18 June 2008

AC Day Two

Wow, another relatively unremarkable day at AC. Here’s your recap:

The morning session included a great presentation from Emory Healthcare (no, really!). Emory’s representative highlighted their advances in various medical research fields, and briefly discussed the plans to expand the clinical campus. Some of the research they’re doing there is quite remarkable, and it’s nice to know that we as NGUMC Methodists have a hand in supporting it.

The morning also featured the retiring clergy addresses, which as always were quite entertaining. There’s nothing like giving a preacher one more shot at addressing his or her colleagues to liven things up.

The afternoon business sessions were mostly routine. In case you were wondering, the Conference’s unfunded liability for potential retirees with pre-1982 service is roughly $40 million, which is actually down from $60 million some years ago. The actuarial projection has us making up that deficit by the year 2021 (probably because there will be so few covered pre-1982 retirees around by then…). The full budget will be discussed Friday, but the fiscal house seems pretty sound at the moment.

The Young Adult Task Force had a nice presentation, including two resolutions – one to encourage the selection of more young adult delegates to AC, and another to recommend shifting the dates of AC to Wednesday-Saturday instead of the current Tuesday-Friday. The rationale behind this is that younger adults have less flexible schedules (and less vacation time), and thus it’s harder for them to take off more days during the week to attend AC. After some debate and discussion, both resolutions passed.

It definitely is true that the demographics of AC are on the older side. I think I’m safe in placing myself below the median age of the attendees. One thing that has struck me this year in particular is just how institutional the whole Conference and its proceedings are. The problem there, as with any institution, is that eventually practices grow to protect and enhance the institution itself, rather than the original underlying mission that the institution was founded to promulgate.

That’s really all I have to report today. Oh, last night’s and this afternoon’s worship service’s preacher was the Chancellor Emeritus of Asbury Theological Seminary, Maxie Dunnam. I missed both of those services, and it would seem that I’m glad that I did, as the reports I’ve heard noted that he characterized “diversity” and “inclusion” as false doctrines appealing to those who only want to hear what is popular. I suppose Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors is heresy also?

Tomorrow we’ll have the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) breakfast, and the MFSA will present their annual award to our own Beth Corrie during the plenary session in the afternoon. Beth will presumably have a minute or two to address the Conference…check back here tomorrow to learn what controversial things she said!

17 June 2008

Beer and grub at the Brick Store Pub

I had the pleasure of attending a beer dinner at the Brick Store Pub last week. This was a five-course affair with paired beers, with all the beers being from the Highland Brewing Company out of Asheville, NC. Highland’s owner, Oscar Wong, was in attendance to discuss his beers and generally hold court. The Executive Chef at the Brick Store Pub is Eric Ottensmeyer. (Notice also the cool keychain they handed out as a party favor!)

I begin this description/review with a big disclaimer: I really like the Brick Store. I have known one of the proprietors for some time now, and know several of the bartenders by name. Thus, I am favorably inclined toward the BSP (as it’s occasionally known) in general, and I consider it best to reveal my positive bias up front. Having said that, I expect that I will make a concerted effort to offer constructive criticism and critique where I can.

Overall, my dining companions and I had a great time at this beer dinner and we thought the beer-food pairings were spot on, despite a few critiques of some of the food preparations and executions. I am willing to chalk some of those critiques up to an imperfect kitchen arrangement and perhaps a kitchen crew that isn’t quite used to this level of food prep. With all those disclaimers and caveats in place, on to the dinner! And note the pictures for each course – hopefully they come through well enough for your viewing pleasure.

The reception course featured a carrot hummus on pita toast with leek oil,

some hamachi wontons with red grapefruit ponzu,

and a Georgia shrimp tostada with local basil pesto.

The carrot hummus was sweet and tangy, and the leek oil was subtle but provided a consistent backdrop. The hamachi slices were perched on perfectly crisp wonton triangles, and were sweet and citrusy from the ponzu (essentially a Japanese citrus vinegar). The shrimp on the tostada were cooked well, and although I wasn’t initially convinced about the pairing with the pesto it definitely grew on me. The beer for this course was the Highland Kashmir IPA, which was hoppy with a good bite but not lingeringly bitter. The beer paired particularly well with the sweet and tangy ponzu.

