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Archive for June, 2011

Miss Bean started barking furiously on the deck while I was finishing up the pesto. Looking out towards the mountains, I saw why. A beautiful hot air balloon was floating over the valley and straight towards us!

If it wasn’t for our trees, they might have landed on our hill. We even gave the Bride and Groom balloon rides for their medical school graduation presents!

I remembered our Boar’s Head balloon ride after we fist moved here. It was an anniversary present, something from my bucket list to check off; I’d had a list before they even coined the term. I called it, “Things I Have to do Before I Die List.” I started it when I hit 50, not wanting to wait until senility set in. 

The cows would start running under trees to escape the dreaded fire-spurting, floating monster balloon; egrets would skim along our basket’s wake; tractors would spit out hay rolls underneath us; and the worst part of all, I didn’t know where we would land. Think about it. We were at the mercy of the wind, and our pilot to gently land us in an empty field. I almost had a panic attack as we started descending, skimming trees looking for open space in preparation for a landing. Then something some might call grace, others might call reality, set in and…      I let go.

There is a saying I’ve heard of, “Let go and let God.” We like to think we are always in control, but of course we are not. We might be an exceptional driver, but someone driving drunk may flip our world upside down. It’s how we handle the big challenges, a move or an illness, maybe a divorce or death – changes we all must face at one time or another – that will forge our character. And riding on the wind helped with my moving south.

I was so ready for them with a bowl of pesto primavera, but they flew on.

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Usually, it’s August when our basil crop is abundant and I have the urge to make pesto. But this year my Daughter called to get our pesto recipe last week because her pots of patio basil plants were taking over the yard. So, I pulled out The Silver Palate, my newly married cookbook manifesto, first published in 1979, the year of the Bride’s birth. It automatically opens to page 80, “Pesto,” where the binding is broken. I only change one thing in this classic, I use pine nuts, not walnuts, but it’s really up to you and what you may have on hand…ingredients:

  • 2 cups freshly washed and dry basil leaves (no stems)
  • 4 garlic cloves coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup pine nuts
  • 1 cup EV Olive Oil
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup grated Romano
  • salt and ground pepper

She made a pesto pizza; I didn’t get the recipe, but here it is! Divine!

Pesto Pizza

Now, not to be undone, I happened upon a farmer’s market on my way home one day and filled up a bag with fresh basil so I could document the pesto process – this is one of the few times I use the Cuisinart. A kitchen appliance that comes with a video on how to use it was slightly intimidating, even if it is my favorite color blue.

Pesto is easy to make but the sequence of events here is very important. First, grate the cheese, then wash and dry the basil. Put the basil, the garlic and the nuts in the food processor and chop – then with the motor running, slowly add EVOO.  Shut off the motor and add the cheeses with a little salt and a big helping of pepper. Process briefly, then scrape out the bowl and chill till you’re ready to use.

I like to make a pasta pesto primavera. Steam any bigger veggies for 5 minutes (carrots, cauliflower etc) and chop thin stalks of asparagus and fresh from the garden yellow squash and anything else yummy. First mix the pesto with the hot pasta (I like bowtie) then add the veggies.

I also added that fake packaged crabmeat, not sure what it is, pollock or surimi maybe? Then we saw a hot air balloon coming our way…

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Let’s talk about life following art, or Irish Boston Gangster follows Nordic Noir Triumvirate? Let me explain. My family loves to read. I can still remember the first time I caught my children sitting alone on the couch, totally oblivious, reading a book without any prompting. I remember clearly the first time the Bride cried over a fictional character, I’m pretty sure his bike was stolen. And when we vacation, it’s all about the books; we devour novels. From obtuse, scientific metaphorical non-fiction (Bob), to the latest and greatest fiction, we read it all. But rarely do we all read the same books at once.

Except for Steig Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy. I have to admit, I started it with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and before Kindle too.

Crime fiction was not my usual niche, but finding an author I loved, and reading absolutely everything they wrote is my MO. And I had to read more about Lisbeth Salander. What was it about this nymph of a girl, part hacker part guardian angel, that captured the world? I was devastated to learn that the author had died and this would be all we would ever hear of Lisbeth, until…Larsson’s partner, Eva Gabrielsson, revealed that she still owns his laptop computer with about 200 pages worth of a fourth novel.

And right in the middle of Eva’s promotional tour for her new book, There are Things I Want You to Know, an 81 year old Irish mob boss, James “Whitey” Bulger,  a Southie who turned into an FBI mole, is found hiding in plain sight among aging hippies in Southern California! It just doesn’t get any better than this – Sopranos meets Vikings. Like the villains in Larsson’s books,  Dr Peter Teleborian, or Nils Bjurman, her supposed guardian, evil psychopaths are lurking right where you’d least suspect them.

"Whitey"

I hear Jack Nicholson played a Bulger-like character in a Martin Scorsese movie, The Departed? I wouldn’t know, since violent movies were never my thing – I may have to change my evil ways, baby. And please don’t let the judge keep him from making a book deal!

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“We will not try to make Afghanistan a perfect place,” said President Obama. And I remembered how, almost ten years ago, I had never heard of that country, I had never heard the words Taliban or Al Quaida or BinLaden. We lived on a peninsula, a short ferry ride away from Wall Street. The Rocker was in high school. He drove out to Sandy Hook with his friends to sit on the beach and watch the Tower’s smoke billow down the shipping channel. The Bride had just graduated college, and was working in DC, when I called her to warn her about the planes. The longest hour of my life was waiting to hear she had walked back to her apartment and was safe.

