Friday, August 30, 2013

Sports ramblings

Along with not wanting contribute my 2 eyeballs to what is essentially boxing in disguise as far as the brain is concerned, the other thing about fitba is I have gotten thoroughly disgusted with NCAA. Just reading about the kid from A&M is enough to give you a headache.

But the bigger problem with college sports is the whole setup. NCAA is no longer sustainable as a model. What started out as a place for clearing house of rules, enforcement and actually trying to keep Universities from doing what they are supposed to do which is provide education, it has now become a hypocritical, bureaucratic nightmare. As with any bureaucracy, it's existence is now not even questioned and people just assume it needs to be there and try to reform it and such. This is all such BS. There is absolutely no reason for NCAA to exist. The only reason it exists is because people are unwilling to question it's existence.

I am not saying that paying the athletes is a alternative. But what is going on now is RACIST. The 2 sports that feed the monster are college football and men;s basketball. This is what makes that world go around. These 2 sports are overwhelmingly black. The problem is not that they are blacks contributing to ALL the other sports to thrive, it is ALL the other sports are essentially white. Not just white, but suburban, middle class white. The Tennis, Golf, Gymnastics, Crew, Soccer, Volleyball and myriad other sports that are essentially supported by urban, poor black kids are essentially lily white. You do not find too many brothers or sisters on the crew, golf swimming or tennis teams. Not even that many in soccer, volleyball and such. Let me not even get into hockey.

All this would be OK, if the educational component of the scholarships are actually implemented. They are not. Just the sheer hypocrisy of calling these kids scholar athletes is a disgrace. I am not talking about anecdotal evidence of one kid here or one kid there actually utilizing his opportunity to get an education. Statistically it is just a JOKE. These kids are being exploited. The exploitation is unconscionable.  It does not take a genius to see that the people making the biggest gobs of money on this exploitation are the coaches, administrators and the 'industry' around. Say what you want about Baseball and Soccer, at least they run their own production lines. They are not mooching off the NCAA. To think that less than 1% of the kids playing in the NCAA ever get a pro career. Even of that 1%, only a third of those get to make a decent amount of money to retire. The other 2/3 get out of their pro career with no nest egg, medical problems and NO SKILLS to enter the workforce. They have been taught nothing since their talent was spotted in high school. High schools usually do not give them enough. Then in college, it is usually a joke. The kids have to actually work against the system to get a actual education. The basic problem is that the system as it is now is broken. Paying the athletes is a problem simply because where are you going to put the line. Are you going to pay ALL athletes, which is the only sensible thing. If not do we pay only the revenue generating sports? Even within the revenue generating sports, is it going to be need based? Is it going to be performance based? Who draws the line? Once we have decided to pay some athletes, what is to prevent boosters from 'augmenting' the amounts. Set up endowments to make it like endowed chairs and such. Reggie White endowed pass rusher at UT. This is a nightmare.

As paying the athletes is a non-starter, the only recourse for universities and conferences with a modicum of self reflection, pride and conscience is to get out. College sports are unique in that the fans are usually people with some REAL connection with the team. I am now talking about conferences like the BIG 10, Pac12 and Ivy and such. When the big 10 started it was oly for athletic and ACADEMIC comingling of the midwestern land grant institutions. Now with Big10having it's own network to broadcast its games, it does not need ESPN and such. The fans can be served by the conference itself. What the big10 and Pac12 should do is to disengage from the NCAA. The only thing that matters for most fans is the intra-conference rivalries and games anyway. The only thing where the outside matters is the NCAA basketball tourney. But if you are a TRUE fan of the team, you should be willing to forego that for the larger good. This way we can play intra-conference for football. Get our championship. Then play the Pac12 for bowl games. In all other sports, we can have a post conference tournament. For things like baseball, volleyball, tennis etc. For Basketball, we have a competing postseason tournament open only to winning teams from the 2 conferences. 

So the money generated will be miniscule compared to the NCAA tournament etc. But we are sharing with only 26 teams. Also when you combine the 2 conferences, we will have enough eyeballs to generate sufficient income. What I am saying is we do not need the NCAA. Not anymore. Not with all the platforms that exist to deliver these sports to the real fans.

