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.
Christmas Eve · 24 December 2006
The cookies are baked; the shopping and wrapping are done; it’s now time to sit back and enjoy the fruits of the last weeks’ labors.
I’m very pleased with how the chocolate-ginger freezer cookies turned out. They are just as pretty as the cookbook picture promised, and the subtle tanginess of the ginger dough complements the rich chocolate coating and sweet-sour candied ginger topping nicely.
Chocolate-Ginger Freezer Cookies
I’ve taken the relaxation of today to catch up on some reading. I look to have some promising reviews to share in the next few weeks as a result.
The rest of the evening is dedicated to eating dinner and relaxing by a warm fire. For those who partake in the holiday tradition of listening to music on Christmas Eve, take a listen to the latest Holly Cole Christmas compilation. She’s an amazing sultry-voiced Canadian singer with a penchant for poking fun at the commercialism of the holiday. One of the songs she performed on tour, but unfortunately not on the album, is “Maybe This Christmas”, available on writer and fellow vocalist Ron Sexsmith’s MySpace. If you’re a sucker for sentimentalism like I am, pay attention to the lyrics then call a long lost friend to wish them well.
Hope your holidays are all that you could ask for.
Searchable keywords: Chocolate, Christmas, Cookies, Desserts, Ginger, Holidays, Jazz, Music, Vegetarian
Kicking Off the Celebrations · 22 December 2006
The baking continues.
Some people in my life are coming to town this weekend, others are leaving town to celebrate with non-local relatives. We’re a mobile culture and as people grow up, migrate, and form new and non-traditional bonds, the holidays pull people apart just as much as they bring others together. As many do, I’ve dealt with this phenomenon by extending the holidays well past their calendar prescribed boundaries and so Christmas celebrations officially started for me last night as I kicked off a round of visiting people with whom I won’t be spending the actual holiday.
For those of you that can’t celebrate with everyone, bringing a bit of the holidays to your extended friends and family is as simple as setting aside time to do something special with them. Relationships are built in part on traditions, whether they be as whimsical as pointing out the oddities in each public restroom at the restaurants you visit together or as meaningful as a continuing foundation of trust and respect. The holidays are built around traditions as well, religious ones for some and cultural ones for others. Whatever your inclination may be, don’t forget to take time out of the busy season to nurture your own traditions with the important people in your life.
For me, gift giving is one of the highlights of the season. I really enjoy trying to figure out what people would like. I like giving surprises and abhor generic gift certificates. My idea of the perfect present is one that is based on some cue the person dropped, then totally forgot about. Given my philosophy, it’s not surprising that the giving of gifts ranks up there in my holiday get togethers and so I tend to put a lot of work into the finding, or in this case the making of, something special for everyone.
Here was my contribution to last night.
Vegetarian Friendly Chocolate-Dipped Krispies
Adapted from: ABC News – Good Morning America
Traditional Marshmallow Version:
- ½ stick unsalted butter
- 10 oz jumbo marshmallows
- ¾ cup creamy peanut butter
- 6 cups crispy rice cereal
- 10 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
I used Pangea brand Vegan Sweets gelatin-free marshmallows , and adapted the recipe a bit per the recommendations on their packaging. A general note for non-gelatin marshmallows is that they seem to melt into a smaller volume of marshmallow goo than their traditional brethren, so beef up on the butter and ‘smellows, and cut down on the cereal.
For my brand, I used 1/2 of a stick of butter, 12 oz of marshmallows, and about 5 1/2 cups of cereal. At that, they were a bit dry and lacked cohesion in a few places and I think I should have used about another 1/4 of the stick of butter and a bit less cereal.
Melt the butter over low heat in a large pot. Stir in the marshmallows and cook until fully melted and no marshmallow white remains. Stir in the peanut butter until combined.
Stir in the cereal until distributed evenly through the marshmallow mixture. I recommend starting with less than the full 6 cups so you can adjust to less cereal if needed.
Pour out onto a lightly greased 9-by-13-inch rectangular baking dish. Smooth out the top of the treats by moistening your hands with a little water and using the palms of your hand to press down gently then set aside to cool. Once the treats have cooled, cut into rectangles.
Melt the chocolate over low heat in a double boiler or glass container set in a pan of gently boiling water. Dip one corner of each square into the melted chocolate, using a knife to cover any missed spots. Place squares on sheet of waxed paper until chocolate cools.
Searchable keywords: Chocolate, Christmas, Cookies, Desserts, Holidays, Peanut Butter, Vegetarian