Archive for October, 2011

A meal that tells your story

October 30, 2011

I watched Top ChefAll-Stars while the weird October Nor’easter blew through the Bay State last night.  One of the challenges that I loved from the All-Star season was the Ellis Island challenge.  Part of it is the romanticized myth of being a welcoming nation to immigrants personified (see Irish need not apply to realize that one is a creation of our communal, idealized national persona).  The challenge was to make a dish that represented your familial history in the United States.

Once, in grad school somebody was ultra snarkish to me and stated “that I was ‘new to the area and didn’t understand”’ whatever drama was being discussed.  I flung back I’m not a transplant, I’m a replant.  True, my dad’sfamily DID leave Massachusetts after the Revolutionary War for their reward of a chunk of Ohio but they are only half my family narrative.  I’ve always felt a somewhat complicated relationship with immigration/opportunity and the narrative that is woven by so many people.  Yes, my dad’s family has this wild and strange pedigree (a signer to the Declaration of Independence (see, it comes naturally!), the person who surrendered Ft. Sumter, a long line of Quaker farmers, a longer line of people who stand up for beliefs even if they are unpopular or can cost jobs.   In short, a family that probably was at the 1% at some time in the story of the nation (put it this way, my dad’s side of the family could always vote).  My grandmother received her MBA from The Ohio State University in an era when most men didn’t graduate from high school let alone college.  And yes, I qualify as a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.  I have the paperwork, somewhere.  My paternal grandfather’s family (in addition to giving me my weird name), collects PhDs. There are a few university buildings name after them; long tenures at Nebraska, Wyoming and Oregon.

My mom’s family is the other side of the American coin.  Little is known about her family history.  She was the first person in her family to graduate from college.  She worked full time at a grocery store while taking a full load of classes and graduated in 4 years with a double major: including student teaching.   My maternal grandmother was raised in the coal towns of rural Kentucky.  Her mother was (probably) illiterate.  Her father wandered away one day and never returned (he had been gassed during WW I).  She had a hard life: moving where the jobs were at the time, eventually ending up in Indiana where she and my grandfather were high school sweethearts. His was an equally difficult childhood: neither of my grandparents knew the world “play”.  My grandfather carried ice on his back during the depression as a child to support his mother and brother.  I know little about his side of the family.  Both of my maternal grandparents knew going to bed hungry as a child.

My maternal grandmother’s family has a colorful past: they were run out of Virginia into Kentucky over an issue of horse thievery.  The hazy legend of an Uncle Scarface released
from the penitentiary with several notches in his belt: the type that suggested he killed that many people. There is Cherokee blood in my mother’s side of the family (you can see it in the pictures of her grandmother, my sister).  One of my mother’s uncles and his wife had the most education of their generation: 8th and 6th grades.  They moved with the TVA and helped to construct the Hoover Dam.  My mother tells of her relatives struggling with Civil Rights: including one line from a family member “I know I’m not better than a black man, I just wasn’t raised that way”: a startling, truthful admission of an insanely complex issue (the man in question? Martin Luther King, Jr.). I bristle when individuals broad brush southerners as uneducated, racist or backwards.  That is part of my family: and really, it’s the more interesting side of my family, I mean, what kid doesn’t want an Uncle Scarface?

The two people I’d love to have dinner with together were both named Mary.  One, my dad’s mom, you always had to tell her what you learned.  When she died a few years ago, I realized that how I traveled was so influenced by her: what is new, what is different, what did you learn.  There is more to the world than the national boundaries.  She always hosted students studying at Ohio State from all over the world.  There is complexity and beauty in the world.

The other Mary was my mother’s great aunt by marriage.  She called every male Bud and every female Sis.  She was a tiny feisty woman who travelled her husband building dams all over this country.  She lost siblings and friends in the dangerous coal mines of eastern Kentucky. She turned cards (as in a fortuneteller) but stopped shortly after I was born: my mom says she thinks she saw her husband’s death. She also never stopped learning.  She always sought a variety of opinions on an issue.  She didn’t know a stranger.  She was a character: she attended
a very strict non-denominational church.  She didn’t like the “new” preacher but liked his father.  One Easter, she announced she’d heard enough of the son’s “fool preaching” and walked out.  In the middle of the sermon: she stood up, said she heard enough and we were leaving.  The town she lived in was dry.  We used to bring her a bottle of Jack Daniels every summer.  One year, we had to run an errand, she told my mother to speed through town so nobody could smell her breath (through rolled up windows). Everybody in the town knew that if times were hard, you could get a mealwith her: there wasn’t a lot, but there was always enough.

