Friday, April 30, 2010

When Springtime Came, I Told Mr. (Robert) Frost He Could Go Away

I recently hosted an “open house” at my small, Chicago condo. The invitation was denoted as such, but included a ready acknowledgement of the fact that I have lived here nearly two years now. The party was sparked in large part by the fact that I – also recently – bought decorative pillows for the couch. This small touch seemed to instantly add a warmth and a put-together-ness that the room lacked before. The house (okay, condo) was beginning to feel like a home.
This looks far less remarkable in my “stellar” photo, but adding the pillows really did give the room a whole new look.

But what is a home, a sense of true place and comfort, without the warmth and fondness of memories that are shared? Although not that often, I have hosted parties and dinners in my home – for my parents, for my friends, and with this most recent gathering, for my neighbors. With each evening, I feel more and more invested in my home; with each evening comes a morning of happy reflection on the good food and good wine and good company that was brought together within the confines of my space. I moved in thinking “surely I will only be here for a few years.” But in closing in on that two-year mark (and yes, only now getting to those decorative pillows!), I realize that that time frame may be longer. I want this space to feel, as Liza would say, “like me.” And that feeling of familiarity and coziness and home comes not only from the pillows and furniture and decorative touches that I have chosen, but through the memories I now have of introducing my mother and dad to some of my new friends, or of making a really great lasagna for a group of guests.

That said, life cannot be lived simply within one’s own four walls. A friend once pointed out that what many people seek to find in life is a sense of community. This feeling may come from celebrating a set of shared beliefs at church, or from collectively cheering on a beloved sports team. To work toward a common goal, to support one another helps us each to feel consequential and valued and as though we are contributing to something perhaps quite lasting and larger than our own, individual selves.

I may very well be preaching to the choir. In my mind, one of the great benefits of living in a small town such as Liza’s Burkesville (and going to a small college like Centre, for that matter) is that people know one another – their families, their histories, and even (perhaps to the chagrin of some) their “business.” From this familiarity and shared history one can gather a strong sense of community.

But in a place like Chicago, knowing those whom you may encounter walking down the street or at the local coffee shop isn’t a given. In fact, I must have mentioned to a friend of mine that – upon moving to Chicago after my time at Centre – I was struck by the fact that people didn’t say hello when you would walk past them, on the sidewalk, in your neighborhood. I suppose the fact that I said this was equally striking to him, because he sent me these words in an email. We had just spent the weekend pulling unsightly bushes out of the 10’x2’ plot of dirt outside of my building, talking with my fellow condo-dwellers and passers-by:
While not the prettiest garden on the block, it’s got some spunk to it. You should have seen the “before”…

I really do like meeting neighbors and am glad that I was able to meet some people from your building. Remember when you said that when you got back to Chicago you didn’t know why people were not as friendly? I truly think that people walking by want to say hi, but they don’t because it is the norm around here. When people see you out in the garden, they are much more inclined to say hello, especially in the city for those who would enjoy the garden but don’t have one of their own. I also like that your mom gave you some plants. It is always a nice feeling to know that you are sharing plants with someone, especially your mother.

Now, as Liza would say, the point is thus. I felt the most tremendous sense of accomplishment and saw such great beauty in what I had helped create that weekend. I fell in love with the garden not just because it transformed from a pretty dumpy looking space to something a bit more attractive and colorful, but because it made me feel like I was, in every way, planting my seeds within my own little neighborhood. I had rolled my sleeves, gotten my hands dirty, and built something – something that not only transformed our front yard, but introduced me to people in the neighborhood, led to happy conversations, offerings of a few cold beers, and lots of “looks great! Wanna come do mine??!” comments. We not only built a garden that day, we also started to build a community.

And so when my 6 of my 8 building neighbors – plus one of my favorite duos in Chicago who just so happen to live directly across the street – joined my parents and friends and me for the open house a few weeks back, I felt an even greater sense of community. I learned that one grew up in Martha’s Vineyard, that the couple across the hall will be having their first child – a boy – this summer, that the pair upstairs still wants the recipe for friendship bread that I made back at Christmastime and left at their front door (I have no idea how that recipe turned out semi-edible; I threw it together after a few glasses of wine and a lot of leeway with measurements). We all know each other better now. We had a great time. And I hope that we each left feeling more invested in our neighborhood and our lives together as neighbors. I know I did.

In the weeks following that party, the garden has really started to come to life with newness and color, and I am excited about the coming months of watering, weeding, and probably filling in a few spots where last year’s plants haven’t (and won’t) come back. I am excited to spend more time outside of my own little indoor space and dig even deeper into the garden, the neighborhood, a place that is really becoming more of a home, and a life filled with good people whom I care about and know, rather than just a stop along the way. It feels good to be building something. For now it’s a simple flower garden. Some say good fences make good neighbors; I say good gardens – and nourishing meals and shared stories – make good communities, and good communities make happy homes.
In the spirit of Liza and her concluding remarks, I’d like to include a recipe for risotto that I had while at the across-the-street home of the aforementioned “favorite duo,” Myndi and Charlie DeVore. Myndi is a wonderful cook, and this, the first homemade risotto I have ever had, was a perfect balance of bright lemons, light vegetables, and all the richness that makes risotto so decadent.

Spring Green Risotto (from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics)
1 1/2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (2 leeks)
1 cup chopped fennel
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
2/3 cup dry white wine
4 to 5 cups simmering chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 pound thin asparagus
10 ounces frozen peas, defrosted, or 1 1/2 cups shelled fresh peas
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup mascarpone cheese, preferably Italian
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
3 tablespoons minced fresh chives, plus extra for serving

Heat the olive oil and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and fennel and sauté for 5 to 7 minutes, until tender. Add the rice and stir for a minute to coat with the vegetables, oil, and butter. Add the white wine and simmer over low heat, stirring constantly, until most of the wine has been absorbed. Add the chicken stock, 2 ladles at a time, stirring almost constantly and waiting for the stock to be absorbed before adding more. This process should take 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the asparagus diagonally in 1 1/2-inch lengths and discard the tough ends. Blanch in boiling salted water for 4 to 5 minutes, until al dente. Drain and cool immediately in ice water. (If using fresh peas, blanch them in boiling water for a few minutes until the starchiness is gone.)
When the risotto has been cooking for 15 minutes, drain the asparagus and add it to the risotto with the peas, lemon zest, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Continue cooking and adding stock, stirring almost constantly, until the rice is tender but still firm.

