Poppy Seed Filled Cookies are the Opium of the Masses · 25 April 2007
The story of Venusia reads very close to the meaning of the original Karl Marx quote, “Die Religion . . . ist das Opium des Volkes” (Religion is the opium of the people).
During the founding of the Venusian colony, religion was outlawed. Later, when the government wanted to control the people via mandatory flower Feed, they intertwined the Feed with religion. Through use of the flowers, the populace was glutted and satisfied, and their ability to wander the nueroscape was dampened. In Venusia, the flowers, and their ancillary religion, literally prevented people from realizing a different reality, one in which they could thrive.
I thought that Von Schlegell set up an interesting personification of Marx’s original belief that religion can provide a substitute complacency that masks the true problems of a society. Many people have taken the Marx quote out of the context of its time to stand for the idea that religion is a recreational drug in the modern sense. Marx more closely believed that religion provided comfort for the social problems of a society. Von Schlegell uses flowers and their attendant religion, to create a population that is satisfied with what they have. Venusians live an easy, timeless, life with flowers serving as the drug that allows them to live in comfort.
Now, before I get stoned to death here, let me say that I do believe that religion provides some positive functions for society. Very often people rally around religion in order to support each other through times of need. Religion is an easy way for people to find a social network when they move to a new city, and I’m a firm believer in the necessity for a healthy network to keep one connected to society and reality. We humans are social beings, and without exercising our sociality on a regular basis, we just don’t thrive.
However, I found that Von Schlegell’s use of the classic Marxist view on religion added to the depth of his story. Although he illustrated that the Venusians were disconnected from human history, he made the inference that human problems are universal regardless of their historical roots, and that no matter the beliefs of a society, we all wrestle with the same questions and are susceptible to the same pitfalls if we avoid answering them. It’s Von Schlegell's multi-layered approach of drawing from science-fiction, religious theory that makes Venusia a book that is easy to read twice and not be bored with.
Okay, onward to poppies. As many people are probably aware, in part due to a notable Seinfeld episode opium is made from poppies, not the seed per se, but the seed pod. And while poppy seeds aren’t in themselves narcotic, I thought using them instead of actual narcotics was a good compromise.
I therefore went looking for the most concentrated poppy seed delectable I could find. What I came up with was oddly connected to religion (it’s a traditional Jewish holiday cookie) but the recipe has been modified so that it’s no longer Kosher. I’m not trying to draw any conclusions here, I just thought I’d mentioned it in the interest of full disclosure before someone called me on it and accused me of making some inference about Judaism.
Sometimes a poppy seed is just a tasty treat.
Poppy Seed Filled Cookies:
Cookies adapted from Epicurious via Gourmet magainze.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- ½ cup vegetable shortening
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 large egg
- 2 tsp packed finely grated fresh orange zest
- 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
Filling adapted from Food Down Under.
- 1 cup black poppy seeds
- ½ cup milk
- 2 Tbsp Butter
- ¼ cup superfine sugar
- 2 Tbsp corn syrup
- ⅓ cup pecans, chopped
- ⅓ cup dried apricots
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
This recipe must be chilled a minimum of 3 hours. Plan accordingly.
Sift four, baking powder, and salt into a small bowl.
Use an electric mixer to beat shortening and sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy.
Add egg, and beat until incorporated, then add zest and juice and mix in.
Add flour mixture, stirring, until a smooth dough is formed. If dough seems dry or the egg was small, add a bit of milk (I used a tsp) until dough seems smooth.
Gather dough into a ball and flatten into a disk, then wrap in plastic wrap. Chill dough at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.
Preheat oven to 375° F.
Cut dough into halves. Return one half to the refrigerator.
Lightly flour a rolling surface and rolling pin. Roll out half of dough evenly until approximately ¼ in thick. If in doubt, lean towards the thinner side of ¼ in. I found that the thinnest cookies were the easiest to manipulate.
Use a 3 in cookie cutter to cut out as many rounds as possible from the dough.
Prepare a lightly greased cookie sheet, then transfer rounds to the sheet with a metal spatula. Place cookies approximately ½ in apart.
Re-roll the scraps of the first half of the dough until all the dough has been cut into rounds.
Place 1 tsp filling (recipe below) in the center of each round then fold up edges to form triangular cookies resembling a tri-cornered hat. Pinch the corners together so that they make a solid seal and leave the filling exposed in the center.
Bake in middle of oven 10-13 minutes, or until pale golden. Cool on baking sheet 5 minutes and transfer to racks to cool completely.
Repeat the process with the second half of the dough.
Place milk and poppy seeds in small saucepan and stir until combined.
Add butter, sugar, corn syrup, pecans, and apricots and heat at medium temperature until the mixture thickens (about 5 minutes).
Remove from heat and allow to cool. Once cool, stir in vanilla.