Season of Rebirth: Burning Man Temple and Calatrava’s Oculus

On the the blessings of living in the megalopolis of the DC to NYC corridor is the possibility of visiting beautiful sites mere hours of days apart. On Christmas, the opportunity presented to visit Calatrava’s Oculuson the World Trade Center site and just days later, the Best’s Temple for Burning Man at the Renwick. While I didn’t seek out each site for any sort of spiritual experience, both left me with pause given we are working through the season of rebirth, renewal — and new beginnings.

The Temple as well as the Oculus honor those that we mourn and desire and the eyes are naturally drawn skyward — which for the Oculus brings a rush and multitude of layered memory. Calatrava’s soaring design is meant to embody just that — a bird flying from the hand of a child. The innocence of that image is felt — and the color in the evening, resembles the sky on that day most of us remember clearly — a day that started like most other fall days. The bird metaphor embodied in the design, one can hope is that the spirits of those lost are now free and while evil struck, a return to innocence is possible.

For the Temple, the fresh and fragrant smell of balsa wood also elludes to hope, while reverent lighting provides a moment of heavenly breath. Visitors’ messages to loved ones link the Temple to the site of the Oculus where messages were left for days and months after the fall of the Towers — perhaps it is the written word that provides a moment of renewal in our belief that those we love are not truly gone from our grasp — that memories are closer than we think.

While the Temple is set to come down on January 5, there are still a few days left to experience the installation but the Oculus offers a permanent destination for reflection.

Out with 19 in with 20

 

Growing up, I heard repeatedly that whatever you were doing at midnight on December 31st would set your path for the year. When added to the fact that I was born on January 1st, the amount of pressure auto-built into those two days was immense, literally from day one. Then I decided to get married on December 31 as well (it seemed celebratory at the time), and it’s a complete pressure cooker. Not to mention, most of my favorite restaurants are closed on New Year’s Day.

Now that I am solidly in middle age, I still feel this trifecta of the holiday squeeze. We’ve tried to move any celebration, minimal as it is, of our anniversary away from the end of the year landmark which is a step. For New Year’s Day, it’s best to focus on what is available — though since we no longer imbibe, and sobriety is now for the cool kids, it does seem a tad ridiculous that there is such a long list of closures on the first day of the year.

Taking all this into account, my truisms for ending this past year should serve me well into this new year as well.

  1. Rely on Asian restaurants – always. Chinese, Thai, Indian — have several favorites and one is bound to be open on January 1 (much like Christmas). This year, City Lights of China in Dupont Circle opened right on time at 11:30 am — just in time for brunch with friends. Next, rely on tried and true institutions — there will always be a museum open, somewhere close by. This year time at the Renwick Gallery, the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum — and the piece above reminds me of my own olden days of New Years gone by on the town (Karen LaMonte’s Reclining Dress).
  2. Stick to the basics when it comes to activities — what do you really love? What is the one place that offers solace? For me, it’s the East Potomac Golf Course. It’s where I met my husband, played endless rounds with friends in my 20’s and it’s where my kiddo had her first golf lesson. It’s no country club, but it is gold. We really should’ve gotten married here.
  3. Midnight — well that’s all bonk. On the years I’ve been fast asleep it didn’t predestine me to great sleep the following year; the years I’ve been out late champagne-ing with friends didn’t necessarily predict a year filled with bubbles. Now we hygge on the last night of the year — carpet camp-out, appetizers from Trader Joe’s and possibly too much pie. This year, I did forget to light our TJ cedar candles; and don’t think I don’t miss black dresses, stockings with runs and the champagne — because I really do and I hope this kind of celebration circles back. But for now, it’s hygge.
  4. I am not too old. For all of us at midlife, squeezed between generations, career changes and concerns over college savings it is completely daunting most days to figure out how to get all the laundry done and ponder anything new. My own vow (not resolution, I don’t believe in those) is to remember every day that I am not too old to have what I truly want whether it’s a PhD or a book deal — it’s all about the focus and most importantly, eliminating obstacles. A fresh decade awaits – as Oprah famously mentioned several years ago — we’re going to be 50 (or any other age) regardless.

 

 

Between seasons…

img_20191114_081958

 

“Teach this poem” lands in my inbox early each morning thanks to Poets.org. As the cold bears down on us here in the East, and while the clock may indicate that day should break soon, clearly even the sun is desirous of hibernation. As I click on my sunlamp, I am yet surrounded by the sights and sounds of darkness. Joon’s poem, “Between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice, Today,” today’s “Teach” installment offers a new way to think of the cold — wear it. As I ponder which coat to wear on my afternoon trip North, I will think of the cold as something I wear — like the season — but unlike one character within the poem that says the cold has “broken his windows,” I will wear my cold with joy, for it is the season I love the most.

