Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
The Collins English Dictionary defines ‘Ballardian’ as “resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in J. G. Ballard’s novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.” The London Times described Ballard as one of the fifty greatest British writers since 1945. Born in Shanghai in 1930, he was interned there with his family during World War II. Apart from something like ninety-eight short stories, Ballard is the author of sixteen novels, including the semi-autobiographical Empire of the Sun, The Drowned World, and Crash. Until his death in April 2009 he lived for many years in Shepperton, outside of London.
Novelist Jonathan Lethem said about Ballard: ‘For me, Ballard’s the purist’s dystopian writer. He submitted himself absolutely to the admonitory mode, seeming to merge his writerly ego, his whole emotional palette, into our entire species’ experience of modernity, technology, architecture, automobiles and the artifacts of culture…An absolutely irreplaceable writer.’
Browsing in Barnes & Noble the other day I came across a hefty three pound stack of pages called, The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard. On another day it might have gone unnoticed, but a novel by Ballard had recently been on my mind. During my university years I was at one point working on a screen adaptation of the 1965 short novel, The Drought. Somewhere along the way and between the years I lost the manuscript. Recent recollection of that incomplete project stopped me in B&N when I came across the Ballard book on their shelves. The odd part is, I have read very little of Ballard and owned not a single one of his books. But it was exactly those thoughts—the college project, little experience with Ballard and owning none of his books—that prompted me to buy the story collection.
Since bringing the book home I’ve read no more than the introduction by Martin Amis and the first story, but that for now is unimportant. A weighty collection of ‘complete’ stories is one meant to be roamed over time without concern for order or delay. Hopefully the weeks and months to come will unfold at least part of why J.G. Ballard enjoys the respect of millions worldwide. I am the latecomer, but one willing to sink himself into the world of an established master.
Monday, November 28, 2011
First were the native tribes. Later the islands were fought over and claimed by several European countries. Next came African slaves and indentured servants. Finally, immigrants from East India and China arrived. Caribbean cuisine is more than anything a patchwork of cultures, a fusion of Amerindian, African, British, Spanish, French, Dutch, Indian and Chinese cuisine, all in play with the native food of those Amerindians, the Carib and Arawak. This ecletic combination of flavors is not unusual considering the location of the Caribbean islands and the number of foreign ships that touched upon those shores during the years of exploration in the New World when styles of cooking were brought from the homelands of the region’s visitors. Caribbean dishes include favorites such as seafood, chicken and steak, each flavored with the native ingredients of the islands, a beautiful blend of the aromatic, sweet and tart, piquant and mild citrus flavors. Some of the popular dishes that come from the region are coconut shrimp, chicken kabobs and Key Lime Pie…and a chicken salad in the Caribbean style.
Several days ago a pre-made packaged salad landed in my supermarket basket. It got there on name only, since the list of ingredients on the side of the package was too terrifying to read, a list of such length it surely challenged the market in fitting so many fifteen-letter words onto one slim sticker. Looking at that list later it was apparent that a background in chemistry would be helpful in understanding just what it was going into your mouth. But for better or worse, just like a McDonald’s burger or KFC chicken leg, those long-lettered chemical ingredients play some part in making it taste good. My packaged salad was one called Caribbean Chicken Salad and no surprise it turned out to be delicious. Still, all those nebulous ingredients raise a caution sign about artificial flavorings and preservatives. Studying the box for a few minutes convinced me that making a tasty Caribbean chicken salad from fresh ingredients couldn’t be all that difficult.
Caribbean-Style Chicken Salad
¼ cup of fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons honey
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup olive oil
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted and diced
1 red pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
1 stalk of celery chopped
2 tablespoons chopped pecans
A hearty sprinkle of cumin seeds
5 ounce bag of mixed spring greens
Blend the lime juice, red wine vinegar, minced garlic, honey, salt and pepper. Slowly incorporate the olive oil into the mix until thoroughly blended. Use half of this dressing as a marinade for the chicken breasts. Cover the chicken and marinade and refrigerate for one hour. Reserve the remaining dressing for later use. Grill the marinated chicken breasts—discarding the marinade—about 6 minutes per side and set aside to cool.
