29 May 2010

Mahogany Risotto with Duck Confit and Fresh Peas

I wanted to make risotto, and suddenly realized that I didn’t have enough Arborio rice.  Arthur suggested that I use some of the Mahogany (Black Japonica) rice that we had around.  This is the recipe that resulted.  It employs two methods.  The first method cooks both of the rices together, and results in a nutty al dente dish.  The second method pre-cooks the mahogany rice, giving both rices the same texture in the final dish.  I hope that you will enjoy this.

For 6 persons

1 cup of shelled English peas
2 tablespoons of chopped green garlic
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
1 cup boiling water
2 legs and thighs of duck confit, or 4 legs
½ cup white wine
5 cups of beef broth and cooking water from the peas, combined
(1 cup of beef broth – Method 2 only)
2 tablespoons of yellow onion chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1-½ cups of Arborio rice
½ cup of Mahogany rice
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Pre-cooking for Method 2:
  1. Heat the 1 cup of beef broth until boiling
  2. Add the ½ cup of Mahogany rice, and boil for 15 minutes.
  3. Drain the rice and set aside, add any remaining broth to the 5 cups of broth.

Preparing the Risotto
  1. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a saucepan and sauté the green garlic until soft and giving off its aroma.
  2. Add the freshly shelled peas, and sauté for 2 or three minutes.
  3. Add enough boiling water to cover the peas, and boil for five minutes
  4. Drain peas and set aside, adding the cooking water to the 5 cups of broth
  5. Roast the duck confit in a 400º oven for 10 minutes.  When it has cooled, cut it from the bones and cut into smaller pieces.
  6. Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter along with the vegetable oil and sauté the onion until translucent.
  7. Add the Arborio rice (and the Mahogany rice if using Method 1) and sauté for 2 minutes.
  8. Heat the five cups of liquid (broth, and cooking liquids) so that it is simmering
  9. If using Method 2, add the partially cooked Mahogany rice and stir into the Arborio rice.
  10. Add the broth by ladleful (ca. ½ cup) stirring until it is absorbed and then adding another ladleful.  Stir the rice to prevent any sticking.  This process takes about 20 – 30 minutes.
  11. When you are down to one ladleful of broth, add the peas, and duck confit pieces and combine into the rice.
  12. After the final ladleful, add in the additional butter, cheese, and wine.  Stir until absorbed. 
  13. Salt and pepper to taste.

I hope that you will enjoy this hearty risotto.

16 May 2010

The Earth and All its Creatures, Rogation Procession 2010

Be with us now and bless the fruits of this land, and all those who labor and rest in this place. Grant us faith to know your gracious purpose in all things, and continue your blessings to us through the bounty of your creation; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

With that prayer we began our annual Rogation Day Procession at the farm of Tom Tragardh and David Cortez on Saturday, 15 May 2010.  It is something that we have been doing for something like fifteen years.  The congregation gathered on a misty morning, underneath the oak trees, and there we began a journey together - a journey to the earth, plants, and creatures that surrounded us, and in a way a journey into our own lives as well.

Those that gathered were a collection of Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, some Baptists, and some who were of no particular denomination.  There were lay people, at least one bishop, and a smattering of priests and pastors.  Some were dear friends from St. Francis Church in San Francisco, and some were from Incarnation Episcopal Church in Santa Rosa, some had been companions with Tom in the trials of illness, and some were neighbors who came to join in the blessing.  The Spirit blew upon all of us. 

As we walked along we blessed the vegetable gardens, we lifted up seed and soil and water, we went to the wild area where we prayed for deer and moles (perhaps to the chagrin of both Tom and David who battle the creatures on a daily basis).  Thence to the orchard, the meadow with fir trees, and a redwood or two, into the walking garden, where we remembered our baptisms.  We blessed the house and its inhabitants, and then journeyed to the rose garden for the Mass.

You might wonder why on earth we go to all this trouble.  What astounds me, and this is the mystery of liturgy, is that after doing it for so many years, with small and undetectable changes, the day yet has a power and mystery all of its own.  As we paused before each prayer in silence, the earth spoke to us.  Breezes brushed our ears, and turkeys gobbled in the distance; there was a rush of quail, and the song of other birds.  As we sang the Benedicite omnia opera, it was as if the canticle had suddenly come to life in the very songs of the animals, plants, and the very earth around us.  

