Friday, February 8, 2013

Apertivo 2.0

It’s the only second week of February and I have been drinking my Vin d’Orange all week.  It’s completely awesome and addictive.  I started sampling the brew after about a week, at which time it tasted startlingly like bubblegum.  I’m not kidding.  A flavor that I had always assumed was completely artificial had been created in a jar full of wine, fruit, and sugar and botanicals in my own dining room.  WTF?  I was worried. I hate bubblegum.  What to do? I remembered them that one of the other Vin d’Orange recipes on line called for a quarter cup of coffee beans.  I grabbed a handful and tossed them in.  Within just a few days I had a drink that tasted strongly of coffee, but more the way coffee smells than the way it tastes.  It was bitter and a little odd, but good.  By the end of January, I felt it was ready to bottle.  Because both the sweetness and the coffee flavor were so strong, I decided to cut the finished product with the rest of the BotaBox of Pinot Grigio, and half a bottle of Rosé that I had in Fridge.  Filtering the end result through cheesecloth and a coffee filter was time consuming (and used a surprising number of coffee filters) , but worth it.  The result is something I am very happy with.

Tonight, as I break into the second (of three) bottles from this original bottling, I realized I had better get started on the next batch.  This time I used rosé wine from provence.  I used two grapefruits, a lemon, and two clementines and two clementine peels for the fruit.  I put coffee beans in from the get go, but only a very few—maybe ten.  I also added some angostura bitters, and a small handful of rose peppercorns.  I cut back the cinnamon to half a stick and the sugar to one cup.  I did not measure the cardamom pods.  I’ll let you know how it turns out. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Poor Man's Apertivo

One of the first things I learned to drink is an aperitif called Lillet.  My mother once gave me a little taste when I was in High School. I remember her explaining to me what a “fortified wine” was. When I was living with my grandparents, or—later—visiting them, in my twenties and early thirties, Lillet on ice with a twist of orange peel and splash of gin became the cocktail that I would drink while they had their martinis. Since then, my improvised, Granddaddy inspired (he suggested both the orange rind and the gin) mixture has become a signature (albeit, rather freeform in its ratios) cocktail in my house.  Sometimes its more like a martini, with more gin and less Lillet, and sometimes it’s the gin that is in the minority.  The problem is, the stuff is darned expensive.  If you know where to go, it can be had for less than $15.  But most places, if they stock it at all, charge almost $20 for as 750ml bottle.  What if you could make it yourself? 

Here is the recipe I started with on 17 January 2013; it is very closely based on one that was in the New York Times in 2011.  This version was on a blog called Glutton for Life.

Vin d'Orange
makes about 2 litres
— 1/2 cup dark rum
— 1 tablespoon pink peppercorns
— 2 liters good quality rosé (about 2 1/2 bottles)
— 1 cup vodka
— 8 whole green cardamom pods
— 1 4-inch cinnamon stick
— 1/2 vanilla bean
— 1 1/2 cups organic sugar
— 2 lemons or grapefruit, or one of each
— 3 tangerines or oranges with a good balance of tart and sweet
Wash the citrus and slice them in thick wheels. Place them in a clean container (glass
or hard plastic) with a wide mouth and a tight-fitting lid. Add the sugar, spices, rosé
and vodka.
Stir this well with a spoon (not wooden, as it may harbor bacteria that could inhibit
fermentation) and fasten the lid. Keep the jar in the refrigerator, or a cool dry place,
shaking occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
After about 6 weeks, mix in the rum, then pour the mixture through a fine mesh
strainer or several layers of cheesecloth. Stored in bottles at a cool room temperature
or in the refrigerator, your vin d’orange it will last indefinitely. Drink it plain on the
rocks, or mixed with sparkling wine or water, garnished with a slice of orange.

