Thursday, September 30, 2010

Macao Fried Rice -- 澳門炒飯

The following is a recipe I loved when I first tried it, cooked often for a while and then, like so many newspaper clipping recipes in the pre-laptop/internet era, misplaced for years.  I finally tracked it down again and was very glad I did.  It's excellent and needs to be shared.
This is fried rice as prepared on the island nation of Macao, Hong Kong's "sister" island and also part of the so-called Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China.  I think of it as a "quick paella" (the flavors are very close) and you can certainly add some of the traditional paella ingredients such as shrimp, chicken or shellfish as accompaniments.  Paella, of course, is wonderful to cook, but it can be challenging to get the hang of it (especially seafood paella) and it does take quite a bit of time.  This is quick, easy and, once you have it down, easy to vary in a number of pleasing ways.

The author of the recipe and the New York Times magazine article that included it is the Indian cooking authority, Julie Sahni.  Her name is always indicates excellence.

(Julie Sahni recipe from 1988 NYT Magazine article on the cooking of Macao)

Small pinch saffron
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon of water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons minced ginger
1/2 cup pureed tomatoes (fresh or canned)
1/2 cup chopped yellow onions
3 cups cooked rice
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon oyster sauce or soy sauce
1/2 cup frozen green peas, defrosted
1/3 cup thinly sliced scallions.

1. Powder the saffron in a small bowl using your finger tips. Stir in one tablespoon of water and set aside.

2. In a wok or a large saute pan, heat one tablespoon of the oil and add the beaten egg. Immediately tilt the pan, spreading the egg to coat the bottom of the wok. As soon as the egg sets, turn off the heat. Scrape the omelet into a bowl, breaking into pieces.

3. Add the remaining oil to the wok over high heat. Add the ginger, sizzle for 15 seconds, then add the tomatoes and saffron water. Cook, stirring constantly, until the contents turn thick and glazed (about four minutes). Add the onions and cook an additional minute. Fold in the rice, salt, pepper and oyster or soy sauce. Cook until the contents are heated through (about two minutes). Stir in the peas and egg pieces, tossing for about 30 seconds. Add the scallions and serve immediately.

Yield: Four to six servings. 

Macao 1870 (above)
Macao today (below)

 Arroz Frito Portuguesa 澳門炒飯

Ruins of St. Paul Cathedral, Macao (1582-1605), 大三巴牌坊


Preparing the world's largest paella, 2003, Cornudella de Monstant, Spain

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Reincarnated Souls: Bunny and Eddie; U and Santa

Bunny (rear) and Eddie (front)

When the subject of reincarnation comes up, one usually prefers to keep one's own counsel, rather than risk being thought at best eccentric, at worst insane.

But in this crazy world (I don't need to tell you why; surely you know) where everything seems so close to the edge and you only need to turn on the television at any given moment for proof that real insanity exists and is contagious, it's best to speak one's mind.

So, I'll say it.

My cats Bunny and Eddie are the reincarnated spirits of my cats U and Santa and I am very, very grateful to have them present and part of my life. 

Bunny (lunette shot)


Archilochus of Paros


The Chigi Vase (ca. 640-630 BC)
Museo Villa Guila, Roma

"From Paros
The lovely
We march."

Long before the larks this morning, I was up and continuing my medieval scribe-like activities downstairs while my human and animal family slept, copying legal ethics rules from one book into another.  I'm doing this for a perfectly good reason, but still it reminded me of the old Spartan admonition, which I'm sure my mother used to provide me as direction only lightly, simply because she found it amusing to say:

"Come home with your shield or on it".

So, after finishing copying Chapter 1 (this being the second stage of copying -- transcrbing cursive handwritten notes to computer text because even I have trouble reading my own script), I took a break and decided to hunt down images of Archilochus of Paros, the 6th century B.C. Greek warrior-poet, who wrote in response:

"Some Saian mountaineer
Struts today with my shield.
I threw it down by a bush and ran
When the fighting got hot.
Life seemed somehow more precious.
It was a beautiful shield.
I know where I can buy another
Exactly like it, just as round."

