Archive for November, 2009

Put the Pumpkin back in Pumkin Pie

November 27, 2009

I’m snitching a post from my sister’s blog because it describes our Thanksgiving as well as I can and why should I duplicate her prose, pictures or research?  Thus I give you Guest Blogger, KJ:

Thanksgiving was a great success (my family and I even whipped together a repeat performance on Sunday for my grandparents in Racine). Farmers’ Market mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, cranberries and our main course was polenta dome with yeasty gravy…so tasty. Dessert was my responsibility this year, and I created a hybrid of the traditional pumpkin pie in more ways than one.

Pumpkin praline pie…my sister made the crust from scratch too.

My first change was purely to satisfy my sweet tooth…I added a pecan prailine topping to the pie, which the family agreed takes the whole thing up a notch. But my second tweak was a little more experimental. My mom bought both a pie pumpkin and a pumpkin-like squash (apparently there was a shortage of pumpkins this year) Read the rest of this entry »


Darwin in the Details: Wives and Daughters’ Naturalist Subplot

November 23, 2009

I’m honored to be a part of the Classics Circuit Elizabeth Gaskell Tour.  I knew the moment I heard about it that I wanted to be a part of the project.  For more about the tour go to its website here.  The next post (due tomorrow) will be at things mean a lot. I welcome comments and would love to hear what you thought of Wives and Daughters if you’ve read it … or if you’re planning to.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters has long been a favorite story of mine.  I’ll admit that before I read the book I had seen the excellent BBC mini series (1999) but reading it only enhanced my love for the plot.  It has all the “flaws” that some of the previous reviewers have pointed out: dense language, an un-modern languid sense of drama, and many diversions from the main love story.  For me, though these all enhance the pleasure of the story and solidify its atmosphere.  Much has been made of North and South being a reprise of Pride and Prejudice.  If I had to pick a Jane Austen story to match with Wives and Daughters it would probably be Mansfield Park.  They both focus on the question of doing the right thing in small ways throughout your daily life even if you don’t get much credit for it and for the value of loving truly and getting re-paid for it in the end (after the usual amount of heart ache and suffering of course).  (They’re also both shockingly under appreciated as novels.)  It’s a good love story with many twists and turns and misunderstandings.  As much as I love this aspect of the book, it has another facet which much enhances the plot.  The story is thoroughly tangled up with the science of the day and naturalism is involved in characters, plot and diversionary details.  I first read the book in college at the same time that I was taking a biology course focusing on evolution and an environmental studies class covering the transcendentalist movement in America.  I was struck by how much Osborne Hamley’s poetry sounds like Emerson’s (written a hundred years later) and how often Roger reminded me of Darwin (theoretically his contemporary).   As I found out later, I was hardly the first to draw these comparisons. Read the rest of this entry »

“How Could I Have Missed That”

November 20, 2009

I picked this book up for the cover art and when I flipped it open and read the flap I dropped it straight in my library bag.  My reaction was the same when I discovered that Aslan was supposed to be a metaphor for Jesus Christ – a totally traumatic blow to my little stolidly atheist heart.  Laura Miller had her childhood love of Narnia shattered when she discovered the Christian subtext but returned to the books as an adult and found there were still many ways to love them.  In The Magician’s Book, she explores the books though a number of lenses and find ways in which they are both more and less perfect than she originally thought.  Reminding me strongly of another favorite, The Child that Books Built, she delves into the background of the stories, picking apart the mythology, the facets of Lewis’s personal life, and the social mores of the time which make up the books.  Reading this I like I was having coffee with a friend who was telling me all about her favorite series. Read the rest of this entry »

Bizzare Coincidence

November 20, 2009

Moments after posting about The Magician’s Book, I checked what was new on my favorite webcomic, xkcd, and found this.  The title is “Prudence.”

Mozzarella Adventures

November 17, 2009

The big excitement this past weekend (which is a bit of a sad commentary on my weekend but we’ll let that slide) was my first attempt at cheese making.  Since hooking myself up with a regular delivery of fresh milk, I’ve already experimented with separating cream from skim and with making my own yogurt and buttermilk.  The next step in the annals of dairy chemistry seems to be simple cheeses.  And since I’ve made panir in the past I decided to skip directly to cultured cheese.

The results were very satisfying.  Mozzarella is amazingly simple to concoct.  It seems to be much more a matter of having a few of the right ingredients on hand than skill (at least to get as far as a basic lump of cheese).  I’m sure that there is a lot of nuance possible and the right skills could vastly improve on the process but I found my amateur efforts well rewarded.  Its basically as easy as heating the milk up to specified temperatures, adding citric acid and then later vegetable rennet, cooling it down, pulling out the separated curds (from the whey) and then heating and kneading them until they turned, by some magical property, into fresh tasty mozzarella. Read the rest of this entry »

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in want of brains must be in want of more brains.”

November 15, 2009

book pride and prejudice and zombies

I just finished the latest Jane Austen novel.  Not that she’s writing from the grave (although, come to think of it, that would be a good subject in light of this latest development); she simply has a new co-author, Seth Grahame-Smith who’s come out with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a mashup of the classic tale with the classic zombie details of gore, beheaddings and rapidly rotting malefactors.  The premise is simply that over the last 50 years England has been terrorized by a plague of zombie undead attacking the countryside.  Gentlemen and Ladies alike have trained in the Orient to be able to fight off these attacks.  Other than that the plot is the same.  The book is about three quarters original text with occasional interventions and digressions to include musket fire from speeding coaches and daggers snatched from ankle holsters in order to repel the undead from a public event.  The contrast is very amusing.  For example, Mr. Bennett, in his opening statement of intent not to visit Mr. Bingley, dismisses his daughters as “silly and ignorant” but recommends Lizzy as having “something more of the killer instinct than her sisters.”  Darcy’s definition of an accomplished young woman is likewise familiar and yet … strange.

