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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Round About the Cauldron Go

In honor of the holiday, this passage from Shakespeare's classic play reminiscent of the holiday, Macbeth.
The Scots are all about Halloween.

Round about the cauldron go;   
In the poison’d entrails throw.   
Toad, that under cold stone    
Days and nights hast thirty one   
Swelter’d venom sleeping got,   
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.   

     Double, double toil and trouble; 
     Fire burn and cauldron bubble.   

Fillet of a fenny snake,   
In the cauldron boil and bake;   
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,   
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,   
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,   
Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing,   
For a charm of powerful trouble, 
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.   

     Double, double toil and trouble;   
     Fire burn and cauldron bubble.  

Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,   
Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf  
Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark,  
Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark,  
Liver of blaspheming Jew,   
Gall of goat, and slips of yew  
Sliver’d in the moon’s eclipse,  
Nose of Turk, and Tartar’s lips,  
Finger of birth-strangled babe   
Ditch-deliver’d by a drab,  
Make the gruel thick and slab:  
Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron,  
For the ingredients of our cauldron.

     Double, double toil and trouble;   
     Fire burn and cauldron bubble. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Surrounding Myself with Ginger

At first I did not get why I was getting all sorts of ginger flavored candies.  I clearly had not done my homework on what the post chemotherapy nausea landscape might look like and what I might do to combat it.  These people knew more about what I was about to face than I did, and in retrospect I am grateful that they knew more than I did.

I was doing just fine with my anti-nausea medication, sailing along, eating and exercising, wondering what was the big deal.  All that ended on  Day 3.  Not to go into too many, or really, any details, let's just say I figured out very quickly what the big deal was all about.  I spent the entire day trying to get back into control, with modest success, but the thing that I did discover is that ginger really is a big comfort.  Don't leave home without it.  I have almost daily been reminded that there is abundant kindness in the world, and now I include that who taught me about ginger.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Last Five Years (2015)

I cannot remember what the trailer for this movie was like, and what about it attracted me to it, but whatever it was, it misled me completely.
I am sure there are people who love this movie because it is really a musical and in the most modern sense of the word.  But almost literally every word of the movie is sung.  It is at least 90% told in song.  Which I find somewhat annoying, because when people are singing it is a lot harder to tell what they are feeling, or for that feeling to come across as genuine. 
The story is the break up of a relationship.  There clearly is sexual chemistry between the couple but the degree of intimacy they have is hard to gauge.  The don't have conversations, they sing about their relationship instead, and I really don't know how to figure that out.  It may be a very simple story that became way more complicated when they couldn't just tell us stuff.
The one good thing that I can say is that if you like singing, these guys can sing and there is nothing painful about that part of the movie.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Sergei Posad, Russia

 This was our first stop on our short trip around the Golden Ring.
The town's fame rests on the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergii (a Lavra is the highest rank of Orthodox monastery, and there are only four in all Russia), the Russian Orthodox equivalent of the Vatican, which has a complex of medieval buildings to rival those of the Kremlin.
The monastery is named after St. Sergii of Radonezh, a 14th century monk from Rostov whose pious, ascetic existence attracted numerous followers to the hermit's retreat he had established in the forests around Moscow.

In 1476, Ivan the Great instructed craftsmen from Pskov to build the graceful Church of the Holy Ghost, a rectangular structure of white brick, topped by a slender, blue and gold domed bell-tower, which also acted as a lookout post.

Ivan the Terrible's successful assault on Kazan in 1552 was pro
mpted by the advice of Abbot Bassyan, head of the Trinity Lavra, and the Tsar expressed his gratitude by ordering the construction of the Cathedral of the Assumption. It was completed in 1585, during the regency of Boris Gudonov, who lies with his family in a modest tomb beneath the Cathedral walls. The Cathedral is similar in structure to its namesake in the Kremlin - and equally impressive - the major difference being in the color scheme: Here the white walls contrast with four azure domes and a larger central gold one. Inside the Cathedral, a two-headed eagle stands as monument to the time in 1685 when the future Peter the Great took refuge here with his mother and brother from the marauding Streltsy. The boy Tsar was only saved by the sanctity of the place and the fortuitous arrival of a loyal cavalry regiment.
Although the Russian capital moved to St. Petersburg, the Trinity Monastery remained the center of the Russian Church until 1920, when the monastery was closed by the Bolshevik government, and the monks were sent off to labor camps. Stalin permitted the reopening of the monastery as part of victory celebrations in 1946.
Ever since St. Sergii founded the monastery in the 14th Century, it has been a hugely popular destination for pilgrims, revered by all from Tsars to Soviet pensioners (of which you will see many in the chapels). If you have the chance to make only one day trip out of Moscow, then this is certainly where you should go

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Golden Ring, Russia

The Golden Ring is the name for the medieval towns that more or less form a ring as you leave North-East of Moscow.  It's a great route to travel if you want to enjoy the quiet and peaceful life in the Russian province, beautiful countryside views, and enjoy ancient architecture.  The 'classical' route (counter clockwise) starts from Moscow, goes through Vladimir, Suzdal, Kostroma, Yaroslavl, Rostov Velikiy, Pereslavl-Zalesskiy, Sergiev Posad. All cities and towns are located relatively close to each other, the 'Golden Ring' forms a ring, so from one place you can reach to another and make a circle until you get back to the one you started with. We only went to Sergiev Posad, Vladimir, and Suzdal.

