Saturday, May 31, 2008

The French Market is in full swing

green beans
bell pepper
red onion
whole grain bread

all of it local

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The farmers' market opened this morning

This is the day which the LORD hath made;
we will rejoice and be glad in it.
Psalm 118.24

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Last week some friends gave us a bottle of Red Guitar, a Spanish blend of tempranillo (55%) and garnacha (45%). To get an idea of what foods to serve it with, I consulted Google. Soon, food pairings forgotten, I was reveling in wine tasters’ lyricism.

My favorite moment in Sideways is when Paul Giamatti’s character, Miles Raymond, demonstrates the art of wine evaluation: “... passion fruit... [puts hand up to ear] ... and, oh, there's just like the faintest soupçon of like asparagus and just a flutter of a, like a, nutty Edam cheese...”

Mr. Raymond had nothing on the Red Guitar poetasters.

The wine I was about to pour smelled of “luscious cherries with a hint of sweet tobacco and wood smoke,” or perhaps “cherries and red berries, underscored with some subtle earth, chocolate and juniper berries,” though one writer suggested “smoky, musty cellar” and another approvingly likened it to “menthol and road tar” (yum!).

Take a sip. What do you taste? “Sour cherry and grape, a bit candy-like, with dried fruit notes and hints of spicy vanilla”? “Very tart cherry, briary almost like tree bark”? “Cranberries giv[ing] way quickly to bright jammy cherry fruit cola”? “Blueberry syrup on pancakes”? “Plum, graphite and tomato”? “Chocolate”?

As T.S. Eliot noted in “Burnt Norton,”

Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.

Hey, Red Guitar is a delightful, inexpensive, fruity red wine. It goes well with chili and corn chips, hamburgers, barbecued chicken.

It's OK to drink it in silence.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Looking 60

A wise and sensible article in Sunday's Chicago Tribune begins, "For me, 60 need not be the new 30. I've already been 30, and I prefer adventure to repetition."

Martha Woodroof (pictured at right) describes a number of aging female celebrities who paint, dye, and tuck as they strive to avoid looking their age. Woodruff asks, "So what, exactly, is wrong with looking 60 if you are 60?"

I enjoyed her article so much that I went in search of her book, How to Stop Screwing Up: 12 Steps to Real Life and a Pretty Good Time (Hampton Roads, 2007). Alas, Amazon just doesn't get it. Here's their suggested pairing:
Better Together

Buy this book with How Not to Look Old: Fast and Effortless Ways to Look 10 Years Younger, 10 Pounds Lighter, 10 Times Better by Charla Krupp today!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Creators of the flesh

Though I am not Jewish, I have a wonderful rabbi. Here's what he tells me about praying for the sick:

Whenever we pray for a sick person we say, "May God who blessed Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, bless and heal _____, the [son or daughter] of ______." The last blank is not the father. The sick person is always referred to as the son or daughter of the mother. We invoke the mother's name. This is based on Jeremiah 31:14-19.

[Check it out: it's the passage on Rachel weeping for her children.]

And so the rabbis remark on this passage that in the end of days when it comes time to redeem Israel, God will not listen to the pleas of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. Rather, what moves God most is the plea of Mother Rachel. This is based on the simple Jewish notion that what women and God share in common is the very custodianship of the sanctity of human flesh. Both are creators of the flesh. Men by definition are not. For that reason we pray for sick people in the name of their mother.

In case you're wondering, my rabbi is not worried about being politically correct: he's Orthodox.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Out of the squirrel cage

I have not posted anything for quite a while. This is partly because I’ve been traveling (Maryland, Cape Cod) and partly because I’ve been thinking. Or, more accurately, squirrel caging, defined by one website as “the act of rumination on negative thoughts.” Mr. Neff calls this obsessing. I call it seeking information and making contingency plans.

I have not wanted to turn this blog into a confessional of any sort. I completely understand a friend of mine who, during her first visit with a spiritual director, said, “I don’t want this to be about me.”

But maybe I’m being too reticent. Lively Dust is about being human, earthbound, mortal. It’s about the interplay between spirit and flesh. If I can write about food and wine, maybe I can also write about malfunctioning bodies, even if one of them belongs to me.


I have known for five years that I have a defective aortic valve and an aneurysm of the aortic root. Every year I get scanned various ways, and so far my structural defects have not affected my daily life. But last month I learned that my heart is growing less efficient (qualifiers like “moderate-to-severe” appeared on my report), and my cardiologist predicts that sometime between now and Medicare I will be split open, my heart will be stopped and removed from my body, machines will sustain me, and my aorta and two valves will be repaired or replaced as needed.

I can think of several ways I’d rather spend a day.

Yes, I know my chances of full recovery are excellent. As my incredibly young doctor-chick with the perky smile and Gap trousers puts it, “Almost everybody survives. You just gotta do what you gotta do.” She’s absolutely right.


Still, I do not “go gentle into that good night,” even the good night induced by anesthesia. Though I accept that “all flesh is grass” (Isa 40.6) and that “all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again” (Eccl 3.20), I resonate with Woody Allen’s observation: “I am not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

The prospect of heart removal, repair, and replacement is a powerful memento mori, even though I may well go on for another twenty, thirty, even forty years. My great-great-aunt Emma, when she was 97 and living with her 94-year-old sister, Ella, said to my mother, “We’re coping fine right now, but I do sometimes wonder what we’ll do when we get old.”


