Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Arithmetic Games

If you need to get good at math, there a game much more fun than combining arithmetic problems and the card game War.

It's an old game called Twenty-Four.

The game requires four 10-sided dice and a chalkboard or whiteboard. (The chalkboard or whiteboard can be a small one. Paper will do, but is not as fun for kids to use.) Roll all four dice to get four random numbers (0's count as tens). If a player can think of a new way to add, subtract, multiply, or divide to make 24 using each number once and only once, he or she goes to the board, writes the solution down, and initials it. When the players agree that the set of numbers showing on the dice have no new solutions, the dice are re-rolled. Play until you are tired of the game, at which point whoever has initialed the largest number of solutions on the chalkboard wins.

For example, if the dice showed 6, 5, 3, 2 then four solutions would be:
6 x (5 + 2 - 3) = 24
(5 + 3) x (6 / 2) = 24
(6 x 2) x (5 - 3) = 24
(6 x 5) - (3 x 2) = 24

UPDATE: "What if my child only knows addition and subtraction?"

Then play an even more historical classic game, Pig.

The game requires one die and a paper to keep score. Traditionally a six-sided die is used, but any die will work. Players take turn rolling the die. Players start with 0 points and try to accumulate points.

The game proceeds in rounds. A round involves possibly several die rolls. Before each die roll players decide whether they will "go" or "be safe". Then the person whose turn it is to roll the die does so. If the die roll is not a 1 then all players who are "going" add the value of their die to their running total of points for that round. But if the die roll is a 1 (called a "pig" for reasons I do not know) then the round is over and all players who are "going" lose all their running total of points for that round.

So every player will choose to "go" for the first die roll of the round, and afterwards decide if the round has progressed with enough points that it is worth being "safe".

The number of points needed to win varies based on what die is being used, since a twenty-sided die will accumulate points much faster than a six-sided die.

To practice subtraction, start with points and count down. To practice multiplication, change each die roll to a pair of dice and for the possible points accumulated use their product (a "pig" then happens if either die rolls a 1).

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

Be careful with statistics, for they are often used dishonestly and can even sneak up on you.

For example, this graph tells us that the richer half of the U.S. pays 96.54% of our country's income tax. But how can I interpret the political implications of this information without knowing how much of the country's income is also represented by that half of the population?

Apple Art

My wife reads food blogs, and found a site with picture of murals made of apples. The use of color makes these seem as impressive as the ice sculptures and sand castles I linked to earlier.

But having lived and taught in a part of the country so poor that using food for art or classroom projects was frowned upon (and elementary school teachers had to buy their own chalk), I do have mixed feeling about how socially acceptable apple murals would be to all people.

(I should warn folks that the last link is to The Toaster's Handbook, a collection of jokes compiled in 1916 for people who need a joke to share before giving a speech. Need I say that some contain language and ideas that we are thankful society has outgrown?)

A Heinlein Prize

Apparently there is such a thing as a Heinlein Prize. His estate awards half a million dollars annually to people who do a lot to promote the commercialization of space.

When I first heard the phrase "Heinlein Prize" I thought of his quotation about the many things a person should be able to do. He listed 21. I giggled, imagining a sort of super-size decathlon that included diaper changing and military invasions.

According to Heinlein, I still need to learn to butcher a hog, design a building, and set a bone. (I confess my experience with invasion planning has been with outdoor team games and never involved deadly force, the only ships I have conned are small sailboats, and my ability to die gallantly has not been tested.) How do you do?

Little Pointy Vehicles

As a child I visited Disney World once, and at the Epcott Center saw a prototype and movie about a concept commuter car called the Lean Machine.

Apparently that went nowhere, until a different company redesigned it and is now marketing it successfully.

In this small city there are a lot of people who could save gas by commuting to work by moped, and if lots of people made the switch it would be much less of a safety issue. But it also rains a whole lot here. (As they say, "In Oregon it only rains twice a year, from October until January and from January until May.") I wonder if such tiny cars will ever be used here?

