Wednesday, January 31, 2007

New layout

For those that read this blog the "old-fashioned" way, please bear with me as I tweak the layout. I'm using a new template based on one from Beautiful Beta. Hackosphere has some cool templates and widgets for Blogger - I want to add this widget for sure.

The fork image is from Amodiovalerio Verde courtesy of flickr.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Microsoft v. Apple

I think it's obvious to most people that Apple has Microsoft beat when it comes to advertising. The Mac versus PC ads on TV with John Hodgman as the PC are funny, and memorable. Then there's the cool iPod ads.

To rub it all in, there's this comment from an audience member at last night's taping of the Daily Show (with Bill Gates as the special guest):
"Do they advertise? I didn't think they advertised." audience member Skye Reiner, 31, of Los Angeles, referring to Microsoft, when asked how she thought its advertising compared to Apple's ads.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Ek herhaal jou*

* (Afrikaans) = I repeat you

I've been enjoying two CDs by Chris Chameleon that I got from CD Baby recently, one of which is titled "Ek herhaal jou". It features songs using the poems by South African poet Ingrid Jonker (Wikipedia entry). I had forgotten that Nelson Mandela read her poem, The Child, in the original Afrikaans when he opened the first session of parliament after he was elected.
She was awarded the South African National Order of Merit in 2004. (More info on her, but in Dutch, here)

There a story here about Chris' move from his previous band Boo! to this particular project.

PS: Look for a copy of her poems in English from a local library by going here.

New music

I'm happy to report that the new Shins album arrived this week, and is great! They'll be performing in Seattle soon - I can't wait. Although I must say their performance on Saturday Night Live was a little underwhelming. Hopefully it was just a TV thing...

I've also discovered a few new artists that I thought I'd share with you, my readers. If you subscribe to a music service like Napster or Rhapsody, check them out.

  • First off is Beirut, heard on KEXP one night. (They have a new EP, Long Gisland). The lead singer sounds like Thom Yorke from Radiohead, but the music is more acoustic and gypsys-inspired, with a good bit of brass. [Amazon link]
  • Second, is Peter Bjorn and John, recommended on Napster for folks that like The Shins and The Decemberists. Dreamy, literate pop music. [Amazon link]
  • Third, is Ray. I forget how I found them, but they're great. More rock than pop (lots of guitars), with varied songs, but a darker, more mellow sound mostly. At times they remind me of the South African band Sharkbrother. [Amazon link]
  • And last is Teddy Bears. Their song, Punkrocker, features Iggy Pop and is being used in a car advert on TV at the moment. It's insanely catchy - you have been warned! The rest of the album is very varied, with a bit or rap and hip-hop, and a pervading upbeat dance tempo. [Amazon link]

Some thoughts on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

I found myself getting hooked on this new show quite quickly - the writing is smart and the dialog is witty and fast-paced. It's the sort of show that requires your full attention, and rewards your effort with lots of quick smiles, jolts of surprise and excitement, and a feeling that you've just ridden a really fun amusement ride.

The sad thing is that the show seems to not be doing well with viewers and may be cancelled due to low ratings. The show is by no means perfect: The major weakness being that the show's comedy routines and comedy stars are not that funny. That's a bit of a problem when the show is meant to be about a comedy show. Ken Levine's blog has an interesting comment on the show, and a link to a YouTube parody/comment on the show.

(Psst! Ken's blog is well worth subscribing to)

I'll keep my fingers crossed and hope that Aaron Sorkin won't go too far into the Romantic Comedy swampland in an attempt to lure viewers.

Friday, January 26, 2007

What to do with sunchokes?

So, we're signed up with an organic grocery delivery service (Pioneer Organics), and get to tweak our order online before it's delivered. We noticed local sunchokes available, and decided to try some. (Sunchokes are also called Jerusalem Artichokes, some good info on Wikipedia as usual).

The only problem was what do you do with them? I'd never cooked them before, so I headed off to to look for recipes. It looks like there are basically 3 options:
  • Mash them like potatoes
  • Bake them (a la gratin)
  • Make soup

We went for the last option this time around, and this recipe turned out very nicely. The sunchokes have a slightly sweet taste, with an earthy tone - quite like artichokes.

Is any wine worth $700?

