Friday, June 29, 2007

The governmental projection tactic

I was reading Geoffrey Stone's blog post about the "intellectual dishonesty" of this Supreme Court, particularly Alito and Roberts, in which he says:
During the past year, Roberts and Alito have repeatedly abandoned the principle of stare decisis, and they have done so in a particularly insidious manner. In a series of very important decisions, they have cynically pretended to honor precedent while actually jettisoning those precedents one after another.

Though that's more of a bait-and-switch, there was something about that inspired me to get my favorite psychology textbook off the shelf (I love it so much that it's one of the few books on the shelf behind my desk, along with Elements of Style and a massive QuickBooks primer),entitled Age of Propaganda: The everyday use and abuse of persuasion.

The tactic I had been thinking about (but had forgotten the name of) is the projection tactic. The scam is pretty simple: you simply accuse others of your own crimes. It seems too easy to be true, and yet it works beautifully. In four separate experiments exploring this phenomenon, the person making the accusation was always considered innocent, even when experimenters raised suspicions about the honesty of the accuser, presented evidence showing the accuser was actually performing the crime and even leveled the accusation after it was shown that the accuser had committed the crime.

These days, the projection tactic is being used at all levels of our government - Bush uses it just about every time he opens his mouth. He accuses other countries of violating the civil rights of its citizens even as he blatantly crosses Constitutional lines. He accuses anti-war activists of not supporting the troops even as he sends them into an amoral war with inadequate equipment, then brings them home to inadequate physical, mental and financial care. He accuses his opponents of being godless when he has made not a single presidential decision (okay, he increased AIDS-support funding to Africa - got to give him that) that answers the question "what would Jesus do?"

The next time Bush, Cheney or any of their henchmen open their traps, think really hard about whether the filth they're spewing reflects the actions of those they're accusing or, more likely, whether they're trying to distance themselves from their own heinous actions.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Just the facts: Sorting out the jail debate

This column was originally published in the News & Record on June 27, 2007.

For more information on the study conducted by the League of Women Voters of the Piedmont Triad, visit their Web site.

Americans love to believe that, in the end, our world behaves predictably, like a spaghetti Western where the good guy gets the girl and the bad guy gets a bullet in the gut. So when we hear that the Guilford County jails are so overcrowded that inmates are sleeping on floors and tables, we tend to think that discomfort is fair play in crime and punishment.

We also like to believe that people leave jail with a renewed dedication to the straight-and-narrow. In our collective minds, imprisonment is akin to a child’s time out, where the presto-change-o into responsible citizenship somehow comes from time to reflect and conditions that are poor enough to discourage people from returning.

But what about when conditions become so poor that they start to toe the line between humane and unjust treatment? What happens when too few guards are in place to manage the explosive tension that can come from overcrowding? The years-long debate has been branded with expensive price tags and the controversy of just how well we believe incarcerated people should be treated.

While the rest of us have been following the debate, the League of Women Voters of the Piedmont Triad has been examining it, intensely. In May 2005, LWVPT began what would become a two year study entitled, “Lock them in or help them out: A local study of incarceration and its alternatives”.

According to Diane Davis, president of LWVPT, the initial inspiration for the study came from a theory that our jails were overcrowded largely due to homeless people committing minor offenses in order to get a meal and shower.

“We found that wasn’t true,” Davis said during a recent interview. “The overcrowding was due to lots of problems.”

Primarily, the study found that despite the best efforts of the court, 80 percent of those in our county jails are awaiting trial. Often, bail is unreachably high for the accused but too low to be a good investment for bail bondsmen, leaving these technically-innocent people crowded into confinement.

The study also found problems in jail-alternative programs.

“One of the major things we found out is that even though there are over 100 non-profit substance abuse programs [in Guilford County], there’s no standard for evaluating the success of these programs,” said Davis.

Subsequently, even short out-patient programs can judge themselves based on program completion rather than the long-term outcomes for participants. It’s no wonder that nearly half of those imprisoned have already been through a jail-alternative program, only to drop out or commit an additional crime later.

