Sunday, March 20, 2011

problem: cake is too tasty.

Wow, I was not trying to make a decadent cake. I probably shouldn't have tried to make a cake at all, seeing as how it's Lent and all, but it's chocolate time of the month, and I really, really wanted a treat. So I broke down and looked up some vegan cake recipes. I chose one from which seemed simple, and didn't have any weird fake ingredients, not even tofu. Also, I'm bad with cakes, so I figured it would be crappy and I could just scarf some choccy and move on. Alas, my husband pronounced it "superb." In fact, this cake ended up looking like the pile of glistening chocolate that the Trunchbull shoves down Bruce Bogtrotter's throat. Oops. Maybe it was the rum.

Vegan Mexican Chocolate Cake with Really Good Chocolate Rum Glaze

1.5 C flour
1 C sugar
.25 C cocoa
1.5 C cinnamon
1 tsp baking SODA
.75 tsp cayenne (I used chili powder)

1 tsp vanilla (I forgot this because the next two ingredients start with V as well)
5 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 C cold water
optional: a healthy slug of RUM

Dump the dry stuff together and whisk well. Dump the wet stuff together and whisk well. Dump them all together and whisk well. Dump in a greased 9" pan and bake at 350 for 30 minutes (I did 32.)

Okay, this was supposed to be frosting. I didn't have powdered sugar, so I used regular stuff and soon realized that it would behoove me to call it a glaze.

Melt 2 tbsp vegetable spread and 3 tbsp of unsweetened cocoa powder over low heat. Add .25 cup of hot water, 2 cups of sugar, and as much rum as you want. Cook it until it's as un-boozy as you wish. At the end, add a fat splash of vanilla (to make up for the vanilla that you omitted from the cake).

Poke lots of holes in the top of the cake and pour in your glaze slowly as the cake absorbs it. Maybe let it sit a bit, come back and pour in some more. Let it cool a bit before you eat it so that the glaze gets a little crusty on top.

Unfortunately, this would be incredible over ice cream.

The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light

I've been trying to read Little Women to my eleven year old sister, Madeline. She likes the March sisters tolerably well, but unfortunately it's pretty hard for the four well-behaved little ladies to compete with the harum-scarum toil-and-trouble of Harry Potter and the Etcetera. Madeline recently finished all seven Harry Potter books in two and a half months. I think that's okay. (I raced through them too, although I had to WAIT for 7 years to finish them.) Looking back, I find them pretty sensational and fluffy, but she says she likes them because "they aren't JUST about wizards. They're about Muggles too." They've got a foot in the real world, which makes them believable.

I've been thinking about this quality of "realness" in children's books, especially fantasy and science fiction. The most captivating stories are always about "real people," "kids just like me," to whom something unexpected and exciting happens. I'm thinking of the Pevensies of Narnia, L'Engle's Murry family, Omri of The Indian in the Cupboard, and Harry Potter as well. These kids were just going about their humdrum business, when out of the blue, they wandered into a magical world, they were visited by a mysterious neighbour, they found a magical key, or they received a strange letter. Now the world is different, absolutely and forever. Now they lead two lives. Now their bodies might be oppressed by the mundane or the miserable, but in their hearts and imaginations they are warriors, royal and free. They might wonder at times if their adventures were just a dream, but most stories like this conclude with a thrill of delight-- it's all true.

As a child closes each of these books with a sigh, he or she has to wonder, "Is it really true? Could this happen to me as well if I wish for it fervently enough?" At least I did. I investigated all dark closets, and always tried slamming cupboard doors on little army guys, screwing my eyes shut and searching for an incantation. When I got to Harry Potter, I was old enough to know that this was certainly NOT going to happen to me, but Madeline has been carrying around a stuffed owl and a wand-sized stick for months. I haven't asked her how seriously she takes the Harry Potter stories, but I suspect that there is a little bit of hope in her heart.

To me, The Chronicles of Narnia are still the best stories of this kind. And this is why:

Lucy said, "We're so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back
into our own world so often."
"No fear of that," said Aslan. "Have you not guessed?"
Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.
"There was a real railway accident," said Aslan softly. "Your father and mother and all of you are-- as you used to call it in the Shadowlands-- dead. The term is over:
the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning."
And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for
us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all
lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real
story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only
been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One
of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in
which ever chapter is better than the one before.

The simplicity and direct correspondence of the allegory in The Chronicles has been criticized (even by Lewis' close friend Tolkien,) and I've heard people (usually "big kids") scoff at them because of this. But of course the symbolism is obvious. These are stories for children, who need practice with abstraction. If the obvious parallels to the Christian story bother you, that's probably because you take offense at the Christian story. But if you want desperately for Narnia to be real, then with joyful sorrow will you close The Last Battle. The symbolism is obvious, and the story is true. Narnia spills into the world that we know, and now "it can
happen to you." It was open to you all along.

