Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Few Words on Kidnapping

This morning, I saw the following headline on a local news site: Woman robbed at gunpoint in Kapiolani Park, suspect still on loose. Reading further I saw that the story was a bit more complicated than a mere robbery.
The victim reportedly parked near the tennis courts when a man suddenly entered her passenger door, pointed a gun at her, and made her drive around the park…. The suspect made her stop at the exercise equipment and ran off with several of her belongings.
That sounds an awful lot like kidnapping. According to,
Under federal and state law, kidnapping is commonly defined as the taking of a person from one place to another against his or her will, or the confining of a person to a controlled space.
All things considered, the woman who was robbed was very fortunate. It could have gone much worse. The robber could have been a sexual predator.

Everyone has to make their own choices, but based on my research the best options (especially for women) when faced with a potential kidnapping situation are escaping or resisting. The chances of being raped and/or murdered are just too great. To quote neuroscientist Sam Harris, a man who knows a fair bit about self-defense issues, "Anyone who attempts to control you—by moving you to another room, putting you in a car, tying you up—probably intends to kill you (or worse)."

Or consider these words from very respected self-defense expert Marc "Animal" MacYoung:

Basically many people comply to the demands of the criminal believing it will convince the criminal to spare them. While this can be the case–especially in a business robbery —generally estimated number of rapes and/or murders of adults who allow themselves to be moved to secondary locations is about 90 to 95 percent depending on who you ask.

Again, the situation at Kapiolani Park obviously was an exception to the above, but that's why I said I consider the victim to be fortunate.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Recipe Wednesday: Ras el Hanout Eggplant with Chickpeas

Ras el hanout is a North African spice mixture that it is central to Moroccan cuisine. It is not to be confused with Ra's al Ghul, who is a Batman supervillain.

In Arabic, ras el hanout means "head of the shop," signifying that it is the best spice mix the seller has to offer. It can sometimes contain 30 or more ingredients, but most recipes include cardamom, nutmeg, anise, mace, cinnamon, ginger, peppers and turmeric. Premixed ras el hanout can be found at many health food stores and well-stocked groceries, though a quick Web search will find several recipes for those who want to make their own batch.

Ras el hanout is most commonly used in tajines, which are a form of stew named for the earthenware pot they are cooked in. This recipe, ras el hanout eggplant with chickpeas, is sort of a cousin to a tajine. It also bears a certain similarity to an Afghani dish called bonjan, which used cinnamon and mint instead of ras el hanout and does not include chickpeas.

Ras el Hanout Eggplant with Chickpeas
(Serves 4-6)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1” cubes
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes with juices
1 15 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed
2-3 teaspoons ras el hanout
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oil in a large pot on medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until it is soft. Toss in the garlic and eggplant and stir for a couple of minutes. 

Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, and ras el hanout, cover, lower the heat to low, and cook for until the eggplants are soft, about 20 minutes give or take. Be sure to give everything a stir every so often, and add water or broth in small increments if the ingredients start sticking to the pot.

Once the eggplant is soft and cooked through, the dish is done. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve over rice (jasmine or basmati work especially well), with pita, or go for the full Arabic experience and have it with couscous.

If you are a classical buff, set the mood with Rimsky-Korsakov’s "Scheherazade." If you prefer something more modern, explore the contemporary Middle Eastern-influenced music of artists such as SoapKills, Azam Ali, or Natacha Atlas (who does an incredible version of the Screamin' Jay Hawkins classic “I Put a Spell on You.”) Be sure to have some strong, sweet mint tea on hand for afterwards!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Samurai Story Time with Lt. Martin Castillo

I have quite a bit of fondness for Miami Vice, both the television show and the underrated big screen version. One of my favorite episodes of the original series is "Bushido," which for a change focused not on main characters Crockett and Tubbs (Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas) but on Lt. Martin Castillo (expertly played by Edward James Olmos), their mysterious, laconic boss. Despite being a man of few words, Castillo takes time to relate the following story to a young boy in his care:

"There's a special story I'd like you to know. The story about the samurai, Toshin. Toshin was the greatest swordsman of his clan. And all the other samurai revered him very much. And the shogun became jealous. The shogun ordered Toshin to murder all the people of a little fishing village as a test of his loyalty. Toshin refused, of course, to do something so wrong. It would have destroyed his honor.

He became an outcast to his clan, which turned against him and he lived with the wild animals in the mountains with his family. The clan sent assassins to try to kill them all but none of them ever came back. Toshin knew that one day they would kill him and his family. That not even he could win all the time. That his time would come.

