Monday, 29 June 2009
Wednesday, 24 June 2009
This recipe will have you thanking me till the cows come home. Don't be lazy, make the effort and get down to you local market for fresh mussels to make this delicious dish. It will be worth it; I promise.
450 grams fresh green mussels, cleaned well
1 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup sweet basil leaves
2 tablespoons roasted chilli paste
4 fresh chillies, cut into long strips
2 teaspoons garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1. Heat water in a pot until boiling. Then scald green mussels in boiled water until cooked. Remove and drain.
2. Heat oil in a wok over medium-high heat. Add garlic in the hot oil and fry until it becomes golden.
3. Add cooked green mussels and stir for a 20 seconds. Then add fish sauce, sugar, chili and roasted chilli paste.
4. Before removing from heat, sprinkle with sweet basil leaves and red fresh chilli. Stir-fry for another 10 seconds. Transfered to a serving dish and served with hot steamed rice.
The sun is set against the dawn, the orange color against the gray and the vibrant force of the sun against its motionless surroundings. To many spectators, the sun undulates or pulsates slightly. Why is this so? The sun is nearly the same luminance as the grayish clouds. I am in two minds whether Monet's work fills me will hope or helpnessness. On one hand, it could be seen as the beginning of a new day filled with hope and promise, or perhaps the beginning of another drab, dark and monotonous twenty four hours of life; no fills no thrills, only bare existance. Saying this, the sun does seem to provide a focal point in the painting, perhaps reminding us that in life there is always a bring light of hope somewhere in the distance.
Do you have any views on this work?
Sunday, 21 June 2009
Like most people, I had heard of George Orwell long before I had read any of his books. ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm' have achieved such fame that Orwell is known through them and associated with them from early age to anyone with the slightest interest in reading. So much so that it is easy to overlook the main body of his work, which, given its quality and importance (both to an understanding of the author, but also of the time in which he lived) would be a mistake.
‘Coming Up For Air’ was the last book that Orwell wrote before the second world war, and there is a pervasive, oppressive air of threat throughout the narrative that forebodes the great cataclysm that was to come. Written and set in nineteen thirty nine, it is the first person narrative of one George Bowling, a fat, middle aged insurance salesman (earning ‘five to ten quid a week’), trapped in a desperate life of suburban mundanity.
George is a family man, in hate with his wife and father to two children he could happily live without. He lives in the suburbs of London, on a road which he memorably describes as ‘A line of semi-detached torture-chambers where the little five-to-ten-pound-a-weekers quake and shiver, every one of them with the boss twisting his tail and the wife riding him like the nightmare and the kids sucking his blood like leeches.’
The opening of the book thus sets the scene for the reader. George is appalled by the times he is living in, choking on them. Eating a revolting fish-flavoured frankfurter inspires him to sum up his feelings thus: ‘It gave me the feeling that I’d just bitten into the modern world and discovered what it was really made of. Everything slick and streamlined, everything made out of something else… Rotten fish in a rubber skin.’ George’s only hope and joy lies in his possession of the princely sum of seventeen pounds, won on the horses, and kept secret
from his wife, as he tries to decide how to spend it.
Orwell’s prose is electric in this section of the book. There is so much disgust for the pre-war world here that one has to wonder whether the words were written in bile rather than ink. Whether describing the slavery of a mortgage, or the tyranny of petty shop floor managers, Orwell hits his mark with deadly accuracy. In these early chapters are clearly visible the beginnings of the train of thought that would ultimately lead to ‘1984’.
In parenthesis, it is interesting that Orwell’s sympathy when he considers the evils of modernism seems to lie entirely with the middle classes. He writes: ‘There’s a lot of rot talked about the suffering of the working class. I’m not so sorry for the proles myself. Did you ever know of a navvy who lay awake thinking about the sack?’ As in ‘1984’, the author seems to be thinking of the poorer classes as a vast herd of cows, contentedly chewing the cud, never having the imagination to see the bleakness of their lives. It’s certainly a harsh judgement, and perhaps a surprising one, when one considers Orwell’s experiences on the bread line as a 'plongeur' in Paris, as described in ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’. However, I recall a line from that book where Orwell says of his desperate circumstances: ‘One talks so often of going to the dogs. And here are the dogs, and you are among them, and you can bear it. It takes off a lot of anxiety’. For Orwell, the physical hardships of the poor are lesser evils than what he sees as the hopelessness of the middle class. Having never been to the dogs I can’t truly say if I agree or not, but I don’t think I do.
