Archive for March, 2010

Chapter 28. The Continuing Oil Shortage

Chapter 28

The Continuing Oil Shortage

(8 days a week is not enough to show I care)

As our family embraces continents, countries and religions we have always worked hard to respect each other’s faith and traditions.   Perhaps because we were each raised in homes that were traditionally conservative and very dogmatic in their approach to religion, neither of us wanted to let go of the many symbols of the homes and lives that we grew up with.

But with the children gone this push began to decline, both in terms of the desire and the need to celebrate these holidays (except for Christmas which exists in its very own sphere) as we used to.  This change cut across the board, whether we were talking about Halloween, Passover, Easter or in this particular case Chanukah.  Yes, in our house poor old Chanukah was dying and this year it felt sad and moribund. After all, when the kids aren’t home who were we doing it for?

Still we dutifully dug out the glass menorah that we purchased together many years go at a synagogue in Florence and found enough candles left over from last year to approach a ceremony.  I didn’t feel much like praying as we lit the candles in the empty dining room, creating one lonely light to mark the first night of holiday soldiering on into the evening.  No songs tonight, no celebration no wondering just why we would be frying potato pancakes in a home where we fried virtually no food at all.  No dreidl, no chocolate gelt coins, just us.

I spent the day lost in thoughts about my Mom caused no doubt by my choice of what to make for dinner that evening.  Brisket.  No dish symbolized her life like the brisket that she made every Passover and periodically throughout the year.  The recipe was deceptively simple and easy to make and it uniformly yielded great results, something that I could not say about the rest of her cooking (sorry Mom, it just is true).   That is except for except for that year she insisted using a bottle of coca-cola as the marinade.  That was not good at all, way too sweet and so tender it bordered on creepy.

Cooking her brisket did not bring me happy memories that day.  Instead, I felt powerful reminders of my mother’s frustration with her life.  Her constant resentment of our financial status and my father’s lack of education and manners.  How things could have turned out differently if that bastard Hitler just wouldn’t have shown up in Austria in 1938.

As I cut the onions into smaller and smaller slices, I saw her making the same motion, standing next to the sink in the house that I grew up in, her hair in a tight bun, a cooking apron on and bright chicken fat melting in the  pan behind her.  I saw in her expression a life filled with sadness and disappointment.  Of what could have been, not what was.

After finishing the prep and as dinner heated in the over, I thought about Chanukah and the 2008 election of October.  These were two stories that centered around miracles.  But while oil burning for 8 nights instead of 1 was pretty amazing, electing a black man named Barack president of the US, now that was miraculous.

Even as we celebrated Obama’s win earlier that year, letting the Democrats out of their self-imposed exile of disenfranchised bitterness, we knew what a miserable country he inherited.  A nation full of bitterness, misplaced and falsely manipulated rage, division and mistrust, none of which would really ‘change’ after he took office.  We were so intoxicated by the event that we forgot the facts for a few months before reality set in and when it did, it did so with a vengeance that should have been expected.  There was lots of money on the line, the fight would be bitter.

None of that mattered in December 2008.  We were just so happy not to deal with Bush 43 and his policies any more.  We had no idea what was coming, both for us and  the country. Poor Obama, he needed a lamp lit with the oil of hope to burn for 8 nights just as much as the Maccabees did. His light would only last for a short time while before the hatred would begin.

I thought about the story of Hanukah as we ate our latkes and brisket without much thought or energy.   I couldn’t help but love the story even with the religious terrorist overtones, you know Semitic guys in the desert rebelling against the state and all that.  The miracle felt so right and couldn’t we all use a miracle these days with the state of the economy?

We did the dishes quickly after dinner and fled upstairs to our reading materials, making the best out of a sad situation. We went to bed without further comment or contact.

The next morning I attended an unusual graduation ceremony.  The 14 students, all of them from low-income and/or at risk families, had enrolled in a program that taught them how to work in kitchens and restaurants, giving them a second chance in life.  As I watched them receive their diplomas dressed in their chef’s whites I listened to their stories of how much they overcame to simply step up and make it to class every day.  How hard it was for them to work with others, many for the first time, and how thankful they were.  These were real heroes.

