Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Boston Holiday Treats

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is the quest for excellent holiday treats to share with the folks back home in Pittsburgh. So I am constantly in search of things that are really different, one of a kind.

In a previous post I mentioned how my family has fallen in love with soft torrone, both a blessing and a curse to me as I love sharing these items with them but the Modern Pastry stores are a bit out of the way for me and I am requested, nay, required to bring some home each time I visit. On my lunch break today I took a long lunch and made the shlep over to the North End to fetch the regular chocolate covered kind that is my family's favorite. When I arrived, I was not surprised to see the line almost out the door because of the holiday, which would have required about a half hour or more wait. However, by peeking at the front where the torrone was kept, I saw they were out, which is often the case over the holidays. Gasp! Does this mean Christmas just won't be Christmas? Nah. I was actually relieved I wouldn't have to wait the long wait, and I had a back-up plan.

So I sauntered over to a few other favorites. Salumeria Toscano to peek at the prosciutto and see if they had candied chestnuts (nope), Polcari's Coffee and Spices (the inside of this store smells like heaven to me) where I bought some chestnuts and found a great deal on quick polenta, and then over to Dairy Fresh Candy for Kinder Sorpresas (the Italian version of the chocolate egg with a toy inside. Supposedly the American versions have no toy as they are a choking hazard). I finished my journey at Maria's Pastry, a lovely place which is pretty much ignored by the tourists because they aren't able to find it. There I found torrone, not chocolate covered but it would have to do. As well as other treats -- a small ricotta pie, um, for me, and these lovely chocolate cookies, some with fig filling with a funny unpronounceable name. Yum!

So my North End quest was complete and I had a few new items to bring home. I'll add these to stash from Formaggio's kitchen -- chocolate covered figs, these wonderful fruit flavored sugar candies that melt instantly in your mouth, and small chocolate covered bits of pannetone. Oh and panforte from Dave's Fresh Pasta in Davis Square -- a truly Christmassy holiday dessert. I think I done good this year. The folks back home better be hungry!

A Palate for Chocolate

While my ability to discriminate between good and bad wine is still pretty weak, I am able to detect notes in chocolate with ease and confidence. Which, I suppose, reveals a bit about my vices, as the palate is much about experience and flavor memory, no?

In chocolate, the most common flavors I notice are similar to words you will hear to describe wine. In certain chocolates, like Vahlrona, I taste a lovely cherry note. In others, like Cadbury's, it is caramel. I've also noticed a burnt taste, smokiness, cinnamon, and sometimes coffee.

A few years back I hosted a wine and chocolate tasting party, asking guests to bring a bottle of their favorite red with the label hidden or their favorite chocolate. Everyone loved the party, and I thought the results were pretty interesting. However, since then I have learned I have broken a cardinal rule of chocolate OR wine tasting, which is that both have strong flavors and therefore should not be combined. Oh well. No one complained at the time. Since then, friends think of me when they think of chocolate, which of course I take as a compliment.

Yesterday, on a quest to buy shampoo for my sister for Christmas (her idea, not mine), I passed a new little corner store in the Westin Hotel near the Copley Mall. It was called something generic like "Gourmet Boutique" and I was ready to dismiss it as a standard overpriced venue for tourists, filled with Toblerone that you can buy at the grocery store and maybe some fancy crackers. But no, they did actually have some unusual items. And even, lo and behold when I was not even looking, they stocked a kind of chocolate bar I had only heard about on this lovely blog and had no hopes of finding here in Boston, the Marquise de Seveigne 70% Noir. I had to choose between one with candied orange peel and another with chocolate nibs. I went with the nibs because I wanted the chocolate flavor to be as unadulterated as possible, although once I tasted it, I have to say the nib action adds more grit than I like. And after I finished at the shop, I proceeded to pass by the new Richart Chocolates in the mall, an odd set-up that looks like some sort of drug store selling colorful jewels. I like their idea of their flavors: balsamic, floral, citrus, herbal, roasted ... As they weren't willing to sell individual chocolates and the smallest box was $20, I decided to wait for a time when I wasn't already feeling a bit overwhelmed with holiday flavors.

So now at home I have three exotic high level chocolate bars, a justly earned pleasure after all of that hunting. The Marquise, an Italian bar from Formaggio's whose name is currently escaping me, and a Green and Black Organic 70%. Personally, the Green and Back is the most pleasant of the three for eating straight.

I know I'm probably a little odd, but if it really good chocolate, I am even happy to eat it unsweetened, as King Arthur Flour sells it. Then I know I'm getting nuthin' but chocolate.

And did I mention my favorite local chocolatier, the very, very fine Burdick's in Harvard Square? The best hot chocolate AND the best truffles I've had, all in one tiny shop.

Whew. Apparently, I could talk about this subject for a long time. I'll stop now but it may have to come up again!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Happy Solstice

Today is Winter Solstice, which happened here in New England at 7:41 AM this morning. I was doing a little reading about it today at this excellent site, and it really is a fascinating marker of time and history.

First off, I was reminded of a great Dar Williams song, the Christians and the Pagans. (for lyrics, click here).

While we all pretty much know that solstice means the shortest day of the year, it is not the time when the earth is farthest from the sun. The difference is actually in the tilt of the earth being the farthest.

Pretty much everyone is familiar with Stonehenge and its probable use as an ancient site of worship. I learned that Stonehenge marks both solstices. In addition, several other ancient sites seem to be designed to mark the moment of solstice with an opening that is lit by the sun at the moment of solstice. One is in Ireland, called Newgrange, one near Scotland, called Maeshowe, and one in New Mexico. Wow. This kinda stuff is so beautiful it just blows my mind ... on an artistic, spiritual, and sociological level. The spirals used at almost all of these sites also demonstrates to me the universal awe that humans experience at the forces of nature and this beautiful planet we share.

People have celebrated solstice throughout the millenia with feast and fire, song and dance and lots and lots of light. Tonight I plan on lighting some candles and to sit and take a moment to watch them burn and think about the turning of the years.

I love Christmas and pretty much all of the holidays. But winter solstice especially has a power and energy around it that is so ancient and true and real, like a portal into the millenia of human existence and even beyond that. Happy Solstice!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

German Stollen Posted by Hello

Lebkuchen Posted by Hello

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

That Time Again: Holiday Baking

Christmas is the one time of year my family's cooking traditions emerge. Yes, we have the stuffed celery on the relish tray for Thanksgiving, but that's more a throwback to the 1950s than an actual tradition. The only recipe I knew of in our family that had been handed down was for Lebkuken, a spicy cookie with an anise flavor that my grandmother always made (and always spelled incorrectly). As kids, we instantly turned up our noses to anything remotely licoricey, so these were not our favorites. Nor did we want to touch my mother's plum pudding with a ten foot pole. As my sisters and I have grown older, the cookies have become an important part of the holiday. Whether this means our palates have become more refined or we've just lost most of our taste buds, it is hard to say. But now there is nothing more Christmasy than the scent and taste of the Lebkuken.

Lebkuchen is simply a German word that means "spice cookie." There are probably dozens of recipes for it, so my family recipe is definitely our own. And much as I'd like to claim that it is hundreds of years old, my family is not German so it was probably just adopted by my great-grandmother who liked a neighbor's recipe. But hey, that's how life in the cookbook goes.

As for the plum pudding, I still can't say I love it, even if it is more authentically of my family's British heritage than the German Lebkuken. It probably doesn't help that mom buys it from the grocery store, heats it up in the microwave and uncerimoniously dumps jarred hard sauce over it. I briefly contemplated making a homemade plum pudding this year to see if I actually like REAL plum pudding, as the home-made version is pretty much always going to be better than the store bought. However, it turns out it takes oh, about a year for plum pudding to be ready to consume. So I guess I better get started now for next year if I plan on trying it out anytime soon.

Instead of trying to make and eat prematurely ripened plum pudding, I decided to tackle stollen instead, a kind of German sweetbread. It was fun to make but a fair amount of work, namely because dicing the peels of four oranges is no small task. But it makes an enormous amount of stollen, easily enough for two families plus leftovers for gifts. And it is so much better than the stale dried out version I've had from the store. I'll try to post a photo of it tomorrow.

