"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Recipes - Simple Oyster Stew

Oysters are great any way; but those who love them on the half-shell consider anything else to be a waste.  Why would anyone want anything but the sweet, flinty, briny pure taste of a raw oyster.  The experience is unbeatable.  Eating an oyster is like being in the sea, smelling the foam and mist.  Chilled but never cold, oysters are the most perfect food ever.  Nothing can compare with the experience of looking at the crusted, marvelously twisted, barnacled shell; smelling the briny sea; and eating the succulent flesh.

Although any oyster can be used for stew, East Coast oysters, preferably from the Chesapeake Bay, are recommended.  The West Coast oysters have such a unique and subtle flavor that they should be enjoyed raw.  While the Bay oysters have plenty of flavor, it is less distinct and lends itself to cooking.

Image result for images chesapeake bay oysters on half shell

Down on the Chesapeake where oysters are plentiful and a box of 100 costs $30, even the most committed aficionado will stray.  Grilled oysters – putting them on a hot grill or under a broiler for just a few minutes opens them, cooks them only slightly, and gives them a very different, milder, but delicious flavor. 

Putting them in a stew with potatoes, onions, cream, and Bay Spice is perhaps the best way to eat cooked oysters.  It is simple to make and delicious.

Pre-shucked oysters are available at Whole Foods and other markets and can be used for this recipe.  A pint of oysters will contain more than one dozen, so select the biggest, and reserve about 1/4 cup of the liqueur.

Image result for images oyster stew
Simple Oyster Stew
* 1 dozen oysters in the shell (or pre-shucked)
* 1 lg. potato, cut into small pieces
* 1 med. onion, coarsely chopped
* 3 strips of bacon, uncooked, cut into thirds
* 1 lg. stick celery, chopped into small pieces
* 1 Tbsp. Bay Spice (approx.)
* 1 1/2 cups of Half-and-Half (approx.)
* 2 Tbsp. unsalted European-style butter
- Place the oysters in the bottom of a large pot

- Add 1/2 cup water or just enough to cover the bottom

- Steam the oysters for approximately 2-3 min

- Test one to see if it opens easily with a knife; if not add time

- Shuck the oysters, careful not to lose the liqueur

- Put oysters and liqueur in a sauce pan

- Separately sauté the onion and celery in butter until soft

- Put them in the pot with the oysters

- Separately boil the potatoes until tender, put them in pot

- Add the cream, Bay Spice, and bacon and simmer 10 min

- Stir often, adjust for Bay Spice


Friday, April 28, 2017

Secrets–The Answer To “Who Am I?”

Secrets come in many forms – husbands’ cinq-a-septs, off-shore accounts, cash in the safe, anger, resentment, flight, tax forms – but these are common and expected.  Intimate secrets – poorly articulated, private, and never expressed - are what most define us and answer the existential question, “Who am I?”

However much we may be shaped by society and culture; no matter how our behavior conforms to accepted norms and standards or strikes a particular, unique balance within them, our existential validation comes from these secrets.  While they may be common by category – parental resentment, religion, bullying, sexual inadequacy – they are ours alone. 

I am what I do not tell. 

Partners in the most intimate, confiding and trusting relationships never fully expose themselves for fear of losing authority, respect, and positioning.  Full disclosure has never been part of the contract.
All marriages are contractual regardless of legality.  Men and women agree to certain terms and conditions of behavior, some of which are remediable, others not.  Within this contractual context, much is withheld or kept in reserve.  Like any legal arrangement, it can be disallowed, annulled, or dissolved.  The gender wars are no different from geopolitical ones.  Information is shared to advantage; withheld when not.

This is all common, predictable, and expected.  While many sentiments and experiences are shared, they are done so with calculation.  New, untested information can disrupt the balance, can raise more questions than provide answers, and is better left unsaid.

