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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Spotlight (2015)

This is a film about the unmasking of the Catholic church's systematic cover-up of sexual abuse by priests.  Thankfully it is much more about the process of discovery by the Boston Globe's investigative reporting group than it is watching predatory priests harming children.  The later would just be much too painful, and in many ways not illuminating.  We know that pedophiles believe that their actions are defensible and that it is society that misunderstands them.  They refuse to acknowledge the life long damage they inflict.  So it would be infuriating to get too close to that kind of thinking.  This is about the team gradually coming to understand the scope of the problem in Boston and then their methods of uncovering it and moving forward with information that was damaging to the Catholic church in a Catholic town.  Remarkable story and inspiring in a way that we have ceased to think about reporters.  Well worth watching.

Monday, May 30, 2016

My Boy Jack by Rudyard Kipling (1915)

Remembering veterans this day.  Jack was Rudyard Kipling's son.  He was killed early in the first World War.

“Have you news of my boy Jack? ”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.
“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind—
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Stir Fry Spinach with Garlic

I have been getting my greens on this summer, and this dish literally takes just a minute or two to cook.  And it is delicious--but in truth, you really need to quadruple the recipe if you really want to get your fill of it.

10 to 16 ounces spinach or baby spinach
2 to 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch of sugar(can omit)


  1. Wash and dry the spinach: Spin the washed spinach in a salad spinner or press thoroughly between kitchen towels to make sure the spinach is as dry as possible before cooking. Spinach with a lot of water on the leaves will steam in the wok and become soggy.
  2. Chop the spinach into pieces: Remove any thick, tough stems. Chop or tear the spinach leaves into roughly 2-inch pieces. Baby spinach can be stir-fried as is.
  3. Heat the wok: Set your wok or skillet over high heat until a drop of water evaporates within a second or two of contact.
  4. Add the oil: Pour the oil down the side of the pan. Swirl to coat the bottom and lower sides of the wok evenly.
  5. Stir-fry the garlic: Stir-fry just until fragrant, 10 to 20 seconds.
  6. Add the spinach: Add the spinach to the pan all at once. Stir to mix in the garlic and coat the spinach with oil.
  7. Stir-fry until just starting to wilt: Stir-fry the spinach until you see the edges of the leaves start to soften, 30 to 60 seconds.
  8. Add the salt and sugar: Sprinkle the salt and sugar evenly over the spinach.
  9. Stir-fry less than one more minute: Keep moving the spinach around the wok until the spinach has just barely collapsed and wilted, but is still bright green.
  10. Serve immediately: Transfer the spinach to a serving plate and serve immediately.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Ashby (2015)

This is a funny movie overall, but there are real elements of seriousness that pervade it as well.  It is streaming on Netflix, which is always a plus (I find that it is sometimes hard for me to find movies that I will enjoy but have never heard of on Netflix, which is why I mention that).  Ed is the new kid in high school and is suffering from all that comes with that. He doesn't have much in the way of support until he meets his next door neighbor, Ashby.  Ashby has just had a seizure and lost his driver's license so when Ed comes to interview him about his life Ashby sees him as a potential chauffeur.  The draw for Ed is that he discovers that Ashby has a history as a CIA assassin and a basement chock full of weapons.  He is not at all who he appears to be and Ed really loves that about him.  Ashby helps Ed with his ability to stand up to bullies and Ed becomes his unwitting wheel man.  A match made in heaven.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Z and Y Restaurant, San Francisco

This is a new restaurant to us in Chinatown in San Francisco, which we found from an article in the San Francisco newspaper.  We arrived just as they were opening for lunch and by the time we left there was an impressive line outside that reflected the fact that we were not the first people to find the food to be quite good.  The menu is broad but emphasizes Szechuan specialties, and I recommend going with a big appetite and as many people as you can round up because there are so many wonderful dishes that you would not want to miss.  Pictured here are two of our favorites that were also a bit unusual.  To the right is a scallion pancake rolled up with a slice of highly seasoned and thinly sliced beef, along with some vegetables that was spectacular.  The other is wontons in a spicy Szechuan sauce and sprinkled with peanuts--hard to manage if you are not adept with chopsticks (they will provide forks, but you have to ask) but excellent practice (especially if you are revving up for some dim sum!) and well worth the effort.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Tamarind Shrimp

