Hope Creates Traditions

Most of us try to create traditions within our families. Reverend G and her son, Jacob, guarded the tradition of family dinner after church on Sunday. (I know this because she told me; i.e. fictional characters talking to the writer again  http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh).

For my son and me, one of our favorite traditions has revolved around May 5th, Cinco de Mayo. Cinco-de-Mayonshttp://www.mexonline.com/cinco-de-mayo.htm

We have no Hispanic heritage, but we both love Mexican food – so any chance to indulge seems like a good idea.

When my son was younger, I always made enchilada casserole for supper on May 5th. It lasted for several meals and grew spicier with each leftover warm-up. Through the years, I’ve tweaked the recipe so that it is now in the final stage of perfection – at least, we think so. I’m sharing the recipe with you below. Let me know what you think.

I wonder how many of our traditions revolve around food. In our family, food traditions include Christmas peppernuts from the Mennonites, Easter ham and Watergate salad, Thanksgiving zwiebach and pecan pie and the summer harvest monster cookies.

But the special part of our Cinco de Mayo celebration is that it’s usually just my son and me – no other family – no other friends. It’s nicer that way. More chips and salsa for each of us.

Rebecca’s Enchilada Casserole

In a large and deep casserole pan, spray a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil. This prevents the tortillas from sticking and helps you pretend you’re eating something healthy.

Tear up 9 corn tortillas (the small ones) and spread them across the bottom of the pan.

In a skillet, cook 1 pound of ground beef with ½ cup of onions. Sprinkle with red peppers (depending on how hot you like your Mexican food).

Drain off the grease and give it to the dog. He will drink lots of water b/c of the red peppers.

Add 2 small cans of green chiles, 1 can of cream of chicken soup, ½ jar of chunky salsa (the hotter, the better), 1 can of black beans (drained) and ¼ cup of milk. Cook on medium heat until bubbly, then turn off the heat.

Pour half of this mixture on top of the tortillas in the pan.

Cut up ½ of a Mexican Velveeta Cheese bar into small pieces and spread them on top of the soup mixture. You cannot substitute any other type of cheese or it will not taste like my casserole and I will not be responsible for the consequences.

Repeat with another layer of 9 torn up corn tortillas. Pour the rest of the soup mixture on top of these tortillas, then top with the rest of the Mexican Velveeta Cheese.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake in a 350° oven for 45 minutes.

Serve with chips and more salsa or guacamole. Sometimes I also make a side dish of Mexican rice which for me is just brown rice, the rest of the salsa and more green chiles.

And to make everyone really happy, serve ice cream for dessert. Reverend G likes Chunky Monkey. Enjoy!

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

A Valentine for Reverend G

“Wear your walkin’ shoes,” Chris spoke over the phone line. “I’ll be there in about 15.”

How was I so lucky to have a friend like Chris who recently graduated into a boyfriend? Was it appropriate to call a man in his early sixties a “boy”friend? I suppose I wasn’t a “girl”friend either, with my long white braid that hung over my shoulder and my early-onset Alzheimer’s that hung over what was left of my mind.

But here he was, dressed in bright blue sweats that contrasted nicely with his own white hair and the blue specks in his eyes. My guy friend, holding open the door for me, his Valentine date.valentine heart

We drove in his Caddie to downtown Lawton Springs and parked in one of the special lots that gave us at least two hours to roam. Downtown attracted tourists as well as the college students and locals, even on a warmer-than-average day in February.

Funky boutiques blended in with the national franchises. Starbucks next to Fannie Mae’s Linens, Minsky’s Pizza right across from the sparkly Gallery on the Glow. Even as close as Lawton Springs sat in latitude and longitude to Kansas City Metro, hundreds of people shopped in our city. It was, as the newspaper often quoted, “America’s Greatest Little Town.”

As we walked hand-in-hand along the sidewalk, we saw young people from the college and heard the dialects of international tourists with their Samsung cameras slung over their shoulders.

“Hi, Doctor Jacobs,” called one kid as he passed us on the street. Chris waved his hello, then told me, “One of my students from Theology 101.”

Then a former parishioner whose name I forgot because my Sometimer’s took over. Fortunately, he remembered my name as he tipped his KC Royals baseball cap and said, “Afternoon, Reverend G. God is good all the time.”

