Thursday, May 29, 2008
Clusters of Quaker Ladies, tiny flowers that spread throughout the grass in ever-expanding patches
Wildflowers--there are some similar ones in yellow that are also out now.
The bridge, just completed, with tools and materials still in place.
The doorbell for the mechanical room entrance. It makes a wonderful clang.
Last Friday, we celebrated our anniversary in Boston, starting with a pre-theater dinner at Legal Seafood in Cambridge, a stone’s throw from my old office at MIT. Since we both love fish, our anniversary dinners have frequently involved trips to Saunders of Rye Harbor. Radici in Portsmouth is another favorite. But we’re both mad for bluefish which we hadn’t had in way too long, and that means Legal’s.
Bluefish isn’t everybody’s cup of clam broth. It’s a dark meat fish, with a rich, smoky flavor. We’ve long since given up any pretense of ordering anything else when we go—we use the menus only to firm up our side order choices. We start with a good, dry pinot grigio along with the kitchen’s irresistible fresh-baked rolls and butter, then proceed directly to the grilled bluefish—plain for Fritz, with their own creamy mustard sauce for me. Broccoli in olive oil and garlic, rice pilaf, and the excellent, crisp snow peas in oyster sauce are among our usual choice of sides. On anniversary night we allow ourselves a dessert and I have coffee.
We then drove into the South End for Speakeasy Stage’s production of The History Boys by Alan Bennett. Longer and, a close friend tells me, much better than the movie made of it, History Boys is part of a long-standing British tradition, the boys’ school drama. The central issue here is the desire of the headmaster to have his working-class school’s students do better than admission to industrial town universities. He hires a sharp young teacher to shake things up so as to pull down some acceptances to Oxford and Cambridge for a change.
There are sub-plots, of course—the boys are becoming sexually active (one’s openly gay, a couple of others are open to experiment) and the teacher who’s the center of the story likes to give motorcycle rides to students during which he gropes them liberally.
This teacher, nicknamed Hector, and the new man, Mr. Irwin, soon lock horns over teaching style and Irwin’s premise that a sharp presentation and eccentric approach to the entrance essay will always trump truth and responsible scholarship with admissions committees.
I realized very early in the evening that the issues in this play and the conflict in this country between “teaching to the exam” education where standardized tests are everything and exploratory, hands-on, open inquiry education, were very close. I also realized that Fritz’s educational philosophy one that has helped develop so many Teachers of the Year here in New England school districts, was the one Mr. Irwin was looking to undermine with his razzle-dazzle rather than substance approach.
In any event, the Speakeasy’s production was exceptional, and we drove home having had a very nice anniversary celebration indeed.
My description of Walt’s minimalist paella drew some interested comments, so here’s the recipe. Understand that I never leave any recipe unaltered, so there are a few differences from the original-- but the spirit of Walt’s delicious paella is intact;
3 ½ cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 ½ pounds tomatoes; I use Italian (Roma) tomatoes
¾ pounds cooked shrimp, tails removed
½ pound chowder fish, cut in bite sized pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1 or 2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 large pinch of saffron (optional)
2 teaspoons of Spanish Pimenton (aka smoked paprika). You can
get by with any other sweet paprika, but the rich, smoky
flavor of the pimenton is really essential.
2 cups Arborio rice, or other short-grain rice
1) Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Bring stock to a simmer in a sauce pan. Quarter the tomatoes, put in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of the oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and mix well.
2) Put remaining oil in a good sized baking dish over medium-high heat with the garlic and onion, salt and pepper to taste.
Stir occasionally until the onions begin to be transparent. Add the pimenton and saffron, cook for a minute and then add the rice. When the rice is shiny (maybe two minutes) add shrimp, fish and stock and stir well.
3) Arrange tomato wedges on top in a nice pattern, put in the oven and roast for 45 minutes. Check to see that the rice is dry but tender. If the rice isn’t done, add a bit more stock, water or white wine and return to the oven until it’s ready.
Along with the Moroccan tagines I’ve been making lately, this is a great dish if you’re having friends over because at the end it spends the better part of an hour cooking itself and letting you be with people instead of isolated away in the kitchen.
We have less than 270 days left of the Bush presidency (Thank you, Jesus!). During a recent TV interview, the first President Bush and wife Barbara expressed their stunned surprise at the perception by a [huge] segment of the population that their son is terminally stupid. They think he’s just bursting with smarts. So, in a serious effort to re-evaluate a possibly unfairly maligned savante, I'm beginning a series of quotes, at the end of each new entry, reviewing:
The Wit and Wisdom of George W. Bush
“Natural gas is hemispheric. I like to call it hemispheric in nature because it is a product that we can find in our neighborhoods.”
Austin, Texas 20 December, 2000