Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Thought of the Day, July 26, 2016: Van Horne & Riley on Preparation

"Those who prepare and train themselves for the the possibility of violence will react differently than those who do not."
—Patrick Van Horne and Jason A. Riley, authors of Left of Bang: How The Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Philosophy Thursday: A Buddhist Look at Death and Loss

I'm not really good with death. Over the years, I've lost one pair of great-grandparents, two pairs of grandparents, an aunt, my mother, my best friend, and too many animal companions to mention. While my losses don't compare with those who have survived wars, natural disasters, or other tragedies, it doesn't change the fact that every death of a loved one is painful. In the case of my mother, it was downright devastating.

Since I know dealing with even more death is inevitable, I try to find ways to prepare myself and accept the inevitable.

Some find solace in Abrahamic religious traditions, but that doesn't really work for me. It's not that the idea of Heaven isn't appealing. It is. I just can't quite make the leap of faith required to actually believe in it except in a vague sort of way.

On the other end of the spectrum, I don't fully accept the New Atheists and their denial of any transcendence either. 

Somewhere between the theist and the materialist lies the Buddhist, specifically the more philosophical, less religious Buddhism I find myself drawn to.

What do I mean by "more philosophical, less religious Buddhism"? As Stephen Batchelor explains in his book Buddhism Without Beliefs A Contemporary Guide to Awakening, it is quite possible to live in accordance to Buddhist philosophy without necessarily believing in karma, rebirth, the Pure Land, etc. Personally, I neither believe or disbelieve in those things. I just don't find them relevant to my daily life. 

The best book I have read so far about the Buddhist approach to death and dying is No Fear, No Death by Thich Nhat Hanh. This is a deeply compassionate work, as is every other book I've read by Nhat Hanh. Very early on, he outlines the basic idea that will inform the rest of the book:

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Books Read, Midway Through 2016 Edition

Since we are about midway through 2016, here is a list of the books I've read in the first half of the
year in alphabetical order.

FICTION
  • The Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia McKillip
  • The Caller by Juliet Marillier
  • Chalice by Robin McKinley
  • Cybele's Secret by Juliet Marillier
  • The Dancers of Arun by Elizabeth A. Lynn
  • Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier
  • Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins by Emma Donoghue
  • Pax by Sara Pennypacker
  • The Promise by Robert Crais
  • Raven Flight by Juliet Marillier
  • Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier
  • Tower of Thorns by Juliet Marillier
  • Walking Dead by Greg Rucka (reread)
  • Watchtower by Elizabeth A. Lynn
  • A Wild Swan and Other Tales by Michael Cunningham
  • Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier
  • The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits: Stories by Emma Donoghue

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Books Read, June 2016

This month was heavy on Zen Buddhism and Juliet Marillier.

Speaking of Juliet Marillier... In three months I've read seven of her books. Since reading Wildwood Dancing in April, I've become a big fan of her beautifully written, character-driven fantasy novels. I especially like how personal the books are, with their focus on very damaged individuals trying to better themselves and their relationships with those around them. While dark at times, Marillier's novels are ultimately about hope.

I should also note that several of Juliet Marillier's are classified as YA ("Young Adult") are supposed to be especially appealing to young girls. Well, I'm a fortysomething male, and I still loved them. No wonder my wife tells me I have "the sensibility of a morbid, darkly romantic teenage girl."

FICTION
  • Cybele's Secret by Juliet Marillier
  • Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier
  • Raven Flight by Juliet Marillier
  • The Caller by Juliet Marillier
NONFICTION
  • This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein
  • The Zen Way to the Martial Arts by Taisen Deshimaru
  • Zen For Beginners by Judith Blackstone and Zoran Josipovic
GRAPHIC NOVELS

  • Batman '66 by Jeff Parker and various artists

Thought of the Day, July 5, 2016: Hesse on Living in this World


"Whoever wants music instead of noise, joy instead of pleasure, soul instead of gold, creative work instead of business, passion instead of foolery, finds no home in this trivial world of ours."
— Hermann Hesse

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Recipe Wednesday: Penne Arrabiata

When it comes to pasta—and Italian food in general—I have a strong preference for the dishes of Southern Italy. (Consider, for example, my love of spaghetti all'aglio, olio e peperoncino.) Conveniently, Southern Italian cuisine, with its holy trio of garlic, olive oil, and tomatoes, is also way easier to veganize than the more meat and dairy based staples of the North.

With summer now officially here, it's the perfect time for a zesty, tomatoey pasta, especially if you plan on spending time in the sun: tomatoes contain lycopene, which helps prevent UV damage to your skin. One of my favorites is penne arrabiata. This simple dish is especially popular in and around Rome. In Italian, "arrabiata" means "angry." Why is the sauce so angry? Because of all the peppers! Personally, peppers make me happy, not angry, but I suppose it would be a bit arrogant to change the name of penne arrabiata to penne contento.

My favorite recipe for penne arrabiata is based on one that originally appeared in an issue of Cook's Illustrated. I've simplified it a bit, making it a quick and tasty meal option.

Penne Arrabiata
(serves 4-6)
1 pound penne pasta
1/4 to 1/3 cup olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup diced pepperoncini
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon paprika
2 15-oz can diced tomatoes with juices
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta until al dente ("to the tooth"). Pass the time with a nice Campari cocktail. Right before you drain the pasta scoop out half a cup of the cooking water and put it to the side.

In the same pot you used to cook the pasta, add the olive oil and reduce the heat to medium. Add the garlic and stir frequently for about two minutes. Add the pepper flakes, pepperoncini, and paprika. Continue to stir.


Add the canned tomatoes. Use an immersion blender to blend into a smooth sauce.

When the sauce starts to bubble, toss in the cooked penne and the pasta cooking water. Stir and toss until everything is hot and the penne is well-coated with sauce. Be careful not to overcook! Gooey, overcooked pasta is an insult to Italians everywhere. 

Serve the pasta immediately topped with nutritional yeast to taste, fresh ground pepper, and perhaps a nice bottle of Citra Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, one of the world's tastiest inexpensive wines.

There are a few ways to tweak this recipe if you so desire. An easy one: more stuff! More garlic, more pepper, more oil... whatever you want. For a smokier flavor, use smoked paprika instead of regular paprika. Similarly, using fire-roasted tomatoes will give the sauce a bit of smokiness. 

I often listen to one of the excellent Cafe del Mar chillout compilations when preparing and enjoying this dish. Granted, Cafe del Mar is based out of Ibiza, Spain, not Italy, but the mood still matches. There are more than 20 volumes in the series. My favorite is probably Cafe Del Mar - Volume 8, which features Goldfrapp, Dido, and Lamb, as well as this catchy, summery little tune by Afterlife.


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Thought of the Day, June 7, 2016: D.H. Lawrence on Religion

“It is a fine thing to establish one's own religion in one's heart, not to be dependent on tradition and second-hand ideals. Life will seem to you, later, not a lesser, but a greater thing.” 
― D.H. Lawrence