‘The’ Onion

Peter Glazebrook poses with his 14.6-pound onion, which won its class in the giant vegetable competition on the first day of the Harrogate Autumn Flower Show in Harrogate, England.  He has won the onion competition multiple times. He has also won awards for the world’s largest carrot (20 lbs), potato (11 lbs), cauliflower (60 lbs), beetroot and parsnip.

This post was inspired by American author Lawrence Sanders and his Deadly Sin series where his mouth drooling description of sandwiches have never left my consciousness for over 25 years.  His lead character is Francis Delaney, a New York police homicide detective who eats wonderful sandwiches while solving grisly murder cases.

Francis X. Delaney is standing at the counter in the kitchen of his two-story New York brownstone, making himself a sandwich. First, he slices beef from Sunday`s leftover roast and piles it on a thick piece of black bread. A couple of slabs of Muenster cheese goes on next, covered by two circles of raw onion. There`s a can of sardines in the refrigerator, and he places several of the little fish on top of the onion. He dabs a little horseradish over the growing stack, then adds two tomato slices. No lettuce. He slathers mayonnaise on another slice of black bread to complete the sandwich.  Standing over the sink so he can drip all he wants, he eats it with pleasure.


Notes:

 

Miracle. All of it.

When the first teeth appear, these little stones slowly pushed up through the child’s red gums, appearing at first like sharp little points, then standing there like miniature white towers in the mouth, it is hard not to be astonished, for where do they come from? Nothing that enters the baby, mostly milk but also a little mashed banana and potato, bears the slightest resemblance to teeth, which in contrast to the food are hard. Yet this must be what happens – that certain substances are extracted from this partly liquid, partly soft nourishment and transported to the jaws, where they are assembled into the material used to make teeth. But how? That skin and flesh, nerves and sinews are formed and grow is perhaps just as great a mystery, but it doesn’t feel that way. The tissue is soft and living, the cells stand open to each other and to the world in a relationship of exchange. Light, air and water pass through them in human beings and animals as well as in plants and trees. But teeth are entirely closed, impervious to everything, and seem nearer to the mineral world of mountains and rock, gravel and sand. So what really is the difference between rocks formed by hardening lava and then eroded by wind and weather over millions of years, or formed by infinitely slow processes of sedimentation, where something originally soft is compressed until it becomes hard as diamond, and these little enamelled stones, which at this very moment are pushing up through the jaws of my children as they lie asleep in the dark of their rooms? To the oldest two, growing and losing teeth has become routine. But the youngest one still finds it a source of great excitement. Losing your first tooth is an event, also your second and perhaps even your third, but then inflation sets in, and the teeth seem to just drop out, loosening in the evening in bed, so that next morning I have to ask why there are bloodstains on the pillow, or in the afternoon in the living room while eating an apple, and it’s no longer a big deal. ‘Here, Daddy,’ one of them might say, handing me the tooth.

~ Karl Ove Knausgaard, from “Teeth” in “Autumn


Notes:

  • Photo: Kymberly Orcholski with “new teeth
  • Inspired by Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
  • Related Posts: Miracle. All of it.

Tuesday Morning Wake-Up Call

Every single day since I was born the sun has been there, but somehow I’ve never quite got used to it, perhaps because it is so unlike everything else we know. The sun is one of the few phenomena in our existence that we are unable to get close to, if we did we would be obliterated, nor can we dispatch probes, satellites or spacecraft there, they too would be destroyed. That we cannot even look directly at the sun without being blinded or having our eyesight permanently damaged sometimes feels like an unreasonable restriction, even an insult: right above us, visible to every human being and animal all over the world, an enormous fiery orb hangs suspended, and we can’t even look at it! But that’s how it is. If we look straight at the sun for only a few seconds, the retina fills with small quivering black spots, and if we fix our gaze on it, the blackness spreads across the inside of our eyes like ink on blotting paper. Above us, then, hangs a blazing ball which not only provides us with all our light and warmth but is also the origin and source of all life, while at the same time it is absolutely unapproachable and completely indifferent to its creation. […]

But while conceptions of reality rise and fall, flare up and fade away, reality itself is unyielding, its conditions immutable: day dawns in the east, slowly darkness yields its ground, and while the air fills with birdsong, sunlight strikes the back of the clouds, which change from grey to pink to shining white, while the sky that only minutes before was greyish-black now turns blue and the first rays fill the garden with light. It is day. People walk to and from their daily tasks, the shadows grow shorter and shorter, then longer and longer, as the earth turns. When we eat dinner outside, beneath the apple tree, the air is full of children’s voices, the clatter of cutlery, the rustle of leaves in the mild breeze, and no one notices that the sun is hanging right above the roof of the guest house, no longer blazing yellow but orange, burning silently.

