December 26, 2008


I have become obsessed with curries of late, greatly aided by a neighbor, who cooks a different style of curry every week. Now that I have most of the spices necessary to making a majority of dishes (you have no idea how difficult it is to come across coriander and fenugreek), I would like to try some of these dishes.

My first experience with curry is through my father. South African of English origin, he would concoct a stew of lamb with amazing spices that would linger in the house for days. One would ladle the stew over rice, and pair it with bits and pieces of raisins, bananas, coconut, and chutneys. My grandmother was born in India of course, but I never did get to query her about her life experience before she passed.

Then my next real experience with curry was in Congo, where there was an authentic Indian restaurant overlooking a dilapidated part of the city, hinting to its former grandeur. The butter chicken there was thick, and rich, the chicken unbearably tender. It made you wonder how courageous foreign families are, to settle in Congo, so fare from everything they know and love.

My father lent me two Cooking books over Christmas. They were written some 40 – 60 years ago, and their lack of political correctness can be a bit embarrassing at times:

1-Curries of India – Harvey Day

He bought the book in India, on one of his trips there. The book was published in 1955, 8 years after it won independence from British rule. As Lois Daish explains “It was back then that I came across my first recipe for kheema in Curries of India, by Harvey Day in collaboration with Sarojini Mudnani. This little book, published in 1955, was written for English readers so Day needed to explain that curry was more than a single dish and that it didn’t have to be hot enough to take the skin off your tongue. He also went to some length to persuade the locals that curries are good for the health, contrary to the impression given by “purple-faced, curry-eating colonels who retire to rural England and vent their spleen on the natives”. He blamed the whisky. ”

The pages are blackening because it wasn’t printed on acid-free paper, so I flip the pages delicately before giving you these gems:

An English guest at my club, the Indian Gymkhana, at Osterley, was given a dish of curry compounded by the hands of experts. ‘Very tasty’ was his comment, ‘but of course, this is not the real stuff. I had some curry in Bombay in ’42 which was so hot it well nigh took the skin off my tongue. That was real curry.’

Far be it for me to disillusion anyone. It would have taken far too long and in any case his mind was made up. He had tasted the genuine article—only once mind you—but now he was an authority. He knew, and he wouldn’t be put off by base substitutes.

This book is not for the likes of them.


Generally speaking, the English don’t make good cooks. Not because the culinary art is beyond them, for when the English turn their hands to anything, there are few of any races who excel them. Except perhaps the Scots. […]

But cooking, like gardening, needs ‘green fingers’. Two people can follow the same instructions, and yet achieve different results. Boiled rice, for instance, is the easiest dish in the world to cook. When ready, the water drained away, it should be white and fluffy, each grain separate from the others. Yet one woman I know failed to produce perfectly boiled rice for 18 years, although I showed her time and again how it was done. Either it was too hard or it came out a revolting, glutinous mass. One day, however, by pure chance she succeeded, and ever since her rice has been just right.

2-Traditional Cookery of the Cape Malays – Hilda Gerber

I imagine my father bought this book in Durban (a little sticker on this inside says so). The publishers explain that they published this book with practical no change. Ms. Gerber completed it in 1949, and it was found amongst her paper after she died in January 1954. I remember having a succulent green curry with coconut milk, in a hotel in Capetown, overlooking steep cliffs, and pinguins frolicking in the rolling waves.

Cape Malays are one of the many ethnic groups found in South Africa. According to wikipedia “The Cape Malay community is an ethnic group or community in South Africa, taking its name from what is now known as the Western Cape of South Africa and the people originally from the Malay archipelago, mostly Javanese from Indonesia and Malays from Malaysia, who started this community in South Africa. The Malays were outcast by the British Government, which were then rulers of Malaysia. The community's earliest members were slaves brought by the Dutch East India Company, followed shortly thereafter by political dissidents and Muslim religious leaders who opposed the Dutch presence in what is now Indonesia.”

The book explains:

Malay housewives are conscientious cooks. Some of them turn out lighter pastries, spongier koesisters than others, some seasons more subtly, but all pay close attention to the details of their art. Malay delight in eating. Feasts are part of their religious tradition, and they honour their tradition bu demanding that food should have a flavour – rahter aromatic than hot. […] Malay (were) the most sought after by the colonist. They shared the homes of their masters-a circumstance which affected in a high degree the alimentary customs of both master and slave.


