Reading: All That’s Left to Tell by Daniel Lowe

All That's Left to TellAll That’s Left to Tell by Daniel Lowe

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book just did not do anything for me; the story itself is so simple that I can’t help but give away the basic overlay. The story has 4.5 stars on Amazon as I write this, so be sure to look at other opinions.

[SPOILER ALERT]
A soda pop executive is estranged from his daughter for many years; he takes a corporate stint in Pakistan after his wife divorces him. He daughter is murdered; he gets kidnapped, ransomed, then murdered. The end.

In the middle is a long story that his woman handler/captor tells him about a life his daughter never had. And a story about himself. It is these stories that make up the bulk of the novel and if there is a point to it, it eludes me.
[END SPOILER ALERT – MOSTLY]

It just doesn’t add up to me; it doesn’t come across as a realistic portrayal of how a kidnapped American in Pakistan would be treated – based on Bowe Bergdahl’s treatment as outlined in the Serial podcast. Would an American woman who joined the Pakistani’s really be left for hours to talk with a captive with no man around? It doesn’t seem likely. Wouldn’t the experience be more brutal? Almost certainly.

Life is miserable and then you die. Perhaps it is stories that give our lives’ meaning? Is that the point?

The kidnap/story-within-a-story device is stretched. The basic overlay could have been told in a more believable way I think. The very basics of his captors and what is going on to effect his release is completely missing. To be generous, this probably mirrors his knowledge of the situation.

It rises a bit above the utterly bleak “Ninety-Two in the Shade” by Thomas McGuane and “Ransom” by Jay Mcinerney which put be off reading modern fiction back in the 90s. Novels don’t have to have happy endings; but there has to be some glimpse of something that approaches realistic.

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Reading report: Dreamland by Sam Quinones

Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate EpidemicDreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This fast-paced book follows two interlinked aspects of opiate abuse in America. In the first part we see how the small Mexican town of Xalisco worked its way out of poverty by sugar cane farmers reinventing the trafficking of heroin in the United States as a retail affair much like pizza delivery. “For years, though, no one could conceive of such a thing: a system of retailing street heroin that was cheaper than, as safe as, and more convenient than a methadone clinic. But in the mid-1990s, that’s exactly what the Xalisco Boys brought to towns across America.” [p64].

The Xalisco Boys started in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles; but selling on the street corners was dangerous as the Mexican cartels tried to “tax” the new sellers or run them off by force. Technology was on the side of the Xalisco Boys. They simply went inside; a user would call a number to order his dope and the call center would page a young man driving around with a mouth full of heroin filled balloons would meet the buyer. This heroin was strong – 80% pure. “These street dealers were selling tenth-of-a-gram heroin doses that when tested by the FBI came up 80 percent pure. Street dealers don’t ever consistently sell addict-ready doses that pure. The traditional heroin trade made it impossible. In the typical heroin supply chain, the drug moves from wholesalers through middlemen down to street dealers. Every trafficker who handles the dope steps on it – expands the volume by diluting it – before selling it. Usually by the time heroin makes it from the poppy to the addicts’ arm, it’s been sold a half-dozen times, stepped on each time, and is about 12 percent pure.” [p120] Why could the Xalisco boys sell stronger dope at a cheaper price? Simple, “‘It’s because they’re salaried,’ … ‘The runners are up here, nephews of the regional sales manager, and just coming to do a job, paid five hundred dollars a week. They didn’t care what the potency was; they made the salary no matter how much they sold.’ Salaried employees were unheard-of in the drug business.” [p 121] However safe to buy, heroin is still a killer. “heroin overdoses had become Multnomah County [Portland, OR area] second cause of accidental death among men twenty to fifty-four years old – after car crashes.” [p 119]

As young men from the small town in Mexico prospered; the clan stayed away from big cities where the cartels dominated the trade and instead moved into towns like Fresno, Portland, Boise and even as far east as Portsmouth Ohio.

The Xalisco Boys’ success also built on the burgeoning legal opiate business as the medical business started to take pain management more seriously. In 1980, Dr. Hershel Jick wrote a short letter entitled “Addiction Rare in Patients Treated with Narcotics” to the New England Journal of Medicine. “That ‘less than 1 percent’ stuck. But a crucial point was lost: Jick’s database consisted of [i]hospitalized[/i] patients from years when opiates were strictly controlled in hospitals and given in tiny doses to those suffering the most acute pain, all overseen by doctors. These were not chronic-pian patients going home with a bottles of pain pills. It was a bizarre misinterpretation, for Jick’s letter really supported a contrary claim: that when used in hospitals for acute pain, and then when mightily controlled, opiates rarely produce addiction. Nevertheless, its message was transformed into into that broad headline ‘Addiction Rare in Patients Treated with Narcotics.'” [p 107]. This short letter was held up as full research and the opiate business was on its way.