During one of the sessions with my coach many months ago I learned a principle that has always been on mind and now came to the forefront.  It was one of the main factors that would bring me out of my funk and back into the world as a fully participating member.  Dharma.  Your reason to do good on during the time spent on this planet.  An Eastern view of the big picture, a sort of celestial universal version of the Jewish version called Mitzvah, all wrapped in your own private destiny with a good dose of personal bravery for leavening and in their thinking, your eternal birth and rebirth as icing on the cake.  I wasn’t at all sure about that last part but it reassured me to think that this core guiding principle ran deep in other cultures.  And more than that, it resonated with what I wanted to do in my life.

Throughout my corporate career in coffee I had done my best to incorporate the concept of doing “the right thing” into my work.  I was proud of the work that I did advancing just causes such as organics and fair treatment of workers at farm.  I had a lot to make up for. There had been plenty of damage that I had contributed to in my personal quest to make a buck during the days of working in the construction equipment industry supplying the massive machines that carved up the earth for mines and forestry.

Was I just looking for a quick hit to improve my karma?  I don’t think so. It is not as simple as that although there is plenty of work to do to right that ship.  It was deep in me and needed to be satisfied.  As I worked with charities (although they were overloaded with volunteers such as myself) I closed a hole in my soul.  It felt good.

The Chanukah meal: Mom’s Brisket.

Ingredients. A 4-to-5 pound brisket.  The bigger the better, you are going to have leftovers so get used to it.

One onion per pound.

One head of garlic.

One bottle of white wine, can be sweet.

Salt

Paprika

Brown Sugar

A covered baking dish, preferably that oblong old blue metal one that your mom used to use.

Preheat the oven to 400.   Chop your onions and peel the garlic.  If freaked out about fat trim.

While the oven heats, line the baking dish with the onions.  Puncture the brisket in numerous places and insert a clove of garlic in each slit.  The more the better.  Rub the brisket with salt, brown sugar and paprika to taste.

Place the brisket in the pan, fat side up.

Cook for 10 minutes at 400 or until there is some browning in the fat.  Flip the brisket onto the bottom of the pan fat side now down.

Cover and lower temperature to 325.  Cook for two hours and check.  When it shrinks to 2/3 of its original size it is done. It should slice easily and there should be lots of liquid.

Thanks Mom for the meditation.

The ipod shuffle top 4

(Sometimes just 4 songs are all you need.)

Frank Sinatra. My Way.  Barely made it through, now seems so sad when you get older.

Ray Charles.  I can’t stop loving you.  Just living in the memories.

Van Morrison, And It Stoned Me.  Moondance.  His voice following Ray’s is uncanny.

John Hiatt.  The Tip of My Tongue. Bring the family.  One of the most underappreciated American songwriters delivers a brutal vision of a failed love.

Sometimes fame never reached those who deserve it. See also, Richard Thompson, guitar and so many many others.

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Chapter 27. The Colors Purple.

Chapter 27.

The Colors Purple

Authors note:

As noted previously, MHO is a work of fiction.  While some of the incidents that occur in the story and many the characters in it are based in part upon my life, the vast majority of MHO resides in my ever-active imagination.  I (and those around me) are thankful for that.

(It’s all in the pour.)

With the onion and burger meditations successfully behind me it was undeniable that the past few weeks had been good for my spirit. The daily structure (walk/yoga/manful meds) was something to look forward to, especially rewarding during those typically dead moments between Thanksgiving and Christmas when things slowed down even in the best of times. Creating a calendar, even though it seemed a bit artificial, turned out to be a great source of stability to build upon.  Who would have thought that structure, an aspect of life that I habitually distrusted, could help me move to forward? What a surprise.

Then Monday arrived. Fresh out of ideas, I decided to use the day’s meditation to choose a subject that would be fun to meditate about.  As that thought crossed my mind I laughed out loud, I never thought I would use the words meditation and fun in the same sentence.

Sticking to the daily prescription, I did a cursory set of yoga stretches, noticing a strange burning sensation in my palms during downward dogs, and headed home after cutting my walk in half.  I was eager to get back to the mancave, close the door and sit down to ponder manful subjects to meditate about. Closing my eyes I opened my heart and soul to find  further inspiration in the manful meditation journey. I left a paper and pad out just in case I did.

