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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Looking Back, One Last Time

Andy Borowitz, of the New Yorker's Borowitz Report, dubbed 2016 "Shittiest Year Ever", which may be an exaggeration when you think back on some previously terrible years, like 1939 would be one within the last century, and the several that preceded it and some that followed were largely not good.  But I see his point.  And he didn't even have cancer this year.
So for me, it has been the triple threat.  My health is stable but with looming concerns. My work has been harder to do than it ever has at any time in my life.  Then there is the final blow. My country really feels like it is going to hell in a hand basket, and I can't really figure out why anyone would not have voted to prevent this.  Even members of my family failed to vote to prevent this from happening, which will be very hard to get ver.  It may not ever happen, and it certainly isn't happening soon.  If anything, I fell worse about it than I did during the post-election.  So there you have it.  I hope that those of us who hate this totalitarian, xenophobic, homophobic, misogynistic, racist agenda can prevail.  That is what I hope.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (2016)

This is a feel good movie, one that does focus a bit on the differences between people, but is largely about celebrating greatness. T.S. Spivet is the underloved son of a father who is a cowboy.  His brother is a chip off his father's block and in that vein, he manages to shoot himself and die while the boys are largely unsupervised b their busy father and their distracted mother.  TS blames himself and throws himself into his projects, one of which is the perpetual motion machine.  He designs a prototype and submits it for a contest at the Smithsonian and lo and behold, he wins.  The movie is about his adventures on the way to the award ceremony, his travels and experiences on the road, and the revelation that he comes to about his mother and father and himself as well.  Really unrealiztic but heart warming.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Homemade Life Update

This was my year to get back on the crafting horse, and it worked out pretty well in the end.  It has been a year and half since I thought it would be a good idea to try to make quilts again, and I spent several months working on planning my first quilt in many years.  Then I was diagnosed with cancer, had a very rocky course of chemotherapy that involved almost as many unplanned admissions to the hospital as planned ones, and I did not make any more progress on that goal, no surprise there, than to start to embroider pillow cases again.  Considering, that was probably pretty good--I did give my immediate family a pillow case that I had embroidered for the holidays last year, but that was all I managed.  I got chemotherapy the week after Christmas, and by New Years Eve I was terribly sick in the intensive care unit.  Then came the spring.  I finished the hardest part of chemo, and I started taking a couple of classes at my local sewing shop, starting very slowly with a napkin making class.  It was just what I needed.  I have made literally dozens of napkins since, enough to  give lost of people home made ones, and I have finished four quilts, have one that I am quilting now, and I also made ten really cool market bags, a very impressive case to carry my sewing supplies to classes in, and have a couple of other projects enough under way that I feel sure that I will finish them.  Even better, I set up a place to sew that works for me, and made doing all of this pleasurable.  So I have big hopes for 2017.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Miss You Already (2015)

This was hard going for me, based mostly on content.  Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette play childhood best friends who have maintained that friendship well into their adult lives.  They share literally everything up to a point, when Collette gets married and has children and in some ways becomes the dominant force in the friendship.  But Barrymore is there for her every step of the way, and then it all goes very wrong.  Instead of being the golden girl, Collette develops breast cancer, and she has a rocky course of chemo, followed by a double mastectomy (which I think is portrayed as both disfiguring and surgically complicated, so not candy coating that part), and then by relapse and ultimately she dies of her disease.  The emotional pain of this is very raw and seems quite real to me, as a person who is experiencing some of it both physically and emotionally.  So a very tearful movie for me, but well done.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Roscioli Restaurant, Rome, Italy

 This restaurant was right down the block from our rented apartment, and we knew about it in two ways.  The woman who we rented the apartment from recommended it as a place that was nearby and good, and because Mario Battali has said a thing or two about it.  That said, they have a cookbook that more or less a recreation of their menu--so if you have something here that you want to recreate, you can get the cookbook and give it a try.  The down side of going to restaurant where Mario Battali has alerted people to is that it is packed.  Always.  A reservation is a must, and the service is definitely slow as a result of the crowd.
The charcuterie and cheese at this place is the whole reason to go here.  They do a good job with pasta,a nd they have some interesting other things on the Secgundi menu,  you really shouldn't pick this place if you are not going to try this.  It is spectacular, in that each component part shines in and of itself and by the time you finish the plate, you are wondering two things.  One is where did that enormous pile of food go, and two, should we get another one.  That was our only real mistake, not getting more, and the blame for that lays solely with me, and I would not make the same mistake again.
While the salume and cheese plate was the clear winner for the meal, the famous Roman artichokes were at least on the map for honorable mention.  So was the burrata with cherry tomatoes.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016)

