Sunday, September 27, 2009

Rosh Hashanah, The Road to Hell and Me - Part 2

Fair Warning: This blog entry is not only long and contains a whole bunch of religion, it is the second half of a very long blog entry containing a whole bunch of religion that started here.

There are people for whom religion fits like a glove, they grew up in it, it gives form to their lives, it is wholly integrated and does not take any thought, but deeply informs who they are. There are people for whom religion is the form the light inside them takes, I always sense that they would shine with that inner light no matter what practice they chose, but if there is an involved God, or Savior I would think that they would be honored to be served by people who were so wholly bright in this world.

I am not either of those people. I know myself well enough to know that I will not ever be either of those people. But I also know I am something else, like a bad fantasy novel, no matter how far I run from who and what I am it slams up against me and I know the answer. Jonah and I, you can throw us overboard, but it's to save you. We have no choice. Jonah needed to go to Ninevah and say what he was commanded to say to people who were not his co-religionists. This pissed him off, but I like to think I would be smarter than Jonah and would not think I could run away from a divine being who was everywhere. However, I may have some evidence to the contrary, so I suppose I'm lucky that God does not talk to me directly and I have no idea where Ninevah is. If that ever happens I promise not to endanger gentile sailors or get overly attached to trees. But I do know one thing, everyone else can choose what they would like to be or not be and more power to them. I have to be Jewish. The world is the whale.

That doesn't mean everyone else has to be, and it doesn't mean that any of the other Jews have to be Jewish the way I am.

I'm not sure they could if they wanted to.

But I have had a problem this year, and a bit of the year before - which I will go into in more detail for the Kol Nidre entry. The thing you need to know about me for this entry is that I'm like a Jew raised by extremely spiritual wolves. Extremely spiritual wolves from Riga Latvia that are very matriarchal.

But wolves nonetheless.

The other thing you need to know is that this year Rosh Hashanna fell on my wedding anniversary.

So now we begin. I apparently will dance around the confessional part of the story a little bit and put it into Kol Nidre.

I am now a bit uncomfortable in services. The problem with High Holy Day services started several years ago. When I was first brought in from the forest and the windows filled the main sanctuary with light, and I saw the sun gleam off the Torah Scrolls, and I could sing all the prayers in the right tune, the ark (Aron Kodesh) would open and just the sight of those scrolls in their cupboard would bring me to tears. Because I knew that the scrolls were made the same exact way for 3000 years, using the same quality control. If you weren't sure about that, you could find out from the Torah Project that was used for the Dead Sea Scroll project when they gathered them from around the world, from all the different time periods that stillhad surviving Torah Scrolls extant and they only found 3 minor variations in 3 scrolls.

Books, commentary, talmuds and prayerbooks had massive variations (although not as many as English Bibles), but not Torah scrolls. There are rituals that guide what you may and may not do, there are checks and balances and they kept Torah in check despite human nature, disasters and diasporas.

The words of Torah are written by Man and they are not the Whole Book, but they are still True. In a very deep and human and still divine way. They are Man attempting to process God's Communication. Not Magical Sky Fairy God. All-of-the-Universe-trying-to-communicate-with you,-you-silly-human-God. Torah is our best attempt to try to parse it our for those who didn't hear it. Some of the people who heard it were prophets, some of the people who heard it were Judges or Kings, and some of the people who heard it chose to think they heard something else.

Its important for you to know that I truly believe that we are compelled to become better than we are, we are not fully what we can be yet. I do not know if a single entity is behind it, but I believe that drive to be more than sheep comes from something, and for lack of a better term because my relgion happens to use an existing word for it, I'll call that something God. I will also call the Universe God, I will also call the drive itself God. I believe they are all one, and so are we.

Deep down I believe everyone one of us is free inside. Otherwise there would be no choices. For me every choice is also God. Because I am a monotheist, so God has to encompass everything, there is no competing evil force. There is no wholly good force. There is only God. The top of the ark ( which is like a really fancy Cabinet) has words on top of it

"Da Lifnei mi attah omed"

"Know before whom you stand."

It's an incredible statement to me. It's not just about God, it's about everything. Think about it for a minute.

"Know before whom you stand."

Now take a minute and look into a mirror and think about it.

Now go volunteer at a senior citizens center and when you ask someone if they need help think about it.

When you see a homeless person think about it.

"Da Lifnei mi attah omed"

It's a Shofar call.

So when I was with my community, I could hear the hum of the Universe in the holy mumble of my fellow congregants. I could learn and fall and struggle and succeed with them. And I was happy to fast with them and stand for eight hours in prayer, because I knew we could have discussions about the nature of God or the prayers and questing. Because even if we were at different places and stages, we could learn together.

We were each our own individual people sharing a congregation. Questing using the same guidebook for different routes and maybe even different locations. I never felt the need to be less than myself there.

And then we moved. We merged somewhere else and the filtering began somewhere in my heart, and the murmurs I heard in the sanctuary mixed with the prayers weren't the kind the encouraged conversations about the text, and there were so many people that it didn't matter anymore if I were there or not. Not for the community, it only mattered for me.

That's no small thing, but it was an erosion and also an obstacle.

If you knew me from before, and I told you I was doing the second night service on a moutatin top with some Cherokee friends of mine. You'd say - "ah there goes that Drinne again" ( or you wouldn't because I don't think anyone from my synagouge reads the blog so you would use a different name.) And you would ask me to tell you about it when I got back.

But here - if you weren't one of the rabbis - you would tell me that I had to be in THIS building for the second night, full of all the people who felt the same way about it, but didn't think they had to be there for the other 52 weeks of shabbat services, or the 365 days of minyan ( ten people have to get together every single day to enable some prayers).

We go from 300 or so people to 3000. I am not kidding - each of our sanctuarys holds 1800. Yes, that number is on purpose. In the summer the number can be as low as 75. We need those 2700 people. I do not begrudge them this time they made out of their lives to reconnect but I cannot hear anything but them when I pray there. It's too crowded for me to hear the universe. I can only hear the silly humans. It limits me to being a silly human myself.

For four years I kept going without realizing what was happening, and then the anxiety attacks during services started.

And for a while I blamed other things, but it was a kind of cancer, and it was spreading. And then I realized that perhaps, the Universe was trying to tell me something and I was making a mess of the translation. So right now I'm trying to figure it out, so I stepped back.

I thought the way I would fix it was by forcing myself to be around people for the services. I had turned down an invitation for a friend because of the second nigh obligations. And then I learned how to ride a bike and Elul came. I knew I was not going to fix it at synagogue.

You see the problem was never them. It never is. It was me. I had forgotten how to be fully me hour to hour, without any compelling reason to be more. Until I relearned that, I would not be able to reconnect to the organized part of the religion - which I also need for other reasons, but one of those reasons stopped being to feed my soul.

