Saturday, May 14, 2011

Small Wonders

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A diminutive morel waits at the base of a tree stump for the patient hunter

Springtime bursts forth with bold strokes in the bloom of daffodils and tulips. But there are small wonders to be found hidden in nooks and crannies.

Lily of the Valley blossoms in the damp places under shrubbery
A half dozen stems of the white bells can perfume an entire room.

Tiny mushrooms pop up to do their humble work

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dinner for a Week on $20

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Here is a recipe that will get a young family through the week with little preparation time and little money, both of which may be in short supply during difficult economic times: Rich stock prepared from beef bones and a small "soup bundle" of celery, carrots, and onion, to which is added several meaty beef shank rounds that disperse their flavor through the broth and add chunks of meat to the final product.

The simple procedure is to simmer the bones (two or three pounds from the butcher or supermarket) for 8 to 24 hours beginning with cold water with a half-cup of cider vinegar, skimming any scum that rises to the top of the pan during the first several hours, after which you need not pay any attention to the pot. The long simmering process extracts every bit of available nutrition from the bones, including abundant calcium. In the last two hours before serving, brown two large beef shanks (24-32 ounces), and add them to the pot with the browning juices,three coarsely chopped carrots, three celery ribs, and a coarsely chopped large onion. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

You will get a better and more economical final product if you seek out a local beef producer who is willing to sell you bones and shanks--such as the wonderful Hemp's Meat Market in Jefferson, Maryland that I use--rather than purchasing these items from the supermarket, where they are typically priced 30 percent more than at the butcher. Hemp's sells whole beef shanks that produce eight one and a half inch thick rounds like the ones pictured above (enough for three large pots of soup) for $2.49 a pound; the supermarket charges $3.49. Hemp's cows come from the field across the street. The supermarket cows come from who knows where, and they bring considerably less taste with them.

When you have your basic pot of soup, you can add fresh greens like kale or Swiss chard, or a turnip, rutabaga, or potato, to make it even hardier. Combine with bread and butter and a small salad for a wonderful family dinner. One pot, begun on Saturday and finished on Sunday, can serve a family of four for the better part of a week.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Looking for a New President--II

Robert Edge Pine's portrait of the patriot Robert Morris, ca.1785

What was the Obama administration up to this past week? With events in the Middle East and Libya deteriorating apace, and Somali pirates murdering U.S. citizens, the major news from the administration consisted of Eric Holder’s announcement that the Justice Department will no longer fight in court against state efforts to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and that the office of the White House social secretary is to be occupied by a gay rights activist.

Clearly, Obama’s 2012 presidential bid is in full swing, and the barely post-adolescent strategists in his reelection war room have embarked on a calculated effort to harden factional lines in the Republican Party by throwing “social issues” into the media spotlight.

All the more reason that the most talented and energetic Republican leaders should step forward now and announce for the White House. We need a field of tough and smart candidates, with the guts and intellectual depth to rally a now-energized populace around the truth that there can be no solution to America’s deepening fiscal crisis separated from a solution to the horrible moral and social crisis facing our nation.

Rep. Mike Pence, the Indiana Republican who entered last week’s recent amendment to House federal budget legislation stripping Planned Parenthood of $360 million in taxpayer handouts, has made it clear what place he thinks social issues have in the party and in the election.

He made these remarks before the GOP sweep in last November's elections, and it seems that the candidates who also expressed this view did just fine at the polls:

“Now I know some say that Republicans should stay away from such issues …that the American people are focused on jobs and spending and our movement would do well to stand aside, bank the win and return to fight after this fiscal and economic crisis has passed. But we do not live in a world where an American leader can just focus on our financial ledger. A political party that would govern this great nation must be able to handle more than one issue at a time. We must focus on our fiscal crisis and support our troops. We must work to create jobs and protect innocent human life."

Pence continued, "To those who say we should focus on cutting spending, I say ‘Ok, let’s start by denying all federal funding for abortion at home and abroad! Stop funding research that destroys human embryos in the name of science, and let’s deny any and all funding to Planned Parenthood of America.’"

“We must not remain silent when great moral battles are being waged. Those who would have us ignore the battle being fought over life … have forgotten the lessons of history. As in the days of a House divided, America’s darkest moments have come when economic arguments trumped moral principles. Men and women, we must demand, here and now, that the leaders of the Republican Party stand for life … without apology."

How do you think a fellow like this would do in a nationally televised debate against Barak Obama? Get an idea of how such an event might shape up here.

Pence says he doesn’t want to run for President. This is understandable. For a serious patriot, the job is one of total personal sacrifice. Robert Morris, no doubt, did not want to spend his entire personal fortune to finance the War of Independence, but he did so anyway, and victory was secured. So there is really no telling what Pence might do, if called upon to serve his country from the White House.

Saturday Crafts: Klunky Bead Jewelry

Some snapshots are too good to file away without sharing. Here is a scene from the weekly crafts session at our house with several young ladies in the neighborhood. The girls have applied themselves diligently to learning the basics of working with lead and charcoal pencils, still-life composition, and the basics of perspective (our most challenging lessons).

