Love children especially, for they too are sinless like the angels; they live to soften and purify our hearts and, as it were, to guide us.
~Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

I must be fleeing from this distasteful inanity. With reason.

Over time, many have taken and considered various pragmatic stances, were accoutred with reasonable negotiating skills, took pride in remaining well-informed, displayed patience and equanimity, and stood by with a congenial, usually optimistic bend even in dark times. They sought resolution via compromise. This does not ever imply that they were blameless or free of criticism. Lamentably though, that species is becoming extinct in today’s political world now peopled by fanatical demagogues who care little for civility or progress — their extreme positions are so entrenched and illogically dogmatic that compromise is inconceivable. Those zealots, mired down by delusion and arrogance, hope and pray only to garner enough financial and electoral strength to claim that lowly office once more (and avoid being “primaried”). Government servants who avowedly detest government weary me.

Anyone in any trade, craft or business who had such dismal approval ratings would feel soulless and would be on the streets. Is that not metaphorical because are not some politicians really soulless beggars in a sense?

So, time for a recess from this dysfunctional, almost dismembered, institution called congressional politics and a return to the more rational worlds of food, culture, music, art, literature, history, and science. I may return some day, but your misguided mania has caused me and so many others to lose faith.

Before taking leave of you, I humbly beseech that each day when you are preening for your next feckless Congressional hearing, absurd appearance on the floor, perplexing press interview, or lunch with those sycophants called lobbyists (who profit from your dysfunction), ask yourself this simple question: “what am I doing for this country’s youth?”

We are talking basic issues which deeply affect our young citizenry and our nation’s future. So, just try to avoid political obfuscation, encourage political and intellectual honesty, help to avert mass shoootings, address the rampant spread of guns, confront and curtail the dreadful impacts of global warming, assuage broad environmental concerns, reduce the costs of higher education, encourage an expansion of college grants, address our overall primary and secondary educational needs, assure that our precious ones have universal health care, feed hungry households, devote fervent efforts to the food system debacle, undertake to reduce income disparity, cease homelessness in our youth, withdraw from needless wars, and drastically lessen influence peddling and money in politics. These are some of the concerns which do plague, and will soon jeopardize, the next generation.

You will be gone by the time these woes really come to roost, but since most children cannot vote, apparently you seem not to care enough to help ameliorate their present and future problems. A form of exploitation. Yet, I still implore you to each day, while you draw that comb through whatever gray or dyed hair remains, again ask yourself this simple question: “what am I doing for this country’s youth?” Until something is done in a concerted way on that surreal Hill, I fear you will sentence them to lives of doom.

For now, let’s return to the lambs — a kinder place with gentler pastures.

GRILLED LEG OF LAMB

1 C extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 C red wine or sherry vinegar
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 T fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped
1 T fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1 T fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
2 lemons, halved and juiced
2 T Dijon mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 (4-5 lb) boneless leg of lamb, butterflied open

In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, oregano, thyme, rosemary, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper. Pat the lamb dry and lay in a large baking dish or on a platter, then season with salt and pepper. Pour the marinade over the lamb, turning the meat to coat well. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 4 hours or even overnight. Remove the marinated meat from the refrigerator about an hour before grilling so that it reaches room temperature.

Prepare coals for barbecuing. Roll 2-3 full newspaper sheets into tubes, then bend the tubes to form rings. Turn the chimney starter upside down. A grate splits the hollow inter­ior of the tub into two compartments. Fit the tubs into the base of the starter so that they are pressed against the grate. Be careful to leave a hole in the middle (the hole allows for airflow once the newspaper is lit).

Turn the chimney over so that it is right side up. Load the chimney to the top with charcoal. Using a long match or butane lighter, light the newspaper in several places through the holes at the bottom of the chimney starter. Wait 10–20 minutes for all the coals to light. The charcoal is ready when you see flames licking at the coals in the top of the chimney and gray ash just starting to form. Wearing an oven mitt, lift the chimney starter by the handle and slowly dump the hot coals in a pile onto the bottom coal grate in the middle of the grill, and put the starter in a safe place.

Once the briquets turn very hot, spread and place the top rack over them. The fire is medium-high when you can hold your hand about 3-4″ above the rack for 3 seconds or so before you must retract. Grill lamb, fat side down first, covered, for about 15 minutes. Turn meat and grill, covered, about 10 minutes more on the other side or until it reaches medium rare.

Before carving, let the lamb rest on a welled cutting board for at least 15-20 minutes to allow the juices to migrate throughout. If you carve too soon, the juices will simply exit the lamb leaving behind a much drier piece of meat. Slice the lamb across the grain and on the bias.

STUFFED LAMB SHOULDER

1 bunch Swiss chard, leaves and stems separated
2-3 shallots, peeled and finely sliced

1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 turnip, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 C thyme leaves, finely chopped
1/4 C fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
2 T fresh chives, finely chopped

1 (4 lb) boneless lamb shoulder
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and halved
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil, for rubbing

1 (4 lb) boneless lamb shoulder
Extra virgin olive oil, for searing

4 C chicken stock
1 head garlic, cut in half transversely

2 T unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare an ice water bath. Add chard leaves to the boiling water and cook for 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, immediately transfer to the ice water. Cool, drain, squeeze out excess water and coarsely chop.

Heat olive oil in a large, heavvy skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring, and continue cooking about 2-3 minutes. Transfer chard-shallot mixture to a medium bowl and set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together the carrots, turnips, parsley, chives, and chard-shallot mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 350 F

Spread the lamb open on work surface. Score the inside of the meat with a paring knife, making shallow incisions every 3/4″ while taking care not to cut all the way through the meat. Rub the opened shoulder on both sides with the halved garlic and season inside with salt and pepper. Then, spread the herb mixture over the surface, leaving a 1″ border. Carefully roll the lamb, tie with 5 or 6 pre-cut kitchen trussing strings at fairly close intervals. Brush with olive oil and season outside with salt and pepper.

In a large, heavy sauté or roasting pan, heat the olive oil on high. Add the lamb shoulder to the pan and briefly sear until browned on all faces, about 2 minutes per side. Remove from heat and then add the stock and garlic. Place in the oven for about 2 hours for medium rare to medium, or using an internal meat thermometer until it reads 155-160 F after resting. (Remember the meat’s internal temperature typically rises 5-10 degrees as it rests. So, remove lamb from cooking heat when the thermometer reads 5-10 degrees less than the ultimate desired temperature.)

Remove the lamb shoulder from the pan, place on a welled cutting board and tent with foil. Meanwhile, strain juices over a medium, heavy saucepan and cook on medium high until reduced by half, at least almost a silky sauce consistency. Remove from heat, whisk in the butter and season with salt and pepper. Remove strings, making sure you have allowed the lamb to stand 15-20 minutes before carving into larger slices for serving. Ladle sauce over sliced lamb shoulder on plates.

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Paradise Lost, Again

December 14, 2012

Accept the children the way we accept trees — with gratitude, because they are a blessing — but do not have expectations or desires. You don’t expect trees to change, you love them as they are.
~Isabel Allende

Unspeakable. The darkest of horrors that will never leave. Today, so many beautiful and innocent young bright-eyed children, their glowing futures ahead of them, were massacred in their schoolrooms by a crazed gunman armed like a special ops soldier. Saplings horrifically felled much too early. Profound and recurring, relentlessly nightmarish. Enough reruns of ruined young lives.

So, please just cease the hollow refrains of “how could this happen, why could this happen?” Or the inanity of arguing that “the bad guys will have more potent weapons and so for minimal self-defense, semiautomatic weapons and enhanced clips are needed.” Or the classic misogynistic one that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” We have heard those same asinine lines over and over before. Anyone with even a whit of sense has better solutions, except for maniacal gun supporters and profiteers who seem unwilling to grasp these self-evident truths, sheepishly and illogically hiding behind obsolete Second Amendment claims and adhering to that unpatriotic paper tiger called the NRA. Callous gun lobbyists and gutless politicians continue to aid and abet the rampant gun violence which is nothing less than domestic terrorism, carried out with inherently dangerous assault weapons that are freely owned and carried by our own citizens. The raw data alone speaks volumes.

Do you not know how you shamelessly hastened their tragic ends by blatantly allowing the barter of weapons of mass destruction?

Please, so many senators and representatives, do not offer us your usual weak, self-indulgent condolonences, or that feigned shock and grief only to eschew politics out of hand with devious motives. How you bogusly glad hand with false smiles and kiss babies as if you care, yet freely gird others to kill more each year. Under the guise of delusional constitutional interpretations, you have effectively allied gun fanatics with the deranged and criminals making this country the homicide capital of the developed world.

Soon it will be time to candidly face these angelic, slaughtered children and ask their families how you so readily arm a crazed man and so many others like him. Ask the innocents and their families about the effects of flagrant weapons trade, and how they will remain forever blighted by today’s carnage. Then, look really hard in the nearest mirror, only to see the looks of blatant lies. Those falsehoods you uttered to so many others, young and old, most often to yourself, merely to preserve your lowly caste. Surely you recognize that is it not just a question of complacency and greed, but rather cowardice. How you sell your soul, timid ones — so brazenly, with our youth in the balance.

Beyond sad.

Dew Evaporates
And all our world is dew…so dear,
So fresh, so fleeting.

~Issa

Ukiyo-e 浮世絵 is a stunning art form that conceives an evanescent world, a fleeting beauty divorced from the mundane — a genre of Japanese mass produced woodblock prints for commoners in the seclusive Edo period. The polychromatic images depict romantic vistas, transient tales, street scenes, kabuki motifs, comely courtesans, bawdy brothels and even shun-ga (erotica). Life’s momentary insights from shadows and dreams.

Each ukiyo-e image was a collaborative effort: a publisher who coordinated the artisans and marketed the works; an artist who plotted and inked the design on paper; a carver who meticulously chiseled the images, now pasted to a series of woodblocks; and a printer who applied pigments to the woodblocks and printed each color on exquisite handmade paper. Reproductions, sometimes numbering in the thousands, could be made until the carvings on the woodblocks became overly worn.

While a rambling discourse on beloved sushi or sashimi in earlier Japanese culture may seem in order, it is hanukkah so…

POTATO AND TURNIP LATKES

2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and shredded
1 large turnip, peeled, quartered and shredded
1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled, quartered and shredded

2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 T all-purpose flour
1/2 T fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1/2 T fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3/4 C duck fat, plus more as needed

Place the vegetables in a strainer over a large bowl and allow liquid to drain. Set reserved liquid aside and allow starch to sink to the bottom. Gingerly pour liquid from the bowl, reserving the milky residue (potato starch) and discard the clearer, watery stuff. Transfer potatoes back to bowl with the starch.

Beat together the eggs, flour, thyme, sage, salt and pepper in another bowl until well combined. Add the egg mixture to the vegetables and mix until evenly combined.

Heat duck fat in a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat until shimmering.

Form some “silver dollar pancakes” and carefully place one in the hot fat to test for temperature — the fat should immediately bubble around the edges. Cook until golden brown, turning once, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove them from the pan and taste, adjusting the seasoning as needed.

Form more potato patties and place them in the hot fat without overcrowding. Fry (undisturbed) until the latkes hold together and become golden brown, again about 3-4 minutes per side. Adjust seasoning to your taste. Remove to a paper towel lined platter and continue frying more latkes until done.

Nosh on them semi-hot or preferably closing in on room temp. If you are even a touch unfamiliar, you will wonder where in the hell these divine spuds have been for all these years.

Memory is the diary we all carry about with us.
~Oscar Wilde

Another long held food hypothesis thankfully proven lab sound: memory influences eating and food choices. Researchers at the University of Bristol explored the nexus between satiety and memory, and their findings were published in a recent issue of the journal PLoS (Public Library of Science). They isolated the extent to which memory for a recently consumed meal influences hunger and fullness over a 3 hour period — by covertly refilling or drawing soup from bowls while participants dined. A scientific trompe-l’œil of sorts.

The study noted that those who engage in distracting tasks (e.g., watching television or playing a computer game) while eating suffer memory impairment not only for that meal but also experience increased hunger in the interim and then enhanced consumption at their subsequent meal. They are not making memories of their food, and may be setting themselves up for munchies later. Distraction likely influences eating rate, mood, and level of stress, all known to moderate appetite and food intake. Ever see a svelte driver hurriedly munching on a midday burger while talking on an earpiece and anxiously navigating traffic between meetings?

While stopping short of drawing a cause-and-effect relationship between hunger and memory, the Bristol team’s research was consistent with emerging literature on “memory for recent eating” and opened avenues to further studies. Their observations did provide evidence that hippocampal memories often mobilize behavioral responses to food.

Seems like even more than a starter. Just try that terrifying act of shutting off the gadgets and sitting down to really savor your meal, not just once but more than…

FARFALLE, PANCETTA & BRUSSELS SPROUTS

Sea salt
8 ozs farfalle pasta

2 T extra virgin olive oil
3 ozs pancetta, cut into lardons
1 thyme sprig
1 rosemary sprig
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Freshly ground black pepper

1+ C brussels sprouts, thinly sliced on a mandoline
Sea salt and freshly ground red and black peppers
Chicken stock
1 T unsalted butter
Dollop of heavy whipping cream

Parmigiano-reggiano cheese, freshly grated
Extra virgin olive oil
Thyme sprigs

Heat large, heavy sauté pan over high heat and add the olive oil. When oil is hot and shimmering, add the pancetta thyme and rosemary, and sauté until the fat on the pancetta starts to turn translucent and just lightly brown, about 1 minute. Add the garlic and freshly ground black pepper to taste, and sauté until garlic and pancetta turn richly brown, about 3 minutes. Remove and discard garlic, thyme and rosemary.

Add the brussels sprouts, a large pinch of salt, peppers and a splash of stock to pan, and sauté until sprouts just start to soften, about 2 minutes. Spread sprouts mixture in pan and press down to flatten. Let it sear for a minute, then stir and repeat to lightly brown. Add the butter and cream, and sauté for about another couple of minutes or so.

Meanwhile, bring large pot generously salted water to a boil. Add the farfalle and cook until pasta is just al dente, about 10-11 minutes.

Drain fafalle and add to pan with brussels sprouts mixture. Cook briefly, tossing, until all is nicely admixed. Spoon into pasta bowls and top with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of parmigiano-reggiano and thyme sprigs.