Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The 100 Foot Journey - It's Worth It to Cross the Street

@2014 Dreamworks and Harpo

There aren't too many movies without violence, profanity or gratuitous nudity.  There are even fewer movies that tell a story with crisp dialogue.  Shot in France and India with diverse languages without subtitles,  this is the pure art of telling a story.  Through Le Cordon Bleu, I had the honor of an advance screening of The 100 Foot Journey, starring Helen Mirren and Om Puri.   The goal of art is to touch you, from a place you can draw off of your own experiences.  For those who haven't read the book, you might have fresh eyes looking at this movie, where there are few surprises, and you have a story arc of tragedy and triumph.  It IS a "feel good" movie, with another illustration about following your dreams, but also defining your own success and following your heart.  

For those of you who read the book, I don't think you will be disappointed as this work translated well to the screen.  The rhythm of the dialogue was completely natural, the silent reactions involved the audience.  The audience got what they wanted to see, transformation of characters, the clash of cultures as one family emigrates from one nation to another as we grow more culturally diverse wherever we are.  

Personally, I loved how it reminded me of my travels abroad, so my nostalgia was sweetened.  This movie opens on 8 August, so foodies will love seeing the displays of technique and plating.  If you are in the culinary world, perhaps it might remind you that the kitchen is a real place of magic.  I am very fortunate to be in school, learning from some incredibly talented chefs that do speak to me about the heart and soul of the kitchen.  The very act of creation is something I never get tired of.  

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Summer in Minneapolis or Food Trucks and Baseball

 People don't like staying indoors when its summertime in Minnesota.  Lou Holtz once described Minnesotans as the land of "Blonde hair and Blue Ears" when he coached at the University of Minnesota.  Our winters are particularly vicious and our summers can be just a touch humid, mosiquito populated and have that touch of pine in the air.  In the cities, there has been a sort of resurgence in the streets.  You feel this hope that better days are not just here, but there will be more of them.  Fears have been pushed aside, and as I wander around, it's just so carefree feeling.  People get in the habit of business and consuming.  There are so many festivals that happen during the summer, that it can be hard to keep track of what is going on, when.  A few weeks ago, there was a food truck festival, and since the food truck season is rather short here, they were out in full force, trying to be as distinctive as possible in design and public offerings.
 Business was brisk, lines were long and some of the more adventurous eaters were going for every and anything they could get.  Some of them, well, I just couldn't marry up their concept with my sense of taste and my imagination.  I couldn't visualize how a 'Donut Burger' would taste.  I recalled how a burger would taste, how I preferred it and tried to will a donut mashup and it made my stomach churn just thinking about it. I would have rather had some pan fried termites, sautéed in a garlic oil and sea salt.  So I was rather surprised to see anyone ponying up to sacrifice their greenbacks for a taste of the bizarre.
 The other day, I had gone to the Mall of America, en route to some where else, but still kind of look at this mecca of capitalism to see people still chasing a good time.  It's a bit excessive to me, but not so many were walking around with huge shopping bags and still many spots were open for leasing.  In a way, the Mall of America has done much to shut down a lot of the malls that once did spry business in Minnesota.  We had a "-dale" at every corner of the city.  They were the places to go to people watch in the winters when we would get so full of cabin fever that we couldn't stand it anymore.  Malls were the places to check everyone out and to see what was the fashion of the moment.  The last mall I went to was occupied at maybe 50%.  I thought that meant we were buying less, but with the latest numbers, Minnesota is down to about a 4 percent unemployment rate.  Most of the business being created within the state is coming from companies who no longer think it's cheaper to make things in China anymore.
 In Downtown Minneapolis, we were getting ready to show off out city, the All-Star Week was hosted in my humble city. The all new "Target" field really did kind of impress me.  I still held my childhood memories of the old Metropolitan Stadium, watching Rod Carew play at my first baseball game.  It was live, not on television and we beat the Oakland A's.  Now the Mall of America is built over baseball history and our football history as well.  Things change.  The game was moved downtown into a shared dome, which was demolished this year to make way for a new stadium for the Vikings.  I don't recall if some corporate entity has purchased naming rights.
 The inside of the stadium was being spruced up, with everything being washed down.  Our little part of baseball history being sold to the national audience.  Right now the adding machines are rolling, trying to figure out how much of a profit was being made, or if something would come out of this for future events.  I kind of lost my love of the game.  It was a slow death, but maybe the game had changed to such a point that filled my mouth full of bile when I went into the merchandising store.  People will spend with their hearts and not their minds.  The mark-up on the Merchandise was crazy.  All of the product was made abroad, with China being a primary manufacturer.  With all of the hype about our food being locally sourced, we have a long way to go.

