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Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Trick to Maintaining

I have recently entered the maintenance phase of my treatment for ovarian cancer, and I have been gradually getting used to what that means.  The most obvious thing is that I am through with the acute treatment for my cancer, but because what I have is so bad and so likely to come back that some additional treatment is indicated.  Just what that should consist of is not precisely known, but the general feeling is that as long as the chemo is tolerated and there are no lasting side effects that I should continue for a year after the acute treatment ends.  The less obvious part is a shift from aggressively treating the cancer and being more or less hopeful that once in remission one would stay in remission, now that is more of a waiting game.
I remember when we stopped chemotherapy for my youngest son's cancer.  He did not have maintenance treatment, so done was done, and in some ways it was absolutely torture.  I remember one of my friends, someone who does not have children, saying to me when she heard he was off treatment, "Oh, my God, you must be a basket case.  How can you stand the waiting?"  It was such a  contrast from everyone else, who kept treating it like a celebration.  I am tolerating the wait better this time around, more preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.  Also taking real stock in things and exploring my options going forward.  One foot in front of the other.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Girl in the Kitchen by Stephanie Izard

Stephanie Izard is the chef at the Girl and the Goat in Chicago.  We had such a fabulous meal there that I wanted to check out her cookbook.  It is an interesting approach to teaching people how to cook, in that there are technique pages and there are ingredient sources that she discusses broadly, as well as in the context of a particular recipe.  I am somewhat hesitant about completely embracing the book because one of the things that makes the restaurant so great is the unusual pairings of food, and that can be harder to achieve at home.  It can also mean that a single recipe has more than six ingredients even when not counting spices, herbs, and oils, which can be great for a special meal, but not attainable on a daily basis.  I have tried her mandolin-thin kohlrabi preparation and while my kohlrabi was a bit dry, it was a good way to eat it raw.  The book is definitely worth exploring, but it will not keep you from craving a return trip to the restaurant.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Jailhouse Rock (1957)

My youngest son is taking a very interesting course on gender and film with the theme being rock and roll.  I usually try to watch all the films that he watches but I have been hampered by several things this semester, one being that he is taking two film classes and therefore has two films to watch every week (who could keep up with that pace), another that I have seen a number of the films for this class already, and finally that I have been both sick and tired more times than I care to admit, and so watching movies has been less of a pastime than usual for me (I have been more interested in BBC crime dramas, which I am less inclined to write about).  However, since he is writing a paper on this movie, so on our recent vacation we watched it with him and I also read him several academic papers on the subject.
All that being said, this is not a very good movie.  It does have a couple of good performances by Elvis as a musician (although I am pretty sure you could watch them on YouTube without having to sit through the rest) but Elvis as an actor leaves a lot to be desired.  Funnily, one of the movie reviews in the newspaper at the time noted how much he had improved as an actor and offered the opinion that he would get even better (which to my knowledge never happened).  He plays an exceedingly unlikable character whose only redeeming characteristic is that he treats his female business partner no worse, and in some ways with more respect, than he treats everyone else.  The alarming thing is that this is thought to be one of the best Elvis movies, so my recommendation would be to watch the best (which is King Creole) and if you like that, then this might be right up your alley.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Lemon Cheesecake

I made this for Easter and was pleased with how it turned out.  I put a lemon curd on the top and served it with fruit, but it would be delicious without either or both of those additions.  I made this with GF gingersnaps, and they held up well--I did smash them in a plastic bag with a mallet because they did not crumble well in my food processor.

  • 1 1/2 cups gingersnap crumbs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 3 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. In a large bowl, combine the gingersnap crumbs, sugar and butter. Press onto the bottom and 2-in. up the sides of a greased 9-in. springform pan. Place pan on a baking sheet. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack
  2. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add eggs; beat on low speed until combined. Stir in the lemon juice, lemon peel and vanilla just until blended. Pour into the crust. Return pan to baking sheet.
  3. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until center is almost set. Cool pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Carefully run a knife around edge of pan to loosen; cool 1 hour longer. Refrigerate overnight.
  4. Spoon lemon curd over the cheesecake before serving; serve with berries of various kinds on the side.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Pop, Rock, and Soul Reader by David Brackett

