Is 82″ Big Enough?

For $2600 Andy and I can get a Samsung 82″ TV at Best Buy. For $200 to $400 – and possibly much more – we can buy 2 tickets for a Broadway musical. For $25 – or less- we can get 2 tickets to our favorite movie theater (The Summerfield Cinemas in Santa Rosa, CA).

What do you think? An ad for the 82″ Samsung

Why the dilemma? We’re deep into watching past and present musicals and wondering if our 40″ TV will provide the proper experience.

Why musicals? Perhaps it was the TV/movie theater release of In the Heights. Maybe it was the release of the new musical/comedy TV series, Schmigadoon – a parody, obviously, on the 1947 Broadway musical Brigadoon. Or was it that having just watched Daveed Diggs in the movie Blindspotting, we were reminded of his role as Thomas Jefferson in the musical Hamilton? More than likely it’s because we’re looking forward to a return visit to Brooklyn in the very near future and wondering what NYC musical we’ll be able to see (and afford).

As part of this research, we decided the other night to watch Brigadoon on our 40″ Samsung TV (which recently replaced our old 26″ Samsung TV). The movie was released in 1954, so Andy and I were 11 and 10 years old – and I’m sure we must have seen it then. I would have gone to the Aggie Theater in Fort Collins, CO, and I’m guessing it was pretty awesome to see such a romantic (if schmaltzy) musical.

Fort Collins, Colorado’s College Avenue and the Aggie Movie Theater, circa 1950’s. Attack, the movie then showing, was released in 1956.

Brigadoon, Schmigadoon.In the Heights, and then ???? Will there be a parody of In the Heights released around 2090? And what might it be called? A fun thought-game for your next free moment.

After an aborted attempt to get HBO Max just to watch the Lin-Manuel Miranda production – and an unenthusiastic response on our part to the TV trailers for In the Heights, and after I fell asleep in the middle of Brigadoon, I’m convinced that musicals – to be enjoyed to their fullest – must be on the big screen or best of all, live, in a theater. Better yet – on Broadway or in London!

Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse in Brigadoon. I stayed awake through this scene.

When I was talking to Andy about seeing musicals in person, he quickly reminded me about the time we saw the anti-Vietnam musical Hair in San Francisco; it was a logical jump from that to today’s Andy’s Corner…about a very funny/sad Vietnam experience Andy had.

And – looking forward instead of back – what can we look forward to in New York this year? How about Girl from the North Country with vintage songs from Bob Dylan? It’s re-opening in October after being forced to close the Broadway production a month after opening because of COVID. It’s almost eerie to read what Ben Brantley wrote in his glowing NYTimes review of the production in March of 2020 – that most ominous month:

A nation is broken. Life savings have vanished overnight. Home as a place you thought you would live forever no longer exists. People don’t so much connect as collide, even members of the same family. And it seems like winter is never going to end.

Sounds like the perfect uplifting and upbeat pray-that-it’s-post-Covid musical! But how can we resist Bob Dylan? And, when you read more of Brantley’s review, you may be standing in line at the box office with me!

Yet while this singular production, which opened on Thursday night at the Belasco Theater under McPherson’s luminous direction, evokes the Great Depression with uncompromising bleakness, it is ultimately the opposite of depressing. That’s because McPherson hears America singing in the dark. And those voices light up the night with the radiance of divine grace.

And now back to food. The purported subject of this blog. In honor of the amazing Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose Hamilton AND In the Heights Andy and I were both fortunate enough to see on Broadway, we have two Puerto-Rico inspired recipes – Ropa Vieja and Natillas. When I find some unique and d-lish recipes from “The North Country” – Dylan’s home state of Minnesota – I’ll include them. 🙂

Ropa Vieja

Ropa Vieja

Recipe adapted from Food52.com

  • 2 lbs beef flank steak – or chuck roast or skirt steak
  • Diamond kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • large green bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • large red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 large yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp Accent (optional)
  • 1/2 c dry white wine
  • 1 c beef or chicken broth
  • 14 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 T tomato paste (optional)
  • 3/4 c pimiento or manzanilla Spanish olives, sliced 
  • 1-2 T red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 c chopped parsley
  • White rice and black beans (ideally Colonel Font’s black beans – but canned black beans work too) for serving

Generously season the beef with salt and pepper, using about 1 tsp Diamond kosher salt per pound of beef and generous amounts of pepper.

In a large pot over high heat, warm the oil. Cook the beef, turning occasionally, until brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate.

