Mike Leigh’s Another year

I was surprised to receive a great deal of positive feedback with my last post about the gizzard salad. It was certainly unexpected. Thanks to those who sent me a “like” after reading it. It’s nice to know someone’s paying attention. It certainly helps with one’s motivation as well!

So in the spirit of blogging, I decided to write about a movie I’ve just finished watching: Mike Leigh‘s “Another Year“.

But first, a bit of context. My wife and I first discovered Mike Leigh when we watched the brilliantly comical film “Happy-go-Lucky last year. It was a great watch; heartwarming, sidesplittingly funny and tender. The characters were so richly developed. The film felt real and alive: with amusing moments and sad ones carefully weaved to produce a very enjoyable nugget of cinema. I can’t remember the details of the story very much so I won’t go into great detail about why the film was so good, but I was finished the film with deal of respect for the filmmaker and wanted to know more. The film was a poignant character piece whose plot was life, the interplay of people, their emotions and their day-to-day activities.

Following that, we rented “Naked”, whose protagonist was played by David Thewlis, an actor I very much enjoy. What a shock! It was much darker and edgier than “Happy-go-Lucky”, with none of its lighthearted whimsy. But the film was incredible! Once again, a rich canvas of characters suffering their fates in various ways, each one unique and well rounded. While the film’s cynical and bleak mood was surprising, the richness of the characters was not, and once again, Carolina and I were thoroughly impressed with the experience; even more so because the tone was so vastly different than “Happy-go-Lucky”.

Tonight we watched “Another Year”. The plot follows an older couple whose life has been stimulating and rewarding. Still in love, they garden and cook together and calmly reflect on aging and living fruitfully. Interrupting this gentle environment are coworkers, friends and family who, for the most part, haven’t really got things together: they’re drunk, bitter, depressed and alone; looking for redemption and some sympathy. The film is broken into four parts, each being a season of the year, hence the title… To a certain extent there is no plot. The film weaves the relationships in such a way to bring about reflection about life, death, happiness and love. The film is essentially about living. Now this may seem broad, but Mike Leigh’s powers reside in developing engagingly fully developed personalities that deal with their own demons and circumstances.

The film asks the question of how to live a good life. Part of the answer it gives is taking responsibility for one’s actions. However, the film isn’t so didactic or obvious. All in all, it’s a series of conversations, and within them, by getting to know the characters, the viewer comes to value certain things over others. The healthier characters are more aware of their failings, of their own selves, while the rest fear to face the personal issues that cause them to hurt themselves. Perhaps slightly conservative in outlook, the film’s symbolic center is the happy older couple’s garden, where they work the earth in return for life’s wonderful bounty. The couple’s been in love for ever and the whole thing is perhaps a little too perfect. In my mind, Leigh also puts too much responsibility on the backs of the sufferers and says very little about the society itself, which seems to me an important influence on the health of our emotional and psychological states. Despite these criticisms, the film remains wonderfully directed and produces vivid portraits of distinct characters. The actors are brilliant and the simplicity of it all is divine. The film doesn’t finish with any overt or obvious answers for the poor characters who suffer so, but that’s part of its success: the ability to paint a detailed picture of life, contrasting some of the paths and decisions we make and letting the viewer come to his own conclusions.

Protein rich salad with Gizzards(optional ;) )

Lunch!

Ingredients:

Mixed salad greens: ideally something peppery and bitter
Sliced cherry tomatoes: seasoned with capers, salt and pepper, thinly sliced onions and olive oil
Boiled and butter and fresh rosemary sauteed cauliflower pieces
Large Parmesan slices: the bigger the better!
Toasted almonds
Boiled quinoa
Hard boiled egg

Option: thinly sliced confit gizzard. I highly recommend this but they’re not always easy to find, so an alternative of confit duck legs, sauteed chicken livers, braised lamb would work. A rich, full flavored and aromatic meat is best; especially if you find some nice bitter greens like dandelion leaves…

Vinaigrette:
Teaspoon dijon mustard
A bit of fresh thyme
About a tbls of sherry vinegar
About a tbls of olive oil
About 2 tbls of sunflower seed oil

This is a fresh but nutrient rich salad. Even without the meat, there’s more than enough protein in here to please your appetite. I’ve been exercising a lot lately and am looking for simple and fresher alternatives to heavier foods. This was a perfect lunch.

Gizzards:
Part of the digestive system in fowl, it’s an organ that’s not very common but seriously tasty. For those who’ve never tried it, the confit gizzards that I added to my salad bore no organ flavor that might dissuade some from enjoying them. There was none of that metallic and farmy flavor that’s sometimes found in kidneys and livers. They’re a richly flavored meat that’s nicely textured. Explore!

Picture taken from Paprikahead site. Thanks.