So I started thinking, if I had to make a meal to represent both of these women, both powerful driving forces in how I think, what would it be? First, I’d have to cook: both were horrific cooks.  I know there would be copious amounts of coffee.  The protein would have to be chicken.  Part of me thinks, that for the hodge-podge American mutt genealogy that I own, I’d want nothing more than a roasted chicken, root veggies and pie and a bit of Jack in that coffee.  And a really interesting conversation between two Marys who grew up vastly different, both would bristle at being called a feminist but both were amazing pioneers and never stopped learning.

Perhaps it’s just me and my weird and wonderful family history: I’m uncomfortable with broadbrushing any group.  My family has taught me better and both sides come from very different parts of the American story.

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And while you are waiting you can get a (not so healthy) bite to eat

October 29, 2011

A few weeks ago I had to have some diagnostic testing done.  Nothing major – but there was a wait time involved and the tech said to me I could grab a bite to eat while I waited.  Since I actually was hungry (and had lost the paper that said if I could eat before or not…), I went to grab something at the Souper Salad located at my favorite HUB area teaching hospital.  I don’t know if it’s a city law (or state – things I don’t pay attention to in this area) but the calorie counts were posted and a full nutritional disclosure was available.  From their website, the restaurant claims  “Since 1976, Souper Salad has been satisfying Boston’s appetite with a healthy and delicious menu  filled with the freshest Soups, Salads, Sandwiches, Wraps, Pita Pizzas and our signature Walkabouts.”  Healthy? As in Carol Brady healthy.  I was stunned.  Normally this isn’t a blog worthy event: although I’ll admit being a bit surprised that all of the breakfast options had over 25 grams of fat and the sodium count is out of this world (I mean, we are IN a hospital people! In all fairness the other option is Starbucks which isn’t much better and is a privately owned chain.).  Thankfully, I found a Luna bar at the bottom of my bag and grabbed an over priced bottle of water.

I was thinking this was some wacko anomaly until I ran across the following post on Fooducate.  3 major children’s hospitals in this country have a McDonald’s on site.  Yup, you read that right: Children’s of San Diego, Children’s of Los Angeles and Texas Children’s.  According to Fooducate, the one at CHOP closed because of space needs.  Ok, let me think this through: you have a child at a major teaching center, chances are it’s not for putting in ear tubes.  S/he has some thing seriously wrong or (let’s face it) because of the teaching status of the hospitals, you might be on some form of Medicare/Medicaid.  What does it say about the hospital to rent out the space to a known purveyor of garbage? junk food as one of the options?  How do doctors/nurses/dietitians look patients in the face and provide advise on overcoming obesity, eating healthy with limited resources, and providing tips on foods that are better choices than fast food when down the hall sits the golden arches?

Look, I’m the first to say hospital food (for the most part) sucks.  But the one thing hospital foods (and eateries in a hospital should be) is nutritious.  Perhaps as part of their well needed awareness on the food choices people make, the medical community should examine the food available within the four walls of their institutions.  In times of need, stress many people will eat: perhaps not encouraging bad nutrition by what is available would be a good first step.

No, really, excuse me?

October 19, 2011

What a day.  I’m the first to admit that when I’m sick (like I am now), I’m not the most charitable person in the world.  My already innate personality of “stay away from me” only becomes worse.  Combine that with pouring rain, not being able to move a work schedule around and I’m not exactly the nicest person today.  I arrived at work early (I tend to work early: avoid the masses on the roads) and started at the task at hand.  A few hours later, one of my co-workers drifted in and started yammering about a document we worked on yesterday.  She handed it to me and said “I mean, doesn’t it look like a f-ing illegal re-ard wrote this?”.

EXCUSE ME?

I sorta scrunched up my face and asked her to repeat herself – in that tone/face that says “clean up your language and try again”.  Nope. She repeated it word for word: “I mean, doesn’t it look like a f-ing illegal re-ard wrote this?”  One thing I despise more than almost anything in the world are work place battles, especially over political correctness (I think it’s gone WAY too far in some circles!).  I looked at her and flung back something polite along the lines of “please don’t say things like that around me.”  She looked stunned: which one? All of them.  Her defense? “Everybody says it.”  Now, I’m feeling like my mother: “If everybody jumped off a bridge, would you?” (uh, chances are yes because most people I know would jump for a good reason).

Now I glared: I said “I don’t. And I don’t tolerate it around me.”

Seriously.  It flew above her head – she wanted me to read the document that as filled with typos.  The reason why? It’s in a controlled edit setting: if you misspell anything it can’t be corrected.  Why? We are in a regulated industry and this is a mechanism to prevent changes.  I (somewhat nicely) decided to explain that to her.  Over her head.

The kicker? The person shouting this hatred? A first generation unwed pregnant Latina.  Yup. As if she probably hasn’t hit a few stereotype herself.

