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Monday, March 31, 2014

Orange Cranberry Scones

The key here is to handle the dough as little as possible in order to increase the tenderness of the scone.  I have a friend getting married in May--she is having a morning wedding in her garden with breakfast food to follow.  This would be perfect for that.
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • Freshly grated zest of 1 orange or tangerine
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup dried cranberries chopped or small chunks of other dried fruit
  • Egg wash (2 large eggs beaten with 1 tablespoon water)
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar, for sprinkling (optional)                   
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or baking mat, or use a nonstick pan.
Toss dry ingredients and zest together in a large bowl. Using your fingertips or a pastry cutter, rub butter and flour mixture together just until butter pieces are the size of peas and covered with flour. Make a well in the center of the bowl and pour in egg and cream. Mix ingredients together by hand until a shaggy dough is formed.
Turn out onto a floured surface and gently mix in currants, kneading dough and currants together just until incorporated.
Pat dough into a 3/4- to 1-inch-thick rectangle. Cut rectangle in half lengthwise, then cut across into 8 or 12 smaller rectangles. Place them on the baking sheet, spaced out.
Brush tops with egg wash and sprinkle with brown sugar (if using). Bake until light golden brown, about 22 minutes; rotate the pan front to back halfway through. Let scones cool slightly on the baking sheet. Serve warm or at room temperature. Eat within 24 hours

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster (1924)

The book was written at a time when the end of the British colonial presence in India was becoming a glimmer of a very real possibility. The novel is considered  one of the truly great discussions of that colonial presence in a country in all of  English literature.  That is a real shame, because while it exposes many of the problems of the corrupt British rule in India, it is not without it's very significant biases.  I wish someone had done a better job, but that was the world in which Forester lived.

The main event in the novel is the accusation by an English woman that an Indian doctor who she had previously befriended followed her into a cave and attempted to rape her. Doctor Aziz (the accused man) is a respected member of the Muslim community in India. Like many people of his social class, his relationship with the British administration is somewhat ambivalent. He sees most of the British as enormously rude, so he is pleased and flattered when an English woman, Mrs. Moore, attempts to befriend him.  His accuser is let off far too lightly in the story in my estimation.  She leads the doctor on, ignoring the social norms that would preclude their relationship, and it isn't until she is physically in court testifying that she retracts her statement that it was he that attacked her.  Her reputation is ruined and she is forced to leave the country with her prospects forever stained, but my feelings about her behavior are far stronger than those of the author.

The book does address the issue of friendship in a colonialist country.  Can a subjegated population ever have a true friendship with their oppressors?  Fielding also becomes a friend of Aziz, and he is the only English person who attempts to help himafter the accusation is made. Aziz is on the one hand appreciative of any support he can get, but he is also suspicious of what Fielding's motives might be and anticipating being double crossed.  Forster suggests that the two can never really be friends until the English withdraw from India.

A Passage to India is a marvelously written and tremendously sad novel. The novel recreates the Raj in India and offers insight into how the Empire was run. Ultimately, though, it's a tale of powerlessness and alienation.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Square (2013)

How does a revolution feel ? I’m sure I’ll never get closer than “The Square,” an electrifying and heartbreaking documentary from the Egyptian-born, Harvard-educated documentarian Jehane Noujaim.

The film was nominated for Best Documentary at this year's Academy Awards and the title refers to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where the Arab Spring of 2011 spontaneously coalesced and then erupted, resulting in President Hosni Mubarak’s removal from power after 30 years of rule. But because the story has continued to evolve, dramatically so in recent months, Noujaim’s film is longer (by eight minutes) than when it debuted, and the film’s tenor has changed, too. It now also shows what betrayal feels like, on all sides.

The early scenes of “The Square,” of course, are a group portrait of joyous disbelief. The director follows a balanced handful of young Egyptians — faces in the crowd of the Square — from the midpoint of the 2011 uprising, just as it’s gathering critical mass.  The movie’s undisputed star is Ahmed Hassan, who is baby faced young  when the uprising begins and who, two years later, is fully wise to the ways of the world. That Ahmed holds on to his ideals and irrepressible sense of commitment in the face of all the Egyptian military and the Brotherhood can throw at his country is the movie’s most convincing claim to hope for the future.

When the military forces elections early after Mubarak’s ouster and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi is reluctantly voted in by many protesters, the young man hazards a guess that the new president is sowing the seeds for his own downfall. “The more they control, the more the people will hate them,” he says of the Brotherhood.  After the actual coup — when Morsi was removed from office by the military in July 2013 and a series of violent reprisals against his followers ensued — we see the firebrands of Tahrir Square struggle to keep their goal of a free, democratic Egypt in sight.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Bien Trucha, Geneva, IL


This is a place worth seeking out and eating at.  Zagats gave it 29/30 for food, and they were right on as far as I am concerned.  Everything we are at the restaurant was fantastic.  We sat down and started with chips and a bean dip--I am a big fan of bean dip, so the fact that this is provided gratis was a big plus for me.  The attention of the staff to service was outstanding, and they were all very personable as well.
We opened with the special ceviche, which was made with tilapia, and while I was surprised by the choice of fish, it is a sustainably farmed fish, so I was open minded--and was rewarded.  It was delicious, and the portion was quite large.  Nice to share with at least two people. 