Inevitably, from his sickness with the present, George Bowling seeks escape in nostalgic reflection. A newspaper headline propels his mind back into the past as he remembers his childhood i
n the town of Lower Binfield. Orwell’s pen suddenly runs out of venom, and colour an warmth flow into the world of the past he describes. Part one of the book ends as George muses ‘Is it gone forever? I’m not certain. But I tell you it was a good world to live in. I belong to it. So do you.’
In the following chapters Orwell describes the world Bowling comes from. I don’t know how much of this section of the book is autobiographical, I suspect not that much of it, as what I know of Orwell’s life does not tally with the reminiscences of George Bowling. However, the result is never less than believable. And while the author is more renowned for the savage satire of his later books, he manages to paint a picture of the past that seems nostalgic, but without succumbing to the temptation to give soft focus and rose tint.
I think the reason that he is successful in this is that Orwell is charting what he sees as a sea change in the way life was lived that took place very early this century. It is easy to cynically dismiss nostalgia as a failure of the ageing to keep up with modern life, but I think that it would be a mistake to classify this part of the book in that way. It strikes me that what in this case the author is describing is the birth of the modern era. The beginning of a time when to simply subsist was no longer enough, when competition began to destroy livelihoods that had supported families for generations, when people learned to strive. Orwell takes as a powerful example George Bowling’s father, a seed merchant, who watches in bewilderment as his business slowly starts to fail, destroyed by competition as market forces reach even to this countryside idyll. ‘None of us had any grasp of what was happening. Father had had a bad year and had lost money, but was he really frightened by the future? I don’t think so. This was 1909, remember. He didn’t know what was happening to him. He wa
sn’t capable of seeing that these Sarazin people would systematically undersell him, ruin him, and eat him up. How could he? Things hadn’t happened like that when he was a young man.’
Bowling describes his formative years in detail, his hobbies and day to day life. We learn that his passion used to be fishing, (most apt, for a man who would grow to spend life floundering on the end of a hook) and he recalls a lost pool in a forest near to his home town, where swam the most enormous, beautiful fish a fisherman could dream of. Spurred by this reflection he decides to spend his seventeen pounds on a trip back to the village he grew up in, to spend a week there, to fish in the pool, to get back his nerve ‘before the bad times begin’. In short, on coming up for air.
What he finds in Lower Binfield on his return I will leave to the reader to discover, but suffice to say that Orwell clearly did not believe that the clock could ever really be turned back. Perhaps it was the impending war, perhaps just a general and genuine horror of the modern way of life, but Orwell clearly felt at this stage of his life that civilisation was leading mankind to ruin. In another passage that can be seen as a precursor to the thinking in ‘1984’, Bowling attends a lecture given in which he watches an anti-fascist speaker, himself driven by hatred and a burning desire to smash faces, ‘trying to work up hatred in the audience’. And as some of the audience are drawn in, George realises ‘They’re the long sighted ones, the first rats to spot that the ship is sinking. Quick, quick! The fascists are coming! Spanners ready, boys! Smash others or they’ll smash you. So terrified of the future that we’re jumping straight into it like a rabbit diving down a boa constrictor’s throat.’
That after the war Orwell wrote ‘1984’ would seem to indicate that it wasn’t just the imp
ending conflict that made the author feel so bleak. Orwell’s nightmare of the future of mankind was that fear, the fear engendered by the way we modernists live, and the hatred that inevitably grows to help us bear that fear, will drive those who should know better to extremes of barbarism and evil, as personified by the rule of Big Brother. Needless to say the herds of unthinking proles will be drawn along, without protest. Thank goodness that so far it has not come to pass.
To finish, then, ‘Coming Up For Air’, while in no wise a cheery novel, remains worth reading for any number of reasons. I would recommend it to anyone who has read ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm’ as a fascinating insight into the development of Orwell’s ideas. For anyone else I’d recommend it as a superbly written account of a man’s life, as an insight into the psychology and mood of the world as it is dragged inexorably toward war, and as a meditation on the dawn of the age in which we live.