I used a cheapish (BotaBox) Pinot Grigio rather than a rosé; if the final result isn’t a lot cheaper than actual Lillet, then what’s the point? I did not have any pink peppercorns, vanilla bean, or green cardamom pods.  Instead I used some kernels of allspice, some regular cardamom pods, a small splash of vanilla extract, and the cinnamon stick called for in the recipe.  For the citrus I used a lemon, a grapefruit, and three oranges (maybe I should make a knowing reference to Prokoviev).  My first taste after the initial mixing suggests that 1½ cups of sugar is too much, but time will tell.  This batch should be ready for rum and testing at the end of February.   

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Red Book of Westmarch

This post goes out to my friends who are fans of J.R.R. Tolkien.  Those of you who know me really well, who "knew me when," know that I my fascination with all things relating to Middle-Earth knows no bounds.  Not only do I love The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but I have read and taken real pleasure in every last unreadable page of posthumously published material as well, from The Silmarillion, through Volume 12 of the seemingly endless History of Middle-Earth.  Through the willfully archaic language and arcane textual notes, Tolkien's genius as a mythmaker and world-builder still shines through, if you have sufficient patience to find it.

A few years after the critical debacle and financial success of the published Silmarillion, Christopher Tolkien ruefully reflected on that book's weaknesses in his preface to The Book of Lost Tales: "it is certainly debatable whether it was wise to publish in 1977 a version of the primary 'legendarium' [this was always Tolkien pere's preferred term for the totality of his work on Middle-Earth] standing on its own and claiming, as it were, to be self-explanatory.  The published work has no 'framework,' no suggestion of what it is and how (within the imagined world) it came to be.  This I now think to have been an error." [p. 5. emphases added].

Although, as CJRT points out, his father never explicitly set about creating such a framework, the evidence seems plentiful that he meant to do so (something Tolkien fils also admits). The central conceit of "The Red Book of Westmarch" from which everything in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings is supposed to derive, is explicitly constructed to embrace materials outside the scope of either of the two published novels.  We are told in the preface (and shown in the main narrative) that Bilbo has spent his time in Rivendell immersed in the lore of the elder days, producing three volumes of "Translations from the Elvish."  Through the character of Findegil "The King's Writer" there is also an avenue prepared for the inclusion of "mannish" materials relating to the Dúnedain, and probably the Rohirrim as well.  Really the umbrella is large enough to include almost anything.

Among the many critical banners that can appear across the top of a flawed Wikipedia article, my favorite is the one that warns that an article (usually about something fictional) has been written in an "in-universe" style.  It seems to me that that is the problem with Tolkien's posthumous works.  Christopher Tolkien took to providing a framework, but it is one that usually makes the works less accessible, not more.  What we need is an editor, or editors, from inside Middle-Earth. And we already know from published texts what this book is—The Red Book—and who those editors should be (or were) and (in the main) what their voices are like: Bilbo—fond of humor and simple jokes, scholarly, distracted, perhaps slightly arrogant about his own accomplishments and abilities; Frodo—humbler, and more serious-minded, even grim, haunted by his own quest and its sacrifices; Sam—folksy, practical, admiring of his Baggins patrons, and of the elves and the Dúnedain, but late to the game of scholarship; and Findegil—a functionary of King Elessar, a scholar and archivist, steeped in Gondorian lore and folklore, probably somewhat baffled by the Hobbits, and aware of the disconnect between Gondor's traditions about the elves, and the renewal (however brief) of actual contact with them.  We might imagine too the contributions of Pippin and Merry, of Sam's daughter Elanor Fairbairn.

These voices and perspectives could give a frame to a wide range of Tolkien's materials, provide a means for reconciling the divergent forms of the tales produced over a period of almost sixty years: a version of the "Fall of the Gondolin" translated from eyewitness accounts by Bilbo in Rivendell (perhaps the 1950s version found as the first chapter of Unfinished Tales) could naturally vary radically from a version of the same story collected by Findegil from the oral or literary traditions of Gondor (represented by the very early version that was one of the "Lost Tales.")  Bilbo's own character and age could explain the tendency of his translations of the "purer" versions of stories to be unfinished, whereas the vast differences in style and substance of the earliest (but often most complete) versions of the stories could be explained by their passing through the oral traditions of the Dúnedain for many thousands of years.

