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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Italian Asparagus Salad

1 pound asparagus
1/2 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, tarragon and chives
1 cup baby arugula
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 small garlic clove, minced or pureed
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 ounce slivered Parmesan
1. Steam the asparagus for three to five minutes, depending on how thick the stalks are. It should be tender but still have some bite. Rinse with cold water, and drain for a minute on a kitchen towel. Cut into 1-inch lengths. Place in a salad bowl, and toss with the mushrooms, herbs and arugula.
2. Whisk together the lemon juice, salt and pepper, garlic and olive oil. Toss with the asparagus mixture and the slivered Parmesan, and serve.
This is a variation of the recipe that was in the New york Times recently--exceptionally good--the quality of the Parmesan should be quite good, as should the olive oil, but the bright sourness of the lemon, the subtle flavor of the asparagus, the olive oil making the mushrooms slightly soft, and the sharpness of the cheese and garlic, it all works wonderfully together to make a wonderful salad.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

At Home by Bill Bryson

I aodred this book, which is quintessentially Bryson from start to Finish. He is living in a mid-19th century house, just as I am. His is in England and mine is in Iowa, but I understand how you can look around a place of that age and begin to wonder about how things were constructed and why. But where I would take those thoughts and where he takes them are not so much dissimilar as I would finish in 45 minutes, and Bryson writes a riveting, hilarious fact filled book about how man got to this point in housing structures.
Yes, the road from the prehistoric villages of Catalhöyük and Skara Brae to the condo and gated development is long and rough, and not altogether straight. Bryson considers every aspect of his home, and how it got to be the way it is. Separate dining rooms came into being only because hostesses needed to protect their upholstery from food stains. The brass bed? Its initial appeal was that it was thought to be impervious to bedbugs. Bathing, for more than a millennium, was eschewed as anti-hygienic. "By the eighteenth century," Bryson writes, "the most reliable way to get a bath was to be insane." His observations are certainly not unique--I read many of the Revolutionary American anecdotes in other volumes--but the way he weaves them together is the special art he brings to the table.
A few examples: "Nothing you touch today will have more bloodshed, suffering and woe attached to it than the innocuous twin pillars of your salt and pepper set. . . . An individual rat hasn't got great prospects in life, but his family is effectively ineradicable." Bryson on the Eiffel Tower: "Never in history has a structure been more technologically advanced, materially obsolescent and gloriously pointless all at the same time."
Yes, it is a book filled with trivia--but it is ever so sweetly flowing trivia that I adored reading through. The largest source of animal protein in the Middle Ages? Smoked herring. Need more? The only two creatures that can't make their own Vitamin C? Humans and guinea pigs. The most common cause of accidental death (after car wrecks)? Stairs. The reason smallpox got its name? To distinguish it from the "great pox" of syphilis.
In the midst of figuring out how we got to building the houses we did in the 19th century, he meanders quite a bit, but he also brings it back to his house and it's features and functions--which are similar to other old homes, including my own. If you enjoy this sort of thinking, you will love this book. The funnest way to learn is to laugh while you are doing it, and this book fills that bill as well.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Lentil Salad

This is a great summer salad, because the vegetables everyone has in their refridgerator are so varied and wonderful.
I start with 1 c. green lentils, soak them over night, and then cook then in stock for 30-60 minutes--until soft but not falling apart.
immediately drain them and add vinegar, so that as they cool they will absorb the flavor of the vinegar--I used a walnut champagne vinegar, because I like who the nuttiness of the vinegar interacts with the nuttiness of the legumes, but any vinegar will do--I stay away from the sweeter vinegars and stick with the sharper flavors--but aplle cider vinegar does nicely with this as well.
Add diced or shredded vegetables--this one has carrots, cabbage, peppers, scallions, peas, celery, and broccoli--but any combination works.
Add enough olive oil to coat everything, and season with salt and pepper. Voila!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Blue Blood by Edward Conlon

Conlon comes from a multi-generational NY cop family--he has a grandfather, an uncle and a father who were cops. So despite going to harvard, and having a family that wished for more for him, at 30 he went through the police academy and was a beat cop in the South Bronx. This is an account of his years as a polic officer, progressing from where he started, to Narcotics, and then to detective. It is not a glamourous or thrilling memoir. Far from it--if anything, it is too detailed and leaves the impression of tedium. Conlon’s advice to anyone who thinks being a cop is an adrelalin rush is strident: “You want to know what my job is like? Go to your garage, piss in the corner, and stand there for eight hours.”
He is that blunt throughout the book--there are a number of things to quibble about in the book--too long, too many details, not tied together enough--but in the end, it is a great perspective on what the police do--is it worth bringing this person in? Should I cultivate an information source or arrest them? The book is especially strong when presenting these sorts of everyday dilemmas. And while I haven't seen it, the book is the template for a TV series that is reportedly strong as well.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

