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Friday, July 31, 2015

Reuniting with Your Youth

College was a very long time ago for me, but it is in the category of long past but not forgotten.  I lived in a large cooperative house at that time of life, a place where I did not choose my housemates but I lived closely with them and shared cooking, food, and meals with them.  It was a group of like-minded people, many who were friends and traveling companions during that time.

Over the years since then, there are people that I stayed in touch with and those that I did not.  I met my spouse there, and still see quite a bit of him, but there is no one that I see as frequently and some I had not seen at all.  So when we all decided to have a reunion, facilitated by social media, it was a big deal.  We were all taking a risk that we would still share the things that held us together all those years ago.  The result was nothing short of miraculous.  We easily slipped back 30 years to the time when we were last all together and it was immensely pleasurable to do so.  Our house band played, we danced, we ate, we laughed, we shared the good, the bad, and the occasional ugly that had happened over the time since were all last together.  Such a gift that we gave each other, and I hope that it happens again.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Wild (2014)

Reese Witherspoon does a very believable job of convincing us that she was a drug addled sex addict who frittered away a perfectly good marriage to a seemingly likable guy and in order to get her life back on track she decides to hike the Pacific Coast Trail.  Which may seem like yet another symptom of bad decisions that heroin addicts make, but in many ways what did not kill her made her stronger.

She has absolutely no experience hiking when she sets off on her three month 1,100 mile adventure in endurance.  She is literally pulling everything out of it's packing material the night before she sets off in the Mojave Desert, so laden down with weight that when she tips over she is like a turtle on her back.  She gets the wrong fuel for her stove, and her hiking boots are a size too small, which is almost the most unbelievable part of the story that she made it through the desert in them.

I know, it sounds like misery to watch this movie, but it is strangely peaceful to watch a woman gradually get herself on a better path, one that she was able to sustain (in the real life version of the story).  And there is some gorgeous scenery along the way.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Arturo Garcia Bustos Mural, Oaxaca, Mexico

These are some scenes from the Palacio de Gobierno building in the center of Oaxaca.  It runs up the main stiarcase and is impossible to miss.  The mural is grand in both size and scope, and breathtaking to look at.  It was painted by Arturo Garcia Bustos.  He began his career at La Esmerelda School of Painting and Sculpture, which opened  in 1942 with Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and other well-known artists as faculty.  He began his career as a muralist with Diego Rivera in 1947. 
When Frida's failing health no longer allowed her to continue teaching at the school, she invited the students to her Blue House in Coyoacan to continue their classes. Arturo and three other students continued to study with Frida. This group came to be known as Los Fridos, because of their devotion to Frida.
The painted this mural in 1980 to depict the the history of Meixco, both before and after the Conquistedors arrival.  depicts famous Oaxacans and Oaxacan history, including Benito Juárez and his wife Margarita Maza, and José María Morelos, Porfirio Díaz, Vicente Guerrero (being shot at Cuilapan) and 17th-century nun and love poet Juana Inés de la Cruz.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Lemon Risotto with Summer Squash

We had a dinner for some riders on RAGBRAI.  Since they have been bicycling 60+ miles a day for almost a week and potentially eating at spaghetti dinners in churches, we wanted carbs but not pasta, and this was a delicious way to enjoy summer squash as well.

  • 7 to 8 cups vegetable stock, as needed
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup minced onion
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 pound summer squash (mixed varieties), diced
  • 1 ½ cups arborio or carnaroli rice
  • 1 to 2 garlic cloves (to taste), green shoots removed, minced
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • ½ cup dry white wine, like pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped lemon zest
  • 1 to 2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Put your stock or broth into a saucepan, and bring it to a simmer over low heat with a ladle nearby or in the pot. Make sure that the stock or broth is well seasoned.
  2. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a wide, heavy nonstick skillet. Add the onion. Cook, stirring, until tender, about five minutes. Add the squash and a generous pinch of salt. Turn the heat up to medium high, and cook, stirring often, until the squash is translucent but not too soft, about five minutes.
  3. Stir in the rice and the garlic, and stir until the grains separate and begin to crackle. Add the wine, and stir until it has been absorbed. Turn the heat back down to medium, and begin adding the simmering stock a couple of ladlefuls (about 1/2 cup) at a time. The stock should just cover the rice and should be bubbling, not too slowly but not too quickly. Cook, stirring often, until the rice is just about absorbed. Add another ladleful or two of the stock, and continue to cook in this fashion, stirring in more stock when the rice is almost dry. You do not have to stir constantly, but stir often.
  4. When the rice is tender all the way through but still chewy, in about 25 minutes, it is done. Taste now and adjust seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. Add another ladleful of stock to the rice. Stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice, parsley and Parmesan. Remove from the heat. The mixture should be creamy (add more stock if it isn’t). Serve right away in wide soup bowls or on plates, spreading the risotto in a thin layer rather than a mound.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Selma (2014)

