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  • - * 13 DOORS OF X* *Meeah Williams* The Barking Cat Press * 2015 Brooklyn, NY * Seattle, WA copyright 2015 Meeah Williams/The Barking Cat...

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

="Relatively" Healthy Oatmeal Raisin Pecan Cookies=

"Relatively" Healthy Oatmeal Raisin Pecan Cookies

***Like eating a bowl of oatmeal in the form of a cookie (sorta)

First, using an electric hand-blender, I mix 6 tablespoons of melted butter, a half-cup of brown sugar, and an egg in a bowl. I use a little less butter and sugar than one might conventionally use in most recipes because I don’t like the cookies to be so fattening and so overly sweet. These are “adult” cookies. I add a teaspoon of vanilla extract, which is more than usually recommended, because things that taste like vanilla are good!

In a separate bowl I pour 2 cups of uncooked rolled oats, add a half-teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of baking soda, and about a cup and a half of flour. I use more oats and less flour than the usual recipes call for philosophical reasons, ie. these are OATMEAL cookies, not sugar cookies with some oatmeal in them. I use extra baking soda because I like the cookies to come out puffy and softer, rather than crispier and more “fried” tasting. Last but not least, I shake lots and lots of cinnamon into the bowl. In my experience, no recipe that calls for cinnamon ever has enough cinnamon in it to have any appreciable value whatsoever. So, to quote Goethe on his deathbed, which, regrettably, you all-too-seldom get a chance to do in the middle of an oatmeal cookie recipe—"More cinnamon! More cinnamon!" 

Then I mix the dry ingredients into the wet.

I pour lots of raisins into the mix and chop up a whole mess of pecans. As Blake wrote, "You never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough." Sometimes I use walnuts. You then stir this whole brainy goop together. Now if the mixture is a little dry because you held back on the melted butter like I did you can throw in three or so gloppy tablespoons of applesauce. That should do the trick; it should be good and wet now. Once it’s all nice and sticky, form it up into a big ball, wrap the ball in saran wrap and plop it in the fridge for an hour or more.

When you're ready for cookies (or, more accurately, when the cookie dough is ready for you), preheat the oven to 375. Use a spoon and gouge out a rough ball of dough to the desired size of your eventual cookie, place the ball on a greased (or parchment-lined) cookie sheet, flatten down, and pop the sheet into the oven for 8-10 minutes. I usually split the difference and go for 9. The cookies aren’t as hard that way.

Leave the cooked cookies on the sheet for an additional five minutes to firm up. Inevitably, a few disappear, prey to hungry husbands and other stray marauders who suddenly start wandering through the kitchen. You can get a dozen or more cookies from this recipe, depending on the size of the cookies.

=envelope art=

::bound for Winston-Salem, NC

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

=a face a day 29/365=

=Books recently read=

"I have never known a woman who was more continuously exacting...Everybody's entire existence, every hour, every minute, for years on end, must be at her disposition, or else there is an explosion like all thunderstorms and earthquakes put together." --Benjamin Constant

"There is no more kind, loving, intelligent, and devoted creature." --Benjamin Constant

Madame DeStael: The First Modern Woman by Francine Du Plessix Gray. She was a large, blowsy, ungainly woman given to dressing in off-the-shoulder gowns and turbans that more than one contemporary noted didn't really suit her, especially as she grew older and stouter. She had an opinion on virtually every topic and thought it her duty to let that opinion be known to everyone within earshot. Indeed, many noted that she quite literally never kept her mouth shut, even on the rare occasions when she wasn't talking, and she made a virtue of it, believing that continual conversation and what she called "enthusiasm" were both an art-form and a civilizing factor essential to a fully-realized humanity. 

She may have been manic-depressive before that term was invented, as well as an obsessive-compulsive. Or she may have simply been a self-centered, self-absorbed, supremely spoiled, narcissistic egomaniac. She became addicted to opium, as, to be fair, were many other people of her time—the drug being considered something of a cure-all. She was melodramatic and manipulative always, in love more than ever, passive-aggressive, hysterical, even pathologically so, throwing tantrums and repeatedly threatening suicide if anyone tried to break things off before it suited her—a Grade AAA drama queen; meanwhile, she took on lovers with impunity whether she was involved in a committed relationship or not and these lovers followed her around Europe during her multiple exiles like a pack of puppies. 

