dimanche, juin 14, 2009

steamed green beans with tomato-garlic vinaigrette

It's summer and we're in love with the Northeastern Flat Green Beans we get in our CSA share through J.R. Organics. In fact, we liked them so much that we planted some green beans in our container garden today, so that we'll have some later in the season, as well.

We've been enjoying them in a variety of seasonings and sauces over the past month or so and prepared them this way last night. We ate our beans while they were still warm, but think that this would also be awesome cold.
Steamed Green Beans with Tomato-Garlic Vinaigrette
The heady, tangy vinaigrette complements the crisp, sweet green beans. Use a garlic press, if you have one, to crush the garlic for this summery dressing; a press crushes garlic into small pieces, encouraging good-for-you compounds to develop.

Prep / cooking time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 3/4 cup)

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (we used champagne vinegar)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup seeded chopped tomato
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 pound green beans, trimmed

  1. Combine first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl; slowly add oil, whisking to combine. Stir in tomato and thyme; let stand 10 minutes.
  2. Steam beans, covered, 7 minutes or until crisp-tender. Cut into 2-inch pieces; add to tomato mixture, tossing gently to coat.
Nutritional Information: Calories: 73 (44% from fat) | Fat: 3.6g (sat 0.5g,mono 2.5g,poly 0.5g) | Protein: 2.4g | Carbohydrate: 9.8g | Fiber: 4.2g | Cholesterol: 0.0mg | Iron: 1.4mg | Sodium: 162mg | Calcium: 48mg

Jackie Mills, MS, RD, Cooking Light, JULY 2008

jeudi, juin 11, 2009

right-wing rage pimps

For the past eight years, liberal activists peacefully protested against a president whose policies were anathema to their core values. They did so without resorting to the kinds of violence we've witnessed from the extreme right over the past two weeks. This terrorism -- the calculated use of violence (or the threat of violence) against civilians in order to attain goals that are political or religious -- is horrifying.
  • On May 31, Scott Roeder entered the Reformation Lutheran Church during Sunday services and slaughtered Dr. George Tiller as he handed out the church bulletin. Tiller was one of only a few doctors in the United States who perform late-term abortions.
  • Yesterday, James von Brunn entered the Holocaust Museum in Washington on a mission of mass murder. Steven Tyrone Johns, the 39-year-old black security guard who stepped in front of von Brunn's gun, sacrificed his own life to prevent a larger tragedy.
It's sickening to watch members of the far right take matters into their own hands, using violent means to support their political ideologies. But it's not entirely surprising when you stop and think about it.

The election of Barrack Obama is a sea change and represents a seismic shift in the sensibilities of many Americans. In April, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report, predicting a rise in white supremacist violence by white men who feel increasingly marginalized and powerless. This prompted cries of outrage from Republican leaders and serious backpedaling by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. (The GOP is strangely silent on the topic now.)

These shootings are not the first time the far right has resorted to domestic terrorism -- Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph the Olympic bomber (also a pro-life zealot), the so-called “freedmen” in Montana, and the shootout at Ruby Ridge -- all made their moves during the Clinton era. But through it all, we've had right-wing ideologues fanning the flames of hate and fueling the twisted imaginations of those like Roeder and von Brunn.

The rabid right-wing rage pimps use inflammatory rhetoric online and on television and radio airwaves, peddling lies like these:
insinuating that President Obama is a socialist, is not really American, is a friend of Islamic terrorists, encourag[ing] listeners to stockpile their money in their homes before the “one world” government nationalizes all the banks. For hours on end on talk radio, they stir up those who live on the fringes of society, with the foulest kind of slurs and insinuation. Then when something violent happens, they step back and suggest that their hands are clean.
I'm not advocating that the government intervene to abridge their freedom of speech. But I'm wondering how we got so far from the truth. It's an oversimplification to just blame News Corporation's Fox News or any of the other conglomerates that spew this hate. But it's not unrealistic to expect those organizations to self-regulate their broadcasters and to embody the journalistic ethics they so vigorously question in the news organizations they accuse of being unfair and imbalanced.

