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“I’m not so much a cook as I am an artist”

14 Mar

One of my favorite new websites is TasteSpotting.com, an aggregator of food blogs with a beautiful layout and photos that get your salivary glands pumping. For the last couple weeks, Garibaldi has been consuming much of my kitchen time (jobs: what a bummer), but I make time at least once a day to just click through the front page, where the most recent submissions are posted in a smorgasbord of recipes.

I’ve had lots of luck with the handful of things I’ve tried from TasteSpotting, and my list of bookmarked recipes to try grows almost every day. My timid food-blogging attempts are a direct result of this website. I have to say though, sometimes it gets a bit outrageous. Truffled celery root and potatoes puree. Hazelnut, homemade raspberry jam, and white chocolate ganache tarts. Cheesy chive bread with walnuts and white pepper. Almond-pulp crackers (gluten-free). Caramelized bananas and fig oatmeal. Yes, they all sound delicious (except for maybe those crackers). Yes, I admire these bloggers’ creativity. No, I will not be trying any of them.

I’m a simple girl. I’m not above dehydrated pasta and a jar of sauce, even on a weekend night. I have served friends beans knowing the bottom of the pot was stuck half-an-inch thick with charred beans. I don’t think they think any less of me; they have come back around.

I felt quite able to relate to a New York Times’ columnist who signed up for a Brooklyn food exchange and felt her chocolate chip cookies and samoa bars were a little underdressed sitting next to bottles of vodka infused with organic pine needles and jars of candied tangelo peels.

Tonight’s going to be a pasta-and-jar-of-sauce kind of night. I’m under the weather (thanks, babies) and behind on this editing project, Colin has class until 8:30, and Noel arrives tomorrow evening. After that, I plan to be eating quite well—in restaurants all over Italy.

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A newish fight against cancer

16 Jan

When we were in Taiwan, Colin and I watched TED Talks multiple times a week. They’re often quite fascinating, and the site has a neat search option that not only lets you search by topic, but also allows you to narrow results to only the funny ones, or only those that many viewers found inspiring, or those which are the most informative.

A contact of Colin’s recently forwarded a TED Talk by William Li, the head of the Angiogenesis Foundation, titled “Can We Eat to Starve Cancer?” The first half of the talk explains angiogenesis, which is the growth of blood vessels, and how it can affect different diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, and cancer.

Dr. Li explains that we’re born with pretty much all the blood vessels we’re going to need throughout life. There are exceptions to that, though. Our body knows when we’ve been wounded and need to re-grow damaged vessels; women grow new blood vessels every month in their uterus; and sometimes a cancerous tumor can trick our body into thinking new blood vessels need to be grown, turning a harmless, ballpoint-pen-tip-sized tumor into something to really worry about.

There are several different anti-angiogenesis drugs on the market that inhibit the growth of new blood vessels, slowing or stopping the growth of the tumors. Dr. Li has a chart about midway through the presentation that compares those drugs with a couple dozen foods, oils, and spices that are also anti-angiogenesis. The foods do surprisingly well. He suggests, with some Harvard research to back him up, that by incorporating these foods into our diets, we can better fight against cancer by stopping blood from getting to the tumors, essentially starving the cancer.

My goal is to incorporate more of the foods on this list into our diet more often than I do now. Some of them are easy: olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, red wine—check, check, check, and check. We really got our fill of ginger, bok choy, and green tea last year in Taiwan, but it wouldn’t hurt to pick up a bag of ginger chews to keep in the pantry. I’ve got an artichoke in the fridge (is that where I’m supposed to keep that?) and a bag full of tumeric on the spice shelf (I’ll explain later…), and I will seek out, try, and post about any recipes that use one or more of these ingredients.

Have any dishes I should start with? Any shortcuts like the ginger chews?

A heartbreaking work

4 Jan

I don’t know much about suicide. I’ve read a few books, seen a few movies, in which one or more of the characters decides to end things. Thankfully, thankfully, thankfully, suicide has never touched me personally.

In the first act of this week’s “This American Life,” the friend of a man who had unsuccessfully tried to take his own life sat down and interviewed him about why. The friend edited the tape down and sent it to the unhappy man, thinking that if he could hear his own words, he would snap out of it.

The guy talked about how he was convinced everyone else was just grinding along, how children gave you an artificial reason to live. He seemed so unshakable in this notion, that people, if they were being honest with themselves, would admit how unhappy they are. At least on the edited tape, the friend didn’t contradict him.

I, on the other hand, exclaimed aloud as I climbed the empty staircase to my apartment. It’s not true! There are plenty of people who are sincerely happy and fulfilled in their life. I, unemployed, disconnected, and aimless, am sincerely happy with my life and working on the fulfilled part. I don’t think it’s because I’m young and naïve, but it could be. I understand it must get harder to be satisfied when you have real responsibilities like a mortgage, sick parents, expensive children, an angry boss. But even with those concerns, I believe it’s possible.