I have been reading books that my youngest has to read for college out loud to him.  We have just finished the reading for a study of rock and roll in American culture that has been really fascinating, even if the reading for it hasn't always been.  This book is very densely written, but it was by far the best at conveying the popular culture of the time.  The book consists of interviews and articles written about key performers and overarching trends in rock and roll over the years, starting with the 1930's and 1940's and then going all the way through hip hop and ending with what the future holds given things like file sharing, Spotify, and the rapid decline of the CD.  It does not cover the ironic rise in popularity of the LP, which went out of favor and then out of print during my youth.  I have always preferred the warmth of the sound of LPs but have to admit that over 90% of the music I listen to comes directly through Spotify, and is often not of the very best sound quality.  However, there may be a time when I return to LPs.  Probably not.  You really have to have a lot of time on your hands, and college is the perfect time for that.  In any case this book is fascinating in that is it first person accounts from the time that the music they are writing or speaking about was happening, and it gives a very different perspective on the music and the performers.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Whisper of the Heart (1995)

Adolescence is a turbulent period in the life due to all the new and confusing situations you encounter. Most of the trouble is in dealing with others while trying to figure out just who you are. This is a tricky balancing act in even the best of circumstances.If all of that just brings up bad memories for you, avoid this film, because that is at the heart of it.  It is also not a film for younger children because of that,
The story itself is not so unusual.  Boy likes girl, but she of course likes another boy.  And her best friend likes the boy who likes her.  That is often the way it goes, even after adolescence.
In this version of the story, which is set in a Japanese city, the film greets us with a montage of urban life after the sun has faded and the lights have just flickered on providing the glow that can make night life possible. It’s that period when responsibilities have mostly ended with the promise of things possible wafting through the summer air. Ironically, the Olivia Newton-John version of the song “Country Roads” is used as a backdrop for the city scape and pervades the movie.
Eventually we follow a girl leaving a market and accompany her home to a small family apartment. Shizuku is enjoying her summer break by burying herself in books. But a mystery arises for the middle school student when a name on the checkout card of a book she’s reading seems vaguely familiar. Sure enough, the same name appears on all the books she’s checked out from the library: Seiji Amasawa.  She goes on to become enamored with a boy with the same last name (and the same family), who is a talented boy.  They have to make choices that will seem all too familiar, but are well executed.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Bumps and Valleys

I am now almost six months out from abdominal surgery and it is almost three months after my last intraperitonial chemotherapy.  I had my last drain pulled a couple of weeks ago and while I still have a wound infection and a few pockets of fluid between my skin and my abdominal wall.  Yes, that is weird.  It looks odd and it is more uncomfortable than I would have imagined it would be.   None the less, I am getting back to the pre-surgery me.  With the exception on a very impressive stem to stern scar the length of my abdomen.  Anytime they have to wend their way around the belly button, you know you are going to take a while to recover.  I have had mild to moderate abdominal pain throughout that time period, and was relieved to be off of cis-platin and able to take NSAIDs (motrin and the like) again.  One thing that I have gained a real understanding of is the process of living with pain that is both unpredictable and significant.  Yet another thing that I could have gone far longer in life without knowing, but one that does give me some insight into how challenging it can be to manage and live with.  It is early days for me, and I still hold out hope that once my abdomen is truly intact again that I will be able to strength my abdominal wall muscles enough to help ameliorate my everyday pain to the point where I am more like the 0-2 faces than the 3-6 faces on the pain scale.  If not, I will cope, but it does take time and psychic energy to do so.  Time will tell, but I hope that I will be more understanding of others in the future as a result of all this.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll

I have spent the last six months reading this book out loud to my youngest son as he takes a class in Rock and Roll in American Culture.  It has been overall fun to read about rock and roll as a phenomenon and to learn that there are trends in music that are directly tied to social and economic trends.  This book, however, is less academic and more fan based.  There are multiple authors for different artists and eras in music, which leads to a highly variable book in terms of quality.  One thing that is consistent across the book was excellent photographs of artists and bands.  The performance side of the business was well represented and the changes that have become so prevalent in music were not going on in 1992 when the book was published.  I think this would appeal to the fan, but not someone who wanted to learn more about rock and roll overall.  It is a collection of chapters rather than a book tied together with an overarching story.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Tales of the Night (2012)

