A Napper’s Salad

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Bartender extraordinaire Abby pulled me a pint from this very tap a week ago! (Credit: http://www.foresquare.com)

A few weeks ago at the Six-Pack House of Beer West, I interrogated Jennie Geisler, Lifestyles Reporter for the Erie Times-News. Talking to people who actually write for a living gets me in a lather. I want details. No minutea is beneath my interest. In the course of putting together the Wednesday paper’s Food Section, Jennie experiments in the kitchen, writes recipes, tracks down other good ones, and invites contributions from locals who like to cook. She humored me for a good fifteen minutes, a little surprised that I was eager to hear the nuts and bolts of her work. Somewhere in our conversation I must have admitted to spending hours in the kitchen because half an hour after she said goodbye her colleague Gerry Weiss’s cell phone rang. (Gerry’s part of the Friday Six-Pack crowd as well as a neighbor, fine writer, and friend.) Was that Lutheran pastor still around? Could she talk to him? Sure.

Woman holding sliced avocado

God’s game was on when God made the avocado–just don’t chop your hand getting the pit out! (Credit: Wendy Hope)

Turns out nearly all the locals who contribute recipes to Jennie’s Wednesday Food Section are women. A male contributor would be nice. Could I come up with something? I mentioned a dish that includes a couple of my favorite ingredients, and she gave me the go ahead.

A pocket of time opened up this week, so I paid attention to what I was doing at the counter and cutting board, wrote up the recipe, named it in honor of my avocation, and hit send. Jennie will need to edit the grin off my sophomoric presentation, but I thought my fellow nappers might enjoy seeing the fool I’d have made of myself without her editorial intervention. Here’s what I came up with:

A Napper’s Salad

I call this dish a napper’s salad because it’s a culinary Sunday afternoon nap—luxurious, delicious, and refreshing. Given the ingredients, I considered pretentious salad, but went with a positive spin instead.

Tips

1. Yes, I put tips before ingredients. With a napper’s salad, method is more important than measurement.

2. Pairing: a fruit-forward pinot noir or a hefeweizen both go great with this salad—while you’re making it! Iced tea with fresh mint wins, too. While you’re eating, anything rinses this down, though I’d advise against port, Jack Daniels, and Ovaltine.

3. Amounts and sizes don’t matter much. I cut ingredients up bite size, but whatever. And if I’m out of artichoke hearts or don’t have time to roast red peppers, oh well.

4. Lots of tomato in a napper’s salad, so much that it can get weepy. If you’re a tidy soul, go with grape or cherry tomatoes.

5. Keeps well for a few days, especially if you don’t mind a kind of soupy salad. Mix it up, continue eating.

6. Don’t look for instructions below. Just toss everything together.

Ingredients

2 red bell peppers (roasted and chopped)

4 or 5 large tomatoes (chopped)

3 avocados (chopped)

2 cups artichoke hearts (chopped; marinaded is fine, but best to drain)

2 cups pitted kalamata olives (chop 1 cup rough; leave 1 cup whole)

1 bunch asparagus (steamed and chopped; leave raw if you like; not limp)

6 oz. crumbled feta cheese (that’s all I had; 12 oz. even better)

1 bunch cilantro (chopped fine)

1 ½ – 2 limes (the juice)

olive oil (drizzle and mix; about 1/3 cup)

salt and pepper to taste

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Culinary inspiration

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For my next batch I’ll raid wife Kathy’s cherry tomato plants–just to try a napper’s salad, neat.

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Serves . . . heck, I don’t know.

That’s it. I told Jennie I’m Pastor of Abiding Hope Lutheran Church, a blogger, and author of a forthcoming book, Oh! Be Joyful: Notes to My Future Grandchildren. Space is tight, so I doubt much other than avocados and asparagus will fit in.

Give the recipe a try if you can afford it–not exactly a cheap date.

