Search This Blog

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

King Tutunkhamen

When I was in Golden recently, I saw the exhibit King Tut and the Golden Age of Pharaohs at the gorgeous Denver Art Museum. The exhibit was very well done. Almost all of the display cases had the written material posted at the top of the case and on all sides, so you could read them all from a goodly distance away, then go up, quickly view the piece and move back, rather than trying to read the usually tiny card describing what you were looking at, taking up space but not actually enjoying the piece itself. This helped ameliorate the crush of people we encountered, and made the whole exhibit manageable, is still mildly claustrophobic. The items included in the exhibit included many statues of other pharaohs that were impressively large and beautifully crafted. You can read about ancient Egypt all you want, but seeing the products of that civilization makes a big impression. They were amazing.

My favorite piece from the tomb was the coffinette that held King Tut's stomach. When I looked closely at it, I was mesmerized by the intricacy and beauty of the work. It was made ~3500 years ago, and it is impressive craftsmanship for an era. But what stuck me was that going back to the first civilizations, man has searched for glory and crafted over-the-top beauty. To expect that modern man would eschew the magnificence of pomp and glamor when ancient man did not is to ignore what is universally human. Somehow we need to seek solutions to today's problems with the ancient world in mind. We have mostly ignored history and we are tied to our our ancient DNA. That has implications we are unlikely to overcome. I am not sure what the solutions are, but King Tut made a big impression on me.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Looking for Eric (2009)

There are two Erics in “Looking for Eric.” One is Eric Bishop (Steve Evets), a middle-aged Manchester, England, postal worker whose existence has been a chronicle of hardship and disappointment, much of it self-inflicted. We first see him driving the wrong way around a traffic circle. The ensuing accident is almost redundant, since he was already pretty much a wreck already. That is what we discover as the film unfolds.
First off, Eric lives in a crumbling house with two teenage stepsons (Gerard Kearns and Stefan Gumbs) who both appear to be en route from ordinary adolescent sullenness to outright criminality. Their mother, his second wife, has been released from prison several months earlier, and has yet to return to the nest. And seems unlikely to do so. So he feels responsible for them, and stuck in a very bad situation. He also has an infant granddaughter and a grown-up daughter (Lucy-Jo Hudson), whose mother was his first wife, Lily (Stephanie Bishop). He abandoned her many years before, much to his seemingly eternal regret. Yet he feels powerless to look her in the eye, much less talk to her about what happened.
Once upon a time, he was young and handsome, a gifted dancer full of potential, wearing blue suede shoes back when that was cool. Now he is angry, stressed out and miserable, in spite of his friends’ efforts to cheer him up with jokes and Meatball's hilarious self-help exercises. His eldest step son is escalating into a life that will surely end him in jail, and as he struggles with what to do about it, screaming and smoking pot, his larger than life sports hero, Eric Cantona, comes to life. As a muse, a hallucination--but also as a therapist. The second Eric is full of sports metaphors and pep talks, but underneath it all Eric Bishop is able to find solutions to the problems that face him. Cantona gets Bishop exercising, shaving, asking his former wife out for tea, cleaning up his house, and he gives him the idea to get his son out of the bind he is in and a shot at a second chance. This is a worthwhile and thought provoking movie.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Essential NYT Cookbook by Amanda Hesser

The story of how Amanda Hesser decided to write this cookbook, and then went about amassing the recipes that the newspaper has published over it's 150+ year history and that make up this new volume is almost as good as the cookbook itself. No, that is not true. But it is a good story and I have linked to it in the title. She tells it better than I could so please check it out. it will give you a taste for how the cookbook will read, and what to look forward to.
When I was in college I learned to cook. There were four cookbooks that walked me through those early years--Craig Claiborne's 1961 edition of The New York Times Cookbook, The Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Brown, The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas, and later came The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen. All of these hold a special place in my heart because they taught me things I didn't learn at home, and gradually I gained a real feel for the art of cooking.
I was so disappointed by the 'updated' version of the New York Times Cookbook that came out a couple of decades ago that I was not eager to look at this one. I feel the same way about "the Joy of Cooking". The 1975 edition that I bought as that unformed cook in my late teens is still my favorite version.
My husband, however, is unencumbered by such romanticism, and he boldly checked it out of the library. Our usual early evening positions are to be standing in the kitchen, having just concocted something that our only remaining child at home will deign to eat, and while we keep him company polishing it off, we lean against the counter and talk or we peruse cookbooks, or more often, I talk and he peruses. When he looked up from this new volume, he said, "We want to buy this cookbook. And you know why? Because her stories about the recipes make me want to cook each and every one of them." And so we went about making a few, and they were easy and delicious.
Here is a classic one for plum torte:

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cranberry Sauce with Raspberry Vinegar

Today our nuclear family, plus assorted significant others, are in the same city. What to do? We are doing Thanksgiving dinner. This is my favorite cranberry sauce recipe--it first appeared in Bon Appetit some time in the late 1980's and I have made it almost every year since.
* 1 c. white sugar
* 1/2 c. raspberry vinegar
* 1/4 c. water
* 1 (12 ounce) package fresh cranberries
* 1 cinnamon stick
* 1 tablespoon orange zest
Combine 1 cup sugar, vinegar, and water in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Mix in cranberries, cinnamon stick, and orange peel. Reduce heat, and cover partially. Simmer until berries burst, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Cool completely, sauce will thicken as it cools. Discard cinnamon stick.
You can substitute another fruit vinegar for raspberry vinegar, and it is just as delicious (I used pear vinegar this year, because that is what I am trying to get rid of). You can also add the orange that you have gotten the zest from cut up into little bits. This recipe is fool-proof and fantastic. The sauce keeps forever in the fridge, as well. So if you get a hankering for it with a roast chicken a couple months down the road, seek it out in the back corners of your refrigerator and give it a stir--it will still be delicious, vibrant, and brightly flavored.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Express (2008)

