Making sense of post-election heartbreak

This morning I woke up wondering if last night had been a bad dream. How have the hopes, vision and hard work of millions of high-minded people been superseded by a racist, misogynistic, narcissistic repeat liar with no knowledge of governing? (And under the new regime, am I going to be “disappeared” for writing this!?!)

As I muddle through my pain and sadness, I have come to realize that this is what the business world calls a “disruption.”

A disruption is an innovation that literally uproots the way the market thinks, often by addressing a previously under-served sector of the market.

For example, Kickstarter made it possible for ordinary people to raise money without having to secure venture capital. Rent the Runway made it possible for women to wear designer gowns at a low price.

Yesterday’s election was clearly a disruption.

Whether or not branding magnate Donald Trump can follow through on the disruption he intended and give his market what he promised is almost immaterial. What they apparently wanted most (as also indicated by the Democratic primary and votes for a third-party candidate) was disruption.

Perhaps the most useful questions the rest of us can ask ourselves are, “Why did so many people need this to happen? What wasn’t working for them?”

Disruption is a destructive and chaotic process, but also often creative, so logically the next question is: “How can we redesign the inevitably ensuing chaos to work better for all of us?” We thought having #HillaryClinton in the White House would help us achieve that, but were unable to convince enough people. Something has to change.

I’m devastated and disheartened that Hillary Clinton won’t be our next president. With a Democratic Congress supporting her, she would have done a stunning job of unifying the country.

It is our challenge to use our anger and disappointment to help navigate the path forward in a positive direction. The pendulum is likely to swing far backward, so once we manage to move through the stages of our grieving process, we are going to have to work our collective butts off to maintain our vision of a more peaceful, just and inclusive world. There is literally no other option.

Life in the ‘Burbs

Growing up in a 20th century-New York suburb had its perks… handy playmates, trees to climb, a yard big enough to play hide ‘n’ seek, chasing fireflies, tearing around on our bikes. Later it was TV in Peggy’s finished basement (my family had neither), making out in other finished basements, football games, long afternoons at the country club (not ours, we didn’t have one of those either) and jumbo parties with no downstairs neighbors to complain.

But once I had a taste of urban living in collegiate Boston, it was bye bye ‘burbs. I loved the city energy, the people, the entertainment options, museums and restaurants and art films, live jazz, coffee shops I could walk to… This was heaven. Visits to relatives and friends in various suburban housing developments made my throat constrict, and much as I loved hanging out with them and their kids, I realized I was infinitely happier somewhere either more rural or urban.

Then I moved to LA, which is, arguably, almost all suburb. Still, Venice Beach and Topanga Canyon have their own charms, and it wasn’t until zero-down mortgages coincided with our landlady’s son (an elementary school teacher, gasp!) knocking up his girlfriend that the thought of living in the suburbs again emerged. Our daughter would be closer to her high school, we could have a garden, and we could ride our bikes on flat streets. The plan was to fix it up and sell it quickly, make a tidy profit and buy something closer to the beach.

Twelve years later, we’re still here. I’m still not a huge fan of the suburbs, and now that said daughter has a job and apartment elsewhere, it’s safe to assume she’s launched. Still, it’s not all bad in this particular housing development. Tonight I went for my evening walk and first I passed Norm, a native of Belize, fixing the backboard on his basketball net. At 14 his son is already a formidable player, and with the name Jordan, what else would you expect? Norm has had a key to our house for years, but tonight, after I’d walked Sparky for them this week, he gave me a remote that lets me into their house. I guess I’ve finally earned his trust. I poked my head into the kitchen to say hi to Marcia, who was frying up something that smelled infinitely more delicious than my leftover salmon. I was glad to see her smiling; they’ve had three deaths in their immediate family this year.

On up the street I passed Gary, out watering his lawn. Gary’s retired and still in his 60s, but he has nagging health issues. He has to go back in for surgery this week, same damn leg problem. His wife Lois was out walking their dogs.

