Monday, March 31, 2008

Day two

and I'm now hoping that it will just be a two day flu. Don't expect coherence until it's gone. Or rather, expect even less coherence than usual.

Yours, deleriously,

Sunday, March 30, 2008


A one day flu --- one day, I hope, that is --- chills, aches, pains, awful dehydration. l spent the entire day in bed, and not in a good way.

Yours, shivering,

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A good race

A good race. I thought at the start that Oxford looked stronger, but was extremely pleasantly surprised by how strong and collected the Cambridge crew looked. Until I looked away from the screen for a few seconds, looked back, and the light blues had lost a length, gone from being up, looking in command, to behind, looking rushed.
They never came back. Within a short while it became apparent that Oxford had gained the upper hand, and that we weren't going to come back.

Mind you, when I found out we'd lost our stroke this week to heart problems, it didn't augur well!

Yours, disappointed, but thrilled to have been able to watch the race,

The prime of life

And so, once again, I'm in the prime of life.

Yours, singing "happy birthday to me",

Friday, March 28, 2008

A year gone by ---

and what have I accomplished?

My children are thriving. Some thanks to me, and more to LOML! But they are really thriving: and it is an utter delight to hear some of the things that they say, to see some of the things that they do.
I've inspired a few people to stretch their talents: in various arenas, but perhaps most notably, the children I teach origami to. They've outdone themselves this year.
I've cooked a lot, concocted new things, tried, experimented, mixed and muddled, baked and broiled. Much that is good, little that is downright awful. That is, I think, a pretty good accomplishment.
Surprisingly, I've written hundreds of blog postings, and while I don't have a good estimate for the average number of words, this is already well over a hundred. I'm guessing that I've written something between 100,000 and half a million words. Of course, that is not only hard to estimate, it's not even clear what the truth would be (for example, some of my posts include lyrics to songs, where I cut and pasted the lyrics. Do those count as words? How about if I cut and pasted a poem? If it was a poem I had written? But not this year?)
Of course, quantity says nothing about quality. I've enjoyed sharing a few thoughts, and I hope that some others have enjoyed them too.

But as new years go, this one was less eventful than many recent years have been. And that's not necessarily a bad thing:-)

Yours, turning another page,

Just deserteurs

Thanks to KT for pointing out to me what should have been obvious.... Had I searched last year, who knows if it would have been available then, but now, Boris Vian can be found on youtube.
Once again, my favourite war protest song.

Yours, sharing the youtube link with all,

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A day filled with the remnants

of the day before. No time for anything, let alone a blog.

Yours, rushed,

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Okay, so I lied

My memory did indeed fail me.
The last time that I saw the Boat Race live, from the banks of the Thames, at a boat house, was 1987 (or thereabouts).
The last time I got to watch live on television was before that.
The last time I got to watch live was on the web: for about three or four years the BBC webcast it live, and I got to watch a wonderfully exciting two inch image of the race. It was great. Then the final year that they had the rights our DSL went out half an hour before the race, and I didn't get to see it.

Last year I did get to watch the race, just not live: I listened to the LBC radio feed over the net. I got to watch the official video of the race at a Boat Race supper organised by an Oxford/Cambridge society in Halifax. A tremendous time was had by all, most particularly yours truly, and so to them I'd like to say thank you!

Yours, in erratum,

Excitement building

I'm looking forward to Saturday with great expectation. If things work out, and I hope they will, I may get to watch the Boat Race (don't ask which one: there is only one Boat Race) for the first time since, if memory serves me (which it rarely does these days) 1987.
The race had not been televised over here until last year --- and last year I was not in the US, and didn't have any way to get access to ESPNU, who are showing it.
I'm hoping to persuade my local publican to tune one of his multiple tv sets to it this weekend.

Yours, excited,

Night shift

Every few weeks at the moment I am required (I hate to say "forced") to be at work for a few hours in the evening. I didn't realise until this afternoon just how much I am beginning to get soft, lazy and resentful of such an intrusion on my private life!
Back in the pre-dawn of history (aka before the children were born) I didn't mind half as much, so long as it didn't impinge on something important outside.
And I guess that my feeling haven't really changed: it's just that children are the something important outside that fill up all my time now.

Yours, working, now and until 9 or 10 tonight,

Happy Birthday, EP

Uncle Paul would have been 95 today: Pali Bacsi, as some knew him, died twelve years ago, but lives on through the mathematics he created, the people he inspired, and especially through the problems he posed.

Yours, in memory,

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I finished a book!

A whole book! Today! A grown-up book! And I'd only been reading it for a few months!

The reason I bring this up is that while I used to read a book in a time span measured in hours or days, months is now the norm. Somehow children, slowly failing eyesight (why, I may finally have to have prescription lenses one day!) and more and more demands on my time (oh, and I guess laptop with fast wireless internet access) have combined to make reading more difficult for me. I have tried to curtail my expenditure on books, to the extent that I now buy 30-40 times as many books as I read, whereas I used to only buy 3-4 times as many....

