Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Once-a-Month Cooking

Ahhh, the irony. My last post was from early June when we were in Costa Rica--reflective and deep. Today's post is at August's end, and is about cooking--matter-of-fact and practical. And such is the pattern of my days...

A few years ago, I discovered the idea of "once a month cooking." I hit upon it after spotting this while perusing a friend's cookbook collection. Not all of the recipes would be to our family's liking, nor did I need 30 frozen meals, so I adapted a few of them, cut back on number, and gave it a whirl. That was probably in 2007. I am not a regular by any means, but I do tend to have a big cook-fest in late summer / early fall to help me through those busy months at the end of the year. It is great for our budget in two ways.  Obviously, it keeps me from being tempted to suggest going out on those days when I'm too tired to think, let alone cook. And it allows me to take advantage of buying meat in bulk, either at Costco or at bargain prices from Kroger. It also makes late afternoons much more pleasant because I can generally enjoy the afternoon AND have a good meal ready for dinner. And it makes it fairly simply to have dinner guests on short notice if the opportunity or need arises. I have also added this cookbook to my collection as well, although most of the recipes that I use now come from the first one.

The kitchen, about halfway through
So yesterday was The Day. I think this was my 5th or 6th time to do this, and I've finally got a set list of meals to build.  This makes it easy because I also have a set shopping list, so all I have to do is skim it to see what I have on hand and what I need to buy.

Typically, I prefer to shop one day and cook the next, but yesterday I did it all at once, making it a bit more taxing than usual. And I got a later start too, so the day was very long. But by 6:00, I had successfully prepared and frozen 19 entrees, which should last us for at least a couple of months since I typically use two of the frozen meals per week. The other nights are easy-prep things like burgers or tacos, or are planned nights out, like Wednesday dinner at church or our once-a week family night out at Zaxby's, Your Pie, or something like that.

Most entrees are frozen in gallon-sized freezer bags, but a few are in plastic Glad containers. Using a Sharpie, I write what is in each, as well as the preparation instructions, on the bag or lid, making it easier when prep time rolls around.

Here's what I ended up with in my deep freezer. And a small deep freezer is a necessity (the small ones aren't that expensive) if you want to do more than 5 or 6 meals at a time.

The finished product/s--21 frozen entrees, ready to go!
3 bags of herbed chicken *
1 chicken and rice pilaf *
1 Chinese chicken morsels
1 marinated flank steak *
1 savory beef tips
1 biscuit beef bake
1 Balkan / Swedish meatballs
1 taco pie
2 chicken tetrazzini
1 green chili enchiladas
1 oriental chicken
1 wild rice chicken (tip: go light on
        the onions and celery)
2 chicken packets
1 beef pot roast (crock pot meal) *
1 teriyaki chicken (crock pot meal) *
2 easy beef stew (crock pot meal) *

Since I've done this several times now, I have a pretty good system for what to do when, and how to make the most of every minute I'm in the kitchen. For instance, the first thing I did was to put the 16 boneless chicken breasts in a pot of water to cook. While they were cooking, I assembled most of the raw meat entrees since they mainly just involve combining a few ingredients for the sauce / marinade, placing the raw, rinsed meat in a freezer bag, and pouring the marinade over it. (If you are new to the whole process, or want an easy way to have just a few meals in the freezer, fixing just a few of these would be a great way to start. They are marked with a * in the list above.) When the chicken was done, I set it aside to cool while I browned 5 pounds of ground beef. While the beef was browning, I assembled the meatballs and rolled them out, then put them in the oven for a quick broil. I also cooked the pasta for the tetrazzini in the chicken pot / broth. Then I assembled the ground beef items, cut the chicken in bite-sized pieces, and sprinted for the finish line. By 5:30, I had everything finished and was in clean-up mode. We had the chicken packets for dinner (the boys love these), adding some fresh steamed broccoli and sliced pineapples (from a can) to finish the meal off. My preference is usually to go OUT on the night of my cooking day, but I wasn't really in the mood to go out, and neither were the guys, so that was good for all of us.