Know before whom you stand.

So I made a decision, and I told my friend, and asked if it was OK for me to add my rituals to his. And he said cool, and I told him I would bring round foods, and we would burn things.

And under the open sky in the Fall air I would eat my apples and honey and listen to the holy babble of these other voices not praying and I would hear God which is the Universe. I had reason to believe that I needed to be there more than synagogue.

But as I've mentioned before, I wouldn't make that kind of choice for anyone else.

Then someone else called. She is much more ritually observant than I am. She asked what I was doing, I didn't tell her the whole truth - I told her what I was planning. I didn't explain that I was trying to rebuild faded bits of my world again (it gets tiring and feels a bit promethean to do it so often). And I gave her the information and told her on impulse she was welcome to come. She said yes!

It was a little shocking actually, to blend my worlds this way. Bringing my rituals with me is one thing, bringing someone who performs the same rituals that isn't already there was new. It was like being exposed in a way that could never happen at synagouge. There, I am wearing their costumes, we share symbols and pretend we think they mean the same things. (We all know they don't. It's a friendly pretending.) Where we were going the symbols will only mean what I chose them to mean, because I will be the one explaining them, because they are mine, not shared. It's like being spiritually naked. I can't pretend they don't mean anything to me, because I brought them. I can't pretend that I'm doing something everyone else does, because a part of the everyone else came with me.

Hmmn. If I were the type to believe that God spoke directly to me I might have to be the type that believed that the Universe saw a way to help both me and this other person during the Days of Awe. Sometimes you need to be outside the walls to appreciate the architecture.

However, if we believed in a Hell, I would surely be leading my new friend into it, because Hell always seemed like a tool that priests used to threaten people into seeing God their way. I was most certainly leading her away from the priests. But I was glad she was there, because maybe, I would be able to pray outside with her again someday. And maybe we could convince 8 other people who want to pray outside too. My practice of Judaism is sometimes very lonely, which is odd for a religion that's really about being around other people.

So on the first night - we celebrated Shabbat. And Rosh Hashanna. It is my fourth wedding anniversary. The Traditonal Gift is fruit and the color is blue. So we incorporated that too. The Poppets and I took care of both symbols as part of the festive meal . . . .

. . . . and a gift for my Perfectly Normal Husband.

I went to synagogue and the luncheon with friends afterwards and shared my Tzimmes, which as you know, brings all the Boys to the Yard.

And then on Talk like a Pirate Day, the second day of Rosh Hashanna, I packed my family and friends into a Minivan with a great deal of camping equipment, 6 Perfectly Kosher Quiches and we travelled to the house of a Ranger friend of mine. He had also come to the conclusion that he was allowing himself to disappear, and he was not going to let that continue.

So in preparation for inviting his friends into his world, he built a bridge.

He made it himself.

There is a tradition on Rosh Hashanna to wear new clothinng on the second day. This is because the reason there are two days is due to the pesky lunar calander issue. We didn't really know for sure when the "day" started because it was based on moonrise in Israel and we were in Diaspora, so the rabbis being the better-safe-than-sorry types said "Fine, make it two days!" The women can just cook twice as much before hand, so it will be cool. "But wait!" said some other rabbis "What if we're wrong and you say the blessing for new things?" So they said - "Hey in order to make sure you aren't wasting blessings( one of the real meaning of taking God's name in vain) we will introduce a new fruit and the person saying the blessing should wear something new."

So I was wearing a new something and I had a pomegranate which I had not eaten this year for the second day.

Let me say that this is the first time in my life I found an outfit that I could wear to formal services and then go camping in.

You make sure you do the "new" stuff at candle-lighting. So if it was really one long day you were saying the Kiddush blessing over the fruit, and the Shehecheyanu prayer over the clothes. If it was really two days then the prayers would be for the Rosh Hashannah service.

There really isn't a secret why there are so many Jewish lawyers, look at what we have to figure out just to make sure a prayer isn't violating a rule.

Since Shabbat and Rosh Hashanna were at the same time for the first day I combined candle lighting and Havdallah with the place where I was and the people I was with.

The Shehecheyanu prayer goes like this:

Blessed are you Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe Who has given us life and sustained us and brought us to this day.

See how that works - we thank God for the basic stuff and appreciate whatever it is as something separate from God. God didn't give us the new fruit, we got it but the Universe didn't destroy us yet and the Universe gave us form to appreciate it. Yay God!

We waited until three stars had appeared and the fire spinners began to spin and we sang our prayers quietly at first and then audibly when those who were with us asked us to hear them.

These were our candles:

They have mulitple strands involved in their construction so they count for Havdallah too.

Then we had our festive meal and shared our apples and honey and others shared their apple cider and honey mead with us and we said the blessings over all of them.

We brought our huge challahs with us and shared them around the campfire, we dipped some into honeymead and said the blessings for them too.

Yehi ratzon she-t'hadesh alenu shana tovah un'tuckah

May it be Your will to renew us for a year that will be good and sweet.

And the people who were with us, who did not share our religion, shared our desire for peace and fellowship and sweetness.

We spent time talking about the service, and explaining the nature of atonement. We sang niggun (wordless melodies that are still prayer) and played Rosh Hashanna bingo (what accidently ends up connecting to Rosh Hashanna just because of where we are and who we are with.)

We explained why we came to them instead of staying where we were supposed to and I wondered if I were just here because I was one up on Jonah. Having come to Ninevah, I had found that they wanted to know and I wanted to explain, and my friend was there so it wasn't only me.

The next morning we did most of the service outside on our host's handmade bridge over running water, hearing birds sing and rivers rush.

Our Saccharit (morning service) we did by ourselves before almost everyone else was up. We broke camp and then we said all of the prayers you can say without a minyan, because while a minyan of fellow beings is fine by me, there is only so far off the beaten path I will lead someone else.

There was one flaw in our evil plot - we forgot the shofar! It was sitting behind at the House with the Reds. The Most Adventurous Red was with us of course. But we did have to scramble when we got home to make sure we sounded it before Rosh Hashanna was over.

We talked about parental bonds and responsibilities and convenants and what it meant to keep and break them, and the consequences either way.

And we celebrated the Ranger's birthday with Jello Cake, which I had never had before.

It tastes like childhood.

His mother makes it for him and he makes sure to only have it on his birthday, so that way it always stays special and he can never get sick of it.

So he completely understands the way of rituals and religions. It consists of reminders to keep things special and celebrate the wonders of surviving another year.

I think the friend who travelled with me down my less trod path survived with her soul intact. She went to tashlict which I will describe some other time with her Chavura group, and my next prayer was said with the scent of campfires in my brain.

