Thursday, October 30, 2014

What to serve the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis when they come to lunch

Ever since my friend Caleb told me he was going to have an audience with the Pope and he was wondering what to wear (believe it or not, there’s a web-site for that: ) I have been thinking about what it would be like to share a meal with the Pontiff. Come to think of it, I’d also like to dine with the Dalai Lama. And wouldn’t it be a swell soiree if we could all sit down to a relaxed luncheon here at the farm?
The only thing that stood in the way of my sending out the invitations immediately upon the thought was the age-old question every good hostess faces: what, exactly, would one serve that could be an appropriate menu for such an auspicious occasion?  So, for three weeks this menu thing has been bugging me.  I mean, what would I serve the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis, two men with whom I would desperately like to dine – together, at the same time - for lunch?
Luckily, one can find, literally, anything on the web.
When in Dharmasala…
Unlike most Buddhist monks, the Dalai Lama is not a vegetarian. In the 1960s, he tried to go veg but had to give it up after he developed hepatitis, and his physician counseled him to eat meat to get his strength back. He enjoys meat nowadays. So - His compromise is to eat vegetarian in Dharmasala, so as not to offend his brother monks, and meat dishes when he’s on the road, which is 80% of the time.
Meanwhile, back in Rome …
Pope Francis is said to be very reserved in his culinary choices, and at least while he was the archbishop of Argentina, he often cooked for himself.  He prefers healthy meals that consist of fruit, skinless chicken, salads – and the occasional glass of wine.  He likes walking around Rome, and he is known to stop by any number of neighborhood caffes to have an afternoon ristretto. The Pontiff, evidently, knows his coffee.
I guess it just comes down to the k-i-s-K principle: Keep-it-simple-Kate.
For starters, I think I’ll serve  Endive Salad with Walnuts, Pears, and Gorgonzola, drizzled with a good olive oil and a couple of squeezes of lemon juice. I found this recipe on the Simply Recipes family food blog, so I guess that should qualify for locally grown or produced (which I think both men will like) and “simple”.  Plus, this salad features the fruits and vegetables that the Pope purports to enjoy. I am guessing that the Dalai Lama is also very agreeable about such things as salads.
After the appetizer, I thought maybe a nice piece of fish would be appropriate, given that this is Maine and all, and I am having trouble wrapping my head around the fact that the Dalai Lama is not a strict vegetarian.  Haddock is always a nice choice.  A mild, flakey, North Atlantic fave, right off the boat and grilled lightly with a bit of butter, salt and pepper. No recipe needed for that. Simple. (Note to self:  do not overcook). Maybe the Pope would splurge just this once and indulge in a little side of rice, too.  After all, he could have always have a light supper of soup or a salad. I could make the Barefoot Contessa’s Easy Parmesan Risotto. What could be simpler? “Easy” is even in the recipe title.
Now for the wine choice.
According to  I should look for “medium bodied whites with high aromatics, or rich full-bodied whites aged in oak”.  Chardonnay, a California or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon or White Rioja, Dry Riesling - and last, but not least, a US Pinot Gris, would be good choices.  Great.  I usually order “house white” when I go out with my girlfriends.  Maybe they would enjoy mead?  According to the CBS Sunday Morning show, it’s a drink as old as time.  Let us drink a toast to the bees. Before there were vineyards, there was honey. Before there was wine, there was mead”.  But what do I know about mead, either? I am guessing that these fellas have probably raised a premium glass or two. Down to the neighborhood packie for some vintner and vineyard, wine-versus-locally-produced mead recommendations, and let the wine-and-mead-tasting begin!    I’ll keep you posted on the choice if I can keep my wits about me.
On to dessert.

Well, it’s a midday meal and we shouldn’t have something too heavy.  Lord knows if these busy, important men have a siesta built into their diaries.  At their ages, I would think that to be a wise thing, though. I wonder if they would be offended if I asked them if they nap? I suppose if Pope Francis said he liked naps the Dalai Lama would feel comfortable admitting that he, too, enjoyed a mid-day snooze. Or vice versa.  But first, back to dessert. In keeping with the local theme, the logical choice would have to be blueberry pie. But could they handle it, I mean, after the big noon-time meal and with or without a nap? Back to the web for some alternate ideas, and lo-and-behold, Wyman’s, those Maine wild blueberry virtuosos have the perfect solution:  blueberry sorbet.  Best of all, there are just two ingredients: wild Maine blueberries, of course, and simple syrup.
Bazinga! Let’s hear it for simple!

It is exhausting just thinking about all of this prep and cooking.  But now that the menu is settled, what else do I need to be thinking of?

Let’s see.  First, there are invitations to craft and send, recipes cards to assemble and ingredient lists to create. WHAT WILL I WEAR?  If they don’t RSVP, would it be rude of me to call?  I mean, this is not an inexpensive little luncheon. I’ll need to go to the supermarket, produce stand, the fish market and the wine store... 

But wait. 

During lunch, will I even have time to talk with the Pope or the Dalai Lama?  I mean, after all, that’s the reason I invited them to lunch in the first place. To talk. To really get to know them. To hear them speak, individually or together, of their concepts of spirituality and God. Heaven. Reincarnation.