I also enjoy making chocolate truffles for the holiday. They are remarkably easy to make and, I believe, once again much better tasting than any truffles you can buy in the store. Yes, I'm even talking about the big fancy places. I think it has to do with the fact that they are fresh and they have no need for shelf stabilizers. And you can flavor them any way you like.

I also tried making some flavored nuts this year for a party and gifts. The Spicy Rosemary Cashews were a hit. Last night I made pralines from Joy of Cooking, which were alarmingly good and pretty simple. My first intention was just those spiced nuts, but the recipe from Joy was more like a candy. Well, I don't think anyone will complain about not getting a straightforward spiced nuts.

Anyhow, I'm having fun. I love holiday baking.

Pralines (with comparison candied cashews on the right) Posted by Hello

Thursday, December 09, 2004

I Am So Tired

When you are really tired, the world looks a lot different. Certain pleasures that we take for granted, like closing your eyes for a few moments, suddenly become overwhelmingly blissful. Ah, eye closing. Ahhhhhh. Putting your head down on your desk feels so good too. Much better than it normally does. And certain tasks, like spelling or driving or complete sentences become so ... what was I saying?

I attended my first doula birth Tuesday night. And it was all night. I was beeped at 11 PM, just after I put on my jammies, brushed my teeth, crawled into bed, and entered dreamland and was about to embark on a little trip with my husband (who doesn't know it yet), Mark Ruffalo. So rudely interrupted by this odd beeping noise. Holey moley! It was the call. So I headed on into the hospital, heart a-pounding. Twelve hours later, I packed up to go home, having seen one of the most profound and beautiful and freaky moments that humans can experience. I saw a baby emerge from his mother's womb, silent and gray, then turn his head, open his bluest of blue eyes, and start to howl. What can you say after that? Nothing at all.

So yes, the doula world just became that much more real. And yesterday I was at it again, until this morning at 11 AM, this time a baby girl. I plan on doing a little holiday celebrating with friends tonight, but mostly the agenda for the evening involves a bed and some serious z.

The Turkey Was Good

Beautiful biscuit Posted by Hello

I have been remiss about regular blog updates. Could it be the holiday season? Could it be that I've been attending births which require 12 hour shifts overnight? Yes. It could be these things.

The major successes of the day:

I found tiny little white pumpkins at the farmer's market which became the little piece de la resistance ... check out the place setting (with obliging guest's hands) in the photo below. Note the new dinnerware (gasp, I almost typed the word dishes! how gauche!) and the harvesty cloth napkins!

I do love a proper biscuit and the Cook's recipe is one of the best I've ever tried. Photo attached of one of those babies as well above.

The turkey was good! Thanksgiving was a lot of fun overall. I think being the hostess really gives you the feeling of it as an event rather than simply an overly large meal. I roasted my first ever turkey, trussing and all. I have never wrestled a turkey into place before. Let me tell you, cooking is not for wimps. Just try rotating a 12 pound bird at a temperature of around 175 degrees. The promise of crispy skin by the folks at Cooks was somewhat wasted since no one in my little group was a big skin eater. I think next time, less rotating.

This was my first year with giblet gravy. A little scary working with giblets, but let me tell you, after handling placentas you can handle a lot of scary stuff. That's all I will say about that. However, I learned something new -- I was proud to find the bag with the giblets and neck in the turkey. Then my recipe for the gravy mentioned including the heart and I thought, well, my turkey company does not seem to include that as it was not in the giblet bag. So I proceeded without and all was fine. And then guest Nick began to carve the turkey and found another little bag that got cooked with everything else, hiding in the neck cavity, with a well cooked heart inside. Hmph! Who would think to look there? Talk about having your heart in your throat. However, my guests were forgiving of the mistake, and we moved on.

The pumpkin pie was interesting. Not as firm as I would have liked, but the extra spiciness of the Cooks, yes again the Cook's recipe, was very pleasant. The jello salad simply never materialized. After you've stuffed twenty five pieces of celery with cream cheese and olives, you just start to lose your steam around preserving complicated albeit cherished traditions.

A guest brought over "Supersize Me" for us to watch while digesting after the meal. This was an amusing if not entirely appropriate choice. Watching a movie about how Americans consume enormous amounts of unhealthy food feels a little funny when you've just stuffed yourself silly. However, it was nice to revisit my previous obsession with documentaries. I can't say it was a deeply profound or insightful film, but you know, it was one of those things that people are talking about so you can connect over it.

So yes, overall a successful day. Next year I think I'd like to try the high roast turkey or the spice rubbed turkey. Wait, did I just volunteer to do this again?

The place setting with teeny pumpkin Posted by Hello

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The Relish Tray

I'm hosting my first ever Thanksgiving this year. I've got a 12.5 turkey in the fridge. Free range but not organic. I figured at least the turkey was mostly happy even if he ate a lot of junk food. Since free range organic was twice the price of just free range, it was the best I could do. But I feel good about the free range part. If you've ever been on a farm where you see free range chickens versus chickens in cages, the difference is shocking. Free range chickens are really quite attractive birds, have a lot of energy and are just a lot of fun to watch. Caged birds are not attractive or happy in any way. It makes sense. I wouldn't like a cage either. (Nor would I like to be eaten on Thanksgiving but that's a whole 'nother post).
Anyhow, for a great site about preparing for Thanksgiving, Cooks' Illustrated set up a site that is really helpful. It did create a dilemma for me: high roast vs. regular roast? I think for my first ever turkey, I'll stick with the tried and true and just do the traditional. Maybe next time.

I love the midwestern relish tray, typically a fancy dish piled with pickled vegetables, and rue the fact that it seems to fading into obscurity. One of my favorite Thanksgiving family traditions is the relish tray with cream cheese and olive stuffed celery. Who can live without this? Many moons ago when I lived in SoCal and was horribly homesick for Pittsburgh, I went to a homestyle restaurant in Southern California and when they brought out a relish tray, I almost cried with happiness. Funny how food is that powerful, you know?

My fabulous twist on the relish tray this year is using olives that have been stuffed with orange peel rather than the traditional pimiento stuffed olives. Ho ho! That would throw my family for a loop. Going all gourmet n'at.

But my non-midwestern friends up here in New England will probably just think the whole relish tray thing is weird. But only until I bring out the three layer jello salad. That will obliterate any further stuffed celery comments for a while. New Englanders just don't know how to appreciate jello. I myself have a special appreciation of Jello because it is not only my midwestern heritage, but I can claim the inventor as a relative! Yes, I know, not all of us can claim such distinction and I'm obviously not showing any modesty here.

Hope you all have a great holiday. We all have plenty to be thankful for.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Artist as Shaman, or, Is This Another Ego Trip?

I happened to read an article about a Boston artist named Peter Lyons. I like his work, but something he said intrigued me more.

From the article, "About 2 percent of painters are shamans, he said; the rest are crap, choking the life out of the best galleries in New York and London and Paris."
"The artist as shaman is this direct experience with the spiritual world," he said. "Through a metaphor -- a painting on a cave wall, a painting on a canvas, or a dance around a campfire with song -- he takes the other people around him on this journey that only he could take." What he seemed to mean was that the work of the true artist functions as a portal, offering momentary passage to grace and truth. And even if I was wrong, even if I hadn't completely grasped the artist-as-shaman conceit, what of it? Who was I to question Lyons's theories about the metaphysics of the art universe? He was, after all, painting's Next Big Thing.

Huh. That whole art and spirit thing is one of my favorite angles on art. And I certainly have plenty of snootiness about most of the work I see, as I've demonstrated on this blog. Will have to ponder this more.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Factor of One

So the biggest shift for me in the new place, other than the happy duck shower curtain, is of course that it's nothing but me in there. So far I'm OK with this, but I've already noticed myself acting differently in small ways. On weekends in the late afternoon as the light is fading and the November golds and pinks tinge the clouds, I've been sitting with a cup of tea and watching the sun go down from the kitchen window. As the light fades, I'll light a candle. That's it. I just sit there. I never really did that in previous places. When I needed a break I would hide in my room which usually means a nap rather than sitting and doing nothing. I guess for the first time I am comfortable being still. Perhaps I've always been a bit self-conscious about doing nothing, always wanting to appear busy and productive to others.

