Friday, November 28, 2008

Goodreads: His Majesty's Dragon

His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire, Book 1) His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Although I enjoyed the book, I don't think I'll be picking up the sequels, at least not right away. I did enjoy the juxtaposition of dragon-aviators with the Napoleonic Wars, but the writing isn't all that inspiring and the plot didn't hold any surprises for me. Maybe I'll just stick to Sharpe's and Hornblower for my Napoleonic fiction and D&D for my Draconic inspiration.

View all my reviews.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Politics and Religion

Oh man. Politics and Religion. The two things you should never ever talk about with people you hardly know. And yet here I am, ready to spill some thoughts on both together. Right now I barely have any contact with US News at just about anything less than the presidential election level. So unless I go looking for it (I don't), I end up hearing most of what's going on in America from friends' blogs, Facebook statuses, Google Reader Shared Items, and the like. And so it is with some trepidation and not a little ignorance that I take an outsider's perspective on the recent events surrounding Proposition 8 in California, and the role of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the passing of that proposition during this last electoral cycle. In case you don't know me that well, I pertain to that Church.

First a logical exercise:
- The Proposition passed because a majority of California voters passed for it
- Mormons in California do not make up a majority. Or even 5% of the population
- Therefore "The Mormons" didn't make up the deciding vote to make this resolution pass. It was passed by the electorate.

So there's that. However I do gather that the Church was part of a coalition of churches whose public relations campaign may have changed the minds of many other voters. This has, again I gather, caused considerable ire on the part of those who would have preferred that the Proposition go the other way. I have heard tales of people spitting on old ladies on their way to worship, mailing white powder to temples, and have heard about protest signs with slogans like "Help! There's a Mormon in my bedroom!". Of course this kind of negative attention is hurtful, and of course those providing the attention feel that they have been hurt by the Church's stance on the matter. Many had hoped to have their relationships recognized legally as marriages, and those hopes have been at a minimum postponed indefinitely, and at maximum dashed entirely. The way a particular sign makes me cringe simply does not compare. Much has already been said about who is being 'tolerable' and who is not, with accusations flying from both sides, and I see no need to rehash that here (nor will I 'tolerate' it in the comments, should there be any). Like it or not, both sides of the discussion are 'persecuted minorities', the one being denied rights and the other being a scapegoat for the electorate and a 'legal' target for any amount of mockery.

In fact, the whole business is a little surreal, as far from it as I am. The weekend before Election Day, I was at the wedding of a friend, where after the ceremony was finished I spent most of the evening catching up with and having ponderous conversations with a woman who I consider a dear friend, and who happens to be gay. The same weekend I made the acquaintance of a man who I knew immediately that I valued both for his calming Quaker ways and for his quick wit. He happens to be gay, which I suspected but was never mentioned, but he knew almost from the start about my religious convictions. I wonder what subtext there may have been in our interaction that weekend that I was entirely oblivious to. None, I hope. Anyway, that's by way of saying that on my last visit to America, far more time was spent in conversation with gay friends than was spent at church. So part of the internal discussion I've been having as I hear bits and pieces related to this Proposition and its effects has to do with them, and I must admit the possibility that our friendship may be affected, though I hope not.

I do not represent the Church and do not speak for it except as an individual. But from what I percieve, the Church's stance on the issue has nothing at all to do with trying to ruin people's lives or even tell them how to live them. The Church's position has nothing to do with trying to establish laws that govern people's sexual lives, as I see it. It has everything to do with self-preservation, by which I mean that it looks to me as though the Church's concern is that if the State's definition of marriage includes homosexual relationships, there will be a legal precedent for forcing the Church to perform or recognize these marriages, which would be counter to its principles. The doctrine of the Church holds that "the man is not without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord", and the freedom to act according to this belief (for example, by refusing to perform marriages in the Church or in the Temple for homosexual couples) would be threatened if the State were to recognize and then require religions to recognize an expanded definition of marriage. As I say, I haven't been reading news reports about this, so I don't know how well-covered or how neglected this idea is. I don't even really have any idea as to its truth. But putting myself in the position of the Church, there aren't many reasons to get heavily involved in a potentially unpopular political campaign unless you have something to gain or something to defend from it. I can see nothing at all that the Church stands to gain from its vocalness on the subject. Therefore, in my incomplete logic, it must be defending something. While "the institution of marriage" or "the definition of marriage" are fine things, what the Church has to defend in the matter are its own rights to practice religion as it sees fit. Whether or not you agree that such a thing needs defending in such a manner, my analysis is that is what those who govern Church policy think is at stake.

In many ways I'm glad to be far from the issue. It is a complicated issue, one I can see both sides of and feel empathy for both. I do believe I will stay here while I see how it all plays out. Comment if you will (in fact, please do), but respect those whose convictions do not match your own.

Monday, November 10, 2008

T'beet, or not T'beet; that is the question.

