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Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Long Song by Andrea Levy

This book has been short listed for the Man Booker prize, which is an excellent indication of quality, and it is a beautifully told story. For me, it suffered in comparison to Isabel Allende's book, set in Haiti (whereas this book is set in Jamaica), and if you haven't read either of them, I would try reading this one first and hers second to see if that helps.
Ms. Levy is born of Jamaican immigrant parents and has written of the island and it's complicated relationship with Britain before. In “The Long Song,” she, like Allende, focuses on what the final days of slavery in ­early-19th-century Jamaica brings to the people brought to farm the land. Packaged with a preface and an afterword purporting to have been written by Mr. Thomas Kinsman, a well-to-do black printer living in Jamaica in 1898, and occasionally punctuated by editorial suggestions from that long-suffering man, the novel is presented as the memoirs of his octogenarian mother, Miss July, who was born into slavery on a sugar plantation known as Amity.
Miss July’s narrative switches between a third-person past and her first-person present, adroitly contrasting the earthy Jamaican patois spoken by a high-spirited, ambitious young slave with the deadpan Victorian intricacies and more sophisticated historical perspective of her later self. The gift for dialogue is the best part of the writer's story.
She was conceived, Miss July informs us with withering relish, when Amity’s boorish Scottish overseer thrust himself unwanted upon a field slave — a “rude act” that, according to the New World’s perverse color code, gave her higher status than the children of long-established unions between slaves.
“Me be a mulatto, not a negro,” is the proud young woman’s persistent claim, whether she’s fighting for admission to a Friday night assembly in which only “colored” partners are allowed to dance the quadrille or trying to seduce Robert Goodwin, the naïve new overseer of Amity.
After the uprising known as the Baptist War erupts in 1831, leading to the emancipation of Jamaica’s slaves, Miss July becomes the intermediary between Goodwin, now the plantation’s owner, and a freed work force newly empowered to demand wages and days off in which to tend their own crops, bring their cattle to market and look after their own children. “We no longer slaves,” Goodwin is told, “and we work what suits.”
Of course, this agrarian utopia is not to be. His liberal principles quite forgotten, Goodwin hires white thugs to drive the sugar cane workers from their homes, trample their vegetable gardens and massacre their livestock. Her new role does not save her, which is no surprise to the reader.
Although “The Long Song” is packed with historical drama, Levy’s closer concern is with life as it’s actually experienced. Ms. Levy writes with an ironic voice and a sardonic eye about the island's troubling past. Well done.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dear John

It needs to be said right up front that this is just an average movie--the actors are above average, but the script and story line are below average, and so it just evens out to 'watch this if you want something romantic and not at all challenging" rather than what I usually write about, which are things that I have read or seen that I would recommend. There are two things that stop me from totally dismissing this, however. THe first is that in this story of Savannah and John, there is a harsh element of truth about today's soldier. John is a Special Forces soldier, and he has a fierce loyalty to his fellow soldiers that does not allow him to rationally make career choices related to his young love and his life goals. That would not be enough to carry the moive, however, because the issue is not articulately teased out.

What is remarkable is the portrayal by Richard Jenkins of a man with Aspberger's syndrome. His son does not even realize that his father is anything more than odd and quiet, quirky and set in his ways. Savannah recognizes his pathology for what it is, and she finds ways to forge a friendship with him--she takes what is a liability and makes it the basis for thier interactions. She has him teach her everything he knows about his coin collection. He makes meatloaf on Saturday and she comes to dinner expecting to eat meatloaf. It is a template for how to work with the pathology. Jenkins is emerging as a nuanced and gifted actor who has much to teach us, and while this film has fatal flaws, it also has some saving graces.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

THis author is truly phenomenal--and not only is every book great, every book is wildly different from the other. He is gifted and magnificent--the fact that I did not love Starting with "Ghostwritten" and "Number9Dream," Mitchell fused coincidence and fate, reality and fantasy in nested, refracted stories that could drive M.C. Escher mad. In 2004, his American publisher timidly brought out "Cloud Atlas" only in paperback, but readers in this country were just as enthusiastic as his British fans, and that mind-bending masterpiece was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Then in 2006, as his reputation was starting to coalesce as a writer of super-sophisticated speculative fiction, he repressed his trademark trickery and released "Black Swan Green," a perfectly charming autobiographical novel about a 13-year-old boy.
And now he startles us again with a rich historical romance set in feudal Japan, an epic of sacrificial love, clashing civilizations and enemies who won't rest until whole family lines have been snuffed out. Yes, the novelist who's been showing us the future of fiction has published a classic, old-fashioned tale. It's not too early to suggest that Mitchell can triumph in any genre he chooses.
"The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet" draws us into the redolent atmosphere of those grand 19th-century epics by Melville, Dumas and Sir Walter Scott. Japan remains a favorite subject for this peripatetic author, who began writing fiction in his 20s while teaching English in Hiroshima. But this time Mitchell sits still in Japan, abandoning his time-traveling, world-spanning, intertextual sorcery for the satisfaction of a single (and singular) time and place.
It's 1799, and the Dutch East Indies Company maintains the West's only trading post in Nagasaki. Or rather, near Nagasaki. Employees of this potentially lucrative monopoly don't live on the mainland or even visit it except on special occasions. Instead, they work and sleep on Dejima, a fan-shaped, man-made island, surrounded by a high wall and connected to Nagasaki by a heavily guarded bridge. This gracious prison is a striking manifestation of Japan's determination to avoid exposure or contamination, a policy set down almost 200 years earlier by the first Tokugawa shogun, Ieyasu. Jacob is an engaging focus for a story about a place and a time, a world view of both a culture and a place--it is wonderful.

