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The Marigold Terrace Is In

Signet marigolds; mine are the same color and shape but bigger.

Yesterday was a glorious day weather-wise, so I went down to Murphy’s and bought the last big haul of supplies for this year’s garden. For $50 I came home with impatiens, spike plants, broccoli, cabbage, a flat of strawberries and another of marigolds, as well as 200 pounds of topsoil. (You might be surprised how far that much dirt does not go.)

I still have to get begonias and geraniums for the planters on my deck, but I’m really trying not to let my eyes get too big for my stomach. Ditto for my first trip of the season to the farmers’ market in West Lafayette, where I mostly bought breads and frozen meats.

There are times, later in the season when the produce really starts rolling in, when I’ll buy anything that looks good to me, regardless of how much I’ve already bought or whether I even know how to cook it. It’s not good to waste your money when you haven’t very much to start with. But fresh-from-the-garden produce can be so attractive, and I’m so eager to support the growers, that I sometimes make bad decisions. I’m trying to do better this year. I brought home an apple cinnamon danish from Klein Brot Haus in Brookston (“named Indiana’s Best Bakery”) and a loaf of “country French” bread from a Great Harvest franchise. The danish is over half gone and I’m eating my second sample of the bread right now.

I’m also a sucker for a friendly, outgoing vendor. They can’t sell me something I have no interest in, but a good attitude goes a long way at a farmers’ market. Not all the vendors have one; the young woman at Great Harvest was memorably warm and helpful. Unfortunately it turns out the owners are retired after 19 years with the Campus Crusade for Christ, which hates and persecutes Gay people, so I won’t buy from them again no matter how bright their smiles.

I bought my lamb chops from a farmer in Mt. Gilboa, which he said is in Benton County just south of me. I’m a native of this place and I’ve never heard of Mt. Gilboa, but a very detailed local map shows it’s not a town, it’s a hill (830 feet). Hills here are so few you’d think I’d know exactly where it was. Anyway he bought the sheep from someone else and “finished” them on grass, the right way. Had ’em butchered, wrapped and frozen at the Brook Locker Plant ten miles from my house; you can’t get more “locavore” than these lamb chops. I’m having them for dinner tomorrow night, after marinating in EVOO, lemon, curry, garlic and my own fresh oregano, parsley and tarragon.

I also bought bacon and a chuck roast from This Old Farm in Darlington, Indiana, south of Lafayette. You really should check out their website if you’re into Community Supported Agriculture. Erick and Jessica Smith, the owners, specialize in meats and eggs, but they’re also part of a 20-farm co-op of vegetable growers so together they can get almost anything. Jessica was working the booth this week and explained that I should expect a lot less marbling (fat) in my grass-fed chuck roast than I’m used to when buying commercial meat that’s pumped with chemicals to fatten up faster. I’m looking forward to unwrapping the roast, cooking it up and seeing if it tastes any different. I sure won’t miss the fat in the beef stew I’m planning on; I spend 20 minutes trimming all the fat out of a commercial chuck roast.

The other interesting thing about the Smiths of This Old Farm, besides all the awards and grants they’re winning lately because of their innovative methods, is that they’ve bought their own butchering plant in nearby Colfax so they’ll always have a safe, reliable outlet for processing—a crucial step for buying local meats. It doesn’t matter how many cute little piggies, cows and sheep are grazing in the field as you drive by if there’s no one local to process it. You can buy a side of beef or half a hog from the Smiths and have it cut to order. They also grow and sell chicken and turkey.

(In my forthcoming novel, young John Wesley Kessler aspires to run a similar operation. You can read it in progress here; adults only.)

Now for the marigolds! I live on a street where our backyards tend to flood. The land drops over a foot from the alley behind me to the street surface where the houses sit. A previous owner used gravel fill to create a terrace effect; I am reclaiming the area next to the alley as my vegetable garden, while a step below that has a semi-circle surrounding a young maple, with another 18-inch semi-circle below that. That’s where I put marigolds every year. This afternoon I got the last of them in, with 8 leftovers in a small bed under the window in my back entry, 36 marigolds in all.

That little bed under the window is the only place where my soil turns from loam to mostly sand and clay. I’m also nursing a day-lily back there, and the dill I planted last year is finally coming up, with half a dozen 8-inch fronds scattered about. Dill likes to spread, but it’s a lot later to arrive than my chives, oregano and tarragon. (The latter is taking over again as usual.) The chives are flowering already, so each time I pass by I pull off a handful.

