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Friday, August 31, 2012

Bonnie Raitt at Red Rocks

I traveled to my favorite outdoor music venue, Red Rocks, in Morrison, Colorado recently to see Bonnie Raitt perform with various band members, many of whom have been with her two decades or more.   Wow, she was fantastic.  Mesmerizing, as one of my fellow concert goers noted.  She has a fantastic voice, a great band, and she played a nice mixture of songs from her present album (one of which I liked) to her past work (which I loved).

I hadn't seen her perform since 1978, even though I like her music very much. The coffee house that I worked at and eventually managed in college, called 'Big Mother' (who knew that I would later becomes an amply proportioned mother myself), had a modest sized record collection, and my favorite of them all was Bonnie Raitt's 'Green Light'. That was my introduction to her music, and she was impressive on it. She had a great voice then as well, and she was (and still is) one of the few women who front a band who plays guitar.

Nothing has changed.  Her stage presence is impressive, and she dedicated several songs throughout the evening to various members of the audience, which made her seem like a nice person as well.  At least she is generous.  The setting was equally spectacular.  We had a long and winding journey up to the venue--plenty of time to contemplate the gorgeous vistas along the way, while my engineer-to-be son described the geology of what we were taking in.  The amphitheater is quite a hike up a hill (from a parking area we felt very fortunate to be able to find our way back to), but it is well worth the effort.  Red rocks form the sides and front of the venue, and it was a gorgeous night with an almost full moon.  Such a treat to hear wonderful music in such a spectacular setting.  Everyone should go there at least once!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pink Grapefruit and Radicchio Salad With Dates and Pistachios

2 pink or red grapefruits
2 medjool dates, pitted and thinly sliced
1/2 medium shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
 Fine sea salt, to taste
1 small head radicchio, halved and cored
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped pistachio nuts
Freshly ground black pepper.

1. Slice the top and bottom off one of the grapefruits. Stand it up on a cut side and, using a small sharp knife, slice off the peel and pith, following the curve of the fruit. Save the peels (there should be some red fruit clinging to the pith). Repeat with the other grapefruit. Slice both grapefruits into quarter-inch-thick rounds and arrange on a platter. Evenly sprinkle the dates on top. 2. Squeeze the juice from the grapefruit peel into a small bowl. You should have about a tablespoon. If there is less, squeeze some from one of the grapefruit slices. Add the shallot and a pinch of salt; let sit for 5 minutes. 3. Meanwhile, thinly slice the radicchio and add to a bowl. Add the shallot and grapefruit juice and toss to combine. Toss in 3 tablespoons of the oil. 4. Sprinkle grapefruit slices with salt and drizzle with the remaining oil. Place a mound of the radicchio in the middle of the grapefruit, leaving a border of the fruit exposed. Sprinkle with pistachios and black pepper and serve immediately.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Barchester Towers (1982)

I have an unswerving adoration for BBC dramas, and I am working on seeing quite a few of them this year--both old and new. This one is an adaptation of an Anthony Trollope story, published in the mid nineteenth century, by the same name. The basic story is this. Barchester Towers concerns the leading citizens of the imaginary cathedral city of Barchester in England, as well as the rising tension between this High Church and Evangelicals. The story begins with a scandal involving a popular clergy, Septimus Harding. He is the target of a newspaper campaign to discredit him (and the High Church), which upsets him greatly, and so while he has done nothing wrong, he leaves his well paid post and retires to a modest church with an equally modest salary--quite happily. His daughter marries the man who started the problem, but who then worked tirelessly to right the matter. As this is a long story, lots of bad things must happen, so her happiness is short lived--he dies, but leaves her very well off.

Then the much loved bishop also dies, and all expectations are that his son, Archdeacon Grantly, also a clergyman, will gain the office in his place. Grantly is not very likable, but he is not corrupt, and provides a middle ground for the story, which pits the good against the not so good. Instead, owing to the passage of the power of patronage to a new Prime Minister, a newcomer, the far more Evangelical Bishop Proudie, gains the see. His wife, Mrs Proudie, exercises an undue influence over the new bishop, making herself unpopular with right-thinking members of the clergy and their families. She is one of the not-so-good characters, and she has groomed Obadiah Slope to be her right-hand clergy. He is even more unlikable (aptly played by Alan Rickman, who shows that he could produce a permanent sneer long before he portrayed Professor Snape).  The series borders on 7 hours, so there are many ups and downs, intrigues that go well and those that go wrong--but ultimately there is a very satisfactory ending.  No tragedy!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Gold by Chris Cleave

The front story in this book is about the lives of elite competitors who train for the Olympics as if it were the most important thing. And for them it largely is. The reasons behind that are far ranging, from the need for attention, love of the sport, the thrill of competition, to just plain broken people who can't for the life of them interact with others and the loneliness of the long distance trainer suits them because it fills up that emptiness. This story layers a few complications onto the pile--there is the competition between two closely matched cyclists, Kate and Zoe. Zoe is the stone cold athlete, while Kate has softer edges and while she might not win quite as much, she is happier and more likable. There is a love triangle between Zoe, Kate, and another cyclist, Jack. That remains complicated throughout the book, because while the romance might have gotten sorted out long ago, the connections remain. Then there is Sophie, a daughter who was born around the Athens Olympics, was diagnosed with leukemia at the Beijing Olympics, and relapses before the London Olympics. Such timing this child has. The survivor issues of childhood cancer don't get consideration in this story, the emotional complications that children and families undergo when childhood cancer strikes is right on target.   I have a personal connection with childhood cancer, in the form of my youngest son, so I enjoyed seeing it inserted into a novel, and very much enjoyed this story.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Szechuan House, Iowa City