Let me start off by saying that Tina Fey is fantastic in this movie.  She really nails the part, and she is engaging and convincing.   This movie got mixed reviews from others who are far better known for their critical analysis of films disagree with me, and perhaps they have a better sense than I what the gallows humor that photographers and journalist have when they are in war torn regions.  It is certainly true that many of them have given their lives doing their jobs.  I am particularly struck by Tim Hetherington's story.  He made the compelling documentary 'Restrepo' while embedded with American troops in Afghanistan and then was killed in the action in Misurata, Libya in the Arab Spring.  These folks face real danger to put the news on our tables everyday.
Fey plays Kim Baker, a reported who spends time in Afghanistan either in Kabul holed up with other reporters in a sort of alcohol fueled college frat kind of experience interspersed with the adrenaline rush that comes with being in combat when they are embedded with U.S. troops.  Billy Bob Thornton is commendable as the commander of U.S. forces that Baker works with and Martin Freeman as the charming scamp of a reporter who loves and ultimately leaves Baker.  Very funny in a dark gallows sense.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Home for the Holidays

We have been very blessed with having our family more or less around us at the holidays, and while it is increasingly difficult to accomplish that, the same was true this year.  Two sons now live farther away but my parents have moved to town, so the house can still accommodate out of town guests, and there are other options in town as well.  Why does it even matter to me?  I think there is a lot about Christmas that has nothing to do with religion.  For example, many of the symbols and ceremonies are secular, stemming more from the Winter Solstice than from religious institutions.  And acknowledging the seasons is something that I really am all about.  The other is that it is a time when everyone can be together without a huge amount of difficulty.  Some businesses shut down altogether and most do not conduct much in the way that is meaningful because there are so many people gone.  So I revel in the company of those that I am close to, having big festive meals and enjoying what the season has to offer.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Hanukkah Reflections

The truth be told, Hanukkah is a very minor holiday that celebrates an event that was not a big deal involving people who were not so very nice.  However, while I would ordinarily downplay this as an excuse to light beautiful candles, which I love, and to eat fried food, which is yet another pitfall of the holiday season, this year I feel differently.  I remain quite upset about the outcome of the presidential election, where we as a country managed to elect, not by majority vote, a man who is frightening.  He is openly racist, degrades women, people of color, immigrants, disable people, you name it he thinks it is beneath him.  The people who claim that this is not what the take home message from the election is, that it is the decline of working class white Americans and their anger at being abandoned that elected such a man.  I say bullshit.  These things were not deal breakers for them, and that reflects their values.  They are much more willing to accept the fiction that this sort of man would care at all about them, that he would not rob the country blind, which will leave them even worse off, that his cabinet wants to take every little thing they have left, and leave them without healthcare, retirement money, and jobs with a future.  I only hope that we still have the ability to vote when he is done with us, and that he will unite progressives and force them to action in a way that no other man has.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Now You See Me 2 (2016)

I very much enjoyed this somewhat improbable movie about a group of magicians who call themselves the Four Horsemen pulling off spectacular heists.  The premise of this is perhaps a little complex for a "Part 2" movie, because even though I saw the first one, I was having some difficulty following the relationships and identifying who the good guys versus who the bad guys were.  That is never good, when the thriller is too complicated to follow, because for the most part you watch a movie like this so that you can eat popcorn and not use brain power, but once I read a synopsis of the first movie, it all came back to me, and I managed to keep up.  However, a word of warning, this might be even more challenging if you haven't seen the first one, so watch them in order, that would be one word of advice.  This is a movie with tremendous actors who far outshine the script, the plot, and the premise, so if you just like to watch good actors in motion, this is a diversionary movie that is worth the time it takes to watch.  It will not leave you thinking, it is just for fun.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

I was pleased to see this book on a number of list of best books published last year, because I have enjoyed each and every book by her.  And this one is exceptional, in a really understated way.  The book opens with a long and detailed telling of a man who crashes the christening party of someone that he barely knows and ends up kissing the man's wife and then marrying her.  Wow, I didn't see that coming.  The rest of the book is a compact saga of what happens from then on and a bit of what led up to it.  As s so often the case, the intruder did not simply sweep his coworker's wife off her feet, she was ripe for the wooing.
In other hands (mine included), this would be an epic, a sprawling chronicle of events and relationships spread out over dozens of chapters. But not so here.  This is like the book 'Homegoing' in that it tells a very big story in a series of short vignettes over about three hundred pages. Not only are whole decades missing, but they’re also repeatedly presented out of order. The reader is not so much told this story as allowed to listen in from another room as a door swings open and closed.  We are ease dropping and drawing our own conclusions,  Just brilliant and possible to read in a long afternoon.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Christmas Movie

 I don't exactly know what got into me this holiday season, but while I was sick this week, I watched a number of Christmas movies.  One of the under recognized benefits of a service like Netflix is that you can find this genre without really breaking a sweat.  While I was a tad febrile and bed bound, I immersed myself in the movies of the season.  I have to say that while I am a bit skeptical in general that one's mood can be positively influenced by a movie or two, I do have to admit it helped a bit with the post-election funk that I have been in.
The underlying themes that I ended up appreciating about these movies was the hopefulness and the belief in the goodness of others.  I would have been happier if this goodness was somehow not tied to the season, but rather a feature of mankind, something that we should strive for at all times, but maybe this is as good as it gets, that we have seasons for giving and being thoughtful and doing the right thing, and that time is now, when it is coldest and darkest and so we have to dig deeper to find all of that, but that the holidays can inspire that in us.  Or maybe it is just sappy....

