Saturday, March 31, 2007

Dinner is served, socks on the side

Did you know that I have lovely things hidden away in my fridge/freezer? No, it's not (always) science-project-style growth -- but I sometimes forget that the stuff is there. Yesterday, I found a small bag of spinach that had to be cooked post-haste. Voila! Spinach with garlic and olive oil! (mom's quick recipe) This afternoon, I took the pork loin out of the freezer, to see if I could maybe come up with something to make for dinner. Voila again! Cooking Light's Smothered Pork Chops with Thyme. (I had pork loin, not chops, but same basic idea.) Add some brown rice, and you get a well-rounded, home-cooked meal. And to drink, Timbuktu Small Block White (Chardonnay), which I got at World Markets and stuck in the fridge for just such an occassion. (I think I bought it because I liked the car on the label.) :)

In the meantime, when I haven't been on the phone with a newly-discovered Nice Jewish Boy*, I've been knitting Widdershins socks. (can't knit and hold the phone to my ear at the same time. must find my headset... ) One of the things that I wanted to do this year was cabled socks, so here we go! I'm making them for mom, so they're going to be slightly too small for me to try on once I turn the heel. [I might run out of yarn after the first sock. Fortunately, it's a multicolored variegated yarn, so they don't have to match exactly! I can just buy another skein!] But, I'm starting to make the heel gusset, and it looks pretty neat. :)

*Yes, there is a new NJB. He lives in San Antonio (which is about 90 minutes south of here, give or take some traffic). I've already told him he's exceedingly nice, but I think he's just trying to make a good impression. I admit I struggled at first with the full measure of his attention focused on me (it's been a while), but I'm getting used to it. [Boys really like me this much? Ridiculous.] We're getting together again next weekend -- I haven't been to SA yet, so I'm going to go be a tourist and see the Alamo and the Riverwalk, with him as my tour guide. :)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Ready, set, matzah!

First comes the news that, according to some Rabbis in Europe, pot should not be smoked at Passover. D'oh! I know the rules about not eating bread, or anything with leavening (or anything that puffs up when you cook it, like corn or rice), but the rabbis saw fit to add hemp seeds to the list, so marijuana is definitely out. [Besides, would you really want to have the munchies during a week when tortilla chips are prohibited? I didn't think so.]

Then, it seems that an enterprising Rabbi in New York decided to turn a school bus into a matzah oven. Seems he's been using it for a few years -- and as long as he can recruit an engineer to help him set it up, and move it 10 ft. away from the house, he can go back to using it! Oy vey. Most matzah tastes bad enough without the added aroma of old school bus.

Finally, if you have little kids coming to your Seder, and you need a cute way to explain the 10 plagues on Egypt (heh. I used "cute" and "plagues" in the same sentence!), here's a bag of tricks. I particularly like the little frogs and the fake blood. :)
And for those of you who won't get to experience the zaniness that is the Fratkin family Seder (oops, that includes me this year!), here's the quick version.
The Two-Minute Haggadah -- A Passover service for the impatient.
Opening prayers: Thanks, G-d, for creating wine. (Drink wine.) Thanks for creating produce. (Eat parsley.)
Overview: Once we were slaves in Egypt . Now we're free. That's why we're doing this.
Four questions: 1. What's up with the matzoh? 2. What's the deal with horseradish? 3. What's with the dipping of the herbs? 4. What's this whole slouching at the table business?
Answers: 1. When we left Egypt , we were in a hurry. There was no time for making decent bread. 2. Life was bitter, like horseradish. 3. It's called symbolism. 4. Free people get to slouch.
A funny story: Once, these five rabbis talked all night, then it was morning. (Heat soup now.)
The four kinds of children and how to deal with them: Wise child-explain Passover. Simple child-explain Passover slowly. Silent child-explain Passover loudly. Wicked child-browbeat in front of the relatives.
Speaking of children: We hid some matzoh. Whoever finds it gets five bucks.
The story of Passover: It's a long time ago. We're slaves in Egypt Pharaoh is a nightmare. We cry out for help. G-d brings plagues upon the Egyptians. We escape, bake some matzoh. G-d parts the Red Sea We make it through; the Egyptians aren't so lucky. We wander 40 years in the desert, eat manna, get the Torah, wind up in Israel.
If G-d had gotten us out of Egypt and not punished our enemies, it would've been enough. If he'd punished our enemies and not parted the Red Sea , it would've been enough. If he'd parted the Red Sea- (Remove gefilte fish from refrigerator now.) Eat matzoh. Drink more wine. Slouch.
Thanks again, G-d, for everything. >>SERVE MEAL.>>>
There, now you've all been to a Seder. In the Fratkin house, you have to add a short discussion of whether G-d is a he or a she, and some funny songs, and a mountain of yummy food. Takes about 3 hours.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

