Friday, June 27, 2008

Politics, even better, and worth seeing (PS. it is satire)

"I am not here, gobble gobble!"

This is so much worth seeing.

Not much avanti at Avanti restaurant, Pennington, NJ

After a long frustrated discussion of where to go for dinner to celebrate AREA's participation in a Teen Arts show, we decided on an Italian restaurant we had never been to before. It all sounded good and it got good reviews. When I called an made a reservation I got a tiny but hesitant though, because the person answering the phone could not tell us if there was a table available or not until she has asked someone else, and what should have been an easy phone call and question turned into a complicated one. But we got a reservation and we were off.

The Avanti restaurant is in Pennington, a cute little New Jersey town, in a separate building on a back lot. It is small, very small in fact, and the kitchen is even more miniscule. The menu was great, lots of Italian dishes (but no pizza for kids). We ordered fried calamari (squid) and mozzarella sticks for appetizers, and all main courses came with salad. Now the problems started. The salads came out quickly, but there was a mixup with AREA's salad, and no bread arrived until we asked for it (much later). There was nothing remarkable about the salads, good, but nothing special. Oh, there was another problem with providing oil and vinegar for the salads too.

From where I sat I could see the waiters trying to get in and out of the narrow door to the kitchen, and the crowded areas inside. Very crowded... Appetizers arrived, and they were OK but not great. The mozzarella sticks were laying in a pool of tomato sauce which made them soggy. The calamari wasn't crisp, and the tomato sauce was just regular tomato sauce. I think it was missing seasonings, like herbs and pepper, but then I am used to food that has fresh pepper and fresh herbs in it all the time. But considering that this is a fancy Italian place, I expected much better.

Then the waiting started. And continued. Finally our entrees arrived - veal for PP, baked ravioli for AREA, linguine with meat sauce for LA, and fresh pasta with mushrooms for me. It was all good, but still, not exceptional. Our waiter disappeared for a while, and then showed up with a large band aid around her whole lower arm. "What happened", we asked. "Oh, just a burn ", she said. Well, half her arm was covered up, so it didn't look like 'just a burn'. Before this we had seen two waiters crash in the flip-flip door, causing a plate with tomato sauce get all over the kitchen door.

In the beginning our water glasses were refilled quickly, but then it was like they forgot about us. We asked for more bread to soak up the good sauce, but never got any. The pasta dishes were good, but nothing like the ones at La Casa Bianca, another Italian restaurant in the area. Once again I thought that my dish was unseasoned. It was good, but not fantastic. It needed pepper and herbs, again. And dried parmesan on the table is not the same thing as fresh cut parmesan.

Time to pay. Oops, they only take cash or American Express, no VISA or Mastercard, which I think was very unusual. Even more unusual is that this was not stated anywhere on the menu. We were lucky to have enough cash with us, usually we don't.

In conclusion, the service was poor, but I don't blame our waitress for most of this. It appeared that they had too many tables for such a small kitchen, or that their routines weren't good and this has more to do with management than a single waitress. The food was OK, but not worth the money. I can make better pasta at home. If you want to eat for about the same price around here in central NJ, go to these places instead: Za, Brothers Moon, The Blue Bottle, Sergeantsville Inn, Origin, Makeda, etc. Maybe the restaurant had a bad evening, but it wasn't even full. I wonder how it is on a night when all the tables are occupied. Are people waiting 2 hours for their main dish then? Maybe I am too critical, or maybe I am just comparing this restaurant to the amazing places we have found. In any case, I don't think I want to go back here when there are so many places that are so much more appetizing around here. (NY Times review of Avanti, this is the only link that works on their website to supposedly 5 reviews.)

PS. The photo is of the Studebaker Avanti, PP's Dad's favorite car.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Darwin's garden

There was an exhibit recently at The New York Botanical Garden, where they had recreated Charles Darwin's garden at his home Down House in Kent, England. As a European, it was a familiar view with all kinds of old-fashioned northern European garden plants, many of which that grow in Swedish gardens too, but are not so common here. There were giant foxgloves (Digitalis), poppies (Papaver), lark spurs (Delphinium), monkshood (Aconitum), and much, much more. They also had built up one wall of Darwin's house and you could go inside and look out the window over his desk to see the abundant plant life. What was missing was the bees, bumblebees, and butterflies. Since this was inside a greenhouse, pollinating insect life was unfortunately absent and made the garden feel sterile. But the exhibit reminded me of Sweden, and it was lovely.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The unmentionables in the fridge

I found a website with food poems (and much more, only problem is all the ads that clog up that site). You can indulge in quotes, news, trivia, recipes, and a great food timeline. How about this poem (link)?