Bust of Archilocus, 1st or 2nd century AD after an original dating to 3rd or 2nd century BC, Italy;
Louvre, Paris (former Borghese Collection; purchased 1807)

Like his near contemporaries, Sappho and Alkman, Archilocus' work is preserved for us mainly in fragments.  They make compelling, almost addictive reading and once you begin a round of Archilocus consultation, it's almost impossible to stop:

"Let him go ahead.
Ares is a democrat.
There are no privileged people 
On a battlefield."

"As a dove to a sheaf of wheat,
So friends to you."

"Curl hung
In curl."

"Truth is born
as lightning strikes."

"Her hair was as simple
As flax, and I,
I am heavy with infamy."

The Archilocus translations I read are found in Guy Davenport's 7 Greeks set of translations (New Directions, 1995), which I can highly recommend.  However, I am not a Greek scholar and there are possibly other translations preferred by experts.

But from the time I first read Archilochus (many of these fragments also appeared in an earlier Davenport collection) a long time ago, I found his combination of close observation and descriptions of the physical world and daily activity, including human vanity, faithlessness and other foibles, and his terseness, toughness and sarcasm to be irresistible.  Although I think he meant to stir things up, he calms me down.

Oddly, I discovered that the poet's name is also that of a small Genus of hummingbirds whose portraits are found below.  I found a rather savage photo of one of these creatures in the warrior act of killing a yellowjacket, but I won't post that.  It's a remarkable shot.

Archilochus alexandri (Black chinned hummingbird)

Archilochus colubris (Ruby-throated hummingbird)

Monday, September 27, 2010

John Cale, OBE; Henry Graham Greene OM CH

"I'm stunned. It makes you think 'well maybe I did something right’? and now I've got to figure out what that was. I thought I was too much of a tearaway."

-- John Cale, OBE

Just yesterday I mentioned my out-of-control Google News Alert habit, but it seems that it’s more moderate and modest than I had thought because I completely missed the news about HRH Queen Elizabeth II's selection of John Cale to receive the Order of the British Empire (OBE) citation in her June 12th Birthday List Honors announcements. 

Awards like this are a turn-on to some, but a turn-off to others because, among other things, they focus our attention on the institution of monarchy, which for many people (and certainly for  Americans) is a legitimate source of objection and vexation.   Still, it’s very nice to see John Cale recognized in this way because his achievements are so impressive and the granting of the award, as he himself -- the composer of The Gift, Guts and Fear, among other disruptive classics, and a man who used to perform concerts wearing a menacing "Michael Meyers"-type hockey mask -- clearly recognizes, is so unexpected and incongruous.

I had actually been planning to post something about Cale’s song Graham Greene, from the 1973 Paris, 1919 lp, for some time, but had hesitated because I couldn’t find a good performance of the song on Youtube to include as a link.  I’ve always liked the song without getting under the surface of it or thinking there was much under the surface. Although enjoyable, it seemed like one of the slighter efforts on that great record.  Recently however, I’ve come to think that it paints an acute, multi-faceted, almost cubist picture of the author of Brighton Rock, A Gun For Sale and The End of The Affair (and recipient of the high royal honors, Order of Merit and Companion of Honour) and his Worlds, which is both impressive and augments beautifully the themes, embroidered language, imagery and music of Paris, 1919, one of the few rock albums written with an intention toward discerning history.

Like many Youtube devotees, I have come to expect too much from it at times.  I think that I should be able to instantly dial up live footage of artists I admire performing material I would like to to see, either because I’ve never seen it or I wish to relive it.   Unfortunately, that’s not always possible.   

Therefore, while I was able to content myself yesterday (not nearly a strong enough term of approbation) with some fantastic Pretty Things footage, Youtube is almost vacant of key John Cale solo career footage from the “amazing” performance years of 1975-1979.   During that time I saw Cale on many occasions in and around New York City performing a range of material extending from his Velvet Underground days to his then-most recent record Helen of Troy. There simply wasn’t anyone like him (with the possible exceptions of Iggy Pop, Television and The Ramones, each of them originals but, I would say, John Cale disciples all) for bringing total commitment to live performance.  

