Friday, May 26, 2017

A furious rant

mi abuela, making tortillas
Really. This is a ferocious rant. Probably not what you came here for, but if I’m going to blog at all, this is what I’ve got today. 

I woke up yesterday morning to the audiotape of Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte assaulting reporter Ben Jacobs in Montana. It was horrifying. If you haven’t listened, you need to. Perhaps even more chilling than the attack, though, was the parade of moral midgets, including members of Congress, who justified Gianforte’s brutality, even reveled in it. We all know there are thugs out there, but who wants to see them defended by fellow citizens, let alone lawmakers? Who wants to find out that the sickness is systemic?

It appears to be systemic. Thanks, Trump. While I don’t think he’s the source of this ugliness, he unleashed and legitimized it. I am more disgusted with my country than I have ever been in my life.

Also trending on my Twitter feed yesterday morning was a sad, tawdry little story out of Oregon. Two young women went down to Mexico, learned how to make tortillas, started a food cart in Portland selling burritos made with their fresh tortillas, and gave a kind of dippy interview to a newspaper. This utterly banal story led to venomous charges of cultural appropriation and, apparently, death threats. In the comments thread and follow-up articles, so-called progressives alternately vilified and belittled the tortilla-makers for “appropriating” Mexican culture. (There were a lot of comments in support of the women as well, which is heartening.) One minute the women were attacked as “horrid” colonialist predators who viciously robbed secret tortilla recipes from impoverished Latina grandmothers, the next they were mocked as frivolous “Beckys” who thought it would be “cute” to filch someone else’s cuisine for their darling little cart.

The women shuttered their business a few days later and vanished from social media. 

A lot of reasonable people disagree with me, but I don’t believe cultural appropriation is a problem. I think the crusades against cultural appropriation are illiberal, mean-spirited, divisive, stifling, unAmerican, riddled with contradictions, ahistorical, and often just a flimsy excuse for self-righteous leftist scolding  — and worse.  I am pretty sure the critics in Portland who went after the tortilla makers were less interested in helping Mexican abuelas they’ve never met (and never will) than in scolding and shaming white girls. They were getting off on putting white girls in their place. There’s a lot of that going around these days among leftists of all races, including whites. Young white women seem to piss people off just by existing. 

But that’s not my concern right now. I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t think there was a more serious problem with this saga than the loss to Portland of a white-owned food cart

These scoldings — these intemperate tirades from the left — exact a price. All liberals end up paying that price, even those of us who despise the culture of scolding. We’re paying the price right now and it’s miserable. Meanwhile, cultural appropriation foes like those in Portland continue to blithely, arrogantly run up the tab. 

I’ve always been a liberal. I want liberal candidates to win elections, liberal laws to be enacted, liberal values to prevail. I would argue that going after people for cultural appropriation is not just illiberal in itself, but it impedes liberal political progress, by which I mean winning elections. Pillorying white female entrepreneurs is not how we, on the left, persuade white people in places like Montana to embrace the Democratic platform. It is not how we get people to stop voting for turds like Greg Gianforte. Indeed, these petty cultural tirades are one reason why white people in Montana vote for turds like Gianforte. Anyone who thinks voters in Red States don’t hear about tortilla nonsense in Portland doesn’t watch enough Fox News or check in at the National Review. Right-wing media outlets make damn sure their audiences know about it every time a yoga class is canceled because of  “cultural genocide.” Oh, those hilarious, asinine libtards! You can see the journalists licking their chops when they get to report that a Latina student at some elite college has decreed white girls can’t wear hoop earrings because it’s offensive to the “black and brown bodies who typically wear hooped earrings” and asks: “why should white girls be able to take part in this culture.”

Why indeed. And a good follow-up question would be: Why should ordinary white voters embrace this bullshit? Honestly, why? If the face of liberalism is a supercilious, censorious, self-righteous snot who rails against young white women because they sell tortillas, we have an electoral problem. Also, I need a new party.

