A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Taking Candy from Strangers

I work at a Community Action Agency in an unglamorous "diverse" section of Springfield. I usually walk the mile and a quarter home. Ordinarily I have nothing on me but an empty thermos, a cell phone and my house keys, but yesterday I brought two one-dollar bills because I wanted to buy some Junior Mints at the Dollar Store. They'd been out of stock recently and I'd completely depleted my desk-drawer stash of them.

There's a Walgreen's right next door to the office, and it occurred to me that they might also have those movie theater-sized boxes for the same price, so I went in. Sure enough, they were in stock, with a sign below them advertising "99 cents." I selected one box and carried it to the checkout, where I waited in line between Jalisha ( her name was tattooed on her shoulder blade and clearly visible beneath her peekaboo top) and a hulking Hispanic man with his own share of tattoos.

"Do you have a Walgreen's card?" the checkout clerk asked me when Jalisha had been taken care of. When I said no, she informed me that the price would be $1.59. 

"Never mind then," I replied, taking back the dollar bill I had placed on the box of candy. "I can buy this for a dollar in the Dollar Store."

"I got it," said the man behind me, and I felt a little wave of happiness. Many times I had let a clerk swipe my card for a cardless customer at the supermarket, but I hadn't expected such courtesy here. The man handed two bills to the clerk, she rang up $1.59 and handed me the box and some change.

Wait--what??? The man wasn't lending me his card, he was buying me the candy for the full price! I hesitated, and he said slowly, as though to a small child, "You get the candy, and you get the change, too."

I didn't want to reject his gift, or hold up the line by insisting on a return, so I pocketed the Junior Mints, handed him his change, mumbled a thank you, and skedaddled. Embarrassed (did I look that pathetic and indigent?), but also charmed by the kind gesture. In 20 years of life in the glamorous part of town, no random person had ever done anything near as nice for me. Who says you shouldn't take candy from strangers?

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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Back to Base Camp

Today is the one-year anniversary of my taking an active interest in American politics. (For most of my life, I have been a refusenik.) I have long admired Senator Sanders, but I feared he would not be able to push his platform through as a democrat. I don't trust the party (or the Republican Party, for that matter). But, shamed for my anti-American views, I grudgingly started to follow the political blow-by-blow, starting with the "pot-luck" gathering at the White Rose (social justice bookstore) in Holyoke, where a bunch of Bernie supporters watched him kick off his campaign. I really did give it my best shot for 365 days.

Yesterday, however, I was unfriended on Facebook by a liberal friend of over 50 years for a polite, dissenting comment I made to one of her political posts. A few days previously, I pointed out on another liberal friend's timeline that the anti-Republican meme she was sharing was a hoax. She neither removed it nor replied. But someone else did reply, saying that it made no difference if it was true or not, since Trump was so awful...it "might as well be true."
So. I give up. I have not been following the Republican debacle very closely. but I have been following the Democratic primaries, caucuses and conventions ad nauseum. A great deal of evidence clearly shows pro-Hillary bias by the media, the DNC, voting officials, and others. Most of my liberal friends are so overjoyed that a woman has been nominated to run for president that they do not think any of the fraud worthy of investigation or reparations. And anyway, "We must beat Donald Trump."
I can't be a party to this any longer. Literally. The Democratic Party is dead to me. I personally am scared shitless of Hillary, who in my opinion is a war criminal; however, if I thought she had been fairly chosen, I would have sucked it up. But obviously my vote doesn't count. Hillary's win was decided by others more powerful than the voters before the primaries began. Doesn't anyone grasp that this rigging of an election is a more serious threat to democracy than fairly electing anyone, up to and including a dangerous clown?
We invade other countries for less than what we ourselves are tolerating in our own country. Where are the riots and protests from the educated class--those whose liberal educations supposedly taught them to think critically? Until we figure out how to make the election process fair, what difference does it make if we vote or whom we vote for?
So I'll make my vote count, refusenik-style, by voting for the Cat in the Hat or writing in Bernie or whatever. Meanwhile, those friends I still have left can go back to liking me for my homemade desserts and cute dog.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Funny Little Fruit Crackers

Recently I'm eating my way through Cara Brotman and Markus Rothkranz's Love on a Plate: The Gourmet UnCookbook. Yesterday I made fruit crackers, an odd snack if you're not used to raw food. I soaked golden flaxseeds (also called linseeds) with an equal amount of orange juice for a couple of hours, added a bit of maple syrup and some chopped-up pineapple and dried cranberries and spread it on two big trays, then dehydrated the whole business for a couple of hours. At that point I could flip it over and pop it back in the oven for two more hours to dry the other side.