40 hours in DC

I went home for the weekend, for the annual political memorabilia show that I organize. (Odd, but the co-chairs of the National Capital Chapter of APIC live in Austin, TX and Harrisburg, PA. The age of the Internet!)

To save some dough, I flew home via JFK on JetBlue. I forgot how much I love JetBlue. I watched some Food Network, a little Bravo, and the NCAA basketball tourney on my flights. [Hours 1-3] The flight from JFK to DC was delayed a little, but Bryan picked me up and we still made it to dinner at Colvin Run by 8:15. Norman made me drink red wine. (He really twisted my arm.) It was a lovely Pinot Noir. Bryan and I both had the tuna 3-ways appetizer. (Teri, you would LOVE this.) And then he always has the duck for his entree. Always. I had a decidedly southwestern-style chili-rubbed pork loin and stuffed pepper. Norman had a blue cheese salad and then lobster consomme. Then we had dessert. The boys had chocolate mousse with banana ice cream. I had a chocolate-peanut-butter confection and a little mini vanilla milkshake (with a side of Lactaid pills). Everything was soooooooooo good. Norman and I are already planning out the restaurants that we're going to take mom & dad to when they come next month.

[Hours 4-12 - sleep (or try to sleep, in my case!)] Didn't see Mom & Dad on Friday night, they went to NJ to go to a bar mitzvah. Bryan dropped me off and promptly went out to hang with his friends. I had to go to bed early anyway. Had to get up in time to get out of the city around all of the street closings for the DC Marathon, and get to the hotel for the show by 8am. By the time I made it (after stopping at Starbucks, natch), it was 8:05, and the dealers were about to mutiny!

[Hours 13-21] But, the show was a success. We sold almost all of the tables, so I think we broke even again. We had a lot of walk-in traffic, too. Everyone was so shocked that Dad was missing the show. And, I got some new flashers for my collection - someone has produced them for each of the '08 candidates - HRC, Obama, Romney, Giuliani and McCain. (No Edwards, tho.) By 4pm I was completely wiped out. I took Norman back to the house and went out to Fairfax to see Kelly (+1) and Jeff and Hannah. Yep, Kelly's gonna have another one! Yay! I get to be an auntie again! :) [I am less-than-secretly hoping for a boy, so I get to knit and/or buy some little boy clothes. Not that I don't love my nieces, but a boy would be so nice too!]

[Hours 22-26] I don't think Hannah stopped talking the entire time I was there. (I believe I said this in the last post about her, too.) She can tell you that the four-sided shape you've drawn is a rhombus, not a square or a diamond. And the one with the skewed sides is a trapezoid. Oy vey. Too smart already! She's gonna be a manager or a director or something... she loves giving orders. "Guys, (to me and Kelly)... do this." It was a riot.

[Hours 27-36 - sleep!] I was so wiped out, I left by 8:30pm. In the meantime, Mom & Dad had come home from NJ and then gone out to dinner with Norman, for an 8pm reservation. So I didn't see them until 10pm or so. I had to give them the update of what happened during the day at the show. Everyone missed them, asked for them, sent their regards.

Didn't have to do any tech support for the fam on this trip, fortunately. But it's even money there will be some random challenge when I'm back there in May. ;)

[Hours 36-40] Mom and I had breakfast at Starbucks, and then hauled a** to the airport. I got there in plenty of time -- I thought -- until I saw the security line. I made it to the B gates just in time to scurry to my gate and zip onto the plane. Fortunately, I wasn't the only straggler. The weather was gorgeous in DC and NY, so we made it to Austin right on time. And, my bag made it too! I got home about 30 minutes before the big thunderstorm opened up overhead.

I will be headed back to DC the first week of May... hopefully I'll have a little bit of time to see the many many people I missed on this trip.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

No Global Warming here, move along...