It's great to look in the freezer now and see all the meals that are ready to go with just a bit of forethought. You do have to remember to thaw them either the night before or the morning of, but then again, that's part of the ease for me because I totally don't have that 4pm "oh-no-what-are-we-having-for-dinner" feeling. And yes, there are some nights when I don't want anything that I have in the freezer, so I will cook from scratch, but that's always a choice, not a necessity, so it's much more pleasant.

I could probably make the whole process a bit less costly--by making and freezing my own chicken broth, or buy truly bargain shopping / store-hopping for the best deals, or by buying in bulk. (This time, NONE of the beef entrees were on sale, but I bought them anyway...). However, I consciously chose NOT to shop at the Wal-Mart SuperCenter because it stresses me out. I did opt for Kroger over Publix, which probably saved some $$. And I did not have many coupons to use because my clipping has suffered these past few months, so I don't have any good ones on hand. (Yes, I do need to use mobile coupons more than I do...). But all-in-all, I'd say 21 entrees for around $250 (I spent $300 at the store, but probably had close to $50 or so of other grocery items in my order.) isn't too bad. That's around $12 per entree. Add the necessary sides, and you're looking at a meal for 4 (usually with leftovers) for around $15, which isn't too bad.

Since I started doing this, there are even more resources on the internet for recipes, etc. I added a couple this time (the teriyaki chicken and the easy beef stew) that I had seen on Pinterest. And there are now several once-a-month cooking blogs out there, too. But if you are interested / intrigued by this, I'd suggest giving it a try. It's really easy once you get the hang of it, and makes meal prep so much easier!

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Something Larger

On Monday, my morning walk carried me not right towards the sands of Langosta Beach, but left, toward the dark, exposed rock that reached out for what seemed like miles towards the crashing low-tide waves.  The absence of open sand would make for a different kind of walk, requiring slower, more careful steps, so I opted for the playlist that I've named “Worship,” made up of songs by Coldplay, U2, David Bailey, Indigo Girls, The Kennedys, David LaMotte, Fourplay, Nickel Creek, & Katie Larue. 

As I sipped the last few drops of coffee from my mug, David Bailey’s words from “Almost Perfect” struck a chord with me.  “Learning to love the moment you are in is the only way time makes any sense.”  I did my best to resist the flood of thoughts that generally find their way into my head as my body awakens with its first cup of coffee. I took the singer’s advice, and tried to genuinely live IN the moment in which I found myself. 

Coffee gone, my body glistening with the first few drops of sweat, I was suddenly flooded with gratitude, and humbled by both the grace and generosity that allows our family the privilege to spend time in this place.  Allowing the flood to carry me, I wandered not down the shoreline, but out, across the black, pocked rocks, toward the morning horizon, to the place where waves meet rock.  The rock was dotted with tide pools here and there, teeming with the early-morning activity of fish and crabs and snails. Venturing farther out, I noticed again how the rock-surface resembles that of a dormant volcano—dark brown and craggy, with fossilized shells and layers upon layers of earth-turned-rock over time.  At the same time, it is also a mini ecosphere, teeming with tiny life forms whose click-clack noises can be heard even above the crashing of waves farther out. 

I became acutely aware of a growing feeling of somehow being at one with something larger than myself. It is a space that I can only describe as prayerful, and for me, if I am totally honest, it is rare. But when it does come, I try to live into it, to ride the wave of it, and to let that Larger Voice have space in my head.    As the music from my own songs of worship played, my mind wandered to various people in my life, and I found myself in prayer for them.

For the friends who have recently lost children to a darker world, I visualized peace, surrender, and acceptance. 

For the ones who have lost mothers or fathers in the past few months, I imagined comfort, strength, and smiles. 

For those traveling far and wide, I hoped for learning, growth, and reconciliation.

And for the one for whom life itself too often resembles the harshness of the time-worn surface of the rocks on which I stood, my only prayer was for real, tangible hope.

