Saturday, December 31, 2011
Friday, December 30, 2011
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
* 2 slices of excellent bread
* 2 ounces chevre or other spreadable cheese--I like fresh sheep milk cheese
* 2 slices crisp-fried bacon (optional)
* 1-2 grilled poblano chilis
* 1 tablespoon apricot preserves
* 2 tablespoons butter
Slice each poblano in half lengthwise, and remove stem, ribs and seeds. Place cut-side-down on a baking sheet, and broil until skins blacken and blister, about five minutes. Remove poblano from broiler, and transfer immediately into a plastic bag or other sealed container. Seal and let steam until cool enough to handle, about 10-20 minutes. Remove blackened skins by pinching them between your thumb and forefinger, and discard.
Spread one of the slices of bread with the chevre. Top with roasted poblano peppers, then bacon. Spread the other piece of bread with the apricot preserves, and add to sandwich. Butter each side of the sandwich, and toast in saucepan over medium heat until bread is toasted, about 3-4 minutes a side--until a nutty brown color. Closer to black than tan is best--the bread is then both crunchy and chewy and the butter is nutty, which is the key to a successful grilled cheese.
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Before I moved into my new house I was not a big consumer of television. The TV might be off days, sometimes a week at a time, with great regularity. But somehow I was convinced that I needed it. And I paid dearly for that belief--with the high definition cable package and the DVR that went with it, about a $100 a month--which over the course of a year adds up to real money.
So I survived, even thrived. I cut my cable umbilical chord, and entered the world of what the internet has to offer those who seek it. We know so much more about what is streaming free of charge. Lots, it turns out. In the six months that I have lived a television free existence I have no regrets. No one has mentioned anything that I wish I could have seen. I have completely missed the inevitable ad blitz of the 2012 caucus run up, and that alone is something to be thankful for. But most importantly. I have discovered other sources of film and media that are far less costly than what broadband commands to have the privilege of having it enter your home. On the cost side, I am paying under $50 a month to have a combination of DSL and Netflix streaming--plus I get a landline to boot--so I can give a phone number to those who require one for their records, and keep my cell phone number for those who are really important to me. At a fraction of what I was paying before. But it isn't just the money. I am happier being disconnected from the things that TV brings with it (I will have to find a streaming video source for the 2012 Olympics, to be sure--I do have my weaknesses, after all).
Monday, December 26, 2011
Sunday, December 25, 2011
Saturday, December 24, 2011
I am a home cook--I am not someone who is running a restaurant kitchen. I have to cope with what is in the refrigerator, rather than shopping for each menu that I have planned. One of my real skills as a home cook is the ability to transform leftovers into something else entirely, something that will be eaten without any thought of what it's first life was like. The impetus is born of Depression era parents, who knew food shortages and are loath to waste anything. Transforming wilted vegetables into something both nutritious and delicious was a part of their upbringing, along with foraging and fishing. The single best way to transform leftovers is to make a soup. Starting with homemade stock is a big help in this endeavor, but not entirely necessary (we have a bag of poultry parts and bones in the freezer that we add to, and when there are enough of them to produce a stock, we empty it out and start again--the whole waste not, want not philosophy I grew up with rearing it's head again). I often take two or three leftover dishes that have lost their appeal (a vegetable side dish or two, and any meat that is leftover) and transform them into a soup--occasionally adding additional ingredients. The latest version was leftover turkey, some pasta with pesto, and assorted sauteed vegetables that had outlast their welcome in the refrigerator. Delicious! The one problem with this is that while the soup is often delicious, it is often not reproducible. I always say, "Love it or hate it, you will never have it again." On the other hand, you don't get tired of it. Here today, gone tomorrow.