I live in a college town--70,000 residents, 30,000 students. Those of us who teach and live here do outnumber those who study here, but not by a landslide. One of the great advantages to such a population is that it allows for lots of inexpensive dining options. Some of that is pizza and sandwich places, but the third bonanza is in ethnic food. My university town has a substantial Asian student population and the uninformed might think that we would have ample restaurant options for Chinese and Southeast Asian food. The later is more or less true, but the former is wrong. We have one restaurant that is too authentic for me--I have no idea what to order and what comes is outside of what is accessible to my palate. The rest of the Chinese restaurants are just okay. That is, up until now. The Szechuan House is a cut above the rest. There are clunkers on the extensive menu, but there are real gems, food that is flavorful and spicy and like nothing I have ever made at home. The Spicy and Crispy Shrimp arrives under an impressive pile of red chilies and is sprinkled throughout with Szechuan peppercorns--two kind of spicy. But wait, there's more--there are scallions and sliced garlic as well. It is a delicious and balanced dish. Another favorite was the shredded pork with pickled peppers (also hot). The dish has three kinds of peppers, and the spicy flavors were again layered, aromatic and delicious. The green bean and the eggplant dishes are also fantastic. More importantly, when I am there people are ordering things that I have never seen before and they look delicious--the Gan Guo (dry braised in hot pot), black curded bean, and Gan Zai (braised in hot pot) are intriguing, and so much more. I want to walk around and ask people what that dish is (and there are many tables filled with people eating communally with a lazy susan in the middle to facilitate sharing. Such a great addition to the local dining scene!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

All the Children Became Adults

After 24 years of parenting children, we find ourselves without any actual children. Our youngest turned 18, and while we afford all four of our offspring some form of financial support, they are no longer legally children. So what does that mean? If we are still laying out cash, has our role really changed all that much. We are still their parents. Well, I think it does mean something. The process of transitioninig to an adult relationship between parent and child is complex, and no less prone to pitfalls than any of the other stages that the relationship goes through. I have seen a lot of things that I don't want to do, and not enough examples of what I would like to see happen. Mostly I am just caught off guard. I could easily have anticipated this. But I didn't translate my youngest turning 18 to 'we no longer have children'. Adult offspring sounds so much older than I feel--but as they say, if the shoe fits, wearing it seems most appropriate. This week has made me think of something someone said to me when my children were still in grammar school. I ran into her at a party, and I asked the ever polite question about how things had been going. She sighed, and said they had spent a week with her family, followed immediately by a week with her husband's family. She noted on the one hand that it was good to see them, and that there had been no major dramas, but that on the other hand it really hadn't been much of a vacation. More of an obligation and less about relaxation. And then came the kicker. She asked me how we could avoid having our children feel this way about us. Oh no. I have no idea. Maybe it is inevitable, that the nature of the relationship doesn't lend itself to that experience. But it is good to keep this in mind. How to make our relationship about enjoyment of each other. That is the challenge. A good reminder that even though parents have been raising children since the beginning of time, there are no manuals about how to do it right.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

NPR subtitled this book 'Love in the Time of Cancer', which really does sum it up. John Green writes books for young adults, but he is not one to gloss over the more difficult aspects of growing up, and this book is no exception to that rule. here's the story. Hazel Grace Lancaster is a 16 year old who has had a well below average junior high to high school life. She was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at 13, and she left school, never to return. When we meet her she is battling metastases that have rendered her breathless. She is in a kind of limbo, where she knows her condition is terminal, but the experimental chemotherapy is keeping the tumors in her lungs more or less under control, but the damage is done, she is on oxygen, and we know where this is heading. She doesn't seem particularly depressed to me, but her doctors send her to a support group and there she meets Augustus Waters. He was a wildly popular boy who had an osteosarcoma and lost his leg. But that is not why he is there. He is there to support his friend Isaac, who presumably has retinoblastoma, and is about to lose his second eye. You get the idea. All the kids have cancer. So they are all facing very significant illnesses and disabilities, which are usually reserved for adults. But the truth is that kids do face these things. Hazel and Augustus fall in love and support each other through the travails of their illnesses--unlike your usual high school love affair, they share Augustus' Make-A-Wish trip, for example. But the emotions that they experience are what you would expect for their age. It is just that the situations they grapple with are usually reserved for those of us who are closer to our twilight years. I have a childhood cancer survivor, and all my children have friends who have either had cancer or have siblings. They know children who have died. So this book resonated for me. Life threatening illness in a child is hard for parents and children to grapple with, and the author did a good job of demonstrating how parents might allow their terminally ill children to do things that you wouldn't allow your average 16 year old to do. It was heart wrenching at times--I read it on a plane, and at points I had tears rolling down my cheeks. I was reassured when I read reviews written by people who do not have a childhood cancer connection have the same response--but it is a good kind of sad. the kind that makes you thing, and approach your life with a kinder vision. This is not an uplifting book. There are no miracles here. But it is a book true to it's subject.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Wanderlust (2012)