There are a couple of books out there on the subject of solitude. Although I wasn't too excited to read it on the train where all my fellow passengers might think I was a complete misanthrope, I thought the book, Intimacy and Solitude by Stephanie Dowrick, was pretty good reading. And I have Jonathan Franzen's How to Be Alone on the list although I don't think it is really meant to be instruction. Then of course, there is Bowling Alone, a book by Robert Putnam about how fewer Americans are doing things in groups, reducing their "social capital." I suppose my choice to have my own apartment contributes to this trend.

However, as several friends have pointed out, having my own place makes it more likely I will seek out time with friends as opposed to just seeing them when I happen to do so. And if I get lonely, as my friend who is an expert in social networking tells me, I can simply pick up the phone. Sometimes I ponder a pet. A cat? A fish? A bird? But for now I am OK. I am trying on this new way of being and seeing how it feels. It will be interesting to watch how it affects my art as well. So. I guess this is what you might call an anti-social experiment.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Picking Out Shower Curtains, Or Life as an Adult

In addition to my cool new doula gig, I've also moved into my own apartment. That's right, no roomies, no nothing. Just me and my own self. Kinda cool, kinda scary. It's exciting to decide where things go, to use all of my own dishes, to set up shop just how I want it to be. And I have a remarkable amount of stuff I've been saving over the years for "when I get my own place." And now I'm finally there.

It's really a nice spot. I'm on the third floor and have a back porch where a tree's upper limbs are right there in their autumn glory. I have a bit of a view into the hills in the distance. And I have a claw foot tub which I get to pick out the shower curtain for. I chose the "Happy Duck" motif and I'm very pleased. (If you're dying to see it, you can look at the "Happy Fish" one on the website which is the only one you can get there.) My couch is coming in a few weeks, and after a trip to Costco, I'm all stocked up on Britta filters for the next four years, literally. That place is dangerous, even if they do have yummy food samples.

So yes, I'm settling nicely into my new leafy queendom of one. Hooray for being a grown-up. Oh and if you're nice, maybe tomorrow I'll post a photo of my new hideously cool lamp, a gift from my good friend, Debris. (The trash day in Somerville can yield some treasures for the vigilant).

Doula at your service

I managed to survive the last few weeks of craziness so maybe I'll actually manage to post a bit more in the next few weeks. Part of my busyness was training for my new hospital doula gig.

Typically a doula only works with private clients, i.e. a mother hires you to go to the hospital with her. This is a bit different. It's a part time job working with two Boston hospitals -- MGH and Brigham and Women's as part of a research study they are doing about the fevers associated with an epidural. They need doulas to support the comparison group who are, they hope, not going to get an epidural because they are being assisted by a doula. With the use of a doula, the percentage of need for pain meds (and other medical interventions) in a birth drops signifigantly. Nice to know we're helpful and the docs know it!

It is also good feeling to be part of an important study whose outcome is being closely watched by the birthing community. I am surprised at how much I am enjoying becoming a part of the hospital community. I love my badge and my scrubs and my beeper to the point I drag them out whenever friends come over so they can admire my id photo and tell me how cool my beeper is. I imagine some of the excitement will wear off after I've been beeped at 3 AM and my groovy scrubs are covered with, um, airborne pathogens.

Speaking of which, I promised a placenta story. I won't get too graphic. Part of my job is to take the placenta after the birth to a lab and follow certain procedures to determine if there has been any infection in the mom or baby. These include taking a photo (smile, my friend placenta!), weighing it, swabbing it, and cutting some parts and putting them in liquid nitrogen to be sent away for tests.

In our training, we donned our scrubs, gloves and face masks and got to work on practicing these procedures before doing them with a placenta from the study. Here's where things got a bit interesting for me. This was the first time I'd ever seen any sort of body part in action, shall we say. And I'm covered head to toe in protective gear in a hot room, breathing into a plastic face shield. I'm watching our instructor cut some placenta samples. Although I was feeling perfectly calm and not weirded out at all, some part of my physical system said, uh uh. Nope. The room starts spinning. I say, "I think I need to go sit down." Being healthcare professionals, the folks in the room knew what to do and within moments I was all set up like a queen with a glass of cold water, a cold cloth and a comfy chair (with my head between my knees in a rather unqueenlike manner). I was fine, but I had never experienced such a physical response before. There was no choice about mind over matter -- some part of me did not like what was happening.

A little sheepish and humbled, I recovered and headed back in and was able to get to work with no problem. I kept the plastic face shield a little further from my face which probably helped some in the fainting department. And I went to work and did two full placenta procedures like a champ. How's that for a good day's work. I tell you, returning to my regular desk job the next day felt like I was returning after a trip to Mars. The squeamish should skip the next part: the question most people are asking me is what a placenta is like. It's definitely like an organ -- a fairly firm mass of tissue. Working with it is very much like working with raw chicken. See, I knew all those years of cooking would serve me somehow ...

We are just flesh and blood after all. That's part of what I love about this doula work -- it's about as real as you can get.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Another political note

Continuing on a political theme, it would seem negligent not to mention the election. I have to say, I was truly impressed with the GOTV (get out the vote to those who don't like cool acronyms) effort in this country. Lots of people I know actually traveled to other states to go knock on doors or make calls. They took many days off work to throw their energy behind something they thought would make their world a better place. I'd never even heard of such a thing before. Today someone said their daughter stood in line for 13 hours to vote in Ohio. We're constantly told how apathetic Americans are about politics. This time they weren't. And that is really a beautiful cool thing. To those who worked so hard or waited so long to make their voices heard, I thank you. Even if your candidate did not succeed, you did. You impressed the heck out of all of us and showed us what it means to be American.

Speaking of which, this article may be of interest to anyone who feels like they were punched in the gut on Tuesday. The part about Nixon's re-election gave me a good laugh and overall the article gives a good perspective. Ten Reasons Not to Move to Canada

Kissinger's still talking: MSNBC - America's Assignment

A friend tipped me off on HK's latest deep thoughts. Click on the link above if you want to read what Kissinger thinks should happen next. It fascinates me that he is still considered someone to go to with this question. That he is considered an expert on foreign policy is just gaspingly wild. But hey, I guess a lot of gaspingly wild things happen here in this country.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Brief Pause in Bloggin

Path in the Fells Posted by Hello
It's a slow blogging week in dillard land. Between moving to a new apartment (hooray for Somerville!), a close friend's wedding (my first Halloween costume wedding), AND my training for my new doula job with local hospitals, I'm just juggling about all I can handle. This isn't even including the um, full time desk job. So I'll just share a soothing photo of New England (another one from the walk in the Fells) and promise I will be back soon with more stories about placentas than you ever, ever wanted to know about.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Weekend in New England

More leaves and tree in stream Posted by Hello I took my camera toy with me on a hike in the Middlesex Fells this past weekend and had some fun playing with the leaves in the water. I was pleased with how these came out. The Fells is one of those urban oases. It reminds me of Rock Creek Park in DC. You could wander for hours -- and get quite lost -- in the Fells but at the same time you are only a few miles north of the city. It's a good place to go when you need to see nothing but trees and water. And fun fact for the day -- Fells is a Saxon word for a rocky, hilly tract of land. The Middlesex Fells certainly qualifies. There is even a cave where a panther supposedly hung out.

Oh and by the way, on the way there you should stop at Modern Pastry in downtown Medford. It's the sister shop of the one in the North End and has arguably the best cannoli in town. My mom, however, prefers their chocolate covered torrone (a world apart from the horrid stuff you'll find at grocery stores), and it is truly amazing nougaty gooey stuff. She makes me bring some to Pennsylvania whenever I go home. While you can't order the cannoli elsewhere in the US, they will ship you the torrone and you won't be sorry.