I have been writing about movies that the critics didn't care for more often than not these days (thank goodness I liked Toy Story 3, or I would start to feel contrary), and here is another example. This movie chronicles the football career of Ernie Davis, from his time in grammar school through high school, to recruitment for a college team, and then what happens from there. One thing that the movie anticipates is that the audience will know what happened in Davis' life--the problem with telling a bittersweet story that is true is that the ending is already known, so how do you build up to it. The technique that this movie uses is foreshadowing, and I like it.

The actor who plays the adult Ernie Davis is Rob Brown, who I first saw in 'Finding Forrester'--he does a fine job of conveying the frustrations related to being talented and black in the late 1950's. The coach at Syracuse had impressed him because he coached Jim Brown and Jim Brown didn't hate him, even though he seemed angry at everybody and everything. So he went there hoping for the best--civil rights were rolling through the South. Jackie Robinson was playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The world was changing and yet it wasn't, not in the day-to-day taunting. Not on the field, not even amongst his team mates. His coach was mostly fair, and mostly decent. One thing I like about the movie is that it is not a hero worship movie--no one is up on too high a pedestal, everyone has wrinkles and weaknesses. It is a good story, and a good lens through which to view a turbulent time in American civil rights history.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

One More Round of Applause for Apple Crisp

Happy Thanks-
I love this holiday. It lacks the baggage of other holidays. Even though the Native Americans may not be all that grateful that they didn't annihilate the Europeans who came upon their shores 400+ years ago, my ancestors were amongst the crowd who came and celebrated a successful harvest and co-existence with the people of New England.
I made apple crisp as one of the desserts for our dinner. When I started blogging it was about this time last year, and one of my earliest posts was on apple crisp. It is probably the dessert that reminds my children most of home. The recipe is absolutely perfect, a chewy oatmeal cookie mixture sits atop apples tossed with 2 tablespoons of sugar and a sprinkling of cinnamon. It is great on it's own, but we prefer a dollop of vanilla ice cream, that melts with the warm apples.
I made what I would characterize as a giant-sized apple crisp for a meal that I was serving for a work function last week, and I invited my two oldest sons, who live in my town but not in my house. They were relieved to have come off a week or two of exams and papers, and they were talkative, relaxed and ready to be fed. They helped with setting up the meal, and were gracious with guests--helping to clear off the tables and chatting with folks.
But when the apple crisp hit the table, they wasted no time in getting heaping portions. Usually at these sorts of events, where more people show up than expected, we would instruct them to exercise 'family hold back'--we go last. If there are limited amounts, we have none. They were not to be denied on this occasion, however. One of them had called me and told me that I had seriously miscalculated how much macaroni and cheese as well as apple crisp I was going to need, and he wasn't wrong. Live and learn. Sometimes the food is more than just calories. It reminds us of what we are thankful for.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thai Street Food by David Thompson

This is a gorgeous coffee table style book, with lush photography that evokes the atmosphere of Thailand and the street food that we ate there.

Charred rice noodles and chicken (Raat nar gai)

1/2 lb. fresh wide rice noodles
2-3 tbsp vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves
Pinch of salt
1/4 lb chicken breast fillet, cut into about 10 slices
2 tbsp yellow bean sauce
To season: ground white pepper
3 cups chicken stock
2 tsp white sugar
1 c. Chinese broccoli
2 tbsp corn starch, mixed to a slurry with 2 tbsp water
2 tsp light soy sauce, to taste
2 tsp fish sauce, to taste

Spread and tease the noodles apart. Heat the wok and spread the noodles over its surface, allowing them to char and crisp before lifting and turning. Try not to break up the noodles. Once they are charred, add a drop of oil if the wok seems too dry. The noodles should be dark and aromatic, almost burnt in parts.
Crush the garlic to a somewhat coarse paste with the salt – either by pounding it using a pestle and mortar or finely chopping it with a knife. In a small pan – or the cleaned wok – heat the oil, add the garlic paste and fry. Add the chicken and continue frying until the garlic is golden and the chicken is sealed. Add the yellow bean sauce and fry for a minute or so. Sprinkle in a pinch of pepper and fry for a moment before adding the stock. Bring to the boil and add the sugar and broccoli. Simmer until the broccoli is wilted and quite tender – it must not be too crispy – then pour in the tapioca slurry. Simmer, stirring constantly, as the sauce thickens and swells slightly: it should be really quite thick, almost translucent and pleasingly glutinous. Season with the light soy and fish sauces: it should taste salty, sweet and smoky.
Pour the sauce over the noodles and sprinkle with white pepper. Serve with fish sauce, white sugar, roasted chilli powder and sliced chillies steeped in vinegar.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Broken Hearts Club (2000)

