Small Plates

Last night the Marquette Warrior and I had dinner at a restaurant called Amada.  It’s one of those tapas places that offers a number of “small plate” options that the diners can share.  (In our case no sharing occurred because the MW is a strict vegetarian and I go for meat options, so we didn’t quite fulfill the restaurant’s intent.)

Tapas restaurants have a good aspect and a bad aspect.  The bad is that there are lots of choices, so you end up carefully scrutinizing the menu and spending a long time thinking through your order.  The good is that you end up with very tasty food that is always well presented and served in moderate portion sizes.  The result is a fine meal where you don’t get plates groaning with food, and after you’ve cleaned your plates — which both the MW and I did, with relish — you rise from the table feeling satisfied but not uncomfortably stuffed.

We’ve got a problem with food waste in this country, and some of it results from unconsumed food left on plates that were overfilled at the outset.  At tapas places, that isn’t an issue, which is another advantage to the tapas model.

Farewell To The Brown-Eyed Handsome Man

Chuck Berry died yesterday at age 90.  He was the man whose songs gave rock ‘n roll a sound and a shape and a theme and a direction, way back in the ’50s, and thereby helped to create a genre of popular music that has endured for more than 60 years.  His song Maybellene, his first big hit, was released in 1955, and its combination of irresistible guitar licks, a chugging back beat, and a story about teenage angst, girls, cars, and speed created a lasting framework for what was then a shocking and utterly new sound.  (Interestingly, just last year Chuck Berry was working on an album of new material to be released some time this year.  Let’s hope we get to hear it.)

chuck-berry-1957-billboard-1548The tributes to Chuck Berry are pouring in from across the music world.  The Billboard tribute linked above notes that John Lennon once said:  “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry.’”  The New York Times has published a fine list of 15 essential Chuck Berry songs that are worth listening to, again, in honor of his passing.  And a good indication of Berry’s huge influence on other crucial artists in the rock ‘n roll genre is that his songs were covered by the Beatles, who released excellent versions of Rock and Roll Music and Roll Over Beethoven, and the Rolling Stones, who recorded memorable live versions of Carol and Little Queenie, and just about everybody else of consequence in the world of rock music.  Has any artist had more songs covered by more superstars?

I can’t compete with the likes of John Lennon and Billboard in assessing the impact of Chuck Berry on the world of music, so I won’t even try.  I can say this without fear of contradiction, however:  when my college roommate and I hosted parties back in the late ’70s where the whole point was to drink draft beer and dance with wild abandon, nobody was better at getting people up and moving their feet than Chuck Berry.  That remains true today, 40 years later.  That’s quite an impact, when you think about it.

Gardening As A Gateway

Russell’s friend Emily Staugaitis is one of those people who seems to be a kind of natural difference-maker.  Where other people see challenges she can identify opportunities, and she’s not afraid to tackle a big project — like trying to set up an urban apple orchard in a depressed part of the Detroit area.

https3a2f2fcdn-evbuc-com2fimages2f223578392f1807581212702f12foriginalOne of Emily’s projects is Bandhu Gardens.  It’s a collective effort that uses gardening to help Bangladeshi immigrants in the Detroit area use the green thumbs they developed while growing up in south Asia to connect with each other, and with local restaurants that are interested in fresh, locally grown foods.  It’s also a way for Bangladeshi women to make some extra money, achieve more autonomy in their households, and get a taste of the business world in our capitalistic society.

Last year, the Bandhu Gardens group collectively sold 120 pounds of greens, beans and peppers and 25 pounds of squash to restaurant accounts.  They’ve also hosted “pop-up” dinners, including some at local restaurants owned or operated by women, have begun to offer cooking classes, and this year will be selling their produce at a large public farmers market in Detroit.

