Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
~Søren Kierkegaard

Around 380 BCE, in a book of The Republic, Plato presciently wrote the myth of the Ring of Gyges, in which a noble shepherd pocketed a “magical” ring found on the hand of a corpse in an abandonned cave that rendered him invisible to suit his whims. Gyges (sometimes pronounced jahy-jeez and other times jee-jeez) used this newly found trinket to infiltrate the royal household, and was even invited by the King of Lydia to secretly view his queen in the buff. He then could not help but seduce her and abruptly assassinated the king, ultimately usurping the throne. The basic notion behind Plato’s fable is that anonymity and disinhibition can corrupt even the most virtuous folks. So, if social reputation and sanctions are removed (now e.g., cowering behind a screen) moral character with any sense of empathy or contrition simply disappears too.

The once ancient Gyges effect with its namelessness, facelessness and/or faux appellation worlds appertains today in the form of trolls, thoughtless naysayers, online ragers, discord sowers, cyber-harassers, ranting yelpers, yik yakkers, social media/app abusers, inflammatory commentators, aggressors, droners, truculent ones, hackers, cyberbullies, belligerents, hate mongers, disrupters, and keyboard antagonists (to name a few). They all tend to enter a universe without filters or open discourse, actually pretending that there is not a real human enduring their assaults. To them, these are merely raging words on a formerly blank screen where there is just a desire for impact, for contemptuousness or resentment without any shared humanity or sense of responsibility. Shameless, in so many ways. Whatever happened to compassion and empathy?

A kind suggestion. Instead of hiding behind a screen of whatever sorts, please look intently in a mirror — a cold, hard stare — and closely conceptualize your face before even thinking about ranting online or elsewhere. Then instead, perhaps gently make a bowl of rice or some dessert. Be cool, be calm and savor each scent, each bite. So, “feed” a troll contrary to common advice.

But then, ponder while munching — how do we see real faces again?

BASMATI RICE & CORN PILAF

2 C Basmati rice

4 T unsalted butter or ghee (divided)
2 t garlic, minced
1 T ginger, grated
1/2 t turmeric
Pinch saffron
1/2 t coriander seeds
1/2 t cumin seeds
8 whole cloves
1/2 t black peppercorns
2 cardamom pods

1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
3 C corn kernels, freshly shaven off of ears

Sea salt
1 C golden raisins
2 C chicken or vegetable broth

2 T cilantro, chopped
2 T scallions, chopped
1/4 C roasted cashews

Put rice in a medium bowl and cover with cold water. Swish with fingers, then pour off water. Repeat 2-3 times, until water runs clear. Cover again with cold water and soak 20 minutes, then drain.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter or ghee in a heavy saucepan over medium high heat. Add garlic, ginger, turmeric, saffron, coriander, cumin, cloves, peppercorns and cardamom, and stir to coat. Let sizzle a bit, then add onion and cook, stirring, until softened and beginning to color, about 5 minutes. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter or ghee, the rice and the corn, and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook for 1 minute. Add raisins and chicken or vegetable broth and bring to brisk simmer. Taste for salt and adjust if necessary.

Cover, reduce the heat to low and let cook 15 minutes. Let rest 10 to 15 minutes off heat. Fluff rice and transfer to serving bowl. Strew rice with cilantro, scallions and cashews. Consider serving with raita. (See the August 5, 2012, post for a raita recipe or just simply type raita into the search box on the right hand side of the screen).

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The universe is but one great city, full of beloved ones, divine and human, by nature endeared to each other.
~Epictetus, Greek stoic philosopher (55-135 AD)

Stated otherwise, the city is but one great universe, full of beloved ones, divine and human, by nature endeared to each other. I am officially citified, a committed and content urbanite. The caste driven trappings of sprawling suburbia are gladly things of the past. From an elevated vantage I contemplate the urban aesthetics of sharp geometry, polygons, cubes, facets, shadows, hues, lights, lunar scapes. Autumn palettes, naked winter light, shrill sunrises breaking the horizon, seductive twilights, soupy skies, spring forwards, and summer street hiss all unfold before me. Church bells peal by day, and trains moan at night. And humanity, and more humanity heaps by. A story stashed behind each window and sometimes played out on gridded streets, sidewalks and random alleys at arbitrary times.

Each day, I awake to the world from on high here. It is a humble place with ample views and a simple kitchen. Swaddled in a warm nest right at treetop level I overlook a bustling, closely knit yet isolated, ethnically robust, ‘hood far from the homogeneous crowd. Not viewing experience from the ground upward as before, but looking down and across from my tree house…roofs of varying heights and shades, birds huddling in frigid air on sills, cats foraging, sirens blaring, faces passing, street scents, gentle showers, electric skies, chatter, piercing sounds of passion, then occasional silence. A vassal’s vertical oasis, a gentle place to embrace.

So, give me your lonely and homeless to my humble table.

Which brings me to two soulful sister au gratins.

POTATO & TOMATO AU GRATIN

1 plump, fresh garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed
Butter, unsalted

1 1/2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
2 lbs ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded, sliced 1/4″ thick, well drained

2 C grated gruyère cheese
1 C heavy cream

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh thyme, stemmed and finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 375 F

Thoroughly rub a shallow gratin or baking dish with a crushed garlic clove, and then lightly butter the dish with the end of a stick of butter. Alternately arrange one half of the sliced potatoes and drained tomatoes slightly overlapped in a single layer. Sprinkle with half of the cheese and then half of the cream. Add salt, pepper and thyme. Add a second layer of potatoes and drained tomatoes with cheese, cream and season with salt, pepper and thyme.

Place the baking dish in the center of the oven and bake until golden, about 1 hour. Should the top begin to brown too rapidly, simply cover with aluminum foil. Remove from oven, let rest for 10 minutes, and then serve.

POTATO & CARAMELIZED ONION AU GRATIN

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
3 sweet onions (Vidalia, Walla Walla, et al.), peeled, and thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 t sugar
3 T fresh sage leaves, stemmed and finely chopped

1 plump, fresh garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed
Butter, unsalted
1 1/2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

2 C grated gruyère cheese
1 C heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 375 F

Over medium high, heat olive oil and butter in a large, heavy sauté pan. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper and cook slowly until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Blend in the salt and sugar, raise heat to moderately high, and let the onions brown, stirring frequently until they are a dark walnut color, another 30-35 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the sage. Let cool slightly.

Thoroughly rub a shallow gratin or baking dish with a crushed garlic clove, and then lightly butter the dish with the end of a stick of butter. Layer and overlap one half of the sliced potatoes, season to taste with salt and pepper, and spread one half of the onion mixture over the overlapped potatoes, strew with cheese and drizzle with the cream. Repeat by again overlapping another layer of potatoes, spread with remaining caramelized onions, cheese and cream. Season again with salt and pepper.

Place the baking dish in the center of the oven and bake until golden, about 1 hour. Should the top begin to brown too rapidly, simply cover with aluminum foil. Remove from oven, let rest for 10 minutes, and then serve.

Pourboire: For a change of pace, consider other fine melting cheeses, such as emmenthal, manchego, tallegio, asiago, fontina, mozzarella, bleu, chèvre.