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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Cranberry Almond Tart

This is a fantastic dessert for the holidays, easy to do (you press out the dough for the bottom, and crumble the top, so no rolling pin required, and the filling is as easy as making cranberry sauce).  You can only make one recipe of the dough at a time in the food processor (I am one to double a recipe, as making two is just as easy as making one and then you have one left for another occasion).

For the cranberry filling
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 12 oz. fresh or thawed frozen cranberries (about 3 cups)
  • 3 Tbs. apricot jam
For the shortbread
  • 3-1/2 oz. (1 cup) sliced almonds
  • 9 oz. (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1-3/4 oz. (1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs.) fine yellow cornmeal
  • 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 8 oz. (1 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces and softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 Tbs. packed finely grated lemon zest (from 1 large lemon)
  • 3/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. pure almond extract
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • Cooking spray
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish (optional)
Make the filling
Combine the sugar, lemon juice, and 1/2 cup water in a 3-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar, about 2 minutes. Add the cranberries and lower the heat to medium-low. Simmer until the cranberries have popped and the liquid is syrupy, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in the apricot jam and simmer until the jam melts, about 1 minute more. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.
Make the shortbread
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 325°F. Spread the almonds on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until warm and fragrant but not yet brown, about 5 minutes; let cool completely.
In a food processor (with at least a 10-cup capacity), combine the nuts with 2 Tbs. of the flour. Pulse until very fine but not powdery, 20 to 25 short pulses. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the remaining flour, the cornmeal, and salt.
In the food processor, combine the butter, sugar, lemon zest, vanilla, and almond extract.
Pulse until creamy, 10 to 20 short pulses. Add the egg yolk and pulse a few times to combine. Add the dry ingredients and pulse, scraping down the sides as necessary, just until a soft dough forms, 30 to 40 short pulses. Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic and divide.
Lightly coat a round 91/2 x1-inch fluted metal tart pan with a removable bottom with cooking spray. Press half of the dough evenly onto the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap. Form the remaining dough into a disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate the dough and the tart shell until very firm, at least 30 minutes.
Prick the bottom of the tart shell all over with a fork and bake on a heavy-duty baking sheet until firm, dry, and just starting to turn golden brown around the edges, 30 to 35 minutes. The shortbread will have puffed up during baking, so use the back of a spoon to gently press down the bottom of the crust to create enough space for the cranberry filling. Spoon the filling into the tart and spread evenly.
Crumble the remaining shortbread dough over the cranberries in pebble-like pieces, covering the filling. Bake until the topping is firm and golden-brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.
Carefully remove the tart rim. Slide a long, flat spatula between the pastry and the pan bottom and transfer the tart to a serving platter. Dust with confectioners’ sugar, if using, just before serving.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Thinning of the Pack

 Sadly, today our almost 20 year old dog  (or as I liked to say, our 137 year old dog) died.  His name was B.B. (after B.B. King) and he slipped very peacefully away on the front porch, a place where he had passed many happy hours.  He was in good shape up to the very end, still able to hop up the stairs, although occasionally confused by what stairs were for.   He will be missed by man and dog alike, and his funeral was marked by both crying and barking.

I have had 2-4 dogs my entire adult life, and over this past decade we have had the same trio.  They have been a pack.  The thing that I love about dogs is how they look out for their human pack mates--they know us and love us more than we know and love each other, and that can be a real comfort on sad times.  The thing that I have learned is that they also  really look out for each other.
B.B. was an old dog for a very long time.  He had the opportunity to develop chronic illnesses for which there was little to be done--he had a chronic ear infection for the last five years, and every day, morning and night, our other two dogs would vigorously lick his ear until either they were convinced they had made headway on the problem or B.B. stopped allowing them access to his ear.  My husband has looked at me several times over the course of these medicinal administrations and noted that while he would do many things for me, licking my ear infection clean was not amongst them.  They groom each other in hard to reach places, and they provide each other vital companionship when humans are unavailable.  Two of our children have dogs, and they come over to our house to avail themselves of the pack life that we can provide.  They were all a big comfort to me on this sad but inevitable occasion.  Thank you Nick, Ram, Leila, and Cedric for the joy you bring to my life, and farewell B.B.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


It is a historic convergence of two great cultural celebrations--Hanukkah and Thanksgiving, one religious and one societal.  It is the first and likely the last time in my lifetime that it will occur, and it seems particularly significant to me, because it represents both mine and my husband's cultural heritages.

I come from seriously old New England Puritan stock.  My ancestors left England not to seek their fortune, but to pursue their religious freedoms (which, given the restrictive elements of Puritanism, do not seem all that free, but it was important to them, and a hundred plus years after their arrival in this new land they fought for it's independence from England).  While the exact timing and location of the first Thanksgiving are unknown (and there are serious questions about whether or not it actually happened), the idea of celebrating survival in a new and fairly harsh environment was definitely something my relatives would resonate with.

My spouse is from an Ashkenazi Jewish heritage--his people immigrated to the United States more recently and while they have whole heartedly adopted the concept of being thankful about what one has, Thanksgiving has a different place in their cultural heritage.  On the other hand, Hanukkah, the festival of lights, is most certainly in his genes. It is a relatively minor Jewish holiday, but the act of lighting progressively more candles over the course of 8 nights makes for a joyful holiday, none-the-less.  We have often each lit candles on our own menorahs so that by the fifth night, they represent a thing of beauty or a significant fire hazard, depending on your point of view.

