Foodie Tuesday: The Lunch Bunch

Nobody would really believe me if I said I was much of a lady, but I do have friends who qualify. Some of them will even admit to being my friends! So I had a trio of them over for lunch a few days ago. I’m happy to be in good company of any sex, but whoever my companions, sometimes it’s just dandy to have a little break with a very small group so we can really visit and talk about common interests and the doings of our days. In truth, I also waver between being as polite as I can manage (when absolutely necessary) and being as much the Wild Woman (my friend Celi’s name for females who embrace living fully as our true selves) as time, circumstance, and self-esteem allow. I make plenty of self-deprecating winks and purring demurrals, I know, but my truth is that I think I’m quite dandy. Vraiment.Photo montage: Munch a Bunch of Lunch

Still, part of self-acceptance and encouraging affirmation is surrounding myself with outliers—extraordinary persons—and remind myself that they willingly keep company with me, no matter how many alternate options they have. The vast majority of such persons-of-excellence worth pursuing as companions and friends should lean toward the aforementioned Wild side, regardless of gender, by my preference. That means that no matter what the topic, serious or silly, highbrow or low, the conversation will always be scintillating and memorably informative.

This is an instance where, surrounded by fabulous people, my cookery should be so edible and tasty as to please the palates and invite slow and relaxed dining that never distracts from the camaraderie around the table. Nothing aggressively fanciful and showy, but all (hopefully) easy to eat. I don’t like to feed guests over-complicated stuff at the best of times, or I get all stress-ridden and the attention is diverted to picking tiny bones out of the fish, carving tough peels and rinds off of vegetables, and dividing oversized pieces of food into manageable bites. Food is for sustenance, first, and pleasure next; anything more I’ll happily leave to the multitudes of greater cooks, including many of my favorite friends and guests.

So, what shall I fix when a few of those wonderful friends do come over and lunch with me? The usual DIY-friendly foods that we can all assemble to suit our individual appetites, and uncomplicated flavors that will fill us to contentment without drawing attention away from the deeper comforts of delightful companions and their conversation.

This latest Angelic visitation (I can’t help myself: when we took a few candid snapshots of each other, three of us couldn’t resist hamming it up in a parody of the old Charlie’s Angels pose) had the following lunch menu:

Apple juice-cooked quinoa with smoked paprika, served at room temperature

Roasted vegetables (baby corn, carrots, olives, green beans, tomatoes, and artichokes, oven-roasted with mandarin slices, dried mint leaves, black pepper, and coconut oil), also served at room temperature

Fried cheese cubes (we all agreed these addictive little nuggets were the highlight), warm

Crisped zucchini-potato cake pieces—used like croutons

Quick cucumber pickles: fresh diced cukes preserved in leftover dill pickle juice sweetened with honey and sprinkled with added dill

Balsamic vinaigrette (just avocado oil, balsamic vinegar, a jot of honey, salt, and pepper) to dress any or all of the other main-dish ingredients

Assorted sparkling waters and pomegranate juice, plain or mixed

Assorted trifling truffles for dessert

Mix, match, and meet with mirth. That’s my favorite Lunch on earth. See that? Free poem with every lunch chez moi.Photo: From the Lunch Lady

A Place Full of Love

Photo: Timeless ITimeless I

Great friendship leads to kindling of a kind

Unknown to lovers who have never spent

Nights they devoted purely to content

Intimate intercourse strictly of mind—

Love is expansion, at its best, of souls’

Learned connectivity in friendship first,

And then the cultivating of the thirst,

Pursuing stronger wine, and then the coals—

Embers long banked as friendship had begun—

Light into fire new brilliance from a spark

Lifting great stars from the eternal dark,

Exquisite as a newly blazing sun—

Rich is the love that from such friendship springs,

Kisses of wine—and of more stellar things.Photo: Timeless II

Timeless II

In morning light, the palest leafy shade

Of birches’ green is cast upon the wall

Where portraits hang, ancestral friends who all

Keep silent watch on what the years have made

Of their descendants and their memories;

The secretary, small and staunch, remains,

And in its graceful curving shape contains

What documents can speak these histories;

Oft, in this room, the whisper of that sense

Of timeless care embracing present love

Reaches so gently from its great remove

That love fills up the room itself, immense.

When I am here, I know love so begun

Will flourish to the final setting sun.Photo: Timeless III

Maybe They *Don’t* Make ‘Em Like They Used To…

Happy Birthday, Dad!Photo: Classic Models

Today is my father-in-law’s natal anniversary. Though I’ve no doubt he sometimes feels his age and then some, as all of us do, he remains marvelously youthful in his wit and charm in general, and like a certain favorite toy car of a somewhat similar production date (one passed around by kids in our family for many happy years), has all the more appeal, truth be told, because of all the stories behind the few dents and scratches.

