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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

[New York]: My Most Favorite Game

The New York Bureau of Pratie Place has three little brothers, ages 20, 9 and 4. Every time I see them - particularly the 4-year-old - I marvel at how kids seem to develop strong personalities basically as soon as they are born. My 4-year-old brother, a thoughtful, sensitive, smart, chatty, giggly kid, has only one flaw in my opinion - that every time I go home to see him, I have to help him play his favorite game... it's called...


Having lived in the city for nearly three years now, and having grown up in the suburbs, I quite frankly cannot imagine a less fun game than Traffic Jam. But the kid loves it, so what can I say.

Q: How do you play Traffic Jam?

A: You line up your toy cars - your very favorites - and put your hands on them and move them back and forth a little bit. Not much, though, because they are in a traffic jam. If you want to play with any other cars, that's okay, but the best ones are in the traffic jam. And really, if you're playing with someone else who decided it was time to play Traffic Jam, you shouldn't be playing with those other cars because they're not part of the game. However, feel free to sort of mess around with the cars in the traffic jam, as long as you do not move them too far from their position in the traffic jam.

Last time I was home, I got woken up at 8:00 AM to play Traffic Jam because the excitement about this game was just so great that some of us couldn't wait any longer.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

[New York]: Beer Bread

It's a little stressful around the NYC Bureau of Pratie Place these days - my self soothing tactic is bread baking. I've gone through quite a bit of flour this week.

This beer bread has my patented "asteroid" shape to it, but it rose a lot in the oven, so I think it's going to be pretty good.

Researching advanced bread-baking tactics this week, I came across these amusing videos of bread-baker Danielle Forestier teaching Julia Child how to make baguettes. Julia stands somewhat helplessly at the side of the screen, trying to think of useful things to say. She mostly fails. She also can't quite hide her thought bubble of "Oh wow, no way am I going to waste any time on this" in the first video clip when Danielle tells her she has to knead the dough 800 to 850 times.

"Do you count?" asks Julia.

"I just know how it looks," says Danielle, smiling patiently.


Fate is a plot of fenced land.

A quote from this morning's New York Times:
When I get scared, I focus on a definition of fate provided to me by a professor in college. Describing an ancient Greek perspective, he explained that fate could be imagined as a plot of fenced land. The individual cannot control where the fence stakes are placed. But every person determines for herself how she maneuvers within the enclosed space. --Loren Berlin

Sunday, February 24, 2008

[New York]: Cherry Pecan Sourdough Loaf

Oh, man, this one was really good.

The starter worked better this time - either because I made the bread in a loaf pan (so it couldn't collapse) or because I fed it a couple times at room temperature before putting it in the recipe (maybe I don't usually wait long enough after it comes out of the fridge, and it's still sleepy).

At any rate, here's the recipe, so I don't forget:

1 cup batter-texture sourdough starter (3:1 white:wheat flour)
1 scant cup toasted pecan halves, slightly crumbled
1 scant cup dried cherries (soak them in water for 20 min before using)
1 and 1/4 cup room temperature water
1/2 tablespoon sea salt
white and wheat flour

Wake up your starter until it can double in size in 8-10 hours. Mix all ingredients except pecans and cherries and knead, adding flour gradually (don't make the dough too stiff).

Shape dough into a ball, oil it, and let ball sit for 2 hours. It won't puff up very much and will look kind of sickly. Do not panic. Mix in pecans and cherries, form into a rectangle with the same width as your loaf pan, and roll rectangle up from one end as loosely as possible (to trap air to make more bubbles). Let it sit for another two hours. It should now be puffed up.

Bake at 400 for about 35 minutes or until an inserted thermometer says about 205-210. If you're a nutball for good crust, mist it with water when you put it in and take it out after 20 minutes and put it directly on your preheated pizza stone to finish baking. If not, it will have a sort of grayish crust (I never figured out what to do about this, so I just buttered it)... SO TASTY!

Instructions on a sourdough starter forthcoming.

"Don't Tread on Me" - donkey poster, t-shirt?

This is actually the back panel of a garden cart I cut down and adapted so Jethro could pull little kids around the neighborhood. It's sort of a "slow moving vehicle" or "don't tailgate" sign but it would also make a good t-shirt for the upcoming election, don't you think?