Look, I don’t think the left is the primary driver of recent repulsive behavior on the right. Far from it. But some of us seem to be doing everything we can to make things even worse. I’m a white, lifelong liberal with a Latina grandmother who actually showed me how to pat out tortillas — and if I find this stuff obnoxious and alienating, it sure isn’t winning over harder hearts and minds. I hope the cultural left enjoyed its little “triumph” in Portland, that the “victory” of putting two naive young women out of business was sweet.  Because the electoral victory of the despicable Greg Gianforte —  a real, substantive victory that unfortunately requires no scare quotes —  is anything but. 

Back to more palatable fare soon.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Morning in America, May 2017

You can also eat it straight out of the jar. 
Jennifer, looking at her phone while still in bed: There’s no way Trump is going to serve out his term.

Mark: Well, you know what I think.

Jennifer: Right, you think he’s going to serve his term and get re-elected.

Mark: I think he’s going to serve all four years. Of course he is. He loves this stuff and what’s going to take him down?

Jennifer: Nope. Something is going to happen and he is going to resign. It will be sudden and swift. Let’s make a bet! You agree to go with me to the orangutan sanctuary in Borneo someday if he leaves office before his term is up. If he makes it to the end, I agree to go on the driving trip around the Great Lakes.

Mark: I’m not going to bet something that would make one of us unhappy.

Jennifer: I wouldn’t mind going to the Great Lakes.

Mark: Really?

Jennifer: You’d truly mind going to the orangutan sanctuary?

Mark: You know I would.

Jennifer: How about this: We get a dog if he leaves office, we don’t get a dog if makes it to the end.

Mark: I’m not going to bet something that would ruin our lives.

Jennifer: How about this: If he stays in office the full four years, we move to a townhouse without a yard or any animals.

The conversation petered out at this point because I get bummed thinking about the townhouse. Our imminent move to a sterile townhouse when Owen leaves is an ongoing joke that I increasingly worry is not a joke.

I went upstairs and pulled out the jar of Alton Brown’s overnight coconut oats that I mixed yesterday. I’ve been wanting to try this recipe since I first opened EveryDayCook back in December, but kept postponing because it looked incredibly fattening. I finally got tired of wondering what it tasted like.

What did it taste like? Ambrosia. The internet is packed with recipes for oats-in-a-jar that look like this one, but I have never tried any of them so I can’t say if Brown’s version is better or worse, only that it’s delicious, a creamy melange of oats, chia seeds, flaxseed meal, and nut milk topped with with crunchy coconut flakes. I ate my oats slowly, as I would a pudding, savoring every exquisite bite. I will be making this again, probably within hours.

I’ve made some adjustments to the recipe. Brown calls for 75 grams coconut milk and 75 grams almond milk — but he doesn’t specify the type of coconut milk. Does he mean the thick, rich coconut milk in a can? Or the thinner, lighter coconut milk you find in jugs in the refrigerator section of the supermarket? I went with the latter and used Califia Farms unsweetened, blended coconut and almond milk. But really, you could use any milk you want — soy, cashew, dairy. I also felt you could use less syrup and go easy on the dried fruit. I omitted cinnamon. 

You need a scale for this. 

Alton Brown’s Coconut Oats

150 grams mixed nut milk (see headnote)
12 grams maple syrup (or less)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
40 grams rolled oats
30 grams dried fruit (or less, or add fresh berries when you eat the oats)
2 grams chia seeds
3 grams flaxseed meal
pinch of salt
toasted coconut flakes for topping

Shake the milk, maple syrup and vanilla in a pint jar until well blended. Add everything but the coconut flakes and shake the jar again, very vigorously. Screw on the lid. Refrigerate overnight. Top with the coconut flakes. Serves one.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Cultivating my garden

Overgrowth of poppies has made it hard to walk up the stairs, but I can't bring myself to tear them out. 
I’d kicked my Twitter addiction and was back to appreciating the tangible world around me, but then came last week. There I was puttering around the yard one afternoon, happily planting lavender, nice middle-aged lady having a nice middle-aged lady day, when I glanced at my phone, shrieked, sat down in the dirt, and that was all she wrote for gardening. 

Trump is so much worse than I thought he’d be — and I thought he’d be terrible.