Jill motored by doing her usual power walk of two or three times around the ‘hood (her dog, Isabel, is too old for more than one round), and told me sweet stories about preschoolers at the school where she works. I know all about her son Dillon and her husband Glen, but you probably wouldn’t be interested. They’re brave and strong and unique, but they’re ordinary people meeting ordinary challenges.

Jay just waved, he’s in the film biz and was on his cell phone.

Little Jessica wasn’t out tonight. She’s only six and her parents, Carol and Mike, are friendly to me, even though they’re horrified I’m a Michael Moore fan.

Then I saw dear Willie. A Danish expat, he and his wife Annalisa have two gorgeous grandchildren that their daughter Anna brings to visit regularly. Willie came over and asked why he hasn’t seen me, inquired about my daughter, gave me a huge hug. His front yard tree will need trimming again next year.

I can’t say these people are my friends, but they are the fabric of my neighborhood, giving it warmth, color and substance. I know their names, know or have met their kids, hear about their triumphs and challenges. I doubt I’ll ever see any of them again once we move, but I’m so grateful they are here now. Ordinary people. Wonderful people. My neighbors.

Why Michael Keaton Didn’t Win Best Actor

I’m disappointed Michael Keaton didn’t win Best Actor, even from fellow actors in the Screen Actors’ Guild awards, and I’ve been puzzling as to why. It’s not that Eddie Redmayne didn’t give a wonderful performance in The Theory of Everything, because he absolutely did. But Keating in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman was nothing short of astonishing. He took us on an incredible ride, reaching into the marrow of his bones to extract every ounce he had to give. And I think this partially explains the vote.

Every person who is voting on these awards either fancies him/herself doing that same thing, or secretly wishes he could but feels inadequate to the task. (N.B. I’m going to stick with “his” here because as you probably noticed if you watched the awards, the industry is still dominated by men.) Every single one wants to be relevant and, if he’s honest, famous and successful; and nearly every one is scared silly not so much of failure and being outshone by someone younger and more talented, but of losing everything—possibly including his mind—in the effort to fulfill his dreams. In other words, the members of the Academy, and even of SAG, look at Riggan Thomson and see their worst fears manifested. It’s just too scary.

In general, Hollywood is more interested in pragmatism than magical realism in any event: Recent Best Picture winners such as 12 Years a Slave, Argo, Dallas Buyers Club are all good films with excellent performances, but more grit than magic. And they are about important, meaningful, worthy subjects. But most people in the film business have the sense on some level that they’re getting away with something. Our country was built on a kind of spartan work ethic and here they are, possibly working their butts off but also having fun and feeling great about what they do. As we used to say years ago when I was still an actor, “It beats selling shoes.”

Scientists, on the other hand, now there’s a respectable profession, and Stephen Hawking is a genius! So when you pair filmmaking with someone you think walks on water despite being unable to walk, combined with boy meets girl and they overcome adversity together, you’ve got a winner. A vote for Eddie Redmayne is also a vote for Stephen Hawking.

And can you imagine the blowback if the Academy gave Best Picture to a movie that is all about the work they do?

Maybe I’m projecting with all this. What do you think?

February 12, 2015

This post is titled with today’s date because that’s what’s on my mind. Today. The unseasonal warmth, the breeze gently kissing my skin, hot sun on the concrete block path, a feeling of quietness having gotten through the big push of getting the new Whole Life Times website up and running, the thrill of figuring out how to do a tech thing just by googling it and following the steps.

I don’t think millennials have any comprehension of how challenging computer technology is for some of us raised in the 20th century. All my college papers were done on my portable typewriter, as were my boyfriend’s papers. By me. I did that for love.

February is all about love, or so they tell us. In our new issue (sign up on our home page if you haven’t seen it) we talk about all kinds of love: love for self, love between BFFs, romantic love, sexual love and even spiritual love. But we don’t talk much about familial love. Family of origin.