Yet another animated film in our quest to watch a full range of this genre.  This once comes from  Michel Ocelot and tells six fairy tales, none too long, all told with a pleasing energy and pace. The tales are created by a man in a studio who is helping two young actors explore roles they might want to play, and in the process, they create stories and costumes for their chosen roles.
The stories are all fantastical yet straightforward. The first, "The Werewolf," involves that staple of fantasy, the werewolf, and tells the story of a prince who marries the older of two sisters, under the mistaken impression that she was the one who saved his life. This treacherous person tricks him and then, traps him, hides the magic chain he needs to become human again. But the younger sister … ah, but you will see.
"Ti Jean and Belle-Sans-Connaitre" is a Caribbean tale (set there on a whim by the old man), which tells of a boy who ventures into a cave and unknowingly tumbles down into the land of the dead (who walk on their hands). "Tam-Tam Boy," from Africa, is about a young drummer whose talent is not respected until he saves his village.
"The Boy Who Never Lied," set in Tibet, is about two kings who have a competition to see which one can persuade a boy to lie. "The Doe-Girl and the Architect's Son," set in Europe, is a reversal of "The Werewolf," in which a girl becomes a doe and a young man who loves her helps her become human again. "The Chosen One of the Golden City," set in an Aztec kingdom in ancient Mexico, involves a girl chosen for human sacrifice, and a boy who tries to save her.  Recommended, especially for a family movie night.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Crema de Chile Soup

We just ate at one of my absolute favorite regional Mexican restaurants that is in a small town.  It is a gem.  Such restaurants are common in France (admittedly they are likely to be serving French food, but prepared by a talented chef).  My youngest, a hard to please eater, loved the soup, and so my spouse made a version of it now that we are back home.  It is really delicious, and can be made with a range of green chiles (poblanos are the norm but we made it with Hatch green chiles because we have ever so many of them).

  • 4 poblano chiles
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium white onion, thickly sliced
  • 1/4 head garlic, cloves separated and skins removed
  • salt and black pepper
  • 2 sprigs epazote
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 ounce requesón or ricotta
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh crema
  • 2 corn tortillas
  • canola oil
  1. Place the poblanos over an open flame, turning often, until blackened on all sides. Transfer to a plastic bag and let steam for 15 minutes. Then peel the skin off, remove the stems and seeds, and cut into thin strips.
  2. Add the butter to a large pot set over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until they are transparent. Then add the garlic and cook for 5 more minutes, being careful not to brown the garlic. Toss in the sliced poblanos and cook for 20 minutes, stirring often.
  3. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, the epazote, and the chicken stock. Bring to a simmer, and then reduce heat to low and cook for 15 minutes.
  4. Puree the mixture in a blender. Return to the pot and pour in the milk. Heat gently. Then remove a 1/2 cup and mix it with the requesón in a small bowl. Add this back to the soup. Taste for salt.
  5. Slice the tortillas into 1/2 inch thick strips. Pour a little canola oil into a skillet set over medium-high heat. Add a few of the tortilla strips and cook for a few seconds on each side until crisp. Drain on a paper towel. Repeat with the remaining strips.
  6. Serve the soup with few few corn strips, some fresh corn kernals and some crema drizzled on top, or nothing if you so desire.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Small Throne Room, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

I don't know why, but the thought of this being called the 'small' throne room made me laugh.  What does the big throne room look like you might ask.  This one is dedicated to Peter the Great, so it is really quite important afterall.

In April 1833, Emperor Nicholas I commissioned Auguste Montferrand to restore the Great Suite of rooms in the Winter Palace. Montferrand, who had won the competition to build St Isaac's Cathedral, designed two rooms, the Fieldmarshals' Room and the Memorial Room of Peter I. The Emperor required that work be carried out in the shortest possible time and Montferrand made extensive use of wooden constructions. One of the principal features of the Fieldmarshalls' Room was a group of full-length portraits of Russian generals who had been awarded the rank of fieldmarshall. This was an austere room with four-column porticoes by the two main doors which stood opposite one another. White imitation marble, polychrome parquet, an austere ceiling-painting and plaster military attributes formed its decoration. Adjacent to this room was the Memorial Room of Peter I, its decoration sumptuous and solemn: crimson velvet covered the walls, adorned with a thousand gilt bronze double-headed eagles, later replaced by those embroidered with silver thread. Surmounting the side walls are two paintings celebrating Peter the Great's victories over Charles XII of Sweden: The Battle at Poltava and The Battle at Lesnaya. The allegorical painting Peter I with Minerva by Jacopo Amigoni glorified Peter the Great as the creator of a magnificent empire. The gilt silver throne, made in 1731 in London by Nicholas Clausen, and the silver candelabra and sconces were installed here after the fire of 1837.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