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Mark does Illustration Friday: "Multiple"

Mark wrote: This picture is more a meditation than a direct illustration of the concept. Multiple spots make one cheetah. It takes multiple cats to preserve one species. It takes multiple species to make a healthy ecosystem. (Acrylic, modeling paste and colored pencil on canvas)

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This recipe for toffee-nut bars...

... came from "Forum Feasts," one of those comb-bound cookbooks (this one has fat happy bald guys in togas on the cover) you used to be able to get in the 1960s. Since Hannah posted her baking projects (don't her loaves look scrumptious?) I'm posting mine.

Menticia and I made this recipe for yesterday's painting session with Mark and I gave the two of them the rest to take home; this morning I made another batch to take to Yiddish bookclub this afternoon.

Toffee Nut Bars
For the base layer:
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
salt to taste
1 cup flour
Cream the butter and sugar (I actually just melted the butter), add flour and salt. Press into 9x13 pan (it's a thin layer, don't worry) and cook for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.

For the topping:
2 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup chopped nuts
Mix all the ingredients and spread on top of the base layer you just cooked. Cook for 25 more minutes at 350 degrees.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

[New York]: Latest adventures in breadmaking

A cheddar cheese bread with mustard and black pepper....

A wildflower-honey brioche...

I'm still having trouble with my sourdough. It always has a great flavor, but I can't get the rising right. If I don't let it rise very long, it bakes into a cinderblock. If I let it rise for a long period of time, it collapses flat in the oven (well, not totally flat, but not nearly round enough to slice) losing all its bubbles and becoming cinderblock-like again. I wonder if my dough is too wet or too dry? It tastes great and it does rise, so some piece of mechanics must be the problem. The Urban Caballero eats a slice of every loaf out of loyalty, and I don't want to keep feeding him cinderblock bread.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Searching for medical information online

I know a lot of doctors who are driven crazy by patients (or their parents or children) who arrive with file-folders full of internet printouts, but there's no question there is more information out there than any one person can keep track of, and some of it might even be true and helpful.

Extracts from
Tips for savvy medical searching
by Elizabeth Cohen for

[We assume] you already know the basics of good Internet searching: .gov and .edu sites are to be trusted, as are sites for major health centers (think and health organizations (such as the American Cancer Society's For the Internet searcher hungry for more, here are some tips for being a sophisticated surfer:

  • Use search engines that screen out the garbage for you, a search engine that looks only at reputable sites that have been vetted by health professionals. Dirline, run by the National Library of Medicine, is one such engine, as are and searches for information on government health Web sites.

  • Find smart bloggers with your disease; some bloggers do an excellent job of linking to resources specific to your disease. That goes for advocacy groups, too.

  • Invest 30 minutes in the tutorial searches the medical literature, but it isn't completely intuitive. It's worth the time to learn how to use it by doing the tutorial.

    Nervous you won't understand the technical jargon in medical articles? Don't be, says Guthrie. She advises reading the very beginning of a study and the very end. "The conclusion will tell you whether the treatment they studied was effective, moderately effective, or not at all effective."

    In addition, the Medical Library Association, has brochures called Deciphering Medspeak to help translate some of the more common medical jargon.

    Tara Parker-Pope, a health columnist for the New York Times, found it useful to specifically search for review articles on pubmed when she was looking for treatments for her mother's esophageal cancer. Review articles give an overview of the latest research on a particular subject. "Review articles are an excellent way to get a lay of the land and to get the big picture on a topic," Parker-Pope says.

    To find review articles on pubmed, go to the "limits" tab and then under "type of article", check "review."

  • Click on information about annual meetings

    For example, let's say you just got a breast cancer diagnosis. You could go to, the site for the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and look at information on new breast cancer treatments discussed at last year's meeting.

    This is the way to get cutting-edge information, Guthrie says. "Information on new treatments is presented at conferences six to 12 months before it's published in a medical journal."

    Guthrie says she managed to find out about a new treatment for tendonitis this way. "It wasn't even in the medical journals yet. We found one doctor in New York who was doing it. If I had tendonitis, it might've been worth traveling to him," she says.

  • When in doubt about a Web site, click on "about us"

    Sometimes it's clear who runs a Web site. Often it's not. Clicking on "about us" should explain it. Knowing who's behind the information you're reading (especially if they're trying to sell you something) helps you evaluate whether the information is biased. If you can't figure out who runs the site, don't use it.

    And here perhaps are two of the most valuable pieces of advice: Use Internet resources in combination. "An advocacy group or a review article by itself is pretty useless," Parker-Pope says. "No one of these works by itself."

    The second piece of advice: Don't expect the Internet to cure your disease. "I wanted to find the needle in the haystack to cure my mother," Parker-Pope says. "But information doesn't cure cancer. It just leads you to the best doctor and the best options."

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Junk Mail Calumny of the Month

This pile comprises the unwrapped contents of one (1) unsolicited mailing I received this week. Papers, plastic liners, plastic wrappers, and a cheap pen, all in a cardboard box wrapped in plastic! Grr! I wrote the following complaint (via email to save paper) to the senders:

These days everybody, very much including anybody who contributes to charitable organizations, must be aware (1) how much unnecessary, wasteful, non-biodegradable material is generated in the US; (2) how many charities misuse or waste the funds they are gifted with.

Your recent mailing of cheap pens packed in cardboard boxes and surrounded with plastic liners and wrappers galore was a disgrace. This display of environmental and fiscal irresponsibility disgusts me. Stop wasting your donors' money in ridiculous, lavish fundraising.

Bet I get another one.


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Jethro is bigger than these donkeys...

... and look how many people are getting rides! I'm inspired! Jethro is underemployed! (From The Secret Museum of Mankind.)



Congo Potentate Presents A Small Selection From His Harem Of 1,000 Wives

Today Hannah and I were denigrating my rooster, who has recently been named Valentino. He does only two things all day long:
  • Shouts. Tentative translation: "I AM A ROOSTER!!!"

  • Bangs the hens, who'd actually just as soon be left alone to dig industriously for bugs.
Valentino is, otherwise, completely useless.

Hannah queried rhetorically: "How many women over the centuries have looked with annoyance at blustering roosters and realized they were not much different than ..." let us say, not much different than their own personal Congo Potentates.

Click the picture for a larger view of this bevy from The Secret Museum of Mankind:

They are a few of his favourites of the moment. Wit and good talk please him as much as young beauty. As is seen, his choice ranges from girls to elderly women. By his left hand is his head wife, who maintains order among fifty score rivals. He is often tempted into further marriages. Girls still show themselves off to him, less from admiration of his savage charms, than to win harem comforts.


Friday, February 15, 2008

Basso profundo tracks from U-Tube

I wish we had at least one of these guys in the Chorale.



Thursday, February 14, 2008

For once I was ahead of the curve.

I had a sweetheart once who wore lavender oil for some obscure medicinal purpose and I got weak in the knees when I smelled it on him. However, I myself have never worn perfume and almost everybody I know hates it. Somebody must be buying those 1,160 different bottles, though...

Extracts from
The Sweet Smell of ... Nothing
by Natasha Singer for the New York Times, February 14, 2008

Last year, department stores carried 1,160 different fragrances for women.

Yet, last year in the United States, spending on upscale women's fragrances declined ... more women are forgoing scent altogether.

Fragrance fatigue is probably inevitable, with heavily fruited scents wafting out of everything from dishwashing liquids to hotel linens to candle displays at the mall.

Many people said it bothers them that fragrance has an effect on other people, that they are trying to be considerate by not overcoming others with scent.

Several women interviewed for this article said their mates had complained on occasion about strong scents that leave a trail in their wake.

Now a few workplaces and cultural sites are trying to become fragrance-free zones. Some doctors' offices ask patients not to wear perfume because some medical personnel or patients may have allergies or asthma that could be exacerbated by scent.

The idea that some people's perfumes are other people’s fumes is not new. In 1738, Alexander Pope wrote in a disparaging verse about over-fragranced nobles: "And all your courtly civet-cats can vent, Perfume to you, to me is excrement."


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Slogging towards the worst day of Melinama's year...

... as a lifelong victim of Seasonal Affective Disorder (since long before it was glorified with a name), I've found my worst time to be, not the winter solstice, when days are shortest, but NOW, when whatever stores of optimism and energy were stored up from the previous year are utterly gone. (The birds, having long ago scarfed up every last berry in the woods, feel the same way.)

So my personal nadir is Valentine's Day; for years, when I had a significant other, awful things happened on that day. Now I suffer alone, that's way better. I self-medicate with nuts and chocolate - too much of that medicine, however, can result in adverse side effects like a queasy stomach and tight pants.

I'm not the only one grousing. After adding fill dirt, raking, and re-seeding Field #1, which has been mercilessly hoof-holed and mud-pit-pulped and shmooshed-over by my 550 pound donkey, I decided to put Jethro in his round pen for a week to give the field a rest (it really needs six weeks minimum). He didn't mind being in the round pen, because he can see the house clearly from there. However, it has no shelter, so when rain was forecast I put him in Field #2, where he has a lovely roof to stand under.

Jethro considers Field #2 to be his personal Siberia, because he can't keep me under constant surveillance through the trees. Even though Field #2 is big, and pretty, and has a nice shed, and his breakfast of course - and even some green stuff growing on the ground - and hardly any mud-holes - he restlessly paces by the gate, yearning to be back where he can stare at me all day long.

It was fun going out in the rain this morning and inspecting the results of my water-diversion projects. Rivulets are now flowing more or less where I want them. Playing in the mud is muy divertido.

Last night was the only full rehearsal for two massed-chorus-and-string-ensemble concerts in which the Triangle Jewish Chorale will participate this weekend. The conductor, David Stuntz, selected a bunch of possible songs for us all to do together (our Chorale and his Blacknall Presbyterian Church choir and the chorus and string orchestra from the North Carolina School of Science and Math). After requesting that one of the groups songs be switched out (I didn't think our rabbi would appreciate the rehearsing of "Jesus is My Rock" in his synagogue) we were all set.

One of the group pieces, "Five Hebrew Love Songs" by Eric Whitacre, is gorgeous (well, except for the movement where we just go bum, bum, bum, bum, bum at various speeds for pages at a time) and I've already added two of the songs to the chorale's repertoire.

So we, the chorale, are doing two songs of our own for this event, one of which is usually accompanied by piano. However, I discovered with some discomfiture last night that more than sixty singers and more than thirty string players, plus timpani, leave no room onstage for a piano. I confabbed with Scott Laird, director of the string ensemble; I suggested his kids might do the job and he agreed, saying if I'd write out string parts I could come to rehearsal this morning and teach the song to them.

So I went home and wrote up the parts. Just as I hit "Send," BAM, the power went out, and, well, look, something went right! The electricity could have gone out just BEFORE I hit Send! It's an indication that the unlucky, hoary ice flows of winter are beginning to break up...

This morning I took the brand new score and my fiddle to Scott's rehearsal and introduced the kids to playing rhythm klezmer-style. Orchestra players, many talented enough to be soloists, they're not so good at "winging it" or playing bouncy, fat, woofy oom-pahs, so that's what we worked on... Scott, looking round at his coterie of serious, primarily Asian players, said it was their first exposure to Jewish music - and that this is a rollicking good inter-cultural experience. What good sports they are! They sound great and I can't wait for the chorale to hear them.



Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A few shots of my working donkey.

My ex father-in-law kindly sent me these first two pictures. The first is me, Jethro, and my ex mother-in-law.

This one was taken just as we were about to start off on a long tour of the neighborhood - the first with passengers in Jethro's new cart - we gave my ex's wife and two young children a ride around the neighborhood. It was a blast. (I should mention my ex and I divided a piece of land and he built a house on his part and I built a house on my part and the kids walked back and forth through the woods.) *CLICK* the picture to see the hysterical looks on the passengers' faces.

I ordered a used (very used, more used than I'd expected) pack saddle from eBay. When it came I was afraid to open the box for a while... finally I got Menticia to help me. We cut the box open and laid the whole thing out and tried to figure what the different parts were for.

It was awfully complex and very much too big for Jethro, so eventually I cut most of the leather off the wooden tree (the part in the middle) and started again. I made a very simplified rig that fit him. Then I tied big flowerpots to it.

What a success! We've spent a few happy hours on various days hauling rocks together. This is a job Jethro understands and he is eager to show me he "gets" it. He hustles down the hill to the rock pile, stands there more or less patiently while I load the rocks in his flowerpots, and then hauls them more or less effortlessly up the hill and waits while I unload them. Most satisfactory.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Melinama does Illustration Friday: "Choose"

In my mind, when I began this, it was going to be a lot of little objects (toaster, heart, pig, etc) all over the page. I started the painting and then I cut it in half and chopped half of it up into little pieces and glued them on the other half and then doodled with black paint. That's just what came out.

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Mark (formerly known as Mike) does Illustration Friday: "Choose"

"Mike" is really Mark. He says: The viewer can Choose to see the objects as front edge forward or front edge back.

He liked the way his picture looked before he took the masking tape off so I'm including that picture, too.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Melinama does Illustration Friday: "Blanket"

When Mike and I convened for our Sunday afternoon painting I told him I was coming up blank for a "blanket" picture. He said he had lots of ideas, and one he suggested was mother and child wrapped in a blanket. This reminded me of the Smithsonian's cover for December, an ethiopian painting (see below). I decided to do a rendering of it, it's not my usual subject matter by a long shot but it was lots of fun. I painted it over top of last week's picture.

I think this Ethiopian painting is fabulously gorgeous.

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Mike does Illustration Friday: "Blanket"

Stuffed Bear on Colored Blanket

I learned a lot doing this painting. For months I have had trouble getting paint to adhere to the canvas, so this time instead of more water, I used more mat gel medium in the mix. Yeah!


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Saturday, February 02, 2008

[New York]: OK, I think I figured out the baguette thing

The trick was that I used the shaping technique I thought was silly. It worked. It kept my baguettes very bubbly. Also, I didn't let them rise very long before I put them in the oven.

Friday, February 01, 2008

In which I indulge myself by sharing a complimentary email.

I've spent the last two days digging and hauling dirt; I'm terracing a garden above Jethro's field. It's not that I want a garden (as I've said, I'm kind of afraid of vegetables when there start to be too many of them) but I want to slow down the water before it washes across his pasture and turns it to mud, and as long as I'm terracing, I might as well call it a garden...

And last night it rained, hurrah! And it's still raining. I went out in my galoshes to gloat over the work I've been doing and then I couldn't help playing in the mud (did you build dams and divert little streams when you were a kid?) and the chickens played too and I splashed them, and myself, with mud as I swung the pickaxe...

...and then I came in and -- please excuse me for preening a bit and sharing this -- saw this email which Bob forwarded to me from the guy who hired us to play for the Triangle Guitar Society a week ago.

I'd been sort of nervous about the gig because (a) I don't play guitar and (b) they are mostly classical musicians. But it was a wonderful night.


I don't want to delay sending you and Jane my sincere thanks for a fabulous performance for our annual Triangle Guitar Society holiday salon recital.

We've always enjoyed your many performances for us in the past in a solo format but with Jane Peppler as your duo partner I believe you have a fantastic synergy of talents and a fine ensemble that's as expressive as it is flawless. With your your fantastic originals and your special unique arrangements there's no limit to your success.

I have heard many compliments from our TGS folks how blown away they were to find that Jane sang perfectly in Spanish and with a seductive charm as well. Starting off with the eastern European sounding piece Daichovo Horo was a smash hit.

And I especially love your new murder ballads and yes you're a great singer too. Lord Franklin is so tender and sweet that on first hearing I already feel nostalgic.

With the gypsy seduction of Jane's playing and singing and your special exciting style of guitar and bouzouki and fantastic tender singing your duo deserves to be heard far and wide and I congratulate you both on achieving such a fine accomplished ensemble.

Randy Reed
President, Triangle Guitar Society
Lecturer/Instructor of Guitar, Duke University

Reminds me I can't spend all day every day in the dirt, I better start practicing for our St. Patrick's Day celebration concerts coming up.

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[New York]: How to wake up a sourdough starter

Since last weekend, I've had a sourdough rye starter (organic rye flour, water) slumbering in the refrigerator. I wanted to wake make another loaf of bread today, but wasn't sure if it would come back to life after having been in the refrigerator. So just to be sure, when I took it out of the fridge to warm up overnight, I yelled at it: "WAKE UP!" and I shook the container vigorously. It must have heard me, because this morning it was warm and bubbly and I put it in my bread dough. Heh. I'm planning to take some down to Ma in North Carolina but am a little apprehensive about the airplane - dough starters can explode if you put them in too small a container, and it would be very hard to explain why foul smelling brown stuff had exploded with a very loud noise in my luggage. Especially since I'm already on the Transportation Security Administration watchlist (a story for another time).