But sometimes girls just want to have fun, so we spent a recent afternoon fashioning gifts for family and friends from an assortment of inexpensive Indian glass beads purchased on the Internet. One of the creations matches a lime green turtleneck in my closet, and is lovely enough for the office!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Why Is America Going Broke?

Last week, my congressman, Rep. Frank Wolfe (R-VA), circulated an open letter to his constituents warning that America will soon be officially bankrupt. His letter included the alarming statistic that, on the current trajectory, by the year 2028, every single penny of federal government revenue will be eaten up by entitlement payments (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and so forth) and interest on the national debt. Nearly half that national debt, Wolfe noted, is currently owned by China and Saudi Arabia—perhaps not countries to which we wish to be financially beholden. You can read the full text of his open letter here.

Wolfe suggests a serious reevaluation of entitlement payments and I concur. However, to consider entitlements, we must also consider the cost of goods and services that are purchased with entitlement funds. A principal of these is medical care, accounting for a gigantic chunk of the federal budget at this time.

Here I offer a bit of anecdotal evidence that medical care costs are completely out of control: a line-by-line accounting of the bills generated by the health care establishment when I simply checked in with the rheumatologist about chronic pain and joint swelling in my left-hand ring finger:

--Visit to doctor’s office (10 minutes): $325
--X-ray (a technology developed in 1895) of my hand: $793
--Charges by a radiologist to look at the X-ray: $160
--Prescription: $418
TOTAL: $1696

Enough to very comfortably feed, house, clothe, educate, transport, and entertain a middle class family of four for a week or more. But clearly not enough to finance their health care, since each has 10 fingers and 10 toes.

I welcome comments on where to begin to understand and tackle the behemoth of American health care costs.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Looking for a New President

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was raised a Hindu and converted to the Roman Catholic faith as a young adult

Are you, like me, eager to see some motion in the national political process to produce a winning Republican ticket for the 2012 presidential elections? Are you also eager to find a candidate who demonstrates the ability to understand fundamental moral issues and will not compromise?

Rev. Luke Robinson of the Quinn Chapel Africa Methodist Episcopal Church in Frederick, Maryland, speaking recently to at the 38th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., made an eloquent case that Americans must act now to scotch the candidacy of any GOP leader who proposes to shelf so-called social issues, that is euthanasia and the abortion of 4,000 babies a day in the United States, in favor of the so-called fiscal issue, that is, the nation’s pending bankruptcy. “There must be no retreat, no truce, and no going backwards,” he told 400,000 assembled activists. “We must hold our elected officials’ feet to the fire…We will give nobody a passcard, because life is too precious. There are those like Hailey Barbour of Mississippi and Mitch Daniels of Indiana, who call for a truce on social issues. They must be stopped before they get to the gate. They must not be given the slightest opportunity to extend the killing of the unborn…We do not need another President who is blind to the moral issues. We must move with dispatch and find someone who is in love with the culture of life and hates the culture of death….There must be no exceptions and there must be no compromises.”

Do you ask where committed pro-life voters can find a pro-life candidate with the guts and brains to stand up on this issue? I have begun with a serious look at Louisiana’s young Indian-American governor, Bobby Jindal, who has been writing on his conversion to Catholicism and aspects of Roman Catholic faith since the mid-1990s. Many of his articles appear in the New Oxford Review, and can be retrieved on line.

We must move with dispatch and give nobody a passcard.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Good Tools Make All the Difference

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My Christmas present from my daughter for 2010 was a stainless steel cake decorating kit with six standard tips, which I have been using ever since for a variety of tasks. It has effectively replaced the unwieldy pastry bag that I have been grappling with for years. It's a snap to change tips in the middle of the decorating process, takes less than a minute to clean by hand, and is dishwasher safe. This weekend, I turned out a variety of vegetables stuffed with salmon spread and blue cheese dip, along with fancy deviled eggs, for an small tea party. I won't ever again plan for a meal for guests without considering how I can use this new tool to make it more appealing.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Another Treat from Julia Child

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Here is another winner from Julia Child's The Way to Cook--beef brisket smothered in onions and chopped tomatoes. If you have an oven with an automatic turn-on, you can prepare this before you rush out of the house in the morning, let it marinate for five or six hours in the oven, and find it ready for dinner after four hours of braising in a 300 degree oven. It takes another 10 minutes to finish the sauce and microwave the vegetables. A substantial enough brisket may even serve for two family dinners.

A New Classic Lemon Cake

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Thanks to Julia Child, whose How to Cook classic recipe book I've been reviewing over the past several weeks, I've discovered and tested a wonderful recipe for lemon-almond tart. Julia developed this with Andre Soltner, and comments that "it's easy to assemble and just very good to eat." She calls it Tarte Citron Mama--Lemon Almond Tart.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Time for a Wardrobe Makeover

I've decided  2011 is a good year for a wardrobe makeover!

Jeans will remain the bedrock of day-to-day outfits, but I've resolved to invest in several well-fitting pairs. There will be more glitter everywhere. The first step in my wardrobe makeover is to search for a pair of metallic ballet flats, preferably copper or gold. I'll also add beads to tops and blouses, and hopefully--if there are decent pickings in the consignment shops--some more interesting sleeves on blouses and sweaters. Perhaps a ruffle or two.