Thursday, January 31, 2008

Saw My First Zune

I saw my first Zune digital music player in the world today, on a US Airways flight from Washington, D.C. to New York. Guy across the aisle broke it out shortly after we boarded the plane. Brown, in a kind of boxy leather case (also brown) with that origami-esque "the future, man, we're down with the future" logo embossed on the cover.

It was an odd and unsettling moment, sort of like rounding a corner and observing a terrible car crash off in the distance, or watching someone walk up on a summer BBQ wearing a heavy wool sweater.

The owner was probably in his late 50s or early 60s. He looked a little creepy in an "international diplomat" kind of way. Almost completely bald, with a neatly-trimmed salt-and-pepper beard. Wore a chunky Sharp digital watch and was reading a John le Carré spy novel when he wasn't listening to music. I am not making this up.

So I guess we can assume that the promotional effort behind this revolutionary product is more or less hitting its target market right in the center of the bullseye.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Spring Yet?

Hats, gloves, winter coats, swings...

Which one of these doesn't belong?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Jon Bon Jonas

Is it just me, or is the new Jonas Brothers video for "If You Look Me In The Eyes" not effectively a shot-by-shot remake of "Wanted Dead or Alive" by Bon Jovi, if you can overlook the 20 years that separate them, the blood alcohol level of the talent and the fact that Bon Jovi rated a private jet while the Jonas boys were apparently stuck touring on a bus.

Seriously, watch both clips and see if you agree. Crowds of screaming fans, arena set-up, triumphant on-stage footage juxtaposed with grainy black-and-white images of tormented band members dealing with the rigors of the road, hand-made signs, hotel boredom, the requisite pre-show stretching. It's all here.

I guess the Jonas Brothers do make one original contribution to the genre... Jon Bon Jovi didn't pelt Richie Sambora with a snowball in the "Wanted" clip. Not that he didn't deserve it, at the very least for wearing that hat.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Ava turned 5 today. We have a series of "friends" and "family" celebrations planned over the next week or so, but kicked off the festivities with a song and a few presents this morning. I really can't believe it's been five years since our "baby" joined us.

We'd gone back and forth to the hospital a few times in the weeks leading up to her arrival. She was strapped in, comfortable and not quite ready to make our acquaintance. On the day we were actually admitted, we had workers in the backyard of our old house trying to accomplish an emergency cesspool replacement in January, which required using heavy machinery to break through about two feet of frozen ground.

After a morning appointment with Gwen's doctor we were told to go home, pick up our "go" bag, and head on in. We called my mother and asked her to come over to watch Madison. When she arrived we rushed out the door, waved goodbye to the crew trying to jackhammer through our lawn and told Mom not to flush the toilet - resulting in a look of unsettled anxiety that might have reasonably led a passer-by to believe she was the one about to give birth.

We knew we were having a girl and had gone back and forth on a name. I liked the idea of Ava. Gwen was pushing Darcy, but the fact that there seemed to be so many Canadian hockey players skating around under that designation - notably Darcy Tucker of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who at the time had recently blown out an opponent's knee with a violent hip-check - was a stumbling block for me.

I was sold on Ava, but have to confess to a moment of doubt when they handed her to us and we looked down at this precious little face. The name seemed a little "big" and sophisticated for the owner of the eyes staring back at us. Gwen had the same feeling. We agreed to hold off while she and the new member of our gang got a little sleep. A couple of hours later we got her back, overcame our reservations, and Ava got her name. Believe me when I say she's grown into it.

Our Ava Bean, 5 today, looking and acting very much like a confident little girl. A little girl whose parents moved immediately from deciding what she would be called to watching five years go by, in what seems very much like a blink.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Aruba 2008

We're back home from another great family vacation in Aruba. I pretty much captured the spirit of the thing in my previous post, but here as a little informal coda are a few blog-friendly photos from our week in paradise.

[A highlight for us every year is a trip to the southern tip of the island, a little man-made lagoon called Baby Beach that the girls really love. You can walk out from the shore for what seems like a football field or two before the water gets higher than your waist. It's also a great spot for snorkeling. Here's a shot of Madison checking out the local aquatic life.]

[Madison and her cousin Jack take on a Lazy River on respective seahorses.]

[Doing our part to build the next generation of Apple faithful. Don't worry, Steve, we've got this.]



[And goodbye for another year.]

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Program

The group wakes up and slowly comes to life. The day begins. Breakfast is addressed. Cereal and milk, egg sandwiches, toast, coffee, cut apples, water and juice. Plans are made. Pool or beach? Which pool? What section of the beach? Scouts are sent forth to establish a base camp and secure lounges, towels, umbrellas.

Suits are put on, sunscreen applied. Water toys, books and other necessary items assembled. Around noon or 1 p.m., after two or three hours spent floating in the water, sifting for shells in the surf, building sand castles or just reclined on a lounge, the siren song of the blended, slushy drink becomes too loud to ignore. The adults order up a round. The kids want the same thing, mostly. Over the course of the afternoon each child will request an average of 3.2 virgin concoctions, which - oddly enough - is exactly the number of sips they will consume out of each drink before it becomes a soupy mess and is abandoned. The adults do not have this problem.

