Oh, How I Love My Novophone

When a new season of Mad Men — the AMC drama set in a Manhattan advertising agency in the early 1960s — is released, we Netflix it.  Because, well, really, who can resist the allure of Don Draper or the curves of Joan Holloway?

The many secretaries on the show are continually lifting old-school telephone receivers to their shapely ears as they transcribe shorthand at their typewriters.  Seeing that lifting action repeated again and again made me realize how much, in this cell phone age, I have missed a real telephone: a full-size receiver with good sound quality and a nice heft.  The kind you can prop between your ear and your shoulder and still be clearly heard.  (Since 2005, Matt and I have had no landline — only cell phones.)

“I want a retro handset,” I said to Matt as Mad Men played in the background.

“Well, they do make them for cell phones,” Matt said.


“Really.”  And he sent me to this site.

The folks at Novophone — and soon, I imagine, other companies — do indeed make the very object of my desire, but for $27.95 — a price steep enough that I hemmed and hawed for several weeks over the decision to drop so much cash on what is essentially a mound of molded plastic with a cord.

But then I happened across the third act of this episode of This American Life (which begins at minute 45:55): an interview with journalist Christopher Ketcham, who wrote this article for GQ on the biological effects of cell phone radiation.  (As a sidenote, there is also this recent article on the subject in Harper’s Magazine.)

On the surface, the results of research into the matter seem to be a toss-up, with half of the studies showing negative health effects (i.e., increased brain cancer risk), and half not.  But when the research is divided by who funded it (the cell phone industry, or independent funding agencies), an interesting pattern emerges: while only 25% of studies funded by the industry show biological effects, 75% of the independently-funded studies do.  The risks appear to be greatest for individuals who begin using cell phones under the age of 20, as their brains are still developing and their skulls are thinner than adult skulls, and therefore do not provide as much of a radiation barrier.  But young’uns aren’t the only ones at risk.

There was the nudge I needed to get my cell away from my ear.  I ordered my Novophone that very afternoon.  The handset comes in two colors (red or black) and two styles (with or without a button on the handset that allows you to answer the phone without touching your cell).

I opted for black and buttonless, since various reviewers at Amazon.com (where I ordered the phone with free shipping) commented that it was easy to accidentally hit the button and hang up in the middle of a call.  (If you’re interested, check here to see if your cell is compatible with the Novophone, or if you’d need an adapter.)

I have to say: I LOVE this phone handset.  The feel of it in my hand, and the quality of the sound, are exactly what I had hoped for.  And it has the added bonus of cutting down my daily EMF exposure!  I’d had a hands-free headset for my cell, but never liked it much — and the people on the other end of the line had complained that I sounded like I was talking from a tunnel.  Not so with the Novophone!

As I talk on it, I invariably think of the Mad Men secretaries, and of the inventions that each generation creates and brings into widespread use, insisting on their innocuousness until faced with overwhelming evidence to the contrary (the type of evidence that takes decades to build and great effort to bring to light).  The Mad Men era had asbestos, leaded gasoline and paint, and widespread cigarette use.  My best guesses for our era’s follies?  To name a few: widespread use of pharmaceuticals and endocrine disruptors like flame retardants (which we’ve applied to just about every upholstered, electronic, and synthetic-furniture item in the U.S.), and phthalates and parabens (which we’ve managed to mix into just about every personal care product Americans use).

And, of course, cell phones.  Only time will tell.

Happy Birthday, Thomas Jefferson!

Clay Jenkinson, as Thomas Jefferson, in (maybe just maybe) the New Enlightenment Radio Network Barn.  Photo from http://www.jeffersonhour.org.

Today is the 267th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson’s birth.   And I am celebrating with bells on!

As many of you know, I have quite the crush on Thomas Jefferson.  I first ‘fessed up to it here.  Today, I’ll proudly let my geek flag fly, and tell you how the crush came to be.

I listen to a lot of NPR.  A LOT.  Especially when doing things like cooking, traveling, or doing the repetitive work that is the domain of lab and field biologists (data entry, processing samples, counting seeds, etc.).

After we moved to Williamsburg, every once in a while as I made lunch, I would hear snippets of a show, new to me, called The Thomas Jefferson Hour, distributed by Prairie Public Radio out of North Dakota.  I always liked what I heard, but for one reason or another rarely caught the whole program.

Last spring, deep into a data entry project, I was hunting for new podcasts to alleviate my boredom and remembered The Thomas Jefferson Hour.  Turns out, all the podcasts are available for free (from the show’s website and iTunes).  I began downloading and listening, and once I started, I COULD NOT STOP!  It was so fascinating and good!

The more I learned about Jefferson — a man of great brilliance, confounding inconsistencies, deep hurts, high ideals, strange hypocrisies, and wonderful mysteries — the more and more enamored I became.

I have never been a history buff.  But Clay Jenkinson, a Thomas Jefferson scholar and the creator of the show, brings history to life in a way that will intrigue even the most history-averse folks.  If you’ve seen Ken Burns’ documentaries on Thomas Jefferson or the National Parks, Jenkinson’s warm and eloquent voice may already be familiar to you — he was interviewed for both.

Each show is dedicated to a theme, and a typical show is divided Read the rest of this entry »

Warm (French Green) Lentil Salad

Long have I sung the praises of red lentils.

Now, it’s time to sing of French green ones.

Poke around your grocery store or gourmet shop and pick yourself up a bag of French green (Le Puy) lentils.  You will be happy you did!  They are a beauty to behold: plump, round, and a lovely speckled green.  They have a delicious nutty flavor and hold their shape perfectly for spring and summer salads, like this one:

Warm Lentil Salad with Balsamic Dressing
from 1000 Vegetarian Recipes by Carol Gelles (a wonderful book!)
Makes 6 cups; serves 8 to 12 as a side dish, 4-6 as a main course

This makes an excellent main dish salad; serve on a bed of lettuce and top with crumbled feta cheese, if desired…  You can also serve it at room temperature instead of warm.

Ingredients Read the rest of this entry »

Oh, How I Love Kale

Kale is my very favorite vegetable.

Growing up, my family didn’t eat many greens, and it’s a cryin’ shame, because they are so delicious!

(And, of course, so good for you.)

Luckily, I married a man who loves Swiss Chard and convinced me of the glory of greens.

I will forever be grateful.

A friend of mine once said to me, “If I don’t have a green vegetable before 11 AM, I just feel… off.”

I thought she was mad until I tried morning vegetables for myself and discovered she was right!

I like to sauté the washed leaves in a bit of olive oil until they are softened, sweetened, and bright green.

There’s a great how-to video here if you’re new to preparing greens and want to give them a go.

Try it!  Try it!


Oh, how I love Iris DeMent

Have you ever listened to Iris DeMent?  If not, you are in for a treat: she is a glory of country-folk music, and her voice is one-of-a-(wonderful)-kind.  She keeps the company of Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, and Lucinda Williams in many a record collection.  Her first album, Infamous Angel, is perhaps her best-loved.  One of my favorites!

DeMent grew up deeply religious, and, like many such folks, found her way to a different spiritual place over time.  The song below may be her best-known, and for very good reason: it strikes just the right chord in the hearts of many.  My heart included.

Let the Mystery Be (buy mp3 at Amazon.com)

Everybody’s wonderin’ what and where they all came from.
Everybody’s worryin’ ’bout where they’re gonna go when the whole thing’s done.
But no one knows for certain, and so it’s all the same to me.
I think I’ll just let the mystery be.

Some say once you’re gone, you’re gone forever,
and some say you’re gonna come back.
Some say you rest in the arms of the Saviour if in sinful ways you lack.
Some say that they’re comin’ back in a garden,
bunch of carrots and little sweet peas.
I think I’ll just let the mystery be.

Everybody’s wonderin’ what and where they all came from.
Everybody’s worryin’ ’bout where they’re gonna go when the whole thing’s done.
But no one knows for certain and so it’s all the same to me.
I think I’ll just let the mystery be.

Some say they’re goin’ to a place called Glory, and I ain’t saying it ain’t a fact.
But I’ve heard that I’m on the road to purgatory, and I don’t like the sound of that.
Well, I believe in love and I live my life accordingly.
But I choose to let the mystery be.

Everybody’s wonderin’ what and where they all came from.
Everybody’s worryin’ ’bout where they’re gonna go when the whole thing’s done.
But no one knows for certain and so it’s all the same to me.
I think I’ll just let the mystery be.
I think I’ll just let the mystery be.

- Iris Dement, from Infamous Angel (1992)

Best. Breakfast. Ever.

I never considered myself a morning person.  Never, that is, until last spring, when I discovered this breakfast: scrambled or poached egg over sautéed kale and brown rice, with salt and pepper.  I used to eat cereal, or bagels — things with a lot of simple sugar and not much fiber or protein to last through until lunch.  Or, I would eat eggs alone, which provided protein, but not enough fuel for a whole morning.

Then one breakfastime, it occurred to me to eat my eggs atop some reheated leftover rice and greens.  This meal resulted in a fantastic morning.  Energy!  Focus!  No mid-morning foggy-brain!  I became hooked.  And officially a morning person!

Since then, I’ve told many a friend, “This breakfast revolutionized my life!”  Because it did.  As I’ve proselytized, I’ve discovered that there is a whole secret fleet of us happily eating this breakfast, each of us thinking we were the only American strange enough to consume it.  “That’s my favorite breakfast, too!” we beam in astonishment when we find each other.  “I thought I was the only one!”

Give it a try!  On a Sunday, make a big batch of brown rice, and braise or sauté a couple bunches of kale.  (It’s easy.  I promise.)  Then all week long, each morning, reheat some rice and some kale as you scramble some eggs.  All the cool kids are doing it!

