Soul Food Supper

A Pair of Mergansers on the Birch Point Rocks

A Pair of Mergansers on the Birch Point Rocks

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word – Martin Luther King Jr.

The high school held the annual Soul Food Supper tonight. There were lots of good foods to be had, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy (we showed up too late for the sweet potatoes), black-eyed peas, ham and beans and collard greens. I ate too much and was too full for dessert. Anne only had the thinnest sliver of pie.

Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken, winged bird that cannot fly. – Langston Hughes

This year’s program was much briefer then in years past, partly because we showed up too late to hear the high school’s jazz band play. I would have liked to hear them play again, because they have gotten so much better than when Dave was in it. Sorry Dave, I know that I could have said that so much better. There were the usual opening ceremonies, followed by one church choir and then the highlight of the evening, musical selections from the Medina family, a brother and two sister trio. They really rocked! Only one of the girls is still in high school now.

I feel that the most important requirement in success is learning to overcome failure. You must learn to tolerate it, but never accept it. – Reggie Jackson

After dinner, we hung around and socialized for a bit. We spoke with Joann and Jim for a while and then Nelson. His wife Gina Mitten, a newly elected State Representative was up at Jeff City tonight, fighting the good fight against the agitprop [1] Republican machine whose panjandrum [2] leaders have spread the diktat [3] that any compromise is anathema. I love finding and then using big new words (at least to me), with a hat tip to Michael Tomasky.

[1] Agitprop – propaganda; especially: political propaganda promulgated chiefly in literature, drama, music, or art. Origin of Agitprop: Russian, ultimately from agitatsiya agitation + propaganda. First known use: 1935

[2] Panjandrum – a powerful personage or pretentious official. Origin of Panjandrum: Grand Panjandrum, burlesque title of an imaginary personage in some nonsense lines by Samuel Foote. First known use: 1856

[3] Diktat – a harsh settlement unilaterally imposed (as on a defeated nation). Origin of Diktat: German, literally something dictated, from New Latin dictatum, from Latin, neuter of dictatus, past participle of dictare to dictate. First known use: 1933

Good People

American Flag Quilt at Big Sky

American Flag Quilt at Big Sky

I am so glad that I pre-blogged the last 36 hours. What day is it again? This is Saturday, right? My preplanning for a night out makes for more seamless blogging afterwards. Dinner and a show was what I was telling my co-workers at work on Friday. Friday night was date night. It was a double date night, with DJ and Captain Don. Dinner was at Big Sky Café and the show was at the Rep. We caught at the end of its run, ‘Good People”, by David Lindsay-Abaire.

I did not have the pot roast, as is my usual wont. [Happy, Gene?] Instead I had fish, Arctic Char. Our wait-person said that it is a sustainable species. Although, it did not taste like a cross between salmon and trout, like she said it would. The pictured flag quilt was past Don’s shoulder from my viewpoint at the dinner table.

The reason I was able to abstain from beef, was that I had been eating it all week. The genesis of this cuisine was last weekend’s WSJ. It had an article on beef bourguignon. The article listed various NYC restaurants that serve this dish. It also had a recipe for some DIY cooking. I bought the ingredients last Sunday, but what with all of our outing and abouting that day, we ended up punting.

The going-in plan was for me to do the cooking, but since it wasn’t until Tuesday that the meal was prepared, Anne ended up doing most of the work. There was one other wee bit of a problem. The recipe called for using a pressure cooker and we didn’t have one. This is the preferred method in restaurants, because it saves so much preparation time. We ended up resorting to Joy, so the result was a bit of a mongrel, but it still tasted pretty good.

In 2011, the play debuted in NYC. Frances McDormand was the Tony Award lead. In 2012, it was produced again in LA. There Jane Kaczmarek (“Malcolm in the Middle”) played Margaret. “Good People” opened this month in Saint Louis. Here Rep newbie, Denise Cormier is Margie. One of the advantages of not seeing a performance until the end of its run is the reduced risk of spoiling it. By the time that this is posted, if you are not already on the way to the theater, then you are not going to make it.

The play opens in an alley behind a Dollar Store, in South Boston. There Margie, a Southie, is being fired for repeated tardiness. Stevie, her boss and long acquaintance, explains that it is either her job or his. She begs for her job, but to no avail. Back at her apartment, we find her out-of-work, on the verge of homelessness, the single mother of an adult developmentally disabled daughter. A girlfriend tells Margie of her chance encounter with Mike, one of Margie’s old flames. Mike is one of the lucky ones; he made it out of the neighborhood. Asking for a job, Margie pays a visit to Mike’s swank fertility clinic.

