March 5, 2017 – SUNDAY

Tea making

Comforted: And tonight we are comforted by a cup (or cups) of tea. There are few beverages that relax as much as tea, hot tea that is. Temperature makes a difference. Cold black ice tea does not seems a relaxing drink.  But personally I find hot tea, black or green or white, all relaxing. Tonight I picked one of my favorite green teas, Sencha green tea, for an early evening drink. Perhaps my favorite green tea is Matcha but tonight I feel like Sencha.

March 6, 2017 – MONDAY

Spice of life: Spice is the spice of life. Food without spices and herbs is hardly food at all. While my childhood friends were eating dishes seasoned only with salt and black pepper, I was eating foods with black, white and green peppercorns, marjoram, thyme (one of Mom’s favorites & mine too), bay, oregano, basil, caraway (of which Mom was not particularly fond), celery seed, tarragon, anise, fennel, parsley, garlic, allspice (of which I asked, “if one spice was all spices, why would any other spice be needed?”), mace/nutmeg, poppy seeds, dill, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, mustard…. I have recipes from my Mom and her grandmother, mother and aunt.  In the early 1900’s, they were using a wide array of herbs and spices.  To my surprise, they were also using olive oil for salad dressings.  My great-grandmother, grandmother and great aunts were considered some of the best cooks in Saginaw County, Michigan. (The city of Frankenmuth is still renowned for good food.)   My great-grandfather, a barn-builder who hated farming, was an expert charcutier (a butcher and maker of meat products, preserver of meat and meat products without refrigeration.). My great grandfather and grandmother and their children:

  • churned their own butter;
  • made their own cheeses;
  • raised and butchered livestock, poultry and rabbits;
  • cured their meat and meat products;
  • grew fruits in their orchard and vineyard;
  • cultivated a large garden in which a wide variety of vegetables proliferated;
  • produced in their fields barley, rye and wheat (which was milled for flour);
  • gathered mushrooms from their woods;
  • tapped Maple trees for syrup (& boiled it down);
  • fished the Cass river for fish;
  • crushed grapes from which they made wines and vinegars;
  • created fermented drinks from collected flowers (dandelion, elderflower); and
  • brewed their own beers.

They were self-sufficient, prosperous farmers, living on some of the richest land in the United States. All that they did, they did well and became famous for it.  However, most of the knowledge of the growing and processing of foodstuffs has been lost to family members, lost when they left the farm and took up city life.  What was not lost was the art of cooking.

One of my Mother’s childhood friends told me that my great grandmother’s family, unlike the rest of the community, had come from Berlin, in Germany.  When that was said, I wondered if it were ‘code’ for something.  I learned a few years before Mother’s death that part of her DNA was Ashkenazi Jew.  I never thought to ask my mother if she had heard that she was part Jewish.  I just assumed she understood that to be true (although I thought it from her Swiss forbearers) and that the statement, “You know your great Grandmother was from Berlin,” was code for that.  Whatever the case, much of my mother’s style of cooking has much in common with Ashkenazi Jewish cooking.  My mother’s father died when she was a toddler, and her mother went off to the big city of Flint (and then to Detroit) to cook for the Fishers of Fisher Body.  My grandmother was one of the chefs for one of the richest men in the world, a man who could dine on the best of the best.  She said frequently after a meal she had cooked, Mr. Fisher summoned her to his side to thank her for what she had made. As an adult, I realized that I grew up eating as well as one of the most prosperous families ever to have lived.  No wonder I found so much of other people’s food lacking.  I was given the best of the best.  We may not have had the most expensive cuts of meats, but whatever we had was cooked to perfection.  There are dishes I make from my mother’s recipes similar to dishes others make, but theirs are never nearly as good as Mother’s.

Herbs and spices were never a stranger in my own home.  Just before JM and I set up house keeping in Durham, North Carolina, I went to the grocery store and bought all the herbs and spices (same brand) the large grocery store carried.  In our first apartment, to accommodate our collection of herbs/spices, Michael made a 2-inch wide shelf that wrapped around the end of our kitchen so that our herbs and spices would be readily available.  We used and still use a large variety of flavorings, many that are now commonplace in US cooking, but were not common at all when we first married.

