Nature / dualism hurts in an ecstatic way

This ain’t 1830, bro.  But it seems nature is all I want to write poems (or rather, sloppy quasi-poems) about, so here I go.


Bright lights,

Castles of desire,

Rocking tides of sweetness,

Birds that know you when they see you,

Skies your soul can touch when it hears the sound and unfurls,

The urbane fragrance of autumn and the intimate fragrance of damp earth,

Dark leaves painting the foreground of the sunset with their fine dewy motile brush,

All rushes in in the agony, the awful crack of dislocation from the static cohesion of SELF, things going through me and filling me because I’m not even here to impede them.

No one sense organ is where I am, correct?  Maybe I am everywhere, or a semipermeable membrane, or a filter that is often clogged.

Troph, Installment IV (a short one): is this the end?

Well, dear and patient reader, now I can’t think of anything else.  So consider this tale accomplished, until further notice.

Part I

Part II

Part III


Still, TROPH’s miracles hadn’t yet penetrated to all parts of the world.  Traditionalism held on in more backward cultures, and it was now as much of a shock to visit one of those dark, sensual places as it had been in the era of European exploration.  Younger visitors—who took their standard pills with them and temporarily discarded their biofeedback devices—were amazed at the human chaos in these locales.  There was so much variation in body size, and there were so many more problems with health and sanitation.  Why would anyone choose to live this way?  People either here or abroad who voluntarily kept their natural gustatory activities and organs intact (Americans and Brits often electing for a cosmetic anal reduction surgery, since the amount of waste expelled tended to be drastically reduced) were seen by the still-puritanical American populace as embracing an almost sexual perversion of gourmandism.  The US government had partnered with TROPH a couple of years ago to bring the system in as a form of aid to Bangladesh, which was suffering from simultaneous famine and mismanagement, but the Bangladeshis had, as a proud and unified people, rejected TROPH’s incredibly kind offer.  This was a shock to the government and the company, and had made relations in the region even more convoluted.

Josep was jerked back into his train of thought, and obediently sat up straight in his chair.  He had a habit of slumping forward when lost in thought, and his devices, concerned he might suffer from back pain after years of consistent poor posture, had given him a mild corrective jolt of heat.  This sort of treatment, the direct punishment and reward doled out by your very living quarters, was a little too much for most people.  But he figured it took the guesswork out of things like that, and hey, it wasn’t 2030 anymore, right?

The easiest and best way to make butternut squash soup

Edit:  pictures now present, long-winded narrative remains.

Fall approaches, and the warm and cozy caramel flavors of fall food are already starting to tempt our taste buds.  Well, I like them all year ’round, but I also sing Christmas songs all year round, so I’m always in a state of seasonal dysfunction.

In any case, I’ve had people ask about my method of dealing with butternut-squash soup.  It’s such an enjoyable soup, but it’s also a lot of work.  I decided after I acquired a butternut squash last winter that I had no interest in peeling the large, hard fruit, then cutting it up and boiling it, all the while fussing with onions, garlic, spices, and the whole motley crew of necessary flavor supports.  I then realized that roasting would enhance the delicious flavor of the squash far more than boiling would, and would be much easier and more hands-off than cutting the whole thing up.  So I started looking for recipes, and liked what I saw.  I went off to work thinking happily about the soup I would make.

But before I arrived home I realized something even more wonderful:  why did only the squash have to be roasted?  Why couldn’t I throw the onion and garlic in there as well?  This would reduce the labor significantly, and again, because roasting would bring out a dark, earthy, caramelized flavor in the other vegetables as well, it would be especially wonderful.

Reader, it was true.  Sometimes easier is better.  It is so with Easy Mac and it is so with this.  The same warning goes with this as goes with most of my recipes:  I cook iteratively and intuitively, so the spice and liquid amounts are mere estimates.  Be conservative with each at first, and add more if you need to.

ALL ROASTED EVERYTHING BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP (can be made vegan!)

(Makes four-ish good-sized servings?  Maybe more?  I don’t know, I eat a lot)

Section 1, the ingredients that get roasted

  • 1 large or 2 to 3 adorably small butternut squash
  • 1 onion, size dependent on how much you love onion
  • 2 or 3 cloves of garlic (peeled)
  • Salt, pepper, and neutral oil such as canola oil

Section 2, the other stuff

  • 1 tablespoon butter or oil
  • Spices:  start with a good pinch each of paprika, turmeric, ginger, nutmeg, dried rosemary, sage (if you like), and pepper, and keep them handy to add more later.  Shoot, throw in some cumin too, if you want.  Don’t be afraid of the nutmeg, though–it really enhances the creaminess of the soup in a wonderful way
  • 2.5-3 cups of chicken or vegetable broth, or other not overly assertive broth–low sodium if possible
  • Water as needed (see procedures)
  • About 1/3 cup cream, evaporated milk, or coconut milk (start with this and add more if you think it’s needed)

Procedure

Turn your oven to 400 degrees F.  While it heats, rinse off your squash, cut off its stem, and slice it lengthwise.  Scoop out the seeds and fibers (though you don’t have to be obsessive about the fibers, since it’s going to be blended anyway).  If you want, reserve the seeds and toast them, using them as a garnish.  Rub the tops with oil and sprinkle reasonably generously with salt and pepper.  My squash this last time was a little underripe, leading to a sort of starchy, fibrous soup.  Be sure to get a ripe squash, don’t do as I did.

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Put on a cookie sheet, jelly roll pan, or other such large, flat pan, and pop it into the oven.

20 minutes after the squash starts cooking, peel and cut your onion.  If it’s small, cut it into fourths; if large, into eighths; if somewhere in between, use your mathematical judgment.  It’s not really that big of a deal.  Toss the onion and garlic with some more oil (enough to coat them lightly) and sprinkle some salt and pepper on them too.  Open your oven door and just put them in the same pan as the squash.  Give them a stir in about 20 minutes.

At any point in the next 40 minutes after you’ve put the onions and garlic in (so you can see, the total cooking time for the squash is one hour, or until fork tender; the onions and garlic should, by this time, be soft everywhere and dark brown in spots but not, you know, burned), get a deep pot and put it on the stove.  Turn the heat to medium.  Put the butter in, and when it’s melted and starting to foam, put in your spice mélange.

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This is called “blooming” the spices and it’s very common in Indian cooking.  The spices will have a far more delightful and intense flavor than if you just threw them into wet soup.  You can definitely add more to the completed soup to correct the spice level, but starting with at least a perceptible base will really help.  Anyway, bloom them for about a minute, then pour in your broth.  Give it a stir and turn the heat down to medium low if the vegetables are ready, or very low (plus cover your pot) if you still have to wait awhile.

Now get your roasted vegetables out.  Scoop the squash out of its skin and dump it into the pot, along with the delicious roasted onions and garlic.  Be sure to have turned the heat back up to medium low if you had it on low.  Stir all this and let it incorporate for a minute, give it a taste, and adjust as needed.  Now (carefully!) transfer to a blender and blend on a low setting (too high and it will get thin and watery) until it’s homogeneous, removing the pot from the burner but keeping the heat on.  Transfer back to the pot and put it back on the burner, taste and adjust seasoning again, and add water if it’s too thick for your liking.  Finally, stir in your cream and serve!  You will love it, I assure you.  Please remember to turn the burner and oven off once you’re finished, though.  Only you can prevent house fires.

While you’re at it, why not serve with some home-made whole grain sourdough bread?  That wouldn’t hurt, right?  (Pay no attention to the dirty counter.  It’s a figment of your imagination.)

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Troph, Installment III, and apologies for tardiness

Hello reader fair and true,

I’ve been traveling and terribly busy these last few weeks, so I’ve been tardy.  But here is a nice long installment for you at last, giving a bit more background about how TROPH changed the world and what Josep thought of it all.


By the time the highly publicized and successful study was concluded, the public had already developed an appetite for the miracle pills.  Following its brisk FDA approval process, the new pills, dubbed Lotuzen, were brought to the eager American market.   The only question was, where to start?

The TROPH executive board took advantage of the sells-itself nature of a food/medical pill, and took a somewhat riskier advertising approach than their marketing corps advised.  Lotuzen was gleefully and only quasi-ironically sold first via infomercial aired on daytime TV.  (At the time they still had to be gotten via a prescription, and the tweaks to the medical dosages could only be accomplished between three-month order, but nothing was stopping TROPH from using faded celebrities with fashion lines from extolling the virtues of Lotuzen.)  Nothing could be more tacky, and the level of derision from tech blogs was as high as you’d imagine.  But the cunning mind of Dr. Chu compassed all of this.  They all had to admit, a couple of years later, that she knew what she was doing.  She had a close relationship with her own technophobic parents, even as her fame grew, and she observed their responses to advertising and knew that held the key.  As she expected, this bizarre tactic had the effect of bringing in the large print crowd as soon as the pills came to market, while somehow not damaging TROPH’s image with young people and early adopters.  “Lotuzen – As Seen on TV” remained a key part of their cheeky branding for many years.

Slowly at first, then precipitously, people simply stopped eating.  Previous generations could hardly imagine such a huge change in human ritual, but at least in the US and other advanced countries with shallow food culture, it seemed to happen overnight.  Eating was now something done only occasionally, at once a great sensual pleasure and a bizarre inconvenience.  People would still go out to eat, but it had the same exotic pomp as going to the opera.  Anyone who ate had to be a great epicure, otherwise the expense and trouble weren’t worth it.  Eating more than a light snack even once a week was reckoned extravagance.  Certainly there were quite a few thinkpieces in those early years about the death of a close connection with the earth and one of life’s great and simple joys, but all this reminded one of nothing so much as the advent of the smartphone.  Things like this always have a certain tinge of the ridiculous at first, as do the people who take to them too earnestly, but within a few years, people can’t imagine their lives without them.  Josep couldn’t remember a time before Lotuzen, but he could still remember this transition period.  There were a lot of fat people then, he remembered.  How odd.  Fatness seemed so quaint to him now, as did the violent stigma against it and the immense struggles that people faced with it.

Now in his fortieth year, he was witnessing and most artfully commenting on an equally interesting transition—if less important medically, just as meaningful culturally.  For one thing, only last year an unprecedentedly ecumenical panel of holy fathers and mothers from the world’s faiths came together to discuss the impact of the holorestaurants on religious guidelines around fasting and dietary restrictions.  So consuming and novel was the question as to whether it was the substance of what was put in the body, or the carnal experience of the pleasure of food (whether this be any food, or particular forbidden foods, depending on the application) which truly distanced one from the divine, that what was supposed to be a four-day summit ended up lasting forty.  It certainly didn’t seem fair that someone could take a food pill—created of synthetic ingredients and providing no real pleasure of its own—and be reckoned disobedient, while someone could skip the food pill and eat a five-course meal at a holorestaurant and be considered abstinent.  This issue was of more moment even than the long and bitter debate around birth control, since various methods of contraception had been available in various forms for millennia and the sexual activities remained (mostly) the same.

The decisions reached by the governing bodies of the panel fell, as one might expect, more along conservative/liberal lines than along faith lines.  It caused more than one major schism, as some of the more modern sects even considered the holographic food to be accepted in rituals involving the consumption of food.  Josep had thought about writing a cute little column wondering whether the new ultra-modern Jews at least required that a rabbi be one of the programmers of the bitter herbs simulation.  But his own lapsed Judaism was enough of a sore spot that he decided to pass on it; he had to admit that he felt 25% less guilty chowing down on a simulated bacon cheeseburger when the high holidays rolled around than he would have otherwise.  In any case, the painful process of any religion in continuing to be “in the world but not of the world” rolled on.

Troph, Installment II: some background material

As used to the holorestaurants as Josep was, they were still somewhat novel to most people.  The status quo for some time had been that of a generally non-eating culture, and the return to pleasure-oriented consumption was an interesting rediscovery of a humorous, inefficient past.  Some years ago–Josep murkily recalled it; he must have been a young child at the time–a team of scientists at Harvard had perfected high density organic molecular conversion (HDOMC).  In layman’s terms, it was a suite of tools that compressed the calories and nutrients from food into a very small volume, using synthetic ingredients.  Several years later, after the technology had begun to affect public health and industry, the scientists were awarded a Nobel in medicine or physiology.  Some of the members of the team would have preferred the chemistry Nobel, but you can’t have everything.  By then, the group had left Harvard and had—to the delight of all San Francisco tech reporters—founded their own startup, TROPH Industries.  No, it wasn’t an acronym.  But it was a nice combination of mysterious and pretentious that affected tech startup name styles for at least the next twenty years.

The reason for the furor, as well as for the generous funding that made it all possible, was that it allowed for the long-awaited food pill to be produced safely and reliably.  It was immediately available to astronauts and soldiers.  Both time and space once dedicated to the acquisition, storage, preparation, and consumption of food could be shrunk to almost nil, which of course was excellent for outerspace and/or battlefield conditions.  After some early field tests where the subjects, nutritively satisfied but otherwise driven mad but hunger, ate enough additional calories to cause them to gain considerable weight and even develop diabetes, enough leptin to induce satiety was introduced to the pills.  (What a silly oversight, Josep remembered thinking when he studied the history of the compact food revolution in high school.  He wasn’t yet wise to the way the military-industrial complex treated people as means, and would lavish endless resources on deadly efficiency without even considering comfort.)

Once this technology was field-tested and declassified, the next obvious area for it to disrupt was the treatment of obesity.  The leptin in the new weight loss food pills was increased, and, since most of the patients prescribed these food pills were diabetic or pre-diabetic, a nice kick of insulin got thrown in.  (The team leader, Mira Chu, was clearly brilliant but had perhaps internalized more of the wacky experimental approach of the natural sciences than was really appropriate to health research.  Nevertheless, her team was dynamic, productive, and fully insured, so they went full steam ahead.)  The pills worked miracles for most of the patients, though naturally, the ones who were insulin-sensitive suffered some fairly agonizing side effects and had to exit the study.  There was one death–one solitary casualty.  His family expressed their anger with a lavish lawsuit, but later, seeing the incredible good that had come of Chu, et al.’s work, they reconciled with the TROPH group and his widow joined the board.

The researchers were also at a loss as to how to update the patients’ disordered meal rituals.  Surprisingly, most of the successful patients felt relieved at no longer having to think about food.  They became more productive and happy people in general, as they were freed for the first time from the previously inescapable régime of their addiction.

What this chapter in the TROPH success story accomplished was to turn the scientific/medical community on to the idea that food pills could deliver medication as well as nutrients, and that all of the above ought to be tailored to the individual for optimal effectiveness.  Obvious now, surely, but the path to the obvious never did run smooth.  On-demand medication wasn’t yet a mature industry, but a certain amount of customization was going to be necessary to keep the study afloat.   It was quite expensive, especially at first, since the machines used to produce the pills were already working at capacity.  But one obnoxious pharma company looking to claim the medical 3D printing space for its own was able to swoop in with additional funding—in exchange for equity, of course.  Each patient now got attractively designed tetrahedral pills with their own initials neatly engraved into them.  The new pills also had an unusual and rather pleasurable mouthfeel, stippled and slightly rough.  In any industry, the time when form begins to accompany function is a notable turning point, and this was no exception.

Announcing a new serialized science fiction story: Troph

Hello reader!

Today I’m starting something a little different.  There’s a science fiction story I’ve been wanting to write for what I think is literally years at this point, but every time I give it a whirl, the vastness of the task stops me.  It began with a conversation with a friend of mine about how nice it would be if eating were purely recreational.  Then I began to wonder, how might that change society?  How might it be like or unlike what has happened (in part) with sex?  What would happen if both experiences became, in a sense, virtual, removed from their ancient consequences of sickness, obesity, and even impurity?  Quite a big question, I think.

So I’m going to try here an agile story development approach, and serialize it.  I’ll attempt to publish 500-1000 words of the story here each week until it’s done.  When will it be done?  Not sure, I’m terrible with plots.  I’m only interested in pretty turns of phrase and world-building.  This will definitely be a stretch for me in that sense.

