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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Words do not change their meanings so drastically in the course of centuries as, in our minds, names do in the course of a year or two.
~Marcel Proust

With steady overdoses of dissonance — the BP gulf cataclysm, insecure financial markets, Wall St avarice, rampant unemployment, poverty, malnutrition, endless wars, species depletion, global warming, political antagonism, and the like. Anxiety, animus, and acrimony all run amok, urged on by the madding crowd. Makes me apoplectic sometimes.

Little wonder the Scripps National Spelling Bee is such a welcome relief and maybe a cause for optimism. Youth, words, and a gathering of beautiful minds…and sometimes helicopter parents.

The Bee entails arduous vocab prep over countless hours and seemingly endless regional competitions. It is an honor born of toil to even be chosen for the national contest. There, contestants, oversized placards hanging from their necks, try not to fidget in their chairs as they await their turn. One by one, each is given a word with meticulous pronounciation, and if requested, the definition, origin and sentence use. Standing solo before the mike, contestants nervously form letters to spell that word, followed by either applause and ebullience or the knell of dashed hopes. There are so many pitfalls…an “a” used instead of an “e” or “i;” uttering a double consonant rather than a single one; forgetting a soft “c” after an “s;” confusing Greek with Latin or other etymologies. Each speller has their own quirks and rhythms, and the drama is palpable. Tense teens form words like revirescent, congener, laodicean, poilu, schadenfreude, effleurage, pfeffernuss, onomatopoeia, sesquipedalian, appoggiatura, guerdon, logorrhea, succedaneum, until a winner is crowned. This year, stromuhr (an instrument for measuring the velocity of blood flow), was le dernier mot, assiduously spelled by the champion, Anamika Veeramani.

This lamb tajine sounds the usual polyphony, but also has a nectarous tinge due to the bees’ honey, oranges, and cinnamon.

LAMB TAJINE WITH CURRANT COUSCOUS

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 jalapeño peppers (red & green), stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
2 T sweet paprika
1 T turmeric
1 t ground cumin
1 t ground cardamom
1 t saffron threads
1 T ginger, peeled and minced
4 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 bay leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 lbs boned lamb shoulder, cut into 2″ cubes, patted dry

2 C chicken stock, barely simmering
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and sliced
2 oranges, freshly juiced
1 16 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 C honey
1/2 T ground cinnamon
1 cinnamon stick
2/3 C prunes, pitted
2/3 C dried apricots

Sesame seeds
1/2 C blanched almonds, roasted
Fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped

Combine the chopped onion with the chopped jalapeños, paprika, turmeric, cumin, cardamom, saffron, ginger, bay leaves, salt, pepper and olive oil. In a large bowl or heavy ziploc bag, combine this marinade with the cubed lamb shoulder. Coat well and marinate for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight.

In a heavy, large Dutch oven, sauté the lamb over medium high heat until browned, about 8 minutes or so. Add hot chicken stock, reduce heat and simmer for 40 minutes. Then, add onions, orange juice, chickpeas, honey, cinnamon, cinnamon stick, prunes, and apricots. Simmer until the lamb is very tender, about another 20-30 minutes. Remove lamb and spoon onto a mound of warm couscous in a shallow bowl. Pour the sauce over the top and garnish first with sesame seeds, then almonds and finally mint.

Couscous with Cumin, Coriander & Currants

1/2 T cumin seeds
1/2 T coriander seeds

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
1 C couscous
1 1/2 C chicken stock

1/2 C black currants, plumped in warm water and drained

In a dry heavy small skillet over medium heat add cumin and coriander seeds. Toast briefly until essences are released, about 2 mintes. Do not brown deeply or burn. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature. Then, using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, grind the roasted seeds. Set aside.

Heat stock in a small heavy saucepan to a low simmer. In a heavy medium saucepan add olive oil and butter over medium heat until butter melts. Then, add the couscous, cumin and coriander. Stir well to coat the couscous with the spices. Add the hot broth and stir with a fork to combine well. Cover and let rest undisturbed for 10 minutes. Uncover, add the plumped currants and fluff again gently with a fork.