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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Jason Collins: Tall, Smart, Handsome, and Gay

The inevitable has happened.  A working professional athlete in America has announced that he is gay.  Phew.   As a country we are barreling along the path towards civil rights for gay Americans, with marriage equality rapidly gaining acceptance over the past several years, and a more open dialogue about civil rights and sexual orientation.  It was time.

Jason Collins interview with Sports Illustrated is sort of understated when all is said and done.  He wasn't about to be reluctantly outed, though he had a fear of that.  He is just tired of not being himself, of being alone.  He wants to openly date, have friends who know that he is gay, and to have relationships.  Wow.  Kind of underwhelming, but in a really nice way.  He is just a normal person, who plays rough and tumble professional basketball and makes millions.  At 34 he is ready to start having men in his life that he is attracted to and who are attracted to him.  Not really all that novel. I so hope that this goes well--Kobe Bryant and President Clinton have already tweeted their support, and I hope that as a free agent his sexual orientation is a non-issue.  Just weeks after the Rutgers coach was fired for shoving his players and calling them 'faggots', I hope that the NBA is ready for this--because remember, Rutgers wasn't going to fire him for that behavior until a YouTube video of it went viral and they were pressured to get rid of him.  All eyes are upon you, Mr. Collins, and I wish you the very best of tolerance.  Bold move.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Boston Bombers--Let's Talk Guns Not Immigration

Unfortunately, Congress gets easily sidetracked.  It appears to have the attention span of a four year old.

The Boston Marathon bombers appear to have been apprehended--one of them was shoot and then run over by his brother in an attempt to escape, and the other was shot and discovered by a man who had not been out in his driveway all day because of a city wide lock down.  Once that was lifted, he ventured outside and found that the boat in his driveway had blood smeared on it, and the second brother was found.  They appear to have acted alone, an assumption that is born out by the bombs that they made, a search of their premises, and a tracking of their recent purchases.

Regrettably, they are both immigrants and Islamic.  Their motivation, as described by the younger brother in testimony (as reported by the media) and through internet social media sites, appears to have been religiously motivated.

I say regrettably because antipathy towards Islam in general and violent Islamist groups has gotten no better since 9/11. More senseless violence in visible public settings with no military implications is just further proof to those who need very little evidence to support their preconceptions is just unfortunate.

It is also regrettable because it derails the talks about immigration, which are talks that are largely aimed at a Hispanic, usually Catholic population of people, many of whom already live in the United States, albeit without the benefit of a visa or a path to legal citizenship.  Pointing at these two men and painting all immigrants with the same brush muddies the picture that needs desperately to get much clearer very quickly.  So I am unhappy about that.

But the thing that I am out and out angry about is that this has done nothing to increase the resolve of Congress to increase the level of scrutiny that gun buyers are subjected to.  These men were armed and dangerous--they had guns and they most likely obtained them easily.  They did not undergo background checks.  They did not license their weapons, and they discharged over 80 rounds, killed one police officer and seriously injured another person.  I have not heard one person who is against gun legislation talk about the dangers related to poor restriction of guns related to this case.  Once again, there appears to be a lot more posturing and trying to please the gun ;lobby than there is protection of the average American.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

To Live by Yu Hua (1993)

My youngest son read this for his World Literature class, and since I am in the habit of reading the books that my offspring read when it is assigned by a professor (it is all in the interest of making up for the fact that it has been a very long time since I have been on the receiving end of formal education), I read it too.

It wasn't until I was about halfway through the book that I realized that the story was familiar because I had seen the movie of the same name.  The director was banned from making movies in China for a couple of years after the film came out and it was banned in China at that time because of perceived disrespect for the government.

There is no love lost between the main character and the powers that be in the story--but those powers change over the years between the Japanese occupation of China during WWII, the Civil War, the Cultural Revolution, and beyond.  One thing does not change.  Fugui had a very long life filled with sadness, hardship, poverty, guilt, and survival.  The story is told to a stranger at the end of Fugui's life, so we are getting it delivered with 20-20 hindsight.  He starts off the story by frittering away his family fortune and almost losing his wife, Jiaxhen, and his family as a result.  Jiazhen comes back to him, which is a turning point for Fugui.  He has something to live for and live he does.  Throughout the whole sorrowful tale he decides to do something for someone dear to him, and it often ends up in disaster.  He goes off to get medicine for his mother and is conscripted in the army.  He scrapes and saves to send his son to school and that ends in disaster.  He finds his daughter a wonderful husband and that ends badly in both their cases.  All the while Fugui works and works and works.  He does not fight those who govern him, but he has thoughts about their methods.  He sees those who rise up above him get knocked down again. He is a Chinese Job, and Fugui's story offers the same lessons to be learned from the Biblical version.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Wreck It Ralph (2012)

This concludes my viewing of the 2012 Academy Award nominations for Best Feature Length Animation Film (I must say, it was a lot easier to go through the shorts, and they were thoroughly enjoyable to do, so if you missed doing that, I highly recommned it).

Here are my preferences, in order:

1. Pirates!  Band of Misfits
2. Frakenweenie (this is really a tie with my third choice, and rose to second only because of my long time admiration for tim Burton and his particulatly romantic brand of the macabre)
3. Wreck It Ralph
4. Brave
5. ParaNorman

So, you can see that I am completely out of step with people who decide these awards.

Wreck It Ralph is a classic story of a guy who is the bad guy, and is more or less completely satisfied with his bad guy role until one day he just isn't.  He wants to be admired for the qualities that he has that are good.  Or at least be admitted to the party.  The story is told within the framework of arcade video games, where the lines between good and bad are pretty sharply drawn.

Since he cannot be a good guy in his game, he travels to another game, successfully accomplishes what needs to be done, and gets a medal for his work.  But it isn't that easy--of course not!  The rest of the story is about good overcoming evil, a small love story, a good friendship thrown in, as well as the value of being different from the rest.  Classic animated story material, but very enjoyably done.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Doing the Right Thing

More reflections on the impact of the Boston Marathon bombings.  It often happens that as the initial adrenaline after a catastrophic event wears off that there are people who think they should have done more--or they have no thoughts related to their behavior, but  they think that others could have done more.  My rule of thumb in these matters, whether they be big or small issues, is to do what I would publically want to defend having done.  If my grandmother were to see it on YouTube, how would she feel about it?