It’s a classic American immigrant story, of how people come to our country and begin to make their way forward, drawing on their traditional experiences and know-how and applying them to realize opportunities in their new home.  Sometimes, though, it helps to have someone who can help to point out the openings and make the potential opportunities into realities.  Congratulations to Emily for helping to serving in that important role for some of the new arrivals to our land of immigrants!

Important Photo Tips

Somewhere out in the world there are people who like to have their picture taken.  Perhaps they are models, or just selfie-obsessed narcissists.

nikonsmashed-700x445Then there are those of us, like me, who hate to have our pictures taken because it always is a depressing, illusion-destroying experience that instantly makes me resolve to go on a severe diet and begin an aggressive workout regimen.  My passport photo, for example, makes me look like a cross between a homeless person and a bloated zombie whose had far more than his share of living brain tissue.  It’s amazing that the immigration officers of any country, including the U.S., that look at the photo would allow me to enter.

Is there anything that can be done?  (Anything, that is, other than actually losing weight and becoming more “toned” so that multiple chins aren’t evident when the shutter clicks?)  Fortunately, according to professional photographers, there are some simple, immediate things you can do when you get your picture taken to make you look slimmer and therefore better.  The pros say, for example, that you should stand at a 45-degree angle to the camera.  Don’t squish your arms against your body.  Stand up straight and don’t slouch.  Be sure to wear dark colors.

And above all, keep your chin our and hold your tongue against the roof of your mouth, which is supposed to tighten your neck muscles and therefore reduce your multiple chin count.  Having the photographer to take the photo from straight on, or from an angle slightly above your head, also is supposed to cut down on overexposure of that unslightly, bulging neck flesh.

So there you have it!  There’s no need to actually work out — just stand ramrod straight an at an angle, keep your chin thrust out like Mussolini, and always appear with arms akimbo.  Dodging the camera works pretty well, too.

The End Of Privacy As We Know It

The right to personal privacy isn’t a right that is specifically recognized in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, but it has been a recognized area of the law for decades, as well as a treasured ideal for many Americans.  For many people, the right to be left alone is an important one.

But this is another area where technology is simply changing the game.  Whether it is cookies left on personal computers that lead to pop-up ads that are specifically targeted to your website viewings, search engines that can sift through mounds of news stories, photos, and data in split seconds whenever a name is entered, tracking mechanisms on cell phones, surveillance cameras on every street corner, drones in the air, computer hacking, or listening devices that are routinely used by governmental entities, technology makes the ability to maintain some zone of privacy harder and harder.

20130203_adde1Social media also has had a significant impact.  Anyone who likes the convenience of Facebook as a way to keep in touch with their old friends, family members and colleagues is giving up a piece of their privacy.  And when technology and social media meet, the erosion can become even more pronounced.

Consider the news that a software developer has used the advances in facial recognition software to develop an app that allows you to take a photo of a stranger in a public place and immediately run a search for the identity of that person through Facebook.  It’s called Facezam, and it’s apparently going to launch on March 21, although Facebook is raising questions about whether the software is in compliance with the Facebook privacy policy.  But even if Facebook quashes the idea as to Facebook, you would imagine that the app could be modified to be applied to search through other sources of photos.

It’s creepy to think that random strangers, simply by taking your picture in a public place and unbeknownst to you, could then find out who you are and, if they’re so inclined, track you down.  One person in the story linked above describes that concept as the end of anonymity in public places, and I think that’s right.  If you want to guard against it, you can withdraw from any social media, refuse to get your photo taken, avoid going out in public except in disguise, avoid any travel, and stay in your room.  Those aren’t especially attractive options, are they?

Welcome to the Brave New World!

 

Trump’s 2005 Taxes

There was a dust-up yesterday about Donald Trump’s taxes.  MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow obtained two pages of Trump’s 2005 personal tax returns, which apparently had been leaked — by someone.  The two pages show that, in 2005, Trump reported income of $150 million, paid $38 million in taxes, primarily through the alternative minimum tax, and benefited from a continuing write-off of losses that apparently date back to 1995.

