Mar 31 2010

What’s for Dinner

Today in our veggie box we got: collard greens, chard, russian red kale, lettuce, asparagus, a small head of cauliflower, two leeks, a bunch of spring onions, a bag of small yellow potatoes, and bunch of fresh oregano.

A quick review of some of the new recipes I tried out lately (links in previous posts): none of them were so hot. Actually, I liked the New York Times recipe for farro with collard greens, and Robin seemed to like it okay too, but Sam said it tasted like oatmeal and he would not be particularly keen on seeing it again. (I overcooked the farro a little bit, but for the record it was not the consistency of oatmeal.)

Anyway, this week we’ll go back to old standbys: I never got around to cooking a chicken last week, so I’ll get one tonight and roast it with the potatoes and oregano. Then tomorrow we’ll have the bulgur with kale and salami recipe that we always like, along with roasted asparagus, and Friday cauliflower cheese with a salad on the side.

Saturday is gaming day, but Sunday I’ll make polenta with chard, leeks, and cheese. Then Monday I’ll do pork chops smothered in spring onions and spicy collard greens, and Tuesday will be for leftovers as usual.

Mar 27 2010

Big Steam Saturday

Robin and Sam and I went down to Niles Canyon today for their Spring Steam Weekend, and we got to ride behind their Southern Pacific No. 2472 steam engine from Sunol to Niles and back. I was about to describe this locomotive to you as “a very serious piece of engineering,” but then I suddenly had qualms: maybe I was just so impressed by this hulking, churning collection of wheels and pistons and smoke because I’m a train novice, and anybody who was really serious about steam engines would say oh that’s nothing?

So I asked Sam, hey, how would you describe the SP 2472?

“As a big black smoking monster of a machine that rumbled down the track like Zeus himself was driving it,” Sam said, immediately.

So there you go. Here’s another picture, with a human in it for scale:

They had a restored Pullman car for the first-class passengers, but our family rode coach, in one of the open-air cars. The scenery was lovely, although I was too busy keeping an eagle eye on Robin to take many pictures. I got this one when we were going through the yard:

Afterwards the boy got to clamber around on some of the cars that were parked on a side track:

“Look,” I said when Robin grabbed the wheel-thingy, “he’s driving the train!”

“Yeah, not from that end,” said Sam. “That’s a caboose.”

Then it got late, so we went home. Robin passed out in the car. It was a long day for a little engineer!

Mar 24 2010

What’s for Dinner

Today in our veggie box we got a veritable rainbow: purple kale, red chard, green garlic, and a handful of yellow fingerling potatoes, along with spring onions, collard greens, asparagus, a bunch of rosemary, one huge leek, a few small heads of lettuce, two little cauliflowers, and a bag of kiwis.

Tonight Robin’s Pappy is coming back from a trip to Ethiopia, so Nonna is in town and we’re all going out to meet him at the airport. We’ll probably go out to eat afterwards, if Dave isn’t too jet-lagged.

Tomorrow night I’m looking at this recipe for greens and potato gratin—I could use the kale and the chard, as well as the potatoes. I might toss the lettuce in some dressing for a small accompanying salad. And Friday night I could try out collard greens with farro, maybe with roasted asparagus on the side: I know I like farro, and I don’t cook with it often. Between those two recipes I’m pretty sure I could also work in the green garlic, spring onions, and leek.

Saturday will be cook’s night off; Sunday we can have a chicken roasted with rosemary-garlic paste. Monday I’ll use the cauliflower in a spaghetti dish (I seem to be finding a lot of New York Times recipes this week)—and then Tuesday will be for leftovers as usual.

Mar 23 2010

Things That Annoy Me, Part One in a Continuing Series: Meta-Rock

I hate rock ‘n roll songs that are about rock ‘n roll. Meta-rock. By this I don’t mean songs that merely express a desire to rock (Kiss, “[I Wanna] Rock and Roll All Nite”) or announce the band’s intention to rock in the immediate future (Queen, “We Will Rock You”). Exhortations to rock, claims of having rocked in the recent past, narrative statements indicating that the singer is currently in the process of rocking: these are all fine. I also give a pass to songs that express simple enthusiasm for rock music (Joan Jett, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,”—yes, she didn’t write the song, but nobody associates it with The Arrows). Rock music is about immediacy and passion: it’s well-suited to songs that purely take joy in the act of rocking out.

I don’t even mind songs that tell us how the rocking is in a particular place or time. The Ramones, “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School,” Elvis Presley doing “Jailhouse Rock”—we’re still cool. One of the things a good rock song can do is tell a story. I don’t mind a little scene-setting mixed in with my rock ‘n roll.

Where I get itchy is with a song like Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll.” Here the singer is no longer expressing a simple and pure emotion, as Joan Jett did: he’s commenting on the state of rock and roll in general. This is meta-rock territory, and it irritates me. It’s a violation of the genre. Rock songs encapsulate the feeling of a single moment; I don’t care whether it’s driven by a primal and timeless urge or whether it’s set in a very particular place and time, but I do care that the emotion evoked by the song be immediate and unadulterated. When rock songs twist in on themselves to become reflective, self-referential commentaries, they cease to work for me.