For the ones who fear and resist change, I hoped for fresh new promises and a heightened sense of trust.

For the ones who have written lyrics that have the power to carry me to that space, I offered my gratitude.

For the One who gives life, who sustains, and who guides us all…whether we are aware of it or not…I give thanks. 

“The water’s gonna win.  You can’t hold back the tide, you can’t hide from what’s within.  The water’s gonna win.  Feel it move beneath your skin. The water’s gonna win. It’ll keep flowing through, all we are and all we’ve been, the water’s gonna win. Forever and amen, the water’s gonna win.” (Thanks, David.)

May the Water of the One who marks us all find its way into each of our lives today. May we recognize it and give thanks for it.  And in it may we find peace. 


Saturday, June 02, 2012

The Estuary

Today has been the first full day on our family's trip to Costa Rica. This is our second trip here as a family, having been fortunate enough to visit here in February of 2009 as well.  However, it's my third time to be here--my first was in the summer of 1978.  Each time I've been to the same place, and while not much has changed in the past 2 ½ years, it is very different than it was when I was here at the age of twelve. 

Our connection with this place, this land, is thanks to my brother Hunter (1955-1996) and the work he did to help acquire it for H.G. Pattillo in the late 70’s.  I don’t have many memories about exactly what he did, mainly since I had little interest in things like that when I was twelve, but I’ve been told that he was here both to gain the trust of the Costa Rican people, and to help recommend and negotiate the transactions that resulted in H.G. owning the hacienda that is Pinilla.  The memories I have about my time here all those years ago are more vivid.  My first experience with theft was here, when my purse was stolen from our Jeep in downtown San Jose.  One of my earliest small-world connections occurred here when we met a group of tourists from Macon, Georgia atop Volcan Irazu, one of Costa Rica’s still-active volcanos.  My first puka bead necklace was purchased for $2.00 from a young tico selling them to tourists on the beach at Tamarindo.  And my first time to ride horses on the beach was with my brother Hunter when we visited The Ranch on that trip, back when Hacienda Pinilla was visible only in the mind and heart of H.G. Pattillo. 

The love between my brother Hunter and me ran deep.  He was eleven or twelve when I was born, and Mom said he thought of me as his own child more than he did a sibling.  I adored him, in part because of the childish silliness that he never seemed to outgrow, and in part because of his intelligence—there was nothing that he didn’t know as far as I was concerned.  So I was eager to spend a few hours horseback riding with him, and even more excited to ride on the beach.  Also, Mom and Dad seemed quite apprehensive about our trek, which made it all the more enticing to me at the time. 

It was the rainy season then, so we had to stop at every flora and fauna spot we passed, particularly the known orchid locales.  While I would love this now, then it was less than exciting to me.  I was eager to ride on the beach, and didn’t really enjoy the winding route we took from the barn to the water.  But as was typically the case when Hunter was involved, we did it his way, and I was thrilled to be along for the ride.   

We finally made it to the beach, and had to cross what seemed like a smallish creek at one point to continue down the shoreline.  I learned then from Hunter that what we were crossing was an estuary, which is a partially enclosed body of water along the coast where freshwater from rivers and streams meets and mixes with salt water from the ocean.  At low tide, estuaries are generally knee-deep with gentle currents, but at high tide, they can become deep rivers with dangerous currents.  We crossed the estuary easily at low tide, with the horses barely kicking up enough water to wet the hems of our jeans.  However, at my pleading, we rode farther than we should have before turning around, so when we reached the same estuary on our return trip, the gentle stream had become a bit of a river, at least three feet deep with swirling currents of significant strength.


Hunter seemed mildly concerned, which was enough to cause me great concern since he was generally unflappable.  “Looks like we rode a bit too far, Jill.  We’ve got to cross now, though.  It’s only going to get worse since the tide is coming in.  It will be fine—the horses are strong, and they can swim.”  

