Early Riser

I wrote this just now; I awoke early, scared of snakes.  A little background: a long time ago, probably in early middle school or late elementary school, I dreamed I had found a rattlesnake, put it in a box, and put him in my closet.  Many years later, I awoke terrified that the dream was real, and that I still had a starving, and probably angry, rattlesnake infesting my closet, just waiting for me to stumble upon it, at which point it would kill me.  I awoke tonight with the memories of that first acute fear heavy upon me, and felt that it would do me some good to write it out.  The developed piece is of a style I don’t normally use, but it felt right in this case; honestly, H.P. Lovecraft was much on my mind the entire time, despite the fact that I have not ever read any of his work.  But I’ve played enough games of Arkham Horror and remember enough of the mood in Eternal Darkness to get a sense of what he’s like, and I felt, in a sense, that this was my attempt to do something similar.  This is what came of it.

Early Riser

I arise early.  For the first time in many years, the fear of them has entered my bones.

It has been a long time since this terror of the early morning slipped into me, a slow wakefulness, a slow mindfulness that one of them might finally repay my ancient, ephemeral kindness by slipping unnoticed and unheard into my bedroom, climb with her ancient arts of stealth up my bedpost, interject himself—unobtrusive as morning light creeping beneath a windowshade—between the covers and the mattress, and kiss me ever-so-gently into the full glory of the morning.  But it entered me again, like an old and terrible friend, the sort of friend one makes but never likes: when, as a tormented and tormenting member of the childhood class, one is young and still learning what it means to laugh, one discovers someone who knows something about them as well, and a bond is forged that runs only as deep as a ridge of paper diamonds rubbed against a rock.

I am certain I dreamed this fear into existence, but I do not know for certain if anything I am about to say is true.  The uncertainty of my own certainty on this matter provides much of the substance of my fear, I am sure.  At some point in my childhood, perhaps after the stage of wide-eyed awe at every rock, but before leaving home with any sense of finality, I became convinced that I had brought them in.  The details are murky, but I know I placed them somewhere, maybe just one of them, but maybe as many as three.  (The number does not matter; as with all such things, they breed; even one of them may become many if given time and dis-reflection).  The closet, perhaps, it seemed appropriate then.  It was a place to keep many things, so why not these?  They would find a nest there, and become more.

I had, by then, passed the years of my life when the closet contained monstrous horrors; I had slept so long with my closet door open that it had ceased to be a place of fright for me.  I was more horrified of the coats hanging in the hallway just outside my door, the way in the light of the bathroom seemed to shine on them in just the right way.  At some point every night, if I could stir myself to look, the coats had seemed to slither themselves together into one form, and it seemed to move of its own will.  Every time its movement was the same: it would turn its countenance toward me, and stare.  And then, with the object of its chilling regard in view, it would smile.

But I the fear that is in me now is not of old coats transforming their dimly imagined selves into sepulchral phantasms.  It is, instead, the memory of the night I awoke, certain as I was born that they were in the closet, and they were angry.  I had brought them in, for reasons that now I do not understand; I guess that maybe it was morbid fascination, the tiny thrill of alarm that strikes as a faint echo of ecstatic communion when encountering something dangerous, surviving a car accident, touching one of them along its ridged belly.  Maybe for the same reason, they had slept as icons pinned to my wall for many years prior; the rare nights my brother made use of my quarters when I was away, he would remove them or cover them with thick fabric, so as not to have their twisted shapes stare down on him.  Perhaps he feared them as I did that rack of coats; perhaps he feared that they might smile.

But that night I awoke afraid, for I realized it had been many months since they had become my friends in the dark.  And in those many months, they had been hungry.  Perhaps instead of breeding, they had turned on each other one by one.  And now perhaps one, victorious champion, lay with all its meditations set on what lay beyond the confines of the world in which it resided, the bag, the box in which it had found itself transported from the world of its own habitat to the inner realm of endless night.

