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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Somewhere in Kansas there's a woman on a green recumbent bike...

I got a postcard from Kansas today. This is how my friend Judy is spending her vacation: she's on a bike ride, alone, traveling 850 miles from Colorado City to St. Louis. The trip is part of her ambitious plan to bike all the way across the United States in stages. She's doing it in stages. Her previous vacation got as far as St. Louis - she decided to do this next leg west-to-east, since Colorado is mostly uphill from Kansas.

There aren't a lot of hotels or restaurants in the eastern plains of Colorado, so on her lime green recumbent bike (handmade to her specifications by the same guy who rigged a catchment water system on her roof) she packed a lot of trail mix and energy bars and a kind of sleeping bag I'd never heard of:
A Bivouac is a lightweight sack or bag which is an excellent choice if you do not want to take a rest or spend the night inside a tent. Also called a bivi bag or bivi sack, a Bivouac is usually used by minimalist campers and mountaineers, and for solo trips.
I can't help worrying about her - but I guess if she's gotten as far as St. Louis, she can go the distance. Judy's the toughest woman I know. Her other vacation project: climbing to the highest point in each state. (I think she's done about 40 of them, including Alaska. The lowest one was Florida, a mere 400 feet above sea level.) She raised three sons pretty much by herself in a converted tobacco barn without running water. Three little boys, winter, an outhouse - think about it.


Monday, June 25, 2007

Mike does Illustration Friday: "Camouflage"

Mike's foray into protest art. We were working on "decals" - you paint matte medium or GAC over the surface of a newspaper picture, a couple layers, let it dry, then soak and rub off the paper backing. The image remains in the plastic layer of GAC which you can then paste onto your canvas and paint over.

(Mine was a bust so I'm not posting it.)

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Dear diary...

Someone called last night, a bit concerned, pointing out it's not often I let so many days go by without checking in at Pratie Place. Truth is, my laptop's been down in the studio, hooked up to a new interface that allows recording directly into the computer using good recording mics, and I've been too lazy (till now) to disconnect it.

Bob and I love the awful songs we're arranging for "We Did It," our murder ballad cd (fyi, the cover I'd been painting for weeks) but the project feels like, oh I dunno, eating a lot of horseradish and anchovies. To right the cosmic balance, we're simultaneously working on a sampler cd of songs and tunes for weddings - you know, processionals, recessionals, major keys, happy endings...

... so we named it "Hearts' Delight" after an early English country dance from the Playford Collection (I think), and also a line from one of the songs: "My heart's delight in my arms at night." Here's the rough for the cover.

(I mused about subtitling this one "the triumph of hope over experience" but that's an unworthy thought, more suited to the cd Beth and I did years ago, "Courting Disaster - centuries of failed love songs.")

Squirrel update: I trapped seven since my outraged post of last week. They are mostly living over by the Waldorf school now, probably... My doubt about their location stems from a frightening factoid somebody shared with me: that squirrels can travel 40 miles back to their home ground. I hope something distracts my particular deported squirrels from such an epic re-migration, they were exceptionally smart and were teaching their terrible tricks to the whole community.

Saturday I went to Menticia's sister's birthday party - seventeen nine year old girls! Gevalt! They were playing twister, so much noise! Menticia's mother looked a bit drawn - she'd been cooking for two days. "I couldn't sleep last night because mom and my uncle were cutting up the cow's head," Menticia had told me. I was worried about the choice I anticipated: (a) eat tamales made of chopped up cow's head or (b) refuse to eat tamales made of chopped up cow's head and look like a hypocrite, because I'm always telling Menticia "at least TRY some!" and she'd notice... however, I had to leave for a gig before the tamales came out so I was saved from the grim choice.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Or maybe I'm just selecting for squirrels that don't like peanut butter.

Now commences in earnest the quest to reduce the number of bold genius squirrels hoovering up sunflower seeds on my kitchen porch. Here is the latest, ready for removal.

The last straw: discovering that by scaling my screen door and jumping, HARD, he can attain the rafters of my porch roof and gorge on suet, one squirrel at least has made 100s of vigorous trips up the screen. Which is now completely busted.

In 2005, I caught 34 squirrels. In 2006, owing to Zed's lyrical, histrionic guilt-trips, I caught but three. I caught three in the last two days. I'm taking them to the same place so they can meet up there again and joyously say, "Ah, you've come to the New Land!" and ask the recent arrivals: "How are things in the Old Country?" and smoke and reminisce. It will be a fine life.

Is it really true squirrels can find their way home from miles away, or is this a paranoid delusion? How would you really know it was the same squirrel?

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Mike does Illustration Friday: "Rejection"

While I was doing the rat heraldry, Mike was supporting the team and painting this for Illustration Friday. As (almost) always, click for a larger view.

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Zed's birthday heraldry, with rats.