She drove men to the end of their rope and somehow managed to reel them back in again; the above quotations from her long-time lover Benjamin Constant are typical of the bi-polar reactions this possibly bi-polar woman inspired in those caught in her orbit. She was married to a man twenty years her junior when she died at the age of 51 following what seems to have been a cerebral hemorrhage and possibly some sort of spinal cancer. 

Germaine DeStael was an aristocrat, which was a good thing, since if she'd been born into a lower strata of society and married to a blacksmith, for instance, she probably would have been brained with a horseshoe and no one would have blamed the poor guy. She was the daughter of Jacques Necker, the famous/disgraced/famous again/disgraced again finance minister of Louis XVI. She lived from 1766-1817, in time to see the French Revolution and the rise and fall of Napoleon. 

But what makes her a fit subject for a biography is that she led what author Francine Du Plessix Gray describes as the most accomplished salon of her time, which in itself is saying something. DeStael's salons attracted many of the brightest literary and political minds of the day. But she did more than talk. Germaine DeStael also wrote: political pamphlets, travelogues, novels, all of which were much-discussed and celebrated during and for some time after her life. She was for the Revolution, but not too much, still believing in a social and intellectual hierarchy in which, naturally, she felt herself entitled to occupy a place of privilege. She was what we would probably think of now as a left-of-center centrist—a well-meaning, if ultimately patronizing patrician, like a Kennedy.

She eventually incurred the wrath of Napoleon Bonaparte himself, of whose rise to power and autocratic rule she was highly critical. It didn't help that Napoleon was one of the apparently few men upon whom DeStael's spell was utterly ineffective; he found her repulsive in every way. So repulsive did he find her that Bonaparte wanted her permanently banished from France. Unfortunately for him, Madame DeStael had so many fans among Bonaparte's inner circle, even his brothers were fans, willing to intercede on her behalf that she remained a thorn in Napoleon's side for the better part of his reign. You might accurately say that the only two forces that Napoleon couldn't overcome were Russia and Madame DeStael. 

I'd recently read Du Plessix Gray's fictionalized account of Marie Antoinette, "The Queen's Lover," which led me to this nonfiction biography. Like the book on Antoinette, Du Plessix Gray does her best to make her subject sympathetic, but never quite manages to make her universally likable. Which is to say, she presents DeStael, as she presented Marie Antoinette and her lover Count Axel von Fersen, as entirely human, with all the flaws that humans typically possess. For this, Du Plessix Gray is to be commended, as it is a real risk to expect a reader to stick with a book about someone who can so often be really unpleasant company, as one can imagine Madame DeStael to have been. 

In the end, the formula of Madame DeStael's strange allure remains elusive. She seems to have had that magical quality of charisma that some people have whether they are rich or poor, beautiful or ugly, smart or ignorant. People, both men and women, were simply drawn to her—and drawn to the fact, perhaps, that so many illustrious people were drawn to her. 

As literary history goes, DeStael isn't very important as a writer and, as a historical subject, she is more a curiosity and off-stage catalyst than a major player during her tumultuous times. But if nothing else, her life—and this book—is worth reading for the historical context in which it is set and the brief, but still illuminating, recreation of  pre- and post-revolutionary France. 

=a face a day 28/365=

::Simone Weil, ((who I've not read yet, but who I like the idea of)).

Sunday, January 26, 2014

=envelope art=

::heading to Middletown, NJ, Public Storage

=mail art received=


::From Diane Keys, Elgin, Illinois

Top: handmade envelope and a "trash poem" mounted on card.

Bottom: two collages consisting of loose elements inside the envelope, laid randomly on my scanner.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

=a face a day 26/365=

=Coconut bread=


::Warm, just out of the oven. We first had this at the Lambertville Station restaurant in Lambertville, NJ, where they serve it complimentary before dinner. It's incredibly yummy...if you like coconut. Here is the recipe:

I usually put in more coconut—at least 2 cups—and only toast (lightly) half of it so the bread comes out moister and more coconutty. Depending on your oven, you might want to take a peek at how it's going at the 50-minute mark. 

