Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Theodicy and Nativity

Of all the arguments against the existence of an omnipotent, loving God, the problem of the existence of evil is probably the most serious. How can one believe in a wise, loving, all-powerful God in a world where there are earthquakes, floods, & other natural disasters, let alone in a world where moral evil leads one gunman to kill nearly two dozen elementary school students and another to set a fire just so he can kill the firefighters who show up to put the fire out? Such things offend our notion of both a loving God and an all-powerful God. And wrestling with this conundrum has made shipwreck of the faith of many.

This morning at Mass, the priest was a stand-in from Ft. Jackson. I doubt that anyone who gives it any thought would dispute that a military chaplain is in a unique position to see the clash of Faith and Evil. We have demanded too much of our soldiers, both in extended and in too-frequently repeated tours in fields that are too difficult and too ambiguous. There have been increases in both ugly stories from the front lines and in suicides both at home and abroad. The priests in Newton have become intimately acquainted with the incarnation of evil and of the problem of theodicy; the chaplains charged with tending the souls of our military have lived with these incarnations for years.

At the morning Mass today, our chaplain priest made a connection between theodicy and the Nativity. And he was not the first to direct my attention to this connection. I have been giving a bit of attention (too little, I fear) to this connection since reading what was to me both an astounding and a sensible admission in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Here is §272:

272. Faith in God the Father Almighty can be put to the test by the experience of evil and suffering. God can sometimes seem to be absent and incapable of stopping evil. But in the most mysterious way God the Father has revealed his almighty power in the voluntary humiliation and Resurrection of his Son, by which he conquered evil. Christ crucified is thus “the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Cor 1.24-25) It is in Christ’s Resurrection and exaltation that the Father has shown forth “the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe.” (Eph 1.19-22)

There are other, related passages in the CCC. Take a look at §§309f.,  §412 & 413f.

The big trouble, to my own mind, is the frank admission in the CCC that there is no good, logical argument to be brought to bear here. The only way to thread the needle is a life of faith and trust. Cf. §273 “Only faith can embrace the mysterious ways of God’s almighty power. This faith glories in its weaknesses in order to draw to itself Christ’s power. (2 Cor 12.9; Phil 4.13.)” and §312 “In time we can discover that God in his almighty providence can bring a good from the consequences of an evil, even a moral evil, caused by his creatures: ‘It was not you,’ said Joseph to his brothers, ‘who sent me here, but God.... You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive.’ (Gen 45.8; 50.20; cf. Tob 2.12-18 (Vulg.).)”  &c.

While this *does* accord with my own experience that a life lived taking faith in Christ quite seriously is much better than one rejecting, ignoring, or simply paying lip service to a life in Christ, it does little good for those who want a compelling argument *before* casting their die and testing/trying/attempting a life of faith. And in this regard I have to note that the one Biblical book that deals most explicitly with the problem of evil, Job, makes it clear that Job never knows what the evil he endures either intends or effects. Job himself, the most righteous man on the face of the earth at that time (Job 1.1, 8), is left with no idea why he suffers. It is left for the audience of which he has no knowledge to draw the inferences.

And so, by analogy, are we left. We live in a world filled with evil and pain. We are told (and many of us believe) that there is a loving, omnipotent God who apparently *could* fix all this crap, but Who apparently chooses not to do so. And we (are told to) take it on faith that this is all for the best.

And what has all this to do with the Nativity? The Christian story tells us that the almighty, loving God took on human flesh, that He was incarnate, born, and lived as one of us. He was persecuted, tortured to death, & buried. He could have stopped this at any moment, but did not. He could have imposed perfect justice and ended His own pain at any moment, but did not.

What the Nativity tells us is that God has chosen not to end our pain, but to enter into it and walk with us in it. He has not wiped away out tears before sharing them with us. He has not eradicated our pain, nor given us the reason(s) for it, but has humbled Himself and shared it. He has walked with us in our pain, and has wept over the death of a friend. Further, we will be judged not for our own capacity for ending suffering, but for our incapacity for walking with others in their own suffering (Matt. 25.31-46).

In all honesty, I would have preferred that He had chosen to wipe away our tears before they were shed. I would wish to be spared from the pain caused by sin, both my own and others’. To a limited extent I understand and can even feel the benefit of having God become one of us and share our grief, but who among us would not prefer that the grief be avoided altogether?

But God has chosen not to answer our questions. He has chosen instead, in His nativity, to walk with us. He suffers as we suffer and calls us to suffer with others, or at least to be with others in their suffering. He has not wiped out suffering, as I would wish, but has called us to sit with other in their suffering.

