Thank you, students.

March 15, 2018

Today, March 14, my son participated in a walkout to protest gun violence at his high school, Northwest Academy. The entire high school walked out, with full support of their teachers.  They were joined in this endeavor by thousands of high schools and colleges across the nation, and even some elementary and middle schools.

To all of these young people, I say thank you.  Thank you for speaking out when your parents and our country’s institutions have failed to protect you.  Thank you especially to the courageous students at Parkland High School, who didn’t think “thoughts and prayers” were an adequate response to a completely avoidable mass shooting that claimed the lives of 17 of their fellow students.

Maybe these protests will finally goad Congress into action and firce then establish sane gun control in this country.  Maybe it will give them the guts to stand up to the NRA, who are a bunch of insane, callous zealots who hold political power way out of proportion to their numbers.  Just maybe these protests are the start of something good.

Now if we could only stop the tantruming toddler in the White House from playing President.

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totalitarianism via technology

March 1, 2018

I just finished reading Jonathan Franzen’s newest novel, Purity and really liked it.  I always find Franzen’s work interesting and entertaining,   but his previous novels have been marred by two major flaws:  1) a snarkiness towards his characters and 2) a tendency to go off on long, arcane riffs on various, albeit interesting, subjects.  In Purity, Franzen exhibits a welcome empathy for all his characters, and the riffs, while present, are shorter and distract less from the plot.

One riff, though, struck me as unusually pertinent. Several of the characters in the book grew up in the East German Soviet era, and he reflects on the concept of totalitarianism:  “…the essence of totalitarianism had been more everyday and subtle.  You could cooperate with the system or you could oppose it, but the one thing you could never do, whether you were enjoying a secure and pleasant life or sitting in a prison, was not be in relation to it. The answer to every question large or small was socialism.  If you substituted networks for socialism, you got the Internet.  Its competing platforms were united in their ambition to define every term of your existence.”

I am currently writing a novel that deals with the relationship between totalitarianism and technology, so this concept particularly interests me.  A common trope in dystopian novels is having totalitarian governments use technology as a tool to achieve their aims.  But it might be apt to look at the technology itself as the agent of totalitarianism.

In twenty short years the internet has taken over our daily lives, with the cell phone running close behind.  You can choose to ignore the internet….at your peril.  How, for instance, would you look up an address?  Phone books are a thing of the past.  How would you make a plane reservation, or check your child’s grades, or buy a concert ticket?  How would you communicate with most people if not via email or text?  Try and find out the news.   Try and write your congressman.  The pressure is constant to turn over more and more of our lives to the internet–witness the pressure to convert to online banking, or stream music instead of buying CDS, or buy absolutely everything on Amazon, or buy an electronic personal assistant to order your pizza and turn on the lights in your home.  It would be easier to live without indoor plumbing than without technology.

It that’s not totalitarianism as defined by “totality”, then I don’t know what is.

Technology obviously provides countless benefits, but those benefits are coming at a near total loss of privacy, or even the concept of privacy.  It is eerie to find my Google searches transformed into ads coming over my news feed, or to have Facebook or Google constantly requesting my location.

Technology also tends to reduce all areas of human interaction and culture to what can be defined by an algorithm.  As I write my novel, Microsoft word constantly suggests grammatical changes that would be advisable for a corporate report–but not a work of fiction.  When I write my elected officials, I have to scroll down a menu to find the label that most accurately defines my topic–often not very accurately.  Then I need to express myself in 450 characters or less.

It is a limiting, a dumbing down effect that is all the more potent when you can’t even conceive of a universe beyond those limits.  That, unfortunately, is the world we are beginning to live in.

  1. a a compaaaaaaaaa caaa

bipartisan chocolate chip raisin cookies

February 6, 2018

Before I share this delicious cookie recipe, let me share a post I came across in my news feed.  It wasn’t big news–not like Justin Timberlake’s outfit at the Super Bowl.  It’s just a little unsung blurb about what is happening to decent people every day in this country: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2018/02/04/a-chemistry-professor-got-his-kids-ready-for-school-then-ice-arrested-him-on-his-front-lawn/?utm_term=.9ae972de55bc

Take a look.

Back to tastier subjects.  We have long had a debate in our family about oatmeal cookies.  My mother and father in law shared a mutual distaste of raisins, and their grandchildren have followed suit.  My husband on the other hand, did not inherit the raisin hating gene and really likes them.  I am indifferent to raisins. It follows that my grandchildren prefer oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, while my husband prefers raisin ones.

