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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Casting Lots by Susan Silverman

I have been taking baby steps back towards reading like I have in the past few years again, and weirdly, that has included more non-fiction than would be my norm.  This book would fall into that line, although it is a memoir, which I like to think of as being somewhere between purely nonfiction and wholly made up.
The author grew up in a secular Jewish home and has become a rabbi in her current life.  She is devout and anxious and comes across in this memoir as very human and approachable.  Her fears are perhaps greater than average, but everyone can relate to them.  She reflects on the human condition in a way that is almost soothing to read.  The thing that is particularly special about her is that she has a passion for adopting children, which she has done twice personally, but also is quite supportive of what can be a daunting process.  I lack that capability so it was refreshing to read someone who embraces it so completely.  A short and memorable read.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Thai Celery Salad

I recently got a much easier to use mandolin and have been thinly slicing quite a few things, trying to gear up for summer salads and to get back into eating vegetables now that I am not constantly losing weight and I need to get back to old eating habits.
This is a great one--you can leave off the peanuts and reduce the oil if you want to make it less caloric, but the combination of the fish sauce and the crunchy celery is an unexpectedly good one.  And it takes about 10 minutes from start to finish to make (probably less if you know exactly where your ingredients are and you don't have to go outside to cut any of the herbs).
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons nam pla
  • 6 celery stalks, thinly sliced 
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced (or chives)
  • 1 chile pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro 
  • ¼ cup chopped roasted, salted peanuts
  • Whisk together oil, lime juice, and nam pla. Toss with celery, scallions, chile, cilantro, and peanuts.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Fantastic Four (2015)

If you are not a fan of the comic book genre of movies, then you most certainly have to skip this movie.  It is solely for the die hard fan, and even they may be disappointed.  I have not seen the other adaptation of the story before, so I cannot compare to others, but I definitely enjoyed it.  I have watched many of this genre of movies over the years as the mother of four boys, and while it is not a genre that I am born to love, I have come to appreciate it.  This version tells the back story of how the four got their fantastic powers, and who they were before that fate befell them.  The one thing that the movie did an excellent job of was editing it down to a reasonable length--too often these movies go over two hours, which is just too long, and this one dodges that error.  It is also quite wooden in places, but again, I can tolerate that.  So go see it if you are a big fan, and skip it if you are not.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

This book, another young adult installment for me, looks at the idea that despite your love for someone, it isn’t always possible to save them. Violet and Finch meet on the top of the bell tower when both are contemplating suicide but they both survive. Violet is coming to terms with her sister's accidental and Finch is battling with anger and possible bipolar disorder.
The book gently touches first love and how quickly you can fall for someone, but also the pain that comes when your idea of forever ends after a few months. It also explores the difficulty of teenage years and how easy it is to give your all to someone and then have it all taken away.
The characters like to think that they can save each other; that love covers up all their pain and if they both put everything into each other then they can save the other. As you turn the pages of this book you get more and more attached to the characters and you want, for their sake, it to result in the happy ending that they’re longing for.  The author has other plans for us, and it is well done and certainly touches on issues that young adults face in their lives.
The project results in them sharing road trips which causes them to grow closer and closer as they both frantically try to give the other a reason to live. A reason before it is too late. Finch is so obsessed with death but for Violet he finds reasons to live. Violet is so consumed with guilt but for Finch she puts the past behind her. They both try. They both want to make it. Even love can’t fix everything though, and I think throughout the text the characters start to learn this but they won’t let themselves believe it, they want this relationship to be enough to keep them both alive.
The book constantly explores life and death and it shows the reader just how valid life is, and it comes with an overpowering message of doing everything before it is too late. It shows that the thought of ‘what could have been’ can destroy a person.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Spicy Nuts

My son made these recently in an effort to use up nuts in his cupboard, and they are very addictive.

