Life

Ostara 2018

Spring is so many things to me.

Today, it’s the pull of thick black mud, rich with possibility and riven with seeds, but difficult to get through. It’s a felt-gray sky sliced through with chilly raindrops, pelting your scalp, your hat, the back of your neck. It’s a cold breeze from some unseen high country, carrying a voice which counsels you to stay indoors, to cultivate your patience just a little longer, to light one more fire at the hearth to keep the cool at bay.

It’s not the ideal spring equinox, is what I’m saying here; but it is my forty-seventh, and expecting each one of those to be beauties is simply silly. Particularly in northwestern Illinois. Yes, I’d prefer to plant my butt on the warm and ripening earth and dig bare toes into fresh green grass, to wait for the chill to flow up my spine and welcome me inside come evening with a mug of warmed wine; but I’ll make the day lovely with some braised greens in place of the grass and a hearty frittata in place of the sun.

As if to call it further, I saw a neighbor this morning on my drive – not a rabbit, symbol of the season, but a raccoon, ungainly and waddling, bright of eye and sharp of tooth, held to the hours of darkness rather than day. I don’t mind it. Little clever thieves have always had pieces of my heart, and I was glad there was so little traffic in the hours of my driving to threaten his own little peace.

Foodie Friday: Ivan’s Nam Sod

Friends, this nam sod is a golden trifecta: Fairly low in calories, certainly cheaper than my usual fare, and ready in less than 30 minutes; but it tastes like none of these are true.

It’s good hot off the stove or cold the next day for any meal. This is a great weeknight recipe, especially during these hot summer months.

As with all my recipes, remember that I loooooove garlic and strong flavors. You could certainly pull back on any of this except the orange juice to protein ratio.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 lbs ground chicken breast
    (You can use ground chicken, ground turkey or ground pork, but this is the low-cal version)
  • 8 cloves minced garlic
  • 3 Tbsp fresh minced ginger
  • 1 cup fresh orange juice
  • 6 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
  • 4 Tbsp sweet chili paste (I use Mae Ploy red curry)
  • 1 1/2 tsp fish sauce (optional, but brings the delicious funk out)
  • 2 Tbsp crushed peanuts
  • 2 Tbsp fresh cilantro leaves

Options:

  • Rice to serve in a bowl (Brown or wild is healthiest, it goes very well with Jasmine rice, though)
  • Lettuce leaves to use as wraps
  • Green onions, radishes, bean sprouts, sliced water chestnuts … any crunchy vegetal bits
  • Broccoli, green beans … any side vegetable that’s bright green (adds color to the plate)
  • More peanuts or cashews
  • More chili paste, or crushed red pepper
  • Lime wedges to squeeze over the entire thing

Directions:

  • Heat the sesame oil over a large skillet and brown the chicken on all sides.
    It doesn’t need to cook fully, just brown.
  • Add the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, chili paste, fish sauce and orange juice and bring to a boil.
  • Turn the range to low and simmer until you’re ready to eat.
  • Top each bowl or wrap with peanuts and cilantro, plus any of the options listed above.

Adapted from Frugal Nutrition’s Orange Ground Chicken Bowls.

007: Pretending to Understand

What do you sometimes pretend to understand that you truly don’t?

I’m in something of a bind at work.

You see, the dayjobbery is in Information Technology, but I’m on the “administrative and quality” side of that technology. It’s not like I spend my days debugging or writing code, or figuring out which language works best, or comparing one program or tool to another.

The dayjobbery is also at a company famous for engineering knowledge, which means I’m already surrounded by very technically competent people who would be perfectly happy without people like me cluttering up the corridors and taking up bonus paychecks.

Now I am known to be the “most technical” member of my immediate team. Which may or may not be accurate, but is similar to saying I am the “most empathetic” public executioner or the “most honest” politician.

This sometimes combines in a situation where I am asked to own a technical application, the scope of which is often beyond me. And as previously discussed, I have trouble:

  • Saying no,
  • Admitting failure, and
  • Looking foolish or ignorant.

This is a potent cocktail for utter disaster.

It’s never come to disaster, of course. Historically, I have always been able to use a combination of Google-fu, a vast network of friends who are skilled at vastly different things, enough charm to delay the requestors and a certain low cunning to – in general – come up with an answer that satisfies people and fixes the immediate issue.

I have learned, too, to keep notes on how I fixed the thing that time, to ensure the next time it raises its head I have an answer, even if I don’t fully understand WHY this is the answer.

I have tried to make myself more interested in these technical components, but it’s a hopeless case. I don’t much care why a program or function works the way it does. I’m far more curious about why someone would lay it out in a certain way, or the history behind how this program was selected, or any of those other, more human factors that wrap themselves around the tool.