Not only am I most fortunate among persons in having found life partnership with a best friend who suits me in ways I could never even have imagined, I got a fantastic package deal, his parents being from the beginning the best sort possible. I knew before I met them that they must be rather extraordinary to have produced such a dandy son who really liked, loved, and respected them, so I wasn’t all that nervous about the meeting, a fact all the more remarkable when you consider that I still struggled with a fairly extreme level of persistent anxiety at the time. I was more afraid of meeting my beloved’s then part-time housekeeper, an old-school German lady who clearly thought anyone hanging around with her adopted charge had better meet her rigorous standards. Maybe Irma paved the way to make Mom and Dad Sparks seem that much less intimidating. In any event, from that first time I met them I was quickly falling in love with them, too. In any case, it turned out that I had attached my heart not only to a great life partner but to a great life partner with great parents, who immediately became my parents along with the ones who gave me my birth.Photo: Elegance on Wheels

Our Dad S is a thoughtful, gentle, good-humored, positive person who served honorably in the Army, who with Mom S raised a pair of superb sons, who worked with computers from those early days when a single one still filled a massive, refrigerated room to when they became ever so much smaller yet far more powerful, and even trained for and had a post-“retirement” career as a Myotherapist. He continues to be curious and dedicated enough to keep taking classes, traveling, and beginning new adventures as a seasoned but lively octogenarian. He is indeed a man of a ‘certain vintage’ by now, having had many adventures and being the repository of myriad stories as a result, but never fails to have new tales to add to the inventory because his spirit is so lively.

Most of all, he has as loving and generous a heart as he always did, and makes me hope that he will have not only a lovely and fulfilling birthday celebration (or ten) for his birthday but as many more as possible. He is, after all, a classic.Photo: Classic Good Looks

Be that Light

Photo montage + text: Mirror for Contemplating Possibility

Photo + text: Toward Light

Photo + text: Solrosbarna

Photo montage + text: Solrosbarna 2: Greatest Gift

The Strangest Kind of Strangers on a Train

The old tale of complete strangers meeting in transit, discovering they have identical problems, and “solving” the problems by trading crimes to eliminate the people they see as the root of their unhappiness, makes for a striking mystery drama, in fiction. Ask Patricia Highsmith and Alfred Hitchcock fans! But I was reminded recently that we give too little credit to our commonalities as a positive solution to our problems, and end up missing crucial opportunities as a result.

The filmic version takes as its thesis that the two strangers who meet can find not other, or at least no better, solution to the problem of having bad relationships with inconveniently incompatible people than to murder them, and by ‘exchanging’ murders with each other they hope to escape detection by each having no apparent connection to, or a motive for killing, the other’s nemesis.

While this makes for startling and even compelling imagined mystery, it’s horrific if imagined in real terms. Yet we do similar things all the time in this world, don’t we? Because I tend to agree with a particular point of view in general, say, a specific philosophy or political party’s policies, or my country’s traditions, does that mean it’s wise or humane or practical or generous to follow along without question, no matter what my group, party or nation says and does? We mortals are remarkably good at noticing and magnifying our differences, as genuine and large as they may be. But we’re frighteningly weak, in opposing measure, when it comes to recognizing, focusing on, and building upon our true kinship. This, I believe, easily outweighs in both quantity and importance, our separating characteristics. Digital illustration from a photo: Opening Doors

The recent train outing in Sweden that reminded me so pointedly of this also confirmed my belief that it’s an area where youth is wiser than experience. In a railcar where a young father, not a local or a native speaker of the language, was keeping his fifteen-month-old daughter occupied and contented during the trip by helping her practice her tipsy walking, she made her way with his help to where another family, also foreign but not of the same culture as father and daughter, was sitting together. That group was of two adult sisters and their four or five school-age children. The toddler was naturally attracted to the friendly and spirited older children, and as soon as they saw her, they too were enchanted. What followed was perhaps twenty minutes of delighted interaction between them all, with occasional balance aid from Papa and photo-taking by the Mamas. And barely a word was spoken, much less understood by any of the participants, during the entire episode.

The greatest among the many beauties of this endearing one-act was that the conversation essentially began, continued and ended with the kids reaching toward one another with open hands, waving and gesturing and generally putting on an elaborate pantomime together, and above all, giggling and chortling with peals and squeals of ecstatic laughter.

Needless to say, all of us adults in the railcar grinned, giggled, chortled and otherwise became happy kids right along with them. Resistance was an impossibility and a pointless attempt, at that. And isn’t that an excellent lesson for all? Adults are too busy being territorial and fearful and downright feral to remember that the open hand of welcome and sharing is as quickly reciprocated as any gesture, and a smile of greeting and acceptance is contagious beyond any language, age, or cultural barriers. We can nurse our terrors of the unknown as supposed adults, or we can choose to laugh together like children.Digital illustration from a photo: As If in a Mirror

Seriously!