Slate has an article by Mike Steinberger that answers this question (at least as far as he's concerned). From the opening:
This is a story about a bottle of wine. A very expensive but also very delicious bottle of wine—a wine that so captivated me when I first tasted it that I immediately resolved to taste it again. What followed was an almost two-year odyssey that tested the limits of my resourcefulness and perhaps also exposed the warping effect that wine has had on my brain.

One of the fun things about being on Garagiste's email list is seeing the really expensive wines come around. Wines that cost $4,000 and more per bottle. Needless to say I haven't bought any of them, but it's always interesting to see the description of the wine and how it's marketed to folks that would consider spending that much...

My own mental upper limit seems to be around $40 for a wine, although I've spent $60+ for some Domaine des Relagnes Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape Les Petits Pieds de l'Armand and the Barolo Chinato.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

One-note chowders

The New York Times has an interesting (if sad) story about the changing ingredients in seafood chowders, brought about largely by the collapse of the fish resources off the north-eastern coast of the USA.

Like most sons of sons of Maine fishermen, Mr. Bridges, 61, grew up eating fish stews that were as diverse and densely packed as the local waters.

Cod, haddock, white hake, halibut, cusk and dozens of other groundfish, fish that live near the ocean bottom, mingled with clams, shrimp, lobster and mussels under the creamy surface of the stew, cresting a puddle of yellow butter here, a slick of smoky pork fat there.

Today there is nothing but lobster to be fished commercially near Stonington. Lobster floats alone in the local chowder, pinking the cream and, in the mind of food lovers, perhaps elevating Everyman’s dish to luxury status. But when Mr. Bridges looks at a single species stew he sees a dangerously impoverished fishery.

There's a photo-gallery for this story here.

Monday, January 15, 2007

An update on RSS feeds

A while back I posted about problems with my old FeedBurner feeds, and recommended a new feed link. Now that Blogger is out of its beta, the URL has changed. I've also updated FeedBurner, and it may work correctly in terms of showing dates for my posts.

So, you have these options:
Blogger Atom feed:
Blogger RSS feed:
FeedBurner feed:

I'll update my blog template so the FeedBurner feed shows up automatically in future.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Blood Diamond

This is a great, but harrowing, movie. I'd give it more than the 60% it's getting on Rotten Tomatoes - my own score would be closer to 80%.

The Good:
  • Leonardo nails the South African/Zimbabwean accent, and gives one of his best performances
  • Djimon Hounsou gives a solid performance
  • For the most part it's gripping and beautifully filmed
  • It's packed full of action and violence, but it's not mindless violence. The film has a message, and while it may be a bit heavy-handed and one-sided in trying to convince you of that message, any film that makes you think is a good thing
  • Jennifer Connely is really easy on the eyes

The Bad:

  • Jennifer's character is not quite convincing - partly due to poor writing, and partly due to her acting
  • The disregard Djimon's character shows for this wife and children after leaving them at a refuge camp to search for his son makes no sense. Lenoardo's character even remarks that the wife and daugher are likely to be raped in the camp, which gets no reaction from Djimon's character. He needs to find his son. The women folk don't seem to be worth a pile of beans...
  • The movie was a little flabby - some scenes could have been cut without losing any of the plot or character development
  • Some of the child soldier scenes wore thin. Yes, I know they exist, and child sodliers were part of the conflict in Sierra Leone, but the movie couldn't quite carry this in addition to the "diamonds are bad" message
Side Notes:

I got a kick out of seeing a lot of familiar South African actors - Arnold Vosloo and Marius Weyers are baddies again (they've been in a few US films and are always cast as baddies), and Jonathan Pienaar has a small role too. (I saw him act on stage when I was younger).

I also chuckled when I realized where the final scene was filmed - at the Centre for the Book in Cape Town. I remember serving snacks and pouring drinks there when my mom provided the in-house catering there. :)

Good wine under $20

I just came across this blog, which looks like a nice way to discover inexpensive wine. The articles look well-written and nicely detailed. I look forward to digging into the archive!
There's also a nice list of other wine and food blogs.