After a wonderful trip to San Francisco recently, where we ate excellent Szechuan food and out of this world dim sum, we admitted that while it was unlikely that we would ever be able to put on spreads like the ones that we had, that we would still like to cook Asian food more proficiently.  The restarting of our CSA and the weekly bounty of vegetables is a perfect time to try to raise our game in that arena.  I love the spring, because while there is not much in the way of variety of vegetables, the quantity starts out at a very managable level, and so we can ease into the big summer volume.

This was made by my spouse for a low calorie dinner--delicious!

1 1/2 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup Tamarind liquid (see below--I buy it already made)
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp Sriracha chili sauce
1 1/2 lbs large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 sprigs cilantro

To make the flavoring sauce, in a small bowl, combine the sugar, tamarind liquid, fish sauce and Sriracha.  Stir to dissolve the sugar.  Taste the sauce and adjust the flavors to taste, if necessary.  Add extra sugar to reduce tartness, fish sauce for more savory depth, chili sauce for extra heat or water to dilute.
Refresh the shrimp by putting them in a colander and tossing them with a liberal amount of salt.  Rinse immediately under lots of cold water and drain well.
In a wok or large skillet, heat the oil over high heat until hot but not smoking.  Ad the shallot and garlic and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add the shrimp and stir-fry for about 1 minute, or until they have turned pinkish orange and are half-cooked.  They will release juice and look shiny.
Give the flavoring sauce a stir, pour it over the shrimp, and stir to coat the shrimp.  Let the sauce come to a vigorous boil, stirring occasionally to keep the elements moving.  The sauce will reduce to a thickish consistency, in about 2-3 minutes.
Transfer the shrimp and sauce to a deep plate or shallow bowl.  Garnish with cilantro and serve immediately.

Tamarind Liquid

1 package (14-16 oz) seedless tamarind pulp
4 cups water
In a small saucepan, combine tamarind pulp and water over medium heat.  Bring mixture to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat, cover, and set aside to steep and soften for about 30 minutes, or until you can easily press the pulp against the side of the pan with a fork.
Roughly break up the pulp to make it easier to strain.  Position a sieve over a bowl and pour in the tamarind.  Using a rubber spatula or metal spoon, vigorously stir and press the solids against the mesh to force as much of the pulp through as possible.  If necessary, return the pulp to the saucepan, add some of the already strained liquid, stir to loosen up more of the pulp, and then work it through the sieve again.  When the pulp is spent, discard the fibrous leftovers.  The resulting liquid will resemble chocolate cake batter.
Use the liquid immediately, or pour into ice-cube trays and freeze.  Note how much each tamarind cube contains; it is typically about 2 tbsp.  Once the cubes are frozen hard, transfer them to a ziploc bag and store in the freezer for up to 6 months.  

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Case of You (2013)

This is a romantic comedy that is streaming on Netflix.  Since my spouse was not up for too serious a movie, this one hit the spot.  As was stated by another reviewer, the very best scene is when hack writer Sam Newman (Justin Long) meets with a literary agent (Vince Vaughn) about his passion project, an autobiographical novel based on his courtship of pixie-haired dream girl Birdie (Evan Rachel Wood). The agent thinks that the manuscript has serious literary merit, and Sam is elated. His happiness turns to horror, though, when the agent begins to describe the narrator, whom Sam modeled on himself, as an emotionally stunted character on the brink of a big fall.  The agent is trying to engage Sam in a discussion of what possible thing could change that would save the narrator from certain doom so that the novel has a surprise ending, but he is having trouble coming up with something that will work, because the situation is so dire. The agent doesn’t realize that Sam and Birdie’s relationship is meant to be romantic; to him, it reads as doomed and delusional.  Sam comes to his senses, sees the wisdom of the agent's insights and goes about trying to save what is left of his relationship with Birdie, who really does love him and see him for who he is and not just who he pretends to be. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Risk Reduction Surgery

