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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Curious George, once and for all

Ha ha! This, clipped in its entirety from Finslippy - one of the better "mommy blogs" (not that I've made a study of them), cracked me up.

Curious George Gets Read One Too Many Times in This Household.

There was once a monkey named George. He was a good little monkey but curious, so George got into shit.

One day the Man With the Yellow Hat went out, because that's all he ever did—he simply drove off, leaving a monkey to fend for himself, like that makes any sense. Once he was alone, George became interested in something. He looked at it, but not being satisfied with looking, he then poked at it, or perhaps he rode it, or he ate it, and before long he was in serious trouble.

The Law or the Authorities or Personnel came after him, but lucky for George they were slow and ungainly and shook their meaty fists at him, which slowed them down further, and George managed to jump on top of a bus, or hide in a shirt. Just then, a larger crisis loomed, one in which (improbably) a being of monkey size and/or flexibility was needed. George helped, of course, and saved the day just as the Authorities arrived. Everyone agreed that while George is a pain in the ass and ruins just about everything, he is also good in a pinch, when one requires the services of a monkey.

Then George got a medal or a pie, having learned exactly nothing from his mistakes.

White Sun

News to me that Soviet filmmakers made "easterns", set in Siberia, that were, in a way, equivalent to our "westerns". This article from the New Statesman explains it all. Original link was from 3quarksdaily which consistently dishes up good stuff like this.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Were you admiring the flowers on the table in the previous post, hoping for a better look? I knew it! Everything here was snipped from my garden, except for the roses, which are from H's garden. In late November! If there's anything I like better than getting "something for nothing" I can't imagine what it is.

After Thanksgiving

I doubt if anyone is much interested in hearing about pies or turkey right now, so I'll be brief.

I accepted the offer of the carcass, thinking I'd make a soup. Only to discover at least five pounds of perfectly good meat still on board. So, in addition to the soup (with barley, porcini mushrooms, asparagus, carrots, tomato, edamame) there are now multiple containers of turkey chili, paprikash, and curry to fill our hungry freezers.

As for the pies, I made three. They are long gone, and were all a big hit. I can make awesome pies, practically in my sleep. New this year was the "Foolproof Crust" from Cooks Illustrated, involving 1/4 cup of vodka. I've never really been "fooled" by piecrust, but I'm always up for innovations. The vodka (substituting for half the water) is supposed to contribute to extra flakiness. It was easy, delicious, and very manageable; I'm sure I'll make it again.

I generally prefer to keep blog posts to a single subject, but in the interests of catching up I'll mention a few other things that have kept me occupied:

1. Computer maintenance. How boring is that? Well, email was getting tedious, needing major sorting and filtering. But here's the biggest change, in a nutshell: RSS feeds. When I first started reading blogs, I was convinced that a program like "Bloglines" was the most efficient way to keep track of them all. But when you subscribe to a blog as an "RSS feed" it means that you get the posts one at a time, like an email, in its own folder. You can read, save, or delete at leisure this way. I find this to be a much better system. (I use Thunderbird, which makes this very easy, but I suspect other email programs allow for it too.)

If you are a blogger, and are not set up to provide this sort of feed, I'm convinced that you're doing your readers a disservice It's an easy thing to set up. Nina, are you listening?

2. Reading. A major activity in recent months, but, on second thought, worthy of some separate posts. So never mind.

3. Mice. Oh what an exciting life I lead! Yes, I've had a mouse problem. And still do. I can still hear scuffling sounds in the attic crawl spaces. The exterminator threw little bars of green poison in there. This was enough to drive them out in the open, leading to various sightings I'd prefer to forget about. Attic scuffling, in comparison, isn't so bad. Still, I'd like them to be out of here once and for all. And though I think that getting a cat would probably be the best solution in ONE way, in another way it would seem to be adding a whole new set of potential problems and irritations (litter box, food, water, vacation care, daughters' allergies). I guess I'll throw more of those little green bars in there. Any other ideas?

Monday, November 12, 2007

The sound of one hand...

