Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Lamb-potato-banana fry-up - inspiration from above

Tonight I invented my first truly inspired bizarre recipe. Forget spam casseroles, reinvented fish soups, and Italian-style pastas. Those are mundane. This is, as I said, inspired.

I started with some raw sliced boneless leg of lamb I had frozen. Defrosted it. Chopped some onions and garlic, sauteed them in bacon fat, and cubed two largish potatoes. I added the cubed potatoes to the onions and garlic, with a bit of salt and pepper and rosemary. Meanwhile, I cut the lamb into bite-sized pieces and rolled them in a mixture of flour, salt, chili powder and ground coriander. Threw those in the skillet. Now here comes the inspired part.

I had some red bananas that were verging on mushy. Red bananas are smaller and slightly less sweet than yellow bananas. I took two red bananas, chopped them up and dumped them in the skillet. A bit more salt, some cooking, and a taste. Something was missing. Ah ha, I said. What would I do if I was in South America? Lime juice, I exclaimed! So I squeezed in the juice of half a lime, chopped up some fresh cilantro, which I also added, and sprinkled on some more chili powder, as well as crushed in three more cloves of raw garlic.

Needless to say, I was worried. Lamb, potatoes and...bananas and lime juice? But, let me tell you, this tastes great. The lime juice gives just the right amount of tartness to offset the bland gentleness of potatoes and bananas, and the chili powder and cilantro mesh perfectly with the bananas to create a South American-inspired creation.

And yes, I'm raving about my own cooking. Seriously though, this recipe is amazing.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

White Christmas

It's getting to be that time of the year again - where I can indulge in my weakness for Bing Crosby and cheesy holiday movies. I will listen to Bing Crosby's Christmas album with glee as my parents prepare the Christmas dinner. I will revel in the memories of childhood that are evoked by every song he sings. And of course, I will watch White Christmas with my parents.

I no longer watch some of the Christmas standards - Miracle on 34th Street, while sweet, bores me. It's a Wonderful Life has always be annoyingly sappy and just not my cup of tea. And I simply don't have time to watch everything.

But every year I have to watch four Christmas movies:

1) The Charlie Brown Christmas - given my obsession with the Peanuts, it's quite understandable, and there's just something about that little tree that gets me every time.

2) Bridget Jones' Diary - while not strictly a Christmas movie, it's the one chick flick that I love and it's enough about the holiday season to warrant another watching of it around the holidays.

3) A Christmas Story - what would Christmas be without Ralphie and the fun filled trip down nostalgia lane.

And most importantly:

4) White Christmas - my favorite Christmas movie of all time. I want to cry like a baby every time they throw the surprise party. It is the sappiest, loveliest, most wonderful Christmas movie ever. And Bing Crosby is gorgeous.

Monday, November 28, 2005

I am football

I have finally achieved success. If you google obsessed with football (without quotes), my blog is hit number 8 of approximately 1.8 million. If you google "obsessed with football" (with quotes), my blog is hit number 23 of about 828.

This seems somewhat strange to me. I mean, I do write about football a lot (mostly to sigh and moan), but I'm certainly not a sports blogger. Neither do I have a big audience. Nevertheless, I'm proud of my achievement...and I guess I am pretty damned obsessed with college football.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The American 50s

Am I the only one who watches movies set in the US in the 1950s and marvels at the world it portrays? Tonight I couldn't sleep, so I watched Mona Lisa Smile, a wonderful movie, that nevertheless made me think about cultural differences.

While people in the US were living the American dream, partying, and having the time of their lives, people in Hungary and elsewhere in the Communist Bloc were struggling with persecution.

Mona Lisa Smile is set in 1953-1954. You know what happened in that year in the rest of the world? Stalin died. You know what happened to my family in the years after World War II? My grandfather and grandmother were imprisoned. My mother was sent to live with her grandparents from the age of 3 to 6. In 1953 my mother was in elementary school. She says that when they announced the death of Stalin no one knew what to do and sat in silence - they didn't know whether to cheer or to weep. What did the state expect of them?

So American movies set in the 50s and from the 50s are bittersweet to me. I am American, but I am also Hungarian. And I cannot set aside the legacy of the 1950s that my mother and her family struggled with to embrace the wonderous perfection of the American 1950s of the silver screen.

Remember the world. Remember the people who suffered while Americans drove big cars and lived the American Dream. Remember Stalinism, Maoism and all that followed. Remember that the US isn't all that ever was, is and will be. Remember 1953, 1956, 1968...Remember...

Friday, November 25, 2005

On fake Christmas trees

My father is obsessed with fake Christmas trees. He admires their ability to be shaped as you please to look perfect, that they can be reused year after year, and most of all, that they don't shed needles all over the places. Our old one was getting a bit mangy, however - after almost 15 years of use it had long outlived its peak appearance and had begun shedding needles with the frequency of a real tree.

