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Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving Modern Style

Having taken American Indian Art last spring alongside my youngest son gave me a much better appreciation for what was going on with the Americans in the area.  America's native inhabitants in the Northeast were a thriving interconnected group of tribes that had forged peace, trade, and alliances amongst themselves before my ancestors arrived with their ideas of religious freedom and societal ideals.  This holiday, a celebration of our successful toe hold on the new continent, is widely celebrated throughout the United States (the exception being native people, who see this as the beginning of the end of their cultural and religious freedom), and is a time to reflect on one's blessings and give thanks.
So here goes, since my root stalk is the Puritans.  It has been a rough year for folks with values that include priorities like environmental protection, combating climate change, health care as a basic right, and just over all decency.  I am still unable to be anything but furious at the people who facilitated this regime.  I have definitely cut off ties because of it, and while it is hard, I am working on being at peace with it.  They may be good people but we don't share values.  Happy (mostly; still some very real anger) about working on that.
I am grateful for the time, to have been able to travel with family and friends and really enjoy things that I love.  I have gotten to do some things that are on my lifetime "To Do" list and that has been really nice.  The biggest change this year is that my spouse and I became grandparents, which has been a joyful thing that caught us both completely by surprise.  So here I stop, because it is hard to top that one.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Vegetable Biryani

This is great because you can easily make it vegan by using vegetable oil instead of butter, and it is delicious for non-vegetarians to eat as well, but can serve as a primary source of protein for those who need it.  Don't be overwhelmed by the ingredient list length--alot of the spices you will need to have out if you are cooking an Indian meal.

For the vegetables:
Make the rice: Place the rice in a sieve and rinse under cold running water until the water runs clear. Set aside.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, over medium-high heat. Add the golden raisins, almonds, turmeric, cumin seed, coriander seed, cardamom pods, and cinnamon stick and cook, stirring, until toasted and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until toasted, about 1 minute more. Add the water and salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, (wrap the lid tightly with a kitchen towel), cover, and steam until the rice is tender, 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and set aside.
Meanwhile, make the vegetables. Melt the butter in a medium straight-sided skillet with a tight-fitting lid, over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the golden raisins, almonds, coriander seed, cumin seed, and cardamom and cook, stirring, until toasted and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the cauliflower, green beans, potatoes, carrots, and salt. Raise the heat to high, pour in the water, and cook, covered, for 4 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are tender and most of the water has evaporated, about 1 1/2 minutes more.
Add the rice to the vegetable mixture and, using a rubber spatula, stir to combine. Season with salt to taste. Divide the vegetable-rice mixture among plates and top with some of the toasted coconut and almonds. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Last Word (2017)

This was a remarkably enjoyable movie, that I would definitely recommend.  The critics would roundly disagree with me, but I live in an America that elected Trump and so movies that display a certain amount of that thinking right out there are par for the course.  We now have to figure out how to combat that because not only do ordinary folks feel like it is flat out okay to flaunt their white privileged as superiority rather than an uneven playing field, they are getting elected to office and doing damage.
So here we have Harriet, who is clearly on the spectrum when it comes to her inability to read the social landscape and saying pretty much anything that comes to find without one iota of filtering.  She commissions a newspaper to write her obituary before she dies and then trying to bully the obituary writer into coming up with something that doesn't make her seem just downright awful.  Challenged by having a mirror held up for her to scrutinize herself, Harriet goes about changing some unflattering aspects.  She can't change the past, but she decides to do something improbably (which is deejaying at a local indie radio station) and adopting an underprivileged kid.  MacLaine does a fine job of being the character she is dealt and it is fun to watch.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, Gainsborough, 1750

The museum near where I grew up had a large and beautiful painting entitle Blue Boy by Gainsborough and I have since liked him quite a lot.  Maybe it is the familiarity, but I do like things from the mid-eighteenth century because I come from Revolutionary roots.
This portrait is the masterpiece of Gainsborough's early years. It was painted after his return home from London to Suffolk in 1748, soon after the marriage of Robert Andrews of the Auberies and Frances Carter of Ballingdon House, near Sudbury, in November of that year.  So very much the class-conscious England of the day.
The landscape evokes Robert Andrews's estate, to which his marriage added property. He has a gun under his arm, while his wife sits on an elaborate  wooden bench. The painting of Mrs Andrews's lap is unfinished. The space may have been reserved for a child for Mrs Andrews to hold.  What happened?  We do not know.
The painting follows the fashionable convention of the conversation piece, a (usually) small-scale portrait showing two or more people, often out of doors. The emphasis on the landscape here allows Gainsborough to display his skills as a painter of convincingly changing weather and naturalistic scenery, still a novelty at this time.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Apple Fennel Salad

This was a recipe that was floated as a lighter salad that could be on the Thanksgiving table.  I would agree with that (especially if you left the cheese out, as I did), but at this point, our kids absolutely want their favorites and that doesn't leave much room on the groaning table, so I made it early, with a fennel bulb that came with our CSA.
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice, plus more to taste
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 large fennel bulbs, thinly sliced on a mandoline
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, halved and cored, thinly sliced on a mandoline
  • 3 celery stalks, thinly sliced on a mandoline
  • cup fennel fronds or roughly chopped parsley leaves
  • ½ cup toasted walnuts
  • 2 ½ ounces Parmesan, shaved with a vegetable peeler (about 2/3 cup) (optional)
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in oil, continuously whisking, until dressing is emulsified. Taste and add more lemon juice and/or salt if needed.
  2. In a large bowl, toss the dressing with fennel, apple and celery. Fold in fennel fronds or parsley and walnuts. Top with Parmesan just before serving.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Monsoon Wedding (2001)