We met an Indian couple in Durham, North Carolina. Neerie and Geet Josson. Neerie shared some of her recipes with me.  To this day they remain some of our favorites.  One afternoon she made a rice dish and called for us to come and pick it up.  We did.  On the drive home, the dish filled the car with an irresistible aroma.  We opened the casserole lid, tasted.  It was good and we ate using our fingers as forks, much of the dish was dispensed of before we completed the mile drive home.  We ate some of the best Indian foods, best foods we’d ever eaten with the Jossan family. I came to believe that centuries, even millennia, of cooking with herbs and spices resulted in Indian cuisine becoming one of the most complex and expert in their use.

I’ve cooked with virtually all the herbs and spices the Indian cooking teacher used tonight, but it was intriguing to see how she heated them, combined them – teased out their flavors.  I’ve seen Indian ‘spice tins’ (masala dubbas) and thought of buying one. She had a small version for sale. I could not resist, sucker that I am for cooking paraphernalia and ingredients.  I, who have always had a wall of spices, now have a circular tray of spices too.  In the near future, I will make for Michael the best curry he has ever had (assuming I am able to follow the recipe correctly).  One of her secrets: marinating the chicken in lime juice prior to cooking it.  One of the secrets of my mother’s excellent cooking: adding lemon, or vinegar, to everything.  Her European cooking tradition shares the love of citrus with the East. That and the teacher’s special spice mixture – the secret to the best curry ever.

March 7, 2017 – TUESDAY 

Daily newpapers

Blind leading the blind: Today as most days JM and I started our day reading our newspapers (and JM reads online news as well). When we read something of interest, we read it out loud to the other. We read two local papers (SF Chronicle and East Bay Times — once the Oakland Tribune), one national paper (New York Times) and an international paper (Financial Times, of London) to make sure that we are getting a variety of views and views from reputable sources. We take newspapers and magazines because we think it important for us to be well-informed and also to support the press because without a strong press, we believe, our democracy is in jeopardy.

Often I am personally critical of individuals who do not go to quality news sources, sources with a reputation of carefully collecting information, reviewing it and editing it before it is printed or aired.  Fox News (and any of Murdoch’s media companies) is one of the worse sources for news because Rupert Murdoch is more interested in disseminating propaganda than in reporting the news.  He has an agenda, and that agenda is to get people to support in the voting booth his political positions.  He recently is quoted as having said that the two best days in his life were the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, which requires that the United Kingdom withdraw from the European Union, and the election of Donald Trump.  Trump’s daughter throughout the campaign was sitting on Murdoch’s company board, overseeing $300 million in assets for Murdoh’s two young daughters, and Trump’s son-in-law weekly consulted with Fox News about their coverage of Trump’s campaign.  There was no way Fox News was unbiased in its coverage of Hillary and Donald.  Rupert has also claimed that he was responsible for the election of Reagan.  By his own statements he is acknowledging that his news outlets are propaganda outlets, not news organizations, but they are ‘news’ outlets with a goal in mind — PROPANGADA to convince voters to do what he wants them to do.  Murdoch’s media empire produces pseudo-news through its outlets.  It is ‘NEWS’ with a political agenda.  That agenda determines what is ‘reported’ and how it is reported.  Murdoch has talking heads present ‘opinion’ as news, and that ‘news’ is patently untrue.  People frequently do not want news, or facts, but want something to validate their opinion even if that opinion is at odds with truth.  So looking for opinions rather than truth, individuals watch Fox News and read Murdoch’s publications.

Family and friends from my youth, now very, very mature adults, that I am in contact with on Facebook seem to be misinformed, sometimes claiming the incorrect as fact.  I suspect their primary source of information (or lack thereof) is Fox News.  And now what can I say when President Trump, who has access to accurate, first-source information, ignores what he is being told and instead continues to consults with ‘make-up’ news sites to inform him of the world at large?  When the president of these United States denies significant amounts of factual information compiled by some of the most knowledgeable minds on the planet and presented to him by reliable individuals, who am I to criticize people who without having firsthand, reliable information consult Fox News?  The president has quality information provided to him, but goes to Breitbart News, Fox News and Twitter, because what they disseminate as information represents his thinking, and he wants to hear what he thinks confirmed as truth.  He is not seeking reality or fact, he wants affirmation.