Let me start by stating that this is not a great movie--it is more of a fun movie. The reason it spoke to me was that we have a family friend who just this month moved to an intentional community, and he built the abode he will be dwelling in at our house. So we are thinking about that subject and how the rules might work. This is a Judd Apatow movie--so consider the source--the comedy is going to be a little bit juvenile, and a little bit off color. There is the territory we are coluntarily venturing into. Paul Rudd add Jennifer Aniston play George and Linda Gergenblatt. Shortly after plopping down cash they don't have for a Greenwich Village studio apartment, George loses his job, and they flee the city (the movie does not deal with the very real contemporary issues of how they even got financing for this apartment in the first place, nor how they walked away from it). Their plan is to have George work for his intolerably obnoxious brother in Atlanta while they get back on their feet. En route to the aforementioned brother's house, they get waylaid in Elysium, an intentional community in rural Georgia, where clothing and privacy are optional, they grow thier own food and wine, and maintaining fidelty to one person is considered very old school. After about 45 minutes with George's brother and his wife, this approach to life seems inordinantly appealing to George and Linda and they hightail it out of Atlanta and back to the commune. The movie has the occasional laugh and the very real message about what sustaining long term relationships over the rough patches requires (and a stay at a commune would not be one of the necessary ingredients). It also brings us back to what might motivate people in the 21st century to live communally--and it really doesn't appear to have changed all that much. Some people are living there for all the right reasons, but there are those who are wolves in sheep's clothing. There is no excaping that sort, even when you take your clothes off, grow your own food, and live off the grid.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

La Belle Vie, Minneapolis

When I was in Minneapolis recently, I had two excellent dinners. The one we ate here was the more elegant of the two--but the truth be told, this is also the place that I would be less likely to return to. The food was phenomenal--we had the smaller of the two tasting menus, which meant 5 courses instead of eight (one less entree, no palate cleanser, and no cheese plate). The thing about this meal was that the portions were very small, so you could do 8 courses without too much difficulty, but we left full at the end of our meal. Here is what we had:
The meal opens with an amuse bouche or two, which were delcious, as well as bread 9which is okay--not up to the quality of the other food)

#1 Sautéed Soft-Shelled Crab with Roasted Garlic Emulsion, Charmoula and Radish
I took a pass on this and was served the Sautéed Rabbit Loin with Boudin Blanc and Porcini-Taleggio Tortelli--which was delicious.  The pasta was one of the best things I ate all night.

#2 Oven-Steamed Yukon Salmon with Heirloom Tomato, Horseradish and Dill Pan-Roasted
The salmon was cooked perfectly, and the horseradish foam was the best foam I have had--flavorful and nicely highlighting the flavor of the salmon

#3  Poussin with Sweet Corn, Chanterelle Mushrooms and Pancetta
This was the weakest link in the meal--the corn flavor wasn't strong enough to overcome the pancetta flavor, and kind of got lost.

#4  Grilled Dry Aged Beef Ribeye with Ratatouille, Black Olive and Basil
I really enjoyed this coure, even though there were no options on doneness of the meat, and I am not a huge fan of beef (someone who loves rare beef would undoubtedly been happier still)

Blueberry Crémeux with Lemon Verbena-Apricot Ice Cream and Sesame Cake
This was the biggest surprise--really loved the blueberry crémeux, which had a vibrant berry flavor and a wonderful texture.  The lemon verbena ice cream did not have an overpowering flavor, which was a good thing, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this.

I noticed on my way out the door that you could also eat in the bar, which has a slightly less elegant atmosphere and is rumored to be priced less as a result.  It was really lovely, and would make for a romantic alternative.  Minneapolis has it going on, no doubt about it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Assault on Women

Todd Akin is the straw that broke the back of what I can tolerate.  On Sunday he said, and I quote,
"From what I understand from doctors, that's really rare," Akin said of pregnancy caused by rape. "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume maybe that didn't work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist."  Forget that at least 5% of rapes result in pregnancy, which is not what I would call rare (in fact, conception after rape may be higher than with consensual sex), which translates to 32,000 pregnancies a year.  Forget that we aren't talking about the legal consequences of sexual violence for men, we are talkiing about the recourse of women who have been victimized.  Forget that women legally have choices.  Forget that the man clearly has no grasp of even the most basic elements of biology and he is running for the U.S.Senate.  What angers me most about this statement is the clear implication that women are stating that they are raped when they are actually having consensual sex.  Is he questioning the existence of sexual violence?  It is flat out insulting.  Would he go on to say that women often say no when they mean yes?  That women ask for it?  What about women who have been drugged?  It is terrifying that he is where he is.

Equally scary is just how quickly social progress can be thrown back half a century.  This, combined with the GOP's attack on women's health care issues this spring and their blockage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, demonstrates a consistent lack of vision in the Republican Party when it comes to women in the 21st century. 

