Friday, December 27, 2013

Alyce's Succotash

I've loved lima beans for as long as I can remember, so succotash is a natural, and now that I'm a vegan it's become one of our regular, and favorite, main dishes.

I use only organic corn because it's the only way I know to make sure I'm not using Monsanto-produced corn, and I'd rather not support a company that appears bent on owning the world's food supply.

Paul likes succotash saltier than I do, so he adds a spray of Braggs Aminos.

Makes between 6 and 7 cups, to serve about 6 people as a main dish depending on their appetite and what's served on the side. I usually serve with a salad or cooked greens, a slice of bread, and fruit for dessert.

Alyce's Succotash

2 bags frozen lima beans (baby lima, or Fordhooks, each bag 16 or 20 ounces, 6-7 cups total)
2 cups frozen corn
2 to 2-1/2 cups chopped sweet (Vidalia) onions
3-4 cloves garlic, pressed
2 tbsp olive oil
1-1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp ground black pepper, or to taste
1/3 cup Earth Balance margarine

In a large saucepan, bring 2-1/4 cups water to boil. Add lima beans, return to boil, reduce heat, and cook 7 minutes (for baby limas) or 5 minutes (for Fordhook). Add corn, increase heat to return to boil, then reduce heat and cook another 5 minutes, or until corn and lima beans are done. Don't attempt to boil the liquid away, it will result in overcooking. Drain, reserving the liquid if you wish to use it for stock. If using a colander to drain, return to the pan so it stays hot.

While the limas and corn are cooking, saute chopped onions in olive oil 5-7 minutes. Add pressed garlic, reduce to very low heat, and continue sauteing until garlic and onion are very soft, another 5-10 minutes.

Fold the saute mixture into the bean-corn mixture, add salt and pepper, and stir well. Add margarine, cover, and let margarine melt. Stir well, and serve hot.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Macaroni Squash Coconut Casserole with Pears and Pecans

I can see that I want to have a food blog, I'm going to need better pictures.

Macaroni Squash Coconut Casserole
Revised from a recipe at, which was good but went in a different direction and the spices didn't seem to quite fit.

I made this for our Thanksgiving gathering of 10, and it was a big hit. I expect to use light coconut milk next time and hope it won't affect the overall yumminess too much.

- 12 oz elbow macaroni
- 1/4 cup Earth Balance margarine
- 2 large onions, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
- 1 15-oz can coconut milk
- 1-1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 1/2 cup dried pears, diced

- 1/2 cup bread crumbs
- 1 tbsp (packed) brown sugar
- 1/2 cup roasted salted pecans, chopped

Boil macaroni in salted water for 7-8 minutes, until just firm, do not overcook. Rinse in cold water, drain well, and set aside.

Meanwhile, saute onion in margarine until soft, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and saute 1 minute more. Add squash, coconut milk, salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer until squash is tender, about 20 minutes.

Add cooked, drained macaroni and dried pears, and stir well. Pour into oiled 9" x 13" casserole dish, or two oiled 8" or 9" casserole dishes. Combine bread crumbs with brown sugar and pecans, and sprinkle mixture over top. Bake until just golden brown, 25-30 minutes.

Small shells work fine, too, if you don't have macaroni. If you've got raw pecans, saute them for 5-10 minutes in a little margarine and salt until they start to darken, then drain on a paper towel before chopping.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The best movies I saw in 2013

Paul and I watch a lot of films. This year we saw an unusually high number of very good films. Here are the ones I can remember.

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Stunning, one of the best movies I've seen in years. It has pathos, humor, and life-sized metaphor. The best movie I saw this year. (1)

Moonrise Kingdom
So quirky that it gives new meaning to the word quirky. Funny and touching, too. I would give a lot to know these kids and see them on a regular basis. (2)

Paris, Je T'aime
Consists of 18 five-minute shorts. My favorite was the one starring Natalie Portman as an actress who falls in love with a blind student. I loved the one featuring mimes as well, its ending was intriguingly cryptic. The final short is funny and touching, about why Paris is beloved.

L'Auberge Espagnole (The Spanish Apartment)
A Romain Duris film, really well written and acted. (9)

Silver Linings Playbook
Very well written, and Jennifer Lawrence is a serious actress with a great deal of talent. (8)

Les Miserables
I never would have thought Hugh Jackman could do this good a job of singing. I don't know why some people seem to hate Anne Hathaway, I thought she did well. I bought this movie, knowing I'll want to see it again, though it's not easy to watch. (10)

Agonizing to watch, and spot-on, based on my experience caring for my mother and watching others care for the elderly. I don't think I'll ever forget the look on her face after getting slapped, it was so true to life and so deeply sad. (3)