These things occurred to me at the beginning of Liturgy today, and after that everything seemed hopeful and luminous. Now we see through a glass darkly, but...

The term, the dream and Lent will be over.
The holidays will begin. Spring and Pascha will come.
We will be reunited with everyone whom we love and pray for.
Angels and saints are holy warriors, and they protect us.
Blind men really did, and will, see.
The paralytic really did, and will, take up his mat and walk.
Everything beautiful is true.
All that we hope for will come to pass, and in fact has come to pass already.
And we shall see Him as He is.
It's all true.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Maybe that's why we always wear our hats."

In the past twelve months, I've lived in four different houses, three different states, held five different jobs, three different phones, graduated from college and married someone I had been dating for seven months. I wouldn't take back any of these changes (well, one of the jobs sucked, and I was happy with my first phone,) but you'll understand if I don't feel quite as purposeful and concerted as I'd like to be.

I'm happy that we've settled here, in Indiana, for now. This spring promises to be the greenest I've seen in five years. In all of the uncertainty surrounding our most recent move, we decided that it was imperative to be in the same place for Pascha and the majority of Lent. The small congregation at St. Stephen's is very dear, and working through Lent with such an intimate group looks like it will be satisfying (albeit difficult). Being with my (beloved) Protestant family for Lent looks to be difficult (albeit satisfying.)

But we won't be here for long. As soon as it's warm enough to live in Matt's grandfather's uninsulated old Maine farmhouse (with water pipes on the outside!), we'll schlep ourselves and our books up there, for an undetermined interval. After that, who knows? France? Korea? Bumf***, Maine?

All of this moving around makes sense for people our age, and we're not bound by anything but loan payments. But it does begin to wear on even two adventurous young Geminis.* Sometimes I grow a little resentful, and envious of my friends who have something to do with themselves, and a reason to be where they are. I've been trying to remember lately that our homes are not on any coordinate planes. Geographical places are important, but only because they are such absorbent repositories for the spiritual cocoons that weave themselves around us.

St. Maximos says that money should flow like water through the hands of Christians. Of course this is about charity, but I think it is also about how equality with God is not something to be grasped. We are to clutch nothing. If through Christ, not even death separates us from truly being with fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers, how many miles can separate us from each other? Guardian angels and intercessors can make haste to me no matter where I am.

I would love to put roots into the ground, but I think that this time of "flux" is teaching me to be like the Israelites. Don't unpack too many books! Better not collect too many knick-knacks! Rather than grasping and hoarding, we should empty ourselves, and always pack lightly. We should sow seeds into spiritual soil, by loving the people in whose midst we find ourselves. We can continue to water these seeds wherever we go.

*My husband told me to never mention astrology to him again. I think it offers some insightful metaphors. See previous post for more incriminating evidence that I'm a hippie.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

the meaning of 'a head full of dreads'

What is transpiring on the top of my head? The want of a comb led to a whimsical root, the whimsical root led to a notion, the notion percolated for months as the root threatened to spread, and then a month of painful nightly rituals unfolded, in which a comb played an essential role, after all.

And now these children of cultivation and neglect continue to people ma tete. I'm fond, then weary of them. They solicit compliments, but not jobs. Santa Fe never blinked at them, but Crawfordsville stares. What am I to do with them? Recently I've been revisiting in my memories the exhilarating freedom of a neatly cropped head, but in my dreams I run my fingers through normal hair and mourn the decapitation of 35 funny friends.

Hippies on the internet differ: Some say that dreadlocks can act as antennae to the world. Some people enjoy this, and some cut them off because they feel painfully aware of ... something. Others claim that they may muddle your thoughts.

Would I root out the pernicious thoughts from inside my skull if I clear-cut what's on top of it? Would it bring order and vigour to my wispy attempts at thinking, writing or praying? This kind of radical purification rarely turns out to be prudent. The dreadlocks are probably not the cause of my musty mind. (I tell myself I'm still adjusting to "post-grad" life.)

To tell the truth, I feel kind of stuck. I'm inclined to distrust the occasional urges for drastic change, perhaps to the point that I will refuse to change even when it's quite advisable. On the other hand, I'm always becoming more hyper-aware of this inclination. Whether I cut or cultivate, I'm reacting to what I perceive as a flaw in myself. This gets tangly and recursive, and fast. I'll never act in freedom!