About webnerbob

A Cleveland and Ohio State sports fan who lives in Columbus, Ohio

Facing The Faceless

My recent run of exposure to curious hotel art selections continued this week, during my trip to Washington, D.C.  These pieces were artwork displayed in the interior hallways on my floor of the hotel only a few blocks away from the U.S. Capitol.

What’s the message conveyed by depictions of gangs of silhouetted people moving grimly and silently past government buildings?  Is it that Washington, D.C. is really in the hands of faceless bureaucrats, just as conservatives have long claimed?  Or that, in the political wonderland that is Our Nation’s Capital, you’ll never actually see someone clearly, for who they really are, but only in dim outline?  Or does the artist believe that government buildings, depicted in color and in sunlight, are much more interesting than the people, who are shown only as shadowy forms without any individuality?

Or, perhaps you might initially see the artwork as I did — as suggesting that the people of Washington, D.C. are a bunch of anonymous zombies.

Welcome to Washington, D.C.!  Grab your rollerboard and your shoulder bag and get ready to head out into the Land of the Undead!

Branded Brand

I’m in Washington, D.C. for meetings, staying in the old part of town between the Capitol and the White House.  Last night I had dinner with a colleague.

When my friend reached out to me last week to make arrangements for meeting for dinner, he carefully raised two issues:  first, did I like steak, and second, if I did like steak, would I mind going to the steakhouse in the Trump International Hotel, which is located in the Old Post Office building that is very close to my hotel?

I chuckled a bit at the cautious way in which my colleague approached even the  possibility of eating dinner at a restaurant in a Trump property.  Clearly, he was wary that even though the venue was very convenient and the restaurant had a good reputation, just making such a suggestion might bring an explosion and denunciation in response to the very thought of passing under the Trump name.  And his careful approach was entirely justified, because there is no doubt that a significant segment of the American population has sworn off ever doing anything that involves setting foot on the premises of a Trump property or that might be viewed as acceptance or support of the Trump brand.  Me?  I like steak and especially like being able to walk to a convenient dining venue, so I agreed to have dinner at the Trump International steakhouse — which was very good, by the way.

Still, I found the incident pretty remarkable.  I’m not familiar with the value of the Trump brand prior to his run for the presidency, but it seems pretty clear that it has been affected, and not in a good way, by Trump’s behavior on the campaign trail and as President — to the point where even mentioning the possibility of visiting a Trump property for dinner is a subject to be approached with delicacy and trepidation lest sensibilities be bruised and personal relationships be shattered.

That’s not exactly a good attribute for a brand.

A Secret No Longer

In Austin, Texas, you’ll see t-shirts and bumper stickers that exhort: “Keep Austin weird.” Columbus doesn’t have any pretense about being especially weird, but this bumper sticker that I saw above the beer taps for local craft brews at a local bar had a different goal — keeping Columbus a secret.

If Columbus was a secret, the secret is out. The city has been featured in positive articles in the New York Times and other publications, and last week a friend emailed me a website link that ranked Columbus number two in a list of romantic winter destinations. (I’m really skeptical of that one, frankly.)

Even if Columbus is no longer a secret to be kept, I still was glad to see the bumper sticker and the sentiment it expressed. When my family moved to Columbus in 1971, it was derided, even by residents, as a “cowtown.” Those days are long gone. Now, people recognize what a great place Columbus is and are proud of our fair city, and they’re trying to keep the riff raff and Johnny come latelys out. It’s been quite a change in attitude — a change for the better.

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2019

Has anyone else stopped to notice that it is December 9, 2019?  That means we’re only three weeks or so away from a new decade and a new year that will remind those of us old enough to remember it of a TV news show featuring Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters.  It also means we’re about to commence our twelfth year (yikes!) of publishing Christmas cookie recipes on the Webner House blog.

And yet — there are still unknown cookie recipes lurking out there, just waiting to be tried and enjoyed for the holidays.  Thus, our voyage of baking discovery continues.  If you’re interested in the recipes from the prior years, you can find all of them by clicking on and following the links for each year at the bottom of this post, which in turn have links to all of the recipes provided in that particular year.

The first recipe for 2019 comes by way of Aunt Corinne and the Food and Wine website and blogger Luisa Weiss.  The first sentence of the description of the cookies reads:  “These German raspberry-hazelnut macaroons require just five ingredients and are extremely no-fuss.”  That’s a pretty compelling recommendation for cookies that will be prepared by a novice baker in the German Village neighborhood of Columbus.

