Category Archives: P nouns

Perspective: blind men “see” the pachyderm

Perspective: n.  point of view; subjective evaluation of relative significance; frame of reference.

Pachyderm: n. elephant. from the Greek pakhudermos – thick-skinned. Also the symbol for the GOP.

In various versions of this ancient parable from India, a group of blind men (or men in the dark) touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one touches a different part, but only one part, such as the side, the tail, the leg, the tusk. They then compare notes on what they felt, and learn they are in complete disagreement. We understand then that reality may be viewed differently depending upon one’s perspective, and that what seems an absolute truth may only be partially true.

[I've written about this story and the word "perspective" before - four years ago as we were getting to know Sarah Palin...]

One of my feng shui clients is a mediator who often deals with warring families. She had one large blank wall in her office for which I had recommended some piece of art that gave her clients a sense of the work they were doing together – perhaps something implying peaceful solutions, the light at the end of the tunnel, problem solving…

Her brilliant idea was to commission a piece of art that illustrated the story of the blind men and the elephant, visually conveying how it’s possible to “see” a problem from one (limited) point of view, and also recognize that other points of view could be equally legitimate.  She found a skillful quilter, Rosie Rhine, who translated the story to fabric:

quiltstory

The story of the blind men and the elephant is extremely flexible. A few months ago New Yorker cartoonist Tom Cheney used it to depict the sorry state of our economy, perhaps from the points of view of different economists, political players or suffering citizens:

perspective

Parallel Planets: right wing’s grip on reality

[A repost from 2009. The GOP is still out there in lala land.]

Parallel: adj. extending in the same direction, everywhere equidistant, and not meeting

Planet: n. one of the large bodies that revolve around the sun in the solar system

This was quite a week in la-la land, where hate crimes are a reflection of one’s faith, a decrease in one’s taxes is a cause for a taxpayer revolt, and patriotic disgust at the duly elected Obama administration is sufficient reason for Texas to secede.

The unhappy rightmost fringe of the GOP exists not only on a different planet from everyone else on earth, they also run arguments that directly contradict other of their pet arguments.

We’ll take Tony Perkins first (of the Christian group – Family Research Council). He has created a website “fighthatecrimes.org” to OPPOSE a bill currently in Congress that says people who harm other people because they’re different (gay) will be prosecuted.  Isn’t the first rule of Christianity, “Love Your Neighbor as yourself?”

Then we have the TeaBaggers, who are protesting Anything and Everything Obama – currently “taxation without representation” – even though American voters went resoundingly for Obama last November and 69% support him today. And even though almost all of the protesters’ taxes will be lower, thanks to his tax cuts.

Gail Collins at the NY Times notes:

Have you ever noticed that the states where anti-tax sentiment is strongest are frequently the same states that get way more back from the federal government than they send in? Alaska gets $1.84 for every tax dollar it sends to Washington, which is a rate of return even Bernard Madoff never pretended to achieve. Yet there they were in Ketchikan waving “Taxed Enough Already!” signs and demanding an end to federal spending.

Then we go to Texas, where Governor Rick Perry (whose hair is almost as perfect as Senator John Boehner’s or Ex-Gov Blagojevich) thinks Texas should secede from the United States.  (And wasn’t Todd Palin into that as well, up in Alaska??)

Collins continues:

Have you noticed how places that pride themselves on being superpatriotic seem to have the most people who want to abandon the country entirely and set up shop on their own?

“What a great crowd,” Perry twittered, referring to the protesters he addressed in Austin, some of whom were waving American flags and yelling “Secede!”

Back when we protested the Iraq war, we were called unpatriotic and much worse; we were called traitors. “You’re either with us or you’re with the enemy…”

What makes this tax season so different from a couple hundred tax seasons that preceded it?  Last week’s protests were almost exclusively populated by white folks… Could it have anything to do with racism??

Need I mention that Obama is black?

Angry people need scapegoats – it’s the Mexicans taking our jobs and raking in welfare; it’s the black guys taking over the government.  But no one wants to admit being racist so instead they protest taxes, regulations, religious “persecution”.

Prunes! er…dried Plums!

Prune: A plum preserved by drying, having a black, wrinkled appearance

Plum: A prune before it’s preserved by drying…

Around the first of September the Italian plum trees begin to drop their fruit and I swing into harvest frenzy.

A block up the street from my house are two derelict plum trees I consider my own. Every morning I make my way up the hill to “my” trees, with a couple of plastic bags that once held the morning paper. I call the trees mine because the absent owners of the lot they sit on seem neither to care either for the trees nor their produce, but I do. If I don’t collect the plums they just rot and get eaten by ants, birds, and yellow jackets.

