Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I'm Just the Curry-ier, Ma'am.

It finally turned cold here in central Texas last week, and even then it's short lived - we'll be in the middle sixties by the end of the week. Being from a more northerly clime, I greatly enjoy these bursts of cold (sometimes foul) weather more than some of my neighbors (okay, most of them).

Due to the cold weather last night and an overabundance of desire to do so, I made more curry today. Most of the days between blog posts are taken up with other foods - misoni pork, oden and other nimono, the odd pizza or bowl of ramen - but this felt like it was going to be a curry day. I'm assuming it was on my mind because of both the cold weather and this video the Wife sent me last week. We had discussed making some changes to our home curry recipe, a la JMSDF ships and their post WWII traditions.

Just like everyone's grandma's way of making pot roast or mama's spaghetti sauce secrets, every ship's cook in the JMSDF has a specific way in which they make curry sauce. Curry sauce (as I explained briefly before) was introduced by the British in the late 1800s, then morphed over the course of time to become so popular that it's now considered a national dish. In the early parts of the 1900s, the IJN began a practice that would become a weekly tradition. Ships would have lots of scraps of vegetables and meat saved up from cooking during the week, and various other things that needed some use: tomato sauce, worchestershire sauce, bread crumbs, you name it it was possibly in the galley. Cooks would make curry rice based upon these leftovers and sundry herbs and spices, all made in a thick lard-and-flour-based gravy.

After WWII, the dish continued to skyrocket in popularity to the point where in the 1960s when viable 'roux blocks' of curry began to be sold in supermarkets. Suddenly, you didn't have to spend hours mixing your own sauce and tending the stove twice (or three times if you still used a traditional rice pot) in order to make what was really a simple dish, if you even knew how to make it.

So I did some of my prep last night by chopping up some veggies and mixing my dry spices and flour. Instead of my usual mix of straight curry powder and flour, I went with curry powder, garam masala and flour. This morning, I made some quick beef stock (I have got to get rid of this free instant broth somehow), made my roux block, and  sautéd the vegetables and beef in butter before the usual steps of adding and boiling the beef stock, then adding the roe and letting it start to thicken.

This is where things took their second different turn: I added about five tablespoons of Bulldog chuno sauce, three tablespoons of honey and half of an apple's worth of apple puré  (made directly over the pot with an oroshigane. After simmering for about forty-five minutes, it was ready to eat.

Super spicy by Japanese standards, yet sweet and a little lighter than usual, it tastes like I'd imagine a combination of Java-brand super hot curry would if you mixed it with House-brand Vermont curry. Next time, I think I'll put some puréd tomatoes and maybe a little less garam masala in. Eventually, we'll find a mix that is specifically our home version. When that day comes, I'm not going to share it openly!

Final Ingredients:
5 cups beef stock
1/2 cup lard
2 Tbs butter
5 Tbs S&B Curry Powder
1 Tbs Garam Masala
5 Tbs Bulldog Chuno Sauce
3 Tbs Honey
4 Tbs Unsweetened Applesauce
2/3 Onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 Carrot, finely chopped
1 lb Beef Stew Meat, fine cut

Monday, December 12, 2011

It was "Perry" Enlightening

Earlier this week, Governor Rick Perry's campaign released an approved advertisement starring the man whom (up until this point) I had felt was a passable individual, no better or worse than most politicians in my sight. Sure, he could forget parts of his speech or key ideas of what he planned to do over a four to eight year run, but you know what? The man wasn't reading everything from a teleprompter, and as a Texan I had seen him handle crisis. I agreed with him more than the current administration, and was willing to allow him some foibles. Then came the campaign ad that the internet has been having so much fun with:

While I maintain folks are guaranteed free thought and speech, there are times when it would still be best to keep your mouth shut. These statements are insulting and backwards, and a vain attempt to garner the vote of what has been a consistently shrinking demographic. While not a directly hateful statement is made, the homophobia is palpable. The message could only mean that Perry is squigged-out by Gays, he doesn't want them allowed to be here, and therefore you shouldn't either. After all, if you're not welcome to serve your country and fellow man while still being who you are without being relegated to the crappiest, least-glamorous positions, wouldn't that put you on par with being an African American soldier before desegregation of the armed forces?

Drawing from that idea and his statements in his video, I can only speculate that whatever Perry's solution to the LGBT community would be, it would be on par with anti-miscegeneration laws or Jim Crow, while Christians would be just as privileged in the U.S. as members of The Party would be in North Korea. Speaking as a conservative non-Christian non-Republican, that scares the willies out of me. Like "stockpile food, ammo, and hiding places" kind of scaring the willies out of me.

I'm going to be completely frank: I wouldn't be writing this blog post and putting it up for all the world to see if it weren't for the blinding conceit of the Perry campaign. Their webpage's "contact" section is nothing but links to Twitter, Facebook, and other social media, as well as ways to contribute time and funds for the campaign. Their YouTube and Facebook channels are tightly edited and obviously so.

