Archive for June, 2009

From the Food File

June 30, 2009 Leave a comment


Last week ended up being a big food week, owing to the usual convergence of events — Father’s Day, our anniversary, Joel’s birthday — along with the arrival for two days of my cousin John and his wife Joan and the fact that Joel was in fact home for the week. I already wrote about our anniversary dinner at the Georgian Room last Tuesday. I’ll mention some other meals here.

John and Joan arrived on Thursday afternoon, staying with us for two nights before moving on to attend a wedding. No one loves food more than John does, so if you want to stay on a diet, he may not be the ideal house guest. But if you want to eat and talk food, be sure to invite him over. He’s just serious enough about food to give up his law practice in New York a few years ago and move to Phoenix to open a new restaurant. I don’t know enough about Phoenix to suggest that it’s a restaurant vacuum, but it’s not New York, and until John and Joan came to town, you probably wouldn’t go there to get New Orleans food. They changed that, albeit briefly, with A Taste of N’awlins. We had the good fortune to pass through the Phoenix area in March 2006, during its brief life. I had a deans meeting in Tempe at Arizona State University, and we arrived two days early so we could see the Mariners play at their spring training home in Peoria and the Angels play in Tempe. We had dinner with John and Joan our first night in town, they joined us for the Angels game, and the next day, when I was on campus at the meeting, Gail went into downtown Phoenix to put in a day of work at the restaurant. A day later, with the meeting ending at lunchtime, we headed back downtown to have lunch there and stick around to help with the cleanup before going to the airport for the flight home. We tasted a little bit of everything. It sure was good.

But back to last week, here in Seattle. Thursday Gail cooked dinner for us all. Salmon on the grill, tagliatelle in a cream sauce, salad with lettuce from our garden, and for dessert, trifle. Friday morning I had to go to a meeting, returning as everyone finished a breakfast of bagels and smoked salmon. Soon we were off to Pike Place Market, the one thing John wanted to see in Seattle. There’s much to enjoy there, but I did wonder if there was much point in showing off our locally-famous Italian food store, DeLaurenti, when there’s no shortage of such places in New York. Or Italy.

We had been talking the night before about bucatini amatriciana, which I wrote about two months ago after ordering it at the nearby restaurant Piatti. At the time, I quoted from the website of Babbo Ristorante that this “dish is one of the most celebrated in Italian cuisine and a favorite here at Babbo. Named for the tiny town of Amatrice, located 100 miles east of Lazio from Abruzzo this dish can be made both with or without tomatoes. Ever since Abbruzzese shepherds begin the tradition of eating this spicy pasta after a day in the chilly mountain air, the cooking process has always begun with the rich smell of a fatty piece of pork bubbling in the pan. At Babbo, we use our homemade guanciale, or cured pig jowls, with its distinct pork flavor, to achieve the same rich taste that comforted the shepherds of old.”

I noted that recipes call for either guanciale or pancetta, and that guanciale appeared to be the authentic ingredient. I also noted that we were fortunate to have access to guanciale. “After all, Babbo was started by Mario Batali, and Mario’s father, Armandino, started Salumi, Seattle’s own purveyor of cured meats. Sure enough, they purvey guanciale.” Well, the point of all this is, when we were in DeLaurenti, looking at the case of meats, John pointed out that they had guanciale. He insisted on buying some for us, and we saw that it was none other than Salumi’s guanciale. We then went over to the pasta section to look for bucatini — a hollow tube spaghetti. We didn’t find it, but found instead a fatter spaghetti in long tubes that was called rigatini. We were set for Joel’s birthday dinner that night, provided he approved.

After an hour and a half in the market, we walked uphill to Serious Pie, Tom Douglas’s pizza restaurant on Virginia between 3rd and 4th. It’s part of his complex of restaurants surrounding the intersection of 4th and Virginia: Dahlia Lounge, Lola, Serious Pie, and the Dahlia Bakery. There was a wait to get a table at Serious Pie, so while we waited, we headed around the corner to the bakery to get a birthday cake for Joel, a chocolate cake with apricots and cointreau. The timing worked out well, with Joel arriving from home to join us for lunch just as we were ready to order.

We got three pizzas: the buffalo mozzarella, san marzano tomato; the yukon gold potato, rosemary, olive oil with walla walla onions added; and the buffalo mozzarella, san marzano tomato with house salumi and sweet fennel sausage added. Everyone liked the third one best, but I seemed to love them all. The potato one wasn’t as successful with some of the others. I would happily eat all three again soon.