MI-5 (2015)

This movie is literally an extension of the TV show of the same name.  Harry Pierce and Oliver Mace are both in it from the TV show so that you feel like you are in familiar territory.  The problem is that the show is better suited to a television format with short bursts of action and the possibility of running a particular theme over a long period of time.
The movie is confusing, I thought, although I have to admit that I didn't find it totally engulfing as a movie and may have lapsed into inattention more than once, which is very dangerous when the plot requires that you follow it meticulously.  Harry gets himself into trouble immediately by letting a terrorist go under dire circumstances, and then disappears underground to go hunt down the terrorist and thwart some of his attempts to wreck havoc on London.  Harry enlists others to help him (including Malcolm, from the TV series) and while people die, the terrorist is contained (through some less than believable measures), those who are responsible are made to pay,  and the day is saved (more or less).

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Hermitage Seen as a Building

I have chosen just two of the many pictures that I took of the interiors in the Hermitage.  It is the most impressive museum I have ever been in for many reasons, but one of them is the building itself.  It is just so stunning, and so different from room to room.  My trip to Russia was the first time that I really appreciated having a guide in a museum, and I think the Hermitage is a museum that one should not attempt without a guide.  And I am a woman who likes to travel on her own by and large.
The room that looks like a Wedgwood vase is in the style that Catherine the Great favored, and the painted hallway is unusual as well, but most of the 400 rooms are baroque.  Over the top baroque, and no two seem even remotely similar.  The palace has been added on to and burned to the ground in places over the years.  Each of it's inhabitants has wanted to leave their mark on it, although once again, the Empress Elizabeth was probably the most successful.  I think her father, Peter the Great, must have been very proud of her.  She really took his European dream and ran with it in a big architectural way.  The place is truly magnificent and it should be on everyone's bucket list. St. Petersburg is a 40 euro train ride from Helsinki (well, that and the cost of the Russian visa will get you there) and this is a very special place. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Remembering My Father-in-Law

I always think of my father-in-law this week of St. Patrick's Day because it is his birthday, and since he has been gone it is a bittersweet time.  He died of complications from metastatic renal cancer, and he was definitely not ready to give up on life.  He was traveling to the end, aware that he risked dying in a far off land, but preferred that to playing it safe at home.  The idea of that made me nervous at first, but once my spouse talked to him and was reassured that was how he wanted to live the end of his life, I relaxed.
This is the first birthday of his that has passed since I have cancer myself.  I have finished the acute phase of treatment and moved into a maintenance phase (which in my case means less frequent chemotherapy at a lower dose and with less side effects, but continued baldness).  I do not know what the future holds, but I have certainly thought about my father-in-laws approach and what I might do if I find myself in his shoes.  We both share a love of travel, and I am very grateful that I did not put that off.  That being said, there are lots of places that I have yet to see, and the idea of being as active and adventurous as you can be up to the very end resonates with me.  My father-in-law had some mobility limitations, so he traveled by boat to decrease the wear and tear of going from city to city.  He enjoyed the time he had and he encouraged his family to do the same.  He even bankrolled a travel adventure or two, and I am very grateful to him for many things. My husband, first and foremost, of course, and his other three children, but many of the things that he valued I have come to value too.  I am not a quick learner, but he eventually taught me things and I miss him very much.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Rose (1979)

