Sunday, January 22, 2017

A GATHERING OF SNOWFLAKES




The unspeakable has happened. The Electoral College has  put a man who a racist, a misogynist,  a militarist, a xenophobic, a vengeful, childish, selfish man in the White House. It did this after intelligence agencies revealed that Russia had influenced the election in his favor. That is a dait accompli. Now the struggle begins.
Fact--Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly three million.That shows that the majority of America voters rejected Donald Trump's view of the world and that of his Ku-Klux-Klan supporters. Despite his efforts to divide the country, Americans are coming together. The Women's March in Washington,   DC attracted larger numbers than the presidential inauguration. This is a documented fact Trump's press secretary tried to disprove although photographic evidence proves that he is lying.The press is not buying the lies. Neither am I.
I am a woman, a mom, a senior citizen, a legal immigrant and a citizen of the United States. Everything Trump represents is a threat to me and others like me.  I cherish my country and its democratic values.  I know that Trump and billionaire cronies are the best America has to look into after its interests. They are not in politics to promote diversity, to care for the needy, to advance social justice.  They have already demonstrated that by the changes they made on the White House website from which they deleted, for example, the LGBT subsection. This is only the beginning.The next step is to defund necessary services such as the  Affordable Care Act. Twenty million people will be left without health insurance once that happens. Is this what the Founding Fathers means government for the people, by the people?

While lying about the number of people who attended the women's march, the White House press secretary took the opportunity to threaten America's free press. This is something no clear thinking American can ignore. A threat against the free press is a threat about one of the fundamental American freedoms. I and many others voters reject this form of intidimation. I will not stand by and watch assaults on freedom of speech. I will opt for peaceful protest but make not mistake about it, I will protest. What is more, I am not alone. There are millions like me and we will ultimately win because we are the caring side, the enlightened side, the side that protects the rights of racial minorities, the poor, the elderly, the handicapped. The side that wants to put money into education, affordable housing, and health care rather than into atomic weapons.

This is not about being a Democrat. This is about loving my country and rejecting tyranny and lies.This is about cherishing the constitutional rights granted to every American. They are worth my time and my energy. In intent tojoin with lie minded Americans to resist a return to the Dark Ages  organize andact. If that makes me into what Trump's misguided, fearful followers call a snowflake so be it. I am not alone. Together, millions of snowflakes can make a blizzard.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

