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Friday, April 30, 2010

Shall We Kiss?

No one does romantic comedy like the French. But this one is a little bit different. It is a bit darker than many French romantic comedies, with a real note of sadness that runs through out. There are two stories, one of a couple who meet today, and the woman tells the man a story over the course of the evening that is intended to explain why she does not want to kiss him. That a kiss can seem perfectly agreeable, and not necessarily rife with problems, but one never knows. Occasionally there is a dangerous kiss lurking out there. And that is the tale she tells. It is an awkward yet engaging story, that unfolds slowly and spasmodically. In the end it is both sexy and endearing. It is hard to explain. The contrasts are part of it's charm, and you just have to see it. Recommended.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Chester Dale Collection

You know this is going to be a spectacular collection from the very beginning--there are two portraits of each of them (Chester and Maud Dale). He is painted by Diego Rivera and Salvador Dali, and she is painted by George Bellows and Fernand Léger (one of only two portraits he is thought to have done). They are heavy hitters with taste. Dale was reputed to have been an astute businessman who made his fortune on Wall Street in the bond market. He thrived on forging deals and translated much of this energy and talent into his art collecting. He served on the board of the National Gallery of Art from 1943 and as president from 1955 until his death in 1962. Maud was his elder, and the one who had the final say in what was purchased.

Chester Dale's magnificent bequest to the National Gallery of Art in 1962 included a generous endowment as well as one of America's most important collections of French painting from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This special exhibition, the first in 45 years to explore the extraordinary legacy left to the nation by this passionate collector, features some 83 of his finest French and American paintings. In the Washington Post article that is linked to above, the collection has not been shown together because without it, the French collection is empty.

There are many impressions that I carried away from the exhibit. The first was not wanting to leave it. We walked through it three times, and yet I was reluctant still to go. Fortunately, the catalogue for the collection has remarkably good reproductions of almost all my favorites. Monet is always tricky, because so much of the genius of the painting is the remarkable interplay of light and shadow, and often that does not come out well in a photograph--of the five Monet landscapes in my favorite room of the exhibit, only one (The Houses of Parliament) is stunning, and only one suffers terribly (Palazzo de Mula, Venice). George Bellow's 'Blue Morning', which is remarkably strong despite being amidst so much Monet, is gorgeous, both in person and in reproduction. In any case, the collection as a whole takes your breath away. It is a lush. It is magnificent. The breadth of genius represented is awe inspiring. The portraits hold their own with the landscapes. The whole is greater than the sum of it's parts, and the collection is worth traveling to the National Gallery to see.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bitter Greens Soup

2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 c. chopped onions
4 c. coarsely chopped greens--beet greens, escarole, even celery
6 c. stock
1/4 cup short-grain white rice, like arborio
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional).
1. Add oil to a large, deep saucepan over medium heat. When oil is hot, add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add onions and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 5 more minutes. Add greens and cook, tossing gently, until it begins to wilt, about another 3 minutes.
2. Add stock and rice to the pan, bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and cook about 20 minutes or until rice is tender.
3. When rice is cooked through, season soup with salt and pepper, top with a grating of Parmesan and garnish with garlic slivers.
The short grained rice--Asian or Italian--is critical to the creaminess of the soup--which is more of a stew than a soup, although you can add more stock if desired. There is such a plethora of greens available this time of year--my favorite is beet greens, because I always seem to have more of them than I truely need, but there are wonderful ways to transform them into delicious dining options.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hendrick Avercamp

The National Gallery has the exhibition of paintings from The Little Ice Age put together by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The collection presents the first exhibition ever devoted to Hendrick Avercamp. He was the first Dutch artist to specialize in paintings of winter landscapes, featuring people enjoying the ice. Some 400 years later, our image of life in the harsh winters of the Golden Age is still dominated by Avercamp’s ice scenes. Their splendid narrative details--of couples skating, children pelting each other with snowballs and, unwary individuals falling on or through the ice, are fascinating to look at and remarkably detailed. In addition to twenty of his paintings, the exhibition features twenty-five of his drawings from museums and private collections throughout the world.