Picking plums is like hunting Easter eggs, because the plums hide in the tall grass under the tree like so many blue-frosted Easter eggs. (Prune plums aren’t ready if you have to pluck them off the tree; they have to drop. Commercial pickers shake the trees.)

I come home laden.I make one batch of plum jam each fall (the best jam in the world), then transform the rest into prunes.You slice them in half, remove the pits and place them on racks in the food dryer for a couple of days per batch.

Since I don’t use any chemicals on them, I bag them up and keep them in the frig or freezer.Prunes are of course famous for helping with “regularity”, but in more recent years nutrition experts extol their anti-oxidant content.

Whatever. I love them. My family loves them. My friends love them. A baggie of my home-dried prunes or a jar of the jam is a cherished hostess gift or stocking present.

I know I said that my favorite dessert in the world was blackberry cobbler, but I forgot my other favorite dessert: plum kuchen.Keep reading: the recipe is at the bottom of this post.

Yesterday I drove past MY trees on the way back from an errand and noticed someone standing under one of them.She had her hands full of MY plums. It turned out to be my dear friend Kathi!

“What are you doing picking MY plums?” I demanded.

“Have you got a baggie in your car?” she responded. “My hands are full and I’ve got a ways to walk yet.”

Kathi and I are going to have to duke this one out. She can go find her own damn tree because there are other derelict prune trees in the ‘hood. In fact Clark County WA, where I live, used to be one of the top prune-growing areas in the US. No kidding.

These trees are vestiges of an agricultural crop that sustained the area for about fifty years starting in the 1880s. By 1900 more than 435,000 prune plum trees were producing 819 tons of fruit a year. I’m not sure whether that was fresh or dry weight.

Prunes were popular because they could be shipped long distances without spoiling. Records from that time suggest that 75% of the crop went to Germany, Austria and Poland.They sold for fifteen cents a pound until after World War I.

After the 1930s California began producing prunes in greater variety and more cheaply and local business declined. A World War II embargo banned shipments to Germany. Then an insect infestation destroyed many orchards, and growers turned to other crops.

Most of the old trees, including mine, are still small, gnarly, sickly. Most are missing at least half their branches, and the branches that remain are often dying or thickly covered with small branches known as water spouts.

And yet, every fall the miracle happens – perfect purple plums plop from the tired old branches – and I am so grateful.

Plum Kuchen (from Gourmet Magazine, ca 1975)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Sift together into a mixing bowl:

2 c. flour
2 T. sugar
½ t. salt
¼ t. baking powder

With a pastry blender or two knives, cut into the dry ingredients until the mixture looks mealy:

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter.

Pat an even layer of the mixture firmly over the bottom and halfway up the sides of an 8” square baking pan. (I prefer an 8” round spring form pan – when you remove the side it looks more like a French tart.)

Over the bottom pastry, arrange:

1 lb. Italian prune plums, halved and pitted.

Sprinkle the fruit with a blend of:
¾ c. sugar
1 t. ground cinnamon

Bake in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.

Beat together and pour over the fruit:

1 egg
1 c. sour cream
,.

Continue the baking for 30 minutes longer. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Purple poop: blackberry season

Purple: adj. a color intermediate between red and blue

Poop: n. excrement (but you knew that).

I’m a blackberry addict (and not the phone).  As much as I love eating blackberries, my addiction is actually to picking them…

I know when they’re ready for picking without tasting a single one; I just look down at the sidewalk near my house and see purple seedy bird droppings. From the color of the walk, we’re now at the height of the season.

It’s Blackberry Central here in the Pacific Northwest.  The bushes (Rubus, spp.) can be found wherever the dirt remains untended in vacant lots, by the road, along the walking paths. They are hardy and ingenious plants, doing whatever they can to ensure the survival of the species.

The long vining branches take root wherever they touch the ground – and with a plethora of thorns they protect these rooting branches from their human enemies who would destroy them.

To prevent the thicket from becoming too thick, blackberry bushes use their fruit to entice birds to spread the gospel far and wide.  In a bird’s belly, the berries mix with certain chemicals that help the seeds germinate once they hit the ground in plops of purple poop.

Over the years farmers have bred fancy berries that have no thorns, that are plumper, that are bigger – but IMHO none of them can compare to the deep flavor of the real “wild” thing.  Some of the most important commercially grown brambles are actually blackberry/red raspberry hybrids. Think Boysenberry, Loganberry, Marionberry and Youngberry.

Blackberry picking is part treasure hunt, part dance, part meditation. First you have to find the right bushes. Some look promising as you speed by in your car, but when you return later with the pail you discover that the berries are dessicated, under-ripe, or much less accessible than it first appeared.

New rule: However tall you are, the best berries dangle just six inches higher than you can reach.

