May 23, 2010

reading for resorption

We the people of the cruddy memory, in order to establish ourselves as beings capable of normal recollection, often watch and read the same things more than once in our lives. Ask me about a movie just two days after I watched it, and I could probably tell you my general impression of it, but not much else. When it comes to books, movies, and TV shows, is this goldfish-esque memory good or bad? A mixed bag, I think. For instance, Garden State the second time? Unfortunate. Replaying creepy Briony Tallis scenes from Atonement? Pure entertainment.

Reading and watching that which has already been read and seen may sound like an awful waste of time – and often is – but sometimes it's necessary. I first encountered Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking as a wide-eyed high school student, yet I could probably read it every few years and still find myself disgusted and disturbingly fascinated by its contents. History has never been a great love of mine. But this, I would voluntarily absorb again and again. I don't mind forgetting some things – how the first season of Lost ended exactly, for example. But it just doesn't seem right to forget about the godawful things that occurred in 1937...or, worse yet, to accept that they should fade away like everything else in one's lifetime.
"In contrast to Germany, where it is illegal for teachers to delete the Holocaust from their history curricula, the Japanese have for decades systematically purged references to the Nanking massacre from their textbooks. They have removed photographs of the Nanking massacre from museums, tampered with original source material, and excised from popular culture any mention of the massacre."
--The Rape of Nanking, Iris Chang

May 10, 2010

Growing pains

"So you must not be frightened, dear Mr. Kappus, if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloud-shadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any agitation, any pain, any melancholy, since you really do not know what these states are working upon you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question whence all this may be coming and whither it is bound? Since you know that you are in the midst of transitions and wished for nothing so much as to change."
--Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke
It's true: No one likes to grapple with ugliness, least of all when it is located inside oneself. When I think of self-improvement, instinctively I picture smiles and impressive before and after pictures, but it's an unfortunate truth of life that sadness is and will continue to be a key driving force of the process. As much as we may want to change something inside ourselves without having to ever acknowledge its existence, or without hating ourselves a bit in the process, it simply can't be done. There are no figurative rubber gloves to keep the skin of our hands clean from what horrors lurk beneath the clogged drain – the thing is to simply plunge right in and hope for the best, no comfort but for a few letters that comprise the closest thing to a self-help book anyone should ever want or need to read. His words consistently amaze and inspire.
"The necessary thing is after all but this: solitude, great inner solitude. Going-into-oneself and for hours meeting no one – this one must be able to attain. To be solitary, the way one was solitary as a child, when the grownups went around involved with things that seemed important and big because they themselves looked so busy and because one comprehended nothing of their doings. And when one day one perceives that their occupations are paltry, their professions petrified and no longer linked with living, why not then continue to look like a child upon it all as upon something unfamiliar, from out of the depth of one's own world, out of the expanse of one's own solitude, which is itself work and status and vocation?"
--Letters to a Young Poet
"Petrified and no longer linked with living"...probably a fitting description for way too many of the actions of so-called adults. I always found it a little bit depressing to learn that even the best people are human; they have their petty weaknesses and petrified days, just like the rest of us.

May 2, 2010

Not-So-Stressful Microwave Mochi

"'You always start with the dessert, that's your problem,' Emory said. And he was right, I was already eating the pudding. One thing I'd discovered from years of institutional food was that a certain kind of custard survived the huge kitchens, even flourished there. The little odd square dessert in TV dinners; the airplane cobbler; I still remembered a butterscotch pudding from a dormitory cafeteria. And it was impossible to resist a dessert when I hadn't had enough sleep. This was warm custard with berries."
-- Mona Simpson, The Lost Father
"Desserts is stressed spelled backwards." As much as I'd like to take credit, I didn't realize that on my own; a Dylan's Candy Bar T-shirt alerted me to this fun fact.

Mayan/Ann is a little bit annoying in this sequel, but I guess I can forgive her. The girl was stressed, ergo she ate plenty of desserts on her search for 'the lost father.' And so it should be.

I, on the other hand, crave desserts even when I'm not especially stressed. The dessert I endeavored to make on this very un-stressful Sunday afternoon was daifuku: mochi stuffed with a sweet filling, usually anko, or sweet red bean paste. The process is surprisingly easy and it involves a microwave. Yay for radiation!

5-minute Microwavable Mochi
3/4 cup sweet rice flour (mochiko flour)
3/4 cup water
1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
1/4 cup sugar (optional - omit if you're going to fill the mochi with sweet red bean paste)
Tapioca or corn starch, for shaping

Combine all the ingredients except tapioca/corn starch in a microwavable bowl; stir until smooth. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and microwave for 5 minutes on high. While that's happening, sprinkle a generous layer of tapioca or corn starch on a cutting board or other clean surface.

When the mochi is finished, it will appear opaque and sticky. It shouldn't be runny at all. Remove the bowl with an towel or oven mitt, since it will be hot. Undo the plastic wrap, being careful to avoid the hot steam that will escape. Use a spoon to scoop the mochi onto the prepared cutting board. It will look a little scary at this point. Don't panic if you can't get it off the spoon. Just do your best.

Corn starch will be your best friend for the next few minutes. Make sure to coat your fingers with it before attempting to handle the monstrously sticky mochi. Cut it into manageable chunks with a plastic knife (amazingly, the mochi doesn't seem to stick to it much, and it gives a clean cut). You can either eat it like this, on top of ice cream or frozen yogurt (a la Pinkberry), or you can make daifuku - filled mochi.

If you venture down the daifuku route, and want to fill yours with sweet red bean paste, you can get some at the Japanese market. Mine came in a pouch. Simply squeeze some onto a flat disc of mochi (it's ok if it's coated with corn starch) and shape the mochi dough around the red bean paste to form an enclosed ball. Yes, my instructions are pretty bad...but if you possess an ounce of common sense, you should be fine.

Unfortunately, you may find that your fingers will get slightly grouchy from handling the hot mochi, but it may be too hard to shape if it gets too cool. You can be bold and wait until it's cooled before shaping it, if you wish. I, however, have the memory of a gluttonous goldfish, so I forgot about all that scorched finger nonsense upon taking the first heavenly bite. Hopefully you will, too.