... at least if you're a Republican in Congress. It seems House Republican Leader John Boehner would have appointed Rep. Wayne Gilchrest to the bipartisan Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming -- but only if the Maryland Republican would say humans are not causing climate change, Gilchrest said. (Gilchrist, having more than half a brain, couldn't say that. Good for him.)

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a research scientist from Maryland, and Michigan's Rep. Vern Ehlers, the first research physicist to serve in Congress, also made cases for a seat, but weren't appointed. [Ehlers is my one GOP player on Fantasy Congress! :) ]

"Roy Blunt said he didn't think there was enough evidence to suggest that humans are causing global warming," Gilchrest said. "Right there, holy cow, there's like 9,000 scientists to three on that one."

It's called a Bipartisan committee for a reason. Really, I know it's always a little crazy in DC, but these people have their heads buried so far in the sand, they're probably seeing Beijing's subway trains.

(Reported in various places)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Are "hot wings" kosher?

As I was driving back home to pickup my laptop this morning (need... more.... coffee...) I heard a news blip on NPR that was a little bit shocking. It seems that Hooters will shortly be opening in Tel Aviv.

"I strongly believe that the Hooters concept is something that Israelis are looking for," Ofer Ahiraz, who bought the Hooters franchise for Israel, told Reuters Monday. "Hooters can suit the Israeli entertainment culture." (Reuters)

From the article, it sounds like they will be avoiding Jerusalem and very religious neighborhoods. I can just imagine the Orthodox Jews flipping out about the skimpy little waitress outfits. Oy vey.

* and the answer is yes, wings can be kosher, as long as you don't eat them with creamy dressing. But the Hooters wings won't be kosher anyway.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Hispanic/Latino/Mexican/Chicano Comedy

Friday night Alex took me out for a belated birthday night. We went to a Cuban restaurant on 6th Street. We had mojitos (he'd never had one), I had ropa vieja with platanos fritos, and he had a traditional Cuban pork sandwich. I haven't had good Cuban food since my business trips to Miami in 2002-2003. This was excellent. We had to take our desserts "to-go" ... which is fine with a coconut empanada, but not so good with the flan. (So he gave his flan to another diner in the restaurant.) We'll definitely have to go back there.

Then we went to Esther's Follies, but it wasn't the regular comedy show, it was the Latino Comedy Project. It was hilarious. We laughed SO hard -- fortunately A is not bothered by the fact that I laugh really loudly -- he was louder than I was! There were some anti-Dubya jokes and songs (there's one white guy in the group, so he got to be Shrub), and some fake "commercials," which you can see on their website. They did a skit that was a girl's QuinceaƱera -- a fifteenth birthday party (basically the Mexican version of a bat mitzvah) -- but the girl was pregnant, and her boyfriend's name was: ALEX. I couldn't stop laughing.

There were some other great skits. "The life of the Piojo (head lice)," "The Pendejo (dumb-a**)Self-Defense Kit", and the Latino-version of a major musical - "Greasers"! The best song had to be "Hopelessly Deported with You..." I got a t-shirt.

These guys are on their way to LA, to do some shows in Hollywood and try to get some more exposure. I hope they do well!

Monday, March 12, 2007

A Deeply Religious Experience

Saturday night was our monthly Supper Club dinner. We hemmed and hawed about a topic for weeks, from Irish foods (corned beef and cabbage, potatoes, beer....) to "Hamburger and Pickle Month," before we settled on Easter and Passover foods.

I made a wonderful Moroccan Lamb dish that I originally discovered in mom's New York Times Passover cookbook. It's like Passover lasagna - layer of matzah, then ground lamb with tomatoes and spices, then roasted eggplant slices, and repeat. It's pretty labor-intensive, since the ingredients have to be cooked before you layer them. (I have noticed that I manage to pick the most labor-intensive dishes for supper club!) I held on to the recipe because the lamb with tomatoes filling is really tasty, and I thought I would make it even when it wasn't Passover. Hm. I forgot that ground lamb is not inexpensive.

The rest of the menu: devilled eggs and kulich (Russian Easter bread), smoked fish spreads (with matzoh), mini macaroons with lemon curd filling and whipped cream (YUM), matzoh ball soup, lamb in egg and lemon sauce, baklava cake... and I'm forgetting something. At any rate, it was mighty tasty. I was particularly impressed that our hostess made matzoh ball soup for the first time, and the matzoh balls came out very well. I keep forgetting to bring my camera to the dinners!

