Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Phuket Tsunami Photos

Thai man is swept away by tsunami in Phuket. Fortunately, he survived his watery ordeal.

Photographer Hellmut Issels caught the tsunami just as it happened in Phuket, Thailand. He has posted the photos at his pbase site Phuket Tsunami. Issel's aftermath photos can be viewed at Phuket after the Tsunami site.

[Photo: Copyright by Hellmut Issels@2004]

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Tsunami Times

The traditional view of the tsunami is depicted in attractive Japanese woodcuts, with a quaint charm underscored by their rare occurrence. The prints look nice on bare white walls, next to a simple screen, above a statue of a peaceful Buddha set on a lacquered table, with the scent of jasmine incense in the air. A calm before the storm.

Reality is chilling - 44,000 victims and counting. Is this tsunami a tragic coda to a violence-torn past year or a grim foreshadowing of the next? Let's pray it's the former.

General and kids' information about the tsunami.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Postcards from Los Angeles: Day after Xmas

Hollywood, CA 12.26.04 [photo: d_orlando]

I took the photo on the way home from the folks, while stuck at a red light on Hollywood Blvd. near Highland Ave. I should try and take the same shot at night when the Christmas lights, decorations and winos are all aglow.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Buon Natale a tutti!

Christmas in LA [photo: d_orlando]

We had a wonderful Vigilia di Natale last night. My sister Jo went all out. There were many Italian dishes: the classic baccala con polenta [salt cod in tomato sauce with fried corn mush]; fish stew with calamari and shrimp; and sausage and onions also served with polenta. My niece Francesca made the traditional pignolata [honey balls] and tarali cookies for the first time. She made a great batch. The tradition will live on.

One dish that has become a standard at Christmas dinners are tamales - living in California has rubbed off on us. All it took was my brother's Mexican-American friend's mother's homemade tamales sent as a Feliz Navidad gift years ago to make us appreciate the dish. Soft and warm, with a trace of hot spice normally not found in Italian dishes... well, except for the occasional hot sausage, pepperoni, capocola, and Calabrian-style salami. ; )

Today's Christmas dinner will include my sister's version of my Dad's braciole - a flank steak roast rolled and string-tied around hard-boiled eggs, mortadella slices, provolone chunks, scallion, tomatoes, parsley, breadcrumbs, grated romano cheese - then brown the surface, and place it in tomato sauce, simmering it until cooked. Serving it room temperature is best!

Tomorrow: Fasting.

Friday, December 24, 2004

'Twas the day before Christmas...

... and I ran out of things to blog about. So, I shamelessly resorted to Blogger Plan B, and posted this cute picture of a Santa cat. All together now: "Awww!!!"


Thursday, December 23, 2004

Life is about choices

TIP: When the Hail Mary pass fails, hand the ball to Jesus.

My friend Tina of Wisconsin emailed me an article about the dilemma of being a Christian and a Packers fan during this Christmas holiday. It seems that the NFL has scheduled a game between the Packers and the Minnesota Vikings on Christmas Day. One area minister's response:

“Life is all about choices. When it comes down to choosing between the Packers and worshipping our Lord and celebrating his birth, ultimately each person has to decide it,”
I offered an easy solution. I sent the above photo of the statue of Jesus playing football with instructions to place it atop your TV, thus allowing guilt-free, sinless viewing of the game. Rather than being stuck in a crowded church, don't you think Jesus would prefer to celebrate his birthday kicking back and watching a rousing game, accompanied by beer, pizza and the company of friends and family?

Have a listen to this apropros country classic: "Drop Kick Me Jesus Through The Goalposts of Life"

[The football statuette can be purchased here. I'm fond of the one with Jesus playing soccer.]

[Photo credit:]

Friday, December 17, 2004

Another Italian Christmas Tradition

An Italian Presepio. [Photo uncredited from Internet]

A Christmas family tradition which we brought with us as immigrants from Sicily was the "Presepio" [Crèche or Manger]. It was more than just a Manger scene, my Dad who was in charge of putting it together, went to great lengths to create a complete Bethlehem environment. He would lay out a miniature countryside: spongy shrubs with hunters; fields with farmers; shepherds and sheep on hillsides; a carpenter at his outdoor workbench; a fisherman near a pond with ducks floating on its mirror water. There was a small village, with a cloth night sky and Christmas Star backdrop. The Manger would often be a cave fashioned out of logs or crushed bags (later he would switch to a small, wooden animal stall). My Dad would finish his creation by sprinkling baby powder for a snowy effect (not unlike his last sprinklings of grated Romano cheese on one of his savory pasta dishes!) In the dark, with only the lights from the small village houses the Presepio had an enchanting effect, epitomizing Christmas for our family.

