Archive for January, 2011

Migration — No Meat for Me

January 29, 2011

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I stopped eating meat more than 30 years ago and poultry a few years later. The process actually started when I was a kid. I read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle when I was about 12 or so. The jungle refers to the Chicago stockyards. His nauseating descriptions of people sweeping the rodent droppings, hairs and sawdust into casings along with ground pork put me off hot dogs for the rest of my life. I knew those conditions no longer existed. In fact Sinclair’s novel brought about legislation that regulated the industry and improved conditions for the laborers. But that image was forever fixed in my mind. It didn’t help that shortly before I read the book I became violently ill after eating some beans and franks.

Things continued in that vein until I was in my twenties. I went to a restaurant with an all-you-can-eat salad bar and filled up on lettuce, tomatoes, cukes, etc. Took the steak home. It sat in the refrigerator for several days, and I finally tossed it. That was the end of slabs of meat. I continued to fix stir fry – small pieces of beef chopped up but again I ate more vegetables and rice than meat.

Then came law school. On the first morning I walked into the cafeteria and smelled this kind of heavy almost musky odor. The woman behind the counter smiled and said, “Would you like some scrapple?” I looked at this square brown curled up thing and thought, “I don’t think I want to eat anything that smells like innards and looks like a piece of the heel of a shoe.” I politely declined.

For the rest of the semester I was so nervous I couldn’t eat much of anything. Mostly survived on tea and crackers for the next two and a half months, though I did begin to eat a bit more after a doctor at Penn Hospital gave me Donnatal.

When I went home for Thanksgiving, Daddy fixed roast pork because it was just the two of us. Mother was teaching in Hawaii and wasn’t coming home till Christmas. I ate the roast pork without thinking and was sick for the next three days. Mother issued a long distance prescription for paregoric, and that settled the worst spasms.

Without realizing it I had not eaten any animal protein for months. Apparently there’s an enzyme in the stomach that digests heavy protein. And it’s another example of use it or lose it. Plus I had picked about the fattiest meat possible and so had doubled my misery.

After that episode, I swore off red meat but still ate chicken, usually browned in a bit of oil and then simmered in various liquids. That was until I ate a piece of unadorned breast, and it tasted like it had been in a closet for three months before it got cooked and served. That was the end of poultry except for one excursion with roast duck in the early 1990s. Boy, was that a mistake! I had a repeat of the roast pork experience but no paregoric to ease the pain.

So now it’s just fish when I eat out. At home, it’s all rice, pasta, veggies, beans, and very occasionally a potato.

Sushi Friday VIII

January 29, 2011

Osaka

130 Main Street

Middletown, CT

860-854-6291

Osaka used to be my default place. And then it crashed. Now it is Japanica (Sushi Friday IV) or if I’m feeling wealthier and not as hungry, Mikado (Sushi Friday VI).

What I liked: (note the past tense). Plenty of free parking. The television is hidden away in the liquor bar and doesn’t intrude into the dining room. The owner and sushi chef recognize me and know that I always order the sashimi luncheon. The former chef gave me fish as the garnish instead of the usual inedible shiso leaves and shredded daikon. On my last visit, the new chef gave me an amuse bouche? lagniappe? (no idea of the Japanese term) consisting of a large plate with three substantial pieces of salmon in a sauce of lemon and grapefruit. Delicious. The sashimi was redeemed by no escolar, but that is the best comment I can make about it.

What I didn’t like: The music is some white-bread top-40 stuff, and the waitresses sing along. The miso soup is too salty but better than the sashimi. On my last visit, the tuna was slimy and inedible. Everything else came in huge pieces that cut down on the flavor. The yellowtail and striper were almost as chewy as octopus, which was never one of the selections. What I liked least was the service. The waitresses won’t bring change unless the customer makes a scene. They say, “All set?” To them this means, “You don’t need change, right?” The owner embarrassed the waitress in front of me and my guests on a first visit. Later then I realized he taught them this trick. I learned to bring plenty of ones, which went to the sushi chef, or I asked to break a larger bill. The waitresses weren’t happy but they obliged. The final straw (along with the slimy tuna) occurred when I was reading a magazine and one of the waitresses started pointing at the photos and commenting, “I like that.” I was so shocked I couldn’t speak!

