Thoughts on Literature, Food, Faith and the Subversive Power of Living Small

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Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel
In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner
Fools Crow by James Welch
What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt

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Weird but good. But mostly weird.
I had a lot of leftover chicken from The Week of Roasted Chickens, and it was all breast meat, which can be tricky to work with as leftovers because it gets dry and stringy and horrible. So last night, while gazing aimlessly into the fridge trying to decide what to do with said chicken, I noticed that little tub of Thai Green Curry Paste that I don't think I've ever cooked with. I've used the red curry paste several times, but not the green. It was cold and rainy here and Thai curry sounded good. So, I sauteed some shallots, skimmed the solid stuff off the top of the coconut milk and fried the green curry paste until everything started to separate. So far, so good. I added a big squirt of fish sauce, and some dark brown sugar, and the coconut milk, then dumped in the leftover chicken to simmer. It needed vegetables though -- I had some frozen peas, and some baby carrots, which I threw in, then I chopped up a bunch of scallions and searched the fridge fruitlessly for cilantro. I had no cilantro. I had some mint, so I chopped a little of that up. I stirred it all into the curry, and served it on a little rice.
The weird part was that it looked like the inside of a chicken pot pie. But it tasted like Thai curry. It wasn't bad, but the vegetables were wrong, and it wasn't really green but a sort of sickly green-ish color. There's a lot left too. I hate to throw leftovers away, but this one may not make it to another meal.

posted by Charlotte at 4/19/2003 07:50:00 AM


A Buddhist in Catholic Clothing

I went to Good Friday Mass this afternoon in my usual state of bemused and bewildered attendance. As the song says, Here I am Lord. Thing is, I'm not entirely sure why. I'm no longer filled with that blissy joyous heart that characterizes the early years of faith practice. Nor am I cast out into the desert of the dark night of the soul. The best I could come up with as I was driving over there this afternoon is that we are asked to take refuge in the Buddha, the Sangha and the Dharma ... and Catholic Mass is, for better or worse, where I experience the Sangha and the Dharma. (As for the relationship between the Buddha and Jesus, well, that's a different blog entry.) My attitude right now toward my faith seems to be mostly a strong sense that it's important to show up. Here I am Lord.

In general, I'm much more interested in the practice of faith than I am in the object of faith (including doctrinal disputes), and so, Good Friday is a little odd for me, being as it's really all about Jesus sacrificing himself for us. I'm not a very good Christian because I don't actually believe that Jesus is the one and only road to salvation. I'm not so sure I even believe in salvation, in the traditional going-to-heaven sense (I'm enough of a Buddhist to think that being stuck in heaven with my own personality for eternity sounds dreadful). But there's no point in celebrating Easter if you skip Good Friday, and my dark writerly sensibility likes the dark holidays. As I listened to our priest and two older ranchers do the dramatic reading of John's version of the passion story, what struck me today was not the story of Christ's sacrifice, but the righteous vehemence with which the crowd, that is, all of us, demanded Christ's death. We sacrificed him. John's Passion emphasizes the many many times Pilate offered to free Jesus, and his ultimate refusal to carry out the death sentence because he could find no evidence of guilt. Christ was frightening, and the crowd wanted killed that which frightened them. I couldn't help but think of the violence with which many who have advocated peace these past months have been met, the thirst for blood and the righteousness of those who advocated this war. I mean in no way to suggest that Saddaam Hussein was not evil or was in any way Christ-like, but listening to the Passion this afternoon, what struck me was how very often we human beings are wrong about our judgements. How prone we are to lashing out. How easy it is for us to justify violence. How hard it is to be good.

This Good Friday, I'm planning to spend the afternoon rereading Elaine Pagels remarkable book, The Origin of Satan, which traces the evolution of scapegoating those who don't believe in Jesus and branding them as satanic (I hate to think what google searches this entry is going to cough up). On the stereo for this rainy Good Friday afternoon are the following CDs: Johnny Cash's God, Iris Dement's Infamous Angel (what better for Good Friday than "Let the Mystery Be"?), The Roches' fabulous post-9/11 project Zero Church, The Great Aretha Franklin: The First 12 Sides and Odetta: The Best of the Vanguard Years.

As with the precepts, what is important to me about Good Friday, what is important to me about all religious holidays, is that they ask us to look inside our own hearts and confront the hard questions. What would we have done? What have we done?

posted by Charlotte at 4/18/2003 01:21:00 PM


Everybody likes cake.

