Thanks to Stephane Gabart for posting this on Facebook. What an amazing find: A web site dedicated to every aspect of olive oil: Olive Oil Times. This is now on my permanent tab rotation on Chrome.
The ongoing pedophile and other sex-related scandals that are plaguing the Catholic Church bring to mind an interesting metaphor, that of religions as cheese. Let me explain.
For the last 40 years, I have spent a lot of time with believers from many religions and denominations. I have lived with the monks on Mount Athos for weeks on end over more than 14 visits; I have spent time in ashrams and synagogues; I have attended week-long retreats with Tibetan rinpoches and Buddhist monks. And I have even engaged in the riskiest of all behaviours: I’ve invited Jehova’s Witnesses into my home! Many of my closest personal friends are internationally renown scholars on spirituality and world religions, who teach at prestigious universities.
Inevitably, if one raises the question of scandals, the answer is always the same: We are only human and must focus on the good in any religion and weed out the bad. It sorta makes sense….corruption is endemic in any human activity because there will always be a small minority of crazy people who screw it up for everyone.
In this view, religions are like hard cheeses, e.g. cheddar. If there is some mould growing on a part of the cheese, you can easily excise it and safely eat the remaining cheese. There does come a point however, where the mould is so extensive that cutting it out would leave very little edible cheese. It is up to each individual to determine how much mould they are willing to cut out and still eat the cheese.
Religions are also like cheeses in which the mould is a part of their flavour, e.g. Roquefort. Much of the perceived craziness is endemic to the belief system; one cannot excise the mouldy bits without ruining the whole cheese, nor would one want to. To question these beliefs from a logical, secular, and scientific perspective makes little sense because, ultimately, it’s all about the “flavour” and not about the technology of making the cheese.
But what happens when purposefully mouldy cheese like Roquefort, goes bad? When the “bad” mould intertwines with the good mould so that you can’t tell the difference. This is a very dangerous situation that can really make you sick. It requires a lot of self-awareness to be on the lookout for motivated reasoning, as well as a lack of defensiveness to know when it’s time to let go of long-held, comfortable beliefs.
The new header is from a picture I took in 2003 on Mount Athos, the world’s largest Christian monastic community, located in Northern Greece. I have been there some 14 times since 1975. In 2003 we were once again hosted by our Cretan friends, three monks (two brothers and their cousin) who live in their own hermitage. They have magnificent gardens, growing their own vegetables and grapes for making wine. They are also master cooks. The photo is taken in their kitchen: A trusty ancient cast iron pan in which they cook just about everything. They also use a massive wood stove for baking. The food is indescribable: Simple, yet with ingredients picked minutes earlier from the garden, drenched in their own olive oil, and served with homemade bread and wine. A defining food experience.
I thought the quote from Alexis Zorba was very appropriate. It also defines what I am looking for in cooking. Diets be damned.
My favorite food writer, Michael Pollan, recommends that you eat anything you want so long as it is “real”, i.e., made the way your grandmother would have made it (assuming she was a good cook!). This also includes junk-food; the proviso being that you make it yourself from quality ingredients. I think his rationale is that the labor intensity involved in making most junk-food at home will be a deterrent to making it, or consuming it in large quantities if you do go to all the trouble.
I have eaten at McDonald’s perhaps five times in the last 25 years, almost always under some form of duress, e.g., on our way to Boston a couple of months ago, we stopped at a small New Hampshire town at 5 AM and everything was closed, except the golden arches. Most of the times I have eaten there, it has been the Egg McMuffin.
I don’t know if McDonald’s “invented” the combination of an egg, bacon, and cheese in an English muffin, but I certainly never had it until I had it at a Mickey D’s in the early ’70’s. It is a fast-food that just begs to be made at home because of its ease of preparation and ability to really satisfy a morning hunger.
My own version varies with what’s available at home on any given morning. Today’s breakfast was as follows:
- One plain white English muffin (I often also use the Ezekiel 4:9 line of sprouted whole-grain muffins; very tasty and lower glycemic than regular white muffins)
- Two extremely thin slices of La Bernoise’s home-made bacon
- One extra-large egg fried over easy, with the yolk broken (I use a round metal form to create a convenient shape to fit the muffin)
- Half an ounce of Alsatian Muenster cheese (very stinky)
Two minutes in the panini maker and voila:
The finished product
For those who care: The whole thing takes 5 minutes to prepare and comes in at 300 calories; less than a bowl of cereal with milk, and a whole lot more satisfying.
There’s an extraordinary butcher shop in Montreal’s West island, which I used to frequent in the 80’s whenever I needed a really good steak for a special BBQ. The Austrian owner was “old school”, aging his beef on the hook an extra 21 days beyond the commercial norm. While his beef was absolutely melt-in-your-mouth, it was also pretty steep.
A few weeks ago, I decided to pay the shop a visit for a few great steaks. The old man has retired, turning the store over to his son. Looking around the meat counter, I noticed that there were tons of fresh and dried sausages, but no fresh meat. I asked the son (in his early 30’s), who, in his perfect business-school graduate terminology, said, “Oh, we don’t do fresh meat anymore, there’s no profit in it; you can’t add value to fresh meat”.