The rating system is also interesting: focusing on QPR (quality-price ratio) instead of an absolute score. From the blog:
QPR vs. Scores
Because any score is subjective, I'm experimenting on this blog with indicating QPR (quality to price ratio) rather than using a 100-point scale. Of course, this is subjective, too, but I think gives a better sense of the criteria I am using to evaluate wine. Excellent QPR designates a wine that has strong varietal characteristics and an attractive price point for that varietal. Very good QPR designates a wine with strong varietal characteristics and a less attractive price point OR moderate varietal characteristics and an attractive price point. Good QPR designates a wine that is average in varietal characteristics and price point. Poor QPR designates a wine that is not a good quality for the price paid. If you want to see a 100-point scale score generated by the tasting notes of ordinary wine drinkers (including me), check out Cellar Tracker!

On a related note, last night we went to Lola, a great mediterranean restaurant in Seattle (part of Tom Douglas' empire). The food was incredible, and the wine we chose was a nice find (at a decent price): 2005 Shooting Star Blue Franc (made from Lemberger grapes, which are called Blaufrankisch in Austria, hence the name Blue Franc). An article from 2000 about this variety's history in the Pacific NW is here.

Interview with Sasha Baron Cohen on NPR

Last week, NPR's Day to Day interviewed Sasha Baron Cohen (aka Borat).
You can read more and listen to the interview here.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Cappellano Barolo Chinato

I have been eyeing an intersting bottle of wine for a few months, and decided to treat myself last week. The Cappellano Barolo Chinato is an interesting digestive, similar to Italian amaro liqueuer like Ramazzotti, Averna and China Martini. The medicinal taste comes from an infusion of herbs and "china" bark (quinine). Some people think averna's taste like cough syrup - I think they're great. (Some of the Washington State liquor stores even have them, which is cool).

It turns out that this fortified wine is actually the pre-cursor to the amaro liqueuers listed above. (For more info see here) It's an interesting beast - created by Giuseppe Cappellano, a chemist who loved barolo wine and believed in its "therapeutic benefits" when drunk well aged. (As opposed to being a well-aged drunk?)

Other interesting ingredients are clove, wormwood and cinnamon. Yes, wormwood. As in absinthe. I thought wormwood was verboten nowadays, but it turns out it's used to make vermouth and many other drinks and medicines. It turns out absinthe's bad rap is largely a myth. Anyway, back to the chinato...

I opened the bottle and had a small glass after dinner, and really enjoyed it. It's definitely not as sweet and syrupy as the amaro liqueuers. The barolo wine definitely is evident - a sappy, juicy tang under the herbal and medicinal flavours. Very smooth and non-tannic. I hope it lasts well once open (being fortified, it should).

Some of you may be wondering how a young(ish) South African guy got introduced to amaro liqueuer in the first place. I have my uncle to thank for that - he lived in France for a few years, getting trained by the company providing the systems to run the Koeberg nuclear power station. During this time he managed to visit family in Italy who introduced him to China Martini. (The French family introduced him to the bridge-like card game, Tarot. But that's best saved for a future entry.)

When he came back to South Africa, he brought some China Martini with him, and got the rest of us hooked. At one point it was actually quite easy to find it available in bottle stores in South Africa (not sure about now, but it should be easier than then, if anything).

Fantastic blue cheese

The other night I stopped at Whole Foods to buy some goodies for dinner. I got some soups, fresh bread and headed off to get some blue cheese. I had heard something recently about a smoked blue cheese from Oregon, and after looking through the cheese case for a minute I noticed they had it: Rogue Creamery's Smokey Blue.

Wow! This stuff is seriously good - it won the coveted Best New Product in the World Award at the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) Food Show in New York (2005).

Friday, January 12, 2007

A belated Coco La Ti Da review

I wrote about Sue McCown's restaurant, Coco La Ti Da, a while back, and get quite a few hits every month from people looking for more info. Sue was the pastry chef at Earth & Ocean, and has gotten quite a lot of buzz around the USA. (She was even on the Today show...)
Since the last blog entry, I've been there for dessert and can happily report that the hype for once is justified.

Coco La Ti Da focuses on dessert and is a wonderful place to head after a show, but they also serve some savoury food - see the lounge menu here. I had an amazing trio of chocolate (I think it was a Thursday special). All 3 items were good but the hot cacao was mind-blowing - it was like drinking the best chocolate bar you've ever tasted.

I look forward to my next visit!

PS: The 2nd best hot cacao I've ever had was at The Salish Lodge restaurant. It was almost too rich, and they stupidly don't allow you to just come in for dessert, so you need to find room after a full meal to squeeze it in. Apparently if you stay at the lodge you can order the cacao from room service - something to think about if I ever splurge and stay here.

