Incongruence, or How to Make a Salad

It was Friday.

A cold snowy day. My wife was home from work, sick with a cold and I was the dutiful caregiver – supplying her with ice cold drinks and extra blankets.

We decided that we wanted salads for lunch. My wife’s favorite salad is a Sante Fe style salad, with chicken, lots of crunchy tortilla strips and usually ranch dressing.

Luckily, I had cooked half of a package of chicken tenders two nights before (when I made a chicken pot pie), but seasoned with a homemade taco seasoning – comprised of chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, black pepper, red pepper and cumin. These days, I am intrigued by the opportunity to play with the spices we have in our cabinet. Sure, it is more difficult than just using a packaged taco seasoning, but it appeals to the scientist in me.

Anyway, I had cooked those chicken tenders on Wednesday night. They were looking for something useful to do. I cut them into small chunks, and set them aside.

I pulled out a bag of Romaine lettuce. Now, you may ask, why didn’t you use a whole head of lettuce? Fewer things in the kitchen bore me more than chopping and cleaning a head of lettuce. This is interesting, because I will prep and cut onion, peppers, tomatoes, squash, cucumber…even carrots, just about any vegetable. Lettuce bores me.

I poured the precut salad mix into a bowl and inspected it for undesirable components, rinsed it, and moved on. I chopped two Roma tomatoes (see comment above) and added to the lettuce. I grabbed a handful of grated monterey jack/cheddar cheese – this is about a cup – and mixed it into the salad bowl. Finally, I tossed in another handful-and-a-half of tortilla strips.

For the dressing, I mixed 2 parts of Country French with 1 part Chipotle Ranch and stirred. This gives the “right” combination of sweet and spicy. Flavor chemistry is an interesting subject. The Country French sweetness is detected by a combination of receptor proteins in the roof of the mouth and the back of the tongue. These receptors synapse with the glossopharyngeal nerve and the chorda tympani, which means the signals are transferred up the center of the neck as well as along the sides of the skull, through the inner ear.

Spicy flavors, on the other hand, are detected by the VR1 receptors in the mouth. What is interesting is that they are designed to detect heat, such that we don’t consume hot food that will burn our mouths. The detection of capsaicin (the chemical in most peppers) is accidental, but activates the “heat” response of the VR1 receptors.

I poured the dressing over the salad mixture and tossed liberally to coat the lettuce, cheese, tortilla strips and tomatoes. At this point, I heated the chicken in the microwave for about 90 seconds.

To serve, I scooped out a serving (or two) of the salad mixture onto a plate, then topped it with the warm taco chicken. What you get is a delicious, yet incongruous, mixture of ingredients.

Crunchy, yet smooth
sweet, yet spicy
vegetable, yet chicken-y
warm, and cold

Serves 3 to 4 people, was eaten by 2.

So, in summary:

5 or 6 chicken breast tenders, cooked with taco seasoning or similar spices, then chopped
1 bag Romaine Salad
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 Cup Monterey Jack/Cheddar grated cheese
1 1/2 cup thin tortilla strips
2/3 cup Country French Dressing
1/3 cup Chipotle Ranch Dressing

Soundtrack for making the salad:
Ramblin’ Man – The Allman Brothers Band
Smile – Nat King Cole

second hand

I heard the words
and their correctedness,
in picturesque suffectedness.

She spoke them with such emplity
and vocal resnoguity.

I could not dare not write them down
and use them later for colored sounds

To poke at the sentence
bruskly and paciously,
or converse on the gartan
defendled loquaciously.

And if the strunogrammatic skills that I now display
cause you to mattle or otherwise say,

What silliness falls from there on page?
My stars! This is nonsense.

It’s nothing so sage.

It’s second hand outwisms
pure and just plain.
So read and enjoy it,
my emplitious refrain.

Climb the mountain

So by now, (if you enjoy pop culture events) you either watched Lady Gaga’s performance at the Academy Awards live or caught up with it on the internet. If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to go find a link and listen.

I am not necessarily surprised by the talent she displayed in performing selections from The Sound of Music. I knew she was super-talented. I’m not a big fan of her pop persona, though I recognize her talent and abilities as being among the leaders in her industry. No, what amazed me was the solid…Solid….versatility she displayed in performing not only the Julie Andrews part of the catalogue with sensitivity and confidence, but also Climb Every Mountain … which is written for a dramatic soprano and requires different vocal skills and range.

She nailed it.

