A blog about the arts, books, flora and fauna, vittles, and whatever comes to mind!

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Friday, November 5, 2010

Daylight Slaving Time

When I was a kid, I always wondered why we changed the time twice a year.  I asked my dad and he said, “Because of the farmers.  They need more light in the summer to farm.”  (Okay.  I bought that, even though I was thinking that the light would be the same, regardless of what hour we called it.  My dad was omniscient then.)  This is a common thought, however incorrect.  Daylight Savings Time (DST) is a controversial subject.

It is really for the benefit of retailers, manufacturers, and the sports business.  Farmers don’t like it.  They need their paid workers to work later, rather than leave earlier.  Farmers get up at sunrise no matter what the clock says.  The entertainment industry doesn’t like it – they make their money mostly after dark.  Railroads don’t like it either, as the coordination of schedules and making sure all their employees are on the correct time can be a hassle,  especially when trains run through several different times zones, and some don't observe DST.

DST is very political.  Not standardized in the U.S. until 1966, a 1987 extension was voted for by both Idaho senators.  Studies showed that fast-food restaurants sell more French fries (made from Idaho potatoes, natch!) during DST.  The extension was funded by Clorox (owner of Kingsford Charcoal – got to have those late afternoon barbeques) and 7-Eleven.  A 1984 article in Fortune magazine stated estimates that a mere seven week extension of DST would yield $30 million more for 7-Eleven stores, and the National Golf Foundation figured that same time extension would earn the golf industry $200-300 million more. 

What?  Golf?  Yes.  If DST bugs you, it’s no wonder.  It was first proposed by an entomologist, New Zealander George Vernon Hudson (unknown if he golfed).  He presented a paper in 1895 proposing a two hour shift.  In 1905, Londoner William Willett proposed advancing the clock during the summer, and he was an avid golfer.  U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, also an avid golfer, was in support of it as well.  The golf industry is not the only sport who gains profits by DST.  With more daylight hours, people play more sports after school and after work in general.

Ancient civilizations adjusted daily schedules to the sun, rather than divide each day into equal hours.  So the Roman hora tertia, the third hour after sunrise, was 44 minutes at the winter solstice, but 75 minutes at the summer solstice.  The world ran for millennia without standard timekeeping.  It was only after railroads and advanced communications came into being that the need for precise schedules arose.

An early goal was to reduce evening use of incandescent lighting – a big electricity suck.  Currently there is little information on how DST affects energy use, and what does exist is contradictory.  The first use of DST began in 1916 by Germany and its allies.  Sommerzeit, as they called it, was a way to conserve coal during WWI.  A few other countries, including Russia, started it the following year, and the U.S. in 1918. 

No state in the U.S. is required to follow DST, but if a state chooses to it must adhere to the start and end times set by federal law.  Arizona (minus the Navajo Nation) and Hawaii are the only states that do not observe it.  The continents of Asia and Africa, for the most part, do not follow it.  Nor do countries along the equator, since there isn’t much of a variation of sunrise times.  Here’s a link to see how various countries in the world deal with it.

Technically, the name of local time changes when DST is observed, the word “standard” replacing “daylight”, so in my neck of the woods, PST (Pacific Standard Time) becomes PDT (Pacific Daylight Time).  During WWII President Roosevelt instituted DST yearlong, replacing the center words with “war”, so PST became PWT.

If you feel strongly that DST, called “Daylight Slaving Time” by opponents, should end, you may want to join this group.  An early dissenter against DST was Robertson Davies, who stated that he detected “the bony, blue-fingered hand of Puritanism, eager to push people into bed earlier, and get them up earlier, to make them healthy, wealthy, and wise in spite of themselves.”

Is time to end DST?  I say we go back to the Roman way.  It’s useless to try and force light into our time systems.  We should just go with the flow.... of light.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pass the Mustard

'Tis the season for gifting, and nothing says "you are special" more than something handmade and from the heart.  (Or a really expensive store.)   There's one condiment that is easily prepared that I'm keen as mustard about.

Prepared mustard is a condiment basically composed of mixing mustard seed with liquid(s), and is a great and low-fat way to spice up your food.  Since the word is derived from Latin - "must" was unfermented grape juice, and "ard(ens)" means burning - we know the Romans ate it, and that they made it hot in taste.  Mustard seeds have also been found in Egyptian tombs, and mention is found in both the Upanishads and the Bible.

Its first mention for healing was by Hippocrates, and the ancient Greeks used it to cure various ailments.  They believed it was a gift to mankind from Asclepius, the god of healing.  The oil of the plant is volatile and can blister the skin, but diluted and used as a poultice or liniment it is soothing.  Mustard plasters are still used, and have been used for centuries in baths where it draws the blood to the skin to comfort stiffness.  Its use has been prescribed for maladies as diverse as scorpion stings, snakebites, rheumatism, and colic, among other ailments.  

