Nov 192010

The beaver is a four-footed animal who lives in pools. A beaver’s genitals serve, it is said, to cure certain ailments. So when the beaver is spotted and pursued to be mutilated – since he knows why he is being hunted – he will run for a certain distance, and he will use the speed of his feet to remain intact. But when he sees himself about to be caught, he will bite off his own parts, throw them, and thus save his own life.

Among men also, those are wise who, if attacked for their money, will sacrifice it rather than lose their lives.

NOTE: It was believed in antiquity that the valued secretion castorea was obtained from the beaver’s scrotum, hence ‘biting off his own parts’ in the fable. We now know that the secretion is found in two separate sacs and not actually in the scrotum. The name of the beaver in Greek is castor , the same as the twin-god, and also the same as one name given to the crocus, source of saffron. There is little doubt that a complex of mythological meanings is involved here. A cognate word is found in Sanskrit, kasturi( kā ) orkastūri( kā ), meaning both ‘musk deer’ and ‘musk’, and thus referring to the secretions of the musk deer rather than the beaver. Since these word forms are isolated in both Greek and Sanskrit, they are probably loan-words originating from a very early trade in aromatic animal secretions supplied by Indo-European tribes to the Middle East. The etymology of the words is probably from the Egyptian qas , orqes. That word means ‘efflux’ and, because it also means ‘vomit’, the Egyptians probably applied the same word to ambergris, which is whale vomit, and the substances castorea and musk. The word also means ‘to prepare a mummy for burial’, so we suspect that the uses of these substances were for mummification. The same Egyptian word means ‘fetters that bind’ (i.e. also mummy-wrappings), and the Greek god Castor was reputed to be the inventor of manacles, thus probably carrying over an Egyptian pun at an early date. An apparent cognate with the Egyptian is found in Akkadian, where kasitu means ‘being bound or fettered’, from kasu , ‘to bind’. Curiously, the Akkadian kāsistu, with the long initial vowel, refers to a rodent, from kasasu, ‘to gnaw’ or ‘gnaw through’, which is, of course, so characteristic of the beaver. Aristotle, our chief Greek zoological authority, was uneasy about the word castōr as applied to the beaver. He actually speaks of the ‘so-called castōrkaloumenos castōr ) in the History of Animals, and proceeds to call the beaver by the name which he clearly regarded as its true name, latax, and which he describes as cutting down the riverside aspens or poplars with its teeth. Aristotle seems to have suspected that castōr was a synonym for the beaver arising from some unusual source, which we can see was probably by association from the name for its aromatic secretion being applied to the animal itself

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Nov 192010

Golden turmeric spice is related to ginger

Turmeric is often confused with and substituted for saffron , because not only does it have a very strong flavor, it also turns foods a golden yellow color. Turmeric is frequently misspelled as tumeric, omitting the first letter r. Learn about this pungent spice and how to use it in a variety of turmeric recipes .

About turmeric

Turmeric is botanically known as Curcuma longa, derived from the old Arabic name for the kurkum plant we know better as saffron. Yet this spice is a member of the ginger family and unrelated to saffron. Like ginger, it is the root of the turmeric plant that is used as a spice, usually in a dried form.

However, in some areas of the Far East, the fresh turmeric root is used and stored much like ginger. You might be able to find fresh turmeric in specialty Asian markets in the US.

The root is generally peeled to expose its bright yellow flesh, then boiled, dried, and ground into a powder. Turmeric gives ball-park yellow mustard its bright color, is a prime ingredient in Worcestershire sauce , and is also used to color other foods such as butter, cheese, and fruit drinks. It is a favorite in Middle East and Asian foods and spice blends such as curry.

Substituting turmeric for saffron

The flavor of turmeric is often described as buttery and slightly bitter, with a hint of mustard and horseradish. Fresh turmeric is more like ginger, but sweeter and more aromatic.

Turmeric is often suggested as a substitute for the much more expensive saffron (although not by professional chefs) and annatto, because it produces that beautiful golden color. Indeed, turmeric is often added to ground saffron by some unscrupulous manufacturers to increase the profit margin. When substituting turmeric for saffron, be aware that turmeric is much more pungent and should be used sparingly.

Turmeric selection and storage

Whole or ground dried turmeric is readily available in the spice section of most grocery stores. The most widely used form is ground turmeric. Since it is highly susceptible to light, it is usually packed in airtight tins. Store the tin in a cool, dark place. Turmeric will begin to lose its potency after about six months, even sooner if exposed to light and/or heat.

Turmeric cooking tips and usage

  • Turmeric is also known as Indian saffron.
  • Turmeric is an important ingredient in curry mixes, chutney , and mustard pickles. It also goes well with chicken, duck, turkey, vegetables, rice, and salad dressing.
  • Turmeric is extremely pungent, and actually gets stronger when cooked. A little goes a long way, so use it sparingly when experimenting.
  • Avoid touching your clothing when working with turmeric. It is a powerful yellow dye.
  • Although a pinch of turmeric may be used as a substitute for saffron to achieve that golden yellow color, the flavor does not compare in the least.
  • Substitute 1 teaspoon dry mustard for 1 teaspoon of turmeric.
  • The color of turmeric can vary widely from deep yellow-orange to bright yellow. This is simply due to different varieties.
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Nov 192010

The theory of books is noble. The scholar of the first age received into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it the new arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again. It came into him, life; it went out from him, truth. It came to him, short-lived actions; it went out from him, immortal thoughts. It came to him, business; it went from him, poetry. It was dead fact; now, it is quick thought. It can stand, and it can go. It now endures, it now flies, it now inspires. Precisely in proportion to the depth of mind from which it issued, so high does it soar, so long does it sing.

