Home Closing & Homecoming: The House of the Seven Gables and Wabi-Sabi

My daughter and son-in-law closed on their house after many weeks of lawsuit threats, contingency agreements come and gone, and worried phone calls to relatives.  The next day, they drove “home” for my daughter’s 10th year high school reunion.  We celebrated  their new adventure with a leisurely meal.
New homeowners come “home” for homecoming…

3-cheese artichoke dip (not pictured)
green beans with tomatoes

corn on the cob
au gratin potatoes (Its the golden colored disk in the above picture.)
rib eyes

rolls
brownies

There are only 2 sterling recipes in this meal: the potatoes and the rib eyes.

The potatoe recipe comes from the new star of the Food Network contest, Melissa d’Arabian.  Here’s her recipe.  My adaptations follow.

5-Minute Individual Potato Gratins 4 to 6 servings
2 large russet potatoes, roughly peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese
2 green onions, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Spray 8 muffin tins with vegetable spray. Layer potato slices, cheese, and onions into each muffin cup. Season with salt and pepper and top each gratin with 1 or 2 tablespoons of heavy cream. Cover with foil and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, removing the foil halfway through cooking time. Invert gratins onto plate and serve. My adaptations…I use ramekins, which produce a little bigger serving and make it easier to dislodge the potato mold.  I like a bitier cheese, say a smoked gouda or a sharp cheddar.  If I don’t have green onions, I use leeks–just the white parts. Sauté the leeks if you have the time.

Steaks in a cast iron pan
Preheat oven to 350.  The steaks should be thick and at room temperature.  Salt and fresh pepper them.  Melt about 1 tbl. butter in a cast iron pan.  Add enough oil to coat and heat to medium high.  Watch the butter so that  don’t burn it. Sear the steaks–top and then bottom.  Give it a good 5-6 mins. on each side. Leave the steaks in the cast iron pan and transfer to oven. Cook to a rare reading, remove, and let finish cooking to med. rare in the pan outside of oven but off any heat.  At med. rare, remove from pan and let rest 10 mins.  Slice across grain.  Sometimes, this gets smokey.  So be prepared to start shutting doors to nearby rooms.

A famous house from the Great Books appears in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables.  Early in his “romance” (not “novel”), Hawthorne’s meta-narration guides us that “…the author has provided himself with a moral–the truth, namely, that the wrongdoing of one generation lives into the successive ones, and, divesting itself of every temporary advantage, becomes a pure and uncontrollable mischief…”

Houses, for Hawthorne, like blood dripping through the floor boards, exude evil from one generation to the next.  For the sake of our new home owners, let’s turn to a more auspicious outlook and adopt a wabi-sabi philosophy of old houses instead.

Here are some notes on wabi-sabi from…Juniper, Andrew. Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence. Boston: Tuttle Publishing, 2003.
“Wabi Sabi embodies the Zen nihilist cosmic view and seeks beauty in the imperfections found as all things, in a constant state of flux, evolve from nothing and devolve back to nothing. Within this perpetual movement nature leaves arbitrary tracks for us to contemplate, and it is these random flaws and irregularities that offer a model for the modest and humble wabi sabi expression of beauty. Rooted firmly in Zen thought, wabi sabi art uses the evanescence of life to convey the sense of melancholic beauty that such an understanding brings.” 1-2

“The term wabi sabi suggests such qualities as impermanence, humility, asymmetry, and imperfection. These underlying principles are diametrically opposed to those of their Western counterparts, whose values are rooted in a Hellenic worldview that values permanence, grandeur, symmetry, and perfection.” “Japanese art, infused with the spirit of wabi sabi, seeks beauty in the truth s of the natural world, looking toward nature for its inspiration. It refreains from all forms of intellectual entanglement, self-regard, and affectation in order to discover the unadorned truth of nature. Since nature can be defined by its asymmetry and random imperfections, wabi sabi seeks the purity of natural imperfections.” 2

“The word wabi comes from the verb wabu , which means to languish, and the adjective, wabishii, which was used to describe sentiments of loneliness, forlornness, and wretchedness.” 49

“Wabi sabi is an intuitive appreciation of a transient beauty in the physical world that reflects the irreversible flow of life in the spiritual world. It is an understated beauty that exists in the modest, rustic, imperfect, or even decayed, an aesthetic sensibility that finds a melancholic beauty in the impermanence of all things.” 51

“The term seishintouistu refers to the concentration of the mind and spirit on just one activity, and through this constant mental discipline the person is able to loose the dominance of the ego and become one with the activity. The artistry is the result of a mind focused on the task in hand, whether it be polishing a floor, raking gravel, or cutting vegetables. By bringing the mind to bear on the here and now, everyday activities can take on profound meaning and in Zen these are considered key for the development of the mind. This attitude can then transform the most mundane tasks into art.” 91

“Zen teachers stress a state of mind called mushin, which could be likened to a state of total absorption in a task. This concentration helps subdue the ego so that mind and body can work in a free, natural, and uninhibited way. This erasing of the importance of self is seen as key to producing art that is not tarnished with the hues of self-indulgence or self-promotion.” 91-92

“If the archer and the bow are in harmony and the ego takes no part in the activity; then the shot will be made in the right spirit and that is all that matters.” 92

“In other arts, too, the role of the artist is that of a medium rather than an individual. This idea that the artist is not really the creating force is an underlying theme in the arts of Japan.” 92

“It is important that some part of every piece of wabi sabi art is organic in nature, whether it be clay, wood, textile, or any other naturally occurring material. The tides of time should be able to imprint the passing of the years on an object. The physical decay or natural wear and tear of the materials used does not in the least detract from the visual appeal, rather it adds to it. It is the changes of texture and color that provide the space for the imagination to enter and become more involved with the devolution of the piece.” 106

From…Gold, Taro. Living Wabi Sabi The True Beauty of Your Life. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2004. Pp. 96-97

“As we become comfortable with predictable cycles of actions and reactions, we settle into patterns. Herein lies a karma danger zone, for once a pattern of behavior develops, our actions move from the conscious realm into subconscious habits.”

“The more subconscious habits we allow, the more stagnant our lives become. We may eventually forget why we think, say, and do certain things. All we know is that we have “always” been that way, or perhaps we assume everyone else is that way, too. In such a lazy frame of mind, we relinquish our creative decision-making power. We leave the crucial role of seed planting in the field of our lives to our subconscious habits.”
“When we give up any part of our lives to a subconscious habit, a piece of our future falls behind us. That is because our subconscious habits are ingrained patterns of behavior, echoes of our past. And since the past can never change, any aspect of our lives controlled by subconscious habits will never change. Stuck in this karmic rut, our past is bound to repeat itself in our future. We can break this cycle only by becoming consciously aware of the decisions we make at every moment.”

Back to our new homeowners…  I wish my daughter and my son-in-law great happiness and success on their new venture.  However, if financial times get tough, they could take a lesson from Hawthorne’s Chapter II.  Open up an at-home shop by cutting a door in your home, preferably one with access to the street.  You know, if Miss Hepzibah–that old woman entrenched in her precious perception that a lady has little in common with the common woman–could make a go of it, anyone can!

New Vocabulary…from The House of the Seven Gables, definitions from Merriam-Webster on-line
Propinquity: nearness of blood; nearness of place or time
daguerreotype:  an early photograph produced on a silver or a silver-covered copper plate
recondite: hidden from sight; concealed; difficult or impossible for one of ordinary understanding or knowledge to comprehend
apothegm: a short, pithy, and instructive saying or formulation; aphorism
esculent: edible
sybarite: voluptuary; sensualist
diurnal: reoccuring every day; having a daily cycle

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