It's the only group of fires I need to worry about, since luckily I have no priests to condem me to hell, but I think that perhaps Jonah should have lightened up. Maybe going to Ninenvah was supposed to be for him, not just for them.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Rosh Hashanah, The Road to Hell and Me - Part 1

Fair Warning - This is a long post that includes a bunch of religion.

Sunray was the very first Poppet that was mine.

She lives in the ceremonial bowl and plate that we use at Rosh Hashanna, and during the year that plate sits on the silver platter etched with the signatures of people we love who shared my wedding day.

Rosh Hashanah, my wedding, poppets. Hmmn. I'm not sure how much more symbolic it can get. Let's look at some art history - I'm sure it could get more symbolic - for instance in the early Middle Ages when actors were playing someone dead they wore yellow. But currently the color is associated with creativity and intellect. Yellow is considered a color of wisdom, however in 10th century France it got a bad rep because it was used to identify where criminals lived.

Different symbols - new associations - apples and honey for Rosh Hashanna and the Fiona Apple song Criminal . . . . I am getting ahead of myself and it's dangerous to invite you all too far into my fevered, struggling brain, attached to my fevered struggling soul, which is trying to hold together my tattered self. This is about Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Days of Awe, and for it to mean anything outside of my head there needs to be context.

So we'll go back to Poppets - a common context for people who know me now or met me here.

I accquired Sunray because I was Time Travelling, taking a step back to a world I had been a part of as a favor to a friend. And while I was there I saw a piece of art in an ad for Lisa Snelling's called "Brave New Soup".

I knew immediately that it was a skilled and professional thing and that it was going to be even better in real life. I showed the ad to anyone who would listen to ask about the artist, because it was very unusual for an ad to be in an event like that without the artist being present.

I needed to see the artist's work. The blue balloon with the one little being on the end, I can't even put it into words what it makes me feel. But while I was infatuated I wasn't obsessed. Not until dinner.

I showed my program and the ad to the friend who had brought me back to this time and place, explaining the effect the sculpture had on me, how compelling the little beings were. Had he seen anything like this here? He took out one of the little beings from his pocket and put it on the table.

"You mean this?"

My brain exploded as the Poppet sat in the middle of the table changing the negative space and the dimensions around it. I was 6 years old playing in my room. I was 9 years old looking at Hello Kitty for the first time trying to understand the impelling pull of the offputting Cute, that now has a name of it's own in Japan ("moe" for those who don't know), I was 15 staring into a fire, I was 33 in art school putting my life back in place learning the formal names for things I had been doing my whole life learned at my mother's shoulder, because I watched her at a distance and from behind.

If this is what crack does to you, I might understand addiction better now. I did manage a coherent sentence.

"You mean they come in component pieces?!"

It was a Little Red Poppet - Here he is.

The rest of that story is for some other time. But the end result is that only some of Lisa's work was where I was, but everyone I was involved with there knew her or had a Poppet. I knew I was hopeless and desperately thought that perhaps if I could just get a Poppet of my own I could manage to behave like a normal human being for a while. Sunray was the Poppet I could get without depriving anyone else of a Poppet. It did work, I felt the grip of addiction fading. It's almost like I was afraid that without tangible evidence, the artist, her work and what it was doing to me would disappear, and it was in that moment that there was a part of me honestly aware that I was well into the process of disappearing too. I had been for some time.

Time Travel, in case you are not aware, is very dangerous.

When I brought Sunray home she needed a place to live, I let her choose and she told The Boy of the House and the Girl of the House finished the job by arming her with the Honey Wand. So the first Poppet in the house was also the first Poppet to choose to live in one of our ritual objects.

As more Poppets came in they tended to settle by our other ritual objects and although they are most certainly outside of religion, I cannot comfortably explain to you how Judaically inflected my Poppet Experiences have been. Of course that might also be because of the connection to Peter S. Beagle's story in Strange Roads and the conversation he and I both had about growing up with family members who were artists in New York during a certain era. Same weekend. Different story.

The Reds, when they were 4 decided that they were going to live by the Boy's Shofar.

That's the Most Adventurous Red up there in the Shofar itself. After he got his first chip. This picture is less than a year old. There are more Reds in the Shofar now. If you were wondering why the Reds don't live in Poppetropolis, it's because they like to visit but they prefer to hang here.

You know one of the things that come with Poppets is the saying "Wake Up!". The purpose of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah is also "Wake Up!" The Shofar lives in the dining room and we see it every day, because we share our meals there. The Reds, I think like to be there because it's the thing in the House that is closest to their nature.

So now that I've given some background on the Poppet angle I will provide some background on the religious angle.

What the heck are you talking about when you say "Days of Awe?"

Most people know about Yom Kippur which is the Day of Atonement, but many people don't know that it's the end of a holiday period and not the beginning of one. Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the new year of the Jewish Calendar - Happy New Year - have a great 5770!

Actually, it was last weekend on Friday night, but it takes a little while to process things. We run autumn to autumn on our calendar for two reasons, one is that it's harvest based and two is that we're a lunar calendar. Rosh Hashanna begins the period of time where we are supposed to spend the next 10 days making sure everything is together and set up right for the next year. It's the reset button. It's the closest thing we have to confessional. It's our renewal and the same way the Western World celebrates their new year with Champagne and parties we celebrate with apples and honey. We do it to symbolize the hopes for a sweet and fruitful year.

I've mentioned we're about food and fire right?

Sometimes we're about noise, that's why there's a Shofar.

We also blow the Shofar. What the heck is that? Well it's a ram's horn and if you remeber the story of Joshua blowing down the walls of Jericho you may think that it was a miracle, but the rabbis themselves will tell you it's more the kind of miracle that helps you win a battle today than the kind where God waggles his pinky fingers and the walls fell.

Have you heard a Ram's Horn? It's pretty awesome really. But it's a communication device and a military signal. If your read the book of Joshua you will see that he was waging a very sophisticated psychological battle both with Jericho and with the future Israelites. He built up to that moment. It wasn't a David and Goliath kind of thing, and he had a pretty big army, a cadre of ram's horn blowing priests and he waited until the seventh day to add the peice de resistance - having the entire nation in waiting of Israel shout at the same time the horn blew. "And the walls of Jericho came down flat" which is a military description, my friends.

That shout was not the "YOP!" from Horton hears a Who. That shout was the battle cry CHARGE! from an extremely successful desert general of a dispossessed people that had NEVER been slaves.

Hell yeah the walls fell flat - he'd sent and army up against them from the outside, spied on their condition from the inside and scared the hell out of the population on the other side. Joshua gave them so much warning that he was coming for them that I'm sure they were tunneled under by the population of Jericho who were trying to get out before Joshua's crew got in.