Thai green curry with tempeh

There's something really comforting about a nice rich Thai curry when it's cold. The spice and the coconut milk and the perfect antidote to sub-zero temperatures (Seattle is currently a snowy wonderland with snow and ice on most streets. See the photo gallery here).

So, a few nights ago A+I rustled up a quick curry, and it turned out really well. We decided to put tempeh (Wikipedia link) in instead of tofu (being vegetarians) - tempeh is originally from Java & Indonesia, so geographically it sort-of makes sense. Interestingly (for me) tempeh actually contains fungus (it's held together by the mycellium), and the fungus has antibiotic properties. Before I gross out the people who've never tasted tempeh, it's actually quite yummy. It's firm, has a nutty flavour (depends a bit on the specific tempeh you use) and is kind of crumbly/chunky. If the texture of tofu is too squishy or you find it too bland, try tempeh! :)

Just in case I want to make it again (highly likely) or you, dear reader, are in search of such a recipe, here it is:

Thai green curry with tempeh
1 pack of tempeh (such as Turtle Island's), cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped or minced
1 tbsp Thai green curry paste (check it's without shrimp if your a veg*n)
1 tbsp canola oil
1 carrot, finely sliced
1 large zucchini/courgette, cut in half and sliced
1/2 small can water chestnuts and/or bamboo shoots
1 jalapeno chilli, seeded and minced
1 can of light coconut milk
1 tsp salt
Optional: 1 lime, chopped peanuts and green onion (scallions) for garnish

Heat the oil and sautee the onions, garlic, chilli and curry paste over medium heat, until they are translucent. Add the coconut milk, stir well and heat the coconut milk a little. Add salt to taste and add more curry paste if you like your cury hotter. Once the coconut milk is simmering gently, add the tempeh cubes. Simmer on medium low for about 10 mins, then add the carrots, water chestnuts/bamboo shoots and zucchini. (You could add bell peppers too). Add water or veggie stock if the mixture is too thick. Simmer for another 10 mins until the veggies are just cooked but not too soft.

Serve over rice, and sprinkle with the peanuts and green onions. Squeeze some lime juice over the top.

Note: To make this more authentic, add kaffir lime leaves (lime yest works too), Thai basil and Asian eggplant to the ingredients. Some recipes add sugar too, and of course fish sauce if you're not veg*n (light soy sauce can be substituted).

Image from DeathByBokeh (Flickr)

More South African music info

Ian MacFarlane left a comment on this recent entry, and provided a link to his blog of the best South African bands (in his humble opinion). It's quite fun to see the 80's pictures of 80's bands (most of which I had never heard of). I especially like the photo of Sweatband (which featured Wendy Oldfield - someone that managed to re-invent herself and stay popular into the 90's).

Glad to see Ian's already done Brigh Blue (official website, more info). They are one of my all-time favourite SA rock/pop bands. I came to their music somewhat late (they broke up in the late 80's or early 90's I think - before I really got into music). Weeping is a phenomenal song, even more so when you realize what the lyrics are about. It was also voted song of the century by SA Rock Digest / Amuzine. As John Samson wrote in 2000:

It still amazes me that the SABC did not ban it for it's blatant musical reference to N'Kosi Sikelel' iAfrica, let alone for it's political charged lyrics, yet this powerful track reached number 1 on the Radio 5 charts. This is a big song in the same way that Bohemian Rhapsody is big, but without the obscure lyrics.

Other SA artists/bands that made an impression on me were Mango Groove (sadly dated now), Just Jinger (I'm ashamed to say), Tananas, Tony Cox, Boo!, Benguela, Van der Want and Letcher, Urban Creep, Sharkbrother. Tananas definitely warrant their own post in the future. (I wrote about the bass player, Gito Baloi, here, but writing about my positive memories would be good).

There's a comprehensive list of classic SA rock songs here (caveat: these are one person's pick). Some songs have links to samples you can listen to...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

For comedy gold, turn to Pat Robertson

Yes, I know he's said and done some goofy things in the past that have already cemented his reputation as a comedy genius. Just this week he predicted mass killings in the US this year. (Less goofy, but hopefully no more accurate than his other predictions).