Monday, September 27, 2010


1 (750-ml) bottle red wine
1/4 cup brandy
1/4 c. vodka
1/4 cup Triple Sec
1/4 cup grape juice
1/4 c. orange juice
1/2 orange, thinly sliced
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
1 (750-ml) bottle sparkling water, chilled
Mix it all about--do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself about and that is what it is all about. We have had both a red wine and a white wine version of this wonderful cocktail at each of our annual fall barn parties and it is a festive drink that is both refreshing and delicious. Not to mention a wonderful way to use up all the wine that people have brought to your house in the past year that was less than perfect to drink straight from the bottle.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Barn of My Dreams

The Third Annual Barn Party was a thing of beauty. The Secrest Barn, built in 1883, is an architectural marvel in and of itself. It is massive, with plenty of indoor space, which was an excellent asset for this year's party, as it was raining the entire party and not terribly warm either. Not to worry, all our guests fit easily inside, and we were able to keep the barn warm enough to be comfortable for the span of the party. So we were largely able to ignore the inauspicious weather and enjoy ourselves.

There are four key elements of this party that I love, beyond the space itself (which is the whole reason for doing it--to enjoy what such a wonderful place can allow you to put together). The first is the music--the acoustics of the barn are very warm and charming, and Jim put together exceptionally stellar talent to entertain us all. The second is the guests--between the nine hosts, we were able to have representatives from every quadrant of Iowa City and I always meet someone I never knew and am so thankful one of my friends invited and brought me together with. The third and fourth are food and drink, which is a community effort, and always delicious. The whole package is greater than the sum of it's parts, and every year I am sorry that the party has passed and that it will be a whole year before we have another one.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Princess Ka'iulani

There are real issues related to Hawai'i and this film is set in the time that all that happened, but it does not scratch the surface of the real history.
This is a kind of Disney approach to history--ie. do not confuse me with the facts. The person depicted here is a real person, who dies at a tragically young age, and who was involved in the civil war in Hawai'i. The impreialist vision of the events is well depicted, and certainly a piece of the story, but not the whole story, and when President Clinton apologized for the United States intervention, he acknowledged we didn't do a good job. Not for the first time, nor are we repairing that damage, of siding with non-native plantation owners over all others.

Victoria Ka’iulani Cleghorn was born in Honolulu in 1875, the daughter of Princess Miriam Likelike (sister of the reigning King Kalakaua) and Archibald Scott Cleghorn, a prominent Scottish businessman. Since both King Kalakaua and Lili’uokalani, the sister who was to succeed him, were childless, the birth of Ka’iulani (meaning “royal sacred one”) assured the future of the dynasty.
As a child, Ka’iulani led a charmed life. She lived at Ainahau, a sprawling estate in Waikiki, a then-pristine rural area east of Honolulu. Her mother was a wonderful entertainer who welcomed many people into their home, including the poet and author Robert Louis Stevenson, who befriended the young Ka’iulani. It was Stevenson who first referred to Ka’iulani as “the island rose” in a poem he wrote for her and inscribed in her autograph book. She died at age 23, at a time when her country was subsumed under U.S. rule.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Moosewood Restaurant: Cooking for Health

When the first Moosewood Cookbook came out my freshman year of college, it was really novel. The cookbook was whimsical appearing to the point of almost distraction. Certainly the indexing was done by a rank amatuer when it came to cookbooks (and is sharply contrasted by the obsessive Mastering the Art of French COoking, which was in wide circulation long before this came out). It was a vegetarian cookbook that was easy to use, fun to cook from, and with the exception of just a handful of other cookbooks published at about the same time, one of a kind. It changed my cooking life.
Now, 30 plus years later, the Moosewood Collective is still putting out quality cookbooks that provide new ideas for cooking vegetarian and vegan food. THis book has some great additions to what has been published before, more vegan recipes than they often do, and as is their usual, good nutrition data, easy to follow recipes, and delicious sounding. Bravo!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Prince of Persia