But most people think God did it. Or that Joshua did it. Or modern people think it proves that God is a meanie because he had Joshua completely and utterly destroy the population of the city. But it's not that simple 3 or 4,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent where life is cheap but water is not. By destroying the "impenetrable" Jericho, Joshua was able to avoid unnecessary warfare later. By protecting and keeping his word to Rahab, a woman who had no claim to him other than his personal honor, he was also announcing to all future foes that he would stand by his agreements. That's more than a lot of other warlords then or now can say. It's not a miracle, it's excellent strategy though, and a lesson in how not to let necessary destruction become the excuse for unnecessary destruction.

And it is part of the call of the Shofar. Sometimes when I hear it I can smell outside air and see armies. It is heart stirring, and adrenaline rushing. If you are a peacenik hippie liberal Jew and you can still deny that the warrior culture is part and parcel of our past, along with our agrarian and tribal culture you are not just willfully blind, you are probably also not being honest with yourself about other things. A culture, and a religion are not just made up of the parts you like, they are made up of all the parts, good and bad, perfect and imperfect, experienced and aspired to. Otherwise they would just be a series of fables instead of something you can't escape from.

If you can't accept that it's OK, but please don't try to tell me how to be religious, because I would rather work my way through the troublesome one than the one that is always apples and honey. If you need God to be the one who knocked down the walls then you might also be the one who ignores that Jericho was destroyed. If you can't accept that Jericho was destroyed for a larger strategic purpose you might also mistake God for the type of thing that you pray to for a new puppy instead of the thing that is unquantifiable and insists that you be a full human being.

The rabbi in our very modern world will call out the shofar blasts and then the horn will sound.

Here is the service by a cantor in Skokie Illinois, if you are going to play this don't have your volume up loud. If you want to hear it the way it sounds to us in the room when someone is calling, crank it to 11 baby!

If you are Jewish and can stand in Skokie or Alaska or NY and hear this, and not feel some sort of sense of urgency, then by all means, stay asleep. If you can hear this and not feel the passage of time, the acknowledgement that in this world of electronics and light and mechanization that our religion and our culture is MUCH, MUCH older than the way we think of it, by all means stay dunderheaded. If you are confused by it . . . . good. That's a much better start.

Then when you get all settled into understanding the warrior of it all, you should also remember that the shofar was also used for shepherding. It was the communication tool that you used when you were very far away from your settlements with your flock to let them know where you were, whether you were safe or in danger. It was used so that when you were all alone with no one but sheep, someone could hear you and respond.

The Shofar is not just a symbol of our call to action but it is also a symbol of our call to the world and beyond when we are alone. It's never "YOP" but sometimes it is indeed "We are Here! We are Here!"

It is the same item, for wartime or peacetime, a shofar doesn't change. The purpose it is being used for does. People who are using it do.

Hearing the shofar makes me cry very, very complicated tears.

So does Brave New Soup.

Back to the House

Of all the Poppets who come here alone or in groups until recently Sunray was alone, none of the other Poppets were really part of her temperament or story until this Spring, shortly after Passover.

Last year, she alone celebrated the holiday with us. She was given a place of honor at the table and included in all of our observances. Her "Wake Up" is a different tone and we appreciated her last year when I had a crowd of family and friends over for the holiday.

This year the family was by itself but Sunray had friends. It was an inversion of a sort.

The bowl is filled with honey, it is completely appropriate for Sunray and her friends who have not yet told me their names. Although the blue one may be Chibi. The Boy picked Wildflower Honey instead of Clover Honey. We will see what it means for the year.

The blessing said over the apples and honey is "Blessed are you Ruler of the Universe, may it be your will that we are renewed for a good and sweet year."

Tradition is that every year during the Days of Awe, God is opening the Book of Life and writing out the things that will affect our lives over the next year. Who will live, who will die, who will be born, who will fall sick. We greet each other during this period of time with the words "L'shana Tovah" which means "for a good year" but it's shorthand for a longer greeting that works out to "May you be written in for a good year"

If you are a non-religious person reading this, allow me to reassure you that we don't really believe in a bearded white magical sky fairy with a giant book that sounds like Santa Claus. It's a metaphor and an allegory. It's a way to deal with the things that are unknown in life and it makes the concept of predetermination or of an omnipotent god meaningless.

Even God is bound by Time in Judaism. God doesn't map out your whole life before you're born. You can't predict what is going to happen to you because it hasn't been decided. Only your span of days is decided, even that can change year to year.

The Book of Life, if you needed to believe in that Magical Sky Fairy isn't much of a comfort because you still can only make the case for each year. Even if God is doing the accounting, you are still the one responsible for filling the coffers to make the case. Every year baby, no get out of sin free cards.

God is thinking about you during these ten days so that you think about you. If the book were real, what would it say? Is it a story you would like to have read if it were your last entry?

Right. That's what the Days of Awe are for. A chance to reflect and decide what you would like to be written next year, and what you would like to edit from this year.

This year, we got double whammied. Rosh Hashann also started on Shabbat. So we had a special meal on top of our special meal.

So I got to use some more ritual objects.

And we serve round foods to show the eternal wheel of Time and the cycle of seasons. Also it's full of raisins and there is nothing wrong with that. We usually have two loaves of braided egg bread on Shabbat to symbolize the double portion so we got to use two round loaves instead.

Pomegranates are Strange, which is important to the holiday as well. Pomegranates were used as holy symbols on lots of things including the priests robes. Sukkot is a big pomegranate holiday - it's after the High Holy Days.

The thing to remember about religions is that they are really mnemonics for how to be an awake and aware, decent, human being. They are referred to by some people as the opiate of the masses, however many of the same people who would use that term to denigrate religion would also advocate the use of such substances to alter their states of consciousness for creativity.

I do not disagree with either position actually. Opiates are multilayered. They can help heal, they can deaden, they can be used recreationally with little impact, they can destroy your life, they can open your mind, they can prevent any coherent thought. They can prevent you from wanting to kill yourself, they can kill you.

This is the background of my Days of Awe, the poppets and shofars and apples that informed the beginning of my mandatory self evaluation. It's complicated, like opiates, like religion, like art.

The Required Questing. Next I will stop dancing around events and tell what happened this year. Confession in Judaism is public, not private. It's not a shocking story at all, just a private and struggling one and best understood if you know the holiday and it's symbols.

Until then L'shana Tovah.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My Tzimmes Brings All the Boys to the Yard

Pronunciation Guide - Tzimmes (tzim-MESS)
Definition -slow cooked stewy-like goodness

My Tzimmes brings all the Boys to the Yard, and they're like
"It's better than yours"
Damn Right! It's better than yours.
I could teach you, but I'd have to charge.