Starting the search for subjects at the highest levels, I thought about those things that mean the most. I could hang with food forever but that would be too easy.  Even I knew that there was more to life than food although I often lost track of that.

I began to meditate about things that meant the most to me.  Family came first but I didn’t really feel like dwelling on them, at least not yet.  Just too complicated. Friends were a close second and then I could not forget big foot white dog faithful walking companion and the world’s most unaffectionate canine. No, too weird. Bike? Music? Literature? Sports?  All had loads of promise but none were attractive that morning. I searched for something a little easier to handle or more artistic, or well, maybe I should admit that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing and just wandering around an imaginary mental field aimlessly without a fucking clue.

As the thoughts ebbed and flowed without reason, an image finally began to materialize in my mind’s eye.  Seconds later it popped up bright and clear, the third vision of wondrous manful meditation as beautiful as the burger and onion that preceded it.

There, in my mind’s eye, was a shining clear wine glass.  Examining at the wine glass in my mind I grasped several messages.  First, it was empty.  I knew it would not be the case for long.  Second it was large, with a grand broad bowl, long stem and wide base.  Yes, this manful meditation carried a prohibition revealed in the shape of the wine glass.  You cannot have a manful meditation that is focused on a glass of white wine.  Now some of you may not agree but this guy can’t see it as hard as he tries to peer within.  Can’t do it.  Just can’t.

I knew from the beginning that wine would be a very long meditation.  From start to finish it could take days just to catalog red wines in California north of the bay choosing one grape. So rather than get specific on this first attempt I took time to reflect on the pleasure that red wine has given me through the years and the social bounty I have shared with so many others.  Not to mention the health benefits (we can’t get that benefit from manful meditation although studies have shown that meditation does lower your blood pressure).  It was a warm easy comfortable feeling as I drifted from dinner to dinner and tasting to tasting.

I thought about history. Wine has been around for thousands of years discovered well before the birth of Christ.  I wondered, who was the brave first man who raised a ceramic cup to his lips and figured out that this spoiled grape juice tasted good.  And better yet that it gave you a buzz as well.  What compelled him to go for it?  Was it some ancient game of chicken, (“come on Essau, drink it, I dare you’) or was he trying to impress a babe?  That was a manful moment to ponder.

Who was the first guy who created the amphoras crafted thousands of years ago to store their liters and liters of precious juices?  Who took the time to domesticate the grapes and learn to ferment in a time when stones were still tools?  The facts are there, man loves wine.

Then my contemplation moved to wine on the stage of our religions, whether in communion (taking on the role of blood no less) or the fourth cup at Passovers past, images of my family gathered around a table in the house where I grew up.

Later, I awoke gently awakened from this mental relaxation exercise. I felt refreshed. I was also hungry and thirsty.  It was a cold and clear early winter afternoon, plenty of time to throw on a sweatshirt, fire up the Weber and grill something for lunch.  The decision of what to cook was easy. As the burgers sizzled (and of course the onions sautéed) it didn’t take long for me to decide they needed support, a hearty red to help them and the afternoon along. Poking at the bottles in the mock cellar at the back of the garage I came upon a 2005 Rafanelli Zin.  That would do just fine.  And it did. Lunch was a pleasure.

During the first months at home, lunch was a challenge.  As dysfunctional as my business life was, we enjoyed years of great lunches together, it was the place we could relax and get a surprising amount of business done.  We loved the small ethnic restaurants throughout the Mission and Portrero Hill enjoying countless delicious bowls of Pho or Udon as well as plates of Pupusas rice and beans or enormous burritos on 24th street. As a result, eating home alone had been very difficult at first.  Not only was I bored, I got hungry early ate quickly to get it over in under 5 minutes and moved on as fast as I could.  Bad for my digestion and spirit.
On that winter day I saw the difference that manful mediation made.  I took my time during lunch,(why not, there was little else to do), enjoyed several glasses of red wine and read the New York Times from the Sunday before I became exhausted by the continuing decline of the planet.