The winter landscapes by Hendrick Avercamp (Amsterdam 1585-1634 Kampen) are some of the most characteristic Dutch panoramas of the 17th century. It was shortly after 1600 that he developed his vistas of frozen rivers and canals into an independent genre of Dutch art. His paintings demonstrate to perfection the passion that natural ice has aroused in the Dutch soul for centuries: when the water freezes over, everyone takes to the ice - young and old, rich and poor. The Mute, as Avercamp was known by his contemporaries due to his inability to speak, had a sharp eye for a visual anecdote. There are always new details to be discovered in his theatrical settings: couples skating about elegantly, finely-dressed gentlemen playing kolf, children sledding, or a sailing-boat flitting past on skates.
As you exit the Avercamp exhibit, you are in a room with three Vermeer paintings, and a fourth attibuted to him--a sizable percentage (11%) of the world's collection by the artist most associated with the Golden Age. So all's well that ends well.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Marinated Carrots

1 pound carrots, peeled, quartered lengthwise and cut in 2- or 3-inch lengths
Salt, preferably coarse sea salt, to taste
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon slivered fresh mint leaves
1. Steam the carrots for five to six minutes until just tender. Refresh with cold water, and toss with the salt, vinegar and olive oil. Marinate for 15 minutes, then toss with the mint. Serve at room temperature, or refrigerate and serve cold.
I was inspired by the New York Times article on marinating vegetables as a way to get more of them into you and your children's diet (click on the title to link to the article). I take a salad to work for lunch about three times a week and I am always varying what to put in it, and these will do nicely for that.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pirate Radio

I am on a streak. Movies that failed to garner either critical acclaim or commercial success appear to be something quite attractive to me. Maybe that is not entirely true. Certainly there are whole genres of movies that I dislike, and many examples within them of things that fit both these criteria. However, I feel like I am swimming against a tide. Not that I dislike things that others like, but perhaps my tastes are either broader or more forgiving--neither of which intellectually makes sense to me, which is why it feels weird.
This is a movie that my offspring and I agree on emphatically. The music is sensational, the story is enough to hold the whole thing together, and the cast of oddballs and music misfits matches up to my real life experience.

Pirate Radio is a fictitious comedy set in Britain during 1966, but is very loosely based on the real pirate radio station named Radio Caroline, in an era when the BBC was the only licensed radio broadcaster on the UK mainland, restricted by union agreements to playing a very limited amount of recorded music each week. In the story, a pirate station called Radio Rock began broadcasting pop music twenty-four hours a day from a boat anchored off the coast of England in international waters. Hosted by a colorful band of disc-jockeys, it soon gains an audience of millions and angers the government in the process. It should be noted that when offshore broadcasting began off England in 1964, the musical output and style of presentation of the first station (Radio Caroline), was very similar to the BBC. So the movie takes liberties with what actually happened.
In 'Pirate Radio', a group of odd-ball disc jockey's are living on a dilapidated cargo ship, broadcasting music that they love for an adoring audience of Brits who can't get enough of what is coming out of England and the U.S. Think of it as a rock radio mocumentary.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper

Joe does not lead a charmed life. His mother commits suicide when he is twelve. His father and brother bond over their mutual athleticism, and leave Joe out. His brother manages to feel that bedding cheerleaders makes him a superior person and they never really manage to develop a good brother-brother relationship. Joe does have friends but they tend to be a bit on the margins, and one triad in particular goes terribly wrong. Joe hides at the time in his relationship with a girlfriend, but in the end he leaves home, and channels a fair amount of his anger into a book that he writes about the home town he grew up in and the people who inhabit it.
Joe puts a thin disguise on everyone, as much for legal reasons as anything else--but he wants everyone to know who they are and what they did, at least his version of it. The book gets published, it is a big success, and his home town in universally pissed off, for outing them to the world and for embarrassing them. No one thinks that what he said was actually true.
So Joe wisely stays away. For seventeen long years, during which his anger doesn't dissipate, nor does he make any effort to heal past wounds. So when his father abruptly has a stroke and Joe returns home to be at his side, he is bombarded by angry citizens and he hasn't really managed to move past his past either--so they are all kind of stuck there, with the bullies still thinking that they can use fists to win, and Joe not being able to show them differently. In actuality he and his brother are just as stuck in high school as everyone else. It is a sad book, a funny book, and a wise book. I very much like this author.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Celebrate Administrative Professionals

I am 1000% dependent on my administrative right hand man. He is wise, intuitive, and nothing like me. So when he and I make collaborative decisions, they tend to be far better than a decision that I would make independently. He has a balance of common sense and good humor that makes him a joy to work with. That sounds a bit over the top, I know. But it is entirely true. He is also not afraid to tell me when he thinks I am wrong, and he is excellent at keeping me on track and out of trouble. We are decades apart in age and do not share a gender or much in the way of common interests, but that is entirely unnecessary for an idealic working relationship (from my standpoint. He may think I am impossible!).
So when my husband called me to say I needed to recognize him during this week of celebration of Administrative Professionals, I responded immediately. Lunch it would be. When I invited him, he said, "You know, this is Secretary's Week, renamed." Really? I had no idea. Well, he is definitely not my secretary. Not that I don't need that--I do, and I have a great one. But that wasn't my first thought when I heard the term--really, my administraive professional does nothing that I associate with secretarial duties. He doesn't answer my phone, take message, or organize my calendar. He is much more of a co-conspirator in keeping the organization on track. My expertise is in the area of what we provide, the content, whereas his is in finance and management. Without one, the other is more or less powerless to go on for any length of time. That is an administrative professional, in my mind.
So, how did a holiday get so successfully renamed that almost no one recognizes it? No idea. But I took him out to lunch--which was only partially successful--the lunch was very good, but he ruined his tie in the process, so financially it may actually have cost him more than he gained. Next year? I am thinking a gift certificate.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Impressionists