This book was "The Indian Clerk", a novelization of the interactions of the Indian mathematician (and genius) Ramanujan, and his mentor and friend, Hardy. A fascinating read, albeit filled with more discussions of Hardy's homosexuality than might be deemed necessary --- be warned if this will offend you: otherwise, it is in some ways an important part of the book: it is who Hardy was, after all --- and occasionally getting an American viewpoint on Cambridge which somehow misses the point of an English or Cambridge quirk: all in all, it seems to have most of the story well and accurately told: the details I know well are all in accordance with the other biographies etc: the mathematics is not *too* badly done (although the continued reference to divergent sequences, followed by the series
1/1 + 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8...
as opposed to the harmonic series I am sure that he meant, rankle a bit)

An interesting and enjoyable read: a good window onto academia in Cambridge during the first world war, and if you are not aware of Ramanujan, a pretty good introduction to his life.

Yours, as read,

Monday, March 24, 2008

Fortune Cookies

Last week, at the asia festival, one of the parents had made home-made fortune cookies: Boo's teacher had had all the students come up with their favourite fortunes, and these were the messages inserted into the cookies.

I have to say that I am particularly partial to Boo's entry.
Read to your mummy and daddy every day.

Yours, fortunate indeed,

The election

I'm so looking forward to the primary season being over. At that point, I hope that the race can get serious, and folks who disagree little with each other can work together to pass bills that they have in common.
The suggestion today seems to be that, second to Clinton winning the presidency, her favourite outcome would be Obama losing to McCain in the general. That way she could run next time around as the "I told you so" candidate.
But I suspect that if the reason that Obama loses in the general is perceived to be the fact that Clinton has soured it for him, then democrats in four years time are likely to hold a grudge. She'd do far better, in my mind, strengthening the democratic brand, becoming a strong democratic leader of the senate, and then working from there.

Yours, for peace,

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Contrary to the previous post, not all about today was bad: this morning the children woke up late (seven thirty) for a Sunday, and allowed us to get up gently before wanting to go out and hunt for the easter eggs (actually, mini chocolate eggs, placed atop playdough containers, whose pastel colours seemed eastery enough without the sugar content!)
And LOML had bought roller skates for them both, so they wanted to try them out: so far they've only been up and down the front porch --- but sometime in the next few days we'll probably take them to the skating rink so that they can try it out for real.

Yours, on a roll,

One parenting crisis a day

Only one, that's all I'm allowing myself.
Today I finally had to face the "we're going to run away from you in the grocery store, giggling and laughing at the top of our lungs, round the corner, out of your sight, and not stop when you tell us to, then scream because you won't buy us a toy" behaviour.
I had the experience of having to try to get both, each, of them to look at me and listen to me, to get them to hear that it was because I loved them that I didn't want them out of my sight, etc. All the words that we wish we never had to say, but in this world, definitely need to. And this, of course, just made the screaming more intense.
It got worse: I finally bundled Skibo into the grocery cart, and Boo onto my shoulders, to much screaming and complaining: woman walked around the corner, saw my plight, and asked if they were my grandchildren, and did I need any help.
Clearly, I had let them get so totally out of control that they couldn't be my own children! I tried to explain that it was a tantrum about not getting a toy, etc.... and walked away wishing the floor would swallow me.

A few minutes later, though, now with Boo in the cart and Skibo on my shoulders, now happier and behaving nicely, I ran into the woman again. This time, as she asked "did you end up giving in?", I could hold my head up high and mouth the words "no, I didn't!"

Yours, playing the stern parent,

Saturday, March 22, 2008


A nice day, on the whole --- beautiful weather, rowing to watch, etc: the sore throat I've not mentioned is still there, but...

And then, out of the blue, having sat on my lap reading, and then gone away to write something by herself, Boo comes up in tears: she insisted that she can't read, she can't write, it's all pretend!
In tears.
And I'm battling tears wanting to help, to take away whatever has caused this, not wanting to call it nonsense, though that surely is what it is. I don't want to demean her by calling it that when she so clearly feels incapable.

Much hugging and talking later, and mainly through LOML's intervention (LOML having been gone for the original discussion), Boo is now writing again. I'll try her on a little reading book tomorrow, when, I hope, all this will have blown over....

There's an old song, from the musical Salad Days: "We don't understand our children".... I was hoping for say another six or seven years before that happened!

Yours, confused,

Friday, March 21, 2008

The long goodbye

Our friends --- for the last year or two, our best friends here --- move Sunday/Monday to the DC area. They are packing the truck tomorrow, he will drive it up on Sunday, and she and their son will stay with us Sunday night before driving up in the car on Monday morning.
And today was round seventeen of twentythree in the long goodbye process. Don't get me wrong: I'd very much prefer the multiple goodbyes! Today's were particularly nice: an egg hunt this morning (the big hit? finger mounted diffuse flashlights in nice colours, which Skibo immediately christened "laser beans") and then a pizza dinner at a very kid-friendly restaurant that has long been a favourite of their son.

The downside of so many goodbyes is that it reinforces the sadness at their leaving....

