The Mesopotamians – They Might be Giants

The song Mesopotamians from They Might be Giants, really needs no introduction – enjoy!


Heirloom Recipes

Cooking heirloom recipes connects me with the past. I try to imagine my family member preparing the same dish. I think more broadly about her life and times. Some of the recipes, like the marinara sauce from my great, great grandmother Lucia I have incorporated into my life in a regular way and no longer think of as really unusual. Other recipes however, I am less familiar with and those are really special. For the past few days I have been working with old recipes from my husband’s family. So far I have prepared a batch of mixed-citrus marmalade and batch of bread-and-butter pickles. Both recipes come to me from my husband’s mum Betty, who is now in her mid 80s. These two recipes she says come from her grandmother, and thus are likely mid-to-late 19th Century. Unlike my clan, my husband’s folk were already in North America by that time, but who knows how far back the recipes really reach.

Bread and Butter Pickles

Bread and Butter Pickles

I have done a quick comparison of the recipes for the pickles and marmalade with a few of those available on the internet and am struck by some major differences. The old recipes are robust and full of flavor, whereas the newer ones seem watered down by comparison. The family pickles are all cider vinegar instead of a mix of cider and white vinegar and they have teaspoons more spices in them than the internet offerings. Our pickles have bell peppers along with the onions and cucumbers in the mix to make for a more colorful presentation, and probably to add sweetness after aging a bit. The ones I just made are cooling and pinging on the rack – I can hardly wait to taste them.

Yesterday’s marmalade, on the other hand was had at this morning’s breakfast with fresh croissants and sweet butter and provided a wonderful bittersweet addition to the meal. The biggest difference between our marmalade and the internet recipes is that ours uses much less water to poach the zest and add to the fruit than any other easily accessible recipes out there. We also have limes in our recipe and they are not present in any of the internet recipes.

This experience leads me to wonder . . . what happened to all of the flavor and why?

These are not silly questions really, because with the copycat nature of internet culture the blanded-down recipes are getting endlessly repeated, while the flavor is staying locked away in family cookbooks and recipe files. Enjoyed at home-cooked holidays and country fairs, perhaps, but not immediately available for others to share.

Do you agree or disagree? Do you have any special family recipes that connect you with your roots?

(Words and photo of Bread and Butter Pickles by Laura Kelley)


No Woman No Drive

A song by Hisham Fageeh about the recent protest by women against the Saudi driving ban. Its the funniest thing I have seen in a while. . .


A Little Birthday Snape

My daughter drew this Snape for me for my upcoming birthday. It matches my WWSD bracelet. I know I’m partial, but I think its beautiful that she can just sit down and draw something so fantastic as this.

Snaoe by Miranda Kelley

Severus Snaoe by Miranda Kelley

Its obviously a younger Snape than from the later stories – perhaps Marauder’s era – but still very recognizable. I especially love the crossed lines at the neck and shoulders. These are the elements that pull against each other in the character and never resolve: The unlikeable hero; the surly, prickly man with the fragile heart. Lovely, girl – THX! (HP fan art by Miranda Kelley)


A Titan Character with Galaxy Hair

Titan with Galaxy hair

This is another work of art from my amazing daughter. Her mad art skills improve by the minute. Her original post on Tumblr got 8000 notes in 24 hours. Pretty cool – huh? Two weeks later the post has over 13,000 notes. Attack on Titan is a popular show!


Baby Tigers at the National Zoo!

Once again I am posting a video featuring cute felines. However this video features newborn Sumatran Tigers and their mother at Washington’s National Zoo. So, it is a heroic act of conservation and species preservation in addition to being a film of cute kittens. I can’t wait until they go on public display – I am so there!


Time Travel in a Dumpster

Did you ever do something that transported you back in time and you stood transfixed, reliving the moment? Well, yesterday I accidently dropped my car keys in the large recycle bin in the garage when cleaning out the car. After a moment of transitory Tourette’s, I closed the garage door to dissuade the nosy, unofficial chairwoman of the neighborhood watch society across the street from watching me take a dive for my keys.


American Museum of Natural History (AMNH)

I leapt, head first into the bin, arms stretched out in front of me. As my hands closed around the all-too expensive piece of metal and plastic that starts my car, I was standing outside the American Museum of Natural History watching an old man as he picked through the trash in a large, truck-mounted roll-away. His spindly, old body moving surprisingly easily across the discarded two-by-fours and detritus of broken electronic equipment.

