Tom Claire

Book Review: The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry

October 22, 2011 at 3:57 pm , by

All of us collect things. Assets or debts, memories and mementos, to-do lists and checklists—collections speak to us about who we are and who we wish we were. Our collections define us.
I collect many things—hats (which I wear), books (which I read), words (which I speak). Among the many hats I wear there are several I don at the office. Not too bizarre, considering that most of us wear many—at least more than one—hats at work nowadays. I am associate managing editor, copy chief, adjunct professor, writer, translator, advocate, spectator and audience, reader. And reciter. Reciting is important because there are times when only a poem can speak the thought you want to say with precision, unambiguously, without denial or loss of meaning or intent. A poem is both truth made manifest and “earwash,” a refreshment that is an afternoon or morning tonic as well as a pick-me-up to send the blues packing. Life without poetry would not be worth living. Read more


Perfect Pairing: Two Wines, One Salad

October 6, 2011 at 4:02 pm , by

My wife, Lindsay, has an arsenal of delicious salad recipes, and and as luck would have it, a friend sent over two new wines for us to sample. Each bottle pairs perfectly with the same salad recipe (with one simple ingredient modification). It was so good, I had to share.

Lindsay’s Couscous, Lentil and Blue Cheese Salad
1 cup lentils, cooked
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup couscous, cooked
½ tsp salt
¼ cup olive oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 head romaine or other lettuce
1 lemon, cut into wedges
6 plum tomatoes or 1 small beefsteak, cubed
¼ cup mint leaves, chopped
¾ cup (3 oz) blue cheese, crumbled

The key to this recipe is making it once and then adjusting it to taste, though you might nail it on the first go. Salt and pepper the cooked lentils to taste, having stirred in 1 tbsp lemon juice. In a separate large bowl, add 1 tbsp oil to cooked couscous and fluff. In a small bowl make the dressing: To minced garlic whisk in remaining 2 tbsp juice and 3 tbsp oil and salt and pepper to taste. Then stir the lentils and dressing into the couscous and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Before serving, shred romaine on a platter and stir tomato, mint and cheese into salad, then turn salad onto romaine. Garnish with lemon wedges and additional tomato wedges. Makes plenty for leftovers.

Wine Parings:

2009 Marilyn Merlot (Napa Valley; $30) With a full body and wonderful mouth feel, this wine’s mature red fruit and toasted oak flavors in a well-balanced acidity make it fun to sip, and its dried-herb bouquet invite you to pair it with Lindsay’s salad recipe. It also happens to have a long, smooth finish that mellows to memories of chocolate and vanilla—consider it built-in dessert.

2007 Simi Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma; $25) This wine’s price is no reflection of its quality: It drinks like a $100 bottle and it makes a bold statement, showing aromas of red cherry and blackberry with hints of licorice, toasted oak and spices and its palate offers more of the same, plus generous vanilla and caramel in a long finish. This is (need I repeat?) a big, bold, strapping wine.

To pair the Simi Cabernet Sauvignon with the salad recipe above, stir some cooked cubed ham or cold cooked bacon bits in before serving. The reason for larding up the salad is to add to the welcoming viscosity of the cheese—it gives the wine’s acidity something to balance out. Just add fresh baguette slices for a complete meal.


Dishing It: Carrot-Sweet Potato Soup

February 7, 2011 at 5:18 pm , by

There is something special about a hot, thick, body- and soul-warming soup, especially on frigid winter days when your house is surrounded by more than four feet of snow and ice and your roof carries almost as much—plus icicles everywhere. Yep, when it is so cold that even pets don’t want to go outdoors, that is the time for something like the Carrot-Sweet Potato Soup featured in “Slow-Good Soups” in our February 2011 issue (page 124). Truth be told, this numbered among the easiest soups I have ever made, and my wife, Lindsay, would rank its degree of preparation for beginning cooks. But on the scale of satisfaction (more on that in a moment) it definitely merited a perfect 10.

Preparation: We followed the recipe to a tee except we used two Knorr vegetable bouillon cubes in lieu of chicken broth (we eat no meat) and we had only dark honey purchased locally in Fairfield County, Connecticut, so we used that (not clover honey). And since we had our woodstove cranked up the entire weekend, we decided to slow-cook this soup on top of it instead of in a slow cooker. Why not? That was how our forebears used to make dishes like this, and we had all day long to let it heat.