It’s like the subway
In the middle of rush hour
Where some year old mayonnaise
Nudges yesterday’s tuna
For a place in this coveted no-man’s-land
Where leftovers reign supreme
And for this food
It’s the end of the line.

Ellen Fuchs

Monday, June 23, 2008

A regular night and day in New Jersey

Midnight: Daughter has not yet arrived home from the outdoor movie party. Frogs and crickets are busy in the night, and the fireflies shine green in the dark.

1 AM: Finally in bed. It is hot and humid, not enough breeze and the promised thunderstorm is nowhere to be seen. A crazy mockingbird is going wild - why at night? This is REALLY bothersome. Please move to someone else's garden, at least at night.

4 AM: Big crash on the road that woke me up (and LA and PP too), right outside our house. Probably a truck or SUV hitting a deer. Can't go back to sleep.

5 AM: Getting up with PP to have breakfast, two hours earlier than usual. Walk outside and find a dead deer and plastic bumper parts in the middle of the road. Who is so stupid they don't even stop and move the deer off the road. I am in my robe and have no gloves to protect my hands, so I don't move the deer either.

7.30 AM: Off to work, with meetings all day. Listening in the car to a great book on CD with lots of crime, murders, Louisiana details, and great character descriptions: Pegasus Descending by James Lee Burke. More of this author please, just as good as Henning Mankell! Work today is budgeting, grant writing, editing others papers, chatting with students about progress plans, reading and answering many, many e-mails, and thinking in between. I wish I had more time to think.

noon: Great lunch at the Korean restaurant in Edison - first time I have been back since my Dad got food poisoned there three years ago. No problem this time. I had bibim bap, one of my favorites. I also love all the small appetizers they serve, such as kimchi, grilled mackerel pickled in chili sauce, and bean sprouts.

1.30 PM: Now on my way home to pick up kids to bring them to a dentist appointment. I am so tired! When I get home I find a car license plate on our front steps. AREA found it laying next to the deer. The driver not only killed the deer but also lost his (hers?) license plate, ha! We take the license plate (starting with VPL...) to the local police station where the officers say they will give the man (or woman) a call and ask him to explain how come the license plate was handed in. I think it is illegal to leave the scene of an accident, even if it is just a deer (yep! just checked on this, you get 2 points on your license record and higher car insurance costs). I think over 20 000 deers are being killed by cars in NJ every year.

Once we had a deer outside our house that didn't die after being hit by a car on the road, it just broke all its legs and it was laying in the road The car driver just left after stopping and pulling the lame deer of the road a little bit. People are crazy. We called the police, and they came to shoot it to end its misery. Unfortunately the young officer had to shoot the deer SIX times before he killed, two of the times in the belly (why not just aim at the head of the already lame deer? total incompetence).

3.30 PM: Sitting in the waiting room at the dentist and fall asleep, only to be woken up by the smiling dentist. I had to explain that I had only slept a few hours last night. And he has such a nice soft, leather sofa!

3.45 PM: Ran into a friend who was collecting seeds from garlic mustard (löktrav), a terrible weed here, to make real mustard. You need a lot of patience and time to get enough for one tablespoon of seeds. But it helps against its invasiveness. I wonder how it tasted, maybe a bit strong? Deers hate this plant, they never eat it, too bad.

4.00 PM: Went to get a new riding helmet cover for AREA at Stitching Horse and shopped for vegetables next door in Kingston. While in there, a Japanese woman in fashionable clothes enters and buys something like one small container of youghurt, one apple, and one cucumber. We go out and a giant black limousine is taking up most of the drive way. Imaging taking the limo to shop for three things.

4.30 PM: Buying more food at Shoprite. Forgot the reusable shopping bags as usual, but AREA got them from the car (THANKS!). Why is it so hard to remember them? Dunkin Donuts have opened a new store inside the supermarket, right by the entrance where all kids can see them and then demand from their mothers that they absolutely need a muffin, donut, or cookie. The shopping carts have little drink holders for the shopping moms (I never see a man with a drink while shopping). Why do Americans need to eat all the time? It is like a bottle of water, a snack, or a cookie is their security blanket for both kids and adults.