I was afraid because I knew then how weak my craft was, for whatever it (and any brothers and sisters it might have consumed) had been placed in was surely too weak to hold it.  I had brought it in—if indeed I did bring it in, on this point my mind is hazy.  If this is indeed merely nightly ghast or the remnants of a sordid dream, then perhaps I relate not the genesis of the fear, but rather the birth of a personal mythology—and my skill at containing its horror was not great.  It was only a matter of time before this hoary champion stirred itself to loose its bonds, to walk again on legs that would carry it out of bondage in vengeance against its neglectful master.

I have said, quite carefully, that the fear is not purely of them.  I believe now, as I sit by my window writing these words with the daylight stirring itself and the birds chirping, that indeed this dread that inhabited my body not an hour ago is based on a misremembered dream.  I never really did bring them into my house—what a fool thing to do!  I merely dreamed I did, and on the night of that same dream I awoke in terror, feeling that I had done the deed months ago and now the god I ignored was ready to move against me.  I say, rather, that the fear is of the memory of that first morning when all these fearsome thoughts first rose within me.  I fear this memory, for I have moved many times since that gruesome birth, and yet still its placental wrappings enter my mind at odd hours.  Eleven times have I gathered boxes in hand and moved my household since the day I awoke with this fear, and yet now it gathers within me again.

The fear has left me now.  I must admit, I feel silly to have even felt the need to write any of it down.  But still…but still I wonder what it is I must have done, to have dreamt so great a terror, and a part of me still wonders if it was dreamt at all.  I have not, after all, ever really developed the courage to explore that closet to my satisfaction.  Perhaps in it there really is a bag filled with skeletal nightmares and several pounds of flesh-become-dust.  Or perhaps there are only portfolios of memories, reminders of a long time ago, photographs of what life was like before I dreamed their existence into my being.

Skip The Chinese Take-Out

I thought I would post the recipe for the egg drop soup I made the other day, mainly because I absolutely loved it. I used as a model the soup recipes that Mike posted in the comments, from Mark Bittman’s work at the NYT.  I’m going to briefly describe it here, in my own words so as to avoid copyright or some weird thing like that, and I’ve also done a few changes to impact flavor and protein content.  I also hope my description of the process of cooking the recipe will help you avoid some of the little paranoias I had while preparing it, especially related to whether I had the right ingredients and whether the broth was the right color.

I would also add, those recipes from the NYT all work together, and from the description of the recipe I’m making one could make two more soups just by slightly altering the procedure — so check out that link!  I also added a “final touch” that really, in my estimation, took the soup from good to great.

Egg drop soup has always been one of those mysterious things that you get at Chinese restaurants, and while it’s usually good, it’s also usually quite brothy, fairly low on actual egg content, and definitely an appetizer.  This recipe, by contrast, is much more geared towards providing a full dinner, especially if served with some fresh raw or roasted veggies.

Ingredients:

2 carrots

2 celery ribs

2 onions (I used just one because I didn’t have two, but think two would give the broth even more flavor)

10 button mushrooms

1 potato

fresh parsley

1 block firm/extra firm tofu, cubed (1/2″ cubes)

1/2 oz. dried poncini (optional)

4 eggs, beaten

1/4 cup chopped scallions, plus some for garnish

1 T soy sauce

1 T sesame oil

1 lemon

Make a mirepoix (a mixture of approximately equal chopped celery, carrots, and onions) and toss into about 8 cups of water in a medium stock pot or large saucepan.  Chop and add a potato (I used two very small potatoes, one russet and one yukon gold, and would suggest this as the normal baking potatoes are very starchy), a generous amount of parsley (Bittman suggests 10 sprigs) and slice and add the button mushrooms.  Bittman suggests adding some dried poncini, but I didn’t have any and it was fine.  Salt and pepper the water (be generous with the salt, but don’t go overboard.  The soy sauce will add some salt later, and the “final touch” that should unite everything and really cut down on the amount of salt you’ll need).

Put the oven burner on high heat, and once the water boils, reduce heat to a simmer, stir well, and cover.  Allow to simmer for thirty minutes (or more, depends on how hungry you are).  When the veggies are soft, strain out the broth.  I strained several times for a more “consomme” style broth.  You might want to set aside the vegetables for another use; they could be mixed with store-bought vegetable stock and lentils, for instance, for another soup later in the week.

