the pan, reduce the heat, and let simmer for about 20 minutes. You want to give them enough time to absorb the chicken flavor and to cook thoroughly.

And really, that’s all there is to it. Broth and matzah balls. Chicken and veggies, if you want more substance. Simmer, and ladle into your soup bowl.  If you’ve got pets, they’ll probably be staring at you, trying to telepathically command you to share with them since the smell will be driving them as crazy as you.  You probably shouldn’t (share, that is), since all that salt (and whatever other seasoning you added) may not be good for them.  But you could probably cut up bit of that chicken just to give them a taste.

Pour whatever is left over into a covered bowl, and refrigerate. It makes great left-overs, since those matzah balls will just get better tasting overnight. And enjoy your dinner and a movie at home, bachelor style.

 

[box type=”bio”]
STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.

He blogs here on IMPACT Magazine’s Cafe Inspirado column, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.

[/box]

Stupid Religion

StupidReligion_3949650938_c226a78f72_b

 

I just had another one of those conversations.  The conversation I seem to have a lot these days with my Christian friends. Gay and straight. About what it means to be a Christian.

Am I still a “good Christian” if I don’t go to church? Am I a good Christian if I cuss, if I have sex with my girlfriend or boyfriend? And of course, that one question that seems to preoccupy the evangelical world right now: Can I be a good Christian if I’m gay?

Franklin Graham, the hostile son of that epitome of Christian kindness Billy Graham, thinks not.  And he’s spouting his morality-driven view of Christianity in all the media.  For him, and for many in the church world, Christianity is defined in terms of do’s and don’ts. Rules. Outward behavior.

And ya know, to some extent, I would agree with that. But only to the extent that “behavior” is defined as how we treat other people.

Christianity, at least for most Protestants, is defined by our faith in Jesus, and then how that faith translates into real life. More than just simple head-knowledge or believing something to be true, it is the transformational power of relationship with the Living God that defines us – proves us – to be true followers of Jesus. In a word, what makes us “good Christians.”

And that’s what I’ve come to conclude, after living my entire life in the church, growing up in a conservative evangelical home, going to an evangelical, charismatic seminary, and wrestling with God to sort out my own relationship with him.

Any so-called religion that does not result in a growing relationship with the Living God is a fake.

And any religion that does not transform you to treat other people around you in a better, more loving way is garbage.

If your religion – even if you can pull up all kinds of Scripture to justify your actions – results in alienating or hurting people, guess what?  You don’t know God, and you are not practicing God’s ways. You are not walking in the way of Jesus.  Period.

Because, at the core of it all, Jesus did not come to give us another book of holy rules to live by.

God is love, and the one who walks in love, lives in God, and God lives in him. … The one who claims to love God but treats his neighbor badly is a liar. – 1 John 4

A friend messaged me today on Facebook, in dismay over the cruel and cutting comments he received in one Facebook Christian group. They were targeted against “the gays,” of course, and our so-called delusion that we were saved.  My friend was puzzled how they could be so mean yet claim to have the truth.  For me, it was the same old, tired, story.  Stupid religion.  Words, Bible-knowledge in the head that never transformed the heart.

And this isn’t just a Christian thing.  Americans in general love to pick on Muslims and claim the actions of the radical fundamentalists are obviously not the actions of a Loving God – it’s a fake religion.  I’d have to agree – not about Islam in general, but about the hateful actions of radical fundamentalists.  And Jews, I’ve seen the reality of throwing stones and cold-hearted shunnings of the ultra-conservative against those who do not dress appropriately or honor the Sabbath as they believe it needs to be.  Even Buddhism, that religion known for its peaceful focus, has militant sects.  And my New Age/New Spirituality friends who have helped me see God in new and expanded ways … I see hearts seeking contact with the Universe, but sometimes in manipulative ways, trying to re-establish links with our own divinity in order to get what we want out of life.  And we Christians are no different. We have our militant sects, our KKKs, our Westboro Baptist Churches, our Franklin Grahams, even our seemingly Biblical messages coming from Assembly of God pulpits promoting a cultural agenda instead of offering the life-giving words of a Loving God.

Where is the personal transformation that comes from the faith? Where is the reflection of the God who sacrificed himself so that he could establish a better connection with humanity?

