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Le crayon rougeThe epiphany hit me when I finished Wednesday’s New York Times crossword puzzle.

Epiphanies are like that, showing up at odd times, all unexpected-like. Continue Reading »

Dragons AheadLong post ahead, but I was asked, so I’m answering…

To those struggling with what Trump’s America looks like, I’m not shouting “Get over it!” — How long did it take some folks to “get over” Obama’s election? About nine years, it seems. — but I am getting tired of all the memes and posts from the left about changing the electoral college, or about how “easy” it would be to keep Trump out of office if only Congress got together and did this one little thing — I mean, when’s the last time Congress got together to do … anything? — so at best I’m ambivalent about Jill Stein and the Green Party’s efforts to fund recounts of the general election.

That’s at best, and it’s a long road to that ambivalence from where I am now.

Where I am now is: Something doesn’t smell right about it.

Here’s my thinking on the whole schmilblick. (<– Go ahead. Look it up. Have fun.)

Continue Reading »

Post-Mortem

Pup Dog SpeaksI’ve lost friends because of this election. Ironically, none were from the “red” contingent; losses came from my own “blue” cohort. Some partings were my choice. Others were silent retreats taken by the other party, discovered well after the fact. Either way, the losses were not a surprise, given the level of internecine warfare exhibited during the long, arduous run-up.

In the aftermath, though, as a middle-class white male, various outlets inform me that my feelings, my general shock over the outcome, and my actions of support are (depending on the source of the commentary) either embarrassing, ridiculous, ignorant, evidence of white privilege, just plain whiny, mansplaining, or other terms from a long string of unflattering, shameful attributes.

And all this comes from the left. The right, well, when they’re not enjoying the spectacle of progressives tearing at each others’ throats, they’re just gloating. And who wouldn’t, given the massive upset victory they achieved? Continue Reading »

Vote, dammit!!!

Beneath a Wounded SkyFour years ago my ninth novel, Beneath a Wounded Sky, hit the shelves. It was the final volume in my Fallen Cloud Saga, and it was a hard book to write for several reasons. The years since then haven’t been kind, and my writing was relegated not to the back seat, but to the way back (those of you who remember tumbling around in the back half of an old-style station wagon will understand).

My writing output for those years was, primarily, this blog and the poems, vignettes, essays, and short stories it contains. Larger projects have consistently fought my control and eluded my grasp. I’ve started one novel several times. I’ve outlined a screenplay. I did a full proposal for a sitcom, worked with the creative team on an indie film, and spent a month or so researching and outlining a biographical novel of a regional sculptor.

None of these attempts got any traction, though. Rather, they just sat in the muddy ditch and spun their wheels.

Continue Reading »

Gossamer WheelMy father was a painter. Oils, acrylics, pastels, charcoal, pen and ink, on canvas and on paper. By trade, he was a lithographer, but at home, he was a painter, and that’s how I always thought of him: as an artist.

His basement atelier was a cluttered chaos of books and bottles, half-squeezed-out tubes of paint, papers thick and thin, stretched canvases primed stark white, and dusty pots of darkest India ink. The walls around his drafting table were festooned with French curve templates, squares, and straight edges hung on pegs. Teetering stacks of ancient boxes held rapidographs, compasses, dividers, and ruling pens. Old mugs sat here and there, bristling like ceramic porcupines with quills made of brushes, pencils, and pens. I remember clearly the sharp smells of turpentine and linseed oil, and the sound of his artist’s knife scraping against palette and canvas. Sitting with him at the table, it always amazed me how with a few strokes of a pencil he could create an image from nothing, as if he already saw it there on the blank paper, waiting to be drawn.

His was a talent I admired, and at which I occasionally tried my hand. My youthful attempts were… well …youthful, filled with dark melodrama and suffused angst. They were very carefully crafted, highly detailed, and incredibly overwrought.

They were also pretty awful. Continue Reading »

Simple LivingPierre Troisgros is a giant in the world of cooking. This dish — one of his masterpieces — was said to have changed the face of French cookery back in the ’60s, when he and his brother Jean won their third Michelin star.

Like most culinary masterpieces, it is a thing of elegant simplicity…if you have what is needed. Fish stock. Creme fraiche. Sorrel. I will tell you how to make the first two, but fresh sorrel is difficult to find, even in season. I’ll give you a workaround for that, too. See the Notes section, below.