At this point, you will notice the broth is the normal brown of a good vegetable stock.  While it is true that egg drop soup is normally a very clear color, don’t worry about it at all.

Before you start reheating, throw in the tofu (this will give the soup an extra protein kick, especially if you’re using this as a full-meal kind of soup, and provide some textural contrast to the finished product).  Taste the broth to be sure it’s salted enough, but again, remember that the soy sauce and the “final touch” will make up for some of the salt, so don’t go overboard!  (I didn’t do this, but I am thinking that if you want to throw in just a few — maybe two — VERY thinly sliced mushrooms at this point, it would be a nice addition to the soup.)  Also, before you start reheating, be sure your chopped scallions are ready, you won’t want to get to the point where you add them and realize they aren’t chopped yet, as time will be pressing.

At this point, I added the sesame oil and the soy sauce.  Bittman suggests waiting until after the next step, but honestly, I didn’t like that idea and this worked fine.

Once everything is chopped, your egg is beaten, and you are feeling confident and in a winning mood, turn the burner to high heat and boil the strained stock.  Once you reach a good boil, reduce heat to a simmer and begin SLOWLY pouring in the eggs (use a measuring cup with a spout for the easiest pour).  Keep in mind that, at this stage, the slow pour and the stirring means your simmering temperature will be a bit higher than it was when you were making the stock.  Stir constantly as you pour to break up the eggs.  You will notice that the broth will lighten significantly in this step, becoming the lighter yellow color associated with classical egg drop soups.

Once the eggs are poured and the broth has cooked them for 1-2 minutes, stir in 1/4 cups of chopped scallions.  You are now ready to serve!

The “final touch” is easy to add, and I highly recommend it.  I had a small bowl with the touch and a small bowl without, and the difference between the two is pronounced.  After preparing a bowl, grab a zester (if you don’t have one, you can substitute a cheese grater or even a fork) and zest a little bit of lemon peel directly into the bowl.  As with all zesting, avoid cutting too deep into the bitter white rind, focusing only on the yellow bits.  This will release essential citrus oils into the soup, giving it a wonderful fragrance and subtle kick to the flavor.  Garnish each bowl with a pinch of your chopped scallions, and enjoy!

Thoughts on something sad

I came across the following post this morning, and it really breaks my heart. In it, “Cop’s Wife” explains the aftermath of a simply beautiful post she made around Halloween, “My Son is Gay.”  The new post, “Epilogue,” is about the way the church preschool where she took her children kicking her out for that post…accusing her of violations of the Eighth Commandment.  I recently preached my first real sermon on the Eighth Commandment.  Doesn’t mean I know everything about it, of course, but enough to know that it sounds like the pastor in this case is misjudging the semantic between the terms “exercising Christian chastisement towards a violater of the eight commandment” and “finding flimsy pretext to abuse a parishioner.”  This is what the pastor did:

The second discussion was a face-to-face meeting during which Squirt was present. I was handed a printout of the church’s response. There had been a meeting with some Elders, and they decided I’d broken the 8th Commandmentand not followed Matthew 18. I was told that some members were worried that I was “promoting gayness.” I don’t even know what that means. The words I had written were not promoting anything other than unconditional love and tolerance. My post was about bullying and how my son was treated. My post was about a 5-year-old child. Pastor said he “tried to be mad at me, but couldn’t.” I didn’t and don’t understand why he would want to be mad at me. Again, Boo’s well-being was not mentioned.

There’s some of this that I won’t touch.  The whole “promoting gayness” thing, well, these folks are wrong and I have no intention of fighting that battle with them.  On this point, what they have to say about gayness I hold as wrong and thoroughly without charity, and with 1 Corinthians 13 as my authority I will interlocute with them on the subject no further.

But what is striking to me is the invocation of Matthew 18.  I assume that the verse the church is considering highly is 6: “‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.”  Which probably means the church thinks that dressing up as a woman will somehow make this child gay, and thus be an occasion for stumbling.

