Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Academy Award-winning writer/director Martin McDonagh takes audiences on a murderously funny trip In Bruges (pronounced "broozh"), which world-premiered as the opening-night film of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.

Mr. McDonagh makes his feature directorial debut on the film, from his own original screenplay. His plays (which include The Lieutenant of Inishmore and The Pillowman) have brought him two Olivier Awards and four Tony Award nominations. He wrote and directed Six Shooter, starring Brendan Gleeson, which earned him the 2006 Academy Award for Best Live-Action Short Film.

Paul and I decided to go to the movies which we very rarely do; usually it’s at home in front of the DVD for us. But his son Daniel had just returned from a brief hiatus with his mother, and friends, Darren, March, and Orson decided to tag along. Honestly, I wanted to see Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, but Darren, who is 23-years-old, didn’t want that soft kind of girly humor, and convinced us to go see In Bruges, and what a great choice it was. I have to say the other children were 12, 14 and 13-years old respectively and the humor was quite dark, the language was quite awful, and there were definitely scenes with drugs, sex and murder -- so you’d be best to take a good look at your own child’s maturity level before allowing them to view this show, but really some of the video games Daniel has gotten his hands on are more violent and have no sense of humor.

We all went out for Chinese and Sushi before heading to the lovely little theater in downtown Millerton, NY which is close to our Connecticut home. It was an evening full of laughter and fun. This is a movie I want to add to my DVD collection so I can see it again and again.

In Bruges was filmed on location; Bruges the most well-preserved medieval city in the whole of Belgium is a welcoming destination for travelers from all over the world. But for hit men Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) a difficult job has resulted in the pair being ordered right before Christmas by their London boss Harry (two-time Academy Award nominee Ralph Fiennes) to go and cool their heels in the storybook Flemish city for a couple of weeks.

Ray is very much out of place amidst the gothic architecture, canals, and cobbled streets, while Ken wants to spend the days living the life of a tourist, sightseeing. Ray, haunted by a horrible mistake he’s made, hates the place, while Ken, even as he keeps a fatherly eye on Ray, finds his mind and soul being expanded by the beauty and serenity of the city.

While they wait for Harry's instructions, the more surreal the movie becomes, as the pair finds themselves in ridiculous encounters with locals, other tourists, violent medieval art, a dwarf American actor (Jordan Prentice) shooting a European art film, Dutch prostitutes, and a potential romance for Ray in the form of Chloë (Clémence Poésy), who may have some dark secrets of her own.

When the call from Harry does finally come, Ken and Ray's vacation becomes a struggle of darkly comic proportions. If you like the weird, the offbeat, the sublimely ridiculous this movie will have you in stitches.

Don’t believe me? Check out the reviews from Rolling Stone or the Hollywood Review


I’m getting ready to plant asparagus, so I have been doing research on the internet. I’ve questioned my mother about the asparagus bed at the house where I grew up, as well as collecting and comparing notes with local farmers that come into my offices for Crop Production Services in Amenia, NY.

This is what an asparagus crown looks like as its first set into the ground.I will be planting organic crowns purchased from Seeds of Change, Certified Organic Catalog. I’ve discovered that preparing a deep bed with good mulch that will be well-drained is paramount for establishing a healthy, long term asparagus bed, so I’m going to put in the labor up front to make sure the bed will be well established. My mother said when she dug down into the asparagus bed by great grandparents had planted it had been lined with bricks to help keep weeds out of the bed. I imagine that it would also warm the roots up earlier in the spring, so I’m scouting around now looking for old bricks or flat rocks to line the bed with.

It takes about 3 years to really establish the bed and be able to really harvest the fruits of your labor. I also found the New England Farmer really interesting. A little bit of time now and I’ll soon have my own fresh spring asparagus.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

My New Favorite...Duffy

Such a soulful sound from a little white girl. Have mercy on me baby ! Click above and rock on.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


I call to you each night I sleep
When you are far and out of reach.
Still, in the dark in my mind’s eye
I reach for you and wonder why
Your face I see, your breath I feel
Your words, your eyes, they all seem real.
And when the morning light doth come
I wonder if my thoughts will run
Carry all I feel to you
And keep you safe and warm and true.

Copyright 2006 All Rights Reserved

Monday, March 10, 2008

Beginning of a Short Story

I have had this idea in my head for a short story for a little while. This is what I have so far...

I watch and I wait. I’m not sure what I’m waiting for but I’ll know when I see it. I sit in the shadows. A solitary street lamp illuminates the dingy parking lot I watch over, a faded pool of swirling yellow lapping at the darkness. Shadows from the convenience store hide my presence.

From where I sit the view is clear and I can see the light undulating like the sea, its mesmerizing. I don’t think many kids think about the light rolling like waves. There are lots of things I think that are different from the other kids, lots of things that only I see; it’s always been that way.

