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Spanish cuisine: Intimidated by artichokes? Follow these tips for a hassle-free preparation | Culture

The artichoke is one of the undisputed queens of the winter garden. This fleshy green flower is delicate inside but can be laborious to prepare (before you read this article, of course). With a peculiar taste that is simultaneously sweet and bitter, you can decide whether you want to dedicate time to the ritual of pulling off the leaves one by one, or to scoff down their hearts in one bite. We not only have a lot of ideas on how to cook them in every possible way, but also how to select those that are at their best, tips on how to make the most of every part, and a technique that will satisfy even the laziest cooks. Long live the artichoke!

How to pick them

First you have to choose the right artichokes: go for those that are relatively heavy in comparison to their size, with well-attached, closed leaves and an intense dark green color (not tending towards brown). The leaves that are attached to the stem and the hardness of the stem can also offer a lot of information about freshness: the lusher the leaves and the harder and fleshier the stem, the better.

Raw

Eating artichokes raw is a delight that does require some work. You have to completely remove the top of the artichoke and the fibrous part of the leaves, almost right down to the heart. Remove any smaller leaves close to the stem. Then cut them into very thin slices so that they are pleasant to bite into, using a sharp paring knife or a slicer. Quickly place them in a bowl of water with lemon or parsley stalks so they do not brown.

They are delicious drained, well dried and then seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper, but I like to add a touch of acidity with a few drops of lemon or apple cider/sherry vinegar. Let the dressing marinate for about 10 minutes so it loses some of its potency. In addition to eating them as a starter or side dish, you can also pair with anchovies, fried lardons or slices of mature cheese. They also work scattered on top of a vegetable soup, beef or cod carpaccio, or salmon tartar.

Braised

Artichoke chips will add a fabulous, crunchy touch to any dish.
Artichoke chips will add a fabulous, crunchy touch to any dish.MÒNICA ESCUDERO

Follow the same initial instructions as above, but at the cutting stage slice the artichokes a little thicker, about two or three millimeters in width. Sauté a couple of whole cloves of garlic in olive oil, or cut the cloves in half if you want them to imbue a stronger flavor. Add the prepared artichokes and brown for a couple of minutes. Salt generously, then add three tablespoons of water and cover with a pan so they cook in the steam. Let them sizzle for two and a half minutes and repeat with more water. If after the second round they are still too hard, go for a third time.

There are many variations to this recipe. You can substitute the water for sherry or another white wine, or add chopped nuts, diced bacon or chopped mushrooms. Serve them over mashed potato or sweet potato with a boiled or fried egg, and you will be guaranteed success. You can also turn them into a warm salad if you take out the cooked garlic and crush it with oil, salt, pepper and a few drops of vinegar or lemon. They are also great with chopped hard-boiled egg and a vinaigrette with onion and bell pepper, like the one we would use for steamed leeks.

Fried

You can fry artichokes in many ways, and it all depends on how you want to serve them afterwards. It is always advisable to use plenty of olive oil, to have the heat up quite high and not to put too many in at once — this lowers the temperature of the oil and they end up going soft. To make very light chips as an appetizer or to use as a garnish on any dish, follow the same initial steps as for raw artichokes (it is very important to dry them well before they touch the oil).

If you want to bread them you can simply dip them in the flour of your choice (sift it first), and then shake them well so that they do not stick together. You are looking for a light and crunchy texture. However, the coating takes less time to burn than artichokes take to cook, so they are not very recommendable. A thicker coating like beer batter presents a problem: if you cut the artichoke thin, the dough drowns the vegetable; if you leave it big, it doesn’t cook. If you want to complicate your life, you can always steam them and then batter them to get the perfect texture.