These towns played a significant role in early Russian history and in the formation of the Russian Orthodox Church. The towns are full of ancient Russian architecture from the Middle Ages including kremlins (walled fortresses), monasteries, cathedrals and churches. Visiting the Golden Ring will give you a chance to go back in time and imagine a Russia that used to be. The cities are associated with Russian Princes and knights, early Tsars such as Ivan the Terrible, the Mongol invasions and many other historical figures and events. Listening to the history and legends told by your experienced guide will evoke memories of storybooks and fairy tales. The towns of the Golden Ring are all in the Russian countryside which is beautiful – full of forests and fields and rivers and lakes.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Keep Those Cards and Letters Coming

I was visited in the hospital while I was getting some chemotherapy infused by a woman that I know because she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and has been through exactly what I am going through now.  She has worked with the science of the disease, and so she is a wonderful source of support, both from an emotional standpoint (what it is exactly like to go through this) and from the sense of what to do next, once this part is behind me.  She is a gem.

She brought me a card, and she told me that the cards that she got throughout her treatment made all the difference to her.  She kept them all, and she reads through them still.  They are a talisman for her, a reminder of many things.  For me it is manifold as well.  I have been very touched by the sentiments that have been shared.  I love just looking at the images.  I am a visual person and the things that people chose are so wonderfully varied.  I am comforted by the sheer volume of them.  There really are a lot of great people in my life, and at times of trouble it is really nice to be reminded of that.  I do try to be someone who hangs on to what I have rather than dwell on what I have to lose, but it isn't always possible to be so positive, and the cards help keep the good part in focus.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Novodevichy Cemetary, Moscow, Russia

This is the cemetery where everyone who is anyone in Russian history is buried.  It is the most remarkable cemetery I have ever been to and I would highly recommend a visit when you are next in Moscow.

Novodevichye cemetery can be divided into two parts, the "old" one located on the convent grounds and a "new" one which is jointed to the territory of the cloister. From the times of its foundation the New Maiden convent has become the burial place of nuns of noble origin as well as prominent personalities of its time, heroes of Napoleonic war, historians, philosophers, merchants. The "new" cemetery was laid out later and became the most prestigious after the Kremlin necropolis in the Soviet period of time. Once strolling along its alleys you feel like in the park of sculptures. These sculptures are the tombstones of prominent writers, poets, artists, composers which narrate the life stories of their possessors. Some of these well-known personalities were buried here according to their last will. Some were just reburied by the order of Soviet government. Nicolay Gogol , the famous satirical writer, Anton Chekhov, the world famous playwright, were among them. 
The most renowned composers and singers were also entered here including Dmitry Shostakovich, Sergey Prokofiev, Feodor Chaliapin and others.  Chekov's grave is pictured.
The cemetery became also the final resting place for numerous military and political dignitaries and their relatives in the Soviet era, including the First Secretary of the Communist party Nikita Khruschev (see above), the wife of Stalin, Nadezhda Stalin-Allilueva, the wife of the last head of USSR, Raisa Gorbachev.
One of the most notable non-communists recently buried at Novodevichy is Boris Yeltsin, the first elected president of democratic Russia. Just 50 feet away is the grave of Mstislav Rostropovich, the renowned cellist and conductor, who died the same week as Yeltsin. 
These gravestones of prominent people keep riddles which can be revealed by your Moscow tour guide.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Russian Shop Windows

Yes, it is true.  There is caviar everywhere in Russian stores.  I took this photo in a shop in Red Square, the ultimate Russian shopping mall.  I am not much of a shopper myself.  I usually see the inside of more grocery stores than anything else when I am traveling.  I have been known to bring home many souvenirs of travel, but the experience of shopping is not one that I love.  I do enjoy walking in cities, though, and so window shopping is something that I very much enjoy.  Russia is a wonderful place to do that.  The culture is just foreign enough and just similar enough to be a real treat.    I was not prepared for how elegant a culture the Russians have, and as is almost always the case when traveling, I learned something.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Patience, Please

I have always found Oliver Sacks to be a man who was worth listening to, and his experiences as a patient are no different from his observations of his own patients.  It is very wise when you are thrust into the patient role, especially if it is going to last a long time, maybe the rest of your life,  to slow down, pick your battles and figure out what is really important.