Between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice, Today

Emily Jungmin Yoon

I read a Korean poem
with the line “Today you are the youngest
you will ever be.” Today I am the oldest
I have been. Today we drink
buckwheat tea. Today I have heat
in my apartment. Today I think
about the word chada in Korean.
It means cold. It means to be filled with.
It means to kickTo wear. Today we’re worn.
Today you wear the cold. Your chilled skin.
My heart kicks on my skin. Someone said
winter has broken his windows. The heat inside
and the cold outside sent lightning across glass.
Today my heart wears you like curtains. Today
it fills with you. The window in my room
is full of leaves ready to fall. Chada, you say. It’s tea.
We drink. It is cold outside.

Thank you Poets.org for this winter discovery of Emily Jungmin Yoon.

There’s a certain slant of light

Only Emily could describe the onset of winter so perfectly.

There’s a certain slant of light – Emily Dickinson

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –
Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference –
Where the Meanings, are –
None may teach it – Any –
‘Tis the seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –
When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –

 

Mango Mango!

Having just returned to DC from NYC, with some extreme indulgences into Chinese mango chicken at Our Place, we decided to wrap up mango month with our first trip to
img_20190423_182639 Mango Mango Dessert in the amazing Eden Center. This mango ice cream sundae, with its base of mango chunks, full scoops of mango ice cream topped with mango drizzle and sweet whipped cream was beyond the fruity beyond — almost too pretty to plunge a spoon into. Nestled on the outskirts of the Eden Center, Mango Mango is a sleek dessertery that offers everything from waffles and fruit to peanut paste soup (next up on the try-it list).

The beauty of Mango Mango is this — on a steamy spring afternoon, you can pop inside (not busy in the afternoon) and indulge in not only this creamy, dreamy fruit tower but also their not-too-cold A/C. One of the best parts of Asian cuisines, to me, is the incorporation of savory and sweet — fruit with chicken and garlic, fruit pastes that incorporate red peppers for pork — and the overall prevalence of the mango. In American cooking, the mango still seems exotic yet for Asian cuisines the mango is just about everywhere — Malaysian, Thai, Vietnamese. Growing up on the West Coast, Asian restaurants were always part of our culinary vocabulary and now that we’re in the near South, it is wonderful to find these comfort foods in just about every neighborhood.

I’ve long been drawn to mangoes for their health boosting ability — their color alone is a mood booster and this dynamic yellow fruit often appears on super food lists. There are entire blogs devoted to mango love. A trusted source, the BBC, details the nutritional benefits of this delectable fruit from its vitamin content to its beneficial properties for the gut.

Health value aside — the mango is beautiful in color, texture and versatility — and readily available in summer in the U.S. But in those dark winter months…a bag of frozen from Trader Joe’s does just fine for a lovely even crisp, crunchy oatmeal top and butter to carmelize the mangoes for a tinge of chewiness. Love cobbler but don’t have any peaches? Mango cobbler is an apt substitute and just a tinge different, that here in the near South, would sure to be a $15 dessert at a newer restaurant. Warm or cold, a scosh of whipped cream on top completes the beauty of a mango dessert.

Half-Light

IMG_20190123_092843-1Winter never allows for much light — but here in the East, we’re lucky on most January days to reap what I call, “half-light” — a condition where the deciduous trees appear to let in more light and sound, but because of the sun’s position and earth’s rotation, we end up stuck with just a fraction of what we’d assume. Low-hanging cloud cover only further dilutes the weak power of our biggest and brightest star. For those of us that struggle through the gray with sun lamps, acupuncture, Vitamin D, bamboo socks and warm frothy drinks — half-light is one of the biggest blows to the psyche.

The in-between is the chasm — it’s as if, day didn’t quite care to break: day didn’t have the energy to combat the night, so it raised a limp arm with a not-so imperial wave of foggy fingers and simply cast a shadow over the hills — the poor valleys don’t stand a chance. But unlike fog with its eventual movement, half-light holds steady as a silent storm over the winter landscape — it holds no mystery, as it reveals nothing — again, unlike fog which often reveals the crispness of winter sun rays above. Half-light is the turtle of winter, yet it has no race to win…it exists only to plod and hold steady; it is the solstice equilibrium of partially day, partially not — the nowhere of in-between.

Emily Dickinson, one of my poetry idols, captured this feeling best. What is the meaning of this light? Is it the half-way mark between winter and spring? Life and death? Valley and peak? Love and despair?