Later this afternoon a cold front started through, so I didn’t work as late as I might have; Joshua does not do cold. It’s 53º now on the way down to 42 tonight. But I did get started with a long-desired project, putting lily-of-the-valley underneath my giant old maple in the back yard. Last fall I planted a dozen bulbs, but they didn’t do anything this spring, so at the farmers’ market I bought a big pot of them from a philanthropic sorority in Fowler. These ladies dig up surplus plants from their yard and sell them for five bucks. Lilies-of-the-valley like shade, and grass won’t grow under that tree (though weeds do). The pot turned out to be completely root-bound, so I had to take a knife and cut a few shoots at a time to plant them. I love lily-of-the-valley; it blooms in May (unless it’s root-bound, ladies), these gorgeous little Martha Washington hats that smell divine for being so tiny. My grandmother used to have them and I’ve loved them since childhood. I hope to get the rest of them in this weekend, then make up my hanging impatiens baskets and planters for the side porch.

Meanwhile the azaleas are in full bloom and the peonies are coming on early. It’s been a good year here so far; today I churned my compost heap and set my first symbolic handful at the base of a tomato plant. It’s good stuff.++

Martha Washington hats

Home Parish: Full House for Easter 2010

St. John's, Lafayette, Indiana, built in 1858. Nice view of the stoplights.

I did something fairly miraculous yesterday to finish up Lent and start celebrating Easter; I got up and went to church, 50 miles away on the other side of the international date line. (Actually, it’s just a time zone, Central to Eastern, but that invisible line makes it feel like the other one.)

I got up at 7 to make it to church at 10:15. It wasn’t too difficult, but since it takes three hours of prep time I don’t do it often.

I got there with a few minutes to spare and had to park farther away than usual, almost two blocks. I wasn’t surprised; we’re across the street from a big Methodist church and right next door to a big Disciples one. I stepped inside our door; the nave was pretty full and more people were coming. I stepped over a few folks and took a spot. Michael, the music director, had already started the organ prelude.

Soon we were singing “Jesus Christ Is Ris’n Today,” ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-lay-ay-lu-oo-yah. It’s one of my favorites, and also the one I picked for my Daily Office website (which is here). Besides the organ we had a brass quartet blasting away from a corner up front.

This was the third service of Easter, if you count the Vigil Saturday night at our student parish on the West Side (and you should). So having a full house was a pretty good deal, even if some of us came out like I did partly because of that brass band. The Final Four was on that night, Butler vs. Michigan State, and I wasn’t thinking holy thoughts, I was yelling and clapping for Butler. (They won!)

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat that far back in my parish church; I got a better look than I’ve had in years at the oldest stained glass window on the east side, which kind of stands out like a sore thumb, greens and golds, a plain Victorian angel, while all the others are blue, red and white, much more beautiful to my eye. The red and gold Resurrection window on the opposite side makes a good visual transition perhaps for the better windows toward the altar. It’s a fairly Protestant building (and parish); up front, behind the altar, is a Caucasian Jesus window flanked by Eucharistic side lights. At any rate, it’s home.

The priest for youth and young adult ministries celebrated; she sang well and I’m getting used to her. The first time I heard her sing was an unfortunately jarring experience for me, for no better reason than I grew up there and had never experienced a woman at the altar, though I’ve happily worshiped with female celebrants dozens of times elsewhere. That discombobulation taught me that I, too, have trouble with change at home, though I actively try to cause it for everyone else. Silly! I was glad I could just relax and enjoy it all.

The processional crosses were decorated with flowers, and I wanted to tell the acolytes, “Do you know that 40 years ago I did the same thing you’re doing?” Fortunately I did not give in to the impulse; whatever would they have said in reply? I was happy to see the old tools still in use.

One of the pews up front has been cut in half to accomodate wheelchairs and a piano; they did a nice job of sawing and refinishing. A few panels by the ceiling have been painted blue and edged with gilt; they look nice. An old familiar water spot above the chancel has been repaired, and the wooden beams now have tension cables to hold them in place to relieve pressure on the walls.

All these are the rector’s doing; so, for that matter, is the full house. (Doubtless the youth and young adult minister has a lot to do with it too, but he hired her.) I’m very grateful, after all The Church has been through these last few decades, to find St. John’s a viable, vibrant parish. I bet we had 30 kids on the Easter egg hunt after mass; I wonder how he did all this, considering that I don’t much care for the man.

I won’t trouble you with why, but he’s done me wrong a time or two, so when I return infrequently to the old home place I’ve always got a mixed feeling.

He preached today, a bit more rambling than usual, longer probably than most people wanted; but that’s Fr. Ed doing his thing. I usually enjoy his sermons, which are always extemporaneous but well prepared. So what if he doesn’t know when to quit? Such things happen in family life and you learn to not sweat the small stuff.

With the big stuff he’s done very well. The church is full, the physical plant (though always needing more) is sound and far more usable than when I was a kid, and the parish is healthy. What more can you ask of a priest?

I’ll be glad when he retires in a year or two (he’s been here almost 25), but I have to admit we are forward looking and that is great news.

