Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Halloween Parade

Burns Park School has been having a Halloween parade for at least 70 years. Here's the beginning of the 2018 parade.


  


Several very good inflatable costumes amused me very much, especially this sumo wrestler. 
A few hours later the kids were trick-or-treating.
On our porch after dark. We were "open" from 5 to 8 PM, and handed out treats to around 100 kids (and a few adults).



Wrapping up October in my Kitchen (and Happy Halloween)

My kitchen in October has been busy with cooking, but I haven't been acquiring much new stuff. And it's time for the fun of the once-a-month blog event "In My Kitchen" (hosted at Sherry's blog here). Most of the participants feature what's new, but I have decided to start this month with a paean to my aging dishwasher. I have never until this moment had a chance to use the word paean -- meaning ancient song of thanksgiving or praise for something. But it's also Wordy Wednesday, time to use a $5 word.

Sing, O Muse, of love for my dishwasher. 

This appliance is far from new. I am thankful for its unexpected durability (which I'm worried about even mentioning, for fear it will break immediately). I am thankful for the ease with which it removes grease from cooking utensils and dinner plates, dissolves sticky stuff from dessert dishes, and removes wine lees, juice marks, or milky residue from drinking glasses. Although I usually skip the heated-dry part of the cycle, I also appreciate its potential to dry the dishes. 

Some cynics say that a dishwasher is just a place to store dirty dishes, and that's reasonably true. As far as I'm concerned, though, nothing is wrong with having a hiding place for dirty dishes. The dishwasher is a better place for them than the sink, a more sightly place than on the counter, and far less louche than dishes left on the dinner table. 

Other cynics say that by the time I scrape and rinse my dishes to go into in the dishwasher, they are just as clean as the ones they wipe with a towel and put back in their cabinets. I shudder at the thought. It may be true that they are wiping and storing dishes with a bit of grease or sticky stuff or milky residue -- let's not go there!


A wonderful invention, the dishwasher! I looked it up: a few enterprising inventors created some sort of dishwashers in the 19th century, though I can't imagine how these worked without electricity. Commercial electric-powered dishwashing machines began to be sold in the 1920s. Then, along with a lot of other household gadgets, built-in dishwashers became a standard in most American homes during the 1950s. They arrived in European homes within a couple of decades after that. Something like 65% to 75% of American homes now have a dishwasher, though many, surprisingly, don't use them much. In England and the EU around 45% of homes have them. (All these statistics come from googling, and I'm too lazy to put in links. Sue me.)

I know about how resources in this world are scarce, and many factors will soon disrupt the happy and wasteful lives we are leading. However, using a dishwasher is documented to require considerably less water and electricity than hand-washing, so it doesn't contribute to the downfall of the planet. I guess.

Now for a new gadget in my kitchen this month: a replacement for my old, broken garlic crock:

Left: new garlic crock. Right: broken garlic crock, now disposed of.
Trader Joe's Quinoa Cowboy Veggie Burgers.
We also did a lot of cooking and made a few new recipes this month. One new menu item: veggie burgers from Trader Joe's, as depicted. I fried them with onions & peppers. They were good. Also, I've written about a new-to-us Antillean chicken dish (here) and about charcoal-grilled duck with cherry sauce (here).

In our last fall barbecues, Len made a new recipe for grilled fish with broth, as well as one for pork chops with a rub and barbecue sauce. We didn't photograph them. We made Banh Mi sandwiches with leftovers from the chops, pâté, cilantro, and other vegetables. Salade Niçoise was on the menu; also onion soup. And I baked a vegetarian lasagne with one layer of traditional ricotta cheese and one layer of cooked & cubed dumpling squash -- a locally raised fall vegetable.

Lasagne about to go in the oven, topped with fresh mozzarella.
Lasagne ready to eat -- much of this large quantity is now in the freezer.
Ingredients for Banh Mi sandwiches, including leftover grilled pork chops.
Anyway -- Happy Halloween!
We're ready for the trick-or-treaters.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Halloween in My Neighborhood

Within a few blocks of our house are numerous amazingly decorated lawns, porches, and homes.



The pumpkin on the right weighs 1600 pounds. The couple who live in this house have gigantic pumpkins every year.
Around 1000 kids come to their house -- their living room floor is ready, with 1000 full-sized candy bars!
Monday, the owners were carving the pumpkins.
Going inside a 1600 pound pumpkin.
This one only weighed 1400 pounds. On Halloween, they'll be all lit up.
The giant pumpkins inspire the whole neighborhood.