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Mean: the New Normal

Begin with this: I’m no better than anyone else. Pick whomever you like: the haggard, rotten-toothed crack head; the Ripley’s-Believe-It-or-Not 1000-pounder who eats four rotisserie chickens for lunch; parents who treat their kids like dog crap. One environmental variable; one chromosomal kink; one impulsive, destructive choice: slip one of these into my row of biographical Dominos, and I’m not a marginally respectful fifty-one-year-old blogger and Lutheran pastor. I’m a vagrant, letch, junkie, inmate, whatever. Because of this truth, what follows is a peek at a sad sore on my spirit. Don’t picture my hands as fists.

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One mishap here, and I could be living under a bridge. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Sometimes midday oblivion is joyful. Imagine finishing a swim in warm water. Your blanket and towel are in the shade. When you lie down, the sand cradles your body. The breeze is so perfect it seems like part of your skin. Sliding into sleep, you think for a moment your head is resting against the chest of Merciful Eternity. Yeah.

Other times, midday oblivion is the bird—not a bird, but the bird. It’s weary, though reptilian, repartee with the world. It’s a mumbled f-bomb. It’s a wet Bronx cheer. It’s what you say as you shoot the moon. It’s your way of grunting, “Go pound sand.” Or it’s a sighed, “Enough already. You win. I’m taking a nap.”

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Credit: openclipart.org

Today’s oblivion won’t be the beach kind, and before a glorious siesta, I’m wagging my flaccid bird at meanness, which is epidemic. Unless I go to a monastery, I can’t seem to escape it—probably because my eye is now hypersensitive. Mean is everywhere.

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Even canned coffee is mean these days.

The other day my son Micah asked me to run him to the Exchange, a great used media store with friendly, helpful clerks. As he looked around, an ad for some World Wrestling Federation video played over and over on a flat screen in a corner near the ceiling. I stared up, slack-jawed. So many means to celebrate: sweaty, snarling, barking, slamming, glistening, hollering. And that’s just the gladiators. The crowd is in a constant, lathery rage.

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Amasis the Wrestler–grrrrr. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

When an aching neck forced me to look down, I noticed that at eye level and below, no square inch of the Exchange goes unexploited. There’s junk for sale everywhere. Check out the gallery of confrontational action figures and other curiosities.

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Ew.

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Not one of Al Pacino’s finer moments, if you ask me.

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Sorry for the glare. What will scare a monster? Tell him Chuck Norris is hiding under his bed!

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Grrrr. Hulk pants too tight!

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At least the Joker laughs as he blows a puff of poison gas in your face.

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Bobble-heady Freddy. Needs dental work.

In fairness to the Exchange (did I mention the help is genuinely nice there?), not all items are angry.

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Most colorful of the Rolling Stones coaster set.

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$9.00? Seriously?

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Love M&M’s. Need ear buds. Not tempted.

The common denominator here? If an item isn’t quirky, it must be baring its teeth. Who would buy somebody under eighteen a psychopathic action figure? Only Chuck Norris isn’t a physiological aberration or demented killer. And what adult would collect such diabolical kitsch? The absurdity and ugliness are draining.

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Ah, that would be a “no” vote from Simon. (Credit: newsbiscuit.com)

Of course, the face of mean isn’t always ugly. Often it’s stylish and witty. Back when “American Idol” was hot I didn’t watch it. Not only was it excruciating to witness performances by kids whose parents had lied to them about their talent, but I also couldn’t hack Simon Cowell’s delight in explicating their failure. I don’t blame Simon—he’s probably a great guy—but he has certainly contributed to the evolution of a television menu that’s riddled with mean. If you want to watch a cooking program, one of your options provides chefs with bizarre ingredients—pork tenderloin, Oreos, arugula, merlot-infused goat cheese, and honeydew melon—then puts their concoctions before restaurateurs, one of whom cowells them over the head for creating gunk. Throw a cluster of narcissistic brats on an island or into a mansion and you’ve got reality television: look how rotten these characters can be to each other, how many ways they can lie to and betray each other. And now home improvement and remodeling shows are caught in mean’s gravitational pull. What’s-their-names, those handsome twin brothers, are now leading teams of competing remodelers, and the underachievers are going to be thrown onto the scrap heap. I can’t tell you the names of these shows, since I watch for a minute, then catch another wave. (By the way, is “Survivor” on anymore? I honestly don’t know.)