Joel approved the dinner plan of rigatini amatriciana, and when we got home, Gail set to work. John and Joan had other plans, so it was just the three of us and Jessica. Joel had other plans too for that matter, centering on playing golf with two of his friends, so he didn’t get home until around 7:15, late for the ceremonial birthday photos we always take at the moment of his birth, 6:00 PM. I think he’s happy to let that tradition go, so happy that last year he stayed in Boston on his birthday. I bet he’ll be happy to have Gail’s rigatini amatriciana again though. Was it ever good!

Gail followed the Babbo recipe, which includes the following instructions for preparing the guanciale:

Place the guanciale slices in a 12- to 14-inch sauté pan in a single layer and cook over medium-low heat until most of the fat has been rendered from the meat, turning occasionally. Remove the meat to a plate lined with paper towels and discard half the fat, leaving enough to coat the garlic, onion and red pepper flakes. Return the guanciale to the pan with the vegetables, and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, or until the onions, garlic and guanciale are light golden brown. Season with salt and pepper, add the tomato sauce, reduce the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.

The guanciale made all the difference. It was so tasty. Go get some, get whatever pasta you like, and make this dish. It’s great.

Our food week wasn’t quite over. The next morning, we had a late breakfast in the backyard with John and Joan, featuring Chef Gail’s cheese-onion-pepper-bacon omelets and local cherries that we bought at the market the day before. And for Saturday dinner, it being Joel’s last meal, he had his choice of restaurants. He chose Northlake Tavern, one of our standard pizza places. So ended a great week of eating.

Categories: Family, Food, Restaurants

Purdum on Palin, II

June 30, 2009 1 comment


I wrote earlier today about Todd Purdum’s article in Vanity Fair on Sarah Palin. After a short delay, Andrew Sullivan is on the case. No one has been a more consistent critic or exposer of her lies. In the first of a series of posts, Sullivan observes:

There is not much new in Todd Purdum’s nonetheless superb summary of the Wasilla whack-job. I learned that Matt Scully’s concern for the welfare of animals did not prevent him from writing not one but two speeches for a woman who backed shooting wolves from helicopters and allowing them to die a gruesomely painful death. I learned that Mark MacKinnon publicly said he would never join a campaign against Obama and yet coached Palin for her presidential debate, and kept it quiet. One should remember, I suppose, that in Washington even those who seem able to put principle before partisanship are all liars and hypocrites in the end. Chief among these goons is John McCain, a man whose reputation should never, ever recover from this act of wanton irresponsibility and cynicism.

But I did learn of several new odd lies – in the same classic pattern of categorically denying things that are categorically and patently and verifiably true. This is not, as this blog noted in the campaign, the typical political lie, the Clintonian parsing of truth or lying when the truth cannot easily be discovered. It is the statement that it is night when it is clearly, by universal aggreement, three o’clock in the afternoon. So the Dish needs an update and it is imminent. Stay tuned.

In his next two posts, Sullivan adds entries XXVIII and XXIX to his continuing series, The Odd Lies of Sarah Palin. And Sullivan addresses yet again the strange story of Palin’s delivery of Trig. Quoting Purdum again: “But there were ominous signs—indications of an erratic nature. This is the third thing McCain could have discovered about Palin—a woman, after all, who kept a pregnancy secret for seven months, flew all the way home from Texas to Alaska with a near-full-term baby while leaking amniotic fluid, and then finally drove the 45 minutes from Anchorage to a hospital in Wasilla, all so that the child could be born in the 49th state.” Basically, on this point, Palin is either lying (with the assistance of doctors, aides, and hospital employees) or unimaginably reckless. At least one has to be the case. But again, this isn’t news.

Categories: Politics

Made in Detroit

June 30, 2009 Leave a comment


A few weeks ago, I was telling my friend Werner about my two winter trips to Detroit, prompting him to mention Paul Clemens’ Made in Detroit: A South of 8-Mile Memoir. A week later, a copy of the book arrived from Amazon, courtesy of Werner (thanks, Werner!), and a week after that I began reading it. Due to various distractions, I didn’t get around to reading it in earnest until a few days ago, and I finally finished it Sunday morning.

The author grew up in northeast Detroit in the 1970s and 1980s, in a white, Catholic family. He writes about white flight, attending Catholic schools and church, the steady closure of Catholic schools and churches, the governance of the city during the long mayoral reign of Coleman Young, city and suburb, racism and religion, his father’s work on autos and his mother’s domestic work in nearby Grosse Pointe, and much more. Well worth reading.