Whisk the lemon juice and mascarpone together in a small bowl. When the risotto is done, turn off the heat and stir in the mascarpone mixture plus the Parmesan cheese and chives. Set aside, off the heat, for a few minutes, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve hot with a sprinkling of chives and more Parmesan cheese.
I’d also like to share a few photos of Myndi and Charlie. They are, in my estimation, exceptional people. (As a point of reference, I consider Liza to be an “exceptional” person.) I just love that they are right across the street and that we can share evenings of good music, great food, and a rousing game of Scrabble. Charlie is currently hard at work as he studies for his finals at Northwestern Law School. I am not sure who will be happier when they’re done – Myndi or Charlie. You might not be able to see too many of the little decorative touches in these photos, but they have an apartment that is full of pieces of homemade artwork, beautiful family photos, and books books books that reflect how well read and interesting they truly are. They are the kind of friends I wish all my other friends could meet and know….which is exactly the way I feel about Liza (thank you for asking/letting me contribute, Liza – in the words of Garth, “I’m not worthy!” Really, though. I’m not).

This is Myndi with her little brother Jake (left) and Charlie (the tall guy). Aren’t they a nice looking family?

The DeVores: Silliness is important.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Last Friday I offered valuable tips and recommendations that I have no doubt changed your lives forever. Today I opt for "invitations." And before you get too far in and decide that you, for some inexplicable reason, have far more important things to do than read my blog, I want to point out that Caroline will be taking care of Friday's post. Trust me, you will enjoy it. Avatar eyebrows are not mentioned once.

Invitation #1
Tell me about your favorite present. And don't give me any melodramatic stuff about the gift of time or love or friendship. Blah, blah, blah. ...

I am fortunate enough to have really thoughtful gift-givers in my life. The cow cookie jar (featured in a post several weeks ago) that my Dad bought at Grider "antiques" and gave to me Christmas 2005 will forever more be considered family heirloom. The revival of my mickey mouse watch, a fashion staple that adorned my wrist from the time I was 7 to around 10, last Christmas was a wonderfully perceptive and ridiculously cute surprise. Mom had saved it for years and last fall had a new battery installed and a new thin, black leather band (that looked nearly identical to the original) put on. Yesterday, however, I received a gift that was not from someone required by familial obligation or holiday consumerism to go out of their way for me. One of my thoughtful, incredibly insightful, and genuinely kind students had scanned and made copies of a few of his Mamaw's recipes for me. It was a gesture that speaks to everything that I talk about here - of family, of "things that look like" someone, of the stories told in handwriting itself, and obviously, of the joy of cooking. While unexpected and unnecessary, it was a present that I absolutely adored. Forget inspiring others to care about things that I find interesting or necessary or useful; this is why I teach.:)

Invitation #2
Watch this (and any other youtube clips) from The Avett Brothers. After doing so, I then invite you to become a fan on facebook, a fan on The Avett Brothers website, and to attend a summer concert (because watching a few videos will pique your interest, I promise).

Invitation #3
Caroline and I are going to try to tackle Tolstoy's, War and Peace in the coming months. If anyone wants to join us, I welcome it. We plan to set up phone or online discussions to keep ourselves on track. And, I think, solely for the purpose of education, we should probably plan a review session one weekend in Chicago.

I received my copy in the mail this week. Initial sophisticated and insightful critique: I knew it was big, but not this big. [Insert Michael Scott comment if you so choose]

Invitation #4
I am considering two events in May to which I invite you to accompany me.

May 15: Rain Barrel Workshop in Georgetown ($45 - includes a barrel)
May 22: Scenic City Trail 1/2 Marathon in Chattanooga

Invitation #5
Well, this is more suggestion than invitation - Consider buying a Netflix streaming package. For $10/month, you can create a username and password and then stream thousands of movies and documentaries on your home computer (and on other computers as well if you, like Andy, are willing to share your information with people you kind of like). You will not have access to the latest blockbusters, but fantastic options are endless. I, myself, am in the process of exhausting the Indie Romance and Documentary sections; Recommendations thus far: Conversations with Other Women, Broken English, Food, Inc., Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and Flannel Pajamas.


Recipe for the Week: Gingerbread Biscotti
Found on The Joy of Baking website via Stumble Upon

3/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (can also use pecans or walnuts) - I used walnuts
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup dark brown sugar (I used "light" - was all I had handy)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs
1/4 cup molasses
2 tablespoons light olive oil
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup dark or golden raisins
Glaze: (optional)
1/2 cup confectioners sugar (icing or powdered sugar), sifted
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 - 3 tablespoons milk or light cream

Preheat oven to 350 and place the oven rack in the center of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place nuts on a baking sheet and bake for approximately 15 minutes or until brown and fragrant. Set aside to let the nuts cool and then coarsely chop. (Note: To toast pecans, walnuts, or almonds, bake for about 8 to 10 minutes or until brown and fragrant.)

In a food processor, process 1/2 cup (50 grams) of the rolled oats until finely ground. *I don't have a food processor so my biscotti was a little more textured than most store-bought options.

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), combine the 1/2 cup of finely ground oats, the remaining 1/2 cup of rolled oats, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and spices.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, molasses, oil, and vanilla extract. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients, and beat until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Mix in the chopped hazelnuts and raisins and beat just until incorporated.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and divide the dough in half. Take each half of dough and form it into a log, about 12 inches long and 2 inches wide. Transfer the logs to the prepared baking sheet, spacing about 3 inches apart. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown and firm to the touch. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 300. Transfer the logs to a cutting board and cut into 3/4 inch slices, on the diagonal. Place the biscotti, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Bake for about 6-8 minutes, turn slices over, and bake for another 6-8 minutes or until dry and firm. Remove from oven and let cool. Can be stored in an airtight container for several weeks.

Glaze (optional): In a small bowl stir together the sugar, vanilla extract, and enough milk (cream) to make a smooth, thick, yet pourable glaze. Use a small spoon to drizzle several thin lines of the glaze over each biscotti. Let the biscotti sit at room temperature until the glaze has completely dried.

