Dear God, I need a beer!

Have you ever come home from a stressful day and said to yourself, “God, I need a beer!”  I have said this to myself many times. But as my alcohol fast has progressed, I have come to realize a few things. First, is how frequently I feel this way.

Second, since I am choosing not to go down to my beer fridge to grab a cold one in response to this impulse, I am coming to realize just how often I would grab a beer (or two) as a way to help me cope with stress. While not inherently destructive, trying to find peace at the bottom of a glass is certainly not the most productive way to deal with stress either.

Without that beer at the ready I am having to face my stressors head on which I must confess is not much fun. But while having a couple of drinks would soothe away my worries for the evening, I would still have to deal with them the next day. I guess what I have really come to realize is that on occasion I was looking to booze to help meet emotional and spiritual needs. While beer is indeed a miraculous gift, any solace it brings is only temporary. So instead of coming home at the end of a hard day and saying “God, I need a beer!” perhaps what I should be saying is, “God, I need to spent some time getting quiet so I can put this stuff into some order” or even “God, I need a little God right now!”

Then, once I have taken some time to sort things through or to pray, then would be a good time to go down to the fridge and grab a tasty beer. Because once I have dealt with the anxiety or angst I might just find that I don’t need that beer anymore at all. Then I might find that I really only want one or two and not the four or five it might have otherwise taken to give me the relief I was actually seeking. Then I might be able to just enjoy that beer for the wonderful gift that it is instead of looking to it to give me peace.

Thanks for taking the time to share this journey with me. I will continue to keep you posted.

A note of disclaimer: This coming Saturday, March 2, is the annual Philly Craft Beer Fest at the Navy Yard. I will be there, in clerics and I will be drinking. But just so you know I will not be drinking on Sunday (my usual day off from my fast) in exchange for this indulgence. Just wanted you to know in case someone sees me there and wonders if I am trying to pull a fast one.  Maybe I’ll see you there.

Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue…

Airplane-sniffing-glueWell, at the time of this writing I am only four days into my alcohol fast and I must confess it’s not been easy.

There is no doubt that the less than ideal circumstances  are not making it any easier.

Let’s see… my wife just had a hysterectomy which produces its own worries and challenges. It also means that I need to do all the driving of kids and errands. As a priest, Lent itself adds quite a bit to the mix, with lots of extra services on Ash Wednesday and the start of our Lenten Adult Forum, which I still need to write. Then we had a number of deaths, funerals, hospitalizations, diagnoses, etc, etc, etc. The bottom line is that I certainly have a newfound appreciation for old Lloyd Bridges.
I tell you this, not to have a pity party, but to put it all in context. Needless to say it has been a bit of a challenge to come home and not grab a beer from the fridge. This got me wondering if perhaps my struggles were a sign that I had a dependency (which only added to my stress).
But as I got to thinking about this I realized that in fact, while I have come to look forward to and even “depend” on having a drink available as something to complement a meal or to relax with at the end of the day, I was not “dependent” on alcohol. Lest you claim this is just semantics allow me to explain.
The fact that I miss and even crave a drink doesn’t automatically mean that I can’t get by without it. And if I can get by without it I am not dependent upon it. Having worked as a psychiatric social worker I have seen my fair share of addictions. There is no doubt that people can and do grow emotionally and even physically dependent upon alcohol. While I would very much like to have a drink, I do not believe I fall into this category.
Indeed, it is no different than looking forward to any other pleasure. In Lent’s past when I have given up deep fried foods, I have found myself missing and craving potato chips… does that mean I am a “chipoholic?” Or when I am parted from my wife due to travel and I find myself longing for her, it does not therefore render me a sex addict.
There are a number of things in life that I have come to depend upon. Readily available and good food. Heat. Electricity. The newspaper. I depend on all these things. They make my life a whole lot easier and more enjoyable. But if they were to suddenly disappear, could I find a way to live without them? Of course. It is in this context that I am coming to understand my relationship with booze. Could I live without it? Sure. But I am grateful that, with the exception of Lent, I don’t have to.

