157. Marcella Hazan

My mom lived in Florence, Italy for about a year. We always tease her that she exaggerates it to three years, or ten years, or twenty. But it was obviously a meaningful experience in her life, so we cut her some slack.

The best thing that she got out of Italy, other than some hilarious stories about her Italian boyfriend, Paolo, was that she learned how to cook a lot of great, authentic northern Italian recipes. Pasta with homemade tomato sauce was always a staple in our home. As I got older, I fell in love with Pasta e Fagioli, a northern Italian bean soup. Italian cooking taught me about the importance of a mirepoix to any recipe. Celery, carrots, and onions pretty much make anything taste good.

Marcella Hazan's brilliant cookbook.

Marcella Hazan’s brilliant cookbook.

Marcella Hazan is the queen of northern Italian cooking. Her cookbook, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, is a brilliant guide to authentic and delicious Italian food. While her recipes are reliably good, what really makes this book stand out is the way she describes each step of how to make each dish. It is so clear and articulate, and it really sounds like Marcella is in the kitchen with you, talking you through each step of the way.

My two favorite recipes of hers are her Bolognese sauce and her Pasta e Fagioli. They are both super involved, but come out unbelievably delicious. I’ve added a couple of tips/modifications that I use to the recipes denoted by three asterisks (***).

First, Bolognese:

For 4-6 servings

– 1 tablespoon vegetable oil ***I use olive oil.

– 4 tablespoons butter, divided

– ½ cup chopped onion

– 2/3 cup chopped celery

– 2/3 cup chopped carrot

– ¾ pound ground beef chuck ***I usually use 1/3 beef, 1/3 pork, and 1/3 veal. The beef is incredibly flavorful, but the veal adds a delicacy and the pork much needed fat. I don’t remember where I learned that, but I know it’s a classic Italian trick.

– Salt

– Fresh ground black pepper

– 1 cup whole milk

– Whole nutmeg

– 1 cup dry white wine

– 1-½ cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, torn into pieces, with juice

– 1-¼ to 1-½ pounds pasta (preferably spaghetti), cooked and drained

– Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese at the table

1. Put oil, 3 tablespoons butter and chopped onion in a heavy 3-½-quart pot and turn heat to medium. Cook and stir onion until it has become translucent, then add chopped celery and carrot. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring vegetables to coat well.

2. Add ground beef, a large pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Crumble meat with a fork, stir well and cook until beef has lost its raw, red color.

3. Add milk and let simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely. Add a tiny grating, about 1/8 teaspoon, fresh nutmeg and stir.

4. Add wine and let it simmer until it has evaporated. Add tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all ingredients well. When tomatoes begin to bubble, turn heat down so that sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through the surface.

5. Cook, uncovered, for 3 hours or more, stirring from time to time. While sauce is cooking, you are likely to find that it will begin to dry out and the fat will separate from the meat. To keep it from sticking, add ½ cup water as necessary. At the end of cooking, however, the water should be completely evaporated and the fat should separate from the sauce. Taste and correct for salt.

6. Add remaining tablespoon butter to the hot pasta and toss with the sauce. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan on the side.

And now, Pasta e Fagioli:

The classic bean variety for pasta e fagioli is the cranberry or Scotch bean,
brightly marbled in white and pink or even deep red hues. When cooked, its
flavor is unlike that of any other bean, subtly recalling that of chestnuts.
In the spring and summer it is available fresh in its pod and many specialty
or ethnic vegetable markets carry it. When very fresh, the pods are firm and
brilliantly colored, but even if they are wilted and discolored, the beans inside
are likely to be perfectly sound. You can open one or two pods just to be sure.
Cranberry beans can be frozen with great success and are better than the dried
kind. If your market carries fresh cranberry beans in season, you could buy a
substantial quantity, and freeze the shelled beans in tightly sealed plastic
freezer bags. They can be cooked exactly like the fresh. When fresh cranberry
beans are not available, the dried are a wholly satisfactory substitute and, if
necessary, one may even use the canned. If you can’t find cranberry beans
in any form, you can substitute dried kidney beans. ***I’ve also used dried navy beans or dried great northern beans. Also delish.

For 6 servings

– 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

– 2 tablespoons chopped onion

– 3 tablespoons chopped carrot

– 3 tablespoons chopped celery

– 3 or 4 pork ribs, OR a ham bone with some lean meat attached, OR 2 little pork chops *** I use cut up bacon. Easier to come across and totally works.

– 2/3 cup canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juice, OR
fresh tomatoes, if ripe and firm, peeled and cut up.