It is sometimes hard to know what the right thing to do is--when there is injustice being done, speak out about it--that is not hard to figure out.  But the world is rarely as straight forward as that. 

One of the inspirational things about what happened in Boston a week ago was that in the aftermath of bombs exploding a lot of people surged forward to help those who had been injured instead of running for the hills.  On the one hand, the swift rescue of those with blast injuries is critical to their survival, and you really have no idea where the next blast could go off--it could just as easily be where you would run to as where you are.  On the other, protecting oneself is instinctual and hard to fight off.

There were a lot of first responders on hand because of the marathon itself--there were medically trained personnel to aid runners at the end of the race and police officers to provide security.  First responders have the advantage that they have been trained in how to respond.  They do not have to figure out what to do, they automatically start to do it, and may have had the experience of having done it before.  That does not diminish their bravery at the scene, far from it.  They were inspirational.  But it helps explains why they could act without thinking.

Those who haven't been doing disaster drills since 9/11 may not be so well trained, but many bystanders were lending a hand quickly and with good effect--all the bomb blast victims who reached the hospital alive, which was the vast majority of them, look to be on track to survie.  That is largely due to an exceptional response of medical staff once they reached the hospital, but it took getting them alive for the hospital to be able to work it's magic.  I don't know what it is that makes people surge forward into danger--is it that they are brave?  That they aren't thinking exactly but are compelled to act?  Whatever it is, it was inspirational to watch in the  moment and to think about as there has been time to reflect. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

MIT Police Officer Sean Collier

I would like to take a moment and thank Sean Collier for his service as a police officer. He was killed on Thursday evening a week ago as a direct result of the FBI's decision to release the videotape of the 2 men suspected of perpetrating the bombings at the Boston Marathon and his funeral was yesterday. There was a sea of fellow officers who came to pay their last respects, which was very nice to see.

There are so many potential risks that first responders in general and police officers in particular face each and every day they are on the job. Officer Collier undoubtedly had a lot more experience with things like drunk and disorderly and students hacking into buildings than he did with bomb makers and automatic weapons. His young life and his short career were unfairly ended this past week. As we will undoubtedly be reminded by a 24/7 media what the terrorists look like, what their names are, where they are from, and what they did and did not like and do, I plead the case of the heroes, the people who take on the role of protecting us, and ask that if only for a moment that we make the same effort to remember them.

Officer Collier was gunned down. Gun violence is a major American problem. Terrorism by foreign nationals is a miniscule problem compared to the legacy of gun violence--today, this week, this year, this decade, this half century. No matter the time frame, gun violence wins. By a landslide. It is desperately sad and ultimately humiliating that our elected officials are beholden to the arms industry rather than to us. The most elementary of laws to begin a path towards sparing people's lives was defeated in the Senate last week. Money talks, and we lose. Officer Collier loses too. So let's go back to majority rules--both in the Senate and in the nation. We can be so much better than this.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

This is a movie about how the other half lives.  I mena that literally.  This is a story about the people whose stories we really never hear about.  These people are almost invisible to the people who live outside the southern United States.  There are almost no stories about them. They live largely off the grid, in the mangroves.  They live off the land.  So even during the aftermath of Katrina, these are not the people whose plight we saw.

Here is how the story goes.  Six-year old Hushpuppy, played with a surprisingly raw sort of fierceness by Quvenzhan√© Wallis, is a wild child of the American South. She lives with her father, Wink, played by Dwight Henry in dilapidated trailers--one for him and one for her.  They don't have much.  Nothing is secure--they catch their food.  They have no clothes, running water, no adult supervision to speak of.  WInk is dying and Hushpuppy will soon be on her own.  As if that wasn't bad enough, they live in low lands that are at risk of going completely under as icebergs melt and waters rise and storms become more intense.  It is part fairy tale, part cautionary tale, and part why we absolutely need a social safety net as we sail into the inevitable world we have created with global climate change.  It is primative and wise at the same time.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Respecting the Dead

There are no words for how despicable those are who condemn others in the name of God--who are they to say they know what is in the heart of God?  Thomas Paine has a lot of wisdom that can come to bear on the Westboro Baptist Church.  Arguing with them is pointless.  Calling them a religious institution is not accurate either.  I think the move towards considering their actions potential hate crimes is a much better and more accurate route to go.  It is sometimes hard to figure out that hate is at the root of something when it is cloaked in religious rhetoric, but that is the truth in this case.

This is the group that has been picketing of funerals of those who have been killed in mass murders with signs that state that they (the murdered) and we (the country) deserve it because of our tolerance of gay people and gay culture.  Only they use much more offensive language, language that does not reflect the language of the Bible and I would be embarrassed to attribute to God.  Surely God would be more articulate than "Fags Doom Nations" or "No Tears for Queers".  Some protesters can't even spell, and judging from some of their equations on signs, they aren't very good at math either.

My brother last week instructed me and all his Facebook friends to try to find inspiration rather than cynicism in the world, even when faced with tragedy, and I think there is merit in that.  In that search, I think that it is really great to see other people pushing back against that which is unforgivable with passion and in great numbers.  First it was just relatively unorganized people who wanted to counter rally at funerals.  Then it became quite organized--unions got involved with organizing their members to have a voluminous response to the protesters.  They were not so much counter protesting as they were forming a human wall to protect the mourners at each funeral.  The first time I really noticed it getting media coverage  was Newtown, but it happened in Aurora after those shootings as well (and probably more often than I know).  That is very nice to see.

I quote the wise Mr. Paine once more in closing.  He was a product of the Age of Enlightenment, so much of what he said was a product of his time, but he was a master at articulating the principles of the era during which our independent nation was born.  He said, "Belief in a cruel god makes a cruel man."  May the members of the Westboro Baptist Church reap what they sow.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day 2013

So shall we come to look at the world with new eyes.  It shall answer the endless inquiry of the intellect, — What is truth? and of the affections, — What is good? by yielding itself passive to the educated Will.  Build, therefore, your own world. As fast as you conform your life to the pure idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions. A correspondent revolution in things will attend the influx of the spirit.       ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
In the face of all the mayhem of the past month, maybe it is a good time to listen to the Romantics and take a look at life through different glasses.  There is a lot repair in the world, both things natural and things man made.

