Thursday, January 30, 2014

From the box to the pot to the bowl...

Recently we subscribed to a CSA (community-supported agriculture) service, one that delivers to our door a box of organically grown vegetables in the wee hours of the morning, in our case every two weeks. This morning I opened the front door to find the second box sitting on the step, full of my favorite kind of goodies. I spent a while thinking about which things to use immediately and which to put away in the fridge - also I had to browse recipes for beech mushrooms, which I found are too bitter to eat raw, and for radishes, which I didn't feel like eating raw.

The two big bunches of broccoli immediately suggested a cream soup, so I worked on that while munching the sweetest Nantes carrots and washing some spinach leaves, which Mr. Glad put into his sandwich at lunchtime. After I poured the soup into a bowl I wanted to sprinkle a few chives on top, so I visited my huge clump next to the patio only to find that they had disappeared in the hard winter we had, and only a few short scapes (I just learned this name for the stems) were venturing forth at so far. I sprinkled some nutmeg instead.

The ingredients in this batch were: broccoli, onions, garlic, butter, chicken broth, black pepper, nutmeg, salt and cream. When the vegetables were tender I put almost everything into the blender, but I kept back some soft chunks for texture. After taking the picture, I ate the bowl of soup, and I'll likely have another tonight for dinner. It might be my favorite way to eat broccoli.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

We walked into a startling trap.

with my firstborn

The supreme adventure is being born. There we do walk suddenly into a splendid and startling trap... When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family we step into a fairy-tale.
--G.K. Chesterton in Heretics

linking up with Weekends with Chesterton

Friday, January 24, 2014

my encounter with Churchill's friend

Almost nine years ago I was in the middle of a Winston Churchill immersion experience, in England with my daughter who is a big fan of the man. We visited the Churchill War Rooms museum in London, his country estate at Chartwell, his birthplace at Blenheim Palace, and his grave.

One of my favorite parts of the museum was a huge collection of quotes, unfortunately displayed in an "interactive" touchscreen format so that I couldn't easily or thoroughly access them, and I didn't have the time to write any down, but the essence of one stuck in my mind the way a tasty seed lodges between the teeth and surprises you later on with its savor. I counted on the trusty Internet to help me find the quote after I returned home.

From London we'd taken a side trip to Chartwell, Churchill's beloved country estate in Kent. We were in his very library, with his own books and furniture. I could just imagine him sitting there enjoying some book that had nothing to do with the government or war; this was the place he came to when he needed to decompress from the strain of his usual days.

from the Internet
I told the docent about the quote I had read the day before, in which Churchill had advised us to think of our books as our friends, and if we couldn't read them all, at least we could take them off the shelves and touch the pages, and perhaps read a line or two. She didn't know of this quote, but it was permitted to handle the books on the library shelves, so I did take one down and try to follow his advice.

It was one of those times when I just want to sit down and be there. I'd have liked to read a few lines from several books, or a chapter from one book, or see how they all were organized.  But I was so nervous about meeting this book friend that I didn't even catch his name. I was trying to keep up a conversation with the docent, and we needed to get through the house to the grounds before the rain started....Now it seems like a fairy story that I was ever there at all.

It's the anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill, Anna reminded me on her blog that is a compilation of "Seven Quick Takes" on him today. I was going to leave a comment on her blog about how I never could find that quote -- and I had tried so hard. But then I thought, it's been a couple of years since I searched; maybe, just maybe if I look again....

And it came up in flash, on Goodreads. One of these experiences that makes you love the Internet.
If you cannot read all your books...fondle them---peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them, at any rate, be your acquaintances.
The last Churchill place we saw was his humble grave not far from Blenheim Palace, at St. Martin's Church, Bladon. It was more humble then than now, as it was renovated in 2006.

