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Monday, October 23, 2017

Two Stars Collide: A Game Changer

Four times in the past 2 years, physicists working with mammoth gravitational-wave detectors have sensed something go bump in the dark, sending invisible ripples through spacetime. This past week, they announced the detection of a fifth such disturbance—but this time astronomers saw it, too, at every wavelength of light from gamma radiation to radio waves. Just as physicists had predicted, the unprecedented view of the cosmic cataclysm—in which two superdense neutron stars spiraled into each other—brought with it a cornucopia of insights, each one of them a major scientific advance. The super-dense stars crashed together 130 million light years away, spewing out precious metals and other heavy elements like platinum and uranium – and experts say the event has kickstarted a "new chapter in astrophysics" and confirmed theories about the origin of the mysterious neutron stars.  The combined observation with gravitational waves and light showed, as predicted, that so-called short gamma ray bursts, among the most powerful events in the cosmos, spring from neutron-star mergers. It demonstrated a hypothesized new type of stellar object called a kilonova because it shines thousands of times brighter than an ordinary nova. And it revealed that half the elements heavier than iron are produced, perhaps exclusively, in neutron-star death spirals.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Feijoada with Sausage

We had fabulous bean based stews when we were in Portugal, and it is an easy meal to reproduce at home.  The key ingredient is beans, and typically it has sausage, although we had a fish one and a seafood one when we were there.

10 oz smoked bacon, diced
1 pound smoked sausage (ideal chourico or linguica)
2 ham hocks, smoked
1 onion, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 peppers (sweet to hot as you wish)
1 T cumin seed
1 T paprika
1 T smoked paprika
½ can tomato paste
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 sick cinnamon
4 cups stock
1 can fava beans
1 can black beans

Crisp bacon, add sausage and ham hocks until brown
Add onions, when soft add garlic, 1 minute later degrease pan (pour off excess fat) and add peppers
(I had leftover mushrooms that I added here)
sprinkle cumin seeds and paprika
Add tomato paste, chopped roma tomatoes
Add cinnamon stick and fresh nutmeg
Add broth
Add cooked beans [or you’ve already removed the meat and are cooking dried beans in the broth
Simmer for an hour or so, make sure ham hock is cooked.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Zookeeper's Wife (2017)

Yes, this is another Holocaust movie.  So up front you know that it will be difficult.  The setting is occupied Poland, which is a different story than other parts of Europe for a couple of reasons.  The first is that they fought like crazy when the Germans invaded.  Warsaw was reduced to rubble.  They never stood a chance, but they fought bravely.  Poland at the time was 1/3 Jewish, and there were quite a few non-Jews who hid Jews throughout the long five-year war at great peril to themselves because they were saving neighbors and friends.  That is what this retelling of a true story is about.  A couple who had a zoo that was bombed in the early days of the war used their underground system of cages and pens to house Jews that they smuggled out of the Warsaw ghetto before it was burned.  The logistics of successfully doing this involved not just the risk of hiding them, but having controlled interactions with the Nazis.  The thing that the movie does not demonstrate is how were they able to feed them all when food was increasingly scarce, but they did raise livestock for the German Army, so perhaps that was part of it.  In any case, this is emotionally intense, and at least in part, historically accurate. Well worth watching.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Ethan's Mac and Cheese

Slowly but surely son number four is dipping his toe into the realm of cooking, and this version of a classic dish was really very good.

  • 1 lb. dried elbow pasta
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 4 cups grated medium sharp cheddar cheese divided
  • 2 cups grated Gruyere cheese divided
  • 1/2 Tbsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. paprika
    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease a 3 qt baking dish (9x13").  Set aside.
    2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  When boiling, add dried pasta and cook about 1/2 time the package directs.  Drain and drizzle with a little bit of olive oil to keep from sticking.
    3. While water is coming up to a boil, grate cheeses and divide into three sections.  Approximately 3 cups for the sauce, 1 1/2 cups for the layer, and 1 1/2 cups for the topping.
    4. Melt butter in a large saucepan over MED heat.  Sprinkle in flour and whisk to combine.  Mixture will look like very wet sand.  Cook for approximately 1 minute, whisking often.  Slowly pour in about 2 cups or so of the milk/half and half, while whisking constantly, until smooth.  Slowly pour in the remaining milk/half and half, while whisking constantly, until combined and smooth.
    5. Continue to heat over MED heat, whisking very often, until thickened to a very thick consistency.  It should almost be the consistency of a semi thinned out condensed soup.
    6. Stir in spices and half the reserved cheese sauce grated cheese, stirring to melt and combine.  Stir in remaining cheese sauce grated cheese, and stir until completely melted and smooth.
    7. In a large mixing bowl, combine drained pasta with cheese sauce, stirring to combine fully.  Pour half of the pasta mixture into the prepared baking dish.  Top with reserved layer grated cheese, then top that with the remaining pasta mixture.
    8. Sprinkle the top with the topping grated cheese and bake for 20+ minutes, until cheesy is bubbly and lightly golden brown.  

    Thursday, October 19, 2017

    Big Grove Brewery, Iowa City, Iowa

    I can't believe it has taken me this long to write a review of the brew pub, because it is a really nice place.  We recently has an out of town guest visit and we went not once but twice.
    The first thing is that this place is huge, and it has something for everyone.  There are bar games, there is an area to sit and chat, there are tables, there are booths, there is a stage and live music on occasion, there is a great outdoor space, and there is a nice transition zone between these different environments.  The renovation of a big unattractive warehouse space is nothing short of spectacular.  Then there is the beer.  Which is very good, both in quality and selection.  The food, which you order at a counter and pick up, is modeled on street food, and while variable, there are excellent choices to be had.  The salad is terrific, as are the fries and the chicken sandwich.  The wings are top notch.  And when we went to Sunday Brunch, which they currently only do after home football games, was both delicious and a bargain.  Highly recommended.

