Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Beefsteak ... tomatoes!

I try not to duplicate food photos too much, but after celebrating summer's first tomatoes with a caprese last month, I had to do it again now that midsummer beefsteaks are full on.

Thick beefsteak slices from the garden, fresh basil ditto; fresh mozzarella from Lotsa Pasta, salt, pepper and good Italian olive oil.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Imam Bayildi pilaf

I suspended publication of this blog for several months because I simply didn't have time to work out and write down detailed recipes for the (usually) plant-based dishes that I make at home.  Often the recipe production phase took as long as the cooking and eating phase, and I just can't justify that.

I feel bad about not recording these creations, though, so for a while I'm going to try bringing the blog back, but limiting contents of the food-related posts to a photo and brief description listing primary ingredients.  Many cooks will be able to create something similar without any more info than that.  If you have questions about a specific dish or procedure, feel free to ask in the comments, and I'll try to respond.

Resuming, then, here's a re-visit on a dish I published last fall, when we were still pulling eggplant out of the garden:  Imam Bayildi pilaf, fresh eggplant sauteed with onions, garlic, ginger, fresh tomatoes and spice, finished like a pilaf with basmati rice.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Weeds or wheat?

Sermon by Robin Garr
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Louisville, Kentucky 
Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Son of Man will send his angels, 
and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 
and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, 
where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 


We Episcopalians don’t go in much for hellfire and brimstone and eternal damnation. 

This is a good thing.

I wonder how many of us grew up in traditions that envisioned God as an angry old patriarch with a long, white beard, full of vengeance and wrath.

This was a big problem for me, a child of the Baby Boom. Like a lot of us with some gray in our hair, we grew up in an age when we were never quite sure if the Evil Empire was about to launch missiles over the North Pole to kill us all. In grade school, we were taught to stop, drop and roll under our desks if we saw a bright atomic flash. I was scared to death of such a fiery, radioactive hell on earth.  

Mix one cup of that with a couple of tablespoons of divine wrath, and you get a challenging environment for a shy kid. Would God “get you” if you let a cuss word slip out? Or what if you got a little too interested in those girls who suddenly seemed intriguingly different? God sure would get you for that!

Yeah, the fear of hellfire burned my teen-age soul - and eventually, drove me away from organized religion for much of my adult life. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who went down that path. It took a lot of growing up and some pricey therapy to get over it.  I’m just glad that I’m where I am now, and not where I was then.

Aren’t we glad that Episcopalians don’t go in for all that?  

We do hold Scripture in high respect, but we’re not expected to leave our brains outside the church. We listen to the scripture readings. We listen to the sermon (I hope!) And we come together in common prayer, not rigid dogma. 

As Episcopalians, we do believe that the bible contains “all things necessary for salvation.” But we approach scripture in community, seeking to understand its often confusing, sometimes contradictory verses through tradition and our own good reason. 

Rowan Williams, the retired Archbishop of Canterbury, puts it this way: “The Bible needs to be read, prayerfully and discerningly, in the company of as many other believers as possible, so that we can learn some wisdom from each other as to what exactly God does want to tell us. Hearing the truth in Scripture means expecting the Holy Spirit to be at work both in the text, and in the community that reads it.” [1]

But we still can’t just close our eyes and walk away from the scary parts. Matthew tells us that these words came right out of Jesus’ mouth: “They will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

How can we work with that?

A wise seminary professor taught me to start by looking at the other things that the Gospels tell us Jesus said; then try to see how the odd passage  fits in.

Okay, let’s think about the current uproar over the thousands of children fleeing horror in Latin America. They face danger and risk death to get to our borders.

I imagine Jesus standing on the banks of the Rio Grande, looking at all the little children and weeping. 

Surely he would say, as we hear him say a few chapters later in Matthew: “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

That caring love just doesn’t fit with the idea of throwing evildoers into the furnace of fire,  “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  I don’t see Jesus doing that, not even to “evildoers;” not even to the angry faces at the border, who shake their fists and curse at the busloads of crying children on their way to Immigration Jail.  