This is a biopic that is focused on one moment in time for the celebrated leader Martin Luther King, Jr., much like the movie Lincoln did for the life of Abraham Lincon.  The event was a pivotal one for King, and the story allows for an illumination of his character, his charm, and his flaws while describing a time in history.

There is really no drama in the story itself since everyone knows what is going to happen.  So the telling becomes all the more important, and that is pulled off very well in this movie, despite the fact that none of the actors, with the possible exception of Tim Wilkinson as Lyndon Johnson), looks at all similar the the people they are portraying. 

These people were very brave.  They were motivated by justice and their lives were oppressed, but they had a lot to lose, and the movie uses some clips of the actual march to show the risks and the marchers bravery.  Two things struck me while I was watching the movie. The first was the use of the Confederate flag to demonstrate white superiority.  It is just such a red flag, pun intended.  The other is how little has changed in the intervening years.  The suppression of voting is still with us.  The burning of black churches in the south is still with us.  The unequal treatment of African Americans under the law is still with us.  All of this 150 years after the Civil War.  The arc of history is indeed long when it comes to change.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

RollnGo, Dallas, TX

I was recently at a week long conference in Dallas.  The hotel was not in a central location, the conference was lengthy and intense, and the weather was hot and a little bit humid.  So we were far from the well-known parts of Dallas, there wasn’t much spare time, and the weather did not encourage venturing far from the meeting center.  Lucky for me, there was a nearby take out restaurant that had a range of Vietnamese food and the largest selection of fresh spring rolls that I have seen. 

I had the shrimp sausage spring roll, which was a delicious mix of shredded vegetables and a long slice of shrimp sausage (which is minced shrimp with spices and water chestnuts that is similar to what you would have in shu mei or shrimp dim sum) with a side of pickled daikon and carrots.  They were great and very different from the lemongrass chicken spring rolls that my table mate ordered.  They also have a range of bahn mi, bun bowls, pho, and rice platters as you would expect at a Vietnamese restaurant, and the price was very reasonable.  The grilled pork bahn mi did not disappoint.  The service was swift.  Don’t be dissuaded by the mirror ball on the ceiling or the music that pervades the restaurant.  The food is good and you can grab and go, or sit and eat.  It is not haute cuisine by any means, but as fast food it is wonderful.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Summer Squash Casserole

This is a great way to hide squash, or to take a break from it in mid-summer when the grilling and sauteeing have waned in the enthusiasm they engender. Delicious and easy.

  • 7 tablespoons butter 
  •  2 pounds yellow summer squash
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 bell peppers of any color chopped
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped 
  • 24 Ritz crackers, crumbed in food processor
  • ½ pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Bread crumbs for the top 

    1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 21/2-quart baking dish. Cut the squash into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Cook in boiling, salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain. Purée in a food processor.
    2. Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and peppers and cook until just tender. Meanwhile, crumb the toast in a food processor, melt remaining butter and toss together.
    3. Mix the squash purée, cracker crumbs and cheese. Stir in the eggs, cream, sugar and seasonings. Blend well. Pour into the baking dish. Top with bread crumbs and bake until browned, about 40 minutes.

    Friday, July 24, 2015

    Ex Machina (2015)

    This is a deeply creepy, very well done sci-fi thriller that explores the territory of artificial intelligence and whether we should fear it.  It is much slicker than an updated 2001:A Space Odyssey with the same final message.  The movie is equal parts ordinary and unique. 

    Ava is the robot.  Nathan is the multi-billionaire who designed her.  He made his money from designing the world's most widely used search engine, and then he used data that he mined from billions of people's search histories to create Ava.  He brings Caleb to his isolated and secure combination home/laboratory to perform the Turin Test on Ava, to evaluate whether she is actually able to think and feel on her own.  The thriller part is who is zooming whom.  The striking part is a strikingly smart, unique and profoundly powerful exploration into the very essence of existence, weaving together thought-provoking questions on everything from philosophy to psychology, language to sexuality, religion to death and art to technology.

