Monday, May 13, 2019

15 minute pasta

We are all seduced by those recipes that tell you that dinner can be on the table in 20 - 30 - 40 minutes but when we try to replicate that timetable, it simply does not work. 

But this one does. In the time it takes to put a pan of water on the heat, bring it to a boil and salt it, add the pasta, your other stuff is ready. Seriously.  The following is a recipe for one person but obviously easy to double or triple or whatever.

Put that pan of water on.  I start with hot water so it boils even quicker. Salt that water.

Chop up a big clove of garlic or two medium ones. Or more if you have more people. It doesn't need to be micro. Just sort of finely chopped.  If you have some anchovies languishing in a jar in your fridge, this is the time to make them serve you well. If you have any greens in your fridge, same thing. (I actually just used the tops of radishes I grew in my small garden, they were perf. But spinach, arugula, parsley, even cilantro would be fine. No greens is fine as well.)

As you are waiting for the pasta water to boil, put a couple of glugs of olive oil into a 6 - 8 inch frying pan. Larger if you are cooking for more than one. Heat it. When warm add the anchovies if you are using them. Let them sweat and fall apart. Add the chopped garlic. Let it slowly get hot. You don't want the garlic to brown, you want it to cook slowly and get soft and sort of sweet. Now your water should be boiling so add pasta and stir it up and let it cook. To the oil and garlic add a large pinch of red pepper flakes, stir. Let that cook. Add a pinch of salt.  That's about it. Of course, you can add some finely chopped onion if you want (I never do.)

Wait for the pasta to be done. Drain it and add it to the frying pan. If you are using greens add them. Toss with tongs. The heat should be pretty low to medium so that your pasta might sizzle a little going into that pan. Add some ground pepper. Have a small taste. Add salt if needed. Finely grate in some parmesan. Toss around a bit. At this point you are done unless you want to add other stuff like more greens or a diced tomato or some diced ham or a splash of cream or all of the above. Keep the heat low, just to heat anything you add but you don't really need to add anything, it is fine with just garlic and red pepper flakes. Tip it all into a shallow bowl that you have heated up with either hot water or some other way (oven, microwave, blah, blah) and then grate some more cheese on top and some more ground pepper and then you are done.

Eat with a glass of red wine or whiskey (not red) and enjoy. Seriously, from start to finish, 15 minutes. Time it. I did.

Image result for picture of a plate of simple pasta

Thursday, May 9, 2019

"The Friend", National Book Award Winner

As is true of any subjectively selected award winner, all minds do not agree on the winner. Some NBA winners have been stellar, in my humble opinion. In the last dozen years, some of my faves have been "Salvage the Bones" by Jesmyn Ward (I have a copy that I will carry forever) and "Let The Great World Spin" by Colum McCann and "Redeployment" by Phil Klay, to name a few.  Needless to say, I was hopeful about this year's winner, "The Friend" by Sigrid Nunez.

However, I was disappointed. It is wisely written and an excellent discourse on grief. Beautiful and spare, the narrator charts her road of grief with minimal lines, very few meanderings from that road. We learn about her connection to the dead man, her shock and yet acceptance of his suicide. All her feelings and the sharing of those feelings seem righteous. But perhaps it's because I am one of those people who don't wallow, one who likes to confront my sorrows and then who tries to move on, "The Friend" went on and on far too long for me.  And it's a very short book, so go figure.

Much has been said about the narrator's bond with the dead man's dog. Yes, there is a lot of dog-centric fiction these days and I like dogs and so that's not a problem for me. The dog in this novel seemed very cool and intuitive in that dog manner. But as large as the dog was (Great Dane) it seemed to take up a very small space in the narrator's emotional life until towards the very end. By then I was tired of her rambling about the dead guy and thus tired of her connection to the Great Dane. This is in no way a fault of that dog.

