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Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Aeneid by Virgil (19 BC)

I both read this and listened to it--which, while it takes more than twice the amount of time, is a good approach to getting a better understanding of an ancient epic poem.  Virgil was commissioned by Augustus to write this work, and Virgil toiled over it for ten years, finishing it the year that he died.  So it may not have undergone a final edit.   Nonetheless, it is one of the most widely read ancient works.  It has been popular literally since it was written.

Virgil had grown up at a time when Rome was more or less continually in a state of civil war, and he was eager for a return to stability and a time of peace.  That was Augustus' wish as well, and he asked Virgil to write a work that would celebrate the glory of Rome.  Virgil set The Aeneid at a time parallel to The Odyssey and following The Iliad.  The hero, Aeneas, is a Trojan who left his city after Priam's death, which he witnessed. Jupiter foretold his fate, which was to leave Troy and found Lavinium, the city that would more or less become Rome.  They take to the sea, and after seven years of wandering, they make off for the land of their destiny.  Then, much like what happens to Odysseus, they are tossed about in the ocean (Aeolus, god of the winds, is involved, at the behest of the troublesome Juno) and end up in Carthage.  Aeneas is welcomed by a bewitched Dido, and Book IV is considered to be one of the ageless love stories.  I found it more a story where humans are manipulated by the gods and as a result the love they feel lacks any emotional depth. The next two books are the voyage to Italy.

The rest of the poem, Books VII-VII are the battles that ensue when they land, with much blood and death.  Men are brave, men die, one woman is a valiant warrior who also falls (Camilla is a great huntress in the mold of Diana, and a remarkable ancient woman), and in the end Aeneas and his Trojans win, but are destined to mingle their blood with the conquered Latins and create the land of Rome.  There are some chronological issues, with the events of the Aeneid taking place at the end of the Trojan War, which occurred in 1240 BCE, while the founding of Rome is generally acknowledged to be 753 BCE.  No matter, it is a great tale.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Le Weekend (2103)

Wow.  This was no comedy.  My spouse and I looked at each other when the credits rolled at the end and said, "Let's try really hard not to end up like that."

Nick and Meg are off on the train from England to spend the weekend in Paris to celebrate their 30th anniversary.  Well, celebrate may be a stretch for this couple, who are alternatingly genially and bitterly mean to each other.  They check into a hotel suite that they cannot begin to afford.  Nick has just been fired from his job as a university philosophy professor and Meg is dissatisfied with her job.  They need to be job hunting rather than making each other more or less miserable in the city of love.  On top of this they have a son who is unemployed, ungrateful, and who has emptied their retirement account but is not satisfied with that.

Midway through the weekend they run into a colleague of Nick's from their school days.  Morgan is on his third marriage and has a best selling novel to his name.  He has a young and pregnant wife and untold riches, and he seems genuinely happy to run into Nick.  Morgan's son is the only Achilles heel, an unhappy boy who is adrift with a distracted father who loves him but doesn't know how to like him.  There are moments where this cast of characters chance upon the messy facts of real life, mixed with equally prevalent painful moments of truths that are better left unseen. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Chile Relleno Casserole

I have oodles of green chiles on hand and made this recipe recently.  It does not require cooking the peppers ahead of time, which is nice if you are still in the summer bounty time of the year, but it works equally well with peppers that have been charred, peeled and seeded.  The dish is delicious as a breakfast buffet item (it can be served with a Mexican tomato sauce or not), and it is very good at room temperature, so it can be taken to a pot luck.
But my favorite way to have it is in a breakfast sandwich--use it just as you would use egg, and you can add bacon or ham or whatever else you would add, and it becomes a portable breakfast that is delicious.

In a 9" x 13" pan,
pack in as many peppers as you can--you can use poblanos, jalopenos, banana peppers, what ever level of heat you want will work.
Seed them and stuff each of them with grated cheese that melts well (I use Chihuahua when I have it, a Mexican blend when I don't).

The egg batter is:
5 eggs
1/4 c. flour
1 1/4 c. milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Mix in a blender, and pour over the stuffed peppers.  Bake at 350 degrees until the egg is puffy and set, about 30-40 minutes.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Act of Giving Thanks

I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with several of my nieces and nephews recently and they tried to convince me that since Thanksgiving is a day of family that I should really make the trip back East to enjoy it with my extended family.  I let them know that while I loved them all very much, traveling at Thanksgiving is off the table for me.  Just too much craziness with fellow travelers who don't travel often, and shall we say, are not in the mood of the holiday when they are stuck or delayed.  Which in November is bound to happen somewhere.  As a people we have lost the sense of wonder at how quickly we can get places and have replaced it with irritation when that doesn't materialize for us.  So traveling at Thanksgiving is more like hand to hand combat than a celebration.

The fact that we are not together often enough does not change the fact that I love being an aunt.   I am not much of a lover of small children, but I do love teens.  My nieces and nephews are all growing into amazing people doing many cool and different things, and I take neither the credit nor the blame.  It is perfect.  I can just enjoy them.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

To Be of Not to Be (1942)

This film is set in Poland during the Nazi occupation.  The depiction of the enemy in WWII while the war was going on by Ernst Lubitsch, a German Jew who had been in the United States almost 20 years by the time the Nazis started to spread out across Europe, is part Casablanca and part Hogan's Heroes, and very good indeed.

The setting is Warsaw, and while there are a fair number of bombed buildings, the movie is generous in it's depiction of Warsaw because the city put up a strenuous resistance and as a result, 85% of the city was reduced to rubble.  Joe and Maria Trura (Jack Benny and Carole Lombard) are Polish actors who become part of the Polish underground resistance.  Maria catches the eye of a young Polish airman (Robert Stack) who is falsely convinced that she will leave her husband for him. So there is the romantic triangle that Lubitsch so loved interwoven into the plot, but there is also the need to stop  a spy from giving all the information that he gathered about the Polish resistance to the Nazi's.  That part of the plot is handled as more of a dark comedy, and very deftly done.  Even with the hindsight of 70 years this film holds up well on many levels, and it is no wonder that Mel Brooks elected to remake it in 1983.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Chicken Marbella

This is from a very old cookbook, the Silver Palate, which when I started eating meat again after a long hiatus was one of the ones I started with.  I still don't cook very much meat (my spouse does the lion share of that in our household), this is a favorite.

It is a great recipe for a crowd.  It can be served at room temperature. It can be made ahead of time and heated up.  It calls for chicken pieces, but it is very good with BLSL chicken if you are serving in a location where wielding a knife and fork is a challenge.

4 chickens, 2 1/2 pounds each, quartered
1 head of garlic, peeled and finely pureed
1/4 cup dried oregano
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup pitted prunes
1/2 cup pitted Spanish green olives
1/2 cup capers with a bit of juice
6 bay leaves
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white wine
1/4 cup Italian parsley or fresh coriander (cilantro), finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl combine chicken quarters, garlic, oregano, pepper and coarse salt to taste, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers and juice, and bay leaves. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, overnight (can be transferred to a zip lock bag for this phase.

Arrange chicken in a single layer in one or two large, shallow baking pans and spoon marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.

Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, basting frequently with pan juices.  With a slotted spoon transfer chicken, prunes, olives and capers to a serving platter. Moisten with a few spoonfuls of pan juices and sprinkle generously with parsley or cilantro. Pass remaining pan juices.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Reflecting on Five Years of Blogging

I have been blogging more or less every day for the past five years and while that would be nothing for someone who does it professionally, I am a rank amateur, and so I am going to briefly revel in the glory of the little that I have accomplished.

I started blogging for two reasons.  The first was that I wanted to write more, and to consider writing quite a bit more when and if I get the chance to retire (or at least work part time) in the future.  In order to do that I would need to write more than I was (which was pretty close to zero) and a blog seemed like a great way to get my mind thinking regularly and to practice getting some of those thoughts down on 'paper'.

So that is where I started, but having an idea and actually blogging were fairly far apart in time.  For many years I was a good letter writer and correspondent, but after the advent of email my letter writing slowed to almost nothing.  When my FIL was diagnosed with a serious but not immediately terminal illness the thing that he wanted to do before he died was to get to know the people in his life a little better.  I initially wrote long and hopefully thoughtful emails to him, but found that I was waiting for a response rather than continuing to write more.  That wasn't exactly fair to someone who was trying to empty out their bucket list.  So I decided to start this blog.

I wrote several things, and then I sent the web address to my aspiring writer son--I thought he would be the best judge of whether it was something to do publicly and if it would be unduly embarrassing to him, me, or someone else I cared about.  Once he gave the thumbs up, I sent it to my FIL, and I am very happy to say that he read it regularly.  I know this because his cousin had lunch with him weekly and they talked about it.  So rarely does something fulfill more than one purpose and this alone brought me pleasure.  As does the writing now that I have been at it awhile.  So thanks to all who check in on occasion, and on to the next five years.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Bletchley Circle (2012)

Every so often I feel compelled to divulge yet another in a long series of BBC Crime dramas that I have found enjoyable, adn this is one of those times.  The series opens with a scene from during the war when all four women were code breakers.  Susan and Millie are good with patterns, Lucy has a photographic memory, and Jean has access to people in all the right places.  They were a team that solved things.  Their lives were exciting and they felt like what they did made a difference.  They didn't know it at the time, but when the war ended and the men came home they were going to go back to the status of women, which was significantly less thrilling than the life they had led.  And due to the Official Secrets Act, none of them could talk about what they did during the war.

Fast forward nine years.  Susan is now a mother of two going slightly batty at the lack of intellectual stimulation in her life.  She has been following the story of a serial killer and his victims and thinks that she has spotted a pattern.  Long story short she gets the gang back together to track a serial killer.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Roasted Butternut Squash with Pumpkin Seeds and Ricotta Insalata

My spouse ate at the Purple Pig in Chicago recently and came home to recreate this dish.

Brown 1/4 c. of butter.

While you are waiting for the browning to take place (it takes a while, and you really can't go off and leave it), prep the butternut squash by cutting it in half, seeding it, use a vegetable peeler to get rid of the outer skin, then cut into 1/2 inch cubes.

Toss the squash with salt and pepper, and the browned butter, then roast in a 400 degree oven until it is starting to brown, about 30 minutes.  Check on it often, stirring it a bit when you do so to promote even baking.

Toast the pumpkin seeds, grate some ricotta insalata, and toss the finished squash with them and serve.  It is a slightly sweet, very richly flavored dish that goes with almost anything.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Orfeo by Richard Powers

This is an odd book, which was long listed for both the Booker Prize and the National Book Award this year.  The basic premise is this.  Peter Els is a 70-year old composer who is working to better characterize music through an exploration of DNA.  As the book progresses we discover that Els has a long history of making music his highest priority, more important than his wife and daughter, and therefore the somewhat wacky idea that a do-it-yourself gene therapy set-up he has purchased to further his investigations is just an extension of his life work.  The book is strongest when it is describing music, although the technical aspects of those explanations may make the book less accessible to a broader audience.

The musical theme is woven into a larger commentary on society in the 21st century.  Els comes to the attention of the local authorities when he calls 911 when his dog has a sudden stroke.  They advise him to call animal control as he cannot dispose of the body himself, and when they return to follow up on that they discover his homemade biology lab and bring in the FBI.  Who go way overboard, which spooks Els, who then becomes a wanted fugitive on the run.  The public hysteria about his homegrown virus and its potential for lethality is very believable in the post-Ebola hysteria that was whipped up by a 24 hour news cycle and social media.  That is more or less what happens here, and Els decides in the end that he needs to use social media to fight back. He gets a Twitter account and starts his defense, 140 characters at a time.  It is an unusual but largely enjoyable novel very much set in our time.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Long Way Down (2014)

This movie did not get particularly good reviews, but I found it strangely enjoyable.  Martin Sharp (played very competently and almost compassionately by Pierce Brosnan) had the world in the palm of his hand uo until a year before when the movie opens.  He had a sexual relationship with someone that he claims he did not know was underage, and as a result he lost his long time morning talk show job, as well as his marriage and for a time, his personal freedom as he spent some itme in jail.  He is humiliated and he has decided to commit suicide.  Unfortunately or fortunately, he has chosen a popular building to hurl oneself off of and on New Year's Eve, also a popular night, and before he can accomplish the jump, he is joined by three other people, also suicidal.

They are all impulsively making a choice to end their lives, and having an audience makes them each hesitate, and they form an unlikely alliance whereby they provide support for each other much in the way a support group would act. Toni Collette's performance is pitch perfect, and the movie is ultimately hopeful and at the least enjoyable.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sopa de Chilies

We roasted two cases of Hatch chilies this fall and my husband also ordered 50 pounds of them that came roasted and frozen so we have a significant amount of real estate in the freezer occupied by green chilies.  I love the earthy flavor of soup, and decided to try to make it.  Delicious!

2 lb. poblano chiles
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 large white onion, roughly chopped
1 small potato, diced
1 hot chile (serrano or jalapeno), stemmed, seeded, and minced
4 oz. spinach, roughly chopped
4 cups stock
1-2 cups milk
Salt and  black pepper, to taste


1. Heat broiler to high heat. Place poblano chiles on a foil-lined baking sheet, and broil, turning as needed, until blackened all over, about 20 minutes; transfer to a bowl and let cool. Peel and discard skins, stems, and seeds; roughly chop, and set aside.

2. Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, the hot pepper, and then the potato, cook until onions are soft. Add chopped poblanos and stock and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly reduced, about 35 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in spinach and milk, and season with salt and pepper; puree in a blender until smooth.  Adding the spinach at the end then pureeing it makes the color of the soup greener.  You can add a dollop of Mexican crema or sour cream when serving.  A cup of corn can be added after pureeing to make a chili corn soup, and strips of fried tortillas acan be sprinkled on top when served.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Time Present, and Time Past by Dierdre Madden

Dierdre Madden is an Irish author whose latest book was once again long listed for the Orange Prize.  It is more of a novella in length, but it is so densely and beautifully written that you forget just how short it is.  The book follows a family over time, headed by the father, Finlan.  He is a guy who has what I would call permeable ego boundaries and what is perhaps a below average ability to tell one person from another.  He sees connections everywhere he looks, and through his eyes, we see lots of them as well.  The central issues are the ties that family hold now and for all time.  Jane is Finlan's mother and for the most part, her family should either have avoided her like the plague or demanded she change for their own mental health, but her influence on her grandchildren is more positive, so there are pluses and minuses to maintaining connections with very negative family members.  He sees his twin in a divorced father who is painfully separated from his child after a divorce that was clearly in everyone's best interest but the wife is still quite bitter. The desperate love that one can feel for their child can have the effect of making that child feel safe, but it has negative consequences for Finlan's own daughter--he loved her more than anyone else could and it left her unhappy.  So it is not what you would call an inherently uplifting book, but it does show the light and the dark side of human relationships.  Loved it.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Killing Kennedy (2013)

The acting in this movie is very solid, but the material doesn't give them much to work with.  The focus is on Lee Oswald and the path that led him to the assasination of Presidnet Kennedy.  In 1959, when Kennedy was deciding to run for president, Oswald was attemptimg to defect to Russia. He was a devoted communist who detested the capitalist society of the United States.  He lived in Minsk for over two years, marrying a Russian wife, before returning to the United States.  The movie depicts him as a paranoid fanatic, who gets very upset and angry at the treatment of Cuba soon after his return. 

On the other side of the coin, we see Kennedy struggling with what to do in response to the missle crisis in Cuba, where he is quite presidential, counterbalanced by his cavorting with women in the White House.  His wife knows and yet she remains devoted to him, and in some ways he to her as well.  None of this is delved into in any depth, and so it is left as a series of events rather than an integrated plot. 

What is crystal clear is that Oswald worked alone, a paranoid and isolated man, separated from his wife nad children and convinced of the rightness of what he is doing. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Spaghetti Squash Gratin

There are several reasons that I order what I do in restaurants, but one of them is to order something that I might be able to make at home.  When I was in Portland recently, my spouse and I ordered a spaghetti squash gratin that was divine.  The reason we chose this dish (which was definitely overpriced at $10) was that we had had a spaghetti squash on our window ledge for months, and hadn't been moved to make anything with it (it turns out these squashes are made to last, because when I cooked it, it was completely fine).  This dish is my attempt to recreate what we ate.

Roast the spaghetti squash--cut it in half the long way, scoop out the seed, and put it cut side down and roast at 450 degrees until the squash is done, about an hour.  Then use a fork to rake the squash out of the shell.  It should look like Angel Hair pasta.

While the squash is roasting make a bechamel sauce.
The basic proportions for this are:
  • 4 Tbsp. Butter
  • 1/4 c. Flour
  • 3 c. Milk (you can use skim to make it lighter, half and half to make it richer, or anything in between)
  • grated fresh nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste.
Melt butter in pan, and once bubbling, add the flour, stirring constantly (this works well with gluten free flour too).  Then gradually add the milk, allowing the sauce to thicken between each addition, but not allowing it to boil.  Add salt, pepper, and grated nutmeg to taste.  The nutmeg is critical.

Mix the squash into the bechamel sauce--there should be enough to  coat the squash, but not so much that it is swimming in sauce.  Pour into a gratin pan, and top with grated Gruyere and Parmesan, then top with some honeyed walnut or pecan pieces.  Bake at 350 until the top is browned.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Flying Shoes by Lisa Howorth

The author of this book took the adage of write what you know very seriously.  Her stepbrother was raped and killed when she was a child, and she is now an adult--that is the exact situation in this book, where a murder in the distant past has shaped the life of the central character in the novel, Mary Byrd, as well as her family's. 

Mary Byrd is an adult in the book and she is contacted about new information in the murder of her stepbrother and summoned back to Virginia to meet with the detectives on the cold case.  Her half brothers were small children at the time of the murder, but within a few minutes of meeting them it is very clear that the murder shaped their childhood--lots of anger there many years after the event.  The book goes from the present in Mississippi, where Mary Burd lives amongst a group of misfit friends, her time in Virginia, and going back to the time of the murder.  Make no mistake, this is not a murder mystery.  It is a story that includes a murder.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Angel's Share (2012)

The director of this film, Ken Loach, has a style that this movie doesn't break with.  He is known for his work depicting the most down trodden amongst us with an unsparing lens.  This movie is not nearly as funny as the cover would have you believe, nor is it at its core heartwarming either.

Here is the story, which takes place in Glasgow.  Robbie is a young man who has grown up in a lower class neighborhood with a rough crowd he has fought all his life.  He explains it to his girlfriend and the mother of his newborn son when she asks why he is being beaten up and beating up the same group of hoodlums.  "My father grew up fighting with their fathers."  She says it ends here, with their son, but would it?  How would that happen?  Robbie has already done prison time, and the movie opens with him court on yet another assault charge.  He gets community service and between the help of Harry, his community service supervisor, and his girlfriend, he manages to find a way out of the perpetual cycle of violence and embark on a new trajectory.  It is nicely done.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Roasted Smashed Potatoes

Yet another variation on the theme of twice cooked potatoes.  This one is a variation on the Cook's Illustrated recipe, but without a time saving difference.  I microwave the potatoes for the first baking.  You can make this for any number of people--but they are best the day you make them.  The microwaving can be done ahead of time.

  •  Small Red Bliss potatoes
  •   Olive oil
  •   chopped fresh thyme leaves
  •   salt and pepper


1. Microwave until paring knife or skewer slips in and out of potatoes easily.  This will be less time than to cook them fully, so you have to check them a couple of times.

2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Drizzle olive oil over potatoes and roll to coat. Space potatoes evenly on baking sheet and place second baking sheet on top; press down firmly on baking sheet, flattening potatoes until 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick. Sprinkle with thyme leaves and season generously with salt and pepper; drizzle evenly with some more oil. Roast potatoes on top rack 15 minutes. Transfer potatoes to bottom rack and continue to roast until well browned, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Dog by Joseph O'Neill

It will surprise no one who read the author's previous book 'Netherland' that this is a sad book about sad people who really do not perk up as the story progresses.  Both books were long listed for the Booker prize and both books have that particular literary prize's characteristic of great writing.

This book focuses on a disenchanted New Yorker whose long term relationship with his girlfriend is brought to an abrupt end by him one day.  She wants a baby and as so often happens when you wait until the last minute and you want something very badly that relies on youth and is adversely affected by anxiety, it becomes impossible to achieve.  So infertility clinics and drugs are wrecking havoc with both their love life and their relationship until one day, without so much as talking about it or giving a warning sign, he quits.  Which makes his girlfriend very angry indeed, so angry that she strips him of all his money, and he takes a job in Dubai in order to be employed.

The Emirates do not come off as attractive in this book, nor does the man at the center of it.  He is involved in high paid but meaningless work in a society that is high cost and without a soul.  So he floats along for the entire book until the whole thing comes to an abrupt and sudden end.  It is a cautionary tale.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Prayer for Veterans and Peace

I recently visited Arlington Cemetery and while there were many people who did not have a personal connection to someone buried there, I did see many people who were visiting someone specific.  Looking over the vast former estate of Robert E. Lee, now covered in the gravestones of veterans, it is hard not to think about the human cost of war.

This song reminds me of peace, compassion, and the inevitability of history repeating itself. 

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they're forever banned?
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

Yes, how many years can a mountain exist
Before it's washed to the sea?
Yes, how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
Yes, how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn't see?
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

Yes, how many times must a man look up
Before he can really see the sky?
Yes, how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

 ~Bob Dylan

Monday, November 10, 2014

All Purpose California Beef Rub

This may seem like a short but sweet recipe but remember--the key to flavorful meat is in the rub.  I am not a big fan of beef in general, so it has to be really wonderfully flavored for me to fully enjoy it, and this simple (and easily made in large quantity and stored in a jar on the shelf) rub is a great one to have in your repertoire.  All you have to do is mix the ingredients below together and you are done. 
  • 1/2 cup finely ground coffee
  • 2/3 cup kosher salt
  • 2/3 cup granulated garlic
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons black pepper
  •   1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Noah (2014)

Every ancient civilization has a flood myth and the one involving Noah is the Judea-Christian version of that ubiquitous story of the end of man.  The world will end not in fire, but in water.  That is the unsurvivable and terrifying disaster that angry gods rain upon their delinquent subjects.  The basic story of Noah is well known and this version sticks mostly to the facts, but adds an evil heathen warrior king to the boat to make it more interesting.  He eats a number of species into extinction before his untimely demise, which is just the beginning of the elimination of species on earth. 

Most of what I thought about this movie is that it is not very good.  Here are some of the up sides.  Russell Crowe is well cast as Noah.  The brooding isolate life that Noah lead prior to the flood is a good fit for Crowe, as is the sanctimonious judging the character evolves into over the course of building the enormous ark by hand.   The movie deals with some of the overwhelming logistics of getting a pair of everything onto the boat, what that would look like, and how people not convinced that a flood was coming would react very well.  It allows for one to picture the magnitude of what he was undertaking.  Now for some of the downsides.  Noah had to make a decision that seems crazy to all those around him, but he didn't have to go completely off the deep end, as he did in this version of the story.  The movie is about an hour too long (clocking in at 2 hours and 20 minutes), and a lot of this movie should have been left on the cutting room floor.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

This is not an easy book, but it is a very good one.  Amazingly, when it won the Booker Prize this fall I was reading it, which has never happened to me.  The Booker Short List comes out sometime in the late summer and I get the books on it that are published in the U.S., which has traditionally been a much shorter list than the Short List, but this year and last there was a chance that you could have read the winner before it was announced.  Last year I had read all but one of the short listed books and what do you know, that was the one that won.  Not so this year.  As with all Booker Prize winners the written word is luminous and often time the story is less engaging than it's telling but all is forgiven because the book is so intense and wonderful to read.

This book is the tale of a man's life told from before WWII, through his time in a concentration camp, and then what happens afterward.  I would say a good third of the book is set in the Japanese jungle prison camp with the task of building a railroad without machinery or food using prison labor.  It is grim.  Man's inhumanity to man is rampant and sanctimonious and hardly anyone gets out alive.  But another third or more of the book is about what happens after that kind of trauma.  It is an intimate look at the way PTSD affects people and how it ripples out across a person's life and into the next generation.  Beautifully done, and painful to read.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Pad Kee Mao

This is a great weeknight dinner--easy to prep, a short cooking time, and with a stir fried vegetable dish, it is a delicious meal.

  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons dark sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)
  • 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 5 bird’s eye chilies
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup sliced onion
  • 2/3 pound ground pork
  • 2/3 cup sliced bell peppers
  • 12 ounces fresh rice noodles
  • 2 handfuls of basil leaves           
  1. Whisk together the fish sauce, soy sauce and vinegar, and set aside. Roughly chop the garlic and 3 of the chilies together. Smash the other two chilies with the flat of a knife, and set aside.
  2. Put a wok (or a large frying pan) over medium-high heat; when it’s hot, add the oil, the garlic-and-chile mixture and the onion. Cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the pork and a splash of the sauce. Cook, stirring to break up the meat, until the pork is cooked through, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the peppers and noodles. Turn the heat to high, and add almost all of the sauce (save a spoonful or two to add later if needed). Cook, tossing everything together and separating the noodles if necessary, until the noodles are coated in sauce and take on a slightly charred flavor from the wok. Taste, and add more sauce if needed. Toss in the basil and the smashed chiles, and serve immediately.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

This movie, unbeknownst to me, was remade in a late 20th century setting in the very familiar 'You've Got Mail'.  It is one of Ernst Lubitsch's later romantic comedies with a script by his oft collaborator, Samuel Raphaelson, and it is well worth tracking down. 

Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan have been corresponding anonymously with each other.  The thing that is funny about this is that it is an all too common way for people to meet these days, only they do not use the postal service to find each other.  They adore each other on paper, but in person they fight like cats and dogs.  They got off on the wrong foot with each other, and it takes the whole movie for them to come around to seeing each other in the light that their letters afforded them.  The setting is a Budapest gift shop, and it feels very much like a play that has been made into a movie, with the action taking place largely in one place--which is in fact it's history--it was written from a  Hungarian play, and Lubitsch chose to leave it where it was.  No wonder he was so popular with the Europeans.  He used cities and setting that were familiar to him, and he may have introduced a movie set facsimile of these famous cities to an American audience as well.  It is a fine performance by Jimmy Stewart and worth seeing for that alone.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Poems of Catullus translated by Peter Green

This Roman Neoteric poet lived from 84-54 BCE and he knew everyone there was to know in his time.  He died before Caesar was threatened by Pompey and in response crossed the Rubicon River and embroiled the Roman Republic in a Civil War, so he did not have to ultimately choose sides there, but he had a lot to say about politicians, statemen, his friends, his lovers, and life in general.  He reminds me of a blogger of today--if someone caught his fancy or pissed him off, he wrote a poem naming names.  Thank goodness the one surviving copy of his work remained so that we can enjoy this remarkable man's work today.

Let's start off by noting that the poem that is on the cover, Poem 38 of the 116 that survive, begins with "Life is really a bitch".  This is clean language for Cattulus.  He talks explicitly about everything in his life.  He describes his sexual feats (both heterosexual and homosexual) in detail, his loves and his losses, his anger and his plans for revenge.  These are succinctly written and clear as glass. This is not Virgil. Nor is it read aloud poetry suitable for children.  With the exception of some absoultely gorgeous descriptive poems he wrote about his hearth and home, that is, and an absolutely beautiful poem eulogizing his brother who died before him.  His poetry is eloquent and vulgar and fun and complicated.  And they are all available on line--so read a couple and see what I am talking about.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Dear Troll: Please Stop Acting Like You Are Aptly Named

The frequency with which women who call out men for sexist boorish behavior who subsequently get threats of rape and death appears to be on the rise.  The high profile case of Anita Sarkeesian escalated over the last three months to the point where a talk she was going to give in Utah was cancelled because of the threat of a massive campus shooting should she grace their campus.  That could have been the culmination of bad taste and bullying behavior on social media.  But not so.  This week when the video of Shoshana Roberts getting repeatedly catcalled on the streets of Manhattan went viral she started getting threats of rape as well.

So here is what I don't get.  What is the point?  If it is to demonstrate that the claims being made are more than valid, then congratulations are in order, because mission accomplished.  Are they upset because men look bad?  I am here to tell you that threatening to rape someone because they said something you disagree with makes you look terrible.  Maybe not just look terrible--it demonstrates a deep flaw in your character, one that could be associated with prison time.  These men have demonstrated that they have no idea how to attract a self confident beautiful woman, and that they are men who would willingly rape such a woman rather than be made fun of for their behavior.  What is it about being in public they do not understand?  This is not a woman videoing a man in the privacy of his own home and them publicly humiliating him.  These are men who freely and publicly behave in this manner and are now angry that it is the butt of jokes.  Get over it.  Get therapy.  Work on your people skills.  But do not make all men look like trolls.  That is the worst gender slam of all.


Monday, November 3, 2014

The Doll (1919)

This is an unusual Lubitsch silent movie from the German period.  It opens with a simple set, with a cut out house and trees and a road.  It alludes to the story line that is to come.  Lancelot is the nephew of a wealthy man who wishes to have heirs.  Lancelot is not at all interested in getting married, and tells his uncle that if he wants heirs, he should marry someone himself and leave Lancelot alone, then he escapes.  The scene that follows is the most like the American movies of Buster Keaton than anything I have seen of Lubitsch's work.  There are 40 prospective brides, followed by the uncle and his manservant, all chasing Lancelot over hill and dale.

Lancelot eludes them and takes refuge in a monastery with gluttonous monks who are seeking a meal ticket as their funds dry up.  When they see an ad placed by Lancelot's uncle saying all is forgiven and money is to be his if he marries, they concoct a scheme for him to marry a life sized robotic doll.  The doll develops a glitch, Ossi takes the doll's place, marries Lancelot, and manages to essentially trap the initially reluctant groom into marriage.  It is a bit of a weak role for a woman compared to other Lubitsch films.  While Ossi is clever in getting Lancelot, it is a much more traditional role than some of the best of Lubitsch.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

One Plus One by Jo Jo Moyes

The difficulty I have with writing a review of one of Jo Jo Moyes books is that the book is so much better than what I can say about the plot.  She has a wonderful way with a story, and so you have to just plunge in even if it doesn't sound like it is going to be your cup of tea.

This is a different spin on the Eliza Doolittle story.  Jess Thomas is a single mother who is raising her stepson and daughter on a shoestring and a prayer.  She works days as a cleaner and nights as a bar tender and she is still short at the end of the month more often than not.  Ed Nicholls is one of Jess' cleaning jobs and he is about to be indicted for his role in an insider trading job, a crime he absentmindedly is guilty of.  He is also guilty of not treating his cleaners particularly well.

Ed gets a second chance to make a good impression after Jess makes a series of decisions out of desperation and ends up with no money and an impounded car on the side of the road and a deadline she can't miss.  The rest of the book is about what happens, and it is messy, hopeful, and entertaining.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Remembering the Dead

The Day of the Dead, for all the associated paraphernalia, food, and symbolism, is really about remembering those who have died.  Since I grew up in Southern California, where the Day of the Dead cakes could be had in barrios (yes, there were still barrios when I was growing up. They are likely high rent districts now, but not so 50 years ago), I have always had a love of the day but lacked the cultural underpinnings that went with it.

Today I am remembering my great grandmother Bertha.  She was a woman who lived the way Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan recommend we all live.  She did not so much shop around the periphery of the supermarket as she largely stayed out of one altogether.  She didn't so much avoid processed food as she couldn't afford them, and made her own.  She canned and made jam and used whatever was brought home to feed company with. She baked oatmeal bread and showed me how to make it.  I have to admit that lesson didn't really stick and it wasn't until I was in college that I learned to bake good bread.  When I got to college, I could only make two things with any kind of reliability--chocolate chip cookies and quiche.  I had very good knife skills, an immature but eager to learn palate, and one cookbook.  It was the Moosewood Restaurant cookbook, which is not the perfect cookbook to start with if you are have spent more time in a chemistry lab than a kitchen because a lot of the seasonings are way off base in terms of amounts, but it was what I had, and I learned from there.  When I moved into a housing coop they had a Joy of Cooking, which is not the most imaginative cookbook, but it is very accurate, and between the two of them, some more experienced cooks, and 20 people who ate what I made every week I became a good cook.  My love of creating food comes directly from my great grandmother, and I thank her for that.