While I would suffer plenty of angst and setbacks in the next months, I would not wear them as a badge of courage as I had in the past. Instead of worrying about what had happened to me and why, I thought about how lucky I was, what I had to be thankful for and how I could do better.   Imagine that, me on the border of becoming an optimist.  Manful Mediation would teach me how to absorb the speed bumps, learn as much as I could from them and then move on.  This just wouldn’t have happened in the same way in days gone by.

The next few weeks were, dare I say, really good ones. I enjoyed series of self-guided daily journeys into the world of wine that put me in a great mood.  These journeys gave me great pleasure and no, while I didn’t start drinking every day at lunch I certainly did think about it and more often than not, I did.

I wanted to begin the next meditation with a vineyard but first I settled on a geographic tour. I narrowed it down to the US and then California (where else for this native son?) and then thought about wine growing regions known and loved one by one. Started up north in the morning fog shrouded rolling hills of Mendocino and the Sonoma coast, let those thoughts trail inland up the Russian River to the Dry Creek Valley west of Healdsburg, an easy point to stop for a while and enjoy the sun.  My visions flowed down the curved roads of the Alexander Valley into Calistoga and then up to Napa’s Pope valley doubling back to the long stretch of Highway 29 winding north across and through the hills to Lake County.  Without a hesitation I jumped to 101 heading south through Paso Robles, turned off to enjoy the lush hills of Edna Valley. I finished outside of Lodi, wine grapes stretching as far as the eyes good see surrounded by huge gleaming stainless steel storage tanks.

As those weeks passed I thought about wine in so many ways.   There was an inspiring meditation on the grape vines.  I saw them bare in winter and then just blooming in spring first tiny green leaves breaking through the brown leathery vine skin of last winter’s growth.  Watched the fruit set and then grow full of flavor and sugar content.  Just as suddenly, wham, the leaves turned orange and brown in autumn and fell.  I picked up the dirt, crumbled it in my hands bringing it to my nose to smell its richness.  I stepped up to a grapevine, picked a ripe Cabernet grape and ate it.  Felt the acidity of a young grape in my mouth, the crunch of the seeds between my teeth.

Other days found me wandering vineyards I recalled.  I was lost in the pinot noir fields in Willamette Valley on a spring morning south of Portland.  Then I was cruising Chianti country in Tuscany in a rented Alfa, a manicured vineyard around every curve, the black rooster crowing and a perfect bowl of al dente tagliatelle with sugo waiting in the next town. My mind flew across borders to the Hospices De Beaune looking at barrel after barrel of perfectly aging Pinot Noirs.  I remember the smell room and the strange pewter “tastevin” that they gave us to drink with. I strolled between racks of oak barrels inhaling the dank, moist and musty atmosphere of the caves.

One of the final meditations was on the wines themselves.  I mean who in their right mind would keep a Grange Hermitage or a first growth Bordeaux out of a perfect manful mediation moment?  I could feel my mouth explode with their powerful rich flavors.  I imagined them aging, how their profiles would change and the nuanced dry flavors would emerge.  I thought of all of the wines that had expired in my faux cellar, waiting to long to enjoy them as they approached a vinegary brown off end.

One what I knew would be the last day thinking about wine I picked an imaginary bottle from my cellar and thought about the perfect pour. What followed was a mental ballet that went like this.

‘I get a corkscrew and open the bottle slowly, watch the cork slide out of the bottle.  No dry cork here no rot; just the purple crystals at the bottom of the cork and the smell of earth and grapes.  I wipe the top of the bottle clean.

Now find a simple but elegant clear glass decanter then slowly and carefully pour the bottle in. Now I pause. Just like that ½ an hour has already passed and it is ready to drink!

Pick a wine glass.  Take time to admire its shape, the narrow shape of the stem, the clean crystal reflection.  Pour the wine into the glass slowly and evenly until just over 1/3 full.

I give the wine a small swirl to bring out the character and put my manly schnog deep into the glass and do what I have been practicing since I started this adventure.  I breathe!  At no other point in this practice until now has this point been simpler.  I go back to your breathing training and refresh myself.  Eyes closed?  Mind calm?  Yes! Now breathe in and take in the smell of this perfect glass of wine.  What do I smell?  Bell Peppers?  Tobacco?  Cinnamon? Leather?  What smells attract me most in that red wine ambrosia? The list goes on and on. Each smell lingers as I breathe in and breathe out, nice and slow easy and calm.

