Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Rosy-Fingered Dusk

J & I enjoyed another evening outside today, with her guacamole and beer--a last little celebration before she heads off to LA tomorrow for the ECHO conference at UCLA. Even though we can't take any credit for the tea roses (I think that's what they are), marigolds, or verbena (both of which we merely transplanted), they're lovely. It's too early yet to see the sprouting bachelor's buttons, and the peppers still aren't up--not sure what will happen there, because as feared, the neighborhood cats (or other critters) have been 'molestering' the soil in the pots.

...and here, finally placed in the yard, is the "chocolate" green man I accidentally won at the BRIMS silent auction in March.

Mars Returns to the Planet Earth

So it looks like I'll be able to indulge in the occasional Twix this summer after all: after many complaints, Mars Inc. has changed its corporate mind about the rennet. Read the story here (and thanks to Rob for his comment pointing me toward this article).

Monday, May 28, 2007

There Goes Twix...

...but at least I still have Cadbury products Flake and Crunchie, which--as far as I know--will not contain rennet anytime soon. Rob just sent me this article, which announces Mars' decision to use rennet in their chocolate products in the UK. First of all, ewww!; and second, I'm allergic to the stuff! (I'm assuming US products are not affected.)

Mars starts using animal products
Some of the UK's best-selling chocolate bars, such as Mars and Twix, will no longer be suitable for vegetarians.

Also affecting brands such as Snickers and Maltesers, owner Masterfoods said it had started to use animal product rennet to make its chocolate products.

Masterfoods said the change was due to it switching the sourcing of its ingredients and the admission was a "principled decision" on its part.

The Vegetarian Society said the company's move was "incomprehensible".

Masterfoods said it had started using rennet from 1 May and non-affected products had a "best before date" up to 1 October.

Rennet, a chemical sourced from calves' stomachs, is used in the production of whey.

It will now also be found in Bounty, Minstrels and Milky Way products, and the ice cream versions of all Masterfoods' bars.

"If the customer is an extremely strict vegetarian, then we are sorry the products are no longer suitable, but a less strict vegetarian should enjoy our chocolate," said Paul Goalby, corporate affairs manager for Masterfoods.

The Vegetarian Society said it was "extremely disappointed".

"At a time when more and more consumers are concerned about the provenance of their food, Masterfoods' decision to use non-vegetarian whey is a backward step," it said in a statement.

"Mars products are very popular with young people and many will be shocked to discover that their manufacture now relies on the extraction of rennet from the stomach lining of young calves," it added.

This move really is incomprehensible, since I imagine whatever firming agent they were using before would be easier and cheaper to produce/extract than rennet, which only seems to turn up (these days) in more expensive cheeses here in the US.

In other EWWW--GRODY news, J & I watched Fast Food Nation last night, which on top of a mystery novel about an IRA job (Val MacDiarmid's Hostage to Murder) gave me some very strange nightmares....

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Saturday Night Feast

After a delightful afternoon planting things (marigolds, verbena, basil, peppers, and bachelor's buttons) in our back garden and then admiring our work from newly-de-dirted chairs sipping glasses of wine, J and I came back in to cook. Once again, simplicity ruled the day--simplicity with a fair helping of decadence.

Nice salmon, broiled. Fried potatoes. Fiddlehead ferns sauteed with shallots and a little of the white wine. Red pepper "aioli" (just roasted red pepper, garlic, olive oil, and salt--no egg, although I guess I made mine a more proper aioli by adding mayonnaise to it). And to complete the picture, fresh bread from the Italian store up the street. We ate ourselves silly.

Now I'm debating about whether to go make pancakes or not....

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Happy Second Life for Leftovers; Tropicália

Last night, to celebrate my return home J made a batch of her wonderful pesto and a pot of the quick version of her tomato sauce. We were too late to get fresh pasta from the Italian store on 7th Ave, but she also cobbled a bean dish together from spinach, red bell pepper, and cannelini beans--very simple but tasty nonetheless. I ate the beans cold for breakfast, and just now fecked the rest of the leftovers into the pot with chickpeas, more red pepper and spinach, and a little more pasta. Voila, damn good dinner!

