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Saturday, June 13, 2020
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Suggestions for your senses,
every Saturday at 9 a.m.
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SPONSORED BY
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Good morning. 

This week, we speak with photographer Cindy Trinh about her Activist NYC documentary project, learn about nature’s color palette, make a Japanese curry brick recipe with Sonoko Sakai, groove to artist José Parlá’s playlist of Cuban music, and unpack the history of iced tea with anthropologist Sarah Besky.

On our At a Distance podcast, we talk with Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs senior lecturer and CNN analyst Asha Rangappa,  environmental anthropologist Gina Rae La Cerva, and Clean Program founder Dr. Alejandro Junger.

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See
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Documenting Dissent
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Photo: Cindy Trinh
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For the better part of the past decade, Cindy Trinh has been documenting social justice movements around New York City with her ongoing Activist NYC project. Here, Trinh, a photographer with a background in law, shares her observations on the current Black Lives Matter protests, while reflecting on numerous other social and environmental justice issues we face today, and why protesting is intrinsic to American life.

When did you start photographing protests? What prompted you to start Activist NYC?

I’ve been documenting protests since Occupy Wall Street, in 2011, though I was working with the National Lawyers Guild at the time, and more in the role of a legal observer. That was when it clicked for me. I would see cops tackling, beating, pepper-spraying people for no reason. There would be blood everywhere. I was even tackled by a police officer. He saw me taking pictures and tackled me to the ground, and it was really scary, because he had his elbow into my spine. After a good five to ten seconds of being restrained on the ground, something happened to distract the police officer, and he just as suddenly got up and left to go chase someone else. 

I started my current project under the name @activistnyc in 2014. That was when Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, and all the different solidarity protests were erupting around the country. I was a lawyer, but quit law, and had decided that I wanted to pursue photography full-time. I just hated how mainstream media portrayed the movement, and started really thinking about what I wanted to do with my life and how I could contribute to something that I felt I could be proud of. 

Media narratives tend to focus on the negatives—for the headlines and the clicks—so they will disproportionately show the violence or the rioting. Most of the time, the people out protesting on the streets are peaceful. They’re diverse, and they’re educated. Most of the time, it’s the cops that introduce violence to the protests. It all made me want to pick up a camera and show what I see when I go to protests around the city, to change the narrative about what it means to be a protester or an activist in the streets, exercising your First Amendment rights. I’ve been continuing it ever since—it’s been a long six years.

The current Black Lives Matters protests are making history as one of the largest, sustained civil rights movements in the country, active in all fifty states and abroad in nineteen countries. What’s been your experience at these protests in New York, from 2014 to now?

What I see now is people that have never done this before—they’re out there now. People who have never been involved in activism or protest, or have never posted anything about it before, are now doing it. They’re finding the drive to finally get themselves involved, which is really important because there is strength in numbers, and we’re seeing huge actions finally being taken in cities like Minneapolis and L.A., where they’re taking steps to defund police forces, and now in New York, the conversation is also around defunding and passing laws to address police immunity. This is definitely, by far, the largest and longest-running movement I’ve ever seen. I’ve been to a lot of different big marches, the biggest one being the Millions March, which drew out tens of thousands of people. But the last two weeks have been as big as the Millions March, like, every single day. 

The organizing that has been happening in these weeks is beyond anything I have ever seen in the past, and this has really been an accumulation of years of work. It’s beautiful to see this strong outpouring of care and community. At protests, I’m seeing people handing out water, masks, hand sanitizer, snacks. Everyone is really looking out for each other, and it’s the greatest sign of solidarity.

In what ways do you feel social media has changed photography and journalism? 

The invention of social media has really helped further the movement, in my opinion, because it’s allowed us to see and expose things that have always been happening—and now, we have the means to get it out there. It is important to show the police brutality, exposing what they have been doing to black, brown, and indigenous communities in our country for many, many years. 

Social media has allowed everyday citizens like myself engaged in citizen journalism to show the perspective of an everyday person, without the biases of mainstream media. I know a lot of other photographers and citizen journalists [who are] doing their own projects, with all different perspectives. I think it’s important to have a variety of voices that aren’t largely represented in mainstream media. We need diversity in our storytelling. 

The pervasiveness of systemic racism compounds the dangers of public health, as we’ve seen in the ways black, indigenous, and POC communities have been harder hit by Covid-19, as well as climate change and environmental issues. What other movements have you been tracking?
 
Climate change is definitely one of the largest issues I’ve seen come out of New York, especially in the last couple of years, witnessing the way Hurricane Sandy affected [the city], the consequences of rising temperatures and sea levels on our planet, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s recent push for the Green New Deal. It’s another issue that has been a really, really big focus, and if you think about the cycles of oppression that keep communities of color in constant poverty and struggle, and have not allowed them the equal opportunities to thrive, the dangers of climate change and natural disasters absolutely have to do with it. Because, if and when we are to experience another natural disaster, it’s the poor and the vulnerable that will be affected the most. 