I look at the wine, from the top of the glass and then from the side.  Look at its color.  Is it dense or light, do the reds run to purple or even hints of dark blue?

I raise the glass and take a deep but not overwhelming pull and fill my mouth. My mind tastes the wine from the perspective of pleasure not a contest of snobbery or predetermined results.  There are no hidden labels or agendas, no score sheets, no one to impress. This is all about the grape.

Now I pull a bit of the juice through the mouth by sipping a bit of air to help the imaginary flavors to explode.  Let the tastes fill my mouth.   I think about the full body and take the time to focus on the flavors that matter.  I let the flavors linger.’

That was it.  The moment was perfect I could go no further.

Then the next day I realized there was a one more left. A final meditation that defied the rules I had set at the beginning of the process. There was a white wine worth meditation upon.  Sauternes.

This one was all about flavor and body. They roared. Apricots honey pineapples botrytis fruit smoke all in one golden sticky gooey taste thick yet not syrupy it gives the word nectar meaning.  That was a mantra.

As the wine meditations ended I was sad but realized it was time to move on.  I thought back to wine glass and where it had come from.  I thanked my spirits for that elusive character called inspiration.  Where does this reserve come from?  I had no easy answer, but Thank goodness that it is there, otherwise where would life be.

That afternoon I hit the kitchen inspired by the red wine visions of the past weeks, there was only one dish to make.

A Simple Boeuf Bourginon with music heard in the kitchen  courtesy of the Ipod.

Ingredients:

3 pounds red stew meat, I like chuck.

1 pound bacon.

2 pounds mushrooms.  Your choice.

1 bottle red wine.

2 cups beef stock.

Flour, salt, pepper.

Olive Oil.

1 head garlic

1 bunch carrots

1 large onion.

Spices: Bay leaf, thyme.

Technique.

Brown the bacon.  Pour off the fat.

Add oil and brown peeled onion and garlic until translucent.

Dredge the stew meat salt, pepper and flour. In a large cast iron pan add olive oil and brown.  Remove from pan.

Add the beef back and stir.

Slice carrots to ¼ to ½ inch depending upon desired.  Same for the mushrooms.  Add to pot along with spices.

Stir.  Add the red wine, beef stock and finely chopped spices.  Simmer for 3 to 4 hours on low/medium heat.

Today’s Ipod shuffle top 10 to cook by

Mozart Rondo in D, Vladimir Horowitz, Horowitz at Home.  No comment needed smooth a cognac.

Tramp, Otis Redding & Carla Thomas, The Complete Stax Sessions.  Uh.  Uh uh.

Water, Fela Kuti.  It has no enemies.

Sneaking Sally Through The Alley, Robert Palmer.  The guy was just too handsome. Trying to get her out of sight indeed.

Going Out Walking, Muddy Waters.  He is the man.  He knows it.

Ooh La La, Ronnie Lane.  The chorus says it all.  I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger.

On Broadway, George Benson.  All that hope.

Celos. Gotan Project, Lunatico.  Eerie argentine tangos meets French accordions. Yet so very listenable.

Midnight Confession, the Grass Roots.  South Africa’s only pop hit band of the 60’s in a state of guilt.

I’ll Probably Feel A Whole Lot Better When You’re Gone, The Byrds.  No message that means anything to me of relevance, just a great song.

Chapter 26. Pass The Turkey.

Chapter 26

Pass the turkey.

As the stock market crashes I dream of Onion Soup.

Thanksgiving 2008 passed amicably and easily in spite of the turmoil that reeked havoc on the stock markets. Having survived the October assault to our financial well being when the Dow dropped to 8500, things felt a little better as it began to slowly climb upwards in November. Maybe, we thought, just maybe the worst was over.  Hitting 10,000 was just over the horizon and this would all end soon.  A new year and a new government were  coming!

Fools.

None of us could imagine the economic horror that the winter of 2008/09 had in store.  We didn’t dare even contemplate the possibility that the crash of February and March would happen.  No, that crushing blow to our spirit was still out there spinning in the monetary cosmos growing into a category 5 financial hurricane, waiting to kick our wallets and our fiscal integrity smack in the balls.