It should be no surprise then that his daily "news show", The 700 Club, is also good for a few laughs. I'd never seen it, so Yum Lass decided to record an episode which we watched yesterday. (You can watch it here)

Pat's segues between each segment are worth watching, for example this bit after a segment on a French-speaking woman that had been conveted to Christianity:

Pat: Je suis francais!
Co-host: Wow Pat, do you speak French?
Pat: Un perchais
Co-host awkwardly looks at the floor and grimaces. Pat looks sheepish.
Awkward silence...

Sadly this segment seems to be missing from the online version of the episode.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Things I Learnt from Stuff Magazine

Inspired by TheCultFigurine's InStyle Idiocy of the Month, I thought I'd take on the contents of my free* monthly periodical, Stuff Magazine. What did I learn from this month's issue?

Native Americans are psychic. This is according to Jami (a neighborhood knockout, and she doesn't use boxing gloves if you know what I mean...):

"I don't fall for pickup lines; I see right through them. I get vibes about people. Some would even call me psychic. I'm part Native American, and we are said to be psychic."

Magic is a great way to meet women. (This is why David Copperfield dated Claudia Schiffer). For example, if you meet a smoker at a nightclub, making their matchstick disappear and re-appear is bound to impress them. (Does anyone use matchsticks anymore? Besides, no-one in Seattle can smoke in a nightclub anymore, so this trick will mainly be of use if you hide in the bushes outside the club.)

Tired of mixing the alcohol with your Red Bull? Luckily there are now malt beverages that have the alcohol, caffeine, taurine, etc. all mixed for you. Sounds yummy! I wonder if The Guy's Guide to Wine will update their table to include a "If you like malt beverages with caffeine, you'll like _____ wine"?

Now we can come like girls. Thanks to the miracles of modern science, "the pleasure is no longer all theirs". (Those pesky women experience orgasms of greater length and higher intensity than men - and everyone knows men should be at the top of everything!) I wonder if the FDA has tested this stuff? ;)

*See this entry

Some South African music news

I came across this interview with the ex-members of the South Africa band Fetish - a favourite of mine from almost 10 years ago. The interview is a little old (from June last year) but has some good information about the challenges a fledgling rock band in SA faces. The members also comment on some of the current SA music (which I'm almost totally out of the loop from).

I was pleased to hear that Benguela [Myspace] recorded an album with another one of my heroes, Tony Cox. Benguela have sadly disbanded, but hopefully the Tony Cox album will be released in the coming year. In the meantime, I need to get some of the intervening Benguela CD's (I only have Sputnik) and relive the "old days" :)

Looking at the SA-based online music retailer OneWorld, I see that Johnny Clegg has a new album ("One Life") with all-new songs. The "Zulu Blanc" was really popular in South Africa and parts of Europe (France, ...), and even made it out to Seattle for a show a few years back. I wonder if he could be coaxed back for a show to promote his new album? Hello, folks at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley or Triple Door? (Or, perhaps more correctly, hello promoters that put on "World"/African music)

Another musician of note is Chris Chameleon, formerly of Boo! It looks like Chris has gone solo and done a few albums. The newest one is all in English, which tempts me to get some of his previous CDs with Afrikaans songs partly to torment Army Don. (He's responsible for some of my brain cells being occupied by Taiwanese pop and Swedish folk-rock music).
Chris has his CDs available on CD Baby, so US and European folks can buy them there instead of from OneWorld.

I wish more SA musicians used CD Baby to seel their music in the USA. First, because it'd work out cheaper (no expensive shipping from SA), Second because they're in Portland and Portland is just cool, Third because they pass on more money to the artists. (I hope that's true for foreign artists too).

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

You asked for it #1

It's interesting seeing what people search for that brings them here. Someone asked "What television shows are on in Cape Town, South Africa?" and landed up on my entry about shows I watched while growing up in SA.

Now, it's been a few years since I've lived in Cape Town, so I can't review what's on TV now, but I can provide some links and a rough guide to current TV there. The main broadcasters you'll find in South Africa are the SABC, e-TV, DSTV and M-Net. DSTV and M-Net require decoder boxes and ar emore expensive, so SABC and e-TV are the ones you can expect to find pretty much everywhere. e-TV is even headquartered in Cape Town, so it gets extra credit!

There's always bound to be a fair amount of sport on TV - cricket, rugby, soccer, etc. Often sport broadcasts will replace regular programming.