In the same pot over medium heat, cook the onion and peppers, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes, until caramelized. Add the garlic, cumin, paprika, oregano, and Accent. Cook, stirring, about 1 minute, until fragrant. Add the wine and broth and tomatoes and tomato paste and bring to a simmer.

Return the beef to the pot. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 2 to 3 hours, until the beef is fork-tender.

Transfer the beef to a plate and shred. Return the shredded beef to the sauce.

Stir in the olives. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes to thicken.

Stir in the vinegar and parsley; season with salt and pepper. Serve over rice with black beans along side.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

Natillas – Spanish Custard – for dessert

Natillas (Spanish Custard)

We usually halve this recipe and have plenty for 4, since it’s very rich and small portions are in order. A less rich version with milk instead of cream – and with cornstarch used as a thickener – is more traditional, but we’re crazy about this one.  Recipe adapted from Epicurious.com

  • 1 quart heavy cream
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 6 large eggs
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 1 T vanilla 
  • ground cinnamon

In a saucepan, combine the cream and cinnamon sticks and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low, and cook gently for about 10 minutes, until the cream is well infused with the cinnamon. 

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and vanilla until they are well mixed.

Take about a cup of the warm cream/cinnamon mixture and very gradually add it to the egg/sugar mixture, whisking constantly.  Then slowly whisk that back into the pan with the remaining cream.  Over medium heat, cook and stir the  custard until it has thickened.  You can test this by dipping your spoon into the custard and then running your finger through it. If the line made by your finger stays, the mixture is properly thickened.   When thickened, remove from the heat and let cool.

After cool, refrigerate the natillas for at least 4 hours.  When ready to serve divide it among six to eight custard cups. Serve the natillas sprinkled with cinnamon.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

“Your Most Perfect Food Is Your Sandwich”

Can we be “PC” and yet agree with Archie Bunker on one thing? For example, what if you (maybe secretly) agree with Archie when he remarked to his son-in-law, aka Meathead, “your most perfect food is your sandwich”?

Because everything you got in there.
You got in there, your meats is there,

your cheese is there, your
tomato sauce is in there.

Delicious bread on the top,
delicious bread on the bottom.

You take a bite of that and everything
is all nice and mixed up there.

And it goes down, all
mixed, see, with each bite,

And is it good.

I gotta have a
sandwich, Meathead.

from “Archie’s Weighty Problem” 1976

As you all know, All in the Family – consistently ranked as one of the best comedy series ever – was pretty controversial. CBS even went so far as to issue this statement before the opening episode: All in the Family “seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices, and concerns. By making them a source of laughter, we hope to show—in a mature fashion—just how absurd they are.”

Wikipedia states: The show broke ground in its depiction of issues previously considered unsuitable for a U.S. network television comedy, such as racism, antisemitism, infidelity, homosexuality, women’s liberation, rape, religion, miscarriages, abortion, breast cancer, the Vietnam War, menopause and impotence

That’s a pretty all-encompassing list of controversial topics!

I have a 1971 copy of Edith Bunker’s All in the Family Cookbook. While I don’t think you’d likely drool over the recipes in the sandwich chapter (highlights include a Sardine Salad Sandwich, a Liverwurst Swiss Cheese Sandwich, and a Leftover Fish Sandwich), I think most of us would admit to liking Archie’s favorite – a Sub (or a Hero, as Archie calls them) now and then.

Andy has a copy of Bee Wilson’s Sandwich, a Global History. Wilson’s description of a meatball hoagie would be right up Archie’s alley. The Argentinian choripán sandwich not so much. You can read much more about sandwich history in today’s Andy’s Corner.

Speaking of Hoagies and Heroes and Subs makes me think of the sandwich our Sonoma friend recently tried to replicate – the amazing Submarine sandwich she eats at Tagliaferri’s Delicatessen in Novato, CA. The sandwich she put together for us was delish! Archie would surely approve. We’ve got the recipe featured below. Plus, we’ve got two other perfect sandwiches – guaranteed to set Archie off on a rant but sure to please today’s sandwich eaters – a Vietnamese Banh Mi and a Mexican Cemita Milanesa.

OMGI gotta have a sandwich, Andy!

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BluesFreeBerries

Now that the Pandemic is/may be almost over (wishfully, possibly, hopefully), we can go back in our thoughts to Christmas 2020. At that time I couldn’t even mention the word “blue” – because it just brought tears. I know I certainly didn’t waltz around the house, belting out “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you” along with Elvis Presley on our Sonos.

