That’s Witchcraft! A New Posting Topic and a First Example

•December 3, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Arthur C. Clarke famously said or wrote (not verbatim really) that any sufficiently advanced technology would appear as magic to a less advanced society.  I can buy that.  In our modern world, with huge technological advances appearing almost daily, there have been plenty of examples of things that I’ve encountered that, due to a lack of understanding of the specifics, I could consider as “magical” (note: I’m well aware they’re not magic, but that is because I am a relatively educated individual not prone to superstitious thinking).  So, with a goal of highlighting some of these amazing things, I’m going to attempt another semi-regular posting (like Contemplation and Signs of the Apocalypse) which I’ll be calling “That’s Witchcraft!” (obviously in the accusatory, with the assumption that people of an older time and/or lesser critical inquiry capacity, would respond to these things by demanding a witch burning).  Enjoy!

So here is the first one.  It is a video of a disturbingly realistic Morgan Freeman portrait being painted on an iPad.  So realistic in fact that I am pretty sure some would draw the conclusion that the device actually summoned Morgan Freeman from some blissful void and thusly brought him into glorious being.  Yup, total witchcraftery.

You Ever Have One of Those Mornings . . .

•November 13, 2013 • Leave a Comment

. . . where it seems to be starting off pretty nice.  You get up, take a nice hot shower, drink some coffee, and read the news.  Nothing is urgent.  You feel pretty relaxed and good.  You’re ready to tackle the day.

Then something goes just a bit wrong.  Oh, it’s nothing, just a little chaos in all the lovely order.  Except more keeps happening, and soon, that “nice morning” is a distant memory to the disorder and frustration that has, like some spiteful storm, blown into your day.

That is about how I’m feeling right now.

Honestly, it isn’t all that bad, but things did get frustrating fast, and it seems like things want to keep being that way today.  It sucks.

But I don’t believe in fate.  Frustrating occurrences happen all the time.  Sometimes I react more negatively than I should.  Sometimes I take it in as much stride as I can muster. While I probably wasn’t as graceful earlier, when things first started to “fuck up” I am committed to making the best out of the rest of my day.  When I encounter stress lately, I’ve been trying to run myself through three thoughts: Can I change the situation? If “No” can I change my attitude about the situation?  If “No” to that, then can I at least accept that the situation has happened and move on from there?  Hopefully I can answer “Yes” to at least one of the three.  Then, I have put control, even to a small degree, back in my hands.

Life is rarely ever easy folks.  I know this all to well.  And, I am certainly not always the most graceful at dealing with the less than easy bits.  But, I do try and reflect.  I do try and think about what I can do.  And sometimes that is just enough.

So here is to a good rest of the day.

Hope yours is stellar too.

All in the Palm of Your Hand

•November 11, 2013 • Leave a Comment

There needs to be a word (preferably a German word, though a Portuguese or Japanese one could suffice) that describes the feeling of profound wonder mixed with unease and discomfort at the advancements of technology.  Then that word needs to be used by me, to describe how I feel after watching this:

It really does amaze me.  Watching that video I can honestly say that I use probably about 25 of the 30 on a very regular basis from my iPhone.  And yet, as amazing as it is, there is this uncomfortable undercurrent . . . what is that?  Is it, Oh dear God, could it just be . . . me getting older . . . and lamenting for things past? . . .

Nah! Couldn’t be that.  Probably just something vague sense of the coming rise of the Thinking-Machines and the end of humanity as we all know it.

Gaucho 1868

•November 11, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I follow an RSS feed of Wikimedia Commons pictures of the day because I like to look at random pictures of things.  This past Saturday, this was the picture of the day:

Gaucho

Look at this guy, he is amazing. If you pick up a copy of the OED and look up “Bad Ass” there is a picture of this guy under definition #3.