I am inclined toward the chocolate chip variety–raisins don’t taste like dessert to me–but I wanted to please everybody.  So I created a delicious basic cookie then put equal amounts of chocolate chips and raisins in it.  The two flavors and textures balanced each other off excellently and the cookie is loved by all. Remember that quality ingredients are important–locally ground flour if possible, quality chocolate, fresh plump raisins, sweet butter, cage free eggs, raw sugar, rolled old-fashioned oats.

Congress might want to take the message.

BIPARTISAN CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp salt

2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 cup granulated raw sugar

2 large eggs

3 cups old fashioned rolled oats

1 cup raisins

1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (I like Guittard)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 2 sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt together in a medium bowl.
  3. With an electric mixer, beat the butter until creamy.  Add the sugars and beat until fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
  4. Gently mix in the dry ingredients (“stir” setting on the mixer).  Continuing to use either the stir setting or a large wooden spoon, stir in the oats, raisins, and chocolate chips.
  5. Roll the dough into approximately one inch balls, separate by about another inch and cook until lightly browned at the sides (around 12 minutes in my oven).  You may need to rotate the cookie sheets while baking.  Let cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.  To prevent sprawling cookies, let the cookie sheet cool down for a few minutes before adding more cookie dough.
  6. These cookies taste great frozen!

bizarrely cautious Democrats

February 5, 2018

Last Friday the Senate Republicans released the Nunes memo, a largely fallacious document serving only to discredit the FBI. It’s a tactic one would expect from a totalitarian government.  A multitude of information contradicts the Nunes memo,all contained in a supposed Democratic rebuttal. The Republicans, in keeping with their totalitarian leanings, are refusing to allow the Democratic rebuttal to be released.  They have timidly put the release of their rebuttal up for “approval” by the same Republican run committee that released the Nunes memo.

If they have this information–and I’m sure they do, it’s supported by many other sources, why are they being so timid? why don’t they just release it? Print and distribute it, put it up on the internet, leak it to the press? Why are they so dedicated to process?

My unfortunate cynical suspicion is that the establishment Democrats–what I would refer to as the Pelosi branch, as opposed to the progressive branch–don’t want the Mueller investigation to proceed any more than Trump does.  I suspect that some in their ranks are complicit.  Consider that before the election Trump and the Clintons were friends, moving in the same social set, sharing some of the same business and political connections. The Clinton Foundation has been under investigation for months. And we know that the DNC stopped at nothing in their attempt to install Clinton as the Democratic nominee.

By going through the motions in opposing Republican tactics such as the Nunes memo, the Democratic establishment is playing a public relations game.  “They’re doing everything they can,” is the line we’re supposed to believe, but in reality they cave at the slightest opportunity and accomplish nothing.

This is not the kind of representation we need in these troubled times.

 

Wendy’s recipe file: better than trader joe’s horseradish hummus

January 31, 2018

A few weeks ago my husband and I were going out and I threw together a quick sauté of Trader Joe’s pelmeni and grated cabbage for our sons dinner.  Last week I wrote a passionate essay about the impeachment march my older son and I attended.  Guess which post has gotten more hits?  WAY more hits.  If you like my recipes you might want to check out my political/cultural commentary.  Because home cooking, no matter how delicious, won’t taste so good under a totalitarian dictatorship.

That said, here is a yummy and easy recipe for hummus, also with ties to Trader Joe’s.  I’ve long thought TJ’s makes the best commercial hummus, but about three weeks ago I discovered a new variety, made with fresh horseradish.  It was yummy!  Everybody in the household loved it.  After two weeks, as happens at Trader Joe’s, the hummus vanished from the shelves.  But in its place were jars of fresh grated horseradish so I developed this recipe, which was even better .Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice mix, containing sumac.  It is available at some supermarkets and from Penzey’s Spices.

BETTER THAN TRADER JOE’S HUMMUS

1 15 oz can garbanzo beans, drained

1 garlic clove, chopped

3/4 tsp kosher or other high grade salt

1 T za’atar

dash cayenne or Aleppo pepper

juice of 2 Meyer lemons (or regular if you can’t find Meyer)

1/3 cup tahini (I like Trader Joe’s brand)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup water

3 T fresh grated horseradish, or to taste

  1.  Process everything but the horseradish until smooth in the food processor.  Add horseradish to taste.

This makes a pretty large batch which will keep up to a week in the refrigerator.