The husband is the undisputed master of a Malay house, and to please him is a part of a Malay’s religious teaching. This is to a cetain extent responsible for her conscientious application to her household duties.

She then goes on to describe, in great detail, the lifestyle of the Cape Malay regarding religious festivals (Cape Malay are muslims); family celebrations including etiquette, the naming of a child, birthdays and anniversaries, weddings, funeral feast; and betel-chewing. The recipes that follow are short and to the point.

This makes me want to travel so badly!

December 19, 2008

Merry Christmas?

I am so frigging stressed out and it’s not even Christmas yet. These are the things that I absolutely need to do in the next two weeks:

1-Get presents for my mom and dad
This year, as the last few years, our family has set a $10-15 limit to buying presents. The concept is the following: since we are fortunate, and have everything we need, and are now adults, why get each other more expensive “stuff” for Christmas? So we each get each other little fun gifts (comic books, cool pens, scarves) that are not to exceed $15 in value. Imagine having to spend hours at the mall, competing with ten giggling 15-year olds to get to the register, wondering whether your meter’s run out.

Sucks does it?

2-Socialize with the family, and friends
I love my family, I truly do. But I’m already freaking out about not spending enough time with my siblings, and getting together with old friends that come out of the woodworks (I haven’t talked to five of you in over 6 months, and all of a sudden you all want to have a drink this week? Are you serious?). What's with people wanting to get cheerful with others around the holidays?

Get me outta here!

3-Shuttling back-and-forth between my house and my parents’ house
My ‘rents live in Georgetown, I live in Columbia Heights. Total drive time between the 2 neighborhoods: 20 mins. BUT, Georgetown has no metro station, and I have no car. Which means that I can take public transportation and it will take me 2 hours for a round trip, or pay insane amounts of money to rent a zipcar. I decided to rent the car.

Le Grand Sigh.

4-No gain weight
This is hardest part of the holidays. There are cookies, cakes, pies, and chocolates everywhere! EVERYWHERE! At my work, in my kitchen, at my friend’s holiday party, at the frigging gym, at the mall, in the starbucks, underneath my roommate's pillows (that's another story that needs to be told later - basically the dog was being naughty and tried to hide the evidence).

Arrgh, how am I going to stop myself?

5-Negotiate about my Mom about Church
Let’s be honest, I’m not an enthusiastic church-goer. The only times I go to church are Christmas…and well, Christmas pretty much sums it up. One the one hand, I could use an evening of chilling out by myself. Besides, it’s from 9-11 p.m. which is ridiculously late. And I will see lots of people from high school and basically regress to my 14-year old self. Which could get ugly.

On the other hand mom wants me to go, and I would feel very guilty if I didn’t go (you know, the whole God, forgiveness, and duty things).

Anyways, happy, happy holidays everyone!

December 16, 2008

A Special Quarter for Washington D.C.

If you live in the United States, you will have no doubt noticed that every quarter has a different design, representing the U.S States and territories. These designs go through a rigorous review, and must represent something that is typical in the area.

States have made some really interesting choice, and the quarter designs are very varied:

-Delaware features a beautifully-branched Oak,
-New Jersey depicts General George Washington and members of the Colonial Army crossing the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War,
-Virginia has three ships, Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, brought the first English settlers to Jamestown,
-North Carolina has the first successful flight attempt,
-Ohio shows an astronaut and an early plane,
-The Arkansas quarter design bears the image of rice stalks, a diamond and a mallard gracefully flying above a lake (did you know that Arkansas boasts the oldest diamond mine in North America? Why is it not being exploited?),
-The Iowa quarter design features a one-room schoolhouse with a teacher and students planting a tree.

Mayor Adrian Fenty announced the results of a new coin design for Washington, D.C. last year. The coin will be released this coming January 2009.

The Washington Post reported, in June 2008, that a total of 6,089 residents voted for the new coin:

-36 percent voted for Duke Ellington
Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974) was an American composer, pianist, and bandleader.