King Crab Salad

My brother gives my husband a huge pile of king crab legs for his birthday every year. My brother lives in Alaska, and while he is not a seafood buff himself, he is very proud of the bounty that his state produces, and king crab is the best of the best (or at least the most expensive). They arrive in a huge box that is light to lift, but when you lift of the lid, the legs inside are scary to look at --and a bit dangerous to the touch--getting the delicious crab out of them is never without risk (this escapade had me avoiding any crab shell-related injury, but I managed to stab myself with the using to cut through the shell, illustrating the adage "if it is not one thing, it is another"). We have made them into straight ahead crab legs with butter, a crab gratin, and other assorted dishes but this time my husband wanted crab salad (wiching he had been able to go to Rhode Island with me to have lobster, perhaps).

The salad itself is very simple--both in flavor as well as to assemble. The key is to let the delicate flavor of the crab be the front and center flavor, so the less you add the better.
Cut the crab meat in chunks, as big as seems reasonable (always nice to keep the claws as intact as possible), then toss it with a small amount of minced red onion and diced celery, add a bit of Dijon mustard, and just enough mayonnaise to hold it together, maybe a dash of Tabasco to liven it up, definitely a squeeze of lemon to brighten the flavor. Serve on bread, or atop a green salad and it is absolutely wonderful.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Endgame by Frank Brady

The subtitle of this book is a good summary: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall--from America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness. That is what the book is about, and it spins an interesting and compelling tale.
Fischer was born during WWII to a mother who had been estranged from her husband and who was homeless at the time of his birth. He grew up with very few financial resources--which makes his rise in chess remarkable, because it reflects both the sacrifices that his impoverished mother was able to make for his success, and is a tribute to his single minded dedication to the game. These two observations, true from very early on in his childhood, are the biggest clues as to what happened as his life progressed.
He peaked in th early 1970's with his triumph in Iceland--he and Boris Spasky had a life-long relationship as a result, but it marked the beginning of his decline. Fischer became increasingly suspicious, of his government, but of almost everything else as well. He slipped into a solitary, isolated, and increasingly impoverished life for a long period of time. the author notes that more than one psychiatrist noted he was not psychotic, but he certainly sounds delusional at points. He does make an effort to re-enter life at the end of his life, but it is really a career that was most remarkable when he was a youth. Very well written and thought-provoking biography.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Asparagus and Corn Salad

My husband bought a bag of unsightly asparagus for almost nothing at the farmer's market on Saturday, and thought we would make some soup with it. I was hankering for something more in the salad palate range and found a recipe on the Food Network website that I modified and was very happy with the results (it was a Paula Deen recipe--while it did not have a lot of butter, it did have an unseemly amount of sugar, which I eliminated altogether).
Cut asparagus into 2" lengths, and blanch in boiling water with a little salt until tender to the tooth, about 2-3 minutes.
If using frozen corn (I have some that I took off the cob and froze last summer that I used), add the corn after about a minute to the asparagus. Drain in a colander, and run under cold water to stop the cooking of the asparagus, and to keep it's bright green color.
Put in bowl and add 1/4 of a red onion, diced very small.
Toss with rice vinegar and a smidge of olive oil--add enough to flavor the vegetables, but not to have a real dressing--I used about 1/4 c. of rice vinegar and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil--you don't need much. Salt and pepper to taste and serve.
very delicate flavor and you would never know that the asparagus wasn't perfect spears to begin with.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Onward by Howard Schultz

The subtitle of the book is 'How Starbucks Fought for it's Life Without Losing it's Soul'. When a business executive writes about his own company, and tells you the story of coming back to take over the company to save it, one needs to expect some amount of narcissism in such a phoenix rising from the ashes tale--and not one that is going to tell any of the gritty details about how that happened--at least not any details that are not already public. So it could be a disappointing story, or one that reeks of self-interest. There are all of those qualities in this book to be sure, but there is a good story underneath it all as well. That that in order to continue to be on the cutting edge, you need to keep changing, keep looking for the next greatest thing, and not be content with what you have. Starbucks might not have the soul that it thinks it has, but there are a number of pages devoted to doing the right thing. Paying a fair price for coffee. Making sure that farmers get that money, rather than someone else further up the food chain.
The slavish devotion to brewing the perfect cup of coffee is perhaps a bit oversold here,. but these are coffee billionaires, we will aloow them their idiosyncrasies. The thing that I took away from it is to maintain your creative spirit in all your endeavors--to keep making changes, examining what is good and what needs to be updated or changed or discarded, and keeping it fresh. A very interesting read.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Chickpeas with Greens