That curiosity makes me very, very good at the “administrative and quality” side in which I actually work. Just not at the technical sides of administering quality tools.

006: A Recent Dream

It starts with a dear friend. We are talking earnestly together, side by side, I don’t remember what about, but it seems like a very deep conversation. As we continue to talk we drift onto our backs, and are now floating through the air, like you would float on inner tubes down a lazy but still-moving river.

The sky above us is dark and full of stars, but not only stars. The fronts of houses, two-dimensional and in primary or secondary colors, appear along either side of my field of vision. I am put in mind of Venice, though these houses are colonial style, neither Mediterranean nor ancient.

There is a feel of age, though. And each house is a single color. They are more like cardboard cutouts, or proscenium backdrops for some theatre in the darkened sky. We are still talking, and now our hands are intertwined as we float and converse. It is intimate, but not precisely romantic. Sharing depths without the rise of carnality.

The sky vanishes, my friend vanishes, and I blink at the alarm clock (which I do not have) which now sits on my nightstand (which is not my nightstand). In twenty more minutes my alarm will go off, and I will have to get up, and I might as well get up now. So I go to the bathroom and shave using a badger brush and a straight razor, with a half-filled glass of red wine at my elbow. I’m tempted but I do not pick it up; it’s morning, after all, and a workday.

I do not drive to the office, there’s seemingly no need, for I am instantly there and in conversation again, this time with our new CIO – my immediate boss as of a week ago. He is asking questions and I am responding reasonably, but I’m tense despite this. I do not like the set of his eyes as continues to ask me questions. Eventually he nods, satisfied, and I leave his office.

It’s then that my *real* alarm, the one on my cellphone, goes off. It plays a tune by Joseph Fire Crow, a Lakota musician, titled Meadowlark Sunrise. The tune is sweet, played on a flute but with strings and percussion in the background. I find it a calming way to wake.

I’m not surprised by either half of the dream. My friend has been much on my mind of late, and I’d like to enjoy another late-night conversation that takes me out of the everyday. I was insistent that I could not oversleep this morning, as I had promised my team-mates to be present for a physical fitness challenge. And being under new management, it’s not surprising I should find the office intruding on my private visions.

I’m unsure of the meaning of the straight razor, though. Perhaps there’s more symbolism in that razor, in the wine, in the old-time alarm clock, brass and analog with two bells on the top. In the floating proscenium buildings which look beautiful but can never be lived in. Personal symbolism in a very personal dream.

Note: This was written in late March. Dates may not be accurate.)

On Art: Time and Tactility

I spent this Saturday afternoon at the Art Institute of Chicago, an incredible institution that never fails to inspire jealousy. Not the admiring jealousy inspired by the visual artists I know personally – the ones who found their craft in the visual or tactile realm and who work like demons to improve their skills (and I am jealous of you, one and all, for both your dedication and ability to create something that can be touched) – but something deeper, that revolves around a time when art seemed to mean more.

I always forget how much I adore John Singer Sargent and Ivan Albright. Both seeing the art from a distance, as it’s intended to be seen, and getting up closer than I’m meant to, to look closely at the broad strokes of thick paint and color. When I inspect those, I remember that each stroke was a choice made, a decision on color and thickness and direction. I remember that each of those tiny decisions, strung together, created a miraculous result.

I’m not foolish enough to believe this is only in classical paintings. Digital art is the result of just as many tiny decisions, strokes of a mouse or Wacom tablet. Photography requires painstaking work around composition, light, lenses and structure. In sculpture the placement of chisel to stone is, in general, less observed than the glory of the end result. And in good writing, every sentence takes as much work and effort as every brush-stroke.

All of those, however, are backstage work. Invisible unless you hold it close to your eyes and make yourself remember that human hands were behind this creation. The thick brush-strokes of the painters whom I admire and most envy reveal both the genius which went into the entirety of the composition, as well as into each individual component.

This is, perhaps, no more than some idealized artistic myth. I’m prone to both mythmaking and idolization.

Admittedly, my sister took me to the Institute to particularly see the revamped Arms and Armor exhibit, which she knew was always my favorite as a boy and young man. What red-blooded American boy doesn’t love knights and implements of destruction? The new exhibit remains impressive, and you should go to see it, but for the reasons listed above I am more struck as a grown man by Whistler’s Mother (also here on a limited run) and Sargent’s portrait of Mrs. George Swinton (Elizabeth Ebsworth).

Mrs. George Swinton (Elizabeth Ebsworth), John Singer Sargent, 1897

Mrs. George Swinton (Elizabeth Ebsworth), John Singer Sargent, 1897

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