Friday, December 23, 2011
The London Train is another Tessa Hadley novel about family relationships--the main characters are sandwiched between their adult children and their infirmed and then dead parents. Middle-age dilemmas sprinkled with matter-of-fact sexual infidelities are the name of the game in this novel. In the novel's first part, we follow Paul, a writer who lives in Wales and is well into his second marriage, though still picking up the pieces from his first. He is searching for, and finds, his 'missing' daughter--she is not so much misplaced as she is avoiding her parents, and it is her father, not her mother, that she chooses to share what is going on in her life that she has left school and left them. In the second, shorter part, we follow Cora, wife of a senior civil servant who has fled back to her hometown of Cardiff following the failure of her marriage, in which the same Paul played a starring role. This folding structure suggests a symmetry that the novel eschews: it is not clear, for example, how the relationship between Paul and Cora affects, if at all, Paul's story of searching for his adult daughter who has gone missing. But I would count this asymmetry among the novel's more mature virtues, which include absolute lack of predictability and scrupulous sincerity. Cora and Paul are decidedly upper middle class--in their life-styles, in their prejudices, and in their world view. The problem is that someone forgot to tell Paul's daughter to follow those rules, and she does not. The book is strongest (for my taste) in the telling of Paul's story, but the interweaving of two tales is well written and well done. The London Train is a novel of convalescence, in which its middle-aged characters are recovering from their parents' deaths, and this convalescence reveals to Cora that "to treasure up relics from every phase of her life as it passed, as if it were holy" was "a falsely consoling model of experience". Now she feels that the "present was always paramount, in a way that thrust you forward: empty, but also free". She may be onto something.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Monday, December 19, 2011
Sunday, December 18, 2011
This was a surprise favorite from the 8 cakes my friend Ivy and I made to try for my eldest son's wedding. The recipe is from Sherry Yard's 'Secrets of Baking' cookbook, and it is divine
* 1 cup (8 oz/227 g) unsalted butter
* 1 plump vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
* Nonstick cooking spray with flour
* 1-1/4 cups (3.8 oz/108Flour) g) almond flour or ground almonds
* 3/4 cup (3 oz/85 g) spooned and leveled cake flour
* 2-1/2 cups (10 oz/283 g) confectioners' sugar
* 1/8 teaspoon (pinch) salt
* 8 large egg whites (8 oz/227 g), room temperature
* 1 cup (3.2 oz/92 g) sliced unblanched almonds
* 3 tablespoons (1.5 oz/43 g) butter, melted
* 3 tablespoons (45 ml) melted and strained orange marmalade, for glaze
1. Place 1 cup (8 oz/227 g) butter in a heavy saucepan. With the tip of a small knife, scrape some of the inside of the vanilla bean into the butter and add the bean to the butter. Heat over medium-low heat until the dairy solids settle to the bottom and begin to brown to a deep gold, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat, take out the vanilla bean, and allow to cool to room temperature. The butter needs to be melted, but not hot.
2. Arrange a shelf in the lower third of the oven with a baking stone on it and preheat the oven to 350°F/177°C. Spray small round or rectangular pans, miniature savarin rings, or small barquette pans with nonstick cooking spray with flour.
3. Spread half of the almond flour in a baking dish and roast until golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes.
4. With a mixer, beat together on low speed for at least 30 seconds the almond flour, cake flour, confectioners' sugar, and salt. Add the egg whites all at once and beat on medium speed for 3 minutes. Dump in all of the melted vanilla butter, scraping the bottom of the pan to get all of the browned bits. Beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and across the bottom of the mixing bowl at least once.
5. Pour into the prepared pans. In the photograph insert we used fluted individual tins. Place on the hot baking stone and bake until the small cakes are lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes.
6. In a small skillet, toss the almond slices with the melted butter and heat with constant stirring until lightly browned.
7. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans on a rack for about 5 minutes, and then carefully remove from the pans and place on the rack to cool completely. Invert the little cakes one at a time out of the pan and place the cakes on a baking sheet. Brush the cake bottoms (now tops) with strained marmalade for a shiny glaze. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds and glaze the top of the almonds too.