I love it when the summer vegetables start coming in, and it is cheap and easy to eat vegan and enjoy it--even if you live in Iowa, where summer does not often come particularly early. At it's best, such food is so good that you won't even notice that the meat is no longer in your diet.
I accidentally bought a back of braising greens instead of salad greens at my local coop, and today I turned them into one of my favorite quick and easy weeknight dishes--chickpeas with greens.
You dice up an onion, crush a couple of cloves of garlic and saute them in olive oil until the onions are wilting a bit. Add handfuls of greens that have been sliced into inch wide strips, and wait for them to wilt as well. Sprinkle in some salt and pepper, and add a can of diced tomatoes (or fresh if you have them), and about 2 cups of cooked chickpeas, and cover to stew until the greens are tender. Correct the seasoning, spritz a little lemon juice on before serving (you can also crumble feta on top if you like, but I like it without)--great side dish or main dish, depending on what else you are serving.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Moments in the Sun by John Sayles

I love John Sayles ('Union Dues', 'Brother from Another Planet' and 'The Milagro Beanfield War' all being amongst my favorites). He is all about exposing the moral incoonstencies of government abd society, and siding with the average man--especially if the average man is a person of color.
It is good that I know that, because there is a lot of racism in this this new book of his, set at the dawn of the 20th century. The book is expansive--both physically (it almost tops 1000 pages, and is hard to balance when on eis either at the beginning or the end of the volume), and in the scope of the story told. It weaves several narratives together in a way that is very well done--the scenes are the American West, the American South, and the wars that take place in the Phillipines and in Cuba--so far reaching and difficult to make all the characters distinct and interesting over the course of this very long book, and Sayles is successful at that. I did not love this book, at least not at first glance, but it is a 'big' book, and it successfully pulls that off, hanging on to the story in a tight and compelling way throughout the book. I just wasn't sure the length was entirely necessary to tell the story.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Change is Difficult

People have trouble with change, but so do old dogs. Hence the saying about old dogs and new tricks--which completely underestimates the ability of old dogs, but there is some merit in it. We have been actively in the process of moving for about three months and then actually changed houses a month ago. Our dogs are just now getting into the routine and (finally) not waking us up in the middle of the night wandering around trying to find out where the heck they are.
It all started for us about 9 months ago. We weren't really looking for a house--we had a plan. We would stay in the house that we raised our kids in another 10 years, and then we would move into the house we bought for them to finish off their education in. Easy, and sensible. It would give us time to start the process of substantially downsizing our possesions and the transition could be smooth and simple.
Then came the wrench. Two, actually. The first was that when son #3 moved out, our "raise the children" house went from being big to gargantuation. Uncomfortably so. There were whole wings of the house that we didn't get to on a weekly basis. Then came the crowning blow--we saw a wonderful old house become available--much smaller than our current house and yet enough bigger than our kid's house to seem like a real transition plan. An "almost empty nest" house. Within a week of seeing it, we bought it, and then the hard part started.
It turns out, moving after almost two decades is really hard. There is so much to get rid of it almost overwhelms you. So we tackled it one room at a time, and in fact, moved out of our bedroom and into the empty wing of the house to make the process easier. But it confused the dogs to no end. They wanted their old routine, and even though there was not a stick of furniture in our old room, that was where they wanted to spend the night. Turns out the furniture is irrelevant to them--they can't use it, so it kind of makes sense. What's all this stuff taking up floor space, they wonder. See how much bigger the room is now without it cluttering things up.
Well, now they are settled--long before we are, as it turns out. We still have a long way to go to get ourselves totally out of one house and into the other. Watching them struggle was strangely conforting because of how hard the move has been to pull off (thank goodness I did not wait another ten years

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Big Girls Don't Cry by Rebecca Traister

The book is subtitled 'The Election That Changed Everything for American Woman'. It is a personal reflection on what happened during the 2008 Presidential Election and why it matters for women. I personally was not conflicted about the election from a gender standpoint. I saw Hilary Clinton as having a broad reaching political name because of her husband, even though her reputation as a moderate Democrat who worked to build consensus in the Senate made her politically different from Bill. She was not the fire brand that he was--she was more solid, making her points more softly and with more facts to back them up. But it was the dynasty aspect of it that made me uncomfortable. I also did not feel duty bound to vote for her just based on her gender--so the premise of the book did not inherently resonate with me.
Traister writes the book based on her personal experiences and reflections of what happened during the campaign. Her mother felt this was the best chance for a woman to get into the White House as Commander in Chief and that was the beginning and end of the argument for her--there was no choice. Honor and defend. The author was more conflicted, and saw Obama and Clinton as being ver close to each other politically, so which was more important, race or gender. She chose gender, but not without talking to a lot of people, and she presents these various points of view. It is a very thoughtful book about what the election meant for Americans in general and for women in particular. Highly recommended.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Butternut Squash Soup with Rice