=envelope art=

::to Old Orchard, Maine

Thursday, January 23, 2014

-envelope art=

::sent to a mail-art call in Cambridge, MA

=a face a day 23/365=

=Books recently read=

Elizabeth Costello by J.M. Coetzee.  Elizabeth Costello is a fictional novelist and in this book that bears her name, J.M. Coetzee depicts her in a series of stand-alone set pieces: at seminars and lectures where she presents her views on a variety of topics. It is a device Coetzee uses to clever effect to deliver what one presumes are his own reflections on a wide variety of subjects, including literature and the role of storytelling, the problem of evil, the nature of consciousness, animal rights and the ethics of slaughtering animals for food and scientific experimentation. The narrative is disjointed. In each of the eight sections, Costello appears at various universities around the world, on a cruise ship where she is employed as "cultural" entertainment, as a guest at a reception where her sister—a nun--is receiving an honorary university degree, and as a petitioner in a deliberately Kafkaesque parody in which she attempts to gain passage through what may be the gate to heaven.

Costello is a prickly, opinionated Australian novelist and essayist in her late sixties when the book begins and probably well into her seventies when it ends. She is past the point of caring much what other people think of her. She is a solitary woman given to speaking her mind and, as such, she makes a lot of people around her uncomfortable. Think Doris Lessing, perhaps, in her later years, only Costello, though well-known in certain literary circles, is not nearly as famous. Regrettably, as Costello sees it, her main claim to a place in the literary firmament is an early novel, "The House on Eccles Street," in which she re-imagined the life of Molly Bloom, thus reclaiming her from the male imagination of her original creator, James Joyce.  

Coetzee seems to have a certain amount of fun using Elizabeth Costello as a front for puncturing the moral complacency and literary pretensions of our time. That said, you only have to take a look at the jacket photo, or practically any photo of Coetzee, to see that this guy is no comedian. He has a pretty sour, dour view of life—well, at the very least, one senses he's an uber-serious fellow without much time for clownish frivolity.

The loose, open-ended "structure" of Coetzee's text—not even the publisher dares call it a "novel"—allows Coetzee to turn this book into a veritable grab-bag into which he has thrown virtually anything that strikes his fancy. Hitler, Descartes, copulation between gods and mortals, African literature, vegetarianism, the Holocaust, Hellenism—one would think it impossible to tie these disparate topics together but Coetzee does so through Costello's often meandering but always cogent lectures, which are never quite what her audiences are expecting—or want.

Costello will appear again as a minor character in at least one other Coetzee novel, although she seems to have died at the end of this one—died, or at least passed into some living "afterlife" in which she moves among us as a ghost with a message. Though what that message is not even Costello (or Coetzee) seems quite able to articulate. Perhaps it is no more complicated than a plea that we bear witness to our times and our own actions during our time with as much clarity and as little self-delusion as humanly possible. As a justification of her own life as a writer, Costello (Coetzee) defends herself before the tribunal of judges at the gate: "I am a writer, and what I write is what I hear. I am a secretary of the invisible, one of many secretaries over the ages. That is my calling: dictation secretary. It is not for me to interrogate, to judge what is given me. I merely write down the words and then test them, test their soundness, to make sure I heard right."

Is this enough to get her past the gatekeepers? Does such a statement mean anything to non-writers, non-artists? I don't know. It would be up to the gatekeeper in the first instance, and to non-writers, non-artists in the second instance, to provide an answer. Coetzee is, in the end, a writer's writer in the old sense. He's something of an unfashionable throwback, his Nobel prize notwithstanding. He takes literature seriously, as a matter of life and death, as a struggle between salvation and damnation, and he does so in a world that, even at it's highest cultural levels, has  compromised to the point of irrelevancy such concerns, where it has not ridiculed and parodied them as hopelessly naive, or simply abandoned them altogether.

=mail art received=

Richard Canard, Carbondale, Illusion

=mail art received=

Top: Douglas Galloway, Cherry Valley, CA

Bottom: Rebecca Guyver, Suffolk, UK

Monday, January 20, 2014

=a face a day 19/365=

--Emily Dickinson, as it happens.

=cherry cheese pie! (with blueberries)=

"Violence is as American as cherry pie." 
—H. Rap Brown, aka Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin



*      2 cups all-purpose flour

*      1/2 to 3/4 cups cold margarine

*      1 tablespoon sugar
*      Pinch salt
*      Cold water

    Mix flour, margarine, sugar and salt together and add water a little at a time until the dough comes together in a ball. Wrap in saran & refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.
*     1/2 cup soft goat cheese
*     1/2 cup Calabro nonfat ricotta cheese
*     1 large egg
*     1/2 cup brown sugar
*     1/4 cup flour 
*     Pinch salt
*     1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil
*  5 cups cherries and/or  blueberries

.  1 cup of chopped pecans
   Mix the goat cheese, ricotta, egg, sugar, flour, salt and basil together in a bowl. Add the 1/2 cup of chopped nuts and fruit and mix to desired texture.