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

In the Heart of the Sea (2016)

This seemed like an intense movie, and for that reason we had it on our shelf for quite some time before we managed to watch it, and that, it turns out, was a mistake.  I do get why this Ron Howard epic was a bomb at the box office, because I swear, we had this movie since September, and there never seemed to be a good time to watch it.  So I really suggest that on one of the holiday weekends that occurs over the next couple of months that you consider watching this wonderful retelling of the Moby Dick story.
This is a very good sea adventure movie in and of itself, one that is about whalers but is in fact very sympathetic to whales.  The whaling industry is waning and so are the abundant whale populations that were hunted and harvested for their oil.  It seems that there is always a time when an old form of income for the middle class is waning and another is rising.  Now we have steel manufacturing and the coal industry.  Then it was whaling.  This rendition of the story of Moby Dick, which is told from the perspective of the tale that inspired the book rather than the events of the book itself, is very well done and gripping to watch.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Nutshell by Ian McEwan

This is an odd book, even by Ian McEwan standards.
  His last several books have been pared down, and this one is no exception.  It is the tale of deceitful plotting and murder told from the perspective of an unborn child, who is witness to it all.  The story is the classic triad.  A man, his wife, and his brother.  We do not have to go very far back in literature to find parallel tales to this one, but this is like Hamlet only phase advanced to the womb.  So poor Ophelia skips that fate.  And the fetus actually is far more effectual than ill fated Hamlet.  This is more of a suspenseful comedy than it is a tragedy.  Ok, dark comedy, because the deceitful couple do indeed kill off the cuckolded husband while his wife is pregnant with his child (our narrator), but justice is somewhat served in the end.  You could see that a follow up story might be in the offing.  This could even be a trilogy, recapitulating other literary classics in the future.  This is an easy read, something for an afternoon. I read it on a plane, and it was very enjoyable.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Baslamic Pearl Onions

20 ounces frozen pearl onions (2 bags)     2 tablespoons olive oil   1 cup balsamic vinegar  1 cup water
Thaw onions.
In a large heavy skillet heat oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and sauté onions until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add vinegar and water and simmer, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer onions with a slotted spoon to a platter, reserving liquid. Glazed onions may be prepared up to this point 2 days ahead and onions and reserved liquid, chilled separately, covered. Reheat onions in reserved liquid, adding a little water if necessary, and transfer with slotted spoon to platter. Simmer reserved liquid until thickened and syrupy and reduced to about 1/2 cup.  Season with salt and pepper.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Boss (2016)

Melissa McCarthy is someone who I pretty reliably find to be funny, even when the movie she is in is only so so.  This is definitely one that could have been skipped, but was alright to watch on a week night during exam period, when truly deep films that you have to concentrate on are not welcome.  She plays a natural born sales woman with a touch of the con artist in her.  She is just released from a short prison term as the film opens and since she had conned quite a number of friends and people who worked for her, who were suddenly out of a job and a lot of money, she is not too popular.  She gets taken in by her former assistant, whose daughter takes a liking to her, and then she proceeds to take advantage.  It is like she can't help it.  Up until when she can, and it does end well.  Very diverting.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Street of Eternal Happiness by Rob Schmitz

I was assigned this book by my nephew, who is living in Shanghai this year and whom I am going to be visiting in a short time.  It is a really interesting book told from an incredibly personal perspective.  The author delves into the story of his closest neighbors and others like them whose lives provide a glimpse of the seismic changes taking place in modern China. He literally follows the histories of those who he knows from his years of living in Shanghai, and lets their stories be reflective of  what has happened to China as a whole over the past 50 years. The result is a look at how, on issues ranging from urbanization to religion and the rise of the consumer class, everyday Chinese people are navigating the country’s political, economic and social currents.  It is a daunting tale of bad timing, luck, ingenuity, gullibility, and the unfairness of the winds of fortune.  Overall, everyone's boat has risen, but watching some boats rise much higher has the consequences that you would expect.  I think that disenfranchised Americans would do well to read some of these stories, because some of the parallels are remarkable.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Cacio e Pepe

This is a great Roman dish that we had several times on our most recent trip there.  It was spectacular.  and it is simple but you must be detail oriented, and even then it might not be perfect.

  • Salt
  • 1 ½ cups finely grated pecorino Romano, plus more for dusting completed dish
  • 1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper, plus more for finishing the dish
  • ¾ pound tonnarelli or other long pasta like linguine or spaghetti
  • Good olive oil
  1. Put a pot of salted water on to boil. In a large bowl, combine the cheeses and black pepper; mash with just enough cold water to make a thick paste. Spread the paste evenly in the bowl.
  2. Once the water is boiling, add the pasta. The second before it is perfectly cooked (taste it frequently once it begins to soften), use tongs to quickly transfer it to a bowl that has been heated in the microwave, or over the pot of pasta water , reserving a cup or so of the cooking water. Stir vigorously to coat the pasta, adding a teaspoon or two of olive oil and a bit of the pasta cooking water to thin the sauce if necessary. The sauce should cling to the pasta and be creamy but not watery.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Sing Street (2016)