When I get nervous and anxious, I like to paint fussy little things with little or no thought required. I thought this plaque, with Zed's favorite animals on it, would do the trick. Better than getting sloshed (I assume). As (almost) always, click for a larger view.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Hannah: In Which Farmer Len Returns to my Good Graces

Farmer Len gave me enough greens this week for a lovely salad and a stir-fry of greens, plus some herbs for the freezer. We can be friends again, Farmer Len.

Music alone shall live never to die.

Extracts from
The Boys in the Band Are in AARP
By Katie Hafner for the New York Times, June 17, 2007

The classic American midlife crisis has found a new outlet: garage-band rock 'n' roll.

With one son at college and Darren, 17, finishing high school next year, Mr. Reis said he can think of no better way to spend middle age. "What do other people do?" he asked, as if only vaguely aware of his other options, none of which appeal to him in the least. "A fancy car? An affair?"

NAMM, a trade group that represents music retailers and equipment manufacturers, has noticed the increasing numbers of middle-aged rockers, and now oversees what it calls the Weekend Warriors program, a six-weekend series designed specifically for baby boomers to get back into playing in a band — or start playing in one. The program brings would-be rockers into music stores around the country and provides gear, rehearsal space, coaches and, for those in need, additional band members.

Mr. Lamond said the program has burgeoned in recent years, as the rock 'n' rollers of the '60s and '70s become empty nesters with time and disposable income on their hands.

Part of recapturing lost innocence means laboring under an illusion or two. Mr. Lamond recommends that the practice rooms be free of mirrors. "You don't want to be playing your guitar, feeling like you're 20 all over again, then look in a mirror and see some paunchy balding guy," Mr. Lamond said.

There are a few advantages to being an aging rocker. For all its attendant angst, midlife can be a surprisingly stable platform from which to play out. Instead of smashing a guitar onstage, you're more likely to forget your reading glasses.

"There's no drama," said Carol Cheney, 43, a nurse who moonlights as a singer in Alter Ego, a seven-piece band in the Boston area composed of middle-aged parents. "We're all at the crest of our life. Everyone is settled. We're just very comfortable with each other."

And it's easier to afford decent equipment. Alter Ego, for instance, practices at the large suburban home of one of the members, a successful insurance executive whose spacious basement is outfitted with copious amounts of professional-quality amps, mixing boards and mics.

"Credit cards and old stock options help make up for all the cool toys we did without when we were young," Mr. Lynd said. "Tuners, effects pedals, multiple axes, stands that cost more than my first car."

Then there is the general improvement in the realm of logistical skills. "When I was a teenager in a band, nobody had his act together," Mr. Lynd said. "Bookings were always botched. You only realized the band stuff didn't fit in the station wagon when you were already late."

By and large, the children of the band members, some in bands of their own, approach their parents' newfound passion with surprising equanimity. "Every single one of our kids thinks it's very cool," said Ms. Cheney, whose band plays many of its own compositions. "They actually like the music we do."

Saturday, June 16, 2007

[Hannah]: Recent Paintings


I don't have a working camera right now, so it took me a while to get these posted. I cannot afford a camera because I spent 100% of my discretionary income this month on chives.

Actually, the farm produce looks much better this week. They gave me enough lettuce and kale for an entire salad! That would maybe even feed two people! Plus enough oregano for an entire, um, whatever it is you could make with oregano.

The landscape is the Yorkshire dales; the portrait is three of my little cousins at the beach in Massachusetts.

On achieving the shmaltz-grub

Quedar bañada en oro: to be bathed in gold

This expression was used, in one of our telenovelas, by a happy widow speculating on the fabulous inheritance she would shortly be receiving. (This being a telenovela, she, of course, didn't get it - it's all going to a beautiful, deserving daughter born on the wrong side of the blanket.)

In a story from "Motl the Cantor's Son" by Sholem Aleichem a much different sort of widow - a kindly, humble, indigent widow - enthused that her son, by marrying the moustached daughter of a fat crass wealthy baker, was at last falling into a shmaltz-grub.

Shmaltz-grub: a pit of chicken-fat

Sounds a little gross to me, but I thought of it Thursday when Menticia and I came into my house in the early evening and, through the kitchen door, saw a squirrel sitting in the tray of my birdfeeder ecstatically stuffing sunflower seeds into his maw. He had located and attained the shmaltz-grub.

My indignant astonishment - and awe - was owing to the fact that in the seven or eight years since I came up with the perfect anti-squirrel situation, no squirrel has EVER BEFORE managed to get into this feeder. Despite thousands of tries by hundreds of squirrels.

I shouted in rage and banged on the door and the squirrel madly flung itself to the ground and vanished.

Later, when things had quieted down, Menticia and I observed its technique. It climbed the screen on my door (now busted - and there's no moneyback guarantee on damage caused by squirrel attacks), perched on an itty-bitty outdoor light, and launched itself completely horizontally a distance of fully eleven feet. You can see traces of his former launching pad - just the white and black wires now because I instantly took down the light - on the clapboards to the right.