So, then,  why do we hear such seemingly contradictory things from Jesus in rhe Gospels?  Another seminary professor showed us the value of reading Scripture in the context of its own time and place. First, we should try to understand what its original listeners heard. This may help us understand it in words meaningful for our times.

So, is there a historical reason why Matthew might show us a Jesus who threatens to burn the bad guys?  

All four evangelists worked from oral tradition a generation or two after  Jesus, around and after the terrible times when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and tore down the Temple. 

Many people in those days thought the end of the world was near, and most Christians firmly believed that Jesus would come back soon. A lot of them hoped he would come back with a fiery sword and an army of angels. It was not unusual for the evangelists to envision a bloody, scary End Times with a judging Jesus on a royal throne, separating the sheep and the goats.

In that context, writes the bible scholar and Episcopal theologian Marcus Borg, “[this] parable reflects the concern of a young Christian community attempting to define itself against an evil world, a concern not characteristic of Jesus." Letting the wheat and weeds grow up together suggests the final judgment rather than agricultural practice.” [2]  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible adds in a footnote, “...  this Gospel regrettably uses imperial goals (destroying all adversaries) ... to picture God’s empire.” [3]

Sure enough, when we turn the page past “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” things get better. The very next verse assures us that the righteous will “shine like the sun” in God’s kingdom.  

Yes, the bible contains passages on harsh judgment, and war and destruction, and lofty kings with 1,000 wives. But it its core it celebrates righteousness

Throughout Scripture, from Lot seeking righteous persons in Sodom and Gomorrah, to the Psalms and the prophets, to Jesus himself, Scripture  places a high value on righteousness, which means justice: loving our neighbor. speaking truth to power, siding with the oppressed, the needy, and the stranger in our land.  The long arc of biblical wisdom turns toward justice. 

Let’s look back at today’s reading from Genesis, the story of Jacob’s dream.  Jacob was a trickster, sneaky and conniving; not an admirable person.  As we've heard in recent Gospels, he cheated his older twin, Esau, out of his birthright and out of his father’s dying blessing. Now Jacob was on the run, escaping the threats of an angry Esau who wants to kill him.  

Jacob doesn’t look righteous here, does he? He certainly doesn’t seem just. He looks a lot more like “weeds” than healthy, nourishing “wheat.”  And yet ... in his dream, God rewards him. God tells Jacob, as God had told his grandfather, Abraham, and his father, Isaac, that he will inherit the promised land and become be the father of a great nation.  

Why does God do this?  Jacob is tricky and selfish. You could call him a jerk, an evildoer. Yet God does not throw him into a furnace of fire. God gives him a vast reward.

What's this about?

Throughout the bible, we see God working with broken, troubled people, like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob … like us.  Aren't all of us broken and troubled in our own ways?  Yet God loves us, and God desires for us to be good.  

When Jacob woke up from his dream, he had seen God. He understood God’s love, and his heart lighted up. “Surely the Lord is in this place - and I did not know it!” He built a monument, and he named the place Bethel - Beth El - “The House of God.” Jacob was a changed man.

That's the message we can take from today's readings. That's the message that I finally got in my own life. I replaced my image of a mean, angry God with a God who wishes only that we listen for God’s voice, be just, and love our neighbors as ourselves.  A loving, forgiving God. 

God loves us. 

Note well that in this parable Jesus does not ask us to be the sower of seeds. He doesn't ask us to rip the weeds out. We are asked only to stand tall like the wheat, soak up the sunshine and the rainfall, and grow strong.  

Will we be wheat, or will we be weeds? I imagine that most of us are some of both. Yet God calls us, just as God called Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham, to participate in the kingdom by loving our neighbors and practicing justice in the world.

Let's try to do that.  



