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Friday, March 24, 2017

Broccoli Cheese Soup

I stopped chemotherapy and while I get that a year and a half is a long time and maybe I really should take a break, it is anxiety provoking to do nothing.  So instead of giving in completely to dread, I am doing a low carbohydrate diet.  The thinking is that cancer requires sugar to grow, and so the idea is to starve it.  So a diet of meat, cheese, and greens is the new reality.  This is the first recipe that I have tried that is new, and it is really good.  And pretty.  By booking the broccoli for 3 minutes and then using the water for stock, the broccoli stays really green.

4 c. stock
1 1/2 pounds of broccoli
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 celery rib, celery diced and leaves chopped
2-3 garlic clove, chopped
1/8 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste
Aromatics: 1 teaspoon dried marjoram, 1 bay leaf, 1 pinch of dried thyme
1-1 1/2 cup cream, or reserved cooking water from cooked broccoli (optional)
2 cups shredded sharp cheese (aged gouda, cheddar, a mild chevre are all possibilities)

  1. Separate the crowns from the broccoli stems, then separate the crowns into florets. You should have at least 4 cups. Thickly peel the stems, quarter them, and chop them into small pieces, yielding a cup or so. Bring a 4-5 cups of water to a boil and add 1 scant teaspoon salt and the broccoli florets. Cook for about 3 minutes, then scoop out the florets, reserving the water. Rinse under cool water and set aside.
  2. Melt the butter in a soup pot and add the onion, celery, broccoli stems, garlic, and cayenne. Cooke over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, stirring now and then. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, then pour in a quart of stock, or use the reserved water from the broccoli, saving any remainder. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer 10 to 12 minutes. Add the milk/cream/broccoli water if needed to thin the soup. During the last few minutes, add the florets and allow them to heat through.
  3. Remove the bay leaf and then puree the soup using an immersion blender (you could use a blender and when you are done, return the mixture to the pot).  Taste for salt and season with pepper. Just before serving, stir in the cheese, but don't let the soup boil or else the cheese will toughen.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

All the Tea in China

The only high key tea culture that I have spent time with before is in England, where afternoon tea is more about the meal and the desserts, all doled out in very small quantities, and less about the tea (although that too is important).  In China, the tea is front and center, and the snacks are a distant second, and the emphasis is on salty and savory more than on sweets.  At the tea house in the Yuyuan Garden there were two memorable nibbles that came with the tea.  The first is tea soaked hard boiled quail eggs.  These were so delicious that they bordered on addictive.  The smallness of the quail eggs makes the flavoring more pervasive in the overall flavor, which is a very good thing.  The other was a very firm and slightly salty tofu snack, which had a distinctive flavor that was at first unfamiliar but quickly became hard to resist.  The tea is spectacular.  The herbal options hydrate beautiful flowers that float like under water anemones in the pot, and the flavors of all the teas are fresh and robust and unusual. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Get a Job (2016)

This is not a film for the ages.  After watching all of the Oscar nominated movies that I did throughout February, it is hard to get back on the light and fluffy path that this movie represents.  But I do like both Miles Teller and Anna Kendrick, so watch I did.
The story is essentially that all the Millennials out there have been raised wrapped in tissue paper.  Everyone gets a medal, even for mediocre performance. No one is left behind, no one accurately judges their worth, and all the while your parents slip you cash.  Then you enter the job market.  And it doesn't go well.  At all.  You have skills that the oldsters lack, but you can't put it into a package that they admire, and it is hard.  You are still living like you did in college, but you have no money, no privacy, and real fear about paying the rent.  It is much lighter than I am making it sound, and while it was panned by the critics, I enjoyed myself watching it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Double Star Quilt

A couple of years ago I tried to start quilting again, and I just never got very far.  I got out my quilt pattern books, I picked out some fabric to put together, but I could just never get my groove on.
That was when I decided that I needed outside help.  I saw several of my Facebook friends were doing workshops at our local quilt and knitting shop, Home Ec, and so I got myself on the mailing list.  The things that I saw those first few months looked very intriguing, but truthfully, I was so sick and debilitated from a prolonged episode of sepsis and hospitalization that I really wasn't up to it.  But by this time last year I was thinking it was time, but that I should start small.  So I took a napkin making class which was an awesome launching pad, in that I loved it and I finished something.  The winning combination.

That was the beginning, not so very long ago, and this is where I am today.  I took a start-to-finish quilting class, which i highly recommend, especially if you have limited quilting experience and need something to get you really started.  What I needed was someone to pick out the pattern and give me a deadline.  So with this quilt pattern I feel more confident that I can once again quilt.  I am on my fifth one of these quilts, with four of them completely done, and in less than a month.  I won't keep that pace up, but it is a really nice feeling.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Pudong, Shanghai

Looking from the old colonial part of Shanghai across the Huangpu River to the new part of Shanghai, which is the skyline that is memorable to modern day visitors to Shanghai. Pudong means "East Bank", which is geographically correct, and perhaps says something about the culture.  Call it like it is seems to be the norm rather than the exception.  The Pudong area is about 500 square miles, but 20 years ago it was mostly fields.  I think it is a reflection of modern China that in a very short time the Pudong's population outnumbers the population of the older Puxi section of Shanghai.  The sheer magnitude of the engineering and construction feats that have been attained in a short time are also reflective of China today.
We had an interesting time one night in this building which is known as "the bottle opener" and houses the Hyatt hotel just under the opening. On Wednesdays the hotel bar serves very reasonable quality champagne free for all women.  In order to get in on that deal, my sister-in-law and , along with my nephew who acted in the role of guide and cultural translator,  rode the elevator to the top in order to enjoy the view.  It was not really my cup of tea in terms of ambiance, but the champagne was good and the view was incredible.  Shanghai after dark is impressively and colorfully lit, but at 10:00pm it all goes dark and it was time to go home.
While the Pearl is the most imractical looking building in the skyline of Pudong, it is also my favorite.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Only Yesterday (1991)

As is happening more and more these days, this movie is not for young children, despite the animated feature. the oddity of this film is that while it was just released this year in the U.S., it was made in 1991, long before this sort of animated classic was much seen by American eyes.  the Japanese were well ahead of us on this front and continue to be.
The main character is a kind of young Japanese everywoman with a bit of an attitude, and a push back against the move away from the country. Taeko is a 27-year-old single salary woman in 1982 Tokyo. The movie begins with her telling a work colleague that she’s off to visit relatives in the countryside. Truth is, she has no actual close relatives there, but rather has signed up to help the family of her brother-in-law’s older brother in her destination to harvest safflowers. She is struggling with her future direction, her love interests, and the role of both work and family in her life.  The end result is a movie that makes you think, and is well worth watching.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Shanghai To Begin With

 I know that it is not a great accomplishment to get on a plane and arrive at your destination when in truth, the airline does the lion share of the work.  However, I was still getting chemotherapy and so felt a bit on the brave side to travel on my own (I actually delayed a dose of chemo in order to make the trip).  In actuality, there is a direct flight from Chicago to Shanghai, and my nephew met me at the airport.  I had navigated Chinese immigration and customs, including walking through the device that monitors your temperature (weird to see, but I guess it keeps a certain kind of infectious person out of the country), and I didn't even check a bag, so I didn't need to find my bag.  Really, it was pretty easy.  The flight is so long that it would be impossible to not get a bit of sleep, so I was even able to walk around a bit.  The great thing about the time of year that I arrived in was that it was Asian New Year, and there were red lanterns and flags hanging all about.  That also meant that a lot of things were closed, but fortunately for me, food is a very important part of Chinese culture, meaning that even with half of the restaurants closed there was still quite a bit of choice when it came to immersing myself in the culture.  So glad I took a chance on travel, despite my personal drawbacks.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Anchorage Museum

 This is a museum that has a combination of the beautiful and the whimsical, and this group of sculptures just outside the entrance brings that very clearly home.  I have been to Alaska a dozen times and I had never been here before.  However, when visiting in January with outside temperatures rarely rising above zero Fahrenheit and roads that are snow and ice covered, an indoor activity that is open is very attractive.  I was here with my parents, my adult children, and my spouse and we all very much enjoyed the special exhibits, which were on camouflage and on cabin fever.  The cabin fever exhibit was an intermedia exhibit, with sound, video and pictures.  I left understanding more about the psychosis that might be induced by prolonged isolation.
The other thing that the museum does well is to lay out the Native Alaskan peoples and their individual forms of art.  This is an exhibit that is very detailed and in a small dark space, so be sure to leave enough time to see it in it's entirety and to read all the very well done explanations of what it is exactly that you are seeing.  The native Alaskan population is 15% of the total population of the state.  This is higher than in other states with large reservations and Native Americans.  New Mexico, South Dakota, and Oklahoma's native American population is right around 9%, Arizona and North Dakota's is ~5%, to give some idea of what that number means.  It is said that it takes about 15% of the whole to have a noticeable effect on the other 85%, and that is the situation in Alaska.  So well worth learning more about.  Plus the gift shop is amazing.  Almost a museum exhibit in itself.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Baby Baby Baby (2016)

I watched this movie on my way home from Shanghai, and while I had never heard of it, I really enjoyed it a lot.  It is an independent romantic comedy, but one that has more grit and less of a happy ending than would be usual for the genre.  One reviewer I read summed it up best: Someone once said: “Love can change a person the way a parent can change a baby: awkwardly, and often with a great deal of mess.”
So here is how it goes.  Sydney(Brian Klugman, who you might know from his role as a forensic anthropology intern on Bones),is  a man fresh out of a grueling breakup, looking for anything than to put himself in that situation again.  Which is a semi-chronic condition for him. Until he meets Sonny(Adrianne Palicki). The two go out for a drink and one thing leads to another.  But life and jealousy get in the way.  So this film is about real relationships, and not your usual romantic comedy ones.  The writing is the star of this movie. It is unequivocally funny, irresistibly heartwarming, and  better express the emotions and state of the relationship the protagonist is experiencing than most of what's out there. Throughout this film, you find yourself loving both sides of the relationship, and understanding where each is coming from in their troubles, while hoping it will all work out.  keep your fingers crossed.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Flying Into Anchorage

 We recently flew to Alaska in the dead of winter, and when I awoke to turbulence going over some Canadian mountains, I was struck by how beautiful the north is--which is good because as the planet warms, all that Canadian wilderness will suddenly look pretty darn habitable.  I love the view of the Alaskan mountains that extend south of Anchorage that hug the coastline as you fly in, and then the spectacular Chugash Mountains, and in the distance on that day we could even see Mount McKinley, the majestic Denali that is the highest point in the Northern continent of the New World.
Prince William Sound is always beautiful.  I have yet to be there in the messy break up of spring or in the early days of fall, but in summer and winter it is always cool.  The view from overhead this year was so cool.  The frozen parts of the ocean looked like bacterial growth on a petri dish, circles of ice growing and colliding with each other.  This is water that is home to belugas in the summer, but now it is just a winter wonderland.