Monday, January 15, 2018

"I Have a Dream"

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 89th birthday.

On August 28, 1963, Dr. King stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, at the end of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and delivered one of the most famous speeches in history, often referred to as his "I Have a Dream" speech (video link here).

The march was a combined effort of King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and a group organized by A. Philip Randolph, the head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first African-American labor union. The SCLC was protesting for freedom for African-Americans, and Randolph's supporters were protesting for fair access to jobs for African-Americans, so the two groups agreed to unite for a single mass protest. President John F. Kennedy met with civil rights leaders several months prior to the march, expressing his concerns that it would lead to violence and stating that it was "ill-timed." King responded, "Frankly, I have never engaged in any direct-action movement which did not seem ill-timed." A compromise was reached in which the President endorsed the march, and the protesters ended the march at the Lincoln Memorial rather than the Capitol, so as to avoid seeming to threaten or intimidate members of Congress.

Approximately 250,000 people were present at the Memorial and heard a number of speakers, not just Dr. King. Randolph spoke first, followed by numerous other civil rights leaders and African-American celebrities and activists, interspersed with musical performances by both black and white civil rights supporters. Dr. King gave the final speech of the day, and his speech - which was scheduled to last only 4 minutes - went on for 16 minutes as he departed from his notes and spoke from the heart, being urged on by singer Mahalia Jackson, who stood behind him on the podium, at one point calling out, "Tell 'em about the dream, Martin. Tell 'em about the dream!"

Dr. King did indeed tell us all about his dream, one which I hope we can all grow to share, whether black or white, immigrant or native-born, Americans or citizens of other nations, male or female, Christian or Muslim or Jewish or Buddhist or atheist or any other belief system. These are Dr. King's inspiring words, spoken on that day:

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Cozy Clothes

As much as I was not a fan of the recent cold snap, I did love the excuse it gave me to break out all my warmest clothes. I love cozy sweaters, soft fuzzy pants, and fur-trimmed jackets. In fact, my short winter jacket just gave up the ghost, prompting me to get a wonderful new parka with a fur-lined hood that keeps me warm as toast even in the snowiest, windiest weather.

So today's blog is a collection of cozy warm wardrobe additions available right now at reasonable prices, in case you need to add a bit more cozy to your life. But be warned: many of them are on clearance so they won't last long!

I'm a sucker for striped sweaters, and I love this one from Macy's. With a tall turtleneck and ribbed texture, it's like begin wrapped in a blanket right up to your chin. And for only $16.23, you'll have money left to pay the heating bill.

Cardigans are great if you don't know whether your office (or house) will be warm or cold on any given day, plus they extend your wardrobe because you can throw one over a lighter-weight spring or summer top for a whole new (warm) look. This long cardigan has a pretty pattern along the front edge that adds a feminine touch without being too frilly. $17.33 at Macy's; available in chestnut heather and charcoal heather.

Cold shoulder sweaters are a great blend of trendy and cozy. This pretty acrylic version from Dress Barn features bell sleeves and a v-neck, and flares just slightly at the hip. Available in teal, gray, red, or magenta, in limited sizes, but for $9.99 each, you might be willing to be flexible.

If you want something a little more dressy than a sweater but still warm and cozy, velvet is the way to go. This beautiful textured velvet top features a wide scoop neck and bell sleeves, and comes in magenta and royal blue. $12.99 from Dress Barn.

Going more casual rather than less? Throw on this warm-as-toast Fila Sport Sherpa Fleece jacket from Kohl's. Cute enough to wear inside but warm enough to wear outside, plus it's made from moisture-wicking fabric to keep you super-comfortable when going from one extreme to the other. Available in purple, teal, gray, black, or white, $19.99 each.

Nothing says "cozy" quite like flannel jammies. These flannel PJs from Kohl's come in a whole series of festive plaids for $15.99. Available in a range of sizes from XS to XXL, including long lengths. You'll want to lounge in these all day long!

Did someone mention lounging? Lounge in style AND warmth with these beautiful soft velour pants by Gloria Vanderbilt. The drawstring waist means they're comfortable and cozy in any position, from curled up on the couch to sitting at your desk. Available in black, blue, and red for $14.99 at Costco.

