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Monday, January 29, 2007

Boston weekend

A long weekend in Boston with the grandkids. Many rounds of Slamwich, Checkers, Go Fish, Memory, Mastermind, Pounce, Blokus. Bookstore browsing in Cambridge, followed by hot chocolate with the gang at Cafe Algiers. A round-the-block treasure hunt with L. and the new metal detector. Watching part of the first season of "24" with G, new to both of us. (So far I prefer "Sleeper Cell".) Homemade granola. Lemon cake. Lavash and Baba Ganoush from Russo's. Small pleasures. Home again.

Friday, January 26, 2007

What's this? And where is it?

Answer: It's Eleanor Roosevelt's Jazz Bowl. And it's missing.
To learn more about this and other important artifacts whose whereabouts are unknown, check out the Catalog of Missing Objects.

New Words for 2007

The following is lifted from Brian Williams' Daily Nightly Blog (where he writes about what's going to be on the evening news). Apologies if you've seen it all over the place by now:


The following is a great compilation of words -- some already in use, others yet to make their debut in the workplace. While some if not all of them have already been heavily forwarded in e-mails across the country, it's a useful rundown. It is widely credited to the great "Jargon" column in Wired magazine, but research on its precise derivation turned up nothing specific today. So my thanks and apologies to the author, if just one exists.

Enjoy these:

Essential vocabulary additions for the workplace (and elsewhere)

1. BLAMESTORMING: Sitting around in a group, discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed, and who was responsible.
2. SEAGULL MANAGER: A manager, who flies in, makes a lot of noise, craps on everything, and then leaves.
3. ASSMOSIS: The process by which some people seem to absorb success and advancement by kissing up to the boss rather than working hard.
4. SALMON DAY: The experience of spending an entire day swimming upstream only to get screwed and die in the end.
5. CUBE FARM: An office filled with cubicles.
6. PRAIRIE DOGGING: When someone yells or drops something loudly in a cube farm, and people's heads pop up over the walls to see what's going on.
7. MOUSE POTATO: The online, wired generation's answer to the couch potato.
8. SITCOMs: Single Income, Two Children, Oppressive Mortgage. What Yuppies get into when they have children and one of them stops working to stay home with the kids.
9. STRESS PUPPY: A person who seems to thrive on being stressed out and whiny.
10. SWIPEOUT: An ATM or credit card that has been rendered useless because the magnetic strip is worn away from extensive use.
11. XEROX SUBSIDY: Euphemism for swiping free photocopies from one's workplace.
12. IRRITAINMENT: Entertainment and media spectacles that are annoying, but you find yourself unable to stop watching them.
13. PERCUSSIVE MAINTENANCE: The fine art of whacking the crap out of an electronic device to get it to work again. I often feel like doing this to my computer.
14. ADMINISPHERE: The rarefied organizational layers beginning just above the rank and file. Decisions that fall from the adminisphere are often profoundly inappropriate or irrelevant to the problems they were designed to solve.
15. 404: Someone who is clueless. From the World Wide Web error message "404 Not Found," meaning that the requested site could not be located.
16. GENERICA: Features of the American landscape that are exactly the same no matter where one is, such as fast food joints, strip malls and subdivisions.
17. OHNOSECOND: That minuscule fraction of time in which you realize that you've just made a BIG mistake. (Like after hitting send on an e-mail by mistake.)
18. WOOFS: Well-Off Older Folks.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Lamb/Hamb Casserole

In the mid-seventies there was a recipe, popular around here, called "The Casserole". I hadn't made it or thought about it in years. But now G, who forgets nothing, has thought of it. Remember that lamb and noodle casserole you used to make? she asks. Lamb? Well, no. It's ground beef. But I see that I've written "hamb" in the old looseleaf archive, and she must have read and copied it as "lamb". She has already bought ground lamb for tonight, so lamb it will be. And thus do family recipes evolve.

The original reads as follows:

The Casserole

1 lb hamburger
2 small cans tomato sauce
16 oz noodles
1 pt sour cream
1 pt cottage cheese
8 oz cream cheese
3 small onions, chopped
1/4 cup melted butter
salt and pepper

Brown the hamburger. Add tomato sauce and salt and pepper. Mix the sour cream, cheeses and onion. Cook and drain the noodles. Add salt and pepper. In large shallow buttered casserole (like a lasagne pan) put half the noodles. Drizzle with half the melted butter. Then spread the cheese mixture over all. Add the rest of the noodles, and the rest of the melted butter. Spread the beef/tomato mixture over the top. Bake 30 min at 350.