On the other hand, we have a river going through town. People who are overly fond of sea animals (shark spies!) could always commute by mechanical dolphin.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Web-Braille

Someone at LCC brought to my attention a petition asking the NLS to hurry up and fix the "temporary" shut-down of the NLS Web-Braille service.

I'm sharing the news first because the petition seems worthwhile, and second to ask my readers if any of you know how well other sources of plain-text books can be read by blind users who have the appropriate computer equipment.

(The unique virtue of the NLS Web-Braille service is its special legal permissions to use otherwise copy-protected literature. It allows blind students to do academic work otherwise impossible to them. Without it out their academic work is much more limited to public domain texts.)

God's Footstool

In Isaiah 66:1 God tells us that the earth is his footstool.

In three earlier verses (1st Chronicles 28:2, Psalm 99:5, Psalm 132:7) the ancient Israelites use the imagery of God's footstool to refer to the ark. This was a reasonable metaphor, for God describes himself as residing above the ark. But it is also too small a metaphor, for when God finally describes what he sees as his footstool it is not the ark but all the earth.

Throughout scripture, God is portrayed as seated on his throne. He is not stressed out and pacing back and forth. He is calm, sitting in a nice chair, with his feet up. And all the earth is under his feet.

The earth has plenty of problems. In this age God is allowing human wickedness to thrive. Our evil ways sometimes make God weep, and sometimes make God angry. But his plans are secure, and so he can rest with his feet up.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Repentance Always

When should we do repentance?

The concept of repentance comes from the Hebrew word teshuvah which means "to turn".

Sometimes people think of the Kingdom of Heaven like a box. People who are Yeshua's disciples are in the box; everyone else is outside the box. Maybe in this imagery God is in the middle of the box.

Scripture describes us differently. It draws a picture with God in the middle of the picture and people around him, all with an arrow to show which way they are moving. People move in all different directions. Some people are moving towards God; others are moving away from him. Our job is teshuvah: stopping, turning to face God, and taking the first step in the right direction.

Stopping can be hard. It is often habitual or enjoyable to be moving away from God. Turning can be hard. There are issues for which scripture does not offer clear guidance and we need a lot of prayer and study to learn which way to turn to face God. Taking the first step can be hard too. In Judges 4:14-15, Sisera's army is not confused until after Barak leads the charge against the militarily superior foe.

People moving toward God will notice the need to adjust their direction. If I aim myself at a distant tree and start walking straight, I'll eventually get close enough to the tree to notice that my original aim was slightly off. Similarly, as I get closer to God I notice additional ways I need to adjust my movement.

So repentance is not really about when we do something wrong, or when we notice our love for God has faded from what it once was. (Those are only the symptoms that we have been moving in the wrong direction.) Repentance is really about keeping our eyes on God, and being always on watch for needing to change our direction to face him better. It can be prompted by not noticing how God is trying to lead us, just as much as being about our moral failings.

God Who Rebuilds

At the end of the book of Revelation -- a text full of metaphor -- we read about perhaps the most understandable and meaningful metaphor of the book.

In verses 21:9-14 we find out that Yeshua's followers (collectively his "bride" and "wife") are metaphorically Jerusalem. The metaphor shows how God sees the things: when everything is made new, people replace city.

Throughout scripture, people were categorized by lineage. Now their lineage is irrelevant. Their unity is the apostles' teaching (In verse 14 are foundations of the city wall; walls were the seen as the strength and definition of a city).

Throughout scripture, people were beautiful in their own righteousness. Now everyone is completely rightous. Their beauty is the (Jewish) context of the apostles' teaching that makes it understandable as good news about God, the Kingdom of God, the messiah, sin, repentance, and victory. (In verse 12 are gates; gates were seen as the pride and beauty of a city).

The metaphor is so powerful because throughout scripture are numerous prophecies about God rebuilding Jerusalem. And those prophecies will literally come true (verse 20:4 in Revelation). But prophecy is often fulfilled more than once, and people are more important to God than any city, even his beloved Jerusalem. The God who longs so much to restore Jerusalem longs even more to restore people.

