Thursday, March 31, 2011

Good and Bad

As I walked on campus today, I chanced to pass a couple--a young man and an older woman--who were in earnest conversation.

"For every good person in the world," I heard the woman say, "There is a bad one."

Who knows how this fits into a context? I certainly do not. It was just a snippet of sound; a brief glimpse into other lives in a passing moment. What I heard, however, was enough to make me wonder.

Is that true? Are there an equal number of good and bad people in the world? No? Then, is it more or less? Can you even quantify something like that?

Of course not. We need venture no further than the question of who gets to decide about the definition of good and bad to completely derail this as some sort of logical inquiry.

But, the question remained in my mind as I walked along today. It was a beautiful day, full of sunshine, with warm fragrant spring air filling my senses. No need to worry about such things.

I'm home now and I've had a beer, and some time to think, but it doesn't look like I'm going to find my way on this. I want to be an optimist. I also want to be a realist. These two opposing goals have ever had me at odds with myself. It's been my personal dilemma--not unique, but personal, and therefore meaningful to me, and perhaps one or the other of my Dear Readers.

Still, in an instant, my first reckoning was quite telling, and, perhaps, just a bit too brutal.

Despite my good mood and the delightful day I thought the woman was being far too generous.

"She's wrong. 2:1 bad to good" I thought.

Then, I chastised myself. "No. Come on, it can't be that bad."

But, it isn't anything like, say, 2:1 good to bad. Can't be. Maybe the woman was right.

Even odds? Really?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Good Cookie

With so many celebrity chefs on television these days, it seems that there are as many ways to measure the skill of an individual as there are channels on the tube itself. Infinite.

But to my mind, there is one supreme test of culinary skill. While it can be done quickly, it doesn't have to be done in exactly thirty minutes. While it can be eclectic, it doesn't have to be quirky or even inventive. And while style can count, it is taste and texture that really measures the skill of the preparer.

I'm talking about cookies.

To be sure, I am biased. According to Lynda, who rarely seemed to remember things as trivial as this, my first word was cookie. I have no reason to doubt her because I happen to really like cookies. In fact, they are my favorite sweet.

Not just favorite dessert, but favorite sweet. I'd much prefer a good cookie to a candy bar, for sure. A good cookie is better than a good cake or a pie. Actually, a good cookie is both a cake and a pie. And that's why it is so hard to make a good cookie. The baker has to really know their stuff to make a really good cookie.

An amateur baker can fake a cake, or a pan of brownies, but they can't fake a cookie. Even the 'slice-n-bake' stuff, while it allows the faker-baker to get a lot closer than 'store-bought' cookies, just cannot even approach the real thing.

The real thing, for me, is a scratch-made cookie. It is neither too sweet nor too salty. It is neither too thick nor too thin. It is neither too crunchy nor too soft. It must be all these things at once. A cake has to be airy. Bread has to have texture. Cookies have to have both.

Chefs, like doctors, have an informal hierarchy in their world. For example, while all doctors are M.D.s the surgeons hold themselves to be at the top of the doctor ladder. The anesthesiologists, on the other hand, while no less doctors, place themselves lower on that invisible ladder.

In the kitchen, it is the line cook that thinks he holds the top spot, while the pastry chef is supposed to operate somewhere below the line. Often they work off to the side or at completely different times than the rest of the cooks in the kitchen.

To the doctors in the operating room, or the chefs in the kitchen, this hierarchy may make some sort of sense, but to those of us on the outside--the real subjects of this exercise--the perception is really the reverse.

In the operating room, the last person the patient sees is the anesthesiologist, on whose skill and touch they must rely in order to survive the surgeon's ordeal without pain. The surgeon claims the credit but the patient is silently thankful for the ego-less skill of the 'other' doctor in the room.

In the dining room, often the last food the patron will eat is from the pastry chef's hand, and thus on whom the outcome of the meal is ultimately resting. How ironic is it then, when he Chef comes out to take credit even as the diners are scraping up crumbs--not of the entree, but the dessert?

Given the importance of the pastry chef, you'd think there would be a better measure of their skill than the humble cookie, but there is not. Not for me anyway. When it comes to the dessert course, I can tell more about the skill of the chef back there not by the flavor or texture of the marscapone-toasted-cashew-chili-pepper-rubbed ice cream, but by the flavor and texture of the cookie that is often simply and casually tossed into the glass or onto the plate as an mere afterthought.

The cookie is no mere afterthought. I think that it is the supreme measure of a chef's passion and skill. I think that Chefs ought to first master the art of the cookie before they are allowed anywhere near the line.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Are you ready?

Are you ready?

The Poet O looked past me
bright blue eyes focused
somewhere I had been

I looked back
Still frozen in time
no one, nothing moved.

Are you ready?

I nod assent
He turns to go
each step he takes opens a crack
in the ground between us

At first the cracks are small
but soon his pace picks up
I fall behind
now jumping jagged voids
a thousand miles deep
and ten feet wide

A last leap is short
my hands hold the edge
but I have no hope of holding on
slipping I feel his hand
catch me up
from the fall
I sit at his feet
stare into the dark gate.

Are you ready?

He doesn't wait for me
to answer
but follow
into the dark
out of the park
the street awaits.

We thread our way
through frozen traffic
cars are bumper to bumper
silent and dark
then
there is life inside
these cages
where rages
erupt
fangs hit the glass
the blood sprays
but stays inside.

Other cages are hot
melting the asphalt
with screams
that don't stop.

Don't stop!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dark

Dark you come too fast
Linger a bit at least
Before shadows short are cast
Pause a bit before the feast

The creatures of the night will wait
The execution will be stayed
The trap will release it's bait
If but sunset be delayed