So this is the first time that something significant to both of us going back dozens of generations will occur simultaneously is something to celebrate in and of itself.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pocahontas--The Woman, the Myth, the Legend

 One of my sons is taking a mythology class this semester.  The class is centered on Greek and Roman myths, but as so often happens, one thing leads to another, and he is writing a paper for another class on an American myth--Pocahontas.  I am fond of the saying that there is nothing new since the Greeks, in that human behavior is relatively stable over the centuries, in that the things that motivate us and the things that comfort us remain largely similar over generations.   I have not studied even the best known American myths, so it has been very enlightening to learn about the real people behind well known stories.  I believe that Pocahontas would be termed a legend, which is a story that involves humans doing heroic acts.
 The picture above is an actual depiction of the real Pocahontas, who did marry an Englishman, John Rolph, had a mixed race child, and traveled to England to demonstrate the possibilities that existed for making Native Americans more like the British.  The part of the story that is deleted is that she was far from a willing participant in the whole charade--she was kidnapped as a young girl and held captive by the settlers--this was a frequent occurrence.  Warring Native American tribes did the same to each other as well.  So Pocahontas, the daughter of an important chief, would have known that if she cooperated with her captors, she had a chance to survive.  She learned English, converted to Christianity, became literate, and transformed herself into the poster girl for the English ability to tame the savage indian.  She died a lonely and miserable death far from her native home.
The picture to the right is from a mid-19th century advertisement, using a very sexualized Pocahontas to entice men, presumably, to buy tobacco.  The west was still pretty wild at that point in history--the railroads had yet to be completed that would make travel accessible to all Americans to the West Coast, and so the romanticized--and derogatory--image of a Native American woman is perhaps understandable--what I can't get over is that this same image is being marketed on merchandise today--you can buy this refrigerator magnet, or a necktie, or a T-shirt or a totebag with this very same image on it.  We have not progressed all that far from our Civil War roots when it comes to our ability to see how demeaning the images of Native Americans that we use are in the 21st century.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Civil Rights, Family Court, and Bode Miller

The Bode Miller-Sara McKenna story reads right out of the pages of The Onion.  Boy and girl meet through a dating service.  They have no hope of a long term relationship, but girl becomes pregnant.  Boy reacts badly, girl goes public, and because boy is Bode Miller, Olympic skiier and well-known bad boy, people take notice.  Boy becomes upset with girl, and as so often happens, when the battle of affairs gone bad to one up the other in terms of revenge, the baby always loses. 

No one reading about Miller's behavior could possibly believe that he has the best interest of his child at heart.  This is about making someone miserable--and unfortunately the most innocent victim will be his child.  Nor has Ms. McKenna's behavior been beyond reproach.  Family courts have to balance between these warring factions on a regular basis and there are no good options for the children in these tugs of wars.  It is reprehensible that a judge denied Ms. McKenna custody of her as of then unborn child because she chose to go to an Ivy League university to get an undergraduate education after serving her country in the military. No excuse for that.  It does raise questions about just how much we can count on the courts to protect civil rights of women, but we have known those have been under attack.  It is a miracle we ever got the right to vote.  But the very worst news of all is that being a celebrity does not improve your ability to parent, and in the end, even though this child was born of privileged parents, he will be unlucky in the things that money can't buy--parents who put his needs above their own.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Health Insurance, Politics, and Governance

Here's the deal.  Elected officials are put into office by people who expect them to do the right thing, to protect the interests of the people of their state.  That is, according to the founding fathers, the reason to go into politics.  It is not for personal gain but for the greater good.  We all know that the ideal politician is now an out and out fairy tale, but the issue of expanding Medicare is a story to watch in terms of what a governor is doing--or not doing--for their people.

The New York Times has a piece on how this issue in particular is splitting the Republican party.  I am not a fan of the Ronald Reagan edict that the greatest sin a Republican can commit is to disagree publicly with another Republican.  It goes against the premise that the best government is one that is based on compromise between two opposing parties--if one of them vows to never oppose it's members, then where is the ground upon which to build compromise?  In any case, the Affordable Health Care's expansion of Medicaid and a state's decision to accept that Federal aid, is a place where change may occur.

Governors who oppose the expansion have largely been silent on two things--on is that we as a society are already paying for the catastrophic health care that this population receives, and that if that money were spent on prevention it would likely be cheaper in both the short run and the long run.  Not to mention that those affected would have a better quality of life, and without health problems, they might be more productive members of the community, able to participate in the economy and pay taxes.  They also fail to explain what their solution to the problem of the uninsured is, and that is a critical missing piece.  It is easy to say why they don't like it, but what do they propose to do about the problem?  My hope is that the governors who make the decision to place their constituency above their party are rewarded in the end, and that those who do not retire from public office.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Morvern Callar (2002)

Before my youngest son took Introduction to Film Analysis, I thought that I watched a broad range of movies on a regular basis.  I did not have the idea that I was on par with serious film people, but I thought that I was reasonably well rounded in the film department.  It turns out that I was mistaken.

