been thinking a lot about walls and bridges this week, because it seems the only thing to do about a wall is to try to build a bridge. something of a wall––a six-foot-three-inch, solid-cedar wall––was dropped into our little world this week. it’s a wall i’d known was coming. a wall i’d been warned was on the wishlist all of three years ago. that’s a lot of breath-holding, spring to fall to summer, again and again and again. but held it i did. savored every drop of sunlight shafting in. counted my blessings in dapplings and plashes of sunshine’s incandescence, delighted in the way the light danced upon the wicker and the shingled walls of the little room we call “the summer house.” stood there just soaking in the breeze.
it’s gone now.
and once i cried (the day i heard it’d been ordered, paid for, and soon to be arriving), once i dried those tears, i did what mightier folk than me have shown me what to do, and how to do it: how to build a bridge. starts with chin up, and turn the better cheek. if a wall was coming and i couldn’t stop it, i pretty much shrugged my shoulders and decided i’d take it like a grownup, take it with as open a heart as i could muster. and i’ve been mustering. all summer we’ve been gardening side by side, my next-door-neighbor friend and i. i dug up all the plants that wouldn’t grow in the dark at my house, and now they’re growing in the light at hers. on her side of the six-foot-three-inch fence.
since i’ve been at this digging thing for a few decades now, i’ve told her the few secrets and wise things i’ve learned the hard way. fact is, she’s smart as a whip and a whip-crack study, figures things out in a flash. and best of all she’s not afraid to get her hands muddy, or to spend a whole darn day on her hands and knees scrubbing. i’d say there’s grown genuine affection in our weeks of garden talk. we’ve sprouted something even a wall can’t eclipse.
and then this week the fence was no longer something i needed to picture in my head; it’s right outside, the whole long stretch of it. i wish it was a picket. i wish it let even a little dab of light through, but it doesn’t.
once the sun slides low, it gets dark out there. the light no longer plays.
so i got to work digging. dug myself a garden plot where before there’d been an isthmus of grassy lawn that stretched without end, it seemed. my old garden––along the western edge, a patch of peonies, an oak leaf hydrangea, some happy happy ferns––it’s pinched and stunted in mid-sentence it seems. things will need to be moved, and the few i moved already, to escape the metal posts being banged into the ground, they seem to have died in protest.
but i’ve a new garden now. one that will catch the morning sun. one i’ll delight in, once it starts to bloom. once the butterflies come in, and the birds nibble at the seed, and the bumblebees imbibe the succulence. and three years ago i bought myself a fantabulous bird house that will rise up on a bird-house post from somewhere in that garden, and it will be the pretty thing my eye is drawn to, the birds are drawn to. and i intend to come to love what i’ll pretend is my cloister garth. my place to soak in the sacred that animates this holy earth.
it’s not the only bridge i had to build this week, which got me to thinking hard about the ways i want to live my life. i will always always try to be the one to turn the other cheek. to search for the glowing heart of humanity –– or do i mean the sacred? the divinity? –– buried deep down inside, in the shadow of whatever hurts and scars have made it hard to see. i turned to thinking about the long line of blessed radicals, even the one whose name has been so deeply abused by so-called christians. i thought about the good samaritan. i thought about gandhi and martin luther king, jr. i thought about how, in the face of hurling hatreds, they listened only to the sound of love. how they always, always chose the bridge, and broke the walls.
what it really means to practice love is to do it when it’s hard. when things you dearly love are being taken away. when ones you love are sometimes even the ones doing the hurting. whatever are the million things that make it hard to muster, to offer, to model, to practice love.
we all need practice. it’s try and try and try again. stumble, skin your knees, and try again. the question is: will we try, or will we walk away, and leave a trail of hurt and hearts that only serve to harden?
and while i was thinking of all that, i stumbled on these words that fell right in line with all my thinking of walls and bridges…
we need a bridge and sometimes we are the bridge. No one I know has escaped troubled waters, rough seas and challenging, scary days. There are times in our lives when we could use a little help, and other times when we are given the chance to be that help for someone else. It really doesn’t matter where you are right now. What matters is that you remember we are stronger together, and taking a hand is just as important as offering one.