In fact, I don’t think I did much holiday singing – period. Andy and I and our daughter, Sara – just the three of us – celebrated the holiday together, trying awfully hard to act as if we were tough and didn’t mind how crazy and sad and lonely the day seemed. And how do you plan and cook and serve a festive holiday meal for three, when there should have been eight?

But now we are SO ready for some singing and dancing and cooking – and DINNER PARTIES!. Our son, Travis – who didn’t make it out here in December (our first Christmas in 47 years that we were not with him) – was just here, working from home/mom and dad’s for 2 weeks. It was delightful. And there was lots of singing to Willie Nelson’s Blue Skies. “Blue skies, smilin’ at me; nothin’ but blue skies do I see.”

Lots of blue sky as Andy and Travis bicycled together in Sonoma

While I was thinking about “blue” and thinking about our 1+ year of isolation, I remembered this photo our grandson Moss took of a tile mural on the Harvey Milk elementary school near their SF home. When Moss originally showed me the photo I was moved by the 2 different-colored hands, firmly shaking. Today I’m even more moved by the circle of folks of all colors, holding hands. The emotional impact of holding hands and being close together in a diverse (mask-free) group means more now than I could have ever imagined.

Tile on an outside wall at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy on 19th St in San Francisco

When you’re retired and have free time and love to cook (well, at least love to cook 90% of the time), it’s a joy to have someone new – and appreciative – to cook for. Travis’s visit gave me that chance.

And though I huffed and puffed about Ina Garten when she released her cookbook, Cooking for Jeffrey – thinking that it’s so wrong for women to relish “cooking for their men,” I found myself thrilled to have created a teeny little, personal cookbook entitled Cooking for Travis. I relied on some of our favorite BigLittleMeals dishes – and cooked up a storm. So if you’re looking to celebrate vaccines and maskless faces, any of these will be a great recipe for your first dinner party. Maybe you can even hold hands before eating – and say (deep breathing), “THANKS.”

Pictures above show a few of our Cooking for Travis meals – the links below are for these recipes and several more that we fixed.

Turkey Chili
Sopa de Lima with Corn Salsa
Roasted Chicken Thighs with New Potatoes
Sweet and Sour Fish
Mediterranean Grilled Chops
Albondigas (Mexican Meatballs)
Greek Pastitsio
Zucchini and Mint Turkey Burgers with Sumac Sauce
Grilled Tri-Tip Steak with Ginger and Soy
Easy Carnitas

Andy, too, helped contribute to the cookbook for Travis. It’s impressive when a father can talk about what he cooks for his children. In addition to Andy’s 5:30 am prep work – Deb’s Granola put out, blueberries dished up and strawberries cut up, yogurt on the table – Andy did some tasty grilling and made some impressive breakfast dishes – biscuits, breakfast burritos, plattar and sour dough waffles, to name a few. The one thing Andy didn’t get around to making is Oyster Stew. He’s big on oysters at the moment, as you’ll see in today’s Andy’s Corner. And an Oyster Stew recipe is sure to be forthcoming.

As for BluesFreeBerries – or Blueberries, if you’re not just coming out of a pandemic – here are two new recipes to try. You need to seek out the best organic blueberries you can find – and not get discouraged if you bring home a few boxes that don’t live up to your expectations. In fact, I recommend keeping your best berries to eat fresh and unsugared with your granola, since blueberries are considered a “superfood”- good for your heart, your skin, your bones, you name it. Then use your not-amazing-but-still-good blueberries for baking.

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Waffling Over Waffles

My mom’s 1950s-era Sunbeam waffle iron has moved with us from Fort Collins, Colorado, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and to Glen Ellen, California. It still works. And it’s still a warm (literally and figuratively) reminder of a very special mother and her cooking.

But, of late, it’s been displaced in our kitchen by a Hamilton Beach Flip Belgian Waffle Maker with Non-stick Removable Plates, Browning Control, and Drip Tray.

It’s been a bittersweet decision. And we’ve waffled about it.

waffle (n): kind of batter-cake, baked crisp in irons and served hot,” 1744, from Dutch wafel “waffle,” from Middle Dutch or Middle Low German wafel, from Proto-Germanic *wabila- “web, honeycomb”   Waffle iron is from 1794.

waffle (v.) 1690s, “to yelp, bark,” frequentative of provincial waff “to yelp, to bark like a puppy” (1610); Figurative sense of “talk foolishly” (c. 1700) led to that of “vacillate, equivocate” (1803), originally a Scottish and northern English usage. Late 17c. Scottish also had waff “act of waving,” variant of waft, which might have influenced the sense.

