Secular Music Friday: 59th Street Bridge Song

A different take on a Simon and Garfunkel classic.

Sprouts isn’t perfect

I love Sprouts market. They have a great service deli, quality produce, a huge bulk foods section, quality vitamins, and a variety of interesting offerings in their grocery and frozen food sections.

Sprouts does, however, have its faults.

Sprouts TunaI enjoyed the brand-name frozen food offerings they had but they were a tad on the expensive side. I was happy when they offered a selection of house-brand frozen meals. I bought three. Big disappointment. I found all three virtually inedible. A message posted to their web site resulted only in a minimal apology with no offer of compensation.

Then there was the house-brand tuna. I had purchased two cans. I knew something was amiss when I saw that Terry had put one empty can directly in the recycle toter outside rather than just tossing it in our kitchen recycle bin. She said the smell was overwhelming and she had to get rid of the can. A number of weeks later I found the tuna in the other can dry, dense, and barely edible.

Sprouts has a lot going for it. But sometimes they don’t seem concerned about quality.

Figures in a Landscape

People and Places coverFigures in a Landscape: People and Places
Paul Theroux
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (May 8, 2018), 415 pages
Kindle edition $15.99, Amazon hardcover $20.55

I have been reading Paul Theroux’s travel writing since he published The Great Railway Bazaar in the 1970’s. I have always loved his books on travel and when I would hear of a new travel book by Theroux I would snap it up. I have read a few of his novels as well, which I have also enjoyed.

I was, therefore, pleased to learn of the release of this title, and I purchased it right away. The subtitle, People and Places, however, should have been a clue for me. This book of selected essays is much more about people than about places. Theroux profiles Muriel Spark, Somerset Maugham, Paul Bowles, Elizabeth Taylor (and her love for Michael Jackson), as well as others. There is some autobiographical writing about his family at the end of the book, which I found singularly uninspiring.

There is some travel writing in this book, but not a lot. One essay sharply describes how the West has done more harm than good to Africa by sending in teachers and doctors (Theroux himself was a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1960’s), and how Africans have exploited that by sending their own to be educated and to work here in the West. He includes two essays about a pair of rather tawdry, sleazy events in his own life. Then there is the essay (I remember when it first appeared in the New Yorker) about the professional life of a dominatrix.

If you are a Theroux fan you might enjoy this book. If you are new to Theroux this is not the place to start. Check out The Great Railway Bazaar or The Pillars of Hercules instead.

a special shrimp cocktail

East of us in the mountains is a village known as Idyllwild. It is a marvelous mountain community with a variety of shops and restaurants. One of those restaurants was Cafe Aroma. They closed recently. They were heading in the direction of selling or closing, but a devastating fire on the hill spared Idyllwild (thanks to those magnificent firefighters) but hastened a decision that was coming anyway.

Terry and I had lunch there with my brother, his family, and my dad a number of years ago – well before we moved down here in 2015. They had a marvelous shrimp cocktail with layers of cocktail sauce, horseradish and pesto.

Terry replicated that recipe a number of times, both up in Gilroy and down here. Eventually she made sections rather than layers, allowing us to more easily scoop all three flavor sets onto a single piece of shrimp.

Terry made the dish for us recently in conscious homage to Cafe Aroma.

We only ate there once, but we mourn its loss nonetheless.

Shrimp Cocktail

what’s the cost?

I recently wrote about The Great Courses lecture series on Athenian democracy. There is a lot of interesting material in this course. I wrote in my review that Athenian democracy came at the cost of maintaining a slave society. There were other costs to Athenian culture as well.

the ParthenonWe are all aware of the marvelous culture we have inherited from Athens, including the architecture, sculpture, and drama. However, the great creations of the golden age of Pericles were funded by the Athenian empire in which client states paid tribute to Athens for military protection. And Pericles himself only held the role of general. He never had an official position in the actual governing body of Athens. His influence held sway nonetheless.

Athens paid for its arrogance, its hubris, when the client states got tired of the financial burden and turned against Athens. The result was, of course, the Peloponnesian war which dragged on for years and which Athens eventually lost.

History is a complex thing.

Sacred Music Friday: Lift Every Voice and Sing

I have shared many versions of this marvelous hymn, but I don’t believe I have ever shared this superb 2016 setting from my friends at First Plymouth.

just water

I used to be a big iced tea fanatic. Between the two of us Terry and I would go through a gallon a day. No longer.

ice water glassSome months back my doctor noticed that some of my bloodwork numbers were outside the normal range. That started an investigation. At one point it appeared that the issue was kidney-related. Eventually it turned out that the problem was elsewhere.