The concept of adding value is core to any business. The principle is fairly simple: Every time you transform something from its natural state, you have a chance to “add value” by creating something people want and at the same time charging more for it and at a higher profit margin. On one end of the spectrum you have fresh meat, which beyond the raising of the cow, its slaughter and delivery to distribution, is very close to its natural state. On the other end, you have sausages, that are ground, spiced, smoked, extruded into casings, and then aged or dried. The one pound of raw meat that cost $3 and sold for $5 can now be sold for $15 with a total cost of $4 including raw material, space, and labor. What was a $2 profit for the raw meat is now an $11 profit for the same meat plus expertise and labour.
The ultimate example of adding value is an iPhone. Five or six bucks of glass, metal, and plastic are transformed through technology and intellectual property into something worth $600.
When we acquired our Briard, Roxy, we made a commitment to feed her a diet closer to what would be appropriate for her biology and genetics. This means a diet mainly of raw meat plus some leftover vegetables and small amounts of leftover grain (oatmeal, bread, pasta, rice, etc.) from our own meals. Twice a month I buy a large sirloin butt from Costco at $3/lb., carve it up into cubes and freeze it into single serving pouches. It takes about 30 minutes twice a month. Total cost: About $70 a month. She has thrived on this regimen, and we have enjoyed the fact that she only poops once a day (a real advantage in a country where half the year is spent in cold, snow, and mud). A very high quality commercial dog food costs about $75 for a month’s supply, so the cost of feeding real meat is very comparable, if not cheaper.
But here’s the problem: On the rare occasions when we feed Roxy commercial dog food (if we’re traveling, or have run out of meat), she poops 5-6 times a day; massive Lincoln-logs that need several bags for pick up. That’s because in the process of adding value, there’s a lot of temptation and opportunity to cut cost by using lots of fillers that may sound healthful (peas, blueberries, flax, etc.), but in fact serve no other purpose that to dilute the most expensive component, the meat.
The math is pretty easy:
Meat is a lost leader for most stores (it brings people into the store because it’s a staple). Margins are small. For $100 of beef, a retailer will make about $15. The wholesaler will make $10, the packer (slaughterhouse) maybe $10, and the farmer perhaps another $10. That means that for $100 of beef you are getting about $55 worth of high quality protein at cost.
$100 worth of commercial dry dog food breaks down as follows: Retailer makes about $20, wholesaler about $10, manufacturer about $60. That leaves about $10 of material at cost, half of which is filler, so about $5 of meat protein. That’s it. When you feed dry commercial dog food, you are feeding your pet a few pennies of protein at each meal…..and picking up one helluva load of shit!
Funny how one can answer most of life’s toughest questions with utter simplicity and elegance. From Stephane Gabart (My French Heaven):
I feel like a home made pizza tonight. Caputo flour, olive oil, water, yeast, salt. It all turns to magic. God’s wonder food; complete in every respect…taste, nutrition, beauty, satisfaction. One of the few things you could live on forever and remain in perfect health. Tomatoes, cheese, basil, perhaps a few very thin slices of homemade Chorizo from La Bernoise. Maybe some green peppers and mushrooms, a la Americana. Endless possibilities, anything goes….except fu*^#ng pineapple!
The 2012 HBO documentary, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, aired last night on the CBC. This film traces the first exposure of the pedophile scandal in the 1960’s and the history of who knew what, when, from earliest days up until the most recent times. It is very clear and essentially indisputable that the highest levels of the Church hierarchy, including the then and current Popes, systematically engaged in a massive cover-up that tried to protect the Church while ignoring, and at times even vilifying, the victims, while massively failing to prevent new victimizations.
This is an important film, regardless of your religious leanings, insofar as it deals with the psychology of power, trust, control, and the perils of putting your faith in all-too-human authorities.
My wife and I had just finished watching the season finale of Downton Abbey and turned on the documentary immediately afterwards. My wife was getting visibly agitated watching the scandalous shenanigans of the priests and their protectors. “This is very disturbing” she said. “Well, it sure isn’t Downton Abbey”, I replied. “More like getting down at the abbey”, I quipped with black humour. But there’s nothing funny about what these guys did, and what really surprises me the most is how the Church has even managed to survive the scandal. There is no limit to motivated reasoning I guess; people can find ways to deny and excuse just about anything.
If we can stretch our imaginations to find anything positive in the revelations, it would be the revelations themselves, i.e., that such horrors could come to light, says a great deal about what it means to live in a free society. These abominations have likely gone on for centuries in other religions, but have also likely remained hidden under pain of death.
My daughter has been saving her nickels to have a custom bike built. Fortunately, she’s friends with J.D. and the folks at C&L Cycle, who do great work. Her brand new Bassi frame is ready and sits on the stand for assembly. I will document this work of art as it evolves over the next few weeks.
She deserves it; she rides almost everywhere (including to work) and hangs with a pretty hard-core group of riders, some of whom ride all Winter. A great activity….my personal favorite as well. And since she doesn’t own a car, she can well afford it with what she saves. The advantages of living and working downtown.
I thought I would jazz things up a little with a new theme and a change of image header. In fact, I think I’ll change the header every few days, selecting images from my lifetime work of photography. Might be fun. The image above is from the rear of the ship taking us up the Saguenay river last Fall.