Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Hamlet 2016

I title this post 'Hamlet 2016' because the current production at the Vortex Theatre is very contemporary.  The ubiquitous smartphones will strike the viewer immediately and they are used throughout to good effect.

There is no question that I am a huge fan of Shakespeare and of Greek tragedy.  If I am aware of any production near me, you will be challenged to keep me away from it.  Sometimes memory fades over the years but this is at least the second, and possibly third, live production of Hamlet I have attended.  In the last couple of years I have also watched at least five versions of Hamlet on VHS, DVD, or the big screen (in the recent production with Benedict Cumberbatch).   These range from the uncut version with Kenneth Branagh to the abomination with Ethan Hawke (and Bill Murray doing a Polonius that made me want to puke).  One is the version with Derek Jacobi as Hamlet, and his performance inspired Branagh to become an actor.  Branagh then cast Jacobi as Claudius when Branagh played Hamlet.

Additionally, I obtained a somewhat abridged audio recording on LP records when I was in high school.  I listened over and over again, utterly captivated by the drama and poetry of Shakespeare.  To this I owe the annoying fact that I can mouth huge portions of the dialogue when watching it.

It is thus with trepidation that I go to any performance.  This is one of the plays that has become part of me.  Its music has flowed through my soul for half a century.  Will I be exhilarated or disheartened at the next production?

I can say, with all honesty, that I truly enjoyed the performance at the Vortex last Sunday.  I am not going so far as to say exhilarated, but I was definitely deeply satisfied and I recommend the production to anyone in the Albuquerque area.

Caroline Graham as Ophelia, Nicholas Ballas as Claudius, 
Grey Blanco as Hamlet, and Aleah Montano as Gertrude.  
Photo courtesy of the Vortex Theatre website.

One aspect of the performance I especially enjoyed was a sense that this was a modern Ophelia.  Yes, given her position in courtly society she is manipulated and managed, as Ophelia always has been, but Caroline Graham gives her an individual fire.  Her mad scene is stunning and terrifying; there is nothing pretty about it, yet it also endues her with a dignity.  She cannot be touched anymore than she can be used.

Grey Blanco as Hamlet carries the burden of a part all actors aspire to and he does so well.  Mercifully, this performance takes place in an enclosed area with the audience on all four sides, so Blanco did not have to race around everywhere as Cumberbatch did in an immense set, leaving  the audience exhausted.  But he does have the energy and emotions of youth and the struggle to take action in a world of conflicting desires and responsibilities.  I could believe the passion between him and Ophelia and the struggle to distance himself from her, brutally but not without ambiguity.

Kudos must be given to Miguel Martinez the fight choreographer who worked for ten weeks with Blanco and Quinn Scicluna (Laertes).  The duel that concludes the action cannot be faked and it not only went smoothly but convincingly, with satisfying moves and fierce emotion.  Anyone who has read the play or studied it knows how it all ends.  I will not spoil the final touch that holds a mirror to our warped modern souls.

The Claudius of Nicholas Ballas is, as he should be, a polished and entitled villain.  Peter Shea Kierst was, as I expected, a perfect Polonius.  Gertrude was not given as strong a presence in this production as in some I have seen but Aleah Montano was queenly throughout and duly wretched in the closet scene.  I could not discern just how complicit she was in her husband's assassination, a question this play always raises.

Rosencrantz (Bridget S. Dunne) and Guildenstern (Jonathan Tyrell) were believable university friends and casting Rosencrantz as a woman gave some added poignancy to the intricacies of friendship among these two and Hamlet.  The utter devotion of Horatio (Tommy Joy) can be seen throughout the play but in Horatio's last farewell the depth and passion came through (and I got misty).

David Richard Jones directed and chaired a talkover after the Sunday matinee.  I appreciated the chance to hear more from him and several of the actors and to express appreciation to them all.

This is not the uncut version that goes on forever.  Fortinbras hardly matters, but the guts of the drama are all here.

I commend the performance to all who might enjoy some of the Bard's most beautiful writing and richest drama.

--the BB

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Oatmeal cookies

This is the next in my cookie series. Not holiday cookies, per se, but I bought raisins and, by God, raisins shall be used.  The recipe is at the end.

First, we establish that my cookie dough is usually not done by Kitchen-Aid but by hand mixing with a wooden spoon.    This butter had been removed from the fridge about one hour earlier but it was still not room temperature, so I got a bit of a workout as I creamed it.