Okay, so great picture right?  Here is the thing though, I have had a print out of this picture on my office wall for the past three years.  Why?  Because it is amazing.  Truly, it is like one of my single favorite photographs of a person ever.  I have no clue where I first found it, but when I did, I said to myself “Self, you need that picture somewhere where it will be visible to you most days.” And so I took the efforts of assuring that (and currently this photo looks down upon my desk slightly to the upper right of where I daily sit).

I’m glad to see that it is getting the attention and credit it deserves by being named a “picture of the day.” I’m doing my part, in addition, by posting this blog post.

Loving the Beet, Hating the Bleed

•November 11, 2013 • 2 Comments

I’ll start this post off by saying that maybe I ought to just start a whole series of blog posts about root vegetables, because this one, in accompaniment with last weeks parsnip post, is definitely starting a trend (though, a part of it is just the time of year it is and the veggies that are currently available).

Oh beets, how much I can say about you.  For a long while in my life I disliked beets, in part because my only experience with them was as home canned pickled beets (which in hindsight were not bad at all) that I had decided were undesirable, and yet ended up forced on me any way (note: “forced” is probably too strong a word. I was never locked in a cell, having pickled beets jammed in my mouth daily.  It was more, that when they were served with dinner, I was reminded the merits of said beets, and strongly encouraged to consume them.  Anyways, I digress). It would be some years later that I would finally come to the realization that A. not all beets need be pickled and B. beets are pretty flippin’ good.  Since that time beets have been a regular staple in my diet.

Beets are a complex flavor which has often regulated them to the periphery of culinary vegetables.  One friend of mine, not entirely inaccurately, says “they taste like dirt.”  They are earthy, that is for sure.  In fact, I’d go as far as to say that beets can epitomize the essence of what “earthy” means when using it as a flavor descriptor.  They are also sweet, and crisp, and savory.  There is a little bit of bitter in there as well. Overall they are bold and demanding, and if they are used in a dish they will make themselves known.  Perhaps this is one of their problems too, they are a little too powerful for their own good.

And then there is the bleeding.  Anyone who has experienced beets are probably very aware of their blood red color (there are in fact other colored beets, including beautiful golden fleshed ones, white beets, and the strange chiogga variety which have mixed bands of red and white).  Not only is the flesh that deep rich red, but like the crimson bodily fluid, the beets, when cut, bleed happily . . . all over everything.  The worst part is that this stain is absolute in many regards.  If you get it on clothing you are probably going to have to deal with it (it can come out, but be prepared to work).  Your hands will be blood red (making you appear to have been an accomplice in a particularly gruesome crime).  The cutting board will be blood red (making it look like you are at least a decent enough criminal to keep your counters clean).  Everything will be red.  That is beets for you.

If you can overcome the bleeding, and get yourself used to the rich and earthy flavor, then beets can be a real treat.  Personally I like them roasted, either alone, or with other root veggies (think, parsnips, carrots, turnips, etc.), with just a bit of olive oil and, if available, some fresh rosemary.  They can be good raw as well (though note, beets are high in oxalic acid, and too much can make your throat feel a bit sore). Also, borscht, the funky and exciting Russian beet soup, traditionally served cold with some plain yogurt, is wonderful.

Here is a simple dish that I prepare often with beets.  It is quick and easy and only requires a few ingredients.

Citrus-Ginger Beet and Carrot Salad

  • 3-4 Good sized beets (I like a mix of red and gold, not because of the color, which will just end up red, but because golden beets have a sweeter flavor compared to the red ones)
  • 3-4 good sized carrots (you could go colored if you want, but, they’re just gonna turn red with everything else)
  • One lemon (use a Meyer lemon for even more delightful flavor)
  • Ginger root
  • salt and black pepper

Simply peel and shred the beets and carrots into a bowl (if you have a food processor this is made much quicker and cleaner).  Zest and juice the lemon (get some of the pulp too if you can), grate the ginger (not too much.  Note: ginger is easier to grate if you freeze the root).  Add a dash of salt and some black pepper.  Stir together. And serve.  There you go!  The citrus and ginger pair amazingly well with the earthy and sweet beet flavor.  If you wanted you could add a handful or two of raisins to the mix.  Also, if you want to minimize the oxalic burn, you can quickly blanch the beets before shredding (don’t cool long though, because part of the enjoyment of this salad is its crispness).  The whole process of making this salad really only takes about 15 minutes (I know because I made it yesterday morning).