Am I really commenting on a movie that is based on a video game? My only defense is that I give everything a chance, and that while I made numerous deprecatory remarks about 'Pirates of the Carribean' prior to it's release--it is not a ride with a lot of content, certainly not one that lent itself to an obviously engaging story line, the first movie proved me wrong. An engaging hero can carry a movie--not always, as the two sequels demonstrated, but a script can expand on an atmosphere and the movie can be fun and memorable.
I confess to a weakness for Jake Gylenhaal, and I have been reading the AP World History text book, and since it is the beginning of the year, have just read about the Persian Empire, it's people and it's scope. So I felt that the action-packed movie, with a hero who has a propensity of parcuer, was fun and entertaining to watch--far better than I would have predicted.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ham: An Obsession with the Hind Quarter

It's hardly surprising that a cookbook that begins with a pig slaughter and ends with trying to sneak a whole ham past airport security (TSA officer: "Is this human?") had me hooked from the word "ham."
In this witty, often hilarious, ode to pork’s most-beloved primal cut, Scarbrough and Weinstein obsess upon ham of every ilk. From rarefied dry-cured imports like Culatello di Zibello and Jamón Ibérico to down-home country hams and popular wet-cured varieties like Honey Baked, the authors delight in it all. Start cooking the book with their recipe for Roasted Fresh Ham with a Maple-Spice Glaze. If you’ve had only cured hams, this luscious roast is a revelation. After that, let your appetite guide you where it will: perhaps toward Asia for vinegary Filipino Twice-Cooked Pork.
This luscious volume covers four types of ham: Fresh Ham, including recipes for a Ham Tagine and Steamed Ham Buns; Dry-Cured Ham in the Old World, with recipes for Chilled Honeydew Soup with Frizzled Ham and Prosciutto-Wrapped Meatloaf in a Vinegary Tomato Sauce, as well as a menu for A European Ham Party; Dry-Cured Ham in the New World, offering Jerk-Style Country Ham and Pineapple Tamales and a Glazed and Roasted Country Ham; and Wet-Cured Ham, featuring an Iberian-Inspired Frittata and an over-the-top Mac and Ham and Cheese.
The chapters are divided by region and type of ham: dry-cured hams from the old and new worlds, wet cured and fresh hams. Within each are frank discussions, such as whether that Madrid butcher really should be dangling his jamón serrano over the doorjamb, or if we are just a bunch of uptight Americans fueled by our obsession for the latest SubZero products.

With incredible photography; invaluable information about buying, preparing, and serving ham; and dozens of globe-trotting recipes, Ham: An Obsession with the Hindquarter is the only guide you'll ever need to this luscious, versatile delicacy.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Red Rocks

I love this picture (thank you to Cheryl, my sister-in-law, for taking it and posting it to her Facebook page so I could see it). The reasons are multi-factorial, which should please both people in the photograph--one is my son and the other is my brother, but they are both engineers. One by training, and the other is in-training.
The first is that they look like they are related. There is something about their stance, their faces, and their expressions whereby each of them reminds me of the other. They both look happy and comfortable in their own skin. Who knows if that is indeed true, but that is the air they are giving off to me. They are in a place that I love, and it suits them, which is nice for me to see.
I am really happy that they are there together--Abe is my third child to go to college, but it is only just now that it seems real to me. My house is emptying out, my children are adults (Abe, just crossed that mark less than a week ago, but cross it he did). The time to visit children in college is waning, and it is time to get serious about doing it! Otherwise, I am going to have to make do with visiting other people's children in college--well, this picture makes that look not so bad. Maybe I should do more of that.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

Tracy Chevalier has a habit of placing books of fiction within some historical context, and then spinning a yarn around that time or place or person. I have very much enjoyed her gift for it--I have read other attempts by other authors that I have not liked as much or at all, but she speaks to me. This book is set in England in the first half of the nineteenth century. It is after Captain Cook and Joseph Banks have returned from the South Pacific with all their tales of the tropics and specimens to back those stories up, but it is before Darwin sails around South America and changes the world in the middle of the 19th century with 'Origin of the Species'.

Our heroine is Mary Apping, a young woman who has lived on the coast of England all her life and collected things from the beach--things that no one can rightly explain. The remains of things that no one has ever seen. She finds them by the dozens when others cannot find even, one and she becomes widely known for this, her family has a shop that sells her finds, and they eek out a meager living from her talents.

Mary finds dinosaur skeletons--her early finds are amongst the finest specimens known at the time, and she receives very modest recognition for her talents, because it is at a time when men did not think much of a woman's capabilities. The only woman I can think of who was a well known scientist in Mary Apping's life time was Caroline Hershel, who was an accomplished astronomer and mapper of the heavens, along with her brother Wilhem, when Mary was born. The story that Chevalier weaves is fictional, but engaging and well worth taking some time to think about and remember Apping's accomplishments.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

How To Drink by Victoria Moore

This book is playful and thorough, so a nice approach for either young or old. You do not have to know much about beverages to begin this book, and the less you know the more you might stand to gain in knowledge. However, the book has value as entertainment, and much of what is in it reflects more the taste of the author than anything approaching consensus opinion, so if you know a fair amount, you can argue in your head with her or look at what you know in a new light. I recommend the later. This is a dawn to dusk, round-the-clock, seasonal approach to drinks. The author is British through and through--her sensibilities are English first, European second, and while she is not disaparaging about Americans, she doesn't have as much of a grip on what the longitudinal trends and tendencies in the United States mean. No matter, if you live here, you are more in touch with that, and her insights and predilections are worth hearing.