Makes about 30 biscotti.

* I also tried some pumpkin scones. You can find the recipe on that same website.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Believe It or Not, the Pick Axe Was Used For My Garden, Not While Looking in the Bathroom Mirror

Just a few tips and suggestions on my mind this morning...

1) Never assume that you and your hairdresser are on the same page as to how much hair actually constitutes a brow. This picture makes me laugh because 1) I look like an Avatar character and 2) I purposely cropped it this way so none of my hair would show. Trust me, I look ridiculous this morning. The fact that I spent 5 minutes taking pictures of my basically non-existent eyebrows is fitting.

And for the record, this was done on my way home from school yesterday, not in Cumberland County. Wish I could fill in a crossword puzzle with "shewenttochasity."

2) Build something yourself, even if looks funny in places and/or may fall apart at some point. I decided that I wanted a raised bed at my house in case some of the vegetables at the garden by Papa's plant don't make. Seriously, how hard can it be to build a rectangle? Answer: Harder than you think...especially if using only a pick axe, handheld saw, somewhat warped cedar boards, hammer and various sized nails, and the sheer force that naturally comes from a 29-year-old in running shorts and cowboy boots. I gave a bad name to carpenters everywhere.

BUT, I ultimately had a big time. And no kidding, it was rewarding to finish it myself (Caroline will be contributing an article related to this soon. She is a fantastic writer...definitely something to look forward to).

3) Put yourself in the company of intelligent and thoughtful people who also happen to be really good cooks. One of my former students came to my class this week to bring me a GQ article that draws connections between Cold War rhetoric and the Texas textbook controversy (It's cleverly articulate...check it out: This same student then showed up during my office hours yesterday to bring me homemade apple cake (with maple syrup and brown sugar) adorned with fresh pears. It was as delectable as it sounds. And the classic white plate and small, stainless fork wrapped and tied with a raffia-like ribbon elevated the surprise from enjoyable afternoon treat to incredibly thoughtful present.

Revised tip: Befriend those even more interestingly folk hipster than yourself. And then visit or - Chandlerclark.

4) Educate yourself on things you don't understand and/or think you abhor. I read an interesting article on this morning regarding the misuse of both historical lingo and political philosophy (another good one: "The Tea Party's Toxic Take on History" - I have to remind myself, however, that in an attempt to discredit or delegitimize something I find illogical, I need to purposely avoid the very strategies I intend to criticize. I shall spend some time over the next few days figuring out what the Tea Party is all about.

5) Then, after reading stuff you don't really want to read, jump into something that interests or inspires you. I picked up Wendell Berry's new collection, Imagination in Place, yesterday at Joseph Beth (and they happened to be giving away saplings in recognition of Earth Day - good for you Jo Beth's). Most of the essays have been published in journals or edited collections before, but it's nice to have them organized in one place. In regard to the post a week or so ago about first lines indicative of a good read...
"By an interworking of chance and choice, I have happened to live nearly all my life in a place I don't remember not knowing."

6) One more dog never hurt anybody. I try to take Lucy and Willie for a walk most afternoons. We typically head toward the roadside park area in Marrowbone (passing the Tire & Lube, Marathon, volunteer fire department, the temporary fancy stoplight, and the fitness center) so L & W can play in the creek a bit before we take a couple of laps at the Park. On the past two occasions, we have had a playmate join us mid-trip. This little beagle has found us at the creek, walked with us to the park, and then followed (well, actually he walks right in between Luce and Will) us to our house. Lucy and Willie share water, dogfood, and homemade treats with him upon our return. When I went out to check on L & W at 9:30 last night, he jumped around from the corner of the house. I may or may not have encouraged him to come in the house to spend the night. Upon his refusal, I may or may not have made a little bed for him right outside my door.

7) On a final, related note: consider baking pies in little individual jars. One of my wonderful, wonderful students shared this link with me (most of you probably already know of Stumble Upon, but if not, you should check out - website where you can designate interests and then get automatic updates of websites, blogs, podcasts, etc. that fit your interests):
*This is one I plan to try this weekend. I'll get back to you with results.*

Enjoy your weekend.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Quirkingly Is Not A Word and Belly Chains Never Go Out of Style

My best friends are my best friends, in part, because they inspire me (the fact that they are all genuine, and compassionate, and beautiful, and ridiculously witty is beside the point; remember, blog = narcissism). While I have mentioned Caroline in passing on numerous occasions in the past, I really think an entire post needs to be devoted to this well-traveled, precise handwriting, liberal arts educated, on-the-spot pun creating, book recommending, tap dancing and soon-to-be mandolin playing, underground hip hop connoisseur. Oh yeah, did I mention that she has lived in Boston (for graduate school), now lives in an inviting, yet cosmopolitan, downtown Chicago condo, has worked in the publishing industry and is currently at the University of Chicago, and is one of the most well-read and most thoughtful people I know?

Most importantly, however, this is the same Caroline who enjoys sitting on my parents' front porch swing, drinking coffee with Mom, me, and the medley of dogs - all with sophisticated names like Rowdy, Waffle, Lucy, Willie, and Tucker - that happen to be enjoying a reprieve from the hard farm labor they all do; the same Caroline who wore a belly chain to sociology class sophomore year because it made us laugh (I, obviously, would never consider such foolishness); the same Caroline who would never, purposely or in passing, mention her accomplishments; the same Caroline who would drop everything to help her absolutely delightful parents (she is a "product of her raising"), me and my family, or probably any of her other friends. I hope you are all fortunate enough to have your own "Caroline"s.

I want to include an email that she sent to me a few days ago both because I think you'll enjoy the poem that she attached and because, even in the brevity of the message that precedes the poem, you get a sense of why she is so neat. Forget the "Hi there. What's going on?" or "Just a quick note to say hey" stuff that we all selfishly send far too often. Caroline rises above this (well, most of the time; I do occasionally get the "guess what I just saw on facebook?!" type message:)). She makes me feel inspired. She reminds me that little things and personal touches matter. She makes me want to be better.

"I think I’ve told you how much I love this poet, and how I so clearly remember his reading of The Lanyard in Cambridge . But I had almost forgotten how good it is.