There are so many issues and communities that New York activists care about. Since Donald Trump took office, I’ve documented a growing number of protests held by the Muslim community, in response to his travel bans, and they’ve been dealing with this kind of extreme racism since 9/11, so this is an ongoing fight for them, as well. And the Asian American community has seen how, during the Covid-19 pandemic, in the snap of a finger, we can be scapegoated and seen as an enemy, or [as] a virus or threat to our own country.

In the larger arc of history, what does protesting and physically showing up mean for you and for American democracy? 

Protests symbolize change. Protesting is what shapes our country, and is at the foundation of being American. It puts pressure on our government and on our political leaders to enact change. Every major change that we’ve had in our country has always resulted from people taking to the streets and demanding to be heard. And that’s what we’re seeing now—one of the largest movements in history.

If you’re physically able to and in good health, I think showing up says a lot about how much you’re willing to put yourself on the line, and walk into an uncomfortable situation in order to achieve what we all want: equality, justice, and accountability. Most of the time, protesting is low-risk and peaceful, but we’ve seen what the cops can do to protests. Showing up means that you care about something bigger than yourself. And when you’re out there, the energy is so strong and infectious, you really feel that you’re taking part in this history, right now, that you’re a part of something that has the power to affect change for years to come.

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Touch
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Natural Selection
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Courtesy Sasha Duerr and Princeton Architectural Press
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Textile artist Sasha Duerr centers her work around plant-based dyes with the curiosity of a dedicated alchemist, growing and foraging leaves, branches, prunings, wood chips, flowers, and even food waste to create vibrant hues. Her latest book, Natural Palettes: Inspiration from Plant-Based Color (Princeton Architectural Press), presents an antidote to the exacting industry-standard Pantone swatch—one that’s defined by biodiversity over industry trends, and embraces a circular approach to fashion, clothing, and food. 

“Plants are indelible storytellers, connecting us emotionally, physically, environmentally. A walk in the woods, the remains of a summer meal, the scent of California sagebrush, a June bouquet—all provide depths of inspiration from which we draw meaning,” writes Duerr, who grew up between Hawaii and Maine, and advocates for an approach to the fashion and clothing industry that parallels that of the Slow Food movement. “In the food world, terroir means much more than merely the circumstances that create a better-tasting grape; in the world of natural color, it is by knowing our sources that we can begin to appreciate the process, grasp its meaning, and most fully participate.”

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SPONSORED BY
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Taste
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Curry Vision
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Photo: Rick Poon
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Sweet, spicy, and loaded with umami, Japanese curry was adapted from its Indian counterpart using spices that were brought to Japan by the British, and over the years, has become a ubiquitous comfort dish, often served with a side of rice or katsu. Home cooks can find Japanese curry bricks at most Asian grocery stores, but the savory, bouillon-like cubes can also be made completely from scratch, sans any preservatives—and in batches that can keep for weeks. Here, the writer, teacher, and cook Sonoko Sakai shares her homemade curry brick recipe, from her recently published cookbook, Japanese Home Cooking (Roost Books).

Japanese Curry Brick 
Most Japanese cooks rely on prepared curry bricks to make curry. These are basically blocks of seasoned roux—the shape of a chocolate bar—made of spices (including turmeric, coriander, cumin, and fennel), salt, flour, and butter that can be dissolved in water to make an instant curry sauce. My brick is on the mild side, so if you like it spicier, add the cayenne pepper. To make your curry block gluten-free, chickpea flour is a good alternative that is used in Indian curries. If using chickpea flour, it will be soupy in consistency. You can add a tablespoon of mochiko (glutinous rice flour) diluted with equal amounts of water to thicken the curry.

One curry brick in this recipe makes about three batches of Japanese-style curry. You can break up the brick into three pieces and store it in the refrigerator. This recipe makes more curry powder than you will need for the brick. You can use the remaining powder to sprinkle on vegetables and salads or save it for the next batch of brick.

Makes 1 curry brick

For the curry powder:
1 tbsp. brown or black mustard seeds 
1 2-inch (5 cm.) piece of cinnamon stick, broken into small pieces
1 bay leaf
2 to 3 cardamom pods
1 tbsp. coriander seeds
1 tbsp. fennel seeds
1 tbsp. cumin seeds 
1 tsp. fenugreek seeds
½ tsp. whole cloves
1½ tsps. black peppercorns
1 tsp. sweet paprika 
1 tbsp. ground ginger 
1 tbsp. ground turmeric 
1 tbsp. sea salt
1 tsp. cayenne pepper (or more to taste)

For the roux:
½ cup (1 stick/115 g.) unsalted butter 
⅔ cup (70 g.) all-purpose flour or chickpea flour

Step 1
In a medium skillet, toast mustard seeds, cinnamon, bay leaf, cardamom pods, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, and cloves over medium heat, stirring until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. 

Step 2
Transfer the toasted spices to a spice grinder, add the peppercorns, and grind at the highest speed for 30 seconds. Shake the grinder a couple of times to make sure the cinnamon stick is pulverized. Sift the ground spices through a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl. Add the paprika, ginger, turmeric, salt, and cayenne, if using. You will have ⅔ cup (50 g.) of the ground spice mix. 