There’s a certain Slant of light (258)

Emily Dickinson1830 – 1886

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons – 
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes – 

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us – 
We can find no scar,
But internal difference,
Where the Meanings, are – 

None may teach it – Any – 
‘Tis the Seal Despair – 
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air – 

When it comes, the Landscape listens – 
Shadows – hold their breath – 
When it goes, ‘tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –

Stopping by the woods…

The first snow of the year is most certainly the best — and it looks like this one may not melt before the next one arrives. We are lucky enough to live near a network of trails, that are often highly used for commuting as well as general meandering. Yesterday’s journal to the trail, brought Robert Frost’s poem to mind, “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” as I had just taught this last fall — and it would’ve been so wonderful to do a reading live in the snow.

Snow is meant to give pause and as Frost notes, “He will not see me stopping here/ To watch his woods fill up with snow.” Those moments when no one is watching us take a breath – how delicious it truly can be, palatable, just a small break to savor beauty or silence or even chaos unfolding. Most often we believe the “snowy evening” to be ethereal when in fact it is really precisely, figure skater-like, chaos — from the careful landing of each flake to the swirling of miniature ground-touching wind, snow — while generally silent, makes its presence known in crevices we did not know existed just moments before. The jaggedy, often long cracks in the rock face often mirror that of the soul — where oh where, will the soft flakes land, and will we have eyes to see them?

Frost carefully notes, and repeats that his journey must continue — as every journey must. His horse has naturally, as a staid and true worker, questioned Frost’s pause to ponder and wonder — with the not so subtle reminder of his harness bells — harkening Frost back to the path ahead. “And miles to go before I sleep / And miles to go before I sleep.” The path, the promises — it’s all the same, and often feels never-ending. But the snow, glorious snow, offers those moments of reprise — the opportunity to observe peace and chaos existing side-by-side in simultaneous fashion and that loveliness exists within that chaos. Top the journey off with a short pour of Bailey’s after, and the day is near perfection.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Snow Scones

For the last several Januaries, my daughter and I have made a list of items to conquer in the kitchen over the next year — our list is not long, and it often includes basic items that had elluded us in the past (okay, mostly me, she’s too young to have a long list of kitchen failures). This year scones and flaky (not hockey puck) biscuits are tops on the list. With our weekend snow storm, and a new pastry blender, time was on our side to dive into blueberry scones.

As an English teacher, part of what I help students to understand, I hope, is that writing is 50% process and 50% action and that actual writing takes up only 20-30% of that action time. So, this is my new approach to cooking — goal, objective, method. The idea of making a homemade scone, with the merging of the butter to flour for the perfect crumble was a real stumbling block because the “idea” of it was daunting. I’ve made scone for years from using Fisher Scone Mix, that of my childhood and the Puyallup Fair — this mix only requires water. So the resolution? Spend the most time finding a recipe that is not overwhelming, easy to follow steps that actually make sense, and no rushing. Using my 50% process, 50% action scenario I assumed the most time would be spent on finding the recipe and securing a non-wimpy pastry blender, and ingredient gathering is easy (we take an elevator downstairs to the grocery, which helps with the amount of time spent on action items). The real boon of this project — a snowstorm — and I’d already gathered the critical items of blender and recipe.

After scouring around the internet, I went to my go-to baking site King Arthur and located a blueberry scone recipe. Now if you follow this link, be sure to compare their photo and my non-stylized photo — I think we ended up with a pretty good match and really, I was convinced this was the right recipe based on one line of the instructions, “Use a muffin scoop, jumbo cookie scoop, or 1/4-cup measure to scoop the dough onto the prepared sheet in scant 1/4-cupfuls, leaving about 2″ between each.” Muffin scoop! No needing on a floured surface, folding or cutting in perfect angles. And if no muffin scoop is available, two other regular cooking utensil items are offered as alternatives. Looping back to my goal/objective/method process — here we have a method for scone prep that is accessible and understandable that accommodates just about any home baker. Breaking down any project into digestible and accomplishable bits rests solely on methods that make sense and lead to results that the writer/baker/plumber/painter can parlay into results that lead a reader/eater/viewer/person with clogged pipes to understanding. 

For this scone experiment — the results are gone. Our little family devoured nine scones (that may sound like excess, but reminder: snow day) by mid-morning. Taste — just like the photo in the recipe — a slight crunch on the outside, soft inside, blueberries in-tact, just enough butter for a smooth crumb, the salt rises to meet the outside crunch. There is still snow, loads of it, so today may lead to a blackberry or raspberry version. Thank you King Arthur Flour!

One last gingerbread…

img_20190104_055100It is the last day of Winter Break…one of the saddest days of the year, to me. Yes, we’re only several days into the year — but the return to routine, is a bit like a door closing on a season that is all too short; we are urged from every direction whether our faith community or the news — to slow down, be mindful, take more time with loved ones, focus on what is really important…yet there is always a reckoning day – the day we must face the reality of routine and accomplishing tasks and we march toward a myriad a goals to be realized.

My answer: one last gingerbread breakfast.

