29 April 2008

Listen to your Elders (and then dress them up, or down)

It's the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights* this year, an amazing document that Eleanor Roosevelt helped to write & get adopted. The Elders, a recently established group of, well, elder statespeople with several Nobel Peace laureates among them, have launched a campaign to get people worldwide to commit to the UDHR. Agree that "Every Human Has Rights", as their tagline goes? Then go sign up.

I'm not sure if I should be disturbed that the third hit on a Google Images search for "elders" is "white lace lingerie for elders" from pimp-my-sims.com. Who knew?

* interesting "plain English" version -- not superbly written, but thought-provoking, and possibly useful as a teaching tool.

23 April 2008


A meme from dr:

You Are a Question Mark

You seek knowledge and insight in every form possible. You love learning.

And while you know a lot, you don't act like a know it all. You're open to learning you're wrong.

You ask a lot of questions, collect a lot of data, and always dig deep to find out more.

You're naturally curious and inquisitive. You jump to ask a question when the opportunity arises.

Your friends see you as interesting, insightful, and thought provoking.

(But they're not always up for the intense inquisitions that you love!)

You excel in: Higher education

You get along best with: The Comma

Politics & rights

There's a meme* that burns me, amid the protests over the Olympics & human rights.
[Cartoon courtesy of The Independent (UK)]

It's this one: "The Olympics are an event of athleticism first, and then of cultural exchange & world peace. In any case, they should not be politicized." It's one of Beijing's favorite lines, its (and our) less savory allies like Putin and Musharraf are also fond of it, and Beijing claims that even UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is mouthing this stance, although he's also not attending the opening ceremony -- but didn't specify his reasons. Worst of all, the Olympics' corporate sponsors have used this pathetic line.

At least three reasons why this is ridiculous come to mind:**

1. Most obviously to me, China is reaping huge political benefits from hosting the Olympics. What better stage to show off how rapidly the economy is growing, the social harmony it's achieved, etc.? And thereby to argue for its place among the world's foremost powers. Well, if a country tries to show off its strengths and virtues, it should also expect to have its warts examined. Whether we call that political or not, it's logical that the high visibility will have upsides and downsides, no matter what the government would prefer to focus on.

2. It's one thing to argue that, say, athletes shouldn't "politicize" the Games -- although I'm a big fan of the clever, subtle actions of Team Darfur. But when you're talking about attendance at the Games by a foreign head of state, the UN Secretary-General, or the like, how can his/her presence or absence not be political? If s/he attends it's effectively a political statement of support for the Games, and that statement should be made as a conscious choice, with due regard to whether attending or not sends the better message.

3. This may seem like a naive, pedantic, lawyerly point, but the campaigns to press for human rights in China & Tibet, Darfur and Burma aren't about politics. They're about basic human rights, which aren't (or shouldn't be) a matter of political choice. Human Rights Watch made this point well last week:
Several Olympic sponsors claim erroneously that human rights concerns are “political,” when in fact human rights provide the foundation on which legitimate political activity can take place.

“Human rights should be fundamental to any lawful society and serve as the bedrock principles of Olympism,” said [HRW's Arvind] Ganesan.

When the Olympic sponsors make great, sweeping statements about the beauty, honor and purity of the Games, and how they shouldn't be politicized, I have a fourth gagging, cynical reaction: The Olympic ideals of athletic excellence, intercultural harmony and world peace have already been deeply diluted by your crass commercialization, so don't try to appeal to those values to argue against "politicization".

* the sociocultural kind, not the Web kind
** these are somewhat contradictory; we lawyers do that -- we even have a term for it: "argument in the alternative"

Miso soup for the cold

dr was sick a week or two ago. We'd just had a roast chicken a day or two before, so while we agreed that I should make her a healing soup, we thought a big bowl of our usual matzah ball soup* felt a bit repetitive. (Plus, Passover was coming up.) We settled on my totally inauthentic but generally well-loved miso soup, which did the job. The girls loved the noodles & tofu and even the seaweed, but Squiss is anti-mushroom and so slurped around them. I like the way the mushroom broth's earthiness, the salty richness of the miso and the dashi's almost sweet clarity complement each other, but I tend to favor complexity (some say muddledness, and that does tend to be the direction I err) over simplicity. So if you'd prefer rich miso goodness, straight earthiness or a light fishiness, go ahead & omit one or two of the others, adjusting the amounts of liquid accordingly.

