Posts Tagged 'michael pollan'

(hack) Thanksgiving leftovers (koff)

It’s the first day of December. How the heck did that happen?

On the way out to New Mexico last week, I sat between a married couple who were both sick and kept coughing across me. It was Southwest Airlines, so seating was first come first serve, and they made it clear they would rather have me in the crossfire than give up either an aisle or a window seat. It must have been clear how this came across, because as we were getting off the plane, the wife said to me, “Don’t worry, you won’t catch anything from us — we’ve had this for the last four weeks.”

My stepfather was sick when I got to New Mexico. Flesh of My Flesh was sick on Thanksgiving day. My mom was getting sick over the weekend as we were preparing to leave.

So, perhaps it was inevitable, but Sunday evening I started developing a sore throat on the flight home, yesterday it was getting worse, and today I’m staying home trying to keep from getting worse or giving it to lots of people. I hate to be “that guy” who suspiciously gets sick immediately following a break, but here we are.

As I drink my gallon of Throat Coat tea, there are a few things upon which to muse:

  • My review copy of Cappella Romana’s recording of the Michaelides Divine Liturgy arrived in my absence, as did the Ensemble Organum disc I mentioned earlier. A full review will come shortly; for the moment, I will say only that both are worth your time and represent, in an odd way, flip sides of the same coin.
  • If you do iTunes, Lycourgos Angelopoulos’ 1993 album of Byzantine hymnody for Christmas has been rereleased in that format. It has been out of print for years as an actual disc, although there seem to be some used copies on Amazon. (Note that the iTunes release has a slightly different title: The Glory of Byzantium: Christmas Hymns.)
  • Rod Dreher is leaving the Dallas Morning News to become director of publications for the John Templeton Foundation. Close to four years ago, I started hearing various grumpy old men murmuring about “crunchy cons”. My godson Lucas at some point started reading the book and recommended I read it. It resonated quite a bit with me as somebody who looks more to Russell Kirk than Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin as a model of what conservatism should look like, and the point of the book seemed to me to be to ask how conservatives might, y’know, actually conserve something other than money or power or status. I gave copies of it to a lot of people, and I’m reasonably sure I know everybody in Bloomington who has read it (I’ll let you decide if I’m joking). I’ll fess up that, while a lot of Dreher’s critics had no patience for how he discussed food, I really appreciated what he had to say about a sacramental approach to it, and even if Michael Pollan isn’t using the word “sacramental”, his work and Dreher’s demonstrate that it can be a topic where liberals and conservatives can make common cause (and of course, Dreher interviewed Pollan for The American Conservative last year). Since the book came out, it has seemed as though he was searching unsuccessfully for a way to follow up what should have served as a strong statement of purpose; what he touted as a “sensibility” never quite materialized as a movement, exactly, eventually Crunchy Cons went out of print, and the hinted-at sequel about “the Benedict Option” never materialized, presumably because (as he kept saying in his blog) his newspaper job had become an exercise in self-preservation. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge in the last four years; Dreher converted to Orthodox Christianity, and right now conservatism seems to be floundering on the very cultural essentials the importance of which he was trying to stress, consequently lurching even more towards negativity and hostility. My hope is that a break from political commentary will allow Dreher to follow up on the issues discussed in Crunchy Cons from a more purely cultural perspective, because I think that’s where his heart has wanted to go with it anyway.
  • There was an interesting article in the New York Times this last Sunday about the traditional Latin Mass. Even more interesting has been the discussion of it in places like The New Liturgical Movement and Commonweal. I’m really not sure what a “liturgist” is — a liturgical scholar? a liturgical composer? a person who interprets rubrics? — but what I find striking is how for many modern Catholics, it seems like the rupture from tradition is in fact a selling point. I was in a large, old stone Catholic church once where they were doing a lot of work to restore the interior. The high altar was still in place, and I asked somebody if it ever got used; the person I asked looked highly offended that I would even dare to mention the high altar’s existence, and said, “No, Vatican II turned the altars around and returned the focus of the Mass to the people,” and made it clear that was the end of the conversation. Sometimes it seems like the majority of Westerners truly and actively yearn for their worship to be sentimental, banal, and tacky. At any rate, I don’t have a dog in this fight (except insofar as I strongly disagree with certain parties who think Orthodoxy needs its own Vatican II), but it seems to me that the traditionalist and modernist narratives are irreconcilable, as the comments on Wolfe’s article indicate. What I will say is that the invocation by a commenter at Commonweal of C. S. Lewis (“The modern habit of doing ceremonial things unceremoniously is no proof of humility; rather it proves the offender’s inability to forget himself in the rite, and his readiness to spoil for every one else the proper pleasure of ritual”) seems quite apt, and the apparent need, not just for the 1970 Missal to be embraced but for anything that ever came before it to be wiped from the face of the earth, is very telling — at least to me. At the risk of elevating aesthetics over all other concerns, I’ll point out that the Mass of St. Gregory inspired people like Josquin and Palestrina; the kinds of composers the Novus Ordo appears to have inspired are, shall we say, not even close.

