Friday, May 20, 2011

New Blog Location

This blog is going to continue at Hope to see you there! Ursula

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sofi Oksanen: Purge

PurgeThis very dark novel about Estonian life from the 1930s to the 1990s, especially from the female point of view.

The story pictures two sister, envy that leads to betrayal and the Gulag, failure to communicate that leads to more suffering and ultimate loneliness.

It is interesting to read how the Russian occupation was perceived, and how the communists, both Russian and Estonian, took control of the people.

The connection is then made from the communist oppression machine to the modern day Russian mafia, with many players just changing roles, especially viewing women then and now as disposable. The forced prostitution part is quit graphic,hard to read, it is that painful.

Interesting also the description of Estonian lifestyle in the 1990s: The countryside population is so very poor compared to the Western standard of living, but don't see it that way. Foraging of mushrooms and herbs (for medicinal purposes) is a way of life, a boiled pig ear a nutritious dinner.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sophie Hannah: The Dead Lie Down

The Dead Lie Down
The book was slow to start, and I was annoyed with that everybody seemed to be so crazy and disfunctional, the police just as much as the people who were talking about murders that apparently didn't even happen.

However, it pulled me in, and I couldn't figure the story (even after glancing over the end), and by the time I managed to read the first half, it actually became interesting and compelling. It helped that after a while, the crazy people became human, as more personal background was revealed.

The story is set in small town Britain, not too far from London. Fascination with art, no, obsession with art, and also with controlling people to the extreme, a lot of damaged personalities, be it through their upbringing or through abuse later in life, make this crime novel interesting.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Mushrooms at Point Lobos

Point Lobos, a park close to Carmel, in Northern California (or more like close to the middle) used to be a major whaling and abalone fishing location. Located at the whale migration path, if was ideally situated for killing whales, a sad and brutal operation (just look at the weapons in Point Lobos' whaling museum).

Nowadays, the park with stunning views of the ocean is a major destination for tourists. We were lucky to get wonderful weather in January. Additionally to the picturesc views, many mushrooms were sprouting in the woods. Why do people kick pretty mushrooms when they see them? If you can identify a mushroom, please leave a comment, and I'll annotate!

Pretty, earmushroom like!
Is it a Phaeolus schweinitzii?

The yellow version of the Fly-agaric (Fliegenpilz).

Dark cap, white stem, gills

Death cap? I don't think so, there were many parasols in the area.

Another fly agaric.

Very pretty cluster.

And yet another fly agaric.

And finally, a bolite (Steinpilz).

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Rosenkohl and Butternut Squash

Yes, it's called Brussels sprouts in English, but I find the word Rosenkohl (rose cabbage) much more fitting.

Rosenkohl always has been a treat for me. My mother used to steam it, season it with nutmeg and toss it in butter or bechamel. In America, I learned how to pan fry Rosenkohl with bacon, which adds a whole other set of flavors.

Recently, after picking up our vegetable box, we had dinner at the excellent restaurant Incanto in Noe Valley (San Franciso), where they served Rosenkohl with course mustard, a tasty combination. They even sold the mustard (Boccalone, made in Oakland),  delicious and actually cheaper than the mass produced German version from the German store.  I adapted the recipe, and altered it to my liking:

Ingredients: about 20 Brussels sprouts, 1 strip of bacon, a splash of white whine, a tablespoon of course mustard, pepper.

Clean the sprouts by removing the outer layer. Bring one inch of water in a smallish pot to boil (with a steamer insert, if you have one). Add the largest sprouts, and then every minute the next largest, until you have them all in. Steam with closed lid for about 5-7 min total. The time starts when you put the first sprout into the pot. 

The sprouts are now very close to being cooked. If you prefer them a little more crunchy, reduce the steaming time. At this point, you can just put them into the fridge until you are ready to finish them up later in the day or the next day, which just takes a few more minutes in the pan.

Chop bacon and fry in small frying pan. When the bacon is close to being crispy, add the sprouts, reduce the heat, stir and leave alone for a couple of minutes, until the bottom of the sprouts turns a little bit brown. Stir again to give the top part a slight browning, add pepper and mustard, stir, serve and enjoy!

We also had Butternut squash in our recent vegetable box from Mariquita,  which we enjoyed together with the Rosenkohl and a nice rib-eye steak last night. Microwave squash until it is a little soft. Cut in half, clean out the innerts, and cut in one inch slices (peeling is not necessary). Since the (gas) grill was already going, G. barbecued the squash, after marinating it with thyme, a little mint, olive oil and lime juice. While on the grill, she basted the squash with a honey/lime juice baste, to give it more flavor. This is not necessary on a charcoal grill - plenty of smokey flavor from the coals. Highly recommended if you like Butternut squash!

I have been neglecting my blog for a while. However, I recently added a number of new book reviews to goodreads (see side bar). I might post a summary here later.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Smita Jain: Kkrishnaa's Konfessions

Kkrishnaa's Konfessions Kkrishnaa, the protagonist, is a screen-writer for an Indian soap, and observes the inhabitants of a neighboring luxury apartment building with a telescope to find ideas for her soap (she suffers from writers block). The most bizarre things happen over there, but apparently not bizzare enough, because Kkrishnaa decides to stirr the pot and add a little pseudo-blackmail. After she witnessed a murder, her life is in danger. Incidentally, most people who live in the building are connected to the murdered woman. The police is very forthcoming to share their findings with K. and eventually, she solves the murder. Kkrishnaa is a witty, ruthless, not very likable but amusing person mostly interested in advancing her career, and surrounded by career-related intrigue. Plenty of examples of her screen-writing are given in the book, with insight into the values these soaps want to convey and the way Indian TV is written ("faints, repeat three times from different angles in slow motion"...). Interesting and fast paced, quite over the top exaggerations (I hope) of modern Indian life.

According to the author, this is a chick-lit. First time I heart this term, I guess I am out of touch (or maybe, not a native English speaker). 

Friday, July 2, 2010

SFOpera: Gounod's Faust

The conclusion (for us) of the 2009/2010 opera season at the San Francisco Opera was yesterday's Faust (Gounod). It started in a high-note: The lecture (by Clifford Cranna, Director of Music Administration) was excellent. In just under half an hour,  he gave a great overview of the origins of the Faust legend, and highlighted the most important plays that influenced Gounod, talked about the history of this opera itself, in the various incarnations, and told the story, illustrated by recordings, while giving us information on the musical styles that Gounod used. I wish they always had high quality lectures like this.

Now to the opera itself: The Faust legend in Gounod's interpretation has its emphasis on Marguerite (Gretchen), who has probably the largest part to sing, beautifully portrayed and sung by Patricia Racette.The production has traditional, with nice period costumes, and pretty scenery.
The other big part was Mephisto (John Relyea), whose characterization of Mephisto was quite believable and lively. He did remind me of the Pied Piper of Hamelin with a colorful costume in the second act, and the use of his violin in manipulating people.  I wished that his voice would be a bit fuller and warmer.
I never liked the character of Faust, in neither Goethe's play nor the other Faust operas I have seen (Dr. Faustus from Busoni, Mephistophele from Boito). Stephano Secco did a good job, and to me came over as the jerk he is supposed to portray. Siebel (Daniela Mack) and Marthe (Catherine Cook) were both quite wonderful. Brian Mulligan as Valentin stood out despite the bizarre lightning during his aria (The stage changed colors constantly, for no apparent reason). The performance was interesting and engaging, but lost some of its impact in the last scene.  After four hours (including two intermissions) we were happy to go home.