Mr. Churchill, I honor you on the day of your death; may you rest in peace. One day I hope to get back and spend an hour soaking up your library and making friends with your books.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Snow and Tears


Seeing the snowman standing all alone
In dusk and cold is more than he can bear.
The small boy weeps to hear the wind prepare
A night of gnashings and enormous moan.
His tearful sight can hardly reach to where
The pale-faced figure with bitumen eyes
Returns him such a God-forsaken stare
As outcast Adam gave to paradise.

The man of snow is, nonetheless, content,
Having no wish to go inside and die.
Still, he is moved to see the youngster cry.
Though frozen water is his element,
He melts enough to drop from one soft eye
A trickle of the purest rain, a tear
For the child at the bright pane surrounded by
Such warmth, such light, such love, and so much fear.

~ Richard Wilbur

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Food for the Poets

The literary-foodie blog Paper and Salt has a newsletter from which I gleaned this tidbit of history: T.S. Eliot's Culinary Weakness: Hot Fudge
In his letters, T. S. Eliot wrote that his favorite food memory was of duck à l'orange, but he didn't dine on fancy French fare around the clock. Sometimes there's only one thing that will hit the spot: a hot fudge sundae. According to his second wife, Valerie, a healthy scoop of vanilla slathered in chocolate sauce made this modernist poet a very happy guy.

If you have doubts that someone who wrote The Wasteland could enjoy the simple pleasures of a sundae, you're not alone. In an interview with The Independent, Valerie recalled Eliot's succinct response to his dessert critics. “He was eating it in a restaurant once and a man opposite said, ‘I can’t understand how a poet like you can eat that stuff.’ Tom, with hardly a pause, said, ‘Ah, but you’re not a poet,’ and went on eating.”

Monday, January 20, 2014

Every branch He prunes.

I traveled over the hill to the nearby monastery one morning last week and pruned roses for three hours. The sisters who came to this place inherited a big garden next to the river, with many plantings they are learning to manage. Sister Xenia is the chief gardener, and she spends a lot of time on the job, but it's not the only task she's assigned, and she appreciates any help outsiders can give.

Frost had to be scraped off my car before I left home. It was still below freezing at that time, and I wore my denim skirt, leggings, work boots and a thick flannel shirt over one of my old turtlenecks. But after I'd arrived and started in with my clippers, it wasn't long before a springtime breeze began to blow.

So many roses! And most of them are not in a location that is good for roses; they are in the shade too much. Each bush was a big challenge to my skill and art, presenting one or more problems including:

1) Too tall and leggy, with no buds down low that my pruning might channel the lifeblood to.

2) Too many large canes and branches crowding each other, so that I had to thin drastically, after deciding based on uncertain parameters which ones to remove.

3) Bushes growing too close to another type of shrub or tree, as in the case of the one pictured, where a Pittosporum has surrounded one tall rosebush.

4) Growing close to the path or over the sidewalk, catching on the sisters' habits or poking passersby.

5) Dead wood

It really was a joy to have quiet time to focus completely on a project like this, and I needed every bit of my mental resources and powers of concentration to do the work. Also my imagination, as I tried to envision what effect my cuts would have on each bush in the next months and even years.

Afterward when I was driving home, I began to ask myself why I hadn't prayed while working, and quickly realized that it had taken every bit of my attention and creativity to do the task set before me. Is it perhaps a little like restoring a painting that has been severely damaged... a little like designing a building that must be raised on top of living ruins?  I wonder that, having no real knowledge of those types of art.

One thing for certain, the glory of this art won't show until after many weeks the plants produce the actual rose flowers. I have just decided that a visit to the monastery is necessary when that brilliance begins, because I've never even seen these bushes in bloom. In the meantime I'm posting some old rose photos from my own parish church grounds, to keep me happily anticipating warmer weather.

At about noon the nuns gather for the 6th Hour prayers, and when the bell rang the announcement I laid down my tools and joined them. There was my chance to pray and soak up the Spirit, and the spirit of the place, and to stand up straight for a while and breathe the incense.