On this date in the early-mid 20th century, Rose Mary Carr and Jinx Lewis got married. I’m the third of the five diverse children who issued from that unlikely union, and I’m grateful every day for the life they gave me. Grateful, too, for the life of this planet, the beauty and abundance that surrounds me, the opportunities that come my way for a full, rich experience on the material plane. I do wonder, sometimes, about what lies beyond and the point of it all. Some people believe they have all the answers. More power to ’em.

I’m just enjoying the day, and I hope you are too.

Hershey Bar

It was a summer camp field trip and I’d been eating crummy food for what seemed like forever; I must have been about 10 or 11 years old. It may even have been the year I ran away from camp, an ill-fated adventure that ended with several of us renegades walking a very long way back to the camp in the dark. Scary. And who knows, maybe the candy bar started it all.

On the field trip we’d gone to a swimming pool, and after our swim we were all hungry and no doubt craving sugar or carbs. Two young counselors had a Hershey bar that had melted in the heat of the day, and they sat on a bench in front of us—I can still see them in my mind, lanky wet hair hanging over their faces—wiping melted chocolate off the paper and licking their fingers til every drop was gone, as we wee things stood salivating.

I don’t even like Hershey bars, but to this day I remember those girls every time I see one. This must be a little taste (sic) of the way those who don’t have enough to eat constantly feel. They see people all around them living well-fed lives, and they are struggling just to survive and feed their children. Are we all those mean girls?

Et Voila Salsa Dinner


I used to play the salsa lottery. When you buy salsa in the market, you just never know what you’re going to get. Will it be too hot or too bland? Will the tomatoes be tasty, sweet and organic or mealy and flavorless? Will there be enough onion and cilantro? I like plenty of cilantro. Once you realize how easy it is to make your own salsa, you may never buy it again.

• At least two fabulous tomatoes, chopped into small pieces. The best are organic heirloom, but they aren’t always available, especially in winter. So in winter I usually buy organic cherry tomatoes, which they even sell in Trader Joe’s, or Italian plum tomatoes. Don’t waste your money buying hot house tomatoes—I’ve yet to find one with any flavor.
• About 1/4 to 1/2 of a medium-sized yellow onion, chopped fine
• A bunch of cilantro, leaves stripped from stems for the most part, and chopped
• 1/2 jalapeno chili, seeds out, minced (you have to taste a tiny bit, see how hot it is, to know how much to add)
• 1/2 one of those smaller, dark green hot chilis, seeds out, minced (ditto, but very, very tiny)*
• 1/2 ripe avocado, cut into small chunks
• salt to taste (shouldn’t need much)

You’ll notice the emphasis on small pieces. That’s so you can get a little bit of everything into each scoop.

Mix all of these things together, get out a corn chip, and taste test. Then you can add more of whatever seems to be needed.

If it’s good to go, pop open a tall one et voila, you have a light and delicious chips and salsa (salad!) dinner.

* Be very careful to wash your hands thoroughly after working with chilis. If you happen to rub your eyes and have chili oil on your hands, it really feels nasty.

PS I don’t know why this program flipped my lovely photo on its side. I’ll try to find someone who can help me fix it.

Et Voila Berry Custard Pie

Sometimes Mondays can be difficult. You’ve had a lovely, relaxing weekend, good times with friends, not a care in the world, and suddenly it’s back to being focused and getting things accomplished. Of course you feel great when you do that, but the process of putting one foot in front of the other and getting the energy moving takes a big push. For that you deserve your just desserts, including this ridiculously easy berry custard pie.

You’ll need:
One frozen unbaked pie crust,* defrosted (look for one that has no hydrogenated fats if possible)
One package vanilla pudding mix, preferably from a natural foods store so it has less sugar and no chemicals
2 regular or 3 small containers fresh blueberries, raspberries, blackberries or combo** (organic if possible, natch)

Follow the directions on the package of pudding. Low-fat milk works fine, and unsweetened coconut milk would probably work fine, too. After the cooking part (which involves just stirring over heat), while it’s chilling and getting more firm, you can put together your pie crust.

Hopefully you’ve taken the pie crust out of the freezer about an hour before you started. If you haven’t, do not microwave! You can always roll the pieces together with a rolling pin if it breaks apart when you unwrap it, and I like to roll it anyway so it’s a little thinner on bottom, a little thicker around the edge. If the pie crust came between two pieces of wax paper, leave the paper on while you gently roll it a couple of times. If no wax paper, lightly sprinkle a breadboard or marble surface (your kitchen counter would also work) with flour. You have mom’s marble rolling pin, and if you chill the actual rolling pin before you roll, it helps it not to stick. Press the edges around the edge of the pie pan. You can make a cute design by pressing the prongs of a fork all around the edge.

When the crust is cool and the pudding is firm, fill the crust, scatter berries on top, et voila! Everybody will want a second slice.

* Homemade pie crust is surprisingly easy too, just takes a little longer. We’ll talk about that another time.

** Berry washing anti-crush hint: Fill a bowl with cool water and drop them in, then gently drain in a colander.

Et Voila Pesto

Basil is the easiest thing in the world to grow, you can even buy a small plant in the grocery store, just needs sun and water. If it starts to bolt (get little flowers on the top) just pinch them off. I like to sprinkle the pinches in the garden in hopes a volunteer will spring up, but so far, hasn’t happened. But whether you grow your own basil or buy it in the produce section, pesto is the perfect summer dinner over pasta, with a salad and warm baguette.

Mix together in a blender or Cuisinart:
• 2 cups of clean basil leaves
• 1/3 cup olive oil
• 3 to 4 peeled* and chopped (!)** cloves of garlic, depending on their size and how garlicky you like it
• 1/3 cup lightly toasted pignoli (pine) nuts***

Blend only as long as necessary. Do not heat.

Cook about half a pound of pasta for two people—read directions on the box and test it at about a minute before they say is enough time. IMHO De Cecco is the best grocery store pasta. I prefer spaghettini, not too thin, not too thick. Cappelini is too thin for this sauce, and spaghetti and linguini are too carby for my taste. Do not rinse the pasta after it cooks, no matter what any well-meaning person tells you.

Drain the pasta and put it on plates. Spoon about a tablespoon of pesto sauce on top (a little goes a long way), sprinkle with parmesan cheese**** and perhaps red pepper flakes (especially for your dad), et voila!

Serve on the porch!

* The best garlic peeler I’ve found is a soft rubber tube. You insert the clove and roll it on the counter, then shake it out et voila, the skin comes off.
** Chopped is important because a blender won’t chop it fine enough and you could end up with big gag-me chunks of garlic in your pasta.
*** Pignoli nuts can be toasted in the toaster oven very briefly, watch closely cause they burn quickly. If you can’t find them at a market near you, you can substitute walnuts or experiment with other nuts. You can also make pesto without nuts, but that added flavor and texture is yummy.
**** Reggiano is the best parmesan cheese, pricier but worth it.

Et Voila Pancakes

Weekend mornings are perfect for sleeping in, taking the dogs for a walk (or a roll in Cedric’s case), and making a big pancake breakfast. Maple syrup is essential in my book,* and this does not mean maple-flavored syrup, so throw out any Aunt Jemima or similar that may be lurking in your cupboard. You want what is known as “real maple syrup,” but that is a misnomer. It’s just “maple syrup,” the other stuff should be labeled “fake maple syrup.” (Is milk “real milk”? Are apples “real apples”? I rest my case.)

Get out your maple syrup (the container should be refrigerated after it’s been opened) and pour some into a small saucepan so it’s all ready to heat up as the pancakes get close to being done.

Also, if you have half of a very ripe banana, you can mash it thoroughly and add it to the batter. You’ll want to add that to the wet ingredients before you combine them with the dry ingredients. Or if you have fresh raspberries or blueberries, wash some (maybe half a cup), dry them thoroughly, and toss them in just before putting the batter in the pan.

Most of the time we prefer thin pancakes that are more like French crepes. The recipe I’ve adapted from The Joy of Cooking (my copy’s covers are off and it is falling apart from repeated use since college) is as follows:

* Sift 3/4 cup flour (I like to use half whole wheat pastry and half white, but you could also experiment with spelt)**
* Resift with 1/8 tsp salt and
1 tsp double-acting baking powder (look for a brand with no aluminum!)

