So, Toni, what does it mean to be Humanist of the Year? Once you and So-and-So return from your visit with JCO, you must tell!

You know, I am a horrible person. If JCO gets that award, then surely I should receive its opposite. The reason being, I have yet to read more than an essay or two by her. That’s right. You even gave me a collection by her (which I dutifully brought with me to Estonia), but I have not read from it yet. And the craziest thing is, I know I will love her. Or maybe that’s my reasoning – I just can’t add another fabulous writer to my reading repertoire. No room on my shelves and no time for getting lost in books… so sorry JCO. Maybe later this summer.

Cheers,

rae

Portland bound

6 June 2007

Rae,

Angel enjoys walking on the leash, although she prefers keeping to one spot. Basking in direct sunlight and rubbing her back this way and that on the sun-warmed gravelly sidewalk appears to overrule actual walking. Sound a little Chauncey-like? I keep her leash and harness on a nail inside the coat closet by the front door. When I shake them, she comes running. She knows and shows, in dog-like fashion (Shh… We shan’t tell her this.) what’s up. She stands without moving—well, she manages a few flicks of her tail—while I snap the harness in place. Then we’re off to look for dragonflies or bask in the sunshine.

You have joined Second Life. Theory Masala. I like it! So how’s it going? I’m hesitant to add any new online pursuit to my list of social activities. It all requires so much time and keeps me away from the great outdoors and face-to-face relationships. Finding balance is sometimes difficult.

Speaking of time, I don’t have much of it left for puttering about the house and letter-writing—I’m off to Portland now. The AHA Conference is this weekend. I’m pleased to tell you that Joyce Carol Oates will receive the 2007 Humanist of the Year Award.

Catch up with you soon.

Yours truly,
Toni

P.S. Have I mentioned how much I enjoy making a feast out of hardboiled eggs?

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first life

1 June 2007

Toni,

That photo of Angel is too, too much! Congrats on adding just the right tough with the heart shape! So, what does she think of it? Does she struggle or complain? I tried it once with Chauncey (my gray cat that preceded Andre) when we lived in a frat neighborhood, but he just tried walking backwards to get out of it and ended up laying down, refusing to budge. He was a rather fat (though usually spritely) cat.

So, I finally did it. I finally joined Second Life. It’s been on my mental to-do list for months, but with UBB’s new website launch, new spring titles, and new web-related efforts (Unbridled Books is now on Flickr, YouTube, MySpace, and we have several blogs), I didn’t have time to explore Second Life. From everything I’ve heard about it, it’s quite addictive, but I need to know if it’s good for the press so I’m willing to risk it. I created a personal account just to get a feel for it, but I haven’t gone beyond selecting my name and downloading the client.

It took me 30 minutes to choose my name.  You can choose any first name you want, but last names must be selected from a list. A few were real last names (none of them my own), a few looked too weird to be names (but you never know), and a few were… well, a few were what I narrowed my options down to: Kidd, Writer, and Masala. Kidd, because of Chip Kidd. Writer… that’s obvious. And Masala because I love Tikka Masala and it just jumped out at me. I tend to go with theorist (lowercase) for my usernames, but that doesn’t make sense when paired with a last name, so I switched to Theory (after considering Fade). Theory Writer and Theory Kidd were both taken, so I am now Theory Masala. Yes, it’s a tasty theory! I hope I don’t come to hate it, since it can’t be changed.

These Warner/Maxwell letters are taking forever to read. I’ve now decided that it’s my secondary reading book, and I need to choose another book for primary reading. I have a few manuscripts to read, but it’s nearly impossible to make manuscripts primary reading selections because of the format. You remember how that was with FC2. I don’t need to make a decision immediately, since I have an article due on Monday that I haven’t started writing and Le Spouse’s brother has lent us his car while he’s away, which means we’ll be out and about this weekend.

I’ve been invited to join a book arts exhibition in September, so I have a few ideas I’ve been mulling over. I’ll share those soon…

Have a lovely weekend,

rae

Dear Rae,

After reading your letter, I got up from my desk and went over to the two double-shelf bookcases that are under the large window next to my bed. I reached for The Element of Lavishness, sat down on the bed and began thumbing through its pages looking for something nourishing.

Suddenly, as I am walking along the street, a phrase from your letters rises to the surface and a sort of transubstantiation occurs. I mean I feel like sweet butter. (Maxwell to Warner, May 9, 1961. Page 104.)

Sweet butter. Sweet butter and waterworks… Our dear Maxwell is such a loveable person.

I wouldn’t worry too much about all those ideas that never make it out of your head. Good thoughts (or good characters, if we’re speaking of imaginative thoughts) come with time. At least, that’s what I tell myself and it works to keep me focused on fleshing out one idea at a time.

Amritvēla is considered the “ambrosial hour,” or the time before sunrise; it’s a favored time for prayer and meditation. As a child, which means long before I began the journey of Sikhi, I was an early riser. These days I try to steer away from as many unecessary labels, shoulds/oughts, and enslaving expectations as I can. As the cliché goes, life is short. Some people may be wired to function at their best in the morning and other peoples’ sails may catch wind at midday or later; neither time is quote “better.” Whatever’s good for you—1am and up at 10am—is best. I salute you, my friend.

