Category Archives: Useless to me

The flesh pots of the Amazon

Hello again! I hope you had a fine Christmas and will have an excellent 2014.

Now we have finished the feast and afterfeast of the Nativity of God in the Flesh. You have read my mentions before of the eating guidelines in my religion. So for the forty days up to Christmas, I went pescetarian, mostly ovo-lacto vegetarian. But from Christmas on, I went whole hog, so to speak, eating red meat at least twice a day. This is not normal for me; for health reasons, I usually eat poultry or fish, not red meat.

320px-Tim_RussertAnd then I remembered Tim Russert. You remember him, too, the tough, hard-nosed, yet pleasant and likable political journalist on Meet the Press for so many years. In 2008, at the age of 58, he suddenly, shockingly collapsed and died of a heart attack at work, despite doing well on a cardiac stress test only a couple of months before.

It was shortly before Russert’s sad and unexpected death that I had read the following excerpt from his 2004 book “Big Russ and Me.” It’s a love poem to meat. I can do no better than to repeat his lyricism in a paragraph I find literally mouth-watering to read.

Tim Russert Big Russ and Me 92

I have not read the book, but having read that passage so shortly before Russert’s death made it spring to mind when the news came. Obviously, this man had a taste for meat, preferably fatty, processed meat, and it was none too good for his heart. But oh, that passage sure makes it sound tasty! The flavor and feel of salty fatty meat is incomparable.

But when that passage came to mind again a few days ago, I thought, “Why do I have cookbooks about meat on my Amazon wish list? I don’t even have a kitchen!”

Obviously, it’s food porn for me — pictures and ideas just on the item page, not even owning the book, stimulating the contemplation of meat, particularly in fancy varieties I can’t even get in my neighborhood.

As with the arroz con leche I wrote about earlier, I should avoid more than very occasional intake of processed or fatty meats, no matter how pleasurable they are. And I should drop the contemplation of it from my mind.

And so, today, I am removing from my Amazon wish list all cookbooks solely about meat. I do not need to have them stimulating my gluttony. Enough that I should eat red or processed meat once a week or less; no need to actually fantasize about it.

I have been like the Israelites in the desert.

And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.

God sent them manna to eat, which, although nutritionally complete, apparently was as appetizing as those round rice cakes with the texture of styrofoam, and they complained about that, too, and eventually God sent them pre-slaughtered meat and killed the ones who ate it, specifically because of their lust for it, and not because it was meat per se.

33 And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague.

I choose to give up those books about luscious, delicious meat because there is no sense in fantasizing about it; I should simply enjoy it in the quantities I should have — say, going to a restaurant on Easter for a sirloin — instead of luxuriating in the daydream.

Charcuterie book Odd bits bookBones book

Too sweet to eat

This recipe probably should be called not “Arroz con Leche” but, rather, “Death to All Diabetics!” It is delightfully and lethally full of sugar, starch, and saturated fat.

Furthermore, not only is this bad for anyone with blood glucose control issues, it is one of those dishes, like lobster drenched with margarine and served with glasses of champagne, that meets the ascetic dietary rules of my religion for the pre-Christmas season while utterly violating their spirit (which is why those rules are only guidelines and not religious law). This dessert is really a feasting food, and only if you aren’t diabetic, hyperinsulinemic, glucose intolerant, or the like.

eagle-brand-sweetened-condensed-milkThoughts of this recipe have been bothering me for a solid month and a half. I can imagine its milky, coconutty, starchy, sweet, delicately spiced rice flavor and chewy grainy texture with such vividness that I have been constantly tempted to buy all the ingredients and beg my friends to let me use their kitchen to make it. I yearn for the taste of condensed milk, which is a canned cream-colored substance composed of whole milk cooked with so much sugar it is extremely viscous, and almost solid when chilled, and for the aroma of coconut milk, which is a thick product much richer (i.e., fattier) than coconut water.

I want to take a big bowl, fetch a pint of this rice dessert, and go to town, my eyelids drooping half-closed in pleasure as I chew slowly, lick my sticky lips, and suck on the spoon. No matter if I’m nauseated, sleepy, and headachy for a full day afterward while my blood sugar soars through the roof — the pleasure’s the thing.