I get it, I do.  Men feel under attack.  More women go to college than men, and their applications, based on merit, are stronger.  They get better grades than their male counterparts, and if gender were not valued, women would take up 70% of spots at top tier schools.  Women are getting better jobs than men, and despite the lack of pay equality,  they are increasingly bringing home the bigger paycheck.  But the answer is not to put women down, it is to figure out how to make men more educated and more successful.  And the answer is defintiely not to saddle women with unwanted pregnancies and poor health care.  Been there, done that.  On the plus side, we  know that nations that educate women have economic prospertity and it is much more successful than any other intervention.  It is a proven pathway to success, let's not muck that up.  Sadly, the party that adamently avows themselves to be pro-America is the one that espouses policies that will keep us behind the rest of the world.

So in the end, it just goes to show that you cannot take social justice for granted.  The progress of the last 50 years can be wiped out in the blink of an eye.  I find the 'Hey Girl' campaign to be a little bit too much about passive aggression and not enough about what to do about these trends, but I really identify with the poster of Paul Ryan that says "Hey girl--Vote for me--It will be the last choice you are allowed to make".  It is darkly prescient of what the stakes are for women this November.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Silver Anniversary

Happy Anniversary! My spouse has been legally tied to me for 25 years, and coping with me for 30+ years. Hats off to him! We don't usually celebrate our wedding anniversary. The reasons are complicated, but for me, we got married to have children. It is debatable if that is a good, bad, or indifferent reason to marry, but it is what it is. The reason I choose to ignore it is that it isn't the significant turn in my relationship with my spouse. At the point we wedded I had already done very significant life changing things with him--like buying a house and filing our albums together. I did not see how the mere act of marriage would change the relationship that we had. If we wanted to stay together, we would, and if we didn't we wouldn't, and I did not see how marriage would change that. I still feel that way. While my relationship with my spouse is very important to me, and co-parenting is definitely a demanding job that is best done by two people who are allies, the fact that we are married isn't of paramount importance to me. Which is why I was a bit late to the table when it comes to support for same sex marriage. I just didn't understand it properly. Now that I see it as a civil rights issue, I have a whole different attitude. I have always said--preached, my children will say--that it is most important for the majority to be vocal about rights for all people, especially under-represented minorities. Why? Because there is no appearance of self gain in the stance. But truthfully, we all gain when the playing field is level for everyone--we are a long long way from that being true, but that is the goal. So my support for same sex marriage brought me to a point where I better value my own marriage--hey, maybe this is a good thing! My eldest son couldn't wait to be married, so at least my views didn't get passed on, as of yet, to the next generation. In any case, today it is 25 years that I have been married, which sounds like a very long time indeed.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Fairy (2011)

This movie will not suit everyone. It is a great example of what movies on disc and cable TV have brought in terms of breadth to the average movie watcher's viewing options. No longer are we hostage to the Hollywood (or Bollywood) blockbuster. Quite the contrary. If you look at what you can stream on Netflix, you are more likely to end up with a brainy documentary or a quirky foreign comedy than an action-packed drama with more guns than roses. This is an almost silly French-Belgian film that is surprisingly enjoyable to watch. One of my cousins said something very insightful about French films and I am going to repeat it--again. There is no point to this movie. If you are waiting for a lesson learned, you will be disappointed. The story here is about someone who is living below the mean, clerking at night in a low budget hotel in Le Havre. He meets 'the fairy', who offers him three wishes. Two of which he is able to come up with immediately, and one of which he saves. She seemingly grants him the two wishes, and so he is ready to leave his job and his old life to pursue her. Anytime you are seeking a magical creature, you are likely to be subjected to the improbable, and this film is no exception--the scenes are simple, the humor is slapstick and dependent both on timing and a suspension of belief--but if you can manage that (and it is asking a lot), it is fun to watch the couple romp to the end.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Century with Julia Childs

Julia Childs is an amazing woman, and deserving of a celebration on the hundredth anniversary of her birth. She single-handedly attempted to change the cooking landscape in America in the 1960's from a culture obsessed with packaged food to one that valued the virtues of carefully constructed recipes, and food that was worth being savored. She brought the French sensibility about food to the American landscape. Not everyone heard her, and not everyone was a convert, but she gave people the tools to eat well.
Julia Childs came of age during WWII, and like other bright educated women of her era she went to work. She joined the OSS, met her husband-to-be in Ceylon, and after the war and a brief stint in our nation's capital, they were posted to France. Which was a stroke of luck for us all. Childs was very taken with the food, but she was not a gifted cook--she enrolled in cooking schools and spent hours and hours trying to master the very basics of French cooking. Fortunately, what she lacked in beginner's luck she made up for in tenacity, and put together a well-researched and fact checked cookbook that has survived to this day. It may not seem any more significant than 'The Joy of Cooking' to the modern cook, but it was published long before it was possible to browse the local book store shelves and emerge with enough cookbooks to stock library shelves. No, this was a true jewel at a time when there were few to be had. So hats off to you, Julia. You were the leading edge of a wave that continues to flow.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

