you call this a democracy? part two

February 24, 2016

I’m going to be brief tonight, but I can’t let this one go.  It’s not only the economy that’s rigged, but our electoral process as well.

Bernie Sanders tied in Iowa, won by a landslide in New Hampshire, and lost by 5 points in Nevada, winning many rural counties.  After three primaries he leads the popular vote.

So you think he’d be, at the very least, tied with Hillary in the delegate count.  And when it comes to pledged delegates he is:  51-51.  When you look at the total delegate count, however, it’s another story:  502 for Hillary, 70 for Bernie.

Why the ridiculous disparity?  One word:  superdelegates.  These delegates evidently have superpowers, because aren’t obligated to follow the popular vote, and most of them, long before any voters had a chance to speak, pledged themselves to Hillary.

Now, they can change their vote.  But they don’t have to.  We could see a scenario where Bernie wins the popular vote but loses the nomination, in other words, a coronation of Hillary, slightly delayed, by the Democratic political machine. The message that would send would be clear:  the election is  a sham, your vote doesn’t matter.  Millions of voters would be alienated, they would stay home in November, Trump/Cruz/Rubio wins.    It would a horrible scenario, but the Hillary folks seem bound and determined to take us down that road.

Please let your state’s superdelegates know that this is not democracy.



Blogging for Books:The Indian Family Kitchen, by Anjali Patak

February 19, 2016

From the start, I knew I was going to love this cookbook.  I skimmed through it, identifying recipes I wanted to try, and found that was nearly every one.  Virtually everything looked delicious, and simple enough for a weekday meal.

This is not traditional Indian food, which takes hours to prepare and uses multitudinous pots and pans.  Many of the ingredients too, are not typically found in India:  ricotta cheese?  tortillas?  And most strikingly, beef.  Call it Indian-American.

Pathak is the granddaughter of the founders of the Patak chutneys and pickles company.  She grew up in England and lives in New York.  So her cooking traditions are already twice removed from the mother country.  Authenticity has its place, but I see  nothing wrong with American adaptations of traditional cuisines.  Think of  Caesar salads as “Italian” or cheesy enchiladas as “Mexican”. Both are rarely if ever eaten in the nations they are attributed to, but that doesn’t make them any less delicious.  Food culture is a continually evolving  phenomenon.

These recipes are especially welcome because they retain sophisticated spicing while eliminating a lot of time-consuming steps. I’m sure I will work my way all the way through this book, but in one tasty week I made pulled chicken mini-tortillas (kind of like Indian barbecue); tiger shrimp with lime, ginger, and mustard seeds (fantastic!); radish, peanut, and mint salad  (attractive and refreshing); baked butternut squash with feta, tomato, mint, and Indian spices  (delicious); and Tadka dhal (creamy and gently spicy, made from yellow lentils).  While all these dishes were inherently somewhat labor-intensive, requiring a mix of spices, (often hand-ground and/or sautéed in oil to release their essence) and a lot of chopping, they still were easy enough to put together in an hour or less.  The flavor combinations were sometimes surprising and always yummy.

The book also includes helpful information on basic Indian spices and kitchen necessities, along with lovely photography.  A chatty, personal tone pervades the cookbook but does not overwhelm the main deal, which is the recipes.

My main gripe with this cookbook is an odd font choice, where all the ingredients are listed above in tiny print with recipe title and cooking instructions in larger font in the middle of the page.  My eye naturally went to this latter section first, and I needed to make a special effort to look up, put my reading glasses on, and make sure I had all the ingredients I needed.

judge candidates by the content of their character, not the shape of their genitals

February 8, 2016

Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright grossly overstepped their bounds this past weekend, castigating women as being traitors to their sex by voting for Bernie Sanders.  Steinem even said young women are choosing Bernie over Hillary because “that’s where the boys are”.  Pleeese!!  Who’s sexist now?