This movie, which I somehow missed when it came out, is loosely based on the life of Janis Joplin, and the account is not kind to her memory.  Bette Midler does an admirable job of portraying the singer, and her concert performances are excellent, even if the music is not quite as reminiscent of Janis' best work as would have been ideal.  Her portrayal of a woman who is at the bottom of her life, drinking heavily, acting impulsively and selfishly, and with a complete lack of confidence is convincing, and it is painful to watch her go from bad to worse over the course of the movie.  My real question is how kind is this?  If she were a man would this have been more romanticized rather than demonized?  Rock and roll is and always has been a life in the realm of men, and women have not been treated at all kindly.  This movie is no exception.  The closer I think about it the less I like it, but it is well worth watching to get a sense of just how much the music business is one where women are held to another standard than men and often just not allowed in.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Healing Power of Chicken Soup

I recently received a gallon of chicken soup after I had been unexpectedly hospitalized briefly, and it got me thinking.  There really is something very soothing about a broth laden with chicken and vegetables when one is feeling a bit under the weather.  It is soothing when it is ingested and it feels easy to digest.  It feels like you are on the frontier between solid food and liquids.  Which depending on the density of the mix ins, you really are.  But the flavor is light and it is food that is not taxing to take in.  I have been kind of on the fence between feeling quite good and feeling a little queasy since my last does of chemotherapy, and while I have not been chewing ginger candy after ginger candy (a true sign I am not feeling well), I find a large amount of chicken soup on hand to be psychologically reassuring and potentially physically healing.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Road to Character by David Brooks

I read this book on the recommendation of my parents,w ho read it for a book group.  I generally like the author's column in the New York Times, although I do not often agree with him.  He is the conservative wing of the op/ed staff, and I am politically more aligned with Bernie Sanders.

This book, which explores what Brooks defines as the two pillars of character, the first being someone who strives to achieve material wealth and notoriety and the other being someone who has moral fiber.  He states that he has been personally more focused on the former, but thinks that this has been an error, and spends much of the book focusing on the later.

Brooks uses the lives of several well known people to illustrate his points.  He suggests that handy tools in the forging of character include suffering, love, humility, vocation and obedience. “Character is a set of dispositions, desires and habits that are slowly engraved during the struggle against your own weakness,” he writes. His world is one in which he assumes acclaim and material wealth is everyone’s moral dilemma. Any reference to how economics – the lack of money or status – shapes character is myopically absent.  I thought this was thought provoking but a bit smug and not his best work.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Azur and Asmar (2006)

No, I have never heard of this movie before, but it is absolutely wonderful in many ways and I highly recommend it.  My youngest son has been exploring the animated movies that are made outside the United States, and they have a very different quality when compared to American animation.  This one, much like the Japanese animated movies, has wonderful renditions of nature, architecture, and fauna, and less wonderful depictions of humans.  No matter, there is much to be dazzled by in this movie from a sensory standpoint.
In the manner of the Thousand and One Nights, the movie tells the story of two friends, as close and as competative as brothers: Azur and Asmar. One is the son of a nobleman, the other the son of the north African nurse who brings them up, and enraptures them with tales of a Djinn fairy awaiting the love of a prince to release her from an enchantment. Harshly separated in their teens, the rich young man travels to the Orient where he finds his friend again, and they travel onward on a mission to find this mythical Djinn princess. The ending is especially compelling in this season where there has been a very ugly eruption of prejudice and racism in America.  The message is one of hope.  the movie has real charm: an old-fashioned looking, but with a heartfelt belief that east and west can and should meet and mix.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Overly Cautious, For Once

Throughout the time that I have been treated for ovarian cancer, starting with my post-operative course after surgery and up until the present, I have not been lucky when it comes to side effects.  I have had prolonged recovery periods, two episodes of infection, one of them quite serious, a wound infection that surfaced almost two months after my initial surgery and various fluid accumulations that have led to pain and discomfort.  Not an easy course.
So when I developed nausea and vomiting in the absence of chemotherapy last week I was hesitant to ignore it.  After all, the last time that had happened I landed in the ICU within four hours of it all starting and spent the following day going from one procedure to another to try to rectify the problem.  I did end up getting hospitalized briefly, largely based on my history of bad luck, but also because of some abnormalities on tests, but it was refreshing to not have the worst happen.  My symptoms all improved quickly and within 24 hours I was on the street again, feeling a bit worse for wear, but happy not to have my gut shut down for once.  I nibbled cautiously on food for the next couple of days, but did manage to have the sense that I might not always have the worst outcome possible each and every time, that I might actually be getting stronger.  I am not going hog wild on that sensation, but it did feel good.  the hospitalization also gave me the opportunity to apologize to all the people that had taken care of me on my previous hospitalization, which was long and miserable, feelings I was not hesitant to share with my health care team.  Many times did I say sorry over the short day I was there.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Greco-Roman Art and the Hermitage, St. Petersburg