God is love. That love does not eradicate our pain, but shares it with us. That love demands not that we eliminate others’ pain, but that we walk with others through it. Emanuel, God is with us. And He has not chosen to delete sin and its effects, but to enter in and share our pain with us. He calls us to do the same.

Nativity is God’s answer to suffering. I, personally, find it insufficient. But the Creator, against my limited wisdom and my very limited love, demands NOT that we eliminate the suffering of others, but that we share it; not that we heal the sick and spring the imprisoned, but that we sit with the sick in their illness and visit the imprisoned in their cells. The Nativity demands that we imitate Christ. We can not explain or remove suffering, but we must share it, must accompany others as they go through it.

Emanuel. God is with us. And so, we must be with each other. We are not called to remove another’s suffering, nor called to explain why God would let one suffer. We are called to imitate Christ and to be fully present with each other in our suffering.

 I trust that eventually we will be told the answer to why, that we will know the reason(s) for pain and suffering. I trust that theodicy will be apparent not as an intellectual goal, but as an objective reality. Until that day, I can only know that my responsibility is to imitate Christ by being with those who suffer.

This is the lesson of Nativity.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

“Love is a Fallacy” by Max Shulman

published as part of the collection The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis

Cool was I and logical. Keen, calculating, perspicacious, acute and astute—I was all of these. My brain was as powerful as a dynamo, precise as a chemist’s scales, as penetrating as a scalpel. And—think of it!—I only eighteen.
It is not often that one so young has such a giant intellect. Take, for example, Petey Bellows, my roommate at the university. Same age, same background, but dumb as an ox. A nice enough fellow, you understand, but nothing upstairs. Emotional type. Unstable. Impressionable. Worst of all, a faddist. Fads, I submit, are the very negation of reason. To be swept up in every new craze that comes along, to surrender oneself to idiocy just because everybody else is doing it—this, to me, is the acme of mindlessness. Not, however, to Petey.
One afternoon I found Petey lying on his bed with an expression of such distress on his face that I immediately diagnosed appendicitis. “Don’t move,” I said, “Don’t take a laxative. I’ll get a doctor.”
“Raccoon,” he mumbled thickly.
“Raccoon?” I said, pausing in my flight.
“I want a raccoon coat,” he wailed.
I perceived that his trouble was not physical, but mental. “Why do you want a raccoon coat?”
“I should have known it,” he cried, pounding his temples. “I should have known they’d come back when the Charleston came back. Like a fool I spent all my money for textbooks, and now I can’t get a raccoon coat.”
“Can you mean,” I said incredulously, “that people are actually wearing raccoon coats again?”
“All the Big Men on Campus are wearing them. Where’ve you been?”
“In the library,” I said, naming a place not frequented by Big Men on Campus.
He leaped from the bed and paced the room. “I’ve got to have a raccoon coat,” he said passionately. “I’ve got to!”
“Petey, why? Look at it rationally. Raccoon coats are unsanitary. They shed. They smell bad. They weigh too much. They’re unsightly. They—”
“You don’t understand,” he interrupted impatiently. “It’s the thing to do. Don’t you want to be in the swim?”
“No,” I said truthfully.
“Well, I do,” he declared. “I’d give anything for a raccoon coat. Anything!”
My brain, that precision instrument, slipped into high gear. “Anything?” I asked, looking at him narrowly.
“Anything,” he affirmed in ringing tones.
I stroked my chin thoughtfully. It so happened that I knew where to get my hands on a raccoon coat. My father had had one in his undergraduate days; it lay now in a trunk in the attic back home. It also happened that Petey had something I wanted. He didn’t have it exactly, but at least he had first rights on it. I refer to his girl, Polly Espy.
I had long coveted Polly Espy. Let me emphasize that my desire for this young woman was not emotional in nature. She was, to be sure, a girl who excited the emotions, but I was not one to let my heart rule my head. I wanted Polly for a shrewdly calculated, entirely cerebral reason.
I was a freshman in law school. In a few years I would be out in practice. I was well aware of the importance of the right kind of wife in furthering a lawyer’s career. The successful lawyers I had observed were, almost without exception, married to beautiful, gracious, intelligent women. With one omission, Polly fitted these specifications perfectly.
Beautiful she was. She was not yet of pin-up proportions, but I felt that time would supply the lack. She already had the makings.
Gracious she was. By gracious I mean full of graces. She had an erectness of carriage, an ease of bearing, a poise that clearly indicated the best of breeding. At table her manners were exquisite. I had seen her at the Kozy Kampus Korner eating the specialty of the house—a sandwich that contained scraps of pot roast, gravy, chopped nuts, and a dipper of sauerkraut—without even getting her fingers moist.
Intelligent she was not. In fact, she veered in the opposite direction. But I believed that under my guidance she would smarten up. At any rate, it was worth a try. It is, after all, easier to make a beautiful dumb girl smart than to make an ugly smart girl beautiful.
“Petey,” I said, “are you in love with Polly Espy?”