    Wednesday, October 18, 2017

    Dance in a Subterranean Roundhouse at Clear Lake, 1878

    Trained in Paris, Jules Tavernier immigrated to the United States in 1871 where he devoted his skills to portraying Plains Indians in the American West before settling in San Francisco. In 1876, Tavernier went to Clear Lake, where he was able to obtain entry to witness the dance ritual, and was asked to commemorate this event in a major painting.
    The artist spent two years creating his masterwork, developing a composition of nearly 100 figures, including the two young Pomo male dancers, who enact a coming-of-age ritual. The dancers are surrounded by the tribe and their white visitors, including Parrott and Rothschild. Thus, Tavernier captures the very moment when the white settlers laid claim to the tribal lands. With brilliant technical finesse, he renders the dimly lit interior using highly controlled tonal variation and flashes of color to enliven the scene. Upon its completion, Parrott presented the painting to Rothschild, where it remained in his family until its arrival at the Met. With the addition of this work, a new narrative is introduced—the ancient presence of the Native American on the land is disrupted by the settlers' belief in their right to ownership of that land.

    Tuesday, October 17, 2017

    Pork belly Burnt Ends

    It does not take a genius to figure out why these taste so delicious.  Pork fat and butter, mixed with an intense smokiness.  Yum.  But I usually do not care for pork belly, it is just too fatty for me, but this method renders a lot of the fat in the course of smoking and it is melt in your mouth delicious and slightly addictive to eat.

    8lb Pork Belly skin removed
  • ½ cup BBQ sauce
  • 1 ½ sticks Butter sliced
  • ½ cup Brown Sugar
  • ¼ cup Honey
    • Pork Belly Burnt End Glaze
    • 1 cup BBQ sauce
    • ¼ cup Apple Juice
    • ¼ cup Apple Jelly
    • 1 Tablespoon Frank’s Hot Sauce
    1. Prepare charcoal smoker for indirect cooking at 250-275⁰. Add 2 chunks of Cherry Wood for smoke.
    2. Remove pork belly from packaging and cube into 1 ½” x 1 ½” pieces.
    3. Season all sides of the pork belly cubes with The BBQ Rub.
    4. Arrange cubes onto a full size cooling rack and place on smoking grate.
    5. Smoke pork belly for 2 – 2 ½ hours.
    6. Place each Pork Belly Burnt End into an aluminum pan and cover with brown sugar and honey. Arrange butter in between the pork belly pieces.
    7. Cover pan with aluminum foil and return to smoker for 1 ½ hours or until the pieces are tender.
    8. Drain the liquid from the pan and add the Pork Belly Glaze to the burnt ends. Toss gently to coat each piece and return to the smoker to set the glaze for 5-10 minutes and serve.

    Monday, October 16, 2017

    Earthquake in Chiapas

     When a deadly magnitude-8.2 earthquake struck the coast of Mexico's Chiapas state on 7 September, the handful of scientists that study the region were stunned, but not altogether surprised. For more than a century, there had been little activity to study—precisely why they thought the area could be due for a big one. The epicenter of the quake, which struck just before midnight local time, was just southeast of the Tehuantepec gap, a 125-kilometer-long stretch of Mexico's Pacific coast that has been seismically silent since record-keeping began more than a century ago. Their first priority now is to figure out how much, if any, of the Tehuantepec gap slipped in last week's quake, which killed more than 90 people and destroyed or severely damaged the homes of 2.3 million more.

    The region where the earthquake struck is one of the most active seismic zones in the country: this is where the Cocos Plate dives, or subducts, under the North American plate. “Earthquakes of this size are not uncommon at subduction zone boundaries,” notes Jascha Polet, a seismologist at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona.
    But this quake was different: it occurred within the Cocos plate as it warped or bent, not at the boundary with the North American plate.

    Mexico’s seismology agency has registered at least 337 aftershocks, with the strongest reaching a magnitude of 6.1.

    Sunday, October 15, 2017

    The Diving Elk, Sioux City, Iowa

    I am not much for bars in general, beer specifically, and the food that generally goes with all of that, but this is an exception to that general rule.  The atmosphere is pretty standard, with a big central bar that dominates the room, with tables and benches around the room's perimeter.  The beer selection is excellent, and they have a sampler that is a lot of fun.  Any four beers of your choice, 5 oz. pour of each.  If a couple people get it, there is an opportunity to try a lot of options.  The food is really surprisingly good.  We had brisket nachos, which had good smoked brisket, and well distributed toppings.  The fried chicken sandwich is top notch, as was the elk burger.  I wouldn't go for dinner if I wasn't going to have beer, but it is an excellent choice if you want both.

    Saturday, October 14, 2017

    Local Involvement

    I injected myself (probably unwanted and foolishly) into a debate about the value of local involvement at a family event not long ago, and at the time I was largely not supportive of it, feeling that being involved at a higher level was more important when things are as bad as they are right now.  I am not widely known for being this way, but I have come to change my mind.
    A few things have happened.  One is that I see that while a measure that is widely unpopular, like the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, is driven not so much by what constituents want but what big donors want, and that means that I can have very little influence with my Congressional representatives.  They are all very much driven by things that are not in my control, even the one that I voted for.  So that is important to do, but it isn't going to bring about change in my lifetime.
    The second thing is that I have noticed a big difference in how involved people are locally, and it can definitely make a difference.  We had a school election and bond measure that was hotly contested and I was for sure going to make it into the voting booth.  But I missed the couple of days of early voting, so I had to go the day of, and I was shocked by how crowded it was.  I had to park a block away, and then wait in a real line to vote.  And I went in the middle of the afternoon!  It was the largest turnout ever for a school board election, and one of the candidates got more votes than any previous candidate had ever gotten.  Amazing.  And the right things happened.  So we do have to energize our base, get people more involved, and that really helped me to see that it could make a difference.