The official first course was described as a local summer squash medley with endive field mix, with Benton Farms lardon and grana padano, served with leek vinaigrette.

The greens were incredibly tasty, having a good bite and some potent bitterness. We all remarked on how different these tasted from the average “mixed greens” one finds in the grocery store – that is to say, they had a definitive flavor. The squash were tender and mildly sweet. My biggest issue with this course was the so-called “lardon”. In my book, lardons are pieces of thick-cut bacon that are diced, blanched to remove the excessive saltiness and smokiness, and then fried short of being well-crisped. The items in this salad were not lardons in the classical sense. They were more like strips of bacon, cooked crisp, and with a very potent smoky flavor. This is not to say they weren’t good (although one of my dining companions objected to the strong smoky flavor), but they definitely weren’t lardons. The beer was the Highland Gaelic Ale, a great all-around ale that complemented the dish without competing with it.

The second full course was a “trio” of baby beets served alongside a walnut crusted rabbit loin, with rogue smokey blue cheese and Valencia orange sauce/vinaigrette.

The “trio” was actually all three parts of the baby beets – leaves, beetroot, and finely diced stems. The salad was fabulous. The rabbit, at its best, was like really good meaty white fried chicken. My smaller piece was a bit dry and overcooked, but the larger piece was perfectly juicy. However, one of my companions’ rabbit was definitely overcooked. The beer was the Highland Oatmeal Porter, a dark and rich pint that was a little bit sweet and smoky – it went well with the dish, especially with the smokey blue cheese in the salad.

The entrĂ©e course a crispy skin duck breast served over Georgia blueberry hotcakes that were topped with a maple syrup duck demi-glace and some edible local flowers (which I couldn’t identify).

I was a bit skeptical of this dish upon reading its description, but the combination mostly worked for me. The demi-glace was savory and slightly but not too sweet, and while the duck meat was great I would have preferred a crispier skin. I think this was an execution matter; perhaps the kitchen rushed the prep of the duck rather than allowing it to render off its fat more thoroughly and thus yielding a crispier skin. The sweetness of the blueberries in the hotcake provided a nice contrast with the dish overall, especially since I had expected a very sweet “pancakes and maple syrup” flavor profile. The beer was the Highland Black Mocha Stout, which was thick with pronounced coffee and mocha flavors and some good bitterness – the bitterness of the sweet smoky beer went very well with the slightly sweet gamey duck.

Dessert was a strawberry-rhubarb cobbler, topped with espresso whipped cream.

The cream was actually white cream dusted with flecks of espresso. The cobbler was quite yum and warm, and not too sweet (you don’t want strawberry-rhubarb to be very sweet, in my opinion). The beer was the Highland Tasgall Ale, described by Mr. Wong as a “wee heavy Scotch ale”, single hopped, malty, and slightly smoky. The tart, creamy beer was a perfect foil for the dessert, especially for the espresso cream.

Overall, I rate this dinner as a success, despite a few missteps in the execution of some of the food dishes. The food concepts were first rate, as were the beer pairings. The cost of the dinner with beer (the pours were a bit over half a pint each) was $55, which seemed very reasonable to me. I look forward to the chance to taste Chef Ottensmeyer’s dishes when he has complete control over a serious kitchen operation (which, rumor has it, might happen in the not too distant future, but that’s all I’m allowed to say…). In the meantime if you’re a fan of good food and great beer and you have the chance to partake of another BSP beer dinner, I’d recommend you do so.

Annual Conference, Day One

Here’s your update on the North Georgia United Methodist Church's Annual Conference proceedings from the first day. If I were writing this based solely on the proceedings themselves, I probably wouldn’t have much to say. It’s a very low-key year, particularly in comparison with last year’s election of delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences in which I took part as a candidate.

Perhaps the highlight of today’s proceedings (from my perspective, of course) was a brief presentation on the Nothing But Nets campaign – go check out the website http://www.nothingbutnets.net. Hopefully many of you are already familiar with this great program (when I led a youth program at my church earlier this year, several of our youth already knew about it), but for those of you who are not and don’t want to read the website, it’s a program that distributes insecticide-treated mosquito nets throughout Africa and other regions of the world where malaria is rampant. For $10 the program can purchase a bed net that protects a family of four as they sleep, deliver it to the family, and provide relevant instruction on how to properly use the net. This is a bigger deal than you may think (and bigger than I used to think before I learned about it last year) – roughly 500 million people around the world are infected with malaria each year, and about a million people around the world die from malaria each year, or one person every 30 seconds! To put it bluntly and representatively, a $10 contribution means that four people in Africa probably DON’T DIE from malaria. How else can you save four lives with ten dollars? The afternoon turned into a bit of one-upmanship as various congregations and districts pledged $1,000 here and $2,000 there toward the campaign. By the end of the afternoon we had already raised over $100,000 in pledges.

