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When Bloggers Collide

April 9, 2008 Leave a comment

It was really only five years ago that I was the new guy, the young Mason attending Grand Lodge – or more correctly, the reunion and hospitality suites the night before Grand Lodge session. I’d taken the afternoon off from work and we’d spent the time prepping tons of food and drink for the wandering brothers. Several of the older, more experienced brothers took me around to visit some of the other rooms and introduce me to the brothers from other districts; I met a lot of nice people during the first year, and remembered most of them over the next several years. Grand Lodge is sometimes like the get-togethers you have at weddings and funerals: it’s the one time a year you might have to catch up on news and gossip. And I don’t know when it happened, but I’m no longer a new Mason. Last night Sunday night, it was my turn to be the older guy and take one of the new brothers around, and to explain how and why things work.

Yesterday Sunday evening, while most of the lodge parties were just getting underway, I met up with several other of the Connecticut Freemason bloggers. This was the end result of six months of emails and phone calls which began “Hey, we should all get together for dinner some night and talk about blogging.” After half a dozen missed opportunities, we managed to agree to meet the night before GL at the restaurant in the hotel. Fueled by the vapors of distilled grain, I had several hours of conversation with 3M of Northeastern Corner, the esteemed Traveling Man of Movable Jewel, and the Very Worshipful Charles Tirrell of Masonic Renaissance. We were missing MF (Metaphysical Freemason), whose father-in-law had to be taken to the hospital that morning. The pressures of work, family, geography, and of course our Masonly duties made scheduling one night a much more difficult task than you would have thought.

I’ve spent a little bit of time in and after meetings with both VW Brother Charles and with MJ, but this was the first time we’d been able to hang out without any particular agenda. And none of us have been able to spend much time with 3M, mainly because his district is down in New York (well, it seems that way anyhow). A pleasant and thoughtful young man, 3M was only raised a couple of years ago, making him the newbie. Nobody else from his lodge was able to make the trip up.

VW Charles brought up some officers from his own lodge, also younger Masons, and we spent a pleasant couple of hours having drinks and sandwiches, and just getting to know a little about each other. All of us being Connecticut Masons, we had the opportunity to discuss not just blogging and internet Masonry, but also topics concerning local, district and state events. Table conversation ranged from praising (and poking) other well-known bloggers and some of the recent topics, internet Masonry and how it can be better utilized to the benefit of the Craft (we’re in favor of more of it), District Blue Lodge Council meetings (some people find them to be a waste of time), the state of ritual (to some degree), and some of the items up for discussion at Grand Lodge (oh yeah, there’s a session).

After a dinner of sandwiches and frits (the French word for “fries,” I was informed), we retired upstairs to VW Charles’ room, where 3M treated us to some finely crafted hand-rolled cigars, which we enjoyed out on the balcony – smoking being prohibited in the hotel rooms. While enjoying the aroma, not to mention the invigorating New England air, we continued our discussions. The non-blogging junior officers lost interest, and retired to the warmth of the room, where they kept themselves occupied with a Wii, iPods, laptops, and various other electronic gear.

As Charles mentioned in his own post on this subject, we found it surprising that with Connecticut being such a small state, the four of us had managed to develop notably differing ideas and opinions about Freemasonry. This wasn’t so obvious when discussing our ideas for how to improve the quality of meetings and Masonic education, but was more noticeable when we discussed our positions on those states which have yet to fully recognize the Prince Hall jurisdictions, and how our UGLE-related fraternity intersects with orders that have long since split off: La Droit Humain, Grand Orientes, and Co-Masonry. Fortunately, real Masons manage to subdue their passions when discussing such potentially divisive subjects, and we soon veered off those topics to discuss the proposed legislation and some of the rumors that had been making the rounds. We also traded stories about some of the lodges that we’ve seen that are doing it wrong (and some that are doing it right), and kicked around some of our own ideas for what could make for better lodges.