Hillary lost me on the feminist front way back in the early ’90s when she pronounced she wasn’t “the type to stay home and bake cookies”.  At that time I was staying home with three young children and baking a lot of cookies.  They were healthy and wholesome and made from scratch.  I viewed my job as a caregiver as the most important job I could possibly be doing. Along with raising my own children and cooking them homemade meals, I supported women who worked outside the home–by choice or circumstance—running their school fundraisers, driving their children to activities, supervising playdates in my home, serving those cookies. Twenty-five or so years later I continue my caregiver role.  I still have one teenager at home, and take care of my baby granddaughters 20-30 hours per week.  I still view this as the most important job I could possibly be doing.  If so many people in my household weren’t so annoyingly gluten-free, I would still be baking plenty of cookies.

The fifties and sixties narrowly defined women’s roles, and many women–my mother among them–chafed against those restrictions.   The point of the feminist movement was supposed to be choice.  I respect women’s choice to be politicians, partners in law firms, and corporate executives, but I do not appreciate their condescending dismissal of women who do not share that choice.  Back in my cookie-baking days, I cannot tell you how many women deemed me unworthy of conversation once they determined I didn’t work outside the home.  My youngest child is 19 years younger than my oldest, and I have found the generational change refreshing.  This new group of Gen X, and now millennial moms largely work outside the home, at least part time, for economic necessity as much or more than fulfillment.  But they don’t define women by their paycheck.  They don’t greet you at parties asking “what do you do?”  They find no shame in baking cookies.  This is the demographic Clinton, Albright, and Steinem find so perplexing.  Yet even among my baby boomer generation–stay at home moms, lawyers, and doctors alike–support for Clinton is very soft, and slipping.

I must admit, when I see Hillary in her helmet hair and dress for success suit, I bristle instinctively. She likes to talk about being a grandmother, but I doubt she changes too many diapers, or spends too many afternoons taking little Charlotte to the playground. But that is not why I don’t support her for President.  I don’t support her because I don’t like her policies and question her integrity (see many previous blogs). I don’t support her because I think she will lose the election in November (see previous blogs).

I can’t think of anything more sexist than voting for a candidate simply because they are a woman, and evidently lots of women agree with me.  To paraphrase Martin Luther King, let’s judge people by the content of their character, not the shape of their genitals.


the center cannot hold

February 7, 2016

When Barack Obama was elected in 2008 I thought we’d stepped back from a dangerous cliff. (check my old blog posts for proof)  I was never as enamored with him as many.  He was too moderate for me, but it seemed (and still does) to be a genuine moderateness in his world outlook, as opposed to Hillary’s expedient compromises  And at that time, it did seem the most practical approach to aim for  the center.  I believed, like Obama said, that most Americans shared similar aspirations, albeit different ways of getting there.  What we needed to do was come together, brainstorm as a nation, and compromise.

I no longer believe that.  While I still believe that as human beings we all share some basic desires–food, shelter, love, the well-being of our families–once those personal desires get translated into the public arena, there are differences too vast to bridge.  There are a shocking number of Americans who remain prejudiced against people of other races, religions, nationalities and sexual orientation.  Who deny the existence of climate change.  Who believe we are living in Biblical end times. Who think, in a world where a crazy man can shoot first graders at point blank range, that the Constitution guarantees us the right to trot around with AK-47’s at our hip.

Those people, no doubt, don’t understand a person like me any more than I understand them.  We are very divided.  We do not share remotely the same world view.

I think Hillary Clinton is a grossly compromised candidate.  But if she is nominated for President, I will hold my nose and vote for her.  I respect her intelligence and experience.  I think she believes in the basic constitutional rights our country was founded on, genuinely does care about the rights of women and children, and would be reasonably trustworthy is a position of power.  I think most of my fellow Democrats would follow suit.

My fear is not that Hillary Clinton would win.  My fear is that she won’t.  If she was running against a moderate Republican I might consider switching parties for the first time in my life, or voting for a protest independent candidate.  But unfortunately she will most likely be running against one of the unholy trinity:  Trump, Cruz, or Rubio.  That Rubio is being held up as a “mainstream” Republican is laughable.  He denies climate change and is opposed to ANY environmental regulations.  He wants to bomb the Middle East back to the Stone Age.  He’s enthralled with sending more prisoners to Guantanamo.  He invokes Jesus Christ his savior at every opportunity, apparently unaware of the separation of church and state.

