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Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Judge (2014)

Somehow I am on a streak of dysfunctional family movies.  This one shines a big light on a father-son relationship gone quite wrong.  Robert Duvall plays Joseph, a "Great Santini" kind of father (he was nominated for an Academy Award for that role, and then again for this one), and Robert Downey, Jr. plays his bitter and successful son, Hank.  Hank is a jaded, expensive defense attorney who is in the middle of defending yet another rich guilty guy when he gets a voice mail from his brother that their mother died.

On his way out of town to the funeral we get a glimpse into Hanks home life--he loves his daughter, and his wife has tired of his absent lifestyle but rather than deal with it she has slept with someone else and they are divorcing.  At Hank's home it is clear that he and his father have old grudges that are not going away any time soon, and his brother's are caught in the middle.  But they stayed near home and Hank headed for the hills.  He is odd man out in the family in many ways, but the person he seems closest to in personality is his much loathed father.

The film unrolls in a predictable old-fashioned way where we learn why the son hates the father, and why the father can't apologize to the son (which he should of, but he doesn't).  They film does not touch the very damaged relationship between Hank and his older brother, but that is the constraints of the medium.  The film is long at 2.5 hours, but I didn't get restless for it to be over, and I found it well done.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The End of Power by Moises Naim

The subtitle of this book is "From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States: Why Being in Charge Isn't What it Used to Be".

The author had an influential position in the Venezuelan government prior to Hugo Chavez, and it is hard to imagine that what happened in his country didn't influence his world view.  The book first describes what power is, and how it has coercive components are well as ways to incentivize compliance.  He describes the rise of power, and what has happened in later later half of the 20th century into the 21st century to erode the power base of both companies and governments.  He is not predicting the end of control in traditional establishments such church and state, but rather that they have less influence than in the past.  The author attributes this to the emergence of social media and the ability of people who want change to connect with each other in a way that is unprecedented combined with the increasing globalization of the world economy.  Dominance is no longer possible, and there are two things to take away from this.  The first is that voting and staying engaged is very important, more so than at any other time in history, and acknowledging and accepting that no government will be the dominant force it might once have been.  A quick and interesting read.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Los Danzantes, Oaxaca, Mexico

This is one of the restaurants that is oft written about in Oaxaca, and the truth be told, the neuvo Oaxacan food movement is not entirely to my taste.  I prefer thetraditional over the fussy in Oaxaca--at least when I am only there for a matter of days.  Perhaps if I could get may fill of the corn tortilla and chili based cuisine then after a month or so I might have the appropriate palate for this place.  Where the food and the atmosphere are both beautiful.
Our dinner got off on the wrong foot with our beverage choices.  We had been having mescal margaritas that highlighted the smokiness of the mescal married with sweet and sour flavors.  Our drinks were odd colors and too much on the sweet side for our tastes.  The next course was a delicious salad that saved the day.  The entree pictured at left is a traditional one. The chili pepper is stuffed with a black corn mixture with the texture of posole, but without the broth.  Well done, but not quite to our taste.  The scattered grasshoppers were well fried and spiced with lime, salt, and chili. 

I would recommend trying several options amongst diners in order to sample the cuisine.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Skeleton Twins (2014)

Maggie (Kristin Wiig) and Milo (Bill Hader) are estranged twins.  Their relationship ruptured when they were in high school.  Milo was having an affair with a teacher, something that he feels was the best relationship of his life, and Maggie brought it to everyone's attention.  The teacher lost his job and the twins were never the same.  Maggie stayed in upstate New York and Milo went to LA to try his hand at acting, which went about as well as you might expect.  They are reunited a decade later when Milo is found with his wrists slashed in his bathtub.

Now Maggie is no paragon of mental health either--she is pictured in the bathroom about to take a handful of pills when she gets the call that Milo needs her.  They come by their dysphoria honestly.  Their father committed suicide when they were 14 and their mother is the epitome of self-centeredness.  Not up to the task of shepherding her children through adolescence, much less trauma.  The movies is about the complicated path back to friendship that the twins manage to eventually negotiate.  Nicely done, if sad.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Casa de los Sabores Cooking School, Oaxaca, Mexico

One of the things I would recommend doing in Oaxaca is to take a cooking class.  I took one with Susana Trilling at Seasons of My Heart last time, and this time my spouse and I took one with Pilar Cabrera.  Both of the classes were excellent and both of them take the class to the market to get to know the food you are going to cook and the people who grow it.

