Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Robin's blog: Deriving and Divining in Delhi: India Bound

You bet I'm following you, Robin! Digitally speaking, that is.

Deriving and Divining in Delhi: India Bound: I depart on December 1, 2012 for a five week residency at the  Sanskriti Foundation  in New Delhi, India. My daughter, Sadie, will jo...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

An Archdruid on the Internet?

It sounds oxymorony, but it's true, there is an archdruid on the Internet. Probably not the only one. I like this blog that my dad recently introduced me to, The Archdruid Report. Thoughtful and intelligent though somewhat predictable stuff about life yesterday, today, and tomorrow. His post last week, "The Twilight of Meaning," inspired me to make this comment:

I thought when the post opened with "this is hard to write" and then led to "unplug" that you were leading up to saying that you were ending your blog. Very relieved to find that that's not the case.

But I have the subsidiary reaction of .... well, do we unplug or not? I suspect my habit of spending so much time reading one pundit, blogger, commenter, tweeter, or what-have-you or another expostulating on his or her theories of life, the universe, and everything is probably at least as mind-numbing/culture-killing as watching a few episodes of "The Wire" or "Arrested Development," if not more so.

I also suspect that contemporary popular culture has not really changed so much throughout history, whenever your version of "contemporary" is. It's the same as the "kids today" complaint... the same lament, repeated generation after generation; why can't we hear ourselves being our grandparents? Popular culture is never good enough for the people who consider themselves "cultured." Charles Dickens was not revered as a literary master in his day. He was more like, say, Stephen King. I can easily imagine that one day Stephen King will be respected more like Charles Dickens.

And I have to ask, why does everyone who wants to take a pot-shot at popular culture use Lady Ga-Ga as their target? Because it's easy? Requires no research, no verification of any claim? Because lots of people who have also not investigated will chuckle and nod? That's certainly one formula for appealing to the lowest-common-denominator. I'm not an art historian, I'm not a teen-ager, not a hipster, not even a Lady Ga-Ga fan. But it doesn't take too much investigating to see that Lady Ga-Ga is a phenomenal and powerful cultural force, delivering messages that seem to be going over most of our heads. Next time you need a cultural punching bag, I suggest you use a Kardashian, Justin Bieber, or maybe The Wiggles. But maybe, for the integrity of your argument, at least Google them first.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Stalling -- Master Class

Why am I stalling? I've been here at my computer for, wow, three hours, reading, tweeting, doing basically nothing, and not opening this window and starting to blog. Why not? I had a couple of ideas of things to write about -- the great story by Stephen Millhauser that I read in the New Yorker this morning. Something else that I can't even remember I've fooled around so long. It may be that I felt pressure to write well about those things, that's why I couldn't get started. I'm keeping in mind what the Pomodoro man said. Fear of not meeting my own expectations causes me to interrupt myself, or in this case prevent myself from even starting.

The trouble with this, what I'm actually writing right now, is that it's the worst sort of drivel that exists in the civilized world. Writing about not writing. And I'm doing it, because, seeing as it's the worst thing there is, I can't possibly not meet that expectation. Not writing is better than this writing. That is a low expectation. I'm not intimidated by that.

Don't want to take this into a "what causes me to be so easily intimidated by expecations" vein. That would be sickening for all parties. Especially my parents, probably. And they don't deserve that. How chickenshit is that to blame my parents for the fact that I sit here in my pajamas and tweet while I should be writing or taking down the Christmas tree? Especially since I now have kids who are mere moments away from being old enough to start blaming their disappointments in life on their mom and dad. Especially mom, of course. Everything is always the mom's fault.

Okay, Christmas tree. Brace yourself. You're coming down.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Hoppin' John and Mom

