Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Small Life-Lesson at Whole Foods Market

A recent trip to Whole Foods Market taught me a lesson about anger, compassion, reaction, and response.

I was waiting in the express line. There was one line for two registers. While I was waiting, a man cut in front of me as soon as one of the registers became available. I didn't say anything at the time.

However, as I left the store I saw the line-jumper mulling about, looking at his receipt. I stopped and said to him, "You do realize you cut me off in line?" He appeared a bit taken aback, then said "No... I didn't realize." I walked on and went about my business.

Walking home, I was a bit annoyed at the guy. After all, the he didn't even apologize for cutting in line. But after a minute or two, I became annoyed at myself.

Why did I even bother confronting some stranger over something as trivial as jumping line at the market? What did I hope to accomplish? Did I really need or want an apology? Not especially. Was I acting as some sort of retail etiquette vigilante, informing a miscreant of his misdeeds so he would not be a repeat offender? Perhaps I thought I was, but I wasn't. Was I being forgiving and big hearted? Absolutely not. After all, the lines at Whole Foods can be confusing. Chances are the fellow just made an honest mistake.

Worst of all, I was being a bit of a bully, something I strive not to be. Would I have taken similar actions if the line-jumper had been bigger and scarier looking than me? Doubtfully. In fact, I was quite a bit bigger and scarier than the line-jumper, and probably startled him. Why? Because I was irritated and felt the need to express it? Not good enough.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Sprinting and Visualization: Run Like a Hero!

Running sprints is hard. It can also be rather tedious. But it an important of fitness. I find visualization and imagination to be a powerful tool in helping me really get the most out of my sprint workouts.

Obviously, this is not a new technique. Athletes have been doing it for years. Since I'm not really into competitive sports, visualizing winning some sore of contest isn't really going to help me.

Some people have told me when they run they imagine being chased. I have qualms about that. Why put yourself in victim mode when exercising? That doesn't strike me as very empowering.

When I visualize chases when sprinting, I'm the one doing the chasing. As I have written about many times, I am a huge fan of finding real life inspiration from fictional heroes. For example, I once wrote
Next time your running sprints, instead of just thinking, "Oh man, sprints are hard!," imagine yourself as James Bond running down a terrorist, or Jason Bourne sprinting along Moroccan rooftops in The Bourne Ultimatum.  
I still do that sort of thing. If I'm sprinting on a field and I see a car parked by the side of the road, I might sprint full-force towards the car imagining there are bad guys about to get in to make there getaway. It makes sprints more fun and exciting. 

It is also more empowering than pretending to be running away from the bad guys. I much prefer the idea of the bad guys running away from me.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Recipe Wednesday: Thai Curry

Thailand is a fascinating country. Unique among Southeast Asian nations, it was never colonized by a European power. The Thai king has reigned since 1946, making him the longest-serving current head of state. (He is also protected from a great deal of criticism, as Thailand has very strict lèse majesté laws.) These interesting factoids aside, the land formerly known as Siam is justifiably well-known for beautiful beaches, the island of Ko Tapu (aka "James Bond Island"), brutally efficient martial arts, and a cornucopia of curries.

In fact, there are at least a dozen curries common to Thailand, so calling this dish "Thai curry" is rather reductionist and simplistic. But there is a method to my my madness!
My own Thai curry recipe is mostly a blend of two different dishes, panang curry and the Persian-influenced massaman curry, hence the generic name.

Thai Curry
(serves 4-6)
2 tablespoons coconut oil
3-5 red chili peppers, diced
2 tablespoons of galangal or ginger, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 stalks of lemongrass (inner white part only), minced

2 14 oz. cans of coconut milk
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander

2-3 carrots, sliced
1/2 head cabbage, chopped
1 potato, peeled and cubed
3-4 kaffir lime leaves

1 12 oz. container extra-firm tofu, cubed
1 20 oz. can of pineapple chunks in juice
1/3 cup peanuts
1 tablespoon tamari or other soy sauce
1 tablespoon maple syrup or agave

Heat the oil in a large pot with a lid on medium heat. Add the chili peppers, galangal or ginger, garlic, and lemongrass. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly.

Add the coconut milk and use an immersion blender to mix everything together. Stir in the cumin, coriander, carrots, cabbage, potato and kaffir lime leaves. Cover and cook until the potatoes and carrots are soft, about 20 minutes, stirring regularly.

One the potatoes and carrots are done, add the remaining ingredients and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove the kaffir lime leaves prior to serving.

This dish is best served over a nice bowl of jasmine rice. It isn't especially spicy, so have a bottle of sriracha handy to add a bit of kick (as in Muay Thai, i.e. Thai kickboxing!) if so desired.

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 FindLaw.com,
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.