I thought taking down the light would solve the problem, but once the squirrels knew it was possible to achieve the shmaltz-grub their attempts increased exponentially. They threw themselves onto the baffle and, little by little, lowered it somehow (I think) and soon other squirrels, not just the original genius Evel Knievel, were achieving nirvana.

My ex-husband's brother and his wife came to dinner last night and helped me raise the baffle again, but the squirrels were back in the feeder this morning. The brilliant, industrious squirrel community has cracked the code.

I blame this all on Zed. I used to trap squirrels on my porch - I trapped 34 the first year and took them off to establish emigré communities elsewhere. This prevented large-scale assaults on the feeder. But Zed got on me about the poor little orphaned squirrels back home... waiting patiently for their mothers... mothers who were never to return... waiting... waiting...

So I stopped. And now look!

My trap is a bit twisted after assaults by raccoons so it's less perfectly engineered than it used to be. There are chipmunks living here too, now; they're small enough to sneak in, spring the trap, eat peanut butter, and escape through the side.

Here you see three of my opponents, waiting for me to leave. Just another proof that there's no such thing as a happy ending. Or maybe, if you adopt the squirrel's perspective, the moral is exactly al reves.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

[Hannah]: Step Right Up! Help Us Get a Handle on those Filthy Young People!

I have been trawling job postings lately and actually enjoying it quite a bit. What says more about the world we live in than what we are willing to pay each other to do?

I particularly enjoyed the job posting below. Note the experience requirements.


Education: No minimum requirement
Location: New York, New York, 10017, United States
Posted by: Entertainment Software Rating Board
Type: Full time
Last day to apply: July 18, 2007
Last updated: June 11, 2007
Language(s): English
Job posted on: April 19, 2007
Area of Focus: Art, Architecture, Music, Consumer Protection, Family and Parenting

Help Empower Parents to Control the Media Their Children Consume

This position is for those who would like to help parents make informed media decisions for their children. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is the non-profit organization that assigns ratings for content and age-appropriateness to virtually every computer and video game sold at retail in the United States and Canada. The ESRB Rater is naturally critical to the process, which yields ratings that millions of parents trust and rely upon to help them choose which games they deem appropriate for their children and family.

Summary of Position – The Rater is responsible for reviewing ESRB rating submissions, providing feedback regarding age appropriateness, and discussing the appropriate rating assignment with colleagues. The Rater will also be required to test final product and create video clips of his/her findings.

Duties and Responsibilities
· Reviews video submissions provided by publishers
· Discusses the appropriate rating assignment in a small group setting
· Evaluates submissions within the context of previous rating assignments
· Helps draft explanatory briefings on ratings
· Tests final product of submitted games
· Creates video footage of final product tests

Special Skills Required
· Experience caring for children and general knowledge of child development
· Ability to communicate effectively, both in writing and orally, articulate and support his/her opinions, and work well in small group settings
· Strong critical thinking and analytical skills
· Physical capability to use all video game consoles, handhelds, and other devices
· Knowledge of media (Film, TV, Music, Games, etc…)
· Interest in video games

· College Graduate
· Parents

How to Apply:
Please email resumes to Please state "Idealist - Resume" in the subject line.

I think I would be an excellent candidate for this job. I could give them lots of great opinions on the amount of sex and violence The Children should be able to see on their computers.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Hannah: The Rural Fantasy, Cont'd

Hold onto your hats, folks. This week my farm is sending me:

Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce
Grape Leaves
Italian Oregano
Garlic Chives

Just like last week! I don't think i can persuade my boyfriend to eat any more stuffed grape leaves, unfortunately. We made some last week and since they have to cook for an hour, the flavor boiled right out of them. It was highly unimpressive.

Perhaps I will be able to feed them to my roommates...

When arugala salad is not enough

Reading this, I instantly remembered "Supersize Me" - the guy was so tired of the kale sandwiches his organic vegan girlfriend devotedly put on his plate, well, I think he decided to make the movie just so he could stuff his face with cheeseburgers.

It also reminds me of the old song, "Everything old is new again..."

So anyway, the ad next to this article demanded of me, or promised me: "Be your thinnest this summer!" Which reminded me that the battle between arugala salads and cheeseburgers is just another reflection of Wall Street's axiom: that we are prisoners of fear and greed. Fear, in this case, that we might someday (gasp) die - or get fat, which may be worse - and greed for delicious drippy meals.

So will the wheel turn? Will a figure like Marilyn Monroe's ever come back in fashion? Maybe not, but I bet eventually images of today's beauty queen - which is to say, some incredibly thin woman with huge breast implants stapled under her skin and a botox forehead - will make folks hoot with laughter.

Extracts from
Fat, Glorious Fat, Moves to the Center of the Plate
Frank Bruni for the New York Times, June 13, 2007

These are times of bold temptation, as well as prompt surrender, for a carnivorous glutton in New York.