An Appropriate Median

In real life I seldom find use for an average other than the arithmetic mean (where you sum all the values and then divide by the number of values). Statistics includes two others types of average. The median is the central value if the values were sorted in increasing order. The mode is the most commonly occuring value.

A co-worker at LCC pointed out yesterday an application of averages in an LCC announcement. A mean is used (of $141) when a median would be more appropriate.

The community college has its own health clinic. The announcement was:
...data indicates that the average cost of a medical provider visit in Eugene is $141. The Lane Health Clinic currently sees 100 employees per month: That's $14,100 per month not billed to insurance. This translates to a $500,000 to $700,000 decrease in insurance renewal rates secondary to decreased insurance utilization.
(I'm not sure what math was done to support the final statement, which claims insurance rates are greater than insurance use by at least 300%. Were that true, it would seem time to find a new insurance company.)

My co-worker's point about averages was that the $141 is an arithmetic mean of all medical visits, which include many procedures beyond what the college health clinic is able to do. This is one example of when it would be better to use the median instead of the mean. Since less expensive procedures happen much more often in doctor office visits, if we were to list the costs of all the city's medical visits in increasing order and pick the middle one then we would find a number more representative of the average procedure of the college health clinic.

Maybe this only seems worthy of comment because I am a mathematician. But it fascinated me that I so seldom see a situation where using the median is more appropriate than using the mean, and here one appeared within the college itself!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A Minimal Set of Guaranteed Improvements

Apparently there is a challenge in the blogosphere to create a list of things, such that anything can be improved by the addition of something on the list.

This appeals to my Jewish upbringing. After all, each Spring I rediscover the depth of the comsic truth that chocolate-covered matza is so amazing at the end of Pesach because chocolate makes almost anything better and almost anything makes matza better.

Here's my draft of a list:
  • prayer
  • hot chocolate
  • smoothies
  • weasels
  • ninja pirates
Basically, for those things that prayer cannot help because of other people's free will, some hot chocolate or a smoothie (depending upon the weather) might at least offer some consolation. As Dave Barry pointed out, weasels make most jokes funnier. And ninja pirates can fix many situations.

On Friday I sent out an e-mail to all the LCC faculty, participating in a discussion about the college's choice of insurance carriers. The e-mail seemed too serious, so I added smoothies and ninja pirates. We'll see what is in my inbox on Monday.

The Ides of May

May has been busy, and difficult to plan within. Sorry if friends and family have not seen much personal news here.

The weather has been really wierd. Some days surprise us with early summertime, others have rain. I cannot plan ahead about slacks or shorts, yard work or rain, hiding inside (warning: link has sound) from an allergy attack or biking to work.

Our biggest outside project of late was when a friend fixed our sprinkler system (our "help" was little more than watching him), so once the hot weather stays around our yard will be happy. I got some other small home improvement chores done too.

My wife and I have been doing a lot of baking, some of which was experimental. I still need to adjust on the pretzel and berry pancake recipes. We've also been enjoying a lot of smoothies, made from milk, yogurt, and the berries we picked at local farms last year and stored in the freezer in our garage.

The congregation had a camping trip for Lag B'Omer, which was quite nice. We were blessed with reliably sunny weather those days. But the 19-month-old with us made sure everyone was awake earlier than ideal, so we all needed to rest up after the trip.

Regarding my math teaching, the Spring term is winding down so the students have "spring fever" and I am constantly thinking not only about my current teaching plans but also about what to improve for Fall term. This term I changed my routine to include more computer work during class time. Next term I want to work on adding more teaching about how to take notes for math classes.

I've stopped playing Go. I spend so much brainpower trying to imrove my ministry work and teaching that I found I really did not want a hobby that also required thinking about how to improve. So now I'm playing America's Army, because it's a free game and within the game it is easy to find genuine teamwork. Most of the online games are hosted by "clans" that use free voice chat software to coordinate their game play, and almost all of these are friendly people willing to have even unskilled newbies join their games and make use of their voice chat server, whether for a few minutes or as a regular. Unlike other multiplayer online games, players have no characters to roleplay (so it is not as addicting) and missions are about 5 minutes each (so it is as easy to play for a 20 minute break as for a few hours during an allergy attack day).