Since Earth Day 2012 we have had a lot of reminders that the we do not control the planet, the planet controls us.  Hurricane Sandy was the greatest reminder of that this past 12 months, but we did have over 8" of rain in one continuous storm last week in Iowa.  The most in a day for almost a 100 years.  That slow moving storm was enormous, spanning from Canada to Mexico, and as it crawled it's way over the Midwest, leaving flash flooding  in it's wake, I thought of what a fellow traveler had said to me on a recent trip.

He said that our grandchildren or our great grandchildren will say "Did you know they used to fly places?  Everyone could fly--in the air.  The weather was different then, and they used oil to fly planes--can you believe it?  They didn't stop, even after scientists told them what the effects of it were.  Now, of course, it is just too dangerous and unpredictable to do that."  And we will tell stories about when it was possible to use the skies for transportation.  Several hundred flights going through Chicago's O'Hare airport this week were cancelled, which I have no doubt left several thousand people stranded in various places.  All this going on while Boston coped with a bombing at the Boston Marathon and the subsequent man hunt.  We had man-made disasters and man-influenced climate to contend with.  Given our lack of a functional Congress, the influence that corporate money has on their decision making capacity, and the fact that in the face of escalating gun violence the Senate cannot even pass the simplest of regulations on gun ownership nor, in the wake of the Exxon oil spill in Arkansas, can they acknowledge that additional pipelines to carry oil might not be as important as funding alternative sources of energy.  One Congressman was quoted this month as saying he suspected that wind turbines had motors on them so we would all be fooled that they worked--that is the level of ignorance that we are dealing with in our elected officials.  We are bound to keep on living with the consequences--or not, in the case of the victims of gun violence--because we can't seem to manage to overcome the ignorance of the people we have charged with keeping our national infrastructure sound.

So from this Earth Day forward to the next, I am writing a little bit more to Congressmen, talking a little bit more about how I feel about this regardless of if I lose friends over it, and giving a little bit more money to the causes I support.  I am not convinced it will fix the problem, and I don't want to be optimistic about change given the lack of evidence for it,  but doing nothing certainly won't help.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Gay Men, Pedophilia, and the Boy Scouts

It is hard to believe, but The Boy Scouts of America just got more offensive.

Somewhere on the path to a solution to resolving inequality, the Boy Scouts of America got completely lost.  They are proposing to partially lift its long-standing exclusion of gays – allowing them as youth members but continuing to bar them as adult leaders.  The proposal, unveiled Friday after weeks of private leadership deliberations, will be submitted to the roughly 1,400 voting members of the BSA's National Council during the week of May 20 at a meeting in Texas.
The key part of the resolution says no youth may be denied membership in the Scouts "on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone." A ban would continue on leadership roles for adults who are openly gay or lesbian.

This makes even less sense than the current ban.  What is the reason for this?  If they are under the wholly unproven and unscientific illusion that gay men are pedophiles, when do they think that starts?  Not until they are adults?  Why would gay teens and children be okay, but not the people they will inevitably turn into after they turn 18?  It is insulting and ignorant.

There is not a shred of evidence that being gay increases your interest in having sex with children.  Reviews of the psychological literature agree that the sexual attraction of pedophiles is based on age, not gender.  Men who have sex with boys are either unable to sustain an adult sexual relationship with anyone or they are in a heterosexual relationship.  I suspect that close inspection of the 'perversion files' would reveal exactly this, that the vast majority of men who were accused or convicted of abusing Boy Scouts fall into these two categories--single men or men married to a woman.  They will not find a lot of openly gay men living in long term relationships with other men.  In a lot of ways, Boy Scouts would be safe with such a man. 

I am the parent of 4 Eagle Scouts--I have a few dogs in this fight.   I believe that a gay scout leader married to a man is the best bet for avoiding childhood molestation in scouting.   Lesbian women appear to be largely off the Boy Scouts 'concern' radar but they are included in the ban.  Gay women  would be just as good as gay men as scouting leaders.  It is unfounded prejudice and it is wrong.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Winter Cous Cous

I recently went to a dinner inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi's book, 'Plenty' (more on that later), and had a wonderful cous cous that was actually far more other things than couscous.  So delicious, and I think that while we are on the verge of spring, and should be maybe thinking about what we can  make with greens, that it is always good to have dishes that can can be made with vegetables that are easy to find, or can be substituted for, and this one is a winner.

2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
8 shallots, peeled
2 cinnamon sticks
4 star anise
3 bay leaves
5 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp hot paprika
1/4 tsp chile flakes
2 1/2 cups cubed pumpkin or butternut squash (from a 10-oz squash)
1/2 cup dried apricots, roughly chopped
1 cup chickpeas (canned or freshly cooked)
1 1/2 cups chickpea cooking liquid and/or water
1 cup couscous
Large pinch of saffron
1 cup boiling vegetable stock
3 tbsp butter, broken into pieces
2 tbsp harissa
1 oz preserved lemon, finely chopped
2 cups cilantro leaves

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place the carrots, parsnips and shallots in a large ovenproof dish. Add the cinnamon sticks, star anise, bay leaves, 4 tablespoons of the oil, 3/4 teaspoon salt and all other spices and mix well. Place in the oven and cook for 15 minutes.

Add the pumpkin, stir and return to the oven. Continue cooking for about 35 minutes, by which time the vegetables should have softened while retaining a bite. Now add the dried apricots and the chickpeas with their cooking liquid and/or water. Return to the oven and cook for a further 10 minutes or until hot.

About 15 minutes before the vegetables are ready, put the couscous in a large heatproof bowl with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, the saffron and ½ teaspoon salt. Pour the boiling stock over the couscous. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave for about 10 minutes. Then add the butter and fluff up the couscous with a fork until the butter melts in. Cover again and leave somewhere warm.

To serve, spoon couscous into a deep plate or bowl. Stir the harissa and preserved lemon into the vegetables; taste and add salt if needed. Spoon the vegetables onto the center of the couscous. Finish with plenty of cilantro leaves.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Sex Education in West Virginia

Over half of West Virginia teenagers in grades 6-12 are sexually active, and one has to assume that the percentages go up as the kids grow older. 