Many layers beneath, however, are the existential secrets – the ones which define us; which are us.
We live in confessional times.  One’s sexuality, cancers, painful family deaths, childhood traumas, emotional problems, and dependencies are no longer private issues.  Sharing is an anodyne and a bonding agent.  Getting it off our chest or out from under serves both the individual and the public good.  Sharing personal intimacy is a way of confronting mistrust.  It is an essential factor in progressive reform.  The world is at war because of suspicion and lack of understanding.

Yet such confession, getting as it does close to our private, secret rooms, is dangerous. If everything is in the public domain, what is left to the individual?

Nietzsche believed that the expression of will is the only validation of the individual.  Without it, one becomes an indistinguishable member of the herd, trampling about with no direction or purpose.  With it, one rides above the herd, a Superman not super-human but essentially human.  In a meaningless life, he said, the expression of will is the only thing of identifying value.

There are many Nietzschean heroes in literature – Shakespeare’s Iago, Goneril, Regan, Dionyza, Tamora, and Cleopatra; Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, Rebekka West, and Hilda Wangel; Strindberg’s Laura – but their amoral overreaching, validating and heroic though it may be –is exceptional.  For most validation must come from elsewhere.

Image result for images diana rigg as hedda gabler

Literature is equally filled with moral heroes who take a principled stance for good and against evil.  In these tales a man’s worth does not come from an amoral expression of will but a demonstration of moral principle.  It is far better to be ‘a good person’ than it is to conquer. 

These moralistic tales, however, do not jibe with history.  Good and evil are always subsumed within a far more practical context. Empires, caliphates, and nations may have used moral pretext for their territorial ambitions, but the reasons were all geopolitical and economic.

If Hedda Gabler, Iago, and Edmund are only dramatic symbols of an impossibly ideal expression of pure will and ambition; and if morality is no more than a temporal, relative concept of little importance within the context of history; then what is left?

Jesus said, “I am” eight times in the Gospel of John; and in so doing validated himself, his mission, and his divinity.
John 6: 35, 48  I am the bread of life
John 8: 12, 9:5 I am the light of the world
John 8: 58  Before Abraham was, I am
John 10:9  I am the door
John 10:11  I am the good shepherd
John 11:25  I am the resurrection and the life
John 14:6  I am the way, the truth, and the life
John 15:1  I am the true vine 
Image result for images jesus medieval paintings

His message of personal validation, however, was restricted to himself. While Jesus felt the need to specify who he was, , no such individualization was possible for the humanity he had come to save.  Only by believing in him, submitting to his will, and obeying his commands, could the faithful have eternal salvation.  Continued focus on individualism was arrogant, ignorant, and senseless.

Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am”; but that too was limited to epistemology.  As intellectually complex as it was, it was too simplistic and far too removed from individual experience to be of any use in understanding individualism. 

Image result for images descartes

Nabakov looked at the ‘I am’ question in temporal terms.  The present exists only in milliseconds.  The future is only possible and not even probable.  Only the past exists, and only if one retains, relives, and experiences the past through memory can one exist.  ‘I am’ = ‘I was’.

Image result for images nabokov

Yet this too skirts the issue.  Such a memorist explanation of being is no more satisfying than the Nietzschean or the moralist; for it avoids essence – that particular, inarticulate collection of personal fears, expectations, frustrations, hostility, and ambition that no one knows.  By acknowledging it, we have our closest look at human nature.  If such nature is aggressive, territorial, and self-protective, then we must be so also.  No matter how much we would like to believe in a continuing human evolution and a gradual, progressive reformulation of our nature, if we admit to our secrets we cannot.

The sharing, confessional nature of identity politics, self-esteem and self-worth may satisfy liberal sentiments of social evolution and progress; but it serves only to deny introspection, spiritual revelation, and true and final validation.

John Donne wrote:
No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.
Yet every man is an island.  Focusing more on larger groups of which we are a part and assuming a greater value in so doing, ignores human nature, and the nature of individualization.