This may not seem like a solution to most folks that see cake for breakfast as a bad thing — I however celebrate cake for breakfast in its many forms. As a person that has worked through numerous nutrition scenarios over my now 50 years (I have the privilege and anguish to have the rarest of all U.S. birthdays, January 1), I can say that cake for breakfast has provided the mental buoy that I have needed to glide into many challenging days. For those that find themselves agape, with the horrified hand to cover their wide open mouths (the sugar! the lack of protein!), I’ll tell you this — the serotonin boost from the anticipation of a spicy, dark cake breakfast soothes even the dreariest day and does more to combat the cloying grayness than any protein-infused breakfast.

While I often make gingerbread from scratch, Trader Joe’s is the best mix available — as soon as you open the bag, the ginger symphony wafts upwards to greet you, and an immediate calm covers you. Now, I do make an alteration to the prescribed mixing instructions substituting apple sauce for oil, which adds nutrients and subtracts calories. At the beginning of the season, we anxiously await the release of this mix and this year stopped by several TJ locations (thankfully we now live in an area with many) to see which days the stocking of the mix would commence — and yes, we went on day one. Four boxes pretty much sees us through the season and so as not to take any risks, we buy all four on our “fist day on the shelf” shopping trip.

Gingerbread, and all its delicious glory and grace is to me, metaphorical for how this year will go — layered flavors, spice, savory but sweet, a respite. Gingerbread rallies our little team, its packable and mobile (unless you put cream on top), and it is the pause before a flurry of snow or activity. It requires that you slow down — there is no way to eat gingerbread fast. It is quiet, rich, comforting when all else seems to be speeding away and out of control. As light begins to creep into the day, it seems clear that rain is not so far away — again. But for today, we’ll start with cake to trick our brains away from the desolate color, the fact that the routine is about the begin in earnest, and make small plans to enjoy this last morning of freedom.

Fondue: Before and After

On the left, our Christmas Day fondue spread and on the right, our Boxing Day brunch casserole — made with the leftover bits from the fondue spread. First, the list of fondue items included: sourdough cubes, baked french fries (Trader Joe’s), cornichons, honey crisp apples, ham cubes and broccoli. My interest in fondue came from three distinct directions: 1) I am a child of the 1970s, therefore in some way fondue must be in my soul. 2) Every night, my daughter and I listen to Flat Stanley which has a reference to fondue (and poutine at some point) and 3) I found this lovely Swiss Emmi cheese in the market just downstairs — a fortuitous find in my quest to have an easy but fun Christmas meal for our small family (it’s our day to read and go to the movies, and we’re anti-travel on any major holiday).

The best part of the fondue journey was our trip to Target to find the pot — though my husband insisted that from his memory you could make melty cheese in any regular sauce pan (because melty cheese is pretty much sauce anyway), but I wanted the full-in 1970 experience including matching skewers. We arrive at Target, and because we didn’t see any pots near the regular crock-pot type area (which I assumed to be a close match) I ventured to ask the first associate I found. First, he kindly explained he only worked nights and then offered to help us find someone with the right scanner for electronic searching. On our walk towards this new person, he wanted to know what fondue was — so I quickly explained. Then he relayed this to our new person, associate #2 — who looked at my like I was nuts. A pot for melting cheese? She decided we better get associate #3 involved who quickly proceeded to start typing into his handheld device – but on second thought, asked me how to spell fondue. And, key the Property Brothers “aha lights” and we have a match in the Target database! And there is one, or several in the store, on the aisle directly across from where we are standing! Now, all five of us — me, my daughter and three Target associates are going to see the magical fondue pots. As we get closer, I pick up the pace a little because it’s at the end of the row and the shelf looks pretty bare except for a display model (with skewers) — now I can show everyone how fondue works, right here in aisle 29! And snag the very last one (boxed) from the shelf for our little celebration of melty cheese. I am pretty sure we still left our three associates a bit befuddled…I really thought fondue was making a come back.

First, fondue is easy. Second, the leftovers make this great casserole for brunch the next day along with four eggs, some milk and a little mozzerella for the top at 350 for 30-40 minutes. If there is left over Emmi or other fondue cheese (who ever has left over cheese?) that would work for the topping as well. There’s been a lot of coverage in the news recently about “adulting” classes — and I like to think of breakfast casserole as one of those essential adulting meals — you just know what to throw together, from what leftover, that will melt well together into a one-dish meal. Easy, breezy and I don’t know why schools obliterated home economics — I know it doesn’t meet an AP standard or raise SAT scores, but really it should be mandatory learning for all high school students to understand how to turn fondue into casserole. As a teacher myself, any student that can write out the instructions on this conversion will show me not only creativity, but the fact that they can survive on their own, and that will always garner a gold star from me.