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Generally Recognized As True: November 2009

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Wild rice, tilapia, and mushroom & onion sauce... plus spinach!

For some (good) reason or another, I thought these would go well together and they really, really did.

You need:
  • 1 filet tilapia fish
  • 1 small onion
  • 1.5 white/Cremini mushrooms
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup wild rice
  • 2/3 cup water
  • olive oil for rubbing tilapia
  • handful of spinach
  • salt and pepper
The steps are below. Obviously, you can (and should) organize these so that some of them run in parallel.

Wild rice
There's not much to this, it just takes a long time to cook (mostly unattended). Rinse and drain the rice, put it in a well-covered saucepan with 2.25x as much water as rice (i.e. for 1/3 cup rice, use about 3/4 cup water). Try 1/4 cup rice to begin with, since I found 1/3 cup a bit over-filling. Bring it to a boil and then reduce to a very low simmer and leave it there for 40-45 minutes. Remove from heat (keep it covered) and let stand for 10 minutes in the saucepan and then flake it with a fork.

Tilapia
Not much to this, either. Rubbed with olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and then baked in the oven at 425F for about 10 minutes. I used High Liner frozen tilapia, which is better than the fresh I've tried (see the end of the post for more on this).

Mushroom & onion sauce
Heat about 1.5 tbsp butter in a saucepan on 60% heat. Meanwhile, cut about one-and-a-half white or Cremini mushrooms into thin slices, and dice a small onion. Add mushroom & onion to the butter when it's fragrant and bubbly. Sweat them for about 5 minutes, stirring to redistribute every minute or so. Add about 1 tbsp. all-purpose flour and stir to coat (it will look very dry). Cook for another minute. Add about 1/3 cup milk, stir, bring to a boil and then simmer for 1-2 minutes, stirring periodically. Season to taste with salt & pepper.

Spinach
Wash spinach and steam for 2 minutes.

Wine
I'm not very good at picking wines to go with food, so I just picked up the one I had on hand and it worked very well -- much to my surprise. I don't usually buy pricey wines, and this was no exception. It was Pelee Island Cabernet Franc VQA 2007 -- an Ontario (Canada) wine.

That's about it. I just put the rice around around the edge, the tilapia in the middle, the sauce on top of the tilapia, and the spinach on the side.

The only potential problem I can think of is that the quality of tilapia seems very variable. I've had frozen tilapia that tasted very good and was firm/flaky (High Liner) and fresh tilapia that was rather soft and tasted of chlorine. Since I see nothing at all wrong with the frozen tilapia (and since it is farmed and can presumably be frozen at the peak of freshness), I keep buying the High Liner stuff.

Once the rice is taking care of itself, it's a pretty quick meal, and it tastes really good. I think the reason is that the main flavours -- wild rice, mushroom, spinach -- are all quite musty in taste. You can hardly detect an edge between the three flavours and they integrate really well. The tilapia and onion are both sweet (as are the butter and milk in the sauce).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ontario autumn porridge: what to do with the apples coming out of our ears

In this part of Ontario at this time of year, we have apples coming out of our ears. Pick--your-own apple farms are in abundance for the month of October, and apples appear everywhere in supermarkets in the month that follows -- 50 cents per pound at my local supermarket for the local varieties.

Apple pie is one of the obvious uses for this extravagance, but there is only so much you can take.

Over the past few days, I've been trying to use apples and their byproducts to come up with a good porridge. Today's was just about right. You could reasonably make this with all-local ingredients, except for the cinnamon.

Here is what you need for 1 serving:
  • half of an Empire apple: Empire apples are good because they fall apart when cooked. You could also use a Mac apple, but it would be more tart.
  • 1/4 cup sweet apple cider: I am talking about the pressed apple cider and not the alcoholic cider
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup uncooked grain cereal: over the past few days, I have used a ground 10-grain cereal made by Bob's Red Mill. Today, I was at the bottom of the bag and mixed 10-grain cereal with Quaker rolled oats (not the quick variety). Essentially, anything that has about a 10-minute cooking time will be OK with this recipe. Something I have not yet tried in this recipe but would probably be great are Oak Manor Farms's Toasted Porridge Oats. They are a farm in SW Ontario but available in the GTA.
  • 1 cinnamon stick: only if you like cinnamon with your apple
  • maple syrup: readily-available local maple syrup is available all over Ontario
First of all, dice half of an Empire apple. You don't need to peel the apple unless peels really bother you. They will soften during cooking and add a nice texture and flavour, I think.

