In the wake of gerrymandering and Crosscheck voter invalidation, the United States government has finally become a full-on evangelical theocracy, enacting biblical punishments for all transgressions. They've also adopted the non-evangelical notion of "purgatory" out of a sense of expediency and necessity.
When you're arrested for any non-mortal sin-- or even if you give confession for those sins-- you can be put into suspended animation to serve your "purgatory time" immediately. This helps alleviate overpopulation, and there's a political component, in that those in suspended animation are unable to vote. Those offenders with views opposing the government / church face a much higher rate of purgatorial punishment.
I'm a freedom fighter, looking to illegally resurrect a purgatory-dweller. I drive a small hovercraft / antigravity ship-- it's car-sized, more like a skiff or a convertible. It can fly up, down, sideways, upside down-- the floorboards are always "down," gravitationally. There isn't a top on it, but a top would be unnecessary, as global warming has forced all the cities into massive walled-off domes. I continue my search, deep into the archives full of glass coffins packed with those who are suspended in purgatory. They go on and on and on, for miles.
Also I have the unique ability to travel back in time, exactly one year from whenever I choose to exercise the ability. Once I've done so, I have to live forward in real-time, and cannot skip ahead.
If I fuck things up too much and change or damage the timeline too drastically, the shadows will come for me.
I'm in love with the purgatory-dweller for whom I search. She's a fierce political activist, and can rally dissent magnificently.
I keep searching.
I'm walking through a wooded area, but the trees are all in neat rows. Looking to my left, I see a serpentine, floating beam of light, roiling through two rows of pines. It moves, but not in a straight line like a flashlight beam: It drifts and carries the light with it, like luminescent smoke. Illuminated smoke. Only I can see it. It disappears or dissipates quickly.
I keep walking. There are people walking near me, but we are not together. Periodically, looking left, I can see the luminescent smoke, and I finally understand that it functions like a fiber-optic cable-- if I were to catch the end, I could look through it and see what's on the other end. It never stays long enough for me to catch it.
The group of people grows. We do not speak. We do not interact.
At last, the beam appears and lingers. I can see it. I run to it and stare down it.
A man at the other end slowly turns. He's wearing a shabby green-brown shirt and a faded red baseball cap. His face is darkened by shadows. He is unshaven. He has very bad teeth. Instead of eyes, he has small white suns in his head. They're almost too bright to look at.
Now he knows who I am, and he will come, and he will find me.
I woke up shivering with the most intense goosebumps.
My car has been in the body shop for so long that the insurance company doesn't want to keep paying for a rental, and I'm forced to return the one I have and figure out other arrangements. An acquaintance loans me a beater-- an old white '80s four-door sedan, long and chunkity. It runs okay until I'm driving toward an underpass and all four wheels come off at the same time.
I get out of the car, and hold up my hand to stop the oncoming traffic, which stops impatiently. "Shit," I think, and I sigh. I put one hand under the front bumper and one through the passenger side window, where I can grab the handle, and then hoist up the car with my bare hands and carry it to the side of the road. I gather all the tires and throw them in the trunk.
It's too late to get four new tires at CostCo, so I pick the car back up and carry it through some wide double doors into a Mexican restaurant and put it up on a tall planter while I use the restroom.
What a pain in the ass!
When I come out of the restroom, there is a small crowd gathered around the car, which is now sitting, tireless, on top of a tall planter. "Oh shit, I'm sorry," I say. "Let me get that out of here. I guess I'll just carry it home." I grab the bumper and the oh-shit handle and pick up the car again.
"Hey, if you need a car for a couple days, I can loan you one," says the woman running the place. "It won't be good, but loaners aren't supposed to be good. It'll get you where you need to go."
"Really?" I say. "That would be a lifesaver."
It isn't until I wake up that I realize that everyone in the dream was flabbergasted that I could just pick up an entire car and carry it around.
Gray clouds swirl in the sky above the land of the dead, but never part. Sunlight never touches the bones strewn across the countryside. Warmth never melts the soft snow that falls to blanket the gentle hills and valleys, copses and dales of Death's freehold. Bitter wind creeps through walls and flesh just the same, sowing ice and salt as it goes. Despite the lack of sunlight, blighted stalks of arctic willow grow from shallow tundra soil, up through ribs and mandibles, up through eye sockets and collarbones, straining above the snow cover by force of will alone. After all, Death's herd must eat.