So when my dad went out the night before Thanksgiving to pick up the cake, my mother was not surprised or dismayed when he informed her over the phone that he had found a demo model that was marked down from $265 to $125. And it already had lights on it. She gave him the green light, and told me to shut up and humor him (every year I whine for a real tree, with real smells and real needles).

And so my dad returned with a plastic Norwegian spruce, to go with the Norwegian forest cats that roam the house. Like the father in the Christmas Story and his lamp shaped like a leg, my dad's pride and joy is his fake tree. You want pine scent? Spray it with pine scent. And every year, he disappears into the basement with gardening gloves on to wrestle with the multiple garbage bags full of prickly Christmas tree bits, emerging slightly disheveled to proudly assemble the tree in our living room.

At this point I know that it just wouldn't be Christmas with a real tree. As much as personal computers, CD players and toasters have become essential parts of our lives, so has the fake tree that never needs to be watered.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

How to appreciate wine

Today I splurged. It's the night before the day before Thanksgiving, all my readings for class are done, and it's been a while since I enjoyed a glass of wine.

So I spent $15.99 on a bottle of Madiran, a French wine that was recommended by the employees at Bello Vino (who are highly knowledgeable and extremely helpful). I described to them the Bulgarian Mavrud and how it tastes - they knew my budget was below $20. And they found me a similar full-bodied, dark-berried wine that sits on my palate and sends warm happy tingles down my spine.

The secret to my extreme enjoyment of this bottle (I sit here typing this as I sniff the glass, sip and swish the wine around my mouth to maximize my enjoyment) is that I've been drinking cheap wine.

There was a point in my life when I thought that anything under $15 wasn't worth drinking. I was living large in DC, drinking great wines, and at some point I stopped appreciating them.

Since I've moved back to Ann Arbor, I've weaned myself down to Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon from Trader Joe's - otherwise known as Three Buck Chuck. It's not bad. It's perfectly drinkable. And it really makes me appreciate this bottle.

When sniffing the wine, I smell multiple layers of flavors - European blueberry, black currant and blackberry. The flavors are magnified when I taste the wine. I have an appreciation for this wine brought on by drinking so many mediocre cheap bottles - where the biggest element in the bouquet is the smell of wine. I'd almost forgotten - wine isn't supposed to smell like wine.

So the secret for those of us who love good wine who are on a budget is to restrict ourselves to really cheap wine (not garbage wine - that's just a recipe for a headache - just cheap, decent wine) 29 days out of the month. And 1 day out of every month, drink a $15-20 bottle. That bottle suddenly takes on heightened characteristics of excellence and becomes a great experience.

Now that I've shared that with my readers, I will return to my glass of wine, and sniff and swish until I'm satisfied.

And tomorrow night, I'm going home with a bottle of brut rose champagne from my favorite Oregon vintners, R. Stuart, to share with my mother. It should be an excellent evening. After all, the holidays are all about extravagance and splurging and what better way to splurge than with good booze.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Michigan 21, Ohio State 25


Thursday, November 17, 2005

Tajik weather - it's paradise

I'm a weather freak. I love checking what the temperature is in different countries around the world to find the perfect place to live. Now, I usually use both for my local and my foreign weather, which is where these reports come from.

Tomorrow, the forecast for Ann Arbor is: "Cold, with intervals of clouds and sunshine."

On Saturday, it will be: "Mostly cloudy and turning warmer; a chance for a rain or snow shower in the afternoon."

In Dushanbe, Tajikistan, meanwhile, the forecast for tomorrow is (I kid you not) - "Sunny and nice."

On Saturday, it gets even better: "Delightful, with times of clouds and sun."

So Tajikistan gets weather described as nice and delightful, while Ann Arbor gets cold and mostly cloudy. Whee!

If only it were colder in Tajikistan, I'd move there in a second - I'd love to have my weather described as delightful.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Contrasts in cold

Today is my favorite kind of weather. It's grey, windy, cold, and for the first time all season, I saw a couple of snowflakes flurry around. The leaves are mostly gone from the trees now too, creating a bleak, flat, and to me, wonderful landscape. I feel like a too-long dormant seed who has finally sprouted and come to life.

I'm a fall/winter child. I'm an ice baby. I'm frigid, frosty, frozen (but not flaky). I love the cold the way some people love warm, sandy beaches. I love the wind, the sleet, the ice, the biting cold that leaves your fingers numb, your toes chilled and your nose dripping. I love the things that come with that - the hot mulled cider (highly alcoholic, of course), Thanksgiving, Christmas, roast goose with chestnut stuffing, gingerbread lattes from Starbucks, pumpkin pie, hot mugs of cocoa with popcorn while curled up in front of a good movie (ideally with someone curled up next to you) under a blanket.