There are many examples of Greek and Roman sculpture throughout the Hermitage, and this is just one example of how breathtaking they are.  It is both the artistry of the sculptor and the magnificent setting of the museum itself that make it so magical to see.  I had just finished doing the reading out loud for a class in ancient roman art with my youngest son, which was incredibly painful for me.  I knew nothing about what was important that I was reading, and it felt like an endless string of facts that I failed to process.  When I toured the Hermitage's collection of sculpture from this era I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had in fact learned quite a lot.  I could identify both subject and style.  Amazing!

The art of the ancient Greeks and Romans is called classical art.  The Romans took their style and techniques directly from the Greeks, and while it was on one level copying, the Romans did get around quite a bit, and brought the Greek style to a much broader audience.  Classical art owes its lasting influence to its simplicity and sheer beauty.  The human form is naturally and easily represented, a joy to look at.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Eleanor's Secret (2009)

Yet another in the series of European animated films we have been watching.  This one is a better story than it is at animation, in that the animated figures and scenery are simply done. 

Eleanor's Secret is the story of a little boy, Nathan, who can't read. Mercilessly teased by his sister and feeling the pressure from his well-meaning parents, Nat is hoping to get away from school-related stress, at least, on a trip to his recently deceased Aunt Eleanor's house at the seaside. Imagine his dismay, then, when he finds that the key she has left him unlocks a room full of books! It feels like an insult, until he discovers that this is a library with a magical secret.  The characters literally come to life, but there is a catch.  their time is running out and Nat has to save them.  The film is the adventure of that happening, plus the story of the softening of his sister and the realization of his parents that the books are worth more to them to keep than they are to sell.  It is a good, but not great, tale.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Hungarian Goulash

This comes from a cookbook that is little known but I very much like it and the concept.  It is a collection of recipes that the staff of a restaurant eat at the meal they share together before the dinner shift begins, sometimes referred to as the family meal.  The food is heartier than what might be served at a high end restaurant, because it has to sustain them through a long night of serving customers, but flavorful and delicious. 

1/4 c. vegetable oil
2 1/2 lb. boneless pork shoulder (trim fat) cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
2 onions sliced
4 cloves garlic minced
3 strips bacon, cut into 1/8th inch strips
4 c. stock
1/4 c. Hungarian sweet paprika
1 Tbs. Hungarian hot paprika
2 lb. sauerkraut
1 Tbs. cider vinegar
2 bay leaves
salt to taste

1.  Saute pork in vegetable oil as needed until browned on all sides.  Remove from pan, and saute onions, garlic and bacon for about 5 minutes.  Add more oil if needed. 
 2.  Add pork back into pan, along with stock, paprikas, and bay leaves.  Simmer uncovered for 45 minutes.
3.  Stir in sauerkraut and vinegar and cook another 20 minutes.  Salt to taste and remove bay leaves.  Serve with rice and sour cream.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Triathlon Approach to Cancer

I have officially come to the end of the first phase of life with cancer.  Mostly it means that I will not be getting any more cisplatin, which is a chemotherapy agent that is widely used (my son got it when he was treated for a brain tumor 15+ years ago).  It is hard on the kidneys, and one of the more nausea inducing of the chemotherapies.  So while my kidneys came through reasonably well, I had lots of experience with the nausea, despite medication to combat it, and now I can hopefully wave good-bye to it (fingers crossed and many prayers that that is ture).
My oncologist likened the road ahead to a triathlon, which I know something about vicariously because my brother and his wife are avid amateur competitors.  I have just finished the open water swim phase, and am about to begin the biking portion.  The transition between these two phases is kind of fascinating to watch, because there is a shedding of the swimming paraphernalia and a gearing up to get on the bike, which entails shoes and a helmet, and most importantly, a bike.  The whole process looks a little clunky, and that accurately reflects my transition as well.  I still have a few reminders of my acute treatment left to cope with, making it hard to feel particularly celebratory that that phase is behind me.
So I am embarking on a year of maintenance treatment, the nature of which may change over time, but entails more chemotherapy, just less intense, but probably keeping me bald the entire time.  Oh well.  It is yet another indication that what I have is indeed a bad disease!  None-the-less, with all the caveats aside, it is good to be moving forward.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Intern (2015)