Overall grade: D (redeemed slightly by earlier visits)

No Longer Funny

January 28, 2011

We can't see out the upstairs window


Have to get out of the car to see the road

Migration — TMI

January 28, 2011

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I was in a waiting room yesterday with a TV blaring. Nothing new about that. I couldn’t turn it off or turn it down, so I sat as far from it as possible. It happened to be turned to Pravda – I mean Fox News. A young man and woman sitting near the TV seemed to be watching intently when the woman said, “I can’t stand Fox any more.” “Why?” the guy asked. “Because there’s too much going on,” she said. “You mean the news?” “No,” she replied, “they’ve got that great big logo and then the information at the bottom and then stuff running down the side. And the reporters talk way too fast.”

The guy didn’t respond, but I glanced up at the screen. Sure enough, she was right. The main topic of conversation (something critical about Obama) occupied barely half of the screen. The rest was news crawls, a huge logo, and monitors in the background showing other news items. The anchor sounded like the folks who deliver those disclaimers at the end of car commercials about the limits on the offer that’s just been made, clocking in at about 400 words per minute.

The Too Much Information phenomenon isn’t limited to Fox, or to television, for that matter. Lately when I log on to a newspaper web site, I have to navigate past an ad that covers the whole screen. It’s bad enough that it pops up the first time, but if I leave the main page of the site, it comes up again and again. Then I’m distracted by the mobile banner ad across the top and the little self-promoting squares below. (The Courant has a particularly unattractive man that it seems to promote at least once a week. I avoid the site until after caffeine as he’s too much to take before.)

If I actually want to spend some time reading an article, my eyes have to ignore the squirrely stuff on the right side of the screen. At that point I open another folder, My Documents, for example, and slide it over to cover the little people doing cartwheels or the tango, or Bill Gates running his mouth. Since I always work with the sound off, his ads are particularly funny but still distracting.

Sometimes just skimming the top of the story and scrolling down sends the wiggly ads up into oblivion. This technique works well for feature stories which operate on the yogurt theory with all the good stuff on the bottom. But for hard news, it means skipping the key bits at the beginning.

Distractions abound. As I’m writing this, I’ve left a bit of space under the Word screen and a quarter-inch strip is flashing little white type for something called Tesco, a grocery store in Great Britain. I bet they don’t deliver to the U.S. Time to cover up that ad!

The web designers have gotten savvy, though, and now they’re putting moving ads on the left side of the screen. My solution then is to slide the window off to the right far enough to eliminate the flashes and put the covering folder over the left side of the page. If the right side is still, I’ll leave that alone and just push the window to the left. What remains most of the time is a column roughly three inches wide – sometimes only an inch. But at least I can read in peace without risking epilepsy. Since my eyes are already compromised (20:400 without correction), I really prefer to protect them as much as possible.

Once in a while ads draw my attention, but almost never on the news sites. I did once click on an ad on Slate that offered free financial planning from Fisher Investments. After looking at an article, about the company I decided not to bite. Without opening the window, I knew I’d have to give up at least my email address, and I did not want those folks to be soliciting my money.

And then when I finish and close the window, I usually find despite my pop-up blocker that at least one of those small windows has opened – either looking for classmates or Netflix. It’s Alt-F4 time!

Migration — Assumptions

January 27, 2011

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

As mentioned, I went to the state library yesterday and had an encounter that raised all sorts of questions that I still haven’t resolved. I think the woman concerned is a clerk, not a librarian, as she doesn’t seem to know the rules or the resources as well as the other folks who work there.
When I showed up to use the reserve area, she kept me waiting while she talked on the phone. I wasn’t trying to listen, but I did hear her say at least three times, “As I said, don’t tell her I said any of this.”

By the time she entered the archives area, she was ten minutes late. Then she kept me waiting while she went to find my materials. She claimed they weren’t there, although one of the librarians had told me when I arrived that they were. Then the clerk asked my name, had me repeat it twice. Went back again, made me leave the reserve area. Came out again, denying they were there. Went back a third time, finally found them.

A bit later, I asked her a question and she ignored me. But while I was working, she said, “Excuse me, do you know about Black Roots?” I leveled her with a look for interrupting me and said, “I own it.” The book is Black Roots in Southeastern Connecticut, 1650-1900. She said, “Oh, that’s all right, then.” As I sat there I thought, she assumed way too much. First she assumed that I was African American; then since she made an assumption about my ethnicity, she also decided that the subject of my research had to be African American, too. The only thing she knew for sure was that I had requested documents from New London, which is included in the book.

This incident would not have counted for much, except that this is the third time I’ve witnessed this woman in action. When I was there two weeks ago (who can forget 9/11?), I requested a book that was not available in the main stacks. She said, “You’ll need an archives pass for that.” Her supervisor happened to be sitting next to her and said, “No, she doesn’t. She just needs to print out a copy of the information off the computer.” When I handed her the slip, she snatched it out of my hand and glared at me.