These are bad guys, living in unstable and passionate times, and that makes them very dangerous.  Hillary offers, in response, change so measured as to be anemic, one might say pathetic.  She reminds me of a parent telling her unruly children to calm down, to accept the world as it is, to give up on their dreams. She is running the anti-passion campaign.

I think her supporters–at first complacent, now perplexed–might want to consider our “enemy”, Iran.  Not so long ago, Iran was a stable, culturally progressive, forward-looking country.  To be sure, it was more of an oligarchy than a democracy (aren’t we?).  There was a wealthy class that lived extravagantly, and a relatively large upper middle class that lived off the crumbs.(see the excellent film Persepolis for a great picture of this)  But the huge income inequities between this group and everyone else eventually drove a revolution that found its voice in religious fundamentalism  (does that sound familiar to anyone?).  The first government after the coup was relatively moderate, and it was only later that they consolidated their power, truly cracked down on personal freedom, and created the fundamentalist theocracy we know today.

Those who think “it can’t happen here” might also remember we assumed attacks like 9/11 “couldn’t happen here” either.  We are not immune to the temblors that shake the rest of the world.  I don’t think we are quite at a revolutionary tipping point.  Too many people are still too comfortable in the US, and a vast apathy permeates our culture.  But its taking less and less to tip people out of their comfort zone.  Watch your stock holdings vanish in a flash.  Lose your job.  Be buried under a mound of student loans.  God forbid, get sick and find out how little your health insurance actually covers.

Desperate people can go two ways.  They can be driven by community and idealism, or driven by fear.  Bernie Sanders and Trump/Cruz/Rubio define these two stark choices, while Hillary stands in a melting middle ground.

She dismisses passion at her peril.

Blogging for Books: The Whole Coconut, by Nathalie Fraise

January 29, 2016

I’m a big coconut fan, and am pleased that coconut is having its 15 minutes of fame.  So I was interested in this cookbook, one of many slim volumes that devote themselves to one ingredient.

I was somewhat underwhelmed by this book It was not only essentially paleo (minimal grains, no wheat) but dairy-free. Kind of like primitive man subsisting on a desert island, with a Whole Foods conveniently located under the palm tree.  This limited palette ruled out all sorts of delicious coconut possibilities, like coconut cream pie, a fluffy coconut cake, or various underrepresented cuisines that use coconut.  Plus, coconut has a dominating flavor.  Whether you make a dish with coconut oil, coconut butter, or coconut milk, it will end up tasting primarily of coconut.  So all these dishes need to be sprinkled expeditiously amongst complementary foods.

That said, I came away with two valuable takeaways:  1) It’s not just coconut milk anymore.  There’s a multitude of coconut products, from fresh coconut “butter” to coconut flour, to coconut aminos.  they tend to the expensive, but a little goes a long way.  The coconut butter in particular gives a hearty heft (along with a blast of coconut flavor) to dishes, without the saturated fat of butter.  2) coconut polenta is absolutely delicious, whether as an entrée with sautéed vegetables or as a breakfasty porridge.

My family enjoyed the chicken vegetable Thai red curry bowl, and look forward to trying the sweet potato, spinach, and chickpea curry.  some of the recipes could use a little tweaking.  For instance, in the creamy vegetarian polenta recipe, it said the polenta needed to cook for 50 minutes.  Mine cooked up nice and creamy in ten.  The same recipe called for “cooked lentils” halfway down the ingredient list. This should have been noted upfront, in the pre-prep.  I substituted canned chickpeas, which worked fine.