Toss together the mango, red pepper, celery and pecans, cumin seeds and remaining dressing in a large bowl. When the chicken has cooled, cut it into bite-sized pieces and toss it with the other ingredients.
To serve, layer a salad bowl with mixed spring greens and place a mound of the chicken salad in the center.
This salad is especially good served with small toasted pita pockets into which the greens and chicken salad can be stuffed. Toufayan whole wheat mini pita are especially good and are available at most supermarkets, but if not, any brand or size of pita will serve as well. No surprise that the packaged salad in comparison to the fresh is like trying to compare pop tarts and homemade apple turnovers.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Thoughts on a morning in March, Tokyo 2001. One of those times of sitting at a window looking down to the garden below, sights and sounds filtered through wavy glass and a leaky old fountain pen.
In the breeze a blue-striped towel
snaps and curls on the line.
White magnolia faces
drift to an already milky garden path
and spring continues to smile.
Over a wall a drill
sends shudders through the air
A whiny buzzing grind,
biting at old plaster
and the orange cat squalls a complaint.
Light from a cloudless sky
glosses the planes of roof and street.
A pane of half clear glass,
the third-story lens revealing an ordinary day
And spring smiles happy birthday
Saturday, November 26, 2011
For many, working and living in the same space presents a challenge to motivation and focus. Without distance or space to temporarily take away the forgiving environment of home, more than few of us find the distractions a barrier to uninterrupted work. But then there is another side to having a place apart and that’s those occasions we yearn for space that takes us away from everything, a place where we can sit watching the wheels go round, answering the questions we ask ourselves.
Michael Pollan wrote a book in 1997 called A Place of My Own in which he recounts the process of designing and constructing a small one-room structure on his rural Connecticut property—a place in which he hoped to read, write and daydream. Though a confessed non-carpenter, Pollan built his ‘writer’s house’ with his own two hands. Not a task he approached lightly or with any sort of confidence, it was rather an endeavor that involved long thought and careful research, plus the help of a longtime architect friend.
A Place of My Own takes the reader through each phase of the project, from the germination of an idea thrown out by the friend-architect remodeling Pollan’s home. Looking out from an unfinished second floor window to the slope, woods and meadow beyond, the architect felt the view needed a focus and the best bet would be a small structure build on the same axis as house, garden and meadow. At the same time Pollan had been thinking of a small hut or room set apart where he could do his writing. Next came research on the marriage of architecture and nature, on the question of selecting a site, and then a study of sketches from the architect’s standpoint.
From the initial concept the project was never meant to be large, complicated or expensive. A big part of that was Pollan’s desire to build the structure himself, a decision that required more than anything simplicity. But to make a long story short, this dream of Pollan’s was eventually realized, designed by his friend, but built by Pollan at an ultimate cost of $125 per square foot.
One part of the story is particularly interesting and involves a system unfamiliar to me before reading Pollan’s book. There is a mathematical formula of sorts known as the Golden Section, a famous mystical sequence of numbers illustrating that the ratio 1:1.618 occurs again and again in both architecture and nature. It can be seen in the elevation of the Parthenon and in the wings of a butterfly; found in the facade of Notre-Dame, it is also evident in the spiral of a seashell. In sizing the ground plan of Pollan’s one-room writer’s house, the architect along with Pollan determined that the desk should run the length of the front wall. To get an idea of dimensions Pollan extended his arms out to the side, a span measuring six feet, to which was added the depth of two feet for bookshelves on each end. This gave them the width of the room. Using the Golden Section, the architect then multiplied that length (eight feet) by the factor 1.618, coming up with 12.9. He then sketched a rectangle eight feet by thirteen indicating the final measurements of the room.
Charles R. Meyer, Pollan’s architect has this to say about the Golden Section: “The Golden Section is a bridge joining architecture and nature. The same proportioning system that works in buildings also shows up in trees, leaves, seashells and sunflowers, as well as the human body. It’s everywhere.” Both Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier were faithful to the principle in their work.