This is a very charming movie about a high school aged boy whose family is slowly falling apart.  Conor manages to avoid the downward spiral that his parents are bent on putting themselves and everyone under their roof through, but a chance encounter with a girl in a group home gives him the idea to join a band and improbable as it sounds he manages to do that.  He is connected to a talented musician who is a bit socially awkward, but very good with a guitar, and willing to play original music and compose.  Conor has quite a talent for song writing and he develops both a stage persona and a talent for staging music videos.  He is unlikely to go anywhere with this, but it does get him through the worst of adolescence and that is saying something.  His friendship with the girl is romantic on his part, but in a very typical 15 year old kind of way, a halting and slow kind of teen relationship.  One fine day she informs him that the reason she is without parents is because her father sexually abused her over a period of years.  He does not then try to bed her.  If anything he slows down, and it is a sweet sort of thing.  Right up until almost the end.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Palazzo Altemps Museum, Rome

 First and foremost, this is an incredible building.  We went to see the sculpture pictured below, but the house itself was absolutely worth seeing.  The thing that it brought home for me was that this was every day life for the elite of Rome back in the day.  They were surrounded by this beauty on a daily basis, and even the general public had access to art because of all the public buildings that had ample art on display.  This would be a good place to get the Architectural pass, which would get you into the Roman Forum and the Colosseum without a line.
My favorite sculpture was without doubt this one of a Gaul killing himself rather than be captured.  The Romans valued the worthy foe, and this piece is all about a soldier killing himself and his wife rather than to be enslaved.  The rendering of the wife as lifeless and he about to die is absolutely fantastic, and you can walk around the whole piece, which allows you to see it from many angles, each of which show off a slightly different point of view.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Broccoli Salad with Garlic and Sesame

We have now almost completely depleted the vegetables that we got from our CSA and are back to shopping at the likes of Costco (and our wonderful local Asian market) for our daily greens.  It is strangely disappointing to have a choice in what we eat rather than just going with what comes out of the ground.  We do have a couple of squash and a handful of kohlrabi, as well as some canned and pickled vegetables to remind us of what once was in 2016, but here is an attempt to make something new.  It is simple and delicious.

  • 1 ½ teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
  • 2 heads broccoli, 1 pound each, cut into bite-size florets
  • ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 fat garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons roasted (Asian) sesame oil
  • Large pinch crushed red pepper flakes.
  1. In a large bowl, stir together the vinegar and salt. Add broccoli and toss to combine.
  2. In a large skillet, heat olive oil until hot, but not smoking. Add garlic and cumin and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in sesame oil and pepper flakes. Pour mixture over broccoli and toss well. Let sit for at least 1 hour at room temperature, and up to 48 (chill it if you want to keep it for more than 2 hours). Adjust seasonings (it may need more salt) and serve.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Dark Horse (2015)

I have no idea how it came that I picked this movie out, but I really enjoyed it.  A middle class community in Wales decides that they are going to breed and race a horse on their own, despite the tremendous odds against them.  they pool their money and buy a horse, get her a stud, and produce a horse that they convince a respectable trainer to train.  They do this essentially on a shoe string and with shared financing between them all, so they all feel like they have a stake in his success.  The documentary style does not in the least take away from the story.  It is such a good one, and the emotions are really fun to follow.  The horse does not have a problem free career, but the love that the town has for him and the fun that they have being race horse owners, despite the ups and downs, is really very fun to watch.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Retrobottega Restaurant, Rome

 This restaurant was the most interesting new cuisine that we ate when we were in Rome.  The food was very interesting and both the quality of the preparation and it's presentation were really quite good.  We stayed in the neighborhood around the Pantheon and it was very easy to get to, and a congenial crowd.  We initially had to wait a bit, but not too long and it was well worth it.  The anchovy appetizer was really quite beautiful, and the pickled vegetables that were paired with them were lightly flavored and delicious.
 The restaurant itself was set up in an interesting fashion.  There is a weird level of service.  The tables have drawers and you have to get your place setting and glass out of the drawer yourself.  A lot of it is disposable, which seems weird in a city where you have to sort your garbage.  Then you go to the cooler and serve yourself beverages.  If you want coffee (which I seem to always want because by the time I am no longer jet lagged it is time to go home), then you make it yourself.
This was my favorite dish that I had.  The pasta was a bit too al dente for me, but this combination of squash with whipped chestnut puree was exceptional in terms of being flavorful and a good pairing.  Excellent food. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Chicken Korma

Once again, our eldest son is making food that is more complex than what we are mustering at home!

