Archive | June 2015

It’s All Over But The Shouting

http://www.gannett-cdn.com/-mm-/6b0007fc307c311d20c7a42c5d126e30ce5e3585/c=135-0-2748-1965&r=x513&c=680x510/local/-/media/2015/06/26/USATODAY/USATODAY/635709277155027520-usat-scotus.jpg
Shane Crone, left, and Diane Wiltshire take a photo in celebration
of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage in
Washington, D.C.

Friday, June 26, 2015. Mark that date on your calendar. That’s the day the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) handed down its historic ruling that, in accordance with Article XIV of the Constitution of the United States, same-sex marriage is the law of the land.

Some say that date will go down in history; others say it will live in infamy.

I’ve heard all the arguments for and against marriage equality, and a few things stand out in my mind:

  1. Most arguments against marriage equality are based on religious beliefs
  2. Many arguments speak to the idea that “gays want special rights”
  3. They also claim that “we’re redefining marriage”

There are many more arguments against, but I’m going to limit myself to these three. I don’t want to spend hours writing any more than you do in reading. So let’s take each of these arguments in turn:

Arguments Based on Religious Beliefs

Far too many people claim that their objections are based on their religious beliefs. But let’s face it: in the United States, “religious beliefs” usually means Christianity. And all too often, Christianity means fundamentalist, Bible-pounding, hell-fire-and-brimstone interpretations of the Bible, for which there is no Biblical justification. I maintain that the Bible and software EULAs (End User License Agreements) have this in common: nobody ever reads the whole thing; they just scroll down to the bottom and click on “I AGREE.”

“But the United States is a Christian nation!” “The United States was founded on Christian principles.” I’m sorry to rain on your parade, but these claims demonstrate a complete lack of knowledge of United States history. I won’t go into details here, but instead suggest you Google® “Treaty of Tripoli,” or “Deism and the Founding Fathers” and educate yourself on the facts.

I have no problems with your religious beliefs just so long as they don’t trample my individual rights. As my father (the retired evangelical Lutheran minister) was fond of repeating, “Your rights end where my nose begins.” Pithy, but apt.

For centuries, religionists have cited scripture to justify enslaving, torturing, burning, and otherwise oppressing other people; when they were called to account for it, they screamed “You’re oppressing me! Religious freedom!”

For the longest time in the United States, the Bible was used to justify slavery. But fortunately, the bedrock of our legal system is NOT the Bible but rather the United States Constitution—imperfect as it is. When people are sworn into public office, they place their hands on a Bible or Koran or some other religious document and swear to uphold the Constitution; they don’t place their hands on the Constitution and swear to uphold scripture.

Gays Want Special Rights

Here’s a partial list of legal rights that heterosexuals have, that are denied to the gay population:

  1. Have legal equal employment: according to a Federal law, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders (LGBTs) are not protected against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the private sector.
  2. Donate blood.
  3. In many states, we can’t adopt
  4. Be safe from educational discrimination based on sexual orientation
  5. Live in certain communities: the Fair Housing Act lends no protection to LBGTs when purchasing, renting, or leasing a home on the basis of sexual orientation.
  6. Be Boy Scout leaders (although this is slowly changing)
  7. Trans folk are still forbidding from serving in the military

If someone would explain to me how wanting the same rights as everyone else amounts to wanting “special rights,” I’d certainly appreciate it.

Gays Are Redefining Marriage

‘Nuff said.

POINT: Marriage Is a Civil, Not a Religious Union

Yes, there are many religious ceremonies used to solemnize marriages. But consider: where do you go to obtain your marriage license? You go to your county clerk, and have the license issued by the government. That’s because the government considers marriage a civil arrangement, not a religious one.

And rather than complain that gay marriage threatens your religion, there is no law, statute, regulation or court decision requiring any religious person to perform, officiate over, or otherwise participate in a same-sex marriage. Yesterday’s SCOTUS decision doesn’t change that fact. If same-sex marriage is against your religion, nothing requires you to change your beliefs. All it does is prevents you from denying my right to marry whomever I wish.