I make a soup every week or so that is inspired not so much by a cookbook, but rather what we have in the refridgerator at the time--leftovers that aren't 'moving', purchases from the farmer's market that have started to wilt a bit, or things that have been in the freezer long enough that the new season for them is rolling around again.
During my moving process I have not been cooking regularly--but I have always taken my lunch to work. The last couple of months it has been my traditional salad, but rather than soup on the side, it has been an amalgamation of various take out leftovers. No more. The last two weeks, the soup side dish is back. Which doesn't mean that life has returned to normal, or even really settled down all that much (I still have paint on my forearms to try to conceal from co-workers on an almost daily basis still), but it does feel better to actually have food that is in danger of going bad before it is eaten once again.
So the first soup that my family likes to refer to as "what's going bad in the fridge" soup--or what I like to call "love it or hate it, you will never have it again" soup--went like this:
a quart of roasted butternut squash (dutifully roasted and frozen last fall)
a quart of stock (I used poultry--combination of chicken and turkey bones--but any stock would be fine)
a heaping tablespoon of paprika (I used regular, but I think smoked would have been great too)
a can of diced tomatoes
and a take out container of rice thrown in at the end (probably about a cup), when the stove had been turned off
salt and pepper to taste
I did not puree it, and it is delicious, in a hearty way.
The rice that is left over when the Asian food it goes with is gone becomes quite dry quite quickly. Usually I add a bit of stock to it and make fried rice--which is a great way to used it, because when it rehydrates with the stock it takes on that flavor as well, and with a bunch of vegetables and an egg stirred in at the end, fried rice becomes a meal, but throwing it into soup at the end of the cooking process and letting the soup warm and rehydrate is is another very good solution for how to make it delicious again.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

This is the third and final installment in this author's biographical study of Theodore Roosevelt's life. Teddy lived 60 years, and the tellin gof it took this author 30+ years to complete--which I think speaks to the thoroughness that Morris brings to his subject, and how much material Roosevelt left behind to sort through.
This volume covers the time after Roosevelt was President up until his death. It was a frustrating time, and also a very sad one. Roosevelt was well known and reasonably well liked in Europe--which is in sharp contrast to the two Presidents who followed him (Taft and Wilson). The author alleges that if Roosevelt had been successful in his campaign to regain the presidency in 1912, that WWI might have been avoided through diplomacy, which would have changed the world of the 20th century quite substantially. But that didn't happen and WWI saw 4 Roosevelt boys march off to war, one never to return, and 2 wounded. Roosevelt was an avid soldier, but the losses for his offspring took their toll.
Teddy had a gusto for life, a bit of luck (he took a trip into unsettled Brazil that wouldn't be a good idea now, and was a bad idea them, and barely made it out alive), money, an immature personality that served him well up until almost the end, and he appealed to people, he had charisma. I think he managed to find a reasonable balance for his life--he was an engaged father, a husband who listened to his wife, and an indefatiguable writer. he did not spend much of his time looking inwardly at himself--he wrote only of the good he did--but he left his mark.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Adam Resurrected (2008)

This is a Holocaust movie in the vein of 'The Counterfeiters', but with follow up--the later ends when the concentration camp is liberated, whereas this movie moves between pre-war Germany, a concentration camp during the war, and then the 1950's and 60's.
So here is the premise: how do you survive survivors guilt, especially when you have debased yourself in exchange for your life. Well, it isn't easy, and immediately after WWII, there was not much in the way of treatment available. No antipsychotics, few anxiolytics, and no antidepressants. We really hadn't even managed good studies on psychotherapy or the value of light in exercise as it pertains to mood. So extremely traumatized, fragile people, regardless of their baseline brilliance, were sequestered together, far away from the rest of the world. Best not to see them, was the prevailing philosophy.
Adam (played convincingly by Jeff Goldblum) was a circus performer before the war. He was a clown--which means that he was clever and talented, but maybe not a man with a depth of psychological resources. He survives the was by becoming the camp commandant's second dog, living on all fours, competing with the other dog for food and watching his fellow prisoners march off to the gas chambers day by day. The commandant (portrayed pitch perfect by Willem Dafoe) teases him that he can save his family by doing as he is told, but that isn't true. Adam is left with financial resources at the end of the war but he is unable to manage. He is unpredictable and often mean. He swivels between the brink of snaity and out and out madness with dizzying speed, and almost without purpose. This film is not about telling a coherent story so much as it is about depicting the sequellae of atrocities. Which it does without violence--which is remrakable, chilling, and effective. Holocaust movies continue to tell different sides of a hoffifying story and this is an unusual entry into that genre.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Last Boy by Jane Leavy