Moore has been writing about drinks for over a decade, and she knows her subject. She correctly identifies the glass as being a critical element in the art of drinking. She is practical--she advises that while it indeed matters what you drink out of, that most of us have limitations related to storage and expense that make having the perfect glass for every drink untenable, but that the other extreme, of one glass fits all, is not a brilliant solution. She advises compromise and prioritizing based on your tastes--but she also adivses trying glasses out side-by-side, which in my experience yields surprsing results. There are numerous suggestions for drink-food pairings throughout the book, which are largely classic and unlikely to let you down--Moore has low expectations of cooks, though, and her recipes for non-drink items that are not the best preparation (her trifle uses a boxed custard, for example), or at least do not follow the Michael Pollan advice of shopping on the periphery of the supermarket. I would largely reccommend going to another volume for the food recipes.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Ode to Autumn by John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'erbrimmed their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, -
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing, and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

It is Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, as well as the beginning of a new year. I hope the year will be a sweet one. I want to remember to savor the moments, and this poem by John Keats says that and more to me today. Keats lived (briefly) at one of the most exciting times in human history and he clearly savored those moments that he spend on this earth.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Black Balloon

The Australians are the masters at laughing at themselves. This movie contains a certain amount of that sense of humor, but it is focused on a very serious topic. Charlie is a severely autistic teenager, one who cannot talk, who is behaviorally volatile, and whose family are coping with him largely without any help from state and local agencies. They move into a new neighborhood, and Charlie's younger brother Tom is left to deal with the teasing, the neighbors peering in, and the social consequences of having a severely disabled sibling. Into the mix comes a startlingly sensitive and intersting woman, a girl who likes that he is kind to his brother, and who is largely able to tolerate his behavioral outbursts. There are limits to this, and there is an emotionally charged scene where everyone loses it and is at their worst, but they manage to get past it and move forward. It is hopeful and gritty, a masterpiece of what it is like to manage a child like this at home.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Days of Awe

Yamim Noraim is a time of repentance. Repenting is a difficult thing to do right--it is not just identifying what you have done wrong. It is acknowledging what is wrong with it and going about fixing it--not a cosmetic fix either. Really going in and changing what is broken. That part is often times pretty challenging. this is one of the things about Judiasm that seems unrealistic--that we would be able to self-reflect, to identify what it is that we really screwed up this past year--hard, but managable. That we would be able to change the course of the things we set in motion, well, maybe. There are a lot of disincentives to do so--and often the situation is or has become complicated. Untangling the mess can be hard.
I have tried this year to be less of an entangler. It is hard for me to leave things to their own devices, but sometimes that is what is called for. Wise advice came on the heels of my father in laws death--it was that if what happened really didn't matter to me, if I wasn't going to be emotionally wounded by the result, that I should stay out of it. Never mind what is the right answer, never mind if people are making mistakes I am convinced they will regret. That I should step aside and really let those who care deeply make the decision.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Country Driving by Peter Hessler

The book is three separate essays about the author's experiences in China. He has lived there for over a decade at the time of the book, and so he is both foreigner and culture guide. He knows enough to explain, rather than be merely dangerous.
The first section is about a trip along the Great Wall of China, which is not something that is offered as a tourist package in China, so really nice to have the story of what the wall looks like and how it functions for people along it's length.
The second section is about a village that he lived in on weekends for several years--as the economic opening of China unfolds from cities into the countryside, Hessler desctibes the transition of one rural family as a result. He also gives some insight into how village life operates (what is the same and what is different from any village anywhere), and the frustrations related to healthcare in the developing world. The third section is about how factories operate--which is far different from what manufacturing America is like. It seems unsophisticated, and yet the magnitude of it seems overwhelming. So the take home message for me? China has come a long way. There is so much that China will learn and get better at. We are seeing a China that is a toddler when it comes to manufacturing--as China matures into adulthood, the disparities between the Western world and China may become even more overwhelming. Or the environmental issues may creep up and clobber them, much as they did in the United States 50 years ago. Time will tell, but it is a great set of stories about the re-emerging big player on the planet.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

And Then There Were None

September 11, 2001. A day we had been waiting for and dreading at the same time had finally arrived. Our up close and intimate relationship with childhood cancer was about to take a turn for the better. After 15 months in active treatment, Ethan would get his very last dose of chemotherapy, and he would enter what is called the 'surveillance' phase of his illness--the period of time that follows active treatment, where we watch for a return of his cancer. Where we look for something we hope never to find.
In his case, the stakes were high. There was not a treatment regimen for relapse that worked very well, so no 'standard treatment' option. That is bad news for kids who need a second chance, so we were left not only with waiting and watching, but also knowing that Ethan's best shot at living to adulthood had already happened. As a physician, I knew his fix was in, but as his mother, ending treatment also meant that we stopped actively doing anything about that, and I had very mixed feelings.
He was, as always, happily propped up in his bed as the cytoxan coursed through his IV, watching Mulan for the dozenth time and loving it just as much as he always did.