    Friday, October 13, 2017

    Green Lentil Curry with Kale

    While this is traditionally made with kale and green beans, I recently added a few peppers, just because they were in season, and a few carrots that were getting a bit unattractive.  It is a stew with kale as the backbone vegetable, but it can hold up other vegetables well.
    • 1 1/3 cups green lentils
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
    • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    • some green beans cut into 3/4-inch segments
    •  kale, thick stems and veins discarded, finely chopped
    • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander
    • 1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch rounds
    • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
    For the curry paste
    • 1 teaspoon peeled and finely grated ginger
    • 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin seeds
    • 2 teaspoons ground coriander seeds
    • 3 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1/4 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
    • 1 tablespoon peeled and finely chopped shallots
    • tomatoes chopped
    1. Put the lentils, turmeric, and 2 pints water into a medium pan and bring to a boil. Cover partially and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Add the cayenne, beans, kale, coriander, carrots, and salt. Stir and bring to a boil again. Cover partially and cook gently for another 20 minutes.
    2. Meanwhile, make the curry paste: combine the ginger, garlic, ground cumin, and coriander in a small bowl, then mix in 2 fl oz water.
    3. Pour the oil into a medium frying pan and set over medium-high heat. When hot, add the whole cumin seeds. Let them sizzle for 5 seconds, then add the shallots. Stir and fry until lightly browned. Add the curry paste and fry until you can see the oil along the edges, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add the tomato puree and fry for about another minute, until you see the oil along the edges.
    4. When the lentils have finished cooking, add the contents of the frying pan. Stir and cook gently for another 5 minutes.

    Thursday, October 12, 2017

    Emotional Words and Cancer

    The challenge (well, one of the challenges) of having a very visible bout with cancer is that amidst all of this, I feel like I am being judged. I don;t mean that people are being unkind.  Quiet the contrary, other than having a boss who actively tried to remove me from office while I was in the ICU with a bout of sepsis, people were uniformly fabulous to me.  Strangers were kind to me.  I had a very rocky road for a while but at no time did I feel uncared for.  Being sick is lonely business but I did not have people close to me shy away from me (for the most part).
    What I mean is that the words around illness in general and cancer in particular have to do with implying you have control over things that you really have almost no control over at all.  Cancer is neither a battle nor a journey.  It is life, on a different path than you might choose.  It may begin at Point A, but there really is no end to it, so long as you are alive to live it.  It is just different, that is all.

    Wednesday, October 11, 2017

    Commemorative Portrait of a Chief (Singiti)

     Through the inspired sculptural creations of master carvers, the deceased leaders of Hemba chiefdoms remained vitally present to their successors until the mid-twentieth century. This work belongs to that corpus of visual tributes to princely subjects from communities situated across the vast grass plains extending from the right bank of the Upper Zaire River to a branch of the Luika. Originally enshrined within darkened ancestral mausoleums positioned centrally within the community, where they were cared for by its living leadership, these profoundly contemplative figures signify their preoccupation with concerns of transcendent significance. Among the paradoxes of this artistic genre is that, despite the lengths to which Hemba masters strove to produce rarefied and nuanced likenesses, their achievements were generally removed from the line of vision of ordinary mortals. Instead, the originally intended audience for their idealized perfection was otherworldly.
    The authors of Hemba ancestor figures typically focused on the bodily passages of the head and torso, whose respective epicenters are the eyes and navel. This male figure stands with hands held at either side. The gaze was privileged among all other senses as the principal means for visually acquiring knowledge, or ubatizha, a means of learning in-depth about a person, thing, or event through observation. This princely figure's eyes are closed and his expression deeply contemplative. The eyes are raised, semi-circular forms below the arc of the brow, the nose narrow at the bridge with flared nostrils; the semi-circular form of the raised lips is echoed by the beard that extends around the contour of the chin. While highly symmetrical, the head is turned ever so slightly. The summit of the head is crowned by an elaborate openwork coiffure. Such highly labor-intensive constructions reflected the wearer's ethnicity and elevated rank.

    Tuesday, October 10, 2017

    Indian Potatoes, Banarasi Style

    This is yet another recipe from Vegetarian India, which is replete with option (for example, I haven't even started on the 25 recipes for dal it contains).  This potato dish is a keeper.  Boil the potatoes ahead of time, then finish the dish when you are about to serve dinner.

    2 lbs. potatoes, boiled until almost done, then cubed.
    oil to fry 
    1 tsp. mustartd seeds
    1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
    1-2 hot chilis chopped
    2 tsp. tumeric
    1/2 tsp. red chili powder
    1 tsp. garam masala
    finish with salt to taste, chopped parseley, and lemon juice

    Heat up the oil and add the seeds until they start to pop.  Then add the fresh chilis, then a minute later the spiced.  Add the potaotes and toss until they are warm and fried to taste, then finish with salt, herbs, and lemon juice.  Serve warm.

    Monday, October 9, 2017

    Christopher Columbus, 1451

    Of course we know without a doubt that Columbus did not in fact discover America.  The Vikings were here first and foremost, but they apparently did not like it enough to stay put.  We also know without any doubt that China had the wherewithal to sail to North America almost a century before the Vikings did so, but after a brief foray around to Africa, went home and did not pursue either trade or colonization on another continent. 
    So it was left to the shipping powers of the 15th century to find and colonize North and South America.  These folks were hungry for power and money and they found both in large abundance.  I think reading Charles Mann's companion books '1491' and '1493' are an easy way to think about what exactly happened when the Spanish rapidly colonized and conquered the Aztec and Incan civilizations and brought all that silver (and gold, but it was silver that changed world commerce) home with them.  It is hard to know what would have happened if our continent had been colonized earlier or later, but good to remember the time that changed the world irrevocably.

