Friday, May 21, 2010

Between Two Worlds

Between two worlds, surreal, seems to describe my recent political state of mind perfectly. After writing my last piece The Root Canal Of All Evil on my blog I seemed to have left my political self in the dust. I could not get past the subject of the post that the obstacle at the root of solving every ideological difference on challenges we face together is money. Upon reading my usual newspapers, websites and listening to a host of talking heads, my mind ran a gamut of emotions. On one hand the activist in me wants to fight, while the realist in me says the politicians don’t mean what they say, they are bought and paid for. They vote and speak as their corporate owners tell them. I even get angry with those who I support. I get livid at their mediocrity of achievement, the baby steps in policies and bills that hold our future in their words, such as the absence of a strong public option in the healthcare bill. I then realize that this too is a result of the money influence. Is there any hope? Should we fight? Would it even matter unless we could offer them more money by outbidding the corporate interests?
The corporate owners of America are delighted as they have us divided to keep us away from the real problem, them. A Government of the people, by the people and for the people has been reduced to an illusion. I recall the words of that great anthem by Bob Marley “ So now we see the light, what you gonna do? we gonna stand up for our rights, don’t give up the fight, get up, stand up for your rights.”
Last week the dust of my malaise began to settle, as Bob Marley verses ran through my mind, I was reunited with my political self. As the surreal clouds lifted, I saw my political body waiting to be dusted off and put back into action. Fight? You bet! Fight the only fight that counts, the fight that will address everything we care about, to remove money from the equation. We must stand up and battle until this becomes a political reality.
Between Two Worlds is a classic film staring John Garfield, Paul Henreid and Sydney Greenstreet. The films narrative is a group of diversified characters are about to board a ship with separate destinations. Some of the characters are at peace with whatever seems to unfold and reveal itself, while others are disgruntled for various reasons, ego and misdirected anger being mostly the culprits. What they don’t know is they are all dead and on their way to judgment day. Sydney is aptly cast as the awaiting judge, and the needs of the passengers are sympathetically dealt with by a serene steward named Scrubby who happily obliges their whims until their judgment moment arrives. The judge reviews every ones past deeds and they are then sent off to an appropriate eternity of their own making. Anyone who committed suicide has a special destiny, the same as Scrubby who ended his life by his own hands, and has to spend eternity as a server on the ship of dead souls on their way to face the judge. Over and over, trip after trip, forever. The film is an example of the ship on which we all ride. However we have the best possible leader to steer us in the right direction to a future that gives us and others a chance at a real sustainable future, and the captain of the ship is President Obama.
As progressives we have to stop eating our own, as that can become our political suicide and doom us to an eternity of repeats.
Fight for real change instead of picking apart every detail of what Obama proposes. Let us collectively try to be conscious that merely turning this ship of fools around is an arduous task that would completely escape most other leaders. Another so called, stuck in the past leader, might drive us directly into a black hole, putting us squarely back in time
instead of the direction of new horizons. We must beware of contributing to the chatter of the far right which only weakens him and our causes even further. Let us continue to speak out while also focusing our energies on getting our country to a place where a forward thinking President like Obama, or any future leader, will have the freedom to propose their full desires in a bill without worrying about the money obstructions in getting the votes. Speak out, keep up the fight to rid money from our political process and remember the words of Jim Morrison of The Doors “you can’t burn out if you’re not on fire.”

