Saturday, July 31, 2010

Blackened Lamb and Chicken

Awhile back, during a stop at the Williams-Sonoma outlet at Stateline, I bought a can of blackening rub.
I've never tried blackening meat before and decided to give it a try. I made a mixture of blackening rub, melted butter and olive oil, just guessing on proportions, and rubbed it on both lamb shoulder cuts,
one of my favorite meats, and a cut-up whole chicken, a meat I don't usually get too excited about. The blackened lamb was good, but lamb is naturally so strong and fatty that it doesn't really need added seasoning to be really good.
I probably will not blacken any more of it in the future. On the other hand, the blackened chicken was fantastic.
It added some spiciness
and the chicken was cooked just right - still very plump and juicy
with just a little bit of pink in the middle. It actually has me excited to do some more grilled chicken this summer. It was very easy to prepare and very, very tasty.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Patriarchal Cathedral of Bucharest, Romania

Brief History of Romania: Very little of Romanian history is familiar to me. From 681 to 1000 AD, the area of Bucharest was part of the First Bulgarian Empire which I have learned did have run-ins with the Byzantine Empire. It had some commercial links with the Byzantine Empire and was also invaded by Pechenegs, Cumans and Mongols. In 1459 the area of Bucharest was one of the residences of Prince Vlad III Dracula, the Prince of Wallachia from 1431 to 1476. Bram Stoker, in his 1897 novel Dracula, associated Dracula’s name to that of a vampire. Bucharest became the capital of Wallachia in 1698. In 1862, the principalities of both Moldavia and Wallachia, under a single ruler, Alexander John Cuza, formally united to form Romania, with Bucharest as its capital. In 1878, following a Russian-Romanian-Turkish war, Romania was recognized as independent of the Ottoman Turks by the Treaty of Berlin. A Hohenzollern prince, Carol, was crowned as the first king of the Kingdom of Romania in 1881. In 1916 Romania entered World War I on the side of Great Britain, France and Russia but was quickly defeated and occupied by German and Austro-Hungarian forces. By the Treaty of Versailles, additional territories were awarded to Romania. On August 31, 1944, the Soviet Red Army entered Bucharest and in 1947 King Michael I abdicated his throne, imposed by the Soviet Union as a result of the agreements reached at the Yalta Conference. It was under communist rule until December 1989 when Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife were overthrown and executed.

Romanian Orthodox Church: The Romanian Orthodox Church is one of 15 autocephalous (independent) Eastern Orthodox Churches. That is, its head bishop, called the patriarch, does not report to any higher-ranking bishop. It is the second largest autocephalous Orthodox church (recognized as such in 1925) with 18 million members, behind the Russian Orthodox Church with 125 million members and ahead of the Serbian Orthodox Church with 15 million members. It geographically covers all of Romania and has dioceses for Romanians living in Moldova, Serbia and Hungary. It is the only Eastern Orthodox Church that uses a Romance or Latin language. While Romania was ruled by communists, the church functioned, but anti-communists were purged and the organization was controlled. Currently the Romanian government pays the salaries of priests, deacons and prelates and the pensions of those who have retired. The government also provides support for church construction and repairs and funds seminaries. There are currently six Metropolitan bishops and ten archbishops in Romania.
In the Romanian Orthodox Church, metropolitan bishops rank above archbishops, but have no special authority over other bishops in their provinces, other than that they chair their respective synods of bishops. Likewise, the patriarch has no higher rank, but chairs the synod of metropolitan bishops. A metropolis is the chief city of a historical Roman province. The current Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church is Daniel Ciobotea, who is also Metropolitan of Ungro-Vlachia and Archbishop of Bucharest.

Patriarchal Cathedral of Bucharest: The Patriarchal Cathedral of Bucharest
is built on a hill known as Mitropoliei
on the grounds of a former monastery and was built between 1654 and 1658.
The church of the monastery was dedicated to Saint Constantine, the Roman Emperor who converted to Christianity, and to Saint Helen, Constantine’s mother. An outside mural, below.
Another outside mural.
The church was consecrated in 1658 by Macarios, the Patriarch of Antioch and of All Orient. In 1678, Metropolitan Varlaam founded a printing workshop in a couple of rooms of the church and ten years later issued the first Romanian Bible. None of the original interior paintings or icons remains, but there is a single icon from 1665 depcting Constantine and Helen, the patron Saints. The current frescoes were painted by Dimitrie Belizarie in 1923. The following are murals from the Narthex:
A view of a dome.
A closer look at the image of Christ in the dome.
Other inside views:
The bell-tower was built in 1698
and restored in 1958.
Next to the church, and closed to the public, is the Patriarchal Palace,
built in 1708, which is the residence
of the Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Huckleberry: Santa Monica, California

Several weeks ago Judy and I went to Santa Monica to be with Andrew and had an enjoyable lunch at Huckleberry, located at 1014 Wilshire Blvd, in Santa Monica (phone: 310-451-2311). We had Lauren and Lexi along with us. The menu features lots of fruits and vegetables and breads. You order from a line, then take a seat and wait for your food. It was quite crowded, but with help from the staff, we were able to get a table of five to sit together by the time our food was ready. Lauren and I each got a fried egg sandwich with Niman Ranch bacon, Gruyere cheese, arugula and aioli on a thick bread.
It was unlike any sandwich I've ever eaten before, even of my own creation. The eggs were over-easy (at my direction) and the combination of the runny yolks with the leafy greens was very different.
I liked the Gruyere, but would have liked more if it, to make the taste more prominent. Judy got a marinated peppers and burrate (mozzarella cheese and cream) sandwich
with pesto that was really different and good. It was on a thick bread.
Andrew got a free-range turkey sandwich with cheddar cheese, grapes, dijon musard, aioli and arugula on multigrain bread.
I didn't taste his sandwich but it was a nice-sized portion and it looked good. He enjoyed it. Lexi got a whole wheat veggie wrap
which she liked. We also got a side of liquified white beans which looked and tasted quite a bit like hummus,
mixed with a good dose of olive oil. I really liked it spread on my egg sandwich. We also got two portions of berry (strawberry and raspberry) trifle
which we didn't come close to polishing off and a chocolate pudding.
For drinks we had a variety of interesting kinds, from huckleberry soda to some kind of Australian ginger ale that Lauren really liked. The food and environment were in tune with modern California culture with natural, mostly healthy foods. It was very enjoyable and I would not hesitate to go back. Our bill ended up being quite reasonable for a group of five.  

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Narrowleaf Goldenbush

Narrowleaf goldenbush,
also known as linear leaved goldenbush and interior goldenbush (Ericameria linearifolia) is found in much of California, excepting the far north and portions of north-central. It is also found in southeastern Nevada, extreme southwestern Utah, and portions of northwestern and central Arizona. It has green, narrow, linear leaves that end in a point, with a narrowed base.
It is part of the daisy family and has many yellow disk flowers
and 13 to 18 narrow ray flowers.
It flowers from March to May.
It is found on dry slopes and in valleys. I found it in May in the vicinity of flowering purple sage
off the Mountain Pass offramp up the grade outside of Primm, Nevada, very near the border of the Mojave National Preserve.
Although I have some doubt about the identification because the number of rays appear to be too few, it looks like the pictures on (generally the best place for many different photos of a plant located in California) and it does not look like any of the other alternatives on (the best source for plant distribution and variety in California).

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Palmer's Penstemon

Palmer's penstemon, also known as Palmer's beardtongue (Penstemon palmeri) has several upright stems
growing up to six feet tall
with asymmetrical flowers with a yellow hairy tongue stocking out of each flower.
The broadly tubular flower blooms in late spring and early summer, is large-mouthed and has five lobes, two on the upper lip and three on the lower lip.
The petals are light pink with purple streaks.
The flowers are wonderfully bizarre and beautiful and larger than many desert flowers.
The leaves are blue-green, toothed and triangular in shape.
The upper leaf bases are joined together around the stem forming boat-like leaf pairs.
They are found from about 3,500 to 7,500 feet along washes, bajadas and slopes in lower mountains. They are fairly common along roadsides. In California, they are found in Inyo and San Bernardino Counties. They are also found in portions of Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Washington. It is named after Edward Palmer, a self-taught British botanist and early American archaeologist. He led an expedition in 1891 exploring the flora and fauna of Death Valley.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Mojave Kingcup Cactus

The Mojave kingcup cactus, also known as the Mojave mound cactus, kingcup cactus and three spine hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus mojavensis) is mound-shaped
and formed of many densely packed stems, covered with spines that are gray, flat, curved (almost wavy), twisting and often interlocking with those of neighboring stems
to form a dense web of spines covering the mound.
There can be mounds composed of as many as 100 individual stems
(as many as 500 stems have been reported). Each stem is usually less than two inches in diameter and is bluish green. Each stem has about ten ribs.
It can get up to about 16 inches tall and has a beautiful funnel-shaped flower
that is orange to red and it blooms in the spring.
The fruit is cylindrical, about one inch long and 1/2 inch in diameter. It is reddish when ripe.
It is found in dry, well-drained gravelly and rocky soils on upper bajadas into the mountains, above 5,000 feet. It is found in southeastern California, southeastern Nevada,  portions of southeastern and southwestern Utah, and northeastern Arizona. I saw a number of them on May 22, 2010 in the Mojave National Preserve on the upper portions of Cima Road.