Everybody loves autumn in New England. Some of these trees are just crazy colors, so red they hurt your eyes. And that's just on the walk to the bus stop.

Leaves and Tree in Stream Posted by Hello

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Snack Time: Food Quest Update

Here I am at another Food Quest Fulfilled. Posted by Hello
As promised, I made it to Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor, MI during a trip to Detroit for a family wedding. That's me outside, happily drinking coffee and gripping the paper sack filled with the best rugelach I've ever had. Most rugelach is crumbly and boring, but this was tender and full of nuts and insanely expensive. And you think Boston is expensive for ice cream? Here the standard for fancypants ice cream would be about $3.25. At Zingerman's, $4.50. Whew! They also had $40 containers of olive oil. It was all very intriguing, although I wasn't completely sucked in as I'd read Cook's Illustrated's tasting of boutique olive oils. So instead I dropped $7.50 on a chocolate bar with cayenne pepper. I know, I'm insane.

An Art Snippet

No deep thoughts today but I did want to acknowledge that I do occasionally still think about art. I've finished up one painting, am stuck on another, and I'm trying to figure out if this other one is going to move forward or not. I'm also pondering whether or not I feel comfortable sharing the progression of my work on this blog -- as in uploading photos of my current work. It's awfully public and my little painter soul is a bit shy. I don't mind talking about it, but as I know from my own experience, reading about art is not the same as seeing it. I find it incredibly frustrating to read a long critique of a piece with no piece to look at to see what they are saying. So ... I guess I'm thinking about sharing my stuff here, at least stuff that is reasonably palatable. Stay tuned.

Also did a little bit of sketching with pastels last night. I forget how satisfying that is. I took a class last summer at the CCAE, and the biggest tip I got out of it was to start with dark paper. The pastels really "pop" against this background and it also accenuates texture and negative space in a very pleasing way. So last night I did a quick self portrait on some navy blue paper, and I was reasonably pleased with it. The trick is to start with dark colors and layer up to the highlights with the light colors. A great effect.

Sometimes I wonder if I should be drawing more than painting. My paintings tend to be less about paint and more about communicating an idea along with the emotional impact of that idea. And I'm still so new to paint that I think I draw with the brush instead of painting. However, when I try to draw something I get so tangled up in accuracy. I want the object to look like something, I want to be concise and precise and smooth. Paint releases me from that restriction somehow.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Disturbing Shrubbery Trend

I have never liked those weird purple cabbages that people use in the cold weather months as foliage in their gardens and window boxes. Ornamental, pah!

But the new trend seems to be swiss chard. Swiss chard is not for decor! It is for eating! Yes, it has nice colors. But it just weirds me out to see things that I am supposed to be eating used in formal garden settings like the Boston Public Garden. Even if I don't really ever eat them. It just seems wrong. What's next, cheese sculpture?

I'm just sharing my indignation here, and no, I do not have a point.

Time for Everyone to Move to Pittsburgh

I was just there this weekend (accidentally but happily due to a late take-off. Thanks USAir!), and saw this in the Sunday paper. Youch. My folks and I thought it was a mistake in the price. But it's not a mistake. Make sure you look at all the photos and the price. And that there are others in similar range.

Let me remind you that I live in Boston, and even in the suburbs of Boston, you couldn't buy a condo made out of old newspapers and elmer's glue for this price. I lived next door to a triple decker in Somerville where one floor (a one bedroom one bathroom place) sold for $450,000 last year in a week. That's no land, no garage, no nuthin. It just isn't do-able here, not even a dream. But elsewhere it is totally possible. Pretty wild!

Friends are starting to move there. Maybe it is time for more friends to move there. We just need to pick a neighborhood and take over a street. Ok!

More Trials of HK, Part 2

This is a continuation of the previous post. Here is a quick summary of 3 episodes detailed by Hitchens in which Kissinger allowed massacres and coups to happen without US intervention or condemnation, and in fact they were sometimes approved and/or supported.

In 1970, Pakistan democratically elected Mujibar Rahman, whose politics were the opposite of the previous military regime of General Khan (who had not allowed open elections for the previous 10 years). The military regime decided they wanted to stay in power after all, and this regime began to murder those who protested, at numbers somewhere between 500,000 to 3 million. Nixon/Kissinger had a good relationship with Khan and in fact supplied weapons to the regime, and when General Khan began massacring the protestors, the US said nothing and did nothing to condemn these actions. Reasons given: don't want to threaten fragile relationship with China, even though we had other mutual friends with China and this would not threaten it.

In Cyprus in the early 1970s, Kissinger was aware of a planned coup of democratically elected leader, Presidenet Makori, whose unarmed rule in a peaceful country was being challenged by both Greece and Turkey. The Greek dictator decided to mount a coup -- and was a client of US military aid and sympathy. Kissinger was encouraged by Senator William Fulbright to stop the coup, but Kissinger ignored him. Later, Kissinger also approved of an invasion by Turkey. Why? Kissinger's connections to Greek and Turkish armies. Kissinger still denies even knowing about these situations (claiming there was just too much else going on in the world for him to pay attention to such a small country), which according to this telephone transcript is now obviously not true.

Finally, the nightmare that is East Timor (click here for an eye-popping National Security Archives document). In 1975, Ford and Kissinger were visiting Indonesia a few days before Indonesia invaded East Timor. Kissinger and Ford denied knowing anything about the planned invasion which the above link completely disproves. In fact, this document says the two men gave Indonesia a “greenlight to the invasion,” and outfitted with American weaponry, leading to the death of somewhere between 100,000 and 230,000 East Timorese (out of a population of 600,000).

Yep. This book leaves you with a heavy heart. American history isn't pretty, that's for sure. And this was only 30 years ago. It’s pretty unfathomable how many people can die because one guy doesn’t step in the way.

More Trials of HK, Part 1

As you may have noticed, I’ve been pondering why so many folks are upset with Henry Kissinger. So I watched the movie, The Trials of Henry Kissinger, and I’ve recently finished the book on which the movie was based. In my last long post about Kissinger, I gave a quick summary of the movie’s points. I’m not sure if such summary is boring to you, dear reader, but I do it for your own good. I do it with the vision of you standing at a party drinking your oh-so-hip mojito and somehow, mysteriously, talk of Kissinger emerges. (It happens more than you’d think!). Instead of pretending to nod along knowledgeably at the right moments, perhaps that little summary enabled you to smoothly insert a snide comment about the relationship between Pepsi-Cola and Chile and impress everyone. And that’s the whole point of knowing about politics, isn’t it?

No, no, no, that’s not my vision. My vision is my own memory of feeling like a bonehead whenever this kind of stuff came up. My high school history classes invariably started at 1642 and hit summer vacation at 1927. On the AP American history test I remember acing everything until I got asked a question about the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. I was old enough to remember this happening, but I’d never learned a thing about the hows and whys. But how can one possibly learn the details of the missing 70 years on my own? Well, I had to try, and hey, part of the fun is sharing the learning with others.

Anyhow, with that vision in mind, in my next post I’ll give you a quick summary of Hitchen’s list of Kissinger’s sins. Someone else can review the book – I mostly just wanted to get a sense of his reasoning. The book goes into several other areas of Kissinger scariness than the movie -- no surprise there. To recap, in the movie, the main thrust of the case is about Kissinger's direct actions and their results, namely his delaying of the peace talks in Vietnam, his expansion of that war into Cambodia and Laos, and his approval (or possibly direction) of the assassination of Chilean General Rene Scheider, who was standing in the way of a military coup to get rid of democratically elected Allende. These three circumstances are relatively easy to trace back to Kissinger and actions he took.

In addition to the above, the book details indirect action: Kissinger's tacit approval and support of several staggeringly murderous regimes. My next post will have the summary of these events. (It seems my post is getting a bit long so I'm doing it in two parts).

Kissinger pop-ups

I love it when I'm more topical than I mean to be. After my post a few weeks back, Kissinger has been popping up in the news again like there is some twisted form of media whack-a-mole going on. (No, I'm not implying he is like a mole, although Hitchens probably wouldn't mind the comparison). Jack Shafer of Slate has written two articles about him in the past week or so, the better one being how is studiously avoiding talking to the NYT in the face of recently released telephone transcipts from the National Security Archives. (Ain't the Freedom of Information Act the coolest thing ever?)

I haven't yet given my take on Hitchens' book, The Trials of Henry Kissinger. C'mon, people, give me some slack, a book takes longer to read and digest than a movie! Ok, I'll try to get it in today. Hang in there. Check back in a bit. And then a foodquest update? It's important to have a little politics and then a little snack, I think. Which leaves the burning question: will I ever write about art again?

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

A Little Less Terror is a Good Thing

I was reading my daily news update, called "Today's Papers," on Slate. I find this daily update to be both a useful summary of the news and of news reporting, as the summary includes the headlines of all major US papers as well as which papers front what -- and often asks why they do so. It reminds you, sometimes scarily, of the power of media to decide what is important. It also is a quick digest of the major news which saves me from having to deal with a whole paper, as well as avoiding television news which I find bizarre and loud.

In yesterday's edition, there was this passage regarding terrorist alerts, " ...according to James M. Loy, deputy secretary of Homeland Security, "We must find a way to hold onto the sense of urgency, and hold it potentially for decades."" Slate then offers a contrasting view from Harper's magazine.

It's a joy to read. If you want to breathe a little easier after all of this terror stuff, just for a little bit, please check out the article now.

As an aside, I find some folks' obsession with being up to the moment on all news to be baffling. If something important happens, don't you think you'll find out about it? Isn't it stressful and time-consuming to constantly assault your awareness with updates on the state of things, all of which may change by tomorrow? A passage in Lost Horizon by James Hilton has stuck with me all of these years: the visitor to a remote country find out that the country's leader has access to a newspaper only once a year. When the visitor expresses his shock at the lack of information, the leader smiles and tells him that if the news is important enough, it will appear in that yearly newspaper access or in some other way.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Monster Oyster Quest

Enormous Scary Oysters! Posted by Hello
The photo simply doesn't do it justice ... I should have put a small child in this photo somehow for comparison. These things were huge!

I was in Chinatown on Tuesday getting a stupid filling. I hate getting fillings! (I know, I know, no one likes getting them, but I am just a baby about it).

So I tried to make the best of it by seeking out a Food Quest item I'd put on my list after reading about it on chowhound: oysters in Black Bean Sauce at Peach Farm Restaurant. Located the venue, located the menu, there it was ... six oysters for $8.95. I like oysters, and this price seemed pretty reasonable. So I ordered 'em up, while my companion ordered "shredded duck with rice stick." A very eggy hot and sour soup arrived quickly as did the duck, which was greasy but tasty. (Rice stick apparently means rice noodles.)

And then, the oysters appeared. Holy shellfish, batman. I guess I have never encountered Pacific oysters before (these were from Seattle). Eight of these things could have fed a large family. The inside flesh of each one was about the size of my hand. I couldn't believe it. Gamely, I dug in and ate one. Not bad. Mild, seafoody thing with the nice black bean sauce. But by the time I had four I was more than full. Turns out that you can order them by number and not just get the platter (which is not made clear on the menu). So if you go and you want to try something a little, um, different, just order two for starters, ok?

Would I recommend them to all and go out of my way to get them again? Nah. They weren't bad, but maybe a little more adventurous than even my own adventurous self can be culinarily speaking. But nonetheless, another food quest fulfilled. Whew.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Boston Cops Come Through

Do you know you are supposed to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk? At least in Boston, this is the law. Today I crossed in a crosswalk and a car came bearing down on me, with the driver honking the horn and shouting at me. I encounter this often enough that I generally point at the bright white area called the crosswalk and say pleasantly, "It's a crosswalk." And the driver response: "Get off the road, moron." It's a standard urban exchange, part of the patter of urban life that one probably longs for when one moves to the country along with the sound of jackhammers on concrete and ambulance sirens.

Today was like any other, except once I had gotten on the sidewalk and continued on my way and my fellow driver on his, a woman standing on the sidewalk laughed and said, "He's busted." I turned around and sure enough, one of our city's finest had seen the exchange. Our pal was obviously getting a ticket and was still there even after I completed my errand 20 minutes later. I walked by his car but I very honorably did not wave or gloat, at least not visibly.

Well. So sometimes the forces of justice prevail. I was pretty self-conscious about being an especially good pedestrian after that, at least until I got back to the office.

Vegans vs. Foodies?

A friend forwarded a blog entry he read that he thought I might find interesting, knowing I like food stuff and that I love David Foster Wallace. (You should avoid reading A Supposedly Fun Thing on a plane because all your plane mates will give you funny looks for the weird noises you make trying to suppress convulsions of laughter). And for whatever reason, I ended up writing back a little rant which I'm now turning into a blog entry. So for your reading pleasure, the rant.

The gist of the situation is that DFW wrote an article for Gourmet magazine about a lobster fest and DFW ponders the dilemma of the death of the lobster, and how that can't be much fun for your typical foodie. In response, Erik Markus writes a blog entry about Gourmet Magazine being likely to alienate many readers over this article and that foodies can't stand to think about the fact that their food comes from (here's the kicker) animals. Foodies simply don't think about this, and those who do, don't care. A quote from the blog:

"If the tone of my description strikes you as being dismissive towards foodies, it’s for good reason. I personally love to cook, but I don’t think that great food demands hours upon hours of fussy preparation. And that’s even not my main complaint. What I find most galling about foodies is that they seem to go out of their way to purchase precisely the foods that inflict the most suffering on animals. Delighting in exotic meats from such unfortunate creatures as suckling pigs, pheasants, and veal calves, these people generate more misery for mouthful than perhaps any other food consumer."

I don't consider myself a foodie (basically defined: a follower of food trends) but more of a chowhound, so you might say there is no good reason that my beans got burned after reading this article. But they did, and I think it is because there is this idea that gourmet food/cooking and caring about animals and/or the environment are mutually exclusive.

Saying foodies inflict some of the worst pain on animals is unfair. Sure, they are more likely to eat foie gras than your average Joe here in the US, but that number of people seems pretty small compared to the millions of people eating fast food, Tyson chicken, and factory eggs every single day. That's plenty of misery per mouthful.

And it neglects a large category of gourmet cooks who are willing to pay the extra bucks for organic locally raised produce, meat and eggs (as opposed to factory raised), which certainly relieve the suffering of some animals, and help support local economies, the environment, etc. These folks choose local partially because that kind of food TASTES better, as well as partially because it makes them feel good to help in this way. The editor of Cooks Illustrated wrote an essay last month discussing how his family only eats meat/eggs that he or his neighbors have butchered or raised. His kids participate in both the raising and the killing of the cute little lambs and pigs. It seems at least to be honest -- if you're going to eat meat, knowing the creature is a pretty powerful part of the process. Barbara Kingsolver talks about this as well in her book Small Wonder. It seems to be an acknowledgment of something more real. This is a discussion in which I'd rather be a part.

I hear Erik Markus saying, hey, let's be conscious of the animals here and not just our own pleasure. And he's right. And there are ways to do this and to still experience pleasure. How about we educate instead of dismiss? Connect instead of separate?

It's a tangled web we live in -- our food, our clothes, our transportation ... all the basics of everyday life and how they are related to others. Trying to lead a good life is pretty overwhelming, especially on days when just getting through the day is a lot of work. Okay, end of rant.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Chilli Garden Food Quest Fulfilled

After reading a review in the Globe, Chilli Garden in Medford, MA went on the Food Quest list. I made one unsuccessful attempt to find it, and then last night on attempt two, was successful. And hooray, it was worth the trip!

I'm not a huge Chinese restaurant fan, but I like interesting food that is well-prepared, and I believe you get that here. I'm guessing from the very mixed on-line reviews I have read of the place that their specialties are impressive while the Chinese standards are not as interesting. So I made sure I ordered the specialties and this worked pretty well.

