24 June 2013

Excessive Sensibility and Rx Story

I'm in the frame of mind right now where about the only prescription that works is "Take two stories and call me in the morning." So yesterday, we finally went to see the new Star Trek movie, and then, because I was on a Benedict Cumberbatch kick, I watched episode 1 of season 2 of Sherlock, which I hadn't seen yet either. [Warning: there might be the odd spoiler in what follows. If you don't want to know that the movies I watch end happily - else I don't watch them - quit reading right now.] Unfortunately, all this movie-watching had the effect of having Mr Cheekbones-sharp-enough-to-cut-yourself-on rampaging manically through my dreams last night, but that's okay.

Now, I could have sworn that as Khan, Benedict Cumberbatch has brilliantly blue eyes - but as Sherlock, his eyes are green! Sort of a sage colour, a light tone, but kind of subdued. What gives? In which one is he wearing contacts? Or was I just hallucinating the blue eyes from wishful thinking? (I have a thing for black Irish colouring - black hair/blue eyes = knockout. But I'm pretty sure the black hair is fake, too; in his publicity shots, he's usually more of a sandy-blond.)

Well, no matter. That wasn't really what I was going to talk about right now. What I was thinking about this morning is the issue of "excessive sensibility" (in Austen's terms) - in other words, being a person who feels too much. "How can you not feel?" asks Kirk of Spock with his dying breath. Yes, Mr Spock, how? I would dearly love to have the answer to that one, too. Especially from someone who admits earlier in the story that he stops himself from experiencing feeling not because he hasn't got any, but because he's got too much. You've got to shut down those feelings before they overwhelm you.

And if you're the kind of Princess (or Prince) on the Pea who feels everything, shutting things down is nothing short of self-defense, a survival strategy. As a matter of fact, there's some research that shows that for certain people, their brain shuts down sensations  that might be too painful without the person's even noticing them first. Unfortunately, Mr Spock, that's very likely to lead to physical health problems. I have a suspicion that Vulcans, and especially half-human Vulcans, with all those intense emotions roiling about inside of them that they don't allow to the surface of their consciousness, suffer from chronic high blood pressure, digestive issues, depression, and probably heart disease and what-not. Live long and prosper, eh?

But that's where stories come in. If you're born with excessive sensibility, if you're an empath, you will feel things, whether you want to or not. What you see on a screen, read in a book, or hear from somebody's mouth will affect you. You feel the feelings of the person in the story, even if it's a very simple story and not terribly convincingly told. Even if it's a news item from thousands of miles away. Even if it's fantasy fiction about wizards or space ships, which your rational mind is fully aware is just invention.

But you see, it's not just invention. Because the emotion is real. And you can use that consciously to cope with reality. You immerse yourself in a story, and feel those feelings, and in the end, when the credits roll or you close the book, you come out stronger for having lived out positive emotion. Sherlock outwits Moriarty, the Enterprise is triumphant, justice and harmony is restored, people are happy once again - and it gives a tremendous boost to your own feelings to have felt that happiness with them. Mental health on a movie screen.

Or between the covers of a book, or even, in reality, on Facebook pictures of your friends being happy. Feeling with a beautiful young couple who just got engaged and are radiating love to such an extent it shines out of the photo, laughing at the big toothless grin of another friend's baby, hearing and seeing the pleasure of people you care about and feeling that pleasure for yourself - all that works together to help in dealing with your own day-to-day reality. And even if those you care about are pointy-eared aliens, the effect on your emotion is real.

Life, the Universe, and Excessive Sensibility. Bring on the stories, I say.

19 June 2013

The Good Old Days

There is nothing new under the sun:

Life, the Universe, and The Olden Days. (Thanks, xkcd guy.).

10 June 2013

Rampaging Waves, and Glass Puddles

On a blustery day some years ago, when he was quite small, my youngest son looked out the window at the lake and said: "Look at that rampage of waves!" And that's, of course, exactly what the waves were doing, rampaging. Others might call it whitecaps, but let's keep language accurate, shall we? They was a rampage of waves again the other day, see:

A Rampage of Waves
The other thing is that I did some baking the other day - of clay, that is. Here's one of the pieces:

Squash Pot, 7.5", stoneware.