The summer sun and its ill effects

My mother is a moderate, sensible and lovely person. She’s a great communicator, is careful judge of character and approaches life simply and responsibly. She eats very well. Her diet includes lots of vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, grains and fruit. She eats fish and meat but doesn’t do so that often. She walks often and for long periods of time and has remained fit, lean and disease free for all of her 57 yrs.

There is one thing she does that drives me a bit crazy (well there are others, but for the sake of this article…). She is not moderate about skin care and sunscreen use; she’s a serial applier and a great believer in the stuff. Her concern about skin diseases caused by UV rays is rather surprising coming from such a moderate and reasoned person, and yet, perhaps my impression of her as such a hypochondriac when it comes to skin care is stubborn and naive. Excessive time spent under the warming rays of the sun are unhealthy. Yes, there’s vitamin D to be had, and that’s good, however, the UV rays remain something we should all be concerned about. And so, I think, that perhaps I’m the one who’s crazy not to give my skin the care it needs.

Recently, an American truck driver has been in the news for having a face that very clearly revealed the impact of the sun on our skins. Having sat for hours in the driver’s seat of trucks, the left side of his face received quantitatively higher levels of exposure than the right side of his face did. And look at what happened:

I mention this, because an article appears in the NYtimes today about taking sun exposure more seriously.

It’s worth reading:

Slathering on sunscreen, early and often, by JANE E. BRODY

Sorry buddy, NOT funny…

Don’t underestimate the dangers of sun exposure.

Karate and empowerment

***A caveat: I’m very much aware that this is the nerdiest post I have ever written.

In September of 2011 I joined the Karate “Dojo” at the CEPSUM gym in MontrĂ©al. I had repeatedly heard of the benefits of studying a martial art. I remember a woman with whom I worked who started Kung Fu and would repeatedly rave about the empowering qualities of the discipline. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done” she would declare ever so often.I found numerous ways not to join. The gym was too far, the costs too expensive, the schedule not right and so on.

Years later, last fall, the circumstances fell into place for me to take my first session of classes. Twice a week I went to the gym for an hour and a half and followed our senseis as they had us repeat the different moves and combinations that make up the discipline.

Hanashiro Chomo

My first impression was one of instant pleasure. I laughed to myself upon hearing some of the more experienced students yell out “OUS!” after the sensei’s teachings and comments. “OUS!” is the term used to declare understanding to what your sensei says, and it should generally be pronounced loudly and clearly, with confidence. Hearing a choir of OUSes seems comical at first but one quickly falls in line with doing so: that wall of self-consciousness disappears and one adjusts to this new world with its own unique social mores.

What’s clear in a Karate dojo is the hierarchy of power. There are a set of traditions and habits that one must follow in order to respect the sensei and the discipline itself. I took pleasure in acquiescing to our 2 senseis’ demands. I find North America generally suffers from a lack of respect towards the older generations. There’s a generational divide within society, and the youth don’t often seek to learn from those with more life experience. While this is a generalization, our society nonetheless celebrates the individual, and mythologizes his accomplishments as his own and not the product of a conducive social environment. A consequence of this is a self-absorbed, often naively arrogant youth content to proudly blaze ahead in their endeavors without taking the proper amount of time to assume the responsibility in analyzing the consequences of their actions. I am a child of this generation and certainly not immune to its influences…

I think we’ve forgotten the satisfaction in learning from those with experience. Ideally a balance in society could be struck where a respect for traditions and older generations doesn’t trump to importance of innovation, creativity, reason and critical thought in younger generations. We must avoid subservience to past ideas when they have become out-dated or are shown to be inadequate or worse, oppressive, but this doesn’t mean that we should proclaim our self-righteousness without considering the self reflections of those who have once gone through the same trials and tribulations as we inevitably will.
While I don’t think that wisdom necessarily lies in age, I do think that aging provides people with a form of knowledge and wisdom that can be gained in no other way. There’s a humility in aging that needs to be respected; even celebrated. I think that a more engaged dialogue amongst generations would enrich our societies greatly.

Sensei Katsumata

At the Dojo I have the pleasure of following the advice and teachings of 2 amazing senseis. I find their simple presence to be inspiring: calmly assertive and aware. I’m more than happy to bow before them, because I know that they are not my betters, only my teachers, and that what brings us together is Karate. As senseis, their role is to communicate the practices of the medium, not to impose them, or alter them for their own purposes. My empowerment stems from personal improvement and the feeling that I may one day be good enough to also share my experience with a younger generation of practitioners. I fully intend on getting my black belt, which has a ladder of 10 Dans, or grades, which represent a practitioner’s level of experience. My sensei Fethi is 5th Dan, and my sensei Katsumata is 7th Dan and apparently the highest level Shotokan Karate practitioner in Canada. The 2 of them, and other black belts from among the students who have led classes or assist the senseis, provide the kind of inspirational framework that we CHOOSE to follow. There is no goading or repression.

