Monday, August 25, 2014

I Love Garlic!

Yes I do! I love garlic. It's aromatic and enhances my meals like no other ingredient. This tiny inch long vegetable completely changes the flavor of many of my favorite dishes. It can be the most distinct seasoning in a dish when you use it, or it can play in the background to other ingredients and give that perfect touch of YUM that you need to impress your dinner guests. But choosing good garlic that has a round and beautiful taste can make or break your dish.



Garlic is the reason why I can use almost no salt in my cooking. It is the perfect "distraction" that both adds to the flavor of a dish, and enhances the taste of your ingredients. But again, using lower quality garlic can overwhelm your dish with just pure heat or fall short of flavoring the dish at all. And so to truly appreciate garlic dishes, you need to choose your garlic wisely.

Now I'm no expert on garlic. There are lots of sources on the wonderful medicinal and culinary advantages to using garlic. But this little piece of produce is so important to me that I would be willing to pursue it further if I am able. And a fire has been lit under my butt. I want to know more and be involved. I've pulled out a $7 garlic bulb I bought 3 years ago and plan to use it in my first home garlic plantation. I'm excited! (And yes, it has kept for that long in the refrigerator!) The more I read about the production of garlic and the sources of garlic in North America, the most motivated I get to grow it myself.

I have recently made the decision to boycott the little garlic bulbs that are most prevalent throughout North America. Those inferior bulk produced bulbs are the ones imported from China who account for 77% of the world's garlic supply. The next two highest grossing are India at 4.1% and then South Korea at 2%.

"So what?" you may ask. So what if the quality of garlic is far inferior and is created in bulk? It's cheap and not everyone has the money to spend on high end garlic bulbs from local farmers.

Consider this: Since around 1994 (20 years ago), China has been investigated for their violation of international anti-dumping laws with their garlic export. "Dumping" is when a country sells their product in another country at below cost of what they would sell it in their own country, or below production costs in order to take over a market share in the country they are exporting to. This is exactly what the Chinese garlic growers did about 20 years ago when they discovered a market for garlic in North America. This has led countries to introduce high tariffs on the import of garlic from China.

In Canada, the anti-dumping duty is around 375%. In the US, it's higher. But this is not stopping the Chinese companies. They have found ways to circumvent the tariff to continue to export their garlic to the North American market. For example, in the US, because the tariff is more lenient on new companies, the Chinese garlic export companies simply close down the company once they have exhausted this option and are discovered to purposely be avoiding paying duty, and then simply open a new company and start over again. US customs simply cannot keep up fast enough to put a stop to it.

So let's see.
(1) The quality of Chinese garlic is far below standard and doesn't enhance my dishes they way good garlic does and should do.
(2) This Chinese garlic which is the most widely available brand in North America (and worldwide) is here with a stranglehold on the world-wide market because of a violation of international law by Chinese garlic companies for the last 20 years.

Yup that settles it. I either grow my own garlic, or I buy locally.

And by the way, in case you weren't aware of this: a good bulb of garlic can last you the entire year. There's no need to buy it every week or two. It's not supposed to go rotten so fast. I suspect the fact that these low-quality garlic bulbs from China are unable to sustain itself over even a couple weeks is another way to keep you dishing out your money to buy more and more. Does this sound like cost-savings? I think not.

For more information about the garlic industry, watch their episode on garlic in Deconstructing Dinner. Or listen to their podcast.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Librevox Project

I have lately indulged myself in the art of audio books. I call it an art because the reading aloud requires takes an artistic point of view to do it well. The pace, the inflections, voice tamber, volume, and yes, even linguistic accents -- these are only a few of the many aspects of what makes a good recording.

Librevox.org Home Page


Started in August 2005 by Hugh McGuire of Montreal, Canada, Libravox.org has a vision: "To make all books in the public domain available, for free, in audio format on the internet:" And here it is nine years later, and the list is so large that it is almost impossible to search for a book in the public domain and not get a result. The website is simple and well-organized which makes it easy to navigate. Virtually every book imaginable that has come into public domain is available here. And with author's names being added to the public domain list every year, the options keep growing. I suspect with C.S. Lewis coming into public domain this year in Canada, it is just a matter of time before I see his writings being to appear on the site. Same goes for Beatrix Potter and Robert Frost.