Put the apple cider into a saucepan, bring it to a boil and then add the apple pieces. Simmer (covered) the apple pieces in the cider for 2-3 minutes.

Then, add the water and bring it to a boil. Add the cereal grains and stir briefly to prevent clumping and then reduce to a simmer. Reduce heat and simmer covered for 10 minutes. Stir periodically (every few minutes).

[ Optional (cinnamon): Depending on how cinnamon-y you like your apple to taste (if at all), add the cinnamon stick to the saucepan earlier or later in the cooking process. If you like a strong cinnamon flavour, add the cinnamon stick when you add the oats. If you like a mild flavour, add it about 8 minutes into the 10 minutes simmer time. ]

Once the grains have simmered for 10 minutes, remove from the heat and uncover. Add the maple syrup to taste (for me, this is about 1 tbsp.).

Put it into a bowl, let it cool down a bit and then serve.

I was pretty impressed with this. I think cider is to apples what tomato paste is to tomatoes -- it amplifies the essential flavour.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Frank Furedi on the crisis of adult authority, with implications for our crisis of education

Regarding the crisis of adult authority, British sociology professor Frank Furedi, as usual, has a lot to say and is usually right.

'All the big debates about pedagogy – how children learn to read, whether English literature is superior to media studies, whether history teachers should focus on the Napoleonic wars or the Holocaust – all these are really secondary issues’, says Furedi. [...] Today, we have an inability to give meaning to education because we struggle to give meaning to adulthood.

[...]

The struggle to give meaning to adulthood is expressed in a number of familiar ways. From parents struggling to know how to tell a two-year-old to behave to teachers feeling threatened by ‘violent’ four-year-olds and politicians threatening parents of truanting teenagers with jail, discipline is one area of life that used to be taken for granted but has now become an endless source of conflict and anxiety.

A related trend is that which Furedi terms ‘socialisation in reverse’. Socialisation, he notes, ‘is the process through which children are prepared for the world ahead of them’. [...] Today, however, this intergenerational responsibility is being usurped by a new breed of professionals, so-called experts ‘who transmit values by directly targeting children’. Parents will be only too aware of the way that children now come home armed with advice for their parents about how to eat healthily and recycle their rubbish correctly.

[...]

One result of the devaluation of adult authority is that ‘the proper relationship between education and society has been turned upside down’, and ‘education is used as the site where the unresolved issues of public life can be pursued’. As adults are infantilised and children are treated as mini-grown-ups whose voice must be expressed and heard on every matter from the content of the curriculum to the attributes of their teachers, education becomes viewed as a place where political debates can and should take place.
It's been awhile since I've read one of his books but I am about due for another visit, I think. He is becoming a fine successor to Neil Postman, now that the latter is no longer with us.

In these times of non-violent coercion that we presumably picked up from our participation in the Cold War -- where political and social pressure is used in an organized and concerted way in lieu of physical force -- public education is in some ways becoming a racket in that it occasionally exhibits a violation of the public trust and an illicit misuse of education where the child is used as the violent social weapon of strongly implied but ostensibly optional enforcement.

I was sitting in the waiting room of a music store a couple of weeks ago and overheard a young girl quietly chastising her Dad for not buying her music book from the store where she also did her lessons. "But if you buy it here then [the store] will get the money," she said. "So you have to buy it here, OK?". You could hear the wife in her voice. It was calm and collected with a strong insinuation that you'd not be spoken to for a long time if you didn't act appropriately. The Dad stood there in near silence, seemingly unsure of how to handle the situation. He made a few uncertain comments about the books at the store being expensive and in bad physical condition.

It makes me wonder if children are also being told in school that they have to support local businesses. Is the Chamber of Commerce giving talks in elementary school now? I don't really know. But, she was not of an age where she would have reached this conclusion herself.

The child, however, likely does not comprehend such detail. I have written at greater length and with more detail about this problem of child indoctrination by the public school system in the past.

Forget what I said about Tori Amos and "Midwinter Graces"

Forget what I said about not buying this album. I have had a chance to preview it and it is actually very good and I will be buying it.

I was also wrong about it sounding as if it came from the same session as "Abnormally Attracted To Sin". I had only heard a very brief preview before, but having heard it in greater length it sounds quite different: the piano is back in front in a few songs, and there are a few of those piano textures that stick in my mind long after I've finished listening to the song. There is nothing raunchy here and it is quite a warm-sounding album.

But despite efforts to make it appear otherwise, it is clearly a Christmas album, though mostly an agnostic one. One thing I appreciate most about it is that she messes with some of the familiar twists and turns of the traditional Christmas songs that are included. This prevents it from being predictable and also from becoming quickly annoying. For this reason, you would be able to hear elevator Christmas music in discount department stores all season and still be able to come home and listen to this album.