Step 3
To make the curry brick, put the butter in a medium nonstick skillet and place over medium-high heat. When the butter is nearly melted, turn the heat to low. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the roux turns light brown, 15 to 20 minutes, being careful not to let it burn. Add ⅓ cup (36 g.) of the curry powder and mix well. Transfer the seasoned roux to a small container or a mini aluminum loaf pan measuring 5¼ × 3½ × 2 inches (14.5 × 8.5 × 5 cm.). Let stand at room temperature until the roux is set, about 3 hours. But you can start using the curry brick in liquid form if you wish to make curry right away.

To store, take the curry brick out of the container and wrap in parchment paper or plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Republished with permission from Roost Books.

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Hear
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A Trip to Cuba
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Photo: James Chororos
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Layered compositions, calligraphic abstractions, and public spaces often factor into the works of Brooklyn-based Cuban-American artist José Parlá, who has exhibited worldwide and installed large-scale murals in spaces ranging from inside the lobby of One World Trade Center to at the Havana Biennale. (His first solo museum exhibition, “José Parlá: It’s Yours,” is currently on view at the Bronx Museum, through Jan. 10, 2021, though the museum is temporarily closed at the moment due to Covid-19.) As the summer heat sets in, Parlá, who keeps a D.J. setup in his studio, shares with us a playlist of some of his favorite Cuban songs to move to.

“A la Caridad del Cobre,” Celina y Reutilio
“The voice and sound of the mountains, rivers, and creole spirit.”

“Cao, Cao, Maní Picao,” La Sonora Matancera, Celia Cruz
“Happiness and rhythm in a dance song about chopped peanuts. A carefree, high-spirited Cuban sound.”

“La Pachanga Amor,” Joe Quijano y Su Conjunto Cachana
“The bass line, piano, flutes, drums, and horns blend together to reflect the African and European backgrounds of Cuba. There is so much history in this beautiful composition.”

“Que Bueno Baila Usted,” Beny Moré
“Beny Moré's unique voice and sound, alongside Generoso Jiménez on trombone, will keep you dancing from beginning to end.”

“El Reto,” Celina González
“This is Cuban soul. ‘El Reto’ means ‘the challenge.’ The lyrics are so beautifully heartbreaking, and the rhythm rises and flows to uplift love again with passion.”

“Bossa Cubana,” Los Zafiros
“This song tells you that Loz Zafiros were incorporating Cuban and Brazilian styles of music, but also Harlem-style doo-wop. A must-play at any party!”

“Yiri, Yiri, Bom,” Beny Moré
“This is rumba—full of influences of styles, from flamenca to comparza—and reminds me of growing up, seeing my parents making the house into a magical dance hall.”

“Oye Mi Tres Montuno,” Cachao y Su Ritmo Caliente
“Cachao, with his playful mastery of the tres guitar, takes me on a journey through the small country towns in Cuba.”

“Rumberos de Ayer,” Beny Moré
“This song pays homage to Cuba’s great percussionists of yesterday, called rumberos, to Chano Pozo, Malanga, and it’s full of lessons on history and style.”

“Contestacion al Dinero No Es la Vida,” Celia Cruz
“Celia Cruz breaks down the importance of money in 1950s Havana with elegance, grace, flavor, and humor. Without money, you can’t have fun, live, nor have a cola de pato—a Cadillac from those times, with the stylish winged sides—en Havana.”

“La Caminadora,” Los Zafiros
“High-energy Los Zafiros sing about a girl walking down the street with men following her screaming, ‘Waaaaaaa!!! Waaaaaa!!!’”

“Santa Barbara (Que Viva Chango),” Celina y Reutilio
“Grew up on this song—it was one of my mother’s favorites. Chango! Protect us all, keep the good energy in the earth!”

“Anabacoa,” Beny Moré
“Stretch and get ready to move your body!”

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Smell
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Iced Tea Time
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Photo: Sarah Besky/Courtesy University of California Press
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“What makes a good cup of tea?” anthropologist Sarah Besky asks, in the introduction to her latest book, Tasting Qualities: The Past and Future of Tea (University of California Press). “Ask consumers in different tea-loving places, from London to Lucknow to Louisville, and you’ll likely get different answers.” Tea, like so many everyday foods found at the grocery store, has a long history of commodity, globalization, and trade. And despite its natural variability in taste and scent that, much like wine, can be attributed to seasonality and terroir, modern industrial food science has led to a host of standardized proprietary blends that obscure their sources of origin, often in the name of marketability.

Warmer days conjure the taste and smell of fragrant iced tea, especially in the U.S., where the summer drink is as American as apple pie. The beverage exploded in popularity after the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, when merchant and tea plantation owner Richard Blechynden, desperate to boost sales in the sweltering heat, began to serve his hot tea chilled. These days, the familiar aromas we may associate with store-bought mainstays or instant version of the stuff—lemony, floral, sweet, and slightly tannic—are more a function of chemistry than nature that, as Besky says, “takes away the remarkable variability of tea in order to make it, in essence, the same.”

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Until next week...

Today’s email was written by Aileen Kwun.

Editor: Spencer Bailey
Creative Director: Andrew Zuckerman
Producer: Mike Lala
Copy Editor: Mimi Hannon

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