We aren't supposed to like the dead man, he didn't seem like a nice guy and I am grateful to the author for not making him seem honorable. Too many times the dead are forgiven for everything just because they are dead. Not in this case. But still, the narrator pines for him far too much.  The dog does the same but I can forgive that depression in a dog, they don't have rational thought like humans do. Dogs just want what they want and are sad when they can't get it.  Humans can want as well but at some point they need to realize the guy ain't coming back and deal with it.

That's my take. Harsh, perhaps, but I like to think of it as realistic.  Read it and we can discuss.


Monday, May 6, 2019

"Amazing Grace" all Aretha Franklin

In 1972, after winning so many awards for her many songs, Aretha Franklin decided to make an album of Gospel Songs, hearkening back to her roots.  She did a two night gig in a Baptist Missionary Church in Southern California and the show was filmed live. The filming was produced by Sidney Pollack but for many reasons, not released until now.

If you are a fan of Aretha, this is a must-see. It is 90 minutes of singing. There is little chatter, just her amazing voice and the response from the small crowd. It starts slow and builds to a peak that will leave you wanting to wave your arms in the air and shout "Amen!"  

It's a documentary of the most simple kind: good camera work, good sound and the powerful, beautiful, strong and joyful voice of a legend.  Two thumbs up from me!

Amazing grace.jpg

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

I can't get you out of my mind

The South, of course. Those small two-lane roads, those brilliant green fields, those small black men sitting on a street corner in a small town in the winter sun. The music and the food, the kindness of everyone I met, laughter from behind a hot deli case in a gas station, the sound of blinding rain on the roof of my car as I licked fried chicken grease off my fingers. That smell of electric fire in the air from a lightning storm. Tiny family cemeteries right up close to the side of a farmhouse. Blooming dogwood trees in a field of clover so yellow it almost hurt my eyes. Billboard after billboard advertising lawyers who held the key to one's fortune, just call us now!  U-turns in the middle of a highway to correct faulty directional conceptions. (Do I want East or West? Eventually I figured it out.) Monuments on the Natchez Trace Pathway dedicated to battles fought and won and lost. Dozens of small churches in towns that almost seemed deserted but for those small churches. Fine and talkative people at small restaurant bars, yearning to tell a stranger about the vagaries of their lonesome lives. The surprisingly friendly banter at every check-out line, whether in a grocery store, a Walgreens or while waiting to use a public restroom. The delight in a good cup of coffee at the counter of a local diner.  Car snacks. Hotel snacks. Road music. Spirits of dead Civil War soldiers trying to get my attention, and succeeding in doing so. Tears for the hundreds of years of injustice, to which no end is in sight. Honky-tonk music, blues music, jazz and country songs sung in every town, every night.  So much more.......

I can't get it out of my mind.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Miscellaneous thoughts from a distracted traveling mind

In no particular order:


One morning as I was turning onto Hwy. 80 in Louisiana, my Spotify channel began Lucinda Williams' song "The Ghosts of Highway 80."  The song after that was the Beatles "Julia" and two songs later John Stewart was singing about the open highway.  Songs would start to play when the location was right, songs about Mississippi and Louisiana would begin when I crossed the state border, songs about rivers rising when I was passing flooded pastures, cotton fields out my windows as a song about the Old South and the Civil War played.  Coincidence?  Possibly, but I think not. Something else going on there. Spirits defining my playlist, perhaps.


Hotels should have night lights in the bathrooms. Getting up in the middle of the night and having to turn on the overhead light in the bathroom is blinding and wrong.

Too many plastic glasses go into the landfill from hotels. Yes, if you pay enough for a room you might get real glass, but it's rare.

Why do hotels keep comforters on beds when it's 80 degrees outside? Why can't there be a lighter weight blanket?  

Why is temperature control in a hotel room such a complicated process?  Some rooms are easy, set the temp and it works. Many are flawed: set the temp and the machine over rides your choice and does what it wants.  I want it cold at night, let it be cold at night, but too often the cooling machine decides that 68 is cold enough. It's not.