Another dinner party last night -- our friends Bob and Robin came over to see the new garden. Since my chi is still a little low, I made the same dinner that I cooked for Patrick and the Nice Girlfriend the other night -- but I made a cake. People think making a cake is a really big deal, but it's not. I made the Buttermilk Cocoa Cake out of Laurie Colwin's fabulous book More Home Cooking. It could hardly be easier -- in a bowl you mix together flour, cocoa, sugar, a little salt and baking soda, then add buttermilk (although since I didn't have any buttermilk, I used yogurt and milk mixed together), half a cup of vegetable oil, and some vanilla. Mix, pour into a cake pan, bake for half an hour. This is a great cake because it's not too sweet, and it has a nice cakey texture. I just sprinkled it with some powdered sugar so it looked festive, then served it with local Wilcoxin's Ice Cream, and a little chocolate sauce dribbled over (heat cream in microwave, add chocolate chips, stir until it gets all runny and glossy). Everyone was happy and I felt very Nigella Lawson about it all. Something yummy, that wasn't hard, and made everyone smile.

posted by Charlotte at 4/17/2003 07:26:00 AM


Roast Chicken to Cure the Blues

My darling brother has a new girlfriend, and of course, when you are no longer young, new relationships tend to come with some baggage. The Nice Girlfriend had a tough day yesterday, her baggage was all noisy with her about the fact that she's moving on in life, and she was a little blue. She's also renovating her house, and domestic disarray never helps when feeling blue. Plus, the brother has a cold, and was a little low himself. So late in the afternoon they came over and we sat on the new, comfy outdoor furniture, looking at the beautiful-if-still-empty raised beds, and had a restorative cocktail. Meanwhile, I'd roasted a chicken and some potatoes, and steamed some of the gorgeous big artichokes that have flooded our local market. We sat in the backyard for a while, then came in and ate artichokes, and chicken, and potatoes and salad, with a nice bottle of wine left over from the fiesta the other night, and everything was just a little better. When people are feeling a little blue, there's nothing like a roasted chicken -- so easy (poke holes in lemon, stuff in cavity with some garlic, rub outside with olive oil, salt, pepper and paprika or ancho chili powder, roast at 400 for an hour to an hour and a half). A nice dinner in my yellow kitchen and the world feels slightly less wobbly on its axis.

posted by Charlotte at 4/14/2003 08:42:00 AM


Go read this right now. Jeanne d'Arc at Body and Soul, as usual, says the thing the rest of us have been fuming about. As my friend Bill Campbell, former war photographer says "I've seen African coups run better than this."

posted by Charlotte at 4/13/2003 12:13:00 PM

My acupuncturist diagnosed mental overstimulation. Mental overstimulation that has led to low kindey chi, which leads to dried out ligaments, which, along with the amount of time I spend at the keyboard, led to my hand spazzing out last week. What mental overstimulation? Holding down a full time job, writing a second novel (after being notified last week that the first one is going out of print), doing the reading that's necessary to feed the creative part of the brain that the full-time job tends to deaden in order to write the novel, planning a garden, digging said garden, watching too much CNN and becoming enraged about the war (despite the precepts), and keeping a blog -- what mental overstimulation? However, after a lovely 45 minute nap on the table, while stuck full of needles, I did feel much better and my hands once again have a full range of motion. But in the interest of resting my brain, I've been turning the tv off, not spending so much time on line, and of course, gardening.

The guys came over and built my raised beds yesterday, and they're beautiful! I need to go out to the local nursery and order a truckload of compost (if I can get it) or topsoil (which I'm skeptical about since I have such lovely dirt I don't want to ruin it). By next week I should be able to start putting in cold-weather crops. We all know it will snow again, I have pictures of this house last year when I was buying it with 4 inches of snow in the yard on May 28. But my tomato seedlings are doing quite well under their lights in the basement and my next project is to get the cold frame built -- there are a lot of old storm windows around here, and there's a perfect spot on the south side of the shed.

It's been in the mid-70s here, and everyone has spring fever. I bought some patio furniture (I know it's the antithesis of LivingSmall, but I have to admit a weakness for Target. I got a nice set of outdoor furniture, good design, comfy, not expensive), and hung my little lanterns from Ikea in the apple trees. And last night I had the first summer dinner party -- six of us, drinks and appetizers outside, and then it got a little dark so we all squeezed into my kitchen for dinner. The food was good (although we had to eat in courses since I undercooked the steak and it had to go back under the broiler), the company was terrific, and our friend Margie who doesn't drink anymore brought a great bottle of wine for the rest of us.

posted by Charlotte at 4/13/2003 11:52:00 AM


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