I wonder what lesson all this mean entertainment teaches us—and don’t even get me started on “Grand Theft Auto” and “The Human Centipede,” diversions that are beyond mean. If nothing else, I’d argue that the stimulation I’ve mentioned contributes to the normalization of mean.

After watching a movie in which humans are sewn together in the most unsavory way possible, what’s the big deal about posting an embarrassing picture of a friend on Facebook? When housemates shout bleeps and stab fingers in each other’s faces during primetime, a nasty text message seems benign, arriving as it does without eye contact.

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I imagine she’s actually very nice. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

But what’s got me looking napward at the moment is more basic than cinema, games, Facebook, and cell phones. I’m tired out by good, old fashioned, face-to-face mean, mean tendered for no good reason, mean delivered because—ah, what the hell!—mean is normal, even hip. (I’ve no empirical evidence to support any of this preachiness—sorry.) My impression is this: contemporary snarl and snark, far from being frowned upon, is now a compelling fashion statement. Wrestling gladiators and movie action figures, with their teeth bared, are only the new normal reduced to caricature.

In this regrettable landscape, simple unfriendliness doesn’t register on the interpersonal Richter scale. Even those who claim to be religious can treat fellow human beings shabbily without any fallout of conscience. Lately a dear friend has shared news that those around her are repeatedly breaking author Anne Lamott’s Rule #2, which I paraphrase here: “Don’t be a [schmutz].” My friend’s been hurt, worn down by cold shoulders and passive aggression.

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Come here, kid. You’ve got schmutz on your face. (Credit: corbisimages.com)

Truth be told, it’s actually my friend’s pain that’s tiring me out—a cordial, hard worker being pummeled by schmutzes. There’s no remedy for what’s certainly longstanding bad behavior that I’m stung by now only because I’m thin-skinned. All I can do is follow Voltaire’s advice that I cultivate my own flawed garden. And I can give loving, juicy raspberries to a world that seems extra mean today, then lie down. My hope: in sleep the only teeth I dream will be framed by smiles.

Thich Nhat Hanh visits Calligraphic Meditation Exhibition in Bangkok

Make a bobble-head Thich Nhat Hanh smiling at me, and I’ll buy one. (Credit: corbisimages.com)

Smoke in the Shape of Open Arms

Thursday, August 1st, 4:43 – 5:13 a.m.:  prayer propped up in bed next to sleeping Kathy. While I did my usual Zen-Christian thing—trying to let the thought-monkeys swing around my mind-tree without paying attention to them—rain breathed against the boulevard leaves as thunder made its ironically comforting groan somewhere miles away. Ah, the wind through the open windows on my chest and knees. George Harrison sat on a branch and sang “My Sweet Lord” until I surrendered and let his mantra take over. “Really want to know you, Lord. Really want to see you.”

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Okay, not technically a monkey, but a mandril. This is what my mind monkeys look like–striking, sometimes menacing. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Don’t go online and read what people say about this trippy oldie. Such moronic fuss! I’m fine with the blending of hallelujah and Hare Krishna and accept Harrison’s explanation that the two mean “quite the same thing.” For that matter, people should wear ponytails and dance if that’s what centers them. Who am I to criticize? Anyway, by the time Harrison goes off on his Gurur Brahmā, gurur Viṣṇur deal, I’m on my own, wanting to know my sweet Lord. Eventually, words are immaterial.