Raspberry-Hazelnut Macaroons

Version 2Ingredients:  1 1/2 cups of whole hazelnuts; 2 large egg whites; 1/4 kosher salt; 3/4 cup sugar; 1/2 cup raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Spread hazelnuts in a pie plate and toast for about 10 minutes, until the skins split and the nuts are fragrant. Transfer to a clean kitchen towel and rub together to release the skins, then let the hazelnuts cool completely.

In a food processor, pulse the hazelnuts until finely chopped. In a medium bowl, using a hand mixer, beat the egg whites with the salt at medium speed for about two minutes, until foamy.  Gradually add the sugar and continue beating for five to seven minutes until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted, then fold in the chopped hazelnuts.

Use a soup spoon to scoop 1 1/2-inch rounds of the batter onto the baking sheets, about 1 inch apart. Bake the cookies for 11 to 13 minutes, until fragrant and lightly browned; rotate the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking. Remove the cookies from the oven and, while they’re still hot, carefully make an indentation in the center of each with the back of a teaspoon.

In a small saucepan, boil the raspberry jam for 30 seconds, until slightly thickened. Carefully spoon about 1 teaspoon of the hot jam into the center of each cookie. Let the jam set and the cookies cool completely before serving.

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2018

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2017

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2016

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2015

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2014

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2013

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2012

Calling for Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2011

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2010

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2009

On To The CFP

It was nail-biting time for members of Buckeye Nation at about 9:30 ET last night.  A talented and gritty team from Wisconsin came out swinging in the Big Ten championship game, and when the Badgers scored an improbable touchdown to go up 21-7 at the end of the first half Ohio State fans had visions of past disasters against Iowa and Purdue dancing in their heads.  But the Buckeyes made adjustments at halftime and righted the ship, scoring 27 points and shutting Wisconsin out in the second half to win, 34-21, and take home their third straight Big Ten crown.  Although the Buckeyes ultimately won by double digits, the Badgers fought until the final minute, and held the high-powered Ohio State offense to two field goals when touchdowns would have put the game out of reach.

ohio-state-2019-big-ten-championship

As the seconds ticked down to zero, I thought that Ohio State had been truly tested by a very good football team, and that the Big Ten championship game had taught us something about this Ohio State team — they don’t wilt in the face of real adversity on a big stage, the coaches and players are adept at making adjustments and game plan modifications under pressure, and the whole team can draw upon an ample reserve of inner toughness and guttiness.  And we also learned, again, that head coach Ryan Day has a bit of riverboat gambler in him, as his fake punt call showed.  Ohio State should be grateful to Wisconsin for making the Buckeyes draw deep and for providing a very stern test that will foreshadow what lies ahead.  Last night’s game showed why fans of the Big Ten like the conference and its particular, hard-hitting brand of football — which continued up until the final play, when the Ohio State defense gave the Wisconsin quarterback a tooth-rattling hit as the clock ran out.

Although things looked dicey at halftime, by winning Ohio State undoubtedly punched its ticket for the College Football Playoffs.  The big question to be answered by the CFP Selection Committee in a few hours is whether the Buckeyes will go in at number one or number two — or even number three, and that’s what the talking heads on ESPN and Fox Sports will be debating this morning.  I may be alone in this, but I really don’t care where the Buckeyes end up.  Ohio State clearly is an excellent unbeaten team, but so are LSU and Clemson — and I think all of this talk about “resumes” and “performances against Top 25 teams” and various weird computer metrics is kind of silly when the questions about who is more deserving will be resolved with actual games in about three weeks.  I also think such argument just puffs teams up — and that might not be good in the long run.  If I were Oklahoma, the likely number four seed and a great team in its own right, all of the talk about how important it is for other teams to make it to number one so they can play the Sooners rather than somebody else would be doing nothing except providing motivation and some prime locker room bulletin board material.

The reality is that there are many very good, well-coached teams in college football — Wisconsin is one of them, by the way — and if you’re going to win the national championship you’re going to need to beat a bunch of them.  Regardless of exactly who the top four teams are or where they are ranked, they’re going to need to beat two more great teams to get to the ultimate goal.  If Ohio State ends up playing Clemson in the first playoff game — and thereby lines up with a team that is the defending national champion and has never lost to the Buckeyes and pulverized them in the playoffs a few years ago — there is no chance that Ohio State will not go into that game emotionally pumped and ready to play.  That’s what I want to see.