8. This batter keeps in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. It is actually better made a day ahead. Before using, stir the batter well, scraping the bottom, and beat for 1 minute by hand or with a mixer to warm up and blend together well.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
Friday, December 16, 2011
I rarely write about my addiction to BBC murder mysteries. I freely admit the failing, but I am not particularly interested in trumpeting it far and wide. It is a quiet addiction. I am making an exception for 'Foyle's War' because there is a bit more to it. The thing that sets it apart isn’t the detective stories, which are as average formulaic as those in any other British period mystery and sometimes hard pressed to seem even plausible. It excels in it's historical time setting--World War II in the south of England. It has the astonishing level of historical detail and atmosphere that the show’s creator, Anthony Horowitz, and his team have brought to the show’s milieu — the town of Hastings (I have some historical connection to the Battle of Hastings, so I am fond of the setting), on the south coast of England, during World War II. Not to mention that the script is smart and brisk and beezy in all the ways you would hope for. I have just finished the 5th season, which is when the war is wrapping up. The character's in the series are what make it. Michael Kitchen’s quietly compelling performance as Christopher Foyle, the extremely buttoned-down but testy police inspector whose passions for justice and tolerance animate the stories, and the easy chemistry among him and his two foils, Anthony Howell as Sergeant Milner and especially Honeysuckle Weeks as the steadfast driver Samantha Stewart. The three of them allow us to see the problems that war presents. Half the population is off fighting the war--the half that are left at home are a mixed bunch, and stressed by their situation. The bombings are frequent, unpredictable, and people are burnt, maimed, killed, and left homeless by them. Women who have never worked are now in the workforce in droves. No one is sure how they feel about that. And then to top it off, despite the fact there is a war going one, people insist on behaving badly--some of them it is just business as usual, some are taking advantage of the situation the war presents, and some are unaware that the behavior they used to know as bad is now treason. It is a great medium for thinking about the emotional aspects of WWII, all the while enjoying the drama.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
The movie is seen through the eyes, the sensibility and the inevitably somewhat ambiguous life experience of Oliver (Ewan Macgregor), a 38 year old single man. When the film opens, the year is 2003, and Oliver's father, Hal (Christopher Plummer), a retired museum director, has just died of cancer at the age of 79. Who is gay. Something Oliver did not know until his mother died when his father was 75, and came out. He was married to Oliver's mother for 44 years but that wasn't the real him. As Oliver tells us, Georgia checked in her Jewishness and Hal his homosexuality at the altar. Now that she is gone, he is ready to be really truely out there in your face gay. And he does a brilliant job of it.
When Hal comes out of the closet he shocks his easily shocked son with his frankness. Hal finds a younger lover, Andy (Goran Visnjic), through an encounter column, and throws himself into the gay community and its politics. He then enjoys a remarkable Indian summer of happiness before stoically living with cancer in his final months, which Oliver nurses him through, all the while taking in this new father image.
In the midst of the grief he is feeling for the loss of his father, he is trying to bring what he learned from his father into his new relationship with a woman (Mélanie Laurent), which makes you cringe and laugh at the same time.
Beginners is funny, moving, and it draws you in. The acting is beyond reproach, with Christopher Plummer bringing delightful wit, compassion and unsanctimonious grace to the role of Hal. In its quiet, unostentatious way, it's one of the best films I've seen about the World War II generation's experience of living through and responding to the profound social changes of the past 60+ years.
Monday, December 12, 2011
Eco, an academic, takes on freemasonry, conspiracy theories, forgery and the unification of Italy amongst other things in this latest novel, but at its core is anti-semitism and perhaps the most famous – and certainly the most pernicious – forgery in the world: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The main character of Eco’s novel, the fictitious* Simone Simonini, whom he describes as ‘the most hateful man in the world’, is a master forger in the employ of various secret services. Fueled by anti-semitism, he concocts the ultimate conspiracy theory, where a mythic meeting of the elders of Zion takes place in the Jewish cemetery in Prague, detailing their nefarious plan to rule the world.
It’s not the first time that Eco has examined conspiracy theories, or indeed the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but this time the focus in particular on the most famous anti-semitic conspiracy theory, and his choice of a convinced anti-semitic protagonist has raised objections. I found it disturbing--both the text and the numerous lithographs that he includes in the book. it is just hard to read that much vitriol from a character and have it left unbalanced by anything else. There is no real opposing view--the reader is left to that job.
