Thursday, May 28, 2009

Who makes policy at SCOTUS

I must call upon the ubiquitous phrase, "I am not a lawyer." But, with all this talk going on about justices making policy rather than interpreting law, I had to check out how the SCOTUS has been doing with this lately. Because I am not trained in the law, it is tough slogging through the court decisions of the year. One case was easier because the minority report clearly said the majority was establishing law rather than interpreting law. I haven't finished my research, but I can say the first ten cases I have looked at bear out my theory that the conservative majority on the Supreme Court are more inclined to rewrite the law and, parenthetically, rewrite it in a way that appears to benefit high ranking government officials and corporations than are the minority ("liberal") justices.
All this is fascinating stuff, but I want to finish the study and check my facts (what a novel idea) with people far wiser about law than I before I get into it all. I mean, these are, after all, lawyers and I fear lawyers!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Shepherds with Too Much Time on their Hands!

This has nothing to do with politics, religion or food, but I can't resist this video. This might get PETA riled up!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Memorial Day salutation

Dad didn't talk much about the war. When we did press him to talk about those days, about the worst he would tell was the story of his first day as a medic in the European theater. Apparently one of the guys trapped a bee as he took a swig out of his canteen. Dad's first patient died, killed not by a bullet, but a bee. Dad was at the Battle of the Bulge, but he never talked about it. My general impression is that those WWII vets, like Dad, just didn't talk about it much. And when they did talk, they told stories with a wry humor. In my husband's family, they talk about the uncle who rashly enlisted in the Navy only to discover he was terribly susceptible to seasickness.
My niece won an award from HBO for her high school interview with a WWII vet. He, too, was unassuming. His fascinating stories dealt not so much with the death of war but with being there for testing of the atomic bomb and having served in all the theaters of the war. These were the silent generation of war veterans.
The next generation of veterans of war were at a significant disadvantage because Vietnam was a "conflict" and not a war. It was a war that was not sold to the American people and the anger of citizens over the unpopular war spilled over on the vets. These mostly innocent fellows (and they were all fellows in those days) did not ask to fight in the war, they were forced into it through the draft system. Most of these guys don't talk much about their experiences, perhaps not wanting to relive the indignities they experienced. These were the veterans of my generation. These were the lost generation of veterans.
Today's vets volunteered to be where they are. There will be volumes written about their motivations for signing up in a time when the country was again fighting a war on two very different fronts. These vets, male and female, entered the military with eyes wide open about the war and eyes wide shut by their youth. As I talk to my niece, by Skype or on facebook or using any of the many options today's military have for communications, I see the maturity develop. This is her job, her way of making a better future for herself and for her son. She doesn't seem to think of this a "war to save the world from war," the way her grandfather's generation did, she seems to see this as a way to save herself and her family from the financial mess of their personal lives. Yet, as a medic like her grandfather, she is positioned to see the maladies, great and small, of war. She realizes that the medicine she practices in Iraq is beyond the medicine her contemporaries without military background practice. Today's soldiers are more likely to survive injuries that just ten years ago would have been fatal. These are the soldiers who have pushed medicine ahead by light years. We do not yet have a label for these veterans, history will write that label some years from now.
No matter what the label, these are the veterans. Volunteers or draftees, they have done their jobs. These are the reason we have a three day weekend called Memorial Day.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Silly Season

