Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Raw, adjective: 6. ignorant, inexperienced, or untrained: a raw recruit.


I waddled home from Berkeley tonight saddled by some 10 or 11 fantastically edgy books.  Now my kitchen counter is loaded down with The Sexual Theologian and Hooked! Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire and the Urge to Consume and, gulp, Alien Sex.  Yeah.  The subtitle erases some of the thrill, I'll admit: "The Body and Desire in Cinema and Theology."  But it's pretty sultry, nonetheless.  Loved watching fellow commuters' eyes bug out across the aisle riding the cable car on the way home.

Anyway, point of that is, I'm feeling pretty book-drunk right now, and am preparing to hunker down in my office with some dishy tomes and write for hours.  So you can imagine my alarm, whilst lolling around in this literary lust, when I saw the latest installation of the Katie-Couric-trying-not-to-roll-her-eyes-back-in-her-head interview series with Sarah Palin.

This one hits on all the hot topics: abortion and the Morning After Pill, teaching evolution in schools, global warming, homosexuality and religion (Palin has a "gay friend," so no worries about losing your civil rights or anything, dearhearts!).  But what really dropped my jaw was when, once again, Katie asked for specifics, this time in regard to which books and newspapers Palin read to shape her worldview (before being tapped as VP).  Palin's stumbling, inarticulate response is mind-boggling.  It's better when you watch the video, but I'll copy and paste the transcript here:
Couric: And when it comes to establishing your worldview, I was curious, what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this to stay informed and to understand the world?

Palin: I've read most of them, again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media.

Couric: What, specifically?

Palin: Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me all these years.

Couric: Can you name a few?

Palin: I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news, too. Alaska isn't a foreign country, where it's kind of suggested, "Wow, how could you keep in touch with what the rest of Washington, D.C., may be thinking when you live up there in Alaska?" Believe me, Alaska is like a microcosm of America.
The woman can't even name one.  I mean, for god's sakes!  Just say the New York Times, pull it out of your ass, don't even worry about stretching for The Economist or something else intelligent!  Just say something!!!  Preferably that isn't US Weekly!

Watch Couric's eyes roll there while Palin fumbles for an answer.  She's so over this.  How many times have we seen her ask, repeatedly, for specific answers, with nothing ever given?  It's unbelievable.  We can now add the fact that she's stunningly poorly-read to the cadre of reasons Sarah Palin should not be elected VP.

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.



This is a very beautiful wisp of a piece from Garrison Keillor.  The man never fails to bring it.

It will change your day.

Crash (Salon)

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.



From within or from behind, a light shines through us upon things, and makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all.

~~ Ralph Waldo Emerson


(And that's one of Hopper's last great works: "Sun in an Empty Room," 1963)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air

Status: shivering in the bowels of the Berkeley library
Temp.: approx. 40 below zero
Feet: bare
Head: hurts
Should be reading: "Karl Marx: Communist as Religious Eschatologist"
Actually reading: People.com
Should be writing: desire and eschatological hope as related to the market
Actually writing: this post
God bless: free wireless

Oh sweet jesus on a schoolbus. Evening in Berkeley, and there are two crows pecking around outside the window, where it's more like 72 degrees instead of the refrigerator-cold temps here between the bookcases. Usually love me the blessed institutionalized solitude that is the library, she of the silence and the stillness and the books beyond measure. But today, now, it's nearing twilight and the Dow Jones just plummeted 778 points (talk about eschatology!) and my knee hurts from some mysterious ailment that prevents me from sitting in Lotus while I write and it's making it hard to do much at all beyond thinking this thought: I would really like some coffee.

As a result, oh, the pop culture articles I'm catching up on! Dame Gloria has another quick interview in the latest New York Magazine, a charming cross-generational conversation with Suheir Hammad. (Both of whom are, might I add: a) self-identified feminists, and b) super hot. Just sayin'.) The ladeeez hit on, among other things: booty calls, shacking up, and Sarah Palin (of course).

Now here's the opposite of Palin's "Sexy Puritan" - a true-blue, smart-as-hell, vibrant and vital piece of work, a stunner AND a scholar, an activist and an author. Sweetness.  I pretty much want to be her.  

(Don't you think she looks a lot like Jennifer Aniston in that shot? But with a brain, I mean.)

In Conversation: Gloria Steinem and Suheir Hammad (NY Mag)

Raw, adjective: 6. ignorant, inexperienced, or untrained: a raw recruit.


Tom Perrotta - beloved of Election and Little Children - had a great piece Friday over on Slate about Sarah Palin and the phenomenon of the Sexy Puritan.  (A big thanks to B for the heads-up on this one.)

Perrotta writes:
"Caribou hunting aside, Sarah Palin represents the state-of-the-art version of a particular type of woman—let's call her the Sexy Puritan—that's become a familiar and potent figure in the culture war in recent years. ....

Sexy Puritans engage in the culture war on two levels—not simply by advocating conservative positions on hot-button social issues but by embodying nonthreatening mainstream standards of female beauty and behavior at the same time. The net result is a paradox, a bit of cognitive dissonance very useful to the cultural right: You get a little thrill along with your traditional values, a wink along with the wagging finger. Somehow, you don't feel quite as much like a prig as you expected to."
Perrotta goes on to encapsulate so many of the hot issues swirling around this MILF candidate: culture wars, gender politics, conservative Christianity, and the bizarro newish dichotomy that is nubile young things shilling for abstinence.  It's a fascinating melding of the fundy anti-sex mentality with pretty politically-savvy methods.

This is, in large part, why this Palin choice has me so tied to the coverage.  A million different culture/religion issues going on here.  Whew.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Raw, idiom: 14a. in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.