Her advice to me? You need to get used to people saying what they want: we are allowed to in this country.

My arched eyebrow reply? You can say what you want out of my earshot but I won’t tolerate slurs of ethnicity, gender, intelligence or race.  If you don’t like it, that’s not my issue.

Seriously.  Wait until she finds out I’m gay.

An early thought (or 12) for National Coming Out Day

October 9, 2011

So, October 11th is 23rd “National Coming Out Day”.  For the record, I officially hate national anything days.  For those of you who really know me, I barely tolerate Christmas, Thanksgiving, or really any other holiday.  National Coming Out Day is one of those vexing days for me.  It’s a very uncomfortable day for me: I know there are people who are struggling to say “I’m gay” for the first time.  I know this is a day that can draw unwanted attention from various hate groups.  I know it’s a day that I’m not sure how to handle.

Coming out … ack. It’s such a process: there isn’t a guidebook or roadmap.  Coming out is terrifying.  I still can wind up in dry heaves just thinking about having to do that again.  It’s not like a person can come out and then have it be “over”.  I’ve found it to be an always going on process.  Start a new job? Sit next to somebody on a plane? Presumed straight.  Granted, I don’t exactly wrap myself in seat 12A and turn to the person next to me and say “Hi, I’m a left-handed lesbian who likes to travel and if you’d mind NOT opening your lap top during the flight, I’d be happy.”

If I had a wish for Coming Out Day (aside from there not being a need?).  It would be the following: educating people on what to say when somebody tells you s/he is gay.  When I think about some of the responses … see my comments about dry heaving.  Coming out affixes a label.  For good or for bad, everybody has ascribed meaning to the label.  (I still laugh when somebody once commented to me, you don’t know how to change your car oil? But you are a lesbian!).  So for good or for bad here are some things (maybe slightly altered to protect the individual who said it) that were told to me:

1) “Wow, this comes as a surprise.”  Ok, look, the person who just told you s/he is gay has just shared a deeply held “secret”.  Are you affirming that keeping it a secret is good? Or that s/he has hidden self-identity? (Keep in mind, many LGBT people think “people don’t know the real me (and thus wouldn’t like me)” while making the decision to come out.

2) “It’s ok.” Um. Yeah.  What’s ok? That I’m standing and admitting everything I tried to be was a sham and I lived in secrecy? Or that it’s ok to be gay?

3) “I love you anyway.”

4) “It’s not a big deal.”  I get this one: what a person is saying is that it doesn’t change anything.  Here is the issue: for the person coming out, every person that s/he choses to tell is a risk.  Maybe not of physical violence but the end of a friendship, a change in the relationship.

Coming out is a big deal: not in the flag waving, hand clapping sort of way that drives me bonkers.  When somebody comes out to an other person (gay or straight), things change.  Friendships can change.  People who were thought to be allies might drift away: people who you fear loosing might help the person coming out more than imaginable.

Gay, straight if somebody choses to come out to you, s/he has placed an enormous amount of trust in you.  It’s a struggle on both ends (especially among close friends and family).  The first few times somebody forms the words it is painful.  Later on, it’s a matter of risk (see an earlier blog about being forced out in the work place).  But if you are lucky enough to have somebody come out to you, the best response is simply the gift of your presence with the simple words of “Thank-you.  Do you need to talk?”.  And those of us who are out, need to remember the struggle to find the words – and try to find ways to uphold those who are struggling to find their voices.  And to those of you coming out: It’s hard. It hurts.  And never discount your friends based on what you think they believe.

On occupation and other musings

October 9, 2011

I spent yesterday thinking about why the “Occupy Wall Street” protests bother me: I usually don’t care about protests as long as they stay non-violent on both sides.  At some point I realized why I was so bothered: it’s the myth of “all people being born equal”.  While there is a tad bit of truth (everybody is born naked, covered in junk and (hopefully) crying, after that, nothing is ever again equal until the final resting place of the body.  Every thing between is a combination of luck (as most of us railed at some point, we didn’t ask to be born or pick our families), fortune and effort.

For some reason, most people believe the idea of equality.  Ok, let me say this.  I don’t. Equality is a myth.  We all do not posses equal talents (if we did, would there be awe in the innate talents of some people?).  Where are we failing as a society? Has anybody ever seen a kid’s baseball game where all the kids play?  There is something for having every kid have an at bat and in the field but learning that as a person you are not good at something is, I would argue, is one of the more important lessons of childhood.  There is failure when there is failure of effort: NOT failure of skill (I’m speaking about children than people like, oh heart surgeons).

The ideal of a utopia is just that: an ideal.  Can the world be made more equitable? Yes.  But don’t for a minute think we are all equal: we are all unique and with different opportunities.  Our goal should be to maximize the potential.