Confit

These artichokes were cooked in a casserole dish, a simple preparation that requires little work.
These artichokes were cooked in a casserole dish, a simple preparation that requires little work.MÒNICA ESCUDERO

Begin in the same way as you would to make them raw or braised, and then remove —if they have them— the fibers and leaves from the inside. The most important thing with confit is to keep the temperature of the oil low, ideally at about 70ºC (158º F) and no more than 80ºC (176ºF). To achieve this, you can use a Thermomix-style food processor, a ceramic glass hob on very low power, a gas ring set to the minimum (remove from the stove when bubbles appear) or a Roner-type low-temperature thermal circulator (with the artichokes placed in a vacuum bag with the oil). They are usually ready in about an hour or an hour and 15 minutes. It is important to let the artichokes cool in the same oil before eating seasoned with salt, on toast with labneh, or stuffed with shredded hard-boiled egg. You can also try fresh parsley and anchovies or anchovies in vinegar; the possibilities are almost endless.

Roasted

Although they need quite a bit more time, this is actually the easiest way to make them, since almost all the work is done by the oven. It works perfectly for the “leaf by leaf” method that we artichoke fans are so fond of. Start by heating the oven to 180ºC (350ºF) and cutting the stems of the artichokes just enough to keep them standing upright (set these aside for later). Without removing the outer leaves or cutting the tips, pick them up by the base and whack them on the kitchen countertop so they open up a little (without overdoing it, you don’t want to squash them).Once they are ready, transfer them onto the oven tray. If it is difficult for them to stand upright, (which sometimes happens with the smallest ones) you can use a casserole dish or container so that they are a little closer together and hold better. Season them lightly with salt, pepper and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. You can also toss in a spice mix.

After 45 minutes to an hour and a quarter, depending on the quantity and size of the artichokes and the power of the oven, they should be ready. You can check by pressing their bases: if they yield, they are ready. Season them a little more if you want with a few drops of vinegar or lemon, and take them to the table. The outermost leaves will be very toasted and will have protected the inner part, giving it a characteristic flavor. Don’t have an oven or are too lazy to turn it on? You can get very similar results in a shallow casserole pan with a lid.

Steamed in the microwave

Artichokes go very well with short pasta cooked risotto-style.
Artichokes go very well with short pasta cooked risotto-style.MÒNICA ESCUDERO

To prepare them you will need… you guessed it, a microwave and some artichokes. Cut the base of between four or six artichokes, depending on their size, wash them and put them in a bowl or container that is suitable for the microwave. Add a splash of water. Cover with a plate or film and set the program for between 7 and 10 minutes at maximum power, depending on how big the artichokes are and how cooked you like them.

Once finished, take tongs or a clean kitchen towel and very carefully squeeze the base of one of the artichokes a little: if they yield to the pressure they are ready, if they are too hard, set the microwave for two more minutes. When they are ready, remove the covering and wait until you can handle them without burning yourself. Remove the outer leaves by pulling from the tips downwards: in addition to the leaves you will remove the toughest outer layer of the stem (you can also cut off the tips to leave only the hearts). Cut the artichokes in half lengthwise, starting at the base of the stem, and they are ready to eat. Don’t have a microwave? Prepare them in a pot of boiling water, in a colander or steamer, tightly covered. It will take between 35 and 45 minutes.

Stews, sauces and spreads

If you add a few chopped artichokes, a simple stew can become a standout. The only thing to bear in mind is when exactly you put them in, so they don’t turn out soft like figs or hard as a rock. Between 15 and 25 minutes is ideal, depending on the size and freshness of the vegetable. If you cannot choose the right moment because you only remembered when the stew was almost ready, you can always play with the size and cut them thinner. I like them in four or six pieces, cut lengthwise, so they are noticeable in the mix.

You can add them to any bean stew, meat stew, or with poultry, fish, shellfish, vegetables or vegetable proteins such as seitan, tofu or tempeh. They are also ideal in pasta sauces or as bases for risotto, rice dishes or stir-fries. They can even be used in sandwiches or turned into a spread by mixing them with chickpeas or beans, with a little oil and a splash of your favorite citrus juice.

Broth

Artichoke leaves can also be used to make broth. One way is to cook them in the microwave, peel them, and put the leaves in a pressure cooker for half an hour, then strain them. If you want to give the broth a little more body, you can put the leaves in a blender and then strain them. You can also add a couple of cloves of garlic, onion, the green part of a leek, pumpkin peel or other vegetable trimmings – the green stalks of carrots look great in these broths – to give it more flavor.