If you’re not listening to Chicago Public Radio’s “This American Life,” I highly recommend checking it out. You can subscribe to it for free on iTunes and it updates every week. Almost always the shows they do are a lot more light-hearted than this one, but sometimes we need to examine these unhappy truths.

The title of the post  is from the book I’m reading right now, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I like it well enough so far, though I would call it neither heartbreaking or staggering, at least not just yet.

Rise and fall

20 Nov

I’ve started taking an art history class offered at SAIS with Melody and Jane. I joined late, and the professor was just jumping into the Renaissance, explaining it as a reaction to the Gothic style that had spread to Italy from Spain and France.

I don’t remember how it came up, but in the lecture last week, the professor briefly lamented how English has come to replace French as the lingua franca. I imagine she learned French as a young girl and then also was made to study English.

I don’t think possible leftover resentment at having to study a third language sums up her resignation. She’s an art historian whose list of publications suggests a focus on Italy and France from the 1600s through the 1800s, and during the lecture which the comment was made, we were learning about Masaccio’s paintings from the 1420s. America just doesn’t have that old of stuff! In my head, I see her imagining America as this unsophisticated party crasher taking over the music selection and eating up all the food.

Obviously I know English comes from England and not America. A quick tour of Wikipedia explained that the British Empire of course laid the foundation for English as a global language, but noted that it wasn’t until 1919, at President Wilson’s special request regarding the Treaty of Versailles, that a diplomatic document was written up in English in addition to French.

An English person might disagree, but International English strikes me as America’s doing. However, all of the business and culture that flows from America to the rest of the world doesn’t change that even in America, English isn’t the official language. I’m not in favor of making that so, by the way—check out this language from our House of Representatives back in 2001:

The Government of the United States shall preserve and enhance the role of English as the official language of the United States of America. Unless specifically stated in applicable law, no person has a right, entitlement, or claim to have the Government of the United States or any of its officials or representatives act, communicate, perform or provide services, or provide materials in any language other than English. If exceptions are made, that does not create a legal entitlement to additional services in that language or any language other than English.

It didn’t get very far on the path to becoming a law, and that’s the most recent federal action I could find in under a minute on Google.

Meanwhile, Colin’s classes confirm that the United States has seen her best days. We’re over the hill and not handling it with a whole lot of class, what with our economic stumble threatening to the stability of the entire global market and Hollywood distributing pop-culture greats like “Saw 3D” and “Grown Ups.” All great empires have to fall at some point. I wonder if the Romans, the British, and the Chinese circa 1850 felt as though the whole world was collapsing with them, too.

Italy as a state is presented to the world as something as a joke, helped greatly by playboy Prime Minister Berlusconi, the politician with nine lives and at least as many scandals going on at any given time. That Italy is a cultural mecca, however, cannot be contested. My professor said that Italy takes its art more seriously than its politics. The father I babysit for complained that Italy doesn’t have tourism infrastructure worthy of the country’s treasures. Luca Montezemolo, aka Mr. Ferrari, who gave the SAIS start-of-term address and is a potential candidate for prime minister in the near future, spoke about Italy falling out of the top three in worldwide rankings as a tourist destination and his determination to reverse that. The United Nations World Tourism Organization ranks Italy fifth for the last three years.

Decline is not a fatal condition for a state. China is proving that a country can remake itself from the ashes of a former world power and potentially grow to be stronger than before. It only took China 150 years and a cultural revolution to do so.

Cheese, my favorite food group

7 Nov

There’s an article in today’s New York Times about the pushers and consumers of cheese and what it’s doing to the American waistline. It’s a pretty long article, investigative journalism at its best, so I’ve translated it to an easy-to-follow figure.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture created Dairy Management to market milk, cheese, yogurt, etc. to the American public to help the dairy industry. Dairy Management went to a floundering Dominoes last year and suggested they boost sales by doubling the amount of cheese on their pizzas. Dominoes went with it, adding cheese to their crust and different cheeses to their topping, and because cheese is delicious, people ate it up. Sales soared by double digits.

Oh, right. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture is the same government agency charged with encouraging Americans to have healthier diets. The article compares Dairy Management’s budget with that of the Center of Nutrition Policy and Promotion, another USDA organization, which receives only $6.5 million annually.

Why does the USDA want Dairy Management to push cheese? Because America’s over-worked cows produce 60 million hormone-induced gallons of milk per day, and we’ve gotta do something with it!

The article quoted the president of the Physicians Committee on Responsible Medicine: “If you want to look at why people are fat today, it’s pretty hard to identify a contributor more significant than this meteoric rise in cheese consumption.”