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups mixed nuts, such as walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts and almonds

Mix spices and reserve.  Heat nuts in a dry skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until begin to toast, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. Add the butter, sugar, water and spices to the hot skillet and cook, stirring, until a glaze forms, about 1 minute. Return the nuts to the skillet and toss to combine with the glaze. Cook for about 1 to 2 minutes, or until the nuts are glazed and golden brown.  Remove from the heat and transfer to a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, separating with a fork. Let rest until cooled and the sugar has hardened, about 10 minutes. Store in an airtight container.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Paper Towns (2015)

This movie, which is based on the John Green book of the same title, is a faithful adaptation.  If you love the book, you are likely to enjoy the movie, and vise versa.  If you did not like the book, do not bother giving the movie a second chance to woo you.  Not going to happen.
This is the story of a childhood crush grown up.  Quentin has always been in love with Margo, and they are fast buddies in childhood, but once they get older Margo becomes the popular high school girl and Quentin becomes the nerd boy who lives on the margins of high school social life.  He is entirely likable and she is unpredictable and attention seeking, so you see where this is going.  When Margo takes Quentin on her night of revenge for being cheated on, she is giving him a chance to fly in her orbit and we root for him because we want him to get what he desires, but when she disappears afterwards, Quentin is just about the only one worried about her.  Even her parents don't get upset.
The rest of the movie is about his search for Margo and then his being able to move beyond her.  He gains from his friendship with her, but he manages to look toward college unencumbered by ties with his childhood.  Wise and simple at the same time.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Matchmaker by Thorton Wilder

I had my first vacation in a while recently and one of the things that I did was go to a play at the Goodman theater in Chicago.  A matinee, to be sure, but a whole play.  We all enjoyed it very much, and by going to the theater on the day of the play we got very inexpensive seats that were as good as they were reasonable.
I have not seen anything by Thorton Wilder with the exception of what everyone has seen and that is Our Town.  This is a very funny play about a woman who sets matches up, including one for herself.  Wilder wrote the play in the mid-20th century, but it is based on a play from the mid 19th century, and the situations serve to remind one that women have always had challenges when it comes to both business and society at large.  The recent election rhetoric has served to remind me that not everyone thinks that having given women the right to vote, much less own property and run businesses was perhaps a mistake.  So fun to watch someone who manages to get what she wants without raising any hackles in the meantime. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Crab Fingers

This is not so much a recipe but a plug for this easy to become addicted to preparation of crab.  I live in the Midwest, entirely landlocked and with the exception of catfish and walleye, with few native fish to be found on the dinner table.  Luckily there are entrepreneurs who drive a truck laden with seafood from the Gulf up to my town once every three weeks or so throughout the spring, summer, and fall, and bring us shrimp, crab, whole snapper and the occasional oyster or crayfish when the season is right.
So now that the weather has warmed enough for the Texans to venture northward, I am once again reminded that these delicious morsels should not be passed up.  They come as you see them.  You can drizzle garlic butter over them or even bread them and fry them, but my favorite way is just the way they come.  I often just eat them right from the container, not even bothering to arrange them in a bowl.  Don't pass them up if you see them!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Cinderella (2015)

There is absolutely nothing that is original to this movie.  It is a faithful rendition of the Disney animated classic of the same name, only this time with real people, but not much else is different.  Meaning that this is not 'Enchanted'.  There are no modern updates and no musical interludes.  As my youngest son said during the ball scene at the castle, "They went all 'Pride and Prejudice' on it."  The story is not approximate, it is identical.
That is a long way of saying that if you do not like the Disney version of the Cinderella story, then you should definitely skip this one.  It is for the real fans.  I have a soft spot for Disney that it most likely does not deserve, so while my spouse thought this was just boring (ie. he is not a true blue fan of the original story), I enjoyed it.  There is something that is compelling to me about the good hearted but poor woman marrying the man of her dreams and getting out from under her evil stepmother (who is played to perfection by the wonderful Cate Blanchett).  The movie is directed by Kenneth Branagh, whose work I like.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