So there you go, another root vegetable to look into.  This is definitely the time of year.  I’m particularly excited because we have beets (and parsnips) growing in our winter garden right now, which means in a few more weeks, we’ll have our own fresh ones to use.  So good!

Happy Monday folks, hope everybody has a nice week.

New Rules for Insurance Covering Mental Health

•November 8, 2013 • Leave a Comment

This, from The New York Times, is some very good news out of the Obama administration, with new rules being issued that mandate that health insurers must provide equal coverage for mental illness as for general health care. I find this to be an immensely important move in efforts to provide more help to people in need and, in addition, to further legitimize that mental health issues are not just “made up” but real ailments that effect millions of people across the country.

One of the main reasons cited by the administration is an aim to curb more gun violence, which is, unquestionably, a worthy cause.  But these changes go much further.  Mental illnesses like depression and anxiety are estimated to effect upwards of 25% of the population at any given time and have profound and negative impacts on people’s home lives, work, and overall fulfillment. Allowing insurance holders equal access to mental health resources and treatment will undoubtedly contribute to better productivity on the job or school, healthier interpersonal relationships, and higher levels of motivation.  Add to that a decrease in the number of suicides, sick days, divorces (or other relationship collapses) and you can begin to paint a picture of an overall healthier population.

Mental health and mental illness is a complex and often confusing matter.  It is easy, for somebody not afflicted with any particular mental health issue to brush off the extremity of circumstances for those who are living with mental illness; to say “they’re just over reacting, if they just try harder they’ll be fine.”  I can assure you all, that it is nothing so simple.  Mental illness is a real thing, from the extreme (and fortunately relatively uncommon) forms like sever schizophrenia or bipolar depression, to the the very common, almost ubiquitous, types like social anxiety and depression.  These illnesses effect people daily.  Making a move to equate them to other health issues removes another myth-making barrier and works to further say, “this is real, this needs treatment.”

I know I will personally be watching this issue closely.  I hope that it rolls out smoothly and effectively. In addition, I hope that anybody in need of treatment, that previously may have been more elusive or cost prohibitive can now hope to get some relief.  Once more, for this move the administration I must applaud.

Thank you.

Signs of the Apocalypse: Asteroids

•November 7, 2013 • Leave a Comment

As I have mentioned in past posts, I do not generally tend to think in overwhelmingly apocalyptic terms (which yes, makes the title of this blog ironic).  While a lot of people love to go on and on about how this or that is going to ruin things, I tend to think more in general terms.  There are unquestionably threats and challenges to humanity, both natural and man-made, but, likely, no single one of them will cause such a catastrophe to be ultimately apocalyptic.

Except maybe an asteroid strike.

That is why this New York Times article is worth considering.  When I think in terms of natural occurrences that could really and literally “fuck us over,” a major asteroid strike is always on the top of the list (followed closely by a super volcanic eruption).  Part of the threat from asteroids is that we really do not have a good grasp of how many there are and then, in addition, where they are. Considering the giant 1908 Tunguska asteroid strike, which had it hit a populated area would have been hugely devastating, there is legitimate reason for concern.

So yeah, asteroids, them be scary scary things. Ask a dinosaur, they know (I have four dinosaurs, and while not the brightest, and used primarily for egg production, they have totally said that asteroids are the shit).

