Friday, August 21, 2009

17. Dining Alfresco

Here in Maine we are in the midst of an unusually uncomfortable hot spell. After breaking out in a sweat from a simple walk down the block I try to remember the interminable winter with its endless snowstorms as well as this year's June and July with days and days of rain. And when I voice a complaint about the heat people often say Aren't you from Texas? You should be used to this! But the truth is one usually deals with the heat in Texas by turning on the air-conditioning; in most cases that is not possible here. And after a week of 90-degree plus temperatures and equal humidity everything is hot. Even the pets stretch out under the ceiling fans and move as little as possible.

Finally, though, we can eat outdoors on the balcony without wearing a sweater! Despite the sultry house I look forward to preparing a cool meal and dining alfresco after the sun drops below the maple trees. Here's the perfect menu after practicing all day in a hot church or doing paperwork in my sweltering 2nd floor office, and you never have to turn on the stove or oven:

Mediterranean Tuna Salad

Chilled Canataloupe

Hearty Bread with Real Butter

Sauvignon Blanc

I'll include the recipe for the salad, adapted from the August issue of Eating Well.

1 can beans (make it easy and use whatever you have on the shelf)

2 cans water-packed tuna, drained and flaked (5 to 6 ounces each)

1 red bell pepper, finely diced

1/2 cup finely chopped onion (red or Vidalia is nice)

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, divided

4 teaspoons capers

1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary

1/2 cup lemon juice, divided

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Freshly ground pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 cups mixed salad greens

Combine beans, tuna, bell pepper, onion, parsley, capers, rosemary, 1/4 cup lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons oil. Season with pepper. Combine the remaining lemon juice, oil and salt in a large salad bowl and add the greens, tossing to coat. Divide the greens among 4 plates and top with the tuna salad.

I generally have all these ingredients on hand and am lucky to have these herbs in my garden. Make sure the cantaloupe is perfectly ripe and the wine a little dry, then ENJOY! A scoop of sorbet or a piece of chocolate tops it all off nicely.

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

16. Soldier Boy

What passing bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs-
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds.

(Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen, 1917)

On a recent Southwest Airlines flight from Nashville to Baltimore I was one of the last to board the full flight. I took the first middle seat I saw, which happened to be next to a handsome young soldier, one of a couple dozen on the plane. Normally I immediately bury my head in a book in order to skip the chit-chat with the person next to me, but when the flight attendant announced Let’s show our men and women in uniform how much we appreciate them he and I made eye contact. I felt compelled to ask the proverbial Where are you going? and when he answered Afghanistan the conversation began.

Chris, based in Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, is 23 and an Army officer from a military family. He was headed to a helicopter base near the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan where he will be a maintenance supervisor. A recent college graduate, he chose the military both for job security and because it is in his blood.

I asked how his parents were handling his deployment (pretty well, since his father is career military) and what his living conditions would be (a tent, some access to phone and internet services, a softball field). I wondered about the preparation he’d had for the trip, such as language and culture studies. His answer was not reassuring. Perhaps I detected some apprehension in his face, but no real fear.

Truthfully, I’m not clear anymore why we are in Afghanistan. To me it’s just another part of an unjustified, endless war that we cannot win. All of it is very, very far away and removed from my own life. But meeting Chris suddenly made it real to me, with a personal, human dimension. I was taken aback at his young, tender age, and the ages of all those with him. My daughter is 24. How, oh how, can we send our young people into these ambiguous situations? If they are lucky enough to come back alive, there is a good chance they will be seriously injured, either physically or emotionally.

Since this encounter I’ve become aware that Afghanistan is in the news everyday and that troubles there are escalating. In the newspaper I’ve begun reading the weekly summary of our soldiers killed there and in Iraq and I am sadly reminded of the fragile and transient nature of life. I fear that we are in a situation that will only escalate, with tragic results, as we fight an ill-defined enemy seemingly able to outwit our best intelligence.

At my church Chris and his company have been added to the Prayers of the People every Sunday morning. May they return home alive, healthy and whole.

Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (The Book of Common Prayer)