Instead, and likely because of this stress, we focused clearly on what we loved during the holiday. Watching the descent of market had become a habit by then, too gruesome to look away from. At Thanksgiving we finally turned off the TV and took time to escape from these incessant fears about the state of our money. For a precious moment Americans paused to reflect on the things that mean the most to us: Family, friends and of course food.

Both daughter and son made it home that year and the house quickly regained the energy it had for so many years as they grew up.  While young adults now, they still carried many of their brother and sister habits intact in their expressions and mock arguments which offered La Sweets and I a reminder of days gone past.

The long weekend progressed wonderfully. Dinner flowed into dinner, turkeys were brined, stuffed, baked brown and devoured.  Sweet potatoes were peeled and pureed, cranberries were served chopped into relish and sauced as tablecloths cringed in anticipation of the beating they would take.  Gales of laughter filled our lives and for just a little while we forgot about the powerful spiritual malaise that had surreptitiously crept into our American homes while we were justifiably distracted that year. This host of temporal dust balls that now inhabited the corners of our collective psyche. A sort of low level mental flu that had infected us and was about to get even nastier as it mutated during the next spring.

But weekends pass quickly.  The kidults went their way as they should and by Sunday night the house returned to its quiet self as we poked at leftover turkey and mashed potatoes rescued with butter and cheddar cheese hoping to ease the tension with a buttery chard. We tried hard to balance the pleasure of having the house full with the emptiness we felt when they left and came up short.

As adults we learn to adjust to so many fundamental changes as we get older.  For me, having our children leave the home remains one of the most difficult.  This is made all the more clear when they return for short times and then go.  While we may have the maturity and depth to understand that this is normal and best for everyone and blah fucking blah, I miss throwing them around the pool.  I loved being a parent and always will. Plain and simple.

Then my last glass of dessert sauterne was gone, dinner was over and we went silently up the stairs to bed and feel asleep without saying another word.

I blinked and it was 7:30 am, El Amour Travajo was long gone and another Monday morning was leering at me long in the tooth, pasty and colored pale grey.  My weekly calendar was as empty as the house, the pages were blank except for my self-prescribed treatment of yoga, meditation and dog walk.

The choice of whether and how to cross this spiritual river was once again entirely up in the air.  And this is one of the most destabilizing aspects of under- and un- employment.  Every day lacks a pre-determined structure.  As a result, it forces a choice of emotional paths on you every morning.

This is all a bit too much.  Underemployment already throws so much into question about say, for example, your abilities and your financial future. So who needs this extra burden?  Who wants to wonder “what kind of Monday am I going to have?’ But if you are still alive and kicking, you have no choice but to wonder just that: “what kind of Monday is this going to be?

Was I going to pass the time feeling sorry for myself? I know that it doesn’t do any good, but I can’t help the signing the “I was” blues from time to time.  It starts with a plaintive “I was a successful (now you fill in the blank) once”. Throw in a chorus of “what did I do get to this place” and sweet harmonies of regrets and the song is just rolling. Once that tune starts it inevitably unleashes a torrent of personal shit that we selectively design for ourselves over the years of experience that we call our lives.  One ‘I was’ leads to a thousand ‘I cant’s’ and where are you then?  Lying in bed watching the golf channel at 10 in the morning in your pajamas wondering whether to shave today?  Thank god I was too motivated to ever go there.  I have way too much pride to climb back into bed, at least in the morning.  Afternoon naps are another story.

Not that I didn’t have plenty of doubts and ‘I cant’s’.  I did.  Plenty. Along with lots of ‘I won’t’ and ‘Why bothers’, the personal favorites of pride, my dear and oft-dangerous buddy, that I had to beat into submission on a regular basis.

So there I sat on cold November morning sitting looking at a computer screen again. With little else to do I reflected on the 6 months that passed since I left the working life, hoping to find some meaning in what I had done.

After I realized that finding a job was just about impossible, I looked for opportunities that would build on my experience and keep me in touch with the business world. Volunteer work, advice to businesses, anything to keep me busy and out of the house.