To get the kids excited about it, we gave it a rhythmic name (say it aloud):

Tofu miso noodle soup
(for the cold & the soul)
serves 4

0.5 oz. (15 g) dried bonito flakes
2 oz. dried mushrooms**
5 oz. rice stick, soba or udon (optional)
8 oz. tofu
2 sheets nori seaweed (about 0.2 oz., 5 g)
2 scallions
3 tbsp. yellow miso
(other varieties are OK too)

1. Make dashi broth & mushrooms: Bring 8 cups water to a boil, then remove from heat. Carefully scoop out 2 cups into a bowl with the mushrooms. Add the bonito flakes to the remaining 6 cups. Let both stand about 10 minutes.

2. While the dashi rests:
- put a large pot of water over high heat for the noodles (if you're making them)
- dice the tofu and break the nori into 1" by 2" strips (roughly)
- chop the scallions diagonally into little oval rings*** (to be sure the whites come apart rather than staying stuck together in their concentric rings, try cutting the whites in two first, lengthwise)

3. Pass the dashi broth through a strainer or colander to get out the bonito flakes, pressing the solids to extract as much of the flavorful broth as you can. Take the mushrooms out of their soaking liquid & reserve liquid. Slice the mushrooms thinly, cutting out the tough stems.**** Combine the dashi and reserved mushroom broth.

4. Put the combined broth over medium heat. When it's simmering, stir in the miso, making sure it dissolves completely, and take it off the heat.

5. Prepare the noodles according to the package's directions (if you're making them).

6. Combine the drained noodles, the broth, the mushrooms, the tofu and the nori in a big bowl. Garnish with scallions and serve piping hot (especially if it's cold out or you're sick).

* made with chicken broth - recipe from her grandpop's deli, about which more in a future post
** for this recipe, I like mushrooms that look like beefed-up shiitakes; their packaging tends to be in Chinese rather than Japanese
*** Many say to just use the whites, but I prefer to use all of the scallion, being sure to cut off any wilted or dried bits at the top of the greens, and to chop the greens finely since they can be tough. Much more colorful with the greens.

**** You can discard the stems, or if you're an obsessive saver (who are you looking at?) keep them for another time when they can be blended into the base for a thicker mushroom broth/soup.

10 April 2008

Give this man a job

A substitute teacher? Not that there's anything wrong with that, but if this man wants to practice law, he should be able to practice law. A convict, fine, but in my mind he's a frickin' hero.

...but a bit about desserts

So about food, and the blog's title, which is a little ironic. I first thought of it while obsessing some over desserts around Christmas -- specifically about which to include among the thirteen desserts that are traditional for a Provençal Christmas.* The reason the title is ironic is that I am not the baker or dessert-maker in the house, and will almost never post about desserts -- dr is the master baker, occasional confectioner and general goddess of making all things sweet, even though I have more of a sweet tooth. So I was a bit out of my comfort zone contemplating making thirteen. But most of the traditional thirteen are very simple like fresh & dried fruit, or things you can make but can much more easily buy like nougat and calissons**. And dr made a killer pompe à l'huile -- see Saveur's recipe, which I don't think is quite the one she used. dr's was moister than any other I can remember (sorry, Mom). One down!

My one big challenge was quince paste, a/k/a pâte de coings or membrillo. I couldn't find enough quinces to make it, although I had a good recipe. Kyla fought creatively through a surfeit of quinces last fall and her quincy creations sounded divine - quince jellies here (sounds nicer than "quince paste").

We did have a ton of pineapple guavas, a/k/a feijoa, from a tree in our yard, and they had some of the flowery aromas of quince, so I thought I'd try to make a quince-like jelly from them. But I had no idea how much pectin they had, so I looked around for quince paste receipes, went and got some Sure-Jell, and adapted from there. I peeled dozens of little feijoas, processed them as finely as I could, added tons of sugar and strained the whole thing, then let it simmer forever. I'm not a stand-and-stir-constantly-for-hours kinda guy, so as it was getting pretty thick and burning even with frequent stirring, I decided it was done.

After it cooled in a parchment paper-lined pan, it was still very soft & sticky. I dusted it with sugar and left it out for several days to try to get it to dry out. I never did achieve the solid, not-too-sticky quality of a good quince jelly, even after repeated dustings with sugar. It continued to weep a bit. But it was solid enough to cut into pieces. It did lose much of the flowery scent, probably from the very long boiling, but the flavor was good -- the slight burning lent it a bit of a caramelized taste, which I liked. The texture was OK, but a bit grainy -- but then, the fruit is a bit grainy when eaten raw, so without straining it very finely, like through a cheesecloth (will never happen), graininess is probably part of the deal.