He was one of our own. He was born in 2129 Ward Place, NW, Washington D.C. (in Dupont Circle). At the age of seven, Ellington began taking piano lessons from Mrs. Marietta Clinkscales who lived at 1212 T Street NW (on U Street – and by the way, the place is up for rent for the Inauguration, it’s a weird coincidence).

Ellington went to Armstrong High School in Washington, D.C. This was one of two public schools for blacks, in Shaw. The school closed in 1996. He got his first job selling peanuts at Washington Senators’ baseball games where he conquered his stage fright. Early in his career, he started to play in cafés and clubs in and around Washington, D.C., and for society balls and Embassy Parties. He also had a messenger job with the U.S. Navy and State Departments.

A little later, Ellington left his successful career in Washington, D.C. to play in Harlem, and the rest is history.

A number of places in Washington D.C. are named in his honor.

-33 percent voted for Frederick Douglas
Frederick Douglass (February 14, 1818 – February 20, 1895) was an American abolitionist, women's suffragist, editor, orator, author, statesman and reformer.

Called "The Sage of Anacostia" and "The Lion of Anacostia", Douglass is one of the most prominent figures in African-American history and United States history. In 1872, Douglass became the very first African-American nominated as a Vice Presidential candidate in the United States, running on the Equal Rights Party ticket with Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for President of the United States. In 1877, Douglass bought his final home in Washington D.C., on a hill above the Anacostia River.

He was born in Maryland. He was a slave and never really knew of a stable family life until he was sent to work in the home of a white family at the age of 12, and was taught to read. He managed to free himself, and the rest is history.

Seriously, this guy is amazing, it gives me shivers to read his biography.

-31 percent voted for Benjamin Banneker
Benjamin Banneker (November 9, 1731–October 9, 1806) was a free African American astronomer, mathematician, surveyor, almanac author and farmer.

In early 1791, Banneker assisted in a survey of the boundaries of the 100-square-mile District of Columbia, that Maryland and Virginia would cede to the U.S. Government, in accordance with the federal Residence Act.

There isn’t a lot of good background on him on Wikipedia, but there are a series of interesting urban legends that relate to his photographic memory and keen intelligence.

The coin will also feature the District’s motto “Justice for All” (did you know that was our motto by the way?). Some people registered their disappointment that “Taxation without Representation” did not end up on the coin.

I’m glad Ellington made it on the coin, but I wish the motto was “D.C. - A Little Ghetto but Still a Cool Non-State”.

December 12, 2008

December 11, 2008

Some people never learn

(namely me).

I'm very seriously considering buying a house, and have been doing some independent research on what I can afford. Basically, I can afford a small, run-down, two-bedroom house, in a crime-ridden neighborhood. For irony, see the post right before this one.

Anacostia, today, is primarily known for its excessive crime rates that reached a peak in the 1990's. After decades of neglect, crime has been a major problem in this area of the city. In 2005, 62 of Washington, D.C.'s 195 homocides occurred in the 7th District of the Metropolitan Police Department, which also includes the neighborhoods of Barry Farms, Naylor Gardens, and Washington Highlands. This figure is down from the 7th District's peak of 133 homicides in 1993.


I mean, the number of murders is down from 133 in 1993, to 62 in 2005. That's a positive note though, isn't it?

The blog And Now, Anacostia charmingly records the little things that make the neighborhood interesting.

This is getting seriously old

I was making tea for two neighbors in the living room yesterday evening, with my two roommates, when a series of about twelve *pop* *pop* *pops* exploded in the crisp winter air. Shocked and startled, I was slow to react and say "duck!". Everyone croutched under the kitchen table and the living room desk.

Admittedly, my reflexes are not as fine-tuned as last summer (here, and here just to name a few). We haven't heard gunshots in at least 6 months so I've lost the habit. By the time I ran upstairs to get my phone to call the cops, my roommate said "I've got it covered" and was talking to the cops about the shots.

I announced, rather proud of my street smarts, that the cops don't come quickly unless you call them many times. Much to my consternation, the cops were right around the corner, lights shining, tires screeching, and lounged out of their car on foot to pursue the culprits.

Sigh, I'm glad the poh-lice is a lot quicker at responding to incidents, but this whole shooting-thing is getting old.