– 2 pounds fresh cranberry beans, unshelled weight, OR 1 cup dried cranberry or red kidney beans, soaked and cooked as described below * OR 3 cups canned cranberry or red kidney beans, drained

– 3 cups (or more if needed) beef stock OR 1 cup canned beef broth diluted
with 2 cups water ***I usually use only water instead, and more of it, and cook the soup for a bit longer. I modify Marcella’s recipe with Giuliano Bugialli’s.

– Salt

– Black pepper, ground fresh from the mill

– Either maltagliati pasta, homemade OR 1/2 pound small, tubular macaroni

– 1 tablespoon butter

– 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

* Put the beans in a bowl and add enough water to cover by at least 3 inches.
Put the bowl in some out-of-the-way corner of your kitchen and leave it
there overnight. ***I often use this quick soaking method.

When the beans have finished soaking, drain them, rinse them in fresh cold
water, and put them in a pot that will accommodate the beans and enough
water to cover them by at least 3 inches. Put a lid on the pot and turn on
the heat to medium. When the water comes to a boil, adjust the heat so
that it simmers steadily, but gently. Cook the beans until tender, but not
mushy, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Add salt only when the beans are al-
most completely tender so that their skin does not dry and crack while
cooking. Taste them periodically so you’ll know when they are done.
Keep the beans in the liquid that you cooked them in until you are ready
to use them. If necessary, they can be prepared a day or two ahead of
time and stored, always in their liquid.

1. Put the olive oil and chopped onion in a soup pot and turn on the
heat to medium. Cook the onion, stirring it, until it becomes colored
a pale gold.

2. Add the carrot and celery, stir once or twice to coat them well, then
add the pork. Cook for about 10 minutes, turned the meat and the
vegetables over from time to time with a wooden spoon.

3. Add the cut-up tomatoes and their juice, adjust the heat so that the
juice simmer very gently, and cook for 10 minutes.

4. If using fresh beans: Shell them, rinse them in cold water, and put
them in the soup pot. Stir 2 or 3 times to coat them well, then add
the broth/stock. Cover the pot, adjust the heat so that the broth
bubbles at a steady, but gentle boil, and cook for 45 minutes to
1 hour, until the beans are fully tender.

If using cooked dried beans or canned: Extend the cooking time
for the tomatoes in Step 3 to 20 minutes. Add the drained cooked or
canned beans, stirring them thoroughly to coat them well. Cook for 5
minutes, then add the broth/stock, cover the pot, and bring the broth/
stock to a gentle boil.

5. Scoop up about 1/2 cup of the beans and mash them through a food
mill back into the pot. Add salt, a few grindings of black pepper, and
stir thoroughly.

6. Check the soup for density: It should be liquid enough to cook the
pasta in. If necessary, add more broth, or, if you are using diluted
canned broth, more water. When the soup has come to a steady,
moderate boil, add the pasta. If you are using homemade pasta,
taste for doneness after 1 minute. If you are using macaroni pasta,
it will take several minutes longer, but stop the cooking when the
pasta is tender, but still firm to the bite. Before turning off the heat,
swirl in 1 tablespoon of butter and the grated cheese.

7. Pour the soup into a large serving bowl or into individual plates, and
allow to settle for 10 minutes before serving. It tastes best when
eaten warm, rather than piping hot.

Both the Bolognese and the soup taste best when left in the fridge overnight before eating – it allows all the flavors to settle and they are definitely tastier.

Give Marcella a try! She is a queen. Everything I have ever made of hers, from a simple pesto to any more involved dish, has been absolutely delicious.

June 12, 2013. Books, Food, Rectangles. Leave a comment.

151. Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, is a beautiful work of historical fiction. It is the first book of a trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, an important adviser to Henry VIII of England during his reign. Unusually for historical fiction, Wolf Hall won the Man Booker Prize – an extremely prestigious award in the world of contemporary fiction (Mantel’s second book in the series, Bring Up the Bodies).

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall begins chronicling Henry VIII’s reign at the beginning of the downfall of Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and the rise of his second, Anne Boleyn. It chronicles Henry’s split from the Catholic church, and the threat of the protestant reformation. It also focuses on the political atmosphere of the time. There are so many different issues in play that it makes for such fascinating history. The book ends at the beginning of the fall of Anne Boleyn, after she fails to produce a male heir, and as Henry gets madder and more power hungry. Throughout, we also follow the personal life of Thomas Cromwell, a very smart and cunning man who knows how to run Henry’s court successfully.

This book is truly brilliant. The writing is fantastic – colorful and unbelievably gripping. I was thrilled that it was as long as it was, because I didn’t want it to be over. But what really makes Wolf Hall so interesting is that it paints Thomas Cromwell, a man historically depicted as a villain, in a very likable and sympathetic light. I have so much affection for the fictional Cromwell that I dread his inevitable downfall in the third book – something I know from historical context, so not a spoiler.