Okay. I need more tea.

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FARMbloomington

As one or two of the links on my blogroll might suggest, I tend to support the local food movement, or at least parts of it; I have a membership at my local food co-op, I’ve read Crunchy Cons and The Oldways Table, and even subscribed to The American Conservative just to make sure I could read the Rod Dreher/Michael Pollan interview. (I simultaneously subscribed to The Progressive for purposes of balance.)

So, when a restaurant opened up here in Bloomington which was touted as “local, seasonal and simple, while still original” and claimed “to reach out to local growers and utilize their products,” naturally I was interested — definitely the kind of thing locally-minded foodies should want to support, yes?

Well, after months of hearing that it was good but expensive, Megan and I went to FARMbloomington Tuesday night. We were looking to celebrate the beginning of the new school year, and it seemed like as good of an opportunity as any to give it a shot.

Bottom line, in case you don’t want to bother with the gory details: it’s good, but expensive.

The problem is this — it’s okay for a restaurant to be expensive, as long as the customer isn’t thinking after paying, “Wow, that was expensive.” Ideally, the quality of any restaurant should be proportionate to what it costs to eat there; in other words, one should look at the check and always think, “Yep, about right.” Paying through the nose is fine — I just don’t want to feel like I’m paying through the nose. So, if I’m thinking on my way back to the car, “That was good, but expensive,” what that really means is that it wasn’t good enough, not by half.

Walking in, the place has a country-style restaurant feel; some have called it a “high-end Cracker Barrel” and that’s not too far off, but the postmodern twist sneaks up on you when you’re looking at the west wall of the dining room and you realize — that’s a wall covered with bedpans. Evan, our server, was pretty upfront when we asked him about it — “Those are bedpans, all different styles,” he told us. Evidently that’s what says “local” to chef Daniel Orr.

The other problem is that it seems like nothing can just be “local” or “normal”; it’s gotta have a gimmick, as the song goes. Sometimes it works, as in the case of the pineapple vodka which is spiced on-site; that stuff is tasty (many thanks to David, who brought them to us unprompted). Sometimes, however, it just leaves you scratching your head — my wife’s cocktail, a house concoction called “Sweet Lucy in the Rye” made from Sweet Lucy bourbon, Wild Turkey rye, orange juice, and… a ginger cube. A ginger cube? Speaking as an aficionado of Manhattan cocktails, I found this drink to be bizarre. That said, when they do something straightforward, it works very well — my mojito was quite refreshing and very much appreciated, it having been hot and muggy all day.

For appetizers, we went with a plate of sea scallops (as Megan pointed out, not exactly a local selection, unless there’s something about Lake Monroe I don’t know), thinly-sliced and served raw, topped with lime, chilies, dill, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, and sea salt. Not bad, worth trying, the plate size is simply too big for two people. After a couple of them you realize it’s more interesting than good, but you’ve still got a whole platter left. Some of the chunks of sea salt were a little too big, but that bothered die Frau more than it bothered me. I also had a caesar salad, which was good but the gimmicky touch here was the shredded seaweed on top. I guess it worked okay, but only because it combined with the taste of the caesar dressing and was effectively blended out. Since it didn’t add anything in terms of flavor or texture, why bother?