    Thursday, July 23, 2015

    Hen of the Wood, Burlington, Vermont

     There are two of these in Vermont, but we only got to the one in downtown Burlington.  It was not our favorite place that we ate on the trip, but it was very good, and after a dinner there we returned to sit at the bar and have oysters and a cider concoction that they have that is quite good called Citizen's Punch on another occasion.  Any restaurant that is worth a return visit on a short trip has got to be good.

    Instead of having an entrée, we opted for multiple appetizers and small plates.  The restaurant is well known for hen of the wood mushrooms on toast with a poached egg on top, as well as it's home cured meats and sausages, so we opted for those, and were not disappointed.  Both were flavorful and unlike food that we can get at home, so doubly enjoyable.  The only thing that we got that I thought was not a great bang for the buck was the cheese plate.  Portions were small, quality was just okay, and it was overpriced.  Otherwise it was a great dining experience.

    Wednesday, July 22, 2015

    Spicy Lacquered Chicken Wings

     We made this on a grill extravaganza day of lower heat grilling and they were the hands down winner of the meats made.  Delicious, flavorful, spicy, and the oranges really add to the overall flavor.

    3 pounds meaty chicken wings       

  • Salt
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons rice wine or sherry
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ teaspoon five-spice powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1 small cucumber, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 6 scallions, slivered
  • 2 or 3 small hot red chiles, very thinly sliced (or hot green chiles), optional
  • 2 tablespoons crushed roasted peanuts
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 handful cilantro leaves
  • 2 navel oranges, sliced                          

    1. Rinse the wings, pat dry, season lightly with salt and put them in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, rice wine, brown sugar, ginger, garlic, five-spice powder, cayenne and orange zest, then pour over the wings and massage well. Let marinate for 1 hour at room temperature or refrigerate (overnight is fine) and bring to room temperature.
    2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Arrange the wings in one layer in a low-sided baking dish or roasting pan (or use 2 pans) and place on middle shelf. Every 8 to 10 minutes, brush the wings with the marinade from the pan, adding 3 or 4 tablespoons water to dissolve the juices as necessary. Continue until well browned, glazed and cooked through, about 40 to 45 minutes. The wings may be cooked ahead and reheated if desired.
    3. Pile the wings on a warm platter. Quickly assemble the garnish. In a small bowl combine the cucumber, scallions, chiles, crushed peanuts and sesame oil. Season with salt, toss lightly and scatter over the wings. Sprinkle with the cilantro. Surround with orange slices and serve.

    Tuesday, July 21, 2015

    Woman in Gold (2015)

    I very much enjoyed this somewhat syrupy but also true story about Maria Altmann's quest to compel Austria to return the 5 Klimt's that the Nazi's stole from her family home.  The woman in gold is a painting commissioned by her uncle of the Aunt Adele, who lived with her parents up until her death at a young age.  Maria and her young husband stayed in Austria almost too long, but narrowly escaped to the United States at the beginning of the war, leaving all their valuables, and her parents, behind.  When Austria begins what was largely a publicity stunt to return stolen art in the late 1990's, Maria seeks the aide of a friend's son, who is a lawyer and also the grandson of the composer Arnold Schoenberg (aptly and understatedly played by Ryan Reynolds).  Schoenberg's law firm is extremely skeptical that he will convince the Austrian government to return a painting that is on refrigerator magnets, but they allow him to try.

    Helen Mirren is believable and likable as an elderly woman who has great ambivalence about what she is doing but firm in her belief that justice should be sought, while wanting to avoid the inevitable pain of going back to her homeland.  For Schoenberg it becomes personal somewhere in the middle of the ordeal (his family was from Warsaw, and those who did not flee died at Treblinka), and he carries forward with his case against all odds and prevails.  Nice story nicely told.

    Monday, July 20, 2015

    Fin, Montclair, NJ

    -->I was at this seafood restaurant with a group of people, which allowed me to try three things on the menu by sharing with someone else, and to see what my fellow diners received.  So while I am not a restaurant reviewer, who would have done both this and try the restaurant on more than one occasion, my amateur experience was reasonably good.