5.30 PM: Home, unpacking food. Hear about the mouse that was a living toy for Smokey this morning until AREA rescued it and threw it outside. Go and get the truck from the shop, where it got serviced and once again passed inspection (Phew!).

6.00 PM: Making dinner. Pasta primavera, which is cooked pasta with asparagus, small onions, green beans, red peppers, mushrooms, yoghurt, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, parsley, and salt and pepper. Very delicious!

7.00 PM: Dessert, to everybody's satisfaction there is finally some chocolate ice cream in the house. Bought new vacuum cleaner online since our old ones recently have taken a liking to smoking.

10.19 PM: Writing this. Time to go to bed and read Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs. See you in the morning.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Snapshot: "Who are you looking at?"

Jumping spider - on guard! - as the french would say. He´s a male Aurillius v-insignitus, no swedish name that I know of.

by EH

Snapshot: "Can you take a licking?"

"There's a speck of dust on your lens, let me clean it for you."

(Listening to while posting: Regina Spector - Daniel Cowman)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Resa till Dalarna

TRAVEL TO DALARNA (a province in Sweden northwest of Stockholm).

Dimmorna lättade över sjön Väsmaren där vi sovit över i en gammal timmerstuga.
The morning mist disappeared over the lake Vasmaren where we had spent the night in an old log cabin.

Vi besökte en restaurerad masugn vid Klenshyttan.
We visited a restored furnace at Klenshyttan.

Själva masugnen var förstärkt med massor med järnband runt omkring ugnen.
The furnace was reinforced with lots of iron bands around the furnace.

Längs vägen blommade stora fält med ängsklocka i en mängd så fälten lyste blått.
Along the road there were large fields with flowering blue bells, so much that the fields shined blue.

Ängsklockan är underbart vacker med skira nickande klockor. Min favorit.
Campanula campestris is amazingly beautiful with fragile, nodding bells. My favorite.

Vid en stor myr flög massor med svavelgul höfjäril och även ängssmygare och på samma blomma satten sällsynt svartfläckig glanssmygare.
At a large bog there were lots of different butterflies flying around [I don't know the English or Latin species names].

Update by LS: I first put the translations in the comments, but then decided to add the translations here where you can see the photos.

Natural photography

Some amazing bird photography by James Ownby can be found here - wow! Look at the travel diary too.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Adria, Winnebago, Polar...

Garrison Kiellor, the host of the famous radio show The Prarie Home Companion, has written an eulogy for the winnebago/RV/caravan/husvagn. With gasoline prices rising fast all over the world few people want to pull a giant box around on the road. An excerpt:

"Nonetheless it's sad to see the motor home fade into the sunset. I used to despise them when I was a canoeist, of course. You paddle up to a campground at the end of a hard day and see a few RVs parked there, the air conditioners rumbling, the flickering blue light of the TVs in the windows, and as you set up your tent as far from them as possible, you feel a moral grandeur purer than you will ever feel again. A holy Christian pilgrim among the piggish heathen."

This reminds me of growing up. Our caravan was always the tiniest of them all, except for some childless hippie-like couples that had the little egg-like ones. We had no TV, no AC, no bathroom, no shower, and with all beds down the remaining floor space was less than 0.7 square meter (=7 square feet). We spent a lot of time outside.

Kiellor goes on talking about how America is not made for non-gasoline life, and wonders what will happen:

"So we will need to amuse ourselves in new ways. I predict that banjo sales will pick up. The screened porch will come back in style. And the art of storytelling will burgeon along with it. Stories are common currency in life but only to people on foot."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Quote - beans

Ecuadorian pink beans. Aren't they pretty? My bush beans are growing like crazy here in New Jersey and started flowering today.

Quote of the day:
Weather means more when you have a garden. There's nothing like listening to a shower and thinking how it is soaking in around your green beans.Marcelene Cox

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Surf notes from the internet

Making and catching history before it was too late

Buckmister Fuller and his 3-wheel car

Insights on the recall of salmonella tomatoes in the US

Best place for handmade crafts - ETSY (how about a crocheted dinosaur skull?)

And Indian food in new ways....

For EH, and garden report

Here is a butterfly for EH who is home in bed! We hope you will be back on the blog soon. Feel better and all the best of wishes from New Jersey. This butterfly is from Ecuador, and I have no idea even what group of butterflies it belongs to, but it is a Lepidoptera.