Subtitled 'Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood'--which I think is a bit dramatic--mayber it was the end of baseball as a game of passion and the beginning of baseball as a game of business. The book is definitely about Mickey Mantle, and opens with th eauthor's personal meeting with Mickey Mantle in 1983. She is a fan, and she identifies herself as such right of the bat. Her approach to her childhood heroes story is to tell it through a series of important days in his life. The book does not strictly cover those ten days, but rather uses them to focus the story on what were sea changing moments for Mantle.
The book is very well written, and it is clear that the author has an investment in her story--which is a good thing. She juxtaposes his talent, his athletic ability, and his grit against the less pleasant aspects of his life--his compulsive womanizing, his excessive drinking and his remarkably poor parenting. His sons were his drinking partners and they all developed problems with alcohol as a result of a combination of genetics and environment. Two of them had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, which is not made much of in the book, but is unusual, and probably took a toll on him as well.
The thing I think would have been interesting to know more about is revealed near the end of the book--that he was sexually abused. What role did this play in his future choices, especially as they related to sex and relationships, is not at all addressed. That siad, this is an interesting read about a man you will not think more of at the end of the book, but you will know more.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Green Hornet (2010)

There are real problems with this movie, and if you are in love with the action genre, you probably liked this movie even less--Roger Ebert called it painful to get through.
I saw it a little differently. It is walking the line between faithful adaptions of comic book heroes and 'Scott Pilgrim vs. The World'/'Kickass'. I personally much prefer the later to the former, which might explain why I didn't hate this movie.
First of all there is a first rate cast, and the two most talented members (Christopher Waltz and Tom Wilkinson) are really not utilized in any way commensurate with what they have to offer. Seth Rogan co-wrote the script, which may explain why he has the lion's share of the lines, and most of the good ones. Cameron Diaz has a role that makes her more than just a pretty face, which is never a bad thing (although both Rogan and his partner fail to value her mind over her more obvious attractions).
The part of the story that appealed to me is this--Britt Reid grows up the smart but spoiled son of a rich and powerful man. Where does that leave him? As is so often the case, when children are left big shoes to fill by their parents, they are ill-prepared to do just that, and so fail miserably. And they have no idea what it is that they want to do instead. They are drifters who no one feels sorry for because they so obviously have resources. True, this is not the curse that poverty presents. Far from it. But often they are also very unlikable, and they have difficulty finding happiness. Money helps with happiness--quite a bit--but it is not the solution, it just helps. So Reid is depicted as just such a man, and this is a dramatic attempt to find his bliss. There are plenty of car chases, explosions, tightly orchestrated fake fight scenes, and shooting to fill up the rest of the movie, but that's the part I liked best.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Morrocan Chickpea Soup

Yes, the summer is starting off on a good note--lots of legumes!
I like to cook the chickpeas myself, but canned will do for soup.
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion , chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp harissa
2 tsp ground cumin
add whatever vegetables are in season (squash, beans, greens)
6 c. stock
15 oz. chopped plum tomatoes
2 c. cooked chickpeas
zest and juice ½ lemon
cilantro or parseley for serving
Heat the oil in a large saucepan, then fry the onion, celery, garlic, and vegetables gently for about10 mins until softened. Add in the cumin and harissa and fry for another min.
Turn up the heat, then add the stock, tomatoes and chickpeas, plus a good grind of black pepper. Simmer for 8 mins. Add lemon juice, cook for another 1-2 mins. Season to taste, then top with a sprinkling of lemon zest and chopped herbs. Serve with bread.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I Love you, Phillip Morris (2010)

This movie is not an 'action comedy' as it is billed. It is a drama, and you need to approach it as such. It tells a story so bizarre that you would never believe it. In this case it is not a problem: It's a true story. There really is a Phillip Morris (not related to the tobacco company). He's a mild fellow, here played with a melting, trusting smile by Ewan McGregor. Morris was serving prison time (stemming from an arrest for an overdue rental car) when he had the cataclysmic bad luck to fall in love with Steven Russell, here played by Jim Carrey in a boundary-busting performance of spectacular intensity and believability.
Russell was in jail at the time for insurance fraud (the first of many times he is incarcerated). But ''fraud'' doesn't begin to describe the creative audacity with which the fellow conned his way through life, especially after he met Morris. (These days Russell is serving a 144-year sentence in a maximum-security facility in Texas.) He conned on such a huge scale and with such success that the magnitude of what he pulled off is staggering.
'I Love You Phillip Morris' pulls off the best scheme of all though, in my opinion. It dramatizes a relationship between two men in which homosexual love and sex is ardently enacted on screen in a finely tuned tour-de-force interplay between two movie stars, and makes it just another piece of the story. It is not a gay story. It is a story. And it soars. It's the beaming movie-star intensity of the complicated comic Carrey in the role of the dominant lover and Ewan McGregor as the gentle beloved that makes this unfettered, stranger-than-fiction picture pop.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal

I loved this memoir by Edmund De Waal, looking at his family's history through the eyes of the art that they collected and what happened to it. he is from a Jewish family in Odessa, that spread through Europe, traded in wheat and made wealth, then expanded their influence through banking and marriage to reach the heights of a society that money could buy, only to plunge during WWII.
He opens with a description of a collection of 264 netsuke that he has inherited, but were bought in the mid-1800's after perry opened Japan up to trade, and there was a European obession with all things Japanese. These small but exquisitely rendered toggles were part of Charles Ephrussi's art collection, and were palmed and handled by many well-known painters and writers of Charles's time--they were displayed prominently in his home for a time, and the author speculates about the role of the netsuke as the great impressionist painters rolled through Paris, and Charles began to collect their works as well.