Right about now I am just hoping that the smog problem in Dehli subsides and that flights are resumed, but this was a nice introduction to the city.  The story revolves around an extended Indian family that are well off but not ridiculously wealthy.  They are preparing for the arranged wedding of their daughter, and that is at the center of the movie.
The various family members create different threads of the story, many of which require going out and about in the city, which for us was one of the reasons to watch the movie.  Another would be that if you haven't experienced a traditional Indian wedding, then this is a great rendition of one, and well worth watching for that alone.  There is a lot of drama and pathos here.  The colors are spectacular, Dehli comes off looking a bit shabby, but then the high points of the city are not front and center here, and Mira Nair's films are well worth seeing.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Plastic from Plants

Polymers protect us from the elements, increase the fuel efficiency of cars, protect food from pathogens, help cure disease, and enable renewable-energy technologies. To promote, foster, and enable a sustainable society, we need polymers. Yet polymers can also create serious environmental challenges. Nearly all plastic packaging produced—more than 80 billion kg annually—originates from fossil resources and is disposed of after a relatively short period of use.
Biodegradable plastics are those that can be completely degraded in landfills, composters or sewage treatment plants by the action of naturally occurring micro-organisms. Truly biodegradable plastics leave no toxic, visible or distinguishable residues following degradation. Their biodegradability contrasts sharply with most petroleum-based plastics, which are essentially indestructible in a biological context. Because of the ubiquitous use of petroleum-based plastics, their persistence in the environment and their fossil-fuel derivation, alternatives to these traditional plastics are being explored. Issues surrounding waste management of traditional and biodegradable polymers are discussed in the context of reducing environmental pressures and carbon footprints.  Plants naturally produce numerous polymers, including rubber, starch, cellulose and storage proteins, all of which have been exploited for biodegradable plastic production. Bacterial bioreactors fed with renewable resources from plants--so-called 'white biotechnology'--have also been successful in producing biodegradable polymers.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Cauliflower and Pomegranate Chaat

The stars aligned just right for this dish to be made.  My youngest son is making Indian food on a regular basis with a friend, and so the spices and the cookbooks are out and about.  This one is from Meera Sodha's latest book, Fresh India, which is vegetarian dishes.
I had cauliflower from my CSA, pomegranates from Costco, and some vegans coming to dinner so I needed some dishes that packed some protien.  The chaat masala, which blends dried ground mango and ginger, drives the show in this.
  • 1 medium cauliflower (about 650g)
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 can of chickpeas, drained
  • ½ cucumber
  • Seeds of ½ pomegranate
  •  fresh cilantro chopped
  • 1 1/3 tbsp chaat masala (see above), plus extra to serve
  • Juice of ½ lime
1.  Using your fingers, break the cauliflower into small florets, so that each one is 1.5cm-2cm across. Put 2mm of oil into a wide-bottomed frying pan over a high heat.
2. Once hot, add the florets and have them in one layer, so that they char a bit as they fry.  Stir infrequently until they have a bit of brown, then add the drained chickpeas.  I added a bit of salt at this point, but that is not what the original recipe calls for.  Toss until cauliflower is a bit creamy, then set aside to cool. 
3.  Do not assemble until ready to serve.  Toss cauliflower, chickpeas, and cucumbers, add the chaat masala and mix.  Then add the pomegranates, mix lightly, then sprinkle with cilantro and squeeze a lime over the top and serve.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Octopussy (1984)

This film is set in Udaipur, and as part of the preparation for places that we are hoping to go in December, this was our first stop in films.  Odd, you might think, but we have watched a lot of James Bond together over the decades, and it was a light place to start.  Rather than watching something with crushing poverty, or revisiting the terrifying moments in Lion, which we did in February.
I missed that it was filmed in India the first time around, and Udaipur is called the Crystal City, with some impressive white architecture that while not highlighted in the film, is present.  The film itself is the end of the Roger Moore as James Bond era, and while he is his usual annoying polished self, it is not one of the best of that genre.  None-the-less, it is is entertaining in a slightly dated manner.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Fiber Art, Jan Friedman

Jan is an artist who resides in my home town, so I have the opportunity to see her work with some frequency.  In addition, I have one of her pieces, and so do a couple of my friends, so I can see her fiber collages hung in familiar surroundings on a regular basis.  
She has been weaving for more than 40 years.  I got a loom soon after the birth of my third child, and managed to get it warped once, and completed a really beautiful, if inexpertly woven, summer and shade pattern that I really loved and found soothing.  But it gave me a window into just how hard this work is to produce.
Her tapestries use hand-dyed wool, cotton, rayon and silk as well as a variety of other natural materials. Her work frequently has a nature theme because the inherent beauty of a leaf or a tree, for instance, inspires her. According to on-line sources, Friedman received her M.A. in Textile Design at the University of Iowa in 1980. She is self-employed, works out of her home, which has a well designed studio area, and marches to her own drummer. When she began weaving, she mainly was creating tapestries. Eventually she shifted to framed fiber collages because she could vary the materials and protect her work under glass.  She incorporates real elements of nature, like actual leaves, as well as images taken from nature, in her work.  It is gorgeous, so check it out when she is at an art festival near you!