Monday, June 20, 2011

One Day 'Off'

Those who know me (especially those who know me well), appreciate that I'm a little 'off'.

I've often wondered why it is that I am the way I am, generally coming to the conclusion that my personality is largely self-inflicted. Growing up on the eastside of Stockton, California, in a neighborhood with no other kids my age, my best friend from an early age was myself. As a child, I fished alone at the local diverting canal, watched TV alone, read books alone... I even practiced the sax alone, after picking up the family instrument at the tender age of nine.

Later in life, I continued to follow my own muse (so to speak), leading a church choir few thought I could lead, playing an instrument few now appreciate, using a computer few others used, writing poetry and prose few ever read, recording songs few would hear. For more than four decades, such solitary pursuits were the method to my madness, the modus operandi of my id... Until today. Today I came to a realization that upset all my prior assumptions......

I was simply born one day off.

Most of my birthdays growing up weren't particularly memorable. Birthdays were simply days that I ate cake and blew out candles in the company of immediate family and (on rare occasions) a few cousins or the odd schoolmate. As a matter of fact, the date held little added significance until my sophmore year of high school, when I met someone who would become my best friend... Someone who, oddly enough, was born exactly one year and a day after I was.

Steve Childress was a fellow 'okieville boy' (Okieville being the nickname of the unincorporated neighborhood where we both lived) who grew up approximately four or five miles south of my parent's east Stockton home. Both band geeks, we didn't meet until we were attending Franklin High School together back in the late 70's, as our geographical separation meant we attended different elementary and junior high schools. I'll avoid revisionist history by falsely claiming that Steve and I were ever inseparable, but he honestly was my closest friend in high school... A friend who was born on July 12... As was another friend from high school... And a friend I met after high school... And a close in-law I met after that. All told, more of the people I hold dear share July 12 as their birthday than any other... Just one day apart from my own... Just one day 'off'.

Steve never seemed to mind my being a little 'off' though, which is perhaps one of the reasons we became friends... For a few years, at least. And it's because of his impending birthday that I was reminded of one warm day in October, 1993 when, as the interim choir director of First Presbyterian Church of Tracy, Calfornia, during an AIDS Awareness service, I eulogized my late friend as follows (Note: I've left the copy as I originally wrote it back in '93, typos and all) ...

Good Morning.
I'd like take a moment to talk about a very close friend of mine. Those of you who attended my wedding, in this very church in the summer of 1985 may remember him, as he was my best man. His name: Steven Childress.
Steve and I met in the fall of 1979, at Franklin High School in Stockton. Steve was just starting as a Freshman, I was a sophomore, and we met through our joint involvement in the music program.
The two of us were a study in contrasts:
- Steve was what some would have called 'clean cut'. I, on the other hand, had long hair and smoked.
- Steve was an Eagle Scout. I had 'left' the Boy Scouts before making the rank of Tenderfoot.
- Steve not only attended church on a regular basis, he helped with the choir at his church, as well as playing both the piano and the organ. I myself did not attend church at all (even Christmas and Easter).
- Steve was the most exceptionally talented musician I ever met, or had the pleasure of playing with. Any instrument he had a desire or a need to play, he easily picked up in a matter of weeks. In the few years we were in high school together, he was asked to play the Piano (as well as various synthesizers), the Trombone, the Oboe, the Bass Clarinet, the Baritone, as well as several other instruments I'm sure I'm forgetting, all of which he did quite easily. I, on the other hand, had to struggle to learn any instrument, as well as spend a great amount of time doing something Steve generally didn't need to do: practice.
In the fall of 1990, at the age of 26, Steve died of AIDS. The following hymn was one of his favorites.

I forget which of Steve's favorite hymns I sang that day, a fact that pains me to no end. I haven't forgotten him, though... Nor will I ever forget any of the other friends and family I later met who share his birthday, and who also forgave me for being a little 'off' (and yes, I still remember who you are). ;-)

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Food for the Soul

In the movie, "Pay it Forward", Haley Joel Osment plays a young boy who, inspired by a teacher (played by Kevin Spacey), commits to trying to make the world a better place. You'll need to watch the movie or read a review for more detail but, suffice it to say that Osment's character seems to sincerely want to help others, purely for the joy of doing so. It's a wonderful perspective, even a biblical one. Unfortunately, I'd be lying if I claimed that's why I volunteer my time or gelt.