...playing the piano. 71-year-old concert pianist Izumu Tateno has resumed performing using only his left hand, 5 years after a stroke left him paralyzed on the right side of his body. Click here for a link to the Wall St Journal article, or here for a short video. Inspiring!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Accidental Masterpiece

This book has been around for a couple of years, but I've just gotten to it. Ten remarkable, readable essays on art - what it is, how it is made, how and why it is collected, how it can change us, the effort that goes into making it, and the effort that can go into viewing it - with the merest handful of black and white illustrations. I loved it. Get it and read it.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Roberts on Ruhlman with a chicken aside

I forget whether I've listed The Amateur Gourmet over there on the links, but it's a funny, intelligent, sometimes long-winded but always well-written blog by Adam Roberts, a young New Yorker who got a law degree, then a playwriting degree, and now seems well on his way to becoming a top food writer. I particularly enjoyed today's post, an interview with Michael Ruhlman about his new book, The Elements of Cooking.

Because they discuss the making of chicken soup, I will mention that I have just done the same, using the carcass of an exceptionally good ready-roast chicken from Costco. I don't go there often - hardly ever - I just don't need that much STUFF - but I had been looking for cheap tulip bulbs and thought they might have some. Wrong. Not wanting to leave empty-handed I snagged the chicken - one of the best, if not THE best, of that ready-to-eat ilk I've ever had. I think I may let the membership lapse, but I may want to sneak in with a borrowed card now and then just for the chicken.

Free Rice

Here's a great way to feed the hungry and improve your vocabulary:


How to play:
Click on the answer that best defines the word.
If you get it right, you get a harder word. If wrong, you get an easier word.
For each word you get right, we donate 10 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program.

Thanks, Sue and Georgia!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Book bonanza

So just imagine if you could go to your local library and take out as many books as you wanted - and keep them for a YEAR. Sort of like having a "free" day at Barnes and Noble!

Our little local library is closing for major renovations. Pared-down service will continue in the Women's Club - just half a block away (as compared to 2 blocks for the library). They'll still have the brand new books, the DVD's, magazines and newspapers and the magical computerized interlibrary loan system. No complaints here.


The furnace is making a strange buzzing sound. The furnace guy is "backed up" and can't come for "two or three days". I am supposed to call if it gets worse. How will that be defined? Longer, louder buzzing? Or something else?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

About Last Night

How far would you travel for a 3-hour meet-up with a group of old friends? In a noisy basement. (Sorry, kids, but I tell it like it is.) For many of us, it seems, pretty far.

There was, of course, the NY-based group: Phil, Brian, Ken, DD, Elaine, Sue, and special invited guests, the old "profs" - Tim, Steve and Barbara. And the New Jersey contingent: Philippe, Pat, Steve, me. Westchester: that would be Rob, Theresa, Diane. Long Island: Frances and Michael. But then there was Mary, all the way from Germany! And Ginette, from Haiti. And Pat (the only other grandparent, I think) came from Montana. Frank came from Michigan, Holly and Joe and Randy and Peter from St Louis. Rick came all the way from San Francisco. John and Sara from Ohio. Chris came down from Maine, and Paul and Lisa came from Boston. Tom drove down from NW Connecticut. Josie flew up from South Carolina. And there were, of course, all the assorted spouses and partners.

Talk wasn't just about architecture. This is a fifty-ish crowd, and there are concerns about college admissions. Kids. Juggling home and work. Lots of us are gardeners, it seems. And painters. And golfers! There must be something really special about those intense three years that made us all want to try to recapture it all. To try to bring back the magic, just for a few hours. Oh that's starting to sound corny and stupid. But trust me. It was absolutely wonderful.

Today there will be a reunion of another kind: the solvers and constructors from http://www.doublecrostic.com/! We are, for the most part, "virtual" friends! We met like this once, a few years ago, to celebrate the 1000th puzzle. Now there have been over 2000 and it's time for another party. I need to check the marathon route to make sure I can get to the upper east side by noon without any hitches. And I'm grateful for the extra hour of sleep.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Problem-solving: Crepes

Some of the best food in town is to be had at the local creperie. The lemon and sugar crepes are fabulous, but so are the croissants, soups, salads. And the coffee! The ambiance, though, is not so great. It's really more of a take-out place. True, in good weather you can sit outside, but there's that gas station across the street. And then there's the issue of the paper plates....

Crepes are easy enough to make - I still have and use the special steel crepe pan I bought when we lived in Brooklyn Heights, probably around 1965. Trouble is, the crepes it makes are smallish - about 7", so you end up having to make quite a few of them to have an impact. Which means they're a bother. These crepes are BIG! And you only need one of them. How do they do that?

I decided to watch the crepe guy in action.

