Of the things that fascinate me but puzzle me most about humans, one is our capacity to wish away the hours and then beg time to stand still in consecutive breaths.
The most talented reader I know posted a review on goodreads recently about one of my favourite books – Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, a story that handles time and narrative in a unique way. Ben writes that he has “often lamented our slavery to linear time. It is a peculiar form of universal injustice, this fact that we can never revisit moments once they become ‘the past’, that the present is continuously slipping through our hands and solidifying into something we cannot change, except through the careful or careless manipulations of memory and history. What would lives be like if we could experience every moment simultaneously? What if we were conscious of time not as a line but as a point, all possibilities raging furiously and brilliantly at once.”
(You should probably stop here and go read what Ben has to say in its entirety. I’ll wait.)
I’m appropriating his words as a springboard to talk about time and perception. I’ve been long interested in the concept of linearity and how we actually experience different kinds of moments – Einstein’s hand on a hot stove for a minute and sitting with a pretty girl for an hour as one-and-the-same, when measured by feeling. Back in December, the tiny island state of Samoa skipped an entire day – poof! – to align with its primary trading partners. Where is December 30, 2011 for the Samoans – did it just never exist? And where do all those February 29s go, anyway? How do we make sense of an entire day gone missing from our calendar? Time doesn’t feel uniform. It doesn’t always meet our expectations of how hours and minutes and seconds should be neatly experienced. It’s relative. What’s a dog year? Heck, what’s a human year?
Neuroscientist David Eagleman has done a fair bit of work on this topic. His research interest dates back to a childhood fall from a rooftop – where time seemed to slow to a halt as he dropped through space toward the earth. He calls clocks “at best a convenient fiction… they imply that time ticks steadily, predictably forward, when our experience shows that it often does the opposite: it stretches and compresses, skips a beat and doubles back.” Pretty radical stuff from a scientist working with fMRI scanners to sort this all out at a neurological level.
This first part of 2012 has been a mental tug-of-war with time of my own making. I’ve been lost in the hilarity of countdown, knowing all-too-well that time-zero would bring with it fleetingness and the kind of moments that slip like sand through fingers, toward the impossibility of another countdown composed of all-too-slow days. As I shared with this emotional clock’s co-creator: what a shame that our finite hours can’t be stockpiled, to use later, tucked away for that coming moment when we want the minutes to stretch a little further, deeper, longer…
At times, I believe we are all little kids in the back of a station wagon, screaming: “Are we there yet?” But then we are snapping our fingers to freeze the next moment eternal, to no success.
Roasted Barbeque Tofu
I will admit that I am one of those strange sorts who has to ration my tofu, lest I eat it everyday. I love tofu. The texture can be off-putting if it’s prepared improperly, but pressed and roasted, it’s a great base for all sorts of dishes – for dipping, adding to stir-frys, covering in a yummy sauce or stuffed cold into a sandwich… the options are endless. I often cook up a block on Sundays to keep in the fridge as a quick lunch addition (or: to pluck cold from the tupperware and dip into mustard).
This version takes those crunchy roasted slabs and douses them in oniony barbeque sauce – vegan comfort food, even if you’re not a vegan.
For the pressed tofu
1 block extra-firm tofu
1 Tbsp grapeseed oil (or other neutral cooking oil)
1/2-1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4tsp cumin (optional)
a liberal sprinkling of salt and pepper
For the sauce
1/2 medium red onion, sliced very thinly across
1/2 Tbsp grapeseed oil (or other neutral cooking oil)
1/2-1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/3c your favourite prepared barbeque sauce
a handful cilantro and lime wedges, to serve
1 large baking tray
something heavy to press the tofu (e.g., a bag of dry beans or can of tomatoes)
medium frying pan
For the pressed tofu
Remove tofu from packaging, rinse and wrap tightly in a few layers of paper towel. Sandwich between two dinner plates and press down with your weight of choice in fridge, a few hours up to overnight. Or, if lacking time, just give the tofu a few rounds of good squeezes with the paper towels until most of its moisture is removed.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Slice the pressed tofu block into four quarters, then into 1/4-inch slices (yield: about 28 pieces). Mop off any excess moisture with additional paper towels. Toss in a bowl with oil, cayenne pepper, cumin, pepper and salt to coat evenly. Arrange in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for approximately 30 minutes, flipping the slices half-way through cooking. You’ll know the tofu is finished cooking when it’s sizzling, golden and crunchy to the touch.
For the sauce
In frying pan over medium heat, sautee onions in oil until translucent and a bit crispy, about 5 minutes. Add cayenne pepper and barbeque sauce, salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low. Add the baked tofu, letting it sit for about 5 minutes to absorb sauce. Sprinkle with cilantro and drizzle with lime juice.
Serve tofu with something starchy – mashed sweet potatoes or squidgy white bread, for example – to sop up all the sauce.
Feeds two hungry people for dinner.