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.

Clowns & Chickpea Soup

January 20, 2012

The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet.
~Mark Twain

While on the folly of moral high grounders, just imagine that during one 24-hour spell: (1) a dropout governor and loser vice presidential candidate, who was woefully under scrutinized by her own party before “they” recklessly placing her on the ticket, ironically excoriated the country for electing the current president without properly vetting him; (2) in an embarrassing vote recount, a bigoted, right wing former senator was now declared the winner of a recent state caucus, reversing the previous results and defeating the party’s front running, perfectly coiffed mannequin candidate after all; (3) that same flip-flopping, scantily taxed, front running sycophant who has been warbling patriotic–even misinterpreting America The Beautiful–and touting good old fashioned homeland work values, has been surreptitiously shifting his funds to offshore tax havens; (4) a current governor with decidedly conservative, homophobic values has dropped out of the race and now endorsed another candidate, a former House Speaker who has repeatedly heralded the sanctity of established monogamous marriages; (5) while the second wife of this same pontificating Speaker gave a tell all interview where she revealed that this self-annointed high browed historian sought an “open marriage” with her all the while having a sordid affair with his now third wife; (6) then later that evening, the remaining pretenders suit and tied up to spew their pious demagogy onstage before raucous partisans at a national “debate.”

The stuff of statesmen and diplomats? Not even Twain or the esteemed dramatist Molière could have concocted such inane political satire. Makes me want to take a long shower, slip into some jammies, pop some popcorn, and tune into Fox “News” or CNN while humming And where are the clowns?…Send in the clowns.

Given yesterday’s lunacy and in honor of the ancient Roman orator, linguist and philosopher Cicero (from which ceci was derived), some velvety, soulful chickpea soup seemed in order. Often, solace can be found in legumes.

PASSATO DI CECI (TUSCAN CHICKPEA SOUP)

Extra virgin olive oil
1/4 lb pancetta, cut into 1/2″ lardons

1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
Sea salt

1 lb (2 C) dried chickpeas, washed, then soaked in water overnight
2 qts chicken stock
4 sprigs fresh thyme, tied in twine
2 bay leaves
1 qt water

Extra virgin olive oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3 sprigs rosemary, stemmed with leaves finely chopped
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 1/2 C artisanal bread, crust on, cut into 1/2″ cubes

Extra virgin olive oil
Mint leaves, chopped

Lightly coat the bottom of a large pot or Dutch oven with olive oil, add the pancetta and bring to medium heat. When the pancetta starts to become crispy, add the onion, celery, carrots, garlic, crushed red pepper and season lightly with salt. Cook the vegetables until they become aromatic and begin to soften, about 6-7 minutes. Do not brown.

Drain and discard the water from the soaked chickpeas, rinse them in a colander and add to the pot. Add the chicken stock, thyme, bay leaves and 1 quart of water. Bring the liquid just to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer until the chickpeas are very soft and nearly falling apart, about 1 1/2-2 hours. Turn off the heat, season with salt and allow to rest for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, deeply coat a large skillet with olive oil, add garlic cloves, rosemary leaves, and crushed red pepper and bring to medium heat. Remove the garlic once it is golden and before it burns. Then add the cubed bread and cook until just crispy and golden. Season with salt and remove the croutons to a bowl for use later, reserving the garlic-rosemary oil.

Add the garlic-rosemary oil to the soup. Purée (in batches if necessary) the soup by pulsing in a food processor or blender. Correct the consistency, if necessary–if too thin, cook some more to reduce, or if too thick carefully add more stock. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Ladle into shallow soup bowls, drizzle very lightly with olive oil, then top with croutons and mint.