As the month presents its share of worries, headaches, and joys, still the cycles of work and rest and rodent-transportation continue. I continue to enjoy the daily Bible reading plan from my PDA. I've finished reading Narnia books to my wife as bedtime stories. Our squirrel count is up to 10.

May Adonai bless you and keep you, and protect your gardens from varmints (warning: link has sound).
David

Monday, May 15, 2006

Yeast Bread

This is one of the few recipes we obtained that was originally a gluten-free recipe. We do not know its origin, since my wife got her original version from a family member. When I tried searching the internet I could not find anything very similar, although I did find many recipes that were slightly similar.

We changed it to use our flour mix rather than a listed blend of several flours, and also made other minor changes.

We normally make a double batch.

In an electric mixer's bowl combine:
  • 1 3/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp yeast
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2/3 cup powdered nonfat milk
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar (can substitute cider, wine, or apple vinegar, but not malt vinegar since malt has gluten)
Let this combination sit a few minutes, then add:
  • 3 cups gluten-free flour mix
  • 3 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
Mix these dry ingredients together on low.

Either next, or after the first rising of the dough, add:
  • 3 eggs, beaten
Mix these together at a medium speed. (Note that "medium" is not "halfway maximum"; with our DeLonghi mixer, "medium" for mixing is only 2 out of 10.)

Remove the mixing bowl from the electric mixer. Cover it with plastic wrap and a towel. Let the dough rise for 60-90 minutes or until it doubles in size. (You can let it rise longer, since the plastic wrap keeps it from overflowing.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

(If you wish, run the mixer on medium for 3 minutes before baking to compact the dough. This is not necessary.)

Spoon the dough into rolls, loaf pans, or a cookie sheet. We have found that for sandwiches it works nicer to use large cookie sheets to make big "slices" of bread we cut into pieces, rather than making a loaf and slicing it. Loaf pans work well for making a filled bread with this recipe.

(If you ran the mixer after the dough rose, let the dough rise again now.)

Bake loaf pans for 50-60 minutes. Bake rolls or filled cookie sheets for 30-40 minutes. Thump to test if done.

Scones

I don't like normal scones too much. They seem too dense and flavorless for me -- merely something to put jam or lemon curd on.

This recipe has a nicer flavor than most scones, and is not as dense.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a bowl combine:
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/4 cups gluten-free flour mix
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp nonfat yogurt (we use vanilla)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
After mixing, place the dough in a round lump on a baking tray that is greased or has a silicon mat.

Then cut the dough into quarters, and slightly separate them so they bake evenly.

Bake for about 16 minutes, until slightly browned.

Helping Nature Worship

Last week I heard a small Jewish children's choir sing an interesting version of Yismechu HaShamayim. The traditional, liturgical song was sung, followed by an rough English translation. The lyrics are from 1st Chronicles 16:31-32:
Yees-m'choo ha'sha-ma-yeem, yees-m'choo ha'sha-ma-yeem,
yees-m'choo ha'sha-ma-yeem, v'ta-gayl ha'a-retz...
Yeer-am ha'yam, yeer-am ha'yam, yeer-am ha'yam oo'm-lo-o.

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice...
Let the sea thunder and its fulness.
The children's song used the following as it's "Part B" English translation:
The heavens are very glad, the heavens are very glad,
the heavens are very glad, the earth is so happy...
The ocean is full, the ocean is full, the ocean is full and laughing.
Obviously some words has been changed, but that's what happens with children's songs. Thundering seas become laughing oceans. A lot of these Hebrew verbs for "rejoice/glad/happy" are pretty interchangeable anyway.

What seemed more thought-provoking was the change in tense. The Hebrew uses the imperfect tense, which shows incomplete action. Completion is expected in the future. One way to express this in English is with a permissive phrase, as I did above, following the common English translations:
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice...
Equally valid would be a simple future tense:
The heavens will be glad, the earth will rejoice...
But as I read those verses out of context a few days ago, it seemed to me that in either wording there was an expectation that the singers were somehow participating: that King David was asking the ancient Israelites to help the sky be glad, the earth rejoice, the sea thunder, and the field exult.