Part of me really wants to DO this.  Tolkien's works will probably not enter the public domain in my lifetime, but who knows?  Anyone want to collaborate?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

City on a Hill or King of the Castle?

I was reading a funny article this morning about the country's leading expert on the vice-presidency.  I know, right?  And right there was this ad about Billy Graham, which said "I have hope for America because of Jesus Christ."
Now first of all, I thought he was already dead.  Nope.  At 94 he is still visiting presidents and preaching the gospel, planning one last stadium tour of the kind he used to be famous for.  I have to admit that, as evangelicals go, I kind of like Rev. Graham.  He is a lot less partisan and more politically moderate than many of his peers.  In fact, in one recent interview, he said that one of his chief regrets was getting too involved in politics. [Here] He is still an opponent of Gay Marriage, but how much can we really expect from a nonagenarian Southern Baptist?  He is also the same man who has openly asked his peers why homosexuality should be such a big deal: “There are other sins," he said in 1997, "Why do we jump on that sin as though it’s the greatest sin?”  Interestingly the look of the ad seemed to parallel the look of a lot of Obama-related material.
So anyway, all of this is by way of saying that I am not knee-jerk hostile to Billy Graham; if today's evangelical leaders were more like him, I think we would be better off.  But the phrase "I have hope for America because of Jesus Christ" really set me off.
Why?  Well unless you are a Mormon (or a member of some other faith where the United States actually has a role of sorts in your revelation) you have no business ascribing a particular interest in the USA to God.  You can believe in that. if you want, and it is clear that a lot of people do, especially politicians.  But no priest, minister, rabbi, imam, bonze, or other cleric has any business making that kind claim from the pulpit.  To do so is a kind of idolatry; it makes a fetish out of the nation, and places God's concerns and Human concerns on the same plane, perhaps even subordinating God to man. Anyone who makes such a claim—from within any faith—makes a claim that  degrades that person's co-religionists around the world.  This is the disturbing underbelly behind John Winthrop's famous (an oft-appropriated) "City on a Hill" quotation, the city that  Ronald Reagan always described as "Shining."  If we are shining on a hill then where is everyone else?  Dirty in a valley? Tarnished in a hole?
I can't have hope (or not have hope, for that matter) "for America because of Jesus Christ."  I can have hope for mankind, for salvation, for forgiveness, for healing because of Jesus Christ.  But for the USA, not as such, no.  
Rev. Graham is a subtle guy, a pretty ecumenical guy, and what I was looking at was an advertisement designed to appeal to people who don't normally think through the theological implications of their patriotic or political feelings.  I am sure part of his point is, in fact, that there is hope for America, because God offers hope for everyone. But, you know, it doesn't take much to get me going, and I haven't posted since March.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Where our thoughts cross: Me and Rick Santorum

