Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Life at home

Its a nice quiet morning; Lindsay remains asleep; Haley and Anna have gone blueberry-picking with their Nana and Auntie Dot (who just arrived yesterday; we always drink too much wine with her!). Rob is with his cardiologist and I am most eager to hear how that goes; I'm clamoring for a pacemaker so we'll see....

Kitchen Excitement
Well, for us anyway. I have two new-ish books about food: The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater and The Best 30-Minute Recipe by those America's Test Kitchen folks. Both have already brought us great delight. Slater's book chronicles one year of cooking; he talks about what he cooked, where he got it, how it was prepared and whether he liked it. There are lovely photos as well---not the dressed up kind but simply how the plate looked as he sat down to dig in. Of course he's a skilled cook but most of the recipes are quite simple; its just clear he never has difficulty executing any kitchen task. He's a strong advocate of centering diet around the season's fresh offerings and eschews processed, preserved foods. That's a position I can take much more readily in spring and summer than the rest of the year. For now, I'm dreaming of his peach-blueberry "cobbler" (not really the way us Yanks think of it, tho) and black-currant trifle with creme fraiche...mmmmm. With the girls bringing home just-off-the-bush berries today I'm thinking there are some of these in my immediate future.

From Cook's Illustrated most recent magazine offering I found a wonderful and surprisingly easy to execute Vegetable Curry recipe. I find Indian food, with all its creamy, aromatic sauces and picquant relishes to be among the most comforting foods there are. As you might imagine, I needed some of that last night. Fortunately I had spent an hour or so on Monday in an Indian Market and had all I needed on hand. Are you ready for this? It was OUTRAGEOUSLY good. Man. And simple, really; just some chopping work up front but otherwise it was reasonably quick and no tricks at all... We had some grilled chicken breasts that I'd seasoned with garam masala and curry as well as lemon-cashew rice; I baked some frozen samosas and we were heaven bound.

I've cooked other Indian food before: chana masala (chickpeas curry), aloo palak (spinach, potatoes) and dal makhani (the best lentils EVER). I've always been very pleased with the ease with which most Indian restaurant-fare can be replicated in your home kitchen. If you dig Indian food and haven't ever tried to make some yourself, go for it. There are LOTS of simple, easy to follow recipes on the internet; no need to go buying books just yet.

Movies ...
There are a handful of great-looking indie films I'm anxious to see: "You Kill Me" with Ben Kingsley and Tea Leone (Wayne and Garth say "grrrr!"); "Once" with Glen Hansard (also known as the guitarist character in "The Comitments") and that frenchy movie that Special K recently posted. cBFF A (henceforth referred to as Vold, Voldie or the Voldinator) and I are spending Saturday evening together and I get to pick what we'll do (isn't that right, Vold?) so I'm hoping one of these will be seen.

I've seen several documentaries (go figure!) that I enjoyed, some that were rather curious, like "Songbirds"... the stories of some UK female prisoners set to song.... mmmm, not so sure about that approach; it was very odd. The stories were compelling but didn't convey well at all. Another independent film, "Day Night Day Night", here's the IMDb summary:

"A 19-year-old girl prepares to become a suicide bomber in Times Square. Her
accent is not particularly out of place and it's impossible to pinpoint her
ethnicity. We never learn why she made her decision -- she has made it already.
We don't know whom she represents, what she believes in - we only know she
believes it absolutely. The film strips the story down to its existential core.
It focuses on microscopic movements, the smallest gestures, an economy of banal
details. Inspired in part by a story in a Russian newspaper and playing off a
history of Joan of Arc films, the film transpires on the girl's face. The
minimalism of the face is confronted with the visual and aural noise of the
city. Faith comes face-to-face with the possibility of failure."

(I can't get Blogger to let go of that damn blockquote. I hate blogger.) The movie might have been really great had the Director made a choice about which story he was going to tell. Had he followed his first idea, to coldly portray the machinations involved in pulling off a suicide bombing, that would have been interesting and chilling, which is how the film began. On the other hand, if he'd developed the would-be bomber's character a bit we might have a glimpse of the emotional experience of staring down such a momentous decision. But he didn't do that---he started with one and then gave us a bunch of emotional rambling at the end that the viewer has no context for understanding. Disappointing. I wish he'd done better. It actually made me think the film might have been better were it not an independent---I hardly ever think that!

Finally, when I couldn't sleep last night, I watched "Deadline" which presents the discovery process that former Illinois governor, George Ryan used to eventually support his end-of-term commutation of 157 death-row inmates in 2003 and further issuing a moratorium on executions in that state until appropriate reforms were identified and put in place.

This may the single most heroic act by an elected official in the history of our country; of course its clear that others see it differently. Having ascertained conclusively that the system by which inmates were sentenced to die (in Illinois and certainly other places...) was fundamentally discriminatory (in myriad ways), he simply refused to allow it to continue.

I think the rationale was well summarized by one anti-death penalty advocate (god, I wish I could remember his name): if we knew that for some unknown reason a particular model of aircraft or car were malfunctioning and killing people, we would remove those models from service until the cause of the problem was understood and repairable. Why would we treat our law enforcement system differently? Scott Turow also made some very well considered remarks that were rather centrist but ultimately anti-death penalty. A former warden of Parchman Penitentiary in Mississippi bravely faced the camera and voiced his misgivings about the death penalty in general, and our society's expectation that corrections officers will perform those duties.

The film itself was fair; comprehensive, didn't get in the way of the story, no sensationalism. Beyond the story being told there isn't much remarkable about it---which is what I think is the entry level criteria for a documentary should be. I found an interesting website this morning with a fairly balanced presentation of issues surrounding the death penalty; its worth checking out.

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