This is a light movie that probably falls into the genre of comedy but I would classify it as a feel good movie.  Jules (Anne Hathaway) has a start up internet company called 'As It Fits', which supplies clothing that fits.  She is obsessive about every detail of her company and over the course of 18 months she takes it from a business that she could run out of her living room to one that takes up and entire factory (exactly how she got the investors to renovate the space that the company resides in is unbelievably gorgeous--and probably cost prohibitive) and has a couple hundred employees.
Her right hand man, Cameron, gets the idea that they should have interns who are senior citizens, and Ben Whittaker (very affably played by Robert De Niro) gets a position.  He is a retired business executive who has lost his wife, traveled the world and is now ready to have something purposeful to do.  He is completely taken with what Jules has created and while her investors try to get her to dilute her brand by hiring a CEO, he encourages her to stay true to her vision, and you can see that he would be the perfect business adviser to her.  She trusts him and he wouldn't screw her.  It is an entirely predictable movie that is none the less charming and enjoyable to watch and I recommend it for a family movie night.  Sex is hinted but nothing more risque.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Reflections on Philosophy

When I was an undergraduate I purposely skipped a philosophy course.  The closest I got was a religious studies class that did cover some of the big picture questions, but somehow reading Martin Luther and Freud was a lot easier than reading Plato and trying to figure out what it all meant.
My youngest son took a class that was very misleadingly entitled Introduction to Ancient Philosophy.  I read everything to him that we cannot find on audiotape, and I try to do all the reading for the class so that if he struggles with it, I can talk with him about it.  I lack the advantage of being in class and hearing what the teacher thinks of the reading, which is a big handicap, but if I read it, I can at least participate in the discussion.  And it turned out that I was indeed right.  Philosophy is not for me.  Even in the beginning, when we were reading the Sophists, who Socrates made mincemeat of, I really did not get it.  The teacher posted her notes for students to read and I found them to be just as dense and incomprehensible as the reading.  I thought that by the time we got to Aristotle my luck would improve because he was a scientist, but no such luck.  I understood an iota more than before.  It was a relief when the semester ended and I did not have to struggle with any more ancient philosophers.  I was hospitalized on a number of occasions throughout the semester and nurses would come in and see me reading Plato and think that I was very intellectual.  They did not know that I was reading the same book over and over, trying to gain more meaning with repeated reading, to no avail.  I remain as in the dark about the ancient Greek philosophers as I was before the class started.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Art Nouveau and the Elisseeff Emporium, St. Petersburg

There is oodles of art nouveau architecture throughout St. Petersburg, demonstrating that Peter the Great's efforts to bring European aesthetics to Russia continued for centuries after his death.  He made his mark on the city and it was a self-perpetuating process.  This shining example of it is on the bustling Nevsky Prospekt street, the main artery that runs through both the older neighborhoods of St. Petersburg as well as into the Stalin era Federal architecture that forms a ring around old St. Petersburg and has its own charms, if you like solidly built buildings. 
Everyday that we were in St. Petersburg we were on this street, and this building, which is an old and venerated food emporium. 
The building was built at the turn of the 19th century, so before the Russian Revolution, after which it underwent significant change.  It wasn't until recently that it was restored to its former glory, with baked goods that look too good to eat and lots of luxury food items that are too expensive for most mortals to afford.  While we were there the ruble had tumbled in value against other world currencies, both because of the price of gas and oil and because Putin was aggravating other world leaders, so in some ways the store felt almost fake, or at least something from a  bygone era, but elegant and exotic and a pleasure to walk through.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Martian (2015)

This was one of the few films that I had seen in advance of the Academy Awards last Sunday, and I did not expect to like it much.  That is in many ways a reflection of how I felt about movies in general this past year, exemplified by me that Mad Max not only got a goodly number of nominations, including one for Best Picture, and  it was the take home winner of the most awards.  Really?  Anyway, I was completely wrong about The Martian.  I really like it, even though it was much longer than I would have thought entirely necessary.  Even the length was not a problem for me when all is said and done.