I highly recommend this book. It’s not gorgeous, high brow literature, perhaps – not James Joyce – but it is really fun to read, and definitely well written. The subject matter is hard to mess up, because it is so fascinating, and Mantel does a brilliant job with it.

February 27, 2013. Books, History, Rectangles, Religion. Leave a comment.

141. Paddywax’s “Library” Collection (in box)

My dear friend Alex recently posted something on Facebook about lighting an “Oscar Wilde scented candle.” Obviously, I was immediately intrigued. Luckily for me, Alex also linked to the candle.

Oscar Wilde, in soy wax form.

Turns out, Oscar Wilde smells like Cedarwood, Thyme, and Basil. Who knew, amiright??!

But the news gets better.

Paddywax, the company who made the candle, has a whole collection of author-scented candles! “HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE??!?!?” I thought. Great literature and great smells? Two of the world’s best things, rolled into one.

The Library Collection includes such greats as Leo Tolstoy (Black Plum, Persimmon, and Oakmoss), Edgar Allen Poe (Cardamom, Absinthe, and Sandalwood), and Jane Austen (Gardenia, Tuberose, and Jasmine).

The whole library.

DUDE!!! I used to be really bummed that I never got to, say, cuddle up to Tolstoy and smell his ‘pits, or sample some of Jane Austen’s perfume/shampoo combo. But now it’s like I can have these authors – as many of them as I want!!!! – in my room, every night. THANK YOU, PADDYWAX.

November 26, 2012. Books, Culture, Rectangles, Truth. Leave a comment.

133. The King James Bible

King James: the bangin’-est of the Bibles.

I love religion. I think it’s fascinating, and really, the driving force behind much of history.

I’m certainly not religious, but I was raised Jewish, and I do appreciate the culture and traditions of Judaism. I can read Hebrew, I know most of the prayers, and I go to services on the High Holidays. That’s pretty good.

God is a bit harder. I’m not sure I believe in God, but it’s hard for me to say I for suresies don’t. It’s probably a relic of my (very reform) religious school experience growing up. But it just feels wrong and not totally sure to say “I don’t believe in God. I’m an atheist.” Plus, if there is a God, it’s definitely the Jewish God – our God is a total asshole, completely arbitrary, and without any of that peace-and-love bullshit. The Jewish God will fuck you up, but you’d better believe anyway.

Anyway. Last year was the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible (1611). KJB is the primary Bible used throughout America, and much of the rest of the Western Christian world. It’s where the classic formally worded verses come from – “Thou Shalt Not Kill” is a King James affectation, for example. Translations straight from the Greek or Hebrew tend to just use “you.”

Sum Commandments.

The King James Bible was commissioned by King James of England in 1604. It was completed in 1611. Committees of translators were hired for the task. However, this was not the first Bible in English. In the 15th century, John Wycliffe and his followers wrote the first translation of the Bible into English, so that the common Christian man could read it (before, the Bible was just in Latin). In the 16th century, William Tyndale wrote another translation. Tyndale’s version was the first printed bible in circulation. He was a talented linguist, and his translation makes up a lot of today’s KJB. However, his work was interrupted when he was burned at the stake as a heretic. Wah-wah.

My main man, King James of England

Today, the King James Bible has a pretty interesting legacy. It’s generally viewed as the be-all-and-end-all authority of Bible study in the American Christian world. However, it’s a translation – so it really cannot be taken entirely literally for textual analysis. In the more-ancient world, scholars had to be fluent in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin to reputably analyze the Scriptures. It was understood that their original languages were important contextual evidence. But today, I often see preachers and ministers quoting from King James as if it were itself the Word of God – which nobody could possibly believe.

QEII!!!

BFF**: In England, the right to print, publish, or distribute the King James Bible belongs exclusively to the Crown. So, even though it’s in the public domain in most of the world, Queen Elizabeth II is the only one in England with the right to lay her mitts on KJB.

** – Bonus Fun Fact

October 31, 2012. Books, Culture, History, Rectangles, Religion. Leave a comment.

108. Notebooks

Notebooks have been really important to me for a long time. I kept a diary from 7th grade on, and was very picky about the notebooks I honored with that role in my life. After I started going to therapy, I started keeping a journal pretty regularly, recording my thoughts about what was hard, what was easy, and just what was going on. Initially, I focused mostly on my mental health. I had a lot to say, and I filled up many of these composition books, in different colors.

