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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Fueled by scorching temperatures, a severe to extreme drought has settled over much of the continental United States. The most brutal heat wave in many decades, readings above 100 F have become commonplace. The Midwest is evolving into a dust bowl, while the Southwest and Rockies are becoming tinder boxes, and lakes and rivers across the South are withering up. More than half of all counties have been designated primary disaster areas this growing season. Almost four million acres of conservation land were opened by the Department of Agriculture for ranchers to use for haying and grazing. Crops and pasture lands throughout much of the country have taken more than a drubbing — they have simply become a debacle with little relief in sight. Somber days in the breadbasket as the drought has touched so many, so much.

Beat the heat fare should be trendy this cruel summer. A cooling concoction with infinite variations, raita is a traditional Indian-Pakistani-Bangladeshi condiment used as a salad, relish, spread, dip or side dish. Other versions include tomato, diced veggies, avocado, chutney, beet, masala, potato, sweet potato, onion, chile, chickpea, etc.  Although always finely mated with Indian dishes, versatile raita need not be relegated to south Asian eats.

RAITA

1 t cumin seeds, toaasted and ground
1 t coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1 t black mustard seeds, toasted and ground

2 C plain Greek (strained) yogurt
1 t sugar
1/2 t crushed red pepper powder or flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2+ large fresh English cucumber, peeled and diced
1 C fresh mint leaves, chopped

In a heavy dry medium skillet, toast cumin, coriander and mustard seeds until just aromatic. Allow to cool and then grind the seeds in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.

Whisk together yogurt, sugar, red pepper, cumin, coriander, mustard, salt, black pepper, cucumber, and mint. Chill, covered, until ready to serve.

Pourboire: a brief word about measuring. Although baking demands precise measurements, savory cooking generally allows some laxity. So, unless you are as OCD as Ina Garten, just mete out ingredients with your eyes. Use that oversized 3 lbs of meat between your ears (and hippocampi) to judge and recall amounts — simply pour a carefully measured, even brightly hued, chosen spice into an open palm in order to ascertain the quantity of a teaspoon, tablespoon, cup or portion thereof and take note. Then, use that memory forward.