Maybe I'm not a real cook. I can't really tell the difference between my mom's Oklahoma-born Hoppin' John and Deborah Madison's vegetarian Hoppin' John. I follow a recipe when I cook just about anything, but, in essence whichever recipe for Hoppin' John I follow, I'm dicing onions and peppers and cooking beans. I don't put ham or any meat in it. Not because I'm a vegetarian, just because I have never liked the flavor of cured pork that has cooked a long time. This year will be interesting because I forgot to buy peppers. I've got chili flakes, but there's usually sauteed bell pepper in there too. We'll see. And I bought kale instead of collards just because there was so much fabulous kale at the grocery store. I cook that without pork too. Same reason. I use Deborah Madison's trick of cooking it with brown butter. It's an excellent trick, make a note of it. There's probably another reason, apart from whether I am a real cook or not, that I can't tell the difference between my mom's Hoppin' John recipe and Deborah Madison's, even though my mom is just...my mom who cooks, and Deborah Madison is a renowned chef. My mom is a kick-ass cook. I mean, people hear you talk about "mom's cooking" and figure well, yeah, everyone loves their mom's cooking. No. Everyone loves MY mom's cooking. She's just really damned good at it. She learned from books. Joy of Cooking and James Beard, specifically. But of course there has to be more to it than that. She's got some certain knack that just makes everything she cooks taste exactly like it should. Even when she cooks something that turns out to be a disaster -- I'm remembering some chicken mole thing one Christmas about 40 years ago -- she manages to salvage it so that it's still good, just not what she intended. She can walk into a kitchen where there seems to be "nothing to eat" and next thing you know you're having a sundae of granola and chocolate sauce, or toast with garlicky tomato sauce. As I mentioned, she's from Oklahoma, there was no cuisine there beyond well-done steaks and Campbell's soup. Her mother was not an enthusiastic cook, my mom did not learn from Grandma. My mom came to San Francisco and noticed the people smelled different. Before long she realized it was garlic. Italian restaurants used lots of garlic and everyone ate Italian food. So she used garlic. Maybe garlic was her gateway flavor. After living in a boarding house and eating prepared meals for a year or so, she got pregnant, married, and was suddenly responsible for producing meals. She says the first time she and my dad went to a grocery store to stock their kitchen, a friend came with them. My dad said he was going to read magazines while she got the groceries. She looked at the friend and said, "What do I buy?" He was equally mystified. They wandered through the store, guessing at groceries. After that she knew she needed to know more. She went to a bookstore and found The Joy of Cooking. And she studied it.

Mom's 1952 Edition of "Joy of Cooking," in 2010. She Still Uses It.

Maybe another thing that contributed to her knack is her appetite. She's not greedy, she doesn't eat a lot, but when it's time to eat, she's going to eat. Delaying a meal is wrong in every way. It can be somewhat unpleasant to be with her in a restaurant if the service is delayed. She wants her food and she wants it now. Of course, 50, 30 years ago people didn't eat fast food or any restaurant food as readily as they do now. Even when she was a swinging single girl in San Francisco they ate most of their meals in the boarding house and went out to dinner occasionally. But once married, almost every meal was prepared and eaten at home. Maybe because she'd had that year between leaving her mom's home and starting her own, of having meals prepared for her, she'd gotten more into a rhythm of "proper" meals three times a day. No grabbing a bowl of cereal here, a cheese sandwich there. In any case, she became the cook she is today. Now when I talk to her on the phone, if she starts telling me what she made that day, or reminiscing about something she always likes to cook, I flip open my laptop and start typing. She's chatting about food and I'm typing as fast as I can saying, "uh-huh, uh-huh, go on...." so I can hand some of this skill, talent, and magic on to my daughters.

Here's one of her recipes just as I captured it during a phone call:

ground meat. 1/2 lb
onion. dice
green beans 1 lb

par-boil beans, crisp-tender.
brown onions and meat.
toss all together.
lots (3 Tbspns) of soy sauce
serve over rice.

And it works, just like that. It sounds absurdly simple, but it's also simply delicious.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Beautiful Crazy Soup

The carrots, bell pepper, and bok choi combine beautifully in this straightforward soup. When I made this, I roasted vegetables in the oven too with the idea that I'd have sauteed and roasted beautiful crazy soup. But the soup seemed so complete without the roast vegetables (rutabaga, parsnips, turnip, purple potatoes) that I served them separately after all.

Makes about 10 servings.

3 tblspns olive oil
1 onion diced
1 lb chicken, red pepper, spinach sausage, sliced
2 carrots sliced thinly
2 stalks celery sliced thinly
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 tsp tumeric
1 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp cayenne
2 cans (or equivalent homemade) pinto beans (drain one, use one's juice)
1 quart chicken broth
1/2 a large bok choi, washed and sliced, whites separated from greens

In a big soup pot, heat oil over medium high heat. Add onions and sausage. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions begin to soften. Add carrots, celery, and bell pepper. Stir well. Add spices. Cook, stirring frequently until vegetables begin to soften. Add beans and broth. Add whites of bok choi. Cook until broth begins to simmer. Add bok choi greens. Cook until soup is hot and greens are wilted. Serve.