This course is the very first film class, the lowest of the low in terms of course number (ie. 001) and I am having trouble following the reading from academic sources--and the book, which is very good, would be much more understandable if I had recently watched the 200+ movies that it references to give examples of various filming techniques.  Then there are the movies themselves.

This is one of them, which was viewed the week of feminism in film.  Morvern comes home to discover a dead body sprawled across the threshold between the kitchen and the living room--it looks like he cut his wrists in the kitchen, then crawled as far as he could get--there is a suicide note typed on his computer addressed to her, leaving her his ATM card and code so that she can pay for the funeral and instructions to submit his book to a publisher that he has chosen.

So, what does she do?  Nothing.  She takes a bath, goes clubbing, and the next day she goes to her job as a cashier in a supermarket.  She says nothing about the dead guy on her floor.  She steps over him to heat up a pizza in her oven.  Next she claims the book as her own, sends it to a publisher, cuts him up in the bath tub, and backpacks into the hinterlands to bury him.  All of this makes her seem wither autistic or evil but she really seems neither.  The movie has an interesting pace, and Morvern is interesting, if a little hard to decipher.  She takes the funeral money and goes off to Spain--I did not end up with a good feeling about what her future holds--she seems like most lottery winners--ill prepared for their sudden gains.  Watch it and see what you think--then explain it to me.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

The search is on for the next great fantasy writer, especially since the most recent fantasy writer, J.K. Rowling, managed to become a billionaire on her Harry Potter series, and no doubt lots

Open the book and straightaway you encounter a two-page spread of "the seven orders of clairvoyance."  Do not skip over this or it will take you chapters to catch up with who is who.  This is not going to be any 'Game of Thrones' in terms of following what the heck is going on, but there is a higher level of complexity that what those of us whose science fiction reading is largely limited to 'The Hunger Games' and Harry Potter.

The list of  characters run from soothsayers to the much rarer "jumpers," of which Paige, our teenage heroine, is one—specifically, a "dreamwalker," who can roam in the ethereal world and affect the dreamscapes of others. Lots of lore to be gleaned from that skill.   It would be irrelevant, however, without a plausible way of bringing in the supernatural, and Ms. Shannon provides that in satisfactorily tricky fashion.

The year is 2059, and Paige lives in an England ruled by the Scion, a kind of for-your-own-protection tyranny. Her world split from ours 200 years before, when something tore a hole in reality and let through human-shaped and inhumanly attractive entities from the Netherworld called Rephaim. They insist they are here to protect humanity from other entities they brought with them, the Emim, or Buzzers. It's pretty clear, though, that the Scion has made a devil's bargain with humanity's alleged protectors.

The Rephs constantly are rounding up "voyants"—like Paige—whom they use as footsoldiers in their war against the Buzzers. The voyants are all living in hiding, except for traitors who serve the Scion. Every 10 years—echoes of folktale here—the rounded-up voyants are sent to a Rephaim stronghold called Sheol—in our world, Oxford--for the Bone Season.  The story has all the elements that you would hope for in a series projected to run 7 books, and while it is very derivative, in the sense that it is not breaking any new ground, it is also quite well done.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter

 Yet another simple but great one from Marcella Hazan!  Serve with meatballs on the side, so the vegetarians and the meat lovers are both happy.  Use olive oil if you have a vegan at the table--the key to this recipe is it's simplicity and that it is easy to make with ingredients you have in your pantry.


  • 2 cups canned imported Italian tomatoes, cut up, with their juice
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
  • Salt


Put  the tomatoes in a medium saucepan, add the butter, onion and salt and cook uncovered at a very slow but steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until it is thickened to your liking and the fat floats free from the tomato.
Stir from time to time, mashing up large pieces of tomato with the back of a wooden spoon. Taste and correct for salt. Discard the onion before tossing with pasta.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing (2012)

Joss Whedon, a director best known for films with broad cult appeal, like 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer', has produced a wonderfully textured film of one of Shakespeare's great romantic comedies.

The story goes like this.  He was on a 12-day hiatus during the filming of 'The Avengers', and Plan A was to take a trip with his wife to celebrate their 20th anniversary.  She suggested that perhaps they should consider Plan B, which would be for him to film this movie, which is rumored to be a long time dream of his.  They used their gorgeous but not overly pretentious Santa Monica home and gardens as the stage, and the filming is in black and white, which helps to keep it modern and timeless at the same time.  Shakespeare's language is kept largely in tact (it was shortened and some objectionable language was altered, but otherwise it was recognizable as the Bard's work).

The result is a wonderful version of the play--it starts off a bit slow, and it took me a little bit of effort to get used to the old language mixed with smart phones and limos, but once I settled in, the movie was quite enjoyable.  For those who haven't seen it in a while, it is the tale of two sets of lovers, one traditional and romantic, the other surprising and prickly.  They both encounter significant barriers to tying the knot--one because of outside agitators and one because they shoot themselves in the feet, but in the end, it all ends well, with the bad guys taken off by the remarkably humorous police officers, and the good couples are well wed.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

This book has all the essential elements that made Hosseini's first two books popular and successful.  It is set in Afghanistan.  The story spans over a half century, and delves back to a time when things were more stable, more open, and more hopeful in Afghanistan.  I had some difficulty figuring out when this idealized past occurred, but it may well have been in the time of Mohammed Daoud Khan, who overthrew his brother in law, the last king of Afghanistan, in the 1950's and was known for his progressive politics, his modernization of Afghanistan, which doubled the work force, and his progressive view of the rights of women.  That Afghanistan was never quite realized, but that may have been the most recent path that could have led them into the 21st century.  This is also a tale of siblings who are separated by circumstances at an early age, never to really reunite, which is another critical Hosseini ingredient.