I’d like to offer a hat tip here to Scenic Designer, Kent Dorsey, for his great taste in furniture. He decided to decorate Mike’s office with a pair of Wassily Chairs, identical to the ones that my Mom had purchased years ago. Nothing says sophistication more than Bauhaus designer Marcel Breuer. The chair was designed in 1925 and was inspired, in part, by the curved tubular steel handlebars on Breuer’s Adler bicycle. It was re-released in the 1960s, and was designated “Wassily” by its Italian manufacturer, who had learned that the painter Wassily Kandinsky had been the recipient of one of the earliest units.

In true Southie fashion Margie manages to bully Mike into tendering an invitation to his upcoming birthday party, calling him all “lace curtain” now. When they were both growing-up, they use to call the Kennedys lace curtain. Later, Mike calls her canceling the party. Convinced that she was just being uninvited, Margie goes to Mike’s house to crash the party anyway.

There really is no party. Mike’s young black wife welcomes her in any way. She eggs Margie on to regale her with some stories from Mike’s Southie past. The conversation soon spins out of control and Margie accuses Mike that he is the father of her daughter. Margie later recants and then flees.

The play ends later, on bingo night. An envelope of money has appeared. Thinking that it is from Mike she is ready to return it, until Stevie owns up to the gift. Also revealed is that the daughter is Mike’s baby, and “everybody knows it”.

Years ago, Margaret had chosen to shoulder her burden alone and not to spoil Mike’s chance to get out. Seeing how the other half lived, tempted her though, but she eventually saw that it was never to be and returned to South Boston. In the first act Mike is refered to as “good people”, but his actions speak differently. Margie is the real “good people”.

Santa-Land Diaries

Gardenland Express Holiday Flower and Train Show

Gardenland Express Holiday Flower and Train Show

On Saturday, I became a practitioner of the domestic arts, I baked cookies. Joe, one of my co-workers has his Christmas party on Saturday night, a cookie making party. At the party we’ll made and decorated cookies, but as is tradition, we also will bring a batch to share. Anne, the baker in the family, is still unable to shoulder her confectionary duties, so I had to man-up and do the baking. I’ve made cookies before, but always from one of those logs of dough. This was the first time that I’ve ever attempted scratch baking.

Step one was to scour the Internet for a recipe that seemed to have that certain panache, but was still easy to make. No eighteen layer thingy-ma-jigs, thank you very much. I selected Mint Chocolate cookies. Next, I pawed through the pantry, determining which ingredients we already had and which ones I needed to go to the store to get. Finally, I was ready to begin baking, or at least I thought that I was.

Somewhere, I had heard that the most important thing about baking is following the recipe as closely as possible. I carefully measured out all of the ingredients. I had the flour, sugar and stuff in the brown Copco bowl and the Cocoa and butter in the red Copco bowl. I knew that I had run off the rails though, when it came to mixing the ingredients. The butter ended up becoming a cocoa covered mess. I called for help and Anne came a limping. She helpfully pointed out that I was supposed to have melted the butter first.

I seriously considered pitching what I had created so-far and starting all over again. Anne attempted to search for some mythical tool that we never did find that would have made everything all better again. Then she suggested throwing it all into the Cuisinart. How did women bake before the Cuisinart? Thirty years ago, when my Mom gave us this Cuisinart she said, “Mock, you’re living in the stone age.” I think that she was referring to the fact that we didn’t have a dishwasher. We still don’t. I think that women simply  followed the recipe. Pass me that mastodon bone, woman.

Miracle that the Cuisinart is, it still wasn’t doing the trick. My dough wasn’t doughy, it was still too powdery. At this point, desperate and out of control, I added a third egg, a third more butter and twice the amount of chocolate chips that was called for. It’s a mystery, but everything came together. I and the dough chilled for an hour and then I was ready to start playing with fire.

I started baking and the first batch came out looking just like the photo on the Internet. Things were going well, until I started running out of dough. I called out to Anne again, “I think that I’m only going to get 24 cookies.” Her response was, “Look at the recipe.” I did, “Oh yeah, two dozen.” After our taste testing and Joanie’s independent taste testing the project was judged a delicious success.