We also had a very interesting dinner conversation about the relationship between various religions and food. Clearly, the Jews are well known for this - the 10-word motto for every holiday is "They tried to kill us. We won. Let's eat." There is always a direct relationship between the holiday we're celebrating and the food we eat -- Fried latke's to represent the oil for the flame that burned for 8 days during Chanuka; triangle-shaped cookies to represent Haman's hat at Purim; salt water, charoset and matzah to show the hardships of the exodus from Egypt at Passover; etc. Christians have meals that are commonly associated with holidays (mostly, ham at Easter and Xmas, as far as I could tell) ;) but not direct relationships or meanings tied to the foods.

And in case you're wondering, I did share the story of why we put an orange on the Seder plate. Needless to say, the ladies at the table loved it. :) [Oops! It turns out that the story that I like to tell is an urban legend, but the original reason for the orange is far more compelling, so I'll keep doing it!]

I also find it highly amusing that the gentiles in the group (only 2 of us are Jewish) really enjoy eating matzoh, but even they admit that being forced to eat it for a week would get old pretty fast. ;) And in a happy turn of events, I now have a Seder to go to in Austin! That'll be fun.

Next month: foods from the farmers market. (I see this as sort of Iron-Chef like... take the fresh fruits & vegetables and pair them with the protein or pastry of your choice.) Any suggestions?

Friday, March 09, 2007

A geek many times over

Yes, I am a geek. I know this, and I freely admit it. But sometimes it is more blindingly obvious than other times. And my geekiness spans a wide array of topics.

Today, for example. I learned how to log in to our supercomputer at work, so I can have an idea of how many jobs we run at any given time, and how many processors each job is using. It's an interesting data point, which may be useful when I go out and talk to people. But mostly I just thought it was really cool! I sometimes wish I had taken more computer science courses in college, but then I probably wouldn't have been able to spend a semester in Spain.

Then, I went and logged in to Fantasy Congress. (MZ pointed me to this site, knowing full well that I'd get hooked!) My team ("Austin Rocks") is the #1 team in the Texas league. You will notice that I have picked a lot of Dems. All but one, actually. Vern Ehlers is my one Republican team member, and he's a big champion of Science, so he gets a pass. :)

I'm sure there are other geeky things going on in my life right now, but I can't think of anything to add right here. If the peanut gallery would like to comment...

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Inconvenient Truth, Convenient Timing

Wouldn't you know it? As soon as 'Inconvenient Truth' won an Oscar, a right wing hack organization issued a statement saying that Al Gore's family home in Tennessee uses "more than 20 times the national average" kWh of electricity per year. (I refuse to add the link to this drivel to give them more traffic!) And who picked it up and ran with it? The Drudge Report, of course, Rush Limbaugh, and many other "anything-liberal-is-bad" news organizations.

On the HuffingtonPost, David Roberts gives some pertinent talking points to refute this ridiculous allegation. Here are my favorites:

  1. The Tennessee Tax Dept. does not consider the "Tennessee Center for Policy Research," which roughly no one had heard of before this, a legitimate group. It's run by a long-time right-wing attack hack, and its only registered address is a P.O. box. Why is everyone in the media taking what it says about Gore's electricity use at face value?
  2. Gore's electricity company has no record of being contacted about his bills.
  3. The "average" home electricity use quoted by TCPR is a national average that includes apartments and mobile homes. In Gore's climatic zone, the East South Central (Dept. of Energy PDF), the average is much higher, thanks to hot, humid summers and cold winters. Within that zone, Gore's usage is three (not 20) times average, and his per-square-foot usage is squarely average. (More here.)
  4. The Gores are not an average family. He's an ex-VP with special security arrangements, and has live-in security staff. He and his wife both work on their many business and charitable undertakings out of their house, so they have space for offices and office staff. All that would be tough to cram in an average size house.

So if you hear anyone spouting TCPR's nonsense about the Gore family being hypocritical, you know what to say! The reason the right wing wackos are up in arms about this is because clearly, the rest of the world has realized that a) Global Warming is a big problem, b) we are all responsible, and c) something must be done. Hiding their right-wing-heads in the sand won't make the problem go away... indeed, it will only make it worse when, lifting their heads out of the sand, they realize that half of the low-lying communities around the world are under water because the polar ice caps melted!