Our Downtown is beautiful, with high vacancy rates, but strangely it has grown, changed and evolved since my childhood, when the Foshay tower used to be the tallest building on our skyline.  The IDS tower opened in 1972, as a sort of Monolith that ushered in a new era, a modern era.  Other buildings have come to join in to create a skyline and skyway system so you could traverse the city without ever going outside.  But we love the outdoors and nature and perhaps that's why we don't have that many cities here in Minnesota.  We like that small town feel, where every neighborhood is like a village and our villages all link up to make our urban sprawl look somehow manageable.  It's still home, and though I feel the urge to get out there in the world, to go abroad and walk in dusty streets, sit in nondescript cafes and just feel the pulse of a far away place, I'll stay put for a while.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Street Philosophers

 I know I have lapsed in posting something for a touch, but familiarity does breed contempt, or so it's said.  One has to step away in order to be missed.  I have to say that I have enjoyed actually experiencing life again, away from social media and being completely invisible again.  My own observations, are my own and it's really not that important to be heard.  Often, the first jaded impressions are miles away from the truth and are contaminated by opinions that have influenced others.  So how does one have an uncontaminated view of the world?

Today I had a random conversation with an anonymous stranger who said, "I left Facebook for 6 months and I felt so much freedom.  It was like I got my life back."  I didn't ask why she went back on, but considered a key remark, "I was so happy."  We are in an age of self promotion, tweeting, texting, posting and to a lesser extent, even blogging all about the me, myself, and I...the importance of self and obsess over
what seems to be 'important'.  Eleanor Roosevelt is often cited for this quote,   "Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events and small minds discuss people."   Lately, I have been wondering about our world getting so focused on the 'self'.  This 'self-importance' that seems to be all about what we can get, what we can do and who we can have in our lives.   So lately, I have just tuned out the drama of social media of all types and put my ear to the ground.

Sitting out on the street, drinking a libation or two and minding my own business, sort of, with intrusions of conversations that would wander past.  Was Eleanor Roosevelt right or would I hear street philosophers cut through the white noise or garbled thought?

Uptown Minneapolis is a road show of avatars.  You see the flash of fashion plates, the indie goth, the 1980 Yuppies, Sid and Nancy punkers, Illustrated men and women, your transitional people, trangenders, fettish people, bikers, desperate housewives, afraid of dying mid-life crisis guy with daughter/girlfriend, visiting UK tourists and then there's me.  The native who returns home to see that Uptown Minneapolis is still the same, stuck in the 1980s and somehow is viewed as 'cutting edge'.   This is why we are the inspiration for "Portlandia'.

Uptown is uptight when it comes to being Politically Correct and incredibly sensitive about offending anyone.  You can find the uptight conservative Harley guy with leather and chains that hugs his M-16 at night sitting next to a guy named "Sue" who used to be a gal with black light tattoos and gages and piercings to ward off personal contact from anyone.  The strange and bizarre is glorified with a latte and a vegan lettuce wrap from a sustainable farm to table food truck that is powered by solar energy.

Politics are discussed in hush tones, though it's really no secret that the city is Democratic and the state is Republican.  It's kind of dysfunctional, because there is a kind of 'us vs. them' mentality though no one really knows who is 'us' and who is 'them'.  Like I said, I am invisible here.  I wasn't abroad, or at least when I was in Asia, I tried to be invisible, but was forced to accept the fact that I was going to stick out no matter where I went.  It was a good exercise in self acceptance.  Here, it's too easy to get comfortable with not being 'anything special'.

So as I sat back I listened to the ramblings of others.  A lot of people talked about people in a very, "I'm better than..." sort of way.  It's quite possible that's why reality television has dominated our lives.  We can't believe they are famous and we can't believe we are talking about them and aren't we so much better than them.  We turn our noses up at them and they cash their checks for being our freak show.

When I went abroad, one thing that amazed me was that due to our television industry, I became aware that I shattered the minds of many because of the image of America that is blasted all over the world.  "You're not fat, lazy, uneducated, chasing money or (insert favorite stereo-type here of a white middle-aged former military woman,  who is divorced with hispanic last name and graying hair)."  When we bust up an image that is assigned due to our lack of time (we aren't going to know everyone in the world).  We profile people each and every day and we often rely on the views of others to give us a snapshot of how it is.