Most of us are city people, and the blessings of a full table come to us unappreciative of the labor of those who wrest its blessings from the earth.  As we gathered that morning, Eb, a neighbor of Tom and David, handed them a photocopy from his Daily Office.  The day, on the Roman Calendar, honored Saint Isadore, Spanish saint, holy man, and farmer.  It was appropriate that as we honored him and thought about the men and woman who work both soil and water, laborers in the neighboring field were doing their magic for our benefit.

Tom commented to me after the service that the gathering really represents a community, a congregation, that gathers on an annual basis to walk, pray, and celebrate.  He has spun together a collection of folk that are bound to one another either through their neighborhood, the church, their families, or their afflictions.  And there is a memory about these things, as people recall stories either from their own lives - affected by what we have done here, or realizations about themselves and the earth; their role in creation.  

As we passed by the chapel (yes, this farm has its own chapel, an oratory dedicated to Saint Fiacre) the people paused to pick up the stuff of the mass:  vessels, water, wine, bread, and oil.  I prepared the host by cutting out a generous cube from the pugliese baked by a local baker.  The wine had come from the fields in the region, as well as the olive oil that would be used for the anointing.  One associates the Eucharist with vestments, incense, prayer and song - but not so much the smell of yeast or the tannins of the wine.  Here in the mass we were to celebrate the gifts of the earth as well.

There is a new tradition at these celebrations, and that is the tradition of anointing with oil and laying on hands with prayers for healing.  I knew who would want to be blessed, for these had come here in the past for such an anointing.  Some were dealing with the difficulties of old age, some with breast cancer, and not a few with the slow healing that comes after surgery for an acoustic neuroma.  I was moved when one of these survivors, after her anointing, grabbed the hand of a recent patient, and slowly led him forward to be signed with oil, hands laid on, and surrounded with prayer.  Equally moving were the clergy who presented themselves for blessing and anointing.  We were all a community of healing - for the earth, for ourselves, and for others.

The Orthodox have a wonderful tradition, having cut the host from a loaf, after the mass the remaining bread is then offered to everyone so that all might feast at the Eucharist.  So it was that we feasted as we walked down the hill after the Mass to enjoy the bounty at Tom and David's table so beautifully aided by their friend Erna who comes each year from Phoenix.  The community had gathered, paused, journeyed, prayed, and then feasted.  And just as quickly it dispersed - like seeds on the wind.

12 May 2010

Further Thoughts on Herta Müller's "Herztier"

My last post to this blog was about Herta Müller's Herztier (published here as "The Land of Green Plums"), and her collection of short stories Nadirs.  Since my discussion with my friends at the Trinity Book Club, and also doing a bit more reading and research, I've decided to amend my comments.  On the frontispiece of the book, the author share's this poem by Gellu Naum:

Jeder hatte einen Freund in jedem Stükchen Wolke
so ist das halt mit Freunden so die Welf voll Schrecken ist
auch meine Mutter sagte das ist ganz normal
Freunde dommen nicht in Frage
denk an seriöse Dinge.

Everyone had a friend in every wisp of cloud 
so is it just with friends when the world is full of terror
just as my mother says that this is completely normal
Friends are not a part of the question
Think rather on serious things.

That Ms. Müller should quote this poem at the outset of her novel, gives the reader some serious insight as to how to tackle the dark, dense, poetic prose of the author.  Naum was the founder of a surrealist group in Bucharest, until suppressed by the regime, then later released to write in 1968.  Making ones way through the forest of characters and events that Ms. Müller sets up, one realizes that the characters (the Narrator, Georg, Kirk, and Edgar) are really not the characters.  The supreme character is life itself, manifested in the details about the father, the mother, the man waiting with the wilted flowers, the dwarf woman, and the party stooge, among others.  Each offers a clue about the survival skills necessary in life, be it the singing grandmother, or the praying grandmother.  The author, however - if indeed this is auto-biographical - averts her gaze endeavoring not to look into the eyes of either.  Not to know, not to have friends, is the survival technique, as the poem so clearly warns.  