A Charleston, West Virginia high school has been in the news this week because the talk that they advertised as one on safe sex was not about that at all.  It was funded by a conservative religious group that handed out fliers entitled "God's Plan for Sexual Purity".  The main message was not even about abstinence.  The speaker had two techniques, both delivered at high volume.  One message was that teenagers who have sex are not worthwhile human.  The culture of shaming teenagers in a sex education lecture has been shown to fail--as has abstinence only education.  But that is not the worst of it.  She gave out inaccurate information about the safety and efficacy of birth control.  She stated that it made you more likely to be sterile in the future, and that it was ineffective.  That is unforgivable.  She probably isn't looking for my forgiveness, though.  The fact that the school sanctioned it is even worse.  It always makes me think she must have a sexually promiscuous past that she is unwilling or unable to confront, so she displaces her self-loathing onto others.  But when you hate only yourself, you don't kill others--giving out incorrect information about birth control is a whole different story.

The icing on the cake is that one student contends that when she spoke up about the speaker's lack of expertise or education on the subject of safe sex, that the school principal threatened to inform the college that admitted her that she had 'bad character'.  She has filed an injunction against the principal and filed a complaint with the ACLU--she is not taking this lying down, so to speak.  If in fact this is true, I sincerely hope the parents of these teenagers make some noise.  Seriously.  This sort of behavior is unbecoming of our nation.  Boston made us all look very good this past week, but this makes us look very bad indeed.  Why fight the Taliban when we have the same kind of educational blackmail and repression right here at home?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Robot and Frank (2012)

The trailers for this movie do not do the serious subject matter underneath the humor justice.

Here is the story--Frank, a former jewel thief, is in the not-so-early stage of dementia.  He is pretty irascible, and it appears that predates his cognitive decline--but that didn't help, of course.  He refuses supervised living and no one can stand to live with him so his son gets him a personal robot--this takes place in the not-too-distant future, so that is actually an option.

Frank is furious at first.  He shuns the robot, but it turns out that the robot doesn't mind that.  He ignores it.  He goes about the things that he does best--cooking, cleaning, taking out the garbage, and gradually Frank starts to see that it might not be such a terrible idea to have help.

One day, Frank realizes that the robot might just be good for something other than just housework.  He realizes that the robot can do things that a human cannot--like manipulate the dial on a safe so as to go through all the possible combinations of numbers--and all within minutes, rather the hours it would take man to perform the same task.   Frank decides it is time for him to return to his life as a cat burglar and that the robot will be his right hand man.  The robbery is the beginning of the end of the relationship between Frank and the robot, and the story is very bittersweet (and not giving too much away, we have absolutely no sympathy for the burglary victim).  Very good use of comedy to point out some very difficult facts of life.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Reflections on Boston

  I have had a long term relationship with Boston.  My mother went to college in Boston--so she of course had a relationship with the city that pre-existed me, but my parents love Boston, so I have been going there since childhood.  This building, the Boston Haymarket, is my earliest favorite Boston venue.   I spent time in Boston during my college years in Providence.  It was just up the road a piece, and the lure of the city and music and food was enough to bring me there.  It is a city that was laid out in a time where apparently straight was not optimal in roads, and neither was the consideration that at some time in the future one might want to drive more than a cart down the city roads.  It is a challenging place to drive, as well as navigate.  It was before the era of GPS, so it was you, a good map, a hope and a prayer. And don't even get me started on parking.  My best friend in medical school lived there, and no matter what time we left her apartment in Bay Bay, even at 3 am, there was always someone there ready to take our parking space.

My last visit to Boston was for a much higher stakes reason.  My youngest son had a very tricky neurosurgery that he needed to have done, and for various reasons, a pediatric neurosurgeon in Boston was the man we thought was best suited to the job--thankfully, we did not make the wrong choice, so instead of sitting at his bedside for long hours, he was discharged less than 24 hours after he left the operating room, and we had a chance to enjoy a little bit of what Boston has to offer.

I love the city, and had a flood of all these memories when I heard that someone or a group of someones set off bombs during an event that is associated with endurance, overcoming challenges, and raising money for charity, making the finish line an emergency scene rather than one of accomplishment.  My sister in law is a marathon runner these days and I know several people who live in Boston, so those thoughts crossed my mid as well. But in the midst of so much violence, and our government and our society as a whole being so unwilling to make changes that would significantly change that, the image I want to hold onto is that of what people did right in Boston.  People rushed to the aid of those who had been hurt--with injuries that lead to a lot of bleeding, speedy travel to medical attention is the key to reducing death rates.  Instead of rushing away, many people rushed in.

I am very impressed by those who can quickly assess what needs to be done and then do it.  My heart is in the right place, but I am a slow to respond person--the shock of things makes me pause, and so I would never be amongst the very first people at such a disaster.  I would be the one who helped wheel people away rather than the one applying the tourniquet.  When I was an EMT, I saw many a bloody accident--I am comfortable with that, and I am gratified by helping people, but I am just not quick on my feet like some people were on Monday.  So hats off to all those who did nice things for their fellow man this week, and a special hats off to the first responders, the ambulance personnel and firemen especially, who routinely rush into situations that are hazardous to get people out alive.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Yotam Ottolenghi is an interesting guy.  He moved from Israeli journalist to London restauranteur--an unusual career trajectory, but maybe his profound professional flexibility is the key.  This cookbook he wrote a couple of years ago is really a gorgeous coffee table worthy book.  It is so beautiful that I have really failed to appreciate fully how wonderful it is in terms of recipes and its ability to be inspirational.

I went to  dinner at The Lincoln Cafe, in Mount Vernon, Iowa (a real gem--if you are driving across Iowa on I-80, you need to make a special detour to experience the magic that chef Matt Steigerwald can create in a small Iowa town).  It is a favorite local restaurant and we managed to get our extended clan to accompany us to a dinner that he did inspired by this cookbook.

So I went home, took the cookbook off my shelf and looked at it again.  I had given his newer cookbook, 'Jerusalem', to a friend of mine and she subsequently served me an eggplant dish that looks similar to the eggplant on the cover of this book--stunning to look at and sublime to eat.  At the dinner I went to we had an eggplant salad, which consisted of relatively large pieces of cooked eggplant, greens, and pomegranite seeds in a pomegrantie molasses dressing.  It was simple, sweet, crunchy, tangy, and the eggpant has a wonderful mouth feel that is hard to get with any other vegetable.