I moved here to Texas almost four years ago, in order to marry my fiance and properly start our own lives. We both wanted to serve our fellows and our state, and so we joined Texas's official militia, The Texas State Guard. I was proud to help, and glad that the governor's office funded and controlled such a thing. We did training and missions for disaster relief, disaster recovery, search and rescue... and though I did not get deployed myself, my unit consistently deployed and acted with integrity and honor in the State and the Governor's name. Water was dispensed, cleaning supplies given out, food and shelter maintained for thousands of Texans, Louisianans, Arkansians, and illegal aliens. Yeah, there are some real Bubbas in the individual units, but on the whole the people were dedicated.

We took orders from (and gave our oaths of service to) the office of the Governor of the State of Texas. That means that while I was volunteering (we were only paid if deployed), I was taking orders from Rick Perry. I was proud to serve my new state, and to give a service which allowed the more important people of the National Guard to handle their own duties without having to worry so much about our own. Even after having to end my enlistment early due to financial hardships, I was proud to have served my state, and felt that Mister Perry had done well enough by us.

Now with this video, everything I thought about the man (and to some extent my residence) has been thrown into question. He seems to genuinely believe what he's said. That's all well and good, until it comes down to infringing on the personal freedoms and beliefs of others. That is why I completely withdraw my support of this ignoramus, and I hope he fails miserably in his bid for the Republican nomination.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Skewered Views

Lunch today was a trio of skewers of salt flavored yakitori and a couple of onigiri (salted and grilled chicken thigh kebabs and rice balls respectively) washed down with some warmed sake that had been previously offered up on our kamidana and mitamaya here in the household. A warm belly with a little alcohol in it lends me to thinking, and thus writing. Often I'll tweek an ongoing fan-fiction project the wife and a friend are involved in with myself, but quite a few times it has led me to posting on this ol' blog.

There's no point in apologizing for a lack of updates. I've been extremely busy with the build up and consequential tasks of finals week here in the aviation electronics department where I attend classes. I've accomplished everything and performed to acceptable standards throughout my semester, and so I am now roughly 1/6th complete with my studies. A week of stressful studying and testing has resulted in a 3.0 GPA, which while more than sufficient to continue in my classes was less than I aspired to. Now that the first weekend of winter break is upon me, I have a few moments to eat my lunch and reflect upon some thoughts.

I made the commitment this week to study for and be ready to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test level 4 within a year. It's a Japanese government certified and administered test, similar to the ELPT that incoming foreign students have to pass if they aren't native English speakers. It's by far not the hardest level to take (the ranges are at 5 being the lowest and 1 being nearly native/native level), but it is a serious undertaking. I'll need to study a large portion of vocabulary, written and spoken grammar, and something close to 300 individual kanji. To that end, the wife and I will be ordering at least one set of the JLPT practice flash cards we found on a webpage that gives clear indications of what to study (and comes with very good reviews).

Today the wife is away at work, fixing the problems created by a largely non-secular group of shoppers on the run-up to what has been a largely secular holiday. The traditions and attitudes observed by the folks here in central Texas come from a good place originally, but lately the snotty holier-than-thou attitudes that have been exhibited and observed have begun to taint an already touchy subject for me. There seems to be a culture of expectant gift-giving here in the U.S. which translates (at times) down to "Gimme something because you should, but don't necessarily expect anything in return." Not everyone is guilty of this of course, but it seems to be more noticeable from year to year.

I like the Japanese take on New Year's and mid year times: giving presents has become a thing one does (especially when visiting a friend or their family), but is not openly expected. If one receives a gift, they are indebted, beholden in a tiny way to the gift giver. This results in a small, healthy cycle of politeness, gift exchanging and helpfulness. There's a social obligation to someone who shared their wealth with you, especially if you secretly needed that $300 your mother gave you while she was "stopping by on the holidays."

There's no need to expect that one would ever be given anything additional at this point in my life; after all, I have life, my own home (even if it's rented), a wife and pets, some useful widgets and a few toys of my own. So long as I have the basic needs of survival met, I really don't need anything else. I'm grateful when someone decides that they have something which they plan to give me, whether it is money or material goods. I'm indebted to them even if they intended nothing of the sort and expect nothing in return. Failing an ability to pay it back (such as monetary assistance from family members), I will pass it along as best I can, doing my level best to be helpful and contributory to society and its members.

Maybe that's what I'm failing to see from most folks, for whatever reason. Some of them must surely feel similarly, or else charity would have fallen flat in this past year of economic crisis. I hope that I'm only missing seeing the good, and not just seeing only what there really is to so many of the people I come across in my daily life....