Just like my other fantasies of acquiring particular objects, the desire to eat arroz con leche is another manifestation of a type of greed — gluttony — that I wish to turn away from. I share the recipe with you partly in case you are one of those people who can eat anything (at least a bit now and then) without ill effects or religious strictures, but mostly because this blog really has been helping me to let go of these pesky greedy obsessive thoughts about things I choose not to indulge in. Herewith:

Arroz con Leche

By Elizabeth Carrion
Published October 11, 2013
Fox News Latino

Ingredients

  • 3 cups water
  • 3-4 cinnamon sticks
  • 5-6 cloves
  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger
  • 2 cups short or medium grain rice
  • 12 ounce can coconut milk
  • 12 ounce can evaporated milk
  • 14 ounce can condensed milk
  • ½ to ¾ cup raisins
  • Ground cinnamon

Directions

  1. Add water, cinnamon sticks, cloves and ginger to a large pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Strain to remove spices. Add same water back to pot.
  3.  Add rice and simmer on low for 30 minutes.
  4. Add coconut, evaporated and condensed milk and continue to cook on low until rice is tender to your preference. Mix frequently so that rice does not stick to the bottom of the pot.
  5. When ready, fold in raisins.
  6. Serve in bowls and sprinkle with ground cinnamon.

Tip: If rice is not tender enough or has dried out, add milk ½ cup at a time and sugar to taste.

Serves a crowd.

http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/lifestyle/2013/10/11/hispanic-heritage-month-arroz-con-leche/

Ooh, shiny!

320px-Poinsettia_2We’re getting into the “holiday season,” which is what secularists call the runup to Christmas, or “Xmas.”

Poinsettias, actually a tropical plant from Central America, and not to be confused with amaryllis, are part of “holiday” decoration. More secular than images of creches and infants, they have the traditional red and green colors of Xmas, and they don’t put secularists on the defensive. (I send Christmas cards only to people I know are believers, and New Year’s cards to everyone else.)

A catalog I buy from, mostly the really delicious and diarrhea-inducing sugar-free (but not calorie-free) fudge, is offering daily specials via email. These emails are dangerous for a shopaholic, but I do manage not to buy anything from them. It’s a struggle, though.

PoinsettiaBroochToday’s email of specials included an item I like a lot and want, a poinsettia brooch that is covered in Swarovski crystals and is a massive 2 1/2″ across. After work, I gazed at the picture, looked at 2 1/2″ inches on a ruler, and pondered buying it. The sale price is very reasonable.

I like brooches. Granted, they have an antique, old-ladyish air, but they do liven up a woolen, Nixonian “respectable Republican cloth coat.” When I had a big, spectacular one (now disposed of because the fake pearls’ coating wore off), it attracted a lot of comments. In recent years, my coat has sported a little one about 3/4″ across, depicting colorless fruit, and even that attracts comments.

Hardly anyone sees me go to work, and I leave the office in the dark. My body engine runs hot, so I don’t wear my woolen coat until the weather gets really cold in January and February. So there’s no reason to have it for the “holiday” season.

It would make a terrific gift for someone who enjoys bling, and as you know, I certainly enjoy sparkly stuff. I would enjoy holding it in my hot little paws, looking at it in the sun, and making it twinkle. But, sorrowfully, I myself have no real use for this very pretty brooch.

Cinderella’s stepsister

Z9360141-Cape_fur_seal_flippers-SPLThis is so embarrassing that I can feel my face blushing hot as I begin this post. I’ve seen people roll their eyes when I raise the topic. And I fear this post will come across as one long whine. But whether we express it like a child, or not, like an adult, the fact remains that when we long for something we know we cannot have, our wish is a whine.

I want to stop fantasizing about buying anything from this entire category of apparel, so I’m getting it out in the open here.

So, anyway, it’s just this. I wish I could wear women’s shoes. That sounds pervy, but I actually am a woman. However, women’s shoes aren’t made in EEEEEE width, so I have to wear men’s shoes, or the occasional particularly wide, ugly EEEE women’s shoes that I can fit into with the edges of my feet slopping over. Maybe that’s why that guy took me for a laundress — my shoes looked too practical, even with clothes from Talbots.

Red flatsOnlineshoes.com, where I get many of my shoes, tells me that it has 19,273 women’s styles in medium width, 24 styles in EEEE width, and none at all in EEEEEE.

I’m grateful for those twenty-four styles, and for the men’s ultra-wide shoes, even as I long to have nineteen thousand styles to choose from.

But, you see, a woman’s outfit is constructed from the shoes up. If you don’t have the right kind of shoes, your outfit is severely constrained. If you are wearing what are called “walking shoes,” your “nice” clothing requires pants to hide them. No skirts, no dresses to wear to that wedding, that fundraiser, that nice restaurant.