This recipe is not difficult, but it may take you to foodie places you’ve never been before.

Trust me, though. This dish is so worth the journey.


Salmon à la Troisgros

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 thick (or 4 thin) salmon fillets, deboned and skinned
  • 2 cups fish stock (see Notes for easy recipe)
  • 2 medium shallots, chopped finely
  • 2–3 white mushrooms, chopped finely
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 3 tablespoons dry vermouth
  • 1 1/4 cups creme fraiche (see Notes for easy recipe)
  • 4 ounces fresh sorrel leaves, washed and stemmed (see Notes for substitutions)
  • 4 ounces unsalted butter, cut into eight knobs
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Coarsely ground salt and pepper

Procedure

Prepare the Salmon

  • Debone the fillets: Run your fingers against the grain to feel the pin-bones and pull them out with pliers or strong tweezers.
  • Skin the fillets: Place each fillet skin-side down on a cutting board and, with a thin, long-bladed knife, slice just between the skin and the flesh.
    • The skin and bones can be used in making the fish stock (see Notes).
  • Trim the fillets: If you have two thick fillets, using the same cutting board and knife, slice them in half through the thickness (i.e., knife blade held parallel to the board) to make four fillets of equal thinness.
    • Some recipes call for pressing the fillets down to flatten them further, but I feel this destroys too much of the texture, especially if you cannot find high quality salmon, so I say avoid it.

Prepare the Sauce

  • Combine fish stock, shallots, and mushrooms in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook down to a glaze (10–15 minutes at high boil).
  • Add wine and vermouth. Cook down further, reducing once more to a syrupy glaze (5 minutes or so).
  • Add creme fraiche and boil until thickened (2–3 minutes).
  • Pour sauce through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean bowl. Clean out saucepan, return strained sauce to it, and return pan to stove over a medium heat..
  • When rewarmed, add the sorrel leaves and let them cook for about 30 seconds only. Remove from heat. Add the butter, a few knobs at a time, and stir gently to melt and incorporate.
  • Season with lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Set aside.

Final Procedure

  • Prepare serving dishes to receive sauce and fish.
  • Bring a non-stick skillet up to medium-high heat.
  • Season the less-pretty side of the salmon with salt and pepper.
  • Place the salmon in the hot skillet, pretty side down (seasoned side up). Cook for 30 seconds, then turn, and cook for an additional 15 seconds. (Don’t fret, the fish will continue to cook on the plate, in the sauce.)
  • Ladle sauce into each plate (include some of the sorrel), and place salmon (seasoned side down) in the sauce.
  • Serve immediately.
  • Pairs very well with salad of melon (honeydew or casaba), arugula, and slivers of cold-soaked green onion.

Notes

This dish requires three things you may not have in your pantry or fridge: fish stock, creme fraiche, and fresh sorrel. You can easily make the first two and get around the seasonal vicissitudes of the sorrel harvest. Here’s how.

  • Fish Stock
    • Fish stock is quick and easy, and for this recipe, you don’t need much (two cups). I like a very simple fish stock, with few additions. Use trimmings from fish like the skin from the salmon in this recipe, or use the shells you saved from the shrimp or prawns you peeled last week.
    • Take 4–6 ounces of fish trimmings, shrimp/prawn shells, and/or fish meat. Avoid hard shells like crab (they add too much mineral taste) and molluscs (too little flavor). Put it in a pan with three cups water. Add half an onion. Bring to a low boil for about 30 minutes. Strain off the broth.
  • Creme Fraiche
    • You cannot substitute sour cream here — too sour — but you can substitute heavy cream and a last-minute dash of lemon juice. Making creme fraiche isn’t hard, though.
      • Take two cups heavy whipping cream and pour it into a glass jar. Add three tablespoons buttermilk. Stir, cover, and let sit at room temperature 8–24 hours, the longer the better. It will thicken and develop a slight tang. Great over omelets, it’ll keep in the fridge for a week or so.
  • Fresh Sorrel
    • Good luck finding fresh sorrel out of season — or in season, for that matter — and you cannot substitute dried sorrel. Some folks will substitute spinach, but it lacks the acidic flavor this dish requires.
    • I recommend substituting fresh arugula. It adds a peppery/radishy flavor, and is available year-round. Prepare it exactly as the sorrel, but toss with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice after you stem the leaves.

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