The stems are not considered waste but rather a delicacy. If for some reason you have had to cut them and you have them loose, you can remove the outer layer, cut them into thicker or thinner slices depending on what you are using them for and add them to vegetable soups, pasta sauces, sautés or stews. Just like pork, you can use every part (all of them delicious).

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‘Conversations Outside The Cathedral’: The fight for abortion rights in Colombia | Culture

February 21 marked two years since the Colombian feminist movement achieved a historic victory: the decriminalization of abortion up to the 24th week of pregnancy, the longest period in Latin America.

A new book has just been published in Spanish, to tell the story of this triumph: Conversations Outside The Cathedral (Penguin Random House), playing on the title of Mario Vargas Llosa’s innovative novel, Conversation in The Cathedral (1969).

“One thing that happens to many of us feminists is that we work and fight… but we’re not putting together a log for history,” admits Ana Cristina González Vélez — a doctor and pioneer of the Just Cause movement — in her interview for the book. “I think men have been more aware of the value of narrating [such historical events] and that’s a shame,” she adds.

It’s time to put together the log, fight for a place in history and tell the feat better. As Argentine novelist Claudia Piñeiro describes it, this is a book about “the memory of the Colombian green tide.”

Conversations Outside The Cathedral is a book of interviews that journalist Laila Abu Shihab has put together, alongside González and her closest colleague, Cristina Villarreal. For years, Villarreal ran one of the few safe centers for women seeking abortions in Bogotá: Oriéntame (“guide me”).

“Cristina and I partnered together a lot… [she] from the perspective of [reproductive] services, [while I was] closely linked the feminist movement and advocacy. We were like two faces on one body,” González jokes, describing herself and Villareal.

The book includes conversations with activists, lawyers, legislators, reggaeton singers and famous actresses who were all fundamental to the victory. There are some men here and there, but the bulk of the interviewees are women. The diverse chorus describes the long road to victory: defeats, strategies, unexpected turns, debates, divisions, betrayals. But along the way, there was also an exceptional degree of solidarity… a feminist way of working that was “collective and went against egos and vanities,” the journalist writes.

Ana Cristina González, during a feminist demonstration, in Bogotá.
Ana Cristina González, during a feminist demonstration, in Bogotá.Victoria Holguín de Causa Justa

The first thing that Conversations Outside The Cathedral tries to do is give credit to those who rarely get any. For example, the book interviews university professor and sociologist Lucero Zamudio, who led the first ambitious study on abortion in Colombia in 1994, which revealed that induced abortion was the second-biggest cause of maternal mortality. “That study was never repeated — [there was never any document] of that magnitude and with that depth,” González affirms.

Another person included in the book is Iván Marulanda Gómez, a former senator who tried to get the right to abortion included in the Colombian Constitution of 1991. “Friends, it’s the right of Colombian women to give birth to children as a result of love and commitment… and it’s the right of Colombia’s children to be born surrounded by love and protection,” Marulanda told his colleagues in the Constituent Assembly. His motion was ultimately defeated: 25 votes in favor, 40 against, three abstentions. Congress has since voted on several initiatives to either decriminalize or legalize abortion. None have succeeded.

There are no protagonists in the fight for the right to abortion, but there are certainly key characters. There’s Mónica Roa, a lawyer who, in 2006, managed to get abortion decriminalized in three cases. Or Sandra Mazo, who’s committed to ending the guilt of abortion by leading the organization Catholics for the Right to Choose. For Cristina Villarreal, however, the key person was her father: Jorge Villarreal Mejía, a gynecologist who started a medical movement in favor of family planning. He founded Oriéntame in 1977. “I learned everything with my father,” his daughter explains. She’s of the leaders of the Just Cause movement, as well as the movement that preceded it: the Board for the Life and Health of Women.