(thanks to The Online Etymology Dictionary for that definition help)

Marie Kondo can preach about decluttering – but maybe the harder part is figuring what to do with what’s been decluttered.

What do I do with my mom’s waffle iron? Post it on NextDoor or Facebook Marketplace? Sell it on eBay? Put it in front of our house with a “free” sign? Give it to the Goodwill (which in our area has become pretty selective!)? Search for a needy person or grateful friend to bestow it upon? OR just keep it, tucked away, in hopes that one of our offspring will find it at some later date and treasure it?

There’s a fun website – and NYC store – with vintage toasters and waffle irons that have been refurbished (and sell for lots of $$!). It’s ToasterCentral.com, should you be in the market for one. Unfortunately, the owner doesn’t want to buy old toasters and waffle irons, so I’ll cross that off the list of possibilities for riddance.

I just learned about the Buy Nothing Project after reading the comments made on this recent NYTimes article about decluttering; admittedly, I feel a little out-of-touch that I’d never heard of it before. According to their website, two friends from Bainbridge Island, Washington, started the project in 2013. According to “BuyNothing 101″…

BuyNothing offers people a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide gift economy network in which the true wealth is the web of connections formed between people. We believe that communities are more resilient, sustainable, equitable, and joyful when they have functional gift economies.

My first reaction to the name – the BuyNothingProject – was “I can’t do that! I LOVE to buy things.” But after reading a little more, it appears I don’t have to quit buying to be a part of the group. Maybe I just need to cut back, which isn’t such a bad idea.

BuyNothing continues:

Rethinking consumption and refusing to buy new in favor of asking for an item from a neighbor may make an impact on the amount of goods manufactured in the first place, which in turn may put a dent in the overproduction of unnecessary goods that end up in our landfills, watersheds, and our seas. It most certainly creates connections between people who see each other in real life, not just online, leading to more robust communities that are better prepared to tackle both hard times and good by giving freely.

Andy – ever and always the social scientist – wonders how many manufacturing jobs will be lost if we all start cutting back on our purchases. There’s never an easy answer, is there!

As for our waffling over which kind of waffle we prefer, Andy decided to focus on the kind of waffle he really finds yucky. In fact, today’s Andy’s Corner focuses on how one person’s yucky food is another person’s yum food.

Our current yummy Belgian waffle recipe makes use of Andy’s sour dough starter, which is a good thing, since the sour dough bread-making around here has gone missing. What a relief that we found something else to do with that starter. If you don’t have sour dough starter and don’t have a friend to get some from free – and you don’t want to buy it or make it, try our favorite Buttermilk Waffle recipe, which comes from the 1989 New Basics Cookbook and uses the traditional waffle iron – or try Emeril Lagasse’s Belgian Waffle recipe, another favorite of ours.

If you find yourself waffling over whether or not to buy a waffle iron, think about your local BuyNothingProject (here’s a list of the USA groups and be aware that the Project is transitioning away from Facebook to their own App). Perhaps a neighbor is decluttering and wants a home for their used waffle iron. Think of the rewards: there’s less stuff in the landfill, you make a new neighborly friend, they declutter, and you get a free waffle iron. It’s a win win situation. No waffling necessary.

Meanwhile, I wish I could send off my vintage Sunbeam waffle iron to the British artist Joe Rush, who uses old metal items in his sculptures. His most famous work, done with recycled electronic items, must be the recent Mt. Recyclemore, depicting the 2021 attendees at the G7 Summit. What a way for metal to go! That’s Biden, BTW, on the right. The one on the far left is a gimme, if you look at the hair!

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Neanderthals

I’m a little obsessed with Neanderthals at the moment. Maybe it’s because I read that they may have died out because of “inability to adapt to climate change” (scary!); maybe it’s because Biden made news for referencing them – or maybe it’s because my 23 and Me results show that I’ve got more Neanderthal DNA than 95% of their customers.

Whatever. I knew little about Neanderthals until my interest was tweaked these last few months. And now I can’t get enough of them. Of course, I have a great curiosity about their eating habits. It seems that in the last few years scientists studying these hominids (I had to look that term up) have gone from considering them meat-eaters to realizing that they ate much more, depending upon where they were living.

Here’s a quote from Richard Wangham, a Harvard biological anthropology professor:

These lovely new data on fecal sterols confirm what many people have been increasingly thinking, which is that something is wrong with the inference that Neanderthals were 100 percent carnivores…In the end it would not be surprising to find that Neanderthals show little difference from sapiens in their diet composition.”