COMMITTING JOURNALISM

Journalist Daniel Perl, brutally murdered by Islamic radicals, used to say, jocularly, before he went to work,
"Let's commit journalism."
It is highly doubtful that he intended his work to be the kind of news aggregators such as The Huffington Post publish. For those who honour their profession, the commitment to commit journalism does not involve creating headlines laden with qualifiers, copy that reeks  with partisan bias.  Honourable workers who  make editorial decisions at do not consign journalistic ethics to the waste bin.They bolster their stories with facts and they allow their readers to come to his own conclusions.They do not pander to prejudices, political preferences, personal animosities.  Such journalists still exist, but their work is rarely seen in The Huffington Post or  its conservative counterpart, Fox News.
Clearly, both of these news outlets have a strong bias--one is purportedly liberal, the other conservative. They are, in essence, both sides of the same coin.
The mistake the members of the editorial board of these two sources of news make  is that their audience prefers pandering to objective  reporting. As a Liberal who reads The Huffington Post, I find all bias repugnant. I think that a news organisation that attempts to manipulate the political beliefs of its audience  insult it demeans it when it assumes that they  are incapable of distinguishing between legitimate reports and  copy unsupported by facts.
It is not legitimate journalism, in anyone's book, to lower the tone of a  of political discourse that has already  reached astonishing lows. To deify a political figure North Korea's Kim Jong-un, Russia's Vladimir Putin or own  Donald Trump  is not journalism.It is sycophantism. To  praise President Barack Obama for idiotic utterances, such as those that reflect  his dislike of the   words "radical Islam" is patronising and unacceptable because it involves the assumption that readers cannot form their own opinion. It is to act on the assumption that being a liberal means blind admiration of liberal politicians. It means suppression of critical thinking.
The thing is, that being a liberal demands that one use one's brain. It demands a clear vision and actions that are in  accord with  democratic principles. It is being an egalitarian without being a tool. It is thinking critically rather than following blindly. It is uniting rather than dividing. It is reaching for a consensus rather bludgeoning others with one's ever so admirable goodness and superiority.
The United States  is an increasingly divided nation. It is hard to believe that members of the  editorial board of blatantly partisan media outlets  can go home at the end of the day and claim that they did their bit to heal the fissures in American  society. Providing unlimited airtime to an idiotic presidential candidate who opposes one's own choice of representative is the job of political hacks, not the duty of honourable journalists.  Such work is not a service to the nation. It is simply  keeping alive what caricatures such as Donald Trump represent--hatred, racism, obscurantism. Who gains from that  work? Is it useful information or a silly game devised at newsroom where workers have lost touch with real people?
The role of the media is to inform. Opinion columnists do have more  leeway--I was one of them not too long ago--but that does not entail passing off bias as objective reporting.Being a journalist is to have a privileged position. It an opportunity and a challenge, not just the means to earn a living. When a journalist fails, society is at risk of seeing reality through a damaged prism.  When a journalist panders to a political group, be it liberal or Trumpist, society  suffers as much as it does under a dictatorship that chokes off the free press.
Bias is bias. It is evident in  blatant appeals for approval of whatever a  president. I know. I am a voter and I chose Obama for reasons other than an unexisting perfection. I do not find his refusal to utter the words "radical Islam" particularly admirable. I do not find his  support of a Rightist regime in Brazil very comfortable, In fact, it makes it a hell of a job to explain to my Brazilian family why I voted for an imperialist. I do not find it  admirable that my president engages in verbal fisticuffs with   Israel's Bibi Netanyahu. Te Huffington Post seems to think so. A democracy where voters are sufficiently adult to understand that all humans are fallible does not seem to be part of the vision of its editorial board. Yet  I labour under the illusion that  the US is a place where one  does not need to subscribe to the cult of personalities.
As an immigrant who lived under a dictatorship, it grieves me   to see workers at American news outlets squander the freedom  democracy grants them. My saying this will change nothing.In a democracy. journalists can lie, pander, manipulate and still claim to be objective.  One is  free to continue to flaunt the best principles of journalism. That is a matter between each one his conscience.But having said,  publicly, that honourable journalism admits no pandering,  I feel that no one who reads this  can claim that he never knew what it is to commit journalism

.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

GOOD FOR YOU


Breakfast or dessert? You decide. These are low-fat, sugar-free oatmeal muffins  that are perfect with tea or coffee. Bon appetit!


TROPICAL BLOBBIES

 Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup 2% milk
  • ripe plantains (Large bananas are an acceptable substitute)
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1/2 cup unbleached flour
  • 2 cups oatmeal
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup grated coconut
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • apples, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup crushed pineapple
  •  

Preparation Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease two one-dozen muffin tins. Place plantains, milk, eggs, coconut oil, and almond extract in blender. Process until smooth. Pour into mixing bowl. Separately, mix almond flour, unbleached flours, and baking power. Add coconut, raisins, crushed pineapple and chopped apples to egg, milk, and plantain mix. Add flour combo. Mix thoroughly. Place half cup batter into each muffin cup. Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A STRANGER IN PARADISE

Pissaro






Marajoara chicken

Geoffrey Holder.

Painting by Geoffrey Holder.
Geoffrey Holder.







Port of Spain, the capital of the Trinidad Tobago island nation, is a blur in my mind. I was there in my early twenties. That was the first time I left Brazil. I was terribly disappointed that rather choosing tMilwaukee, Wisconsin, as base camp, my employer, the Westinghouse Teaching Corporation, decided that the Caribbean as the best place to train prospective Peace Corps Brazil volunteers Fool that I was, I did not think that little islands near small Spanish speaking countries were sufficiently different from coastal northeastern Brazil where I lived the time. I wanted a big change, not another day at the beach. Luckily, the friend with whom I traveled had family in Belem do Para, at the edge of the Amazon. She invited to stay with them for a couple of days before flying to Port of Spain. It was then that I begin to discover my own country. Other discoveries would follow.