If you watch her facial expressions during her (well-deserved) standing ovation, there is a flash of disbelief on her face. It is almost as if she couldn’t believe that she had done that.

The question that popped in my head after watching that was, “Why the schtick?”

With all that talent, and considerable versatility, she has ability beyond what most of the viewing audience realized. So why did she/does she cling to this pop persona of hers? Or better yet, why did she develop it in the first place?

The answer to that is frighteningly simple…image sells.

In the entertainment industry, there is no shortage of talent, pretty faces, and even versatility. If you want to set yourself apart, you need to create an image that people will remember. History shows this again and again. The Beatles clean cut business suit image, fashioned by Brian Epstein, was designed to appeal to older record executives and wary parents who thought Rock & Roll was a passing fad. The KISS make-up and rock image was designed to give people a visual memory of a heavy metal band when there were a lot of other bands around. Madonna’s image seemed to be fashioned to keep people talking about the entertainment – when (albeit early in her career) her singing skills were limited. It seems as if Gaga’s flamboyant stage presence was designed to keep people talking – as if her talents wouldn’t be good enough to be remembered on their own.

I think she just blew that out of the water. It will be interesting to see how she moves forward and if she simply lets her talent and ability do the entertaining.

If there is a takeaway from this, it is to never underestimate your abilities. Always keep yourself grounded in something you do well and love doing. If you keep working and applying your skills to the things that you love most, there will come a moment, a pinnacle where you perform to your very best. At that moment, you will break through into something you never anticipated… and a manufactured image is rendered irrelevant.

Passion for what you do is the best marketing strategy.

recurrent

I’m thinking about rivers

and how they flow away
-unsettled-
pressing the tall grass
and shearing
against the shoreline.

How they wash out the mud
and stir up silt
-channeling it all downstream.

Downhill rolling,
carrying the devices
of their own undoing,
they splay out
into the mud flats

stagnant

leaving behind

implements
that shape
and mold
the landscape,

accrued as the water slowly fades.

and somewhere,
a trickle of water
is dreaming of a torrent.

wonder

When I look into the snow, I watch a single flake fall. If I follow it,
the spiral trail echos until it disappears among its forebearers
and covers the dead grass.

The next one tracks a different route,
but it achieves the same goal
as its predecessor, and the next one, and the next…

If I lose focus and see only the field, the snowfall moves in groups.
The trailing falls away as it becomes something
more wracked and solitary.

I am immobile.

Later, I can see the ground where my dogs make paths.
They follow the same tracks they make in summer months
to investigate the smells of the borderlands.

In the snow, the paw prints map the trips to their favorite tree
and circle back the long way around. It outlines a crescent shape
that lays a shadow against the porch light.

My neighbor has a grove of pampas grass
that looks like a huddled mass of people paused –
making their way around his house against the force of a winter gale.

There are no tracks.

pampas

Collecting Yourself

We all have our likes and dislikes, things that we migrate toward (or away from). When it’s something tangible that we really like, we like to have a memento of it. It is a part of who we are. When we see different forms of the same thing and get several tangible mementos, it becomes a collection. We go through life collecting things.

When I was young boy, I collected rocks, because I liked the different shapes and colors, smoothness and jaggedness. I always hoped that it would turn into an arrowhead collection, but those were difficult to come by. I also collected coins, because I liked the detail, the science and history of minting coins and medallions. Turns out, numismatics gets to be an expensive hobby, but I enjoyed the search for unusual currency and still enjoy coins today. As a teenager, I collected Beatles LPs and other records that I still own and have loaned to my sons so they could enjoy the crispness of vinyl recordings. I have a collection of poetry books that includes Frost, Heaney, ee cummings, and Bukowski, and I’m always on the look for new/old print poetry collections/chapterbooks, especially in second-stores and flea markets.

As an adult, some of my collections have happened by accident.

I have a nice collection of coffee mugs that I have accumulated over the years, mainly from perusing clearance shelves. Interestingly, it is the shape/design of the mugs that mostly appeal to me. Four of my coffee mugs are plain white china, but in different shapes with different handles. I do have a few “souvenir” mugs that are comprised of sorcerer’s apprentice Mickey, my writer’s mug (It is unwise to mock the poet), and my periodic table mug. It’s a good thing that I drink lots of coffee.

Sometimes there is a jump to other collections because of overlapping interests.

