Happy Easter!

About a week ago I was at a barbecue. An early spring Friday night, there were beers in hand, coals kicking out heat, and a general sense of calm- another week’s labors laid to rest. It was a good crowd- friends and friends of friends. Conversation was flowing and eventually it turned to the matter of getting the grilling underway. One who was present mentioned that he’d step out to get a bite to eat as this was a barbecue and he could not eat meat as it was a Friday during Lent.

I was a little puzzled because earlier in the conversation he had discussed being Syrian and I just never thought of Catholicism being practiced in Syria. I was brought up Catholic. The nuns at my church were mostly from Ireland and we’d get visiting priests and deacons from all over the place- the Philippines, Mexico, Germany, even Boise in the distant land of Idaho! Now I consider myself an atheist, but I do enjoy reading about various religions and while I get that there are probably Catholics in every country it just seemed a little -I don’t know- improbable that I would meet a Syrian Catholic. So having a couple beers in me and enjoying the warm night air, I went ahead and asked him: Are you Catholic or is this just some kind of spiritual exercise you’re doing?

And then I was introduced to the Syriac Orthodox Church.

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I like polenta. You should too.

First, the link to the recipe: Polenta & Vegetable Bake

You can click on that link and it will take you to a recipe and you can follow it and you will have a delicious meal.

For anyone who does not know what polenta is and has a little time to kill, let me tell you about them.

Polenta lives in the pasta aisle in your grocery store. You might have noticed it before and thought “What the hell is this in the tube?” and then grabbed some penne or spaghetti or whatever and been on with your day. And that is understandable. You’re facing maybe 10 feet by 7 feet of boxes and bags of pasta, jars of pasta sauce, and weird little jars of funny little things like capers and clams and pearl onions and these all look at least a little bit familiar and then…

A yellow tube with the non-descriptive word Polenta helpfully printed on.

If you’re lucky (according to a pretty broad definition of “lucky”) there may be a box or two of polenta mix as well. So now you know you can make “polenta”. Or you can buy “polenta” pre-made in a tube. Like sausage or caulk or toothpaste.

In the pasta aisle.

Of course.

What would you even do with this stuff?

Well, there’s that recipe.

Basically you take your tube of polenta and slice it lengthwise so you’ve got a few rectangles of polenta and then you chop up some vegetables. Stir your vegetables in a pan for a bit and then distribute the mix over the polenta and bake it for 15 minutes.

This food is seriously good and seriously easy. Last week it was a weekend dish, this week it made it into the work week menu. I’ll go into menu development sometime, but for now just know that food prep on worknights absolutely cannot be long and involved (as I’m sure you could guess). That doesn’t mean it can’t be delicious as well, though.

When we make it later this week I’ll come back in and post some pictures.

Just take a look at that recipe up top and think about it. While you think about it, consider these bits of information:

  • Polenta usually gets compared to grits, which is kind of understandable when you see how it’s made, but at the same time is kind of misleading because it’s not really like grits. I know some people don’t like grits or think they don’t like grits and that’s fine- more for me! But I would hate for anyone to miss out on this great stuff because they might be afraid of eating weird food.
  • You can make your own polenta with a mix. We have. It’s good! We usually get it in the tube. Less fuss. Less muss.
  • CHECK THE EXPIRATION DATE. I had bought polenta many times, never thinking to look at the expiration date. I learned my lesson the hard way.

Oh, what that recipe says about having it with a nice white wine? It is true- good food is good when you drink tasty alcohol with it. So there’s a helpful hint to see you off.

Hey Krishna…

Tonight, I met a couple of pilgrims. I call them by that name because I can’t really think of anything more appropriate, and I am sure there are lots of people who would weigh in with something a bit derogatory to say. This is a story that will not sound so strange when I tell it, but I assure you, from the seat I was sitting in, this stuff just doesn’t happen. Also, it’s a little funny.

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The sounds of gettin’ down.

I know a guy who’s managed to land a date with a woman of legendary beauty. I haven’t even seen a picture of her and I know she is beautiful because you can see it in his eyes when he talks about her. It’s also pretty obvious because he’s fretting about what kind of tunes he should have available when he brings her into his place.