And it makes me think of the 2000 VP Debate at Centre:)

My walk this a.m. smelled so good and warm – made me miss college…

The Lanyard - Billy Collins
The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.
Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even."

So, in the spirit of both The Lanyard and my "to-do" list, I decided to write a little something.
I miss your ugly brown coat.
Not sure I made it pretty, but it made me happy.
In retrospect, it was likely the coat that caught Bob's attention.
Adornments are superfluous, but quirkingly welcomed.
It has been paired with a Jason Mraz hat and snugly fit baseball caps,
cowboy boots and Chuck Taylor’s have both been accessories.
It is vintage in the same way you are.
I like the way it looks on you and the way it feels draped around me.
And the appeal must be something beyond surface level,
for the various shades of what can only be called brown,
not caramel, or mocha, or even tan, are quite boring,
just as the mish mash of textures & "puff" is rather tacky.
Forget innoculous CD titles. Home is where this ugly brown coat resides.

Recipe Suggestion:
Last week I mentioned a recipe for a Watercress Salad found in the May edition of Real Simple. I worked with ingredients I could find at the local grocery store and threw together this modified light spring salad...

-Salad greens (I used kale instead of watercress, but Mom just brought me some spinach from their garden. I'm sure I'll use that next time)
-15 oz. can beets (sliced or whole)
-Feta (amount to your own liking, just remember that it is fairly potent - crumble a small handful and then add more if needed)
-Homemade salad dressing (I used EVOO, balsamic, and fresh squeezed lemon juice; put in mason jar and shake well)
-Salt and pepper to taste

I must say, however, if ever given the option, definitely choose Jackie's hushpuppies that she made not too long ago instead:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Chicken Debeakers, Bologna Sandwiches, and a PBS Documentary

In 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr. capped the protest march from Selma to Montgomery (5 days/roughly 55 miles I believe) with what is often referred to as his "How Long, Not Long" speech. One particular line from this fairly short, yet stirring (even in retrospect and for someone who is acknowledgingly privileged) address is on my mind this morning: "We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience." Hmm, a lot to think about here.

This notion of noble expectation is weighing on me for reasons both content specific and ideologically tangential. First and most obviously, I was watching the PBS "Eyes on the Prize" series on KET last night (if you have not seen this, I encourage you to get your hands on it - it is documentary on the Civil Rights Movement that is as balanced and thorough as you will find). Secondly, my students are in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement and Great Society unit. Finally, my inspiration is also in part related to this morning's news blurbs on hospital visits for homosexual couples (but also affecting widows/widowers and patients who are otherwise single). For those who have not seen the coverage (and because this is the one that I suppose is more of a stretch), President Obama has requested that the Department of Health and Human Services establish a regulation that would inevitably prohibit discrimination as related to hospital visits (allowing patients themselves decide who can visit).

So, these are my reasons for contemplating King's quote. I think it's important, however, to also point out what isn't on my mind, and subsequent agenda, this morning. I have no intention of detailing a melodramatic reflection of the discrimination and violence (both physical and symbolic) that Americans have historically inflicted upon one another. This is not a topic of debate. It is disheartening, and embarrassing, and shameful to acknowledge the irrevocably undemocratic and unjust means that have been pursued in the name of assumed patriotism. I also have no interest in romanticizing civil disobedience or King himself. Even the most noble men and moral movements are flawed, marred by ulterior motives and power struggles.

So, four paragraphs in, I finally get to the point...:)
I think it's important for us all to think about what we are individually doing today to contribute to a society that can live with its conscience. If all we do is look back at those images of protesters being attacked by dogs or sprayed with fire hoses and think "that is so sad" or "why would people do that?", then we really have learned very little. While progress in human rights has undoubtedly been made in the forty plus years since this march, discrimination and fear and hatred born out of ignorance continue to be cornerstones of some political philosophy and more specifically, lie at the heart of individual rationales for who should be entitled to certain "privileges" (and more often than not, these privileges are in fact, constitutional "rights"). I simply think it imperative to recognize that democracy was not only a myth at various points in history, but that it will remain so unless we are willing to embrace experiential education, some degree of empathy, and a more inclusive sense of open-mindedness (for instance, some will argue that they are not racist, but openly homophobic).

I know that this all sounds idealistic, grounded in Pollyanna theories rather than in the reality of war, and economic instability (though improving conditions), and voter apathy. I'm okay with that. It doesn't hurt to have something to shoot for (obviously ideas are much more useful, though, when strategy accompanies them). I have also been thinking about a specific example, however, that gives credence to this notion of individuals (probably unknowingly and without intention) contributing to a society that can live with its conscience...

For those who knew Leon Turner, you knew he was a character; one of the most entertaining story-tellers I will ever know, occasionally as foolish as any of us Turner sisters have ever been, hard-working entrepreneur, according to him, probably the best athlete to ever come out of Marrowbone, and most importantly, just a "good man" - he may not have been the most politically correct, but his notion of good and bad was based on how people treated him and his family, not on what they looked like or what they believed. He gave people a fair shake. Papa was simply #1 (as he would often say when talking about his grand kids).

In the summer of 1966, Papa and my dad (CLT would have just graduated from high school) were in southern Mississippi contracting for a chicken company. A few months prior, Papa had patented a "chicken debeaker" and was traveling to various locations, primarily in the south, to educate prospective users and to obviously market the product. One afternoon, Dad and Papa loaded in a van, along with 4 or 5 men who were from the area and happened to be working with them that day, and went to a country store for lunch (according to Dad, they just wanted to get some "bologna sandwiches and drinks"). As Papa got out of the truck and started toward the store, he noticed that the guys remained in their seats. His response was simply, "well, c'mon, let's get something to eat." The workers, all whom happened to be black, knew what they were getting into and were justifiably hesitant. Papa would have none of it. Finally convincing the men to come to the porch, he walked in, I imagine, just as confidently as he would have into his own store in Waterview, Kentucky. Dad said that a small group of men who were in the store just watched as Papa told the woman behind the counter what this motley crew wanted for lunch. She responded only that he and Dad could eat in the store, but that the other men would have to go around back to get something. Long story short, Papa threw a fit, ended up taking his, Dad's, and the other men's lunches with them, and threw another fit to the company owner. His anger was not based on some predetermined involvement in a civil justice movement. It was driven by what I imagine to be notions of: "This is stupid. We all are hungry. We all have money to spend. Not a one of us is bothering anybody."