The LWVPT study not only pointed out problem areas but also offered suggestions for improvement. These are not creature comfort suggestions; there are no budget lines for flat-panel TVs or cushy mattresses. Rather, every suggestion considers the essential needs of inmates, guards and justice equally: private space to meet with lawyers, basic opportunities for rehabilitation, separate sections for those awaiting trial and those who have been convicted, as well as to separate violent and non-violent criminals, and, perhaps most importantly, job training that would give those re-entering society a means to earn a legal, living wage.

As we question the use of our tax dollars and how criminals fit into that equation, it is important to remember that the end-game of this debate doesn’t lie behind the reinforced walls of our jails but in our city streets, where our ex-cons must choose between a reformed life and returning to one of crime.

Even more war profiteering

The only thing more twisted that killing thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis in a war with no clear goal, plan or end-point, is doing so for profit as seems to be the blatant purpose of this war - from Cheney's Haliburton stock to the oil companies' production sharing agreement - and now our old pal, Li'l Donnie Rumsfeld, the playground bully and all around disreputable guy, is shopping around for an Iraq book deal. Apparently, he's looking for six figures up-front - a fee that some publishing house will no doubt pay because they know that chumps across the county will willingly stuff their hard-earned cash into Rummy's wallet in the misguided hope of a little insight. This book will be a library rental if I've ever seen one.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Bong hits 4 Jesus

So the Alaskan kid with the "Bong hits 4 Jesus" banner was not backed by the Supreme Court even though he was not on school property when he was displaying the banner and even though he wasn't actually taking bong hits for Jesus.

The kid's defense was that the banner was an act of free speech, with the phrase taken from a snowboard, rather than an advocacy campaign for illegal drug use. Sorry kid, that's just a lame excuse - of course he was advocating pot smoking. The same kid got busted selling pot later. But I don't care if his banner said "Torture baby puppies for breast cancer" - as long as the kid isn't behaving illegally as he holds the banner, it's his right to spout any stupid nonsense he wants.

As Justice Paul Stevens said, this ruling "does serious violence to the First Amendment."

Gravel on Clinton

Because it's the kind of person I am, I can't help but wonder if I like Bill so much more than Hillary because he really is a different kind of politician or if it's something more sinister, like that he's a man or that he's aging much more gracefully.

Regardless of reason, I don't like Hillary, I don't trust her and I don't understand why Bill isn't turning her into a mini-him for the campaign season. (Maybe he's trying.) Gravel, in his usual pull-no-punches way sums up nicely the irony that is my distaste for her. Oh, Gravel, if only your kind of liberal brashness was electable.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Being my own personal chef

I spend an inordinate amount of time cooking... my choice. I enjoy time in the kitchen, playing with flavors, watching meals come together and all of the sensory pleasures what come from working with food - the textures, sounds, smells and, of course, tastes. But lately, I've been feeling the time crunch when I am torn between spending after-work hours preparing the kind of meals Rob and I want to eat and spending that time working on the house or one of my many jobs.

This weekend, I finally convinced myself to spend a good chunk of Sunday preparing our meals for the week. Because our primary grocery source is the farmers' market and our CSA (Consumer/Community Supported Agriculture) bag, menu planning is an ingredients-down task. It ended up like this:
  • Bunch of kale
    • I made polenta and will saute the kale in olive oil with sun-dried tomatoes, golden raisins, red pepper flakes and lots of garlic
  • Beets
    • I roasted these in my toaster oven. Some will be shredded for a beet tzatziki to serve with tuna (Healthy Eating for your Heart). The rest I will either eat on salad or as a snack.
  • Carrots
    • Most of these went into carrot and cashew sandwiches (Vegetarian Times) and the rest were sliced as a salad topping
  • Fennel
    • I'm not a fennel fan but am eager to become one. I sliced these bulbs thin and did a quick rice vinegar pickle. We'll eat it with the tuna tonight.
  • Yukon gold potatoes
    • These were boiled and made into an herbed potato salad with kidney beans (Fresh Indian).
  • Salad bag
    • Yup: salad. Any veggies left over from the above dishes were chopped, sliced or otherwise prepped and used as salad topping.
The trick to being your own personal chef is organization. Organize your recipes from most complex and time consuming to least, then make a list of additional ingredients from the grocery store and another of what ingredients need to be prepped including how much and in what way. (Be sure to group ingredients together - if you need a cup of chopped onion for one recipe and a half a cup for another, chop them at the same time and set it aside in a little bowl).

