Sunday, November 29, 2009
Friday, November 27, 2009
A nice, thoughtful visual article about food, democracy, and back-to-the-land philosophy by Maira Kalman in New York Times today. Worth reading and thinking about, wherever you live in the world.
We are having a very blustery day-after-Thanksgiving-Day here in New Jersey, but no rain so far. In Denmark they have harvested wind energy for centuries, and this stamp commemorates the wind mill in Askov. It has a really interesting history, involving patents and other things you can read about here. Denmark is a leader in wind energy and the US is lagging incredibly far behind, as usual, when it comes to sustainable, alternative energy.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
"She made the tan popular after returning from a cruise to Cannes with a sunburn."
This quote is about Coco Chanel, who is featured in a recent French movie I saw called "Coco before Chanel" (link2). It is a gorgeous movie about a woman I knew very little about. She started out as an orphan growing up in an orphanage and lived through very difficult times until she eventually found love and started her clothing company. Through it all she was stubborn, brave, and different - she was the first woman to dress in men's clothes ("because it is more comfortable"), to refuse the corset and to refuse an abundance of embellishments on hats and dresses. She looked for simplicity in everything.
Coco Chanel was really a rebel - she refused to dress in the Victorian era's movement-limiting dresses, she refused to get married and insisted on working, which was unheard of for upper-class women at that time. She wasn't upper class at all, but lived in the upper-class for several years. I never really cared much for her fashion clothes, but with this movie, I have reevaluated so much of it. I think it was mainly because of the American women associated with the clothes - they don't seem to have too much in common with her. Plus I have a real problem with too much gold on clothes, pink tweed, and thick gold chains, which is what I have associated Chanel with in the past. But back to the movie.
The movie itself goes over many years but it seems to always be November or December in the movie - foggy and misty. I love French movies when they let the story take its time. In Hollywood I think they would have rushed it, for example not let a long sequence just show a horse carriage go across a lonely road for seconds and seconds and seconds. It really is a fantastic movie. Coco is played by Audrey Tautou, one of my favorite French actresses. (The color images are from the movie, the black and white photo is of the real Coco Chanel.)
Sunday, November 22, 2009
I just finished my first knitted hat ever - and I like it a lot. There really are only two yarns in it, but one of the yarns are changing colors so the effect is green, grey, turqouise, blue and black hat. What do you think? It was much easier than I thought and fast, took less than two weeks with knitting here and there in small pieces of time. The yarn comes from one of my favorite yarn stores, Pins and Needles, in Princeton.
It is hard to photograph hats without putting them on someone's head :)
Here you can see the hat from the top.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Pickles a la Sweden! There are many types of pickles ('inlagd gurka') in Sweden, but none are called full sour, half sour, or dill pickles like in the US. Instead the two most common types are 'saltgurka' (salt pickled) and 'ättiksgurka' (vinegar pickled). Now, both types have salt and vinegar in the brine, so it is just a matter of proportions. Mustard seeds, dill flower crowns, and other spices are common, and my favorite recipe for homemade pickles is one my mom has given me.
This photo shows my daughter's favorite kind from our Sweden trip this summer - Mother Anna's thinly sliced pickles (Mor Annas tunnskivad gurka). [Question to Swedes, shouldn't it be 'Mor Annas tunnskivadE gurka' in proper Swedish?]. 'Gurka' means cucumber, and must be from the same root word as gherkin, the English word for tiny little pickled cucumbers. The word cucumber comes from the old Latin or Greek since the genus name is Cucumis. Cucumbers are a kind of berries with a leathery skin, and are placed together with pumpkins, squashes, and melons in the Cucurbitaceae family.
(Stamp from the island of åland, between Finland and Sweden in the Baltic Sea.)
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Yesterday, NASA reported that they have the first solid evidence for ice (from water) on the moon. Now we know there is water on both Mars and the moon, soon I think we will hear there are little bacteria-life things living there too. DNA can survive space and be transported from a planet to another through asteroids, so why not - life on other planets than Earth is quite likely I think. The first life on Earth wasn't living in an oxygen-rich atmosphere, it survived in what we think are hellish environments - boiling acid mudpots, deep-sea hot vents, methane gas filled environments, and other places of what we now think are extreme environments because we are used to the extreme oxygen-rich environment we live in. But it appears that early life on Earth at least was dependent on water. This is all very exciting - congratulations NASA!
The stamp of the day are ice crystals (snow flakes) on Swedish stamps.
Just a few photos from our trip to the Swedish and Norwegian mountains this summer. These are from a lake in a valley somewhere close to the Norwegian-Swedish border in northern Värmland, but I have forgotten exactly where. Even if it was cloudy and rainy the scenery is gorgeous.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
A while ago I was on a roll reading things about China, from Chinese food in the US to Chinese history and culture. Ever since I saw the old Marco Polo TV-series as a young teenager I have been fascinated with this country, and I would love to visit, but now it feels like it might be too late to see the old cultural China and its nature. What we mostly hear about now is about environmental pollution, uncontrolled industrial development, and the lack of human rights and natural conservation. It is sad.
