Archive for November, 2011

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November 30, 2011: “American Pastime”

November 30, 2011

There is this prejudice I just have to get over, and that is that I have it in my mind that I hate any film that has a sports orientation. Although a rather harmless one, and certainly only affecting me,  like most prejudices they exist only in the mind, have little to do with reality, and invariably limit growth. So, there were these two movies on the library shelf that I have been avoiding forever, even ‘tho I was pretty sure that a part of me would really like them. The first was “Invictus” that I saw last month. Loved it. C’mon. Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela? One of my most favorite poems in the title? Why did I wait so long? And, after that experience, why did I wait another month to try “American Pastime?” Why? Well, that’s the part of myself  I struggle with.

“American Pastime” begins as a an American utopia: it’s title sequence uses a blend of documentary footage of 1941 combined with movie stills to tell a quick story of a group of young integrated friends as they grow up in California. The movie starts as these friends are hanging out upstairs, talking about their loves: jazz, baseball, and their favorite movie stars. Their parents are downstairs organizing a cookout for them all. I love the quick pan of the food on the table where you get to see corn on the cob, spaghetti with sauce, and riceballs (and what I think is okonomiyaki!!!) all together on one table. This is an America that was supposed to be. Unfortunately, December 7th, 1941, the “Day of Infamy,” changed all of that.

Within the first few minutes of the film, the Nomura family (father, mother, and two teenage brothers) are packed up, along with 120,000 others of Japanese-Americans, told to sell all they own, and are shipped off inland, the Nomuras to Utah to be interred in the Topaz Relocation Center.

I’ve written about this black chapter of American history before in my article “Kiri’s Piano” and I readdress it here, because I still find it hard to believe that America interred it’s own citizens with no proof of collusion with an enemy. Yes, America was at war, but we were at war with the Germans and Italians at the same time, yet only Japanese-Americans were interred.

The Nomura family, along with their fellow internees, try to form a sense of normalcy in their new and rather bleak surroundings. The deal with the bigotry of not only their guards, but also a few of the townspeople, as they go into town to buy supplies to improve their camp. One of the things I like about “American Pastime” is that the bigotry is dealt with in a realistic way. They show people the way they really are: not every one of the townspeople is hostile, some of those who are, change to the better. Some will simply, never let go of their hatred. The bond that all the people have in common is the game. Baseball is the cultural glue of the American people and as long as you play well (physically and ethically) it doesn’t matter what your heritage is. Dignity and mutual respect can be achieved through excellence.

“American Pastime” is not a perfect movie. It tries a little too hard to stuff many worthwhile topics into the film: bigotry in time of war: issues between fathers and sons, between brothers, between lovers: all very noble topics, but a little too much for one film. Still if you like dramas based on real life, or (unlike me) have no issues with sports films, “American Pastime” could be the film for you.

Check out the “making of” part of the DVD. They interview some of the Japanese-American heroes of the 422nd Regimental Combat Team (the  most decorated in US Armed history.) They also interview the actors, and to quote one who sums up well the notion that dignity can come through a game says, “There are more important things in life, but sometimes it takes a game to understand them.”

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November 09, 2011: Salad Dreams & Copper

November 9, 2011

There’s a little boy on my front stoop. The strong, low angle of the Autumn sun filters through his blond lashes to light his beautiful young face, so light in color, that it almost hurts to look at him. Harrison is 5 years old, and his mouth is slightly smudged with the chocolate donut with sprinkles he is munching. Alternate to his bites, he is gulping from a small container of milk that he cradles with two hands and this makes me wonder at what point in our life do we gain the confidence to grasp our containers with the one hand, and what measure of innocence do give up along with that particular transition.

Lisa, Harry’s mom, has surprised me with a spontaneous visit, just when I thought the highlight of the day was to reduce a pile of wood, from fallen trees of last weekends’ storm, to kindling. She has kindly brought donuts and coffee, junk food that is, these days, almost devoid from my diet. As we soak in the unseasonable warmth and sunlight, Harry, way ahead of the adults meandering, has wolfed down the donut and is sorting through the limestone gravel of my driveway and proclaims that he has found “gold”…actually a yellowed, weathered piece of limestone. This prompts an impulse that sends me inside to search my nick-nack shelf and I am pleased to find a genuine piece of raw copper that I can hand over to Harry with the explanation of the difference of the two metals. Harry pockets both the limestone and copper in his red fleece.