    For the Chicken Marinade
  • 3 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • For the Sauce
  • 2 white onions, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 4 teaspoons curry powder
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 large tomatoes, diced small
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger root
  • 1/2 cup ground almonds
  • 1 cup unsweetened canned coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 cups plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1 jalapeno, de-seeded and minced
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar (packed)
  1. Drizzle the chicken with the oil and sprinkle on the garam masala, curry powder, salt and pepper. Massage into the meat and cover, leaving to marinate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
  2. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Grill the chicken for 5-6 minutes per side, until cooked through.
  3. Meanwhile, make the sauce: place the onions, garlic, and 1 cup of water in the bowl of a blender. Puree until smooth.
  4. Measure out the spices (curry powder through cumin) into a small bowl.
  5. In a large saucepan heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the pureed onion mixture and cook for a 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, until it begins to darken in color.
  6. Add the tomatoes, ginger, ground almonds, coconut milk, yogurt, red chili, pre-measured spices, and brown sugar. Stir well.
  7. Turn the heat down to low and simmer 30 minutes. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and add to the pan; simmer for an additional 15 minutes. Serve with steamed basmati rice and/or naan.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Money Monster (2016)

I was a bit worried about this movie after watching the trailers.
  In the end, it was very well done, and entertaining.  George Clooney plays a self-centered obnoxious cable TV host of a financial advice show, where he does everything big.  The recommendations are no fail, the mistakes of others are unforgivably stupid, and everyone exists to please him.  What's not to like?  Pretty much everything.  His producer is played by Julia Roberts and she is in contrast everything that you would want in a co-worker, including that she sticks with you to the bitter end.
Clooney gets taken hostage on national TV, and is being held accountable for a bad tip that he gave.  As the crew look into the allegations of wrong doing, they begin to feel that there really was something fishy about a company that seemed like a sure fire thing tanking over a matter of hours.  The script is smart and funny and you even manage to like Clooney by the end.  Watch for entertainment, not to think too much.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Maccheroni Restaurant, Rome

 This restaurant was a short (and flat) walk from our apartment, and recommended by a friend.  Such a nice place, in a  low key sense.  the pasta dishes are the stars.  We had the Roman signature pasta dish, which is cacio e pepi.  The ingredients are very simple and include pecorino romano, black pepper,  nd stirred in pasta water to make a creamy sauce.  Sounds straight forward, but the devil is in the details.  Mixing in the pasta water needs to be done into a warmed bowl and slowly so as to get just the right consistency.
The results are worth it.  My favorite dish was the ravioli with zucchini flower sauce.  So rich!  Our son who ordered this was very unhappy about the prospects of having to share it, so we had to order another one.  The pasta with truffles was also quite good and the salads are delicious.  Skip the house wine and order something a little bit better, it was worth it. The service is swift and the wait staff were a lot of fun to interact with.  A great choice.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Red Rooster Short Ribs

This is the dish that the chef Marcus Samuelsson made for President Obama when he visited the restaurant Red Rooster Harlem.  And what is good enough for Obama is most definitely good enough for us.

  • 8 (6-ounce) English-cut short ribs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, trimmed and chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 lemongrass stalk, trimmed, smashed and minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 (1-inch) piece ginger, peeled and minced
  • ½ cup dry red wine
  • 3 cups beef or chicken broth
  • ½ cup plum sauce
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 2 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Freshly grated horseradish, for serving (optional)
  1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Pat meat dry with paper towels and season all over with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat grapeseed oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When oil shimmers, add short ribs and brown on all sides, about 2 minutes per side; transfer to a plate.
  3. Add onion, carrot, celery, lemongrass, garlic and ginger to the pot. Season with salt and cook, stirring often, until onion softens, about 5 minutes. Pour in wine and cook, stirring to dissolve any of the brown bits that may still be on the bottom of the pot. Add broth, plum sauce, soy sauce, thyme, parsley and bay leaves and bring to a simmer.
  4. Return short ribs to pot, along with any juices, cover and slide pot into oven. Braise until meat is fork-tender, about 2 hours.
  5. Transfer meat to a plate. Strain braising liquid into a fat separator. If you don't have a fat separator, use a ladle to skim the fat off the top of the braising liquid; then strain through a fine mesh sieve.
  6. Discard bay leaves and thyme stems and transfer vegetables to a food processor. Process vegetables until smooth, then add 1 1/2 cups of the defatted braising liquid to the processor and pulse to combine.
  7. Return sauce to Dutch oven and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add short ribs and turn to coat in the sauce; set aside until you’re ready to serve.  Make sure the sauce is thinned, and put ribs on top, sauce on the bottom, and reheat.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Central Intelligence (2016)

Weirdly, I am now a Duane Johnson fan.  I watched this on a recent transatlantic flight, which is a situation where I could be very forgiving about the quality of the movie.  No need in this case.  Johnson plays a guy who was a bit bullied in high school but now is a bad ass CIA agent who has gone rogue in order to figure out who within the agency has been selling secrets to the enemy.  He enlists the only person who was nice to him in high school, a guy who was Mr. Everything who is now a bored numbers guy. Together they form a team that prevails in the end.  It is funny, mixed with a little action and nothing objectionable.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Trajan's Roman Legacy