Bundt Cake Saturday!

Morning: toasty
Mood: brown sugary
Music: Debussy

And the onslaught of fall flavors begins!

I'm so excited to delve into all the seasonal flavors that are coming into play right now: cinnamon and cloves and spice cakes and carrot cakes and on and on and on.  So for the last several weeks I've been flirting with maple recipes, really hankering to get down with some old-style maple syrup and dive into the scents and swoons of autumn flavors.  

And it just so turns out that earlier this week was Canada's own "Maple Leaf Day: National Tree Planting Day."  Bingo.  And I am not only a fan of trees, I'm also a fan of maple flavors, even when they come out of a small tincture bottle labeled "extract" or when they come in powdered form mixed with brown sugar and dry oatmeal in a small paper bag a la the kind B and I used to eat every morning for breakfast circa 1984.  Oh, the memories.  

Right now the cake's been in the oven for a good half an hour, and my house is swelling with maple scent, and it's about all I can do to control the wild sensory memory synapses firing all over the place.  It truly smells just like I'm sitting at the kitchen table in semi-rural South Dakota, a chilly wind is blowing across the prairie, the grass is browning after a long summer and B and I are sleepily shoveling oatmeal into our faces looking out the window behind the kitchen table.  Except that now I've got 20-some more years on me and a few grey hairs and the shriveled Republican dude running for office goes by the name of McCain instead of Reagan.  Otherwise, pretty much the same.

Things have been crazy-busy here in the Rach household with a lot of big writing deadlines looming; I am living pretty much like a monk, tied to my computer cranking out pages whenever not at the yoga studio or at work.  So this morning's recipe, if it was going to happen, necessitated simplicity.  No chopping rhubarb today.  So please overlook the ease, and appreciate it for being a surprisingly rich and brown-sugar-tinged cake; I'm already pleasantly surprised by the many sensual returns its given for a damn easy five-minute preparation.

Enough rambling.  Let's make a 

MAPLE PECAN BUNDT CAKE

I decided to use my spiral Heritage pan again, because it's so beee-au-tiful, so made sure to flour and grease it well; it likes to stick.  The recipe originally included walnuts, but I shifted to pecans, as I've got a big bag in my pantry that's been crying out for some love.

INGREDIENTS

1 package yellow cake mix
1 package instant vanilla pudding
4 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1-1/3 cups water
1-1/2 tsp. maple flavoring
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Grease and flour your fabulous spiral bundt pan, then set aside.  Mix all ingredients, except nuts, in a large bowl until well blended; add nuts and mix well. Pour batter into bundt pan. Bake 45-50 minutes or until cake tester inserted into middle of the cake comes out clean.

I had planned to make a maple buttercream frosting, but the cake came so nicely out of the spiral pan that I changed plans; didn't want to cover up that simple beauty.  So instead I whipped up a little maple glaze that wouldn't overwhelm the cake itself.

Your maple glaze looks like this: 

2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
3/4 tsp. maple flavoring
2 tbl. margarine or butter
4-5 tbl. buttermilk (because I had it on hand)

Blend until glaze consistency.  Spoon onto warm cake.

While the cake was cooling, I toasted a few pecans to sprinkle on top.  People Who Know have told me that toasting is imperative if you're going to top a cake with nuts; it brings out their natural flavors and increases the richness of the, uh, "experience."  Throw said nuts onto a baking sheet, slide them in the 350 degree oven for about 5 minutes, and you'll be all set.

Chop the pecans, and sprinkle them over the cooling glaze.  Simple, lovely, classic, vintage.  And the kitchen still smells like breakfast, 1984.

With each bundt Saturday that passes, I'm realizing that this whole thing is much less about making something that tastes good than it is about making something beautiful.  It's pretty much all aesthetics, all the time here.  Because I'm just a superficial bitch who likes pretty shit.

So.

Eat, and enjoy, and then go plant a tree before the sugar crash hits.

Recipe courtesy divinerecipes.com

Friday, September 26, 2008

Raw, adjective: 5. crude in quality or character; not tempered or refined by art or taste: raw humor.


What's new, you say? Oh, you know...

My bank failed yesterday. (Hello, JPMorgan Chase.) Letterman's ripping into McCain two nights in a row for being a weenie and bailing on his show "to rush to DC to fix the economy." McCain's pussy-footing around about the Mississippi debate that may or may not be happening tonight. And Palin continues to make an ass of herself sans teleprompters in her interviews with Katie Couric. Watch and shudder. The woman has no idea what she's talking about.

What a Friday! I've read more of the Wall Street Journal in the last 24 hours than I have in my whole life heretofore. Business, schmisness. Shit works out. It'll be fine. But in the meantime, let's hope those poll numbers keep dropping as the McCain-Palin ticket implodes.

Molly shared this hilarious link a few weeks ago, and in light of so much political hubbub right now, I've gotta mention it, too. Check this for some serious Obama-love. Couch Potatoes for Obama! Brunettes for Obama! Beer Brewers for Obama! Get yours now.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Raw, adjective: 1. uncooked, as articles of food: a raw carrot.


In earth-shattering news of global importance (what economy?), Lara Bar has stealthily been sneaking new and delicious flavors into the aisles at Whole Foods.  It's like a treasure hunt every time I'm there.  In the last few weeks, we've seen Coconut Cream Pie, Peanut Butter Cookie, Chocolate Cherry, and my favorite: Chocolate Hazelnut, debut.

Totally tasty, and might I remind you, raw, unprocessed, and full of omega-3s and -6s and fiber and potassium and whatever else you want in there.  I'm going to buy stock in this shit.  Check out the new flavors when you have a chance.