While Ethan was in one bed, my husband and I were in the empty bed next to his, watching what everyone across the world watched unfold that morning. First the plane hitting the World Trade Center, watching CNN to learn more about it. A plane hit a building? How could that have happened? And then the other tower getting hit--No, that could not be a coincidence, what was going on? And so on. The terror, the destruction, the disbelief, the loss of life, we watched it all unfold.
The nurses on the pediatric oncology floor dutifully presented Ethan with a cake that afternoon, and clapped when he left, bravely putting his important milestone ahead of all the fears that abounded that day. But even now, nine years later, it is hard to face the anniversary--and even now, I do not know how much of it is what happened to my country that day and how much of it is being emotionally unraveled by what had appened to us.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orrlinger

A remarkable book by a young writer, who is telling a story that is literally part of her family, but the personalness of the tale makes it warmer and richer. The book is built around the relationship of two Hungarians, Andras and Klara. He is the middle of three talented Hungarian Jewish brothers and an aspiring architect, forced by his increasingly anti-Semitic homeland's university quotas to pursue his education in 1930s Paris, where he meets and is influenced by Le Corbusier. It's there that he also encounters the mysterious Claire Morgenstern, also a Hungarian émigré whose name change from Klara Hasz is only one of the secrets she has been forced to keep. Klara, nine years Andras Lévi's senior, is a ballet instructor and choreographer and, while he is working as a set designer and decorator in her theater, they fall in love.

Soon, however, the shadows of the coming war force them back to Hungary, where they soon are caught up in the almost hallucinatory history that ultimately decimated one of Mitteleuropa's most glittering Jewish communities. The majority of Hungarian Jews were among the region's most assimilated; many occupied leading positions in the arts, sciences and commerce and had served with distinction in their country's military during World War I. In the aftermath of the Great Depression, the Kingdom of Hungary slid irrevocably into a politics dominated by right-wing nationalism and fascism, ultimately slipping into Nazi Germany's embrace. When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, Hungary sent most of its troops to his aid; most never returned. Jews were first isolated and dispossessed and, then, drafted into forced labor battalions that sustained the war effort at home and the Hungarian troops in the field--and in the end they went to death camps, but the process was very different than in other parts of occupied Europe, and it is a great backdrop to the story. Why was Hungary diiferent? Read all about it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Laila's Birthday

This is a wonderful movie with a small scope. We follow Abu Laila around in his taxi for one day in the West Bank. It is his daughter Laila's birthday and he is tasked with picking up the cake and getting her a gift, and off he goes. The movie does not try to show how terrible things are for the Palestinians, at least not in a catastrophic way. Rather, the movie shows how the daily grind gets people worn down. Things are very hard to accomplish. Streets close randomly. The cars break down and the fixes are more makeshift than factory-direct. Political jobs are in constant flux and there is little int he way of forward progess. Bombs fall. No one knows who is responsible--terrorists or Israeli's, it seems that people think either is as likely as the other. Trips to the hospital get worked into the schedule. The quiet chaos of everyday life is depicted with warmth and resignation. This community has no security. No real hope for change. Both sides are too entrenched in what separates them rather than what can unite them, and the moment for trust and compromise happened more than a generation ago. And yet life goes on. Birthdays happen, people go to work, children go to school, and the conditions slowly deteriorate. It is a gentle movie about why ongoing war is so destructive.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Cold by Bill Streever

I am not a fan of cold. I am from New England stock--going back to the time of the Salem witch trials--but a childhood spent in Southern California had the effect of working any cold tolerance I had acquired completely out of my system. When I was in Antarctica, I wore almost every article of clothing that was not an evening gown almost continually when I was outside, and still managed to feel chilled the whole trip--I am not resilient in that way.
I recently heard a wonderful piece on a close encounter that a photographer had with a leopard seal (a beast I have not encountered and do not plan to arrange such a meeting) and it inspired me to read this book about cold places. And in spite of myself, I loved it. There is a mixture of odd facts, historical perspectives, and personal experiences in the coldest places in the world that I found engaging and memorable.
Not that I was at all tempted to repeat them. You will not find me skinny dipping in Barrow, or tempting the fates of cold if I can avoid it. I hope never to have someone say over my frost-bitten body that you are not dead until you are dead and warm. Nope. Not on my to-do list. But I have been to the northern and southern ends of the globe, I find icebergs and glaciers extremely beautiful, and I was transported to those places by this book.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Summer Hash