Letters from Iwo Jima
Incredibly hard to watch, but brilliant. I don't like Clint Eastwood's politics or what he does on the political stage, and I never understood what anybody saw in Unforgiven, but I guess I've got to admit the man can direct. (4)

The Sessions
I tried to put my head into the head of this therapist, and couldn't. I love Helen Hunt, she's so versatile. I had seen John Hawkes only in Lincoln and look forward to getting to know him better as an actor. (6)

The Intouchables
Wonderful! Funny, touching, perfect. I didn't know while watching this film that it was based on a true story (somehow missed that in the credits). Both men's performances were off-the-charts good. I wound up seeing this a total of 3 times after we watched it twice with friends, and it held up magnificently. (5)

The Kids Are All Right
Annette Bening and Julianne Moore were both excellent, and Mark Ruffalo as well. I've seen both women in very diverse roles, which made their acting that much more impressive, and I'd never seen Ruffalo in anything. A difficult story.

The Butterfly
Charming, can't now remember much about it.

We Bought a Zoo
If it hadn't had such an amazing soundtrack by Jonsi, I might've forgotten this feel-good, fairly formulaic movie pretty quickly, at least if it weren't for the performance of Maggie Elizabeth Jones, who could charm the socks off anybody wearing socks. I bought the soundtrack CD, which I don't do often.

Antonia's Line
Wonderful, am awaiting a chance to watch it again with friends. (7)


In the Just Good category, we saw these as well.

Star Trek: Into Darkness. As a long-time Trekkie, I couldn't get past the obvious continuity errors as this movie rewrote the past. How is Khan suddenly not Latino? They couldn't find a good Latino or Sikh actor to play the part? How does Khan not recognize Kirk and crew when he's reawakened in the original series episode? Etc.

People Like Us. I wanted to see actor Chris Pine in something besides Star Trek, and he did a creditable job in this well-written movie that had only a few questionable character moves. Elizabeth Banks was even better as his sister.

Mozart's Sister. Touching to see how a family might have related in Mozart's time. Sad to see how a young woman's talent was wasted because her brother was so much more talented. Reminded me of the film about Rodin's lover.

How Art Made the World. A well-done documentary series but quite slow at times as he inexorably reaches for the climactic moment you know is coming.

Quest for Fire. Difficult to take seriously at first, but the image that lingers is the face of the male character when he watches someone making fire, a profound moment.

Le Havre.

How To Train Your Dragon. I should've written a short review of this right after seeing it because now I can hardly remember anything about it.

The Rebel. A Vietnamese action flick. Amazing how movie stars can get the s**t beat out of them and still be able to stand up and take some more, isn't it?

The Crazy Stranger. The only Romain Duris film I've seen so far about which I've less than raved.

Paths of Glory. Painful to watch, especially the execution. I watched a lot of movies this year that got me thinking about how I'd react if condemned to death. Why would I want to do that exactly?

All Quiet on the Western Front. Don't remember it much, sorry to say, though I know it's a classic. I do remember thinking that some classics are past their time, too much water has gone under the bridge since they were made.

Rome Open City and Paisan. A trip into WWII-era Italy, about which I had known very little. Very thought-provoking, and some scenes have stuck with me. It would work better to read about these films before seeing them, because the acting and writing are so bad it's helpful to know the context first.

Children of Paradise. See my comments on All Quiet on the Western Front.


Muppet Treasure Island. I've been hearing how great the Muppet movies are for a long time and finally succumbed to renting one. I shouldn't have risked it, this was awful, but the others who watched it with me liked it a lot, so I guess it's a matter of taste.

Iron Sky. Ridiculously awful.

The Serpent and the Rainbow. Absurd.

American Reunion. I really hate movies about American men acting immaturely.

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. The title says it all, doesn't it?

Tarzan, the Ape Man. So badly done it's hard to believe anybody invested money in this. It really should be titled Bo Derek's Breasts, since that's what it's about.

Tarzan. (The Hindi film.) Silliness. Bad production numbers in the deep dark jungle.

The Last Airbender. Painfully bad.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice. (The Nick Cage film.) Weird.


Since I didn't do a best-of list for last year, I'll mention these that I saw in the final months of 2012.

In Bruges. Very violent but fascinating and well done. Brendan Gleeson is wonderful.

Owl and the Sparrow. A charming Vietnamese film about a little girl on the streets of Saigon.

Soooooo good, truly amazing. After seeing this film, dedicated myself to seeing anything else starring Romain Duris, an incredibly versatile actor. I've been trying to think of an American actor who's similar in scope and range and ability to become so vulnerable, and I haven't been able to.