The day rolls into a blissful afternoon. They ring the bell for happy hour at 3 p.m., just in case you've gotten off track. The sun feels warmer now, the vacation more visceral. Dinner is discussed and arranged. Reservations at some place for 6. Or 6:30. 7? The meal is followed by an ice cream cone for the kids and maybe some casino time for the adults. Maybe not.

Wake up the next morning and do it all again. The cliché applies. Another day in paradise.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Where We Are

Let's just say we're not complaining.

More later in the week. Until then, Bonbini!

(P.S., we are still planning to remotely monitor key developments at this week's Macworld conference, particularly Tuesday's keynote.)

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

About A Girl (President)

Sitting in front of the television with Madison last night, watching the early returns out of New Hampshire and trying my best to explain the subtleties of the Presidential primary process to a 6 year old.

At some point during what must have been a mind-numbing array of information, Madison looks up at me with innocently curious eyes and asks, "Daddy, can a girl run for President?"

This is not intended to be any kind of specific commentary on Hillary Clinton or her political prospects, but as a father talking to a daughter in 2008, I can't tell you how great and gratifying it was to be able to point to the screen and affirmatively observe that not only can a girl run for President, but on this particular night the "girl" in the race was winning.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Sunday Sauce (An Ode To Rao's)

This probably should have been the first installment in this new galloping gourmet series, because it's the dish we make most often in our house - almost every week - usually on Sunday. It's an unbelievably simple approach to great and flavorful tomato sauce that was loosely adapted from the marinara sauce recipe out of the Rao's Cookbook.

Before we go any further, just a few words about Rao's.

In the mid-1990s, when I was living and working in Washington, I found a jarred marinara sauce from a place called Rao's. It was the best sauce I'd ever tasted out of a jar, maybe just the best I'd ever tasted. I don't remember the exact language on the label, but it said something about being from the "world famous Rao's" in New York, a tiny 100-year-old restaurant I'd never heard of where even "celebrities" waited months for tables.

I kept buying the sauce, and when I was getting ready to move back to New York, securing a table at Rao's was high on the relocation agenda. I called information for the phone number and dialed. Someone answered.

"Hello," I said, brimming with youthful hope and naive optimism. "I'd like to see about making a reservation."

The person on the other end seemed confused, which confused me. This was a restaurant, right? A place where people arranged for tables and food?

"Yeah, ugh, I'm sorry. We're fully booked right now."

I figured there must have been some misunderstanding, maybe the guy thought I was talking about a table that night or something. If "celebrities" could wait a few months, so could I.

"I don't mean tonight or even this week," I said. "I'm moving back to New York and I'd be happy to get a table in a few months, whenever, I just want to make a reservation."

"Yeah, ugh, it doesn't really work that way. We're pretty booked up, and we're not really taking reservations right now."

I was undeterred.

"Nothing at all? For the rest of the year? I'm serious, it doesn't matter how long I have to wait, I just want to have dinner there. I've been buying your sauce down here in Washington (establish trust... assert history of expat patronage) and it's the best sauce I've ever had (throw in a compliment, couldn't hurt), so I want to come in there and have it at the restaurant."

"Yeah, ugh, we're booked."

Eventually it was explained to me that the best (and only) way to get a table at Rao's without a connection to someone who actually had a standing reservation for one was to call around 6 p.m., ask for Anthony or Frank (Pellegrino) Jr. and see if they had any cancellations that night. There are about 10 tables in all, and they basically don't turn over. You sit, eat and stay - that's part of it. And Rao's is closed on Saturday and Sunday. Not the most hopeful of odds.

But when I moved back to New York, I started calling. Every night. Usually I spoke with Anthony, sometimes Frank Jr. The conversations were short and always ended with the same words, "no... nothing tonight."

It seemed pointless, I felt dumb about it, but I wanted this meal, so I kept calling. And calling. And calling. Weeks turned into months. And then, on a random a Friday night, it happened. Anthony asked me to hold on - this was not typical - and handed the phone to Frank Jr. We had a little exchange about my persistence and agreeable nature, and he said, "OK. What time do you want to come in, and how many people?"

What time? How many people?
At this point I would have eaten dinner alone, sitting on a plastic drum in the corner. Suddenly, it was like I was being handed the keys to the castle, at least for one night.

I wound up taking one of my sisters, who lived in the city and was available on short (i.e. "no") notice. The meal was fantastic - great and simple Italian home-cooking, and the experience itself was even more striking and memorable. Just being there, in that room. The Christmas lights on the bar, the photos on the walls, the fact that there were no menus, just Frank Jr. pulling up a chair to tell you what was "good" that night. The bill was scrawled and calculated on one of those green and white "Guest Check" receipts you'd expect to see in a diner, not at a place where "celebrities" waited months for a table. It was a meal I'll never forget, and one that made me want to keep on calling.