Now, I want to reiterate that occasionally we all verge on romanticism when we talk about past events, and particularly those that involve our families. I will try to avoid this. I know that Papa used the antiquated term "colored" and I know that he acknowledged race as a practical reality. And as I just mentioned, I know that he would have never seen himself as a civil rights activist. In fact, part of his anger was likely a result of his pride - these were men working with him and he didn't want to take shit for it. But, I firmly believe that Papa also understood that this act of discrimination, a refusal of service that did not even apply to him, violated those principles that made him a good man.

The society that Papa envisioned could have lived with its conscience.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Looking For A Single Man In Possession of a Good Fortune

I have no idea why, but getting a new magazine makes me incredibly happy. Unfortunately, however, I have had to keep myself in check lately, knowing that as the UK spring semester draws to a close, the ginormous paycheck that I receive for being a teaching assistant tauntingly waves goodbye as well. Sorry, Houchens cashier, I cannot add Woman's Day, Southern Living, or People to my buggy today (and obviously, those are all code for US Weekly).

Know what I love as much as wasting money on magazines, though? Getting mail. And yesterday I hit a post office trifecta: Cumberland County News, Real Simple, and Food & Wine. Ahhh, redemption.

I found some interesting recipes in Real Simple that I would like to try this week - including Watercress Salad with Beets and Feta and Sausage and Broccoli Calzones; I'll report back with results - but my favorite tidbit in the May issue was a one-page spread in the reader poll section. The posed question was simply: What is your favorite first line of a novel?

I love this question because it resonates with my approach to reading, regardless if fiction, non-fiction, journal, memoir, biography, or research study. I am convinced that I can determine my eventual enjoyment of a publication within five minutes of perusal. I always read the acknowledgement section first (You all might want to check out Marlene Wagman-Geller's, Once Again to Zelda: The Stories Behind Literature's Most Intriguing Dedications). If I like the author's tone (I especially enjoy that which tends toward the sarcastic/witty and dedications and/or introductions that seem more self-deprecating, less "here's why my argument, and I by extension, am super important), I typically will appreciate, even if I don't agree with, the text. It is the same reason that I encourage my students to come up with clever (some might even suggest corny or kitschy) titles, why I loved the creative way in which my winky owl salt and pepper shakers were wrapped, why I, along with every other Turner woman, am obsessive about pillow arrangement on a couch: 1) first impressions matter; and 2) we typically all like things to be representative of or "look" like us.

Here are the first lines of a few books that I like to have near as I am wearing my brown suede and rather gaudy turquoise-infused cowboy boots, drinking from my perfectly-sized coffee mug, reading about the haircut Mama's cat had forced upon it, and sitting in my cozy stripped living room chair.

Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America
"One of the peculiarities of the white race's presence in America is how little intention has been applied to it. As a people, wherever we have been, we have never really intended to be."

Susan Jacoby, The Age of American Unreason
"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. - Thomas Jefferson, 1816
It is the dream of every historian to produce a work that endures and provides the foundation for insights that may lie decades or centuries into the future. Such a book is Richard Hofstadter's Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, published in early 1963 on the hopeful cusp between the McCarthy era and the social convulsions of the late sixties. 'One of the major virtues of liberal society in the past,' Hofstadter wrote in an elegiac yet guardedly optimistic conclusion, 'was that it made possible such a variety of styles of intellectual life - one that can find men notable for being passionate and rebellious, others for being elegant and sumptuous, or spare and astringent, clever and complex, patient and wise, and some equipped mainly to observe and endure.'"

Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
"This story about good food begins in a quick-stop convenience market."

Al Gore, The Assault on Reason
"Not long before our nation launched the invasion of Iraq, our longest-serving senator, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, stood on the Senate floor and said: 'This Chamber is, for the most part, silent - ominously, dreadfully silent. There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing. We stand passively mute in the United States Senate.'"

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."


Recipe for the week
Strawberry Almond Scones (The recipe was actually for "Scottish Scones with Lemon and Ginger; I modified)
Servings: 8, Time: 30 minutes

2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
4 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
3 tbsp. sugar
2 handfuls of frozen strawberries (fruit will make this a messy adventure; I think worth it, though)
1 handful (obviously, these are precise measurements) sliced almonds
1 large egg
1/2 c. half and half, plus more for glazing (I didn't have half and half, so I used 1/4 c. milk and 1/4 c. french vanilla coffeemate)

Preheat oven to 425.

In large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Using your hands, rub butter into the flour mixture, squeezing and pinching until the mixture resembles a coarse meal and there are no butter lumps bigger than a pea.

Add the sugar (hehe...I forgot to do this and ended up "sprinkling" a whole bunch of sugar on top of the 8 scones), almonds, and strawberries.

Pour 1/2 c. of half and half into a small bowl and add the egg. Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mixture, and stir gently to combine. The dough will look dry and there may be some unincorporated flour at the bottom of the bowl. Press the dough into a rough mass. Turn the dough onto a board or counter top and knead until it comes together (Do not overwork the dough). As soon as the dough holds together, pat it into a rough circle about 1" thick. Cut the circle into 8 wedges.

Place the wedges on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (I lined mine with aluminum foil and used a non-stick spray). Pour a splash of half and half into a small bowl. Use a pastry brush (i.e. a spoon in Liza's kitchen) to gently brush the tops of the scones with a thin coat to glaze. Bake for 10-14 minutes, or until pale golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

If you have any ideas for ingredients to replace the strawberries and almonds, I'd love to hear them!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sadly, Russian Children May No Longer Have An Opportunity to Do the "Big Mac, Filet o' Fish, Quarter Pounder" Hand Slap Game

Surprisingly, the busiest McDonalds in the world is not in fact the one off of Hwy 127 in Liberty, Kentucky (where, on many mornings on my way to UK, traffic is stopped to accommodate the drive-thru line. Really, Americans?) To the contrary, an in-depth Good Morning America expose last week proclaimed the most frequented golden arches to be in Moscow, a city where the fast food market is estimated at between $400-700 million/year. Mcgriddle-craved Russians are probably blocking traffic as well.