Outside here in New Jersey, the frogs are croaking all night long after our big thunder/rainstorm last night. It is not the spring peepers - these sound different, less peeping and more croaking. The Baltimore orioles are still hanging around and probably have a nest high up in one of the silver maples. A black bear was seen again this morning about 2 miles from here. My flower box is flowering in red, blue, and white - prästkrage, blåklint, and kornvallmo (ox eye daisy, corn flower, and poppy), mostly from Swedish seed and it looks so much like Gotland when I walk by it. I love it. All our peppers are growing like crazy and so are our bush beans, only problems so far are mold on the strawberries, and potato beetles on the tomatillos. The house sparrows are on their second set of chicks this year already and two groundhog babies got caught in our trap. Nearly no Japanese beetles - I guess the milky spore powder killed them off, thanks! So not so much garden warfare yet, but I am so tired of our worst weed - jordreva - ground ivy - Glechoma hederacea. It is everywhere!

Update: Not just for EH in bed, but for my Dad and O.K. too, who have been battling nasty cold viruses. Feel better all of you.

Our photos

AREA and I have Flickr accounts for our photos that are now linked to this blog (look in the right column a bit down). Here you can check out our photos, and if you are a Flickr member you can comment too.

AREA's photos (Flickr name: Withering Dawn)

LS' photos (Flickr name: Vilseskogen)

Friday, June 13, 2008

From above

I have always loved aerial photography, and I found this great collection from areas around the world. Check out the mountain on Iceland, Aral Sea, cities, and the Amazon River.

I remember an art book I saw a long time ago in Sweden with aerial photography of Swedish landscapes. It was so beautiful! I have no idea who took the photos or wrote the book. I think it also was an exhibit of them at Kulturhuset in Stockholm, so this was at least 20 years ago. Oh well, one day I will probably find it in a used book-store. This type of photography gives you a new perspective on things :).

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Food quote of the day

Chili is a lot like sex: when it is good it is great, and even when it is bad, it's not that bad. - Bill Boldenweck

Weird architecture

When you leave the Historic Railroad terminal in Jersey City to get the ferry to Ellis Island, you see some new construction like these buildings to the north. The largest skyscraper is the new Goldman Sachs building, built after September 11. I think it looks like a giant electric razor. The railroad terminal, now no longer in use and abandoned among weeds, is dwarfed by the new colossus buildings without any character and charm.n More photos from Ellis Island and the Railroad terminal soon.

A razor like this. I couldn't find the exact model I was thinking about from the 80s, because these days electric razors look so weird and different. I think it was a Braun or Philips, but I can't find the model right now.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Flower power at NYBG

Some photos from a recent visit to the New York Botanical Garden in May. Everything was flowering!

These cool Geum plants (avens, humleblomster) are native and wild in Sweden, but in New York they are cultivated for their tiny beautiful flowers.

A nearly black tulip from the inside.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Overheard in the supermarket today

Setting: SUPER Stop & Shop in Franklin Township in NJ, two moms pushing a shopping cart with a screaming and teary 2-3 year old boy in the front in one of those plastic car things attached to the shopping cart. The moms are oblivious to the screams, just chatting away.
One says to the other:
- I spend most money on veggie burgers, it's the only thing he eats!

That made me start thinking and my conclusions are:
1. If all I got to eat was veggie burgers I would cry too.
2. If veggie burgers, about $1 each, is the most expensive my mom was buying for me, what else is she serving? Rice porridge and peanut butter.
3. This is really an example of how stupid parents are in this country. Serve the kid some other food for a change. No kid will starve, eventually they will try different things on their plates if the parents don't give them the same thing over and over and over again. Give the kid a carrot. And a real burger (and read this article from

Helpless cat

Help, my legs are gone! (Smokey in inaction. She looses her legs at least several times a week.)

Snapshot: Toe flirting

Two chairs met on a sidewalk in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Newark, NJ.

Swedish summer, June 2008

A Swedish summer letter from my mom (AnS) arrived, with photos that she asked me to post, since there is a problem with blogger on her computer. This is how I grew up, and this is the Sweden I miss so much. Enjoy!

