Friday, March 21, 2008

Tsoureki (Greek Easter Bread)

A sweet eggy bread, sort of like challah. Don't skip the orange zest. I won second prize in the Ionia Free Fair in Michigan with this bread last summer.

1 cup warm milk (about 110 F)
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons orange juice or concentrate
1 tablespoon (or one packet) yeast
about 5 cups white flour
4 eggs
2 teaspoons orange zest
1 teaspoon salt

In a big bowl, combine the milk, sugar, butter, orange juice, yeast, and one cup of the flour. This mix must be the right temperature - warm to the touch but not hot - or the yeast won't work! Let it sit in a warm place until it bubbles, about 20 minutes.

Separate one of the eggs and set aside the yolk. Stir the white and all the remaining ingredients into the dough. When it's too thick to stir, turn it onto a floured surface and knead for 5 minutes. Return it to the bowl and cover with a towel. Let sit in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Punch down the dough and divide in three pieces. Roll the pieces into long ropes and braid them. On a greased baking sheet, lay the braid into a circle or wreath shape. If you want, nestle dyed eggs into the wreath. Let rise again until doubled, about 45 minutes.

Mix the egg yolk with a little water or milk and brush it onto the bread. Preheat the oven to 350. Bake the bread about 30 minutes.

Makes one large and beautiful loaf, suitable for feeding hungry Morris dancers who are staying at your house prior to the Easter parade.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The end of time

When I first read the lyrics to Ewan MacColl's "The First Time", I disliked them.

The first time ever I saw your face
I though the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon & stars were the gifts you gave
To the dark & the empty skies, my love
To the dark and empty skies.

The first time ever I kissed your mouth
I felt the earth move in my hand
Like the trembling heart of a captive bird
That was there at my command, my love
That was there at my command.

The first time ever I lay with you
And felt your heart beat over mine
I thought our joy would fill the earth
And last til the end of time, my love
And last til the end of time.

Knowing nothing of the story behind it, the words turned me off. "Sure, you thought your love would last forever, but of course it won't! Let alone sex. You probably got tired of her, if she didn't get tired of you first."

In college I discovered Peggy Seeger's album Songs of Love and Politics. Along with her own "I Want to Be an Engineer" and many other political songs, the most memorable love song is "The First Time", which Ewan wrote for her during a 1956 transatlantic phone call. They didn't get tired of each other - they were married for many decades. But she also sings the heartbreaking "Thoughts of Time", about being married to a much older man and living with the almost certain knowledge that Ewan would die before her.

These days I have marriage on the brain, and her story takes on more significance for me. The worst thing I can currently imagine is losing Jeff too early, though unless we both go in the same car wreck one of us has to die before the other. So this week when I found Peggy Seeger's most recent album Bring Me Home in the library, I was entranced by the last song. She describes the different people who have been home to her over the years - starting with her parents and brothers, then her life with Ewan, her life alone after his death. But the last verses are about her life with her new partner, Irene. I've never met any of these people, but I was happy all day after learning that! It felt like I had heard good news from a friend.

At Pendle Hill it's the end of term, students are leaving, and people are fond of quoting "The sorrow of your leaving lasts only a moment, because the joy of your being here lasts forever." I'm sure anyone who's lost a spouse will tell you the sorrow in fact lasts more than a moment. But at the same time, the world is a better place because Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl were in it. I hope at the end of our life together Jeff and I can know the same thing.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Can we please get over this?

I'm more and more appalled by the monotony of the spam I get at my work email address. A thousand different euphemisms are employed to sell penis enlargement - usually the message is clearly about that. But even ones with subject lines about some other aspect of sex or relationships are inevitably about expanding your love stick. It's strange to see men so objectified, boiled down to one ridiculous measurement.

Someone with no concept of human sexuality would come away from my inbox with the idea that it was all penises, all the time. Nothing about tickling or tongues or words or fingers in each other's hair. Nothing about fun or kindness. Nothing about women, except as rapt admirers of penises. And as for the rest of human interaction, you would think it consisted of mocking men without huge zucchini between their legs. ("Zucchini" is actually a far gentler metaphor than the emails use. If I'm ever approached by an organ that could be described as a "cannon", "anaconda", "monster", or "power drill", I'll run the other way.)

The sad thing is that they wouldn't send so many of these messages if they didn't work. Fear sells.