Thursday, 18 June 2009
If there is any writer in the history of American literature who is a testament to the fallacy of category, it's Henry James. During a 50-year career in which he tackled the art of the novel, short story and essay with religious fervor, he established a persona that meant many things to many people, but nothing that anyone has able to peg upon him convincingly. Too often his detractors partake in sloppy, self-indulgent reading that is synonymous with the decline in the literacy of the times. Yet too often his defenders trot out tired cliches in defense of him, ("Art for art's sake," "Style works as form," etc. ) marginalizing James profound and introspective search for human nature and character in the process. Yet again, I take umbrage with the scores of second-rate novelists who throughout history thought they were crafting their own "Bostonians" and "Ambassadors" by putting a half a dozen commas and semi colons in every one of their sentences (with a sprinkle of bad psychological analysis in between).
So am I writing you with any definitive answers about who many believe to be the leading man of American letters? Hell no. But from reading five of his novels, two books of essays, and two short story collections, I have my opinions and reasons why I consider myself a Jamesophile.
To me, reading James is taking a glance of the limitless possibilities of the English language. The beauty of his prose doesn't come from a cohesive whole, but sentence to sentence, sometimes terse and concise, sometimes extending to a half a page. Yet his style wouldn't have as much meaning if it didn't augment his sophisticated theories on fiction. James established a detached, high flown literary style that gave him a distance from his characters, which in turn enabled him to give them numerous ambiguities, shades of personality, and depths of thought. The result is a highly powerful and wildly imaginative brand of realism exemplary of the power of great fiction. Although I haven't read all his oeuvre, Washington Square is a great introduction to James, showing the full range of his creative powers.
The book centers on the three person dynamic of the Sloper family. There's Austin Sloper, a semi-wealthy doctor whose two parts disdain, two parts sardonicism and one part charm. He has a daughter named Catherine, who he kinda loves between his fits of misogynistic contempt for her. Catherine isn't, in James portrayal, the most attractive person in a world, but she has a warm humanity to her that is easy to like. Lavinia, the aunt, serves as a buffer between the two, comforting Catherine and charming the mercurial Austin.
Entre Mssr Morris Townsend, a charming, amorous huckster, who is a toxic mix of seduction and bullsh*t. Before he entered the world of the Slopers, he was a grifter who relied on his wit and good looks to steal and gamble away women's fortunes. He originally doesn't look on Catherine too kindly, but upon hearing that her father has a steep trust fund for her after he dies, Morris suddenly deems her to be his Beatrice. Their courtship is a torrid yet fraudulent one, so transparent to all but Catherine that by the time he asks for her hand in marriage, I found myself yelling at the book for her not to. Upon hearing that a two-bit con man asked for her daughters hand in marriage, Dr Sloper becomes apoplectic and demands that Catherine not see him, sending their father/daughter relationship into a steep and brutal downward spiral. Lavinia is torn between her love for Catherine and the chance of a wedding and a bigger piece of the Dr Sloper trust fund pie.
As the story unfolds, the immense depth of the characters give it great intrigue and nuance. James masterfully sidesteps the temptation of typecasting by letting their actions speak for themselves. There are no easy enemies here: although Dr Sloper is at times a loathsome cur, you get the sense that deep down inside he really cares for his daughter, but is a member of his times and subject to the sexual morays of them, which were the presupposed inferiority of women and the demand for their submission. Even Morris, who by his own words and actions can be quite a slime ball, has an youthful, angst-ridden charm to him. Lavinia is no simple saint either, as in the course of this novel she ends up conning her niece nearly out of house and home.
But there is one "saint " in this novel and her name is Catherine Sloper. Throughout the arc of the story, she loses almost everything that she holds dear in her life except her sense of self. Her father, scared that his money is going to be wasted when Catherine marries Morris the degenerate gambler, decides to not give her a dime. Upon hearing that the fiduciary petals had been clipped from his newfound rose, Morris decides to ditch Catherine. And all the while Lavinia, her loving aunt, hustles her until there is almost nothing of Catherine left, financially or spiritually. But Catherine survives, her innocence gone, bank account depleted but soul intact. In the end, she's more than a plaster saint, she's a real, brave and vividly written woman who's been through a lot and come out a survivor. Few female characters by male novelists I have read have been more believable.