Then clear a few hours of a day and cook. For the best flavor, only cook things partially so that when you heat them at mealtime, they don't become overdone. I made the pieces of the tuna dish but didn't even unwrap the tuna. Likewise, I boiled the potatoes and prepped the veggies but didn't make or add the dressing.

Finally, when working from the market, i.e. shopping once a week, be sure to keep in mind the shelf-life of different ingredients. For example, we'll eat the tuna tonight because it is the most delicate/perishable.

My fridge is now packed with well-labeled containers (e.g. "chopped scallions for potato salad") - now to see how footloose and fancy free weekday evenings become...

Friday, June 22, 2007

Hope-filled eavesdropping

Is it really eavesdropping if it isn't intentional? I was standing at the coffee fixings bar at Port City Java this morning (I never get to that part of town unless I'm heading for sushi but now two days in a row - strange...) when I overheard, quite unintentionally, a man talking about the crazy food we feed kids in school cafeterias and other bizarre ways we, as humans, shoot ourselves in the foot in pursuit of bargains and convenience. I was tempted to pull up a chair in the hopes he and his companion would let me stay... but once my coffee was more than sufficiently stirred, I pried myself away from his insight and went on with my day.

After a morning of insane drivers and pervasive negativity, overhearing that kind of conversation brings me hope and contributes to my feeling that the general population in America is about to turn a corner, around which are more environmentally-, and human-, friendly practices. The fact that the speaker was a sharply-dressed, seemingly together, modern guy is all the more intriguing, telling me that it's not just path-less-traveled folks like me (wearing stuff like the hemp "fascism sucks" tee I've got on today) who are interested in that kind of massive change.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Port City Java break

I'm camped out at Port City Java for a few more minutes, enjoying free wifi and an Americano between meetings. My ex-girlfriend's roommate works here - seeing friendly and familiar faces is one of my favorite parts of having lived in Greensboro my entire life but, of course, the downside is seeing the unfriendly yet familiar faces, the people I would just as soon avoid. None of them so far today, fortunately.

I've realized that I have a funny dynamic between my blog and my column in which I tend to write intensely personal stuff in my column, like my piece in March about the communications coaching (yeah, okay - marriage counseling) my husband and I are enjoying (truly - that's not a euphemism) and yet I'm oddly uncomfortable writing too much about myself on my blog, a space that is inherently personal. I will sometimes write about myself only to delete it immediately, or leave it to fester as a draft forevermore in my Blogger dashboard. I think part of it is a fear of sounding like I'm bragging or something equally contrary to the modesty that is so deeply ingrained in my family culture. Even as I write this, I am tempted to delete this post...

Interestingly (to me, at least), not writing about myself defies another closely-held belief of mine, which is that we must all be willing to share our experiences and beliefs in order to break down the weird and often destructive taboos that sometimes keep us from real communication. For example, as I've written about in my column, the taboo that bars domestic violence from polite conversation and the many resulting adverse effects.

So, as my coffee break wraps up and my next meeting beckons, I'd like to share something that is both personal and taboo. I have been on anti-depressants since I was attacked in 1996. The first few years were on and off but the last five have been solidly on Remeron, a prescription that helped me regulate my emotions without limiting my range of emotions (i.e., I still feel happy, sad, angry, etc - I just don't feel out of control) while adding the lovely bonus of aiding my sleep. It has been a blessing, getting my through the post-attack suicidal thoughts and overwhelming depression. It's also made getting health insurance difficult and expensive, and added to the feeling that I'm somehow outside of the norm.

For those reasons, but more so because I needed to know for myself, I've spent a couple of years thinking about making a go without meds, but was nervous that my personal chemistry required a little pharmaceutical help. Finally, I steeled myself a couple of months ago and, under the guidance of my primary care nurse practitioner and my psychologist, I reduced my dose to half. This month, I reduced to a half-dose every other day.

