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.

blogging for books: The River Cottage Curing and Smoking Handbook, by Steven Lamb

September 4, 2015

This is more of a guidebook than a cookbook.  As a guidebook, it is extremely comprehensive.  While I love to preserve food at home, I must admit curing proteins gives me the jitters.  Mold on an improperly canned jar of jam (which has only happened to me once) isn’t going to kill anybody; the same can’t be said for the nasty bacteria that grow on improperly cured meat.  That said, many of the recipes require refrigeration and only a short curing time, and thus aren’t overly intimidating (bacon, pancetta, lardo, gravlax, and coppa ham, among others).  Products that involve a several month and/or several step process, such as prosciutto, give me more pause for thought.  Salami, which requires a controlled fermentation, is even more nerve wracking.  The book also gives recipes for “cured” products that might more accurately be said to be cooked, ie mortadella or duck confit.  There’s also a section on smoking meats.

While I love to preserve food at home and might give bacon or gravlax a chance one of these days, I’m inclined to give this book to my professional chef son-in-law.

bernin with desire

August 14, 2015

The biggest news about the Bernie Sanders rally in Portland is that we couldn’t get in.  My husband, teenage son and I arrived at the Moda Center fifteen minutes before the rally was to begin and joined a long snaking line that expanded geometrically.  We finally entered the auditorium only to be told it was at capacity (22,000) and that we would have to listen to Sanders on loudspeaker outside.  The Moda Center is Portland’s largest arena, home to the Portland Trailblazers and Bruce Springsteen concerts.  But it wasn’t big enough for Bernie Sanders.

Sanders barely addresses some issues that are closest to my heart:  our misguided foreign policy; organic agriculture and genetically modified food; gun control; the erosion of civil liberties and the Patriot Act.  But economic inequality and corporate power–his passion–is the issue that hits home every day, the issue that binds disparate groups together, the issue that will win him the election.  Even there I question his naïve faith in education as a path to economic security. The call for a $15 minimum wage, which he supports, overlooks the fact that many college graduates, not just burger flippers, earn less than $15 an hour.  Perhaps the rot in this country is more pervasive than even Sanders realizes.

Times are tough and the tepid sound bites of McCandidates like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush (two sides of the same coin) aren’t going to cut it.  Passion is needed.  The Republicans are arousing an ugly kind of passion, racist, sexist, xenophobic.  Bernie Sanders arouses finer emotions and a decent, inclusive vision of America supported by well thought out policy proposals. He wears his socialist label proudly.  He is not an opportunist.  He has been fighting for these ideals for the last fifty years.  He is the only Democrat with the guts to take on the status quo.

But can he win, you ask?  Sure, Hillary has the money.  But while money stacks the deck, it’s we the voters who play the game.  Ultimately elections are decided not by the pocketbook but by the ballot.  Social media, which Sanders manipulates well, eliminates the need to buy expensive television ads and the like.  Clinton’s campaign, bloated with professional staffers and focus groups, reminds me of a staid corporation with layers of overhead, ready to be “disrupted” (to use a trendy buzzword) by a spunky startup.  But there’s a big IF here.  For Sanders to win, people have to exercise their right to vote.  They need to talk to their friends, put lawn signs in front of their houses, bumper stickers on their cars, write letters to the editor or Facebook or whatever, just get the word out there.  I am hoping against hope that the large crowds showing up for Sanders rallies indicate that our zombified nation is awakening from its post 9/11 stupor. We can reclaim our democracy but only if enough people have the will to do so.

They also must have the will not to sell the Sanders campaign short.  I hear a lot of statements to the effect of “well he can’t win but maybe we can change the dialogue.”  “Changing the dialogue” isn’t going to do a damn thing, sorry. That simply means that Clinton will pander to the left as she lies.  We need to change the nominee.

Blogging for Books: Seven Spoons, by Tara O’Brady

June 9, 2015

Tara O’Brady’s name sounds Irish but she is in fact Indian, raised in Canada.  The Seven Spoons cookbook, based on her popular blog, reflects her bi-ethnic identity.  Other creative fusions of international influences are sprinkled throughout her recipes:  ground beef blended with white miso and butter; gazpacho; gravlax; za’atar roasted vegetable and chicken salad.  Call it world food.