While you're at Costco, you might also want to pick up one (or more) of these pretty cowl neck tunics.  Long enough to wear with leggings (which are NOT pants), they have side slits for ease of movement and the loose cowl is warm without being constricting. Available in dark blue, light blue, or purple, for $14.99 each.

Remember how mom always told you if you kept your feet warm, the rest of you would be warm? Try keeping your feet warm with these cozy slipper socks from JC Penney. At two pair for $5, you may want to grab enough for the whole week.

I bet Mom also told you that most of your heat escapes through your head. So keep you head warm, too, with this gorgeous faux-fur-trimmed hombre knit hat from JC Penney. Many similar styles and colors are available, including reversible styles. Buy now with discount code DEAL62 and it'll cost you a measly $12.80. You'll save so much you can afford to buy a pair of popover llama gloves to wear with them (only $7.99 with code)!! Don't worry, llama-less styles are also available. But why would you want llama-less gloves when you could have these???

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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Golden Globes 2018 Red Carpet: NOT a Fashion Review

I debated over whether or not to write a fashion review for this year's Golden Globes red carpet. After all, the entire point of everyone wearing black was to turn the focus away from fashion (clearly, some of the celebrities missed that part of the point) and onto gender issues (including sexual harassment and wage disparity). So instead of discussing the gowns, I'm going to discuss the guests.

In case you missed it, eight celebrities opted to bring an activist as their guest, using their red carpet interview to discuss the issue the activist focuses on rather than to talk about fashion or film. If, like me, you were not familiar with some of these activists, here is a little more about each of them.

Marai Larasi (guest of Emma Watson)
Larasi is the executive director of Imkaan, an organization based in the UK which addresses violence against minority women and girls. Imkaan's international focus includes a program called "Implementing Norms, Changing Minds," which aims to end violence against women in the Western Balkans and Turkey. Imkaan works to change cultural norms at both a regional and a national level. On the red carpet, Marai said, “There is a wall of silence around violence against women and girls...We don't want to create hierarchies.”

Tarana Burke (guest of Michelle Williams)
Burke is the senior director of Girls for Gender Equity, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting "the physical, psychological, social and economic well-being of girls, women and ultimately the entire community." GGE works to promote education, organization, and physical fitness programs to encourage young women to develop strength, skills, and self-sufficiency. Burke is also the founder of the #MeToo movement, in 2006. Williams commented, "Because of the work Tarana is doing, we can live in a different world."

Saru Jarayaman (guest of Amy Poehler)
Jayaraman is an advocate for workplace justice for restaurant workers. She is the co-founder and co-director of  the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and Director of the Food Labor Research Center at UC Berkeley. She tweeted that she attended the Golden Globes "in honor of the women servers, bussers, bartenders, runners, cooks, & hosts who experience the highest rates of sexual harassment of any industry in the country."

Ai-jen Poo (guest of Meryl Streep)
Poo is the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the co-director of Caring Across Generations, organizations which support and protect working conditions for in-home workers such as nannies, home healthcare workers, and housecleaners, many of whom are women of color or recent immigrants. In her red carpet interview, Poo stated, "We all deserve workplaces where we’re safe and our work is valued and we can live and work with dignity."

Monica Ramirez (guest of Laura Dern)
Ramirez is the co-founder and president of the board of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of women farmworkers in the US. Ramirez is a civil rights attorney, public speaker, and author who focuses on gender equity, specifically on behalf of Latina and immigrant women, including ending gender based violence in the workplace and closing the gender wage gap. As part of her red carpet interview, she stated, “Farmworker women pick and plant the food that we eat and have a long history of combating sexual violence... We stand with them and we lend them our power and strength. Part of our work as an organization is to fight for gender equality across all lines.”

Rosa Clemente (guest of Susan Sarandon)
Clemente is a political activist, community organizer, and independent journalist, and the Green Party's 2008 nominee for Vice President. She focuses on political prisoners, voter engagement, and Puerto Rican independence. Clemente used her red carpet interview to focus on the plight of the people of Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, reminding listeners that "Half of the people on the island are still without power...and ninety percent don't have access to clean water." Sarandon commented on the solidarity between the Hollywood community and farmworkers and other laborers, noting that the farmworkers had sent a letter to the Hollywood community saying they understood the sexual harassment issue, prompting Clemente to add, "Our sisterhood is strong."