Big Business knew a big seller when they saw it. the drug company Purdue Pharma pulled out all the stops: “the company urged salespeople, meanwhile, to ‘attach an emotional aspect to non-cancer pain so physicians treat it more seriously and aggressively.” [p 127]. “Some Purdue reps – particularly in southern Ohio, eastern Kentucky, and other areas first afflicted with rampant Oxy addiction – were reported to have made as much as a hundred thousand dollars in bonuses in one quarter during these years. Those were unlike any bonuses ever paid in the U.S. pharmaceutical industry.” [p 134]

The eased access to narcotics resulted in the opening of pill mills in places such as Portsmouth, Ohio. “If heroin was the perfect drug for drug traffickers, OxyContin was ideal for these pill mill doctors. The drug had several things going for it, as far as they were concerned. First it was a pharmaceutically produced pill with a legal medical use; second it created addicts, … Every patient who was prescribed the drug stood a chance of soon needing it every day. These people were will to pay cash. They never missed an appointment. … That meant a monthly-visit fee from every patient – $250 usually. And that kept waiting rooms full and cash rolling in” [p 154]. After manufacturing fled areas such as Portsmouth, an underground market around the OxyContin trade took over.

And the Xalisco Boys moved in. As addicts couldn’t afford the black market price for OxyContin, cheap and strong black tar heroin moved in. “So, the contours of the Xalisco heroin nation took shape, based largely on the territory the Man [one of the central characters of the book] carved out by avoiding the biggest cities where heroin markets were already controlled, and by following the OxyContin.” [p 167]

The retail selling made it difficult to stop the trade. “They were a new kind of drug trafficking in America. The Xalisco Boys weren’t the General Motors of drugs. They succeeded because they were the internet of dope: a network of cells with no one in charge of them all.” [p 183]. When a cell was broken up a new group came up from Xalisco to take over the business.

“And so it went. OxContin first, introduced by reps from Purdue Pharma over steak and dessert and in air-conditioned doctors’ offices. Within a few years, black tar heroin followed in tiny, uninflated balloons held in the mouths of sugrar cane farm boys from Xalisco driving old Nissan Sentras to meet-ups in McDonald’s parking lots…. Phillip Prior [family physician in southern Ohio] was now knee-deep in what was unthinkable a few years before: rural, white heroin junkies. ‘I’ve yet to find one who didn’t start with OxyContin,’ he said. ‘They wouldn’t be selling this quantity of heroin on the street right now if they hadn’t made these decisions in the boardroom.'” [p 270]

Sam Quinones started as a newspaper reporter and his news style is fast-paced and succinct, written in short chapters. That makes for a quick read. If you want a shorter discussion check out episode 757 of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast (which can be heard here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEw-N…

One takeaway from this book in more evidence that what is good for business is not necessarily good for the public. The marketing of these powerful drugs helped the ruin of many cities and lives. There are also passages showing how insurance companies would rather pay for quick treatment such as injections or pill prescriptions rather than holistic pain management.

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Pinto Beans

April 15, 2017

I know I’ve blogged about pinto and refried beans a lot this winter and early spring – but I’ve just been so happy about my results. Plus I got a new flash modifier for my camera this week and the new Instant Pot IP-Duo 60 Plus pressure cooker; so I knew I had to take some pictures – and if I take some pictures I have to share.

My sister-in-law and brother-in-law were hosting an Easter eve dinner. My brother-in-law does a phenomenal job with roasting and baking. He brings a deep-fried turkey to Thanksgiving and this year he made the standing rib roast for Christmas. He has a new Traeger pellet smoker that he’s been playing with and offered to cook up a roast beef on that. So, I only had to cook a side dish. After eating refried beans from this pinto bean recipe I thought it would be good to see how they stand on their own. Let’s see.

There are not a lot of ingredients for this dish and if you have a pressure cooker you can get them done start to finish in a bit over an hour (after an overnight soak of the beans).

Let’s get the ingredients invited to the party. One pound of pintos which have been brined overnight in 3 Tablespoons of table salt and 3 quarts of water. One and a half cups of (preferably homemade chicken stock), half an onion, salt, chili powder, a few springs of fresh oregano, four smashed cloves of garlic and some cumin powder. We’ll also add water to cover later.