Image result for images john donne

Tolstoy described the pain and existential moment of the death of Ivan Ilyich in the novella of that name.  Ivan, as he nears his death, still consumed about questions of worth and value but only in terms of others, finally realizes that we all die alone.  We go to our graves equally, universally, and and alone with no consideration of belonging.

At his moment of death he finally admits to his secrets – who he was and still is.  “It is finished” says someone at his bedside, repeating the words of Christ.

Image result for images the death of ivan ilyich

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

D.H.Lawrence And ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’–Sex And Spiritual Renewal

D.H. Lawrence’s  Lady Chatterley’s Lover had been almost universally criticized as prurient, libertine, and immoral.  In his A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover he dismissed these accusations and wrote a philosophical treatise on the role and nature of sexuality in human experience.

True sexual union, he wrote, was spiritual.
The Catholic Church created marriage by making it a sacrament, a sacrament of man and woman united in the sex communion, and never to be separated except by death; and even when separated by death, still not freed from the marriage.  Marriage as far as the individual went was eternal.  Marriage, making one complete body out of two incomplete ones, and providing for the complex development of the man’s soul and the woman’s soul in unison, throughout a lifetime.  Marriage, sacred and inviolable, the great way of earthly fulfillment for man and woman, in unison, under the spiritual rule of the Church...
The Church established marriage for life, for the fulfillment of the soul during life, not postponing it for the after-death.

Lawrence extended his argument, concluding that marriage – as sacrosanct, permanent, and spiritual – was the principal institution of society.  Strong, sexual, procreative marriages were bulwarks against the State, religious authoritarianism, and mob rule. 

England, Lawrence thought, was in need of spiritual regeneration.  World War I had maimed and killed not only millions of men in combat but had demoralized a whole continent. Rapid industrialization further alienated individuals from each other and more importantly from their own spiritual being.   The social disintegration which resulted made true, strong, permanent, and spiritually fulfilling relations more and more difficult.

English society, he went on, had lost any sense of the primitive and the passionate, valuing intellect and devaluing sensual experience.  The mind was supreme; but divorced from the body and refusing to acknowledge its more original and more potent nature, it was neutered. 

True sex – the physical and emotional ‘coming together’ which was at the core of marriage and human evolution – was also liberating and instrumental in freeing one from the artificial constraints of class, gender, and society. 

Maleness and femaleness, Lawrence thought, were absolute, clearly defined, and primal, and true sex was the way for men and women to realize, appreciate, accept, and fulfill their sexuality.  The phallus might be the initiating instrument of sexual union, but a woman’s sexual energies stimulated and released by it were no less valid and important to physical and spiritual consummation.
Two rivers of blood are man and wife, two distinct eternal streams that have the power of touching and communing and so renewing, making new one another, without any breaking of the connecting link between the two rivers, that establishes the two forever.  And this, this oneness gradually accomplished throughout a lifetime in twoness is the highest achievement of time or eternity.  From it all things human spring, children and beauty and well-made things, all true creations of humanity. And all we know of the will of God is that he wishes this, this oneness, to take place, fulfilled over a lifetime, this oneness within the great dual blood-stream of humanity.

‘Counterfeit’ marriages are the negative counterpart to all this.  “Modern people are just personalities”, he wrote, and “modern marriage takes place when two people are ‘thrilled’ by each other’s personality.
Now this, the affinity of mind and personality is an excellent basis for friendship between the sexes, but a disastrous basis for marriage.  Because marriage inevitably starts with the sex activity, and the sex activity is, and always was and will be in some way hostile to the mental, personal relationship between man and woman.
Finally, Lawrence extends his belief about sexual spirituality beyond humanity itself.  True sexual, spiritual union has much more important implications.
The rhythm of the cosmos is something we cannot get away from without bitterly impoverishing our lives.  The early Christians tried to kill the old pagan rhythm of cosmic ritual and to some extent succeeded.  They killed the planets and the zodiac…They wanted to kill the festivals of the year…
Later, however, the Church restored the mystery, magic, and miracles of pagan belief and in so doing restored man’s link with a more potent universe.