Parsnips: The Story of an Under Appreciated Vegetable

•November 6, 2013 • 4 Comments

Have you ever had a parsnip?  If not, you sir and/or ma’am, are missing out.  The pale and slightly more bulbous cousin of the carrot is a real treat.  While not as enjoyable as the oft colorful carrot in raw form, when cooked, even slightly, the parsnip transforms into a vegetable of pure delight.  It is creamy buttery sweet rich earthy amazingness.

A prolific pile of parsnips (via Wikimedia Commons)

I cannot recall when I first came around to trying parsnips, but I do believe it has only been in the past five years or so (maybe for Thanksgiving sometime, because that seems fitting).  Since then, the parsnip has been a mainstay in the veggie drawer of our fridge.  I add it to all sorts of thing; soups, stir fry, roasted veggies (possibly the best use), kimchi, etc.

The flavor of the parsnip is unique and totally its own with an amazing ability to pair with a wide variety of foods.  So why then hasn’t it gained more popularity?  Well, for one thing, I think it is a cooking vegetable.  Unlike the carrot, as I mentioned above, the parsnip is not great raw.  You have to coax the flavor out a bit which therefore requires a bit of culinary confidence (not I don’t say “culinary mastery.” You don’t have to be a seasoned chef to be able to cook some tasty food, you just have to be patient and have a bit of practice).  Secondly, because of its kind of unassuming and unknown quality, it proves vexing, and unless a recipe specifically calls for it, it is easy to over look.  Finally, it has a weird name.  Yeah, I know that is a lame explanation, but I honestly think that when people hear the word “parsnip” they cannot help themselves but to think of the medieval peasants sustaining on parsnip and turnip gruel.

Let me help.  Here is a pretty simple and very delicious dish you can make with parsnips quite quick and easily.  In addition, it utilizes another oft maligned veggie, the Brussels sprout.

What you will need:

  • 2 or 3 good sized parsnips, chopped (you can peel them if you want, but that isn’t entirely necessary)
  • About a pound of fresh Brussels sprouts cut into halves
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 or 3 cloves garlic chopped finely
  • About 1 to 1.5 tbsp Bacon fat (and if you don’t have that – first, shame on you, keep some in your freezer hence fourth – you can use butter, or olive oil – though butter will be more tasteful)
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 or 2 tsp Caraway seeds
  • salt and black pepper

Start by heating the fat or butter or oil (whatever you’ve got) in a skillet or fry pan.  You’ll know it is hot enough when it sizzle-snaps when a few drops of water are splashed in it.  Throw in the onion and let it cook for a bit, browning up (give it a few occasional stirs).  Once the onions start to get translucent and maybe a bit browned, throw in the parsnips, Brussels sprouts, and garlic. At this point you are going to want the heat to be a little less than medium.  Let everything cook, only stirring occasionally.  You want the veggies to glaze a bit.  Once they start to brown and stick to the pan some, throw in a few splashes of the vinegar.  Don’t over do it here, our it”ll come out too acidic.  Just two or three brief splashes, enough to de-glaze the pan.  Add some salt, black pepper, and caraway seeds.  Stir and let cook a few more minutes (but not much longer).  Serve!

This is real good stuff (well at least in my, and my family’s, opinion).  Really it isn’t too hard.  The biggest thing is just to avoid overdoing the vinegar.  It’s totally okay for the parsnips and Brussels sprouts to still be a bit crunchy here, in fact I’d say its preferred.  It’s a great side dish with some kind of pork (chops, loin, what have you) or with Thanksgiving dinner (but, really, what isn’t a great side dish with Thanksgiving dinner?).

So yeah, parsnips folks.  Get on the bandwagon, ’cause they be good stuff.

On Chili (not the Country, but the Foodstuff)

•October 29, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I like making chili.  It has been one of my “go to” meals for quite a long time, in part because I think that it was one of the earlier things that I learned how to make.  It is something that I come back to again and again and almost always comes out well. It is, in essence, one of my comfort foods.