Because it adds a punch to foods, it became associated with vitality and zest and was used with relish (another great condiment, but I mean enthusiastically).  In the early 20th century, the word was used much the same as we use the term "hot stuff", as in, "That woman is mustard."  

The plant was once called “senvy”, and the word “mustard” referred to the condiment made from its seeds, but now refers to both the condiment and the plant.  It is a member of the Brassica family, which includes cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, turnips, and the dreaded brussel sprouts.  Currently over 400 million pounds are consumed worldwide.

Mustard seeds can be white (sometimes referred to as yellow), brown, or black, depending on the plant. Black seeds are considered the hottest, white seeds the mildest. The seeds are usually crushed, except in "whole grain" mustards, where the seeds are mixed ungrounded with the other ingredients. Although vinegar is most commonly used to mix with the ground seeds, water or other liquids - wine, vinegar, whisky, beer, salad oil, honey, and (hailing back to the Romans) verjuice – made by pressing unripe grapes - are often used.  Vinegar preserves the intensity, as does salt to a lesser extent, and combined with mustard's antimicrobial properties, it will last forever.  Using a cold liquid results in a stronger mustard - its pungency is lessened with heat, whether in its preparation or use.  Therefore if you cook with it, adding a little dry mustard before serving will sharpen the taste.  

Common flavorings used in prepared mustards include honey, turmeric, and horseradish. Sugar is also used to alter the taste. I recently bought some walnut mustard, which has an interesting flavor but can't as yet think of what to use it on (other than my fingertip, that is.)  Regional recipes vary, but some areas are famous for their preparations. Dijon mustard, from France, is not always made in the Dijon region; hence it has come to mean a type of mustard, usually containing both white wine and burgundy.   There is also Bordeaux mustard made with unfermented wine and flavored with tarragon.  Meaux is made of partly crushed, partly ground black seed, and is a crunchy and hot mustard good for bland foods.

Irish mustard is a whole grain mustard often mixed with Irish whiskey. English mustard (often called "made mustard") is brighter yellow in appearance, and much hotter than American prepared mustard. American mustard is often referred to as "ballpark mustard," reflecting the popularity of it on hot dogs, hamburgers, and other stadium foods (turmeric is added which adds to the yellow color).  German mustard is usually a smooth blend, however Weisswurstenf is a coarse mustard made for sausages such as bratwurst.  Chinese mustards are usually the hottest, and are sometimes mixed with soy sauce or garlic powder.

Dry mustard, sold in cans, can be mixed with your chosen ingredients to make your own mustard. Dry mustard is about twice as strong as prepared mustard, which makes sense if you are mixing the dry mustard in a 1:1 ratio with your chosen liquid(s). A general recipe for a smooth mustard would be half dry mustard and half liquid, which could be a mixture of different liquids, as in water, wine, and vinegar. Whole grain mustard can contain some whole mustard seeds, husking them or not is your choice. Try flavored vinegars for a unique taste. Store in a very clean, tightly sealed glass jar, and let sit for several weeks in order for the flavors to meld. You do not need to refrigerate this until after you open it.

Bulk mustard power can be bought from various online vendors. Also check local "big box" food warehouses for bulk containers. You can also grind your own mustard seeds in a spice grinder, food processor, or blender. 

This is one condiment that really cuts the mustard.  Experiment and try making different types.  Both you and your friends will enjoy them.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The longest word in the English language...

No, it's not "antidisestablishmentarianism" ("opposition to the separation of the established church and state" - that is a good Tea Party word, eh?),  nor "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious". (which literally means "repentant for the utmost and fragile beauty yet highly teachable", yet practically means "very wonderful").  Good guesses, though. 

If you suffer from hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia, then perhaps you shouldn't continue reading this post, as I don't want you to freak out.  Take a hike, if you're near Webster, Massachusetts, maybe to Lake  Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg(Native American for "You fish on your side; I fish on my side; nobody fish in the middle," as Richard Lederer puts it).  If you are in England then you could go to the famous and relaxing spas at Bath, which are restorative and also  aequeosalinocal -calinosetaceoaluminosocupreovitriolic.  If you like to fish, then perhaps you could go to Hawaii and see if you can catch some humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa.  

Or if you like Greek cuisine you may want to invite a bunch of your friends over and try dining on lepadotemachoselachogaleokranioleipsanodrimhypotrimmatosil 

phioparaomelitokatakechymenokichlepikossyphophattoperisteralektryonop tekephalliokigklopeleiolagoiosiraiobaphetraganopterygon.