In the last couple of weeks, I stopped medicating entirely and am pleased to say that it's been smooth sailing - I've had some normal, frustrating moments and plenty of lovely happy moments but haven't felt as though my emotions were disproportionate to the situation or any warning signs like that. Of course, if any of that stuff starts popping up, I will gladly return to my medical aid - I appreciate the tool that anti-depressants can be, but don't want to medicate if it's unnecessary. So far, so good.

My break is over - gotta run. That's it; that's me. Welcome further into my world.

Monday, June 18, 2007

GIRLS Entrepreneurship Conference

Last year, the local chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners organized an entrepreneurship conference for high school girls. The young women came dressed in their most business-y attire and were given the chance to talk to mentors and learn about the opportunities and challenges of business ownership.

Last month, we decided to dissolve the NAWBO chapter (for a variety of reasons) and instead form an informal group whose sole project is putting on this conference each year. The Web site is up, thanks to Harvey McLendon (incidentally, our new Technology Consultant at Jones Computer and Networking). The group is also having informal happy hour meetings (starting around 5:30) at the Chop House on 68 on the second Thursday of each month, opened to anyone (as opposed to the former group which was only open to women business owners and sponsors).

I invite you to check out the program and come to our next wine-and-greet on July 12.

A fatwah for comedy

The Iranian Foreign Ministry is apparently lacking a funny bone. So sad.

Currently, they're upset because author Salman Rushdie was recently knighted, a move that Iran is viewing as an intentional slap in the face to all of Islam. But just in case a little background is in order: in 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against Rushdie upon the publication of his book The Satanic Verses.

I was in high school when I first heard of the fatwa and, naturally, had to read the book to see what evils lurked within. I was expecting a book-length essay on the evils of Islam or something similarly blatant and venomous. It took me a while to adjust to what was really there: a really entertaining, and very often funny, novel. It begins with two men miraculously surviving the fall from a moving airplane; one survivor, a movie star, turns into a satyr. Yeah, it's that kind of book.

Yes, there are anti-Islamic messages in it. No, it's not the point of the book (at least, that's not how I read it then - could be I'd see it differently 10+ years later). Either way, a price on his head? For fiction? Really, really well-written fiction?

Oppose the fatwa, buy a Rushdie book. Then read it - the guy is unbelievably talented.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Props to Rep. Brad Miller

As you might guess, I write to my representatives in Congress a fair amount. Howard Coble might not know it, but he and I have a fairly extensive ongoing communication. We're even on a first-name basis, though I'm sure he doesn't know that either.

But the props go to Brad Miller, who is the only member of Congress I have thus far encountered who responds via email. So, thanks Brad, for saving our country the expense of postage and fancy stationary (and the trees that made up that fancy stationary) and the transportation costs that go into delivering what must be thousands and thousands of letters by joining us in the 21st Century with email correspondence.

Of course, all the email in the world wouldn't warm me up to our representative if his recent voting and additions to the floor debate not so compelling these days. I feel like I spent my vote well.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Strawberry preserves, two ways

Following my annual tradition, I put off strawberry picking - and therefore jam making - until it was so late in the season that I had to call farms to make sure there were still strawberries to pick. Perhaps my fears were a little premature this year because though the fields at Ingram Farm were certainly thinned-out, my sister, nephews and I were able to pick more than 10 pounds in just a couple of rows.

In the afternoon, I used roughly half of the strawberries in two jams. I made the first with great results last year: Strawberry Margarita Preserves. It was a little thin last year and even more so this year. It's not that I didn't believe the thermometer when it said the preserves hadn't reached the ideal temperature to gel... or maybe it was that... For a tried and true instrument, I seem to have a hard time trusting thermometers. I always end up thinking it's not properly calibrated, or I don't have it in the ideal spot between the top and bottom of the pot or that after an hour, my preserves could possibly still be runny. Fortunately, texture and flavor are two different things in making preserves and even if this did turn out to be syrup, it's still mighty tasty.