Cristina Villareal.
Cristina Villareal.CORTESÍA

The book also deals with uncomfortable conversations. For instance, there were tensions that emerged among feminists after Roa’s victory in 2006, either because of what they perceived as her excessive media attention, or because of her strategy: rather than trying to get abortion decriminalized across the board, she sought exemptions from the law in three cases. “They criticized us and said that what we asked for was very little… only crumbs of justice,” Roa recalls.

The women on the Board for the Life and Health of Women aren’t afraid of engaging in increasingly complicated debates. They struggle, for example, with how to regulate the right to abortion when there’s a malformation of the fetus, because “any effort in this regard reinforces stereotypes and aggravates discrimination against people with disabilities,” González notes.

“There was a time when we decided that, every month, or every two months — I don’t remember very well — we would choose a topic for discussion, to ask each other uncomfortable questions,” Villareal says. “One of those issues was the [high level of abortions] in the case of female fetuses in India. At first, that generates a very strong reaction.”

Conversations Outside the Cathedral aims to document the epic battle, but also to warn the unsuspecting. For instance, two years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the ruling that had guaranteed women the right to abortion for decades. In Argentina, the new government of President Javier Milei is also promising to remove abortion rights. And, in Colombia, the so-called “pro-life” groups (González Vélez and Villarreal ask that they be identified more accurately as “anti-rights” groups) continue to seek their victory against the right to abortion by getting court rulings overturned. Within the feminist movement, victory cannot be completely achieved, because the fight is always shifting.

“I don’t know if one day — in a few decades, I hope — this conversation will seem very strange to [the next generations]. It will seem incomprehensible to them that abortion was a crime,” ponders one of the interviewees in the book. “I’m convinced that there’s no moment when the fight ends,” another woman notes. For now, the conversations continue.

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‘Mrs. Doubtfire’: The highlights Of Robin Williams’ Role That defined His Artistic Greatness

The highlights Of Robin Williams’ Role That defined His Artistic Greatness

The Voice Of EU | One of the most versatile comedian and actor Robin Williams left an indelible mark on an entire generation throughout the 1990s, evoking both laughter and tears. His portrayal of a strict yet endearing housekeeper in the hit film “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993) resonated deeply with audiences worldwide, propelling it to resounding success across global boundaries.

Señora Doubtfire Robin Williams
Robin Williams in a scene from ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ (1993). Archive Photos (20th Century-Fox / Getty Images)

Williams played the role, despite the adversities and addictions that plagued his life at the time, by putting aside the devised script and becoming a master of improvisation during the filming of the movie, which brought in more than €400 million.

In the year of its release it was only outdone by Jurassic Park (€1 billion). This is what its director, also an avowed admirer of the American actor, explained on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Mrs. Doubtfire’s debut on the big screen: “It took me three months to rewrite the script. I sent it to Robin and he said he loved it.” After Williams’ suicide in 2014, in an interview for Business Insider magazine, Chris Columbus unveils details that were buried 30 years ago.

“Four and a half hours, maybe five,” is the time in which, according to the director, Robin Williams was able to play Mrs. Doubtfire, a characterization for which the film earned the Oscar for Best Makeup. The actor was not comfortable in portraying his role: a father who disguises himself as a housekeeper in order to spend more time with his children after a bitter divorce. For him, it presented a challenge. “We never could shoot two consecutive days of Robin as Mrs. Doubtfire. It was a punishing day for him, so always the next day, we would shoot him as Daniel (the father),” the director of the film reveals three decades after its release.

Comedy is acting out optimism.” — Robin Williams

In between the laughs and moments that are etched in the minds of many, Columbus describes the challenge of keeping actors such as Pierce Brosnan and Sally Field, who played leading roles in the film, from breaking away from the script of their characters while Williams was at his most unrestrainedly creative.

Indeed, according to the director, his boundless energy even created situations where the script supervisor could not keep up, resulting in unrepeatable and spontaneous takes. “None of us knew what he was going to say when he got going and so I wanted a camera on the other actors to get their reactions.” Most of the sequences in the film, and specifically all of those featuring Williams, were the result of an incredible amount of improvisation from the American comedian. “If it were today, we would never end. But back then, we were shooting film so once we were out of film in the camera, we would say to Robin, ‘We’re out of film.’ That happened on several occasions,” recalls Columbus.