But it's Rosh Hashanah and I'm feeling generous. So the Pumpkin Spice Poppet and I will teach you for the minor cost of your time and the pedagogic teaching that comes with the recipe.

Rosh Hashana this year falls on Shabbat. Shabbat is full of all sorts of rules. They're important. Rosh Hashana has a bunch of rules too. So when you get the "double mitzvah" of a holiday falling on Shabbat you get RulesFest. Although there are some rules that are I think in need of revisiting I am hesitant to tinker with the thing for everyone, because baselines in Judaism are about history and following the rules makes you walk the history.

Your people's past is your present and not just the stuff where everyone hates you. Keeping all the rules can isolate you from the outside world, which I do not approve of, but I do believe you should try to learn all the rules, before you make a decision on what is too much you need to know why it is there. This is one of the reasons organized Judaism is in a bit of a pickle right now. The people who created the movements of Reform, Conservative (Maosorti) and Modern Orthodox all had fully Orthodox educations. They were not reforming or modifying from rebellion but from a position of knowledge and a love of those laws.

But people now haven't really got the whole history of these laws, because frankly learning that much stuff takes a lot of time and most modern Jews outsource the intense studying to the rabbis, which creates a bit of an imbalance because rabbis were supposed to have day jobs and now they can't. They study so you don't have to. It's a lot of pressure. People just do what they say instead of understanding why they are saying it. It's too much power. Some of them crack. Save a rabbi - study Talmud.

I'll bet you're wondering what that has to do with Tzimmes. Everything.

Judaism is about Food and Fire. And Time.

Tzimmes takes care of all three.

4 Large Sweet Potatoes - I use giant Yams. - Peeled and Diced
1 Butternut Squash - Small - Yes it has to be butternut - you can see the squash with Pumpkin Spice in the second picture - It looked smal to me. - Peeled and Diced
4 Granny Smith Apples - I believed that the first time I made this recipe and then I determined that they were incorrect - so I use 5. Peeled, Cored and Diced ( not so fast there pardner - read all the way through first)
Dried, pitted prunes - halved
1/3 cup of water
1/3 cup of Sweet Passover Wine ( I refuse to buy Maneshevitz Passover wine, I'm Jewish but I still have a palate dammit, I use King David when I'm making it for someone other than my family and just tried Port for when I'm making it for home. )
1/3 cup of sugar
1/2 a teaspoon of ground nutmeg
1/2 a teaspoon of ground ginger.

This Tzimmes is important because you're not supposed to light a new flame on Shabbat, but you're not allowed to put out a flame that was left unextinguished after Shabbat starts. You are prohibited from doing "work" which was initially defined as things that were done to build the temple. One day a week, time was suspended and you could not "make" you had to "be" instead.

But of course there were logistics problems with just being - for instance apparently you were also supposed to celebrate with foods. There's a big deal between the Sadducees and the Pharisees about whether or not you were allowed to have a flame at all - since we have warm foods, that's how you know that the Pharisees won. For the record , the preaching that Jesus did in the red word bible indicates that he was on the Pharisees' side of the big arguments so when he was calling them out, it was more like when Democrats tell other Democrats that they're hypocrites because they aren't doing enough.

So yeah, we have warm food on Shabbat, because the Pharisees won, and the way we have it is by working like lunatics before sundown, having everything ready and keeping the ancient equivalent of a hot plate going. Then you put the Tzimmes on it and pretend you're not working to serve the meal. Because feeding people wasn't considered part of building, but you couldn't cook from scratch because that was creating, and the 7th day is a no-creation zone. But Rosh Hashanah is supposed to be an even fancier meal - so this recipe is full on FANCY.

This tzimmes is so beloved by my friends that I have been asked to supply it to several meals I will not be attending - I wasn't bragging. I was being fully and completely honest. My Tzimmes brings all the boys to the yard, and the vegetarians, and the foodies, and people who love sweet potatoes . . .

There are other Tzimmes that are meat based and savory. This is savory/sweet.

So here are some of the tricks - when you go to buy the large sweet potatoes get the really large mutant looking ones about the size of newborn baby heads. Cook them in the microwave at 8 minutes per potato - because they are huge. You'll still have to peel them but they will be the right consistency. I dice them in 1.5 inch chunks because they usually have to be served with a number of other foods that have been slow cooked and I like them to have some heft.

Butternut squash is a killer. I had never cooked one before I started making this Tzimmes. My first time I tried to cut the thing up raw. What did I know. Let me tell you, if you haven't tried this - the next time I want to use something for longsword practice it will be me throwing up butternut squashes and trying to see if I can hit them in motion. Why? Because I don't think the sword will do more than dent it if it's not cooked first. I may make armour out of it.

My mom told me to nuke the squash for 10 minutes and then try. Lesson the second, let it cool for about 15 minutes. I needed to make this on no notice once, and the only place I could find butternut squash was Whole Foods and they only had pre-cut. I've never found pre-cut butternut squash there again, but I was all about prayer at that moment. "Blessed art thou O Lord Our God, Ruler of the Universe who createst pre cut squash - amien" That I should live to see such wonder!

Obviously that Tzimmes was meant to be.

For the apples I actually use a tool that was meant to be used for blooming onions to make the wedges and core the apples. Then I cut the wedges in half. This is not really diced - but frankly diced apples in a slow cooked thing become applesauce.

And finally the pitted prunes. Here's what I didn't know. People won't buy prunes because they think they are for old people and no one, including old people thinks prunes are sexy. So I'm desperately looking for dried pitted prunes and thanks to the wonders of technology I call my mother from my cell phone when reaching near hysteria in the supermarket. She tells me that they're calling them sun dried plums now and they are in the area where they keep the raisins.

Wow - the more you know.

Thanks Mom. Of course she wanted to know what I was cooking that needed prunes. I told her I'd bring some up for next Passover. It was a hit. You know something is good when your mom likes it and she didn't give you the recipe herself.

So it's three years later and now I can sometimes find prunes that are actually called prunes.

Ok, so you have all your vegetative matter in a giant bowl - it needs to be giant because it's a lot of stuff.

I use medical gloves when I'm handling food, they're disposable, they prevent cross contamination and you can still feel what you're working with. I recommend this for the next step.

The recipe tells you to mix things in the large bowl - HA! You'll break your spoon. Mix it with your hands pulling through with your fingers while sliding them down the sides of the bowl and bringing them up from the bottom. Then keep moving things in the bowl around the same way you would do meatballs. When everything looks evenly distributed stop.

Now you take the sugar, nutmeg, and ginger and mix that together in a bowl. Sprinkle the mixture over your giant bowl of stuff and then do a little of the meatball mixing thing again.