O’Brady covers meal permutations from breakfast to dinner to desserts.  She writes in a homey, lyrical style.  You feel as if you’ve been invited ito her kitchen, and indeed she describes that kitchen, how she stocks her pantry, and the husband and three children she cooks for.  Beautiful photographs enhance the book.

Inspired by our current hot spell, I tried three vegetable recipes:  olive and orange cauliflower; broccoli bagna cauda; and a “pot of braised vegetables”.  All offered stimulating combinations of flavors and textures and were easy to prepare, albeit requiring plenty of chopping.  They’re written in a casual manner that is engaging, but might be confusing to the novice cook.

Because of the eclectic nature of this cookbook, it is not a general tome you’ll consult for advice on how to cook anything and everything.  Nor is it a specialty cookbook where you’ll find detailed instructions on baking macarons or fermenting vegetables.  Rather, it is the kind of book that you’ll keep on your kitchen shelf, where you’ll discover a few unique favorites that will become part of your everyday repertory.

pretend like this is a democracy

May 7, 2015

OK, a challenge, Facebook readers!  Can you read beyond the first couple sentences?  I mean, actually click that link that says “read more” and actually get the gist of what I am saying?  I’m sorry I have no cute cat pictures to share, cute as my cat Muzzy might be.

Forgive my sarcasm, but I’m getting pretty frustrated.  I read the other day that Snapchat is initiating coverage of the 2016 election, and as absurd as that sounded initially, perhaps they are the perfect vehicle for today’s distracted, amnesiac culture where news–big news–makes a brief appearance, only to vanish into the ether.  Nothing touches. Nothing registers.  Warren Weinstein’s killing at the hands of the American government is long gone from the news pages, as is any discussion of  flaws in our “intelligence” collection system or our secret drone program.  And why not. No one is questioning.  No one is protesting.  No one is even reading, as far as I can tell.

Is anyone paying attention to the fact that Hillary Clinton is being shoved down our throats? The powers that be have anointed her, portrayed as “inevitable” and labeled anyone who might challenge her as disloyal fools. This is democracy???  Never in my 60 years have I seen a primary election where the standing president is not running re-election, with NO competition.  I do not think there is a parallel in American history.

The Republicans are having a democratic free for all, though.  Most of the candidates range from marginally nutty to certified insane but at least Republicans are getting a choice.  This is because the passion lies on the right while the rest of the American public is doing a great job of simulating zombies.  Meanwhile, our country is going down the tubes in a lot of serious ways, as is evident to those who travel elsewhere or at the very least…read.  Our standing is dropping in almost every area of quality of life, way below Europe and below some “third world” countries.  For example, did you realize that we are 33rd in maternal mortality?  We don’t rate so well in income disparity, lifespan, educational attainment, and many other areas either.  This could lead in very bad directions, because where a vacuum exists, those with passion will tap the anger of the most disaffected people leading to unintended consequences.  Think of the rise of the Nazis, or the Iranian revolution and the rise of another kind of conservative theocracy.

THERE’S  A POSSIBILITY OF GOOD NEWS, THOUGH.  A Hillary alternative exists!  Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy for President, and even though the press was quick to marginalize him, (reporting his announcement on page 22 of the New York Times!  Hillary eats a burrito and that makes the front page) if enough people support him he is a viable candidate.   Money is powerful but not as powerful as strong grass roots passion.  So–check out Sander’s views.  They are actually different than the status quo corporate rule advocated by HIllary.  Single payer health care, strong action to control global warming, tax reform, reigned in secret military operations, etc. etc.  And if you like them, talk  to your friends (maybe even in person!).  Put a post on your Facebook page.  Put a sign on your lawn.  Donate to his campaign.  Make like its the sixties, and care.