48550944-cachedThe White House bemoaned the leak of the two pages of the tax returns, noting that an unauthorized leak of tax returns is a violation of federal law.  At the same time, the White House noted that the two pages show that Trump paid a big chunk of money in federal taxes — while also pointing out that he has no obligation to pay one penny more in taxes than the law requires, a position that virtually every taxpayer heartily agrees with — and added that Trump also paid “tens of millions of dollars in other taxes, such as sales and excise taxes and employment taxes, and this illegally published return proves just that.”

In addition, some Trump supporters used the two pages of the return to refute some of the things said by Trump opponents during the presidential campaign — namely, that Trump wasn’t releasing his taxes because he was a poor businessman, his business empire really wasn’t that successful, and his returns would show that he paid no taxes at all.  As a result, some people are speculating that Trump himself engineered the leak and is using the 2005 return to play the media like a Stradivarius — by releasing limited documents that appear to refute opposition talking points, while at the same time objecting to leaks in violation of federal law.

It’s a messy story, and we’ll have to see whether we learn anything further about the source of the leak.  For now, I hold to two basic points:  (1) if Trump didn’t approve the leak and somebody in the federal government (specifically, the IRS) leaked the two pages of the 2005 return to advance their own personal political agenda, that is both illegal and a grossly inappropriate intrusion into Trump’s personal information and should be opposed by anyone, regardless of their political views, who has entrusted the government with their confidential information, via tax returns or otherwise; and (2) the returns show why presidential candidates should release their returns and why, if they object to such a release, voters should insist that they do so.  The 2005 returns indicate that Trump paid millions of dollars pursuant to the alternative minimum tax — a tax that Trump has talked about abolishing.  The public deserves to know whether political positions are motivated by a politician’s own self interest.

Ready For Some Baseball

The Midwest has been hit with a typical contrarian March cold blast, and the east coast has been hammered by a snowstorm.  Perversely, the crummy, winter-is-still-with-us weather has made me think that the real spring cannot be far away, and that it’s okay to start thinking about something good that will be coming with the warmer spring weather in just a few days:  baseball.

hi-res-f1085a23cef5182ba9e8ebe79f8a2f31_crop_northAlthough they fell just short of that elusive World Series win, last year was a magical one for the Cleveland Indians.  The team overcame injuries to crucial members of the pitching staff and key position players and, with deft manager Terry Francona holding things together with spit, scotch tape, and baling wire, the Tribe improbably made it to the doorstep of a championship.  With the players hopefully healed, and Edwin Encarnacion set to fill a big hole in the middle of the lineup, Tribe fans are dreaming that this might be the year.  Hey, lightning finally struck the long-suffering Chicago Cubs last year — why can’t it strike the Indians this year?

Spring is the time of dreaming for all baseball fans.  Tribe fans aren’t the only ones who are hoping that the team’s off-season moves have put the right pieces in place, that the player who had the unexpected great year last year wasn’t a fluke, and that the minor league phenom will step up and produce in the big leagues.  It’s all part of the time-honored baseball process that has been part of America’s National Pastime for more than 100 years.  The baseball fans who are dreaming and hoping about their teams today are just new links in a very long chain.

Let’s play ball!

 

Mint In The Morning

This morning I woke up with “morning breath.”  That’s what we call it these days, where we promptly take steps to try to get rid of that hot, coated, somewhat slimy feeling on our teeth and tongue that comes from keeping your mouth closed during a good night’s sleep.

mint2When you think about it, “morning breath” is really just the absence of minty freshness that we all expect to achieve as a result of our time standing at the bathroom sink, brushing and flossing and gargling and swishing.  We want to feel that frosty sensation and experience the rush of cool air when we inhale after a vigorous encounter with toothbrush and toothpaste.  And, thanks to the effective advocacy of toothpaste commercials, we are vaguely embarrassed to have “morning breath,” and we wouldn’t dream of walking outside and inflicting it upon people we encounter in the unsuspecting world.

