Sunday, November 28, 2010

On the Edge of a Diocese on the Edge

On this first Sunday of Advent, we went to Mass at the tiny, half-empty church in Menahga, Minnesota. We were spending our first overnight visit to the Kluesners' log cabin, built by Paul Kluesner here on the farm and moved up and assembled on a lake near Wadena.

There are two choices of Sunday Masses nearby: the 9 a.m. in Park Rapids and the 10:30 a.m. in Menagha. We chose the later Mass, for obvious reasons. Menahga's Assumption Church is at the farthest northern edge of the St. Cloud diocese, a full two hours from where we live. It is one of three churches in a "cluster," including St. Frederick Catholic Church in Verndale and St. Hubert Catholic Church in Bluegrass. St. Frederick have a Mass on Saturday at 6 p.m. and St. Hubert's Msas is at 8:30 a.m. every Sunday. Until recently, the cluster was served by a young priest, but he has taken a break to discern his vocation, questioning, it seems, his commitment to celibacy. I'll tell you one thing-- it would be a very difficult thing indeed to be alone on this edge of Wadena County.

We were uncertain who would be presiding at Mass, so I was excited and very pleased when I turned and recognized Father Eberhard Schefers ready to process down the short aisle. This was a treat I thought I might not have a chance to experience: Mass with Fr. Eb.

Fr. Eb lives in St. Joseph, where he moved a little over a year ago when he retired from parish ministry. He then agreed to participate in a process at the monastery to consider and plan for the future of on-campus ministry at the monastery in the face of declining numbers of Sisters. He is a kind, quiet man, one of the priests of a certain generation who spent his whole life in faithful service wherever he was sent, to the people of Minnesota.

When he registered that I was in the pews, he smiled, and he offered me the Eucharist with a smile and by name. Things like this make me so happy, and remind me of the privilege of living where I do, working where I do, at this moment in history.

The night before, our discussion had turned naturally to the question of what will happen to the church as the numbers of clergy decline. What would be a good solution? Married clergy? Women ordained? The four of us agreed that both would be positive developments, with in fact a more immediate support of women clergy. Bringing a family seems more complicated somehow, although plenty of churches have not only made this work, but benefited from the blessing of having a minister who was married and had children. There are, in fact, already married priests in the Roman Catholic Church (widowers and converts).

At stake here, ultimately, is the accessibility of the sacraments. But even now, we can see the extraordinary situation unfolding-- not just for our parishioners. Here is retired Fr. Eb Schefers, who had told us at our final committee meeting in August that he hasn't really been to more than a few Masses in St. Joseph, because very weekend he's been called upon to give Masses in other parts of the diocese.

What does that mean exactly? Well, that morning it meant a two hour drive, about 125 miles, to celebrate a Mass for about 80 people, in a church that was neat and serviceable, with minimal aesthetics and an organ better suited to a living room. Fr. Eb, beting who he is, gave a wonderful homily, drawing on the readings and telling two engaging anecdotes that the congregation responded to audibly.

After church, we invited him to join us for brunch back at the cabin. Unfortunately, he couldn't come. He had to hit the road because he had another Mass, at 3:30 p.m. in Clearwater, Minnesota, 20 miles to the East of St. Cloud, at a nursing home.

Bless his soul, Fr. Eb Schefers. We will not see his like again.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday Rant

I've had a rant simmering for a week or more. I resisted because it was Thanksgiving week and I knew I should be thankful, not ranting. And I am thankful, for my wonderful husband, the farm, family and friends, my connections with the Sisters, a good and secure job, great food, and these days most immediately and consciously for a garage to put my car in each night!

However, what has really been bothering me is the sudden appearance of the Keurig single-cup coffee maker. Where the heck did this thing come from?? Why is it so popular?? People all over are spending over $100 for a new coffeemaker and buying these ridiculous plastic cups of coffee that are being produced by every coffee company in the world (it seems).

It just seems like a huge step backwards, in terms of recycling and simple living. While people are working very hard to eliminate plastic water bottles from the system, here comes a new source of plastic garbage. When people are working to get folks to purchase fair trade coffee and make life better for coffee growers around the world, here comes a way to jack up prices for those who need and deserve it least in the production chain. I just can't get my head around it.