On a more serious food-related note, did you see this NYT article decrying the disappearance of the vaunted Mediterranean diet from the Mediterranean itself?  Pretty depressing.  Just like other studies have shown a dramatic decline in health when, for instance, traditional Asian communities rely more heavily on American-style meat-and-dairy-and-fast food based diets, so too, here, have the physicians in Greece seen a serious increase in childhood health problems as ice cream and pizza replace feta and greens.  Sigh.

The irony is the way you see so clearly, in reading, how increasing affluence is actually responsible for this shift in decreased health; when locals interviewed struggled more with poverty (in past decades, for instance), they often ate more closely to the ground, more simply, and more healthfully.  The downside of globalization is that with these changes in food culture and the erasure of traditional local lifestyles, so too come American-style health problems directly related to a processed-food lifestyle.  Which results in depressing realities like obese kids shackled to diets when they should instead be building forts and playing outside and not thinking about things like calories.

This quotation kind of said it all for me:
Dimitris Loukakis, 44, said he was so concerned about changing eating habits that he had bought a farm to grow traditional crops himself. Sitting at an outdoor cafe by the beach, he and his wife drank iced coffee while their chunky 9-year-old daughter, Maria, nibbled on spinach pie and glumly drank water.
“I’m on a diet; I have to eat less,” Maria piped up, noting that the local school had recently started to teach students about nutrition.
“Some diet,” interjected her father. “We’re trying to keep her off sugar now. If we continue like this, we’re going to become like Americans, and no one wants that.”
Not even Americans.

Fast Food Hits Mediterranean; A Diet Succumbs (NYT)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.


This week's YJ newsletter highlights an oldie but a goodie: Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, the definitive classic that compiled years of ancient oral traditions into a singular source for yogic theory.

It can be intimidating to dive into the Sutras, what with all the unfamiliar concepts and Sanskrit words and long Indian names.  At least for those of us who are more familiar with spiritual writings by dudes like Matthew-Mark-Luke-and-John, that is.  But I find that if you take it bit by bit, chewing on a few pieces here and there, slowly but surely you'll get a good sense of what this stuff is all about.

And part of what I love about yoga is that it is so not about the mat.  It is so not about the pretzel postures.  And it's so not about the hot yoga ass.  Judith Lasater's brief article here, outlining the niyamas (Sanskrit for "observances"), makes an attempt to "describe actions and attitudes that we should cultivate to overcome the illusion of separation and the suffering it causes." 

Lasater discusses the five niyamas, which are: purity (saucha); contentment (santosa); austerity (tapas); self-study (svadhyaya); and surrender (isvara pranidhana).  Though the writing can sometimes get lost in what sounds like New Age mumbo-jumbo about the Self and the ego and whatnot, if you can overlook that, you'll find what amounts to a few strikingly consistent cross-religious themes: things like compassion, and interrelation, and contentment with what is.  And suddenly the same themes that you can apply to your yoga practice jump off the mat and into your work, your relationships and your moment-to-moment state of mind.

Give it a read.

Raw, adjective: 6. ignorant, inexperienced, or untrained: a raw recruit.


If you've not yet hit your critical Palin limit, here's another article you should read.  

Sam Harris hits on all the biggies: theocracy and scary biblical literalism, ignorance and undue confidence, double standards and ill qualifications.  Here's (to my mind) one of his strongest points:
Ask yourself: how has "elitism" become a bad word in American politics? There is simply no other walk of life in which extraordinary talent and rigorous training are denigrated. We want elite pilots to fly our planes, elite troops to undertake our most critical missions, elite athletes to represent us in competition and elite scientists to devote the most productive years of their lives to curing our diseases. And yet, when it comes time to vest people with even greater responsibilities, we consider it a virtue to shun any and all standards of excellence. When it comes to choosing the people whose thoughts and actions will decide the fates of millions, then we suddenly want someone just like us, someone fit to have a beer with, someone down-to-earth—in fact, almost anyone, provided that he or she doesn't seem too intelligent or well educated.
Never thought I'd be one to defend elitism, but: yeah.  I don't want a president I can have a beer with - I want someone who knows a helluva lot more than I do, who intimidates me intellectually, who could stomp all over my sorry foreign policy knowledge!  

I really can't believe the extraordinary degree to which Palin's selection has transformed this campaign.  The mess of gender politics and red state religious crap spinning up through the atmosphere blows my mind.  I just don't know where to start.

When Atheists Attack (Newsweek)

Raw, idiom: 14a. in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.


I stumbled across this little gem yesterday -- Sleeping Bag Yoga: Stretch! Relax! Energize! for Hikers, Bikers & Kayakers, by Erin Widman.  Isn't it cute?  What a great idea.

Sure, yoga is one of the few "sports" you can take with you wherever you go.  But as much as I love to travel, my body gets achy and hungers for its daily Bikram yoga routine as soon as I hit the road.  The lack of the heated room (and, thus, the lowered workout intensity) is the only drawback that really prevents me from taking off into the wild unknown for a month or two.

So here's a little something to take along next time you spend a few days lost in Yosemite or biking through the Badlands.  It's a great idea; a soft book you can easily squeeze into your backpack that will bring release and relaxation to your tired body at the end of the day.

Here's a blurb from the Introduction:
You don’t have to be an extreme-sports activist to derive benefits from Sleeping Bag Yoga, nor do you need any previous yoga experience. These positions have been culled from a wide range of possibilities with simplicity and safety in mind. If you kayak and beach camp for a few days, your upper body will get a workout as your lower body stiffens in the tight compartment of your boat. Stretching at the end of the day will be soothing and relaxing. A routine in the morning will revitalize you for another day of paddling so you can continue your adventure in the spirit of play. Yoga can confer similar benefits when you’re hiking—whether it’s months on the Pacific Crest Trail or even a day hike in the Olympic Mountains. Yoga literally means “to yoke” or “union”; therefore any moment that we are strong in our body and in tune with our surroundings, we are linked into all that yoga has to offer.