In the meantime, I've been listening to that Tropicália album. Great stuff altogether, though not quite what I was expecting. This is a compilation done by Soul Jazz Records of London, and includes tracks from Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Os Mutantes, Jorge Ben, and Tom Zé--and only one duplicate track--predictably, Caetano Veloso's Tropicália. Definitely lots of influence from the US and UK--Beatles, Bob Dylan, etc.--which is exactly what the movement was about. (Read more here.)

In other news, I finally put the azaleas I won in the BRIMS silent auction into the ground. Let's see if they live. The best spot for them also seems to be a place popular with local critters, perhaps the tomcats who occasionally stop by to yowl at Maddie. I figure the plants stand a better chance there than in their pots, anyway. Maybe this weekend J & I will get around to planting the seeds I gave her for her birthday....

That Summer Feeling

I'm newly back from my roadtrip down South, and although I had vowed not to do much shopping (because I flew back I had limited cargo space), y'all know that didn't really stop me from picking up a few items.

Most notable among the cheap jeans, shirts, and cds is Devon Sproule's new album, Keep Your Silver Shined. I've only listened to it once, but it really does invoke a certain feeling of life in and near Charlottesville. For me, it specifically gives me "that summer feeling" of warm days, bare feet, green light filtering in from leafy trees outside, the drone of insects, and nothing to do but play tunes and eat fresh food.

And luckily, it is summer, so I can replicate at least a few of these, although I probably will still remain a little wistful. I imagine Devon's cd will be a good summer soundtrack...but next I'll have to check out the Brazilian Tropicalia cd I bought....

Monday, May 14, 2007

Starting Slowly and Tapering Off

(to quote Zan McLeod's somewhat famous words about some tune or other....)

The school year's officially over, and I'm off for a brief roadtrip. Y'all take care, now, y'hear!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Monteverdi Would Have Drooled

Last night, J & I took her parents to a class at the Institute of Culinary Education for their 30th anniversary--"Dining with Platina, Michaelangelo, and Leonardo: Italian Renaissance Cooking," ably and fascinatingly taught by Cathy Kaufman, the food historian for ICE. (I got the impression she does other things as well, but I'm not sure what.)

The evening began with a brief lecture from Chef Cathy about eating in the Renaissance--humoural medicine, how class distinctions play out in eating habits, the history of the first Italian cookbooks, etc. Some of the class seemed to be nodding off during her talk, but Jenny & I, nerds that we are, were listening attentively.

Next, she passed around some of the more obscure ingredients we'd be using: verjuice and malaguetta pepper, which figured strongly in one of the dishes J & I made--but more on that in a minute.

At this stage, we started to realize that at the table with us were several people with a great sense of humor and adventure, some shell-shocked and shy folks, and a couple of right duds. By the luck of the draw, we ended up at a cooking table with the dud couple, who were extremely snarky. Oh, well--we wound up just ignoring them anyway, which was easy enough, especially since we outnumbered them 2 to 1.

Our table's job was to complete six items: Marzipan Torta, Fava Beans, Roasted Game Hens with Sweet and Sour Orange Sauce, Cuttlefish in Black Sauce, Tomacelli (herbed calves' liver), and Frozen Wine. Jenny & I began on the wine (a granita sort of thing), and her parents set to the game hens, while the Snarks started measuring for the torta. Seeing what was next on the list (the calves' liver), I asked the Snarks (kindly, I thought) if they would mind switching off with me, so that I would do the rest of the torta so as not to be elbow-deep in things I'm allergic to. They agreed, however begrudingly, and so making the pizzelle (?) wafers on which the marzipan sits occupied me for the next while.

I won't go through a whole play-by-play here, but will cut to the meal's highlights. Of course I couldn't eat everything, but of what I ate, the standouts were the Salad of Mixed Lettuces and Herbs, the Bolognese Torte (mainly chard and cheese, with a sweetish crust), fish (not sure what) with Lombard Sauce, and the Frozen Wine. Sweet Rice Fritters were probably lovely when they were hot, but by the time we ate them they were cold and stodgy--ditto the game hens. My torta was likewise adversely affected by the delay in eating--what should have been crispy was densely chewy, although still very tasty with the marzipan itself, and the rose water I put in it. I am inspired to tweak that recipe for home use, for something that will be able to bear a delay in eating.

Of these, the standouts were the salad and the fish, and later I'll post the recipes to these. But now I'm hungry....