I had never heard of this movie when I picked it up off the shelf at my local library. But since the spirit of the library is to open new doors to people, it was doing it's job. Finding quality entertainment for it's patrons that they might otherwise not be exposed to. I suspect this film did not have a big roll-out budget, and that I might not be alone in never having heard of it.
I liked this movie very much, but the thing that I loved about it was that while all of the characters in it are gay men, they are mostly just men, regular guys struggling with relationships. I have worked with people who remind me of each and every character in this movie. They seem very normal, and while I know it shouldn't be that that stands out, it does. It wasn't a film that had a flashing neon sign that said "gay film". We need a lot more of this. The bullying of adolescents because they are perceived as gay is being examined closely. The events that bring it to our attention are dramatic, but the problem of bullying those who are different and therefore more vulnerable, is longstanding. Films depicting characters who are recognizable, but oh, also gay--kind of as a side bar--they are also tall, 20, smart--helps. Sexual orientation is just another fact about them. Not more or less important than any other fact, and they seem just like the guy next door, or the guy who sits in front of you on the bus, or the guy who changes your oil. Often films reinforce stereotypes--models are obsessed with their looks, waiters are actors who need rent money, the psychology major needs therapy, and so on--and this film does that exactly--only that all of those stereotypes are true for men who are gay, in this case. Some reviewers found it 'boring', but in it's normalcy, I found a path to tolerance.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Charles Deas (1818-1867)

When I was in Denver, I saw this exhibit of 39 paintings by Charles Deas. He went westward in 1840, and lived amongst trappers and American Indians. And he painted them. His love of red endeared him to me, and the intensity with which he paints his subjects is a lure to look more closely at his subjects. This is the first exhibit of his work ever mounted, and it is thought that only about half of the paintings he painted are known today. The picture on the front of the book that accompanies the collection is 'Long Jakes, The Rocky Mountain Man' and is a classic depiction of men who lived in the American West prior to the Civil War.

Deas was more famous when he lived than after he died. He was committed to an asylum in 1848 and died there almost 20 years late. The paintings that he painted in the late 1840's were wild eyed and disturbing. Most memorable is 'Death Struggle', a depiction of a Winnebago and a trapper, both on horse that are going over a cliff. Deas captures the desperation of the moment on the faces of both men as they are on the brink of death--each grasping onto something, but without the offer of much hope (and a trapped beaver is being held by the neck by the trapper, and biting the warrior). There are stories that emerge from Deas' paintings and it is a shame he has been at least partially forgotten.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum

Wow. This is crime thriller meets medical history. Deborah Blum's immensely entertaining book starts off by telling us just how ubiquitous murder by poison was by the early 20th century. I joked that every self-professed libertarian should read this book--it is a shocking account of how often people would resort to murder in order to solve their problems--money, an unwanted relative, a coworker, you name it, people were being poisoned without fear of consequences, at least not legal consequences.
At the time, the coroner of New York was an alcoholic, a man so uninterested in going to crime scenes that finally he had to be fired. In his place they hired a man who changed the job forever, and created forensic medicine. This is the tale of New York City's first chief medical examiner, Charles Norris, and his toxicologist, Alexander Gettler. After their extensive scientific evidence failed to bring a conviction in a 1922 cyanide case, Norris and Gettler were told that "toxicology was such a new science, it was awfully hard to educate and convince a jury simultaneously." But by early 1936, defense attorneys were arguing just the opposite: "that the city lab's reputation was too strong, and that Gettler was so well respected that jurors tended to accept whatever he said."
The book appears to be aimed at the murder mystery readers in the audience--there are tales of mass murder, accidental death, and crimes of passion that will keep the interest of those fans, but the story of what happened during Prohibition is a sobering tale (pun intended) of just how wrong public policy can go. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Tie One On

I had a wonderful reunion with friends from college when I went to visit son #3 at his college for Parent Weekend. I marvel that literally a decade could pass, our children have been born and grown, our jobs have changed, but we can still sit and talk with an ease that comes from that time in life. When there is seemingly limitless time and no deadlines that really matter.

But the coolest thing was to discover a new craft business being launched by Sara King. She is taking old ties, often ugly ties, and re-making them into wine bottle gift bags. These are two that I purchased--the one with roosters on it, and a rooster charm reminded me of Cuba. The other one has a lovely enamel pin on it that perfectly reflects the color and pattern of the tie. I looked at a couple dozen of her bags, and they are clever, interesting, beautiful and functional. And made from things that might be lying in the back of people's closets, or unwanted in their jewelry boxes. She is the ultimate recycler, someone taking unwanted things, changing them slightly, and making them into something that is once again useful with out too much effort.
Tie One On can be contacted at are really wonderful.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Room by Emma Donaghue