I listened to a piece on NPR a couple of weeks ago about women having bilateral mastectomies with increasing frequency when only one breast is affected with breast cancer.  The health care professionals interviewed were alarmed by the trend because there is no survival advantage to this approach, and since it is major surgery, why would women choose this option.  The piece touched briefly on what would be a motivator for me, which would be that I would be reducing my risk of having to have chemotherapy again, which is a not insignificant consideration.  The physicians commented that a new cancer in the other breast is not likely, and if it were to occur, it would be caught early and is therefore survivable.  Great, but survival is not the only thing going on here (although it is obviously very important).  The fear of it coming back, and having to undergo chemotherapy again would be overwhelming for me.  Not to mention that a second go round with chemo carries increased secondary cancer risks that we really don't know that much about.  The ability to quantify the quality of the life one leads is very far behind the ability to quantify the quantity of life we have, and that is an important gap to recognize and think about.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Rhubarb Mojito

We have been making some things with rhubarb this spring, which has been a very good thing.

1 oz white rum
2 oz rhubarb syrup (recipe below)
5 (or so) mint leaves
1 Tablespoon lime juice
lime zest

In the bottom of a glass add a bit of nutmeg, lime zest, mint leaves and the lime juice. Using a muddler or the end of a wooden spoon muddle the ingredients. You want to really bruise and break up the mint leaves. Add the rum and syrup, give a light stir then top with ice. Garnish with mint and a thin slice of rhubarb.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Spectre (2015)

I was shocked to hear one of my kids talking about James Bond movies in a dismissive way.  They just do not hold the cache they once did, is what I was led to believe.  True, they  have been more imitative than innovative. Even in the 1960s, which is when I first saw them, they were essentially superhero movies starring an indestructible character who wore suit instead of tights. He ran, jumped, drove and flew (with the new addition of parkor) through the movie,  which occurred in exotic and beautiful locations. If you like all that, then you should be more or less happy with this installment, but somehow I found it unnecessarily complicated and while it had all the elements of a good Bond movie, somehow when they were all put together, I was a little disappointed.
The Daniel Craig Bond character harkens back to the early days of the series with a hero who is more human than other Bonds.  Christoph Waltz' bad guy is well within the bounds of off-the-chart evil that you would expect for a Bond opponent.  I think it was the script that I had quarrel with more than anything.  It is a star studded cast and a darkly filmed movie that will probably make lots of people happier than I was with it.  Maybe I am just not that into Bond any more.  The end of an era.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Illness Undisguised

I have not gone around with a bandage covering my ear, as Van Gogh does here, in such beautiful and vivid detail.  I did make the decision that I would not hide the fact that I was without hair under a wig.  I tried, and it just did not work for me.  My oncologist had a very good discussion with me about the disfiguring aspects of chemotherapy, and the fact that losing my hair would be hard, even if I didn't think that it would be ahead of time.  I was fortunate not to lose all my hair in the beginning, and so I had plenty of time to adjust to it and how I wanted to approach it.
It turned out that in the end, time did not help me much.  I just couldn't get used to what felt like fakeness to me about the wig.  I really deeply wish I could overcome those feelings, but after a lot of struggle, I had to admit that I just could not.  Those who know and work with me would not be fooled either way.  A wig is after all not my own hair, and even though I got a very good wig that I very much like the style of, there is no way anyone who knew me would be fooled by it.  So wearing a head covering of a cloth nature wasn't so bold in that respect.  What I did not realize was that it would definitely announce to those that I do not know that I was getting chemotherapy.  I was recently on a return trip to a number of restaurants in Chicago, and on several occasions, someone in the restaurant noted they had served us on a previous trip.  We are not a family that stands out or is in any way memorable.  We enjoy food and each others company, don't get me wrong.  We don't go back to a place that we don't think is great, but rarely do people recognize us on a second go round.  Nope, I am pretty sure that not wearing a wig is what was the game changer.  At first it surprised me, but on second thought I realized that was the downside of my approach.  I was sharing what I was going through with everyone, strangers included.  So be it, because while I am hoping to have enough hair by the end of the summer to look punk, I might not.