Yet hence arises a grave mischief. The sacredness which attaches to the act of creation, — the act of thought, — is transferred to the record. The poet chanting, was felt to be a divine man: henceforth the chant is divine also. The writer was a just and wise spirit: henceforward it is settled, the book is perfect; as love of the hero corrupts into worship of his statue. Instantly, the book becomes noxious: the guide is a tyrant. The sluggish and perverted mind of the multitude, slow to open to the incursions of Reason, having once so opened, having once received this book, stands upon it, and makes an outcry, if it is disparaged. Colleges are built on it. Books are written on it by thinkers, not by Man Thinking; by men of talent, that is, who start wrong, who set out from accepted dogmas, not from their own sight of principles. Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views, which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries, when they wrote these books.

Hence, instead of Man Thinking, we have the bookworm. Hence, the book-learned class, who value books, as such; not as related to nature and the human constitution, but as making a sort of Third Estate with the world and the soul. Hence, the restorers of readings, the emendators, the bibliomaniacs of all degrees.


I would not be hurried by any love of system, by any exaggeration of instincts, to underrate the Book. We all know, that, as the human body can be nourished on any food, though it were boiled grass and the broth of shoes, so the human mind can be fed by any knowledge. And great and heroic men have existed, who had almost no other information than by the printed page. I only would say, that it needs a strong head to bear that diet. One must be an inventor to read well. As the proverb says, “He that would bring home the wealth of the Indies, must carry out the wealth of the Indies.” There is then creative reading as well as creative writing. When the mind is braced by labor and invention, the page of whatever book we read becomes luminous with manifold allusion. Every sentence is doubly significant, and the sense of our author is as broad as the world. We then see, what is always true, that, as the seer’s hour of vision is short and rare among heavy days and months, so is its record, perchance, the least part of his volume. The discerning will read, in his Plato or Shakspeare, only that least part, — only the authentic utterances of the oracle; — all the rest he rejects, were it never so many times Plato’s and Shakspeare’s.

– from The American Scholar

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Nov 192010

Shatapatha-Brahmana, I, 8, 1-6.

1. In the morning they brought to Manu water for washing, just as now they continue to bring water for washing the hands. When Manu was washing himself, a fish came into his hands.

2. The fish spoke to him: “Protect me and I will save you!” “From what are you going to save me?” Manu asked. “A flood will carry away all everything: from that flood I will save you!” “How am I to protect you?” said Manu.

3. The fish said, “As long as we are small, there is great destruction for us: fish eat fish. You will first keep me in a jar. When I outgrow that, you will dig a pit and keep me in it. When I outgrow that, you will take me down to the sea, for then I shall be beyond destruction.”

4. It soon became a ghasha (a great fish), one that grows largest (of all fish). The great fish said, “In such and such a year that flood will come. You will then attend to me and by my advice prepare a ship and when the flood has risen you will enter into the ship, and I will save you from it.”

5. After Manu had reared the fish this way, he took it down to the sea. And in the same year which the fish had indicated to him, he followed the advice of the fish and built a ship. And when the flood had risen, he entered into the ship. The fish then swam up to him, and to its horn he tied the rope of the ship, and by that means he passed swiftly up to the northern mountains.

6. The fish then said, “I have saved you. Fasten the ship to a tree; but do not let the water cut you off while you are on the mountain. As the water subsides, you may gradually descend!” Accordingly Manu gradually descended and since then the slope of the northern mountain is called ‘Manu’s descent.’ The flood then swept away all creatures and Manu alone remained here.

Matsyavatara (The Fish Incarnation) [From the Bhagavata VIII]

There was an intermediate deluge. Brahma slept for a while and the demon Hayagriva stole the Vedas. Lord Vishnu noticed this and took the form of Fish. In the Dravida country, there was a pious King, Satyavrata by name. As he was making an offering of water in the Kritamala river, the Lord appeared as a tiny Fish in the water of his palm. The Fish began to grow, and wondering at this, the King went on transferring it from one container to another. The Fish, which had finally to be deposited in the sea, told him: “On the seventh day from now, all the worlds will become completely flooded; on the flood waters, a boat will come to you; embark in it with manifold herbs and seeds and surrounded by the seven great sages and every class of living beings; a strong gale will rock the boat, but tie it to my snout with the great serpent, and as you ask me questions, I shall expound to you then the glory of Myself, the Supreme Brahman.”

Accordingly the sea swelled as huge rain-clouds poured down incessantly, rolled on and engulfed the world; the boat appeared, and also the great Fish; to its single snout, Satyavrata tied the ark. Dragging the ark over the waters, the Lord as a Fish imparted to Satyavrata the teachings about Truth which were collected in the Purana known as the Matsya (Fish). After the waters of the deluge had subsided, the Lord slew the demon Hayagriva and restored the Vedas to Brahma, who had awoke from his slumber.

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