Billie Jean King (guest of Emma Stone)
King, one of the more recognizable guests on the red carpet, has been known as an advocate for women's rights since the 1973, when she beat tennis great Bobby Riggs in the much-touted "Battle of the Sexes." King founded the Women's Tennis Association that same year. Stone was nominated for a Golden Globe for her portrayal of King in the film "The Battle of the Sexes." King stated on the red carpet, “Every generation has to fight for equality and it’s now Emma’s turn with her generation... It’s gotta stop, it’s gotta stop now. And we have to help each other and it’s everybody, all genders together.”

Calina Lawrence (guest of Shailene Woodley)
Lawrence, a member of the Suquamash tribe, is a singer and an activist for Native American treaty and water rights, and other causes. She travels the country as an advocate for the Mni Wiconi (Water Is Life) movement, a cause which Woodley has also publicly protested to the point of being arrested herself. Prior to the red carpet, Woodley tweeted, “We stand with women across all nations & all walks of life, in solidarity to say TIMES UP on the imbalance of power that exists between men & women today."

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Saturday, January 6, 2018

That's a Spicy Meat-a-ball!!

There's nothing that makes me want to cook and bake quite as much as an extended cold snap. So needless to say, I've been happily spending lots of time in the kitchen over the past week. There are lots of delicious and hearty casseroles and soups that will warm you to your toes, but in really cold weather, there's nothing like a spicy dish to warm you up, body and soul. Here are some of my favorite spicy dishes - although the heat level can always be adjusted to your personal preference.

Costa Rican Dinner
I don't usually think of fish when I think of either spicy food or cold weather food, but this recipe - which I created by combining several other recipes - is delicious and warming without being too heavy. It's good even if you completely omit the cayenne, but if you like spice, feel free to increase the amount. 

1-1/2 cups water
1 Tblsp butter or margarine
¾ cup long grain rice (uncooked)
Juice of 2 fresh limes (~3 Tblsp)
3 Tblsp olive oil, divided
4 Tblsp chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
4 tsp minced garlic, divided
kosher salt
¼ tsp sugar
2 to 6 haddock (or cod or tilapia) fillets
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 (15 oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
¼ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

Add ½ tsp salt and the butter to the water and bring to a boil. Add rice; reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, until water is fully absorbed. Keep warm until ready to use.

In a shallow dish large enough for all the fillets, combine lime juice, 1 Tblsp olive oil, 2 Tblsp parsely or cilantro, and 1 tsp minced garlic. Marinade fillets for 15-30 minutes, flipping over halfway through.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet. Saute onion, pepper, and remaining garlic for 5 minutes, until tender. Add black beans, oregano, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for an additional 5 minutes until heated through, stirring occasionally.

Place rice in baking dish large enough for fillets. Add bean mixture and blend together. Lay fillets on top and pour over excess marinade. Bake uncovered at 400 degrees for 16-20 minutes, until fish is fully cooked (thicker fillets may take a few extra minutes).

Note: I used two half-pound fillets, which made two adult servings and two small children's servings, and there was enough rice left over for two additional servings.

Fiesta Chicken
This recipe is great because it's so versatile: You can serve it over rice, wrapped in a tortilla, over salad, with tortilla chips, or just as is topped with cheese. And the ingredients can be adjusted to whatever you like and have on hand. Use mild taco seasoning if you don't like a lot of spice, or use spicy seasoning - or even add some extra chili powder or cayenne - to ramp it up. Plus, it's made in the crock pot so it's mostly set it and forget it.

2 to 2-1/2 lbs chicken breasts, fat trimmed
2 (14 oz) cans diced tomatoes, undrained
2 (10 oz) cans corn, drained
1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 pkg taco seasoning mix

Throw all ingredients except chicken in the crock and stir until combined. Add chicken breasts. Cover and cook on high for 4-5 hours or on low for 8 hours. Shred chicken with two forks and stir to combine. Serve wrapped in flour tortillas, over rice, over salad, or as a nacho topping. Top with shredded cheese if desired.

Three Bean Chili
I like my chili made with ground turkey, but you can substitute ground beef if you prefer, or even omit the meat entirely for a hearty vegetarian version. There are multiple spicy elements you can adjust to your preferred heat level; use plain diced tomatoes instead of Ro-Tel, substitute sweet bell peppers for jalapenos (or simply omit them), or cut down on the amount of chili powder. I also like serving chili over rice, which counteracts the heat somewhat. Another crock pot recipe, because chili is better the longer it simmers.