I am fed up with fear mongering. I am sick and tired of people passing along rumor, half-truth and flat-out lies as truth. We heard a lot of it during the election, we always hear it during campaign season. When I used to work on political campaigns, we came up with all kinds of crazy ideas to exaggerate the foibles of our opponents. Most of it had some basis in fact, but we pushed the truth almost over the edge. But it seems to me that we used to move out of what we called "the silly season" when the election was over. Lately, that "silly season" seems to be endless. Let me give you a couple of examples.
Right after the election, one of my friends was totally distraught, almost in a panic because "Obama is going to regulate vitamin sales and people will have to go to a government-chosen doctor to get a prescription for vitamin C." She even passed along to me emails she got from organizations stating this half-cocked idea as the gospel truth. Meanwhile, I combed everything I could find of Obama's campaign speeches to see if I could find any references in his speeches to this drastic plan. The closest I could come were statements about the current health care system not working as well as it should and about a need for health care reform. None of the white papers posted on the Obama web site had the specificity to indicate that they had even considered regulating vitamins or even health supplements. My friend is still convinced she will have to get government approval to buy her health care supplements.
Shortly after the stimulus package passed and I read the whole 1,000-plus pages, another friend showed me an email she received that indicated senior health care was cut under the stimulus plan. I didn't remember anything like that and it didn't seem stimulative to me so I searched the stimulus plan and found nothing about cutting senior health care. My friend was able to tear up the email and her worries about her elderly mother were reduced.
Earlier this week, my husband was telling me one of his co-workers was all worked up because Obama issued an executive order forcing the military to shred rather than recycle spent ammunition cases. A quick scan on the National Archives revealed no such EO.
This morning, former Vice-President Cheney pulled out the old Saddam Hussein-al-Qa'ida link and axis of terror lines. He told us that "advanced interrogation techniques" kept us safe from another terrorist attack for the past 7+ years, even though his own administration discontinued those techniques with in the past four years.
Facts, cold hard facts. Simple enough to get the facts. When I was a young high school debater, we would have killed for the ready access to information that we have today on the Internet. I can hardly believe we got our precious quotes without being able to do a simple Internet search. We actually had to read through magazines and newspapers and the Federal Record. Today, I can run a couple of searches on my computer and have the complete text of this morning's speeches in Washington, D.C, straight from the teleprompter. If someone tells me that Gitmo detainees brought into the United States have to be released into the general population before they can be tried, I can know, within minutes, that the source is making things up as he goes along.
If it is so simple to find the cold hard facts, why are organizations sending fear mongering emails to their members? Because they work. My friends are all people of above average intelligence who could do the same searches I do. They did not do so because they have allegiance to the organizations that misinformed them, because they are busy people who do not have my luxury of time to research, because the information they got fed their preconceived notions of what was possible.
So long as Speaker of the House Pelosi can say "They always lie to us," we each need to be vigilant. We need to think about the reasonableness of information before we pass it along. We need to reject the fear mongering, the half-truths and the self-serving rumors.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Enough Mistakes to be Funny!

I had dismissed Sandia as a restaurant for me because I have so many dietary restrictions. Then my bud, Dave Hill, blogged about a marvelous dinner he had with his family there. I was at Park Meadows around lunch time, so I thought I'd try it. It was one of those experiences with so many mistakes, you just have to leave chuckling.
I sat just inside the restaurant, enjoying the view of the patios, but without the sun. The waiter eventually wandered over and asked if I would like to order a drink. I ordered an agua fresca. I've heard about them, but never tried them. I don't like watermelon very much, but the alternative was orange and my body does not like the acid of citrus. The agua fresca was delightful, fresh and refreshing. And that was a very good thing because I had a long time to enjoy it. Eventually, the waiter came back by and, interestingly, filled both the water glasses on the table. I thought it was odd, but I'd said it was a day that demanded water and a lot of it, so I thought maybe he was cutting down on the number of water refill trips. He left. I'd decided on my lunch order, so I put the menu on the other side of the table, dug out my book (Phyllis Tickle's The Great Emergence), and waited. And waited. Looking around, I noticed that all the other occupied tables had chips and I had none. And waited. Eventually, about 30 minutes after I entered the restaurant, the waiter came back. "Are you waiting for someone?" No, I responded. I asked if the vegetariana torta could be prepared without tomatoes because I can not have acidic foods. The waiter said there was no problem and he left. I settled in with my book some more and waited. The agua fresca was lovely and I was happy I had two glasses of water to drink.
My sandwich arrived. I opened the top because I have learned that ordering something without tomatoes does not guarantee one is served food without tomatoes. There, sprinkled liberally in the lettuce topping were, you guessed it, diced tomatoes. To his credit, the waiter was nearby and I did not have to hunt him down to point out the problem. He whisked away the sandwich. A bit later, he dropped by the table and said he didn't understand how, when he put in the order with no tomatoes, the kitchen could top the sandwich with tomatoes. I asked if I could have a few chips to munch on while I waited for my sandwich. He brought the chips. With salsa!!!!
A fellow who I think was the manager on duty brought my re-made sandwich and muttered something about sorry (I think) as he warned me that the plate was exceptionally hot.
Ah, the sandwich was exceptional! It was a veritable fiesta of flavor in my mouth -- mushrooms, slightly crisp grilled zucchini, tangy melted cheese (Panela, I think), refried black beans, olives and who knows what I missed dancing happily with a bit of zesty tang! I could eat this sandwich every week! It came with the ubiquitous heaping pile of ho-hum, yawn, french fries. The french fries were almost an assault. The menu warned me that tortas come with french fries, but, when I had tasted the lovely sandwich, I realized they made a huge mistake with the torta section of the menu. The sandwich cried for a luscious Mexican side dish, maybe some lovely fruit salsa or a corn salad or just a green salad. But french fries? At a place that describes itself as a Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar? French fries? Accompanying a marvelously creative and flavorful sandwich? I understand these are tough economic times for restaurants and french fries are cheap, but I think a small serving of fruit or salad would be no more expensive than french fries and would be a far better match to the sandwich. If some oaf wants fries with that, let 'em pay extra. Or eat at the golden arches or something.
So, assumptions about solo diners, long waits, dim-witted kitchen staff, boring french fries... Will I go back? Surprisingly, I might. The sandwich was that good!