Sunday, December 11, 2011
I was moved to quarrelsomeness this past week. The provovation was relatively minor. A friend of mine posited on his Facebook wall that a child raised by same-sex parents who trumpets his normalcy is undesirable--that we should hope for better.
The video on youtube of Zach Wahls testifying before the Iowa legislature against an amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman in February, 2011 went viral, and continues to enjoy elevated popularity, as does the man himself.
He describes himself as being a regular guy--a straight guy, with academic accomplishments, community invovlement, and he is clean cut good looking to boot. The point being that being raised by two women didn't change anything about who he was. They raised a child you would be proud to call your own. And that really resonated with people.
My friend, who has been a long time proponent of marriage equality as well as raising an openly gay child, was unhappy about that. His main objection is why should the focus be on normalcy? Why not celebrate differences. if kids raised by gay parents are different, if they don't fit our preconceived ideas of what is a 'good kid', is that a bad thing? Would that mean that we should be against gay marriage?
Well, I see his point, I do. But I am not the audience you need to convince. That audience is a group of people who are not well known for valuing differences, and for them, Zach Wahls is hard to reckon with--he is an Eagle Scout, for goodness sake. So I was moved to defend ordinary and normal as acceptable and perhaps even valuable attributes, especially for someone who might feel different to begin with. But it will be nice when no one is surprised that kids raised by gay parents have all the pluses and minuses of kids raised by straight parents. That will be a good day.
Saturday, December 10, 2011
I love the technique that I learned when I decorated some of my cut out cookies this year. In order to get this kind of coverage with royal icing, you need to pipe the outline around the cookies edge, then flood the cookie and spread it out to fill up the space. It takes about 5-10 minutes per cookie, depending on it's size, and the speed and dexterity of the person doing the decorating.
As an alternative, you can make the royal icing a bit thicker (the rule of thumb is that it should take about 6-7 seconds for a drop of the icing to meld back into the bowl. I am not a big fan of royal icing--sweet and boring--not a great flavor combination--but kids love it. You put enough royal icing in a pie plate to a thickness of about 1/2" . Using gel icing coloring, put about 4-5 drops of coloring into the pie pan--one at a time, in a circle about halfway between the middle of the pie plate and the edge.
To decorate, dip the cookie into the royal icing at a colored drop--when you pull the cookie up, that motion alone creates the swirls of color. Because the icing is a bit on the thick side, you have to kind of shake the excess icing off the cookie, then lay it on a cookie rack to dry completely--in a dry environment it takes 1-2 hours for them to dry enough to put them into cookies containers.
I decorated 6 dozen cookies in about 30". Hard to beat that!
Friday, December 9, 2011
The kids in this book have been raised by wolves. Wolves who smoke pot. Wolves who turn on, tune out, and the drop out. Hippies who never got over it, but decided to bring kids into the picture. They leave behind children who are emotionally not able to cope with the 21st century. They have grown up with poverty, drugs, poor sexual boundaries and then are cast adrift into a complicated and problematic world.
The book revolves around the lives of four characters: Jude, Teddy, Eliza and Johnny. Jude's father left when he was nine, after telling the young boy that he was adopted. Nice parting shot. Later someone tell shim that he has the physical signs of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, that the 16 year old who gave him up for adopHe left him with his mother, who makes glass bongs for a living. She has some very lax rules about drug use in the house, as you might imagine. Jude's friend Teddy has a mother who is a drunk and a drug addict and leaves town on the day we meet him, which is also the day he dies. Jude and Teddy are best friends, both fifteen and doing every reckless drug they can get hold of— marijuana, cocaine, mushrooms, alcohol, petroleum distillate, turpentine and Freon, which is the one that kills Teddy.
But not before Eliza, the daughter of Jude's father's girlfriend, comes for a visit to their Vermont town on that New Year's Eve and makes love with Teddy in the bathroom of a party house just hours before he dies. And gets pregnant. Which rocks the world of Jude, and Teddy's brother, Johnny. The book is about the dysfunctional way these three teenagers deal with Teddy's death and Eliza's pregnancy, against the dysfunctional way that their parents deal with them, and with their lives in general. Well written and recommended.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
I have been so happy in my new house that I have been hard pressed to find a reason to leave it. On the one hand, great to love you environs, but on the other, it is good to get out and mingle with the rest of the world on occasion.