Dead in Adams Morgan Shooting
Last Edited: Thursday, 11 Dec 2008, 6:07 AM EST Created: Thursday, 11 Dec 2008, 6:07 AM
Source: Double Shooting in Adams Morgan

Police are investigating a shooting in Adams Morgan that has left one man dead and one injured. The shooting happened at Champlain Street and Kalorama Road shortly after 8:00 p.m. Wednesday night.

Police say officers investigating a robbery nearby heard shots and rushed to the scene. There they found two men suffering from gunshot wounds. Both men were transported to an area hospital where one of them later died. Several hours later, shots were fired near 14th Street and Girard. Officers have not yet determined if this second incident was related to the first. The investigation is continuing at this time.

December 05, 2008

Automotive Bailout

I’m not generally interested in cars (I don’t own one, I live close to the metro and good bus routes) but am aware that American lifestyles are very much shaped by cars, and the owner who love them.

Here’s what I understand on the automotive industry of 2008, from wikipedia (warning: extreme plagiarism ahead):

What’s Going On?
The Big Three U.S. manufacturers, (General Motors, Ford and Chrysler) indicate that, unless they can obtain additional funding over the short to medium term, there is a real danger of one or more companies declaring bankruptcy.

A Series of Poor Decisions
The Big Three seem to have made some bad decision in the management of their companies. Some examples include:

Poor Competitors since the 1960
In the 60s, Volkswagen and Honda started importing cheap, well-made cars. Detroit convinced Congress to impose quotas on foreign-made cars. The foreign companies responded by opening their own plants in the United States.

Low Car Standards
Japan requires autos to achieve 45 miles per gallon (mpg) of gasoline and China requires 35. The European Union requires 52 mpg by 2012. By comparison, U.S. autos are required to achieve only 25 mpg. When California raised its own standards, the auto companies sued.

Pushing the Gas Guzzlers
The Big Three have, in recent years, manufactured expensive, fuel-guzzling SUVs and large pickups, which are much more profitable than smaller, fuel-efficient cars. Manufacturers make 15% to 20% profit margin on an SUV, compared to 3% or less on a car. When gasoline prices rose above $4 per gallon in 2008, Americans stopped buying the big vehicles and Big Three sales and profitability plummeted.

Strong Union = Unusually High Wages + Benefits
The workers union, the United Auto Workers (UAW), offers both pension and healthcare benefits, which far exceed competitors. UAW workers are paid $10-20 more per hour than foreign competitors who employ American workers. Average annual wages for production workers at the Big Three were $67,480 in 2007, and $81,940 for skilled workers. In Canada, GM’s 2008 average labor costs were $69 per hour, and Toyota's at $48 per hour, with similar productivity.

Read an interesting Q&A with UAW, which repels some myths.

Pay for Redundant Employees
In 2005, the Big Three U.S. automakers paid more than 12,000 employees (who were idled as a result of their jobs being unnecessary due to technological progress or plant restructurings) their full salary and benefits in "jobs bank" programs, created to protect workers' salaries and discourage layoffs, as part of the automakers' deals with the UAW. Some of those workers were placed in retraining where they were taught bicycle repair, home wiring, poker, and silk-flower arranging. Others were enrolled in community service initiatives. Others did not work.

Large Number of Brands
GM has eight brands, while Toyota has only three. More brands require additional marketing and product development expenses, which drives higher costs relative to the competition. However, reducing the number of brands requires closing or consolidation of dealerships, which is very expensive.

Asking for Money…Uses Up a Lot of Money
On November 19, 2008, there was a U.S. Senate hearing on the automotive crisis in the presence of the heads of Chrysler, Ford and General Motors. The auto manufacturers explained that they would need financial aid of $25 billion if they were to avoid bankruptcy.

On November 19, 2008, the Big Three CEOs attended the meeting in Washington, D.C. to ask for a taxpayer bailout in private luxury jets. The cost of a private jet is $20,000 versus $500 for a commercial flight. They later all drove separately to Washington in hybrid electric vehicles after being criticized for arriving in private corporate jets

The Big Three spent almost $50 million to lobby Congress during the first nine months of 2008.