The menu at Momofuku, which also opened last year and seems to capture the culinary zeitgeist as well as any restaurant, has not only sweetbreads ... but also a veal head terrine that resembles a gelatinous amalgam of everything your mother ever told you to trim from a chop and shove to the side of your plate. That same description applies to a terrine of oxtail and pig's foot at Trestle on Tenth.

[At] the new restaurant Resto, some genius — and I am most certainly not being facetious — decided that deviled eggs aren't sufficiently rich on their own. No, they need amplification, and of course they need meat, so they're placed on rectangles of pork jowl. One more thing: these rectangles are deep-fried. At a certain point, I suppose, there's no turning back.

It's as if decades of proliferating sushi and shrinking plates, of clean California cuisine and exhortations to graze, have fostered a robust (or is that rotund?) counterculture of chefs and diners eager to cut against the nutritional grain and straight into the bellies of beasts.

Its Timothy Leary might well be David Chang, the chef at Momofuku, where steamed buns are filled with strips of pork belly. Or maybe it's Zak Pelaccio, the chef at the tellingly named restaurant Fatty Crab. One of its best-selling dishes, called the fatty duck, takes strips of a bird not exactly known for its leanness, dusts them with cornstarch and deep-fries them.

The "crispy pork" with pickled watermelon in a dish that Fatty Crab mockingly labels a salad amounts to cubes of fried pork belly, and the rest of the menu (pork ribs, small burgers doused with mayonnaise and aptly named fatty sliders) works a similarly clogged vein.

Resto's executive chef ... is a fellow cholesterol enthusiast ... In addition to putting pork jowl below deviled eggs, he grinds fatback into the restaurant's burgers and combines pigs' head meat with mayonnaise in sandwiches served on toasted brioche.

"Lardo is sought after, and it no longer raises people's hackles," [Maria Battali] said in a recent phone conversation. "People finally realize that fat is truly delicious, particularly pork fat."

There's also the Spotted Pig, a Greenwich Village gastropub in which Mr. Batali is an investor. The British chef April Bloomfield guides its kitchen, which turns out roasted pork sandwiches, hamburgers dripping with melted Roquefort and toast slathered with chicken liver.

Servers didn't bother to carve the mountain of meat. They didn't give us any delicate way to do it, either. They just plopped it in the center of the table, handed out sets of tongs, left us to our own devices and let the pig scatter where it may.

It was an ugly scene, and it was a beautiful one. We lunged at the flesh. Tore at it. Yanked it toward ourselves in dripping, jagged hunks, sometimes ignoring the lettuce wraps on the side so we could stuff it straight into our mouths. We looked, I realized, like hyenas at an all-you-can-eat buffet on the veldt, and I wasn't surprised to notice other diners staring at us. A man in one group flashed back to his two previous dinners. "I had suckling pig in Boston on Saturday," he said. "I had a pork chop at Inoteca last night."

He paused for a beat, then added: "It's a lifestyle choice."

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

More gems from the folks at Caray Caray!

Some of these were collected by Marycelis. They are from the recappers and the people who leave comments at Caray, Caray! my telenovela blog.

Puny, moribund Angel snoops around Don Max's office and I must say he looks dreadful. He looked better when he was about to die. At least Sexy Nurse Susi used to wash his hair.

When Angel and Emilio are alone Angel whips out the incriminating red folder. Emilio looks at it and shows no emotion whatsoever, but the background music tells us that he is muy impactado.

The 2 person recap reminds of two runners collapsing and helping each other across the finish line.

Ok. So, Rod has been sexually repressed--talk about feeling someone's pain-- for nearly 3 years now. I would say the dam should be about to burst if Gavi ever makes it back to the DF. Caveman style would be my guess right now, unless the scriptwriters are all metrosexuals and/or Sofia types.

Evidently, becoming a psychiatrist in Mexico involves a process similar to entering the Miss Universe contest. I'm pretty sure that there must be height and weight restrictions. And I think that Sophie should go to the local community college, get some training, and get a job. [Perhaps the ever-groveling Elvira could point out to Sophie that this is how the rest of us non-Montalvos pay for life's necessities [twinsets, hair products, tequila, CFM boots, etc.].

Three minutes later, and back to Lety in the parallel universe. She's wearing a light green gown with what I believe is called a keyhole neckline showing a bit of cleavage; flaming red (almost purple) hair; enough makeup to kill an Avon lady AND a Mary Kay lady; properly tweezed eyebrows; a hairless upper lip; and a fur coat. Her glasses are gone - I don't know if they just happened to have her contact lens prescription on hand, or if her vision is better than we had been led to believe, or if the tension on her braces had been so tight that it strained her eye muscles and now they're all better now.