All of which is far easier to say than it is to do, of course.  I am pretty sure that I have not even begun down this road.  When I had a prolonged hospitalization for abdominal surgery (they just will not let you go home until you can keep food down, and I was pretty resistant to complying with that criteria) I got a sense of the task in front of me.  Some things I could actually do for my self with a little ingenuity.  Those were the easy things to manage.  After that, though, there is a lot left over, and I had to prioritize what mattered and what did not.  Since I was fairly uncomfortable from the surgery itself, one priority was to minimize additional discomfort.  That helped a lot, because while there are many things that I would have done differently myself, there were very few things that made me uncomfortable to wait to have happen.  So I lay back, literally, read a few books, watched a season of a TV show, and channeled my inner patient patient, waiting to go home.  And it worked.  So up ahead, I need to continue on the path I made baby steps to go down.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Fallen Monument Park, Moscow, Russia

 This is a very unusual place.   There are three distinct styles represented.  The first is a  collection of Soviet sculptures is located in the park area immediately north of the exhibition building. These were removed from public squares and buildings around Moscow after the collapse of the Communist regime. Among the Socialist Realism sculptures are also memorials to the victims of the GULAG camps with Stalin featured prominently in front.
The second is The New Tretyakov Gallery, which is devoted to Russian art from the beginning of the 1900s to the present day. A part of the exhibition includes works of Socialist Realism, the Soviet Union’s only officially recognized art style, represented by paintings and, outside the building, sculptures.
Socialist Realism was an art style developed in the Soviet Union. It became the official state art policy for nearly 60 years and the objective was to further the goals of Communism. Artists who did not follow the official policy were pursued and severely punished. Socialist Realism was officially defined by four rules adopted at the Communist Party Congress in 1934:
  • Proletarian: art relevant to the workers and understandable to them.
  • Typical: scenes of the people’s everyday life.
  • Realistic: in the representational sense.
  • Prospective and revolutionary: supportive of the aims of the State and the Party.
The typical motifs showed happy and muscular farmers and workers at collective farms and factories, heroic portraits of the Communist leaders and romanticized everyday situations. All other kind of art styles, such as Impressionism and Cubism, that were practised in the Soviet countries prior to the revolution, were labeled as “decadent bourgeois art”, counter-revolutionary, unintelligible to the people, degenerative and pessimistic. Socialist realism was openly a part of the systems propaganda. Stalin described the artist as “engineers of souls”.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

The Tretyakov Gallery is a must see stop in Moscow.
The State Tretyakov Gallery possesses a unique collection of Russian art which includes masterpieces which span a period of a thousand years and much of it is unknown to Western eyes--or at least to my Western eyes.
The Gallery was founded by a Russian merchant and patron of the arts Pavel Tretyakov. He donated his collection to the city of Moscow in 1892. The State Tretyakov Gallery has since become a world-famous museum. Nowadays it contains more than 170,000 works by Russian artists from early religious paintings to modern art.  The very best parts are the medieval Russian icons and the ninteenth century Russian painters.  Icons are an acquired taste, but my spouse, who is not at all in love with religious artifacts, finds them fascinating.  The  Tretyakov collection is impressive but it can be hard it's hard for harder core art lovers to get over the derivative, Italian-influenced portraits and landscapes of the 18th Century, but the rejection of the Imperial Academy's restrictive diktats and the attempt to create a national art for the people that gained momentum as the 19th century progressed produced some fascinating results. Fans of Russian literature can entertain themselves by seeing how the concerns and ideals of the great 19th century writers were reflected by the artists of the same period.

The art is one feature of the gallery--the other is the house in which it is housed.  Simply beautiful and a wonderful place to spend an afternoon.  I have never been much of one to hire a guide for a museum, but if you knwo nothing about Russian art, it would be well worth your while to get someone to help show up some of the wonderful highlights of the place.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Noise Reduction Headphones for the Hospital

On the first of quite a few nights that I spent in the hospital recently I was unsurprisingly unable to sleep.  There is the usual hullabaloo around medication dispensing, the taking of blood pressure and temperature, and the need for assistance to do even the simplest tasks.  For me it was compounded by have a nasal-gastric tube which has two very distinct noises.  One was the sound of my own internal juices rushing out of my nose, and the other was a high pitched squealing of the valve.  The squeaking noise could be muffled by a pillow, but not enough to help, and ear plugs just seemed to amplify the rushing sound of fluid leaving my body.  So what to do?

My solution was noise reduction headphones.  I am usually a restless sleeper and so I wasn't sure that they would even stay on my head for the duration of the evening, but I was desperate.  It turns out that post-abdonimal surgery, one does very little moving about, in bed or otherwise.  So these worked like a charm.  I used the Spotify White Noise radio station in the background, and slept like a baby, meaning I slept for two hours, got woken up, poked and prodded, then went back to sleep.  Highly recommended.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Korchma Restaurant, Moscow, Russia

While in Russia we wanted to eat traditional food, and while we spent about half our meals in restaurants that had food from the Caucuses and the central Asia parts of the former Soviet Union, we definitely wanted to experience dumplings, buckwheat blini, and other things that might be thought of as peasant food, but which we very much enjoy. 