She also adds some original songs that don't break at all with the character of the traditional songs. It's a very even album and uncharacteristically restrained -- she does not normally select songs so carefully. This also makes it a rather short album in comparison to most of her recent work.

If I had to compare it to her previous albums, I'd say it has the most in common with "Scarlet's Walk".

So, it comes out on November 10 and if you have any interest in her work then you should probably buy it.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

On the transition to an almost car-free existence in the transitless suburbs

Even though I live in a transit-less and distant suburb of Toronto, I have so reduced my use of the car that it is now perfectly feasible to get rid of it and rent a car when needed. Since I have not yet taken this step -- I will probably keep it until it needs to be replaced and then not replace it -- I have now found myself in the position of having to take it out for "walks" now and again so that it doesn't succumb to a flat battery or just rust into place and cease to be mobile.

Though I don't find it particularly clever, here is how it's done. It won't work for everyone, but it will work for a lot of people who say it won't work for them:

  1. Take transit to work: this gets rid of the main legitimate reason for having private transportation
  2. Establish a walking routine: decide for yourself that it's good for you to get out for a walk at least a few times a week
  3. When you walk, make it count: rather than walking in big circles or a circuit, walk somewhere useful. This is not brilliant. It is the simple act of running errands, except that you do it on foot.
  4. More frequent trips make lighter work: I am now in a position of being able to do all of my grocery shopping by foot. Doing this all in one trip would not be possible on foot without a lot of pain, so I go at least three times a week. This can be combined with other errands.
  5. Rent a car for longer trips, and make that count, too: if you have to make longer trips and they are not that common, you can get by with renting a car. But when you do rent, make it count: make a plan of everything you need to do in the car and do it while you have the rental. This might include large grocery items, or other bulky or heavy things
That's about all there is to it. If you have the gift of being totally honest with yourself, you can tell whether it's really practical or not or whether you are just lazy. If you already have a car, why not use that backup as a way of trying out the above? There is no consequence. If you happen to be in a rush one day, you can use the car. But if you can't be bothered at the end of the day, it is amazing how quickly you get over that when you get outside. Habits take a few weeks to form and become normal.

After slowly becoming car-less over time, I had one weekly trip that I had been using the car for, which was about a 5 kilometre trip. It seemed too far to walk but, after trying it, it really isn't that bad. It takes about 40 minutes each way when walking with a concerted effort, whereas it took about 10 minutes in the car with all of the traffic lights and stop signs in the way. So, yes, that is an extra hour. But it's also exercise and you can listen to music, podcasts, or audiobooks while you walk. That is the reason my car had gone unused for more than 3 weeks, as it was my last remaining regular car trip.

I don't know what it will be like in the winter. I have bought some good-quality winter boots and will continue to try it. To be honest, I am more concerned about the summer than the winter as the former will be far less comfortable and has the risk of severe thunderstorms. You can dress for winter.

In the spring, summer, and autumn, you also have the option of a bicycle. In my case and in my experience, it takes about the same amount of time to do groceries by bike as it does by car when you consider the startup time of the car, the shortcuts you can take, and the fact that you can park your bike right by the supermarket door and load your groceries directly into your backpack at the self-checkout, which eliminates the parking/loading/cart return process. My grocery trip that takes 1 hour on foot (2.5km walk to, time spent in store, and 2.5km walk home) takes about 20 minutes by bike.

There are some people, I'm sure, who drive about the same distance and then go into the gym attached to the supermarket, exercise for 30 minutes (and not only pay for that privilege but also burn electricity doing it), and drive home again. Pointless?

I also find that I am less likely to over-buy when shopping on foot or bicycle. I always consider that I have to carry what I am buying. And list-making is much more important. Sometimes I will go only to buy one or two things, if that's all I need. Because the main purpose is to go for the walk.

Anyway, none of this is special or revolutionary. I am simply explaining how my mostly car-less existence in the transit-less suburbs (amongst neighbours no older than middle age and with no children, but who seem to take 3-4 car trips a day) came to be. I used to drive to work and to my weekly appointment and do all of my shopping within the context of those trips, and I went for regular walks but they were shorter and they were on a circuit that didn't go anywhere in particular, except maybe to the library or post office once in awhile. Now, I take transit to work, go on longer walks that are almost always with a purpose other than exercise, and have to take my car for a walk once in awhile to keep it healthy.

There are possibilities and feasibilities that you may not have considered.