I am a big fan of BBC dramatic mini-series to begin with, which is how I ended up bringing this home from the library in the first place. While I like impressionist art, and have traveled specifically to see exhibits, it was not a topic that I was burning to know more about--not 3 hours more about, certainly. Yet at the end of this, I was so sad to have no more. It is engrossing, and enchanting. Filmed in locations where the artists themselves painted, sometimes painting together, producing canvasses of the same place on the same day, and then we are able to see the different styles they brought to the genre. The six painters who are focused on are: Eduard Manet, Federic Bizzelle, August Renoir, Eduard Degas, Claude Monet, and Paul Cezanne. The story is told through the eyes of Monet, being interviewed in his garden in Giverny at the end of his life.

Richard Armitage plays a very engaging young Monet. The story is kind to him--he does not come off as a womanizer--his love life is not perfect but it is very good. He is supported emotionally, especially in his second relationship, to pursue his vision of art, and he does become well off and famous in his lifetime, so he gets a chance to live more comfortably as a result. The roots of the movement, the reaction to it in Napoleonic France (not warmly received) and the progression of each painter's ideas and thirst for fame build throughout the movie. There is an appropriate emphasis on the paintings that came out of each period, so that we can see the changes, and what was happening when. I particularly liked the parts about Monet at the end, building his own settings within which to paint in the gardens in Giverny, and therefore being able to stay put in one place and paint endlessly different versions of what he was surrounded by each day. Bravo!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hamish Macbeth

I very much like the book series, penned by M.C. Beacon, that this BBC series is based upon, but it is one of the few instances where I think the movie is far richer, deeper, insightful, and entertaining than the books. Robert Carlye plays Hamish--he is less of a wild haired redheaded idiosyncratic Highland copper and more of a lean, intense, loyal, and committed man, who is balancing life as a village policeman, keeping people on the mostly straight and modestly narrow path, one which may not be entirely consistent with the letter of the law, but in concert with the spirit. Hamish is a man I would love to have dinner with, to know over a lifetime, to hike with, and to drink with.

The series is filmed in Plockton, Scotland, and while the books do not lure me to the Scotish Highlands, this series definitely tugs at one. It is entirely consistent with my experience in the Highlands--the richly green yet very rocky hillsides, the beautiful lakes and rivers, and more beautiful still shoreline--not the sandy beaches that bring tourists but rather the kind that lure me--a beachcomber more at home in hiking boots and a rain coat than a bathing suit. By the time I was halfway through the second season, I was already thinking of a return trip--maybe to walk about Scotland, maybe to rent a small cottage for a month, maybe both. It is a place with a bit of gloom in the air, but one that only serves to highlight the natural beauty all the more.

The first season starts off a bit weakly, but in the second the series starts to mine the range of human experience. The murder side of the murder mystery is a bit lagging, with more emphasis on the people, the community, and the relationships that develop over time there. Hamish himself is one who has complex relationships with women and a great deal of difficulty navigating them in a way that directly reflects his feelings. In his work as a man he is unaided and often stumbles. In his work as a cop, he is aided by a side kick, who has the gift of second sight, and his reading of human nature is pretty good as well. Hamish trusts him and his gut implicitly, and their relationship is one to look for in one's professional life. I loved this, more as it went on than at the beginning, and highly recommend it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pad Thai

The Minimalist column last week was on Pad Thai. The yardstick by which all Thai restaurants in the United States are measured. Once you get the trick to soaking the rice noodles, it can be a wonderful make-at-home dish, especially if you do not have a wonderful Thai restaurant down the block.
4 ounces fettuccine-width rice stick noodles
2 Tbs. vgetable oil
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup fish sauce (nam pla)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/4 cup chopped scallions
3 garlic clove, minced
2 eggs
4 cups Napa cabbage
1 cup mung bean sprouts
1/2 pound peeled shrimp, pressed tofu or a combination
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 limes, quartered.

1. Put noodles in a large bowl and add boiling water to cover. Let sit until noodles are just tender; check every 5 minutes or so to make sure they do not get too soft--this is the absolutely critical step in the success of the dish. The noodles need to be soft enough to cook through, but not so soft that they will get mushy as they cook. Drain, drizzle with one tablespoon peanut oil to keep from sticking and set aside. Meanwhile, put tamarind paste, fish sauce, honey and vinegar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and bring just to a simmer. Stir in red pepper flakes and set aside.