Fortunately, I work where practical shoes are rampant and some of the executives occasionally even wear running shoes with skirt suits, so at the office, I get away with wearing mallwalkers with dresses. And admittedly, I did fit right in at the farming convent, what with some of the nuns wearing work boots with their habits and all of them wearing stout, practical, unisex-looking shoes. But I literally do not bother trying to get a job where “professional attire” is expected.

Louboutin_veryprive_roseAs relaxed as my workplace is, I wish that just sometimes I could wear shoes that are stylish or fun, or just varied — flats, pumps, ballet slippers, galoshes, multicolored jelly sandals, shoes that come from department stores, running shoes, knee-high boots, clogs, huaraches, even just cheap shoes.

A few brands, bless them, make women’s dress shoes in EE, but I literally cannot get my feet into them. Like Cinderella’s stepsisters, I would have to cut off some of my foot to get into an EE shoe. If I hold a B width shoe up to the sole of my foot, it appears that I would have to amputate at least two toes.

The footwear I have to choose from is not advertised as fun, stylish, or sexy. My shoes are advertised as supportive, stabilizing, “anti-roll,” “diabetic-approved,” and, sometimes even “post-surgical” — not for running or dancing, not for hiking or fishing, not for brides or wedding guests, and not even, like clogs, for standing.

womens-asics-gel-kinsei-5-hot-punch-white-royal-349216_200_45And I don’t just wish I could wear shoes of a popular width. I wish I could wear shoes in colors other than black, white, and brown, which are the only shades that ultra-wide shoes come in. Red shoes would be especially nice — they are apparently quite emotionally evocative for many people, and not just for me. Blue would be nice, though, too. I don’t need a rainbow.

If you can wear shoes in colors — and even men with average D width feet can find athletic shoes in all sorts of colors — feel lucky. If you can wear foot-destroying stylish high heels, count yourself fortunate (and don’t wear them too often). Think for a minute about what it is like to be forced to wear shoes that look unprofessional and are unsuited to dressy occasions, that are no good for most athletic activities. I am not telling you to be Imelda Marcos, but I encourage you to truly appreciate and enjoy the range of options you have.

New Villager_BLK_PLIf I felt like it, I could get all into Theory of the Human Body and write huffily about body shame and pressure on women to adhere to a certain slender ideal. I could accuse the shoe industry of unfairness. I could meditate on the cruelty implicit in “Cinderella,” the implication that no matter how pretty one’s face is (Cinderella’s stepsisters were not ugly; they were pretty), one can escape one’s lot in life or get a rich and powerful spouse only by having tiny feet.

I don’t feel like shaking my fist, though. I do not think that it is wrong to adorn the human body. I delight in wearing my nineteen lipsticks in a range of colors most people cannot carry off. I don’t have a chip on my shoulder, because I recognize that, sadly, I am at one end of the bell curve in terms of foot width.

Men's New Balance MW928However, and this is what I am getting at, I just wish that choosing my shoes could be a little bit fun, instead of a heavily sighing contemplation of a few styles on the basis of which one least evokes astronaut boots.

That’s it, that’s all, I’m just longing for objects that are completely useless to me.

I want to stop doing that.

Precious mettle

Seraphim_of_Sarov_coinWhen I saw today’s item, I immediately wanted, quite intensely, to get it in my hot little paws. I want to make it twinkle and glitter and shine in the sun. It is affordable in itself, although for a half-ounce of silver it is quite expensive. The price is in the art, which is exquisite. I want to see it in person.

But at a deeper level, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

In Christianity, there have been various ways of dealing with Exodus 20:4-5, when in the course of handing down the Ten Commandments, God says,

4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…”

The question has been whether this passage is referring to any depiction of anything, or a depiction of people and events of religious significance, or specifically idols that are worshipped as gods — or somewhere in the middle. There have been tremendous conflicts over this topic during the Iconoclast Controversy and the Protestant Reformation, and people have died for their beliefs on the topic.

In line with current consensus allowing objects stimulating reverence for religious entities (with variation on how explicit those objects can be), there is a genre of silver bullion with religious themes, ranging from the Ten Commandments to the crucifix to the Lord’s Prayer to “Footprints.” Some people are willing to pay a high premium for bullion with religious themes. A few are even offended by the American Eagle with the goddess Liberty depicted on it, PAMP’s bullion with the goddess Fortuna on it, and the like. I suspect there may be some dynamic here about Judas, who was paid in silver to betray Jesus, and spiritually decontaminating silver bullion.