“I think she’s a keen kid,” he replied, “but I don’t know if you’d call it love. Why?”
“Do you,” I asked, “have any kind of formal arrangement with her? I mean are you going steady or anything like that?”
“No. We see each other quite a bit, but we both have other dates. Why?”
“Is there,” I asked, “any other man for whom she has a particular fondness?”
“Not that I know of. Why?”
I nodded with satisfaction. “In other words, if you were out of the picture, the field would be open. Is that right?”
“I guess so. What are you getting at?”
“Nothing , nothing,” I said innocently, and took my suitcase out the closet.
“Where are you going?” asked Petey.
“Home for weekend.” I threw a few things into the bag.
“Listen,” he said, clutching my arm eagerly, “while you’re home, you couldn’t get some money from your old man, could you, and lend it to me so I can buy a raccoon coat?”
“I may do better than that,” I said with a mysterious wink and closed my bag and left.
“Look,” I said to Petey when I got back Monday morning. I threw open the suitcase and revealed the huge, hairy, gamy object that my father had worn in his Stutz Bearcat in 1925.
“Holy Toledo!” said Petey reverently. He plunged his hands into the raccoon coat and then his face. “Holy Toledo!” he repeated fifteen or twenty times.
“Would you like it?” I asked.
“Oh yes!” he cried, clutching the greasy pelt to him. Then a canny look came into his eyes. “What do you want for it?”
“Your girl.” I said, mincing no words.
“Polly?” he said in a horrified whisper. “You want Polly?”
“That’s right.”
He flung the coat from him. “Never,” he said stoutly.
I shrugged. “Okay. If you don’t want to be in the swim, I guess it’s your business.”
I sat down in a chair and pretended to read a book, but out of the corner of my eye I kept watching Petey. He was a torn man. First he looked at the coat with the expression of a waif at a bakery window. Then he turned away and set his jaw resolutely. Then he looked back at the coat, with even more longing in his face. Then he turned away, but with not so much resolution this time. Back and forth his head swiveled, desire waxing, resolution waning. Finally he didn’t turn away at all; he just stood and stared with mad lust at the coat.
“It isn’t as though I was in love with Polly,” he said thickly. “Or going steady or anything like that.”
“That’s right,” I murmured.
“What’s Polly to me, or me to Polly?”
“Not a thing,” said I.
“It’s just been a casual kick—just a few laughs, that’s all.”
“Try on the coat,” said I.
He complied. The coat bunched high over his ears and dropped all the way down to his shoe tops. He looked like a mound of dead raccoons. “Fits fine,” he said happily.
I rose from my chair. “Is it a deal?” I asked, extending my hand.
He swallowed. “It’s a deal,” he said and shook my hand.
I had my first date with Polly the following evening. This was in the nature of a survey; I wanted to find out just how much work I had to do to get her mind up to the standard I required. I took her first to dinner. “Gee, that was a delish dinner,” she said as we left the restaurant. Then I took her to a movie. “Gee, that was a marvy movie,” she said as we left the theatre. And then I took her home. “Gee, I had a sensaysh time,” she said as she bade me good night.
I went back to my room with a heavy heart. I had gravely underestimated the size of my task. This girl’s lack of information was terrifying. Nor would it be enough merely to supply her with information. First she had to be taught to think. This loomed as a project of no small dimensions, and at first I was tempted to give her back to Petey. But then I got to thinking about her abundant physical charms and about the way she entered a room and the way she handled a knife and fork, and I decided to make an effort.
I went about it, as in all things, systematically. I gave her a course in logic. It happened that I, as a law student, was taking a course in logic myself, so I had all the facts at my fingertips. “Poll’,” I said to her when I picked her up on our next date, “tonight we are going over to the Knoll and talk.”
“Oo, terrif,” she replied. One thing I will say for this girl: you would go far to find another so agreeable.
We went to the Knoll, the campus trysting place, and we sat down under an old oak, and she looked at me expectantly. “What are we going to talk about?” she asked.
She thought this over for a minute and decided she liked it. “Magnif,” she said.
“Logic,” I said, clearing my throat, “is the science of thinking. Before we can think correctly, we must first learn to recognize the common fallacies of logic. These we will take up tonight.”
“Wow-dow!” she cried, clapping her hands delightedly.
I winced, but went bravely on. “First let us examine the fallacy called Dicto Simpliciter.”
“By all means,” she urged, batting her lashes eagerly.
“Dicto Simpliciter means an argument based on an unqualified generalization. For example: Exercise is good. Therefore everybody should exercise.”
“I agree,” said Polly earnestly. “I mean exercise is wonderful. I mean it builds the body and everything.”
“Polly,” I said gently, “the argument is a fallacy. Exercise is good is an unqualified generalization. For instance, if you have heart disease, exercise is bad, not good. Many people are ordered by their doctors not to exercise. You must qualify the generalization. You must say exercise is usually good, or exercise is good for most people. Otherwise you have committed a Dicto Simpliciter. Do you see?”
“No,” she confessed. “But this is marvy. Do more! Do more!”