112 Eatery, Minneapolis

Wow. This place is fantastic. I picked it out because we were arriving late on a Monday into town, and I did not want to walk into the restaurant at 9:30pm, or even later, and have the staff be disappointed. 112 Eatery is open until midnight, and it was hopping when we got there, with people still arriving at 11pm when we left, and every time in between. It is not a quiet place, and it is not really romantic--but the food is fantastic, the service was swift, and the atmosphere was friendly.
All I had eaten all day peior to getting to the restaurant was a salad at noon, so I was ready to eat as soon as we were seated. They had olives and spiced almonds on the table, which definitely helped, and the bread arrived shortly thereafter. The menu is a bit on the ecclectic side, and we ordered two salads, a pasta, and a main course--we told the waitress we were sharing and she brought clean plates and 2 spoons with each arrival--it is clearly a place where people routinely share dishes and they made it easy.
We started with the sweet and sour crab salad and a razor clam and heart of palm salad--both were outstanding. Light dressing, balanced flavors, and the delicate flavor of the seafood was not overpowered. We followed that with pan fried gnocci and merguez stuffed chicken w/ clams. Both were delicious, and the four dishes were plenty of food for us. The check comes with a cardamon flavored carmel popcorn that could get adddictive, and we left planning our next visit. The chef has another restaurant that is more straight ahead Italian food and that is definitely on our list for the next trip as well.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

I have been trying to read the long list for the Man Booker prize the last few years--I have found that while the winner is often a very good book, and one I would not have been likely to find if not for the prize (although a number have been on the New York Times notable book list as well--if not, I am not all that connected with the world of great fiction). But what is also true is that I usually like other books on the long list better than the winner. That was not true the year that 'Wolf Hall' won (boy, I loved that book), but it was certainly true last year. This is the last book to become available of the 2012 nominees, and the second to last book on the list for me to read. This is a tale of ambition, love, and deceit, told against the background of World War II. The characters are in a jazz band playing in Germany on the cusp of Germany's invasion of first Poland and then France. They are of mixed race, and from several different countries--but the Afro-Germans are at great risk, and everyone knows it. The music the band is playing is superb, and the notoriety they have gets them out of Germany and into France, but that doesn't feel very safe for very long. On the upside, they have the opportunity to play with Louis Armstrong, and record their music, the Half Blood Blues of the book's title. But in order to do that, one of the band members makes a choice that haunts him. On a return trip to Europe 50 years later, he is faced with what he did, why he did it, and the consequences of his action.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Reflecting on a Blog

Embroidered and Beaded Circa 1982
This is my 1000th blog post, so I want to take a step back and reflect on the almost three years that have passed since I started.

I began blogging because I wanted to write more, better, and with fluidity.  It is entirely debatable whether I have improved in the quality of my writing, but I have definitely been writing more than at any other time in my life, I love writing more than I ever have, and it has been much easier to write as the months have flown by since I started to blog.

I would never have guessed just how much I would love blogging, nor would I have predicted that it would become a daily habit. What is it I like? I feel more aware, more thoughtful about my life. I am always thinking "What am I going to write about?" or "This is great blog material." The act of setting up posts, and requiring myself to think about various aspects of my experience has been fun in and of itself.

The picture I chose for this post is the back of a jean jacket that I embroidered in college, and it is a reminder that while I love this, there are other things that I love to do that I am not doing every day, and I would like to change that. I recently moved my extensive--and weighty--fabric collection to my new home. Even though it has been over a decade since I have browsed in a fabric store, I have an impressive collection that I really need to start incorporating into quilts. So may this momentous occasion, my 1000th blog post, jump start my return to quilting!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ethan At Eighteen

Every time a child goes from seventeen to eighteen it is an occasion for celebration, often times mixed with a little bit of trepidation. Oh no, adult consequences to go with adult actions. I have watched three of my sons and two of my nieces cross this momentous (albeit artificial) line between childhood and adulthood. It is very exciting. It is time to leave home. To try things out for yourself. To experience the world with some independence from one's parents. To fly solo and not look back over your should to see who might be watching your flight path. Such an adventure. In this case, it is a particularly sweet day to become eighteen--my yongest son is a childhood cancer survivor, so his ability to reach adulthood was not as much of a given. He reminded us that there are no guarentees very early in his life, and we cannot forget those lessons learned. I struggle against the overvaluation of every milestone with him, but it is a difficult battle. In truth, things are harder for him, so every gain is all the sweeter for the struggle to get there. Cancer is a dim memory for him, 2/3 of his life ago, but for me I can blink and in that moment that it takes to close and open my eyes, I can be transported back to the time when he was first diagnosed. I can cry that instantly, the hurt of it is so near the surface of my consciousness. So to have that child, once so close to not lasting another day, much less to adulthood, cross the threshold into being a grown up creates a need to celebrate like no other eighteenth birthday I can imagine. So, I say "Joyeux anniversaire, mon fils". Once more, with feeling.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Blue's Egg, Milwaukee, WI

I had the pleasure of going to Milwaukee recently for dinner and a breakfast--we were gone, door to door, less than 24 hours, including travel time, so every meal counts. Additionally, we were celebrating the 16th birthday of one of our nieces, so even breakfast has additional pressure, and this restaurant delivered. Everything that we had at our table was good, but there are two things worth noting--and one regret. The restauant has two savory stratas on the menu, and I wish that I had tried one of them. The thing that they are well know for is their hash browns, which are often stuffed with things and are overall very good (I would have cooked them a bit more and mixed in a few more spices, but as restaurant hash browns go, these are quite good). The thing that surprised me with how good it was were the multi-grain pancakes--I am going to try to make some that equal the qualities that these had--they had flax seeds and some oatmeal, which is where I will start--they were not oppressively healthy tasting, and yet had the interesting flavor that additional grains add, so a brilliant combination. This is a breakfast place that is well worth going back to--I have been to a couple of other places well known for their breakfast food in the past several months (Hell's Kitchen in Minneaplois and Mama's on Washington Square in San Francisco) and this is the best yet.