The opening myth is one that permeates a network of tales, its meaning developing and diversifying across the course of the book. A div, or demon, draws a father into a terrible pact. The father can gift his favorite son a better life by giving the child away, never to see him again. This is what Saboor, the poor Afghan father telling the story, is himself about to do to his three-year-old daughter, Pari, who has an unusually powerful bond to her brother, Abdullah. From the moment the realization dawns that Saboor is going to give Pari to the wife of a wealthy man in Kabul, the ache of separation and longing pervade the story.

Hosseini is a gifted story teller, and while the book winds its way between several inter-related stories, the reader is not impatient for him to tie them all together, which he does at the end in a bittersweet way.  There is less violence in this book than in his past two books and more yearning.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Rio's Spicy Chicken Wings

I always forward recipes to my husband that I think he will enjoy making (and we will enjoy eating)--this was a resounding success.

For the marinade

  • 3 pounds chicken wings
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled and grated
  • 1 1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon nam pla or other Asian fish sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon mirin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

For the glaze

  • 1 cup mirin
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon nam pla or other Asian fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons red yuzu kosho (see note)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon grated garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon shichimi togarashi (optional)

For serving

  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
  • Black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped scallions


In a large bowl, mix together all marinade ingredients except chicken wings. Add the wings and toss to coat. Cover and let chicken marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
When ready to cook, combine all glaze ingredients in a small saucepan. Simmer over low heat, stirring frequently, until glaze reduces to a saucy consistency, about 20 minutes. Transfer to large mixing bowl and set aside.
Heat a broiler to high. Set a baking rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet and arrange wings on rack. Broil for 12 minutes, flipping wings halfway through, until they are crisp and golden.
Transfer wings to the bowl with the glaze and toss to coat. Transfer wings to a serving platter and garnish with sesame seeds, pepper and scallions. Serve hot.                  
  • NOTE

    If you can’t find red yuzu kosho (available at Japanese specialty markets or from Amazon), you can substitute 1 teaspoon of hot sauce or chile powder mixed with 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice and 1 teaspoon lemon zest.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Call the Midwife (2011-13)

My nuclear family is made up of five men, and not one of them would either watch or enjoy this series.  So let me be very clear, while I adore this series, it is defintiely not for everyone, including almost all men, and quite a few women.  I was at a large dinner table discussing m love of this series recently and only one person (which was less than 10%) said that it sounded vaguely interesting.

So  here is the story--it really does cover the waterfront on childbirth.  There are at least a couple of babies born every episode, and while it does not go into the protracted 20 hour labors in detail, they are not sugar coating it either.  There is a lot of screaming in pain, and there is a fair amount of childbirth appropriate blood.  Bringing babies into this world is a bloody and painful business, and that is largely what the women in this show do for a living.

But that is not what I love about it.  The setting is the late 1950's (and entering the 1960's as the show progresses) in a dirt poor working class neighborhood in London's East End.  The nurses work out of a convent and they provide the only real medical care that is available to the residents there.  The living conditions are appalling, as is the treatment of the elderly.  The show covers all the things that you would expect in a show about women--besides childbirth and all it's complications, there is domestic violence, child abuse, abortion, the need for birth control, and the inequality of women at that time and place.  These serious social problems are interlaced with the romantic lives of the nurses, and the running of a monestary.  It is really quite wonderful, and I can't wait for Season 3!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw

I loved this book--it was longlisted for the Man Booker prize this year, and I liked it far better than three of the books that got shortlisted.

The foreground of the story is a loosely interconnected web of five characters, all of who have come to Shanghai to either make or extend their fortunes.  They are an interesting cast of five characters.  They range from the shady five star millionaire of the book's title, Walter Chao, to the lowly Phoebe, a factory girl from a small village who uses counterfeit documents to obtain a job.  In between these extremes are Justin, who is ostensibly in Shanghai to expand his family's already successful business but finding that to be a struggle and Yinghui, who is one of the rising business superstars of China, a young woman who is largely self made and looking to rise further.  The most interesting character is Gary, a pop star who struggles with several demons, alcohol and a modd disorder to name a couple, and whose fame and fortune are dependent on both his image and his behavior.

The background of the story against which these increasingly interconnected lives play out is the new China.  There is a subtle satire here, depicting the rising superpower with increasingly neo-Capitalist mores that have spread across the continent.  China is drawing people seeking personal wealth and power from all over Asia and there are few rules and regulations, much less morals and ethics to guide them, and the results are all to evident in this wonderful and very vibrant book.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Orange Cake, Ancona Style

Remembering Marcella Hazan!


  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus flour for dusting the pan
  • 3 eggs
  • Grated peel of 3 oranges
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, softened to room temperature, plus butter for greasing the pan
  • 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons ouzo liqueur
  • 1 tablespoon whole milk
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice, with 3 tablespoons sugar dissolved in it.