    I had the calamari salad to start off and it was especially good.  The calamari was prepared with a breading and then fried.  The breading was minimal and light, and the calamari was tender and crunchy and delicious.  It was tossed in a lemony dressing with a mixture of baby greens, including radiccio, and the end result was quite delicious.  I had a mahi mahi and a halibut dishes and the fish in each was fish and well prepared.  The sides that were served with each dish complimented the fish well.  The “surf and turf” dish was short ribs and enormous shrimp, both of which were well cooked and flavored.   The service was very good, and as an added bonus the restaurant not only allows you to bring your own wine, it has a delivery service with a local liquor store, so you can easily and affordably get an adult beverage even if you forgot to bring one with you.  Excellent dining experience.

    Sunday, July 19, 2015

    Meat From the Market, Oaxaca

    Yet another story that comes out of the Sunday market in Tlacalula.  It is a very large market, with quite a few places to eat, as well as places to buy goods and to buy fruits and vegetables.  There is also a section of the market devoted to butchered meat.  You can buy almost any cut of meat that you want, and the butcher will prepare the meat any way that you want.  For a Norte Americano it is like stepping back to another generation.
    One thing that is available at the market is a communal grill.  You can both buy your meat and cook it there.  I am not sure if people cook it to eat right away, or on their way home, or something longer term, but it is like nothing I have seen at home.  When I took a cooking class we bought our meat at such a place, and while the hygienic standards are a little fuzzy to me, the meat is flavorful and delicious. 

    Saturday, July 18, 2015

    Baharat Spice Mix

     This is an absolutely fabulous aromatic spice mixture to add to vegetable dishes or use as a spice rub for meat.  We were interested in having some Middle Western food to recognize the end of Ramadan, and this was an excellent choice.
    • 12 cup black peppercorns
    • 14 cup whole coriander seed
    • 14 cup cinnamon sticks
    • 14 cup whole cloves
    • 13 cup cumin seed
    • 2 teaspoons whole cardamon pods
    • 4 whole whole nutmegs
    • 12 cup ground paprika
    1. Basically, just place all the spices except the paprika and nutmeg in a blender or adequate grinder and process until it becomes a powder.
    2. If necessary you can grind 1/2 cup at a time.
    3. Grate the nutmeg and blend this with the paprika into the spices.
    4. Store in an airtight jar.
    5. Generally in some areas, they lightly toast the spices in an oven to bring out more flavor.
    6. You can gain this also by putting the amount you're going to use, on a hot dry saute pan and toast it for a few seconds before using.
    7. This not only makes the kitchen smell good, but brings out a richer flavor of any spice.

    Friday, July 17, 2015

    Standby (2014)

    This is a movie that goes over the territory of ‘what if’ in a romantic comedy.  The classic story of a romantic misstep that results in regret; ‘the one that got away’, so to speak.  In this particular film it is not a one sided mistake.  Neither party correctly assessed the long term trajectory of their individual love lives that would make them both want to go back to their time together and to do a do over. 

    The couple has a chance meeting years later and spend a night in each other’s company.  He is in a nadir, working at an information booth at the Dublin airport, living with his father, and with no real prospects for improving his lot in life.  She is en route home to her fiancé, having just heard very bad news about her prospects as a children’s book illustrator.  So one of them is chronically under loved and one is acutely under loved.

    The power of shared experiences and the emotion that they evoke when you go with the flow is the take home message.  In a risk avoidant environment, where hesitancy to commit is the norm rather than the exception, and this is the cautionary tale on that point.  Sometimes you can miss the chance to be happy in love.  It is possible that one night doesn’t reflect the future, but the ability to make each other laugh is not to be discounted.

    Thursday, July 16, 2015

    Mezcal in Oaxaca

    Mezcal is the drink of Oaxaca.  Factories are found everywhere.  You can literally follow the smell of roasting agave hearts down the side roads to small backyard stills. Sauza country, this is not. At a time when its agave-based relative, tequila, is all about business and mass marketing, mezcal manufacturers are largely family-owned and bottled by hand.

    Mezcal is everywhere in Oaxaca.  There are bars devoted to artisanal mescal, and in contrast to the first time I was in Oaxaca, there are now what I would call more or less the equivalent to single barrel bourbons.  They are mezcals that are made from a particular kind of agave, so small batches with distinctive flavors to be tried and appreciated (or perhaps one will discover that they prefer the less distinctive flavors these offer).  It is all part of the adventure of travel in the region, and well worth stopping at a few factories to see what the process is and to try some of the product. 