Yesterday I went to the grocery store and needed to pick up some toothpaste.  Although there are the dozens of different toothpaste offerings, purportedly geared toward sensitive teeth and teeth whitening and plaque prevention, virtually all of them involve flavoring with spearmint, or peppermint, or some combination of the two.  The same is true of mouthwashes, and even dental floss is offered with mint flavoring.  Yes, mint is what we want, and mint is what we must have.  Have you ever gone to the dentist’s office for a tooth cleaning and had the oral hygienist offer you a choice of mint versus, say, cherry toothpaste?  Cherry?  Yeah, right!  Nobody wants their mouth to taste like a cough drop when they rise from the dentist’s chair!

Mint is supposed to have lots of health benefits, from aiding digestion to pain relief.  That all may be the case, but it’s that blast of arctic chill that we crave.  We must have mint in the morning!

Chatterboxes

As we boarded our flight from Houston to Columbus last night, I noticed that an older guy in the row across from us was switching seats so a young woman could sit next to another young woman.  “What a nice gesture by that guy,” I thought.

By the end of the flight, I was cursing him.

These two high school students talked non-stop during the entire plane flight, in that kind of high-pitched, high-speed Valley Girl patois that you just can’t ignore no matter how hard you try.  And believe me, I tried. They apparently were returning from some kind of field trip, and they were raring for a complete download.  It was an extraordinary exhibition of yakking.  I can’t imagine flapping my gums for a solid two-and-a-half hours, even if I had something important to say.  These two girls clearly weren’t concerned about that; no incident was too small, no event too mundane, no observation too trivial to escape their prattle.

How do you feel about holding hands?  I’d rather put my arm through the guy’s arm, wouldn’t you?  I don’t like it when they try to put their fingers through your fingers.

I really prefer rum-and-cokes.  I bet I had five of them.

I’m one of those teacher’s pet students who never gets into trouble even when I do something wrong.  One time I literally punched a guy and nobody did anything about it.  And I was like, whatev!  I’m a good student and I guess I get to do what I want!

Omigod!  My knee got so sore.  And when I looked down at it, there was a red mark on it!

The little snippets from the torrent came flooding over to our side of the plane, and by the end of the trip you could tell that everyone within a three-row radius was gritting their teeth, hoping that the flight would land before their brains turned to mush and restraining themselves from bursting out:  “For the love of God, could you please stop talking!”

But there were no outbursts, because people heading back to their homes in the Midwest are polite to a fault.  But when the plane landed, you could feel an inner cheer from our fellow travelers, and as we walked through the quiet terminal, on one of the last flights of the night, we all shared a single thought:  silence never sounded so good.

Cart Culture

Ambergris Caye, where we’ve spent the last week, is an island.  It is home to a few  large trucks, a handful of minivans that serve as taxicabs, and lots of bikes and motor scooters — but by far the primary mode of transportation is golf carts.  They’re everywhere, and in San Pedro, the big town on the Caye, the carts are lined up and carefully locked with all kinds of mechanisms — chains, padlocks, and variations of The Club — as people go about their daily business.

One thing about golf carts:  although they seem puttery and slow and therefore safe, they remain motor vehicles, as capable of a fender bender as any car.  And, with no seat belts or other forms of passenger restraints, they can be dangerous in a collision.  We saw a rear-ender where a little girl in the trailing cart went flying into the windshield and came up stunned and crying.

For the most part, Kish and I stuck to bikes and our feet.

Sunrise, Sunset

When you go on a beach vacation, oohing and aahing about the sunrises and sunsets is an ironclad requirement.  There’s something about the combination of sun, clouds, water and a distant horizon that just grabs you — especially if you’re a landlocked Midwesterner.

Here at our resort in Belize, the sunrise part is easy.  Our cottage faces east, and when Old Sol peeks over the horizon you notice it immediately.  Step outside the front door, walk out onto the beach, and voila! 