Friday, May 8, 2009

More about Beer and Wine than You Imagined Possible

Chris Black from Falling Rock Tap House explained to the crowd of 75, "Beer is like scrubbing bubbles for your mouth. It picks up all the fats and flavors from the cheese and moves them to your taste buds." A lot of flavor was scrubbed around in mouths last night at Embassy Suites in Englewood, Colorado.
Black and Beer Meister Bryan Baltzell paired Great Divide beers with cheeses from Grafton Village (Vermont) and Beehive (Utah).
The first pairing was a bonus with Grafton cheddars -- 1,2,3 and 4 year aged versions. It was amazing to taste the differences in the same cheese at different ages. The cheese was creamy, mellow and subtle when young, earthy and bold at year two, creamy again and crumbly at 3 and what some might call the ultimate cheddar at 4. The Saison beer, a seasonal Belgian, dramatically revealed its character when mixed with the cheese. Grafton's 2 year old Cheddar took a silver this year at the World Cheese Competition in Dublin Ireland this year and another silver
From Fromage to Yours 05/07/2009

The second pairing put Samurai, an unfiltered rice beer, with Beehive's Big John's Cajun. Big John's is a flavored Irish-style cheese with high butter-fat. Tim Welsh explained the process as starting with their Promontory cheese rubbed with a Cajun seasoning developed by Uintah local chef, Big John Deerman. The rub infuses the entire wheel of cheese with a wonderful smoky cayenne pepper kick. It took a 2nd Place award at the American Cheese Society Competition in 2008.
From Fromage to Yours 05/07/2009
Surprisingly, the rice beer was a nice foil for the Cajun flavoring. This was the last cheese I photographed. My camera phone just was not up to the task of adequately representing the subtle differences in the cheeses.
The subtle smokiness of Denver Pale Ale meshed smoothly with the Grafton Maple Smoked Cheddar. This smoked cheddar took home a bronze from the World Cheese Competition in Dublin. Beehive also has a smoked cheddar. Theirs, smoked with Apple Walnut, took a 3rd place at the American Cheese Competition in 2008. We did not get to taste this one.
Beehive's Emigrant was a mistake cheese. Welsh explained that they intended to make a Parmesan cheese, but the moisture and fat content were too high. Their first attempt, they hand stirred the cheese for 2 1/2 hours trying to dry it out and help it develop as a classic Parmesan. They basically gave up, threw it in the aging room and, 6 months later, discovered they had a wonderful cheese. Black paired this creamy, but sharp and flavorful cheese with a hefeweissen, Great Divide Dunkel Weiss which has just a hint of the classic banana and clove.
The final pairing was a nutty, dark, chocolaty Saint Bridget's Porter with the espresso and lavender rubbed Beehive Barely Buzzed. As with the Big John's Cajun, the rub infuses the entire wheel of cheese. One might expect that the espresso would totally overpower the lavender and the cheddar, but the combination works in an unexpected harmony. The judges at the American Cheese Society love this cheese and have given it 1st place two years in a row, 2007 and 2008. While I loved this cheese at 8:00 pm, I had really mean things to say about it at 4:00 am, when I was more than barely buzzed and wide awake when I really wanted to be asleep. Warning to caffeine sensitive, this one may be a morning only treat!
Other cheeses were available for nibbling before and after the formal program, including Beehive's deceptively named Rooster's Heavenly Cream, a cheddar blended with a local beer. This is a saucy little number that Welsh says is highly variable. Grafton's Sage Cheddar was displayed at the Leopold Bros. Distillery table where it paired nicely with Three Pins Alpine Herbal liqueur.
Other tables lining the room offered nibbles of Primo Specialty Foods' new Blackberry Serrano Preserves on 34 Degrees Crispbreads, Wild Women Truffles and World Cuisine Spices. All are local products and among the selections at Fromage to Yours.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

