Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Praying for Democracy

In the late 1970s there was a Lee Oskar album that the Iranian college students attending the UW in Seattle played constantly. Although Oskar is Danish, the first three cuts on the 1976 album titled simply Lee Oskar were haunting instrumentals, each titled Remembering Home that told a story of the sadness of leaving and remembering home that struck a chord with young Iranians far from home and witnessing revolutionary change from half a world away. Iranian culture is given to succumbing to sorrow and given their history and religion it is not surprising.

Many young Iranians who left Iran to attend school in the United States watched the Iranian revolution with a mixture of hope and horror. Some returned to Iran to be a part of the revolution while many stayed in the United States, forming what has become a not insubstantial segment of American society in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles. I would post the cuts from the Lee Oskar album were I techier or if one of them were available on YouTube.

Once again ex-pat Iranians are watching the television, supplemented by the computer and Twitter to see if this new surge of democratic dream becomes realized in Iran. It is difficult to know where the current protest movement in Iran will lead or how long the Iranian people will have to wait to enjoy a freer and open society. I am sure that many of them have dusted off Lee Oskar either literally or mentally.

Another interesting blog to follow is Regime Change in Iran where articles and pictures from all over can be read. There are so many facets to the Iranian people from those who would like to see a return of the monarchy to a truly democratic, secular government where freedom can be honored along with religion.

If nothing else comes of the current protest movement in Iran, the current government has been put on notice that the overwhelming majority of Iranians want democracy. I hope that the lives that have been given or imprisoned in the quest for change will not have been given in vain.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Ghormeh Sabzi and the Kale Problem

My mother hates kale; hence I wasn’t raised eating it. “I love all vegetables,” she’s told me a thousand times, “except for kale. I hate kale.” So when some dull green leafy greens showed up in our Terra Organics box, the box of local organic produce that is delivered to our home twice a month, I had no clue what it was. Fortunately they enclose a list of what you’ve got. Oh no, not kale!

Being the spend thrift that I am I wasn’t going to let this stuff sit in the refrigerator and turn into a science experiment. I went for a culinary experiment instead. How to prepare the kale? I didn’t like the look of recipes I found on the Internet. Then I remembered one of my favorite Persian dishes, Gormeh Sabzi and reached for one of my favorite cookbooks, Maideh Mazda’s In a Persian Kitchen. The result was wonderful! I simply replaced the spinach or lettuce called for in the recipe with the kale and other leafy greens that came in our order. If you find the recipe below to be too spicy (I doubled Mazda’s and cooked it in the Crockpot instead of on the stove. Next time I'm going to triple it so there are left-overs), add yogurt to your serving at the table to cut the spiciness. You serve it over chelo, Persian prepared rice which I also include. Some Persian cooks dry the greens for use during the winter and fall or they can be purchased in a bazaar or Persian market in a box with directions.

Khoresh Gormeh Sabzi or Green Vegetable Sauce

1/3 C. dried black-eyed peas (I used lentils because that’s what was in the cupboard)
1 ½ C. water
4 T. cooking oil
1 lb. stew beef cut into 1” cubes (I made ours vegetarian)
1 medium onion finely chopped
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
½ cinnamon
¼ tsp. nutmeg
4 T. oil
1 C. chopped onions
1 C. chopped leek
1 C. chopped spinach
1 C. chopped parsley
2 C. water (because I didn’t cook any meat I used 4 C. of organic chicken stock)
3 T. lemon juice

Some recipes call for chopped lettuce. You will want to use leaf lettuce, not the dreadful iceberg. Following are the directions from the Mazda book. For my version, I just chopped it all up, put it in the Crockpot with the lentils and water and set the time for six hours. The Crockpot cost 8 cents to make a meal and you get to come home to dinner waiting.

Cook peas in 1 ½ C. water on medium fire for about 20 minutes. Heat oil in 2 qt pot. Add meat, onions and seasoning and sauté until the meat is browned. Meanwhile in a frying pan heat oil and add chopped green onions, leek, spinach, and parsley and sauté for 10 minutes. Add 2 C. water and lemon juice to the meat, cover, and let simmer for about 30 minutes. When meat is tender, add cooked peas and vegetables 15-20 minutes before serving. Serve over chelo which if you’re clever, you started at the same time as the khoreshe. However, if you use a Crockpot, all you have to do is come home and make the rice.