“It will be better if you stop tugging at my sleeve,” I told her, and when she desisted, I continued. “Next we take up a fallacy called Hasty Generalization. Listen carefully: You can’t speak French. Petey Bellows can’t speak French. I must therefore conclude that nobody at the University of Minnesota can speak French.”
“Really?” said Polly, amazed. “Nobody?
I hid my exasperation. “Polly, it’s a fallacy. The generalization is reached too hastily. There are too few instances to support such a conclusion.”
“Know any more fallacies?” she asked breathlessly. “This is more fun than dancing even.”
I fought off a wave of despair. I was getting nowhere with this girl, absolutely nowhere. Still, I am nothing if not persistent. I continued. “Next comes Post Hoc. Listen to this: Let’s not take Bill on our picnic. Every time we take him out with us, it rains.”
“I know somebody just like that,” she exclaimed. “A girl back home—Eula Becker, her name is. It never fails. Every single time we take her on a picnic—”
“Polly,” I said sharply, “it’s a fallacy. Eula Becker doesn’t cause the rain. She has no connection with the rain. You are guilty of Post Hoc if you blame Eula Becker.”
“I’ll never do it again,” she promised contritely. “Are you mad at me?”
I sighed. “No, Polly, I’m not mad.”
“Then tell me some more fallacies.”
“All right. Let’s try Contradictory Premises.”
“Yes, let’s,” she chirped, blinking her eyes happily.
I frowned, but plunged ahead. “Here’s an example of Contradictory Premises: If God can do anything, can He make a stone so heavy that He won’t be able to lift it?”
“Of course,” she replied promptly.
“But if He can do anything, He can lift the stone,” I pointed out.
“Yeah,” she said thoughtfully. “Well, then I guess He can’t make the stone.”
“But He can do anything,” I reminded her.
She scratched her pretty, empty head. “I’m all confused,” she admitted.
“Of course you are. Because when the premises of an argument contradict each other, there can be no argument. If there is an irresistible force, there can be no immovable object. If there is an immovable object, there can be no irresistible force. Get it?”
“Tell me more of this keen stuff,” she said eagerly.
I consulted my watch. “I think we’d better call it a night. I’ll take you home now, and you go over all the things you’ve learned. We’ll have another session tomorrow night.”
I deposited her at the girls’ dormitory, where she assured me that she had had a perfectly terrif evening, and I went glumly home to my room. Petey lay snoring in his bed, the raccoon coat huddled like a great hairy beast at his feet. For a moment I considered waking him and telling him that he could have his girl back. It seemed clear that my project was doomed to failure. The girl simply had a logic-proof head.
But then I reconsidered. I had wasted one evening; I might as well waste another. Who knew? Maybe somewhere in the extinct crater of her mind a few members still smoldered. Maybe somehow I could fan them into flame. Admittedly it was not a prospect fraught with hope, but I decided to give it one more try.
Seated under the oak the next evening I said, “Our first fallacy tonight is called Ad Misericordiam.”
She quivered with delight.
“Listen closely,” I said. “A man applies for a job. When the boss asks him what his qualifications are, he replies that he has a wife and six children at home, the wife is a helpless cripple, the children have nothing to eat, no clothes to wear, no shoes on their feet, there are no beds in the house, no coal in the cellar, and winter is coming.”
A tear rolled down each of Polly’s pink cheeks. “Oh, this is awful, awful,” she sobbed.
“Yes, it’s awful,” I agreed, “but it’s no argument. The man never answered the boss’s question about his qualifications. Instead he appealed to the boss’s sympathy. He committed the fallacy of Ad Misericordiam. Do you understand?”
“Have you got a handkerchief?” she blubbered.
I handed her a handkerchief and tried to keep from screaming while she wiped her eyes. “Next,” I said in a carefully controlled tone, “we will discuss False Analogy. Here is an example: Students should be allowed to look at their textbooks during examinations. After all, surgeons have X-rays to guide them during an operation, lawyers have briefs to guide them during a trial, carpenters have blueprints to guide them when they are building a house. Why, then, shouldn’t students be allowed to look at their textbooks during an examination?”
“There now,” she said enthusiastically, “is the most marvy idea I’ve heard in years.”
“Polly,” I said testily, “the argument is all wrong. Doctors, lawyers, and carpenters aren’t taking a test to see how much they have learned, but students are. The situations are altogether different, and you can’t make an analogy between them.”
“I still think it’s a good idea,” said Polly.
“Nuts,” I muttered. Doggedly I pressed on. “Next we’ll try Hypothesis Contrary to Fact.”
“Sounds yummy,” was Polly’s reaction.
“Listen: If Madame Curie had not happened to leave a photographic plate in a drawer with a chunk of pitchblende, the world today would not know about radium.”
“True, true,” said Polly, nodding her head “Did you see the movie? Oh, it just knocked me out. That Walter Pidgeon is so dreamy. I mean he fractures me.”
“If you can forget Mr. Pidgeon for a moment,” I said coldly, “I would like to point out that statement is a fallacy. Maybe Madame Curie would have discovered radium at some later date. Maybe somebody else would have discovered it. Maybe any number of things would have happened. You can’t start with a hypothesis that is not true and then draw any supportable conclusions from it.”
“They ought to put Walter Pidgeon in more pictures,” said Polly, “I hardly ever see him any more.”