James Joyce was fond of long words, and used them in his books.  He gets credit for using or inventing -  bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronn
tuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk, lukkedoerendunandurraskewdylooshoofermoyportertooryzooysphalnabortansporthaokansakroid verjkapakkapuk, and contransmagnificandjewbangtantiality.   Perhaps he sought  honorificabilitudinitas.

If you feel this is not a case of floccinaucinihilipilification, then you are truly a logophile.   Ready for the longest word?  There are many scientific and medical words that are very long.  But the longest in the English language is chemical.  Tryptophan synthetase A, as its friends call it, is an enzyme.  It has 267 amino acids, included in its full name, which brings it to 1,913 letters.  Forgive me if I misspelled it, but when I ran it through my spellchecker it blew up.  Take a deep breath:


Honoring the Soul of Posada

El Mosquito Americano.  An illustration and verse critical
of U.S. imperialism where the U.S. is likened to a mosquito.
Artists, like writers, can be important political tools.  Both often are punished for their work, and they often die penniless, unnoticed, and never knowing what effect their work has had on the overall scheme of things.  One of these unsung champions is José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913), a Mexican artist, illustrator and cartoonist.
Importantisimo milagro.  A miracle performed by
the Virgin of Guadalupe in response to the pleas
of a devout man, Nicolas Gutierrez, on behalf
of his wife who was suffering from chest pains.

Posada learned engraving and lithography as a young teenager, and while still a teen worked for a local newspaper, El Jicote (The Bumblebee), as a political cartoonist.  As the story goes, one of his cartoons so inflamed a local politician, Jesús Gómez Portugal, that the newspaper was shut down after eleven issues.
Explotador del Pueblo.  This political print deals with
labor abuses and the concentration of power.  The central
figure is likely a specific hacendado (landowner) of the
time.  Two caricatured men ride away on a donkey
while laborers toil in the background.
He moved to a new town and set up a print shop, where he became involved in commercial work, book illustration, and printing posters of religious and historical figures.  He also taught lithography at a local school.  When the town was flooded in 1888, he relocated to Mexico City.  He got work at a publishing company of the famous liberal journalist Ireneo Paz, whose grandson is the Nobel Prize-winning author, Octavio Paz

Corrido de la vida de Santanón (1911).  Pictoral broadside with an 
image and corrido narrative ballad addressing the life of
Rodríguez (Santamón) - a Mexican Robin Hood-style
bandit in the state of Veracruz during the Porfirian era 

who was eventually captured by rurales (campesinos ).
El Dulcero Mexicano.  This is the cover
for a 16 page chapbook containing
recipes for Mexican desserts, depicting
a man wearing an apron, making sweets
in a kitchen.

In 1892, he went to work for Antonio Vanegas Arroyo, a publisher of newspapers, periodicals, and chapbooks for the general public.  These were cheap and distributed by the thousands, although not many have survived.  Because they were illustrated even the illiterate could understand them. During this time Posada moved away from lithography, using instead zinc, wood and type metal for the purpose of a cheaper way of printmaking.  Posada worked prodigiously for Arroyo and on his own, and had to open two more workshops.  Although he was never considered a “fine” artist, his work was important to the general public, giving historians a nice glimpse into their lives and thoughts.  He never went to an art academy, having learned his skills through apprenticeships, so was not regarded a “real” artist by his contemporary art world.

José Guadalupe Posada by Leopoldo Méndez (1960) An offset lithograph from the portfolio 
450 Years of Struggle: Homage to the Mexican People honoring Posada, who initiated the
printmaking tradition in Mexico.  Here he is depicted in his workshop capturing the scene of
military oppression taking place outside of his window.  
Untitled (Guadalupe after Posada)Rafael López Castro, 1984.
This serigraph is based on Posada's
A Nuestra Señora de
showing her surrounded by four medallions that
illustrate her apparitions.  Besides adding color to the original
black and white print, Castro substituted the image of
Emiliano Zapata for the supporting angel.

The Porfirio Díaz dictatorship was the target of a number of authors and illustrators who  delivered anti-establishment messages and cartoons to the public. Díaz was originally a liberal and progressive, but during his 35-year dictatorship he focused on the elite landowners and ignored the underprivileged lower classes.  Posada was a very outspoken critic of the Díaz government, and used his skills in political satire.  He supported Emiliano Zapata, and portrayed him as a noble hero.  Using the Dia de los Muertos festivities as a theme, Posada staged shows with puppet skeletons who were dressed in the latest fashions, emulating the rich.  His shows and artwork used macabre humor to skewer politics and the elite class, and he was jailed several times for these satires.