2. Put remaining tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; when oil shimmers, add scallions and garlic and cook for about a minute. Add eggs to pan; once they begin to set, scramble them until just done. Add cabbage and bean sprouts and continue to cook until cabbage begins to wilt, then add shrimp or tofu (or both).

3. When shrimp begin to turn pink and tofu begins to brown, add drained noodles to pan along with sauce. Toss everything together to coat with sauce and combine well. When noodles are warmed through, serve, sprinkling each dish with peanuts and garnishing with cilantro and lime wedges.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Savory Baking by Mary Cech

I thought this cookbook had a lot of interesting possibilities--including some really interesting scones and muffins. The link I have has some savory shortbread that also looks great. It is not a vegetarian cookbook, but about 3/4 of the recipes are either largely vegetarian or can be adapted to that.
Winter Squash, Brown Butter and Sage Soufflés
* 1 medium winter squash (about 2 pounds)
* ¼ cup chicken broth
* ½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
* 1 tablespoon dried sage
* ¾ teaspoon salt
* 3 egg yolks
* 3 tablespoons flour
* ¾ cup milk
* 6 tablespoons butter
* 4 egg whites at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Roast squash until tender (cut side down on a baking sheet)until tender to the touch, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Carefully scoop out the cooked flesh. Place half in a blender with the chicken broth and blend until smooth. You should have about half a cup of purée. Pour the purée into a large bowl; add the cheese, sage, salt, and egg yolks and whisk until smooth. Cut the remaining squash into half-inch chunks and fold them into the puréed mixture. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly butter the sides and bottoms of six six-ounce (¾ cup) ceramic ramekins and dust them with grated Parmesan cheese. Arrange the ramekins on a baking sheet and set aside.
Put the flour in a small bowl and add the milk slowly while whisking. Whisk until completely smooth. Put the butter in a medium saucepan and melt over medium heat. Simmer the butter while stirring constantly, until it looks brown and smells toasty, about one minute.
Remove from the heat and whisk the flour-and-milk mixture into the butter. Place the saucepan back on the stove and cook for 30 seconds. Pour into the squash mixture and whisk together.
Pour the egg whites into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Whip at medium speed until the egg whites form shiny, medium peaks that hold their shape. Stir half of the whites into the squash base to lighten it. Fold in the remaining whites and spoon the soufflé mixture evenly among the buttered ramekins Sprinkle each soufflé with grated Parmesan cheese.
Immediately place the soufflés into the oven and bake until they are just set in the centre and golden on top, 15 to 20 minutes. To test for doneness, use a paring knife to pry the top of a soufflé open just enough to look inside; it should appear softly set. Serve immediately after removing from the oven.

NOTE: Roast your squash one or two days beforehand, if you like. Wrap and store in the refrigerator until you are ready to assemble and bake the soufflés.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Venezia by Tessa Kiros

Tessa Kiros' books are more than just cookbooks--you can read them and they tell a story. Unfortunately for me, the actual cookbook is important, but if those two features can be melded, then it is especially appealing. In this case, the look far outpaces the recipes. On the upside, the book is a work of art. The binding is top quality, and there are wonderful pictures, in equal parts photographs of Venice and those of the food itself. If the most important thing is to have a remembrance of a trip, this might be the perfect book to purchase.

The book did also make me sure that I want to go to Venice and try the food. In depth. In detail. But I did not feel like I needed to buy the cookbook before hand. There are quite a few seafood recipes that would be difficult if not impossible to replicate in Iowa. There are quite a few risotto recipes, which is something we are very good at making and changing the composition of--so not a good fit for me, but gorgeous none-the-less.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging

I could not find a good review of this movie, other than one British review that noted that if you are not a teen-aged girl, you have wandered into the wrong movie, and that while the topics are fairly candy-coated here, they are real concerns of real girls everywhere.
Gurinda Chadha,who is best known for her film 'Bend it Like Beckham', is the director--where that movie focused on slightly older women, this one is squarely in the early teen years. Georgia and her gang of friends are 14 years old, and what matters to them is how they look, how they fit in, who they are, and how all three of these things relate to boys. They have a naive idea of what sex and relationships are, but they are eager to learn, and actively think about the initiation of their sexual selves--kissing and being fondled (better known to them as snogging). They are very clear that they have no idea what they are doing, so they consult endless teen magazines, and even hire out a boy at school who does 1/2 hour tutorials on how to kiss, giving explicit feedback on the girl's performance and progress throughout the session.
Georgia and her friend Jasmine set their sights on two older boys, twin brothers who have just moved to Eastbourne from London following their parent's divorce. The girls do a fair amount of scheming around 'getting their man', but it is very reminiscent of that time in life. They are optimistic about all aspects of their lives--they come from good homes and parents who care. It is a 'feel good' story with a happy ending, and some realistic depictions of teen behavior at it's very best.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ad Hoc by Thomas Keller

I love Thomas Keller's cookbooks. They are works of art. This one is the most accessible for the amateur cook. It has a casual feel to it, with drawings that depict things like, how to make the perfect salad deressing, or ingredients for pea soup. I do not always agree with him on the recipe, but the way he sees it coming together are well described in the book.