 Sugars and spices and all sorts of nice stuff.

 OK, butter and sugars (with spices) are creamed.

 Now the eggs.  Notice that I am doubling the recipe, which is why you see two eggs instead of the one called for in the recipe below.

Next honey is added.  Interesting, yes?

The flour. It is followed by the oats, which I thought I had photographed, but evidently I did not.

The raisins (homage to my Central Valley roots).

And here is the dough, ready to be refrigerated for an hour before dropping onto the baking sheets.

These humble cookies may seem old-fashioned, but their signature oatmeal cookie flavor and soft/chewy texture never go out of style.
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup brown sugar, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • heaping 1/2 teaspoon salt*
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 3/4 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour or 100% White Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats
  • 1 1/2 cups raisins (golden or regular), or currants
  • *If you use salted butter, reduce salt to 1/2 level teaspoon.


  1. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.
  2. Beat together the butter, sugars, spices, salt, baking soda, and vanilla, mixing until smooth.
  3. Beat in the egg, then the honey.
  4. Stir in the flour, then the oats, then the raisins.
  5. Cover the dough, and refrigerate it for 1 to 2 hours, until it's thoroughly chilled.

    Note: To save time, you can freeze unbaked cookies for 1 hour, rather than refrigerating the dough; see step 6, below.
  6. Drop the chilled dough by generous tablespoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheet; a tablespoon cookie scoop works well here. The cookies will spread, so leave 2" or so between them.

    If the dough hasn't been chilled, place the pans of shaped cookies in the freezer for 1 hour.
  7. Just before baking, preheat the oven to 375°F.
  8. Bake the cookies for 10 minutes, until they're barely beginning to brown. Reverse the pans (top to bottom, bottom to top) midway through baking. If the cookies have been frozen, bake them for 14 minutes.
  9. Remove the cookies from the oven, and cool right on the pan; or transfer to a rack if you need the pan for the next batch.
  10. Yield: about 26 cookies.
This recipe comes from the folks at King Arthur Flour.

I will post a photo of my finished product on Facebook later.
--the BB

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Toasty coconut macaroons

Remember, if you click on the photo you can enlarge it.

Once you have toasted the coconut, the rest of this is beyond easy.  The cookies are almost nothing but egg whites, sugar, and toasted coconut.  Fun to dip in chocolate also.

Below are the ones that have just come out of the oven.

Happy baking!

--the BB

Friday, December 25, 2015


Mrs. Londquist’s Pepparkakor
(Swedish Pepper Cookies)

1 Cup melted butter
1-1/4  Cup sugar (white or brown)
Cream butter and sugar together.

1/2 Cup sour cream
1-1/2  Cups light molasses
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
Mix together in a very large bowl and add the butter & sugar mixture.
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
8 Cups flour

Mix dry ingredients together then add to wet ingredients.  Mix thoroughly.

Roll to 1/8 inch thickness on floured board.  Cut.

Bake at 350 degrees F. for 15 minutes.

This recipe makes a lot of cookies.  You may keep the dough in the refrigerator and roll out and bake some at a time.  It takes a bit of work to make the cold dough malleable but if it gets too warm it does not handle well either.  If it is too crumbly, I apply a bit of melted butter and knead repeatedly.  Practice, and lots of sprinkling with flour.

They are best made around Thanksgiving, stored in an airtight container, and served at Christmas.  We love making holes in some of them and hanging them on the Christmas tree.  Those hanging on the tree will be perfectly edible when Epiphany arrives.

Biscotti di meliga

Lemon-Cornmeal Cookies
Biscotti di meliga

1 Cup fine-ground cornmeal
3/4 Cup 00 flour (all-purpose will work fine)
10 Tbsp. butter, diced
3/4 Cup sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1 large lemon

Preheat oven to 350º.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a food processor, combine the cornmeal, flour, and butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse sand.  Add the sugar, egg yolks, vanilla, lemon zest, and salt and process until just combined.  Turn the dough out on a work surface and knead it for 1 to 2 minutes.  The dough will be dense and sticky.

Working in batches, put the dough in a cookie press and press out simple one-part shapes onto the prepared baking sheets.  Alternately put flattened teaspoon-sized mounds of dough on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake for about 7 minutes, depending on the thickness of your cookies, until just lightly golden at the edges.  Let cool to room temperature on the parchment paper or wire racks. (If you try to remove them from the parchment paper before they are cool, they may crumble.)  The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for several weeks.