I know you can give me many reasons why it’s good that you are no longer in Tallahassee, but since you mention hating going out in the rain, I thought you should know that Tallahassee has been listed as the 9th rainiest city in America. I question this ranking, especially after stepping into my garage this morning and inhaling the bitter smoke that has drifted into the city from nearby forest fires and those in South Georgia. I mean we’re in the midst of an awful drought and we’re a rainy city. I’m currently having to go against one of my deepest ecological and conservation convictions and (use one of earth’s precious resources) water the St. Augustine grass in the yard before it dies and the homeowner association’s Yard Nazi comes after me (more about this guy some other day). But we’re the 9th rainiest city in America.

Le Spouse’s comment and your picture have me eager to try your fennel and blue cheese with penne.

Yours affectionately,
Toni

P.S. Here’s the picture of Angel walking on a leash that you requested.

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22.5.07

22 May 2007

Dear Toni,

I’m so glad you recommended this book of letters, The Element of Lavishness, between Sylvia Townsend Warner and our beloved Maxwell. They are a delight! Not only do their cats come up quite a lot, but their talk of their writings is inspiring. I have all these ideas in my head that never make it out. Perhaps, like you, I should try to rise early. It’s a component of Sikhism, yes? And good sense, too, though I’m not sure I’m capable. To bed around 1am and up at 10am has been my routine for as long as I can remember.

It’s raining today. I thought I would be going to the store to get the ingredients for tonight’s risotto, but I absolutely hate going out (especially walking) in the rain. Le Spouse will likely have to swing by the store on his way home from work. Which means we’ll be eating late, since good risotto takes time.

Last night’s dinner was lovely: fennel and blue cheese with penne (recipe in an adjacent post). Not something I’d serve to guests, but my tastebuds had fun! Le Spouse commented that it wasn’t as acidic as the ready-made tomato sauces, and the blue cheese added a nice punch to each bite. In fact, the blue cheese was the crucial ingredient. I enjoyed the leftovers at lunch today.

Right now I’m sipping a lovely Oolong tea that my friend (and tea dealer) Steve brought back from China. It helps me forget the rain.

As always,

rae

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1 fennel bulb

225g/8oz/2cups penne pasta

30ml/2tsp olive oil

1 shallot, finely chopped

300ml/1 1/2pints/1 1/4cups passata

pinch of sugar

5ml/1tsp fresh oregano, chopped

115g/4oz blue cheese

(Supposedly serves 2, but we got three plates out of it and could have easily gotten four.)

1. Cut the fennel bulb in half. Cut away the hard core and root. Cut the fennel into thin strips.

2. Cook the pasta.

3. Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan. Add the fennel and shallot and cook for 2-3 minutes over high heat. Do no allow browning.

4. Add the passata or an equivalent amount of canned, crushed tomatoes (which is what I did), sugar, and oregano. Cover the pan and allow to simmer for 10-12 minutes. Toss the pasta and sauce together and top with crumbled blue cheese.

hibiscus punch

16 February 2007

Dear Rae,

During Lovers’ Week*, this patron of all sweet things—from people to food—spends chummy time with her loved ones and yields to her desire for rich treats. For Lovers’ Week 2007, I give you: hibiscus punch. From its loverly deep redness, to its rich gingerly goodness, there is absolutely nothing not to love about it.

You may recall that I recorded my own introduction to these blossoms of ruby red gorgeousness in my journal. In case you filed that silly tale in your mind’s catalog drawer co-labeled “experimental food” and “recipe to acquire” (and hopefully not “Toni’s Plum Nuttiness”), I have decided to beat you to the task of asking for instructions (C’mon! Not for the nuttiness!) and simply supply you with the recipe for hibiscus punch.

On the day I was introduced to this punch, a person of Panamanian descent told me it is called “sorrel punch.” On the same day, a Jamaican fellow called it “hibiscus punch.” Needless to say, I was a bit confused at the time. Do keep the following in mind:

Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa), a plant native to the region stretching from India to Malaysia, is cultivated for the large, ruby red, refreshingly sour, fleshy calyxes of its blossoms. A cousin of okra, which has similar blossoms, hibiscus was brought at an early date to Africa. From there it reached Jamaica at the beginning of the eighteenth century through the slave trade. Although hibiscus has a tartness similar to sorrel and is often called red sorrel, it is not related to that plant. (via CHOW)

If you need a health factoid to boost your motivation to try this recipe, please read Ginger ‘could halt bowel cancer’ (via BBC News). Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Plants of the ginger family have been credited with therapeutic and preventive powers and have been reported to have anti-cancer activity.

The substance called [6]-gingerol is the main active compound in ginger root and the one that gives ginger its distinctive flavour.

These results strongly suggest that ginger compounds may be effective chemopreventive and/or chemotherapeutic agents for colorectal carcinomas.

I’ll catch up with you soon.

Cheers,
Toni

P.S. The Jamaican fellow told me this drink is good with rum. (If used, this intoxicant probably negates the aforementioned health factoid.)

P.P.S. Dried hibiscus flowers can be purchased here. And sorrel from here. No, I’m not trying to confuse you. Both will make nice punches.

*Lovers’ Week: My personal seven-day nod to St. Valentine.

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hibiscus punch

8 cups water
1 (3-inch) piece ginger, chopped
2 cups hibiscus flowers
1 cup sugar

In a stockpot bring the water to a rolling boil. Add the ginger and hibiscus flowers and simmer on low heat for 10 minutes. Stir in the sugar and continue to simmer on low heat for 5 minutes. Remove pot from heat and allow liquid to cool. Strain liquid through a mesh sieve into a large pitcher. Refrigerate until well chilled. Then serve.

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