The cookbook is arranged by main ingredient, and the recipes, while often a bit long on the ingredient list, are easy to follow, and the pictures of how the food should look when you are done with it abound.  I like that reassurance that I am indeed on the right track wehn I am cooking.  I highly recommend this book, especially if you want to expand your elegant and flavorful vegetable side dish repertoir.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Argo (2012)

On this Tax Day, I am reflecting on just how my tax dollars have been spent over my life as a tax payer.  There is a lot to regret, and this movie brings some of it to mind.

The movie is expertly put together, and since it reflects a real life story, one has to consider that the actual operation was picture perfect.  Ben Affleck the actor does and entirely competent job in his role as a CIA agent charged with getting 6 Americans out of Iran during the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979.  Ben Affleck the director is awe inspiring.  His lack of a nominee in this category is regretable because while I am not sure that this is the Best Film of 2012 (which it won for), and I have always loved Ang Lee and am sure his award is well deserved this year as Best Director, the pace and content of this movie could easily have died in the hands of a less talented director.  Maybe Affelck is cursed with being very good at all aspects of film making, which masks his extraordinariness.

This is a thriller from start to finish, but it does not pull any of the cheap punches that thrillers so typically rely on these days.  The movie is a throw back on several levels--it takes place in 1979, and since I was a sophomore in college that year, I remember the time well, and there were no jarring inconsistencies that I noticed.  The story is one of essentially acting.  Affleck comes up with the plan.  He gets a Hollywood contact of his to help him buy a script and convince a producer to go along with their entirely fake plan to shoot a sci-fi movie in the desert in Iran.  So one man flies in, 7 people fly out--as the 'crew' for the movie.  They have all sorts of media events, have posters and scripts and storyboards, and off Affleck goes, into the teeth of the enemy.  The tension rises and falls at regular intervals, the action is of a limited scale, and the whole thing feels much more real than created. 

The movie also serves to remind us of the role that big oil plays in politics, both home and abroad, and how many extremely poor choices we have made in the service of those who make millions off of these interventions, but are never the ones left holding the bag, or paying the consequences.  Here we are,  in the aftermath of yet another oil related environmental nightmare, not to mention the tail end of a war that hasn't gone well, thinking about whether we need another pipeline going across the land.  Pray we make the right choice this time.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Jonathan WInters: Master of Improvisation

This montage of Jonathan Winters work from the Orinda Film Festival in 2003 is a nice review of what was so so funny about him.  He was a comedian who was unpredictable and surreal.  He had the proverbial straight face down, ad he could play his comedy off of anyone.  The montage opens with some work he did on the Andy Williams show, and about a minute into what was supposed to be an 'improv', Mr. Williams says "this is nothing like what we did earlier".  Mr. Williams was having a hard time keeping up with Mr. Winters, because the same set of props brought about an entirely different cast of characters and scenarios than it had perhaps earlier that afternoon.

He describes himself as perpetually bored, ad his comedy does have an attention deficit disorder feel to it--some of the connections he makes are brilliant, some of them are weak, and some miss the mark all together, but none of them goes on for very long.  He was funny as hell but he had trouble with focus--so he went out of view once shows like 'Laugh In' went away--the end of Vaudeville on television was the end of a gifted comic's wide exposure.  The occasional talk show was all that was left--but his brand of humor was incredibly hilarious (and as many of my friends will tell you, I am not all that fond of comedy) and he will be both missed and remembered.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain (1889)

I have spent the past couple of months immersed in the works of Mark Twain.  This is the first work of fiction that I have read--which is funny, because I did not think of Mark Twain as a memoir writer, but he wrote a fair amount about his personal life.

So this is a welcome breath of air.  Hank Morgan is an engineer from Connecticut who receives a blow to the head and wakes up in the time of King Arthur.  Imagine his surprise--in fact, it is his relative lack of surprise that is the hardest hurdle to get over.  Once you accept that he adjusts to his lot in life so quickly, the rest of it is a tongue in cheek satire of both the time he ends up in as well as the time he left.

Twain wrote this book at the beginning of the second Industrial Revolution, at the dawn of the era of electricity, steal, coal and gasoline.  The world was feeling very proud of it's accomplishments at that point in time, but workers were not well cared for in many instances.  The progress was made on the backs of others--so when Twain's Yankee notes that the nobles and clergy in the time of King Arthur are living off the labor of the peasants, he may have been commenting on more than the feudal system.  He does weave a lot of late nineteenth century technology into his characters ability to mesmerize the ancient crowds--they thought it was magic, when it was considered more or less common in the time he left.  He is a clever bloke, and the story has a lot of substance underneath it's more obvious fluff and satire.

Hank's travels with the King, both of them in disguise as common men, are a wonderful perspective on many things, and have a lot of applications to the world today.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Anna Karenina (2012)

I have to start off by saying that I am not of the opinion that the story that Tolstoy wrote is a love story.  It is a story of a woman who sought drama, who fell superficially in love with a beautiful man, and who completely overestimated the impact of her looks and her charm when it came to breaking the rules and keeping all the privileges.  She was no more capable of loving her lover longitudinally than she was of loving her husband, or even her son, for that matter.  She was willing to leave him behind for her new adventure without much of a look back.  Her ability to love deeply and over time is very much in question in my mind.  To my reading of the book, it was not so much a tragedy as a tale of inevitable outcomes.  A woman hoisted by her own petard.  The juxtaposition of Levin and Kitty’s love, which is more of my idea of love, is in the novel to contrast with what Anna and Vronsky have, which is lust and infatuation.
So no, I do not see Anna as one of the great love stories of modern times, or even as a love story at all.  This film version did not alter the story to make her more loveable—it adheres to the original novel (except we really do not get to see enough of Levin and Kitty), with a funny twist.  There is something very dramatic about Russian literature, and slightly odd (my husband recently said he thinks that he has gone to his last Chekov play—now there is a guy who loves drama.  Chekov, that is, not my husband).  The movie chooses to use the place that Anna meets Vronsky, the opera house, as a recurring theme in the movie—we are constantly returning to the stage—either in the audience, on the stage, or backstage—I am not sure why that is, but it adds to the histrionics of the story.
The part of the movie that is not well fleshed out is the relationship between Stiva (Anna’s brother) and his wife Dolly—Stiva is Levin’s childhood friend, and Kitty is Dolly’s sister, so the two are in the movie, but the fact that Stiva and Dolly are dealing with Stiva’s infidelity is not really addressed.
The character who is best portrayed is Karenin (played quite deftly by Jude Law).  He is brilliant as the Russian mid-level politician and cuckolded husband who loves his straying wife despite all and adores his child.  We sense his difficulty expressing emotions and the role that plays in the demise of his marriage, and we are sympathetic, which is exactly how the book makes you feel.  In the end it is a movie well worth watching, no matter how you feel about Ann--it is lushly filmed and beautifully costumed, a joy of period cinema to watch.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Jill and Jewel's Oaxaca Art Trip

I joined this wonderful art trip to Oaxaca that was organized by a friend of a friend.  The idea of the trip was two-fold: to create one's own art and to see the artistry of others.  In many ways that could be done anywhere--you don't need to go to Oaxaca.  Ah, but Oaxaca holds many things that are unique to it, and that uniqueness is part of the inspiration for the artist within you.