In Belem, I saw Native Brazilians for the first time. In my profound ignorance, I assumed they were Asian. It never occurred to me that Marajo Island, where a pre-Columbian civilization flourished between 400 BCE and 1600 CE, was a skip and a hope away. I made no effort to go to the Goeldi Museum which houses splendid Marajoara artifacts. Whatever did I do with myself amid such cultural wealth? I visited with my hosts, walked around in the daily drizzle that falls daily at the edge of the Amazonia. I ate crimson acai juice with manioc flour, tasted a few of the myriad of flavors of ice cream made with tropical fruit and gazed at the glorious examples of the florid architecture made possible by the Rubber Boom .
I must have been singularly unobservant to keep no clear memory of Port of Spain. Tere I was, a stranger in paradise, wondering blindly amid crowds that included descendants of African, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Syrian, Lebanese and Tamil immigrants. All that I remember clearly is having ordered the wrong to go with red snapper. By comparison, the couple of months I spent in Charlotte Amalie left a more lasting impression. I was aware that Blackbeard’s Castle—formerly Skytsborg Tower--and Forth Christians were remnants of a Dutch and Dano-Norwegian past. What I missed entirely, was the Saint Thomas Synagogue, the second-oldest in American soil. I also missed any evidence of Camille Pisarro’s presence in Saint Thomas. Many years later, after I saw his paintings at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, his connection with Charlotte Amalie came as a surprise. It am not sure whether he attended the local synagogue. His father, a Portuguese Jew, broke with Jewish tradition when he married his uncle’s widow. In the ensuing scandal, the Pisarros were banned from worshiping at the synagogue and their four children declared illegitimate. It took twelve years for the Beth Din to relent. By then Camille Pisarro was on his way France where eventually chose art over commerce.

In Charlotte Amalie I saw none of Pisarro’s luscious paintings of food. I frequented no Sephardic households and consequently missed out on an introduction to Sephardic-Caribbean cuisine. The cooking staff hired by Westinghouse was from Guadeloupe. Its repertoire was heavy on French classics. I recall, particularly, the chef’s splendid Canard a l’Orange. Meals I had at a local restaurant were not memorable except for conch, a delicacy previously unknown to me. Many years later, after I moved to Fargo, North Dakota, I discovered Caribbean cuisine through GEOFFREY HOLDER'S CARIBBEAN COOKBOOK. A spicy roast recipe from that cookbook would become one of my dinner party specialties after I moved to West Virginia. My circle of friends included college students from India, Pakistan, Syria, Iran, Morocco, and Paraguay. Few of us ate pork and some did not eat beef. Other than that, we had many recipes in common. When met for  monthly for potluck dinners, we astonished each other with dishes that replicated themselves in distant parts of the world. For example, pasteis, meat or cheese turnovers popular at Brazilian celebrations, were identical to Indian samosas and not all that different from Syrian sfiha. Iranians, Pakistani, Paraguayans all made  rice dishes not that different than those we Brazilians enjoyed. The world seemed much cozier then, at least around the dinner table.

 I've used Geoffrey Holder’s recipes more often after  I settled for good in a small town that  is only a couple of hours to Washington, DC. That makes the Kennedy Center part of our neighborhood if one thinks in big city terms. That is not too long a distance to travel for capital  entertainment. That is how  I was able to see Geoffrey Holder dance in  a performance of "Kismet."  Eartha Kitt was one of the principals, but the  enormously tall--6’6” tall—and supremely graceful Holder stole the show. , Today he is better known for his Seven-Up—the Uncola--commercials and his film appearances as Baron Samedi in “Live and Let Die,” as Punjab in “Annie,” and as Nelson in Eddie Murphy’s “Boomerang.” He had many other talents, such as choreography, painting, photography and writing. I remember him as a marvelous presence on the stage and as  the author of a wonderful cookbook in which he collected recipes from his native Port of Spain.