The second batch of preserves is from my fancy canning book, Mes Confitures. This book reads like it's 80 years old, but was just released in 2002. Really elegant, interesting recipes, including (I hope) the preserves I started yesterday: Strawberry Preserves with Black Pepper and Fresh Mint. It's a three-day process, starting with macerating the strawberries with sugar and lemon juice overnight. Today, I will boil the mixture, then let it sit overnight again. Tomorrow, the final cooking and canning.

Keep your fingers crossed - two flavors of strawberry syrup would be fine, but something spreadable would be even better.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Take fresh approach to eating

This column was originally printed in the News & Record on June 13, 2007.

Though cooking is one of my passions, cooking and I had a falling out once the local produce grew skimpy this winter. My pans lay fallow in their cabinet and my knives grew bored and dull. I would quickly use the greens or sweet potatoes I bought at my weekly farmers’ market visit, then aimlessly roam the aisles of the grocery store only to return home with coffee and dog treats.

But in the last few weeks, my kitchen has been shocked back to life by the onset of the North Carolina growing season. Last week, we ate roasted heirloom beets with only a touch of lemon juice and olive oil; local, free-range chicken tagine; Russian kale and Swiss chard sautéed with golden garlic and caramelized onions. It’s a win, win, win of lost weight, gained energy and the satisfaction of contributing to the local economy by supporting farmers who practice sustainable agriculture while producing delicious food.

For most people, eating this way sounds nice but as doable as spending a full day at a spa each week – it just doesn’t fit into life as usual. Dietary changes are tough: they mean rethinking how and where we shop, confronting the places where our emotions are linked to our kitchens and convincing those we share meals with that there really are better ways. Sometimes it means saying goodbye to our favorite dishes, like the casserole with cream of mushroom soup and Rice-a-Roni that Rob and I used to devour greedily. But the overall benefits to our physical health, and the health of our economy and environment, make transitioning to a whole and, preferably, local diet worth every ounce of energy.

I encourage you to think about dietary change as a gradual process defined by a mantra from The Real Food Revival by Sherri Brooks Vinton and Anna Clark Espuelas: better choices, more of the time. Start small by visiting a farmers’ market and buying treats like artisanal cheese or homemade pastries. The next time you go, buy vegetables you’re familiar with. The third time, buy unfamiliar vegetables, comforted by the knowledge that you are buying from the farmers, people who are happy to share a variety of ways to prepare everything they sell.

Then become your own personal chef – the trick is a little organization and one free afternoon two or three times a month. Make lists for everything, including: enough recipes to feed you until the next time you can cook, arranged from complex to simple so you end your day on an easy note; groceries you didn’t get at your market visit; and, most importantly, a prep list of ingredients so that you can chop once for multiple meals (and, wonderfully, minimize the onion-induced sniffles).

Once your kitchen counter is covered with freshly-prepared meals, divide everything into the number of portions your household eats in a night. Put your meals in the refrigerator until cool, then freeze. Each night, move a meal or two from the freezer to the fridge to thaw overnight; all you’ll have to do come dinner time is heat your pre-prepared food in the oven or microwave.

A parting word of advice: healthful eating doesn’t have to be complex. A dinner of roasted asparagus, slices of pear, a piece of whole wheat bread and a small hunk of cheese represents several food groups, takes 15 minutes to prepare, and tastes like an afternoon at a European sidewalk café.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Old tomato plants

My uncles own a car dealership in Virginia, a drive that tends to be worth it whenever my twitchy little car has a cough. I was rambling on to one uncle about (what else but?) food: local food, CSAs, heritage vegetables... when one of his sales guys says, "You like old tomatoes?"

Which, honestly, took me a little off-guard. Old breeds, sure; old, moldy fruit, though?

Turns out his father-in-law has been growing tomatoes most of his 85-years and has some interesting but as-of-yet unidentified (to me, at least) varieties - apparently some are pink. Each year, the tomato gardener shares his plants, contributing to the beautiful irony that in food, we must eat the species in order to preserve it.