What this will do is to let us get out from the NCAA and set up our own standards. We know what is needed. The educational component has to be strictly enforced. When these kids come in to get an education, then dammit they are going to get one. NO CHEATING. If there are violations they will be of 2 kinds. Minor and major. Minor involving kids will result in the team forfeiting as many scholarships as kids involved. Major transgressions will result in the program being shut down for a year. The offending coaches will be dismissed, and barred from ever coaching in either conferences. The rules that need to be set up will be simpler. If you do something that you are unwilling to talk about publicly, it is a violation. The details can be worked out. The plan is what matters. We need to get out. NCAA started because of us. It is now a disgrace. We need to get out and start again. If we are able to persuade pac12 to get in with us; this is doable. Seriousl, the sport that drives the engine is football. Football is a regional, parochial thing. I still think that a big10 pac12 rosebowl will be a bigger draw that whatever BCS crap they come up with. Moreover, the money generated will be split among universities within the conferences. 26 of them. This is a doable thing.

As long as the present system exists, I am no longer going to be able to support it in good conscience. After reading Taylor Branch and Malcolm Gladwell on this, I cannot support this anymore.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Sports Obsessions

I am a sports nut. I thank GOD that I do not have cable otherwise I would be on sports channels all the time. I would watch Poker, Chess, Spelling Bee, Lumberjack Games, anything where there is people competing. I have recently been reading some books on Football and Leitch's book on fandom. It has made me realize that I am a nut and there is no way I can continue this way. It is my addictive personality. As I have made a decision to curtail my reading scope outside what I need, I should do the same with sports too. I have already done this with music. I am old and I know what I like. There is no reason for me to search out new music. I like Ghazals, Blues, Opera, Outlaw Country, danceable world music, and danceable roots music from here (Zydeco etc). If I am doing that with this I should do that with sports too. I have tried to follow Badger Basketball, Badger Football, Packers, Cubs, Bulls, Fire and Barca. I look into Cricket scores regularly. Add to that reading about Soccer and Baseball, Deadspin, SBNation, BleacherReport etc etc. This is insane.

I will from now on concentrate on Cubs and Barcelona. Similarly I need to stay away from BBoards for the teams. Just look into a decent fan blog website for each. I need to stop with basketball, hockey, football etc. Basketball and Hockey simply because I am just not into it to begin with. Football because of the same reason I don't watch Boxing. I think that with the more I am learning about concussions, the long term effects on people who have played this game, the Brain Scan results etc; the more I think this is similar to boxing and very close to Gladiators. I simply refuse to watch anymore.

Of course, there is the problem of steroids in Baseball. The difference there is the guys doing it are under no duress to do it. Moreover, PLAYING football causes brain damage. With PED's the injury is self inflicted. Playing Baseball is not the proximate cause for it. I am never going to enjoy statistics as much anymore because I think they have been distorted beyond measure. But I will enjoy the games as such. I will enjoy them as such, without bothering to put these doped up fiends on any kind of pedestal. At least with Basketball and Football there is a semblance of a chance that the people playing picked up some education in college. With Soccer and Baseball, it is LCD time. Especially soccer. The kids are picked into academies so young. They are like Tennis prodigies. Stunted people. But at least with Baseball and Soccer the people playing it are not physical freaks. Football has these linemen who are unnaturally large. The fact that they all drop 100 pounds when they stop playing should clue us in. Basketball is for tall people. It is balletic and wonderful at the highest level, but it is still full of freaks.

So it is Soccer and Baseball from now on. Not even the whole thing but just Barca, USA and the Cubs. I do need to find a better site than the BleedCubbieBlue bullshit of a site. I cannot take either the stupid optimism on the site, nor the pollyanna who runs it. I guess Desipio is it. If I can find something better, maybe. Otherwise that is it. God help me!

PS: NO to Desipio. Bleacher nation it is.

SO Soccer and Baseball. Kinds like soccer and cricket while growing up.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Vegetarian shortcuts

I am a foodie. But the problem is that most of the food writing, cookbooks, LTH Forum posts, restaurants are all meat focused. I also get that the main thing people talk about is the savoriness that is just not there in most vegetarian dishes. I had of course read up about the MSG and other flavor enhancers but always assumed that this was some kind of 'manufactured chemical additive'. Then I finally came across a book that has changed the way I cook, the way I eat and the way I taste. That is Barb Stuckey's book.