Pilar's class meets at her restaurant in el centro de Oaxaca called Las Ollas, and from there proceeds to the market, and then to her house for the food preparation and the meal.

We made a quesadilla appetizer filled with squash blossoms, thinly sliced red onions, fresh epazote, and fresh Oaxacan cheese (which is wild to find in the market because it is all rolled up in a ball that resembles a ball of yarn, and the cheese is unwound from the ball to cook with it).  The end result was outstanding, but the truth is that we have squash blossoms a tiny fraction of the year and reproducing this at home is going to be an uncommon event.  The best part was that while we bought the fresh masa from the market, we learned the consistency with which to make the masa in order to have the tortillas come out right and we cooked them.  When we got home we found out two things--our local Mexican groceria has fresh masa, and we are not too bad at making it ourselves from masa harina.  We bought both a ceramic and a metal comal (the surface on which you cook the tortillas) so we have the ability to make them the traditional way.

The Sopa de Lima was the second course.  Limas are not widely available in Iowa (they are somewhere between a lime and an orange), but it may be possible to substitute.  The soup is delicious and light.  We also had cochinita pibil, a marinated pork dish that is cooked in banana leaves and also quite delicious.  The entire experience was fun, enough hands on to learn something, and to top it off, there was a mescal tasting to round out the afternoon.  Since we have been home we have used the skills that we learned in this class, which is a testament to the quality of the teacher.

Monday, February 23, 2015


These are little mouthfuls of flavor that come from the Isthmus region of Oaxaca.  The size is 3-4" in diameter, and the disks are thicker than tortillas.  They are topped with:
Shredded pork or beef that is spiced
Queso fresco
Pickled cabbage

The garnacha base is made with fresh masa, which can be bought at a Latin grocery store or made with masa harina.  If you make it, be sure to let it sit for a while so the corn flour can fully rehydrate and you can get the texture of the dough right.  It should not crack when you knead it and if it does crack, you can add a bit more water.  Rick Bayless' version starts with fresh masa, but he adds shortening or lard and a bit of sugar.  The disks are flattened like tortillas, but left about twice as thick and instead of cooking them on a griddle or a comal, you fry them in oil until they are browned and crisp on the outside.  They will still be a bit moist on the inside.  Once they are done, you top them with the meat, a bit of salsa, and then queso freco sprinkled on top.  Serve it with a freshly pickled cabbage as an appetizer.  Phenomenal!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Labor Day (2014)

This is an oddly atmospheric movie that was critically unpopular, but I, once again, felt differently.  Maybe it is because I have seen women like the character that Kate Winslet plays, and while I do not get them at all, I see that there are more than a handful of them, and so to spend 2 hours in a movie thinking about them is well worth my time.

Adele (Winslet) is a fragile woman with phobic traits who lives almost entirely within the four walls of her house.  She ventures out with her son Henry to shop when it is absolutely necessary and it is only with great effort and anxiety that she manages that.  We find out that she has had numerous miscarriages and the sadness of that endless loss broke up her marriage, but she strikes me as someone who was anxious even before that.  It is on one of her grocery trips that she and Henry are more or less abducted by Frank, an escaped prisoner convicted of murdering his wife.  His plan is to hole up with them until he can catch a train out of town.  Unfortunately for him it is Labor Day weekend and so he is stuck there for days rather than hours, and over that time Adele becomes quite fond of him.  He cooks, he cleans, he fixes things.  He teaches Henry to play baseball and make pie.  He is tightly wound and violence simmers beneath his surface, but he has something in him that makes Adele brave, braver than she has been in years.  All does not go well in the short run, but the long run is another story altogether.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

El Biche Pobre, Oaxaca, Mexico

Our guide in Oaxaca, Pablo Gonzalez Marsch, told us about this restaurant, which is an easy walk from the downtown area.  He is an exceptional guide, and he has very similar taste in food to us.  He highly recommended the sampler plate here, and even though it was only 11:00 in the morning, my spouse thought that we each needed an enormous platter with 12 different dishes on each of them.