1 lb ground turkey (or beef, or omit)
2 stalks celery
1 large onion
1 jalapeno pepper
1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 (10 oz) can RoTel tomatoes with green chilies
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
1-3/4 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoon garlic powder
3 (14 oz) cans beans (different types), such pinto, black, kidney, or garbanzo
Sour cream, cheese, tortilla chips, if desired

Brown the meat thoroughly, drain fat, and set aside. Dice celery, onion, and jalapeno and set aside.

Line a crock pot with a plastic liner (if desired), and add all remaining ingredients except sour cream, cheese, and chips. Drain and rinse the canned beans before adding. Mix well. Cover and cook on low for 6-7 hours. Serve topped with sour cream, cheese, and tortilla chips, if desired.

White Chicken Chili

I was a little hesitant the first time I made white chicken chili for my kids, but they both loved it! Somehow the creaminess of the sauce counteracts the spice, even though the heat is still definitely there.

1 lb chicken breasts, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 small onion, diced
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced (or 2 teaspoons minced garlic)
2 (14.5 oz) cans chicken broth
1 (4 oz) can diced green chilies
1 1/2 tsp cumin
3/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
salt and black pepper , to taste
1 (8 oz) pkg cream cheese (light cream cheese is fine), cut into 12 slices
1 1/4 cup fresh or frozen corn
2 (15 oz) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 Tbsp lime juice
Optional garnishes: chopped cilantro, shredded Monterrey Jack cheese, tortilla chips

Heat olive oil in a 6-quart dutch oven over medium-high heat. Saute chicken and diced onion until chicken is no longer pink, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and saute 30 seconds longer. Add chicken broth, green chilies, cumin, paprika, oregano, coriander, cayenne pepper and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring mixture just to a boil then reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes.

Add cream cheese and stir until nearly melted. Stir in corn and 1 can cannellini beans. Puree 3/4 of the remaining beans along with 1/4 cup broth from the soup in a food processor (or use an immersion blender), then add bean mixture to soup along with remaining 1/4 can of beans. (You can omit this step for a chunkier texture.) Simmer 15 minutes longer. Mix in lime juice and serve with Monterrey Jack cheese, chopped cilantro and tortilla chips for dipping, if desired.

Thai Sesame Lime Chicken with Spicy Peanut Sauce
The spiciness is all in the sauce, but the chicken itself has a wonderful flavor, so heat-averse eaters can have the chicken plain, and spice lovers can dip away. This recipe calls for grilling the chicken on skewers, but you can simply fry it on the stovetop in a well-greased pan if your grill is buried in snow.

For the Kebabs:
1 lb chicken breasts, cut into 1" cubes
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
salt & pepper

For the Sauce:
¼ cup + 1 tablespoon peanut butter
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon grated ginger {or ½ teaspoon of ground ginger}
1 garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon lime juice

In a large bowl, mix sesame oil, lime juice, salt, & pepper. Add cubed chicken to marinade mixture, toss to coat. Cover and marinate in refrigerator for 20 minutes. In the meantime, in a small bowl mix together peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes, water, and lime juice. Whisk together until smooth and set aside.

Place chicken cubes on skewers. Heat grill to medium high heat or 400 degrees. Grill each side for 3-4 minutes. Alternatively, fry chicken in a well-greased skillet. Serve with sauce.

Firecracker Chicken
Disclaimer: I have not made this recipe myself, but I have had it at a friend's house. The main source of heat is the hot sauce, so choose your brand according to your preferred heat level. The tartness of the vinegar and the sweetness of the brown sugar are a fabulous combination with the spice of the hot sauce and red pepper.

