Friday, April 20, 2012


Can I tell you about something that delights me? It's a little braggy. I love love love the challenge of Friday night dinner. When you come home and all there is in the fridge are the things you forgot to eat for dinner this week and you have to make something...(this scenario can also be infuriating and lead to pizza-eating. Remember how you can call someone and they'll bring a hot pizza to your *house*? America is the best.)

Tonight I came home to a nearly empty fridge. Empty that is for onions, a thawing chicken breast, and brussel sprouts. Carmelize those onions, add some of the bacon we keep in the freezer*, butter, and  sherry to deglaze, serve over brown rice/quinoa (James made a bunch last week and froze it! He is so smart!) and you have a delicious+easy dinner. And you feel like a total winner.

Even though your phone takes mediocre food pictures.

*Kitchen tip of the week. Something I've started doing since marrying a man (named James) made bacon a bigger part of my life: we keep bacon in the freezer. When we need some for, like, baked potatoes or bbq-Hawaiian pizza or stuffed mushrooms or whatever, we cut a slice off cross-wise, microwave it in paper towels for a minute or toss it into the pan. Delicious bacon-y goodness, no grease burns or sticky hands or wasted bacon.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

So I was listening to a back-episode of the Poetry Magazine podcast. The issue they were featuring was on religious poetry and though I've harbored resentful/ambivalent/uncharitable feelings for Poetry and poetry for going on years now, something about this episode struck me. More precisely, something about the poetry they were featuring struck me--in the epiphanaic way that falls teenagers in love with poetry in the first place.
There is something magical about religious poetry. Let me broaden: the thing that can be most magical about poetry seems almost inherent in religious poetry. Because, I think, poetry is most powerful when it's trying to put into words something ineffable--to tap into experience you hardly knew you had because you didn't have words for it. And this, of course, is also when religion is most powerful--when it gives a physical (verbal, shareable) manifestation to something inexplicable. Religious poetry can speak so deeply to us because religion, in many real ways, is poetry. When high school students wonder why poetry just can't come out and *say* something, I think a legitimate answer could be (if you weren't teaching in a public school) a reference to the parables: Jesus didn't come out and say the messages he was trying to teach because parables leave space for the hearer to learn the lesson they need to learn, to fill in the gaps with their own experience and with new insights. A deeper example of this, even, is mortality: we could've read a list of lessons we were to learn, had to learn, before we got here, but we can't learn them without the hard work of living. Poetry, in a small way--I don't want to get ahead of myself here--functions on the same mechanism. It doesn't tell, it shows, it guides you down a foggy path and asks that you fill in gaps; and, as you fill them in, you are changed, your ideas are added to. When it's done right.
And so, to celebrate Easter and National Poetry Month (I'd never thought how serendipitous the overlap is/can be) a couple of favorite religious poems (some more secular, some less, some I've posted, some I haven't. I think.)

God's Grandeur
Gerard Manley Hopkins

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
  It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
  It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;       
  And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
  And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
  There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;       
And though the last lights off the black West went
  Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
  World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

John 15

 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.
 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.
 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.

Louise Gluck

My great happiness
is the sound your voice makes
calling to me even in despair; my sorrow
that I cannot answer you
in speech you accept as mine.
You have no faith in your own language.
So you invest
authority in signs
you cannot read with any accuracy.
And yet your voice reaches me always.
And I answer constantly,
my anger passing
as winter passes. My tenderness
should be apparent to you
in the breeze of summer evening
and in the words that become
your own response.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Easter Feeling

A couple of years ago (spurred by a friends' delicious recipe and a fondness of cardamom) I started making pulla (braided Finnish cardamom bread) for friends for Christmas. It's fancy and delicious and not too sweet. And if Santa Claus lives anywhere I'm pretty sure it's in Finland (not to disregard my mom's insistence that Santa is German--doesn't Finland seem both colder and also a little more magical?). The practice-verging-on-tradition is comforting and it smells nice and is impressive.

This year, I'm adding to my bread-making repertoire with Armenian choereg. This recipe popped up in a search for traditional Easter bread and it called for anise and mahleb--a spice I'd never heard of before but found in a Middle Eastern grocery in Dearborn (thanks, again Katherine) and it's Armenian. There's something about the holiday that reminds me of Armenia--something about the ancient, visceral, ritualis that surround it. Something about dark churches and robed priests and lit candles. It just feels right.

So I made some for brunch tomorrow and for our neighbor downstairs. And for the primary kids who will get one tiny loaf and an egg hard-boiled with red onion skins and a lesson about Jesus and the way everything testifies of Him.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

On Friday I went with James to our ward's Elders Quorum v. YM pinewood derby. James was busy with his thesis (progress! He's sent a draft in and we're feeling great about it) so didn't have tons of time to put a car together, but also he intentionally went low effort--if it wins, we only spent 15 minutes on it, and if it loses we only spent 15 minutes on it. This is solid logic, but I was a little stressed--offering to paint it or wrap it in a page of his thesis or something. For some reason I imagined this conversation taking place between 15 year old James and 15 year old Kjerstin, which helped put it in perspective (I have some glitter!). We had a great ROI--we usually took about 3rd place, but we couldn't win against the fellows with CO2 cartridges strapped to their blocks.

Wood block, 2 lb dive weight, rubber bands, and last-minute graphite lube.

On Saturday we made soft eggs with buttery herb-gruyere toast and raspberry macaroons, because Smitten Kitchen is taking over my life right now (more approachable than 101 Cookbooks, always witty and delicious) and it was conference weekend=an excuse for an event. Then we spent a lot of hours watching conference (so much about family this time around!), took a walk, washed some dishes.

This week we also saw Jonah Lehrer speak in downtown Madison. I wanted to be blown away but wasn't. I know Lehrer from RadioLab--he's the sort of intellectual who mixes nueroscience with, like, Bob Dylan and comes away with some lovely meditations on the human brain and sometimes humanity. I love this stuff. I listen to RadioLab a lot a lot and fit it into most extended conversations--what I mean is, I think it's cool to mix and match art and science. We did come away with some good pointers: 1. Give kids a lot of latitude in choosing where they want to excel. He said "Choose easy, Work hard" which is, figure out what kids (you) are excited about--decide to do the thing that sounds like the most fun, and then work work work. I've heard this before, and I like it. 2. Aha moments come when you're not expecting them to come, but we're pretty good at knowing when there's something on it's way.
Yes. It was a fun night out. That ended at Trader Joe's. Win and win.

One other thing: I married a really lovely man. James and I have had an awesome week, I think mostly because I've had a chance to take care of him and serve him a little. I'm wary of the "love is an action verb" cliche, but it's a real thing: love is born out of helping--doing laundry and dishes and reading over rough drafts even though a part of you is still *very* conflicted about reading over rough drafts. Conference and a blessing and some good snuggly conversation later and I'm feeling hopeful and excited about our future. And, more than that even, confident that I'm only going to get more excited about our future as time goes on.
All of that paragraph was true, but what I really wanted to write about it how lucky I feel that James has found and is pursuing his passion. I'm surrounded by a lot of people who are smart and motivated but who aren't here for the passion, but every night I get to go home and talk with James about theories and big names in his field and his big ideas for making the field (and families) better. For someone who's spent her whole life flip-flopping dissatisfied-ly from aspiration to aspiration, James' focus and enthusiasm is so satisfying. I'm looking forward to our future, in part, because though I don't know what's coming I know that we're looking in the right direction.