Wow. “Lovely new data on fecal sterols” is not quite the wording you’d expect! 🙂 Wangham is responding to new findings from a MIT study about vegetable-eating Neanderthals.

Apparently, scientists gain much of their knowledge not only from fecal sterols – but also from teeth and plaque – and their ability to do that using ancient DNA analysis has markedly improved in the last 20 years. Today in Andy’s Corner you’ll find Andy focusing on a 1956 anthropological study that also includes teeth. Surely you’ve heard of the human group called the Nacirema? Ha!

Research published in 2017 in Nature.com compared plaque DNA from Neanderthal remains found at the El Sidrón cave in Spain and the Spy cave in Belgium. The analysis shows that whereas Spy Neanderthals apparently ate woolly rhinoceros and wild sheep, El Sidrón’s residents foraged for plants. More specifically, El Sidrón’s residents – over 50,000 years ago – were dining on mushrooms, moss, and pine nuts.

Even more recently scientists announced the discovery of the remains of 9 Neanderthals near Rome, Italy. According to The History Blog, given the condition of their teeth, these early humans apparently “foraged for cereals.” Can someone help me here? How do you forage for cereal?

Barley grains were found in the teeth of a Neanderthal

Before we get to our recipes, here’s a 2021 North Carolina State U video which fits our theme beautifully. It’s a little hard to know if it was tongue-in-cheek or dead serious. The title? Eat Prey Run – A Neanderthal Cook-A-Long!

Given all this info on my ancestors, I thought a vegetarian dish of mushrooms and pine nuts seemed perfect (note: I chose to pass on including a wooly rhinoceros recipe or a moss recipe). The recipe also has some pasta (made with cereal grains AND coming from Italy) to make this even more relevant! Yes, I know pine nuts are expensive, but you use so few of them at a time that it’s not as spendy as it may seem. Plus, the left-over nuts will keep well in the fridge.

Though we know now that the Neanderthals dry-roasted and boiled plants, I don’t believe there is any indication – at least not yet – that the Neanderthals baked cookies with their pine nuts. Nonetheless we’re offering up a delicious pine nut cookie recipe. Savor your family’s historical ingredients, if not their cooking techniques.

And if you too have a relatively hefty amount of Neanderthal DNA (fact check: no one living today has more than a minuscule amount when looking at the big DNA picture) – and you want to know more about your kin – here’s a brief, helpful overview published by The Smithsonian.

Mushroom and Pine Nut Pasta

Mushroom and Pine Nut Pasta

Adapted from Elizabeth Minchilli.com

  • 1 1/2 lb mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 T olive oil
  • salt and pepper (about 1 tsp Diamond kosher salt should be enough)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch arugula, trimmed and roughly chopped – or use spinach, chard, or another favorite cooking green (I use about 6 c of lightly packed greens)
  • 1/4 c pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/2 c grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 – 1 lb orecciette – or pasta of your choice (note: we prefer going light on the pasta)

Add the olive oil to a large pan over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the sliced mushrooms and let them cook, stirring only after they’ve had a chance to brown for a few minutes.  Turn the heat to low and let them cook until tender, then add the garlic, season with salt and pepper and let cook another few minutes until the garlic is cooked through. Turn off the heat and add the arugula, stirring it to wilt.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain, reserving a cup of pasta cooking water.

Heat the mushrooms if they have cooled off, and add the pasta to the pan with the mushrooms, stirring to combine. Add half the water and continue stirring for another minute. Turn off the heat, add the cheese and a bit more water, and stir well to combine. If it seems dry add more water. Add the pine nuts, and stir.  Serve and enjoy.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

Pine Nut Cookies

Pine Nut Cookies

  • Servings: makes about 30 two-inch cookies
  • Print
Adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook.

  • 8 T (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 c flour
  • 1/2 c toasted pine nuts (note: life will go on if you don’t toast them)

Heat oven to 300 degrees.  Butter 2 baking sheets.  In a mixer or food processor, beat the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg yolk, vanilla, and flour – just until blended.  Don’t overbeat.  Mix in the pine nuts.

Drop the batter a heaping teaspoon at a time onto the baking sheets.  Do a crosshatch pattern on the top of each with a fork dipped into water; press down with the fork to flatten the dough.

Bake until pale golden, about 18-22 minutes.  Cool on the pan for a few minutes and then use a spatula to move the cookies to a rack to cool.  

These little cookies freeze well – and are even yummy eaten straight from the freezer.  Been there; done that!

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.
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