Friday, May 29, 2009

"Something More than a Miracle"

Last night, my book club met at my house, and it was a fun time, as it always is. However, we little discussed the book because I, as it happens, was the only one who liked it. The book in question is Gilead. If you haven't read it, it's about an elderly minister, John Ames, who has been blessed with a second-chance family late in life. He also suffers from angina pectoris and is expected to die fairly soon. So he decides the write notes to his seven-year-old son, an epistolary testament of his memories, in which he explores the meanings behind events, his past, his Christianity, and the sacred love he has for life.

The main criticisms are that the narrative is slow and repetitive, and these are fair assessments. Introspective retrospection (if you'll forgive the term!) is often both slow and repetitive. How many times do we revisit, through our memories, those events in our lives that have either deep meaning for us or some sense of heightened awareness, a sense of magnitude that is somehow just out of the reach of our conscious understanding? Or do we even take the time to do this, in our ridiculously busy culture? Perhaps we are too busy to think, to reflect, on how blessed we are just to be alive.

For more than two years, I've been acutely aware of the irrevocable passage of time. My children are growing so fast. My own childhood memories have taken on a luminous quality, even the darker ones. All of my grandparents are gone, although one still lives in a nursing home, oblivious to all and "useless." That word seems harsh, but it was her own word about the kind of dotage she did not want, but is living all the same.

So perhaps I've been in the mood for Gilead, for a quiet, poetic blessing of life, the sweet and the bitter. Perhaps I've needed to see with clarity the beauty of life, most of which slips by unnoticed by us. And even in his anxiety about leaving his young family behind after he dies, un-provided for, as it were, I couldn't help but join him in his joy in the life we are all blessed to live.

John Ames writes to his son: "You may not remember me very well at all, and it may seem to you to be no great thing to have been the good child of an old man in a shabby little town you will no doubt leave behind. If only I had the words to tell you."

As for the food, which is almost as important as the book, (ha!) I served a simple supper: grilled chicken souvlaki on skewers with tomatoes, Vidalia onions, lemon wedges, and Greek olives on the side; tzatziki sauce; and toasted pita triangles. For dessert, I made mocha mousse. Several ladies asked for the tzatziki and mousse recipes, so here they are:

(serves four -- I doubled it)
2 cups plain yogurt
1 cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and grated
1 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried dill

Line a strainer with a paper towel and place the strainer over a bowl. Pour the yogurt into the paper-lined strainer. Let drain in the fridge for 30 minutes. In a medium bowl, mix together the grated cucumber and the salt. Let sit 30 minutes. Drain and squeeze the cucumber to remove the liquid. Then mix the cucumber, garlic, dill, pepper, and yogurt together. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Mocha Mousse
(serves 8)
2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
1/3 cup confectioners sugar
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup strong hot coffee
1 tablespoon Kahlua (optional -- I had it, so I used it)

Whip cream and sugar until set, but not stiff. Pulverize chips in a blender or food processor (that can handle liquids). Add hot coffee and blend. Scrape down any chocolate stuck to the side of the blender and blend again until well mixed. Chocolate should be melted. Add Kahlua, if using. Pour chocolate into the cream and fold together gently but thoroughly. Refrigerate and chill at least two hours. Serve in individual bowls. Or, before chilling, pour mousse into a serving bowl and then chill.

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