Simple ingredient set for pinto beans

Simple ingredient set for pinto beans

As I said prep is easy. We cut the onion across the equator and use the root end whole. We peel and lightly smash four cloves of garlic. A few spices and we are ready to go. I had whole cumin seed so I pulled down my mortar and pestle to grind them.

Grinding whole cumin seeds for pinto beans

Grinding whole cumin seeds for pinto beans

Ground cumin seed for Pinto Beans

Ground cumin seed for Pinto Beans

After the minimal prep

Pinto bean mis en place

Pinto bean mis en place

Everyone into the pool. I added couple of cups of water to make sure everything was covered. The bay leaves look a little beat up – that’s because I buy them bulk and they get a little torn up when I put them in my spice jar – no worries they provide the same taste and they aren’t part of the presentation.

Everyone into the pool!

Everyone into the pool!

Check the seals and vents on the pressure cooker, twist on the lid and cook for 18 minutes with at least a 10 minute natural pressure release before doing a quick release.

My first cook in the new Instant Pot Duo 60 Plus

My first cook in the new Instant Pot Duo 60 Plus

I like the display of the new Instant Pot IP Duo 60 Plus. There are icons at the top of the display letting you know what is going on.

After the cooking and pressure release, we pull the onion half, oregano, bay leaves, and garlic from the pot and serve up a nice bowl of beans.

Pinto beans

Pinto beans

Now, normally I take these the next step to fry them in lard with some onion and jalapeño, but they do perfectly well on their won. You can find my recipe here. That recipe is divided into two parts: one for the beans (as seen here) and one for the refried beans. Just use the ingredients under “Beans” and the “Soak the Beans” and “Pressure Cook the Beans” steps. I doubled the recipe here by using one pound of beans instead of one cup (a cup is a little less than half a pound).  My cooking instructions originally came from the awesome Mike Vrobel of Dad Cooks Dinner. But my ingredients are a bit different.

 

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Things I’ve Cooked Recently

I cooked a couple of things recently that I haven’t blogged about individually but thought I’d pull together in a summary post.

 

Pan Roasted Chicken – February 17

This is a recipe I originally made in January 2014. The recipe comes straight from Dad Cook’s Dinner. It’s super simple as long as you have an oven safe pan such as cast iron. Or if the chicken is too big for the skillet, put in on a wire rack inside a rimmed baking sheet like I did my turkey for Thanksgiving. Spatchcock the turkey – turn it breast side down and cut out the back bone then flip back over and flatten. Pat dry and sprinkle some salt and pepper on it and let it dry brine in the refrigerator for a few hours.  I sear it a bit different from Mike Vrobel’s method in that I put the cast iron skillet in the oven while it heats up (I think I learned this from Alton Brown) to get it rocket hot. Then being very careful to handle this extremely hot skillet with heat proof gloves, move the skillet to the stove and sear the chicken before popping into the oven. But seriously be careful because the skillet is so very hot.

Pan Roasted Chicken out of the oven

Pan Roasted Chicken out of the oven

Cook in a hot oven until the breast measures 165° and the thighs reach 170°.
Dinner is served - Pan roasted chicken with peas and rice

Dinner is served – Pan roasted chicken with peas and rice

This method produces a simple but elegant dinner. I rate it ★★★★★
P.S. Make sure you have some Go-ChuJang sauce for the rice. Consider making a quick sauce as found in my Korean-style chicken thighs post.

Pressure Cooker Chili Verde – March 12

I’ve made an excellent chili verde based on Karen Ray’s recipe on the Food Network. I blogged about it in 2010 and 2012. The link to the original recipe doesn’t work but here is a copy – I think. To make things more confusing interesting I’ve spelled this recipe as “chile” and “chili”. There is a debate on the internet – I’m using “chili” now.

Anyway, back to the recipe; it turns out a 5-star version but it takes a long time to prep: the chilis get roasted, steamed, skinned, de-seeded and roughly chopped. Definitely worth it but you have to have an afternoon free. Recently Serious Eats published a pressure cooker chili verde post that can get a great version by simply chopping the ingredients and putting in a pressure cooker – no fancy handling of the chilis and no pre-searing of the meat before braising. I’m usually skeptical of this type of recipe you find out there: simply chop and dump into your pressure (or slow) cooker. But hey, this is Serious Eats we are talking about – they are serious about cooking.

Cut the pork shoulder into 2-inch chunks then roughly chop some chilis, a couple of tomatillos and onions. You can use ground cumin, but Serious Eats really recommends toasting and grinding whole sees. Hey, it gave me an opportunity to buy a nice mortar and pestle. To get a little more of that umami flavor we use a splash of fish  sauce – don’t worry, it won’t make the finished dish tasty fishy.