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Root Canal Of All Evil

The root canal of all evil is money. All intelligent sincere debates between persons of same or different political parties are useless. Job preservation for elected members of the senate and congress is their number one priority, even over any good for the people that they represent. Getting the job and keeping their job takes a lot of money and most of their time. Each day is spent raising funds for their next election from their very first day in office. Their daily fund raising dollar goal usually far exceeds the income of any of the people they represent.
There are eight healthcare lobbyists for every congressperson and every senator, four for each member from Wall Street, banks and other financial institutions. It’s a wonder there is room for our officials to walk down these crowded aisles to get to the bathroom. Hmm, maybe that’s why so many republicans have a constipated look on their face and why they are so mean. To be fair, this problem is with both parties.
Recently, Mr. Tan Man, John Boehner paid a visit to Morgan Stanley’s CEO and told him unless you want banking reforms you better start giving more money to republicans. An open, blatant shakedown, in the light of day, to sell out the American people. Americans will have to suffer through any future unregulated scams as we are now suffering from the last one, but next time it could be worse. At least the house passed a regulatory bill and the President to his credit is trying to get a meaningful bill through a very constipated senate. Constipation is the state you arrive at when you keep swallowing dyed green dollars.
After his visit to shake down Wall Street, Boehner the tan man then had the nerve to go before The Mad Tea Party and feed them lines to stoke the flames about democrats and Obama. The Tea Party and everyone else should be outraged, not by the sound bites hurled at them that have no basis in reality, but by what’s really happened to our system. Right or wrong we demand democracy from every other nation as we are losing our own.
America is on the way to becoming USA INC, a corporation instead of a nation. The Supreme Courts recent decision for unlimited contributions by a corporation to anyone’s campaign is not just troublesome, but is the beginning of the end of our empire. It is now perfectly legal for any corporate interests to give a group of elected officials billions to vote their way so they can make trillions. No concern for an appearance of impropriety or maintaining even a small pretension of representation for the people.
John McCann, whom I used to like in one of his past reinventions of himself, is now unfortunately best characterized by the line in The Beatles song Mean Mr. Mustard “such a mean old man.” McCann, Mr. Campaign finance reform himself, has been eerily silent on the court’s decision. Perhaps his hearing aid was tuned to off as creatures with black gowns that called themselves Supremes sang from their bench the hit from the 60’S “
“Nothing But Heartache,”
Our “leaders” by design have us divided and occupied by yelling at each other, as they sell off our interests to the highest bidder. Ever wonder why we are so behind other countries in transportation, infrastructure and more? Ever wonder why we do not have a real safety net for our people? Money, that’s why. It can be said that any nation that does not build on its infrastructure, care for its young, elderly and less gifted is doomed for extinction. We can save our country by demanding a box on every ballot that will allow us to vote for publicly financed elections and a complete ban on all lobbyists’ money. Lobbyists should be allowed to make their case, but not buy it. Maybe we should be The Supremes and the song that we sing should be “Stop In The Name Of Love.”

Monday, March 15, 2010

"Did You Learn How To Eat Yet?" Part 2


ITALY - In Rome there is a saying, “Quello che voi siete noi eravamo; quello che noi siamo voi sarete.” “That which you are, we were; that which we are, you will be.”
Rome, where everyone has something to say, even those who are long gone, and mostly about food, rocked my culinary world.

On our first trip to Italy my wife and I decided upon a 10-day trip starting in Rome then on to Capri and back to Rome. Later these journeys grew to at least one month each trip. Many of our meals were planned in advance. We carefully researched restaurants and food destinations so that we would not miss the season’s star foods. From the truffle season in the north, to the small tomato season in south, zucchini flowers of Rome, or the full flavored peppers of Sicily, and all in between. We also studied the wines of each area so we could have the best enhancer to their regional foods, keeping with the philosophy that what grows together should be served together.

Why choose Rome and Capri for our first trip? The Roman emperors had the whole world to play in, yet they spent all of their time in these two places. It seemed to be a good place for a cultural overview. I had arranged for our hotel in Rome through a friend in New York who managed a branch here, he enlisted a driver to pick us up by the name of Dante. Dante was a born philosopher, not unlike any Roman. He was wise, kind, and also patient with my Italian, which returned to me with each day of practical application. On the way to our hotel, Dante took it upon himself to make a side trip up a small mountain. Then suddenly he abruptly stopped the car and asked us to accompany him. We looked around and saw nothing except a huge, wooden door attached to the wall of a home. What was going on? He just motioned for us to follow him to the door as he stood
proudly and asked us to look through the keyhole. There it was, Rome, all of it, in all its glory! Dante who had a smile the width of the Tiber said, “Benvenuti a Roma,” “Welcome, to Rome.”
As my eyes took in the breathtaking Roman view I had a realization that we just went through the keyhole and passed into another level of food adventures.

