Out Of The Archives:
Fried Rice kimba Style

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Aisian cooking is not my strength in the kitchen. My timing is often off. And when it comes to seasonings … even when I use a recipe my Asian style dishes never quite have the right balance of flavors.

Besides, it’s much more fun to go out for Chinese or other kinds of Asian food, isn’t it? :)

Recently I decided to change this. I realized, as with everything I do, that I had started my efforts too big, too complicated. I should learn Asian style cooking by starting at the beginning – by perfecting my ability to make Fried Rice – and even though Fried Rice is not a festive dish it seemed like a good dish with which to start my adventure.

Stop laughing. Fried Rice isn’t all that easy to get right. It takes a bit of balance too, but at least it’s not a spicy dish, so the big deal is getting the balance of vegetables right – and the egg trick. More about that later.

Cooking Asian food at home is completely different from cooking European food at home. Asian cooking demands my attention. From beginning to end – chopping to eating – the process of getting a dish on the table is intensive. Not so much labor intensive as it is attention span intensive. Paying attention to what I’m doing is half the process. One of the best ways to see this in action is to eat out in any of the Asian restaurants, preferably one that has an open kitchen and an open table or spot at the counter. Watching a professional make Asian food is one of the best ways to learn – it’s half the battle.

A few days ago I finally perfected my Fried Rice recipe. I’ve made this combination of vegetables, egg, and roasted peanuts a few times now with various kinds of rice, and even quinoa, and it works. Here’s the recipe:

Fried Rice kimba Style

You don’t need to have a wok to make Fried Rice. A large skillet will do, non-stick is preferable.

Also, you can’t be heavy handed when stirring this dish in the pan, otherwise it will all mash together. Think of stir frying this dish like flipping pancakes. Dig in and flip.

Ingredients:
About 3 cups of plain white cooked rice, or whatever kind you like. I was out of plain white rice when I made the batch in the photo above, so I used 3/4 cup short-grained brown rice and 1/4 cup wild rice.
1/2 a medium onion (give or take)
1 carrot
1 stalk celery
1/2 bell pepper (give or take), which ever color you prefer
1/2 a cup of frozen peas (give or take)
1 or 2 eggs
A handful of dry roasted peanuts
peanut oil or if you don’t have it handy, olive oil will do
ground black pepper to taste
a clove or two of garlic
soy sauce

Rice:
If you don’t have any leftover rice, make a fresh batch according to the directions for the particular rice you are using.

Chopping the Vegetables:
My rule of thumb for chopping the vegetables is to cut them into cubes, or cube like, and make them all a uniform size. I tend to cut them so that they are about the same size as the peas.
Finely chop the garlic.

The Egg Trick:
Heat some oil in the skillet or wok.
Scramble the egg/s.
Fry the eggs, chopping them up in small pieces.
When they are done, put them on a plate and set them to the side, somewhere handy.

The trick is that they are made separate from the vegetables. If you make the eggs in the pan with the vegetables, or with the vegetables and rice, it gets all gloopy.

Saute the Vegetables:
Put a little oil in the skillet or wok over a medium flame.
Add some ground black pepper.
Add the vegetables according to how long it takes for them to cook.
Add the onions, carrots, peppers, and celery.
Add some soy sauce, to taste.
Stir fry those for awhile.
Add the finely chopped garlic.
Add the frozen peas.
Stir fry for a bit, until they are warm all the way through.
Then add the scrambled egg, mix completely.
Add the rice, as much as you like.
Stir to mix it all up.
Add the dry roasted peanuts.
Stir again until it is mixed.
Add some more soy sauce if you think it needs it.

Note on Meat: If you want to add morsels of meat, add those to the skillet or wok prior to the first batch of vegetables.

Note on Vegetables: Fried Rice is a leftover dish, usually made with leftover rice and whatever vegetables that are in your refrigerator. Don’t hesitate to experiment!

Enjoy!

The Art Of Travel Bragging

A long time ago, on my first long trip to Europe, I found myself staying in the youth hostel in Florence. At the end of an afternoon during that time of day when everyone would take a break from their wanderings and check back in, clean up, and get ready to head back into town for the evening meal and passeggiata, during all that I would find people gathered in the courtyard, sharing their travel stories – travels past, present, and potential future.

I loved sharing my stories and adventures. I loved hearing the stories of others. One afternoon I shared some fantastic story, I’m not sure which one, maybe the one about when I was traveling through France with a group of Congolese musicians and dancers, and I noticed that one woman was looking a little forlorn and sad. I turned to the woman next to me and asked her if she knew what was wrong with her and she said to me, and I won’t quote it because it was a long time ago, but this is what she said – not everyone has a good time when they travel and your story made her feel like her travels aren’t good enough.

And here I thought it was all about one-up-manship.

That moment taught me something – about being observant and sensitive to others.