Again, I must admit that I am only a rank amateur in the scope of Jamesophiles. My personal favorite James era is between 1881-1890, in which the psychological thought was married to his prose and the prose became psychological thought in itself. While The Golden Bowl and some of his later stories have many moments of brilliance, they are works that are too insular and don't have the deft craftsmanship of James at his very best. But I could read another one of his late era novels and be proven dead wrong. Henry James is a writer that all people should read, and Washington Square is a good place to start. To those who want to obtain a high amount of coherence in American literature, or literature in general, his is a bridge that you must pass.
Wednesday, 17 June 2009
The "massaman" indicates that the recipe is of a "musselman" or islamic origin. It probably owes
something to early Portuguese influences, and is similar in concept to the "sour and hot" Goan style
vindaloo dishes. By Thai standards this is usually a fairly mild curry, so I find it is a good starting point.
about 1 pound chicken (you can also use pork or beef), cut into the usual "bite sized pieces"
3 cups of coconut milk.
2 tablespoons roasted peanuts (unsalted)
5 peeled, but whole, small onions.
5 small potatoes, peeled and partly boiled.
3 bay leaves,
5 cardamom seeds
a small piece of roasted cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons palm sugar
1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate mixed with 2.5 tablespoons water
3 tablespoon lime juice
2-3 tablespoons Masaman curry paste.
about 1-3 teaspoons crushed garlic. (optional)
Peel potatoes, boil them partly in a cooking pot for 10-15 minutes, and cut in 1 to 2-inch pieces.
Allow the coconut milk to separate and you will have about two cups of thick "cream" and one cup of
thin "milk". In a small saucepan bring the milk to a simmer and add the chicken or pork. If you are
using beef you will need another two cups of milk. Simmer the meat until it begins to become tender
(beef takes longer, hence the additional milk).
Put the coconut cream in a wok and bring to a boil, add the massaman paste and "stir fry" until the
flavor is brought out and maximized. Add the remaining cream and curry paste to the meat.
Add the peanuts. Taste and adjust the flavor until it is (just) sweet (by adding sugar), sour and salty
(by adding tamarind juice, lime juice and fish sauce).
Add the remaining ingredients and cook until cooked.
Note : the potatoes used in Thailand for this dish are a yellow fleshed sweet potato of the type sometimes
called a yam in the US. Western style potatoes can be used, but absorb less of the sauce and flavor.
The potatoes act as a "moderator" to reduce the heat of the curry, and should not be left out.
You can either serve it on a bed of Thai jasmine rice, or double the amount of potato and serve it alone.
Accompany it with a dressed green salad and a bowl of "ajad" (pickled cucumbers--see recipe below). The
traditional Thai table also offers chilis in fish sauce (Phrik nam pla--see below) chilis in vinegar (prik dong,
see below), and ground chilli (not to be confused with the powedered chilli mix sold as chilli powder in the US),
sugar, and often MSG. You can if you wish add about a teaspoon of MSG to the above recipe to bring out the
flavors, but we don't think it is necesary.
4 tablespoons white rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
2-3 tablespoons cucumber, very coarsely chopped, or sliced
2 shallots (purple onions) chopped
3-4 Thai chile peppers, thinly sliced
Combine the ingredients, and leave to stand overnight.
Nam pla prik
Put two thirds of a cup of Thai chile peppers or jalapeno peppers in a 1 pint jar, and fill with fish sauce.
Seal and keep for a week before using.
Put two thirds of a cup of sliced Thai chile peppers in a 1 pint jar, and fill with white rice vinegar.
We also offer a ready-made prik dong.
Sunday, 14 June 2009
Friday, 12 June 2009
This version of Tom Yum soup (the popular Thai spicy soup) is eaten in the North of Thailand, it is made with chicken rather than the shrimp (tom yum gung) eaten in the south and coast. If you prefer chicken its a good spicy soup.
Remember: Soup in Thailand, like most Asian countries, is eaten communally-so share with friends along side another more filling rice or noodle dish.