I've volunteered for a number of charities over the years, including the local food pantry, as a reader of textbooks for the blind or those with learning disabilities, at the local homeless shelter, and as a e-mentor for an IBM program called Mentorplace. My choice of charities reflect both my own comfort level (e.g. my educational background, reading ability, love of cooking, etc) and a desire to improve the world my family and I live in, and the world my daughter and other young people will inherit. Still, it's the way volunteering makes me feel that is likely my driving factor. It's all about me, me, me after all... Which certainly isn't something to brag about, but I'd be a complete hypocrite if I claimed I was earning my way to paradise. As it is, I'd be happy for a window air conditioner in Hell. ;-)

Which brings me to the events of the day, and the inspiration for this blog. As a volunteer cook for the local shelter, I spend a few hours each month shopping for ingredients and preparing a dish to feed ten to twelve people (the shelter typically has fifty to seventy clients, but a number of other volunteers prepare dishes as well). Some months it's a salad, other months it's a dessert... And tonight it was a main dish... A rather labor intensive main dish (approximately three hours of preparation/cooking time, not counting shopping or delivery). Still, I felt pretty good about myself all the way to the shelter and in the car after... Until I drove past all of the clients standing outside of the shelter on my way home. Young and old, men and women just like you and me... People who, but for the grace of God, could be us.

If anything I've written here inspires someone to volunteer, that's wonderful. As a matter of fact, that's how I rationalize sharing the news of my volunteer work. I've often said that it's possible someone might read or otherwise hear about something I've done and decide to step to the plate themselves... As there are far more people in need than there are volunteers to meet those needs. The truth is, though, that I share what I do because that makes me feel good as well... Which, again, may not earn me that window air conditioner in Hell I'm striving for, but at least it's honest... Dammit. ;-)

That said, and without further ado, here's what I prepared for tonight's shelter meal... Which I sincerely hope the clients enjoyed, at least as much as I enjoyed making it.....

Tim's Teriyaki Stir-Fry over Confetti Rice*


Chicken & Stock:
2 lbs. chicken thighs
2 lbs. chicken breast halves
8 cups water
2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp. thyme
2 carrots, sliced
4 celery stalks, sliced
1/2 large sweet onion, quartered
4 bay leaves
1/8 c. reduced sodium teriyaki sauce

Confetti Rice
1/2 large sweet onion, diced
1 red sweet pepper, diced
5 1/4 c. chicken stock[see above]
3 c. Uncle Ben's brown rice, uncooked
3 tblsp. Fleishman's unsalted/lactose-free margarine

Teriyaki Stir Fry
PAM cooking spray
1 & 1/2 large sweet onions, halved & quartered (e.g. bite-sized)
2 green bell peppers, cut into 1"-1.5" pieces (e.g. bite-sized)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 fresh pineapple, sans skin or core, cut into
1"-1.5" pieces (e.g. bite-sized)
+3 lbs. parboiled/marinated chicken[see above], cut into 1"-1.5" pieces (e.g. bite-sized)
1/8 c. reduced sodium teriyaki sauce
1/8 c. reduced sodium soy sauce
1/8 c. sesame oil

Directions (Day One):
Combine all the "Chicken and Stock" ingredients except the teriyaki in a pot, bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for thirty minutes. Remove from heat, strain and refrigerate chicken stock, discard all other non-chicken ingredients, remove chicken skin, remove chicken from bones (preferable in bite-sized pieces), and discard chicken skin and bones. Place parboiled chicken pieces in a container or bag, add teriyaki sauce, and allow to marinate overnight.

Directions (Day Two):
Remove the chilled chicken stock from the refrigerator, skim the solidified fat off the top, discard or set aside any stock in excess of 5 1/4 cups, then combine with the rest of the "Confetti Rice" ingredients. Bring to a boil and then simmer for approximately thirty minutes (or until all moisture is absorbed by the rice). When done, pour into the bottom of a large, foil lasagna pan.

With fifteen minutes left on the rice timer, liberally coat a large skillet or wok with PAM cooking spray and place over medium-high to high heat until you can smell the oil and it's slightly changed color. Throw in the onion, bell pepper, and garlic, and cook, stirring constantly, until the bell pepper is slightly tender and the onion is just starting to get translucent (approximately four to six minutes). Add in the rest of the ingredients and cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce starts to thicken or the pineapple starts to cook (approximately four to six minutes). Pour over rice and serve (or cover in foil, deliver, place in warmer, and serve within the hour).

Serves ten to twelve.

* NOTE: The "Chicken and Stock" step of this recipe is largely based on Better Homes & Garden's "Stewed Chicken" recipe.

Labels: , , , , , , ,