Well, he was wrong about our ability to consume that much food that early in the day, but otherwise he was spot on.  The food is delicious, and all the classic Oaxacan dishes are represented.  Pablo said that we should be sure not to miss eating the bean tostada.  He said that every time he goes, he has to take something home and usually he chooses the bean tostada.  However, on his last visit, he ate it early on, just to see what he was missing, and the bean tostada was delicious.  That is the danger here, and if you go with someone who will share with you, I recommend sharing one of these between two people.  But I definitely recommend going.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Chicken Breasts Dijon

This is an easy week night meal that is relatively low fat and very flavorful.  We served it with a green salad, roasted cauliflower with panko and parmesan, and green beans with mushrooms.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 onion, minced (about 1 cup)
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups  stock
  • 1 cup  white wine
  • 1/2 cup Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme plus thyme leaves for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon  butter
  • Heat oil in a large heavy Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Place chicken in Dutch oven and cook until brown on both sides, 12-15 minutes total. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
  • Place leeks and onion in same pot and sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and sauté until tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in broth, wine, Dijon mustard, and minced thyme and bring to a simmer. Return chicken to pot. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes.
  • Transfer chicken to plates. Bring liquid in pot to a boil; cook until sauce is thickened and glossy, about 15 minutes. Whisk in butter and season with salt and pepper. Spoon sauce over chicken and garnish with thyme leaves.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Garden of Words (2013)

The Garden of Words is from the talented director Makoto Shinkai. The film follows Takao Akizuki, a 15 year-old aspiring shoe designer, as he ditches his first period of school on rainy days to draw shoe designs in a park that is lushly green with a shelter of sorts. On one particular rainy day, Takao encounters the much older Yukari Yukino drinking beer and eating chocolate in his favorite spot. What follows is their interactions over the course of the rainy season and beyond. Yukari has been shamed and she is slowly drowning her sorrows in two of the lesser destructive vices available to her, and Takao is both trying to save her and trying to design a shoe for her that will make him forget that she is almost twice his age.

The reason to watch this film, which is well under an hour in length, is not so much for the story line but for the lush scenery that is the hallmark of Japanese animation.  The people's faces are so undetailed as to be anonymous but the landscape and the rain are just spectacular, the best I have ever seen.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Oil Cloth, Oaxaca, Mexico

The name is historical rather than accurate.  Oil cloth was cotton material that was upholstery weight and then heavily oiled to make it more or less water repellant.  The industry was moved from the Untied States to Mexico long ago, but what is widely produced today under the name oil cloth retains the vibrant colors and fruit and floral designs but is now made entirely of plastic.  It is the tablecloth that graces eating establishments throughout Oaxaca, whether the diner is eating inside or out.  The designs are festive and cheerful, and the product is very affordable.
On my last trip to Oaxaca I neglected to bring back any oil cloth, save ones that had been made into bags.  I regretted that oversight and remedied it on my most recent trip.  My purchase was made at the Sunday market in Tlacalula, where there are many options to choose from and best of all, none of them is really a bad choice.  It is the sort of thing that you see so much of when you are there you wonder if it is trite to bring home, but in the end you are glad that you did.  A bonus is that it is very easy to fit into a suitcase.  I have not completely settled on what I will do with the cloth I brought home but I am very glad to have it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

This is a small novella that is almost poetry in its succinctness about life.  It is not all sugar and spice and everything nice.  She is a woman who has dissolved a long term relationship and looking back on it with somewhat of a microscope.

The main character, somewhat annoyingly referred to as "the wife", is a wickedly funny and poignantly vulnerable woman.  It is annoying because she is so not the wife, other than that she was married.  That is almost the last thing that she is.  Which is a good thing.  It may be ironic, now that I think about it, because she falls so far outside the prim and proper boundaries of wifehood.  I love that because there is almost nothing about me that fits well into the mold that word conveys, and she is entirely out there about it.

