Tofu foo yung

I was having a protein craving, which caused me to think of egg foo yung. When I had my own chickens, I used to make it. But it occurred to me that mashed tofu, with the right seasonings and some sort of binder, might make a nice foo yung. After Googling, I saw that tofu foo yung is a thing. I’m certainly not the first to think of it.

As with just about everything I cook, I read recipes for ideas, then I do what seems right for my diet and my taste. So, for my version of tofu foo yung:

Mash the tofu with a fork. Add just enough gluten flour to serve as a binder. Season it well. Turmeric or curry powder will add color. As with all Chinese cooking, umami is the key. Trader Joe’s umami seasoning, which relies largely on dried mushrooms, works great in all sorts of meaty vegetarian dishes. To give the gluten flour a bit of a boost as a binder, I add about a teaspoon of potato starch. Brewer’s yeast adds color and protein as well as umami. The moisture in the tofu probably is all you need. But if you include too much gluten flour and need a little liquid, try tomato juice. Peas and some chopped onion are good additions. But I think that tofu foo yung doesn’t have enough binding power to hold a lot of vegetables together the way eggs can. The gluten flour adds protein, and it also gives a nice meaty bite to vegan protein dishes. The bite and texture of tofu foo yung is a lot like eggs.

In the frying pan, I start with almost round balls of the mixture. But I gradually press it down and flatten it as the gluten sets up. You’ll need a nice, savory gravy, of course. I use flour as a thickener, with tamari and some Better Than Bouillon to darken the gravy and add umami. Garlic powder improves all Chinese sauces.

How much does cursive matter anymore?

⬆︎ Spencerian script, 1884. This was the ideal in business correspondence. Source: Wikipedia.

The Atlantic has an interesting piece this morning by a former Harvard president: “Gen Z Never Learned to Read Cursive: How will they interpret the past?” The article mentions that learning to write in cursive was dropped from the standard American curriculum in 2010. This new generation, now in college, “represent the vanguard of a cursiveless world.”

To my surprise, as a lover of classic literature and obsolete technologies (such as typewriters), I find myself wondering if this is really such a bad thing. The ability to read and write cursive is a fine ability to have, certainly. But the question is, given that today’s young people need to learn so much to have a chance in the modern world, is cursive really worth the effort? I think not. There just isn’t time. Keyboards are ubiquitous now.

When I was in elementary school in the 1950s, keyboards existed. But students in elementary school were not allowed to touch them. There was a typewriter in the school office, of course. And there was a typewriter in a workroom that teachers could use to type stencils for the mimeograph machine. Typing class was not offered until the ninth grade or later.

I was in the sixth or seventh grade when, after months of begging, I got my first typewriter. Though there weren’t a lot of books in the house other than a set of encyclopedias, my father had a copy of 20th Century Typewriting. I used that book to teach myself to type correctly. The book was a classic that went through several editions. I came across a reference to the book recently in a discussion of typewriters, and I immediately bought a copy from an online bookseller, because in retrospect it clearly was one of the most important books of my childhood.

The theory with cursive was that it made writing faster, because it wasn’t necessary to lift the pen. But some studies have shown that, at least today, people can print as fast as they can write in cursive. I think the argument is a sound one: We don’t need to learn to write cursive anymore. Whether we need to learn to read it is a separate question. But I also wonder if it’s truly that difficult to read cursive, even if you can’t write it. We recognize many fonts, after all, including cursive fonts. I am skeptical of the claim that cursive looks like hieroglyphs to Generation Z. Next time I run into a Gen Z’er, I’ll do the experiment.

Back in the days when handwriting was a constant form of communication, we recognized each other’s handwriting. That, to be sure, is a sad thing to lose. But society is not going to fall apart because of that.

As writing in cursive has become obsolete, learning to type well, I would argue, has become even more important — to social lives as well as to careers. When people avoid email and instead want to talk on the phone, I always suspect that it’s because they’re poor typists. Tough. I still refuse to talk on the phone.

Show me a person who types well, and I will show you a person who very probably lives well. It’s typing (even with the thumbs) that now provides our social glue and that enables the world’s machinery to keep turning.

⬆︎ Notice the similarity between my mother’s signature and the teacher’s handwriting on the front of the report card. The shape of the letters was standardized, of course. And I’m pretty sure that Luna Sutphin also was one of my mother’s teachers. My grades averaged out to straight A’s for the school year, but look at that pesky B+ in arithmetic. Mathematics has always been my intellectual weakness, and it only got worse as the math got harder. Calculators to the rescue!


Source: Wikimedia Commons

The media are so full of pieces about Queen Elizabeth II that I hesitate out of modesty and the risk of redundancy to add to it. We Americans may be more interested in royalty than the British, probably because we don’t have royalty. But, as other pieces about Elizabeth II have said, she was a constant in my life for my entire life. All world events, past and present, are somehow reflected in the British monarchy. An era has ended.