Friday, May 20, 2016

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

This is the book that the movie was made from last year and it is a good young adult book.  The story is about a senior in high school who is on the brink of going to college.  She has a boyfriend who is a bit older than her, and they are trying to work out the very common problem of how to balance the desire to continue a relationship with the dreams and opportunities afforded to them.  In her case it is a chance to be at Julliard to study cello and for him it is a band that is increasing in popularity.  The band is touring throughout the northwest and already they are apart more often than they are together.  Then there is a tragic event.  The girl is in a car crash and her parents and brother are killed and she is in a coma.  While unconscious, she struggles with whether she wants to live and why.  Heavy material, but the underlying theme is whether to follow your heart or your opportunities.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Welcome to the Riley's (2010)

This is an emotionally complicated movie that goes places you might not expect.  James Gandolfini and his wife Melissa Leo have lost their connection to each other since their fifteen year old daughter was killed in a car accident.  Leo blames herself for her daughters death, and as a result she has not left the house in years.  Gandolfini has taken a lover, but they are both miserable.  It all comes to a head when his lover dies suddenly of a heart attack. He takes off for a business meeting in New Orleans and decides to sell his business and not return home.  While in New Orleans he meets a young runaway prostitute who he befriends.  Is he trying to save her or is he trying to recapture his relationship with someone his daughter's age?  Or is he trying to save her when he failed to save his daughter?  We never find out, but she becomes the mechanism by which the couple finds their way back to each other.  Leo follows him the New Orleans and moves into the prostitutes rental with him.  She tells him that he may leave her, but that she will never leave him, and they make some tentative steps back to each other.  The rest of the story is left hanging.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Get Out and Feel the Culture

Can you hear the hoot too?
It is the call of culture luring you in.
Up until last month I had rarely ventured outside of my house in six months.  I was waylaid by a combination of chemotherapy, fatigue, and a need to avoid both crowds and noise.  So for my first vacation in months, I wanted to be sure to keep my expectations low so that I would not be disappointed.  One of my very favorite things that I got over this six month period of time was daily art.  A friend who is far more knowledgeable than I sent me art every day.  It was so profoundly uplifting that I wanted to be sure that my first vacation in months included some museums, even if I could only do one or two things there.
I managed to do this while I was in Chicago.  I saw two exhibits at the Field Museum and spent an afternoon at the Art Institute, and while it was not an exhaustive viewing of what either place had to offer, it was very uplifting to be amongst beautiful things.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Growing Up With Grief

My brother was born 55 years ago today, and came home several days later on my birthday.  Sadly, he soon contracted polio, and the complications of it killed him eight years later.  That was the first tragedy in my life, having a sibling who was first physically disabled and then gone.  I grew up with it. What happened to me was so much different from what was happening to other ten year olds that it became hard to identify with those who hadn't had something major to cope with.  Then, as now, people don't much talk about the sadness in their lives, and so while it wasn't verbalized, I was drawn to those who shared my silence and my grief.  I didn't know this consciously, but in retrospect it was the beginning of a life long pattern.
The first was a friend whose family had escaped the Shah's Iran.  How they had come to leave their homeland and live near me I never knew much about, but I did know that I was comfortable with them, and they nurtured another love, one of food from multiple cultures.  I never turned down a meal at their table, and my favorite meals to this day are those that highlight food that I do not make well, foods from cultures that are not my own.  The second close friend at that time grew up in a large family of adopted children, herself included.  Her parents adopted those who were hard to adopt.  Her sister had leukemia, another had hydrocephalus, a third was born without functioning limbs.  No one could visit her house and feel that they had the worst fate.  All sorts of unfortunate possibilities were visually on display.
 In many ways I was lucky to learn to cope with this early on in life.  Life is hard and not fair and yet exquisitely beautiful.  I think it helped me be resilient and thankful for what I have, and yet the sadness of loss had not gone away.  So today I once again thank my brother for everything that he taught me in his all too short life.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Bridge of Spies (2015)