I had never been to Oaxaca, although I have traveled through Central and South America on several occasions over the last 40 years.  Oaxaca is an artisan rich region of a country that has many talented artists, which was a draw to me on those grounds.  In addition, I am a big fan of Rick Bayless' and an amateur home cook, so visiting the region of Mexico that he draws inspiration for food from has appeal for me, to be sure. In other words, the visiting art part of the tour was a fantastic draw--I just wasn't sure how I would fare in the art instruction part of the tour.

Had I really known Jewel and Jill before I got started, I would have relaxed about that considerably.  I am not an ideal student in that I am easily distracted, which makes following directions that are more complicated than I can grasp challenging.  I am more of a fiber artisan, and this class was about drawing, painting and collage.  The bottom line is that I had nothing to worry about.  The class had a wide range of students with an equally broad range of experience.  I was in the bottom quartile, to be sure--but no worries.  I learned a ton, I never felt out of my element, I had great support throughout the class, I got ideas from other students as well as the teacher, and I came home inspired.  What more can you ask from a class?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin

The subtitle of the book is "Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court", and that is more or less true for the Rehnquist court, which began in the 1980's and goes to Rehnquists death, and the book more or less ends with the beginning of the Robert's court (which will warrent a whole other book, it seems like.  That court was looking entirely predictable up until Roberts and the Affordable health Care Act decision, with Kennedy having returned to the conservative wing of the court, but with Obama re-elected and Roberts becoming a little less of a right wing Republican yes man, maybe it will one day make a real story).

I did not know, but that court was the longest running Supreme Court of all time--which speaks to several things.  One is that people are consistently living longer.  Another is that Souter is now an anomaly--a guy who leaves the court because he shuns Washington, politics, and power is just not all that common a guy these days.  Sadly, the book really doesn't shed any light on what makes him tick.  He was a mystery for me going into the book, and I emerged at the end none the wiser.

The main part of story here is Sandra Day O'Connor.  She essentially made all the important decisions for the better part of a decade--if she voted yes, it had a majority.  If she voted no, it went down to defeat--so wooing her became the task of the day.  The nice thing about that was that she wasn't a justice who hid her feelings.  She traveled widely and gave many speeches during those travels.  She asked questions from the bench and the things she asked informed what she was thinking and how she would vote.  The big mistake that Reagan made was underestimating just how much being female would influence her as a justice.  She was an Eisenhower Republican, not an antedeluvian conservative automaton.  I am eternally thankful for that.

But when O'Connor retired, knowing Rehnquist was dying and Bush was still president, she allowed an opening for the court to swing the other way--the last chapter of the book is on the beginning of the Roberts court, with it's complete lack of regard for precedent--not even mentioning it in their opinions.  Time will tell how Chief Justice Roberts will fare over the course of time--where as the Warren court was ahead of the public in terms of freedom, the Roberts court thus far seems to be behind the times.  We will see what this this year's decisions will hold.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Master (2012)

This movie is incredibly intense but I am not sure what it was about.  The movie has two great performances in it, but it is not a great movie.  Joaquin Phoenix, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams were all nominated for Academy Awards for their work in this movie, but despite having the most actors of any movie nominated, the film did not garner a Best Picture nomination.  There are several things that do not hang together well when all is said and done.  The performances that are delivered are compelling, but somehow the viewer isn't left with much.  Where did the movie go?  What were we supposed to learn along the way?  What was the take home message?  I do not always require that those questions be answered--let's face it, almost every action adventure movie would leave you answering those three questions with nowhere, nada, and nothing, and of course I watch and enjoy all too many of those!  I cannot exactly put my finger on it, but this movie left me feeling like I needed a bit more to really walk away from it feeling satisfied.
So here is the story.  The movie doesn't say so, but Phillip Seymour Hofman plays Lancaster Dodd, who is  someone who is so closely based on L. Ron Hubbard there can be no doubt that it is about him.  But the main character is someone who is a disciple of his, Freddy Quell (Joaquin Phoenix).  Freddy was a WWII veteran, just like Hubbard himself, but in scenes that we see of him early on it is clear that he is a disturbed man.  Maybe it is the war, maybe it is the alcohol, maybe it is the stuff he makes and bottles and drinks in excess, and maybe it is who he was before all this started, but Freddy is intense, violent, unpredictable, and not much of a talker.  He produces the toxic elixir that Dodd is addicted to, so they have a pathologic relationship of dependency on each other.  Quell seems down right nuts, with a large dose of dangerous on top, but Dodd manages the crazy and side steps the violence, and the two are together more or less to the end, despite Mrs. Dodd very correctly identifying the pathology and trying to put an end to it.  That is pretty much the whole thing right there.  We never really figure out all the detail's of Dodd's 'Cause', where the money comes from, what the price of admission is, or much about the indoctrination of adherents.  It is not a boring movie--far from it--it is unsettling, but for me, it left more questions than it answered.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Thank You Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert died this week, after several long and most likely painful years of aggressive thyroid cancer--he lost his jaw, his ability to eat, and his ability to talk.  But what he didn't lose was his ability to review movies better than anyone whose reviews I have read over the years.  For a period of time, I had a bulletin board by my office door where I recommended and reviewed a movie a day.  Women's history month I recommended films made by women, Asian history month I would recommend Asian films and Asian filmmakers.  I had always liked Ebert but that was when I began to really appreciate his wit and insight.

