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Friday, February 28, 2014

Arizona--The Constitution Applies to You Too

The reasons to cross Arizona off your travel plans just keep coming.  First there was the 'Show Your Papers' law that discriminated against people of color in general, and Hispanics in particular.  Now the legislature has passed a bill that would allow businesses to discriminate against gay and lesbian citizens based on "religious beliefs".

Senator Al Melvin, in an interview with an incredulous (and gay) Anderson Cooper, said that he wants "maximal religious freedom" in Arizona.  What does he mean by that?  He acknowledges that there are dozens, if not hundreds of religions, so is he advocating for heroin worshipping store owners to be able to indulge in that frimly held belief?  He dodges every direct question that Cooper posed to him, but I am going to guess he is not.  So what about those who want to follow the Bible literally?  Will they be able to have slaves?  Multple spouses?  Stone their disobedient children to death?  Read Leviticus--there are an awful lot of laws in there that secular governments disallow.  Is discrimination of gays the only thing that we will have religious freedom to do?  Why is that?  I find the argument baffling.  But it really isn't a reasoned approach--it is taking one's bigotry, wrapping it in rhetoric that is supposed to be seen as self-explanatory, and hoping nobody notices that you are hateful.  Thankfully the Governor vetoed the legislation, but the fact remains, the people of Arizona voted for representation that makes them appear to be living in a previous century.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Butler (2013)

Frederick Douglass described the difference between a slave that works in the field and one that works in the house in his classic 'Narrative of the Life of an American Slave'.  This movie uses the real life story of Eugene Allen (made into the fictional character of Cecil Gaines in this rendition) to explore the centuries-old split between what has become of House Negroes (the middle class African American) and Field Negroes (the working class/underclass African American), and about the civil rights struggles beginning in the 1950's and continuing into the Vietnam Era.

Cecil (Forrest Whitaker)starts off life as a field hand, working with his parents in a cotton field somewhere in the South.  His life changes the day his mother is raped by a white owner's son while her husband and son, as well as the owner herself witness it.  Cecil's father is shot dead for protesting, and as some sort of an apology, Cecil is taken in by the elderly land owner to be taught to be a House Negro.  He learns that task well enough to be eventually taken on the White House staff as a butler, where he serves under, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan.  The lesson that he learned very early on was that he should largely keep his opinions to himself, which explains his survival in politics throughout both Republican and Democratic presidencies.

Juxtaposed against Cecil's portrayal of the compliant black man is his son's work as first a Freedom Rider, then a Black Panther, and finally as a progressive politician.  He gets to voice the angry man's impatience about the progress that civil rights changes made over the same period of time, and he does not have to listen politely to the racism of politicians as Cecil does.  The final counter piece is Oprah Winfrey's portrayal as Cecil's wife, who uses alcohol to manage the gap between the tow.  It is a very good film when all is said and done.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dale Hansen: A Lesson in Don't Judge a Book by it's Cover

Dale Hansen is a Dallas sportscaster who spoke about his opinion on Michael Sam's announcement that he is gay, and he really impressed me on a number of levels.  Really, if you haven't seen this, you really have to take two minutes and listen to him speak.  Phenomenal

First, he was very articulate--it made me wonder if he has a debate background, because the fluidity of his commentary was reamarkable.  Second, he hit upon several of the off the field conduct issues that seem prevalent in the NFL that do not lead to repercussions within the league.  Players aren't commenting that they don't feel comfortable playing with men who murder, torture dogs, abuse women, lie to the police, bully, and a number of other high profile cases involving NFL players--those guys are okay.  But love another man?  They are not down with that.  Well Dale Hansen tells them off and but good. 

Since 1 in 10 men are gay, every team has at least a couple of closeted gay men on it--Michael Sam is groundbreaking in that he was honest about his sexual orientation.  Gay men are in professional sports, they always have been.  Locker rooms have women in them, some of whom are presumably straight, so naked NFL players have been naked in front of people who might find them sexually attractive for years.  It has been suggested that the average NFL lineman might not look all that attractive in the buff, regardless of if you are gay or straight.  So get over it.  Hansen goes one step further to note that it doesn't matter if you are comfortable in Michael Sam's world--he is in yours, and you need to include him.

I am guilty here of making a snap judgement that was totally off base--older guy, Dallas sportscaster, well, 'tolerance' was not the message I thought he woul db e preaching--so shame on me for that.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

The introduction to this book is written by David Mitchell, best known as the author of "The Cloud Atlas".  A less well known aspect of his life is that he is the parent of a child with autism.  His wife is Japanese, and she read this book, written by a Japanese teenager about his perspectives on the experience of having autism, and she shared the book with her husband.  For them, it was life transforming book.  It allowed them to experience the world through their son's eyes and to have a window of understanding into what it was like to be him and why he did the things that he does.

