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Monthly Archives: August 2016

A Poem for Salman Rushdie’s New Novel

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I just finished Salman Rushdie’s latest, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights. Here’s a brief summary of the book’s premise, borrowed from The New York Times book review:

The central character of Rushdie’s new novel… is…a man who gets cursed and gets blamed for it. Geronimo Manezes, a Mumbai-born gardener now living in New York, has begun to levitate. This isn’t the wish fulfillment of a flying dream; it threatens his livelihood and brings the increasing hostility of strangers. “Why do you imagine I consider my condition an improvement? He wanted to cry out. Why, when it has ruined my life and I fear it may bring about my early death?”

But Geronimo’s predicament is not an isolated case. It foreshadows an era of “strangenesses,” where the “laws which had long been accepted as the governing principles of reality had collapsed.” The strangenesses — some meteorological, some natural disasters, some simply miraculous — are the prelude to a full-blown invasion of the human world by malevolent spirits from another dimension.

It turns out that all four evil jinn, Zabardast, Zumurrud, Ra’im Blood-Drinker and Shining Ruby, have broken through the wormholes separating the world from Fairyland and are bent on causing havoc in the 21st century. The only power that can stop them is a nice female jinnia called Dunia and her human descendants: Geronimo Manezes, the British composer Hugo Casterbridge, the young Indian-American graphic novelist Jimmy Kapoor and a femme fatale called Teresa Saca. If Dunia can gather them up in time and awaken them to the power of their jinni nature, humanity might have a chance against the forces of darkness. “The seals between the Two Worlds are broken and dark jinn ride,” she tells Geronimo. “Your world is in danger and because my children are everywhere I am protecting it. I’m bringing them together, and together we will fight back.”

It certainly wasn’t my favorite Rushdie novel. The NY Times review is pretty critical, and I agree with its perspective. Reviewer Marcel Theroux notes that Rushdie’s “capcaiousness” and “breadth” as a writer/enchanter is a distinctive feature of his style and something to be celebrated… when “there’s been some compelling principle at work.” As Theroux puts it,

“Complaining that Rushdie’s not a naturalistic writer is like criticizing kimchi for its cabbagey funk.”

And I love Rushdie’s funk. It’s why I gravitate toward everything he writes. As for this novel, though, I’ll quote Theroux again:

“Behind its glittery encrustations, the plot resembles a bare outline for a movie about superheroes. There’s a war between worlds, lightning comes out of people’s fingertips and it all culminates in a blockbuster showdown between the forces of good and evil.”

Still, I am drawn to the “nice” jinnia, Dunia, who is enamored with the human world. I am fascinated with the contrast between capricious beings made of smoke and fire versus plodding, helpless humans. In the book, Dunia produces a line of half-jinn, half-human descendants, and the line they walk between their human natures and their jinn natures is fodder for us all. It inspired me to think about the “smoke and fire” lurking in myself, and my human company. I jot this poem down this morning. When I refer to “smoke and fire,” I think I’m referring to the ways in which our human limitations give way, the ways in which we surprise ourselves, transcending our human natures and tapping into something more powerful.

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Smoke and Fire

Smoke and fire:
You address me, “Beauty,”
You nick-named my stomach years ago
At a wedding, my arms are wrapped around you
“Python arms” you dub the photo
Then you say, “Hey Beauty, come here”
Insults, terms of endearment,
From You,
They both land lightly,
Almost to lift me up.

Smoke and fire:
I chased you out of the building
Clear sky, hot pavement
You were running for your life
Now we meet again in August
Your trusting smile,
signing your letter “yours truly”
“I’m ready to step up my game this year”

Smoke and fire:
Skin so thin that a hang nail
Threatens hospital beds and IVs
Skin so thick all the same
You weather your version of chronic pain
Far more graciously than me
And so I confide in you, and worry with you
Even when you’re the one hurting

Smoke and fire:
How many times have I rubbed
salt in your wounds
And you’ve called me back
Invited me over
Given me something from your closet,
Your fridge
“I’m so happy to see you,” you always say.

Smoke and fire:
You used to bribe me to type your papers
Your eyes were bloodshot as you
teased me about my first boyfriend
I bought you beer when I visited you at school
even though I was the younger one
Now you grip your newborn
like a football, easy
You’re well-versed in car seats
and choking hazards
And sleep schedules

Smoke and fire:
This life is muddy for you
Thick, brown, halting
Leaves traces of dirt on your shoes
Wherever you go
And yet you keep going,
So kind
Along your way

If only I could rub the magic lamp
Get a fat, blue little jinn
To fight your demons for you
Smoke and fire-like

Instead, I hold onto the traces
Of smoke
Of fire
inside these
soft,
beating
human hearts.