Next we had the poblano chili soup, which had a rich poblano flavor (and color--see it pictured on the left), and was light.  Delicious.  We had the corn salad on the side, which is not light, but fantstic, so do not miss it.  Then we ordered two kinds of tacos.  That was the moment when my spouse and I really wished that we numbered more than two.  This is definitely a place to think about bringing more than a couple of people to because the taco options come with 4 small tacos, and you could really try a variety. 

We got some tortas to go, and while the fillings were deliciou, the bread was too soft for my taste--I would have preferred a crustier, chewier bread.  This is a small thing--do not let it dissuade you from finding this place!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Boycott Hobby Lobby

There is so much wrong with what Hobby Lobby is contending that it is just time to stop shopping there.  Period.  A private corporation has no religious freedom rights.  They have no business regulating which form of contraception a couple chooses.  Acknowledging that they have such a right in this instance will open a flood gate of things that private corporations could contend is within their 'religious right' to refuse.  Jehovah's witness owned companies refuse coverage for blood products, Christian scientist owned companies refuse health coverage all together.  And who is to say what is a religion?

My next objection is that contraception is not a women's issue alone.  It takes two people to conceive a child, a man and a woman.  To imply that the man has no dog in the contraception fight is ridiculous, and I am both surprised and angered that there isn't a greater voice from men in the conversation.  Children conceived who are not wanted will either be aborted or they will need to be raised.  The issue affects women disproportionately, but it also affects men.

The argument that Hobby Lobby makes that IUD's and the morning after pill are forms of abortion is without scientific basis. Emergency contraception pills work by inhibiting or postponing ovulation, or the release of the egg, and this prevents fertilization from occurring.  IUDs also primarily work by preventing fertilization. The progestogen released from the hormonal IUDs prevents ovulation from occurring so an egg is never released. The hormone also thickens the cervical mucus so that sperm cannot reach the fallopian tubes. The copper IUDs contain no hormones, but the copper ions in the cervical mucus are toxic to sperm. They also cause the uterus and fallopian tubes to produce a fluid that contains white blood cells, copper ions, enzymes, and prostaglandins, a combination that is also toxic to sperm. The very high effectiveness of copper-releasing IUDs as emergency contraceptives implies they may also act by preventing implantation, but let's be clear, this is not abortion.

Contraception leads to healthier women. The ability to time and space children reduces fetal, infant and maternal morbidity and mortality. Contraception can help families better plan for pregnancies, leading to more optimal health outcomes. Planned pregnancies lower the risk of potentially serious issues such as low birth weight, preterm birth and small-for-gestational age. They also prevent an unanticipated worsening of health for women with pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease. Of course, contraception reduces unintended pregnancy, but it is also used for non-contraceptive medical problems.

I suspect that the Hobby Lobby has many customers who use birth control and want to continue to do so.  Please consider boycotting this company based on their lack of commitment to the health and welbeing of women, the people who love them, as well as Americans who want to live in a country where personal freedom is protected.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bend of the River (1952)

My youngest son continues to be a source of movies from the past through his film course on sound that focuses on movies with a historical focus.  It is true that I have not loved every movie that we have watched, but it is very fun to have a film professor choose a movie, and then watch it, trying to decipher what it is about the movie that made it so attractive to an academic.

This movie is one of the first to have substantial amounts of filming done on location rather than shot solely on a Hollywood lot.  The director in Anthony Mann, who was famous for well-done Westerns.  The film is set on the Oregon Trail, with Jimmy Stewart playing Glyn McLyntock, a Missouri man wanted for various bad behaviors.  He has joined a group of settlers who would never have made it had he and fellow bad boy, Emerson Cole (Arthur Kennedy) had not intervened and taken out a group of Native Americans who way lay them en route.  McLyntock has saved Cole from a hanging, which it later turns out he very much deserved, so Cole stays with the group--but maybe more to see what he can gain from them than to lend a hand.  When they get to Portland there is a gold rush on and Cole is in his element, while McLyntock is trying to change his ways.  Rock Hudson plays a gambling dandy who gets caught between the two men, and in the end manages to redeem himself, and the sound track for the movie is spectacular.  You could watch the movie with your eyes closed and know the tenor of the scene based on the music accompanying it.  A fantstic example of what sound can add to a film.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Boss Brown Art Clocks

Mark Brown and his wife Susan Boss have a studio together--he build things like clocks and robots out of found or easily acquired objects and she makes silk screened quilts.  They work in Massachusetts, but distribute their work around the country.  I received this whimsical owl clock for the holidays this year. 

Several things are noteworthy about these artists work.  The first is that the clock keeps wonderful time, so it is not jsut about art, it is also functional.  The second is that it makes me laugh almost every time that I look at it.  it is not quite as whimsical as my cuckoo clock from Switzerland, but then again, it does not need to be wound either, so it is good for a smile with very low maintenance.