Persian Rice or Chelo

I learned to make Persian rice from a Persian who learned from his mother. Measuring is not part of the process. You can use any long grain rice, but basmati or jasmine is best. I can only make Persian style rice in large amounts. If you have left-overs you can always find uses for it.

Step One

In a 6 qt. pot pour basmati or jasmine rice into a large pile.
Fill pot with cold water.
Rinse rice to cut down starch. I rinse it three times.
Place pot on stove on high with a lid. When the lid begins to dance fish out a grain of rice with a spoon and put it between your teeth. If it is half cooked you’re ready for Step Two. Generally speaking it will have been on the stove for about 10 minutes and should be ready.

Step Two

Drain rice in a colander and return the pot to the burner with the heat turned down to 2.5-3 or medium low.
Melt ¼ C. butter in the bottom of the pan
Pour the drained rice back into the pot and cover with a folded tea towel.
Place lid on top of the tea towel, being careful to fold the points of the tea towel up onto the lid to prevent them from catching on fire.
Set the timer for 30 minutes.

Step Three

After 30 minutes remove the pot from the stove and set in sink. Run a little cold water on the base of the pan to stop cooking.

The result will be steamed, fluffy rice with a tasty crust on the bottom of the pan. This is generally reserved for guests or in the case of our house, fought over. This process is not as complicated as it may sound and once you've filled your house with the smell of cooking basamati you'll be hooked.

The View from the Iranian Opposition

The Iranian opposition is wondering where President Obama is and why he isn’t declaring himself to be a “Tehraner” in the vein of Kennedy in Berlin. Were it but that easy. I doubt that there’s an American with a television, radio or computer who does not support the Iranians who are fighting for a more open and democratic society, but on an official level Obama walks a tightrope between not making the mistakes of the Carter Administration which refused to read the writing on the wall and continued to support the Shah out of personal loyalty and making an open declaration of solidarity with the opposition. Already the Islamic government is accusing Britain and the US of meddling in their election and whipping up the demonstrations that have gone on for over a week.

In the past the Iranian government has accused the United States of all kinds of ridiculousness including causing an earthquake there and sending CIA trained squirrels—really—to spy on Iran. A government so paranoid justified or not, is going to latch on to anything Obama says like a FOX commentator.

If you have a minute visit one of the Iranian opposition websites like Rotten Gods and leave a message of support. While our government may not be able to make an official statement of support, we, as democratic loving individuals, can.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Struggle in Iran Goes On

I've listed Rotten Gods, a blog from within Iran as one that I follow and created a link. If you visit here, please visit there. We are not getting all of the news from Iranian or American media. This morning CNN was reporting that opposition crowds were thinning. The cell phone videos on Youtube say otherwise.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Remembering the Greatest Generation

My father and father-in-law were part of what Tom Brokaw has called the Greatest Generation. My father died in 2002 and my father-in-law, Walt, turned 90 in April. In many ways they were dissimilar. My father-in-law, despite a Republican upbringing on the prairie of Idaho, is extremely liberal politically. My father was terribly conservative. But their similarities were probably greater.

Both my father and father-in-law were raised in the country—my father in the Missouri Ozarks, Walt in Nez Pierce, ID—without electricity and indoor plumbing. Both had families that struggled with the Great Depression, but perhaps not as much as city folks since neither family had enjoyed a great deal of money prior to 1929. Both fought in WWII, my father in the Navy, Walt in the Army. Both left memoirs.

Because my husband’s work hours have changed and after 19 years of marriage he’s home in the evenings disrupting my routine. What to do with Dave? I hit on an idea that will keep us busy for at least the summer and maybe for the rest of our lives.

I love being read to. It’s my parents fault, especially my father’s. Although he traveled a great deal for the Boeing Company he recorded some of my favorite stories on reel-to-reel tape and left it and a company tape recorder for my mother to play the tape at bedtime during the months of his absence. It wasn’t that she couldn’t have read to me and she did, but I loved the sound of my father’s voice. I love the sound of my husband’s voice as well. His brother is a radio reporter for KIRO in Seattle. Dave could have done that, too.

Bingo! I remembered that Walt had given us a copy of his memoir, but I had never read it. Dave’s never read my dad’s either. I asked him if he would mind reading to Walt’s to me each night and then we’d read my father’s. He was more than willing. A tradition was born. It gives my husband pleasure to read his father’s words—he’s a very funny man in the bargain—and me pleasure to learn new things about him.

We are finding things that Dave had forgotten from his first reading and making notes with questions to ask Walt. I’m sorry that any new questions I find when we read my dad’s will come too late. So for Father’s Day we are going to the in-laws and ask about the card gave “Forty-two.”

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The View From Iran

I was in college at Bellevue (then) Community College during the 1978-79 school year and had many Iranian classmates. It was amazing to watch the news at night and talk to them during the day as the Iranian Revolution unfolded. Technology in the form of the cassette tape fueled the Revolution as Khomeini’s sermons had been smuggled into Iran from France. Everyone had high hopes that when the Shah left Iran it was the end of an era of greed and savagery. Thirty years later we know that the story took on new characters, but largely the same story.

Iran suffered a brain drain as many “Westernized” and Western Educated Iranians fled for the United States and Europe. Many who were here stayed anyway they could. Some died in the attempt to get here. Not long after the Revolution one Iranian ex-pat went to Iran to marry his sweetheart. When they could not get a visa for her to the United States they hatched an ill-conceived plan to smuggle her into the country in a suitcase on his return flight. When he picked up the case at baggage claim he discovered that she had succumbed during the flight. Leaving the suitcase behind he drove to his university where he shot himself once in the head. People were literally dying to get out of Iran back in the 1980s.

This week it has been exciting to watch the Iranian people to once again demand a voice in their government. Once again, technology, in the form of email, blogs, and twitter, is fueling the protests. I am holding my breath because how the West reacts can influence the power of the clerics. If the opposition is seen as some sort of tool for the United States their chances of success will be materially damaged as will our chances of meaningful negotiations with the present government.

If you are interested here is a blog from Iran. You can see what is happening and leave a message of support if you want.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Letter From the Past

I received a letter from my dad yesterday. It was bitter sweet because he died almost exactly seven years ago.

My step-sister Stephanie Ann was going through some of my step-mother’s things when she discovered some negatives and a photograph of a painting my father painted for my grandmother’s 65th birthday. Folded around the photo was a letter from my father explaining the genesis of the painting. Stephanie Ann knew I would want these things.

The painting, which now hangs in my dining room, was of a mental snapshot my father had of a Spring morning in the Missouri Ozarks when he was fifteen. On that day he’d stood in the red dirt road in front of his grandfather’s house and store in Bona and drawn a sketch of the scene. I have the sketch, too. He wanted to capture the scene because after a year living with his grandparents he was leaving to join his parents, brothers and sister in Vancouver, Washington. His words add to the picture greatly.

My father traveled a lot throughout my childhood which in a way prepared me for his ultimate departure. Sometimes it seems that he's just gone on another trip. I have stacks of letters and postcards from him as he was good about writing whether he was away in the Pacific testing the atomic bomb or in the Middle East or Europe hobnobbing with kings and airline company presidents. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to get this late letter, especially so close to the anniversary of his leaving. First I’m going to make copies of the letter and photo for my children and then I’m going to put it in a plastic sleeve and tape it to the back of the painting.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Snapshots in Time

In the blink of an eye a smell or a sound or a touch can transport you to some other occasion in the past. The smell of old fashioned school paste can take me back to Phantom Lake Elementary School. I can see the little pink and beige desks and tell you which kids ate paste.

When I was six I got a huge new baby doll. The plastic she was made from had a particular smell and if I ever happen to smell something like that I can feel her in my arms to this day.

The other day my friend’s husband found her sitting in the sun room at dusk and lost in thought. “What are you doing?” he asked her.

“I’m thinking about being twelve this time of year at this time of day and playing kick-the-can. It even smells right this evening. God it was fun,” she said.

“You played in the dark?”

“Sure. It made it better for hiding.”
“You going to sit here long?”

