Standing For Kindness (And Fabulous Soup)
Foggy mornings give November mornings a ghostly quality, like fading old photographic images. Misty nights capture waxing moonlight in silvery nets, spangling plants with tiny moondrops. Both effects are beautiful and sad, dimming the pale sunlight and matching my mood. There’s no denying that these are desperately dark times for our country and the world. I wake up in the middle of the night, weeping for our suffering planet, for water, for trees, for air. I’m soul sick and grieving over the environmental destruction and the human meanness we’re faced with every single day. I’m painfully aware that neither is anything new; both conditions are as old as humanity. But both are so painful because I have a different dream for the planet and its people.
History teaches us that the degrading, heartless backward swings we’re experiencing usually follow and are followed by forward swings. Ruth Bader Ginsberg has reminded of this several times and she’s not wrong. But. There have never been so many of us before, and we’ve never been able to wreak as much and as lasting harm so quickly before. I wobble between panic and despair, perhaps especially because I recognize that’s the intent behind the malicious nastiness of the current regime. Like alcoholics and addicts, they use a choking smog of smoke and mirrors to knock us off balance, providing a relentless stream of aggressive destruction that’s deliberately designed to make ordinary people collapse in despair. The despair of good people is the goal of evil people.
The Power To Change
My dream is of a peaceful, plentiful world, where we humans all have access to good health care, can control our reproduction rate, can feed and house and clothe and educate ourselves and our children, can build cooperative and productive societies that hold the health and wellbeing of the planet and all its wild inhabitants as dear as humanity. That’s what I want with all my being, but getting there isn’t easy. If few of us are given the opportunity and power to change the world for the better, it’s worth noting that some people don’t wait for those tools, but dive straight in where they are with what they have. If Greta Thunberg, a young teenager on the Aspie spectrum, can shift the thoughts and actions of the world simply by showing up, persisting and speaking clear, simple truths, perhaps we are all capable of more than we imagine.
It helps to have clear goals; with so much happening, it’s easy to get scattered, spending dwindling energy on a multitude of issues. I’ve made myself crazy more than a few times trying to respond to every cause that appeals. I end up making myself sick, less capable than ever of doing any good. Instead, I keep coming back to my lifelong focus; healthy gardening. Fortunately it’s a huge tree of a topic, with many side branches; healing soil, growing food without toxic chemicals, getting young people engaged in gardening, finding regionally appropriate plants, planting trees, making pollinator gardens, bird and butterfly friendly gardens, on and on. What’s more, I can pursue it every day, in almost any setting, public or private, formal or spontaneous. Even before I was (mostly) retired, I found numerous places and ways to share my knowledge and skills widely, accepting payment in the form of satisfaction and joy.
Even with an endless supply of worthy work I love, it’s still too easy to sink into the sticky pit of dark despair. To keep my balance, I have to actively notice every positive action, every kindness, every joyful effusion, every moment of sweetness that comes my way. For years, I’ve kept file cards in purse or pocket so I can make notes about goodness. When I start to slide, I bump up my practice, making sure that I acknowledge at least ten positive things every hour, light in the darkness, all day long. This takes work, and sometimes means I need to get out of my house and walk in the rain to see raindrops spangling a trembling leaf, a bird calling from a bending branch, a sudden shaft of sunlight, a smile exchanged with a passersby. I also count hugs from my grandkids, my cat purring on my lap, the smell of baking bread, the fun of knitting unicorns or making up patterns for doll’s socks.
There’s also satisfaction to be had from calling my elected officials, from local school board and parks district to senators and congress people. It’s especially pleasant to hear cheerful thanks from their aides, no matter how often I call. In fact, they are often grateful to hear my requests because the current regime pays people on every level to pretend to be grassroots activists and they are calling every day too. Believe it. Elected officials are supposed to be responsive to their constituency, and some very unpleasant people are calling for very unpleasant actions, from bathroom bills to cutting off aid for people of color to locking more kids in cages to allowing extractive adn toxic-producing industries to rape and pillage unchecked. I particularly like the five calls app (5calls.org), because they provide a script you can alter, especially helpful when I start crying as I try to make my plea for help and action.
Making Comfort Food
Everyone has some favorite comfort foods, but sadly, a lot of them aren’t really ideal for daily indulging. That’s truly sad, since every day has demanded comfort for the past three years (ok, and before that too). These days, some of my most comforting food is coming from my indoor garden, where my little lemon tree is ripening an impressive batch of fruit. My whole family loves Greek Avgolemono soup, a gorgeously flavorful concoction that combines tart lemons and eggs, rice and broth. I like to lean into the lemon, adding grated rind and lots of pepper, but some folks find a softer, less assertive flavor more pleasing. My second treat is a lemon pie that is a tremendous crowd pleaser. Again, I make mine more intensely lemony than usual, so definitely suit yourself if you prefer milder, sweeter versions.
6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 cup cooked short grain brown rice (or any)
2-3 organic lemons, juiced, rind grated
(1/3-1/2 cup lemon juice)
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons flat Italian parsley, stemmed
In a soup pot, bring broth to a simmer over medium high heat. Add rice, lemon zest and salt and simmer for five minutes. Whisk lemon juice into eggs, then add a little hot broth to temper the mixture so it doesn’t curdle. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the hot broth while stirring constantly over lowest heat. Add more salt and pepper to taste and serve, garnished with parsley. Serves 4.
The Most Lemony Pie Ever
This pie filling is seriously tart, so adjust the flavor at the end of the cooking while the filling is still hot; just add sugar and/or butter to taste, but don’t eat it all, unless you really need to. Then it’s fine. The crust can be graham cracker, toasted nut crust, gluten free or regular dough or you may prefer the filling as a pudding, with roasted pistachios, toasted coconut, or candied ginger for garnish.
(Very) Lively Lemon Pie
1-1/2 cups cane sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup fresh lemon juice (3-4 large lemons)
1 cup water
3-4 tablespoons grated lemon zest
4 large egg yolks, well beaten
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 baked pie crust
1/4 cup spearmint leaves
Sift together 1-1/4 cup sugar, the cornstarch and salt into a heavy bottomed sauce pan. Stir in the lemon juice, water, and lemon zest, then add egg yolks and blend well. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently (especially pan edges). When mixture thickens, stir constantly for a minute, then remove from heat and stir in butter until completely incorporated. Taste and add more sugar if needed, stirring until dissolved. Stir in vanilla and pour filing into the baked pie crust. Let cool for an hour, then sprinkle top with spearmint leaves. Serves at least one.