The story opens with a chronicle of her early adult years, including marriage and the birth of her daughter, giving the reader a rare window into the character’s insecurity and hesitance. It’s a simple premise, elegantly conveyed with spartan prose; life is full of twists, bumps, disappointments and personal tragedies, often with only a modest helping of joy on the side. It’s that chronic rift between what we want, or thought we would have, what we ended up with, and how we made peace with that, or we didn’t.  A quick and restless book that lands well.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2005)

The novel by Lawrence Stern that this movie is based on was a rambling and very lengthy book that began before the birth of Tristam Shanty and ended, a thousand or so pages later, shortly after his birth. It has been described as a classic and yet unfilmable book.

My youngest son is taking a film class that is entirely made up of films that are odd adaptations of novels, and this certainly fits the bill.  It is a film about the making of a film based on a novel about the writing of a novel.  There are frequent breakings of the fourth wall, and even a fifth one.  The movie is within itself so often that it is hard to see how many mirrors we are reflecting off of, and Steve Coogan is the perfect actor to pull the whole thing off brilliantly.  Download the first 10 or so chapters of the book off of any number of websites that offer both the text and the audio version free of charge and then watch this movie.  It is an adventure in slow motion.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Steamed Hot and Sour Bok Choy

I read something form my Facebook feed about buying Asian vegetables from an Asian grocery, which I definitely agree with.  This recipe takes a big bag of bok choy, which I got for less than $2.00 and it was absolutely delicious.  If you are looking for a low fat preparation method, steaming is a great way to go, and this has lots of flavor, good crunchiness, and you eat it forever.
  • 2 ½ lbs bok choy
  • 2 ½ tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • 2 ½ tablespoons minced scallions, white part only
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1 ½ tablespoons Chinese black vinegar
  • ½ tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon hot chili paste or dried chili flakes
  1. Wash and trim the bok choy. Cut the leaves along the length in half and then into 2 inch sections. Cut the stems into 2 inch pieces. Toss the fresh ginger and scallions with the bok choy in a bowl. Arrange bok choy mixture on a heat proof plate or parchment or wax paper covered steam basket (see note below)
  2.  Place the bok choy in the steamer and steam 5 to 6 minutes, or until the bok choy is tender. Arrange the steamed bok choy on a serving platter, spoon the dressing on top, and serve.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Lost Love

I think Valentine's Day is a difficult holiday, especially for those who mourn the loss of someone they loved.  This poem comes from Catullus, a Roman neoteric poet who knew everyone who was anyone in Rome at the end of the republic. 

If there is any pleasure for a man in remembering former
good deeds, when he thinks himself to be dutiful,
nor to have violated a sacred trust, nor in any contract
of the gods abused divine power to deceive men,
much joy remains for you, Catullus, in this long life,
furnished from this thankless love.
For whatever man can either say or do well
for anyone, this has been said and done by you:
having been entrusted to an ungrateful heart, all that perished.
Therefore, why do you now suffer more?
Why not be obstinate in your mind and bring yourself back from thence
and cease to be unhappy in front of the unwilling gods.
It is difficult to set aside a longstanding love.
it is difficult, but let us do it at any hazard.
This is the only safety, and you must overcome this,
whether it is not possible or it is possible.
O gods, if it is your will to have pity,
or if you have ever brought your help to any already
at the extreme, in death itself, look upon my unhappiness and,
if I have lived life in a pure manner,
remove this plague and ruin from me,
which stealing upon me inmost as a lethargy in my limbs
expelled the happiness from all my heart.
I no longer ask for that, that she chooses me in return,
or, because it is not possible, she chooses to be chaste:
I wish that I myself be healthy and put aside this horrible disease.
O gods, give this back to me for my piety.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

I am reasonable certain that Woody Allen and I would not get along.  The feeling would be mutual.  His personal life is unknown to me in it's most intimate details, but what we know for sure, that he married the daughter of his long time lover, does raise questions, especially after what he acknowledges is years of therapy.  However, many creators of works that I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy are less than exemplary people in their personal lives, so I will continue to watch movies made by a man whose work I have enjoyed literally all of my life.