By the way, I find this to be true as well at Wang's Chinese Cuisine (formerly Wang's Fast Food) in Somerville, which makes dumplings to die for but most other things I have ordered have been eh.

Anyhow, I ordered the "house special chicken with dried pepper" ($10.95), asking for a little less spice than the two "bombs" on the menu. It arrived first, a heaping plateful of freshly fried chicken pieces in a salty, spicy coating with bits of red chilis and black beans. I didn't know it would be breaded and fried (and I'm not a fan of fried), but it was delicious. I also ordered won tons in chicken broth ($3.85). The won tons were great, but the broth had little flavor at all and got left in the bowl. My companion ordered the whole fish in spicy sauce ($15.85) which takes an extra 15 minutes. And yes, it's the whole fish, head and tail and eyeballs and all, and it fills the whole plate. The meat was very tender and the sauce spicy and vinegary.

Service was good, and we received a lot of refills on water -- very necessary with all the chiles. When I go back (and yes, it's definitely worth a return trip), I want to try the scallion pancakes, the hot and sour soup, the green bean starch with chili sauce, and the ma po tofu.

Food quest fulfilled! Next on the list: Russo's Market in Watertown for exotic fruit, with a side trip to Arax Market on Mt. Auburn Street to pick up pita and latvian sardines of course. And soon I'll be headed to Detroit, land of all things um, midwestern? So if anyone has a food quest to suggest there, I'll take it! (I've already got Zingerman's Deli on the list, and I'd love hints on Greektown).

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

A Taste of Blackberries

Berry picking Posted by Hello
Does this count as a food post? I'm counting it as a gardening post. Went and picked the last of the raspberries and blackberries last night at my community garden.

Was going to get some more concord grapes also but someone had beaten me to them. I love the fact that concord grapes are named after the town just a few miles away from where I pick them. A few years back I made a concord grape pie which was a lot of fun only because everyone made such a fuss over the idea of a grape pie. It tastes kinda like cherry. The hard part is getting all the seeds out.

Anyhow, I just wanted to mention what a true pleasure it is to pick berries in the late summer evening. The sun shines on the berries, lighting them up like red and purple jewels, the bees and mosquitoes buzz around your head, the cicadas drone on, and it is very necessary to immediately eat the really soft, ripe berries because they just don't travel well and won't last. And wow, a really soft ripe berry eaten while you are standing in the summer sun is really a beautiful thing on the tongue. Some are still just a little tart, some have gone past the moment of ripeness and have a hint of vinegar, and some are just nothing but the straight taste of sugar and sunshine. Yeah, I love summer.

You Were Getting Hungry for a Food Post, Right?

Squash Blossom Quesadilla Posted by Hello I got some flak about my numerous food posts, so I held off for a bit. But you know you were dying to know what I've made lately, haven't you? Well, I made a nice peach pie with Joselyn, using tapioca as a thickener which was pretty successful, although I forgot to include flour in the topping so it wasn't quite perfect. Then I was at the Arlington farmer's market and one booth had squash blossoms along with assorted Asian greens. The Harvest Restaurant extravaganza I wrote up earlier included a pan fried squash blossom in one of the dishes which I thought was delicious and fun. So I bought a batch ($2 for 24ish), brought 'em home and started flipping through my Mexican cookbook. One recipe included them in the standard sopa de pollo (chicken soup). And another was for quesadillas with cheese and "flor de calabeza" (squash blossoms). Above is the evidence. They came out pretty good. Not a particularly strong flavor to the flowers; their addition mostly enhances color and texture. So that's my latest culinary adventure.

And in case you were wondering if I ever do really stupid things in the kitchen, well, let me share one thing. I'd stored the blossoms in the fridge in a glass of water to keep them fresh until I cooked them. When I took them out of the fridge, I set the glass of water they'd been in on the counter. Later when I was thirsty I thought, oh, here's my glass of drinking water. Ew.

A break from Very Serious Posts

Isn't Boston pretty? Posted by Hello Took this shot on my lunch break in Copley Square. I love the John Hancock skyscraper building (upper right corner) which was designed by IM Pei. Supposedly the windows popped out and came crashing down sixty stories when it was first finished but happily this doesn't happen now. The church in the middle is Trinity Church, a famous example of "Richardsonian Romanesque" style. It's lovely inside as well. I live in a pretty cool city, and Copley Square is not a bad place to spend a lunch hour.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Trials of Henry Kissinger (long post)

As part of my current documentary obsession, I watched The Trials of Henry Kissinger this weekend. From watching the entire thing (albeit rather sleepily), here's what I can recall as the major reasons some people think he should be tried.

1. He was involved in/responsible for the delaying of the peace talks which would have ended the Viet Nam war much more quickly. The number of American and Vietnamese casualties after this delay until the end of the war exceeded the number killed before the peace talks.

2. He was involved in/responsible for extending the Viet Nam war much more deeply into Cambodia (through a campaign of "secret bombing"), causing the deaths of 1,000s of Cambodians and Americans, and a destabilization of Cambodia, leaving it open to be taken over by the murderous Khmer Rouge.

3. He oversaw the assasination of the general of the Chilean army who was standing the way of a military coup to overthrow democratically elected Allende. The overthrow of Allende was important to US interests because of American copper mining companies working there, as well as issues with Pepsi Cola. Because of Allende's overthrow, Pinochet stepped in (with US support).

There's also lots of other issues involving East Timor, Cypress and some US stuff but I was too worn out to take it all in.

My take on the film as film: lots of good information, but as a movie not as compelling as The Fog of War. Could have been better organized. The filmmaker's goal was "making the case for there to be a trial" as opposed to trying to prove that Kissinger is guilty. Which is a good way to try and keep things relatively neutral, although the film obviously isn't trying to achieve too much on both sides.

I read the article about Kissinger in Harper's a while back(the link is to a good panel discussion) , and I'm going to read the book as well.

Should Kissinger be tried for crimes against humanity? In the Fog of War, Robert McNamara admits that many of the decisions he or the presidents he served made would be cause for prosecution in front of an international trial. However, he notes, only the defeated ever end up standing trial. This brings up all kinds of questions around illegality and immorality, around the idea of what is justice and what is retribution. As the world grows increasingly smaller and interconnected, there is this question of how to deal with "the monsters of the world"? But first how do you define who those monsters are?

In the panel discussion linked above, I thought the following quote by Alfred Rubin at the Fletcher School was a good one:

"Henry Kissinger reflected then, as I think his successors have reflected, the overwhelming urges and prejudices of the American people. The racism that was reflected in our policy in Southeast Asia was a racism deeply embedded in American society. Henry was not an aberration. He was a kid from George Washington High in the Bronx and, I need not remind you, Harvard. And he reflected the values and the often unspoken inner ethic of our most revered institutions. He got away with it, not because he was some sly magician or some skillful manipulator, but because he reflected so often what so many of his peers in the press, in Congress, in the Executive branch, in the bureaucracy, in the political world, in the intellectual world, in academia felt. In his savagery toward the outside world, his heedlessness, his imperial mentality, he was quintessentially reflective of very powerful strains in American life, and we must not forget that. He was not apart from the main. And though we now single him out for responsibility, the responsibility, of course, ultimately is ours."

Pinochet is now likely to face trial which continues to stir up the discussion around the whole idea of an international court of law. As the book and movie point out, Kissinger has much to fear in Pinochet going to trial. I wish I knew more about the ins and outs of The International Criminal Court (which the US has been refusing to be a part of, and not surprisingly, Kissinger denounced in an essay). So much more to learn.

What does this mean about being in power? And about living in the most powerful country in the world?

As an aside, I feel kinda funny chatting about these films that were much more topical six months ago (The Fog of War) or three years ago (The Trials). So I'm a bit behind the eightball on all of these, but hey, I never said this blog was about up to the minute news (although the latest news on Pinochet is only two weeks old so I'm not that behind I guess). And it can't hurt to brush up on the thrust of the arguments for the next time it pops up at your dinner party, right?