The other thing that I like about the clocks this couple makes is that they use ordinary objects to create art--the fork and spoon here could havve some from the cafeteria at any one of a number of locations around the country (these are all unused, but you get my drift).  Just lots of fun!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Roasted Carrots with Cumin

I have been on a vegetable roasting spree, which is a good road to be on in the extended winter situation that we have been living under.  My spouse sent me this one (after I purchased a bag of carrots at Costco and he wondered which decade we might possible be able to finish them in, he and I).  This is an excellent way to have them, it turns out.

  • 4 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • Flaky sea salt
  • 3/4 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1/8 teaspoon red chile flakes, or more to taste
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 lb. of carrots, cut into three inch pieces and quartered
  • 1/4 cup water
  • A handful of minced herbs of your choice
  1. Preheat the oven to 400° F.
  2. Put the minced garlic in a roasting pan along with the cumin, coriander, chilies, and the olive oil. Stir well.
  3. Add the carrots and toss well -- I like to do this part with my hands -- so they’re thoroughly coated. Add a big, three-finger pinch of salt. (If you're using kosher salt, just scale back slightly.)
  4. While tilting your baking dish, pour the water into one fairly clear corner. Then tip it back onto the counter, so the water spreads out evenly and the carrots don't lose their spicy coating. Cover the dish tightly with foil and put it in the oven.
  5. Cook the carrots for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and cook for an additional 20 minutes, or until they're browned and soft, but not so much that they're falling apart.
  6. Serve warm, as a side, part of a salad, or anything you like.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Thanks for Sharing (2013)

This is a  movie about addicts and those who love them.  the particular addiciton is sex addiction. They do a good job of describing what is different about enjoying sex or being a bit hypersexual--this is a compulsion and an obsession that has a significant and detrimental to interpersonal relationships in a very big way.

Adam (Mark Ruffalo) is in a 12-step program and has 5 years of sobriety, which is defined as no sex outside of a committed relationship.  His sponsor is Mike (Tim Robbins), who has multiple addictions and does a very good job of portraying a dry drunk in his relationship with his son, Danny.  Danny has just gotten out of jail, having served time for crimes he committed in the furtherance of his addiction, and while Mike can forgive any transgression in his group members, he cannot forgive his son--nor has he asked his son for forgiveness.  He verbally and physically abused him as a child, where he grew up watching his mother tolerate repeated beatings and repeated infidelities. 

So it all sounds pretty miserable, right, but the inconsistencies, the demands that one do everyting your way, and the lack of personal responsibility is very much the life that addicts have lived and the urges they fight, many of them every day.  Adam manages his addiction by keeping everything out--no TV, no relationships, no temptations--and that is not freedom from addiction, it is freedom from the consequences of the addiction.  really tense at times, very funny at times, but a lot of it rings very true.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Sue Monk Kidd has not been a prolific author, but she has been a quality one.  I enjoyed her previous two books very much (especially The Secret Life of Bees) and this one is no exception.

The main character is Sarah, who is based on an actual person, Susan Grimke.  The basic template of the real life abolitionist is as follows.  She grew up on a large plantation in Charleston, South Carolina in a family with 14 children.  She was born in the middle, and while she had high aspirations, her father crushed them at an early age.   She took on the role of raising her youngest sister Angelina.  She converted to Quakerism and became an abolitionist first and then an advocate for women's suffrage.

Sarah's world in the book is a place where "owning people was as natural as breathing" and on her 11th birthday Sarah, the daughter of a wealthy family of a prominent slave owning judge, is given 10-year old slave-girl Handful as a gift, wrapped in lavender ribbons.   Her first act as a slave owner is to free her slave, which she then discovers is not within her right to do.  She has a time as a rebellious girl, teaching her slave to read and write, reading books freely and educating herself. He father is at first entertained by her, but then becomes quite angry that she is upsetting the social order--both for herself and her slave and he takes all her privileges away. She comforts herself helping to raise her youngest sister, Charlotte, and creates her in her own mold.  The rest of the book is her journey away from slavery, the reaction it engenders, her abandonment and subsequent reunion with Handful.  It chronicles in fiction a turbulent time in America's past, both with slavery and the lack of opportunities for women in general and Southern women in particular.   

Friday, March 21, 2014

New England Clam Chowder

I had so much clam chowder on a recent New England trip that it took me awhile to try to replicate the experience at home.  I decided to go with canned clams, since you are mincing up the meat anyway, and I used the best quality clams that I could find.  The results were delicious, and while I love being in New England, this makes it much closer to home, and very satisfying.

  • 2 cans of minced clams
  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon (about 4 ounces), cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1  onion, diced medium (about 2 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3 medium boiling potatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds), scrubbed and diced medium small
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 cup heavy cream 
  • 1 cup mik 
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste


1. Use 1 1/2 quarts of fish stock--clam broth if you have it, or chicken stock if you have neither--this is the real disadvantage of not cooking your own clams.  I did recently make clams, and froze the broth from it in order to use in clam chowder in the future.
2. Fry bacon in kettle over medium-low heat until fat renders and bacon crisps, 5 to 7 minutes. Add onion to bacon; sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add flour; stir until lightly colored, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the stock. Add potatoes, bay leaf, and thyme; simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Add clams, cream and milk, parsley, and salt (if necessary) and ground pepper to taste; bring to simmer. Remove from heat and serve.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Nebraska (2013)

This film is what I like to call a small film--it focuses on the details of individuals rather than society as a whole.  One of the things that I really like about the Academy Awards expanding the category of Best Picture from 5 films to up to 10 is that films like this rarely made the cut before and they are so worthy of note.