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Feckin' Eejit

Here's the New York Times quotation of the day:

"She gave me a look that only a mother could give a child."
--PRESIDENT BUSH , on the reaction of Queen Elizabeth II after he nearly said she had visited in 1776.

I do not know what to say.

Monday, May 7, 2007


This calls for a celebration:

I turned in my paper around 3pm today. It's not the best thing ever, but it's a start toward my dissertation proposal--so, as they say in Irish, ceart go leor! (Right enough.)

Next we're off to meet J's family for her birthday dinner--and then sleep, glorious sleep--something that's been in short supply lately.

Very Hard to Believe

Ok, if my complete and incorrigible nerdiness weren't already apparent--I can't believe that nowhere on the Internet exists that famous photo of Julia Clifford with her Stroh fiddle! Just when I need it for my paper--but oh, well. However inconvenient it is (if I want that picture in my paper due tomorrow I'll have to rush in to school and scan it in), it's also quite gratifying that no one has done any sort of work yet that could have lead to the photo being put online.

In other news, I think it's possible that Emma Donoghue might be my not-so-evil twin. Well, she and I have some of the same favorite books and movies, and tend to wear the same colors, anyway. Here's where I learned all that.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Derby Results

It's a good thing I didn't have time to figure out online betting yesterday (although I'd probably have bet no more than $5 anyway), but even though none of my picks so much as placed, I liked Street Sense's major come-from-behind win so much that I didn't care.

For the record, my picks were Circular Quay for the win, Any Given Saturday for the place, and Dominican for the show. I didn't have time to really think about them, so I based my choices on a mixture of past performance (I thought it a good omen that Circular Quay had not been over-raced), relatively non-annoying names, and I confess that NBC's spot on the Dominican nuns in Kentucky influenced my choice for 3rd. Sad but true--but I did want to see a handful of elderly nuns celebrating their namesake. (Why are nuns cute to us non-Catholics? And why is it sweet that the oldest-looking of them said that maybe if the horse won, they'd get new converts...uh.... But anyway.)

NBC's coverage was irritatingly people-focused, I found--much more so than it was when I was a teenager, when they'd focus on the horses more than on the owners, trainers, jockeys, etc. The coverage used to tell some of those stories, but with plenty of horse stuff as well, and I found it difficult to decide which horse to back without watching them move, win previous races, etc. Perhaps if I'd had more time to devote to watching ESPN or something....

Another complaint about the televised coverage is that in this day of superior technology, the picture quality--especially the long views of the track--was problematic. Grainy, prone to digital mangling, etc. At times, it looked like the footage quality of Secretariat's wins in 1973! It seems to me we didn't have this problem a decade ago, so I hope they get it worked out soon. I probably won't get to watch the Preakness and Belmont Stakes this year because I'll be in Ireland, but still.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

It's Worth Saying (Again)

...Värttinä are awesome! Luddite I am, I hardly ever pull out the albums after Kokko...right now Seleniko is totally hitting the spot, and maybe it'll even help me start writing my paper due on Monday...where there's life there's hope, and where there are singing Finns there's even more hope.

Folksingers and Breakfast Cereals

Here's an editorial from this morning's New York Times. As "Anonymous" (I know who you are!) writes in the comments to yesterday's post, it's a little strange that the press are making such a big deal of this, since inviting Joan Baez to sing at Walter Reed is a bit like inviting Jane Fonda to speak there. I'm sure Susan Sarandon isn't welcome, either, although I would guess that Bob Dylan might be, since he always denied any overt political message in those songs that have come to be foremost among anti-war songs. Would Pete Seeger be welcome?

But the question underneath all this, or perhaps the implicit commentary, is that if the Army feels threatened by Joan Baez, then the Army feels threatened, period. Would Baez have been allowed to sing back in 2003 before those pesky Weapons of Mass Destruction failed to turn up for the party?

I had to chortle at the writer's Fariña-farina joke. So obvious yet so non sequitur, so not funny that it's a total hoot.

Unwanted Folk

Published: May 3, 2007

Joan Baez sang at Woodstock. If you recognize either name, you probably already knew that. If you don’t, go to Google, then come back and help us puzzle something out.

Why would the Army be afraid of her?

