The Orange of Discord

Boats ferrying boxes of oranges to freighter waiting beyong the rocks at Jaffa. circa 1930. Author unknown. [Public domain or CC-BY-SA-2.5 (, via Wikimedia Commons

A while back, I mentioned how much I enjoy BBC World (especially this part) and I lauded the worldly perspective of the British. But there’s a dark side to imperialism, and England most certainly had a hand in fanning the flames of one the Middle East’s enduring dramas.

The Al Jazeera English website is presenting Eyal Sivan’s Jaffa – The Orange’s Clockwork in its entirety (0:46:54) until November 14. If you can ignore the rather poor choice of title, it’s actually quite good.

This documentary treats the Arab-Jewish conflict from the perspective of citrus growers, both Arab and Jewish, in the town whose name is synonymous in the West with not only oranges, but with Israel, and the struggle of European diaspora Jews to build a new nation in their ancestral homeland — or if you prefer, the war of European Zionist Jews against the rightful inhabitants of Palestine, take your pick.

The film consists of interviews with the growers themselves (some old enough to remember 1948) interspersed with some interesting (albeit superficial, but hey it’s a 45-minute movie) analyses of ye olde propaganda newsreels. I liked that the director didn’t feel a need to resort to melodrama or sensationalism or polemics, and it’s a subject that easily elicits all those things. At the same time, it felt quite human. And what we see is, okay, there was a time when Arab and Jew lived and worked together. Maybe it was not a lovefest, but it was functional. And in most parts of the world, most of the time, that’s the best you can hope for.

Sweet Potato Burrito

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time for ranting at the moment. Instead, here’s a rough approximation of a recipe from my ex-wife, always popular with guests.


  • 1 large sweet potato or yam
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 540 mL can of kidney beans (black beans work too)
  • 5-8 soft large (10-12″) tortilla shells
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (cheddar or monterey jack)
  • 2 tsp soy sauce (or Worcestershire sauce)
  • 3/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 3/4 tsp cayenne pepper (use 1/2 tsp if you don’t like spicy)


PROTIP: To save time, cook your kidney beans while you boil the sweet potatoes!

Sweet Potato

  1. Peel the sweet potato.
  2. Cut it into chunks (for faster cooking).
  3. Boil in salted water until soft in the middle (stick ’em with a fork).
  4. Remove from heat, drain water, and mash.

Kidney Beans

  1. Peel the onion and chop it coarsely.
  2. Drain and rinse kidney beans.
  3. In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil on medium heat.
  4. Add onions and cook until soft.
  5. Add beans, soy sauce, cumin, and cayenne to the onions.
  6. Mash it all together in the pan. (The mixture should look like refried beans.)

    Mashed kidney beans (left) and yams

  7. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring to prevent sticking on the bottom of the pan.
  8. Remove from heat.


  1. Preheat oven to 180C (350F).
  2. Dress each tortilla with equal parts bean and sweet potato. (You have enough of each to make between 5 and 8 burritos, depending how much you want to put in each.)

    PROTIP: Make sure you leave enough room to fold the burrito properly! (See picture.)

  3. Sprinkle cheese over the bean and sweet potato.

    Dressing a burrito: bean, sweet potato, and cheese

  4. Place burritos on an oven pan and cook for about 10 minutes or until the tops start to brown. (Optional: flip and cook for another 5 minutes.)

Serve with salsa. I use Safeway Select Chipotle Salsa Medium. Or if I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll make a nice mango salsa.

Do Leaders Make a Difference?

There’s a great podcast over at BBC4 that considers the question of how much influence do leaders really have. It’s well worth the 30 minutes (only up on the site until October 2013, so hurry), but if you don’t feel like bothering, I’ll try to summarize.

It contains snippets of interviews with a variety of people (economists, politicians, historians, psychologists) of different political stripes (mostly left-leaning, but not all) talking about leaders in the spheres of politics, business, and sports and how much impact they really have.

One of the psych folks cited the fundamental attribution error as a driving force behind people’s tendency to blame or praise individuals for the success or failure of everything from the world economy to football teams. The fundamental attribution error suggests that people tend to attribute the cause of an event to the personalities of the individual actors (people involved in the event) instead of looking at situational factors (the context in which the event occurred), which often play a greater role. For example, if a company does poorly, we might be tempted to say, “they had poor management practices and made a series of bad decisions.” But other companies in a similar situation may have made the exact same decisions, but with very different outcomes. What was the economic climate like in general at that time? Was their target market particularly affected by a change in it? Were there geo-political issues? Some other factors not brought to light?

