January 24, 2010
January 19, 2010
It was so easy when I was young to decipher bad from good. Adulterers are bad. Christians are good. Thieves are bad. Mothers are good. So easy. Then when I was in middle school, I met my grandfather - a feisty old man who diligently smoked, told us unbelievable stories from his Adventures in Life, and had more women than we could comprehend.
He would call us drunk on Sunday nights while we watched The Wonderful World of Disney. "Hello, Miss America!" he would slur, as my sisters and I giggled. He was a philanderer, a storyteller, an alcoholic, a generous man with a big heart, a skilled poker player, a champion boxer. I told my best friend about him once and she told me it was "sad" that I had a grandfather like that. Was it? I remember thinking that I shouldn't love him so much because of his faults, but I couldn't help it. I didn't think it was sad. I thought it was interesting and a little exciting.
My mother felt differently about him, and rightly so, as his version of fatherhood left her and the rest of the family alone and distant, fighting for normalcy in their lives in the 1950s. She loved him, though, and kept him in our lives once we became acquainted with him. He was a good man. With lots of flaws. Some of them hurtful. Some of them endearing. All of them human.
Don Draper, the central figure in AMC's Mad Men, is such a man. Easy to hate in the beginning, because of his constant sexual escapades and abandonment of his family. Then easy to love, as his character deepens, becomes enriched with secrets, history, pain and compassion. The traits weave together into one of the most complex characters I've seen on television. Played by Jon Hamm with a smoldering control of emotions, Don Draper is a hero and a villain in one. Just like my grandfather.
Peggy, Don Draper's secretary-turned-copywriter, similarly makes morally questionable decisions, making me cringe at times, cry at others. Her character, both pathetic and fierce, is stoic, showing almost no emotion, apparently outsourcing the task of feeling to the audience on her behalf. But there is something fighting within Peggy's character to get out - and while I was trying to figure out what that was, I became addicted to Mad Men.
Or more accurately, I became addicted to the complexity of the characters. I could go down the list of all the characters, all shown in a very human light, and weigh their good and bad qualities to determine if they are good guys or bad guys. But why? With few exceptions, human beings are not exclusively good or bad. With no exception, human beings are flawed. Most people are doing the best they can with what they have to work with. Very few television shows embrace humanity with such richness.
This show - Mad Men - is a beautiful show, no doubt you've heard. Beautiful people, beautiful sets, beautiful design. But the depth of the characters, the constant tug of war between good and evil within each person's soul, that is the most beautiful part of this show.
January 7, 2010
Today I made this Walnut Crusted Stilton Mac and Cheese with Caramelized Onions and Chelsea photographed it for her blog. It's my original recipe and it's mighty tasty, if I do say so myself. Recipe and more photos here.
January 5, 2010
Sometimes recipes simmer in my head all night, like a stew in a crock-pot. When I wake up in the morning, somehow all the kinks have been worked out and the recipe is perfect and ready to be tested. This morning, I woke up and immediately went to the kitchen to create that which had been simmering through the night. It was a delightful breakfast.
Spanish Tortilla with Leeks and Tomato Salad
2 medium sized russet potatoes, thinly sliced
1 leek, thoroughly washed and thinly sliced
3 T. olive oil
3/4 c. half and half
1/2 c. cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 c. romano cheese, grated
fresh ground pepper
1 c. grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 c. kalamata olives, chopped
1 shallot, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 leaf of fresh basil, torn into small pieces
1 T. olive oil
1 T. balsalmic vinegar
fresh ground pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a cast iron skillet, saute leeks in 1 T. olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. Cook until lightly golden brown. Remove from skillet and set aside. Heat remaining 2 T. olive oil in skillet until just smoking.
Arrange potato slices slightly overlapping, covering the bottom of the skillet, making multiple layers, if necessary, and seasoning with salt and pepper on each layer. Sprinkle sauteed leeks evenly over the potatoes. Cook over medium heat, so that the potatoes can get crispy, about 5 minutes. Do not stir.
In the meantime, in a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, half and half, and cheese and season with salt and pepper. Pour mixture into the skillet over the potatoes. Remove from the heat and place in pre-heated oven.
Bake for 25 minutes until the top is golden brown and firm to the touch. Let cool for 5 minutes.
While it is cooling, make the tomato salad. In a bowl, toss together all ingredients of the tomato salad. Mix well.
Run a knife around the edge of the skillet to prevent sticking and flip the skillet upside down to turn out the tortilla. Cut into slices and top with the tomato salad.
Yield: 8 servings
Photos by Chelsea Fuss.
January 3, 2010
"Remember when we used to come here when we were kids?" No. "Really? You don't remember sitting on the waterfront?" No. Not even a little bit. My sister and I were eating lunch in Poulsbo, Washington on the picturesque waterfront. I think I blocked out all my memories from middle school and high school in Olympia and any weekend day trips we may have taken as a family. She insisted that we used to go to Poulsbo all the time. I seriously have no recollection of any of it.
It's a nice little town with independent bookstores, bakeries and little restaurants. Just the type of town my parents would have taken us to and just the type of town that I would have sneered at and pouted while we ate at a quaint little bakery. I was a miserable kind of a teen, with lots of acidic attitude and smoldering rebellion that never quite erupted.
Twenty years has whipped me into relative normalcy and I now appreciate quaint towns as I am supposed to. And Poulsbo is very nice.
We ate lunch at JJ's Fish House on the waterfront while my sister recounted her memories of Poulsbo. I ordered the cod fish and chips. She ordered the halibut.
Now I have to say that I still don't get fish and chips. Is the fish supposed to have flavor? Or is it all about the sauces? Because the two big hunks of fried fish were bland. Very, very bland. The tartar sauce was full of tarragon and definitely helped the fish. But if it's all about the sauce, what do I need the fish for? The fish was covered in a tempura batter and had literally no seasoning in it and left a pool of oil on my plate, which I wasn't thrilled about. I love intense flavor though, and maybe the bland fish is supposed to be a canvas for the sauce, in which case it succeeded in being just that.
The poppyseed coleslaw was very flavorful and my favorite part of the meal. This is now my new memory of Poulsbo. A pretty waterfront, and a crunchy, sweet poppyseed coleslaw. The rest of it will go the way of my adolescence. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.