While geared to enhance the capabilities of the body in sport, the yoga positions presented here also encourage alignment and harmony with nature. They draw upon and express a yogic philosophy that all of nature, including our bodies, is simply an expression of a divine spirit at play, that life is a gift to be received. This view confirms what hikers, bikers, and paddlers already know; we act from this perspective every time we set out on an excursion. When the strong current, the steep mountain pass, or the headwind we face is received as a gift, as an expression of a powerful spirit, our ability to align and move along with it is greatly enhanced. Enlightenment is simply a moment when we experience divinity through the actions of our body and mind; it is a moment when we are in total harmony with the beauty of the world around us.
Right on.  Pick it up for your favorite hiker-biker-kayaker-traveler-yogi-whatever.

Random shit I wanted to post that has no feasible connection whatsoever to any definition of "rawness"





Cute pic with a few of my favorite people in the world at Opera in the Park a few weeks ago!  


Makes me happy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Raw, idiom: 14a. in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.


So the autumnal equinox has come and gone, and the evenings creep earlier now, and Braeburn apples will soon go on sale at the farmer's market.  Hello, Fall.

I sat in the sun yesterday in Berkeley [cue John Denver: "Sunshine, on my shoulders, makes me happy"], there in the shadow of the palm trees looming over Holy Hill, and the air was hot and still, and I wondered how it could be autumn, and it felt like that last grand push before the cool air rolls in.  There were signs everywhere for pagan equinox festivals, red streamers littering the ground here and there from the midnight celebration the night before.  (Oh man, missed another hot one!)  Only in Berkeley.  You've gotta love it.

But, in spite of the toasty weather, autumn really is here to stay, and with it, so many seasonal changes are afoot.  And I'm digging it.  But instead of some cheesy spiel about leaves turning and summer memories fading and the like, I'd much rather direct you to this little feature from The Onion AV Club, which, I have to admit, never fails to disappoint.  Check it: 


Great collection here.  When it comes to music, I do love me the sad.  Give me mournful Mahler over bombastic Berlioz any day.  Which reminds me of one of the best pop culture paeans to sad music I've ever seen: Isabella Rossellini in "The Saddest Music in the World," a screwball noir tease of a film that made me laugh, scrunch up my brow in confusion, and shake my head in disbelief.  Best line ever from a one-legged platinum-bewigged brewery goddess with a plastic leg full of beer:

"If you're sad, and like beer, then I'm your lady."

Watch the trailer for full effect.  It's pretty brill.  And enjoy the melancholy music that comes with this turning of the leaves, as you work off your pagan equinox festival hangovers.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Raw, adjective: 5. crude in quality or character; not tempered or refined by art or taste: raw humor.


There are two things in my life that, were I to die tomorrow, I would be proud to say I have never, ever, ever done.  Those are, in no particular order:

1. Had a mani-pedi
2. Gone on a cruise ship vacation

Re: 1. I have no desire to ever have some small Asian woman sit at my feet and shape my toenails, or, alternately, file my fingernails.  Something about this reeks of servility and class war and patronizing, disgusting affluence.  And it makes me curl up in disgust.

Re: 2. Likewise the cruise experience.  I have no desire to ever spend a vast amount of money traveling with other annoying and loud American tourists wearing floral print Tommy Bahama shirts and ill-fitting shorts traversing the wild open seas on a floating juggernaut spewing pollution into the water in which the whole course of the week is all about how much you can eat, drink, spend, sleep, and consume.  No no no never no never no.

So, that said: in spite of the mountain of work that is due, oh, right about now, I sat down the other day to revisit David Foster Wallace's famous Harper's essay, "Shipping Out: On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise."  You might also know it as "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again."

Harper's recently made all of DFW's work available in PDF on its website, in memoriam, and you owe yourselves a few good hours snuggling up with your laptop while you traipse through his alternately hilarious and heart-breaking worldview.  "Shipping Out" alone is enough to make a morning.  

See, the thing about DFW was, he had this capacity for darkness.  A darkness I'm sure we're too painfully aware of now, in the wake of his suicide last weekend.  But there's something about this capacity, this awareness of despair, that I very much love.  I like it in people, this propensity for darkness; it feels honest.  I don't wholly trust, or find much interest in, people who don't carry a hint of it.  And DFW's despair, his self-identification as a "semi-agoraphobe," his snarky and sometimes shattering ability to see past the contrivedly Bright and Cheery and Sunshiny world of the luxury cruise, draws me near to him, even in death.

"Shipping Out" is a great introduction to his work.  Wallace starts out with The Darkness early, writing that "there's something about a mass-market luxury cruise that's unbearably sad," chronicling the ways in which he feels despair at the vast bodily decay, the desperate sense of avoiding mortality, the "drowning-out" of the death-dread inherent to the whole cruising-boozing-touristing experience.  

DFW footnotes frustratedly about the phenomenon of "the Professional Smile," his terror at observing the bovinity of American tourists "waddling into poverty-stricken ports in expensive sandals," and the ways in which, on this supposedly idyllic cruise, "whatever I do, I cannot escape my own essential and newly unpleasant Americanness."  He closes with a haunting description of a disinterested hypnotist and his willing subjects that forces DFW into his cabin for the final day at sea, "feeling a little bit dulled but mostly good."