Now I will go into the politics and history of kosher wine at some other time. Suffice it to say that it's cool and I sort of understand. It's a sacrament and you don't really want to drink a sacrament made by people who were trying to kill you. However the rules grew into something else, and that is a something else I find runs counter to what I believe Judaism is supposed to do. It's a rant of sorts and won't be indulged here.

Very much like I will not ask people to believe in my religion as long as they stop trying to get me to believe in theirs, I will not ask my co-religionists to compromise their understanding of the law to accomodate mine. So I will not sneak non-kosher wine into a Tzimmes I make for other people. Not even if I think they are righteous selfish pricks that are trying to bully people with how observant they are.

However, I damn well will use port instead of sweet passover wine in mine.

Taylor Fladgate makes a kosher Ruby Porto Cordovero. It's the first real kosher port.
I say with no irony at all - "Thank you God for making a world with such port in it!"

You pour the water and the wine over the things in the bowl and then you can try mixing with a spoon or tossing it like a really massive salad until all of the things are coated with the liquid and the sugar and the spice pretty evenly or you can do the meatball mix style again.

You'll be able to see when it looks right. Or your Poppet will let you know after the inspection.

Then you are supposed to place it in a pan. Yeah, right. You place it in two pans. Cover it tightly with tin foil and a lid if you have one.

Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cool.

To serve reheat, then empty into a serving dish. Don't serve it out of the pan you cooked it in, the movement of the tzimmes into the serving dish squeezes the juice out of the fruit.

The alternative method it to take the whole shmagegee ( that's a technical term, folks) and put it in your electric crock pot. It will fill up a whole one of those suckers. Cook on medium for an hour and then turn it to low. Leave it there overnight. Come back from synagogue the next day, serve it for the festive meal that you pretend is getting there magically.

I love this recipe because it has the things you would use for fall, it has echos of American Thanksgiving, it echos and is appropriate for Passover - which is another "New Year" in the ritual calender (I'll explain that later too) and it allows me to fulfill an important part of being in a community which is sharing food and meals for the holidays.

So to bring this back to Food Fire and Time: a tzimmes lets you eat like kings without violating shabbat by prepping the food, lighting the fire and keeping through time.

I know you want it
The thing that makes me
What the boys go crazy for
They lose their minds
Cause I use good wines
I think it's time.

la la la la la la
Warm it up
la la la la la
The table's waiting

My Tzimmes brings all the Boys to the Yard, and they're like
"It's better than yours"
Damn Right! It's better than yours.
I could teach you, but I'd have to charge.

Monday, September 21, 2009

This is Elul

She's a little different. For one thing, her name has almost nothing to do with the meaning that the artist who made her was picturing.

Another thing is that she was an unexpected gift, a happy consequence of an action taken. A reminder that just because you aren't looking for things doesn't mean they aren't going to happen anyway.

The giver of the gift would not have thought of her having this name. Sometimes when the poppets arrive they wear their names themselves - The Coffee Poppets, The Greys, the Reds. Sometimes they acquire their names through acts - The Embarrassed Ambassador, The Most Adventurous Red. Sometimes they come from their creator because she needed to fill the space where their names were - Storm or Wind and then Lisa created what needed to be in the Storm space or the Wind space.

But this little one is Elul, and no one knew at all until she nudged along the edges and made it clear.

So she's the only Poppet in the House with a Not-Poppet name. At least so far.

Elul is the month before Tishrei, in the Hebrew calendar, the word derives from an Akkadian word for Harvest. Elul is when you wake up every morning to a warrior cry and open your soul prepare yourself for the 10 Days of Awe.

It is the month you visit the graves of loved ones to remember their spirits and inspire you to be more fully in the world now because time here is fleeting.

During Elul you prepare yourself to repair the things that you have broken and take stock so you can be honest with yourself and others about actions and consequences. Interestingly, although it is religious, it is not preparing yourself for being worthy of God's love, it is preparing yourself to be worthy of those who are around you here.

It is preparing yourself to be worthy, period.

I will be writing about religion for the next couple of days. It's my religion so there's no magical sky fairy or shiny castles on hills, or magical lands where dead people are happy or miserable. If you're looking for me to believe that you've got the wrong religious person - there is a really rough bar exam though.

If you're not into that you can skip me until next Tuesday. Yom Kippur will be over and the need to do this will be done.

Because I think in a very real way, this year the Poppets kept me from drifting away entirely. You cannot lie to a Poppet. So if I'm going to be real about this I shouldn't keep it separate from the blog and the poppets. If you liked the Passover with the Poppets entries, this will be similar, I'll share the history of what I'm doing, and the heresy of what I'm doing and why it matters.

Real-time atonement - and this year is different. Just like Elul - a reminder, a messenger, a different little Poppet who I wanted to join us, but I wasn't sure I would be able to get her to come.

A harbinger of harvests and souls. Bring in your crops, take stock of your actions, judge your own soul.

The word for angel in Hebrew is the same word for messenger in military and civillian human terms. There is no differentiation in Torah between the two types so some translations made every messenger divine and some translations tried to figure it out from the text.

So is Kelly who sent me the poppet the angel, or is it the Poppet herself? By correct interpretation the answer would be both. Elul is your wake up call that Tishrei is coming.

Thank you Kelly, for sending her.

My angels are tiny, dressed in black, carrying the harvest calling for my soul.


What I Did on My Summer Vacation - Table of Contents


This puts the What I Did on My Summer Vacation series links in chronological order so that you can read it like a story.

Also it allow you to find the Mushroom Soup recipe really quickly . . . .

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Last Cup of Vacation

When the last full day of vacation rolls around, you usually have to spend that day preparing for it. Which we did a little bit.

But not the usual way.

There is a ceremony at the end of Shabbat where you light a candle and sing a song and pass a beautiful spice box around the room and everyone inhales deeply. The Sabbath is separated from the rest of the week by the lighting of candles. It is the sanctification of Time, which is a very odd concept, since most religions sanctify people, or things, or and mark that sanctification with Time.

The idea behind the spices ( called besamin) is that the Sabbath is fragrant and sweet and invisible, like scent. So when we inhale the scent of the spices it is to have a sense memory that we can reach for to keep a little of the Peace and sanctified Time with us during the rest of the week. This ritual which is done at home is called Havdallah

So our last full day of Vacation we treated like a Havdallah for the Vacation. We came to find peace and separate ourselves from our workdays and learn to see with different eyes.

We took our different eyes out for a hike to the observation point.

We walked along the road that was next to the beach to start. It's New England, it's not a commercial beach and it's not the same as California beaches or southern beaches. It's beach then forest. I wonder if it's a little like Ireland.