The point of such impressive investigative journalism, however, was not solely to expose the fact that ingesting crap knows no territorial boundary (and let me say, I can acknowledge it as "crap" and still crave a double cheeseburger and apple turn-over simultaneously). The purpose instead was to raise questions about the Russian economy in wake of post-Cold War politics and the oft-heralded "fall" of communism. The story, for the most part, took a fairly standard pro-democracy, pro-capitalism angle: the McDonaldization of the world represents the triumph of the free market, of individualism and entrepreneurship, of standardization. As one high school student who I observed last week offered, "sharing is for communists."

I must say, however, that despite any snarky comments about GMA's credibility, I did enjoy the direction the story eventually traveled. After acknowledging the fast-food industry's dominance in the Russian capital, ole George Stephanopoulos (I'm sure he is a nice guy, but does anyone like him as the anchor?) highlighted a burgeoning market that could be seen as a direct affront to Western restaurant chains, and perhaps American culture in general. Documenting the rise of national kiosk fast-food chains like Teremok, the video pointed out that while the convenience and price associated with McDonalds have coercive and widespread appeal, a quarter-pounder and supersized fries is not a symbolic fist-pump for American capitalism. When given a choice between a personal pan/chicken snack wrap/big mac or one of several varieties of Teremok's renowned blinis, Russians are increasingly choosing to "buy locally," a reflection of a more universal interest in slow food movement phenomena.

Teremok is thus succeeding, at least in part, because it is promoted as nationalism wrapped in a deliciously thin crepe; succumbing to capitalism's price line does not necessitate the abandonment of tradition. Beyond this specific example, however, the simple fact is that I think most people would choose the more socially-conscious option (speaking in general terms) if that option were also as easy, cheap, and convenient as the alternative. People don't recycle because it requires time and effort, not because they like the idea of overflowing landfills. We shop at Wal-Mart because the same product may cost more at local hardware, general, or grocery stores, not because we want to witness the death of town squares. Most Americans are lazy, selfish to some extent, and more often than not, dreadfully unaware, but most are not without conscience. The question thus arises, how do we hold people accountable while also taking social realities into consideration?

The short answer to this is "I don't know." My long answer:
In an ideal world, we would all choose morality over convenience. And, I hate the idea of continually making things easier for people simply because technology allows it and personal tastes prefer it. As a result, I do think that the push to enhance citizenship and subsequently, the promotion of individual responsibility to community, requires both education and "tough love." We must make people care enough to "go out of their way." We encourage this commitment and concern by connecting issues to everyday realities in language that is relevant to the respective audience. We talk about environmental concerns in relation to Marrowbone Creek, not global warming in the polar ice caps. We educate on the need for local businesses by getting input from Norman Hamilton or Cindy Vibbert or Wyatt Page. This is not to suggest that broad-based literature and/or research is not valuable; for instance, Michael Pollan is a nationally-published journalist and author who has much to contribute to this discussion. The point is simply that, as when teaching history, tangible examples reinforce, rather than "dummy down," theoretical concepts.

With that being said, however, I do think infrastructure has to be enhanced to accommodate changing circumstances. The idea that people want cheap things can't be ignored. The fact that people are more inclined to do things when it is easier is frustrating, but it is nonetheless, part and parcel of human nature. It would be nice if we held ourselves to higher standards and hoped for such in others, but alas, this may not be the case. In such instances, those who are financially capable, charismatic enough to encourage support, and well-versed on the issue, have a responsibility to make socially-conscious decisions possible for a wider base. Maybe this means organizing a recycle drop-off location in an area that does not have curbside pick-up, or organizing a committee of local business leaders to address revitalization efforts, or setting up political debates so voters can at least have the option to familiarize themselves with particular platforms.

Or, maybe we just make blinis.
Russian Pancakes (blinis)
Servings: 20

2 eggs
1 tablespoon white sugar
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and salt. Sift the flour into the bowl, and stir in along with the milk. Mix until smooth and well blended. The batter should be thin.

Heat a griddle or skillet over medium heat. Lightly oil the pan or spray with cooking spray. Pour about 2 tablespoons of the batter, or as much as desired, into the pan. Tilt the pan to spread the batter out evenly. When the edges are crisp looking and the center appears dry, slide a spatula carefully under the blini. Flip, and cook for about 1 minute on the other side, or until lightly browned.
Remove blini to a plate. Put a little butter on top, and continue to stack the blini on top of each other. To serve, spread with desired filling, then fold in half, and in half again to form a triangle.

*On GMA, they showed the blini being served with banana and chocolate, strawberries (infused with vodka) and whip cream, and a hearty beef filling (can be used for sweet or savory dishes). In keeping with the spirit of the post, though, I encourage you to adapt the filling to suit your own local products and tastes. I would love to hear any of your suggestions!*

Friday, April 9, 2010

I Need No Permission, Did I mention

It takes a lot to truly embarrass me (just ask Leigh Ann who would have to order her "plain cheeseburger"s at McDonalds). With that being said, however, even I am surprised that I am willing to admit this. Remember that "to-do" list that I discussed on Wednesday? Well, there just may be a little somethin' somethin' that I failed to mention. I am hoping (as you all will be after hearing it) that writing it down may be a needed catharsis, that verbalizing, in this particular case, will serve as prevention rather than inspiration to actually accomplish. ...

I really love Beyonce. I like her outfits - classy at awards shows, and just fun in her videos. I enjoy listening to her interviews and made-for-TV specials - she seems intelligent and thoughtful and refreshingly grounded (She, along with Natalie Portman, Ellen Page, and Lauren Graham are on my list of "celebrities I think I would be friends with" - no joke, I actually think about stuff like this; shocking my dissertation isn't finished. Shocking.). I LOVE her music - anyone that would characterize her as "guilty pleasure" as opposed to talented artist is just dumb. For a completely inexplicable reason, I really like she and Jay-Z together. I get great pleasure in knowing that one night over Christmas break, while at my parents, I came downstairs and witnessed CLT watching a Beyonce special. And there was no one else in the living room. Most importantly, though, I like her dancing. See where this one is going? ...

#13: For some reason, yet to be known, be asked to perform in a "Single Ladies" talent show rendition.