Yours, missing them already,

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Asia: China, India, etc

The children had their school "Asia Festival" today; each of the four preschool classrooms had taken a separate country to study: Boo's class learned about China, while Skibo studied India.
Quite a charming event, and over the past few weeks, it has given LOML and me an ideal opportunity to learn a little more about these countries, and also to explore the new wealth of information just a click away: to think that even a year or two ago it would have been really difficult to do what youtube lets us do in an instant. It's symptomatic of the shifts that we've been seeing over the past decade or so: mosaic in 1994-1997 or so, google around 2000, blogs over the past few years, and now youtube. And of course, other shifts that I'm omitting!

Yours, thoroughly charmed by the kids,

King Arthur jumps the shark

I buy a lot of baking supplies and equipment from King Arthur: I like their bread flour, which is more expensive than most in the local supermarket, but consistently gives good results. I like the fact that they carry danish bread whisks, bulk yeast etc.
And they have a lovely cookbook: typically good baking recipes.
This morning, in anticipation of perhaps making hot cross buns tomorrow (not going to happen now, for various reasons) I started looking through my dozens of baking books to see which had recipes, to pick several, modify, merge and mix to my tastes.
To my great surprise most of them don't have recipes for them.
But my biggest surprise was that King Arthur flour, bastion of "make it at home, from scratch" doesn't have a recipe for them. It does have a recipe for Hot Cross Muffins, however: it assures us that this will give us the characteristic flavour in one third of the time.

(Aside: "jumping the shark" refers to the episode of Happy Days when everyone knew the series was finished: the Fonz, on waterskis, jumping over a shark)

Yours, amused.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Boo's new school

I toured Boo's new school this morning: she's going to the local elementary school in the autumn, entering the "Kindergarten" year. LOML and I are both big believers in the value to society of a good, free, universal public education, and see it as a good use of tax dollars.
And we are going to try it out with our children, and it makes me a little nervous. Boo is clearly very bright, and with a late autumn birthday, she'll be one of the oldest in the class. These two facts unfortunately combine to make it possible, likely even, that she is going to be significantly ahead of most of her classmates. What makes me most nervous is the worry about whether the school will be able to take the time to push her to what she is capable of, or whether they will just focus on the (also incredibly needful) underperforming students.
How this all works out will, I suspect, make the difference between whether we keep Boo and Skibo in the public system, or whether we suck up the cost of $XK per year to put them back in the Montessori system. I'm really hoping that the public system works for her, but I'm not sure how grounded in reality that hope is.

Yours, learning,

Ham and bean soup

We had a ham bone and a bunch of meat left over, and so I turned it into a ham and bean soup: I'd usually do a pea and ham soup with split peas, but LOML expressed a preference this time for a whole bunch of different beans: so that's what I did.
Fairly standard construction: saute some finely chopped onion, carrot, celery and garlic on fairly high heat until it is beginning to caramelize: simmer the ham bone with the vegetables in water to cover, together with some herbs (thyme, bay leaf, whatever else you wish) and seasonings (crack some peppercorns in for good flavour).
Simmer for a good couple of hours to extract all the hamly goodness.
Remove the bone(s) from the pot, rinse and sort the beans (I used a commercial dried 15 bean mix) and add to the soup. Bring to a low boil and low boil/simmer for a couple of hours. (You can go the route of soaking the beans overnight, and it will improve some things, most notably the jet-propulsive aftereffects!) Keep an eye on it, and make sure that there is enough liquid in it, and stir it fairly frequently to make sure the beans don't stick (and then burn).

Serve with (my) freshly baked bread (or better yet, follow my recipes:-)
Yours, feeling souper,

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Beef in Guinness pie

First, make way too much stew, so that when LOML invites three extra guests at short notice there is still lots of stew left over the next day.
Next, make your favourite flaky pastry: mine is from Jacques and Julia's cooking at home, and I've told you how to make it recently: chill the dough. Pre-heat the oven to 375 or 400: after an hour of resting, take the pastry from the fridge, roll out two disks, one slightly larger than the other: place the larger in a pie plate, fill with cold stew, top with the smaller disk, seal, brush with egg if desired (gives a nice colour), cut a couple of slashes for steam to escape, place in the oven on a middle rack (with a baking sheet beneath to catch drips) and bake until golden, and the pastry is cooked.

As always, if you try it, let me know!

Beef in Guinness -- the recipe

The stew we served yesterday is the sort of thing that is incredibly easy to put together, and not too time consuming, except for the fact that it needs to sit in the oven for hours. Perfect for a crockpot preparation, if you are a crockpotter. We aren't, even though we have one.