One more chance, I decided. But just one more. There is a limit to what flesh and blood can bear. “The next fallacy is called Poisoning the Well.”
“How cute!” she gurgled.
“Two men are having a debate. The first one gets up and says, ‘My opponent is a notorious liar. You can’t believe a word that he is going to say.’ ... Now, Polly, think. Think hard. What’s wrong?”
I watched her closely as she knit her creamy brow in concentration. Suddenly a glimmer of intelligence—the first I had seen—came into her eyes. “It’s not fair,” she said with indignation. “It’s not a bit fair. What chance has the second man got if the first man calls him a liar before he even begins talking?”
“Right!” I cried exultantly. “One hundred per cent right. It’s not fair. The first man has poisoned the well before anybody could drink from it. He has hamstrung his opponent before he could even start ... Polly, I’m proud of you.”
“Pshaws,” she murmured, blushing with pleasure.
“You see, my dear, these things aren’t so hard. All you have to do is concentrate. Think—examine—evaluate. Come now, let’s review everything we have learned.”
“Fire away,” she said with an airy wave of her hand.
Heartened by the knowledge that Polly was not altogether a cretin, I began a long, patient review of all I had told her. Over and over and over again I cited instances, pointed out flaws, kept hammering away without letup. It was like digging a tunnel. At first, everything was work, sweat, and darkness. I had no idea when I would reach the light, or even if I would. But I persisted. I pounded and clawed and scraped, and finally I was rewarded. I saw a chink of light. And then the chink got bigger and the sun came pouring in and all was bright.
Five grueling nights with this took, but it was worth it. I had made a logician out of Polly; I had taught her to think. My job was done. She was worthy of me, at last. She was a fit wife for me, a proper hostess for my many mansions, a suitable mother for my well-heeled children.
It must not be thought that I was without love for this girl. Quite the contrary. Just as Pygmalion loved the perfect woman he had fashioned, so I loved mine. I decided to acquaint her with my feelings at our very next meeting. The time had come to change our relationship from academic to romantic.
“Polly,” I said when next we sat beneath our oak, “tonight we will not discuss fallacies.”
“Aw, gee,” she said, disappointed.
“My dear,” I said, favoring her with a smile, “we have now spent five evenings together. We have gotten along splendidly. It is clear that we are well matched.”
“Hasty Generalization,” said Polly brightly.
“I beg your pardon,” said I.
“Hasty Generalization,” she repeated. “How can you say that we are well matched on the basis of only five dates?”
I chuckled with amusement. The dear child had learned her lessons well. “My dear,” I said, patting her hand in a tolerant manner, “five dates is plenty. After all, you don’t have to eat a whole cake to know that it’s good.”
“False Analogy,” said Polly promptly. “I’m not a cake. I’m a girl.”
I chuckled with somewhat less amusement. The dear child had learned her lessons perhaps too well. I decided to change tactics. Obviously the best approach was a simple, strong, direct declaration of love. I paused for a moment while my massive brain chose the proper word. Then I began:
“Polly, I love you. You are the whole world to me, the moon and the stars and the constellations of outer space. Please, my darling, say that you will go steady with me, for if you will not, life will be meaningless. I will languish. I will refuse my meals. I will wander the face of the earth, a shambling, hollow-eyed hulk.”
There, I thought, folding my arms, that ought to do it.
“Ad Misericordiam,” said Polly.
I ground my teeth. I was not Pygmalion; I was Frankenstein, and my monster had me by the throat. Frantically I fought back the tide of panic surging through me; at all costs I had to keep cool.
“Well, Polly,” I said, forcing a smile, “you certainly have learned your fallacies.”
“You’re darn right,” she said with a vigorous nod.
“And who taught them to you, Polly?”
“You did.”
“That’s right. So you do owe me something, don’t you, my dear? If I hadn’t come along you never would have learned about fallacies.”
“Hypothesis Contrary to Fact,” she said instantly.
I dashed perspiration from my brow. “Polly,” I croaked, “you mustn’t take all these things so literally. I mean this is just classroom stuff. You know that the things you learn in school don’t have anything to do with life.”
“Dicto Simpliciter,” she said, wagging her finger at me playfully.
That did it. I leaped to my feet, bellowing like a bull. “Will you or will you not go steady with me?”
“I will not,” she replied.
“Why not?” I demanded.
“Because this afternoon I promised Petey Bellows that I would go steady with him.”
I reeled back, overcome with the infamy of it. After he promised, after he made a deal, after he shook my hand! “The rat!” I shrieked, kicking up great chunks of turf. “You can’t go with him, Polly. He’s a liar. He’s a cheat. He’s a rat.”
“Poisoning the Well ,” said Polly, “and stop shouting. I think shouting must be a fallacy too.”
With an immense effort of will, I modulated my voice. “All right,” I said. “You’re a logician. Let’s look at this thing logically. How could you choose Petey Bellows over me? Look at me—a brilliant student, a tremendous intellectual, a man with an assured future. Look at Petey—a knothead, a jitterbug, a guy who’ll never know where his next meal is coming from. Can you give me one logical reason why you should go steady with Petey Bellows?”
“I certainly can,” declared Polly. “He’s got a raccoon coat.”

