Friday, October 24, 2014

Cooking up the winter veg

DSC09693Herfst groenten are filling the grocers and farmer’s markets this month, root vegetables and squashes.  I’ve been trying to learn more about the various choices and flavors on offer, mostly using them as starters and side dishes.  I’ve played with making leek and potato soup (and its cold cousin, Vichyssoise) in the past, DSC09662but wanted to try something lighter (gram for gram, squash has half the carbs and calories of potatoes).

So, I brought home a bag of vegetables for two soups that caught my fancy, a leek-and-carrot blend, and a leek and butternut squash mix.

DSC09663I’ve gotten better at peeling, slicing, and chopping after watching some skills videos and practicing on onions and tomatoes.  Despite my fear of blades and nicking myself, its become a relaxing rhythm.  And there is something really satisfying about settling in with a knife and a pile of vegetables, ending up with a bowl of trimmed waste and another of  prepared ingredients.  And the container gardens are still yielding thyme and rosemary, chive and dill, even though the days are shorter and cooler.

DSC09664The first job was to prepare a big pot of vegetable stock.  I base my stock on the BBC recipe, minus tomatoes and salt, adding herbs and greens.   It only takes about an hour to reduce it, then the broth strains out and I nibble at the left-overs while I make the soups.

DSC09668The Carrot and Leek is probably simplest, just mix the ingredients, simmer a while, and puree with the hand blender (pot on left).  It thickened nicely, but the taste just wasn’t where I wanted it: too thin and a bit acrid.  People with a proficient palate can know what to add by taste, just as an painter knows how much of which colour to blend to match the object in front of them. 

DSC09700I’m not (yet) one of those.  So I ladle bits of soup out into soufflĂ© cups and experiment with basic flavors: milk/butter, citrus/vinegar, tomato, salt/herb.  Each perked up the soup, but each in different ways and it was easy to overpower the leek and carrot flavors. 

In the end, a bit of cream / butter base added some richness, salt and pepper: it’s not something I would serve to guests, but it’s pretty healthy and very light.

DSC09667The Squash and Leek came out much better.  Cubing the squash, baking half an hour with butter and cinnamon, makes the veg nicely soft and sweet.  It thickens nicely in the leek and vegetable broth, and the whole conglomerate whips up nicely under the blender.  I needed to thin the soup a bit, but since it was already sweet I added more vegetable broth instead of a dairy product.

DSC09681The two complimented one another well enough that thinning the squash soup with the carrot soup resulted in a nice balance: I wouldn’t recommend making both, but they did fit together nicely.

And it’s good to have bowls laid in as the cold arrives outside: I ended up with a bit of a raspy throat from travels and this gives me a couple of days of comfort food to soothe it with.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Midweek reflections

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It’s been a good start to the week: lots of items knocked off the to-do list, kept up with healthy resolutions for diet and exercise, and balanced convergent progress with divergent reading.  The diary is organized around half-term holiday next week, the first few days away in over a year. 

Small steps forward, but still some steps forward.  And accompanied by some ideas as I cross the week’s midpoint.

Einstein-IntuitionWhy is deductive knowledge prized over intuitive knowledge?

A hypothesis, backed by objective measurements and observed data, is considered ‘true’ evidence that settles discussions. 

But a hunch or feeling, based on experience or instinct, is suspect, not to be accepted without further investigation and verification.

Yet any breakthrough idea or creative concept, insight or epiphany, depends on intuition.  These can’t be deduced.

So, how best to use our intuition?  Should we be bolder about following solitary hunches?  Or more reflective in examining intuition for bias, for effect on others, and for alternatives?

Delaney - dualityIn mathematics a dual is defined as a pair of concepts that mirror one another.  People have been suggesting  various duals to me all month (or I may be seeing more because my mind is wearing this lens).

Risk / Reward is a constant theme in fundraising.

Anger / Fear is a way to rationalize the link between how people act and the feelings that motivate them.

Persistent / Aggressive is a reminder to consider how actions are perceived, especially across cultures.  Especially British culture.

listenLeaders should be better listeners.  Clegg, FT.com

“Managers can listen better by 1) Looking for ways to neutralise their biases, 2) Avoiding doing other things while listening, 3) Watching facial expression and lip movements to improve comprehension, and 4) Join observation to listening: weighing what people say against what they do.“

I know I should try to become a better listener. 

I can be too active and interactive in conversation, not open to enough to other’s ideas nor observant of their prosody.

Listening doesn’t come easily when situations are overloaded with significance and stress.  I have experience and knowledge, responsibility for making the right things happen and accountability for outcomes. 

And, as Heskett has observed, Unless the leader is good at listening, not much listening goes on, because people watch and emulate.

Falkner quoteOn long days traveling by car or train to pitches and meetings, my minds idles through worries and solutions, a healthy bit of war-gaming through scenarios so that I can take effective action in a variety of situations.  Since planning the future necessarily requires learning from the past, there is a certain amount of rumination as I watch the landscape scroll past.

Would having a friend in the car improve the process?

Anna North, writing in the NY Times, suggests not.  Sharing seems to intensify both positive and negative experiences; concern with friend’s possible opinions distorts the way we perceive and feel.  Consider ‘contagious anxiety’ where one person’s mood affects the other’s.

More delightfully, frequent discussion of the same problem can result in co-rumination, cyclic negative reinforcement of past problems that cause problems to persist longer than they otherwise would.  While this may also strengthen the bonds between friends, it may also make past events larger and emotional burdens heavier than they might be otherwise.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Autumn leaves and chestnuts

DSC09075 (1300x975)My days seem to grow longer as they actually get shorter.  I make coffee at 7 before the sun rises, reading the overnight news and sketching out the day while the warm rains spatter, unseen, against the kitchen windows.  I drive home from exercise at 7, headlights picking out the leaves and puddles, reflecting store windows and traffic signals.  A normal workday more than consumes the available daylight.

So I look forward to spending the weekends out in the sunshine, maybe a museum or a walk.  DSC09081 (1300x958)Today it was the South Hill Park Arts Centre in Berkshire.  ‘back in the day, I was a member of the Kirkland Arts Center, taking weekly classes in still life and charcoals, life drawing and pastel techniques.  This feels much the same, studios and student exhibitions, class announcements and seminars.  If it were closer, I’d be tempted back into the routine.

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The difference is the rambling mansion set into rolling grounds.  Three trails loop around the lakes and through the forests, wooden sculptures punctuating the turns.  DSC09085 (1300x1047)It’s not spectacular art, but the trees in autumn were lovely against the lakes and the ground was filled with spiny green chestnut casings crunching underfoot.

I needed a lesson. 

The first was in recognizing the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’, always my life’s work.  The good, Sweet chestnuts come in the spiny husks and have tassels at the tips.  The ‘bad’ horse chestnuts have simpler husks and shapes.  I confused the two, of course, but collected a good cup or two. 

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The second lesson, still pending, is in how to cook the nuts for use in recipes and snacks. 

The British are, admirably, superb naturalists:  But I needed to take time to slow down and observe.

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The Centre had a movie (Arthur and Mike,an innocent road romance)  and a decent Sunday Roast.  But mostly it was simply nice to be out and about while the sun was shinning.  The days may be shorter, but a day in the countryside, autumn colour and chestnuts, still restores the soul.