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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It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.
~André Gide

A brief obit on courtship.

One sad day, Dating, a longtime mate who has been fighting an insidious illness for a decade, quietly passed almost overnight. Her closest friends whispered that the cause was cancerous by nature. She had been a tireless advocate of couplings for centuries, merging innumerable sometimes seemingly mismatched relationships, many who went on to be life long partners and others who did not quite reach that supposed paradigm. She encouraged couples to address each other directly, to communicate face à face, and openly share interests and intimacies without codes, pretenses, online personas or flat screens. Dating would not have countenanced a couple strolling through the park, engaged only by their screens and not one another, texting whomever else about whatever. With Dating, sensuous trysts steeped in droll wit, mutual charm, eager eyes, seductive words, and even homey sociability were urged. Ever exploring one anothers’ minds and bodies, exalting each other’s uniqueness, while bearing blemishes and flaws over time, became the standards. That was soulful sychronicity in full bloom.

While not fully expected, others subverted the rules of courtship rather recently, sadly causing Dating’s descent and demise. The disease process spread more rapidly than expected. What with texting, e-mails, social media, smartphones, Twitter, Facebook, online dating sites, and instant messages, Dating stood little chance in her later years. Narcissitic texters, bizarre checklisters and flyspecking online data collectors, especially, would lead to her hastened departure. The now obsolete traditional dinner + movie was replaced by online liaisons, non-dates, hookups and hanging out in groups, small and large, sometimes known and more often unknown. Commitment free flings, screen only paramours, and ambiguous dalliances that leave both halves unhappy, sexually unfulfilled, and confused about intimacy have now become all too common. We lament that there were no simple solutions Dating could have offered nor that she could have proposed before her untimely end — other than to revert to the romantic days of yore. Without her, the courtship landscape may indeed prove bleak.

Oh, we will miss the furtive and lingering glances, flirtations, seductions, angst and joys of romance, madame Dating. So many of us still embrace you in your afterlife.

CHICKEN WITH DATES, FENNEL AND LEMON

4 chicken leg-thigh quarters
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Ras al hanout
3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter

1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium fennel bulb, peeled and thinly sliced
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
Hefty pinch of saffron threads, crumbled
1 T ras el hanout
2 cinnamon sticks

2 preserved lemons
1+ C chicken broth

1 1/2 C pitted dates
2 t ground cinnamon
3 T honey

Sesame seeds, toasted
Cilantro leaves, chopped

Season chicken with ras al hanout, salt and pepper. In a large, heavy skillet add the olive oil and butter over medium high heat. Sauté the chicken until browned, about 5 minutes per side, and set aside in a baking dish tented with foil. Then, add the onions, fennel, garlic, saffron, ras al hanout, and cinnamon sticks. Cook over medium to medium high heat for about 8 minutes. Add the chicken broth and lemons and increase the heat just to bring the liquid to a gentle boil and then promptly lower to a simmer. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is done and the sauce reduced some, about 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile place the dates, cinnamon and honey in a heavy saucepan. Stir gently to combine, then simmer over medium heat until the dates are tender and the sauce is syrupy, about 5-10 minutes.

Spoon the dates and syrup over the chicken and friends, and then garnish first with sesame seeds and then cilantro.

You may fool all the people some of the time, you can even fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time.
~Phineas T. Barnum

Dear Groupon,

I felt compelled to write about your troubling Superbowl XLV ad which used the plight of Tibetans to convince consumers to buy Groupon certificates. In case you missed the airing, actor Timothy Hutton ended his somber monologue about how Tibet’s “very culture is in jeopardy.” He then suddenly chirped in that Tibetans “still whip up an amazing fish curry,” touting how his friends and he thankfully saved money at a Chicago Himalayan restaurant via Groupon. As you may know, Tibet has been threatened with societal extinction at the hands of an oppressive Chinese government. So, peddling your product at the expense of tyrranized victims of a revered culture seemed, at best, perversely odd.

Your multimillion dollar half minute was undeniably directed at furthering Groupon’s brand and generating Groupon profits and not aimed at altruism. An attempt to garner marketing attention and revenue from a beleaguered people’s struggle seems exploitative—a disrespectful quip demeaning the gravity of Tibetan misery.

I embrace humour noir, but this was over the line. Genocide is no joke.

While it appears that empathy rarely emanates from your Chicago Ave boardroom, it has seemed reasonable to expect some remorse. But, no genuine apologies are in the offing. The only words uttered were a feckless, fork-tongued defense (a/k/a publicity statement). And nowhere to be found is a solitary “I’m sorry” from corporate. Just self-justifying tripe focused on quelling Groupon losses.

No matter how and when spun, making light of cultural, religious and ethnic persecution for gain is both chilling and disgraceful. Equally deplorable were Groupon’s lame, hastily organized post airing efforts to contort this crass “show me the money” profiteering into donating to a mission-driven cause. You padded a hasty retreat driven solely by the palpable fear of losing customers. Nice try, Andrew.

On to the culinary content of the Tibetan fish curry ad which was likewise thoughtless. FYI, Tibetans do not eat fish for the most part. To many locals, eating fish is as abhorrent as pork is to Muslims and beef is to Hindus. Besides the obvious fact that Tibet is a mountainous, landlocked country, the absence of fish on tables there exists for several reasons. Some Tibetans practice water burial in lakes, and so eating fish is considered synonymous with dining on the dead. Fish are also regarded as the incarnation of the revered god of water and thus remain sacred. Tibetans detest gossip, and as fish do not have noticeable tongues, they cannot gossip. So, fish are rewarded for their silence by not becoming part of the Tibetan diet.

The disdain for Groupon’s brand name that resulted from your ads seems predictable. The negative online aftermath urging a mass “unsubscription” also comes as no surprise. Who knows how conscientious shop owners may respond.

Sincerely,

A Lay Cook

P.S. Groupon’s after the fact public ploy to show social conscience through savethemoney.org has already ceased. That non-profit “humanistic” site has already closed and now simply redirects to Groupon’s profit making center. A vital effort to save Groupon’s most precious natural resource: money.

CALAMARI WITH RED CURRY & COCONUT MILK

3 T peanut oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed, seeded and minced
1 T peeled and grated fresh ginger
3 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 1/2 T red curry paste
2 t ground coriander
Freshly ground black pepper

1 14-oz can coconut milk
1 1/2 C chicken broth
1 T light brown sugar
1 T fresh lime juice
Pinch of sea salt

2 lbs calamari, (bodies and tentacles), cleaned, bodies cut into 1″ slices

Freshly grated lime zest
Fresh mint leaves, chopped
Fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Heat peanut oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add jalapeño pepper, ginger, garlic, curry paste, coriander and pepper and cook over medium heat another 3-4 minutes. Then, add coconut milk, broth, brown sugar, lime juice, and salt. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes.

Add calamari to curry sauce, and cook over medium high heat until calamari is opaque, about 2 minutes. Plate and garnish with lime zest, mint and cilantro.