We ate here our third night in Moscow, and while it was a little bit over the top in terms of the touristic themes, the food was genuine eastern Ukrainian fare.  Ukraine is a country that has been divided a number of times, with parts of it going to Poland, parts to Russia, and at one point, all to the Soviet Union.  Luckily for the cuisine, those three traditions share some overlapping features.  The one really Russian thing missing here was fresh dill in almost everything. Here dill did not make an appearance.

Our guide told us that the restaurant made it's own horseradish vodka, and that we should be sure not to miss this delicacy.   What happened next is a classic miscommunication between one who is not reading the menu clearly and one who is.  I thought that we should order a small carafe of the vodka rather than getting it by the shot, and my spouse, in an effort to be amiable, asked me if I was absolutely sure, and went ahead.  Well, what we got was quite a lot of vodka that was not exactly to our taste  Live and learn.  It was accompanied by slices of lard served on twigs (if I had known that, I would have been more circumspect about the drink that came with it).  We did get a giant bowl of delicious pickles to help wash it down with as well. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Gluten Free Mexican Wedding Cakes

I have a need to be more conscious of being gluten free.  For the most part, that is almost a non-issue.  I still need to get some gluten free bread crumbs, but I have the flour for when I need it to add to the occasional savory dish, and I very much enjoy many things without flour.  Desserts are another kettle of fish however.  There you either have to serve fruit and custard or you need to make an effort.  This is the first recipe that I have made that is explicitly gluten free.

1 1/2 c. chopped pecans
1/3 c. plus 1 tbs. white rice flour
1 1/4 c. plus 2 Tbs. oat flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 oz. cream cheese
12 Tbs. butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. confectionery sugar to finish

Combine nuts, flours, salt, baking soda, and sugar in a food processor.  Add cream cheese, butter, and vanilla.\ until dough forms a ball.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Shape into balls (I used a #60 scoop).  Bake for 15-20 minutes, then let cool 5 minutes.  Roll in confectionery sugar.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Sleeping on My Back

Yes, I have cancer, and yes, I had a huge surgery, and wouldn't you think that that would trump everything?  Well, of course, both of these things are foremost in my thoughts,  how I am thinking and then working hard to put on my very best attitude, but guess what?  Sleeping on my back is slowly driving me nuts.  It is such a little thing, but despite all of the health reasons to do so (and apparently there are many), I just simply cannot get comfortable on my back.  So as I go into my third straight week of having no other option, I am thinking of all sorts of things to do to ameliorate it.  Maybe I can prop a pillow so that I can tilt ever so slightly to the left or the right.  Maybe I should try some guided imagery to help me drop off to sleep without thinking about it.  But no matter what I try, I still left with that "turtle of my back" sensation of being trapped on my back each and every night.  I am amazed that in the midst of all the really serious things going on in my life that I can still be bothered by the very tiniest of things.  Just talented, I guess.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Protagoras by Plato

This is a dialogue between Socrates and Protagoras which is wide ranging in scope, but centers on the virtues of justice and wisdom.  Protagoras is a sophist who is pretty darn confident that he can make any one who studies with him into a good citizen.  Socrates is not a big fan of the sophists, and the thinking is that it is because they do not choose their students, their students choose them.  For the sophists, cash is king and aptitude comes a distant second, whereas Socrates is more of a fan of the bright and talented student rather than the wealthy student.

Socrates method of dialogue or philosophical inquiry is called the elenchus.  Essentially the person engaged in the dialogue with Socrates, in this case Protagoras, asserts a thesis, and in the case of Protagoras, he starts with the assertion that he can make anyone he teaches a good citizen.  Socrates asks a number of clarifying questions and then moves to securing the agreement to a second premise, one that is linked to the first.  Socrates then argues, and works to get the other person to agree, that what this further premise, or group of premises imply end up being in contradiction to the original thesis.  Socrates then claims that he has demonstrated that the persons original statement or thesis is false.  He is kind of annoying about it, but the progression of the dialogue is in and of itself quite fascinating.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Chocolate Nut Thumbprint Cookies

These cookies are fantastic, so much better than any thumbprint cookie of your childhood.  The nutty flavor of the cookie is well balanced with the chocolate filling.