Friday, July 27, 2012

A bit about marriage

There are many admirable and enjoyable scenes in this movie, but the one that stopped me in my tracks and made me start typing is this one:

Victor: I don't like divorce. Once more, I don't think adultery sufficient grounds for it.

Hilary: Oh, what a masculine attitude.

Victor: I don’t think marriage is just a liason to be terminated when the sexual side of it gets boring or irksome to either party.

Hilary: Oh, it’s never been boring or irksome; not for me it hasn’t! And don’t talk about “either party”; it makes it sound like a contract.

Victor: And if people make promises, what else can it be but a contract? You promised to be faithful. Well you’ve broken that one; must I respond by breaking one of mine? “To have and to hold, from this day forth; for better, for worse.” This moment in our lives must obviously come under the heading “for worse.” And the popular measure taken nowa days is to say, “well, the ‘better’ part of it is over, and here we are with the worse so goodbye, my dear, it was fun while it lasted. You take your boyfriend, I’ll take my freedom, and I’ll be on the Riviera before you.” Well, I think that’s wrong. If your mistress is unfaithful, she should be discarded. If your wife is, she should be befriended.

Hilary: Befriended? Meaning helped and patronized?

Victor: Meaning beloved and cherished.

-- Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in The Grass is Greener

Monday, May 28, 2012


I was recently asked to share my crouton recipe. The thing is, it’s not really a recipe, and I can’t say anything about actual amounts, since I tend to eyeball the whole thing. But what I DO have is a procedural difference. I decided a while ago to make my croutons differently from what the standard recipes require.

Most recipes have you cut up & dry out the bread cubes and then add oil & spices. This only puts the flavor of the spices onto the surface of the croutons. What I do is soak the bread cubes in oil & spices BEFORE drying them out; this allows the oil to transport the flavors of the spices all the way through the bread cubes. The result is much, much more flavorful.