Over the next few months I wound up going back three more times. One night with friends, another with my other sister, ultimately with Gwen. We had the seafood salad, the roasted peppers, the lemon chicken, the filetto di pomodoro sauce, the pork chops with hot and sweet peppers. We met Frank Sr. It was tremendous.

After four visits, the dedication to the nightly calls waned a bit. Then we moved out to the suburbs, and the ability to take advantage of a spontaneous Rao's nod basically fell off a cliff. They came out with the cookbook referenced above, a CD of music out of the jukebox and many more varieties of sauce and branded foods. I gather competition is tougher than ever for those elusive cancellations. But I'll never forget the place, and when we make this sauce I still think about it.

Here is all you'll need:

1 large can of imported Italian whole peeled tomatoes (6 lb. 10 oz.), preferably San Marzano variety (We like a brand called "Nina," which is available at Costco, believe it or not)

1/4 cup of good extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion (about 3/4 cup)

5 to 6 cloves garlic (We like a lot of garlic, feel free to dial it back if you don't - or you could just buy a jar of Prego)

2 tsp. salt (we use sea salt)

1. Crush or slice the tomatoes, removing the stem ends and any of the hard internal cores - which are discarded. I usually do this in the sink, cutting/crushing the tomatoes over a large glass pitcher and putting the stems off to the side, on a paper towel, for easy collection and disposal. Reserve the tomato juice that remains in the can. You will need it.

2. Chop up the onion and garlic. You need about 3/4 of a cup of onion and four, five, six, twelve? cloves of diced garlic. Crush the cloves with the flat side of a large knife and then mince.

3. Add the oil to a deep sauce pot on medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for about two minutes, stirring frequently to avoid browning or burning.

4. Add the chopped tomatoes, the juice from the can and the salt to the pot, leave on high heat until the combined mixture begins to boil - this should take no more than 4 or 5 minutes. As soon as you see a boil, reduce heat to low, stir well and leave to simmer for an hour - stirring every 10-15 minutes.

Hopefully Frankie Pellegrino would be proud.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A Recipe For The New Year

No, nothing to do with a resolution, this is actually a recipe. A simple little dish we put together over the weekend that was so good and satisfying we went back again this afternoon, and this time I brought my digital camera.

I guess I'd call this Pasta (Any Kind) With Broccoli Rabe and Sauteed Tomatoes. It takes about 30-45 minutes from start to finish and you will need:

1 pound box of dried pasta (any kind)
1 bunch of fresh broccoli rabe
2 pints small red tomatoes (cherry/grape variety - any small red tomato will work)
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 small/medium-sized onion (about 1/2 cup chopped)
4 to 5 cloves garlic
Locatelli Romano cheese

1. Wash the tomatoes and slice them in half, lengthwise. Put aside.

2. Chop up the onion and the garlic into a fine/medium mince.

3. Put the olive oil into a relatively deep saute pan on medium heat. Gwen got me one of these for my last birthday and we've been very happy with it for everything from scrambled eggs in the morning to this kind of dish. Add the onions and garlic to the oil and saute for two to three minutes over medium heat. You are not looking to brown the onion/garlic, just to sweat them a little bit.

4. Add the sliced tomatoes to the pan and stir to create an even mixture. Season with salt, approximately 1 tsp. works for us, and leave on medium to medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. At this point it looks about like the photo below.

The tomatoes will need to cook like this for about a half hour, so the rest of the steps should be timed to end about 30 minutes after the tomatoes began to cook in the pan.

After just a few minutes they look like this:

When they are close to done, they get to look like this:

5. Bring a large pot of liberally-salted water to boil.

6. Cut about two inches off the bottom of the bunch of broccoli rabe and discard. Separate the remaining portion and rinse well with cold water.

7. Drop the cleaned broccoli rabe into the boiling water and blanch for two minutes.

8. Remove the broccoli rabe from the boiling water and immediately rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process. The greens should still have a little bit of a snap to them. Put aside.

9. Add the pasta to the boiling water. We love De Cecco pasta but more recently have been eating Barilla Plus in a nod to health, and it's very good. This dish seems to work well with hearty cuts like rigatoni, mezzi rigatoni, tortiglioni, penne rigate or even orecchiette.

10. Cook the pasta for exactly one minute less than the box recommends for "al dente," this is important.

11. Put the cooked broccoli rabe on your cutting board, bunched together, and cut across the bunch three or four times - you are not looking for any kind of fine chop on this, or even a medium chop, really just to avoid a large green mound of vegetation clumping together in the pan (and dish) once the cooked ingredients are mixed.

12. Right before you are ready to pull the pasta from the boiling water, add the broccoli rabe to the tomatoes - right in the pan. Add the cooked pasta and toss the ingredients until they are uniformly mixed. Turn off the heat. It should look something like this:

We like this dish with a little bit of Locatelli Romano cheese on top. You could also drizzle a little olive oil on top before serving, and add crushed red pepper flakes to taste. Here is the finished product, and my first attempt at food photography:

Enjoy in 2008! I know we will be.