Click on link for my version of Geoffrey Holder's roast.
CARIBBEAN PORK ROAST

Note: Leftovers make excellent sandwiches. 

A TASTE OF THE DISTANT PAST













There is no telling how halwa made its way from the Middle East to my part of northeast Brazil. Quite possibly  it travelled with  Sephardic Jews who fled Europe or who were sent into exile. There is also a chance that it arrived with Christian  immigrants whose culinary repertoire included dishes from Islamic Iberia. Either way, by my maternal grandmother's time, its Arabic name had been changed to an abbreviated form of the  Portuguese word for spices, especie, from especiarias. The original recipe itself underwent a transformation to  include manioc flour, the byproduct of the poisonous manioc plant, Manihot esculenta,  that African slaves brought  to the New World along with the formula to make it edible.

My grandmother needed no recipe to make the Brazilian version of halwa.  Most probably she memorised it when  she watched former slaves prepare it in her father's kitchen. Quick digression--slavery ended in 1888, in Brazil. My grandmother was born two years later. She neither took part in exploiting Africans nor did she profit from slavery. As for her father, this is neither the time nor place for his story. Well then, back to halwa and its romantic associations with  an Islamic Iberia so many ing contemporary historians paint in pretty pastel colors. Allow me to join them in ignoring  Moorish rulers' stringent rules for  those they conquered. Let me dwell on the fuzzy-wuzzy view of unpleasant events and leave out these rulers'  occasional massacres of Christians and Jews, their contempt for women. Rather, let me talk about feasts in the gardens of the Alhambra. Let me envision an assembly of guests dressed  in fine brocade--men only except for women musicians and dancers, people  too low on the social scale to matter much.  But who cares about inequality when the music of the oud harmonizes with the song of water fountains and  the perfume of roses and carnations fills the air?    Unless the current ruler is a fanatic recently arrived from a goat skin tent city in the desert, there is probably wine to go with pastilla, the chicken and almond pastry  that best represents  Ibero-Arabian fusion   cuisine. Let me focus on that. Let me picture doe-eyed men with falcon profile,  listening to such entrancing muwashashat  they remain oblivious of the succulent bits of  pastilla filling they hold in the perfumed fingers of their right hand. Let see that  when slaves--slavery is not a European invention--cleared away the remains of chicken pie,  after the men washed their hands in rose water, perhaps it was time for veiled Circassian captives  to bring in gold  plates heaped with sesame seed  halwa. It all sounds like a fragment from a romance novel, doesn't it? Such is the real  history of  Iberia.

Though she did not know it, my grandmother held much of Islamic Iberia in her memory. Grandmothers often are the transmitters of memories. Their role includes link past and present generations.  But my grandmother did not think in such terms,  For her, cooking, praying, and singing ancient songs were simply part of her family tradition. I doubt that she ever took the time to question any of them.  Past and present merged in her as naturally as the rain falls and the crops mature. There was no symbolism in the   halwa she sent me when I was away from home. There was no reminder of who we had been five centuries earlier,  in Toledo, Spain.  My grandmother did not know that her family whose name she shared had a name in Aramaic. All she knew was a sweet way of comforting a grandchild far from home.
Halwa is a marvelous comfort.  Mine arrived in a clear glass jar that made its  promise of sweetness a visual experience that expanded to include the familiar  scent of clover and  cinnamon. To dip  a spoon into the rich mix of tahini, sugar and manioc flour was to recall the flavors of childhood--smoky  roasted sesame seeds and brown sugar. Sadly, I did not honor the family tradition of memorizing recipes.  Many years after I left school, I traveled to another continent. But  I did not forsake halwa in my travels.  I ate it in Fargo, North Dakota where it was popular with German-Russian immigrants. I ate it in  Georgetown, Maryland, where Middle Eastern diplomats shop. I ate at the Rue des Rosiers, in Paris.  None of it tasted exactly like my grandmother's. None of it had the taste of home.