Maybe I loved the essay so much because it thrums with this underlying current of that question that seems to inform so many of my own academic and spiritual and social interests: the wondering, "What is enough??"  What is enough wanting, what is enough luxury, what is enough rest, what is enough play, what is enough "pampering" (to use DFW's word), what is enough affluence, what is enough youth, what is enough prosperity.  

This question of insatiability, this very Buddhist awareness of "the homeostasis of terrible dissatisfaction," the ways in which we simply adjust our desires such that the fluffy towels in our deck-view cruise cabin go from being initially luxurious to not-fluffy-enough in the course of one solo week.  The universality of craving, of clinging, of desperate searching for more, better, enough.  This is the heart of this essay.  And perhaps the reason I feel so drawn to DFW's sad final chapter of his own life.

Do read it.  And check out the other archives, linked above.  You'll laugh - often, and well.

Shipping Out (Harpers)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Raw, adjective: 1. uncooked, as articles of food: a raw carrot.



Bundt Cake Saturday!

Morning: sizzling (heater)
Mood: rhubarbalicious
Music: Nick Drake

Good mooooorning.

Tired this morning, but the whirring heater woke me early. Autumn's rolling in, and while for us that means sunshine and seventy-degree temps, it also means cool mornings and earlier sunsets. I'm digging it.

Thought I'd catch the end of the growing season with this recipe today. I'm making an effort here to roll somewhat with the seasons, moving into traditional and suitable flavors as the months and temperatures change, so this morning's recipe is an attempt to cling to the last few weeks of the summer rhubarb season.

Rhu-what, you say? Yeah. If you're from Northern California, where you're more accustomed to talk of fennel and arugula and truffles and Meyer lemon compote blah blah blah, you might not be so familiar with rhubarb. But if you just so happen to have grown up with an old-world German grandmother who lived on an old family farm in southeastern Nebraska and who lovingly tended a garden roughly the size of a football field, you know what I'm talking about. The red and green shit, long-stemmed, strange-tasting, excellent for pies and cakes and cobblers and not so much else.

Rhubarb was always a mystery to me as a kid. My father grew it, too, way up on the top of the hill beyond the garden, reserved for its own special spot. I never knew what to do with it. And the name was so, well, weird.

So when people asked me about this week's recipe, the word that kept coming up for me was: unusual. Unusual because it's a vegetable (fruit? not sure) we don't use so much. Unusual because it's a flavor I don't know very well. And unusual because it's certainly not the first thing that catches my eye when I hit the produce section at the grocery store.

The rhubarb season generally runs from April till late September in more northern climes like Michigan and Minnesota (hence the warm heartland association, as well). This shit just makes me think of good people. So enough blathering. Let's get to this week's cozy and comfortable recipe for

RHUBARB PECAN CAKE

Once again we can thank Bundt Cake Bliss for the inspiration. This one's a little more difficult than last week's, but all the chopping and measuring and mixing was pleasant enough, and the prep time hovered around 45 minutes. It's got about 15 minutes left in the oven yet, and the kitchen is smelling deliciously of spices and baking fruit (vegetables?).

2 1/4 cups flour
1 teas baking soda
1/2 teas salt
1 teas cinnamon
1/2 teas cardamom
1 cup plus 3 teas sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teas vanilla extract
2 cups rhubarb, chopped
1 cup walnuts or pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Prepare a 12-cup bundt pan using butter and flour and set aside. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt and set aside. Combine cinnamon, cardamom, and 3 teas of sugar and set aside. Beat remaining white sugar, brown sugar, and butter until fluffy and beat in the egg. Add flour mixture and blend thoroughly. Add buttermilk and vanilla and mix just until blended. Stir in the rhubarb and the nuts. Place half of the batter in the pan and smooth out the surface. Sprinkle it with half of the sugar mixture. Pour the remaining batter in the pan and sprinkle with the remaining sugar and spices.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out of the cake clean. Let cake cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

So there's that. Can I say, I had no aesthetic expectations for this particular cake: I expected it to be, like any good Midwesterner, hearty, humble and sort of homely. But the batter itself was lovely and brown-sugary, and adding the red and green rhubarb and the chopped pecans gave it such a pretty, warm, autumnal look. And I can't say enough about how delicious that spice mixture smelled, and how sweet it looked sprinkled there in layers on the cake.

What I CAN say enough about is: holy cardamom! I didn't have any on hand, so when I picked some up the other day, not only was I surprised by how difficult it was to find, but also: $15.99 for 2 ounces! Out of control! And since I used a whole 1/2 teas., I've got a helluva lot of that shit left. Likewise the buttermilk (minus the pricey factor). So if any of yous need cardamom or buttermilk in a bad way, you just let me know. I'll be glad to share my (expensive) stash.

The cookbook recommends just dusting the finished cake with a light confectioners' sugar, but I have to say: BOR-ING. So I settled on a recipe for a sweet little Raspberry Rhubarb Sauce (convenient since of course I bought twice as much rhubarb as I needed). Your sauce recipe looks like this:

2 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar (more or less depending on your preference)
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer over medium heat until the rhubarb breaks down and the sugar is dissolved. This typically takes 10 to 12 minutes (but it took me almost 25!). Allow the sauce to come to room temperature before using it.

It's a good thing I decided to make the raspberry sauce, because when I removed the cake from the pan to cool, it was so moist that the crown of the cake stayed in the pan.  Oops.  Thanks to a little emergency reconstructive surgery, I was able to salvage the top, but I have a feeling the addition of the sauce will really help things to, uh, stay together.

It did end up being a little, um, "chunkier" than I anticipated, more the consistency of Prego garden vegetable marinara sauce than a sheer glaze, but oh well.  Drizzle that shit over the cooled-off cake, and enjoy the beautiful raspberry-rhubarb fuschia. Doesn't that just feel like autumn coming on? 
 