From the outside this is hilarious because if you were to meet him you’d never guess this was a concern. He’s everything a version of me would have wanted to grow up to be- funny, a good story teller, easy going, musically gifted, nonchalant, a bit of a rock gawd but not too much when he’s not on stage. Basically this guy is the sort that you see in a bar and figure the toughest decision he’s facing for the night is just how many ladies he can take home without seeming greedy. So like I said, it’s pretty funny to see him get that far away look in his eyes and ask for ideas of what the right tunes are. I figured all the music he needed was a simple snap of his fingers followed by a finger pointing to his car.

I suppose even if you’re good lookin’ it’s not always that easy.

So what follows here is the result of Miss J going through our music library and pointing out the sexy.
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Videodrome; Questions

So I saw finally saw Videodrome this weekend.

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Japanese Woodblock Printing

First off, I know what happened over the weekend. We’re in Libya now. I hope this goes as well as it can for all involved. Sometimes things get bad. Sometimes they get really bad. And sometimes they get worse. They get so much worse. But then sometimes they get better. It takes a whole lot of work. It takes determination and faith and a willingness to not give up hope. But hopefully someday it works out.


It might be a kind of naive thing to think, but I feel like if we give up hope we fall. So my thoughts are with the people of Libya, and with the service members participating in the operation there.


I know that in light of this acknowledgement the things I am about to discuss may seem like piffle. And perhaps they are. But this piffle is what I have to offer and I feel a responsibility to put it out there. I throw my piffle on the huge pile of piffle and perhaps someone will be able to connect dots later on and de-piff the thing.


So J was looking at Japanese woodblock prints today and we started talking about them and the theory of printing when I realized that I was talking out of my ass and getting a little overreaching on my guesses about how it would work. So I went ahead and started poking around to learn a little about how it all works and instead tripped over the story of printing.




Here’s my version of the story- I’ll bet yours is similar. Gutenberg invented the printing press a few hundred years ago. He printed The Bible with it to show that it was awesome and good for printing the unfiltered word of God and not for printing dirty jokes or television listings. Soon everyone was reading The Bible and the schism with the Protestants and the Catholics and people kept on printing and Thomas Paine and some other bit and then Silly Putty on the comics page and whatever.


Well get this- Gutenberg got his press going in the 1450s, alright. But the Bible wasn’t the first thing he printed. And it’s not like he invented the press and started cranking out bibles. Something I try to keep in mind when I read any of this stuff is all the millions of forgotten people in history. Johann was a metal worker who caught wind of some of the developments going on with this printing technology that was being developed. But before the printing thing took off he and a few guys had a racket going on in the mirror trade. They’d make these awesome mirrors and then hold them up to holy relics and then try and sell them as some sort of miracle mirrors, imbued with the power of whatever relic they had reflected- like some sort of homeopathic hologram but without lasers or seeing the relic even. The religious market was a big one. People who had the means would travel to holy sites and (then as now, because people don’t change all that much) they’d want some sort of souvenir. Mirrors were something of a luxury item anyway, so why not try and jazz them up a bit? Anyway, that’s what he was up to before he strode out onto history’s stage. I offer that bit of trivia not as an explanation of his process, but more to fill him out a little bit. So in 1450 he and a few of his cohorts got a proof of concept movable type press cobbled together and printed a poem. I’m sure he shopped it around a bit and got what we would have no problem calling seed money from a local banker. Five years later he’s knocking out something with a guaranteed market- the Holy Bible. It’s a really interesting story, but it has about jack to do with the Japanese and their woodblock printing process. See, seven hundred years before that the Empress Shotuku (of Japan, natch) wanted to express her thanks to the heavens for her survival of an attempted rebellion. So she commissioned a gift that involved a million little pagodas to go to temples all over Japan. Each of these pagodas had a little scroll in it. And the text on those scrolls was printed. Now I don’t know about you, but I suspect that this idea didn’t occur in a vacuum.


(I’m going to confess to a lack of academic rigor here. Most of this is coming from Wikipedia, because I’m trying to strike while the iron is hot. Given time we can suss this all out, but for now I beg your understanding if I cut some corners here and there.)


