Archive for March, 2010

How Sweet It Is

March 31, 2010

As I was driving about on Friday, I heard a report that maple syrup has health benefits. It sounded too good to be true, so I decided to verify the claim.

First, the disclaimer. Maple syrup is still sugar, so it falls in the same category as cane syrup, corn syrup, and honey. It does however have more nutrients than the others. And the number of nutrients just got bigger.

The findings come from a study conducted for the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers and the Canadian maple syrup industry. A professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Rhode Island discovered thirteen new compounds in maple syrup during the two year study.

Dr. Navindra Seeram discovered compounds that could help fight cancer, bacterial infections and diabetes. It seems counterintuitive that sugar could combat diabetes but that‘s what the report said. His explanation about the sap’s being close the bark and therefore exposed to the sun doesn’t make much sense. Guess we’ll have to wait till August for the full results. In the meantime, pass the syrup, please.

Earlier studies have listed certain benefits because the pure syrup contains trace minerals that promote health. According to WHFoods, the first of the three main minerals is manganese, which fights free radicals in our bodies, and promotes bone health and helps maintain blood sugar levels. Of course I’d probably choose to get this mineral from brown rice or romaine lettuce instead of maple syrup.

Zinc makes less of an appearance but is still significant. Many claims have been made over the years about the benefits of this mineral, but there seems to be general agreement now that it will help maintain a healthy immune system and help keep blood sugar balance. Other sources of zinc are calf’s liver, beef tenderloin, lamb and venison. Pass the syrup, please. But I do get it from sesame seeds and yogurt.

And the third is calcium. As one who is on the warpath against osteoporosis, I’ll eat this one wherever I find it. So, pass the syrup, again, please.

I don’t like syrup on pancakes but I put a bit on yogurt or on a rice cake. The challenge in the latter case is to eat it quick before the syrup leaks through.

The sad part is that the maple run was terrible this year. We did not have the warm days, cold night cycle long enough to really get the sap running. Instead we had cold and snow and then warm. The crop is awful, so please pass a small amount of the very expensive syrup.

Plane in the Field

March 30, 2010

Before there was a tree in the pool. Now there’s a plane in the field.

I thought I was seeing things when I came across Randolph Road on my walk yesterday afternoon and saw a single-engine plane sitting in a rather small empty field just south of Farm Hill Road. It seemed an odd place to land. If the thing had gone a few more feet it would have torn through some trees and probably crashed into a car or two.

But there it was, perched on its little wheels. It must have been a quiet landing as the place is less than a mile from my house and I was home at 4 on Saturday when the incident reportedly happened.

I forgot about the cute little thing until this morning when I saw the Middletown Eye and realized I had not been hallucinating.

Reminds me of a story told by a man who lives nearby on Pine Street. He encountered a plane and pilot that landed in a lot near his house back years ago. The guy was looking for Middletown, New York, and when he crossed a river he thought it was the Hudson. He was only about 120 miles off the mark.

My friend Thelma who lives even closer to the plane than I do and didn’t notice it, either, said, “Middletown is getting in the news for all the wrong reason.” I concur.

Sushi Friday III

March 27, 2010

Iron Chef Sushi & Hibachi Bar, Wallingford

930D North Colony Road

Wallingford, CT 06492

203-265-2000

Of course I am once again behind on the monthly Sushi Friday entries. This review was supposed to go up in February. I think part of the reason I’ve procrastinated is that Iron Chef left me absolutely cold. It had some good features, but why it got “best dining” from the R-J seven years in a row remains a mystery. Far be it from me to criticize a former employer, but I disagree wholeheartedly.

What I like: The parking. It’s in the Stop & Shop plaza, so there are a generous number of spaces.

The place presents a dramatic appearance, dark in the back with the front windows on that day letting in bright sunshine.

The soft jazz made formed an unobtrusive background.

No smells wafted through from the hibachi room.

Before I placed my order, I thought I saw the assistant sushi chef pull out a can of Pringles, but he did it so fast I wasn’t sure. He handed me a small dish with spicy salmon – on two potato chips. The crunch and the salt of the chips perfectly complemented the spice and fat of the salmon. It was the best part of the meal.

The chef made the presentation of the sashimi a true work of art with shiso leaves and daikon shreds.

What I don’t like: The parking. The people who go to that Stop & Shop are the rudest drivers I have seen outside of New Jersey. I had three near collisions driving a few yards into the place. Then I nearly got run over walking into the restaurant even though I was in a crosswalk.

Extremely bland miso soup added nothing to the meal.

The price was was pretty much of a shock at $12.95 for what was supposed to be 12 pieces of sashimi.