    Sunday, October 8, 2017

    Monarch's in California--Odds Not Looking Good

    Have to go with Science Sunday this week because tomorrow is a holiday.  So here is some sad news.
    Global climate change has made things difficult, and occasionally deadly, for beings that migrate.  Times are tough for monarch butterflies across the United States, but a new study in Biological Conservation shows that the subset of the monarch population that overwinter in California are likely to be the first to disappear.   Based on a combination of historical data and citizen science, researchers conclude that there has been a 97% decline in the butterfly population over a 40 year period,  from 10 million to about 300,000, Sierra reports. If the current trend continues, the butterflies face an 86% chance of extinction over the next 20 years. The exact cause for the die-off is unknown, but researchers speculate that in addition to changes in climate, a combination of land-use changes and pesticides may be to blame.  As we humans face fire and water in unprecedented amounts this year, these monarchs have been telling us for quite some time that we need to change our ways to heal our planet.  Which is home to all of us.

    Saturday, October 7, 2017

    Managing Reality

    For some reason, the anxiety I have felt about my cancer relapsing has been harder to manage now,  two years out from my diagnosis, than it was at the very beginning.  As a trained scientist, I know that this is irrational.  My chances of not responding to treatment were very real in the beginning, as was the chance of relapse.  My odds are still no where near great, but the fact is that they were most decidedly worse quite recently, and I coped better.  Which goes to show that rationality does not play much of a role when it comes to worry. 
    I often think that saying the thing that you fear out loud helps, and that has been a little bit true.  Face the worst and you can take some steps forward.  But it is definitely not a cure either, and so I have solidarity with all those who suffer from nagging doubts that can take over.  It will help me to prepare for the worst, while I hope for the best.

    Friday, October 6, 2017

    Paul Revere's House, Boston

     When driving in the North end of Boston and you know you need a parking space, you definitely take the first one that you see, regardless of how far it is to walk to you ultimate destination.  It is very cool to walk through this newly renovated space.
    The fact that the Revere's had 16 children, not all of them under this roof at the same time, and not all of them surviving to adulthood, but still, that is a lot of people to share a relatively small space with.  He is an interesting man and craftsman and it is well worth seeing.
    At 10 pm on the night of April 18, 1775, Revere received instructions from Dr. Joseph Warren to ride to Lexington to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams of the British approach. Following the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Revere and his family lived in Watertown, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. During this time Revere printed paper currency for the Massachusetts government, and helped to acquire powder and ammunition for the colonial troops. Revere went on to serve as lieutenant colonel in the Massachusetts State Train of Artillery and commander of Castle Island in Boston Harbor. Revere and his troops saw little action at this post, but they did participate in minor expeditions to Newport, Rhode Island and Worcester, Mass. Revere’s rather undistinguished military career ended with the failed Penobscot expedition in 1779.

    Thursday, October 5, 2017

    Stir Fry Zucchini in Yogurt Sauce

    I got Madhur Jaffrey's cookbook Vegetarian India, and I have been cooking my way through it a little.  My youngest son wants to eat more Indian food, and while this is certainly not what he wants to focus on (he loves the many breads that come from there), it is my chance to cook new vegetarian foods.  My first attempt at this was good, not exceptional, but I do think it has a place in a zucchini recipe arsenal.

    2 lb. zucchini, sliced in about 1/4" slices
    3 Tbs. plain yogurt
    1/2 tsp. tumeric
    1/4 tsp. coriander
    1 tsp. salt
    ground black pepper
    1/2 tsp. chili powder
    whole mustard and cumin seeds

    Heat up a frying pan with oil and add seeds until they pop, then add zucchini and fry for several minutes, until it starts to soften a bit.  Mix the rest of the spices into the yogurt.  Lower the heat and add some of the yogurt, one tablespoon at a time, until the dish has the flavor and texture you are pleased with.  Serve either hot or room temperature.

    Wednesday, October 4, 2017

    Crown of the Andes (1660)

    The "Crown of the Andes" is considered one of the most important surviving examples of goldsmith work from colonial Spanish America. Notable for its rarity, richness, and exquisite craftsmanship, the crown represents the most distinctive artistic achievement of a locale whose wealth derived from the mining of gold and emeralds.
    The "Crown of the Andes" was made to adorn a sacred image the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception venerated in Popayán cathedral, in the former Spanish viceroyalty of New Granada (now Colombia). An attribute of Mary's divine queenship, the gold crown is encircled by scrolls of acanthus leaves set with emeralds in blossom-shaped clusters that symbolize the Virgin's purity. The diadem, made in the mid-seventeenth century, is surmounted by four imperial arches made a little more than a century later. Pear-shaped emerald pendants are suspended beneath them and they are topped by a cross-bearing orb that signifies Christ's dominion over the world. The crown is encrusted with nearly 450 emeralds, the largest one being a twenty-four-carat gemstone known as the "Atahualpa emerald."

    Tuesday, October 3, 2017

    Communing in a Barn

    My group of friends just hosted our 10th annual party in a historic barn.  It is admittedly an extravagant event, where we do it with a number of people and even then, the cost is more than you would care to admit.  The good news is that for me, it is completely worth it.  The elements are all there.  We always have babies and we always have people in their 80's.  And everyone in between.  We invite people from all walks of life, so it is always easy to have an interesting conversation.  We provide the meat, the music, and the beverages, and the rest is a pot luck (get in line early if you want to good stuff, but there is always food left over at the end, and the desserts lasted well into the night).  It is just very fun, for one night a year, to have an event that literally everyone is welcome and most have a memorable time.

    Monday, October 2, 2017

    Papua New Guinea: Most Diverse People

    This Science Monday comes from the journal Science.  You can't get much more sci ency than that.  Except for maybe Nature.
    If you travel through New Guinea, it is apparent to the trained ear that people along the banks speak distinct languages. The island's remarkable linguistic diversity reflects real genetic differences.  The report in Science concludes that this genetic variation dates back just 10,000 to 20,000 years, rather than to 50,000 years ago or so, when humans first arrived.
    The island's independent invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago did not wipe out the genetic differences, as it did in Europe or parts of Asia. With agriculture, you tend to get larger groups of people and genetically homogenized societies. In Europe, farmers from Anatolia replaced local hunter-gatherers and erased much of their genetic contribution. That did not happen on New Guinea .
    The researchers analyzed variation among 1.7 million DNA markers across the genomes of 381 Papua New Guinea (PNG) residents, and they also compared the complete genomes of another 39. They concluded that the people of New Guinea were isolated from Asians for most of prehistory, and that highland and lowland dwellers separated from each other 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. In the highlands, people split into three very distinct clusters of social groups within the past 10,000 years, soon after they began cultivating plants. In the lowlands, two main clusters arose in the north and south.  Why the separation?  That is one for the anthropologists to answer, but it is not solely geographic separation.  Cool right?