I have been on a great run of watching good movies, and this is no exception (despite the fact that it is over two hours long).   It chronicles the real life story of the Russian spy Rudolph Abel (played by Mark Rylance, who won Best Supporting Actor for this role) and his court appointed lawyer, Jim Donovan (played ably by Tom Hanks).  Donovan is tasked with appearing to provide a competent defense for Abel, despite the fact that he was not a criminal defense attorney, and he took that job more seriously than most intended him to, appealing his conviction to the Supreme Court, where he lost.  His commendable approach to defending Abel won him no friends and plenty of enemies, and when he was approached about brokering a prisoner exchange with the Soviets several years later he participated, despite the poor treatment he had received.  The most interesting thing about watching the movie was the outrage our son had at the prisoner’s treatment.  He didn’t realize that many of the rights that he takes for granted post-dated the time of the movie.  The most disturbing thing about watching the movie is that not much has changed in our approach to those who wish to do us harm.  The public opinion and treatment of Abel is very reminiscent of terrorists put on trial and the fact that we lacked Guantanamo in the 1950s was not lost on me.  We have a long way to go to extend civil rights equally to all. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Music of Break Up

My youngest son had a final project for a class that involved picking a group of songs that had something in common with each other, and writing about each of them.  He chose songs about breaking up and then he and I struggled to come up with some good examples.  He had a few and I had almost nothing.  Other than a few Bob Dylan songs, even the songs that I knew that had that theme I failed to recognize.  So we put out a call to family members to aid us in our efforts and two were able to almost instantly come up with quite a few.  Which got me thinking.  I am not internalizing the lyrics of many songs that I listen to, and I really do not seek out songs that chronicle the end of a relationship.  I have always been a ballad lover, and while they often chronicle tragedy, it is not end of relationship material.  I seek out bigger fish.  Things that make headlines, not matters of the heart.  I also realized that not only do I dwell on the lyrics, there are times when songs that I love have lyrics that make almost no sense.  So much for my self assessment that I am a woman of the book.  Not true, at least when it comes to music.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Doubter's Almanac by Ethan Canin

This book, which takes its title from a Descartes quote stressing the importance of doubt in the pursuit of truth, is a  tightly focused and powerful book.  Unfortunately for me,  I really did not like anyone in it.  The ability to like characters is not a key to success in a novel (thank goodness, in many respects), but there is a lot that is very painful about each and everyone of these characters.  They encompass, en total, some of the big pitfalls to the human condition.  The prevalence of substance abuse that runs through the novel is another reason that it can be hard to muster up a lot of compassion--which is odd, because in many instances the descent into alcohol or something mind altering is something that brings out the helper in a reader, but these characters are unlikable enough that when they get into trouble, I just didn't want to help them, I just waited for fate to run its course.
The novel tells the story of Milo Andret's life, from a solitary 1950s childhood in the woods of northern Michigan through his academic years of feverish productivity and being awarded the prestigious Fields Medal. It also tracks his frustrations, thwarted in love at Berkeley and confounded by a devilishly difficult problem at Princeton before a disgraced return to the Midwest.  The book covers a lot of points of view en route, and that is its strength, although inevitably I liked some view points better than others.  A very thought provoking book that is well worth a read.

Friday, May 13, 2016

A Brilliant Young Mind (2015)

This is a very good British movie about exactly what is different about those with autism, and in some ways it demonstrates just how important it is for those kids who are “on the spectrum”.  Nathan knows that he is different, and tragically his father, the only person who really got him, dies in a car accident when he is quite young, and his mother (aptly played by Sally Hawkins) is left to cope.  She does an admirable job of getting him the help he needs to fully realize his talents as a mathematician, going so far as to be recognized as one of the very best in England.  It is in that group of kids that he does not stand out as that weird, and he has his first interactions with girls that is positive.  The mantra for raising kids who are a bit different is to help them to feel as normal as possible for as long as possible so that they can gain as much as possible, and this is a really nice film depicting the value of that.  There is a side bar message about trauma and how hard it is to process in childhood that is also well worth thinking about for all of us, not just those who are raising kids who are a bit different.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Spicy Stir Fried Asparagus

I have really been enjoying asparagus this spring, and have found the quick fry method of cooking it to be a favorite (last year I roasted it all the time).  You can