Emilioooo and Alina finally stop praying and sit down. Emiliooo asks her if she loves him and he wants the truth. Um, hasn't this been covered? LIKE A MILLION TIMES? Cripes these people can't remember what happened five minutes ago. She doesn't answer in .005 seconds so he says "Answer me!" Yeah Emiliooo women LOVE that.

After the commercial, we get to hear Angel's deep inner thoughts. "She thinks I'm dead. I'm not. Alina is suffering." It kind of sounds like a Mexican Incredible Hulk. "rrrRRrr Hulk not dead."

Wow, nothing like an ultimatum to completely freeze up a hopeful mother's ovaries. Doesn't Aaron know that stress is very bad in this kind of situation? I hope he's shooting blanks and when he finds out he becomes so emasculated that his pitito will shrivel up and blow away in the desert wind.

Also – this window has crossbars made of balsa wood. Elias couldn't have attached THAT with his mighty +1 pickaxe of excellent escaping? No, he has to go after the one part of the barn made of steel. Soledad herself could just kick out this window and be on her way.

Out in the night, all the servants of la Rinconada and apparently some workers too, are running around with lit tree branches, as Chris pointed out, like the villagers looking for Frankenstein's monster. These branches must have some special property since they only burn at the tip and never consume the wood, as if they had their own fuel supply inside.

Yes, it's Santos the wimp! He knows how to lasso! He's on his white horse and he drags Castulo around behind him. But wait, what the??? He actually allows Castulo to stand up and get free. Santos you magnificent dumbass, you complete and utter asshat! You're a wimp and now Castulo's going to kick your skinny behind.

Haaaa Orlando says he's tired of looking everywhere for her, "I'm going to take a bath." What is he a woman or what? Calgon take me away. A man would typically say "I'm going to go find something to hit" or "I'm going to go get drunk." I'm not sure "I'm so irritated, I'm going to take a bath" really pushes up Orlando's reading on the macho-meter.

Thanks , Margaret. Exactly why is Emiliooo going after Loco NOW ? He's been just kind of ignoring him since the show began many, many moons ago when dinosaurs still roamed the land....or does it just seem like this telenovela has been droning on that long ?? And, THE BOTTLE of unnamed potion looks like a bottle of Prell to me. It is the exact same color as Prell. Maybe Luba shampooed the guy's son to death.

Aiiii! i just made a note to myself if ever i am to drink a bottle of Luba's Prell I will make sure she has the antidote ready AHEAD of time .... it's not ready, no one else knows how to make it, and she doesn't have all the ingredients, and then she decides to have her final fight with the ugly smelly guys ....hey Thelma, can i borrow a cup of herbs?

Also I have decided that Lety & Aldo belong together and I am quite happy about fact I think they would make great neighbors ... kinda like Ned Flanders is to the Simpsons ... you know, Aldo would cook all kinds of awesome stuff and invite you over, you could probably dump the kids there for six months at a time, I bet Aldo would even mow your yard ... And no matter how you let yourself go ... Well, you'd still look better than the neighbor lady ...

About the secret sign-in letters. Exactly how secret are they if you look at them and ... there they are? What is the point. As someone mentioned the only ''secret'' part I've noticed is that I sometimes am not sure if I am looking at a secret ''i'' or a secret ''j''. I suppose they would be useable to anyone who does not know the alphabet. Oh, and let's keep this a .... secret ... okay ???

People sure like to lay down and die in this show. Maybe disorganized, stoned Luba put a spell on them, or maybe they got a hold of her pakalolo and got too high, that's why they just let themselves sink to the bottom of the swamp. At least there are no pesky bodies to dispose of like with huge Castulo.

Advance for tomorrow: The doctor says Duhlina is dead. Soledad slumps to the floor and Duhmilio practically gets a hemorrhoid trying to look anguished.

Thanks to Univision. There's no other language we can all learn just by turning on our tv subtitles and kicking back and watching gorgeous people shag and stab each other while spouting off helpfully repetitive speeches.

Cut to DonLoco spewing blobs of whipped cream out of his mouth. The guards restrain him as he foams and shouts "that bastarda is not mine!" Dra. Loca rushes in and tranquilizes him. I think his white frothy sputum is yogurt, not whipped cream, it's getting runny and dribbles down his chin. Dra. Loca orders the nurse to draw his blood and then thought bubbles "only the truth will cure him." The truth never worked too well before. She's in for some nasty surprises.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

A sign that will not be seen in Manhattan.

Found at The Archer Pelican, a blog written by one of the most personable, welcoming, friendly guys I know.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

[Hannah:] Why We Shouldn't Take Our Rural Fantasies Too Seriously, Part II

As I wrote earlier, I recently joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), which basically means I bought shares in a farm for the upcoming season. I paid Farmer Len up front for the whole season, and every week from June until October, he is going to bring fresh vegetables and organic herbs into the city and I can just go pick up whatever is my share.

Farmer Len warned us not to expect too much at the beginning of the season, because, like, there's not much that's harvest-able yet. So I really really tried not to expect too much.