How much more cheese are we eating? According to the article, 33 pounds per year—triple what we were consuming in 1970 (well, not me, personally, but you all). And while it may not seem fair to drawn comparisons to the days of WWII, the Brits only got 52 ounces of cheese for the year during wartime (and for a couple years following)—that’s only 3 lbs. for the whole year! (I couldn’t easily find figures for U.S. consumption; what do you remember, grandmothers?)

I like to think I’m better than the average American in terms of diet, but I don’t think I can say that about my cheese intake. Sure, last year in Taiwan, Colin and I shared a total of three Costco-sized blocks of cheese, but I’m more than making up for that this year. There are five different kinds of cheese in our fridge right now, and to be honest, reading this article just made me want to go check on them, see if they still taste the same…

Meanwhile, my goal of finding an enjoyable yoga podcast on iTunes has stalled at the iTunes podcast search page.

Long-legged misery

22 Sep

As a budget traveler who needs at least 30 inches of inseam, this article makes me feel conflicted and, well, cramped. At a recent airplane tech show, some company unveiled a new “stand-up” seat with about two-thirds of the space of a regular coach seat. The writer described it not like “riding a horse,” as the manufacturer suggested, but like being wedged in a stand-up roller-coaster seat.

It’s one more incentive not to get on a damn airplane. No one has actually installed these yet, but the airline I’m likely to fly on when we do any traveling here, Ryan Air, is chomping at the bit to put these in.

Honestly, I’d be happy limiting the trips that require flights anyway. I wouldn’t have expected that three-month trip to have any lingering effects on my psyche, but I get almost anxious when we go away for the day. Luckily, Bologna’s in a pretty good location to explore a lot of Italy; I could even get to Rome in just over two hours on the train.

I do want to take advantage of being in Europe, of course. I’d like to go back up and explore the Baltic states, and Colin and I are talking about going to Croatia for his spring break. We discussed a trip to Germany in the winter, and apparently a group of students are planning a school-related weekend trip to Morocco. Colin will have three-day weekends every other week during the first semester, so we’ll have a few opportunities to go a little farther than Parma and Pisa.

Italy and immigrants

13 Sep

The number-one story on the New York Times web site this morning was an interesting feature discussing Chinese immigrants in Italy, and the tensions that are arising from the situation. The article focuses on the town of Prato, world-renowned for its high-quality textile industry. In the last twenty years, Chinese have been immigrating to Prato, legally and illegally, by the tens of thousands and setting up workshops of their own. The Prato chamber of commerce reports that Chinese-owned textile businesses now outnumber those owned by Italians.

The situation in Prato is breeding resentment on both sides. Prato’s first conservative mayor since WWII accused the Chinese of bringing “noise, bad habits, prostitution,” and won his seat partly by feeding fears about a “Chinese invasion.” The immigrants accuse the authorities of racism and unfairly cracking down on their businesses while turning a blind eye to the Italian-run businesses that are also not following the lax laws of the land. The Chinese defended their work, saying they had moved into a stagnant economy and created jobs by shaking things up in Prato with the innovation of pronto modo, fast fashion.

Growing up in a San Diego suburb, I’m not unfamiliar with the tensions that can arise from immigration issues.

Bologna isn’t really facing this problem: almost 90 percent of the residents of Bologna are Italian. The largest group of immigrants mostly comes from Eastern Europe; every day you can see Roma women with their babies asking for change on the streets radiating out from the central piazza.

People from Bangladesh make up less than 1.5 percent of Bologna’s population, but they have a corner on the kebab and alimentari markets. Their snack shops and tiny markets stay open all day, every day, so if you have the munchies on the way home from Piazza Verdi or need a can of tomatoes to make dinner on Sunday, they make it possible. Convenient for me, but I’ve heard the Italians find it rather annoying. And on the street of produce stands, the fruit at the Bangladeshi stalls is $0.50/kg cheaper than that at the Italian stalls; Colin says the Italian stands can afford to do that because there are enough people who are more racist than they are budget-conscious.

Colin wanted to do a research project on the watering-down of cultures as English moves into small communities and replaces the indigenous languages, and I think that same idea applies with this. The Italians (and the French and the Germans) are very opposed to the watering-down of their culture. It’s illegal in Italy to label cheese Parmigiano unless it was made in Parma. The founder of Florence allegedly ordered the murder of a man who had gotten a hold of some of the city’s silk-making secrets.

This fast fashion coming out of Prato is Chinese-made with Chinese materials, but still labeled “Made in Italy.” Knowing the level of quality of the clothes I bought in Taiwan, I don’t blame the Italians for being concerned with what this is doing to their brand.

But I think the burden falls on Italy to tighten up its laws if people want things to change. And apply those laws to everyone, not just the immigrant communities. The governments are meeting next month, and this issue will undoubtedly be on the agenda.