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Addiction and Nostalgia

Tonight I found myself sitting on the back porch smoking a cigar and enjoying a cheap cup of instant hot cocoa while I pondered how I got to where I am. I'm 28 years old, in a few short months to be of 29 years of age; I have parents who love me and try to be supportive of me; a lovely wife who (though she may not believe it) is the most beautiful and attractive woman I have ever met shares my home and my life with me; numerous friends and acquaintances who for whatever reason deign to share my existence; and am doing well enough in my classes despite a general lack of dedication to my studies this semester.

Among my friends I can count a handful of folks who have known me for over a decade. Some of them are folks I have never met face-to-face, who I feel guilty for not having been more dedicated to in the past or the present. I have a very supportive family from all aspects, especially when you consider how much some of them have been burnt by the same problems and tasks which now enumerate my existence. All in all, I should be pleased with how things have gone so far in what should be the first third of my life. Instead, I am nearly brought to tears by my good fortune and by past mistakes.

Just a few short years ago, I was head over heals in love with a girl from near Cincinatti. I left her in the dust in a very bad way to pursue my current relationship, because deep down I knew I had been trying to replace the woman who is now my wife. I had been doing so for as long as I could remember, and it was but for a night of conversation with a friend as a go-between that I would have never seen the error of my ways.

Looking back upon those times, and the events that led toward that time, I am utterly amazed. I never could apply myself to my studies of engineering or the humanities, and yet now I can debate with the best of them, and am in one of the top-rated programs for aviation technologies in these troubled United States! I've just this day made a commitment to finally carry through all the effort Yaneyama Megumi sensei invested in me back in 2000 and begin to truly study Japanese language and culture in order to pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Tests, starting with the lowest level. The wife has suggested I might be able to pass the level 4 or even the level 3 by the end of my time here at TSTC-Waco, which would tickle me pink in all honesty. I truly feel I won't be worthy, no matter how much improvement I make past reading the labels on my food!

Other things from the past have been welling up tonight. Before I (as I sometimes feel and suspect my family feels) abandoned my family up north, I had several 'close' friends who were of like mind, and witnessed the dedication and compassion that comes with a lifetime of love and marriage as my grandfathers took ill and passed on. In no small part, I am given comfort by the fact that if they so chose in the afterlife, they have a place in my home. It is a small family shrine called a mitamaya, which my wife and I commissioned and helped prepare under the direction of Reverend Barish-sama at Tsubaki GS in Washington, the same place we were married before the kami. That they were professed Christians matters not to me - if the Christians are correct and I am wrong, then hopefully the souls and guardian angels of my family will guide us through this artifact of our own energetic creation.

I remember long nights spent upon the internet, talking to distant friends (some of whom I have met since then) at my friend Graham's homes around the area where we grew up. The poor guy hit some hard times and made poor decisions later in life, and I abandoned him. If he even knows it to be so, I hope he can forgive me. He and his family showed me such good times; many of my fondest memories are of playing Medal of Honor: Allied Assault or the original Halo online. Even today, my stories of the craziness that came from Graham's dedication to technologies that were above my head bring laughter from my friends and classmates who remember 56K modems and spending all night downloading that one .midi that they wanted from an FTP server.

Of particular mirth and awe is the fact that, due to his mother's estate sale shopping and alimony, Graham had been able to purchase AV/TV output cards and a "primitive" wireless keyboard-mouse combination for our enjoyment. We played many a night away in our late teens, shooting Krauts in the face with Thompsons or annihilating the pink-clad SPARTANS which assailed us. All of the good times he showed me, and I ditched him because of some choices a few years ago which I held against him. My Maturity shows itself in annoyingly slow fashion at times, while Immaturity rears its ugly head with far too easy access for my liking.

I can recall spending hours online, developing personal relationships which continue to this day, albeit in forms I never could have conceived. I chased after affection, never realizing until 2007 who it was I was actually seeking - and even then, it took a completely twisted, almost catastrophic turn to get myself the fortitude to make my opinions and desires known. I was damned near internet addiction for 1999-2004, and yet even now I spend more time online. It's what is accepted, even expected (especially given how much of my studies are turned in on-line).

Even with all of that, I have to admit I have a good life and a decent time of things. I've managed to pull through my semester with As and Bs after years of having not been a full-time student. I smoke more than I ought to, and once in a while I drunk to excess... but you know what? I've got a wife whom I love (and who loves me in return), two cats who miss me if I even go outside to dispose of the litter box scoopings, a family that loves me and friends who keep in contact despite the distances betwixt us. I'm strong in my faith that the kami will guide me if its necessary or warranted to what I should be doing, and above all else - I'm beginning to be "okay" with myself.

With that knowledge comes the responsibility to once again improve myself. I should be in better shape, and I certainly should practice more of what I preach and what I expect of others. Life is a learning process, and while I am no less a student than anyone else, I should know and do better by now. Hopefully I will be as worth the effort others continue to allocate to me!