Perhaps those with Snapchat memories have forgotten this phrase?  In that case, pull it out of the mothballs and shout it out loud.


warren Weinstein killed by US government

April 23, 2015

This morning I awoke to the news that my mother’s friend, Warren Weinstein, was killed by a US government drone.

Over three years ago Weinstein, an economic aid worker in Pakistan, was captured by Al-Qaeda  a few days before he was to leave the country.  Weinstein was in his seventies, with a heart condition.  He then continued to languish in an unknown–but surely hardly obscure–location for the ensuing years while the US government did exactly….nothing.  I suppose this is not too surprising in a country that took ten years to find Osama Bin Laden hiding in plain sight.  I publicized this situation several times in this blog because I was so appalled.  Weinstein spends a career supporting  American interests in this dangerous region, he’s captured by terrorists who are our supposed enemies, and the government does nothing.  REfuses to publicize the case.  Does not negotiate for his release.  Nothing.  They completely hung him out to dry.  Last year his wife and children’s patience finally ran out and they publicized his plight in a website, also reported on in this blog.

It did no good.  His case never gained traction in a population that barely has the attention span of a fly.  That no doubt pleased the powers that be in the US Government, who obviously felt no responsibility towards their citizens abroad.  Now he finally makes the news because he’s killed–not by Al-Qaeda or ISIS but by one of our own drones. In January.  THREE MONTHS AGO. The Obama administration concealed this knowledge from his family and the public for three months until something or somebody (a Wiki leak?) obviously forced their hand.

So I don’t know whether Weinstein was killed by American incompetence or deliberately for reasons unknown.  The truth is out there, and it would behoove the American people to demand a full investigation.

Please, people, pay attention.  This is not the country we believe it to be or want it to be.

blogging for books: capture the moment, by sarah wilkerson

April 17, 2015

This is a lovely, useful, inspiring book for the amateur photographer who wants to do more than snap mediocre photos with their cell phone.  While it is especially aimed at women capturing the essence of children and domestic life, the book will help anyone who wants to take more beautiful, evocative photos.

About 100 photos illustrate helpful hints concerning the basics of photography:  natural light; composition; storytelling; fine art; low light; and black and white.  Creative prompts for exploring each of these categories enrich each chapter.  The approach is more visual and verbal than mind-numbingly technological.

In addition, the illustrative photographs are so breathtakingly lovely, this makes a great coffee table book even if you never pick up a camera.

My only suggestion regards the f stop, exposure, and ISO info that accompanies each photo.  if you own a Nikon SLR like almost all these photographers seem to do , these are easy to replicate.  but if you own a different type of camera (like my hybrid Lumix) it would help to include more guidelines on how to translate this data.


blogging for books: salad love, by David Bez

April 2, 2015

Salad Love is more of a guidebook and an inspiration than a cookbook:  300 pages of imaginative salad combinations, accompanied by beautiful photographs.  Each salad contains a simple mixture of ingredients, complementing one another in color, texture, nutrient content and flavor.  Ingredients encompass a range of greens, other vegetables, dried fruit, meat, tinned fish, cheese, grains, nuts, and herbs.  In most cases the dressing is a simple vinaigrette, differing only in the choice of tartness (cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, lemon).  Occasionally Bez adds a richer flavor note–coconut cream, hummus, truffle oil–but none of the dressings are of the creamy mayonnaise-based variety. All the recipes are templates at heart.  For example, I couldn’t find scamorza, a smoked cheese, in my supermarket (Bez is English, and some of the ingredients he calls for are obscure here) so I substituted dill Havarti.  Similarly, I forgot to buy baby corn for the shrimp, baby corn, tomatoes, and chile salad so I substituted cooked frozen corn.  My only dud so far was “anchovies, cucumber, red, pepper and black olives”, which was marred by soggy cucumber shreds and an overly pungent anchovy component. Bez is a designer, not a professional cook, and this shows in the artistic composition of his salads.  He’s also really skinny, which shows in his minute portion sizes (2 oz of lettuce??) .  All recipes are for individual (small!) portions as Bez developed them as work lunches to eat at your desk.  If you’re cooking for a family you will need to increase ingredients proportionately.



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