Got crunchy bread? Parmesan might be nice. Mmmm, maybe a dollop of pesto.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Nick Kristof Does It Again

Here is my cheater-version of the brilliant quiz that Nick Kristof wrote for us in his recent NYT Op-Ed column:

Q1. Which holy book stipulates that a girl who does not bleed on her wedding night should be stoned to death?
a. Koran
b. Old Testament
c. (Hindu) Upanishads
A1. b. Deuteronomy 22:21.

Q2. Which holy text declares: “Let there be no compulsion in religion”?
a. Koran
b. Gospel of Matthew
c. Letter of Paul to the Romans
A2. a. Koran, 2:256. But other sections of the Koran do describe coercion.

Q3. The terrorists who pioneered the suicide vest in modern times, and the use of women in terror attacks, were affiliated with which major religion?
a. Islam
b. Christianity
c. Hinduism
A3. c. Most early suicide bombings were by Tamil Hindus (some secular) in Sri Lanka and India.

Q4. "Every child is touched by the devil as soon as he is born and this contact makes him cry. Excepted are Mary and her Son.” This verse is from:
a. Letters of Paul to the Corinthians
b. The Book of Revelation
c. An Islamic hadith, or religious tale
A4. c. Hadith. Islam teaches that Jesus was a prophet to be revered.

Q5. Which holy text is sympathetic to slavery?
a. Old Testament
b. New Testament
c. Koran
A5. All of the above.

Q6. In the New Testament, Jesus’ views of homosexuality are:
a. strongly condemnatory
b. forgiving
c. never mentioned
A6. c. Other parts of the New and Old Testaments object to homosexuality, but there’s no indication of Jesus’ views.

Q7. Which holy text urges responding to evil with kindness, saying: “repel the evil deed with one which is better.”
a. Gospel of Luke
b. Book of Isaiah
c. Koran
A7. c. Koran, 41:34. Jesus says much the same thing in different words.

Q8. Which religious figure preaches tolerance by suggesting that God looks after all peoples and leads them all to their promised lands?
a. Muhammad
b. Amos
c. Jesus
A8. b. Amos 9:7

Q9. Which of these religious leaders was a polygamist?
a. Jacob
b. King David
c. Muhammad
A9. all of them

Q10. What characterizes Muhammad’s behavior toward the Jews of his time?
a. He killed them.
b. He married one.
c. He praised them as a chosen people.
A10. all of these. Muhammad’s Jewish wife was seized in battle, which undermines the spirit of the gesture. By some accounts he had a second Jewish wife as well.

Q11. Which holy scripture urges that the "little ones" of the enemy be dashed against the stones?
a. Book of Psalms
b. Koran
c. Leviticus
A11. a. Psalm 137

Q12. Which holy scripture suggests beating wives who misbehave?
a. Koran
b. Letters of Paul to the Corinthians
c. Book of Judges
A12. a. Koran 4:34

Q13. Which religious leader is quoted as commanding women to be silent during services?
a. The first Dalai Lama
b. St. Paul
c. Muhammad
A13. b. St. Paul, both in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, but many scholars believe that neither section was actually written by Paul.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Rage Strudel

Maybe rage is a good spice to have on hand for strudel emergencies...

4 granny smith apples, peeled, cored, sliced thin
juice of one lime
1 tblspn cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup almond meal
2 tblspns butter
Mix all that, set aside.

One package phyllo dough
Mangle whole thing badly, getting flakes all over kitchen.
Abandon all hope, foment blind rage.
Move on in desperation.

Rage Dough:
Crust for two crust pie
2.25 Cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup shortening
2 tablespoons butter
5 - 6 tablespoons water
Dump it all, except water, into the mixmaster.
Add water, one tablespoon at a time until dough is all slightly moistened and starts to stick together. Divide dough into two equal portions, form into balls, wrap in wax paper, refrigerate for 15 minutes. Take out one ball. Roll it a bit, fold it in half, roll it a bit more. Repeat a few times. Then roll it out into a thin 8ish x 12ish oblong. Transfer to a parchment covered baking sheet.
Oh, now's a good time to pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Also, EndGame:
1 tblspn butter, melted
1 tblspn almond meal
1 tblspn cinnamon sugar mixture that you happen to have on hand
Just hang on to those for a few minutes.

