Archives for the month of: August, 2009

was the first rock opera by the Who, clocking in at around 17 minutes. I still know that.

We leave tomorrow around probably 4-4:30, depending on how long it takes our managers to check out the apartment. Then a quick errand or two, and up to Whidbey Island in time for sunset. Camp there overnight, see highlights of Olympic National Park in a whirlwind of whirlwindiness, camp at Rialto Beach, then attempt to drive down the coast on 101 to Redwood National Park. See some godawful tall trees, camp, drive to Yosemite. More trees, bigger than tall this time, then drive across Nevada to Great Basin National Park, to see the Milky Way, mostly. It is just about the darkest place in America. Next day is either more Great Basin, or driving to Mesa Verde National Park to climb anus-clenchingly tall ladders and see ancient cliff dwellings. After Mesa Verde is Great Sand Dunes, to pretend we’re Fremen, and then basically taking I-80 almost all the way back. If we’re lucky, two of those campsites will be free–one definitely is, the other depends on whether or not the Altima will make it to the free spots. Not to worry, we will consult the rangers and abide by their advice; more than likely we will have to pay (all of $8) for a campsite, but it certainly can’t hurt to ask.

Things I’m looking forward to:

1. The desert/Southwest. I am a veritable empty vessel as far as experiential knowledge of the Southwest, and I am looking forward to what I understand can be some of the holiest places in America.

2. The Milky Way. I have never seen it. I’ve seen pictures and know that I do not grok it, and can’t imagine what it will be like.

3. Never having to park at this place again. Paying for parking was the right decision, but Chris picked the very most godawful parking space available.

4. Seeing enormous trees. As we all know, I’m at least 1/4 dryad. Towering, ancient trees instantly put me into mental sacred space. I caught myself bowing to one at Mt. Rainier, and I stand by that action as an appropriate one. Those trees are arguably older than the civilization I belong to: when they sprouted, my ancestors were still filthy in animal skins.

5. Going back to West Virginia. Because I know with no doubt in my mind that we will come back to Seattle, and because we have jobs lined up in China, I feel free to go back and enjoy it for what it is. Also, I miss playing D&D dreadfully.

Entertainment this time consists of a book of Buddhist scriptures, the Tao Te Ching, and Don Quixote. We have only Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere on CD, plus a few of music. Looks like we’ll be depending on the radio a lot. KEXP has us spoiled bad.

I hope we have a good journey, and only such mishaps as are necessary for instruction.

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In my family, I am known for creating excellent and healthful soups. I love to bake, but I am skilled at soups. Most famous is my potato soup, which is also my favorite.

However.

Last night, in an effort to create a filling, healthy dish that would keep for a week or so, and be cheap, I created a Lentil Soup. Back when I lived in Huntington I had a ritual called Lentil Mondays. My favorite history professor always cooked lentils on Mondays so that she came home to comfort food that was even good for her. Once I discovered the joys of lentils, I decided Lentils Monday was an excellent ritual to have. It became a thing: Cait would come over and help, and often a friend or two as well. I always made the best lentil dish I knew that time: curried lentils and sweet potatoes, which remains one of my favorite foods I’ve ever made.

Then I moved, and lost a lot of the life-sustaining habits I’d had in Huntington, like seeing my sister all the time. Eventually this lack of/need for these habits overwhelmed me, and last night I found myself inventing a recipe for Lentil Soup.

Ingredients:
2 large potatoes
3 med-large carrots
1 medium onion
1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes with the juice
4-5 cloves garlic
About 6-8 cups of vegetable or chicken broth-I used chicken bouillon because it was cheaper
About 1.5 cups of lentils
2 T vegetable oil, but if I’d had it I would have used olive
About 1 t cumin
About 3/4 t garam masala
About 3/4 t ground savory

1. Finely dice the onion, slice the garlic thinly, and get the carrots into something like inch cubes/chunks.
2. Heat the oil on medium, then add the onions and carrots. Sweat these until the onions are just translucent, then add the garlic. Cook for just a minute more.
3. Add the cumin and garam masala, and cook for 30 seconds to a minute, stirring so you don’t let the spices scorch.
4. Add the tomatoes and tomato juice. Stir everything together and let cook for a few minutes until the tomato juice has reduced a bit.
5. Add the potatoes, lentils, and broth. Stir, and let simmer until all the veg and the lentils are done, about 30-45 minutes.

The best thing about soups is how easy they are to alter and scale–this could easily be a soup that feeds 10 people, just as it it easily kept vegetarian or vegan. I can only dream of how delicious it would be if I had used homemade vegetable broth. To make it more hearty and filling in the winter, add a half cup of barley or rice.

As it is, the soup was amazing. It somehow tasted rich and buttery, and was so filling I couldn’t even finish a whole bowl. We ate it with sauteed garden veggie tempeh, which was perfect when you had a sip of broth and a bite of tempeh.

If anyone makes this or some version of it, let me know how it turns out and what you think!

Chris is in bed with a sick headache, which I had yesterday. I am under not so much orders as a hint to blog but I am a bit at a loss for what to say. I’m afraid I’ve finally run into the throat-level clothesline of “Who does an artist or a writer answer to?” Trying to please people is, I think, destined for failure. You can’t, and trying will cripple whatever immediacy and truth and urgency your writing might otherwise have. The answer for me seems the same as for anyone else: suck it up and write anyway. A Buddhist spin on it might be to say, “Don’t make up your mind that So-and-So will react in any given way.”

Ah! here’s something fairly noncontroversial I can write about, in order to get past the Censor. We watched Forbidden Kingdom the other night. You may not be aware of this, but the movie is in part about Monkey! He’s played by Jet Li, wonderfully. I really enjoyed it. The acting was excellent, and given that the story is a fairly broad kind of fantasy, it was surprisingly realistic. For instance, one female character who has been badly traumatized refers to herself in the third person. I learned later that this is actually a fairly common coping mechanism. Also, my very favorite koan was included and performed by Jackie Chan, which made me squeal and giggle and bounce.

So, the story is there’s this kid, a typical American who’s crazy for kungfu flicks, to the point that he even collects them in the original Chinese with no subtitles. His supplier is an old shop owner in his city’s Chinatown. Well, the kid is bullied, and forced to enable this gang of not-terribly-realistic asshole kids to rob the old guy. Bad things happen, and the kid gets transported to ancient China. He is in possession of Sun Wukong’s magic staff, and must return it.

The best aspect of this movie is the way it treats kungfu. As far as my white, American self can tell, this is a very Chinese way to treat it–I mean that it doesn’t give in to Hollywood much. Kungfu means something like human achievement, which is why you can have a kungfu of painting or dancing or something. The film has a painful to watch training sequence that is careful to point out how difficult this level of human achievement is to reach, and how painful. Even better, the whole human is not ignored. This is not a matter of teaching the kid how to kick ass. He is also taught how to focus, meditate, and control his qi. The koans aren’t included to be funny (although they are funny), they’re included because that’s how kungfu works. And yes, I’m aware that I’m using a Japanese word to describe a Chinese process in a Chinese film. The Chinese word is apparently gong-an. Did you know that? Me neither.

Final word: check this movie out of the library and watch it, and then when you go to learn something about Buddhism, Taoism, or Chinese religion, remember it and use it and your learning will probably be deeper. Also, it’s just a ton of fun. That Monkey, man…he’s just great.