Monday, September 29, 2008

Word of the day: expropriation

We don't watch much television, and even less so commercial television with the kids, but the last two weekends we've started watching the new Doctor Who on CBC and of course we watched the Simpsons season premiere last night. So the kids have periodically caught "coming up on the news at 10" references to the BAILOUT. (which are pretty amusing in their Canadian flavor — "Tonight, on The National, the world's biggest promoter of free markets proposes the largest government bail-out in history")

Poor kids — they've already suffered through hearing "you kids are going to paying for this stupid war, so you'd best help us stop it" probably more times than is good for developing minds; now they get near-daily lectures about how they have to learn about expropriation if they're ever going to enjoy a decent standard of living.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Low-quality copies of high-quality music

Kids, before there was napster and illegal mp3 downloads, there was the cassette tape. This weekend, we finally installed the ultimate in home decoration, a hang-on-your-wall cassette display rack, recently acquired at a neighborhood "free sale" and apparently home-made. This prompted us to finally, after 11 years of living together, go through our 400+ cassette tapes (which for most of the last 11 years have lived in boxes in the basement). And lo and behold, we discovered numerous duplicate, and in a few cases, triplicate, copies of various albums.

Well, internet people, our dupes are your gain. These albums, having been selected for at least dubbing, if not purchase of a factory-made tape, by both of us, are clearly of the highest musical quality. If you're interested in any of these copies, give us a call or email if you know us, or if you don't, leave a comment below. If you're not in Burlington, we'll ship stuff gratis to friends; people we don't know, we'll probably want you to cover the shipping costs through paypal.

Factory Made Tapes
Red Hot Chili Peppers: The Uplift Mofo Party Plan
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Mother's Milk
Edie Brickell and New Bohemians: Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars
REM: Automatic for the People
U2: Achtung Baby
Lone Justice: Shelter
Adrian Belew: Mr. Music Head
Paul Simon: Graceland
Sting: Nothing Like the Sun
10,000 Maniacs: In My Tribe
Pixies: Come on Pilgrim
Cowboy Junkies: The Trinity Sessions
Pink Floyd: The Wall
Talking Heads: Naked
Cowboy Junkies: Whites Off Earth Now
They Might Be Giants: Flood
REM: Life's Rich Pageant
B-52's: Cosmic Thing
Bruce Springsteen: The Ghost of Tom Joad

Home Made Tapes
Kate Jacobs: The Calm Comes After/Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers Greatest Hits
Jefferson Airplane: After Bathing at Baxters/Fairport Convention: Leige and Lief
Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man/U2: Zooropa
Brahms: 21 Ungarische Tanze/Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 New World
Cassandra Wilson: Blue Light Til Dawn
Gabriel Faure: Requiem/Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade
Dire Straits: Making Movies/Billy Bragg: Workers' Playtime
24-7 Spyz: Harder Than You
Lou Reed: New York plus some greatest hits
Mortal Micronotz tribute/Replacements: Tim
Lyle Lovett: Joshua Judges Ruth
Laurie Anderson: Bright Red
Son Volt: Trace/Uncle Tupelo: March 16-20, 1992
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Blood Sugar Sex Magic
Weird Nightmare: Meditations on Mingus plus Kronos Quartet
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: The Day, The Night, The Dawn, The Dusk
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: Devotional and Love Songs and Party
Kim Forehand: Going Home/Kate Jacobs: (What About Regret)
Lucious Jackson: Natural Ingredients/Poster Children: Just Like You/Bottle Rockets: The Brooklyn Side
Blue Mountain: Dog Days/Bottlerockets: The Brooklyn Side
Spearhead: Home b/w selections from Stolen Moments: Red, Hot and Cool
10,000 Maniacs: In My Tribe b/w selections from Hope Chest and The Wishing Chair
Billy Bragg: Don't Try This at Home/George Clinton: Hey Man ... Smell My Finger
Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense
The Hooters: Nervous Night/Talking Heads: Little Creatures
Volcano Lover read by Susan Sontag
Uncle Tupelo: March 16-20, 1992, Anodyne
Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracks and Greatest Hits
Pink Floyd: The Wall
Paul Simon: Rhythm of the Saints b/w a Lady Smith Black Mambazo album
Luka Bloom: Riverside, the Acoustic Motorbike
Townes Van Zandt: Rain on a Conga Drum
Bruce Springsteen: The Ghost of Tom Joad
Peter Gabriel: "Melting Face", Security

