Monday, March 26, 2007

To each his own cup of coffee.

Gregory Dicum explores Brazil's cafe culture in the New York Times, by tasting cafezinho, the little cup of coffee beloved by Brazilians.

He writes:

"During a recent visit to Café Gaúcho, I chose to have my cafezinho black; other options include Carioca (“Rio-style” with added water), media (with milk) and pintado (just a few drops of milk). Sugar goes without saying in Brazil. I leaned on the cool stone, listening to the clatter all around me, watching the whiteness of the sugar vanish into the black coffee. After a quick stir with the doll-sized spoon, I raised the cafezinho to my lips.

"It was terrible."

Read why, in this article: In a Coffee-Mad City, the Bitter With the Sweet .

Friday, March 23, 2007

Radio You Can Now SEE.

This American Life with Ira Glass premiered on Showtime last night.

Watch Episode 1 on the web.

Read more about Ira's transition from radio to television, in the following articles:

NPR's All Things Considered

New York Times

And be sure to listen to Terry Gross interviewing Ira, on NPR's Fresh Air.

Happy 50th, Europe! (Now if only everyone would come to the party...

European nations are celebrating 5 decades of cooperation this week. The Treaty of Rome was signed on March 25, 1957, creating the European Economic Community (EEC). That was the first of several cooperative agreements that led to the formation of the European Union in 1993.

More on the continent-wide celebrations at Celebrating Europe.

Amid the celebrations, four European countries are steadfastly choosing to remain outside the EU: Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein.


According to the BBC:

"Each of the four West European outsider nations has its special reasons for not participating in this week's party.

"Switzerland is what was left over when the Europeans formed their nation states. Italian, French and German ultra-conservatives escaped to the mountains, joined forces and then created 500 years of peace, the cuckoo clock and the gnomes of Zurich.

"Today the Swiss feel a bit disorientated, because the country's business model - neutrality - is problematic. Totally surrounded by the EU, they "have no-one to be neutral against".

"They organise their relationship towards the EU via a series of bilateral agreements, and there are no signs that this will change in the foreseeable future although the Swiss have voted for joining some European initiatives, such as the Schengen area, where border controls have been lifted.

"But as long as the economy thrives (and it does), the Swiss stay out, knowing that they are a geographically unavoidable reality in Europe.

"Neighbouring Liechtenstein, another non-member, is a monarchy, and even more of a tax haven, while being effectively the 27th canton of Switzerland.

"It is, however, a member of the European Economic Area, a special arrangement for the European Union fringe, allowing free access to the internal market. EEA members have an obligation to implement the bulk of EU law, but without any influence over it.

"The second largest non-EU member of the EEA is Iceland, which has a single reason for not being a EU member - a deep fear of the EU Common Fisheries Policy. That fear is absolutely rational and Iceland's position is not going to change any time soon."

"As for Norway - according to the UN, the best place on Earth to live - its Europhobia is based on history, geography and luck.

"Norway gained independence as late as 1905 (from Sweden) and the word "union" still has a bad political taste.

"Being a vast country - the distance from the capital Oslo to the extreme north is about the same as from Oslo to Rome - it has developed strong local political cultures, and a deep-rooted unease about the idea of central rule.

"It never developed a strong industrial base, unlike big brother Sweden, and shares the fishery culture with Iceland.

"Add oil, discovered in the North Sea in the late 1960s, and the Norwegians got the means, as well as the will, to go it alone.

Read the whole article on the BBC website.

Between the countries that belong to EU, things haven't always been smooth, though. For more on that, read: Fifty Years of Fraternal Rivalry.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The big European birthday bash will continue all this week as the EU celebrates its 50th anniversary. The first incarnation of the EU was the European Economic Community (EEC), which came into being with the signing of the Treaty of Rome on March 25, 1957.

Among the principles laid out in the Treaty was that of equal pay for men and women. Remember, this was 1957! As a point of comparison, the Equal Rights Amendment, written in 1921 by suffragist Alice Paul, passed Congress in 1972, but was not ratified by the necessary thirty-eight states by the July 1982 deadline. It was ratified by thirty-five states.

One Other Thing I Bet You Didn't Know About Pet Food Processing.

Re: Food Recall Worries Dog and Cat Owners

Were you surprised to hear that Western Family dog food is made by the SAME company that also makes Iams and Eukanuba? Those premium brands cost...what, about 4 times as much as the generic stuff?

I don't know whether Menu Foods uses different ingredients for each brand it manufactures. But I did hear, a long time ago, that different brands and different products are sometimes processed on the same factory line.

About 15 years ago, I worked in Tillamook with a man who told me that he worked in a factory that made canned chili.

The factory made chili on some days...and dog food on other days.

I accept this man was telling the truth. On some levels, this information is revolting. But is really all that bad? Let's consider:

First of all, canned chili is pretty bad stuff. Maybe the fact it can be made on the same line as dog food shouldn't be too surprising.

Next, well-run factories should be scrupulous about cleaning and sanitizing equipment in between uses. (Keyword: should)

Any canning operation has to bring their product to such high temperatures during processing, that contamination is not all that likely.

Is this a case of what you don't know won't hurt you?

I've heard all sorts of mass production stories that would make your stomach turn. But we tend to accept that if a product comes in a shiny can, or a crisp plastic wrapper, the contents must be safe. Think about that practice (or law, in some states) of food handlers wearing latex or vinyl gloves. The New York Times reported recently that handlers sometimes touch money, their faces, cash registers and goodness knows what else, as well as food. They can't FEEL when the gloves are dirty, whereas they would most likely have washed bare hands once they felt a certain degree of "ickiness."

Time for consumers to look past packaging, be truly discerning....and hopefully, prepare food from scratch, with their own hands, as often as they can.

Read Michelle Tsai's article in Slate for more on what's in a can of dog food.

Meantime, the ingredient in the Menu Foods products causing the problem is said to be wheat gluten, though the exact nature of the problem has not been disclosed by the company.