And it makes me wonder... what does it mean for our worship and service to God to affect the sky, earth, sea, and field?

True, that's not what those verses are really about in context. Verse 16:23 makes it clear that what King David is really talking about is that nature can demonstrate God's goodness and victories as clearly as the ancient Israelites. The children's version of the song did nothing wrong by leaving out my misunderstanding.

But in this modern time of caring about the environment, I also wonder how we can help nature do what King David asked it to do.

A Worshipful Shavuot Gift for Yourself?

In Deuteronomy 14:22-26, we read that an Israelite household would spend most of its tithes on itself, on food to celebrate the pilgrimage festival. The surplus went to the Temple for its maintenance, charitable work, and priests.

The congregation does this model of tithing very well for two of the three pilgrimage festivals, Pesach and Sukkot, when congregants often invite each other to each other's houses during these many-day-long festivals. This seems more scriptural than planning a huge congregational event that requires a lot of time and energy and work.

But we don't really do this model of tithing with Shavuot. In part this is because Shavuot is the only one-day pilgrimage festival: there just isn't much time to party. It is also only 50 days after the previous pilgrimage festival, and for many of us 10% of our increase during 50 days is not a lot of money.

Can something be done? So far I only have one idea which seems sensible even after I pray about it. :-)

I notice that a theme of Shavuot is how God gives us gifts, specifically the Torah and his Holy Spirit. And I notice that in America we don't really need a day to eat more, nor do we necessarily feel more celebratory when we eat more, but we do tend to have trouble accepting generosity and feel more celebratory when we get presents.

So I'm wondering if it would be appropriate, for Shavuot, to spend from what we have set aside to tithe about a meal's cost on a "splurge" that would help us spend time with God but we have been putting off as not within our budgets. Examples might include a certain worship music CD, or a prayerbook, or a book about Jewish theology or philosopy or poetry.

This would not work well if it became simply an excuse to go shopping. It would become a corrupted idea if it happened annually and people began to think, "I won't get this now, because I can get it as my Shavuot splurge."

But if the focus could be kept on unearned generosity -- on the certain type of gratitude we feel when we receive a nice gift that we never imaged we would receive -- then it would be a worthwhile custom.

Ideally there would be some element of surprise. Neither the Torah nor the Holy Spirit we gift of the type the Jewish people at that time were expecting. Maybe I should send the bookstore from which I order worship music CDs a list of the ones I own, and ask them to use my check to buy me a staff favorite that I don't already have... It would not work to have people get each other something (except for maybe parents for children) since that could get awkward.

What do others think?

UPDATE: Some people have replied wondering whether it might work after all to give such gifts to each other.

At our congregational Shavuot celebration we will have a "Favorite Scripture Verse Gift Exchange". Each person will bring a favorite scripture verse written out. (This might be done in a fancy manner, but that is not required.) The verses will be put on a table and then we'll take turns claiming each other's verses according to the rules of a "White Elephant Gift Exchange", with people explaining when they take a verse why it is meaningful to them.

Thus we are already planning an activity in which we give gifts to each other, in a manner that directly celebrates God giving us the Torah while eliminating any monetary cost of gifts. So it seems to me a needless risk of social awkwardness to have people get other gifts for each other.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Soft Pretzel

This recipe is still experimental. Currently it makes something that tastes okay but is too dense. (In part this is due to the lack of gluten, and in part it is due to my aversion to include a step of dipping the pretzel into boiling water.)

Either the ingredient amounts still need adjusting or I should add some baking soda. I'll edit changes as they prove worthy.

In a bowl, mix together:
  • 1/4 cup very warm but not hot water
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp yeast
In a second bowl, combine:
  • 3/4 cup gluten-free flour mix
  • 3/4 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1 tsp (more of) brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp coarse sea salt (use more salt if you are not going to add salt as a topping later on)
After the yeast "proofs", add to it:
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp rice vinegar
Mix everything together until the dough is smooth. It should not be sticky (add more flour mix) or powdery (add more warm water).