So many food memories and life long impressions were enhanced in Italy from our many trips, thoughts that still warm our culinary souls. We were spoiled by the quality of vegetables, especially in the Campania region, where all soil is enriched with the minerals of volcanic ash from Mt Vesuvius, making every bite magnified in flavor.
A few of our fondest memories are walking up the mountain side in Capri, when we stopped to catch our breath we saw a little old man in his own backyard vineyard. I asked him about the two grapes he was cultivating. He then smiled and put up a finger indicating that we should wait. We were fixated on him, as we observed him go from grape to grape until he found the perfect samples for us to try. He earnestly awaited our reaction, which was genuinely enthusiastic, and this pleased him very much. This taught us the love and pride that goes into every sip and bite, starting with the growing process.
One night in Capri we wanted to dine in our room and thought a simple Caprese salad would satisfy. I walked to a tiny shop to purchase the necessary ingredients, Buffalo Mozzarella made nearby, basil, tomato, and a small piece of garlic, also freash tiny bits of green chili, with good sea salt, local olive oil and crusty bread. As I reached for a ball of wrapped cheese on the counter a grandmother type shocked me by slapping my hand. I thought I had reached in front of her, or perhaps offended a local custom. She then explained to me that my choice of cheese was wrong as it was made in the morning and she handed me one that was made later in the day. I asked the proprietor where the tomatoes were? He told me to come around the counter and took me to a small room where the shelves were lined with tomatoes that were displayed and cared for like each one was a precious stone. Italians have an incredible love and pride, not just with their cultivating and cooking, but also from being able to offer the best to others.

Rome showed us the delights of Funghi, mushrooms of all kinds. We discovered a wonderful family owned trattoria called, da tonino alla lampada. Which means lamp of Tonino. Tonino was the owner, chef, and resident maestro de funghi, master chef of mushrooms. Lamp is an Italian slang for the lid or the shade of each mushroom. Upon entering what we called “Mushroom Place,” we were blown away by the strong fragrance that filled the room from the baskets of mushrooms on display. Everything from large Funghi Porcini served with pasta, or as a primi course, grilled with pieces of garlic inserted in the lamp of the funghi, with a drizzle of olive oil. There was also Ovalo, a bright orange egg shape mushroom that is usually thinly sliced, served raw with lemon juice and olive oil. Local cepes, black Umbrian truffles, white truffles from Alba and more, all blended together to create the powerful scent.
It was here that Tonino invited me into his kitchen to show me the art of making Roman style artichokes. The chokes are first trimmed then stuffed with garlic and a Roman herb similar to mint is mixed with salt, then they are cooked stem side up in a combination of white wine, lemon halves, and olive oil. When done the artichokes are removed to cool and the liquid is reduced to a syrup and drizzled over this much prized roman delicacy.

There is much more that we learned, so many stories, that every day when my wife and I shop and cook, any given ingredient could spark a memory that brings a smile to our faces.
Seek out the freshest and best quality ingredients available; always remember less in any art, is more. Pass on your love by cooking a dinner for a friend today, and then give them the recipe to cook for others. I always come back to Dante. At the end of our first trip he picked us up to take us to the airport, and the first thing he did, before pulling out of the drive way, was to turn around with his Tiber wide smile and say, “So, did you learn how to eat yet?”
He went on to say, “now you know the Roman secret,” “what is that,” I replied, “everybody dies, but not everybody lives!” Well Dante, the answer to your question is I’m still learning how to eat and live.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Did You Learn How To Eat Yet?" Part 1

As a self-confessed food explorer I often reflect on just how it all began. Maybe it was those sub zero upstate New York mornings when my mother would wake me for school. As my eyelids slowly found their way open she immediately inquired, “What would you like for dinner?” Thoughts of the decided upon Italian delicacy warmed my cold day; I used my minds palate to tune in and taste this dish several times throughout my day.