One of the things that interests me about chili, is that as far as a food dish goes it can be rather polarizing. Depending on who you talk to there are some very different perspectives on what is, or isn’t, actually chili.  To some, chili is, very simply, meat (read as “ground beef”) and chili peppers, and maybe a few more spices. No beans! No tomatoes! No anything else!  This is kind of the”purest” school of chili.  On the other end of the spectrum however is a kind of big tent mentality that says, ” have fun, add what you like!” Oh, you want to use chicken instead of beef, cool!  Beans! Yay!  Really, it becomes open to very wide variety.

Speaking personally I would say that I very much fall on the inclusive end of chili, and accept a definition of chili that is essentially a “South Western/Mexican spiced stew, of various sorts.” Over the years I’ve included and excluded a vast degree of ingredients.  In fact, part of my love of making chili, in my perspective at least, is that it can be a kind of “well what do I have?” meal. About the only rule, which is really more of guideline actually, which I adhere to pretty consistently, is that you really can’t over do the cumin (yes, the cumin, which I consider a more vital flavor source in a good chili than the chili powder itself).  In addition, adding a bit of corn to chili is a really fun thing to do.

On the hot spiciness of chili (that you get from using actual chili peppers), I’ve come to tone it down a lot of times, in part because, while I love me some hot pungency, a lot of other people are less tolerable of heat than I am, and when I make chili it is often for sharing.  Furthermore, if you want some burn, it is easy to add outside of the cooking pot.  Chili sauces are in abundance of variety themselves.  Allowing control in the served bowl seems worthwhile if it means that everybody enjoys the food all the more.

As a final bit of thought on chili.  It seems to me, that it falls into a category of foods, that defy a general logic.  This category includes all foodstuffs that, miraculously improve, once made to leftover status (that is, they’ve sat for a day or two in the fridge, been allowed to cool thoroughly, and then are reheated for a later meal).  I am not entirely sure what it is about these kinds of foods like chili (also including lasagna and, occasionally, beef stew), but something just gets better.  I suspect it is that the spices and flavors can more fully integrate into the dish as a whole, and as such, upon reheating, packs even more of a flavor punch.  In this regard I pretty much always cook chili to the amount where some leftovers are a certainty.  I prefer it if I can make enough so that there is some I can take to work within a few days in addition to some that can be frozen for a later quick meal.  Generally this works out, though, in cases like last nights batch of chili, there was only enough to freeze one future serving.

So chili, good stuff right?  What do you all use in your batches? Leave a comment and let me know.

Scalding Coffee . . . A Then and Now

•October 21, 2013 • Leave a Comment

The New York Times has been running an enjoyable series of articles and videos called “Retro Report” in which they go back to big stories of decades past and talk about what happened then, and how the world is different for it now.  This week’s story is a particularly enjoyable bit about the 1992 McDonald’s coffee scalding case.  While I was only eight years old at the time, I still remember this very clearly (and specifically my dad talking to me about it). What I do not remember nearly as clearly, because I was only eight at the time, was what on-the-go hot beverage drinking culture was like in the early 90s versus what i would grow up with to its present iteration now.  It is that which fascinates me.

Getting coffee or tea or hot chocolate while out and about it just a normal thing in my life.  So much so that I regularly bring a travel mug wherever I go, just in the off chance that I’ll want something.  I have a travel mug that sits on my desk all day long, and it is regularly filled with coffee or tea, which then accompanies me as I make my way throughout my workplace.  We like our hot beverages to go.

I also burn myself, quite regularly, because I have no sense of proper patience when it comes to hot foodstuffs.  Fortunately none of these burns have even been severe enough to warrant medical attention (though I did pour near boiling water on my hand a few months back, that might have been worth a doctors look).  I suppose the whole burn thing is as much a comment on our culture as is the traveling beverages.  We don’t sit still.  We hate to wait.

That is all I’ve got for now.  It’s afternoon and that means it is time for some tea.

Peace.