I finally made friends with the woman living in my car who tells you where to go when using the Google Maps app. At the beginning of my journey she would be totally confused, telling me to make U-turns, telling me to turn left onto a street I was already driving on, basically making me hate her. But once I realized that she knew North, South, East and West better than I did (as in "Go East on Feller Street" when I had no idea which was was East and thus started out driving West, necessitating those U-turns) and once I agreed to listen to her and take her advice, she was charming, smart and so helpful!

If you have chosen to rent a small, compact car in the South but are given a large SUV, don't whine. Take the SUV. The small roads in the South are often full of very large potholes that can do serious damage to a small, delicate car.  The SUV will not have great gas mileage (mine got 27 mpg, not bad) but they are safer on the roads. Plus everyone in the South either drives big vehicles or small, old, duct taped Chevy Novas. Join the crowd, take the big car. Plus they are so much easier to navigate in torrential downpours and lightning storms.

Image result for photos of lightning strikes

(I did not take the above photo but it is representative of much of what I saw driving.)

Tangentially, since most vehicles are large, parking that large SUV is never a problem. Parking spaces are wide and numerous.


The South has some delicious cocktails and one of the best is the Sazerac. If your bartender can't make a decent one, move on.  Another favorite is Vieux Carre, so delicious, less well-known than the Sazerac and therefore not as widely offered.  More upscale bars can make you one and when you get one that is well made, it's the perfect cocktail, at least to me.

The South does not have a lot of wine options, at least not in their off sale liquor stores. Beer, yes. Stick to cocktails.  However, I was able to get good Sauvignon Blancs from Australia that were fine and very inexpensive.  But Gabe gave me a great piece of advice: find a liquor store and buy a bottle of Kentucky Bourbon. For a two week journey, having that bottle of bourbon in my hotel room meant I drank a lot less at the bar and, honestly, a lot less in general. That bottle lasted me the entire two weeks, just a couple of fingers in the early evening after a long day of driving was the perfect antidote to road dust.

Coffee:  as I mentioned, they do not have the coffee culture we have on this coast. Finding a good cup of coffee is not easy. Finding an excellent cup of coffee was impossible. Mediocre was OK in the end, better than crappy.

So many more topics to touch on.


Monday, April 15, 2019

Deep South and California: not even close, bud.

Living in California means, in many ways, living under a dome of light, air, peace and prosperity.  (Also an outlandish cost of living, privilege living for many and fine weather. Among other things.) Look at the history of California: it didn't really start until 1848-49 when gold was discovered and opportunists flocked here. California has not had any major social conflicts compared to the South. We have nice weather, no polar vortex here, we don't have hot, humid summers. Our economy is stable, yet we have a definite class system of the successful business people vs the hourly wage earners. There is no economic justice and many live at a substandard way of life. But in the big picture, California is still the land of sunshine, dreams and opportunity. And California is divided: half white, half Latino. It's a fair mix.

Drive through the South.  Drive through small towns. Get out of your car and you could easily be the only white person in that Walgreens or in that gas station. The idea of integration seems so foreign in the South, to this day. At least to me, at least to what I saw. White people doing the good jobs, black people doing the rest. Sort of like California in that white people do the good jobs and Latinos do the rest. But so much more obvious in the South, probably because there is a clear racial divide. Black and White: that division is difficult to hide. 

My drive through the South profoundly moved me in so many ways. Civil rights for black people became something that felt like an arrow to my heart so many times. We, in California, have no idea what the legacy of slavery means. California did not have slavery. Californians can read about it but we cannot understand it. I cannot really understand it or see it as a real, true culture but I am beginning to see it so much more clearly now than I ever did before. The two Civil Rights museums helped educate me in the immediacy of the injustice that has been perpetuated for the past several hundred years. And that injustice remains today.

