Saturday, February 18, 2006

My Personal Ode to Pomegranates.

This is my breakfast. It is my favorite food at the moment. Okay, it doesn't look so good in that picture. But do not be deceived by my breakfast's meager looks. It is AWESOME.

Sometimes I think I have a love affair with a certain kind of food – for a while it was Snappy Tom – that spicy tomato juice. I had to have it every day, every single day. I thought about my Snappy Tom when I wasn’t home and I looked forward to that rush of spice and tomato hitting my tongue. Then I began to have Snappy Tom several times during the day and the spices were so intense I began to be unable to taste any other food. Everything began to taste like Snappy Tom. You couldn’t have a glass of Snappy Tom and then have a bowl of cereal, for example. Your whole mouth was all Snappy Tom. Eventually I longed for other tastes, and so inevitably, one day, I broke up with Snappy Tom.

And I didn’t partake in him for months.

And then, slowly, he made his way back into my life. And we developed a more casual, realistic relationship – a Snappy Tom every once in a while when I was in the mood. It was never like it was at the beginning between Tom and me, but still – we found a way to be together in a more sustainable way. And it was like Snappy Tom and I would remember the old days, the days when I was obsessed with Snappy Tom. Sometimes I found myself chuckling as I poured a glass, thinking: “Remember when I was in a panic if I was out of Snappy Tom? Oh Tom, that was just nuts!” Or now, I order Snappy Tom on the plane and I shake my head – oh…Tom. Tom!

There were others, naturally. Fresh nine grain bread, bagel bread with blue cheese and tomatoes. And then, just…tomatoes. My neighbor grows tomatoes and when they are ripe I have a tomato sandwich every single day. I look forward to it – lunch today – dinner the next, and some days I have it for lunch and dinner! The tomato and fresh mayonnaise and fresh bread, a dash of salt and if I’m in the mood, pepper, and oh! During the rest of the year, I avoid tomatoes. None of them are as good as fresh – you can’t go back! You look at these stale, pale red, globs and think: they are selling these as -- tomatoes? There is no comparison with a fresh tomato just picked!

So, this winter, I have become obsessed with Pomegranates. My dear friend Julia, who is not me, but another person, who lives a couple of blocks away, came over one day with a grocery bag. Inside was low fat cottage cheese, a papaya, some pecans, some toasted sliced almonds, and…a pomegranate. She looked me deeply in the eyes and said in hushed tones, “Prepare yourself. Get ready to ROCK YOUR WORLD.” And then she handed me the brown paper bag. It was like she was handing me contraband: heroin, hullucinogenic mushrooms, pornography. "It just came to me, this recipe," she said. I love that. How it "came to her", the recipe sought her out, somehow. It's like when the Irish say, "The thirst, it came upon me!"

So, this is the basic recipe: 1/2 cup of cottage cheese, a quarter of a ripe papaya, two tablespoons of toasted sliced almonds, and a tablespoon of chopped pecans. Then, about a half of a fresh pomegranate. It takes a while, the pomegranate takes twenty minutes to cut up and get the seeds out. But I listen to the news on the radio and sip my coffee.

While I pick apart the pomegranate, I think about all things pomegranate. I think about being in Greece in my travels after college and seeing the locals – I think this was when I was on the Island of Santorini, and they would eat the pomegranate like it was an apple, well, they would break it open, so that part wasn’t like an apple, But they would just eat into it, even the white film around the vesicles of seeds and the juice would run down their faces and they looked like they were bleeding to death, but they were smiling ear to ear. I wasn’t so into pomegranates then. I was worried I would get red pomegranate juice all down my shirt and I didn’t want to have to wash it and plus, the people looked positively mad while they ate them. Oh, how little I understood pomegranates then…

Now, twenty or so years later, I can’t stop thinking about pomegranates. I live in fear that the season is almost over. For a week or so, you couldn’t find any pomegranates at my local grocery and I was in despair. I have this breakfast every single day! And it’s not the same AT ALL without the pomegranates. The pomegranates are the essential ingredient to this recipe. Seriously, I go to bed at night thinking about the morning when I get to have my pomegranate breakfast again! This morning I listened to classical music and spent a half an hour picking apart two whole pomegranates and putting their seeds, one by one, in a Tupperware container. This will get me through until I leave for Monterey on Tuesday. My pomegranate fix is fixed.

And there’s so much to think about while I pick apart the pomegranate. I think I’m Persephone, who Hades convinced to eat the food of the Underworld (the pomegranate, of course) and once she ate those seeds she could never fully leave the Underworld – that’s how strong the pomegranate’s hold was on her. Every year Persephone had to spend three months in Hades, where I imagine her eating this very breakfast that I’m making. During those three months, nothing would grow on earth and it was winter.