I've been so crazy about the color pink this summer: starting in May with some serious peony love, and extending over the course of the summer - I couldn't wear enough pink to sate myself - that it only feels appropriate to finish out the season with this vibrant fuschia sauce. 

Dig it.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture


Did you see this article in yesterday's Thursday Styles section?  

Cintra Wilson fills 3 pages with self-deprecating thoughts on Goth.  Yes, Goth.  As in, that chick who sat behind you in sophomore English who dressed like Morticia Addams and painted her fingernails black and listened to death metal while reciting Edgar Allen Poe.

Wilson does a much better job of saluting Goth subculture than I ever could, and it's worth a little read for a few tidbits you might not've known.  For instance, did you know that Goth has its roots in Victorian-era mourning garb?  Yeah, me neither.

The interviews with teens who identify as Goth or emo are interesting, too, for the light they shine (no pun intended) on the purpose this whole subculture serves, identity-wise.  It got me thinking about some of the formative sociologists I've studied in the past, scholars who identified self-presentation - be it as Goth, preppy, hippie, or whatever - as a consciously theatrical social act.

Erving Goffman, one of the granddaddies of the sociology of self-presentation, set the foundation for this study with his 1959 book, "The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life."  Goffman basically argued that our lives, and the identities we present to the world, are not stable, and in being products of context, are highly theatrical.  That, in effect, we are engaging in theater every time we get dressed, walk out of the house, and say hello to the mailman on the way out the door.  This dramaturgical perspective is all-encompassing; it reduces social interactions to a series of "impression managements" shaped by the props and the costumes and the stage make-up we put on and take off every day.  For example: Goth.

It's just a more extreme example of what the rest of us do everyday, whether that means carrying an ugly-ass Louis Vuitton purse to send the message that you can afford to spend $4,000 on some ugly-ass shit, or moussing your hair up into a Flock of Seagulls faux-hawk to tell people you're a wild and crazy kind of dude, or wearing non-leather shoes as an intended political statement because you're vegan.  All dramaturgical acts, all means of theatrical performance, all props to illustrate the message you are sending in the particular Self you are presenting.

Judith Butler, serious badass from Cal and widely-known feminist philosopher, queer theorist and post-structuralist critic, built on Goffman's foundation with her influential 1990 work, "Gender Trouble."  If you're a grad student in any of the above fields, you know her shit.  Butler's brilliant theory is basically that we're all doing drag; that sex and gender and sexuality are all constructs, all performances, all realities that we create in the little theatrical acts we perform every day, and so it's not just the drag queen transvestites down in the Tenderloin who are queening it up: we're all putting on drag every time we decide between trousers or a skirt, every time we cut our hair or grow it long, every time we wear boxers or a bra.  Little choices, big implications.

Not sure how I went from 15-year-old Goths to Butler's theory of performativity, but whatevs.  The NYT article made me think.  So often I think we write off sociology and theory as irrelevant and heady and suffocatingly ivory tower.  But reading Wilson's article made me realize that it's saying many of the same things Goffman and Butler did, just couched in language of Facebook and high school and pop culture music.  It's a good example of the ways in which our consciously chosen, small day-to-day lifestyle choices are theatrical performances of their own.  

So think about that the next time you decide on an outfit for that big date.  You're putting on your own little play in the process.


(And that's Marla Singer above, Fight Club-style.  How I love Marla Singer, and her darkness.)

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.


It's been a super-social last week or so and today I'm stealing a few hours' of silence to catch up on all my reading.  Funny how the theme of so much today seems to be masculinity.  Guess it's officially "Man Day" at the Rach household.  I'll take it.

Michael Kimmel's latest, "Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men," came out fairly recently, and I've been trying to catch a few reviews here and there.  Salon's got the latest, one I'll highlight here for readability and insight. 

Kimmel's a well-known name in the sociology of gender.  He's done a lot of important work over the years looking at American masculinity, and his was the name on many of my textbooks as an 18-year-old studying this shit.  I respect his measured and mindful approach.  "Guyland" seems like what you'd expect it to be: a rumination on the ways in which, well, it's really hard to be a young dude these days.

I've said for years that this is where gender studies is going.  Masculinity, and maleness, are hot topics right now, after being somewhat ignored in the 1970s and 1980s, assumed to be the "default" against which a lot of feminist activism was taking place.  But I think there's a certain tenderness toward studies of masculinity that was missing for a long time, and maybe just now, finally, it's coming into its own.

The Salon review touches on some of this, exploring Kimmel's discussion of a sense of "thwarted entitlement," looking at the ongoing pattern of young men underperforming in school, and digging into the difficult dichotomy right now that seems to present young men with two options: "the choice between gay or guy."  How true.  There's this tumultuous dynamic between masculinity and gayness, a fine "line between the homosocial and the homoerotic" that seems to be a constant source of angst, a precarious space wherein men are "nowhere safe from homophobia."  

Kimmel's book looks interesting for his work on this problem alone.  I appreciate, too, though, the way he highlights how the definition of "adulthood" has changed since the 1950s, when being an adult meant 5 things: "leaving home, completing one's education, starting work, getting married, and becoming a parent." 

Writer James Hannaham points out how "two of these indicators are themselves heterosexist -- getting married and having children are new phenomena for some people, and far more optional than they were 58 years ago."  He argues instead that "adulthood perhaps more commonly arrives these days in packages that have nothing to do with heterosexual identity or marriage: adopting a child, buying property, taking on greater responsibility at work, caring for disabled relatives, the death of one's parents, etc."  Oh my, yes.