Yield: 2-3 dozen

Notes: I did not have the more finely ground cornmeal available.  Find it if you can, but regular will work.  You might want to use the food processor to grind it a bit finer.  I shaped small balls and got four dozen out of the recipe.

--the BB

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Apelsinkakor (Orange Cookies) - updated

This is one of my favorite cookies for the holiday season.  The recipe comes from a Swedish-American cookbook.
Orange Cookies

1/2 Cup butter
1 Cup sugar
1 egg
grated rind of 2 oranges
1/2 Cup chopped nuts
2-1/2 Cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 Cup pieces of nuts

A.   Cream butter; add sugar and cream until light.  Beat in egg.  Add orange rind and chopped nuts.
B.    Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Add to first mixture and mix well.  Chill several hours or overnight.
C.    Roll out to 1/8 inch thickness and cut with 1-3/4 inch cookie cutter.  Arrange on ungreased cookie sheets.  Press a piece of nut on each cookie.
D.   Bake at 375º for 8 to 10 minutes.

Yield: 8 dozen

Note: one may also treat these like ice-box (refrigerated) cookies.  I find this easier.  Form rolls of the dough, wrap in wax paper, then plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.  Take them out of the refrigerator and slice thinly.  Proceed to bake.

Dry climate note: flour in New Mexico is very dry.  I doubled the recipe tonight but used only 4.5 cups of flour instead of 5.0.  This gave me a much more malleable dough than I have often had in the past.

My preferred method of making most cookie dough: a wooden spoon and the bowl I inherited from Grandmother Strid.  It is so much more involved and satisfying.
Creaming the butter.

Creaming the sugar with the butter.

 Butter and sugar nicely ready for the next step.

 Add eggs (this is a double recipe I am making, hence: two eggs instead of one).

 A beautiful batter is forming.

 Add chopped nuts and orange zest.

 The dry ingredients have been added.  This is the stage where I move from the wooden spoon to my own hands.  The warmth of my hands helps the butter to hold the rest together and blend.  I tried to take a photo of my gloved hand about to plunge into the dough but it evidently did not take.

Here a portion of the dough is rolled up into a log and wrapped in waxed paper.  Tomorrow I will take the logs out of the fridge, slice them, and bake cookies!

The following photos were not in the original post.  Taken today (Christmas morning).

Slicing the log into cookies. (It is not safe to eat raw cookie dough with eggs in the mixture so we do NOT recommend it.  Just don't tell anyone this is one of the best tasting doughs around.)

 Ready for the oven.  I am sorry I did not appreciate baking parchment much earlier in my life.  Wonderful stuff.

And here is the end result of a double recipe.  When fully cooled they are very crisp and might last in an airtight container were I not around to nibble on them.

--the BB

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Una cosa ho chiesto al Signore

I went into my library and pulled from the shelf Volume One of The Liturgy of the Hours, read the Psalms and Canticles appointed for Evening Prayer on Wednesday of Advent 1, and the Readings.

Given that I pretty much abandoned this practice a few years ago, this may or may not be remarkable.  Let us allow it to be whatever it is without labels.

Following through on the vineyard theme from the Vineyard Song in Isaiah 5, here is a portion of the Chartres windows depicting the harvesting of grapes and trampling of wine.

    5   One thing have I asked of the LORD;
        one thing I seek; *
          that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
               all the days of my life;

    6   To behold the fair beauty of the LORD *
          and to seek him in his temple.
                                        Psalm 27, BCP

These are some interesting verses and I am framing them with scenes from Chartres Cathedral.  The photo above is one I took in May 2014; the one below from the internet.

When I was about forty years younger, these verses spoke of my sense of vocation to priesthood.  With Chartres in mind, it is easy enough to get rather sentimental about it.  The reality, of course, is more one of roof repairs, bad sound systems, problems with heating in winter and cooling in summer, landscaping, access, signage, and all the other attendant challenges of a house of worship.  I am not even listing the challenges of life in a faith community. Not very romantic.

Nowadays, in fact, I rarely enter a church building.  I do so mostly to attend concerts.  Many concerts touch my spiritual core quite deeply.  The inner fire that believes in Grace and in Uncreated Light and an Ultimate Reality we name as Love--this breaks through when certain texts and sonorities combine.  I tend to weep at a majority of the concerts of the Santa Fe Desert Chorale.

