Friday, April 14, 2017

A Thing of Beauty

I plan to have a salad for dinner this evening. The lettuce I bought is pictured above. This photo doesn't really do it justice: the beautiful rosette pattern of the leaves, their sheen and rich color, the lack of blemishes, tears, or wilted edges so common to ordinary heads of lettuce set this particular specimen apart as a thing of beauty.
This afternoon, I indulged myself at the bookstore (yes, again), purchasing two non-fiction books, Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren, and Stoned, by Aja Raden. The first title is a scientist's memoir, remarkable for its wonderful writing as much as for the information imparted. In one of those lovely happenstances some people call coincidence (I don't believe in coincidence), within the first pages of the book, the author talks about looking at leaves. Really looking at them. How are they shaped? What shade of green are they? Are they large? Small? You get the idea. Clearly, I got the message to study my dinner with Zen-like attention.
The second book, Stoned, is about jewelry and it, too, is receiving accolades for excellent writing. In the first few pages, Raden argues that "the history of the world is the history of desire," and humans naturally desire beautiful things.
Ah, therein lies my conundrum. I want to keep the beauty of this perfect, fascinating plant. But that's impossible. I can't keep it sitting on the kitchen counter. Like all living things, it will ultimately spoil. The leaves will wither. Its perfect symmetry will be lost forever.
Yet, shredding the plant, ripping off the leaves, and tearing them into bite-sized pieces fills me with angst. Shoving them in my mouth and eating them smacks of absolute savagery.
However, it's nearing the dinner hour. I've duly recorded this lovely lettuce in a photo and with words. Savagery is rearing its ugly head, and this thing of beauty can not remain a joy forever.

Friday, February 24, 2017

A Trip to India

My latest mini-odyssey started with a novel that I picked up purely for some escapist reading. The story, set in Ceylon, was not particularly well written, but what it lacked in literary merit, it made up for in setting and cultural details. Within the first few pages, I ran into an unfamiliar term: jaggery. The dictionary defines jaggery as a course, brown sugar made from palm tree sap.
A few days later, perhaps with subconscious influence from my reading, I spent the evening watching The 100-Foot Journey (Helen Mirren and Manish Dayal), a delightful movie in which culinary scenes are so beautifully photographed one can almost smell the spices, curries, and haute cuisine of a Michelin-quality restaurant.
I've always been partial to a good curry and had been experimenting with adding extra turmeric and fresh ginger to my weeknight stir-fry (read: mix up of various leftovers). The movie, along with a colorful Williams-Sonoma catalogue chock full of exotic Indian-inspired table settings and their new line of masala and curry seasonings, put me right over the edge. I needed an excursion to the Indian subcontinent.
Lack of time and money precluded actually going to India, so I did the next best thing: I found my way to an Indian restaurant not too far from home where I was able to indulge in a marvelous buffet. Samosas, patek paneer, channa masala, vindaloo, and tandoori. Fresh, aromatic, spicy but not so hot the flavors got lost in the burn, the dishes in this restaurant and its quiet ambience carried me along on my little travel fantasy. At the end of the meal, there was a table by the door on which sat four bowls (pictured above). Instead of the usual starlight mints or plastic-wrapped toothpicks, these bowls contained more interesting breath-freshening agents: cardamom seeds, fennel seeds, cloves, and sugar-coated anise seeds.
To keep the fantasy going after I left the restaurant, I found my way to a nearby Indian grocery store. The small strip-mall space was stuffed to the rafters (literally) with exotic merchandise, most of which I had never seen before. I'm no stranger to ethnic groceries, but with the exception of a place in San Francisco's Chinatown, I've never been so transfixed by shelf after shelf of the unfamiliar. (MCH, if you're reading this, call me to schedule a field trip.) I made my purchases, coming away with mango powder, sandalwood soap, cardamom seeds, a jar of ghee, and, of course, jaggery.
How fortunate I feel to be able to make an excursion like this. Within an hour's radius of my home, I can cross thresholds into many other cultures. I can purchase items I might not be entirely certain how to use and discover treasures I didn't know existed.
In my humble opinion, that is what makes this country great.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017


This post is featuring a guest artist because this is the last day of January and the very last hours of my self-imposed deadline for my also self-imposed rule of writing a new post once a month.
I haven't been good with deadlines lately, something I'm not proud of. Actually, I can't remember a time since sixth grade when I've failed to complete work by its due date. Setting goals and completing them when I say I will helps me pretend I can keep the general chaos of life at bay. Right now, however, we are living in unusual times. There have been a lot of distractions lately.
Last week, I spent an inordinate amount of time writing emails and making phone calls to senators. I did this. Anyone who knows me will realize how weird that is. But like I said, these are unusual times. They are getting more unusual (and scarier) every day, too.
Instead of working on my novel, I've spent far too much time letting my imagination run rampant over the dismal prospects that could be our future if this country continues to allow the current administration to systematically dismantle seventy-plus years of progress in human rights, environmental protection, public education, regulation of mega-corporations, and funding for the arts.
Speaking of the arts, my guest artist, whose work is featured above, is Benjamin Williams, age two. I chose to use his creation today because it's clear evidence that humans need art, even very young humans. While it's wonderful to experience the art of the talented and widely acclaimed, many of us also need to create our own art. By painting or writing or playing music or whatever means is used to express oneself, troubles recede and the world becomes a better place, at least temporarily.
Sounds like I should get back to that novel, eh?