We have a president who lives in his own world, who rather than accepting quality information from knowledgeable individuals, seeks out ‘news’ that reinforces him in his ignorance.  Virtually his every action reveals that.  He did not get a good education at his highly selective private schools.  You cannot blame his lack of knowledge, lack of an education on ‘government.’  It was the private sector that taught him and taught him badly.

The Finnish people, I’ve read, counter Russian propaganda by working to provide their citizens with good educations.  They want people to be able to read and reason and think. Finns, it seems, value critical judgment.  The capacity to think critically – I want to say at all – is something which Trump lacks entirely.  It is emotionally comforting to live in a world we imagine.  It is not reassuring when reality shows our views to be at odds with the world.  But, as adults, it is our job to seek out information, diverse information, so that we can ascertain what is truth and what is fiction.  Much ‘news’ claims to be truth, when it has been fabricated and is entirely fiction.  Trump prefers fiction and as president of the most powerful nation on earth, his fear of reality, of truth, jeopardizes our future.

Trump is loved by those who believe as he does.  They have an excuse.  He is their leader, and they believe him.  Trump has no excuse.  He is provided with the truth, yet denies it and seeks out untruth, because untruth supports his mind’s view.  In this nation, we have the blindest of men, leading the blind.  Trump chooses to be ignorant, willfully ignorant. He is as he is and he believes that what he thinks is the truth, because he is thinking it.  He is a pathological liar, but even as he lies, I suspect he believes that what he says is the truth, because he is god-like and god cannot be wrong.  Unfortunately many of his followers believe his lies to be truth, because his views declare the world to be the world they see, or want to see.  It is a dangerous time and more dangerous than it should be because fiction is perceived as truth and truth is believed to be fiction.

March 8, 2017 – WEDNESDAY

Play Off  Peter w/ Bikes & Bay

Civility on the trail:  JM says Peter is the most courteous bike rider he’s ever ridden with.  He calls out, he says good day and he leaves room as he goes by, not passing within a hair’s breath of those he outpaces.

It must be a holiday week at the University of California, Berkeley, because today I was passed by no speeding bikers.  I was passed by a pair wearing identical body-shaping biking regalia.  They were talking loudly and did not pass close or lightning fast, so they did not startle me.  Anecdotally, based on today’s ride, it seems that most of the rude, speeding bikers are university students.  We’ve been taught that college kids are the best and the brightest.  They may be bright, but their rudeness to others on the biking trail shows them not to be the best.  Obviously many a son (most of the fast bikers are male) has been brought up to think that no one else but he, himself, is important.  Such sons go through the world not just disregarding others but they seem not to see them in the first place.  They are know-it-alls living in a me-centric world.

Most of the nasty people I’ve worked with were college educated.  A degree did not make them nicer.  Frequently they were not as knowledgeable as they thought.  They claimed to know what they did not know.  I often said of them, “I read, I go to seminars and attend classes but they (the know-it-alls) are convinced that they, who have never investigated the topic, know more than I do in an area I’ve studied deeply.  Know-it-alls seem to believe that knowledge seeps into their brain through their pores.”  It is hard to work with people who know not of what they speak, but claim knowledge as theirs, knowledge that a basic test would reveal does not reside in them, and them insisting things be done in accordance with their understanding (limited).  JM says of such people, “Often wrong, but never in doubt.”  Their like is hard to deal with, whether it is a co-worker or a supervisor.

A division head engineer for whom I worked was instructed by the head of another agency (not an engineer, but politically connected) within the larger organization to construct something which violated code.  My boss said, “No. I can not do that” and explained why.  The agency head still insisted that he comply.  When he said he would not, the agency head told him that his refusing to do what was requested of him was insubordination.  My supervisor informed the agency head that he did not work in that agency, that the person who instructing him was in no way his boss and therefore they had no authority to direct him to do anything.  That being the case, he could not be insubordinate.  The other agency head would not let it drop.  My boss refused again saying, “I can’t. It would violate California law, and as a California civil engineer, I am licensed to follow the law, not to break it.”  The offended division head, using political influence, tried but did not succeed, in forcing my boss and our agency to violate code. The other agency’s head knew nothing about construction (and likely did not care), but that did not stop them from thinking they knew best and from demanding what they wanted done, done.