Take out the other ball, do the same thing, but end up with a slightly narrower, shorter oblong.
Dump the apple mixture onto the dough on the baking sheet. Neatly. It's probably pretty juicy by now, gonna slop all over. Try to confine it. Keep the outer inch or so of dough free. Now take the second sheet of dough and cover the apples. Brush melted butter onto the free inch of the bottom sheet. Fold that bottom inch up and pinch it onto the top sheet. I don't know how, the whole conceit is absurd. Just finagle it as best you can. When you've accomplished this, brush the top of the Rage Strudel with melted butter (I meant to do this, not sure if I actually did it). Dust the top with almond meal; sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Tell yourself oh well, you did your best, and bake for 40 minutes or until it seems about right.

This is as far as I've gotten. I really don't know what to do with it now. In one hour I'm supposed to transport this to the 7th grade German class; I don't even know how to get it off the baking sheet. Sheesh.

Okay, relax. I just had to use a spatula to pry it away from the melty caramelly sauce that oozed out and then it slipped right off the baking sheet onto the cutting board. Let it cool a bit; it sliced up fine. I am amazed. It's pretty good!

EPILOGUE: January 16, 2011. So, months ago, not long after I first made this, a mom in the class asked me for the recipe. She said her daughter reported that it was "the best thing EVER." I was happy to hear that report. I'm making it again today. But this time, just because I have it and am not going to make Apple Dumplings after all, I'm using the biscuit-y dough I made yesterday for a recipe in the Cook's Illustrated "Best of America's Test Kitchens" 2011 Annual magazinie-cookbook thing I bought at Costco this week. I'll report on how this turns out when I know more. So far, it is baking and smelling good.

Mmmm! Tasting good too. Didn't seal the sides up well enough and apple caramelly saucey dripped all over the bottom of the oven, smoking up the house and necessitating the whole-house fan, but that's to be expected. The doughier biscuit-y dough didn't take as long to bake, about 35 minutes. Might have been better if I'd baked it at 400 instead of 350. But overall, yum.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


The title says it all, echoes my experience quite accurately. The only point I would add is that I once found myself part of a class action suit against paypal, and was awarded damages, and I was so naive I had them put my award in my paypal account, because I believed that after THIS surely they'd be different. Not different. I have never been able to access that money. Or the $10 they "gave" me for being one of the first people on earth to ever sign up with paypal.

Paypal causes money to unexist.

Read John Cole's story here.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Half a Chance to Not Look Stupid Half the Time

I haven't blogged in a while. That can mean a few different things. One, my life has been so mundane as to seem unworthy of any noting. Two, my life has been so scintillating that I haven't paused to reflect on it. Three, I'm distracted by mundane idiocy and consider it unworthy of sharing, but can't tear myself away from it to share other topics.

I think this current dearth is attributable to Thing Three. I got a new phone, a smart phone -- also known as a smartphone -- and I'm so busy employing it to make my life better that my life is currently all about it. As shall be this post. Abandon me now, all ye who care not about this crap and all ye who already know 100x more than me about this crap.

Hello? Anyone? Seems that covered just about everyone. Blogging to myself again...

It's an adorable little HTC Hero from Credo Mobile, this new phone of mine. The greatest downside to it is that my kids are SO JEALOUS they can't even begin to be happy about their new phones, which are very fine phones as well in which I, like the kids, take no interest. Their phones just aren't as smart. And we all know there's nothing as sexy as smartness. By sexy, I mean distractingly appealing. But smartness costs $25 a month extra, and I'm not forking it over for a twelve-year-old, sorry. I'd consider it for the 15-year-old if she had a demonstrated academic need for it, but so far she doesn't. And not even that much interest. It's really the poor little 12-y-o who runs technological circles around the rest of us. But it's not need, it's interest. I'm spending her portion of the family fortune on school and lessons and food. Not digital signals. For now.

BACK TO MY HERO -- it's so adorable. It's my first touchscreen anything, I think. I spend quite a bit of time just screwing up the typing. I don't know why this doesn't enrage me, but so far I just find it amusing and keep struggling. Also, the first call I got, I hung up on. And then once we did connect, and finish the conversation, and I tried to hang up, I called them back instead. There's a bit of a curve, learning/adapting-wise with this thing. I think I mainly just love it cuz it fits easily in the palm of my hand and my whole world is right there. My calendar, emails, texts, files, tweets, everything. Especially the calendar. I can make an appointment for the orthodontist and know if it conflicts with the karate lessons, even if the lessons changed from 3:30 to 3:45 two weeks ago -- I don't have to count on myself to have raced through the calendar pages erasing all the :30s and changing them to :45s. The same calendar that I see on my computer at home is right there in my purse with me. I heart it. I feel it gives me half a chance to not look stupid half the time. These are not chances I feel I have all the time.