2 c. finely chopped pecans, toasted
2 1/2 c. flour
16 Tbs. butter
1 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbs. cream
2 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla

6 oz. chocolate, chopped
1/2 c. cream

Heat oven to 375 degrees.
In mixer, mix flour, sugar, butter, cinnamon, salt and pecans until mixed and crumbly.  Add 2 tbs. cream, vanilla, and egg yolks, mix until dough comes together.
Form into balls using a #60 scoop.  Use the back of a measuring spoon to make an indent.  Cook cookies 10 minutes, then take out and remake the indentation.  Bake another 8-10 minutes.  Cool.
Melt chocolate and 1/2 c. cream in microwave.  Let sit 1 hour.  Fill cookies.  Let set completely before storing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Cherish Normalcy

This is very good advice in general.  And considering everything that is going on in my life right now, I am glad that I have made this a priority in the past.

What I am referring to in the immediate present, however, is the ability to eat.  I have never had any difficulty with eating.  I love food, I love to cook, I love to eat at restaurants, I love food to a fault.  Since I had abdominal surgery last week, though, I have had great difficulty with eating.  The gut does not like to be touched.  That is why it is housed in a muscular enclosure that protects it from much manipulation from the outside.  So having abdominal surgery, where hands are all over the gut, and in my case trying to figure out whether I had any tumors in the gut, so they were gone over with a fine tooth comb, every inch was manipulated and massaged, so guess what?  My gut was not happy.  Not at all.  Completely on strike for over a week, and even when it deigned to start working again, it did so ever so slowly.

When I can once again eye something delicious, put it in  my mouth, savor it, and then swallow it without a veritable riot occurring inside, I swear I will be thankful for that pleasure.  Every part of illness makes one all the more grateful for the health I have had.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

This is a fun novel, not too serious, but with enough substance to feel that you are reading something good and worthwhile.  The book is set in Minnesota and the background focus is the burgeoning food culture that has been gaining momentum in the Midwest.  The foreground is a story about a somewhat dysfunctional family.  Lars Thorvald had a working childhood that prevented him from developing in many ways.  He and his brother were in charge of drying fish for lutefisk at a very young age.  The stench alone kept people in general and women in particular away from him.  He was lucky to find a wife who loved him and they married and had a daughter.

Things did not go smoothly.  Lars loved being a father to Eva.  He had become a chef of modest renown by the time she was born, and he fed her his very best dishes, developing her palate at an early age.  Her mother, however, failed to bond properly with her and felt constrained by parenthood, and left  the family when Eva was still quite young.  Shortly thereafter, Lars had an accident and died, and Eva was raised by her aunt and uncle who truthfully just did not get her.  No matter.  Eva was a force unto herself, a woman with an instinct for cooking and food, and the rest of the book tells the tales of her meteoric rise to the top of chefdom.  Fun read, even if you have no Midwestern roots.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Lemon Cookies

Ok, the truth be told, it was very hard to get these cookies to come out looking like this in humid weather, so if the crinkling is important to you, make them in winter.  You will be happier.  But if the cookie doesn't have to look perfect, this is a great summer cookie because they are so lemony it is refreshing.
 1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/4 c. sugar
4 tsp. grated lemon zest
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
4 Tbs. butter, melted
3 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. confectionary sugar

1.  Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl.  Process sugar and lemon zest in the food processor until zest is finely ground (it will smell divine).  Add egg and egg yolk, butter, oil, vanilla and lemon juice and process until pale and thickened.  Stir egg mixture into flour mixture until incorporated.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
2.  Heat oven to 350 degrees. Put confectionery sugar in a bowl.  Working with 100 scoop, scoop and roll balls in confectionery sugar to coat.  Space balls about 2 inches aprt.  Bake 10-12 minutes.  Let cool completely.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Naso-Gastric Tube Experience

Whenever a patient has an abdominal surgery that involves manipulation of the gut in any way, the almost inevitable consequence of that post operatively is to have a tube placed in one nostril that goes down into the stomach.  The tube is then hooked up to suction and the gastric juices that are produced on a continuous basis are sucked out in order to allow the bowel to rest and recuperate. All of this is great, except the tube is truly awful.

First of all, it is a thick hard piece of plastic that one can feel quite painfully in both the nose and the back of the throat.  Then there is the gross factor.  Well meaning people visit you in the hospital and are confronted with unattractive green liquid rushing out your nose into a large container filled with similar looking material.  No one wants to hear that everyone's gastric juices look like this.  All they know is that yours do.  My youngest son thought that I had a ready made Hallowe'en costume without even trying.  Then there is the fact that the tube is heavy and there is no built in accommodation for this--if you let it swing free, your nose will be a wreck in no time, and hospital gowns do not have a pocket for the tube.  Such an oversight.  So the whole experience, while medically necessary, is an unpleasant one.  And don't get me started on having it replaced if it is pulled but then they decide that you actually still need it.  That is the stuff of nightmares.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Taking a Train in Russia

Russia is the place to take a train, there is no doubt about it.  I have long had the fantasy of doing a long train ride at some point, on the order of The Orient Express, but maybe not quite so luxurious and not quite so expensive.  As part of my recent trip to Russia, we took an overnight train from Moscow to St. Petersburg.