Charles gives the nemsuke to his cousin Viktor in 1899 as a wedding present, and they left Paris for Vienna. The author thinks that the roccoco grandeur of Vienna might not have been well suited to the finely carved, weightless, and often unimpressive at first glance nemsuke, but they held a place of prominence there.
The story is nicely woven so that at the point when the Nazi's come and rampage through the Jewish community, destroying or stealing everything in their wake, we are emotionally invested in what happens to these small objet d'art. It is always painful to read accoutns of the atrocities that families endured, but this is a very unique, as well as hopeful way of telling that story. Wonderfully executed momoir.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Chickpea and Tuna Salad

1 can Tuna, drained and flaked
1 c. dry Chickpeas
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1/3 cup Red onion, diced
2 tablespoons Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1 tablespoon sherry wine vinegar
Garnish with parseley or basil leaves
Salt and Black Pepper to taste
Lemon Wedges, for serving

1. Soak the chickpeas in a saucepan of water overnight. Cook chickpeas until tender to the tooth. Drain.
2. In a medium bowl flake the tuna apart with a fork. Toss with the beans, garlic and onion. Add cooked chickpeas.
3. Add the olive oil, vinegar and basil, toss well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate to allow the flavors to develop.
4. Serve over salad greens and lemon wedges, if desired. Just a bowl alone is delicious.
For the last two summers I have failed to cook mostly grain, legume and vegetables, but this summer I am giving it yet another attempt. I have hardly cooked the past two months due to my move, but now that our house is on the market (which means we spend less time there, but not no time), I have a few spare moments at home and have managed to make some legumes. Of course, they are very easy to make, and I shouldn't feel so accomplished for having done so, but moving has sapped my strength on a daily basis, so I am undeservedly proud to have put together a simple and healthy salad.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Vida by Patricia Engel

I am not a lover of the short story, but the cheers that have heralded Patricia Engel's book are merited. I do like that the stories are linked, with the same narrator at different times in her life. Her story collection is lean and tight. Nothing really good happens, but nothing really terrible does either--the collection demonstrates that it is not necessary to build a book around something momentious. 'Vida' is an intriguingly dysfunctional quest for self that takes place within the context of immigrant and ethnic dilemmas.
As I noted, each story is narrated by the same character: a tall, fairly pretty Colombian American named Sabina. In chronologically shuffled order, we follow her from age 7 to 23. She is raised in New Jersey, in an apparently affluent household (her parents are ``new-money immigrants''). Later she moves to Miami, where four of the nine stories are set.
Lonely and aimless, Sabina attempts to fill the void with relationships. Her lovers are usually foreign; they come from Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Cuba, Hungary, Peru and Sweden. She seems to be working her way around the globe. (Only 185 countries to go!) One notable exception is Colombia. She refuses to hook up with her own kind, despite the efforts of ``the Colombian Diaspora dating network.'' It is aa new take on the well known American story of mixing your heritage into your new country, fitting in and not standing out, being accepted and yet drifting back to those who share your culture and feel more familiar.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Lobster Roll

Lobster meat, tail cut into smaller pieces, claws left whole
enough mayonnaise to hold it all together
Salt and freshly ground pepper
finely diced celery
fresh lemon juice
Pinch of cayenne pepper
split buns--the best you can find
2 tablespoons unsalted butter melted--to grill the buns
Boston lettuce leaves--one of each of these go into the bun before the lobster salad
When I was in Providence, Rhode Island for my son's college graduation, we ate at the Legal Seafood in Warwick. My parents, born and raised in Maine, wanted a little lobster before leaving New England and we all three had their lobster roll--heaven! The big chunks of lobster, along with a superior quality roll and enough lemon to make it taste bright and enough cayenne to add a bit of spice was really wonderful

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Tiger in the Kitchen by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tang