StupidReligion-274835316_3c95528b66_zI saw just a few days ago another post on Facebook by well-meaning Christians, trying to encourage holiness and morality in our “easy-believism” faith.  They quoted Jesus, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” And their emphasis was on keeping the laws of morality and purity, of “cleaning-up” the life of the Christian.  And my first thought was, “and what were Jesus’s commandments?”  “This is my commandment: that you love one another, as I have loved you.  By this the world will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35; 15:12,17)

Funny, Jesus didn’t say the world would know us by our clean-cut looks, our short hair, our modest clothes, or our sexual abstinence. He didn’t say our church attendance was the fulfillment of the law.  He said it was Love.  Period.

“But we do love you,” many Christians say. “That’s why we are trying to get you to stop living your sinful lifestyle.”  Or, in other words, “we love you, sinner, but we hate your sin.”   Haven’t we debunked that view enough already?  You cannot truly love someone while you are throwing stones at them. That’s not the life Jesus demonstrated for us.

If your religion is not transforming you to love your neighbor – to treat your neighbor as you want to be treated – then you are deceiving yourself. The truth is not in you. And you do not know the God you claim.

It’s really that simple.  “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and yet do not do the things I say?” Jesus asked.

My friend today did not know how to respond to those harsh words wielded by “good Christians.”  Honestly, he didn’t need to respond. Sometimes battling words accomplishes nothing. No one listens. No one is changed. But for his own reassurance, I suggested this.

Stupid-religion-facebookcomment

It really is that simple.

Love God. Love your neighbor.

And that “love neighbor” stuff isn’t just some vague, undefined feeling: “oh, yes, we love those sinners.” It’s your heart transformed by the power of God into loving action. It’s how you treat them. It’s what you say to them.

All the rest, all the verses from the Bible you can quote and hurl at people to prove your point that what they’re doing or how they’re living is wrong – all that is just religious technicalities. It is law. It is death. There is no life in it.

Without real love, all you have is a stupid religion.

 

—–
photo credits:
Angry God, Matt Katzenberger – flickrcc
Church Rules, Debby and Gary – flickr, cc

 

[box type=”bio”]
STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.

He blogs here on IMPACT Magazine’s Cafe Inspirado column, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.

 
[/box]

Bachelor Food: Chocolate Peanut-Butter Cookies (No Bake)

Choco-PeanutButterCookies3
Okay, these may look a bit like charcoal briquettes in this photo, but take my word for it. They’re fantastic!

I’ve been single for about 2 years now, and I discovered something during this time of readjustment and recovering my identity: I still like to eat.

And, every once in a while, I actually enjoy cooking – when I have the time and energy, that is. And frankly, most days after work I just don’t. Add in the dinners out with friends, my new hobbies of running and yoga, and weekly church obligations, and that pretty much leaves me with just weekends to indulge in the kitchen.

And, like most guys (I think), I like having something to munch on when I’m unwinding in the evening with Netflix.  (“Netflix: a bachelor’s best friend.”) For a while I was stocking up on quick snacks, like granola bars or those single-serving sized cups of applesauce or fruit. But that gets old after a while. And sure, that cookie aisle at WalMart is kinda hard to resist, so my shopping cart would inevitably end up with some kind of name-brand cookie or sweet thing.  But, one of the things I’m trying to cultivate back into my life is healthy eating.  And those vanilla sugar-wafers (which I love) don’t exactly fall into that category.

Besides, have you looked at the ingredients in those things?!!!!  That stuff can’t possibly be good for you.

So today, on my weekly grocery run, I picked up a few items just so I could make “healthy” snacks myself.  – Yeah, I put quotation marks around that, cuz we all know anything with sugar in it probably isn’t really gonna be the best thing to chow down on before going to bed. But … whatever.  Ya gotta live, right?

And what I threw together when I got home turned out to be friggin fantastic.

So, here it is. If you like chocolate, if you like peanut butter (and isn’t that almost an obligatory thing if you’re American?), then you gotta try this for yourself.