Charles is a very progressive-minded brother who has a number of great ideas for lodges on his own site, including utilizing Pay Pal or similar services to collect dues money. We also thought that the dreaded dues increases would hurt less if we allowed the members to pay in monthly or quarterly installments; we noted that most dues are, um, due right around the holidays – just when people are already ticked about paying bills. Perhaps a subscription service might be a better way to go for some of the brethren. We also discussed having some of the brothers “pay” in service, rather than in coinage; some brothers could agree to a certain number of hours doing maintenance, cleaning, repairs, etc., in exchange for some abatement on dues. We also – and I hope he doesn’t mind my mentioning it here – tossed around the idea of recording video interviews with notable brothers; not necessarily the oldest or famous, but brothers with an interesting perspective on the fraternity. Any Connecticut brothers with video editing experience who are interested in lending some help might want to contact VW Bro Charles.

Eventually we had to go home – at least, some of us did. TM wandered off to his car, and I took 3M for a tour around the hotel to meet the members of Friendship Lodge. A couple of brothers were at the room, and others appeared as we were having a drink. I left 3M in the fraternal care of our SW Eric, who promised to look after him, and I left for home around midnight. Since 3M was staying overnight, I was reasonably certain that he wouldn’t get into much trouble. I later found that natural supposition to be erroneous, but that’s a topic for another article.

The four of us got together out of curiosity – indeed, we’ve been trying to find some way to get together for months, but just haven’t been able to get our schedules together. When we decided to meet, it was because we thought that we had two things in common: Freemasonry, and a desire to share our experiences and perspectives via this medium. There are five of us who blog about the Craft, not counting the few people who mention Freemasonry on their MySpace and LiveJournal pages. While it doesn’t sound like very many, it does, in fact, make up a significant portion of the Craft-bloggers extant on the internet; more impressive when you consider the size of our state. In an age in which internet communication is becoming more utilized by new and potential members, I’m glad that such a great group of brothers has been able to spread some light through this new medium, and I’m sure that all of us look forward to doing this in the future.

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Secret Sauce

January 29, 2008 1 comment

“So, what’s your secret recipe for this great tomato sauce?”

I heard this from at least 8 or 9 people on Saturday night, when my wife and I served up 65 pounds of ziti and 480 meatballs, all covered in almost 25 gallons of our home-made tomato sauce. No, I don’t have a big family; this is a now annual fund-raising dinner to help out the confirmation class of the First Congregational Church in downtown Southington.

I know, I know – you came here to read about Freemasonry, not about my cooking skills. I’m getting to that part.

My wife and I had started cooking the sauce a week previously, using the 8 burner stove and large pots available in the church kitchen. I’m sure that the church meeting hapll must have smelled like an Italian restaurant by the end of the week, and by 5:30 pm – a good half hour before the advertised time – because people were ready to stampede lining up to get good seats. We started serving at a quarter to six, and didn’t get a lull until well after 7:00, at which time I was able to walk around, fishing for compliments asking for feedback for the next year. And that’s when I noticed something: even though I told people what I put in my sauce, everybody acted as if I were being cagey about the answer. But that certainly was not the case; I’m usually more than happy to tell people what my own recipes are, and in fact, I’m going to tell you right here how I make tomato sauce.

Yeah, yeah, I know – you’re waiting for the part about Freemasonry. It’s coming, really.

A word of caution: if you’re the type of person who enjoys “recipes” that include such syrupy metaphors as “Add a cup of courage, a teaspoon of tolerance, stir with passion, and serve with L O V E“, then get thee hence! This blog is a NO GLURGE ZONE. Sure, those cutesy sayings were funny the first six or seven hundred times I heard them, but enough already. The 70s are over, and those little naked kids with the big eyes and hearts over their heads are has-beens. Deal with it.

Yes, yes, I’m getting to the part about Freemasonry. Really.

Now, I take a dim view of people who refuse to share good recipe. I don’t care if your great-great-grandmother carried it in her boot when she came from the old country, or if you just discovered it while messing about in the kitchen. In my opinion, the kind of people who won’t share their recipes are merely feeding their egos while they feed you a meal. When they invite you to dinner, it’s either to brag or to play the “I’ve got a secret” game and are, in essence, saying “Hey, I’ve got this really great thing and I’m only going to let you have a little taste in order that I might feel special. But don’t worry; come back next year and I’ll let you have another little taste, just so you can remember how special this is.”

Even more odious are those that purport to give you the recipe, but hold back a key step or ingredient, thereby making you think that you are stupid for not being able to follow directions. A pox on all of them.

