That Which is Bread

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? – Isaiah

Time for another Bukowski poem

Bukowski himself

the smoking car

they stop out front here
it looks as if the car is on fire
the smoke blazes blue from the hood and exhaust
the motor sounds like cannon shots
the car humps wildly
one guy gets out,
Jesus, he says, he takes a long drink from a
canvas water bag
and gives the car an eerie look.
the other guy gets out and looks at the car,
Jesus, he says,
and he takes a drink from a pint of whiskey,
then passes the bottle to his
they both stand and look at the car,
one holding the whiskey, the other the water bag.
they are not dressed in conventional hippie garb
but in natural old clothes
faded, dirty and torn.
a butterfly goes past my window
and they get back in the
and it bucks off in low
like a rodeo bronc
they are both laughing
and one has the bottle
the butterfly is gone
and outside there is a globe of smoke
40 feet in circumference.

first human beings I’ve seen in Los Angeles
in 15 years.

— Charles Bukowski, in Mockingbird Wish Me Luck

If I read this in a Lit Crit class, I’d be asked, (1) What’s with the butterfly? and (2) What’s with the “eerie look”?
So I’m glad that I’m not in any Lit Crit classes.

They only want you to think it’s hard

Polenta is delicious, versatile and easy to make. Some older cookbooks make polenta prep sound like a long, laborious process involving constant stirring for hours. Don’t be fooled: it’s easy. Here’s how.

If you’re lucky, your supermarket will sell actual polenta, which is coarsely-ground cornmeal and gives a slightly more interesting texture. If they don’t have it, regular yellow cornmeal works fine and tastes the same. Do not get “Instant Polenta”. Make any amount you want, just preserve a 4-to-1 ratio of water to cornmeal. I’ve seen recipes that stretch this ratio to 5-to-1; I haven’t tried it, but you can. This example uses 2 cups of water.

  • Measure out 2 cups of cold water.
  • Put 1/2 cup cornmeal in a saucepan with a generous pinch of salt.
  • Pour a small amount of the water in the pot. Stir until the cornmeal is all wetted. Mash with a fork until there are no lumps, adding a bit more water as you go. When you have a lump-less slurry of cornmeal (this will only take about 30 seconds), stir in the rest of the water.
  • Turn on the heat  under the saucepan and bring the mixture to a full boil, stirring it regularly. When it comes to a boil it will quickly start to thicken. Be careful at this point; it tends to give off volcanic splatters of hot cornmeal.
  • As soon as the mixture has reached a full boil, cover and turn off the heat. Wait about 10 minutes. Polenta!

If this weren’t about fasting, you’d stir in a big hunk of butter and a handful of grated cheese before setting the polenta to cool, and it would be delicious. But it’s pretty good served straight.

While it’s still hot, it makes a good breakfast cereal. After it sits for awhile, it will set into a solid mass: if you’re planning to let it set, pour it into a small greased loaf pan while it’s still hot. Once it’s set, you can cut it in slices which you can re-heat with some tomato sauce on top, or you can fry it: this is what southerners poetically call “fried mush”. Poor-people food for sure, but that’s what you want during a fast, isn’t it?

To boost the flavor while keeping it Lenten, here are a couple of things you can do. While it’s cooking, you can stir in a big pinch of red pepper flakes, curry powder or chili powder.  If you’re more the sweet-tooth type, stir in some brown sugar. To give a good savory flavor, finely chop an onion, brown it in some oil in a saucepan, then add the cornmeal and proceed as above.