In the meantime, however, I cut way back on iced tea. When I am working at the computer or reading or watching television I drink ice water. I drink iced tea at home for dinner or when I’m eating out. In fact, not even that. Our iced tea at home has taken on a metalilc taste for me, perhaps because of my medication. So now it’s water at dinner as well as the rest of the day.

It’s better for me and I don’t get iced tea burnout. Those are Good Things.

Athenian Democracy

Athenian Democracy coverAthenian Democracy: An Experiment for the Ages
Professor Robert Garland, Ph.D.
The Great Courses
Audio download $34.95 when on sale
If the course is not on sale, check back– the sale price will come around again

I have listened to other courses by Robert Garland and have always enjoyed them. This particular course was especially good.

The material is not new to me. I was a classics major in college, meaning that I studied the Latin and Greek languages as well as Greek and Roman history, literature, art, and culture. Still, it’s always fun to review and there is always the opportunity to learn something new or discover a different perspective.

Athenian democracy was truly a democracy as far as it went. All free males in Athens were expected to take part in the governance of the state. There were a variety of roles to fill and everyone took his turn. Of course, this represented only a small portion of the total population. Women were excluded as were slaves. And it was a slave-based society that allowed the free men to have their democracy.

Of course the democracy wasn’t seamless and there were times when tyranny or oligarchy ruled the day. Still, overall Athens had a strong track record of democracy until the Macedonians put an end to it.

This course was recorded in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election and is heavily influenced by the result. Garland is no fan of the winner of that election. While the lecture series from the Great Courses are designed to be mostly evergreen, and the bulk of this course which focuses on the ancient world will be as well, it will be interesting to see how those parts referring to the election and its aftermath hold up after a couple of additional election cycles.

Nonetheless, if you are interested in the ancient world and its history and governance I can highly recommend this course.

tacos al pastor

Our local Hispanic supermarket, Cardenas, sells marinated pastor meat in their full-service meat counter. It’s really quite good. We don’t buy it very often, however. Cardenas is on the other side of the valley, the meat department is unbelievably busy (you always have to take a number and wait), and I’m not entirely sure how much they like gringos.

Recently on The Kitchen Terry and I saw Jeff Mauro make tacos al pastor. It was a rather complicated recipe that involved marinating the meat, packing it in a tall deli container overnight, removing it, putting pineapple slices on either end, and running skewers through it to create an ersatz spit. It then involved cooking the meat with wood chips in the grill.

tacos a lpastorI simplified this a great deal. I marinated flap meat overnight, cut it into pieces, and cooked it in our cast iron skillet. I was going to grill it outside but that particular day we were affected by smoke from a fire in the region.

This is all about the marinade. The marinade includes adobo sauce, ancho chile powder, canola oil, achiote paste, brown sugar, kosher salt, cumin, and garlic. I actually followed the ingredients quite closely. I even included the salt for a change. I did use safflower oil rather than canola oil. I gave the meat twenty-four hours to marinate. The result was unbelievably, amazingly, delicious, although nothing at all like the Cardenas pastor meat.

And it really wasn’t all that much work, just the time to prepare the marinade. It made for quite the weeknight dinner.

The Song of Achilles

Song of Achilles coverThe Song of Achilles
Madeline Miller
Ecco (March 6, 2012), 389 pages
Kindle edition $9.74, Amazon paperback $9.98

In The Iliad Achilles feels slighted by Agamemnon and withdraws from the battle against the Trojans. The tide turns against the Greeks and his companion Patroclus puts on Achilles’s armor and leads the Greeks to a rout of the Trojans. He is, however, killed by the Trojan Hector. Achilles, enraged, returns to the battle and kills Hector. Though not in the Iliad, other sources say Achilles was killed either by the Trojan Paris, or by the god Apollo disguised as Paris.

It is the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus that is the basis of Madeline Miller’s novel. Patroclus is a very minor character in The Iliad. All we know is that he is the companion of Achilles. We know nothing of the nature of their relationship. While remaining true to the mythology that has survived, Miller fills in the gaps with a well-written and evocative tale of an intense homoerotic relationship between the two that begins in childhood.

Miller brings to life other characters of The Iliad as well, including Odysseus, Agamemnon, Achilles’s mother, the minor goddess and sea nymph Thetis, and a range of others. The writing is brisk and engaging. The novel moves forward quickly. There are explicit scenes of both homosexual and heterosexual lovemaking, as well as of injuries and death on the battlefield.

If you enjoy mythology and value good writing this novel is worth your attention.