There were six books short listed for the 2010 Man Booker prize and this book is one of them. This is the third of those books that I have read ('The Long Song' and 'Parrot and Olivier in America' being the other two), and it is by far the best fit to be a 'Booker Prize Winner'. And the truth be told, often times the books that were short listed but did not win are less quirky and more enjoyable than the winner. Last year's Booker Prize winner, 'Wolf Hall' is a notable exception to that rule, but it is not unusual for the best book that I read all year in a particular year to fit this rule of thumb. This book did not win, as it turns out, but that is neither here nor there--I put the book on my list of things to read after Ayelet Waldman praised it.
'Room' is not only well written, it is a unique voice, a difficult story to tell, and it comes off as realistic and with a glimmer of hope. Almost like it had been written by a female Cormac McCarthy. The story is told through the eyes of a young boy. He is the child of a woman who has been captured, kept in a room that doubles as a prison, and used for sex by her captor. The boy does not understand this is different from other children, he doesn't know that most people leave their rooms. When he sees it happening on TV he thinks it is make believe. So he is not traumatized, he is matter-of-fact. We are the ones who are appalled as the story quickly unfolds.
The boy and his mother make an escape finally, and it is the second half of the book that is most appealing from my point of view--how do people reintegrate after such a traumatic event? That goes about as poorly as you would expect it to go, and the slow but steady unraveling of the thin cloth that held everything together in the midst of horror starts to fall apart.
Wonderfully written, and not nearly as emotionally ravaging as you would predict.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

We're No Angels (1955)

I picked this movie up off the DVD rack at the library at the behest of my eldest son, but I did not have high hopes for it--Humphrey Bogart is not my first choice for a 1950's comedian, and the genre of 1950's comedies is not something I seek out. So, against all odds, or at least many obstacles, I enjoyed this.
We're No Angels is adapted from a French play La Cuisine de Anges which was written by Albert Husson and ran on Broadway in 1953-1954.
The three 'angels' in this film are Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov, and Aldo Ray who escape from Devil's Island near Christmas time, and are now among hundreds of other paroled convicts in the French West Indies at the end of the nineteenth century. This was around the time Alfred Dreyfus was in Devil's Island so we know it was no fun place to be.

But these three seem to have a light hearted take life as it comes attitude. There's no whining from any of them about them being innocent of what got them there. But they want out and make it.Fate puts them in the hands of a family they first would like to rob for some getaway loot. But hearing and seeing the sad plight they're in they can't bring themselves to do it. Then of course comes the Christmas visit of a tyrannical cousin played with relish by Basil Rathbone whom they work for and the convicts work becomes a pleasure.
They are aided of course by a pet coral snake named Adolph that Ray keeps in a straw basket. In many ways Adolph is almost divinely driven to do his duty.
Humphrey Bogart, who was an unsuccessful embezzler in the film, has a surprisingly nice light touch for deadpan comedy. Too bad he didn't use it more often in films. This was a nice blend of comedy together with Bogey's gangster persona which we see more of in his films. On stage before he came to Hollywood, Bogart actually did a lot of light comedy.
Leo G. Carroll, Joan Bennett, and Gloria Talbott are the family who get some help on Christmas. The film itself is a great indication how the Deity or the fates in the 1950's did indeed move in mysterious ways. But do not be fooled--while there is a lot to be thankful for in this movie, it is by no means a traditional Christmas movie.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


20 fresh sage leaves
3 fresh thyme sprigs, stems removed
3 sprigs rosemary, stems removed
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbs. fennel pollen (seeds can be substituted, but are nowhere near as intense as the pollen)
1 1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 1/2 tsp. black pepper
4 lbs. boneless pork shoulder
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c. dry red wine.

Heat oven to 250 degrees. In a food processor or by hand, finely chop sage, thyme, rosemary and garlic together. Place mixture in a small bowl; add fennel seeds, salt and pepper. Stir well.
With a utility knife, a razor blade or a sharp knife, score pork skin in a crosshatch diamond pattern, making 1/8- to 1/4-inch-deep cuts about 1 inch apart. With a paring knife, make about 10 incisions (about 1/2-inch deep) all over pork and stuff them with about 1/3 of the herb mixture.
Pour wine over pork and baste with accumulated juices. Continue roasting, basting once every half-hour, until skin is well browned and meat is spoon tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours more. Remove pork from oven; let meat rest for 15 minutes.
Slice roast, chop skin at score marks and serve pieces of each together.

I had this for the first time at Salumi in Seattle and it was phenomenal--I should have known it was Italian street food--simple, intensely flavored, and portable--what all great street foods share in common with each other.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Toy Story 3 (2010)

I am stepping into potentially dangerous territory here--I am going to apply plot analysis and psychological structure to a children's movie--but truthfully, the best of animated film making stands up far better to this sort of analysis than do most dramas produced for adult consumption.
First and foremost, I loved this movie--it was enormously entertaining, the script is phenomenal, and it is the best of the trilogy. Woody continues to be the central character, and while there are other strong players (Jessie and Buzz to be sure) they do not play anything more than a supporting role. That is probably the weakest part of the whole film for my taste. Especially when it comes to a lack of strength in female role models. There are new additions that are welcome. My favourite new toys are probably most of the ones at Bonnie's house; Mr Pricklepants (who explains their theatrical philosophy, and asks Woody if he is classically trained), Trixie (the tricerotops, who get's on well with other dinosaur Rex), Chuckles the clown (who is decidedly not chuckling), Kawaii unicorn Buttercup, and even Hayao Miyazaki's Totoro from Studio Ghibli film My Neighbor Totoro makes an appearance.

The script is front and center. The screenwriting genre is the 8 sequence Hero's Journey. First the catalyst sets the hero in motion--Andy is going to college. What does the future hold for his beloved toys with him not only growing up, but leaving home. Woody very doggedly assures everyone that they are going to the attic, which appears to be Andy's intention, but something goes awry. Then the Act 1 ender--a surprising development that changes the hero's perspective--maybe what happened isn't so bad afterall? That is followed by a reminder of the central conflict, and at the midpoint, something happens that changes the story--Woody suddenly realizes the mistake that he has made. Then we go back to a reminder of what the central conflict is, which leads to a turning point, a showdown, and a resolution. The formula holds for the movie, but it is seamlessly performed and a thing of beauty to watch. Bravo!