No real controversial resolutions to report on, although we do now have one before us that would call on United Methodists to resist efforts by the Georgia Legislature to allow the carrying of concealed weapons in houses of worship. I can only hope this won’t prove to be a controversial measure...but if it is, at least I know one guy in my congregation who has a few sidearms he could start packing on Sunday morning.

In other news from today, we heard a presentation on General Conference from our delegation’s representatives. Basically, the representatives congratulated our delegation on being strong leaders at General Conference, standing up for what was right and true and good and all things genuinely Christian, and fighting back against the forces from the gates of hell that wanted to impose their evil reform and change upon the pure church. As you can tell, not so inspiring for me, especially since I'm apparently one of the minions from the gates of hell in that pantheon. Oh, and I finally elicited a response in the latest edition of the Wesleyan Christian Advocate - apparently someone found my (and another writer's) letter too offensive to let pass without comment:

TENNILLE – They will never give up will they? Folks like J.B. Gordan and Dan Browning will continue to push the homosexual issue until they succeed in splitting the church. Wouldn’t it be less painful for all of us if they simply started they own church or just joined the Universalists. They can interpret the scriptures any way they want. Mr. Gordan would no longer have to be concerned with super delegates like Eddie Fox and Mr. Browning could be a part of a church where everyone agreed with his position - 100%. I thank God that we still have men of intergrity like Rev. Fox and Bishop Davis who will stand for truth.
Attempts to equate the homosexual issue with slavery and women’s rights are weak. We all want to interpret scripture in a way that best suits our positions, but we can’t argue with anatomy or procreation. Allowing our desires to overcome the way we were made is what got us into trouble from the beginning. I suspect that people will continue to give in to the socially acceptable position that sex between to consenting adults, no matter their gender, is fine. May God have mercy on us. The day when the language in the Discipline is changed concerning this particular matter is the day I will be called to serve elsewhere.

Rev. Jim W. Dominey
Pastor, Piney Mount UMC

Hmmm, where to begin to reply to this? By the way, I promise that all of the typos contained therein were in the original letter as published. I suppose I could take issue with the writer's classification of me as a Universalist - although I think he really meant to call me a Unitarian. And no, I don't think that even if I founded my own church I'd have one where everyone agreed with me 100%. I never equated "the homosexual issue" with slavery - and what is "the homosexual issue" anyway? Is it too high prices for Bette Midler concerts? A lack of quality hair care products? I haven't a clue what to say about how "we can't argue with anatomy or procreation"...best to just let that one go. As for allowing our desires to overcome the way we were made, I agree - people shouldn't allow their desires to be conformingly-heterosexual Christians to overcome the fact that God made them to be loving homosexuals. And finally, there's the writer's last line. for which I must give him prophetic props - at least he is able to foresee the day when that Discipline language will be changed. I hope that I can maintain that optimistic attitude as well.

04 June 2008

To your health!

According to the latest research, "Red wine may be much more potent than was thought in extending human lifespan"! Previous studies of resveratrol and other red wine polyphenols that found positive results in mice (e.g., anti-aging and athletic enhancement effects) administered levels of resveratrol that were the equivalent of an average person's consuming 100 bottles of red wine per day, an amount even I can't approach. However, the latest studies suggest that resveratrol and other compounds found in red wine could have a positive effect in humans who consume "a mere four, five-ounce glasses of wine" per day. Let's see, that's 20 ounces, and with the standard 750 ml bottle being equivalent to just over 25 ounces, that works out to be one glass shy of a full bottle of red wine per day. But then again, who wants to leave just one glass in an open bottle? Probably best to just finish the darn thing...

I think this is where I'm supposed to offer the liability disclaimer that I'm not a medical professional, and you're a fool if you take anything I say as being reasonable, competent medical advice. 

With that out of the way, cheers!