If I had dried it out a bit more, it probably would've been crispy, but I was impatient, so I ended up with a slightly flexible product, almost like a thick fruit leather. I broke it into pieces and I've been nibbling at it ever since.

Golden flaxseeds are identical, nutritionally, to the brown ones, but a bit prettier I guess. Flaxseeds are the most widely available botanical source of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as the richest dietary source of lignans, a type of phytoestrogen. They have been called "nature's hormone replacement therapy." I eat plenty of flaxseeds and can testify that menopause, for me, consisted of two brief hot flashes. No sweats, mood swings, sleep disruption, depression, pain, or any of that. No prescription pills, no worries. I attribute my easy ride to high intake of flax and soy.

Flaxseeds are hard little mothers, so I was surprised that soaking them resulted in a gooey bowl of glop. You're usually advised, for most nutritional benefit, to eat them raw, grinding them just before use. Flaxseed oil seems like it would be handy, but it goes rancid very fast, at which point it's worse than nothing at all. Already-ground seeds pose the same danger. Whole flaxseeds pass through your system undigested, unless you chew them thoroughly. And that's what I've been doing. It would seem impossible to gain weight on this snack (which becomes strangely addictive) because it takes a really long time to chew and swallow! And that's all beneficial fiber you're chewing and chewing, so you get remarkably full after a few little pieces.

p.s. If I make these again, I will add more fruit (as recommended in the book, actually). The recipe calls for dried blueberries and fresh raspberries as well. I just used what I happened to have.

p.p.s. For some reason, the dog is wild about these. She is following me around and begging a lot.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What I Had for Lunch Today: A Taste Explosion in My Mouth

I'm pretty nosy, which is why I probably enjoy being a journalist so much. My job is more or less to travel around, eat new foods, have new experiences, ask personal questions, and get paid for it. At my age, I've seen and done quite a bit, so when I encounter something I haven't seen or tried before, I get excited.

I'm also pretty open to suggestion. I can still picture, clear as day, a tray of muffins in the cafeteria of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, where I was working in 1970. One of the muffins had a little flag stuck in it, saying, "New flavor! Try me!" Guess which muffin I picked? Basically, whenever I get that message--whether it's written on a flag or not--I'm there.

Today I was flipping through a new cookbook (well, "uncookbook" to be precise: it's all raw foods), and I read this sentence:

"Words cannot explain the taste explosion in your mouth when you eat this."

Suddenly I had to try this dish, a.s.a.p.! The book is Love on a Plate: The Gourmet UnCookbook, by Cara Brotman and Markus Rothkranz, and the dish is called simply "Mango blueberry mint." I didn't have all the ingredients, so I immediately went to the store to stock up. Got home, realized I had forgotten one item, went right back out again. The dish itself, fortunately, only took a couple of minutes to throw together once I had all the ingredients. Garlic, ginger, jalapeño pepper, and fresh mint leaves, all chopped up and tossed with mango chunks and blueberries, then a few squirts of fresh lime juice and a sprinkle of salt. "Explosion" is right! This is my new favorite food.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

What I Had for Lunch Today: Love on a Plate

I usually have a salad for lunch, and I don't vary the salad much. Romaine always, maybe a little tomato, red pepper or celery, a simple dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. On top, a sprinkle of chopped nuts, fried tofu, chickpeas or some such. I'm happy to report I'm out of my salad rut with the arrival of this interesting new book, Love on a Plate.