If you want to feed your pet something homemade, here's what I do for my dogs, from time to time: mix brown rice with any of these: eggs, simmered pork or beef liver (cook the brown rice in the liver broth, your dog will be thrilled!), baked chicken or turkey, raw ground beef, cooked lamb offal, canned mackeral or tuna. I also throw in a little bit of finely chopped vegetables or fruit.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The mysterious orange fruit, nespoli.

vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvUPDATE THURSDAY 3/20vvvvvvvvvvvvv

My friend Shelley is sure nespoli are loquats! She writes:

"We had a loquat tree in Davis and they looked EXACTLY like your picture. The descriptions match too. I think it’s the same thing. They had great flavor, sort of a cross between an apricot and something else. They don’t keep at all. As soon as you picked them they started to bruise so the kids (neighbors included) would stand under the tree while Kevin picked and distributed. They ate them on the spot, spitting those gargantuan seeds all over the place! They loved them! I wish you could have had more while you were there."

Thanks, Shelley!


(first posted July 14, 2006)

On the drive from Genoa to the Riviera, we noticed many trees heavily laden with small orange fruit. They looked a little like apricots, but the trees were too short, too spreading. Our Liguria guide, Fausta, said they are nespoli.

Back in Genoa, Arianna presented me with a few of these fruits.

The slightly tart fruit is extremely juicy, and as you can tell from the picture, contains three to six large, round brown seeds. They were a real suprise, popping out of the fruit's hollow center, seeming far too large to reside in such a small space.

In an attempt to uncover the fruit's identity, I've read that nespoli are also called medlars. However, pictures show a brown fruit, not an orange one. Some think it's the same as a loquat, which looks like the fruit above, but the description of the taste doesn't quite fit. Still, loquats are called Japanese medlars, so they're probably from the same family. Nespoli - Italian medlars?

I think so. At any rate, medlars have nice cameos in literarure, as a symbol of prostitution, or early dissipation. Hmmmm. Medlars are said to be "rotten before they are ripe." I don't know. With just one encounter, I couldn't learn enough to say if that is true.


As I was cleaning my bookshelf this week, I found my copy of The Decadent Cookbook, by Medlar Lucan(!) and Durian Gray. These are the pen names of Alex Martin and Jerome Fletcher. If you accept that medlars are rotten before they are ripe; if you regard the smell of the durian as one of the most offensive on the planet; and if you remember that at the root of the word decadent is decay, you'll appreciate the wry wit in these authors' choice of pen names.

It's been several years since I looked at the book. Co-author's name aside, this was also the first time I'd remember actually getting some information about medlars. In the chapter entitled Decay and Corruption:

"...medlars, which resemble grenadillas, are best eaten when they have begun to decompose. To accompany the bowl of medlars was a bowl of 'pire fotute', a precise translation of which need not concern us here. This, my host informed me, was a Sicilian dish made from rotting pears which tasted like chocolate. I took his word for it. Along with the fruit we drank a glass of Sauternes. Needless to say, (my host) waxed lyrical on the subject of 'la pourriture noble' or noble rot."

That perplexed me when I first read it in the late 90s, as there wasn't a real description of the fruit or its flavor. I'm glad I now know - though the medlars I ate were anywhere close to decomposing! Ah well, next trip to Italy...

This is what Shakespeare said about nespoli in As You Lke It:

Truly, the tree yields bad fruit.

I'll graff it with you, and then I shall graff it with a medlar: then it will be the earliest fruit i' the country; for you'll be rotten ere you be half ripe, and that's the right virtue of the medlar.

Shakespeare refers to the medlar again in Romeo and Juliet, when Mercutio mocks Romeo's unrequited love for Rosaline:

Now will he sit under a medlar tree,
And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit
As maids call medlars, when they laugh alone.

(BTW, even though R&J is set in Verona, I didn't see any nespoli trees there.)

Another reference is in Chaucer's The Reeve's Tale:

My heart, too, is as mouldy as my hairs,
Unless I fare like medlar, all perverse.
For that fruit's never ripe until it's worse,
And falls among the refuse or in straw.
We ancient men, I fear, obey this law:
Until we're rotten, we cannot be ripe;

Justice: Why So Lukewarm on Patrick Fitzgerald?

There was a lot of buzz about U-S Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald after he got that perjury conviction against Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

However, this wasn't his first big score: in his backyard of Chicago, Fitzgerald took on terrorism funding, the mob and (successfully) prosecuted former Governor George Ryan on corruption charges.

So why, then, has the Justice Department listed Fitzgerald among a group of attorneys who had "not distinguished themselves?"

This was on a Justice Department chart sent to the White House in March 2005. At the time, Fitzgerald was leading the Plamegate investigation.

From the Washington Post:

"The ranking placed Fitzgerald below "strong U.S. Attorneys . . . who exhibited loyalty" to the administration but above "weak U.S. Attorneys who . . . chafed against Administration initiatives, etc.," according to Justice documents.

"The chart was the first step in an effort to identify U.S. attorneys who should be removed. Two prosecutors who received the same ranking as Fitzgerald were later fired, documents show.

"Fitzgerald's ranking adds another dimension to the prosecutor firings, which began as a White House proposal to remove all 93 U.S. attorneys after the 2004 elections and evolved into the coordinated dismissal of eight last year, a move that has infuriated lawmakers and led to calls for Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to resign."

In all the news stories I've read about this revelation, I find a general sense of disbelief. Patrick Fitzgerald is a pit bull!! What would one have to do to be "distinguished?"

Even two years ago, Fitzgerald caught the attention of the Washington Post for his tenacity. Here's their profile of Fitzgerald from 2005.

Note the title of this other Washington Post article: Inquiry as Exacting As Special Counsel Is.

It's becoming harder and harder for the administration to deny the political motivation driving the firings (and ratings)in the U.S attorney scandal.

For more on this story, listen to David Schaper on NPR's Morning Edition today.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Yacht Equipped Like No Other.