A couple of Saturdays ago, when I was just a short ways into the book, we went to a friend’s birthday party and got to talking with her brother-in-law, a Detroit native, about the city. I mentioned the book, which he knew well, as he did the author’s old neighborhood. We talked about life in Detroit for a long time. An endlessly fascinating city.

Perhaps the best part of the book is Clemens’ depiction of his father, whose understanding of the workings of cars is nonpareil, both as mechanic and as driver. We get our first glimpse of the father’s expertise in the fourth paragraph of the book:

My father had amazed me throughout my childhood with his ability to spin 360s in icy intersections–it had something to do, I noticed, with violently jerking up the parking brake–and he remains the only person I know able to shift his way from first to fifth wihtout his foot once touching the clutch. “It’s how European rally drivers do it,” he once said to me. “They never use their left foot. Their right heel is on the brake, and the ball of their right foot is on the accelerator.” “But how do you know when you can shift that way?” “Without using the clutch to disengage the gears, you mean? Oh, you can hear it when the gears mesh.” Car performance, and upkeep, was everything to this man. …

My own experience with a clutch is extremely limited. There’s the time I helped my brother drive from New York to Oklahoma, in September 1971. I got a crash course in order to share the driving duties, and then we were off. I was pretty good as long as I just had to put it in fifth on the interstate. The first evening, after we had gone around Indianapolis, my brother’s eye was sore and I had to take over for the final 100 miles into Terre Haute, where we were to stay overnight. I didn’t mention that the car was a sports car, whose transmission was not the easiest to master, but it sure liked to go fast and the road was empty except for the occasional semi. I got into a great rhythm, hitting 100 mph for long stretches, slowing to 90 to pass a truck, then getting it back up to 100. All was well until we had to get off to get to our Terre Haute motel, but under my brother’s guidance, we made it. The next day was the worst. We crossed the Misssissippi into St. Louis, had to get on local roads because of some detour, then I took over the drive as we were about to get back on the interstate. But somehow, a few miles on, I got in the wrong lane and we mistakenly exited at a giant intersection for the Six Flags amusement park. A state trooper controlled the intersection, letting cars enter the interstate from the park for a couple of minutes at a time, then letting us get off the ramp into the park. But I wanted to go straight through, from exit ramp to entrance ramp. And when our turn came, I managed to stall the car. He stopped us all again, let the other direction go for a while, then pointed at me, shouted “Are you ready?”, and waved us forward. I was feeling a little pressure. And if I remember correctly, as we headed up the ramp, I screwed up by shifting from 1st to 4th. But we made it onto the interstate and I continued driving to Springfield before handing off to my brother again.

Clemens’ father I wasn’t.

Categories: Automobiles, Books, Life, Society

Balanced Journalism

June 30, 2009 1 comment


I haven’t read Matt Taibbi’s piece on Goldman Sachs in the latest issue of Rolling Stone (and it’s not available online), but I did read today’s post at his blog in response to mail he has received on the article. One issue Taibbi addresses is what it means to be “balanced” and what a writer’s responsibility is. This is the same issue that underlies the continuing debate on whether to use the word torture to describe the actions of certain US soldiers and the CIA. (See my recent post on this.) It continues to be a mystery to me why telling the truth isn’t good enough, why one must add a quote from an outright fabricator of the truth or abuser of language in order to ensure balance. The earth is round. No, it’s flat. The climate is changing. No it isn’t.

Taibbi addresses the issues well in ending his post today:

I’m aware that some people feel that it’s a journalist’s responsibility to “give both sides of the story” and be “even-handed” and “objective.” A person who believes that will naturally find serious flaws with any article like the one I wrote about Goldman. I personally don’t subscribe to that point of view. My feeling is that companies like Goldman Sachs have a virtual monopoly on mainstream-news public relations; for every one reporter like me, or like far more knowledgeable critics like Tyler Durden, there are a thousand hacks out there willing to pimp Goldman’s viewpoint on things in the front pages and ledes of the major news organizations. And there are probably another thousand poor working stiffs who are nudged into pushing the Goldman party line by their editors and superiors (how many political reporters with no experience reporting on financial issues have swallowed whole the news cliche about Goldman being the “smart guys” on Wall Street? A lot, for sure).

Goldman has its alumni pushing its views from the pulpit of the U.S. Treasury, the NYSE, the World Bank, and numerous other important posts; it also has former players fronting major TV shows. They have the ear of the president if they want it. Given all of this, I personally think it’s absurd to talk about the need for “balance” in every single magazine and news article. I understand that some people feel differently, but that’s my take on things.

