Thursday, February 26, 2009

these days

About a week ago I sat down with the intention of posting a note here to announce our anticipation of another child. I didn't figure out how to put it, so I abandoned the effort after a sentence or two. I thought I would come back to it. Joie had a miscarriage early Monday morning. We lost our baby that we were just beginning to love. So we are sad.

Joie has been feeling a lot better now, and we know that God is good.

I think we have a need to attribute. Part of me wants to know what caused our little bitty baby to not make it. I feel like it must be a result of some failure of mine to love it or be a better pappa for it. Anyone could argue against that, I am not saying it is rational. It is just a typical reaction of mine. Advancing beyond that a bit, I might conclude that it is not my fault, it could happen to anyone. ...statistically speaking... But I think that as a follower of Christ, there is a richer perspective.

(from John 9) As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

Christ's disciples showed that painfully familiar reaction, to complete the picture backwards as though the blind beggar's plight should be explained in terms of the events preceding it. "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life..." Jesus spoke in terms of what might be.

In a fallen world reeking with the perversions of God's designs, it is impossible to trace a single sorrow to its cause. Jesus did not come to damn the world for its failures, or to untangle the manifold chaos that he found. He came to save [John 3:17], to offer hope and a future [Jeremiah 29:11], and to give himself as a ransom [Matthew 20:28]. From this moment forward.

I think it means that our moment of sorrow can be a source, and not a conclusion only.

In these past few days, I have already become aware of feelings and thoughts that I would not have known otherwise. It is data, observations and findings about life, love, and the character of God. I cannot say I really understand this all of the time. But God gives good gifts to his children.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

how i choose movies

Well, I have survived the first two weeks of the semester. The more attentive of my students are learning how to prove trigonometric identities and navigate slope fields.

A recent Pre-calculus class took a turn for the historic and I found myself mentioning Fourier. Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier. (He was French). That evening, I cracked open my rather intimidating (almost as thick as it is wide) Stephen Hawking book "God Created the Integers" to read the bit about Fourier. He was a revolutionary in France who narrowly escaped the guillotine. He was a scientific advisor for Napoleon's expedition to Egypt, the discoverers of the Rosetta stone. Most impressively, he wrote a paper on the behaviour of heat and made the bold assertion that every function looks like a mess of trigonometry if you can scrunch your eyes just perfectly. In my class, I was shocked to hear myself relate Fourier, and it carried with it the faintest glimmer of familiarity as I stared into the murky depths of my university memories. But mostly it felt like accidentally scratching off a scab. My Fourier is a bit rusty.

I also recently read "Abel's Proof" by Peter Pesic which is (perhaps appropriately) mostly about Niels Henrik Abel, but which mentions Evariste Galois. Galois was also a Frenchman, presumably a Gaul, by the sound of his name. Also like Fourier, I mean, not also like Abel, who was Norwegian. And also a Frenchman like Fourier, I don't really know if Fourier was a Gaul. But Asterix was. Anyway, Galois was a revolutionary in France, but then it seems like they all were. He once uttered a threat to the king in the presence of Alexandre Dumas, who evidently frequented the same seedy revolutionary locales as Galois. Galois was a world class mathematician by the time of his death at 21, and he died in a duel after a tormented night of scratching down the beautiful (and ponderously novel) math in his head that he had no time to painstakingly articulate in the volumes that others would have to write about it instead.

Anyway, these recent tangents served as sines that I must have subconsciously weighed in my decision to watch "The Count of Monte Cristo" tonight. Dumas, duels, Napoleon... you can secant you?

Monday, February 9, 2009

hindustani chai

This post is for our relatives who received tools and ingredients (but not directions) for making Hindustani Chai. This recipe is, like most of my attempts to articulate what I have learned in India, confoundingly complex, badly conceived and pitifully articulated, besides being imprecise. So if you enjoy that type of recipe, read on...

Ingredients: Water, Sugar, Tea Leaves, Milk, Cardamom, Cloves, Ginger, Cinnamon.

First, the term Hindustani Chai is used to refer to a variety of concoctions that are very flexible with the spices. I have been served chai with garlic, and a different time with anise. Tradition classifies spices according to those which give warmth to the body and those which cool. The spices in chai are therefore subject to change throughout the year, as you would not consume a cooling spice in winter or a warming spice in summer. That said, we Burchells enjoy the following recipe all year round.