We only get the backside of the world, the Cliff notes version of our existence is not about knowing the world at all, but trying to survive in this world by playing a game to collect as much monopoly money to pay for our place at the table.  Kind of crazy, isn't it?

So, in my small minded way, I have discussed people, events, ideas and myself, because the world is composed of all of it.  I am not justifying anything.   I am not defending our condition.  I am not even saying that Eleanor Roosevelt is wrong or right.  We are human and we discuss what we see, what we don't see and what we would like to see.  We are still little children that are learning the difference between our wants and needs.  We die and a new generation goes through it all again and so on it continues until one day we get it.  Hopefully the stuff we don't need doesn't get passed on to future generations and the ideas we do need makes it into the future.  Perhaps that is what Eleanor Roosevelt meant for us to glean from this remark, however, she never said this quote.  It's one of our great myths.  The earliest citation is quoted as an unknown sage.  Whenever there is an 'unknown sage' or street philosopher, it's a reminder that wisdom or common sense doesn't need an author, it just needs to be practiced.

So whatever is written about, places, ideas, people, good food or's all related.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Does Life Imitate Art or Does Art Imitate Life?

"I Don't Love You"
My mother hated flowers
Garden Flowers
 Too often we ignore what surrounds us, perhaps because when you see something everyday, it becomes the ordinary and we edit it out.  We grow blind to the flowers that somehow power through the asphalt of life.  Or maybe I am jaded and cynical.  I don't think so and then there are moments when I see something, like a commuter going ballistic, as though something pushed them over a fragile edge that the rest of us didn't see.  I witnessed a woman scream at a bus driver over disabled seats and even though another passenger offered her a seat, she went on a tirade that seemed totally out of context.  "I am going to sue you if I fall down. I am going to complain.  I am going to write every paper in this country, because that's what I do."  And that folks is how we alienate every single person in the world, with a flash of all consuming anger.  What if she for a moment stopped and listened?  She kept trying to get a single person to consent to her opinion.  She kept trying to hear someone say she was right,  "This is going to be fun," she hissed like a snake, waiting to strike.  No one played her game.  This self-important woman, with her luggage, probably fresh from the airport was expecting the world to cater to her.  Immediately the headphones came out and people started either tuning her out or engaging themselves with private conversations.  No one fed the troll on the bus.  Seeing that no one was paying attention to her anymore, she melted into the seat that was offered to her.  Her stand lasted a better part of 3 minutes.  She sniped periodically, but she didn't even receive eye contact from fellow passengers.  It's important to know what are real battles and which ones are solely ego-driven.  So if by chance, the newspapers receives a letter of complaint about a bus with disengaged seats, I would simply reply to her, "Jesus loves you" or "Have a Nice Day".  We have bigger issues in the world to change, rather than to be disgruntled with seats that were disabled by a manufacturer for safety reasons.  All the bus driver wants to do is to drive the route.
Abandoned Books

True Gemini - Herschael DeJong

I don't write book reviews.  I don't write press releases and I am not doing either one of those on this temperate Saturday, where instead of a sunny day, the clouds shine overhead.  The skies have all of the appeal of a lead balloon.  In other words, the perfect day to read a book.  I finally opened the book that my long lost brother sent to me.  I haven't seen him since he was seven-years-old and I honestly don't know that I want or need to see him again.  Forgive me, but that sounds cold and unfeeling.  It's not cold and unfeeling, but rather because I feel way too much and I have no desire for either one of us to awaken memories that are best forgiven and forgotten.  I don't want to remember our childhood, and though I have faced it to the best of my ability and dealt with the adults that were in charge at that time, the person I cannot see is the one who was victimized the most.

For those of you who have been through war, it's kind of a form of survivor's guilt.  It's hard to explain, but, the reality is, it's like reliving a living hell all over again.  After I wrote, "An Appearance of Glass", I had self published it because I had no desire to promote it and I wanted to use my pain in a positive way.   It was a release.  I shared it with my brother and  he wrote the introduction and with his permission, I included it in the work.  From a safe distance, we view each other and really only know only the faintest outline of each other's lives.   My brother has come out with his own book and had hoped that our sister would write the third part, which she has no desire to complete that work, quite possibly for the same reason I can't see my brother again.  Our pain thresholds are all different.  I don't hate him, but my wounds are very deep and it would be inappropriate to open them again.