BloggerAid Cookbook editing begins

It is exciting times around here as editing begins for the BloggerAid cookbook. All proceeds from the sale of the cookbook will benefit World Food Programme School Lunch. I'm serving as a first editor, one of many, to make a first pass at editing. We look at quantities to see if they make sense and we come up with a consistent measurement system. Because the recipes come from all over the world (I'm editing recipes from Kenya, India, France, England, Cuba and the US), there are fascinating differences in cooking equipment. One recipe called for pressure cooking for two whistles, another for putting water on the lid of a pan, still another for a specialized wok. It is truly fascinating to note the different ways we get to a similar result in the kitchen. The flavorings and spices vary from country to country. It is interesting how many different versions of "comfort food" there are in this world. And yet, there are similarities -- naan, tortilla, crepe, are all slight variations of the same bread.
It is great to work over the internet because I don't have to worry about what time it is for the recipient of my email. They will get it and reply in their own time.
The most amazing part, however, is the variety in cooking techniques. The more I work with this cookbook, the more anxious I am for publication date! This will be a phenomenal book to have in my kitchen. I may not make any of the recipes, although I am fascinated by a mango cooler called Aam Panna, but I don't think I've ever seen such an international effort.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A pandemic of fear

The numbers out of Mexico were, at first, alarming. Thousands of healthy young and youngish people were dying from a new strain of flu. This new strain, never seen before, had origins in bird, swine and human flu strains. It spread through the air and there was no preventative. Thousands, maybe millions of Mexicans were wearing masks as protection from the virulent life-threatening disease! Some cable news networks became "all flu, all the time" in the way cable news networks attack anything that sounds like it might, just might, be news.
School districts closed schools at the hint that there might have been a case in one of their students, our vice-president counseled against flying to Mexico (now is a great time for fat people to fly to Mexico because we don't have to pay for that vacant seat next to us), pastors announced the best way to commune without exposing yourself or others to the flu.
As it looks now, this strain of flu is no more life-threatening than any flu although it may claim a higher than normal number of victims in the wide range between very young and very old. It is very good to know that intinction is not safer than common cup for communion, but that may be the only big news of the entire experience. The fact is, one protects oneself and others from swine flu (by any name) in the same way one does so for any kind of flu. Stay home if you feel might be coming down with something, cough into your sleeve (an fascinating subject getting new promotion), wash your hands frequently and keep them away from your face. This is not news, but it is nice that we were reminded of the common sense things.
What this flu epidemic or pandemic may show is the trouble with cable news and the increasing trend toward yellow journalism.
When you have 24 hours a day to fill with news, the pressure is on to find news. Finding none, the pressure is on to create news and created news is, almost by definition, sensationalism. If not sensationalism, it is overkill. Certainly, the fellow who blocked the back entry to the community center before going in the front door, gun blazing, is news. It may not, however, justify a full news crew across the street, a streaming video in the corner of the screen and reporters canvassing each block of the city and office of government for speculation about what is happening.
Swine flu might merit a mention in a compilation newscast, but when it is reported hourly or half-hourly with accompanying speculation about cause, spread, etc., it promotes unnecessary fear, even panic.
It just might be time for a refresher course on what is news and, perhaps, examination of why (if) we need news 24 hours a day.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Cooking Camp

From time to time friends and neighbors will ask me if I teach cooking, specifically if I can teach their kids to cook. I've toss around the idea of doing small groups in my home, because I think it would be a lot of fun for me and for the kids, but I've always decided against it for legal reasons. Today I got a email from one of the local make-and-take places promoting their summer camps for kids.
Dream Dinners, between Arapahoe and Dry Creek on Yosemite, is offering classes between June 22 and August 7, each session is Monday through Friday and kids are grouped by ages. The promo contends that youth will learn the basics of kitchen safety, proper food handling, food prep, following a recipe, components and presentation of a meal, nutrition and portion size, table etiquette, and mise en place. Cost is $295 for a week of three-hour sessions. Contact them at 720-200-3558.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Food2 has potential

It's a baby site right now, but the new food2 website has definite potential. It has a young vibe, but the basics are there, so it is suitable for anyone. In fact, there has been a dearth of food basics on the net. Each site seems determined to be more intellectual and superior than the previous one. Because I like basic food made with superior ingredients, I applaud food2 for the How-to section it features. There are a lot of old Food Network episodes sorted by food or technique. How can you go wrong with Alton Brown doing a how-to segment? I just wish there were print versions of more of Alton's recipes. I'm ready to try his cheese and mushroom casserole with mustard greens. I'll probably try it with some other green because I'm not fond of mustard greens. Maybe some chard?
My first reaction to the Kelsey and Spike show is positive. One of the criticisms of Kelsey during the Next Food Network Star was her youth and constant references to how she learned it in school. That gets balanced by a wild child guy from Top Chef competition, Spike Mendelsohn. There's a nice bounce between the two as each approaches a subject like steak or breakfast with their own unique slant. Check it out!