Monday, November 15, 2010

New Saigon, Denver

My only regret about New Saigon was that I only had one stomach to give to the experience, because with what the Zagat's reviewer described as "a menu the length of a Tolstoy novel", we only got four dishes, and even then, we were unable to do full justice to the fourth of the bunch.
I have not been to Vietnam, nor have I have more than a handful of experiences eating in a truly Vietnamese restaurant, but this is a cuisine that I could fall hard for. It has some of the flavor elements that predominate Thai food: Salt, Hot, Sweet, and Sour, but the heat is not as intense, and the intensity of each element seems mellower, softer around the edges--and that softness is because of the abundance of freash herbs and vegetables that accompany each dish.

We opened our meal with crab and shrimp eggrolls, which look much like other egg rolls, except they come with noodles, and then a basket of pickled vegetables, herbs, fresh cucumbers, and then a lettuce leaf to wrap the whole thing up in, as well as a dipping sauce. These were divine. I really enjoy food that has some assembly required, and this is a great way to start the meal--my only regret is that we did not have more people at the table, because at the end of the appetizer, neither of us had much of an appetite left!

The best dish of the meal was the squid salad--the squid it self was beautifully prepared and barely cooked--perfection. It sat atop a large pile of vegetables that had been tossed in a light and delicious nuom pac-based dressing and it was heaven to eat. Everyone who walked into the restaurant passed by our table, and no one could resist commenting on the dish, it was so beautiful to behold. We had beef five ways and peppered shrimp to finish the meal off, and cannot wait until we return to Denver to have a second go at this wonderful restaurant.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Denver: 100 Favorite Dishes

The article linked to above in Westwards delineated the 100 favorite places to get a particular dish. I thought it was an excellent way to approach to finding places to eat in a city that is unknown to you. If the whole package is less important to you, then reviewers like Fodor's and Zagat's might over rate a place that had less distinctive food if the service and the atmosphere were superior, whereas neither of those things are particularly meaningful to me. Don't get me wrong, I don't like to wait an hour between dishes, but at the same time I don't need someone on hand to pour more water in my glass after each sip either--and if I had to choose, I would go for slow inattentive service over above average food.
The advantage of a "I really want a breakfast burrito--where should I get that?" kind of a list is that if you are in a particular mood for a particular dish, then this will guide you. Or if that dish sounds so great, the whole experience could be a winner. This list can be dovetailed with other sources--like Yelp--and you are increasing your chances of the dining experience you are seeking for the moment.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sauteed Shrimp with Corn in a Spicy Wine Sauce

1 lb. shrimp
1-2 Tbs vodka
1 egg white
3 tablespoons corn oil
5 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c. white wine
14 oz diced tomatoes
1 1/2 c. stock
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 teaspoon cornstarch, mixed with 1 Tbs. water
1/2 c. corn
1/4 c. red pepper, diced small
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
1 Tbs. grated ginger
3 scallions, thinly sliced
Combine the shrimp, vodka and egg white in a medium bowl. Mix well and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (can be hours, or overnight), turning occasionally.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a small saucepan. Add the garlic and cook over high heat until the ingredients release their flavor, about 1 minute. Add the wine and half the chopped tomatoes. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes.

Add the stock, salt, white pepper and cornstarch mixture, bring to a boil, and reduce heat to low and cook for 20-30 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by half, stirring occasionally. Set aside the sauce.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet until hot but not smoking. Add the shrimp and stir-fry until half cooked, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon; set aside.

Add the remaining tomatoes, corn, bell pepper, jalapeno pepper and ginger to the skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally for 2 minutes. Return the shrimp and the reserved sauce to the skillet. Stir-fry over medium heat until the ingredients are heated through and the shrimp are cooked, about 3 minutes. Add the scallions, toss and serve immediately with rice.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)

Try to imagine a romantic comedy that begins with killing yourself. It's a challenge to manage, and that is what makes this film unusual. After Zia dies, he finds himself in a parallel universe that is much like his real life was--only a little bit worse. Not so much worse that you keep cutting your wrists--no 'Groundhog Day' endless loop here. But just enough worse that you realize that this is indeed hell--the place where you find out that despondency will bring you no conclusion, no end, just somethign that will worsen your mood--ever so slightly.

But then he meets Eugene, who makes this alternative universe he has trapped himself in more bearable, and then Mikal, who makes it down right nice. The catch is that she is making every effort to get out, and she seems to have a verifiable reason for exiting--she didn't try to kill herself. Uh oh. If she leaves, what will Zia do?
It is perhaps hard to imagine a film where suicide and laughing co-exist, but it happens in 'Wristcutters' and it is well worth seeing.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

St. Crispin's Day Speech

Remembering all veterans today, including my cousin Stuart, who died in Viet Nam in 1968.

from Henry V (1599) by William Shakespeare

WESTMORELAND. O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!