For the sauce:
½ cup hot sauce
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons minced garlic
¼-½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (adjust to taste)

For the chicken:
4 chicken breasts
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon oil

In a sauce pan, combine the hot sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, salt, garlic, and red pepper flakes over medium high heat. Allow to come to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer for 8-10 minutes if you plan on making the sauce ahead of time or for 12-15 minutes if you’re serving immediately. Remove from heat and allow the sauce to cool. Sauce will thicken as it cools.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat and set aside. Season both sides of the chicken breasts with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Heat a skillet with the oil over high heat. Add the chicken breasts and allow to cook for 1-2 minutes per side (chicken will not be cooked through). Place the chicken breast on the prepared baking sheet and bake the chicken at 400 degrees for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven, baste each breast with 1-2 tablespoons of sauce. Reserve remaining sauce. Place the chicken back into the oven and continue to bake for another 11-15 minutes or until cooked through. Serve with reserved sauce and steamed rice.

Flu Fighter Chicken Noodle Soup
You know how chicken noodle soup is the best thing when you've got a cold or the flu? Well, you haven't tasted chicken noodle soup until you've tried THIS soup when you're feeling lousy. The spices cut right through that congestion and help you shake off those shakes. Chili, cayenne, and cumin all combine to nudge your appetite and drive away the germs.

For the chicken:
1 pound chicken breast tenders (or cut whole breasts into chunks)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

For the stock:
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 large carrots, peeled and diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1 very large onion, finely diced
8 cloves garlic, minced
Big pinch of salt
4 cups chicken stock
4 cups water
1 bay leaf
2 cups uncooked noodles (elbows, bow ties, and rotini all work well)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped

Place chicken in a large baking dish lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of oil and sprinkle with spices. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes, flipping the chicken at the half way point. Once cooked, pull into small chunks using two forks.

While the chicken is roasting, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a dutch oven over a medium flame. Add carrots, celery, and onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8-9 minutes. Add garlic and salt and cook for another minute before adding the bay leaf, water and chicken stock. Increase heat to high, bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, stir in noodles, and simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft and the pasta al dente. Stir in cooked chicken, dill, and lemon juice. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve immediately.

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Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017 in Review: The Good Stuff

My first blog entry of 2017 was a review of some of the positive events (both public and personal) of 2016 (you can read it here). If 2016 was a tough year for a lot of us, 2017 was even tougher, in many ways. So I thought I would again look back over the year and highlight some of the positive bits of public news that many of us either missed or have forgotten.

Incan Code of Knots Deciphered
Harvard undergrad Manny Medrano spent spring break of his freshman year studying a system of knots called "khipus" that were used by the Incan people as a form of recordkeeping, one that had not been previously deciphered. His "translation" of a number of khipus in a museum in Lima, Peru was able to be correlated with a Spanish census document from 1670.

Invention of "Self-Healing" Glass
Japanese researcher Yu Yanigasawa, working with a substance called polyether thioureas, discovered that if pieces of the broken glass are held together, they will re-bond. The glass is more similar to acrylic than "standard" or mineral glass. The advantage of the glass is not so much that complete breaks can "heal," but that small micro-breaks inside the glass will continually re-seal, leading to more longer-lasting and durable items with double or triple their current lifespans.

Lasers in Shoes Aid Parkinson's Patients
One of the common problems suffered by Parkinson's patients is "gait freezing," in which the person is unable to force their legs to take the next step, which can result in overbalancing and falling. However, the presence of a "marker," such as a crack in the sidewalk or between floorboards, seems to help break the freeze. These shoes have a laser pointer on the toe that projects such a marker about 18 inches away just as each foot is poised to take a step. A preliminary study of 19 patients showed a 46% reduction in freezing cases when using the shoes.

Astronaut Peggy Whitson Sets (Another) Record
NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who already has the distinction of being the first science commander of the International Space Station, the first female commander of the station, the first female to command the station twice, and the female NASA astronaut who holds the record for most spacewalks, added to her records this year. At the conclusion of Expedition 52, which was extended by three months in April 2017, Whitson also earned the title as the NASA astronaut (and the female astronaut worldwide) who has spent the most time in space.

Dutch Electric Trains Powered 100% By Wind
In 2015, Dutch railway companies set a goal for all their electric trains to be 100% powered by renewable energy by 2018, but they have met that goal a year ahead of schedule, due to the construction of new wind farms in Finland, Belgium, and the Netherlands. As of January 1, 2017, all electric trains in the Netherlands have been powered purely by clean, renewable wind energy.

