Sunday, February 1, 2015

A Raclette Dinner in New York

From France Today:
Coming on the heels of a recent Wall Street Journal piece about how "nobody RSVPs anymore", I was only a little surprised to see so few people at a recent gathering. It was a raclette dinner for journalists at the French Cheese Board. The minute I finished reading the invitation, my RSVP was sent!

As it turned out, it was a fun, intimate dinner with a bunch of raclette-crazed people along with a couple of newbies (to raclette) who quickly got into the spirit.

We were greeted with glasses of Crémant d’Alsace Prestige Brut, a lovely sparkling wine, and Fromager d’Affinois, a soft, creamy cheese, similar to brie. When we sat down at the table, there was a trio of appetizers. The simplest was a skewer of orange and red grape tomatoes sandwiching a morsel of the garlic and herb Fromager d’Affinois. Next to that was a small serving of butternut squash soup with the truffled version melting into it. The third was a slice of baguette with le Fromage Fouetté, a mild whipped cheese, used as a base for a tuna mousse. All three were delicious and easily duplicated at home (which is what the French Cheese Board is hoping you will do).

Raclette is traditionally made by holding half a wheel of cheese over a fire and scraping the melted part onto a plate with potatoes, charcuterie and cornichons. Since that’s not always practical, restaurants will have an electric melter, designed to hold a quarter or half-wheel of cheese. What you usually find here are small trays that fit over a few votive candles, but they lack the drama of the big apparatus. I was happy to see the long table set with raclette machines strategically placed along with the smaller trays.

As is traditional, bowls of steamed (Yukon Gold) potatoes and plates of charcuterie were passed around as we waited for the cheese to melt. We let the newbies have the first go and they were quickly hooked! The rest of us didn’t have long to wait as the cheese on the big holders not only melted faster, but was tastier, as it started to bubble and brown. The Riesling (a 2012 Réserve from Willm) we had to go along with it was a great pairing.

Dessert (yes, we made it to dessert), was the time for the whipped cheese to shine. It was used in a lovely cheesecake with a surprise layer of apple and “frosted” with yogurt. Delicious and surprisingly light – a nice finish.

To prove that all of the recipes were easily prepared (remember, they want Americans to start cooking with their cheeses), all the food was made in the FCB kitchen by the reps from Interval. Email me for copies of the recipes or you can pick them up at the French Cheese Board. The Fromager d’Affinois is pretty easy to find (Murray’s, Zabar’s, Amazon), the Fromage Fouetté is exclusive to Whole Foods and the Raclette in pre-cut slices is at Trader Joe's. Don’t worry that you don’t have the big melter, I’ve done raclette successfully at home with ramekins under the broiler (and plan on doing just that with the slices they sent me home with). (Read more.)
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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Real Men Wear Pink

From Supremacy and Survival:
My husband went with me last year to the Josephine exhibition at the Musée du Luxembourg.

One painting that caught my eye was the Portrait de Gian Girolamo Grumelli dit “le Chevalier en rose”, 1561 by Giovan Battista Moroni. It is now included in an exhibition of Moroni's portraits at the Royal Academy in London. Piers Baker-Bates reviews the exhibition for History Today:
Moroni excelled above all as a portrait painter and the psychologically acute works on display at the Royal Academy should cement his reputation, although, arguably, the few religious works shown here are qualitatively on a par with the portraits. The exhibition takes us chronologically through Moroni’s career and illustrates clearly how his artistic trajectory developed. Particular attention has been paid to the background and hang, which superbly set off the paintings displayed. 
He mentions le Chevalier en rose:
For example, take the portrait of Giovanni Gerolamo Grumelli, the so-called Man in Pink (pictured above). Grumelli’s salmon pink, elaborately trimmed, costume dominates the room in which his portrait hangs. At the same time the cryptic motto of the sitter in the bottom right corner of the painting is not written in his native Italian, but in Spanish: Mas el çaguero que el primero (‘Better the latter than the former’). It is the dramatic realism of such portraits that struck the Victorians and that still impresses us today, as does Moroni’s ability to depict fabrics and textures. (Read more.)
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Two Ways of Dying