If a campaign had a book that demonstrated its main theme, this book could be Bernie Sanders' young adult fiction choice.  It is cool, bitter and brutal, as it casts a dispassionate eye on the insular world of the American oligarchy.
Cadence is the eldest granddaughter of a family so rich that they never mention money. Every year, the Sinclairs spend their summer on a private island, where the grandparents have built four houses for themselves and their three daughters, plus a smaller building for their cooks and cleaners.
The Sinclairs are beset by deaths, addictions and the tragedies that afflict all families, however privileged, but they tuck them away behind their strong chins and perfect smiles. Raw emotions are hidden by a curtain of politeness. "I don't know what happened," Cadence says of her aunt's divorce. "The family never speaks of it."
Cadence makes a tight little group with the two grandchildren her own age, Johnny and Mirren, and an outsider, Gat, who joins them every year. Aged 15, Cadence falls in love with Gat. At the end of that summer, she has an accident, a breakdown or some kind of illness, but she can't remember what happened, how or why. All she knows is that she was found on the shore, dressed in her underwear, the sea washing over her. "They tested me for brain tumours, meningitis, you name it. To relieve the pain they prescribed this drug and that drug and another drug, because the first one didn't work and the second one didn't work, either."
That was two summers ago. Now she is returning to the island, to her family, her grandfather, aunts and cousins, and Gat. She narrates the novel, but she doesn't use the polite, restrained style that you'd expect from such an expensively educated aristocrat. The characters are not well-rounded or beautifully drawn; the descriptions are not lush or elegant. The prose is fractured, disordered, messy. This is the voice of a girl who has been broken and is trying to put the pieces back together.
The reader searches with her, combing for clues in the family's behaviour, the lies and omissions of a tight-knit patrician clan.
Of course I won't reveal the twists and turns of the cunning plot, but I can say that when the secret at the heart of the book is finally revealed, it turns out to be nastier and more shocking than anything I had imagined.  But worth it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Crayfish Etouffee

Springtime heralds the return of fresh crayfish and even though we live quite far from the Gulf Coast, we manage to get some excellent crayfish right here.  This is one of my favorite ways to have it prepared.

  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups yellow onions, chopped
  • 1 cup green bell peppers, chopped
  • 1/2 cup celery, chopped
  • 1/4 c. flour 
  • 2-3 c. stock (depending on how thin you like the etouffee to be)
  • 2 pounds peeled crawfish tails
  • Salt and cayenne to taste
  • 2 tablespoon green onions, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley leaves, chopped

Heat the butter over medium heat in a large, heavy pot. Add the onions, bell peppers, and celery, and cook, stirring, until soft and lightly golden, 6 to 8 minutes.Add flour, stir until it browns a little.  Add the crayfish and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to throw off a little liquid, about 5 minutes. Add thestock; reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens, 3 to 4 minutes.
Season with salt and cayenne.
Remove from the heat. Add the green onions and parsley. Serve in bowls over rice.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Lady From Shanghai (1947)

My youngest son has been taking a Film Noir class, and while many of the movies have been unavailable on line or at our local library, we have managed to watch the few that are, and this is one of them.
The story is much like what happens in Double Indemnity, where a man falls hopelessly for a woman and does something seemingly ridiculously stupid in order to get or stay in her good graces.  This movie starts Rita Hayworth as the vamp woman and Orson Welles is the star struck man.  Murder is the plot, and things unravel slowly over the course of the movie to an ending that is satisfactory.  The thing that I noted and my husband corroborated is that the noir genre is not very good to women.  I guess overall it doesn't say anything good about men that they would do anything, including killing someone, for a woman they barely know, but women are portrayed as the source of the evil and men are portrayed as followers.  Since the plot goes wrong, the women do not come out ahead, even by their own assessment.  An interesting film genre, although not one that I will add to my list of favorites.