The film tells the story of Woody Grant (Bruce Dern, whose performance is pitch perfect) and his son David (Will Forte, who many know from SNL but I know from the Mumford and Son video for 'Hopeless Wanderer'). Woody receives an advertisement in the mail claiming he has won $1 million (and the opportunity to buy magazines at a real deal) and needs to go claim his prize money in Lincoln, Nebraska. Woody refuses to believe the money is a junk-mail scam, nor does he trust his new found fortune to the vagarities of the postal service, so he sets out to go in person to collect.   David initially tries to tell his father that it is a scam--he starts off gently, but gets bluunt, and then, in the end he agrees to drive Woody to Nebraska, resulting in a Midwest adventure, as well as a family reunion when the pair stops in Woody’s hometown, where everything that can go wrong does, in a stilted Mid-Western sort of a way.

The simplicity of the film is what makes it so engaging. The black and white aesthetic and minutes without dialogue showcase American regionalism in the heart of the stark Midwest. The humor of the film is surprising and razor sharp. There’s a tension between slightly demented Woody and pragmatic David that actually puts you on the edge of your seat.

The film is a portrait of modern rural America and a take on family relationships, especially when money becomes relevant. In this way, it’s also starkly depressing. Woody’s wife, played by 84-year-old June Squibb, is a ruthless and surprisingly sexual gossip who borderline verbally abuses Woody in a deceptively sharp manner. His nephews have recently served their stints in prison and the most exciting thing anyone has to talk about are trucks. The stark stasis of the characters’ lives makes you leave the theater with a renewed gratitude that you don’t live in such a place.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Dreams of Trespass by Fatima Mernissi

I read this memoir in preparation for a trip to Morocco, and I found it fairly shocking.  The author was born into a domestic harem in Fez in 1940.   The book follows tales of her as a child growing up in what she defines as a domestic harem.  Such a harem is very different from a royal harem, populated by scantily dressed women, many of them enslaved, who serve at the pleasure of a monarch and are guarded by eunichs.  A domestic harem is an extended family living under one roof, polygamous or not.  The women are literally kept under lock and key, without much opportunity to see the outside world, much less experience it.

Mernissi seamlessly weaves in legends, daily life, and the dreams of her people. She elegantly conveys a sense of their culture and religion as well as the unrest and the changes that are bound to happen as different cultures collide with the improvement of transportation and long distance traveling. The entire tone of this book is one of understanding and a quiet desire to open the eyes of the reader to what she once did not understand and what people of very different cultures are not likely to understand as well. Overall the book is moving and enchanting through the eyes of an eight year old Fatima as she pokes and prods in order to understand her own culture and why they must follow the rules and laws that they do.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Get Smart Through Art

We all suspected that arts in elementary school had value beyond what we could see, but now there is actual data that supports that supposition.  The synopsis of this study ran in the New York Times a couple weeks ago, and I hope it gets wide attention.

Researchers had a rare opportunity to explore the relationship between art and social and educational values  when the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened in Bentonville, Ark in 2011. Through a large-scale, random-assignment study of school tours to the museum, they were able to determine that strong causal relationships do in fact exist between arts education and a range of desirable outcomes.  Students who, by lottery, were selected to visit the museum on a field trip demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of social tolerance, exhibited greater historical empathy and developed a taste for art museums and cultural institutions.

Crystal Bridges was founded by Alice Walton, the daughter of Sam Walton. It has a 50,000 square feet of gallery space and an endowment of more than $800 million.  Thanks to a generous private gift, the museum has a program that allows school groups to visit at no cost to students or schools.
Before the opening, researchers contacted the museum’s education department. The demand for school visits to the museum far exceeded available slots, so they partnered with the museum and conducted a lottery to fill the available slots.

Over the course of the following year, nearly 11,000 students and almost 500 teachers participated in our study, roughly half of whom had been selected by lottery to visit the museum. Applicant groups who won the lottery constituted our treatment group, while those who did not win an immediate tour served as our control group.  Several weeks after the students in the treatment group visited the museum, they administered surveys to all of the students. The surveys included multiple items that assessed knowledge about art, as well as measures of tolerance, historical empathy and sustained interest in visiting art museums and other cultural institutions as well as an essay.
Further, the researchers directly measured whether students were likely to return to Crystal Bridges as a result of going on a school tour. Students who participated in the study were given a coupon that gave them and their families free entry to a special exhibit at the museum. The coupons were coded so that we could determine the group to which students belonged. Students in the treatment group were 18 percent more likely to attend the exhibit than students in the control group.  Importantly, most of the benefits observed were significantly larger for minority students, low-income students and students from rural schools — typically two to three times larger than for white, middle-class, suburban students — owing perhaps to the fact that the tour was the first time they had visited an art museum.
Clearly, however, we can conclude that visiting an art museum exposes students to a diversity of ideas that challenge them with different perspectives on the human condition. Expanding access to art, whether through programs in schools or through visits to area museums and galleries, should be a central part of any school’s curriculum. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Last Vegas (2013)

This is the 70 year old version of "Hangover", and while at 54 I am about equidistant between the characters in the two movies, I better relate to the old guys.  These are actors playing men their own age, but they are very fit, despite the story of their decrepitude.  They spring about with style that I can only hope to aspire to in 15 years.