Recently, an academic female I know claimed that the reason the feminist movement in the U.S. failed is that it did not reach out to homemakers and devalued the work of females not in the workplace.  She said that if it had not been for that, more females would be feminist today.  I grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s. I read ‘women’s magazines’ (both MS and homemaking magazines).  I attended ‘awareness’ meetings.  I talked to my peers and women older and younger than I.  Women in the women’s movement did reach out to homemakers, did say their work was valued and should be recognized for its value.  They wrote innumerable articles and developed innumerable charts showing the actual monetary value of homemakers’ work.  It was not those ‘new feminists’ who rejected the homemaker, but it was the homemaker who rejected the ‘new feminists,’ believing them to be a threat to them and to their way of life.  The ‘new feminists’ were not just rejected and ostracized by homemakers, they were called names by them.  They branded them negatively for wanting a career outside of the home, or for not embracing the traditional role of women.

We early feminists were attacked if we were attractive and if we were not.  We were attacked for being ‘unwomanly’ for simply wanting something other than ‘tradition.’  We were called unfeeling, unlovable bitches, whores, second-rates trying to prove that we were equal to a man.  Some churches equated ‘feminists’ to witches and the devil.  The female academic who now claims to be an expert on women blames the ‘new feminists’ (we are now old feminists) for the fact that the great majority of women in our society today do not embrace feminism, blames those of us who worked to create gender equality.  It was, the academic said, because we (the old ‘new feminists’) were not inclusive.  She claims knowledge she does not have.  If she had done ‘ORIGINAL’ research (gone to the source) by talking to a large number of ‘new feminists,’ she would discover that her premise is wrong.  Her premise is wrong because we did reach out and reached out repeatedly.  We were rebuffed by the very women we tried to include in the movement.   As ‘new feminists,’ we questioned the status quo of the establishment and because of that we were not just rejected by the establishment (including homemakers), but viciously attacked as well.  Even as we were attacked, we tried to be inclusive.  The ‘new feminists’ touted the value of the work of all women, especially that which was labeled ‘woman’s work.’  The very women whose work we were respectful of were not respectful of those of us who chose to (or out of necessity) work outside of the home.  It was not the ‘new feminists’ who rejected women who chose to stay at home; it was the other way around.  The academic may make her claims, get her theories published and be certified as an expert in the field, but that does not make what she claims to be right, true.  Those of us (‘new feminists’) who lived through the ‘new feminist’ time, know that did our best to be inclusive, we worked to be inclusive, but the ‘traditional female, living the traditional female role’ back in the late 1900’s, wanted no part of the ‘new feminism.’ They saw us as the enemy and, based on my experience, I see many women living that kind of ‘female role’ today, see the ‘new, new feminists’ just as we were seen decades ago. So, I, on this “International Day Without Women,” having come of age when the ‘new feminism’ was born,’ salute women in virtually all occupations, including homemaker, recognizing women’s contribution to society and life.  I do that now, just as I and my ‘co-feminists’ did back in the 1960’s and 1970.

Here, today, in the world in which I live, I see yet another example of someone asserting expertise without knowledge.  Unfortunately, it is a woman, a woman who claims to speak for other women, but speaks without knowledge.  It seems that some kinds of human behavior are not male or female, but human.  And the tendency to claim knowledge one does not possess, and trying to force it on others, is a human tendency.