The fish consisted of three pieces each of tuna and yellowtail, and two each of salmon and red snapper. It lacked the bright crisp flavors that I’ve come to love.

The sushi chef and his assistant don’t get along, making for an unpleasant dining experience as they work right next to each other and right in front of the diners.

The wait staff seemed confused about who was supposed to bring what – water, soup and so forth. There was much hustling around for what seemed like a very few customers. And the service took far longer than it should have.

The racket from the hibachi room nearly drowned out the music.

Conclusion: My visit at the end of January was my first and last.

Overall score: C-

Coleman Weather

March 26, 2010

As noted (“The French Connection,” March 20) we’ve been having glorious weather. Except for a rain storm the other night and some wind, we’ve had temps above 70 and sunshine. Until Tuesday when it poured. Yesterday it was in the 50s but blowing at gale force. Today started in the 60s, but we will have rain overnight and into tomorrow, when it could change to snow.

Blame the deterioration on Coleman Bros. The carnival opens its annual run tomorrow. Middletown Eye reminded us all with a poster of the carnival under the headline “Weather Forecast.”

It is tradition that no matter how gorgeous the weather is before the carnival, a turn for the nasty occurs when the show comes to town. All the three comments on the Eye agreed that we will have rain.

A brief search of archives shows that the prediction is accurate more often than not.

One poster called it the “Coleman Curse” and claimed that it has rained on the carnie for the past sixty years. I’ve been able to document that rain fell in 2005 and 2006, with snow in 2007.

“The curse,” if that’s what it is, follows the Colemans around, too. The show extended its stay in the neighboring town of New Britain three years ago because of cold and rain, according to the Herald.

Coleman’s owner told Amusement Business in 1998 that it was “awful wet” in Connecticut that year.

As far back as 1978, entertainers and entertained slogged through mud and other ick in Groton according to The Day.

Of course all this could just be mythology. After all it is March, and it is New England. If you don’t like the weather … wait minute, it’ll change. Regardless, I’m packing my umbrella from now until April 4, when the show moves elsewhere.

I Don’t Get It

March 25, 2010

A few things that I don’t understand, in the order that they came to my attention today.

File the first story under “oops.” Connecticut for years and years has bragged about its terrific rates of high school graduation. At least among white students, more than 90 percent graduated in four years. … Or not.

It seems that the numbers weren’t quite right, or at least that’s what we learn today from the state Department of Education. It’s more like 79 percent, overall, with just 66 percent for African Americans and 58 percent for Hispanic students. The news for minority students isn’t “new.” What I don’t understand is how the total could drop so.

I heard that report three times on the radio. I’ve read the Hartford Courant story and Bob Frahm’s much better piece in CT Mirror. And I still don’t get how the new system could produce such a drastic change in the numbers.

Until 2006 Connecticut relied on dropout rates supplied by the school districts to arrive at the sunny calculations. Then Connecticut agreed to the same method that other states use. This method applies a number to each student and follows that number/student from district to district. Students would no longer be counted twice, but I still don’t understand how duplication could produce results as skewed as the stories indicate.

Some of the discrepancy occurred because students were taking five years to graduate, and the system now tracks four-year graduation rates. The school districts have exacerbated the problem by not maintaining accurate numbers. But it seems amazing that these two factors could produce such vast differences.

The second story is more disturbing but not nearly as surprising. The Wake County (Raleigh area) school district in North Carolina just eliminated diversity. Before the vote, the local newspaper and radio station offered to pay to move the meeting to a larger venue so that more people could attend. The board turned down the offer. The stated reason, which is true, was that the required public notices had already been issued and a change would require new notification. My question is: Why did the news organizations wait till the day of the meeting to make the offer?

And finally, there’s a new job called writer/curator, who is supposed to help the public understand the news. As one commenter to the site note, isn’t that what used to be called an “editor”? If reporters are now “content providers,” I guess editors are now “writer/curators.”

Connecting the Dots

March 24, 2010

This article in last week’s Sunday NYTimes captured my imagination.

First it was the neat little graphic of events tracked for the earthquake in Haiti and “snomageddon” in D.C.

Then it was the name “Ushahidi,” testimony in Swahili. It’s sort of the opposite of crowd sourcing in which huge numbers of people with access to the web function as employees to provide information for a business. Ushahidi uses the power of the crowd, this time with cell phones to let the rest of the world know when and where disasters are occurring. It helped earthquake victims in Haiti and Chile. Its use has been worldwide.

The potential is fantastic. The Times article limited its discussion to cell phone users, but the Ushahidi web site makes clear that reports can arrive from any communications device and that users of the site can find not only maps, but summaries of the latest information and interviews with the people working in the field. The best current uses seem to be election watches – at the moment in Mexico and India – and the anti-violence efforts.