:great notebooks, i still use them for classes:

After that, I moved on to smaller models, so that I could write lists and take notes and record good quotes, along with my therapeutic writings. My favorite journals these days are by Writersblok. They come in a pack of 4 for about $6. They’re maybe 3′ by 5′, so they’re perfect to keep in the front pocket of my purse or back pack for convenience’s sake. I use them just about every day, whether to jot down a friend’s favorite song, what I want for my birthday, or just To Do lists.

:perfect companion:

About a week ago, Curtis bought me some Moleskine notebooks. I haven’t opened them yet, but Moleskines are supposed to be the trendy-best. As they advertise, they were the chosen notebook of Ernest Hemingway. Mine are navy and in the “cahier” style.

:beaucoup de cahiers:

For a while I also used a gorgeous Florentine notebook to keep track of money I spent – I recorded every expense for a month so I could reconsider how I spent money, considering what was worthwhile and what wasn’t. This experiment was part of what convinced me to stop smoking (so expensive!)

:classic florentine style:

What are my readers’ favorite notebooks and journals? This is such an exciting topic.

October 20, 2010. Books, Rectangles. 2 comments.

103. Gone and Forgotten

Here’s a blog all about comic books – which are most definitely rectangles. I’m sure there are about 12 million of these comic blogs, each with millions of nerds sitting at home reading. But this one is actually kinda cool.

I first heard about Gone and Forgotten on This American Life (listen to the episode here). I was so intrigued that I had to look it up. The author, Jonathan Morris, who likes to go by Your Humble Editor, picks out comics and characters that didn’t pan out, for whatever reason. Gone and Forgotten describes itself as “a blog dedicated to the bottom of the comic book barrel; the Secret Wars IIs, the Kitty Pryde and Wolverines, the Green Teams and John Targitts and the one time Krypto swore like a drunken sailor on shore leave.”

None of that means anything to me, I guess those are inside comic book junkie jokes.

Most of what Morris posts are old “activity pages:”

:really?:

And “Batman leads an interesting life” Fridays:

:well, she is a redhead:

But there is a category for “Classic Gone & Forgotten” which gives the reader plenty of silly-named superheroes and descriptions of their “superpowers.” Here’s an excerpt from Skateman:

:luv:

“…Billy also befriends a local neighborhood “Beaner” (his words, not mine, folks) Paco, whom he teaches to “defend himself AND ride a skateboard.” Teach what you know, I guess. This starts to help Billy out of his depression, until BIKERS KILL ANGEL [his girlfriend]! Thanks for being in the Dramatis Personae, hon, we really cared deeply for you as a character.

This sends Billy over the edge, and inspired by Paco’s comic book collection, our flaxen-haired derby jockey adopts a disguise to strike terror into criminal’s hearts – assuming the criminals live in Venice Beach and are easily scared – SKATEMAN!”

:in full regalia:

“…As an aside, all the hispanic people in this book are apparently migrant workers. This alone is just not right. Then all the white people are either bikers or disco dancers. And all the black people in this book aren’t anywhere to be seen at all. (Okay, except for Rudy). This is just one of many things that are chronically not right with this book.”

The best thing about this site is not that I could spend hours perusing the silliness of it, but that Morris is a really good writer. Enjoy!

September 2, 2010. Art, Books, Culture, Periodicals, Rectangles, Websites. Leave a comment.

101. Bookshelf Porn

This website has sweet pictures of rectangular books in cool spaces, arrangements or states of mind.

These are all from August.

I like this one because of the 70’s hair vibe.

This, of course, because of the tussle it must take to find anything.

Cool, although triangular.

Trompe L’oeil bookshelves.

And, of course, a sweet little nerdy note.

:note is a rectangle:

And these guys are from July.

Here’s a rainbow rectangle attack.

:books by color:

And a face made out of booktangles.

And, finally, pretty rectangular frames with books in them. I love this look, I wish I could have it for myself.

Check out the site, there’s plenty more. I could spent hours just perusing the rectangles and their displays. Here’s a reason to keep reading the real deal and keep those old books around. They can be so pretty, and rectangular.

August 27, 2010. Art, Books, Culture, Rectangles, Websites. 1 comment.

95. The Odyssey

:row, bro, row:

I hadn’t read the Odyssey, Homer’s epicly legendary epic, since ninth grade. Of course, I hated it then – it was a horrible chore to get through, the language was dense and the poetic structure grueling. And it was long as shit. I always thought of it as something good to have read and interesting to talk about, but awful to actually read. Like Milton’s Paradise Lost. But I’ve read it again, for a class in college this time, and I really enjoyed it.

5 Reasons to Re-Read The Odyssey

1. Dude goes everywhere. Seriously. Everywhere. It’s one big trippy dream adventure. Kind of like the Yellow Submarine. Odysseus goes to the land of the Lotus Eaters, where the natives feed his crewmen flowers and they never want to leave. Circe turns his men into pigs. Odysseus goes down to hell to talk to a prophet who has to drink cow’s blood to talk to him. It’s trippy, man.

