Real Chiles Rellenos & Ersatz Sylvia Plath
Saturday, August 14, 2010
It was sometime around 7:45 on Saturday that Rebecca, Lauren, Rosemary, Hilary and our guest, Alec Globe
sat at the table. On the table we had a half bottle of ice-cold Listau Manzanilla Papirusa
which the urbane Globe and I would share. I had made a batch of my keep-you-awake-all-night iced tea (Russian Caravan tea, nutmeg, mint, cloves, orange, tangerine and lemon juice and sugar). There was Mexican rice, my mother’s hard-boiled egg, tomato and chopped onion salad and a dish that Rebecca had jointly cooked from scratch, Mexican chiles rellenos (stuffed Mexican chiles).
For years I had not enjoyed the ersatz Argentine version (oven baked) of stuffed (picadillo
or ground meat with chopped onions and sometimes, ugh, raisins) prepared by my mother.
The Mexican variety uses a delicately flavoured (but sometimes quite spicy) chiles poblanos. These chiles are a handsome and shiny dark green. The are longish and flattish as opposed to the tasteless bell peppers. It is astounding that a store that is opposite to Granville Island Tea Company has been selling these chiles for years!
I chose this recipe
. Rebecca was all excited.
Crucial to the process is the searing and blackening of the chiles on the barbecue (in Mexico the chiles are burned over a gas range) and then their placement in tightly covered plastic bags. This makes it easy to peel their tough skin.
Rebecca did that while I prepared the picadillo (without raisins). She also shredded some Monterey Jack. We made a batch of meat and a batch of cheese.
After Rebecca dipped the stuffed chiles in a batter of egg and flower she deep-fried them. It was here that we found out we had made a few mistakes. The slits for stuffing the chiles had been made too big so the stuffing would come out. Rebecca also used far too many toothpicks to keep them closed. Eating these chiles was perhaps as dangerous as eating a spiny fish.
But, but!.. when I cut with my fork one of the cheese ones, the taste was heavenly. We all dug into them and suffered the consequence of not removing the seeds or the whitish “nervios”. These chiles were hot. But the taste was worth the slight pain.
For dessert we had Rosemary’s special coffee flan. We retired to the living room where Rebecca spied a 100th anniversary edition (October 6, 1996) of the New York Times Book Review. Of the cover she said, “That looks like a dead ringer for Sylvia Plath.” It was the retired UBC professor Alec Globe (who taught bonehead English, Shakespeare, the classics (“but not Rome, I never liked the Romans,”) who gently pointed out that it was not Plath but Virginia Woolf. As far as I was concerned, any 12-year-old who knows of the existence of Sylvia Plath must be in some sort of exclusive minority.
Rosemary took the girls home who are all excited about their week-long vacation to Disneyland (ugh!) starting this Monday. Alec Globe lingered. We inspected books and talked about them. All in all it was a Saturday evening to savour and to remember.
Which makes me think about what new dish Rebecca and I will tackle next? Chiles en nogada? Mole Poblano?
Bits & Bites In My Shrinking World
Friday, August 13, 2010
As 2010 begins to wane (the perennials in the garden are beginning to look tired) I have come to the realization that I have had a blog for five years. Because of it I have had to keep up with the technology and like the characters in William Gibson’s steam punk The Difference Engine
I have picked the technology that suits me and rejected that which doesn’t.
For a while I even tried Twitter and rapidly lost interest in its overwhelming banality. I opened a facebook account under my mother’s maiden name and I was (almost) deluged by requests by artsy Barcelona and Madrid men who wanted to be my friends. When my granddaughter Rebecca opened her facebook account (to be monitored by her father) I sent her a few messages. She criticized me that my messages were too long/ When I pointed out to her (in a private message) that she had made a spelling error in a Spanish word she derided me for the criticism telling me that facebook was her escapism andshe did not need any finger wagging. In fact she told me that since I knew her email address I could send such messages to it.