From Corriere della Sera:

"GENOA – The defence market may be sluggish but if navies are not ordering, there is a customer who wants a submarine, albeit a small one. It will be kept on board a very large yacht. Fincantieri is now gearing up to build the vessel at the shipyard in Muggiano, Liguria. This morning, there will be a ceremony to lay the keel of a 134-metre yacht with seven decks and a small submarine capable of reaching depths of up to one hundred metres. The design has two helicopter platforms, a hangar for a private aircraft and a seawater swimming pool that can also be used for mooring small boats. The yacht will require a crew of about sixty and delivery is scheduled for 2010."

The article goes on to describe the brave new frontier in the industry is non-polluting yachts.

"The world’s first such vessel, which next autumn will flaunt a RINA Green Star to show that it can be entirely self-contained, leaving no emissions in the sea, is a fifty-metre long yacht belonging to Luciano Benetton."

Read the whole article here.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Getting to know Ethiopia Through its Food.


(first posted Saturday, March 17, 2007)

I think I'm falling a little bit in love with Ethiopia.

Danielle Pergament writes in today's New York Times:

"This is a country that serves up grass-fed beef and organic vegetables by default. There are no trendy macro-organic-vegan movements; rather, the livestock graze in open fields because there are no factory farms, and vegetables are rarely treated with pesticides because farmers can’t afford the chemicals. Going there is a step back in time, literally — Ethiopians follow a version of the Julian calendar, so the year is 1999, and Ethiopia will have its millennium celebration on Sept. 12."

" the heart of every Ethiopian meal is injera. Basically a pancake — or more accurately, a really, really big pancake — injera is made from tef, a sour-wheat-like grain that is mixed with cool water and a pinch of yeast. But unlike a pancake, it isn’t flipped over, so the topside remains spongy, the better to sop up the vegetables and meat in the saucelike wat (sometimes spelled wot or wett) that is ladled on top. In a country where utensils are scarce, injera is not only your dinner plate, it’s also your knife, fork, spoon and sometimes napkin.

"When a platter of injera arrives at the table, covered in dips of fresh, locally grown vegetables and farm-raised meats, it is immediately torn apart by everyone within arm’s reach. The ritual is as much about silent gratitude for what the land has offered, as it is about digging into a great meal."

The communal aspect of Ethiopian dining is further enhanced by gursha. From Trekshare:

"...if you do eat, say with some good friends, beware that gursha is more than likely coming your way....Gursha is when the host (or) anyone else who feels close to you, crates a little packet of nibbles and injera from their own plate, and feeds it to you by hand."

Now isn't that lovely? Feeding one another in such an intimate way! How can you harbor ill-will against someone with whom you've not only broken bread - they've even put food to your lips? I just can't imagine it.

I always enjoyed going to so called "banana-leaf restaurants" in Singapore and Malaysia, where your platter was a big banana leaf and you conveyed food to mouth with only your hands. Same with Malay meals, and at some Peranakan meals, which my grandmother would announce: makan tangan (eat with your hands.)

I remember hearing an elderly relative remark that as one can only get to know one's spouse by touching him or her, that's also the only way to truly know one's food. It really is quite sensual to discover first hand, literally, the various textures and temperatures: warm rice, cold relishes, tender meat curries, crispy fish. As the old folks used to say, it was a more satisfying meal. With a little practice, feeding oneself with a single hand is easy, and not at all messy. Really!

I had another memorable hands-on dining experience in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. The traditional lanna kantoke meal offers an array of dishes and a bowl of glutinous, or sticky rice. The diner forms a little ball of rice, dunks it into the desired main dish, then pops it into his or her mouth, making sure the fingers never touch the mouth.

Squeamish types probably wouldn't feel at all comfortable with lanna kantoke, banana leaf dinners or the injera b'wat, but remember - every such meal, especially in Ethiopia, begins with an elaborate hand-washing ceremony.

Want to try it yourself? Here's an injera recipe.

And wat to serve on the injera? (sorry, I can't resist a pun.) Here are more recipes, and information on Ethiopian cuisine.

Take a look at these pictures of Ethiopians preparing injera, from

And read the rest of Danielle Pergament's article, Where the Dinner Table is an Altar of Thanks.

S'far as I'm concerned, EVERY meal should be an act of thanksgiving; something we in this country should strive to express.

(After writing this post, I remembered studying a little bit about Ethiopia as a fifth or sixth grader. A few of us were so taken with the name of the capital city, we started calling ourselves the Four Dragons of Addis Ababa, and tried to say it as fast as possible without tripping on the syllables!)

Eric Idle Takes on Handel

One of my favorites from the Monty Python bunch is writing an ORATORIO!

Sounds like Eric Idle's latest effort will be based on Life of Brian. The oratorio's title: Not the Messiah (He's a Very Naughty Boy).

“It will be funnier than Handel, though not as good,” said Idle.

How on earth....?

Turns out the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's music director, Peter Oundjian, is Eric Idle's cousin. Every time they saw each other, they'd toy with the idea of collaborating. When the war in Iraq began, they considered doing a musical comedy called Peter and the Wolf Blitzer. That didn't come to fruition. Finally, the Toronto Symphony joined the Luminato Festival to commission the comic oratorio, which will debut this June.

Idle's working with his Spamalot collaborator John DuPrez on Not the Messiah.

I love Eric Idle's wonderfully ludicrous and inappropriate songs, such as "Always Look On the Bright Side of Life," from The Life of Brian.

Read more about Not the Messiah on the BBC, the Globe and Mail and Times Online.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Drinking on the Ides of March.

Robert Krulwich gave me a really good laugh on NPR's Morning Edition today.

"What if...on March the 15th, the Ides of March, the senators who killed Julius Caesar decided to throw a little party... just to celebrate the elimination of a potential dictator?

"One could imagine a gaggle of Roman senators down at their local watering hole ordering mugs of beer, or more likely, wine.

"Think of it as an Apres Slaying Party.

"Now imagine them a little tipsy, singing what Roman senators no doubt were singing 2,000 years ago: that old drinking ditty, "99 Bottles of Beer (or Wine) on the Wall."

"But remember, they were singing before the numbers we use — 26, 44, 58 — were invented. Our numbers are of Arabic derivation. Romans, we think, used numerals — like VII, IX, XVIII.