She went through in the first part about eating with our five senses. Then she concentrated on the five flavors that we actually taste. When reading about Umami, I finally came to an understanding of what people are talking about. Then I find that MSG, rather than being a 'manufactured chemical', is actually produced by fermentation of corn protein by bacteria. Just like we produce Cheese, Beer, Wine, Pickles, Miso etc. I realized that MSG is nothing but purifies glutamates that are produced naturally. I looked further into it and found that MSG combined with Guanylate and Inosinate can completely mimic the savoriness obtained from meat. I also found that the other 'natural' add-ons like Parmesan Cheese (or any other aged Cheese), Soy Sauce, Miso, Mushroom, Tomatoes give the same mouth feel.

This has changed the way I cook. I immediately went and got myself Miso Paste, the Better than Bouillon brand Mushroom broth, a Mushroom flavored bouillon powder with MSG and Nucleotides from Chinatown, and started using the Soysacuse and vegetarian Oyster Sauce I had lying around that I was not using.

Combined this with my resolution starting April 1 to cook more non-Indian food; it has been a godsend. Also I have always found cooking for one a hassle, especially if you want to make everything from scratch. Especially cooking beans freshly every time. This is one place where canned goods are almost essential. The problem I have always had with canned foods in general is salt. Almost all of them are way WAY over-salted. Recently most groceries have started selling no-salt tomatoes. This combined with the fact that Tomato paste is also always salt-free, makes cooking with canned Tomatoes a breeze. The only time I use fresh Tomatoes is when I can get Vine ripened tomatoes from farmers markets. That usually means Summer and that's it. Moreover if you are going to use Fresh Tomatoes, you pretty much have to use them in dishes where they stand out. That means I use them only when I am making something where I will use fresh Tomatoes. Like Raita, salsa, Guacamole and such. The only cooked dish I use Fresh Vine ripened Tomatoes is Rasam. Lightly flavored Thakkali Rasam, without too much spicing and lentils is a fantastic thing to have on Summer evenings. But canned beans were always a problem. For two reasons. One is the over-salting made the dishes tricky to season. The second is that the bean liquid in Black Beans and Chickpeas are wonderful. I could not use them because of all the salt. Then I found that Whole Foods has started selling their House brand canned beans salt free. Hallelujah. Now I can use the liquid in the Black Beans and Chickpeas in cooking. This has really made a difference.

I made a Black Bean/ Kidney Bean/ Corn Cuban black bean soup recently. I looked up a couple of recipes from the books I have. Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian, Mark Bittman's door-stopper, a recipe from Penzey's. Then while cooking instead of rechecking the recipes I added Tomatoes to the mix. Big Problem. Now instead of soup I had Chili. I remember one of the people who tested my three bean chili said after tasting one of my early attempts that Tomatoes is what makes Chili Chili otherwise it is like a Bean Casserole. In my version of the first Cuban Black bean soup I added Cumin and Tomatoes. This just tasted wrong. Nothing like what I remembered from Cafecito's wonderful version. So as soon as the first batch was consumed, I made it again. this time I was careful. Along with the three beans I mentioned, I used Shallots,Garlic, Ginger, Allspice, Nutmeg, Thyme, Oregano, Cilantro, Paprika and Cayenne powder. That's it. No Cumin, Coriander, Cloves, Cinnamon etc. What I have learned is to not use Indian spices in everything. I have started using only things like Allspice, Nutmeg, Thyme, Oregano, paprika in middle eastern dishes. I try to not even use Cumin although Cumin originally came from Egypt. I just want my dishes to taste different than Indian food if I am making something that is not Indian.