    Sunday, October 1, 2017

    Dr. Chipotle Sauce for Pulled Pork

    For our annual barn party, we always do pork and someone else always does chicken.  Often a whole pig is involved, but not this year.  This year I had a delicious pork dish with adobo when I was briefly in Phoenix over the summer and had surprisingly good food from a food truck parked out back of my hotel.

    The Sauce:
    1 small can of chipotles, with adobo sauce
    24 oz. Dr. Pepper
    several cloves of garlic
    2 small onions diced
    2 c. pureed tomatoes
    6 oz. pineapple juice
    1/4 c. brown sugar
    1 T. salt

    Put the Dr. Pepper, the garlic, and the chipotles in a blender, and puree.  Saute the onions in a couple tablespoons of olive oil until soft, then add the pureed ingredients plus the brown sugar, pineapple juice, salt, and tomato puree.  Simmer for about 20-30 minutes, until flavors are blended.  Makes enough sauce for about 4 pounds of pulled pork.

    Saturday, September 30, 2017

    Weaponless Warrior

    I was interviewing a medulloblastoma survivor recently and while my goal was to figure out if he would be a good fit for our advocacy committee, he made me think.  One of his interests is in the language that we use to talk about illness in general and cancer specifically.  He is particularly bothered by the battle imagery that implies that you are in some way able to fight the cancer, and if you lose, that somehow you are a failed warrior.  Or if you are cancer free that somehow you have prevailed.  The reality is so much different than that.  We are using medicines and therapies and surgeries in order to eradicate something that is actually a part of us gone terribly wrong rather than some foreign invader.  If the cancer is eradicated, it is accomplished by the treatment and not something that we the survivor has done.  We show up.  That is about all that we can control.  Implying otherwise puts an undue burden on both those who survive and those who do not.  That is what I did.  I showed up, month after month, and I am hoping for the very best.

    Friday, September 29, 2017

    B&G Oysters, Boston, MA

    This is a wonderful seafood place, chosen for it's lobster roll, which was indeed delicious, but it had so much more to offer.  We had dinner on a recent trip to Boston with a number of different people from different walks of life.  We didn't have a reservation, but were told that the outdoor seating was often available and the forecast was for clear skies so we should be okay.  The fun thing about hosting a number of people is that you can order something, like the enormous seafood platter that you wouldn't ordinarily have enough people on board to finish, and that was an excellent choice here.  The crab salad was perhaps the best I have ever had, and the octopus ceviche with a hint of grapefruit was also a highlight.  We did not venture off the fruits of the sea in our meal, so I cannot comment on other dining options, but we had a memorably excellent meal.

    Thursday, September 28, 2017

    Berry Pilaf

    This recipe comes out looking just this good, and it is very delicious.  Do not be put off by the number of steps, and we soaked the rice more briefly and it worked out fine.
    • 2 cups basmati rice
    • 1 teaspoon saffron threads
    • 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
    • 3 tablespoons very hot milk
    • About 1/2 cup barberries or dried cranberries
    • 3 tablespoons olive or peanut oil
    • 1 large yellow onion, peeled and halved lengthwise, then sliced into fine half rings
    • 1-1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
    • 5 cardamom pods
    • 2 1/2-inch cinnamon sticks
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 3 cloves
    • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
    Wash the rice in several changes of water. Put in a bowl, cover generously with water, then set aside to soak for 3 hours.
    Meanwhile, in a mortar and pestle, combine the saffron and 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Pound together to create a fine powder. Transfer to a small bowl, then stir in the hot milk. Set aside for 3 hours.
    Toward the end of the 3 hours, rinse the berries several times, then leave to soak in water for 20 minutes. Drain and pat dry.

    In a medium skillet over medium-high, heat the oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, or until they start to brown. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook until they are reddish brown. Add the drained berries and the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Stir once or twice, then remove from the heat.

    Heat the oven to 325 degrees.

    Bring about 10 cups of water to a boil. Add the salt, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, bay leaf and cloves. Stir once, then add the rice. Let it cook in the boiling water for about 5 minutes, or until it is three-quarters cooked but still has a thin, hard core. Drain in a colander.

    Working quickly now, spread 1 tablespoon of the melted butter in a medium baking dish. Spread half the rice over it. Spread another tablespoon of the butter, plus half the saffron mixture and half the onion-berry mixture and some of its oil on top of the rice. Spread the remaining rice on top of the first layer. Pour the remaining tablespoon of butter over it, followed by the remaining saffron mixture and onion-berry mixture.
    Cover tightly with foil and a lid and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. Toss the rice gently to mix before serving.

    Wednesday, September 27, 2017

    Honor by Bernard van Orley (1525)

    This is the upper left quadrant of the Honor tapestry.  It was the central tapestry in a series known collectively since the sixteenth century as The Honors. The series presents an allegorical guide to the qualities of a successful ruler in the face of unpredictable Fortune: Prudence, Virtue, Faith, Honor, Fame, and Justice. In Honor, a male personification of Honor is about to be crowned above his two-tier tribunal of honorable men and ladies from history, the Bible, and secular legends. At the center, a scribe checks the list of those honorable enough to be granted entry to Honor's pavilion. In the foreground, a wonderfully unruly mass of dishonorable legendary protagonists tries to scale Honor's walls.  One of only two sixteenth-century editions known to have survived, this set was made sometime after 1525 for Charles V's trusted advisor, and one of the most powerful men of his generation, Cardinal Erard de la Marck, prince-bishop of Liège.

    Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    The Year Has Begun

    It is once again a time of reflection and renewal.  I like to think about all the things that are good and beautiful about life on this amazing planet of ours.
    I started out the new year a bit under the weather, so not the most joyful beginning, but I was able to have apples and honey and since I have a good job with good benefits, I was able to take the time I needed to recover. 
    And that is not a given in the United States.  Something that has been true for a very long time, our whole time as a country, in fact.  The thing that briefly fooled us into thinking that we might have progressed in a significant way as a society was that our legislators passed laws that made a very flawed system of insurance available to a broader group of Americans who previously could not afford health care and did not get it through their jobs.  We are a strange people, where the majority of people want health care, and they want to retain it for themselves and their family, but they do not realize that in doing so, many of them require government help to do so.  There is yet another threat in the Republican run Congress to dismantle health care coverage for most, and hopefully this is not the year where we take a giant step backwards.

    Monday, September 25, 2017

    Monitoring Carbon Emissions From Space

     Carbon emission treaties have basically been on the honor system, but do they have to be?
    Could power plannt emissions be tracked from space? The short answer is probably, to some degree, with more help.
     Researchers have shown that observations by Earth-orbiting instruments can be used to estimate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from individual power plants. NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2, which was launched in July 2014, was designed to monitor the movement of CO2 in and out of ecosystems worldwide. Despite the satellite’s generally broad focus, its sensors are able to measure CO2 concentrations in the air to within about 1 part per million in areas covering 3 square kilometers or less. When the team combined OCO-2 data from selected passes over certain power plants in the United States with computer models of how emissions plumes would disperse, its estimates of those plants’ emissions were within 17% of actual emissions those facilities reported for those days.
    The question then becomes, does that help?

    Sunday, September 24, 2017

    Chicken Tandoori

    We did a big Indian cooking extravaganza and this was one of the new recipes that we tried that worked well.  No red dye, and no tandoori oven.

    Preheat the broiler. Make shallow cuts in the chicken thighs with a sharp knife. Toss the chicken with the lemon juice and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in a large bowl.
    Pulse 2 tablespoons yogurt, the vegetable oil, onion, garlic, ginger, tomato paste, coriander, cumin, 11/2 teaspoons paprika and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a food processor to make a paste. Toss the chicken in the mixture and let marinate 15 minutes.
    Place the chicken on a foil-lined broiler pan. Broil, turning once, until slightly charred and a thermometer inserted into the center registers 165 degrees F, 5 to 6 minutes per side.
    Meanwhile, combine the remaining 1/2 cup yogurt and 1/4 teaspoon paprika, the cilantro and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Top the chicken with the yogurt sauce

    Saturday, September 23, 2017

    Coffee Shop (2016)

    I usually refrain from reviewing movies that I am not recommending, but I am making an exception for this one.  The reason is that Netflix recommended it for me, and I thought it sounded like a light romantic comedy that I have a tendency to enjoy (even though I know that they are neither realistic nor enlightening in most cases).  In other words, my bar for enjoyment of this sort of movie is pretty low and realistic of what to expect from the genre.  And yet I find myself disappointed.
    Three things did not work for me.  The first is that the dialogue is stilted.  I like the setting in a coffee shop, the shop itself is really nice, the philosophy of customer service, quality, and community is one that I really like, but it all fell pretty flat.  The story itself was a little bit clunky, with some unnecessary turns--this is not, after all, a murder mystery.  We know who is going to end up with whom, and no need to complicate it.  The third is that there was a little too much "by the grace of god" for my taste.  One thing I did love, besides the coffee shop itself, was the beautiful Alabama Gulf Coast.

    Friday, September 22, 2017

    The Vegetarian by Han Kang

    This won the Booker Prize last year, and as the new short list for 2017 just came out, it seems fitting that I catch up on the list from last year.  It is a quietly disturbing book that will thoroughly unsettle you in three hundred pages or less.
    Yeong-hye is completely unremarkable in every way. She is a modest homemaker, a dutiful if dispassionate spouse,  and neither happy nor unhappy.  Her husband, Mr Cheong, is a mediocre employee, not greatly ambitious, mildly unenthused by his life but not dramatically so. Time ticks by, and the two of them get on with living their ordinary lives; but their ordinariness, it turns out, is more ephemeral than they understand.
    Things begin to fracture the day Yeong-hye throws away all the meat from the freezer and announces that henceforth she is going to be a vegetarian. The only explanation she gives her husband is not hugely satisfactory: “I had a dream.” We know, though her husband doesn’t, something of the nature of the dream: it is dark, bloody and aggressive. Violence soon breaks out in Yeong-hye’s waking world, too, when her father tries to force a piece of sweet-and-sour pork into her mouth, and in revolt she stabs herself.  It goes swiftly and dangerously downhill, reflecting the fate of every severe eating disorder, where anger is turned inward and starvation is everyone's puni

    Thursday, September 21, 2017

    Indian Curried Hard Boiled Eggs

    Here's the thing.  It is often hard to find a good vegetarian filling appetizer that is not cheese and crackers, or hummus and vegetables.  Both of which I like a lot, and I have often used deviled eggs in this role (for the non-vegans).
    When making an Indian meal recently, I delved deep into Madhur Jaffrey's Vegetarian India.  These need ALOT of spice in order to be flavorful, but they are pretty and easy to make.  Then I made egg salad with the left overs and that was delicious.

    Hard boiled eggs
    Chili Powder
    Black Pepper

    Melt butter and oil in equal parts in a frying pan.  Add the spices in the intensity that you want (don't skimp on the turmeric, because it is largely what colors the eggs).  Slice the eggs lengthwise, not so deep that you hit the yolk, and repeat around the circumference, about 6 times for each egg.  Add to the mixture and toss repeatedly until covered, then remove from the heat and serve.  I actually served them room temperature.

    Wednesday, September 20, 2017

    School of Beauty, School of Culture by Kerry James Marshall (2012)

    This spectacular work exemplifies an extraordinary career of painting African American subjects and history in a manner that both reveres and revises the Old Masters. Born in Birmingham before the Civil Rights Act and having witnessed the Watts rebellion in Los Angeles in 1965, Marshall has long chronicled the African American experience. His large narrative paintings feature only black figures–defiant and celebratory assertions of blackness in a medium in which those subjects have too often been invisible–and his exploration of art history stretches from the Renaissance to twentieth-century abstraction and beyond. The result is a visually stunning body of work, both intimate and monumental.
    In Marshall's paintings, black residents occupy spaces that are full of bloom and sunlight–a bucolic look that references the positivism that spurred the development of these sites and also contradicts contemporary associations of despair and destitution that are commonly associated with large housing projects.

    Tuesday, September 19, 2017

    Carrie Pilby (2016)

    This is a movie that, in the absence of having cable, i would never have come across.  So thank you once again Netflix for having an assortment of these sorts of movies.
    Carrie Pilby is the smartest person in the room at all times but she’s too miserable to enjoy it. She is super smart, skipped three grades, went to Harvard as a child, but she never really recovered from her mother dying and her father ceasing to cope.  She has trouble dating and making friends but she’s never at a loss for words. And while she has incisive analysis on the ready, regardless of the situation, she has a harder time understanding herself.
    She’s clearly lonely, despite the bravado she exudes to hide it, and a little bit broken from an affair she had with a college professor when she was sixteen. So her therapist makes a to-do list for Carrie to help her emerge from her alienation and find joy in the world: Make a friend. Go on a date. Do something you enjoyed as a child.  What ensues is a very enjoyable exploration of what being smart and different but not asocial looks like.  Highly recommended.

    Monday, September 18, 2017

    Cassini's Photographs of Saturn

    In the era of science doubters, or those who take what they like and leave the rest, it seems like a good time to celebrate some science. I'll call it Science Monday. Taken with Artist Wednesday, with will be a nice balance.

    Here are some images taken from the spacecraft Cassini "moments" before it crashed into Saturn on Friday (which is space time means is was more than 300,000 miles away.

    Before Cassini, we had only brief glimpses of the discoveries awaiting us at Saturn. Pioneer 11 and Voyagers 1 and 2 conducted flybys decades ago, taking pictures, measurements and observations as they zoomed past. These missions shed new light on Saturn’s complicated ring system, discovered new moons and made the first measurements of Saturn’s magnetosphere. But these quick encounters didn’t allow time for more extensive scientific research.

    Cassini changed all that. It began the first in-depth, up-close study of Saturn and its system of rings and moons in 2004. It became the first spacecraft to orbit Saturn, beginning a mission that yielded troves of new insights over more than a decade. The Saturnian system proved to be rich ground for exploration and discoveries, and Cassini's science findings changed the course of future planetary exploration.

     These images are startlingly beautiful, making the planet palpable and ethereal at the same time.

    Sunday, September 17, 2017

    Indian Stir Fired Cabbage

    Indian cabbage is somewhere between raw and cooked.  It still has the chewiness that raw cabbage has, but the advantages of cooking as well.  This can be served hot, room temperature, or cold.  Versatility plus!

    • 1 1/2 pounds green cabbage shredded
    • 1/4 cup oil
    • 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
    • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
    • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
    • 18 cup chopped green chilis
    •   salt to taste
    • 1/8 teaspoons cayenne pepper
    • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
    • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
    1. Put the oil in a wide, preferably nonstick or cast-iron pan, and set over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, put in the cumin, fennel, and sesame seeds. As soon as the sesame seeds begin to pop, put in the chilies and cabbage.   Stir and fry for 3 to 5 minutes or until browned a bit.
    2. Add the lemon juice and garam masala. Stir to mix. Taste and adjust seasoning.

    Saturday, September 16, 2017

    Anger and Trauma

    I am someone who is more prone to sadness when trauma strikes rather than anger.  Both when my youngest son faced a life threatening illness and when I myself have been here of late, I am more likely to resort to tears than rage.  So in general I have a hard time relating to those who react with anger to stressful and overwhelming life events.
    However, since the November election, I have been very angry.  And realistically, that was a pretty long time ago, but I still find myself uncontrollably angry at quite a large number of people who wither voted to put us in this situation, or simply did not care, or were somehow convinced that this wouldn't be so bad.  Or that somehow if you weren't progressive enough we all deserved a government that actively makes it not just possible but probable that the very rich will get richer and the rest of us are fated to do more poorly with each successive generation.
    One of my sons asked me recently how this helped.  It doesn't help at all.  I am not advocating it.  I cannot get over it however.  I am still incredibly angry.  I have no desire to talk with anyone who votes Republican.  Not at all.  I have nothing in common with them.  There is nothing to compromise with them on.  Being a Democrat is the only compromise I am willing to make.  I hope for a candidate who has the charisma of Barack Obama and the politics of a progressive who can form coalitions with more moderate candidates and make positive change.  And hope I live long enough to let go of some of my deep seated resentment of those who continue on a path of what is essentially overvaluing what once was the status quo.

    Friday, September 15, 2017

    Walk Hard (2007)

    This is a really very well done rock mockumentary.  My youngest son is taking a college improv class and the improv artist that he has been assigned to present is Christopher Guest, who did the classic rock mockumentary, This is Spinal Tap.  But the fact is that you have to be into the genre to fully enjoy this, otherwise it comes off as dumb.

    John C. Reilly plays Dewey Cox like he has been rehearsing for the role his whole life.  In childhood he has a tragic accident where he kills his brother, and his father never forgives him.  He leaves home as a very young man to make his way as a rock and roll star, and he is largely successful in the money and fame sense of the word.  He cheats on his wife, becomes multiply addicted to drugs, goes through musical phases that come and go in popularity, and somehow in the end doesn't end up dead or broke.  The movie really doesn't delve into the seamy side of the music business, preferring to skim along the surface of the lifestyle. Diversionary fun with surprisingly good music.

    Thursday, September 14, 2017

    Red Fin Crudo + Kitchen, Providence, RI

    Wow, this was an unexpectedly great find around the corner from our hotel in Providence.  It was mid afternoon, we were going to a wedding that started at five, but just how long the whole thing was going to take was a bit up in the air, and the event itself was taking place at a library, so clearly it was going to be catered in, so not going to be a cut above wedding food as it was (which was an erroneous assumption as it turned out, but that was where we were going with a snack just a couple hours before we were scheduled to eat again).
    This place is well worth searching out, if only for the octopus dish.  The plates are small and designed to be shared.  The portions are reasonable compared to the prices, and give you a chance to try a number of things.  The braised octopus is out of this world.  It is cooked at a low temperature for 6 hours, and then skinned, and then sauteed at high heat when it is ordered.  Tender, flavorful, and memorable.  Everything else was good as well.

    Wednesday, September 13, 2017

    Sachihongo Mask, Zambia

    This mask demonstrates more of the incredibel wood carving skills found on the African continent and the role that masks play in greater society there. It comes from a region in Zambia that borders both Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The mask bears traces of influence from its northern and western neighbors: the Luba, for its scale and circular shape, and the Chokwe, for its intense focus on the area of the eyes and the teeth. There, multiple rows of incised lines above and below the ocular apertures define the cheeks, eyelids, eyebrows, and wrinkles of the forehead.
    Known as Sachihongo, this mask represents a cultural archetype, a hero hunter revered as an ancestor. It was part of a masquerade called makishi performed in conjunction with the initiation of young boys and their entrance into adulthood. Its performative appearance constituted the climax of the rituals, as it marked the return home of the new initiates after a period of seclusion. The mask's dynamism epitomized this moment of transformation, central to Mbunda society. What remains here is the wooden core of a larger masquerade ensemble: its appearance, fully costumed in knit raffia, holding a bow and flywhisk and moving to a rapid tempo, conveyed the vitality and supernatural powers of the ancestral hunter. The circumference of the mask still bears the holes that would have held a beard of fiber and a crown of feathers.

    Tuesday, September 12, 2017

    I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

    The story of James Baldwin, yet another prominent, vocal African American who was a prominent and eloquent spokesman for what it was like to be black in America in the 1960's told against the history in which he lived.  He lived outside the United States with some frequency throughout his life because of his treatment as a second class citizen in his own country.  I really like how he framed what he spoke about, especially the lack of narrative about the role of the African American slave work force in the building of our new country, that black Americans are not given their due respect for what they contributed to the new country, albeit against their will.  Somehow that lack of freedom has been used to diminish their contributions in a way that belittles them further.  What we cannot admit about our history comes back to bite us, literally centuries later.
    I would potentially have missed this documentary, which largely tells the story of his life in his own words, and in the words of his contemporaries, if not for the fact that it was nominated for Best Documentary in 2016.  Of the three nominees that dealt with race, this is my second favorite one, following 13th.  The winner (OJ:Made in America) comes in third, which is not to say that I did not like it.  These are three powerful commentaries on the current state of race in our country.
    The bottom line is that there is an awful lot of room for massive improvement, and the footage from Charlottesville this year is almost identical to the marches of whites against civil rights in the 1960's.  No, we have not made very much progress at all.  This movie will seem like it happened yesterday and not 50 years ago.

    Monday, September 11, 2017

    History Shifted

    Sixteen years ago two things happened.  There was an attack on American soil that shifted our thoughts about ourselves and our country once again.  It happens every half century or so, and this is the one of my generation, the post World War generation which had up until then really not had that personal an attack on our country, right in our very own yard.
    The second was that my youngest son finished chemotherapy.  The lessons I learned stemming from that day are deep and wide.  The short story is that there really isn't much joy in the end of chemotherapy because it is the beginning of the waiting and worrying about recurrence part of recovering from illness.  With many cancers, my son's and mine included, you really only get one chance at cure.  So while there are numerous instances where chemotherapy just doesn't work from the get go, the waiting and the months and years to come are something to learn to cope with.  It is hard and important, because if you live like you are going to recur, then you are not fully enjoying the time that you have.  That is just plain wasteful.  Not to mention that it does no one any good.  However, it is hard to accomplish. So every year, on this important anniversary, I reflect on doing what is hard and why it is important to try to do it right.

    Sunday, September 10, 2017

    Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

    It has been a difficult time for Americans internationally.  We have a long history of being a country of immigrants who once settle in their new land want little to do with the outside world.
    This is the story of Tom McNulty, which begins in the Irish famine of the 1840s. His family has died. He has stowed away on a ship crossing the ocean.
    For a living he becomes a teenage saloon entertainer, dressed as a woman to dance with gold rush prospectors. Another skinny boy got up for the dancing was John Cole, fleeing famine in Massachusetts. They are friends by day and lovers by night.
    What Tom has observed among the Sioux is that men can choose to dress as squaws at home but, in battle, still be warriors. This thought becomes his guide. He feels at home in a dress but, as a soldier, follows orders even when they are treacherous, learning that there are good men and bad on any side. He survives even when captive in Andersonville.
    America, seen through the lens of the Indian Wars and the Civil War, does not come off well, but at the same time the story is as real and believable as it is gritty and shameful.

    Saturday, September 9, 2017

    Mi Rancherita, South Sioux City, IA

    My son and daughter-in-law live in western Iowa, so it is a location that we will be spending more time in this year and next, and exploring the restaurant scene is clearly something that is a big plus about a new location.
    We have a Mexican restaurant that we like, but lots of people we talked to noted that the preponderance of Sioux City inhabitants of Hispanic heritage live in South Sioux City, and so we tried one on our way out of town.  There were three things that were very encouraging. The first is this triumvirate of pickled carrots, fresh salsa, and cooked salsa was on every table.  The second was that we were the only people of non-Hispanic background in the restaurant, and the third is that they had menudo on the menu.
    We may not have ordered perfectly, but I found the enchiladas to be exceptional, they have puposas that are very good, and it is definitely a place that we would try again.