Squirrel-caging isn’t all bad. After running round and round the wheel day after day, eventually this squirrel gets bored and goes off in search of nuts. Today I caramelized six pounds of onions. Tonight I will set a pound of navy beans to soak, and I will put a batch of bread dough in the refrigerator to rise overnight. Tomorrow a dear friend I have known since we were eight years old arrives from Italy, where she has lived for the last thirty-some years.

Over the years our parents have died, our children have grown, our bodies have slowed. But thank goodness we are not pure spirits, even if the dust part of us isn’t as lively as it once was. Tomorrow night we’ll enjoy hearty peasant food and drink good red wine as we talk about books, travel, friends, family, and the way we used to scandalize the small college town where our fathers were respectable professors (“What will people think?” my mother kept wailing).

It takes a body to enjoy an evening like that. An imperfect one will do.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Putting wine in context

"Wine's Pleasures: Are They All in Your Head?" asks Eric Asimov in yesterday's New York Times, reporting on a forthcoming book, The Wine Trials: 100 Everyday Wines Under $15 that Beat $50 to $150 Wines in Brown-Bag Blind Tastings. Even if a lot of wine drinkers prefer Two Buck Chuck to Dom Perignon, Asimov writes, there are some flaws in the book's approach. More significant is another study he mentions, "in which presumably sober researchers at the California Institute of Technology and the Stanford Business School demonstrated that the more expensive consumers think a wine is, the more pleasure they are apt to take in it."

I was interested in the article because I'd been carrying on my own unscientific study. A few weeks ago I went to the semiannual Wine Thing, a 100-bottle tasting offered by the Cabernet & Co. wine shop in nearby Glen Ellyn. I approach a wine-tasting as an educational experience: I pick a theme (a grape, a region) and see what I can learn. This time I focused on sauvignon blanc.

I rarely meet a sauvignon blanc I don't love. I'm especially fond of Marlborough wines from New Zealand, but I like Californian and South African versions too, and the cheap Chilean from Trader Joe's is delightful. It had occurred to me that I am insufficiently snobbish about sauvignons, and perhaps I should educate my palate.

So I sniffed and swirled and contemplated and discussed, and yes, the wines varied in complexity and interest; but at the end of the hour I liked them all. As the CIT researchers would have predicted, some of the more expensive bottles seemed to have a je ne sais quoi that the cheaper bottles lacked--but would those whiffs of gooseberry and licorice even be discernible once the wine was paired with food?

I decided to find out. I bought two bottles of sauvignon blanc: a Viñas Chilenas 2007 from Trader Joe's ($3.99) and a Mulderbosch 2006 from Binny's ($17.99). I put them both in the refrigerator at the same time so they would be equally chilled. I served them with a goat cheese and pear and spring greens salad, followed by tilapia baked in buttered panko and asparagus on the side.

My wine panel consisted of four non-experts who appreciate good food: male, 60; female, 59; female, 35; female, 21. Result: we all liked both wines.

The youngest panelist preferred the TJ. The other three found the Mulderbosch more interesting. The practical old guy suggested serving the more expensive wine to our more discerning friends but sticking with TJ for everyone else (when you come to dinner, you'll know what we think of your palate ...).

As research, our evening was fatally flawed by the fact that all four of us knew what we were drinking, and how much it cost. We discussed the wines among ourselves and no doubt influenced each other's opinions. None of us is a wine expert, nor can we afford to be.

But as an evening among friends, we had a great time. We told stories, we laughed, we enjoyed good food. And ultimately, says Asimov, "the food, the company, the environment" are more important than a wine's price or rating. "Context," he writes, "may be the most underrated aspect of enjoying wine."

Asimov quotes Tyler Colman, a wine writer whose new book A Year of Wine: Perfect Pairings, Great Buys, and What to Sip for Each Season is scheduled for a November release: “'The mood and the food and the context really matters,' he said. 'It’s the neglected pairing.'”

Friday, May 2, 2008

May Magnificat

May is Mary's month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why:
Her feast follow reason,
Dated due to season--

Candlemas, Lady Day;
But the Lady Month, May,
Why fasten that upon her,
With a feasting in her honour?

Is it only its being brighter
Than the most are must delight her?
Is it opportunest
And flowers finds soonest?

Ask of her, the mighty mother:
Her reply puts this other
Question: What is Spring?--
Growth in every thing--

Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,
Grass and greenworld all together;
Star-eyed strawberry-breasted
Throstle above her nested

Cluster of bugle blue eggs thin
Forms and warms the life within;
And bird and blossom swell
In sod or sheath or shell.

All things rising, all things sizing
Mary sees, sympathising
With that world of good,
Nature's motherhood.

Their magnifying of each its kind
With delight calls to mind
How she did in her stored
Magnify the Lord.

Well but there was more than this:
Spring's universal bliss
Much, had much to say
To offering Mary May.

When drop-of-blood-and-foam-dapple
Bloom lights the orchard-apple
And thicket and thorp are merry
With silver-surfed cherry

And azuring-over greybell makes
Wood banks and brakes wash wet like likes
And magic cuckoocall
Caps, clears, and clinches all--

This ecstasy all through mothering earth
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ's birth
To remember and exultation
In God who was her salvation.
--Gerard Manley Hopkins