This was important: No Bambineddu - Baby Jesus - was in the crib, it was kept empty till after midnight Christmas Eve (when we opened our gifts) or on Christmas Day - when my Dad would surreptitiously replace a small statuette of a sleeping shepherd atop the cave or stall, with a shepherd shouting the news of Jesus' birth! When I was little it never ceased to amaze me - the statue coming to life! Surely, it was a miracle! The drama didn't end there. For the next 12 days, we children would move three small, multicultural statuettes of the Three Wise Kings (including a camels) a little bit closer to the Manger every day, arriving finally on January 6th - the Feast of the Epiphany - and on that last day of Christmas, the Three Wise Men would surrender their gifts to the Baby Jesus.

For a few years we didn't have a Christmas Tree - who needed one with such glorious theater in miniature? Eventually, as the years passed and we became more Americanized, the Manger scene was integrated with the traditional Christmas Tree, placed beneath it and surrounded by all the presents. It seemed that Jesus' birth had lost something - something in its scale - literally because it was overwhelmed by a giant tree and presents, and symbolically by the new culture we accepted, symbolized the Christmas Tree.

My Mom has saved all of the Christmas statuettes and props. Today she only puts a few elements out, mainly the Manger with its star cast Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus. I hope that my Dad, locked in his Alzheimer's dream world, is recreating the same wonderful, magic miniature world of Christmas that brought so much joy to his children.

Buon Natale, Papá!

[Via All The Grey In Between]

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

A Holiday Warning

How well do you know your shopping mall Santa?

Before you put your child in the clutches of some festively costumed weirdo, you should sit on his lap first, and put him through the first degree:

1. Get a good look at his face, gently tug his beard, if fake.
5. Check Molester Hotline, if he looks vaguely familiar.
2. Ask if he's seen "Bad Santa" or "Powder."
4. Does he think Michael Jackson is getting a raw deal?
5. Check the Molester Hotline, if he answers yes to #4.
6. Ask him if he's wearing a costume, uniform or disguise.
7. Does he believe elves are fairies?
8. Smell his breath for booze.
9. Smell his breath for kids.
10. Tug his beard hard, if #9 is positive.
Seasons' Greetings from Saddam Claus (or is it Santa Hussein?)

[Via All The Grey In Between]

Saturday, December 11, 2004

The Italians of West Virginia Revisited

When I was an expatriate Italian child in Michigan, I developed an interest in all things West Virginian. This odd attraction grew out of living next door to immigrant neighbors from the American South, who like us and our parents, their European counterparts, sought a better life in Detroit's factories.

My West Virginia curiosity was also nurtured then by a Life Magazine article which featured stunning photographs of the state with its green hills and fast moving rapids. The piece spoke of its Civil War history, the break from the Virginia mother state, its provision of tens of thousands of Union soldiers and the heartbreaking conflict between brother versus brother. Its lore was also expressed in wonderful illustrations, recalling images of hauntings and river ghost tales.

After moving to California my interest in WVa waned, until I met and worked with a talented, young filmmaker named Robert Tinnell. Bobby filled me in on what that long ago Life article left out - that West Virginia had been a haven for Italian immigrants - hardworking Southern Italians, Sicilians and Calabrese who worked the farms, and mostly, the coal mines! Our friendship culminated in one lucky New Years Day spent at his folks' home in Fairmont, enjoying a delicious Tinnell family dinner. After the publication of Bob's incredible Feast of the Seven Fishes daily comic strip this year, I wished I had also spent Christmas with his family, especially with his Calabrese uncles and aunts!

My appreciation for Feast of the Seven Fishes goes beyond Robert Tinnell's excellent storytelling skills and comics veteran Alex Saviuk's evocative drawings (since he took over duties as artist, the strip has leaped giant steps forward creatively) - I also enjoy the strip because it captures a reality rarely seen in comics, or movies for that matter: sublimated ethnicity that contributes to the makeup of who we are as Americans, in this instance, Southern Italian traditions in a place that we normally see as the domain of hillbillies, rednecks and blue people - all of which are mass media stereotypes. Tinnell's Seven Fishes helps to dispel those tired notions and clichés - ironically, just as Hollywood prepares to revisit the hokum of a new Dukes of Hazzard!

Feast of the Seven Fishes is also stepping outside of the box in groundbreaking ways, by subtly asking its readers to prepare some of the fish dishes enjoyed by Italians on Christmas. Talk about interactive, this week my mouth watered as I read the beginnings of preparation for fried smelts (if ever a comic strip begged to be "scratch 'n sniff" it is this one! Fish smells, you say? Well, you've never had fish the way Italians cook it. There has been talk of a Feast of Seven Fishes cookbook. Too bad it's not available now. It would make an excellent stocking stuffer. With further success, more Americans will be cooking (and reading) Christmas 2005 the Feast of the Seven Fishes way.

