Friday, August 22, 2014

On Mackerel, Fish in General, and the Wonder that is Harissa

I was in Lebanon last week and spent a happy afternoon killing two hours before sunset on the rooftop of The Albergo Hotel, consuming an enormous bottle of San Pellegrino water, an Almasa beer, and some of the best roast almonds and pistachios, both dusted with sea salt.

When back home, I mentioned this, a favorite moment from the trip, to a friend trapped at his writing desk in upstate New York said this made him hungry for pistachios, which he loved.

I do too, whether plain, in baklava, or used in a main. I once had roast grouper encrusted with pistachios.  

My novelist friend said I couldn't eat grouper, not sustainable, almost all gone.

I have no idea whether this is true, and suspect he just wanted to deny me the pleasant memory, but I protested that it had been years ago, there were plenty around at the time.

In any case, that afternoon, at the fish monger in North London I asked for some mackerel, four filets.  They were fat fish and their eyes were clear so I knew they were fresh.  They were also cheap, six quid for four servings.  We should all eat more mackerel, an underrated fish.  They're plentiful, and cheap, and have all those good oils that make your brain grow.  

I made my mackerel for dinner with harissa, a spicey pepper paste from Tunisia that is sometimes served alongside couscous.  I'm using harissa in lots of things now, putting it on salmon and chicken.  I suppose you could roast nuts with some harissa to sharpen them.

In any case, this was my dinner on return.

Spicy Mackerel with Bread-crumbs

Mackerel - four fillets
Harissa - a big dollop
Breadcrumbs - 100 g?
Olive oil
A lemon

Rinse the mackerel and pat it dry.  Spread the harissa, a thin covering, on the flesh side, then roll the fillets in bread crumbs.  Over a medium heat, place skin side down in a frying pan coated with olive oil. Cook for two or three minutes, then flip them and cook for another one or two.

Serve with a wedge of lemon.  

We served them with steamed green beens and a salad.  They'd also go well with spinach.  

And served it with a full-bodied Spanish red from near Valencia, on special offer just down the street.  I'd have been happy also with shiraz or even a rose.




Thursday, August 21, 2014

On Simin Behbahani, an Unacknowledged Legislator of Iran

A fine tribute this week by Sohrab Ahmari on the poet Simin Behbahani, dubbed the Lioness of Tehran.  She was 82, nearly blind, but the regime still felt compelled to slap a travel ban upon her.

For a lesson in the power of artists to shake despots, consider the Iranian poet Simin Behbahani. The Islamic Republic four years ago imposed a travel ban on her in retaliation for poems she'd written denouncing Tehran's crackdown on the 2009 Green uprising.

She was 82 and nearly blind, yet she was barred from boarding a France-bound plane and interrogated through the night in March 2010. Behbahani died Tuesday from respiratory illness.

Behbahani's poems are routinely memorized and quoted in Iran. "In more than a thousand years of Iranian literature, it is unprecedented for a woman to have reached this level of national recognition during her lifetime," notes her English translator, Farzaneh Milani, in an essay on Behbahani's work. She was popularly dubbed the "Lioness of Iran."

Born in 1927 in Tehran, at the dawn of the Pahlavi dynasty, she published her first poem at age 14. Persian poetry was at the time undergoing a revolution of sorts, and Behbahani eventually came to lead its vanguard, alongside the likes of Nima Yooshij, Sohrab Sepehri and Forough Farrokhzad.

In their work, idyllic wineries and star-crossed lovers were replaced by serious social and psychological themes and portraits of everyday life. [...]
Behbahani's most-beloved ghazal, widely anthologized in the West, was published soon after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

"My Country, I Will Build You Again" expressed the fragile optimism of a nation still convinced that it had just staged a democratic revolt—not one to usher in a new Islamist dark age. Its opening couplet:

My country, I will build you again,

If need be, with bricks made from my life.

A tip of the hat then to Simin Behbahani, another "Unacknowledged Legislator."

Read the whole fine article by Ahmari "in" the Wall Street Journal HERE.