The kerberoxen move in small groups, shaggy, gray-brown, and asymmetrical. They mar the bleached landscape: hot tears on blotter paper. Their hooves punch down through snow and bone, raking and scraping to reveal willow, or crowberries, or lichen that has managed to take hold on a half-buried cranial plane. When a kerberox finds food, its central head lowers to eat, while the head on each side either rises to keep watch for competition if the patch is small, or begins calling out to neighbors in a low baritone if the food source is large enough for other members of the herd to eat.
Some of the kerberoxen are molting. Every Sunday, Death walks across the estate, inspecting the animals, checking to see which are ready for combing. Because there are no changes to the weather, there is no molting season. Each animal molts regularly, but not en masse. Death combs all the qiviut-- the fine, downy woolen underhair-- by hand, and works it with thin quick phalanges, keeping only the softest and finest fibers.
Each kerberox only molts once a year, but Death is nothing if not patient.
Death lives in an old wooden house in the center of the estate. The house is very warm. It's connected to Death's hothouse mulberry grove, where Death raises silkworms. Death knows the precise moment when each silkworm is ready to hatch, and is prepared. One eyedropper of warm water, squeezed onto the cocoon; nimble slender fingerbones, spinning the silk thread off in one single long strand; spindles, to collect the silk. The cocoon turns quickly in Death's deft hands, until the last of the thread winds off, and the new moths-- heritage Bombyx mandarina-- fly off in little circles, dizzy but unharmed, until Death releases them.
Death is a vegetarian.
The house creaks and groans and squeaks in the constant wind, which Death finds to be a comfort. Sometimes late at night, lying in an old wooden bed, Death relaxes and allows the clouds to dissipate. Moonlight performs a slow dappled waltz across the walls and ceilings of Death's home, diffused by empty trees and reflected by snow, and the sound of a steam train engine calls across the grange, though there is no outbound traffic. Death's angora rabbits shiver in their sleep on the quilted bedspread, and Death knows peace.
Death combines the kerberox qiviut in a particular ratio with the rabbit angora and fine silk to make thread. Death alone spins this thread, and then, in the evenings, Death knits. A single kerberox combing can be used to knit enough thread to make seven square feet of cabled cloth, but Death is nothing if not persistent.
Sometimes at night Death lies covered by the quilt in the moonlight, surrounded by small warm sleeping rabbits. Death remembers what it was like to have been alive. Remembers the fear of abandoning one's body, the dreaded impending revelation of the mystery. If Death had eyebrows, they would raise in sympathy; if Death had lips, they would curl up in a small smile: recognition of shared experience; remembrance of crossing universal thresholds.
For Death knows: we are all ghosts temporarily thrust into living bodies. There is evidence in every coffin, every x-ray, every sugar skull, every Halloween night. When we go, everything that we are-- every intention, every desire, every love, every hate-- is woven into Death's great darkness. Death gathers it all. Death remembers. And Death will knit until all of the knitting is done.
Death is knitting a shroud large enough to encompass the earth.
Art courtesy of the excellent Randy Ortiz.
So, I keep up with a lot of folks on the ol' social media. One of my old friends, Sandra, has been an amazing pastry chef for more than a decade, and has recently been having a lot of success lately with her new bakery in Minneapolis. It's called the Savory Bake House, and although I have not eaten there, because I do not live in Minnesota, I follow both Sandra and the bakery itself on social media.
Last week, this cropped up on my feed:
I'll be goddamned if that doesn't look like the most amazing and delicious thing ever.
(Also, #cleanmeat needs to start trending, across all topics and platforms, because that is a hilarious hashtag.)
We were gonna have a few folks over this weekend for a swimmin' pool trip-- kind of a rarity, in my post-parenthood lifestyle. I love to bake and I like making things that are delicious, so I figured what the hell, why not give these a shot? I gave Sandra a shout (bear in mind, I've known her more than half my life), and after swearing me to secrecy, she gave me the recipe for the strange brioche fold-over for sandwiching.
I consider myself a fairly skilled amateur baker. I can make some pretty good breads, including some pretty tasty brioche loaves. But I've never tried to do this thing, where you bake an array of things inside another thing. I make this hella-tasty prosciutto bread, but that's a bit different: the point of that recipe is to make the prosciutto melt into the bread, imbuing flavor-ham; here, the tasty innards are intended to stay cohesive. It's recursive baking. I was pretty nervous, so I thought I'd document that anxiety, and then I'd have an interesting document whether the experiment was a success or a failure.
I think you can tell how nervous I am.