Ever since then I’ve been really sensitive about bragging. Yes, maybe I do like myself a little too much, but I work very hard at making sure that I am either teaching something or sharing some deeper meaning of my life, something inspirational rather than a hey look at me I’m so self absorbed tidbit.

* * * * *

Down time is not something that I enjoy, or something that I do well. I like being in constant motion and if I can’t be in constant physical motion, I like to at least be in constant mental motion. That’s just how I live life.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been out of the San Francisco Bay Area – which, admittedly is a pretty groovy place to be stuck if one is looking at life as being stuck somewhere. Many factors have led to my inability to travel, the primary one being that I haven’t had a budget to travel.

To assuage this feeling of self-inflicted depravity, I keep up with Other’s travels on twitter and facebook, checking out where they’ve been, what they’ve been up to. As time has gone on, I find it appalling at how much of what is considered to be travel “writing” – yes there is an argument that travel blogging is not writing, but for the sake of this post, let’s just leave it – is in fact just travel bragging. It’s nauseating. Twitter and facebook are full of links to posts that are all about look at me.

I find that I can now put myself into the shoes of the woman who was sitting in that group in Florence that day, almost thirty years ago. I can’t tell you her name, it’s long forgotten, and I can’t tell you what she looked like, as those details are long forgotten too, but I can tell you how she felt.

And I hope I never tell a story that way again. Go deeper, people. Savor the experience and tell us what it feels like inside. Tell us how the experience changed you. It’s not enough to just tell us that you went ziplining through a jungle canopy. Tell us about the colors, the sounds, the wonder of feeling like you are flying. Consider being something other than a bore.

The art of travel bragging is not an art that anyone should strive to master.

Out Of The Archives:
Saint-Denis Basilica

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Taking a seat on the center of the stone steps inside the entryway of the Basilica Saint-Denis, I align myself with the central stained glass window above the Choir in the back of the church. Looking. Watching. Waiting. Looking at the slope of the Gothic arches as they rise towards the sky. Watching as the rays of light play through the stained glass windows, brightening, then darkening, then brightening again as the clouds glide past the sun outside. As I watch the colors ebb and flow over the stone of the columns in a wash of translucent colored light, I can only imagine it as a spirit touching everything it passes.

As the light flows through the basilica, the personality of the church changes. It becomes light and bright and glorious, then returns to somber, thoughtful, introspective. It does this in a matter of seconds, or a matter of days. Day in and day out, moment to moment, even when no one is watching.

Sitting on the steps, I imagine that I my story came from here. There is a feeling within me that I had a history here in this place, although I do not know what it was, or is. I only know that ever since I came to know this basilica in this lifetime, I have not been able to leave it behind. It’s not something I ever dwell on, but it doesn’t leave my memory. Unlike some of the other cathedrals and basilicas and churches and ruins that I have seen, this is the one that I keep coming back to.

I am a pilgrim. Of what sort I do not know. I am not Catholic, or Episcopalian, or even Lutheran anymore. It is an odd thing, I will admit, that there is something of a connection of my soul to this building. I only know that I am drawn here. And it is not worth questioning because I don’t have the answer.

My time here is spent watching as people kneel and pray to their God, or maybe to their Goddess Mary. Watching as all of their hearts and souls pour out of them on the breath of their prayers. Their heads are bowed as their prayers float towards le ciel, the sky, the ceiling. Tourists wandering in the aisles watch as if they were in a theater, or a museum, instead of on Holy Ground.

As I walk down the aisle in the center of this vast room, my head is turned upward, towards heaven, observing the seemingly infinite space between me and the ceiling. My eyes follow along the space called the Gallery, the thin walkway running along the entire inside perimeter of the basilica. It is midway up the wall, marked by small arched openings. This is the place where God’s watchers may reside, if he has any. It would be easy for them to watch over the mortals below from that vantage point.

The entire universe exists inside this sanctuary. Heaven. Earth. Hell. It is all here. Light. Dark. Stone. Glass. Tombs of the holy, the good, the evil, the misguided, the unaware, the royalty of France. St. Denis. Dagobert. Louis XII with Anne de Bretagne, caught in stone as she was in death. My favorite tombs, the ones of Henri II and Catherine de Medici are here as well. Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI sleep here, but I imagine that Marie does not rest. I imagine her twittering in her box, still wondering how it all went so horribly wrong. The hearts of Francois I, Francois II and Henri III remain here, encased in marble as they were once encased in flesh.

It has been ten years since the last time I sat in Saint-Denis Basilica. Almost to the day. My first visit is within three hours of landing at the airport and I will visit this basilica every morning during my stay in France.

Edited: May 16, 2010

Basilica Saint-Denis

Open: The basilica is open during regular church hours and you can visit the Nave (the long narrow area where all the chairs are) for free. But to see the tombs you should go between the hours of 10AM – 5PM.

Entry Fee: 7€ to see the Choir, Crypt, Ambulatory, Radial Chapels and Tombs.