March 9, 2017 – THURSDAY

Play Off  Turkish towels

Turkish bath:  Getting clean is a luxury. Ancient Romans (as did the Greeks) bathed in their grand baths on a regular basis. Traces of ancient structures bringing in fresh water and disposing of wastewater remain – aqueducts and sewers (oldest structure in Rome, a section of sewer).  Many cultures have Springtime bathing ceremonies.  How wonderful to enter clean water and washing away winter’s grime must have felt.  It is understandable how Spring’s baptism became a sacred ritual.  Many cultures had/have cleaning rituals.  The Japanese are noted for taking long baths, the Scandinavians steam themselves in saunas followed by a swim in a cold lake and native Americans sweating in lodges all enjoy the pleasure of getting the body clean.

Mother talked of the weekly bath ritual on the farm of her childhood. There was the daily washing – washcloth, towel, soap, bowl and filled water pitcher waiting on washing stand ready for daily reading of self, then the Saturday night ritual making ready for Sunday services, the bringing out of the round galvanized iron tub, the heating of copious amounts of water (the wood-fired stove had an always ready tank of hot water; however more water was required for bathing), the creating of the private weekly bathing space, made it an event to savor, to look forward to and to recall. The clean hair, a clean body readied for Sunday, marked the end of a week of hard work and sweat.

Bathing was important in my childhood home.  In the Congo because of the heat, we bathed twice a day.  Returning to the small depression-built home of my parents, there was no water heater.  Bath water was heated by a chrome electric heater attached to a long black cord (which sometime shocked) placed in the tub’s water.  It was not just inconvenient but dangerous.  When we did get a new water heater, a giant white enameled one installed in the attic (a gift from a childhood friend of Mother’s), it was a thing of awe, a thing to celebrate.  Just after it was installed, the entire family stood in front of it, then walked around it in amazement.  Instant hot water was a thing of wonder, just as running water seemed to my sisters and myself when we first saw it in Khartoum, Sudan only months before.   Before that city on the White Nile, we had never seen water coming out of faucet nor a toilet flush and spent much of our first day in our first big city, turning on and off clear liquid, wondering how it could be instantly available, wondering why it did not have to be carried in buckets to site of use.  Because of the magical new heater, water no longer had to be heated in kettle or tub to make ready a bath.  Hot water was instantly there, pouring out of faucet at the mere turn of a knob.  What luxury and easy luxury at that.  Mother wrote in my baby book how I loved my bath.  My love of bathing has never abated, and bathing I do whenever hot water and tub are available.

When we married, JM liked showers.  He showered and I bathed.  That was until JM’s early 20’s when he was suffering from lingering prostate problems, and his urologist (an ex-army doctor) prescribed hot baths.  Those long ‘medical’ soaks he found relaxing. They became part of his daily routine.  We both now bathe and rarely shower.  The luxury of the daily bath is always concluded with soft Turkish towels. ( I’m a sucker for good linens.) I want to remodel our 1950’s upstairs bathroom with new tile, new fixtures and a warming towel rack so that our luxury baths will end with bodies dried by WARM soft towels.

March 10, 2017 – FRIDAY

2014 November Bird Trip

Witch Hazel flower

Blooming Witch: It seems as if rays of sunshine are bursting from bud: Witch Hazel in bloom, with thin deep yellow petals. The first time I saw the shrub was back in my college days in a Massachusetts wood, and still I find the plant fascinating.  The Native Americans used the plant to sooth insect bites.  I buy Witch Hazel for the same purpose, but grow the shrub for its blooms. They do not disappoint.

March 11, 2017 – SATURDAY

Play Off   Cracked measuring cup

Thermal Shock We had a long leisurely dinner with Paula.  It was a bittersweet meal because we learned she is moving, returning to her childhood home in the Central Valley.  We have lost friends, some because they have moved or we have moved, some have died and some have simply fallen away.  We are sad because here again it seems that we will lose yet another person whose company we have enjoyed.

I made tea to go with dessert.  Paula selected green tea.  To cool boiling water before pouring it over tea leaves, I poured kettle water into our Fire King quart glass measuring cup, something I do virtually every morning in the making of coffee.  This time the measuring cup cracked more than half way round.  I supposed it thermal shock, but why this time hot water causing it to break?  We’ve had it for decades.  When it broke, it seemed almost as if I’d lost a friend and the breaking of the measuring cup, perhaps symbol of a friend’s leaving.  But a measuring cup can be replaced, friends not so.