"Dom har slagit ängen nedanför där räven går och jagar möss."
They harvested the hay extremely early this year, and in the cut grass the red fox is hunting mice.
"Jagande räv." Red fox, ready to pounce.
"Lupiner vid källardörren." Lupines at the cellar door.
"Lunden med vedboden i bakgrunden." This place is called the a word I don't know how to translate, but it means an open deciduous forest with lots of spring flowers. The wood shed is in the background.
"Vallörten blommar." Russian comfrey, Symphytum x uplandicum
"Sädesärlan matar sina ungar under vedbodtaket. Här skriker tornseglarna runt huvudet, de har återtagit sina gamla bon och stararna skriker i sina holkar och flugsnapparna sjunger för fullt."
The Pied Wagtail is feeding its chicks under the tiled wood shed roof. The chimney swifts are screaming around my head, they have repossessed their old nests and the starlings scream in their bird houses and the flycatchers sing constantly. The photo is of a wagtail.
"...jag njuter av trädgården och hur fint allt är. Det är 29 grader i skuggan och jag sitter i skuggan under syrenen och på nätterna är jag ute och jagar nattsångare. Jag har hört vaktel, vassångare, busksångare, flodsångare, trastsångare och spelat in. I kväll skall jag försöka få en nattskärra vid Klockarsjön. "
...I enjoy the garden and how beautiful everything is. It is 29 degrees (Celsius) in the shade and I am sitting in the shade of the lilac and during the nights I am out finding night-singing warblers. [then she lists lots of different bird species in swedish, including quail, Savi's Warbler, Blyth's Reed Warbler, River Warbler, and Great Reed Warbler]. Tonight I am going to try to hear a Nightjar at Klockarlake.
"Hundkex, rödblära, gräslök, och syren blommar och alla pelargoner är
uttagna. Det är så ljuvligt. "
Queen Anne's lace, red campion (Silene dioca), chives, and lilac are flowering and all geraniums have been moved out into the garden. It is so wonderful.
"Akleja." Columbine.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Friday, June 6, 2008

Historical American Politics

Overheard yesterday:

"Whoever would have become president in the fall would have made history, either it would have been a woman, a black man, or...... an old man."

Kids, you live in historical times! This is 40 years after Martin Luther King Jr, and so much has changed, and so much is the same. I spent yesterday in Newark, the largest city in New Jersey, and I took some photos of urban despair and hope that I will post later. This is as far as I can get from my Swedish nature-romantic upbringing I think. People in Newark don't have the luxury of caring about mushroom picking in the forests or what do to on their vacations, instead they worry about getting a job, keeping lead out of their babies bodies, and not being killed and involved in gangs.

In 1968 there were racial riots here which led to the National Guard being called in and over 20 people dead. There is a great exhibit at the New Jersey Historical Society about this, and it is well worth seeing. The name of the exhibit is "What's going on?", just like the Marvin Gaye song/album, which came out a few years later and was an instant hit. Marvin Gaye wrote the song earlier but didn't release it until 1971 because he knew the lyrics about poverty, race and war would be controversial.

Here is how the song starts:
Mother, mother
There's too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There's far too many of you dying
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today

It is still the same in the world. We need peace, love, jobs, sustainability, and understanding now more than ever. On the other hand, I am more hopeful than ever for real change.

No more anonymity

After last night's anonymous posting of bad and offensive language here on the blog I have changed the settings so we no longer accept anonymous comments. Please comment, but use your user ID or e-mail to do it. There are still many ways to post without revealing your real name, but we no longer want truly anonymous people to harass this blog.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Guess what I saw today? (Stamp of the Day)

I saw one of these, swimming, splashing and then diving. I think it is the first beaver I have seen in New Jersey. I also saw a white-tailed fawn with its deer mom, and two wild turkeys. The only missing was black bears, but they were in Millburn instead. I am in northern New Jersey, close to the border with New York State, in the bear-heaviest part of NJ. It is a nice area, hilly and forested and it turns into a ski resort in the winter. We are staying at the Appalachian, where each room has a fireplace. Unfortunately it is just a gas fireplace, not the real thing, but still, it is a wonderful place.

Fria världen

Såhär års, i junis början, kommer alltid samma låttext upp ur minnet. Allt blommar, syrenerna doftar, landskapet grönskar åter och täcker vinterns och vårens bruna och gula toner i ett skönt lapptäcke av gröna nyanser.

I mitt sinne ljuder första versen av Eva Dahlgrens "Fria världen".

Jag lever i den fria världen
här är landet vidsträckt
skönhet i juniblom
som början till berusning
är den svala vind
som smeksamt andas
min tanke hel

och här står jag nu
i ljus av annan gud

Sorry all english-speaking/reading folks, I´m unable to translate this lyrics of a swedish singer.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Svensk skärgård, swedish archipelago

Pictures from the Swedish archipelago for LS and all other blog readers

by EH