Weekend Reading List: 6 November 2016

Not going to lie – it’s been a tough couple weeks for the old B.

In Tarakoské, a language I’ve been building for the last several years, there are two words for the state of being tired. I guess the best translation is ‘tiredness’ and ‘fatigue’. Now, tiredness is what a person experiences when he’s been doing a lot of things. Fatigue, on the other hand, is more like the material science use of the word – it’s what a person experiences when a lot of things are happening to him.

Tiredness I don’t mind. But fatigue? And, with that, the abiding sense that there was something you could have done, but somehow you didn’t and just chose to sit there and take it? So much worse. So, so much worse. Let’s hope the rest of this year will be more tired than fatiguing.

But anyway – it turns out Jupiter makes sounds! And meanwhile, for this issue: other natural sounds, a strange relic of the Cold War in the middle of nowhere in America, and a love letter film to ramen in Tampopo.

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Weekend Reading List: 22 October 2016

Oh man, has it been a long time or what? I’ve been busy with work, and expect to be even busier, but I’ll make an effort to still be around. Thanks for your patience!

So, for this week’s reading: archaeology in a place that’s literally called the Great Dismal Swamp, an old language of Singapore you probably never heard of, and just one word for you: arepas.

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Weekend Reading List: 2 July, 2016

As you may have noticed, I’ve shifted the reading list from Sunday to Saturday – it seems that Sunday is more for resting and music. That’s fair enough. Also, Saturday gives us more time to read what’s on the list – so that’s all good. For today’s music, some Miles Davis – captured here adapting the famous musical, Porgy and Bess, and on the cusp of his own musical revolution.

But anyway – for this week’s instalment, we’ve got weddings in Georgia, menus that are hipster as hell, alien intelligences right at our doorstep, and the origin of humanity (or is it?)

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Babette Cooks: Simple Rillettes

Rillettes Dear Babette Recipe

As we all know, if we’ve been paying attention in science class, it was Louis Pasteur who proved that food spoils due to bacteria from outside (rather than spontaneously sprouting bacteria). And he proved it so elegantly – a sterilised flask of broth, isolated from the outside by a swan-necked tube. Bacteria can’t get in – therefore the broth stays fresh.

It’s a very fitting experiment for a Frenchman, too, because French cuisine has been utilising this technique of preservation for centuries. Their tradition of meat-based wizardry, as practiced in the charcuterie, relies on this method for some of France’s most famous dishes, submerging meat in fat that then forms a solid seal against bacteria. Confit de canard is one such dish, and so are rillettes.

Rillettes Dear Babette Newly Done

They’re basically the French cousins of pulled pork – the same dry-heat low-and-slow process, teasing pork into flavourful fibres, but with an added dose of smoothness in the use of lard. And it’s easy to make too.

To make this recipe I’ve used an oven, but you can probably do it over low heat on a stove as well – experiment and tell me how it goes!

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Weekend Reading List: 18 June 2016

New Yorker Atchafalaya Sketch

‘If this was a form of battlefield, it was not unlike a great many battlefields—landscapes so quiet they belie their story. Most battlefields, though, are places where something happened once. Here it would happen indefinitely.’

Another weekend is here! For this week, I have just one article to recommend. But what an article – it’s a whopper in length at 27,000 words, not unlike the length of the river it’s about.

This article is Atchafalaya, by the renowned nonfiction writer John McPhee. A magisterial sweep of a writeup, covering history, geography and plenty of social observation, it talks about a titanic struggle between man and nature – all the resources and ingenuity of America’s top engineers, against the ebb and flow of water.

The Corps was not in a political or moral position to kill the Atchafalaya. It had to feed it water. By the principles of nature, the more the Atchafalaya was given, the more it would want to take, because it was the steeper stream. The more it was given, the deeper it would make its bed.

The struggle is for the course of the Mississippi River itself, what Lincoln called the ‘Father of Waters’. Crucially important to the economy of the entire US, the water’s natural behaviour has become problematic for the purposes of the humans who live around it and depend on it. Where the river becomes swamp, people want land. Where the river seeks a new course (the ‘Atchafalaya’ of the title), people fight to keep it the way it is.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, a fort was built about a thousand feet from a saltwater bay east of New Orleans. The fort is now collapsing into the bay.

McPhee describes the process of this fight over three centuries, as humans barricade the river and the river charges through. And he does it with vigour, bringing to life a battle that is literally earthshaking in scale, from six-storey high walls of water to erosion on a breathtaking scale – fifty square miles a year. (For perspective, Singapore would be completely gone in five and a half years at that rate.)

At the same time, he leads the reader on a ride through the deeply altered natural and human landscape of the Atchafalaya River itself, and the people who live on it – from navigators and engineers to fishermen seeing crayfish.

Hope you enjoy reading this as much as I have!

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Sunday Reading List: 12 June 2016

Sunday is upon us again! Today’s music from John Coltrane, one of jazz’s greatest saxophonists, in one of his greatest works, A Love Supreme.

In this week’s instalment of the reading list, we take a look at Nepal one year after the earthquake, the ripple effect from the Flint water crisis, the bleaching of corals in the Great Barrier Reef, and one Lebanese entrepreneur’s work to make his country more accepting, more open – and even more delicious.

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Saturday Reading List – 4 June 2016

This week the reading list is on Saturday instead of Sunday, and that’s for a good reason – today, Pink Dot will be having its gathering at Hong Lim Park as always. It’ll be at 3pm, so if you’d like, do don pink and go and join them in celebrating and pushing for equality.

It is always easy to say that someone isn’t ‘like us’, and to deny them fair and proper treatment. People did this (and still do) based on skin colour, on language, religion, gender, sexual orientation – just to name a few. A lot harder – and therefore a lot nobler – to be ready to acknowledge that people are people. No better – no worse – equally human.

For today’s reading list – a few articles about the struggle to be recognised as human and equal.

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Sunday Reading List, 29 May 2016

This Sunday, let’s go a little bit classical with one of my favourite composers, Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937). One of the leaders of French Impressionism in classical music, he was always a careful, painstaking and perfectionist composer.

The Piano Concerto in G, completed in 1931, shows plenty of jazz influence throughout; jazz was the hot thing in Paris, and Ravel had just gone on a very successful US tour in 1928. The first and third movements have plenty of fun, almost chaotic passages, but the second is just… well, listen to it. When Marguerite Long (the pianist to whom this was dedicated) asked Ravel about this wistful, languid melody, he replied: That flowing phrase! How I worked over it bar by bar! It nearly killed me!

Do enjoy. In this week’s instalment – tuna, chicken and their effects on antibiotic resistance, a prosperous country falls apart, and Vietnam’s favourite noodles – and its tumultuous history. And also awesome archaeology in Mexico.

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