French food

I have more to tell you about my trip to France and Germany this summer. (I lectured at John Warwick Montgomery’s International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism, and Human Rights, then stayed over to visit friends in Germany.) Today I will report on French food.

I have been to some French restaurants in the USA and, frankly, was not all that impressed. They were fine, but too fancy and expensive for my taste and my social condition. But over there the food was amazing. Every little sidewalk cafe in Strasbourg, no matter how humble, at least that I encountered, turned out food that was made from scratch with fresh ingredients, that was prepared with care, and that tasted spectacular. The French take food very seriously, with TWO HOUR lunchbreaks, and dinners that last all evening. (Restaurants don’t even open for dinner until 7:00 p.m.) Every meal has at least three courses: a first course (the “entree,” meaning the introductory course, not the main course as in our usage), the main course, and dessert. Even the student restaurants followed this structure. (Students have not cafeterias but actual restaurants scattered throughout the university area of the city, with payment via a meal card.)

I ate at a little creperie (you know, crepes, like pancakes) in the shadow of the cathedral. These were not little doughy white pasty confections such as I have had here. These were made out of buckwheat and fried crisp and dark, with a kind of charred taste that combined perfectly with the filling of melted Gruyere cheese, ham, and onions. So savory. Talk about (as we have) umami tsunami. Washed down with a carafe of local cider, which the waitress replenished for free, thinking that the kitchen was taking too long. (The service was nearly always friendly, hospitable, efficient, and joyful.) For dessert she brought me another kind of crispy crepe filled with pears and chocolate topped with ice cream. It was one of the best lunches I’ve ever had.

This was in the Alsace region. Each region of France has its own cuisine. Food in the Alsace, but also I believe the rest of France, does lots with sauces and features an abundance of butter, cream, and cheese. We Americans are encouraged to fear such food. Clogged arteries! Heart attack! Obesity! And yet, in one of the greatest medical mysteries, the French people who eat this stuff all the time are some of the slimmest, healthiest, and heart-disease free people in the world. (Some think that is due to the wine, which flows freely at meals.)

Other highlights: pate de frois gras. I hate liver and I sympathize with the poor ducks and geese getting force fed so their livers will grow. I am not condoning that practice. But the resulting product offers what has to be one of the great taste sensations ever. It doesn’t even taste like liver. It is like the essence of meat conveyed in a medium with the texture and the mouth feel of butter.

And there are all of these little touches in the way the French serve food and orchestrate flavors. For example, lemon sorbet (desserts are usually quite light) served with a splash of brandy.

I forgive France for not wanting to take part in American wars. (They have fought enough wars in all of their history. As for jokes about them losing, I remind you that Napoleon came close to conquering the world. We don’t want a militarily powerful France.) I forgive them for the sake of their food.

UPDATE: After my visit, back in this country, I was taken to a French restaurant in Moscow, Idaho, which measured up to the continental standards. So such good food can be found here, as well. Watch for an actual French chef.

OK, now you can tell about great meals YOU have had. (It’s a challenge to describe tastes. But try it.)

UCC is going after Anne Rice

I guess this is an admission that liberal churches have quit being Christian too:

The United Church of Christ is trying to get Anne Rice to join its flock after the Interview with the Vampire author announced her highly-publicized decision to “quit being Christian” this past week.

Just days after Rice’s announcement, the 1.1-million member UCC launched the”You’d Like the UCC, Anne Rice” campaign on Facebook to offer support for the acclaimed author and to introduce her and others to the historically liberal church body.

“Many of us who are Christian share Anne Rice’s values of inclusion and reason,” remarked UCC’s communications director, the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, who initiated the Facebook campaign. “It’s important that she and others know that a church like the UCC exists.”

via UCC Makes Pitch to Ex-‘Christian’ Author Anne Rice |

I think it highly unlikely that Anne Rice will join a liberal Protestant church.  Even in her disillusionment, a version of the church that seems to agree with her will hold little appeal.  Hunter Baker makes this point:

What fascinates me about the way she has done this is how Catholic she is in her rejection of the Catholic Church.

If Anne Rice were a Protestant of almost any kind, she would surely flee to a denominational group or congregation which embraces Jesus while more closely approximating her values.  There is no doubt it would be possible to do so.  There are liberal Baptists, liberal Lutherans, liberal Methodists, etc.

But Rice doesn’t avail herself of that opportunity.  And I think I know why.  Anne Rice movingly wrote of her Catholic childhood and of her dramatic return to the church.  At no point did she apparently consider returning to faith as a Protestant.  She clearly believes that the Catholic church is the only true manifestation of the Christian church.  And thus, when she rejects it, there is no other church for her to join.  She is affirming the church at the same time she loudly and publicly is slamming the door and running away.