~ Karl Ove Knausgaard, from “The Sun” in “Autumn” (Penguin Press, August 22, 2017)


Notes:

Miracle. All of it.

28 August. Now, as I write this, you know nothing about anything, about what awaits you, the kind of world you will be born into. And I know nothing about you. I have seen an ultrasound image and have laid my hand on the belly in which you are lying, that is all. Six months remain until you will be born, and anything at all can happen during that time, but I believe that life is strong and indomitable, I think you will be fine, and that you will be born sound and healthy and strong. See the light of day, the expression goes. It was night outside when your eldest sister, Vanja, was born, the darkness filled with swirling snow. Just before she came out, one of the midwives tugged at me, You catch, she said, and so I did, a tiny child slipped out into my hands, slippery as a seal. I was so happy I cried. When Heidi was born one and a half years later, it was autumn and overcast, cold and damp as October can be, she came out during the morning, labour was rapid, and when her head had emerged but not yet the rest of her body, she made a little sound with her lips, it was such a joyous moment. John, as your big brother is called, came out in a cascade of water and blood, the room had no windows, it felt like we were inside a bunker, and when I went out afterwards to call his two grandparents, I was surprised to see the light outside, and that life flowed on as if nothing in particular had happened. It was 15 August 2007, it may have been five or six o’clock in the afternoon, in Malmö, where we had moved the previous summer. Later that evening we drove to a patient hotel, and the day after I went to pick up your sisters, who amused themselves greatly by placing a green rubber lizard on top of John’s head. They were three and a half and nearly two years old at the time. I took photos, one day I’ll show them to you.

That’s how they saw the light of day. Now they are big, now they are used to the world, and the strange thing is that they are so unalike, each of them has a personality entirely their own, and they always did, right from the start. I assume that’s how it will be with you too, that you already are the person you will become.

~ Karl Ove Knausgaard, “Letter to an Unborn Daughter, August 28.” Excerpt from opening story in his new book titled “Autumn” (Penguin Press, August 22, 2017)


Notes:

Angels in our Midst

No wild animal lives so freely and in such variety and numbers among humans as do birds. For that reason alone, our relationship to them is unlike our connection to any other wild creature. But there are other reasons, too. The intellect of birds is arguably the closest in the animal world to our own. Birds charm us with their ethereal songs, which are profoundly different from the sound of any other animal; in fact, some of the natural world’s most beautiful sounds emerge from the tiniest of birds. They are found virtually everywhere, from the Arctic and Antarctic to the tropics and deserts to the concrete labyrinths at the heart of the world’s cities and the green patches of grass in front of our homes, and they are nature’s exclamation point, adding an unequaled burst of vibrancy to our lives. Birds came to the earth, an Australian legend has it, when a rainbow shattered and its shards of color turned into birds as they fell: the glowing, jewel-like reds, greens, and blues of the hummingbirds; the bold red, white, and black of the woodpeckers; the deep blue of bluebirds and indigo buntings; the slash of red on the shoulders of red-winged blackbirds and the full suit of red worn by cardinals…

One of the most important things birds do is remind us of our deep and abiding emotional connection to nature…What is going on in our hearts and brains when we observe these creatures? What moves people to spend hundreds of dollars a year feeding birds in their backyard, or thousands to travel the world to watch them? Throughout history, birds have been strongly allied with mystical properties. Might birds, then, also have things to tell us that science has yet to consider?…

In the end we will only conserve what we love, we will love what we understand, and we will understand what we are taught,” wrote Baba Dioum, a Senegalese forester. This book is my humble attempt to write about how a wide range of people interpret birds and to offer a few interpretations of my own, to teach something about this marvelous planet we call home and the fellow travelers with whom we share it, creatures who are able to fly halfway across the globe nonstop, dive ten times deeper into the ocean than a human, or fly backward and upside down and do many other things we cannot begin to comprehend…

I am in awe of birds.

~ Jim Robbins, The Wonder of Birds: What They Tell Us About Ourselves, the World, and a Better Future,  Spiegel & Grau (May 30, 2017)


Notes:

  • Post inspired by book review in wsj.com titled Angels in our Midst: “For mankind, birds are mediators between heaven and earth; they make our spirits soar. Bernd Heinrich reviews ‘The Wonder of Birds’ by Jim Robbins.”