This sounds very dated, doesn't it? But it was awfully good. I may just make it myself one of these days; I'm sure I could force H&D to take some. And please let us know how the lamb version works out!

Monday, January 22, 2007

A Savage War of Peace

Algeria? What made me want to pick up a book about Algeria? Especially one with the words "savage" and "war" in the title? Well, apparently the President is reading this, based on the recommendation of Henry Kissinger. He talked about it on 60 Minutes. The author sent a copy to Rumsfeld last year, with important passages underlined (!). Maureen Dowd wrote a snarky column about it all (NYT, Jan 17). And now the author, Alistair Horne, an eminent British historian, has popped up on Charlie Rose to talk with Kissinger and others about how the lessons of Algeria might apply to the mess in Iraq. (Program - well worth watching - can be seen now and for the next few days on the Charlie Rose website, later on Google Video).

I was in ninth grade in the fall of 1954 when the French-Algerian war began, and had just graduated from college in 1962, when the truce was signed. I don't recall being in any way informed about or even aware of what was going on. Are high school and college students today as clueless as I was then about foreign affairs?

I've had the book from the library since last week, and have read only 100+ pages (out of 563, not counting addenda - even longer in the paperback version). It's a fascinating read, but not something you can fly through. I am learning so much. Thankfully, however, nobody is relying on me to sort it all out.

Postage and books

So I buy the book from Amazon, feeling guilty about not giving $11.00 to a favorite local merchant and cheating Trenton out of the 77 cent sales tax. Instead of buying a "very good" edition for one cent, I spluge and buy a "like new" one for TWO cents. In both cases the postage is $3.49. I know from experience that the actual postage will be more like $1.50 - maybe less. An odd system!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Chilly Sunday outing

Finally it feels like winter. There's even a thin layer of snow on the ground. And patches of ice to watch for. Time for a mini-vacation. Sometimes a 5-minute drive can take you far away.

There's a new tea place to try. Very zen. I worry that they won't last long. What kind of a business model can deal with sky high Montclair rents and an inventory where nothing costs more than four dollars? Well, they do have loose teas by the pound - and a beautiful selection of one-of-a-kind teapots from China (clay) and Japan (iron). We'll hope for the best and drop in often.

Then the bookstore. Right across the street, as it happens. How does this place survive in a Barnes and Noble/Amazon world? Well, the selection is incredible. New and used books, cheek by jowl, all discounted - thousands and thousands of them on three levels. Obsessively alphabetized, categorized. Such a pleasure to browse there. Graphic novels (an interest not shared with anyone I know) are well-represented. I may have to go back and pick up that copy of "Miss Remarkable" to send to Z. ( Update: I see that it is available for .01 on Amazon. Hmmm. )

Time has passed, and the tea was just --well, tea. The cookies were pretty small. And I pass a Japanese restaurant that is new to me on the way to the car. It's still early (the darkness plays time tricks), and the place is nearly empty. I can sit anywhere, so - why not next to the fish? Hold still, fish!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Hurricane worries

I read yesterday that Allstate will no longer insure homes in New Jersey, as well as several other coastal New England States, and parts of New York. It's about hurricane risk - the fear that we could face a Katrina-like disaster here. The last time New York was hit by a Big One was in 1938.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Bridge Clues

I try not to talk too much about bridge here, since it may not be of general interest. But I wanted to point out that one of my favorite sites, Mike Lawrence's Bridge Clues, has recently been revamped. It now includes a "how to play" section for total novices (this stays the same, for reference), and the daily "bid/play" quiz material has been broken down into two sections, Level 2 being for more advanced players. Unlike daily newspaper columns which often provide more in terms of entertainment value than instruction, these daily exercises will improve your game. Guaranteed!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Three movies

Cate Blanchett appeared on Charlie Rose recently to promote her three most recent films: Babel, The Good German, and Notes on a Scandal. I haven't seen any of these yet, but will eventually. In the meantime, I took a look at some of her less-known (to me anyhow) earlier work that I'd missed: The Man Who Cried, Little Fish, and Oscar and Lucinda. I'd recommend all three without hesitation. What a brilliant actress!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone a few hours ago. I'm tempted! It's starting to look like the technological convergence we've all been waiting for. Interesting New Yorker article by David Denby this week on what's changing in the movie biz - all related. You just have to keep up with this stuff. Contemporaries of mine who say they can't be bothered with all this new-fangled gadgetry just don't know what they're missing. As we inevitably lose physical mobility (not that I am in a hurry for this) digital connectedness gains in importance.