Love on a Plate is an "uncookbook"--all the food is raw. That means no ingredient is ever processed at over 118 degrees Fahrenheit. A blender--preferably a powerful VitaMix--and a food dehydrator are frequently called into service. However, nothing more than a cutting board, a sharp knife, and that old Hamilton Beach blender you got for a wedding present in 1986 will get you pretty far along if you're not quite ready to commit to the raw vegan lifestyle full-time.

 The authors, Cara Brotman and Markus Rothkranz, look like they've sprung fully-dressed from somewhere on Rodeo Drive: tanned, blond, healthy, white and gold outfits glittering in the Southern California sun. Cara is a longtime vegan raw foodie, chef and restaurateur. Markus is a movie special effects guy turned health guru. Together they make living a healthy life simple, attractive and fun.

ALL of the food in this book is extremely easy to prepare. Some of the ingredients need a few hours in the dehydrator, but not counting that drying-out time, a recipe might take three minutes to whip up. Today I made a cheese, date pineapple salad with kale, and it was pretty yummy. I love kale, but I never use it raw in salad. I stuck to the recipe, though, mixing it with cut-up pineapple, dates, scallions, cashews and the non-dairy almond cheese. The dressing is olive oil, cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and nutritional yeast (that's the pale yellow powder with the cheesy flavor, not the stuff you use for baking). Again, I'm not a big fan of vinegar, balsamic or otherwise, but I stuck to the recipe. And it was great! All the flavors and textures mixed together perfectly: sweet, sour, salty...creamy, chewy, crunchy: perfection. I even licked the plate.

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Monday, June 29, 2015

What I Had for Lunch Today: Vegan Egg Salad

I'm trying to eliminate eggs from my diet, for a variety of reasons. In dishes that traditionally call for eggs, substitutes can be made, with varying results. In pancakes and layer cakes, for example, I dare you to tell the difference. In eggplant parmigiana, on the other hand, making a credible batter is difficult. Egg salad, fortunately for me since that's what I was craving today, is one of those dishes for which excellent alternatives exist.

To make this particularly successful batch, I started with pressed tofu from Trader Joe's. It's quite dry, so it doesn't need to be weighted, drained, or dried off with paper towels. It's also organic, nutritious, and cheap. I mashed it up with a fork in a little bowl, then added a couple of spoonsful of nutritional yeast, a couple of pinches of black salt, and some turmeric cooked in a bit of oil. I then had the equivalent of a hard-boiled egg or two.

To the "egg" mixture, I added a couple of dollops of vegan mayonnaise, some sliced celery, and some chopped-up bread-and-butter pickles (which I had made only yesterday), salt and freshly-ground black pepper. I dumped it on a plate of shredded romaine and garnished it with tomato and parsley. That's a soy mocha latte with it.

Nutritional yeast, by the way, has a cheesy or nutty flavor, which gives a boost to notoriously-tasteless tofu. It's also got 9 grams of protein in every two tablespoons. The tofu itself has 14 grams of protein per serving (one serving = a bit over three ounces), so do the math: the vegan version is actually much higher in protein than real egg salad.

The black salt--which I purchased in a local Asian market--contains a lot of sulphur. It comes in big chunks, so I have to pound it into smaller pieces and then grind them up in a mortar and pestle (at least until I find my salt grinder). Although the big chunks are blackish, the ground-up salt is pink. The sulphur in the black salt adds that totally authentic eggy aroma and taste.

Turmeric is mainly for golden color, though it adds a bit of flavor also. But please: never use turmeric raw! You have to fry it in oil first. NEVER just sprinkle it in at the end, no matter what the recipe says. In most traditional recipes calling for turmeric, frying something is part of the cooking process anyway, so that's when the turmeric goes in. For "egg" salad, it's kind of weird, because it's an otherwise no-cook dish. But if you're like me, you can taste the horrible raw taste of uncooked turmeric, and so you get out your tiny cast-iron skillet and add your pinch of spice to a few drops of oil and fry for a few seconds. The result is a cheap, nutritious, cruelty-free vegan dish that tastes pretty much exactly like the original.

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Pillow Concierge!