After a couple decades of practicing silence, I’ve arrived at a liberating heresy, at least where Christianity is concerned: I don’t care what others believe. I’ll rephrase that: I couldn’t care less what others believe. As a spiritual person, I’m more than I can manage. I’m in no position to insist that you come at the Great Mystery the same way I do. Two caveats: I vote against worshipping evil whatever and carving insignias on human flesh and get keyed up when folks who call themselves Christian pretend it’s okay to smack children around, belittle their spouses, or let poor innocents go hungry in this country of unconscionable plenty. Beyond such glaring sludge, I’m flexible.

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This work for you? I say, “Have a go.” (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Some would say too flexible—but I’m not finished yet. I’ve listened to plenty of atheists who embrace George Harrison’s mantra in their own way. Most of them reject any God language or imagery and say, “I don’t believe in anything. No creator. No conscious force. Nothing!” As they’ve spoken, I’ve tried to be completely present to them, letting go of any personal agenda. And you know what? Most atheists I know are beautiful, authentic and brave in their search for what’s real. They wouldn’t sing, “Really want to know you, Lord,” but they might sing, “Really want to know what’s real” or “My sweet truth, hmm my truth.” I know, these don’t have the same lilt; they’re genuine anyway.

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No, this isn’t Jesus. (Credit: Wikipedia)

My point: as long as “really want to know you, (state your name)” is the prayer or song or mantra, I embrace it as sacred. Well, a caveat again: I’m not down with the name being Beelzebub or Nosferatu.

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Max Schreck as Nosferatu. (Credit: Wikipedia)

Why am I dangerously loosey-goosey? A couple of reasons:

  • My son Micah is an atheist. At least I think he is. Today. He’s my only begotten son, and he’s put himself through a lot in twenty-one years. For the first time in his life I can say, “He’s doing well.” He is beloved of all that is, worthy of grace and mercy. If I’m wrong, if the punishment paradigm reigns, then I pick the eternal snuff-me-out option. (No, of course I’m not referring to suicide.)
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Micah, my favorite heathen.

  • My beliefs and behaviors slam into each other so often that I’ve no worthy, autonomous ground to stand on. All I have is the conviction that my God understands that this life is damned difficult—my twist on M. Scott Peck’s simple observation—and that reckless love is the cosmic modus operandi. And, no, I can’t defend this belief . . . at all . . . and certainly not scripturally.
  • I recently held the hand of a person who had to decide whether to die sooner rather than later, never mind the details. When to jump? This person looked straight ahead as if trying to see open arms on the horizon. If the arms of eternity won’t welcome us or at least let us sleep in peace, then I simply can’t reconcile myself to this life. This is a selfish, fearful belief, but it’s honest.
  • I’m going to be bummed if Stephen Crane is right. He wrote a poem called “A Man Said to the Universe,” which I take to be his existential confession. I’m not in favor of the following: “A man said to the universe, / ‘Sir, I exist!’ / ‘However,’ the universe replied, / ‘The fact has not created in me / A sense of obligation.'”
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Stephen Crane, author of The Red Badge of Courage–the face of man who believed the universe is a Gloomy Gus. (Credit: Wikipedia)

  • Often when I pray, I’m given laughter. There’s no other way to say it. I’ll be praying my own business, sitting still and breathing, and a laugh rises from inside. The skin beside my eyes wrinkles. When I’m in public, I have to shush myself or be identified as the weirdo I really am. I receive these prayer-laughs as communion with God, as God-Buddha belly-joy laughs at the Great Mystery’s outrageous love for everything from people to Irish wolfhounds (I want one someday) to the Coleman family’s compost pile. (Yes, I realize this phenomenon might be physiological, like a twitch in my bowels. I’m hopeful, not stupid.)
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My Buddha belly too if the present trend continues. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

If you crushed everything I’ve said here into incense, it would burn with longing—my sweet Lord! It would smell like the 4:43-in-the-morning breeze that touches my chest. It would sound like a gentle old song, accompanied by rain against leaves. And the smoke would rise and take the shape of open arms.

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