Friday, November 25, 2011
Scott Poole is the author of three books of poetry: The Cheap Seats, Hiding from Salesmen, and most recently, The Sliding Glass Door, released this fall by Colonus Publishing. Poole is the House Poet for Live Wire!, Oregon Public Broadcasting’s weekly radio variety program. From Vancouver, he is currently a software developer by day and poet by night. He says with apparent relief that thankfully, neither occupation requires a nametag, a paper hat or wearing underwear over tights. Earlier this month he had the good fortune of having one of his poems chosen by Garrison Keillor for an edition of The Writer’s Almanac. The poem is from his most recent collection and is called “The Bible.” Oregon’s Poet Laureate, Paulann Petersen said about the poems in The Sliding Glass Door, ‘With an irresistibly zany and vaudevillian energy, these poems begin in an anecdotal mode fully suited to recounting a 2,523 banjo hootenanny or a party at which the host serves 800 scrambled eggs…That mode gains depth and resonance, turning toward the elegiac, the poignantly surreal.’ Most will agree Poole has a killer sense of humor.
Just in case.
It’s over there.
Because you have to have at least one.
The part I read the most
is the inscription
to my wife’s grandmother.
I imagine God at a book signing,
signing her copy
“Dear Eva, thanks for worshipping.”
But mainly I consider when
she may have held it in her hands:
a few times at church,
a couple of confused moments in the bedroom, and one strange time after mass
when she walked to the grocery store
and set it for a few seconds
on a stack of apples
while she inspected the bananas for bruises.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Strolling with my Louisiana friends along Flagler Avenue in beachtown last Sunday afternoon, we came upon what is a relatively new store, one named Island Collection, an offshoot of the main store in Winter Park, Florida, about an hour’s drive west. Both stores feature the collections of Regina and Phil Carpenter, frequent travelers enamored of the islands of the south Pacific, southeast Asia, and islands of the Caribbean. Their stores are stocked with the treasures brought back from their ongoing travels, including custom furniture handmade especially for Island Collection and shipped here from Bali.
As we passed the store on Sunday, it was impossible to miss the huge teakwood chair nestled among palm fronds at the store’s entrance. An eye-catcher in any setting, it was a handsome piece of eye candy to even those uninterested in chairs. While the notion of a replacement chair for the patio has been nuzzling around in the back of my head, the old adirondack chair has some life in it yet, and a replacement could easily have been postponed for a while. But the island adirondack was too much to walk away from.
The design for this chair originated on the island of Bequia, largest of the Grenadine Islands situated off the northern coast of South America. It was there that Phil Carpenter first saw a local cousin of what he imagined for his stores in Florida. With that design in mind, he arranged for craftsmen on the island of Java in Indonesia to do the first stage building of the chairs, and ship them on to nearby Bali for the finishing work. The island adirondack is handmade completely from kiln dried teak hardwood. The wood is rough and hand hewn to a point where some surfaces remain uneven. Minor wood split and defects in the teak are viewed as acceptable, seen as characteristics that heighten the quality in a piece of furniture. Not meant to be overly smooth, each piece is hand rubbed and waxed to a beautiful soft satin finish. No lacquers or clear coats are applied.
I have already mentioned the unusual size of this outdoor chair. The width from arm to arm is 34 inches, with the seat stretching 28 between. From front edge to back the chair is 38 inches deep, and from floor or ground level, 44 inches high at the apex of the rounded back. It’s one of those extra-wide chairs that can accommodate two children at once, or provide a grand sprawl for even a large adult. I don’t like to leave even weatherproof cushions out on patio chairs, but the island adirondack becomes even more comfortable with the addition of a soft cushion placed in the deepest part of the chair, just behind the lower back. The holes at the front of each arm make anchoring a drink easy and the wide, the flat arms just right for things like a book, cell phone, napkins or snack.
