Thursday, October 28, 2010


(Eta Carina Nebula)

Every Thursday, I post a very large photograph of some corner of space captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and available online from the picture album at HubbleSite, followed by poetry after the jump.


by Eliza Griswold

Was it dissatisfaction or hope
that beckoned some of the monkeys
down from the trees and onto the damp
forbidden musk of the forest floor?

Which one tested his thumbs
against the twig
and awkwardly dug a grub
from the soil?

What did the tribe above think
as it leaned on the slender branches
watching the others
frustrated, embarrassed,
but pinching grubs
with leathery fingers
into their mouths?

The moral is movement
is awkward. The lesson is fumble.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010


(Can she bake a cherry pie, Billy Boy, Billy Boy...)

Thanksgiving was not a strong family holiday when I was growing up. There's a number of reasons for that. One is that while my mother adored turkey, the rest of us would rather have chicken, ham, or that rarest of proteins on our table, some version of beef. Another was that splashing out for a big meal was frequently a hardship on Mama's budget, especially in the tense month leading to Christmas.

A third factor is that my father did not reliably make it home for Thanksgiving. He often was tagged (or volunteered, I can't say) to be part of the crew who worked out in the field through that week. Mama would be depressed and our dinner was perfunctory.

Another reason I learned about as an adult was the general antipathy toward Thanksgiving in white Southern culture as a Yankee holiday shoved down our throats during the Civil War. Most of the older folks in my family were ambivalent about it -- as children, they had grown up around folks who had once been Confederates. The actual first feast of European colonists on American soil had been prepared by our Southern forebears long before the Pilgrim mythologized version.

Once I became politicized, it was also a holiday whose lies were unsupportable by me, and I took comfort in protesting Thanksgiving, as I boycotted the Fourth of July. But that sort of choice is much easier when it actually is a choice: When you still have family, when you have other community to turn to, and when a shared meal is not a rare luxury.

This morning, the Meals on Wheels volunteer left me a form to sign up for a home-delivered Thanksgiving meal on that Thursday. Deadline is November 17th. I must guarantee I will be home to receive the meal.

Well, no problem there. I'll be here and ready to eat. But I am having a definite emotional reaction toward the idea of signing up for it.

The shame of charity, of being the kind of person given institutional kindness by strangers. (How did I get here? For so many years, I was on the other end, one of the givers.)

The idea of eating a generic, mass-prepared meal with no choice over the menu. I mean, I don't much like pumpkin pie and almost any other kind of pie is preferable to me. Plus the love of dishes prepared by folks you know doesn't usually come in the MoW wrapping.

The fact that I will still eat alone, on paper plates with plastic utensils. There will be no leftovers for late night sandwiches or creative assemblages by others under the roof with me. This is not actually new, I haven't had a shared Thanksgiving meal in at least five years, once I stopped making tremendous efforts to make it happen, only to have friends announce they were leaving town to visit family or "just needed to get away" for that weekend. No matter how close you are to folks, it feels virtually impossible to ask them not to leave you. And, even then, I did lay myself bare to the mother of one family I was supposedly enveloped among, only to have her make plans without me and simply keep it secret until the last minute, then blame me for the guilt she felt. She needn't have bothered, I blame myself first most of the time anyhow.

I do have visitors who will be here that week of Thanksgiving, one or maybe two sets of travelers from the Northeast whom I very much want to see, and I thought that had more than covered the holiday for me. Until I got the form and had to think about the day in particular.

It's a free meal, and I don't have the room to say no to that. My alternative will be to have something microwavable I have arranged for in advance, possibly more to my liking (pot roast? lemon pie?) but still eaten solo. And, I have to admit, the possible sympathy/pity of the volunteer bringing my meal on that day jerks me up short. I hear my mama's voice in my head: "We don't let others feel sorry for us." Her reason for rejecting what little assistance might have come our way during my childhood.

She was wrong, I know, but the residue is packed in around my heart.