Cardamom is available here in little green pods which should be crushed. We use five pods for a pot of chai for our family (about 1 liter), but more if we make a large pot. If the cardamom pods are not crushed well, they will close up again when they are boiled and less flavor will be derived. Heh... derived.

Cloves should also be crushed. Cloves can have a tingly numbing effect on the mouth which I find enjoyable. Sometimes I suck on a clove while I make chai. Maybe I should not be admitting to this. Joie does not like it as much, so we generally use only five or six cloves.

Ginger should be available everywhere. We use a piece about the size of an adult big toe. Prior to writing these directions, I did not think of it in those terms. It does seem a bit morbid. We scrape the skin off the ginger before crushing it.

Cinnamon is cheaply available here, so we use plenty of it, probably about the equivalent to two of the scrolly looking sticks that sell in other hemispheres. Ours is more recognizably tree bark. If it is crushed well or boiled longer, less cinnamon could do nicely.

The spices should be crushed and put into about a liter of boiling water. This should simmer on the stove for five or ten minutes. It should smell amazing at this point.

Scraping the ginger:

Crushing the ginger:

Even Will can do it...

The boiling water and spices should look about like this:
After the spices have simmered, put about 1/3 cup of sugar into the pot and stir it so it dissolves. It will dissolve quickly, probably before you finish wondering how much of that sugar you are about to consume.

We put about four teaspoons of strong black tea leaves into the pot after the spices have simmered and the sugar has been added. The water might foam up if the flame is too high, so you should stir the tea in, making sure it does not stick to the sides uselessly.
After the tea, we add the milk. I like to give the tea a couple of minutes to brew because I imagine the milk slows that down. The milk we use is a bit more than two-percent. It is also buffalo milk. Add milk until it is creamy. The chai is now complete. I leave it on the stove for another minute or so to heat it up after adding the milk, but take care not to let it boil again after the milk has been added. Boiling the milk will make the chai stick tenaciously to the pan and the cups, and it will cause your chai to grow one of those nasty milk skins on the surface that sticks to your upper lip when you try to take your first sip. Don't boil it. The local chai is usually boiled, and I suppose that one could come to appreciate the skin.

This recipe is easily varied to taste.

When the chai is done, pour it through a sieve into cups that need not look like rhinos. The chai will become bitter if the tea leaves are left in it for too long. If you want to save chai, strain it.

Monday, February 2, 2009

the coconut man

One quiet afternoon in Goa, the coconut man visited our guest house. People growing up as I did in a land devoid of palm trees frequently wonder (or at least I did): How often do coconuts really fall and hit people on the head? Cartoons lead us to believe that this may be an issue. As might be expected, the denizens of coconutty realms have contrived a protection against this danger: The Coconut Man. (People who have lived in coconutty realms will not learn anything from this and they will be amused at my ignorance.)
Each coconut palm tree has a mess of coconuts in all stages of maturity, so the coconut man squints up at the tree and decides which branches, leaves, and coconuts to knock down. He then climbs it very quickly and knocks down the dried stuff that might otherwise fall on a person or a car.
Sometimes they climbed the trees with their feet through a loop of rope, and other times they would wait until the top to use the rope. This is all very clever. Actually, I don't have any statistics about coconut men and their lifespans, so I do not really know how clever it is. Maybe it isn't clever at all. These guys looked pretty experienced though.
In the picture above, you can see the coconut man slipping his feet into the rope loop. Also, they would occasionally (and with admirable nonchalance) use their cleaver/machete to hack a little wedge out of the tree to use as a step. This heightened my respect for the coconut men.
The best part about their job was that they made the mess and somebody else scurried around cleaning it up after they had moved on to a different tree. The family that lived at the guest house collected all of the branches and coconuts, quickly sorted them into piles around the yard. Each residence had sorted piles of coconut trash. The leaves can be used to make brooms, the branches are used for fuel, and the coconuts are eaten and their fibrous shells are used to make rope. Also, the green smooth shell is the outside and if you chisel it off you can get to the hairy brown shell.

It looks like an afternoon's project, but the whole thing was probably done and cleaned up in less than an hour.