“Hey boss, the way I like to work, if you’re up for it, is I’ll give you three or four scripted takes, and then let’s play.” This was the actor’s first warning to the director of Mrs. Doubtfire. Robin Williams was a significant figure in Chris Columbus’ life, and he still is to this day. Not only because he was responsible for his move to San Francisco, the actor didn’t want to shoot anywhere else, but due to his ability to make people laugh and cry at the same time. “Williams wanted the film to be shot there because he was living in San Francisco with his wife, Marsha, and their children. Thanks to him I fell in love with the city that has become my home,” he explains.

“You will have bad times, but they will always wake you up to the stuff you weren’t paying attention to.” — Robin Williams

The director also reminisced about some memorable scenes that contributed to the film’s status as a cinematic masterpiece, as perceived by many. However, what stood out the most was his innate ability to improvise: “The entire restaurant sequence was remarkable. When Robin, portraying Mrs. Doubtfire, accidentally loses his teeth in his drink, you can see the joy on Robin’s face; he’s almost smirking to himself for coming up with that.” Following the success of the Mrs. Doubtfire premiere, the production team is currently exploring ways to honor Williams and his portrayal in the film, although no definitive plans have been made yet. “There are approximately 972 boxes of footage stored in a warehouse somewhere in California. There’s something truly special and enchanting about his performances, and I believe it would be exciting to delve deeper into it.”

Despite initial reservations about creating a sequel, the notion of a new spin-off gained traction shortly before the actor’s tragic passing on August 11, 2014, at his residence in Paradise Bay, California. “Robin’s only concern was: ‘Boss, do I have to spend as much time in the suit this time around?’ The physical toll of portraying Doubtfire was immense for Robin; it felt like running a marathon every day,” the director recounts. Following a brief meeting at the actor’s home, and a simple handshake, Chris Columbus began outlining the script mere days before the unfortunate event. “During the rewrite, we contemplated reducing the role of Doubtfire. However, Robin’s untimely demise extinguished any hopes of a sequel,” he laments. Although not spearheaded by its creator, Mrs. Doubtfire has found new life as a stage musical. “What set him apart as a performer is that there was no one like Robin Williams before him, and there will never be anyone like him again. He was truly one-of-a-kind,” reflects the actor’s superior.

Mrs. DoubtfireRobin Williams and Matthew Lawrence in a scene from ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ (1993).

In addition to the director, another Mrs. Doubtfire star who later spoke of Robin Williams’ brilliance was Matthew Lawrence, who played Daniel’s son. Lawrence was just a teenager in the film, which also gave a debut to his co-star Mara Wilson, the unforgettable Matilda. One day Lawrence went to Robin’s dressing room and did not expect what he was told: “‘Stay away from drugs, particularly cocaine.’ He was being serious and told me: ‘You know when you come to my trailer and you see me like that?’ He’s like, ‘That’s the reason why. And now I’m fighting for the rest of my life because I spent 10 years doing something very stupid every day. Do not do it.’ I stayed away from it because of him”, Lawrence recalled in an interview with People magazine in March 2022.

The lesser-known chapter of Williams’ life, while unrelated to his demise, shed light on the inner struggles of a comedian committed to bringing joy to others yet grappling with profound personal sorrow. “As charismatic as he appeared on screen, I’d often visit him in his trailer for chats, he was tormented. It was truly agonizing for him. He didn’t conceal it. He confided in me about his battles with addiction,” the actor concluded.


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‘The Bill Gates Problem’ – The Case Against World’s Richest Man

The Case Against World’s Richest Man

When Clinton assumed the presidency of the United States, there was eager anticipation from the Chinese, not for Clinton himself, but for Bill Gates. This was during the late 1990s, a period when the internet was still in its nascent stages, and the digital boom of the early 2000s had not yet reached its peak. The enigmatic persona that captivated the attention of the burgeoning Asian powerhouse is now portrayed in “The Bill Gates Problem” as a “domineering, brusque figure” whose demeanor is likened to “a cauldron of passions that freely erupts.” According to a former employee cited in the book, Gates was perceived as “a complete and utter jerk to people 70% of the time,” while the remaining 30% saw him as a “harmless, enjoyable, exceptionally intelligent nerd.”