This period also coincided with Cale’s stripping away most of the “literary” and musically "arty" references from his work (both of which had formed part of his artistic toolkit since his debut solo album, Vintage Violence) and choosing instead starkly to confront humanity face-to-face in the trilogy of records that includes Fear, Slow Dazzle and Helen of Troy, his best album. 

What I most wanted to find on Youtube were performances of the song Helen Of Troy (Cale's unforgettable, gripping set opener) and Leaving It Up To You, the explosive rumination on the implications and consequences of passivity that  got Cale into so much trouble that Island Records even excised it from the Helen of Troy album for a period until the advent of the CD with its acres of available space compared to the vinyl lp and the song's "banned in Boston" reputation caused them to restore it.  Cale's crazed performances of Leaving It Up To You definitely caused some people to believe that he was actually crazy, that it wasn't a performance.  I can personally say that they changed my life and perspective on things.

Instead, Youtube presents Cale’s solo career mostly as a series of pleasant, well-performed, but less intense clips, mirroring the less full-blooded music he eventually settled into making as the 1980s progressed and he himself settled down considerably in his personal life.  A notable exception is the marvelous Dead Or Alive from the 1981’s Honi Soit lp, which can be heard here. It's a beautiful and unique piece of music and lyric that also might change your life and your impression about what "pop" music can achieve.

This decline (or possibly simply a shift of focus) to other types of material and performances is of no great importance.  What John Cale accomplished during his "punk" period, i.e., the period when the younger punk and the "new wave" bands were in their ascendancy, was extraordinary and it’s great that he is still alive, healthy, musically active and here with us to receive his OBE honors from Her Majesty. 

The lyrics to Graham Greene follow.  It’s a sprightly, sardonic, slightly sinister song that hints, I think, at the dark, deeply pained heart and view of humanity that Greene carried inside him and described so well in the character descriptions and incidents in his novels.  It is even evident in some of his apparently lighter works like Our Man In Havana


Graham Greene

You’re having tea with Graham Greene
in a colored costume of your choice.
And you’ll be held in high esteem,
if you’re seen in between.
Stiffly holding umbrellas,
catching the fellows, making the toast,
to the civil servant Carruthers
making the others worser than most.

You’re making small talk now with the Queen
and the elegant ladies in waiting.
You’re very nervous, they can all tell,
pretty well they can tell.
So save yourselves for the hounds of hell,
they can have you all to themselves.
Since the fashion now is to give away
all the things you love so well.

Welcome back to Chipping Sodbury,
you can have another chance.
It must all seem like second nature,
chopping down the people where they stand.

According to the latest score
Mr. Enoch Powell is falling star.
So in future please bear in mind,
don’t see clear, don’t see far.
When the average social director
mistook a passenger for the conductor,
it’s so shocking see the old Church of E
looking down on you and me.

So, welcome back to Chipping Sodbury,
you can have another chance.
It must all seem like second nature,
chopping down the people where they stand.

In my continuing efforts to ferret out cocktails named for celebrities, I have included below a recipe for the Graham Greene Cocktail, as served at the Sofitel Grande Metropole in Hanoi, the successor establishment to the hotel Greene himself frequented during the 1950s and the gestation of The Quiet American.  (Readers of that book will recognize the drink, which looks quite good.)

Graham Greene Cocktail

Ingredients for 1 Cocktail
• 2 Ounces gin
• 1/2 Ounce dry vermouth
• Splash of creme de cassis

1. Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass.
2. Add ice, stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Note:  A suggested variation is to reverse the amounts of dry vermouth and gin.

The wall plaque pictured below is from the legendary Oloffson’s Hotel in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, signifying that the peripatetic “Graham Greene Slept Here”. Similar signs are posted in legendary hostelries throughout the Greene's literary world, which was a source of pain to Greene's fascinating and long suffering wife, Vivian. Greene was a talented, but difficult and contradictory person.  His own works, letters, and the accounts of him written by others all make this extremely clear. 


One further noteJoining John Cale in this June's rock and roll Honors section is Graham Nash, erstwhile key member of Manchester's marvelous Hollies.  For that signal achievement alone, Graham can be forgiven a lot, including most of Crosby, Stills & Nash.  Congratulations, Graham.