Adaptive Clothing Line
Fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger launched a line of "adaptive clothing" designed for adults with various disabilities, including prosthetic limbs, braces, and use of a wheelchair. (Hilfiger released a line of similar children's clothing two years ago.) Adaptations include one-handed zippers, magnetic clasps, velcro straps, and adjustable hems. Both the adult and the children's clothing lines were developed in conjunction with the nonprofit group Runway of Dreams.

Fetal Lambs Complete Development in Artificial Uterus
Researchers at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia successfully transferred 8 lamb embryos at 105 to 120 days gestation (the equivalent of a 22- to 24-week-old human embryo) into artificial wombs called "BioBags," where they lived for 4 weeks before being transferred to a ventilator, much like a somewhat premature human baby. Their organs appeared to have developed the same way they would have inside their mother's body. There is much more research and experimentation to be done before the bags can be used for human infants, but the success of this project bodes well for the future survival options of extremely premature human infants.

Muslim Hackers Unite to Drive ISIS Off the Internet
A coalition of Muslim hackers worked to take down multiple ISIS-associated websites and installed a virus to disrupt the group's news agency, Amaq. In addition, they created a fake version of Amaq's mobile site, allowing them to track extremist activity.

Coral Restoration at the Great Barrier Reef
The not-for-profit group, Reef Restoration Foundation, is growing coral and replanting it on the Great Barrier Reef to repair damaged sections of the reef. The project is modeled after similar successful programs in Florida and the Caribbean.

Solar Highway in China
China opened a 1km stretch of highway that is made of photovoltaic panels covered with transparent concrete and underlain with insulation. In one year, the road is expected to generate 1 million kWH of electricity, enough to power street lights and a snow-melting system. It will also be able to power electric car charging stations, which may be added in the future. A similar (but narrower) road was opened in France in 2016, and a bike path embedded with solar panels was built in the Netherlands in 2014.

I don't know about you, but reminding myself of these wonderful bits of news makes me feel much more positive about the year ahead. It's an amazing world we live in, and there's so much more to discover about it - and about ourselves. Happy New Year!

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Friday, December 29, 2017

Glamorous (But Easy) Recipes for New Year's Eve

If you love going out on the town for the holiday, you can order any number of magnificent meals from your favorite restaurant. But if you prefer staying in, there's no reason you can't have equally magnificent food - and you don't have to be a master chef or spend hours in the kitchen, either. Here are some of my favorite recipes that are easy but impressive for a special occasion.

Wild Mushroom Risotto
Risotto takes a bit of time to make, but most of it is just sitting and stirring - and since you've got a bottle of wine on hand for the recipe, you can sit and stir and sip. Chef Ann Burrell's Wild Mushroom Risotto is one of my favorite variations, but don't feel you have to follow the recipe to the letter. Dried porcini mushrooms are hard to find, so I just leave them out and use a little extra of some other kind of mushroom. I also skip the chives, and occasionally add a cup or so of green peas. You can also easily halve this recipe for a romantic dinner for two.

Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed with the heel of your hand or the side of a knife
1 1/2 pounds assorted fresh mushrooms, such as shiitake, oyster or cremini, cleaned and sliced
Kosher salt
1 cup dried porcini mushrooms, soaking in 3 cups hot water
1 onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 cups Arborio rice
2 cups dry white wine
6 to 7 cups hot chicken stock
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano
1/2 cup chopped chives

Coat a large saute pan generously with olive oil and add the smashed garlic cloves. Bring to a medium-high heat. When the garlic cloves have begun to brown and are very aromatic, remove and discard  Add the fresh mushrooms to the pan and season generously with salt. Saute until soft and pliable. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Using your hand or a slotted spoon, carefully scoop the porcini mushrooms out of the hot water. Pour the top 2/3 of the mushroom water into another container and reserve. Discard the bottom third. Puree the rehydrated mushrooms with a little of the reserved water to make a smooth paste and set aside.

Coat a large saucepan with olive oil. Add the onions and season generously with salt. Bring the pot to a medium-high heat. Cook the onions, stirring frequently, until very soft and aromatic. Add the rice and stir to coat. Cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add wine to cover the surface of the rice and stir frequently until it has completely absorbed. Add the reserved mushroom water and then add chicken stock until the liquid has covered the surface of the rice. Stir frequently until the stock has absorbed into the rice. Repeat this process 2 more times. Taste and add salt if needed.