The reason I was so negative about this movie is that I hated Gravity and did not enjoy Interstellar, the two space movies that have garnered Oscar attention over the past couple of years.  If you fall into that category too, give this one a try.  Matt Damon is an astronaut who gets accidentally left on Mars by his peers (okay, that sounds bad, but they were completely justified in thinking he was dead, it was a galactic storm, and they had to high tail it out of there).  He is wounded, and has to perform serious first aid on himself (shades of the scientist in Antarctica who had to diagnose and treat her breast cancer while waiting for a ride home).  He knows that his chances of survival are not ideal, but he works on establishing communication with NASA, growing food for himself, and figuring out a possible route off the planet.  He is charming and upbeat and funny, and the Mars landscape is fascinatingly beautifully rendered.  My favorite space movie since Apollo 13.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Cherry Jubilee Cocktail

This cocktail comes from my spouse rather than my eldest son, who has been the creator of new (and not always better--but sometimes superb) cocktails of late.  This is as delicious as it is pretty, with the Italian cherries being an absolute must.

1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz Luxardo Maraschino
1 oz vodka
1 oz brandy
1 oz cherry juice
Shake with plenty of ice, strain into coupe, garnish with an excellently preserved cherry

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg

Yet another memorable Russian church!  This marvelous Russian-style church was built on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in March 1881. After assuming power in 1855 in the wake of Russia's disastrous defeat in the Crimean war against Britain, France and Turkey, Alexander II initiated a number of reforms. In 1861 he freed the Russian serfs (peasants, who were almost enslaved to their owners) from their ties to their masters and undertook a rigorous program of military, judicial and urban reforms, never before attempted in Russia.
However, during the second half of his reign Alexander II grew wary of the dangers of his system of reforms, having only barely survived a series of attempts on his life, including an explosion in the Winter Palace and the derailment of a train. Alexander II was finally assassinated in 1881 by a group of revolutionaries, who threw a bomb at his royal carriage.
The gates into the church echo the art nouveau architecture that can be seen around the city.  Both the interior and exterior of the church are decorated with incredibly detailed mosaics, designed and created by the most prominent Russian artists of the day (V.M. Vasnetsov, M.V. Nesterov and M.A. Vrubel). Interestingly, despite the church's very obviously Russian aspect, its principle architect, A. Parland, was not even Russian by birth.In truth, many of the architects who shape the landscape of St. Petersburg are not Russian.  None the less, this is a magnificent church, which can be well viewed from the major street through St. Petersburg, Nevsky Prospekt.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Infinitely Polar Bear (2015)

This is a well acted and somewhat painful to watch movie about a family where the father has bipolar disorder. 
Cam Stuart (ably portrayed by Mark Ruffalo) is a fairly classic bipolar sufferer who has two daughters and a wife who is less and less sure of what their relationship is, but remains committed to them as her family.  Cam is unable to hold a job, has significant OCD hoarding qualities and a mouth that will not quit.  He very accurately portrays the irritability that characterizes bipolar disorder, and one of his daughters demonstrates that the apple does not fall far from the tree.  His youngest daughter has that same fly-off-the-handle anger that he does and you have to wonder what her future holds.  The mother (Zoe Saldana) decides to go back to school to get her MBA so that she can get the family out of poverty, but it entails leaving her children in Cam's care.  Over time, this really works out, and in the end, she decides that they are in good hands with him.  Well acted and real.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Creamy Lemon Pasta

I have been susceptible to carb craving lately, and when Sam Sifton's regular email came about what to cook this week, I made this.

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1-2 cloves garlic minced 
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • ½ pound linguine
  • 4 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  1. Bring the water to the boil for the pasta. Add salt to taste.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the butter in a heavy skillet or casserole and add the garlic.
  3. Drop the linguine into the boiling water. If fresh pasta is used, cook about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes or to the desired degree of doneness. If dried pasta is used, cook about 7 to 9 minutes or to the desired degree of doneness. Drain the pasta.
  4. Add the cream to the butter and lemon rind mixture. Add the pasta, lemon zest,  and lemon juice and bring to the simmer.  Serve with Parmesan cheese on the side, if so desired.