Thursday, 30 November 2017

Benedictine Kyôsaku

Monastic silliness (3668460678) "If someone would ask me, 'Who is the more important one, Jesus or Buddha?', I would say, 'You are the most important one.'"

Brother David Steindl-Rast, Zen-trained Benedictine monk.

(Photo of the Benedictine brothers of St. Benedict's Abbey, Atchison, Kansas, demonstrating proper monastic attitude courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

WW: Banana slug

(Ariolimax columbianus)

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Hermitcraft: Mexican Hominy Stew

Here we are at the holidays again, for some reason, which means that many of us will soon confront daunting quantities of leftover turkey. (Not so fast, vegans. Keep reading.)

You know who the all-time leftover turkey champions are? The Aztecs. Which is no great surprise when you figure they invented turkeys.

So this year I thought I'd share one of my favourite recipes. Its lineage goes straight back to the First Nations of Mexico, and uncoincidentally it's one of the best leftover turkey dishes ever devised. This stew is in fact so good you may find yourself unenthusiastically masticating that first-run serving, unfavourably comparing its drab, insipid presentation to the feast you will soon make from its scraps.

And the awesomeness of Mexican Hominy Stew doesn't stop there. Because this is mom's-kitchen fare, you can make it with just about any meat, or even (here it comes, vegans) no meat at all. (See after-recipe comments for Quick and Deadly Vegan Hack.) In fact, most ingredients can be swapped and subbed as necessary, resulting in full-spectrum dining dominance for this delicious comfort food.


For 6:

2 rashers of bacon

1 good nopal, sliced (substitutes: chopped green bell pepper or cabbage; whole green beans; sliced celery; cubed pumpkin)

1 medium-sized yellow onion, sliced in wedges

1 fresh or jarred jalapeño, chopped well

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

two 16-ounce cans of diced tomatoes, or equivalent fresh, chopped

1 16-ounce can of hominy, drained (substitute: sweet corn)

1 quart of chicken or vegetable stock

2 teaspoons of ground cumin

1 drop of liquid smoke, optional

1/2 teaspoon of thyme

1 large bay leaf

1 dried pepper, roasted (substitutes: 1 tablespoon smoked paprika, or ordinary paprika, toasted)

tomato juice or water

2 cups of roasted turkey, shredded (substitutes: cooked chicken, pork, beef, lamb, mutton, goat, sausage, hamburger; raw meaty white fish or shellfish; cooked beans)

lime juice

1/3 cup culantro, chopped (substitutes: cilantro, Italian parsley, celery leaves)

optional: queso Cotija, crumbled

1. Toast the dried pepper over medium heat in a dry skillet, turning frequently, till dark and crisp. Remove it from the pan and set it aside to cool. (Pepper will crisp even more as it cools.)

2. Medium-fry the bacon in a Dutch oven or similar. Remove, chop coarsely, and set aside. Pour the fat out of the pan.

3. In the residual fat left in the bottom of the pan, toss the onion wedges, crushed garlic, jalapeño, nopal, and cumin until the onion begins to turn translucent, about 5 minutes.

4. Add the thyme, bay leaf, tomatoes, hominy, liquid smoke, and stock. If adding soaked but uncooked beans, add them here as well.

5. Crush the roasted pepper as thoroughly as possible and add. (Shake out seeds first if desired.)

6. Add enough tomato juice or water to achieve stew-friendly liquidity.

7. Cover, bring to a boil, and reduce to simmer. Cook until the vegetables (and any soaked beans) become tender, about 30-40 minutes.

8. Add the turkey, bacon, and cilantro and cook till just heated through.

9. Sprinkle with lime juice, ladle into bowls, and crumble queso Cotija on top if desired.

Serve with hermit bread or sourdough corn bread (recipe pending).

  • Quick and Deadly Vegan Hack: 1) sauté onion and nopalitos in a film of olive oil; 2) use vegetable stock instead of chicken; 3) replace meat with beans (black are especially good). So conventionally delicious you can serve it to meat-eaters and they'll never know it's vegan.