Harry Shapiro

Harry Shapiro

When he became aware that I was watching him, I remembered that he just stood up in his dark, three-piece suit and stared back, without saying a word. He placed his hands on his hips, as he blinked at me through his thick glasses. After a few seconds of silent staring, the old anthropologist intimidated me into asking the inane question, “What are you looking, for?”

“Nothing in particular, but I’ll know it when I see it,” is what he replied as he returned quickly to his work.

Despite the fact that I was edging on being late to my work at the casting and molding studio in the basement of the building, I hung around to talk to the old man. Eventually he threw down a few cords and pieces of wood to me and asked me to help him carry them up to his office, which I of course did. In his office, he had a small spinet piano – a bit tinny, but in tune.

Casting the T. rex at AMNH

Casting the T. rex at AMNH

Later in the day, I discovered that the old man in the dumpster was Harry L. Shapiro, the discoverer of “Peking Man,” founder of this and that and chairman of lots of things. In short, Harry had long been a legend when I was just in college and interning at the museum. I really had no idea who he was as he wallowed in other people’s garbage looking for some treasure. After that day we met regularly for a while in his office “salon” to play music together – my piano to his recorder – during lunch. Eventually, I had to quit his company to concentrate on my casting-and-molding of the Tyrannosaurus rex and other Cretaceous dinosaurs at the museum under the direction of Martin Cassidy, and the rest of my studies and activities.

I had forgotten about meeting Harry, until I dove into my own recycle bin almost 30 years later a few hundred miles away from NYC.

Ever travel in time and space like that?

(Words by Laura Kelley; Postcard of the American Museum of Natural History from Wikimedia; Photo of Casting the AMNH T-rex by Laura Kelley).


Lunch on the Range

I finally had lunch at Range in DC yesterday. . . and it was fantastic!

Range Restaurant

Range Restaurant

I loved the modern atmosphere, and I especially loved the spacious tables with couch seating, and I really liked the accessibility of good food to most folks who pass by. It was a great dining experience without being too elite.

My dining partner and I started with one of the salads from the “cold kitchen”. A little gem lettuce with a bit of Hobbs bacon and blue cheese was delicious. There was also Bryan Voltaggio’s signature corn bread with red-pepper jelly that helped start the meal.

My mother-in-law has a regional reputation for making all sorts of jellies and jams (Kelley’s Jellies) and has provided us with red-pepper jelly for years. The offering at Range was good and would have been passable by Betty’s high standards for jelly.

Kimchi Pasta, Range - DC

Kimchi Pasta, Range – DC

One of our first choices was Kimchi-pasta with scallops. I confess that this was one of my choices and aside from a taste or two, my dining companion steered clear of it. However, I found it delicious with the fragrance and savory nature of the scallops complementing the spiciness of the pasta beautifully. Covering the dish were strips of nasturtium and on the edges of the dish was sea-urchin foam, which deepened the savory flavor.

After the pasta, we had a remarkable dish of cauliflower with white raisins, almonds and za’atar (Levantine wild thyme). It was spiced very mildly and was delicious! I highly recommend the dish to all omnivores, especially cauliflower lovers.
Cauliflower with white raisins at Range.

Cauliflower with white raisins at Range.

We also had a garlic sausage with pistachios that was good. However, just having returned from Georgia, all I could think about were pistachio and pomegranate kupati, and I missed them terribly. That said, the sausage presented were good, if not too fatty like Russian/Polish sausage that likely served as a model for the dish. It is important to realize that sausage is defined differently and provides a lot of different options for serving that in the west. The fat-filled Polish/Russian sausage is only one of many options available.

I also love when dishes are presented simply, as Voltaggio does. I cannot stand when the constituents of my dish are balanced like skilled acrobats around a dish, and Voltaggio keeps presentation to a beautiful minimum to the benefit of his diners.

I love when a chef interests my brain as well as my palate, and Voltaggio does a wonderful job of it at Range. Run, don’t walk to Range, which offers a lovely lunch as well as a dinner.

All in all, Range was an excellent place to dine. I recommend it if you are in DC and are willing to travel to the far NW to have a meal. Honestly, it is worth it. There are lovely twists to the dishes that remove them from the standard offerings.

