Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Sunday, December 24, 2006
Me: Um hi. I hate to bother you. I know it's a holiday weekend, and you probably aren't even there. Maybe you remember me from when you were here three years ago and I had all that strangeness with the attic fan? Well, now another weird thing has happened. I was preheating the oven to make some cookies, and I could see that the oven was ON, because the light was on, sort of - actually it was pretty faint - but it just wasn't getting HOT. I was afraid I was going to need a whole new oven. But then in desperation I thought I'd use the toaster oven - and that didn't work either. And that's when I noticed that the display on the microwave was off. So at first I thought it must be a breaker, so I switched them all, but nothing worked. Then I realized that the outlet that the computer was plugged into wasn't working; in fact I remembered that there had been some strange flickering going on at one point, but I didn't think anything of it. And the light in the bathroom doesn't work either. I really could just live with all this til next week, but I just discovered that the refrigerator seems to be involved .... So, anyway, if you get this.....
Daughter: Mom, you need to FOCUS. Did you call Public Service?
Me: Well, no. I think they mainly fix things that are related to outdoor wires and things. This seems like more of an INSIDE thing. It's just one or two circuits I think. I keep thinking maybe there's some kind of MASTER circuit breaker that maybe I don't know about...
Daughter: Well, it's called Public Service Gas and ELECTRIC. That says to me that if some part of your electricity doesn't work, they would be the ones to call...
Me: Well, maybe....
Daughter: I'm calling them. Now, what will we do about the freezer? Do you have things you need to bring over here?
Me: Well, so far everything is OK. They always say you can wait several DAYS when there is a power outage, as long as you don't open the door. Everything in there seems fine for now....
NOT MUCH LATER:
Me: Guess what! There's a guy here from public service. He said he could tell from the outside that half the house was out. At first he thought he could just do something where the wires connect to the pole, but then he said it was in the MIDDLE somewhere, and he had to take down that whole huge group of wires that goes from the pole to the house. I never heard of anything like this - losing PART of your electricity. I thought you either had electricity or you didn't. But he asked if I had had any big trees down lately. He said it could be from that time the lightning hit the big oak on the other side and the wires weren't all properly fixed. He said it will all be fixed in twenty minutes! Hooray!
Daughter: I hope I am going to get some CREDIT for this.
Friday, December 22, 2006
Thursday, December 21, 2006
My mother was never very interested in cooking. It might have been otherwise, as she was highly creative, but she died in 1976, just as the food revolution was getting under way. Nevertheless, all the things that she did cook - and she cooked the same few things over and over again - were wonderful. This beef goulash was one of her specialties. I'm not sure why it was called "goulash" - it has no paprika. It's really just a stew - an extremely simple one - containing beef, onions, carrots, tomatoes, salt, pepper, and, the secret ingredient - sugar. The magic is all in the technique.
And now the secret step: into the pan with the meat/onion/carrot combo, sprinkle about 1/4 cup of white SUGAR. Put the pan on the stove over a medium-high flame, toss the mixture well with a spoon, then cover it tightly with a lid and let it cook undisturbed for about 15 minutes. This will caramelize the onions and carrots, as well as allowing all the flavors to blend. I've never seen this technique used anywhere else - and I have been collecting cookbooks and recipes for over forty years - but trust me on this and just do it! **
Now all that remains is to add a good shake of salt and fresh ground pepper and a can or two of whole peeled tomatoes. Stir it all up gently, cover, and cook SLOWLY - either in the oven (300 or so) or on top of the stove, preferably on a flame-tamer if you have gas - for several hours. You could haul a pressure cooker into service at this point if you have one. Then - did I remind you to start this a day ahead of time? - put it in the refrigerator and reheat the next day. If you must, you may eat it right away, and it will be delicious. But it will be beyond heavenly if you wait. All you need to serve with it are buttered noodles - the old-fashioned broad kind - which, for some reason, can be a little hard to find nowadays. So stock up when you see them. Or try some home-made or good-quality pappardelle.
General proportions (can be multiplied or divided easily)
2 lbs beef, in 1" chunks
4-5 onions, halved
5 large carrots, peeled, cut into narrow 2" chunks
1/4 cup sugar
2 large cans whole peeled tomatoes - (I use Muir Glen; Mom would have used any old supermarket kind. But don't use the kind that come packed with basil or other seasonings.)
salt and pepper to taste
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
I wish I had started my Pamuk-reading with "Istanbul", a beautiful and straightforward family memoir and a portrait of a magical city. Instead I plunged into the much more complex "Snow", after the New York Times named it the best novel of the year. My husband would have called it "murky" - his terse, all-purpose summary of anything artistic that he didn't understand. In this case he might have had some true insight into the author's intention. It's a difficult, but rewarding book, and I've thought about it in retrospect more than almost anything I've read in the last few years. For Cliff Notes I'd recommend Margaret Atwood's review in the New York Times.
Update: Just came across this interesting video interview with his translator, Maureen Freely.
*The New Yorker link will take you to all of these articles if you are reading this in a timely fashion - in the last two weeks of 2006. If you are reading later, you'll need to search on the author's name to bring up the separate articles.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Friday, December 15, 2006
I particularly liked this work - and now I can't remember the artist's name. I'll have to dig for it.
A nice Frank Stella show here. This gallery was on the sixth floor; not all the galleries are at street level. There are over 150 galleries in this neighborhood.
In some cases entire galleries have been turned into "environments", including audio and video components. This one (and also the next) is a tribute to the artists's mother.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Farewell My Concubine
Do young people today know more about world history than children of my generation? Sadly, I suspect not. In fourth grade we learned some world geography. Fifth grade was about American history, starting with the European explorers - Magellan, Drake, Balboa and the rest, - all heroes, of course. In sixth grade we got some ancient history - the Babylonians, the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans. Seventh, eighth and ninth grades seemed to have focused on civics as I recall. Then in tenth grade there was a World History class - I believe it was an elective. Mrs. Walters, to her credit, did her best, but it was a huge subject, and could really do nothing more than hit the high points. After that - nothing. I didn't take a single history class in college.
In recent years the books and films I'm most drawn to are those that teach me something about the past, especially about non-Western cultures. This beautiful 1993 movie won a Golden Globe and Cannes "Best Picture" award. It's a strange story about the fifty-plus year friendship between two men who meet as children in the 1920's in the horrifically cruel and intense training school for the Peking Opera, and become its most famous stars. Through their eyes we see the Japanese invasion, the war years, the Nationalist Chinese takeover, then the Communists, and, finally, the Cultural Revolution. We see repeated snatches of the opera itself, particularly the dramatic conclusion of the classical opera, "Farewell My Concubine", in which the friends play the leading roles of the Emperor and his concubine.
I had never seen any Chinese opera before. My first impression was - how odd! Why would anyone think these strange sounds were beautiful? And how do cultural differences determine our aesthetic preferences? By the end of the movie, I had seen this scene quite a number of times, and I found that in that short time my perception had changed. What was strange had become familiar. I don't think that was the main point of the film, though, like any work of art, the film works on many levels. But I've added to my understanding of Chinese history, and learned something about classical Chinese opera.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
Capote and kids
Otherwise it was a baby-sitting weekend. Grandkids were dropped off on Friday and retrieved this afternoon. It doesn't take much beyond scotch tape, markers, paper, pencils and popsicle sticks to entertain those two. And a treasure of a book called "Lucky Mrs Ticklefeather and other Funny Stories" by Dorothy Kunhardt. It was Z's favorite as a child, and these two adore it also. Out of print, but available on Amazon for $54 and up, I see. I'll hang onto it.