So along with trying to walk the fine line of gay/guyness, young men struggle to address the question of what adulthood even means anymore (at least, for anyone who attempts to move beyond a 1950s definition of maturity).  

Whew.  That's a lot to carry on anyone's shoulders, no matter how broad.  Read the book.

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.


There's a quick profile of the Spanish actor Javier Bardem in the recent NYT Magazine.  It's worth a few minutes for the photos alone (ahem), but the short interview holds its own allure, as well.

I like Bardem; I always have.  He's got a certain gravity that many other actors of his age are lacking.  He strikes me as thoughtful.  I like his choices in material. He has a great accent.

And then there's that scruff.

Bardem makes an off-the-cuff remark about Al Pacino here; something about a man "who is so true, so interesting and I understand more about the world from his performance. And you go, 'C’mon, it’s only acting.' Well, wouldn’t you say that a good book or a good painting allows you to see the world in a different way? When I see a great performance, I feel more alive."

Isn't that a useful barometer for the arts in general?  Something, be it a novel or an opera or an outdoor folk concert in the park, that makes you "understand more about the world," that makes you "feel more alive?"  When I go to the MoMA, I may not walk out better able to split atoms or file a legal brief or unplug a clogged sink, but I inevitably feel like I understand more about the world.  

And sometimes, I think we need to remember: that's enough.

Random shit I wanted to post that has no feasible connection whatsoever to any definition of "rawness"






Awww, look at my cute little bro!

(Do the teeth run in the family or what?!?)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture


I'm doing some independent coursework in market theology right now (hence the weird Cal dreams last night), which is, in effect, a fascinating combination of economics and theology and sociology.  And am pretty much in love.

So this morning I revisited an old chestnut from Harvey Cox, contemporary theologian, professor of divinity at Harvard, and general badass.  His article, "The Market as God: Living in the New Dispensation" appeared in The Atlantic back in March 1999.  It's an excellent layperson's introduction to the whole market-as-theology notion, a diverse and cross-religious look at the ways in which "The Market" - aka Western capitalism, or Adam Smithian laissez-faire philosophy, or the economics of supply and demand - has taken on a secularized divinity in the contemporary West.  Cox argues that this Market God is "a postmodern deity - believed in despite the evidence."

Wouldn't recent headlines concur?  It's fuckin fascinating.  Cox highlights the ways in which business and religion share the same vocabulary, the same "grand narrative about the inner meaning of human history," the same notions of "will" and "mystery" and "reverence" that result in a radical desacralization of the land, the body, and the spirit.

Given the roller-coaster economic situation of late, Cox's article feels especially relevant.  He writes of the faith placed in this "omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent" divinity, the ways in which "econologians" create sacraments, liturgies and eschatologies around it, and the "reverse transubstantiation" that takes place when the body is turned into a commodity for consumption.

Whew.  Big words, all, but worth your time, and eerily accurate.  As we watch the economy falter and see what was once steadfast faith in the salvific meaning supposedly inherent in the Market disappear into buyouts and crashes, Cox's words seem ever more prescient.

Read it.  It's lighter and easier to get through than you'd expect.  You'll feel smart.  And the morning economic headlines will never be the same to you again.


(And that's late Andy Warhol, above left: "Dollar Signs," 1981)

Raw, adjective: 5. crude in quality or character; not tempered or refined by art or taste


Tossed and turned all night with racing thoughts of Wall Street crashes and bank failures and market theology and second chakras and Sarah Palin.  Yeah, great combo, I know.  Throw in a few strange dreams about Cal students running around in flip-flops being towed on unicycles (I spent the day working in Berkeley, what can you do?), and it was a weird, restless night.

So I settled into my office this morning to knock some work out, and in the meantime, made a grocery list for this week, which of course will include Saturday's bundt.  Narrowing down recipe options, I stumbled across not one, but TWO pork-themed bundts.  If Wall St. and Palin weren't already signs of the impending apocalypse, well, then, my loves: these are.  Not only can you start your morning with a delicious Maple Bacon Bundt (complete with bacon chunks on top), but check out this killer 1970s recipe for Sausage Cake:

1 cup raisins
1 lb. pork sausage
1 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. soda
1 cup strong coffee
3 cups sifted flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. ginger
1 cup chopped walnuts

Please note the bizarro addition of "strong coffee" to complement the pork sausage.  WTF.

You know how I love me some pork.  So get ready for some seriously oinking bundts to come.  If the world's going to hell in a handbasket, we might as well clog the arteries while we're at it, um, right?

Ay dios mio.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Raw, adjective: 5. crude in quality or character; not tempered or refined by art or taste: raw humor.

Ok, you did see this, right?  Because if you didn't, then, wow - check out that Tina Fey:

Totally brilliant.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Raw, adjective: 8. brutally harsh or unfair: a raw deal.



So sad to see the news about David Foster Wallace's suicide over the weekend.  And at only 46.

Salon had a short piece today on this loss of a literary spitfire.  It's a quick read, a rumination on writing and self-awareness, truth-telling and loneliness.  Take a few minutes.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Raw, adjective: 1. uncooked, as articles of food: a raw carrot.



Bundt Cake Saturday!

Morning: dark, cool
Mood: a little bit tired
Music: my girl Joni, via "Both Sides Now"

Well, good morning.  

Joni's crooning a little "Stormy Weather," the cake is in the oven, and I'm, well, a little heavy-headed.  Not gonna lie - last week's double-whammy streusel extravaganza kind of knocked the wind out of me.  So in planning this week's cake, I sought something easy, mellow, and comfortable; kind of like when you've just broken up with some high-maintenance dandy, the kind who spends more time in front of the mirror than you do and who irons his boxer-briefs and exfoliates with 17 different creams from the beauty section of Saks (does Saks have a beauty section?), and so naturally, in reaction, the next dude you go for is all lumberjack and frontier hygiene who's never seen a razor in his life.  Because he's low-maintenance and plaid-flanneled and comfortable to roll around with.  