But I countered that facebook (for as long as her current obsession with it lasts) is certainly the most direct method of communication. She is always playing outside when I call so facebook was a sure thing. But my granddaughter did the facebook version of not returning a call. I had sent her a private facebook message inviting her to a performance of Joe Trio at the East Vancouver Cultural Centre for today but I never did receive a reply. Perhaps she was afraid to reject my request. Still the silence was most eloquent.
I have never forgotten the account by a Mexican friend who was making out with an American girl back in the late 60s. It was not going too well. The American girl volunteered, “Try me with some Ahmad Jamal.”
In the same way when people I know ignore my emails or my phone messages I find it odd to receive a friendship request from them in facebook. Is it a sort of, “Try me on facebook?” Will it be different? Will it be more satisfying?
It was a few years ago that a longtime friend of mine shocked me with, “I don’t like phones. I don’t want to talk to you on the phone. After all, I read your blog and I know what you are doing most days.” My friend was at the cutting edge of the communication snafu that is taking our world by storm. Why talk to someone Dick Tracy style with Skype when you can send little messages by Twitter or facebook?
I try to find excuses to call up my friends. “Hi, this is Alex, I just got back from Texas.” “I know Alex, I just read your blog.” And communication stops there.
I long for the old type of phone call, “Hi Alex, it’s not important in the least. I just wanted to know how you have been doing. How is your garden?”
There are extremes. My daughter Hilary calls up my wife at least three times a day and some of the conversations last for at least an hour. “We had Sheppard’s pie today with a tomato salad. The girls then went to play outside. We packed and we are ready to go to California.” My wife just acknowledges at short intervals with, “Uh-huh.”
There was one friend I often had interesting conversations with. His name is Mark Budgen. He is a voracious reader of all the left-wing British media (The Guardian) and of literary on-line versions of The New Yorker or the Atlantic Monthly. He would send me: Mark Budgen saw this article in the Guardian and thinks you might find it interesting. They usually were, and I would then call h im up and we would discuss the merits of the story. Every once in a while we would connect at his house and he would serve me a gourmet lunch.
But Mark has gone to live to Oliver, B.C. and communication has ceased. He is busy adapting to a much bigger house and the problems of somehow telecommuting from there on his free-lance writing.
The feeling that my world is shrinking into Twitter bits and bites is beginning to overwhelm me while at the same time I am realizing that this blog is a touch of sanity. Perhaps I should get a life.
A Little Girl Summer
Thursday, August 12, 2010
I cannot conceive of a summer without little girls, particularly when the little girls in question happen to by my granddaughters. If anything it is because of these little girls (one no longer so little) that Rosemary and I are crunching numbers to see if we can stay in our present home and garden for a little while longer. Today is the girls’ parent’s wedding anniversary. Rebecca is sleeping over with a friend and Lauren is with us.
Today I began to tackle the yearly job I loathe, which is to prune the laurel hedge. When Lauren arrived she helped me pick up the cut leaves and branches. For dinner we had her favourite, tomato soup with lots of melted Gruyere and fresh buttered corn. For drink I mixed fresh blueberries with lemon yogurt in the blender. Lauren is now in her pijamas as I write this.
Perhaps I will read to her before she goes to sleep. Summer with little girls is a perfect one. On Monday the girls and the parents are off for a week’s vacation in California. Rosemary and I will miss them. But not before we enjoy their company this Saturday. Rebecca and I are going to try to make Mexican style Chiles Rellenos. I will go to Granville Island to buy the Chiles Poblanos with which to make them. We are having a guest for Saturday dinner, Alec Globe
The iPhone & My Kitchen Sink
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
This is the list of equipment I took to photograph Quilla in her bedroom today:
A. I Mamiya RB-PRO-SD with 50, 90, 140 and 250mm lenses. Two backs, one for Plus-X one for Ektachrome.
B. 2 Nikon FM-2s with 24, 35, 50 and 85 lenses. One Nikon was loaded with Kodak b+w Infrared Film the other with Plus-X.
C. One Dynalite pack and two heads. One small and one big softbox.
D. Two light stands and one heavy tripod.
C. One Minolta Flashmeter IV-F.
D. One iPhone 3G
The idea was to get some rumpled bed sheet pictures of voluptuous Quilla in her bedroom and continue in my series that began many years ago in one room of the Marble Arch Hotel. The series may have suddenly ended or perhaps (I suspect) shifted towards a different focus altogether. While at Quilla's I had this strange feeling of comfort but unease, that is was going to be easy but that it was going to be difficult. In the end I was troubled by the salient fact that shooting with the iPhone was easy as long as I understood its limitations. Notice the flaring at the bottom on Quilla's right arm. The light for all the pictures was from her bedtable lamp and the iPhone could not cope with the contrast from light to dark. Because I must correct the overly warming of the image by the tungsten lighting of the lamp it renders the flare an unsightly green!
In short I was on edge but feeling like I was on some virtual downer drug. I felt confused with so much equipment which I laid on the floor as if I were a surgical nurse placing scalpels and other surgery paraphernalia on the operating side table. I felt that it was too easy for my own. Good. I had few of those “Don’t move, let me take this picture,” kind of moments. All this while Quilla looked at me and I could not really look back. Had I been 30 years younger and unmarried, I would have and I would have gotten into trouble.
In the end I took a few pictures with both Nikons but took many more with the iPhone. Just the light from Quilla's bedside table seemed to be enough for the pictures. Some are blurred, but I like them anyway. Because of the low light the dark areas of the pictures have lots of little red grains which are commonly called noise. But I like them anyway. I have used Paintshop Pro 10 to vignette the pictures. I think that these will be soon followed by more which I will take the next time in which I plan to travel light.
The name of Quilla's cat is Caliban.
In Spite Of Those Pinkies
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
The podiatrist has diagnosed my right foot with plantar fasciitis and unless I have some orthotics made for it I will soon be walking with a cane. My dentist has informed me that unless I have a crown made for a back molar I will need a root canal and or lose the tooth. The health plan I am saddled with will pay for neither. Ultimately I must choose if I will look good in a cane as long as I keep my mouth shut.
The pain in my pinkies is excruciating and not only does my left elbow hurt most of the time (I broke it a couple of years ago) so does my right elbow. I feel that I am living in some sort of accelerated time very much like Bowman in 2001: a space odyssey
looking at himself and seeing a 100 year-old man.
But there are some good things to report. I am back from a holiday in which I worked for a magazine for a week. The magazine editor, the art director, the writer and the photographer were all me. I did not get a cent for it because as the publisher I could not pay myself for all the work done. The coffers are empty. Working for a magazine (even if this blog/magazine is my own) was an uplifting experience. It was thrilling to write and somehow have the pictures to illustrate what I was writing or conversely, it was fun to have pictures for which I could write something.
And tomorrow Wednesday sometime in the afternoon I will be taking pictures of an undraped Quilla with my iPhone (and just in case with my real film cameras). I am doing this for fun. Quilla has been one of the favourite models at Focal Point and every time she has entered the studio my students have been dumfounded. I have always felt frustrated that as the teacher I must watch my students take good photographs under my instruction. This frustration has led me to shoot some pictures with fast film in my Nikon FM-2s. I like my pictures but I feel hamstrung and frustrated. No more. Tomorrow I will have Quilla all to myself. I am going for the rumpled white sheet bed look. I am excited at the prospect of using my iPhone with a medium-sized soft box (it lowers the contrast and iPhones like that) and producing loose, off the cuff photographs as opposed to some of the staged portraits I may be known for.
Life, in spite of those pinkies isn’t all that bad.
