27 November 2008

Thanksgiving Day

Happy Thanksgiving from the cutest pilgrim salt and pepper shakers in all of Nashville. (Wait a minute: were the pilgrims Shakers?)

26 November 2008

In Honor of the Piano in Harwich, Mass

Recent news reports have shared the strange details of an abandoned piano found in the woods in Massachusetts recently - a good condition, Baldwin upright, complete with bench, sitting in the middle of the forest. How, why, and by whom it was left remain a mystery.

News organizations have snapped up the chance to ask if a piano is played in the forest and there's no one to hear it ... etc.

But here's another What If proposed by poet Winfield Townley Scott. (This is from a strange little volume I bought for $1 at the library book sale years ago. It's called Some Haystacks Don't Even Have Any Needle.)


If all the unplayed pianos in America--
The antimacassared uprights in old ladies' parlors
In the storehouses the ones that were rented for vaudeville
The ones where ill fame worsened and finally died
The ones too old for Sunday School helplessly dusty
The ones too damp at the beach and too dry in the mountains
The ones mothers used to play on winter evenings
The ones silenced because of the children growing away--
Resounded suddenly all together from coast to coast:
Untuned joy like a fountain jetted everywhere for a moment:
The whole nation burst to untapped, untrammeled song:
If would make--in short--a most satisfactory occasion,
A phenomenon which the scientists could never explain.

- Winfield Townley Scott

ThanksVegan, The Meal

For the last three years our Thanksgiving table has been graced with vegetables from our CSA with Fair Share Farm. Even though the season ends in October, our farmers still have a few winter crops that keep growing into November, which they harvest and bundle and bring in to town just in time for the biggest food day of the year. We picked up this year's Thanksgiving share last Friday and drove it straight to Tulsa for ThanksVegan. Several items from our abundant local stash featured prominently in our meal, including the sadly maligned Brussels sprouts (whoever thinks those adorable little vegetables aren't delicious maybe just hasn't eaten sprouts fresh from the farm?) which we roasted until slightly crispy with olive oil and walnuts. We also had swiss chard (sauteed with onion in olive oil) which we combined with chard from Jon & Erin's yard, the food "miles" of which could be logged in a mere handful of footsteps. We also had a plenteous Wilted Spinach Salad with Fair Share spinach and a good old fashioned Sweet and Sour Cabbage, complete with a local apple from Bad Seed Farm. Looking back, I think this year's meal may be the most local we've had.

Looking forward, I am realizing how absolutely possible (dare I say, simple?) it can be to source an entire ThanksVegan almost completely locally; we could have done that with this year's meal, had we eaten in Kansas City where I have learned about so many great sources for local food. This year, the only things we ate that are not available locally are lemons, orange and cranberries, walnuts, olive oil, and olives. But everything else is available this time of year, at least around the midwest. We could have gotten bread for the stuffing and the croutons in the salad from Hot Mama Bakery or Bread of Life bakery (to name just a few). We could have gotten butternut squash, potatoes and onions from any number of places near by. We even could even have made our Tofu Roulade with local tofu from Central Soyfoods in Lawrence, KS. It hadn't occurred to me that we could do almost everything local since for our version of the holiday we typically buy a Tofurky® or a Field Roast®, but by making the main dish ourselves, we could.

Well, if we went completely local, I guess we'd need to find a midwestern substitute for cranberries. Or I suppose we could make an exception for the sake of an old tradition, even in the midst of what I think makes a lovely new tradition - a full Thanksgiving dinner made with food from close to home.

25 November 2008

To Be Grateful

The most relevant aspect of Thanksgiving is obviously not the turkey, as we all can agree. But you have to admit that the bird features pretty prominently this time of year. And if you happen to be a vegetarian or a vegan, your version of this holiday will necessarily shift a little. In 2003, Sergio and our friends in Tulsa, Jon and Erin, became vegans, and the next year for Thanksgiving, we decided to get together to partake in an turkey-less meal. It was a great weekend - we spent hours and hours cooking and chatting and filling in the gaps of time that stretch and grow in long-distance friendships. Sergio cleverly named our event ThanksVegan and we had so much fun that weekend that we did it again the next year ... and the next ... and the next ...

This year we celebrated our Fifth Annual ThanksVegan. It is our tradition now. Jon pointed out that we have been doing ThanksVegan longer than we knew each other in college. Which was a startling, but nice, realization. Each year this holiday has been our spot of time to savor all the things we have in common - things much greater than the turkey missing from the table. But I am grateful for that missing turkey and for the opportunity it gave us to start this tradition of getting together with friends, about whom there is much to be grateful for.

home grown swiss chard from Jon & Erin's yard

trusty resources

Let's eat!