I love the cold so that I can love the warm - that feeling when you come inside after a long winter walk, and feel your extremities come back to life. I don't hate being warm. I just love contrasts and extremes in every aspect of life and there is nothing more wonderfully cozy and hopeful than the contrast of a warm room with a roaring fire with the cold, blustery, grey outdoors.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The seminar of my dreams

Inspired by my classmate Kurt's recent post, here is the course description of the seminar I got into. I have wanted to take this class since I found out about it when I was in undergrad. It sounds phenomenal and I'm so excited to be taking it:

Islamic Law

This course will introduce students to classical Islamic legal theory and some applications of positive law in the Sunni tradition. After a brief review of the seminal controversies that defined the "formative period," and the development of Islamic legal theory, we will examine the interpretive modus operandi of the full-blown schools of law in the "post-formative" era. This will include an examination of such key issues as ijtihad versus taqlid, the madhhab (or school of law), the legal responsum (fatwa), legal ecclecticism, and the issue of legal change, stasis and borrowing. This will be carried out via a general overview of a number of areas of positive law, e.g., marriage, divorce, abortion, child custody and legal procedure. The course will conclude with a look at developments in Islamic legal thinking in modern times, including an examination of some legal responsa (in translation) to some important modern controversies and a few samples of jurisprudential writings of Muslim scholars in the East and West. All required readings will be in English.

I am really grateful that the reading is in English. I would definitely have to struggle were it in Arabic. Not only would I have to learn the writing system, but also the language. And I hear Arabic is pretty tricky.

But seriously - I cannot wait for this class to start. Especially in today's world, I feel that it is crucial to have a good understanding of Islamic philosophy, theology and law. To dismiss the possibility of a political and legal system that is both democratic and Islamic is like dismissing the possibility of a democratic political and legal system based on Christian values. If Western democracy is based on Christian values, why can't Middle Eastern democracy develop from Islamic values?

What I learned this weekend

There is a 50 cent coin. I didn't know this. In my defense, I only moved to the States when I was 15. One of the people I was carpooling with to Chicago was nice enough to give me such a coin. Otherwise I really wouldn't have believed him.

Like all American coin currency, this is a very strange article - it is really big. Bigger than a dollar coin. Like the dime to the nickel, the half dollar is a confusing piece of money.

My weekend was somewhat like this coin (and like a certain Adam Sandler song) - surreal. But like this coin, it was good surrealism since it had value, albeit not quite as tangible as the coin.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Powerful movies (my random recommendations)

Many movies from the 60s and 70s that dealt with hot-button issues of the time are horribly dated. The same goes for movies about contemporary issues from any time period, I suppose. (In general, none of the 80s teen movies make any sense to me - they might as well be from the 16th century - but that's just me and I realize they are quite beloved by a surprisingly large group of usually intelligent people.)

I just thought I'd highlight three movies that I think stand out despite the fact that in some ways they're 'dated.' One of them is a classic. The other two should be, but a relegated to the status of cult classic. And all three, due to something that happened to me relatively recently, resonate a bit more strongly than they used to.

1) Easy Rider (1969). This is an easy one to mention. It's universally viewed as a classic. The compelling story of a couple of easy going counter-culture figures making their way down south and facing the wrath of a society not ready to accept anything that's not just like them is one that still resonates. Sure, having long-hair or riding motorcycles won't usually get you run out of town. But the sense that many southerners don't much like northerners still persists today. And in effect, that's sort of what the movie is about. As well as being about people judging the book by the cover.

2) Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song (1971). The original blaxploitation film (although some argue that Cotton Comes to Harlem is the first, that movie is in fact the first commercial blaxploitation film, while this is the first real one). This movie's a bit hard to understand. The characters quite frequently speak in jive, and it takes a couple of viewings to pick up on exactly what everyone is saying. Much of the plot makes very little sense. But that's not the point. The point is about the man. It's about the oppression of blacks. It's about unrestrained racism, discrimination and police brutality. And the movie's opening shot dedicates it to "Brothers and sisters who have had enough of the Man." It's a very metaphorical movie, filled with symbolism and surreal imagery. It definitely still packs a punch today.