Monday, April 18, 2016

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Stroud

I was given this wonderful book as a present, as a way to make sure that I did not lose my way while I am undergoing chemotherapy.  I have had a tremendous and surprising lack of ability to read good fiction while this has been going on, and I used this slim book as an entry back into the world of reading something more memorable than murder mysteries and more age appropriate than young adult fiction (which I love, and am not the least bit concerned that I am far older than the target audience).
This is is both a book of withholdings and a book of great openness and wisdom. It starts with the clean, solid structure and narrative distance of a fairy tale yet becomes more intimate and improvisational.  We spend most of out time with Lucy during her nine week hospitalization.  Lucy has been estranged from her family, so when her mother shows up at her bedside three weeks into her ordeal, she is surprised.  Her mother offers no apologies.  Not for the abuse that Lucy suffered at the hands of her parents or the extreme poverty that she grew up in.  We learn about all of that throughout her mother's visit, and then just as suddenly as she arrived she leaves, and Lucy finishes out her story in short order.  It is sparse and jarring and very well written.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake

I am working on gluten free desserts that are every bit as good as the same dessert with gluten, and that really means that I am focusing on things that have a lot of fruit in them to keep them moist or things that have very little flour to begin with.  So cheesecake is my current craze (I will probably intersperse a flourless chocolate dessert soon for variety, but for now, cheesecake it is).  This one is simple and rich.

  • 1 10 ounce box  shortbread cookies, such as Lorna Doone
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  •  1 1/2 lbs. cream cheese
  •   1/4 c. flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 c. plus enough to cover the top of dulce de leche or other caramel sauce
  • Boiling water, for baking
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees . Wrap the outside of a 9-inch springform pan with foil. Using a food processor, finely chop the cookies, nuts, brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add the butter and pulse until just combined. Press into the bottom of the prepared pan and bake until set, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool. Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees .
  2. Using a mixer, beat the cream cheese until softened, 2 minutes. Beat in the flour and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt on low speed. Beat in the eggs , 1 at a time, on medium speed. Mix in 1 1/2 cup dulce de leche.
  3. Pour the batter into the crust. Loosely cover the pan with foil, set in a roasting pan and pour in enough boiling water to reach a depth of 1 inch. Bake the cheesecake until set at the edges but slightly wobbly in the center, about 55 minutes.
  4. Transfer the cake to a rack; let rest for 15 minutes. Spread the remaining 3/4 cup dulce de leche over the warm cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve, then remove the springform and slice the cheesecake.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Humphrey Bogart plays along side of John Huston's father, Walter Huston, in this dark movie about the lure that gold and money can hold over an otherwise decent man.
Bogart is down and out in Mexico when he meets up with two men who he ultimately decides to go off looking for gold with.  The Mexican hills are replete with both bandits and federales, either of whom are dangerous to the trio.  The most dangerous of all is their greed, however, especially for Bogart.  He develops a deep seated mistrust of his partners, and is willing to murder a man who comes upon them.  It is the age old story of money causing people to become a worse version of themselves, and while Bogart was warned of this before he sets out, he does not heed those words and it is ultimately his undoing.  Huston the father received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and his son Best Director in the first Academy Award ceremony where father and son were both honored.  Well worth watching.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Getting Out

I recently had my first vacation in six months.  I have had tons of time out of work, but it has all been sick leave, and not one bit of that has felt like a vacation.  So a few days away in Chicago, a mere four hours from where I live, really felt like a vacation.
I had very low expectations in order to help ensure success.  I planned to leave my home town.  That was the minimum.  I hoped to see a museum or two and to have a few good meals.  Happily, all of that came true.  The thing about a vacation in the midst of a slew of sick leave is that you can really appreciate the difference between a vacation and the other two aspects of life--working and sick leave.  I am certainly not back to my usual self, but spending an afternoon in a museum is a beautiful thing.  This exhibit of the terra cotta warriors from Xian was wonderful.  I had just been in Xian two summers ago, but seeing an exhibit in the United States is very different from the Chinese version, and it was relaxing to saunter through and absorb and also to remember when I was in China.  Such a pleasure in small things.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Sourdough Baguette

