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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Lefty Frizzell

Christmas brings forth memories of all kinds. Yesterday was a lot about reminiscing, including listening to old guitar music. All should enjoy this old clip; daughters will find it especially poignant, I think.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Electricity


Electrician: Please leave a message after the beep.

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

New puzzle

There's a new double-crostic puzzle by me just published here. It's called "Leader". Give it a try.

Note: if link has expired and a different puzzle appears, you can always go to the main page, hit option 7 (Subject Themes) and then look in "Obituaries" for "Leader". Click on "G" to play.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Mom's Goulash


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.

First, the beef. She would use chuck or round steak interchangeably - ordered in those pre-supermarket days from a reliable butcher, of course. Nowadays I tend to use half chuck and half boneless short ribs - my own decadent modification. Cut it up into smallish cubes- one inch or less is good - and pat dry with paper towels. Next, the cubes need to be browned in a little fat. Mom used Wesson oil, or sometimes even - gasp - Crisco; I use canola, which would have been unknown then. The meat has to be REALLY browned - no joke - on a high flame in a heavy pan, and the disconcerting result would always be a kitchen full of black smoke. Recently I've found a way around this: I do the browning - in small batches - in a closed 500-degree oven, using my favorite giant-size iron skillet (a yard sale find of over forty years ago). It's easier to self-clean the oven than it is to degrease the entire kitchen.

As each batch is finished, transfer to the Dutch oven or other heavy pan that you plan to cook the goulash in. Add a few halved, peeled onions (no need to chop - they will break down), and some carrots, peeled and cut in narrow lengthwise pieces, about 2" - either halved (bottom end) or quartered (the fatter top end). For some reason it's critical that the carrots be in that shape. It wouldn't be "Mom's Goulash" with ROUNDS of carrot!



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
** At the point where the sugar is added, you'd be adding some sweet Hungarian paprika in a more normal recipe. Maybe some family member (Mom?) way back when didn't have any paprika and decided sugar would be just as good? Who knows. This is how great family recipes are sometimes born.
Why am I posting this now? Well, for one thing, we often had it on Christmas Eve. And, for another, it's what we had at our at-home wedding feast on December 23, 1963 - 43 years ago. I made a batch last week and took some to H&D; they can't get enough of it.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Orhan Pamuk

The current New Yorker, the winter fiction issue, contains the full text of the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk's Nobel acceptance speech, a wonderful essay called "My Father's Suitcase". As a Pamuk fan, I wanted to recommend it to you, so I just checked to see if it might be on line and was happy to find that it is, along with links to several more pieces both by and about the author from earlier editions of the magazine. It's nice to see these all in one place, at least for the time being. *

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

Bibliodyssey

If you enjoy antiquarian books, the kind with unusual, often hand-colored plates, you'll love this blog for a daily fix of same.






Saturday, December 16, 2006

Dog Park

If you're a dog in Chelsea, life is good. This enclosed park lets you run leashless to your heart's content, and afterwards you can stop for brunch.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Chelsea

I was feeling a need for some eye candy today - a visual change of pace. So I headed for the city. The blocks between Tenth and Eleventh Avenue - on the far west side, in the twenties, comprise a major art gallery venue. It's an easy walk from Penn Station, and it's another world.




I particularly liked this work - and now I can't remember the artist's name. I'll have to dig for it.





Per Fronth is a name I'll remember and watch. I liked his work very much.





These little handmade books said "please touch", so I did.







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.

Wait - is this a painting - or are we looking out the window? Hey - it's New Jersey!


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.

These represent just a small fraction of what I saw, and what I saw was just a small fraction of what's there. I need to take more advantage of this incredible free resource.










Saturday, December 09, 2006

Steak

A while back, in reference to the e-coli panic which seems only to be worsening, I made a passing reference to grain-fed cattle. Now it appears that this may also be the source of the best-tasting beef. This Slate article (which does an excellent job of explaining all the hoof-to-table options) declared the steaks from this Idaho ranch to be the hands-down winner in a taste test. Predictably, the company is swamped with orders. I don't know that I'd go to the trouble of ordering meat by mail - part of the problem would be that I'd have to get too much of it all at one time - but this has strengthened my resolve to seek it out locally. Whole Foods does carry grass-fed beef (albeit just a tiny fraction of its overall selection); I'm going to try it. Not that I often buy beef - but then all the more reason to buy the best, right?

Al Hirschfeld


Here's a remarkable clip showing the legendary caricaturist, Al Hirschfeld, age 99, working on a drawing of Paul Newman. Very interesting to see the technique - and the steady hand. The drawing took 8 hours. Videotaped by Hirschfeld's granddaughter.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Global Dimming

Here's a scary BBC film to watch. It takes 49 minutes. There's also a full transcript attached. I wasn't aware of this particular phenomenon. In a similar vein, I saw a brief news article recently in which Stephen Hawking was quoted as saying that we (Earthlings) need to be seriously working on colonizing a new planet to ensure the survival of our species. He said that it could ultimately take as few as six years for us to reach a distant star, but that it wouldn't "seem" like that long. Hmmmmm.

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

I watched Capote tonight; H&D had it from Netflix. One of the things I enjoy about watching movies on DVD is all the extra behind-the-scenes stuff. I loved finding out that one of the first artistic decisions that was made was the somber palette which prevailed throughout. No bright colors, reds, blues... all greys and ochres, browns.... Also interesting that it was filmed entirely in Winnipeg, which turned out to be a perfect circa 1960 Kansas. The house of the relatively prosperous Clutter family, which appears only briefly in the beginning of the movie, was an abandoned shell that had to be completely rebuilt and added to. It seemed odd to me that so much effort and money had to be spend on this detail. But what do I know? The movie was, of course, brilliantly done, and I was glad, finally, to have seen it.

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.