Well, this cake is that lumberjack.  He's laid-back and easy-going and deliciously old-school and most definitely doesn't spend more on eye cream than I do.  And he smells good in his old-school simple Old Spice-and-sweat kind of way.  Except that he's made of peanut butter and chocolate, with a secret flourish in the middle.  So walk on down to the lumberyard with me and let's pick up a nice hunk of 

CHOCOLATE AND PEANUT BUTTER CHIP BUNDT

Ahh, yes.  Like an old comfortable pair of shoes after walking up and down Nob Hill in heels all day.  Once again we can thank Bundt Cake Bliss for this quick, easy recipe.  (And now Joni's hit her stride on "Both Sides Now," and my heart stops for a minute as the orchestra swells, and the peanut butter in the oven starts to waft my way across the kitchen, and the lumberjack is in the house).

INGREDIENTS

1 box (18 oz.) devil's food cake mix
1 small box instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup water
4 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup peanut butter chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare a 12-cup Bundt pan using butter and flour and set aside.  Stir together the cake and the pudding mixes.  Add the water, eggs, and oil and beat on medium for 4 minutes.  Gently stir in the peanut-butter chips.  Pour batter into the prepared pan.  Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out of the cake clean.  Cool for 10 minutes and invert onto a wire rack or serving platter to cool completely.



I have to say, this was exactly what I needed in terms of ease. The cake was mixed and in the oven in 10 minutes flat.  That is one easy dude.

Next comes the fun part.  We're going to make a homemade peanut butter frosting to give it a little more peanutty goodness.  Your frosting looks like this:

1/4 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
1 teas. vanilla
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
3 to 4 tablespoons half-and-half

Cream the butter until fluffy.  Add the peanut butter and vanilla and combine thoroughly.  Add the sugar alternating with the half-and-half until light and fluffy.



When the cake is cool, slice it horizontally with a serrated knife.  Aim a little higher than halfway up.  Flip the top half onto a plate.  Spread 1/3 of the frosting on the bottom half, place the top half back on the frosted bottom, and spread the remaining 2/3 of the frosting on top.  Top with shavings of dark chocolate.

I did use my magical electric mixer again, and it made wrangling that gooey devil's food cake much easier than last time (in spite of my massive guns).  It's the key to a creamy frosting, too, as I discovered quickly a few cakes ago when my homemade frosting came out grainy and not quite as smooth as I'd have liked.  Mix that shit up.

~~

Despite the mixing, the frosting still turned out fairly thick and unspreadable.  I'd add more half-and-half next time.  I layered it into the cake and tried to top it, but have to admit, it looked pretty damn sad.  So in a flash of inspiration, I ran to the corner market, bought a dark chocolate bar, and grated it over the top to disguise the ugliness with a heavy layer of chocolate shavings.  Brilliant!

The little bro is en route to SF right now for the weekend, and I think this cake will make for a nice little welcome mat, what with the comfort and ease and great combination of chocolate and peanut butter.  For a girl who's weak-kneed for anything approximating Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Peanut Butter M&Ms, or Haagen-Dazs Chocolate PB ice cream, this is a recipe pretty much made in heaven.


So there you have it.  Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Bundt.  Smells great.  Tastes better.  And your kitchen floor isn't covered in streusel.  It's definitely one of the more humble-looking cakes I've made thus far, but oh well.  That's what you get when you date a lumberjack.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture


Hey hey!  Did you know September is National Yoga Month?

They're doing a 10-city series of Yoga Health Festivals all over the country in the course of this one month.  San Francisco action arrives on the 27th, but there's plenty of stuff going on in the meantime.

Check out this link for a great breakdown of "the cost of poor health" and the ways in which yoga is a killer answer to the current and future health crises in this country and all over the world.  As the website says in its quasi-mission statement, "Yoga Month is a grassroots, community-based awareness campaign to educate about the health benefits of yoga and to inspire a healthy lifestyle."   Spend some time with the website - that particular link addresses yoga's potential for healing everything from heart disease to asthma to depression to arthritis to carpal tunnel syndrome.  And I'll see you for some workshop action on the 27th.

(Dude.  I really heart this shit.)

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.


Wow.  Holy productive morning.  Coming up for air right now after swimming in a sea of words and ideas and intellect and possibility.  

Found this Bukowski saved amongst old emails.  In the midst of an autumn that feels veritably buzzing with big projects and bigger goals, it feels relevant, if a little cheesy for my taste.  Overlook the vaguely syrupy motivational undertones and appreciate it for its no-bullshit, balls-out attitude.

Roll the Dice

if you’re going to try, go all the
way.
otherwise, don’t even start.

if you’re going to try, go all the
way.
this could mean losing girlfriends,
wives, relatives, jobs and
maybe your mind.

go all the way.
it could mean not eating for 3 or 4 days.
it could mean freezing on a
park bench.
it could mean jail,
it could mean derision,
mockery,
isolation.
isolation is the gift,
all the others are a test of your
endurance, of
how much you really want to
do it.
and you’ll do it
despite rejection and the worst odds
and it will be better than
anything else
you can imagine.

if you’re going to try,
go all the way.
there is no other feeling like
that.
you will be alone with the gods
and the nights will flame with
fire.

do it, do it, do it.
do it.

all the way
all the way.

you will ride life straight to
perfect laughter, it's
the only good fight
there is.

~Bukowski