Monday, October 26, 2009


Well, I never promised I’d do this every day. It’s been an intense week, including a headcold. It meant it was really a good thing I didn’t try to fly back to Ontario last week. It’s tiring, a day with three flights and the first taking off at 6:30 in the morning. We have to leave here at 4:30 to get me there on time, and the only way THAT’s ever gonna happen is if we stay up all night. And I’d have been at my most contagious and least socially-acceptable with the coughing and runny nose, right during the visitation. My son said, “Yeah, it’s a good thing. A lot of Papa’s old school teacher friends came, and, well … they’re OLD.” Yeah, that lowered immune system thing.

Here, in this little spot in Texas, we aim to live a spiritual life. The premise is, “God’s in charge,” and a key point is that God’s got all the sex/love/relationship stuff and all the money, so there’s no point wasting a lot of time and energy worrying about them. (Some of you will know that’s not exactly how that statement goes, but we’re G-Rated here.) For physical and spiritual reasons, we eat according to a plan. There are some things that are not on the list, and what is on the list is on the list in measured quantities. Lots of people look at the plan and think it’s going to be torture. I did, for 19 years. But it’s not. It’s kept us healthy, made us healthy. Me, beyond my wildest dreams – I haven’t had a shot of insulin since January 21st, 2007, and I was on four a day before that. And I’m wearing size 8 jeans for the first time in my life, and they slide without a belt. Not enough for a size 6, but I never thought I’d get here.

What makes the plan bearable in the long term is that we both see it as a gift from God. The plan is; the ability not just to stick with it but to love it is; the food is. And we both have a sense that the planning and preparation and eating is devotional, or a spiritual discipline.

That picture up there is a salad I’ve been making at least twice a week for the last month. Often more. It’s a cucumber and tomato raita. You start by putting a big paper towel in a sieve over a bowl and dumping a quart of plain yoghurt (we use whole milk yoghurt) into it, and letting it drain in the fridge for anywhere from two to 24 hours. Peel, seed and dice a cucumber into pieces about the size of a dried chickpea. Toss it with a little salt, and put it in the sieve over the bowl (take the yoghurt out first) and let it sit while you do the rest of the stuff. Cut up three Roma tomatoes into bits the same size as the cucumber. Chop up the leaves from half a bunch of cilantro. Mix the tomatoes and cilantro and yoghurt up with a teaspoon or so of roasted, ground cumin seeds (coffee grinder works great for that). Squeeze handsful of the cucumbers as hard as you can in your fist over the sink, mix them in with all the other stuff. Put it in the fridge for an hour or so if you can stand to wait that long, and VIOLA! You have a stringed instrument, and a great salad. Serves 2. It tastes good, it’s good for us, and I always feel like the food is really CLEAN and there’s something more than physical nourishment going on.

We talked about it this afternoon. I said I’d be happy to make one today, but I used the last of the cucumbers and tomatoes when I made it yesterday. Bob went to the store and got 2 cucumbers, a lot of tomatoes and some more cilantro, cuz we’ve got a full quart of yoghurt. When he came back he said it was too bad we didn’t have a Cuisinart or something, to chop up the vegetables. I don’t think it’s that much trouble to do the vegetables, and I said so.

But I thought about it some more while I made the salad just now, and we talked about it for a couple of minutes. Once, when I was living elsewhere with other people, I was dicing up vegetables for soup, and The Voice in my head said, “The gifts of God for the people of God,” just like the priest does about the bread and wine at communion. I realized it was true – I was preparing gifts from God – potatoes, carrots, onions – for people of God – my family. Made the daily task holy. I have that same sense, making the raita. I said tonight, “Preparing this specific food is always spiritual for me. I wouldn’t use a machine for the vegetables if we had one.”