From Tom Piatak in Chronicles:
The same day Maynard died, a man was buried in my hometown of Cleveland whose way of dying and way of living were different from Maynard’s.  I knew this man, though I did not know him well.  His name was Jim Skerl.  He graduated from the high school I attended, St. Ignatius in Cleveland, in 1974, and began teaching theology there in 1978.  He remained at the school until October 3, 20 days before he died of pancreatic cancer.  According to the eulogy delivered by another member of the theology department, Marty Dybicz, Skerl, on his last day as a teacher, “spontaneously quoted the Apostles Creed and said, ‘I believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.’  Then he added, ‘Go with God.  Love one another.’”

Skerl’s life showed how much he believed what he said on his last day as a teacher.  For ten years, each Sunday night saw Skerl gather with students at the school’s chapel, where they prayed before the Blessed Sacrament.  They then would go to places where the homeless could be found, bringing them a meal and companionship.  Each month, Skerl would lead students to Cleveland’s L’Arche community, where they would also bring a meal and companionship to the disabled adults who lived there.  Skerl became friends with the homeless and disabled persons he met, some of whom came as guests to his wedding. (Read more.)
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Tolkien and the Courage to Face Evil

From the American Thinker:
J.R.R. Tolkien’s two famous novels – The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings – reveal more and more layers of meaning on each reading.  Critics like to argue about Tolkien’s real meaning, but he was perfectly clear about that: his allegories of war and peace are about our time, his and ours.
 
Tolkien’s generation saw the rise and fall of the Kaiser, Hitler, and Stalin, grim enemies about as close to Mordor and Sauron as we can imagine.  And Tolkien clearly identified the first hobbits he was acquainted with – it was the small-town people of Worcestershire, where he had lived.  These were the ordinary people who went to war and put their lives on the line when Dark Riders came to invade their peaceful Shire.

The famous Tolkien novels speak to us because they evoke our deepest dilemmas – most of all, the never-ending puzzle of ordinary people faced with unspeakable evil.  If your parents and grandparents had to come to that moment of decision in their lives, you probably know all about it.  They did not choose war; war chose them. (Read more.)
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Friday, January 30, 2015

Vermeer

"Girl with the Pearl Earring" by Johannes Vermeer
From the Metropolitan Gallery of Art:
With Rembrandt and Frans Hals, Vermeer ranks among the most admired of all Dutch artists, but he was much less well known in his own day and remained relatively obscure until the end of the nineteenth century. The main reason for this is that he produced a small number of pictures, perhaps about forty-five (of which thirty-six are known today), primarily for a small circle of patrons in Delft. Indeed, as much as half of Vermeer's output was acquired by the local collector Pieter van Ruijven. Although Vermeer's work was known to other connoisseurs in Delft and the neighboring court city of The Hague, and a few of his paintings sold to individuals farther afield (Antwerp and Amsterdam), most Dutch painters turned out hundreds of pictures for a much broader market. Adding to his image as an isolated figure are the fact that Vermeer's teacher is unknown, and that he evidently had no pupils. However, the artist was a respected member of the painters' guild in Delft, and he exchanged pictorial ideas with painters active in that city (especially Pieter de Hooch in the 1650s) and in the region (for example, Frans van Mieris in Leiden).

Vermeer's father trained as a weaver of fine material but by about 1630 had become an innkeeper and art dealer. The latter business may have helped Vermeer develop his remarkable ability to assimilate formal conventions from past and current masters. On the other hand, his father's debts and death in 1652 probably explain why Vermeer had to essentially train himself rather than study with an important master. In 1653, Vermeer married the daughter of a wealthy Catholic divorcée; the painter converted to their religion and moved into their house in the heart of Delft. During most of his short career—he died at forty-three, leaving his wife with eleven children—Vermeer's paintings commanded high prices and he was able to support his large family, but the dismal Dutch economy of the early 1670s made his last few years miserable.