what bridges are begging to be built in your world this week? (a question for quiet contemplation….no self-disclosure needed…)
so far i’ve built a path of limestone stepping stones in what’s now a skinny gangway between garage and fence, but it’ll some day have a picket gate, and i plan to line that stretch of fence with avian residences (aka bird houses) and i need to find wee plants that don’t mind growing in the dark. and today, since my page proofs still aren’t here, i’m headed to the nursery to pluck myself some bushes that will bloom in spring and blossom into berries when the autumn comes. and there’s a long list of perennials i’ve always wished i had a place for, and now i do. so my bridge promises delight even in its earliest iterations.
it’s been getting heavier and heavier all week. my heart, that is. the boy i love—or one of ‘em anyway—is heading off again. one last time. to school, that is. we’ll be playing follow-the-leader, interstate-style, this weekend, when he pushes off with a trunk filled to the gills, and i follow not far behind with a wagon equally jammed. i’m enlisted only for my skill at hospital corners (a nurse’s way of tucking in bedsheets), and my knack for stuffing things in the teeny spaces that qualify as dorm-room closets.
all week, amid a blur of other complications, i’ve felt my heart grow heavy with tears not yet spilled. the country roads the whole way home––just me and some fine book on tape––will make for a bucolic sponge for salt-water spillage.
that boy is the best of company, that boy of the very big heart and the disposition best described as super chill, and ever animated. the boy fills this old house, and every heart in it.
so, once he’s left behind, back here at the homestead it’ll feel hollow once again till we get used to the long pauses of silence, till we get used to a room where the door isn’t sealed shut to hide the disarray inside.
a wise someone once told me that if i thought high school blurred by in a blink, i’d find college blurred in half a blink. and so it is. eight years after dropping off his big brother one last time, it’s time for the caboose to part as well. this is it: the end of tuition checks and dorm vernacular, the end of considering time in back-to-school and semester allotments.
there’s perhaps a better chance that this one will find his way back home, to call sweet chicago the place where he belongs. but till then, nine months will trickle by.
it’s the leave-taking that always bumps me up. the saying goodbye is not my strong suit. my trouble in that department dates back to when i was five and my papa got a big new job in a city far away, and every sunday night for the rest of a school year, he slid behind the wheel of his turquoise ford falcon and headed down the drive while i sat slumped on the concrete stoop there in the garage. i remember crying till my cheeks hurt. and going to bed with tummy aches. till he came home on friday nights.
nowadays i cry while spritzing the bathroom mirror, and when luring dust bunnies out from under the college kid’s bed, once he’s emptied it, once he’s faded into the faraway. then i try to find my way again, to find the joy in silence, in the slower pace with which the fridge and pantry empty, in the fewer loads of laundry. in that bathroom mirror that never splatters.
it’s come and go, all life long. and we’re wise to make the most of those blessed hyphens in between.
in the weeks ahead, i’ll be busy plotting my new cloister garden as a six-foot wall is being erected (straight through a chunk of what had been my garden, and hard up against our once-breezy screened-in summer porch) even as i type. i’m thinking of it as my monastery wall––the cedar barricade shutting out all the troubles of the world. but the thing i’ll miss most is the slant of sunlight at the twilight hour, as the great orb sinks low and the shafts of light get long and longer. it’s a golden glow that makes my summer porch seem gilded with celestial stardust.
and because the last round of page proofs got delayed till next week, i’ll fill my quiet hours with the intense concentration those pages demand. and then it’s off to the printer as i await the day the box of books lands plop on my doorstoop.
cook’s corner: here’s a truly nifty thing i bumped into this week (if meat lovers thrill to find a way to use every bit of the beast, from tongue to tail, then we who love the produce patch thrill just as mightily to find there’s more to the vine than just the fruits!). as one with a plethora of tangled vines, and one who sniffs deeply of my finger tips after plucking my daily tomato harvest, this enlightenment brings double the delight from those vines. and it’s all about the leaves…
How to Cook with Tomato Leaves
Tomato leaves contain 2-isobutlythiazole, a compound responsible for the plant’s distinctive aroma. Commercial tomato products, like ketchup, often include an isolated form of that compound to boost fresh tomato flavor.