Great chewy bread!  Get out your scale to make.
  • 90 grams sourdough starter, 100-percent hydration, made with equal parts of water and flour by weight, fermented for 7 to 10 hours. To make this starter, I use 25 grams ripe and active sourdough, 50 grams flour and 50 grams water. After it ferments, I then use 90 grams of it in the bread and refresh the rest for future doughs.
  • 420 grams water
  • 590 grams flour (King Arthur Organic All Purpose Flour, Whole Foods 365 brand Organic All Purpose Flour or King Arthur All Purpose Flour are ideal, though King Arthur Bread Flour might be easier for a beginner)
  • 10 grams whole wheat flour (Bob’s Red Mill Organic Whole Wheat Flour)
  • 13 grams sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons instant dry yeast (such as SAF Instant Yeast), though I cut this back to 1 teaspoon in the summer.
  • Olive oil to grease bowl
  • Cornmeal or semolina to dust cutting board


Pour starter and yeast into bowl and add water, mixing until the starter breaks up a bit.
Add flours and mix for a couple of minutes. The dough will be heavy and shaggy. Make a slight pool in the top of the dough and add the salt, with 1 teaspoon of water. Let it rest for 10-15 minutes, covered with plastic (I put a plastic tray over my bowl).
Optional: Put a little olive oil in your palm and oil the counter so it has a very thin sheen of oil on it. The oil should keep the dough from sticking. Do not flour the counter.
Use a scraper to move dough onto the counter and begin to knead by stretching and folding dough, trying to use your finger tips, and incorporating the salt.
After kneading for 3 minutes, scrape mass into a clean bowl or plastic bin. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes.
Oil the counter again if necessary and remove dough to counter. Stretch it until 1-inch thick then fold top and bottom in thirds like a letter. Do the same left to right.
Put in bin, cover, let dough rest 20 minutes.
Remove from bin, fold again, and put back in covered bin for 20 minutes.
Remove from bin, fold again for the third and final time. Clean bin, oil lightly (with 2 tsp olive oil), and put dough back inside. Cover and place in refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.


Put baking stone in middle of oven. Place a thick rimmed cookie sheet or cast iron pan on oven floor or lower shelf. Preheat oven to 470F (245 C).
Put a little olive oil in your palm and oil a 20-by-20 inch (1/2-by-1/2 meter) section of the counter.
Then remove dough from container. Cut dough in half. Put half back in container and into refrigerator.
Cut dough into two rectangular pieces (about 250 grams each) and gently stretch into rectangles 5-by-7 inches (13-by-18 cm) with the long edge facing you.
Be careful not to press and destroy all the bubbles inside the dough.
Cover with light towel and let rest for 5 minutes.
While dough is resting, cut parchment paper large enough to fit your baking stone. Dust paper with flour. Roll up 3 kitchen towels tightly. Set aside. (Or if you have a couche, dust it lightly with flour).
Shape dough into a log by folding top and bottom of rectangle toward middle and gently sealing the seam with thumb. Then fold top to meet the bottom and seal seam. You should have a log about 1.5 to 2 inches thick (4 to 5 cm). Gently roll and stretch into a 14-inch loaf (36 cm) or just under the size of your baking stone. Don’t worry if it’s uneven.
Place each loaf on parchment paper about six inches apart, seam side down. Place one rolled up towel underneath the paper between the loaves and one under each other edge, supporting their shape. Tip: Leader describes this in his book. (Or place on couche, with loose pleats between the baguettes).
Cover with light kitchen towel and let rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour.