We were far from a wealthy family, yet we regularly purchased the best quality of foods that were available. Having dinner together every night and discussing the finer points of what we were consuming was a ritual. As a child Saturday’s were usually devoted to our weekly food hunt. My father would often wake me at the crack of dawn to accompany him on our journey to the public market. The local public market was a greenmarket, open to chefs and the public as well. Farmers proud of what they displayed, yelled loud descriptions of their wares, from local cheeses, to a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables, a real feast for the eyes and ears. There was an immense level of enthusiasm in the air and that feeling had a lasting effect on the way I think of food until this day.

After the market we moved on to the Italian Specialty store for the weeks supplies then on to the German market for meats, as they had the best quality and most knowledgeable butcher in town. Next up came a variety of bakeries, where we would add to our food excursion, warm crusty Italian bread, freshly made Italian pastries, deli style dark baked seeded corn rye, and with my encouragement, a Black Forest cake. The cake was a delightful combination of rich chocolate, layered with custard cream, liquor soaked cherries topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

When we returned to our home base the arguments between my Mom and Dad ensued due to my father’s over purchasing. Relatives were enlisted to aid in the distribution of the abundance of purchases. My Mom made packages for each one of them. This event added more color to my day as they all gossiped over Anisette and espresso about each other. My Mom would demand to know what they intended to make with their package as they gave her their recipes and anxiously awaited her nod of approval. My Mom was a recognized advanced cook and in today’s world would have been one of its culinary stars. I used to watch her at work in the kitchen and ask constant questions that never tested her patience. As a child food often interfered with my rest and hygiene routine, for example preparations for Christmas Eve began the previous day when sheets were laid over beds, tables and furniture, topped with freshly made pasta drying, and the bathtub was filled with Baccala {dried codfish} desalting in water. The activity level at Christmas would increase by the minute, along with the excitement. There was a constant flow of people bringing over their contribution for Mom to cook for the anticipated feast, which always exceeded expectations.

My Family had an unspoken philosophy that nowhere was too far to travel or out of reach when it came to obtaining seasonal delights. Every year when the moment presented itself my dad would go to Maryland, accompanied by an equally adventurous friend to secure bushels of cooked, seasoned, Chesapeake Bay Crabs that filled our refrigerator. There were trips to Connecticut where relatives made homemade spicy sopressata salami that took up most of the backseat of the car on the ride home.
One can certainly say that this was an auspicious culinary beginning for the development of any young palate. By the time I was 10 years old I was anxious to apply my accumulated knowledge. I had skipped school and in an attempt to lessen the anticipated punishment, I thought it would be a good time to test my ability and cook a dinner for my working Mom and Dad. So it began.

Berkeley CA – In the beginning of the 70’S I began to prepare for a move to Berkeley CA by weaning myself away from the importance of all good foods that I had grown accustomed to, on top of that I was now a vegetarian. I thought that I would be entering a culinary wasteland; instead I found the beginnings of a food revolution, and a complete explosion of experimentation and innovation that lead to a new way America looked at food. It seems The Bay Area took to opening its collective minds and exploring foods in the same way as it did to hallucinogenics in the sixties.
My new home added much to the way that I approached cooking and eating; it was another level of discovery. The finest freash ingredients were available for any amateur cook to use in their kitchens. Many establishments served as a place of education, like The Cheese Board in Walnut Square where cheeses from all over the world could be found. The knowledgeable owner and staff would encourage you to taste, recommend cheese choices, and then volunteer background information on the history of each one.
It was the start of what has become known as the Alice Waters movement that began when she opened the acclaimed and iconic Chez Panisse restaurant on Shattuck Ave in Berkeley. Her purveyors were local cheese makers and farmers who cultivated the restaurants specific requests.
Going to a green market daily and creating a dish based on what’s available is nothing new in Italy or France for the chef and the home cook alike. In America at the time, shamefully even in California, where climate was waiting for chefs to catch on, we still seemed to not yet get it. Shelf life concerns and processing still ruled the day.
Alice Waters brought a new kind of “Grow Your Own,” to the Bay Area, which ignited the imaginations of chefs all over the U.S. I used to walk down the hill from my Berkeley home, tie up my dog outside and try exciting new worlds of foods that Alice served up, like young garlic soup.

