Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Dish

My brother and his wife are visiting from England and it is great to exchange cultural literacy with them. Tonight they introduced us to an intriguing movie about life in an Australian tracking station at the time of the first lunar walk. It is informative and funny. Try to get ahold of it.

Jackson Pollock Revisited

I mentioned this artist in my last post. Now Lucy has sent me a link to an addictive site where you can click and move your mouse and create a piece of derivative art.

Thanks David for passing this one on.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Wretched Excess

Recently I wrote about the state of the American kitchen: today I am introducing someone who cares about cooking. Way too much. Meet Annabel Karmel.*

First you should know this. I paid close attention to the food my children ate. I wrote a letter to Gerbers complaining about their use of sodium in baby food. We never even had coke or soft drinks in the house. McDonalds? Maybe once or twice a year, under extenuating circumstances. My friend Sally, a nutritionist, and I spent hours discussing what we fed our children. Elizabeth still tells the story of being invited home with a new friend and being given Oreo cookies as an after school snack. Up until then she had thought it was written in the Ten Commandments and the Constitution that after school snacks were to consist of carrot and celery sticks with a chaser of sliced apples. (She started going home with Jenny regularly.)

So I applaud Ms. Karmel for a book on nutritious meals for children. Sticky barbecue drumsticks and cheesy pasta stars sound just right, but when we move on to sweet potato and carrot soup with ginger and orange, and salmon teriyaki with noodles and bean sprouts, I begin to have doubts. If you have a child-centered household, I suppose you might as well have a child-centered kitchen, but what’s wrong with cooking for the grown-ups and setting aside a small portion with fewer spices and intense flavors for the little guys.

When she gets to presentation she really loses me. I became quite a fan of Top Chef this past season and loved to watch the chefs plating their food and using a squeeze bottle to squirt the plates with brown and green goop (what is that stuff anyway?) so that the whole thing looked like a Jackson Pollock painting. They have nothing on Ms. Karmel, who can make faces out of leeks and peas (eyes), halved baby sweet corn (nose), tomato (mouth), carrot strips (hair) and green beans (mustache) all to decorate a mini chicken and potato pie .

For anyone who is interested, here’s my creed. You put a kid in bed and say “Goodnight” and you put food in front of a child and say “Here’s your dinner.” I’ve done my share of flying airplanes into hangars, but this over the top approach to food seems like an invitation to disaster. . It assumes that a nutritious meal isn’t enough and that the natural process of eating has to be made more tempting. Can’t you see young Hunter out with a new girlfriend or a potential employer telling the waiter he can’t eat his cannelloni unless they look like they are sleeping under a blanket.

It’s wrong, people. Wrong. I raised a son to be 6’7”, and he never once had a chicken sausage disguised as a snail.

*First Meals, Annabel Karmel, Dorling Kindersley Limited.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Presidential Etiquette

I am a little troubled by President Bush’s surprise visit to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. When he was in President school he must have missed the class on manners and the gaucheness of appearing unannounced on the doorstep of foreign heads of state. You didn’t see President Reagan turning up at 10 Downing Street when Margaret Thatcher still had her hair in curlers, and even Bill Clinton didn’t wander in when Tony Blair was changing Leo’s diapers.

At least Prime Minister al-Maliki knew he was going to be on TV that day, so he hadn’t taken the day off. He expected it to be a satellite hook-up, and while a lesser politician might have decided he could get away with a dark blazer and a pair of old pants, he turned out in the full get-up. Nice red tie.

If the reports are correct and the Iraqis only had five minutes warning, it doesn’t seem fair that the US contingent had weeks to prepare their statements. I know how these things work: I was a great fan of The West Wing in those early days when Rob Lowe, as the Presidential speech writer, sat around for days tweaking phrases and debating the nuances of adjectives. He did take the occasional break to date ladies of questionable character. What a set-back to the political situation if Mr. al-Maliki’s speech writer had chosen that day to take his dog to the vet or the translator had been AWOL.

Then there is the matter of lunch. If someone comes all that way, even unannounced, you have to offer him refreshments. I hope that the Iraqi government hadn’t planned on eating leftovers that day while they honed their talking points for the video conference. Perhaps they sent out for pizza.

See what a mess you make, George, when you don’t follow protocol. Where’s Letitia Baldridge when you need her?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Weekend by Lake Michigan

It doesn't get any better than this!

We spent a glorious weekend with some old—and one new—friends in a picture book house built on the dunes overlooking Lake Michigan. It was the weekend of the asparagus festival: that vegetable featured largely in our delicious meals and many pounds made its way home with us. The conversation was lively, the wine flowed freely and we got a plentiful amount of exercise walking along the sandy beach and climbing the steep walkway over the dunes from the house to the shore.

Thanks Jerry and Sally for your splendid hospitality and for deftly leading us down to the "sunset deck" at the right time to enjoy the beauty of sunset over the lake.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Off for the Weekend

But I did finally get my photos up of the trip to DC.