Monday, August 13, 2012

House Rehabilitation on Market St.

Market St. House, Summer 2009
It has been a while since we have focused on the Market St. house. Giving a house over to your children--not without some significant rules, mind you--means that you stop with renovations. We brought the house to a point that, with the exception of the attic and the upstairs bathroom, was pretty close to where I wanted it to be. It is a house with an arts and crafts feel on the inside that is really very pretty when you peel away the layer of clutter that somehow continues to occur no matter how much it upsets me when it happens. So I have taken a big break from this house, because it is too hard to keep being upset about how it is treated.
Market St. House, Summer 2012

My husband, however, is another story. He built a small shed in the back yard, and this summer he gave the house what it really needed on the outside--a scraping down, and a quality paint job. The excellent news is that the boards were largely in very good condition. The rotten ones were replaced, but there weren't that many of them. The lead paint is gone, the nail heads have been resealed, and it has been painted in a manner in keeping with the era it was built in. The trim highlights some of the architectural details, and it just looks much more elegant with a new paint job.
Our community is replete with century old houses.  Many of them have not had a loving hand to care for them in a very long time, but there are people who are trying to bring older homes back to their former beauty, with all the conveniences that the 21st century affords.  I am very pleased with what we have been able to do with this house, and now that I have a much more complicated project on my hands, I appreciate how relatively smoothly this project has gone.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Leon Golub

On a recent trip to the San Francisco Museuam of Modern Art we came upon this painting by my husband's cousin, Leon Golub. He was married to my MIL's cousin, and the first time I met him was at my siter-in-law's wedding. It was the late 1980's and he was wearing a linen jacket over a t-shirt of a matching color, a la Miami Vice, and his wife, artist Nancy Spero, had short spikey hair and leopard leggings. I thought they were crashing the wedding. I would never have guessed they were realtives. I did not attempt to eject them from the wedding and in the time since, I have seen quite a lot of both of their work. They joked that he painted men and she painted women, which is true but not enough information. Leon's work is huge--larger than life canvases that are gritty. Almost always a little disturbing, too. They set you on edge a bit. They move you well outside your confort zone and make you think in ways you might not like to, about things you might prefer to avoid. One thing is true--you know him when you see him. No need to check the name card. It is always nice to happen upon one of his paintings that I hadn't seen, and this was o exception.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Cousins, Cousins Everywhere

There are lots of upsides to weddings but one of the very best is that it brings relatives together. My husband's family all live within easy driving distance of each other, and so it is not at all uncommon for those cousins to see each other. They are all wonderful kids, and my children love the times that we can share with them--but there are some members of the family who do not know them at all. We have cousins in Chicago that we feel very close to, but who do not know the Kline cousins at all well. My eldest son's wedding changed all that. Here they all are, beaming with happiness to have met, and hopefully this is the start of relationships that will continue for years to come. So while there can be undue stress associated with weddings, as well as frayed nerves and the sense that you have not had a meaningful conversation with any of the guests who have traveled so far to be with you, those far flung guests do have time to talk with each other, and sometimes that is a very good thing indeed.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Eldest Child

On this day 24 years ago my husband and I entered the world of parenthood. Looking back on that day, I can only marvel that we managed to get him through his first year of life. We were so unprepared to meet even his most basic needs. Other than financial, which we were plus/minus on, we had no other skills that seemed to truely apply to the situation. We had falsely assumed that because we were both physicians that we would be able to care for an infant. But what escaped us completely is that in the hospital, nurses are the people who take care of patients. Doctors merely sail in, assess patient needs within the parameters of their disease state, and make appropriate changes. The nurses are the ones who actually manage the patients. So what we really needed was a nurse.
Instead, that baby was stuck with us. People who really didn't even know how to support his head, much less intuit what his needs were from the cues he was giving us. We really struggled those first few weeks, and while I am sure such struggles are inevitable, they are also quite memorable. So when I think of him as a newly married, very much grown up man, I cannot help but think of who he was that very first day that we met him, and feel profound relief that we managed somehow not to irreparably harm him in his first few weeks of life. Joyeux Anniversaire, mon fils!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Coconut Cake

This is an incredible cake--and made all the more incredible by the fact that even if you are not a fan of coconut, you åre going to like this cake.  I don't know what it is about it, but I have seen it happen time and time again

1 C. butter, softened
2 C. sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
4 lrg. eggs, separated
2 C. all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
pinch of salt
1 C. buttermilk, at room temp.
1 C. shredded coconut
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
 Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter 3 layer cake pans, I used 8" rounds and instead of flouring, I lined the bottom of the pans with parchment paper. Cream together the butter and the sugar in a large bowl, until fluffy, about 4-5 minutes using an electric mixer on medium. Add the vanilla and beat until smooth. Add the egg yokes, 1 at a time, beating for 20 seconds after each addition. Scrape down the bowl. In a bowl whisk together or sift together if you prefer the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in thirds, alternating with the buttermilk. Beat for 45 seconds after each addition and beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Scrape down the bowl. Add the coconut and beat on low speed. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the batter until no white streaks remain. Divide the batter evenly between the three cake pans and smooth the top of each. Bake in the middle of the oven for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning them out of the pans onto the wire rack to completely cool.