1 ½ pounds  asparagus            
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 1 serrano or other fresh hot chile, finely chopped
  • A large handful of basil, mint and cilantro leaves                  
    1. Snap off and discard the tough bottoms of each asparagus spear. Cut the asparagus into 2-inch lengths
    2. In a wok or cast-iron skillet, heat the oil until nearly smoking. Add the asparagus, season generously with salt and pepper and stir well, making sure the asparagus is coated and glistening with oil. Continue to stir-fry over high heat for about 1-3 minute, depending on the thickness of the asparagus, until it looks bright green and barely cooked. Add the garlic, ginger and chile and stir-fry for 30 seconds more.
    3. Transfer to a serving platter and scatter leaves on top. Serve immediately

    Wednesday, May 11, 2016

    The Past by Tessa Hadley

    This is a book that chronicles the relationship of siblings to each other and to place.  It is about the capacity for families to splinter into dozens of pieces, and just how easily that can be accomplished with a few well placed opportunities and a little dash of psychopathology (which we all have to a greater or lesser degree).  It is a well written book that revolves around four siblings who are staying at their grandmother's house in the country.  She is long since gone and the siblings are not terribly close, but somehow agree to spend three weeks together there.  I really like my extended family, but this would be a long time to get along in environs that are not quite home and yet not a vacation.  Nothing novel to coalesce around and not familiar enough to relax in.   So what you would expect to happen does indeed happen.  There is the occasional curve ball thrown in, but the thing that makes this book really good is the way it is written.  I have not read this author before, but she is excellent, and just the sort of thing that I associate with the Booker Prize--a well written book with little in the way of action, so it's beauty and allure is all in the telling of a reasonably familiar tale.

    Tuesday, May 10, 2016

    Testament of Youth (2015)

    The British really are obsessed with World War I.  It was the crashing end of the highly structured class system in Britain, with old families still able to maintain big houses and equally big staff well into the 20th century, despite all.  Never mind that it was a false economy built on the backs of the sprawling British colonies, and that their insistence on maintaining that to the detriment of almost everyone led quite directly to World War II.  France was equally to blame with their priority on making Germany pay for the decimation of their countryside, no doubt about that.  It was a disaster, and yet none of the films about it really capture the enormity of it’s impact on history.  The cost in this film is purely personal.  Young men go gallantly off to war and come home crippled, maimed, or dead.  And in very large numbers, which changes everything.  Women volunteer as nurses and put themselves in the path of danger, but also in the know about just how terrible it all is.  They lose their friends, their lovers, and their siblings in large numbers.  The rich rushed into battle to do their duty rather than hiding out behind the lines and therefore everyone was affected.  A generation was changed and this is yet another very good depiction of the enormity of that.  Well worth a watch, very well done, and yet there really is nothing new here.

    Monday, May 9, 2016

    Spring Pasta Carbonara

    This is a variation on the recipe from the New York Times.  I made it without bacon because I wanted it to be super easy to make (not that cooking bacon is an insurmountable task, but it does add to prep time and not everyone wants to add meat to every meal, and this could be a good Meatless Monday option.  I also did not add peas because we have great asparagus available now, but they could be added or substituted for asparagus.  This pasta has a richness from the eggs (yes, five whole eggs--but a pound of pasta goes far with this dish) and you will not miss the bacon if you go this route.
    • 1 pound spaghetti
    • 4-8 spears of asparagus, sliced diagonally 
    • 10 fresh basil leaves, chiffoned
    • 5 eggs, whisked, at room temperature
    • 2 tablespoons milk
    • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
    • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
    1. Heat a sauté pan over medium heat and add the bacon, cooking for about 5 minutes, until crispy. Transfer the cooked bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper towel and set aside. Return the pan with the rendered fat to the stove top for future use.
    2. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. . Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook for the amount of time recommended, or until al dente.
    3. While the pasta cooks, heat a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the asparagus, and sauté for about 5 minutes, until cooked but still a bit crunchy. Remove from the heat, stir in the basil, and set aside.
    4. Whisk together the eggs and milk. Have the egg mixture, Parmesan, and asparagus ready to toss with very hot pasta.  Toss vigorously to cook the eggs without curdling them then serve.