The cook book is the exact same size as Under Pressure, his other recent cookbook--it is an elegant book that would be equally at home on a coffee table as in a kitchen, with exceptional photographs of almost every recipe, but it is also well made to be on a kitchen bookshelf, to be filed with Keller's other three cookbooks. My last thought is that it would be worth a trip to Yountville to visit these three establishments.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Split Pea Soup

This soup is a staple at our house. I didn't make it last month because I was on the road, but I make it every month, sometimes twice a month. Abe and I are the primary consumers of it, but everyone likes it. In contrast to many soups that I make, this one is very simple, with few ingredients, and I have eliminated many of the items that others think are essential to great pea soup--a ham bone, for example. I like this version better.
8-10 c. stock
2 c. split peas
1 onion, diced
3 potatoes, diced
Put all ingredients in crock pot, turn on high, and leave overnight. In the morning, puree in food processor and serve. Use less stock if you like a thicker soup, more if you like it to pour. I serve with grated Parmesan cheese sometimes, or a bit of pepper sprinkled on at the end, or chives sprinkled on top.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Almost Strangers

This BBC miniseries centers on the large weekend reunion of a prosperous Anglo-Jewish family that has drifted apart in the current generation at a luxurious West End hotel. Writer-Director Stephen Poliakoff does not adhere to a conventional story structure, and this wandering tale is full of unexpected and rewarding narrative dips and turns.
Two family clusters are followed most closely in the story, although we are given glimpses, through flashback, of other compelling characters’ intricate wartime histories. One branch of the family is made up of Daniel (Matthew Macfadyen) and his parents, Raymond and Esther Symon (Michael Gambon and Jill Baker). Raymond's father pulled away from the family center as a young man, and Raymond's family have grown ever more distant from the larger family circle following a well-intentioned but failed business venture that cost Raymond his share of the family wealth. Daniel, intrigued by his glamorous relatives, is drawn more and more deeply into a relationship with his seductive and mysterious cousin Rebecca (Claire Skinner) and her dashing brother Charles (Toby Stephens). In the course of the weekend, crusty but endearing Raymond suffers a minor stroke, and we learn of the recent death of Rebecca and Charles’ eldest brother, Richard, following his descent into mental illness.
The family has not talked about this death and it has served to separate them. Daniel is hopeful that he can broker a peace agreement and find a special place for himself in all their hearts. I think this is a fairly common American way for dealing with a difficult death, and it engenders psychopathology as a result, so while the benefits of bringing it into the open, what should we have done differently, are not well-articulated here, the detriment of this approach is. Additionally, much like in 'Shooting the Past', the significant role that photographs can play in healing and remembering is brilliantly shown, and at the end of this production, you will want to go to your grnadmother's house and have her explain all about the pictures in boxes in the attic, so you, too, can save the past.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Men Who Stare at Goats

I am on a run of movies that I liked, but didn't seem to impress others as much as they did me.
Based on journalist Jon Ronson's nonfiction book of the same name, the movie chronicles a 1970s military program in which an idealistic New Age-inspired officer trained a group of "warrior monks" in honing their transcendental skills to Jedi perfection; one of their exercises, as the title indicates, was to stare at a goat until it keeled over, kaput. Jeff Bridges plays the Jedi hippie comander, George Clooney his star pupil, and Kevin Spacey the man who is ideal military, who wishes he had the talent, and knows he does not.
The script is laugh out loud hilarious. But also profoundly sad at times as well. And director Grant Heslov -- who wrote Clooney's "Good Night, and Good Luck," and who makes a promising directorial debut here -- mines the material for its most antic outlandishness. After a windy, characteristically twisty preamble in which the film's protagonist, journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), explains how he came to meet Cassady, "The Men Who Stare at Goats" becomes a bent, hallucinogenic road picture, as Wilton "embeds" with Cassady -- by now a private contractor -- on a mysterious mission in Iraq.
Clooney has the wattage in his performance to pull this off believably, and Spacey has the evil genius persona to play opposite him. It is a bitingly funny dig at what the film would most likely call "military intelligence". It is not everyone's cup of tea, but I loved it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Shrimp Salad

cooked shrimp, diced small
fresh herbs--I used chives and dill
dash of mustard
sliced grape tomatoes
salt and pepper to tast
enough mayonnaise to hold it together.
Mix together and serve on toast.
I make this whenever my shrimp cocktail is not to my liking. This one was a tad overcooked and not very flavorful, so it went quickly to shrimp salad (and was quite good in that incarnation). I like the substitution of small tomatoes for the more traditional celery, because it adds a burst of sweetness, and the mositure allows for less mayonnaise.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

What are the Rules of Scavenging at a Landfill?