That puddle in the bottom, that's molten glass. Shards from a smashed-up vodka bottle, to be precise, which I had chiefly bought for the lovely cobalt blue of the container. Well, I needed it to make vanilla extract (two vanilla beans in 3/4 c. vodka, steep for two weeks, use); but the clear glass bottle would have been cheaper. You know you're addicted to blue glass when you buy booze according to the colour of the bottle. The glass crackled most satisfactorily once it cooled.

Glass Puddle In Squash Pot, 3", glass.

Life, the Universe, Rampaging Waves and Glass Puddles. The dish is for sale, the waves are not.

02 June 2013


There's a word in the English language I particularly like: rich. As in, applied to food. In German, the equivalent "reich" strictly means "having lots of money" (if you capitalise it, Reich, it also means "empire", but as an adjective it just means, well, "wealthy"). But the English "rich" contains so much more. Today I made some chocolate mousse for dessert to go with Sunday dinner (goulash, egg noodles, and salad fresh from the garden, if you must know), and it totally covers every meaning of that word.

The ingredients in this delectable concoction (recipe to follow) are chocolate (actual chocolate, not just cocoa powder), butter, eggs, sugar (regular and icing), and whipping cream. The only way to make it more decadent, more expensive, would be to add some booze. (Ooh, that's a thought - a shot of Grand Marnier, perhaps? Hmm...) Eggs, butter, cream, sugar, chocolate - everything that is costly and rare, or should by rights be so.

And it tastes rich, too. It's the kind of thing you eat in tiny servings, because after a dozen dessertspoonfuls, you just can't eat any more. But oh, those dozen spoonfuls... Bliss.

And as promised, here's the recipe. It comes from Christian Teubner's Kochvergnügen wie noch nie ("Cooking Pleasures As Never Before"), the 1985 edition. One of my aunts gave it to my mother as a Christmas present, about that year or the year after, and as my mum isn't big into trying out recipes, I absconded with the book and its companion volume, Backvergnügen wie noch nie ("Baking Pleasures As Never Before"), when I emigrated to Canada. (The only-English-speaking among you might recognize the word "Vergnügen" in this context from the VW ads promising Fahrvergnügen, "driving pleasures". Personally, I get more Vergnügen out of cooking or baking than driving, but to each their own.) So here you are:

Mousse au chocolat

(serves 4-6)

100g (3oz) semi-sweet chocolate
1 Tbsp butter (unsalted)
2 eggs
1 Tbsp sugar
1 pinch salt
1/4 l (1c) cream
1 Tbsp icing sugar

Melt the butter and chocolate over low heat. Separate the eggs; beat the egg whites with the salt to stiff peaks, the egg yolks with the sugar until creamy. Blend the egg yolk mixture into the chocolate, along with a couple of spoonfuls of the egg whites. Leave to cool slightly. Whip the cream with the icing sugar. Fold together the chocolate mixture, egg white and cream.
Dish into fancy little dishes (I like using those 1970's champagne glasses, the wide, flat ones that are supposed to be originally molded on Marie Antoinette's breast. Which should turn one right off any food or drink that would be served in them, but as it's probably an entirely apocryphal story, I don't let it bother me.). Chill for a couple of hours (you and the dishes). Lick spoon and mixing bowl.
(The original recipe doesn't include that last instruction, and instead says to reserve some of the whipping cream for garnishing the dishes just before serving, sprinkle on chopped pistachios, and put one coffee bean on top of each. But I never do that. I do, however, lick the bowl, so I thought I'd share my own version with you. Don't blame Herr Teubner.)

So there you have it. This is the epitome of rich food. I made a double recipe today; it turned out exceptionally well (it doesn't always, so that's particularly gratifying), and there's not a single lick left.

Life, the Universe, and Rich Food. I feel privileged.