I was lucky enough to be offered the second-to-last milk jug/planter stuffed with wonderful smelling tomato plants. I'll try to post pictures as the varieties reveal themselves.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Asheville in review

We just received our final bag of beverage and are a mere half hour from our final gourmet and terribly decadent breakfast at the 1900 Inn on Montford. This has been hands-down the best B&B experience Rob or I have ever had. The owners of the Inn, Lynn & Ron Carlson, are founding members of the Asheville B&B association and it shows - for room rates just barely higher than a Marriott, we not only were treated with the aforementioned bag of beverage and amazing breakfast, but also wine hour on the porch every night, snacks and beverages galore, AsheCashe (they're one of 10 participating lodgings), live music from a pseudo-professional and incredibly charming trio Thursday night and innkeepers who even anti-social travelers like Rob and me enjoyed spending time with.

Last night, there was a drum circle in the city park - dozens of people drumming, dancing and watching, with drummers coming and going, even a guy in full spandex biking gear standing at the top of the hill playing recorder to the beat. It was multi-generational, multi-cultural and downright wonderful.

Of course, Rob and I are incredibly food centric, so I must wrap up with the restaurants we visited, in order of eating, not necessarily preference.

Chorizo (they don't appear to have a Web site) - our friend Chelsea is a die-hard Salsa fan and Chorizo is owned by the same chef. Unbelievable entrees and mojitos, and really good starters. I had a pureed gazpacho with a tomato foam on top that tasted like it was plucked straight from the vine. The walls of the restaurant open so you can eat outside even if you're inside - there's a lot of that here and I love it!

Fig was recommended by the innkeepers as a local foods-oriented restaurant where we could wear jeans (being the fanciest clothes we brought). Again, patio seating in the court-yard of an upscale shopping & living center. Again, exquisite food and service. Everything was beautifully plated and perfectly cooked, with lovely straight-forward flavors - the kind of stuff you can only cook if you start with the best ingredients.

Nona Mia is a restaurant we stumbled across after coming off the Blue Ridge Parkway with grumbling stomachs. Located in a strip mall in a congested part of town, this was a surprise find. The menu was made of standard Italian-American fare, like chicken parmesan and calzones, but done wonderfully with what tasted like homemade sauces and crusts, and amazing ingredients like whole roasted cloves of garlic and piles of sauteed fresh mushrooms.

Zambra - we stumbled across this tapas restaurant while wandering the downtown and had to go back for dinner - we didn't realize until after we got there that it is also focused on local ingredients. We sat in a covered patio while a storm whipped the wind around in the most pleasant way. With the small size of tapas (literally "little plates") we were able to order just about everything the waiter recommended and were thrilled with the outcome: succulent tuna, beautifully prepared local wild mushrooms and, for dessert, homemade maple and oatmeal cookie dough ice cream!

Even more than the amazing foods we were served, we found that the waitstaff at every restaurant we visited was knowledgeable, friendly and truly enthusiastic about the food - waitstaff everywhere should be trained in Asheville!

Friday, June 08, 2007


We spent a good chunk of yesterday AsheCaching, the local brand of GeoCaching. I had never heard of it but judging by their Web site, plenty of people in Greensboro have - there are caches all over my area code!

But to back up for others like me: GeoCaching is a GPS guided scavenger hunt. This having been my first GeoCache experience, I can only tell you what this one was like. We were given a page with clues and coordinates on it. At each coordinate, we had to find the answer to the clue. Sometimes they were simple, like finding the street address of "the bike related business next to the mountain climbing store" and sometimes it was trickier, like locating the waterwheel that was not at all visible from the road - we just had to follow the sound of the waterfall.

The GPS didn't have street names or paths, and it could only get us within 20 or so feet of the coordinate; it acted mostly as a compass that Rob used in conjunction with a city map while I drove. The answers to the clues (all numbers) were the coordinates to the final stop, where a lock box was hidden, perhaps with a prize inside (I suspect the prize is unique to AsheCache but have no idea).

The whole thing is pretty savvy - it's sponsored by local businesses, so the hunt guides you to all around Asheville and surrounding areas, places we never would have seen had we not participated. They refill the prizes weekly, so whoever gets there first gets a gift (like us, now the proud owners of a new Eagles Nest Outfitters double nest hammock! Thanks, ENO!) and everyone else gets the satisfaction of having completed the hunt.