* Beat 2 any-size eggs (preferably free-range, meaning the chickens weren’t cooped up and probably had a happier life)
* Add and beat
2/3 cup any kind of milk
1/3 cup water
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (much better than vanilla “flavor”)

Combine the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients with just a few swift strokes of your whisk, getting out the big lumps. But don’t overstir!

** Turn on the syrup now, on low to medium heat.

Heat a medium nonstick buttered pan (best to use unsalted butter), heat should be moderate, you won’t want the butter browning before you put the batter in. You can test it by sprinkling a few drops of water on the pan, if they bounce it is ready. Pour about 1/4 cup of batter in and swirl it around till it makes a nice big circle. It cooks pretty quickly since it is so thin, so keep an eye on it and flip it over when it starts to turn golden on the bottom.

Serve with plenty of warm syrup.

Et voila! Yummy pancake breakfast!

* If you prefer, you can alternatively make a sauce out of berries mashed with a little water and sugar and heated till it thickens. Or use good quality fruit jam.

** Notes about purchasing flour: Since it is a grain, it can go rancid. Buy any whole grain product in a place where there is good turnover and it’s likely to be fresh. If the health food store, ask them! I keep all my flour in the refrigerator in their paper bags within a plastic bag, so I can just open the top of both bags at once and dig in with my measuring cup.

Et Voila Cooking — Roasted salmon with balsamic raspberry jalapeno sauce

Et Voila Cooking* is based on the concept that you can pull together a few high quality ingredients and make a dinner that is, if not magnificent, at least reasonably tasty and nutritious. It is a work in progress that I am creating for my lovely niece, Caroline Grace Williams, who has requested some cooking guidance. My food preparation is very simple, and once she realizes exactly how simple, she will, as my daughter has done, leave me in the dust on this front. She’ll also realize how often I repeat the things I prepare and get so bored that she’ll want to create her own unique dishes (or, perish the thought, grab something at Mickey D’s).

So the first rule of good cooking and good eating is high quality ingredients. You can make a much more delicious meal in your own kitchen than you can get in 90 percent of the local eateries just by buying good quality food. We’ll talk more about this as we go along.

Tonight, for example, I’m preparing salmon roasted with balsamic raspberry jalapeno sauce, with mashed potatoes and salad. The salmon is wild caught and hasn’t been frozen, so it costs a little more (but still way less than it would in a restaurant, about $11 for two people). The sauce is made by combining my favorite balsamic vinegar (and there is a wide range of quality in balsamic, you want aged and my favorite brand is Napa Valley) with raspberry jam (I use Bonne Maman) and chopped jalapeno (about half a teaspoon, maybe 1/4, depends how hot it is). Place the salmon (half to 2/3 pounds) in the center of a piece of foil, poke a few fork holes in the fish, spread the sauce on top, fold over the edges to close it up, and pop it in the toaster oven at 375° for about 15 minutes (you’ll notice I’m very approximate in my timings, bad quality for a chef!).

If you don’t like salmon, this would also work fine with chicken breasts, but they would have to cook a bit longer. Slice them in half across the flat side so they don’t take forever and get crunchy on the edges while still raw in the middle.

Meanwhile, cut up some potatoes, preferably small red or Yukon gold, into chunks and put in boiling water. When they are tender, drain and add milk and/or butter and mash to perfection. Tonight we have only buttermilk in the fridge so that’s what I’ll be using. Plain coconut milk or almond milk also works fine, but not vanilla flavored… too sweet for a savory dish.

We’re also having salad… chopped up lettuce, carrots and green pepper with a dressing made of olive oil and… here it is again, balsamic vinegar (love that stuff). But you could use something from a bottle just as easily, at least til you start to get the hang of this.

Et voila!

*The name Et Voila Cooking is based on a frequent comment by my esteemed brother-in-law Richard Williams, MD.