I am not a parent of an autistic child, but then autism is a spectrum disorder, and so there are many people in my life who live along that spectrum.  It was a simple and yet complicated book to read.  Simple in that it is very short and  is written as a question and answer book, by and large--Why do you run away?  Why do you ask the same question over and over again?  Those questions are followed by thoughts about where the behavior comes from and why it is necessary or comforting.  It is complicated because it is very clear that there are things that the author feels very strongly but has a hard time expressing.  Verbal language is not a a strength, nor is he physically affectionate, so in some ways he is trapped within himself without a means of showing how much he cares about things and people.  The thing that spoke to me in a loud and clear voice is that while special needs people learn differently and that it takes them more time, they appreciate their teachers.  They yearn to learn, and they need teachers with patience to teach them until they get it right--but once they have it, it is there forever.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Spartacus (1960)

This movie has what is considered to be the best movie score ever made. Stanley Kubrick was the director, and according to the reading my youngest son has been doing, he is the director who is best known for his use of music in film.  He's an aficionado of classical music in film, and is credited with introducing music by Mozart to a new generation.  The potential downside of it is that for some people, that music is forever associated with a particular film.  In any case, the musical score for this movie is a monster, with long stretches of music without much action beyond troops marching.  It is dated in the way that epics of the era are, and a bit histrionic, but definitely worth watching if you are a film buff who wants some literacy across the 100+ years of film making.

Here is the story:  Kirk Douglas is Spartacus, an uppity Roman slave who escapes captivity and leads a rebellion that goes on for quite some time before being squelched by a revived Roman army, all of whose commanders are really despicable.   The movie has a young Tony Curtis playing a young slave who has a homosexual liaison that was cut from the first film but has been restored in the current version.  The remake reinserted it, but Sir Lawrence Olivier was dead by then--his wife, Jane Ploughman, noted that once at a party she had heard Anthony Hopkins do a dead on impression of her husband, and they used him for the scene--note he is mentioned in the special credits.  The slaves prevail for a time, and then they are crushed--there are tragic elements, but Hollywood had to pull a bit of happiness out of their hat, so it is more of a bittersweet ending.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Marinara Sauce

1 28-ounce can whole San Marzano or other Italian tomatoes                  

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 7 garlic cloves, peeled and slivered
  • Small dried whole chile, or pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large fresh basil sprig, or 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, more to taste                   

  • 1.
    Pour tomatoes into a large bowl and crush with your hands. Pour 1 cup water into can and slosh it around to get tomato juices. Reserve.
    In a large skillet (do not use a deep pot) over medium heat, heat the oil. When it is hot, add garlic.
    As soon as garlic is sizzling (do not let it brown), add the tomatoes, then the reserved tomato water. Add whole chile or red pepper flakes, oregano (if using) and salt. Stir.
    Place basil sprig, including stem, on the surface (like a flower). Let it wilt, then submerge in sauce. Simmer sauce until thickened and oil on surface is a deep orange, about 15 minutes. (If using oregano, taste sauce after 10 minutes of simmering, adding more salt and oregano as needed.) Discard basil and chile (if using).
    This is the third recipe for Marina Sauce that I have posted over the years--one was Marcella Hazan's and another was Mario Batali's so I am going with some heavy hitters. This one is from Lydia Bastianich, who's most recent cookbook, 'Lydia's Common Sense Italian Cooking' made the New York Times short list for cookbooks in 2013, so I thought this was worth adding to the collection.

    Saturday, February 22, 2014

    The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

    I loved this book (if you are a Kindle reader, you could consider that version to reduce wrist strain when reading it, because it is in the nearly 800-page range and not a light read on any level).  It was one of the New York Times Best Books in 2013, and while I haven't waded too deeply into their notable books for the year, I have read more than 1/3 the Booker Prize long list and this is better than they (except for the winner).

    The story follows Theo Decker frome early adolescence into his late 20's.  The very best thing about this book is that Theo is complicate don many levels, despite his early age when we meet him.  He is in trouble at school, for what he is not exactly sure, but as he rolls the list of possibilities in his mind, it is pretty clear that he is a guy who likes to try things, and if it is forbidden then it might hold additional allure for him.  Unfortunately, en route to his appointment with the principal, he and his mother are waylaid by a bomb going off in an art museum.
    Theo lives, but his mother does not.  While he is regaining consciousness, Theo is urged by a fellow victim to pocket a very lovely painting on his way out of the gallery that day--“The Goldfinch” (pictured here), a 1654 painting by Carel Fabritius, which he does.  Theo spends some time with the family of a friend of his, which lays the groundwork for what happens later in the novel, and then is collected by his father.  The trauma of losing his mother is hard to equal, but Theo's father is a close second.  He is a drunk, a drug addict, and a gambler who ends up in an early grave with the Russina mob hot on his trail--so not a stabilizing influence.  Theo spends this part of his life experimenting heavily with drugs and alcohol with very little in the way of supervision or boundaries, and it sets up a life long pattern of addiction that on the one hand he acknowledges, but on the other does very little to combat it.

    Which is not to imply that Theo is unlikable--the reader is very much pulling for him, and since his father sold off all of his mother's possessions, in some ways this stolen painting is what he has left to remind him of her, a talisman of sorts, but one that has some significant drawbacks as well.  The book builds to an exciting conclusion with lost of ends left open to keep you thinking, but not so many as to be annoying.  Wonderful book.