Motherhood as vocation

Did you know that Mollie Hemingway, the confessional Lutheran journalist, has a column in Christianity Today?  Here are some links, going back awhile: Throwing Inkwells: Mollie Ziegler Hemingway | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

I’m glad she has that forum.  Other Christians could benefit greatly from what many Lutherans just keep to themselves.  Here she is on how the doctrine of vocation can help stressed out, guilt-ridden mothers deal with “the mommy wars“:

How should Christians think about the Mommy Wars? Vocationally. You may have heard vocation used as a synonym for occupation. But Martin Luther used it to talk about every Christian’s calling to particular offices through which God works to care for his creation. We serve our neighbors as employees, yes, but also as citizens, parishioners, and family members. Through our web of relationships, we are the instruments by which God works in the world.

So, for instance, God heals us by giving us doctors and nurses. He feeds us by giving us farmers and bakers. He gives us earthly order through our governors and legislators, and he gives us life through our parents. God is providing all these gifts—but we receive them from our neighbors.

Parenting is one of the most important vocations we can be given. Yes, the obligations of childrearing are difficult, but when the duties are fulfilled with the knowledge that we are doing the will of God, our reward is great. Luther wrote that fathers should not complain when they have to rock a baby, change his diaper, or care for the baby’s mother, but instead should view each act as a holy blessing.

God has placed me as the mother of my children. So long as I’m not sinning, I am free to serve my children as I see fit. I have the responsibility to feed my children, but I can fulfill that task by slaving away in the kitchen to produce a five-course meal or by ordering out for pizza. I have the responsibility of making sure my children are educated, but I have the freedom to do that on my own or by sending them to whichever school my husband and I pick.

Sure, we all have a role to play in upholding community standards and making sure our neighbors’ children have their needs met, but we should also be careful not to intrude on others’ vocations. Just as we wouldn’t rearrange colleagues’ offices or tinker with their computers, neither should we presume to know best how they should manage their families.

So if you’re an overwhelmed mother, wave the white flag of surrender in the Mommy Wars and enjoy your vocation and the freedom it provides.

Heinz Ketchup as Platonic ideal

Food writer Jane Black tries to make her own ketchup and concludes that this may be one of the few cases in which homemade falls short of the industrial brand.  That is because Heinz Ketchup is the Platonic ideal (my word, not hers):

Ketchup, apparently, is an exception to the everything-is-better-if-you-make-it-yourself ethos. In a 2004 piece in the New Yorker magazine, journalist Malcolm Gladwell argued that although different people have different ideas of the perfect tomato sauce (chunky, spicy or smooth) or mustard (yellow or Dijon-style), everyone likes the same kind of ketchup. And that ketchup is Heinz, a condiment that offers a perfect balance of sweet, salty, sour, bitter and savory or umami. More than a decade earlier, Vogue’s Jeffrey Steingarten came to essentially the same conclusion when, in a characteristically extensive taste test, he grouped 35 ketchups, including two homemade versions, into the following categories: Worse Than Heinz, Heinz, Better Than Heinz and Not Really Ketchup. . . .

Heinz, Smith reports, began making tomato ketchup in the late 19th century. By 1905, the company had become the ketchup king, turning out more than 5 million bottles a year. Today,Heinz owns 59 percent of the market, according to data from Nielsen, with Hunts (15 percent) and Del Monte (2 percent) fighting for the leftovers.. . .

So what makes Heinz the standard by which all others are measured? Consumer tests identify four key characteristics: tang, sweetness, a concentrated tomato flavor and a thick, pourable consistency. Re-creating that blend with fresh or more-wholesome ingredients was my goal.. . .

via DIY not?.

She then tells about trying various recipes with various ingredients.  Her ketchup keeps coming out too sweet or the wrong consistency or good-tasting but just not like ketchup.  (Have any of you had better luck?)  At any rate, let us salute a good product.Heinz Ketchup

Islam losing ground to Christianity?

Christianity may be declining in the West and Islam is surging, but in the world as a whole, it’s a different story.  So says Ryan Mauro:

It’s true that Islam (as well as atheism and universalism) is growing in the West, mostly because of high birth rates among Muslims and immigration, but the exploding growth of evangelical Christianity around the world through conversion is unreported. The analysis is distorted because of the lack of reporting from places like Africa, where nearly half of the population is estimated to be Christian. In other places like China, news of such trends is suppressed, leaving few to know that some estimates put the Christian population there at up to 111 million. There may be more members in the underground evangelical movement there than in the 75-million strong Chinese Communist Party. It’s been reported that 10,000 Chinese convert to Christianity per day. That number may be a stretch, but if current trends hold, predictions that China will become the country with the largest number of Christians by the middle of the century could come true.