No bourbon, no scotch, no beeeeer.

Every year I give up some pleasure or another in order to observe the season of beer  (Lent is a liturgical season which lasts 40 days during which many Christians chose to give up something pleasurable or destructive as a spiritual discipline) Often it has been something like deep fried food.  Last year I added beer which is certainly my drink of choice, but did not extend the fast to include all alcohol.  This year I am going the distance.  Starting today (Ash Wednesday) its no booze till Easter.  For the record I should note that I will get to drink on Sundays because they are not part of Lent.

Now some of you, who go through whole weeks in which you might have one or two drinks total, may be thinking what’s the big deal?  Others, who consume considerably more, might think I am crazy.  Certain beer retailers in the area may be starting to worry about their cash flow.  Still others, who know their Bible, might be wondering if I am acting like those religious leaders that Jesus condemned in Matthew 6:1 when he said,  “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.”

So here’s my logic, both for the undertaking itself and for making it public.  I have chosen to give up alcohol for several reasons.  First, is that over the years I have found myself drinking more on a regular basis.  While I do not believe that I have a problem with drinking (insert your claims of denial here), I do realize that I sometimes use it to help cope with stress and anxiety and so I am interested to find out just how much I may have come to rely on it to cope with the pressures of life.

Second, I look forward to finding other productive ways to relax and to use my time.  Finally, the fact that I have avoided taking this step in past years makes it clear to me that I need to bite the bullet and close up the beer fridge in my basement.  As a bonus, I am also hoping that this fast will lead to some weight loss since apparently and lamentably, beer has calories.

As to why I am sharing this experience with you, well, since I want to learn and grow from this fast, I want to make sure I am really reflective and conscious of the experience of going booze free.  The best way I can think of to accomplish this goal is to make sure I write about it regularly.  I may not share everything I write, but I plan to share what this is like with you several times during the next six weeks.  In addition, it may be that  what I have to share may be of help to someone else, especially those who also might be wondering about the role that alcohol plays in their own life.

In the meantime, I invite your thoughts and comments, your encouragement and your prayers or positive thoughts.  Here’s to the next 45 days.

Beer and Spicy Food

I love hot food and I love beer and more often than not I drink beer when I am eating spicy food.  BUT, contrary to popular opinion/practice swilling large quantities of beer does NOT help with extreme heat from things like Habanero peppers (or Thai Dragon or anything else that high on the Scoville scale- I don’t even bother with Ghost or Scorpion peppers- I can’t taste anything through the pain).

So what do you do when the heat gets the better of you and you already know that chugging the pitcher of beer just won’t help? chugging Well, when you need to put out the fire, dairy products are best- hence the popularity of bleu cheese dip with hot wings (the celery is more or less only a means of delivery).  Milk and yogurt are also very good at neutralizing heat.  Bread or dry crackers like Saltines are also good in this role.

This is not to say that beer can’t still be tasty to drink along with such volcanic dishes (like the wings from my previous column), so long as you understand that  it will not really help dampen the fire. If you are with me so far then the next problem that confronts us is which beer to pair with that habanero mash or five alarm chili?

To my mind, when it comes to fiery concoctions only BIG beers are up to the test.  Dopplebocks, DIPA’s, RIS, Barely Wines and even the occasional Belgian Quad all have enough flavor to add to the taste experience as opposed to getting lost as an ordinary lager or pilsner might.  Even many ales evaporate when facing such extreme heat.

MaharajaMy favorite paring is to use a BIG Imperial (or Double if your prefer) IPA like The Maharajah by Avery.  This beast of a beer is loaded with hops (100-110 IBU’s) yet also super malty.  It is so strong in flavor and alcohol (11%) that it would completely overwhelm your average pasta dish or salad.  But when paired with my Jumbo Smoked Wings with Habanero Mash, the “unstoppable force” meets the “unmovable object” and bliss ensues.