    Friday, February 21, 2014

    Captain Phillips (2013)

    I never want to be on a ship boarded by pirates.  Not ever.  In fact, I will avoid the waters off the Horn of Africa from here on out.  So for the likes of me, this movie is the closest that I will get to the experience of being held hostage by a ragtag group of machine gun toting hyped up young men who want millions of dollars in exchange for letting me go.  Tom Hanks is a great choice for the lead role in this movie--who would want to watch a movie about pirates taking over a ship?  It doesn't sound the least bit enthertaining.  But Hanks is an actor who has gotten audiences to watch all sorts of unpleasant things, from dying of AIDS to being cast away on a deserted island, so why hsould this movie be any different?  Of course we will watch him get abused by pirates.  He plays Captain Richard Phillips, a real life merchant marine captain who endured the story that the movie tells.  He has been shepherding large vessels filled with  goods around the oceans of the world for decades.  He is not a rookie, but when his ship gets boarded, he keeps a cool head in an extremely challenging situation.  The thing that was most amazing to me is that the crew is unarmed. Not one firearm amongst them. Some fire power might have helped them, but then again, it might not have. 
    In any case, while we have very little sympathy for the Somalis involved, there is a the story told about the global economy and the lives of those who have very little.  These guys are owned by war lords, who are the ones who skim off all the money garnered, but the idea that rich nations are driving by with untold riches could make the locals wish for a piece of the pie.   It is just that that is not what is happening.  Phillips at one point says to his captor point blank, "You are not a fisherman."  Tense, but well done movie.  The actors who are noiminated for Oscars are well deserving of the honor.

    Thursday, February 20, 2014

    Poached Chicken

    • 4 (6- to 8-ounce) boneless skinless chicken breasts
    • 1/2 cup soy sauce
    • 1/4 cup salt
    • 2 tablespoons sugar
    • 6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
    1. Put chicken breasts in a freezer strength zip lock bag and pound thick ends gently with meat pounder until 3/4 inch thick.
    2. Whisk 4 quarts water, soy sauce, salt, sugar, and garlic in an enameled cast iron pot until salt and sugar are dissolved. Arrange breasts in steamer basket, making sure not to overlap them. Submerge steamer basket in brine and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
    2. Heat pot over medium heat, stirring liquid occasionally to even out hot spots, until water registers 175 degrees, 15 to 20 minutes. Turn off heat, cover pot, remove from burner, and let stand until meat registers 160 degrees, 17 to 22 minutes.
    3. Transfer breasts to carving board, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice each breast on bias into 1/4-inch-thick slices, transfer to serving platter or individual plates, and serve.

    This is a simple recipe on two levels--the chicken is simple and  moist--you can use it for anything, such as chicken salad, sliced chicken on salads, or served with fresh vegetables and a light dressing as a nice summer main course.  It is also super simple to make, so a good weeknight dish, and make extra to use later.

    Wednesday, February 19, 2014

    The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

    I reread this book and my biggest fear is that it would seem dated.  having finished it, my greatest surprise is that it did not seem dated at all.  On the contrary, it seemed more relevant than it did when it was first published, almost 30 years ago.  Which is the scariest thing of all. 

    Why is that?  This is a book about the United States being taken over in a military coup because the elected government is felt to be too liberal.  The society has lost its moral compass, the hard liners believe, and they need to take over.

    Well, that all sounds remarkably familiar.  Women have been the target of a group of predominantly male, predominantly Republican lawmakers and the story doesn't seem nearly as far fetched in 2014 as it did in the 1980's.  That alone is frightening enough.  Then there is the story itself.  The newly empowered establish a rigidly puritanical society with dissenters being hung (which is essentially everyone who disagrees with them), men becoming dictators and women relegated to the role as breeders, who have no control over their bodies.  Juxtapose that with the Republican rhetoric of the last couple of years--women who get pregnant weren't raped by definition, because to be pregnant is to have invited the sex, that children born of rape are gifts from god, that women have no right to reproductive health or decisions about their own bodies.  Hmmm, it is eerily familiar.

    Then comes the kicker--all these supposedly puritanical men are not so squeaky clean--they visit prostitutes, they break the rules with the wome they sleep with, and they are no different from the men we have in power now.  It is all too sordid.  Add to that the destruction of the environment--which is from pollution, not global climate change (Atwood got that piece wrong), and you have a tale that reflects the early 21st century.  It just didn't seem all that much like science fiction to me.

    Tuesday, February 18, 2014

    Planes (2013)

    Yes, this movie got terrible reviews and yes, it has a Disney plot that you have seen so many times before--be that as it may, I found it fun to watch in a diversionary kind of way (and while I no longer have young children, if I were to try to find a movie that a 5-year old would like that I would also enjoy, this would fit that bill as well).

    The basic story is an underdog plane, a crop duster, no less, has ambitions to enter an international round-the-world race.  Improbably he manages to qualify for the race (despite sporting a very unaerodynamic spraying apparatus), and becomes the media darling.  The highly favored previous victor is the typical unsportsmanlike Disney villain who stoops to cheating and sabotage in order to stay in the lead and we the audience are all the while rooting for the underdog.

    Pretty standard stuff--but I would like to make an argument for this movie on another level.  The characters in this movie have interracial and cross-cultural relationships (to the extent that planes can be said to have race and culture) and that is a good thing to model to young children.  There is a message for tolerance that I think is broader than some animated films--it does not included same gender relationships, but hopefully that will be coming soon.  In the meantime, I thought this had more social value than the more highly rated 'Turbo'. 

    Monday, February 17, 2014

    Shrimp Fra Diavolo

    This is an excellent version of a classic dish, taken from Cook's Illustrated.  On this cold and snowy President's Day it can offer a bit of warmth.