Regarding his work, I am not going to say that this is a work of art.  I am not also going to say it's horrible.  It's a rendering, that reminds me of medicine.  The kind of medicine that is part of an individual's healing process to let others know that it's possible to go forward.  It's a survivor's account that gave a person permission to go forward with his life, but I have to be honest, it angers me.  I cannot say why.  I feel there has been no resolution and parts that lack personal ownership until much later on.  I do hope, sincerely hope, that this man does take ownership for his life at long last,  and begins to thrive in ways that he only dreamed of.

This may appear to be too personal to post.  The response is a mirror reflection of the work rendered. The work was very personal.  The response, proportional in manner since my name was cited.  My recommendation for the public to read it or not carries no weight.  People will do as they will and wonder what the hell this was all about for a micro-second of their lives and move on.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Asian Culinary Dreams

Walk with me...

Shrimp Wontons 3-ways

This week we explored a region of the world where the bulk of the world population resides. The ancient world were the Peking Man was said to originate 300,000 B.C.E.  In my humble opinion, we will never really know until we figure out a more precise way to measure time, but after living in China for a year out of my life, it has a feel that is far older than many places I have been on earth and are a very diverse nation.  Our Western problem is too much television and not enough exploring the world with the right mindset.  That also can be said for our lack of food experimentation.   So it was a pleasure to learn to make a variety of foods in countries I have been to in the past.  In some ways, I see other touches that have been elevated, in other ways it made me feel an incredible urge to pack my suitcases and go back to the cooks abroad where I would eat at their food stands and watch them work with incredible speed and care.  

Pork Egg Rolls with scallions and cilantro
 These are a couple of dishes we made this week.
A Taste of Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia 

Sushi Sampler
 Just a note on sushi.  The first ingredient a westerner thinks about when the word 'sushi' is said, most probably is fish.  Sushi, is not sushi without proper vinegared  (to be seasoned with) rice.  The rinsing and drying process is crucial to rice preparation so that the right amount of starch is in your rice.  The same mixture of water used to season the finished rice is used for forming your sushi.  We learned a lot about the apprenticeship process in Japan.  7 years for rice, 10 years for filleting various saltwater fishes.  It takes a lifetime to master sushi, so I do not expect that I will master it after 1 class.  It's a high art and after working with various techniques, styles and my sushi knives, I have an idea what those sushi practitioners must go through, a lot of rejection until one day their head chef approves.  The persistence in never quitting their practice is a prerequisite if anyone desires to create some stunning dishes.  I have mastered nothing, but I think I have the rice down.  That is a great start.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Bison Lettuce Wraps

Bison is becoming more accessible in the marketplace.  Bison is a very lean meat with no polyunsaturated fats,  bison contains just 122 calories in a 3 ounce serving and 70 mg of cholesterol.

As far as taste is concerned, Bison was very surprising to me.  I was worried about a gamey taste, but there was none.  It had a rich taste, as though I was eating a prime cut of beef.  Consider this, bison is not corn fed and a lot of bison that is sold in the market actually not 100 percent wild bison.  The bison is genetically testing, those that are not some sort of bovine hybrid, are released to the herd.  The others, are auctioned and become what is known as 'bison'.

It's important to understand where our food comes from and not just to mindlessly eat.
I created a very healthy alternative to beef tacos, simply called a Bison lettuce wrap.

Total calories for this dish is only 201 calories.

The lettuce greens were from my garden.

Here's what you will need.

1 lb of ground bison
15.5 oz of black beans (if canned, rinse thoroughly)
15.5 oz of chickpeas (if canned, rinse thoroughly)
4 oz of corn
15.5 oz of crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon of chipotle pepper
pinch of nutmeg
1 roasted Jalapeño, diced and deseeded
1 carrot, small dice
1 stalk of celery, small dice
1 clove of garlic, finely minced with a pinch of salt
1 head of Lettuce of your choice, washed gently and separate the leaves
1/2 cup of Asiago Cheese, finely grated

 Here's what to do:

In a medium saucepan, simmer the beans, chickpeas and spices together for about 20 - 30 minutes and add tomatoes, jalapeño and corn to the beans for an additional 5-10 minutes.  Do not add any salt until the end.

While the beans are simmering, in a large skillet, use a small amount of olive oil or canola oil, add the garlic and the celery and carrots.  Crumble in the bison and add dry seasoning of your choice that will mirror the spices that are used in the beans.  When the bison has been browned, make a space on the bottom of the frying pan and add the tomato paste, the color with change to a rust color and incorporate with the bison.   There should be very little fat, drain off any excess.

Add the bison  to the beans, fully incorporate them together.  Season lightly with salt (if desired).
Spoon the mixture into lettuce leaves, sprinkle finely grated Asiago cheese.