First of all I want to thank him for his ability to find a good thing to say about most films--he was able to do what a lot of reviewers struggle with.  He appeared to have the ability to enjoy a film vis-a-vis it's genre.   A good independent film is script driven with convincing performances by actors.  It is not a celebration of costuming or opulent sets or technically brilliant action scenes.  That is not what is in the range of possible, and so you rate it based on what it is trying to do.  Likewise, and action film is largely not plot driven, so what is enjoyable is the pace of the movie, the quality of the action, and a plot that as a viewer you can swallow. He also reviewed quite a few foreign films, and back in the per-internet days, he was a source of information about movies that were not going to show up at the multiplex.   

Second of all, it is inspirational that someone has a job that they love so much that they continue to do it when the going gets very tough indeed.  It is something to strive for--of course, his job was one where you could take loved ones to work with you.  He had private showings at a 60+ seat theater, so he could have whoever he might like there with him, and often had his wife at his side when he worked--so he didn't have to chose between work and family as he lived out the end of his life, but still, lots of people would have stopped work altogether, and he did not.

The last thing I want to say is that I LOVED the New Yorker printing some of his submitted cartoon captions for their weekly contest--while he didn't win (until now) he had some really great captions.  So he was smart, witty, and a force to be reckoned with.  Bon Voyage into that great dark night.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Gathering of Waters by Bernice McFadden

I loved this book.  The book weaves historical events into the narrative, which I am not always fond of, but in this case I loved that as well.  The book has a magical realism quality that I do love.  So it is a trifecta of fiction, a real winner.

The story goes across the 20th century in a mere 250 pages with a series of interlinked stories.  It takes place beginning  post-WWI and most of the action occurs in a fictional place called Money, Mississippi.  The historical context goes from the 1927 Flood, rolls in the infamous murder of Emmett Till, and ends with Hurricane Katrina. 

We meet Doll, a child who is felt by her mother to be possessed by the spirit of a well known but deceased hooker.  The mother wrestles with raising the child for a while, but eventually abandons her to the town preacher--he and his wife heartily bring Doll into their family, and she is a model child up until the point that she startgs sleeping with her adopted father, which inevitably leads to the break up of the family, her marriage to the preacher, and their move to Mississippi.  The theme of a spirit imbuing another--for better or for worse, runs through the book in a very nice and pleasing way.  The lynching of Emmett Till and what happens to his spirit if very nice indeed.  This is a wonderful atmoshperic book that is very hopeful, despite dealing with very troubling themes that include natural disaster, incest, lynching, and so much more.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty (2013)

This movie could be re-titled: "The CIA--The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly".

I should start out by saying that I do not have blood thirst for Bin Laden, never did, and so maybe there are essential things about the telling of this story, which is how the CIA found him and how the raid on his house was conducted, with all the details of terrorism in the Al Queda neighborhood occurred in the intervening years between 9/11 and his ultimate demise, and the importance of them to the American people are lost on me.  You don't have to convince me that these are bad people.  I also believe there are a lot of committed people working in parts of the world where it is very dangerous to be an American and the color of your skin makes you stand out in a way that you cannot hide. 
The part I have trouble with is watching it happen.  Jessica Chastain gives a compelling performance as a female CIA agent who has essentially given over her young adulthood to the effort to find Bin Laden.  The point is brought home late in the movie when someone asks her what else she has worked on, and this is it.  So success means a lot when you have dedicated a decade of your life to it.

The problem I have, once I got past the torture at the beginning of the movie, is that it just didn't hold my interest the whole way through--which is very long--perhaps some aggressive editing could have made this a more viewer friendly movie, but maybe the story is too complex to tell in a movie format.  Good, but not great.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Oaxaca, Mexico

I have recently returned from a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico.  The name Oaxaca was originally derived from the N√°huatl word, Huayacac, which roughly translated means The Place of the Seed in reference to a tree commonly found in Oaxaca. It is a region that is chock full of interesting people, inspirational art, talented artisans, magnificent food, charming and massive churches, and archeological ruins that are breath taking (literally--the elevation is 5,000 feet and higher, so if you arrive from sea level, be prepared to huff and puff up the hills of downtown Oaxaca).
The Mexican state of Oaxaca, located along the Pacific Ocean in the southeastern section of the country, consists of 95,364 square kilometers and occupies 4.85% of the total surface area of the Mexican Republic. Located where the Eastern Sierra Madre and the Southern Sierra Madre come together, Oaxaca shares a common border with the states of Mexico, Veracruz and Puebla (on the north), Chiapas (on the east), and Guerrero (on the west).  As the fifth largest state of Mexico, Oaxaca is characterized by extreme geographic fragmentation. With extensive mountain ranges throughout the state, Oaxaca has an average altitude of 1,500 meters (5,085 feet) above sea level, even though only about 9% of this is arable land. With such a large area and rough terrain, Oaxaca is divided into 571 municipios (almost one-quarter of the national total—worse than the small state of Iowa with 99 counties).

 Oaxaca's rugged mountainous topography probably played a significant role in giving rise to its amazing cultural diversity. Because individual towns and tribal groups lived in isolation from each other for long periods of time, the subsequent seclusion allowed sixteen ethnolinguistic groups to maintain their individual languages, customs and ancestral traditions intact well into the colonial era and ­ to some extent ­ to the present day. For this reason, Oaxaca is ­ by and large ­ the most ethnically complex of Mexico's thirty-one states. The Zapotec (347,000 people) and the Mixtec (241,000 people) are the two largest groups of Indians, but they make up only two parts of the big puzzle.  Even today, it is believed that at least half of the population of Oaxaca still speaks an indigenous dialect. Sixteen different indigenous groups have been formally registered as indigenous communities, all perfectly well defined through dialect, customs, food habits, and rituals. 

Modern roads have allowed for better access between culturally diverse regions of Oaxaca and it is a pleasure to travel from village to village, market to market, ancient ruin to ancient ruin, church to church learning more about each culture, both in its past in the in the present—which are sometimes very hard to distinguish.  These are not people eagerly seeking a modern life.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

A 'How To' book full of stories on how to lose a woman.  Usually it is a significant other.  Usually it is through bad behavior.  No one needs to read about how to do that.  It is obvious.  It is inevitable.  Diaz somehow has a better way to say it, a better way to show that in fact you have some control over how you respond to the world around you.  The world responding to you is something you cannot control.  And if you are Hispanic, in Diaz' stories (I think these reactions and attributes cross all cultural lines and are universal--which is the appeal of the book--but his stories are largely about Dominicans and they are all about Latinos), it might not be the response that you were hoping for.  But it is a two way street, and how you respond, well, that is in your control.  However, not everyone can let things slide off of them, and that affects their relationships, their families, their neighbors, and their co-workers.  The last story in the book seems almost autobiographical.  Maybe he lives these lives, maybe he knows people who do, maybe he has a great ear for pendejos y sucias.  No se.  Tal vez es verdad por todo el mundo.