In the dark recesses of my mind, this, more random than anything I have likely ever thought, thought lingers, occasionally rises to the forefront, and then sulks back when the reality of the ridiculousness overwhelms me. I have decided, however, that despite not really believing in fate, the fact that two people have sent the above Youtube clip to me in the past week, means something...obviously, something along the lines of: I need to find an off-the-shoulder black leotard.

The saddest part of this grandiose tale is that I am not joking in the least. Nearly every time I hear this song (which will NEVER wear out its welcome in my heart and mind), I think, "seriously, under what circumstance could I ever perform this?" It is not passing moment of whimsy; "Eye of the Tiger" concurrently plays as I chart my dance steps. Maybe some of my students will host a fundraiser where they have to get teachers to perform a hip-hop routine. Maybe Leigh Ann, Adrienne, and I will add some excitement to the Morgan 4th of July party. Maybe I can organize a synchronized Single Ladies dance for the Relay for Life fundraiser at the CCHS gym. Or, maybe, just maybe, I can kill two birds with one stone, and recruit Aunt Carolyn, Becky Ballard, and Teresa Page to perform with me at the grand opening of the Marrowbone Park theater company.

Make me feel better. Tell me about your secret "to-do"s:)

*Hope you all have a wonderful weekend. For those in Cumberland County, try to come out for the "Remember When" Relay for Life fundraiser tomorrow night. Who knows, you may be treated to a little halftime entertainment...*

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Good Thing UConn Didn't Play Us

This blog is without a doubt self-serving. Not in the sense of "wow, I'm great, let me see how many people will follow or comment on how much I amaze them," but in the "I need to be disciplined, structured, and inspired" sort of way. I feel accountable when I write, more obligated to act on those ideas that would otherwise safely stay dormant in the uncontroversial world of the hypothetical. It is also good for me simply because I tend toward the abstract. My mind rarely feels "settled," often going in twenty five different directions about a weird mix of topics that happen to be intriguing me on a given day. Writing forces me to see (or perhaps "manufacture," as some would argue) some sense of continuity or rationale. Overly analytical or pretentious conversations that have no purpose but hoped for adoration frustrate me. But, in most cases, I think we ARE in fact benefited by reflection and thought. Writing makes me consider the "why?"s and "so what?"s much more so than imagination would ever do. Hence, my very sophisticated and grammatically impressive "and the point is" comments at the end of most posts...

So, while I suppose this blog is my figurative "to-do," rather than "wish list," today I choose to interpret it more literally. Here are a few things that I would like to accomplish in my hometown in the coming months or years. I welcome feedback, suggestions, and perhaps most importantly, your chastisement if I don't follow through. Everybody needs a little fussing on every now and then.

1) Start a book club. This of course would need to be accompanied by interesting recipes, occasionally watching the movie adaptation of the respective book, and random discussion tangents.
2) Women's basketball league or at-least a shoot around a couple of times/month. I know that there are plenty of people still living in the county who have, at one point or another, participated in the storied history of the Lady Panther basketball team. I have even less doubt that we are all still really, really awesome. And in fantastic shape.
3) Arrange a recycling drop-off location. I doubt curbside recycling will be viable anytime soon, but surely we can come up with a drop-off center plan. I especially welcome any suggestions on this one.
4) Get my yoga instructor certification. I did a little yoga on my back deck a few days ago and remembered how much I enjoy it. I have taken enough classes that I can do a fairly structured 30 or 45 minute session, so if anyone ever wants to join me, you're more than welcome. Certification is probably a good idea, though. If any of you know of an online program that is actually reasonably priced, please let me know.
5) Utilize Marrowbone Park. I really appreciate the work that has already been put into reviving the park, but I would still like to see more done. We need new tennis nets, maybe horseshoe pits, a volleyball net. I would also like to organize some type of theatre program at the park (maybe children's plays, improv night?:), or an arena to showcase plays by local writers). Would love to see murals painted at the park (and throughout Marrowbone) along the lines of the Marrowbone Tire & Lube art.
6) Write more poetry. I do a poem every Christmas for my family, but I should expect more of myself.
7) Try at least one new recipe/week...and post the results here. I also want to learn to make my mom's sourdough bread. Feeding the starter every few days sounds like a pain, but this is a tradition that I would nonetheless enjoy learning from Miss Jackie. I am also interested in taking a bread-baking or pastry class.
8) Start a compost bin. Lucy and Willie are going to be 500 lbs if I continue giving them so many table scraps. If any of you have specific methods or suggestions, please pass along.
9) Visit all restaurants and stores in Cumberland County. Write reviews and/or reflections here. Patron locally-owned, unique restaurants in surrounding area.
10) Create new lists on Pillowbook - place for book, movie, and concert suggestions.
11) Find a jogging/walking partner. Complete a 1/2 marathon by the end of the year.
12) Audition for a play at the Barnlot Theater in Edmonton.

If any of you have ideas as to programs, organizations, or initiatives that might be fun or inspiring, please let me know. I moved back, in part, because it is undeniably comfortable to be known. I don't want this sense of peace to allow me, however, to settle for ease, and the ordinary, and the day-to-day. We should all strive to be inspired, regardless of the amenities and opportunities that supposedly do or do not surround us.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Melba Sewell Calls Out FDR

The idea that "if we don't learn about our past, we are doomed to repeat it" strikes me as a little too simple. It is a loaded statement, on par with "fighting for freedom," that may have an element of truth, yet is used as video blurb, rallying call, or rhetorical tool far too often. It frustrates me when phrases, words, or insults are tossed around solely for the purpose of polemics, when our pleas intentionally incite emotional response, not thoughtful discussion. Fear, anger, hatred, and passion may be the impetus for short-term change or violent protest, but education seems essential for sustained movements. And this is not an "education" that necessarily involves graduate degrees or memorization of fact. In contrast, this "education" is grounded first and foremost in self-awareness. What exactly do I believe? What do I want to see happen? What is my motivation? Subsequently, it is an "education" that then examines these questions and answers in the context of political, economic, or social reality. Why do/don't others support my cause? What are the historical underpinnings for this support or lack thereof? How can those values that I deem essential improve society?