    Sunday, May 8, 2016

    Mother's Day

    Parenting is definitely the hardest job out there.  One thing about it is that you are really never off the hook.  They become adults and you are still their parent.  Certainly it is possible that your children might fire you.  I am sure that happens all the time, even if the firing lasts only minutes or hours.  There are parents who should be fired indefinitely,that is also true; those that physically and verbally abuse their children need to be kicked to the curb by their offspring if they are going to have any hope of a future life that is fulfilling to them.  There are no entrance exams to get into the club.  It is altogether too easy to become a parent and all too hard to remain one.  The other difficult lesson is that one size does not fit all children.  What works for one does not in any way guarantee that the same approach will work for the next.  So you cannot rest on your laurels if child #1 escapes drugs, disasters, and encounters with the law.  The next child might need something altogether different.  Cruelly, the children themselves think that fairness is the only way to approach them, and when you do something for one, the others have every expectation that they too will have the same benefits (but not necessarily the consequences).
    This year my parenting game has been severely affected by having cancer.  Not surprisingly, my children have responded quite differently to life threatening illness in their mother, and I am just now starting to work on what I can do to help.  Before it was all more or less left to my spouse to deal with because I was just too ill much of the time to do more than attend to myself.  So that is the task between now and next Mother's Day, to better handle my job as a mother now that I have a big piece of uncertainty about my future to cope with.  Wish me luck because I am definitely going to need it.

    Saturday, May 7, 2016

    The Big Short (2015)

    This is a jaunty film about the meltdown of the financial system and the corruptness that underlies what happened.   How does it manage to keep it light?  First by focusing on those who saw what was coming and while they by no means tried to stop it, they did become increasingly alarmed when the market was not acting as it should and tried to figure out why.  The answer, as we all know, is that the system is rigged, and while a few banks and investment houses went down in the crash in 2008, few did and almost no one went to jail.  We could learn a thing or two from Iceland, where the financial crooks were treated as crooks and incarcerated.  Not so here.  The movie is packed with good acting.  Steve Carell is excellent, maybe the best that I have seen him, and Christian Bale has taken his wooden style of acting to where it needs to be and become quite good at portraying a kind of character.  Brad Pitt is almost unrecognizable and Ryan Gosling takes a double take to notice, but they both put in great performances in a film that almost flippantly tells the saddest story of the 21st century in America.  It could well explain how an outsider like Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee, managing to escape the wrath of voters against the very moneyed class that the crash protected at their expense.  We all desperately want to believe the best of those with money, and that is simply not the case.  This movie makes that all very palatable to watch.

    Friday, May 6, 2016

    Reflections on Passover

    Once again the week of Passover has come and gone, and once again I have managed to mistakenly eat hametz.  This time my excuse is that I woke up from surgery and the only thing that was appealing on the list of possible things to eat was graham crackers.  I was well into my second bite before I realized and switched to ice cream.  I have had a much more celebratory holiday season since I started eating kitniyot two years ago (which means that I am only avoiding the 5 grains that the Torah says to avoid--wheat, spelt, barley, rye, and oats--rather than all the legumes and additional assorted grains, as the Ashkenazy tradition has dictated for eons.  That is a game changer.  It means that Mexican food (corn) and Asian food (rice) are on the menu, and it is less of a hardship and more of a holiday.  But it still means that I think about the restrictions for eight days, and with that I think about the toll that slavery takes.  We are in the midst of a resurgence in open prejudice in the United States.  Some people want to blame immigrants and those living in poverty for their life troubles, rather than those who make literally thousands of dollars an hour balking at paying a minimum wage of $15/hour to their employees.  It is absurd in the extreme.  The theme of personal freedom and social justice run rife with the Passover story, and while I am not a huge fan of matzah and I am surprised each year by how hard it is to keep Passover, it is well worth the time to think about these themes while enjoying the fourth or fifth matzah ball of the week.