    Wednesday, July 15, 2015

    Salmon Cooked at the Cooler End of Hot

    Smoking and grilling has always been a big deal in my house.  Now that my children are largely living on their own, the quest for the perfect barbecue has both expanded and continued.  There is a synergy between them that has continued the expansion of the number of devices we have on our property.  No picture to follow, but let's just say that the only reason that I can't dispute this progression is because of my personal passions (fabric, dishes, and baking supplies) do not leave me blameless in this matter.

    This week we welcomed an Oklahoma Joe Longhorn offset smoker into our family of outdoor cooking options.  The inaugural smoke included pork butt, ribs, and this smoked salmon that was by far the best we have ever made on our premises.  The fillet was the farmed Atlantic salmon that you can get for a very reasonable price at Costco, so this is imminently reproducable. 

    The salmon is first cured:
    2 Tbs. fresh dill chopped
     2 Tbs. ground pepper
    1 Tbs.  dry mustard
    1 c brown sugar 
    1/2 c kosher salt

    Mix the above spices together.  Brush salmon on both sides with 2 Tbs. vegetable oil. 
    Spread cure over (and under) salmon fillet ( about 1.5-2 pounds), wrap tightly in saran wrap, refrigerate 3-4 hours.

    Rinse off rub, blot fish dry, and smoke.  You can also grill, but the smoking gave both a delicate smoke flavor and the fish was moist and tender. 200-225 degrees for 1 hr 15 minutes (~1-1.5 hours, depending on the temperature). Delicious!

    Tuesday, July 14, 2015

    It's a Disaster (2012)

    This is yet another movie with a theme that the end is near.  The entire movie centers on a group of 4 couples meets regularly for brunch, and it could be staged as a play because there is almost nothing that takes place outside of the house the brunch occurs in.  Three of the couples have been together years, and one is a new relationship.  She is part of the group and he is not.  One couple is breaking up and discover that they each have slept with another member of the group.  So the dynamics of the group is a bit complicated to begin with.

    The disaster is a bomb that releases a deadly gas.  First the electricity goes and communication is compromised.  No one is to go outside, so they are now stuck under one roof.  As the disaster progresses, the news gets worse and the tensions start to rise.  The idea gets you thinking about two things.  The first and clearest thought is what would you do when the world appears to be at an end, and then secondarily, the end is unknown for each of us.  We are all living a mortal life, and are we making choices that reflect that?  The movie is light on contemplation (and not as funny as it should be, given that), but it could be food for thought.

    Monday, July 13, 2015

    Beeswax Candles for Iglesias, Oaxaca

    These ceremonial candles that are found throughout the Oaxaca region in churches are made in Teotitlan de Valle but women who specialize in creating the five foot long candles and decorating them with elaborate beeswax flowers.  These traditional candles that are used every life cycle celebration: baptisms, funerals, engagements (contentamientos), and weddings.  They are found not only in churches but also in people's homes.  I don't exactly think that these are beautiful, but they are spectacular.  They also take a tremendous amount of work to produce.
    One thing to love about Oaxaca is the wealth of artisanal crafts there.  While there are fewer and fewer women who make these candles, the wealth of things that are still hand made in this region of Mexico is impressive to see, and I think important to recognize.  The urge to make beautiful things is deeply imbedded in our DNA, going back to the beginning of mankind.  As more things are made ever more cheaply in factories around the world, the appreciation of handmade things is lessened and then becomes undervalued.  So in the interest of supporting artisans, both appreciate their work and bring home things that speak to you.

    Sunday, July 12, 2015

    Lemon and Thyme Grilled Chicken

    This is a delicious way to have juicy, tender, flavorful chicken.
    • 4 (6-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
    • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
    • 1 teaspoon black pepper
    • 2 tablespoons chopped thyme leaves
    • 4 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
    • 2 lemons, as needed
    • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed
    • Torn basil or mint leaves, as needed
    1. Place chicken breasts between two sheets of parchment or plastic wrap. Using a mallet or rolling pin, pound each to an even thickness of 1/2 inch. Do not make them any thinner or they could dry out.
    2. Place chicken in a large bowl and toss with salt, pepper, thyme, garlic and the zest and juice of 1 lemon. Mix in olive oil. Cover and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours. Remove chicken from fridge while you heat the grill.
    3. Light the grill, building a hot fire, or heat your gas grill to high. Once grill is fully heated, brush breasts lightly with olive oil and place chicken on the grill. Cook until undersides are browned and chicken is about halfway cooked, 3 to 5 minutes. Flip breasts and grill until cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes more.
    4. Transfer chicken to a platter. Drizzle with oil and garnish with additional lemon juice, olive oil and basil or mint leaves.

