And on the other hand...

Click here for The Yin Side where the other half of me holds forth!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Say Cheese!

I have been in vegetarian mode since the Chinese New Year, which also coincided with the beginning of Lent this season. When I was on my retreat last fall to Wudang (Hubei Province, China) studying Taoist meditation and qigong, the menu was vegetarian, and I learned some new simple approaches to stir-frying vegetables. The diet, along with the mountains illustrated in the blog title, and the mental state, was energizing and cleansing.

I always feel better when I forgo anything that walks on the same ground as I do, and took the new year and Lent as an excuse to get back on track with the veggies. (Thanksgiving and Christmas had caused me to backslide.) Now, while I might be able to content myself with stir-fried lotus root and a bit of tofu, Dear Wizard (husband) requires more substance in his diet. He says "okay" to a vegetarian long as I do all the cooking. His ability as a vegetarian cook is limited to ersatz meat products like gardenburgers and soy-based chicken nuggets.

Asian food has wonderful vegetarian approaches, and in addition to the simple Chinese methods I observed in Wudang, I am particularly enchanted with Indian vegetarian cooking A few years ago I went with some friends to the local Hare Krishna restaurant where I had to convince them that the white cubes in the spinach were NOT tofu but cheese, panir. Delighted to find panir, I asked one of the HKs if they sold it or where could I buy it. HK laughed and said,"Make it yourself, it's easy!"

So I acquired a wonderful Indian vegetarian cookbook, "Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking" by Yamuna Devi. Nearly 800 pages of wonderful things to do with vegetables and non-meat products...including milk. So my new hobby has become panir. It IS easy and for me a meditative stress reducer, calmly stirring hot milk until it comes to a boil -- the smell is quite comforting. Then add lemon juice and it magically curdles. Pour into a colander lined with cheesecloth (!), let it drain, wrap the curds up tight in a lump, sit something heavy on it for a couple or three hours, and voila, you have panir. Easy, but you must be patient and gentle. Don't scorch the milk or it will taste like you boiled it with a cigarette butt. Use a heavy-bottomed pan (mine is a large porcelain-clad cast iron Dutch oven that can do a gallon of milk at a time). You need half a cup of lemon juice to curdle the milk--you can use the kind that comes in plastic lemons, as fresh lemons seem to be quite expensive and you'll need to squeeze several if you are doing a large quantity.

Here's the funny part: to use the panir, you can cut it into cubes and then fry them ---in butter! (Well, ghee, which is clarified butter, favored in Indian cooking, but still, the irony.) It makes a nice chewy, meaty addition to your vegetable dish. Sort of like tofu. Search the web. I'm sure you can find a simple recipe.

I like things like this, ancient processes and techniques like growing vegetables, keeping bees, knitting sweaters, that connect you to times before we became all technological and economic and virtual with blogs and cell phones and cars where we listen to audio books. When you understand these things with your own hands, even if you never do them again, you have a greater appreciation for what you buy. Fresh vegetables, local honey, a handknit sweater. Cheese.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Intelligence and Going With the Flow

In a fit of boredom today while waiting for some process to execute, I took one of those free online pop-up IQ tests and found out nothing that I didn't already know. I'm literate, logical, spatially adept, but probably not so good at math. (Still, I'm smart enough to have rejected the $12.95 offer to get the extended test results and answers and membership, and to have navigated though the overwhelming special offers for coupons, deals, advice and cheap tickets without surrendering my email address.) Judging from the test questions, I'm not sure that intelligence has much to do with remembering formulae that involve hypotenuses, square roots and angles, and velocity, distance and time, things that I knew in high school and promptly forgot. I was confident about the language questions, the analogy questions, the what-does/doesn't-belong-in-this set questions. But I had to go to one of the math-oriented engineers I work with to get an understanding of a couple of those algebra problem questions. And I still need a calculator. Does intelligence involve an innate understanding of higher math? ( Interesting article, "Numbers Guy," in the March 3, 2008 New Yorker about this topic.)

Was it intelligence that told me it was soon time to join my freeway commute home? As I drove slowly along the airport underpass, I was cheered to see kolea (Pacific Golden Plovers) here and there in the grassy area off the starboard side. About this time of year, they are gathering energy for their annual commute to Alaska. Kolea are Hawaii's nondescript but charming plucky little territorial (in the sense that they return to the same backyards every year, not in the pre-statehood sense) birds who by the end of April all leave pretty much at once to fly 3000 miles to their breeding grounds, earning incredible frequent flyer credit with no discernible carbon footprint. They cruise at about the same speed I like to average on my commute (50-60 mph). I wonder if they just get in line and go with the flow, as I do on the freeway, observing their neighbors' bad flying habits, the state of their breeding plumage, being surprised by seeing someone they know in the next lane. And somehow they navigate the skies without instruments or calculations, like native Hawaiians navigating the Pacific ocean, going with the flow.

I don't know if this is intelligence, but it certainly gets the birds where they need to go. I couldn't manage it with a calculator, and I got a good score on the test!

Visit to learn more about these interesting birds.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Getting Started

And this is the other side of me, all light and expansive and positive and open. This is enthusiatic vegetarian cooking, studying new things like French, and Chinese calligraphy, and sunrises and driving with the top down to work in the morning.