Exultation, despair, anger, need, sexual yearning and the wild aimless energy of youth: these things are the proper subject matter for rock ‘n roll. “Bob Seger is cranky about the albums the kids are making these days” doesn’t cut it. He might as well have written a song called “Get Off My Lawn.” It probably would have made for better rock music.

And Huey Lewis, this goes double for you and The News. “The Heart of Rock & Roll” is a terrible song. If you have some critical insights about the state of the industry, write an essay. Give an interview. Start a blog. Don’t make me listen to your stupid whimpering meta-rock.

I could think of other examples, but I don’t want to. I realize this pet peeve of mine is fairly crazy; I have others that are equally crazy, and I figured I could amuse you, The Internet, with a catalog. Next up: Cars That End Up in the Crosswalk After the Light Changes.

Mar 22 2010

Nancy Pelosi and Health Care Reform

Well, the morning news hasn’t been this much fun to read in about a year. Seriously, I’ve been peeking through my hands at the headlines for the past few months, boggled at the very notion that Dems, with majorities in both houses, might actually simply cave to the demands of an increasingly fringe-driven minority party and just abandon the signature legislation they’d spent an entire year putting together.

But in the end they did the only sane thing—the only thing that would not once and for all have confirmed them the party of weakness, impotence, and disarray—and followed through on the promises that got them elected. The satisfying part is getting to read articles that conclude the Republicans’ just-say-no strategy is not only immoral, but ineffective: “By rejecting any deal with President Obama over health reform, conservatives and Republicans set the stage for their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s.” Or here’s another one, simply titled How the GOP Made It Happen.

But I’m not sure I buy it. The Republicans’ refusal to give an inch on anything has seemed an almost terrifyingly good strategy over the past year. So much of the Senate rules, in particular, are based on the assumption of two parties working together in good faith, that when one party chooses to abuse the rules it seems they can just about prevent the government from working at all. The Republicans are invoking filibusters at an absolutely unprecedented rate, holding up even uncontroversial legislation and nominees—and it’s worked.

So no, I don’t think the GOP made health care reform happen. Increasingly, I think Nancy Pelosi made it happen. There’s a spate of articles out this morning about her key role in passing the legislation: headlines like The Real Hero of Health Care Reform: Nancy Pelosi and Heroine of the Hour and Pelosi Overpowers Stupak, Path Is Cleared. A few days ago I read a San Francisco Chronicle piece on her “mastery of the inside game“, and I was astonished to read in the New York Times that Pelosi was the one who urged Obama not to walk away from comprehensive reform.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that I’m also reading this: R.N.C. Rallies to “Fire” Nancy Pelosi.

The R.N.C.’s goal is to raise $402,010 (read, 40 seats in 2010) in 40 hours. And it appeared to be well on the way: By 10:40 a.m. Eastern time, the site said it had raised $279,429.

Well, speaking as one of Pelosi’s actual constituents, I think I can safely say that the people who sent her to this job are pretty delighted with her this morning. In fact, as one of her “bosses,” I think she deserves a performance bonus and I’ve already made a contribution at (The contribution goes to the DCCC, not Pelosi directly, but she’s got no credible challengers here anyway.) I’ve sent e-mails and made phone calls to Pelosi throughout the health care reform process, and this morning I sent her one more: Dear Madam Speaker, I believe the relevant phrase for this morning is “You Go, Girl.” With admiration, Shannon Phillips.

Mar 20 2010

Too Late for the Caption Contest

…but while I was falling asleep last night, I thought of a caption for this picture on Unhappy Hipsters:

“He collected the implements of travel–suitcases, motorbikes, once a whole jet engine–only to disassemble them in his elaborate ritual. He wanted a world where nobody could ever leave him again.”

Mar 17 2010

What’s for Dinner

Well, tonight, it’s corned beef boiled with cabbage, potatoes, and carrots; I’m baking soda bread, too. We got the carrots and potatoes in our veggie box, along with Russian red kale, green and red chards, collard greens, three thick leeks, three spring onions, four bulbs of green garlic, a small head of cauliflower, a little bundle of cilantro, and six kiwis.

Tomorrow we’ll have corned beef sandwiches with collard greens as a side; I’m also saving the broth from tonight’s boiled dinner for a beef and barley stew, which will incorporate the leeks and the spring onions, along with whatever remains of the corned beef. I might do that on Saturday, though, so that Friday night we can have a break from corned beef. I’m thinking a veggie dinner of artichokes with green garlic aioli, along with creamed chard.

Sunday I want to try out two new Cook’s Illustrated recipes, one for a vegetable curry with potatoes, cauliflower, peas, and chickpeas, and the other for a cilantro-mint chutney to go with it. Monday will have to be something with kale: Capay Farms has a recipe for kale risotto that I might try (though I’d leave out the pumpkin seeds). Then Tuesday will be reserved for leftovers, as usual.