[1] Williams, Rowan. Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 2014.,

[2] Borg, Marcus J., in Funk, Robert Walter, and Roy W. Hoover. The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus : New Translation and Commentary. New York: Macmillan, 1993

[3] Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreter's Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Blog on hiatus

FYI, because of competing priorities, I don't plan to update this blog in the near future. Since nobody loves a blog that just sputters out without a word of farewell, I wanted to put this up to let folks know that the lights are out and the doors locked for a while.  I might resume it again in a while when other chores slow down a bit.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Cottage Cafe Shines on Middletown's Old Main Street

Meatloaf plate at Cottage Cafe in Middletown.
Voice-Tribune review by Robin Garr

Middletown's Main Street, a quaint strip of Victorian houses, steepled churches and storefront shops, served as the suburban community's main drag for many years as its commercial center and a slow-down, look-around opportunity for traffic on the old U.S. 60.

Then came the age of the suburb. Middletown got a four-lane "bypass" that sped traffic around the old town center and that quickly sprouted with shopping centers and strip malls, and Main Street settled into a quieter, gentler place.

It was a perfect setting for boutiques and consignment stores and lots of antique shops, and like nature abhorring a vacuum, in they came.

For intensity, try Alsacity

Okay, I'm busted. "Alsacity" isn't really a word. But I'm making one up now, because it seems only fair that "the character that sets apart many of the fascinatingly intense wines from Alsace" is so memorable that it deserves its own dictionary entry.

Riesling may be the dominant grape of Alsace, and it's a memorable variety indeed, widely considered one of the world's greatest white grapes.  Gewurztraminer is also hailed as a characteristic Alsatian grape, but Pinot Blanc has its fans, and Alsatian Pinot Noir has grown from an offbeat experiment to a worthy (albeit often expensive) addition to the world's Pinot population.

What makes the wines of Alsace special?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The 'ritas are the wildest thing at Wild Rita's

Tacos and a margarita at Wild Rita's.
LEO photo by Frankie Steele.
So, just how wild are the 'ritas at Wild Rita's?

Well, this new spot just east of downtown, within the noise penumbra and particulates shadow of the Great Bridge Boondoggle, offers 10, count 'em 10, variations on the margarita, not to mention tequila cocktails, tequila tastings and nearly 100 fine tequilas by the bottle or drink. It would take more effort than I'm willing to expend to answer this question definitively.

But I'm willing to bet that my pal the Bar Belle figured it out with her report on the eponymous signature cocktail, the Wild Rita. It's made with a blend of Maestro Dobel (a fancy clear blend of Reposado, Añejo and extra Añejo tequilas aged in oak) with orange-scented Grand Marnier liqueur, grain alcohol infused with lime, and sweet agave nectar. And then, ay carumba, they set it on fire!

We didn't succumb to its fiery delights, but did sample a decent if rather sweet straight-up casa (house) margarita ($7, but you can get it for $4 during Wild Rita's happy hours, which are 4-7 p.m. weekdays in the bar and lounge sections only).

You can also get a full liter of the Casa Rita - that's a quart plus, for the metric-impaired - for $18, but thank you, no, I'm still a little wary of tequila after that unfortunate youthful experience. (Don't we all have one of those hiding in our Scare Closets?)

Read my full review on LouisvilleHotBytes, or click to it in this week's LEO Weekly.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

No meat, no booze, no matter at Roots

Bowl o' Pho at Roots. LEO photo by Frankie Steele.
Roots, with its next-door companion Heart & Soy, is coming up on its third anniversary this summer, and both spots appear to be going strong, filled with happy diners nightly.

So how does that work, when neither upscale Roots nor street-food Heart & Soy offer so much as a bite of meat or a sip of booze? I think it has something to do with what restaurateur Huong "Coco" Tran calls Roots' "mindful, compassionate cooking," a plant-based cuisine so good that even the most obligate carnivore can chow down without even missing animal flesh.

