The Perfect Cup of Coffee

For a long time, I didn’t like coffee. Used to make fun of people who said they couldn’t function in the mornings without it. Congratulated myself on not being addicted to caffeine or a steaming cup o’ Joe.

Now I can’t get enough.

Back when I was a young preacher boy pastor, just learning about the real world, I tried to learn to like coffee, but never did get the taste for it. Many people find the smell of coffee brewing to be very pleasant – somehow I guess I expected it to taste like that delicious aroma smelled, but of course, it didn’t. I tried lightening it up with cream, and sweetening it with sugar, but it was no use. So for the next fifteen years or so, I didn’t try. Even staying up nights, going through graduate school, couldn’t make me like it.

But when we were in Johnson City, Tennessee, around 1993-94, I was teaching at Milligan College and managing their campus radio station. The mornings were frequently cold and wet there in the mountains of East Tennessee, and so out of curiosity, I bought some of the “International Cafe” French Vanilla instant mix. It was VERY sweet and VERY flavored – one friend described it as a “cup of coffee with a scoop of vanilla ice cream melted in it” – but I found I enjoyed it.

From there, I gradually learned to enjoy more the taste of the coffee, and needed less and less of the sweet and the flavoring. Now, 20+ years down the road, sometimes I will have a coffee-flavored drink as a treat or a dessert in the evening, sometimes with a shot of Irish Cream or amaretto added in, but in the morning, I’ll just take it straight, thank you.

So, is there a perfect cup of coffee? Such a question is bound to start a big debate with some folks – two of my grown children have been professional baristas, and I know they have definite opinions on the subject – but for me, I think enjoying coffee has less to do with what’s in the cup, and more to do with who’s at the table.

One of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had was sitting with my wife, Kathy, outside the Starbucks in Marble Falls, Texas, overlooking the river, on a pleasant summer morning.

Sharing afternoon coffee with my dad on the back porch of his house is pretty great, too.Amtrak

And of course, when my brother David and I rode Amtrak, sitting together and sipping our coffee was pretty great. (He managed to keep most of it out of the chin whiskers he had at the time!)

Some other great cups of coffee I’ve had:

  • On a frosty West Texas morning at a Boy Scout campout, gathered around a warm campfire;
  • Sitting with a neighbor, looking at pictures of her grandkids;
  • Having a cup with dessert while listening to friends visit together at a neighborhood potluck;
  • Studying the Bible with friends in our Sunday School class as we sit and sip together.

Coffee is definitely best when shared with good friends, over good conversation. Come by sometime, and let me pour you a cup.

 

 

 

Dining Cars and Cantaloupe Pie

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This charger plate was used on dining cars of the Missouri Pacific and Texas & Pacific lines. It featured the state flowers of the states served by those railroads.

Back in the day when travel was an adventure and most people got from here to there by rail, one of the highlights of any trip was taking a meal in the dining car. For many, the amazing food and impeccable service was made even better by the pleasure of meeting new people and making new friends while sharing a delicious meal together in the rolling diner.

The railroads would often specialize in serving regional favorites that represented the part of the country through which you were traveling. Thus, if you were on board the Union Pacific, you might have one of their famous Midwestern “Prime Steaks.” If you were riding on the Northern Pacific, you could enjoy a “Great Big Baked Potato” from Idaho. Riders going through the Rockies on Missouri Pacific’s “Colorado Eagle” were served delicious rainbow trout.

t&p logoAnd the Texas & Pacific? Well, it seems that the railroad that founded Abilene and crossed West Texas was nationally famous for a dessert:

Cantaloupe Pie.

Back in 1916, Mr. M.L. Todd and his business partner, Mr. D.T. McKee, began growing cantaloupes in Pecos, Texas. They contracted with the T&P, and agreed to supply them with cantaloupes for their dining cars.  By the 1920s, they were shipping cases of melons via Railway Express all over the country.

But of course, as with any perishable commodity, some of the fruit would become overripe on its way to market. That’s where Mr. Edward Pierce enters the picture. Mr. Pierce was a College Station native and a 42-year veteran of the T&P, and he couldn’t stand seeing the melons go to waste, overripe or not. He went to work and came up with a dessert that became a favorite on the T&P dining cars.