But since I have nothing original or interesting to add to the national conversation, I’ll tell you how to make injera. 
They aren't supposed to look quite like that, but they tasted great.
Injera is the soft, super-sour Ethiopian flatbread that resembles a giant pancake and is used to scoop up whatever meats and stews are served at an Ethiopian meal. It’s delicious. Something about the sourness piques your appetite, makes you want to eat more and more and more which is the last thing I need, but that’s beside the point. It was a longstanding goal of mine to make injera at home and my various attempts had all ended in tears. Most injera recipes in books and on the internet simply do not work. Period.

Which is why a few Saturdays ago I found myself in an Ethiopian cooking class trying to fry onions in a pot without any oil. One of the odd features of Ethiopian cuisine, at least Ethiopian cuisine as taught in this class, is that you add oil after you’ve cooked the onions. I’m not sure why. The teacher certainly didn’t enlighten us. It was a strange class. To start with, it was held in a vast hangar-like warehouse in the dark reaches of which people seemed to be soldering metal and repairing cars. The teacher was a petite Ethiopian woman with minimal English who had no printed recipes to distribute and seemed curiously grudging about sharing information. She assigned each of us a work station stocked with rudimentary foodstuffs and we proceeded to prepare unnamed legume-based stews according to haphazard verbal instructions. You had to guess what the ingredients were — was that red powder paprika? Cayenne? Berbere? I still don’t know. She’d wander by periodically to tell you that now it was time to chop the onion or add the salt or turn off the hotplate, and then a few minutes later she’d wander back and reproach you because whatever you’d done was wrong. I have no idea what we made and couldn’t begin to replicate any of it. 

Except the injera. I was there to learn to make injera and I learned to make injera.

If you’ve never wanted to make injera, you should stop reading because you will fall asleep. If you’ve  always wanted to make injera, the following formula worked perfectly at the warehouse and adequately — though not perfectly — a week later in my own kitchen.  You will need to track down two special flours — dagussa and zengada — and you will need some sourdough starter. I had thought injera was always made from teff flour, but our teacher used dagussa and zengada, which she told us were varieties of “finger millet” flour, but that may not be correct. I can’t confirm. (I find something very creepy about the term “finger millet.”)

Once you have your flours and starter this is what you do: 

In a bowl, combine 1 part dagussa, 1 part zengada, and 2 parts all-purpose flour. Add some starter. We didn’t measure in the class, but at home, to four cups mixed flour I added about 1/2 cup starter. Now add enough warm water to make a thin, creamy batter. Mix well. Cover the bowl and let it sit for three or four days on your counter. It will bubble and begin to smell intensely sour.

When you’re ready to cook, heat up the closest thing you have to a non-stick skillet. In class, the teacher used a dedicated round electric skillet to cook the injera, but a cast-iron pan worked well for me. When your skillet is really hot, pour some batter into it, swirl it around to completely coat the pan as you would a crepe. Pop on a lid. After a few minutes, lift the lid and if the injera is cooked (not wet on top, but not desiccated — you’re aiming for tender, pliable, spongy), remove the bread from the pan and make another injera. Proceed until all the injera are cooked and serve with Ethiopian entrees like this, which worked well.

They were not enthusiastic. 
The flavor of my injera was lovely. The texture, not. It was somewhat rough and leathery, and it never rose, never achieved that little “lift” of proper injera. I briefly considered trying to go for perfect, fluffy, spongy injera like you get in restaurants, but decided that there were other things I’d rather do with my free time. I was satisfied with my imperfect, tasty injera and crossed Project Injera off my list.

A few things I’ve done rather than perfecting injera that you might enjoy as well:

*Watched Srugim. Sweet, droll Israeli TV series about the romantic travails of young, religious Jews whose courtship rituals are no less rigid than those of Elizabeth and Darcy. Window into a world I know nothing about. Charming and fascinating. (Amazon Prime.)

*Watched Obit. Documentary about obituary writers at the New York Times. It’s funny! Also informative and actually rather uplifting. Trust me, you’ll be glad you saw it.

*Worked a lot in the garden, which is good for the head, hell on the hands. Wear gloves.  

I love these little guys.