There’s a connection here to the slicing and dicing that’s going on in music and literature that verges on plagiarism, but my tired brain can’t wrap around the concepts at this point.

More later.

Barbara A. Andrews

March 23, 2010

What a moving experience it was to attend the funeral of Barbara (Brice) Andrews on Saturday. She was Ashley’s half-sister, the daughter of his mother and her first husband. She was a truly remarkable woman.

Though she worked at various jobs and volunteered her time, especially at the church where her service was held, her main focus was family. She was married to Eugene Andrews for sixty-two years, an amazing feat in any age. She bore two daughters, only to see one die as a small child. Another survived long enough to attend school but she, too, left this plane before adulthood. Mrs. Andrews did not let their deaths devastate her as I’ve seen happen to so many men and women whose children predecease them. In fact she went on to raise two more daughters who are now successful, accomplished women.

The Reverend Robyn Franklin Vaughn, who delivered the homily, spoke eloquently of how Mrs. Andrews fought well into the 1970s to make the law of Brown vs. Board of Education, issued in 1954, a reality in Boston. She fought for true inclusion for all children. And she gave courage to another young mother to be who was at risk of losing her baby because the two had been seriously injured in a car crash. Reverend Robyn spoke from the heart, referring to Mr. Andrews as “Uncle Gene” and saying that part of the Christian tradition was to laugh and cry, even to do both at the same time when the spirit moved one.

Mrs. Andrews’ obituary gave the outline of her life, but Ash provided color and tone when he spoke of the Sunday dinners when he was little. At one such occasion  there wasn’t enough room at the adults’ table, so Mrs. Andrews joined the children. He thought she had more fun with them than she did with the grownups.

Her two surviving daughters, Adrienne and Jennifer, and their families are certainly a testament to their mother’s abilities as a parent. They are beautiful, gracious women who welcomed me, a stranger, in their midst. I learned also that the family’s roots in Boston date to at least the early nineteenth century, so they are a match with the Boston Brahmins.

The Church of St. Augustine and St. Martin in Roxbury has a history almost as long. It is high-church Episcopal, and I was very glad to be near an open door because of the copious amounts of incense. I found the chanted mass inspiring, nevertheless.

The church holds perhaps 300 people, and it was overflowing. The ushers kept adding chairs in the side chapel. Parking was impossible, so I took a mini-tour of Roxbury before I found a space around the corner and down the street. I was glad that Ash walked me back to my car because the bar on the corner was hoppin’ by the time I got ready to leave.

The drive was fairly uneventful, though I had forgotten that the drivers in Massachusetts (Smash-a-chusetts) are hopeless. They don’t signal turns and when they change lanes on the highway the cut in as close as possible. But the cheap gas, about $0.30 a gallon less, made the journey worth it.

All in all I was very glad to have made the journey and to have met this wonderful group of people. RIP, Barbara A. Andrews.

The French Connection

March 20, 2010

Yesterday was a day of incompletion. Worked on taxes (almost done). Worked on the James family cemetery debacle and made a discovery that will entail far more work. More on that as things develop. Also tried to clean off my desk but things got worse instead of better.

Did manage to take a walk – how could I not when the temp was 70? One new signature experience: being screamed at by a red-tailed hawk. A pair nested last year in a tree behind the local veterinary hospital, but the hospital has been putting up a serious addition, so I guess the hawks decided they needed somewhere less noisy and less filled with sawdust. I had walked down along the lake and had turned toward home when I heard this cry that sounded more like a baby than a bird. At first I thought that’s a big jay, then, no, it’s must be a crow – but they sound more guttural – this really was almost a shriek. I turned around and there was poppa bird, huge and all red around the edges, sitting way too close on the dead branch of a tree. He thought this human was infringing on his territory. I ran up the hill and past the little dogs yapping behind a fence about 500 yards away. Hoped that they could dive under their deck before Mr. Hawk dove after them and had them as an appetizer before lunch.

All this running around was a prelude to the best part of the day, viewing an art exhibit that included works by my friend Dodie Ruimerman. I’d seen her paintings last summer (“Art for a Summer Evening,” July 3, 2009), and when she emailed that she was included in an opening last evening, I decided to drive up to Hartford. Her group, The French Connection, opened the exhibit in the Integrative Medicine unit at St. Francis Hospital. The concept is stellar: revolving art for viewing patients who come for massage and other therapies. The space is not the most conducive to viewing. The lighting was uneven – one water color was in the massage room where it was almost invisible by the light of a lamp or washed out by the overhead fluorescent. All of the works fought for space between the shelves of self-help books and magazines.