150 gms Corn Fed Chicken
8 Bird Chillies
2 Garlic Cloves
20 gms Lemon Grass
20 gms Galanga
4 Kaffir Citrus Leaves
2 Teaspoons Salt
2 Tablespoons Fish Sauce
3 Tablspoons Tamarind Water
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
50 gms Straw Mushrooms
300 ml Water
1. Put water in a saucepan and bring to the boil.
2. Chop the lemon grass and galanga into 3cm lengths and add to the pot to make a soup base.
3. Pound the garlic and bird chillies and add into the soup.
4. Chop the chicken into bite sized pieces, then add to the soup and cook for 3 minutes.
5. Cut the straw mushrooms into half and add to the soup.
6. Add the fish sauce, salt, tamarind water, lemon juice, and kaffir leaves into the soup and cook for an additional 30 seconds.
Hot fragrant rice and iced cucumber.
Who doesn't have and old tin of sardines lurking in a kitchen cupboard?
Thai food can be overwhelming, with lots of strange ingredients and foreign vegetables. So here we have a very simple and very tasty recipe using sardines! We used sardines in oil, but you can also use sardines in tomato sauce, in which case you don't need the tomato puré. This should be served with fragrant Thai rice, but can also be served along with salads.
2 Cans of Sardines in Oil
2 Teaspoons of Tomato Puré
20 gms Lemon Grass
20 gms Coriander Leaves
50 gms Onion
2 Red Chillis
2 Bird Chillis
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Fish Sauce
1. Remove the sardines from the can.
2. Mix the oil from the can with the tomato puré in a small mixing bowl.
3. Slice the onion, lemon grass, and chilles, and add to the bowl.
4. Add the fish sauce and lemon juice and mix all the ingredients together well.
5. Pour over the sardines.
6. Chop the coriander put around the edge of the sardine plate.
Hot rice or salads.
Thursday, 11 June 2009
Wednesday, 10 June 2009
I am not yet born; O hear me.
Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the
club-footed ghoul come near me.
I am not yet born, console me.
I fear that the human race may with tall walls wall me,
with strong drugs dope me, with wise lies lure me,
on black racks rack me, in blood-baths roll me.
I am not yet born; provide me
With water to dandle me, grass to grow for me, trees to talk
to me, sky to sing to me, birds and a white light
in the back of my mind to guide me.
I am not yet born; forgive me
For the sins that in me the world shall commit, my words
when they speak me, my thoughts when they think me,
my treason engendered by traitors beyond me,
my life when they murder by means of my
hands, my death when they live me.
I am not yet born; rehearse me
In the parts I must play and the cues I must take when
old men lecture me, bureaucrats hector me, mountains
frown at me, lovers laugh at me, the white
waves call me to folly and the desert calls
me to doom and the beggar refuses
my gift and my children curse me.
I am not yet born; O hear me,
Let not the man who is beast or who thinks he is God
come near me.
I am not yet born; O fill me
With strength against those who would freeze my
humanity, would dragoon me into a lethal automaton,
would make me a cog in a machine, a thing with
one face, a thing, and against all those
who would dissipate my entirety, would
blow me like thistledown hither and
thither or hither and thither
like water held in the
hands would spill me.
Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me.
Otherwise kill me.
Tuesday, 9 June 2009
With all the raving going on over this latest outburst from Kylesa, it’s important to point out that this wasn’t the dead cert it may have looked for an album of the month slot. It isn’t an unqualified piece of waxen genius. It’s scarily close though.
Where Melvins singularly failed to keep themselves lively on the two drumkit path, Kylsea have succeeded. If ever the old ‘you gotta listen to it on headphones’ trope was appropriate, it’s now. So when you pick this album up, make sure to double your fun.
The opening charges of ‘Scapegoat’, ‘Insomnia For Months’ and ‘Said And Done’ demonstrate what’s cool about this idea which is gradually gaining more and more currency. With tubs thumped left, right and centre (and indeed probably in 5.1 surround next time), it’s like an attack from all sides. They’re clever though, in that the depth of rhythmic detail is disguised by the absolute simplicity of what could loosely and highly accurately be called their pure rock fury.