The book is attractively laid out with appetizing photos throughout.


something’s happening here and you don’t know what it is, Mrs. Clinton

January 28, 2016

Bernie Sanders snuck up on Hillary Clinton while she was busy pretending he didn’t exist.  Now he’s breathing down her neck, and she and her Democratic establishment supporters are panicking, throwing everything they can think of at him.  From the right–“he’s a socialist!”  From the left–“he’s soft on gun control!”  None of this is sticking so the latest lob from the Hilary acolytes goes something like this:  sure, we agree with everything Bernie has to say but it’s pie in the sky.  It will never be passed by a Republican congress.  So let’s not even try.  Let’s settle for incremental change.  Let’s be realistic.”

Of course a Sanders administration won’t wave a magic wand so all of a sudden we’ll have free college tuition and health care for all!  No one believes that. Sanders has held public office for over thirty years, during which time he has actively worked “across the aisle”.  His work with business leaders in Burlington, Vermont, and more recently, his veteran’s rights bill authored with John McCain, are but two examples.   But what Bernie does is penetrate through the fog and expose the elephants in the room–the shadow government that rigs the game and ensures that Republican or Democrat, business goes on as usual. Now that these institutions realize that Bernie and his political revolution are a force to be reckoned with, they will fight back, and they are very powerful.  The multinational corporations.  The big insurance companies.  The big health administration and pharmaceutical companies.  The weapons manufacturers.  And yes, Wall Street.  These institutions are amoral.  They do not care about the well being of the average American citizen.  In many cases, they do not even care about the safety and security of our nation. They exist only to perpetuate themselves.  As long as we do not call them on their game, we will never be able to effect any more than “incremental” change–aka, next to nothing.  Their power is precisely why we need a President like Bernie, with the courage of his convictions.    Obama  had lofty ambitions and good intentions but he was naïve and much too easily intimidated, and his “change you can believe in” became largely an empty slogan. Hillary is simply way too compromised, too embedded in the system.  I find it hard to believe she even wants anything more than incremental change.

One thing Bernie never does, making him fairly unique among Democratic politicians, is pander to interest groups, whether they  be blacks, gays, women, or elk-hunting trailer dwellers. For all his emphasis on economic inequity, he never descends into class warfare.  He doesn’t attack wealthier people for having the nerve to become doctors or lawyers, or run successful businesses. Instead, what he offers is a wealth of empathy and compassion.  He supports health care for ALL.  Free college for ALL.  A fair criminal justice system for ALL.  He honors our shared humanity rather than the superficialities that divide us.  The shadow power structure would much rather see us divided and fearful–of terrorism, of immigrants, most of all of real change.  The more we fight among ourselves the more they can proceed as usual.  While sitting with fellow Bernie supporters last week, laughing about Sarah Palin and Donald Trump and their clueless supporters, I realized that we were falling into the same trap.  Sitting in our nice progressive enclave, we were making ourselves feel better laughing at these people, none of whom we actually knew personally.  It was a distraction.  Better we should reach out to these people–our “other”–and try and replace their fear with a more positive version.

One major source of frustration to Clinton and her handlers is Bernie’s popularity with youth.  They can’t figure out why this 74 year old gray haired grandpa is such a youth magnet. Part of it is the policies he advocates that directly affect their lives:  the free college tuition, the college loan relief, the health insurance, the serious emphasis on climate change.  But perhaps its also because Bernie epitomizes the soul of youth, which has nothing to do with listening to Katy Perry and taking selfies.  The soul of youth is idealism and passion.  For seventy-four years this man has NEVER SOLD OUT. When I see him lean his head forward like a charging bull and wiggle his fingers speaking the truth in his thick Brooklyn accent, loudly and clearly and absolutely fearlessly, it reminds me of the poster that hung in my  bedroom in 1968, before I was old enough to vote and when I still thought there might be people worth voting for.  The poster with the quote from Robert Kennedy saying “Some see things as they are and ask why. But I see things that never were and ask why not.” That poster that hung in my room before he was shot, before the Chicago convention and Humphrey and Nixon and Reagan and Bush squared and Cheney and Trump and Cruz.