I also like that it's Credo. They are also "Working Assets," remember them? The groovy credit card company. They openly commit to making a portion of what we pay them into contributions for liberal causes. Since AT&T and Verizon clandestinely make portions of what we pay them into contributions to right-wing causes, I'd just as soon not give them my money. Especially when their service is CRAP. If I'm going to pay for crap, at least let it not conflict with my core values for pete's sake. It's bad enough to be reduced to a simpering puddle of impotent fury by a "customer service" encounter of any kind; add to that the knowledge that they are also taking the (amazingly large) profits generated by my dependence on them and using it to undermine liberty and justice for all, well, if you think about it too much, it could give you an aneurysm. I don't want to think about that. I said to heck with it and switched. It helped quite a bit that Credo was willing to buy out my existing contract (up to $200 for up to three lines -- bingo! that's us). "Buying out" seems to mean they give me credit toward my bill equal to what I pay my old carrier in contract termination fees, but that's still money. I'm okay with it. I was so disappointed in Verizon from the get-go that I am just happy to be able to say so long!

My next step in the project is to get rid of our land line. I'm a bit intimidated by this step. We have our phone and Internet service through AT&T U-Verse cable, which I'm far less than happy with. Our phone calls have sounded scratchy ever since we made the change and it drives our answering machine nuts, recording the dial tone after every call. And our internet connection has been herky-jerky. Honestly, I am TOTALLY dreading calling AT&T and talking to them about what my options are. The nightmare web of "press or say..." and "please hold while we transfer you" and "thank you for holding, your call is important to us" awaits me and I am full of dread.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Governor Wounds Me

Here are the Governor's remarks: http://blogs.sacbee.com/the_state_worker/2010/08/schwarzenegger-were-not-taking.html

Here's my comment at The State Worker blog, now buried by the hundreds of other comments:

Those are the most personally hurtful remarks I have ever experienced from a government official. I feel as if I have been slapped. And then kicked. It is insulting on so many levels that he feels it is appropriate to accuse the questioner of ignorance in order to answer the question. That isn't a response, it's bullying, plain and simple.
State employees know what's going on in the private sector. There is no possible way to not know--the lives of private sector working people and public sector working people are inextricably linked. The people of one "sector" cannot even function without the other. All workers need state employees and state employees need grocery checkers and car mechanics and babysitters and on and on. Not to mention that all the workers in these two sectors are each others' spouses, sons, daughters, parents, neighbors, lovers, bffs...
This, I'm afraid, is where we completely diverge from the lives of the Schwarzeneggers, no matter how many millions he generously hasn't made in the past 7 years. It is physically sickening that he thinks it is valid to compare his choosing to stay as rich as he is, instead of becoming richer and richer and richer, to the plight of the working people in California. There. Is. No. Comparison.

That was yesterday and it's still bothering me that he said these things. I am not even opposed to furloughs; I'd be FOR them if they actually seemed to help with California's deficit, but there is too much evidence that they don't -- the State still owes workers either the time or the money and it's costing a bundle to fight the legal challenges. Politically I may be a Democrat, but at the molecular level I seem to be a Socialist; I am never comfortable having more than others. He's misguided when he thinks that everyone who disagrees with his approach is merely greedy.

I strongly object to the insinuation that the people who depend on every dollar they earn every month are simply whining when they say they need that money. His statement that "the banks immediately offered" to cover workers' salaries if budget problems caused them not to be paid is patently false. IF you bank with a local credit union, and IF you have direct deposit, and IF the minimum wage threat took effect, it was announced last month that the credit union would cover your salary. But before that we were told no, they wouldn't. One reason was that it was possibly an ethics violation for State employees to receive 0% loans. No relief was ever offered for bridging the salary gap brought on by furloughs. If you don't have direct deposit at a participating credit union, you could apply for a loan at 4.9% and good luck with that.

Face it, movie stars and people with trust funds and others who do not depend on your salary every month to make ends meet, people who don't even know what the ends are -- you do not understand what it means to live month to month. It means so much more than the math of how much comes in vs. how much goes out. It means that every little incident in your life ripples out in unpredictable ways; ways that can be inconsequential, or catastrophic. There is a level of uncertainty that cannot be quantified continually taking its toll on your peace of mind. A leaking pipe, a broken down car, a sick parent, any routine little incident of daily life can spin your world into a dizzying spiral of calamity. That knowledge is always there. And it's not theoretical. At the least it's about threadbare towels vs fluffy ones, but it always carries the potential of food vs. hunger, safety vs. danger, life vs. death.