Put 2/3 cup water in measuring cup. (I boil the water).
Remove towels from under the parchment paper and carefully move the paper with the loaves onto a flour-dusted overturned cookie sheet or cutting board. Dust top of loaves very lightly with flour. (If you used a couche, carefully lift loaves with a bench scraper and place on parchment paper on a cutting board). Use a bench scraper to gently adjust the loaves and straighten them out.
Make four cuts on the top of the loaf with a razor blade, 1/4-inch deep, running lengthwise on the dough. A swift slash at a sharp 20-degree angle works best.
Take cutting board and slide parchment paper with baguettes onto hot baking stone. Shut oven door. Open door, and carefully pour 2/3 cup water onto cookie sheet or cast iron pan. Be very careful if using boiling water. Shut door. Do not open the oven again while baking.
Check baguettes after 18 to 20 minutes. They should be dark brown and crusty. If pale, continue baking for 1 to 2 minutes. Let cool for 20 minutes on rack before eating. They are best eaten within 6 hours.
While baguettes are baking, form the remaining dough into loaves or leave for up to 24 hours and make fresh loaves the following day.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Flatland (2007)

This is a short animated adaptation of the book of the same title.  It's aim is two fold.  The first is to teach a little geometry to the viewer.  It could be useful for a substitute teacher who is covering a math class that they have no idea how to teach.  The second is an issue of freedom and tolerance, something that the current election season has lots of us focusing on.  The idea that one should exercise tolerance with new ideas and people who come from different backgrounds is one that we could all use a reminder about.  The popularity of a candidate who espouses intolerance, violence, and blaming others for ones own problems is a relevant topic and once that this little film covers quite nicely.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Van Gogh's Bedrooms, Art Institute, Chicago

This is a very well curated exhibit that looks at a very narrow period of time in Van Gogh's life, when he lived in a house of his dreams in Arles.  Unfortunately, much of the time that he spent in Arles he spent in a sanitarium rather than in his perfect little room in his yellow house.  I have visited there, and it is a beautiful and restful place, and one where Van Gogh was very productive.  The fields of lavender are every bit as spectacular in real life as they are in his paintings of them.  The museum has a handful of paintings by Van Gogh, including the three of the bedroom, and it is well worth going through on a trip to Chicago.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Shaved Asparagus Salad

I am trying to get ready for spring and the return of greens that have been grown locally, and also trying to enjoy them in new ways.  This one uses raw asparagus for a salad.

  • 12 large asparagus spears (about 1 lb.), trimmed and peeled
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan plus a piece for shaving
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Toasted pine nuts 
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Working with 1 asparagus spear at a time, use a vegetable peeler to shave spears into long, thin shavings. Transfer to a medium bowl (the tips will snap off as spears get thinner; add to bowl). Combine grated Parmesan and lemon juice in a small bowl and slowly whisk in oil until well blended. Season vinaigrette generously with salt and pepper. Drizzle vinaigrette over shaved asparagus and toss to coat. Divide asparagus salad among plates. Use peeler to shave more Parmesan over salad and sprinkle with toasted pine nuts if desired..

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Meet the Patel's (2014)

This is current;y streaming on Netflix and is a quirky romantic comedy about love, family, obligation, and how to make choices.  It is the film version of Jhumpa Lahiri's book The Namesake.  It chronicals the first generation American experience of tension between the culture of your parents homeland and the realities of growing up in America.  There is the constant pull of tradition and walking in the shoes of those who have gone before you, and the culture of your country, which is to mix and melt.  Ravi Patel loves his parents, both who they are and what they represent of his Indian heritage.  He loves to go with them back to their home town and see them as they are seen by their relatives.  He loves the culture of India, and he loves the relationship that his parents have with each other.  that is in direct tension with his love of an American girl, who he successfully hides from his parents for years, and ultimately breaks up with her because he cannot wee how to blend her into his home life.  So instead he is miserable.  He tries the Indian way and it just doesn't work for him.  His heart is not in it, even though he really gives it a good try.  The story is told in a very funny way, and you can really understand his love for his family.  His parents are hilarious and obviously very fond of each other after years of marriage.  But the whole story winds its way around to a good ending.  Worth watching.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