"So instead of "99 Bottles of Wine on the Wall," it would be:

XCIX Bottles of Wine on the Wall, XCIX Bottles of Wine,

And if one of those bottles should happen to fall,

That leaves XCVIII bottles of wine on the wall..."

Wait till they get from 89 to 88.

You have GOT to listen to it here.

To help you sing your own version, here's a Roman numerals converter.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Shoo-be-doo-be Dubai, bai....

Oil services giant Halliburton is moving its CEO to Dubai, where there are friendlier tax laws. Officials at the company formerly run by Dick Cheney strongly deny that has anything to do with its decision.

Of course, Democrats sharply criticized the move, even if the tax dodging issue is not clear. North Dakota Senator Byron L. Dorgan even wondered if Halliburton is trying to run away from bad publicity on their contracts.

As you may recall, Halliburton was awarded more than $19 billion in Pentagon contracts through it Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) units, which made it sole provider of food and shelter services to the military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(Picture above from; picture below from

Are critics singling out Halliburton unfairly? After all, as the Associated press reports, "Western businesses have been pouring into Dubai to capture regional energy revenues and take advantage of some of the world's most liberal tax, investment and residency laws. Dubai charges no corporate or income tax and in many cases allows companies no restrictions on repatriating profits or importing employees."

So the question is:

If Halliburton saves U.S. tax money through the move, how much?

In the short term, "not much," writes Michelle Tsai in Slate. "The company is still incorporated in Delaware and remains subject to U.S. law and taxes."

Still, Tsai goes on to say: "the move to Dubai could save Halliburton (and CEO Dave Lesar) some money on foreign taxes."

"With operations in 100 countries, Halliburton had to pay out $289 million to foreign governments last year. The United Arab Emirates government may have sweetened the deal with favorable real-estate terms or other incentives. Dubai's Jebel Ali Free Zone, which already houses more than 5,000 foreign-owned businesses, doesn't impose corporate or personal income taxes and has a robust workforce with no minimum wage. The labor advantage could even convince Halliburton to eventually close the Houston office as the North American business shrinks. After 2008, about 55 percent of Halliburton's services business will come from the Eastern Hemisphere—up from just 40 percent in 2006."

Halliburton has its defenders, though, such as Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Alabama. He said the argument that it's wrong to do business with Dubai or for a company to move its headquarters there risks alienating one of the strongest U.S. allies in the Middle East. 'We need to consider that Dubai is a strong ally in a region of the world (where) we need strong allies desperately,' he said in an interview.

Where was that argument in the Dubai Ports deal last year? When it was revealed that a Dubai-owned firm bought operations in six U.S. ports last March, the Republican Congress voted to force Dubai to sell the U.S. ports.

Security matters aside, there are possible economic implications. Marketwatch reports some market strategists say the move would bring substantial benefits to Halliburton shareholders, but it may prove hurtful for the U.S. economy and the dollar in the long term.

Today's opinion piece in the New York Times on the subject: The Death of Geography?

Just in case you want to visit Dubai but don't have deep pockets, the NYT has some tips on how to visit the emirate on a budget.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Sorority Saga: Let's See Who's Getting the Boot Now.

Last month I wrote about the Delta Zeta sorority kicking out women in its DePauw chapter who are not conventionally pretty.

As a former DZ told CNN, she and her sorority sisters were told by Delta Zeta's national leaders, "You need to be more sexually appealing; you need to make the guys want you." (Full story.)

How anachronistic is that? More to the point, how icky is that?

Ewwww. These are supposed to be well-educated women!

But I'll bite my tongue and move on.

Officials at DePauw were ticked off at the sackings, but it was Delta Zeta's response that drove them to evict the sorority from its campus. Sam Dillon followed up his February report in the New York Times today.

After the initial fuss, which received widespread national attention, Delta Zeta posted a weak apology on its website.

“Delta Zeta National apologizes to any of our women at DePauw who felt personally hurt by our actions. It was never our intention to disparage or hurt any of our members during this chapter reorganization process.”

But, not able to leave well enough alone, "the sorority posted statements critical of the women forced out of the DePauw chapter and of faculty members who supported them.," writes Dillon.

For DePauw officials, that was the last straw.

University President Robert G. Bottoms said beginning this fall Delta Zeta would no longer be permitted to house students in its Greek-columned residence on the DePauw campus in Greencastle, Indiana.

Let the punishment fit the crime.

It's high time for Delta Zeta's leadership to refine their understanding of an apology. There really is an art to saying "sorry." For starters, they can listen to Amy Dickinson, who explained it in Talk of the Nation on NPR last week.

You can listen to that discussion here.

Maltese Tenor Joseph Calleja Fills In for Villazon.

Poor Rolando wasn't feeling very good Friday night. So just an hour an a half before going onstage in the Vienna State Opera's La Boheme, he pulled out, and was replaced by 29-year old Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja.

There's been a lot of interest in this young man especially since Malta joined the European Union in 2004. His style is said to be "reminiscent of the great tenors of opera's golden age." (from Decca)

The Times of Malta reports the audience was so pumped about going to see Rolando that they were furious when they found out he wasn't going to show. Still, Joseph Calleja won them over, including Austria's largest paper, Die Presser:

"Joseph Calleja... swiftly managed to allay the discontent.

"He was (along with Boaz Daniel as Marcello) the best thing on this evening. (Mr) Calleja has a glorious, gratifyingly old-fashioned timbre, a terrific upper register and an ongoingly improving technique."

The Kurier Vienna amped up the praise: "The judgment of many people: A voice that radiates even more lyricism than Villazon's tenor."

I imagine Rolando is now doing his best to get better and back on stage! We recommend he stay away from mechanical bulls for a while.

But I'm glad for Joseph Calleja. The more top-notch tenors around, the better, I say.

Read more about Calleja on Wikipedia, and in this article from Music and Vision.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Sound of Singapore.

In my last post I mentioned that I was born in Singapore. There's been quite a bit of reporting from that country of late on The World, as their correspondent Patrick Cox sends in stories on the island nation. The last, aired on Friday, was about the country's unique expression of the English language: Singlish.

Here's the link to listen to the report, and some samples of that language.

All I can say is, in the school I attended, teachers didn't encourage Singlish. Some of them simply wouldn't tolerate it. For me, it was just one of several "languages," dialects and other variants I spoke growing up. "Proper" English at school and most of the time at home. A smattering of Peranakan Malay with my paternal grandmother. A dash of Cantonese with my maternal grandmother and our maid. A forced dose of Mandarin as my mandatory second language in school. And of course, Singlish, as the company or occasion demanded. I also understood a tiny bit of two other Chinese dialects, Hokkien and Teochew, widely used in Singapore. This was not at all unusual: most Singaporeans switch from one language or dialect to another without batting an eyelash.

For all this, it pains me to say that today it is only my first language with which I am very comfortable. When necessary, I can stumble through rudimentary Mandarin and Cantonese. But fortunately, great expressions and phrases in Singlish are easy to recall.

One example: catch no ball

A word-for-word translation of a Hokkien phrase liak bo kyew, it's used when someone is trying to say they don't comprehend something. For example, if a math teacher launches into an explanation of some esoteric concept, a student who failed to grasp it could mutter, "Sir, (I) catch no ball!" Isn't that a great expression? So economical!

Here are more examples of Singlish.

And this is a linguist's take on Singlish on Wikipedia.

So, like dat, lah!

Asian Mothers and Daughters, In the Kitchen.

"Your mother is in your bones!"
- Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club

This morning, I watched the delightful Australian chef Kylie Kwong on the the Discovery Home Channel. Kylie is fourth-generation Chinese.

This morning’s episode of Simply Magic was entitled A Chinese Family: Mothers and Daughters.

Mum stepped in to Kylie’s kitchen, and I’m telling you – the exchange was déjà vu for just about every Asian daughter.

As she toasted sesame seeds to toss in a pickled celery salad, Kylie said if her Mum ever gave her "a certain look," she’d be reduced to the size of a sesame seed, in seconds. Asian daughters everywhere, I ask you, does this not resonate?

When offered a cup of tea. Mum promptly asked for a simpler vessel, saying the proffered cup was too special and she was afraid to break it. Asian daughters know that sentiment well, getting frustrated because Mother refuses to use the new sheets or tablecloth or blouse or china they sent, because it’s too special.

Daughters also know that competition and conflict with Mother can translate itself into culinary tasks with mother is in the kitchen, as Kylie demonstrated in a mashed potato challenge.

Mum made her mash the way most of us do, boiling potatoes, draining, mashing with the old trust masher and adding butter and milk. Just one pot to wash.

Kylie's method involved steaming potatoes (boiling makes the spuds absorb too much water, she said) for 35 minutes, then running them through her French mouli, (food mill). Next, she melted French butter, and heated milk. “Cold milk shocks the potatoes,” she said. Mum: “I didn’t know potatoes could be shocked.” Setting her mouli over the milk and butter, she turned the handle and the mashed potato fell into the creamy mix.

The judgement came from Mrs. Kwong’s granddaughter, Indy. In favor of Kylie. Then Indy slyly said, “Kylie, can I have my money now?”

Precious. If only all mother-daughter exchanges in the kitchen could be so innocuous!

Watch Kylie's show if you can. The dishes are simple, very healthy, traditional but with a modern Asia-Pacific twist, and gorgeous.

(L: Stir-fried King prawns)

I think you’ll really enjoy her warmth and self-effacing of humor. She's not corny, and doesn't show off. Apart from Ming Tsai and Martin Yan, I can’t think of any other Chinese chefs on TV. What a shame the Food Network can’t find any time in a whole week of oft-repeated shows to work in a measly half hour of Asian cooking.

Asian Mothers and Daughters, Part 2

(Part 2 is made necessary by Blogger's 200-character limit on each post)

Mrs. Kwong made the point that her mashed potatoes made use of a trusty old pot and a masher that cost only a few dollars, and involved a lot less washing up. Beat that, Kylie, she all but said.

In so many movies involving Asian families, scenes involving food are memorable, because that area really is where the raw elements in relationships are distilled. Often, Mother knows best, and there is simply no other way. Daughter may grudgingly go along with it as she struggles with her life lesson of the moment, at complete odds with what she has heard all her life from Mother.

As for my own Asian background, I’m Straits Chinese, also known as Perankan, Baba and Nonya, from Singapore. The short-form description of my culture: after the British established its three settlements in the Straits of Malacca, immigrants poured in to Penang, Malacca and Singapore. Some of the men from southern China married the local Malay women, and the resulting blend of cultures became separate and distinct. The language was a patois of Malay with Hokkien (Fujian) inflections, the women wore the sarong kebaya, which looks more Malay than Chinese.

As for Peranakan food, it's a fabulous blend of Chinese and Malay ingredients and techniques. It’s a very time-consuming to prepare this food, with a ridiculous amount of attention given to prep and mise-en-place. Back in the day, Nonya matchmakers would arrive at a prospective bride’s home in the mid-morning, when the girl would be preparing lunch; the matchmaker (and sometimes, the mother-in-law to be) would listen to the sound of the mortar and pestle (lesong) and were said to be able to tell from that alone if the young lady was a good cook. So, it boiled down to these factors – was she strong enough to wield a heavy granite pestle, could she cook well, and bear numerous sons?

Naturally, once the girl married into a family her actions were scrutinized, and many a conflict would play itself out in the kitchen.

I say, so long as the skills are passed on from one generation to another, c’est la vie, eh?

I plan to get Kylie's books soon.

From everything I've seen and read, her books are as beautiful as they are good. They are:

Thursday, March 8, 2007

The War on Terror: How Long? Ted Koppel Investigates, and Tells Me About It.

Bring home the troops, say many Americans.

But when each and every one comes back home, does that mean the War on Terror is over?

U.S military officials say forget that.

Just look at what al Qaeda is doing: gearing up to take on the U.S for the next hundred years. That means generations to come will have to fight an unconventional war.

Outgoing Centcomm commander General John Abizaid coined the term The Long War to describe the coming struggle.