    • 1 1/2 pounds shrimp 
    • Salt
    • 1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes, separating juice from tomatoes
    • 1/3 cup olive oil
    • 1 cup dry white wine
    • 4 garlic cloves, minced
    • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
    • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
    • 2 anchovies, rinsed, patted dry, and minced
    • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
    • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced pepperoncini, plus 1 teaspoon brine


    1. Peel shrimp and toss with ½ teaspoon salt and set aside. Pour tomatoes into colander set over large bowl. Pierce tomatoes with edge of rubber spatula and stir briefly to release juice. Transfer drained tomatoes to small bowl and reserve juice. Do not wash colander.
    2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in 12-inch skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add shrimp shells and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to turn spotty brown and skillet starts to brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and carefully add wine. When bubbling subsides, return skillet to heat and simmer until wine is reduced to about 2 tablespoons, 2 to 4 minutes. Add reserved tomato juice and simmer to meld flavors, 5 minutes. Pour contents of skillet into colander set over bowl. Discard shells and reserve liquid. Wipe out skillet with paper towels.
    3. Heat  2 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, pepper flakes, and oregano in now-empty skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until garlic is straw-colored and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add anchovies and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat. Add drained tomatoes, mashing slightly. Return to heat and stir in reserved tomato juice mixture. Increase heat to medium-high and simmer until mixture has thickened, about 5 minutes.
    4. Add shrimp to skillet and simmer gently, stirring and turning shrimp frequently, until they are just cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Stir in basil, parsley, and pepperoncini and brine and season with salt to taste. Drizzle with remaining olive oil and serve.  Pasta with olive oil and garlic is a nice accompaniment. 

    Sunday, February 16, 2014

    Sochi Logo

    There is so much about the controversies swirling around the Sochi Olympics that I agree with, but I want to spend a little time focusing on some positives.

    The logo of the Sochi games is the first logo to be a Web address--it is not only a sign of the times, but some have interpreted it as Russia asserting it is a modern nation on the world stage, technologically savvy and ready to be a world power.  The '4' in 2014 bears a striking resemblance to the the Cyrillic letter for 'ch', which is a nice play on symbols--I have found it more challenging than I would have imagined to travel in countries where Cyrillic is the alphabet of the land.  It seems like it should be manageable--not like Asian languages where I have no place to start.  But so far, I have struggled, so I like the effort to teach a bit of the alphabet in a quiet way. 

    Now to the things that I feel need to change.  I am certainly disturbed by the anti-gay rhetoric that swirled around the Games.  The question of safety and security for openly gay athletes in an international event is something that I believe should be mandatory for any country that is applying to host the Olympic Games.  I do not hold the IOC in high esteem, but that is related to graft and politics, not to their adherence to the importance of the safety of athletes.  So hopefully the future sites of Olympic games will include this consideration--after all, the Greeks themselves were active participants in homosexuality, so it is in concert with the history of the Games, not to mention the right thing to do in the modern world.

    Saturday, February 15, 2014

    Emperor (2012)

    I know next to nothing about the post-war occupation of Japan, and this film focuses on the investigation into Hirohito and his circle of advisors in order to apportion blame for the war in general and the bombing of Pearl Harbor specifically.  Tommy Lee Jones plays MacActhur, but the story largely revolves around another one of World War II's intriguing supporting players: Gen. Bonner Fellers (1896-1973), who served as military attache and psychological warfare director under Gen. Douglas MacArthur after Japan's surrender in 1945.  He is portrayed competently by Matthew Fox, who goes about interviewing the major players and trying to come up with an answer for MacArthur about Hirohito's involvement that is both truthful as well as likely to yield the best result for Japan and the U.S. occupying forces.

    Fox understands that the execution of Hirohito is likely to cause a major mess, yet he is not content to whitewash the emperor's role--what really happened is likely very different from what is depicted here (or at least there is controversy about it), but the dramatic tension that is portrayed here does encompass the balancing act that likely followed WWII.  The movie depicts a college romance that Fellers had with a Japanese woman that is wholly fiction, and is used in the movie to give a sense of what the cultural landscape of Japan was like before and after the war.  The Americans had little sense of what they were dealing with in Hirohito and his role to his people, and the movie gives some grounding for the discipline of the Japanese, as well as the shame culture that is so different from out own.  This may not be a historically precise movie, bu t it gave me a window into an era that I had thought little about.

    Friday, February 14, 2014

    Love, It Makes You Vulnerable

    An Ancient Gesture

    I thought, as I wiped my eyes 
    on the corner of my apron:
    Penelope did this too.
    And more than once: 
    you can't keep weaving all day
    And undoing it all through the night;
    Your arms get tired, and the 
    back of your neck gets tight;
    And along towards morning, 
    when you think it will never be light,
    And your husband has been gone, 
    and you don't know where, for years.
    Suddenly you burst into tears;
    There is simply nothing else to do.

    And I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
    This is an ancient gesture, authentic, antique,
    In the very best tradition, classic, Greek;
    Ulysses did this too.
    But only as a gesture,—a gesture which implied
    To the assembled throng that he was much too moved to speak.
    He learned it from Penelope.
    Penelope, who really cried.