Ula, my friend next door who comes each year with Dietrich from Frankfurt, Germany to enjoy the beach
The island Adirondack is a chair that makes living the life of Riley at the beach a little easier.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Today’s post is the third and last on Chef John Folse’s definitive cookbook on the Cajun-Creole traditions of preparing fish and seafood, Hooks, Lies & Alibis.
Though raised in Louisiana, for me there is still an aura of the exotic in the recipes of John Folse and the people he works with in south Louisiana. His signature dishes, as well as those of other chefs in the area are brimming with the flavors of sac au lait, granulated garlic, artichoke hearts, mirlitons and Creole mustard, to name but a few example ingredients in the hundreds of recipes included in Hooks, Lies & Alibis. Not only are the recipes enticing, but everything about the collection of ingredients, the preparation and the land of south Louisiana is presented in page after page of high quality photographs compiled by photographers both local and from out of state. Pass over the history and recipes, the book still guarantees an hour or more of browsing through stunning photographs.
This last offering from the big fish cookbook includes two recipes chosen at random, recipes still untried in my kitchen, though I’m hoping that is a temporary condition. Pictures are included relating to the two recipes, but others have been added merely as a means of hinting at the book’s visual appeal.
Comment: This recipe is from Rockefeller’s Restaurant in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, and is the creation of chefs Thomas Bond, Lester Nicosia and Chris Letard. This is an ideal brunch dish and is also great when served for breakfast.
18 fresh-shucked oysters
3 English muffins, halved and toasted
vegetable oil for deep-frying
6 slices Canadian bacon
3 cups seasoned yellow corn flour
1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1 tablespoon lemon pepper seasoning
1 tablespoon Creole mustard
granulated garlic to taste
¾ cup Blender Hollandaise Sauce (see recipe)
In a cast iron pot or a home-style fryer such as a FryDaddy, heat oil to 360°F according to manufacturer’s directions. While oil is heating, pan-fry Canadian bacon until lightly browned, set aside and keep warm. When ready to cook, blend seasoned corn flour, Old Bay Seasoning and lemon pepper seasoning, stirring well to incorporate. Dredge oysters in seasoned corn flour mixture and deep-fry until crispy and floating, 2-3 minutes. While oysters are frying, toast English muffins and place 1 muffin half on each plate. Top with Canadian bacon slices and crispy fried oysters. In a small bowl, blend Creole mustard into Hollandaise and divide equally over each muffin half. Serve hot.
Comment: In Louisiana, alligator is often used as a substitute for other meats, giving us great dishes such as alligator sauce piquant, alligator spaghetti, fried alligator tail and alligator sausage. Here is an old camp recipe for alligator chili that I love.
3 pounds alligator meat, diced
½ cup vegetable oil
2 cups diced onions
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced bell peppers
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons diced jalapeño peppers
1 (16 ounce) can pinto beans
3 (8 ounce) cans tomato sauce
1 cup fish stock (see recipe)
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
salt and cracked black pepper to taste
granulated garlic to taste
In a large Dutch oven, heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add alligator and sauté 20 minutes to render juices. Add onions, celery, bell peppers, minced garlic and jalapeño peppers and sauté 3-5 minutes or until vegetables are wilted, stirring occasionally. Add pinto beans, tomato sauce and stock, stirring to incorporate. Bring to a low boil then reduce to simmer. Stir in chili powder and cumin and cook approximately 1 hour or until alligator is tender, stirring occasionally. Season to taste using salt, pepper and granulated garlic. Ladle into soup bowls or mugs and serve hot with fresh cornbread.
Baccalá Amalfi Style Salted Cod
Though a type of dolphin, Mahi Mahi should not be confused with the mammal.
Monday, November 21, 2011
It should surprise no one that in a world of seventy-percent water, fishing is the oldest profession known to man. Particularly among coastal societies, fish have been the principal source of food and nourishment since the dawn of mankind. Fish were caught by hand in shallow water or gathered from those stranded on the shore at low tide. From spears and harpoons, tools for fishing gradually improved to the stage where lines, hooks, nets and boats became the most efficient means of providing a large catch. In the preparation and writing of an 899 page cookbook dedicated to fish, it behooves those doing the research to spend some time examining the importance of fish and fishing in ancient civilizations. John Folse and his staff on Hooks, Lies & Alibis have done their work.
