Rain is trammeling down the twilight. The drops form a shower of diamonds in the blue-grey light of evening. I am sitting under the gentle parabola that caps the Institute and listening to two brave souls from this winter’s study retreat on The Jewel Ornament of Liberation recap the explanations on the precious human body. This body is precious because it is difficult to obtain. Precious because it is easy to lose. Precious, for, once obtained, it travels unerringly towards its end. This body allows us to reflect on our suffering, to act to alleviate it, and to aid others with their suffering as we develop understanding through such reflection.
Let’s say the suffering of beings is like a vast desert of cracked earth (me talking now, not Gampopa). Then I suppose compassion and the just action that unfolds therein is the nourishing rain which allows the tender shoots of wellbeing and clarity to set forth their first leaves and all that follows. In the face of such immensity, at times I feel like a single drop of water destined to evaporate upon immediate impact with the steaming heat of so much anguish.
Perhaps this is melodramatic. Also, perhaps–from another point of view–this is the answer. For though we experience our selves and our lives and all of our manifest suffering, this experience is also illusory. We are not formed and fixed as we believe ourselves to be. Our suffering is subject to change, as our self is subject to change. As a drop of water is wont to evaporate and the most parched earth is blown away by a gentle wind, so our suffering may be soothed, if we awaken to its temporality. Change is kind. It feels cruel when we do not welcome it, but in fact, change can be a balm.
It’s a harsher form of change to accept that that this body will not last. But there’s work to be done in the meantime. Reflection to call the rain.
For me, reflection pairs well with manual activity. This way, the benefit of beings gets accomplished not only through deepened understanding, but also through better afternoon snacks. Plus, this precious human body needs loving nourishment. Lately, the dining hall kitchen has taken to fielding me puff pastry scraps that can’t be reused for big group meals, and I’ve taken to turning them into tasty spirals to go with post-lunch coffee or tea. This is the perfect happy ending for all those homemade spinach triangle leftovers or times you needed a round sheet of puff pastry but could only find a square one.
You can fill a puff pastry spiral with just about anything: nut butter or, duh, Nutella, sweetened cream cheese, good old-fashioned cinnamon-sugar. I chose to get a little ambitious here and make a batch of fresh apple preserves. It’s remarkably easy and totally ups the schmancy factor. You end up with a crispy, tender, gooey, sweet moment of worldly, impermanent, totally delicious happiness. (Bite me post-modern literary and grammar mores; I will use as many adjectives as I want to, and I nearly ended this sentence with a preposition.)
Apple Jelly Spirals
Makes two dozen
10 ounces (280 grams) puff pastry scraps
2 ripe golden delicious apples
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup sugar
½ vanilla bean or ½ teaspoon (3 mL) vanilla extract
½ cup water
Preheat the oven to 375˚ F (190˚ C). Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Smush the puff pastry scraps into a compact ball, wrap them in plastic wrap and stick them in the fridge to chill.
Core the apples and cut them into 1/8-inch slices. Run the knife through the slices a few times to make smaller pieces.
Melt the butter in a medium frying-pan on medium-low heat. Cook until the butter just begins to brown and smell nutty. Add the sugar and cook, stirring, 5-7 minutes, until the sugar begins to dissolve and caramelize slightly. Add the apples, turn the heat up to medium, and continue cooking, without stirring until all the liquid has nearly evaporated and the pan-side of the apples has begun to brown. Add ¼ cup of the water and stir the apples briefly, then allow to cook until the liquid has again nearly evaporated. Add the second ¼ cup of water, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring gently, until the mixture reaches a spreadable consistency. The apples should be mostly broken down with a few chunks remaining and the jelly should be golden and smell caramel-y.
Remove the puff pastry from the fridge. Flatten the dough with your hands into a rough rectangle. Roll out into a 5-inch (12 cm) x 18-inch (42 cm) rectangle. Spread the apple jelly evenly across the dough. Roll the dough tightly, long-ways. Cut into twenty-four individual spirals. Place the spirals on the sheet pan and bake 30-35 minutes or until deep golden. Eat warm with afternoon beverages and rejoicing.