The 1990s were also the decade of the conflict between Microsoft and the now defunct Netscape browser, which challenged what was already being openly described as the former’s monopolistic practices. Gates was investigated and accused in Congress for such practices; he ultimately won the battle, but the case harmed his reputation, and in 2000 he resigned as CEO of his company. From there he undertook an expansion of the foundation that he had established with his wife and to which he has dedicated his main efforts in the last two decades. In 2006, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation received the Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation.

With a personal fortune of $100 billion and tens of billions more in his private foundation, Gates has been one of the richest men in the world for decades, and the foundation has been the most generous organization of its kind, specializing above all in health aid, education and child nutrition, with a large presence in Africa and India among other regions of what was formerly known as the Third World. Tim Schwab, a contributor to the weekly left-wing newspaper The Nation, undertook a detailed investigation to denounce something that in truth was already known: that American foundations are largely a way for billionaires to avoid taxes.

To prove this, he thoroughly looked into the accounts and procedures of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the failures and occasional successes of its philanthropic policies, and came to the conclusion that behind this facade of help to the needy hides an operation of power. He is ruthless in his criticism, although accurate in his analysis of the growing inequality in the world. Absorbed by the revolutionary rhetoric, he laments that the Gates Foundation has remained “deadly silent” regarding movements such as Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter, which demand social change in the face of the “excess wealth and ‘white savior’ mentality that drives Bill Gates’ philanthropic work.” He does attribute some good intentions, but his criticism is merciless, sometimes even coarse, while the absence of solutions for the problems he denounces — other than the calls for do-goodism — is frustrating.

His abilities as an investigative journalist are thus overshadowed by a somewhat naive militancy against the creative capitalism that Gates promotes and an evident intention to discredit not only his work but, above all, him. The demands he makes for transparency and the accusations of obscurity are dulled by the author himself in the pages he dedicates to Gates’ relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, the famous corruptor of minors at the service of the international jet set. Gates has explained his meetings and interviews with him on countless occasions, and in no case has any type of relationship, other than their commercial relations or some confusing efforts to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, been proved. Still, Schwab raises, with no evidence whatsoever, the possibility that their relationship “could have had something to do with Epstein’s principal activities in life: sexual gratification and the exercise of power.” The book is full of this kind of opinions and speculations, to the detriment of a more serious analysis of Gates’ mistakes in the management of his foundation, the problems of shielding the intellectual property of vaccines in the hands of the pharmaceutical industries and, ultimately, the objective power that big technology companies have in global society.

He signed a collaboration agreement with the RAE to improve Microsoft’s grammar checker and was interested in the substantial unity of the Spanish language in all the countries where almost 600 million people speak it. That man was very far from the sexist, arrogant, miserable predator that Schwab portrays. Nor did we deduce — and this can be applied to the personal adventure of Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Zuckerberg, Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos — that his life’s goal was world domination, as suggested by this book. If they have achieved it, or may achieve it, it is due to the dynamics of digital civilization and the objective difficulties in governing it. The deregulation of financial capitalism, which has increased inequality among humankind, is due to the incompetence of obsolete political institutions and to leaders who care more about their own fates than those of their people. The criticism against “lame and wasteful government bureaucracies” might be part of the propaganda promoted by the world’s wealthy, but lately we have also heard it from small-scale farmers across Europe.

In conclusion, we found the book to be more entertaining than interesting. It provides a lot of information — we’re not sure if it’s entirely verified — and plenty of cheap ideology. Above all, one can see the personal crusade of the author, determined to prove that Bill Gates is a problem for democracy and that millionaire philanthropists are a bunch of swindlers. The world needs their money; maybe managed by party bureaucracies, that much is not clear. Bill Gates’ money, that is, but not Bill Gates himself.


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