So the selection show and final seedings announced today will be interesting, but I’m more focused on the fact that the Buckeyes won a very challenging game, are Big Ten champions, maintain their perfect record, and are moving on with a chance to get to their goal.  The members of Buckeye Nation are grateful that we get to watch the Men of the Scarlet and Gray continue their quest to be the best.

The Kominsky Method

Sometimes actors tend to play to type.  From movie to movie, their characters seem to operate within pretty much the same emotional range and have the same basic reactions and mannerisms.  Humphrey Bogart would be an example of this type of actor, and John Wayne would be another.

kominsky1-e1567030523175I had the same general perception of Michael Douglas, viewing him as most comfortable in playing Gordon Gekko or another unlikable, bullying jerk who you hope gets his just desserts at the end of the film.  Then Kish and I watched the two seasons (so far) of the Netflix series The Kominsky Method, and my preconceptions about Michael Douglas were absolutely destroyed.  The show is a classic example of a  well-known actor playing against type, and doing so brilliantly.

The title of The Kominsky Method refers to the acting class of Sandy Kominsky, played by Douglas.  Sandy’s in his 70s, but he’s not ready to give up teaching — or acting, for that matter.  The show centers around Sandy’s relationship with Norman Newlander, Sandy’s long-time agent and best friend played by Alan Arkin.  Norman has been very successful financially and had a long-lasting marriage, whereas Sandy has gone through multiple wives, failed to pay his taxes, and hasn’t led the most responsible life — although he drives a terrific car.  Now Sandy and Norman are dealing with the kinds of problems that men in their 70s must deal with — like prostate problems, energy problems, memory problems, sexual problems, health problems, and relationship problems.

The interactions between Sandy and the dry, biting Norman as they address the issues they are confronting are often hysterical — at least, to this reviewer who isn’t all that far from his 70s — and there is a fine ensemble cast that includes Sandy’s daughter, his daughter’s aged boyfriend, Sandy’s new girlfriend, and the students in Sandy’s acting class.  The acting class scenes in particular are really interesting, as Sandy watches his students perform, teaches his approach to acting, and shows that he still has a lot of passion for trying to get people to take acting seriously as a craft.  Sandy’s got some warts, but on the whole he’s charming, vulnerable, funny, and likable.  You wouldn’t mind having a beer with him — but you might have to pick up the tab.

Michael Douglas, playing a vulnerable, likable character?  That’s a big part of the reason Kish and I binge-watched and really enjoyed The Kominsky Method, and why we’re looking forward to season three.

Mom Knows Best

A new study indicates that, when women become pregnant and are starting to deal with the changes that pregnancy inevitably brings, they’re likely to seek and rely on guidance from a more familiar source of counsel than their doctors.  That’s right:  they get the straight scoop from their mothers.

Interestingly, the study found that reliance on Mom is the strongest among minority and lower-income populations.  Wealthier women with college degrees tend to buy pregnancy advice books, often written by doctors, and are less likely to seek their mothers’ thoughts on issues like what foods to eat and what tests to have — although they still talk to Mom to get advice on child care and talk about their feelings and the physical changes they are experiencing.  In fact, the study found that the “how-to” books can create a “generational disconnect” between such women and their mothers.  But there is no such disconnect among other populations, because women in those groups tend to feel less well-served by busy doctors and crowded clinics.  Their mothers, on the other hand, are readily available and much more likely to carefully listen to their questions and complaints — and then offer specific advice.  And because pregnant women usually have lots of questions, an attentive and engaged listener is a really important part of the process.

The results of this study shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Mothers, grandmothers, and friends who’ve been through pregnancy are likely to have experiential wisdom and practical advice that doctors just can’t provide:  like how the careful use of pillows can help to secure a good night’s sleep, and what to do about that nagging backache.  And trying to adhere to the perfect scenarios sketched out in the how-to books can often cause needless worry about whether a particular woman’s condition is “normal.”  Talking to someone who has been through it all before is bound to help.

How-to books are fine, but when it comes to day-to-day matters there really is no substitute for actual experience.  The mothers out there have a lot of know-how to offer.  In this area, as in others, you can’t beat what you learn from Mom.