Ted Koppel examines this in his third special report for the Discovery Channel, airing this Sunday at 9PM.

I talked to Ted on Monday morning about the program, Our Children's Children's War.

Ted was anchor of ABC's Nightline for 25 years. He's now a senior news analyst for National Public Radio (here's his NPR bio) and managing editor for the Discovery Channel.

I admit to being nervous before speaking to him, but once the interview was in progress became so absorbed in what Ted had to say, and settled down. He made a point of asking how to pronounce my name, and addressed me a few times during out chat. In addition to the riveting subject, Ted's beautiful, clear and unhurried manner, plus that rich, sonorous old-style delivery, can really hold your attention. We only had 10 minutes. Each of his answers was substantial. There wasn't nearly enough time to ask everything I wanted.

A seven-minute edit aired on Northwest Public Radio Friday during Morning Edition.


Here's the audio and transcript of the unedited interview.


This is the third special report Ted's done for Discovery. The first one, aired five years after the September 11th attacks, was The Price of Security. In conjunction with that program, NPR jointly produced a town hall meeting with Discovery.

Above: Ted Koppel hosts the town hall meeting in Silver Spring, Md., Sept. 10, 2006.

NPR blogged about producing that event for TV and radio simultaneously.

Here are questions and answers from that town hall meeting.


NPR's interview with Ted Koppel on the same subject aired on Morning Edition on Friday. Read or listen to it here.

More Barnyard Animal News Today,

Will those wisecracking California cows be TRULY happy at this news?

California Dairies Inc., a huge Central Valley dairy co-op says it's going to stop using BGH, Bovine Growth Hormone, in its cows.

Suddenly conscious of animal welfare? Health concerns?

No. It all boils down to MONEY.

As San Jacinto dairy farmer Sid Sybrandy tells the Los Angeles Times, any increased production wasn't worth the expense of the drug and the extra wear he saw in the animals.

"If it is 40 cents a cow per day, times 1,000 cows, it's $400. After a month, it is an extra $12,000," Sybrandy said. "The dairy industry would have been better off if the product would have never been used. We all would have made more money."

Further, California Dairies Inc. said its biggest customers such as Vons and Safeway didn't want it in the cows. The co-op also supplies brands such as Foster Farms, Knudsen Farms and Producers Dairy.

Then, there's Starbucks -- we think of its coffee, but did you know it is one of the biggest sellers of milk in the country? That's a lotta latte. They've stopped using milk from cows injected with the hormone from more than a third of its establishments and plans to gradually increase that to at least half of its U.S. company-operated coffeehouses.

BGH is made by Monsanto.

Read the Los Angeles Times article.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

One Great Picture After Another: Gracias, Rolando.

Rolando Villazon is rapidly becoming my favorite opera personality. That’s PERSONALITY. Earlier this morning I posted the picture of him flying off a mechanical bull (scroll down) - now I’ve found another picture of him, screaming for a caption.


I received some great caption suggestions! These include: (names hidden to protect the guilty):

  • Look at the shine coming off that thing! I can see my tonsils! (LH)

  • You used my lotion again? Have you no sense of personal property? (LH)

  • Oh my gosh! What kind of moisturizer are you using? I simply must get a bottle for myself! (RR)

  • So THIS is what you've been hiding! (Unprintable!) :) (RR)


With one misstep, Anna turns the performance into a soprano duet.

(Scott, from comments)

Thanks for the caption ideas, friends, and keep sending in those entries!

The lovely lady with Rolando here is the Russian soprano Anna Netrebko. In the picture above, they are playing Alfredo and Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata. The two work so well together, any production or recording teaming them is virtually guaranteed success.

If you want to hear Rolando and Anna sing, click here. A clip of them singing the Brindisi will start playing. The performance is from the 2005 Salzburg Festival, and features Eastern Washington’s favorite operatic son, Thomas Hampson.

We Interrupt This Broadcast...

...with this test of the Emergency Alert System."

The National Weather Service test cut into our program at 7:56 this morning, interrupting Frank DeFord's piece on NPR listeners' name suggestions for the brothers of the racehorse Barbaro.

To hear the interrupted piece, click on this link to read or listen to DeFord's commentary.

In Every Opera, There's Downfall.

(AP Photo/Roberto Pfeil, Pool)

What the hell was Rolando Villazon doing Saturday on German TV?

Seems the Mexican superstar was riding a mechanical bull, wearing a jacket of what appears to be a red velvet. I don't know if that was meant to evoke the matador, seeing as he was on a bull (of sorts.) Was it maybe a stray costume from Carmen? At any rate, it's a pretty discordant convergence: velvet, mechanical bull, airborne tenor.

A mechanical bull. Will he soon come up with an album of re-interpreted country songs? (My hero Placido took his pipes to Annie's Song, which is...well...oh, never mind.) Will Rolando belt out The Yellow Rose of Texas? Well if he does, it will have to wait. His album just released last month contains zarzuela arias, with the orchestra conducted by none other than: Placido Domingo. I have to get it! Rolando really is excellent: I love that dark-chocolate-and-brandy feeling of his voice. Gotta hear how he interprets those zarzuelas, which often ooze raw emotion.

I hope Rolando has a good chiropractor.

And an ego somewhat sturdier than Roberto Alagna's.

If you understand German, here's the video of Rolando's German interview.

From an earlier post: opera writer Michael White says Rolando looks like Mr. Bean.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Salaam, Mira Nair.

Can't wait for Friday! That's when one of my favorite books comes to the big screen.

Mira Nair is responsible for the film adaptation of the brilliant novel The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri.

I really love the work of South Asian (Deshi) writers, and this one is among my favorites. It tells the story of a Bengali immigrant couple and their struggle to adapt to Western life. Their first child is born in Massachusetts, and they name him Gogol, after the Russian writer.

The Namesake was a resounding success for Jhumpa Lahiri, but she didn’t let that go to her head. Get an insight into this down-to-earth writer in her interview with the Washington Post in 2003.

Now combine her craft with that of the brilliant Mira Nair.