Nevertheless, Dodie’s works shone. “Railroad Bridge Over Connecticut River” gave me a new perspective on a piece of Connecticut landscape that has been part of my existence practically since I entered the world. I’ve always looked at the drawbridge between Old Saybrook and Old Lyme from the south, usually at the dock in Old Saybrook. Dodie painted north of the bridge in Essex, which gave me a sense of displacement but also of “rightness.”  She captured the glint of sun on water and the magic light of the shoreline. Beautiful.

“Ashlawn Farm,” her other work, evoked fall with its trees turning to gold and red surrounding a meadow in Old Lyme. It seems to me that her work continues to improve and that she has achieved with these paintings more of a command of technique. With her already accurate eye for detail, she’s well on her way to becoming a painter of note.

Among the other artists displaying works at Wednesday’s opening, Jean Maynard captured another love of mine: “Silence,” of a lighthouse against an expanse of perfectly still blue water made me want to move back to Old Saybrook. Then I remembered the cost of everything down there, and the tourists, and decided I like it perfectly well where I am.

Part II ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’

March 19, 2010

I’ve been neglecting this blog so today I’ll postpone work on The Paper and The Taxes to clean up at least one loose end.

We left Emmitt Smith as he was embarking on a search for his family.

On the macro level, he was able to go back six generations. I’ve gone four with my Lane relatives from Connecticut to New Jersey and then into the eighteenth century, into where else? Virginia. On my father’s side, the trail ends deep in the bayou at three generations with his mother and just two with his father.

When Smith went knocking on doors in Burnt Corn, Alabama, he brought me back to my first visit looking for my Petry family in Abbeville, Louisiana. I knew that we were related to a family of Robinsons, but I didn’t know how. The nice man at the cultural center sent me to Dr. Darrell Robinson. I called his office. His receptionist said, “Oh, come on over.” He had mainly an ob-gyn practice so I sat among the pregnant ladies. He saw one patient and then came out and introduced himself. He explained that he was not from around “these parts,” that his wife was.

Dr. Darrell said if I wanted to find Petrys I should go to Imam’s, a hair salon in the center of Abbeville. There I found Cousin Jeretha Petry Ardoin, a descendant of my grandfather’s brother. She sent me to “Uncle Eldridge,” who was a generation older. By the time I had driven past the shotgun shacks to the edge of town, word had arrived that “the Yankee” was on her way. (I thanked my lucky stars that the rental car had Louisiana plates).

Uncle Eldridge was the one who told me that my great-grandmother (his great-great-grandmother) was “mixed Indian.” Looking at Uncle Eldridge I could easily believe it. His skin was truly copper colored, as my dad’s was after a summer in the garden. Better, when Uncle Eldridge turned sideways, his profile could have been used as the model for the chief on the old Indian head nickel.

Just as Emmitt Smith hit a brick wall with his ancestors in Virginia, I’ve not been able to find any information by Cambry Brown. Even the spelling of her first name is open to interpretation: Cambra, Cambry, Cambray, Combry, Cambrey, Combrey, Combery, Cambria, Cambis, Comere – that last may be a variation on grand-mere for grandmother.

And speaking of Native American, I found it interesting that Megan Smolenyak told Emmitt Smith his DNA showed seven percent Native blood. The show couldn’t pursue that issue because of time limits. Likewise, they left alone the information that the twelve percent European blood  from “several” sources. The fact that he had among the highest percentage of African blood she’d ever seen was fascinating, as was her statement that she had never encountered anyone in this country with 100 percent African blood.

The colored marriage license book in Alabama was no surprise. Even the Hartford, Connecticut, city directory listed the colored people in the back of the book until after the Civil War started.

I feel bad that Ancestry is able to exploit these stories and seems to be disguising how expensive it is to do the research necessary to unearth the information the historians and genealogists found for Emmitt Smith.

To end on a “coincidence?” note: He drew mystical significance from the fact that he always wore No. 22 when he played football and then found his ancestor in deed book 22. It felt exactly right to me. Extra weird he went to Ouidah Museum of History as part of his search. My closest Louisiana cousin’s first name? Ouida.

Way Too Much To Do

March 18, 2010

typing in incomplete sentences and lower case to save keystrokes and to honor e.e. cummings and archy and mehitabel. started the day writing the paper for the conference in May.

gathered thoughts and notes for the trip to the historical society. gained a smattering but haven’t had time to digest it.

worked on taxes, a thoroughly depressing enterprise. no conclusion. note to self: next year, record mileage as you go.

answered some woefully old emails.

tried to clean off desk.

it is now after 9 p.m.  follow up on “who do you think you are?” and the first discussion of the usatoday wine club and last month’s sushi friday will have to wait.