If you have a garden full of tomatoes, though, you’ve got a great source of 2-isobutlythiazole right in your backyard. Here’s how to use tomato leaves to boost your sauce’s flavor.
1. When you harvest your tomatoes, pluck a handful of leaves from the plant.
2. Toss the leaves into the sauce and steep them for 10 minutes.
3. Remove and discard the leaves.
Taste your sauce, and you’ll find that the tomato flavor has been both heightened and made more complex and earthy.
from poet and pacifist William Stafford, found in his son Kim Stafford’s intimate portrait, Early Morning: Remembering My Father: every day Stafford would write a page in his journal, his response to what he called “the emergency of being alive.”
we are all of us deep in the emergency of our being alive…
a little bit of Buechner, in memory of the blessed man who died at 96 on monday.
a few years back, in 2016 to be precise, i counted a new collection of writings from theologian frederick buechner, with introduction by anne lamott, as one of the best books for the soul that year. his death this week made me pull that review from the shelf, and perhaps it’ll prompt you to pull a bit of buechner from your own bookshelf or that of your nearest library.
Buechner 101: Essays and Sermons by Frederick Buechner
By Carl Frederick Buechner, Introduction by Anne Lamott, Frederick Buechner Center, 170 pages, $15.99
Maybe once a generation, once every few generations, someone is born with gifts literary and sacred, in equal brilliant measure. A translator, perhaps, of the highest calling. One who can at once lift our souls and our sights, by virtue of the rare alchemy of the poetic plus the profound. Therein lies the prophet. Therein lies Frederick Buechner, at 90, one of the greatest living American theologians and writers.
In these collected works, Buechner 101: Essays and Sermons by Frederick Buechner — a table of contents that includes excerpts from his Harvard Divinity School lectures, The Alphabet of Grace; a searing essay on his daughter’s anorexia; a seminary commencement address on the hard truths of pastoring a flock of believers, doubters and everyday sinners — we are introduced to, or immersed in, the depth and breadth of this rare thinker’s literary and soulful gifts.
Anne Lamott, in her introduction, admits to being blown away by Buechner’s capacity “to be both plain and majestic” at once. She ranks him side-by-side C.S. Lewis, then declares, “No one has brought me closer to God than these two men.”
That alone might make you rush to pore over these pages. What I know is that this world sorely needs a prophet who reminds us to not give up our search for holiness amid the noise and hate and madness all around. Buechner, though, says it in words that work as poetry, shimmying through the cracks, burrowing deep within us, reverberating long after the page is turned. He writes: “We must learn to listen to the cock-crows and hammering and tick-tock of our lives for the holy and elusive word that is spoken to us out of their depths. It is the function of all great preaching, I think, and all great art, to sharpen our hearing precisely to that end.”
And it is that very sharpening that we find, paragraph upon paragraph, page after page, in Buechner 101.
two poems worth pressing against your heart…
Once, in the cool blue middle of a lake, up to my neck in that most precious element of all,
I found a pale-gray, curled-upwards pigeon feather floating on the tension of the water
at the very instant when a dragonfly, like a blue-green iridescent bobby pin,
hovered over it, then lit, and rested. That’s all.
I mention this in the same way that I fold the corner of a page
in certain library books, so that the next reader will know
where to look for the good parts.
The moon is full tonight an illustration for sheet music, an image in Matthew Arnold glimmering on the English Channel, or a ghost over a smoldering battlefield in one of the history plays.
It’s as full as it was in that poem by Coleridge where he carries his year-old son into the orchard behind the cottage and turns the baby’s face to the sky to see for the first time the earth’s bright companion, something amazing to make his crying seem small.
And if you wanted to follow this example, tonight would be the night to carry some tiny creature outside and introduce him to the moon.
And if your house has no child, you can always gather into your arms the sleeping infant of yourself, as I have done tonight, and carry him outdoors, all limp in his tattered blanket, making sure to steady his lolling head with the palm of your hand.