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In Praise of Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

January 24, 2011 at 11:33 am , by

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Amy Chua, a law professor at Yale and hardworking mother of two teenage daughters (her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, also teaches law at Yale and writes suspense novels), has sparked a giant controversy in publishing her memoir-cum-parenting book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (The Penguin Press; $25.95; 2011). The crux of the brouhaha: Which parenting paradigm works better, the traditional American model, which proposes that parents let their children discover what they naturally excel at and then help them achieve success at it while preserving the kids’ all-important “self esteem,” or Chua’s “Asian” model, in which parents push their children to perform tasks that the parents decide are worthwhile with 110 percent of their ability to the exclusion of seemingly self-indulgent activities such as sleepovers and after-school drama clubs? Chua asserts that her Chinese parenting methods work better, and that the United States is on the road to failure because we don’t push our children hard enough, far enough, fast enough. The numbers seem to support her: According to a report from the U.S. Department of Labor, Asian-American high school graduates have the highest college enrollment rate, at 92.2 percent. Read more


Claire Robinson’s Spicy Pecan & Parmesan Cheese Straws

January 12, 2011 at 8:32 am , by

IMG_3435Here is a super-simple tasty appetizer sure to please just about everyone—these cheese straws are tasty and so odiferous that guests will follow their noses to the platter you serve them on. My wife, Lindsay, and I would rate the difficulty level of prepping this recipe as “beginner.” (The recipe is from “Super-Simple Appetizers” in LHJ‘s December 2010/January 2011 issue.) After all, how could you go wrong with one of Claire Robinson’s recipes? They are classic. All you really need apart from the ingredients and a 400°F oven are a clean work surface, a baking sheet with parchment and a rolling pin (see photos below). And if you can lay your hands on a tapered French rolling pin, so much the better, as it will give you greater control of the dough as you roll it out. This holds for any dough you roll, from bread dough for baguettes to piecrust for Mom’s Very Best and Tastiest Apple Pie (the one that has shredded Cheddar cheese incorporated into the dough and a tablespoon of Calvados added to the filling 10 minutes before retrieving the pie from the oven).

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New Year’s Eve Bubbly

December 29, 2010 at 8:26 am , by

4 bottle shotCome New Year’s Eve, many of us look forward to toasting the new year (and all our well-planned resolutions) with a bottle or two of Champagne shared with friends and loved ones. A lot of us look for inexpensive or more reasonably priced sparkling wine alternatives both for the new year and to enjoy throughout the year for special occasions.

So I was happy to discover a flavorful set of sparklers from Georgia (the country, not the state) that are truly food friendly and very affordable: Bagrationi has been producing effervescent wines for a century and a quarter. Four are widely available in the United States: Bagrationi 1882 Classic Brut (look for citrus notes and a dry finish; $10–$14), Bagrationi 1882 Classic Extra Dry (citrus and melon flavors, very dry with a long finish; $10–$14), Bagrationi 1882 Reserve (complex peach and pear flavors with dry finish; $20–$26) and Bagrationi 1882 Royal Cuvée (regal citrus and melon with pear and extra-long finish; $35). At prices like these you won’t have to cash in any CD’s to afford them. And they are amazingly food friendly, whether served with hors d’oeuvres (any type of cheese and cracker, even fresh fruit), an entrée or dessert (think fruit and chocolate). Look for them in your wine store’s champagne or country section or log on to Bagrationiwines.com for more info. Cheers!


Dishing It: Ina Garten’s Wild Rice Salad

November 3, 2010 at 9:07 am , by

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This salad recipe (which ran in our November 2010 issue on page 150) intrigued my wife and me for several reasons, not least among which is that it seems to provide a wonderful side dish for many occasions. It would support any number of main dishes no matter the season and might very well stand on its own as the main event at a luncheon at any time of year—pair it with fresh-baked baguettes and the right complementary wine and no guest would go unsatisfied or underfed.

The recipe is not only a breeze to make but fun as well. This is the sort of recipe that any beginning chef ought to be able to master because its steps are so clear and its success is all but guaranteed. That said, it is also the sort of recipe that any pro should be able to make since its flavors are extremely complex: This Wild Rice Salad is as hearty and crunchy, owing to its rice and nuts and grapes, as it is subtle, owing to its varied sweet-salt-acid palate. To say that it is a wild ride on a thrilling roller coaster would be no exaggeration, for its flavors keep unfolding the longer you sample it. But first, here is how its assembly went.

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Indeed, the only time-consuming part to this recipe (other than eating it, of course) is cooking the rice. Wild rice takes nearly an hour to prep (unlike the mere 20 minutes that white rice takes). After that, assembly is straightforward: You add the oranges to the cooled rice, then the olive oil, orange juice, raspberry vinegar, grapes (we used green per the recipe but you could also use Thompson Seedless or any other variety‚ even Concord), pecans, dried cranberries, scallions, salt and pepper. But forget about waiting 30 minutes before sitting down to eat this luscious salad. If you can wait 30 minutes you are either not hungry or your nose is not working. Read more


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