Heat the oven to 350.
Put the flour, eggs, orange peel, 4 tablespoons softened butter, sugar and ouzo in a food processor, and run until all the ingredients are evenly amalgamated.
Add the milk and baking powder, and process again to incorporate into the mixture.
Thickly smear a bundt pan (Nordic Ware has a number of great shapes, including the one pictured) with butter, and dust with flour. Put the cake mixture in the pan (it won’t fill it up all the way), and place the pan in the preheated oven. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the top of the cake becomes a rich gold color.
Remove from pan after ~10 minutes, set on rack.
While the cake is still warm, poke many holes in it using a chopstick or any similar narrow tool. Into each of the holes, slowly pour some of the orange juice. At first the hole fills to the brim with juice, but this will subsequently — in about an hour — be absorbed by the cake. Serve at room temperature, with more orange juice drizzled over each slice. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Weekend (2011)

I usually like to use a promotional poster from a movie that I am writing about, but none of them had the right look between the two main characters, who demonstrate a close a affectionate relationship.  This is the look.  The movie that is largely a dialogue between two gay men about what they face moving forward in society.  One striking thing about it was how dated it seemed to me.  They do not see an openly gay life as an option.  They are in disagreement about the value of gay marriage--is it caving to a straight world's values or is it a beautiful expression of the love that two people share, regardless of gender?  But neither of them see it as a real possibility--and the movie is not that old.  Same sex marriage will become a reality in 2014, which just goes to show how fast things can change.

The thing I loved about this movie is that it is a conversation about being gay--the kinds of sexual situations they find themselves in that make them uncomfortable, the kind of abuse and discrimination they regularly face, the real jealousy they feel for gay men who have family who take their sexuality in stride.  There are certainly things that my parents are not happy with me about, but they are not things that I was born with--they really do take credit for my genetics--it is just too bad I am stubborn and opinionated, they say, but I come by it honestly.  Well, same goes for sexual orientation.  Yes, there is some nudity, but if you are looking for hot sex look elsewhere (my personal favorite is 'Latter Days'  This is really much more about the emotional aspects of being a gay man.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Carry the One by Carol Anshaw

I read this book because it was on the New York Times 2012 Notable Book list, and I really liked it--so much so that I will seek out other books that the author has written.

There are five main characters that we follow are linked by a single event.  Carmen and Matt's wedding is at a rural farm in the middle of nowhere, and five people who are leaving together, all in various stages of intoxication, are in a car that hits and kills a young girl.  They stop, attempt to resuscitate her, alert the proper authorities, and the driver, Olivia, goes to jail.  Carmen's two siblings, Nick and Alice, Matt's sister Maude, and a friend Tom all live with this traumatic event over the years, and the book is about how each and every one of them copes with trauma.  None of them have a traditional PTSD, so it is a fresh and interesting approach.

First of all, this is not a dreary, sad, or difficult book. Lots of relationships begin and end, don't get me wrong, but it is more matter of fact than a downer.  The characters each have things that they learn and things that they are adversely affected by as a result of being involved in the death of a child, which is how it happens when you have a healthy resolution of a trauma.  Very nicely done.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Remembering Marcella Hazan

Reading Mark Bittman's ode to Marcella prompting me to start composing my own version, which is very different from his.  He knew her, for one thing, and I did not.  He is a food professional and while I like to cook and I have been eating my whole life, no one would mistake me for a chef.  So the impact she had on our lives revolves around the food she made, and the way she cooked, but we were at very different places when we discovered her.

Interestingly, it was not at a different time.  The cookbook that had the greatest influence on me was her very first one, 'The Classic Italian Cookbook', which I discovered in the early 1980's (she wrote it in 1973, so I was definitely not ahead of the curve in discovering her, but then I didn't get around to Julia Childs until after that, so I have never been a trend setter (Alice Waters being the exception--I was on to her right away).  Bittman says that the book showed that Italian food could me more than a red sauce on pasta, but the thing that resonated for me is that she made her own pasta, and she showed you, step by step, how you could too.  I was in Providence at the time, which is a town where you can find fresh pasta without any trouble at all, but I was soon to leave there, and have never since lived in a place where you could get excellent fresh pasta.

The other thing I learned from her was that soup wasn't all that complicated.  Her hallmark as a cook is keeping it simple--few ingredients, highlight the flavor of the food rather than making it all fussy, and I have been making great soup for the bulk of my adult life, starting with things I learned from her.  A couple of years ago I bought a second copy of 'The Classic Italian Cookbook'--it wsa out of print of course, so I bought a used version, but my own copy had literally fallen apart, and while I am not opposed to taping things back together, I wanted to be sure I had a useable copy of one of the cookbooks that marked the beginning of my home cooking career.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

First Snow

I missed the first snow of the winter yesterday--by all accounts it was the makings of a wonderland--big beautiful flakes falling at a leisurely pace, just cold enough for it to snow and just enough of it to blanket the ground in white.

I really am not a fan of winter.  There is almost nothing that I like about it, other than that we wouldn't have fall without it and I really do love fall.  I dread the dark days, the subzero weather, ice, driving on ice.  Most of all I fear my husband being out of town and that I will have to figure out how to plow my driveway without him.  It is all just not for me.  I may have deep New England roots, but I grew up in Southern California and apparently environment over genes has won out in my case.