One More Time

I have been repeatedly plagued with what I think are the consequences of getting chemotherapy pumped directly into your abdomen, the current state of the art therapy for ovarian cancer.  It turns out that it is not easily tolerated, especially coming as it does on the heels of major abdominal surgery.  I have had a harder time than most tolerating the consequences of this treatment, and last week was yet another round of gi consequences.
It got me thinking.  A year ago I had very little experience in the hospital and had only been in an ER a handful of times over the course of my life.  Both of those have changed significantly for me recently, and the thing that surprises me most is that it really has become routine.  I have become so used to falling and then picking myself up again that it doesn't even seem like a chore to do so.  I learn something that I have to do to avoid it again, and I hope that it will be enough to prevent it from repeating itself but am equally prepared to manage if it doesn't.  And I can only hope that this will equal success at the end of the day.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Spicy Carrot Pickles

One thing that I would like to do this summer that I did not do last summer is to experiment with pickling vegetables (the summer just seems like a good time because vegetables are more abundant and it is one way to preserve them).
On a recent trip to Chicago, we ordered the pickled vegetables at several restaurants and I cam home feeling this was a promising path to pursue.

  • 2 cups coarsely grated or julienned carrots
  • 1 hot pepper, finely diced
  • 1 serrano pepper, thinly sliced
  • ½ white onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon Vietnamese fish sauce, such as Red Boat
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup cider vinegar
  • ½ cup rice vinegar
  1. In a large metal bowl, combine the carrots, peppers, onion, salt and fish sauce. Toss well to combine.
  2. Place the sugar and vinegars in a small pot and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve. Once the mixture is at a rapid boil, pour it over the seasoned carrots. Let cool to room temperature before using. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Trainwreck (2015)

Judd Apatow's film featuring the comic Amy Shumer is a lot of fun to watch.  It is a romantic comedy with a very raw edge.  Shumer is a wonderful comic who is cut out of the cloth of Girls rather than Sex and the City.  As one of my son's says, the former is their generation and the later is the generation before.  This is grittier rather than smooth, and Shumer is much easier to relate to than Carrie Bradshaw ever was. 
Here's the story.  Amy's dad teaches she and her sister that “Monogamy isn’t realistic.” Those three words become her mantra as a young adult. She sleeps with whomever she wants, whenever she wants, but they don’t get to sleep over. Outwardly, she radiates confidence, accomplishment and happiness. There will be no slut-shaming here. But she’s also a bit of a mess, and she may have a drinking problem that enables a lot of her behavior.
Amy is a journalist who gets an assignment to write a story about a Manhattan sports doctor who treats the nation’s top athletes.
Her first meeting with the sweetly geeky Aaron Conners looks like it’ll be all business—Amy knows nothing about sports and can’t be bothered to pretend—but later that night, dinner leads to drinks and more, much more than she’d ever allowed herself to consider.  The rest of the movie is about how she changes and it is fun from start to finish.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

My daughter in law is reading this book to decide if she should use it in her class room, and so I thought one good way to get back into reading fiction that is not a murder mystery would be to turn to young adult books.  I started with this book, and am hoping it will be the first of many.  Or at least several.
Esperanza does not start off as a very likable girl, which makes getting into the book hard.  I just did not like her, and didn't find any of the other characters all that compelling at first, so hard to move forward.  That is unfortunate, because overall the book is quite good, depicting the immigrant experience, and the sacrifices that people make to have a better life for their children and families.  It is very far from my personal history, so in that way it transports me into someone else's shoes.  It also is timely in the current political environment, where some are trying to lay blame at the feet of immigrants for the situation they find themselves in, which is regrettable.  Maybe this will change some minds.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Slack Time, Family Style