Recently a friend bought me a souvenir from his trip to Epcot: a set of coasters with Beatles album covers. A very cool and thoughtful gift – knowing my fanaticism for Beatles stuff. At Christmas, my sister gave me a gift of coasters as well: Four coasters with periodic table information of the radioactive elements U-238, Ra-226, Th-232, and Pu-244 on them. AND…when you set the glass on the coaster, they light up in the spectrum color of the actual element. Available from ThinkGeek here.

I don’t drink much, and we don’t entertain all that much either, but these coasters are WAY cool. I am now collecting cool coaster sets.

Cool mugs and Coasters

Cool mugs and Coasters


What do you do when you are no longer interested in your collection?

I am currently involved in a home project of reducing our stored clutter. Among the Christmas decorations, old pictures, and various memorabilia that we have stored is my wife’s collection of Beanie Babies. She collected these when they were all the rage in the 90’s. We have several bins, with some of them in little acrylic cases. My wife has agreed that she is no longer interested in them, and that I can remove them from our house…the question is…where?

Are there any collectors out there willing to give me a few dollars for all of them (probably 100-150 of them still with tags on them – make me an offer*)?
Are there any worthy organizations that would accept a donation of small plush adorable creatures?

Won't someone take us home...please?

Won’t someone take us home…please?

What do you collect? How have your collectible interests changed or evolved? Do you want any Beanie Babies?

*****************************************
*And if you are serious, email me and I can go through and catalogue what we have.

Acappella Friday – Music in Poetry: Sure on this shining night

Lyrical phrasing, meter, rhyming, consonance, assonance, timbre, and tone mean so much to both choral music and poetry. Perhaps that is why, when good poetry is combined with a beautiful musical foundation, the result can be an emotional and spiritual adjuvant. It soothes the soul. There is no doubt that there is music in poetry/poetry in music.

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Once again I have been affected by a poem/choral arrangement that is not a cappella. Thus, I have renamed this feature Music in Poetry.

James Agee (1909-1955) was born in Knoxville, TN. His father died when James was only six, and his mother sent James and his younger sister to boarding schools. He was educated in Episcopal Boys Schools, ultimately graduating from Harvard in 1932. He worked as a freelance writer for most of his short life. He was a journalist, novelist, film critic, and screenwriter. He was a well-respected film critic in the 1940s and wrote screenplays for The African Queen (1951) and The Night of the Hunter (1955). His book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941) detailed the conditions of sharecropper families in the Depression era Deep South. Agee was also a poet. He published one volume of poetry in 1934, entitled Permit me Voyage, which contained the poem Sure on this Shining Night.

Sure on this shining night*
by James Agee

Sure on this shining night
Of star made shadows round,
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground.
The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.
Hearts all whole.
Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wand’ring far
alone
Of shadows on the stars.

*from Permit me Voyage published 1934 by Yale University

The poem itself is simple and hopeful. There is no doubt that Agee’s religious upbringing and education had instilled a faith in him, yet a loneliness pervades this poem. Perhaps due to the loss of his father at an early age and being sent to boarding schools away from family, the middle four lines

The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.
Hearts all whole.

indicate times when things are good, implying the typical holiday and family times of the year in the late year and the high summer. It is interesting use of the phrasing “all is healed, all is health” which follows the phrasing of the Christmas carol Silent Night, and has as it’s message, heavenly peace.

Other times are spent wandering and wondering, hopeful for Kindness to watch over him.

It is a strong emotional poem and is made musical on its own merit, through consonance with repeating sh-, sure and shining, l- late and lies, and h- healed, health, hearts, and whole. Lyrically, all very pleasing and comforting sounds.

In 1938 Samuel Barber wrote a musical setting of Sure on this shining night as a vocal solo (and later as a choral setting). The piano accompaniment evokes some of the emotional loneliness, and the solo performance by Cheryl Studer (soprano) captures the ache of lonely wonder/wander -ing. I like Barber’s choral arrangement (and have sung it), but this solo art song version is very beautifully done.

Sure on this shining night, music by Samuel Barber, published by G. Schirmer, Inc.

Rather than link to Barber’s choral arrangement, I found a different version of the song written in 2005 with music by Morten Lauridsen, a contemporary American composer. Lauridsen manages to bring the contemplative nature of the poem out in a subdued melody line that just seems to breath a life of its own. The performance by the Vox Humana Choral Ensemble is stunning.

Sure on this shining night, music by Morten Lauridsen, published by Peermusic Classical.

Both versions of the song do credit to James Agee’s poem.