I do like the move that Allen has made to Europe, with a mixture of American and European actors.  This movie is set in his favored time period, the first half of the 20th century, and most of the action takes place in the south of France.  It is 1928, and the magician Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) is enjoying widespread acclaim in the guise his stage persona, the Chinese conjurer Wei Ling Soo.  He has the added protection of an elaborate costume to protect him from being widely recognized in public, which works both for and against him. He is a man with many talents, but he is an insufferable and  arrogant man who is so absorbed with his righteousness that he is oblivious to the discontent that he sows around him.  Stanley despises claims by phony spiritualists that they can perform real magic and he gleefully unmasks them.  He knows every trick in the book, except one.  He inadvertently trusts the wrong man. At the behest of his friend, Stanley he travels to the Côte d'Azur to expose a young medium named Sophie (Emma Stone). However, Stanley gets conned, at least for a while.  He is surprised, shaken, and amazingly gracious when confronted with evidence that Sophie's gifts may be real.  The movie has a good supporting cast in Hamish Linklater and Marcia Gay Linklater, both of whom were in The Newsroom together.  It rolls to a gentle and witty ending and is quite enjoyable.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Cheese Pupusas with Curtido

This recipe comes from the New York Times, and while we have had very few pupusas in our time, we were moved to try it based on a recent trip to Mexico.  This Salvadorean street food is simple and easy to make.  If you are intimidated by masa harina this is a good place to start because they are more forgiving than tortillas in terms of the texture and wetness of the dough.  Harder to screw up.
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups masa harina (9 ounces by weight)
  • 1 ½ cups water or a bit more if the air is very dry
  • 12 ounces chihuahua or mozzarella cheese, grated 
  • Vegetable oil, as needed
  • Curtido, for serving (see below for recipe)

  1. In a large bowl, mix the salt well into the masa harina. With your hands, knead the water into the masa harina in a few additions; work in all the water evenly. The dough will feel like stiff mashed potatoes and should hold together without cracking. Lay a 12-inch square of a plastic grocery bag on a smooth work surface.
  2. Divide the cheese into 9 roughly equal piles. Roll a 2-ounce ball of dough in your hands, about the size of a golf ball, and pat it out in your hand to form a disc a little larger than your palm. (If the dough is very sticky, lightly moisten or oil your hands.) Pat a pile of cheese onto the masa, leaving just a little space around the edges (cup your hand slightly if it helps). Carefully close your hand to bring the edges of the disc closer, and use your other hand to pat and pinch it together to enclose the cheese in a rough ball. Patch any holes with a little more masa, but don’t worry too much — cheese that leaks out will brown deliciously in the pan.  Pat out the pupusa on the plastic square, forming a disc about 4 inches wide.  I used my tortilla press for this part--but don;t push all the way down--the pupusa should be about 1/4" thick. Repeat, forming a second pupusa.  You can make them smaller if you want to have appetizer sized pupusas.
  3. Heat a large nonstick sauté pan over low heat, and very lightly grease it with oil. Place the pupusas in the pan, and cook until richly browned in spots, about 4 minutes.  Don't worry if the cheese starts to bubble out. Flip the pupusas, and cook another 4 minutes, until they’re browned and cooked through. Serve finished ones immediately with curtido.
  • 1 pound cabbage, finely shredded (green or red or both)
  • 2 ½ cups water
  • ½ of a medium onion, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Ground cumin, to taste
  1. Combine all ingredients in a large, clean bowl. Use your hands to squeeze the vegetables in the brine, then fully submerge them under it.  Put something heavy (and clean) on top if needed. Let sit at room temperature for at least 3 days, or longer to your taste; the flavor will deepen and mellow over time. When it’s to your liking, transfer to clean jars, making sure brine covers the vegetables, and store in the refrigerator. Can keep for weeks.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

This is a Young Adult novel by a well known author of adult fiction, and while I picked it up belated to it's nomination for the National Book Award, it is well worth reading.