Several posts ago, a reader commented that they judge religions not based on name or stereotypes, but on the actual effect that religion has on the world. This seems a good practice for the application of both belief and critique in general. Rather than wondering if an idea would look good on a t-shirt or move a crowd to tears (and don't get me wrong, I understand the importance of inspiring supporters), it seems our first task should be an honest discussion centered around hard questions (for ourselves first, then move on to assumed opponents). The flippant, the unfounded, the rhetorical (which inevitably move a public that has not done its homework) are a much greater threat to democratic potential than a universal health care system.

This discussion, however, is not only motivated by the current contentious political environment (BUT, this is definitely part: I am frustrated by politicians, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike, who seem more interested in demonizing opposing parties than on fostering a sound and just political system). I have also been thinking about these questions because of a gift from my grandmother. On Friday, Mama brought me an Easter card (with an impressionist-type painting on the front; it "looked like me"), a lovely potted plant with deep purple blooms, and a book she thought I might enjoy: 199 Things Every American Should Know. This short collection of historical odds and ends, edited by Columbia University history professor, John Garraty, was printed in 1990 by American Heritage Magazine. The reason it is special to Mama and me is because it was my great-grandmother, Melba Sewell's book.

Nanny's editorial notes are my favorite aspect of the book. I am intrigued as to why this woman, who was history buff, outspoken critic, and basically just the perfect personification of "firecracker," underlined certain passages, "X"ed out others - including "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," and circled "Nixon's the one." For the same reasons I have discussed in previous posts, it means something to see her handwriting on the back page, notes of what I think might be document collection references and publishing house phone numbers. Beyond this personal sentimentality, however, this book simply raises an interesting question. What's so important about these 199 historical facts?

My knee-jerk reaction to this question is "very little." My teaching style is one of "big picture" concepts. I would much rather my students be able to discuss "power, "or "democracy, "or "justice" than recite the names of generals in the War of 1812. In my attempts to puff myself up every now and then with statements like, "I want to teach students how to think, not memorize," or "I am more concerned with ideas and patterns than with minutia," I overlook the fact that it is those names, and dates, and seemingly trivial odds and ends that give legitimacy to ideology and thematics. It may be a chicken and egg dilemma, but I don't think it can be an either/or. We all need a broad framework AND the specifics to fill it in; philosophical concepts are important and reflection is essential, but tangible examples strengthen our understanding as well. Collectively, these tools have the power to deter rhetoric for the sake of rhetoric.

So, let's go beyond the idea that history is important because it teaches us to avoid recurring mistakes. Most of us know about the Holocaust, but has this prevented genocide in the post-WWII era? No. Most Americans have seen horrific footage from the Civil Rights Movement, but does this mean that discrimination is not rampant? Of course not. Even though there is a distinct difference between communism, democratic socialism, and capitalism, people toss these terms around with little to no historical knowledge or examples of how they have been used. We may have the framework, but not the bits and pieces (or vice versa). Or, perhaps we simply refuse to adapt our knowledge to changing societal conditions.

It seems the cliche thus needs an addendum. History is important because it is a study of human motivation. It gives insight into values, and mindsets, and political inclinations, factors that can have lingering effects decades and even centuries after specific events have occurred. It is a study of conflict and debate and occasionally, compromise. It can be a lesson in rhetoric, and stereotypes, and the meaning and power of propaganda. History is not simply a textbook blurb that gives one perspective of historical "fact." History, as I understand the purpose, should make us ask "why?". It should force us to engage conflicting arguments. In so doing, history potentially necessitates educated debate and strengthening of conviction.

*Just for kicks, here are a few "fun facts" from the book. I'll let you determine for yourself the grander significance or the framework in which each fits."
1) "Good Phrases for Big Issues": THE PECULIAR INSTITUTION - A Southern euphemism for slavery. The term was not intended to be a pejorative; by "peculiar" Southerners meant particular or unique, not odd or queer.
2) "Twenty Wonderful Nicknames": THE KINGFISH - Huey P. Long, because of his total dominance of his native state of Louisiana. Long was a Senator who campaigned during the Great Depression, proposing to confiscate all fortunes of more than five million dollars and all incomes of more than one million dollars, and to use the money to give every American family a house, a car, and an annual income of two thousand dollars or more (Share Our Wealth movement).
3) "What's New?": NEW ERA - The Republican description of the mid-1920s, when wages, profits, and stock prices were on the rise, interest rates were low, and business leaders seemed the embodiment of wisdom and good citizenship. [Uh, right...]; NEW LEFT - A 1950s British term, adopted by American "radicals" in the 1960s, mostly young, who bitterly opposed racism, the Vietnam War, corporate power, and "middle class" morality. The term was used as a pejorative by many people.
4) "Quotations Worth Quoting": "...Mr. Washington apologizes for injustice, he belittles the emasculating effects of caste distinctions, and opposes the higher training and ambitions of our brighter minds...The way for people to gain their reasonable rights is not by voluntarily throwing them away." W.E.B. DuBois (of Booker T. Washington)
5) "Know These Six Great Historians": George Bancroft, Francis Parkman, Henry Adams, Frederick Jackson Turner, Charles Beard, Allan Nevins
6) "Texts That Changed Our Lives": Common Sense - Thomas Paine, Uncle Tom's Cabin - Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History - Alfred Mahan, The School and Society - John Dewey, The Jungle - Upton Sinclair, The Other America - Michael Harrington, Silent Spring - Rachel Carson, The Feminine Mystique - Betty Friedan
So, this Tarte Tatin...
1) Good idea in theory and I have to admit, it did look pretty cool. And I was proud of myself for inverting a 9", just out of the oven, skillet creation onto a crisp white serving platter.
2) I used low-fat butter. If you're going to spend the time making a dessert for a holiday get-together, though, just go ahead and splurge.
3) Not hard, but tedious. It took me roughly 2 hours start to finish (and only 30 minutes of this included bake time).
4) Serve it hot. Because it has a puff pastry crust, it should be served within an hour of taking it out of the oven. I made the mistake of debuting it at my grandmother Lois' Easter dinner. When she said "we'll eat at 4:00," I should have known that meant 5:45.
5) It's okay, but probably not worth the time it takes to make it. You would be better off just sticking with your favorite apple pie recipe.
6) Tarte Tatin is the equivalent of political rhetoric - sounds and looks good, but the substance is lacking.