    ~Edna St. Vincent Millay

    Thursday, February 13, 2014

    Khokhloma at Sochi

    There is an awful lot of bad press about the Olympics in Sochi, and I can be quite a complainer, do not get me wrong.  I decided that I was going to try to find good in the Games and in doing so I found something out that I think is cool.  I wondered about the origins of the patchwork flags--and the same patterns adorn the vests of the Sochi competitors. As a quilter, they intrigued me.  I found that they are artistic representations of the popular Russian folk art tradition known as khokhloma.  Wooden objects are painted with lush natural scenes in golds, reds, and greens on a dark blue or black background and it has been said that no tourist leaves the country without an example of this in their suitcase.

    The Nizhni Novgorod province is the area where this folk art originated.  The lush green of the flood plain meadows stretches along the low left bank of the Volga made a major contribution to the Russian history; it is a country of many legends. This is the land that was ravaged by the invading Mongol hordes passing through it on their conquest of Europe more than seven centuries back.  The folk arts and folklore flourished there and no other territory in Russia could equal it in the number and originality of the folk arts and crafts that had sprang to life and were developed in the local communities.  These pieced quilt images are meant to evoke that natural beauty--and ironically they reflect the colors of the rainbow.  Stealth support for gay civil rights?  Probably not, but that is what it reminds me of.

    Wednesday, February 12, 2014

    Don Jon (2013)

    There is a lot not to like in this movie about a young man whose world is shallow--he picks up women at night clubs, has drunken one night stands with them, goes to a job that we never see him at it is so meaningless to him, and spends the rest of his time going to church, having Sunday dinner with his parents, pumping iron at the gym (Joseph Gordon Levitt is almost unrecognizable he looks so pumped up), cleaning his apartment, and masturbating to pornography.  Not a lot to build a movie around.  The club montages could have been shot once and reused they looked so much like each other.

    There are several things to think about here.  Jon is the modern day version of Don Juan, a man reputed to have have bedded many women one time only.  The added modern twist is the widespread availability of pornography--how does that change the equation?  It has made actual sex with a real woman less satisfying to him than masturbation with porn.  His hot beautiful girlfriend (Scarlett Johansson) doesn't change that equation at all, but his relationship with Esther (Julianne Moore) does.  She speaks to him frankly--and non-judgmentally-- about his addiction.  "You know that's not real, right?"  Well, it turns out he really didn't.  When he admits that he would prefer to have sex with himself in front of a computer rather than with a woman, she helps him to figure out why that is.  She is his sex therapist and despite the fact that she is literally old enough to be his mother, it really works for him.  He has satisfying sex, he is a happier man, and he enjoys both her and sex with her.  Lots to think about in terms of navigating the modern world.

    Tuesday, February 11, 2014

    Winter Vegetable Soup with Coconut Milk and Pear

    This is a delicious blend of flavors, and it is vegan to boot!

    3 Tbs. unsalted butter           
  • 1-1/2 cups thinly sliced onion
  • 1 cup medium-diced carrot
  • 1 cup medium-diced parsnip
  • 1 cup medium-diced turnip
  • 1 cup medium-diced parsley root or celery root
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped inner celery stalks with leaves
  • 1 cup thinly sliced Savoy cabbage
  • 1 Tbs. peeled, minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves; more leaves lightly chopped for garnish
  • 1 medium clove garlic, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 13-1/2- or 14-oz. can coconut milk (do not shake)
  • 2 cups stock          
  • 3-1/2 cups 1/2-inch-diced butternut squash (from a 2-lb. squash)
  • 2 pears, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (1-1/4 cups)

  • Melt the butter in a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in the onion, carrot, parsnip, turnip, parsley or celery root, and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 8 minutes. Stir in the cabbage, ginger, thyme, garlic, 3/4 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage begins to soften, about 3 minutes.
    Scoop 1/4 cup of coconut cream from the top of the can and set it aside in a small bowl at room temperature. Add the remaining coconut milk, broth, and the squash and pears to the vegetables. Bring the mixture just to a boil over medium heat, stirring to scrape up any browned bits. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook at a bare simmer, stirring occasionally, until the squash is very soft, 20 minutes.
    Purée with an immersion blender in the Dutch oven or in batches in a regular blender--betterstill, use a Vitamix. Pour the soup through a large coarse strainer set over a large glass measure or bowl. If the soup is too thick, add more chicken broth until thinned to your liking. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
    If necessary, reheat the soup in a clean pot. Ladle the soup into bowls, drizzle with the reserved coconut cream, and sprinkle with the lightly chopped thyme.

    Monday, February 10, 2014

    Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles (406 BCE)

    When you are thinking about the Oedipus trilogy specifically and Greek tragedy in general it is hard to say which play is sadder than the others, but for some reason, of the Oedipus stories, this one is a downer (which is not to say that 'Antigone' is a light play, but this one really shows just how messed up Oedipus' family has become, and that the ties of family are not strong enough to overcome other pervasive human emotions, like jealousy, pride, grappling for power, and to some extent, severe sibling rivalry).

    The play opens with Antigone, Oedipus' daughter, and he in a sacred ground outside of Athens.  Oedipus is at the end of his life, and while it has been more or less a disaster, he is unwilling to admit that or repent, which has led to some difficulties with his legacy.  The prophesy that the city where his bones rest has led to some haggling over his body between Theseus and Creon.  Theseus wins in the end, but again, the whole tug of war over an elderly blind man is a bit of a downer.