High Holy Hilarity

Those who learn to love with laughter

Will best live Happily Ever After.Digital artwork from a photo: Happily Ever Laughter

Bland Like Me

photo montageThe marvelous Diana of A Holistic Journey has been writing posts asking about the influences of race, culture, national origin, education, and so forth and the ways that they shape who we are and how we perceive ourselves. This series of hers is proving an outstanding eye-opening and thought-provoking exercise for me, too. I have spent most of my life living amid and being part of The Majority—middle-class, white, English speaking, native-born, educated, boringly predictable, etc, etc. There were a few touches of diversity around me here and there, of course, this country of the so-called United States being what it is, but those were relatively small and isolated, so mostly I grew up sheltered and unchallenged in nearly all ways.

Yet as an individual I came to know myself as being different in one way or another from most of what I thought of as the ‘norms’ of my own environs, and even learned over time that what I thought was my Majority milieu was mostly just my very narrow path through it in life. While a lot of my classmates, immediate neighbors and friends when I was a kid, for example, were also little pasty white critters like me, the friends I remember best as seeming most interesting to me were ones like Eha, the Estonian girl, or Karen, one of my few black classmates, or the Japanese friends who shared exotic treats from their lunches and who performed classical Japanese dance in a miniature celebration of the Cherry Blossom Festival at school. I have hardly any memories so suffused with longing as that of watching the girls flutter their fans, while dressed in exquisite kimonos and dancing their stately, courtly dance to the strains of the tune ‘Sakura’, which melody in turn still fills me with delicately melancholy love.

My ideals of human physical beauty, as my husband and I have often noted musingly, are nearly all attached to non-whites or mixed-race people, not something I think of as a conscious or intentional choice but a persistent reality for me ever since I can remember. My superficial list of Most Beautiful People would probably have a paucity of caucasian members among its top fifty. While I have never been either very adventurous or flexible in my choices and tastes and experiences, I suppose I have always been fascinated by what seemed different or even exotic to me. I am a fantasist and a romantic in the cheap, popular versions of those ideas, I guess.

I have even wondered, in a broader sense, if part of my very nature is simply to feel like an outsider for no very specific reason. I was always shy, and learned as an adult that this expressed not only a naturally introverted character on my part but also demonstrated lifelong social anxiety and probably the incipient state of my developing depression that didn’t come to full fruition until later. Those, along with undiagnosed dyslexia, tremors, the dysphonia that came into play in my forties, and who knows what other quirks of my unique persona and biological makeup, could perhaps explain why I never felt I fit in with any particular group or was especially central to its character. But I still can’t say I felt consciously sad or was overtly unhappy or removed or, certainly, ostracized for any of this.

What was odder was that as I reached adulthood and gradually began to find a more comfortable sense of self and direction, I have a feeling I may have chosen to put myself into groups where it was plain that I didn’t quite match the norm, specifically because, if I knew there was no possibility of my being an exemplar in its midst of the highest standard, I might unconsciously feel safe from being expected to be so by anyone else. This might be complete nonsense, but it gives me pause. In any event, I spend a great deal of my ‘quality time’ nowadays in the company of people who are immersed in and even expert at music, pedagogy, administration, and a number of other topics in which I have no training whatsoever and only a very little observational knowledge, and I am very happy in this environment.

Conversely, I tend to keep my company of good visual artists and writers and others with training or knowledge more likely to be similar to mine at the seemingly safer arm’s-length of cyberspace, and that probably doesn’t reflect well on my personal fortitude. I never did, at least, make any claims of being any better than a big ol’ chicken. Being a scaredy-pants is probably not race-specific. Or attached with any particularity to culture, social stratum, nationality, educational accomplishment, religion, language, income level, or anything else in question. Being a scaredy-pants is just part of being myself, and the unique combination of qualities and characteristics that make up the wonderfulness of Me.

On the other hand, being attracted to, frightened by or otherwise connected to or dissociated from people who are Not Like Me is a central consideration of understanding how the human species works. Or doesn’t. And there’s no doubt that all of those things influenced by proximity (physical or metaphorical), the aforementioned race, culture, social strata, and so forth, are very potent indicators and influencers of how we will experience the concept of Self and Other at any level.

So what does that ‘solve’ about me, about how I feel about those who are or seem in any way different from me? I’m still not at all sure. Perhaps the best I can say is that my feeling of being, in a value-neutral way, unlike those around me makes me unwilling to assume much about them, in turn. I would generally rather let personalities and individuality be revealed to me and my understanding of my surroundings at the moment unfold in their own sweet time than that I jump in and make any precipitous assumptions. I’m perfectly capable of finding lots of other ways of being wrong and making a fool of myself without constantly worrying over whether I’m being judged, rightly or wrongly, as a stereotype of either the majority or the minority on hand.

Most of my blogging friends and acquaintances are significantly different from me in nearly all of the aforementioned identifying categories, and yet I feel remarkably at home among you. So I’ll let you decide if sameness or difference affects how you see me. I feel at home, and that’s good enough for my part of the bargain.photo montage