I also made good friends of The Crotti family at Tommasso’s restaurant of North Beach in San Francisco. Tommasso’s was a who’s who of the culinary world; it was a Mecca for Alice, Julia Child, Wolfgang Puck and more. The reason for its fame was Tommasso’s had the first wood burning pizza oven in the U.S since 1935, he was a consultant for Alice, Wolfgang and any one else that wanted to serve up wood burning delights. The Crotti’s brought a little bit of Italy to San Francisco by using their oak wood oven for more than delicious pizzas. They would wrap the freshest fish that they could possibly acquire, like sea bass wrapped in herbs and cook it near the burning pile of wood, also clams, veal, even eggplant parm would become something special when baked in their oven. Each bite brought a smile to the diner as the smoky miracle exposed itself.

In nearby Oakland there was an Italian store that made pesto. It was the first time I ever tasted this perfect combination of fresh basil, toasted pine nuts, that were all ground together with a stream of ligurian olive oil, imported Romano and Parmesan cheeses. Italians from Genoa had settled in the Bay Area in groves after arriving in New York’s Ellis Island, because unlike their southern Italian brethren they had the extra $100 it took to go west. These natives from Genoa introduced pesto to the Bay Area when the rest of the country did not even know of its existence. They also were the only ones who had access to ligurian oil indigenous from the region of pesto’s birth that made it a 10.

I was fascinated by and became quickly addicted to Mexican cuisine in the Bay area. Mexican food was as foreign to New York as finding someone from the Bronx who rooted for The Red Sox.
I began to experiment with Mexican sauces, such as various ways to use a host of chilies. I cooked and honed the sauces for years, until I was ready to serve my dishes to others. I learned the best way to make sauces was use a roasting process. When making a green tomatillo sauce I would not only roast the chilies but all of the other vegetables too. The sauce came alive, with a new layer of flavor, when first roasted slowly to caramelized perfection, before blending and reducing with additional herbs and spices.
I also, thanks to the expanded minds of Bay area residents, discovered the joys of a little known cuisine in America back then, Indian.


Thursday, February 18, 2010


Presidents Day and Valentines Day came and went and I’m surprised the New Republicans did not tried to block them.
“Love! We don’t need your stinking love, and we don’t need your stinking President.”
It seems all the new Republican Party needs are tea bags to cover their faces, passed on to them from their new base, The Tea Klux Klan. Apparently white sheets have gone out of fashion.
The new republican definition of CUPID is, C - for corporate interests, U – for unified in being the party of obstruction, P – for power of the minority, even if that means a minority of one. Whatever it takes to ruin the day and stay in the pockets of their special interests. I – is for their selfish selves, it is all about them and them only, and the people be damned. D – is for bringing this President and country down until they are back in power at any costs. They made a political calculation that the only way they could win is for the President to lose everything and not get one bill passed, unfortunately they are succeeding.
Stop the madness, and revolt.
Revolt against the new Supreme Court decision to have unlimited corporate campaign contributions. America will no longer be a country but a corporation; this is at the root of all our concerns and why nothing meaningful ever happens.
Revolt against the misuse of the Filibuster and the 60-vote rule in the senate. This rule is finishing off whatever semblance of democracy we pretend to have left, by allowing a minority of one to stop any bill.
Revolt against our employees, members of the senate and congress, having the right to any healthcare that we pay for, until their employers, the American people, are all covered.
Revolt for a bigger stimulus and jobs bill. You know you are having a bad week when Dick Chaney is the only republican you agree with. Dick said, “Deficits don’t matter,” of course he said this when he was the one spending, but he was right. When we are in a recession/depression you spend and spend until unemployment goes down. The workforce will create new tax revenue that will bring down the deficits, and then we can work them down further.
Revolt to spend so we can catch up with the rest of the world in transportation and infrastructure, this will also create new revenue and more jobs. We need forward thinking, for the long run, not just what is politically expedient. We need a real strong climate change bill that reflects these needs.
Revolt to get the democrats to use the reconciliation process on healthcare and pass a single payer system with 51 votes.
Revolt to have publicly financed elections, again the root cause of all our problems, money. So much money is needed to run an election that most of their time in office is used for raising more money just to stay in office, at our expense. That’s insane! Whatever positions they claimed to believe in, no longer counts, only what they are told to believe in and act on by the money people.