I think the beauty of this website, however, is the myriad of voices you hear from all over the world. This is not just a site for avid audio book listeners, but for those who would be interested in "publishing" the oral reading of their favorite book. This is without remuneration or marketing. This is simply for the pure pleasure of reading a book aloud for someone else to enjoy. And for the listener, most of the popular books have more than one version to suit your taste.

Having a worldwide platform means that English is not the only spoken language available. Click on the "Language" tab and you will see a host of different languages. At a glance even languages like Urdu and Ancient Greek made the list! Imagine listening to Les Miserables by Victor Hugo in the original language. Okay well, if you don't speak and understand French, it might put you to sleep. But it's there for whenever you want to brush up on the language or just savor the sound of the writing in its original language.


Advertisement-free (except for self-promotion) and non-profit in nature, this project has something for everyone. Not everyone can read. But everyone has a language they use to communicate. And for those who love to narrate, there's even training and tips on how to contribute to the list. And if you can't imagine having to read an entire book aloud, there are collaborative projects available to get involved with. 

Some favorites:

A great mix of narration and wonderful British Accents for the speaking voices of the characters. This was my introduction to LibreVox.

If you're going to listen the Shakespeare, you can't beat listening to them with a British accent!

I couldn't help myself. I studied ancient Hebrew in grad school. I just had to hear the text read by a native speaker!

If you can't seem to decide on a book to listen to, try out the Librevox Podcast and follow along in the lastest audiobook offering. Currently running is a collaborative project of the book A Woman's Journey Around the World by Ida Laura Pfeiffer. They are currently on Chapter 30 out of 41 chapters.

Take a stroll through. Or if you have already discovered this wonderful project, and have some favorites of yours to share, send me a comment! You will save me from hours of sampling looking for that right reading that speaks as an artistic orator.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

McGill University Music and Mind Lectures

I stumbled across in iTunesU a series of public lectures given over the past several years by both faculty and guests at the Schulich School of Music at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. I've been listening to it all day today. I just couldn't stop.

Music and Mind Lecture Series, McGill University


I managed to get through the first 12 hours of lectures. Not all of them were stellar, but each of them were unique, presented by experts of the field, and contained live performances by the lecturers themselves. It was a musical delight for myself today.

Among my favorites so far are:

"The Secrets of Music Theory" by Nicole Biamonte
This is the one that kickstarted today's indulgence. If you know nothing about how to listen to music, this is a great one to listen to.

"Presence and Experience" by Shelley Stein-Sacks
Easily my favorite lecture. It's about how you establish your career as a musician, but the elements in it rung so close to home. He said what I've always felt about how I played music. I just didn't know that's what it took to make it something of a career. This guy knows how it works. Even if you don't plan a career in music, what he has to say will make you think.

"Voice of the Violin" by Mark Fewer
For the low-down on this beautiful instrument. But most wonderful is the jazz improvisation he does on the violin of a Dvorak piece. Beautiful performance.

"Success in Music, Success in Life: Reflections of the career path of a professional musician" by Jens Lindemann
Near the beginning, at minute 10:32, he has a performance of "What a Wonderful World" which brought tears to my eyes. He's an excellent presenter -- engaging and entertaining.

"How to Build an Opera" by Patrick Hansen
He's a great presenter and gives a real insight into the tremendous amount of work that is required of an opera singer, and an opera production. The real treat here though, is the student, Phillipe, and his amazing AMAZING voice. He demonstrates Hansen's lecture points with some stunning display of the Toreodor aria from the opera, Carmen. I've been left mesmerized. I looked forward to every time he went to sing. He does a full performance of the aria at the end of the lecture. And he does not disappoint.

I got as far as Anton's Kuerti's lecture on the late piano sonatas of Beethoven, but by that time, 12 hours of pure music lecture was about all I could take. So I'll probably start there tomorrow.

If you love classical and jazz music, you may find these enjoyable as I have.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Porto Vista Hotel in San Diego's Little Italy District

On a spontaneous "I-Need-To-Be-Anywhere-But-Here" trip to my brother's place in Irvine, California, I made myself a mini vacation to San Diego to get away from it all. Online, I booked a couple week nights in Porto Vista Hotel. Last time I visited San Diego was during a massive convention with no time to visit elsewhere in the city (unless I wanted to pay a transport/tour fee). Little Italy was one of the places I wanted to see, which is why I decided on this hotel.