I know a good deal about Lincoln the man and the president and didn't know how Daniel Day-Lewis was going to manage it, but he did a stirring and believable job. I think his body language was better even than his measured speaking. Two images have stuck with me: Lincoln's fingers hammering down on a table while discussing the passage of the anti-slavery amendment, and his hand on the leg of John Hay as Hay lies in bed. I would have preferred someone other than Tommy Lee Jones to play Thaddeus Stevens and someone other than Sally Field to play Mary Lincoln. Both are excellent actors, but in neither case did I forget whom I was watching, as I did with Day-Lewis.

Life of Pi
Not a movie I'd want to watch often because it has so many sad moments, but Claudio Miranda's cinematography is among the best I've ever seen. I guess director Ang Lee likes the magical, some shots reminded me of Peter Pau's cinematography in Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

There's still a month of 2013 left, and if I see anything memorable I'll post a comment.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Facing mortality

As you probably know, if you've read my blog before, or read the essays I've written for the Shadow Work email newsletter over the past 2 years, I took care of my mother at the end of her life and have been grieving, and thinking a lot about grief, since she died September 2, 2011.

Over the past 6 months or so, the grieving has shifted, so that it's far more clearly about grieving my own mortality -- the inevitability of my own eventual death -- than it is about grieving Mom's passing.

That's partly why I haven't been attending the quarterly memorial services held by the hospice organization that cared for her. Although I suspect the people of Rainbow Hospice would say we grieve many griefs at the quarterly service and not necessarily just the most recent loss of a loved one, it hasn't seemed quite right to go and grieve for myself.

I'm really aware of grieving my own mortality today, and frankly, also for the mortality of my partner, Paul. Grief has been more on top since April 8th, when a friend of mine died, but last week put it squarely on top, and I only just realized it today while sitting on the CTA going downtown. There I sat, crying on the Red Line, because for most of last week I was hearing Paul having difficulty breathing, and I've come to associate having difficulty breathing with the end of life. My mother's "death rattle" lasted for 3 days, and I don't know if that's unusually long but it certainly seemed to last forever. My friend Loren Binford's death rattle lasted less than 24 hours, but I listened to it at close range for hours on the evening before he died as I sat in his room at Evanston Hospital. During the afternoon other friends of Loren's, many of whom call themselves Friends with a capital F because they are Quakers, as he was, but the last of them left at 5 PM and I stayed on until 11, primarily to act as advocate since he had no family, until I knew for sure that the hospital was going to treat him as a hospice patient and neither take any heroic measures nor fail to make him as comfortable as possible.

So last week, when Paul had an asthma attack brought on by dust and working in cold air as he helped an elderly friend of ours move out of her apartment, and it turned into a relapse of the pertussis he had last year, I heard him having difficulty breathing, and I think on some unconscious level Mortality moved higher on the list of things I was experiencing. And I didn't realize it until today, probably because he's in the hot climate of California's central valley and on the phone last night it seemed his breathing was finally back to normal, and probably also because I finally caught up on sleep.

I find it difficult to think about my mortality, and Paul's, without feeling some shame. The shame says, That's seeing the glass as half-empty, it's so "negative"; how about seeing the glass as half-full, that you've had a wonderful life and most likely have many more years? Why grieve at all, in fact, if you have another 30 years to enjoy? Those 30 years are going to be far happier than I would have imagined 18 months ago, because I now have Paul, and I can also look forward to my daughter's wedding next year and her eventually having children.

I think the shame has made it harder for me to see that I've been grieving. Shame so often acts like a foggy blanket, obscuring the truth that is too painful to see.

It feels really good to write about it.

There's another kind of shame around this, too, I think. This other shame is harder to hear clearly, so I guess it's still coming to the surface. It's about my spiritual beliefs. Is it really in line with my spiritual beliefs to be grieving my eventual death? It seems ungrateful to the Divine that I've felt so close to at times.

That's all I can hear clearly so far, perhaps the rest will come.

That night at Evanston Hospital, I held the vigil alone, as I'd done for my mother in her final hours, and there's something sad just in that, that there wasn't a family gathered at his bedside hugging each other as we cried to see him leave. I didn't have someone to really grieve with for my mother until a full week later, because the family members who lived nearby don't do grief in the way I do and even believed that they weren't grieving but only joyous for her (and our) release.

Last week I was listening to "The Pilgrim's Chorus" from Wagner's opera Tannhauser, as sung in English by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. As I said to Paul, it was played at my father's memorial service in 1990 at his request, which said he wanted it played loudly enough that he could hear it. When my brother Tim arrived in Glenview, he came to my house, where I was playing "The Pilgrim's Chorus" in anticipation of the service. As he walked in, I said to Tim, "No matter how loudly we play it, he still won't be able to hear it." And we held each other and cried for a long time. That's the kind of grieving I want to do when I lose someone, grieving with complete support. Quakers aren't very emotional as a rule. Loren's service will be held next Sunday, and I'll likely be one of the few crying openly and getting as many hugs as I can.