Now, of course, I shouldn't talk, since I was most outraged as I was walking past the display of K-cups and brewers at Kohl's on my way to buy a brand spankin' new red KitchenAid mixer. I am certainly no model of anti-consumerism. This just annoys me to no end. I wonder if it is what passes for "innovation" in this country, and getting our economy back on track. More products for the masses that they don't need! I wish people would save their $169 toward something more useful or transforming... if not a solar panel, maybe a nice raised garden bed!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Simple Pear Tart

Pears are a problem. I really like pears, but go from hard to over-ripe in 60 seconds. They don't stay ripe and firm for a long time like apples. I bought five pears last week, and they suddenly were ripe yesterday. I'd seen a recipe for a pear tart in this month's bon apetit magazine, but it looked kind of complicated. Instead I searched epicurious and found this beauty. You make it in a skillet with just a few ingredients. It is fun-- you get to flip it over at the end-- and gorgeous, and not at all fussy. You don't even have to do things like weigh down crusts with beans and etc. I never make my own pastry dough, I use "Pappy's" brand which always turns out great and is made with lard. I recommend upping the cinnamon significantly and adding a little vanilla to the pears... (I could have eaten the whole thing last night.....)

Carmelized Upside-down Pear Tart

4 large firm-ripe Bosc pears (2 pounds total)

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla

Pastry dough

Peel and halve pears, then core. Heat butter in a 9- to 10-inch well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides, then stir in sugar (sugar will not be dissolved). Arrange pears, cut sides up, in skillet with wide parts at rim of skillet. Sprinkle pears with cinnamon and cook, undisturbed, until sugar turns a deep golden caramel. Add vanilla near the end. (This can take as little as 10 minutes or as much as 25, depending on pears, skillets, and stove. Be careful not to burn the sugar.) Cool pears completely in skillet.

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 425°F.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin into a 10 1/2-inch round. Arrange pastry over caramelized pears, tucking edge around pears inside rim of skillet. Bake tart until pastry is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Cook on rack 5 minutes.

Invert a rimmed serving plate (slightly larger than skillet) over skillet and, using pot holders to hold skillet and plate tightly together, invert tart onto plate. Serve tart warm or at room temperature.

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Prodigal Summer (Review) and Butter

I've been reading Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer, and although I'm not disappointed in it, I am surprised by how didactic it is. I had high hopes of a book that would be full of details of rural life in Virginia, especially after reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. In the opening chapters, we're introduced to a woman who is struggling to shape herself to the "family farm" she's married into. Lusa's husband Cole is out on his Kabota, and she is smarting over an argument from breakfast. This tugged at my heart, as Steve also drives a Kabota and, although we don't argue over breakfast, he usually bears the brunt of my ongoing adjustments to life in this house and on this piece of land.

I was looking forward to where that storyline would go, but it didn't go far-- Lusa becomes a widow by chapter two. And she begins to raise goats.

I was also looking forward to the goat-raising stories. After AVM, I realize I'm looking most of all for stories of simple things people do-- reassurances that none of it is very difficult. It all just takes time. My head is full of goats and chickens and cows. I just need some more instruction-- a picture I can begin to incorporate to see how this thing goes.

Unfortunately, Prodigal Summer kind of devolves into a series of lectures on pesticides, herbicides and coyote poaching, as well as a more poetic treatise on fertility. It's a fine, accomplished book, but it has a little too much of an agenda to be truly successful.

Meanwhile, much more to my liking was a set of videos I found through the e-newsletter. Each month, cheese guru Ricki Carroll shares a blog or some other information on people out there making cheese. This woman in Texas has made a number of really charming YouTube videos about life with her cow. It makes me happy to see them, and I've decided now to start laying in equipment, and looking for a raw milk source nearby. I'm going to begin with a piece of equipment I've always wanted: a KitchenAid mixer, a splurge with the advance from the Saint John's Bible book. Next stop: wood butter molds.

Enjoy this video on making butter from the woman in Texas!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Fall Cleaning

One thing I very much did not like about living in California (both Northern and Southern) was not getting to change out my clothes seasonally. Although I always tend to buy clothes throughout the year, so it wasn't like I never had any changes, it just wasn't the same as unpacking clothes put away for the season.

Today I did some major fall cleaning-- most notably clearing my desk off completely and filing/recycling/ tossing lots and lots of papers-- and changed over my summer to winter clothes.

It's hard to believe I could forget clothes I packed in a suitcase just a few months ago. Noneheless, I always smile to unpack items I wasn't counting on. This time, it was the black corduroys, which I wear a lot in the winter but forgot I had. I was also happy to see all the turtlenecks and other plain, knit shirts I depend on under sweaters. I do like my clothes, which are simple and durable, and it was good to arrange them on the closet shelves and in the dresser. The sweaters seem to dramatically increase my wardrobe as I hang them up, since I've been depending on the few "in-between" items I keep out year 'round.

And as I put my t-shirts and shorts and all those lightweight things into the suitcase, I can guess what pleasant surprises will greet me next June. There is the pretty recently purchased beaded, crinkled top and the Gap capris I've wore all the long, warm September. After winter, I'll enjoy unpacking my two pink cotton dresses just as much as I enjoyed pulling out my snow pants today.