Saturday, December 3, 2016

THE BLESSINGS THAT ENFOLD US


Rain falls here in New Iberia early this morning, and I am thankful for the patter of it on the roof. I check the weather forecasts for Sewanee and Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the former where I live part of the year, and the latter having been damaged by forest fires in the Great Smokies. I’m relieved to see reports of rain in Gatlinburg where so many acres of the town and forests have been destroyed.

For four weeks now, I’ve been plagued by bronchitis from the ash in the air because of burning in the sugar cane fields, many times thinking we should travel to our second home at Sewanee where the air would be less polluted. However, a friend who has just returned from Sewanee says that the air there is also polluted with smoke drifting over from the fires in the Smokies. 

Rain is a blessing right now in many parts of the country and I turn to a book of blessings To Bless the Space Between Us, by John O’Donohue for his thoughts about living in a world infused with blessings of both home and landscape. About clean air, he writes: 

Let us bless the invigoration
Of clean, fresh air.
The gentleness of air
That holds and slows the rain,
Lets it fall down…In the name of the air,
The breeze,
And the wind,
May our souls
Stay in rhythm
With eternal
Breath.

I was fascinated about a story O’Donohue told regarding the power of intention and of blessing people, habitats, happenings… An ongoing experiment took place in an American university in which there is a sealed-off room containing a coin-flipping machine. Day and night the machine flips coins. The results usually show fifty percent heads and fifty percent tails. Near this room there is another one that invites people in. Each person is requested to make an intention — heads or tails? After they make their choice, they are asked to write it down on a page that is placed in a sealed envelope and addressed to the research team. The results showed that if a person wished for heads, the machine ended up flipping up to 75 percent majority of heads and vice versa. The team found that the distance that the power of the intention to influence the outcome held for up to a hundred and fifty mile radius surrounding the room in which the experiment took place. O’Donohue poses the question that if human intention can substantially influence the outcome of a cold, neutral coin-flipping machine, how much more can our human intentions achieve as we relate to one another? He writes: "Goethe says that once the commitment is made, destiny conspires with us to support and realize it."

And as the rain falls, I read the succinct lines of the poet who created this book of gracious invocations: 

Let us bless the humility of water,
always willing to take the shape
Of whatever otherness holds it…Blessed be water,
Our first mother. 

And I add: Blessed be the flow of renewal in the rain and air as they become transformative agents in our anxious world.

Painting by my deceased brother Paul who loved the waters of the Pacific Ocean and the fresh air of northern California.




Tuesday, November 22, 2016

PINYON REVIEW #10

Dog lovers will appreciate the photo of the black lab wearing a bright red jacket, head turned toward some sound in a wood of aspen with yellow leaves, that appears on the cover of Pinyon Review #10. The dog’s name is Garcia, and he’s accustomed to proofing manuscripts with Editor Gary Entsminger and Managing Editor Susan Elizabeth Elliott near Montrose, Colorado. Inside "The Castle," the cabin headquarters of Pinyon Publishing, Garcia turns in early after a day of manuscript reading, climbing mountains, dancing to folk music, chasing wildlife, and helping to cultivate his owners’ large garden. Garcia often signs his name to emails addressed to me, and lets me know if my latest poetry offerings to Pinyon Review pass muster with him. I appreciate the attentions of this beautiful dog even though I’m allergic to animal dander and can only admire him from afar. 

Poetry lovers will love this issue of Pinyon Review as it’s primarily a collection of poetry from numerous award-winning poets. It also contains an exhibit of the painting/art design work of Susan Elliott. Bonus material is a suspenseful vignette by the editors that reminded me of Red Lights, one of Georges Simenon’s short psychological novels.

I usually attempt to single out a few authors to tout in a review, but the excellent work of sixteen poets in this issue begged me not to discriminate, so I finally decided to focus on a single poem that contained five parts entitled "Arizona Ruins" by Lyn Lifshin. It’s an arresting study of the Sinagua Indians, a tribe that disappeared into the cosmos and whose ruins I visited during a stay in Sedona, Arizona in the summer of 2007. Lifshin writes: "No one knows/where they went/from the cliffs/with their/earth jars and sandals/Or if they/cursed the/desert moon/as they wrapped/their dead/babies/in bright cloth/and jewels…"

On a hot summer day when I visited the ruins and became unbearably thirsty, I felt in sync with the poet who wrote: "Now cliff swallows/nest in the mud/where the Sinagua/lived/until water ran out…" I wondered if the tribe died of thirst or moved to a new watering hole, but a guide told us that they simply disappeared, and I remember writing my own poem about ghosts of these native Americans who sometimes lived on lizards and nuts. "The people left/ the debris of their lives here/arrows, dung/And were buried/with the bright/turquoise they loved/sometimes carved/into animals and birds."

I love the clean lines of this poem and the powerful images it invokes of people struggling for survival, making stone jewelry and braiding willow stems in the Arizona desert. I blinked when I read a biography of the author who lays claim to writing over 130 books —that fact is the entire bio, which is as mysterious as the poem about the Sinagua, and I respect the privacy of the creator of such powerful imagery.