The culture of the South is so deep and so historic and yet so immediate, so of this present moment. There is nothing that I can say that would convey how powerful my two week journey was. Suffice it to say just that: driving through Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana and a bit of Arkansas made me see history, culture, white and black in a totally profound way. It moved me in a way I have yet to define. I loved almost every one of the almost 3000 miles I put on that new car!  

There will be more to say on this.


Friday, April 12, 2019

3000 miles, give or take, through the South

And so it goes, even driving trips come to a Stop sign in the road.

After the charming Graduate Oxford Hotel in Oxford, MS it was on to the last two nights in Memphis, TN.  Foolishly, I opted for a lame airport hotel for those two nights. In retrospect I should have gone all in for a hotel downtown for one night and really explore more of Memphis on foot. But hey, if that's the only regret I have about the trip, it's a small one. 

However, I did spend quality time in Memphis. Parking is cheap and walking is free, so that's was the plan. I wandered through the touristy commercial part of Memphis on Tuesday afternoon and again on Wednesday. The Peabody Hotel is one of those Grand Hotels that everyone wants to stay at but not everyone can afford. But the lobby is free to visit and they have a fountain in that lobby where the famous Peabody ducks reside. I expected more than four ducks, but hey, they were cute anyway. The big thing is that they live upstairs and they come down in the morning on the elevator, walk a red carpet (to catch poop, I am guessing) to the fountain and hop in. The show is repeated in the early evening when they walk back to the elevator and are taken to their night lodging. I didn't see the procession, and with just four ducks it would have been a bit anticlimactic to me. The lobby is lovely, however, worth a visit.

The Memphis Civil Rights Museum is incredibly comprehensive, moving, daunting and powerful. The Lorraine Motel is where Martin Luther King Jr was killed in 1968 and part of that building is incorporated into the museum. As was true of the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, MS, you leave the exhibit shocked and sad that such injustice could occur in our country. And you know that justice has still not been served, even today. The incredible amount of material that these museums present to us, the viewer, is enormous and you cannot walk away without feeling overloaded with information and emotion. It is not to be missed if you are ever in the area.

Beale Street is like a little mix of New Orleans French Quarter and Nashville's Broadway: lots of music venues, bars, shops, restaurants, more music, more bars. There is a lot of history in these places, the blues and all the music from the South is contained somehow here. But these locations are also very touristy and the thrill is gone quickly (to use a BB King phrase) at least to me.

The last two weeks were not what I had anticipated when I planned this road trip. I expected there to be more Mississippi River and less countryside but I am so happy that it unfolded as it did. Almost without exception, the people were kind and helpful; the concept of Southern Hospitality was not lost on me for one second. People say "Hi" to you on the street, they greet you as you walk into the gas station shop to use the bathroom, people want to engage and talk and find out why you are there and where you're from. As the only white person many times in a retail store like Walgreens or in a funky gas station shop I never felt awkward or like I was in the wrong place. Cashiers were warm and chatty, wait staff call you "honey," front desk clerks quickly tell you their favorite places to eat in town and everyone made sure I was well taken care of. (As a side note, most gas station stores have hot, fresh fried chicken, biscuit sandwiches, fried other food and it is really good..... probably not a Rocky Free Range chicken but delicious nonetheless. Starting around 11:00 am people pull into gas stations not for gas but to get food to go. You can tell how good the vittles are by how many cars are in front of the store, not at the gas pumps. Seriously, two pieces of delicious fried chicken for about $3.00, you can't beat it.)

There is a lot to say about the South and the disparity between what we imagine about it and what is real there. Therefore, a few more blogs will be necessary to sort it out for myself and to report back to you, my faithful three readers. Not that my thoughts are terribly insightful, but in the end I write here for myself, to help sort out and clarify ideas and responses. 

In the meantime, below is me driving into the lightning storm. I tried to capture some of the lightning but driving demanded two hands on the wheel because of the wind, rain and booming of the thunder. But it was certainly dark and it was about noon!

And to prove I was there, here is the Mississippi River from the riverfront park in Memphis.

More to follow......