I have thick glasses and problems with dry eyes so I blink a lot and I always blink slowly. And I’m big for my age, 5’ 7” and 160 pounds at 14-years-old makes me, well, noticeable. So I sit and I blink and I think while watching the occasional person swim back and forth through the pool of light.

One of the guys at my new school, Jimmy Johnson, he looked at my blinking eyes and my freakish body and started calling me “Hooey”, something about Baby Huey, that fat duck cartoon that used to be on television ages ago, and the hoot of an owl, cuz of my blinking. Of course it caught on. So I sit alone, my quilt gathered around me. I blink and suck my thumb – thank fuckin’ god Jimmy doesn’t know about that.

That quilt is the only thing that belongs just to me. I can’t quite remember where it came from, although I have vague memories of a soft-spoken woman with a twisted smile underneath the quilt with me, the quilt held up by her arms like a tent before it slowly descends, enveloping us in a soft, warm darkness. Her laugh is a gravelly sound like pebbles in a cement mixer. I remember being happy then. That’s all I can recall.

It’s actually quite large, my quilt; perfectly square when you open it up. The pattern, identical on both sides, held together by an infinite amount of perfectly matched black stitches. The quilt’s pattern is crazy; riotous blues crash into shimmering greens, slim bands of silver shoot throughout everything and the edging is silky crimson red.

copyright March,2008 - All Rights Reserved

Friday, March 7, 2008

Rice in America - A Brief History

Rice is an amazing grain. Throughout history, it has been one of man’s most important foods. According to American Rice, Inc., archeological evidence suggests rice has been feeding mankind for more than 5,000 years. The first documented account is found in a decree on rice planting authorized by a Chinese emperor about 2,800 BC, yet little is known about the origins of rice cultivation, although there is no doubt that rice first appeared in East Asia, India, China and Vietnam. Today, this unique grain helps sustain two-thirds of the world’s population.

In Burma a person eats 500 pounds of rice a year, an astonishing figure, but perhaps not so astonishing when you consider that Burma is right in the middle of an area where rice cultivation most likely originated. From China to ancient Greece, from Persia to the Nile Delta, rice migrated across the centuries and across the continents, eventually finding its way to the Western Hemisphere.

In the United States, the average person consumes only twenty-five pounds of rice per year, with about four pounds of that number attributed to the rice used for brewing American beer. But, rice consumption is on the rise. In fact, Americans eat twice as much rice now than they did ten years ago.

Good For You

Marketing analysts attribute this phenomenon to the consumer awareness of rice as a healthy food. Rice is naturally high in complex carbohydrates, contains almost no fat, is cholesterol free, and low in sodium. Almost all the nutrients are stripped from white rice when the bran layer is removed during milling; ninety percent of all American grown rice is enriched with thiamine, niacin and iron and in some instances riboflavin, vitamin D and calcium.

Brown rice has five times more Vitamin E and three times more magnesium than white rice. Brown rice provides twice as much fiber, but is not an especially rich source of fiber. On the other hand, rice bran alone is an excellent source of fiber. Rice is a fair source of protein containing all eight essential amino acids. It is low in the amino acid lysine, which is found in beans making the classic combination of rice and beans, popularly known as complimentary proteins, a particularly healthful dish. Rice is gluten free and easily digestible making it a good choice for infants, people with wheat allergies or digestive problems. A half cup of cooked white rice provides 82 calories; an equal amount of brown rice provides 89 calories. Oh, and just so you know, an equal portion of rice and pasta are about equal in calories.

The United States has traditionally been more of a rice exporter than a consumer. In the early eighteenth century rice grown along the coastal plains of the Carolinas and Georgia was a major export. A labor intensive crop, eventually many of the wealthiest rice plantations had hundreds of slaves. Familiar with African rice cultivation, the slaves are credited with contributing significantly to the industry before it was destroyed by the Civil War.

With the mechanization of agriculture, rice growing moved west to Louisiana. Today enough rice grows in Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Missouri to rank the United States as the twelfth largest rice producer worldwide and the second largest exporter of rice (first is Thailand). The United States now exports about half of all the rice it grows.

How It All Began

Enterprising colonists were the first to cultivate rice in America. It began quite by accident in 1685; a storm-battered ship sailing from Madagascar Just barely made it into the Charles Towne harbor. To repay the kindness of the colonists for repairs to the ship, the captain made a gift of a small quantity of "Golden Seede Rice" (named for its color) to a local planter.

The marsh lands bordered by fresh tidal water rivers of the Carolinas and Georgia proved to be perfect for rice production. The soils were rich, flat, fertile, and so soft a man could hardly stand on them.  By 1700, rice was established as a major crop for the colonists; 300 tons of  "Carolina Golde Rice", was shipped to England. Colonists produced more rice than there were ships to carry it. By 1726, the Port of Charleston was exporting about tons of "Carolina Golde," which later became the standard of high-quality rice throughout the world. When America gained independence 50 years later, rice had become one of her major agricultural businesses.