Even as they wrap themselves in the American flag and sidestep questions about their role in shaping public opinion and the discourse, they've lost sight of the journalist's code of conduct (seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, be accountable), embracing distortions, chasing ratings, manufacturing news, and writing best-selling diatribes.

Somewhere along the way, something was lost from the discourse. That something is decency. Michael Rowe's thoughtful reflection on the Degradation of the American Dialogue summarizes the spiral much more eloquently than I can.
There was a time when decency, even honor, was an essential part of the American dialogue in its most ideal form, and part of its very identity. There was a time when our culture would have recoiled in horror at the vituperation flowing unchecked from radios, televisions, and the Internet, instead of applauding it as "common sense," "free speech," or "mavericky," or "a spin-free zone."

There was a time when intellectual honesty was not considered unpatriotic; when compassion for, and understanding of, your fellow man was a sign of strength, not weakness. There was a time when the phrase Have you no shame? meant something, and the First Amendment was not used as toilet paper to wipe up the excremental verbal degradation of vulnerable segments of the American population. A time when it was expected that citizens would understand the difference between free speech and irresponsible speech. Somewhere along the line, a cancerous segment of American popular culture and media cunningly exploited the long-standing, honorable American "cowboy" motif and mentality. They grafted cruelty, divisiveness, and ignorance to it, making the two appear indistinguishable, and natural allies. And they are neither, or at least ought not to be.
It's time for these organizations to do the honorable thing. And it's time for these broadcasters (O'Reilly, Coulter, Hannity, Limbaugh, M. Savage) and politicians to do the right thing. More than anything, it's time for folks on the political right to speak truth to power and tell their broadcasters and politicians to stop using the rhetoric of hate.

Learn more about why I'm calling them out in the essay below.
Death at the Holocaust Museum and the Degradation of the American Dialogue
Michael Rowe, Award-winning journalist and author of Other Men's Sons
Posted: June 11, 2009 01:53 AM

Ann Coulter, the self-described "conservative Christian" right-wing talking head, is much on my mind as I contemplate the horrifying images that came out of Washington from the Holocaust Museum, where white supremacist James von Brunn opened fire in an attempted mass-murder of Jews. His killing spree was cut short by security guard Stephen Tyrone Jones who put himself in the line of fire and died so others might live.

I am remembering an October 2007 segment of the Donny Deutsch Show where Coulter asserted that America would be better off if everyone was Christian and that "the Jews" merely needed to be "perfected" through conversion.

Coulter has made her fortune by generating, fanning, and nurturing hatred and contempt for a variety of people, including liberals, Democrats, gays, foreign nationals, 9/11 widows, feminists, single mothers, Muslims, and any other group she could throw to her disenfranchised readership as shark bait.

To Coulter, referring to Jews as "imperfect" on a talk show hosted by an observant Jewish host must have seemed like just another day at the office. Coulter shook her blond hair and tittered, as though waiting to be found witty, charming, and adorably irascible. Oh Ann, you minx! You're just pushing everyone's buttons, aren't you? Shame on you, you dead-sexy fascist pin-up. Stop teasing. You don't really mean that. I mean, not really, right? Right?

Deutsch, clearly appalled, pointed out that the comment was not only patently absurd, but also hateful. Coulter giggled. A gold crucifix gleamed against her bony clavicle. "No," she said, "it's not hateful at all."

This week, nearly two years later, James von Brunn, driven by his own twisted version of Coulter's publicly-proclaimed perspectives regarding the "imperfection" of Jews, entered the Holocaust Museum in Washington and put them into action, with tragic and deadly consequences.

Much the same thing happened on May 31st when Scott Roeder entered the Reformation Lutheran Church during Sunday services and slaughtered abortion provider provider Dr. George Tiller. Media analysts continue to explore a possible continuum between Tiller's murder and FOX host Bill O'Reilly's well-documented on-air tirades against the doctor, whom he repeatedly called "Tiller the Baby Killer." O'Reilly broadcast his vendetta to millions and millions of FOX viewers already infected with evangelical superstitions and a horror of science, especially science as it applies to a woman's right to choose.