2. First person narrative. Most of the book is told in the first person, which is hard for any author to craft, let alone an epic storyteller with hundreds of pages worth of material. However, Homer also masterfully handles the third person, when he uses it, and just has such a grip on language.

3. Compelling protagonist. Odysseus is fascinating, but in no way is he perfect. His overwhelming pride and hubris is always present. He knows that he’s the “master trickster”, and it takes him most of his journey to figure out that he needs to humble himself a bit to live in the world and get back home. The transformation is great to watch.

4. Sharp imagery. Okay. Read this passage from the Cyclops’ cave.

He carried a huge load of dry wood to make a fire for his supper and heaved it down with a crash inside the cave. We were terrified and scurried back into a corner. He drove his fat flocks into the wide cavern, at least those that he milked, leaving the males – the rams and the goats – outside in the yard. Then he lifted up a great doorstone, a huge slab of rock, and set it in place. Two sturdy wagons – twenty sturdy wagons – couldn’t pry it from the ground – that’s how big the stone was he set in the doorway. (Od. 9)

I, at least, have a perfect mental image of the fire, the sheep, the huge cave and the men cowering in the corner. Of course a storyteller this great has to have great imagery, but I didn’t realize how sharp it was until this time around. That’s how we do, Homer. Very nice.

5. Cultural cross-references. Okay, everything references the Odyssey, from Joyce’s Ulysses to the Coen brothers’ O Brother Where Art Thou. George Clooney makes a hot Odysseus, by the way. Other works based on the Odyssey include 2001: A Space Odyssey (a film) and Cold Mountain (a novel). Some serious cultural masterpieces.

As draining as it sounds, read the Odyssey again. I think you’ll find that it’s not only interesting and clear but way less dry than you remember it being.

July 9, 2010. Books, Culture, History, Rectangles. 1 comment.

94. Placemats

I recently classed up my apartment with some nice Ikea placemats:

:klistrig:

They make me feel like someone’s mom (in a good way), and they make our lovely pre-furnished furniture look a little more homey and a little less college-y.

Recently, Curtis and I went to Ten-Ren Teatime, a lovely restaurant in College Park. Their placemats were covered in pictures of tea. I couldn’t find a picture, but their rectangular menu was similar in artistic vision.

:might as well be a placemat:

We stopped there because I had been to the Ten Ren’s Teahouse in New York’s Chinatown, right next to my favorite restaurant – Big Wong.

:order the roast pork and noodle soup, it'll make you want to cry:

I’d bought bulk tea there (jasmine green, orchid oolong) and it was very good. I’d never, however, eaten their food.

Here I should mention the food situation in College Park. Curtis and I have tried lots and lots of restaurants, trying to find something edible. The College Park Diner has proved both delicious and affordable, and the staff is absolutely adorable. We’re partial to a few of the waitresses who already know us as regulars.

:love it.:

Other than the CP Diner, however, we’ve gotten disappointment after disappointment. I do not recommend the Tandoori House, for example, right on Route One across from my apartment building. Plato’s Diner is vile. Which brings us to Ten Ren’s.

:plato's placemats:

Curtis ordered Kung Pao Tofu. I ordered Pork and Noodle Soup. And I got a huge surprise.

First, some Alice, in the house of the Duchess:

“The door led right into a large kitchen, which was full of smoke from one end to the other: the Duchess was sitting on a three-legged stool in the middle, nursing a baby; the cook was leaning over the fire, stirring a large cauldron which seemed to be full of soup.

“There’s certainly too much pepper in that soup!” Alice said to herself, as well as she could for sneezing.

There was certainly too much of it in the air. Even the Duchess sneezed occasionally; and the baby was sneezing and howling alternately without a moment’s pause. The only things in the kitchen that did not sneeze were the cook, and a large cat which was sitting on the hearth and grinning from ear to ear.”

This was almost precisely my reaction. My soup was pepper soup, and not much else. The noodles, cabbage and carrots couldn’t hide it – it was pepper soup. My face hurt for hours after the ordeal (because, of course, I ate it – can’t waste food when there are children starving in Africa). And this (more Alice) was stuck in my head:

The Duchess sings to her child:

““Speak roughly to your little boy,

And beat him when he sneezes:

He only does it to annoy,

Because he knows it teases.”

Chorus

(In which the cook and baby joined):—

“Wow! wow! Wow!”