We have been rehabilitating a 100+ year old house, and that experience has taken us to our local landfill on more than one occasion. The visits have had two objectives. The first has been getting rid of things that cannot be salvaged. We pulled all the wood lathe out of the bulging walls that we replaced with dry wall, but the plaster had to go. The other is that there is a salvage place at the landfill that sells doors and flooring and fixtures and stairs that have been salvaged from old homes that are being torn down. We have put age-appropriate molding in around rooms that lacked it. We have put flooring into rooms that did not have it. And when we wanted to put a large closet into an upstairs bedroom, we wanted to put molding that matched around it. So we are great fans of re-using.
Today on a trip to the landfill, my husband was yelled at for foraging.
"Hey, you can't do that!"
"Why not?"
"People put their stuff in a landfill because that's where they wanted it."
Is that true? Do people really elect a burial place for their things? For myself, I feel like it is the only choice left to me, rather than feeling strongly my stuff should be there. And does that matter? As a society, shouldn't we encourage reuse? Scavenging serves the greater good. It allows for less waste, and broader use of things. I believe that within several decades, we will be digging up landfills and looking for things in them--natural resources that were once so plentiful they were buried will become rare, and landfills will become the new gold mine.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sherlock Holmes

I am shocked. I loved this movie. The trailers did not lead me to believe that would happen. Explosions are not my thing. Special effects are to be tolerated rather than encouraged. My sons enthusiastically endorsing it when it came out did not help any. They were seduced by the hipper version of Holmes. Not I. And while I love Robert Downey, Jr., I am not a big Jude Law fan, and Watson is critical to my enjoyment of Holmes. There were impressive notations in the 'cons' column before I even sat down to watch the movie.
Well, suffice it to say that by the time I sat down to rate the movie, I knew I loved it, and I really couldn't give it anything but a perfect score. There is not a better version of this sort of movie out there that I have seen. The script is funny and sinister and smart. The actors delivered it with near perfect timing. In spite of myself, I really loved Watson. He was more torn between his love for Holmes and his desire for a more socially acceptable life style than I would have pictured him, but I liked him this way. Both Holmes and Watson were impressively fit, and they played men past the bloom of youth, so even more impressive. They are confident physically but not irritatingly so--well, perhaps a bit cocky, but the cockiness that serves you well.
The delivery that Downey brings to his Holmes is simultaneously hilarious and awe inspiring. He is more rumpled than I pictured Holmes, more jaunty, and a lot grittier. This Holmes is more dirty than he clean through out the movie. He is openly jealous of Watson for his love of another--he wants all of Watson's attention, and yet doesn't want to admit he needs him. He is far from removed--he rolls up his sleeves and takes action, even when the odds are against him and he acknowledges his reluctance. The plot is a bit too neatly sewn up at the end, but not so improbably that it would upset you. This is a great one.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Iceberg Lettuce

Mark Bittman's column this week focuses on what has become the least desirable lettuce. I love the approach of the Minimalist, and romaine is something that I always have in my refridgerator. Additionally, his first recips, a wedge of iceberg, with blue cheese dressing over it is something that I adore. The addition of toasted hazelnuts is a delicious one.
The lettuce soup is something I am leery about, but will try because I admire Bittman's judgement as it relates to food. He is all about highlighting the flavor of the food, with a minimum of input from the cook. Allowing the inner beauty of the iceberg lettuce to take the stage, front and center, which when it comes to lettuce is a pretty bold move.
On the other hand, I am eager to make shrimp and lettuce stir fry. I have several go-to shrimp recipes, but i am trying to do more dishes that feature a quick sautee, things that can be made rapidly in the moments between getting home from work and people melting down from hypoglycemia. I quite ahppily suggest going out if my husband doesn't cook on the weekends, it is just not my time to take responsibility, but the week night meals I do feel largely in charge of. I routinely get home earlier than everyone else, and so it is fair. But not always welcome, so new recipes are an antidote to that.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