First of all, the Moscow train station at night is not at all scary.  Thr train takes off at midnight, and so you might be tempted to have second thoughts.   Do not worry.  We checked our luggage with a luggage check service in the basement and went down the block to the Hilton, which is in one of Stalin's seven sister buildings--well worth seeing in and of itself.  The food is expensive, but very good, and erhaps if we were more acclimatized to Moscow we would have found another plae to eat and stopped at the HIlton for drinks.  That would have been a good idea as well.

The train pulls in at 11:30 and each car has it;s own porter.  Lots of pomp and circumstance, but the rooms are really quite nice, and come stocked with  a light midnight snack.  Really cozy and nice accommodations, with 2 bathrooms shared between 16 people.  The train gently rolled through the night, and about an hour before we arrived in St Petersburg, we were served a hot breakfast.  And the whole thing was very reasonably priced.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Chocolate Oatmeal Moon Pie Cookies

These cookies are the right balance of a number of elements of chewy, crunchy, fruity, earthy, gooey, and chocolate.  You an omit the chocolate drizzle, as I think it adds a very nice element of beauty but it doesn't much enhance the overall flavor of the cookie.  And if you aren't used to it, adds an element of difficulty that shouldn't be a barrier to making these cookies.
  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 1/4 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup dried tart cherries, chopped
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • 3/4 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (4 ounces), chopped into chocolate chip-size chunks
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 7-ounce jars marshmallow creme

Chocolate Dipping Sauce

  • 1/2 cup
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream


  • Arrange racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; preheat to 350°. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Combine oats, cherries, pecans, and chocolate in a large bowl.
  • Using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in another large bowl, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and beat to blend. Scrape down sides of bowl. With machine running at low speed, gradually add flour mixture; beat just to blend. Stir in oat mixture with a wooden spoon just to blend.
  • Usie one tablespoonfuls of dough per cookie (or smaller--use a scoop to improve uniformity. Divide among baking sheets. Using your hands, gently press down on each dough ball until 1/2" thick.
  • Bake cookies for 12-15 minutes.  Do not overbake. Let cookies cool on baking sheets.
  • Spread 1 Tbsp. marshmallow creme on bottom of 18 cookies. Sandwich with remaining cookies.

Chocolate Dipping Sauce

  • Place chocolate and honey in a medium bowl. Bring cream just to a boil in a small saucepan. Pour over chocolate and honey; let stand for 1 minute; stir until melted and smooth. Drizzle over cookies or serve alongside sandwich cookies for dipping.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Send Flowers

I have been logging a lot of hospital hours this last week and one thing that I never understood before it happened to me is that the flowers that you sent to people when they are in the hospital is not so much for their looks as for their smell. 

There are a lot of indignities that one has to endure in the pursuit of getting over illness.  And on occasion that can entail the leakage of various fuids out of one's body.  Not all of that leakage has a pleasant odor.  In fact, most of them can be identified based on their smell alone.  I was lucky enough to score a private room for my hospital stay, all the more lucky because of how long I had to be there.  For me it is all about the ability to deal with my illness on my own and without a stranger looking on, as well as the ability to sleep when I am able, rather than beign subject to not only my own crises but those of my neighbors, but for my husband it was all about the smell.  Thank goodness your room doesn't smell like urine, he said.  Well, true that. 

Which brings me ever circuitously back to the flowers.  My room smells like a florst, not like a hospital room at all.  If you could only rely on your nose, you would not guess where you were.  I rarely send flowers to people in the hospital and I was a complete moron about that.  To me they were just another thing that you would have to carry home with you.  But in fact, they are aroma therapy.  So be sure to include flowers that smell like flowers.  Asiatic lilies are my personal favorites.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Pamyatnik Petru I Statue, Moscow, Russia

This statue and its story actually seems like a reflection on Russian culture, which I could be completely wrong about.  The statue is said to have been made as a tribute to Christopher Columbus on the discovery of the New World, but whoever it was made for decided against it, and there is was, a huge expensive statue that for the most part, really had not plae in Russia.  So what to do with it?

They retooled Christopher's face and instead put the face of Peter the Great on it.  Voila, now it is a Russian statue.  One has to overlook the fact that Peter was tsar during the Age of Enlightenment and that Columbus was sailing the ocean blue almost two hundred years before Peter was born.  so the ship that Peter is standing on bears no resemblance to the time in which he lived. 

Peter did have a passion for shipbuilding though.  He came to Holland in the late 17th century disguised as a common sailor.  He spent four months in Dutch shipyards learning to build ships from start to finish.  His goal was to be able to found the Russian Navy when he got back home.  He needed more training and technical skills to pull that feat off, not to mention a fair amount of capital, but I think that it is a story that captures some of the essence of what he was trying to do in Russia, to bring them from the feudal ages into what in Europe was the modern times.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Italian Seven Layer Cookies

My friend Ivy desperately wanted to make these, and she clearly lacks my aversion to food coloring, but she was the boss of our recent cooking extravaganza and I let her have her way.  These are actually three quite delicious almost cakes held together by apricot jam, and topped with chocolate ganache and are delicious.  You could probably forgo making them the colors of the Italian flag.  Alternatively, you could make them the color of your own favorite flag.