I wrote down the steps & amounts and took some pictures (of d's pompe à l'huile too)... but the recipe and pics were on my old computer, which was stolen in early February and not recently backed up. I do hope to try again next feijoa season, and will try to document that. Here's a pic of a pompe à l'huile that looks like D's... but is not actually hers.

As for the rest of the 13 desserts, besides the (1) feijoa paste and (2) pompe à l'huile, we got (3) white nougat in a package from my mom and (4) black nougat from the local Persian market. It was softer than Provençal nougat noir, but a bit too jelly-like and not quite solid enough for my taste, although I did like the pistachios and dried fruit in it. We did do the four mendicants: (5) hazelnuts, (6) dried figs, (7) almonds and (8) raisins. Mandarin oranges were always a favorite in our house when I was little. If you're careful, you can remove the bottom half of the peel in one piece with some of the central pith remaining. The peel makes a little cup and the central pith standing up can make a wick. Put some lamp oil in the cup to make a little standing lamp -- on a fireproof plate, please! Kids love it, but we didn't have any lamp oil. Maybe we'll try to do it next Christmas. But we did have (9) mandarins -- or maybe they were tangerines, close enough. (10) Apples, (11) pears and (12) dates, too. We rounded it out with some (13) chocolates instead of calissons. In all, it made for a very light dessert, even when tasting all thirteen.

You're really supposed to have mulled wine (vin cuit) -- the 13 desserts are supposed to represent the 12 apostles + Jesus, and of course the wine is the blood of You Know Who. But there was already plenty of Jesus at our Christmas, with Squiss (our 4 1/2-yr-old) loving the little creche that my mother got her, and very curious about all the details and history of Christmas. And we ran out of time. So no mulled wine. Again, maybe next year.

* If you want to try your French, Web-Provence has some good additional details, and Wikipédia's article is also good.
or again, Wikipédia

09 April 2008

"Endless war on the installment plan"

I have been a MoveOn member since they first advocated a "censure and move on" approach rather than impeachment of Bill Clinton. There are some issues where we part ways -- I think their advocacy of withdrawal from Iraq is important, but simplistic. But like MoveOn, I oppose an open-ended, indefinite engagement. And this little video makes that point powerfully.

08 April 2008

Human rights in China, police repression in Europe

When supporters of the Beijing Olympics were making their case to the world in the '90s, they said that bringing the Olympics to China would lead to some liberalization there. Beijing even made commitments along those lines. As is now widely known, the promises are broken and the human rights situation is getting worse, not better, in the lead-up to the Olympics.

To me, the scenes around the protests against the torch, and the police response that democratic governments have felt necessary, are particularly ironic. Not only are democratic values and human rights being respected less in China in the lead-up to the Olympics. Authorities in France decided that demonstrations for human rights in China needed a massive police response (3000 cops! frogmen! [in the audio]), and that protesters showing the Tibetan flag deserved to be kept far from the torch and tackled by jackbooted CRS types (picture above from Bernama).

London too (from the Evening Std.):

I'm not going to push this too far and say that, while China cracks down, the torch relay is turning democracies into police states. But there is a bit of that -- the streets of London and Paris this last week (next stop: San Francisco) have looked a lot more like Lhasa or Xiahe today or Beijing in 1989 than I'm comfortable with.

Some other useful Olympics, China & human rights links:

07 April 2008

John the gardener

We like our house & our garden in unfashionable but relatively affordable lower Claremont. Here's an LA Times piece about the gardener who designed the front yard (but didn't get his hands too dirty with the work putting it in, although I think he did most of the planting at his own place). A bit of a self-promoter? Sure, like any businessman who stays alive. But the garden at his Pomona location really was a wonderland. (The photo gallery is worth a look, but doesn't really do it justice.)

me and this thing

A new blog. (There are 100,000 new ones each day, I heard recently, most, as the commentator said, read only by the author and his/her mother. And, I'd guess, most of them in China.) And with a new blog, some navel-gazing. Does it have to be this way? A bit, yes. But I'll be quick about it.

Me: Half-French, part German, lifelong East Coaster till a few years ago except for a few brief stints abroad, live a bit east of LA now, love to eat, dine out & cook, have an amazing family (my partner dr and our two fantastic girls), work for a small human rights non-profit, care deeply about social justice.

I expect to write bits relating to all that on this blog, but whether I write anything at all on it, only time will tell (and allow, or not). And, as the name suggests, my original impetus for launching this is food-related.

Curious for more background? I could post more... but be warned: I'm one of those writers who maybe shouldn't blog -- I could really use an editor.