UPDATE: A good pal (and poli-sci mentor) pointed out that September 11 was the anniversary (among other things) of the coup d'etat in Chile in 1973. So maybe I'm more topical than I thought. Spooky is right.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Documentary Delight

I'm not sure why, but I've been digging the documentaries these days. Is it just me getting interested, or is it that there are cooler options than there used to be? Or am I turning into the lefty equivalent of a Rush Limbaugh radio junkie? Oh and yeah, I did see Farenheit 911. It was interesting, although Michael Moore's method sometimes makes me squirm.

My new updated list of DVD rentals now I've seen the Fog of War:
The Trials of Henry Kissinger
The Corporation
Uncovered: The War in Iraq
Roger and Me
Darwin's Dangerous Idea I started to watch this on and was fascinated but didn't have time for the whole thing.

An oldie but goodie (1990s) I'd recommend: Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media

In the non-political category:
Winged Migration

An oldie but goodie (ie 1990s) by the same guy who did the Fog of War: Fast Cheap and Out of Control A movie which drives you to declare, "Hairless rat moles rule!"

Let me know if you've got some other can't miss documentaries while I'm on my tear here.

Update on the Fog of War

In the previous post I was pondering what McNamara's opinions about our current political situation might be. A friend let me know that McNamara was interviewed by Charlie Rose after the release of the film. McNamara steadfastly refused to answer questions about the Bush administration's handling of Iraq. So, another dead end?

With a quick poke into Google, I was able to unearth an article from the Canadian daily, The Globe and Mail, who were for some reason able to break down McNamara's steely reserve by, um, calling him up and asking him these questions over the phone. Those wily Canadians! So here's a link to the article expressing McNamara's current take, as well as a list of the 11 specific mistakes McNamara believes were made in the Viet Nam war. (Whether or not they apply to the current political situation is up to you).

This is the fun thing about blogging, I've got to say. I make a random musing, I do some searching around the question and get Chomsky's take on it, a friend fills me in on another angle, I do a little detective work, and ta dah! A question turns into a whole story. So cool!

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

The Fog of War

I just watched the DVD for The Fog of War, about the life of Robert McNamara. The film's site includes a link to a negative review from Eric Alterman in the Nation (as well as a rebuttal), which says it lets McNamara recuse himself too much. While I felt the movie kept pretty neutral, Morris let McNamara avoid the toughest questions.

I guess if there is one thing you are reminded by the controversy around this type of film is that hindsight is NOT 20/20. Not that history wrapped up in pretty packages isn't appealing, even if it is much more boring.

After the movie ended I wondered about the comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq. Noam Chomsky does a nice job of stopping that question cold in its tracks in his blog, saying that the consequences of invading Iraq, a locus of economic and strategic power, are unquestionably much larger than that of Viet Nam. In other writings, Chomsky is pretty dismissive of McNamara as a whole, that McNamara was a "narrow technocrat, small-time engineer" who was in far over his head. McNamara says almost as much in the movie when he describes his reluctant reaction to Kennedy's asking him to be Secretary of Defense. Kennedy's response: "There isn't any school for being president, either."
Some days you are reminded more than others that our world is held together by bubblegum and scotch tape. Some days I think this is a good thing, and other days it is pretty darned scary.

Nonetheless, I'd still be curious to hear McNamara's opinion on the current state of affairs. This guy has a lot of perspective from 85 years being in the front row on a lot of this stuff.


When I was a little kid I would spend hours playing with water in the sink, or turning shampoo bottles upside down and watching the golden liquid bubble and fold inside the container. I loved some weird substance I got as a present called Magic Sand which allowed you to form strange constructions out of colored sand underwater. And at the beach I would spend all day at the edge between the water and the sand forming castles and drizzle buildings until the sun went down and my shoulders were hot with sunburn. When my parents asked me what I wanted to be when I "grew up", I would say with certainty, "A Fountain Maker." To which they chuckled and said there was no such thing. So I became other things instead.

Well, it turns out there are Fountainmakers out there. One I met in an Artist's Way course two years ago. And not only is he a cool maker of fountains, he also is the guy responsible for the beautiful fishnet holiday lights, as well as this fascinating project involving Native American Fishweirs.

I'll let you check out the site to learn more. But this kind of history always gets me. Who knew we had fishweirs right here in the Back Bay of Boston? To discover such an ancient activity amongst our concrete sidewalks just boggles the mind, let alone coming up with a way to make it alive again. And isn't this the best kind of thing to do with art -- connect with the past, connect with your own present, AND with your community in this beautiful and meaningful way? Throw in some kids and a curriculum and you've got something that I think is as real and true as it gets in terms of Art That Matters. So a big shout out to Ross Miller, confirmer of my childhood career fantasy and overall doer of mighty cool things. Thanks, Ross, for keeping me hopeful!

PS I did end up making a fountain last year using a water bubbler I bought at a pet supply store with a beautiful bowl and lots of rocks. Very fun if very small.

Friday, September 03, 2004

And we close the file on Bonita the Duck

For my faithful readers enquiring of news about the fate of Bonita the Duck, I think we will have to close the file on this one and mark it "unsolved." I vigilantly scan the river each morning and afternoon, stopping and searching among the grazing flocks of geese and generally wreaking small havoc amongst the local goose population who begin to mutter suspicions that I am stalking them. But no Bonita.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, there are likely three scenarios for our favorite feathered friend, and the mystery remains unsolved about which flock she has joined. I have to share one last suspicion that recently occurred to me based on the number of these I pass on the path -- perhaps instead of Bonita the Duck, all along she was actually Carmen the Cormorant?

Goodbye Bonita and we all wish you well, and that you have found a place where you belong ... somewhere...

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Roti Quest: Fulfilled!

What Roti Looks Like Posted by Hello
My first taste of roti bread was in New York City in 1991. I was with a group of young adults doing church work, and we were hosted by a kind family from somewhere in the West Indies. It was my first visit to NYC, and I was the proverbial girl from the country: scared and amazed at everything I saw. I remember one of our first sights arriving into the city was a car by the side of the road, stripped of all its parts, promptly followed by a man stealing an air conditioner from a shop.

Despite our initial nervousness, the DrePaul family worked hard to make us feel at home. This wasn't easy, as our group of corn-fed midwesterners was just as perplexed by the omnipresent smell of curry imbued in each room of the house as we were by the strange sights of the city. One night they cooked a traditional meal for us, making a green chicken curry and roti bread, this soft, fragrant, chewy wonderfulness. After one nervous bite, I realized I was eating one of the most amazing meals I'd ever had. I spoke to the women who had made it afterward, and I remember them shaking their heads tiredly at the amount of work it took to make roti at home. This bread is different from the traditional Indian breads you get at Indian restaurants. Since then, I've never seen hide nor hair of roti until I happened to pass by a shop in Roslindale a week or two ago. It was too late and past dinnertime, but I thought, I MUST find roti!!! All these years and I didn't even know it was something you could just buy. The food quest officially began.

With the help of, I was directed to go to last weekend's Carribbean Carnival in Central Square. And there it was, one lone booth selling roti amongst dozens of jerk chicken booths. It was Singh's Roti Shop, which has a store at 692 Columbia Road in Dorchester. I was so happy I had to take a photo. As you can see in the picture of roti, it looks, but does not taste, like a burrito. The bread itself is chewy and flaky -- this one had some sort of chickpea flour and spices in it. The yellow you see is either a chili oil or it is from the curried chicken. I went back and bought more of the roti bread for later, but somehow, it never quite made it home.

I love food quests! Next one: After an initial rocky start to the quest where I, um, forgot to write down the street number, I think this time I will be able to find Chilli Garden in Medford. I'll keep ya posted.

Sing's Roti Shop: A Quest Fulfilled Posted by Hello

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Are You Going to Peru?

My pal Lia says I would be a fool not to go. A fool! Monica says that when I'm 45, which would I regret more, spending some savings or missing a trip going to Peru? Sigh. I have very wise friends. Yes I do.