 

the people united will never be defeated

January 23, 2018

I was feeling very discouraged in the days leading up to the protests scheduled for  January 20.  The “women’s march” in Portland had been abruptly cancelled for reasons never made quite clear, something to do with financial malfeasance by the organizers.  With the demise of the “women’s march”  I could not find a single friend to accompany me to the remaining protest, an “impeachment march” publicized by Portland Resistance. They were busy, they were going on vacation, but most of all they were scared.  Somehow the “women’s march” had a safe mainstream sound to it, but the Resistance smacked of “antifa”, whatever that is.  They were scared of riots, anarchists, someone driving their truck into the crowd.  Who knows.  Somehow practically everyone I knew had become scared of our constitutional right to public assembly.

I’ve read various statements issued by Portland Resistance, none of which have advocated violence.  To be sure, they are full of a lot of overblown leftist clichés (“smash the fascist state”) but I’ll take that over the wishy washy blather that comprises most of our  more “moderate” discourse these days.  “Antifa” means anti-fascism, and I’ve got no disagreement with that..  Though by the morning of January 20, even Portland Resistance did not seem to be associated with the March for Impeachment.  The sponsoring organization seemed to be ITMFA.  I looked up ITMFA.  It stood for “impeach the motherfucker already”.  OK, our political discourse has become extremely degraded.  But ITMFA did reflect my views.  My older son agreed to accompany me, and, not knowing what to expect, we headed off to the march.

Despite the lack of publicity, organization, or a permit, several thousand people had gathered at Terry Schrunk Plaza.  They represented a wide demographic cross section of Portland.  Women’s marchers in pussy hats who came anyway. Black lives matters.  Unions.  Elderly people.  Young families.  And yes, “antifa” marchers in their black masks.  All of us were united in our support for Trump’s impeachment.  People carried all sorts of homemade signs.  There were signs on strollers.  Signs attached to dogs.  We all marched peacefully through Portland’s downtown. The police were very cool, clearing the streets of traffic when possible and, when not possible, controlling the traffic to protect public safety.  It was a good day.

Any student of history will note that most totalitarian regimes do not take power via an immediate crack down.  Instead, the population slowly and steadily abdicates their rights.  I find it very disturbing that so many people are so easily frightened off of public demonstrations.  To be sure, there have been disturbing incidents this past year–the riots last January, the stabbing on the Max train in the spring, the white supremacist terrorism in Charlottesville.  But any public gathering carries with it some degree of risk.  If this minor degree of risk scares so many people away, what if we faced a greater threat?  How many US citizens are prepared to fight for their democracy?

The Democrat’s cave-in today serves to illustrate how much we need to hold our representative’s hands to the fire.  The streets of Portland are our streets.  We own them.  If we are afraid to march in them, we have already lost.

 

 

Wendy’s recipe file: farro with vegetables in lemon herb vinaigrette

January 16, 2018

We live right by the national headquarters of Bob’s Red Mill, and a few months ago I went kind of crazy in their outlet store and bought multiple bags of whole grains to try.  One of them was farro, an ancient, low gluten wheat from Italy.  The first couple of times I prepared it, it was unpleasantly chewy–a little too much fiber.  The remainder of the farro languished in the pantry until I learned a new way to cook it.  I soaked the farro overnight in water, then drained it and cooked it again in salted water to cover until tender (about one hour)  Voila!  I achieved a pleasant barley like texture that brought out the sweet graininess of the farro.  This served as the base of a satisfying vegetable bowl.

I used zucchini, chanterelle mushrooms, and red pepper but practically any combination of vegetables will work, topped off with this delicious lemon herb vinaigrette.  Let each person structure their bowls at the table so the components retain their individuality.

2 cups whole grain farro

3 medium zucchini, sliced thinly

1/2 onion, diced

1/2 lb chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 red pepper, seeded and diced

Lemon herb vinaigrette:

2 scallions, finely chopped

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

juice of 2 lemons (Meyer lemons if you can get them)

2 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp honey

1/4 cup cilantro, minced

1/4 cup basil, minced

salt and pepper to taste (if you’ve made my Wendy’s recipe file:  herbal salts one of those would work great)

olive oil

  1. Let farro soak in water to cover 12 hours or overnight.  Then drain and cook in a heavy saucepan, again with water to cover.  Bring to a boil then partially cover and simmer (about 1 hour).  Drain.
  2. Saute vegetables in a large frying pan or wok until crisp-tender.
  3. Combine ingredients for vinaigrette and blend.  I like to use an immersion blender but you could also use a blender or small food processor.
  4. Assemble and enjoy!