What is a Bailout?
I’ve been trying to find a good definition to the term “bailout”, but either the definition uses a number of words that also need explanation, or is too simplified. My understanding is that:

A bailout is a large sum of money the U.S. Government gives failing companies, such as banks or automotive industries, to allow them to continue their daily business (paying their employees, manufacturing cars, and renting show-rooms for example) over the short-term.

Governments or groups of investors can give bailouts. Bailouts can take the form of loans, bonds, stocks or cash. They may or may not require reimbursement.

This year alone, the U.S. Government bailed-out the following companies: Bear Stearns, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, American International Group, and Citigroup.

Republican Senators are unwilling to provide aid, some even suggesting that bankruptcy might be the best option as it would free manufacturers from the employment deals agreed with the unions.

The Democrats, however, insist that the U.S. Government needs to take action quickly, in line with President Elect Obama's stance on the matter.

On November 24, 2008, Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) wrote, "In bailing out failing companies, they are confiscating money from productive members of the economy and giving it to failing ones. By sustaining companies with obsolete or unsustainable business models, the government prevents their resources from being liquidated and made available to other companies that can put them to better, more productive use. An essential element of a healthy free market, is that both success and failure must be permitted to happen when they are earned. But instead with a bailout, the rewards are reversed – the proceeds from successful entities are given to failing ones. How this is supposed to be good for our economy is beyond me.... It won’t work. It can’t work... It is obvious to most Americans that we need to reject corporate cronyism, and allow the natural regulations and incentives of the free market to pick the winners and losers in our economy, not the whims of bureaucrats and politicians."

Michael Capuano (D-Mass) said, "My fear is you're going to take this money and continue the same stupid decisions you've made for 25 years.”

Democratic party leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid sent a letter to the CEO's of the Big Three asking them to present by December 2, 2008, a "credible restructuring plan" involving "significant sacrifices and major changes to [the] way of doing business," to qualify for further Government assistance. The letter includes a variety of principles and requirements, including a situation assessment, forecasts under various assumptions, taxpayer protection, transparent reporting to an oversight body, dividend and executive pay restrictions, and approach to covering healthcare and pension obligations.

What do you think? Should the car companies receive a bailout, given that the car industry is such a big deal in the United States? Or should they compete like everyone else in this Free Market economy?

December 04, 2008

Bratty Bratz and Boring Barbie

Warning: this post is pretty shallow.

Today, a judge decreed that Bratz dolls were too similar to Barbie dolls, and an infringement to Mattel.

Toy giant Mattel Inc., after a four-year legal dispute with MGA Entertainment Inc., touted its win in the case Wednesday after a federal judge banned MGA from making and selling its pouty-lipped and hugely popular Bratz dolls. Source: Cnn

Really? Mattel has a copyright on dolls? Come on! This is ridiculous.

True, Bratz dolls are a lot cooler than Barbie dolls, with a hip-hop flavor, mixed in with a Paris-Hilton-Hollywood-Trash look. It beats Barbie dolls, which never really evolved since the 1950s. Bratz dolls come in all kinds of colors and hair textures. Black Barbie dolls are basically white Barbie dolls, with a little bit of brown paint mixed in the plastic flesh, and brown hair.

Bratz looks like she’s ready for a club, a music studio session, a dance-off, or a street corner. Barbie’s ready for a country club, the library or a garden party. No wonder kids and their parents prefer bratty Bratz over boring Barbie!

The dolls-objectifying-women opinion aside, I can’t believe that companies are not able to take a simple object, and improve its design, without being slapped with a major lawsuit.

Who are they gonna sue next? Grandpa carving a doll for little Suzy out of wood?

Shall we get a spot of tea?

Yo! You're in my spot b$%ch!

December 02, 2008

Build a Kit

I've just started a new job in public health preparedness. What is preparedness you ask? Is that really an English word?

Well, yes it is. And here's what it means:

pre·par·ed·ness (pr-pârd-ns), n.
The state of being prepared, especially military readiness for combat.