If O'Reilly had been a serious journalist or broadcaster instead of a sclerotic, chronically-aggravated right-wing rage pimp, he might have had the professional self-awareness or ethical sense to realize that he was putting George Tiller's life in danger over the more than 28 broadcasts in which he used Tiller's name. But O'Reilly, like, for Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, and indeed Coulter herself (to name only the gratin of that particular food chain) is neither of those things.

As a group, they are the pop culture equivalent of necrotic carrion beetles, crawling with insectile determination from one infected open wound in the American psyche to another. The wounds include fear of race, fear of foreigners, fear of sexuality, fear of difference, hysterical religious fundamentalism, violent nationalism, and paranoia. They lay their eggs in the infected abrasion, then scuttle away. When the eggs hatch, disgorging rage and discontent, they start counting money.

When challenged on the inherently destructive nature of their enterprise, they invariably claim that their First Amendment right to free speech is being abrogated. Or, like Ann Coulter defensively does in those instances, they cite their place on the New York Times bestseller list. Or the ratings. In other words, since people buy it, watch it, or listen to it in huge numbers, it must have merit, and it must be right.

The difference between John McCain and Sarah Palin became clearest to me in the middle of the campaign last summer.

At a town hall meeting, McCain was confronted by an elderly woman who told McCain that she was a supporter of his because Obama was "an Arab." McCain was clearly uncomfortable, and it was patently obvious why. It had nothing to do with McCain's feelings about Arabs. It had to do with an old-school Republican accidentally moving the rock, and coming face to face with what actually lived beneath it. He recognized that the woman was making an unambiguously racist statement about his opponent, and he was mortified to be asked to answer it. Even though McCain famously and horribly bungled his answer ("No ma'am, he isn't. He's a decent family man.") I knew when he meant. He was addressing the intended racial slur and disavowing it, however badly.

In that moment, I felt deeply for my Republican friends who, on some level, must also be experiencing the embarrassment and discontent of recognizing that their party had been hijacked by racists and religious fanatics who derided education and achievement as "elitist."

Sarah "Screw the Political Correctness" Palin, on the other hand, seemed right at home. She marched into those same crowds grinning and winking, and "Yoo betcha-ing" like she was onstage at the Miss Alaska pageant. While her supporters waved watermelon slices and stuffed monkeys, Palin talked about who the "real Americans" were, and who was "palling around with terrorists." She refused to address the blatant racism of her fans, or address the obvious exploitation of Obama's middle name, Hussein, and the implication she herself was making with her "terrorist" comments.

She was, after all, playing to the accurately-named Republican "base," the same crowd to whom George Bush had sold his second presidential term by pandering to their darkest and most cowardly aspect. This time out it was fear of gay marriage and adoption, carefully tended fear of another 9/11, fear of more fallout from a war they still didn't believe he'd lied about.

One can almost appreciate the horrible honesty of the racists among the McCain-Palin supporters who were able to admit what the others obfuscated: that they didn't want a black man in the White House. Certain videos from their rallies are deeply disturbing. They showcase the seething racism of her most ardent followers.

History has already recorded their obsession with Obama's origins, his religious background, and his citizenship, which remains an obsession among them today.

Obama's citizenship was reportedly also something of an obsession for von Brunn, and likely very much on his mind when he walked into the museum and opened fire to make a statement about what "his" America ought to look like. I have no trouble imagining which radio stations he listened to, or which pundits best represented his baseline political ideology. And why. Even FOX's Shep Smith has said he's disturbed by the escalating virulence and menace of the anti-Obama emails the station is receiving.

There was a time when decency, even honor, was an essential part of the American dialogue in its most ideal form, and part of its very identity. There was a time when our culture would have recoiled in horror at the vituperation flowing unchecked from radios, televisions, and the Internet, instead of applauding it as "common sense," "free speech," or "mavericky," or "a spin-free zone."