Years ago, when I had time to read lots of cooking blogs, I came across a recipe unlike any I'd seen before. Going back and finding the original entry, I discover this was now more than 4 years ago - every once in a while I'd think about making this, but I never got around to it. This week I bought a chicken with the express purpose of trying it, and MAN was it good. If it sounds good to you, don't wait 4 years like I did before making it. All the ingredients are easy to get, and its a fairly simple recipe, though it does take some planning and a bit of specialized hardware. Some background:

This is T'beet, the traditional Sabbath lunch of Iraqi Jews. Jews are forbidden by religious law from kindling or extinguishing a flame on Saturday, the Jewish day of rest. Accordingly, any meal to be eaten hot on the Sabbath must be set on a fire before sundown the night before. The Jews of Europe have accomodated this imperative with cholent: a slow-cooked stew of meat, beans, and vegetables, which I find utterly revolting. My ancestors relied instead on the middle-eastern staple of rice in composing their Sabbath lunch: a stuffed chicken stewed in tomato sauce and spices and baked into a cake of aromatic basmati rice. After twelve or more hours of cooking, the rice forms a hard, delicious crust on the outside, while the rice surrounding the chicken becomes irresistably tender and absorbs all the flavors in the pot. A rice stuffing within the chicken is the most intense of all: it is heavily spiced and absorbs all the juices of the chicken as it cooks.

As you can see in the above image of T'beet deconstructed, you can have your rice three ways. The rice to the left of the chicken has hardened into a crunchy, nutty shell. At top right, you can see the pillowy rice that surrounds the chicken. At bottom right is the intensely flavored rice from the stuffing. Incidentally, a chicken cooked in this manner emerges from the oven tender enough to cut with a spoon.

Here follows my adaptation:

Recipe: T'beet
Total time to make: about 15 hours. Feeds at least 6.


* 1 whole chicken
* 4 tbsp olive oil
* 1 small-med onion, diced
* 1 plum tomato, diced
* 1 29-oz. can crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce
* Iraqi Jewish five-spice powder, or Dave's Experimental Mexican 5-Spice Powder (see below)
* water
* salt and pepper
* 4 cups basmati rice

Iraqi-Jewish Five Spice Powder:
*2 tsp each of ground cardamom, ground cloves, allspice, cinnamon, and turmeric

Dave's Experimental Mexican 5-Spice (untried, but I think it'd be good)
* 2 tsp each of cumin, chili powder or ground chipotle, coriander, garlic powder, and cinnamon. Plus you'll want some jalapenos, black beans, and corn to add to the rice.

* 5 1/2 Quart Nonstick Oven-Safe or Enameled Dutch Oven
* Medium mixing bowl or plastic ziploc to make the 5-spice in
* Tongs for turning chicken during browning
* Big plate, bigger than the top of your Dutch Oven
* Wooden or non-stick-safe spatula, not flimsy

0) Invite some guests over for lunch on the weekend, unless you need lots of leftovers or have a large family. Do this Thursday.

1) The night before you want to eat this, start by making the 5-spice powder of your choosing. Make a stuffing for the chicken from the diced onion and tomato, 3/4 cup of the rice, 3 tsp of the 5-spice, 1/2 tsp salt, and ~2 Tbsp of the tomato sauce. If your chicken came with giblets, you can dice and include the heart and gizzard (not the liver). Mix in a bowl or ziploc bag and refrigerate.

2) Adjust oven rack to lower shelf. Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 125 Celsius. Rinse the chicken inside and out and pat dry with a paper towel. Salt and pepper the outside of the chicken generously. Place the dutch oven over medium-high heat on the stove and heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the chicken, breast side up, and brown on each side until golden brown, rotating with tongs every 3-4 minutes. When all sides have been browned, remove the dutch oven from heat and stuff the chicken loosely with the stuffing. It's OK if there's leftover, no need to cram it all in.

3) Put the chicken back in the dutch oven, breast side down, and return to heat. Add the rest of the tomato sauce, and add water to about 3 inches below the top of the pot. Add the rest of the 5-spice and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

4) Add the remaining rice and any leftover stuffing to the pot, pouring around the sides of the chicken so it doesn't pile up on top. If making the apocryphal Mexican variation, reduce the rice by a cup and add a can of corn, a can of black beans, and some chopped jalapenos and cilantro. Stir in the rice gently to even it out. Place the cover on the dutch oven and put it in the oven. Bake for about 14 hours or so, timing it so it'll be ready as lunch the next day.

5) Bask in the glorious baking aromas all night. In the morning, be sure to go out of your house for some reason for a few minutes so you can smell it all again when you come back in. When it's ready, pull the T'beet out of the oven and rest it on the stovetop for about 10 minutes with the cover removed. Put your big plate over top of it and invert T'beet onto the plate. With luck, most of it, including the delicious outside crusty rice, will go smoothly onto your plate. If not, use your wooden scraper or spatula to get the rest. You may want a second plate on the dinner table anyway for people to put bones on, so for now you can put the rice left in the pot there. Hopefully it looks kinda like this:

6) Serve to your family and guests. You will be able to cut the chicken with a serving spoon. Make sure everyone gets some chicken, and each of the three types of rice: exterior crust, middle rice, and stuffing rice from inside the chicken. Devour.