Happily, in 1992, a writer for the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Anita Baker, tracked down Mr. Pierce, who shared his recipe, which we now pass along to you.

Serve it to your guests to enjoy a taste of elegant travel from days gone by.

  • 1 very ripe cantaloupe (over ripe yields the most juice)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons flour (more or less depending on how juicy your cantaloupe is)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 9-inch prebaked pie crust
  • 3 egg whites
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Slice cantaloupe in half, deseed and remove rind, reserving all juices. Cut into small pieces.
  2. Place melon with juice and water into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring often. Mash the cantaloupe as it heats.
  3. Mix sugar and flour and slowly add to hot mixture, stirring constantly.
  4. In a large bowl, beat egg yolks; add a little water to yolks. Add a little of the cantaloupe mixture to egg yolks in order to heat yolks gradually. Stir egg yolks mixture into cantaloupe mixture.
  5. Add butter and nutmeg, stir until butter melts. Continue cooking, stirring, until thick and creamy.
  6. Cool and pour into prebaked pie crust.
  7. To make meringue, beat egg whites until frothy. Gradually add sugar, continuing to beat until stiff peaks form. Add vanilla or other flavoring. Spoon onto pie, spreading to crust edge to seal filling in. Bake at 325° for 15 to 18 minutes, until nicely browned.
  8. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours before serving.

Friendships are formed through experiences shared together, whether it’s a meal, a piece of pie, or something else. Because of their proximity, neighbors have opportunities to share experiences and work with each other to build a stronger, safer community. Like passengers on a train, we will find that our journey is more interesting and pleasant as we make friends along the way.

Come Before Him with Thanksgiving

“Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD;

Let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.

Let us come before Him with thanksgiving

and extol Him with music and song.” – Psalm 95:1, 2

I hope Thanksgiving today finds you happy and well, and surrounded by family and friends.  This is one of my very favorite holidays, for a variety of reasons and sweet memories.

Some of my earliest memories of this day go back to my grandparents, Archie & Sallie McMillan.  When I was a young child, for some reason, I wouldn’t call her “Grandma.”  I heard other people call her, “Sallie,” which I tried to do, but she didn’t like that.  So, I started calling her “Sa-Sa,” and the name stuck.  So we would go to Sa-Sa & Pa-Pa’s house.

I don’t really remember usually having turkey for that meal – it seems that she usually fixed a big hen, and usually in a pressure cooker to make it fall-off-the-bone tender.  But what I REALLY remember about Thanksgiving at Sa-Sa’s house was her fruit salad.  It had lots of big chunks of apples and bananas and fruit cocktail, along with chopped walnuts and coconut.  Of course, we had lots of other stuff to eat, and plenty of desserts, but I always loved her fruit salad.  What was especially great was, if there was any left over, she would freeze it, and we would eat it at Christmas.

Pa-Pa died in 1969, and Sa-Sa passed in about 1988, but I still remember them both, especially today.  I have taught some of the kids in my after-school program how to make her fruit salad, and I tell them about her as we make it.  And I’m thankful for her, and for such sweet memories.

“Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7

Thanksgiving also means football, of course; in our family, that meant the Cowboys.  The greatest one was Thanksgiving, 1974, when George Allen’s “Over the Hill Gang” laid a vicious 3rd quarter hit on Roger Staubach and knocked him out of the game.  The Skins were up 16-3 at the time, when an untested rookie from ACU came into the game as the Cowboys’ backup quarterback, Clint Longley.  He had earned the nickname of “The Mad Bomber” from his teammates, because of his default tendency to throw deep in practice.

What happened next, Cowboys fans still talk about.  And Redskins fans have never gotten over.

This rookie put together what might be the most improbably comeback in team history.  After leading the Boys to two other touchdowns, with just 35 seconds to play, Longley found a streaking Drew Pearson racing down the sidelines, and he scored.  We won 24-23.  It’s still one of the greatest wins in Cowboys history.

Four years later, Kathy and I were celebrating our first Thanksgiving as husband and wife.  I was a senior at Dallas Christian College, and she and I were in a singing group known as “Revelation.”  Thanksgiving weekend, 1978, we were in the recording studio, cutting a record.  (Do I need to explain what “records” were for any of the under 40 crowd?)  Since we couldn’t go anywhere for the day, Mom & Dad came to Dallas, and we had Thanksgiving in our tiny apartment.