And then there are all those medieval pictures of the Virgin Mary with a pomegranate in her hand, a symbol of her hold over the life and death of her son (which was copied from the pictures of Athena who also held a pomegranate in her hand).

Even the Buddhists have pomegranates in their mythology – I saw pictures in Tibet of the goddess Hariti who was a child eater, but the Buddha cured her of her child-eating by substituting a pomegranate for a child, and Hariti was satisfied with the bloody, crunchy pulp – which I guess was SO like eating children. Anyway, Hariti reformed and afterwards became a protectress of little children. In Japan she is called Kishimojin, and she’s called upon by infertile women to help get them pregnant. She is shown nursing and infant, which is held in one hand and in her other hand she is holding...a pomegranate, of course.

But my favorite pomegranate legend is a Jewish one. The Talmud has a story where the wife of a Rabbi disguises herself as a forbidden beautiful maiden to test her husband’s fidelity. When the Rabbi sees her he is overwhelmed with passion. The disguised maiden tells him, "If you bring me a pomegranate you may ravish me to your heart's desire." So, he climbs to the top of this tree and gets a pomegranate. When he arrives back to where the maiden was, he is shocked to see his wife standing there. Ooooops. "Hi honey, do you care for a pomegranate?" Eeeek. The wife doesn’t seem to be too mad, she sort of laughs and says, “Hey it was only me all along, darling!” But the Rabbi is so devastated by his behavior that he says, “Nevertheless, I would have done evil.” And then he fasts himself to DEATH. Oh dear. Oh dear. That is really feeling bad.

So, I am reading this wonderful book by this wonderful author, "Deconstructing Jesus" by Robert Price. I met Robert Price once and I believe he's coming back to town to give at talk at CFI West in a few weeks. I will definitely be there. He is so insightful and he is so damn smart! I feel close to him because we have the same view of religion, reverent towards the power of religion and the necessity of community and all that, but harsh on the myths that religion is based on. I have only read about forty or so pages -- and it's a Prometheus book so that means the layout sucks and the type is too small, but it's really fascinating reading. I'm learning more about all the different Christian sects that were all over the place in the first two centuries of the common era, the very beginings of Christianity. (This is also tackled in "God Against The Gods" to a certain extent) If you know this stuff, the New Testament makes so much more sense! St. Paul's epistles suddenly read like a polemic against all the other Christian sects: Marconionism, Ebionism, Gnosticism. It's so sobering (and ultimately disturbing) to realize that the more freethinking sects, the ones that encouraged the most individual spiritual exploration (like the Gnostics) were not the ones that were so good at institution building - naturally. And they died out. I feel like that's our Democratic party today.

It's pouring rain here and Mulan has a stomach ache. It's going to be an inside kind of day, I think.


Sheldon said...

Wow! That pomegranate story had me so sucked in! I thought I was the only person who engaged in serial monogamy with foods. Mine are a bit less glamorous (read as, more embarassing), though: cheap Albertson's brand chicken pot pies, off-brand green chili burritos, Entenmann's buttermilk donuts, hot tamales candies (can't watch a movie without a box), etc.

And now, I'm going to be spending the next several months peeling pomegranates and separating their seeds and pulp (however the hell one is supposed to do that). Thanks a lot, Julia! *wink*

Your last paragraph reminded me that I need to pick up Tim Callahan's "Secret Origins of the Bible" again and start up again where I left off. It's a great addition to Bart D. Ehrman's book "Lost Christianities." Before reading that book, I had no idea how many different forms of Christianity there once were! It's a little like trying to follow the evolution of hominids up to Homo Sapiens - all sorts of branches that lead to other branches, some of which just end, and others that seem to merge. Saddest of all is that modern-day Christians seem to think that theirs is the ONLY form that ever existed.

pkd14u said...

Hmm. Pomegranates. Thanks for the recipe!

I can just hear one of Julia's monologues. All about the pomegranate and its effect on world religions.


Justin Kreutzmann said...

hummm...usually looking at pictures of food makes me hungry...not so much this time. I'm sure it's good though.

Sophia Sadek said...

Don't despair, the other sects didn't die out, nor did they lack organization. The Church burned gnostics at the stake as recently as the 17th century. Fundamentalists are getting their knickers in a twist over the new wave of liberal take-back-Christ theology. Even the formerly stuffy ole Anglicans have ordained an openly gay bishop.

shannon said...

It's icey in Texas today.

