Monday, October 3, 2016

Books Read, September 2016

There was something of a creepy fiction theme last month.

  • The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
  • The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen
  • Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
  • Low Red Moon by Caitlin R. Kiernan

  • The Magic of Conflict by Thomas Crum
  • Becoming Kuan Yin: The Evolution of Compassion by Stephen Levine
  • The Other Nietzsche by Joan Stambaugh

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Recipe Wednesday: Bitter Melon Miso Stir-Fry

Some people shy away from bitter flavors. Others embrace them.

If you are in the latter category, this recipe is probably right up your alley. The principal ingredient is bitter melon, which, as the name suggests, is rather bitter.

Bitter melon is popular throughout Asia. It appears to have originated in the Indian subcontinent, where it is known as karela. From there, it made its way to China, the Malay Peninsula, Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere.

This recipe is Okinawan in origin. In Okinawa, bitter melon is know as goya, and this dish is called goya no miso chanpuru, which translates more or less to “bitter melon miso stir-fry.” The recipe is a simplified variation of one from Elizabeth Andoh, an American chef who has lived in Japan since 1967.

Bitter Melon Miso Stir-Fry
 (Serves 3-4)
About 1-pound bitter melon, diced (see below)
1 yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons sesame seed oil
10-12 chunks frozen kabocha
12-oz extra firm tofu, cubed
Splash of cooking sake or mirin
3 tablespoons yellow miso
1-tablespoon sugar
¾ to 1 cup of water

Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok on medium heat.

Split the bitter melon down the middle, Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and inner white pith (a grapefruit spoon works especially well for this). Cut the bitter melon into half-moons, about half an inch thick.

Toss the diced bitter melon and onion in the skillet and cook until they both start to soften, about 10 minutes. Stir regularly.

Add the tofu and the kabocha along with a splash of cooking sake or mirin to help prevent sticking. Continue to cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring regularly.

A quick word on the kabocha: I use frozen kabocha for the simple reason fresh kabocha can be something of a hassle to work with. If you choose to go with fresh, I commend you. Just be sure to adjust the cooking times to make sure the kabocha cooks through.

Meanwhile, mix the miso, sugar and water in a small bowl. Place the bowl in the microwave and heat at 30 seconds intervals until the mixture can be easily whisked together into a consistent, slightly creamy sauce.

Pour the mixture into the skillet with the rest of the ingredients and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, still stirring regularly.

Remove the skillet from heat and allow to rest for about 5 minutes.

Serve the bitter melon miso stir-fry over rice, ideally with some green tea or, if you are concerned about caffeine, a nice cup of mugicha (barley tea). And then there's beer. There is just something magical about the combination of bitter melon and beer.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Books Read, August 2016

Ninjas, Riddle-Masters, and Sherlock Holmes were among my literary companions this month.

  • Heir of Sea and Fire by Patricia A. McKillip
  • Harpist in the Wind by Patricia A. McKillip
  • The Final Solution by Michael Chabon
  • Budo Secrets: Teachings of the Martial Arts Masters by John Stevens
  • Ninja: 1,000 Years of the Shadow Warrior by John Man
  • Pretentiousness : Why It Matters by Dan Fox
  • The Secret Teachers of the Western World by Gary Lachman.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Books Read, July 2016

Not much of a theme in July, except for a double-dose of paranoia in my choice of non-fiction reading.

  • Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier
  • Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly
  • The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip

  • No Death, No Fear: Comforting Wisdom for Life by Thich Nhat Hanh
  • 100 Deadly Skills: The SEAL Operative's Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation by Clint Emerson
  • Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps' Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life by Jason Riley and Patrick Van Horne

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Thought of the Day, July 28, 2016: Samurai and Swimming

"Water is the source of wisdom; swimming is the mother of all the arts…. Swimming teaches us to live properly. There is no way a solitary swimmer can impose his or her selfish will on the water. Swimming against the current will ultimately result in disaster. Swim with the flow without strain, resistance, confusion, or unnatural movement."

—from the Shinden School, which taught samurai suijutsu, the art of combative swimming

For some of my thoughts on swimming, please check out this post.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Thought of the Day, July 26, 2016: Van Horne & Riley on Preparation

"Those who prepare and train themselves for the the possibility of violence will react differently than those who do not."
—Patrick Van Horne and Jason A. Riley, authors of Left of Bang: How The Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Philosophy Thursday: A Buddhist Look at Death and Loss

I'm not really good with death. Over the years, I've lost one pair of great-grandparents, two pairs of grandparents, an aunt, my mother, my best friend, and too many animal companions to mention. While my losses don't compare with those who have survived wars, natural disasters, or other tragedies, it doesn't change the fact that every death of a loved one is painful. In the case of my mother, it was downright devastating.

Since I know dealing with even more death is inevitable, I try to find ways to prepare myself and accept the inevitable.

Some find solace in Abrahamic religious traditions, but that doesn't really work for me. It's not that the idea of Heaven isn't appealing. It is. I just can't quite make the leap of faith required to actually believe in it except in a vague sort of way.

On the other end of the spectrum, I don't fully accept the New Atheists and their denial of any transcendence either. 

Somewhere between the theist and the materialist lies the Buddhist, specifically the more philosophical, less religious Buddhism I find myself drawn to.

What do I mean by "more philosophical, less religious Buddhism"? As Stephen Batchelor explains in his book Buddhism Without Beliefs A Contemporary Guide to Awakening, it is quite possible to live in accordance to Buddhist philosophy without necessarily believing in karma, rebirth, the Pure Land, etc. Personally, I neither believe or disbelieve in those things. I just don't find them relevant to my daily life. 

The best book I have read so far about the Buddhist approach to death and dying is No Fear, No Death by Thich Nhat Hanh. This is a deeply compassionate work, as is every other book I've read by Nhat Hanh. Very early on, he outlines the basic idea that will inform the rest of the book: