Fresh Fig and Gorgonzola Pasta: a Summer Favorite

Thanks to the California Fig Growers Association, who gave us this recipe several years ago, Fresh Fig and Gorgonzola Pasta has become a summer favorite. We are fortunate to have an old fig tree in our yard, so we have plenty of fresh figs every summer for a week or two. When we do, we enjoy eating a few right off the tree or with cereal in the morning. But our favorite is to cook them with pasta. The recipe is easy, though it does help to have plenty of fresh figs on hand! I know I’ve increased the amount of figs over the years.

1/2 of a large onion, sliced in rounds or half-rounds

2 Tbsp butter

1 Tbsp olive oil

2-3 cups fresh figs, sliced in half

1 cup pecans (or walnuts) coarsely chopped — more if you have them

4 oz. Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

1 lb long pasta (linguini, thin spaghetti, fettuccine, etc.)

Salt and pepper to taste.

Boil water for the pasta.

Sauté the sliced rounds or half-rounds of onion in butter and olive oil until caramelized (lightly browned).

Add figs when onion is lightly browned, continue sautéing and add pecans when figs are cooked and pasta is nearly done.

Add a little of the Gorgonzola in the end to make a rich sauce, then serve over pasta, sprinkling the rest of the Gorgonzola on top.

Makes 3-4 main dish servings or more side dishes. We usually eat this on its own. The figs and caramelized onions make this a sweet dish. The Gorgonzola and butter make it rich and creamy. The flavors combine to make an unexpectedly delicious treat. Even if you’re not a Gorgonzola fan, I think you’ll like this dish. The cheese isn’t as sharp when paired with the sweet figs.

Should you give your dog buttermilk?

A year ago, I wrote a post about our dog, who was suffering from autoimmune hemolytic anemia. At one point during her disease, she had stopped eating, and I thought to give her some buttermilk. She lapped it right up, then began eating again. Unfortunately, a few weeks later, she still succumbed to the disease, but I still think the buttermilk helped her through a rough patch.

Since then, I’ve noticed a lot of hits on that page, so I assume people wonder whether buttermilk is good for dogs. I won’t claim that it is for all dogs, but it’s been helpful for two of ours. We have a new dog now, and recently she was refusing her food. Everything else seemed fine, so I wasn’t too worried, but I gave her some buttermilk. Again, she lapped it right up. We also got her some new food, and she began eating healthily.

Now, I don’t know if she was sick or just out of sorts (we had been traveling and had given her some motion sickness medicine in the recent past). I don’t know that the buttermilk helped anything, but I do know she liked it.

Since then, I’ve read up on it a little. Many discourage giving dairy products to dogs because they may be lactose intolerant. Buttermilk is lower in lactose than regular milk, and it does contain bacteria that may help the digestion of lactose. Of course, it’s possible that the two dogs I’ve given it to are not lactose intolerant, so they wouldn’t have trouble with regular milk. I haven’t experimented with that, and I probably won’t.

If your dog has lost his/her appetite, giving a little buttermilk probably won’t hurt, but I wouldn’t give a lot at a time. Start small, and if your dog likes it and tolerates it, then it ought to be okay. If it seems to upset your dog’s stomach more, then I would definitely stop and try something else.

As always, it’s best to consult your vet, but if your dog doesn’t seem very sick or if you can’t get to a vet right away, then buttermilk might be a home remedy to try in small doses until you know your dog tolerates it.

Book Review: The Secret of Magic, Deborah Johnson

The Secret of MagicThe Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Secret of Magic is a thoroughly enjoyable read. Inspired by a true case of a WWII serviceman who was singled out and arrested on a bus in the North Carolina, then brutally abused while in custody for insisting on his most basic civil rights, Deborah Johnson weaves a magical realist tale combined with realities of the the early Civil Rights era. Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund figure in the novel, and 1940′s Columbus, MS, provides much of the backdrop for the fictional town of Rever). Invented characters and events, as well as a novel within the novel, provide Johnson the magical elements needed to weave an important statement on race relations in the past, present, and future South.

View all my reviews

Apple TV vs Samsung SmartHub

I promise, this will be the last post about our Samsung Not-So-Smart TV! If you’ve followed the saga, then you’ll understand why I gave up and bought an Apple TV. The question I want to answer with this post is: was it worth it? I bought a refurbished Apple TV for $75 plus tax from the Apple Store. Did this add enough value to my current Smart TV to make me glad I did it? The answer is a resounding “Yes!”

Not only is the Apple TV interface more stylish and easier to look at, but it works, which is more than I could say for Samsung. Disclaimer: our TV was purchased six months ago, but wasn’t the latest greatest Samsung model, nor was it the most expensive. Since then, Samsung has come out with newer models, and if you go by the images of SmartHub on their website, our version, though it is completely up to date, does not have all the bells and whistles available on newer TVs. On the other hand, Apple hasn’t updated the Apple TV in a couple of years, and our refurbished model runs the latest iOS for Apple TV. I actually like that stability, and I trust Apple to continue to support their product for years, even if they do come out with an improved version. The two devices are about the same generation, in other words, but the Apple TV doesn’t seem outdated, whereas the Samsung SmartHub we have does.

Apple TV is faster. A lot faster. Though I haven’t timed it, I would say that starting an app is at least three times faster on Apple than on Samsung. And that’s when Samsung doesn’t have to update the app before starting, which it did about once a week, it seemed.

Apple TV has all the apps Samsung has and more. Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, YouTube, Vimeo, and a slew of foreign apps all exist on both platforms (or as many as I could care about do). But Apple has a PBS app, and it has ABC (though you need a cable subscription to use it). Of course, Apple TV also can access the iTunes store where you can purchase or rent video (or audio), though I don’t plan to do this. And Apple TV has access to podcasts (video and audio).

Notably missing on both platforms are NBC, CBS, and other networks. And Apple TV does not have a web browser. Samsung SmartHub does, but it doesn’t do much. (See previous rants about how useless the browser is.)

But Apple TV works with iOS devices and Apple computers! It is incredibly easy to set up Airplay and stream video from a computer or an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch (some older models are not supported). With this, I can use the web browser on my iPad to view any video online and use Airplay to stream directly to Apple TV on the big screen. If iOS is limited (say at a Flash site), I can use my computer to do the same.

Apple TV also can be controlled by my iPad using the Remote app. The standard remote is fine for most app navigation, but if it comes time to search, I can use the keyboard on my iPad to enter text on the Apple TV.

Both Apple TV and Samsung SmartHub can be paired with a Bluetooth keyboard, but the Remote app for iPad means I don’t have to buy a new keyboard (that saves half my purchase price for the Apple TV) or keep one around the TV. We have enough clutter with remotes that I don’t relish another keyboard in the living room!

So who’s the winner? Hands down, the title goes to Apple TV. Since turning it on, I haven’t looked back, and the only reason I would want to launch SmartHub again would be to turn of the auto-update feature, so it will stop interrupting my viewing on the AppleTV with a notice that SmartHub has been updated, forcing me to grab the TV remote to keep it from automatically opening the darned thing (bad, bad choice, Samsung). I’m very happy with Apple TV, and I would even say the video quality is better on it than when using the same app (say Netflix) on the Samsung SmartHub platform.

However, if your home is filled with Samsung products, your verdict might be different. Maybe the ability to use your Samsung smart phone or tablet with your TV would trump the other benefits of Apple TV, though you’d still have to contend with the frequent updates and the slow performance of the Samsung Smart TV. Maybe the latest models offer some improvement. My question would be, how long will that last?

Samsung ‘Smart’ TV Review

Awhile ago, I wrote that our Smart TV wasn’t that smart. We have a Samsung UN40H6350AFXZA, and I’m glad we got a good deal on it, because I’ve finally given up on its smart features. When we bought it, the reviews said Samsung had the best browser and it could connect with an iOS device using the SwipeIt app. By the time I got ours and started to experiment with that app, it wasn’t working and was soon discontinued. Another app that promised iOS integration also disappeared and never worked for me (do you sense a trend here?). The Smart TV’s web browser was touted as the best available. It’s either gotten worse or never was very good. Yes, you can browse the web, but don’t try watching video. PBS programs that used to play, now crash after the first commercial. ABC and NBC programs won’t play at all, nor will ESPN. There’s quite a bit of free content out there on the web, but good luck accessing it with this TV.

Recently, I spent considerable time trying to get the Samsung “Movies & TV” app to work. It needed a credit card number, but for awhile there was no way to add that. I contacted support and got a couple of answers, neither of which actually matched what I saw when I tried to update my account, either at the website using my computer or on the TV. Then suddenly there was a new update and the option to add a card returned (but not in the place that either support article had told me). When I was finally able to “Watch Now” again, I could see why they needed my credit card. The only options were to watch through paid subscriptions.

That’s all Samsung seems to care about are. If you’re interested in Hulu or Vudu, or if you already have cable (and why do you need a Smart TV, then? — all you need is a DVR), then this TV might work for you. But if you’re interested in a Smart TV so you can watch free streaming video from the networks for shows you’ve missed or can’t watch at the scheduled time, then you won’t get very far with this TV. The web browser is extremely buggy and slow. It crashes anytime I try to play video. Yet there are constant SmartHub and firmware updates that ought to update the Flash capabilities so it can play more video. But those never help; instead, they seem to make things worse. Samsung also won’t let me delete their apps that I don’t want (like the Kids or Fitness apps that I have no use for, or HBO Go that is useless because I don’t have HBO or the many paid subscription apps I don’t want to subscribe to), so I can’t free up memory (nor can I add memory), which is one cause of the crashes.

I will say that the Netflix and YouTube apps do work. So if that’s all you need, then you might like this TV. However, you will find that they are slow, especially when you are required to update the software before you can run the app (something that seems to happen once a week or so). But the performance of these apps is decent. And the picture quality of the TV is really quite good. So I’m glad we got a good deal on it, and I don’t feel too bad that I’ve decided to ignore its smart features and buy an AppleTV to replace the features this TV promised but couldn’t deliver.

I don’t know what that says about all the latest hype about Samsung smart TVs and product integration. Maybe if you have a Samsung phone and a Samsung TV they work better together, but after my experience with this model, I’m suspicious. Our TV is about six months old and is already outdated. Yes, the model debuted in 2012, so the technology is a little more out of date, but I’m pretty sure our AppleTV will still be functional in two years, and won’t be limping along with as many problems as this Samsung. I also be that the user experience with a Samsung TV won’t be quite a cool as it is in the commercials if you have to wait for your app to update when you want to switch your video from your phone to your TV. It’s funny how in the commercials you never see the spinning circle that is a constant feature on our TV every time we start an app. And on the commercials, nothing ever crashes, yet in real life it’s a common occurrence.

Creamed Asparagus on Toast

It’s been awhile since I posted a recipe, and tonight’s comfort food is perfect for this time of year (or any time, but it makes me think of spring). So next time asparagus is on sale or you find some at the farmer’s market (or better yet, pick it fresh from the garden), give this a try. It’s easy, filling, and delicious.

The basic recipe includes asparagus cut into 1-2 inch lengths, onion, butter/olive oil, milk, hard boiled eggs (make ahead and peel when cool), and toast. For 3 people, we use about a pound of asparagus and half an onion. Sauté a the onion in oil and/or butter (a generous amount such as a tablespoon of each). When the onions start to turn clear but not browned, toss in the asparagus and lightly sauté for a couple of minutes. Then add two or three tablespoons of flour (a couple of handfuls) and stir until the flour is coated in oil. Add milk a little at a time to make a fairly thick cream sauce. Cut the eggs into halves or quarters and then into pieces (use one egg per person, give or take). Salt and pepper to taste.

Toast the bread — we prefer home made whole wheat bread that is a little dry already (the end of an old loaf), but store bought bread is okay. Whole grain is best, but it’s really up to you. When I was a kid and my Mom made this for us, I’m pretty sure she buttered the toast, but we generally skip that step. Ladle some of the creamed asparagus over a piece of toast and serve. 

To spice it up, add some mushrooms or other spices (I added a little fresh fennel tonight for fun). To stretch if you don’t have a lot of asparagus, you could add carrot or parsnip cut into match stick pieces. A little green pepper might also work or in place of regular onion, use shallot or green onion. If you want a creamier sauce, use whole milk. For a lighter version, use 2% or less, or use low fat buttermilk to replace all or part of the milk.

Poetry Contest Submission

Every now and then, after (or in the midst of) a heavy grading period, I have to remind myself that in addition to being a university professor, I’m also a poet. In the throes of a busy semester, this can be a challenge, but this morning, I took a few minutes to work on a poem and send out a submission to a contest.

In general, I’m not a big fan of contests. It can feel like a waste of time and money, given the odds of winning. So I’m fairly selective about the contests I choose to enter. i like them to have a good reputation but not be the creme de la creme (those top national awards don’t need my money). But more importantly, I like to feel like I’m getting something for my money besides a lottery ticket. So the contest rules need to be clear and fair, and the organization running the contest needs to be one I know, trust, and want to support with my entrance fee. An added bonus is when the entrance fee buys you a subscription to a magazine (which I’d often rather have than a copy of the prize-winning book). It’s also nice when contest entries are also considered for publication in a magazine (though i don’t like it if I get the feeling you have to enter the contest to be considered for magazine publication).

The contest fee should be modest, but there should be a fee. I never trust a free contest unless I am absolutely confident about the organization running it (state Arts Commissions or other well-recognized organizations that run grant competitions are the main exceptions to the rule). I’ve heard of too many scams for poets out there to want to enter your free contest. But I have no interest in paying through the nose just to be read. I’ll take my chances in the slush pile, thank you very much.

I want to support a few contests per year by entering them. They should be sponsored by literary magazines or organizations that support writers, so I feel like I’m giving back to the community with my submission. If I get something good to read out of the deal, even better. And if my name gets mentioned among the finalists or even better as one of the winners, that’s fabulous, but I’m not holding my breath. I like the tangible, certain rewards that build a community of writers the best. Fame and fortune (or at least prize money) always seem too elusive to bank on.

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