The demographic changes in the congregation are subtle but noticeable. We have a few more people of color now; didn’t used to have any. The rich, reactionary snobs have either died or taken their old money somewhere else. We’re more professional class than anything else, and people with less money seem comfortable in their shoes.

People don’t dress up like they used to; children are indulged more and do not get told to sit up straight and pay attention. Certain minor rituals are less observed than before, but there’s also less conformity. I didn’t see any Gay couples this time but we’ve got some. St. John’s is chugging along, not speeding anywhere but not standing still.

The food pantry Ervin Faulkenberry started is still going strong. Thanks be to God and Fr. Ed.

Entrance for the St. John's/LUM food pantry.

We sang good hymns, and I was in decent voice. That’s important to me; I love singing the old stuff. We even closed with an Easter hymn you never hear anymore, “The Strife Is O’er” (Victory), which some people probably think is too militaristic now. But we used to sing it back in the good ol’ daze, and I loved hearing it again. We didn’t have to sing “Hail Thee, Festival Day!” or “Welcome, Happy Morning!” for me to feel at home.

We even got some modified Anglican chant (choir and congregational refrain) for the psalm. I mean, what’s not to like when you’re my age?

I made it through Lent, kept my discipline up, communed with Body and Blood, visited my mother’s spot in the burial garden (which had a plastic Easter egg on top) and ran my finger over her name on the plaque. Then out came a gaggle of kids with baskets and mister, get out the way!

It was a happy morning; everyone was there, even me.

***

On my way home I stopped at the Marsh supermarket in West Lafayette and bought two lamb chops and some sugar snap peas. I’d planned to bake a ham for Easter until I saw the lamb, which I’d much rather have with its Christian overtones. In lieu of hot-cross buns I bought a glazed doughnut and a chocolate Bismarck; enough with the fast already.

The sugar snaps package suggested eating them raw with guacamole, which I happened to have, so I tried it; delicious! The fresh ones don’t need to be cooked at all. But I did buy them as a side dish, so I looked online for recipes. One said to boil them for 10 minutes; why so long, if they’re great uncooked? Another suggested stir-frying for two minutes, and that made more sense to me. I marinated my chops, broiled them and used a little leftover marinade for the stir-fry. Welcome happy evening!

My marinade’s pretty simple; EVOO, lemon juice, oregano, parsley, rosemary, curry powder, S&P. I’ve got plenty of dried oregano from last year’s garden, but wait—I’ve got gorgeous fresh herb growing ten feet away! So out I went with my handy scissors, snip snip. (The rosemary is coming back too but it’s not as far along.) The chops were almost as good as when I grilled some outdoors when Peter and Scott were here last June.

Now, tonight in about five hours, the Butler Bulldogs of Indianapolis will take on the Duke Blue Devils for the National Championship in college basketball. My school Purdue didn’t make it all the way, but another great Indiana school did. I am trying not to pray for Butler to win it, because every Episcopalian knows that God does not care about sports. But now is as good a time as any for the Mighty One to take another whack at a bunch of devils in blue. I mean, punking devils is probably God’s idea of a really fun game.++

Two of these guys are Academic All-Americans.

Indianapolis Chip Dip

Oh. How zesty.

In honor of the New Orleans Saints’ spicy victoire over the bland and tasteless Colts in Super Bowl 44, I humbly offer this little recipe — and a story to go with it.

It is an established fact that my mother could not cook. She was terrible at it, and for two good reasons: when she was a child her father made her get up every morning to make cornbread in an old cast-iron skillet. He didn’t feed his daughter; she fed him because she was a female and he lost his wife in childbirth, when my mother was born. His little girl was apparently supposed to be his substitute wife, because God forbid he should make his own damn cornbread. My mother quickly came to resent this, and my brothers and I never blamed her for it.

The second reason: when I was six, she went away to The Best Pharmacy School in the World™, four long years of terribly demanding study. (Now it’s six.) In the meantime our all-male household learned to slap bologna between two slices of bread and call it supper. When she got back home to our grandparents’ drugstore, she worked 8, 10, 12 hours every day on her feet, and didn’t see why she ought to have to keep on working once she got home. My brothers and I never blamed her for that, either. Who could?

The Bro’s and I all became good cooks, as men ought to be, because there’s not always going to be a woman around to do your bidding. If you’re Gay, there’s never going to be a woman around, so you’d better know the difference between asparagus and an anchovy.

My mother was good with a few dishes; her onion dip, her potato salad—and I’m trying to think whether there was a third one; maybe her fruit salad with the cute little ’60s marshmallows. That was the level she was on foodwise. Couldn’t fry a chicken to save her life. Then there was a dish so notorious that the mere mention of it now provokes groans: hamburger gravy on boiled potatoes, the most ghastly stuff you ever saw. (And saw, and saw, and saw.)