    …In 19 chapters, some focused on individual species, others more general, Jim Robbins flits about the avian world, exploring the marvels of birds’ biology, the insights they offer into our own species and the history of their interactions with humans. His goal is “to help change the way we perceive birds, to move them from the background of our lives to the foreground, from the quotidian to the miraculous.” He shares his own “soul-stirring wonder” at birds’ “miraculous nature,” hoping to reshape our relationship with them and thus with the earth. The book is a must-read, conveying much necessary information in easily accessible form and awakening one’s consciousness to what might otherwise be taken for granted. Mr. Robbins, a reporter for the New York Times, says that he became a bird lover in 1980 while interviewing a falconer in Idaho. Together they watched as a falcon “dove, soared and wheeled. . . . I, too, felt I had, for a brief time, soared with the peregrine.” “The Wonder of Birds” reads like the story of a kid let loose in a candy store and given free rein to sample. That is one of its strengths: the convert’s view gives wide appeal to those who might never have known birds well. Most of us have lost the everyday connection that all humans once had with birds. We now have it mainly with the chicken in our McNuggets.”

  • Photo: wsj.com – A man feeds birds on the banks of the Yamuna River in New Delhi. (Prakash Singh/Agence France-Presse, Feb 3, 2017)

That – and no more, and it is everything to make you hear, to make you feel — it is, before all, to make you see. That — and no more, and it is everything

In one of the rare interviews he did, the fiction writer and poet Denis Johnson — who died on Wednesday at 67 — was asked about his craft, and he quoted these lines from Joseph Conrad: “My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel — it is, before all, to make you see. That — and no more, and it is everything.”

In his own novels and poems, Mr. Johnson fulfilled that task with extraordinary savagery and precision. He used his startling gift for language to create word pictures as detailed and visionary, and as varied, as paintings by Edward Hopper and Hieronymus Bosch, capturing the lives of outsiders — the lost, the dispossessed, the damned — with empathy and unsparing candor. Whether set in the bars and motels of small-town America, or the streets of wartime Saigon, his stories depict people living on the edge, addicted to drugs or adrenaline or fantasy, reeling from the idiocies and exigencies of modern life, and longing for salvation…

Mr. Johnson’s America, past or present, is uncannily resonant today. It’s a troubled land, staggering from wretched excess and aching losses, a country where dreams have often slipped into out-and-out delusions, and people hunger for deliverance, if only in the person of a half-baked messiah. Reason is in short supply here, and grifters and con men peddling conspiracy thinking and fake news abound; families are often fragmented or nonexistent; and primal, Darwinian urges have replaced the rule of law. And yet, and yet, amid the bewilderment and despair, there are lightning flashes of wonder and hope — glimpses of the possibility of redemption…

“What I write about,” Mr. Johnson once said, “is really the dilemma of living in a fallen world, and asking: ‘Why is it like this if there’s supposed to be a God?’”

~ Michiko Kakutani, excerpts from Denis Johnson’s Poetic Visions of a Fallen World


Find Denis Johnson’s Books on his Page at Amazon here.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat

salt-fat-acid-heat-samin-nosrat-cooking-1.jpg

“Somehow my mom always knew exactly what would taste best when we emerged. Persian cucumbers topped with sheep’s milk feta cheese rolled together in lavash bread. We chased the sandwiches with handfuls of ice cold grapes or wedges of watermelon to quench our thirst. That snack, eaten while my curls dripped with seawater and salt crust formed on my skin, always tasted so good. Without a doubt, the pleasures of the beach added to the magic of the experience.”

Samin Nosrat grew up understanding how good food is all about balance, and that’s the gist of her new cookbook. It’s titled “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering The Elements Of Good Cooking.”

(SALT) Nosrat frees her readers to use their own senses instead of measuring cups. She says we should salt things until they taste like the sea, which is a beautiful thing, but it also sounds like just a lot of salt.  NOSRAT: “Just use more than you’re comfortable with, I think, is a good rule for most people. Especially when you’re boiling things in salted water, most foods don’t spend that much time in that water…So the idea is to make the environment salty enough so that the food can absorb enough salt and become seasoned from within. A lot of times, you end up using less salt total if you get the salt right from within because then the thing isn’t over-seasoned on the outside and bland in the center.”

(FAT) “I think fat has this remarkable capability to offer us all these different and very interesting and delicious and sort of mouthwatering textures in our food. And it’s just about learning how to get those textures out of the fat that you’re already using.”

(ACID) “For me, it’s all about getting that nice tangy balance in a meal or in a bite or in a dish. And you can get that through a lot of things, citrus and vinegar and wine which are maybe the three most obvious and sort of well-known sources of acid…Almost every condiment we add to our food is acidic, which is why when you get – I don’t know – a bean and cheese burrito, you’re always like hungry for salsa and sour cream and guacamole to put on there because those things will just perk it up, you know, and add flavor.”