However, it was only recently that a series of bullion came out with my religion’s themes, even though using silver to honor a saint by decorating a scene or portrait is perfectly ordinary in my church’s tradition. A saint (I forget which one) expressed our perspective most clearly when he said something to the effect of (and I am paraphrasing here), “Bind two pieces of wood into a cross and I will kiss the cross; take them apart, and I will throw the wood into the fire.”

Use silver to decorate a picture of a saint or a religious theme, and it honors its subject; melt that silver (from need, without hostility), and although its absence may leave the picture sadly bereft of its prior magnificence, the silver is just scrap.

So a silver depiction of a saint is in no way strange. And I want this half-ounce bejeweled piece of silver depicting St. Seraphim of Sarov. I really admire St. Seraphim; I like the look of silver bullion; I think this item is very, very well executed; and I don’t for one second want to worship it. It’s just one heck of a nice creation that makes me contemplate the holiness of this saint.

However, I also find this item profoundly disturbing.

Seraphim print iconSt. Seraphim of Sarov, of all people! He was a hermit of the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries known for his asceticism, his mysticism, and the peaceable way he attracted wild animals of the forest, ranging from rabbits to wolves.

He was so brave that he once famously allowed himself, without resisting or trying to escape, to be beaten almost to death by frustrated robbers who found nothing of value in his hut besides a picture of the Virgin Mary. When they were captured, he asked for leniency for them. He was exceptionally not a materialist, even among saints. Possibly only St. Mary of Egypt, who lived alone in the desert naked, could be called less materialistic, and she had the advantage of a warm climate!

St. Seraphim knew about the world, but he lived as far out of it as possible. He is recorded as having said, in a long discourse,

I come of a merchant family in Kursk. So when I was not yet in the monastery we used to trade with the goods which brought us the greatest profit. Act like that, my son. And just as in business the main point is not merely to trade, but to get as much profit as possible, so … our business as Christians consists not in increasing the number of our good deeds which are only the means of furthering the purpose of our Christian life, but in deriving from them the utmost profit, that is in acquiring the most abundant gifts of the Holy Spirit.

That is, mere good deeds are necessary but aren’t enough; it is their spiritual effects on us that matter more. I think many (if not all) religious believers would agree with that, but still, it is a pretty high standard.

Seraphim wooden IconA decorated piece of precious metal with St. Seraphim’s image on it calls to mind the wonder of his spiritual excellence, and it reflects the glory of Paradise that he abides in to this day.

It is also a massive betrayal of the very asceticism, mysticism, unworldliness, and humility of his entire way of life.

So as reluctant as I am — and I am very reluctant, because this is a beautiful piece — I will turn away from this little silver icon. If you, like me, have a devotion to St. Seraphim, or are even just intrigued by him, I highly recommend buying this wooden icon (and its inexpensive matching wooden veneer greeting card) or this printed icon depicting him feeding his bear friend, as being more in keeping with his spirit.

Illuminating one’s sweetheart

320px-A_pair_of_African_penguins,_Boulders_Beach,_South_AfricaIt was one of those grand romantic moments that in movies are usually accompanied by swelling music.

But as you know from my pancakes post, I’m a little geeky. What actually happened is that my man friend got a new bag that opened out flat, unlike the cylindrical duffel bags that he had always used before.

I had never done something so intimate in front of him as to empty my purse (I suspect many women are quite intimate with a man for many years before being willing to do such a thing), but he laid open his bag before me and said, “This is what I carry all the time.”

One item made me gasp. I stammered, “You have a headlamp, too! You carry a headlamp!”

“Well, of course,” he replied levelly. “How else could I see into the backs of things?”

I could have kissed him right then, but was overwhelmed by emotion at finding not just someone special but a true kindred spirit. We both carried headlamps every day; we really were meant to be together!

Petzl E91 Tikkina 2 headlampYou see, there is a small, powerful Petzl Tikkina 2 in my purse at all times. I’m all set if the power goes out in the subway. I admit to using it most to find earring backs on the floor at the office, but it rose to full magnificence when power completely failed in my neighborhood for half a week. I was all the envy of the neighbors for having a flameless, handsfree, wearable source of light. It attracted enough attention on the street that the next time a major storm approached, the corner store got in a supply of headlamps, which promptly sold out.