But there is something softer about the world view in this book as compared to his last one ("The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao").  He still has the smart snappy lines, the edge of bitterness that comes close to but just avoids being irksome.  He is not quite the Sherman Alexie of the immigrant Hispanic, but he is young still, he has time to develop into that kind of funny, honest, difficult to look in the eye but you know he is telling the truth kind of writer.  I am not a lover of short stories, but these are more like linked tales, different people in different situations that have a common theme.  Very much worth your while to read.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Sessions (2012)

Mark O’Brien, as depicted in this sensational movie, was a remarkable man.  He had polio as a young child, and spent the majority of his life lying on a gurney attached to a breathing machine.  I know he is one in a thousand, or one in a million who makes his life into something positive when all odds are against him, but he did it, and his story is worth thinking about.  John Hawkes, who played a back woods Missouri man with sketchy ties to the meth trade in ‘Winter’s Bone’, does an admirable job depicting Mr. O’Brien—my only thought was did he lose weight for the role or is he naturally that cachectic.
This movie depicts one portion of Mr. O’Brien’s remarkable 49 years.  He had attendants full time after his polio, and often they are not very lovable, but when he gets one who is, Amanda, he falls deeply madly in love.  Which doesn’t go well—he confesses his love, and his desire to marry her and she leaves him.  Immediately.  Running away as fast as she can.  It is the sort of reaction that might turn you off of love, but in some ways it turned him onto it. 
He is a religious man, who has a very enviable relationship with a priest (played deftly by William Macy, who I adore).  When he asks the priest about love—and sex—the priest gives answers that make you realize that Mr. O’Brien isn’t just a man who looks on the brighter side of bad situations, he is also lucky.  Mark decides to hire a sex surrogate to teach him how to love a woman.  Helen Hunt is fantastic in this role and her nomination for an Academy Award for her work here is well deserved.  At the end of the sessions, Mark is able to see himself as a sexual creature and moves forward into life as a man who can have a relationship—which he does.
The very sad part of the movie—besides his early death—is that he feels that his parents sacrificed their lives to give him a life.  The cards you are dealt are not just dealt to you, they are dealt to your family, and that is just the way it is.  You have to help each other, and the fact that Mark needed a lot more attention doesn’t mean that his parents had no life.  There is joy to be found  in helping someone live their life to its full potential, whatever that potential is, and he never really got that (at least in the movie—maybe he did in real life).  I suspect they saw it not so much as a sacrifice but as a part of what they had to do as parents.  Children come with no guarantees, and to use Mark’s own words, no ‘sell by’ date.  That is the deal.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Exxon Oil Pipeline Failure

We have all the same images that we have come to expect with oil spills--usually they are on coastlines, but Arkansas became an inland sea of oil over the weekend.  Pictures of vast quantities of oil in places where it doesn't belong abound (despite efforts to keep the press away).  The heart wrenching pictures of unsuspecting wildlife caught in the mucky goo, most of them to die of it, but often not until they have been washed and manhandled by people attempting to save them.

Exxon admitted yesterday that they have sopped up 12,000 gallons so far--how much of that is oil versus water is yet to be determined, but given that they have yet to get the place spotless, that would be about 15% of the daily capacity of the Pegasus pipeline.  The Sierra Club puts the oil on the ground at 86,000 gallons, which would be the better part of a days worth out in people's yards and streams and who knows what else.

Now, it is entirely possible that the proposed Keystone pipeline would not suffer from the problems that the pipelines that were built in the 1940's and 1950's are subject to, and maybe it isn't fair to compare the two--but the timing of this spill is not good for porponents of pipelines as a way to have oil travel.  I personally would far rather see the money spent on updating the national grid, modernizing power throughout the country, increasing solar and wind more broadly, and burying our power lines--because global climate change is here to stay, and we might as well start dealing with it.

The pessimist in me says that until we empty all the oil out of the ground we are not going to relent on that as an energy source, no matter what the consequences, both long and short term, are.   We do have to talk about compensation to people whose lives and property are disrupted or ruined as a result of pipeline failures.  Sad, and all too predictable.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Kale, Mushroom and Onion Gratin

This is a great dish for people who think that they hate greens--it is probably not the way you should eat them everyday, but this is delicious and no one will turn their nose up at it.  Our local Costco has baby kale, and it is so tender and delicious, it makes for delicious greens. 
  • 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano Regianno
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb. kale
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cups milk or cream
  • 1 large garlic clove, smashed
  • freshly ground pepper and salt to taste
  • 1 cups grated gruyere or Swiss cheese
Preheat the oven to 400° F. Rub a 2-quart shallow gratin dish with the butter.

Fill a large Dutch oven or soup pot three-quarters full with water and 2 teaspoons of salt and bring to a boil. Add the kale to the boiling water and start timing immediately. Taste a leaf after 4 minutes. It should not be tough or rubbery. If it is, cook for 1 to 2 minutes longer. Drain the kale in a colander in the sink, and run cool water over it just until it is cool enough to handle. Press down on the kale to remove as much water as possible. Transfer the kale to a mixing bowl by the handful, squeezing each handful again to remove some additional water.

Saute onions and mushrooms.

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the cream and the smashed garlic to a boil, watching it carefully. As soon as it boils (don’t let it boil over), turn the heat down, and simmer the cream for 5 minutes. (It will reduce by about ¼). Take the cream off the heat and season it with ¼ teaspoon kosher salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper. Remove the garlic (or not!).

Add the mushrooms and onions, and the Gruyere or Swiss cheese to the mixing bowl of kale. Loosely toss everything together. Pore cream in and mix, add Parmesan and put in gratin dish. Cover the gratin with the breadcrumbs or matza meal (it is Passover, after all) or panko, spreading it as evenly as possible. Bake the gratin until the crumbs are well browned and the cream has bubbled below the top of the gratin, 20 to 25 minutes.