(Words by Laura Kelley, Photos from the public domain)


The Poetry of Josef Stalin

Stalin's Poems

Stalin’s Poems

I love things that don’t seem to go together. The more the opposites pull at each other, the more I enjoy their combinations. Oil and vinegar; yogurt and soy sauce; poetry and the legacy of the brutal dictator, Josef Stalin.

A recent visit to the Stalin Museum in Gori, Georgia led me to find a small collection of poems written by Stalin. Yes, they were written by him in 1895 when he was a teen, but they also give insight into the basic personality of the boy who became Stalin. He revered and romanticized the moon, he wrote lovely, simple poems about flowers, loved his birth country, wrote an ode to an old man . . . How did the young man who wrote these poems become Stalin?

Although we may never know the answer to that question, the poems offer insight into the young Stalin’s character and mind. Some of his poems:

When the shining moon
Glides across the sky,
Illuminating the horizon
With its sparkling light;

When the nightingale’s song
Echoes softly through the air;
When the flute’s tender note
Reaches the mountain top;

When the fugitive banished from home
Is free to return to his wounded country,

When the blinded cripple
Is able again to see the moon and sun;

Then I, abused, abandon my grief,
And in my poor heart
Reappears hope
For a prosperous future;

My soul seems happy,
And the heart is tranquil,

And yet, will this hope hold true
That overfills me today?

Soselo (Stalin)
22 September, 1895


The rosebud flowered
Entwining the violet.
And Iris awoke
Greening in the breeze

The lark sang its tune
High up in the clouds.
And the nightingale joined
In the jubilant song:

May you prosper my beautiful country
Land of Iberia, blossom and thrive!

And you my studious and diligent Georgian
Acquire the knowledge your fatherland needs!

J J-shvilli
14. June 1895


Our Ninika is old
His bravery left him . . .
How could old age
Take his iron strength away?

How often you could see him
With swift vitality
Swinging his sickle across the valley
Using his vigorous skill.

He piled mountain upon mountain
Of the corn that he cut,
Until his perspiring face
Turned crimson!
And now he cannot even move
His old crippled legs.
He lies and dreams a lot,
Or tells his grandsons stories of his past . . .

Sometimes when a song is heard
From the nearby valleys,
His brave heart
Starts to beat stronger;

He rises up despite his frailty,
Leaning on his crutches
And delightedly glances
And smiles at the boy . . .

Soselo (Stalin)
July, 1895


Move on tirelessly –
Don’t let your head droop,
Disperse the misty clouds,
The rule of the Lord is great.

Send your gentle smile to the land
That spreads beneath your feet,
Sing a lullaby to the icy peaks
Suspended from the sky.

Be sure that someday
Even the deprived and humiliated
Find the strength to climb
Up the sacred mountain
Supported by hope.

Keep shining, beautiful one
Among the clouds as long ago,
Cast your delightful rays
Through the blue firmament.

And I too, will unbutton my collar
Baring my breast to the moon,
Reaching out my hands
And singing a song of glory to the moonlight.

Soselo (Stalin)
October, 1895

(Words, except where noted by Laura Kelley. Cited verse by the young Josef Stalin.)


Faces of Uzbekistan

It is impossible to describe an Uzbek face: Eyes a bit slanted . . . no, round. Fair skin . . . no, café-au-lait colored . . . no swarthy. Their features and skin color are extremely varied because they are such an ancient collection of people from all over the Old World. People who came here to trade on the Silk Road, or skilled laborers, academics, scientists and artists who were brought here by force to do the bidding of an emperor or emir. Turks, Arabs, Greeks, Tajiks, Eastern Asians, Persians, so many ethnicities can be seen here. I wanted to share a few of my recent photos to show you how beautiful or how handsome and how varied Uzbek people can be:

Three Women from Samarkand

Three Women from Samarkand

A Tajik Man from a Village in the Nurata Mountains

A Tajik Man from the Nurata Mountains

A Spice Seller from Bukhara

A Spice Seller from Bukhara

Camilla, A Village Girl

Camilla, A Tajik Village Girl

Camilla's Friends from the Same Village

Camilla’s Friends from the Same Village

A Turkmen Girl in Khiva

A Turkmen Girl in Khiva

An Old Man Selling Chekish in Bukhara

An Old Man Selling Chekish in Bukhara

Woman Resting in Samarkand

Woman Resting in Samarkand

The Silk Road is alive and well in Uzbekistan. Long after the caravans have gone and many of the monuments have turned to dust, it continues to leave its mark on the faces of the people.

(All words and photos by Laura Kelley)