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Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Exhausting Year

What to make of this year?  It has been truly exhausting to watch a largely incompetant man dismantle much of the good that came out of the previous eight years, and it appears to be at base racism in it’s most transparent form.  Such a contrast between the two, and the whole experience has left me, one year later, even less tolerant of those who did not vote for Hilary.  Yes, I blame you, and no, I do not want to talk about it or work it out.  There is no common ground to find at this point.
On the other hand, we have some things to cling to in gratitude.  The first is that I and many others around me are more politically engaged.  In my town we elected a Sudanese woman to the school board this year.  We has some nice voter turnout in the Deep South, in a state where the voter ID law was met with productive resistance, whereby they registered almost a million new voters.
Personally, I have been able to travel far and wide this year, and that has been very joyful for me.  I hope that the good continues to outweigh the bad as we move into 2018.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Desert Dancer (2014)

As the sun is setting on 2017, let's take a moment to think about supporting both the arts and freedom of and from religion.  Especially in light of our current government in the United States that seems to frown on all of the above.  What ever does not make the rich richer and the rest of us poorer has no place in theri agenda, and weirdly, at least at this point, we are still a democracy.
Not so for the Iran of 2009 depicted in this film.  Iran has a deep and rich culture when it comes to the arts, including poetry and film.  Not so under a severe religious regime.  The main character is Afshin Gaffarian, a man who even as a boy was obsessed with dance.  He manages to follow his dream for a number of years, but then has to go increasingly underground in order to dance, ending up in an epic performance in the desert.  It is not entirely successful as a film, but it does tell a story worth hearing about repression, the things that are essentially human, and the dangers that are at our very door.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Coconut Curry Squash Soup

We had this for Xmas Eve, and it is a great variation on a squash soup.  I have just returned from India and wanted an Asian influence in the food for a change.  I did not serve it with kale, but that would add some heft to the soup.

  • 1 large butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or other vegetable oil
  • 1 large yellow or sweet white onion, chopped
  • 1 medium apple, any variety, peeled and diced
  • 2 cups prepared vegetable broth, or 2 cups water with 1 vegetable bouillon cube
  • 2 teaspoons good-quality curry powder
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh or jarred ginger, or more, to taste
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg or allspice
  • 1 14-ounce can light coconut milk
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


  • 2 medium red onions, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 1 good-size bunch kale (about 10 to 12 ounces)
  1. To bake the squash, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut in half and place halves, cut side up, in a foil-lined, shallow baking dish and cover tightly with more foil. Bake for 30 to 50 minutes, until you can easily pierce the flesh with a knife. Scoop out and set aside.
  2. Heat about half the oil in a soup pot. Add the onion and sauté over medium-low heat until golden, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  3. Add the apple, squash, broth and spices. Bring to a steady simmer, then cover and simmer gently until the apples are tender, about 10 minutes.
  4. Transfer the solids to a food processor with a slotted spoon, in batches if need be, and process until smoothly pureed, then transfer back to the soup pot. Or better yet, simply insert an immersion blender into the pot and process until smoothly pureed.
  5. Stir in the coconut milk and return the soup to a gentle simmer. Cook over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until well heated through. Season with salt and pepper. If time allows, let the soup stand off the heat for an hour or two, then heat through as needed before serving.
  6. Just before serving, heat the remaining oil in a large skillet. Add the red onions and sauté over low heat until golden and soft.
  7. Meanwhile, strip the kale leaves off the stems and cut into thin shreds. Stir together with the onions in the skillet, adding just enough water to moisten the surface. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the kale is bright green and just tender, about 5 minutes.
  8. To serve, ladle soup into each bowl, then place a small mound of kale and onion mixture in the center.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Dunkirk (2017)

We are about to undergo an intense season of movie watching leading up to the Academy Awards.  This year we have decided to get a bit of a jump start on the movie watching by seeing things that are shortlisted for nominations, so I will be reviewing an awful lot of movies for the next two months!
This is what you might expect from a movie that really describes an event. There is not much in the way of plot development.  The British suffered a massive loss in the early days of WWII and found themselves not only in retreat, but with nowhere to go and no one to get them.  The Germans were bombing them on the beaches, attacking them at sea, and many thousands of soldiers were sitting ducks.  So what to do?  This is something the British do better than anyone else.  They called out to all boat owners on the southern shores of England to quick go across the channel and get them and bring them home.  Which they did in remarkable numbers, which provided a morale boost in what would prove to be yet another tragic war that went on for years and wasted lives and resources at levels that were previously unimaginable.  Well done, and well worth remembering. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Sticky Bun Monkey Bread

My youngest got up Xmas morning and had a hankering for monkey bread and when I got home from work, this is what they were in the midst of creating.  Wow!

  • 2 ¼ teaspoons/7 grams active dry yeast (1 package)
  • 1 ½ cups lukewarm milk (about 105 degrees, or just warm to the touch)
  • cup/67 grams granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon/15 grams kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons/43 grams unsalted butter, melted, more for greasing bowl
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 5 to 6 cups/640 grams to 768 grams all-purpose flour

For the sauce:

  • 1 cup/227 grams unsalted butter (2 sticks)
  • 2 cups/440 grams packed dark brown sugar
  • ½ cup heavy cream, more to taste
  • Salt (optional)

To finish:

  • ½ cup/114 grams unsalted butter (1 stick), melted and cooled to room temperature
  • 1 ¼ cups/275 grams light brown sugar or maple sugar, or a combination of dark brown sugar and white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • About 3/4 cup/80 grams chopped toasted pecans or walnuts, more for garnish (optional)
  1. In the bowl of a mixer, dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup of the warm milk. Add the remaining warm milk, sugar, salt, butter and eggs.
  2. Add 5 cups flour and mix with paddle attachment until smooth, about 2 minutes. Switch to hook attachment and knead on low speed, adding flour if necessary until dough is stiff and slightly tacky, 10 minutes.
  3. Grease a large bowl with butter and turn dough out into the bowl. Flip over dough so greased side is up, cover loosely with a kitchen towel and set in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
  4. Make the sauce: In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add sugar and stir constantly until simmering and the butter has melted. Pour in cream (it will bubble up) and cook until thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Taste and add cream and pinches of salt to taste. Turn off heat and set aside.
  5. Brush a medium or large Bundt pan, preferably nonstick, with some of the melted butter. Combine the sugar, cinnamon and salt in a bowl and mix well. Rewarm the caramel sauce over low heat.
  6. Once dough has doubled in size, turn it onto floured surface and knead for 3 minutes. Cut or pull off small pieces, each weighing about 1/2 ounce/15 grams, and roll them gently into balls. Set aside on a baking sheet.
  7. To assemble, dip about half of the balls in melted butter, roll in sugar mixture, and fit them snugly into the pan, occasionally adding a sprinkle of pecans. Pour about a quarter of the sauce over the sugared dough balls. Repeat with remaining dough balls, pecans and another quarter of the sauce. Reserve the remaining sauce.
  8. Cover and let rise at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour, until puffy. (The monkey bread can be made up to this point up to 24 hours in advance and refrigerated overnight.)
  9. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until golden and bubbling around the edges. Let cool on a rack for 5 to 10 minutes, then invert onto a platter.
  10. Meanwhile, reheat the remaining caramel sauce and drizzle or spoon it over the top of the monkey bread until it runs down the sides.  (Any remaining sauce can be passed at the table, for dipping.) Serve warm or at room temperature, with hot coffee or tea and plenty of napkins.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Chasing Coral (2017)

This is a beautifully made documentary that captures the uniqueness of the life that coral reefs support, and then describes in devastating details why they are all going to die.
I knew that intellectually, but watching it happen is really painful.  Like make you cry painful.  The team that is documenting the death of coral spends a fair amount of time in the Great Barrier Reef, which is the largest structure built by living things on the planet and it is being killed by the activity of man.  Shame on us for doing it and especially for not doing something to stop it from happening.  Do not miss this, and I hope it makes it into the final five as a nomination.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Adoration of Christ, Fhillipino Lippi, 1480 CE

I know, this is similar to many birth of the Christ child paintings, but then, if the occasion fits, it seems quite reasonable.
This one is from one of my all time favorite museums, a place that despite the intense chaos and tremendous crowds I would go back to in an instant.  The Hermitage, housed in the Winter Palace, containing Peter the Great's art collection and put together by Catherine the Great.
It is painted by Filippino Lippi, the son of the artist-monk, Fra Filippo Lippi, and himself a pupil of Botticelli. This type of Adoration scene was characteristic of Italian art, being a modification of the scene of the Nativity. Set in a flower-filled meadow surrounded by a balustrade and symbolising Paradise, the scene unfolds before a poetic landscape which seems to be filled with a golden light filtering through the atmosphere(which truthfully is the thing that I like most about this piece).   Filippino was one of the first Italian artists to create a landscape in keeping with the mood and appearance of the heroes, creating an inspired emotional setting for them. In the fragile and ethereal Madonna and in the translucent figures of the angels we can feel the mystic exaltation characteristic of Florentine spiritual life in the late 15th century.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Vasco Da Gama

Vasco da Gama rounded the horn of Africa and made it possible to have trade with India in a way that surpassed what the Romans had managed, and took out the middle men along the way.  He died this day in 1594, and thus ended the life of a man who changed the world in ways that would have defined his era had not Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas at the very same time.  It was just hard to compete with finding entire continents that were previously unknown, and then the silver from the New World changed the global finance structure in a way that essentially meant we were never going back. 
Vasco da Gama was born in about 1460 into a noble family. Little is known of his early life. In 1497, he was appointed to command an expedition equipped by the Portuguese government, whose intention was to find a maritime route to the East.
Setting off in July 1497, da Gama's expedition took advantage of the prevailing winds by sailing south down the coast of Africa, then veering far out into the Atlantic and swinging back in an arc to arrive off the southern African coast. This established a route still followed by sailing vessels. The expedition then rounded the Cape of Good and, after sailing up the coast of east Africa, took on an Arab navigator who helped them reach the Indian coast, at Calicut (now Kozhikode) in May 1498. This voyage launched the all-water route from Europe to Asia.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Cake (2015)

This movie is grim, but with good perspective on it's subject matter.  We have death of a child, debilitating chronic pain, opiate addiction, suicide, depression, divorce, a motherless child and two devastated fathers.  Jennifer Aniston, best known for her comic work, looks uncharacteristically awful.  Her hair is only washed once in the whole film, she is always wearing what she slept in, and she is disfigured by the terrible car accident that left her extremely damaged, both physically and emotionally.
Why, you should be asking at this point, watch this movie?  Well, the grittiness is very real.  When bad things happen, at least some people fall completely apart.  Her character is propped up by a long suffering housekeeper, but her hand up to starting the long arduous road to getting better is from the husband of a woman in her chronic pain group who committed suicide.  He, equally damaged as he is, is also just as angry as she is, and he tolerates her.  She needs that and so does he, and they give each other a bit of needed human companionship.  The leg up that she needs to crawl out.  It ends realistically. 

Friday, December 22, 2017

Meera Sodha's Naan

My youngest son has been cooking with a friend (who truthfully does the lion's share of the cooking, but my offspring has definitely made this before, because I had him make it for me).  This naan is the best of the bunch.

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, or 500 grams
  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil, like canola, plus a teaspoon more
  • 4 tablespoons whole-milk yogurt
  • 1 packet of active dried yeast, or 7 grams
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 level teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup whole milk, warmed
  1. Proof the yeast ahead of time with a little water and the sugar.  Put the flour into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle, and add two tablespoons of the oil to it, along with the yogurt, yeast mixture, salt and baking powder. Use your fingers to combine the ingredients until they resemble crumbs, and then add the warm milk in splashes, mixing until it comes together into a dough.
  2. Put the dough on a clean, well-floured cutting board. It will be very sticky. Flour your hands, and knead the dough for five minutes or so, then scrape off your hands and knead it again, making it into a round ball. Rub a teaspoon of oil over the exterior of the dough, and place it in a clean mixing bowl. Cover with a dish towel, and place in a warm spot to rise for 60 to 90 minutes, or until it has doubled in size.
  3. Using a knife, divide the dough into 12 pieces. Take each piece, roll it into a ball and flatten it between your palms. Dust the dough with flour, and roll each piece out into an oval of about 5 by 8 inches.
  4. Place a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, and allow it to get hot. When it is, cook one naan in it for 30 to 40 seconds on one side, or until it begins to bubble, then use a spatula to flip it over to cook the other side for about the same amount of time, checking regularly to make sure that it does not burn. Flip the naan one more time, and press on it lightly with your spatula for 10 to 15 seconds, then remove to a warm platter. Repeat with the rest of the dough. (Keep the finished naan in a low oven, or wrap in foil until ready to serve.)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Phantom Boy (2015)

I really liked this movie, and it was a nice window into two things.  One is that since this this film was not even in the final five for an Academy Award, that there really are quite a lot of quality animated films being made.  The second is that there are some very serious topics being addressed in the cartoon world.
Leo, a boy with cancer, is able to float outside of his own body at night, swooping through the skies over the glamorous lit-up city of Manhattan. At a certain point, his phantom self starts to lose its density and needs to go back into the body, still lying in his sick bed. But at least he has those escapes, that feeling of freedom and perspective.
Leo is in the hospital, where he meets Alex, a cop with talent and the ability to ruffle feathers.  He has been injured by The Man with the Broken Face.  This dangerous villain is out to cripple Manhattan unless his demands are met.  Alex has no difficulty using Leo's ability to leave his body and float around the city, giving Alex and his reporter friend all the details they need to save the city.  It is kind of corny, kind of funny, and kind of serious, as Leo's parents grapple with their very ill child.  Very well done.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Dogs=Longer Life

I have had 1-4 dogs my entire adult life, even though I never grew up with one, so I love it when these studies come out.
Researchers in Sweden tracked more than 3.4 million Swedish people with no heart disease over a period of 12 years. Some owned dogs and some didn’t. By looking at how many died in the 12-year follow-up, and adjusting for relevant factors like age and sex, the scientists calculated the risk of death. It turns out that dog owners had a 20 percent lower risk of dying compared to people who didn’t have a dog. The benefits were particularly strong for dog owners who lived alone: they had a 33 percent lower risk of death, and an 8 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease, like stroke and heart failure.
For the study, researchers analyzed 12 years of government-collected data on 3.4 million Swedish residents, which includes information on birth, sex, age, health, marital status, as well as death. Since 2001, dog owners in Sweden have had to register their dogs by using an ear tattoo or under-skin chip, so the researchers could also check which of those 3.4 million people owned a puppy. Dog owners were then compared with pet-less people: those who had a dog were found to have a lower risk of death due to cardiovascular disease or other causes during the 12-year follow-up. Dog owners who lived alone had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, as did people who had hunting dogs compared to other breeds.
So head out to the animal shelter and adopt a used dog.  It is good for you.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Home Fire by Kamila

Remember the ending to the Oedipus tragedy?  Antigone is at its essence about family loyalty and civil disobedience
Here is the thumbnail sketch.  After the bloody siege of Thebes by Polynieces and his allies, the city stands unconquered. Antigones brother are both dead, killed by each other, according to the curse of Oedipus, their father and one, the invader, is left to rot.  Outraged, Antigone buries him anyway and suffers the consequences.
In this book, one sister is left to deal with the aftermath of her brother's defection to ISIS while the other does almost nothing.  They are the children of a known terrorist father, and what unfolds is a layered tale of growing up Muslim in Britain and how all of this might come aobut, even without the seer who predicted the end of Oedipus' family.  Well written, and long listed for the Booker Prize.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Sense of an Ending (2016)

I liked the movie so much better than the book.  I almost never say that, but while the book won the Booker Prize, it was one of my least favorite long listed books that I have read.
Jim Broadbent, who I love, is Tony.  He is long divorced from his wife, not quite retired from his vintage camera repair shop, and lacking in love.  His world is shuffled a bit when he learns that the mother of an old girlfriend of his has left him a diary.  He thinks it is her diary, but as he investigates why her daughter won't release it to him, he discovers it is the diary of a mutual friend from university who was the daughter's next lover.  She is adamant he will not get it and as he becomes more insistent and she meets with him, it gradually dawns on him what the issue is.  The ex-girlfriends' mother is the worst sort of parent.  She has had a bored privileged life that left her with no one to compete with but her daughter, and then, in the end, she saddles her with that fact well beyond the grave.  It is grim to read, but more eye opening to watch.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Wine Ewer, 1590 CE, Japan

This vessel, made of laquered wood and decorated with alternating designs of chrysanthemums and Paulownia crests, may have been used by the powerful and flamboyant general Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536 – 1598), who unified Japan in the 1590s. His mausoleum, Kōdaiji, was furnished with lacquers produced by the Kōami workshop, featuring close-ups of autumn plants and Toyotomi family crests. Designed in what came to be known as the Kōdaiji style (referring to black lacquerware with sumptuous gold ornamentation), this container features a stunning contrast of two patterns — totally different in color, rhythm, and motif. This type of decoration was much favored at the time by artists working not only in lacquer but also in ceramics and textiles. 
 This is from the Momoyama Period, when feudal barons, or daimyos, began their struggle for control of Japan. The ensuing four decades of constant warfare are known as the Momoyama (Peach Hill) period. The name derives from the site, in a Kyoto suburb, on which Toyotomi Hideyoshi built his Fushimi Castle. Unity was gradually restored through the efforts of three warlords. The decorative style that is the hallmark of Momoyama art had its inception in the early sixteenth century and lasted well into the seventeenth. On the one hand, the art of this period was characterized by a robust and dynamic style, with gold lavishly applied to architecture, furnishings and art.   The ostentatiously decorated fortresses built by the daimyo for protection and to flaunt their newly acquired power exemplified this grandeur.  Toyotomi Hideyoshi instigated two devastating invasions of the Korean peninsula with the ultimate goal of invading China. The arrival of Portuguese and Dutch merchants and Catholic missionaries brought an awareness of different religions, new technologies, and previously unknown markets and goods to Japanese society. Over time, these foreign influences blended with native Japanese culture in myriad and long-lasting ways.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Festival of Lights

To recap the story of Hanukkah, the historical events upon which the celebration is based are recorded in Maccabees I and II, two books contained within a later collection of writings known as the Apocrypha. In the year 168 B.C.E., the Syrian tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes sent his soldiers to Jerusalem. They outlawed practicing Judaism and the Temple was renamed for the Greek god Zeus.  Antiochus offered Jews two options:  conversion or death.  A resistance developed and a third option, war, was successfully waged against the Syrians, who had superior numbers but were none-the-less defeated.
Hanukkah, which means “dedication,” is the festival that commemorates the rededication of the Temple following the defilement caused by the Syrians.  When the Maccabees entered the Temple, they immediately relit the ner tamid (eternal light). They found only a single jar of oil, which was sufficient for only one day. The messenger who was sent to get more oil took eight days, and miraculously, the single jar of oil continued to burn until his return. The rabbis of the Talmud attributed the eight days of Hanukkah to the miracle of this single jar of oil.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Birth of a Nation (2016)

This is a very very painful movie that chronicles the story of Nat Turner, slave, preacher, husband, father, and eventually slave rebellion leader.  The bloody awful ending is almost a relief after the relentless grimness of slavery, even with a kind owner.  Worse with the worst of them, and when one begins out kind, it may turn when money gets tight, because the fact of the matter is that slaves were treated like property, not like people.  Property that you could beat and rape and starve and torture, all of which comes about.  It is just gruesome.  A true rendition of the past by all accounts.  What we see here is no different than what Frederick Douglass wrote about his experience as a slave and then a free man in almost the same time period.
The rebellion that Nat Turner led, which killed 60 slave owners over a 48 hour period until the military stepped in and killed them all, it entirely understandable, if not exactly comfortable or right.  The movie is not for the feint of heart, but well done and accurate.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Pastéis de Nata, Porto, Portugal

This picture is from a bakery that we visited on our last morning in Porto.  It was fascinating to watch a whole crew of bakers churn out literally hundreds of these custard tarts, which are the national pastry of Portugal.  They sell for about a Euro each, as does the coffee, so a mid-morning snack is quite affordable.
The original pastry comes from Belém.   As the story goes, in 1837 a confeitaria there began making the original Pastéis de Belém, following an ancient recipe from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. That secret recipe is a common theme around the making of these tarts, as is the fact that they are impossible to create in a home oven, due to the cooking temperature of 800 degrees.  However, if you are to try this at home, some tips to making spectacular authentic Portuguese custard tarts at home are few and simple. When making the pastry, make sure the butter is evenly layered, all excess flour is removed, and the dough is rolled very thin and folded neatly. This is puff pastry-esque dough.  As for the custard, you’ll need a thermometer to accurately gauge the custard. Once out of the oven, these pastries are best eaten warm the day they’re made.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Slower Earth, More Earthquakes?

The link between Earth’s rotation and seismic activity was noted in a paper by Roger Bilham and Rebecca Bendick presented at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America.
They contend that the  correlation between Earth’s rotation and earthquake activity is strong and suggests there is going to be an increase in numbers of intense earthquakes in 2018.
In their study, Bilham and Bendick looked at earthquakes of magnitude 7 and greater that had occurred since 1900.
They found five periods when there had been significantly higher numbers of large earthquakes compared with other times. “In these periods, there were between 25 to 30 intense earthquakes a year,” said Bilham. “The rest of the time the average figure was around 15 major earthquakes a year.” The researchers searched to find correlations between these periods of intense seismic activity and other factors and discovered that when Earth’s rotation decreased slightly it was followed by periods of increased numbers of intense earthquakes. “The rotation of the Earth does change slightly – by a millisecond a day sometimes – and that can be measured very accurately by atomic clocks,” said Bilham.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Far From the Madding Crowd (2015)

In some ways this should be called Right Next to the Madding Woman.  Bathsheba Evendene is a fascinating and somewhat headstrong woman who inherits a farm and goes about managing it herself.  Before this happens she meets a sheepherder, Gabriel Oak, who knows right then and there, on the spot that she is the woman for him.  She is not yet ready and she turns him down.  It would have been a shorter movie had she not, but a happier story overall. 
Gabriel soon losses his fortune while Miss Everdene gains hers and their paths cross again, with her in the driver's seat.  She needs him, she knows she needs him, but their circumstances are such that she feels she cannot love him.  It is a classic British story, told by Thomas Hardy, and it is beautifully brought to the screen here.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Sphinx of Amenhotep III, 1375 BCE

I have found the distinctiveness of the portraiture in Ancient Egypt to be remarkable.  Even without the inscription, the facial features of this faience sphinx would identify it as Amenhotep III. The graceful body of the lion transforms quite naturally into human forearms and hands. In this form, the sphinx combines the protective power of the lion with the royal function of offering to the gods. The even tone of the fine blue glaze and the almost flawless condition of this sculpture make it unique among ancient Egyptian faience statuettes.
The material this is made from is called faience, which is a “material made from powdered quartz covered with a true vitreous coating, usually in a transparent blue or green isotropic glass."  Notably, faience is considerably more porous than glass proper and can be cast in molds to create vessels or objects.  Although not properly pottery, as (until late periods) it contains no clay and instead contains the major elemental components of glass, faience is frequently discussed in surveys of ancient pottery.  So while I am not crazy about the color, the process to make it is kind of cool, and it was very popular in ancient times.
Amenhotep III, the subject of the art, made his greatest contribution to Egyptian culture in maintaining peace and prosperity, which enabled him to devote his time to the arts. Many of the most impressive structures of ancient Egypt were built under his reign and, through military campaigns, he not only strengthened the borders of his land but expanded them. He ruled Egypt with Tiye for 38 years until his death and was succeeded by Amenhotep IV, later known as Akhenaten.  He was the Hadrian of Ancient Egypt, and his building projects still abound.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Oriental Ramen Salad

This was a really nice addition to our Thanksgiving table, and it was brought by an out of town guest who did not make it at our house.  The reason I think that is important to note is that if you make the dressing ahead of time, or get a bottled Asian dressing when picking up the other ingredients, it is something you could do if you were staying at a hotel and wanted to bring a dish to someone's house.  It also would be great at a pot luck.  Assemble it at work at the last minute, but it would travel home just fine as well.
  • 1: 16 ounce bag coleslaw mix
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds, de-shelled/shelled/no shells
  • 1 cup  sliced almonds
  • 6 ounces ramen noodles
  • 5 stalks of scallions, sliced
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup white vinegar
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  1. In a large bowl, place coleslaw mix, sunflower seeds, sliced almonds, crushed ramen, and scallions. To crush ramen, place ramen block into a Ziploc bag and using a rolling pin, gently crush the ramen into smaller pieces.
  2. In a large measuring cup, add vegetable oil, vinegar, and sugar. You can add the seasoning packet from the ramen noodles or not.  Whisk together. Don't worry if the sugar will not completely dissolve.
  3. Pour oil mixture over the coleslaw mix and toss everything together with a large spatula until everything is coated well.
  4. Serve cold or room temperature.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

My Life as a Zucchini (2016)

This is such a good movie.  In fact I like it much better than the winner in this category, and the fact that Switzerland submitted it as their Best Foreign Language film submission makes me like them just a teensy bit more.
You know you are not watching a children's movie even though it is animated when in the opening scene the child, in an effort to escape his enraged drunk mother, shuts the trap door to his room, causing her to fall down the stairs and die, leaving him an orphan. Amazingly, life in this particular orphanage is not terribly bad at all. The kids give him a hard time to begin with but their early rivalries grow into deep friendships. Soon Camille, turns up, and she and Zucchini find an immediate affinity.  The only glitch is Camille’s terrifying aunt who barges into the orphanage like the proverbial bull in a china shop to demand custody. The plot twist by which that danger is averted is a clever one, but this is not a very plot-driven film, which is unusual for an animated picture. That’s not to say the writing is lacking. The character work here is both intimate and nicely compressed. But the movie really gets to its most sublime heights visually. Spectacular.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Doc Restaurant, Armamar, Portugal

 We stayed at a wonderful quinta in the Duoro Valley on our recent trip to Portugal, and the most extraordinary meal that we had was at this restaurant, run by chef Rui Paula.
The setting is gorgeous.  We sat outside on a terrace that is right over the river.  The weather was perfect, and the awning over the table was magnificently made.  What impressed me about that was the level of detail the place went to in order to produce memorable food.
The cuisine is local to Portugal and much of it comes from the Duoro Valley itself.  The wines that paired with each of the courses were all local, including one that was just across the river from where we were seated.  If the grapes hadn't already been harvested we could have seen them from our seats.
The entire meal, from the amuse bouche to the desserts, were spectacularly flavorful, beautifully plated, and flavor sensations.  The price tag reflects all of that, but for us, that was all that we did the day we went there for a late lunch.  It took hours to finish the meal, and then we sat on the terrace just enjoying the weather and the aftermath of the food, eaten in good company, and to be remembered long after we get home.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Apple, Fennel and Celery Salad

This was billed as a lighter salad for the Thanksgiving table, and it would indeed fit that bill, but I made it for a dinner that I wanted a lot of vegetarian options for.  We still have some fennel from our CSA and it is a really nice flavor in this dish.
I made it without the cheese and it was very good.
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice, plus more to taste
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 large fennel bulbs, thinly sliced on a mandoline
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, halved and cored, thinly sliced on a mandoline
  • 3 celery stalks, thinly sliced on a mandoline
  • cup fennel fronds or roughly chopped parsley leaves
  • ½ cup toasted walnuts
  • 2 ½ ounces Parmesan, shaved with a vegetable peeler (about 2/3 cup)
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in oil, continuously whisking, until dressing is emulsified. Taste and add more lemon juice and/or salt if needed.
  2. In a large bowl, toss the dressing with fennel, apple and celery. Fold in fennel fronds or parsley and walnuts. Top with Parmesan just before serving.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Pawn Sacrifice (2014)

No doubt about it, Bobby Fisher was an odd duck.  This movie does nothing to diminish that picture, but it does a lot to contextualize what happened with him.
Toby McGuire plays the adult Fisher, but even as a child he was both dismissive and tyrannical.  As portrayed, he is definitely on the spectrum.  He has a matter-of-factness to his superciliousness that is exactly dead on for Asperger's syndrome, but he has the addition of being a little bit mean and a lot paranoid.  Those traits blossom as he moves into adulthood, but in a way, they were entirely necessary for him to have any shot at all of competing with the Russian players.  He had to insist on things in order to more or less level the playing field and be able to have a shot at fame.  The film comes to a stop after the tournament he played with Boris Spassky in Iceland.  His experience on the world stage gave him household name recognition, but not an exactly adoring public, for reasons that are not sugar coated in this movie.  Well done.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Greek Terracotta Situla, 350 BCE

This terracotta bucket dates back to the Classical Period of Greek history and is attributed to Lycurgus (the painter, not the lawmaker of the same name).  Lycurgus lived in Apulia in southern Italy, which was then a Greek colony, and painted in what is known as the Ornate style.  He was known for his ability to create spatial depth in his painting.
More than half of extant South Italian vases come from Apulia (modern Puglia), the “heel” of Italy. The demand became so great among the native peoples of the region that by the mid-fourth century B.C., satellite workshops were established in Italic communities to the north. A distinctive shape of Apulia is the knob-handled patera, a low-footed, shallow dish with two handles rising from the rim (pictured on the vase). The handles and rim are elaborated with mushroom-shaped knobs.   Apulia is also distinguished by its production of monumental shapes, including the krater (also pictured), the amphora, and the loutrophoros. These vases were primarily funerary in function. They are decorated with scenes of mourners at tombs and elaborate, multifigured mythological tableaux,

Monday, December 4, 2017

Red Curry Green Beans

This was a non-traditional addition to our holiday table this year, and it was delicious.
  • 1 1/2 pounds  green beans
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 pound mushrooms sliced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • One 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon of water
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3/4 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
Step 1    
Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the beans until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain very well on paper towels.
Step 2    
In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil until shimmering. Add the mushrooms and cook over moderate heat, turning once, until browned, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Step 3    
In the same skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the onions and cook over moderate heat until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Whisk in the coconut milk, red curry paste and the cornstarch mixture until smooth. Add the sauce to the skillet and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Step 4    
In a large bowl, toss the green beans with the mushrooms. Add the sauce and toss to coat thoroughly. Transfer the beans to a shallow 3 quart ceramic baking dish and sprinkle the peanuts over the top. Bake for about 15 minutes, until heated through and the peanuts are lightly golden.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Spinning Plates (2012)

This is a documentary about three extraordinary restaurants and the incredible people who bring them to life. A world-renowned chef competes for the ultimate restaurant prize in Chicago, while privately battling a life-threatening condition. A 150-year-old restaurant in Iowa is still standing only because of an unbreakable bond with the community. And a fledgling Mexican restaurant in Tucson struggles as its owners risk everything to survive and provide for their young daughter. 
 Grant Achatz and his world renowned restaurant Alinea are featured.  This is fascinating, with the kitchen having more equipment that many labs.  The Modern Cuisine is as much science and construction as it is food, and while I in no way want to cook this way, it really made me want to eat there.
The second restaurant is Breitbach's Country Dining, in Balltown, Iowa, just up the road a piece from where I live.  They make their own pies, they feed hundreds of people, and they have been doing so for over a century, going back to when Iowa was first settled.  It is a story of what small towns have to offer, and it also made me want to go there. 
The third was a small family restaurant started by immigrants and which closed during the filming of the documentary.  It was sad and real, and also a part of what cooking for people brings with it.
All three made me want to do two things.  One was to eat the food featured in all three and another was to watch more about food.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Eastward Kelvin Waves

I read a recent issue of Science which hypothesized an explanation of why Kelvin waves always move eastward and I realized that I did not even know what Kelvin waves are, much less what direction they move.  Why does that even matter?  While I think of myself as a person who believes in and supports science, there are very large gaps in my knowledge, and because I live in a country where climate deniers are in charge of government, it is more important to be an educated voter.
So here goes.  Equatorial Kelvin waves occur constantly in Earth's atmosphere and ocean. They constitute an isolated and powerful component of the observed atmospheric wave spectrum, whereas oceanic Kelvin waves drive up- and downwelling in the Pacific Ocean thermocline, which affects the El Niño–Southern Oscillation. In the atmosphere, Kelvin waves are initiated by and coupled to convective activity (storm systems), mostly over the Indian and the western Pacific Oceans.  So as we have more dramatic temperature changes, Kelvin waves will play more of a role in weather.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Beet Gratin

We had new guests at the Thanksgiving table and they insisted on contributing a dish, and this is what they made.  It was astoundingly good, and I would never have found it without them.  Word has it that it comes from the British duo Two Fat Ladies. Picture is a double recipe.  It may not look fabulous, but it is really amazing, if you like beets.  The cheese is an unexpected ingredient but it makes the dish.

6 beets, boiled and peeled (small beets)
3/4 c. grated cheddar cheese
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 c. heavy cream
salt and pepper
bread crumbs

Chop the beets coarsely.  Butter a gratin dish and sprinkle a third of the mixed cheeses. Put in half the beets, followed by another third of the cheese.  Repeat.  Add cream so it gets to the top of the beets.  Season with salt and pepper.  Top with bread crumbs, and dot with a little butter.  Bake in a preheated oven for 45 minutes at 250 degrees.  Should be bubbling and the cream a bit absorbed into the beets.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Midnight's Children (2012)

This Deepa Mehta movie is a somewhat boggy work covering over 60 years in the turbulent history of India and Pakistan from just before the second world war up to Indira Gandhi's repressive "Emergency" of the late 1970s, as they affect five generations of a well-off Muslim clan and their associates in Kashmir, Agra, Mumbai, and Karachi. It brings together Dickens, Kipling and Shakespeare, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam, comedy, tragedy and farce, and has as its moral and dramatic fulcrum the year 1947 when the misjudged partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan was insisted upon by the Muslims and acquiesced in by the departing British.  The further break up of what is now just called Pakistan from East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, in 1974 is largely depicted as a body pile up ending in the split, but was precipitated by the western parts trying to impose Urdu on the Bengalis, who were not about to give up their culture and language. 
Salman Rushdie wrote the script from his 1981 novel , and his Rushdie's brilliant insight was to bring together the private and public lives of those involved by inventing a mystical bond between the children born around the midnight hour of 17 August 1947, which is the birthday of modern India.  Why the movie was so long in coming is hard to say, but it brings all sorts of walks of life together under one film umbrella, and it is fascinating to watch. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Gertrude's Gardens

Google tells me that today is the 174th birthday of Gertrude Jekyll, a woman who designed country gardens across England and in America as well.  While I am not much of a gardener myself, the ability to make a yard look both beautiful and a bit wild is something I love, and I do on occasion find myself going to English manors to marvel at the yards. 
Jekyll, born in 1843, was influenced by prominent English painters of her time, with the artist JMW Turner cited as a particularly strong influence, and often worked in collaboration with the architect Edwin Luytens to create stunning combinations of homes and gardens. Her work has come to be seen as embodying the “Arts and Crafts” style, with arrangements of flowers that mimic the brush-strokes used by painters.  I was at one such styled garden this past summer, Hidcote in the Cotswolds.  Lawrence Johnston created the house and gardens in the style of Jekyll.
It wasn’t just a matter of abstract designs that drove Jekyll: she also dove into horticulture, cultivating, selecting and breeding many plants. That legacy has also helped inspire the names of flowers that nod at Ms Jekyll’s contributions to the field of horticulture, among them the Munstead Wood rose. Another flower known as the Gertrude Jekyll rose is well-regarded by gardening enthusiasts.  Finally, in a bit of trivia, her brother was friends with Robert Louis Stevenson and may have been an influence for the book Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Bathers, Cézanne, 1985

Cézanne painted bathers from the 1870s onwards, including numerous paintings with compositions of male and female bathers, singly or in groups. Late in life, he painted three large-scale female bather groups. In addition to the National Gallery's painting in London, they are now in the Barnes Foundation and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I recently visited with this one in London, but am more familiar with the others.  Cézanne seems to have been at work on all three simultaneously at the time of his death.

In such works, Cézanne was reinterpreting a long tradition of paintings with nude figures in the landscape by artists such as Titian. While the subjects of their works were taken from Gree myths, Cézanne did not use direct literary sources. Instead, his central theme was the harmony of the figures with the landscape expressed through solid forms, strict architectonic structure, and the earth tones of the bodies. When exhibited in 1907, this painting became an inspiration for the nascent Cubist movement; he influenced both Picasso and Matisse.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Jodhaa Akbar (2008)

In preparation for all things Indian, we watched this classic Bollywood style movie, which is set in Agra during the Mughal empire rule, but before the Taj Majal was built.  The fort that the Mughal emperors lived in is a central feature and the whole movie, while a bit too long, was fascinating.
The story revolves around a possibly true marriage of alliance between the mid-sixteenth century Mughal emperor, Jalal-ud-dim Mohammed Akbar and Jodhaa Bai, a Rajput princess.  The part that is left out, with the exception of a passing mention of the harem and the eunuch attendant, is the other 199 wives.  Details that are best passed over in a love story.  Jodhaa was originally betrothed to another Rajput king and her dowry was her father's crown, which will pass to that Rajput king, after his death. Through this arrangement, the son of the elder brother of the king, Sujjamal gets deprived of his rightful throne and he leaves the kingdom angrily to join rebels. But when Mughal empire plans to attack Amer, king Bharmal, resentfully offers his daughter's hand to the emperor himself to avoid war. Akbar agrees to the marriage as it would bring forward a true strong alliance and long lasting peace between the empire and Rajputs.   there are the age old issues of differences in religion that are a very real part of India's 20th century story, and the costumes, music and dance in this epic film are something to behold.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Hydroelectric Power

Developing countries around the world are expanding hydropower to meet growing energy demand.  The move away from fossil fuels is one to applaud, and cost effective alternatives are hard to come by.  The resulting impact on the environment locally may be compromised in an effort to protect the atmosphere of the planet, but the truth is that we jsut don't know.  What we do know is that there are a number of cities in the devloped and developing world that are significantly hampered by air pollution (Beijing and Dehli, to name two), and that needs to improve.
In the Brazilian Amazon, >200 dams are planned over the next 30 years, and questions about the impacts of current and future hydropower in this globally important watershed remain unanswered. In this context, a sutdy recently published in Science applied a hydrologic indicator method to quantify how existing Amazon dams have altered the natural flow regime and to identify predictors of alteration. The type and magnitude of hydrologic alteration varied widely by dam, but the largest changes were to critical characteristics of the flood pulse. Impacts were largest for low-elevation, large-reservoir dams; however, small dams had enormous impacts relative to electricity production. Finally, the “cumulative” effect of multiple dams was significant but only for some aspects of the flow regime. This analysis is a first step toward the development of environmental flows plans and policies relevant to the Amazon and other megadiverse river basins.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Paneer Makhnai

This is a great sauce--you can put chicken in it (already cooked) if you want to substitute out the cheese.
8 fl oz tomato puree
8 fl oz heavy cream
2 tsp peeled and finely grated fresh ginger
1 tsp garam masala
2 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp sugar
1 fresh hot green chilli, finely chopped
1¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp nice red chilli powder
1 tsp ground roasted cumin seeds
1 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi), crumbled (optional)
14 oz fresh Indian cheese (paneer), cut into 2 cm/ ¾ inch squares
freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp unsalted butter plus
1 tbsp olive or peanut oil
¼ tsp whole cumin seeds
2–3 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
 Combine the tomato puree, cream, ginger, garam masala, lemon juice, sugar, green chilli, 1 teaspoon of the salt, chilli powder, ground roasted cumin and dried fenugreek leaves
(if using) in a bowl. Stir thoroughly and set aside.
Put the cubed cheese into another bowl. Add ¼ teaspoon of salt and some black pepper. Toss well to mix.
Put the butter, oil and cumin seeds in a medium, non-stick pan and set over a medium heat. Put all the cheese cubes in the pan in a single layer and brown them very lightly on at least two sides. Pour the tomato sauce over the top and stir to mix. Bring to a simmer, then heat very gently for 4–5 minutes,
stirring with a light hand as you do so. Sprinkle the fresh coriander over the top before serving.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Baby Boss (2017)

Who is the parent indeed?  This is a movie that my youngest son wanted to see, and as with most things animated, I wanted to see it with him rather than separately, because part of the joy of animated films for me is the return to my own childhood favorites that are animated, and then the experience of watching them with my children.  I think my parents have enjoyed watching them with their grandchildren for similar reasons.
I may have been influenced by not feeling well, but I very much enjoyed this movie.  It has a very silly premise, and even sillier plot trajectory, and in my mind is only saved by the Baby Boss himself, voiced by Alec Baldwin, who is having the time of his life right now.  He is just everywhere doing amusing things with this sardonic look on his face that makes him very enjoyable to watch.
This is a good sibling movie, where it starts with real animosity and ends with friendship, but covers a lot of the sibling rivalry bases in the mean time.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving Modern Style

Having taken American Indian Art last spring alongside my youngest son gave me a much better appreciation for what was going on with the Americans in the area.  America's native inhabitants in the Northeast were a thriving interconnected group of tribes that had forged peace, trade, and alliances amongst themselves before my ancestors arrived with their ideas of religious freedom and societal ideals.  This holiday, a celebration of our successful toe hold on the new continent, is widely celebrated throughout the United States (the exception being native people, who see this as the beginning of the end of their cultural and religious freedom), and is a time to reflect on one's blessings and give thanks.
So here goes, since my root stalk is the Puritans.  It has been a rough year for folks with values that include priorities like environmental protection, combating climate change, health care as a basic right, and just over all decency.  I am still unable to be anything but furious at the people who facilitated this regime.  I have definitely cut off ties because of it, and while it is hard, I am working on being at peace with it.  They may be good people but we don't share values.  Happy (mostly; still some very real anger) about working on that.
I am grateful for the time, to have been able to travel with family and friends and really enjoy things that I love.  I have gotten to do some things that are on my lifetime "To Do" list and that has been really nice.  The biggest change this year is that my spouse and I became grandparents, which has been a joyful thing that caught us both completely by surprise.  So here I stop, because it is hard to top that one.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Vegetable Biryani

This is great because you can easily make it vegan by using vegetable oil instead of butter, and it is delicious for non-vegetarians to eat as well, but can serve as a primary source of protein for those who need it.  Don't be overwhelmed by the ingredient list length--alot of the spices you will need to have out if you are cooking an Indian meal.

For the vegetables:
Make the rice: Place the rice in a sieve and rinse under cold running water until the water runs clear. Set aside.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, over medium-high heat. Add the golden raisins, almonds, turmeric, cumin seed, coriander seed, cardamom pods, and cinnamon stick and cook, stirring, until toasted and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until toasted, about 1 minute more. Add the water and salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, (wrap the lid tightly with a kitchen towel), cover, and steam until the rice is tender, 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and set aside.
Meanwhile, make the vegetables. Melt the butter in a medium straight-sided skillet with a tight-fitting lid, over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the golden raisins, almonds, coriander seed, cumin seed, and cardamom and cook, stirring, until toasted and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the cauliflower, green beans, potatoes, carrots, and salt. Raise the heat to high, pour in the water, and cook, covered, for 4 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are tender and most of the water has evaporated, about 1 1/2 minutes more.
Add the rice to the vegetable mixture and, using a rubber spatula, stir to combine. Season with salt to taste. Divide the vegetable-rice mixture among plates and top with some of the toasted coconut and almonds. Serve immediately.