As I read the verses from Psalm 27 this evening they struck me as intriguing vestiges of my past.  So what abides?  Is there a greater truth or reality here that can still speak to me?

For starters I would affirm, as many do, that all Creation is the Temple of the Lord. The Universe is sacred, an incarnation of the Holy.  The Earth is sacred.  Sign me up as a Celtic Christian or a happy pagan here; it works for me.  I do not discount houses of worship.  Just because I claim that they are not the Church but where the Church meets does not mean I think they are unnecessary.  For humans to form community, they need to gather.  Baptism and Eucharist may occur outdoors but as concrete material events they must take place in specific places.  The inward and spiritual graces of sacraments cannot be separated from the outward visible signs.  Christianity is a faith of Incarnation, a faith rooted in time, space, and matter.

I am too much of an aesthetic personality to dismiss sacred spaces.  They may be as humble as a grove or sacred well or as lofty as, well, Chartres Cathedral.  Endowing a sacred space with honest material and visual beauty does not offend my sense that we should be about caring for human needs (and not merely human, for we live within a web of life and must also care for the planet).  I refuse to play the game of saying A negates B and we must choose one or the other.

My sense of the presence of God, however, has slipped the tether of specific places.  As Helen Colman reminded us many times, "Every meal is Eucharist."  As Christ rises from the waters of Jordan he fills all things with blessing.  The world does not become blessed because I bring it into the walls of a church or pronounce a traditional formula.  It is already blessed by divine choice, by divine action, by eternal divine love.  All I can do is recognize that prior blessing, that prior reality of existence that is everywhere filled with grace.  If I, in my priestly role, pronounce a blessing I am only articulating what by grace already is true.

I have long believed, and often repeated, that there is only one place.  It is deep within the Heart of God, the eternally loving heart, the lance-pierced heart.  All of time and space is ever and always there.  So no matter where I am, I am always in the presence of the fair beauty of the Lord.  I cannot stray outside that beloved place, nor can anyone.

This belief--a stance that is metaphorical, poetic, mystical--sustains me and helps me not fret.  Like a child I pray, each night, that God will bless folks but I believe that is already God's will and action.  I just want to align myself with it and with those I love.  I don't pray for anyone's salvation or worry about it.  For me, salvation, however it is to be understood, is a given by grace.  Neither faith nor works will make it happen, nor will the lack thereof hinder it.  Yes, I am a universalist.  So sue me.  The gates of the New Jerusalem are open by day and by night; never closed.  Enter if you will.  The Spirit and the Bride say, Come!

What does this have to do with Advent?  I am quite uncertain.

8 December 1990, Grace Cathedral, San Francisco - a newly ordained priest sets the Table.  Next Tuesday will be the 25th anniversary of that moment.

December 2013, San Gabriel Episcopal Church, Corrales NM - the last Mass I celebrated.

I don't mind being, as I put it, "very retired" from formal public ministry. Even so, it is a very real part of who I am.  No sudden insights or conclusions this evening.  I am simply sharing some bits and pieces.

--the BB

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Geography blogging returns

I used to have a recurring feature on geography, focusing mostly on areas of the world that are less familiar to the average citizen of the USA.  Sometimes that included myself in spite of my fondness for geography.

As a student of history, I have to pay attention to geography.  As I read or listen to lectures, it is immensely useful to have a sense of location.  Additionally, as citizens of the world we should all know this stuff.

In recent months I have listened to lectures on late antiquity and the middle ages.  I am currently taking Russian courses at the University of New Mexico (along with survey of Italian literature).  It dawned on me that I am woefully forgetful of geography in the areas pictured above.  So I am sharing a look at Eastern Europe for us all to absorb.

The maps in this post come from the Nations Online Project and they grant permission to use them for educational purposes.

The map below is from the Danube River Project.

I post it as something of a confession.  Listening to lectures that discuss migrations and barbarians crossing the Danube to enter the Roman Empire, I realized I was a bit hazy on "the beautiful blue Danube."  Really embarrassing, actually, given my studies in the period from the late Roman Republic through the Renaissance and Reformation eras.  So here we can all get a glimpse of its extent.  My discomfort can be transformed into a learning moment for us all.

This post is cursory since I am not adding much further information but I believe it would be nice to restore the geography blogging posts.

--the BB