What? Oh, yeah – the Freemasonry part. Sorry.

When the first few people asked what I put in my sauce, I told them “A hell of a lot of tomatoes.” It was funny at the time, and very true – we bought over two dozen of those large restaurant sized cans at the local warehouse store, along with salad for 200 people, dressing, grated Parmesan, and sundry other items. We started by sauteing several bulbs – that’s bulbs, not cloves – of crushed garlic in olive oil. Once the smell started wafting through the church hall (I should point out that I did this during one of the services in order to remind people of the upcoming dinner) I added a few scoops of the crushed tomatoes, and some of the typical Italian spices: oregano, parsley, basil, and a bit of fennel seed. I let this cook for a good thirty minutes, and then put some into each one of the five large pots. This served as a base, to which we added the rest of the canned tomatoes. One pot we reserved as a marinara sauce, and to the others we added some cooked ground beef (left over from the Rally Day picnic in September), and some minced and cooked Italian sausages, both of which had been cooked and minced previously in order to save time. We cooked the sauce for about six hours that day, and then came back for a few hours mid-week, and put them on again first thing Saturday morning so that they had another good eight hours to simmer. Usually I put some red wine in the sauce to counter the bitter taste from the tomatoes, but after a few people had concerns about sensitivities to the sulfites in the wine, this year I opted to add some sugar and salt.

I have to say that this was one of the best batches of sauce that I’ve made in a few years. Even my wife will attest that this year it was particularly good, and the compliments from the hungry crowd was certainly a testament to how it turned out.

Yes, yes – I’m coming to the Freemasonry part directly.

I told every person who asked me exactly what I used in the sauce – which, as you can see, are just regular Italian spices. Every person had the same reaction: If I’m just using regular spices and ingredients that you normally find in sauce, then why did this batch come out so well? Certainly I’m leaving out a crucial step, a secret ingredient, a particular item that made this come out better, right? After all, you can’t just throw some tomatoes and spices in a pan and expect it to come out like that, right? Right?

Apparently, my sauce admirers miss the essential point.

They had the list of ingredients that I use, and I even gave them some little tips. And while in theory there might be some small differences between brands of tomatoes or spices, in practice I’ve never noticed any significant difference.

So, what is the point of all this?

The raw tomatoes contain a lot of water, which needs to cook off. In that process, the heat breaks down certain proteins and acids, releasing certain chemicals, and causing others to bond. Five gallons of sauce in a pot takes hours to get up to the proper temperature, with constant stirring to prevent the bottom from burning and tainting the rest of the sauce. The heat also breaks down the chemicals in the spices, and the stirring allows the flavor to gently infuse throughout the pot of warm liquid. Eventually, the acids break down and dissipate, and the sauce itself tastes of the fragrant basil and oregano, perhaps mixed with the spicy saltiness of the sausage.

The secret, you see, is not the ingredients at all. It’s the time.

Those people who are accustomed to opening a jar of grocery-bought sauce simply can not conceive of the investment of time that one must make to cook a good, home-made tomato sauce. Despite the stereotype of old Italian ladies standing at a stove all day, few people really understand that it’s the process of cooking that makes the difference between a rich, thick, savory sauce and a thin, slightly bitter one. Too often we try to make up for the lack of flavor by adding extra garlic, salt, basil, or other spices. But these serve merely to cover up the fact that the sauce itself is a hastily prepared affair.

Even the cooking shows on television offer up tips on how to make good tomato sauce, especially tailored for busy people who only have an hour or so. And now question about it, some of those sauces are tasty. But they’re not the same; indeed, if I may be so bold, they’re not even in the same class.

Let me make this clear: In sauce making, as with so many other things in life, there is no substitute for the investment of one’s time. It is only through the lengthy process of cooking that the unwanted and unnecessary ingredients break down, and are replaced by the desirable aromas and textures. It is only through time that certain agents can be make their way around the large vat of liquid, moving here and there until the gentle stirring combines them with other agents to produce something delightful to the senses. And certainly, the larger the pot, the more time is needed.

Time.

Speaking of which, it looks as if I’ve run out. It appears that I’m just not going to get around to discussing Freemasonry, doesn’t it?

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