Into the currents we went.  I took comfort in two things:  One, while Hunter was concerned, he didn’t seem overly anxious, and two, neither horse seemed to balk at entering the fast-flowing water.  It was probably 25 to 30 feet across, and my apprehension grew with each step as the water got deeper and deeper towards the halfway mark.  The water was at my feet, then at my shins.  At one point, I seem to recall that the horses were no longer walking, but swimming.  Finally they stumbled a bit as they regained their footing, then just like that, we’d made it past the deepest part and my feet were no longer under water.  The horses’ gaits quickened as we reached the other side and their strong legs were no longer fighting the harsh current.  Their gait was, I might add, in negative correlation to my heart rate, which had begun to slow down once it seemed the danger was past.   

“Let’s not mention this part of our ride to Mom & Dad, okay?  I don’t want them to worry after the fact, y’know?”  I nodded in full agreement. One of my favorite things about spending time with any of my three older siblings when I was younger was that, as the adult in charge, they could make decisions about what I could / should and could / should not do that were generally must less stringent than what my parents would typically allow.  They were cool like that. 

My memories of that estuary-crossing all those years ago reminded me that Hunter had both a confidence about him and a way of believing in me that was unique only to him.  Those that knew him well can attest to that.  As I wandered around the Langosta Estuary this morning on my walk and reminisced about that dangerous crossing, which was admittedly probably not as dangerous then as it is in my memory, I reveled in the inner confidence that memory brought forth in me.  I vowed to call up that confidence in the days and weeks ahead as we continue this crossing upon which we have embarked—from the place we’ve loved and called home for almost ten years now to a new and different place, with new faces and new challenges. 

Later this afternoon, Daniel and I walked from the Beach Club to the estuary at Avellanas, which was most likely the estuary that I crossed with Hunter all those years ago.  The tide was receding, and we thought we might be able to cross it, but after only a few steps in, I realized how strong the current was and insisted that we play it safe and turn back. 

My general tendency is often to play it safe and turn back. And so today in particular, I thank God for the memory of the estuary, for the bold confidence of my beloved brother, and for the faith that I know he still has in me, despite the fact that he left this life almost sixteen years ago.  As our family approaches the halfway point of THIS crossing, my prayer is that all five of us will find solid footing along the way, and that our confidence both in ourselves and in each other will remain strong as we venture through the strongest currents of change, looking forward to the new adventures that lie ahead! 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Not So Hospitable House...

Just a few days ago, the administration of Columbia Theological Seminary, the seminary from which my husband Joel and I graduated, voted to continue discriminating against its LGBTQ students with regard to its housing policy.  Despite the repeated requests of students over the course of many years, and most recently after two years of "careful research of various alternatives, and conversation with numerous people in our diverse constituency," same-sex students in committed relationships are still not allowed to live together on campus.  This is inconsistent with housing policies on other PCUSA-affiliated seminaries, and I believe it is both unjust and inconsistent  with the mission of the seminary itself.  As the current policy stands, single students who wish to live on campus are required to live in single rooms.  Apartments / suites are reserved for married couples or traditional one- or two-parent families only.  If a same-sex couple in a committed relationship wants to live together, they must do so off campus.  If these couples have children, this means they will likely not be able to afford to live in the immediate vicinity of the seminary, which would mean their children could not attend the excellent City of Decatur schools where most "seminary kids" go. They would have to live outside the City of Decatur limits, or would have to live in communities that are far removed from the seminary itself, making the entire seminary experience less than ideal for the whole family.  

The Tolbert in 2005:  Michael, Joel, Adam, Jill, & Daniel

On Friday, Seminary President Steve Hayner addressed this decision in a letter to the student body.  In order to voice our disappointment with this decision, many CTS alums will be writing to President Hayner in the next day or two.  I have posted my response here, and welcome your respectful comments, feedback, questions, etc.  (Note:  Since originally posting this on Sunday, I have edited it slightly, both for typographical errors as well as to better represent my intent.)