There was a time when intellectual honesty was not considered unpatriotic; when compassion for, and understanding of, your fellow man was a sign of strength, not weakness. There was a time when the phrase Have you no shame? meant something, and the First Amendment was not used as toilet paper to wipe up the excremental verbal degradation of vulnerable segments of the American population. A time when it was expected that citizens would understand the difference between free speech and irresponsible speech. Somewhere along the line, a cancerous segment of American popular culture and media cunningly exploited the long-standing, honorable American "cowboy" motif and mentality. They grafted cruelty, divisiveness, and ignorance to it, making the two appear indistinguishable, and natural allies. And they are neither, or at least ought not to be.

There is no Environmental Protection Agency to measure hate pollution in national dialogue, and no mechanism in place to warn us when the poisonous rage spewed into the national consciousness by shock-jocks, poisonous television pundits, megachurch leaders, and oh-so-subtle politicians, has reached dangerously toxic levels.

No, there is only the result: widows, orphans, collective grief, and an absolute refusal on the part of our loudest, coarsest voices to take any responsibility for their part in the carnage.
Via Aaryn and Bill

mercredi, juin 10, 2009


"...it seems that happiness, like peace or passion, comes most freely when it isn’t pursued.

If you’re the kind of person who prefers freedom to security, who feels more comfortable in a small room than a large one and who finds that happiness comes from matching your wants to your needs, then running to stand still isn’t where your joy lies." - Pico Iyer

lundi, juin 08, 2009

the antidote to a funeral

When I got home from a memorial for a friend's husband this afternoon, I was feeling totally down and my eyes were so sore that I simply couldn’t cry any more. I sat there, dazed, trying to wrap my brain around how my friend, a 36-year-old woman with three children under the age of 4 (the youngest was born just 6 weeks ago), was going to face each day without her partner and best friend.

A few minutes later, Ruby came over, licked my elbow, flirted with me, and ran out of the room. I followed her to the front door (her sign that she needs to go out), grabbed the leash, and took her for a pit stop.

We ran into my new downstairs neighbor, who has a very young (just old enough to be adopted) German Shepherd puppy. Ruby took care of business out front and couldn’t wait to come back and play with Leysi, who weighs about 10 lbs and is about 12 inches long and 8 inches tall. They played for a while in the courtyard, with Ruby play bowing then laying down so that she didn't totally freak out the puppy.

The puppy was scared at first, but curiosity and moxie won out ... she started boxing with Ruby (who feinted left and right), hopped into my lap (I sat on the stairs and watched with my neighbor), and even barked back at Ruby once. When another neighbor's adult dogs came down and wanted to roughhouse -- first backing the puppy into a corner, then growling -- Ruby stepped in and regulated the big dogs, stopping the adults from overdoing it with the puppy.

Dogs are the best. And my pup is a very special pooch indeed.

mercredi, juin 03, 2009

today's speakeasies

The speakeasy of today has little in common with those of the Prohibition era, but the allure of the illicit remains.
Bar? What Bar?
June 3, 2009

ON a nondescript block in Williamsburg, not far from the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, a new bar and restaurant called Rye opened last week.

Try to find it.

There’s no sign out front. The facade, an artfully casual assemblage of old wooden slats, gives the place a boarded-up, abandoned look. It does have a street number, painted discreetly on a glass panel above the front doors, but that’s it. Like a suspect in a lineup, it seems to shrink back when observed.

There are a lot of bars like this right now. They can be found all over the United States, skulking in the shadows. Obtrusively furtive, they represent one of the strangest exercises in nostalgia ever to grip the public, an infatuation with the good old days of Prohibition.

Their name is legion: the Varnish in Los Angeles; Bourbon & Branch in San Francisco; Speakeasy in Cleveland; the Violet Hour in Chicago; Manifesto in Kansas City, Mo.; Tavern Law in Seattle (scheduled to open later this month). Everywhere, it seems, fancy cocktails are being shaken in murky surroundings.