Eventually rice moved westward. The sprawling plantations of the Gulf Coast, parceled out to soldiers returning from “The Great War”, became a new home to rice crops. Still, high labor costs kept the industry from expanding. Not until mechanized farming methods came into use would the Gulf Coast rice industry become viable.

The 1849 Gold Rush brought people from all nations to California. Among them were an estimated 40,000 Chinese, whose staple food was rice. To feed the immigrants, rice production became a necessity. Farmers in the Sacramento Valley found rice would adapt well to heavy clay soil conditions that were largely unsuited to other crops. By 1920, California was a major rice-producing state.

In 1884, the Machine Age was beginning to affect American life. The broad prairie land of southwestern Louisiana and southeastern Texas has solid soils which could hold up heavy equipment like the machines used for the production of wheat in Iowa. A revolution of mechanization followed, establishing today’s major Southern rice growing states: Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas. More recently, farmers of Southern Florida began growing rice.

From its meager beginnings in South Carolina, rice has become a major U.S. agricultural product. Nearly 90 percent of the rice consumed in the United States is produced within its borders. Technological improvements have evolved over the years to make American rice production the most efficient and advanced in the world. New mechanization and techniques have helped the American rice farmer reduce the costly time spent in the field to only seven man-hours per acre. Some Asian countries continue to require 300 man-hours per acre. One of the largest exporters of rice in the world, the United States is respected worldwide for its abundant production of high-quality rice.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Red Berry, Bitter Brew: A Brief History of Coffee

According to a legend, an Arabian shepherd named Kaldi found his goats dancing joyously around a dark green leafed shrub with bright red cherries in the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. Eventually Kaldi realized that it was the bright red cherries on the shrub that were causing the peculiar euphoria. After trying the cherries himself, he learned of their powerful effect.

Another myth surrounding the discovery of the coffee bean tells of a Muslim dervish who was condemned by his enemies to wander in the desert and eventually die of starvation. While delirious the young man heard a voice instructing him to eat the fruit from a nearby coffee tree. Confused, the dervish tried to soften the beans in water, and when this failed, he simply drank the liquid. Interpreting his survival and renewed energy as a sign of God, he returned to his people spreading the faith and the recipe.

The so-called stimulating properties of coffee were thought by many during these ancient times to give a sort of religious ecstasy, and the drink earned a very mystical sort of reputation, shrouded in secrecy and associated with priests and doctors. So, it is not surprising that two prominent legends emerged to explain the discovery of this magic bean.

Despite the romantic notions of such legends, the fact remains that the coffee plant was born in Africa on the plateaus of central Ethiopian region (Kaffa). In the 6th century, the beans somehow travelled to Yemen and coffee has been cultivated there since. For many centuries to follow the Yemen province of Arabia was the world's primary source of coffee.

According to the National Geographic, coffee as we know it kicked off in Arabia, where roasted beans were first brewed around A.D. 1000. By the 13th century Muslims were drinking the “bean broth” regularly. The prophet Mohammed proclaimed that under the influence of coffee he could “...unhorse forty men and possess forty women.”

The regular cultivation of coffee began sometime in the 15th century. The demand for coffee in the Near East was very high. Upon introduction of the first coffee houses in Cairo and Mecca coffee became a passion rather than just a stimulant.

The beans leaving the Yemeni port of Mocha for trade with Alexandria and Constantinople were highly guarded. In fact, no fertile plants were allowed to leave the country. Arabia made the export beans infertile by parching or boiling them. And yet, wherever Muslims went, coffee went too: North Africa, Eastern Mediterranean and India. It is said that no coffee seed sprouted outside Africa or Arabia until the 1600’s.

Despite the protections and restrictions, Muslim, during their pilgrimages to Mecca, managed to smuggle coffee plants back to their homelands, and coffee crops soon took root in Mysore, India.

Crossing Borders

In the second half of the 16th century coffee crossed the Eastern borders to Europe. The age of huge sailing-vessels plying the Mediterranean Sea, of captains developing thriving trade routes, moving every kind of merchandise throughout known lands, were responsible for introducing coffee into the major ports.

That is how, in around 1570, coffee made its way to Venice along with tobacco. The introduction of coffee into Italy is ascribed to the Paduan Prospero Alpino, a botanist and physician, who brought with him some sacks from the East and, having observed the plant’s characteristics described it in his book "De Planctis Aegyptii et de Medicina Aegiptiorum", printed between 1591 and 1592.

Venice was "the Eastern market"; its port docked European vessels coming from the Arabic and Asian countries. Coffee having made its way there could soon be found in plenty. At the beginning coffee was sold only at chemist’s shops and was very expensive and only the wealthy could afford it.