Exempt from all this is my love of the first snow.  For one thing, it usually occurs early enough that the temperatures are hovering around freezing, so it is mild weather.  It has been long enough since it last snowed that I actually am glad to see it again.  So I am sorry to have missed it, and hope the second snow this year has some of these characteristics, so I can indulge in my very short enjoyment of winter.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1860)

 On this Veterans Day, I reflect on the very first war that we as a nation engaged in.  I have relatives on both sides that fought in this war--I am of old New England stock.  My people came to this country in search of freedom, not wealth, and they found the former but not the later. 
They would most likely be appalled by the quality of the Congress we have today--shutting the government down because the majority passed a law that the minority didn't like.  What narcissism to think that they should dictate what the rest of us should want.  The Revolutionary War was fought to free us from tyrants such as these.

I know that this poem is based on myth rather than true historical events, but I have loved it since I was a child.
Longfellow wrote it when the country was on the brink of civil war, so it is even more poignant to think of what began the nation.

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”
Then he said “Good-night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.
Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.
Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,–
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.
Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,–
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.
Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.
A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.
It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.
It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.
It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.
You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.
So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Wet and The Dry by Lawrence Osborne

This is an unusual premise for a book, although perhaps not for this particular author.  About half of this travel memoir takes place through out the Muslim world, where the author is essentially going from bar to bar.  What is it like to drink alcohol in countries where the predominant way of like is to be alcohol free?  These chapters are interesting cultural studies of what the author's views as a paradox about Islam related to alcohol.  First, why alcohol?  The Taliban sells poppies and tolerates heroin, but not alcohol?  That doesn't make a lot of sense.  Then there is the duplicity--on the one hand standing on the higher ground that alcohol is for sinners, then on the other hand arranging for a non-Muslim to purchase your drink for you.

Osborne is very clear on his biases.  His mother was an alcoholic, and while he turns his nose up at her drink of choice, he followed faithfully in her footsteps in other ways.  He only describes two binges in the book, but it is not much over 200 pages and it is largely not about him, so it is unlikely that these are rare events.  He is a self-described nomad, living now in Turkey, but having set up camp in Thailand and several other countries over the course of hislife, so he is restless, a people watcher, and perhaps someone who likes being the foreigner in the crowd, and attention seeker of a certain kind.  The book is interesting in that it is completely different from either a commentary on Islam or a traditional travel memoir, and is worth an evening read.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Iowa, Deer, and Respect for Nature


I love this story because it really reminds me of what I love about living in Iowa.  A deer strolls into a supermarket this week.  That could happen anywhere.  Some take it as a sign of overpopulation of deer, and they might have a point, but I think there are plenty of deer out there in urban landscapes that could have accidentally wandered into a supermarket.  The fruit section is placed so close to the door, what deer could resist that temptation?  And after the deer had survived the slalom course that defines most moderate size supermarket parking lots, much of the peril was behind him.  That is not the part that I find amusingly, reassuringly, and wonderfully Iowan.

The few people in the store moved aside to let the deer pass through.  Even though we are an open carry weapon state, no firearms were either brandished or discharged.  Instead, the deer made it's way through the store to a stock room and into the back of a delivery truck.  This is the part I love.  The delivery truck driver closed up his truck, drove to a nearby park, and let the deer out.  I am sure the deer had had better days, but it really couldn't have gone better than that after he crossed the threshold into the exclusively human territory of a supermarket.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Charade (1963)

When I was trying to learn how to set up a false IP address so that I could fool Netflix into thinking that I was in the U.S. rather than in Europe, I started watching this movie, and then I got hooked.  I had never heard of it (really, no surprise.  I am at best a diletantte, and then only because I watch movies while I exercise, which allows me to do two things that I barely have time to do at once.  At worst I am just plain unimpressive.  I am essentially auditingmy first film class and learning the language and techniques behind the art of film making).

In any case, regardless of how I came to see this, it is a gem.  It is a combination thriller-romantic comedy, in the vein of North by Northwest, although more romance and less thrilling.  Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant have good chemistry, and while one review I read felt he was a tad on the old side for her, I thought it worked well.

The story is that Regina "Reggie" Lampbert (Hepburn) is vacationing at a lovely Alpine ski resort, planning he divorce.  Her husband doesn't know it yet, and she is getting friendly advice on how to proceed.  She meets the charming Peter Joshua (Grant) there, and a few sparks fly.  She goes back to Paris to confront her husband, only to find their apartment has been emptied out--he has sold everything and left town--only to be murdered on his getaway train.  At his funeral she discovers that her husband had a past she was completely unaware of, that included riling up some unsavory characters during his WWII service, and having the U.S. government after him for some stolen property.  Reggie's life is clearly in danger becaue one by one her assailants end up dead, and she has to chose who to trust.  The movie is a bit dated, but not enough to diminish it's entertainment value, and I would recommend it. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Outside Money, Iowa, and Politics

The recent election in Coralville  has me thinking.  Anytime Iowa makes the news and it is not related to a Presidential campaign, it could go either way whether that is a good or a bad thing.  Coralville had the dubious honor of getting into the sights of the billionaire Koch brother funded Americans for Prosperity group (which is not aptly named--we are all for prosperity--they just seem to be focused on maintaining prosperity for those who already have it rather than spreading the wealth).  They took umbrage with the recovery plan that the town had taken after the devestating 2008 flooding, which has been ambitious and incurred a large debt.  Rather than attempt to educate the populace on the implications of such a plan, in a balanced, potential risks and benefits approach, they chose to target the incumbents that were up for re-election.  Does money buy votes?  Not this year, at least not in Coralville, where all three were easily re-electd to office, but not before the voting public was riled up.  There was a great turn out for the election, and that is a plus, but over all, how to fight back against this trend?