(HEAT) “And so the thing about heat I realized, it sort of boils down to when you’re cooking a food, your goal – no matter what the food is – is to get your desired result on the outside and on the inside. And so your dream is to get that perfect grilled cheese, where the outside is crisp and brown and buttery and delicious, and the inside is melty and perfect.”

Chef Calls ‘Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat’ The 4 Elements Of Good Cooking, excerpts from an interview with Samin Nosrat. 

Find the bestseller on Amazon here: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking

It all began with her

Bob Greene, excerpts from I Actually Thanked A TeacherNow 88, she gave me a refresher in the lesson I’d learned in first grade: how to read the word ‘look.’ (wsj.com, April 12, 2017):

…My first-grade teacher was named Patricia Ruoff…I still recall the day she helped me learn the first word I could ever read…and she showed me what the shape of the four letters on the first page meant, and what they sounded like. That one word: “Look.”

I went home so thrilled that day. I knew how to read a word. “Look.” When the day had begun I hadn’t known it, and now I did. Such a magical feeling, accompanied by the sure knowledge that other words would soon follow. […]

it became important to me to find that teacher. It took some doing—it turns out she has been twice widowed, and thus has had two different last names since back then—but I reached a woman on the telephone who I thought might be her.

“I’m sorry if I have the wrong number,” I said. “But I’m looking for a Patricia Ruoff, who once was a schoolteacher.”

“Yes,” the voice said. “You have the right person.”

“You taught me to read,” I said.

I told her my name.

“Oh, Bobby,” she said. […] [Read more…]

Voilà, I’m home now

October 28: Bringing maman’s body from Paris to Urt…The undertaker meets a “colleague” there…I walk a few steps…on one side of the square…bare ground, the smell of rain, the sticks. And yet, something like a savor of life (because of the sweet smell of the rain), the very first discharge, like a momentary palpitation.

October 29: How strange: her voice, which I knew so well, and which is said to be the very texture of memory (“ the dear inflection . . .”), I no longer hear. Like a localized deafness.

October 30: At Urt: sad, gentle, deep (relaxed).

November 1: Indeterminacy of the senses: one could just as well say that I have no feelings or that I’m given over to a sort of external, feminine (“ superficial”) emotivity, contrary to the serious image of “true” grief—or else that I’m deeply hopeless, struggling to hide it, not to darken everything around me, but at certain moments not able to stand it any longer and “collapsing.” [Read more…]

Miracle. All of it.

baby-bath
I was born in the afternoon of March 14, when a fault opened deep below Bucharest. The inky tips of seismographic recording needles trembled as the tectonic blow rolled through the Carpathians toward Kiev and Moscow, gradually receding. The face of the world was distorted, as if in a fun-house mirror: avalanches fell from mountains, asphalt roads buckled, railroad tracks turned into snakes. Flags shook on flagpoles, automatic guns rang out in arsenals, barbed wire across state borders broke under the strain; chandeliers in apartments and frozen carcasses in meat processing plants swung like metronomes; furniture on upper floors swayed and scraped. The thousand-kilometer convulsion of the earth’s uterus gave a gentle push to the concrete capsules of missile silos, shook coal onto the heads of miners, and lifted trawlers and destroyers on a wave’s swell.

My mother was in the maternity ward, but her contractions had not started. The tectonic wave reached Moscow, shook the limestone bedrock of the capital, ran along the floating aquifers of rivers, gently grasped the foundations and pilings; an enormous invisible hand shook the skyscrapers, the Ostankino and Shukhov towers, water splashed against the gates of river locks; dishes rattled in hutches, window glass trembled. People called the police—“ our house is shaking”—some ran outside, others headed straight for the bomb shelters. Of course, there was no general panic, but this was the first time since the German bombing that Moscow reeled …

Mother worked at the Ministry of Geology and was part of a special commission that studied the causes and consequences of natural disasters…When the maternity ward was shaken by a gentle wave from the center of the earth, my mother was the only person to understand what was happening, and the unexpectedness of it, the fear that the earth’s tremor had pursued her and found her in the safety of Moscow and induced her into labor. The earthquake was my first impression of being: the world was revealed to me as instability, shakiness, the wobbliness of foundations. My father was a scholar, a specialist in catastrophe theory, and his child was born at the moment of the manifestation of forces that he studied, as he lived, without knowing it, in unison with the cycles of earth, water, wind, comets, eclipses, and solar flares, and I, his flesh and blood, appeared as the child of these cycles.

~ Sergei Lebedev, from Child of an Earthquake in “The Year of the Comet


Notes:

  • Photo: Caitie @ ktnewms  (via A Joyful Journey)
  • Post Inspired by Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
  • Related Live & Learn Posts: Miracle. All of it.
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