Last Friday, John Mellencamp gave a concert for injured soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Ms. Baez, a friend who’d been invited by Mr. Mellencamp, did not. She was barred by Army brass, supposedly because of the lateness of the invitation, although Mr. Mellencamp’s camp suggested it was because she was considered objectionable.

Objectionable for what? To whom?

Mr. Mellencamp and Ms. Baez are both politically outspoken. Both have denounced the Iraq war. Yet Mr. Mellencamp’s activism is the kind the Army could more easily overlook. He wears a T-shirt and jeans and sings songs so down-home, so red, white and blue, that you could use them to sell Chevy trucks, which Mr. Mellencamp has actually done. “Let’s forget about any problems we might have and let’s just have a good time,” Mr. Mellencamp told his audience in what The Washington Post reported was a rousing and apolitical show.

Although Ms. Baez is as much of an activist as ever — she camped in a tree last year to stop the bulldozing of an urban farm — she would probably have shown similar tact. In a letter in The Post yesterday, she said she regretted not having given soldiers a better welcome home from Vietnam, and would have loved to sing at Walter Reed.

What is astounding is that somebody apparently could not get past the image of willowy Joan singing “Blowin’ in the Wind” nearly 40 years ago and thought troops so young they wouldn’t know Mimi Fariña from Cream of Wheat couldn’t or wouldn’t abide her presence.

They say generals are always fighting the last war. But Vietnam was two wars ago, three if you count the war on terror.

Joan Baez's Letter to the Washington Post

On the "Letters" page (A14) of the Washington Post, May 2, 2007:

Why I Wanted to Sing at Walter Reed

Regarding the April 28 Style article "At Walter Reed, Mellencamp Shuts
His Mouth and Sings":
Recently, John Mellencamp invited me to be his guest at a concert for
recovering soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I said yes
immediately. Only later did I realize how the passage of time had informed
my decision to join him.

I have always been an advocate for nonviolence, and I have stood as
firmly against the Iraq war as I did the Vietnam War 40 years ago. During
that war, I could not, in good conscience, have "sung for the troops."
Doing so would have meant condoning a war that was tearing soldiers,
civilians, this country, Vietnam and, in some senses, the world, apart. I
do not regret that decision.

What I do regret is having ignored the needs of the men and women who
returned from Vietnam. For some who were relatively unscathed, it seemed
possible to get on with life, with or without all of their limbs
But it's clear that, for many, returning was hell.

I realize now that I might have contributed to a better welcome home
for those soldiers fresh from Vietnam. Maybe that's why I didn't hesitate
to accept the invitation to sing for those returning from Iraq and

In the end, four days before the concert, I was not "approved" by the
Army to take part. Strange irony.

Menlo Park, Calif.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Less Than Three Days...

...'til the Kentucky Derby.

Has anyone picked a favorite yet?

(Street Sense beats Any Given Saturday by a nose in the Tampa Bay Derby. Both horses are in Saturday's race.)

No Joan at Walter Reed

News of this just came through the WTJU email list. Here's the Washington Post article:

Joan Baez Unwelcome At Concert For Troops
Singer Was to Perform With Mellencamp at Walter Reed

By Teresa Wiltz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 2, 2007; Page C01

When rocker John Mellencamp performed for the recovering soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Friday night, a couple of things were missing. He squelched his typically blistering rhetoric against the war in Iraq. Also MIA, as it turned out, was folkie and antiwar activist Joan Baez, who says she was disinvited from the event by Army officials.

In a letter that appears today in The Washington Post, Baez says Mellencamp had wanted her to perform with him and that she had accepted his invitation.

"I have always been an advocate for nonviolence," she writes, "and I have stood as firmly against the Iraq war as I did the Vietnam War 40 years ago. . . . I realize now that I might have contributed to a better welcome home for those soldiers fresh from Vietnam. Maybe that's why I didn't hesitate to accept the invitation to sing for those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"In the end, four days before the concert, I was not 'approved' by the Army to take part. Strange irony."

Reached by telephone yesterday at her home in Menlo Park, Calif., Baez, 66, said she wasn't told why she was given the boot, but speculated, "There might have been one, there might have been 50 [soldiers] that thought I was a traitor."