So I am particularly happy that some friends driving by my house called and offered to take me to see Stan Fellows' art showing. He is an immensely talented artist, and he has recently moved to a rural setting in River Junction, where he has gotten a lot of the inspiration for his recent paintings.
I mentioned to Stan that I didn't get out much these days, and he laughed and said the same charge could be leveled at him--he doesn't even have to leave home to work, and he has no more neighbors than I do (although I did see someone walk by his living room window while I was there, and that has not happened at my house).
What is his solution? He paints at Hope House, a place where patients and their families can stay while they are getting cancer treatment at the hospital. He says it is a win-win for everyone. The patients love to watch him work, and talk with him about everything you can imagine. He gets regularly scheduled time to paint, and lots of feedback on his work.
People who are diagnosed with serious life altering illness find that lots of their friends and family tend to pull away from them. Consciously people do not think that these illnesses are contagious, but a natural reaction is avoid contact with people who are undergoing things that are too painful for one to deal with. So besides having a scary illness, you are isolated and all alone. Stan is not only a great painter, but he is counterbalancing that phenomenon. He is choosing to enter people's lives when they are sick, and he is providing entertainment, comfort, and beauty, all in one fell swoop. Check out Stan's blog (click on the title to get to it) and see what wonderthings he is painting
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
I just saw Seth Mnookin speak at a national meeting about this book, which I read in preparation for his talk. He tackles the topic of vaccine safety, focusing primarily on the alleged connection between vaccines and autism as the center of his exploration, but does cover other reasons people avoid vaccines, and then closes with the consequences of not vaccinating children--both for those who chose that route, but also for those who are innocent bystanders--like children who are too young for a particular vaccine.
Mr. Mnookin is impressed that so many well-educated Americans are so deeply skeptical of established power. Whether the target is agribusiness, Big Pharma or the government, citizens who benefit most from "the system" are concluding not only that it's broken, but also that it's out to harm us as well. He became intrigued with this paradoxical social phenomenon after attending a dinner party in 2008. At this gathering he listened to a first-time father explain that he was delaying his infant's measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine on the grounds that he felt it was unsafe. According to what system of logic, Mnookin wondered, would an otherwise sensible man with absolutely no medical authority feel vaccination was unsafe? And why were so many intelligent people who "lived in college towns like Ann Arbor and Austin" eschewing standard pediatric procedures based on gut feelings rather than hard evidence?
That and subsequent conversations led him down the path to this book, a meticulously researched investigation into the popular belief that certain vaccines can cause autism. Combining narrative talent (so you can actually enjoy and understand the facts you are presented with) with assiduous reporting he explores "a manner of thinking" that not only runs "counter to the principles of deductive reasoning," but also threatens those of us who vaccinate our kids.
It takes guts to write a book informing a group of aggrieved parents that they're wrong about the source of their child's disorder. While Mnookin is consistently respectful of the emotional pain that autism can cause, he pulls no punches. Balancing sensitivity and science, he makes a devastating case that parents who reject vaccines for fear of autism are "casualties of a war built on lies." And he has become a target of zealous parents who passionately believe he is wrong, and has damaged their world with his assertion that there is no connection.
Mnookin tells his story from an impressive number of angles, but his primary emphasis centers on the social-psychological processes underscoring the widespread misperception that vaccines cause autism. At the core of his analysis is a basic scientific truism, one that we tend to forget: It's virtually impossible to immunize millions of people without experiencing a small percentage of random adverse reactions. Put simply, some kids are always going to react badly to their "jabs." Sometimes very badly. But overall the risk is greatly outweighed by the benefit, and Mnookin includes several heartbreaking stories of people whose children died as a result of not being vaccinated.