So the Empress orders up a print run of a million scrolls to be distributed to Buddhist temples all over Japan. Prayer scrolls for the people who could read them- an expensive, high tech gift for people with the training to make use of them. Pretty cool, if you ask me. Monks and nobility being the only real market for this product, there wasn’t much of a business case for printing much more than prayer scrolls and mandalas and such. That meant that the work of printing was rather rarified stuff- the work of dedicated artisans passing along some serious knowledge. It took about five hundred years, but these presses spread across the country and the process was slowly but surely evolving. Whatever progress was being made in inks and papers and mechanisms, printing was still being done with full page presses. A monk, or probably a team of monks, would take a slab of wood and carve out a negative image with pictures and lettering and all and press it down on a piece of paper. This may seem inefficient, but history didn’t seem to care. This is how printing was done for close to a thousand years. Go ahead and take that in.


And then let’s skip a little bit, because this next part is pretty cool.


In 1590 (almost a century and half after Gutenberg) things had finally gotten to the point where it was time for a work for the masses. There were print shops dotted here and there. There was a growing market of people who had picked up a little bit of reading and writing. Not being restricted to prayers for monks, now our printers could try to tap a different market- business users and bureaucrats. A parallel could probably be drawn between this situation and the spread of mainframes from campuses to the business market. I’m not ready to hash that one out yet, but I can definitely feel it. Anyway, a Japanese-Chinese dictionary was probably not fascinating reading, but for those Japanese who had been trained in the tech and were in contact with Chinese speakers, this would be a rather useful thing to have access to. As I’m sure you can imagine, it sold pretty well. Four years later, Tokugawa Ieyasu (a mover and shaker working his way up the chain) funded some serious development of the technology so that he could use it to print historical and military texts. This part might not seem all that interesting or relevant to Herr Johann, being so much later, but for one thing- the Japanese had seen western presses and didn’t think much of them.
See, Jesuit missionaries had set up a press in Nagasaki in 1590. I’m sure they thought the Japanese were going to be pretty impressed with their hardware, but it doesn’t seem that they were. Maybe it was the lack of home court advantage, maybe the Jesuits just couldn’t get the mindshare needed to light a fire what with their funny language and funny clothes and funny religion. Whatever the case, they weren’t really clicking with the local market. Three years later, Toyotomi Hideyoshi came back from a little misadventure in Korea with a Korean press and moveable type set. (Evidently the Koreans had been dabbling in this stuff for some time as well.) This was the thing that caught Ieyasu’s eye. He bankrolled a 100,000 piece set of Japanese characters and then things started moving along.


I could go on and on about all this. Eventually art prints and the spread of literacy through the populace. Playing cards and Nintendo. Shonen Jump and The Matrix. A calendar with woodblock prints that leads to finding out that Gutenberg wasn’t above a little bit of scammery. A good idea can live for a very long time and evolve in surprising ways. Look at the world around you and know that every single thing you see is composed of atoms that are older than you can understand.


This whole situation is awesome.


Season Wrap-up

J Street is one of those shows that’s been on an untold amount of time. I don’t really know how long, but I know that whatever episodes happened before you start watching are a little tough to watch. Unfamiliar cast, different writers, set and lighting changes, all that.

In its way I guess it’s kind of like Doctor Who. There’s even been a Tardis spotting.

But no sonic.

Anyway, in relation to where I came in I wrapped up my fourth season over the weekend.

As season finales go, it could have been much more bombastic. I was really kind of expecting the compound to explode for awhile there, but I guess a huge scene like that would have been tough to fit inside the minimal budget. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but you can feel safe knowing that none of the major characters were devoured by wolves and the new members are all slotting in pretty well.

Here’s to the 2011 season. With spring’s thaw we should have some interesting times ahead.



(This might be cheating. I don’t care.)


So that something might be here.

It’s probably hard to tell what with my sporadic posting, but my internal goal here is to get something up once a week. Most of my free time comes on the weekend, so that’s when I’ve done most of the writing that I’ve put up here. Unfortunately I spent most of this weekend working on a kind of eyes only project. Read the rest of this entry »

sketch book 02 (Ruby Wakes Up)

There is the sleep time in the dark. In the sleep time in the dark the tall up walkers go to their den. I sleep in my bed and Nodorastop sleeps on hers. We sleep and it is dark. If I am thirsty I get up and have water, but not food. The tall up walkers do not leave food for all through the night. They do not want us to have food for all of the night. Food is good and the not food feeling is not good. It is important to eat food whenever you can because the others might come at any time and they will eat all of the food and drink all of the water. I have not seen this happen, but I know it in my bones- some day when I let my guard down the others will come and they will eat all of the food and then the not food feeling will never ever stop.

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