If your palate (and stomach) are up to a real challenge, give this duet a try.


Ultimate Wings

wingsOn the heels of the Super Bowl and  two parties, I want to deviate a bit and offer a quick column on food.  It should come as no surprise for you to learn that I not only like libation, but also food in almost all of its wondrous varieties.  Now having gone to college in upstate New York, I quickly acquired a taste of Buffalo Wings.  In my years since graduation I have made wings in all shapes and sizes with varying degrees of success.  The recipe I am about to share with you is a more recent (yet highly delicious) addition to my wing repertoire.  I find that the smoked meat pairs beautifully with the very hot yet sweet sauce.

Smoked Jumbo Wings with Habanero Mash

Prep Time: 6 hours (not including overnight marinade)

The Wings: It all begins with the wings themselves.  You really want to get the largest and highest quality wings you can find.  I am blessed to live in the City of Brotherly Love and therefore I like to go to Cannuli House of Poultry in the world famous Italian Market for my wings.  They cost more per pound than the regular sized variety but the extra meat is needed because of the smoking and to be honest, if you are going to spend this long making wings then you want as much meat as possible to savor when you are done.

The Marinade: Minced garlic- 1-2 cloves per pound of wings.  Cheap hot sauce- like Franks or Durkees- 1 bottle per 5 pounds.  After removing the wings make sure you reserve the marinade for use in the sauce.

The Smoking: If you have never used a smoker it would take too long to explain the process here.  Anyway use good hardwood chunks (better than chips).  Smoking time depends on the heat of your fire and the amount of meat you have put in.

The Crisping: Simply smoking meat can produce a leathery skin that is not unpleasant but I have found that if you throw your freshly smoked wings on the grill for 5-10 minutes the flames get the skin to crisp nicely thus simulating traditional wing crunch nicely.  You can also crisp them in an oven set at 425.

The Sauce: OK- this is the tricky part to relate because I am not a scientific cook- meaning I don’t measure much when I cook.  Also when working with Habaneros, one’s heat tolerance comes into play.  Anyway, when I make this mash, I make a large amount and store it for future use.  First thing is to Ventilate The Kitchen!  Better yet, if you have a burner on your grill just cook it outside.  Take 6 cloves of minced garlic, 1 minced small onion and 12 minced habaneras (consider wearing gloves when handling the peppers).  Sautee in oil.  When thoroughly cooked down add 2-4 tbls of honey and puree in a blender.  Store in a plastic, air-tight container.

Pour the marinade into a saucepan and add 4 tsps of butter or margarine.  Heat to a boil.  Turn off the heat.  Stir in 1-4 tbls of the Habanero Mash depending on your heat tolerance.

The Finish: Pour sauce over the wings and coat thoroughly.  Serve!

Quick Prep Variation: If you do not have a smoker or you do not have the time to use it you can simulate the results by cooking your wings on the grill the whole time and using a smoker box insert (a small metal box that goes on the flames under the grill surface).  Cook over low heat for 1 hour.  Turn up heat to high and follow Crisping directions.

Asian Variation

Once proclaimed as my contribution to Western Civilization, these wings follow the same recipe as above with the exception of the maranade and sauce :

1 part Chili-Garlic paste, 1 part Hot Teriyaki (I like World Harbors Maui Mountain Hot Teriyaki and for a more sesame laden twist I like Soy Vey brand), 1 part basic hot sauce like Crystal or Durkee (for that dash of traditional flavoring).  You can play with the combination but basically you want to get the heat of the chillies, the garlic and the sweet/sticky of the teriyaki.  Naturally Sriracha sauce makes a nice addition and you can also monkey with wasabi, sesame, Thai or curry variants if you are so inclined.  I have also made a fresh mash with Thai Dragon peppers.

I will post a bit more on what kind of beer pairs best with these wings in the near future.