I am pretty sure that there are not very many ways in which I envy the fabulously rich and privileged. But one thing I do envy is the having of many homes, and thus the ability to move around with the seasons. It is said that Elizabeth II was happiest when she was at Balmoral. That certainly makes sense to me.

We lesser types with lesser fortunes may move during our lifetimes, usually for economic reasons, but rarely for adventure. We don’t have the privilege of moving with the seasons. When people become rich, a second home will usually be among their first acquisitions. For those of us who lack the riches, we must sit tight in one place and make do with summer heat and winter ice.

Travel is some compensation. But, when we travel, we move too fast, and we don’t have time to linger. Hereafter, when I am reminded of Elizabeth II, I think I will think of her at Balmoral, not in London or at Windsor. I remember reading — I hope it’s true — that after her death Balmoral will become a kind of museum to her reign, open to the public. Charles III, I might guess, has other homes to which he is more attached. So maybe we will all get to have a look at Balmoral someday.

The fate of us commonfolk is to figure out how to do the best job we can of learning how to live well on a little. But Balmoral isn’t the only thing for which we might look to Elizabeth II for something to admire. It’s in finding our own ways, much more modest, to engage the era in which we live. Elizabeth’s bravery and energy have set a standard — from working as a mechanic during World War II to being on her feet, smiling, just days before her death, to greet a new Prime Minister. What a life.

My cat’s death-defying leap

Click here for high resolution version.

I was upstairs at the computer. Lily was in the stairwell yelling. I yelled back at her to shut up until I realized that something was wrong and went to check. She had trapped herself up in the dormer window that lights the stairs, a place where in the 13 years in this house she had never gone before. I can’t be sure how she got there. She must have jumped from the stairs. But now she realized that getting down again was dangerous.

She is 14 years old. She’s also not a small cat, heavy but not fat. I panicked, told her not to jump, and went and grabbed a blanket, hoping that she’d walk onto the blanket. She does not like to be picked up, and in her panicked state I figured that if I tried to reach up, get hold of her, and lift her down, I’d end up losing lots of skin and lots of blood. She tentatively stepped onto the blanket but balked. Once again I told her not to jump and went to get her cat carrier. But before I got back with the cat carrier, I heard a clean thump on the stairs.

How do they do it? The calculations for this jump are terrifying, with no room for error. She is probably too old and too big to fall eight feet, onto hard steps, with no injury, which is why she was scared. There would be no way to jump in a straight line from her perch to the nearest step. If I’m not mistaken, calculating a ballistic arc includes factors for mass, velocity, drag, and some trigonometry including a cosine or tangent factor. The flying object will lose velocity during the upward curve and gain velocity during the downward part. She had to jump 44 inches in a correct arc and glide, fast, through a triangle in which the widest part is 7 inches — a size no bigger than something she’d be able to crawl through. Had she jumped too high, she would have hit her head. Had she jumped too low, she would have had to grab the step with her front paws and scrabble to hang on. She would have had to keep her head down, stay low, and land in a crouching position to get through the hole. But, at 14 years old, she made a perfectly calculated and perfectly executed clean jump.

It took her a minute or two to calm down. She was very scared. But her cat decision, as much as she trusts me, was that she trusted her own agility more than any solution that I could come up with. What a relief. I was afraid I was going to have an injured, and very senior, cat on my hands.

My Lily, about nine years ago

Scots: Language? Or dialect?

Concise Scots Dictionary. Edinburgh University Press, 2017. Second edition; first published 1985. 852 pages.

In the academic debate about whether Scots is a language or just a dialect, it had seemed more likely to me as a mere reader and non-academic that Scots is a dialect. This was only because I can understand it, or at least very largely understand it, both when I hear it spoken or when I read it as Sir Walter Scott represents it in his novels. But I believe I have changed my mind. It’s a very cool thought: What if we native speakers of English understand a second language that is a close relative of English? After all, we consider Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish to be different languages, though they understand each other. I have even seen this written as their being able to “make themselves understood,” as though the differences in the Scandinavian languages (about which I know nothing) are greater than I imagined them to be.

A friend of mine who speaks good French claims that, if French people speak French to Italians with an Italian accent, they’ll be understood. I thought that was funny. Now I’m convinced that it’s probably true, or at least partly or largely true. I don’t have any Italian, but after taking up French in middle age after years of Spanish in junior high, high school, and college, I came to realize just how similar the languages are. I’ve lost most of the Spanish, and I found that if I tried to speak Spanish, say, to the crew that framed my house, French came out. It’s an experiment I’ve never tried but would like to try. If I spoke the best French I can muster to a Spanish speaker, using Spanish pronunciation, would I be understood? I actually think that I could make myself understood, especially if I emphasized words that I know to be cognates.

