Tuesday, January 22, 2013

what I am reading: the harvard classics and the autobiography of benjamin franklin

When I came across the Harvard Classics collection while browsing around the internet, I was intrigued.  This collection is a compilation of books and essays, gathered by Harvard president Dr Charles Eliot in 1909. He stated one can achieve a liberal education by reading through these books (which famously can fit on a 5 foot shelf).  As all the books are available for free kindle download from project Gutenburg, I decided to amuse myself by working my way through the set. 

The first book on the list is the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, so that is where I started (though there is no set order; I think I might group books together by time period for my own sake).  I had never read this, and really only knew the basics about Mr Franklin:  he was a big figure in colonial America, he did something with electricity and a kite, and there is a fabulous science museum in Philadelphia named after him.  Though his autobiography is a rather fascinating look at the life of a person in the 1700's in colonial America, I wondered when reading why it is included in this collection.  Most of what I would think of as the important parts of his life, such as his experiments with electricity or his contributions to the Declaration of Independence and time as the president of Pennsylvania, are not included.  I realized that perhaps Franklin's autobiography is the first book in the first volume of this collection because Franklin, incredibly, was almost entirely self-educated.  He had two years of formal education from ages 10-12.  The rest of his impressive abilities in writing, thinking, and languages (he read latin, french, italian, and spanish) came from reading.  He taught himself to write properly by reading famous poems and essays, and then rewriting them in his own words.  He learned debate skills from the Greeks.  And throughout his life, he sought knowledge by forming groups of like-minded people who spent time discussing, debating, and encouraging each others interests. 

Benjamin Franklin was lucky for his time, because he grew up in the printing industry and later became a printer, thus having access to many books.  We have such a rich resource in the internet, and really it is only laziness that keeps me from reading more classics rather then poplar fiction.  I'll take Franklin's story as inspiration to try and improve myself a little.  Anyone else want to tag along? Next up for me is John Woodman's Journal.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Belizean style chicken tacos

There are many, many variations of chicken tacos here in Belize.  This recipe is one I developed, combining a recipe given to me by a Belizean friend and some other elements of chicken tacos I have eaten here.  It uses ingredients that are really common and used in many dishes in Belize.  I think the elements that make a taco "Belizean style" are a soft (rather than crunchy) tortilla, not too spicy, and not too many toppings.  Hope you enjoy!


for the chicken

2 large chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
2 cups chicken broth (mine was homemade, if you use store bought cut back on the additional salt)
1 tsp red recado powder
1 tsp allspice berries
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp worcestershire sauce
dash of powdered jalepeno
salt to taste

for the onion topping
1 1/2 cups slice onions
1 tbs olive oil

for the tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups stewed tomatos (again, used homemade here- cut back on the salt if you used canned)
1/3 cup sliced onions (cooked)
1/8 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt

for serving
fresh corn tortillas

Start with the chicken.  Combine the chicken, broth, and seasonings in a large pan, and cover and simmer for 20 minutes or so.  Then remove the lid and allow the liquid to boil off.  Your goal is to get rid of all the extra liquid, leaving chicken that is moist but with slightly crispy edges.

Do all the onion cooking at once.  Fry the onions in the oil, and then turn down the heat, letting the onions soften and caramelize a bit.

Next is the tomato sauce.  Take 1/3 cup of your cooked onion, and blend it in a blender with the stewed tomatoes, cumin and salt.  Then simmer the mixture on the stove, low heat, for about 10 minutes to thicken the sauce a bit.

Warm the corn tortillas to serve, adding the fried onions and tomato sauce on the chicken.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

december is done... and we're still here

Well sadly for all those who attended the fancy (and super expensive) end of the world party at the Mayan ruin of Caracol, nothing exciting happened.  The Mayan community sent an editorial into the paper saying that even though the world didn't end, people still should seek to learn from the ancient wisdom of the Mayans.  Hopefully this does not include how to DIY jade tooth inlays... blech.

Meanwhile, we have been mostly doing not much here.  I made 75 chocolate truffles for christmas presents, and baked the world's tastiest ham (orange juice, honey and cloves, sooo good), but the sum total of our decorations was the felt Christmas tree my mom guilted me into completing while she was visiting.  It turned out nice, but had to be kept well out of the grabby reach of the babes.

Daniel is off for Christmas break, and we've been taking some walks, teaching the babes how to herd various animals.  My work will be done when we've taught him how to open and close gates.  Then I can retire from farm work.

In random news, we are baby-sitting my brother-in-law's agouti.  Here is the  not very informative wikipedia link if you don't know what one is. Basically it's a nocturnal rodent, about the size of a cat, and people like to eat them.  Also, it has a very scary growl and teeth, which is why the picture is blurry.

And finally, a few weeks ago the end of the rainbow was in my back yard.  Still haven't found that pot of gold....

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