Thursday, June 28, 2012

Drawing the Bowstring: A Criticism of Decentralization

It's food week here on Auditor and a Gentleman!

I recently had the pleasure to read a book on the nineteenth-century practices of hunting and fishing. In point of fact I've been fishing before a handful of times, and when I was younger (okay, okay, before I ruined my eyes with late-night sessions on backlit screens), I used to be a decent shot in .22 Long Rifle... not exactly a bear-stopper, mind you, and I've never really been hunting. But the book got me thinking.

There was a time when the majority opinion on the matter was that hunting was little more than a part of rural living. An able hunstman provided food for his family and a means to stretch the thin household budget. Hunters going further back, beyond the time when hunting became a matter for sport, believed that hunting brought predator and prey together. It created a necessary sense of connection to the living animal that reduced the inclination to waste. When you spend all day, sometimes most of the night, stalking for deer, and then finally bring it down, you're going to find a way to use everything. 

I'm not saying that decentralizing the food supply (which happened right around the time of urbanization) was necessarily a bad thing. Lord knows urbanization came hand in hand with a number of other developments that have improved the standard of living in this country and others around the world. I have time to write, time to study, time to play precisely because I live in a city and I am not responsible for growing every grain, fruit, and vegetable I'm going to have beside the piece of rainbow trout I fished out of the lake that afternoon.  I couldn't be a philomath without the modern agricultural system. 

But it's created interesting pattern, a product of a detachment from food. I've worked with people who love ginger in their carrot soup but wouldn't recognize ginger-root if I lifted it up. People that couldn't tell me t-bone from rib-eye. I've cooked at top-flight hotels with cooks that didn't know beef-tongue when they saw it, and couldn't tell me the concise list of ingredients in a proper mirepoix (they called it "soup mix", a combination of no more than carrots, celery, and onion). These raw ingredients are the painter's pallet for the cook, whether they are cooking for themselves at home, trying to eke out a basic level of sustenance on a student budget; or composing seven-course dinners for visiting heads of state. We cannot all be Monet, of course, but folk artists eke out a pretty good living too.

Maybe I take this so seriously because it's what I did for a living and what I still do as a hobby. But I'm getting bored with food again. Bored with walking down the super-market aisles and seeing nothing but "pork loin chops trim cut" and "sirloin marinating steak". There's more to ground beef than extra lean and "Maple or Italian" should not be the only decision I have to make when I'm selecting sausages. Mussels? Oh yes, those come in the blue bag, as opposed to clams, which come in the red. Having presented people with pictures of lobsters yet-living and hearing "why is it brown, is it sick?" is a major part of the reason why I've invested in getting my home kitchen back up to snuff.

All this to lead into the following: in the days to come, I'm going to post a recipe, with (hopefully) photographs, of how to make three meals out of one chicken. Then I'm going to go off into rant-land and talk about some of the more unusual (and usual) cuts of meat we're all collectively ignoring.

It's food week here on Auditor and a Gentleman!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Far-Out Fridays: Supernovae

NASA Image - Public Domain
This is what is left of a star that was once observed by Johannes Kepler, the 17th century German astronomer. He called it "the new star in (the constellation) Ophiuchus' foot". The star was visible by the naked eye for 18 months, then vanished. What could cause a star to wink out in so short a frame of time?

As I've explained before, long-distance viewing is effectively time travel. However, that aspect of physics wouldn't extend or compress the amount of time a phenomenon took to observe. How could a star spring into being, and then flair back out, in 18 months, when stars have lifespans measured not in millions but billions of years?

The simple answer is that it didn't. What Kepler saw was not the birth of a new star, but its cataclysmic death. A phenomenon known as a supernova - an explosion of such force that it produced light many times its ordinary glow, and expelled most of the star's mass outward at the incredible speed of .10c ... over 30,000 kilometres per second. The composite image above is of the remaining stellar gas and dust that is centred around the original location of the star that spawned it.