Monday, January 08, 2007

American Bloomsbury

It was Mark Twain, I think, who wrote "I've written a long letter because I didn't have time to write a short one". Susan Cheever has taken the time to write a short letter. She spent six years working on this slim, entertaining book about the "genius cluster" that materialized in Concord, Mass. in the mid-nineteenth century. The lengthy bibliography, chronology, detailed chapter notes and index suggest that it will be a scholarly work. On the contrary, it's highly readable, oddly chatty, hinting at improper liaisons, inserting curious but memorable details (plump Elizabeth Peabody once smothered a litter of kittens by sitting on them, as the anguished mother cat meowed in despair) and contemporary asides (the old wooden Plymouth, New Hampshire Inn where Hawthorne died is no longer there, but was owned by an Indian family who introduced curries to the menu in its final incarnation).

The key characters are Emerson (the "sugar daddy" who financed them all), Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, Hawthorne, and the lesser known Margaret Fuller (the model for Hester Prynne). The jacket copy promises that they will be "removed from their dusty pedestals". Yep. That's what happens. Not only do they and their extended families all come to life, but along the way we encounter Melville, John Brown, Franklin Pierce, Longfellow, OW Holmes, the Brownings - even Twain. There's probably not much here that's new, but it's all so well-distilled, and jam-packed with surprising detail. Not entirely without fault (is it really appropriate, for example, to compare HRT to the widespread use of the mercury poison, calomel?) , but it doesn't seem fair to nitpick. I'm delighted that Cheever took the time to write this idiosyncratic but unforgettable short book. And that I happened to notice it on the "new books" shelf at the library.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


Today's LA Times Magazine crossword asks for "helicopter ability (abbr)" (4 letters), crossing with "actress Rochon" (also 4 letters). The actress turns out to be LELA and the helicopter ability is VTOL, meaning, according to a detailed article in Wikipedia , "vertical take-off and landing". OK, makes sense. However:

VTOL describes fixed-wing aircraft that can lift off vertically. This classification includes only a very few aircraft; helicopters, autogyros; balloons and airships are not normally considered VTOL.

So, strictly speaking, the helicopter definition doesn't fly. But read on and there's some interesting history. The first patented example (1928) of a VTOL apparatus was called the "Flivver". The inventor? Nicola Tesla. Understandable if you're not frantic to know more about this, but, if you're curious, this article is worth a look.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Christmas Food Recap

It's a little silly for me to be posting this now, when we've all moved on to healthier fare. So this is being posted more as a "note to self" - and isn't that partly what a blog is all about?

I'm not sure when the creamy saffrony fennely fish thing established itself as a Christmas eve tradition in our house, but it does seem to have taken hold. Notable this year was that daughter H made it (with some overly didactic sous-chefery from me). I think it was the best ever, and she carefully wrote down what has never been an actual recipe til now. Progress!

For Christmas dinner we copied daugher G's idea - the Silver Palate pork loin roast stuffed with prunes and apricots and glazed with Madeira (actually we used Marsala, since it's what we had). I hadn't made this since their wedding (a mere 13 years ago). If I make it again I think I'll brine or marinate the pork. The "other white meat" really does seem to have had the flavor bred out of it. Not that it wasn't moist and yummy - but I think it could have been even better if the meat flavor had been richer and more pronounced. It made wonderful sandwiches afterward, though - the meat sliced thin and slathered with a lot of grainy mustard. Those are the famous "Mrs Butland's Potatoes" you see alongside. You can read about them if so inclined on Supermom's Wisconsin Cooks blog.

And, of course, the cookies. Blame it on the gods (see "Electricity" post) but I got kind of a late start, and didn't really put my heart and soul into it, knowing that we were a smallish group. Still, you can't have Christmas without cookies! We all loved the Pistachio Brittle, which I'd never made before, but will certainly make again. Perfectly easy as long as you aren't afraid of caramel. Thankfully G provided a generous hunk of the generations-old family fruitcake which everyone including diehard fruitcake-haters adores. It's one of D's new favorite things. The fruit is limited to dark raisins, dried currants, and candied citron. It's moist, dark, and redolent of brandy. The ancient recipe gives all the liquid measurements in "gills"** and exhorts the cook to "Seed, seed, seed!" the raisins. It has to be made weeks (if not months) ahead of time; Thanksgiving weekend is pretty much a "last call" for this.
It's also a good time to make the Zimtsterne (Cinnamon Stars) - my very favorite, and noticeably absent here. Nobody can make them quite like Aunt Lucy did ("how are you supposed to roll out a liquid?" asked my sister J, confronted with the recipe for the first time). I didn't get to them this year, and I regret it. The other favorite that I hadn't yet gotten to were the Zuckerkringeln (Sugar Pretzels). H put in a special plea for these, and there was no reason not to oblige - they are extremely easy. And for those who have patiently read this far expecting a recipe to appear, I'll include this one:
Zuckerkringeln (Sugar pretzels)
3/8 lb butter (1 1/2 sticks)
3/8 lb sugar (about 3/4 cup)
1 egg
3/4 lb flour (about 1 1/2 cups)
grated lemon rind to taste (one lemon is about right)