The reason they are in Vegas goes like this.  Billy (Michael Douglas) is a millionaire bachelor who is getting married for the very first time.  He organized the bachelor parties of his three closest childhood friends, and they insist on doing the same for him.  Archie (Morgan Freeman) is recovering from a stroke, Sam (Kevin Kline) just had a knee replacement, and Paddy (Robert DeNiro) is mourning the death of his wife of 50 plus years.  They are not what you would call party animal material, but all that changes when they hit Sin City.  Archie hits it big at the blackjack table (I do not understand why Billy isn't bankrolling the whole weekend, but it is nice to have a source of the cash that flows freely from then on), and they manage to get into the spirit of the time and the place without seeming unrealistic.  They meet Diana (Mary Steenburgen), who manages to capture Billy's imagination and his heart (which was not actually up for grabs, since he is there to get married to someone else, but no one regrets the child bride he was going to marry getting jilted at the alter).

This is not a deep movie.  Despite the fact that all four actors put in very good performances and the script is reasonable, you are meant to forget about it entirely when the credits start rolling.  But it is a very pleasant diversion, especially for those of us who don't see blacking out and risking your life as a part of the fun of Vegas.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Check Out Valerie June

Please listen to this wonderful clip of a woman who is a fabulous song writer, banjo player and performer.

I am not much for getting out, but thankfully I have offspring and friends who see to it that I occasionally manage a night of music.  I went to see Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings recently and they were pretty terrific--the band especially (an 8 piece band, with three horn players and a conga drummer, which must cost the earth to tour with, but it sure was great to hear)--but the real hit of the evening for me was being introduced to her opening act, Valerie June. She is an incredibly fun performer to watch, she has style and grace, her voice is unusual and interesting, and her songs are whimsical and mournful and memorable.  Not to mention that she has fabulous turquoise cowboy boots and the cutest little baby banjo.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Beware the Ides of March

Yes, I am reading about the end of the Roman Republic, and Julius Caesar had a premonition to beware of the Ides of March.  He did not heed it, and it was the end for him, betrayed by two of his trusted advisers, Cassius and Brutus.

The Roman Republic was in a state of serious disrepair when Caesar came to power.  He was a brilliant general who had impressive accomplishments on the battle field, but he did very little to effectively reform the corrupt government of Rome.  He came to power by essentially declaring civil war on Italy when the senators tried to oust him, and he never got rid of the faction that wished him harm.  What Brutus and Cassius didn't realize was that getting rid of Caesar did not get rid of the problem, it only created a power vacuum and  more chaos.  They thought they would gain more favorable territories as a result, but in fact it set them up against Antonius, and in the end, they too fame to an end.

The only good that came of the whole mess was that Caesar's declared heir, Octavian, a boy of 18 at the time of Caesar's death, made all the difference for Rome.  He was a small and sickly man without military genius, political allies, or physical strength, but he did have the authority that being Caesar's heir awarded him and he used it very well.  So remember this Ides of March, watch your back!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Footnote (2012)

This is a movie that is surprising.  It focuses on a father and his son, both of whom are Talmudic scholars.  The father, Eliezer, is the sort of scholar who immerses himself in the smallest details, laroing tirelessly and pointing out the tiniest inconsistencies in various texts.  He believes that his approach is the only way to do scholarly activity and he has no patience with his son, Uriel, who writes sweeping summaries about Talmudic stories that are both academically praised and widely popular.  The father is harsh and unforgiving in his judgement of the son, while the son remains respectful of his father.

The two men are very different in their scholarship, but surprisingly similar in their character.  The son is a frequent interviewee on television and very socially able, while the father is almost autistic in his inability to manage the simplest of social interactions, even with his closest family members, but beyond that, they are very much alike, and the traits they share are not the ones that you might hope for.  In any case, the son is put into a very difficult situation, and in finding a way out of it, both he and his father learn about themselves and the other.  The movie has darkly comic moments, but prepare to be comtemplative rather than to laugh when you watch it.  The movie was an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, and honor that is richly deserved.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Yellowberry on Kickstarter

Megan Grassell is 18-years-old and a senior at the Jackson Hole Community School in Jackson, Wyoming who has a Kickstarter campaign to offer fun, colorful and age appropriate bras to young girls.   I am asking you to consider supporting her effort. (

I know Megan's family through cancer.  My youngest son was diagnosed with a brain tumor when we were on vacation in Grand Teton National Park.  He was air-cared to Denver and had surgery the next day.  When he woke up, he could not speak or move the right side of his body.  We were terrified--one day ago we had a lively 5 year old boy, and the next we we dealing with cancer, paralysis and a boy that could

not and would not communicate with us.  Out of such situations one can occasionally find goodness and light.  The pediatrician who diagnosed my son in the Jackson Hole ER called us to see how our son was doing, and when he heard the outcome of his surgery, he put us in contact with another family who had had the same situation.  Megan's mother offered me hope, prayers, good advice, and friendship on a daily basis throughout the year of my son's treatment with radiation and chemotherapy.  She literally saved my sanity.