Here's the weird thing. We know that certain stars are going to go supernova, and certain stars aren't. We understand the general process of a supernova occurring. What we don't understand is how the collapse of the star becomes such a grand explosion. It's an unsolved problem in astrophysics.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Theology Thursday: Of Parables and Koans

I think of all the new "daily features" topics, this one will be the hardest to gain ground on. I should also take a moment to say in advance what else we have going on throughout the week; "Far Out" Friday (mind-breaking physics of the enlightening variety), Spirituality Saturdays (If Science gets a double-feature, so does faith), and Sizzling Sundays.

This week on sizzling Sunday, I'm going to be doing something inauspicious and skipping it. You see, my birthday is Monday, so on sunday we're going to a steakhouse in the next town over to celebrate. We're going to skip methodological monday to do the sunday feature then, and I'm going to make an old favourite: a real pork Schnitzel.

On the topic at hand, however, I have something less bubbly to say, and it wanders into the usual realm of the hippy-dippy, and I ask it in the form of a question, largely directed at Cam and Paul:

Is there any reason why the koans used by zen instructors to teach their students the proper frame of mind cannot be studied alongside the biblical parables? And, having said that, is there anything to be said about even laymen being able to learn from the Rule of St. Benedict?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

World Wednesday: Luka Magnotta

So, a few of you abroad might have heard by now about government offices in Canada receiving human body parts by mail a short while ago. Before long, the victim was identified, and shortly after that, a suspect was pretty clearly identified. His name was Luka Magnotta, a model and gay porn actor who filmed his murder of Jun Lin, a Chinese national studying at a university in montreal, and the subsequent dismemberment.

Now, I'm not going to tell you where to find the video, but I'm sure you could if you looked hard enough. I haven't watched it, and I don't intend to. What I find interesting, however, is that a number of high school teachers are on suspensions from their positions at the moment because they DID view it... along with their classes. The general narrative on these stories is that the teacher puts it to a vote, the class votes unanimously (or dissenters, if the minority, are allowed to abstain), and then they watch the video before discussing it as a class.

My question is, if you were an instructor, of any subject, do you feel there is anything to be gained by your students watching the video? And if so, do you feel that the same objective you couldn't be met by simply discussing the circumstances of the video?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tea Tuesdays: Silver Yin Zhen Pearls

You might be noticing a pattern here. To be honest, in an attempt to curtail a dwindling inclination to write, I'm implimenting a "topic-of-the-day" system. I'm obviously going to deviate from that system whenever something particularly polarizing or inspiring strikes, but in the meantime, I hope these do just as well.

I'm sure all this interest in tea seems sudden. To be honest, the level to which I've taken that interest essentially is, and I won't deny it's largely due to my involvement with Teavana, a tea retailer (who, I point out, don't pay me for my opinions). Working there has introduced me to a number of new teas I had no idea even existed prior to working there, never mind the wide array of high-quality teas I wouldn't have been able to get otherwise.

To that end, I want to talk about one particular tea: Silver Yin Zhen Pearl. Silver Yin Zhen is a white tea from Anhui province in China. It is comprised of hand-rolled balls of an organic white tea that we sell as silver needle... each ball contains six whole leaves!

The most wonderful thing about Silver Yin Zhen is its subtle, orchid-like liquor and the silky-smooth mouthfeel it presents. Raw, the leaves have a nutty, toasted aroma, that reminds me, at the very least, of the smell of timothy hay or toasted wheat. These leaves are even suitable for multiple infusions in a suitably small window of time... as many as eight, though I like the third infusion the best.

I say it blends well with other teas, because it does, and I'll talk about why that can be crucial in a second. First though, I want to take a moment to say that I prefer not to. You pay for the quality you get. Unless your water is unusually harsh, blend with a different white.

Now, having said that, there is a very good reason why you'd want to, if you could afford it. White teas provide the highest antioxidant count of any tea, because the fermentation process that transforms white to green, green to oolong, and oolong to black destroys these antioxidants. If you're chasing the antioxidants and their hydrating and detoxifying properties, you may wish to have the highest amount possible... and since Silver Yin Zhen is essentially a more compressed version of white teas like Silver Needle, it has even more antioxidant properties per cup. If the health benefits were a key thing to you, mixing Silver Needle with something flavoured might be your main goal.