The SABC is the national broadcaster, and provides several channels. Most feature a mixture of local and foreign programming.

SABC3 features the most English-language programs, including showns from American and UK television channels. (Oprah, Law and Order and Footballers' Wives are on currently). Isidingo ("the need") is a very long-running local soapie on SABC3.

A local version of The Weakest Link is also shown. (I used to watch the host, Fiona Coyne, perform at the Nico Malan theatre way back...)

SABC2 features more local programming in Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa and other African languages.

The Afrikaans soapie 7de Laan is now on it's 1343rd episode. Yikes! 50/50 is a long-running environmental show that was always really good. Lentswe is a fairly new show that I've not seen, but that sounds interesting. It "aims to give voice to and stimulate the nation's poetic side by promoting all 'bedroom' poets to give their poetry the love it deserves."

SABC1 is a channel aimed at the youth, with many American movies and a few local documentaries and dramas. When we were black is a local drama on currently.

e-TV's websit is pretty kick-ass, so I won't summarise what's listed there. They break down their series into local versus foreign, but the local stuff seems a bit light. And why on earth are they showing Dallas?!!

DSTV is a digital subscription service that includes the SABC channels, e-TV, and M-NET, plus lots of foreign channels. (See the list here).

M-NET is the original subscription TV service, launched in South AFrica in 1985. Their channel line-up is here (seems busted, though). They have a long-running soapie too - Egoli (3949 episodes so far). It seems soapies are really popular!


I came across this fun poem by Spike Milligan yesterday:


'Twas midnight in the schoolroom
And every desk was shut
When suddenly from the alphabet
Was heard a loud "Tut-Tut!"

Said A to B, "I don't like C;
His manners are a lack.
For all I ever see of C
Is a semi-circular back!"

"I disagree," said D to B,
"I've never found C so.
From where I stand he seems to be
An uncompleted O."

C was vexed, "I'm much perplexed,
You criticise my shape.
I'm made like that, to help spell Cat
And Cow and Cool and Cape."

"He's right" said E; said F, "Whoopee!"
Said G, "'Ip, 'Ip, 'ooray!"
"You're dropping me," roared H to G.
"Don't do it please I pray."

"Out of my way," LL said to K.
"I'll make poor I look ILL."
To stop this stunt J stood in front,
And presto! ILL was JILL.

"U know," said V, "that W
Is twice the age of me.
For as a Roman V is five
I'm half as young as he."

X and Y yawned sleepily,
"Look at the time!" they said.
"Let's all get off to beddy byes."
They did, then "Z-z-z."

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Superb New Year's Day lunch

Wow, sorry for the flood of new entries dear reader. Oh wait, I have two readers now! Readers! :)

We had a superb New Year's Day lunch yesterday at our place, re-creating some favourite dishes from Cafe Flora thanks to their cookbook. Their Hoppin' John fritters are one of my favourites and are served with cheesy grits and smoky, spicy collard greens.
Yum Lass was in charge of making most of the lunch and did an excellent job on the grits (who would have though that anything with the word grit in it would taste good?) She also made yummy corn and basil relish and a black-eyed pea salad. (Black-eyed peas are a New Year's tradition in her family).

I was in charge of the collard greens, which required smoked mushrooms. I did these the previous day on our Weber barbecue, using some hickory wood chips we had bought a while back. Smoking the mushrooms was quite easy, actually. Basic steps:

  • Get some mushrooms - about 1/2 lb for this recipe. I used crimini.

  • Make a charcoal fire, spread the coals out once they're covered in ash.

  • Soak the wood chips in water for an hour or two, then make an open dish using aluminum foil (or use a foil pie plate), put the drained wood chips in this, and set it on top of the coals.

  • Put the grill over the foil+wood dish, and place the mushrooms on the grill. I used foil under the mushrooms to prevent them from sticking to the grill or getting too much heat, but this blocked a lot of the smoke that was rising up from the wood - next time a perforated dish under the mushrooms would be good.

  • Put the lid on the Weber, and make sure the holes are open. You should see a plume of smoke after 5-10 mins, depending on the heat of the coals and how wet your wood is.

  • I smoked the mushrooms until the smoke stopped - about 30 mins. They had a nice smoky taste and smell, but were only slightly wilted and not very cooked.