KING. What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.”
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Veterans, this is your day.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Captain Abu Raed (2007)

This movie got dismissed by many reviewers for things that might be very true. The musical score might be terrible. I don't know. But I think that the charge that the script is trite and predictable is not a charge that I would level at it. The flim comes from Jordan, and the city scape of Amman is breath-taking. If you are unfamiliar with the place, you should see this movie for that alone.
Our hero is Abu Raed. He has lost his wife, his child, and his will to do much more than his daily job as a janitor at the local airport. One day he finds a captain's hat, he wears it home, and he transforms himself into the neighborhood story teller, the man who travels the world and brings it back to the children who live around him.

The part of the story that is not so typical of Western stories is that of who Abu Raed choses to make a difference with. The boy who adores him or the boy who challenges him? The does make an attempt to help each of them, but the boy who idolizes him has a father who has very different plans for his son than an education--while this is not what Abu Raed would want for him, he does not interfere with that father's plan. The boy who challenges him is living in an abusive home he does intervene with. That boy might not make it to adulthood, that boy's father has lost the morale high ground to choose for that boy, and Abu Raed puts his life on the line to change that boy's life. It is a story with much sadness, both within and all around it, but there is more than that, and I would recommend it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Prevention of Bullying

I just don't get it.
There have been a spate of teen suicides on the heels of Tyron Clemente taking his life after Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei streamed a webcam video of him having sex with a man. It has become public knowledge that bullying related to sexual orientation is alive and well in the nation's schools. Children who are being called gay are not even necessarily gay, but that is a whole different problem to sort out. We would not tolerate someone being bullied because of race or religion, and we cannot make an exception for sexual orientation.

We know that the effective interventions for bullying include bringing the issue into the light of day. To that end, sexual education should include information about homosexuality. It is biologically determined. It has existed since the Greeks. East coast liberals did not invent it. No one is advocating that we promote it. Just that we describe it's existence.
In a secular nation, one that has a seperation between church and state, this seems enormously uncontroversial. Study after study shows that children's moral compasses are set by their parents--not their peers, not their schools, not their neighbors, not society as a whole. Parents are the single largest determinant of what children believe is right and wrong. But public education can not allow parents to decide what exists and what doesn't exist in the natural world.
Public schools are advocating tolerance of homosexuals. They are not recruiting. They are not even saying what is right and what is wrong--they are saying this exists. That it is naturally occurring. That people themselves do not determine whether they are gay or straight. And that it is wrong to discriminate or bully, period.

Cristians say it is a sub rosa attack on their religion. The Bible does have a number of injunctions against homosexuality. The same Bible also condones polygamy--Abraham and Jacob had more than one wife. Islam and Judiasm have the same father, but two different mothers. The twelve tribes of Jacob have four different mothers--2 sisters and their two slaves. That was then and this is now. Slavery is no longer tolerated. We no longer accept polygamy--it dates from a time in the world where breeding was of paramount importance. That is no longer the case--sexual do's and don't's change accordingly. There are many aspects of Biblical culture that we no longer accept as relevent for today's society. Teach your children what you will, but it is time for public education to move on.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Letters to Juliet (2010)

This is a full on, no apologies offered romance--so if that is a genre you cannot abide by, stop now and avoid this movie.
There are two stars of this film, and there are two love stories.
Vanessa Redgrave is one of the first, playing Claire, a woman seeking an old love, and she is the most compelling reason to see Letters to Juliet. In this movie you see the talents of a legendary British actor and Italian settings that have you ready to book your flight to Italy as soon as the credits are running.
However, Claire is not technically the heroine. That role falls to cat-eyed Amanda Seyfried, an appealingly offbeat ingenue. She plays Sophie, a winsome fact checker at The New Yorker who goes to Verona on vacation with her fiancé Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal, impish, handsome, hipster thin, and fun in a thankless role), a chef whose idea of an Italian holiday includes cheese, wine and olive oil tastings (actually, I would have peeled off with him myself, but the movie goes with Sophie who is more inclined to the typical tourist haunts).

Sophie stumbles onto a bizarre real-life tradition in Verona, home of Shakespeare's Capulets and Montagues. Young women write letters to Juliet, seeking counsel in matters of the heart from Romeo's doomed love (presumably, although who knows? Some may ask for help with math) and deposit them under the prototype of her famous balcony. For decades a fleet of Juliet's "secretaries" have been answering these letters.
What brings her into contact with Claire is a letter left in the wall many decades ago when Claire was a teenager waffling over what to do about an attraction to a fabulous young Italian named Lorenzo. Sophie responds, as Juliet's secretary, urging her to follow her heart — if it is still ticking — and within days, Claire shows up in Verona with her grandson Charlie (Chris Egan, who has no where near the appeal of Gael Garcia bernal, so you know that love is a quirky thing from this movie).
Sophie and Claire are kindred spirits, romantics perfectly matched to take on a driving tour of Italy, looking for Lorenzo, wherever he might have landed.
But I'd take anyone to Letters to Juliet and my guess is we'd both leave with a little Italian glow.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