I hadn't pruned all the roses, but I ate lunch with the sisters and went home anyway, meditating on what made the experience so fatiguing. Does it cause God this much trouble to prune us, as the Bible says he does: "Every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. John 15:2" Does He say to Himself, "I did the best I could, under the circumstances."? Maybe we grow all out of shape in odd ways, not getting enough of the Sun of Righteousness.

Speaking of sun, it had brought the temperature up to 79 degrees that afternoon. We are all aching for rain here in the West, as we suffer a terrible drought that makes it hard to enjoy those lovely warm rays. The drought is like a dark un-cloud looming behind the sun. Now that I am invested in a few dozen rosebushes, I am a little concerned that some of them might not make it through a water-rationed cycle of seasons to next January when I will try to get back and minister to them.

As we anticipate a possibly very long dry season, my motherly/sisterly feelings are reaching out to the plants and animals, and I'm praying more intently in Divine Liturgy along with the deacon, "For favorable weather, an abundance of the fruits of the earth, and temperate seasons, let us pray to the Lord."

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Chocolate Carrot Cake

In my vast recipe files I found a recipe for Chocolate Carrot Cake, without a date or URL such as I try to include these days. We were having guests for dinner, and though it was a fasting day I wanted to serve dessert. This cake looked easy enough, so I adjusted some things and was really pleased with the outcome.


 Chocolate Carrot Cake
6 servings

1 1/2 cups finely grated carrots (about 3 medium large)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup coconut oil
1 cup boiling water
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl combine the carrots, sugar, and oil. Pour the boiling water over this mixture.

In a separate bowl, combine the remainder of the ingredients. Add to the carrot mixture and mix well. Pour into a greased 8" square pan. Sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake for 40 minutes.

I tested the cake before our friends arrived, to make sure it was agreeable, and it was so agreeable I tested two more slivers off the edge of the first little square hole I had created. It's nearly as moist as a brownie, and the amount of chocolate seems to compensate for the lack of butter. We aren't big cake-eaters in our family, but Mr. Glad and our guests liked it very much. I will have to call it my best vegan cake so far.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

...even just sleeping in a tree.

This poem I found on the Poetry Foundation site seems to have been written to illustrate the Chesterton quote I put up yesterday.

Everyone Has a House 
What I like about your country
she tells me is the toilets
I wouldn’t mind bringing one home
but it wouldn’t do much good
she says she likes the bathtubs
and the refrigerators
but she is not so crazy
about the tortillas
which are not made properly
or the cilantro which tastes like soap
Also the freeways ruin the landscape
and the children watch television
when they could be playing soccer
and the teenagers stare at their parents
with bare faces that say
give it to me
and the abuelitos are like dogs
to the children
the children walk by with no respect
mangoes here are not so good
not enough rain
and the women here have so many clothes
I think your country has the most wonderful bathrooms
and everyone has a house
although tents would be nicer
I think or boats
or even just sleeping in a tree
My family has a tree
we live under
but the tree has no toilet
I grant you that.

--Kate Gale
 from Fishers of Men. Copyright © 2000 by Kate Gale. Reprinted by permission of Red Hen Press.

Friday, January 17, 2014

It takes wisdom to be content - or discontent.

Comforts that were rare among our forefathers are now multiplied in factories and handed out wholesale; and indeed, nobody nowadays, so long as he is content to go without air, space, quiet, decency and good manners, need be without anything whatever he wants; or at least a reasonably cheap imitation of it.

--G.K. Chesterton in Commonwealth, 1933

I don't know that my comments on this ironic statement can add much, but for my own sake I will think while I type, and ramble as I think. GKC's words startle me out of feeling guilty for complaining about modern life -- after all, "We are so well off!" We have (noisy) leaf blowers so we don't have to spend so much time raking. We can stop for fast food on our mad trips up the interstate, and while we eat off paper plates at dirty tables and lick our fingers we can be thankful we didn't have to go to the trouble of finding a picnic spot by the river.