In his earliest paintings, Vermeer surveyed the styles of various seventeenth-century artists. For example, in Christ in the House of Mary and Martha (ca. 1655; Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland), he achieved an unlikely mixture of Anthony van Dyck and Hendrick ter Brugghen. The Procuress (1656; Dresden, Gemäldegalerie) recalls Caravaggesque works by the court painter Gerrit van Honthorst, except for the apparent self-portrait which in its handling of light and soft focus resembles a moment caught in a mirror. Similar effects had been achieved in Delft by the short-lived Rembrandt disciple Carel Fabritius (1622–1654), who is often credited with encouraging Vermeer's later perspective skills. However, Vermeer's mature interest in naturalistic effects, his carefully balanced compositions, and his domestic subjects derive from numerous sources in Delft and the south Holland area. As the painter worked on a picture, the world of art was constantly tested against direct observation. Vermeer was intensely preoccupied with the behavior of light and other optical effects such as sudden recessions and changes of focus. These qualities in Vermeer's work may have been inspired by an interest in the camera obscura (which projects actual images), but its importance to the artist has been greatly exaggerated. His compositions are mostly invented and exhibit the most discriminating formal relationships, including those of color. In addition, Vermeer's application of paint reveals extraordinary technical ability and time-consuming care.

In his best works, these qualities suit the subject matter exceedingly well. Vermeer idealized a domestic world occupied (if not animated) mostly by women, whose postures, behavior, and in some cases expressions suggest close study and sympathy (in this the artist resembles Gerard ter Borch, the Younger, whose work he knew). He often suggests some connection between a figure and the viewer, subtly casting the latter in the role of a spellbound voyeur. (Read more.)
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A Feminist Against Abortion

From CNN:
Polls taken since the Roe v Wade decision routinely show women in favor of abortion restrictions, and in slightly greater numbers than men. But how can this be? How can any woman want to scale back on the abortion license given them by the U.S. Supreme Court 42 years ago?
As a one-time abortion rights supporter, I well know the temptation to see the right to abortion as a representation of women's equality. After all, bearing an unexpected child would seem to interrupt a woman's ability to design her own future according to her own goals and ambitions. More poignantly, bearing a child while in poverty or while already overwhelmed by caregiving for other children, or perhaps while experiencing health risks, reeks of an injustice known to women alone. 

Abortion would seem to provide women with a practical response to the disproportionate responsibility sexual intercourse can lay at our feet. 

But abortion, which is often the assumed solution to unexpected pregnancy in our culture, attempts to cure that sexual asymmetry: the biological fact that women get pregnant and men don't. It does this by putting the responsibility to care for — or dispense with — the life of a nascent, developing human being on women alone. 

Abortion expects nothing more of men, nothing more of medicine, and nothing more of society at large. Abortion betrays women by having us believe that we must become like men — that is, not pregnant — to achieve parity with them, professionally, socially, educationally. And if we are poor, overwhelmed or abandoned by the child's father, or if medical expenses would be too great for us or for our child, social "responsibility" requires us to rid ourselves of our own offspring.

Today's feminists cheer us on. Is this really the equality we were looking for 42 years ago?

I think most women want to see a culture that respects and honors women not only for the myriad talents we bring as individuals to our professions, our communities and our country. Women also want to live in a society that, at the very same time, cherishes our shared, and indeed, wondrous capacity to bear new human life. We want to be respected for the work we do as mothers.

What about a culture where women's childbearing capacity is recognized not as an impediment to our social status and certainly not as the be-all and end-all of women's capacities as it once was, but as that which calls upon all persons in society to show a bit of gratitude? Rather than structure society around the wombless, unencumbered male, ought not society be structured around those who, in addition to being able to do all that men can do, can also bear new human life? 