‘Unknown Awareness’ is the sound of a band at one with themselves. It is the creative peak of this album: drums beat ritually and announce the arrival of a riff so beautiful and gargantuan that it needs be the only one in the whole song. It says so much with so little, and so hair raisingly well, that no others are necessary. The liquid guitar lick that trickles over the top of it is as beautiful a Fender twin tributary as you will ever hear. It’s the most mature thing on here, and if their next album is full of gear like this we will be worshipping at the feet of Gods.
They very nearly equal it when ‘Only One’ slams into it’s almost Today Is The Day wail-drenched truncheon fest, before ‘Perception’ darkens things down again. So essentially what we have here is an album with two very distinct feels. One, the hoary rock that will appeal to fans of the usual suspects, being Baroness, Torche, Today Is The Day, Boris and Melvins in no particualr order of evil. Two, a dark and more tingling mixture of Russian Circles, You Judas and dare I mention even Swans, hinting toward a future that looks almost more intriguing than even this excellent slab.
Ciaran Tracey (Metal Ireland)
Sunday, 7 June 2009
This will complement your Kai Yang dish exquisitely. It's another offering from the North East of Thailand and one that has become famous through out the country for it's careful combination of 4 flavours: sweet, spicy, sour and salty.
Have fun with it.
One papaya julienne.(or use carrot julienne)
8-10 Thai chili peppers, de-stalked, cut in four length-wise then in half cross-wise.
8-10 cloves of garlic, chopped coarsely
2 tomatoes sliced thinly
half a cup of long beans (green beans) cut into 1" pieces
pinch of sea salt
two teaspoons of fish sauce - nam pla
1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate mixed with 3 tablespoons water
juice from two tablespoons of pickled mud-fish - Bala. (optional)
1. Sprinkle the julienne papaya with salt and let stand for half an hour or so, then squeeze and discard any fluid.
2. Add the chili, and pound in a clay mortar and pestle.
3. Add the remaining ingredients except the tomato,
4. pound until mixed and tender.
5. Add the tomato, and serve with a bowl of sticky rice.
An optional ingredient you can add to the mix is dried shrimp.
You can increase the proportion of chilies until this is a bowl of red fire, and it will still be authentic. On the other hand you can reduce the chilies to just a hint and it will also still be authentic. It all depends on your taste preference.
The above 50:50 mix is about typical of the region.
If you wish you can decorate the salad with chopped roast peanuts, sliced green onions, and mint leaves. You can also include raw bean sprouts and sliced cucumber as side dishes. Thai's generally eat lettuce or some cabbage related vegetable as a side dish also.
The normal way to eat it is to rip a piece of lettuce leaf, and take a mouthful of som tam in the leaf and eat it without knife, fork or spoon. If you want to be a bit more western use a standard salad, or even an exotic such as a Waldorf Salad as a side dish.
Ok folks, it's time to share with you some of the delicious food that I have the pleasure of munching my way through in a day. All of these dishes are freely available here in Thailand, and make up part of the staple diet of the country.
It is a striking accolade for a counties cuisine when it is consistantly named 'the bet food in the world' by temerarious travellers.
Here are some of my personal favourites; and a recipe so you can have a go at home.
First up is Kai Yang (BBQ Chicken)
Recipe for Kai Yang (Barbecued Chicken)
Rub the chicken all over with salt and pepper. Blend all marinade ingredients and mix with coconut milk in a marinade bowl. Add fish sauce, sugar, oil and stir until well mixed. Pour the marinade over the chicken, cover and leave for marinade for at least 2 hours. Charcoal grill the chicken over low heat for 30 -40 mins or until cooked. Turning and blasting regularly the remaining boiled marinade. Leave the chicken for 5 mins before chopping into small pieces and serve with accompanied dishes such as green papaya salad (Som Tam), steamed sticky rice (Khao Niao) and dipping chilli sauce.
1 whole chicken about 1.5kg cut in half
2 stalks of chopped lemon grass
1 tabespoon of chopped ginger and galanga
1 tablespoon of choppped corriander root
20 cloves of peeled garlic
1 teaspoon of black pepper
1 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of fish sauce
2 tablespoons of sugar
1/4 cup of cooking oil