While the Duchess sang the second verse of the song, she kept tossing the baby violently up and down, and the poor little thing howled so, that Alice could hardly hear the words:—

“I speak severely to my boy,

I beat him when he sneezes;

For he can thoroughly enjoy

The pepper when he pleases!”

Chorus

“Wow! wow! Wow!””

:alice, the duchess, and pepper soup:

Finally, an Alice in Wonderland placemat for the road (although I think the above image would be much nicer in placemat form).

:and a happy birthday indeed.:

June 21, 2010. Art, Books, Culture, Food, Geography, Rectangles. 3 comments.

70. Indian Hill

Wait for the Lord;

Be strong, and take heart,

And wait for the Lord.

– Psalms 27:14

**

The sky was full of clouds when Sara woke up. She looked at a series of X’s on her calendar. Her hands started to shake with anticipation. She let out a little scream.

She picked up her phone and called Jeremy.

“Hello?” he said, after the first ring.

“Jeremy!” she said. “It’s today! Today!”

“I know, I know, I know.”

“We’ve been waiting for so long!”

“I know,” he said.

“I love you,” he said.

“I love you,” Sara said back.

She hung up the phone. A moment later it rang.

“Hey, it’s me,” Jeremy said. “I forgot. Do you want me to pick you up? We can sit on Indian Hill and watch the storm as it builds. And imagine waiting for Jesus in such a beautiful place.”

“Perfect,” she said. “Should I bring my raincoat?”

“I guess so. But you won’t need it for long.”

**

Jeremy had met Sara at a party thrown by a secular friend of his. His parents had encouraged him not to go.

“Those people aren’t like us,” they had said. “They don’t have our values. Satan will be all around you.”

But Jeremy had insisted on going. He wanted to test his strength, he said. After all – Jesus had spent forty days tortured by Satan. And Moses, too, was sent to wander in the desert. Why shouldn’t Jeremy put himself to the same test?

So at 10:00 he drove his little green car to his friend’s house. He opened the door and was immediately confronted with debauchery.

Sodom and Gomorrah, he thought. Couples kissed in the living room. People drank and then vomited. Everyone danced too close. They talked too loud. But Jeremy had to admit that the party was exciting, despite its ugliness. It was fresh. And he was proud, too, that he could resist the temptation all around him.

He walked into the kitchen. A beautiful brown-haired girl stood quietly by a bowl of potato chips. Jeremy noticed that she wasn’t holding a drink in her hands. He walked over.

“Can I have some?” he said, pointing to the bowl.

“Sure,” she said, “go for it.”

Jeremy filled a red cup with potato chips. He leaned against the wall, next to the girl.

“I’m Jeremy,” he said.

“Sara.” She covered her mouth with her hand.

“Nice to meet you.”

“I don’t really know anyone here,” she said, opening a can of soda.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. I came with a friend but she disappeared. Went upstairs with some guy or something.”

Jeremy nodded.

“I don’t really know anyone either. This isn’t exactly my scene.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

Jeremy hesitated, unsure whether he should witness to the girl.

“I – I’m a Christian,” he said finally.

Sara looked up from her soda.

“So am I,” she said.

“Wanna go sit outside? Away from these people?”

“Yes, please,” Jeremy said. “It’s awful in here.”

“I know,” she said, and they both laughed.

They sat down on the back steps of the house, the cup of chips between them. They talked about God, and their stories, and about everyone else. Sara knew a lot of theology. Jeremy noted how graceful her collarbone was, just above the neck of her dress. Her skin was translucent.

“Do you think we’re in the end-times?” Sara asked.

“Absolutely,” Jeremy said.

He pulled out the small notebook that he always carried in his back pocket.

“I’m sort of an amateur prophecy scholar.”

“That’s wonderful!” Sara said.

Jeremy smiled.

“I’ve made a list. All the signs, all the biblical prophecies – they point to now. This year, even. I’m pretty sure of it. I have it down to the day, I think.”

“Wow.” Sara rubbed her arms. “That’s really impressive. Really.”

“Thanks,” Jeremy said. His palms were clammy. And a ray of light shot through him, even though the night was dark.

**

It turned out that they lived only five minutes away from each other. They went on dates – traditional ones – drinking milkshakes and sharing cheeseburgers. They talked a lot. They would take walks in the woods behind Jeremy’s house. There they pointed out birds and tried to mimic their calls. Sometimes they held hands as they picked their way through the twigs and small plants that covered the ground.

One evening, Sara’s father knocked on her bedroom door.

“Sara?” he said.

“Yes, Daddy?”

“Can I come in?”

“Yes,” his daughter answered.