Yet in the post as it was presented, the child came forth with the desire to be Daphne.  The child conceived the idea; and when he had doubts, his mother encouraged him to face the world bravely, and not only that…in so doing she evinced a clear conviction that the world did not have to be a place where children and adults abuse each other for any reason, heaping ridicule on one another, but rather supporting and building each other up.  Such a evidenced faith in what the world can be is, in my mind, a hallmark of what Christians claim the world is, in that it is the end towards which the created community moves.

But I’m getting farther afield than I intended.  The verses the church is presumably citing in defense of its bald-faced abuse miss the beginning of the chapter, 18:1-5:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

The pertinent points are two: a five-year-old boy has chosen to dress up like a woman for Halloween.  What might it be like if, instead of punishing or preventing him, we thought of how we might become LIKE him?  There is a beauty in his act, an innocence of circumscribed and socially-constructed gender roles, to act in this world as if rules of outward form and performance are unimportant and adhere only to the movement of the spirit in the moment.  Would that all God’s children were gifted with such wise innocence!

And the second point is more pertinent: in rejecting this family from their church and thus their church preschool, as the epilogue suggests, this church has willed NOT to welcome this child, or his two siblings.  That’s, on my counts, THREE separate Christs that this church has rejected, if we are to take Matthew 18:5 as seriously as Jesus does.

And so the only question remaining is, how does this pastor sleep at night?

So far, so good

Well, being vegetarian is actually going pretty well. Breakfast has mainly been something like a bagel with peanut butter or cream cheese and/or a banana with peanut butter. I have some oatmeal and got some walnuts to toss in with it, but I haven’t made that yet because I’m often running out the door in the morning.

I also used to hate oranges, namely because peeling them was messy. But I’m starting to really appreciate the process of peeling an orange; especially the ones out of the Grounds of Being fridge. They are always way cold and I like oranges at more room-temperature, so there’s this process of slowly rotating the orange and letting my hands speed up its warming, so by the time it’s done it’s about the time of day that the 6:30 breakfast is done. And the process of peeling and then cleaning an orange of that white stuff takes time and care, and is actually productive in that it gives me something to do with my hands during Schweiker’s lectures, helping me stay more focused on Thomas Aquinas. I believe staying focused on Thomas Aquinas may actually be the final cause of an orange.

Lunches have been mainly boca burgers. It’s nice to have them, because I normally don’t eat lunch, which is actually not a very good thing to do because it messes up your metabolism, according to people I know who know things about this and tell me them. But boca burgers are quick and easy and I get tired of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches after about two days worth of eating them.

I’m planning on making Manda Ratatouille sometime soon, maybe next Saturday. On Thursday was when I had the fish, a really great crab-stuffed sole filet that I had in my freezer, leftover from the stuff my parents sent me for Gandalf Day. I have another one left, I think I’m gonna save it for a night when I feel like eating a more robust meal. And Ruthie and I went out last night to get veggie burritos at this place nearby, where we also talked about if certain people were gay and how BDSM might actually be an example of being actualizing to good. Every once in a while the other people in the burrito place I think overheard us so eventually we left because the dirty looks were unbearable.

And so yeah, it’s gone well so far. Tonight I don’t really know what’s on the menu, but I have some mirepoix that I chopped and set aside a few days ago, so I’m thinking I might take that and make a soup. Or maybe make egg drop soup, but I’d have to go to the store to get some scallions and sesame oil, so…maybe not. I don’t really feel like buying anything right now.

That’s it. Also I have a sermon to write on forgiveness so…gotta do that.

On Plans for Lent

So I figured I would update this blog.

I know, I know, it’s been forever.

But it’s about to be Lent, and I figured, what better way to keep this blog going for a little bit then by logging my particular Lenten fast: vegetarianism.

Not only will this be a place for me to record recipes I like, complain about ones I don’t, and generally keep myself accountable for what I’m planning to do, but I figure I have a number of friends who are interested in veggie-style living who might be able to offer tips, support, recipes, or chiding for that day they saw me ordering a chicken salad sandwich at the Medici.  Because I’m expecting to slip up here and there, but I’m also expecting to work as hard as I can to slip up as little as possible.