Despotados al Valle Nacional.  Indigenous 
men and women are being herded 
by men in military uniforms towards a train.  
Forgotten by the time of his death, he received some international attention in the 1920s when the French artist Jean Charlot discovered his work.  Diego Rivera and the muralist José  Clemente Orozco claimed Posada as an influence, as well as other more modern artists.  Posada was given a pauper’s burial, and his bones were eventually dug up and dispensed with.  Sadly, the man most associated with Dia de los Muertos was not and can never be honored at a gravesite during this commemoration.  I chose to honor him with this post.

(Images courtesy of the University of New Mexico’s

Monday, November 1, 2010

Honoring the Ancestors

In the Victorian era, families would gather in cemeteries to honor their deceased loved ones.  They would celebrate by cleaning up around the graves, and having a picnic.  Cemeteries were quiet, peaceful places, beautifully landscaped and with trees for shade.  In fact, they functioned somewhat like parks.  Some of these picnics became elaborate affairs, and some gravesites were even designed for these events with stone slabs that could be used as benches or tables.  In some areas of the U.S., predominantly in the South and usually on Memorial Day, this is still done.

Since ancient times and worldwide, people have set aside a time to commemorate their forerunners.  At one time people were buried near their homes, thus remained near their family.  As people began to bury their kin in sites dedicated for this, they believed that when the souls of their loved ones returned, it was first to the place where they were buried.  Thus most of the traditions involve sprucing up gravesites, bringing offerings, and feasting.  Ching Ming is the Chinese festival for remembering the ancestors; it has roots going back 2,500 years ago.  Koreans call their similar tradition Hansik.  Japanese Buddhists call it the Bon festival.  Feralia was the day the ancient Romans conducted their homage.  In Africa, the Yoruban Odun Egungun festivals are one of the many held to honor the dead.  Most European countries have traditions where the graves of dead relatives are visited and brought gifts.  But perhaps the most well known celebration is the Mexican Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

The origins of this festival come from the indigenous cultures of Mexico, going back in time about as far as the Ching Ming.  The original festival was celebrated in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, which occurred about the time of our month of August, and the celebration lasted the whole month.  When the Spanish arrived, they tried and failed to cease this “pagan” rite.  In an attempt to make it more Christian, they moved the date to coincide with All Saints’ Day (November 1st) and All Souls’ Day (November 2nd), when it is still celebrated today.  Dia de Los Muertos has nothing to do with Halloween, despite the graveyard venue and the use of skulls to celebrate both.  Skulls were important in pre-Hispanic times, and may have been kept as trophies, brought out for ceremonial occasions.

November 1st is dedicated to honoring children, referred to as Dia de los Inocentes (the innocents) or Dia de los Angelitos (the little angels).  November 2nd is known as Dia de los Muertos, or Dia de los Difuntos, and honors adults.  Pan de Muerto (bread of the dead) is made, along with other pastries and sugar treats shaped like skulls.  People go to cemeteries and build altars that hold the favorite foods and drinks of their ancestors.  Marigolds, called Flor de Muerto, are thought to attract the souls of the dead and symbolize life’s brevity -  they are used en masse to decorate the graves and altars.  There are photos and memorabilia of the dead, and for children who have passed there may be toys.  Some people place blankets and pillows out so the dead can rest after their long journeys home.  Stories about the dead are shared, and amusing anecdotes are told.  Although the food provided is for the dead, once they are offered it, the attending families consume it.  Alcoholic beverages, such as tequila, mezcal, or pulque, are offered to the adult ancestors. 

The planning of these events is done throughout the  year.  This is a joyous celebration and much anticipated.  It is a welcoming of the dead back to homes and families, albeit for a very short time.  The meals prepared are culinary feasts, and usually feature a mole, which is stew-like sauce.  The Ur-moles were made of dry chilies, tomatoes, seeds, and chocolate.  Today each mole is as different as the cooks who make them, but the mother-of-all-moles is the black mole, usually made with over thirty ingredients.  Several types of chilies are used, such as guajillos, pasillas, anchos, and chipotles.  Other ingredients can include raisins, plantains, peanuts, cinnamon, various herbs, and of course, chocolate.  Some moles are an all-day project.

The possession of Dia de los Muertos items will bring good luck, so dolls and masks of skulls are everywhere.  Tattoos associated with this event are popular and a permanent good luck charm.  It really is a beautiful tradition, though sadly misunderstood.  There is a Mexican saying:
It is said that we suffer three deaths:  
first when we actually die;
then the day our body is buried;
and the final death is the day we are forgotten.

Dia de los Muertos exists so that the third death never happens.