  • If you let this stew sit for a day or two in the refrigerator before reheating and serving, it tastes even better. (Gives the flavours more time to mingle.)

  • Don't overcook the meat after adding it; bacon in particular quickly turns to tofu if simmered too long.

  • The recipe above is to my taste, which means it's pretty lively. I back off on the peppers when serving guests. In any case, know your dried peppers; some are hotter than others. Back off a bit when adding fish or shellfish, too; too much vegetable fire overwhelms seafood.

  • Toast paprika by tossing it in a hot, dry skillet till dark.

  • Cilantro is a chemically complex herb that tastes like soap to some DNA profiles. Unless you know that guests are in a non-soap population, it's best to avoid serving cilantro.

  • Omit the cumin, thyme, liquid smoke, lime, and cheese – the peripherals, what – and you got the exact same recipe the Aztecs ate. Tell me that ain't awesome.

Roasting the pepper

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

WW: Touchable rainbow

(View from my desk a few weeks ago.)

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Going Outside


It's the old-man grump of my generation. Our fathers grumped that they had to walk to school, or work for our grandfathers, or fight wars.

We went outside.

When we were young, our parents didn't suggest we go outside, or try to sell us on the benefits of fresh air and sunlight. They barked, "Go outside!"

One did not simply take a turn around the house and back in the front door; several roofless hours were implied. Unless one were bucking for a corporal response.

Thus, we 70s kids spent whole days under Heaven. And if that's not scary enough, we were usually unsupervised. The nearest adult might be fifty yards away. Might be, but probably not; often there were none within shouting distance.

If by chance something went dangerously wrong – and it did – one of us had to run, on our actual feet, through forest and over stream and down lane, to find a grup.

It's easy to get misty about this today, and talk about how it made us fearless and independent and at home in the world. Not that it didn't; I'm truly alarmed at how terrified today's kids are of basically everything. That crap's no good for anybody.

But I also remember that bullies ran our world, and now that I'm old, I know how many of them would ultimately finish badly as well. Because the grown-ups weren't looking out for them, either.

Thus, anyone my age has near-miss stories. Unschooled adventures that diverted the lives of some, and disabled others. And a few of us – if very few – didn't survive.

But let's be honest: the conversion of childhood into a feast of adult-imposed fear isn't down to any of those risks. The real sickness is cellular.

Because looking back, the world beyond the rural districts of my vinyl-upholstered youth was pandemonium. Warring tribes, crumbling institutions, bone-deep animosity. The raging post-war economy had burned out to cold ashes, taking most of the opportunity with it. Repressed minorities rose against old-school bigots. Cities stewed in stinking decay, and their refugees stomped by the thousands into in my neck of the woods, mowing it down like hay.

Yet neither fear nor anger owned our parents. Oh, they were mad, alright. Old people grinched and spit about lifestyles they mostly encountered on TV and in the papers. They fulminated and pontificated… and then got back to life.

Sometimes, as an experiment, I try to imagine an All in the Family reboot, just to see what that might look like now. If it were as unflinching as the original, could Archie Bunker be anything but a rabid dog? Because he wasn't then. Dude actually became kind of a folk hero, even to those who opposed his politics. Sure, he could launch a barely-articulate right-wing rant on cue. But when the chance arose, Archie never actually harmed anyone.

I think we saw our fathers and grandfathers in him.

But it's impossible to imagine Archie as a contemporary conservative, advocating torture. He'd say that was for the Rooskies. And I recall an episode where he followed his convictions into a brotherly chat with a neo-Nazi. When his new chum's identity was revealed, WWII-vet Archie gagged visibly.

By contrast, we've grown up to fear the bigness of the world, and to crave physical and mental control over others – two things Archie Bunker did not. And I think that's really why we imprison our kids. That, and they can't fight back. It's related to the flowering of narrow private schools on our watch, and the fine-combing of public school curricula for dog-whistle pretexts that began in the 80s. We want to prevent our children from experiencing anything but us, and by God we mean to accomplish it.