Pressure Cooker Chili Verde Mis en Place

Pressure Cooker Chili Verde Mis en Place

Slap it all in your pressure cooker and away you go.

Chili Verde in the pressure cooker

Chili Verde in the pressure cooker

Let things sauté for a minute or two to let some of the tomatillo juices to express and provide enough liquid for pressure cooking.

I had a batch of beans in the freezer so I made some refried beans. Oh these are excellent if I do say so myself. I used some techniques I learned over time and adjusted to make this my own. You can find my recipe here and you can read the post here.

Pressure Cooker chili verde with refried beans

Pressure Cooker chili verde with refried beans

Verdict: Everyone loved, loved, loved the beans. My sister-in-law took my recipe and made it for her kids a couple of days later. The family also liked the chili verde; however, I wasn’t completely sold – it was quite good but doesn’t match with my memory of the preparation used in 2010 and 2012. I think there is a lot to be gained by sautéing the meat a bit and doing a bit of prep with the chilis. When I make it again, I’ll do that extra prep and report back.

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Wood Duck Redux

Another (or the same) male wood duck in our back yard. He’s guarding the box

Wood duck on Wood Duck Box

Wood duck on Wood Duck Box

Carla says it looks like he’s wearing a helmet. I agree

Wood duck on Wood Duck Box

Wood duck on Wood Duck Box

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Book Report: Thank You for Being Late by Thomas L. Friedman

Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of AccelerationsThank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations by Thomas L. Friedman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The subtitle of this book is “An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations”. Thomas Friedman shows how the combination of the 3 “M’s” “Moore’s Law, Market, and Mother Nature” are disrupting our world. Moore’s Law is the observation that the number of transistors per square inch on an integrated circuit doubles about every two years. This doubling is what makes laptops and mobile phones possible.
Miniaturization allowed Google to come up with “two design innovations [which] meant we could suddenly store more data than we ever imagined and could use software applications to explore that mountain of data with an ease we never imagined” [Loc 917] These advancements are behind the success of Google, Amazon, Facebook and dozens of other companies. Why is this disruptive? Friedman explains “the recording, storage, and dissemination of information has become practically free. The previous time there was a such a significant change in the cost structure for the dissemination of information was when the book became popular. Printing was invented in the fifteenth century … and had a huge impact in that w were able to move cultural knowledge from the human brain into a printed form. We have the same sort of revolution happening right now, on steroids, and it is affecting every dimension of human life.”[Loc 968]

These changes in technology make collaboration easier on a global scale. People, companies, and nations who can adapt to the new reality are able to thrive; those that cannot, will not. We see the impact of globalization everywhere around us – it was behind NAFTA and the Trans Pacific Partnership. Unfortunately, humans ability to react is slower than the pace of change. “If many Americans are feeling overwhelmed these days by globalization, it’s because we’ve let all the physical technologies driving it (immigration, trade, and digital flows) get way too far ahead of the social technologies (teh learning and adapting tools) needed to cushion their impacts and anchor people in healthy communities that can help them thrive when the winds of change howl and bring so many strangers and strange ideas directly into their living rooms. Warning: in the age of accelerations, if a society doesn’t build floors under people, many will reach for a wall – no matter how self-defeating that would be.”[Loc 2663]. If we let fear of accelerations make the United States opt out of international agreements such as the Paris Climate Change accords and TPP we cede control to other countries and we risk falling behind the countries who are more adaptable. As I heard Friedman say in a radio interview, you can’t build a wall strong enough to withstand the hurricane forces of accelerations we are facing; rather, we need to get in the eye of the hurricane to thrive.

If the threat of technological innovation and globalization weren’t enough we are also facing a threat from Mother Nature in climate change, increased fertility, and decreasing mortality. Climate changes threaten to decrease food supplies just when emerging nations are demanding a place at the table. We are just not addressing the threat. “It’s only been in the last eleven thousand years that we have enjoyed the calm, stable climate conditions that allowed our ancestors to emerge from their Paleolithic caves and create seasonal agriculture, domesticate animals, erect cities and towns, and eventually launch the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, and the information technology revolution.”[Loc 2788] Just because we’ve always enjoyed this epoch doesn’t mean it will last. “‘We are threatening to push Earth of of this sweet spot,’ said Rockstrom, and into a geological epoch that is not likely to be anywhere near as inviting and conducive for human life and civilization as the Holocene. This is what the current debate is all about.”[Loc 2803]

