Happy Fourth!

We’re having a lovely 4th of July, beautiful weather and lots of activity out our front window. Ribs are smoking for dinner, and we’re planning a front row seat for tonight’s fireworks. We aren’t always so fortunate. A couple of years ago the weather was so rainy that the fireworks display was postponed for several days. But this summer is golden…so far…don’t want to risk jinxing it by saying too much! You can never take sunshine for granted in SE Alaska!

We planned to go fishing today…got up bright and early at 4:30 to be ready in time for an early start. But the friends we planned to go with called while we were en route to say that the wind was a little too rough for their small boat..or maybe too rough for good fishing…not sure, not being a boat person myself. So we headed home, unpacked the lunch and extra gear we’d collected and settled in to a second cup of coffee and a leisurely day.

It’s not often we get an extra Saturday in the week, and this one seems particularly sweet and long. Starting so early has paid off. I’ve rearranged the furniture in a couple of rooms, tried a new recipe for baked beans (thank you Alton Brown!), made a yummy banana pudding for dessert, had a few calls with family, planned some fun for next week with little Riley. She’s coming to visit Saturday and bringing baby Jack and mommy Stephanie along.

Before the day is done, I plan to pull out my DVD of 1776 (also available via Amazon Instant Video) and travel back in movie time to the events that created this holiday. The movie, made in 1972, has its’ corny moments, and if you’ve never seen it, be warned that it is a musical. Not that I mind that, no! The music hardly competes with classic movie musicals, but the story is a wonderful reminder of the challenges overcome by the people who carved this nation from their values, hopes, and amazing vision of freedom. And though there is a vein of comedy through many scenes, there is also a sober reminder that from the beginning, freedom was not free.

Rob and I had the opportunity to visit several historic sites in Virginia in May, and I was impressed, as I always am, with the wealth of important history compacted into such a relatively small region. We spent a few days immersed in Williamsburg and Jamestown, which I love. I’m never really satisfied with my trips there, and always leave wanting to know more. But the more significant stops this trip were visits to Washington’s home, Mt. Vernon, and Jefferson’s mountain estate, Monticello.

It was humbling to see the surroundings of these great men of our history and to learn more about them as people. Yes, they both served as president. But after their terms, both chose to return to a private life, to the homes and land they loved. In an era far removed from our day of life-long security and celebrity for national political figures, these men slipped back into the role of private citizens. They stepped back from public view, from fame and power. And reading about them, I got the feeling that each felt it was a step up that they stepped back into privacy. Clearly, they did not view political power as something to wield as long as they lived.

All this soaking in history made me thoughtful. We often speak of “founding fathers” in reverent terms, and rightly so. That group of leaders gave a gift that is still giving. And it is a rare gift, one to be cherished. But though I am sometimes saddened by the lack of leadership that seems the norm today, there are still people among us who know what it is to step out, stand up, and do right. Our trip in May, back to the heart of this country’s past, is in my thoughts today, reminding me that we have to do our part. They started it, it is up to all of us to carry on.

Freedom isn’t free, and it never was. Thank you to those who have served, to those who make a difference, to those who stand up. Happy 4th of July! Long may we celebrate this date and its meaning, and between the fun and the fireworks, may we remember why we come together, and that in spite of our differences, the task is to continue to come together; to step out, stand up, and do right.

Guilty pleasures

Ok, I admit it: I’m a Food Network addict. I don’t watch everything (I do work and have a life) but I frequently have the channel on in the evening as background noise. This allows me to tune in when there’s a program on that captures my attention.

 I LOVE the Guy Fieri show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. It’s such a great vehicle (no pun intended!) for publicizing the authentic mom and pop type restaurants throughout the country, and I’m happy to see these small operations get great free press. And Guy’s enthusiasm about the dishes he samples is fun to watch. I also like the quick demos that accompany the dishes that are profiled. Even if you don’t plan to attempt a knock off recipe, it gives you a basic idea of what goes into the dish if you want to incorporate either flavor or technique into your own cooking.

 I also enjoy some of the contest shows like Iron Chef America. That’s kitchen theatre! Some of the featured ingredients are pretty standard, but now and then, I’ll admit  there is a theme ingredient that I’ve never even heard of. I’ve learned a lot about cooking methods watching the chefs  and their staff work on the show. The speed  of the preparation and the imagination that the chefs put into their dishes is amazing.

Another favorite program is Chopped!  The premise of this program is that four chefs tackle a surprise basket of ingredients for an appetizer, entrée and dessert. After each course, one of the chefs is chopped from the competition. The variety and increasingly bizarre nature of the ingredients in the chefs’ baskets gives an interesting twist to the show. There is also the interaction among the chefs as they vy with each other for the winning spot (and the $10,000 cash prize). A three judge panel critiques the dishes, and their interplay with the chefs is the best part of the show.

Probably my favorite has to the be Alton BrownGood Eats” series. This is a seriously zany production, to say the least. The premise of the show combines the scientific backdrop of what is actually occurring in the various cooking processes, how the ingredients are interacting with each other, etc., but the really entertaining factor is the unique plot line that Brown uses for each show. Lots of characters, props, and interesting factoids make the show a little off-beat, but ultimately entertaining and educational. And the recipes and cooking methods are given in very precise terms…no chance of getting lost in jargon here!

Most of my leisure for tv time comes in small segments, so I often watch  only a few minutes of these programs.  But this fare is far more interesting to me than traditional game shows, reality shows, soap operas…after all, the main theme of the channel is FOOD, and there’s not a lot that’s more interesting than food that is well prepared and entertainingly presented. Add larger than life hosts, and the formula is magic, as the Food Network has taken to the bank.