Women have every right to resent cooking. But since they invariably like to eat, the rational ones ought to learn a few recipes, just in case.

NOW IT HAPPENED that while my mother was lousy in the kitchen, she took a bit of interest in cookbooks; in fact, all the ones she bought date back to the first years after her lastborn son went to college. She didn’t have males to press into service anymore. (Not that we ever resented that!) When she died, we found 50 or 60 cookbooks in her kitchen, all © 1970, the year I left home. My brother Steve, who accepted his one-third share of the cookbooks, examined them all to see whether the pages needed cutting. He was certain she’d never cracked them open. He’d turn a page and say, “No ketchup stains here.” He’d turn another one in the casseroles section and declare, “Not even Campbell’s mushroom soup.”

(We all cooked for her when we went back home, and in her later years we teased her without mercy.)

This is a long prologue for announcing that I seem to have made it my mission lately to actually make some of the things in Betty Crocker’s New Cookbook. Page 1, recipe 1, dips.

I have kept this cookbook because in some ways, it’s not bad. It’s terribly out of date, the food has no sophistication whatever, everything is geared to time-saving devices and the TV Dinner Generation; but still, it has some good features, including an herb-and-spice chart on the inside covers that I use today. (The competing Better Homes & Gardens cookbooks, which she also bought, dump MSG in everything.) Betty’s pictures of vegetables are useful and so are the basic preparation hints. Ol’ Betty apparently assumed that young brides didn’t know jack-shit in the kitchen, so she would teach them to be Happy Homemakers. In other words, perfect for my mother—and not bad for a Gay guy just starting out.

I have made four of the dips so far. This adventure did not start out well. Cape Cod Dip calls for an envelope of dry onion soup mix, 2 cups of sour cream and a 7-ounce can of minced clams, drained. The accompanying commentary suggests using thin strips of turnip or zucchini, which it calls “surprises.” Well, yes, it would still be a surprise today to see a turnip on the cocktail table.

Anyway I tried it. The canned minced clams were like eating bits of rubber. Maybe tuna would work but I don’t guarantee it.

Harlequin Dip uses sour cream, mayo, ripe olives, snipped chives, Worcestershire, mustard and a tiny bit of curry powder. Well, do you know how old my mother’s curry powder was? The internet hadn’t been invented; neither had the Zip Code. A&P was still a grocery chain. Streisand was an unknown Jewish girl from New Yawk who could Get It For You Wholesale. Yes, the dip was edible, but why would you bother?

Next came Artichokes with Onion Dip; this I had hopes for, because I’ve eaten real artichokes. This Betty Special called for frozen artichoke hearts, sour cream, mayo and… a tablespoon of dry onion mix. The artichokes were tasteless; the dip was not as bad as feared.

Finally there was Peppered Cheddar Dip: sour cream, a cup of shredded cheddar, 1/4 cup of chopped onion, 3 tablespoons of minced bell pepper, a little salt, some milk, a few drops of hot sauce; refrigerate at least one hour.

Honey, four days wouldn’t give this dip any flavor. The sour cream overwhelms everything and the cheddar is undetectable. I wasted a dollar’s worth of cheese on this thing. (I also didn’t add the milk; the sour cream is plenty runny as it is.)

On future Super Bowl Sundays, to honor Drew Brees and the Saints’ victoire, you might try this, though it will still be bland:

Indianapolis Colts Dip

1 1/2 C sour cream
1/2 C minced onion
1/2 C minced bell pepper
1/2 t. flavored salt (garlic, celery, onion, seasoned, anything with some flavor to it)
1 t hot sauce
and all the dead curry powder in your house

Mix, cover, refrigerate “at least one hour,” and for God’s sake don’t serve it with a freakin’ turnip.++

We Survived 2009

Rabbit stew. Looks almost appealing.

Fifteen months ago my friends and I were wondering if we’d all lose our houses and be living in the woods. Should we get a gun? Who among us knows how to fish? How do you make rabbit stew, anyway? If you bring me a squirrel I can probably fry it up, but no, it won’t taste like chicken.

The stock market lost 37% in 2008. In 2009 it rose 27%, but that’s people’s retirement money and a good chunk of it’s still gone.

A friend of mine sells GM cars; I prayed for him every single day, but somehow he survived. Thank you, President Obama, even as you paid a terrible political price.

We survived 2009!

Tonight, New Year’s Eve, I’m cooking up some red beans and rice, in honor of my dear friends in Louisiana; they’ve survived too, and after Hurricane Katrina, when Phil went missing, every extra year is a blessing. His dad Ervin would probably add some boudin to the dish; it’s a Cajun blood sausage, considered quite the delicacy, but I don’t like it. It’s spicy-hot and I don’t do blood sausage, especially from filthy gas stations outside Grand Mamou. Ervin used to go nuts after that stuff, but I use Polish sausage instead.