Revolt to have stockholders of corporations decide the salaries of CEO’s, which yes, are their employees. We need this reform and a major overhaul of Wall Street to prevent another disaster that may not be survivable.
Revolt to get your representatives, including the President, to go to the mats using whatever means necessary to get all of these important legislation's passed with full, not half, measures. Plato said, “The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”
Valentines Day is love, and Presidents Day is sales. It seems the new republicans combined them going both with the spirit of the Billy Holiday song, “Love For Sale.”

Friday, January 8, 2010


A Warning to all progressives:
I get it; you’re a progressive, now Barack off! Start by dispensing with euphemistic words like progressive. We are L I B E R A L S and that is a word that should make us proud. Look up the dictionary definition of each word and see which one best defines your views.
To be candid, my politics are more to the left of left, but I’m also a practical person who sees potential dangers. We are being too impatient and too hard on Barack. We are ignoring the facts and the current state of affairs that he is facing. If we don’t get what we want immediately, we want to devour him. This has been a trait of Democrats as far back as I can remember. While the Republicans stick together, we eat our own and then wallow in the remains. With this attitude we risk losing it all, the House, the Senate in 2010 and the whole bowl of wax in 2012.
FDR accomplished a lot in part because he served 4 terms, 16 years. Rome was not built in a day, if history was different and the Roman Empire was saved from it’s great fall it would show it also would not have happened in a day. We live in times of excessive communication, texting before speaking, heads buried in our hand gadgets wondering why there hasn’t been a response even though only seconds passed. A 24/7 news cycle is a monster that needs to be fed constantly, it doesn’t matter what it eats as long is it gets fed, and you can be sure the cycle will beat it to death until the next “breaking news,” hits the fan.
The Internet has given us short attention spans, a level of impatience that we have never known before. So it stands to reason that we have little time for anything more than capsulized news. If we do not get what we want right away from a website we move to the next one, we simply cannot let this be the clock that we live by to achieve our ideals.
President Obama was handed the worst situation any new or sitting President ever faced. FDR was elected in 1932 to face the great depression, but WWII was not until 1941.
Minutes after being sworn in, Obama faced the worst attack from the right ever in our history. The attacks consisted not only of dirty lies but were laced with thinly veiled bigotry and racism. Their thinking was the only way to win, which is the only goal of the right, is to beat this popular fighter down to size with a series of above and below the belt body blows, until he falls. Realizing that Barack was a thinking man, not a polarizing threat, they calculated a strategy to portray him as such anyway knowing that perception is reality. It pains me to see some of our favorite and most prized liberal OP ED columnists attack Obama so viciously and then to see far right wing talking heads quoting them. The right has only one policy, take it all back at any cost because being out of power is affecting our bottom line profits from corporate donors. They counted on the left to be disenchanted quickly, when they did not get all they wanted in the first months of his presidency. The left unknowingly and unwillingly became part of the right’s plan, which is to attack Obama from the left as well as the right and hasten his demise. Please let’s not give them the assistance.
A few facts about our prized social and rights programs, they all started from much less than what they now consist of, for example Civil Rights: the first bill passed in 1957 and was nothing more than an ineffective watchdog with limited rights that later flourished under JFK and led the way for improved legislation in the sixties.
Social Security in its original form was not very social; it excluded most women, minorities, anyone who worked in agriculture, nurses, hospital workers, domestic service workers, and more. They came back several times to improve these bills as we can and will do so, with the healthcare bill, if we not only keep but also strengthen the democratic majority.
President Obama may not be all that we thought he was, then again he may be more, but he is all we have and probably the best that we will get in our lifetime. He needs our constructive criticism and our support, as he is a good man in a bad system.
If you want to attack why not go after the system itself? A movement to get publicly financed elections and remove the money from politics would be a good start. Let’s go after this 60-vote rule in the Senate that has given us a government where the majority loses and a minority of one can win.
The Rolling Stones once sang, “You can’t always get what you want, but you get what you need,” let’s not throw both what we want and what we need away.