Salaam Bombay, Monsoon Wedding, Mississippi Masala and Vanity Fair (ironically, I just wrote about it in my March 1st post on the Bollywood craze among young white Brits.) Watch those films, and I need say no more.

I wonder how much the film will depart from the novel, though. According to IMDb, the film is a comedy/drama. The novel really didn't strike me as comedic, so - must wait and see.

Nair gave a very nice interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross on Tuesday. You can listen to it here.

Finally, the face behind the voice!!

This is the voice of Eliza Dolittle in "My Fair Lady." This is who you heard in "West Side Story" as Maria. And she is also the voice behind Anna in "The King and I."

She is Marni Nixon, the woman whose voice supported Audrey, Natalie and Deborah in the musical film roles. I've only seen Marni in a little (singing) role as one of the nuns in The Sound of Music, complaining about the problem (like Maria.)

Now 77, Mrs. Nixon is in the New York Philharmonic’s concert-style revival of "My Fair Lady" at Lincoln Center this week.

Here's the story.

30 minutes? Try a dish in 30 SECONDS.

On Saturday morning, I caught an episode of Jacques Pepin’s public television show, Fast Food My Way, and felt a renewed appreciation for the skill, mastery and frugality of this elegant chef’s creations.

He opens each show with a simple dish whipped out in about 30 seconds!

There’s a cold black bean soup, which begins with a can of black beans pureed in a food processor with garlic, olive oil and hot sauce, then garnished with a little bit of sour cream, cilantro, sliced banana and crushed tortillas.

In the episode I watched, he tossed canned sliced beets with salt, pepper and sour cream, and set them on a bed of endive leaves. Took him about 15 very calm seconds, delivered in his reassuring voice.

I had the great pleasure of meeting and chatting with him (“please call me Jacques!”) last November at a private gathering and demonstration the night before his Yakima Town Hall lecture. We talked a little bit about his show, about Singapore food (it’s impossible to talk about Singapore without the subject of food coming up fairly quickly), and ingredients: we both agreed that the egg is completely underrated in American cooking. Apart from breakfast dishes, how often do you see eggs as the star of an entrée? He told me about a couple of simple sauces that elevate the humble egg. I told him about the days when I raised chickens on a mix of free range, vegetable scraps and grain, and was totally spoiled by having an unlimited access to fresh eggs with yolks so orange my cakes almost looked like they had food coloring added. It was something to which Jacques could relate from his boyhood in France.

Throughout the evening, Jacques showed a frugal sensibility, which also comes across on the show. He peppered his demonstration mentioning how much one could save by using one ingredient instead of another with no sacrifice in taste. Or, as he took the wings off a whole chicken and turned them inside out to form a “lollipop,” quickly calculated it would cost $6.50 as an appetizer in a restaurant. THAT, my friends, is a real chef – one who keeps a constant eye on the bottom line.

So I share now Jacques’ tips on the economical use of mushrooms.

The simple button mushroom, he said, has at least as much flavor as the more expensive varieties.

We’ve heard that the way to pick mushrooms in the store is to look for those with tight caps, with no separation from the stem. Yet Jacques said he often looks for the mushrooms in the bargain bin, a little past display prime, but with even more flavor with their age. And they're very cheap, to boot!

I can support the bit about flavor. There was once when I left a paper bag of these mushrooms on my counter before leaving on a vacation. When I came back, the caps had shriveled, but hadn’t gone bad. I tossed them into a pot of water with other vegetables and ended up with the richest vegetable broth I have ever made. Following that discovery, in the summer I sometimes dry mushrooms exactly like that, in a paper bag. They make particularly rich sauces and stews. (None of the local supermarkets has a bargain bin that I know of; but there is one in the food co-op - I should start paying more attention to what it has to offer.)

Jacques’ other fungus tip: - it’s okay to wash the little guys. Merci beaucoup!!! Wiping mushrooms with a damp cloth – it’s just too Martha for me. And if you’ve ever examined the amount of gunk that washes off those caps, you’d get rid of them damp cloth and dunk the ‘shrooms in a bowl of water too. But Jacques did say it’s key to wash them only immediately before use.

I’ll write more about my meeting with Jacques Pepin in future posts. Meantime, if you haven’t watched his show or read any of his books, I highly recommend them. He’s the real deal, trained in the old school where chefs had to start at the very bottom of the brutal kitchen hierarchy and work their way up by grueling labor and mastery of technique. He was a chef before it was a fashionable and lucrative career. In this day of celebrity chefs, it’s so refreshing to see a modest yet utterly charming gentleman go about his work without bluster. May the culinary world raise more of his ilk.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Teens Accused of Making Ostrich Impotent

This Associated Press story comes from Germany, where three teenagers could face a hefty fine if a court finds their firecrackers scared the libido right out of an ostrich named Gustav.

The bird’s owner claims that fireworks set off by the boys made the previously lustful Gustav both apathetic and depressed, and thus unable to perform for a half-a-year with his two female breeding partners.

The farmer estimates he lost out on 14 ostrich offspring -- worth $460 apiece.

Here’s the full story.

No word if manufacturers of ED drugs are interested in helping Gustav.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Last post on "literally." I promise.

I found some information on how the poor word came to its current state of abuse, and apparently it goes back a very long way!! Check out these articles:

Robert Fulford's column

Jesse Scheidlower: The Word We Love to Hate. Literally.

Abusers include Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, and F. Scott Fitzgerald! I had no idea. Never really noticed it until the last couple of years, frankly. Wonder if the misuse has just accelerated dramatically.

Like, literally.

It just occured to me (duh!) that like is often used where the speaker means something occurred literally , e.g.:

"The icicles were, like, falling off the roof."

Often people say literally in situations where something is like another thing, e.g.:

"My hands and feet were literally burning." ("My hands and feet felt like they were burning.") Or: "She was literally a father and mother to him." (Only one case where this could apply, that I know of - Cartman!!)

Another example of a constantly changing language: last week on Fresh Air I heard Maureen Corrigan's review of Ben Yagoda's When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It. She mentioned Pimp My Ride, where the first word has morphed from noun to verb, and the last word from verb to noun.