I figured I’d also lay out my rules for the fast, so as to have them ready at hand as a way of judging myself against a fair standard, so I don’t change the goalposts as this goes along.  First, I’m not completely taking all meat out of my diet.  I am willing to eat fish, provided I have prepared it myself.  Since these kinds of meat tend to be more expensive, I don’t plan on eating them with much regularity, but they are options.  In addition to normal Lenten practice, which is to break the fast on Sundays, I will allow myself to “cheat” once per week if it’s avoidable, with the caveat that I won’t eat red meat at all even when cheating.  I will eat eggs in moderation.  I will also focus my vegetarianism on actual vegetables, and not simply eat a box of cookies a day.  What would be the point in that?  Finally, I will try to post at least once every few days to upgrade anyone reading on how it’s going.  If I think of more rules, I’ll share them, but I think for now this will be the Rule of Madison for the duration of Lent.

I would also like to add that, while this is partially a self-improvement thing, there’s also some theological reasons for this.  A lot of folks just use Lent as an excuse to get more exercise or cut out soda for a while, and you know, that’s fine by me.  I’d rather you have 40 days out of the week making your life better and your body stronger than not.  But for me, this was partially motivated by theology.

For one thing, animals are creatures of the living God, just like you and me.  They feel pain, and terror.  They have internal lives.  It seems as though cavalierly eating their meat is something that we should worry about.  One may rejoin that we were given dominion over them, yadda yadda Genesis.  But, if you ask me, it’s a pretty pisspoor sovereign who uses their dominion as an excuse to murder their subjects.  And the creation struggles under the weight of the apparatus designed to feed us and sustain us in our first-world comfort.  Meat is a big part of that, and if forty days of going without it can help me bankroll that apparatus a little bit less — and develop strategies that can lessen my support of it in the future — that’s worth doing.  And finally, I believe it is true when we are told that we are Temples of God.  Our bodies — my body — is meant to give some glory for God.  Going without meat will, I hope, serve as a reminder that how I treat my body matters to the God who redeems me, and that She wants me to treat that body with the same respect I would treat any of Her temples.

With that said, I thought I’d share the recipe that I prepared tonight and laid aside for a few meals this week.  While it’s not Ash Wednesday for two more days, it never hurts to practice.  After all, that’s what fasting is — a spiritual practice.

I made this from my friend Jimmy’s recipe.  I made a few changes, but it’s thanks to him.  He probably got it from the internet.

Butternut Squash and Apple “Warm Winter” Soup

1 1/2 – 2 T olive oil

1 medium white onion, minced

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic

1½ pounds peeled and seeded butternut squash, cut into approximately 1x1x1 inch cubes

4 peeled and cored apples; cut into pieces approximately half the size of the butternut squash

1½ cups 1% milk

3 cups reduced-sodium vegetable stock

Salt and pepper to taste

Chop squash and apples, combine, set aside.  Do the same with the ginger and garlic.  Once done, chop the onion finely, mincing in a chopper if possible.

In a large sauce pan or smaller stock pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add minced onion to hot oil and cook about 8 minutes, or until the onion turns a golden color. Add garlic and ginger and cook for about a minute more  more.

Next add the chopped butternut squash and apple; season with a little salt and pepper and give the whole mixture a good stir, being sure to bring the onion from the bottom of the pan to coat the veggies and fruits throughout. Cover, reduce heat to low and allow the chopped produce to release its juice for about 10 minutes.  While the mixture sweats, pour the vegetable stock in a small saucepan over low heat so it’s ready for the next step.

When time has elapsed, pour in the milk and stock, raise the heat to medium-low, and simmer for about 30 minutes, being careful not to reach a rapid boil. When the squash is soft, turn off the heat.  Using a blender, hand-held mixing wand or food processor, blend it to a puree.  (If you lack these tools, a potato masher works great to break everything down, then a few minutes of vigorous whisking will do.  It won’t perfectly puree the mixture, but it will still be a tasty soup!  If you use this method, you might want to leave the heat on low so as not to lose temperature before serving, as it can take a little more time.)

Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve topped with croutons and goat or blue cheese crumbles. Fresh basil or parsley also makes for a good topping.

Serves four to six.