Directions to Saint-Denis Basilica

Metro: Take the Number 13 Saint-Denis/Châtillon Montrouge towards the direction of Saint-Denis. Exit at ‘Basilica Saint-Denis’. If you come out of the Metro at the shopping center, steer yourself to the left and follow the foot traffic to the open square (just a block or so). Continue to the end of the square to Rue de la Republique where straight ahead you will see the Office du Tourisme and to the left will be the Hotel de Ville and the Basilica.

RER: Line D will take you to Gare de Saint-Denis where you can exit the station and continue walking straight ahead towards Rue de la Republique. Continue down the length of the street until you see the Basilica.

Car: You can reach Saint-Denis by using A1 and A86, exiting at Saint-Denis.

From Paris: Boulevard Périphérique Parisien (the Peripheral Freeway that runs around the city of Paris), exit Porte de la Chapelle.

(I have done this, but always as a passenger so I can’t give you any better directions than that.)

Out Of The Archives:
Tacheles

Tacheles
Tacheles

Tacheles is an old Jewish word meaning ‘to disclose, to reveal or to speak clearly’. The slang meaning of the word is ‘bringing to an end’. – from the Tacheles web site

Originally published in 2005.

It was night and it was dark and I had to wonder if this place was cool or dangerous. At street level on Oranienburgerstrasse, dark walls loomed with spots of graffiti here and there, doorways led into graffiti-filled-devoid-of-humanity hallways, scattered metal littered the yard, and a sign in a sculpture studio doorway said No Photographs.

The building they call Tacheles has a long history steeped in creativity and intrigue. The building was intended to be a high-end shopping center called Friedrichstrasse Passage when it was first built around 1907/8/9. The structure at the time was an ode to modern architecture, utilizing gothic details and one of the biggest iron and concrete constructed domes of the time.

The shopping center idea never really took off, but during the building’s history it was used as the Haus der Technik, a products showroom for the electronics company AEG, as the broadcast point for the 1936 Olympics, as the headquarters for various Nazi affiliated projects – including being used as an SS office, as well as temporarily housing French POWs during WWII. Even though the building had been damaged during the allied air raids of 1943 and 45, the East Germans continued to use the building to house the FDGB Trade Union for a short time and a lot of stuff was stored here. Finally abandoned and left empty, in 1969 and then again in 1977, it was condemned. It was recommended that a once beautiful architectural highlight of Berlin be destroyed and almost all of it was. The remaining part lives on due primarily to the political turn of events in 1989 and the two story underground vault that was able to support what was left of the structure.

The final demolition of the building had been planned, well in advance, for April 1990, but was avoided because a band of squatters had taken over what was left of the building. In 1989 The Berlin Wall fell and a group of artists, both International and East/West Germans, squatted the building, using it for studios. They went on to form a coalition, which they named Tacheles, with the idea of keeping the building in its decayed and ruined form, using the upper floors as studios and galleries and the lower floors as a movie house and cafe. It was then that it was decided that the vaulted basement could support what was left of the structure and it remains standing today.

The day after my night time stroll, I took a walk around Tacheles again, this time when studio doors were open and light came streaming through the large industrial windows. Not looking much different than any other dilapidated, run down and graffittied building I had been to on my journeys, or lived in at home, this one had a history steeped not only in the artists who founded the place and worked there, but in the very history of the country itself, which makes this place just a little different than all the others. There was a lesson to learn here and I was out to find it.

People hanging out in the backyard encouraged me to visit the artists and to talk to them about the space and see their work. The building had stairways to climb and hallways to explore. Some studio doors were open while others were not. As I walked by one door, drums exploded into a thrasher rythym, throwing sound down the corridor.

The first studio I actually walked into held the works of Iraki artist Al Sharaa Ahmad. A talented painter from Bagdad, he had been living in Germany for quite some time before finding his way to Berlin and into a studio at Tacheles. We had a wonderful conversation about his work, about politics (both US and gallery), and where in the world to go from here, before I moved on to explore more of the studios.

I stopped into American artist Jason Morrow’s studio as well as Andrea Colitti’s. A gallery down the hall was conducting a taped interview, people ebbed and flowed through the hallways. The exquisitely bright spring sunlight flowed through all of the large windows. People outside sat on randomly placed couches and talked, smoked, and drank while others worked on painting walls – again. It seemed the walls were continually painted. Stilt walkers practiced their craft in full mask regalia, with a choreographer leading their movements and steps.

Tacheles wasn’t a beehive of activity. It actually felt a little sleepy and laid-back, but maybe that was because of the time of day. As I left the building I wondered what I could take away from here besides a few a memories and photographs. Tacheles has a lesson to teach other artists in the world. This building is listed in the travel guidebooks. The artists keep their studios open to the public on a daily basis, throughout the year. Visitors from all over the world walk through its corridors and some even buy work. All of these things seem like they might be the first steps in thinning the gap between artists and the general public, and if Tacheles has done anything in its first fifteen years of its life, I think that is it.

You can get more information from the Tacheles web site.