And now we're living in the kind of world that makes. I have no idea how you come to want such a thing, growing up on the vacant lots of our childhood. They taught me exactly the opposite.

But I'm just one man, and these days I'm feeling like that guy in Planet of the Apes.

Or The Omega Man.

Or Soylent Green.

Wait a minute… those were all TOTALLY THE SAME GUY. Spacey, man. What a trip. That's, like, Weirdsville USA, dude.

Anyway. What was I saying? Oh yeah:

So what's a Zenner to do?

I have no idea. I'm practicing steadily, and waiting for insight. But I know what I'm not going to do.

I'm from the 70s. I'm not going to be uncool.

That's basically what I've got so far.

And maybe we should send the kids outside.

Away from us. Till the streetlights come on.

And hey: for God's sake. If you feel a war dance coming on, will ya stifle yaself heah?

(Photo of a bunch of kids my age cheating death again courtesy of the US Environmental Protection Agency, the National Archives and Records Administration, and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

WW: Freighter in the mist

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Forest Ango: Why

Me, Day 100
The risk is there, clearly. Isolation, mishap, loneliness. And all the dangers of living in the rough. Of which the worst by far is humanity: property pricks, law enforcement, psychopaths. As a child, growing up in the Washington woods, I was taught that "the most dangerous animal in the forest is Man."

But I would have to run these risks, and more, if I wanted to see the elephant. And this I was determined to do, as the masters taught. Or die trying.

The Buddha called my state "world-weariness". It's that moment when you're simply done. You can no longer lie to yourself about human striving. It's futile, and any moron can see that. The endless yimmer-yammer about intangible rewards and ultimate good no longer drugs you; you've seen reality, and you can't unsee it.

There's a touch of anger, and another of spite, in this moment, but neither is the disorder. Depression is similarly in play, and so is despair, but world-weariness cannot be anaesthetised; rather, it's caused by anaesthesia.

You're just… done.

And I was done.

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson.)

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

WW: Autumn in the woods

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Good Song: Every Day is a Good Day

Sometime around the 9th century CE, Ch'an Ancestor Yunmen said the whole of this practice could be resumed in a single sentence:

"Every day is a good day."

It's one of those deceptively simple statements, like my Rule, that seem trite and supercilious on first consideration. But try actually meditating on it: analyse each day – each breath – and draw up an airtight case for why it's a good one.

Hell, a good day for what? And are you making good on it... whatever it is? How do you do that? How will you know when you've done it? Can you ever have done it? Or have you already done it?

And what about Naomi?

Not so vapid anymore, eh?

That's what Yunmen (ancestor of the Linji, or Rinzai, school) intended. You're supposed to dismiss his quintessential koan on meeting. That's how you prove you're an idiot.

Then, if you're worth a damn, the second thoughts start dropping.

Which puts a whole 'nother spin on "Bobby Bones and the Raging Idiots", don't it?

Anyway, I stumbled into this song some time ago and thought it provided another excuse to post such reflections. The lyrics may be dippy and hackneyed.

Or not.

Sometimes you just wanna hear something upbeat.

Lyrics by Bobby Bones, Kristian Bush, and Lindsay Ell.

Every day is a good day
It's how you see it, that's what I say
When you wake up in that mind frame
Singing with the Blue Jays, sipping on a latte
Every day is a good day

Forgot to charge my phone before I went to bed
Now I gotta get to work but my iPhone's dead
I just missed my mouth, and now it's on my shirt
Ain't got nowhere to park but it could be worse
I know what to do, drop a little Ice Cube
You need to check yourself before your wreck yourself


Some dudes texting in the movie and he's lighting up the room
There's a line at the stall and I gotta go soon
The car is on 'E' and I'm almost out of gas
Traffic's backing up, I'm going nowhere fast
When it's raining and I'm soaked
Got no money and I'm broke
Has anyone seen my remote?


There's a new episode of my favorite show and you ruin it
That one hurt, how 'bout a spoiler alert?


It's how you see it, that's what I say
Tell me are you going my way
I'm singing with the Blue Jays
Riding on a Segway
Every day is a good day

Here we go
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