So, I'm simply sharing what I'm struggling with. I'll take it to my counselor, perhaps write my way through it (in my books, nobody cooks or eats alone unless they choose it), and find the choice which offers the most chance for redemption. I bet there are some of you out there facing similar questions.

Lemon chess pie, that's what I would ask Mama to make. And a cherry pie for Bill, of course. With her sage cornbread dressing alongside the roast and new potatoes. Sweet tea, fresh green beans, and jellied cranberry with the can ridges still visible. Bill would say grace, roaring "Good spuds, good meat, good god let's eat!" and making his predictable jokes about sweet 'taters as "poot roots". Then some stupid sports thing on TV while I fell asleep on the couch, face pressed into the cushions, remembering how Mama always said "Wonder what the po' folks are eating today."



(A foodscape by Carl Warner -- the "sea" is thin slices of salmon.)

I like Caprial on her own. John
is not nearly as funny as he thinks he is.
Rachel Allen could cook anything
and make it look easy. I click off her show
craving "botter" and dishes with cabbage.
Steven Raichlen proves that even someone
with extreme OCD can make barbecue.
Lidia needs to stop forcing her family
to repeat that cheesy "Let's eat" command.
Also, Joe is not that special.
I wonder if those close to Sara Moulton
before going on to the next thought,
Hubert Keller and the food porn queens
groomed by Martha Stewart
need to be fined $1000 every time
they use the word "nice".
It's NOT a description, people.
Laney Bayless is shaping into a good cook.
And don't you get the feeling that
Deanna is the force
behind the family business?
Claudine always screws up
but she doesn't care any more
and Jacques has gotten over it, too.
I like how he uses pantry stuff
and frozen peas.
Andreas loves nothing more
than being out in nature
with a rugged manly man
exuding Nordic pine tesosterone
and cook a meal for him. Ina
cooks for gay men who prefer
flowers and perfect place settings.
I'd like to see Tommy Tang and Andreas
compare techniques if you know what I mean.
Ming seems to drink a lot
and never scrapes out a bowl
but his dinnerware are works of art.
Mario is a minimalist genius.
Bobby Flay is overextended.
I prefer to watch Nick Stellino and
Mary Ann Esposito with the sound muted.
What we need are new shows
by Daisy, or how about one of
the Latino chefs who are the backbone
of the industry out there?
And more Julia. We still
miss Julia.

Copyright 2010 Maggie Jochild
Written 26 October 2010, 2:00 p.m.



Here's the weekly best of what I've gleaned from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. There are some really creative folks out there.


Sunday, October 24, 2010


When I was 14, we moved into a trailer that we parked just across a field from the railroad tracks. The train had not stopped in that town for decades, so the freight roared through at full speed. However, there was a crossing nearby, so the engineer was obliged to lay on the air horn for the last several hundred yards as it approached our vicinity. This combined with the express itself penetrated the thin walls of our trailer as if the train was coming directly through the house, rattling dishes and briefly making conversation difficult.

After a while, we became so accustomed to the daily roar-throughs that we didn't notice it any longer, just automatically raised our voices when necessary. We became so oblivious to it that when my urban cousins came to visit from Dallas, we were all bewildered by the growing expression of horror on their faces. They all stood in obvious terror, looking around wildly, and Mama yelled "What on earth is wrong with y'all?"

My uncle said "My god, don't you HEAR that?" as the train blasted by.

"Oh. Yeah, that happens" we said, giggling at their reaction. We might have been trailer trash but we did know better than to actually park on the tracks.

Later that year, we got a Siamese cat for Mama's birthday, carrying it home with pride. The dogs were temporarily locked outside -- as was Blossom, the goat -- while the new fancy cat sat on Mama's lap and we tried to read its personality. Then, out of nowhere, the cat flew off her lap and ran headlong into the back window, hitting its head so hard that it crumpled to the floor, stunned.

As Bill went to pick it up, Mama said "Oh, no, we got one with seizures!" We were dismayed for a few minutes until we realized a train had gone through and the poor cat was simply trying to get away from it.