Quest for Fire

Patrick and his King Salmon that he caught, cleaned and cooked

“Quest for Fire” is a 1981 film that depicts Paleolithic Europe, 80,000 years ago, its plot surrounds the struggle for control of fire by early humans. “Quest for Fire” is a film that I’m sure anthropologists love to hate and since the movie is based upon a 1911 novel, you can be sure that it is totally up on the latest research. In the movie’s sex scenes, humanity’s evolution is encapsulated by the transition from one sexual position to another. I’m sure Ron Perlman is proud to have this film on his IMDb resume. 😉

I raise this topic because I’ve recently read L.V. Anderson’s Slate article, Who Mastered Fire? This article dubs mastery of fire as both the first and greatest intellectual property claim known to mankind. It goes on to claim that mastery of fire alone is what defines us as human and separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. The crux of this article is that scientists can’t agree on whether people mastered fire 1.8 million years ago or only 12,000 years ago. The question left unresolved is whether humans proved their humanity almost two million years ago or only a couple of thousand years before the dawn of civilization.

This article distinguishes between opportunistic use of fire and the ability to spontaneously create fire. The movie “Quest for Fire” also made this distinction. The protagonist tribe is only capable of harvesting natural fire, like from lighting strikes, because they don’t know how to make it themselves. They eventually meet a more advanced tribe who have mastered this technology and learn from them.

Mastery of fire provided mankind several benefits. It provided both a source of warmth and protection from predators, but most importantly is allowed for cooking. Cooking our food made the food taste better, more nutritious and more digestible. Scientists say that the invention of cooking has led to the development of our enlarged brains. The calories once spent digesting raw food could with cooking, be redirected to feed our brains.

I think that this Paleolithic pedigree manifests itself in modern life with the foodies movement. Once people learn how to perform a task, then it soon becomes a competition to see who can do it better. This is what modern cooking is all about. You see this on TV in show after show. I also see it at work among some of my co-workers.

I work with a lot of people who enjoy food preparation. They like to cook, but more than that they revel in the entire process of food creation. Whether it is growing, hunting, brewing or what have you they collectively run the gambit. I’m just pleased that they occasionally bring some of the fruits of their labors into the office to share. Burp!

Ginkgo Rain

Today was a breeze. It is mid-November. Today’s high was in the seventies, the sun was out and the wind was gusting out of the south. So, Anne and I went for a bike ride together. We went out for lunch and then stopped at the Gardens. We got 16 miles. We had lunch at the Local Harvest Café. Located at the northern terminus of Morgan Ford, just south of Tower Grove Park, it is just down the block from Carl’s A&M Cycles. The Local Harvest grocery store was featured in last Sunday’s Cranksgiving charity bicycle ride. We spied the café then and vowed to return someday. That day was today. As the name implies, Local Harvest shops locally for its ingredients. A chalkboard lists the farms, their products and locale. Local Harvest is very bike friendly, as it’s extensive, but nearly full set of bike racks could testify. We split the Morgan Ford Mediterranean sandwich, with ah!zeefa (Berhanu Organic brand name) lentil spread, cucumbers, roasted red peppers, red onions, kalamata olives, greens, feta, balsamic vinaigrette on focaccia. It was served with homemade potato chips and a slice of grapefruit. It was yummy and splitting the sandwich made for perfect portions. After lunch we stopped off at the Gardens.

One of the objectives of this expedition, if not its main objective, with exercise and food taking a backseat, was the collection of blog fodder. I wanted to get a picture of a yellow ginkgo leaf. Last weekend they were all still too green, but through the work week, I noticed that they had turned. I just hoped that I was not too late. Every November, sometimes on a single night, a Ginkgo will drop all of its leaves, sometimes in the space of only a couple of hours. This so called, ginkgo rain, is triggered not by freezing temperatures, nor wind or rain, it is almost by mutual consent. For the ginkgo tree by the Grand Basin, I was too late. All the leaves were on the ground and they looked past their prime. Riding to lunch and then walking through the Garden, I noticed yellow tree after tree, some were nearly bare, and some were still fully leafed. Anne reminded me that the ginkgo tree was once nearly extinct. It was only kept alive through cultivation by Buddhist monks. The ginkgo tree is now alive and flourishing, at least in Saint Louis.