But on the student loan side: here is a simple solution.  Before being allowed to take out a student loan, parents and students need to take a course demonstrating where they have to pass a test understanding the loan repayment and the needed income (net) to repay, rent a home within a 10 mile radius of the 5 most populated areas for alumni and receive information on the average monthly loan re-payment for graduates in the past 10 years.  Right now, students have to show they know the ‘evils’ of alcohol before enrolling at schools such as the University of South Carolina and Texas Tech.  How about mandating a valuable skill before handing over the fees?

Occupy This

October 7, 2011

I freely admit, I don’t get the “Occupy Wall-Street” protests.  I caught some of the local coverage of the events in Boston and, well, I laughed.  My first thought of the repeating call was, “Hey, I saw that in China before factory shifts 8 years ago.” My second thought was approving things via jazz hands well, was just way too funny.  I’m not going to deny the widening income gaps and record-setting sustained unemployment.  I’m probably one of the few people who can say “Yes, I’m making more money now than I was 4 years ago”.  Save the shoes being tossed: 4 years ago I was working for an “upscale” retailer that pays its employees via 100% commission.  And if a person makes a return? The sales people get hit: never mind if the item was used, had holes or was re-tagged.  I still have my perfectly legal paycheck for $4.83 for a weeks work (38 hours).

I get the anger: I really do.  I’ve worked contract work the past 2 years, paid for my own insurance and become a versatile rice cook.  Part of my bemusement has come from some of the comments made by the protestors: comments about graduating with 120 thousand dollars of undergraduate debt (note: if that is your LOAN payment, “state school”, “realistic expectations”, and “dumb move” are a few thoughts that spring to mind: that and your high school system really needs to teach a course on budgeting).  I get feeling disenfranchised.  My student loan repayment went UP when Sallie Mae bought my loan from Citibank.

Part of me (ok, the part that isn’t terrorized by this call-repeat jazz hand form of communication) wants to go down and poll the protestors.  How many people ranting about wages, greed and what ever else shop at a chain grocery store? Do they purchase items off of Amazon (not independent retailers who use the market front from Amazon but the distribution centers? This story was circulated on the internet a few weeks ago regarding working conditions.  And, in all fairness to Amazon, I ran into the same issue at one of my temp jobs: working in a non-temperature controlled warehouse.)  Sites that utilize the drop-ship warehouse method do not return any dollars outside of wages to local communities.  When going out for a meal, do they go to a chain or do they go  to a local dive?  In short, how much to they actually think about the economic return to their local community through their purchases.  Or, are they protesting corporate greed fueled on their Seattle-based $4.50 latte?

Some times, you have to go back to the kitchen

October 6, 2011
Pork and Spicy Peach BBQ

Pork and Spicy Peach BBQ

I’ve had a lousy week.  Sunday night, I found out a long time family friend died of lung cancer.  She had a wonderful life just a not so happy ending.  I tried to find something poignant to put on the flowers I sent to my mom but came up with “some days just suck”.  At least my mom laughed: I know her friend would have had she received the flowers.  The day of the funeral I had to deal with my condo association and their inability to follow a procedure from point a to point b thus causing me to be inconvenienced.  My mom and her friend are both retired school teachers.  The one thing that entered my mind (because I couldn’t be 1/3 of the way across the country at the funeral like I wanted to be) was “Lack of planning on your part, doesn’t constitute an emergency on my part”.  The cliché of the poster pretty much sums up how I feel about my condo mis-management firm.  Always a fire drill.

So, on this miserable rainy fall Tuesday night, I cooked.  A fresh ham (not smoked … really you could substitute a pork roast) from the fantastic 8’Oclock Ranch and some homemade peach bbq sauce that I made this summer.  The following is the recipe I used for the zesty peach bbq sauce:

6 cups finely chopped pitted peeled peaches (about 3 lb or 9 medium)
1 cup finely chopped seeded red bell pepper (about 1 large)
1 cup finely chopped onion (about 1 large)
3 Tbsp finely chopped garlic (about 14 cloves)
1-1/4 cups honey
3/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tsp hot pepper flakes
2 tsp dry mustard

(It’s adapted from the ball canning book:  I skipped the salt and Worcester sauce).  And I somehow used the wrong kind of hot pepper flakes so mine as an extra layer of heat (suffice to say, cayenne pepper is a tad hotter than hot pepper flakes: oops).  This makes about 4 pints.

I preheated the oven to 380.  Dumped a pint of the sauce all over the roast and cooked until done (ok, so the cooking time depends ON the weight of the roast so that you have to look up. . . .).  I served it over rice.

Finally it’s fall . . . and I get to cook.  And enjoy the rewards of my hot summer nights in the kitchen