The reality often is more complicated than we want to admit, but we don’t want to consider that, because it’s too much work. It’s much easier to put a human face on it and lay the blame at the feet of some person when things don’t go our way. It works the other way too. If things go unexpectedly well, we might want to attribute it to some seemingly unique individual. Then we proceed to over-analyze this person in search of that elusive quality that others can cultivate in the hope that they too will one day be able to reproduce that success. As if the Midas touch could be distilled, bottled, and sold. 7 Habits, anyone?

So, we overemphasize the importance of individuals and their abilities, which leads organizations to focus on finding “rock stars” with mad skillz (at least until the next upstarts come along) and egos to match instead of finding people who are not only good, but more importantly, are able to raise the group’s collective capacity to do great stuff. And this, not by carrying them, but by helping them to up their individual game.

Anyway, that’s what I took away (with my two or three cents added for emphasis) and I agree with it for the most part. The one thing I think they all either neglected to mention or failed to recognize is that there are leaders that do affect positive change within their spheres of influence. Whether that change translates into financial success is another thing. But ultimately, it isn’t even about how much money they make, how many trophies they take home, or whatever legacy is important in their field. It’s about how they serve the people who work for them. Real leaders represent values that others can aspire to. They model behavior that makes others think, “hey, I can do that too.” When real leaders fail, they don’t point the finger at everyone else. And when real leaders succeed, they’re humble about it and they make everyone feel like they succeeded. These are the leaders with the greatest legacies of all.

Curry Chicken

I may not be around much next little while. I still have lots to blather on about, but a couple real-life concerns are demanding my attention. Before I go, here’s a recipe.

There’s a curry recipe I like to follow, but I’m not a fan of how it’s written; the garam masala is in a separate recipe, which makes sense and I appreciate the modularity, but I don’t currently make any other dishes requiring it, so for me, I’d be happier having it in a single post.

Also, for someone like me, this is a complicated recipe, as it requires preparing a marinade, marinating overnight (for best results), and a few steps once it gets to the stove top. Still, I’m happy to make the investment of time and energy because the results have so far been really good, i.e., really tasty.

To make things a bit easier for myself, I’ve taken to prepping ingredient bowls for each stage of the cooking (see picture). And since I’ve taken that picture, I find it really helps me to remember both the ingredients and the steps, and I no longer need to refer to the written recipe as much.



1 cup plain yoghurt (I use Balkan style)
1-2 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp vegetable oil

Garam Masala

1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
3/4 tsp ground black pepper
3/4 tsp ground cardamom
(Note you will only need 1 1/2 tsp of this mixture)

The Rest

1/4 cup ghee (I use either 1/4 cup canola oil or a bit less margarine)
4 lbs skinless chicken (I just buy 4 good-sized legs)
1 – 1.5 cups chopped onions
3 – 4 cloves crushed garlic (I press it)
2 tsp grated ginger
3/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
1 bay leaf
1 – 1.5 cups crushed tomatoes (if more tomatoes, use less water)
0.5 – 1 cup water (if more water, use less tomatoes)
2 Tbsp curry powder (I use store-bought but you can also follow this curry powder recipe)

Marinating Instructions

  1. Mix yoghurt, ginger, oil, and lemon juice.
  2. Put chicken in a plastic bag or other container suitable for marinating (I use a glassware baking dish)
  3. Cover chicken with mixture
  4. Refrigerate overnight for best results, but even an hour or two helps improve flavor


To make your life easier, prepare ingredient bowls as follows:

  • Bowl 1: chopped onions, cayenne pepper, salt
  • Bowl 2: crushed garlic, grated ginger
  • Bowl 3: 1 1/2 tsp garam masala, curry powder, bay leaf
  • Bowl 4: crushed tomatoes


  1. In a large frying pan, heat your ghee, oil, or margarine.
  2. Remove chicken from marinade and place in the pan.
  3. Cook on medium heat until brown. (I brown both sides.)
  4. Remove chicken and put aside.
  5. Empty bowl 1 into the pan. Cook until onions are soft (5 minutes).
  6. Empty bowl 2 into the pan. Cook for 2 minutes.
  7. Empty bowl 3 into the pan. Cook for 1 minute.
  8. Empty bowl 4 into the pan. Cook for 5 minutes.
  9. Put chicken back in the pan and add the 1 cup water. Lower heat a little (low-medium?) and cook until chicken is tender. (20 minutes or so.)

Serve with basmati rice (white or brown) and naan bread.