One of my sons is working with a start up that is using the application Slack.  It is an app that was developed for businesses to improve communication and keep some things out of your email inbox.  In an effort to better understand what our kid is doing, we as a family have been slacking.
I am very much an old dog learning a new trick.  I was not what you would call particularly enthusiastic about the process, and it took some coaching for me to even realize how to move from conversation to conversation but now I am in love with it.  There is no sense of urgency to respond like there is with a text.  There are multiple conversations set up with various groups of people in our Slack family, and it is much easier to find them and move between them than it is for me on Facebook Message.  So here I am, in my mid-50s, finding yet another new fangled thing pretty great.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Man Up (2015)

This is a great light romantic comedy that is streaming on Netflix.  I have become a big fan of Simon Pegg over the years and he turns in a great performance here.  In this movie he plays a character who is 40 and still being set up on blind dates.  Nancy is in a similar situation, although she has contemplated giving up altogether.  Which doesn't explain why when she met an annoying woman on the train en route to the Simon Pegg date, she decides to nab him.  She pretends to be his blind date, and it is all going so well up until the time where she has to tell him what she has done.  By that point in the movie he takes it quite poorly.  He then goes back and meets his original date, only to discover that she is entirely wrong for him.  All he has to do is find her.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Cream of Asparagus Soup

Amazingly, I have never made this soup before.  Two things conspired to change that.  The first was that my spouse let me know that he is not all that fond of asparagus.  What?  Really?  Well, what to do with the bunch that I have had in my fridge for at least two weeks?  It was not even deteriorating so the tips could be saved for soup, even.  The second is that the six cups of stock my spouse had saved for me from his last batch was in need of a soup to go in, and my plan to make lentil soup was an epic fail after I dropped the jar of dried French lentils on my granite counter and the shattered glass comingled with the lentils in such a way that I decided the safest thing to do was to put them all into the trash.
So, Cream of Asparagus Soup it is.  And what a simple recipe!

  • 2 pounds green asparagus
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1-2 small potatoes diced
  • 5 to 6 cups  broth
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
  1. Cut off bottom of the stalks from a bunch of asparagus
  2. 1 1/2 inches from top and halve tips lengthwise if thick. Reserve for garnish.
  3. Cut stalks and all remaining asparagus into 1/2-inch pieces. Dice potatoes and chop onion.
  4. Cook onion,  asparagus pieces, salt and pepper to taste, and 5 cups broth and simmer, covered, until asparagus is very tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
  5. Purée soup in batches in a blender until smooth, transferring to a bowl (use caution when blending hot liquids), and return to pan. Stir in half and half, then add more broth to thin soup to desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Add lemon juice and garnish with asparagus tips.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Rockin' In Time by David Szatmary

This is an historical look at the social backdrop behind the various eras in rock and roll.  It looks like a book that wouldn't have much substance (something about the way it is published just makes it seem cartoonish rather than academic), but it is really very good.  The parts that are best relate to the aspects of the political, social, and economic factors that drive change, interwoven with the technical advances that contributed to the changes in rock and roll over time.  I have never studied the history of music, but I have been alive through much of the time that rock has been around, so it was particularly enlightening to me just how things link with each other, and how genres of music rise and fall over time.  Very well worth the time to read if you are interested in music, and goes all the way up to the 21st century when things like Spotify and straming music may make things like the album cover a complete historical phenomenon rather than the pop art of our time.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Sita Sings the Blues (2008)

This is no April Fool's joke--I loved this movie.  It is not, however, an animated movie aimed primarily at children.  It is a retelling of of the classic Indian story of Sita, and it is interwoven with the telling of the break up of the film maker's marriage (note to self--do not get involved with anyone who does writing or acting for a living.  Your life might be on public display).  I loved the various ways the author told each part of the story, and it is juxtaposed with blues songs from the 1920's as performed by Annette Henshaw.  Really wonderful pairings of story with the song, and while it is quirky in the telling of the story, it is also entirely enjoyable and fairly unique.  Highly recommend this for older children and adults alike.