Red beans and rice with shrimp, done the right way; stew on top of the rice in a bowl.

In October of ’09 I brought home a little pooch from the Humane Society of Indianapolis. It’s been six weeks now and I think I’ve finally got the hang of toilet training. Despite a few tense moments Luke has been a joy to me; I should have gotten a dog years ago, we could have been together all this time. But I’ll sure take the one I’ve got. Now that I’ve corrected my mistakes he’s corrected his; the stake in the yard with the 30-foot lead has taught him, here’s where you go. Luke to Josh: “Why didn’t you say so?”

He is so cute, so sweet; if only the humans were like that. My favorite behavior of his currently is how he burrows underneath his Purdue blanket, so when he’s in his house, all I can see is a lump of cloth. Somewhere under there is 10 pounds of terrier lost in the folds. He’s also great about eating my leftovers; a dab of chicken or steak here, a ham hock there, some cheesy rice and broccoli—and everything goes better with COTTAGE CHEESE!

We have a routine for treats too; he sits on the throw rug under the sink, I sit on the kitchen steps and put a treat on my knee. He watches, then I say, “Come!” He races over, grabs the treat and takes it back to the rug before he devours it. But wait, there’s more—I’ve got another one in my pocket!

Luke on Day 2 at home.

In 2010 I have work to do; after discussion with my spiritual director Marcia, I’m going to try letting God have much more power in my life. This is a one-month experiment, which I ought to be able to get through; after that we’ll evaluate. The program involves writing some personal prayers that really discuss what’s going on with me, working every day on finishing my new novel about Gay Christian marriage, and spending 20 minutes a day in silent meditation, which I’ve neglected for some time now. I also have some other goals, but they’re not New Year’s resolutions; they’ll take longer to work out, and besides I need an attitude adjustment. At this late date I’m no longer very good at running my own life, so it’s time to let God take the wheel for awhile. Perhaps every serious believer eventually comes to a place like this, but I’m here now, so it’s time to trust more and screw up less.

The beans and rice are about done, so farewell 2009, we survived you. Best wishes to Peter, Leonardo and all of you in 2010; I wish you health, prosperity and a greater awareness of the Ultimate Reality.++

Teaching Children to Lie for TV

LarimerCOSheriffJimAlderden.WillPowersAP.650

Larimer County, Colorado Sheriff Jim Alderden, announcing charges in the “balloon boy” caper. (Will Powers/Associated Press)

Give the “balloon boy” credit. He managed to spill the beans despite being coached by his parents to lie about the “flying saucer” incident on live TV. Speaking of his parents, six-year-old Falcon Heene told Wolf Blitzer on CNN Thursday night, “You guys said that, um, we did this for the show.”

We did this for the show.

Dad was so desperate to have his own reality TV show he taught Falcon and his two older brothers to lie to the entire nation.

And Mom went along with it. Donna Reed, you’re dead, honey. As a doornail.

DonnaReedShow_S1

I guess we should all be glad the kid’s alive and well. I feel sorry, though, for the sheriff and other emergency workers who tried to save a child who was never in danger. “We were very worried that the life of a small child, a 6-year-old child may indeed be in jeopardy,” said Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden.

It was all one big stunt for a TV show, complete with corrupting one’s own children.

The New York Times’ coverage includes these details:

Mr. Heene and his wife have been enmeshed for years in the culture of reality television and self-promotional Web postings. The family appeared twice on the ABC show “Wife Swap,” including as recently as last March. Mr. Heene wanted his own show about his family, and he worked with at least one production company on a proposal. On Friday the cable channel TLC said it had turned down the proposal months ago. He has posted YouTube videos claiming to show proof of life on Mars and asking whether Hillary Rodham Clinton was a “reptilian.”

Last month Mr. Heene signed up for an account on RealityWanted.com, a Web site that connects reality television casting agents and aspiring contestants, according to Mark Yawitz, a co-founder of the site. Mr. Heene had made his profile private, making it impossible to view whether he had submitted his information to agents.

I didn’t know there was a “culture of reality television.” I was unaware of websites that “connect reality television casting agents and aspiring contestants.” Heck, I didn’t even know there were casting agents that promote these people. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, given what happened to Jamie Oliver recently.

Another Times article on a more serious subject, American obesity, followed Oliver, the young British TV chef, who’s gone to one of the fattest cities in the country, Huntington, West Virginia, to try to teach people that simple cooking for one’s family at home is more nutritious and healthful.