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Secret ingredients

I made pasta with lentils for dinner tonight — cheap and nutritious, and easy to make two meals (plain pasta and plain lentils for the children, the combined dish for the parents). My basic recipe is this:

Pick over and rinse ~1 cup of lentils. Put in saucepan with a bay leaf or two and cold water to cover by 1-2 inches. Bring to a boil, then simmer 20-30 minutes, until tender.

  • If you've got a few slices of bacon on hand, chop fairly small and brown slowly in a fry-pan. Once nicely crisp, scoop the bacon out with a slotted spoon, and pour off all but 1-2 TBSP of fat. If you don't have bacon, heat 1-2 TBSP of olive oil in a fry-pan.
  • Add 1 medium onion, 1 medium carrot, and 1 stalk celery, all chopped fairly small. Cook over medium heat until well-browned.
  • Add 1-2 TBSP chopped fresh rosemary and 1-2 cloves garlic, minced, cook for 20-30 seconds, then deglaze the pan with a slosh of white wine.
  • If you have a little (homemade or low-sodium) chicken or beef stock on hand, add now and reduce while waiting for everything else to be done. Otherwise turn off the heat and wait to reheat until pasta and lentils are done.

I usually make this with whole wheat spaghetti, though broader pasta (like farfalle) is more traditional. Cook in well-salted water, and reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water just before draining the pasta.

Finish by adding a cup or two of the cooked lentils (removing the bay leaf) and the pasta to the sauce. Add enough of the reserved pasta-cooking water to make a nice, moist sauce and heat through 1-2 minutes. Serve with parmesan or pecorino if desired.

I didn't have either bacon or stock on hand tonight, but as I was rummaging around the refrigerator looking for a veggie I noticed something I had saved from a night or two ago — the water I had soaked dried shiitake mushrooms in. I chucked it into the sauce at step four, and also added a bit of soy sauce, and ended up with one of the meatiest-tasting vegan meals I've made in awhile.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Gingerbread economy

Sad as it is, the price of maple syrup has become so high, even in Vermont, that we no longer feel like we can eat it on our pancakes and waffles every morning. Lately we've even begun to rely on the old southern/midwestern standby, homemade brown sugar syrup. As a New Englander of many generations, I find this a bit depressing.

Here was an attempt to come up with a pancake recipe that actually goes fairly well with the thin, caramelly non-maple-tasting brown sugar syrup:

Gingerbread Pancakes

1 c white flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
3 TBSP sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves

1 TBSP cider vinegar
1 1/2 c (less 1 TBSP) milk
1/2 tsp vanilla

3 TBSP butter
3 eggs

1. Combine all the dry ingredients.
2. Combine cider vinegar and enough milk to make 1 1/2 cups (or, if you like, use 1 1/2 c buttermilk and omit the vinegar), then add 1/2 tsp vanilla
3. Melt butter, add milk and then eggs, one at a time, combining well
4. Add butter-milk-eggs mixture to dry ingredients
5. Ladle by 1/4 cups onto hot griddle

Steps 1 and 2 can be done the night before (leave milk in fridge overnight), making pancakes on school mornings much easier.

Makes about 16

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


The performing arts theatre where I work (as a low-wage box office peon) is calling part of its season this year "Giving Voice" — theatre pieces about food insecurity, class and culture in New England, and post-Katrina America.

But I can't stand the phrase "giving voice." In my experience, the problem isn't that (powerless) people don't have a voice, it's that no one listens to them. Nothing against the artists — they seem like good and interesting pieces, I may even try to go see some of the shows — but "giving voice" seems to me to be a marketing tool to get the theatre audience (which will be overwhelmingly white and middle-class) to buy tickets to these performances so they can feel good about themselves for having participated in "giving voice" to working-class folks, for having participated in an "initiative for diversity" (one of the institutional sponsors of one of the shows).

When, of course, the most useful thing white middle-class people can do is to shut up and get some humility and find ways to listen directly to voices from the grassroots.

* * *

I loved music as a youngster, learned the guitar and piano starting in junior high, wrote songs, played in bands, picked up other instruments, spent endless hours making home recordings on a 4-track tape recorder. But I never could sing; I'd always have to find singers and teach them the songs I wrote (which often had interesting lyrics, chord changes and rhythms, but were kinda weak on melody).

In my early 20s I finally taught myself to sing a little — I figured out I could pick out (simple) vocal melodies on the guitar or piano, then play the melodies back and sing along and slowly learn how to match the pitch with my voice. I started playing solo acoustic shows, with a repertoire of songs whose vocal melodies didn't go below C or above G. In general only close friends, and a few people who really liked the songs, were willing to endure my more or less on-key but not particularly musical singing.

Over the years I expanded my range a bit, even found a few singers with whom I could successfully harmonize, but it wasn't until I had kids and had to sing lullabyes a capella (and, incidentally, no longer had time to play the guitar) that I finally learned to sing consistently on-key. Instead of using my ears to match the pitch of my voice to the pitches of instruments I heard around me, I learned to find the pitch in the vibration of my own body.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Red tomatoes, white privilege

Tomatoes with Bulghur and Lentils, Squashes and Gourds in Background

For lunch today: a fresh garden tomato, stuffed with lentils and bulghur. With a centerpiece of various squashes and gourds grown in our garden.

one large tomato, fresh from the garden
some cooked lentils (boil for 20-25 minutes in water with a bay leaf or two)
some cooked bulghur (bring 1 1/2 c water to boil, add 1 c bulghur, reduce heat to lowest possible setting, cover and cook for 15 minutes)
an onion, sliced fairly thinly and then fried over fairly high heat in olive oil until nice, brown and crispy

Scoop out center of tomato to make a shell. Mix together tomato innards (chopped or smashed small), lentils, bulghur, onions, with salt and pepper to taste and a little extra-virgin olive oil. Stuff tomato with this mixture.

Then, after enjoying a good lunch, a good and important read: Understanding McCain-Palin: It's About White Privilege (written by Tim Wise, cross-posted by my friend Sameer).

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What I learned in college

One of my forays into the world of higher education was at a small liberal-arts college located in a small town in the Midwest. I was there for two years.

The town had a little under ten thousand residents (I never knew whether this number including the 1200 students or not), was even more overwhelmingly white than the college (which was, um, pretty white), and was noticably divided by Sixth Street, which ran just along the south edge of campus and along the north edge of downtown. North of Sixth Street was the college campus, surrounded by leafy neighborhoods filled with the spacious victorian houses that most of the professors lived in. South of Sixth Street were smaller houses, a trailer park, the county fairgrounds, feed stores and Wal-Mart, and the five or so factories that provided what employment was to be had there in the 90s.

At one point while there, I was part of a multiracial group of students who decided to facilitate a workshop/exercise on racism and discrimination called Archie Bunker's Neighborhood. You can find a more in-depth description of the exercise here, but the basic gist is dividing the participants up into different "communities," each of which has to navigate a system of bureaucracy and law enforcement in order to build their community, and — as with real life bureaucracy and law enforcement — the facilitators playing the sherriff, mayor, permitting office etc. treat the white group more favorably and leniently. Then everyone breaks into small groups, blah blah blah.