I was so nervous, I didn't document the creation of the dough! But, y'know, that's probably for the best. I also went off-book and took some extra steps-- substituted some molasses for another sweetener, added unsweetened dutch-process cocoa powder for color, and threw in a bunch of toasted caraway seeds. It's never enough to try a brand-new recipe for a brand-new type of dish, because I am a smartass. I wanted to make this into a pumpernickel brioche Reuben sandwich (with a vegetarian alternative for some folks).
So, there's a bunch of corned beef in there. This is the non-vegetarian option, obviously.
Then the sauerkraut and cheese. I don't know if the cheeses were organic or not, so I can't cut #cleancheese for this. I did use organic sauerkraut, though, which I drained and sizzled up in a pan pretty nice, both for color and to get rid of excess moisture.
I used a ratio of like 3 to 1 tasty baby swiss to spicy pepperjack. I love swiss on a reuben sandwich, but I wanted a little bit of tang, especially because I was going to be omitting the Thousand Island dressing (because Thousand Island is gross, and also because I had another super-experimental idea I wanted to try. More on that later).
I did a layer of corned beef, a layer of sauerkraut, and then the cheese-- to seal the sauerkraut in as much as possible, and prevent moisture from messing up the sweet, sweet experimental pumpernickel brioche.
Then, the folding over.
The dough was so thin. I was terrified the whole thing was just going to turn out to be the world's worst taco. A gross-ass caraway-infested crispity shell around a giant wad of corned beef and cheese and sauerkraut.
My concerns almost ruined a perfectly-good trip to the swimming pool!
Okay, that is not true at all. I had a delightful time with some wonderful pals, all swillin' back tasty beers (holy crap, y'all, that Boulevard Ginger-Lemon Radler is the perfect poolside beer; they ain't even payin' me to say so, I'm just proclaiming on it because it is so damn tangy and tasty on a hot summer's day). Also, my kid is starting to warm up to splashing around in the water, so that's always a good time. Here is a picture of that, which is totally unrelated to this recipe or the processes involved in this recipe:
After a day spent splashing and drinking and doing lazy laps, we returned to the house, where the dough still had not risen, like, at all. When I texted Sandra to ask about it, she said:
"It never does [rise]... I feel like part of the success is that it works best if it makes you nervous."
I did a last-minute egg-wash on the bread (one of my coworkers keeps chickens, and he gives me these incredible free-range pasture-fed eggs, which taste better than any eggs ever), and then bunged them into the oven for a while.
And man, I was so incredibly relieved when these turned out well.
The bread really puffed up beautifully just in the oven, going from a quarter-inch to three-quarters of an inch of just fluffy, eggy, buttery brioche, all piping hot and approaching almost flakiness.
Here's a picture of the vegetarian version, which used tempeh, sauerkraut, and cheese:
And now one more picture of the array of sandwiches, because I'm so proud of them. Like a new papa. Well, like a new papa who then turns into a cannibal and scarfs down his creation.
Okay, so here's a long-winded addendum. I mentioned earlier that I skipped the Thousand Island, because it is gross. Another reason I skipped it is because I wanted to do something else.
There's a small neighborhood bar in the Little Russia part of Topeka, Kansas, called Porubsky's. It's kind of hard to find, in an area mostly filled with little houses, and it's only open for lunch. At Porubsky's, they make these things that they charmingly, understatedly call "Hot Pickles."
Calling these things "Hot Pickles" is like calling dry ice "Chilly Carbon Dioxide." They make these things with some sort of hellacious wasabi extract-- maybe it's horseradish oil, maybe it's hot mustard oil, maybe it's some bizarro combination of everything that punches you in the snoot and disappears completely after a few seconds, but whatever it is, it is delicious, and it is not playing around.
I wanted to turn this into a relish. What's more, I wanted to turn this into a relish that normal people-- which is to say, people who wouldn't want to just put a spoonful of asian hot mustard into their mouths-- would eat.
So I blended a bunch of Porubsky's pickles with sweet gherkins, and dill pickles, and sriracha pickles, and roasted red peppers, and a couple different kinds of vinegar (for funsies). I did this in a food processor. I ended up with what looks basically like a cherry pepper relish, and which gives you a small love-tap on the snout and then backs off really quickly. It was the perfect compliment to the sandwiches, if I do say so myself.
Man, these sandwiches.
Sandra says she uses the same recipe, or very similar, to create sweet things as well-- cinnamon rolls, sweet mini-brioches, and something she called "mixed berry cream cheese rolls," which oh my goodness I may just have to try.
I'll leave the relish off those, though.