Sharing stuff I've learned, and things I've thought about...

World War I

For those born after WWII, that war seems to dominate our view of 20th century history. It was only after I read some scholar’s comment that the collapse of the Soviet Union and the eastern bloc from 1989-1990 was the final echo of World War I, did I begin to study WWI in earnest. What spurred my interest still further was the realization that the map of Europe after the collapse of the Soviet bloc is almost identical to that of Europe prior to WWI!

If you look at the world depicted in James Cameron’s Titanic, you get a glimpse of the world prior to WWI – a world in which monarchies and the aristocracy still exerted significant influence; every nation with the exception of France initially involved in the conflict were either absolute or constitutional monarchies. The world was so drastically changed as a consequence of WWI that I believe future historians might identify WWI as the significant geo-political event of the 20th century. Not only did it put paid to hereditary monarchies and aristocracy, but it further entrenched the concept of modern “total war” which has been the pattern of warfare ever since, including the activities of current global and local terrorist organizations. (Commander of the WWI German Zeppelin Corps, Peter Strasser stated “We who strike the enemy where his heart beats have been slandered as ‘baby killers’ … Nowadays, there is no such animal as a noncombatant. Modern warfare is total warfare”)

In literature, Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August is a must-read. However there are two excellent and highly complementary documentaries readily available that have helped to fill in the blanks in my knowledge of WWI.

The first is a 10-part 2003 series, The First World War produced by the BBC and based on the book by Oxford professor Hew Strachan. This series does an excellent job of portraying the truly global nature of the conflict, rather than concentrating on the trench warfare in Europe.

The second series is World War I – The Great War, a 26-episode 1964 joint production of the Imperial War Museum, the BBC, and the Canadian and Australian Broadcasting Corporations. This production bears more than a passing resemblance to the 25-part BBC documentary The World At War, in no small part because it was made when many WWI participants were still alive and could provide first-person eyewitness accounts of the events of the war. In addition this series gives great emphasis on the public attitudes and the social and economic forces of the combatants that all played a part in the conflict.

Both documentary series are available in their entirety on YouTube.

Musical treat 1 of 2 (Underworld)

I hope to have two special musical treats for you, and I was hard-pressed to decide which I wanted to pass on first! I decided to present them following “age before beauty” principle.

Normally I post videos primarily just to present the music. However, for these two artists, the videos play a role completely coequal with the music.

Underworld

I’ve been listening to Underworld for at least 15 years and have four of their albums. They’ve clearly taken their place as my favorite techno act, at least among those that I’ve been listening to long enough to verify their ability to remain exciting after many repeated listenings. There are a lot of techno artists that I listen to regularly and enjoy, but Underworld has been amazingly consistent in the quality of their music, and have a distinctive sound that is easy to pick up even when hearing a piece that may be unfamiliar.

Both of the videos below are live performances, which I always find fascinating with techno artists. Until I searched out these videos, I had no idea that these guys put on such exciting live shows. As a result, I’ve put myself on their mailing list so if they ever come anywhere near Detroit on a tour, I’ll know about it and might have a chance to see them live. Both videos are performances of signature compositions that probably get done at every concert. The first video (Two Months Off) presents things a bit more from an on-stage viewpoint. The second (Born Slippy.NUXX) seems to be more representative of what it would be like to be in the audience! Its also much more dramatic, and I’m willing to bet that if you were in the audience, that insistent drum track can probably be felt right through your entire body – a tremendously high-energy performance!

If you aren’t tired of these guys after these two clips (about 20 minutes total) click here for a bonus.

Best ribs ever!

Marcy got me a cook book for my birthday this year, and I’ve been cooking up something from this book at least once (sometimes two or three times!) a week since I got it. I haven’t had so much fun cooking in years, and that’s saying a lot.

The book is “Pok, Pok” by Andy Ricker. Andy has traveled, eaten and cooked throughout Thailand which inspired his chain of “Pok, Pok” restaurants in Portland, OR, all of which inspired this cookbook. So far I have found all the recipes excellent, and not difficult once you find a good Asian market from which to source the ingredients. I can tell you that you will NOT have 90% of the ingredients required in your pantry, and building out that pantry is one of the first things you have to start to do along with acquiring some new kitchen utensils. The good news is that none of the stuff is expensive (the rice cooker I bought from Amazon at $30 is the most expensive item I’ve bought so far). I now have an entire rack of specialized sauces in my basement refrigerator – two kinds of soy sauce, two kinds of fish sauce, oyster sauce and “seasoning” sauce. I also have such exotic things lurking in my refrigerator as lemongrass, green papaya, dried shrimp and red and green Thai chilis, and have things like palm sugar, toasted rice powder and dried Thai chiles in the pantry!

I love pork, and in particular the best cut of pork for my money is ribs. I have finally gotten my summertime rib cooking down to a science and can turn out three or four beautiful racks on my backyard grill which I’ve learned how to use as a smoker.

However, last weekend I tried Andy’s recipe for Thai ribs. No doubt these would have come out even better done on the backyard smoker (he recommends using a charcoal-fired grill), but the weekend temps were in the upper 20’s and it snowed all day, so I was not going to fire up the grill, opting instead to use Andy’s instructions for doing these in the oven.

I’ve done a lot of recipes over the years, and most of them turn out pretty good right out of the gate. However, anyone who has seen my recipe file will know that I always seem to want to do something differently, whether in terms of ingredients or technique. Not this time, sports fans…

I gotta tell you – Best! Fucking! Ribs! Ever!

Marcy and I ate two ribs with Andy’s grilled-meat dipping sauce, a scoop of stir-fried brussels sprouts, a mound of sticky rice (recipes for both also from Andy’s book) and we agreed that we’d just eaten a meal that we would not have complained about had we plunked down $100 for it in a restaurant. Of course, I think we each tucked away a couple more of those ribs before we were done!!

The ribs were first marinated and then glazed during the last hour of cooking with a mixture of honey, ginger, sesame oil and Thai thin soy sauce. The dipping sauce, which starts with lime juice, and includes crushed lemongrass, Thai fish sauce, palm sugar, cilantro, toasted rice powder and powdered freshly-toasted dried Thai chilis was a perfect tart/spicy complement to the sweet/salty glaze on the perfectly done (tender but chewy) ribs.

I’m hoping that as I get more comfortable with the ingredients and techniques that I can start making these dishes without devoting an entire afternoon to making this stuff.

If you have fun cooking, you have to pick up Andy’s book and give some of this stuff a try. One warning though – when he tells you how many chilis to add to the recipe, remember this is a guy who has probably spent years in Thailand, and I’m sure his palate is more attuned to them than ours are. I routinely cut the quantity in half to suit MY tastes, and I like it hot!