Here are some things I found that help me make my homemade ethnic taste quasi authentic. For Chinese foods I only use: Soy Sauce, Oyster Sauce, Fermented Black Beans, fermented hot Chili Bean sauce, Fermented Mushrooms, Fermented tofu. I have heard about fermented Mustard greens that I may need to use. For Thai I use the Store bought Curry paste (vegetarian, of course), coconut milk, Basil, shallots/garlic/ginger combo, lime rind. The lime rind really makes a difference. For Mexican food I basically use the Chipotle sauce that is so easy to obtain. It is even better than the Chipotles in Adobo Sauce because it is easier to just spoon. For making Moles I just use Tahini as my seed base. Another thing I have found is to use Tahini whenever any recipe calls for a seed paste. I recently got some nice Organic Peanut Butter (Chunky) on sale. I will start using this whenever a recipe calls for a nut paste. I am sure that Walnut paste and Almond paste and Cashew paste are all different tasting. But when you add all the spices and herbs and cook them the differences are subtle. For a home cook it should make no difference. So there. Tahini for seed pastes and Peanut Butter for nut pastes. For middle eastern foods the spicing has to be subtle. I try to use the spices and herbs as specifies in the recipe. The only things I substitute for are Sumac and Thyme. For Sumac I use anardana. For Thyme I use Ajwain. And pomegranate Molasses. Oh Boy. I cannot say how much this one thing has added to the depth of flavor of things I cook from Persia. Other than that, follow the recipe. I found that for cuisines that have subtle spicing I can sometimes overwhelm the dishes if left to my own devices. Just too many spices and I make the dish too busy. What I have realized after reading Arto der Haroutounian is that the sheer variety of vegetable dishes from the neglected areas of the caucuses is overwhelming. Persian, Turkish, Armenian and such are underrepresented cuisines for us vegetarians. We should look into them more for getting more flavor combinations.

So  far my restrictions on cooking 2 non-Indian dishes for every Indian dish is still holding. I made a Thai curry. It is ok, but just not the same as what I get from Thai restaurants. I need to go to Silver Spoon or one of the other Thai restaurants and get a couple of vegetarian dishes and figure out what exactly they are doing. I have Nancie McDermotts book. It gives me ideas, but I want to be able to just use the aforementioned ingredients and just be able to cook freestyle. I will only be able to do that if I can get the fundamentals right. I have it for middle eastern, Chinese, Mexican and Moroccan. I have not been able to do it for Thai.

Oh BTW. I also got a fantastic deal on a vegetable steamer. I picked up a steamer basket from Maxwell Street just hoping that it will fit. What I got instead was something that looks like it was made for my stockpot. I need to start using this more. I rarely steam my vegetables. I should try to do Asparagus, before summer ends. I remember reading about this woman who ate so much asparagus in summer in ann arbor in that book on essays about eating and cooking for one.

Which brings me to the most horrible thing for me. Cooking for one is really boring. Especially since I do like to cook. That means I make 3 dishes a week, mostly in bulk.The other thing about cooking is the pleasure you get from feeding someone else. I have not had that pleasure for going on 5 years now. Combined with the fact that I have no friends, this makes it really boring. I recently read the book about the woman who has the blog about not eating out in NY. She talks about all these cookouts and events where she took her cooking to. I should find something similar in Chicago. The only problem is that most of the meetups like this are for meat-eaters. Moreover the clientele for such things skews younger. I do not want to go to one of these things and be looked at as some perverted old guy trying to hit on the youngsters. The other thing I am worried is that most of these will be Vegan. Now I can easily make Vegan stuff. Heck most of what I eat is Vegan.

But most of the Vegan food is just terrible. Now that I have learned about flavor, I try to make all of my dishes essentially umami bombs. If the recipe calls from Tomatoes, I use some Tomato paste and kick it up a notch. I also found this powdered Tomato from the Spice Shop that is absolutely fantastic. If the recipe is amenable to Mushroom addition, Voila bouillon paste. If I can reasonably add the MSG+ that I got, I do that. Same with Miso paste. If it final product is a savory stew that can take it, Miso goes in. I try to use Soy Sauce and Oyster sauce pretty much only when I cook Chinese. These are strong condiments that can overwhelm dishes otherwise. Also I try to make sure I get enough Protein. This means that I have to add Nasoya Super firm Cubed Tofu, Uptons Seitan, Chickpeas to many dishes that otherwise would not call for it. I got to be careful to not change the flavor profile of the final dish by this additions. Tofu is bland enough, but Seitan and Chickpeas have their own flavor.

What it comes down to is to make sure that when I am cooking something other than Indian food, I need to pay attention. I got to use the flavors as demanded by the recipe. Some substitutions will work. But I should not replace spices/herbs/condiments willynilly. It is better to leave something out rather than add something that will completely change the dish. Like adding Tomatoes where it is not called for. Turned by Cuban Black Bean soup to Chili! This is a lesson that I am learning slowly. I really need to be more careful. I think that I should use the recipe book holder more often just to prevent myself from free-styling too much till I get more comfortable with that particular cuisine. What is the point of cooking a Middle eastern dish, with middle eastern ingredients and make it taste Indian. If I want Indian, I should cook Indian. Also I need to learn restraint and subtlety when making dishes from cuisines that are not as robustly spiced as Indian. I like spicy. That is okay. But when you are making a Tagine, make a Tagine. No point making a dumbuk khana out of it.