Stir butter and sugar to foamy consistency. Add egg and stir some more. Add rind. Then add flour (you may not be able to get all the flour in - save the rest for rolling). Dough should be malleable but not dry, though not overly sticky either.
Roll into 6" lengths, about 1/4" diameter, and form pretzels. (I don't twist the center, just criss-cross.) Dip top of cookie in sugar, and put on cookie sheet lined with parchment or Silpat or equivalent. Cook about 11 min @ 350. Remove immediately from pan. Cookies should be just BARELY golden brown at edges - they will firm up as they cool.
Note: This is a preKitchenaid recipe, and the long hand stirring was supposed to be a critical part (probably the reason my mother dropped the ball and refused to make some of these old recipes, though this is one she did make). I use the Kitchenaid mixer set on low to mix the butter and sugar for a very long time, and then even longer once the egg has been added. Once the flour goes in the mixing should be minimal.
** If you try to find out what a gill is you will discover that you need to know whether you are talking about the British measurement system (5 liquid oz) or the United States (4 liquid oz). Family recipes can lead one to a lot of head-scratching.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

I'm a movie star!

Well, OK. Just an extra. Still, I am clearly identifiable, sitting on the aisle right across from Tyler Hinman when he is named as a finalist in the 2005 ACPT tournament, when Wordplay was filmed. H has the DVD from Netflix and has confirmed this. I saw only a preliminary screening at the 2006 tournament and couldn't be sure.

This is a first for me on the big screen. You may, however have seen me on the small screen, competing for valuable prizes. Password, for example, in 1962 ($700 and a set of World Book encyclopedias). Ten Thousand Dollar Pyramid in 1979 (only a coffee-maker and a case of Rice-a-Roni, but I got to meet David Letterman). And Ready Set Cook! , an early Food Network game show, in 1997 (cheap blender).

I haven't actually calculated whether this all adds up to fifteen minutes total screen time or not. There may be more fame still to come - who knows?

Monday, January 01, 2007

Worst Gardening Tip of 2006

This was just too silly not to pass along! But then I remember that bag of unplanted narcissus bulbs. Where the heck is it? And is it fall yet?

Loving Little Egypt

Who will believe me when I say that I had no idea that Nicola Tesla was going to turn up as a character in this novel? The book is Loving Little Egypt, and the author is Thomas McMahon. I hadn't heard of McMahon, and can't remember now what led me to this delightful and original work. The main setting is rural Nova Scotia circa 1920, and the main character is a young, nearly-blind physics prodigy named Mourly Vold. The story recounts his efforts to get the telephone company to repair dangerous breaches of security that he has discovered while hacking into the system. Other "real" people who appear in the novel, Ragtime-style, include Einstein, Edison, Helen Keller, William Randolph Hearst, and Alexander Graham Bell. Written in 1987, the book seems eerily prescient about other kinds of communications networks, and of the potential for mischief therein. In this sense it reminded me of a more recent book, another favorite - Transmission, by Hari Kunzru.

McMahon was a scientist and inventor himself; he was a Harvard professor, both of biology and of applied mechanics. Equally at home, apparently, in the worlds of science and art, he published four novels - one posthumously. He died - unexpectedly - when only 56 in 1999. This excellent article by Amanda Schaffer is worth reading for more background on a writer who deserves to be much better known.


The new year is off to a gray and rainy start. I'm not complaining, just commenting.

And cooking.

H has requested another batch of almond crescents - and they are very easy to do, so why not? They are waiting to be iced. A loaf of the famous no-knead bread (I do dislike that name, since I think the "no-knead" part is the least of it) is in the works. I'm making a vat of potato-leek soup. What could be simpler?

Beside me I have a cup of jasmine tea, with a little honey. I must have a dozen kinds of tea in the cupboard, but my two favorites - as well as being among the cheapest and easiest to find (local Asian market) - are Jasmine and Gunpowder. So why do I bother with the rest?


Easier said than done, but it's a good mantra for 2007 - and a happy one to all.