During the third addition of stock, add the reserved sauteed mushrooms and 2 tablespoons of the pureed porcini mushrooms. When the stock has absorbed into the rice and the rice is cooked but still "al dente", remove the pot from the heat. Add the butter and cheese and whip until well combined. Serve immediately garnished with chives.

Lobster Mac and Cheese
If you have a favorite recipe for baked macaroni and cheese, you can always modify that recipe to add lobster. But Ina Garten's recipe is rich without being too heavy, the nutmeg doesn't overpower the delicate flavor of the lobster, and the deliciously crispy golden crumb topping is a taste of heaven. Most groceries will steam your lobster for free, or use canned lobster (but fresh really does taste better).

Kosher salt
Vegetable oil
1 pound cavatappi or elbow macaroni, uncooked
1 quart milk
8 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 cup flour
12 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (4 cups)
8 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 pounds cooked lobster meat

1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)

Cook pasta according to the directions on the package and drain. Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan to not quite boiling. In a large pot, melt 6 tablespoons of butter and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. Still whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Remove from heat and add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt, the pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked pasta and lobster and stir well. Place the mixture in 6 to 8 individual large ramekins or gratin dishes.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on top. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the pasta is browned on the top.

Garlic Shrimp
There's something innately elegant about shrimp, whether they're draped artistically over the edge of a martini glass of cocktail sauce or whether they're drowning in a sea of fragrant garlic butter. Serve this recipe as-is as a spectacular appetizer, or toss it over a pile of angel hair pasta with a side of salad for an elegant dinner.

2 pounds extra large or jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 large cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Pinch freshly chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)
Lemon wedges, for serving (optional)

Place the shrimp on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with the olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic. Roast in a 350-degree oven for 6-8 minutes, or until the shrimp are pink and just cooked through. Immediately add the butter directly on the hot baking sheet and stir until melted. Transfer the shrimp and butter sauce to a serving dish and sprinkle with a bit of fresh parsley, if desired. Serve with lemon wedges.

Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce
I've always made my chicken satay by marinating the chicken in yogurt flavored with ginger, garlic, and curry. Chef Tyler Florence's recipe is a great one to use, and his peanut sauce is fantastic. Feel free to adjust the amount of chili paste for your desired level of heat. Fresh ginger works best. It's best to cook these on the grill, but if you're willing to scrub your frypan a few times mid-cooking, you can make them on the stovetop without skewers.

1 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into strips
vegetable oil
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons red chili paste, such as sambal
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 limes, juiced
1/2 cup hot water
1/4 cup chopped peanuts, for garnish

Combine the yogurt, ginger, garlic, and curry powder in a shallow mixing bowl. Place the chicken strips in the yogurt marinade and gently toss until well coated. Cover and let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator for at up to 2 hours.

While the chicken is marinading, make the peanut sauce by combining the peanut butter, soy sauce, chili paste, brown sugar, and lime juice in a food processor or blender. Puree to combine. While the motor is running, drizzle in the hot water to thin out the sauce (you may not need all of it). Pour the sauce into a nice serving bowl and garnish with the chopped peanuts.

Thread the chicken pieces onto the soaked skewers, working the skewer in and out of the meat, down the middle of the piece, so that it stays in place during grilling. Place a grill pan over medium heat and brush it with oil to prevent the meat from sticking. Grill the chicken satays for 3 to 5 minutes on each side, until nicely seared and cooked through. Alternatively, fry the chicken strips in a well-greased frypan on medium heat, turning to cook through and brown on all sides. Serve with peanut sauce.

Duck Breast with Cherry and Cranberry Sauce
I was intimidated by the thought of cooking duck until I tried it for the first time. Since duck is best when it's fairly rare, it's easy to see when it reaches the right doneness, plus it cooks very quickly. Duck has a very rich flavor that pairs beautifully with the tart acidity of cherries and cranberries in this recipe from Chef Jamie Oliver. Don't forget to save the rendered fat to use in other dishes.

2 duck breasts
1 cup of cherries
1/2 cup of cranberries
1 cup of red wine
2 tsps of orange marmelade
1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 cup orange juice

Season the duck breasts with salt and pepper and place in a hot frying pan, skin side down. Cook for about five or six minutes, then turn over and drain off the excess fat. Roast in a 400 degree oven for about another 6 mins (longer if you prefer closer to medium than rare). While the duck is in the oven, make the sauce. Heat up a medium sized frying pan and add all of the sauce ingredients. Cook over a high heat till the sauce reduces to about half the original amount. Serve the duck breast sliced, with some of the sauce.