Halloween at the Little Free Library.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Downtown Ann Arbor Street Art

Ann Arbor has many murals and other types of street art. Here's the mural on the Ann Arbor Art Center.



Zwerdling Fur Shop sign originally from 1915. Restored 1997.



I wonder how many springs have gone by since this fading sign was painted!




NOTE: Every Monday you can see a collection of shared murals at this blog: 

Friday, October 26, 2018

Sherman Alexie: Reservation Blues

I know a woman, Indian in her bones
Who spends the powwow dancing all alone
She can be lonely, sometimes she can cry
And drop her sadness into the bread she fries

I know a woman, Indian in her eyes
Full-blood in her heart, full-blood when she cries
She can be afraid, sometimes she can shake
But her medicine will never let her break 
-- Reservation Blues p. 171

I didn't choose to read Reservation Blues. It chose me by appearing in my neighbor's Little Free Library -- a 1995 edition with a sticker showing it had been originally sold by Borders(!), and another sticker from a used book charity sale.

I was aware that the author, Sherman Alexie, had been accused of various improper behavior last spring. He was said to have exploited women who wanted his help with hoped-for careers in literature. Also, he was abusive in other ways, such as verbally attacking mixed-race Indians, putting down young Native people's career aspirations, and making fun of some native Americans such as native Hawaiians. So sad.

I picked the free book up any way. I had enjoyed other Alexie books without knowing anything about him. Having recently spent time in the Pacific Northwest, I was curious about this book which takes place in Eastern Washington: not the exact area where I visited.

Somehow, as I read the 306 pages, I kept thinking about abuse and its presence in the novel. The three main characters -- Thomas Builds-the-Fire, Victor Joseph, and Junior Polatkin -- were men in their early 30s, members of the Spokane Indian tribe who lived on the reservation. All three had suffered from abuses inherent in their background. Their parents drank and then mostly died young. They lacked adequate housing, and couldn't afford good clothing. They were always hungry or badly fed with little food on hand at home. They got into fights, got hurt, got drunk, and were generally miserable. They couldn't afford a decent vehicle. The story is about their unsuccessful effort to form a rock band.

These male characters were much more fully developed than the women characters in the book, especially two beautiful Indian sisters Chess and Checkers Warm Water and two white women named Betty and Veronica (who were just as cartoony as their namesakes in the funny paper). The Warm Water sisters, talented singers, weren't treated very well by these men, by others, or by life in general.

Reservation Blues has an element of magical realism: the pre-war bluesman Robert Johnson, who had sold his soul to a "Gentleman" in exchange for something to do with his magic guitar has a role in the plot. (Side note: this book was published before the release of "Oh Brother Where Art Thou," which also uses the Robert Johnson story.)

There's also a kind of mysterious mother figure called Big Mom, who lives on a mountain top in the reservation. Oddly, the magic doesn't seem to alleviate the hopelessness and impoverished lives of the characters. The novel has a pretty good picaresque plot, involving the three men, and also includes a poem (like the one I quoted above) at the head of each chapter that one of them writes as a blues song.

Food preoccupies the characters quite a bit, as they never have enough of it, and especially never enough of their favorite food, which is salmon. Salmon is especially iconic because it's a traditional tribal activity to fish for it; Thomas "with his long, black hair pulled into braids" even "looked like an old-time salmon fisherman." (p. 4)

The Indian men "dreamed in childhood of fishing for salmon but woke up as adults to shop at the Trading Post and stand in line for U.S.D.A. commodity food instead. They savagely, repeatedly, opened up cans of commodities and wept over the rancid meat, forced to eat what stray dogs ignored." (p. 14) Peanut butter and crackers were often the last things in their pantry. Once there's some applesauce in the fridge, and they ask "Commodity applesauce or real applesauce?" It's commodity, but they eat it anyway. (p. 122) Or they eat "wish sandwiches. Two slices of bread with only wishes in between." (p. 187) At the Trading post when they have money, they buy "a week's worth of Pepsi, Doritos, and Hershey's chocolate." And beer. (p. 194)