In his weighty cookbook, Folse devotes a whole chapter to fishing in the age of Christ, and the pages of that chapter are fascinating indeed. Long interested in biblical literature, the Bible is no stranger to these eyes in any of several translations, but it was the Folse chapter “Fishers of Men” that made me aware of just how prevalent fish and fishing are as metaphor and symbol, as well as a familiar vernacular and background for the stories of Jesus in the New Testament.
Right off, we learn that fishing techniques on the sea of Galilee are much the same today as they were almost 5,000 years ago. Both Old and New Testaments are filled with the images of fishermen, nets and boats. The first four disciples chosen by Jesus were Galilean fishermen. Passing by the Sea of Galilee Jesus saw Simon and his brother casting their nets into the sea and called out to them: ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Walking a little farther he found James and John and called out to them to follow. Hearing Jesus the two brothers left their father and followed Jesus.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away.” —Matthew 13: 47-48
Jesus often used a boat as a podium from where he preached to those gathered on the shoreline, and it was in the boats of fishermen that he sailed from village to village spreading the gospel. A fishing boat of that time, roughly 30 AD, would have had a sail and room for four rowers and another to steer. It would have been constructed of cedar and oak and measured 26.5 feet long, 7.5 feet wide and 4.5 feet deep. There was enough room for crew, ten passengers or a ton of fish or other cargo.
Perhaps the best known fish in the Bible is found in the Old Testament book of Jonah. The four chapters of Jonah were probably written around the 5th century BC and tell the story of a disobedient prophet who attempts to escape his divine obligation and winds up being swallowed by a great fish. (In no translation does the Bible ever speak of a whale.) The following lines from Jonah are especially beautiful and deserve a place here:
“But the Lord sent a large fish, that swallowed Jonah; and he remained in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. From the belly of the fish Jonah said this prayer to the Lord, his God:
PSALM OF THANKSGIVING
Out of my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me;
From the midst of the nether world I cried for help,
and you heard my voice.
For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the sea,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the flood enveloped me;
all your breakers and your billows passed over me.
Then I said, ‘I am banished from your sight!
Yet would I again look upon your holy temple.’
The waters swirled about me, threatening my life;
the abyss enveloped me;
seaweed clung about my head.
Down I went to the roots of the mountains;
the bars of the nether world were closing behind me forever,
But you brought up my life from the pit,
O Lord, my God.
When my soul fainted within me,
I remembered the Lord;
My prayer reached you in your holy temple.
Those who worship vain idols forsake their source of mercy.
But I, with resounding praise, will sacrifice to you;
What I have vowed I will pay:
deliverance is from the Lord.
Then the Lord commanded the fish to spew
Jonah upon the shore.”
Sunday, November 20, 2011
John Folse begins his cookbook, Hooks, Lies & Alibis with a forward describing his boyhood along the Mississippi River, a boyhood stamped indelibly with the place of river, wildlife, fish, swamp and bayou. It is the story of a Cajun boy growing up along the twenty-foot high levee fronting his home in Louisiana’s St James Parish, a marshy land where bar pits along the river caught the overflow and filled with spoonbill catfish, channel cats, garfish, gasperou and sweet Mississippi River shrimp. For John Folse and his five brothers these bar pits were both a playground and the birthplace of an entrepreneurial spirit. Even as children the six boys earned a few pocket dollars with the sale of their fishing bounty from the bar pits and bayous.