Friday, April 25, 2014

And now, the paper wine bottle

Wine in bottles, wine in jugs, wine in boxes, even wine in cans. Just when we start thinking we've seen every possible way to package the fruit of the vine, along comes an outfit with something completely different: Paper Boy, an outfit based in Sonoma, Calif., has launched a new line of wines packaged in a standard-size wine "bottle" made of recyclable cardboard.

Currently offering a 2012 Paso Robles Red Blend and a 2012 Mendocino County Chardonnay, Paper Boy promotes its package with plenty of exclamation points and capital letters: "It's super-light. It's ultra-green. It stays cooler longer. Recycles better. It tastes great. & it's here...THE WORLD'S FIRST PAPER WINE BOTTLE!"

The world's first paper wine bottle, the firm says, is "80 percent lighter than glass, produced from pre- and post-consumer waste and recycled/organic materials, it is an ultra-green package."

Read my full 30 Second Wine Advisor column on, with this week's tasting report on a good, affordable Chianti in a traditional <i>glass</i> bottle.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

"I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream."

Black raspberry chip ice cream at the Comfy Cow.
Comfy Cow now a herd
Voice-Tribune review by Robin Garr

"I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream."

Once a popular ditty of the "Roaring Twenties," this folk wisdom has grown into a simple truth. Who doesn't like ice cream? As Mary's father used to say, even after an ample meal, "There is always room for ice cream."

And with Spring belatedly breaking after one of the most relentless Winters in recent memory, the signs of the season include, in addition to green buds, bright flowers and insane allergy-pollen levels, long lines of hungry supplicants forming around just about every ice-cream shop in town. Even the perennial ice cream trucks have brought their clangy rendition of "Camptown Races" back to the streets of our fair city.

I know that some folks nostalgically favor soft-serve ice cream at a half-dozen iconic old neighborhood ice cream spots around town. The Cincinnati ice cream empire and the ice-cream-and-pie folks also have fans.

But none of those options could fill the ice cream-shaped hole in my heart after Ehrmann's bakery closed years ago ... until Tim and Roy Koons-McGee brought us the Comfy Cow.

Read my full review on and click to it in this week's Voice-Tribune.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

I'll take 'Restaurants with Unusual Names' for $500

Tacos “hecho a mano” at Chapinlandia.
LEO photo by Frankie Steele.
Hay!! Chi Wa Waa! Where in the heck is Chapinlandia?
LEO's Eats with Robin Garr

Hay!! Chi Wa Waa!? Chapinlandia? What the heck is going on here? Did someone just yell, "Alex, I'll take 'Restaurants with Unusual Names' for $500"?

Nah. It's simpler than that. With a month of World Cup soccer coming up in June, I'm scouting venues to catch key matches in the company of crowds whose cheers really mean something.

Just as there's nothing quite like being part of the home crowd for U of L football at the Pizza Bowl or UK hoops at Rupp, you can't beat the excitement of a Mexican-American crowd cheering Mexico at a taqueria or a bunch of enthusiastic Argentine-Americans yelling it up for Argentina at Palermo Viejo. GOOOOOOOOLLLL!

Read my full review on LouisvilleHotBytes, or click to it in this week's LEO Weekly.

Friday, April 18, 2014

A fresh look at Merlot

It has been 10 years since the movie "Sideways" made Merlot a laughingstock with the snobby character Miles's angry remark about "#$%&ing Merlot," a laugh line that actually drove down Merlot sales in the U.S. while starting a mini-boom for the Pinot Noir upon which the script lavished praise.

Of course, Merlot is what it is. Most wine geeks aren't going to have our tastes affected by a funny line in a movie; and that includes the screen writers and directors, who had the same character later going gaga over Chateau Cheval Blanc, a Right Bank Bordeaux that's predominantly Merlot and Cab Franc, another variety that he disdained.

So for this month's Wine Focus in our online WineLovers Discussion Group, we're seeking to give this much abused grape a second chance.

Read my full 30 Second Wine Advisor column on