    Saturday, July 11, 2015

    Cheerful Weather for a Wedding (2012)

    This is a Romeo and Juliet sort of story, but told from the perspective of the parent taking control.  The outcome is less deadly, but no less tragic for the people involved.  Dolly spent a summer in emotional bliss with a man who was bright, interesting, fun, and not particularly well off financially.  At the end of the summer, Dolly’s mother sees them engaged in sex (which she doesn’t know that Dolly initiated, but she can plainly see she is fully participating).  Instead of getting the message that this is the man for her daughter, she maneuvers to break up the relationship and get Dolly married to a more suitable man.  No consideration for her daughter’s happiness at all, and no sense that she has not business in matters of the heart.

    What follows is about what you would expect.  Dolly may or may not be in a situation where she has to get married for social reasons, but she is clearly conflicted.  It is possible that she will learn to love the man she is marrying, but there is a hint that won’t be the case.  She wants to take her low maintenance pet with her to South America and he flatly refuses to let her do so. He seemed life a nice enough guy up to that point, but when push comes to shove, he expects to have his way.  So the viewer watches the inevitable unfold.

    Friday, July 10, 2015

    Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev (1862)

    I started this book before I went to Russia and finished it after I got back (it is a short and manageable book, it was just not the only thing I was reading).  I think that if you fear Russian literature, this is a very good choice, because while everyone has more than one name (in classic Russian style), it is very accessible and also illuminating about Russian culture.  It was written in the mid-19th century, after Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto and before the Russian Revolution.  One description of a character struck me: He was a progressive and a despot, as happens so often with Russians.  That certainly resonates today.

    The story is about relationships (there are sisters and brothers and mothers and couples as well as fathers and sons).  Arkady and his friend Bazarov represent the modern Russia and their fathers are the Russia of old.  The thing that is timeless about the book is the role that love plays in their lives and the jealousies that it engenders.  The two friends are unable to talk about their attractions and they are so set against the traditional relationships of their parents that they miss the opportunity at happiness--or almost do, in Arkady's case.  A short and enjoyable book steeped in Russia's past.

    Thursday, July 9, 2015

    Prohibition Pig, Waterbury, Vermont

      I recently had a wonderful trip to Vermont, where I came for a business trip but stayed for pleasure.  It was a trip that included a number of excellent restaurants, one of which was this one.  The main cuisine served is barbeque and you do not have to guess that.  From down the block you can smell the heavenly aroma of smoking meat.  If you are not fond of BBQ this is probably not a good place for you.  It also has a bit of a gastro pub feel, but not enough for a vegetarian.

    The menu has a number of BBQ sandwiches, and the meat is excellent.  The buns on our visit suffered in comparison--I am not a fan of a bun that cannot stand up to the sandwich from beginning to end and that is the situation here--but if you go for a plate of BBQ meat you avoid this problem.  They have house made pickles that are delicious and the salads are well worth trying.  We had one with farrow and roasted squash that was delicious.

    Wednesday, July 8, 2015

    The Right Kind of Wrong (2012)

    This is a 'B' grade romantic comedy streaming on Netflix.  Leo Palomeno is a sort of antihero, a man who is s semi-failed writer being supported by his wife.  She sells real estate, which she realizes that she hates to do.  One day she up and quite it all.  Her husband and her marriage both have to go.  She writes a blog about all the things that she realizes about her husband through the process of separating herself from him and it becomes all too popular.  She gets TV spots and a book contract, and even a movie deal, all of it at Leo's expense.

    Two things come about as a result.  Leo comes to see himself as the flawed and self-centered man that his his ex-wife portrayed, while the ex-wife comes to see that maybe, when all is said and done, that she was a little harsh on him.  So they meet somewhere in the middle, letting go of some of their mutual resentment.  She uses her fame for good (she gives his failed book a breath of life and his ability to see himself through his ex-wife's eyes and woos his next love as a result of his new found insight.

    Tuesday, July 7, 2015

    Flatiron Steak Sandwich with Cucumber Ginger Salad

    For our Father's Day celebration, we had these delicious sandwiches from Chef Tom Colicchio.