    Thursday, May 5, 2016

    Dinner with Friends

    I have been struggling with my appetite for months now, and over that time I have noticed that I eat much better when I am eating out.  Be it a restaurant or a meal at the house of friends, I am much more likely to eat like my normal self than when I am home, especially if home means being left to my own devices.
    I just had a wonderful dinner with friends recently, where the hosts spent time and effort on creating a memorable meal, with great success.  The appetizers were delicious--I ate so many I was worried I wouldn't have anything left for the meal, but that thankfully did not happen, because the meal and the dessert were every bit as wonderful as the pre-meal options.  The thing that I love about eating in people's homes is that it is more private and more relaxed.  There is no orchestration of when to leave, other than the clock and the obligations of the next day.  That always puts me in a good frame of mind--I might not always stay there, and over the past six months there have been a number of times where my fatigue or my pain have limited me more than anything else, but I am constantly and gratefully reminded that dinner with friends is a wonderful thing.

    Wednesday, May 4, 2016

    The Runaways (2010)

    This movie is about Joan Jett's first band and her entry into the world of being a woman in rock and roll.  We watched this because my youngest son is taking a gender and film class, and I have to say that in general and with this movie specifically, the road for women in rock is not an easy one.  You can see why 95% of the music business is made up of men.  I also see that lauding the recently and suddenly deceased Prince for his support of women at all levels of music, from performers to those who are behind the scenes, is very important.  He made a difference.
    Suffice it to say that the movie is just what you would expect.  The women get carried away when they are on the road, their producer is a very unlikable guy, the band does not easily get the respect they deserve, and in the end, only the ones with grit manage to thrive.  It is a good depiction of that, and unlike The Rose, it is not painful to watch.

    Tuesday, May 3, 2016

    The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie

    This is the authors first novel, and her voice reminds me of Curtis Sittenfeld, who I like very much.  Veblen and Paul are getting ready for their upcoming marriage.  He is in the middle of an experiment that could make him both rich and famous, and may be a bit distracted and not at his best as a result.  But their first meeting with each of their families does not go at all well.  Veblen's mother uses her hypochondriasis to keep everyone around her very close and Paul seems like a real threat to her now limited hold on Veblen.  Her father has resided in a mental institution for years and may be the healthier member of the parents.  Paul's family is equally damaged.  his parents lives revolve around his older brother who has some sort of mental condition and Paul spent his childhood being marginalized and afraid to bring anyone home to see his family.  They have both left home in many ways, but as their marriage gets closer, several things combine to derail them.  It is a very good read and I highly recommend it.

    Monday, May 2, 2016

    Radish Slaw

    My eldest son made this to go with roast beef sandwiches, which it is apparently delicious in, but I liked it just as a side salad.

    1/2 lb. shredded radish
    1 1/2 Tbs. white vinegar
    1 Tsp. kosher salt
    1 Tsp. sugar
    1 Tbp. olive oil
    1 Tbs. horseradish
    Parsley to taste

    Mix the ingredients together and serve.

    Sunday, May 1, 2016

    The Secret of Kells (2009)

    This is a film about a young and very brave medieval monk named Brendan, a sacred book, a storied monastery, a fairy girl, an alarming creature and a forest containing little nuts that make brilliant green inks. The fairy girl is quite real, as Brendan can see for himself.  Or is she?
    The Irish are a verbal people, preserving legends in story and song. The Book of Kells is a painstakingly illuminated medieval manuscript preserving the four gospels, and every page is a work of art. Many monks created it over many years.  Perhaps the viewer is to think that  Brendan was one of them. Brendan befriends old Brother Aidan, a traveler who has arrived bearing the precious book. Some pages remain to be created, and Aidan says Brendan must help. He can start by disobeying the Abbot, venturing outside the walls, and gathering the nuts he needs to make the ink.
    This and his further adventures are a little like an illuminated manuscript itself. Just as every margin of the Book of Kells is crowded with minute and glorious decorations, so is every shot of the film filled with patterns and borders, arches and frames, do-dads and scrimshaw images. The colors are bold and bright; the drawings are simplified and 2-D. That reflects the creation of the original book in the centuries before the discovery of perspective during the Renaissance.
    The movie has a wide appeal, with a gap in the middle. I think it will appeal to children young enough to be untutored in boredom, and to anyone old enough to be drawn in, or to appreciate the artistry.