Buon Natale!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

December 7th Surprise

An easy to make, easy to eat breakfast:

Open a carton of pre-washed, pre-sliced Monterey mushrooms. Let them languish in the fridge for a few days until they're somewhat dried up, alllowing for a more intense flavor.

In a microwave-safe dish, place a pat of butter and about 3 oz. of the mushrooms. Drizzle them with some olive oil.

Cover and zap for 1 minute. (All times based on my microwave. Yours may be different.)

Break 3 eggs atop the fungi. Smush up the eggs, mixing them gently into the steamy mushrooms. (Trader Joe's sells these great DHA Omega-3 eggs that have intense yellow yolks, just like the country farm variety.)

Cover and zap for about 45 seconds.

Sprinkle a handful of shredded cheddar/jack cheese mix and stir into the eggs.

Zap uncovered from 30 to 45 seconds, depending on how moist you like your eggs.

Stir, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

For a special Dec. 7th surprise treat, bomb the eggs with Japan's finest soy sauce. ( Kikkoman is an excellent brand.)

[Thank you Anneliese of Northern California for recipe inspiration.]

Friday, December 03, 2004

The Forager

Grape harvest. Photo Credit: Angelo Garro

Check out "NPR: The Forager: Hunting & Gathering with Angelo Garro."

The NPR documentary reminded me of my Dad, who was also big on foraging in Southern California. He would pick wild mustard greens after the spring rains in the San Gabriel Valley; green olives from South Hills homes that only used the trees for landscaping; a laurel tree in the Sears parking lot provided bay leaves for decades; leftover grapes from the Cucamonga vineyards after they were machine-picked; there were sweet prickly pears in the local hills; the oceanside rocks of early 60's San Diego Bay provided all sorts of seafood like mussels, clams, urchin, sea snails, abalone and other tasty mollusks. I remember that he cooked the seafood with fresh sea water claiming that it was already salted and seasoned! There was an endless bounty before tract homes took over the valleys and hillsides, and the coastlines became polluted.

My Dad's backyard garden also provided a great addition to the bounty with fruit that included: apples, 5 varieties of figs, 3 varieties of peaches, locquats, kumquats, sweet lemons (that tasted like lemonade), oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, raspberries, thin-skinned avocado that could be eaten without peeling, custard-like sapote, 2 varieties of grapes, 3 varieties of cactus apples; homegrown vegetables included broccoli, fava beans, green beans, several varieties of squash, including cucuzza; fennel; black and green olives, sweet basil, Italian parsley, capers; and there was also fresh eggs (kept a few chickens for a while), backyard snails were saved and purged with stale bread before eating; rabbits, homemade wine and liqueurs; one year my Dad even crushed his own olive oil! -- All from the backyard of an average American tract home!

Foraging, living off the land and sea, home gardening are Sicilian traits and talents - none of which I inherited. Maybe I'm a late bloomer.

[Thank you Anneliese of Northern California sending the NPR link.]

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The first major broadside against low-carb?

In the news today: Cafes dedicated to breakfast cereal to open across America. You gotta give it to the sugar and carb biz, they're not taking their recent losses sitting on their hands. They've come out swinging hard:

How's this for thinking outside the box: a cafe with jammies-clad servers pouring cereal day and night, topping it off with everything from fruit to malted milk balls, and serving it in "bowls" resembling Chinese takeout containers. It's all cereal. Seriously.

Cereality Cereal Bar & Cafe, which opened its first sit-down cafe Wednesday on the University of Pennsylvania campus, is a sugarcoated - and tongue-in-cheek - homage to what your mother always told you was the most important meal of the day. But she probably never dished out bowls of Froot Loops and Cap'n Crunch topped with Pop Rocks.
Great ploy. If there's anything I miss in my low-carb lifestyle of the last two years, it's cereal! The low-carb versions just don't cut it - too soggy, no crunch.

Cereality was smart to open its first cafe on a college campus, where its student customers are most likely to burn off the carbs and sugar, but I wonder how they will do in other, more adult (and sedentary) locations? Smells like the new Krispy Kreme phenomenon... will Cereality's stock will boom? And will it fizzle in the same manner? It has a chance at sustaining itself, simply because it has more nutritional value than fried donuts.

LINKS: The full story. The Cereality web site.

[Text quote: Copyright 2004 Associated Press; Image: ©2004 Cereality Operators, Inc.]

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