19 November 2008

A Lot of Hands

Tonight was the penultimate class session for Transatlantic Sensations. We are off next week for Thanksgiving, then we meet on the 3rd to do peer reviews on our papers, then our final papers are due on the 10th and that's it - the end of this, my last literature course for my degree. Next semester I have only one rhetoric class left (and one huge thesis project) in order to finish my masters degree. So six months from now ... I'll kind of ... be done.

On the one hand, this is really exciting because it means I'll have successfully completed this major accomplishment. But on the other hand it means I won't get to go to class any more. But on the one hand it means I will have more free time to read other things. But on the other hand it means I will not get to sit around with 12 people and discuss what we've all read. On the other hand it means I won't exhaust myself staying up until 2:00 am. to finish school work. But on the other hand it means I won't be writing academically as much. But on the other hand it means I can write non-academically more. But on the other hand it means I won't be reading thematically like I am now ('transatlantic sensations'). But on the other hand it will free me up to do other things besides read, other things entirely.

But in the meantime I have a 15-page paper to write and a big thesis project to work on.

Ready for Winter

I've been preserving the harvest this year and tonight it was time to reap some of those rewards. The cold weather gave me a hankerin' for Red Bean and Quinoa Chili. So, I used some local frozen corn and some local canned tomatoes which I processed in September, combined them with local fresh bell pepper, garlic, and onion, and of course kidney beans (not local but cooked from scratch!) and quinoa (not local, but I hear there IS local quinoa which I am determined to find!) - and added a tomato juice ice cube (local!) - and I made a very nice chili indeed.

Sergio's new winter coat came in the mail today - while I was dishing out our dinner, he tried on his coat and confirmed that it will be just the thing he needs to keep him warm this season. With a new boldness towards the cold weather that he typically abhors, he asserted, "Winter's got nothing on me."

And with two heaping bowls of my mostly local chili, I heartily agreed.

from "Feeding the Whole Family" by Cynthia Lair

2 t. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 t. sea salt
1 green pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 or 2 t. cumin
1 t. dried oregano
1/8 t. cinnamon
1/8 t. cayenne
2/3 cup quinoa, rinsed in warm water and drained
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
1 or 2 cups tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
1 cup water or broth
1 can of kidney beans (or one cup of dry beans, soaked 6-8 hours, cooked 50-60 minutes with cumin and a bay leaf)

Heat oil in skillet on medium. Add onion, salt, garlic, pepper, and spices; sauté for 5 to 10 minutes. Add rinsed quinoa and stir in. Add corn, tomatoes, and water (or broth) to onion/quinoa mixture. Simmer 20 minutes. Add cooked beans to other ingredients; simmer around 10 minutes.

15 November 2008

You Should Go to the Library

The Central branch of the Kansas City public library is hosting two very nice exhibits which I recommend highly to all.

Hungry Planet: What the World Eats features photographs of families from around the world and the food that they eat in a week's time. They are all photographed in their dining rooms, surrounded by food. It is a fascinating array. Descriptions and explanations support the photos making for an enlightening view of what we typically don't think about that critically ... but what is absolutely essential to our being. It is interesting to note the amounts of food and how much processed food (or not-processed food) is a part of people's diets.

Illuminating Kansas City is a collection of photographs (photographer Kevin Sink) of Kansas City from a variety of interesting perspectives. There are some stunning shots and unique perspectives of the city, many downtown shots as well as views of the Plaza and some remarkable images of the Bloch building at the Nelson-Atkins.

Oh, and the library has books. Another good reason to go.

14 November 2008


Tonight on All Things Considered, News Analyst Daniel Schorr speculated that the Age of American Consumerism May Be Over. Though being consumers is closely tied to patriotism in our national psyche, current economic circumstances necessitate or reflect a decrease in spending that might make us, as a nation, change our tune.

But what's interesting about Schorr's analysis is the use of the word "consumption." Even though I assume there is a definition of this term that is exclusive to the field of economics, that didn't stop me from pondering the other definitions of the word and placing them in this economic context. Since I am studying 19th century literature just now and not economics, each time Schorr said "consumption," I couldn't help but think of an old-fashioned disease.

The OED confirms this sense of gloom with the tone of some other definitions of consumption: "the action or fact of consuming or destroying; destruction," "decay, wasting away, or wearing out," and "wasteful expenditure, waste." When you put it that way, it brings a whole new meaning - as Shorr hinted - to "shop til you drop."