Headlamps do make fine gifts to people of a very practical mindset who do not expect to be amused. After my most recent major surgery, I was under the care of a visiting nurse for some weeks, and on her last visit, gave her two headlamps. She was delighted to have a handsfree tool (cleaner than a penlight) for looking into throats and examining wounds in less than stellar home lighting, “and,” I reminded her, “if your car breaks down.”

I am so passionate about my head lamp that it pains me endlessly to find no possible reason for me to buy another wonderful flameless handsfree light, the Striker Light Mine, which is ideal for dark times when having a protruding light on one’s forehead is an impediment and magnets are an asset rather than something that wipes out the information on one’s cards.

Let me let the Striker people describe it in their own words:

Striker Light MineProfessionals, including automotive technicians, electricians, plumbers and HVAC contractors, will want to have one on hand, as it is small enough to fit into tight areas and aim a powerful beam of light where it is needed most. Because of its 12 neodymium magnets, it also works as a “pick up” tool for dropped screws, nails and hardware.

Do-it-yourselfers and homeowners will also find hundreds of uses for the Striker® Magnetic LED Light. Use it when working on an engine, changing a tire, wiring a home theater, switching on a breaker, crawling around under a counter or sink. It will stick to the fridge, making it the go-to flashlight for the whole family, and its great to have on camping trips.

This light is so clever, and looks so jolly and cute, like a cartoon hedgehog in the midst of getting a perm, that I ache to find a use for it in my own life. It seems impossible that I cannot, but try as I might, it is useless to me. This makes me sad.

But those who use it must use it a lot, because it is sold not just individually but in a “stocking stuffer” five-pack, as well as a “professional” model that yields more modes of light. I once knew someone whose hobby was repairing antique cars, and he would have liked them. Like headlamps, they will be good gifts for a practical person who could use them.

And I think that if you see a need for it in your own life, you should try one, and maybe you, too, will discover your sweetheart!

A certain style

Before the internet, I was a big reader of books. But today, I am going to write off an entire subject class of books.

“Don’t!” cry the bibliophiles. “All books are a store of knowledge, the accumulated experience of the human race! What are you, a barbarian?”

Yes, as you may have guessed already, I am a barbarian. But hey, I’m not suggesting you burn these books. These books aren’t bad in and of themselves, let me hasten to say. That’s why there’s been a big group of them on my Amazon wish list for years now. On hard consideration, though, I conclude it’s time to delete them from my wish list and forget about them.

The Finest Rooms in AmericaThese books are about interior design, interior decorating, whatever you call it. Some are books about wondrous rooms decorated by the likes of Thomas Jefferson. Some are books about bedrooms, because the principal thing I do in my SRO is to sleep. I rather admire French Provincial style.

I wished for these books because I imagined they would inspire me; they would educate my eye, and unless you are already an interior decorator, I am sure they would educate yours, too. And when, inspired by the visions of orderly beauty, I finally got my room cleaned up, I would be able to decorate it.

At Home with CountryBut I don’t need these books. I realized it only lately, when contemplating an incident.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was engaged to be married. In the runup to the wedding, my fiance’s aunt startled me. “What color are you going to decorate your bedroom in?” she asked.

I had never thought about such a thing. I stammered, “I don’t really know,” then later howled with laughter at the question with my fiance. And ironically, the aunt gave us a bedspread in a color I had never imagined a bedroom would be styled in — peach — and I was revolted by its misty swirls of pale orange flowers and its slick, synthetic surface.

Creating Your Dream BedroomIt turns out, as I came to understand just recently, I do have opinions about the way I would like my room to be decorated. Very strong opinions.

I want white and brown and blocks of strong colors, the textures of cotton and wool, the patterns of jacquard and end-on-end printing.

And I should not be intimidated into style that is not my own, whether the most delicate French Provincial or the grossest mass-marketed frippery. I should not feel anxiety that my place may be not stylish enough, not feminine enough – only whether it is clean enough and whether it comforts me.

If you are interested in learning more about interior design, don’t hold back, get inspired by books about it.

But if you want to see what I like, and if you want to see if you like it as well, then go to the store websites of Hilton, Hyatt, and Sheraton. There are enough people who share this sensibility, and I am one of them, that the chains have set up sites to sell the same goods they use in their rooms.

So barbarian though I may be, now I know that I know what I want. I am certain now. Book closed.

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