The sunset requires a bit more work.  Just to the west of our resort is a kind of inlet, with small islands and plants dotting the surface.  You have to walk off the resort property, cross a dusty road, and stand and wait.  In some ways, it’s more visually interesting than the ocean.  Quieter, too — without the crashing surfing you can hear the birdsong and the lapping of the rippled water.  It’s a striking setting.

We’ve really enjoyed our trip to Belize, which ends today.

Sand Dollars

The basic Belizean unit of currency is called a “dollar,” but the $20 bill has a nice picture of a younger Queen Elizabeth on it, rather than Andy Jackson.  And if that’s not jarring enough, the dollar coin is a weighty hexagon — also with the Queen’s visage.  It would be a cool ball marker on the golf course, but it doesn’t seem like real money, does it?

After a while, you really don’t care.  It’s beach money.  Call it sand dollars.  You’re not taking it back to the states with you, and then trying to exchange it at some midwestern bank branch with a befuddled clerk trying to figure out the “exchange rate.”  If you brought it back, it would just end up in that box with the weird change in it, right?  So spend it while you can.  On your last day of Vay-Kay, head down the beach to that nice bar where the beer was especially cold, and give the barkeep and the cook an especially generous tip.  They deserve it!

The goal, ultimately, is to spend every paper and metal scrap of vacation currency before the departure plane leaves the runway.

Parrot Purgatory

Last night we went to a seaside bistro that featured a parrot to give the bar area a distinctive, tropical, piratical feel.  It was a beautiful bird, large and colorful, with that kind of wise look around the eyes that parrots always seem to have.

I felt sorry for that beautiful bird.  I’m sure it would rather be back in its nest in the jungle, but its wings were clipped, and it was confined to its perch with only a dish of peanuts before it.  Worst of all, some old guy was constantly in its face, repeating the same annoying whistle, over and over and over again, in hopes that the bird would imitate it.

But the bird didn’t.  It squawked and flapped and, I think, tried to ignore the guy.  Maybe the bird was just not interested, but I preferred to think that the bird was knowingly refusing to be some cheap entertainment for a boozy codger in a ball cap.  I’d like to think that parrots have pride, even in what must seem like parrot purgatory.

Grape Oasis


Today we cycled back into the heart of San Pedro to a craft bazaar where local artisans sell their own handmade goods from wooden stands. Our mission — to find a matching bracelet at the request of the Lake Artist — was a success when a craftsman said he would make a matching bracelet, then and there.  Thirty minutes later, bracelet in hand, we rolled back out of town.

It was a hot day, with clouds of dust rising from the road as trucks and golf carts rattled past.  Suddenly, as if in answer to a thirsty prayer, a tiny, brightly colored grocery stand appeared on the side of the road.  After ducking inside, Kish emerged triumphant, an ice-cold grape Faygo in hand.  She loves grape Faygo.  What are the odds?

Of course, I hate grape Faygo, but I couldn’t help but marvel at our good fortune as Kish mounted her bike and pedaled away, quaffing the soda as she went.

Not An Afishionado

My doctor has long been after me to eat less meat and more fish.  It’s easy to rationalize ignoring his heartfelt advice — which is what most of us do with doctorly advice, when you think about it — in Columbus, Ohio, which is more than 100 miles from any substantial body of water.  It’s not exactly the fish capital of the world.

In Belize, though, there is no viable excuse or rationalization.  So, I’ve been eating seafood until it’s coming out of my ears.  Ceviche.  Grouper.  The whole red snapper shown above, complete with head, eyes, and little bones that you pick out of your mouth.  And lots of shrimp.

It’s all fine, I guess, and I suppose I’ve added a few minutes to my lifespan by adhering to doctor’s orders.  But to my mind the highlights of my Belizean culinary experience so far were the stewed chicken I attacked on Tuesday and a flavorful jerk chicken sandwich yesterday.  

Nothing satisfies like meat.