Friday, May 29, 2009

Attention Deficit: a ramble on attention and the modern age, with a brief detour to the town of "why I don't write frequently"

In Defense of Distraction
- Sam Anderson

Above is a link to an article that my lovely friend Daniela posted on facebook. Here is a quote from it:

Herbert A. Simon wrote maybe the most concise possible description of our modern struggle: “What information consumes is rather obvious: It consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it."

Now, the article is pretty interesting reading in my opinion. It's not something new, but I really liked the way he brought a few ideas together to give a nice overview of the issue. (I actually finished it amid watching an episode of Medium on TV and simultaneously having approximately 15 firefox tabs and 3 email drafts open!) It does lack a bit of cohesion in its thesis as some of the commentators have pointed out. He spends the majority of the article wondering if now that we're a super-connected, internet-bound, ADD civilization with all the information ever known at our fingertips that we might be losing something. Say, the free time to create masterpieces that is otherwise taken up reading silly articles on the internet. The problem is at the end instead of leaving it a bit doom and gloom he kind of says,"no if Lennon and Einstein (his examples of pinnacle genius) were around today they would find new ways to synthesize this abundance of information and still be productive." But, if this is true, who are our generation's Lennon and Einstein?

I frequently ponder this question. Not who our generation's artistic and scientific geniuses are, but if we'd be making more breakthroughs, making more art, more novels, poetry if we weren't so connected to possibly time-wasting activities. Maybe this is because I spend a great portion of my day just reading online. Seriously, anything I can get my hands on. I can spend 8 hours reading articles, watching videos, etc. But they do tend to have some kind of focus (unlike this author's ADD reference to the Boston Molasses Tragedy, or whatever.)

I think it's partly a social issue, partly neurobiological (as the author points out, the internet is addictive). One thing this article left me with is the great want to go back and study, which I always have, but now with another concept to think about. Another thing is the desire to start a book club. I don't think there's much inherently wrong with the way some people currently use the internet/magazines/tv to get quick sound bits of information, but I think what's missing is the real sense of satisfaction that comes from finishing, living through a great masterpiece.

As my Shakespearean teaching Literature Professor Mr. Buckingham, (seriously read his bio, it says uber-English things like "He read English at Cambridge, and his graduate school was Harvard) used to say in his English accent and through his jovial beard while we read King Lear (ALL OF IT) and watched the 4 hour version of it in London at the Royal Shakespeare Company, "You will come out of it bedraggled, tired, dirty, like you have lived it yourself." (Just make sure to check your eyes haven't been gouged out as well.) He was speaking of both reading the play and watching it/living through it on stage.

That is how I feel about both writing and reading in general; if I don't feel absolutely wasted at the end of it, either I haven't done my job in unraveling the words, or putting it down, or I'm not reading something that has impacted me in the way that it could have, had it been written better. This is the reason I write so infrequently. Perhaps a reason why I should try to write more often?

Another one of my favorite and most influential literature professors once said to us as he was ripping apart our papers and making otherwise A students cry (I kid not) (Hello Mr. Minette!) : writing should feel as if you are squeezing blood out of your forehead. If you're not utterly tormented doing it, you simply aren't trying hard enough.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Bangers and Beans on Toast: I think I'm turning Japanese, I really think so.

The evening meal alone at home... and what do I turn to?
A slightly sexier version of my husband's favorite fall-back: Heinz beans out of a can, on toast. It is hearty, warm and quick though.

Smoky Baked Beans
1 onion, chopped
2 x 150g chorizo sausages, chopped
400g can butter or lima beans, drained and rinsed
400ml tomato passata
1/2 cup beef stock
1/2 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
cracked black pepper
buttered toast, to serve

Heat a medium frying pan over high heat. Add onion and chorizo and cook for 5 minutes or until well browned. Add beans, passata, stock and parprika and simmer for 7-8 minutes. Stir in pepper and serve with toast. Serves 2.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Thyme Pork (and Lamb!) with Parmesan Parsnip Mash

80g butter
4 x 200g pork cutlets
2 tablespoons thyme leaves
400g green beans, trimmed and blanched

parmesan parsnip mash
6 parsnips, peeled and chopped
500g sebago (starchy) potatoes, peeled and chopped
75g butter, chopped
1 cup (80g) finely grated Parmesan
1 1/2 cups (375ml) milk

To make the parmesan parsnip mash, place the parsnip and potato in a saucepan of salted, cold water. Bring to the boil and cook for 15 minutes or until tender. Drain and return to the pan. Roughly mash, add the butter, parmesan and milk and mash until smooth. Set aside and keep warm.
Melt half the butter in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Cook the pork (or lamb) for 3-4 minutes each side or until cooked through. Remove from the pan and keep warm. Add the remaining butter and thyme to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the butter just turns brown. Serve the pork with the mash and beans and spoon over the thyme butter to serve. Serves 4.