The image in one’s mind of a Christian is usually of an American or European. The decline of Christianity in the West gives the impression that the religion is collapsing when it is really transforming. In Dinesh D’Souza’s What’s So Great About Christianity, he writes that in 1900, over 80 percent of Christians lived in Europe and the U.S. Now, two out of three evangelicals live in Asia, Africa, and South America. South Korea now holds the title as the second-place country in sending out missionaries, despite the fact that the number one country, the U.S., has over six times as many people.

Another fact to consider is that while the number of Christians overall is declining in the West, the number of evangelicals is rising. There are less of those “Sunday Christians” who do the church routine and don’t make having a relationship with God part of their very being. They are falling away from church as it becomes more socially acceptable to do so and are turning to agnosticism, atheism, and a universalism that believes all religions are one and the same. Christianity is changing into a smaller but more devout and active force.

It is much harder to detect “Friday Muslims” in the Islamic world than it is “Sunday Christians” in the West because of the societal repercussions and the suppression of other religions. Those questioning their faith are likely to keep it private and still go to mosque even if they party on the weekends. The dismal state of the Islamic world economically and politically and the savagery of extremism is turning many Muslims away. For example, I’ve been surprised at how many Iranians I’ve communicated with are atheists or aren’t devout Muslims. There is a clandestine movement to acquire Bibles and practice Christianity in private homes, as up to 1 million are said to have turned to Christianity in the past five years.

This is a problem that raises significant concern in the Muslim world, but the West misses it. In April 2008, Andrew Walden wrote a top-notch piece here at Pajamas Media about this phenomenon. One top Islamic scholar in Libya says that 16,000 Muslims convert to Christianity every day and Walden writes that evangelist Wolfgang Simpson says that “more Muslims have come to Christ in the last two decades than in all of history.” He writes that the mufti of the Malaysian state of Perak says that about 250,000 Muslims in his country have filed to officially leave Islam, including 100,000 that have converted to Christianity. The mufti warned that this number doesn’t include those who are non-practicing Muslims.

It is undeniable that Islam is growing in the West, but there are signs that the number of Muslims that don’t diligently practice the faith is increasing just as is the case with Christianity. In February 2005, the Sunday Times wrote that “one estimate suggests that as many as 15 per cent of Muslims in Western societies have lost their faith.” A Pew poll in July 2007 found that Muslim-Americans are in third place in how many describe religion as playing a “very important” role in their lives, with 72 percent affirming the statement as compared to 79 percent of white evangelicals and 85 percent of black Protestants. Most interestingly, only 50 percent of Muslim-Americans take their holy book, the Koran, literally, whereas 66 percent of white evangelicals and 68 percent of black Protestants take the Bible literally.

via Pajamas Media » Is Islam Really the Second-Fastest Growing Religion?.

Old people are both wise and happy

Empirical research is finding evidence that old people are not only wiser than younger people  (a traditional belief) but also that they are happier too (which may seem counterintuitive):

Contrary to largely gloomy cultural perceptions, growing old brings some benefits, notably emotional and cognitive stability. Laura Carstensen, a Stanford social psychologist, calls this the “well-being paradox.” Although adults older than 65 face challenges to body and brain, the 70s and 80s also bring an abundance of social and emotional knowledge, qualities scientists are beginning to define as wisdom. As Carstensen and another social psychologist, Fredda Blanchard-Fields of the Georgia Institute of Technology, have shown, adults gain a toolbox of social and emotional instincts as they age. According to Blanchard-Fields, seniors acquire a feel, an enhanced sense of knowing right from wrong, and therefore a way to make sound life decisions.

That may help explain the finding that old age correlates with happiness. A study published this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found a U-shaped relationship between happiness and age: Adults were happiest in youth and again in their 70s and early 80s, and least happy in middle age. A 2007 University of Chicago study similarly concluded that rates of happiness — “the degree to which a person evaluates the overall quality of his present life positively” — crept upward from age 65 to 85 and beyond, in both sexes.

via Researchers find that wisdom and happiness increase as people grow older.

Read the rest of the article for the details and the evidence that points to these conclusions.  But how can that be?  What about the breakdown of the body, the loss of faculties, the facing of death?  And yet, even as I grow closer to that stage, I can see it.