Baez, who said Mellencamp had asked her to sing two songs with him, has been an avowed anti-violence activist ever since she refused to participate in an air raid drill at her Southern California high school. In the '60s, her name became synonymous with the antiwar movement, though many of the protest songs she was famous for performing, such as "Blowin' in the Wind," were covers of Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger songs. In 1964 she protested the Vietnam War by refusing to pay 60 percent of her income taxes. In 1968, she married activist David Harris -- the two met in jail following a protest -- and moved with him into his draft resistance commune.

Walter Reed officials did not respond to several requests for comment yesterday. But in an e-mailed statement published Monday on, spokesman Steve Sanderson said the medical center received the requests for participation by Baez and broadcaster Dan Rather just two days before the concert. (Rather now works for HDNet, which broadcast the Mellencamp concert.)

"These additional requirements were not in the agreement/contract and would have required a modification," Sanderson told the magazine's Web site.

Not so, says Baez's manager, Mark Spector; Mellencamp's management invited Baez to perform in March with the understanding that things could take a while "because of the red tape of Army bureaucracy." Mellencamp's management handled all the arrangements, according to Spector. And up until April 23, when Baez was turned down, everything was "still inching forward," he said: "They'd booked her flight; they'd booked her hotel."

Mellencamp's manager, Randy Hoffman, did not return calls requesting comment, and Mellencamp was ill and unavailable yesterday, according to his publicist. But Mellencamp told "They didn't give me a reason why she couldn't come. We asked why and they said, 'She can't fit here, period.' "

"One of my more cynical friends said, 'They let the rats in, why not you?' " Baez said, laughing, referring to a recent exposé of living conditions at Walter Reed.

It wasn't the first time that a performer has been blocked from Walter Reed. In 2004, Oscar-winning actress Patty Duke was refused permission to tour the wards. She'd been scheduled to visit troops as part of an Arts Advocacy Day in Washington. USO officials later said they didn't have enough time to let the patients know that a celebrity would be visiting -- although Michael Jackson was spotted in the ward the same night that Duke would have popped in for a visit.

An HDNet spokeswoman said Rather had planned to interview Mellencamp at the hospital, but "schedule-wise we couldn't make it happen."

After the concert, Baez said, Mellencamp left her a message to say, "I hope you're not mad at me." Her response: " 'Of course not. It's an honor to be turned down by the Army.' . . . But I would have been happier getting in . . . I thought times had changed enough."

So what exactly happened?

The answer -- since Walter Reed's officials aren't talking -- is blowin' in the wind. (Sorry, we couldn't resist.)

I'm not too surprised. After all, Baez's anti-war activities are well-known and decades in duration. On the other hand, how many of today's soldiers would have any clue who she is, since she's not nearly as high-profile as she was during the Vietnam War? In any case, this article makes me want to go crank "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around"....

Or this:

$5 Bargain

As some of you know, I just bought a juicer on Amazon. I can't remember whether I posted about it or not, but I had a $25 gift certificate, and so at its full price of $30 I got a factory refurbished Waring JEX328FR Health Juice Extractor (it extracts juices from health???) for a mere $5--almost less than what I'd pay for a serving of fresh juice.

So by all counts, it's a bargain, at least as a hunk of machinery to take up counter space. How well does it work? Significantly better than $5 worth, for sure, and well worth the original price of $30, although (as plenty of reviewers on Amazon affirm) it doesn't get the most juice out of the pulp, and if I don't clean out the pulp collector fairly often it lets quite large bits of stuff pass through unpulverized. The instructions say that it can handle spinach and other leafy things, but not grass, but I haven't tried any of that yet. Cleanup is no more a pain than any other juicer I've used, including the much-worshiped Champion brand.

Caveats aside, the juice I made last night was divine, and although I am sorry to throw away all that carrot/apple/ginger pulp, with a little foresight I can use some of that material for muffins, soup base, etc.--I just have to take the extra trouble to peel anything that needs peeling (like the apples). Today I try something involving celery.

Well worth $30.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Sometimes We Like Fire...

...and sometimes we don't. Thanks to Rob for sending me the news of a fire at DC's Eastern Market yesterday that gutted part of the historic building that was one of my regular weekend destinations, along with Rob, Tina, and others. I haven't been there in several years, but have been meaning to get down there the last few times I've been in DC. Alas.

(Ok, it's a little silly for me, in NYC, to be posting about what's surely common news in DC, when the vast majority of my readership hails from the DC area, but anyway!)