My first encouragement to question the amassing of things we don't really want was 40 years ago, in the La Leche League's Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. The motive was to help women cultivate a peaceful home in which they would have the time to leisurely nurse their babies; that goal would require sorting out one's priorities concerning what we now call lifestyle choices. Do you really want your tabletop cluttered with knick-knacks, the author wrote, or might you enjoy having clear surfaces that are easier to keep clean and will ultimately be, in their simplicity, more pleasing to the soul?

The whole concept of More With Less has gained ground in the last decades, but Chesterton's words reveal how easy it is to lose, bit by bit, the most valuable and wholesome "comforts" that our poorer forebears had in abundance, and not even notice what we have given in trade. Note that intangibles such as decency and good manners are on the list, to remind us that civilization is more than physical comforts.

The book Margin by Richard Swenson comes to mind here. He writes (first in 1995) about how the  people he doctored in third-world countries were by-and-large happier than the Americans back home, and he analyzes the reasons why. Even without health care and modern technology, they enjoyed several of the things mentioned in the quote, in good measure.

My own life provides the leisure that Josef Pieper calls the Basis of Culture, enough of it that I can take the time to ruminate on several facets of Chesterton's clever jibe. At this stage, for myself, I can't complain. But I pray that I'll always have the wisdom to know what I want and need to go without, for the sake of being content.

 Linking up to Weekends with Chesterton.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

What is this soul, and how does it pass?

Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another. 
--G.K. Chesterton

People who aren't used to thinking in a Chestertonian way may think this statement extravagant, or overly poetic and ephemeral. I forgive them, because they likely are recipients of a societal soul that lacks perspective and understanding. It takes time and tradition to build a healthy society, and the modernists who taught many of us have lost the moorings of our Christian past. Many people don't have a concept of passing something on to their children; they just want them to have a college degree so they can get a Good Job.

I have done most of my growing up in the little society of the family my husband and I created many decades ago, and the culture and nourishment has been good. The word soul didn't come to mind as a descriptor of what we were trying to impart to our children, while we were trying to give them the best nurturing, the best culture for healthy growth, but now that I have for so long been focused on cultivating life in my children and my self, Chesterton's way of describing it seems perfect.

Of course, it's frighteningly full of possibilities. How would you characterize the soul of American society? Or the society of your extended family? Are you in a church that is unified and close-knit enough to constitute a society, and is it one that you can feel good about the next generation continuing? The process that GKC hints at brings to mind images of some ghost-like being floating over the globe, and I wonder how much control I can have over that?

At any rate, this thought makes me gladder than ever that my husband and I were able to homeschool our children for many years, and pass on to them thousands of small bites of hearty soul food. We can't even know for sure which were superfoods and which were maybe just as nourishing, but harder to digest, seeing how God redeems and uses even our failures. But we cooked up the recipe ourselves, in our home kitchen, so to speak, and after all this time, it is still tasting very good.

Sarah at Amongst Lovely Things is hosting a blog event in 2014, Weekends with Chesterton , and you can see more of how various of GKC's ideas stimulate and encourage bloggers by perusing the pages linked from there.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Use your small prayer bucket.

Wikimedia Commons
Any prayer is a gift from God. And we, the weakest, have prayer of the lips. For the time being, we fulfill this, my dear. The well is deep, but the rope is short and the bucket is small… Each one does what he can, just as the bee does not take all the nectar from the flower.

But it is very good if you do a little prayer rule. I know this myself: if I get up and do a little of my rule, it seems as if I am a different man all day long. But if you get up in the morning and you whirl around the house – because you have this and that to do – then your whole day goes poorly. So do a little of your prayer rule every day, like the righteous Job, who offered sacrifice every day for his children in case they had sinned in their thoughts.

~Elder Paisius of Romania