The story is a good one, and it is well told. In his talk, Mnookin admited that there is no convincing those who adamantly believe their children were damaged by vaccines, but does have some suggestions to help battle the growing number of parents skeptical about vaccines--one good one, I thought, was to have information groups for parents prenatally where they could talk about vaccines, their concerns and address them before they are incredibly sleep deprived and have to bring their infants into the doctor's office at 2 months of age for the first round of immunizations. The book is a great contribution to public health.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
I like this recipe from King Arthur for a less intense spice cookie. I started my holiday baking and these were amongst the first round favorites.
* 1/2 cup butter
* 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
* 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
* 1/2 cup granulated sugar
* 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
* 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
* 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
* 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice or ground cloves
* 3/4 teaspoon salt
* 1 large egg
* 2 tablespoons molasses
* 3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
* 3 tablespoons cornstarch
1) In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the butter, shortening, sugars, baking powder, spices, and salt until light and fluffy.
2) Add the egg and molasses, and beat well.
3) Mix about half of the flour into the butter mixture. When well combined, add the cornstarch and the remaining flour.
4) Divide the dough in half, flattening each half slightly to make a disk. Smooth the edges by rolling the disk along a lightly floured work surface. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour (or longer), for easiest rolling.
5) Preheat the oven to 350°F.
6) Take one piece of dough out of the refrigerator, and flour a clean work surface, and the dough.
7) Roll it out as thin or thick as you like. For slightly less crisp cookies, roll it out more thickly. We like to roll these cookies 1/8" to 1/4"inch thick. Use flour under and on top of the dough to keep it from sticking to the table or rolling pin.
8) Alternatively, place the dough on parchment, and put a sheet of plastic wrap or another piece of parchment over it as you roll, pulling the plastic or parchment to eliminate wrinkles as necessary when rolling; this will keep dough from sticking without the need for additional flour.
9) Transfer the cookies to baking sheets.
10) Bake them just until they're slightly brown around the edges, or until they feel firm, about 10 to 12 minutes.
11) Remove the cookies from the oven, and let them cool on the baking sheet for several minutes, or until they're set. Transfer them to a rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.
Yield: 3 to 4 dozen 2 1/2" to 3" cookies.
Monday, December 5, 2011
Greenblatt makes the argument that Lucretius’s “De rerum natura” (“On the Nature of Things”), unearthed, after centuries of being lost, in an unknown monastery by the book hunter Poggio Bracciolini in 1417, allowed European civilization to edge away from the religiosity of the Christian Middle Ages and move into a world view that is increasingly secular. Or at the very least it influenced people who made the 'swerve' away from a stalwart belief in the supremacy of the Church to a belief in science.
The book-length Latin poem, written in the 1st century B.C. by the Roman poet, is so remarkably beautiful and gripping, without being any less a didactic work of Epicurean philosophy, one that sets forth a resolutely materialist view of “the nature of things.” According to Lucretius, the gods may exist, but they are utterly indifferent to humankind. Atoms — very much like our modern idea of atoms — are the sole building blocks of the cosmos. Because the atoms occasionally wobble or swerve as they fall through space, collisions result, and from these collisions various complicated, sophisticated agglomerations are created, including people. Souls do not exist, and there is no afterlife. When we eventually die, our atoms disperse and our particular selves utterly disappear. Consequently, it is foolish to fear death since, in effect, we’ll never know we’re dead. Instead, we should simply enjoy this world and relish its pleasures (of which sex is a prominent example). The most truly wise, advice Lucretius makes is for the quiet enjoyment of plain but good food, the conversation of friends, an existence far removed from ambition.
Sunday, December 4, 2011
We are blessed with a variety of Japanese and Asian fusion restaurants in our area, and while many of them are very good, this is the one we choose to go to for Sunday dinners, with or without our kids. Why? A couple of reasons. The first is that this is the most consistant Japanese restaurant in the area. What do I mean by consistant? I mean that when you order the same item off the menu, you know exactly what you are going to get. You can expect the dishes that you order on subsequent visits to be recognizable from the dish you had on your first visit. That is a plus, especially when you are dining with children that are not all that flexible. WHich you might not have a problem with but I do, in so many different ways...one won't eat fish, one will only eat fish, one will eat the rice, the miso soup, and the salad, but all bets are off about anything else. Restaurant choices that match each and every one of them that also meet my needs are not necessarily an easy find.