Today is "Super Tuesday, a term that I find puzzling, because I have always found that the only thing "super" about Super Tuesday is that it is either Super Depressing or Super Not a Big Deal.  But this has been nothing if not an interesting year to be a spectator of the Republican Race for the Nomination.
Each of the candidates, even the ones who have already dropped out (OK, especially them) is a punch-line looking for a joke.  Some of them (I’m looking at you, Newt, Ron, and Herman) even seem to know it.  But the one with the most humorous potential is also the most humorless, and that is Rick Santorum.
I have to admit that Santorum fascinates me.  I disagree with just about every single word that comes out of his mouth—in that respect, he is no different from the rest of the G.O.P. field—but he does stand out as having a certain integrity.  He has that same quality of sincerity that John McCain once had, like one sincere statement in an ocean of advertising slogans.  If Mitt Romney seems like someone who will say anything to get elected, and Newt seems like someone who will just say anything period, Santorum seems like someone who is always under oath: to speak the whole truth and nothing but the truth, no matter how wacky or unpopular (or factually untrue) that is likely to be.  I have to respect that much.  It makes me wonder if I can find any other common ground with him at all.
Nope.  Well, almost. There might one really small way in which he and I kind of agree about a small aspect of one thing.  Sex.  Yep.  Not contraception.  Not abortion. Not gay marriage.  Not the frantic denunciation of Woodstock and the 60’s. Not the implicit repudiation of feminism.  Not the phantom demons of gay polygamy or whatever other hypothetical sins Santorum has conjured out on the trail.  But just on sex, well, I wonder if Santorum hasn’t tapped into something.
I agree with Santorum that sex and sexuality is important, maybe even cosmically important.  And that is—almost—the limit of our agreement.  The one other thing we might sort of maybe agree on is that our culture often cheapens and trivializes that importance.
On everything that flows to and from that one point of intersection, me and Rick differ.  Rick’s theology on sex and the created world, from my point of view, is not only “phony” (his term, by which I mean "unfounded in Scripture," which means I am sort of trying to play by his rules, even though he is Catholic so the scripture thing isn't quite as weighty as it might be if he were protestant... whatever), but perverse and based on the principle not of a loving God, but a hating one.  I’m not saying I don’t believe in a God that gets angry, even wrathful.  But I am saying that I don’t believe in a God who’s wrath is principally motivated by everyday human sexual behavior.  The crime of Sodom and Gomorrah, as framed in Genesis, is not homosexuality per se, but rape.  The crime of Onan was not simply “spilling his seed,” but refusing to allow a woman to whom he was duty-bound to offer children to conceive them.  Paul’s many rants about wanton sexuality need to be viewed in the context of his rants about circumcision; that is to say that circumcision, like sexual fidelity, was both an actual thing, and a metaphor for many many more things having to do with being in right relations to God.  If you will offer your body to anyone (runs the symbolic reasoning) then what does that say about your soul?  That’s a legitimate question. But let us not forget that Jesus’s only words to sexual transgressors are words of forgiveness; his sternest rebuke is “Go and sin no more.”   I believe that God isn't directly concerned about sex.  God is concerned about relationships—ours with each other, and also with him.  That has implications for sex and sexuality; but not on the scale or of the kind that Santorum goes on about. That kind of theology may be venerable, but it is just phony.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

11 September

    My relationship with 11 September is a complicated one.  I can't bring any personal tragedy to bear, thankfully.  In some ways, I feel that, even by trying to write about it, I am buying into something about which I am strongly ambivalent, even on a blog that no one reads.  There has come to be a difference between 11 September 2001 and “September 11” or (even more so) “9/11.”  To me the former is the day itself, in all its horror and wonder.  The latter is what people have made out of it since then, every grim and divisive decision, the two nearly fruitless wars, the bumper stickers of hate and the flags of righteousness.  Nothing new was brought into being by “9/11” and (other than the lives lost, and the symbols laid low) nothing was destroyed, but everything that was before passed through it, redefining itself in relation to the event.
   I remember in those first couple of days the stunned kindnesses, the way people looked at each other with fresh eyes.  I held my four month old son very tightly, watching the TV constantly hoping that somehow some revelation might come from it that would help it all make sense.  I remember the first issue of the New Yorker, with Art Spiegelman (mainly famous for his harrowing depiction of the holocaust in MAUS) contributing a cover that at first seemed to simply be completely black, but which had, through some subtle change in texture, the outlines of the Towers inscribed on it.  I remember the contributors: Susan Sontag, Hendrik Hertzberg, Adam Gopnik.  We agreed we would keep that issue forever, but we didn’t.
   While survivors emerged from ground zero, flags emerged on cars, and we were urged by our government to... go shopping.  The tech bubble had been bursting anyway, and so the economy needed stimulus.  The president, who had won my grudging respect on the dreadful day, quickly went back to being the jingoistic know-nothing that I found so loathsome.
   It was clear to me, very early on, that the terrorists had gotten what they were after.  Terrorism can be motivated by many things, but typically it seeks to provoke its victims into heavy-handed over-reactions that will then make the victim look bad, or exhaust it resources, or suffer in some other way that will lead to its own destruction.  I think we were very obliging to Al-Quaeda in this respect.  We took the enormous good-will of the global community in the latter half of September 2001 and spurned it like Harry Potter turning on his friends in The Order of the Pheonix.  We engaged in a ham-handed (but perhaps necessary) war in Afghanistan, and a more spectacular (but completely unnecessary) war in Iraq.  We turned against the dearly held values of an open society (something which our enemies found so loathsome in us), and instead condoned torture and domestic surveillance.  “Patriot” was the word of the hour, and “If you are not with us, you are against us.”  The Onion, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert became preferred news sources for me, because parody and satire seemed to cushion the blow of so much bad tidings, of a nation so poorly and quixotically run.
This week, The Onion ran a headline:  Nation Would Rather Think About 9/11 Than Anything From Subsequent 10 Years”.  As is often the case with their best work, the ensuing article is humorous, but is also a pretty bare statement of fact about the last decade.  And since so much that litany of disaster has its roots in our response to the day now known as “9/11,” I cannot help but grieve as much for how we responded, as for all the lives we lost.  In our hour of darkness, we have been tried, and frankly, I think we have been found wanting.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Love the One You're With