In Conclusion

Marriage equality (same-sex marriage [or, as I like to call it, “marriage]) is now the law of the land, and while that is a significant historic victory, we still have a long was to go on our march to what the Constitution promises us: Equal rights under the law.

A promise that for far too many of us still remains unfulfilled.

Another Nice Tea

My cousin Augusta lives in New York City, and from time to time visits Israel. While there, she brings back some items that, while they are available in the USA, are considerably cheaper in their country of origin. And I am sometimes the beneficiary of her “imports.”

The latest is a box of assorted teas she sent me, and which I mentioned in a previous post. Along with the P&G Tips, she also sent several bags of Wissotzky™ tea. This morning I decided to try their Masala chai.

A word about the word “chai:” when you go into your local tea emporium and ask for “chai,” the only reason you get your spiced tea is that the barista knows as little about it as you. The word “chai” itself translates as “tea.” What you really are asking for is Masala chai (“mixed-spice tea”). I suspect that if you were to go to a tea emporium operated by someone from the middle-to-near-East and asked for a cup of chai, they’d probably ask you what kind you wanted.

And if you ask for “chai tea,” you are of course asking for “tea tea.” Then again, we are a nation of baseball fans who cheer on The The Angels Angels (a literal translation of “The Los Angeles Angels”).

All pedantry aside, tea vendors have their own special blends they use for their spiced teas. And in the case if Wissotzky Tea’s Masala Chai™, theirs is made from choicest Indian tea, cinnamon, ginger, clove, cardamom, and black pepper (that’s exactly what the label says).

As I have said here before, and will say again (probably ad infinitum and ad nauseum), I love my tea. Stacey prefers her caffeine in the form of coffee, but I need my tea. Not that I have anything against coffee, mind you; it’s just that given the time and a free choice, I’ll take a “daysent cuppa” over coffee every time.

My favorite teas are, in this order: masala chai, Irish Breakfast blend, Earl Grey, and plain black tea. But I’m even fussy when it comes to plain black: it has to be Assam tea, which gets its name from the region of India in which it’s grown.

And Wissotzky™ makes a wonderful cup of masala chai. So wonderful, in fact, that the first thing I did after drinking my first cup was to go online and see if I could get more of it without having to wait for Augusta to go to Israel again. I am delighted to say that I (and you, of course) can indeed obtain it here in the USA.

wissotzky-chaiWissotzky Masala Chai

You can follow this link to their web site. You can also get it from Amazon™, but they don’t have nearly the variety of the manufacturer. I’m sure you can find other sources as well, but I always believe that the best way to get your questions answered is to go right to the source.

Disclaimer

Whenever I mention a product on my blog, you can be sure of two things: I am not being paid for any endorsement, and I only review products that I personally enjoy and would buy again.

If ever I become famous enough to attract corporate sponsorship, I will let you know if I’m being paid to push a product. I know a lot of food blogs that do that, and there is nothing wrong with the practice, just so long as they’re up front about their sponsorship.

Besides, I don’t think any food bloggers are getting rich from their work; most corporate sponsorships are in the nature of products to try, or minor sums of money to pay for the upkeep of the website or blog. I think the lucky ones who are profiting from their work are doing so because they are also selling their own line of cookbooks. All I can say about them is “more power to ya!” and that I’m jealous of their success.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I must turn my attention to the vegan baked beans I have simmering in the crockpot.

TTFN!

How About a Nice Cup of Tea?

“There is no problem so great or so grave that cannot be
very much diminished by a nice cup of tea.” Bernard-Paul Heroux

I’m on my first cup of the morning. Well, of the day, actually, since it’s 2 in the afternoon. My brew of choice today is P&G Tips, the most popular brand in England, and one I have just discovered. Although I really shouldn’t say “discovered,” either, as I’ve been aware of the brand for a few years. But today the FedEx man came knocking at my door with the package my cousin Augusta sent me from New York City, and in it were several of the distinctive pyramid-shaped tea bags.

Naturally, the second thing I did upon opening the box (the first was to text Augusta and let her know the package had arrived safely) was to brew my first-ever cup of this tea. While I don’t consider myself a connoisseur of tea, it is my favourite beverage. I dare say I drink more of it than does your average American: whereas you might drink several cups of coffee every day, I drink the same amount of tea.