--Ten grape leaves
--A bunch of oregano
--A bunch of chives
--A handful of lettuce
--A handful of kale.

Clearly, Farmer Len is doing his best. But this was a little bit tragic. It was even more pathetic when the volunteer staffing the booth told me, "We have a freebie this week: clover flowers! Go ahead and take some clover flowers home!"

I don't know what was sadder - the idea that someone expected us to be excited about taking home clover flowers (they weren't even on a stem - just those white flower-heads sitting in a wicker basket) - or my mental image of Farmer Len desperately scanning around his just-planted fields for something to satisfy the 150 New Yorkers impatient for their first fix of the rural life for the season. ("I know... I'll pick them some clover flowers!")

I had a little fit about this, but really, he did warn us that this was exactly what a harvest was going to look like during the second week in June.

And if you think about it another way, if I'd gone to the Union Square Whole Foods for a bunch of oregano and a bunch of chives, I would have paid $10.50.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Stupid pastime for a Saturday morning...

I was limply lying on my bed after serving breakfast to the six sixth-graders who spent the night here last night - I couldn't believe how many pancakes they packed away - and found myself a stupid pastime:

Visit and enter your name to find out how common your first and last names are. My son's name comes up: "There are zero people in the U.S. with your name." Maybe the site isn't able to count young people who haven't bought things on credit (for instance) yet.

I'm the only one of me... How about you?


Friday, June 08, 2007

[Hannah:] Why We Shouldn't Take Our Rural Fantasies Too Seriously

As I wrote last week, I just bought into a CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] for the season. This means that every week, a farm in New Jersey will deliver my "shares" of whatever they're harvesting this week to a farmer's market five blocks away from my door. Sounds great, right? Everybody wins and you get a little bit of rural fantasy in your urban life.

The problem is the first couple weeks. It's a farm. There is really not a lot ready to go in early June. There is a particularly painful dissonance this first week, when the bill for the entire season is on my credit card, and all I get is:

1) Chives
2) Grape Leaves
3) Two kinds of lettuce.

The farm seems to understand the tragedy of this, and it has sympathetically posted on its website several different recipes for stuffed grape leaves. I guess that's what we'll be cooking this week...

Illustration Friday: "Suits" (aka "We Did It")

Some folks asked for an update of the album cover I was working on. It's still not finished but I'm happier with it. A friend said the cave looked like, ahem, the Gigantic Ladyparts of Doom, so I started trying to change it but got caught midstream.

Anyway: since there are a lot of "suits" in this picture I thought I'd post it today.

Click it for a slightly larger version.


Math project: making Mexico out of chocolate cake.

Hard to believe: Menticia told me her final math project of the year was to make a map of Mexico out of cake, with her friend's help. The map had to have landforms and rivers, and it had to have a legend, and everything had to be edible.

At first she insisted we use a "Tres Leches" recipe, but I convinced her such a soggy cake would not be easy to put frosting on. We chose, instead, the "Texas Sheet Cake" recipe below.

Since the cake had to be very large, we doubled the recipe (math!), made two 9x13 pans, and put them next to each other. Menticia and her friend - who had never before cracked an egg in her entire life - each made one cake. Here they are boiling the cocoa with butter and water.

Then we made a whole lot of icing and they went off to play while the cakes baked and then cooled under a fan.

My idea for getting Mexico onto the cake: we printed a map from the internet, drew a grid on it, then drew a larger grid on a piece of layout paper as big as two cake pans put together. I showed Menticia how to copy what she saw in each square and soon we had a large map of Mexico.

Then she and her friend cut out the bit of the Pacific Ocean which would be on the left and put it on the cake and sifted confectioners sugar over the boundary between sea and land. When they took the piece of paper off, there was a clear sugar-dust outline and they put blue icing up to that boundary.

After sifting sugar over the boundary of Mexico with the Pacific, the U.S.A., the Gulf of Mexico, and Central America, and putting colored icing in all those non-Mexico places, everything else got yellow Mexico icing.

Then we fired up the conical icing tube and they squeezed lines of blue for rivers, lines of red for political borders, and then switched tips and squished out little brown mountain ranges. I wanted to do some green tropical lushness, too, but it was all just getting too complicated.

Here it is.

In this picture you can see the legend - we made it on a matzah.

It was WAY past time for them to go home before we got this finished. I put them both in the car, slid the huge cake onto their laps, and drove VERY carefully to Menticia's house. I felt tremendous relief when I handed off this cake to Menticia's mother - if it fell on the floor after that, Not My Problem.

Be a mentor!

Texas Sheet Cake

* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 2 cups sugar
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1 cup butter
* 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
* 2 eggs
* 1/2 cup buttermilk or sour milk
* 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1. Grease a 13X9X2-inch baking pan.
2. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
3. In a medium saucepan combine 1 cup butter, 1/3 cup cocoa, and 1 cup of water.
4. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
5. With an electric hand-held mixer on medium speed, beat chocolate mixture into the dry mixture until thoroughly blended.
6. Add eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla. Beat for 1 minute (batter will be thin).
7. Pour batter into the prepared pan.
8. Bake in a 350̊ oven about 35 minutes, or until a wooden pick or cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.


10 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup

1. Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy.
2. Add powdered sugar and beat at low speed until well blended.
3. Beat in maple syrup.
4. Chill until just firm enough to spread, 30 minutes.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Ken Levine's approach to movie criticism

The Ken Levine watch test

The way I rate a movie is by what time I first check my watch.

If I can go the whole movie without checking once, that’s a great movie. And if it’s a three-hour movie, then it’s a classic. Then it’s THE GODFATHER.

Let’s say the movie starts at 8:00.

If I can go until 9:00 then I’m reasonably entertained. The second act is starting to drag but that second act is every writer’s boulder up the hill.

But if I’m glancing at my wrist, it’s 9:00, and Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler have just met then I know I’m in trouble.

If I think it’s 9:00 when I check and it’s only 8:30 then I’m really screwed. My wife has roped me into another Anthony Minghelia movie.

And if I hit that little light button and it’s 8:15, the next time I look at my watch it’ll be at 8:30 at Starbucks.

With PEARL HARBOR I didn’t get through the opening credits.

My SPIDERMAN 3 time checks: 8:30, 9:00, 9:15, 9:35, 10:00, 10:03. 10:04. 10:05. 10:15. 10:15:30, 10:15:45.

Don’t waste your time.

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Cane toads' favorite meal: cane toads.

Today's tidbit (below) concerning Australian attempts to control the cane toad population is a follow-up to my November 2005 post which read:

There are way, way too many cane toads in Australia, the right number would be zero.
Originally from South America, the cane toad was introduced by the sugar industry in 1935 in a misguided attempt to control two sugarcane pests: the Grey Backed cane beetle and the Frenchie beetle.

Unfortunately, no one noticed that the toad doesn't generally eat these bugs, though it successfully devoured other native insects and micro-fauna to the point of extinction.

Adding insult to ecosystem injury, the poisonous toad instantly kills any predator that attempts to eat it, particularly the quoll, Australia's marsupial cat, and giant native lizards. Its population continues to proliferate, outcompeting native amphibians and spreading disease. More.
A Cane Toads: An Unnatural History is a great movie. I gave it five stars! I particularly liked footage of a cane toad eating all the food out of a dog's bowl as the dog, indignant and terrorized, hovered nearby.

And now to the NEWS FLASH!

Extracts from
Cane Toads Cannibalize Their Young
Anna Salleh, ABC Science Online

Cane toads wiggle their toes to lure their young, then eat them up in an act of cannibalism, Australian researcher has found.

The young toads move towards the adults, possibly mistaking the wiggling toes for a tasty morsel, like an insect. Instead the youngsters themselves end up as the tasty morsel. But harnessing this cannibalistic behavior may have some benefits, at least in Australia, where cane toads are an invasive pest.

Scientists say it could be the key to getting cane toads to eat themselves out of existence.

Researchers wondered whether this toe waving is an adaptation for cannibalistic behavior and set up an experiment to check.

Toads were separated by clear glass and not allowed to eat each other because it would have gone against the rules of ethical animal experimentation. The researchers found that baby toads only move towards adults that wave their toes.

... The researchers also used freeze-dried toad to which they attached mechanically controlled fake toes...

... Outnumbering female toads with males would increase the number of female toads drowned by numerous males trying to copulate with them in the water...

Cane toads, from Smithsonian magazine. "An Australian taxidermist is recycling cane toads by filling them with plaster and turning them into paper weights."

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

In a society where people have too much money, the unending quest to ruin simple things continues.

I had a mad unrequitable crush on Samuel Johnson after reading his essays in "The Rambler" and the "Idler;" after I got into Boswell's "Life of Johnson," not so much. One of the things that made me cross Johnson off my guest list: he often told Boswell he was irritated and disappointed when people invited him to dinner and he didn't get something "good."

The article below fits right into Hannah's theory that men's hunter-gatherer and building-fixing impulses are perverted, in Manhattan, due to lack of proper outlets.

Extracts from
Dinner at the Foodies’: Purslane and Anxiety
by Katherine Wheelock for the New York Times, June 6, 2007

Dinner parties have been fraught with performance anxiety for as long as people have given them. Soufflés, cribbed from the pages of glossy food magazines, have been attempted and botched.

Especially in New York, where there are fewer status indicators (like cars and landscaped lawns), adjectives like local, organic and free range are signifiers of taste.

"Entertaining and cooking have become an integral part of how certain people demonstrate their cultural cachet, ... there is a specific cachet that only a fiddlehead fern can convey. Saying, 'I got this olive oil from this specific region in Greece,' is like talking about what kind of car you have. And people don’t want to be associated with the wrong kind of olive oil."

"You can’t just serve purslane ... you have to serve purslane on Limoges you found in a Connecticut consignment shop with a fork that has a carved ivory handle you found in a flea market somewhere."

"As soon as something becomes overpopularized, I don’t want to serve it anymore ... I wouldn’t want anyone to be able to identify something I made as being from a book or a restaurant. I don’t want anyone to be able to say, oh, I see where he got this idea to put microgreens on top of his fish fillets."

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

An unexpected visitor breaches the deer fence.

Last night I made dinner for Zed and a friend of mine who'd kindly fixed Zed's computer.

As I was proudly showing our visitor the acres I recently weed-whacked, a little tiny dog came skittering out of the woods and kow-towed at my feet.

This was very unexpected - my deer fence keeps out most unwanted critters - but he was so tiny he just slithered under the gate. I carried him back to the gate and discovered two not-much-bigger adult dogs looking in.

I tried pushing this little one back under the gate a couple times but he kept creeping back to me. He's evidently a people dog.

The other mutts skootched under the gate too, but they soon got bored and left. This one refused to leave. Luckily, he had a tag with his name and phone number. Dog owners, this is a VERY good idea!

So, his name is Tucker. Zed called Tucker's parents, who live down the hill and across the railroad tracks, and they said they'd come get him in a while.

So I tied Tucker to the picnic table and we enjoyed his sweet company during dinner. He didn't do the things dogs do that make me hate them - he didn't bark, he didn't scratch, he didn't poop or smell bad, and he didn't beg.

Zed's been after me to get an animal for ages - he thinks I need the company - but I've told him I don't want to become one of those eccentric old ladies who coo to their animals and hold inane conversations with them. If I want company, better I should spend time with a human or two.

But I must admit Tucker was very cute. He was in fact all tuckered out after his epic trek through the woods and first fell asleep in my hand as I was holding him aloft and then collapsed on the patio.

I have to admit I fed him (Zed made me) a few pieces of chicken out of our curry. He liked that quite a bit. Then his humans came and took him home.

Thanks to my friend John for fixing the computer, and for taking these pictures. And for bringing me perfect presents - safety goggles (so juicy bits of poison ivy don't fly into my eyes when I'm weedwhacking), work gloves, and chocolate. This is a friend who understands me.


Monday, June 04, 2007

Hannah's report about her visit to "Witch Class"

My daughter wrote a report of her visit to Witch Class; since she lives in Manhattan there are no doubt many witch classes to choose from should you be inclined that way. Hannah even shares, free of charge, one of the spells they learned.

When she was little and we used to drive straight east across North Carolina to get to Nags Head, we'd see, along deserted roads through dead flat tobacco fields, tiny homes with signs out front advertising the reading of palms and tarot cards. It surprised me that there were "psychics" in territory I thought of as very Christian. I guess it's a home industry requiring minimal startup capital.

These days I read our local Spanish language newspaper, "Que Pasa," and in almost every issue there is a luridly colorful ad for at least one witch, from whom you can buy amulets and potions and who can, also, for the right fee, enable you to recover your lost love and stop people who are trying to harm you. I'll try to get hold of one of these ads for you, they are really wonderful...

Come to think of it, there are often witches in the telenovelas we recap over at Caray, Caray! - for instance, in Destilando Amor ("Distilling Love" - the protagonist and his evil cousin run a tequila business) an unwanted wife went to a witch to get a love potion that would fix her husband's eyes upon her. Unfortunately (for her), the husband, to whom she slipped a dangerously powerful dose, fixed his eyes, when first they opened, on the wrong woman. Shades of Midsummer Night's Dream! Now he's been raging around the countryside like a lovesick fool for weeks, breaking things and shouting in the rain and ignoring his unwanted wife completely. You gotta be careful with this stuff.

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

Melinama does Illustration Friday: "My Paradise"

So Bob and I did the wedding for the nervous bride yesterday. She lucked out with the weather: it started raining exactly when everybody was being called in for dinner (and 24 hours later it's only just now stopped). A delicious dinner it was, and because of (or in spite of) her calling the caterers 37 times to make sure it was going to be available, the wild salmon was very tasty.

Friday I went to her place to coach her son, who was singing "The Wedding Song" and "Give Yourself to Love" during the service. He has a wonderful voice and plays the piano very well too, but since he was just as tense and nervous as his mom, his voice was a bit labored and stentorian.

So I gave him the big "relax" talking-to and yesterday at the service he was wonderful - relaxed, friendly, natural... Afterwards he told me my repeated assurance "It's All Good" had suddenly become his mantra and his mom agreed she was going to take it on, too.

So I decided to paint it for her and this is the prelimary study, inspired by early American crewel embroidery.

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Mike does Illustration Friday: "My Paradise"

My painting pal Mike loves monkeys and lemurs and he has become a docent at the Primate Center.

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