A bit later, I went back to the desk to ask a question, just as an African American couple came in. They asked her a question, and she gestured vaguely to the back of the room. “The materials you want are over there.” When a white man came in a few minutes later, she walked him over to the files that he wanted and helped him pick out the information. She treated me the same way she treated the couple.
My first encounter with this woman a few years ago led me to believe she was the just the stereotype of a state employee, slow, uncooperative, interested only in the benefits. Now I think it’s far more than that. I should note that by contrast, everyone else I’ve dealt with is helpful, polite, extremely knowledgeable, and clearly engaged in what they do.

Fish’s Faves

January 27, 2011

My friend Betsy McMillan has written an eloquent and inspiring essay on public speaking. She offers excellent advice and demonstrates how it works in print. Kudos, Betsy! Readers of this post can vote for her here.

A quick update: The Enfield library will show “Sicko.” At some point. To be determined. To be balanced with another movie. The council people apparently backed off their threats about cutting the library budget if the movie was shown.

I wrote about good opening sentences not long ago. (“The Lede I”). Now Stanley Fish has written an entire book about sentences —  not just the opening ones, but any that stand out as models of form and content.

Adam Haslett’s essay on Fish’s book illuminates what makes great sentences great. It also confirms that much of brilliant literature requires work not only on the part of the writer but also from the reader. I had to re-read W.G. Sebald’s 101-word sentence twice before I “got it” and even now, I’m not one hundred percent certain. I do not, however, feel motivated to read the entire book, despite Haslett’s encomium.

I’m also not sure that I agree with his view that the rules in The Elements of Style should not apply to modern writers because we are not all male, white, Ivy Leaguers. Before one gets to the level of a Franzen or a David Foster Wallace, one needs to write clear, direct prose.

Slate topped Haslett with the “Brow Beat” I like Fish’s analysis of his five choices: social commentary from John Bunyan, satire from Jonathan Swift, auspicious juxtaposition from Walter Pater and Ford Madox Ford, and loopy energy from Gertrude Stein. My favorite of this batch is Swift: “Last week I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how much it altered her appearance for the worse.” Short, brutal and to the point.

Brow Beat invited readers to submit their own choices. I’m not going to post on Slate (one more login that I don’t need). But having read over “The Lede I,” I’m going to nominate Jane Austen’s opening sentence from Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” As I mentioned I laughed out loud and thought “Oh, yeah?” the first time I read it, and it still elicits a laugh. More than that, it sets up all sorts of expectations. The world of this novel will be inhabited by people who truly believe this “universal truth,” sort of like the laws of gravity or the molecular structure of water. J.A. has let her readers know that any number of the believers, mostly female, will help this man find a mate. Many of those same females will be nominating themselves for the position. And a great many more will be trying to circumvent the first batch. So that’s Liz’s fave.

Migration — Fungus Among Us

January 26, 2011

That headline should be fungi, but it doesn’t sound the same. Anyway, mushrooms are everywhere this year. My neighbors’ lawns look like someone dropped little pieces of tissue all over them. The base of trees is speckled with white flecks. I saw one big enough to hold Miss Muffet, the spider and the rest of the nursery rhyme crew with room to spare. (She was actually sitting on a stool, but never mind.) The other day I thought some animal had shredded one of our new downspouts. Turned out to be just another crop of ‘shrooms.

Mycologists attribute this bounty to the rain that’s been plaguing much of the country all summer. It seems that everything from shiitake to truffle to portobello thrive on  moisture. Unfortunately with the spreading fungi come reports of illness and death. The most recent fatality – September 17 – is a 40 year old British woman who ate a Death Cap, according to the Daily Telegraph.

With the growing popularity of eating locally, there will no doubt be more reports like this one, despite repeated warnings. Death Cap closely resembles the edible the Paddy-Straw variety, with poisonings most common among immigrants from Southeast Asia who forage on the West Coast .

Okay, so we know the button variety sold in those Styrofoam packages at the grocery store is safe, right? Well, one expert said he wouldn’t eat them raw – something about potential carcinogens that get destroyed in cooking. See “Science Friday.”