Unfortunately, this is not a thing of beauty to look at--nor is it a happenstance of photography. The picture looks ever so slightly better than the dish did in real life. But the flavor was sublime. Really earthy and wonderful. So here is what I did. We got a few of these and a little of that from our CSA, and I chopped it all up into 1/2" cubes, tossed it with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted it for about 40 minutes at 400 degrees. The melange included a few new potatoes, 2 spring onions, a few cloves of garlic minced, a pepper of medium heat, some green beans, an eggplant, and a few summer squash. I served it with a roasted chicken (obtained from a farmer who has unusual interpersonal skills and rather strict guidelines on when and if you can come and get your pre-ordered and pre-paid free-range chickens, but the cost is reasonable, as is the quality) with a piquant gravy, and a salad bursting with tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden. It was really delicious, despite it's rather humble looks.
This is my first summer that has been substantially without children in the house. I should really say offspring, because they are definitely men, not boys. While I adore having them to dinner, this would not do for a Kline boy meal. Not as the only starch, that is for sure. But for people in the middle of their lives trying to increase their vegetable intake and decrease the other food groups, this is a wonderful way to empty the vegetable drawer of dibs and dabs before they all go bad.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The New Year

L'shana tova! I am ready for the new year and ready for it to be sweeter than the last. We had our dinner in our new house, which we have by no means moved into, but it is entirely ready for us, so cooked the meal there (both ovens worked magnificently--I am unexperienced when it comes to cooking meat, so I almost managed to torpedo the centerpiece of the the meal, but avoided that disaster, and it was through no fault of the appliances!) and served it in the two front rooms of the house.
It was a small group--but all ages were represented, as befits a holiday event, and the house lent itself to dispersement--the college students in one area, the little kids in another, the adults remaining around the table, and some intermingling amongst the factions occurring regularly. I have three of my four boys in town, which is such a gift, especially when it comes to holidays (as well as crises--which can be overlapping categories!). I couldn't have pulled it off without their help.
I loved that everyone came to our new house, and that the tables looked festive and the food was plentiful, but the absolute best part of the evening was before it even started, when I was done setting tables and cooking, and just sat on the gorgeous front porch reading. I looked up as Joel pulled into the entrance, and I could watch him drive up the long driveway to the house--it seemed like estate living, where the house is so far from the entrnace to the property that it takes time for visitors to arrive.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Grilled Eggplant and Summer Squash

Joel looked at the contents of our CSA box and demanded that he get the eggplant and summer squash. Why, I asked. Apparently he heard The Splendid Table over the weekend, and one of the recipes was a marinade for vegetables. The one that appealed to him was fairly simple: olive oil, lime juice, cumin, garlic, and salt into the blender, whirl until it is a paste, and toss with vegetables that have been cut into 1/2" slices. Marinade for at least 1/2 an hour, and then grill until tender. he had been thinking about this ever since he heard the show, and so felt he needed to make them to get them out of his head. I love it when we grill on exceptionally hot says because it makes the kitchen so much more pleasant for clean up (and so much less of that to do as well). The end product is not much to look at but they were absolutely wonderful. These vegetables can be bland as can be, or sublime--they have very little in the way of innate flavor, but they are flavor sponges, sopping up whatever you put on them. The recipe will be repeated later this week!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Best described as an urban fairy tale that is neither utopian or dystopian--it is other worldly and yet familiar, difficult and yet somehow the claymation makes the story somehow softer. And make no mistake--this is an adults-only animated movie--not quite on the level of 'Team America', but definitely in that neighborhood.
The involves a diverse group of people who live in a corner apartment building. The movie follows a young boy (voiced by Jamie Katsamatsas) who pines for a new toy, a man and his fiancee (Joel Edgerton and Claudia Karvan) who are having relationship issues and a lonely old man (Barry Otto) as he takes up conversation with a bonafide foul-mouthed angel (Geoffrey Rush). These characters all play a part in a story which centers on a father (Anthony LaPaglia) hoping for the best in life and for his two sons, Dave and Lenny. Lenny (Ben Mendelsohn) is a repo man that has fallen for a supermodel and will go to any lengths--which are extreme and Lenny does them without a thought or a care--to make her happy. Dave (Samuel Johnson) is unemployed and while he whips up magnificent food, he is deemed unqualified to be a telemarketing agent. In his despair Dave buys a $9.99 booklet claiming to have the secrets to the meaning of life, which serves to play a significant role in his life while becoming the theme of the film itself. Or at least it seems to.