In Nadirs, Herta Müller describes a beautiful bouquet as a dense thicket of plant life, and this is how I viewed both the short stories and the novel.  There is a depth of detail and description, but there is not a depth of knowing.  The reader is clearly awash in sights, sounds, smells, emotions, and aversions.  The prose is so simple, almost block-like, some of which may be due to its Swabian influence, that the reader is transported to a simpler time, a more naïve time.  I kept feeling that the life and lives that were being portrayed were from a medieval time.  I felt that so completely that when the name "Adenauer" was mentioned it was a shock.

After our book club discussion I realized that as Americans, we may think that we understand the European mind-set.  That itself is a fiction in that there are several European mindsets.  It becomes difficult for those of us fed the American Dream to understand the dream or the nightmare of other cultures.  Modern life in a city deludes the village personalities that still try to cope with the present situation.  I am reminded of the film Good Bye Lenin in which an East German woman, in a coma, wakes up after the wall is down.  Her family goes to great effort to recreate the past and ease her into the present.  Life in Herta Müller's Herztier, is not so gentle, gracious, or humorous.  The denial and delusion are meant to enable all to live and to survive a system that betrays, lies, and denudes.  

As I read this book, I was reminded of a news segment on NPR where the reporter went in search of Romanian Culture that was suppressed by the Party.  He came upon recordings of folk songs sung by, what seemed to me, ghostly voices of women, fiercely holding onto a tradition that was being systematically wrested from them.  Müller's book is full of such songs, and individuals who sing them.  Their noble purpose may have been not so much the survival of the tradition so much as the ability to just "be."

06 May 2010

New Books - Additions to my library, April 2010

Two Books by Herta Müller

"Lord God, heavenly host, deliver us from this exile"

"The flowers in the vases are such big bouquets that they are thickets, beautiful and in disarray, as if they were lives."

I purchased this book, Nadirs (Niederungen), by Herta Müller because our book club was reading her The Land of Green Plums, and a copy was not available.  I bought this volume of short stories, hoping that it would get me into her style as preparation for reading the novel.  As it was the novel arrived the next day, and I read it in one sitting (Wednesday) and this the next day (Thursday).  I was thoroughly taken with both of these volumes. 

The quotes above are from two stories in Nadirs.  The first is a quote from the short story, "Oppressive Tango" which provides a obsessively detailed description of a funeral (although that is not an unusual topic for Müller).  The second quote is from another short story in the same volume, "Black Park."  Each of them gives you some kind of idea as to the atmosphere of these stories.  The are almost "Lamentations" in their effect, and the quote about the bouquets gives a measure of their texture.

In these stories, Müller recounts her childhood as an ethnic German (Swabian) living in the Banat region of Romania during the period of Ceau șescu. The perspective is always that of a child, probing, detailed, literal, and dream-like.  Likewise all is seen in the microcosm of the village, the xenophobic village in which outsiders literally do not exist.  Characters are identified more by their foibles than by their given names, and all is seen through a scrim of spit, grease, fat, mud, piss and shit.  In one interesting section, children are asked to take on roles in a game, being either Russian or German.  They object, wanting only to be German - and when being given permission to do so divide along Saxon-Swabian lines.

There is a heavy dose of fate in these pages.  The mothers, fathers, aunts, and children seem not to be able to wrest any kind of freedom around their actions, and function as players assigned a role.  Although she does not expressly comment on the Romanian dictator in this volume (there is only one mention that I could find) the influence is certainly there.  Then again, this is the village, removed from the city.  This is the land of fields, orchards, house gardens, and geese.  This is a child's world.  It is also a world that seems to be lost in time.  In one passage I was startled to read the name "Adenauer".  In my mind, these people were living in some other century, certainly not the 20th.  And yet they were doing both.  One of the characters escapes into the twentieth century, only to discover that it was not survivable.

This book was of especial interest to me since my cousin's wife, who lives in the Schwartzwald in Baden-Wurttemberg Germany, came from a German colony in Romania.  I am anxious to talk with her about this volume and author.  I read these stories in one sitting.  This is something that I do not recommend that you do.  The horror and darkness is blunted by a quick read.  These need to be savored.