 The market that Trajan built in 112 AD is remarkable in and of itself, and I am sure it was a marvel in Trajan's time.  The Romans had been building with concrete since Nero erected his Golden Palace in 64 AD, after the great fire that decimated housing throughout the area around the Roman Forum.  Vespasian, the emperor who came out on top of the power struggle that followed Nero's forced suicide, literally drained the lake on Nero's property and built the Coliseum, also with concrete.  Vespasian literally obliterated the vestiges of a bad emperor.
Trajan was a go big or go home kind of guy.  Trajan's column, built as both a triumph and a funerary monument is enormous and detailed.  The column contains over 150 scenes with 2,500 individuals carved in a continuous historical relief up into the air.  The conquest of the Dacians brought lots of gold into Rome and with it he built a modern marketplace as well as a large forum and this column.  The market, built right into the hillside, was the first known modern mall.  Rome was a city of about a million people by Trajan's time, and the market offered shop fronts and office space to conduct business in a compact and central area.  It is a marvel, even now.  Trajan used the best architect of the day, a man named Apollodorus of Damascus, who left his mark on the ancient world.  This is a must see sight that may get left off your travel schedule in Rome.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Ham with Cherry Port Sauce

Thanksgiving weekend was an orgy of food for us, which is saying something given that we had been in Rome the week before!
Ham is one of my favorite poet-turkey meals, and we served this with a traditional macaroni and cheese as well as non-traditional sides like eggplant with chickpeas and pomegranate molasses and roasted asparagus.

1 spiral-sliced, bone-in ham (7 to 10 pounds)
1 large oven bag (plastic)
3/4 cup ruby port
3/4 cup cherry preserves
1-1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1-1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  1. It is important that you do not unwrap your ham. Leave it fulled wrapped in plastic, but remove any outer wrapping (such as plastic mesh). Discard any glaze that comes with your ham, after reading the list of ingredients so that you understand how disgusting it would be to actually use it.
  2. Put wrapped ham in a large tub (or small ice chest) and fill hot tap water. Allow to sit for 45 minutes. Drain the water and fill with more hot tap water, and allow to sit for another 45 minutes. This will allow the ham to gently come up to temperature, and significantly reduce the amount of time that the ham spends in the oven.
  3. Set an oven rack to the bottom of your oven and pre-heat to 250-degrees. Unwrap the ham and remove the plastic disk covering the bone from the bottom of your ham. Put in an oven bag, and close the bag snugly over your ham. Put ham in a roasting pan (or Pyrex casserole) cut-side-down. Use a paring knife to make four 1″ slits in the top of the bag, which will prevent the bag from inflating (and popping) during baking.
  4. Bake for about 10 minutes per pound (e.g. 11-pound ham took 110 minutes). The center of the ham should reach 100-degrees; measure only in spiral slices, not the unsliced top portion. Remember the ham was fully cooked at the factory, you are only re-heating it; not re-cooking it.
  5. With 20 minutes cooking time remaining, put small saucepan over medium burner and reduce 3/4 cup port to 3 tablespoons; about 10 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and continue cooking over medium heat for 10 more minutes; until it reduces to 1-1/2 cup.
  6. Remove ham from oven, and increase your oven to 350-degrees. Cut the oven bag open and roll down the sides to that the ham is exposed, and brush the ham evenly with 1/3-cup of the glaze. Bake for 10 more minutes.
  7. Remove ham from oven bag, reserving the juices to loosen the glaze. Again, brush the ham evenly with another 1/3-cup of the glaze. Loosely tent with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
  8. Add 1/2-to-3/4 cup of the ham juices to the remaining glaze. Place over medium burner until it becomes a thick sauce.
  9. Carve your ham, serving with the sauce passed separately.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Hole in the Wall (2015)

This is maybe a little bit too much of an independent film to be absolutely entertaining, but it is a good concept that is competently conveyed.  The story is about an immigrant who has a wonderful salsa that he has brought from his homeland.  He and his sister come to the United States and open a small tacqueria that has a loyal following.  He dreams of expanding it, making something of himself through his food and his passion for flavor.  He stumbles a bit along the way, he is subverted, he makes some friends, he has a little bit of luck, and he works very hard.  He is honest and likable and not everyone is.  I feel that the basis of this is a pro-immigrant story, about what we have as a result of our immigrant culture that other places lack, and what may be undergoing a bit of undue criticism.  So in a way this is a perspective that can maybe be part of the solution.  Or maybe it is just about a guy trying to make his way.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Pervasive Harrassment of Women

Sadly, we will do anything to avoid talking about the public harassment of women.  It seems that no one really talks about men who touch women's genitals in public.  Until we all heard Donald Trump brag that he does it all the time and no one says anything about it at all.  Now we hear about it all the time, that now that he is the president elect that it appears that some men think this makes it okay to invade women's genitals.  And to talk about them sexually when they don't even know them.In the wake of Trump's recorded behavior, I have asked a lot of people if it has happened to them.  Well, it turns out that is true of a lot of women and they really pretty much don't talk about it.  It isn't only that he is rich and famous and powerful.  It appears that the casual and intrusive touching of women goes on silently, and many men feel they can do it.  So can something good come out of all this?  Can we now start talking about it, calling men out when they do it, and get some public support for the effort?  Because we are rapidly devolving and it is up to each and every one of us to prevent it from going further. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Spaghetti Squash and Potato Gratin

We had this Thanksgiving weekend, as an alternative potato dish that incorporated some of the squash of the season (we are a family that had butternut squash and sweet potatoes on Thanksgiving day and did not have a huge amount left over, so we do like our squash).  The dish really tastes like potatoes!