Porto Vista Hotel is located one block east of India Street, the main street for the heart of Little Italy. Booking through Orbitz, the hotel has a 3-star reviewer rating and came with a nice price for my Thursday-to-Saturday getaway.


At the moment, I'm writing this blog post the morning after the first night of sleep, and while I can comment on how nice my sleep was, the truth is that I've been sleeping in my brother's tiny one-bedroom apartment on a very old and saggy futon sofa. After 4 nights of kinks in the neck and waking up every 2 hours, any "real" bed looks inviting (no criticism on my brother -- he had no idea I was coming down). The moment I walked into room 503 assigned to me, I plopped myself on the king-size bed and took a nice long nap like I hadn't slept for a week, which is not so far from the truth. It's a very comfortable bed with a soft mattress topper and surrounded by lots of pillows.

I got to observe the room more closely after I finished my catch-up sleep. Every room comes with a wall-sized retro California gal black and white photo mural... a nice artistic touch though a little bizarre when you wake up to a big face on the wall. However it does give me ideas about a having a mural back home at the house as another alternative to buying wall hangings.


The TV is pretty small and has the basic channels. I noticed no bonus movie packages which is fine for me since I barely spend anytime with a TV when I get a hotel room. But it may be a disappointment to other guests. I haven't ventured the fitness gym yet or their restaurant since my first call upon arrival (after the nap) was to have pasta in one of the world-class eateries in San Diego's Little Italy. (And trust me it did not disappoint!)

The bathroom is spacious... so much so that it is almost a waste of room. But when you are using it, it feels great!! I'm not a big fan of the toilet design with the flush button so far back that you either do a chicken fight with it hopping on one leg, or if you are more adventurous, can lean your head over towards the toilet bowl to press it with your fingers (yuck!). The toiletries are clearly meant to deter you from taking any home, though I'm sure many guests will still try. The ambiance is pleasant and has an updated old-world feel to it with the granite walls and flooring. I like it over the cramped porcelain decor you typically find in hotel bathrooms.

The bonuses in the room are wonderful. Free personal wireless internet for each room (they give you your wireless code upon check-in), a fridge, microwave, complimentary tea and coffee with the coffeemaker, iron and ironing board, hair dryer, inroom safe, lots and lots of room for unpacking your clothes and belongings, a work desk, pleasantly large sized mirrors, chair and ottoman, a small walk out balcony, and aesthetically pleasing wood furniture decor (I'm a bit of a sucker for the cherry wood color).



I tried the complimentary hot breakfast this morning, served daily from 6am-9am. That was an "interesting" surprise. All you can eat scrambled eggs, roasted potato bites, bacon, and sausage rounds, and a complimentary coffee, tea or water. Evidently missing is the juice (or fruit of any kind for that matter), breads, or sweets. If you want toast, its $3. They don't offer oatmeal or cereal, but I assume there's other paid options as well. So while it's nice to wake up to some hot food in the morning, and sit by wall-to-wall windows in a pleasantly chic dining room, I'm not sure this food is what will provide me with the nourishment I need to walk around sightseeing for the day. I'm headed to an Italian cafe tomorrow morning for some REAL breakfast!! (I say this while chomping on an apple I bought last night just in case breakfast didn't pan out... wise foresight on my part I would say.)

For the price I'm paying, which is around the same or less than Travelodge or Best Western, this is a far superior choice. But I feel like I'm in a 3-star hotel that attempts to provide some 4-star luxuries to compensate the absence of other standard hotel amenities (clearly for the purpose of saving maintenance costs).

Being surrounded by Little Italy definitely helps to overlook some of the downgrades and makes my stay worth it.

Now it's off to the world famous San Diego Zoo for the day.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Genius of Glenn Gould

I can hardly explain the utter facination I have of the artistry of Glenn Gould. Somehow, the interpretation hits me in my soul and changes me somehow when I hear him play Bach's Goldberg Variations. I suppose this is why it takes 32 short films to attempt to capture the many facets of his genius. I am so grateful that I am able to witness such an extraordinary mind. I found the film on YouTube and am so grateful since my old video tape is no longer of use to me.


 
 
To watch Glenn Gould in color perform Bach's Goldberg variations (and some short documentary prior), take a look at this: