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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Living a Small Life

Every time that I go to the hospital these days and I get asked the obligatory post-Ebola question of have I traveled outside the United States in the last three weeks, I am compelled to answer that I have not traveled outside my city limits in the last three weeks.  Or three months, for that matter.  I have been living a very small life.
Surprisingly, that has been entirely satisfying in my time of intense medical need.  I don't have the energy level that is usually mine, and so my wanderlust is quelled for the time being.  I have been largely working from home and venturing out only for the occasional meal at friends' houses or to the hospital (most commonly), but somehow I do not feel constrained by my narrow turf.  There is something comforting about having a small scope when things are unpredictable.   I am never far from something I know, and I can be easily rescued should I need it.  Which I occasionally do.  I am sure that this too will grow old over time, but for now, small is quite beautiful.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Red Nosed Punch

This is a very nice holiday punch that is easy to make and low alcohol content so that you can drink it over time without disastrous consequences.  Highly recommended for a holiday party.

28 oz. cranberry juice
2 cups fresh cranberries
8 oz. bourbon
4 oz. fresh lime juice
3 oz.  cinnamon infused simple syrup
4 (12-oz.) bottles lager beer
3 limes, sliced

Place cranberries in a bundt pan and pour over 4 cups hot water; freeze until set (the hot water will freeze clear), about 2 hours.
Combine juices, bourbon, and syrup in a large punch bowl; stir to combine. Unmold frozen ice ring and float in punch; top with beer and sliced limes.
Cinnamon Infused Simple Syrup
1 cup sugar
4 sticks cinnamon, broken in half
12 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
Bring sugar, cinnamon, vanilla bean and seeds, and 1 cup water to a boil in a 2-qt. saucepan. Cook briefly to dissolve sugar. Cool; strain. Refrigerate up to 3 months.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

I Give It a Year (2013)

This is a not romantic, not comedic (except perhaps in the strictly British sense of the word) movie about a couple who were ill-advised to marry and take about six months to figure that out and another six months to extricate themselves from the relationship.  If someone says to you before your wedding at any time that they give your relationship as man and wife a year, you should most definitely examine more closely what you are doing getting married.

Josh and Nat seemingly have nothing in common.  Their family's have not embraced them as a couple.  Josh's best man gives a cringe worthy toast at the wedding, and he is one of the best things Josh has going for him.  He is goofy and immature and Nat is not.  In order for the movie to go anywhere that is not off the rails, there are very suitable partners for Josh and Nat in the wings.  It takes them some time to come to terms with the error of their ways, but eventually they manage to do so, and it is a predictable happy ending.  And it is streaming on Netflix.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Cancer and the Paradigm Shift

There are a lot of things that happen when you receive a potentially life shortening diagnosis, as you might imagine.  One of them for me is that suddenly things that had no significance for me now seem personal.
When I am watching a movie and one of the characters has a mother who died, I now think that that could be my children.  Or there is someone who is widowed.  That could be my husband.  It is really very sobering.  So while I have thought for a long time, since my youngest son was diagnosed with cancer fifteen years ago, that I was living life like there might not be a tomorrow, there have been very real parts of that that I have been missing.
So is that morbid or realistic?  Probably a little bit of each.  I will probably mellow on this a bit over time, and it probably makes sense to think about what I want to do for the important people in my life before I go.  Because you just never know.  But I hope to dwell less on it as time goes on and have it be more of the background noise than the foreground thoughts as I move into the next year.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Tzatziki Sauce

This is a wonderful sauce that is versatile.  It is great with Greek food, but it is also terrific with other food.

1 cup Greek whole milk yogurt
1 English cucumber, seeded, finely grated and drained
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

In a medium bowl, whisk together the yogurt, cucumber, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice and dill. Season with salt and pepper. Chill.
For some extra flavor, add some olive oil and some coarsely chopped fresh mint. Serve with crudities at your next party. Brush a pita with some olive oil and sprinkle za'atar on top. Serve on the side with other vegetables.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Hector and the Search for Happiness (2014)

Many critics did not care for this movie, but we very much enjoyed it.  Hector is stuck.  He is a psychiatrist and he just cannot seem to get his mojo back.  He is a mild mannered kind man who suddenly realizes that he is being rude to his patients, inattentive to his girlfriend, and just generally not happy.
So he decides to take off on an open-ended adventure that has no destination, no end, and in a lot of ways, a questionable beginning.  He goes from China to Africa to Southern California in his quest to find what brings people happiness, he reconnects with two people from his past, and while you might question his choice of locations and his methods for finding happiness, he does manage to get to the place that he hoped to get when he began his trip, and unlocks his ability to allow emotions to take over, at least on occasion, rather than being ruled completely by rationality.  A fun and not to deep movie that is streaming on Netflix with the talented Simon Pegg playing the role of Hector.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Peace and Tolerance

On this day, while celebrating the birth and life of the prophet Jesus, may we remember the best of what he taught, and practice it.  To all people, of all nations, of all faiths.  Speak out against intolerance, and practice inclusiveness.

May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious to you.
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you,
and give you peace.

Numbers 6:24-26

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve Traditions

I do not remember doing this as a child growing up, but my mother's family had the tradition of eating oyster soup on Christmas Eve.  Never mind that they were in the seriously landlocked quadrant of Maine.  Oysters could be transported and it was a New England tradition, and my grandparents were about as New England as you could get.
Since my parents have switched to celebrating Christmas as my house, which happened about 30 years ago, we have been having soups for Christmas Eve and it is a nice tradition.  A lighter meal that sets up a day full of eating the following day.  Last year we added some grilled cheese sandwiches to the mix, and that was a great addition.  It is cozy to have a bowl of hot soup, something that you can wrap your fingers around to warm up or sip and warm your insides.  We do have a tradition of making Matzo Ball Soup as one of the three or four soup options, which is certainly not a New England style soup, but then I am not a New England style girl, and i do love Matzo Ball Soup.  Who doesn't?  No matter how you are celebrating this year, have a wonderful evening and a nice holiday to follow.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Savory Burmese Slaw

This recipe is a Burmese inspired salad, and you can added roasted soy nuts or peanuts to it to make it even more like the real thing.

  • 2 small heads savoy cabbage, cored and sliced into thin shreds
  • 4 shallots, peeled and sliced very thinly
  • 1⁄2 cup lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons pickled or fermented tea leaves, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 3 tablespoons mint leaves, torn
  1. In a large bowl, combine cabbage and shallots and mix well to combine.
  2. In a small bowl, combine lime juice, tea leaves and garlic, and whisk to make a dressing for the slaw.
  3. Add dressing to slaw, and mix to combine.
  4. Add mint leaves to slaw, mix lightly and serve.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Social Media and Your Audience

I know intellectually that what you write on the internet is essentially public information, but sometimes I get a reminder that I might not be paying quite enough attention to that fact.
Last month I wrote a blog entry about the health care that I have been receiving, which I have been very pleased with.  So the piece was positive and something that I whole heartedly believed to be true.  What I did not think about was that people who were taking care of me might read it.  But they did.  My spouse forwarded the link to someone on my healthcare team, thinking that they would appreciate knowing my thoughts.  I was in a panic.  Had I written anything that might be misconstrued?  Had I been thorough in my praise?  Were my thoughts as well captured as they could be?  Okay, that is an impossible aspiration, but did I do a good enough job?  I breathed a big sigh of relief when I re-read the post with that in mind, but it was a good reminder that what is public is indeed public.

Monday, December 21, 2015

She's Funny That Way (2015)

Peter Bogdanovich wrote and directed this smart, funny movie with an all star cast.  Bogdanovich is a self-admitted fan of the Depression era filmmaker Ernst Lubitsch, and this film in some ways has a spin off from a lesser known Lubitsch film that was also his last, Cluny Brown, which dates back to 1946.  It is a very obscure reference that might seem odd to the non-Lubitsch fan, but was great fun for our family.

The cast is all star and the story is well told, and as romantic farces go, where timing is everything, extremely well executed.  Owen Wilson plays his usual self to perfection, Will Forte continues to impress me with his understated roles, and it is great to see Rhys Ifans cast as a sex symbol.  It is easy to see executive producer Wes Anderson's hand in the tone of the movie, and it is very enjoyable.  Even if you are not a big fan of old Hollywood classic directors.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sausage and Apple Stuffed Pork Roast

My eldest son made this and it was delicious--even my mother, who is not a fan of sausage, loved it.  It is not difficult, and looks very elegant.

1/2 pound mild Italian sausage (or 2 links, casings removed)
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 tart apple, peeled and diced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 pieces white bread
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons butter
1 (3-pound) boneless pork loin
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup white wine

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large saute pan over medium heat, saute the sausage until no longer pink. Remove the sausage (leave in the fat), and set aside. To the pan, add the onion, celery, and apple and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until the apple is no longer crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook an additional couple of minutes. Remove from the heat, stir the sausage back in and set aside.

In a food processor, pulse the bread with the sage, rosemary, and thyme into coarse crumbs.

Heat the butter in a medium saute pan and cook the crumbs over medium-high heat until coated with butter and lightly toasted, about 3 minutes (be careful not to burn). Mix the breadcrumbs into the sausage mixture.

Prepare the roast as if making a jellyroll. Place the roast with the short side toward you, and fat facing down toward the counter or cutting board. Use a sharp knife to slice the roast open at about 1/2-inch from the bottom of the roast (parallel to the cutting board), being careful not to cut all the way through. Continue cutting, unrolling the roast as you work until you have a large, thin piece of meat. Place the rolled out piece of meat between 2 sheets of waxed or parchment paper, and lightly pound with meat mallet to increase the meat surface area by 10 to 20 percent. Be careful not to pound through the meat. Salt and pepper the pork and top with the filling, spreading evenly across the pork, leaving a 1-inch margin around the perimeter.

Starting with the short side, roll up tightly jellyroll style, and secure the roast with kitchen twine.

Heat a large saute pan over medium heat and add oil. Add the roast and brown on all sides. Place in a roasting pan fitted with a rack and add the wine in the bottom of the pan (to keep the juices from burning), and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the internal temperature hits 145 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove the roast from the oven and allow to rest for a full 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Power of Music

I have written many a time about the acts of kindness that I have benefited from this past couple of months, but one of the things that I have skipped over is the gift of music.
Several people have made a Spotify playlist for me, which has been a really wonderful thing at very particular points.  One is for the early mornings when I am in the hospital and the medical student has rounded at 5:00 am and asked me enough questions that I am unable to get back to sleep, but I have no intention of getting up for another hour or two.  Listening to music is a wonderful way to pass the time without turning on the lights and making my whole sensory system get up.  Another time is when I am just not up to doing anything else.  Sometimes I just don't want to read or even open my eyes, and listening to music is a great way to pass the time pleasurably.  So if you are wondering what to do for someone who will be undergoing a long term illness or treatment regimen, think about making them a playlist that will keep them entertained when the going gets rough.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

This is a movie adaptation of  the genuine-article 1960s television series, which paired steely, no-nonsense, mid-Atlantic-accented veteran spy Napoleon Solo with younger slightly petulant Russian moptop Ilya Kuryakin, but in a lot of ways it is more tongue in cheek than it is serious Cold War material.  So if you are looking for an action adventure movie, or a faithful rendition of the original, you will most definitely be disappointed.  This is lush in the details of 1960's fashion and politics and light on everything else.  However, if you don't recall the original TV show, and have only read about the Cold War rather than lived through it, you might very well enjoy this understated slow motion action film, with a slight plot twist at every turn, and some very fun double entendres throughout.
I am halfway between these two--I grew up in the cold war, remember the TV series as something that took itself quite seriously, and yet I am not one for authenticity in adaptation, so I enjoyed this.  Diversionary and slightly hilarious when you stop and think about it.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Aged Egg Nog

The cocktail theme just keeps on coming and this one is great for the season.  It tastes good immediately and it mellows over time.  It comes from Alton Brown, who states that he is quite picky about his egg nog.  We served this at a Sunday family dinner, and we all agreed, it is a keeper.

12 large eggs
1 pound sugar
1 pint half-n-half
1 pint whole milk
1 pint heavy cream
1 cup Jamaican rum
1 cup cognac
1 cup bourbon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (plus more for serving)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

  1. Separate the eggs and store the whites for another purpose (they freeze beautifully).
  2. Beat the yolks with the sugar and nutmeg in a large mixing bowl until the mixture lightens in color and falls off the whisk in a solid "ribbon."
  3. Combine dairy, booze and salt in a second bowl or pitcher and then slowly beat into the egg mixture.
  4. Move to a large glass jar (or a couple of smaller ones) and store in the fridge for a minimum of 2 weeks. A month would be better, and two better still. In fact, there's nothing that says you couldn't age it a year, but I've just never been able to wait that long. (And yes, you can also drink it right away.)
  5. Serve in mugs or cups topped with a little extra nutmeg grated right on top.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Illness and Perspective

When my nephew had appendicitis recently I was reminded of one of the many problems with having a life threatening illness.  That is that you lose a little perspective on the fact that more minor illnesses can be quite debilitating, and that it is important not to discount that if you are to remain engaged with your fellow humans.

I remember when my youngest son was getting chemotherapy and I was an active member of an online support group.  One mother was going on relentlessly about how her neighbor was losing sleep over an upcoming sports competition for her daughter, and how trivial it all was, didn't she realize that other people had children fighting for their lives?  Well, yes, I thought, but I used to be that mother.  I would sweat the small stuff too, and it seemed very important to me.  Don't lose hold of that former self while you are going through much more serious things.  The picture my sister-in-law texted me of my nephew prior to his surgery, with him lying in bed looking perfectly miserable, reminded me that all illness, big and small, impacts us, and to remain sympathetic to it is very important.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Home (2015)

This is a light weight movie, even by animated movies aimed at children standards.  Earth is invaded by an alien race that are fleeing other alien pursuers.  Humans are rounded up and corralled on Australia (as if that is going to hold the entire planet's population), but one girl, Tip, escapes capture and meets up with a marginalized alien named Boov.  Tip seeks her mother, Boov is seeking redemption, and through a series of somewhat comic and somewhat unfortunate events they manage to accomplish both of their goals.
It is diversionary, streaming on Netflix, and harmless.  Good clean fun, just not too much of it.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Fresh Beet Salad

We still have squash and root vegetables from our fall CSA, and this is a summery way to serve the beets (which we had quite a few of).  You can supplement this with shredded cabbage if the beets aren't plentiful enough.

1 to 11/2 pounds beets 
2 large shallots
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, or to taste
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry or other good strong vinegar
1 orange, squeezed
1/4 cup chopped parsley leaves
  1. Peel the beets and shallots. Combine them in a food processor and pulse carefully until the beets are shredded; do not purée. (Or grate the beets by hand and mince the shallots, then combine.) Scrape into a bowl.
  2. Toss with the salt, pepper, mustard, oil and vinegar. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Toss in the herbs and serve.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

When the Test is Torture

I am not MRI naive.  I have had several over the years, and my youngest son has had upwards of twenty such exams.  While the experience is somewhat similar to being slid into a coffin at a construction site, if you can overcome the claustrophobia and the potential anxiety about what the test might reveal, the experience is entirely survivable without risk for any post traumatic consequences.  Not so with my recent experience.
For various and sundry reasons, I needed to have a breast MRI recently, and I was completely unprepared for the experience.  The graphic above gives some indication that the procedure requires a particular pattern of positioning, but when I arrived at my test, there was no such padding in place.  I was expected to maintain the position, horribly uncomfortable, for the full 40 to 45 minutes that the exam would take.  What??  To make matters worse, movement is absolutely the kiss of death for a reliable MRI exam.  So if you move, or cannot maintain your ridiculously cramped positioning, you might have to just start over from the very beginning.  Which is all that kept me going through to the end.  Usually, there is a nice form mold that will put the patient into the correct position to get a good exam and minimize discomfort.  Not so here.
My exam yielded no worrisome findings, but I never want to do this again.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Insurgent (2015)

This movie, capitalizing on the success of the Hunger Games movies, is the second in the Divergent series.  It is yet another post apocalyptic dystopia where when everything falls apart society falls back on totalitarian control and  draconian rules.  The youth outnumber the adults, but the power is all neatly wrapped up in those with malevolent motives, of course.
Tris and Four are our heroes--they do not fit into the rigidly defined roles for people in the new society, and as the movie opens, they are also on the run.  They are well trained, athletically gifted, and they know how to protect themselves, which gives a certain action element to the movie, and the story propels itself forward in such a way that it flows well from start to finish.  This is no where near as good a series as the Hunger Games, but the movie does do it justice, and if you find these films entertaining you won't be disappointed with this--it is just not great cinema, is all.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Smashed Cucumber Salad with Sesame Oil and Garlic

This is a delicious and easy side salad, which you can make year round because of the presence of cucumbers in grocery stores all winter.
  • About 2 pounds thin-skinned cucumbers like English or Persian (8 to 10 mini cucumbers, 4 medium-size or 2 large greenhouse)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for cucumbers
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar, plus more for cucumbers
  • 1 ½ tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon grapeseed or extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced or put through a press
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste
  • Small handful whole cilantro leaves, for garnish
  • 2 teaspoons toasted white sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)
  1. Rinse cucumbers and pat dry. Cut crosswise into pieces about 4 inches long. Cut each piece in half lengthwise.
  2. On a work surface, place a piece of cucumber (or several) cut side down. Lay the blade of a large knife flat on top the cucumber and smash down lightly with your other hand. The skin will begin to crack, the flesh will break down and the seeds will separate. Repeat until the whole piece is smashed. Break or slice diagonally into bite-size pieces, leaving the seeds behind.
  3. Place the cucumber pieces in a strainer and toss with a big pinch of salt and a big pinch of sugar. Place a plastic bag filled with ice on top of the cucumbers to serve as a weight and place the strainer over a bowl. Let drain 15 to 30 minutes on the counter, or in the refrigerator until ready to serve, up to 4 hours.
  4. Make the dressing: In a small bowl, combine salt, sugar and rice vinegar. Stir until salt and sugar are dissolved. Stir in sesame oil and soy sauce.
  5. When ready to serve, shake cucumbers well to drain off any remaining liquid and transfer to a serving bowl. Drizzle with grapeseed or olive oil and toss. Add half the dressing, half the garlic and the red pepper flakes to taste, and toss. Keep adding dressing until cucumbers are well coated but not drowned. Taste and add more pepper flakes and garlic if needed. Serve immediately, garnished with cilantro and sesame seeds.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Beauty Can Help

Since I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer a little over two months ago, my life has undergone tremendous change.  As you can imagine, a lot of it has been both physically and emotionally painful to endure, but thankfully this has been the balanced out by many acts of kindness from people.  Boundless kindness, from near and far, from people I barely know to people I know well, from those in my past and those in my present.  It has been literally heart warming and caused my spirits to rise well above what my medical condition would really warrant.
One very unexpected part of joy for me that happens almost every day is that I get a message that includes one or more beautiful pieces of art.  They come from someone who shares my love of texture and color and shadow in art, and the sheer grace that can be imparted with the beauty of form.  It is not that I couldn't surround myself with art books that I have bought at the various exhibits I have gone to since childhood.  I could.  But there is something very special about having someone chose for me.  I have loved it more than I can say and much more than I would ever have imagined.  One of the many things that I have learned in the short time that I have spent with serious illness is that I have a lot to learn about being a comfort to others, and I hope that this one insight, that beauty can help, is one that I get to share in the future with those in need.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Spy (2015)

This is a rather silly spy movie, as you might imagine with Melissa McCarthy in the mix, but it was a very enjoyable diversionary movie.  I like Jason Statham very much, although his role here is somewhat understated, and it is the first time that I have seen Miranda Hart in something since I discovered her from "Call the Midwife", so the cast is good.
I think the best way to classify this movie is that it is an action comedy, with an emphasis on the comic, almost slapstick, element.  McCarthy is a CIA trained agent who has had a desk job, and is now thrust into the field in order to stop a nuclear devise from falling into the wrong hands.  She is her usual combination of competence and clumsiness and charm, which leads to a successful operation, and the potential for a future career as a field agent.  Not much to think about here, but it passes the time.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Paper Plane Cocktail

My spouse and eldest son have been experimenting with new and different cocktails since the summer.  It has not always been a success, but it is always interesting.

Here is one that I enjoyed.

  • 3/4 ounce bourbon
  • 3/4 ounce Aperol
  • 3/4 ounces Amaro Nonino
  • 3/4 ounces fresh lemon juice

  1. Combine all ingredients in a shaker. Fill with ice and shake vigorously for 15 seconds. Strain into a coupe glass. Serve.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Making the Hospital Bearable

Over the past two months I have spent a total of three weeks in the hospital, which means that overall I have spent almost as much time there as I have at home.  I have not historically been a big fan of being in the hospital but I have to say that with some  limited preparation I  have been able to make the hospital environment very livable.  WHich is a good thing, because I am not even halfway through my acute treatment regimen.
So what has worked for me?  The first thing is to have my bag packed.  That way the chances of leaving out critical elements at the last minute is decreased.  Make sure to have toiletries, your favorite body lotion, a lip gloss because the hospital is a dry environment, and a warm pair of socks.  Pick out comfortable clothes that work with an IV but also you would be comfortable having your co-workers drop in and see you in.  The hospital gown does not fit the bill for me.  Bring the entertainment that you need.  I have a book, an iPad to stream video content on, my phone, which has music, and my noise reduction headphones.  These serve two purposes--I can listen to things without bothering a neighbor and I can use them at night to get quiet.  I occasionally bring a magazine or an embroiderty project, and since I have gotten three coloring books recently, I might add that.
Finally, I bring my own food.  I just cannot eat the hospital food, and I need to eat, so I bring my own.  I use the patient refrigerator, but I also bring things that are calorie dense and have a long shelf life.  Sometimes, it is the little things that make the larger challenges more managable.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

San Andreas (2015)

This is the sort of movie that is well suited for the Rock.  It is an action adventure family movie where the whole fault starts moving and won't stop, with disastrous consequences from Los Angeles to northern California, but San Francisco is particularly hard hit.

Ray (Dwayne Johnson) is an ex-Army fire and rescue worker who can fly just about anything.  His soon to be ex-wife Emma is about to move in with another man, Daniel, and his daughter Blake is about to go off to college in San Francisco.  An earthquake that destroys Hoover Dam send Ray off to Nevada, and Daniel offers to take Blake to school.  Hmmpf.  Ray is not happy about that, but keeps his feelings mostly to himself.  Soon after his helicopter gets in the air, an earthquake strikes LA and through some fancy footwork, he is able to save Emma from a rooftop.  At that point the Nevada trip is on hold, in fact, soon enough so is the helicopter, and the two of them take off for San Francisco to save their daughter.  It is a serious of unfortunate events from natural disaster and a series of unbelievable coincidences, but it all ends well.  The movie has a lot of special effects, some people behaving badly in a disaster, but is largely watchable by older kids as part of a family movie night.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Sherry Vinegar Glazed Onions

Onions are a wonderful addition to the array of Thanksgiving sides, if only because they are lighter than the stuffing and potatoes.  It has been several years since we have included them, but this recipe from the New York Times this year cuaght my interest, and they were absolutely delicious.

  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil, like canola or grapeseed
  • 1 pound small peeled onions, about 1 inch in diameter, red or white or a combination (frozen onions are fine)
  • ½ cup sherry vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • Honey or maple syrup to taste
  • Finely minced parsley, for serving (optional)
  1. In a wide skillet with a lid, heat oil over medium heat until bubbling. Add onions and sauté over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, gently rolling the onions about so they will brown as evenly as possible.
  2. Pour in vinegar and 1/4 cup water. Season with salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cover and simmer very gently until onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape. Start testing with a thin sharp knife after 15 minutes; depending on size, the onions may cook in 15 to 25 minutes. (Frozen onions will cook faster.) Taste one to make sure it is completely tender all the way through; do not undercook.
  3. Using a slotted spoon, transfer onions to a serving bowl. (Onions may be prepared up to this point 2 days ahead. Reserve onions and cooking liquid separately. Reheat onions in reserved liquid, adding water as needed, then transfer them to a bowl.)
  4. Raise heat and boil liquid to reduce it to a thick glaze. Taste and add salt, pepper and sweetener to taste. Stir in parsley and serve hot or warm.

Friday, December 4, 2015

It Happened One Night (1934)

My spouse and I have been gradually watching older movies, things that are classics, or by classic directors.  I have been getting chemotherapy, and it has kind of knocked the stuffing out of me in terms of energy, so that when we are not working on things related to home and work we are trying to watch movies.  It is a very enjoyable endeavor, and one should not wait until they are sick and debilitated to try this idea out.

One source of classic movies is the American Film Institutes' list of the 100 Greatest American Films of All Time, and that is where this one comes from.
Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) is a sheltered and naive young woman.  She impulsively marries the first man that she is alone with, much to the horror of her over protective father.  She is worth millions and her opportunistic groom sees that as part of her attraction.  She eludes her father's capture to bring her back for an annulment, and while on the lam she meets the charming Peter Warne (Clark Gable), a newspaper man who helps her in order to get a story.  One thing leads to another, and Ellie comes to see that her "husband" might have been taking advantage of her, Peter starts to see the side of Allie that is more than just a spoiled heiress, and after several false starts, they attempt to have a life together with the blessing of Ellie's father.  Very fun and light.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Categories by Aristotle (350 BC)

In my son's Ancient Philosophy class he has finally reached the writings of Aristotle.  Who I have never read before, but I though that since he was a scientist I would be better able to follow his writing and logic.  After all, Darwin credited him with being an integral part of his work Origin of the Species.  Aristotle meticulously cataloged sea sponge life and change in his small corner of the Mediterranean Sea, and Darwin used his work to develop his theory of evolution.  Well, I don't know how he did that, because I can barely understand what Aristotle is getting at when he writes.  This work was a proposed framework for how to look at and talk about all things on earth, and what he proposed was still in play well into the Middle Ages.  He made a huge impact with this, but after reading it several times, I had the most rudimentary of understandings about it.  I have discovered that philosophy is not going to be something I can grasp, much less excel at.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

When the Bad News Keeps Coming

I have had a series of unfortunate events over the past couple of months.  The worst news of all started it off, but the news that continues to trickle in has been mixed, some of it good, and some of it really not so great.  The trick is to stay positive no matter what is going on, and to figure out how to deal with the latest setback.  I think that with serious illnesses, there are bound to be setbacks, or at least things that the patient sees as a setback (the health care team, which has far more experience with the illness, may see them as par for the course, but the patient only does it once, so the view from that side might seem quite devastating). 
I now have an increased vigilance about what is going on with myself, a lower expectation for a complete return to my baseline until the acute part of my treatment is completed, a much lower threshold for sharing my concerns with my healthcare team (keeping them to myself has gotten me into way worse trouble than sharing them has), and to be as compliant as a patient as I can be.  If my team thinks I need something, I may ask a question or two about it, but I am trying to let their urgency be mine, because they have pulled me out of the fire a time or two already, so I realize I may not be the best judge of exactly what I need.  Ceding that kind of control is never easy, but I am working on it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Drop (2015)

This is a dark movie that appears to be dark to begin with, and then darkens steadily throughout the story.  It all takes place in Brooklyn--not hipster Brooklyn but lower middle class Russian mob controlled Brooklyn. 
Bob is the center of the movie.  He is Marv's nephew and works in a bar with him.  Marv used to own the bar and have what I think are delusions of grandeur about how powerful and feared he is.  He lost his nerve and lost his bar and he has really never come to terms with that, nor does he blame himself for his fall from grace. Bob understands that Marv is weak, and he understands that, and gradually so does the audience.  Marv is headed for a big fall, and Bob is not in on the plan.
The movie is very well acted, very believable, and if you can stand the pace, which is almost super slow motion at times, it is a good movie.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Republic by Plato (380 BC)

I have been reading Ancient Philosophers with my youngest son this semester, and I have discovered that there is a very good reason that I have not read any of them prior to now.  I have absolutely no idea what they are saying, for the most part.
Luckily for my son, he is in a class and has a wonderful professor who has boundless enthusiasm for her subject matter and for teaching, but I am largely not benefiting from any of that.  So foe me, I am left to struggle with the material and hope that I can glean a thing or two from it.
The Republic is one of Plato's great works, one where his own philosophy and world view emerge from behind Socrates, the philosopher he is often writing about.  Plato has some very good ideas in The Republic, whereby he thinks that great differences in wealth are not good for society, and that everyone should have an education and a role to play.  The bad news is that he is pretty much a complete fascist about who can do what, structuring a strict class system, eliminating the role of the family, and instituting  a book ban that is more strict than any I have ever heard--and sacrilegious to boot.  Quite a shocking book, all in all. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Think About Your Words

I have been a health care worker for over 30 years and I am the parent of a childhood cancer survivor, so I have had the experience of being on both sides of the health care system prior to being diagnosed with cancer myself a couple of months ago.  During a recent hospitalization for a particularly scary and unexpected event, I noticed that we health care workers are at times a little unduly cheerful to patients who are facing things that are quite sobering.
It is all done with the best of intentions, there is no question about that.  Hospital employees come to the hospital everyday, it is their work place.  They bring their natural good will with them to work, and they very much wish the best for every patient who comes through the door.  But sometimes the wording of those best wishes could be a bit more reflective of what is actually happening to the patient. "Have a great day." might really not be in the cards for some patients, and something along the lines of I hope that you experience some relief of what brought you here" or "I hope things are better for you today and that you might be well enough to go home soon" are more appropriate.  I am very guilty of this cheer, and will have to watch myself in the future.

Saturday, November 28, 2015