 Frosting is as follows:
8 oz pkg cream cheese, softened
4 Tbsp. butter, softened
1 pound powdered sugar
Mix well and this makes your frosting.
1 cup of coconut to sprinkle all over the frosting. This cake is rich and extremely tasty.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Graceful Buddhist Statues

I try to avoid discussion of religion in general. Here, in this blog, as well as elsewhere. If the world has three 'major' religions, I was raised in one and live in another. So I am not religion-naive. And I am not sensitive myself, but I know that the issue of belief drives wars. So I am speaking very narrowly here. I was at the Asian Art museum in San Francisco recently and I was really struck by how full of grace the depictions of Buddha are.
I cannot relate to the peaceful ways of Buddha personally. I see the allure. The whole time I was in temples in Thailand, all I could think about that this was such a great alternative for people who are lost, who are seeking meaning in their life or a path to follow. The virtues of monastic life in a Buddhist temple are centering in a way that other paths are not for young people at loose ends. The military would be an option in my country, and nothing about military service would drive you to create a statue such as these. The whole museum is filled with similar beauty. Don't miss it.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Red Lotus Breathing Flower

This sculpture is across the street from the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, and the idea is a simple one. The 24 foot flower has motorized fabric petals that seem to fill and empty of air so that they open and close to simulate the movement of a live lotus flower.  It may not sound like something you want to see, but you really do.  It is spectacular.  The day I was there it was just too cold and windy to really spend the kind of time watching the movement that the sculpture deserves, but bring a picnic, sit on the lawn of the museum across the street from the sculpture and spend time watching it's every movement.
 It was created by Korean artist Choi Jeong Hwa as part of an exhibit about how the past influences the present, that artists take some of the cultural sensibilities from their ancestors and update it for a contemporary audience.  I didn't love the exhibit as a whole, but this installation was a lot of fun and beautiful to watch.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Yuet Lee, San Francisco

If I have an old standby restaurant in San Francisco that is not attached to my parents then Yuet Lee is it. My parents are Dungeness Crab at Pier 39 kind of people, and I cannot go there and not think of them. My first experiences back in the Bay Area as an adult without my parents were almost exclusively centered on the East Bay, and I have many dining establishments there that resonate as standbys.
But in San Francisco, going back 20+ years I have only two--Mexican food south of Mission (I still crave chili relleno burritos that I used to eat in line waiting to get into the San Francisco Civic to see the Grateful Dead) and Yuet Lee. On my recent trip I was only there for a light lunch, but in the past I have been with groups that have ordered whole chickens and been surprised when the chicken comes to the table, all there, head to feet, choped up at regular intervals in between. It is not the chicken carving we non-Asians are used to. But the surprise is quickly overcome when we dig into the dish, because the flavor is fantastic. I love San Francisco's Chinatown, and this is an oft returned to favorite.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Burmese Tea Leaf Salad

After a leisurely stroll through the Asian Art Museum one afternoon in San Francisco, we were meandering back to our Union Square hotel, trying to avoid too many enormous San Francisco hills. Very quickly we entered Little Saigon, where it was possible to get banh mi every third storefront. Our kind of neighborhood. It is located on the edge of the Tenderloin--in other words, not an upscale neighborhood--it felt reasonably safe, at least in the late afternoon sun.

We were about to choose a Vietnamese restaurant when we happened upon the Burmese Kitchen. Burmese food is not something we have a lot of in Iowa, so we made that choice instead, and the very best thing we ate that afternoon was the tea leaf salad.  It had the perfect combination of salty, sweet, crunchy, and hot.  We were thinking about this salad for days, it was that memorable.

Upon arrival home, my spouse did a little investigating.  The short story is that we are not going to be making this at home any time soon.  Why?  Because the key ingredient is fermented pickled tea leaves, which we have appallingly limited access to, and are not likely to develop the skills to make them at home, at least not this year.

Lahpet is Burmese for fermented or pickled tea. Burma is one of very few countries where tea is eaten as well as drunk. Its pickled tea is unique in the region, and is not only regarded as the national delicacy but plays a significant role in Burmese society.  Unlike the Kline-Woodman household, most Burmese have the raw ingredients for the salad on hand in the cupboard, and since it is a raw salad, it is perfect for assembling regardless of the weather.  If you get a chance to try this salad, do not pass it up!