Through LinkedIn, the Facebook for wandering professionals, I took a position working for free, with a hint of stock in the future as bait, on a failed consumer product.  That project ended rather abruptly in October without remuneration or satisfaction when the investors/board suddenly voted to shut what was left of company down. Didn’t even get my hard costs back, not that they were many.  When I asked they just blew me off.  Told me to file a claim.

I put plenty of effort into the job and while it passed the time on a satisfactory level intellectually I wondered whether it was worth it. I couldn’t answer that question.

So why did I do it? It is important to keep the calendar alive. To create a mosaic of people and possibilities, priming the pump so that if a shot is out there you will here about it.  Not that there was back then. But no matter how much I disliked this aspect of creating opportunities there is little choice.  For some strange reason I was comfortable branding and marketing products but never myself.  I had to get over that.

After that uplifting review of the past, it was easy enough to do some Yoga that day, anything else felt good.  The morning walk was uneventful and uninspired.  The white dog with brown ears raced ahead oblivious to command and barked without reason or control.  The Ipod, eerily prescient of my mood responded with a shuffle package that matched the mood of the day, unfocused with tinges of grey mixed in with moments of blue sky clarity spiced with sparks of thunderous anger.

Here is the Ipod shuffle of that day:

-‘Down by the River’, Neil Young.  Yes, I shot her dead.  Dead.  I could think of some people I would like to shoot too.

-What’s so funny ‘bout Peace Love and Understanding, Nick Lowe.  I could never answer this plea either.

-Fools Must Die, the Pretenders, Loose Screw.  Between Chrissie Hynde’s voice, attitude, and the title, you can guess the rest.

-Moment’s Notice, John Coltrane.  Frantic, fast exhilarating, a man in control of the power within.

-Company In My Back.  Wilco, Live, Kicking Television.  Never sure what this song meant, but it sounds pissed at the business world like I was.

-Black Waves. The Shins, Wincing the Night Away.  Haunting and haunted.

-A Noite Sem Fim’. Suba, Sao Paulo Confessions.  How can someone make Brazil seem so dark and menacing?  So far from the joy of Samba or Carnival. Brooding and deeply rhythmic.

-‘Those Three Days’. Lucinda Williams, World Without Tears.  Does any woman sound more betrayed then she does?  Strange for me to like something so country.

-‘Where the Streets Have No Name’.  U2, Joshua Tree.  Total alienation punctuated by the Edge’s slashing guitar.

-‘Blues Man’, BB King, Blues on the Bayou.  So the session ends with a true blues Buddha, at home with himself and his music.  At peace in the world, all honey and molasses in his voice picking his notes with love.  When we saw him in concert he played less and talked a lot and poked fun at himself for doing so.

As he said, “I’m 86.  I can do what I want.”

So the walk didn’t help much. By the time I reached home my anxiety levels were climbing steadily as the bile in my stomach churned and the day had just begun.  A nice way to kick things off for the week.

After a second cup of coffee, always a good way to calm myself and my stomach, I pulled into the mancave and sat down.  My mind was racing back and forth, worried about money and where it was going to come one moment and how to find personal happiness the next.  You know, keeping it simple and balanced.

But this week I was sticking to the plan so I sat down and tried to begin another focused meditation. As my eyes closed my thoughts wandered like the marker on a Ouija board, pushed along by unknown forces in my subconscious until it came to rest in the usual safe and happy place.  Food.

It’s not like I was hungry either.  Inside my brain food just won’t shut up.

Many of the Eastern texts refer of the existence of a third eye, a point in the middle of your forehead equidistant between your two eyebrows.  Holy figures are routinely depicted with this third eye.  It represents the teacher inside of you, perception and imagination.  It is your center.

It seems that my focus is on a lesser-known but equally sacred space.  I swear that I have a fourth eye, located between my chest and my waist at the center of my belly button.  My fourth eye of enlightenment symbolizes the contrasting yins and yangs of hunger and satisfaction.  It guides my days and is a constant source of wonder and never-ending pleasure.  Food is my center.

As I relaxed and allowed my mind to clear, my attention eventually alighted upon one of the most unusual foods in the world.  A symbol of complete transformation. Capable of changing from a bitter acrid vegetable that can bring a man to tears to a source of sweet caramel viscous pleasure with just a little attention and care.  That and judiciously applied heat.  Not only that, a completely indispensible ingredient in any kitchen.