Roll out pie dough and press into a baking dish. Spread the other 1/2 cup of chopped nuts over the pressed pie dough and then add the filling.  

Preheat oven to 350F. Bake 25-30 minutes.



Sunday, January 19, 2014

=a face a day 18/365=

=Lunch break!=

(<—I'm over here eating chickpea and spinach saag. I don't eat things that used to have faces.)

=graffik head wound #2=

=Books recently read=

=The Queen's Lover, by Francine Du Plessix Gray= This novel is a fictionalized account of the love-affair between Marie Antoinette and Swedish aristocrat Count Axel Von Fersen, which began at a ball when they were both teenagers, shortly before Marie Antoinette began her ill-starred reign of France. What's great about this book is the historical detail, which includes the social and political landscape not only of 18th century France, but of Europe in general, with even a segue into the American Revolution, in which Fersen served on the side of the colonists. A shortcoming is that the story is told through the eyes of Fersen and his sister, who edits his diaries. As aristocrats, they open themselves up to the charge of being unreliable narrators, not only because their participation, memory, and interpretation of events make their accuracy suspect, but because their very orientation as aristocrats predisposes them to take a stance inimical to the radicals and revolutionaries that would see them deposed. Both Fersen and his sister basically prove themselves to be apologists for the Old Order. According to them, Marie Antoinette was really a sweetheart, maybe a little haughty at times, but not the cold, arrogant, heartless, out-of-touch bitch we've been led to believe. Basically, she was just misunderstood, the victim of unsubstantiated gossip and jealousy. Her husband Louis XVI, we are led to believe, was a guileless, big-hearted socially-awkward oaf, who loved nothing more than having an informal chat with the common was only that he never came in contact with one. Until the Revolution, that is. 

And therein lies the main problem with Fersen's apology for the French monarchy. It requires that it be overthrown, that Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI be dragged down through the mud before they discover that they're no better than anyone else. If there hadn't been a revolution does anyone doubt that they would have never come to realize this? How grateful Marie Antoinette is for the least kindness shown to her while imprisoned and awaiting tender and tearful are the scenes of her with her doomed husband, her beloved children...and how little am I convinced that until they were humbled such humility would ever have dawned on them. 

Having made one final failed attempt to spirit the king and queen out of France, Fersen makes himself less and less likable as the novel progresses, having retreated to the safety of his psuedo-diplomatic work gadflying around Europe and then, ultimately, settling back in his native Sweden, where he receives word of the beheadings of the king and his beloved "Toinette." Long before—and long after—the heads roll, he spends his time writing letters to his sister and entries in his journal about how he can't live without Marie, she's the love of his life, he'd do anything to save "Her," he'd give his life, etc. but, instead, he has what seems an unending series of affairs, mostly with married women, to console himself that he can't be with the one he really loves, the one he'd die to save. Well, buster, I kept asking the pages as I turned them, talk is cheap. How about getting on a horse and riding to France? You'll have ample opportunity to die trying to save her if you do that. Instead, blah blah blah.

I'm not sure whether or not Du Plessix Gray intended Fersen to be considered an unreliable narrator; it's hard to believe an author as obviously as intelligent as she is didn't, or didn't at least intend the reader to consider it, but there is no internal evidence in the book that she did. "The Queen's Lover" is presented to the reader as a documentary account complete in itself, a defense, basically, of the principle of monarchy and elitism, and, as such, it flies in the face of the general tramp of history, which, believe it or not, is moving, at least in the popular conscience if not in actual political and economic practice, towards egalitarianism. In any event, for a confirmed anarchic radical such as myself, this account by Fersen—and "The Queen's Lover" in general--didn't move me to sympathize with the Queen more than momentarily. If the French Revolution were taking place in the street outside right now I'm still standing among the rabble yelling "Off with her head!"

That said, however, for its history alone, "The Queen's Lover" was a worthwhile read. 

=a face a day 17/365=