 

Flank Steak, Mushroom, Arugula Pasta

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My favorite thing about being finished with the Whole30 is being able to cook in bulk, a few times a week, instead of an ongoing rotation of chopping and dishwashing. So far what that’s meant for me and my husband Padraic has been pasta salads full of veggies and protein. Tonight I tried a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis’s Everyday Pasta that’s a real keeper. Tasty, filling, healthy… Here it is, adapted by yours truly:

Flank Steak Pasta

  • Mince 1 large clove garlic and mix it with 1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence. 
  • Sprinkle this mixture on both sides of 1 lb flank steak and let the steak sit at room temp while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
  • Chop a bunch of arugula into 2 cups. 
  • Chop 1 lb of mushrooms into small pieces. (Clean mushrooms with a damp paper towel — if you rinse them under running water they’ll become rubbery).
  • Whisk together 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 1/2 cup julienned basil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and 3/4 cup olive oil. Set aside.
  • Slice the flank steak into 1/2-inch slices. 
  • Coat a large skillet with olive oil and warm over medium heat.
  • Cook several slices of flank steak at a time, about 4 min on each side. 
  • Bring salted water to a boil in a big pot.
  • Cook 1 lb penne pasta for about 9 minutes (al dente) and drain in a colander, reserving some of the pasta water in a bowl underneath the colander.
  • Add some more olive oil to the skillet, add the mushroom pieces, sprinkle with salt, and cook for 4-5 minutes. 
  • Meanwhile, cut the flank steak strips into bite-sized pieces.
  • Dump the cooked pasta into a large bowl. Add the arugula, the cooked mushrooms, the steak pieces, the dressing, and a generous pour of the pasta water. Mix thoroughly with a spatula.

Enjoy!

 

Making Plans

I’ve been making a lot of plans lately. Lesson plans, life plans. Today I’m taking a step back, using poetry to muse about control, spirituality, and the inspiration of the natural world, with a few shots of my Iceland vacation thrown in.

Making Plans

Remember in July,
when we stood still in our hiking boots,
waiting for the geyser to gush?

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Even that was a plan you made
and clothes I carefully laid
and bills we carefully paid
so we could dig our heels in the brown ground,
say “Wow”
When the earth flaunted its do-as-it-likes

Carefully stepping around wet stones and
“hugging the mountain” when the altitude felt too high

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We breathed in Earth’s overflow
witnessed Her grace

But over a Gull, or lobster soup,
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we mused over plans for home,
or lunch,
stealthily strategizing.

Meanwhile, glowing chunks of blue-white ice floated idly toward the Atlantic
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Aggressive waterfalls thundered down cliffs
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the gray Atlantic met with pebbled beaches
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And we took pictures, eager to clap
For this jazz.

Then

Surrender came in a flash
when I stripped off my coat and scarf and laid in the moss-grass of a mountain
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suddenly remembering that memorial service photo of Carrie’s mom,
basking in the sky on Colorado grass
Before ALS hit.

Today I wonder if I’m a fool
to think that the plans I’m making
bear a contrast, rather than a pale resemblance to
the sprinkling of volcanic ash on a glacier
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Perhaps I’ve been duped
by the strangeness of ash on ice
the drama of cascading water
the glow of blue lagoons

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Yes, I think I’ve been duped.
I’m “a theatre person”; I should understand
the planning that goes into the artifice.

“Whipped cream on a brick,”
a dance teacher once said,
of a ballerina’s lithe posturing
to look like she does as she likes.

Still, it’s a nice thought,
And one that I think I’ll hold onto,
That when the geyser errupts,
She’s just letting it go,
on a whim.

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Eating The Veggies: Two More Recipes

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Green beans aren’t my favorite vegetable, so I’m always grateful when I find a recipe that makes them more flavorful. This Ina Garten recipe combining chunks of red onion and colored bell peppers with the beans manages that, as does the following recipe adapted from the Whole30 cookbook. In Eating The Veggies I posted a few too many potato recipes, in my opinion, so here’s some good ole green stuff:

Green Beans with Onions, Mushrooms, and Peppers

  • Heat a large pot with water and 2 tablespoons Kosher salt over high heat. Meanwhile, prepare an ice water bath in a large bowl and stick it in the fridge to keep it cool.
  • Once the water boils, blanche 1 pound green beans for 20 seconds, then immediately plunge them into the ice water bath for about 1 minute, and then drain in a colander.
  • Heat some cooking fat in a large skillet over medium-high heat — I used a combination ghee butter and olive oil (disclaimer — cooking with olive oil is technically against the Whole30. Oh well.) Fill the skillet with 1/2 to 1 onion, red or yellow, sliced into thick rings. Let the onions soften and become translucent, maybe caramelize a little.
  • Add 8 oz sliced mushrooms and start to soften them, adding more olive oil if necessary.
  • As the mushrooms continue to soften, add 1 red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips and let it soften with the mushrooms.
  • Add the green beans to the skillet for a few seconds and season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Oh, and this celery salad

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