The local delicacies in Huntington include a 15-pound hamburger (10 pounds of meat, 5 pounds of bread) and a 1-pound hot dog called the Home Wrecker, at an eatery called Hillbilly Hot Dogs. Here’s what that burger looks like in the kitchen:

(Mark Peterson/The New York Times)

(Mark Peterson/The New York Times)

Oliver learned how to prepare these things, and also found out about infants nursing on Coca-Cola and toddlers with Kool-Aid in their sippy cups. The results of Huntington’s atrocious diet are, of course, epidemic rates of diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. Oliver’s apparently a fairly serious food reformer who doesn’t judge people’s current habits, but tries to educate them in a fun way to expand their current repertoire so they can live longer and better. Of course, he needs TV to reach a mass audience with his “good news.”

Along the way he meets people in Huntington who don’t hear that his topic is food, but “reality TV.” The Times reports:

Oliver arrived at City Hall and disappeared backstage. The auditorium was less than half full, and the front rows were filled with local reporters. Mothers brought young children with an eye toward the camera. One even armed her daughter with an oversize school menu as a visual aid. Another woman seemed to have mistaken scratch cooking for “American Idol” — she raced back and forth, trying to persuade someone, anyone, to ask Oliver to listen to her daughter sing.

As a right-wing columnist used to say when I was growing up, “I fear for the future of the Republic.”

What has gotten into people, that the only thing they care about anymore is being on TV?

Do they lead such meaningless lives that the only solution they can fathom is being rich and famous?

We all know now that you don’t have to be accomplished or talented to be on TV; you can be famous just for being famous. But then what? How can Paris Hilton have a second act in life when she never had a first one? Or substitute Perez Hilton for Paris, it’s the same dif.

I once had a co-worker, a schoolteacher by day and (lazy) social worker by night, who spent most of her spare time reading gossip magazines and websites. She could tell all the latest doings by all these people I’d never heard of. I asked her why celebrity gossip matters to her. Her answer: “It’s fun.” She claimed she didn’t buy all the trashy magazines or devote every waking minute to them, anticipating what normal people would think of this, but the evidence was otherwise. She too is “enmeshed in the culture of reality TV.”

I suppose it’s better than heroin, but no less a waste of time and life. What sort of an education do you suppose she teaches her pupils? She’s not a stupid person, but ugliness like beauty is only skin-deep.

She reminded me of old women I’ve heard about who were so hooked on the Home Shopping Network that when they died, their survivors were faced with mountains of unopened merchandise that “Mom thought she wanted.” How many dozen Veg-a-Matics do you need, lady? I can see buying one Salad Spinner, but not 14 of them.

They were hooked on TV.

My spiritual director says, “We’re all addicted to something,” and I’m sure that’s right. She helps me with my addictions, including reminders not to judge others or myself. The cure really is spiritual, which is why God invented AA. (I maintain it was because God was sick of having another hundred thousand drunks bawling at him every day and night. God came up with AA and told Bill W. about it, because the angels were threatening to go on strike.)

I’m lucky; I haven’t watched television since 1986, when Jack got sick. Coping with major illness in the family means you don’t have time for what you used to do. TV was the easiest thing for me to dump, and I’ve never regretted it. I thank my lucky stars for it, including the $600 I save every year in cable bills. I still own a TV, but I’m thinking of putting it out on the curb.

Now here is this self-proclaimed scientist and inventor, this storm-chaser, so hooked on the idea of being on TV that he teaches his kids to lie for him. I mean, why shouldn’t they be famous? Everyone else is, it’s all anyone aspires to anymore.

O Jesus, come and help us!

Suppose the Heenes’ stunt had worked and they’d gotten a show, become rich and famous instead of infamous? I suppose they’d have laughed all the way to the bank; and yet I don’t like thinking about the pressure that would have put on little Falcon.

What’s on him right now is plenty. What happens when he goes to school tomorrow? What will the other kids say? How will he answer them? Will anyone play with him anymore?

How his teacher handles this will be pretty important; he’s six years old. I’m glad he’s not in the classroom of my former co-worker; she’d probably take his picture and try to sell it to People magazine.

We need to ask ourselves what fame is supposed to cure. It doesn’t seem to make movie stars happy; they simultaneously want to be publicly loved and want to be left alone. (“Oh, those dastardly paparazzi! Be sure to get me from my good side!”)

Serial killers want to be famous; if they can’t be famous for something good, then be famous for something bad. Politicians and pundits want to be famous, and they seem not to care whether they speak the truth or lie through their teeth. (Death panels, Chuck Grassley? You voted for them yourself five years ago!) Would Ann Coulter, Greta Van Susteren and Michelle Malkin be famous if they were ugly? A plain face doesn’t stop male gasbags, but it’s death on females.

If we can’t as a society see through these circuses, we’ll never create a just civilization.