Which brings up another thing Clinton hasn’t realized yet, which is how brilliant a politician Bernie Sanders is.  He never, ever goes off message.  He always conducts himself with class.  He raises millions of dollars. He electrifies tens of thousands at rallies that remind me of revival meetings.  And yes, I believe.  He makes me want to clap and stamp my feet and shout “Bernie!” He makes me dare to hope that at long last, it is our turn to win.



Blogging for books: Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees

December 24, 2015

Truth be told, Chinese cooking has never been my favorite.  While I’ve occasionally eaten the exquisite Chinese meal (usually courtesy of my cousin, a Chinese scholar), far too often I find it greasy, thick with cornstarch, and surprisingly devoid of vegetables.  Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees, by Kian Lam Kho, turne dout to be a great way of avoiding these negatives and re-awakening a new appreciation of this ancient cuisine.  China is a huge country, with many different microclimates and cultures; this book details this in a deeply researched but engaging way, and in a similarly scholarly yet accessible vein, details the basic techniques associated with Chinese cooking–deep frying, stir-frying, braising, and the like.  Once a technique is mastered, it’s easy to alter it by changing around the proteins, substituting seasonal vegetables, and so forth.

I eliminated at least half the recipes right off the bat.  They either used vast amounts of oil (sometimes as much as 8 cups!), incendiary amounts of chiles, or ingredients like pig stomachs.  But the ones I have chosen to cook are fantastic–attractive, reasonably easy to prepare, containing readily available ingredients, and most importantly, delicious.  Reactions from my entire family were uniformly positive.  My favorite new discovery was something called “red cooking”–a braising technique where cut up pieces of meat are cooked for a long time in an aromatic soy sauce mixture, then thickened at the end with a little tapioca.  It’s a warm, comforting method of cooking, great for winter, and requires minimal attention once the braise is simmering on the stove.  I tried one recipe with tofu, the other with beef, both excellent.  The anise in the red-cooked beef reminded me of Vietnamese pho.  both recipes can be augmented with additional vegetables.

I thought it would be fun to try MooGooGaiPan, a dish whose name rolls smoothly off the tongue but that I primarily associate with bad Chinese-American restaurants.  As I suspected, when prepared with quality ingredients–free range chicken, organic broccoli, fresh shitake mushrooms, soy sauce infused with homegrown Thai basil–it bore no relationship to the mediocre glop I remembered.  It was velvety and subtly flavored.  Over two pounds of chicken disappeared in about a half hour.  The MooGooGaiPan, being a stir fry, did require several steps, such as “velveting” the chicken by dipping it in a spiced egg white/tapioca mix and deep frying, as well as lots of chopping and the requisite prep bowls.  But it was worth it!

I will be using this attractive, informative book for years to come.

bernin with rage

November 17, 2015

This morning I was doing my regular morning yoga routine while babysitting my four month old granddaughter.  The baby started crying so I picked her up and looked out the window at the last of the autumn leaves.  What should I see but a man pulling out my neighbor’s Bernie Sanders signs and then our family’s.  I yelled out the window that he was on private property and to leave our signs alone.  He responded by giving me the finger and throwing the signs into the street.  I told him if he didn’t leave I would call the police.  My husband ran out of the garage, looking fierce, as he sometimes does, and the jerk ran off down the street shouting “Global warming didn’t cause the Paris attacks.”

OK, now we have a motive.  Who knows where this idiot picked up that line of reasoning–maybe some incendiary talk radio show like Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh?  As a matter of fact, global warming is a major factor in the societal instability that provides fertile ground for the growth of terrorist groups like ISIS.  (Check out Jared Diamonds excellent book, Collapse, for a detailed exploration of this).  So is the deposition of a strongman leader like Assad, tribal rivalries, competition over oil, a compulsion of some people to impose their dogmatic beliefs on others, –a multitude of factors.  One thing is clear, though:  Bernie Sanders did not cause the Paris attacks.