Mar 16 2010

RSS Woes

Those of you who use Google Reader to read this blog may notice that I managed to blow up the RSS feeds last night.

This post is mostly just a ploy to get Google to refresh its feed.

Mar 15 2010

Urban Farm Magazine

My father-in-law sent me an issue of the new Urban Farm magazine, and I can honestly say that I haven’t been this excited about a magazine since I first subscribed to Dragon in seventh grade.

(It came wrapped in brown paper, maybe because of the Clyde Caldwell covers: I didn’t even know enough to realize that the brown-paper-wrapping was a sign that something shameful might be inside. I haunted the mailbox every month waiting for the new issue to come. When I first started writing short stories, Dragon was the only market I submitted to. The first stories were really bad; some of them were actually Dragonlance fanfic. But I kept writing them and sending them in. Then-editor Wolfgang Baur replied with form rejections at first…followed by encouraging, personalized rejections…followed by actual letters with suggestions for revisions…and then at last in my senior year of high school he actually bought one of my stories and it ran in the magazine. It was one of the high points of my life, and Wolfgang Baur—with his willingness to help a naïve teenage girl churning out the dragon fanfic mature into a real writer—remains one of my models for what a great editor can be.)

Anyway! Urban Farm! The issue Dave sent me has articles about backyard chickens, various composting techniques, self-sufficiency (for the really committed), and some basic stuff like community gardening and CSA boxes. I immediately looked for a subscription card, but they’re so new that they aren’t yet offering subscriptions. I’m following them on Twitter, which I guess is the next best thing! I want my backyard chickens so bad.

Mar 15 2010

Homeschooling and Public Education

This series written for by Andrew O’Hehir does a good job of summing up the reasons why increasing numbers of liberal, educated families like ours—families that tend to start from a strong pro-public-education position—are now choosing to homeschool their children, at least for the first few years. There’s nothing new in these articles, but they explicitly lay out the assumptions and perspectives that underlie the modern liberal homeschooling movement.

In related news, “the Texas Board of Education on Friday approved a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, stressing the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light.” Because Texas is one of the largest educational markets in the U.S., this will have a big impact on the textbooks available to public schools in other states as well—possibly even in California, which due to the budget crisis won’t be buying new textbooks until 2014.

News like this makes me glad the homeschooling option exists. Of course, one argument that’s often advanced against liberal homeschooling (and one that O’Hehir acknowledges in his piece) is the idea that, by opting out of the public schools, affluent liberals are making themselves part of the problem. Rather than arranging superior educational opportunities for their children, this argument goes, resourceful and well-educated parents should instead engage with their local schools and boards of education, and make them better.

And in fact, a large number of the liberal homeschoolers do re-integrate their kids into the public school system for middle school or high school, or in earlier grades: O’Hehir says he finds it “unlikely” that his kids will be homeschooled through high school, and I’d say it’s unlikely that my kids would be homeschooled even that long. Still, I think the you’re-part-of-the-problem argument makes for a pretty tough sell. Telling any parent that, yes, you could arrange superior educational opportunities for your children, but instead you should deliberately send them to an inferior school, for the public good: even very liberal parents often don’t find that idea terribly persuasive. We’ll sacrifice our money, we’ll sacrifice our time, but we’re not going to sacrifice the well-being of our kids.

Of course, some public schools are just fine. And some parents are willing to engage with an underperforming school, and try to compensate through their own efforts for whatever the system may lack. I certainly admire moms like Sandra Tsing Loh who commit a hundred percent to their local public schools. But I think there’s a pretty telling passage in Loh’s article:

So I, Pushy Type A Mother, went into overdrive, working a tricky combo of cell phone, Internet, and a level of public-radio quasi-celebrity that enabled me to at least get information-seeking phone calls returned. (In the public-school world, accurate and up-to-date information is gold, and often surprisingly hard to come by.) Less exotic weapons included the “You go, girl!” permission of an open-minded school (not all are) and the ability to write standard English (helpful for laying grant-writing groundwork for overworked teachers). Our reward was a generous gift of 36 brand-new stringed instruments from the VH1 Save the Music Foundation…

The thrust of Loh’s piece is an attempt to shame the “NPR-listening, Bobo, chattering class of white people, back into public school.” But not every NPR-listening parent is Sandra Tsing Loh: most of us don’t have celebrity status to call upon, or a directory full of policy-makers’ cell phone numbers. For the non-pushy, non-Type A, decidedly-non-celebrity parent, taking on the local public school bureaucracy single-handed in order to effect a “Lady Bountiful” miracle of orchestras and free violin lessons simply isn’t a realistic option.

O’Hehir’s conclusion—that public school alternatives are neither a cure nor a toxin for our ailing educational system, but rather “viable and valuable” venues for experimentation—seems reasonable to me. After all, even those who choose to homeschool or send their kids to private schools remain invested in the public education system, as it’s creating the world our kids are going to have to live in.