2 chipotle chiles 

    1 ancho chile 

    1 cup grapeseed oil

    1 large egg yolk, preferably
 from a pasture-raised egg**
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

    Juice from 1 lime
1/4 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt


    1 1lb. flatiron or sirloin steak 

    Kosher salt and freshly ground
 black pepper
    1 tsp. vegetable oil

2 cups peeled, cored, and julienned
 English cucumber
    2 tbsp. peeled and julienned fresh ginger

    1 cup cilantro leaves

    Juice of 1 lime

    1. For the black chile mayonnaise: Place an oven or cooling rack on top of a gas burner. Make sure you're cooking in a well-ventilated area to avoid breathing in the fumes that will generate when charring the chiles. Place the chiles on the rack and char over an open flame. (You can also char the chiles in a cast-iron skillet over high heat.) Using tongs, turn the chiles as they char. The chiles will puff up and turn completely black. Remove from the heat and cool.
    2. Discard the stems from all the chiles as well as the seeds from the ancho. Transfer chiles to a blender or food processor and grind until fine. Place in a bowl and combine with the oil.
    3. In a food processor, combine egg yolk, garlic, lime juice, sugar, salt, and 2 tbsp. water, and quickly blend. With the food processor at medium to low speed, slowly add the chile oil in a thin and steady stream until fully incorporated. If some of the chile mix sticks to the side of the bowl, stop the blender and use a spatula to fully incorporate and blend together until smooth. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.
    4. For the steak: Season the meat with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large cast-iron skillet over high heat. Add the steak and sear for about 5 minutes on each side. Remove from the heat and set aside to rest for 5 minutes. Thinly slice the meat against the grain.
    5. For the cucumber and ginger salad: In a small bowl mix cucumber, ginger, and cilantro. Set aside.
    6. Slice the ciabatta rolls in half and scoop out as much bread as possible. Spread the mayonnaise on the top halves of the rolls. Layer the sliced meat on the bottom halves and top with a generous amount of the cucumber and ginger salad. Drizzle the lime juice on top and season with salt. Close the sandwiches, cut into halves, and serve.

    Monday, July 6, 2015

    A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

    This is a modern tragedy, a big book about ordinary people who cannot overcome the obstacles of their past.  It is powerful and plain at the same time.  The story follows four friends who have been together as a foursome since college, and follows them forward in life.  Malcolm is from old money and he goes forward in life with that charmed beginning, He is a talented architect but part of his success is clearly related to his connections.  Jean Batiste (known as JB) is from an impoverished background and overall he has a lot of baggage.  He becomes a successful artist, but the subjects of his paintings are his friends from college, which leads a layer of complexity to his relationships with them.  Willem is the most loyal of the bunch, a handsome man who becomes an internationally known actor.  The primary object of his support is Jude, a man who was abandoned as a child, the victim of long term physical and sexual abuse throughout his childhood, leaving him so ashamed that he is unable function psychologically and socially.

     Jude is the center of the novel, and he is both a sympathetic and an incredibly frustrating character.  He has issues with trust.  He is unable to engage with people sexually but he is vulnerable to continued abuse.  He is the paradigm for understanding why rape victims get raped again in the future.  They feel like they they are unworthy and when people treat them poorly they are inclined to feel like they deserve it.  Jude is extremely resistant to therapy, cuts himself as a release of his anxiety, and is physically disabled as a result of the abuse he had as a young man.  The book is emotionally on target and surprisingly lightly written despite the seriousness of some of the material.

    Sunday, July 5, 2015

    Laggies (2014)

    This is a movie about the phenomenon of floating, drifting, being directionless in life.  It is an incredibly gentle spin on the topic of not knowing what you want to do and where you want to go in life. 

    Keira Knightley is the lead in this romantic comedy, and she pull sit off beautifully.  She meets Chloe Grace Moritz' character outside a convenience store, and agrees to buy them alcohol even though they are clearly underage.  They are  understandably grateful, so when Knightley shows up on Moritz' doorstep asking for a place to stay for a week, she doesn't so much think it is weird that a 20+ year old would want to stay with a teenager, but rather how she is going to pull it off. Moritz' father is more suspicious, but Knightley is so disarming and genuine that he comes to believe her, and then to be grateful to her.  The experience of living for a brief period of time outside her usual routine opens Knightley eyes to her situation and what she needs to do to change it.  This is a light and charming movie.