    Then there is the schism with his two sons.  One of them has usurped control from the other, and Oedipus not only refuses to take sides, but he renounces them both.  They are behaving badly, there is no question about that, but then he wasn't what you might call the model parent.  Not to mention that their mother committed suicide upon learning that she was their mother and their grandmother.  The play ends with thunder, signifying his death, but not the end of the difficulties for his family.

    Sunday, February 9, 2014

    33 Years Ago Today

    This is the house where it all began in Providence, Rhode Island--a beautiful house on Charlesfield Street, just off Hope St. where my spouse and I met when we were in college many years ago. 
    It was a wonderful time, living with 20 people in a beautiful second empire victorian house.  My room was the library, and it had built in bookshelves and 12 foot ceilings.  It was stunning (although when Brown University took it out of the hands of students and decided to renovate it, they described it as filled with murals reminiscent of Salvador Dali, for me it was the most elegant place that I had ever lived).  The house had quite an effect on me. First, I met the love of my life there. Second, once I had raised my children, I immediately moved into a Victorian home of the same era (an Anglo-Italianate rather than a Second Empire, but same graneur, same era).

    This house was built in 1866 by Frederick Fuller.  His brother George built a house at 73 Charlesfield St. a few years later, and I lived in that house before I moved to Frederick Fuller's house down the block. 

    Frederick Fuller's grandfather (also named Frederick Fuller) 

    began the foundry business at the Cranston ore beds in 1833, making nearly all of the castings for the mills of the Pawtuxet valley of that period. In 1840 Frederick Fuller purchased the buildings which were erected by the Fox Point Foundry Co. The builders of the foundry never completed nor operated it, but sold the property to Mr. Fuller, who immediately began business on quite an extensive scale for those days. At that time it was considered one of the most important foundries in New England.  When water was introduced  into the city of Boston, many of the large water mains of the Boston water works were cast at Frederick Fuller’s foundry, evidence that the foundry was equipped for doing the heaviest of work that was required at that time. Mr. Fuller carried on the business in his own name until his death in 1865. His sons, Frederic and George Fuller, became his successors and they adopted the name of Fuller Iron Works, which name has been retained over since. They each built these substantial houses soon after they inherited their family business.  The foundry was carried along as a firm until the death of George Fuller in 1894.

    Saturday, February 8, 2014

    Up On Poppy Hill (2012)

    The latest Studio Ghibli animated movie on DVD (they have a nominee for Best Animated Movie in the Oscar parade this year that is newer), which was adapted by the most remarkable animated story teller of my time, Hayao Miyazaki from a comic by Tetsurô Sayama, and directed by Miyazaki's son, Goro – might usefully play as the restorative half of a double-bill with the recently revived Grave of the Fireflies--meaning that it has a dated air about it that I found very pleasant, a reminder of a gentler way of telling a story.  This one is set in 1963, right before the Olympics in Yokohama.  The scenery that Ghibli animation is known for is just as remarkable as you would hope.

    The movie itself is a light, breezy 1960s-set coming-of-age tale that strives to convey something of how Japan rebuilt itself after the traumas of the second world war. The high-school
    romance between fatherless heroine Umi and student journalist Shun derives equally from the crowd pleasing  and the history books; the pair's inquiries into their shared, complicated past stand for those of the entire nation.  The blend of sophistication and innocence is well portrayed.

    Miyazaki Jr's quiet approach might leave you thinking that this is a minor Ghibli, Studio production, unlikely to hold up to the test of time.  I would disagree with that assessment.  WHile is is unlikely to
    an appeal to younger viewers – there's no magic or monsters--it was the biggest movie in Japan in 2012, so it held appeal for the home audience.  It bristles with the vast reserves of patience, optimism and artistry we've come to expect from this studio.

    Friday, February 7, 2014

    Oedipus the King by Sophocles (429 BCE)

    The story of Oedipus was well known to the audience that Sophocles was writing for.  The play opens in the middle but everyone in Sophocles time knows the background.

    The story that predates the play is that Jocasta and Laius have a son who is predicted to kill his father and marry his mother.  They do what any sensible Greek family at the time appears to have done--they nailed his feet together and gave him to a shepherder to leave on the mountainside.  They did not factor in the shepherder's free will--he gave the baby to the childless king of Corinth, and Oedipus (which apparently means 'swollen feet') survives.  As a young man Oedipus is told of the prophesy that prompted his parents to abandon him to the elements--but no one tells him these are not his real parents, so he makes the fateful mistake of leaving Corinth, where upon he indeed kills his father, marries his mother, and fathers four children with her.

    How does it all come to light?  Those are the events that this play focuses on.  A plague has befallen Thebes and in order to end it, the oracle tells Creon the murder of Laius must be expelled--Oedipus, not realizing it is he, vows to get to the bottom of the story, but as each witness to a different piece of the story is brought in, there is a slow dawning, first to Jocasta and then to Oedipus himself that the prophesy that they both worked to avoid has indeed come true.  Jocasta kills herself and Oedipus scratches his eyes out with Jocasta's pins.

    Thursday, February 6, 2014

    Accidental Death Instead of Pleasure

    There are many ways to accomplish an accident that ends one's life, but there is no surer way than narcotics.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his apartment amidst packets of heroin, used needles, and an admitted recent relapse to drug addiction that apparently was not under any sort of control despite treatment.  Such a shame.  He was quite a talented artist, and in particular he did an excellent job portraying morally complex characters, many of whom had significant good and significant struggles--perhaps his personal challenges with drugs and alcohol gave him insight into the thoughts, fears, and motivation of the characters he played, but with so much going for him, it is painful to see such a bad outcome.