Saturday, August 4, 2012


This is a striking mural at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art done by the Dutch graphic artist, Parra. What do I like about it? First, it is very bold, and yet playful. And very charming. The mural drew me immediately in to the floor, which had two exhibits, one on each sie of the museum. I was hoping for more of this artist's work, but no such luck. Apparently in Holland, there is a big graphic art industry built around Parra--you see T-shirts, hand bags, and posters all over the place. He is a cultural phenomenon. I would love to see a series of T-shirts done with graphics like this--the message being written out--but not quite in a straight forward manner, and accompanied by these sillouettes. It is a style I would like to see emulated.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Perbacco, San Francisco

This is the restaurant that I chose for my birthday dinner. It wasn't the fanciest, or the one with the most Michelin stars (it has one), but it was the most Italian. I had such a great food experience in Florence that I wanted to recapture some of that enjoyment.

The restaurant itself is loud and on a weeknight it was packed--we were close enough to our neighbors that you could hear them talk--which my spouse finds to be an irressistable plus, but it is not for everyone.  

So keep that in mind--if the ambiance is terribly important to you, this might not be the place for you. I can see that. For us, the food is absolutely the biggest factor, and we can be forgiving about the service and the physical plant. And the food was delicious--my only complaint is that we weren't really hungry enough to try a full array of what the menu had to offer (which is one of the few things that makes me wish I could spend more time in a city that had a dining option like this--where I could go to a restaurant more than once and really try out various options).
Here were the two highlights. The salumi plate was impressive--my spouse has startd to think about making these sorts of fermented meats (it must be something about having a basement that has a stone, and in some parts, a dirt foundation that brings one back to the idea that you could hang meat there. You certainly can't clean it up, so all that contact with subterranian nature must have a purpose). Lots of delicious options to aspire to making. But my favorite was the agnolotti--a stuffed pasta that was midway between a ravioli and a tortellini in size--and delicious. I do love handmade pasta that is stuffed and served in a hearty sauce.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

This is one of the original paintings in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (or SFMOMA, as it is more commonly known).  I had not been back to the museum since it moved from it's original location, on the the fourth floor of the War Memorial Veterans Building.  Not what you would call luxurious digs for a museum.  Where they are now, on Third St., just south of Market, is a gorgeous alternative to where they started. When you enter the buidling, you arein an atrium, and you can see each level of the museum--it is an inviting space to view art, and the exhibits that were there on my most recent visit were interesting and well displayed.  I know absolutely nothing about the sdesign of museums, but this one has a great openness to it. You feel like you can enter on any floor, and the way each exhibit space opens up upon entering it is quite excellent.
The traveling exhibits that we saw were both photography related. I really love photograpy--I think that will be one of the new skills that I work on as soon as I have an actually empty nest--and I love to see exhibits done by people for whom this is their art form. One exhibit was of a Dutch photographer, Rineke Dijkstra. She has done some very interesting photographic projects that chronicle modern life. She has done photoessays of Israeli soldiers, beginning before they ender military service and then at various intervals thereafter, showing how they change.
She also did a series on immigrants from the former Yugoslavia, following one girl in particular from Bosnia from the time she entered Western Europe as a 6 year old, and up through the birth of her first child. She girl changed, but also her settings changed--from the barest poverty to a middle class flat, and her eyes change some and stay the same some. It is an interesting way to view world events through the eyes--literally--of people who have lived it. The permanent collection at SFMOMA has much to be proud of as well, so a trip there will not disappoint.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Jerry Garcia Turns 70

Of course, he doesn't actually turn anything because he dies while in yet another rehabilitation center trying to control his heroin addcition, but if Garcia would be 70, then I too am getting up there.  There are plenty of examples of 1960's rock 'n roll icons who are now well past the age of traditional retirement, but they continue to ply their trade.  That is largely a good thing--for me in particular it is great because I share musical tastes with my children.  The music of my youth is not irrelevant to them, and for them, knowing what I like can guide them in pointing me in the direction of new music.  

But as I have said before, for me the Grateful Dead were not just about the music.  It was the social aspect as well.  I loved sitting in the same spot, show after show--the Phil side of the stage, as near to the first row of the first balcony as was possible when the show was general admission.  There were the people I traveled with and the people I would see at the show, and then the people I only knew at shows, people I would never see again.  The music was essential, there is no way around that.  Once Jerry was dead, it was never quite the same.  But the crowd was at least as much of the allure as the band.  It was a little bit like theater--some of the show was when the lights were off, but some of it was when the lights were on, and I loved both parts.  The players were different, but there was a predictable audience who wore remarkable clothes and expressed creativity--some of it annoying, some of it inspiring, and some of it just entertaining--but it was like no other place that I have been. 

I saw the Dead literally hundreds of times over 20 plus years.  Some people go to sporting events.  Some are into opera.  For a very long time concerts in general and the Grateful Dead in particular were my nirvana, the place I loved best.  It is funny to think about it now.  What have  I replaced it with?  What fills that spot in my life?  Now I travel without there being a concert to go to--I do my people watching in cafes and museums and on the streets, rather than between sets in a smoke-filled arena.   But I miss being able to see those people, all in one place at one time.  The arena changed, the crowd stayed the same, and I loved that place.  It was like an early precursor to a flash mob.  I am so glad I spent as much time as I did with the Grateful Dead, and I remember it ever so fondly.  RIP Jerry.