In 1582, G. Francesco Morosini, high judge of the doges’ city and ambassador of the Venetian Republic to the Sultan, in his report from Constantinople noted that in the East there were numbers of businesses where people were used to gathering over this dark, boiling hot beverage.

Coffee soon became a major object of trade and commerce in Italy. In 1640, the first "coffee shop" opened in Venice. Others followed in many Italian towns, among them Turin, Genoa, Milan, Florence, Rome and Naples. By 1763 Venice held no less than 218 shops.

In Italy coffee collided with the Catholic Church. Some fanatical Christians urged Pope Clemente VII to forbid the faithful to drink the "devil’s beverage" – as they called it. The Pontiff, before giving judgment, asked for a cup of the black, fragrant beverage. Legend says as he drank he cried out: "This beverage is so delicious that it would be a sin to let only misbelievers drink it. Let’s defeat Satan by blessing this beverage, which contains nothing objectionable to a Christian!"

Once the Pope’s blessing had been obtained for coffee its success was assured. By the late 18th century many Italian towns had adopted the same Venetian habit. Served in elegant coffee shops or on rough common tables, the beverage was everywhere.

Espresso, a fairly recent innovation in the way to prepare coffee, originated in 1822 with the invention of the first crude espresso machine in France. The Italians perfected this wonderful machine and were the first to manufacture it. The term "espresso" is derived from the Italian word for express since espresso is made for and served immediately to the customer. The drink has become such an integral part of Italian life and culture that there are presently over 200,000 espresso bars in Italy.

Travelling On

From Venice coffee houses spread quickly across Europe becoming centers for intellectual exchange. Many great minds of Europe used coffee and coffee houses, as a springboard to heightened thought and creativity.

In 1652 the first printed coffee advertisement ran in a London paper. “It will prevent Drowsiness, and make one fit for business, if one have occasion to Watch; and therefore you are not to Drink of it after Supper, unless you intend to be watchful, for it will hinder sleep for 3 or 4 hours…”

Upright English women protested against the foreign drink, claiming, “…the excessive use of that Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor called Coffee, which has so Eunucht our Husbands…” Despite the controversy, the dark drink became popular and profitable, and by 1700 London had over two thousand coffeehouses. They were often referred to as "penny universities" (a penny was charged for admission and a cup of coffee).

Edward Lloyd opened a coffee house in 1688. It eventually became Lloyd's of London, the world's best known insurance company. The word “TIPS” was coined in an English coffee house; a sign reading “To Insure Prompt Service” was placed by a cup so patrons desiring prompt service and better seating could throw a coin into a tin.

In America, The Green Dragon opened in Boston in 1697. John Adams, James Otis and Paul Revere met there years later to enjoy coffee and discussion. In 1773 in response to high tea taxes, it became an American's unspoken duty to renounce tea and embrace coffee as the colonial drink of choice.

In 1714, the Dutch gave a coffee plant to the French government as a gift. A few years later, Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu, a French naval officer, decided to transport a seedling across the Atlantic. After surviving a pirate attack and a brutal storm, water supplies grew dangerously low. De Clieu nurtured the plant, protecting it from a jealous shipmate, and sharing his meager water ration with the burgeoning botanical wonder, Coffee Arabica Typica. After the long and perilous journey, the tree took root on the Caribbean Island of Martinique.

From that single plant much of the world’s coffee supply originated; one plant, transplanted to of Martinique, became the predecessor of over 19 million trees on the island within 50 years. It was from this humble beginning that the coffee plant found its way to the rest of the tropical regions of South and Central America.

In 1727 coffee cultivation was started in North Brazil, but the poor climatic conditions gradually shifted the crops, first to Rio de Janeiro and finally (1800-1850) to the States of San Paolo and Minas, where coffee found its ideal environment. The coffee trade developed here, until it became the most important economic resource of Brazil. Imagine, in Brazil alone, over 5 million people are currently employed in the cultivation and harvesting of over 3 billion coffee plants.

By the turn of the century, coffee was successfully cultivated in Brazil, Guatemala, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. Around 1900 the English, having established coffee plantations in India and El Salvador, began cultivation in East Africa bringing coffee back to the land of its birth.

Coffee is now a giant global industry employing more than 20 million people. This commodity ranks second only to petroleum in terms of dollars traded worldwide. With over 400 billion cups consumed every year, coffee is the world's most popular beverage. Sales of premium specialty coffees in the United States have reached the multibillion-dollar level, and are increasing significantly on an annual basis.

The detailed history of coffee is fascinating, recording lives lost, fortunes made, and valor displayed. To read further about this precious and interesting commodity read Coffee: A Dark History by Antony Wild, or The Devil's Cup: A History of the World According to Coffee by Stewart Lee Allen. Both books can be found on
copyright 2008 - all rights reserved