Back soon

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Jag blir nervös när jag ska tala svenska

The Swedish are coming! Today marks the opening of the new IKEA store in Canton. Until now the nearest IKEAs were in Toronto, Pittsburgh or Chicago. Half the mid-west will beat a path to the intersection of Ford Road and Haggerty. The problem? This intersection, congested at the best of times, is where I turn to get to Elizabeth’s house. She is just half a mile from the store and although she is dreading the traffic situation, she got to go to a “sneak preview” on Saturday and is thrilled with the goods. I’ll have to check it out.

I wouldn’t have bothered to mention this event but for the coincidence of having just finished a Swedish detective story. For the past few years I have been a fan of Henning Mankell and his series of crime stories featuring Kurt Wallander. Now I have come across The Princess of Burundi by Kjell Eriksson. There is a murder, and we do find out who done it, but the author concentrates more on the effect of the crime on the dead man’s family and the relationships of the investigating officers, all set against the social structure of modern Sweden. An article on Eriksson listed the names of other similar writers and it looks like I may have plenty to keep me busy this summer.

Kurt Wallander is based in Ystad, but he travels around to exotic sounding towns (thank you, Henning Mankell for providing a map.) The action in The Princess of Burundi all takes place in Uppsala, where the streets and districts have equally delightful names. A suspect walks “up Bangårdsgatan to the bingo hall”, and the dead man’s brother follows a suspect “up Sysslomansgatan.”

But no-one goes to IKEA.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Cooking 101

I wasn’t going to keep this up, but I do want to share with you an article which appeared in The Washington Post in March. Written by Candy Sagon, it was entitled Cooking 101: Add 1 Cup of Simplicity. The author states that “basic cooking terms that have been part of kitchen vocabulary for centuries are now considered incomprehensible to the majority of Americans.” Recipes are phasing out verbs like “sauté”, “dredge”, “braise” and “simmer” for a generation that lacks cooking skills. New York cooking teacher Richard Reuben is quoted as saying, “In my basic ‘How to Cook’ class, I get people who have only used their ovens to store shoes and sweaters. They’re terrified to hold a knife. They don’t know what garlic looks like.”

Examples abound:

At a conference last December, Stephen W. Sanger, chairman and chief executive of General Mills Inc., noted the sad state of culinary affairs and described the kind of e-mails and calls the company gets asking for cooking advice: the person who didn’t have any eggs for baking and asked if a peach would do instead, for example; and the man who railed about the fire that resulted when he thought he was following instructions to grease the bottom of the pan—the outside of the pan.
There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence and the requisite bunch of statistics (in a national survey of 1,5000 adults conducted by Betty Crocker Kitchens, 98 percent knew the abbreviation for teaspoon, but only 44 percent knew how many teaspoons were in a tablespoon.) The message is clear: cooking is a dying art.

Try telling that to the realtors who pepper (no pun intended) their copy in the Real Estate sections with the horrid and inaccurate phrase “gourmet kitchen.” Throw in the granite counters and stainless steel appliances and you have fed the domestic dream of the consumer. “If I had a kitchen like that, surely I could cook!”

I attended the wedding of the daughter of a friend who is a great cook and who has made sure that her daughters know their way around the kitchen. I was so happy to buy the bride a gift that I knew would be put to use. Meanwhile, Williams-Sonoma has grown rich on the sale every gadget and gizmo known to man, the television channels are gummed up with cooks and chefs and magazines dedicated to food and wine and cooking are second in popularity to the ones devoted to crafts and hobbies.

As for me, it has turned chilly and I must go and get my sweater out of the oven.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Memorial Day, 2006

Last Monday was Memorial Day and we celebrated in the time-honored way—a picnic.

  • A Book of Verses: check. Ernie has a nasty habit of regaling innocent bystanders at picnics with unintelligible verses from Rudyard Kipling, but thankfully he left the book at home this time. There was other literature in abundance.

  • the Bough: check. You can’t tell from this photo, but Windmill Pointe Park, where we held our festivities, has plenty of trees.

  • a Jug of Wine: check. Bottles, actually, red and white.

  • a Loaf of Bread: check. If you count corn chips.

  • and Thou: check. Plenty of Thous.

Omar Khayyam’s list is evocative of bohemian romanticism, but woefully incomplete for family gatherings.

The wine is useless without a bottle opener. Some folks prefer beer. Then there’s the non-alcoholic beer, the Coke, the Sprite and the bottled water. The little guys need juice boxes and sippy cups. We pack a large flask of coffee, which requires half and half and sugar. There’s styrofoam cups and plastic wine glasses, paper cups for the beer and all purpose cups, which I must have bought for something.

My big basket contains table cloths, paper plates (two sizes), plastic knives, forks and spoons, serving spoons, pepper and salt, maybe mustard and ketchup, napkins and a roll of paper towel.

The temperature on Monday was 92°, so we brought along swim suits and towels, swimmy diapers and regular diapers and wipes, hats and sun block. We had blankets to sit on, and folding chairs . . . and that’s before we even start talking about food!

We tend not to cook at the park. There may not be a grill available and it means schlepping down a bag of charcoal. But pre-cooked items require coolers to keep the cold food cold (no salmonella for us) and insulated bags to keep the hot food hot.

The first picnic of the year is always fun and I hope we have many more this summer. There will, inevitably, come a time when we are discussing what to do with a guest, and Ernie will say, “Make it easy on yourself. Let’s have a picnic.”