However, I do strongly encourage everyone to at least occasionally drink this plain. Its subtlety demands concentration to unravel, and is a pursuit in itself.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Methodological Monday: A Few SI Units

Methodological Monday is a new (and hopefully regular) feature talking about some aspect of the physical world and the direct ways in which we come to understand it.

Measurements impact and describe everything we do. They allow us to figure out when it's time to put a fresh tank of gas in the car, and, moreover, to build that car and refine the gas that fuels us. We here in the 21st century can measure distances so small that no useful information would be gained by measuring any smaller.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Return to Basics: Making grocery lists

I cut my teeth on blogging about things other than my day by starting to write about food. I was just finishing up high school when I started my first food blog, which fell by the wayside when cooking became my career of choice and I suddenly had more important things to do with food than write about it. When my last cooking job essentially blew up in my face, I was bitter enough about the whole experience that I really stopped cooking altogether, never mind writing about it.

In much the same way as working with tea got me thinking about food again, writing about it's made me want to write again. I want to share something really basic I think that most people my age don't really know how to do... and that's write a grocery list.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Pulse of Tea

I've always been a believer that there's a natural rhythm to everything. Heisenburg's Uncertainty might add that lovely dose of randomness we call free will, but on the macroscopic scale, life moves in waves. Everywhere I go has a tide. A natural ebb and flow, resulting from everything from the pattern of traffic lights in the surrounding area, the socio-dynamic forcing of the weather outside, and the cultural make-up of the people around me. Being able to feel that push and pull is a boon when working in that environment. For one thing, it makes the temperament easier to control.

This seems to be doubly true in sales, and I'm not entirely sure why. A salesperson is at his or her best when he can feel the pulse of his shop, knows the personality of his product, and understands what the customer needs (and that's not always what they came into the shop looking for). The retail industry spends a lot of time calculating these things. It's the modern version of Feng Shui, and while I understand it with a sometimes-bitter cynicism, I realize that it works.

My problem is that I get caught up in the moment. The vagaries of the politics between the property managers and the retailers. The latest craze relevant to my store (pu-erh teas, thanks to Dr. Oz) and the shortages that follow when corporate can't predict (or the industry can't supply for) these crazes. In a month, few will still be drinking pu-erh, mind you. That's not the point. It's the shortages, the lack of this tea or that tin, and the conflict between following the instructions of my bosses and the instructions of those who can tell my bosses to close shop.

But if you get a moment, step outside the shifting tide, and just take a moment to watch it flow, suddenly it all makes sense. You find the pulse again, know your place within it, and relax.


I want to share with you a particular tea that I've drank a lot of lately, and the class of tea to which it belongs. You've already heard me talk a little about oolong teas (sometimes wulong), which are fantastically mild little things that are great for your skin, teeth, hair, and metabolism, and are traditionally used in the practice of meditation (because their subtle tea gives you something to deconstruct, I suppose).

There is, however, a subclass of wulong which are smoked, and these are called the Dan Congs. These are smoked, as they are dried, and this adds both a certain level of boldness and extra layers of flavour to take the time to unwrap. Lately, I've been drinking the Phoenix Mountain Dan Cong at work (unfortunately, I don't have any at home). It is marvellously complex, getting moreso with age. The three minute steep time gives me time to breathe.

I could go on for ages about this particular tea. It comes from trees that are centuries old. Dan Congs from the Phoenix Mountain range in Yunnan were imperial tribute during the Song Dynasty. Teas which once graced the lips only of the Song Emperors and their favourites are now mine to dissassemble. Fantastic.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Facebook, Hackerspace, and the RMC Philosophy

This is something a little different today. I actually have three topics, none of which I'm ready to expand upon to the point they'd make good solo posts, so we're gonna do this in sections, and in no particular order.

I'm going to start with Facebook, if only because it's the first thing in the title, and probably the most popular of the three concepts listed above. I'll start by saying I'm a facebook user, and I don't see that changing any time in the near future. What I am getting tired of hearing about, though, is privacy concerns. Every few weeks, whether the privacy policy changed or not, my news feed turns into row after row of copy-pasted harangues against this practice, that provision, or these transgressions. Problem is, you were told when the new policies were going into effect, and given every opportunity to opt out of the process by opting out  of the service.