Such a cultural restructuring in support of caregiving — one that pro-life feminists seek — would benefit this generation's fathers as well. Many men today would prefer to dedicate far more time and attention to their children than fathers of prior generations did, or could. Pro-woman, pro-child, pro-family policies would enable just that.

Not all women become mothers, but those who do so depend upon a cultural esteeming of both pregnancy and motherhood for their social and professional support. When we belittle the developing child in the womb, a scientific reality that most pro-choice advocates have come to admit, we belittle and distort that child's mother. We make her out to be one with property rights over her developing unborn child (much as husbands once had property rights over their wives). 

We give her the inhumane (but for 42 years, constitutionally protected) right to decide the fate of another human being, of a vulnerable child — her child — to whom she properly owes an affirmative duty of care. We do all this rather than offering her the myriad familial and social supports she needs, whatever her situation, and cherishing her role in the miracle of human life. 

But we live in a time when to speak of that miracle or of the biological differences between the sexes seems quaint, as though we have now gotten beyond sex in the brave new world of "gender fluidity." It seems an effort to erase the notion of moms and dads --as though to do so would be a boon to progress, as though society would finally be free of those old, deterministic categories of male and female. 

But here's the rub: We can pretend sex differences do not exist, but it is women who bear the burden when we do so. Both men and women have sex but it is the woman who becomes pregnant, the woman who must either find ways to courageously and sacrificially care and nurture the developing child in her womb, or who must do the unthinkable and end her own child's life. Men can have sex and walk away, and with the right Roe gave them, they increasingly do. 

It is time to admit the truth about sexual difference — this beautiful, wondrous truth — and shape society to prioritize care for those who care for the most vulnerable. And it is time to demand more, far more, of men. (Read more.)
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Bad for the Brain

From The Guardian:
Although we think we’re doing several things at once, multitasking, this is a powerful and diabolical illusion. Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT and one of the world experts on divided attention, says that our brains are “not wired to multitask well… When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.” So we’re not actually keeping a lot of balls in the air like an expert juggler; we’re more like a bad amateur plate spinner, frantically switching from one task to another, ignoring the one that is not right in front of us but worried it will come crashing down any minute. Even though we think we’re getting a lot done, ironically, multitasking makes us demonstrably less efficient.

Multitasking has been found to increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol as well as the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline, which can overstimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking. Multitasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation. To make matters worse, the prefrontal cortex has a novelty bias, meaning that its attention can be easily hijacked by something new – the proverbial shiny objects we use to entice infants, puppies, and kittens. The irony here for those of us who are trying to focus amid competing activities is clear: the very brain region we need to rely on for staying on task is easily distracted. We answer the phone, look up something on the internet, check our email, send an SMS, and each of these things tweaks the novelty- seeking, reward-seeking centres of the brain, causing a burst of endogenous opioids (no wonder it feels so good!), all to the detriment of our staying on task. It is the ultimate empty-caloried brain candy. Instead of reaping the big rewards that come from sustained, focused effort, we instead reap empty rewards from completing a thousand little sugar-coated tasks.

In the old days, if the phone rang and we were busy, we either didn’t answer or we turned the ringer off. When all phones were wired to a wall, there was no expectation of being able to reach us at all times – one might have gone out for a walk or been between places – and so if someone couldn’t reach you (or you didn’t feel like being reached), it was considered normal. Now more people have mobile phones than have toilets. This has created an implicit expectation that you should be able to reach someone when it is convenient for you, regardless of whether it is convenient for them. This expectation is so ingrained that people in meetings routinely answer their mobile phones to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t talk now, I’m in a meeting.” Just a decade or two ago, those same people would have let a landline on their desk go unanswered during a meeting, so different were the expectations for reachability. (Read more.)
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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Tea Dress, 1920's

A cream, lace tea dress from the 1920's. Via Tiny-Librarian. I remember my grandmother describing a similar dress that she wore as a young girl in the Philippines. Share