There’s more than that to it. The salad is in a bowl that my friend Deborah Doran made – it’s beautiful, and it was a trick getting it 1,300 miles in one piece. That picture above is a set of knives and choppers that are now hanging on the kitchen wall. (And a dragon that appeared in the sawblade after the knives were cut out of it. Dragons appear unexpectedly like that – it’s their way.) I use the big, round-bladed one with the green linen micarta handle in the top right corner to chop up the cilantro, or garlic, ginger and/or jalapenos, if that’s what I’m doing. It just rocks on the board and cuts them up perfectly. I was using the smaller rounded knife on the bottom for the cucumbers and tomatoes. And below here is a picture of some things on the cutting board. I used that wooden spatula to mix the salad.

Those things are important, because we made them. Bob made those knives. Every once in a while we drive around to the junk barns and stores around here and buy up old, round sawmill blades, or cross-cut saw blades, and once a disc off a harrow. Then he cuts out blades with a plasma cutter, anneals and hardens them, makes the handles. See the handles? Those are all made of micarta, which is layers of fabric held together with a resin. The dark green one was a purchased block of Micarta. The multicoloured ones: we made that block of micarta last spring. Layered different coloured fabrics that we soaked one at a time in Bondo, and clamped them between boards that have pinto beans glued onto them, and that’s what makes the swirls. It’s messy and fun and you have to work fast and don’t know what you’ll get.

That spatula, the wooden one, is one I made a few weeks ago. The first in a series. I like wooden cooking utensils and there aren’t any here, but there’s lots of wood, and lots of tools to make things with. Lots of time too, and an attitude that you don’t know what you like doing or are good at unless you try it. It’s hard to screw up here. The second one of these I made is much too thin, and it will inevitably break – but I’m using it til it does, and being careful with it, and next time I won’t make the same mistake. Next time, I’m making one with a slot in the middle, and I’m going to mail it to Roo in New Jersey, cuz she wants one.

All of this makes making the raita more special, and more about the wonders of the world. Something to be grateful for. You’ll have to make the intuitive leap on that one – the best I can tell you about why, is, it puts love into the task. It makes the salad taste better. It makes the food preparation an act of love and devotion and spiritual gift, rather than drudgery.

It doesn’t only apply to cooking. Attitude is everything. Vacuuming the carpets and cleaning the toilet can be drudgery. It’s not though, when I’m aware that I’m making the place and life more peaceful and pleasant, for myself or for someone else. It’s a way to bring a little serenity, maybe even joy, into the world. Doesn’t even matter if someone else notices that it’s been done: they’ll notice the effect. I used to cook stews and breads and things that cooked a long time and smelled good, on very snowy days, because it made the house a better place to walk into, as soon as someone walked in the door. One of you reading this hangs her clothes on the line instead of using the dryer – it’s an act of good stewardship of the Creation, and so a spiritual discipline too.

I’ve started a new one today. I knit, for joy, and for serenity, and because I can’t smoke cigarettes or eat potato chips or ice cream while I do it. Well, that was why I started – now it’s mostly the joy and serenity. In the last year, I’ve started using (and paying a little extra for) wooden knitting needles. You have to go out of the way to get them. Most stores that have knitting needles at all have plastic or aluminum ones. And I’m less and less able to use acrylic yarns – I don’t like the feel. I use wool, alpaca, mohair, cotton, bamboo yarns. I’ve got a project in my head that I’ll want silk for. They feel better to me. I bought those needles, but I can and will make myself needles here. Bob made me a set of four short fat ones last year for something I made. The picture below is wool that came today, to make mittens and a hat for someone I like a lot. She doesn’t know, and won’t til she gets them. The wool is special – it’ll go in the washer with cold water, but not in the dryer. It’s all very fine – 7.5 stitches in an inch. That’s a lot of knitting. But I’ll think of her while I’m doing it, and say some prayers for her and other people; and be grateful for her and the project itself. The days are still fine enough in east Texas now that I’ll do a lot of the knitting in the hammock too. And fight off the Tiger-kitten sometimes. That all makes it better. It makes it all spiritual gift.

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