We walk around back, first to see a pile of wood from the huge branches that fallen around, and through my deck. Kind neighbors have helped clear the branches from the deck, but the devastation remains. Harry, weirded out by the wreckage, will not step upon the remains of the deck, despite our assurances that it is safe…now. Remembering how just a few nights earlier, when both oak and pine fell inches from where I was sleeping, with massive destruction, and after a night of worrying that a larger branch would squash me like a bug, I get Harry’s hesitation.

Harry has a goal today: he is on a quest to find a particular “Ninjago” an obscure (to me anyway) Lego toy and we are off to Target. Now, I must have been in a Target before, but I really don’t remember a better time shopping anywhere. I tease Lisa that I have the best times in her company, and it is a double pleasure when Harry is along. I don’t know what I find more entertaining: Lisa being startled by the automatic toys firing up as we pass by, or Harry’s ease and knowledge of how they work.

It is a kind of relief to find that the original recipes that I make for this blog, come from a familiar source. Whether a good photograph idea, a recipe, and even these days, that story idea, it’s all from  that creative essence that comes in quiet times. Running, a shower, the dreaming fugue just before sleeping, spark the source and ideas just flow. The other night, before sleeping, I was musing how I could use the last of the supplies from my friend Pamela. The salad just had to have Pam’s canned beet slices and her magnificent find from her CSA: Watermelon Radish. Musing, the recipe just coalesced in my mind.

I had a shopping list for materials for the salad, still just in my imagination, without any real means to buy them. Between rounds of tag around endcaps with Lisa and Harry, Lisa put a basket in my hand and shooed me off towards the food aisles to “get what I needed” and the salad, thanks to her kindness, could then reach the reality phase.

After, we were off to the Wayside candy store. I helped Harry get his rainbow dose of multi-colored M&Ms, Lisa got some penuche fudge, and I, on my quest for the perfect soft licorice, tried theirs. We then tried to walk in for lunch at the Wayide Inn, but being a warm Autumn weekend, we were out of luck. We had to settle on pizza and eggplant parmesan at a local pizza shop (more junk food!) A perfect visit, on a perfect Autumn day!

For the salad, preheat the oven to 350°F. On tin foil, roast walnuts, turning often, for about 20-30 minutes, until toasted. Cool. On a base of Baby Spring Mix salad, I added slices of Pam’s beets and Watermelon Radish. I had never heard of this radish before, until Pam brought me some from her CSA. This radish is delicate in taste, without the heat of our smaller radish, but with enough zip for a unique addition to a salad. It’s got just the tiniest bite, a real snap in texture and is very pretty. Just remove the skin and slice thin. I topped the salad with craisins, chunks of blue cheese, and the toasted walnuts. I finished with the following vinaigrette and ground pepper and a sprinkling of Herbs de Provence.

Vinaigrette:  Add 1 Tblsp. Balsamic Vinegar to 3 Tblsp. Olive oil and 1 Teasp. Honey. Mix well.

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November 02, 2011: Tasty Healthy Snacks

November 2, 2011

I’m still working through the generous supplies from my friends and trying to figure the best way to use them. I got a bunch of kale from Pam’s CSA, but I was worried that with all the veggies she gave to me that I wouldn’t get to them. Answer: turn the kale into chips. Kale chips are a very delicious (and much more healthy) answer to potato chips, and their taste is more complex. By making them yourself, you can control the amount of fat and salt you apply, and they are super easy and fun to make. I would guess the kids would enjoy mixing these (after parents do the cutting.)

I wanted to also toast the raw peanuts that Yoshio gave me. The process and spices are identical for both kale and peanuts, yet the taste is very different. I did use olive oil for the kale and corn oil for the peanuts because “it just seemed right” to do so. The only problem is that a whole head of kale makes only a couple of cups of chips. You don’t have to worry about storing them for long, trust me, they’ll go pretty fast!

Preheat oven to 350°F. Wash kale and dry in a salad spinner. If you don’t have a salad spinner, blot them with paper towels until very dry. Remove stem ends and use for stock. You just want the leaves of the kale. Any stems will turn chewy when finished. I don’t mind that, but if only want the crunch o the leaves, spend the time to trim the stems completely. Cut pieces into 2-3″ pieces. Dribble with about 1/4-1/2Tsp. olive oil (only enough to make the leaves glossy.) Sprinkle with a little sal de mer, paprika, and chili powder and toss well. Spread kale on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Put in oven and immediately reduce heat to 300°F. Bake for about 20-30 minutes, turning with tongs often. When done, leaves will have a nice crunch to them. Cool. Cover. Store in a cool, dry place.

Same recipe for the raw peanuts, just sub corn oil (or peanut) instead of olive oil. For both these dishes, vary spices as you choose for each batch, to keep the kids interested!

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