It's the way I grew up expecting beaches to be. It's the type of shore in Poe's Annabel Lee. I know most people like Caribbean beaches, they are beautiful and warmer but there is so much beauty and variety of color here where no one is allowed to touch it and make it something to sell.
Poppets are way too short to see this view. However, poppets have a great deal of color on the beach at their own level.

We walked along the beach and studied and enjoyed the passage of time. It was clear and crisp, a beach day for hard work and sailing.
A day to breathe in scents to keep when you are back in the work year to remember that time can run at different paces.

A scent to remember when you walk the same beach next year and see the same scene, but the young man will be a different height, and a slightly different person, and you will be too. But the scent will be the same, and the dog will still be there waiting for The Boy to throw the ball into the ocean before we are permitted to continue on our way.

And slowly, the walk turns from beach into the houses at the outskirts of the beach, and then again into forest. This is what our different eyes can see on one side of the observation post.

And this is what they can see on the other:

Strange things grow in the forest.

There are wonders if you look at all the levels

And on the way back you can stop and look closely at the things you noted on your way, and think about the difference between the forest and the beach. Between the vacation and the work year, between one decade and the next.

And then you can think about the difference between the land and the sea, and celebrate them by submersing yourself in both, and if you are really, really lucky the clouds will part on your havdallah day of vacation and you will see your Very Dearest Friend and the dog in blue sky an illuminated cloud and consider yourself lucky for all of it, because you get to breathe it in with the scent and hold on to it when you get home.

And then, in the lunar calendar the day ends with sundown. Unhurriedly you prepare for the trip home on wheels and gears and electricity, and with the morning light you and the Coffee Poppets perform the real, final closing ritual of Vacation.

Good to the last cup.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Vacation as inverted by the Go-Gos

This Entry is a little rambling, like the end of a vacation. If you missed the post about the Mushroom Soup, I highly recommend you check it out. The whole recipe is being demonstrated by the Coffee Poppets.

You see I was thinking about the Go-Gos.

Did you know they were a punk group?
Yes they were. Really.

But this silly song, made with a silly video, made them a pop girl group.

It's very hard to say "no" to material success, but you can't really lie about yourself.

I wonder what would happen to them now.

Everyone would have known that they were hard core punk, because they would have a facebook following and a rating at Pitchfork.

The video of them being quite drunk and obscene would not only have come out in realtime, it would have probably made them more popular.

But only with their niche. No crossover success. I wonder if it would have been better.

The chorus is a rousing
"Vacation, All I ever wanted.
Vacation, had to get away.
Vacation, meant to be spent alone."

But the rest of the song is someone who couldn't enjoy herself because she's pining away for some jerk. So she isn't really doing anything for herself at all.

And yet, I see the song sung as a kind of ode to vacations.

I think they're doing it wrong.

Alone time is best punctuated by time with friends.

We've had some latecomers to the house.
Poppet and Cthulu came up with the second shift.

Did you know that the Cthulu stories and Miskatonic U. and such have a bit of history in Massachusetts?

The Shadow over Innsmouth takes place in an area further north than the Shipwright's House but the landscape is the same.

Poppet and Cthulu were able to find a number of locations pleasing to their sense of style to continue their reading.
This location was right in front of the house. It's been a rather damp summer here.

This Mushroom was not harmed in the preparation of the Vacation's Mushroom Soup.

I don't know what kind it is and Cthulu likes it so it's most likely either deadly, dangerous or just Not A Terribly Good Idea.

However it does give a kind of Mushroom Theme to our vacation.

The Most Adventerous Red was able to collect a number of Poppet sized Seashells.
I believe that some of these shells will find their way into Poppetropolis.

Maybe that will be the Most Adventurous Red's new way of sustaining his adventuring lifestyle.

He really doesn't seem to spend any time in Poppetropolis. It would be useless for him to have an apartment there. He'll just stay with friends. I can't really see him endorsing the Go-Go's song for vacationing.

The Steampunk Poppets also came with the second shift and they spent some time investigating the antique tools of the time honored New England Tradition of a Well Stocked Bar.
There was a vacation several years ago where all the new recipes that tried that summer were mixed drinks. I'd never been a big drinker but I was doing a lot of party planning.

It was the most logical place to try this since it was the only place we knew that had all of the bartender oriented implements mentioned in the drink recipes. They belong to the house. I believe they are younger than the house, but I'm not completely sure.

It does amuse me to no end that this is the place where one is most likely to hear nothing being ordered at a bar besides Gin and Tonics.

We did find a recipe for the earthling varient of Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters that summer, but it wasn't worth recommending. Obviously it just isn't the same without that Ol' Janx Spirit.

So our time away winds down, but I've been away enough that it feels like it's approaching slowly.

It's at the right pace. As a matter of fact the pace is so relaxed that we are writing about it in current tense when we've all been back for a couple of days. But it refused to be rushed here in the Dreamtime. We are just as relaxed about the vacation coming to a close as we are about being on the beach. The second shift came later into the vacation and they are leaving earlier, but the Poppets who came with them are staying the full run.

There's one hike out to the observation point still to go, but for today's post it's good just to think about how much easier it is to let time pass without thinking of the things you intentionally left alone.

That's why you go on vacation, not to forget or avoid the things you left behind, but to give them and yourself some space.

I would not have wanted to be a Go-Go, defined by a song that is forever branded as upbeat by those who aren't thinking very hard. It's like they're trapped in amber until Gen X has passed and time can leave them alone.

Which may be all they ever wanted.

I will try very hard not to forget what I've learned about time on this vacation.

I have high hopes, after all I learned how to muddle during the summer of many mixed drinks and I haven't forgotten that.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Vacation Soup - The Longwood Gardens Mushroom Kind

When I am on vacation in Massachusetts I cook.

I have my Very Dearest Friend who will eat the foods with me that let me make cooking a celebration of feeding people and art and experience.

From a very early age I have desired to be the one to feed people. I always want to feed the artist. My mother is an artist and I wanted to be like her, nurturing and real. I wanted to feed her, because cooking for someone is the type of love where you don't have to feel all sentimental and mawkish. Each recipe has a story, but this year the Big Recipe's story was mentioned here.

It is of a piece of the year and a perfect centerpiece recipe. It is the Longwood Gardens recipe for Mushroom Soup. I had to learn things along the way and the Poppets helped.

Here we go:

First you have to make the Mushroom Stock:

Mushroom Stock Recipe


16 ounces of white button mushrooms,


These are the regular kind that you can buy in almost any store. For the stock you get to use the whole mushroom. But its a lot of mushrooms to chop. This is what about 4 oz of mushrooms look like when they are chopped

1 leek, chopped

Leeks are an adventure. The first time I knowingly had leeks was a chicken in leek and truffle sauce at Butler Terrace and it was incredible. My boss took me there for my 21st Birthday, I also had my first glass of non-religious wine.