My great-grampa had a pomegranate tree so I was eating them off the tree when I was 5 and freaking out on how good they were. My sister gave me pomegranates for Xmas remembering my taste for them.

My dad kept Snappy Tom in the fridge so I know the thrill of that, too. And we grew tomatoes and it was great to eat them right off the vine. Those were the days.

greenISgood said...

Pomegranate martinis. buuuyaahhh! I've been eating more healthy and now I can add this to my otherwise fairly boring menu! Thank you, Julia!!!!

greenISgood said...

I mean your recipe, not the martinis [of course]

Variations On A Theme said...

Oh my! I love your blog! I wish I could see your show! Will you make it to Nashville?

g scott said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
g scott said...


I saw your show last Sunday and loved it (bald guy in back row).

Two items I've sure you've heard of, but that I enjoy:

1. 200 Years of Disbelief. Famous People with the Courage to Doubt. Jame A. Haught. Great book ISBN 1-57392-067-3

2. Robert Ingersoll. 19th century American statesman. His essays are great. Here is one of my favorites:

"Some tell me that it is the desire of God that I should worshop Him? What for? That I should sacrifice something to Him? What for? Is he in want? Can I assist Him? If he is in want and I can assist Him and will not, I would be an ingrate and an infamous wretch. But I am satisfied that I cannot by any possibility assist the infinite. Whom can I assist? My fellow men. I can help feed the hungry, clothe the naked, enlighten ignorance. I can help at least, in some degree, toward covering this world with a mantle of joy. I may be wrong, but I do not believe that there is any being in this universe who gives rain for praise, who gives sunshine for prayer, or who blesses a man simple because he kneels.

By the way, did you read the recent news release that DNA studies have shown that American Indians have Asian and not Middle Eastern ancestry?

Keep up the good work, Julia.

Alhambra CA

Heather Hodgson said...

I know this is a belated response, but I just wanted to tell you I'm glad you've decided not to change the title of your show....aside from the question mark. I saw your show last month and have been talking about it ever since. One reason I was drawn to it in the first place was because of the title. Keep up the great work!

Tired of Idiots said...

Having gone through 12 years of Catholic school growing up (including 4 years of a progressive Jesuit high school), I had the opportunity to take two years of critical analysis of the bible. Not bible study like some people think, but actually analyzing it in the context of the political and cultural times in which the text was originally written. It was fascinating stuff.

My favorite story about the early Christian sects involved a group that had what was, to them, inescapable logic:
- God forgives you when you sin because He loves you.
- The more you sin, the more he forgives you, and the more he must love you.

So they spent their days doing all sorts of things that were just atrocious, and then had meetings where they would bask in God's love and forgiveness of their acts.

I wish I could rememeber the name of the sect, but it was too long ago.

All I know is that it seems like there are more and more people in this country that seem to be taking this approach to one degree or another, knowing that their God is the right God, and he will forgive whatever they do.

It's a scary, scary country right now.

Lynne said...

That’s what I’m talking about…celebrating the beauty and mystery of the pomegranate. I loved every mouth-watering word of it! Thanks for telling me some new stories to share with my daughters who love Persephone. And while I appreciated your on-again/off-again love affair with Snappy Tom, I don’t think we get him here in the northeast.

The Democratic party is dying out not due to the ineptitude of institution building, but because they have substituted the irrationality of religion with religious environmentalism, multiculturalism, and fear. These ideas are no better than those of the bible-wielding buffoons on the right because they all promote that there is something more important than individual rights. The problem is that’s what we have to work with. Even the best new ideas I’ve heard are ripe for potential zealots and extremists. Real change takes time: time and an abundance of good ideas that will appeal to man as the intelligent being he is. I, for one, feel hopeful.

Atheists for Rational Politics. ARP. Just trying it out. Would the symbol be a baby seal? Too polarizing, I know, but it fits the acronym.

Anonymous said...

Fae Bidgoli just completed her first book called "Cracked Pomegranate". It's a novel about life under the heavy influence of religion in Iran (where Fae is from). Ultimately it's a novel about freedom.

bookboy said...

Love your site. Love the way you write Julia. Pomegranate's, do you eat the seeds too or just the little red seed covering? Just found out your book will be on the shelf on 5/01/06 this is the info they our giving us to promot it.
My Beautiful Loss of Faith Story: A Memoir

Julia Sweeney

Format: Hardcover

Pub. Date: May 2007

Product Details:
ISBN: 0805075674
Format: Hardcover, 304pp
Pub. Date: May 2007
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company, Incorporated

Not Yet Available:
Check back at a later date.