My entrée was the Coffee Rubbed Buffalo Nickel Farms Bison Ribeye, served with truffle, mushroom grits, and soubise (a kind of onion white sauce). The mushroom grits and the truffle were fantastic. The meat was… not bad, not great. I asked for medium rare, but danged if I could find a millimeter of pink on the thing. It wasn’t horrible despite being overcooked, but it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I ordered it, either. Megan ordered an off-the-menu Fielder pork chop with potatoes and a reduction sauce; again, the potatoes were terrific, and the meat was, well, fine.

Dessert was coffee an espresso parfait — like the mojito, quite tasty and refreshing on this particular day. The problem here was Megan asking for cream for the coffee and being given nonfat milk; I guarantee you, she doesn’t have an ounce to lose, so it wasn’t that they were trying to send a message, they just weren’t paying attention. Had that been the only thing questionable about the evening, it would have been a minor quibble, but it contributed to an overall sense that FARMbloomington is still figuring some things out.

Pre-tip, the tab came to $108.07; had everything been wonderful from — if you’ll excuse the expression — soup to nuts, I don’t think I would have blinked at that, but it sure felt expensive. Had it been about two-thirds of the price (or less), it would have felt a lot closer to reality.

Now, all of this is not to say that it was terrible and I don’t ever want to go back. Seattle’s Cafe Flora* it ain’t, at least not yet, but as I said, it’s the kind of place I’d like to be able to support, it wasn’t absolutely terrible, there were definitely things that were really good, it’s just that they clearly do not yet have the ship sailing as smoothly as it hopefully will be eventually. I plan to go back after the menu rolls over for fall or winter and see how things change. If they’ve improved some things, I look forward to being able to report that.

* Home of the best cheese grits in the universe. Check out their cookbook.

Poking my head back up…

…at least for a moment. The thing about blogging is, when you’re doing it, you’re able to do it. When you’re not doing it, it’s hard to get back into it because you feel like you’ve got so much catching up to do.

In brief, I was deliberately keeping blogging on the downlow the first half of April or so while a couple of situations finished playing themselves out, and they did, and everything turned out okay, but then it was Holy Week, and my mom was here, and then it was Finals Week, and then I’ve also been adjusting to a new job, and, and, and…

The other thing is that my new job is significantly less stressful than my old one. By metric tons, even, and for every imaginable reason. Between that and having a break from classes, the decompression rate is astounding. One of the things this has underscored for me is the sheer amount of stress with which I’ve lived for about the last year and a quarter — it’s been a pressure cooker, and not entirely for great, rewarding reasons. There are details on which I’m not going to elaborate here, so let’s just say for the moment that when somebody stops communicating with you, or intentionally communicates poorly, but still makes you responsible for what you would have known had they been communicating with you, and makes that standard operating procedure, there is no longer any reason to stick around — that person has already decided you don’t belong there. You’re not going to win, nor are you going to be able to fix anything.

Anyway, the point is, in decompressing, I have found myself picking up threads of particular projects that have lay fallow for much of the last year. This has been a good and productive thing — although the main one is not something I’m yet ready to discuss here — but it’s also taken time from other things I might have done more readily a month ago. Like blogging.

But here I am now, nonetheless.

I’m in the midst of reading Sunday Matins in the Byzantine Cathedral Rite, the doctoral dissertation of Dr. Alexander Lingas, the founding Artistic Director of Cappella Romana. I don’t have a lot of specific commentary on it just yet because I’m only about a quarter of the way through it, but one thing I will say is that I’m somewhat bemused by the fact that I’m having to read it in the form of a copy ordered from Proquest rather than an actual published book. Amazon.com lists it as having a publication date of 28 June 2008, but it is not yet available for pre-order; on the other hand, it is available for pre-order on Amazon.co.uk. However, if you go to the publisher’s website, it isn’t listed anywhere — neither as a forthcoming release nor anything else. Thing of it is, this has happened before; two years ago it had a publication date listed on Amazon of June 2006, and then right around May the date was yanked. An e-mail to Ashgate generated a reply that publication had been rescheduled to 2008, and here we are, but there’s nothing from Ashgate right now to suggest this is in fact happening. And, so far as I can tell, this has been going on with this particular work, with more than one publisher, for about ten years.

Gotta love academic publishing. I mean, it’s going to be approximately a $100 book, and I suspect that a thousand copies is a fairly optimistic estimate of the print run for this specific of a project, so I’m sure that whoever the publisher ultimately is, they’re not going to pull the trigger until the numbers make the most sense possible, and everything I hear about academic publishing says that, frankly, the numbers suck more often than not.