The Land of Green Plums is the book being read by the Trinity Book Club.  As I read this novel, I wondered how much of it was autobiographical in nature.  I found it helpful to read her collection of short-stories, Nadirs (which is autobiographical, if you can sort through the thicket of images) to give me some clues as to the material in Green Plums.  Perhaps the narrator in Plums is Herta Müller.  The story she tells in this novel is compelling.

Unlike Nadirs, this takes place not in the village but the city.  While I read the book, I went and looked at pictures of Bucharest, once called the "Paris of the East".  It is indeed a beautiful city.  Very little of that is evident either in the dialogue or scenes painted by Müller.  There is a harsh reality that forms the background for the lives of four friends that are depicted in the novel.  Educated, all from out-lying villages, idealistic (although limited by circumstance) and cheerful, these young people are quickly beaten down by the system that limits their future and minutely examines their present.  

Although there is a plot, life and death, victory and defeat, it is not really the point.  The devil or the delight, depending on your point of view, is in the details.  Village and city life share a grimy and filthy frame.  The violence of life is close at hand - and I am not speaking of street violence, but the violence of the slaughterhouse, or of mothers to daughters, and elites to peasants.  This is what life is made up in the Romania of Müller.  

Time exists in a malleable way in this book.  The reader shoots forward and backward, without warning.  Dialogue is jammed together, with little indication from punctuation as to how a phrase might be handled.  And behind all of this are the songs that the narrator remembers - songs from childhood, and really from another culture.  Some songs are quoted multiple times - the context constantly providing a new understanding of the words.  

Dark though it may be, there is life in these pages, and hope as well.  There are relationships that are treasured and lost, and there is a future that is not caught in the grip of the Party.  Surrounding all of this are the characters that are lost, that live in their own dashed hopes and unrealized futures.  This heightens the contrast of the characters we meet - as we hope with them, and are disappointed with them.

I wonder if I should get this in German?

I'm also reading...

I went out to have coffee one afternoon and made the mistake of not taking a book with me.  This volume soon leapt into my hands, and I have been enjoying it immensely.  It amazes me as I read through this book, that in my education, the history of Persia (and the lands and peoples that surrounded it) was simply not there.  And yet here is the place and here are the ideas that so greatly influenced Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  I am also currently reading The Inheritance of Rome, and this is a wonderful companion volume to it.  I am learning that the threats of peoples from the north not only affected the Romans, but the Persians as well.  I am also wanting to review Gore Vidal's Creation, as I read these pages.  I shall review this volume when I complete it.  I can recommend it, however, if you love the history of this region.

When I took my daughter, Anna, to Rome in 2000, we made a day trip to Ostia antica, the ancient port city of Rome.  You take the subway out to some point at the end and then train down to an archaeological treasure house that is called "Pompeii in a Park".  I love ruins, especially Roman ruins, and had fun this Fall visiting the House of the Griffins on the Palatine Hill after it had been opened after a couple of decades.  This book - I've only read the table of contents thus far - holds the promise of filling out the ruins with lives and social custom.  I look forward to actually cracking the cover.

I interrupted my reading of 2666 to quickly read Herta Müller's Land of the Green Plums, and now I am anxious to return to the not all that dissimilar world of Robert Bolaño.  I read one prior work by him, Amulet, but found it difficult to get into.  I must admit my reasons for buying this volume are totally suspect.  I love the work of Gustav Moreau, whose work forms the cover for 2666.  That is what lured me to the sales counter.  It is a large volume, 886 pages.  Originally he intended to publish it in five volumes, but after his death, his heirs determined to publish it all at once, as he himself originally intended. I am glad to read it in such a format - with such a wide and all encompassing scene.  Despite that, there is infinite detail in his work (much like Moreau) and much strangeness (again, Moreau).  I am about a third complete, but anxious to dive in again.  The quote from Herta Müller works here as well: "The flowers in the vases are such big bouquets that they are thickets, beautiful and in disarray, as if they were lives."

More later...