3) Alice's Restaurant (1969). It's time to watch this movie again - Thanksgiving is almost upon us, and this is the quintessential Thanksgiving movie. It's not an intense movie in the way of the previous two I mentioned. But in its sweet, naive innocence, accentuated by the young Arlo Guthrie's almost angelic face, it points out some of the idiocy and some of the beauty of everyday life, where a young man with good intentions gets arrested for littering, and the dangers of hard drug addiction are emphasized in a much more powerful way than most of those awful public service announcements. It's a movie about good people with good intentions and after watching it, you feel like you've just had a great big turkey dinner with the people you love, even if it's the middle of July. Sometimes we need movies that make us feel warm and fuzzy inside, even if throughout Alice's Restaurant, there's the nagging reminder that the cold chill of reality lies just outside.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

He-Man returns (or a Proustian view of childhood memories)


My good friend Sat got me the first set of He-Man DVDs for my birthday off my Amazon wishlist and it just arrived. I'm in some sort of orgasmic zone at the moment.

People who have known me for a while know that I have been complaining for years that He-Man needs to be released on DVD. Finally, someone somewhere woke up, heard my complaints and decided to get their ass in gear and provide me with entertainment.

So now I'm watching He-Man while studying civil procedure, as shivers of pleasure and nostalgia race up and down my spine

As a child, He-Man was far and away my favorite cartoon. I loved the music, the "Power of Grayskull" sequences, and the awesome fantasy story-lines. I even loved the morality lessons at the end of each episode. We don't make cartoons like that anymore.

Watching it after so many years (albeit in English - growing up in Switzerland, it was always dubbed into French - except for the "by the power of Grayskull" bits for some reason, if I remember correctly), I feel like I'm in our old house in Yens, Switzerland. I can hear the piano in the background as my mom teaches a couple of lessons. I can see the backyard more vividly than I have in years. I can taste the madeleines...or am I emoting too much Proust now...

Seriously though. Although I can see how silly the cartoon is now, it's a wonderful feeling to be able to watch it after all these years, and to know that I can watch it over and over again.

Now just explain this to me: how the hell can Adam/He-Man's parents not recognize their son when he becomes He-Man? This makes Clark Kent look a master of disguise. The guy just loses some clothes. He otherwise looks IDENTICAL. He doesn't even take off glasses or anything like that. And does no one notice that this surprisingly similar looking guy, He-Man, has a suprisingly similar looking kitty-cat to Adam's own Cringer, Battlecat?

I'll suspend my disbelief and continue to love the show. Oh, and I'll refrain from equating cheesy 80s tv shows with French literary masterpieces in the future, I promise.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Birthdays and law school

As you grow older, birthdays become less and less of a big deal. That's because they seem to happen more and more frequently.

When you're in law school, birthdays become insignificant, at least when you have more important things to worry about, like oral arguments for class the next day.

Today is my quarter century birthday. Yesterday, my parents came to town to go to a concert with me and have dinner at my apartment. Instead of celebrating, today I'm working on my oral argument for legal practice. This is somehow fitting. I don't remember how I celebrated my birthday last year. I think I was by myself in DC. My parents came to visit sometime around my birthday, but not on the actual day.

I don't think birthdays are that important (at least not to me). Of course, by blogging about my birthday, I'm somehow negating that attempt at keeping it quiet and on the downlow. But I really have nothing else to blog about after a relatively uneventful weekend and a lot of work looming for the week.

Friday, November 04, 2005


I occasionally post exerpts from cases I had to read for class that I find particularly amusing. This particular exerpt comes from a nuisance case from 1963, Pendoley v. Ferreira. Maybe it's just me, but I find the word 'piggery' to be highly amusing.

"Upon the facts appearing in the master's report, the Ferreiras cannot be expected to correct the offensiveness of the piggery. The master has found that the piggery is very well operated. Substantial and effective improvement can hardly be expected in such a piggery. The Ferreiras' difficulty lies in the inherently offensive aspects of any piggery in a residential neighborhood and in the material discomfort which piggeries cause to others."

This brings back fond memories of summers spent in Turkeve, Hungary, a small town with many pigs. On one side of our house was a bakery. On the other side, neighbors who kept pigs. When the wind blew in one direction, we had the delightful smell of fresh baked bread. When the wind blew in the other direction, we had the delightful smell of pig excrement. And that was just from a few lonely pigs - not a whole piggery. Although I don't mind the smell of piggy poo in small doses, I can only imagine that a whole piggery worth of porcine feces would be pretty pungent. And not in a good way.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Tax reform makes for boring headlines

The main page of CNN has the most boring headline ever at the moment, together with the most boring picture ever. This is rather fitting for the subject material.

Headline: "Tax panel wants changes in mortgage deduction"

Oh my God. I can't believe it. Seriously? They want changes in mortgage deduction? Stop the presses. This is bigger than Jesus.


And now for the thrilling picture:


Caption of this thrilling picture: Treasury Secretary Snow with a copy of the tax reform report

Oh boy! Whoohoo! I get so excited when I see pictures of Snow with the tax reform report. And look how excited he and the guy behind him look.

Isn't tax fun?