  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 (8-oz) can almond paste
  • 2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 25 drops red food coloring
  • 25 drops green food coloring
  • 1 (12-oz) jar apricot preserves, heated and strained
  • 7 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped
  • Special equipment: a heavy-duty stand mixer; a small offset spatula
  1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 13- by 9-inch baking pan and line bottom with wax paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 ends, then butter paper.
  2. Beat whites in mixer fitted with whisk attachment at medium-high speed until they just hold stiff peaks. Add 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating at high speed until whites hold stiff, slightly glossy peaks. Transfer to another bowl.
  3. Switch to paddle attachment, then beat together almond paste and remaining 3/4 cup sugar until well blended, about 3 minutes. Add butter and beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add yolks and almond extract and beat until combined well, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, then add flour and salt and mix until just combined.
  4. Fold half of egg white mixture into almond mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly. 
  5. Divide batter among 3 bowls. Stir red food coloring into one and green food coloring into another, leaving the third batch plain. Set white batter aside. Chill green batter, covered. Pour red batter into prepared pan and spread evenly with offset spatula (layer will be about 1/4 inch thick).
  6. Bake red layer 8 to 10 minutes, until just set. (It is important to undercook.)
  7. Using paper overhang, transfer layer to a rack to cool, about 15 minutes. Clean pan, then line with wax paper and butter paper in same manner as above. Bake white layer in prepared pan until just set. As white layer bakes, bring green batter to room temperature. Transfer white layer to a rack. Prepare pan as above, then bake green layer in same manner as before. Transfer to a rack to cool.
  8. When all layers are cool, invert green onto a wax-paper-lined large baking sheet. Discard paper from layer and spread with half of preserves. Invert white on top of green layer, discarding paper. Spread with remaining preserves. Invert red layer on top of white layer and discard wax paper.
  9. Cover with plastic wrap and weight with a large baking pan. I put them back in the pans I baked them in, and put one on top, weighed down with cans.  Chill at least 8 hours.
  10. Remove weight and plastic wrap. Bring layers to room temperature. Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat. Keep chocolate over water.
  11. Trim edges of assembled layers with a long serrated knife. Quickly spread half of chocolate in a thin layer on top of cake. Chill, uncovered, until chocolate is firm, about 15 minutes. Cover with another sheet of wax paper and place another baking sheet on top, then invert cake onto sheet and remove paper. Quickly spread with remaining chocolate. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.
Cut lengthwise into 4 strips. Cut strips crosswise into 3/4-inch-wide cookies.

Monday, October 5, 2015

My Harrowing Week

Last week began badly.  I had been having some symptoms that were not in and of themselves distressing, but persistent, and then I had increased bloating combined with a decreased appetite, neither of which are my norm.  So I made an appointment with the GI doctor who had done my colonoscopy (well, in truth, he was out sick so I saw a locums tenens doctor instead).  He was completely unimpressed with my symptoms and scheduled me for an endoscopu.  I was not convinced that would get to the heart of my problem, or at least it would not reassure me that there was not something else going on, so he ordered an abdominal CT, which I got on a Thursday.  Then on Sunday I got a message in my email that my medical record had an update, and that is how I found out that I had ovarian cancer.  I read my own abdominal CT report, sitting on the front porch of my house on a sunny morning, my husband on an airplane and my parents at church, and no one else who I really wanted to talk to.

So welcome to modern medicine, I thought  The good news is that I found out.  I got an appointment to see a gynecological oncologist on Monday, and had my surgery on Thursday.  The bad news, is that ovarian cancer is really bad news, and it doesn't appear that we get really bad news in a personal way.  I am pretty sure the doctor who ordered the test would not have been a better choice for getting the devastating news, nor would I have gotten care any sooner.  But I do know that  it felt strangely representative of the world that we now inhabit, where information comes to us conveniently but inhumanely.  Wish me luck in the weeks and months ahead, and think about ways that you want to hear bad news about your medical condition in the future, because it is already here.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Traveling Advice from my Chinese Seatmates

Today is the birthday of my second son, and I think he would appreciate this sage advice that I got on a recent trip home.  I was sitting between four passengers from China across two rows and they brought noodle soup with them for the trip.  The flight attendant clearly was familiar with the practice, as she brought them hot water in their bottles on a regular basis as they ach ate one or two servings.  The problem with food in airports is actually improving in all ways except for the cost.  But I have had travel instances that are too numerous to count just this year that involved flights delayed and plans to catch a bite foiled.  Sometimes even catching the flight doesn't go that well!  So ts seems like a great way to have a hot meal at a resonable cost that is easy a nd filling and you could even bring some mix ins if you were ambitious.  I know for sure that Tucker would approve of the frugality and the filling nature of this meal in the air.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Molasses Spice Lemon Sandwich Cookies