From start to finish, readers are held in suspense with Gary and Susan’s "Where Was I? —for Tom Martinez," a story about a man who wandered onto the couple’s property, lost, after sunset, one evening. The man had been harvesting pine nuts in the pinyon-juniper woods and had gotten turned around, and in the vignette Gary offers to drive him back to his car via Government Springs in exchange for half his harvest of pine nuts. Gary writes that since pine nuts from Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico are almost impossible to buy, except in a Chevron station in Austin, Nevada, he agreed to make the drive while Susan stayed home and fretted about him driving in the dark to Martinez’s home on the rim of a canyon. It’s a good spin about a repeat incident Gary experienced lending a hand to a lost neighbor who claims his wife’s legally blind and he’s legally insane. Gary and Susan have jointly written several books that include Ophelia’s Ghost, Fall of ’33, and Remembering the Parables.

Also in this issue of Pinyon Review is a stunning, blue-green watercolor entitled "Sea Quilt, 24"x36" in which Susan used watercolor, ink, and thread on 140-lb. cold-pressed watercolor paper. She writes: "On quiet winter morning walks when I pause and gaze across snow-covered fields of sagebrush, I sense the ocean in the stillness. The other dimension laps at my ear like the hum of Om." 

Garcia highly recommends Issue #10 of Pinyon Review and donned his red coat especially to attract readers... or perhaps, in honor of Thanksgiving, he wanted to rustle the feathers of the wild turkeys that often come to breakfast at "The Castle." Copies of this issue can be ordered from Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403.


Monday, November 21, 2016

THE ESSENTIAL LOUISIANA SEAFOOD COOKBOOK

Saturday, the wind blew in from the north, bringing winter to south Louisiana. I imagined Cajun cooks taking out their black iron pots and thawing shrimp that had been stored in freezers. Gumbo weather, I thought. I dressed and went downtown where the wind had begun to carry the scent of tapas and paella. The annual Spanish Festival in New Iberia had cranked up, and the door to Books Along the Teche was wide open, beckoning food lovers to a signing of The Essential Louisiana Seafood Cookbook by Stanley Dry, master chef of gumbos, étouffées, jambalayas, and courtbouillion. The wintry day seemed to be an ideal time for him to be presenting his newest book for those Louisiana cooks who were dusting off their gumbo pots. 

Dry, a cherished friend who authors a column entitled "Kitchen Gourmet" for Louisiana Life magazine, was a former senior editor for Food & Wine magazine. He authored The Essential Louisiana Cookbook several years ago, and it’s now in its second printing.  A talented chef and writer, his.articles about food, wine, and restaurants have been published in Food & Wine, Travel and Leisure, The New York Times and Boston Magazine, as well as in our regional periodical, Acadiana Profile

Dry’s "Author’s Notes" to his cookbooks reflect his interest in the history of food (he majored in History at ULL in Lafayette, Louisiana) and are tantalizing introductions to equally-tantalizing recipes that range from "Artichoke Hearts, Green Peas & Lump Crabmeat Salad" to "Crawfish Omelet with Penne & Green Peas" and contain ingredients that include fresh, local, and seasonal foods from the waterways and gardens of Acadiana. He offers Louisiana cooks traditional seafood recipes, along with innovative dishes that he tested for two years prior to the publication of The Essential Louisiana Seafood Cookbook.

Recipes in this book were originally published in Louisiana Life magazine, and Dry comments that "all the variations in recipes are…indicative of the free form, improvisational nature of Louisiana cooking. Certainly there are parallels between our food and music. Our food evolved from the hands and minds of cooks, not from books, just as jazz, as well as Cajun and Zydeco music, evolved from the creativity of musicians, not from sheet music. And all of them are still evolving…"

An interesting fact for lovers of crawfish reported by historian Carl A. Brasseaux in the "Author’s Notes:" Crawfish didn’t highlight the Cajuns’ diets early on. Even in the early 20th century, Cajuns only ate crawfish during Lent when they boiled the "mudbugs." Dry reports that 1959 was a banner year for the crustaceans —the year that Breaux Bridge became the "Crawfish Capital of the World," and the Louisiana Legislature began providing funds for research about crawfish farming. Dry says that today "crawfish are found in a dizzying variety of preparations." One of our master chef's  recipes for the mudbug highlights Quinoa, a notable grain on the shelves of natural food stores of the 21st century. The recipe includes crawfish and avocado and is featured in the "Salads and Appetizers" section of 
The Essential Louisiana Seafood Cookbook.

For those who have dusted off their gumbo pots, Dry touts the "Duck, Andouille & Oyster Gumbo" recipe as "fit for a holiday table," and he utilizes south Louisiana ingredients, as well as dried shiitake mushrooms and thyme leaves, to produce a dish that he warns cooks will take time to prepare and involves a number of steps but is worth the effort.

Perhaps next year the Spanish Festival will feature Dry’s "Crawfish Tacos" a recipe that calls for fresh tomatillos, corn tortillas, avocado, and the ubiquitous crustacean. The dish is included in the "Lagniappe" section of The Essential Louisiana Seafood Cookbook and is a more contemporary, international conclusion to the celebration of food in this cookbook.

Although I quickly purchased the book, I can only enjoy the recipes vicariously, for, alas, I am allergic to all shellfish, beginning with adverse reactions to our delicious fare from the waterways when I was in my fifties. However, I can appreciate this consummate chef’s offerings that are enhanced by the wonderful photographs of Eugenia Uhl, a native New Orleanian whose work has been featured in New Orleans Magazine, Southern Accents, Food & WineTravel and Leisure, and other magazines. She has also done work for Brennan’s, Galatoire’s, and Tulane University, along with photography for Commander’s Kitchen and New Orleans Home Cooking.


Congratulations Stan and Eugenia, and bon appetit south Louisiana!