“Until I’m done enjoying remembering.”

Do soft summer evenings or something else evoke a sense memory for you? I have a snap shot in my mind of that sort of evening in 1976. Barely more than children ourselves, my husband and I were enjoying letting our children play long past their bedtimes. It was so warm and light out that the time just got away from us. I dressed my oldest son in a romper that had belonged to my mother’s older brother. Barefoot, my preschooler padded down the dusty dirt alley behind our Kirkland house, looking like he was from another time, his thick, long blond hair a silky halo around his head as he ran ahead. And then it struck me as he ran that he was beginning his journey away from babyhood and away from me. ‘Though I would enjoy several more years watching him run, I’ve kept that snapshot in my mind and pull it out on warm summer evenings and relive the magic.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

More Making Do in Hard Times

Six months after beginning a program of keeping track of every penny that passes through my fingers based on the tenants in Your Money or Your Life I am happy to say that I’m still with the program. Each night I log in my ledger my expenditures and credit my deposits. It not only reflects what is in the bank, but what checks have been written and what is in my purse. Each month’s receipts are marked and filed in a file box. Should the IRS question our expenditures on my disabled daughter I have the proof of them close at hand. If something needs to be returned for once I know where the receipt is.

My husband is impressed. Several years ago he began the year by writing down everything he spent, but soon gave it up as too tedious. He is much more organized than I so to impress him is really something. I have modified the book’s suggested record keeping to make it simple for me, for if a thing becomes too tedious I will give it up as well. For the most part expenditures are divided into food and non-food with another category for family expenditures such as my mother’s security system and my grandson’s music lessons.

I believe that my efforts have infected the children a bit. All of them are doing better at watching their pennies and not wasting anything. We all are growing gardens and shopping smart. I’ve even managed to put a little aside toward my daughter’s 40th birthday two years hence. I hope to have enough to take us to Las Vegas or Disneyland (her pick) and maybe even enough to take my father’s ashes to Pearl Harbor. My fantasy is for all of us to go which probably won’t happen, but it is fun to dream, even in the midst of a recession. Today I have to decide if I want to spend money on a new toaster or continue turning the bread around to get both sides toasted in the one we've got…

Friday, June 5, 2009

What's Happened to the History Channel?

I was thrilled when the History Channel went on the air. History is one of my great loves and to have an entire television channel devoted to history was divine. Unfortunately, I believe that the History Channel and its parent company A&E have lost their rudder. They used to have great programs and now a lot of it is schlock.

In poking around the Internet I discovered that I am not the only person who is unhappy with the History Channel’s current programming. I am far from the first to decide to post a blog about it. One person titled their post “Histerical Channel.” I like that and wish I would have thought of it.

My husband says that reality programming is cheap and seems to be what the public wants. What in the heck is wrong with the American public? But to get back to the History Channel, I was appalled when for Memorial Weekend, with all the programs they have achieved from the days when they actually were a history channel; they chose to have a “Monster Quest” marathon. A part from the fact that I would argue that a program devoted to the mythology of monsters in various cultures hardly qualifies as history in the first place, I cannot imagine why the History Channel would devote three days to showing it 24/7 for something like Memorial Weekend.

I would also argue that “Axe Men,” a program about present day loggers, and “Ice Road Truckers,” about truck drivers who drive big rigs over arctic ice for a living, is not history. A little of it is interesting, but it is not history. Their new “African Expedition” is also interesting, but only a half-step up from “Survivor” and “The Great Race,” two more programs I do not watch. The only reality programming I found engaging had a beginning, middle and end. Those were some BBC and PBS series that set volunteers into situation meant to recreate various periods of history and follow how they dealt with it. Watching people have to build dwellings from scratch on the American plains or deal with the class structure of Victorian England was compelling to me, but it didn’t drag on forever.

The anniversary of D-Day is tomorrow. I’ve checked and the History Channel has some little programming devoted to it. Maybe the email I sent then on Memorial Day had an effect. I may actually turn on the History Channel this weekend, but judging by their line up, I won’t be going back to being a regular viewer any time soon. Thank goodness for books!
If you are unhappy with the History Channel's current offerings, click here and tell them so.