The three BBC productions of Kenneth Braunagh's portrayal of Henning Mankill's introspective detective Kurt Wallander are works of art. On the level of 'Jar City'. Braunagh is spectacular--whatever you think of his personal life, he is a great actor, and he has given this role his all.
With the unusual addition of having diabetes, Wallander is a pretty standard crime novel detective. Apart from the obligatory dysfunctional family life, and the inability to communicate emotionally, he sometimes drinks too much and can be an idiosyncratic and impulsive maverick, constantly wrong-footing his colleagues by rushing into danger on his own. What makes it truly distinctive is the pervasive atmosphere of Nordic gloom, which Braunagh channels impressively.
This infuses the landscapes, however beautiful, and the characters who all seem to be victims of seasonal affective disorder. Branagh has said that the “bleakish landscape and atmosphere” make Sweden “a good place for drama”. Even Wallander’s mobile phone rings with an angst-ridden vibrating groan as it lies on his immaculately polished floor.
The effect is intensified by some wonderful, if chilly, cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle. Moody interiors are interspersed with shots of crops shivering in the cold wind. It is, apparently, the first British film to be shot directly on to a massively capacious hard-drive with a gizmo called the Red Camera, which produces images many times sharper than normal high definition.
Devotees of Henning Mankell will doubtless spot, and perhaps be annoyed by, many liberties and divergences from the original novels, but TV adaptations should always be judged primarily as works in their own right. Mankell himself has seen the first episode and said he “liked it enormously”, adding that it was right to create something completely new.
Wallander is that rare treasure: a popular form used for intelligent, thoughtful, classy drama and superbly shot. Ystad is decidedly Swedish topography. And like Simenon’s Paris or Colin Dexter’s Oxford, Mankell has created a place of his own, similar to and in parallel with the real location, and it deserves to become as familiar to us all.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

When Your Pests Get Predators

I admit to some laisse faire thinking about the mice who have taken up residence in our mud room. I acknowledge that I would prefer that they not be there, but not enough to do much about it. They are pests, but they make themselves scarse. I haven't seen or heard much from them. But now I feel a little differently. I was setting up tables for an upcoming dinner at my house, rushing to and fro, quickly assembling what I needed and barking out orders to my compliant children. When I suddenly stopped short before getting to the mud room door.
"Do we have a red, white, and black rubber snake?" I yelled hopefully. I have four boys, and while to the best of my recollection, our rubber snake is black, I thought it wasn't too long a shot to think we might have a second one.
"What?" was the puzzled reply from my son.
"Well, if not, I think we ought to get a bucket and corral this guy" I replied.
My son thought he might have inadvertantly squished the snake in the door on his last trip through. he had a mixture of unease that he hadn't seen the snake and concenr that we might have to extricate and perhaps resuscitate him. Oh dear.
We got a bucket and returned to the snake. Who had movied substantially away from the door. Resuscitation would not be necessary. That is a plus. We coaxed the snake into the bucket, Abe with his stick and I with my bucket.
It was easy for all but the snake, who was petrified, coiling up and shaking his tail and trying his best to look fierce. We merely held him at arms length and tried not to upset him further. I also admitted to him that I was not entirely happy to see him either. He was not a welcome guest.
Abe took our Western Fox snake visitor far from the house, but to a forest hopefully teeming with prey for him to set up his new home, raise a family, and live in the great outdoors.
Next step will be mice traps in the mud room.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Thomas Jefferson: Too Liberal For Texas?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence (1776)
That Jefferson--too radical! The thinker most associated with American independence and what government should consist of is no longer going to be part of the public education of children in Texas. He has purportedly been replaced with John Calvin, a man more in keeping with the moral and ethical values of Texas.
Apparently, educators have a poor understanding of how much K-12 history is going to affect what children know and how they think. Additionally, they are apparently unconcerned about how they compete for postitions in college, or how they perform on examinations. Texas is in the bottom third of the U.S. in any measure of the quality of K-12 education--performance on national exams, graduation rates, funding for education. The proposed changes will do nothing to improve it--but that is clearly not the point. Eliminating the parts of history you don't agree with doesn't make them go away, and it is potentially dangerous. What we don't acknowledge and understand we may be destined to repeat.
Children in Texas will be left to learn about Jefferson on the streets, or more probably, on the internet. Who is the man on the nickel, and why don't we learn about him in school?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Passover Popovers

1 c. water
1/4 c. olive oil
1 c. matzah meal
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar (optional)
4 eggs
Boil water and oil on stovetop. Take off heat and add matzah meal, salt, and sugar and mix. Add eggs, one at a time, incorporating each egg completely before adding the next. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes.
This is my secret Pesach weapon. I really eat alot of grains and legumes, and a week without them gets old. I so want to be Sephardic, but my husband is against it, and he matters more than a week of dietary inconvenience, so I have popovers as solace. They make wonderful little tea sandwiches, dainty and light. Just one more night to go.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Queen of Sheba Cake