So yes, my 21st birthday blowout was an exclusive gourmet restaurant and one glass of an excellent sommelier recommended red.

I may have been an actor, but starving wasn't really the issue. But eating with the rich adults I worked for was a waaay better introduction into the land of the grown than the benders my friends barely remember and I can still taste the succulent interplay of the crisped chicken and the truffle sauce at the edge of my tongue when I think about that luncheon. That and the way the flavors deepened and changed with a sip of wine in the middle of the afternoon.

I will never understand anyone who drinks to excess. It kills the taste.

But then I did not know what part of the meal was holding the leeks, and though I have had many things that claimed to have leeks in them I still did not know what they were.

To make this soup I found leeks and discovered they were actually a little complicated.

They are long and tube like with long green stalks and then a section of white celery looking area, and I wasn't sure which way to chop them or which parts to chop. So I prepped other things first and my Dearest Friend looked it up. It seems that the green parts are of limited use and only for things like soup stock so I chopped up 1 leeks worth of greens and saved the white for use in the soup proper.

1 onion, chopped

Should have been easy really, but the Dearest friend buys his green things from a farm collective and the onions were small, but flavorful locally grown reds. I used three.

1 stalk of celery, diced

1 sprig of tarragon

1 sprig of thyme

1 1/2 gallons of water

The Less Caffeinated Coffee Poppet thought the Tarragon was very pretty, a little like laurel leaves.

My Very Dearest Friend's mother lives next door at the third house from the beach and has an herb garden so the sprigs were plucked washed in plopped immediately into the pot.

Place ingredients in a tall saucepan. Add water, and bring to a boil. Simmer for an hour.

Strain. Refrigerate leftovers

Then there is the Soup itself.

Longwood Gardens Mushroom Soup


1 teaspoon of vegetable oil

1 tablespoon of butter

1 leek, washed and diced

Remember the leek had the white part at the bottom? Well this is it.I was expecting it to be tubular and celery like but it was tubular and more like an oblong onion.

I have a pretty strong reaction to onions that can sometimes cause me several hours of painful eyes so please believe me when I tell you I was unprepared for the leek basically being a celery looking onion. Apparantly when I announced the similarity, squinting elegantly, my Perfectly Normal Husband said - "Of course it is, why didn't you have me do it?" Well dicing is different than chopping and since I had never done this particular object in a diced manner I needed to do it once to hand it off so I could know what it looked like.

This is what it looked like. Next time I will wear my steampunk goggles.

2 shallots, diced

Shallots. Shallots I know. I learned about them making flashed green beens with crispy shallots on a another Massachusetts Vacation. Once again it's important to remember that diced is not the same as chopped.

3 stalks of celery, diced

Celery looked and behaved just like celery. It was something of a comfort really.

1/4 cup of chopped thyme

I wasn't sure, since I had just harvested the thyme whether or not to chop the stems. I opted not to. I strafed the leaves off the stems and chopped the leaves. I probably should have taken more pictures of that process but this is what the leaves should look like when you''re done.

Now for the many types of Mushrooms. There is a very fancy gourmet store called Sid Weiner's and we went there and shopped like we were still in boom times. It's vacation!

1 cup of shitake mushroom caps, julienned

I have before and after pictures of each mushroom because I learned a while ago that people don't know some old school cooking terms like "fold" or" Julienned"

To pop out a mushroom stalk and just get the cap you kind of wiggle it firmly between your fingers and the stalk kind of pops off the cap. It's messier with the shiitake mushrooms, but it still works.

Julienned means sliced longways and evenly with the slice next to it. I guess a bunch of you probably know that anyway, the same way that you know that dice means cross cut evenly into the closest thing you can get to squares, but all the same when you have to take "fold the bluberries gently into the batter" and replace it with "stir slowly and gentley" on the commercial stuff I figure better safe than sorry. Because folding is related to stirring but not the same at all and I'll bet there are a lot more broken blueberries in muffins now.

1 cup of crimini mushroom caps, quartered

Crimini mushrooms were new to me. I'm sure I've eaten them before, but they were cooked and I did not know it. They look like button mushrooms' older more sophisticated sisters, who've been to exotic places and come back with really chic hairstyles.

The picture at the top is a Coffee Poppet seeing if "Mushroom Cap" works literally.

Here is what they look like when they are quartered.

1 cup of oyster mushrooms, julienned

Oyster Mushrooms look like fleshy alien shambling mounds have invaded your kitchen. I have never seen them in natural bunches before and I was worried that they would break apart and how the heck am I supposed to julienne them? And will they take over my brain if I try?

It ends up I had seen them separated in packages sometimes . I flipped the mound over on it's belly and started lifting one sort of flap looking thing at a time and separated them into individual mushrooms.

They looked like this when the poppets and I were done.

Then I was wondering since they didn't really have clear stalks if I should julienne the stalks too, but when you julienne them they become frilly and you just keep julienning until it doesn't look frilly any more.

1/ 2 cup of sherry wine

2 quarts of hot mushroom stock (see above)

1/2 cup of heavy cream

1/4 cup of chopped tarragon

The tarragon gave me some trouble in the long run because it's slightly chop-resistant when fresh. If I had my knives at home this wouldn't have been an issue. But I strongly recommend sticking with fresh tarragon because it's the real flavor contrast to the mushrooms for this soup.

Truffle oil

Salt and pepper to taste

When all your ingredients are chopped and diced and julienned and quartered and ready for the cooking part they will look like this:

Now you start the cooking part.


Sautee the shallot and celery in the oil and butter until the leeks are translucent:

Add thyme, salt ( about a teaspoon to start) and pepper.

I made sure to have a pot big enough to do the sauteing in so that I didn't have to transfer from a pan to a pot and possibly lose some of the seasoning.

Add mushrooms. Cook until mushrooms wiltand release their liquid.

Add sherry wine and then reduce by half.

I think in this case reduce by half means the volume of the mixture and not

the heat, but I did not reduce by half I reduced by about a third since I wasn't sure.

Add hot mushroom stock and bring to a boil.

Simmer for 10 minutes.

Add cream and tarragon.

Let simmer for five minutes.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Finish with truffle oil.

If you stop there you will get a delicious but more broth-like mushroom soup. I wanted the thicker cafeteria version from Longwood so I kept it on low non-simmer heat for another two hours.

Then I added more salt. It was delicious.

When I do this again I will change three things. I will be adding more cream, I will be using a better grade of sherry (and perhaps a bit more of it) and I will be using more butter on the sauté.

When it was done I had this:

Now I can make Mushroom Soup from scratch. But I think it will only be for special occasions - like having lots of time and mushrooms.