New York has fallen hard for this fad. Sasha Petraske, the cocktail artist behind Milk & Honey, has just opened Dutch Kills on a bleak commercial strip in Long Island City, Queens. A small sign that says “BAR” is the only tip-off to its existence.

At the Hideout, in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, aspiring customers ring the bell at a forbidding-looking garage door and then stand there as a pair of eyes scrutinize them through a 1920s-style peephole.

The ultimate in speakeasy mystification takes place at PDT (Please Don’t Tell) on St. Marks Place in the East Village. Patrons have to enter through Crif Dogs, the hip hot dog place, then step into a phone booth and identify themselves by speaking into the receiver. A buzzer opens a secret door, revealing a strange, twilight world where artisanal cocktails are consumed under the watchful eyes of a stuffed jackelope and raccoon, and a bear wearing a bowler hat.


“Speakeasy is a funny term, since the business is legal,” said Eric Alperin, a partner and head bartender at the Varnish. “What people are referring to is the allure, almost like an opium den.”

Brian Sheehy, an owner of Bourbon & Branch, agreed. “People have an affection for this period of American history, and they want the mystery,” he said. To enhance the backroom ambience, Bourbon & Branch assigns customers a password, to be spoken into an intercom, when they make a reservation. Once inside the bar, customers are expected to abide by house rules. “Speak easy,” is one of them, enforced by bartenders when necessary.

Password or no password, deluxe or down-low, all these bars have something in common. None of them really resemble an actual speakeasy from the 1920s, although Bourbon & Branch, oddly enough, sits on top of one, reached through a trap door leading to the basement.

A little history, please.

Prohibition, which took effect in January 1920 and finally ended in December 1933, was the worst cocktail era in the history of the United States, for obvious reasons. Half the liquor was homemade or adulterated, forcing the great classic drinks of the early 20th century to exit the stage. In their places appeared cocktails designed to mask poor ingredients, like rye and ginger ale, or the Alexander, a repellent mixture of gin, crème de cacao and cream.

“The basic raw materials then available, and I use the term raw advisedly, made it imperative that they be polished or doctored or decorated,” Frank Shay wrote in a 1934 Esquire article bidding farewell to the Great Experiment. “Also it was essential that their rougher edges be smoothed down in order that they might pass to their true goal without too great distress to the drinker.”

The Alexander merited a place of honor on Esquire’s list of “the pansies,” the worst drinks of the Prohibition era. These included long-forgotten abominations like the Sweetheart, the Fluffy Ruffles, the Pom Pom and the Cream Fizz.

Real cocktails fled the country, along with a lot of professional bartenders, who took up residence at American bars in Havana, London and Paris. In these civilized outposts, the serious work of cocktail invention continued, reflected in books like “The Savoy Cocktail Book,” while Americans made do with “Wet Drinks for Dry People,” subtitled “A Book of Drinks Based on the Ordinary Home Supplies.”

Bad-tasting cocktails were the least of it. Some of the drinks could kill. During the 1926 holiday season in New York, 47 people died after drinking poisoned liquor, bringing that year’s body count to 741.

“This ‘speakeasy’ business must be the most independent and prosperous business in the world, especially in New York, for no other industry in the world could afford to kill its customers off like that,” Will Rogers wrote in a letter to The New York Times in 1928. “They must run an undertaking business on the side.”

Extract of Jamaica ginger, a patent medicine with a high alcohol content, found favor with a certain class of drinker. Unfortunately, “jake,” as it was called, contained a neurotoxin that caused its devotees to lose the use of their hands and feet. All things considered, it required a certain amount of nerve to lift a glass to the lips in the otherwise fabulous Jazz Age.

Not surprisingly, bars like the Violet Hour — unmarked, with a lone bulb outside to indicate, with a faint glow, when drinks are being served inside — do not specialize in Prohibition cocktails, only in a Prohibition vibe. Virtually every new wave speakeasy makes a point of showcasing purist cocktails made with fresh fruit juices, house-infused liquors, recherché bitters and hand-chipped ice. The ethos lies somewhere between 1890 and 1910, the golden age of cocktails.