My faith restored! Literally.

For the last couple of days, Morning Edition has carried stories that somehow related to my posts written the day before. Funny how that happens.

Today, it's a big hurrah for NPR's Renee Montagne for correct usage of literal! She introduced a story was about a material that allows light to pass through as easily as it goes through air; that is to say, with no glare. Renee Montagne correctly used literally:

“The following story is no reflection on you. Literally, in this case. Scientists in New York have used nanotechnology to create an optical coating that virtually eliminates the reflection when you shine a light on it.”

The first time I’ve heard it used correctly in a long time.

Read or listen to the story, New Material Makes the Most of Light.

And to further my hope for a better future for the word literal, Northwest Public Radio's Robin Rilette just asked me if she could get on the studio computer to check something, saying "it will literally take me one minute."

I'm going to have a nice Friday.

Illiterate about "literal."

What has happened to the word literal?

For one thing, it’s become very popular. While flipping channels over a ten-minute period one afternoon, I heard it at least 6 times, incorrectly, in every instance. Literally! One example:

“My brain was literally on fire.”

I get irony, really. But it seems to me that more often than not, the word literal is used by people who think it means the exact opposite.

From the web site Common Errors in English by WSU's Paul Brians: literally has been so overused as a sort of vague intensifier that it is in danger of losing its literal meaning. It should be used to distinguish between a figurative and a literal meaning of a phrase."

How did this happen, I wonder?

Something similar happened with déjà vu. It was funny when Yogi Berra used redundancy: “it was déjà vu all over again.” It caught on, but eventually most people who used that phrase had no clue of the joke - or if they did, gave no indication they were in on the irony. For years now, that phrase has irked me. It’s just not funny anymore.

So, back to literal.

“I was, like, literally heartbroken!” (The dead continue to speak!)

“My head like, literally exploded.” (And the mouth still can’t, like, shut up?)

“My skin was literally crawling.” (Where to? The flayed look is so last millennium.)

Oh, for goodness’ sake. Like and literal are not synonyms, not by a long shot! Using them together in sentences annoys me greatly! LITERALLY!!!!!! It grates on my nerves. Figuratively.

I have to wonder: is there a link between like and literal?

Given the gross overuse of like, in cases where one might have heard such as, compared to, as in, et cetera….can we detect a growing inability to use language accurately? Or perhaps, people speak with exaggeration and hyperbole as a matter of course, so much so they've found they need a way to say when they really mean something?

I still would love to know how this misuse began, so if anyone has answers, share and enlighten, please!

You know what prompted me to write this tirade?

Yesterday afternoon on the program The World,” the guest host said of the son of a late musician from Mali: “He’s literally following in his father’s footsteps.” (Read or listen to it here.) I waited to hear where exactly the son was trekking, retracing his father’s footsteps. I was disappointed. Of course, the son was following in the father’s figurative career footsteps.

And this on PUBLIC RADIO!! That, for me, was the last straw. (The last straw that literally broke the camel's back? I'm KNOW I read or heard that somewhere lately!)

Ye gods.

I really don’t know how literal came to be so abused. But apparently, I am far from alone in my irritation. After I started writing this, I Googled misuse word literal – and lo and behold, 380,000 results!

This one is fun: an “English language grammar blog tracking abuse of the word literally”: Literally, A Web Log. Some hysterical examples collected on this site, such as she literally jumped out of her skin. Worth a few good laughs!

A brief digression to the word like. I tried my best to reduce its egregious use by my children, a couple of summers ago. Each time they used the word meaninglessly, as a filler, the offending party would be fined a nickel. If I did it, the fine was a quarter. (We used the money for ice cream at the end of the summer.) The exercise didn't obliterate the word from our home, but my sons, at least, don't pepper their speech liberally with the word. With my daughter, corrections are still required on occasion.

Maybe my next goal should be to discourage the misuse of literal and literally. I want to encourage the use of the following in its place: practically, virtually, actually, really. Or use nothing at all, in sentences such as I [literally] couldn't wait for the show to start.

Rant over. I feel much better! Literally!

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Happy birthday, Cat in the Hat!

Dr. Seuss created the character 50 years ago today.

I swear, I didn't know that when I wrote the titles to the last two posts!

Morning Edition investigated the genesis of The Cat this morning.

Happy Birthday, Cat in the Hat!

Jolly Good, Bollywood!

Fish and chips have been supplanted by chicken tikka masala as Britain's favorite dish. And now comes the news that the country's South Asian wave has hit the theater and popular culture. The BBC reports Bollywood dancing has really caught on in Yorkshire.

White English youths are crazy about it in this northern county. We're talking about James Herriot territory, here! The land of Siegfried, James and Tristan!

Young Yorshire folk love Bollywood dancing, described as "a fusion of Indian classical dancing with Western dance moves".

"It's exciting, its physically testing, it's graceful and above all it's fun," says one teenager, auditioning to dance in a play called Bollywood Jane.

Alastair Lawson writes, "It seems as if the people of Yorkshire have embraced Bollywood with the same kind of enthusiasm that many cricket fans in India have for the batsman Geoffrey Boycott. The mention of his name in India still prompts the refrain of "eh up Geoffrey".

Relations between the two cultures have not always been cordial. I was reminded of this recently when I watched David Lean's A Passage to India, and re-read E.M. Forster's novel of the same title. Another recent movie night, I discovered Lagaan, a good example of the ambigious relationship between the Indians and their colonizers. Still, the cultural flow of ideas between the two peoples has been rich, with examples ranging from mundane to profound. Did you know it was the British who are responsible for the word curry? Hard to imagine curry coming from anyone but Asians, isn't it?

Indian song and dance seem an excellent addition to Britain's culture.

One of my favorite movies, Gurinder Chadha's Bride and Prejudice, successfully translated a beloved English novel into the Bollywood idiom. Director Mira Nair brought some Indian elements into her film of Thackeray's Vanity Fair. That may have betrayed authenticity, but the result was visually very appealing.

Very much my cuppa chai.