Why do we like to go on Sundays? First, it is the end of one week and on the cusp of another--if we haven't seen our out-of-the-house kids all week, it is a nice day to catch up with them. We usually cook a dinner on Sunday at our house, but we will occasionally go out--especially if we have been cooking aall week for other events. But our choice of Konomi on Sunday is simple--that is when they have a discount on sushi rolls. An added plus for a restaurant we already enjoy.
Saturday, December 3, 2011
I loved this book that gives a longitudinal view of what effect Columbus' discovery of the Americas had on the world at the time, and then going forward. He picks a few things that are American to illustrate his overall point that this was a major turning point in civilization. I spent all last year helping my high school tenth grader with AP World History, so I had the nuts and bolts down ahead of reading this, but the way Mann fills in the gaps is wonderful.
In the four major sections of the book, he takes us around the Atlantic (with tobacco and malaria), the Pacific (with silver, piracy and corn), Europe (with potatoes, pesticides and rubber) and Africa (with race and slave rebellions). It is that sweeping, even using a limited number of examples. The conclusions he draws may not be universally agreed with, but his perspective on how each thing covered had an immediate effect, and then what the longer range view might be is a wonderful--and not dry--way to view historical influences that might be functioning today. The role of China on the world stage has waxed and waned over the past three thousand years, and to be able to see the recent re-emergence as part of a pattern over centuries rather than coming out of nowhere is very interesting.
Friday, December 2, 2011
I have done this several times over the last couple of years, but over Thanskgiviing weekend we did a blind tasting of 3 white wines, 2 rose, and 4 red wines that we might serve at my eldest son's wedding nest summer.
The key element is to disquise the wine--the best is to take wrapping paper and cover the bottle from top to bottom. This is critical because it eliminates any preconceived notions that you have about the wine and allows you to really focus on the elements that you like and don't like about each wine without using previously awuired knowledge in the mix. Prior to the wraping, mark each wine label with the number or letter you are going to assign to the bottle on the outside of the wrapping, as well as the price. Put the idenitfier on the outside of the wrapping (bt not the price) and proceed with tasting. If you are going to be serving the wine with food, have some variety of things to nibble on with the wine, so you can get a sense of what it will taste like on it's own and with a meal.
Since you may not have an idea of the character of each wine, it is nice (but not bnecessary) to have someone else weigh in on the tasting order. We tried the whites together first, followed by the roses, and then the reds. We did not find a rose we liked (we all agreed we had better ones in the past, and would need to repeat this process down the road--oh dear :-). We found a white we were ok with but not in love with, so the search may continue there as well. We found two reds we loved (one of which, when unwrapped, was a perennial favorite--but it won, fair and square), and our work is done there.
Once the tasting has been done and discussed, and a consensus has been reached, unwrap the bottles. Then you can go about tasting them further, seeing whether the favorites hold up to further tasting. It is a great process for choosing mid-range priced wine for an event that is very fun for the hosts of the big event to get input from others, and have a little mini-party to boot.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
We had a wonderful dinner to try potential wines and desserts for my eldest son's wedding next summer, and in between the two, we had an Italian meal of risotto and chicken piccata--both are simple foods, easy to prepare, and delicious.
* 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
* salt and pepper
* All-purpose flour, for dredging
* 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
* 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
* 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
* 1/2 cup chicken stock
* 2 Tbs. capers
* 1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
Season chicken with salt and pepper. Pound the chicken to about 3/4" thick. Dredge chicken in flour and shake off excess.
In a large skillet over medium high heat, butter and olive oil. When they start to sizzle, add 2 pieces of chicken and cook for 3 minutes. When chicken is browned, flip and cook other side for 3 minutes. Remove and transfer to plate.
Into the pan add the lemon juice, stock and capers. Return to stove and bring to boil, scraping up brown bits from the pan for extra flavor, and reducing the sauce by half. Check for seasoning. Return all the chicken to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove chicken to platter. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter to sauce and whisk vigorously. Pour sauce over chicken and garnish with parsley.