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Levity in Politics

November 12, 2009

two party system

In honor of the fact that the only people I’ve heard speak on the issue of raw milk who have explicitly stated their political views … have been republican.  I guess its a genuinely bi-partisan issue.  Yay raw milk!

Milk Crusader

November 12, 2009

So yesterday I pulled kind of a ridiculous stunt.  I cut work and drove half way across the state to be present at the bi-monthly board meeting of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection or DATCP.  Why would I do such a thing?  Well … for raw milk.  The oddest thing is that I don’t even care that much about raw milk.  I’m not really sold on the health benefits, it may or may not be a miracle cure and panacea – I haven’t seen any evidence either way.  But I do care about small farmers.  And they are the ones who are getting stepped on in this whole Raw Milk crackdown.

This all started (for me) when about a month ago I heard that the farm where I recently started buying my milk (un-homogenized and in the most picturesque glass jars) had received a letter from DATCP telling them to cease and desist and threatening them with civil fines and a revoked milk license if they proceeded.  A couple weeks later the farm sent out an email asking us to advocate for them, call our representatives, make our love of the milk heard.  My first step was phone calls to Governor Doyle’s office.  Next I found myself at the meeting last Friday with Dan Kapanke (my republican representative) and this week its snowballed into an un-planned dash over to Madison to state my case. Read the rest of this entry »

Glorious Day, Frustrating Issue

November 8, 2009

st brigid's

This whole weekend has been spectacular weather – mid sixties and glowingly sunny with a good breeze for interest.  I took advantage of the weather and my relative lack of planned activities to go out and visit my local dairy farm.

I met the couple who operate the dairy side of the farm and got a tour of the operation which was almost to bucolically picturesque for reality.  We hopped a simple rope gate and stood next to the cows as I heard all about their extra stomachs and ruminant daily schedule.  They took a mild interest in our presence and seemed inclined to meander over to us but reluctant to be patted on the nose – which was all I dared attempt.  Then we called them all over to us and Gabe was able to rattle off the names of all the ones in the inner circle.  The picture above isn’t mine – I was too absorbed to take snaps but it is of the self-same cows, taken from their own website.

The reason I’m reluctant to include too many specifics about my lovely farm and the raw milk I may or may not be obtaining from it is all the hassling that small farms in this area have been getting lately from the state.  In fact I was at a meeting on the topic just this Friday.  I attended a hearing with Dan Kapanke in support of the raw milk issue.  Ridiculous as it may sound, here in the Dairy State, its not legal for farmers to sell milk directly to customers from their farms.  Well maybe it is and maybe it isn’t – the statues are frustratingly vague.  But whatever the intention of the law may have been its being prosecuted at the level of persecution by the state regulatory agency DATCAP.  In fact there is currently a law making its way through the state legislature to make sure that the sale of raw milk off farm is (once again) legal (as it is in 28 other states) but even as its being debated, DATCP is issuing cease and desist letters to small farmers throughout the region and threatening them with legal action.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Germ

November 7, 2009

A mighty creature is the germ,
Though smaller than the pachyderm.
His customary dwelling place
Is deep within the human race.
I cannot help but wonder at
The oddness of his habitat.
His childish pride he often pleases
By giving people strange diseases.
Do you, my poppet, feel infirm?
You probably contain a germ.

– Ogden Nash


A mighty creature is the germ,

Whole Trees in the New York Times

November 4, 2009

new york times

If you have read any number of my previous posts, you’re probably aware that I read the NYtimes online pretty reguarly and quote it with some frequency on this blog.  Well here’s the man bites dog story of the year.  Today the New York Times is covering me!  Well almost … its covering Whole Trees.

Earlier this year Anne Raver, who writes for the Times, emailed our info page asking about what type of wood to use in a greenhouse.  We got into a little conversation and the upshot was that she got pretty excited about Whole Trees and sold her editor on doing an article about us.  She came out and visited the farm for a weekend in October and the long and the short of it is … the article is out TODAY.

Read it here. See the Slide show here. Tell your friends.  I just don’t know how I could feel any cooler today.

whole trees pano

Weezer Snuggie?

November 3, 2009

weezer snuggie

Marketplace Morning closed today with the following news item about unlikely “couch fellows” … Weezer and Snuggie are teaming up to produce … the Wuggie.  If I hadn’t heard it there first I would have thought it was some sort of prank.  But no.  The ad was on the main page of you-tube this morning.  And here’s a news release about it from way last may on Yahoo Music.  It still kind of has to be seen to be believed.  So … click and see.

Read the rest of this entry »

Halloween Magic

November 2, 2009

halloween magic

I managed to have a fun Halloween even though I was afflicted with a nasty flu bug due to the kind ministrations of my sister who visited for the weekend. (In case my dangling modifier made that confusing – my flu was nasty, but the weekend was saved by KJ’s presence.) We had resolved on a no-candy Halloween (who even knows what is in that crap) but by no means did we forswear sweets.  Instead we made our own.  Or actually, since I case a total germ ball and pretty low energy to boot, KJ made our own.  We hit Festival Foods and the Peoples Food Coop on Saturday afternoon and gathered our supplies.  Then we turned them into four types of Halloween themed cookies based on the King Arthur Baking Company recipe page – which KJ had scoped out earlier in the week.  We/she made mini pumpkin cheese cakes, brownies with mint icing and halloween sprinkles, and pumpkin cookie sandwiches.  By far the biggest success was the Magic in the Middle (stupid name, I know, but don’t be fooled) which is basically the cookie equivalent of a Reece’s Peanutbutter Cup.  They are AMAZING.  Try them.

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