This tea is quite forgiving; that is, unlike so many other teas, it doesn’t get bitter if you happen to let it steep beyond the recommended 5 minutes. This is important to me, because I will routinely pour the boiling water over the tea, go back to the desk and continue writing, and remember the tea 15 or 20 minutes later.

Another thing I like about this tea is that while it is manufactured by a large multinational corporation (Unilever), it is still socially responsible: according to Wikipedia, “In May 2007, Unilever became the first company to commit to sourcing all its tea in a sustainable manner. To that end, the company asked the Rainforest Alliance, an international environmental NGO to start certifying tea estates in East Africa. Since April 2012 all of the tea used in PG Tips has been Rainforest Alliance certified.”

Something else about it is that while it is more expensive than most of the teas I’ve tried, it may end up saving me money in the long run: I currently use 4 tea bags for a 16 ounce cup of tea, and I get the same brew with only 2 bags of P&G Tips.

I suspect this is because of the unique pyramid shape of the bag, which it is claimed allows the tea leaves to circulate better than they do in a traditional tea bag. Regardless, if won’t be that much more to buy than my current favourite, Red Rose Irish Breakfast Blend.

All in all, now that I’ve finished my first cup, a thoroughly enjoyable tea, and one that may well become a regular inhabitant of my cupboard.

Tea. It’s a bit of heaven in a cup or, if you’re an American, it’s more likely to be a mug. Again, if you’re an American, you probably prefer coffee. I have nothing against coffee; in fact, when Stacey and I are out, it is my drink of choice. But that’s not because I prefer coffee over tea; rather it is almost a necessity when you live in a country where a restaurant or other eatery that knows how to brew a decent cup of tea is a rarity.

Thomas De Quincey wrote, “Surely every one is aware of the divine pleasures which attend a wintry fireside; candles at four o’clock, warm hearthrugs, tea, a fair tea-maker, shutters closed, curtains flowing in ample draperies to the floor, whist the wind and rain are raging audibly without.

Stacey and I live in a part of the country (New York’s Great Lakes region) that knows winter. Here in Rochester we are intimately familiar with Lake Effects Storms; that’s when cold air from Canada comes down over Lake Ontario, picking up moisture and dumping it on us in the form of heavy snows. At such times, four o’clock is much too long to wait for a cup of tea.

And what I said earlier about it being almost impossible to get a decent cup of tea in the United States? If you’ve ever eaten in any commercial establishment, you know that “tea” consists of a carafe of not-quite-hot-enough water with a tea bag on the side. If you’re lucky, it comes with a wedge of lemon. Why do I say the water isn’t hot enough? Because if you are brewing tea (real black tea, as opposed to green tea, or a tisane, or an infusion), the water should be boiling when it hits the tea leaves. But don’t take my word for it; here’s what no less an expert than George Orwell had to say:

A Nice Cup of Tea
by George Orwell
Evening Standard, 12 January 1946.

If you look up ‘tea’ in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points.

This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.

When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:

· First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase ‘a nice cup of tea’ invariably means Indian tea.

· Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.

· Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water.

· Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.

· Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly.

· Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference.

· Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.

· Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup — that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one’s tea is always half cold before one has well started on it.

· Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.

· Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.

· Lastly, tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tea lover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.
Some people would answer that they don’t like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.

These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tealeaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one’s ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.

(Taken from The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Volume 3, 1943-45, Penguin ISBN, 0-14-00-3153-7)

I’m Not George Orwell

So I don’t follow all of his rules to the letter; as a descendant of Irishmen, I drink my tea in the Irish manner: with milk and sugar, than you very much. Incidentally, the Irish are the Western world’s greatest tea drinkers. Here in Rochester we are blessed with the Wegman’s chain of grocery stores, and they stock P&G Tips, as well as imported Irish Breakfast Tea. We also have a few Indian (as in East Indian) food stores that stock a variety of teas.