Jam, short for Jamaica, is depressed.  She had a short but intense relationship with Reeve, and when he dies, she is inconsolable.  Her parents and her doctor are concerned enough that they decide she needs to go to a boarding school that specializes in supporting and educating traumatized teens.  Once there she gets picked for an English class where they study Sylvia Plath the entire semester--which sounds like it could induce depression, but it does not.  The students get a journal that the teacher supplies and that journal takes each one of them to the time and place where their trauma occurred.  It is like a kind of virtual reality and they relive the time and place until they are able to let go of the trauma.  A kind of in vivo exposure therapy that they under go individually but with the advantage that they support each other as a group.  It is a wonderful story that is well told.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Land Ho! (2014)

This is a small independent movie with two lead actors you have probably never heard of and a character driven plot.  It might be supremely unappealing if you are under 30, but for us, well in the throes of middle age, it was a pleasant movie.

Mitch (played by Earl Lynn Nelson) goes to visit Colin (Paul Eenhorn), who has recently been divorced.  Mitch and Colin were married to sisters, but neither of them is any more.  Mitch is happy about it but Colin is not, so Mitch arranges a trip to Iceland for them to relax, enjoy the good life, and forget their current problems.  It turns out that Mitch has some issues of his own, and the two of them are cheering each other up.

Mitch is unabashedly crude, talking almost incessantly about sex, asking inappropriate questions, and telling people what he thinks of them, even when they clearly do not want to know.  This may or may not have something to do with his marijuana smoking, hard to say.  Colin is alternatingly bemused and irritated by Mitch's behavior, and is a much needed counter balance to him in social situations.  The two of them have a number of small adventures, enjoying Iceland's profound natural beauty, and working on getting up the energy to move forward with their lives.  Very pleasant movie.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Good Kind of Anniversaries

I never really questioned the model for long term relationships when I was a young person, but as a woman in the second half of my life, I am amazed (and blessed) to have found someone when I was newly booted out of my parent's nest who I have happily spent the middle of my life with.

It has been 34 years, three cities, four children, ten dogs, two cats, and a number of fish and I am still enjoying the ride.  Our offspring are all in the adult age range and while not completely independent, they are acting their age. 

So the back end of a long term relationship that includes children looks very much like the front end in that it is just the two of you.  What you lack in vigor and youth you hopefully make up for with the comfort and joy that comes with knowing someone up close and personal for many many years.   That and the fact that you bred together.  So all those of you in long term relationships--cherish them.  This is the person who knows you best.  For those of you not, figure out why that isn't working for you and if it suits you, get that element of peace in your life.  Remember what the research shows: a good long term relationship is worth $100,000/year in income.  For those of us not in the rarefied air of the .01%, that is a good compensation for the work of keeping a relationship together.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson

This is a wonderful memoir of the author's growing up experience during the tumultuous Civil Rights movement, all in free verse.  She is a poet, after all, and against all odds, a poet won the National Book Award for Young Adults.  So even if you are not a big fan of poetry, please take a read of this wonderful volume. Here is the poem about her birth, taken from another review.
February 12th 1963
I am born on a Tuesday at the University Hospital
Columbus, Ohio
a country caught
between Black and White.
I am born not long from the time
or far from the place
my great, great grandparents
worked the deep rich land
dawn till dusk
drank cool water from scooped out gourds
looked up and followed
the sky’s mirrored constellation
to freedom.
I am born as the south explodes,
too many people too many years
enslaved then emancipated
but not free, the people
who look like me
keep fighting
and marching
and getting killed
so that today?
February Twelfth Nineteen Sixty-three
and every day from this moment on,
brown children, like me, can grow up
free. Can grow up
learning and voting and walking and riding
wherever we want.
I am born in Ohio but
the stories of South Carolina already run
like rivers
through my veins.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Wish I Was Here (2014)

According to other reviewers who actually know about Hollywood, Zach Braff had trouble with this movie.  He couldn't get a Hollywood backer to fund this project (or maybe he couldn't get a backer to do it on his terms, who knows), so he crowd sourced the funding to make it. There was a to do about whether someone who is well known should use crowd sourcing, but as an occasional donator to such causes, you usually get something back for your support, so hopefully they all got a free movie ticket or something of that sort.