So, here’s what I use:
  • a 1 gallon ziplock bag
  • a brown paper lunch bag
  • 3-4 cups of bread cubes (I use stale bread of all sorts. I recently got fabulous results from some pumpernickel bagels; no lie.)
  • a healthy dose of olive oil (I end up using ⅓ - ½ c.)
  • spices (we like really spicy croutons, so I tend to start with a whole lot of Zataran’s Creole spice and sometimes add some extra red pepper flake; were I doing Italian soups, I would use a whole bunch of thyme, oregano, and probably garlic. Use what you like, and use a whole lot more than you think you need.)
And here’s what I do:
  1. Cut the bread into cubes of a size you find pleasing. For us, the center-cut cubes tend to be just under ½" on a side, and edges are smaller.
  2. Put the bread cubes into the brown paper bag and the paper bag into the ziplock.
  3. Glug a bunch of olve oil onto the bread.
  4. Add the spices.
  5. Fold down the brown paper bag and close the ziplock.
  6. Shake it up baby. Now, twist & shout.
  7. Every couple of hours, shake the bag and set it with a different side down. Notice that the oil leaking through the brown paper has taken on the color of the spices.
  8. Go to bed.
  9. Wake up & shake some more, then set it down with a different side u.p.
  10. Go to work.
  11. Come home, shake, & rotate some more.
  12. Pour the oily, spicy bread cubes out onto a baking sheet, one layer deep.
  13. Bake at 200°F, checking & stirring occasionally untl the cubes are very dry indeed.
  14. Put the croutons into an air-tight container and use them a bit at a time in soups.
See? It’s not so much a matter of spices (which can be changed to taste) but procedure. You want the oil to have lots of time to spread the flavors all the way to the middle of the croutons. The and only then do you dry them out.

That’s the dealio.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

It’s all in the Synopsis, pt. 3

A three-day affair between two disobedient teenagers results in the deaths of six people.

-- Romeo & Juliette

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bok Choy Soup

(This recipe posted by Steliz rather than Stizzy.)

As requested by several (and enjoyed by several others this past
week), here is the annotated recipe for the Bok Choy Soup.


Bok Choy Soup

(Source: Diabetes Forecast, March 2012, p. 58)

Servings claim: Eight 1-cup servings. Reality: served in a large bowl, 3-4 people can demolish the entire batch.

Minimal carbs; original recipe is 5 g per 8 oz serving. Lots of sodium…lower salt products can decrease this.

Preparation time (claim – 15 mins, count on 20+ for all of the washing, peeling, and chopping).

Ingredients & Directions: [1]
  1. In a large skillet, heat 2 tsp sesame oil

  2. Add in & sauté until the mushrooms begin to brown:
    • 8 oz fresh shitake mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed, and thinly sliced
      (thinly sliced baby belles can be a tolerable substitute)
    • 1-4 garlic cloves, minced (varies by your test buds)
    • 1-2 large shallots, minced
    • 1 Tbsp peeled, grated fresh ginger

  3. The recipe has 2 scallions added in at the end for garnish. I added in
    • 6-7 thinly sliced scallions to the veggie sauté. Great extra earthy flavor.

  4. Heat up in a large pot.
    • 6 cups chicken broth [2] [3]
    • 1 Tbsp soy sauce

  5. Add to the broth and let simmer on low heat for several minutes:
    • 3-4 cups thinly sliced bok choy, cleaned, and tough stem ends discarded.

  6. Stir the sautéed veggies in to the broth/stock.

  7. Add:
    • 1-2 Tbsp rice vinegar
    • 1-2 tsp chili paste [4]

  8. Ladle into generous bowls and garnish with scallions.

  9. Squeeze lime wedges [5] over the top & serve.

  10. Keep it warm in the stove; folks WILL be heading back into the kitchen for seconds.
[1] Posted here are my variations on the original recipe. You will vary these, just as I did.

[2] The recipe calls for 6 cups of broth. Most boxed broths & stocks come in 1-quart quantities. Go ahead and plan to use 2 quarts (8 cups), and toss in extra veggies.

[3] I have made this two ways. The chicken broth was great. Equally great were two boxes of Emeril’s veggie stock with a couple tbsps of “Better than Bouillon” vegetarian “chicken-flavored” paste added in for amazing, vegetarian chicken flavoring.

[4] Roasted chili pastes have a much milder flavor that complements all of the earthy veggies. You will need more for the “zing” factor.

[5] Seriously, you will want the limes. Awesome, especially with Asian chili pastes.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Strawberry Fudge Cheesecakey Pie

This recipe written by SWMBO.

(Modified from a Pillsbury Recipe found here.)

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare a crust for a 10” pie (1)

Sift together:
  • 1½ cups biscuit or other light flour
  • ¾ tsp salt (I used kosher salt, which I powdered using a mortar and pestle)
Cut in ½ cup Crisco. I add half at a time. The first half is cut in to make a fine crumb texture; the second half is added in to make larger pea-sized pieces. It enhances the flakiness.

Mix in a cup
  • 2 Tbsp very cold water and
  • 2 Tbsp unflavored vodka (2) ( I used Sobieski.)
Toss the liquid 1 Tbsp at a time over the flour/salt/Crisco mixture. Stir until the dough just holds together in a ball.