Now make the pretzel shape:
  1. Roll the dough into a "rope" about tumb width and 3 feet long. I usually rolling 3 segments and then join them together.
  2. Form into an upside-down U. Bring the ends towards each other, across, and finally twisted back past each other so each makes a right angle.
  3. Bring the ends to the top of the shape, also flipping over the crossed part. Press together the joined places (the twist and where the ends meet the U).
You can just make pretzely bread sticks if you do not care about shape.

Place on a cookie sheet that is either greased or has a silicon mat. Let the pretzel rise for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Beat an egg, and brush the pretzel with it. Sprinkle the pretzel with a topping (coarse salt, cheese, garlic, cinnamon, sugar, sesame seeds, etc.).

Bake the pretzel for 12-15 minutes, until well browned.

Zucchini Bread

This recipe contains more chocolate chips than most zucchini bread, which is one reason we like it! The following is a "double batch" which fills a 9" by 13" pan. If you want to use loaf pans, feel free to halve the recipe and increase the temperature to 350 degrees.

It also works well as a way to use beets, if your garden produces those and you don't know what to do with them.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine:
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup applesauce
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
In a second, smaller mixing bowl, combine:
  • 3 cups gluten-free flour mix
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
Add the dry ingredients to the batter, and mix again.

Then stir in:
  • 1 cup chopped nuts
  • 6 cups shredded zucchini (about 4 medium zucchini)
  • 2 cups chocolate chips
Using a rubber scraper, pour the batter into a well-oiled loaf pan.

Bake for 65 to 70 minutes, until the loaf tests done (not wet in the center when poked).

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Christian Events Supporting Israel

I wrote earlier about how Romans 11 asks Gentile followers of Yeshua to present Yeshua as a Jewish messiah, in a manner that encourages Jewish unbelievers to appreciate how much God has done for them. This does not mean Gentile believers need to act like Messianic Jews, but it does mean they need to realize and openly discuss how they are replacing Yeshua's "face" with a Hellenistic or Pagan one.

On May 18th, an event supporting Israel is happening in Eugene, hosted by a Christian organization. I am planning on attending, and wonder what it will be like.

At the last one of these I attended, the featured speaker even discussed Romans 11 but completely failed to see the application I just mentioned. Instead, the event had features that would strongly discourage an unbelieving Jew from attending:
  • economic activity on a Shabbat
  • church sanctuary as the lecture hall
  • no recognition of the presenters seeing any remaining Jewish identity besides lineage and land
  • discussion of donations of money, but not goods, to help poor Israelis
  • lack of Jewish worship on a Shabbat
  • teaching that claims Gentile believers are as much "Israel" as Jewish people
If a Jewish unbeliever did attend, they would leave with the impression that Christians worship a different "God" than the Jews worship. The work of Romans 11 cannot be fulfilled by merely supportting Israel.

Religious Cultures and their Specialties

Last night I attended a nice interfaith discussion. One reason I enjoy these is that they help me see what my faith's culture does well, and does not do well.

For example, Judaism, including Messianic Judaism, has a culture that does a good job of nurturing our gratefulness towards God. In the Jewish mindset, the commandments are not a burden but an opportunity to express gratefulness to God for the many things he saved us from. The commandments -- collectively called mitzvot -- are a pleasure and joy to do. And the scriptural ones are hardly an inconvenience, let alone a burden.

(Many of the later Rabbinical additions are more burdensome, and it is these that gospels record Yeshua protesting. It is interesting how many Christians do not understand that commandments are about gratitude, and under their own personal dislike of rules mis-interpret Paul's writings to mean "following commandments is a burden". And how ironic it is that so often a Christian group that claims to be against legalism has a very legalistic attitude of "I do not care what God values or enjoys, just let me know the minimum number of rules to follow.")

