Friday, November 26, 2010

The 800th Win: Praise the Lord

Fervent wee-hour prayer spotted over at

Dear God, Please allow the NBA lock-out to occur this coming year and keep Kyrie Irving at Duke for one more year to play with Austin Rivers, Quinn Cook and Marshall Plumlee. Amen.

Best summation, by Matt Wallace, Compleat Heretic:

There is One Coach and his name is Coach K and the Duke Blue Devils are his instrument. Woe to the unbelievers . . . especially Tar Heel fans...

Total domination on a hostile court against an excellent team!!! This Duke team has the potential both to repeat and to do so undefeated; it's that deep and that talented. Mason Plumlee is looking really good in the hybrid F/C position; I love watching him get called for goaltending! On the downside, Kyrie Irving is so scary good that he's clearly one-and-done regardless, but one can dream of a full collegiate career...

. . . and having watched the last two Carolina games, it appears they're going to have another season of five random guys running up and down the court in Tar Heel uniforms . . . Roy Williams is clearly no Mike Krzyzewski...

Blessèd be the Orange Orb.

Photo courtesy of The Sports Union: Cameron Crazies
("I don’t know that there is a tougher place to play...")

Congratulations to Coach K for
 his *800th* win
at The Gothic Wonderland!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Epic FAIL: "It's not him... and we gave him a lot of money"

Attention Bloggers:  Warning!  As you prepare to jot down a cheery Thanksgiving post, full of mostly good cheer, do not stop along the way to peruse the front page of any major newspaper.

Honest to God, can the intelligence community lay claim to a more epic FAIL?  Well, yes, I guess they could, so that opportunity needs to be left open... But, come on, this is so freaking absurd, so indicative of exactly how clueless and inept the United States, NATO, Afghanistan, and the usual cadre of Middle East suspects are.

Once upon a time, this would have been a great story for the cocktail hour. It would have been an embarrassment worth a chuckle and a gosh darn.  Back when the consequences were posited as abstract and when a story's foreign nature meant it could be dismissed by our cultured xenophobia.  {clink:clink go the crystal glasses}

Now, it is the stuff that may launch hostilities; It is definitely the stuff that prolongs a confusing and poorly prosecuted war.  It bleeds the blood of someone's particular son and someone's actual daughter; It disrespects and scoffs at the labor of citizens, disguised as money fleeing on a desert wind. 

The message to the Taliban?  How can it be anything but a confirmation of their most dismissive assumptions?

Taliban Leader in Secret Talks Was an Impostor

KABUL, Afghanistan — For months, the secret talks unfolding between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war appeared to be showing promise, if only because of the appearance of a certain insurgent leader at one end of the table: Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement.

But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all. In an episode that could have been lifted from a spy novel, United States and Afghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little.

“It’s not him,” said a Western diplomat in Kabul intimately involved in the discussions. “And we gave him a lot of money.”

American officials confirmed Monday that they had given up hope that the Afghan was Mr. Mansour, or even a member of the Taliban leadership.

NATO and Afghan officials said they held three meetings with the man, who traveled from in Pakistan, where Taliban leaders have taken refuge.

The fake Taliban leader even met with President Hamid Karzai, having been flown to Kabul on a NATO aircraft and ushered into the presidential palace, officials said.

The episode underscores the uncertain and even bizarre nature of the atmosphere in which Afghan and American leaders search for ways to bring the nine-year-old American-led war to an end. The leaders of the Taliban are believed to be hiding in Pakistan, possibly with the assistance of the Pakistani government, which receives billions of dollars in American aid.

Many in the Taliban leadership, which is largely made up of barely literate clerics from the countryside, had not been seen in person by American, NATO or Afghan officials.

American officials say they were skeptical from the start about the identity of the man who claimed to be Mullah Mansour — who by some accounts is the second-ranking official in the Taliban, behind only the founder, Mullah Mohammed Omar. Serious doubts arose after the third meeting with Afghan officials, held in the southern city of Kandahar. A man who had known Mr. Mansour years ago told Afghan officials that the man at the table did not resemble him. “He said he didn’t recognize him,” said an Afghan leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The Western diplomat said the Afghan man was initially given a sizable sum of money to take part in the talks — and to help persuade him to return.

While the Afghan official said he still harbored hopes that the man would return for another round of talks, American and other Western officials said they had concluded that the man in question was not Mr. Mansour. Just how the Americans reached such a definitive conclusion — whether, for instance, they were able to positively establish his identity through fingerprints or some other means — is unknown.

As recently as last month, American and Afghan officials held high hopes for the talks. Senior American officials, including Gen. David H. Petraeus, said the talks indicated that Taliban leaders, whose rank-and-file fighters are under extraordinary pressure from the American-led offensive, were at least willing to discuss an end to the war. [read the rest HERE...]

Sunday, November 21, 2010

:::Coconut Milk Confessions:::

I confess:  Sunday evening is all about food.

In the best of all possible weeks, the late morning and early afternoon of a Sunday finds me cooking.  Today was to be a fabulous milky Thai concoction, a coconut fish curry that was designed to rid us of the organic turnips taking up half a shelf in the fridge.

I am a rabid Label Reader.  Have you seen the nutrition stats on coconut milk?  The little bit I wanted for the rich, round mouth of fat feel?  That tiny bit, maybe 3/4 of a cup?  Seven freaking hundred calories.  About 250% of the daily recommended amount of saturated fat. 

But hey!  No cholesterol!

The poor boy, deprived of an important rite of passage experience, Fred persists in believing that the dense white stuff he finds in the can, called coconut milk, is what one harvests at the splitting of an actual nut.  I tell him of coconut water, and see the dream die in his eyes.  Until he decides, I guess, that I have... what?  Misremembered?  Or maybe I fell prey to a bizarre local strain of coconut, back in my days near the equator?