Think about this for a moment. How many recipes start out with these simple words:

“Chop an onion”.

I can’t count them.

So I let my meditation joyously fly off into the world of these beautiful and oft misunderstood humble orbs. At first I visualized various onions.  My thoughts moved through images of onions of all sizes, from brown to red and then to white.  Then the round onions became deep red long torpedoes that morphed into green leeks, brown shalots and finally green scallions.  I saw bins full of white cippolinis, brown Maui sweets and Walla Wallas.  The meditation ended with a series of visions of raised beds of perfectly arranged chives, bright green threads poking out from the soil as beautiful to me as any rose or tulip as their bright purple flowers emerged.  I felt better already.

Throughout the week I reveled in the changes that onion goes through on its little journey from tear jerker to honeyed heaven. Before you can chop that onion you have to peel it.  I did, slowly, peeling layer after layer back witnessing the perfect symmetry and geometry. Then I chopped and I chopped and when done I did it again.   I would cut my imaginary onion in half on a large wooden cutting board.  Then I quartered it.  Peeled away the outer layer.  Held the quarter firmly keeping fingers out of the way of a very sharp knife.  Sliced across the quarters until all are done.  Cut across again and again until ready.  Boom.

While many men may never have cried in their lives they are no match for its power and neither was I.  As I came back to the room I thought I felt a tear in my eye. But it could have been my imagination.

On the third day of meditation I gently moved the onions from the cutting board and into the frying pan.  Heard the gentle popping noise as the hot oil beings it’s work. Witnessed the miraculous transformation occurs as the smelly fiery onion is slowly transformed into a golden brown sweet mass.  Saw the heat breaking down the sugars in the onion and bringing them to surface, caramelizing the formerly evil bulb. Then I lost discipline and moved the cooked onions onto a bun draped over a perfectly grilled Italian sausage in a long bun.  So what. I let the mind wander freely.  I let the onion wherever it wants to go.

For those of us love the stinky bulbs as I do the next choice was pretty obvious. I repeated this dance again with onion’s second cousin. Garlic.  Peeled them and smelled my fingers.  Smashed them into pulp. Baked them whole in the oven in a clay pot until they became a brown butter like no other that I squeezed from their pods.  Spread them on crispy rustic toasts.

The week witnessed another transformation.  I finally followed my own advice and created a marketing plan to build my food consulting business.  Step 1 was to find a name and step 2 was to build a website so people could see what it was that I did.  I named the company and began building a simple site.  It felt better than I thought it would.  I felt like I was coming out of a long and powerful funk.

Friday’s meditation was completely unexpected. It featured a guest appearance by someone who hadn’t invaded my thoughts in years.

In the middle of the meditation, in which I was preparing an onion soup, I was struck by a powerful image.  It was that of a middle-aged man in a white wife beater T-shirt.  He was standing in the middle of an all too familiar kitchen eating a large onion raw just as you would an apple.  He held a water glass filled with vodka to chase it down.  He was smiling a devious grin.

It was my father.  And that, believe me, is another subject entirely.

Onion soup (with thoughts of La Sweet’s Papa who first introduced me to the power of this dish in their basement kitchen in Northern France.)

Ingredients;

4 good sized onions of your choice.

4 cups stock, chicken is fine but beef is better.

1 slice of stale bread per serving.

Grated gruyere cheese.  Any good melting cheese can be substituted such

Lots of Olive Oil.

Peel the onions and slice them into quarters.  Cutting across each quarter and slice them into thin strips.  In a large sauce pan add the olive oil and just before smoking stir in the onions.  Cook until brown stirring only as needed until they are caramelized.

As the onions brown heat the stock.  Add the browned onions and cook for a minimum of 5 minutes on medium heat.  The longer you cook the better.

If you have a bowl that will stand up under a broiler, then ladle the soup into it, place a piece of bread on top and cover with grated cheese.  Broil to brown.

If not, before serving toast the bread.  Fill the bowl, place bread in it and cover with cheese.  Melt in microwave or grate fine so the heat of the soup will melt the cheese.  Not a preferable method as you lose the crispness of the broiled cheese but acceptable.


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