Maybe we had best eat out.



Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Warning! This is rant! (I try not to do this too often…)

Anyone who knows me knows that I am – for better or worse – a bleeding heart liberal.  Robert F. Kennedy was, and remains to this day, my ideal for a true leader for this country.
Politics aside…

I always looked forward to the day when this country stood up with other progressive Western nations and provided healthcare for its citizens. I applauded the passing of the Universal Healthcare Act (UHA), when it finally became law.
Seriously. Now politics aside.

When we made our move to Maine, I was excited about enjoying the benefits of an economy geared to a primarily rural population. This was an important consideration when my husband and I looked for a place to retire to.  And for the most part, my experience has been positive, including a significant break in real estate tax. Let’s see: $6400./yr for house and 9/10th of an acre in MA v. $4800./yr for house, barn, run-in shelter, shed and 42 acres in ME. Well - That’s a no-brainer.
Enter healthcare (and associated costs) in Maine. 

I have also been pleased to find kind, talented and highly-educated physicians here at Maine Medical Center in Portland, who are every bit as skilled as their finest colleagues in Boston, MA. Their bills also reflect an acknowledgement of the local economy, with services charged out at approximately 85% of their MA counterparts.
Now we come to the part about paying for those healthcare services which are – even at 85% -- pretty staggering for an average middle-class couple.

Maine has two healthcare insurance providers currently approved by the UHA: Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Maine and Maine Community Health.  Not a wealth of choices, but we are at least given a chance to compare services and rates, which I did last January when I needed to change my policy. It was then that I found out the true cost of “universal healthcare” as it applied to me: a baby-boomer within 5 years of retirement, too young to take advantage of Medicare.
Both providers had a range of plans and associated costs.

Both “Bronze” plans had a lower monthly premium with a significantly higher deductible. – I’m talking $300.-600. for a monthly premium, and up to $6000. (gulp) for an annual deductible. “Silver” plans required a monthly payment of $600.-900., and deductibles ranged from $2500.-$5000. And then we had the “Gold” plans, with princely monthly costs of up to $1200. with $500.-$1000. deductibles.
So much for “choice”.

Any way I ran the numbers, I would be paying out somewhere in the vicinity of $8000. annually, between premium and deductibles, to hedge my bets against catastrophic illness,  and  depending on whether or not I used my insurance for “covered” annual services like a physical and mammogram.
$8000?! That’s a (cruel) joke, right? 

Cruel joke indeed.

Let me share my up-close-and-personal example of how I benefit from the UHA.  To date this calendar year, I have paid ~ $6300. in premiums. This is for Maine Community Health’s lowest cost “Silver” plan, with a $5000. deductible. Note also that this represents a significant portion of my monthly income – and I am working fulltime, at a good salary.  My mid-year statement from Maine Community Health just came in the mail this week, and is primarily the reason I am writing this diatribe. It outlines the benefits I have received for my plan to date:
Annual physical:               $296.28
Shingles vaccine:              $265.98 (this is a ridiculous number on the face of it!)
Prescriptions:                    $40.33
Total                                   $602.59

Applied to annual deductible:  $421.31.  Goody. Only $4598.69 to go to meet my annual deductible.

On the plus side:
·         I am blessed to live in a country where healthcare is so widely available.

·         I am blessed to live in a country that has acknowledged the importance of healthcare for all of its citizens.

·         I feel it is my obligation to help shoulder the cost of providing this healthcare for those less fortunate*, and I am willing and anxious to do so.

·         I am blessed to have a job where I can make a contribution to the general good and my personal economy – and that allows me to  pay for medical care and insurance.

·         I have had a relatively healthy year.

·         My other expenses have decreased, as I work from home and have been able to take advantage of lower cost-of-living in my new state of residence.

·         Maine Community Health provides “free” blood pressure medication for me under their “chronic illness” clause. (This represents an annual cost of $216.)

* Did I mention that a neighbor, a dear and generous friend whose company I enjoy over coffee or a cocktail, decided to take a voluntary early retirement last year?  We are the same age and have roughly the same educational background.  Because she is retired, her current income qualifies her for a federal allowance to augment her premium – and she pays 60% less for the same insurance that I have. While I don’t blame her personally for taking advantage of this subsidy – this kinda infuriates me when I see her working in her garden or heading out to the beach on a glorious Summer day like today. - It may be totally irrational, but I feel taken advantage of.
So what, you may now be asking yourself, is the point you are trying to make, Ms. Bleeding Heart Liberal?

I guess what I am trying to say is that, for all its good intention, the Universal Healthcare Act is broken, and I am feeling it quite personally.  And all of the energy spent trying to repeal it would be better spent trying to reform it so that it can be administered fairly, in the spirit and intent of the law.
p.s. You notice that I did not refer to the law as “Obama-care”.  If the law needs a nick-name, don’t you think we should honor the legislator who championed healthcare reform throughout his career, Senator Edward Kennedy?

I know.  Ted-care just doesn’t the same ring to it...