At this moment, Rob is surfing the Web for handheld GPS units so we can GeoCache around the 'boro... I see the makings of our new favorite hobby...

Thursday, June 07, 2007

And yet more Claypool

It's not that we only see Les Claypool (and Chuck Folds) play; it's that Claypool is one of the few artists we will travel to see and Chuck is one of the few local musicians who can motivate us out of couch lock. And yup, this makes three times in the last two years (the first time, a solo gig in Baltimore, went unblogged - I'm sure Claypool was brilliant as usual, but the show kind of sucked for crowd and comfort reasons).

Anyway, we're in grand Asheville, having just been awoken at our Inn by a light tap that we had been informed would mean a "bag of beverage" at our door. My question exactly - what is a bag of beverage? Turns out, it's an insulated bag with two travel mugs of coffee inside. Brilliant! Now if we could just train our dogs to do that! Maybe we were too rash on the no kids decision...

The venue, The Orange Peel, was debatably (and we did) about the same size as Ziggy's but one big flat room. Depending on where the crowd pushed us, we were anywhere from halfway between the stage and the back and 3/4 of the way back, but always had a pretty decent view of the stage, particularly of Claypool himself and the girl wonder, Gabby LaLa - she played the sitar and theremin. Skerik was also there, wearing half of a devil mask and playing the sax to match - the guy's a maniac. The percussionists were likewise unbelievable, but I don't know their names right off and breakfast is coming ever so soon so...

Claypool, oh Claypool. He started in full tux, including cummerbund and bowler hat, with goggles and progressed through his usual pig mask for playing upright bass (a la the Mr. Krinkle video) and a very fancy greaser comb-back plastic hair thing. Apparently, Claypool broke his pinky while shooting a movie scene with an aggressive method actor, but you'd never know it from how he played, only from the very sad story that ended with him holding up his crooked finger.

Among the offerings last night were a crowd-participatory Dee's Diner, There's One Better and, a Jones family favorite, Iowan Gal. So many great songs, so close to breakfast.

The Two Gallants opened, an interesting guitar and drums band with pleasantly whiny vocals and a pretty big sound for two guys - worth checking out an album.

Alright - breakfast and on to vacation. Hurrah!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Helping can be delicious

I normally don't write about my friends (because I want to keep them as friends) but my friend Massoud, who owns Zaytoon restaurant with his wife, is having surgery today and I feel compelled to say something. If you're the type to send healing thoughts or prayers, please do so. If you're the type who loves great food, eat at Zaytoon and encourage everyone you know to do the same. They're open for lunch and they have a booth on Saturdays at the Greensboro Farmers' Curb Market on Yanceyville. The restaurant is located in the US Trust building at the corner of Elm and Bellemeade, and is open for lunch only.

Everything on the menu is great but the #9 is a must try. Happy eating!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Last week in the CSA bag

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, it's CSA season and I am going to try to keep some recipes and other food-related thoughts posted. Last week, our CSA bag included:
  • Salad bag of mixed lettuces
  • A head of lettuce
  • Green onions
  • Snow peas
  • Broccoli
  • Chioggia beets
We also bought Swiss chard, radishes, garlic scapes and shiitakes.

I've been making a practice of making a huge salad over the weekend then eating off of it all week. Alton Brown suggested nested tupperware containers, with holes poked in the top one, for thawing seafood in the fridge; I've found this works equally well for keeping salad fresh throughout the week. I put the green onion, snow peas, radishes and garlic scapes in the salad along with the oh-so-delectable crunchy sprout mix I recently ran across in the produce section of Earth Fare.

Much of what was left went into a massive stir-fry (recipe below).

The beets were the really notable meal, though. We ate them with baked sweet potatoes (I put Greek yogurt and cinnamon on mine - really creamy and wonderful). Heirloom varieties are Pat & Brian Bush's trademark - the Chioggia Italian heirloom beets are a reminder of why we are so lucky to have farmers like them.