    The resurgence of heroin use has been written about more and more frequently in recent years, as has the rise in the use of prescriptions drugs by children.   The study referenced and pictured here is but one of several that show abuse of prescription opiates in students leaving high school to be over 10%.  The access to these drugs have been thought to be largely their parent's medicine cabinets, at least to start out, and so there is a take home message for all of us.  I had been careful to not leave abusable medications in the location that would be most convenient to keep them for just this reason.  One never knows which guest in your home will take it upon themselves to search your bathroom to find what you might have in the way of something to get high.  Think of these like firearms--you would never leave a loaded weapon behind a cabinet door, these medications need to have the same level of security given to them.  Preventing addiction, escpecially when it comes to narcotics, is so much better than stopping it once it's started.

    Wednesday, February 5, 2014

    The World's End (2013)

    This is a hard movie to categorize--it is part buddy movie recapturing a long past youth mixed improbably with a science fiction conspiracy/thriller movie.

    The movie has a great case, led by Simon Pegg and Martin Freeman, and starts off as five men recreating an evening they had long ago.  Gary (Simon Pegg) is an alcoholic and drug user and chronic screwup, the sort of guy who lures his firends into joining adventures that tend to end in humiliation or disaster. He's first seen in a rehab facility, but either he hasn't been there long or the treatment hasn't kicked in for him, because he looks road weary.  First impressions are reinforced when all of his former compatriates are reluctant to join him or flat out refuse.
    But Gary is undaunted-- "Why should getting older affect something as important as friendship?"  In the end, he prevails.

    Gary's goal is to re-enact their great thwarted pub odyssey from 1990, when they resolved to hit all twelve nightspots in their old hometown of Newton Haven. The quiet little town is home to bars with mythologically and otherwise suggestively loaded names: The Two-Headed Dog, The Famous Cock, The Trusty Servant, The World's End. That the pals didn't finish their quest has always gnawed at Gary. He's obsessed with pinning a triumphant end on a long-unfinished story.  From the very start the group notics there has been a big change in the palces of their youth--they all look the same, for one thing, and they no longer serve ale of any quality.  Worse yet, they all look the same.

    Then pretty suddenly the movie takes a sudden turn for the weird.  Not much to be said about it without spoiling the plot twist but suffice it to say that when it happens the group is already feeling
    fears of assimilation and domestication and the loss of youthful fire.  They are also in various ways  feeling that while we should strive to be better, kinder, more mature people, we still are who we are, and if we cannot tolerate one another's frailties and treat each other decently, there's no hope for the species. The film has great fun positioning modern life itself as a prolonged and largely invisible conspiracy to rob people and their world of all personality.  Silly throughout, it actually has a more serious point to make.


    Tuesday, February 4, 2014

    Edward Gorey House, Cape Cod

    We spent some of the holiday season on Cape Cod this year--what a pleasure to be there in the off off season.  One day it rained, making walks on the beach less appealing so we ended up here, at the small cottage that Edward Gorey lived in--the house is compact, but it contains plenty of the pen and ink drawings that made the author both famous and memorable.  The thing that I found most amusing in the house that was not related to all his drawings (which are very amusing indeed) is that many of the people who were buying things and generally enjoying themselves in the gift shop as customers were in fact volunteers at the museum.  And this was after Christmas, so holiday shopping was not the obvious reason why--they just really love this guy.
      Last year, 2013, was  the golden anniversary of the publication of The Gashlycrumb Tinies, Edward Gorey’s most iconic alphabet book and likely his best known work. 

    “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs; B is for Basil assaulted by bears…” That initial couplet, announcing the untimely demise of twenty-six very unfortunate children, has amused and horrified readers – often concurrently – for fifty years.  If you can't get to his house, at least revisit some of his artistry.

    “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs; B is for Basil assaulted by bears…” That initial couplet, announcing the untimely demise of twenty-six very unfortunate children, has amused and horrified readers – often concurrently for fifty years.
    In 2013 we celebrate the golden anniversary of the publication of The Gashlycrumb Tinies, Edward Gorey’s most iconic alphabet book and likely his best known work.
    - See more at:
    “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs; B is for Basil assaulted by bears…” That initial couplet, announcing the untimely demise of twenty-six very unfortunate children, has amused and horrified readers – often concurrently for fifty years.
    In 2013 we celebrate the golden anniversary of the publication of The Gashlycrumb Tinies, Edward Gorey’s most iconic alphabet book and likely his best known work.
    - See more at:
    “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs; B is for Basil assaulted by bears…” That initial couplet, announcing the untimely demise of twenty-six very unfortunate children, has amused and horrified readers – often concurrently for fifty years.
    In 2013 we celebrate the golden anniversary of the publication of The Gashlycrumb Tinies, Edward Gorey’s most iconic alphabet book and likely his best known work.
    - See more at:
    “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs; B is for Basil assaulted by bears…” That initial couplet, announcing the untimely demise of twenty-six very unfortunate children, has amused and horrified readers – often concurrently for fifty years.
    In 2013 we celebrate the golden anniversary of the publication of The Gashlycrumb Tinies, Edward Gorey’s most iconic alphabet book and likely his best known work.
    - See more at:
    “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs; B is for Basil assaulted by bears…” That initial couplet, announcing the untimely demise of twenty-six very unfortunate children, has amused and horrified readers – often concurrently for fifty years.
    In 2013 we celebrate the golden anniversary of the publication of The Gashlycrumb Tinies, Edward Gorey’s most iconic alphabet book and likely his best known work.
    - See more at:
    In 2013 we celebrate the golden anniversary of the publication of The Gashlycrumb Tinies, Edward Gorey’s most iconic alphabet book and likely his best known work. - See more at:
    In 2013 we celebrate the golden anniversary of the publication of The Gashlycrumb Tinies, Edward Gorey’s most iconic alphabet book and likely his best known work. - See more at:
    In 2013 we celebrate the golden anniversary of the publication of The Gashlycrumb Tinies, Edward Gorey’s most iconic alphabet book and likely his best known work. - See more at:
    In 2013 we celebrate the golden anniversary of the publication of The Gashlycrumb Tinies, Edward Gorey’s most iconic alphabet book and likely his best known work. - See more at:
    “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs; B is for Basil assaulted by bears…” That initial couplet, announcing the untimely demise of twenty-six very unfortunate children, has amused and horrified readers – often concurrently – for fifty years. - See more at:

    Monday, February 3, 2014

    Lobster Roll and Clam Chowder

    I made a pilgrimage to Cape Cod recently on a family trip where beyond not having any personal conflicts with close family members, my only goal was to have a lobster roll and clam chowder every day.  Modest goals are those that are most easily met, and I am not one to set the food bar so high that I cannot be happy.

    I grew up with New England parents, and so despite my Southern California childhood, there are some things that are just in the genes.  Lobster was a food that I learned to eat young (even though I did not much appreciate the creatures finer points until I was older--as a child, I loved to collect all the legs off all the lobsters around the table and patiently suck the meat out of each and every one of them.  I still think that is the very best meat in the beast, it is a time consuming task where getting one's fill could take some time).  The lobster roll is my absolute favorite way to eat lobster--I think the richness of the meat lends itself to a cold preparation, and the simplicity of the preparation--lobster meat and finely chopped celery tossed with a touch of mayonaise, squirted with lemon and served on a buttered and lightly grilled bun--is perfect.

    Clam chowder I am more flexible about.  Very creamy or light, either is fine.  Bacon or no bacon, I can go either way.  All I ask is that the clams be tender, the potatos diced and cooked through, and after that I can be very forgiving.  It has to taste delicious, that is all I ask.  I had a better than expected success rate, almost tiring of the chowder, but I could definitely go for another lobster roll right about now.

    Sunday, February 2, 2014

    Snitch (2013)

    The story here is not the least bit subtle.  Take home message: mandatory drug sentencing laws are bad on many levels.  They send first time offenders to jail for long periods of time while the king pin violent drug runners go free and are largely unpursuable.  The offer that if you roll on somebody else then your sentence is reduced gives the kid who has a limited drug background no options, and how does it serve the best interests of society to put that kid in jail for a decade or more?

    The movie is loosely based on a true story of a father who attempted to hook up with some serious bad guys in an effort to get his son out of trouble.  In real life it did not work at all, but in the version, the father is The Rock, who also conveniently owns a trucking company.  With ex-cons working for him who have drug trafficking charges in their jackets. Duane Johnson has no difficulty pulling off the bad ass, no fear when the bullets start flying and people start dying persona, but many ordinary people are not so gifted.   Nothing about this movie is realistic except that the danger of getting caught with drugs in an era of mandatory sentencing is disproportionate to the crime and that needs to be changed for all sorts of reasons.  If you are lookin gfor an action adventure movie, this very competently executes that genre as well.

    Saturday, February 1, 2014

    Pompeii, Italy

    I have wanted to go to Pompeii for ages, and now that my youngest is immersed in ancient Roman and Greek civilizations, I felt like I had a really good excuse to go.

    Mount Vesuvius is pictured here and it is the only active volcano on mainland Europe. It is best known because of the eruption in A.D. 79 that destroyed the city of Pompeii, but  Mount Vesuvius is considered to be one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world due to the large population of the city of Naples and the surrounding towns on the slopes nearby.  With almost no warning, the citizens of Pompeii were covered in rock and debris from the volcano (see that big dip in the mountain?  That used to be filled in solid)--Naples and the area surrounding Vesuvius face the same risks if it erupted as those in the ancient world--hopefully theri evacaution would be swifter.
    The volcano is classed as a complex stratovolcano because its eruptions typically involve explosive eruptions as well as pyroclastic flows. Vesuvius and other Italian volcanoes, such as Campi Flegrei and Stromboli, are part of the Campanian volcanic arc. The Campanian arc sits on a tectonic boundary where the African plate is being subducted beneath the Eurasian plate.

    What Vesuvius left us to find is spectacular, and unique, not because Pompeii was so special a place.  It was not--it was one of dozens of cities its size in the Roman empire at that time.  What is unique is that it was buried for centuries, and so all of it's treasures were safely below ground and away from the medieval plunderers who ransacked the rest of Europe--so we have a chance to really see the splendor that people lived in  (so long as they were not slaves) all those many years ago.  Pictures do not do it justice--go and see it for yourself.  It is worth a special trip.