Categories: Journalism

Purdum on Palin

June 30, 2009 Leave a comment


The journalist Todd Purdum has a piece about Sarah Palin in the August issue of Vanity Fair, which went online just today. In a better world, Palin would have disappeared from the national press by now and I wouldn’t have to read or think about her. But she’s still around, so I read the piece, and you may wish to too. I’ll quote one passage that I found particularly troubling:

As Palin has piled misstep on top of misstep, the senior members of McCain’s campaign team have undergone a painful odyssey of their own. In recent rounds of long conversations, most made it clear that they suffer a kind of survivor’s guilt: they can’t quite believe that for two frantic months last fall, caught in a Bermuda Triangle of a campaign, they worked their tails off to try to elect as vice president of the United States someone who, by mid-October, they believed for certain was nowhere near ready for the job, and might never be. They quietly ponder the nightmare they lived through. Do they ever ask, What were we thinking? “Oh, yeah, oh, yeah,” one longtime McCain friend told me with a rueful chuckle. “You nailed it.” Another key McCain aide summed up his attitude this way: “I guess it’s sort of shifted,” he said. “I always wanted to tell myself the best-case story about her.” Even now, he said, “I don’t want to get too negative.” Then he added, “I think, as I’ve evaluated it, I think some of my worst fears … the after-election events have confirmed that her more negative aspects may have been there … ” His voice trailed off. “I saw her as a raw talent. Raw, but a talent. I hoped she could become better.”

None of McCain’s still-loyal soldiers will say negative things about Palin on the record. Even thinking such thoughts privately is painful for them, because there is ultimately no way to read McCain’s selection of Palin as reflecting anything other than an appalling egotism, heedlessness, and lack of judgment in a man whose courage, tenacity, and character they have extravagantly admired—and as reflecting, too, an unsettling willingness on their own part to aid and abet him. They all know that if their candidate—a 72-year-old cancer survivor—had won the presidency, the vice-presidency would be in the hands of a woman who lacked the knowledge, the preparation, the aptitude, and the temperament for the job.

Categories: Politics

Rodeo Hoedown

June 27, 2009 Leave a comment

Here’s a music video from Eleanor Stewart. (Hat tip: Sullivan.) She explains:

I created a music video for the Classical music work ‘Hoedown’ from the Rodeo Suite by Aaron Copland. It is a stop motion animation in which various characters, inspired by Cowboy and Western films, come to life from the musical score. It was made for my final year degree in Visual Communication at the Glasgow School of Art.

I used to play Rodeo for Joel when he was an infant. And Appalachian Spring. And tell him stories inspired by the music. I never thought to make a stop motion animation.

Categories: Animation, Music, Video

Georgian Room Dinner

June 25, 2009 Leave a comment


I mentioned two days ago that it was our 24th anniversary and that in three hours we would be having dinner in the Georgian Room of the Olympic Hotel. (The Fairmont Olympic, to be precise, but the Fairmonts and Four Seasons come and go, while the hotel is forever the Olympic.) We were married at the hotel, and though we had regularly eaten anniversary dinners there over the years, our last such dinner until this week was five years ago. I’m back with the restaurant report.

We arrived for our 6:45 reservation and were shown to a table just a little past the doorway. The room was nearly empty, so I figured we could have our choice of seats, and this wasn’t it. I asked if we could sit at one of the banquette tables, and I wanted in particular to sit at the same table where we had breakfast last February 15, after we had stayed overnight in the hotel. It’s in the far right corner, with the back to the window and the street, taking in a view of the full room with its high ceilings, floor-to-ceiling mirrors, floral arrangements, and giant breakfront on one wall. She showed us another one, but then offered the desired one, and that’s where we sat. Mind you, it’s a bit of a nuisance to sit side by side in a bench seat that makes it difficult to sit up straight. I would have been more comfortable in a chair. But this way we could both share the view of the room. Neither of us had to watch the traffic going up 5th Avenue. And of course we could be next to each other.

You can study the menu with us. We decided while we read it to start with some sparkling wine from California and ordered a glass each. Then we asked about whether the souffle should be ordered early. This prompted our waitress to offer us the dessert menu so we could compare the alternatives to the white and dark chocolate souffle and the souffle of the day, an orange and chocolate concoction. When the waitress returned, we were ready to order, starting with dessert.
Read more…

Categories: Food, Restaurants

Find My iPhone

June 25, 2009 Leave a comment


This one made the internet rounds a couple of days ago, but in case you missed the story, I’ll pass it on. (Hat tip: Sullivan.) Background first. Apple released the new iPhone operating system, version 3.0, last Wednesday. It had been announced months ago, with many long-overdue features, such as cut-and-paste editing, getting the screen to rotate 90 degrees in the email and text programs so the wider keyboard would show up on the screen, and a voice memo program.