By age twelve Folse had graduated to working his lines and traps on the mile-wide mighty Mississippi. But the river was a source of play as much as fishing ground. Folse describes it this way…
‘What we loved most about the shrimp season was that the Mississippi River water was warmed by the June sun and the monkey vines grew long and strong from the willow trees that leaned into the river. A trip to Disneyland could not compare with swinging monkey vines into the river back then. Swimming and swinging were always the payback for a job well done raising shrimp boxes. (Mamere’s stuffed eggplant was just a bonus.) Although we had been warned often of the many perils of swimming in the river, we always enjoyed a dip in Old Muddy. And, the fact is, we couldn’t deny our guilt when asked, “Have you been swimming today?” because our mud-stained Fruit of the Looms gave us away.’
From the river the boys moved into the swamps beyond the cane fields in back of the house. They poled their pirogues into these swamps to a spot where the big gators lived, looking to exercise skills handed down from their father. Following their father’s lessons the boys tied a six-inch steel hook to the end of a quarter-inch thick cord rope and baited it with half a chicken. One boy climbed a willow tree angling over the marsh and tied the cord with hook and bait to a thick branch dangling two feet above the water. In time an eight to ten foot gator leapt with a swish of its tail into the air grabbing the bait and swallowing the hook. Later, poling the bayous of home, the boys learned of the early summer bullfrogs. Excellent in the kitchen pot, they were also a source of income, shipped around the country to biology labs looking for specimens.
Apart from fish, the swamp-floor pantry provided big and small game, game birds and crustaceans, all of which were eaten more often than fish in the Folse household. Crawfish and channel catfish were the two staples, though crawfish did not become popular on Louisiana tables until the late 1950s. For the Folse’s, crawfish was a delicacy. It was Crawfish Bisque on Easter Sunday, Daddy’s River Road Crawfish Stew on Mother’s Day, and late in summer boiled crawfish with corn and potatoes was a common dish.
Folse tells a salty tale about cleaning a large channel cat…
‘Daddy said the head and skin were important because they added that wonderful gelatinous texture to the stew. He removed the gills and whiskers from the catfish, and then, with a Brillo pad in hand, scrubbed the whole fish under running water from the cistern. The slime that protected the fish’s skin had to be removed, and there was nothing better than Brillo for this task. Daddy also claimed that the skin kept the tender meat from falling apart during the two-to-three hour cooking process.’
From a small piece of land in Louisiana’s St James Parish, land strategically located between the river and the swamp, John Folse was bathed in a culture and cuisine that he came to make known worldwide. Mention his name in some circles and heads are filled with mouth-watering thoughts of Louisiana Cajun cooking.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
Always a popular topic, looking at the architecture of Louisiana’s A Hays Town, even repeated viewings never fail to reveal a previously unnoticed nuance so common to the work of Mr Town. One can spend hours poring over designs, sketches and photographs, but unfortunately the material available to enjoy that hobby is often hard to find. One of the hard-to-find books that offers a treasure of architectural sketches is a 1985 limited printing of The Architectural Style of A. Hays Town, which includes 106 sketches in colored pencil of the architect’s projects.
From the book’s introduction written by Blanche Town Gladney…
A Hays Town developed his own unique style, calling on his background experiences and his God-given artistic ability. His travels to Europe, Mexico, Central America and other parts of the United States were educational experiences. He always returned with sketch books filled with architectural details that he found interesting. Years of studying and measuring the antebellum mansions of the south, roaming the streets and parks of New Orleans and living the impressionable time of childhood in Acadian country all contributed to the culmination of a style indigenous to his part of the world.
The demolitions yards in New Orleans became inured to seeing elegant ladies with Mr Town poking into the nether region of the yards, selecting blinds, bricks, wood and beams. An innovator of the use of these old materials, he liked the softness and interest the old materials gave to his houses. He felt that they added an element of warmth and hospitality to a family’s home. Local millwork shops retooled their machinery to run moldings and muntins to his specifications. His abundant use of windows and French doors in these traditional houses brought in the outside whenever possible, making the rooms seem part of the outdoors.
A signed copy of the book: “Best Wishes A Hays Town”
The Freeman House, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 1964
The Smith House, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 1967
The Marchman House, Monroe, Louisiana 1970
The Ellison Law Office, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 1976