I guess I’m losing my optimism, a year after we elected our Last Best Hope. American culture, though it’s still vibrant and diverse, is now dominated by lying, thieving corporations determined to melt the planet – and they all advertise on TV. The oligarchs are hoping they can make their money, then make their getaway before the whole place blows up. Did you hear, Goldman Sachs is giving out billions in bonuses again, thanks to your tax money?

I’m so glad I don’t have TV. As for Huntington, maybe Jamie Oliver can save a few people. If not, Big Pharma is waiting in the wings. Their lobbyists will be happy to hear your child sing for the cameras, as long as you agree to let them tell you why you can’t live without this nice purple pill.++

A diner at Hillbilly Hot Dog. (Mark Peterson/The New York Times)

A diner at Hillbilly Hot Dog. (Mark Peterson/The New York Times)

Oregano Harvest

Oregano, just picked and laid out. The youngest leaves often have a purple color. Oregano is high in antioxidants and is used for medicinal purposes in many cultures.

Oregano, just picked and laid out. The youngest leaves often have a purple color. Oregano is high in antioxidants and is used for medicinal purposes in many cultures.

It’s that time of year, fall in the Northern Hemisphere; the farmers around my house are out cutting their soybeans, while I’ve started to pick the last of my tarragon and oregano. My house smells lovely.

A month ago I brought in vast quantities of tarragon, mostly out of self-defense; the tarragon plant is huge this year, sprawling over everything else in the herb garden, and even though I have stepping stones out there I couldn’t make my way to the back, where a tomato plant had some ripe fruit I wanted. So I chopped tarragon, rinsed it off and piled it on my dining room table to dry. There’s still plenty more of it out in the garden, but I got four jars of the famous French herb packed up, the last of it cleared away just in time to have a friend over for dinner last week. Julia Child would say I’m rich in tarragon – too rich.

Yesterday I picked a smaller quantity of oregano, especially where it had started to go to flower. First I laid it out on my kitchen counter, but that’s working space, so I moved it onto a cookie sheet and then to the dining room.

If you look online about how to dry oregano you get advice that isn’t very practical; bunch it up, then hang it upside down, put it in paper bags with holes cut out, then hang the bags upside down, which would put the oregano back rightside up; huh? Then let it dry for a month, hanging somewhere. Or you can freeze it with a little olive oil; tastes good when you’re ready to use it, but doesn’t look appealing because the freezing wilts it. Obviously drying it is the most practical thing, which is how most cooks use it. Some people dry it in the oven or even the microwave, which saves time but halfway cooks the herb. So I asked my foodie friend Ed what to do, and I liked his answer: “Throw it on top of the refrigerator and forget about it for a couple of weeks.” Now that’s the Hoosier way!

I have two favorites among the herbs I grow, thyme and chives. Thyme is small and delicate, and last winter I actually ran out of dried thyme, so this year I bought two plants instead of one; thyme’s an annual so you have to replace it every year. I’m eager to get going on the thyme once this batch of oregano is done. Chives, meanwhile, fresh-snipped from the garden, are too fabulous, whether you put them on a baked potato with sour cream, in soups and salads or any other way you use them. They add that extra zing that makes herb gardening so worthwhile.

Last year I grew cilantro, which I really enjoyed; this year I switched to flat-leaf parsley, and it’s good too. I’ve used it fresh a bunch of times, whenever an extra taste of “green” seems to help. And of course when you’re decorating a plate, any bunch of leaves adds visual interest.

Here’s a simple recipe for a vinegrette that uses several of my ingredients. I just made a batch of this, and as I type I’m enjoying a salad. The recipe calls for tarragon vinegar, but the stuff you buy at the store ($3 for 12 oz.) is a waste of money, with almost no tarragon flavor. So make your own. I buy vinegar by the gallon ($2), and the dollar you’ll spend for one tarragon plant (which is perennial, year after year) means just a cup of homemade vinegrette has already paid for itself – no artificial flavors, no preservatives, no xanthan gum, no polysorbate 80.

Josh’s Tarragon Vinegrette

2/3 C olive oil*
1/3 C white vinegar
24 fresh tarragon leaves, chopped
1 1/2 t fresh oregano, chopped (1/2 t dry)
1 1/2 t fresh parsley, chopped (1/2 t dry)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 t salt
1 t dry mustard
1 t paprika
1/4 t fresh-ground pepper

Dump everything into a cruet or lidded glass jar, shake well and let it sit for an hour to blend flavors.

* Soybean oil (“vegetable oil”) is good too, but olive oil tastes better and is three times higher in monounsatured fat – the good kind.

If you’re making a green salad or some soup, whip up a batch of croutons while you’re at it. I guarantee you’ll never waste your cash on those store-bought things again.