Truthfully, we did have some odd specimens in our famed back yard (see the previous post).  Being but a kid, and not yet ascended to my full height, I delighted in our two deformed trees:  both a banana and a coconut tree were greatly bent toward the ground.  We could, literally, walk up our trees and reach the fruit by simply bending over, squating down.

In retrospect, I bet some of the adults looked pretty silly taking that hike.  I think maybe they did it to appease me, as the taller among them could easily reach the goodies without having to walking up any trunk whatsoever.

Mango, papaya, pineapple -- the aforementioned coconut and banana.  What a yard.  The soil was such that the process of "rooting" consisted of a stem cleanly snipped and inserted a few inches into the dirt (carefully prepared by the swift twirl of an index finger) then kissed with a few cups of water.  I was notorious for having planthed a small farm's worth of poinsettia when no one was watching.  Funny how no one was willing to slaughter my leggy poinsettias once they had snaked and spidered out even a nearly microscopic root system, a plant's heartbeat.  I guess it's a good thing we didn't discuss how our horticultural ethic translated into larger concepts and topics, like abortion or choice.

Er, right.  So Fred wants to confound coconut water with coconut milk.

I'm glad we spent a few paragraphs getting that straight.


So there was no representation of the coconut in the fish stew, nor was there a flavor profile reminiscent of a strict curry, though these days I cannot seem to prepare a dish without the use of cumin.  Also, I am hung up on finely ground celery root, and the fresh vegetable itself.  For crunch, for clean. 

I need to make a confession.  The celery made me think of it and feel all chatty, too.  With certain basic ingredients, key tastes like celery and onion, I cook them in batches, in different shapes from different chops,
and marry them to the whole, if a wedding is appropriate, at different times. It makes a difference but not one that should jump out at you.  It is like a poor person's version of the depth that a fantastic additional expensive ingredient might add.  At some point, you might think that the onion seems to be hitting different notes and registers simultaneously, but you will never get stuck on the thought or pause long enough to distinuguish the divergent slices-'n-dices that were set to cooking at different times, possibly in differing ways.
Just think of the various tastes offered by a clove of garlic -- grated, sliced, mashed into a paste, chopped, roasted, added to the first bit of hot oil or infused into cold, boiled -- whole -- in cream...

Ahem, right.  As I was saying, no coconut milk, no curry flavor profile, in my fishy stew tonight, pas ce soir, non.  But by playing with peppers, jalapeño and red bell, julienned as well as roasted, there's a wonderful smell and taste to it.  The organic turnips (that's how we excused the two worms we found in them:  "Well, they're organic!") did not dominate but made out nicely with the potato, and the chickpeas, too. 

The fish was definitely... okay -- a generic, pretty good white flesh.  Pollock.  Could easily have been hoki, but wasn't.  I am not happy about the fish situation in This Manor, and could regale you with well thought out reasons why Pollock and Hoki just aren't gonna cut it... but I don't want to get off topic.  Also, environmentalists would cringe to hear my presentations on sustainability and fisheries.  I am too new to the cause.

Some kickass tomato combinations blessed my fish stew -- particularly a can I found collecting dust behind some recalled cat food (the recall took them only as far as the back of the cabinet).  Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes, deep and soulful. 

While Fred goes off with the Militant Feminist Lesbian Existentialists on Sunday mornings, I practice my faith in the kitchen.  I cherish the look on his face when the cooking smells greet him, banishing all thoughts of Dyke Didactics.  I'll say what no one else dares to:  Most self-proclaimed militant lesbian feminist existentialists are just Average Josephines, upset that they've gained nothing tangible for the inhuman effort of wading through every word of Being and Nothingness, that dance of existence before essence.

I think Bobby Flay is sexy. 
Oh, dear.  Did I write that out loud?
Am I asserting my heterosexuality?

L'Etre et le Néant is the original French title, and my version was over 800 pages long.  I thought myself très cool to be carrying it around, my nose in it over coffees, my eyes crossing at the technical language and the density of thought.  I lacked all of the foundation necessary to understand it, yet possessed every attribute necessary to become an object of intellectual ridicule. 


It really is best that I stay in the kitchen, out of trouble.

By the way, congratulations to Chef Marc "Forge" Forgione, newly appointed Iron Chef!  I think he takes on his first challenger straight away -- I enjoy these first battles.  Jose Garces was a hoot, but an organized hoot, in his initial appearance, in which he gave proof of a truly anal interpretation of mise en place.

I am going to leave you with a thought piece, evidence that Foodies are deep thinkers, doughy fingers on the pulse of salty societal issues framed by the incisive world of haute cuisine.

Because my Sundays are not spent entirely in physical labor or at table, eatting. I also try to feed the mind.  One good source from the food media?  The blog and website Chow.  So that you can stretch and limber your food-based intelligence, here's an easy Chow piece from a few years ago. 

Primate Stew
November 27th, 2007 by MiriamWolf 

Lately, there have been a lot of “hey, people who live far away are eating crazy foods” articles in the media.

But while these kinds of pieces usually explore the eating of bugs, durian, or extremely smelly cheeses, what about foodstuffs that are really taboo?

A criminal case making its way through the New York City courts explores issues surrounding the consumption of bushmeat, specifically the flesh of monkeys. In 2006, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents investigated an NYC woman originally born in Liberia, who was suspected of illegally importing bushmeat. “[A]fter she consented to a search,” the article notes, “the agents came across a tiny, hairy arm hidden in her garage.”

While conservationists and animal-lovers abhor the practice, African nationals who consume bushmeat say they do it for religious reasons and to commemorate certain life events.

The rest of us wonder if primates are just too close to humans to make for comfortable snacking.