I really loved this series, and the last book, this one, was the best. I am a life-long reader of the murder mystery genre, even though I rarely write about it (or talk about it, if it comes to that). I have never seen a murder mystery become so wildly popular. It is a world wide phenomenon. All of which is both sad and exhilarating. Sad because the author died very shortly after delivering the set of three books to his publisher, and exciting because it opens a whole potential audience to this genre--maybe other great writers will dabble in the medium as a result and the genre will be enriched. Also sad because this is it--the author had a vision of at least seven books, even embarking on writing the fourth, and if anything like the first three, they would have been intertwined, referring back to things that had happened before, consequences of previous actions coming to fruition or back to bite one in another volume.
The series features a dour, smart, world-weary editor who becomes entangled with a slightly autistic, highly traumatized young woman, and they form an unlikely team. They take on giants and they chip away at them. They have victories and failures. The novels weave the two of them into and out of the narrative in a manner that is both engaging and interesting. If you haven't already, pick up the series today. Then move on to the rich genre of Scandinavian mysteries.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Robin Hood (2010)

I have linked this to Anthony Lane's review in The New Yorker, which was lengthy and lukewarm, and seems to reflect the popular sentiment about this movie. And in the interest of full disclosure, I am not a fan of either action movies or Russell Crowe. Or Ridley Scott, for that matter. But I really enjoyed this film--which was admittedly much too long to see in a theatre, and with a fair amount of mumbling that required the English subtitles to be on even when they weren't speaking French. It is so much easier to be forgiving when you are watching the movie at home--I think it is one of the reasons why viewers routinely rate TV shows better than feature length films.
The setting is s little confusing if you don't have English history firmly in your mind--usually the Robin Hood story is set in the time when Richard the Lion Heart is out on a Crusade (1189-1194) and his younger brother John is wrecking havoc at home in his absense. This story is the prequel to the Robin Hood legend, and is set after Richard's death (1199), when John is now the King of England for real. No hope of Richard returning. But in reality, Richard was never coming back to England--he spoke only French and never lived any length of time during his life not spent on the battlefield in England (perhaps he was beloved because they really didn't know him).
Robin Hood is consistently depicted as a loyal supporter of King Richard. Richard's contemporaneous image was that of a king who was also a knight, and that was apparently not a common co-occurence. He was known as a valiant and competent military leader and individual fighter: courageous and generous. That reputation has come down through the ages and defines the popular image of Richard. In reality, he spent less than a year of his life in England, spoke no English, plotted to overthrow his father, and he spent lots of English money in France without apparent regard for the consequences of it. This is reflected in Steven Runciman's final verdict of Richard I: "he was a bad son, a bad husband and a bad king, but a gallant and splendid soldier."("History of the Crusades" Vol. III)
Ridley Scott's production depicts Robin Hood as a soldier's soldier, a man who is courageous and generous himself, and a bit at loose ends as he returns to his homeland. He is not so much gallant as stalwart. He is a man's man rather than a woman's man. He stumbles into a place to settle his loyalties early on, by returning a well made sword to the father of the man who carried it. There he is bestowed with the sword, a story about his own origins, an estate, and a wife (the lovely and lively Cate Blanchett). When he informs his travelling companions of his sudden change in circumstances the day after their arrival in Nottingham, one says, more or less, 'Nicely played, Robin--a bit rash, but well done.'
The movie goes on to show Robin off to his best advantage--so well, in fact, that John realizess that he must go. The thrown is his alone--Richard died childless, and named him his successor, but the mood is dark in England and Robin seems too much like Richard to be tolerated. So Robin is made a wanted man, a price is placed uppon his head, and hence, an outlaw is born.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Secret Lives of the Wives of Baba Segi by Lola Shoneyin

I had one big problem with this book. It is cultural. I really couldn't get over my distaste for people who would enter into polygamous relationships. I get the appeal--security and companionship for the women, more sex for the men. I get the difficulties--anyone who has escaped high school knows that packs of women can be dangerous--to each other and to those around them. My reaction is not intellectual, however. It is visceral.
So you have to get over that to get into this book, because those dynamics are in play. Baba Segi marries a fourth wife, Bolanle. His first three wives may not agree on much, but on this they are united and opposed. The new wife is young, educated, and wordly. The other wives feel threatened from the moment they meet her, and they put up a big time fuss that doesn't quit. Bolanle has her own reasons for marrying Baba Segi, but she tries very hard to be a part of the family. SHe loves the seven children of the other wives and she takes care of them, tries to teach them--which makes the other wives even more angry. The book quickly develops into solving two crises--Baba Segi wants to find out why Bolanle is not yet pregnant, and the wives want to be rid of her. In a very circuitous plot run, the solution to the first problem allows the second to be acocmplished. But while the plot map of the book is straight forward, the story is in the telling. Wonderful book.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Post Election Blues

Thank goodness I am still feeling all the good vibes from the Rally to Restore Sanity. I am still basking in the light that there are many people like me. Those who see the good in what has happened over the past two years. People who think that we have made progress and in the right direction--and who don't tend to oversell their case. Or their prowess. Because there is not much to really celebrate otherwise after this week's post midterm elections, neither nationally nor in Iowa. The most disturbing turn of events was the assault on the legality of gay marriage.

I am so proud of our state related to gay rights. We had two places on the mid term election ballot to demonstrate our feelings on gay marriage in Iowa. The first was on the re-election of three of the judges who were part of the unanimous 7-judge panel that held that denying couples the right to marry based on their gender was unconstitutional in Iowa. The second was a referendum that comes to the ballot every ten years about a constitutional convention. While the referendum failed, the three judges on the ballot all went down decidedly. Their defeat was personal. It is the first time I have wondered about the Iowa political process, which largely seems very centered.