Constantine The Great, HMS Rodney & My Friendly Framer
Monday, August 09, 2010
On the 27th of May of 1941 the Nelson Class British 16 inch gun battleship, HMS Rodney may have been the first ship to land a shell on the German battleship Bismarck. HMS Rodney
In the last couple of years I have had continuing problems in dealing with the Google-owned Blogger. I use the Blogger platform for my blog. In these two years I have become friends with the York (England) based computer software/language expert Noah Slater. He is a fan of my blog and when I posted that I had problems he would send me suggestions. When I finally ran out of options a few months ago and Blogger somehow eliminated from my files the first two weeks of each blog from my monthly archives, Slater came to the rescue and solved the problem of the missing blogs. He discovered that Blogger had unilaterally (when you are big you can afford to do this sort of thing) eliminated the monthly archives. By archiving my blogs in the messy looking weekly system all my blogs magically came back. Feeling that I owed Slater something for his help I asked him if there were anything he would want from me. Having good taste he said he wanted a signed copy of one of my favourite portraits of Rebecca, the one where she poses by the agave at the Queen Elizabeth Bloedel Conservatory. A fine giclée made by my friend Grant Simmons of DISC arrived in York safely. With this thank you Slater sent me three photographs he took of a statue that is prominent in York. Slater had never really stopped to notice so it was yours truly that told him that Constantine the Great, who brought christianity into the Roman empire had been born in English soil, in York.
Such was the quality of Grant Simmons’(bottom, left) giclée of Rebecca that I decided to have a copy made to replace the not so nice one that I display in my den. Monday I went to pick it up. From Grant Simmon’s DISC I went to my nearby framer Rodney Steere’s Final Touch Frames. I asked Bruce McAdam to open my frame and replace the old giclée with the new one.
As always happens when I go to Final Touch, Rodney and I had a conversation about politics, Carole Taylor (will she come back?) and his recent test of his family’s mitochondrial DNA. We talked about the first Eve and of recent books that he had read, A Mirror to Nature
by Peter Knudtson and The Last Human: A Guide to Twenty-Two Species of Extinct Humans
by G. J. Sawyer, Viktor Deak, Esteban Sarmiento, and Richard Milner. But it was in Julian Jaynes' The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
he had discovered that religion had begun with language.
At this point I said that perhaps we had become only human when we developed language and not before. From here I told him of my experience of talking with Brother Donald back in Austin, Brother Donald is a Pierre Teilhard de Chardin scholar and I had read Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man
back in 1966. I told Rodney that he should read this great book which reconciles Catholic Doctrine with evolution.
The every-which-way of our conversation brought me to assert my suspicion that what makes us human is our ability to find connection among disparate facts. I told Rodney that to rememember his name I have to associate it with with the Nelson-Class HMS Rodney and the only way I can ever remember Vancouver artist Rodney Graham (top, right) is to connect his name with my friend the framer and the battleship of the same name.
As I checked my facts for this blog I was dismayed to find out that Caesar Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus was not born in York but in Serbia. The facts are that Constantine the Great, in AD306, was hailed emperor in the Roman city of York, known as Eboracum. And my friend Noah Slater may have been simply too kind to point it out to me.
Admiral Lord George Rodney, First Baron Rodney 1719-1792, had an interesting connection with Canada as he was involved in the fight for supremacy between the French and the English. And Constantine's mother, Empress Helena brings to mind that other famous mother, Monica whose son was Augustine. There are all kinds of connections and associations to be discerned there. Ah, the joy of being human!
Making New Friends In Texas
Sunday, August 08, 2010
I (Class of 1961) met Mike O’Connell (Class of 1967) because Mike was putting up a web site for the now defunct St. Edward’s High School which had opened in the 19th century and closed just about when Mike graduated. He was researching Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. and he found my blog postings on my former religion teacher. We began to communicate via email and we found we had lots in common. His St. Ed’s website has become a useful tool in getting students (and in some cases their former sweethearts) together. The site is here
In last year’s all classes reunion we chatted briefly since we were both attached to our own classes. At the time Mike had had hip replacement surgery and he was not too mobile. But our emails continued and we found that we even had more things in common. When I told him that I was taking Rebecca this last July to Austin he suggested we meet. I told him we would be having barbecue with Brother Edwin at the County Line. I asked him if he would want to come. He told me that he would have to bring his wife. Since both my friends (Class of 1961) John Arnold and Howard Houston were bringing their Carolyn and Lynn I told him I did not see the problem. Then Mike added that if his wife would come then his children, Kristen and Stephen would have to come. Since Rebecca was coming along I told him this was fine. It was here that we realized that his Kristen was just 13 and going into the 8th grade and my Rebecca is 12, almost 13 and going into the 8th grade!