So seeing these pictures, across from our Free Speech Monument, was riveting. Like my friend’s daughter who wrote, each day, the names of our fallen soldiers like a stencil around the border of her room. Like hearing that photographers would not be allowed to document the return of fallen soldiers at Dover Air Force Base. Flags could fly on cars and bridges, but a picture of a flag embracing a coffin might be too much for us to bear?  

Yes, the drawdown is a good thing. But artists must continue to hold our politicians accountable – make music, write screenplays, take photographs – draw our attention to the real cost of war.

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There came a time about ten years into our marriage, when a cardiologist gave Bob the verdict – “Limit yourself to fruits and vegetables, with spartan quantities of chicken and fish.” That’s exactly what he said, I remember it like it was yesterday. What can you do about genetics? He had an uncle drop dead of a massive MI on a ski slope at 57; if I wanted to keep him around I had to learn how to cook a little differently. He’s allowed the occasional steak, as evidenced by last Tuesday’s post, but it’s a rare event.

I was the kind of Catholic who ate frozen fish sticks begrudgingly on Fridays. So I set about learning to love fresh fish and ground turkey, and of course chicken in all its many disguises. This recipe is something I’ve come to cherish from the French West Indies: Fish au Vanilla. I know, sounds funny, but believe me, it’s delicious. And requires only one pan.

For the fish for 2 (and a part sammi dog who adores fish): a pound to a pound and a half of any firm fish fillet – mahi, scrod, dorade; I used sashimi grade tuna. Cut it into 1 inch chunks, sprinkle with some vanilla flavoring and put back in the refrigerator for a few hours.

  • Chop: 1 garlic clove, 1 shallot, 1 leek, half green pepper, 2 baby bok choy (and maybe one regular bok choy if you like the white crunchy part)
  • Saute: garlic, shallot, vanilla bean and pepper in EVOO for 2 min
  • Add: fish and fry, stirring so the fish doesn’t stick for 3-4 min
  • Pour: coconut water and white wine (1/3 cup each?) add a dollop of ginger honey and soy/ginger sauce – let simmer a minute
  • Add: the rest of the veggies, cover and simmer 10 minutes

As you can see this dish is more like a fish stew. To make a thicker sauce, add more of the soy and less wine. Add some shell fish if you’d like to make an interesting bouillabaisse. The next day it’s even better as a tuna noodle casserole your mom never could have even thought of making! Just make a a good roux with butter and flour, add grated cheese (cheddar or maybe something French?), add the leftover veggie/fish  sauce, flake the tuna, mix with some egg noodles and bake. Yum….no soup cans were harmed or opened!

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He used to play the spoons in our kitchen to my utter delight. And every Saturday he would wash and wax that kitchen’s floor. The smell of floor wax makes me think of cartoons. Many nights, after cleaning up the dishes, he’d dance with me standing on his shoes to the radio. When he came home from work at four o’clock on the dot, he would always have a surprise – a flower, a small toy, a cookie. Every single day. One summer he made me a doll house out of Popsicle sticks. Almost every night we’d play gin rummy, followed by butterfly kisses and “Don’t let the bedbugs bite” good night. If I was sick in the night, he would stay up with me until I fell back asleep. He was the only father I ever knew, Daddy Jim.

My Dad was my hero. He would never spank me, but he would chase me around the house for a good “paddy wackin,” which meant catching me until I dissolved in giggles. He never raised his voice, unless he was house-training a puppy. We would sing I Wonder who’s Kissing Her Now in the car or maybe Casey’s at the Bat. If we drove under a bridge, we’d duck our heads. My foster Mom, Nell, couldn’t drive, so Daddy took me out into the world – to the butcher, and the bakery on weekends. And to Mass on Sunday, followed by a Rocky Road sundae and the papers at Zanelli’s.

I’m pretty sure he never finished grammar school, because he had to get a job to help support his big Irish family of eighteen children. But he was the sweetest, kindest man in the universe. In the few pictures I have, he is sitting reading a newspaper, with me underneath it; or this one, holding me and a puppy.

He didn’t pose, and only knew how to tell the truth. Too old to fight in WWII, he found a job at Picatinny Arsenal, helping trains navigate their labyrinth of tracks. He would answer the phone, “Transportation Man!” He and my biological father, a pharmacist, were buddies back in PA. Robert Norman Lynn died of a brain tumor when I was a baby, and Daddy Jim drove his wife Nell over the Delaware Water Gap to save me from going into an orphanage. My husband Bob always said, “Your Dad’s a hard act to follow!” Our son’s middle name is James.

He gave me a home, after mine fell apart, and most importantly, the capacity to love.

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Photography. The Festival of the Photograph is well under way on the historic Downtown Mall in Charlottesville. The highlight of the festival is a series of blown-up photographs strung high between trees by artist George Steinmetz, a world renowned aerial photographer. Steinmetz took up flying motorized paragliders years ago in order to capture his inspiring images of our planet. Titled Wild Air, he reconnects us with nature by  shooting desert landscapes. Here are some pics from his point of view on the Festival’s website, followed by some diaphanous shots I took starting at the Free Speech Wall and sailing to a coffee shop called the Mudhouse, from mine.

Niger

Brazil

Namibia

                                                                                       and in closing, a study in black and white: Ms Beaner Schnitzel and Buddha Bear!

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