However, Judaism, including Messianic Judaism, does an okay job (but not so especially notable) of culturally promoting habits of quiet calmness. To pause and focus on God is perhaps the fundamental Jewish action, and is the purpose of the many short Jewish blessings said throughout the day. A constant mindfulness of God is very important to Chasidic and Messianic Judiasm. But is not a trait typical to most American Jews, nor a common goal among most American Jews.

There are some things that the culture of Judaism, including Messianic Judaism, does poorly. One example is considering the oneness of humanity. This is a very scriptural idea, and is seen in how the Hebrew words for son, descendant, and seed apply to a link of one generation or many, just as the word for father is better translated ancestor since it applies to one generation or more. (As examples, the "sons of Israel" are not only Jacob's kids, and the "seed of David" can refer to his son Solomon or to a promised messiah many generations distant.) According to scripture, God sees us not only as individuals but also as part of lineages, and God blesses and judges both individuals and lineages. The concept "sons of Adam" is present in the Tenach, and discussed more in the Apostle's writings. Yet there is a strong "Jew vs. Gentile" mindset in Judaism (and "saved vs. unsaved" mindset in Messianic Judaism) that de-emphasizes considering all of humanity as a unified "sons of Adam" -- even though God clearly sees people, in part, in this way.

So that is an example of how I've found interfaith discussions can be helpful. The benefit comes not from comparing theology, but from comparing religious cultures. Being more aware of the strengths and weaknesses of my own religious culture means the culture can be better enjoyed and developed.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Berry Pancakes

This is an under-progress recipe to make nice berry-filled pancakes. Our variable pancake recipe works better for thin pancakes than thick ones, so we are trying to take advantage of the lemon juice in "sour milk" pancakes to make a more fruity pancake.

Put into a blender, in order:
  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup berry juice (or other fruit juice, or just more milk)
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup gluten-free flour mix
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Mix well with the blender.

Now either add 1/2 cup berries and stir with a spoon or rubber scraper, or make pancakes and top them with berries.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Belgian Waffles

When done properly Belgian waffles are not merely the tall waffles with bigger holes that populate breakfast menus of American restaurants. In Belgium they are served from small store-front shops and eaten plain -- a role similar to the one played by pretzels in American shopping malls.

If eating a plain waffle while shopping sounds odd to you then you have never had a real Belgian waffle. Time to fix that!

Unfortunately, a gluten-free Belgian waffle cannot truly compare to the real thing. But these are certainly good enough to eat plain, which is better than most waffles on this continent.

In a medium bowl combine the dry ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 cups gluten-free flour mix
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
Separate 3 eggs. In a second bowl, beat the egg whites on high until they have peaks. Keep them set aside for now.

Turn on the waffle iron. If desired for keeping waffles warm, preheat oven to 275ยบ and put a baking sheet or cookie rack inside.

Now add the wet ingredients and mix:
  • the 3 egg yolks
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
With a rubber scraper, gently fold the egg whites into the batter. Do not mix too much. The desired result is white streaks or lumps evenly dispersed through the dough.

Cook waffles for 3-5 minutes each.

Important: ignore the lights on the waffle iron! Find the time that works for your waffle iron and stick with it. When cooked enough, the waffle will be crispy on the outside and soft on the inside (because of the egg whites).

Excellent when served with berries.

Spice Cookies

Our peanut butter cookies are nice, but what about a gluten-free dough that does not rely on peanut butter for its consistency?

This recipe has a lot of extras. If you wish, you can remove the chocolate chips, dried fruit, or nuts.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Add to a large bowl:
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup nonfat yogurt (we use vanilla)
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups brown sugar (not packed)
  • 4 cups gluten-free flour mix
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 cup dried cranberries (or other dried fruit)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (or other chopped nuts)
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup flax seed meal
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 Tbsp xanthan gum
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon, scant
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
When adding the dry ingredients, make sure then xanthan gum does not get wet until you really start mixing.

Mix well.

Tablespoon-sized cookies will bake for 13-15 minutes, until edges begin to darken. The cookies do not spread much when baking, so this recipe is good for making fun shapes.

The recipe also works for bar cookies, for which baking time will very based upon thickness.