4 pounds chuck, cut into large cubes (an inch or so is fine)
1 onion, fairly fine dice
Olive oil --- don't waste extra-virgin cold-pressed first-harvest demi-cru-du-monde on this
2-3 tablespoons of all purpose flour
2 cups diced tomatoes
2-5 cloves minced or pressed garlic, to taste -- I like more rather than less:-)
1-2 pounds of potatoes, depending on preferences: I use small red-skinned potatoes, cut into 1/2-1 inch dice
1 pound button mushrooms
1-2 pounds carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 bay leaves
Salt, pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 325 F.
First heat a little oil over high heat in a big heavy pot or dutch oven: brown as much of the beef as will fit in an uncrowded layer (let the cubes sit on the hot surface for a few minutes until the outside is caramelized, turn, let them sit again, etc: I just caramelize two opposite sides this way, but you could do all six sides: 2 gets plenty of flavour). Remove the beef to a plate, add a little more oil if necessary, and brown some more cubes of chuck. Repeat until all the beef is browned.
Add a little oil if necessary, and throw in the onions. Over medium heat, stirring, cook the onions until translucent, using the juices to scrape up the fond from the bottom of the pot. Add the flour and stir well until all the lumps are gone.
Add a couple of cups of diced tomatoes (I used canned at this step: you could substitute tomato paste for a slightly different flavour/texture to the finished dish) and continue to cook for a couple of minutes. Add back the meat and juices from the plates, pour in a 12 oz bottle or a 16oz can of "Draught Guinness" (or you could use Young's Chocolate Stout to good effect too!) and a cup of stock: if you've got beef, use it, otherwise chicken is fine. I used a hunk of frozen reduced chicken stock from the freezer. Add a teaspoon of thyme (twice that if fresh) and a couple of bay leaves, salt and pepper to taste. Cover, bring to a simmer, and put it into the oven for an hour.
Cube the potatoes, carrots, clean the mushrooms, and add to the stew. Re-cover, put back in the oven for at least another two hours.
Taste the meat about 15 minutes ahead: if it isn't falling apart tender, but it's almost there, you're okay: if it is still tough, give it another hour more. It may upset your guests to have to wait, but it will improve the dinner no end! And since the stew can sit, it is much better to make it early rather than late.

The potatoes should be near, but not at, a state of collapse, having absorbed the full flavour of the juices. The carrots should be tender, and the mushrooms juicy.

Yours, sharing,

Monday, March 17, 2008

Beef in Guinness

Beef in Guinness is, indeed, splendid. And as an Irish stew, it makes for a wonderful St. Patrick's day dinner. With a mess of potage, just aubergine and carnation petals, and a six shilling bottle of Mule du Pape, a feast fit for a King! (Two credits for the first to identify the misquote above:-)

And there is enough left over to make the remainder into a steak and mushroom pie tomorrow (I'd go for steak and kidney, except for two facts: LOML is not a fan of kidneys, to put it mildly, and calves kidneys are impossible to find in this neck of the woods.)

Yours, pie-eyed: after all, it is St Patrick's day....

Happy St Patrick's Day

to all of you, except for the snakes in the grass....
We're going to have a stew. Not an Irish stew. No, an Irish-inspired stew. Beef in Guinness, with onions and mushrooms and carrots. Oh, and (need you be told?) potatoes. Slow slow cooked for hours. At least four, maybe more. Of course, we're having tons of people over for dinner, so I need to go out on the morn' and get more meat. And more potatoes. Ah, the joy of last minute invitations.

Yours, not stewing over it,

On the brink

When I was a child, I used to visit relatives who lived in Cheshire: their house (almost a small castle --- quite intimidating to me even now!) was on the edge of a steep slope. It was a wonderful, magical place, and at least one novel was written about King Arthur's temporary resting place being nearby.
At that time, and even now, I can walk near an edge. But it scares the bejeepers out of me. If I get close enough, it can paralyze me with fear.
And that is the way I feel looking at the markets with this week about to start: one of the largest investment banks in the US has lost 90+% of its value over a two day period (after an already precipitous loss). The dollar seems poised for a free-fall against other currencies.
Fiscally, this country seems likely to face a massive crisis. And I am not sure that I believe that its current leaders are mature enough to make sure that it will survive relatively unscathed.
It could come in days, it could come in months. It could never come. But I don't want to be the one to set the odds on those outcomes.

Yours, fearful,

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Clinton for majority leader in the senate

I'm joining the quite swell of voices calling for Clinton to stay in the Senate, for Reid to step aside as majority leader, and for her to assume the role. I think that she could be a great leader in that position, and not only that, on the issue of health care reform, it would put her in a more powerful role to shape the legislation than she'd have as president. And she certainly knows the issues there inside and out --- and could then be relied upon to bring Obama round to true universal coverage.
And then we could all work to make sure that Obama wins the presidency, and the democrats retain the majority in both chambers, so that things can be done in the new term.
And the current intra-party fights can end and be forgotten.

Yours, hoping,


The school's fundraiser was yesterday evening, and as I may have mentioned twice (or more) over the past week or three, I spent a lot of time folding cranes, dodecahedral balls, masu boxes, dragons, elephants, etc.
LOML and I didn't go to the banquet: we couldn't afford the cost of the tickets, and felt that we had done our part helping out. Certainly if I charged a couple of bucks a piece for the origami it would have come to a lot more than the ticket price.
I had, however, hoped that I might have heard from the organizers today: perhaps they might have emailed a thank-you note, or possibly a photograph of the thirty tables, all with multiple pieces of origami placed on them.
Yes, they could have mailed a thank you. No, they haven't yet done so.
Maybe, maybe I'm peeved.

Yours, not holding my breath,

Out of the blue

I love it when friends turn up out of the blue! Our friend Danny just knocked on the door this morning --- back in town for the day, and wanted to come by and say hello. We had a lovely chat for an hour or so, got caught up on all the news of him and his family -- and then he had to leave: he may be back tomorrow in time for dinner, so we may get another chance to chat, but even if not, it was a lovely surprise.

Yours, surprised,

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Red plate day

We have a tradition of a red plate: when someone has a great day (or a really rotten one) they get to use a red plate in celebration (or to cheer them up).
This morning, Boo and LOML worked on some writing practice: LOML wrote some sentences in cursive, and then Boo traced them. Then, while LOML and my backs were turned, without either of us realizing what was going on, Boo had turned the page in her notebook and started to write more.
She brought it through to us in the kitchen: she had written "I like going to the zoo" --- albeit spelled somewhat differently: but mistakes or not, she's FIVE, fer crying out loud! And she's writing! Her own thoughts!
Once I picked myself up of the floor, chin and all, we all cried a little and told her how wonderful she is! And took photographs for grandparents etc to see...

And Boo got to use the red plate for breakfast. And for dinner:-)

Yours, blown away, just completely blown away!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Pi day

An almost belated happy pi day to you all! I'd have put up a post on this earlier, except that I grew up in the UK --- and as all the rest of the world outside of the US knows, March 14th is 14-3, not 3-14: consequently pi day would have to be April 31, which unfortunately doesn't exist!

Anyway, happy (US date format) pi day! No, I didn't bake a pi today: heck, I didn't even cook at all: LOML jumped at the opportunity to play in the kitchen, since I was busy at origami club! And no, LOML didn't bake a pi today either....

Yours, digitally,

Three in one

Three posts in one, but really they are all about origami.

First, after much frantic folding, I finally finished fifty five thousand origami pieces. Well, actually, it is probably only in the hundreds, but it felt like more! And all the final folding was done in the origami club, with three new students today: they were all seven year olds who had been in the room last week when the club was folding, and decided that they wanted to try what the cool eleven year olds were doing.
The most thrilling part, though, was not what they folded under my supervision, it was how well one of the older students took the younger ones under her wing and taught them to fold masu boxes! Way to go, J!

Secondly: last night, Boo told me that she had been in her classroom that morning, and had walked past the bookshelves with the origami dragon, crane, frog, panda etc on: and, she said: "It made me cry! In a good way!"

Apparently this statement didn't make it to Miss G, her teacher, but somehow today origami came up in class, and Boo volunteered me to go to the class and show them all how I fold things: and I saw Miss G this afternoon, and have promised to do so on Monday morning. I don't think that I will get them all to fold anything: at 3-5 years old, they are too young to cope with in a group of twenty (individually, I could probably manage to do something, but not all at once): but I will be able to talk about origami, show them a few models, and hopefully have some fun. And give some fun too:-)

Yours, never done folding,

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Orchestral maneuvers

I used to play in an orchestra, half a lifetime ago. Actually, I played in more than one orchestra, and in a jazz band or two too. I was, however, never very good.
This never held me back (although I can't really say that it helped me out much either!) I was enthusiastic, and made that trombone dance and sing. Of key, perhaps. Arhythmically, possibly. The wrong notes at the wrong time, frequently.
Nonetheless, I had fun. And most of the time did okay.
This is why this news from Alexander McCall Smith (yes, he of the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series of mysteries, amongst others) is so thrilling to me!

Yours, oh so tempted,

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Spring is here

Of course, it's another week or so to go until the vernal equinox, but weather-wise, spring is here, spring is here, life is skittles and life is beer... etc.

But the kids' noses are still streaming, as I sit here I can hear Boo coughing and coughing and coughing in her sleep: Skibo sniffled all day, and coughed for much of it too: and their friend Ade had what looked like little worms coming out of his nose: literally, two permanent streams of liquid snot (sorry) all afternoon.

Yours, sprung,

Three days and counting

Three days from now, all the origami worries will be over --- not only that, the benefit itself will be over, most of the origami will be gone, never to be seen again.

I had thought that I was well on top of things: there's a display table of pieces to fold, but that can be big or small, and the students from the origami club will be folding much of that on Friday: and there are some paper napkin waterlilies that need folding to be glued on top of masu boxes, but only ten or so, and they are really quick to fold.

Then yesterday, the organizer informed me that the benefit is suddenly going to be rather more successful than she had thought, and that there will be ten more tables, so she needs thirty more cranes. Please. As it were.

And actually, that is quite feasible: I drove out to the school this afternoon and picked up paper, and have folded ten or so in my free time this evening. It will get done.

Yours, still on schedule,

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mississippi results and turnout

It appears that the Mississippi Secretary of State was wrong: he predicted light to moderate turnout today. He appears to have been out by a factor of around 4. Yes, he predicted 125,000 to 150,000 voters, and over 500,000 have turned out. Why, the Republicans alone, with no race of any importance left, almost beat his turnout figure!

Yours, as always saying "thank heavens for Mississippi",

My absolute favourite food blogger

has a new post up.

Yours, egging her on,


LOML's cabbages have come up nicely in the garden, and so yesterday we had an asian chicken and cabbage salad -- Nigella's recipe --- which we have had many times and always end up saying "How come we always forget how much we like this?" And since there was well over half a head of cabbage left over, I decided to make a coleslaw: a few years ago I stumbled upon a recipe which I loved (I thought that it was in one of our cookbooks, but since we have several hundred cookbooks, I've been unable to figure out which recipe it was!)
It was a mayonnaise-free recipe: I am not a fan of creamy coleslaw -- I want it to bite back, so to speak. I finally found one on the web to try: as it turned out, LOML loved it, but I found it rather sweet. After I tinker with the sweetness/acidity levels and get it to one that I like, I'll post it. It definitely showed promise: it's just not quite there yet.

Yours, tartly, if a trifle over sweet,

On the Eliot mess...

My favourite quote so far:
The unhinged reaction on the part of the media and, by extension the public, is a national embarrassment. Once more, the French are laughing. I don't really care what the French are doing, but we have to keep making them laugh?
from Seth Greenland at Huffposthow can I top that?
All in all, it seems that this is an example of a brilliant yet flawed leader who will have taken down his career, and perhaps in the process diverted attention from a financial scandal that he was trying to highlight. All for the sake of a little sex.
I'd be mad at him if I weren't madder at the country for the stupid way we treat this stuff --- and I am as bad as anyone, laughing at Larry Craig's airport misadventures, or David Vitter's prostitution problems. Of course, in the latter cases, it was never clear to me in the first place that the johns were brilliant yet flawed leaders....
It seems ridiculous to me that the basis for prosecuting him will not be engaging in dubious acts with a prostitute (whether or not this should be illegal, it is long settled law in the US that it is a State matter, not a Federal matter) it will be for "transporting across state lines for immoral purposes". Which of course brings to mind a dreadful joke, but that will remain untold.

Yours, considering the whole thing a dreadful joke,

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ness he's not!

Eliot Spitzer is clearly no Eliot Ness.
And he won't be vice president either.
And from the look of it, he won't be governor
of New York for very much longer either!

Yours, (a)/(be)mused by it all,

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Chicken pot pie

Having roasted a couple of chickens last night for dinner, and only having eaten about half of the meat, and the weather being chilly, chicken pot pies were a natural on the menu for today.
We always have reduced chicken stock available (I make a big pot of stock, strain it, and then reduce it down until it is almost a jelly --- ten cups reduced to one cup, or so: then I freeze it in a saucepan, remove it, and cut it into one ounce chunks: whenever I need a cup of chicken stock I pull out a chunk and dissolve it in hot water: it makes making really great rice easy), so I simmered some carrots, and celery in stock for a while, added some frozen peas and corn, cubes of leftover chicken, added salt, pepper and about half a cup of heavy cream, and filled a pie.
I am so glad that I finally discovered how to make great pastry: for years this was something I'd try every few months, fail, and vow to try again someday.
Then I discovered cutting cold butter into small cubes (about 100 cubes from
a stick, which sounds a lot, but three slices along the length in each direction, then cutting into 10 or twelve pieces crosswise gives you that many) and for a savoury dough, replacing a quarter of the butter with lard, tossing it all with flour, and throwing it in the freezer for an hour before using a food processor to make the dough makes it easy.

6 oz cold butter, cut into small cubes
2 oz lard
2 cups all purpose flour
teaspoon or so of salt
1/3 cup of ice cold water

Toss the cubed butter and the lard with the sifted flour into the bowl of the food processor (with the blade in the bowl): put the whole lot in the freezer for an hour.
Pulse a few times, add most of the water, pulse again a few times, check if it is coming together, and if not, add a little more water. Pulse again.

Turn out onto plastic wrap, gather into two equal-ish piles, and press together to form two rounds of dough: wrap up in plastic wrap and press and shape into two rounds a few inches across, and less than half an inch thick. Refrigerate for half an hour or an hour or so.
Roll out into two circles to fit a nine inch pie plate. Etc.

It tasted good.

Yours, feeling flaky,

Saturday, March 8, 2008

A lovely day

A friend of LOML's and mine from some years back came to visit today: we hadn't seen her in at least three years, perhaps more: in the interim, lots of things have changed, and lots has stayed the same. We quickly settled into an easy rhythm, standing around in the kitchen cooking, catching up, and laughing a lot.
How pleasant:-) And she brought Veuve Cliquot too!

Yours, drinking to (and with) old friends,

Friday, March 7, 2008

I find it curious

And when I say curious, what I mean is that I really don't understand this: the house next door to us has been sold twice over the past 8 years, once to a real estate company, and then to someone who leased it as a rental property, first to a lovely couple, and then to a dog-grooming business.
This week, a for sale sign went up outside the house. It is a small property, and both times that we've seen it sold, it has gone for a fairly reasonable price: but this time around, when we looked at the information on it, we discovered that they are asking more than twice what they paid for it! Now, they have put some work into it, but not that much --- it's absolutely ridiculous!
Of course, it's not like housing prices are in a slump or anything at the moment, or as if the economy were close to being declared in a recession....

Yours, dumbfounded,

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Football, with the feet

I've always wondered why it is that Americans call their autumnal sport "football", given that it seems to use almost as little foot-ball action as basketball and baseball do (and at least in those sports, bases and baskets are important). And it does get in the way of communicating with most of the rest of the world, for whom futbol is another sport entirely.

Some decades ago, the US government passed "Title IX" (that's 'nine', not 'ix'), outlawing the practice of denying any aspect of the educational experience to any group: and in particular this has been taken to mean: if schools or colleges spend money on a sport for boys or men, then they have to provide comparable opportunities for girls or women. This has led to a boom in opportunities for women to participate in sports, and one sport that has boomed as a result is soccer. This was evident in 96 and many of the subsequent years with the US team's strength in women's soccer.

And as a consequence it is easy to find soccer lessons and clubs for small children (and refreshingly they are gender non-specific). Boo and Skibo started this afternoon, with their first experience playing the game at the local "Y". Apparently they were fantastic (I was home making dinner while LOML took them to play --- we take turns getting to take them to this sort of thing), listening well to instruction, playing hard, and really doing very well with things like ball control, trapping the ball, stopping and starting, etc.

Of course, with soccer twice a week, gymnastics once a week, ballet once a week, we are already well on the way to the classic US overscheduled children. And they are only five and three. How do we regain control? We can't cancel dance or gymnastics. And with soccer, they are literally having a ball.

Yours, spinning,

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Harpies redux

The Toronto Globe and Mail is following up on the story of the Harpies interfering in the Democratic primary.

Still fuming.

Oh! Canada!

How could you? It now appears that the Harper regime in Ottawa may have made up, a construction out of whole cloth, as it were, the story that the Obama campaign contacted the Canadian ambassador to say "ignore me on NAFTA -- I don't mean it".
According to the CBC, it now appears that the Harper crowd contacted Obama's campaign, deliberately leaked an inaccurate representation of what the campaign said. "Don't worry, Obama is not a protectionist" became "ignore what I say, I'm just saying it to get elected".
I'm disgusted in the government of the country I have in the past called home. I don't blame the country, but I do blame the Tories.

Yours, cursing the harpies,

The idiocy of the US election process

Watching, fascinated, loving every minute of it, the current primaries and caucuses to determine who will compete for the presidency of the US, I am struck by the fact that whether or not I love watching it, the process is absurd. Ridiculous. Some states have primaries (i.e. votes) and others have caucuses (cf Lewis Carroll to see how ridiculous they are). And the ones which have primaries have arcane and weird rules to determine the number of "delegates" (some of whom may change their votes, if they wish, at some point). Surely it would be better to have a total vote count to determine the outcome?
And if it was deemed desirable to have states vote on different days, it certainly shouldn't be the case that their votes count for different amounts: early states get to help determine who gets voted off the primary ballot: but they don't get any extra influence. Nor should they get any less influence.
If every state had a primary rather than a caucus, perhaps it would be possible to pass such a proposal. But in the system we have now, is it possible to dream of a change?

Yours, dreaming of the day when the US endorses "one person, one vote" at last,

How can it take days to count the votes?

On MSNBC just now, Chuck Todd, their political director, made the point that in some rural counties it can take days to count the votes. How on earth can this be? It's not like he was suggesting that these were areas in which precincts had millions of voters: the suggestion was that they were sparsely populated. How can it take so long?
Are they walking the results in to the county seat? Don't they have telephones? Computers? Calculators? Fingers? Rudimentary arithmetic skills?

Yours, bemused, befuddled and completely bewildered,

A result worth mentioning

In the county of Loving, Texas, the results were in early. With 100% of precincts counted, Obama leads Clinton by a total of 7 votes to 5.

Yours, loving it,

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Another view of the turnout figures

Turnout in Ohio looks like it will come close to matching the general election turnout for the Democratic Party. Of course, there hasn't been a real race for a week or three on the Republican side, so there is bound to be less incentive to turn out.

Turnout in Texas is hard to estimate, since they are reporting early voting in a very strange (and unexplained) way --- so the count of 40% of precincts reporting is hard to extrapolate from. Still, there's already well over 1.6 million votes counted, and in the last general election the Republicans only got 4.5 million --- with their home son on the ticket!

In Vermont, turnout on the D side is likely to be about 150,000 --- or better than 80% of the last general election on the D side: in Rhode Island by comparison, curiously, the excitement was lacking -- it is only at about 65% of the last general election Democratic turnout. Why, it's down there with California!

Yours, crunching numbers,

Clinton doesn't want good press

Surely, Clinton really really really can't want good press! Otherwise, would she really have arranged that the press room would be a mens' toilet? And did they really serve them food in there?????

Yours, completely flabbergasted!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Parent Teacher conferences

LOML and I met with Boo and Skibo's teachers this afternoon --- and let me tell you, there is nothing that puffs a parent up quite like being told just how good and smart and well behaved not one, but both of your children are!
For some reason, the school doesn't seem to emphasize art very much --- and both Boo and Skibo love drawing at home: yesterday marked a turning point for both of them -- Boo drew a house which was quite identifiable as such, and then, to our astonishment, she drew little flowers in front of the house! And they looked like flowers!
Skibo, 21 months her junior, is learning from his older sister: his drawing yesterday of people showed him beginning to represent heads and bodies -- no arms or legs yet -- but he's a good few months of when she took the same step. Nice to see him shining too, as it is distressingly easy for us to always be amazed at what she can do, and then fail to recognize that he's doing something wonderful too.

Yours, amazed at them both,

Sunday, March 2, 2008


I've been promising various friends that I would write up the brioche recipe for them: it is taken essentially from Julia Child's book "Baking With Julia" (a wonderful book: please do yourself a favour and run out and buy a copy!)

Stage 1:
1/3 cup warm milk
1 large egg
2 cups all purpose flour (I like to use King Arthur)
To start with, mix the warmed milk, the egg, about a tablespoon of yeast and one cup of the flour together into a shaggy mess in the bowl of a heavy duty stand mixer. Cover with the remaining flour. Leave uncovered to let the yeast come to life: the flour will 'crack', almost like a mini-earthquake after half an hour or so.

Stage 2:
1/4 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups ap flour
Add the sugar, the lightly beated eggs and one cup of the flour to the mixing bowl. Mix on slow until it comes together, add enough of the remaining flour that it creates a soft, slightly sticky dough. Now let the machine knead it for fifteen minutes or longer. Here the recipe recommends using medium-high speed, but my mixer's handbook has a "thou shalt not use the doughhook on high speed or any speed higher than '2'" injunction, together with "modify your bread recipes accordingly". So, give it at least 15 minutes, maybe longer, until you have a lovely dough.

Stage 3:
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter
Bash the butter until it is cold but pliable, a similar stiffness to the dough. Cut into pieces, and gradually add to the dough, kneading for another few minutes after all the butter is added to ensure that it is well mixed in. The dough should feel cool, slightly tacky to the touch, and should have an almost silky feel to it. Put it in a large buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and leave to rise.

After the dough has doubled, reach under the dough and run your hands around to collapse it: cover it again, and leave it in the fridge for at least 4-6 hours, preferably overnight. It's now ready for use in your favourite brioche recipe.

For the dessert pizza, flatten a round of dough (half of the batch above) into a 9 inch circle (I put it into a parchment lined nine-inch circular stoneware pie plate.
Bake it at 375 for about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Top with coulis and drizzle with melted chocolate, white or otherwise.

Yours, because I felt you kneaded to know,

Red wine reduction with steak

Yesterday we helped a friend celebrate her 40th birthday (yes, we hang out with those youngsters all the time...): when we had asked her her favourite foods, she indicated that she liked pan fried steak with a red wine reduction sauce: so naturally I decided it was time to learn how to do that.
America's Best Recipes to the rescue: one of the first cookbooks I look at before trying something new, and I tried it as written yesterday. The reduction was simple to make: finely mince a shallot, a couple of small mushrooms, a small carrot, and simmer it with a cup of good red wine, for about 20-30 minutes. Strain, and reduce some more.
Cook the steaks in the pan (high heat, to caramelize the outside of the steaks), remove the meat to a platter, and tent with foil to let it rest. In the pan put a finely minced shallot, cook over low heat for a minute, add a third of a cup each of chicken and beef stock, simmer to reduce for several minutes. Add the wine reduction, cook over low for a few minutes, then whisk in three tablespoons of cold unsalted butter, a tablespoon at a time. Salt and pepper and pour over the plated steaks.

It was quite delicious! As with all wine reductions, use a wine that you actively enjoy drinking: its flavours will concentrate immensely in the reduction process. Likewise, the better stock you use, the better, too.

Yours, saucily,

Saturday, March 1, 2008

SNL's Hillary impersonation

Saturday Night Live's impersonations of both Obama and Clinton were abolutely awful: or so I thought until Hillary herself turned up to read the "Live from..." line, and Amy Pohler came out in the same outfit: I realized that the big problem with her impersonation is the mouth: she's frantic, and Hillary herself is slower, more careful.

The Obama impersonation, as yet, has nothing to recommend it. Perhaps there will be something better later in the show....

Yours, uncopied,

A new month

and already, a sad start. I dropped a knife this morning, and the handle broke. Broke off. And the knife is the first decent knife I ever bought: I'd had it for almost twenty five years --- a six inch utility knife good for just about anything.
Now, it isn't my favourite knife -- or wasn't, I should say -- I far prefer eight inch chefs knives now for most tasks, and I have another six inch utility knife that I preferred anyway: but it was and old friend. And now it's sitting on the counter, waiting for me to throw it away. It's hard, just throwing away an old friend you've had for decades.

Yours, down,