Most excellent three days in Boston with Brian--a great combination of local color and prodigious luxury. We love Boston, but it's just so darned crowded. A couple of times already this year we've decamped early because we just couldn't deal with the traffic and the crowds. Accommodations at the Battery Wharf Hotel--problem solved! When they say it's "on the water," they mean it's literally on top of the water, on a pier. No cars anywhere around. Even with the windows open, all you hear is the sound of little waves lapping.

Recently, luxury hotels have re-discovered the blatantly obvious fact that real luxury, especially for us boomers, is getting a decent night's sleep. I remember Aunt Wanda and Uncle Eddie used to carry around their pierzyna (Polish featherbed) on trips, whether it was to camp out in the Bay of Fundy (reached by private plane; there were no roads) or rest in regal splendor at the Château Frontenac. No vacation was worth taking, to them, if the bed wasn't as good as theirs at home. And better to be safe than sorry.

I feel the same way. So I was excited to discover that the Battery Wharf Hotel has a pillow concierge! The pillow concierge of my imagination wears a special little costume, poufy and floaty, trimmed with tassels, feathers, and bits of eiderdown. She glides into your room with a selection of restful bed accessories and lets you try them out. Kind of a cross between Mary Poppins, the Sandman and Tinkerbell, but with feathers.

Okay, so the reality doesn't exactly match the fantasy. The results, however, are the same. The Battery Wharf has a selection of pillows, so if you don't like what's provided (a feather pillow), you have your choice of foam, or gel, for example. In my case, the bed as made up in standard fashion (high-end sheets, snowy duvet, pillowtop mattress, feather pillows) was perfection. So I had no need to call on the services of the pillow concierge. She may forever remain the be-tasselled sprite of my imagination.

On the other hand, the coffee was so good (Nespresso coffee maker in room, yum!) and I drank so much of it (hey, I'm a writer....caffeine is my fuel) that I managed to run out of those little pots of cream. So I got to test out the coffee concierge (as I like to think of him). One phone call and I got enough sugar and cream to last the rest of the trip...from an attendant who beamed at me so brightly, I felt I had somehow made his day.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Carrie Jane Emory

This past weekend, at my Smith College reunion, I was supposed to be reminiscing about 1969, but at least part of the time my thoughts were firmly fixed on 1885. I wasn't there at that time, obviously, but Carrie Jane Emory was. She was the daughter of Pascal Emory, first owner of the house now owned by me. I learned a few years ago from her obituary that she had attended Smith, but I didn't know exactly when. So on Saturday afternoon, while my classmates were eating their box lunches on the lawn, I was in the Smith College Archives hunting for any trace of Carrie.

The wonderful archivist showed me a directory published in the 1930s listing all the students from each class, graduates and non-graduates. Carrie was a non-graduating member of the class of 1885. Oddly enough, I counted 45 graduates and 49 non-graduates. That's a dropout rate higher than Springfield's struggling public high schools! I think that in many cases, girls left because they married or because their families could not afford the tuition, but I don't think either of those reasons was the case for Carrie. She died a spinster, her parents were pretty rich, and she was the only child who survived to adulthood (so no competition for the funds).

The archivist also found me a file containing two identical cabinet card portraits (see above) and several letters written during the summers of her college years to a friend named Abby. The letters are maddeningly fluffy, with little concrete information about anything. "Yesterday, I received six letters, two packages and two visiting cards. It took me all morning to read my mail." "I have owed you a letter for a long time. I hope you shan't be angry with me. I have been meaning to buy more note paper." "I am sorry to hear of your distress. I, too, have felt the same way. I hope you shall feel better." Why is Abby distressed? Why was Carrie distressed? What did they do all day long? No clues.

She seemed to like tennis, refers to tournaments, and mentions playing against the men because the women were "too amateurish." I think my next step will be to see if she belonged to any sort of tennis or country club in Springfield. I can find no evidence that she ever married, worked, or even volunteered for any committees (and of course, she didn't cook or clean because she had a servant). She lived almost 60 years after leaving Smith. She must have done something!

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