My favorite is the Blue Mountain king/queen of fungi that lives in Oregon. “The humungous fungus” is 9.65 square kilometers or 2,385 acres, far outstripping the Wisconsin growth of 38 acres. They both sound like something that should show up on the “X-Files.” No report on whether they’re edible, but they could cure world hunger if they are.
And we can’t leave the subject without talking about the magic variety, which was popular when I was in school back in the Middle Ages but seems to have receded to the background, replaced by synthetic stuff. I remember one student who ate some mushrooms and while waiting for them to take effect decided he’d go about his normal routine – went to class, did a session in the lab, ate lunch, took a bike ride. After he came down, he told his roommate that he’d had a busy day. His roommate looked at him and said, “No you didn’t. You’ve been sitting here on the floor all day.”

Modify This

January 26, 2011

The horror stories don’t seem to be slowing the march of genetically modified products. Farmers have lost their crops to godzilla corn with rather scary results. Mega agro sued the farmers for stealing the product after pollen blew onto their property. All of this is brought to you by Monsanto, et al.

As I understand it, the problems with GM crops are legion: No one knows what the long-term impact of eating such products will be. Seeds from an existing crop cannot be saved for the next year, costing farmers a fortune. Mega-agro sends spies to check on the folks they’ve strong-armed into using their products. Mega-agro is in total control, shutting out small farmers who provide tastier, healthier products.

So it was with a great deal of dismay that I received an email from my friend Smiley (yes, that’s her real name ) who supplies awesome veggies to local markets. I contribute a small share to her effort with shredded paper and other compost. The Northeast Organic Farming Association has sent out an alert that the Obama administration is about to allow Monsanto to plant genetically engineered alfalfa during the upcoming growing season. I did not realize that alfalfa was such a huge and important crop. It feeds people (sprouts) but more importantly it provides a major portion of the feed for livestock, including dairy cows. It supplies vegetable growers with much needed nutrients in the form of mulch. I don’t want some bug-resistant, pesticide-resistant, genetically neutered product in my system, and I seriously doubt that most people who had a choice would either, if they knew. I understand the arguments about maximizing the amount of food available, but a great many people in a great many places have improved the food supply without franken-wheat and corn and rice.

It seems amazing that the government continues to allow mega-agro to exploit genetic modification. Then again, we’re talking big business here. Money rules.

Migration — Missing the Sisters II

January 25, 2011

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Continuing with the Satellite Sisters, they balance serious stuff – politics, the financial crisis, with fluff. Lian’s post on BlogHer shows what a hypocritical slug Sean Hannity really is.

And they brought some amusement to the generally pathetic Wall Street debacle by deconstructing WaMu (Washington Mutual) – who would think up such a brand name? Why would someone be willing to do business with a bank that sounded like a relative of something swimming in a tank at Seaworld? This segment, like a number of others, was interrupted by some dead air as the sisters gave up talking for laughter. Same thing happened with that poor heroin-addicted elephant.

The Lab Rats feature with Sheila and Monica is most definitely worth revisiting, even if you don’t use most of the products, makeup, fast foods, hot chocolate. Over the years, they’ve evolved from thumbs up or down to paws up or down. Especially good: Numi Gunpowder Green Tea got two paws up from one of the Rats. Not as popular:  Revolution Organic Green Tea, which received applause for its sustainable mission, but the flavor was just OK. And Tazo (“so five years ago” and not strong enough, though it will “do in a pinch.”)

Recently the Rats evaluated body washes – with much giggling about Sheila’s two to three a day shower habit and Monica’s alligator skin legs. Dove Beauty Body Wash for Sensitive Skin got two paws up from Sister Alligator skin who uses it all the time (with Dove lotion) and one paw up from Shower Sister, who preferred the retro Vita Bath. The Rats gave one paw up, one paw down for Aveeno.

Compare and contrast (there will not be a test) the Rats’ first test of low fat, low carb frozen dinners, deemed emergency food, in which they claim that the term “portion control” is an oxymoron. Amy’s Burritos and Smart Ones Chicken Marsala got two thumbs down from both Rats, while the South Beach line and the Lean Cuisine chicken and vegetables got praises. Sheila suggests putting the entrees on a bed of bagged lettuce with carrots and cherry tomatoes to “bulk up” the meal.

One feature I don’t find and would love to see is a place to nominate people for the Satellite Sisters award – folks who give in creative and helpful ways to their communities. There are a couple of people that I would love to nominate.

Sadly, ABC dropped the sisters, and I now have to find them online. I really miss those couple of hours of Sunday night radio chats as I wandered from room to room and eventually settled in my reading chair with cat on lap if the weather was cool enough. Isis the Goddess has just returned from summer vacation on the porch, so I’ll have to find other Sunday night entertainment.