Choco-PeanutButterCookies1And look!  Just a handful of ingredients.  And I know exactly what each one of them is, and how much I put in.  In fact, I took a basic recipe off the internet, but then cut the amount of butter and sugar in half.   #TakingControlofMyFood  #YayMe

So, just copy that photo to your phone gallery, hit the grocery store, and pick up those items for yourself, if you don’t already have them in your cupboards.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar (that’s about 240ml, for my non-U.S. friends) *
  • 1 stick of butter (½ cup, or 113g). Do yourself the favor, and use real butter, not margarine. And get organic, hormone-free if you can.  You’ll feel better about yourself.
  • ½ cup milk (125ml)  Ditto on the organic note.
  • 4 Tablespoons cocoa powder (60ml)
  • 1 cup peanut-butter (240ml)
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract (15ml)
  • 3 – 3.5 cups oatmeal / quick oats (about 750 – 850ml)

Hey, this isn’t rocket science, so don’t get all hung up about precise measurements.

Do It

In a saucepan, mix the sugar, butter, milk and cocoa powder, and heat until melted. Bring to low boil for about a minute, stirring until everything is dissolved and well mixed.  (I said “low boil.” You don’t need the stuff flying out of the pan and making a bigger mess on your stove. Nobody likes clean-up.)  Then add in the vanilla and peanut butter.  When that’s blended in nicely, add in the oats. Stir until well mixed, and then take off the heat.  And then just spoon out the batter onto wax paper (or aluminum foil if that’s all you’ve got), and let cool. They’ll firm up as they cool.  Makes about 3 dozen decent sized cookies.

And, voila!, as they say.  The stuff is amazing.

I’m thinking next time, just for variety (and to con myself even more into feeling that this is health food), I gonna swap out a cup or so of the oats with chia seeds.  It’ll probably make the flavor a bit more bitter and add more texture, but score one for added anti-oxidants, fiber, and Omega-3s!

Ya know what? This bachelor life isn’t all that hard after all.

—-

* One caveat with reducing the sugar. Yeah, it won’t knock your blood gluccose into the stratosphere, but the cookies don’t firm up as much when they’re cool.  You may need to keep them in the fridge if you don’t like soft and chewy cookies.

 

 

[box type=”bio”]
STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.

He blogs here on IMPACT Magazine’s Cafe Inspirado column, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.
[/box]

One little word that makes all the difference

flowers-in-hand_277221852There I was, minding my own business, innocently browsing through endless Facebook posts from my infinite number of friends (never been more popular in my entire life!), and I noticed that one buddy in a moment of excitement and adoration wrote out the doxology as his status.

“Praise God to whom all blessings flow. Praise him all creatures here below.
Praise him above, ye heavenly hosts. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.”

Only he got one word wrong — as some of you may have already noticed.

I grew up in church where we sang this almost every Sunday, so it jumped off the screen at me.  And it’s always those little windows of time when you see something old in a new light that spark fresh insights.  That one little word makes a huge difference.

From whom” not “to whom.”

Big deal; who cares?

Okay, call me knit-picky, but it effects how we view God, how we view our relationship to him — how we view life.  God deserves our praise, to be sure.  And my mom taught me at a young age the incredible power that is released into our lives when we praise God in the middle of our difficult circumstances.  There’s value in that; it’s honorable to send your blessings to God.  As that cranky old oatmeal commercial guy used to say, “it’s the right thing to do.”

But we miss a powerful point about the character of God and his amazing love for us if we get that one word wrong.  “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like the shifting shadows”, James tells us.  God is a generous God, a giving God. One who pours out good stuff on us, just because he loves us.  And he doesn’t quit when we mess up.  He doesn’t change his mind.  Like that powerful revelation in Exodus when he proclaims his name to Moses: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love … (Ex 34:6).

That good stuff is for us.  
And if we miss that point, we’re missing out on some jaw-dropping grace,

some amazing love,

some unheard-of favor. 

Not because of who we are, or the fact that we’re constantly buttering him up with our praise.

Just because that’s who he is.

 

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”  That’s your heritage.  That’s your birthright.  We can love him all the more because of his love for us, because he is constantly pouring out blessings — even when we don’t see or feel them.

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” That one little word can turn your whole day around.

 

——
photo credit: Hamed Saber via photopin cc

 

This blog was orignally posted on Cafe Inspirado, Aug 15, 2011.

 

[box type=”bio”]
STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.

He blogs here on IMPACT Magazine’s Cafe Inspirado column, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.

 
[/box]