There’s a great video showing how to prepare and sauté greens here.  If you’re making two bunches, use a Dutch oven instead of a sauté pan — you’ll need the extra room.  Or, sauté each bunch separately.  Mmmmmm…. So  good!

Oh, how I love red lentils!

If I could choose only one food to take with me to a desert island, that food would be red lentils.  They are sweet and nutty and perfectly delicious!  As a bonus, they are full of protein, fiber, and micronutrients; do not need to be soaked; and cook in 10-20 minutes.  Red lentils sometimes hide out in the Mexican (Goya) or Indian sections of the grocery store, mysteriously sequestered from the other legumes — a best-kept secret for devotees, perhaps?

This recipe from Bon Appétit is our top, go-to red lentil dish.  It comes together in a flash and is wonderfully flavorful.  It’s a very thick stew — almost all the liquid is absorbed during cooking.  We like to use Greek yogurt — also readily available in grocery stores these days — at the end to make the meal creamy and extra delightful.

Whip yourself up a batch — you will be happy you did!

Curried Red Lentil and Swiss Chard Stew with Garbanzo Beans
Yield: Makes 6 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
5 teaspoons curry powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 14-ounce cans chicken or vegetable broth
1 large bunch or 2 small bunches Swiss chard, tough stalks removed, coarsely chopped (about 12 cups)
1 pound red lentils (about 2 1/4 cups)
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained
Plain or Greek yogurt

Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté until golden, about 13 minutes. Mix in curry and cayenne. Add broth and chard. Increase heat; bring to boil. Add lentils and garbanzos; reduce heat to medium.

Cover; simmer until lentils are tender, stirring twice, about 10-15 minutes. Divide stew among bowls. Top with yogurt.

Julia at the New Year

Women across the nation are in the midst of a love affair with Julia Child.  Julie & Julia shot Cupid’s arrow into our hearts.  “I wish the whole movie had been about Julia!” we say.  “Forget that nasty, childish Julie Powell.”

We find ourselves ordering The French Chef on Netflix, and staying up late at night with My Life in France.  We dream up plans to visit Julia’s kitchen at the Smithsonian.  We scour the booksellers for unsplattered first editions of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

We are smitten with Julia’s enthusiasm, her goofiness, even her helmet of curls.  We are heartened to see that great success found someone so unconventional.

We appreciate her reminder that true achievement rarely comes quickly or easily — that, in fact, it nearly always builds slowly and follows (or even requires) years of false starts, and setbacks, and mistakes, and seemingly endless re-working.

We love to note that she did not become the Julia Child we know until she was nearly 50 years old — an encouraging fact for those of us still listening for our calling, and worrying that the hour may be too late to receive it.

I was given My Life in France as a Christmas gift this year.  The first time I opened the book, it was to this account of how Julia and her husband Paul spent the last evening of 1950:

We were back in Paris by New Year’s Eve.  I took a hot bath at nine-fifteen and retired to bed with a book.  Paul wrote letters.  At eleven-fifteen we hoisted glasses of Pouilly-Fumé, toasted the future, and went to sleep.

I had been waiting for New Year’s Eve inspiration to find me.  And there it was.

So for us, December 31st will echo that one in Paris almost 60 years ago: a quiet celebration at home, with French wine, a hot bath, a good book, and a cozy bed.  At midnight, Matt and I will raise our glasses to Julia and Paul, and to the future.

Speaking of Julia’s late-night performances:  Here is Julia Child on David Letterman, circa 1987.  I’m not at all surprised she’s so handy with a blowtorch.  That woman could do anything!

Oh, how I love Meryl Streep

“It’s my favorite one because they scraped all the crap off my face,” Streep says of this 2002 portrait.  Photo by Brigitte Lacombe; from the January 2010 issue of Vanity Fair.

“It’s my favorite one because they scraped all the crap off my face,” Streep says of this 2002 portrait. Photo by Brigitte Lacombe; from the January 2010 issue of Vanity Fair.

“I can’t remember the last time I really worried about being appealing,” she says with a snort of laughter.  “I think it was a really long time ago.  It’s freeing as an actress, but whether a director likes it or not is a different thing.  I remember [director and co-star] Albert Brooks saying to me in Defending Your Life, ‘Could you just make it a little sweeter?” – and that’s been repeated by other people in the years since then.”  This time her derisive snort is much louder.  “But I don’t listen to it.”

So how did she free herself?  “I don’t think it’s something anyone can tell you,” Streep says.  “I think you just have to get sick of hearing the accommodation in your approach to things… the way people have to get sick of drinking or drugs before they stop.  As there begins to be less time ahead of you, you want to be exactly who you are, without making it easier for everyone else. I’m not sure I ever was really comfortable swanning around as a girl, anyway.” (From her January 2010 Vanity Fair interview)

I love Meryl Streep.


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