Another favorite food was fry bread:
"For hours, Thomas waited for the song. Then, hungry and tired, he opened his refrigerator for something to eat and discovered that he didn't have any food. So he closed the fridge and opened it again, but it was still empty. In a ceremony that he had practiced since his youth, he opened, closed, and opened the fridge again, expecting an immaculate conception of a jar of pickles. Thomas was hungry on a reservation where there are ninety-seven different ways to say fry bread
"Fry bread. Water, flour, salt, rolled and moulded into shaped, dropped into hot oil. A traditional food. A simple recipe. But Indians could spend their whole lives looking for the perfect piece of fry bread. The tribe held a fry bread cooking contest  every year, and most Spokanes had their own recipe." (p. 47)
Reservation Blues is full of dreams that reveal all kinds of things about the characters' lives, hopes, and disappointments -- how life abuses them, their relatives abuse them, the authorities abuse them, and they abuse others. For example:
"Thomas dreamed about television and hunger. In his dream, he sat, all hungry and lonely in his house and wanted more. He turned on his little black-and-white television to watch white people live. White people owned everything: food, houses, clothes, children. Television constantly reminded Thomas of all he never owned." (p. 70)
Cooking can measure the passing of time:
"The old Indian women dipped wooden spoons into stews and stirred and stirred. The stews made of random vegetables  and commodity food, of failed dreams and predictable tears. That was the only way to measure time, to wait. Those spoons moved in slow circles. Stir, stir." (p. 220)
Commodity powdered milk must also be stirred, and represents yet another indignity:
"No matter how long an Indian stirred her commodity milk, it always came out with those lumps of coagulated powder. There was nothing worse. Those lumps were like bombs, moist on the outside with an inner core of dry powdered milk. An Indian would take a big swig of milk, and one of those coagulated powder bombs would drop into her mouth and explode when she bit it. She'd be coughing little puffs of powdered milk for an hour." (p. 261)
At the end of the book, there's a feast, which summarizes what's been going on with food throughout the book:
"They all waited for the feast to officially begin. But the term feast was a holdover from a more prosperous and traditional time, a term used before the Indians were forced onto the reservations. There was never a whole lot of food, just a few stringy pieces of deer meat, a huge vat of mashed potatoes, Pepsi, and fry bread. But the fry bread made all the difference. A good piece of fry bread turned any meal into a feast." (p. 300)
 Unfortunately, at this final feast of the book there's only 100 pieces of fry bread for 200 people. Big Mom prays to "her creator," and says that by ancient Indian secrets she will feed them all. Then she tears each piece in half, but somehow they had a complete feast after all.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Keshi Yena: A Dish from Curaçao

Willemstad, Curaçao. We visited this beautiful port several times; the photo is from our visit in February, 2000.
Curaçao is one of several Dutch Caribbean islands. These islands have a rich history. They have been governed by the Dutch since the 17th century (except for a few years in the 19th century when the Dutch were expelled by the British). The Dutch Caribbean population have their own language, Papiamento, and their own cuisine. A favorite local dish is called Keshi Yena, or stuffed cheese: an entire Edam or Gouda (obviously imported from Holland!) that's filled with a spiced meat and vegetable mixture, and baked.

I decided to try a recipe for Keshi Yena. It starts with a number of
vegetables: green bell pepper, onion, tomato, parsley, and more.
Traditional recipes offer several options for meat or fish. Today, I made it
with cooked chicken thighs, which I baked in the oven.
The vegetable mixture includes olives, gherkins, raisins, and more.
The chicken is shredded and added to the mixture.
The cooked mixture may be stuffed into a hollowed-out Edam cheese (you have to find another use for the scooped-out cheese). I chose the less-elegant way: baking the mixture in a casserole topped with cheese. It was delicious!
From our visit in 2000: the open-air market in Willemstad.
Underwater Curaçao: coral reefs and tropical fish.
This exotic island has beautiful sandy beaches on the leeward side, and rocky cliffs on the windward side. When we were there, Len did a lot of diving and fish photography, and we enjoyed touring the countryside. Outside of Willemstad the landscape is pretty wild; it's too dry for much agriculture, and there are just a few small towns. An oil refinery near Willemstad, as well as an oil transshipment port, were important industries until recently, but their situation is problematic now because they depended on Venezuelan oil. Tourism and financial services are currently important sources of revenue.

Beautiful pipe fish -- another of Len's photos.
The recipe I followed, from Island Cooking: Recipes from the Caribbean by Dunstan A. Harris (1988).
Two other cookbooks in my collection offer recipes that use shrimp or fish and eggs as well as vegetables.