Monday, August 18, 2014

In the Age of Obama... Where is the Love?

I remember back in 2008 the musical artist Will.i.am produced a viral and powerful campaign video on behalf of then-Senator Barack Obama's presidential bid.

That makes it all the more surprising that Will.i.am has now released a song by his group The Black Eyed Peas that is in its way a powerful critique of our time in this, the era of President Obama.

The song is entitled "Where is the Love?" and it seems already immensely and immediately popular, with more than eighty million Youtube plays.

Both abroad and at home our nation now feels farther away from the promise of peace and unity we looked forward to back in 2008.  This Black Eyed Peas' song, then, couldn't be more timely.  Below are some of that song's lyrics, along with my brief commentary.  Mid-way in this post comes the video, which I encourage all Main Point readers to watch carefully while reading these lyrics.

What’s wrong with the world, mama?
People livin’ like they ain’t got no mamas.
I think the whole world addicted to the drama,
Only attracted to things that’ll bring you trauma

 How true.


Overseas, yeah, we try to stop terrorism
But we still got terrorists here livin’
In the USA, the big CIA,
The Bloods and the Crips and the KKK.
But if you only have love for your own race
Then you only leave space to discriminate.
And to discriminate only generates hate
And when you have hate then you’re bound to get irate.

Seems a possible reference to events in Ferguson, Missouri, but is really a general and timeless truth.


Madness is what you demonstrate,
And that’s exactly how anger works and operates.
Man, you gotta have love just to set it straight

People killin’, people dyin’
Children hurt and you hear them cryin’
Can you practice what you preach
And would you turn the other cheek?





Father, Father, Father help us
Send some guidance from above
‘Cause people got me questionin’
Where is the love?

It just ain’t the same, always unchanged.
New days are strange, is the world insane?

Nations droppin’ bombs
Chemical gasses fill in’ lungs of little ones.
Presumably a reference here to one of the conflicts in Middle East in the last year, with red lines drawn, crossed, ignored, etc...


A war is goin’ on but the reasons undercover
The truth is kept secret, it’s swept under the rug
If you never know truth then you never know love

Where’s the love, y’all?
(I don’t know)
Where’s the truth, y’all?

(I don’t know)

Wrong information always shown by the media
Negative images is the main criteria
Infecting the young minds faster than bacteria.


A point that always bears repeating.

Kids wanna act like what they see in the cinema.
Whatever happened to the values of humanity?
Whatever happened to the fairness and equality?

Instead of spreading love we’re spreading animosity
Lack of understanding, leading lives away from unity.

Sing with me y’all:
One, one world.
Something’s wrong with it
Something’s wrong with the world.


We only got
(One world, one world)
That’s all we got
(One world, one world).


The ending of the video provides a beautiful moment, so I'll hope you all will watch to the end.


UPDATE: A friend has pointed out that the song "Where Is The Love?" was released in 2003.  Well, yes, I suppose that's true, but it's more fun to think of it as released this month.



















The Beatles... and Style

Over at top style blog A Continuous Lean, Jake Gallagher opines on the style of John, Paul, George and Ringo after the break up of The Beatles.

The post is smart, with great photo research, but the clothes the fab four are depicted wearing are awful.

I much prefer their style from a few years before the break-up, during the era of their albums "Revolver" and "Rubber Soul."  As below... 








Commenting on the ACL post, Anthony Teasdale, the Editor of Umbrella magazine, says the epitome of their style for that era can be seen in the video for the song "Rain."  As below...




Do go visit the post ACL post HERE.

And look in on Teasale's Umbrella HERE.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Free, and Free-Thinking, Press... via George Orwell

In his essay "The Freedom of the Press" George Orwell warned about a press too wed to the prevailing orthodoxies and interests. 

Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news -- things which on their own merits would get the big headlines -- being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that "it wouldn't do" to mention that particular fact. So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralized, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is "not done" to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was "not done" to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.

True still today.

Hat-tip Brain Pickings and Maria Popova.