12 November 2008

"Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better"

In yesterday's paper there was a blurb on the front page enticing readers to find out if their favorite blog is written by a man or a woman by testing it at www.genderanalyzer.com. Never one to pass up a good opportunity to examine gender stereotypes (especially gender stereotypes about writing), I couldn't resist trying it out. I was hoping to find proof of the inaccuracy of the sharply contrasted gender conventions on which I assumed the analysis is based, so I was disappointed when the "Gender Analzyer" guessed the gender correctly on 8 blogs out of the 12 I tried. However, I was delighted (and surprised) with the 2 it got wrong, and I was tickled with its verdicts on the blogs I submitted which are co-written. MY blog rated 67% feminine; I'll take that over a higher percentile - the kind of higher percentile reserved for blogs that are pink - but I'd rather have gotten something in the 50% range which wins you a "gender neutral" designation.

Here I am acting like I really care what the Gender Analyzer says when what I really care to know is what criteria the site's "Artificial Intelligence" uses to determine masculinity and femininity in blogs - and how they determine it to a degree, no less. And what I really wanted to run through their little tester is some editorial copy written by a man but meant to sound like a woman ... and maybe some novel passage from the 19th century that was written by a woman but published under a man's name.

I am skeptical of easy, clear distinctions between men and women. Perhaps the percentage range in results on the Gender Analyzer does bridge the chasm between the diametrically opposed gender poles of simply "male" and "female." However, doesn't this spectrum still uphold the polarization, the strict either/or? Obviously, the Gender Analyzer did not address this. It picked one gender or the other and designated a percentage rating. It did not critically investigate the notion of gender entirely. Needless to say, this wasn't quite the level of gender analysis one might hope for.

10 November 2008

Weekend with the Girls

These are the friends I have known the longest ...

... and what better way to spend a cold, autumn weekend than with a group of people who have known you since forever - a group of old friends that you admire and enjoy. Last weekend they converged from Chicago, Oklahoma, Overland Park, and Olathe and gathered at the M&A B&B (my apartment) in downtown Kansas City and together we began celebrating our 30th birthdays. Turning 30 means that we have known each other for a long time - 15 years at least. It's hard to believe it's been that long. We were quite different back then and are quite different now but we're still the same people somehow and a remarkable bond has ensured that we still have a wonderful time together every time we converge. I am already looking forward to 30th birthday celebration part 2 next year, or any other opportunity to enjoy the company of my dearest, oldest friends.

05 November 2008

Yes, We Can

And we did!

President-Elect Barack Obama

04 November 2008

All Souls' Day

Three years ago when we bought this apartment, we were delighted by the perfect view: Old St. Patrick's - the second oldest church in Kansas City (1875) right across the street. We watched people coming and going each Sunday and listened to the bells chime. But only for two months - at which point the diocese shut down the church for renovations.

For three years it has been just another pretty face - quietly housing a community of pigeons on its spires, but otherwise looking quite lonely. We'd see an occasional truck load of stuff going out (blue carpet) and better stuff (new lumber) going in. Each weekend the only visitors were a family that came to tend to the lawn across the street and the long skinny patch of grass on the side of the parking lot, which on the weekends is always empty. Until yesterday, an unseasonably warm All Souls' Day, when the church was finally open for business again after three long years of lying fallow.

So, with Garrison Keillor telling ghost stories on the radio, I re-potted the basil in my window sill while Sergio pulled the threads of my scarlet A off the rented costume ... and we watched the parishioners pouring out, one after another, after another, clowns-in-a-Volkswagen style.

Here comes the neighborhood!

03 November 2008

Sinners and Saints

We were invited to a fabulous Halloween party this weekend, the theme of which was Sinners and Saints. Sergio and I, not wanting to play it too straightforward, decided we wanted costumes that were ambiguous in their representation of the notions of virtue and vice. My mom came up with a brilliant idea: Hester Prynne and Reverend Dimmesdale from The Scarlet Letter. It was perfect. A couple of puritans who sinned - one is a reverend while the other wanders in a "moral wilderness" (Hawthorne 183).

It was a costume that any English major could love. And love it I did. But for that matter, so did all the other party-goers with their bouffant hair-do, devil horns, angel wings, metallic face paint, rubber mask and foil wrapper hat. The best moment was when a woman at the party approached me, having not seen the red A on my chest, and said "Ah, you must be a saint." I smiled, shook my head no, pointed at my scarlet letter and said, "I'm a sinner."

Works Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Bantam Books, Toronto: 1981.