The two books I read a while ago are of very different sorts. The first one, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles - Adventures in the World of Chinese Food by Jennifer 8. Lee (yes, there is the number 8 in there), is a book of mixed feelings and mixed contents. She sets out to find where the fortune cookies come from, a common dessert addition in American-Chinese restaurants but never seen in China. After she figures that out through interviews and some fact digging in California, she switches subjects to the history of take-away food, Chinese restaurant owners, illegal immigration, the best Chinese restaurant in the world, the true origin of General Tso's chicken, etc. The book is well-written, very well researched with many trips over the world, but I just couldn't find it that interesting because it was so scattered in its topics. It felt like she put everything she could in there, like a quilt with too many colors. based on the reviews on Amazon, most people liked it a lot better than I did. But after reading Fuchsia Dunlop's book on Chinese food and culture, I am spoiled, I know.
And now for something completely different. Peter Hessler has written about his years as an English teacher working for the Peace Corps in the remote Chinese town of Fuling along the Yangtze River in a book called River Town: Two years on the Yangtze. This was before Westerners were common in China, and in fact, he was one of only four Western people in the whole town of a hundreds of thousands of people. He writes about the everyday struggles with the Chinese language and culture, how he teaches his students Shakespeare with a Chinese twist, how Communist party bureaucrazy gets in the way sometimes, and vividsly describes the landscapes, rivers, people, and villages he meets. It is a wonderful book, but slightly too long. The writing is great, it is just the long descriptions some of this thoughts that become a bit too long-winding sometimes. The town of Fuling is half drowned now because of the Seven Gorges Dam. They moved the down up along the hills as part of the flooding of the Yangtze River upstream from the Dam. It is sad to read about how many Chinese leave old history behind and is all for progress, progress, progress (=more money, more things, more production). I think this book was the most detailed and honest book I have read so far about China.
Next up on my Chinese literature track is Marco Polo's stories I think.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
On the website http://www.britishcouncil.org/learnenglish-central-stories-exams.htm#01, a vast list of exam answers for questions by American students can be found. Five such I have chosen to list today:
16. It was an age of great inventions and discoveries. Gutenberg invented removable type and the Bible. Another important invention was the circulation of blood. Sir Walter Raleigh is a historical figure because he invented cigarettes and started smoking. And Sir Francis Drake circumcised the world with a 100 foot clipper.
1. Ancient Egypt was inhabited by mummies and they all wrote in hydraulics. They lived in the Sarah Dessert and traveled by Camelot. The climate of the Sarah is such that the inhabitants have to live elsewhere.
3. Moses led the Hebrew slaves to the Red Sea, where they made unleavened bread which is bread made without any ingredients.Moses went up on Mount Cyanide to get the ten commandments. He died before he ever reached Canada.
30. Queen Victoria was the longest queen. She sat on a thorn for 63 years. She was a moral woman who practiced virtue. Her death was the final event which ended her reign.
28. The French Revolution was accomplished before it happened and catapulted into Napoleon. Napoleon wanted an heir to inherit his power, but since Josephine was a baroness, she couldn't have any children.
Some plant colors and sizes are just unreal. Like yellow-orange-red-pink hibiscus flowers that are 20 cm in diameter or so (that is 8 inches for Americans). And gorgeous. This photo is from a recent trip to the university greenhouse where a lot of plants are flowering in the November grayness. It is like a little oasis in the fall somberness outside.
First real frost night with white things on grass and plants. Kids have been raking up the leaves, and I need to cover my growing spinach so it survives the winter better.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Today is National Men Make Dinner Day here in the US. True. Need I say more? I hope not. It is offensive to both men and women that this holiday was even contocted and part of the calendar, I think.
What we had for dinner tonight, mostly leftovers:
chili oil rubbed poissons (little chicks)
smoked pork chops
caramelized onions cooked in apple cider
mixed greens salad
black beans cooked with smoked pork neck bones
Mmmm, it was all good.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
I believe the coffee just ground here at home for tomorrow morning is called Dead Mans Reach or something like that :). And it is never decaffeinated. (But I drink tea in the mornings, coffee is for the people that get up an hour earlier...)
I love natural history museums and even if I know that nowadays it all should be fancy, electronic, interactive and very educational, I really like to old diaramas that often are torn out in the old museums to make space for new things. But at the Academy of Natural History in Philadelphia they still have some showing the North American wildlife. The photos are not too great, it was dark... but don't you start thinking when you see these? Can beavers really climb? Opposum daycare is very efficient. And lynx, that is what EH saw this summer. I think this is real natural history art.
By the way, we have the weirdest screaming/screeching animal outside our house in the early dark mornings. I think it is a rabid cat, but the rest of the household doesn't think so. We have thought about great horned owls, bobcats, coyotes... who knows what it is.
Seen at the local supermarket here in New Jersey - handcrafted Witches' Broomsticks made in Estonia from birch branches being sold for Halloween. If these made it here, in container ships I bet, I wonder how many are being sold and how much of the Estonian forest that is cut down. Not very sustainable to shop these across the world. At least it is not plastic. And you even get a pilot license when you buy one!
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Tonight we had some amazing cheeses including a BOSIAN one (no, not Bosnia, but Bosia in Italia) called Langherino (read link for funny English). OK, try to find that in your cheese store. Mmmm! Cheese is really one of the most incredibly good foods. I wonder who made the first cheese? Someone that by mistake dumped some acid (wine, vinegar, lemon juice) in boiling milk? Scooped out the curds and then forgot them, and voila' - aged cheese? When I can't sleep I think about these things. The first bread, the first meatball, the first chile relleno - how and when did it happen? Except recently, after reading the book Catching Fire - How cooking made us human, I guess I mainly have been thinking about the first steak and baked sweet potato. I wonder what the hominid was thinking when he ate a baked tuber the first time, don't you?
PS. Kids and PP - thanks for all the firewood work today, you are all amazing.