$9.99 does its best not to ask any questions, or really answer them, in hopes the audience will come to grips with their own personal curiosities and formulate their own questions as they best see fit when it comes to the eternal question – "What makes you happy?" And no one character seems equipped to help us answer that. Dave comes the closest, but does so with a book that he has received but did not order. The angel seems gratuitous and unhelpful. And almost nobody makes any gains in the whole movie--which may indeed be the message for us. Not a feel-good movie, and one that some may really dislike, but I thought it was thought-provoking and unusual.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Baked Stuffed Squash Blossoms

Make the Filling:
1 c. panko
1 teaspoon basil or mint or parseley, minced
3 oz. chevre, room temp.
salt and black pepper to taste

mix ingredients--should hold together and be moldable
To Finish the Blossoms:
6 or 8 medium male zucchini blossoms
3 tsp. olive oil drizzled over blossoms before baking

Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Divide the filling into roughly equal portions, one per blossom--size of blossoms may very, and therefore so should filling amount. Roll each portion into a cylinder to fit into the core of each blossom, and slide it in, closing the blossom gently around it. Have your baking pan ready and lay the blossoms in it as you work. Once they are all in, brush their tops with more oil.
Bake the stuffed blossoms for 15 minutes, until crisped and browned in spots. Serve hot.
These are delicious--we never got them onto a serving tray, just ate them out of the oven as we were cooking the rest of dinner, with a little fresh salsa on them.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Long Provincial Vietnamese Restaurant, Seattle

The food in Seattle is sublime. Especially if you like Pacific Rim fusion food, with an emphasis on the Asian side of the rim. One excellent spot we ate on a recent visit was this restaurant. They had wonderful cocktails. The one that I had read about was the Watermelon Chili Martini, but what ended up being the table favorite was the Basil Lemon Drop--minced basil added to the traditional vodka, triple sec, and lemon juice mixture.
The meal was remarkable from start (the cocktails) to finish. our waitress let us know when we were getting into too much food, and she stopped us right at the edge of the junction between sated and stuffed.

The appetizer that you cannot skip is the squid sate--it is grilled to perfection, it is plentiful (easy to share, even with a big table) and full of flavor senasations. The meatball sate is good, and the prawns were as well, but the squid won, hands down.
The Vietnames crepe (as they call it--you may have had it as a 'pancake' in the past) is also exceptionally good--ask for a second plate of herbs and lettuce, because there isn't nearly enough to properly balance the crepe contents with the mint, basil, and then wrap it in a lettuce leaf. The Asian emphasis on salty, sweet, tart, and spicy is well represented in this dish. So next time you are in Seattle, give this place a whirl--it is downtown, near the convention center, at 1901 2nd Ave.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Seattle Art Deco

I admit it. I was sensitized to architecture after my trip to Tulsa. I discovered a love of buildings of a certain age, and once you know what you are looking for, you start to see evidence of your new found love around every corner. But Seattle is not my discovery. The National Park Service has a tour on their web site for 37 historically interesting buildings in Seattle (link provided), and many of them are in the downtown area. I was in Seattle for the American Cheese Society annual meeting, and managed to spend enough time outside walking to fall in love with the architecture of the city.

Where to start. Well, as is almost always the case, where you are is as good a place as any, and I bet within a block of where you are you will find a building that will touch your fancy.
What is deco? Here are a few ideas of others about what to look for. What it is and what it is not.
Whether curvy or angular, 1920s or 1930s, certain overall principles can be identified in art deco design:
• This was the art of the machine age and all that this implied: It was about power, about speed, and about the (then) new. It was a style that adapted to machine-made production as well, giving the common man access to mass-produced facsimiles of more expensive handcrafted goods.

• This was the style of popular glamour. Hollywood broadcast this style to the world, and the world bought it. And loved it. And wanted more.
• It expressed a certain optimism and excitement about the modern age. This optimism even held through the depression years of the 1930s when streamline styling began experimenting with “futurism.” Futuristic-deco promised even better things to come (think Flash Gordon or the 1939 New York World’s Fair).
• It explored a fascination with geometry. Gone were the strict architectural interpretations of classic Greco-Roman forms. Gone too were any designs directly depicting nature. These were replaced by often richly layered repetitions of geometric forms. Any figural forms that did find their way onto the sides of buildings were usually flattened to their geometric essence, much like cubist paintings. Geometric designs of native peoples were also common motifs in this period. In the 1930s, architects began experimenting with eliminating ornament altogether, relying on the geometrical shapes of the building’s construction to speak for the inherent beauty of the structure. These “modern” and “international style” buildings were the bridge from deco to the more austere modern style, which developed after World War II.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain

The subtitle of the book is: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. And that pretty much sums up the content in a nutshell. Which is what Bourdain is known for, I guess. Concise, abrasive, and largely accurate commentary. He is not one to mince words. It is possible his accuracy is lacking as well--on that account I am largely unable to comment. One example: did Alice Waters really write Obama and suggest that she knows best? Yes, that happened. She was on '60 Minutes', she wrote an open letter in the New York Times--she openly campaigned for a change in the White House Chef. Did she really have no idea who the current chef was and what her background and priorities are? That also has some corroborating evidence--here is a piece in Gourmet that verifies Bourdain's assertion that Waters had little to no knowledge of Cristeta Comerford's philosophy and practices, and that she instead painted the White House Chef with the brush of the Commander in Chief:
Comerford is the first female White House Executive Chef, with street cred as a locavore as well as experience in the White House kitchen. Waters may be the mother of the slow food movement, but she did nothing for the advancement of women in a male dominated career. Shame on her for that. She is not alone--women are known to be harder on other women than their male peers are, but it is nothing to be proud of.
Waters conceptualization of the job of the White House Chef is also incredibly naïve. This is not a PR job. The White House Chef doesn't go on tour, talking about food. It is a real 'boots on the ground' job, and Obama is under tremenous pressure to perform, to put on fabulous White House dinners. Suggesting he allow three celebrity foodies choose his chef is preposterous. So I think Bourdain was right on target with that one. He is not kind, but Waters really didn't deserve kindness. While she 'backtracked' on her comments, she never apologized (at least not publically), and she clearly demonstrated that she had no idea what the White House food supply is, nor is it likely that she had any idea of the complexities related to security that surround procuring food for the White House kitchen. Rather than criticize Comersford, she should have been singing her praises for grace and innovation under fire.
This is just one of the many stories Bourdain relates and comments on. It is a book that I might have hated if I read it on a different day--the abrasiveness is not quite balanced out by the smartness and insightfulness of his comments, and the fact that largely, I share his priorities and world view. I would just rather have people think that I am nicer than that. Bourdain, on the other hand, purposely stirs people up. Must be the New Yorker in him :-)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende

The New York Times review of this book describes Isabel Allende as a lone female amongst authors of the 'Magical Realism' school of writing, and that is a wonderfully descriptive title for her. Starting with 'The House of the Spirits' she has walke din the footsteps of the great South American authors that came before her. This book is less in that vein, but no less of a compelling story for all of that.
The story is told from a female perspective, which is a hallmark of Allende's work. Her women are not lucky, nor do they always fare particularly well, but they are strong, they are resilient, they are flexible, and they survive. The story takes place in the late 18th century--beginning in Haiti. Zarité is a slave who we follow from young girlhood into her life as a grandmother--which doesn't take as long as you might think. Pretty girls who are enslaved become 'concubines' early, as young as 12 or 13 years old, and so have children early as well. As do their children, being born into life as a slave as well. The book moves to New Orleans at the beginning of the 19th century, as Napoleon's empire is starting to show a crack or two and France looks vulnerable, beatable even. As that happens, Haitian slaves begin to rise up against their viscious, hard-hearted masters, and Haiti moves from an island of brutal slavery to one of brutal independence with a vestige of slavery thrown into the mix of misery. The extended family moves to New Orleans for a variety of reasons, and are there at an uncertain time--when Napolean sells the Louisianna purchase to Jefferson, and the Spanish and the French in the city are uncertain what the change of nationality means for them.
Napoleon Bonaparte, upon completion of the agreement to sell France's holdings in the U.S., a piece that is equal in size to what the young nation already has, stated, "This accession of territory affirms forever the power of the United States, and I have given England a maritime rival who sooner or later will humble her pride." A fine example of why cutting off your nose to spite your face is never a particularly bright plan. But their loss was the United States and Jefferson's gain, and the story that Allende weaves includes all the historical truths of the time, but it is told in a wonderful and accessible way. This might be my favorite story of hers to date.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

We Bought This House Today!

As the day approached for us to close on this house, I thought long and hard about the choices we are making. One reason is that the summer has held more than it's fair share of sadness. Prior to going to the bank, I sat at the bedside of the mother of one of my very closest friends as she is slipping very quickly from her mortal self. I felt drained, unhappy, and helpless. Not the winning combination of emotions, to be sure. This is the third time in the past two months that I have sat in essentially the same spot and felt the same emotions. When I reach that point in my own life, where people are feeling that way on my account, I want to have the years leading up to it to have been full of new projects, new ideas, and work that gratifies me.
I have a trait that is both a gift and a curse--I really need to be busy. When I am not, I am hopelessly unproductive. And unhappy. I am always amused when people suggest that I relax First, I am terrible at it--the worst. I go from relaxation to lethargy without stopping to smell the roses. It doesn't make me happy, it makes me sluggish. As I have gotten older, with each passing decade I have noticed some diminution in my energy and productivity--what I can do is reduced. But I need to have a new project, a new goal, a new idea to focus on, none-the-less.
So today we have purchased a remarkable house that represents projects for years to come--something that will never be done. Wish us luck! May our work on it be gratifying, and you are all welcome to offer up ideas and expertise as we embark on this new journey.