Sara’s father opened the door and sat down on her bed. Sara turned around in her desk chair and looked at him expectantly. Mr. Calvert looked at his beautiful little girl. He and his wife had raised a good daughter. He looked around her room – a poster of Jesus above her bed, her Bible on her nightstand – and he couldn’t help but smile. Sara loved to read and she did well in school. She loved Jesus truly and went faithfully to Bible Study each Wednesday night. But he could not shirk his fatherly duties in discussing the relationship questions that all Christian children struggle with.

He had come to talk to Sara about Jeremy. He liked the kid – a good kid, he thought. He was happy that Sara had found a reputable Christian boy to date.

“Sara,” Mr. Calvert said, “I wanted to talk to you about love.”

“Okay,” Sara said.

“You know that – as Christians – we love Jesus first.”

“Yes, Daddy,” Sara said.

Mr. Calvert shifted his position. This was not an easy conversation for him, although he had practiced it many times in the shower that morning.

“Well” – he cleared his throat – “that kind of love is not just spiritual. It’s corporeal as well. That means ‘of the body.’ And it means that, in loving Christ, we choose not to love anyone else in a way that could dishonor Him.”

Sara nodded.

“As you know,” he continued, “love of the flesh not only dishonors the Lord, but is Satan’s way of working himself into our souls.”

He paused for Sara’s nod.

“Love – physical love – is a commitment between a man, a woman and God. And God only condones that within – well, within the holy bonds of marriage.”

Mr. Calvert sat back and breathed. His speech was finished.

“Don’t worry, Daddy,” Sara said. “Jesus is in my thoughts always. And my body, soul and mind are His.”

“Good,” Mr. Calvert said. “Good.”

He stood up and kissed his daughter on the head.

“I love you, sweetheart. And Mom does too. And we like Jeremy an awful lot.”

Sara smiled.

“Love you, Dad,” she said.

**

Jeremy sat in his room studying prophecy. He had started with Revelation, and then Isaiah, and then interpretations of the books by leading prophecy scholars. He played around with numbers and ideas, interpreting them as he thought wisest  – always making sure that he did nothing Satanic. Jeremy loved his prophecy, though. It wasn’t a game to him, but it was his greatest hobby. If you could call it that, that is. He didn’t like to.

First Corinthians ran through his head:

“Love never fails. Where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears…

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

The greatest of these is love, Jeremy thought. Paul’s own words.

He put down his notebook and lay back in his bed.

“I love you, Sara,” Jeremy whispered. His eyes were open and he looked, through his window, at the moon. It was beautiful behind the trees, and half full.

**

One Sunday evening Sara and Jeremy were walking through the woods behind his house. Sara held a bunch of red and yellow leaves in one hand. She held Jeremy’s hand in the other. Jeremy was reciting from Romans, and the moment was perfect.

They stopped to rest on a log.

“Look at the sky,” Jeremy said.

Then he leaned in and kissed Sara on the mouth. Sara pulled back and they looked at each other – just for a moment – and then they kissed again.

Sara didn’t feel real. She closed her eyes as his tongue intertwined with hers. Jeremy’s body against hers left her with a sensation that was strong, and intense, and unfamiliar. Their lips held a kiss that both were afraid to break.

Sara closed her eyes and let herself become just a body – just a body on the log, while her soul and her mind sat behind a tree and looked at leaves. The next few minutes coasted hazily over her. She and Jeremy continued to kiss. With her eyes closed, Sara watched her body moving against Jeremy’s. They took each other’s clothes off, ritualistically, and then they were naked. Jeremy’s skin felt soft and his arms were strong as they held her. He kissed her face, her stomach, and Sara watched as her body responded, moving closer to Jeremy’s. Her breasts pressed against his chest as she kissed him. Her hands moved along Jeremy’s back, pulling him closer. She saw his nakedness, and her own. She saw herself lie down and she saw Jeremy climb on top of her – and it was perfect, and it felt so good – and then he was inside of her. It was like Love Meringue Pie or a warm cup of Life and Beauty, mixed with milk.

Suddenly Sara pulled herself back from behind the tree. She opened her eyes.

“Jeremy,” she said. Her voice was strained and thin.

Jeremy jerked back as if he had been burned. He climbed off of her, turned around to pull on his pants and then crouched in the dirt, shaking.

“Oh my God,” he said. “Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.”

He leaned his head against the log.

Sara started to cry.

“I need to go,” Jeremy said. “I – I don’t – one of us should go. I don’t know what to do right now.”

“I know,” Sara said, “It’s not Christian.”

Jeremy nodded.

“What do we do, Jem?” she whispered.

Tears dripped into her mouth.

“I don’t know.”

“Do I go now?”

“I don’t know.”

“I guess I should go,” Sara said.

“Ok,” he said. He didn’t look at her.