These cookies are amazing if you are a fan of the old fashioned molasses cookies, which my grandmother used to make (dating them back to at least the 1940's).
This version is jumped up by having a lemon buttercream frosting holding two of them together.
I made these with a #100 scoop, which is about as small as you can go with an easily encountered measuring device (and since they are sandwiches, you want them to be uniform--no one wants to spend oodles of time trying to find two cookies of the same size!  Just make them more or less the same to begin with), so this is more of a cookie to serve as a solo choice than on a plate of multiple cookies.

2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 c. molasses
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 egg
12 tbs. butter, melted
pinch of salt

3 Tbs. butter
3 Tbs. lemon juice
2 c. confectionery sugar

  1. Whisk flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt together in a medium bowl.  In a separate bowl mix sugar, molasses, egg, and butter together, then add the dry ingredients in batches, stirring each time until combined.  Chill dough 1 hour.
  2. preheat oven to 375 degree.  Make equal sized balls, and roll them in granulated sugar, then bake for about 10 minutes, then cool
  3. Make the frosting by whisking butter, lemon juice and confectionery sugar together.  Put enough frosting between two cookies so it can be seen from the edges, but not enough that it squeezes out of the cookie when you bite into it. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Kazan Cathedral, Moscow, Russia

I saw this cathedral early in my trip to Russia and so I was not yet prepared for the vast number of beautiful churches that are part of the landscape.  So I will have to be forgiven for all of the pictures of buildings that I took.  This small but charming Cathedral was built in the 17th century on the north side of Red Square, near the Resurrection Gate. It was built to commemorate the repulsion of Polish invaders, and in honor of the Virgin of Kazan icon. There are two things that are very important in Russian history.  One is the repelling of enemies--they still have the Monguls firmly in their minds.  The other is the importance of beautiful icons.  One of the most revered icons in Moscow, it has been connected more than once with the struggle to protect Russia from her enemies. In 1812, during the Napoleonic wars, a prayer service was conducted before the icon to plead for the safety of the country, and it was even attended by the great Russian commander, Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov.
The building is a cube topped with a cluster of domes and encircled by a gallery. In the north-west corner there is a bell-tower, and in the north-east the chapel of Averkiy Ierapolskiy. The Cathedral was restored between 1925 and 1933 by the great architect-restorer Pyotr Baranovsky. However, this did not stop the Soviet authorities from taking the decision in 1936 to have the Cathedral demolished.
Fortunately, thanks to Baranovsky, blueprints of the building survived, and in 1989 one of his former students, Oleg Zhurin, took charge of the project to rebuild the Cathedral. This was the first church to be rebuilt in post-communist Moscow. On 4 November 1990, Patriarch Aleksei II laid the first stone of the new building, and three years later the Cathedral was back in all its former glory.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Saviour's Tower, The Kremlin, Moscow, Russia

I love the towers of the Kremlin, which each have a star atop them.  The stars are enormous, over 3 meters in diameter, and they are lit from within so that they glow red against the sky at night. 

The Gothic-turreted Spasskaya Tower, considered by many to be the most beautiful tower of the Kremlin, was built under the supervision of Pietro Antonio Solari in 1491, and stands on the north-eastern side of the citadel, bordering Red Square.
The gate of the Spasskaya Tower has been the official entrance to the Kremlin for centuries. Until the 17th century the tower was known as the Frolovskaya, due to its location not far from the St. Frol church and monastery. In 1658 an Icon of the Saviour was mounted above the gate facing Red Square, and the tower's name was changed to Spasskaya by decree of the Tsar. It is just a majestic entry to an equally gorgeous space.

The towers are equally lovely from inside the Kremlin gates as they are from afar.
The Russians have apparently regarded the Spasskaya Tower with great reverence over the long haul. According to old legends, the tower was possessed with miraculous powers and was reputed to protect the Kremlin from enemy invasion. People passing through the gates would always observe the custom of crossing themselves and doffing their hats to show their respect, and horses passing under the gates of the tower were said to shy. In fact, legend has it that Napoleon himself could not prevent his horse from taking fright as he rode through the gates, having failed to show his respect, and the French Emperor's hat was said to have fallen from his head.
During the 16th and 17th centuries the tower was used by the Tsar and the Patriarch for ceremonial processions and for greeting foreign dignitaries, and even today world leaders on state visits are escorted through its gates on their way to an audience with the Russian President. The tower is crowned by an illuminated ruby-red star, which replaced the double-headed Russian eagle in 1937, raising the tower's height to 71 metres.