I knew none of this back story when I saw the film, and both my spouse and I enjoyed it.  Aidan Bloom (ably played by Mr. Braff) is an unsuccessful actor who is well into his 30's and dependent on his wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) to support the family.  He consoles himself with the thought that she loves her job but in fact she does not.  The crisis comes when his father, who has been paying his two children's school fees, is diagnosed with metastatic cancer and decides that he wants to spend all his money on an improbable and not medically recommended cure.  So two things happen.  Aidan has to home school his two children and deal with his issues with his father, which also entails dealing with his brother and his issues with family.  It is all very emotionally complicated.  The good news is that while Aidan does not entirely enter the world of grown ups, he does move forward, it seems like his kids will be okay, and the movie never looses site of the fact that it is at heart a comedy.  Highly recommended.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Winter Squash and Bean Chili

This is a great use of winter vegetables.  Chili has tomatoes, which add a sourness that the winter vegetables counteract with their sweetness.  The beans and the squash have a similar firmness on first bite, but softness in the middle that blends well.  Finally, the richness of the chili flavor is still highlighted in a dish than a vegan can enjoy.
  • 3 c. cooked pinto beans
  • 1 onion,  chopped
  • 2 d carrots diced
  • 1 red pepper diced
  • 2 large garlic cloves minced
  • 3 tablespoons or more ground chili 
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin 
  • 1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste dissolved in 1 cup water
  • 2 cups diced winter squash (about 3/4 pound)
  • Salt to taste
  • ½ cup chopped cilantro
  • Grated cheddar or Monterey Jack, or crumbled queso fresco for garnish  if so desired
  1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a heavy nonstick skillet and add the onion, carrot and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are tender and beginning to color, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic, stir together until fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute, and add the ground chili and cumin. Cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture begins to stick to the pan. Add the tomatoes and oregano, and salt to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down and the mixture is beginning to stick to the pan, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste dissolved in water and bring back to a simmer. Season with salt to taste and simmer, stirring often, for 10 minutes, until the mixture is thick and fragrant.
  2. Add the beans. Add the winter squash and bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring often, for 25 to 30 minutes. It is important to stir often so that the chili doesn’t settle and stick to the bottom of the pot. It should be thick; if you desire you can thin out with water. Taste and adjust salt.
  3. Shortly before serving stir in the cilantro and simmer for 5 minutes. Spoon into bowls. If you wish, top with grated cheddar, Monterey jack, or crumbled queso fresco.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Oaxaca Al Gusto by Diana Kennedy

This is a cookbook that is stunningly gorgeous and impossible to cook from.  The book is arranged by regions within the state of Oaxaca and there is no index, so if you are planning a dinner and you want to serve fish, you would have to either know the region in which fish would be a likely dish or flip through the entire book to find the various fish recipes.  It is possible that there are people who pick out the recipes and then go buy the ingredients.  It is even possible that those cooks outnumber people who cook as I do.  I am largely driven by what I have in my refrigerator and my freezer, combined with putting together the components of a typical weekend meal with invited guests at my house.

So why am I writing about this book?  Because it is a beautiful book to look through.  The pictures are spectacular.  There are pictures from markets, pictures of food and the raw ingredients that go into the food, and pictures of the people.  It is a gorgeous collection of pictures and recipes that would look fantastic on any coffee table.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Hercules (2014)

Any time you see an action movie hero as the lead in a movie, you know you are not going to get a historically accurate rendition of a story.  When it comes to Greek myths there is not so much a historical record but rather stories that may or may not have a single source.  That is certainly the case with the myth of Hercules.

So perhaps the movie can be excused for it's inaccuracies.  The thing that Hercules is best known for is the 12 labors that he was more or less sentenced to complete after he murdered his family.  He was a man of enormous strength and a very bad temper, which is a volatile combination--Dwayne Johnson's Hercules is a fierce warrior, but he is also portrayed as having a gentler side.  This gentleness and love is consistent with the mythological Hercules relationship with his third wife Deianera, but not how is is largely thought of.

Hercules travels with his nephew Iolaus and a band of warriors that includes the Amazonian Atalantis and Amphiaraus the Oracle.  Most of them are simpatico with Hercules in many ways, and the main story is about a battle that they come to regret and then endeavor to fix.  Not a deep movie, but my son who is a Classics major and an action movie fan enjoyed.  Lots of violence so not for child consumption.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Yucatan Fish

Having just gotten back from Oaxaca, where we bought a molecate before we had even learned recipes that required one, so that when we came home it was inevitable that we would want to replicate some of the food.  This fish recipe is intensely flavored without having additional added fat, so is a great main course for a low calorie meal.