1  spaghetti squash
2 cups half and half
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 cup grated Parmesan
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3 pounds potatoes

Roast the squash.

Meanwhile, combine the cream, butter, garlic, thyme, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large saucepan. Peel the potatoes, then slice them paper thin on a mandoline, placing them in the cream mixture as you slice. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, then remove from the heat.

When the squash is cool enough to handle, slice it in half, scoop out the seeds, then scrape out the flesh with a fork into a medium bowl. Discard the skin and seeds.

Layer the bottom of the prepared baking dish with 1/2 the potatoes. Top with 1/2 the squash, then the remaining potatoes, then the remaining squash. Pour all the liquid from the potato mixture into the baking dish, and press the vegetables down to submerge. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan on top. Put the baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake until golden brown and a knife slides easily into the potatoes, about 1 hour. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Finding Dory (2016)

On my recent trip I watched some sequels, and while this was no where near as great as Finding Nemo, it was cleverly scripted with endearing characters and it did not fail to entertain.
The Dory character stole the show in the original movie, and so it seems reasonable for her to star in this one.  The story itself is the weakest link in the whole movie.  Dory suddenly remembers that she has parents and sets out to find them.  She has the usual adventures that you would expect in a competently made Disney movie, and it comes to the logical conclusion with a brief period of cliff hanging, all of which is very pleasant.
It is definitely a movie that delivers exactly what you would expect.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

I am still struggling with what the appropriate amount of activism is going to work for me. The choice of a neo-Nazi to head Trump's transition team is very disturbing.  He has said that the problem with women could be solved by prohibiting washing machines and birth control.  He actually said it would make us happier if we were saddled with a dozen kids and the lack of modern conveniences.  I am pretty sure that he wants to go back to the 1850's not the 1950's.  Back when white men actually thought they invented everything in the world and had every right to keep it.  Such thinking demonstrates a shockingly poor education and a dangerous outlook for someone in power.  Bannon has also proven his fellow 'alt right' (really, neo-Nazis with better PR) folks are superb trolls (no surprise there.  Meanness becomes them) and so there should be overt and covert operations to undermine such people.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Creme Anglaise and Caramel Sauce

My eldest son made this for Thanksgiving dinner (he made it with gluten free flour and it was fabulous).  Took forever, but it was delicious.

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 cup pure canned pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons bourbon
Pumpkin Bread, toasted and cubed, recipe follows
Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise, recipe follows
Spicy Caramel Apple Sauce, recipe follows
Freshly whipped cream

Pumpkin Bread:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing
1 3/4 cups  flour
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup canned unsweetened pumpkin puree
2 large eggs
2/3 cup water
Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise:
2 cups half-and-half
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
5 large egg yolks
1/3 cup pure cane sugar

Spicy Caramel Apple Sauce:
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup apple juice
1 star anise
1 -inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
4 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Custard for Bread Pudding:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Combine the cream, milk, vanilla bean and seeds in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer.

Whisk together the yolks, sugar, maple syrup, and pumpkin puree in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the hot cream mixture until combined, remove the vanilla pod, and whisk in the bourbon. Strain the custard into a clean bowl.

Scatter the pumpkin bread cubes in a buttered 9 by 13-inch baking glass baking dish. Pour the custard over the bread, pressing down on the bread to totally submerge it in the custard. Let sit for 15 minutes to allow the bread to soak up some of the custard.

Place the pan in a larger roasting pan and pour hot tap water into the roasting pan until it comes half way up the sides of the glass dish. Bake until the sides are slightly puffed and the center jiggles slightly, about 1 hour.

Remove from the oven and water bath and cool on a baking rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Spoon some of the Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise into a shallow bowl, top with some of the bread pudding and drizzle with the Spicy Caramel Apple Sauce. Top with freshly whipped cream. Bread pudding is best served warm.

Pumpkin Bread:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter or lightly spray the bottom and sides of a 9-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in a small bowl.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the 4 tablespoons softened butter, sugar, and oil at high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl a few times.

Add the pumpkin puree and mix until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until just incorporated. At low speed, slowly add the flour mixture and water and mix until just combined. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 60 to 75 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a baking rack for 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and let cool completely.

Once the bread is cool, slice in half lengthwise, and then slice each half into 1/2-inch cubes. Spread the cubes on a large baking sheet and bake in a 325 degree oven until lightly toasted, turning once, about 20 minutes. Let cool.

Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise:

Bring the half-and-half and vanilla bean and seeds to a simmer in a medium saucepan.

Whisk together the yolks and sugar in a medium bowl until at the pale ribbon stage. Slowly whisk in the hot half-and-half, return the mixture to the pot, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture coats the back of the spoon. Strain into a bowl and set over an ice bath. Stir until chilled. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.

Spicy Caramel Apple Sauce:

Combine the cream, apple juice, star anise, ginger, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and nutmeg in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and let steep for at least 20 minutes. Strain the mixture into a clean, small saucepan and place back over low heat while you make the caramel.