Beef Wellington
Delicious and visually impressive, Beef Wellington is the ultimate gorgeous but easy to make dish to impress a guest. It is a bit time-consuming, but not at all difficult. You can also make it ahead and finish the baking right before serving. There are many options that require you to make your own pastry from scratch, but this version of Chef Gordon Ramsey's recipe uses frozen puff pastry. You can get as artistic as you like making designs on the pastry, but the golden-brown finish looks elegant and fancy without any additional adornments.

1 filet of beef, 2-3 pounds
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup mushrooms (any kind)
3 1⁄2 tablespoons butter
1 large sprig fresh thyme
3 1⁄2 ounces dry white wine (scant 1/2 cup)
12 slices prosciutto, bacon, or parma ham
1 lb puff pastry, thawed
Flour, for dusting
2 egg yolks beaten with 1 tsp water

Place the beef on a roasting tray, brush with 1 tbsp olive oil and season with pepper, then roast at 400 degrees for 15 mins for medium-rare or 20 mins for medium. When the beef is cooked to your liking, remove from the oven to cool, then chill in the fridge for about 20 minutes. While the beef is cooling, chop the mushrooms as finely as possible so they have the texture of coarse breadcrumbs. Heat 2 tbsp of oil and all the butter in a large pan and fry the mushrooms and the thyme sprig on a medium heat for about 10 mins, stirring often, until softened. Season the mushroom mixture with salt, pour over the wine, and cook for about 10 mins until all the wine has been absorbed. The mixture should hold its shape when stirred. Remove from the pan to cool and discard the thyme.

Overlap two pieces of plastic wrap over a large chopping board. Lay the prosciutto on the plastic wrap, slightly overlapping, in a double row. Spread half the mushroom mixture over the prosciutto, then sit the fillet on it and spread the remaining mushroom mixture over it. Use the plastic wrap edges to draw the prosciutto around the fillet, then roll it into a sausage shape, twisting the ends of plastic wrap to tighten it as you go. Chill the fillet while you roll out the pastry.

Roll out a third of the pastry to a 7 x 12in strip and place on a non-stick baking sheet. Roll out the remaining pastry to about 11 x 14in. Unravel the fillet from the plastic wrap and place it in the center of the smaller strip of pastry and brush the pastry's edges, and the top and sides of the wrapped fillet, with beaten egg yolk. Using a rolling pin, carefully lift and drape the larger piece of pastry over the fillet, pressing well into the sides. Trim the edges to about a 1.5-in rim. Seal the rim with the edge of a fork or spoon handle. Glaze all over with more egg yolk and, using the back of a knife, mark the beef Wellington with long diagonal lines taking care not to cut into the pastry. Chill for at least 30 mins and up to 24 hours.

Brush the Wellington with a little more egg yolk and cook in a 40-degree oven until golden and crisp - 20-25 mins for medium-rare beef, 30 mins for medium. Allow to stand for 10 mins before serving in thick slices.

Crab Cake Stuffed Portobellos
Crabcakes and stuffed mushrooms are among my favorite appetizers, but when you combine the two, you get a delicious light entree that's beautiful on the table and delectable on the palate. Another dish that's easy to make ahead and then throw in the oven right as your guests arrive.

6 large portobello mushrooms
3/4 cup finely chopped sweet onion
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1 egg
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 teaspoon seafood seasoning (such as Old Bay)
2 cans (6-1/2 ounces each) lump crabmeat, drained
1/4 teaspoon paprika

Remove stems from mushrooms (discard or save for another use); set caps aside. In a small skillet, saute onion in 1 tablespoon oil until tender. In a small mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese, egg, bread crumbs, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and seafood seasoning. Gently stir in crab. Spoon 1/2 cup crab mixture into each mushroom cap; drizzle with remaining oil. (If preparing ahead, wrap well and refrigerate for several hours to overnight.) Sprinkle with paprika and remaining Parmesan cheese.  Place in a greased 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan. Bake, uncovered, at 400 for 15-20 minutes or until mushrooms are tender.

Happy New Year and Bon Appetit!

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