“Indeed,” I answered. Good all the time. God was good to give me this sunshiny and slightly brisk day with Chris, as we strolled along like two kids in their first waves of puppy love, knowing all the while that my days of any type of remembrance were numbered.

But hey – live each moment and in each moment. Wasn’t that what I always told my congregation? I think that’s what I said. It had been a while since I stood in front of them and preached something practical yet biblical. Months…days…years…I don’t know.

Chris steered me into the Brownie Bomb, another local franchise that served absolutely scrumptious ice cream with all natural ingredients. Little red tables and chairs invited us to sit while Chris gave the lady behind the counter our orders.

I knew they didn’t stock my usual Chunky Monkey, but Chris ordered my second favorite: the actual Brownie Bomb – bits of brownie batter with extra chocolate chips and a dollop of marshmallow crème on the top. Chris was more of a cherry and nuts man, so he ordered the Cherry Whiz with pecans all over it. Then he filled little Dixie cups with water and brought them to our table. In a few minutes, the lady brought us our ice cream, spoons and napkins.

We dug in, each of us doing our “Yum” sounds as we enjoyed the sugary treats. Then Chris reached into his back pocket and pulled out a red envelope.

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Tru,” he said, pushing the envelope toward me.

“Well, thanks, Big Guy. I forgot to get you one, but you know…Sometimer’s and all.”

Chris nodded, and his eyes sparkled as I focused on his face. I slowly opened the envelope, then laughed as several of those candy hearts dropped out. “U R my Sugar” was stamped on one of them. Another one said, “Honey Bun.”

Chris and I took turns eating them, then he said, “Aren’t you going to open the card and read it?”

“Oh, sure.”

Inside, the pretty scroll writing said, “Be mine,” and beside it, in the block letters of Chris’s handwriting, “Please.” Below was a bigger candy heart taped to the card with the letters, “Marry Me” stamped on it.

I pulled the tape off and dunked the heart into my ice cream, then plopped it into my mouth. Chris waited while I chewed, then he took my hand and kissed my fingers, one by one.

“So what do you say, Tru?” he finally asked. “Will you be mine? Won’t you say ‘yes’ and marry me?”

Everything in me wanted to jump across the table and into his arms, repeating “Yes, yes, yes” a thousand times. But one wall still remained before I could make that leap. My fear of marrying a man I might soon forget. My knowledge that the dementia and Alzheimer’s that even now crackled inside my brain might one day change my personality to the point that this incredible guy sitting across from me would actually grow to hate the wife I would become.

I swallowed the last crumbles of the heart, then reached for a drink from my Dixie cup. “Chris, you know I love you. I just can’t marry you yet, not until I have absolute peace about it and my fear is gone. Can you give me just a little more time?”

Chris stood up and leaned over the table. He kissed me on the forehead, then cradled my face in his hands. “My darling Tru, I want you to be certain about this decision. And I’ll wait until you are absolutely sure, but in the meantime….” This time, a kiss right on the mouth. “In the meantime, you’re my Valentine, forever and ever.”

©2015 RJ Thesman – author of the Reverend G books – http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Chunky Monkey Research

An effective writer always completes his or her research. It makes the words more credible and lends a sense of accuracy to the entire work. Some of my research this year took place in Santa Fe, but another piece of it came from my local grocery – the ice cream section.

I couldn’t help it. My main character, Reverend G, loves Chunky Monkey ice cream, a particularly delicious version of the Ben & Jerry’s line. With a mellow cream base that tastes like ripe bananas, the walnut bits and chunks of frozen fudge blend together for a spoonful of yumminess.

Usually, I try to avoid sugar – especially any type of artificial sweeteners or gummed up chemicals. But Ben & Jerry’s is known for its natural ingredients that merge together into a luscious delight for the palate and the tummy. Nothing fake here and no waste of calories.

So I completed my research on a summer afternoon. The Kansas heat formed waves of humidity that rose off my deck, but my body felt cool all the way from the spoonful of Chunky Monkey on my tongue, to the icy nuts crunched onto my teeth, to the plop of banana cream in my stomach. The slabs of chocolate added a final polish.

A fine afternoon of research and a worthy bit of delight. Next project – Reverend G’s favorite dessert: cheesecake with blueberries.

I really do love research.