Combine the sugar, water and, vinegar in a medium saucepan over high heat and cook without stirring, until it's a deep amber color, about 8 minutes. Slowly whisk in the warm cream mixture a little at a time, and continue whisking until smooth. Add the apple schnapps and cook for 30 seconds longer. Transfer to a bowl and keep warm. The sauce can be made 2 days in advance and refrigerated. Reheat over low heat before serving.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (2016)

There are a few things that you need to accept before you watch this movie.  The first is that this is not The Godfather.  The movies that come later do not exceed the first one in either quality or enjoyment.  The second is that while you do not need to be a fan of the first Ghostbuster movie, it doesn't hurt, because there are numerous references made to it throughout.  The third is that if the idea of women being just as capable of looking silly while fighting ghosts as men do offends you (and it turns out there are a whole heck of a lot of people who feel that way), then you should definitely skip this movie.
If I haven't dissuaded you yet from watching this, then I think it is an enjoyable distracting movie.  I watched it on a transoceanic flight and was not unhappy with my choice.  It is a movie that will not make you think and it will not keep you up late.  Just for fun, nothing more.

Friday, November 25, 2016


It has been a couple weeks since the election and I have had a media break while I was out of the country.  But coming home it is clear to me that moving on is not an option for me.  The news just keeps on coming and none of it is good.

A lot of people have been quoting Edmund Burke, who said that all that it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.  So while I am not the least bit ready to let go of my anger and the gender bias and outright misogyny that surrounded the election--I am in fact fighting my urge to create memes that echo the Hillary memes for Trump.  Because while her critics have no factual basis for their claims, all of the slings and arrows that have been aimed at her are actually true about him.  That part I do need to move on about. But when Trump put a Nazi in charge of his transition team, it became time to decide how to fight rather than when.  Because that represents real evil.  I have no doubt that they will start to use trolling to intimidate those who oppose them, but again, don't let evil triumph.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Ode to Autumn by John Keats

Having just been in Rome, Keats final resting place, I am thinking of his way of giving thanks today.

Ode to Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,         5
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease;  10
For Summer has o'erbrimm'd their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;  15
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twinèd flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;  20
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barrèd clouds bloom the soft-dying day  25
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river-sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;  30
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Man Who Knew Infinity (2016)

This is a really interesting story that is well told with two great actors.  Dev Patel plays Srinivasa Ramanujan, a self-taught Indian mathematician whose contributions to the field were considered massive enough to have inspired a Google doodle on the 125th anniversary of his birth in 2012.  Jeremy Irons plays a Cambridge fellow, G.H. Hardy who on the one hand recognizes the genius of Ramanujan, but on the other wants him to follow a rigor that does not settle well with him.  He sees mathematical formulas, and writes furiously in notebooks about these insights, but he doesn't do well within the structure of proofs, which is the bread and butter of Hardy's world.  hardy fails to recognize the myriad of obstacles that Ramanujan faces.  They include being a vegetarian in a meat loving culture, being Indian in the British Empire, where he is subject to almost constant racism.  Then there is Hardy's atheism juxtaposed against Ramanujan's devout faith.  They just do not connect, and the film lays those layers out, and displays the obstacles that could have led to even more.  So it is sad and hard to watch and a good story all in one.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Quilt Week: Modern Applique

 I am going to post a few of the quilts that I saw at Quilt Week in Des Moines that were memorable to me.  Some of them will be prize winners and some will not.  There was a much broader showing of quilts that I saw there than that I will talk about, but this is a slice of it.  This was one of the quilts that I saw there that fascinated me, and that I thought I could make and make it well.  I have a lot of short comings as a quilter, but color, design balance and embroidery are all strengths for me.
This detail shows what I am talking about. The decorative embroidery is so whimsical and pleasing.  I love the playfulness of the sewing and embellishment.  It is a quilt that would take a year to do, but in the end it would be an heirloom.  I feel like I need to get a few easier quilts under my belt (I am working on number three, and I have number four started).  Maybe when I hit 10 it will be time to think along these lines.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Marinated London Broil

I really like marinated cuts of meat that are them grilled and cut across the grain.  This transforms them from tough pieces of meat into something quite delicious to have.  We had this with some grilled vegetables, a green salad, and the delicate squash recipe I posted last month.  Quite delicious.
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 (2 to 2 1/2 pound) London broil

  • To make marinade: In a bowl, whisk together marinade ingredients until combined well. Put London broil in a large resealable plastic bag and pour marinade over it. Seal bag, pressing out excess air, and set in a shallow dish. Marinate meat, chilled, turning bag once or twice, for 8 hours.
  • Remove meat from the marinade, discarded the marinade, and pat the meat dry.
  • Preheat a grill and on an oiled rack set about 4-inches over glowing coals, grill the meat, turning each once, 9 to 10 minutes on each side, or until it registers 125 to 130 degrees for medium-rare meat.
  • Transfer meat to a cutting board and let stand 10 minutes. Cut meat diagonally across the grain into thin slices.