What strikes me when I’m in class practicing is how much more there is for me to learn: not only in terms of combinations or moves, but in terms of physical control and awareness. In fact, most of Karate is about awareness. Our group is comprised of people aged anywhere between 18 and I’d say over 75(although I wouldn’t dare to ask the man in question just yet…). The physical aptitudes of each practitioner is unique to his work ethic and experience. While sensei Fethi is more physically imposing and thus understandably strong, sensei Katsumata can’t weigh much more than 130 pounds, and yet against almost everyone in the Dojo, his understanding of the way to accentuate the strength in his body is such that he remains completely dominant even with those much heavier and stronger. The black belts from our dojo demonstrate a physical and mental self control unrelated to age. The awe inspiring quality of karate is that control: the focus particular to very few activities when a complete awareness takes over one’s actions. This is where Karate strives to get you: a kind of transcendent consciousness of mind and body. And while complete control may never be attainable, if you were to see my senseis practicing you would understand how impressively far one may get in striving to reach that goal.

The world is a highly stimulating and chaotic place. Living in an urban environment as I do only accentuates that state. For a short period of time, in my classes, I work at erasing all that chaos and focusing on the moment. Ironically, being that I’m submitting myself to a set of very precise activities, it’s incredibly liberating. There’s something so very human about Karate. It’s not about god, nature, or some transcendent power: it’s about your body and the limits of who we are as human beings.

Its the time to seed your summer plants

I lost my interest in blogging for this site early in January. The motivation had been lacking for some time, but in January it became clear to me that I found my writing and blog to be a redundant bore… I wasn’t writing or saying much and didn’t find the time to do it well when I did. I started blogging less and over time lost the habit all together.

Image

It’s my opinion today that whether what you do is bad, good or great, doing it is better than not. One develops a level of discipline and mostly improves the quality of his work with repetition(you might want to read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers for some interesting analysis about that). If I am to be critical of my process, I would assert that it is in one’s own power to create engaging work. I am to blame for my own failures: the blog was a bore because I made it so for myself and for you as well.

Today I would like to commit to developing a more interesting blog, one that is more opinionated, better edited and fundamentally more personal: not in a self absorbed way, but in that I intend to write more nuanced and well researched pieces that will best reflect my thoughts about things.

This will be a long process in the making. My first goal is to establish a rhythm that is currently non existent. Afterwords my goal will be to bring you more dynamic material in both its content and form.

This post in itself is but a door that I needed to open in order to start the process.

It’s nice to be back.

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Pictures of food

I’ve been a bad blogger lately. I can’t seem to get interesting posts written. So, to entertain you and rejuvenate Healthytastebuds until I find the time and motivation to develop it further, I’ve decided to post pictures of some of our recent dinners.

Enjoy!

A braised/boiled beef dish in its making
dinner. This was a good one: healthy, tasty, comforting...
Roast porc with roasted root veggies, sauteed apples and gravy

Back in the swing of things

I’m busy working on another project and have neglected the blog lately so today in order to share with you some content I’m posting some links to things that are interesting and important.

First of all: How can you tell if what you’re buying from the grocery store is genetically modified? Seems that, as consumers, we should be able to know right? Well not really, because the FDA decided that you didn’t need to; this despite the increasing research that is finding unhealthy consequences in GMOs.

But!, there is a way to know! Here’s how:

http://www.kipnews.org/2011/07/14/how-to-i-d-genetically-modified-food-at-the-supermarket/

Pretty cool!

Alright, secondly, today, Wednesday January 18th 2012, you might have noticed some weird things happening on the web. For example, if you follow my GMO link above you discover a blacked out Wikipedia site with this stated on it;

Imagine a World
Without Free Knowledge

For over a decade, we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history. Right now, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia.

In the U.S, a bill is making its way to Congress that is, in my mind, a threat to my freedom of speech, to my creativity, to my ability to interact and share thoughts about my culture. Furthermore, it has been my experience, that despite the claims of the large media companies that billions of dollars are lost to piracy, a much greater amount of economic development takes place on the already regulated web in a number of different ways. Despite my understanding of the frustrations of having your content stolen from you and shared across the world, I have seen how this kind of spreading of information also has the potential to promote your content as well as celebrate it. Financial repercussions also stem from this sharing and spreading of information. The bill, as it is formulated at the moment, is much to vague and represents a threat to many people’s livelihoods, the creative potential of many artists, the censorship of content and material, not to mention an economic threat to one of today’s biggest economic building blocks: the internet.

Here are links that you should look into in order to learn more and form your own opinion:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:SOPA_initiative/Learn_more

http://www.lessig.org/

http://creativecommons.org/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9oar9glUCL0

Watch this movie!

Ok, gotta go.