This book is about a journey, one woman's quest to reconnect with her family and her culture by way of traditional Singaporean food. I am taking my husband to Singapore to eat at the famous street food vendors for his 50th birthday next year, so I have a keener interest than most in the tales contained within this book, but it is well worth the read without that back drop.
Tan's debut memoir describes her connection between taste buds and memory. Two events in her life conspired to motivate her to connect with the food of her childhood--her parents' unexpected divorce and losing her job at the Wall Street Journal. Turning lemons into lemonade, the author took advantage of her newfound freedom to return home to Singapore, dedicating a year to culinary adventure. She hoped to reacquaint herself with both her family’s recipes and her family itself. Written in the tradition of a culinary memoir, the book is a recipe in itself—a dash of conjuring the ancient stories of one's past, conjoined with a sprinkling of culinary narrative. The result is a treat filled with Singaporean tradition, including the surprisingly significant role food plays in Singapore. Tan argues that stories themselves are a kind of sustenance, and that the oral tradition, like food, begins in the mouth and ends in the stomach--I am not sure I buy that hook, line, and sinker, but it is an interesting thought. She notes that her journey to Singapore was an attempt to retrace her grandmother's footsteps in the kitchen, but she includes her broader family in her search, and all of them yield information and traditions that go far beyond the recipes.
“Cooking wasn't a science; it wasn't meant to be perfect,” she writes. “It was simply a way to feed the people you loved.” For Tan, cooking functions as a connection to her family members, allowing her to serve all their stories in the proper portions. Recipes are included at the end of the book, and a restaurant guide is recommended within the pages.
A delightful take on the relationship between food, family and tradition--even if a trip to Singapore is not in your immediate future.

Monday, June 6, 2011


2 tablespoons butter
1 cup Italian rice
Pinch saffron, optional
1/3 cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper
1 cup grated Parmesan, plus extra for garnish
5 large eggs
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 pound ground lean beef
1/2 pound ground pork
5 large fresh sweet basil leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 ounces tomato sauce
2 1/2 cups boiling water, for rice, plus 1/2 cup water, for sauce
1 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup frozen or fresh peas
1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
2 cups vegetable oil
Melt butter in a large pot, pour in uncooked rice and cook for 2 minutes. Add saffron, if using and pour in wine until wine evaporates. Begin stirring in boiling water until rice is tender. Cook rice uncovered. Add salt and pepper, to taste. When rice is cooked take off heat, mix in cheese and 2 eggs. Place in refrigerator, covered, for 2 hours or overnight. Rice must be chilled.
In a large frying pan over medium heat add oil, saute onions and the chopped garlic for 2 minutes, add in the beef and pork, and brown. Remove excess grease. Add in basil, tomato paste, tomato sauce , water, and sugar until it all becomes thick in texture. Add peas while still warm, take off heat and set aside. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
Take 2 tablespoons of the rice mixture, place in hand and form a small cup.
Place 1/2 teaspoon of the meat mixture to center of the rice cup, add 1 teaspoon of the rice over the meat mixture and roll in a ball. Roll the rice ball in the remaining eggs and then roll that into the bread crumbs. Heat vegetable oil to 360 degrees F. Deep-fry rice balls until browned, place on a paper towel lined plate or dish.
Before serving garnish with cheese and/or the extra sauce.
At Jake's graduation we had these wonderful arborio rice balls at Cafe Dolce Vita on Federal Hill in Providence--delicious!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton

Subtitled "The Inadvertant Education of a Reluctant Chef", which does sum up this rhapsodic, profane, wonderful memoir. It is a mass of contradictions. She is a lesbian who married a man. She never wanted to be a chef, but she fell in love with a space in New York City that screamed 'bistro' to her, so much so that she was composing the menu in her head as she walked through it the very first time, despite the ruined state it was in at the time. She has a complicated relationship with her mother (as well as the rest of her family) yet she credits her mother with all her inspiration as a chef. But in the end she had two children, a mother-in-law she adored, an Italian heritage that she married into, and a bistro called 'Prune'.
Unlike many chef's memoirs, this book focuses more on her life than her restaurant. It reminds me of Ruth Reichel's memoir, "Comfort Me With Apples'--it is less about her relationship with food and more about her relationship with life. Which is fairly gritty at times. She had a mispent young--drugging, stealing, and the like--which she is not apologetic for (maybe she already managed to make amends with those who she feels she wronged before publishing this), and a strange marriage that she describes rather than analizes--which I like. I can manage the analysis, thank you very much. The book is well-written (the author has an MFA in writing, and it shows) and you leave it liking her and wanting to eat at 'Prune', to sample her hearty straight forward food. I ended up being impressed and intrigued.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

College Graduation

I am a big fan of college. For myself and for others. I have a reasonable amount of experience as the parent of college students, but my eldest child graduated from college recently, and this is a first for me. What does college graduation signify?
I think it meant several things to me, though I did not recognize most of them at the time that it happened. I knew that it was the end of an era--which was fairly short-lived. The 'era' is perhaps better looked at as a phase of development, but I definitely saw it as an era, and look back on it as such. I learned to function independently. Not financially exactly, but personally. I made decisions on my own and dealt with the benefits and consequences myself. I also learned to be an independent adult learner in college--when I want to know something more about somethign, I know how to pursue it. But more importantly, college made me want to continue to learn. It heightened my intellectual curiousity. Graduate school prepared me to make a living, but college prepared to live, and to enjoy my life.
My son graduated from my alma mater 30 years after I did, walking in the exact steps that I did, more or less, and as graduates of the college for the past 243 years have done. I did not feel so much nostalgic as I felt thankful that this phase is completed for him, and he can go on to the next, all the while hoping that he got out of it what he needed to. His dean proclaimed biology majors to be liberally educated, and I sincerely hope she is right.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