 

fake is the new real

January 12, 2018

I apologize for my month’s hiatus.  I’ve been busy knitting sweaters, writing my novel, and celebrating the holidays with my family.  Not that there’s been any lack of material provided by our great leader. It would be so easy to get back on the “what does it take?” shtick and express anger and bewilderment that our Congress has not yet exercised the 25th amendment and removed this vile, ignorant, mentally unstable excuse for a human being from the Presidency. Instead, I’d like to share an amusing article I read in the Wall Street Journal over the hiatus.  It had to do with a trend towards artificial Christmas trees.  Fake plastic trees, as Radiohead put it.

According to the Journal, “fake has become a new badge of authenticity…women delight in telling one another that their eyelashes are fake”  (maybe it’s Portland, or the nature of my friends, but  I have never once engaged in this particular conversation).

The most telling sentence in the article is this: “More people find that trying to appear all-natural all the time is exhausting.”  Note the word “trying”.  The implication is that appearing all natural is itself a fabrication. The possibility that someone might be genuinely natural, without it being an affectation, or an excuse for a slew of “natural” corporate products, seems beyond the Journal’s comprehension.

If fake is the new real perhaps that’s why their journalists and columnists are so enamored with fake news.

Wendy’s recipe file: Wendy’s tortilla soup

December 7, 2017

It’s soup season here in the Northwest, and this tortilla soup is one of our family’s favorites. There are many versions of tortilla soup; this velvety-textured one is loosely derived from one we were served literally every day at the Rancho Leonero resort in Baja.  I’m giving my general recipe, but the truth is, it’s different each time I make it.  The last time I made it I used a chicken broth made from a chicken I roasted with my fig chutney (see recipe).  This lent it a sweetness that contrasted wonderfully with the heat of the chile powder.  I also had some leftover jarred (Lallo) marinara sauce, so I used that in place of canned tomatoes.

WENDY’S TORTILLA SOUP

1 medium onion, diced

1 14 oz can whole plum tomatoes (I like San Marzano or Muir Glen)

2 red peppers, diced

4 cloves garlic

2 T olive oil

8 cups chicken broth  (some of this can be leftover liquid from poaching the chicken; then use either aseptically packaged broth–I like Imagine–or homemade)

1 lb boneless chicken thighs or breasts

chile powder to taste (2 T does it for me) Use quality chile powder–I like Penzey’s

1 cup cheddar cheese, grated

1 avocado, diced

fresh cilantro, destemmed

tortilla chips or fresh corn tortillas

lime wedges

  1. Saute onion, pepper, and garlic in olive oil.  When tender puree in food processor, adding tomatoes.
  2. Meanwhile, poach chicken in a large saucepan.  Fill the pan with about 1/2 inch of water and cook until chicken is cooked through. Do not overcook.  Reserve broth for use.  Cool and dice.
  3. Combine broth and vegetable puree in a soup pot and heat.  Add chicken. Add chile powder and salt to taste.  Cook until well combined.
  4. If you are using corn tortillas, cut them in eighths and place on a greased, rimmed baking sheet.  Bake at 400 until crisp.
  5. Serve with cilantro, cheese, avocado, lime wedges, and tortilla chips.

 

what does it take???

December 6, 2017

Forgive my frustration.  I know we all–myself included–have busy lives, but it seems like the predominant reaction to Trump’s continuous barrage of atrocities is to stop reading the news (or more accurately clicking on a headline on your phone).  Unfortunately if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, it still falls.  Or to put it another way, to quote the Revenge of the Sith:  “this is how democracy dies, with a whole room clapping”. Representative Al Green introduced articles of impeachment to the House a couple months ago, and tomorrow he will bring them to a vote.  I strongly urge everyone who reads this to contact your congressperson and urge that they vote for impeachment.  Trump is crooked and corrupt for sure (as the Mueller investigation is slowly proving).  But we can survive crooked and corrupt, we often do.  The critical problem is that Trump is insane, a pathologic authoritarian narcissist, and the more he feels the Mueller investigation is closing in on him the more he will act out.  Witness the frenzy of outrageous actions in recent days–the abolition of national monuments, the open support of pedophile Roy Moore, the disruption of the Middle East peace process, etc.

We need to get rid of him—now—and no amount of sticking your head in the sand is going to change that.