Sara put her clothes on, and with each item she felt a piercing note of shame. She started walking down the path. As soon as she was out of Jeremy’s sight, she stopped and threw up three times.

“Oh, Lord,” she said, resting her head on the soft ground. “Forgive us, Lord. Please.” She lifted her head off the ground and vomited again.

**

Sara and Jeremy walked together to Indian Hill, watching the storm gather. The first drops of rain spotted Jeremy’s t-shirt. Sara could feel the energy crackling through her hair.

“Do you think it’s happening?” she said, squeezing his hand.

Jeremy nodded.

“I hope so,” he said.

They sat down at the top of the hill. Jeremy held his notebook in his lap. He ran his fingers absently over the words.

“What do you think Heaven will be like?” Sara asked.

“I don’t know. I guess I’ve always pictured Jesus. The feel of His hands on our shoulders, the smell of honey in the air…”

Sara nodded. She tucked her knees to her chest and looked up at the sky. It was dark, and getting darker.

“Look,” she said. “The clouds are edged with red. It’s beautiful.”

“And Heaven will be better. Just imagine. Heaven will be thousands of times better than this.”

Jeremy turned to Sara. He took a strand of her hair in his fingers.

“It’s gonna be so beautiful. And we’ll see it. Tonight. And we’ll finally be surrounded by our Brothers and Sisters.”

Sara looked into Jeremy’s eyes and smiled.

“Everyone will be like us.”

**

They didn’t talk for a week, overwhelmed by the weight of their mistake. But after eight days, Jeremy called Sara.

“I miss you,” he said.

“I miss you, too,” she said. “What if we prayed together?”

Jeremy agreed, and the two of them developed a new routine. Every day they knelt side by side in the woods behind Jeremy’s house, their Bibles spread across their knees. They read important verses on repentance, on forgiveness, and on sin.

They spoke about living too much in the corporeal world. They recited a simple prayer that both had learned early in their lives, as they came to accept Jesus into their hearts:

Dear Jesus,

I admit that I am a sinner and I know that nothing I can do will save myself. I come to You in faith believing that You died for my sins. I invite You into my heart and accept You as the Savior and Lord of my life. By Your Grace, I will follow and obey You in all that I do.

In Your Name,

Amen

Over and over they repeated these words. Jeremy liked having Sara beside him, whispering the same things he did. They were working hard. And, he reminded himself, Our God is a loving God. He is the Good Shepherd, and He will not let His flock stray too far.

But each night, when he was alone, Jeremy was plagued by his weakness. He repeated Psalms to hammer out the images of Sara’s naked body next to his.

“I’m sorry, God,” Jeremy whispered. “I shouldn’t have slept with her. I shouldn’t have touched her. I shouldn’t have let her touch me back.”

But a flame licked at the back of Jeremy’s mind. He couldn’t shake the idea that love – physical love, love not just for God – could be something beautiful. It hadn’t been dirty or lustful – not for them. What they had done – they had made love. And he’d done it with a woman, a Christian woman, who he loved. He wasn’t sure that Jesus hadn’t been with them that evening; that He hadn’t been a player in their lovemaking.

And then Jeremy would turn back to his Bible. He searched for a verse that could offer an explanation of their passion: something that would separate them from the evils of earthly desire. But even as he looked, he knew he wouldn’t find anything.

**

Lightning cut bright gashes into the dark sky. The rain began to sting Sara’s legs. They had been sitting on the hill for two or three hours, waiting. Sara glanced down at Jeremy’s notebook. The pages were soggy and no longer legible.

“Jeremy?” Sara said.

He opened his eyes.

“Yeah?”

“What if He doesn’t take us?”

Thunder rocked the sky, the sound resonating through their bodies.

“What did you say?” Jeremy said.

“What if He doesn’t take us?”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you think we could be left behind? For what we did?”

Jeremy didn’t answer for a few seconds.

“I don’t know,” he said, exhaling. “I’m scared, too.”

Water was falling in rivers onto their heads. Sara and Jeremy continued to sit, watching the sky. Their clothing stuck to their skin. They were quieter than before. They both had their eyes closed. Sara focused on the sound of the rain hitting the grass. Eventually the two sat in complete silence.

Within an hour, the deluge stopped. The sky began to turn blue. The earth smelled damp and rich beneath them.

Sara blinked and wiped her face with her forearm. She reached for Jeremy’s hand.

“I think it’s over,” she said.

“I guess so.”

“He didn’t come.”

“I guess we should go down,” Jeremy said.

Sara nodded. Jeremy gripped her hand. They walked down the hill, marching back to their lives. The storm was over, and they were still waiting.

January 1, 2010. Books, Culture, Rectangles, Religion. 1 comment.

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