This is a variation of Julia Child's cake, which I always serve during Passover. I first had it in a housing co-op that I lived in during the late 1970's.
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate
8 Tbs. butter
1/4 c. sugar
2 eggs
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 c. almond flour
1/4 c. flour (matzah cake flour if making during Passover)
Melt chocolate in microwave (about 30-60 seconds). Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla, baking powder, almond flour, flour and mix. Add melted chocolate and mix. Add eggs and mix until well incorporated. Place in 8" round cake pan with straight sides. Bake 25 min. at 350 degrees.
When cool, freeze cake.
Cover with Chocolate Ganache:
9 oz. bittersweet chocolate, ground to a fine powder in the food processor.
1 c. cream, heated for 1 minute in microwave. Pour hot cream over the chocolate and mix until chocolate is melted. You can strain it if there are lumps.
Pour over frozen cake and use off set spatula to spread evenly, cover sides. The frozen cake will help set the ganache. Garnish as desired--I like to put nuts on top, so people know the cake contains them, for those with allergies.
This can be served immediately, or frozen. This recipe multiplies by three easily in the mixing bowl, and I usually make six. The ganache recipe is enough for 2 cakes.

Here is a story of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon:
When the Queen of Sheba witnessed Solomon's great wisdom, the palace he had built, the food at his table, the seating of his ministers, the attendance and garb of his waiters, she was breathless.
"The report I heard in my country about your deeds and your wisdom is true," she told the king. "Though I did not believe the report until I came and saw with my own eyes, I have discovered that they were not telling me the half. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report I heard. Happy are your men, happy these servants of yours, who stand before you always and listen to your wisdom. Blessed be the Lord, your God, whom it has pleased to place you on the throne of Israel. In his enduring love for Israel, the Lord has made you king to carry out judgment and justice."
Then she gave the king one hundred and twenty gold talents, a very large quantity of spices, and precious stones. Never again did anyone bring such an abundance of spices as the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Sandra Bullock Trade

David Brooks op/ed piece this week (click on title for link) is a terrific summary of what you lose when you leave the option of a happy marriage behind. It really isn't fair to focus on Bullock, because the allegations are that her spouse is the one who made the trade. She doesn't get much of a choice. But it does remind me of Tiger Woods, because while he has made a gargantuan effort to mold his career into something astonishing, he has chosen to make his personal life and the life of his children a mess.
I know, it is age old behavior. They don't call prostitution the oldest profession for nothing. It appears that he is following in his father's foot steps as well. That he might not have grown up with a model for how to value your marriage. Just the knowledge of how hurtful it is to not value it. I just thought he was smart, and this seems very dumb. Oh, how the mighty fall. Time after time. I guess it should be reassuring, that you really cannot have it all, you must give something up. But it is dissapointing.
If this were a trial, and I was the judge, one thing I would sentence him to is reading Michael Chabon's 'Manhood for Amateurs', because he only aspires to amateur status at this point.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Blind Side

This movie has been billed a 'feel good' movie, which it is, but I think because it is the retelling of a life, of events that happened, it is more than that. It is a lesson. A tale of what is possible. Not likely, but possible. Whereas a movie is made up, it is a fable, this is a biography, one vision of the pieces of history linked together to become not just good, but inspirational.
I am sure there is a fair amount of sugar that went into coating this story from the grit of what actually happened to the screen version. There are several elements that were depicted that I think are worth noting. The first is that while the Touhy's took a large, unknown, homeless African American stranger into their home, they did worry that they were doing the wrong thing, putting their family at risk. But they did it anyway. They had faith that it was the right thing to do. They might attribute it to God, I would attribute it to their faith in mankind, but they did take that leap, but not without a little backward looking. So it was commendable and believable.
There are moments when it doesn't look like it will work out--the Touhy's have financial resources--which is the real story here. Anyone who thinks the playing field between rich and poor is level, take a look at this story. This is a kid who ended up in a different place than he was on the road to because he had love AND money to guide the change. But they also buck a lot of social norms and they bring Michael into their family. For real. That is gutsy. People who take someone physically out of poverty and show them how to live in the middle class world are deserving of our admiration, and Sandra Bullock did justice to Leigh Ann and Sean Touhy's story.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Kline Seder

The menu was posted on the Chicago Sun Times website for the 2010 White House seder today (click on title to link to it), and what do you know, it is pretty similar to the menu for our seder, so I am going to post ours.
Second Night of Passover Seder 2010
Haroset--both Apple and Date
Chicken Liver Pate
Matzah Balls in Chicken Broth (a particularly good batch)
Gefilte Fish (provided by Kineret Zabner, and also particularly good this year)
Deviled Eggs
Smoked Brisket in a Tomato BBQ Sauce
Smashed Potatoes
Braised Red Cabbage
Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Onions
Assorted Desserts, which included macaroons, chocolate covered matzah, brownies, chocolate cookies, orange chiffon cake, strawberries and whip cream, grapes, and mandarin oranges.
The food of the seder is symbolic. We use horseradish to remind us of the bitterness of slavery, we eat haroset to remind us of the sweetness of freedom, we eat eggs as a symbol of the glory of life as well as renewal, and we eat foods that remind us of our ancestors.