The first step is to accept what you cannot control.  There has always been and there will always be outside money wrapped around Iowa politics.  That's not new and it is not news.  What has changed since the Citizen's United decision is there is more money, and more focus on smaller issues and smaller communities.  One way to fight back to to take to the streets--they went door to door, we can go door to door.  When another of the judges on the 2007 Iowa Supreme Court that made a ruling that allowed for legal same sex marriage in Iowa was targeted, the Iowa Bar Association sent lawyers on buses across Iowa to explain why the judge was indeed qualifed to be a judge, and why there was a necesarry seperation between the judiciary and the legislature. 

Another positive trend coming out of the Coralville election could be stronger campaign disclosure laws.  After what happened recently in California, I would say it could be an effective way to know who is spending what where.  Last year the California Fair Political Practices Commission suspected that millions in contributions were given to two right-wing political campaigns by donors who obscured their identity. After a year-long investigation, the state imposed $16 million in penalties and fines on the groups, a record in a campaign finance case. Though it’s not clear how much of those penalties will ever be collected, or even who many of the original donors were, the effort demonstrates the importance of state disclosure laws and aggressive enforcement, particularly since Congress has refused to pay attention to abuses on a national level. I believe the California commission has done the political world a favor by exposing the secretive network of conservative groups that have aggressively taken advantage of the unlimited donations allowed by the Supreme Court, as well as the ability to hide donors that is permitted by the Federal Election Commission and lower courts.  So let's get that kind of passion for discovery and accountability in Iowa!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Chicken Tagine with Green Olives

1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon sweet or hot paprika
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon whole cloves
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for frying
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger
1 handful fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 large pinch saffron
1 (3 1/2 to 4 pound) free-range chicken, cut into 10 pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 preserved lemon, recipe follows
1/2 cup cracked green olives
1 cup chicken stock
Couscous with Apricots, recipe follows


In a skillet over medium heat, toast the cinnamon, peppercorns, cumin, paprika, red pepper flakes, and cloves until they start to smoke. Remove from the heat and grind in a spice grinder.

In a bowl large enough to accommodate the chicken, add the oil, spice mix, garlic, ginger, cilantro, bay leaves and saffron. Mix to a paste. Add chicken, rubbing the marinade over all the pieces. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.

Remove the chicken from the marinade and reserve marinade. Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper. In a tagine or large casserole over medium high heat add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Put in chicken pieces and lightly brown on both sides, about 5 minutes. Add onions and cook until just starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Rinse preserved lemon well. Scoop out flesh and discard; cut peel into strips and add to pan. Add reserved marinade, olives, and chicken stock. Cover tightly and cook over medium low heat for 30 to 35 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Remove bay leaf and discard. Taste juices and adjust seasoning. Place chicken on a warm platter. Spoon juices with the preserved lemon, olives, and onions over chicken and serve accompanied by Couscous with Apricots.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Mud (2013)

I am not amongst the Matthew McConaughy fans--on screen he just seems much too impressed with himself to be able to appreciate admiration from others.  Not so in this film.  He plays Mud, a man on the run, wanted in the cold blooded murder of a man who done a woman wrong.  The law and the dead man's mobster family want to exact revenge on him, so he has gone home to a place that he knows all too well.  He is living on an uninhabited island on the Mississippi River somewhere south of the Mason Dixon line in the land of Piggly Wiggly (a quick perusal of their website shows that this doesn't elinimate any Southern state on the Mississippi).

The movie is about Mud and the relationship he develops with two 14-year old boys, Ellis and Neckbone, but it is also about place.  If 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' was the poverty story of river and bayou life, this is the lower middle class side of the story.  It isn't quite as dangerous feeling as 'Winter's Bone', but the cops in this town can be bought and vigilantism is alive and well.  Lots of people live off what they can get out of the river, which in some ways is admirable and in other ways is incredibly sad and desperate.  So that is the back drop against which this story is told.