  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 serrano pepper, sliced or chopped
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • ¼ cup lime juice, more as needed
  • 2 teaspoons achiote (annatto) powder, available in Latino and Indian markets
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon chipotle chile
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seed
  • ½ teaspoon cloves
  • 6 allspice berries
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste
  • 1 ¾ pound grouper or sea bass fillet, skin on
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, sliced thick
  • Banana leaves, available in Latino and Asian markets, or use parchment or foil

  1. Make the pickled onions: Put onion in a bowl and season generously with salt and pepper. Add serrano, 3 tablespoons orange juice and 2 tablespoons lime juice, then mix well. Set aside for at least 15 minutes. Combine and reserve remaining citrus juice for marinade.
  2. Make the marinade: Put achiote, cinnamon, oregano and chipotle in a small stainless steel or glass bowl. In a small dry skillet over medium heat, lightly toast cumin, cloves and allspice until fragrant, 1 minute or less. Grind toasted spices to a powder in a spice mill or mortar, then add to other spices. Add garlic, 1 large pinch salt and remaining citrus juice and stir to make a paste. If very thick, add more lime juice. (Note: achiote may stain surfaces or clothing.)
  3. Season fish on both sides with salt and pepper. Using a sharp knife, score skin at thickest parts, if desired. Paint fish on both sides with marinade. Squeeze a little lime juice over fish. Chill for 45 minutes (or up to 2 hours).
  4. Bring fish to room temperature and heat oven to 425 degrees. Cut banana leaves crosswise into footlong lengths and soften by passing them briefly over a stovetop burner. Rinse leaves and pat dry. Lay a double thickness of leaves on a baking sheet and lay fish on it, skin-side down. Top fish with a large handful of pickled onions. Arrange tomato wedges over onions. Sprinkle with salt and a little more lime juice. Lay more leaves on top, then wrap like a package, tying with string or strips of leaf. Bake for 25 minutes, then remove and let package rest, unopened, for 15 minutes. Serve with remaining pickled onions.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Twelve Recipes by Cal Peternell

I think that Mark Bittman's 'How To Cook Everything' is the best first cookbook to receive if you have some experience cooking, but what about the person who really knows nothing about being in the kitchen?  That person needs to start at a very basic level, and this is the cookbook for them. I think it will be my 'going off to college' cookbook gift.  Cal Peternell is the author.  He is a professional chef, working at the legendary restaurant in the Bay Area, Alice Water's Chez Panisse.  The story goes that when his eldest son was leaving home he suddenly realized that he really hadn't taught him how to cook.  Knowing only one professional chef, I can extrapolate from that friendship to why it might not be great to cook at home.  First of all the hours are long, and second of all, it might be similar to the cobbler's children having no shoes.  You just don't want to bring your work home with you.  In any case, he wrote this simple approach to cooking that is both instructional, true, and beautifully done.  It reminds me of Mark Ruhlman's book "Ratio", in that it gives a basic recipe and then variations that can be cooked with that basic recipe.  The chapters are things like "Pasta", "Toast", "Beans", and "Eggs".  It is a guidebook into the world of cooking.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Love is Strange (2014)

It is not just love that is strange.  The movie has a slowness of pace that makes it hard to remain interested in it.

John Lithgow and Alfred Molina are two men who have lived together as a couple for 39 years before one day they stand up in front of their friends and tie the knot. And unfortunately that is when it all starts to unravel.  Molina is a music teacher at a Catholic school and while they were entirely comfortable with him living with another man for the majority of his life, but they were most certainly not okay with him being married to another man, and they fired him, effective immediately.  The loss of his income sent them into a quick tail spin, where they sell their apartment and are elderly and homeless. 

What happens next is what is hard to figure out.  Instead of leaving New York City and finding an affordable living situation they split up, one going to live with his nephew and his family and the other living with two young gay cops.  So within no time the family is at each others throats and the other is getting no sleep, and not much in the way of work to turn the situation around.  The vast majority of the movie is in this in between situation.  Then something very good happens followed by something very bad.  The end.