I put the beets in a foil pouch with a splash of white wine vinegar and roasted the beets and the sweet potatoes in my toaster oven at 375 for an hour. (I love cooking in my toaster oven because it automatically turns off at the end of the timer - and it's energy efficient.) Once cooked, I peeled them (rub with a paper towel to remove the skin, and be sure to wear gloves if they're the traditional red beets), sliced them thickly and topped with a squeeze of lemon and a tiny drizzle of good olive oil. They're unbelievably sweet and flavorful, and they don't have the undertone of dirt that grocery store beets sometimes have.

Not only was it a delicious meal, but it took only 15-20 minutes of active prep time and an hour of unsupervised cooking time.

Whatever You've Got Stir-Fry

This is a based on recipe in Zen: the Art of Modern Eastern Cooking - I modified it based on what I had on hand.

Note: To store fresh ginger for up to six months, cut the ginger into 1-inch lengths and peel. Place in a sterile glass jar and cover with a decent quality sherry. Store in the fridge. When cooking, just mince or grate as you would fresh ginger. The sherry adds a sweet note to the ginger, and can be used separately, such as in this sauce, adding a subtle ginger flavor.

1 lime, zested and juiced
1 orange, zested and juiced
1/4 cup soy sauce, low sodium
2 tablespoon fish sauce (Get this at Asian food markets like Dynasty at the corner of Spring Garden and Pomona. Fish sauce has a terrible smell but adds an unidentifiable but complex flavor to whatever it is in.)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1/4 cup fresh basil; finely chopped
2 hot chiles; minced (Remove seeds and membranes for less heat)
1/4 teaspoon, or according to taste, red chile flakes
1 tablespoon garlic; minced

Combine lime and orange zest and juice with remaining ingredients. Set aside.

The only trick to stir-frying is knowing your ingredients well enough to be able to cook from those with the longest cooking times to those that cook most quickly. Generally, the heft of the raw veggie is a pretty good indicator: kale takes longer than spinach, carrots take longer than bell peppers, onions take longer than mushrooms... or at least most mushrooms. Beefy fungi like portobellos can cook for a while.

Use whatever veggies and/or proteins you have in the house, including but not limited to:
  • Broccoli spears
  • Slivered snow peas
  • Vertically sliced onion
  • Bok choi: leaves removed from the stem, both bunches sliced (the stems take longer to cook than the leaves)
  • Sliced Napa cabbage
  • Mushrooms: shiitake, portobello, oyster or even button, preferably fresh. (Clean by brushing with a toothbrush designated to kitchen tasks. Washing mushroom changes their texture for the worse.)
  • Sliced bell pepper
  • fresh ginger to taste, minced or grated
  • garlic to taste, sliced or minced
  • Almonds or cashews, un- or lightly-salted
  • Chicken
  • Seafood or fish
Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a large skillet or wok. More oil would taste dandy but there's no real health benefit to overeating even monounsaturated fats. Cook your protein (if using) until about 2/3 done and remove from pan.

Add a touch more oil; once heated, stir-fry the garlic and ginger until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir-fry veggies, starting with those that take longest to cook, like onion and carrot. Cook until starting to soften then add the next layer of veggies and so on. (If using spinach, don't add until the last minute of cooking, after the sauce and protein have been incorporated.) This step will probably not take more than 10 - 15 minutes, from first veggie to last.

When the veggies look about 3/4 of the way cooked, add the protein and sauce to the pan and toss gently to incorporate. Serve over rice, preferably brown.

Yield: 6 - 8 servings

Preparation Time: Depends on your quickness with a knife - cutting the veggies is the real time consumer of this recipe.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Their country, not ours

I just caught a minute of a Bush speech on C-Span... I'm not positive where he was but it had something to do with international cooperation and humanitarian aid.

In speaking of his expectations of the countries to whom the US gives money, he said that, in part, we expect "a fair and transparent legal system" and that we don't want to give money to countries in which the leader takes the money.


Much like the idea of bringing democracy to Iraq while systematically removing rights in America, Bush seems to hold the rest of the world to higher standards than he holds himself.