The plot itself is the least interesting part of the movie--Mud has had a life long crush on Juniper (Reese Witherspoon, who plays the role convincingly).  Juniper only has eyes for bad boys, who more often than not end up beating her up, which is when she calls Mud, who consistently saves her, only to have her start all over again with yet another man.  He sees her as his life long love, but we see what Mud's adopeted father, Tom (Sam Shepherd), sees, that as long as he hangs on to her, he is doomed.  Ellis and Neckbone know the woods almost as well as Mud, and they come upon him living in a boat that got swept up into a tree during one storm or another.  Mud treats them as his posse, and they come through for him in ways that are resourceful and impressive.  The bad guys come to town, rough up the girl, enlist some muscle, and it all comes down to a shoot out after Mud has to surface to do the right thing.  It is so well done, and McConaughy deserves some recognition for his portrayal of Mud.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Guns, TSA, and Airports

The shooting at LAX over the weekend is not surprising and it is not a random event.  That is the spin the NRA has used to make what has been common and now is increasingly reported on common place.  It is not unusual and it is not random.  Gun violence has long been with us, but so long as it was confined to poor neighborhoods, gang feuds, drug trafficking, and other less than savory corners of society we could pretend it would not happen to us.  We just needed to avoid buying cocaine and wearing gang colors, stay in our middle class neighborhoods and not let it be part of our lives.

Not so any more.  School shootings are common.  Hundreds of children will be killed in America this year, just like they were last year.  And more and more, people are carrying guns.  Why would someone take a gun to an airport?  Well, it is not an isolated event.  In 2012 TSA confiscated 1500 guns in people's carry on luggage.  This year it is estimated that number will be 1800, and it has already surpassed last years numbers.  The states where it is more common are exactly what you would expect--states that allow open carry.  So it is time to get real about this--contact your representatives and let them know how you feel, and get ready for more of the same if we do not change this tide.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Voting Restrictions Backfire

The Republican strategy of preventing voters from voting is flawed on many levels.  First, it seems contrary to the principles of a democracy, where all citizens should have a voice in government.  If we were to listen to Aristotle and the ancient Greeks, the guys who invented this form of government, they would say each citizen has an obligation to vote and participate in government, and that without that participation, the government is weakened.

Then there is the fact that it seems they are running scared--they can't attract a majority of people to their way of thinking, so instead of trying to broaden their appeal, they try to stop people that don't agree with them from voting.  That ability became more viable after the Supreme Court's narrowing of the Voting Rights Act in June, 2013.

But will it work?  In August, former Secretary of State Colin Powell warned fellow Republicans that their most recent efforts to restrict voting rights will “backfire” on the party.  After blasting North Carolina's new voting law at a CEO forum, Powell appeared on Face the Nation to explain how the voting restrictions being pushed by several states– including Texas, South Carolina, Alabama, Virginia and Mississippi – will hurt, not help, the GOP.  “The country is becoming more diverse,” Powell explained. “Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, African-Americans are going to constitute a majority in a generation. You say you want to reach out, you say you want to have a new message, you say you want to see if you can bring some of these voters to the Republican side. This is not the way to do it.”

The first test of who could vote and who could not with these restrictions occurred in Texas last week and the surprise losers were women, and Republican women were disproportionally affected.  The problem is that the name you registered to vote under must exactly match the identification you bring, and women are likely to have changed their names, due to marriage and divorce.  Prominent women in Texas had to fill out provisional ballots and they were definitely not happy about that.   I can only hope that Powell is right, and that a strategy that is inherently undemocratic fails miserably.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

L'Eclisse (1962)

This is the last in a trilogy of films about alienation by the well know Italian director, Michelangelo Antionelli in the 1960's.  He was an aficionado of the slow film movement, which favored very long takes, dramatic lighting, and not much in the way of dialogue to convey the story.  The movie has very little dialogue and almost no action, but the cinematography is so spectacular that it takes your breath away.

Since I am in the midst of what is essentially Film Analysis 101, I have to say that the length of each shot (which is typically about 6 seconds, now down to 3-4 seconds in the 21st century, and significantly longer in this movie) really allows you to appreciate that as few as 10-12 seconds can seem like forever.  The main characters are Vittoria and Pietro--their story is told not so much with narration as with their body language, the looks that they give each other, and their persistent approach-avoidance relationship.
As the viewer, you do get the sense that something is very wrong between them, and after a spectacular scene at the stock market where there is a devestating crash and lots of money lost, one does get the sense that money and modern society has something to do with it.  But it was all a little deeply hidden for me.  The ending is the most abrupt thing of all.  We see places that Vittoria and Pietro have been together, but now they are missing.  The end.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Film Art: An Introduction by David Bordwell

I have been reading this book out loud to my freshman in college, who as a result of the introductory course in film analysis that this book is the reading for has decided that film study is not for him--but I have to say that there is a lot to be learned from this book, and one of the great things about it is that it gives specific examples of various film techniques from movies that you can watch, and then read the explanation.  Things that I never thought much about are the film techniques that are used (how the story is told, from what angle is it shot, how effective is the editing)--I thought primarily about how well the story was told, how the costumes and setting matched the story and whether the sound track added or detracted from the story.  Knowing a bit more about the mechanics of film making has allowed me to have a greater appreciation of each film, as well as a greater enjoyment--at least on a different level than I havd before.  I have found on several occasions that in the act of being a good parent and tutor for you son I have actually benefited as much as he has.

The book includes examples from over 200 movies, so watching them all would be a challenge, but it does have two advantages.  One is that several chapters have a 2-4 page analysis based on a single film (one of which is 'Citizen Kane', another is a Buster Keaton movie available in full on YouTube, so you are getting a glimpse at some classic material), so you do not necessarily have to be in a class room to learn how to approach film study.  It is pretty well written, as text books go, and I am surprised to say that I would recommend it to anyone wanting to think a bit more deeply about the movies that they are watching.