The Paris attacks were horrific, and they hit home in a manner comparable to 9/11.  The world needs to stand with France and swiftly identify the people responsible for the attacks and bring them to justice.  And then as a world group (and I mean a WORLD group–non ideological–any organized state opposes terrorists and ISIS crosses political boundaries) we need to disrupt and destroy ISIS and prevent another similar group with a different name from taking its place (remember when Al-Qaeda was the face of evil?) Bernie Sanders supports this course of action, as he stated very clearly in the debate.

What’s frightening is the way some politicians are exploiting the attacks as an excuse for all kinds of racist, xenophobic blather and inciting ignorant idiots like the one on my lawn who clearly does not understand the basic rights our country was founded on, like private property and freedom of speech.  I fear for bad days in this country should any of these politicians get elected.  This idiot ran down the street.  The next one might have a gun.


Blogging for Books: Slow Fires, by Justin Smillie

November 16, 2015

Of all the cookbooks I’ve reviewed for Blogging for Books, this may be my favorite!  Smillie, the chef at NYC restaurant Uplands, stuffs this book to the gills with appetizing recipes for braising, roasting, and grilling.  Most of them are best at this time of year, when dark comes early and it’s so comforting to smell wonderful scents emanating from the kitchen.  but there are quite a few recipes, many featuring seafood and summer tomatoes, that would be just as comforting on the hottest summer day.

For the most part, these are not weeknight recipes.  While none of the cooking methods required are technically difficult, they involve lots of steps:  brining, sitting, browning, adding diced vegetables and liquid, cooking, more sitting….I see them as the centerpiece of a casual dinner party, or a Sunday family dinner.  That said, the grilling recipes are pretty quick and a lot of the side dishes could be served with another, simpler entrée or with a few adjustments, stand on their own.  There’s a great chapter at the end covering condiments such as dashi broth and tarragon vinegar.

What sets Slow Fires apart from the crowd is the creativity, complexity, and depth of it’s flavor profile.  The chicken legs braised in peperonata were absolutely delicious, and the leftovers made a tasty pasta sauce the next day.  Grilled skirt steak with crisp marjoram and green tomatoes proved quick and easy; the fried marjoram added an amazing richness to the herb while the pickled tomatoes provided fat-cutting acidity and crunch.  I made the pappardelle with year-round sugo with pork shoulder instead of rabbit; the citrus overtones mingled beautifully with the richness of the meat.

Smillie’s directions are detailed and easy to follow.  The photographs are lovely, but unlike many cookbooks these days, they don’t take up most of the space.  This book is more substance than flash, destined to become grease-spattered and well-loved.

Blogging for books: Citrus, by Valerie Aikman-Smith and Victoria Pearson

October 22, 2015

Citrus fruits are bright and cheery, at their best when we need them most:  in the depths of winter.  As the cover of the book states:  “sweet, savory, and sun-kissed.”  Like most single topic recipe books, Citrus combines gorgeous photography with an informative exploration of the multitude of citrus fruits and creative ways to prepare them.  As one might expect, desserts take up a lot of the recipe space, ranging from the well known (key lime pie) to the exotic (dark chocolate waffles with maple kumquats).  But there are just as many or more main dishes, like grilled sardines with orange and polenta, as well as savory sides.  I tried two of the salads with satisfying results.  The fennel, tangerine, and olive slaw was a tasty mix of flavors and textures for a fall/winter salad, but I needed to take care to keep it from getting overly watery.  My family preferred the beautiful and robust grapefruit and avocado salad, an excellent accompaniment to chicken or fish.  The book also includes instructions for various condiments enlivened by citrs.  I tried one, citrus salt, which simply involved mixing several tablespoons of orange zest with sea salt and air-drying it for a day before storing it in a glass jar.  I’ve bought similar salt at a gourmet salt shop at ten times the price without nearly this intensity of flavor and vibrant orange color.  I’m looking forward to using it on roasted meats and vegetables.  A local restaurant (Cooper’s Hall) dips their French fries in citrus salt; I think I’ll do the same.

The recipes are simple and accessible for most cooks.


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