Herb-Garlic Croutons

1 T margarine or butter
1 T olive oil
1 slice of bread
1 clove garlic, cut in half
pinch of basil, oregano, thyme or whatever

Heat a small, non-stick frypan on medium-low, melt butter and add olive oil. Sauté garlic for a couple of minutes to release flavor, then discard. (Or substitute a little garlic powder or garlic salt.) Cut up a slice of bread into inch or half-inch cubes. Toast 8-10 minutes, stirring once or twice, sprinkling herbs. Dry croutons on a paper towel. Leftovers will keep for a few days in a plastic bag.

* * *

I’m pleased to report that my composting experiment is turning out well. Both bins have gorgeous-looking black stuff on the bottom, which I occasionally turn with a half-size pitchfork. If everything looks dry I’ll add a cup or two of water. But the holes I drilled in the lids (large plastic bins, 5 bucks each at the discount store) let in the rainwater, so I’ve only watered once. Now that it’s autumn, I’ll fill the bins with fallen leaves and evergreen trimmings, then bring them into the garage for the winter, continuing to add vegetable scraps and coffee grounds from the kitchen. After the spring thaw, I’ll dump one bin into the other and start a fresh round of composting in the empty bin. The finished compost I’ll work into the soil in my back garden, reclaiming that former wasteland so it will grow tomatoes, peppers, strawberries and flowers next year.

Food cooked from scratch tastes better. Cooking with ingredients you grew yourself tastes best of all.++

Oregano&Flowers10.09

UPDATES: It seems the oregano doesn’t take long at all to dry; after just two days I’ve already stripped all but the youngest leaves and filled two jars. Plus I picked all of the thyme yesterday, filled a whole shopping bag and now have a gorgeous mound of this very versatile herb on my kitchen table. No running out of thyme this year.

Now I’m off to make some pumpkin raisin muffins, an ideal breakfast food when you’re on the run. Surely there’s a man out there somewhere who’d beat a path to my door if he knew about my muffins…

The Central Liturgy of Life

Blue Cheese.DavidFankhauserUCClermont

Dr. David Fankhauser, University of Cincinnati Clermont College.

The New York Times has a fantastic article today by Michael Pollan about the decline of cooking—fantastic in its wide range and the memories it conjures up. It’s called “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch,” and discusses Julia Child, the current movie “Julia and Julie,” the rise of the Food Network and the decline of the American diet. I do a lot of scratch cooking, and the article makes me aware of the peculiarities of my personal history, current lifestyle (counter cultural)—and of something he doesn’t mention but all Episcopalians know, the rise in importance since 1979 of the Holy Eucharist, the shared Christian meal, as the central act of worship. Read the article here.

Pollan’s observations help me know what to do with my writing; namely to incorporate more recipes in my fiction and my blogs.

Some of you know that I have struggled for years to produce a sequel to “Murder at Willow Slough.” Novel-writing is usually hard work (though my “University” series came to me in a nine-month ecstasy). In “Slough” I created two men who groove on each other; it ends when they finally get together. But what next?

They fuck, they work, they eat and they sleep. Just like your life, though not necessarily in that order.

The point of the next book is to describe the making of a Gay Christian marriage. One character is secretly in love with God but seldom goes to church, while the other character goes every Sunday but doesn’t have a clue.

What they have in common is The Meal, at home and in the sanctuary.

Do The Meal often enough, and it comes to occupy a central place in your life. As Kent might say, “Ain’t nothin’ better than a good supper.”

Christianity astonishes me in its perfection. Jesus was the smartest guy ever.

“Take, eat, do this in remembrance of me.”

I miss having friends on my porch this summer as I grill out. For the past few years, two of them came every few days; we’d cook and eat and have a great time. But last winter they broke up and we’re all suffering as a result. They are such good guys, but they couldn’t get along, so the breakup was right, but I sure do miss them.

A year or so ago at their house—they’re also good cooks—Scott made a blue cheese spread for our steaks. It was delicious, and I wrote down his recipe. Three nights ago I made my own version of it for a ribeye I cooked all alone. It tasted great but I missed my guys.

In fiction, Jamie can make this for Kent:

Blue Cheese Spread

3 T cream cheese
1 scallion, minced
1 1/2 T blue cheese
1 t lemon juice
1 t Worcestershire sauce
1 garlic clove, minced

Mix all but the blue cheese in a small bowl with a fork. Then add the cheese and stir with a spoon, incorporating but not mashing the blue crumbles. Spread on a medium-rare steak and Enjoy!

In the fictional version Kent’s so sexy that Jamie lets him do whatever he wants. But Kent is smart enough to realize that outside the bedroom, Jamie’s the one who knows how to live. They come up with a very nice way to balance their power, so that no one is diminished and each of them serves the other. That’s how they make their marriage.

Or, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Jamie’s so good in the kitchen that Kent will follow him anywhere, do anything, for any reason.

A cop and a blondboy, a match made in heaven. But pray I can finally pull it off.++

Heartbeat