‘The grisliness and apparent cruelty (at least, from a human perspective) of Ichneumonidae larval cannibalism troubled philosophers, naturalists, and theologians in the 19th century, who found the practice inconsistent with the notion of a world created by a loving and benevolent God. Charles Darwin found the example of the Ichneumonidae so troubling, it contributed to his increasing doubts about the nature and existence of a Creator. In an 1860 letter to the American naturalist Asa Gray, Darwin wrote:
“I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.”‘
I can’t think of any perspective by which to judge an ichneumon wasp that doesn’t seem cruel, unless there’s an ichneumon deity, in which case we’re all in trouble! It’s a struggle, in the face of inexplicable cruelty, to make sense of things! It’s hard to understand a pattern or a purpose that includes this senseless suffering. I realize all of this is probably inappropriate for a light-hearted recipe blog, but since I’ve started I hope you won’t mind if I careen into a brief and bumpy discussion of my heart-felt beliefs. I believe that there’s a force that we don’t understand that’s bigger than all of us–call it god, if you like. I believe in souls and spirits and a million other things that we don’t understand and can’t explain. I believe that there is a force that wants things to grow and live–in springtime it’s easy to believe this, as the world around us is glowing and green and hopeful. I believe that this is a benevolent force, in as much as our words can be used to describe something so complicated and inexplicable. I don’t believe that humans, or the interests of mankind are necessarily at the center of this force. We’re told that man was created in god’s image, and that man has dominion over animals and all of nature, but I don’t believe that this can be true. I believe that any tenet of religion that can be used to justify cruelty to any living thing, be it human or animal, or that can be used to provoke wars or violence of any kind is a false teaching. I believe that I’m very confused and I’m digging myself into a little hole of confusion and inarticulateness! So humans aren’t the center of the pattern, but we are part of it. The fact that we aren’t god or god’s chosen creature doesn’t cast us into an amoral, uncaring abyss, because we’re part of a pattern of growing and living and caring for each other and for everything around us. Because we’re alive, and we want to stay alive and we want to be happy, we should be kind and compassionate. Everything is connected, and we all work together towards the same goal…we’re all on the same journey at the same pace. And kindness leads to happiness–this isn’t a “we should be moral because we’re rational” argument, although I think there’s some truth to that. Even on a selfish sort of level, it feels good to be kind–not just to your loved ones, but to everybody–to the people bagging your groceries, to the people you serve in your job, to the stranger walking by on the street. To your neighbors, even if you don’t know them. It feels good to have them be kind in return, it feels good to live in a world where people are caring and cheerful. We’re all dependent on the kindness of strangers. Except that it’s not that simple, and I know that, and on gloomy mornings like this it’s hard not to think about it, even though it will never make sense.
Sorry for this mad ramble! Let’s talk about the food! This is a yeasted corn bread. It has some corn meal and some regular flour. It has sage and cayenne, and it has smoked gouda and sharp cheddar baked right in. It’s quite soft on the inside, because I added some milk and an egg, but it’s nice and crispy on the outside. Perfect to cheer a gloomy, stormy day.
Here’s Belle and Sebastian’s cheerful The Magic of a Kind Word.
1 t yeast
1 t sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup flour
Combine in a large bowl and set aside in a warm place for about half an hour to get bubbly.
1 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 cups flour
1 t sage
1/2 t cayenne
1 t salt
2 T soft butter
1/2 cup warm milk
1 cup mixed smoked gouda and sharp cheddar
Beat the egg, milk, and butter into the yeast mixture. Add all of the dry ingredients and mix well. Add enough warm water to make a soft, kneadable dough. Knead for 7 to 10 minutes. Pour a little olive oil into a bowl. Roll the dough around in it. Cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place to rise for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Fold the dough down, and roll it into a square about 1/2 inch thick. Sprinkle the cheese over, and roll it up into a spiral tube. Pull the ends towards each other to make a circle, and gently press the ends together to seal. Set on a lightly buttered baking sheet scattered with cornmeal.
Leave the dough to rise again while you preheat the oven to 400. Brush the bread with water, and then put it in the oven. Scatter some water in the bottom of the oven or leave a small dish of water in the oven. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes till nicely browned on top, and hollow-sounding when you tap it.