This Scots dictionary includes an introduction with the title “The History of Scots.” This introduction takes the strong position that Scots is a language, not a dialect:

It may therefore reasonably be asked if there is any sense in which Scots is entitled to the designation of a language any more than any of the regional dialects of English in England. ¶ In reply one may point out that Scots possesses several attributes not shared by any regional English dialect. In its linguistic characteristics it is more strongly differentiated from Standard English than any English dialect. The dictionary which follows displays a far larger number of words, meanings of words and expressions not current in Standard English than any of the English dialects could muster, and many of its pronunciations are strikingly different from their Standard English equivalents. Moreover, the evidence of modern linguistic surveys is that the Scots vernacular is less open to attrition in favour of standard usages than are the English dialects. One illustration of this is the fact that a fair number of dialect words, such as aye always, pooch a pocket, shune shoes, een eyes, and nicht night — have very recently died out in northern England but remain in vigorous use in many parts of Scottish society. … But what most of all distinguishes Scots is its literature.”

Reading through this long dictionary also helped convince me that Scots is a language. A vast number of words are completely foreign to me, though probably most of those words would rarely come up in most conversations, words such as gleebrie for a small piece of sorry land.

Part of the pleasure of reading Sir Walter Scott is the language, both his archaic but colorful English as well as the Scots. I’ve made a project of reading Scott, so it seemed sensible to wrap that into acquiring a better feel for Scots, especially since I love Scotland so much.

There’s another reason I’m curious about Scots. Many of the settlers of the Appalachian Mountains were from Scotland, and thus one would expect Scots to have had a large input into the Southern Appalachian dialect, which I understand perfectly well having grown up with it. Though there are a good many commonalities — a mess of beans, or reench or ranch for rinse — most of the Scots words are completely strange to me. No doubt there has been much academic work on Scots and Southern Appalachian, and I need to look for that. But my guess would be that, even if Scots had less an effect on Southern Appalachian than I would have guessed, it’s probably true that someone who understands Southern Appalachian would have an easier time understanding Scots than, say, someone from California with their perfect standard American English.

The Royal family (of writing instruments)

⬆︎ A Parker Duofold Centenntial fountain pen, first bought in London in 1995, now in my hands

Earlier today, Henry, who frequently comments here, sent me a link to a Washington Post story that I had almost missed. It’s “Beyond the keyboard: Fountain pen collectors find beauty in ink.” I was about three weeks ahead of them! It was with this post of mine, “Ink’s place in the retro movement.” But retro minds think alike. To the Washington Post’s excellent observations about fountain pens, I would add one more observation: Fountain pens and typewriters belong together. They are a dyad, both technologically and aesthetically.

By coincidence today, an old friend of mine who collects fountain pens as well as typewriters sent me a classic fountain pen that he no longer uses and wanted me to have. It arrived in the mail today. It’s a Parker Duofold Centennial that he bought in London in 1995. He has moved up to even more luxurious fountain pens, saying that he has found that he prefers a more flexible nib. Well, I like this fountain pen’s nib just the way it is. And why shouldn’t I? I am too frugal to justify the cost of one of these pens. They don’t lose their value if they are in good condition. It’s about what I’d consider paying for a fancy roto-tiller or a dental crown.

As for collectible typewriters, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s the full-size office machines that thrill me. Most collectors today prefer the “cute” portables, especially if they’re in pastel colors. But it’s the massive corporate workhorses that I like, because they’re the kind of typewriters I used when I was a newspaper copy boy starting back in 1966.

It’s easy enough to use typewriters for actual writing these days, as long as you have a scanner and OCR software handy. It seems I have so many typewriters these days that I have to rotate them to give them exercise. But I have been getting a lot of writing done, and of course that writing ends up in the computer, in an application named Scrivener that I have used for all my writing projects for years. Retro writing systems are far from obsolete, even when our words end up in our computers.

⬆︎ The nib on this pen is medium width — fairly broad, really

⬆︎The Parker nib

⬆︎My Royal 440 office machine, 1969

⬆︎My Royal FP office machine, 1961

⬆︎My Royal HH office machine, 1953. Internally, these Royals changed very little over a period of 25 to 30 years. The exterior design, though, changed to fit the tastes of the times. I like to compare the 1969 Royal with an Oldsmobile Toronado, the 1961 machine (a model which started some years earlier) with a 1955 Chevrolet, and the 1953 machine with a 1952 Chevrolet. There are clearly parallels between automobile styles and typewriter styles, though I’m still waiting for someone to write a book about it.