I’m also reading Bp. Hilarion Alfeyev’s The Spiritual World of St. Isaac the Syrian, and that’s another fascinating case with regard to publishing. It is readily available from its publisher, Cistercian Publications; however, for whatever inexplicable reason, it is not available through Amazon. That’s not all; the current edition really looks like it needed an editor. Capitalizations are extremely inconsistent, for example; a sample sentence tells us that “[t]he christological position ofthe Council of Ephesus was purely alexandrian: it took no account of the antiochene position, and it was precisely the antiochene (and not ‘nestorian’) Christology that was the Christology of the Church of the East” (p22, entire quote sic). Bp. Hilarion is a native Russian speaker, I believe, not a native English speaker, so perhaps that explains it, but one might expect that a native English-speaking editor would normalize these things.

In terms of my own adventures with academic publishing, I submitted my “Sensory Experience and the Women Martyrs of Najran” paper to a particular journal that had a call for papers that seemed appropriate. I got the response on Monday, and it was a bit curious. It wasn’t a “yes,” but it was a “no” that I wasn’t totally sure what to do with, since it wasn’t a form letter rejection (I’m very used to those). Basically they said, “This is really interesting, but in its current form it’s not appropriate for us. If you wanted to make it appropriate for us, here’s what our reviewers suggest.” The letter specifically says, “While we are not asking you to revise and resubmit, we would be happy to look at the paper again, provided you address all of our reviewer comments.”

So, what does this mean? Is this how journals try to let people down easily (“You’ve got a really great personality”), or does this mean it might be worth my time to make the revisions they suggest? If the latter, I’m going to need some help deciphering the editor-ese, so I’ll make dinner for whoever might be interested on that front.

Humorous note: The salutation of the letter was, “Dear Prof. Barrett”. Heh. Uh, no, to say the least.

I will eventually have pictures and a more detailed report regarding Lazarus Saturday’s baptisms and chrismations, but there is a related matter I wish to mention regarding a couple of the people involved, and it’s not completely public knowledge yet. Watch this space.

In other matters… in case you were wondering, no, as it happens, melted wax from a beeswax candle does not improve the functionality of a laptop keyboard. My wife felt compelled to perform this experiment this last Friday, so please don’t think that you need to determine this for yourself. Now, thankfully, Dell laptop keyboards appear to be designed to have things spilled on them and are incredibly easy and inexpensive to replace with no further trouble; Triangle Laptops was a terrific source, and I have no complaints about their pricing or their service. Should this happen to you, that’s the first place I’d look.

There is an effort at All Saints underway to explore ways of “greening the church”; without wishing to get into an argument here and now about whether or not this is a concept with which Orthodox need concern themselves, I’ll pass along that there were a few ideas which immediate came to mind for me:

  1. Commit to burning only olive oil and beeswax (excluding incense) — no paraffin, in other words. Olive oil and beeswax are, first and foremost, the traditional materials to use for candles and lamps in the church, and they have the added benefit of being clean-burning. St. Gregory Palamas Monastery in Ohio, I believe, does this.
  2. Start an herb garden. Given the various liturgical uses of basil, at least, this strikes me as a no-brainer. No reason to spend tons of money on fresh basil for Holy Saturday and house blessings and so on when, for a small fraction of that cost, a church could grow its own. Grow enough and there might be a reason to have a regular presence at the local farmer’s market, which could itself be a form of outreach.
  3. On a completely basic, practical level–have a rain barrel, or two, or three, or however many would be useful to have.

Anybody have any other thoughts?

I will wrap this up for the moment with a plug for the book The Oldways Table. If you’re a Michael Pollan or a Rod Dreher person, you may very well find that this book helps to suggest practical ways that some of their ideas might be put into practice. I’ll have more to say about it later once I’ve tried a few more of its ideas (and more importantly, adapted them into some of my own).

(And yes, I did in fact finish the Patriarch’s book on Lazarus Saturday; I’ve got plenty to say about it, but it can wait. Suffice it to say, for the moment, that I believe his intended audience for the book is not comprised of the Orthodox faithful, but that this does not in and of itself have to mean that the Orthodox faithful are justified in viewing what he says uncharitably.)


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