If you find a good spot, and no one has beat you to it, you have to activate special berry sensors. The best berries often lurk just out of sight a few inches into the bush, so you have to “be with” the bush for a few minutes before your eyes calibrate on your tender targets. Your fingertips ever-so-gently palpate each berry to feel if it’s plump enough to pluck.

But no grabbing! Carefully rock the berry off its stem. If it resists at all, it’s not ready. If one of the drupelets near the stem is still red, the berry will be sour. Leave it. (A berry is made up of a collection of fleshy drupelets, each one encasing a seed.)

Retrieving berries without ruining your clothes or shredding your skin is where the dance comes in. Counter-intuitively perhaps, it’s best to wear a short-sleeved T-shirt (unless you’re picking at dusk when the mosquitoes are out).  This way you can snake your arms into the bush past the thorns without getting snagged in a bunch of fabric.  It’s a dance.

Time stops because you can think of nothing else when you’re picking berries. You have to be totally present to do the dance without getting hurt. You have to be totally present to sense and corral your prey. And finally, if the briar-patch is big enough, the quest keeps on, and on, and on.

“Just this one more cluster…”

“Oh, and THIS cluster… “

Once a season, I make my favorite dessert of all time: blackberry cobbler. Served warm with vanilla ice cream. Omigod.

I freeze most of the berries, though, so I can enjoy them on my cereal through the long winter, reminding me that summer will come again.

Les petites palmiers – treat from Trader Joe’s

Petite: adj. French word for small

Palmier: n. a crunchy, buttery, slightly sweet multi-layered French pastry

Deux petites palmiers et un rose

Deux petites palmiers et un rose

I am addicted to these little pastries.  Although they’re wonderful with coffee, I prefer something more healthful for breakfast. So I have one (two? they’re small…) for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up with a cup of Earl Gray tea.

TJ’s sells them in a box of ten (twelve?), and they stay fresh for at least a week – maybe more – but they don’t last long enough around here to test that hypothesis.  Fortunately for my waistline, TJ’s is all the way on the other side of town, so I only get over there occasionally.

In the regular grocery store I never buy prepared foods because I do a much better, healthier and safer job of cooking from scratch. But I always find myself succumbing to TJs treats.  Have you had their cashews coasted with a spicy Thai lime seasoning??  Their little cookies … like the triple ginger, or the lemon wafers. They have the best canned tuna anywhere (in olive oil). Don’t get me started.

I always leave TJs happy, feeling like I’ve been on a great hunting expedition and scored!  This guy’s illicit TJs video “commercial” pretty much says it all:

Pickin’ Peas

Pickin’: v. vernacular for harvesting fruits or veggies

Peas: n. heavenly spring legume

The freshest peas ever

The freshest peas ever

My friend Judi is away and asked me to mind her Ps (no Qs).  Last night I walked up there with my little pickin’ basket and minded those Ps right into my basket.

Not as easy as it might seem. It’s hard to judge the pea inside by the fatness of the pod.  I picked about 20 pods that looked and felt right, but when I popped them open, some were still semi-fetal.

“Sorry, babies,” I said to them, feeling like a second trimester abortionist.

Nonetheless, I dropped them all, semi-fetal and mature, into boiling water for about 30 seconds, drained them, added a bit o’ butter, a pinch of sea salt and a grind of pepper ….

OMIGOD.  Like eating sweet green caviar. Their round shapes roll nicely on the tongue and then pop when caught between my upper and lower molars.  Total yum.

Props for crops

Prop: n. something that holds up or sustains

Pole bean props - with twine

Pole bean props - with twine

With the help of my ex, I’ve created the necessary support systems for my bean-crop-to-be. Two 7′ pieces of scrap wood and four screws (cost $2.48) are now screwed to my raised bed, and soon the vines will be hauling ass up the strands of twine till they’re way out of my shrimpy reach at harvest time.

My family is famous (in our tiny circle of string bean fans anyway) for our Blue Lake pole beans. My parents grew so many that I swear my mom spent her entire summer slicing them (on the diagonal, if you please) and blanching them for a freezer full.

I’m not big on frozen beans but I make a mean dilly bean.

—–

Other crop prop projects:

My ex and I also encased my four LOADED blueberry bushes in a cage of bird-proof netting. The bushes are about six feet tall and at least that wide. This year I’m going to have to borrow freezer space again because my freezer will be berried out by mid-July.

I’ve encased my tomatoes in cages, which they will overrun within a month. Why do they make them so wimpy?

Finally, my ancient grape arbor is tottering under the weight of an unusually hyperactive vine. I’m going to be inundated come September. Maybe this year I’ll figure out an easier way to make raisins… (wine??). Meanwhile, after hacking back the grasping tendrils, I harvested a bag full of tender grape leaves I’ll try brining.

grape arbor