In closing, let me bid you adieu with a few choice quotes about tea:

Enjoy life sip by sip not gulp by gulp. – The Minister of Leaves

Thank God for Tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea. – Rev. Sydney Smith

I always fear that creation will expire before tea-time. – Rev. Sydney Smith

Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. – Henry Fielding

Remember the tea kettle – it is always up to its neck in hot water, yet it still sings! – Unknown

There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea. – Henry James

While there’s tea there’s hope. – Sir Arthur Pinero

Tea- the cups that cheer but not inebriate. – William Cowper

There is a great deal of poetry and fine sentiment in a chest of tea. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tea is drunk to forget the din of the world. – Tien Yiheng

Ecstasy is a glass full of tea and a piece of sugar in the mouth. – Alexander Puskin

I am in no way interested in immortality, but only in the taste of tea. -Lu tung

Each cup of tea represents an imaginary voyage. – Catherine Douzel

Come oh come ye tea-thirsty restless ones – the kettle boils, bubbles and sings, musically.

Rabindranath Tagore

One sip of this will bathe the drooping spirits in delight, beyond the bliss of dreams. – Milton

As long as it is hot, wet and goes down the right way, its fine with me. – Sarah Fergerson, Dutchess of York, On Tea

In nothing more is the English genius for domesticity more notably declared than in the institution of this festival – almost one may call it – of afternoon tea…The mere chink of cups and saucers tunes the mind to happy repose. – George Gissing

[I am a] hardened and shameless tea drinker, who has for twenty years diluted his meals only with the infusion of this fascinating plant; whose kettle has scarcely time to cool; who with tea amuses the evening, with tea solaces the midnight, and with tea welcomes the evening. – Samuel Johnson

What part of confidante has that poor teapot played ever since the kindly plant was introduced among us. Why myriads of women have cried over it, to be sure! What sickbeds it has smoked by! What fevered lips have received refreshment from it! Nature meant very kindly by women when she made the tea plant; and with a little thought, what a series of pictures and groups the fancy may conjure up and assemble round the teapot and cup. – William Makepeace Thackery

Tea had come as a deliverer to a land that called for deliverance; a land of beef and ale, of heavy eating and abundant drunkenness; of grey skies and harsh winds; of strong nerved , stout-purposed, slow-thinking men and women. Above all, a land of sheltered homes and warm firesides – firesides that were waiting – waiting, for the bubbling kettle and the fragrant breath of tea. – Agnes Reppiler

…For tea, though ridiculed by those who are naturally coarse in their nervous sensibilities, or are to become so from wine-drinking, and are not susceptible of influence from so refined a stimulant, will always be the favored beverage of the intellectual… – Thomas De Quincey

If you are cold, tea will warm you;
if you are too heated; it will cool you;
if you are depresses, it will cheer you;
if you are exhausted, it will calm you.
– William Gladstone

Witness For The Defense

Today’s entry is written in response to an article I read elsewhere. I wanted to leave a comment in response, but the site didn’t allow for it. You can read the entire article here: The Underappreciated Genius of Agatha Christie. In fact, if you don’t go there and read it, then I suggest you skip over today’s entry entirely. And the title of today’s entry? A little play on the fact that one of Ms. Christie’s books was entitled Witness For The Prosecution.

Ms. Christie’s real offense was simple: she was a woman. In 1920s England, one’s social class to a large degree dictated one’s behavior, occupation, and choice of leisure activities. Agatha Christie defied social norms by not only daring to enter what was then a predominantly male-dominated field, but by then having the audacity to excel in that field.

Consider: she created not one but two famous detectives, Miss Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot. Nor did she stop there: Tommy and Tuppence, Parker Pyne, and Harley Quin round out what had they all worked together might have been the world’s most successful international detective agency. Pinkerton’s? Brink’s? Mere pikers by comparison!

If you are a mystery fan and have not yet discovered the works of Dame Agatha, or if your only knowledge of them comes from the cinema or the television, you owe it to yourself to read her works. They are well-written, meticulously plotted, and just plain entertaining to read.
And yes, I do realize that reading is becoming a dying art, particularly among people younger than I (just turned officially ancient this month), but all those movies and video games didn’t just spring into existence: they all came from somewhere, and many of them have their roots in books.