Fast forward to 2010.  My mom had passed away just two months earlier, and we were sharing our first holiday without her.  My brother David and his wife Gina hosted the whole wooly bunch of us at their home in Spring.  He fried a turkey, my nephew made some amazing cranberry dressing on the stove, and everybody fixed their favorite recipes.  I made one of my Jack Daniels Black-Bottom Pecan Pies.  We shared the day and the warmth of shared memories as we surrounded our dad and comforted each other and gave thanks for the legacy we shared and the sweetness of her presence still in our midst.

As I write this, Kathy is busy in the kitchen, finalizing meal preparations.  We’re a turkey, cornbread dressing, green beans, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn casserole, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and more.  We have invited several neighbors to come eat with us.  Then later, we’re going to the new restaurant where Drew is working, to have a meal there.

I am thankful for family, for friends, for sweet memories and for wonderful times together.  I am thankful for my job, for my neighbors, and for all of the blessings we enjoy.  I am thankful for Jesus.  And I know that the blessings I have received, are not mine exclusively to enjoy, but have been given so that I can in turn be a blessing to others.

I hope your day today is filled with everything wonderful, and that whatever your circumstances, you can give thanks with a glad and sincere heart.  Happy Thanksgiving!

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving,

and His courts with praise;

Give thanks to Him and praise His Name.

For the LORD is good and His love endures forever;

His faithfulness continues through all generations.”

Psalm 100:4-5

“The problem is, I don’t want a drink. I want 10 drinks.”

As some of you know, I recently went to my doctor for my semi-annual checkup.  And I’m sorry to say, it did not go well.

My diabetes has gotten worse.  Well technically, IT hasn’t gotten worse, but other things have.  Back in January, my doctor put me on injected insulin for the first time in the eight years or so that I’ve been diagnosed with Type II Diabetes.  And I immediately felt better when I began taking the once-daily shots.  But as he explained to me, my diet had remained more-or-less the same, and the stuff I was eating that I shouldn’t, was making me gain weight, raising my blood pressure and elevating my bad cholesterol and triglycerides.

Sorry if that’s more information than you wanted.

Anyway, as a result, he has advised me – STRONGLY – that I make some changes.  As the saying goes, not a diet, but a lifestyle change.  I’m trying to  break my carb addiction.

All my life, I have loved starchy, filling foods.  Rice, potatoes, beans, corn, pasta, bread.  LOTS of bread.  And the fact is, it’s killing me.  So, with the help of my sweet wife and family, I’m making some changes.  Protein shakes for breakfast, instead of toast or cereal.  Salads for lunch, instead of sandwiches.  Meat & NON-starchy veggies for supper.  Almonds & olives for snacks, instead of popcorn.

Sharing dinner with our friends, the Pages. I grilled marinated pork tenderloin and a squash medley – and NO, I didn’t eat any of the roasted corn on the cob!

This is not all bad, by any means.  For one thing, I LIKE eating meat, so I got that goin’ for me.  Also, grilled veggies work really well with this concept, especially grilled squash, onion, peppers, etc.

One of the things I’m discovering is how truly addicting carbs are, at least to me.  You eat something starchy, thinking it will satisfy, but an hour or two later, you’re craving more of it.  It’s like that scene from “The West Wing,” where Leo is trying to explain to a young staffer what being an alcoholic is like.  She asks him if he’s allowed to have a drink.  He says, “The problem is, I don’t want A drink – I want ten drinks.”  (Thanks, Eddy, for reminding me of this great scene!)

Isn’t that the way sin is?  You “indulge” yourself with whatever your favorite sin is – bitterness, anger, greed, lust, whatever – thinking that will satisfy you and you can get on with life.  But consuming a little bit of that just makes you crave more.  And more.  And it’s never enough.  Because, as has often been said, Satan will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and charge you more than you want to pay.

In Isaiah 55:2, God asks, “Why do you spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?  Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.”

I appreciate your prayers for me, as I re-learn what & how to eat, and adjust to these changes.  Meanwhile, let’s ask the Lord to reveal to us what addictions we are feeding within our own hearts – addictions that are keeping us from becoming all that the Father wants us to be.