We are also facing population growth unheard of: “At current rates of growth, nearly forty countries could double their population in the next thirty-five years”… “If you go from high mortality to low mortality and don’t also go from high fertility to low fertility, you create enormous strains.”[Locs 3005 & 3030]

Friedman has said that in the post war decades of the 50s and 60s you had to have a plan to fail.The United States dominated the world economy. “In those ‘glorious’ decades … before the Market, Mother Nature, and Moore’s law all entered the second half of the their chessboards, you could lead a decent lifestyle as an average worker with an average high school or four-year college education.”[Loc 3435]. “Well say goodbye to all that too. The high-wage, middle-skilled job has gone the way of Kodak film. … There are still high-wage, high-skilled jobs. And there are still middle-wage, middle-skilled jobs. But there is no longer a high-wage, middle-skilled job.”[Loc 3450]

Today we are headed toward a society where only a few people have access to opportunities “the massive redistribution of wealth that would be required to support such a society is not politically sustainable.”[Loc 3501] To solve this problem, “in the age of accelerations we need to rethink three key social contracts – those between workers and employers, students and educational institutions, and citizens and governments. That is the only way to create an environment in which every person is able to realize their full talent potential and human capital becomes a universal, inalienable asset.”[Loc 3509].

Friedman closes his book with some suggestions on how to succeed in this world of accelerations. He talks about how his hometown of St Louis Park, Minnesota became a rich flowerbed that led to a high number of successful people such as himself, Al Franken, the Coen brothers, and more. The key is interdependence “What does health interdependence look like? It looks like all of Mother Nature’s killer apps working together at once – adaptability, diversity, entrepreneurship, ownership, sustainability, bankruptcy, federalism, patience, and topsoil. In political terms the United States and Canada have a healthy interdependency – they have risen together; Russia and the Ukraine today have an unhealthy interdependency – they have fallen together.”[Loc 5281]

Thomas Friedman is a great explainer; he does a fantastic job of taking the complexities behind the world’s problems and clearly explaining the causes and impacts as well as a path forward. Our current president’s drive toward Nationalism may feel good to some, but it is clear that trying to build walls to stop progress is a fool’s errand. For our species to survive we need to adapt and work together.

An excellent, excellent book.

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Korean-style Chicken Thighs

Chicken and rice sounded good for dinner but I didn’t want to repeat the tasty balsamic chicken thighs so soon. I looked around the web and found this promising recipe on the Pressure Cooker Today web site. I made the recipe pretty much as written so there was no need to create my own copy – yet. If I make it again I’ll make a copy with my adjustments.

The sauce ingredients in this recipe spoke to me. It starts with 1/2 cup Gochujang sauce – which is one of my favorites. It’s got plenty of other things to create a nice taste profile.

Korean-Style chicken thighs sauce ingredients

Korean-Style chicken thighs sauce ingredients

Ingredients ready for the pressure cooker

Ingredients ready for the pressure cooker

After mixing the ingredients we reserve a cup for later use; combine the rest with a cup of (homemade) chicken stock and pour it over two pounds of chicken thighs and chopped onions that have been sautéd. It cooked for 15 minutes in my Instant Pot IP Duo 60 pressure cooker followed by 10 minutes of natural pressure release.

The next step is to put 1 cup of the cooking liquid into a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer – it takes only a minute or two since the liquid is coming out of a very hot pressure cooker. Then we stir in a slurry of corn starch and water to thicken the sauce. Finally we add that reserved 1 cup of sauce and cook it down for just a few minutes.

Put the chicken on a platter and cover with some of the sauce, passing the rest at the table.

Korean-style chicken thighs ready to serve

Korean-style chicken thighs ready to serve

Serve with some rice and a vegetable. Traditional would be Kim Chee but Carla roasted some broccoli.

Dinner is served - Korean-style chicken thighs

Dinner is served – Korean-style chicken thighs

 

Verdict: The chicken was good; the sauce was the star of the dinner. Carla and I bouth grabbed a bit more rice and loaded the sauce on. It leaves a lovely flavorful heat in your mouth for a few minutes. This is a very tasty dish – maybe not company ready yet but very serviceable for a weekend meal at home. I will brown the chicken a bit more next time – I did 8 minutes on medium and it could have used high heat or a few more minutes.

On the Pressure Cooking Today web site one person complained the sauce was not sweet enough – I found it more than sweet enough – The Gochujang sauce has a tiny bit of sweetness and I think the Hoisin sauce has plenty of sugar. I think next time  I’ll cut the Hoisin sauce from 1/4 cup to 2 or 3 Tablespoons.

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