    Saturday, July 4, 2015

    Reflections of the Founding Fathers

    The founding fathers might not be surprised by the state of affairs in their beloved country today.  In fact, they specifically warned us about the threat from a two party system.  What we need to do is take heed, change our representatives to ones who are more focused on the people than themselves, and try to get a functional system back in place.

    John Adams:
    There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.
    George Washington agreed in his farewell presidential speech:
    The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty
    Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.
    It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.
    There is an opinion, that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the Government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in Governments of a Monarchical cast, Patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in Governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And, there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

    Friday, July 3, 2015

    Sangria Verde

    This sangria goes great with a Portuguese meal, or on a hot summer day.  It is very refreshing and good vino verde is very affordable.

    1/4 cup organic blonde cane sugar
    1/4 cup boiling water
    3/4 cup cubed green melon
    1/2 cup thinly sliced cucumber
    1/2 cup halved green table grapes
    1 lime, thinly sliced
    juice of 1 lime
    2 sprigs mint, plus some pretty leaves for garnish
    2 sprigs basil, plus some pretty leaves for garnish
    1 (750mL) bottle Vinho Verde, chilled
    1/2 cup white rum
    sparkling water
    In a small, heat-proof jar or bowl, stir together the sugar and boiling water to dissolve the sugar.

    In a large vessel, such as a 2-quart mason jar, pitcher, or punch bowl, combine the cucumber, melon, grapes, lime slices, lime juice, mint, and basil. Pour in the Vinho Verde, rum, and simple syrup. Stir gently to combine, then cover and chill for at least 30 minutes or up to several hours.

    To serve, fill tall glasses with ice. Pour in sangrìa and spoon in some of the fruity bits. Top off each glass with a spritz of fizzy water and some pretty mint and basil leaves to garnish, and serve.

    Thursday, July 2, 2015

    The Moor's Account by Laila Lalami

    This is a great book, and one that I would not have read if it hadn’t appeared on the New York Times Best Books of 2014.  The author and the main character are both Moroccan, but the story takes place in the New World at the dawn of the 16th century.

    Mustafa gives up his freedom for the sake of his family after his father’s death, and sells himself into slavery.  The first quarter of the book is about the experience of slavery.  Then Mustafa’s master sells him to a man who is going on an exploratory voyage to the New World to seek their fortune.  The trip begins with several hundred sailors but after one thing and another, the crew is gradually winnowed down to a few remaining members, of which Mustafa is one and his current owner is another.  At that point he is not exactly a free man, but his skills have earned him a certain amount of status.  He is good with language, he liaisons well with the Native Americans, and he is clearly a survivor.  It is a book that offers a glimpse of the invasion and occupation of the New World from the view of an outsider just trying to make a life for himself.  Well written and thought provoking.

    Wednesday, July 1, 2015

    Mr. Turner (2014)

    This is a biopic movie about one of the greatest landscape painters in British history.  The story of his life is not one of sweetness and light.  One reviewer noted that the word most associated with the movie is "austere", which translates to grim and very hard to love.  I think that captures the down side of the movie.  It is over two hours in length and however much you love Turner as a painter, you will not exit the film loving him as a person.

    Turner the painter is best known for making otherwise unremarkable landscape paintings, many of the seaside, captivating by his use of light.  When he is not talking about light and the paint that he uses to achieve light in his paintings he is insufferably autistic.  His behavior is socially inept, insensitive and inappropriate. He seems not to be in control of his impulses. The combination of his awe-inspiring talent and the acclaim it brought him does not make him socially popular.  His sexual appetite is normal but his means of accomplishing relationships is odd. He mounts his housekeeper without a word and from behind, then moves about his other business.   Her interactions with him indicates that this is not an uncommon occurrence, and is in fact one aspect of their complicated relationship.

    We also see Turner interacting with his colleagues, many of them landscape painters nearly as famous, at a gallery show, where he walks around inspecting the layout of the gallery, telling a painter friend that a woman's leg in a panorama could use a bit of highlight, and then startling everyone by painting a single daub of red in the middle of an intricately finished landscape painting—an act that another painter interprets as a declaration of war on whatever clichés the show embodies.  Turner is undervalued by his colleagues at the time, and it worries him not at all.  he does make one human connection with a woman who nurses him to his death, but the film brings up as many questions as it answers.  Perhaps that is the point.