I woke up last Wednesday and immediately tried to update the iPhone, but the new operating system wasn’t available yet. I kept checking for the update, until I wrote to Joel and he told me it wasn’t due up until 10AM PDT. At 10, it still wasn’t available, so I gave up for a while, but at 11 it was, and I eagerly downloaded it. I also read about some of the features and discovered one that is available for subscribers to Apple’s MobileMe, the cloud-computing system through which one can sync calendar and contact programs on multiple computers plus the iPhone as well as use those programs on any computer via a browser. It’s the Find My iPhone feature. You have to go to your MobileMe account to turn it on. But once it’s on, you can do some cool things.

First, from any computer anywhere, you can sign into your account and ask it to find your iPhone. It will use the built-in GPS and cell tower triangulating features to show you the location of the phone on a map, in the way it does when you’re using the phone itself. Of course, it doesn’t pinpoint the location. It just shows the location within a circle of varying radius. But if you arrive home without your phone, you could use this feature, see that it’s in the neighborhood where you just had dinner, and figure out that you must have left it in the restaurant as opposed to your office. Next, you can have the phone ring or send text messages to it. The ringing will work even if you have turned the sound off. The text message could say please return the phone to me, or contact me, or there’s a reward, or whatever. Finally, if you realize the phone will never be recovered, you can send a signal to have its data wiped, so no one will be able to see the data. Features one never wants to use, but it’s good to know they’re there, and it makes our MobileMe subscription all the more valuable.

Okay, so that’s that. Now the story. This guy Kevin was in Chicago attending a Lego convention last weekend. One night, after seeing Second City, he and some friends ate at a bar. Upon leaving, he realized his iPhone was missing. He tells the story of how he managed to track it down that night and the next day in his blog post. The story is short, and I don’t want to spoil it, so just go read it.

Our hero has a follow-up post in which he muses about his new-found fame. You’ll also find a link to some of his Lego work, including the USS Enterprise pictured above.

Categories: Computing, Travel

Father’s Day Weekend

June 23, 2009 Leave a comment


I’ve fallen behind on blogging in recent days partly because of a busy 72 hours from Thursday night to Sunday night. Here’s what happened. Read more…

Categories: Family, Golf, House, Travel

NYT/NPR on Torture

June 23, 2009 Leave a comment


I was intending to write a post in late April about the NYT’s avoidance of “torture” as a description of the “enhanced” or “harsh” or “brutal” interrogation techniques practiced by the CIA. This intent was in response to the weekly Public Editor column that appears each Sunday in the NYT’s Week in Review section. Clark Hoyt now writes the column, and on April 26 he examined the NYT’s practice. An excerpt:

And why not, then, go all the way to torture? Jehl said that when the paper is discussing what is generally regarded as the most extreme interrogation method the C.I.A. used, waterboarding, “we’ve become more explicit in saying in a first reference that it’s a near-drowning technique” that Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and many other experts “have called torture.” But he said: “I have resisted using torture without qualification or to describe all the techniques. Exactly what constitutes torture continues to be a matter of debate and hasn’t been resolved by a court. This president and this attorney general say waterboarding is torture, but the previous president and attorney general said it is not. On what basis should a newspaper render its own verdict, short of charges being filed or a legal judgment rendered?” Jehl argued for precision and caution. I agree.

Well, I sure don’t agree. Because one president says something is black and the other says it’s white, the correct journalistic practice is not to decide the truth to the extent that it’s in the paper’s power to discern, so they will be neutral?

I never did write that post. But that was eight weeks ago. Now it’s National Public Radio’s turn. On Sunday, NPR’s ombudsman Alicia Shepard weighed in. Below is one of the worst passages from her execrable piece:

It’s a no-win case for journalists. If journalists use the words “harsh interrogation techniques,” they can be seen as siding with the White House and the language that some U.S. officials, particularly in the Bush administration, prefer. If journalists use the word “torture,” then they can be accused of siding with those who are particularly and visibly still angry at the previous administration.

Huh? And if journalists say the earth is 4.5 billion years old — give or take a few million — are they siding with scientists over creationists? What about the truth. Or, as Glenn Greenwald put it in his post yesterday, “Here’s the nub of the matter – the crux of journalistic decay in America. Who cares if NPR is ‘seen’ as siding with the White House or its critics? How it is perceived — and who it angers — should have nothing to do with how it reports. Its reporting should be guided by the truth, by verifiable facts, and by the objective meaning of words.”

See Greenwald’s full post for a broader discussion.

Categories: Media, Torture