Each installment will be posted and unchanged after posting, but I’ll collect the whole story into a single page and add to it as I go, possibly editing previous sections.  I welcome your feedback!


Troph, Installment 1

A sky full of plump gray clouds sagged down onto the green treetops.  It was hot and still and too quiet, with the tiniest tendril of cool air winding from heaven to earth, just beginning to ruffle feathers.  There was a faint taste of that glamorous chaos to come–even the most orderly of hearts thrilled a bit to feel the air change.  At 4 p.m. exactly, the storm would start.  It would rage deliciously in the southwest corner of New Corinth for an hour, then advance clockwise around the compass before concluding in the city center at 1 a.m.  Josep watched this predictable drama unfold, and he wanted to enjoy it, but his head was throbbing.  He was trying and failing for the third time to write an adequate review of the place he’d visited almost a week ago.  His deadline was tomorrow, and so far he had 37 words, and a mighty scraggly 37 words at that.  Then again, at least he’d get some sleep tonight if he did make adequate progress (and probably even if he didn’t).  He felt grateful to live in the city’s southern sector; the wind and the rain and the sweet fresh smell, when they came, soothed him to sleep far more reliably than the supplements did.  The exorbitant rent was well worth it.

Though, let it be known, Josep could afford it.  They (the eternal and exasperating They) had all laughed when he decided to double major in writing and engineering in college, but it was paying off now.  The holorestaurants were exploding in popularity, and magazines were desperate for writers with both the fine aesthetic sensibility and the technical expertise to write blistering and witty reviews of these peculiar places.  Fortunately for writers like Josep, atmosphere, gustatory pleasure, and unbroken verisimilitude were an odd combination of services to offer, so inevitably a restaurant would be weak in at least one area.  That made for the kind of compare-and-contrast, good-but-has-its weaknesses writing that so nicely suited the critique of both food and consumer technology.

The Cambodian-Irish fusion place that had produced this particular headache was very uneven.  It definitely had soul (of a reasonably convincing but inoffensive multi-ethnic nature), and the individual cuisines’ flavors and mouthfeels were spot on for those who’d actually eaten that kind of physical food; but there were some rather embarrassing glitches.  Mouthfuls that were supposed to be, you know, ineffably exquisitely blended would become jarringly discrete mid-bite.  This was a strange experience for the diner, who would one moment be enjoying how a Khmer red curry base could enliven an Irish stew, and the next tasting only onion.  Josep felt for the restaurateur, who was an old acquaintance of Josep’s and had suffered the many insults of the uncompromising artist in his long and non-monotonic career.  This Stephen had the soul of a chef but lacked the finances of one, so he hired a cut-rate engineer right out of school, and now he was truly paying for it.  Josep’s own art, not to mention his editor, would demand some kind of tongue-in-cheek remark about avant-garde cuisine going a bit too far, and that just because you could reassemble a tender pudding into a crisp fried banana in the diner’s mouth didn’t mean you should.  Josep cringed to think how critical Stephen was forcing him to be.

He recalled another restaurant he’d been to recently that did have the engineering know-how to control these experiences well, and the effect was splendid, almost hallucinatory.  He supposed that the younger crowd, who had probably never eaten a real oyster or other animal before, would find nothing unsettling about feeling its heart beat as they chewed it.  Those in the over-30 set, however, certainly would.  That place had been quite something, but it had absolutely no ambience of its own–rather, it had that awkward, earnest ugliness that newish technology often did during its transitional periods.

So it was with his own apartment building, which was desperately sought after despite its dreary exterior and common spaces.  (They had all the warm charm and elegance of Soviet cinderblock housing.)  People leapt at the opportunity because the things they were doing with the surfaces and supplements were nothing short of astonishing.  To Josep, they verged on creepy, but he was a slave to fashion and now a technical reviewer of some repute, so he felt it incumbent upon him to live there.  Even some of the older set, typically technophobic of course, were overcoming their discomfort to live at GoldenBough because of its rumored anti-aging capabilities.  After all, nothing brought more discomfort than getting old, and breaking, and being put away for good.