So. Thinking about joining Allison over there for a week or two in late fall. Visiting Macchu Pichu, the Inca Trail, etc. For that is what you do in Peru. Oh and I'd probably eat some ceviche and other local delicacies for without such a quest, I would not be fulfilling my own personal raison d'etre, no?

Of course, this new found interest in Peru means I find it imperative to rhyme everything possible with Peru. Do you think I might buy a new blue pew in Peru? That one's for you, Sue. I'll stop now.

So, should I stay or should I go? Hmmm....

Harvest Restaurant report

Heirloom Tomatoes (you guessed it, Copley Farmer's Market). Well at least the photo matches an essay this time! Posted by Hello c ac2004

Wow, I am still recovering from last night's dinner at the Harvest Restaurant. This was a special "tasting menu" based on foods from Nesenkeag Farm, with wine pairings. A true bargain at $39 for five courses -- they have other nights like this, so if you like the idea I'd advise you check out the website and make a reservation.

It was a long process of hearing the chef's description of the foods, then an intro to the farmer, and then the various courses and wines being served to a very full room of people, seated communally. Felt a bit like a wedding reception where you're tearful over the food rather than tearful at the touching true love stuff.

We had a heirloom tomato salad with a beautiful presentation -- round slices of yellow and red tomatoes with a round slice of fresh mozarella on a rectangular plate with balsamic drizzle. This was with a "mineralistic" sauvignon blanc (Polencic, Collio from Italy, 2002) which was very light. I really liked the word mineralistic (used by the very friendly and patient-with-our-stupid-questions wine director, Jason Irving) and plan on using it more often.

Second course was carolina grouper with a crusted topping made of shrimp and spices. Served with coriander "berries"; ie the seeds that form after your cilantro has bloomed. I'd never considered including that with a meal (with the fronds attached) and I've had plenty of these in my garden. They do add a flavor burst when you eat the little buggers. The wine was a Marsanne, Qupe (another great word), from CA, 2003, which had a really nice meadey um, bouquet (yikes, did I just say bouquet?) even though the wine was pretty dry.

Third was baked squash, a cousa which is similar to zucchini, stuffed with chorizo. Yum! With one of the best wines IMHO, Dr. Burklin Wolf's Riesling from Germany, 2002. Wait -- if you hate riesling don't skip this part -- it was a very funky wine which would hit you with a sweet flavor right at the beginning but then the flavor would completely disappear after you swallowed (is that a clean finish? not sure). I'd never experienced anything like that.

Next (groan, at this point we were getting full), was a drumstick of smoked duck, served with baby beet salad. Scrumptious. Never had smoked duck before and it was both exotic and familiar -- like a ducky hot dog flavor. (Yeah, they're not going to hire me as their marketing exec, I know). This was with a Pinot Noir (Louis Jadot, Bourgogne, France 2001) that was really jarring after all the whites, but when you sipped it with the duck you said, oh... now I see.

Finally, for dessert, a baby carrot cake (teeny tiny) served with a very flowery muscat (Bonny Doon, Vin de Glacier, Santa Cruz, 2003).

After these four hours (!) of food bliss we were very happy, a little tipsy and very full. What a lovely event. Oh and besides "mineralistic", my new other favorite wine term is "a whiff of petrol." Ah.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

I couldn't resist two more food photos

Pretty carrots! Find the bee! Posted by Hello
And these would be called ... plethora of potatos and plethora of carrots. Good old farmer's market bounty. Can you spot the bee amongst the carrots? Just like Where's Waldo?!

Plethora of Potatoes Posted by Hello

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

And a movie recommendation

Nine years ago I saw Before Sunrise, the quintessential American-student-bopping-around Europe-and-meets-pretty-girl-movie. It really captures the feeling of being 22 and doing the semester abroad: the constant battle between feeling oh so cool and sophisticated to be wandering around Europe contrasted with oh so dorky and humbled by the onslaught of art and history and culture. It's a two hour conversation between the American Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delphy), a Boticelli's angel-faced Parisian woman as they wander around Venice and start to fall in love. When they both get on the train again the next morning to go their separate ways, will they ever see each other again? The movie realistically portrays the awkwardness and excitement of instant attraction as well as dialog so natural I could imagine my friends spouting the same things.

Before Sunset is the two of them nine years later. While I can't say I can relate in quite the same way to Jesse, who has published a best-seller which he is promoting in Paris, I can relate to the hurts and disappointments they have accumulated in life right along with the accomplishments and pleasures. While it isn't a mopey story, it is bittersweet to revisit what could have been and to think about how you've changed, both for the good and the bad.

This is the kind of movie you watch with a smile on your face because you are enjoying yourself. You feel so lucky to be privvy to their conversation, even if it can be tiring to keep up with their meandering conversation at times. And I love that it IS nine years later, and that they ARE nine years older playing characters in their early 30s. It's like this weird universe where I can truly believe that Jesse and Celine actually exist in a way other movies can't do it. It's not perfect, mind you, but it is truly fun.

So what I'm saying: it's well worth seeing, especially if you are a 30something who has travelled around Europe. But make sure you rent Before Sunrise first to make sure you understand the full story arc.

Okay, okay but two quick things

Lately this blog has been a bit of all food, all the time so I'll move on to other pastures for a bit. But I had to mention two quick things:
  • Had a really nice meal at Lala Rokh on Beacon Hill as part of Restaurant Week. One of the nicest, most interesting meals I have had in a long time. Flavors that make you say, huh, weird, hmmm, then, yum! The duck was in this spectacular walnut sauce with pomegranates, and the dessert called paludeh, a lime and rosewater sorbet with rice noodles, was sublime.
  • Can I just mention how scarily good the chocolate mocha cookies at Rebecca's Cafe are? A co-worker just forced some on me. Enormous and full of chocolate chips and gooey like brownie batter. Sigh. If anyone has any other cookie recs, send em my way. I've been told I need to check out the chocolate cookie at C'est Bon in Harvest Square. We'll see ...
  • I lied, one more thing, OK? This Wednesday I am going to Harvest's Tasting Series. It will be fun to try and a new place, and it's a great deal. I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Spontaneous BBQ Panic

I'm tired today after a spontaneous BBQ that grew from two people (including myself) up to eight people, causing me to panic about my not having enough corn on the cob. Ack!

I started inviting a friend who lives closeby since I had vegetables and burgers that would have to be grilled soon or they would die. And I love playing with my roomie's very groovy Weber grill, even if I bypass the fancy shmancy propane starter and just use a chimney starter. I think the food came out pretty good but I was too overwhelmed by the larger crowd to either take photos or even really come up with a yummy dessert. Sigh. So much for grilled pears and mangoes. That will have to be another evening.

The menu:
  • Grilled zuchini, summer squash, onions and peppers (olive oil and salt)
  • Just barely enough for all grilled corn on the cob, drizzled with salt and lime (the best way)
  • Free range australian burgers from Trader Joe's (pretty good but a little tough)
  • Fresh salsa (farmer's market tomatoes, hooray)
  • Baba ganoush -- very yummy and easy -- just throw a large eggplant on the grill, wait til it deflates like a bad tire, take out the pulp and throw in processor with 2 Tb. tahini, lime, garlic and salt. Yum! Serve with pitas.
  • Popsicles of various types.
That's what you get when you go spontaneous. Popsicles for dessert. Sheesh. The horror. But no one seemed to mind. That's what I have to remember about entertaining -- people LIKE to get together and don't expect much more than a place to sit and something cool to drink. No one is expecting to go into paroxysms of joy over the food or fine tableware. (Even if I would like them to do so). (And isn't it nice when you can work paroxysms into your entry?)

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Gosbries for KH

Gooseberries next to red currents Posted by Hello
From the latest trip to the Farmer's Market, they have gooseberries as we call them here in the states. Those across the pond call them something else I apparently can't pronounce. The berries don't seem to be selling like hotcakes, but they are very pretty. Gooseberry fool, anyone?