Turn dough ball out onto a tea towel lightly sprinkled with flour and powdered sugar. Flatten, then roll out gently into a circle 1” wider than the top diameter of your pie plate.

Use the tea towel and rolling pin to gently maneuver the crust into place inside a 10” glass pie plate. Form the edges of the crust however looks nice to you. Handle the crust minimally—pretend your hands are on fire and the crust is made of snow.

Create a foil shield for the crust: Roll out two sheets, ~18 inches each, of aluminum foil. Place the sheets at right angles to each other on a counter, and set the pie plate into the center of the foil sheets. Starting from the outside, bring the edges of the foil together, joining/rolling the edges as the pieces come closer together, making a circle of foil that rests above the top edges of the crust. This allows the shield to stay in place as the pie is filled, baked, moved, etc., and keeps the crust from overcooking later on. You can skip this step if you have a pie crust shield that fits your 10” pie plate.

Set the crust aside. If there is room, hold it in the fridge while you make the Chocolate Layer.

Chocolate Layer

In a large bowl, combine
  • A 10.25-oz. package of fudge brownie mix (these are usually in packets/pouches, not boxes—keep looking on the shelf—you’ll find one!),
  • ¼ cup cooking oil,
  • 2 Tbsp water, and
  • 1 egg.
Beat 50 strokes with spoon (not mixer). It will be a bit grainy.

Spread over the bottom of the pie crust.

Put into your preheated oven. Bake at 350° for 30 to 35 minutes or until top is shiny and center is set.

Cheesecake Layer

Combine in a medium bowl:
  • 1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, softened (3)
  • ¼ cup sugar,
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla, and
  • 1 egg.
Beat until smooth.

When the chocolate layer is done, spoon the cream cheese mixture over the top of the pie, carefully spreading to cover.

Pull the foil shield back away from the crust edges—this will now allow them to brown.

Return pie to oven, bake 18-20 minutes until cream cheese layer is smooth.

Cool (I placed in fridge) at least 1 hour.

Strawberry Layer (4)

While the pie is cooling, slice 3 cups of fresh strawberries. Set aside 2 cups for topping and 1 cup for glaze.

Strawberry Glaze

Take one cup of the sliced strawberries, chop coarsely, and set into a small pan on the stove—set burner on low side of medium heat.

As strawberries start to sizzle, add slowly a mixture of
  • 1 cup water, and
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch—shaken together to eliminate lumps.
Stir until liquid thickens and just comes to a boil. Add red food coloring if you want intense red color (I didn’t).

Set a fine strainer over a bowl and transfer the thickened, lumpy glaze into it. Push the liquids into the bowl (assuming they don’t just drip in).

Stir the strained glaze into remaining two cups of strawberries. This keeps them fresher on the top of the pie. (5)

Assemble & Serve Pie

Spread glazed strawberries over the top of the cheesecake layer.

Top (as desired) with

• Heated hot fudge ice cream topping, (6) or

• Chocolate syrup, or

• Whipped cream, or

• Some combination (7)

Serve to guests who will be astonished when you cut into the pie and they see the chocolate layer.

Store any leftovers in refrigerator.


Not going to serve it right away? Here’s what Pillsbury recommends:

Prepare the pie and let it cool. Do not garnish it with the fudge or strawberries. Wrap it tightly and refrigerate it for up to three days, or freeze for up to two weeks. To thaw the frozen pie unwrap it and refrigerate it for two to three hours. Bring the pie to room temperature, decorate it with the fudge and strawberries, and serve.


(1) The recipe calls for a nine-inch pie—I don’t have any pie plates in that size. I’ve learned to go larger, to assure that the filling is cooked all the way through in the center.

(2) The vodka adds the moisture needed to form and roll out the dough. It also evaporates more quickly during cooking, which results in a flakier crust. Trust me on this one!

(3) The package instructions for softening state to microwave it for 10 seconds. I found it blended better after 20 seconds. Don’t use whipped or spreadable cream cheese.

(4) The Pillsbury website shows a lovely pie topped with strawberry halves. Make the pie this way if you are entering it into a contest. However, the reviewers on the website were pretty consistent in saying that the halved strawberries made the pie difficult to slice and serve and the pieces fell off of the pie during eating. I took the advice given to create the pie with sliced strawberries.

(5) Hold the remaining bits of cooked strawberries to add, a teaspoon or so at a time, to glasses of Prosecco or champagne.

(6) I tried piping melted mini Hershey’s kisses over the top. They came out too thick, and didn’t work well the next day after the pie had been refrigerated.

(7) I’d recommend the whipped cream. The pie isn’t as sweet as you might expect, and whipped cream, brownies, cheesecake and strawberries are a great combination.