Anyways, I am taking an online training on the topic, and wanted to share how you, as a private citizen, can be ready for a major disaster. The Government recommends that everyone have a Disaster Kit at home, and in their car:

Build a Kit
Modified from Source: Seattle Red Cross

-As a general rule, you should store three days worth of supplies. If room and resources allow, store more.
-Replace emergency food and water supplies every six months unless otherwise noted on the packaging
-Make sure your kit is easily accessible. When a disaster hits, you don’t want to dig in the back of the attic for your supplies.
-Keep smaller versions of your disaster kit in your family vehicles and at work.
Prioritize. Don’t get overwhelmed by the need to get everything on the list. Kits don’t have to take up a lot of room and you may already have a lot of the supplies around your house. Focus on the essentials (water, food and medications) and build from there. Some people find it helpful to have a disaster calendar and add one or two items to their kit every time they go to the grocery/hardware/discount store.


Store at least one gallon of water per person per day (two quarts for drinking and two quarts for sanitation and food preparation. Children, nursing mothers and ill people will need more). Store water in plastic containers such as soft drink bottles. Avoid using anything that may decompose or break. Water should be replaced every six months.

Store at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food. Select foods that are compact and lightweight, require no refrigeration, preparation or cooking and little or no water. If you must heat food, pack a can of sterno, but use outside and away from flammable objects.

-Ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits and vegetables.
-Emergency food bars
-Canned juices
-Staples (salt, sugar, pepper, etc.)
-Food/formula for infants
-Food for family members with special dietary requirements
-Comfort/stress foods to lift morale (chocolate)
-Remember to pack a non-electric can opener.

-(20) adhesive bandages, various sizes
-5" x 9" sterile dressing
-Conforming roller gauze bandage
-Triangular bandages
-3 x 3 sterile gauze pads
-4 x 4 sterile gauze pads
-Roll 3" cohesive bandage
-Germicidal hand wipes or waterless alcohol-based hand sanitizer
-Six (6) antiseptic wipes
-Pair large medical grade non-latex gloves
-Adhesive tape, 2" width
-Anti-bacterial ointment
-Cold pack
-Scissors (small, personal)
-CPR breathing barrier, such as a face shield
-Purchase a Red Cross First Aid kit or get trained in First Aid.

Keep enough essential medications on hand for at least three days (preferably seven days).
Keep a photocopy of your medical insurance cards or Medicare cards.
Keep a list of prescription medicines including dosage, and any allergies.
Aspirin, antacids, anti-diarrhea, etc.
Extra eyeglasses, hearing-aid batteries, wheelchair batteries, oxygen tank.
List of the style and serial numbers of medical devices such as pacemakers.
Label any equipment, such as wheelchairs, canes or walkers that you would need.
Instructions on personal assistance needs and how best to provide them.
Individuals with special needs or disabilities should plan to have enough supplies to last for up to two weeks (medication syringes, colostomy supplies, respiratory aids, catheters, padding, distilled water, etc.).

Keep some of these basic tools:

Battery operated radio and extra batteries
Flashlight and extra batteries
Cash or travelers checks
A copy of your disaster plan and emergency contact numbers.
Map of your city and state (to evacuate the area and/or to find shelters)
Utility knife
Non-electric can opener
Fire extinguisher: small canister ABC type
Pliers and wrench
Waterproof matches
Paper, pens and pencils
Needles, thread
Plastic sheeting
Aluminum foil

Toilet paper, towelettes
Soap, liquid detergent
Feminine supplies
Personal hygiene items
Plastic garbage bags, ties (for personal sanitation uses)
Plastic bucket with tight lid
Household chlorine bleach
Hand sanitizer

Include at least one complete change of clothing and a pair of sturdy shoes per person. You also want to consider packing blankets or sleeping bags, rain gear, hats and gloves, thermal underwear and sunglasses.

Keep copies of important family documents in a waterproof container.
Will, insurance policies, contracts, deeds, stocks and bonds
Social security cards, passports, immigration papers, immunization records
Bank account numbers
Credit card account numbers and companies
Family records (birth, marriage, death certificates)
Medical insurance and Medicare cards

Deck of cards
Portable music device
For children, include a small toy, stuffed animal or coloring book and crayons
For more information view our disaster kit brochure, family disaster plan brochure and food and water in an emergency brochure.

Wow, I can't help but feel (a) excited by this list as it makes me think that a Zombie apocalypse is upon us, (b) wary of it too, as I also had a kit in Congo for those many times I had to stay at home during civil unrest.

Also, when looking at this list, I wonder if a sports bag is enough to contain all this equipment. A large closet would be more appropriate!