Finally, the clan sent his best friend. A man closer than a brother to him. It was this man's duty to obey the clan. Toshin came down off the mountains onto the beach to meet his old friend. They faced each other with drawn swords. They loved each other very much. As they both struck with their swords Toshin, the master, was a little quicker but he only touched his friend's neck. Touching it but not cutting it. His friend could not stop in time. He struck Toshin once, killing him. Toshin died in honor. It is the way of the bushido, the way of the warrior. Toshin knew that his family would now be safe. But his friend's heart was broken."

(Note: As far as I can tell, this story comes not from old Japan, but from the Miami Vice scriptwriters. It's pretty cool anyway. And "toshin" refers to a Japanese sword's blade without any mounting. 

Recipe Wednesday: Miso Tahini Udon

If by some quirk of your taste buds you ever find yourself simultaneously craving both Japanese and Middle Eastern food, this recipe is for you.

Both miso and tahini have long culinary histories. Miso, a salty paste made from fermented soybeans, dates back at least to 6th century Japan, and earlier versions existed in China as far back as the 3rd century B.C. The origins of tahini, an oily paste derived from ground sesame seeds, are a bit unclear, though sesame has been cultivated in the Middle East for about 4,000 years.

Miso and tahini are also fantastically flexible foodstuffs. While miso often gets stuck in the soup ghetto, and tahini finds itself regulated to serving as a dip ingredient, they each can be used in a variety of dishes, such as this one.

There are actually quite a few variations of miso tahini sauces floating around. This recipe is a simplified version of one that originally appeared in Japanese Foods That Heal by John and Jan Belleme.

Miso Tahini Udon
(Serves 2-3)
1 package of udon noodles (usually about 9 ounces)
4 tablespoons of white miso
3-4 tablespoons of tahini
2 tablespoons of brown rice vinegar
1 tablespoon of mirin

Cook the udon according to the instructions on the package. I normally don’t recommend adding oil to the cooking water when making pasta, but udon is very sticky so it might be a good idea to add a tablespoon of olive oil or sesame seed oil. Right before the udon is finished cooking, scoop out a cup of the water and set it aside. When the udon is done, drain and rinse in cold water.

To make the miso tahini sauce, place the miso, tahini, brown rice vinegar, mirin, and half of the udon cooking water in a large, microwave safe bowl and stir. Microwave the mixture on high for 30 seconds, stir again, and heat for another 30 seconds. Repeat this process until the sauce is all gooey. It shouldn’t take more than two minutes total.

By the way, preparing the sauce in the microwave is just a suggestion. You can also prepare it in a pot on the stove, such as the pot you used to cook the udon. Just be careful not to overcook.

Add the cooked udon and the rest of the cooking water to the miso tahini mixture, and proceed to stir everything together. Serve immediately. To ramp up the Japanese side of this fusion dish, top with a generous sprinkle of furikake and green onion.

If you have leftovers (I rarely do), there is some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that miso tahini udon doesn’t always reheat well. The good news is it tastes really good cold. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Antigone Bezzerides on Why She Carries Knives

“Fundamental difference between the sexes is that one of them can kill the other with their bare hands. Man of any size lays hands on me, he’s going to bleed out in under a minute.”
Antigone Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), True Detective

(PS: Looks like she's doing the top half of a classic asterisk pattern. Nice!)

Friday, June 5, 2015

Philosophy Friday: On Truth

Note: I was going through some old files and stumbled on to this essay I wrote in 2010. Oddly, I don't actually recall writing it, nor am I a sure why I wrote it in the first place. I think it was in response to someone who asked me about my view on the idea of "truth." Or maybe not. Either way, it remains an accurate reflection of my thinking.

It was an almost normal photograph of an almost normal little girl. Two things make it abnormal. One was the black bar superimposed across her eyes to hide her identity. The other was her right arm, which ended at her elbow. I was a child when I saw the photograph, probably only a bit older than the girl herself, who was five. It was in one of my mother's medical books. She was attending nursing school at the time, and there were journals and textbooks scattered throughout the house. I often looked through them, amazed by the pictures of skeletons and nervous systems and patients with weird maladies. My mom didn't care, as she was pretty progressive and didn't believe in hiding anything from me. When I stumbled onto the photo of the anonymous, one-armed little girl, I asked what had happened to her. Taking the book from me so she could read the text I was too young to read myself, my mother hesitated a moment before answering. "The little girl was told to keep out of the peanut butter. When she didn't listen, her father put her arm in a vice and sawed it off." Some people have all sorts of moral truths: taxation is theft; abortion is murder; don't mix meat and dairy; and so on. Not me. Most of mine are pretty basic. Perhaps the most basic comes from viewing that awful photo years ago: Do not be cruel to the weak.