Nothing to crow about

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MALIBU WAY OF LIFE

By Jody Stump

This time of year when nights are long, ancient people had little to do with their dark, crispy clear nights but ponder stars, which hung low in the sky. A few watchers, more observant than most, began to track movements and noted correlations between transits in heaven and happenings on earth. It seemed that some mighty intelligence must be at work in the spheres and, if they kept careful counsel, they could detect patterns in the actions of the gods and use that information for the betterment of humans. Thus astrology was born and it reigned supreme for centuries as the single most important skill for advisers to the powerful.

In the Western world, seers followed the sun; in the East, they monitored the moon. Sometimes their predictions align. Other times, they diverge in strange and wonderful ways. This year, for the Chinese New Year, I consulted expert practitioners of the mantic arts on both sides of the globe and came up with this fascinating set of prophecies. Neither camp predicts a wonderful boom year, but there are bright spots for 2005 and glimmers of a glistening future in 2006 and beyond.

The Chinese year of the Rooster begins with moonrise on Feb. 8 and, in keeping with cultural tradition, your house must be sparkling, debts paid and sticky candy set out to appease the kitchen god so ills that might befall you pass by your door. For added protection, plant a kumquat tree. Its name is a word play on “lucky,” so the fruit fools lurking spirits into believing you have divine protection.

The augurs say you’ll need it this year. The Chinese believe the world courses in 60-year cycles with the last wood Rooster year being 1945, a year of major battles that ultimately led to peace, nuclear explosion, the death of major political figures and the horrible discovery of Nazi extermination camps. A leading Chinese astrologer, Raymond Lo (www.raymond-lo.com), foresees similar events this year: political assassinations in the East and the West; possible nuclear accidents in Russia, Pakistan, the U.S. and/or England; and corruption scandals involving the military. Interestingly, so does a delightfully quick-witted Western astrologer from Woodland Hills, Sloan Bella (www.sloanbella.com).

Sloan predicts a “train of fires in Oregon” this summer, and a California earthquake next month. She says Martha Stewart will have “a fantastic year” once jail time is behind her, but prison gates will clang shut on Michael Jackson after an illness postpones his trial. Justices William Rehnquist and Ruth Ginsberg will be replaced, but the court won’t shift dramatically. Other prominent astrologers see a “suffocation of the judicial system” and Sloan agrees that U.S. surveillance of its citizenry will further curtail our freedoms.

Sloan believes the Western world will experience an airborne attack, but it will not be anthrax. We will discover Saudi money behind the Lockerbie crash and the stock market will dip, but not crash. The U.S. dollar will sink to Canadian values. She advises, “Put your money in pharmaceuticals,” but expect Accutane to be a megabuck scandal.

How does this track with Eastern seers? They see a continuation of 2004, but since the Rooster is a yielding “yin” unlike the very male monkey of last year, glimmers of peace should be seen. Warring factions will begin trending toward settlement. Meteorologically, it will be a global “wake-up call” with extreme temperatures and record-setting precipitation in areas usually dry. Like Sloan, the Chinese are looking for earthquakes around the Pacific’s “Rim of Fire” and wildfires in the Northwest.

There will be the usual sex scandals in politics and entertainment, but it will be the military that commands our attention. In the midst of horrifying revelations of abuse, veteran benefits will be increased and the draft may be reinstated.

As for the economy, expect breakthroughs in skincare but scandals in the corporations involved and watch for a big shake-up in psychiatric medicine. The stock market will chug along, weaker than in 2004, and it could dive in April and October. The high-tech sector will be strong with lots of innovation, but eroding profits will force consolidations between U.S. and Japanese “giants” late in the year. Energy, mining and entertainment will gain. The industries that will falter all relate to the element “wood:” textiles, magazines, furniture and forestry.

It is a year fraught with friction, so soothsayers everywhere prescribe a course of harmonious staying at home. Plant a tree, install a fountain, surround yourself with comfort food and thank the heavens that 2006 will be a peaceful year.

Coq Au Vin

Serves 6-8

Like the astrological rooster, the cock in coq au vin is a switch-hitter, more likely to be a plump, young hen than a tough, swaggering lord of the coop. This dish is even better the day after when the flavors have had time to meld. It freezes well.

3-lbs. chicken, cut up

2 Tbs. olive oil

6 slices smoky bacon, chunked

2 onions, chopped

1 bag baby carrots

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

5 stalks celery, chopped

2 Tbs. tomato paste

Bouquet garni – 3 sprigs of thyme, 1 bay leaf, 8 sprigs of parsley

2 cups chicken broth

1 bottle fruity red wine, pinot noir or merlot

1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms

1. Toss the chicken in flour, paprika, salt and pepper. Shake off the excess.

2. Heat the olive oil to sizzling and thoroughly brown the bird; set aside.

3. In the same pan, fry the bacon until crispy. Add to the chicken.

4. Lightly brown the vegetables. Stir in tomato paste and bouquet garni.

5. Add wine and reduce to half. Return chicken to the pot. Add stock and simmer one hour.

6. Meanwhile, sauté the mushrooms. Add during the last 15 minutes.

Serve with a green salad and a crunchy baguette.