This is a wonderful book on many levels--it is amusing, educational, thought-provoking, and least of all, the story of Mr. Foer's rise in the memory contestant world is a good story.
he starts the book off with a description of memory methods, like the 'memory palace', which is a method known in olden times, according to Foer, first described by Simonides of Ceos around 500 B.C. The idea is to convert concepts into distinctive images-—the more lurid, the better (I won't go into them here, but the author provides many examples of what can be used)—-which they mentally place into actual locations they know well. Thus some people can memorize the order of a deck of cards in half a minute, look at 100 people and learn their names in 15 minutes--to name a few feats.
Mr. Foer became interested in high-recall individuals when he covered the U.S. Memory Championship as a journalist. He became curious about what drove contestants to master such a seemingly arcane skill--and how did they do it? Were they born with it, or did they practice, or was it a combination of the two? He wondered if he could do it, too. "Moonwalking With Einstein" chronicles the intense training he undertook to himself compete in the U.S. Memory Championship, introducing us along the way to memory researchers, mental athletes, and a few individuals with the innate ability to remember nearly everything.
Over the next year, Mr. Foer practiced daily, learning to expand his memory capabilities. Then he returned for more testing. His digit span had doubled, to around 18. His ability to remember the names of people met at a cocktail party was also much improved. Still, many parts of his memory were just average, and he was not immune from forgetting where he left his car--which was his baseline (proving hope for all of us).
The book jacket reveals this—-Mr. Foer eventually won the U.S. Memory Championship. Through the book we get to travel with him on this unlikely journey, and his entertaining treatment of memory as both sport and science is spot on. Mr. Foer introduces us not just to remarkably people but to a few who can't recall much at all (due to particular brain injuries).
In the end I agreed that human memory is complicated (ok, truthfully, I already knew that). "Moonwalking With Einstein" is an uplifting look at the whole concept. It shows that with motivation, focus and a few clever tricks, our minds can be taught to do rather extraordinary things.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Six Wives of Henry Lefay (2009)

Instead of the 'Six Wives of Henry the 8th' this is the 'Six Wives of Henry Lefay'. But the two Henry's are nothing alike in their marriage priorities. The king was trying to escape his genetics and have a son who could succeed him (never appreciating the daughter who would be one of England's greatest rulers), while henry Lefay is a philanderer, a man who should really just sleep around, not marry, but he is persistently compelled to possess his women through marriage, even though they cannot possess him (he has a pattern of sleeping with someone other than his wife on his wedding day).
So not a likable guy, right? Not so. He is very likable. Charming even. A guy you would feel lucky to be seated next to at a dinner party, because he is easy to talk to and would do all the heavy lifting. But he is definitely not spose material. he sees every jam he gets himself into as something not of his doing, and by the way, could somebody other than he break the bad news to those affected. And he has to run. In the midst of this movie it is his daughter that he aske to repeatedly get him off the hook, and that part is sad. The daughter does manage to deal with some of her anger towards her father and let go of some of that baggage, but Henry is out for Henry. He loves lots of people in his life, but he doesn't carry any responsibility for them. The reason I liked this movie is because there are so many Henrys out there and this one is a pitch perfect rendition of why they are so successful at what they do. Shallow, but successful. They collect people around them who repeatedly rescue them, and while the recuer knows they are being used, they can't seem to shake the impulse to do so.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend by James Hirsh

Willie Mays is one of the first baseball players I remember growing up in the Bay Area, but I really knew very little about him until I read this biography (which is the tail end of my efforts to read the notable non-fiction books off the New York Times list for 2010--not being a huge baseball fan, the three biographies of baseball players have fallen into the bottom of that reading pile).
The strength of this book is that there is a consistent protrayal of the kind of man Willie Mays was. He had a strong sense of how tenuous his position in baseball was--he wasn't the first black man, but he was amongst the first, and so he had to be extra cautious and careful, as well as being a superstar. He wasn't sure he had it in him, and he sought mentorship throughout the first half of his career to get through the ordeal psychologically. By nature he was not social, and avoided drinking and carousing, which probably kept him out of a certain kind of trouble.
The book does not give us much insight into Mays as a man rather than as a ballplayer. The part of the book that deals with Mays as a role model is the most insightful. Jackie Robinson criticized him throughout his career for not doing enough for African-Americans, but Mays felt like in his own quiet way, he did alot. He was approachable and not a prima donna. He signed autographs and he attended to fans. His charitable efforts were focused on children, and he had a nice way with them. At the end of the book the reader has a great deal of respect for Mays, and a sense of his integrity.