HEAVENLY CHOCOLATE



Mexican molinillo, in forefront, is used to stir chocolate.

The name the Europeans gave to the cocoa bean,  Theobroma cacao, food of the gods, is a splendid spin on the Nahuatl word used throughout the Aztec empire where Cortez found it, xocolatl.   Imagine the frisson that went through  the Spanish court when the Conquistadors talked about this seed that was so valuable it served as currency in  New World. Imagine the PR person for  Amalgamated Spanish Plunderers saying to Queen Isabella,
  “It’s  as precious as gold, Your Catholic Majesty. Why over there five beans will buy a rabbit, ten will buy a night with a prostitute–begging your pardon, Your Catholic Majesty, they are heathens, but a taste of the Inquisition’s strappado will fix that–and a hundred buys a slave.”
Imagine the queen’s reaction when she sipped the cold bitter drink made with ground up cocoa beans, cornmeal, chili,  and cinnamon. I do not know the royal Spanish equivalent of “yuck, this is vile” but I suspect the queen uttered words to that effect. It took twenty years for the Spanish plunderers of Mexico to learn that the Aztecs fermented cocoa beans, to lessen their bitterness and that they often added  honey and vanilla to their xocolatto  made it more palatable. This discovery coincided with the arrival in Spain of sugar from the Caribbean. The rest is history.
What intrigues me in  the history of chocolate is the relative obscurity to which it relegated the Portuguese  Jews who played an important role in bringing it to Europe. It is only recently that the chocolate manufacturers of Bayonne, France  decided to  highlight the contribution of these Sephardim. Now the Bayonnais talk openly about these Jews who,  in flight from the Iberian Inquisition, turned  Bayonne into France’s foremost center for chocolate manufacture.   Sadly, a century the good Bayonnais had acquired the skills needed to take over the chocolate industry. Encouraged by the   anti-Semitic propaganda of members of  the chocolatiers guild, they thrw out the Jews. For the latter,  it was  “deja vu all over again.” .
This historical footnote  has a special meaning to me.  Sephardim who fled to France early to avoid the Portuguese Inquisition,  are among my maternal ancestors.They  settled in northeast Brazil some five centuries ago. When the Dutch invaded that part of the world in  1630–a century after my Sephardic ancestors’ arrival in the New World–Jews were able to reestablish contact openly with branches of their European families.They were active participants in the sugar trade. Some of them traded in  cocoa beans as well. It is possible that this imagined relative was  among those to bring to  France and Holland  Maya and Aztec stories about the aphrodisiac qualities of  the cocoa bean But that is purely  speculative. However, it is a matter of record  the belief in chocolate as a sort of proto-Viagra took roots in the European imagination. Casanova is said to have fortified himself with it prior to amatory bouts.   Louis XV, the well-loved, relied on  a mixture of chocolate bars dissolved in boiling water and thickened with egg yolk to enhance his lovemaking with Mesdames Pompadour and du Barry.  He was only one of many westerners to believe a legend that, so far, scientific research has failed to legitimize.
Though chocolate trading  is not part of the documented history of  my family, I cherish the thought that somewhere in the family tree there lurks a cocoa bean  trader. Never mind that my childhood was devoid of chocolate treats. That strikes me as very peculiar.  Brazil happens to be the  sixth largest producer of cocoa beans in the world. Surely there was plenty to go around when I was little. Did its association with the bad habits of old roues keep it out of my menu? I doubt it.  Maybe it was a simply a question of transportation. Roads linking my little town in Ceara to large urban centers were not the best. Consequently, most of the town residents  led lives of utter self-sufficiency.  Having no cocoa trees meant having no chocolate. Or did it? My parents happened to be economically comfortable. They traveled and shopped in larger  places  than my hometown. Why did they not  bring home chocolate? I have no idea. All I know is that I only became a chocolate eater the year I turned thirteen.   