From the Publisher


My Beautiful Loss of Faith Story: A Memoir"

The former star of Saturday Night Live debuts as a writer and delivers a memoir with heart and humor that tells how she lost her faith, re-created her life, and found the home she had been looking for with an adopted child named Mulan.

Nearing forty, Julia Sweeney realized that something had to give—like now, please. Raised seriously Catholic, she had always believed that God (or a deceased nun who recalled her fondly) would see how hard she'd been trying and come through with the picket-fence thing—a husband and a truckload of kids that she could instill with her family's neuroses. Yet perhaps, Sweeney thought, she had offended God. (Not to mention the nuns.) She was a successful actress and TV writer (Sex and the City), but suddenly she was only playing mothers—a role she never got in real life. And dating-wise, she'd been out there slugging, but love had never knocked, and suddenly she felt scared, sad, alone, and, well . . . older.

After a few couch-bound months, seeking comfort from her new friends on the Food Channel, she knew she was facing some sort of serious personal crisis. So she got off the couch. And she went back to church—only to realize that maybe God wasn't going to throw down the picket fence. And maybe—could she even say it?—there was no God taking note of her good deeds and watching out for her. Maybe she was going to have to rethink things, and get a new dream that didn't look at all like what she'd been raised to expect.

That is only the beginning of the story of how Julia Sweeney found a home (no fence, no prince, no God) with a child she traveled across the world to meet.

Thanks again Julia. ps. right on lynne

Shelly said...

Swallow that pomegranate salad down with a Pom and what a meal!!!
I love that juice !!!
Sounds great and I must try it.

Bruce said...

Bart Ehrman has a class on early Christianities available though the Teaching Company.

Sorry for the huge link!

What a great company the Teaching Company is. Fascinating classes on audio and video.

Any fan of lifelong learning should check them out.

Pomegranates, eh?

Sounds good, but I don't think I could exert the effort required.

Lefty76 said...

Julia, I love you. Seriously. You are the human version of a pomegranate (which I've never had but now am curious to try).

I saw the video of your show God Said Ha! and also read the book version. I just remember sitting in the break room at my workplace, shaking with laughter at the book. (Well, not so much the "my brother and I got cancer" parts...)

Anyway, keep it up, you're the bomb.

Anonymous said...

I tried this recipe this morning. It was SO good!

Thanks so much for sharing.

Peg said...

You know, I get such a kick out of the fact that you allow comments, and further, that most everyone is respectful and supportive. (Woo hoo!)

Thanks for sharing with us. I think you're great.

Veronica said...

Hey Julia, saw your show last night and it was everything I had hoped and more.
I am new to this city and this country and rely on the public radio stations for most of my information. That's where I heard you for the first time.
Since then I had been on the lookout for a live performance.
I recently heard Craig Newmark (creator of Craig's List) at Central Library and felt the same rush as I did last night. You are two incredibly cool gurus.
If you haven't checked him out, I suggest you do.
Will definitely try out that pomegranate recipe, thanks.

J said...


John Hedtke said...

Julia, another book you would probably enjoy is Malachi Martin's "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Church." He's a Jesuit and it's got that Jesuitical flavor to it (a bit dry at times but you always have the feeling he reasoned this through carefully), but I found that that added to the experience.

His thesis is that the RCC is failing because it became a temporal organization rather than a spiritual one and that it had four chances in history to go back to a spiritual authority, and didn't. He said that, unless something truly amazing happened, it would collapse on itself in the next 60 years or so. While the reader may or may not agree with that--he does make a good case for it--what is REALLY interesting is that he lays out a lot of the history of Christianity from Day 1. I don't think he's a big fan of Paul, who squoze out all of Jesus's relatives who'd taken up at the church in Jerusalem in favor of the Paulist organization in Rome. (Hey, if anyone had a built-in sales pitch for conversion, it was them: "That Son of God guy? Yeah, he's my cousin." Unfortunately, Paul had better marketing and ~poof~ he won.)

The history Malachi Martin writes is definitely not too dry and makes you laugh at times. Fascinating stuff! I recommend it; it makes for decent bedtime reading, even.

That Girl and J said...

You should come visit our blog (Pomegranate).

Coincidence ...? I don't think so.

: )

Flippy said...

Best thing ever - POM Wonderful pomegranate arils. No mess! Sadly, our grocery store had them last season, but not this season. I'm wondering if we were a test market and they didn't go over well.

Marianne said...

oh good grief - your snappy tom riff gave me such a snort-laugh :D

Try pulling the poms apart in a bowl of water - the pulp floats off and is easy to discard - much faster!

Anonymous said...

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