So... this is really a pork recipe, but I made some lamb as well because the husband refuses to eat pork, even though he eats pork sausages all the time. But he pretends they aren't pork. Anyway. Tasty recipe! I actually enjoyed the pork cutlet; I don't usually like pork that much when I cook it, but I'm getting better :)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Gnocchi with burned sage butter

4 x 200g sebago (floury) potatoes (aka 800 grams)
1/2 cup (40g) finely grated parmesan
2/3 cup (100g) plain (all-purpose) flour
sea salt and cracked black pepper
2 egg yolks
120 g butter
1 bunch sage, leaves picked
1 tablespoon lemon juice
finely grated parmesan, extra, to serve

Preheat oven to 180C (355F). Place the potatoes on a baking tray and bake for 1 hour or until soft in the middle and crispy on the outside. Allow to cool slightly. Cut in half, scoop the flesh into a bowl and mash until smooth. Add the parmesan, flour, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Add the egg yolks and stir until the mixture comes together and leaves the sides of the bowl. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 1 minute or until a soft dough forms. Divide dough in half and roll each piece into 64cm lengths. Cut into 2 cm pieces and place on a lightly floured tray. Cook the gnocchi, in batches, in a large saucepan of salted boiling water for 3-4 minutes or until they float to the surface and are firm. Remove with a slotted spoon and keep warm.

Heat a frying pan over high heat. Add the butter and sage and cook for 3-4 minutes or until the sage is crispy and the butter just turns brown. Add the lemon juice, salt and pepper. Divide the gnocchi among serving bowls and spoon over the butter. Sprinkle with extra parmesan to serve. Serves 4.

Success! My first time making "true" potato gnocchi (I've made cheats ricotta and spinach gnocchi before) and my first time making a successful burned butter sauce. Normally the butter goes... too burned. This time I took it off the heat before it was too dark, and when I added the lemon juice there was some magical chemical reaction, the sauce bubbled and went brown, carmelized (or something!) a little bit and turned into something far better than any butter sauce I've made before. It was a bit tangy, sweet, buttery, but light. Ah delicious if I don't say so myself :)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Crispy Sage Potatoes with Fried Eggs

2 tablespoons olive oil
400 g sebago (floury) potatoes, peeled and chopped
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
sea salt and cracked black pepper
8 sage leaves
2 eggs
Worcestershire sauce, to serve

Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add the potato, chili, salt and pepper and cook for 4-5 minutes. Add the sage and cook for a further 4-5 minutes or until potatoes are tender and golden. Move the potato to the sides and crack the eggs into the middle. Cook for 3-4 minutes or until the eggs are just set. Drizzle with Worcestershire sauce to serve. Serves 2.

Saturday Brunch. :)
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Sometimes Ugly Things are Really Tasty or: Rosemary-Roasted Chicken with Beetroot and Feta

2 x 200g chicken breast fillets, trimmed
1 x 450g can whole baby beetroots, drained
1/4 cup rosemary leaves
500g pumpkin, thinly sliced
1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil
200g feta, crumbled
1 bunch rocket (arugula) leaves
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Preheat oven to 220C (425F). Place the chicken, beetroot, rosemary, pumpkin and 2 tablespoons oil in a baking dish and toss to combine. Roast for 20 minutes or until the chicken is golden and cooked through. Slice the chicken and beetroot and place in a bowl with the pumpkin, remaining oil, feta, rocket and vinegar and toss to combine. Serves 4.

YUM. Unfortunately, the looks are a bit lacking... because the chicken was stained by the beetroot, but I still wanted to put this up so I remember to make it again, but maybe next time I will use golden beetroot (as mother-in-law suggested :) ) or just try to keep it seperated from the chicken. Simple, quick, tasty, and I felt like I was eating some nutrients.
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