You get the drift at Rye, where the abbreviated list of signature drinks includes a rye old-fashioned with orange and Angostura bitters and Demerara sugar, and an “improved” tequila cocktail with maraschino, bitters and a dash of absinthe. This is not the sort of cocktail that Americans were drinking in 1925.

Likewise the décor. The rough floorboards, dark wood and stamped-tin ceiling, not to mention the Cinerama-scale mahogany bar, screams 1910. So does the interior at the undeniably impressive Hotel Delano bar, on the other side of Williamsburg, which, like so many of the nouvelle speakeasies, is visually a good old-fashioned pre-Prohibition saloon.

The Raines Law Room, in Chelsea, puts the issue front and center with its name, an allusion to the prohibition that came before Prohibition. The Raines Law, passed by the New York State Legislature in 1896, banned the sale of liquor on Sundays, except at hotels, where guests could be served drinks during meals. Overnight, hundreds of bars put a few beds and chairs in their upstairs rooms, called themselves hotels, and kept a few plates of nominal food at hand to put in front of drinking customers. One of the great artifacts of the Gay 90s was the Raines Law sandwich, a desiccated slice of ham between two slices of stale bread that no customer ever touched. As a pivot point for nostalgia, the Raines Law seems like an odd choice.

Speakeasy time travel, in other words, is vague, the images dreamy. At the Violet Hour, patrons pass through the boarded-up facade to enter a lush interior with saturated colors, heavy fabrics and ornate chandeliers. In the Back Room, on the Lower East Side, the drinks are served in teacups, a pointless exercise in deception. At Speakeasy, in Cleveland, which really does go the extra mile down the nostalgia highway by distilling its own gin, a chandelier over a basement stairwell indicates the way to passers-by on the sidewalk. “When it’s on, the speakeasy is open,” said Sam McNulty, the owner.

The reality of Prohibition was quite otherwise. “A speakeasy could be a table, a bottle and two chairs, or it could be ‘21,’ ” said Daniel Okrent, whose book “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” is to be published by Scribner next year. “Most were closer to the lower end. They were dives where you drank bad liquor from a bottle with a counterfeit label and woke up with a headache in the morning.”

In the early years of Prohibition, when agents pursued enforcement with some zeal, patrons needed passcards or passwords, but corruption and inertia took over fairly quickly. In “Manhattan Oases,” Al Hirschfeld’s 1932 cartoon survey of New York speakeasies, a fake cigar store called the Dixie is ridiculed as “one of those quaint, old-fashioned places (circa 1925), which still think it needs a false front.”

Everywhere else, the speaking was anything but easy. In cities like New York, San Francisco, Detroit and New Orleans, the game ended almost before it started, and bars operated with the merest pretense of discretion. “The secret aspect in New York was over by 1928 or 1929,” Mr. Okrent said. “To run a speakeasy you just bribed the local cop. There was not a lot of secrecy.”

It is true, though, that illegal liquor added a certain excitement to nightlife. On this score, Rye and Dutch Kills and the Violet Hour and all the rest have their finger on something genuine. In an age when virtually nothing is hidden or forbidden, the idea of a secret hideaway takes on an undeniable allure.

The flappers of 1920 felt it, too. When mild-mannered Asaph Holliday, the put-upon protagonist of Elmer Davis’s Prohibition satire, “Friends of Mr. Sweeney,” ventures into a series of Manhattan speakeasies by accident, he discovers a world strange to his middle-aged eyes. Night spots that he would have considered nothing special when he was young are now regarded as thrilling. “Mr. Holliday realized at last why a nation tolerated the Volstead Act,” the narrator writes. “It made any place at all that contained liquor look like a wild cafe.”

Make it illegal, and they will come. If the authorities will not oblige, make it feel illegal. Nothing quite hits the spot like a martini in a ceramic mug.

lundi, juin 01, 2009


"And when love speaks, the voice of all the gods
Makes heaven drowsy with the harmony." -William Shakespeare