But the tough times for the Grassell children were not behind them.  In a nightmarish Fourth of July parade accident, Megan's younger sister Caroline was killed in front of her family. 

Megan has taken the six things that they cherish about Caroline's memory--go barefoot, water the flowers everyday, watch quietly and observe, seek and find a hug when you need one, love the outdoors and nature, campfires are far so eat as many marshmallows as you can--as mantras for her company, Yellowberry, because she feels that they embody the youthfulness and innocence of young girls, which I love! They are perfect for Yellowberry and spreading the message that girls don’t have to grow-up so quickly!

Megan and her family have an incredible zest for life that I find inspirational.  Thank you so much for considering supporting Yellowberry (

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Persimmon Pudding

If you have never had persimmon pudding, you are in for a real treat if you try this--It is Nancy Reagan's recipe, and she was on the right path to a dessert that has fall fruit, that has all the wonderful characteristics of a fruit cake with none of the fake candied cherries and citron.  This has been a long-time favorite in cooking sessions that I have been doing with my friend Ivy for almost 30 years.  It is a wonderful holiday dessert.

Nancy Reagan's Persimmon Pudding
• 1/2 cup melted butter
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 cup flour, sifted
• 1/4 tsp. salt
• 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
• 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
• 1 cup persimmon pulp (3 to 4 chopped nuts (optional) ripe ones)
• 2 tsp. baking soda
• 2 tsp. warm water
• 3 tbsp. brandy
• 1 tsp. vanilla
• 2 eggs, slightly beaten
• 1 cup seedless raisins
Stir together the melted butter and sugar. Resift the flour with salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg and add to the butter and sugar mixture. Add the persimmon pulp, sold dissolves in warm water, brandy, and vanilla. Add the eggs, mixing thoroughly but lightly. Add the raisins and nuts. Put in a buttered steam-type covered mold and steam two and a half hours. Flame at the table with brandy.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Vikings (1958)

This is the second movie with Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis that I have watched this winter, and it is excellent.

The film opens on an animated Bayeux tapestry (not strictly about the Vikings, mind you, but an ancient work that tells the story of battles fought and won), followed by an immediate, full-blooded depiction of rape, fire and pillage. There are no punches pulle don that account--the Vikings were all about getting in, wrecking havoc, and goinf home.  The Icelandic word 'ransack' means to investigate.  They put a pleasant spin on an ugly business.

The characters and plot are extensively fictionalised, though they are based on a Norse saga about the possibly-real eighth or ninth century Viking lord Ragnar Lodbrok and the probably-real Northumbrian king Aella (died 867). The film revolves around two fictional sons of Ragnar (Ernest Borgnine), the long-lost Eric (Tony Curtis) and the party-hearty Einar (Kirk Douglas).

One of the film's big surprises is that it actually looks quite authentic and fressh, despite it's age. Production design gets points for the fact that neither horned helmets nor drinking out of skulls is in evidence, though Kirk Douglas does sport a fetching hat with a bronze hawk on it, and there is quite a lot of hardcore boozing from non-cranial vessels. The locations – including some lovely fjords – are spectacular, even if a pedant might point out that medieval castles weren't built pre-ruined. The longships look terrific, and there's a very authentic funeral.  The musical score includes some terrific horn blowing (and some impressive animal horns) that are praised by Middle Age music folks as being well done.  Best of all, as epics go, this one is enjoyable.

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Jury of Her Peers by Susan Glaswell

This is great short story that demonstrates a powerful message over a limited number of pages.  The central character is a woman that we never meet, Minnie Foster, now Mrs. Wright.  She has been arrested after her husband was found hung by his bedpost.  The sheriff and the prosecuting attorney go to the Wright's house to look for evidence of her guilt, and they have brought two women along, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, the sheriff's wife to collec the things that Mrs. Wright wants while she is in jail.

Mrs. Hale knew Minnie Foster as a girl, and she quite shocked by the spartan existence that she lived with her husband.  The house is shabby and colorless, and her clothes match that state of affairs.  Mrs. Hale regrets that she never made time to see her old friend, letting the chores of life on the farm prevent her from being a good neighbor.  The women do find evidence that would explain why Mrs. Wright would have been provoked to kill her husband.  They ponder their role as women and citizens of the town, and they make a decision about what to do with the evidence.  The men, of course, have not been altogether respectful of women in general, and the role of women in maintaining life as they know it.  So Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters do not feel comfortable leaving Mrs. Wright's fate in their hands.  Excellent read.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Pasta with Cauliflower and Bacon

4 slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup panko
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/2 head cauliflower (1 pound), cored and cut into 1-inch florets
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
  • 1 lb. orchiette (can substitute gemelle or fusilli or campanelle)
  • 1 1/2 quarts stock
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4  cup minced fresh parseley
  •  squeeze a lemon over the finished dish
  • 1. Cook bacon in 8-inch skillet over medium-high heat until crispy, 4 to 6 minutes. Add panko and 1/8 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until panko is well browned, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer panko mixture to bowl and wipe out skillet.

    2. Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in now-empty skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add cauliflower and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is crisp-tender and browned in spots, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and cover to keep warm.

    3. Heat remaining 1/2 teaspoon oil in large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, thyme, and 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring frequently, until onion has softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Increase heat to high, add pasta, broth, and wine, and bring to simmer. Cook pasta, stirring frequently, until most of liquid is absorbed and pasta is al dente, per instructions on the package.

    4. Remove pan from heat; stir in parsley and cauliflower; and season with lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.  Top with panko. Serve,  passing lemon wedges.

    Usually I say that the meat can be eliminated in many dishes, but not this one--the combination of the cauliflower and the bacon is heavenly.

    Saturday, March 8, 2014

    Gladiator (2000)

    Sometimes a liberal education is an interwoven experience.  My son is taking a Film Sound class (where this was shown) and a history class on the fall of the Roman Republic (the time period that this film taks place in).  Lucky me, because I am reading the Roman history material out loud to him, and I know next to nothing about the time period (for examply, I couldn't reliably spell Caesar, despite an affection for the salad).

    I am neutral on Russell Crowe, but he is very good in this role. He is a general who is betrayed and becomees a slave, a slave who becomes a gladiator, and a gladiator who once again becomes a leader of men.  It is a part that requires a certain amount of finesse to pull off well, and he managed it.  The corruption that brought the Roman Republic to an end it well displayed here (although it is not central to the plot moving forward).  The problem was that Rome ran very much the way the U.S. Congress does today--each member was less concerned with representation of the republic and more concerned about their personal influence and amassing personal wealth.  Generals controlled armies (legions) that were loyal to the man and not to the state--so leading a legion was a pathway to wealth and prestige, and literally no one is worrying about what is good for the country.  If a senator could not benefit financially and politically, it was of no consequence what the effect was on Rome--which led to it's collapse.  Beaustifully filmed and costumed, and the soundtrack, with special emphasis on the collosium scenes, is excellent.

    Friday, March 7, 2014

    The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

    I read this story our loud to my youngest son for a literature class that he is taking--I am not a huge fan of the short story, but that is probably a failing on my part.  I should at least read some of the classics (which is now possible, because he had to purchase an overpriced version of a Norton Anthology, so I can pursue this new interest without having to do much in the way of research).

    The story is about a woman who is depressed after the birth of a child.  Her physician husband prescribes rest, rents a house in the country, and essentially lock her up  in a room with yellow wallpaper and not much else going for it.  The woman gradually descends into frank psychosis as the story progresses, and the discussion that one is supposed to have is the view of women versus men, the approach to depression in an era before medication and psychotherapy were effective treatment approaches, and the infantilization of women who experience mental illness.

    What struck me is that her psychosis had symptoms that are very different from those associated with depression.  She has visual and olfactory hallucinations that are hallmarks of organic psychoses, and so my thoughts were that she wither has a tumor or she is being poisoned.  The down side of a medical background, it turns out.

    Thursday, March 6, 2014

    Szechuan Noodles

    This is adapted from the new Moosewood Restaurant Favorites cookbook--I have been cooking out of one Moosewood cookbook or another since the late 1970's, and still find them to be amongst my favorite vegetarian recipes.

    ½ pound linguine, spaghetti, or soba or udon noodles
    1 cucumber seeded, peeled, seeded and sliced into thin crescents
    ½ cup finely chopped scallions
    Mung bean sprouts or
    Shredded Carrots if you like

    For the peanut dressing:
    cup peanut butter
    cup warm water
    2 tablespoons soy sauce
    3 tablespoons vinegar (rice, cider or white)
    1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
    1 teaspoon Chinese chili paste with garlic 

    Cook the noodles as directed on package. Prepare the cucumber and scallions. In a small bowl, stir together the dressing ingredients.
    Drain the pasta and toss it with the dressing, cucumbers and scallions. Garnish with mung bean sprouts, if you wish. Serve warm or chilled.
    The noodles absorb the dressing over time, so if you made the noodles ahead, or are serving leftovers, taste them and stir in a little water, and maybe more vinegar, soy sauce and chili paste as needed.

    Note: Chinese chili paste with garlic can be purchased at Asian markets. It is also stocked in the Asian ingredients aisle at many grocery stores.

    Wednesday, March 5, 2014

    Spectacular Now (2013)

    Here is a lovely film about two high school seniors who look, speak and feel like real 18-year-old middle-American human beings.  It is an utterly charming account of their meeting, friendship, and love affair. 

    Sutter is a relatively mild bad boy.  He is popular, always swigging off a flask, and free of ambition.  He is failing geometry, which is essential for his graduation from high school and he seems pretty ambivalent about whether he cares or not about any of it.  College is not on his horizon, nor is much of anything except getting his ex-girl friend back, which seems unlikely, because she left him due to his drinking and lackadaisical attitude towards his life and his future.

    Sutter passes out in his car on a neighbor's lawn and he is found by Aimee, a girl who has not yet had a boyfriend, on her morning paper route.  Aimee is clearly smitten, and Sutter is not a predatory kind of guy.  They start off with Sutter being tutored by Aimee, and it goes from there.  Aimee is like no girl that Sutter has ever known--she is real, she cares about him, and when he reveals that he has father issues, she supports him investigating that.  She helps him to grow up a bit.  The bad news, which I think is also quite common, is that Aimee pretty quickly gets sucked into Sutter's drinking, occasional drugging, and driving while intoxicated.  The ending is bittersweet but wonderfully depicted.  Do not miss this.

    Tuesday, March 4, 2014

    Someone by Alice McDermott

    This book is a well written and relatively short novel that was one of the year's best in the opinion of the New York Times--the thing that is remarkable about it is just how tightly written it is.  Marie is an Irish-American woman who grew up in Brooklyn.  The book spans from her childhood through the end of her life, with the past and the mor recent aspects of her life interwoven throughout the book in a wonderful and striaghtforward way.  What is wonderful is that you know something about her later life when you are learning about her youth, so you can see how tha tfits into her overall make up, how events that transpired impacted who she became.  It is straightforward in that it is not hard or confusing to bounce back and forth between the past and the present (I am just not good at the stream of conscience books that go all over the lifespan with no anchor points, and this book handles this in a way that is almost lyrical).  Marie is a relatively uncomplicated and undramatic woman who is so interesting to get to know.

    So please, take an afternoon and devote it to this compact marvelous novel that spans a life that begins between the World Wars and into modern life.

    Monday, March 3, 2014

    Russia's Reputation PreceedsThem

    How quickly Putin put behind him the goal of appearing to be a progressive nation worthy of praise and respect.  The flame had barely gone out in Sochi when Russian troops marched into Crimea.  The impetus for the unrest was a resistance on Russia's part to a trade agreement with the European Union.  There is not much tolerance for contact with the west, it turns out.

    It is true that Crimea is a complicated situation, but a good part of that complication was Russian made.  When Stalin deported all Crimean Tartars to Central Asia (and certain death for many of them) and repopulated the popular peninsula with Russians.  So the >50% Russian population that exists there today is flasely created.  Then again, Ukranians are not the traditional inhabitants either, and they have never made up more than 25% of of the population.  Add to that the relative independence that Crimea has enjoyed since the early 1990's, and it is hard to see this as anything but a Soviet style invasion.  Join us, or we will smash you to bits. The thugs are back in town.  How will the west respond?


    Sunday, March 2, 2014

    2 Guns (2013)

    This is not a great movie--there are no hidden messages, no points to ponder long after the credits have rolled.  Take home messages are that when investigating bad guys, follow the money.  The good guys might be bad guys--if you follow the money, there will be clues related to who is a good guy and who is a bad guy amongst the presumably good guys (ie. government agents and law enforcement).  Drugs generate a lot of money and are associated with a lot of violence.  Many people get killed, none of them are people you feel particularly bad about.  Money brings power and arrogance, niether of which makes a person more likable.

    It does feature two great actors who are often, if not always, worth watching.  Stig (Mark Wahlberg) is an undercover Navy officer and Bobby (Denzel Washington) is an undercover DEA agent.  It is not exactly a match made in heaven, but over the course of the movie they come to trust each other a bit, if only because there is no one else.  There chemistry  is good, and they are pretty funny in a shoot-em-up kind of way.  The acting is far better than is required for the standard action film, lets put is that way.

    The real star here is that money, from the beginning and definitely at the end.  The sheer physical size of it makes it damn near impossible to transport. The movie gets plenty of mileage from this; when Stig tells Bobby to take it all, I thought about how long it must have taken him to load it into their car. Later, in the film's best sequence, said money not only upstages Bobby and Stig but elevates them to their highest level of badass.

    Saturday, March 1, 2014

    Divergent by Veronica Roth

    If you are looking for young adult novels that are blazing new trails, then this is not for you--it follows the Hunger Games formula to a tee, right down to the strong female heroine, the evil empire that is attempting to take over and control over what is left of the dystopian world, and the concept that absolute power corrupts (really, what was Marx thinking?  Communism?  Not happening).

    The reason to read this is that it is competently written, the heroine, Tris, has her own voice (she is not Katniss Jr.), and since I am not one to re-read books over and over again, finding something in the young adult range that I can enjoy is always a treat, even if it retreads ground that has already been covered. 
    Another reason to read it is that the movie will soon be upon us, and I usually prefer to have read the book before I see the movie.  One or the other, whatever you see second lacks the surprise of the first, but somehow I prefer the surprise to come in written form--not to mention that if the movie is a bit disjointed (I am thinking of the Harry Potter movies, which I am pretty sure I coul dnot have followed if I had not read the books) it is easier to follow if you know where it is going to begin with.