In addition to doing this on campus, we also did it at the town's high school. I don't remember whether I got to be the sherriff, etc., but I did have to facilitate a small group discussion — not something I had a lot of practice with when I was twenty.

The small-group discussion with my small group of all-white high school students went about as one would expect — the liberal, middle-class children of the college professors and other professionals in town knew the right lines to say, summed up appropriate moral outrage, while the working-class kids kind of stumbled over themselves, kept their mouths shut, or said mildly inappropriate things ... until the subject of Rodney King and the LA riots — which had just happened a year or two previously — came up.

All of a sudden the entire group changed. The middle-class students' moral outrage was directed at the rioters (why couldn't they just be nice non-violent Negroes like Martin Luther King?) and the working-class students began telling stories of being followed and harassed by cops whenever they went north of Sixth Street, or just for being out in a group together. "I guess I kind of felt like I knew why those people rioted in LA."

* * *

One of my best friends at this college was T, from a lower-middle-class family in rural Wisconsin. She, like me, felt a little out of place there — the vast majority of students were from the suburbs of Chicago and other large Midwestern cities. One summer she stayed in town and supported herself by lying about not being a college student and getting a job at one of the factories in town, sewing sportswear in a poorly-ventilated metal box on the south side. She was an avid gardener — I still have photos from that summer of us balancing produce on our heads for laughs.

One day in the spring she was walking with another friend — J, a counterculturalist from the suburban tracts of Ohio — by the feed store. They had extensive and well-groomed flower beds out front. T noticed one extremely tall flower in a bed where the owners were clearly aiming for a uniform height. Almost absent-mindedly, from the know-it-in-your-bones-and-muscles that comes from true craft, T reached out and pruned the errant flower.

J — against all conformism and hierarchy — was appalled.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Creamy chard-stem soup

I've decided to return to posting recipes on this blog, since maintaining two blogs seems a bit too much work for me, and I'm getting too old for MySpace.

Chard has become one of my favorite vegetables this summer, mostly because one of my favorite Joy of Cooking recipes, the chard tart, has become a favorite of the kids' as well. But this recipe, like so many chard recipes, calls for removing the stems, which seems a bit of a waste. What to do with the stems alone? I've chucked them into stir-fries and curries, but — at least for the red-hued chard — they sometimes bring a neon-pinkish color which is not always appetizing. In Spain, the stems are breaded and deep-fried as tapas, but deep-fat-frying is not something one should be doing that regularly.

I instead started making a creamy soup with them, which has worked out well — the kids even love it. It can be served hot or cold, and like almost all pureed soups, loves homemade croutons. I've never measured the amounts, just pretty much used what I've had of each, and eyeballed the milk/cream at the end:

1. Melt some butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add chopped onions and cook slowly and gently until translucent. The smell of onions cooking slowly in butter is one of the great kitchen smells of all time. If you're really ambitious (and want an even better smell), substitute a leek for the onion.

2. Add a good chunk of chard stems, chopped. Last night I used the stems from 1 1/2 lbs. of chard. Stir and cook for a few minutes.

3. Add some starchy (yellow or white) potatoes, chopped into 1/2" cubes, and water to cover. Last night I used 3 egg-sized potatoes, skin and all. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, until potatoes can be broken up with a wooden spoon, 20 minutes or so. It would probably be a nice touch to add some fresh basil to the soup right at this point, but I've never done it.

4. The best Christmas gift ever — I got one from my mother-in-law a year or two back — is the handheld stick blender that you can stick into a pot to blend up hot liquids (which otherwise have a tendency to misbehave and splatter all over the kitchen in standing blenders). If you've gotten to this point in cooking and don't have one and have $60 to spare, turn off the stove, go out and buy one, come home, and whiz up the soup into a nice puree. If that's not an option, let the soup cool, blend it in a blender, then reheat and proceed with the recipe.

5. Add enough cream or half-and-half to lighten the soup a few shades. If it's too thick for your liking, thin the soup with milk. Season to taste with salt and pepper.