Mankind has got to get back to the rhythm of the cosmos, and the permanence of marriage.
In Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Lawrence’s last novel before his untimely and painful death from tuberculosis at forty-four, he explores all these themes.

Lady Chatterley is a woman from a modestly aristocratic background who married Sir Clifford, a baronet from a distinguished English family.  Shortly after the marriage Sir Clifford goes off to war and returns home an impotent invalid.

Lady Chatterley is faithful and loyal to her husband, but is increasingly frustrated not only by his sexual inattention but because of his arrogance, bullying, and indifference. He is everything Lawrence detests – a shallow, mean-spirited man with no sexual passion and complete ignorance of the ‘true’ nature of sexual union. 

Lady Chatterley meets Mellors, the gamekeeper on the estate, and soon they begin a long sexual relationship which becomes ‘true’.  Lady Chatterley, who has had disappointing sexual adventures before her marriage, finds final fulfillment with Mellors.  She gradually gives up her willfulness and competing desires for dominance and submission (Women in Love), and accepts her femininity and her equal sexual partnership with Mellors.

As part of this epiphany, she wants a child – a fact complicated by her husband’s impotence, social intransigence, and the seeming impossibility of marrying the already-married Mellors. Yet, true to Lawrence’s vision of the centrality of the family, procreation is necessary.  Nothing else can complete the marriage/sexual union. 

The fact that the affair between Lady Chatterley and Mellors is cast as one between social classes and one which is criticized not only for flaunting the sexual mores of late Victorian England but its more social ones, it is the best expression of Lawrence’s conclusions about the pettiness and waywardness of England. Although the relationship between Lady Chatterley and Mellors might be ‘true’, elemental, honest, spiritual, and pagan, it will not likely survive the virulence of English burghers.

The end of the novel is without resolution.  Mellors gets his divorce, hires on as laborer on a small farm, and begins to put his life together after having been dunned out of Tevershall by Sir Clifford and the town.  Lady Chatterley is meanwhile in Italy on vacation – a trip she hopes will resolve her conflicts about leaving Sir Clifford or joining Mellors in what will be a life far from the comfortable and respectable one she has left.

The final pages consist of a long letter from Mellors to Lady Chatterley in which he tells of his new modest life, reflects on his chastity, his age, and their presumed reunion, and hopes for her early return.

The denouement is unclear.  Lady Chatterley may well return to Sir Clifford and bear the child under his name, preferring loyalty and position over ‘true’ love.  She may also join Mellors and begin life as a farm wife, accepting her femininity (the value of marriage, sexual relations, procreation, and child-rearing), and living the simple life that Lawrence has praised.  They have even talked about moving to the colonies.

No choice is good.  Returning to Clifford, bearing Mellors’ child, and living under her even more demanding and cruel husband seems impossible given her new maturity.  Mrs. Bolton, Clifford’s caregiver, says it best:
At the same time, in some corner of her weird female soul, how she despised him and hated him! He was to her the fallen beast, the squirming monster. And while she aided and abetted him all she could, away in the remotest corner of her ancient healthy womanhood she despised him with a savage contempt that knew no bounds. The merest tramp was better than he.
There would be no way for Lady Chatterley, harboring the same feelings although far less hostile, to return to Wragby. 

Living with Mellors as his wife in rural England will be far different than their exciting assignations in his cottage.  Moving abroad seems too much like an escape – a solution which has neither principle nor satisfaction.

Sir Clifford is devastated by the abandonment of his wife.  He loses all of his arrogance, pretense of superiority and male authority, and breaks down and becomes a baby to be cared for by Mrs. Bolton.   For the first time in the novel Lawrence shows some sympathy for him.

The ending, then, is sad.  No one will win; and most will lose.  Society, says Lawrence – that priggish, censorious, mind-dominated, petty society – always wins; and despite his longing for spiritual renewal for England and mankind, he knows that it will never happen.