I will end with my best food joke:

Me, to a good looking Fox at the Bar: You are so fine; I want to make you my famous Soup!

Her: What Soup?

Me: Miso soup with sauteed Horned Melons: I call it MISO HORNY!


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Ramblings begin

Here are a few things I have decided to focus on:

I like to read. A lot. The problem is that there is too much stuff to read. Therefore I have decided to focus on the things that really matter to me. On that note, I have decided to fore go fiction, politics, history, biography and such in books. I will now concentrate on Neuroscience ...the brain in particular and Energy issues.This way I can really read up on every good thing coming out and be informed. About the real world stuff, I think looking at some of the websites I go to usually should hold me in good stead. 

The problem is that there is just too much stuff going on. I cannot be interested in everything. I have to get cracking on my studies as well. This is a priority anyways. 

On cooking. I have to make two non-Indian dishes for every Indian dish I cook. This will force me to not only use the cookbooks that are rotting on the shelves; but also improve my cooking skills. After reading Barb Stuckey's book, I have become more conscious of where flavor comes from. Using the fermented products more regularly has already changed how I cook. Using Soy sauce, Tomato Paste, Mushroom Bouillon, Miso, Parmesan Cheese, the MSG+ has made me realize that even a small amount of flavor enhancers can really change the taste.  

I also have to stop eating at Restaurants that are not Vegetarian friendly. Ethnic restaurants are one thing. Going to a Peruvian or Argentinian place and expecting them to have a variety of Vegetarian options is stoopid. Similarly most Chinese, Thai, Mexican etc have mostly meat dishes. But the Vegetarian options at these places are always credible. That is because most of these laces are poor people food from these countries. In the original country, meat is a luxury. Asking for vegetarian at these places is always OK because they can always make you something that is actually authentic. That is the point. It is not some fakeass vegetarian dish. Most people in those countries cannot afford meat anyway and the daily fare is mostly vegetarian anyway. Just like me growing up, that forces people to make their vegetarian stuff tasty. Especially if you are eating meat and want that UMAMI in all the food that you eat, you will figure out ways to make the stuff full of umami. The more I read about the glutamate stuff that the molecular cuisine guys are working on, the more I realize that the East Asians have this figured out. Fermented pickles, Soy Sauce, Miso, Kombu, Shitake, Fish Sauce are all nothing but umami bombs. Add Aged cheese (especially Parmesan) and cooked Tomato paste to the cooking repertoire, I really think that I can achieve the same umami bombs that can be had from eating meat. And I can do that for a lot less calories and be environmentally friendly as well. Win win as far as I am concerned.

OTOH going to restaurants that have entrees in the $15-$25 range and finding only ONE vegetarian option is no longer acceptable. I will only go to restaurants that have at least a third of their menu vegetarian. Otherwise what is the point? I am going to these midscale restaurants as a patron. Therefore I should be going to places that take some care and put in some effort to cater to me. Also, if I go to places that DO do a good job of catering to Vegetarians like me; it is only the right thing to do. It is like when I go to Maxwell St market. Whenever I pass the Oaxacan Tamale place, I get one. That is simply because after asking for it again and again, they have finally started offering Vegetarian Tamales. I should patronize them just for that. 

The second problem with restaurants that do the bare minimum for vegetarians is that the Chef has put no thought on the dish. It is being offered only because they have found that in any group of 4 or more, there will always be a vegetarian. Now the vegetarian may have come there as a part of the group just to not be a killjoy. Vegetarians know that most restaurants do not care about us. The chefs are all focused on their meat dishes. I am not blaming them. 90% or more of their sales is catering to the meateaters. It is that when they put a vegetarian Item on the menu, they have put very little thought into it. After reading Stucky's book, I have come to realize that coaxing the same kind of meaty, brothy flavor from vegetarian dishes is EASY. If you know what you are doing. When you look at the dishes that bring up the caboose of most restaurant menus; you know that there is almost no thought put into that dish. When I have places like Lula's cafe, Grace, Girl and the Goat and such, it makes no sense to go to places that will not do the same for me.

That's all the ramblings for today. I will do more of this ASAP. Make this my online diario.

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