And while the wind ruffles the pear trees in the corner of the orchard and dark roses wave against a stone wall, you can turn him on your shoulder and walk in circles on the lawn drunk with the light. You can lift him up into the sky, your eyes nearly as wide as his, as the moon climbs high into the night.
listening nook: because i’ll be coursing through the countryside in my red wagon this weekend, i’m bringing my reading nook on little discs. here’s the stack assembled from the library shelves:
A River Runs Through It, Norman Maclean: i once was graced to work alongside Norman’s son John, a fine fine bespectacled gent with a much quieter, more studious demeanor than many of the newsroom characters. his father’s masterwork stands as one of the great “evocations of nature’s miracles…and a probing of human mysteries.”
The Abundance, Annie Dillard: a landmark collection from the writer i consider my north star.
Five by Fitzgerald, F. Scott Fitzgerald: i’m ever trying to expand and deepen my knowledge of the American canon and F. Scott deserves more of my attention.
Dear Ann, Bobbie Ann Mason: mason, like me, is a kentucky native, so i feel it my native obligation to inhale her prose and her poetic ways of unspooling a story. i read my first bobbie ann mason so long ago, and it’s been ages since, so where better to reacquaint ourselves than the rolling countryside of the heartland we both call home?
Wallflower at the Orgy, Nora Ephron: ephron makes me laugh so hard i’d best keep an eye out for rest stops along the way. en route to one parents’ weekend, we listened to Heart Burn, her tale of woe from her years married to and divorcing from none other than journalistic legend Carl Bernstein. we loved listening so much we were sort of bummed we had to stop the car in ohio, where our kid was a freshman in college, and couldn’t roll along till, say, the atlantic seaboard, where we could have gotten a few more hours of ephron under our belts….
abit more buechner, because there’s never enough:
“What we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are . . . because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier . . . for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own . ”
and with that, this week’s edition of the chair gazette is a wrap. question of the week: how will suck the succulence out of summer’s august sweetness?
carrying a tray of napkins, forks, and knives out to the summer porch the other night, i noticed a silence. a new silence. the cicada, my favorite understory of sound signaling summer starting to close, had gone quiet. instead there were crickets, only crickets, relatively placid compared to the frenetic energies of the cicada, who are mortally pressed for time with only 24 hours to wake, procreate, and succumb.
summer’s waning, i thought. and, darn, i missed the last chirr.
(turns out the day it was quiet was a day less than 80 degrees, and the next day when it warmed up, they were back again. makes the pair of amateur entomologists who dwell in this old house think that maybe the ‘cadas had snuggled under their blankets, put their fiddles and strings in a case, awaiting a day with a little more burn in the air.)
straight off, it made me think of a glorious essay i’d read some months ago about paying exquisite attention, paying such exquisite and fine-grained attention that one is attuned to even the moment the cicadas cease their clattering, silence their love song. i’ve searched and searched all week for that misplaced essay, and can’t find it anywhere (maybe i too should call in the FBI for a search of my basement storage room).
but even without the essay in hand, it still made me pause to think hard about those barely perceptible miracles that constitute the whole of each day. and made me construct my own litany of things worthy of my attentions:
the moment in spring when the grass sheds its winter brown and slips on its verdant green.
the moment the nestling takes flight.
the moment the monarch emerges from his cocoon.
the moment the wedge of moon fades away in the dawn.
what if we were to notice? what if instead of numbly whirring through time we slowed to adagio and drank in even a half (or a teaspoon) of the everyday dose of miracles and wonders? what if even once a day we counted one thing we’d otherwise not see, not hear, not sense? what if we awoke to the mystery that’s animating every minute of every hour, day after day, year upon year?
isn’t to see, isn’t attention, the first step to devotion? wouldn’t our life be infinite unfurling prayer if, as often as we breathe, we were awake to blessing?
have you noticed the day when the tomato turns just the right red for plucking?
have you heard the first or last note of the cardinal at the dawn or at nightfall? the moment when silence gives way to sound, or sound to silence?
have you noticed the firefly turn off its blink for the night?
have you noticed the someone who’s hoping you’ll sit down and listen to one of his or her stories?
the summer is fleeting, it’s begging we notice….
summer dalliance: i’ve a thing for little bouquets; always have (ever since my mama taught me to pick lily of the valley or daffodils for the teacher, wrap them in wet paper towel and then a sheaf of aluminum foil wrapped tight into a baton). i love to pluck blooms from wherever i traipse in the garden or alley, and tuck them loosely into jars or pitchers or wee tiny vases. i find the gatherings of color and form, petal and leaf, tickle my fancy. so i pluck and i tuck with abandon. and then i scatter my abandonments all over the house.
book news: hardest task of the summer for me, far harder than scanning pages for blips and bloops, was sending off queries to authors whose work makes me tremble it’s so dang good. i was instructed to ask these legends to read my book, and send back a few words of kindness, a thing in the book world called “blurbs.” it was an instruction that trembled me. but the task, now completed and turned in to my editor, might have taught me a thing or two about being brave. and the kindness of pure strangers. i can’t pull back the covers on what they wrote (not yet anyway), but i can tell you to whom i will forever be grateful; most especially to: Pádraig Ó Tuama (the poet, peacemaker, and host of Poetry Unbound from OnBeing Studios), Scott Weidensaul (ornithologist and best-selling author of Living on the Wind and, more recently, A World on the Wing), Bill McKibben (environmental activist and legendary author), Rabbi Rami Shapiro (poet and podcast host who wrote skeins of prayer in our synagogue’s prayer book), and Mallory McDuff (another environmental activist and author of Love Your Mother: 50 States, 50 Stories, and 50 Women United for Climate Justice). equally kind, though they wrote back to say their plates were too jammed, include terry tempest williams (brilliant essayist and conservationist), susannah heschel (scholar and daughter of the late great rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel) and margaret renkl (a New York Times columnist who often writes about things i’ve been thinking), belden lane (theology professor emeritus and esteemed author), and fred bahnson (brilliant essayist). a few, who shall remain unnamed, never wrote back. oh well. the kindness of those who did is what will glow into the evermore…..
technically, i’m between rounds of page proofs which gives me time to indulge in my rabbit-hole school of reading, which this week has lured me into the writings and poetries of molly mcCully brown, a brilliant essayist and poet born with cerebral palsy who writes unforgettably about her intractable and ever-changing body, and who makes us think hard of the miracle of mobility, something we might take for granted unless we too were faced with a flight of stairs or an ancient cobblestone lane that kept us from the places we so longed to enter. somehow i’d never before known of sigurd olson, called “one of the great environmentalists of the twentieth century,” who wrote of the boundary waters, the northwoods, and the surrounds of lake superior. he won the john burroughs medal (the most esteemed prize in the world of nature writing) and made me think i just need to read my way through the lifetime list of winners. i’m beginning with The Singing Wilderness, described as the most poetic of his nine published books. on its back cover, it’s described as “an essential antidote to the trials of modern life.”
i find myself dizzy with summery sides from the vegetable patch this summer: corn, tomatoes, cukes, purple onions, frondy fennel (the crunch with a tassle), basil, basil, more basil. doused with vinegars, olivey oil, lemons, limes, oranges, and now a curious new douser: chili crisp, a sauce that’s sweeping the country, straight from the kitchen of Tao Hubi, owner of a popular Guizhou province noodle shop in China, who began selling her famed homemade chili sauce under the name Lao Gan Ma (found at whole foods, and, yes, on amazon). apparently the summer’s salady hit is nothing more complicated than tomatoes tossed with a splash of rice vinegar, a glug of olive oil, a pinch of flaky salt, and a generous spoonful of the magic sauce. it’s the gist of height-of-august deliciousness. and it’s calledchili crisp tomato salad.
here’s an amazing twist on plain old green beans…
Side of Beans (Green):
from The Cordony Kitchen (Amanda Cordony is an Australian food stylist and recipe inventor, and she’s amazing!)Cook time: 4 mins | Prep time: 5 mins | Serves: 3 (as a side)
Ingredients 2/3 cup green beans – top and tailed 3 Tbsp + 1 tsp. olive oil 2 garlic cloves – minced 1 orange – zest and juice 1/4 cup of raw almonds – roughly chopped pinch of chili flakes
Garnish: Mint leaves, olive oil
Method. 1. Get a frying pan on medium to high heat with olive oil. Place your beans, garlic, orange zest, orange juice and sea salt. Stir for 2 minutes. 2. Take off the heat and sprinkle in the almonds and chili flakes. 3. Serve and add mint leaves, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
so those are the curiosities of the week, as i get back to proofing later this morning. thanks for indulging my gazetteian tendencies these past few friday mornings. i believe only one more week and then i send off the proofs to the printing presses, where they will whir off the presses and onto real pages….
what are the curiosities and wonders that strike you at august’s peak? and what will you notice that you’d otherwise miss?
p.s. happy height-of-august birthday to our very own hardshell aficionado and keeper of wisdoms, karen the wonder woman, whose birthday is any day now, though i don’t know which….
in which we continue in gazette-ian style, with bitlets and chunks from the week that’s just whirled by…..(as i roll toward end-of-summer editing deadline, the gazette affords the chance to gather up bits in between long hours of proofing pages and rethinking the occasional passage. the other big job of the summer is sending off queries to authors whose works are the high bars i reach for, including unproofed copies of the manuscript, humbly asking if they’d be willing to, ahem, read the whole darn thing and send along a few words, aka “blurb” the book. it’s a task that makes me tremble, but a dear friend reminded me to channel eleanor roosevelt, she who implored that we do something each day that scares us. and so i’ve been eleanoring. results: forthwith. but for now, a few bits from the week…)
if one’s farmer plot is in any way a mirror of one’s soul, i’m in trouble. my tomatoes are tangled with my cukes, all of which have invaded the raspberries. the thyme has up and died. and the dill is dangling on what’s left of a skeletal spine. you know it’s bad when a friendly neighbor who regularly ambles down the alley inquires if she might apply her know-how to your tangled mess. that’s how it is here in suburbia: even your back plot is subject to scrutiny. you can’t hide your agrarian mishaps under a cloak of anonymity, and you sure can’t pretend the plot is not yours. all of which has prompted me to clean things up out there, save what i can, and assuage my ignominy. i suppose i could chalk it up to occupational hazard, one that comes from stuffing your nose in a book––especially a book of your very own making––rather than digging into nightly rounds with clipper and twine.
it might just be that we’ve slammed smackdab into the dervish days of summer, when the heat is on high and the humidity’s higher. maybe the thrill of new growth has expired, and i let too much slide. or maybe the vines had a mind of their own, stayed up late in the night scheming how to outrun me.
the worst problem is that for all their tangled overabundance they’ve overlooked their original job: they’re flunking the fattening drills, wherein those delicious tomatoey energies plump up the wee little orbs that, according to instructions, are supposed to turn from green to amber to red. and plumpen all the while. instead, i have clusters of nouvelle orbs, orbs the size of a miniature overpriced grape, when what’s intended is a candyland red (a proliferous cherry tomato) to pizazz your whole mouth. or a cherokee carbon (an heirloom slicing tomato) a good knife might sink into.
i suppose the lesson my old plot is teaching this month is one that comes with double dose of humility. daren’t think that any old soul can muscle a trowel into earth, and make fruitful abundance appear. seems i should have gotten to work earlier on, nipping and pruning my runaway vines. perhaps it was a latent stinginess that kept me from cutting; not realizing the ancient truth that less almost always leads to more….
no matter the original sin; looks like i’ll mostly be bulking up on tomatoes the time-tested way: standing in line at the real-farmer’s market. where those who tend this blessed earth know bible and verse how to get vines to behave.
in the meantime, my scant bits of herbs are being put to work morning, noon, and night in a panoply of summery sides. see below for the latest iteration of cooking with mint.
when commonplacing is a way of being…
it’s a habit i can’t seem to curtail: an insatiable appetite for spotting and plucking fine little bits––poetries, wisdoms, epiphanies. as if a schoolgirl equipped with bottle of glue––might you remember those glorious clear glass bottles of amber-hued glue, with the pig snout of a pink-rubber slit-top through which the amber glue oozed?––i snip and i paste into my virtual scrap book, endlessly turning and filling the pages.
here are just a few of the snippets i’ve gathered this week:
from Karen Armstrong’s, The Case for God: Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” (as he explained to the court that condemned him to death) Plato’s Apology (i like knowing that no less than the old philosopher ordered us to pay close attention.) — “Socrates once said that, like his mother, he was a midwife whose task was to help the interlocutor engender a new self.” Plato, Theaetetus — Buddha to curious Brahmin priest (at end of Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God): “Remember me as the one who is awake.” –– Thoreau’s journal, August 6, 1853 “Do not the flowers of August and September generally resemble suns and stars?—sunflowers and asters and the single flowers of the golden rod.”
this week’s reading:
finished karen armstrong’s The Case for God; started The History of God, but switched to Joseph Campbell when my brother told me he was reading Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine (on order from my friendly librarians). whilst i wait, i’m diving into campbell’s Thou Art That: Transforming the Religious Metaphor. i find it an especially lovely thing to read in tandem with someone you love. and reading alongside my brother david is an act of pure love. he has one of the deepest classical bookshelves i’ve ever known, a harvest from his years working with a rare book collector. a beloved cousin sent a magnificent copy of james farrell’s Studs Lonigan, and it’s about time i commit a few of those lines to memory. recounting the tales of a south side irish punk, it’s a book whose every sentence i can hear oozing through the faint brogue of this beloved and quixotic cousin. and for dessert, i’m indulging in all the john burroughs i can get my hands on; Signs & Seasons, and The Gospel of Nature, is where this latest trail of burroughs begins….
Smoky Eggplant Salad With Yogurt and Mint By David Tanis, NYT YIELD 6 to 8 servings
sumptuous is the word that comes to mind for this. i was intrigued by the smokiness, and the joy of spinning an orb of eggplant atop the flame. i made it for Shabbat a few weeks ago, on a night when i was grilling salmon (we have fish for almost every Shabbat, a testament to our Jewish Catholicism, or would it be our Catholic Judaism?) and i swore i almost levitated off my chair. i happened to have a years old bottle of pomegranate molasses in the fridge, and thank heaven the label specifically assured “will keep almost indefinitely in the fridge.” i took my molasses at its word. could not be easier. nor more delicious.
INGREDIENTS 2 pounds medium-size eggplants 1 teaspoon kosher salt 3 garlic cloves, minced 2 tablespoons lemon juice 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish 1⁄2 cup plain yogurt (i used nonfat, cuz that’s how i am and that’s what i had) 1 teaspoon crumbled dried mint (i used fresh) 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses, optional 1 tablespoon roughly chopped mint, for garnish 1 tablespoon roughly chopped parsley, for garnish Red pepper flakes, for garnish
PREPARATION Step 1 Put the whole eggplants on a barbecue grate over hot coals. Turning frequently, cook until the skin is completely blackened and charred and eggplants begin to soften and collapse, about 10 minutes. Alternatively cook them directly on a stovetop burner or under the broiler. Set aside to cool.
Step 2 Cut eggplants in quarters top to bottom and carefully separate the flesh from the skin with a spoon or paring knife. Discard the charred skin. Chop flesh roughly with a large knife or in a food processor and put it in a fine-meshed sieve to drain excess liquid.
Step 3 Transfer eggplants to a mixing bowl. Add salt, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, yogurt and dried mint. Mix well, then set aside to rest for a few minutes. Check seasoning and adjust.
Step 4 Put mixture in a low serving bowl. Drizzle with pomegranate molasses, if using, and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle with chopped mint and parsley and a pinch of red pepper flakes.
and that, dear friends, is the jumble of the week. is summer running away from you? how are you trying to catch it??
at our house, summer’s runaway is punctuated by the rat-a-tat-tat of early-august birthdays all strung in a row: my long-gone dad; my beloved brother; sweet blair; and teddy who turns 21 on monday. how in heaven’s name did that happen, the joy of my heart, the answer to my wildest prayers, for all of these heavenly years??? happy birthday, all you beautiful souls. xoxoxox