Right away I noticed quite a few things that were radically different in his approach. First, he has two HUGE round flat griddles that are in continuous operation. Second the crepes are cooked on what seems to be VERY LOW HEAT. (Not what traditional recipes suggest.) He pours the batter onto the heated surface, spreads it out to the edges with a special little wooden crepe "rake". Then he lets it cook undisturbed for longer than you would imagine. Finally when the underside is set and slightly browned (you can lift the edge once in a while to peek), he turns it over with a long spatula and IMMEDATELY adds whatever filling is to be used (the order I watched involved spreading the crepe with Nutella and then slicing a banana over the surface). Once again, he lets it cook for a while, casually turning his attention to other matters. Finally, when it seems finished, he folds the four edges in toward the center, making a neat square package, and slides it onto a plate, garnishing with whatever sweet or savory thing is appropriate: powdered sugar, grated cheese, a wedge of pineapple, whipped cream, a bit of salad....The end result is one huge perfect crepe - plenty for a single serving.

I can do that, I thought! Trouble is, I needed a huge flat pan. I tried it with my largest non-stick skillet, but it was only 10". It worked, but it still wasn't quite big enough. I ended up having to make extras. I wanted it BIGGER! So off I went to ebay and found a 12" aluminum non-stick pan for 9.99. They even had a 14-incher, but I was afraid it wouldn't fit on my stove. I had to pay 9.00 for shipping - but - guess what! It came TODAY, less than 48 hours after I placed the order, so I got to try it out.

I won't keep you in suspense (if by any chance you're still reading). The result was perfect. I sauteed some apple slices for the filling and added lots of powdered sugar at the end. The batter is made in the blender - half a standard recipe. Here's how:

Melt a blob (1T) of butter in the microwave. Put 1/3 cup flour in blender. Now add 4/9 cup milk (fill the 1/3 cup measure, then add another third of a third). Crack an egg into the mix, add a spoonful of sugar and a pinch of salt and the melted butter. Blend til smooth then (ideally) let it sit for half an hour or even a day or two.

Cook as above using a lightly buttered 12" nonstick pan. Just tilt the pan to swirl the batter around to cover the bottom - no rake needed. Makes 2 12" crepes. (Make the second one after you've eaten the first and save it for another day - just heat it up in the same pan and add the filling).

NOTE: That's not a crepe in the photo; it's a particularly toothsome apple-apricot pastry.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Another Reunion

Another reunion is coming up. My architecture school class is holding its 25th this weekend. As far as I know, I'm the only woman in my undergraduate class to go to architecture school - though it was seventeen years later that I began, in 1979.

I learned so much in those three years. A new way to see, and to think about the world. It was intense and incredibly exciting.

But it wasn't easy. I had to commute by bus and subway an hour a day EACH way, often staying until late at night at the studio, leaving only in time to catch the last train home at midnight. My daughters were 12, 10, and 7 when I started. Somehow I considered them to be mature enough to manage without any special day care arrangements and - remarkably, and to their enormous credit - they DID manage. What was I thinking? My husband had never bargained for such a life, and it is also to HIS enormous credit that this queer and unexpected business worked out as well as it did.

Amazingly, I graduated. But the summer of 1982 wasn't a good time to be looking for a job in architecture. Any firm that was hiring wanted people who knew how to DO stuff. And since it was all I could do to just get through school, I had never was able to work at a part-time job (as most others did) in order to get the needed practical skills.

In time I began to work on an ad hoc basis for this small firm where I worked on the kinds of projects I enjoyed and felt most comfortable with - residential renovations and additions. This kitchen is a project that I was most proud to have been primarily responsible for, though it's my understanding that the house has since changed hands and undergone further renovations, most likely obliterating my work. Sigh. I read once that buildings are the most fragile art and that paper is the most enduring artifact over time; I think it's true, though one would tend to think just the opposite.

I can't wait to see the old gang; they're all older now than I was then, though of course I still think of them as kids. Many have gone on to brilliant careers and have made some beautiful spaces. And I'll be especially interested to hear from the women. Coincidentally there has just been a symposium at the MOMA about women in architecture. The NYT report tries to find reasons for optimism, but their foreboding headline for the event is "Keeping Houses, not Building Them", and the overall conclusion is discouraging, suggesting that for women in the profession there is still a glass ceiling that "has yet to be scratched, much less shattered", despite their roughly equal numbers in the schools. Can this be true?