Ok, so maybe it is all about how difficult change can be. How scary. Same sex marriage is a change. The right kind of change. Change for the better. It is a matter of civil liberty and equal protection. We are a better country when we afford the same rights to everyone. Sometimes I am amazed that it is happening so fast, and at others I am equally amazed it has taken this long. Unfortunately, it seems like the adage of two steps forward are inevitably followed by one step backward continues to hold. The more the world changes, the more it stays the same. Now it is time to pray that level headedness will return to the state, and we will be ashamed of what we have done and atone for it. In the meantime, don't miss this chance to get the Raygun shirt celebrating our trend setting.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Patriotism and the Rally to Restore Sanity

One of the most irritating things about the extremist rhetoric is the very un-American sentiment of "love it or leave it"--the essence of our republic is that public discussion is not only tolerated, it is encouraged. We are modeled on the classical Greek civilization that flourished in Athens at the time of Socrates. In that time it was the obligation of every Greek citizen to be engaged in the running of their country, and to work towards solutions that encompassed the values and ideals of all citizens.

That is not the America of the 21st century. Unfortunately, what we have re-emerging now is more a model of who has the deepest pocket. That is the voice that is heard loudest, and it is remarkably effective. I marvel at their ability to get the people who are least likely to personally benefit, the people who can in no way fund their own society's infrastructure, to vote for politicians and policies that benefit those that are rich but few in number.

I accept all that as inevitable. What I do not accept is that we who oppose that, who believe in social justice, that we are unpatriotic. The founding fathers believed in social justice. The lack of it fueled their revolution. They didn't think that the one with the most money should continue to make those less fortunate pay and pay again. They advocated for a transparent and open system, with basic rights for all, and the ability to add to those rights as values shifted. So I was happy to see patriotism on display at the rally last Saturday. We love our country. We believe in it's people. The politicians are not serving the public, and the media is not either. But that doesn't mean we don't love the nation we live in.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Music at the Rally to Restore Sanity: Can it Make a Difference?

Wow. I know, I grew up in the 60's. The era of rallies that could change the country. In the adolescence of rock and roll. I am prone to think that music has the power to put a voice to change. To inspire. To unite people. So consider my reflections on the music at the Rally to Restore Sanity those of a starry eyed child of the sixties. But it was really great to be with literally more people than I have ever had a shared experience with, and have music be a piece of what was emotionally moving for me.

The first thing I loved about the music was the variety. They even had an incarcerated performer. How much more inclusive can you get? Roots opened, and then were joined by John Legend, and it was a great lead in to the afternoon. The next musical performance was more of a skit. Jon Stewart introduced Yusuf, formerly known as Cat Stevens, who played a beautiful rendition of 'Peace Train'. He was interupted by Stephen Colbert, who wanted to foster fear, and brought out Ozzie Osbourne playing 'Crazy Train'--the artists good humoredly started and stopped at the rally host's command, until they agreed on the 'Love Train' as a common theme, and the O'Jays came out and played. It was good music, good religious and ethnic variation, and good theatre.

My favorite performance of the day was Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy playing 'You Are Not Alone'. Wow, she still has it, and Tweedy's guitar just amplifies how wonderful her voice is. The sentiment fit the occasion, and while it wasn't 'get up and dance' music it was really nice to hear. Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow, joined by TI from prison, sang what was more of an anthem than rap, and Tony Bennett closed with an a capella version of 'America the Beautiful' and they closed with everyone on stage singing an old Staples Singer's song 'I'll Take You There'. Musical memories are different. They are stored somewhere else in your brain. They seem more primative, and therefore can be more satisfying, and resonate emotionally for longer periods of time. I am still in the good place emotionally that the music at the rally took me to, and I hope to stay there for awhile to come.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity Redux

The Million Moderate March was a peaceful afternoon that was crowded and entertaining as a first-hand experience, and hopeful as I look back on it. Hopeful in a way that I haven't felt in months. The endless rhetoric of doom is tiresome. The Rally to Restore Sanity was an antidote to the 24/7 onslaught of gloom and doom. As Jon Stewart said in his serious reflections at the end of the rally, "These are hard times, these are not end times." So, as I spent the day shoulder to shoulder with my fellow marchers, I took in what was in my immediate sphere as well as what was going on at the Capital stage.

A rally is a risk. There are things that you can control and there are things that you cannot control. The team of Stewart and Colbert were able to script a three hour program of entertainment that deftly wove the musical, the serious and the absurd together in roughly equal measures in order to hold the crowds attention as well as leave them wanting more. And thinking more. Maybe taking the message back to their communities. Let it infect others. The musicians ranged from hip and hop to soul and crooning. They were black, they were white, they were young, they were old, they were Muslim, they were not. It was inclusive and engaging, and very impressive.

But there are things that you cannot control about a rally, and that is who shows up, and how glad do they appear to be there. My fellow rally mates were the most impressive show of the day. Who we were and how we acted was what made the experience for me. We were all ages. Really. My gray hair didn't stand out, and we were interwoven nicely in the crowd. If they had asked us to count off decades and stand accordingly--a 20 year old next to a 30 year old next to a 40 year old and on up it wouldn't have been more of a mixture than it was naturally. We were all colors. We were from all over. The airport was a continuation of the rally--strangers talking about their experiences all day. As Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy so compellingly sang, You Are Not Alone.