That year, I left home  to go to school in the cool, verdant Cariri hills, miles away. That was my first solo voyage.   At thirteen, I was thought to be capable of  handling new privileges, new responsibilities.I took with me a secret Yom Kippur prayer my maternal ancestors had been passing on  to their eldest child for five hundred years, school uniforms, and the burden of parental expectations. For the first time in my life, I had enough pocket to spend in candy shops. Was all this pure  coincidence? Jewish girls that age become bat Mitzvah, but that is an innovation in terms of Jewish history. Besides, five centuries after Spain expelled its Jews,   my family no longer connected with normative, Judaism. Ours  is the memory of Jews in hiding. It records through a glass darkly.
Fact–at thirteen, I left home in the dubious company of my family’s driver, a murderer my father had sprung from  jail–my father often hired clients from his law practice for jobs he alone thought they were qualified for. Presumably, he thought  a murderer was a safe person to drive a sheltered teenager school. But my father and his endearing quirks are material for another post. Chocolate is the allegedly the topic du jour. Chocolate as in Sonho de Valsa, the cashew stuffed bonbons I savored  along with Catholic novels of morals  such as Henry Sienkiewicz’s QUO VADIS, Florence Barclay’s THE ROSARY, and appallingly sugary romances by M. Delly, such as  MAGALI, Only Saint-Exupery and Jacques Prevert stood between me and complete idiocy
Besides halwa–especie, in northeast Brazilian Portuguese–made by maternal grandmother,  I do not recall eating sweets other than  chocolate while I was away from home. Delightful as my memories of weekends with the relatives who occasionally liberated me from conventual dreariness,  I have no recollection of the food we shared. I only remember clearly the chocolate ice cream we would have  at a little shop facing the  cathedral where my teachers compelled me to attend mass every day. Chocolate then was the last sweet note of freedom from a regimented routine. Ever since no treat  matches the nostalgic  flavor of semi-sweet cocoa with a top note of vanilla. In my mind, it blends, exquisitely,  with the sounds, scent, and  sights of a Sunday  kermess that brought the largest town square to life–the carousel that blared the Moulin Rouge song, the rustle of freshly starched clothes, the perfume of  jasmine  and red of tree blossoms, the glow of paper lanterns,  the smell of buttered popcorn.
Years later, in the United States, I acquired a more sophisticated taste in chocolate. Thanks a friend whose relatives had a long lasting relationship with  Viennese makers of bespoke chocolate, I graduated to artisanal treats. Later, in my food journalism days,   I tasted Bolivian, Belgian, British,  French, Italian Mexican, Swiss, and Venezuelan chocolate. I ate chocolate made in Vermont by a former White House chef, sampled  handmade chocolate truffles in Italy, France, Spain, Switzerland, Hershey, Pennsylvania, and  Martinsburg, West Virginia. Could I choose a particular brand over another? Yes. In the United States, I would choose Peter’s chocolate, occasionally available at King Arthur Flour, in Vermont. In Europe,  I would choose the Austrian chocolate made for the Hungarian aristocracy, but the friend who used to share it, died a few years ago. I never bothered to find out the name of her Austrian chocolate makers. All in all,  I am not one of these folks who swear by Caillebaut, Cote d’Or, or Varlhona.  I do not crave truffles made in the light of the new moon is some remote Oaxacan kitchen. Only rarely do I miss the hot chocolate I had in Spain, a concoction so thick one could stand a spoon in it–Spaniards thicken their drinking chocolate with cornstarch. I can live with American hot cocoa.  I am OK with British and Swiss  imports I can buy in most discount stores in the United States. As a rare treat, I indulge in   Brazilian Sonho de Valsa bonbons. Thing is, to me,  all chocolate is divine. I am grateful to the Sephardim for helping make it available to mere mortals.
Note: My immediate family has no ancestral recipes for chocolate. I hope someday to duplicate the chocolate halwa I had at the Rue des Rosiers,  in Paris, years ago. It was a heavenly  mix of Old and New World flavors.