It's been a long time.  There have been a bunch of things I have wanted to write about—book reviews, music, the end of the world—but the world won't stop for me to blog about it.  Sit Still!  Stop fidgeting!
So yesterday I saw this bumper sticker.  It was one which I think I have seen before, but which I only really thought about for the first time right then.  It ran like this:
But I Fear my Government
Now to be fair, if I saw this bumper sticker at any point between January 2001 and January 2009, I probably would have agreed with it, and left it behind.  But now I can see a certain logical fallacy to it, one which was just as fallacious when the Great Pretender was in the White House as it is now.  Let me try and break it down.

"I love my country" is a pretty straightforward seeming statement.  So is "I fear my government."  But unless the former is referring to the terrain, or the latter is referring to a dictatorship, then there is a disconnect here.  Because unless our democracy has completely failed (and I do not believe it has), then the government is a direct creation of, a manifestation of, the American People.  The Government has no meaning, definition, or direction apart from what "my country" bestows on it.
So to feel differently about "my country" than about "my government" is a logical impossibility.  But (to quote the great Ulysses Everett McGill) "it's fool that looks for logic in the chambers of human heart."  And experience teaches us that love and fear are not mutually exclusive things.  One possible reading of this bumper sticker is that the driver in question both loves and fears his fellow Americans.  That's a generous reading.  Personally I doubt that this person and I would feel much love for each other.  

Another, more difficult, and maybe more disturbing reading is this:  if this person and I—or any two people who agreed with the statement "I love my country"— made a list of the qualities that make America lovable, admirable, or great, the chances are pretty good that we find disagreement.  We would not list all the same things, and when we did, we might well find that we mean different, even opposing, things by them.  The "my" in "I love my country" reveals that it is paramount: "I love my version, my vision, my aspirations for, my country."   The government, consisting of hundreds of elected and appointed officials and magistrates, inevitably, is forced to cobble a collective vision out of all these disparate American dreams.  This vision of our country can never embrace all the individual dreams of its citizens.  But when we try to place the my over the our, because of ideology (I really believe that single payer is best), or prejudice (I don't like motorcyclists), or selfishness (I don't really want to pay more taxes), I think we show that we do not love our country as we should.  After all, in a romantic relationship, if we always put our own fantasies about our beloveds ahead of his or her actual qualities and desires, we would not be very good lovers.  To be good lovers of our country, we need to work on our relationship with the whole as it is, and not our private fantasies about what the country (or its government) should be.  And this is just as true for a liberal like me as it is for any Tea Party wing nut.