April 22, 2012
Dear Steve,

I write as a concerned alumna of Columbia Theological Seminary to express my deep disappointment with the recent decision not to change in the seminary’s housing policy.  While I have the utmost respect for the leadership which each one of you provides for the seminary, and while I honor you and each member of your cabinet individually as brothers and sisters in Christ, I am deeply troubled that you have chosen to continue to allow the seminary to practice such a grave injustice with regard to housing.  To invite or encourage anyone to become a part of the CTS community, then to treat them as less than equal to their colleagues is, I believe, inconsistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

It is equally disappointing that this unfair decision has been defended as if living in a same-sex relationship is an unacceptable “behavior” choice, as if intimacy between two people of the same gender in a committed, loving relationship is somehow inconsistent with life at CTS or the Gospel.   That you refer to a covenantal same-sex relationship as an issue of “behavior”  suggests that perhaps you believe identifying as LGBTQ is a matter of choice—much like a decision to smoke, avoid carbs, use drugs, exercise regularly, have an affair, or use excessive profanity.  Identifying as LGBTQ is not a choice, but is rather a part of how each of us is made—fearfully and wonderfully, in God’s own image.  The decision to continue to discriminate against LGBTQ students and their families reflects poorly on the seminary’s claim to “witness to God’s creative power, redemptive action, transforming justice, and reconciling love.” 

Over the years, many of us have tried to affect changes, large and small, within the CTS community during our time as students, and have often been met with significant resistance.  Some of us are beginning to fear that the administrative approach regarding student-led changes is to simply stall, to “wait us out,” masking the passing of time as time for discussion, discernment, due diligence, and the like.   Let’s be honest:  The reality is that most of us—the star students and the trouble makers--eventually graduate and move on.  We are called to ministries and lives that demand more time than we even have, thereby leaving little time or energy to be voices for change on the seminary campus.  And so we become complacent about what happens on that space between Kirk Road and Inman Drive.  We ignore the issues that were often core to our identities when we were a part of the day-to-day life on the campus of CTS, often leaving the burden of justice-seeking at 701 S. Columbia Drive or 604 Kirk Road to those who come after us.  However, God is at work among us in new ways with this recent refusal to change, and we have been called to action.  We have vowed to the current students as well as to each other that this time, the issue will not simply go away as the original initiators graduate.  Rather, our efforts will be strengthened with each passing year as more alumni voices are added to our chorus.  We are no longer willing to be passive or silent regarding the issue of fair housing on campus.  Our growing insistence for equality and justice with regard to seminary housing will be seen, heard, and felt in ways we will discern both individually and corporately.

As for me, in my continued work with college students and young adults, as long as this unjust policy is in place, I will be hesitant to encourage those who feel called to ministry to consider Columbia.  This policy clearly suggests that CTS does not, in fact, honor ALL of God’s children as full and valued members of its community.  Additionally, I will be prayerfully considering and suggesting ways that financial contributions—my own as well as those of my friends and family--can continue to support ALL of the students in the CTS community, without regard to sexual orientation, family structure, or gender identity.  The honest truth is that the current housing policy does not live up to the values that are professed on its website:  “Because we are a confessional community of the Church, we live under the authority of Jesus Christ as witnessed to in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments;  (We) commit ourselves to diversity and inclusivity, …seek to be faithful to the gospel, and to become a living expression of the Body of Christ to the world.”      

It is with both respect and deep sadness that I write this letter.  I continue to stand in solidarity with many of my colleagues and brothers and sisters in the faith who have a deep love for the Triune God whom we worship and serve, a love for each other in spite of our differences, and a love for the community of faith that nurtured us so wonderfully during our formative years in her daily embrace. 

In Christ,


Rev. Jill Patterson Tolbert, M.Div.
CTS Class of 2007

cc:  Deborah Mullen, Marty Sadler, Doug Taylor, John White

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Haiku

Dad is declining.
Is there more I should have done?
I can't repair it.

Dad is declining.
Liminal space is awful.
I can't escape it.