The rest of the recipe is very simple (see the Flora book), and really delicious. If you've never been a fan of collard greens, this might just convert you!

Be it hereby resolved that

in 2007, I shall:
  • Be more healthy and active. Gym or equivalent exercise 3 times a week.
  • Meditate more often - I felt it made a noticeable difference when I did it once a week a few years ago. Once a week for starters would be good, although daily would be better.
  • Brush up my French - 5 years of it in high school means I have the basics, and it's a pity to let it continue to rust away. I'll aim for speaking and reading/writing fluency by the end of the year.
  • Travel somewhere fun - outside the US, somewhere I've not yet been.
  • Get the house in good shape - While the house is fine (and feel more like hom every day) it needs some TLC. We need a new fence, outside painting, some lawn rejuvenation. Bathroom remodel(s) would be nice too. Maybe windows too? (gulp!)
  • Kick arse at work (preferrably not my own). No more wabbing*, no more procrastination. Work is actually fun when you get down to it and don't have self-imposed nightmare deadlines. :)
  • Really appreciate my Yum Lass - s'good, s'nice to be with her.
  • Teach Army Don to read. Maybe he can teach me how to write in return?

*Wabbing - Exhibiting Work Avoidance Behaviour.

Happy Tweede Nuwejaar!

= Happy 2nd New Year!

Yes, it's the 2nd of January - a national holiday in South Africa, ostensibly since many people need a 2nd day to recover from the festivities on the 1st. There's an annual competition between the minstrel troupes in Cape Town that takes place on the 1st usually - this year the Muslim troupes will only be participating from today due to Sunday being Eid-ul Adha.

PS: The minstrels were called the Cape Coons when I was growing up, and the term seems to still be accepted in SA. (We're pretty thick-skinned and people happily term themselves "coloured" while the rest of the world has moved away from such terms).

From Wikipedia: "Although it is still called the Coon Carnival by Capetonians, local authorities have renamed the festival the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival, as foreign tourists find the term "coon" derogatory (there is some debate about this)." [1]

"Former South African president Nelson Mandela endorsed the carnival in 1986, and is a member of the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival Association, which presides over the event. " [2]

Sad news in the recent ICT bulletin

The past issue of the International Campaign for Tibet's news bulletin had several sad stories.

Somehow I didn't hear about the shooting of a Tibetan nun by Chinese police as she and others tried to cross the border between Tibet and Nepal. The incident was seen and filmed by several climbers at the Cho Oyu advance base camp near Mt Everest. (ICT story here and here, video here).

There was also an article in memory of conservationist Mingma Sherpa who died in the helicopter crash last year in which 24 people were killed.

A note from the culture desk

Here are some quick notes about books, movies and music that I've enjoyed recently:

Music: Rodrigo y Gabriela's eponymous album features some mind-blowing acoustic guitar work. If you like salsa, flamenco, or fast-paced fingerstyle guitar this is highly recommended! (YouTube videos of the lads here)

The new Decemberists CD is beautiful (and I was pleased to see the national attention they got via the Colbert Report green-screen challenge Guitarmageddon thing. Check out the video on Comedy Central if you know not of which I speak - it's worth it).

Books: A while back I finished reading The way we eat, which I'd recommend if you enjoyed The Omnivore's Dilemma and want to know more about what we eat and the impact our choices have on the world.

I really enjoyed John Moe's Conservatize Me - he has a light, fluid writing style and the book is chock-full of humour (I chuckled or laughed out aloud on almost every page).

Now I've moved on to something completely different: The Island of the Sequined Love Nun. Christopher Moore has a deliciously twisted mind (a cross between Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut). So far I'm enjoying this - it's a bit pulpy and definitely an easy read, but the writing is decent and the plot is original (to say the least).

Movies: If you are an extremely patient moviegoer or have an unnatural fascination for the CIA, you'll like The Good Shepherd. It's directed by Robert de Niro (who also plays a small role in the film), and is an interesting look at the foundation of the CIA (and the Order of the Skull and Bones). A K pointed out, it would have been nice to see more of what the main character, Edward, does. Being the head of the counter-surveilance department at the CIA probably requires more than shuffling aound with a stoney expression all day, ignoring your wife, and making ships in bottles.

For some info on the real person that the movie is based on, see this Wikipedia page.