I carry no phone
An aspiring Luddite
In a wired world.
Jeff Berry is an early adopter of the Internet and the Web, a late adopter of Twitter, and declines to adopt Facebook or Livejournal. (Although he did succumb to the lure of Google+.) He hates cell-phones.
2 April 2013
23 May 2013
Updates on Thursdays
2 April 2013
Arts and Crafts, or for those of you in certain segments of the reenactment community, Arts and Sciences, are terms which admit some interesting and somewhat problematical interpretations. First, they are attempting to be inclusive, but by the mere fact of their construction they are divisive and exclusionary.
In addition, although it was probably not the intent, there is an implied hierarchy. In short, "Crafts," or at least "Craftsmanship" doesn't get the respect it deserves. We praise "artists" and are somewhat dismissive of "craftsmen," and that's a pity because to be a truly great artist, one must also be a craftsman. (I should note at this juncture, that I am using craftsmen in a gender-neutral sense.) La Gioconda may be claimed by many as the greatest painting in the world and as great art, but it wouldn't be if Leonardo didn't know how to put oil on canvas.
I wonder how much of that false dichotomy is rooted in the idea of exceptionalism. We seem to think that craftsmanship is just a question of practice, of rote learning, of hard work. Artistry, on the other hand, is a magical gift that just happens! It's easy and requires no real effort. It also requires no proof. I can't simply say, "Look, I'm a blacksmith now!" and deal with people who ask me if I can make a horseshoe by saying, "You don't understand my blacksmithing." I don't think I need to do the word replacement in the previous sentence to make my point.
This myth is encouraged by the way we look at and idolize three high-profile, celebrated activities: acting, singing and writing. All three activities, when executed well, look easy. I mean, really, you stand up on stage and talk, or talk on pitch and in time, or sit down and throw some words onto paper or magnetically stabilized electrons. It's not that easy, though. We like the fairy tale of some downtrodden or underprivileged person being suddenly raised to the heights of success, or achieving success. What we don't see in the myth, is the hard work and practice that went into making it look easy. We don't want to see the hard work because then we might have to consider working hard ourselves. And that's hard. We don't have American Idol style shows for, say, guitar players, because we can't identify as easily with a guitar player as with a singer. It's obvious that you can't just jump on stage and play guitar brilliantly, but all evidence to the contrary, we like to believe that we could just leap on stage and sing like an angel.
So we lack appreciation for craftsmanship. Partly, I think, that's because, like the activities mentioned above, good craftsmanship disappears. It serves to support the product in a way that makes it almost invisible. Good writing takes your breath away and you think it's just the story or the emotion, and you forget that it's the words that delivered it to you. You look at La Gioconda and see the famous smile, but not the brushstrokes. You watch a movie and praise the dialogue, but not the sound editing that brings it to your ears in just the right way.
Of course, some people do look at the words or brushstrokes or pay attention to the sound editing. Some people do admire the craft, as anyone who has ever watched a movie with actors and film-makers can attest. Which brings me around to my three favorite movies.
My three favorite movies are, and for about thirty years now have been All That Jazz, This Is Spinal Tap, and Radioactive Dreams. A case can be made that the first two are pretty good films. I make no such claim for the third. It's not a great movie. It's still one of my favorites. And that's OK.
While Radioactive Dreams may not be a great movie, it does display a high level of craftsmanship. It was made by people who understand the way that movies are made. The way that shots are set up, the transitions, the lighting and the sound, are all excellent. The sound editing in particular is spectacular. (I like the content as well, which is a matter of personal taste.)
So, go see if you can find Radioactive Dreams and as you're watching it, pay attention to the sound editing. Or the next time you're watching a movie or something on tv, and there's a mirror in the shot, consider the effort it took to make sure that the mirror didn't reveal something it shouldn't. Or when you read something that makes you go "wow," go back and look at what the writer did to elicit that reaction.
Or just go and find a nice loaf of artisanal bread and ask yourself as you eat it, "Is this art or craft?"
© 2013 Jeff Berry
23 May 2013
Today's topic is fungus. Delicious, delicious fungus. Often mushrooms are part and parcel of some larger dish. It's hard to imagine a boeuf bourguignon without mushrooms, or a steak and kidney pie. They go on top of salads, pizzas or, for those who like such things, burgers.
More rarely, though, do they take center stage, which is a pity, since they can do a pretty star turn if given the chance - stuffed mushrooms can be delightful. For that matter, simply taking a portobello and sautéing it in a little oil yields excellent results. But there are so many other things to do with mushrooms. Serve them on toast, for example.
Here are two variations on that theme. The first is quite simple with shitake mushrooms and cream, the second a bit more elaborate with cremini and bacon. Both are damn good.
Once they've browned up nicely and are smelling good (and tasting good; I recommend checking the taste by noshing on the stems), add the heavy cream and slosh them all around together. Tilt the pan and let the shrooms stew in the cream for a minute or two until it thickens up into a sort of sauce. Spoon it over toast, sprinkle with sea salt, or your preferred finishing salt, and serve.
Push the shrooms to the side of the pan and add the bacon in the middle. There's no particular reason to do this, it's just fun. Well, that's not completely true; I wanted to get the pork on the heat as effectively as possible, so after putting the bacon in the middle, I flattened it down and then put the mushrooms back on top. Let it cook like that for five minutes, then stir it all together and let it cook for another ten or fifteen minutes at least to make sure the bacon is done; it won't hurt to go a bit long on the cooking time.
Again, spoon onto toast and serve.
© 2013 Jeff Berry