Seeing that Mike had invited his whole family to the barbecue I was bold, too and suggested that we spend a whole day together with the kids. After all in a parallel education there has to be some fun, too.
Mike with his son Stephen and daughter Kristen picked us up at St. Joseph’s Hall on Saturday, July 24. The first place we went to was a great ice cream legend in Austin called Amy’s. Next to the ice cream store there is a park with strange but wonderful life-size cow stone sculptures. After the kids played (while Mike and I connected on our experiences in school) we walked down to a lake. Before we could sit at a lakeside picnic table we had to shoo away some geese.
From there we picked up Mike’s wife Cathy and we all went to a Tex/Mex restaurant, the Iguana Grill which had a splendid view of Lake Travis. We took Cathy and Stephen home and that is when the day became serious business. We went to the Barton Creek Mall and dropped the two girls at Macy’s. Outside Macy’s in the mall there were some comfortable leather sofas in which Mike and I sat down to chat about digital cameras. After over an hour, by then the mall was closing, the girls appeared and Rebecca had spent all her pocket money on Keds and stuff. We in the front row just smiled as the girls in the back talked about young celebrities we old fogies had really never heard of (except of course for Jen as we knew who she was). They discussed all the wonderful qualities of Justin Bieber. Earlier in the day Stephen had been our designated hired gun who would say such things as, "Why would anybody like someone who sings like a gir?" Whereupon the girls would say, "Anybody who looks like Justin can sing in anyway they want." We kept our mouths shut and the arguments in the went back and forth.
Both Mike and I hope that Rebecca and Kristen might just connect and inneciate a long distance friendship that could be cemented with mutual visits to Austin and Vancouver.
The day had begun with Rebecca and I going to the State Capital. Brother Edwin dropped us off in the Toyota Matrix and we returned via the South Congress Avenue bus. From the Capitol we went for Shirley Temples at the Driskill Hotel Bar and Grill. The big bar was closed as it was 10:30 in the morning.
At the bar a man in faded jeans and bright blue shirt and a cowboy hat sat down next to Rebecca and ordered a Scotch and soday. He opened a copy of the New York Times. On his left wrist he wore a Rolex and on his hand several large gold rings with large diamonds. On his right wrist he would have given Liberace a run for his candelabra.
I could not resist so I asked him, “Sir, have they recently changed the drinking laws in Texas that you are able to have a drink before noon?” He looked at me with a gentle smile and with a Texas drawl told me that in this bar as long as he ordered food he could drink at any time in the morning. Since I saw no food anywhere near him I decided to drop the matter but I asked him if he were a rancher. “I own several ranches in Texas and one in Wyoming. In the 1970s I owned this here hotel for three years.” I decided to pursue the matter of goading the man so I asked him, “I thought that the Texas folks were conservative and here I see you reading the New York Times.” The barman came to the gentleman’s defence. “Here in Austin we are liberal not like those who might live in San Antonio.” At that point the former owner of the Driskill Hotel said, “This paper does not even have the baseball scores. Who won the game?” The barman (who must have known the man quite well, went off and came back, “The Rangers won, one nothing.” The rancher looked at us and said, “Now, that’s a ball game”
We left but not after the rancher insisted that the barman wrap and carefully put Rebecca’s unfinished turkey sandwich in a box. I decided not to tell the former owner of the Driskell that it had been a prom from St. Ed’s High School that had finally broken the colour barrier policy of the hotel in the 60s. It seems that when the hotel had found out that there were several “coloured” boys in the graduating class they informed the school that the prom could not be held at the hotel. The Roman Catholic Bishop called the general manager and that was that.
Back at St. Ed's I took Rebecca to visit the Old Main. She told me she had already seen it two years before. I took her anyway and made her run up the iron stairs that I had run up as a boy. This time around I walked up. And when I went to my room at St. Joseph's Hall I saw the view from my window and it seemed that it was 1957 all over again and nothing had changed. The presence of Rebecca seemed to bring me back to the reality that I was an old man.