Beef or Berries? Seasonal Foods of the Past

A repeat from 2016.

Do you buy meat or vegetables? Do you choose your groceries based on the outside temperature? For most people reading this blog, I suspect the answer is no, unless the air conditioner has died and you look at your house or apartment-mate and say “Cook? Forget it. Let’s get ice cream” or you go to an air-conditioned bar for a cold one. Or you are stocking up in case a winter storm takes the power out for an extended period (let’s see: chili in a can, stew in a can, bread, powdered milk, corned beef hash in a can, and so on.) ‘Twas not always so, something that a few writers of historical fiction occasionally miss. Continue reading


If Only English Were Fonetik . . .

but it’s not.

I could not figure out why spell checker kept flagging “tournaquit.” That’s because it is “tourniquet.” Around here, instead of an “i” sound in the second syllable, we say more of a “uh” sound, sort of a schwa e. Since I spell by ear, I get red flagged every time I try to write the word as pronounced.

Part of the problem is my limited available memory. By the time I load 1) the idea, 2) the words, 3) grammar, 4) how to hold the pen and write, or type, I’ve run out of active memory. Something has to go. So I never learned to apply spelling to writing. To complicate life, I learned spelling and basic grammar during the phonetics craze in the late 1970s-early 1980s, when you were supposed to learn the letters in words that went with the phonics codes, like the upside-down e for the terminal “uh” sound and so on. Some I remember, the sound codes that is. The rest? Did not help me at all. I ended up writing like someone from the latter 1500s-mid 1600s, that is to say, partly phonetically.

I have no problem spelling Spanish, German, Latin, or even Hungarian, once I learn letter combinations (like “sz” for “s” in Hungarian.) Grammar, that’s different, but spelling causes me no, keine, 0 problems. Alas that I have to function in English 95% of the time.

Spill chuck is knot my fiend. I know what words should look like, most of the time, ish. But sometimes my “it sounds like” spelling is so mangled by dialect and regional pronunciation that even on-line dictionaries run screaming. OttoCorrupt on the phone? Oh lordy. Once you get past “it’s never duck. Never, ever ‘oh duck’?” Some very odd things have been sent before I could catch the “correction.”

I have the most difficulty with words English borrowed from French. Germanic, Anglo-Saxon, Persian, Russian, or Japanese or Spanish? Far fewer difficulties. So of course English absorbed French with wreckless abandon.

Dictionaries require at least getting close to the proper spelling. Oops.

The Appearance of Evil

Apparently, there was a music awards event this past weekend, and someone thought it would be “edgy” and “transgressive” and shock the ‘danes if people dressed up as Old Scratch and she-devils and did something.

Yawn. That hasn’t been edgy since, oh, the mid 1970s, maybe? The Babylon Bee had the right of it, when they interviewed Satan and he distanced himself from the show.

For westerners, when we think of “The Devil,” what comes to mind in most cases, at least at first, is a guy in red with goat horns or something equally small, with cloven hoofs, and perhaps a tail with a fork/arrowhead on the end. (Like on Underwood Deviled Ham, but more so.)

The original. Current versions lack the long claws. Source:

Or Old Scratch night wear a dapper suit and well polished, expensive shoes, but still has horns. See Samuel Ramey doing Mephistopheles for an example. The Church of Satan uses a more medieval image, focusing on the animalistic, goat-like saytr imagery, along with inverted pentagrams and so on. It does shock a little, but more because of their purported belief system and embrace of what most people consider at the very least off-kilter from society as a whole. It’s not the image, but the people who follow it that cause upset. And even then . . . It’s not surprising, alas.

Satan doesn’t shock most people any more. He’s too obvious. “Oh look, they’re trying to upset Christians by pretending to be witches and the Devil. Oh yeah. Yawn.” That’s pretty much the reaction from people after the Grammy™ Award show. Ho hum, it’s the Devil.

I suspect that if an embodiment of evil actually exists, like Satan/the Devil or Ahriman, I suspect he no longer appears in the usual forms. We expect evil to look like the devil, or to be ugly and warped and carry a sign saying “Wanna be Evil? Ask me How!” Evil exists, but it’s supposed to either 1) wear a WWII uniform and be obvious, or 2) dress like a Fortune 500 CEO, perhaps wearing a cross as a tie-tac (if you watch network TV in the US).

I was thinking about this because of trying to come up with an antagonist who is not evil, perhaps, but very intent on a single goal, one that will perhaps cause him to do a lot of harm as he tries to attain it. The goal is laudable, at least in the general sense – provide for his family and recover from a bad business year or three. He’s not evil in himself, although his way of attaining his goal might sink to that level, perhaps. It’s still early in the story.

Modern evil tends to be impersonal in many cases. The bureaucrat is just following procedures and rules, it’s not about you. The government agency is just trying to ensure that everyone is respected and treated fairly. The mugger doesn’t care who you are as an individual – you just register as a likely target. You fit a certain pattern type, and so the teenaged thugs go after you. Wheels grind in the machine, and you happen to have gotten caught up in them. Too bad, you’ll suffer. Sucks to be you.

I think one reason people* seem to prefer genre fiction to literary fiction is that most genre fiction has a clear good guy and bad guy, and good wins over a simple, clear evil. OK, not too simple unless it is a short story. Literary fiction seems to gravitate toward more shades of grey and “the hero is just as bad as the villain, and good is just evil that society approves of for the moment.” Not all literary fiction, to be sure, and some literary-influenced genre fiction boasts about the shades of grey, about being transgressive and edgy and “privileging” something or the other to show how terrible Jewish or Christian norms are for some people. And some genre fiction highlights very corrosive and demeaning relationships (and NOT clearly up front and consensual with both parties fully aware of where things are going to go, or might go.) Those stories imply that unhealthy relationships are actually OK, or even desirable, because, um, well, they feel so good? He must love me to do this to me? He’s a supernatural creature so it is totally great and understandable even if it hurts?

That’s evil. Or rather, the social and editorial forces that encourage that sort of story are evil. It’s not overt like a guy in red with horns, but it still corrodes, and hurts and causes damage in some people. Evil implies that being honorable and faithful and liking clearly defined heroes who are not just one shade of morality better than the villain is wrong. Evil uses cries of “justice” to invert real justice and oppression. Sometimes, evil is obvious, lying and tormenting people because it can, because it enjoys watching suffering, because “those over there are not really people.” Or are unbelievers. Or belong to a different tribe, however tribe is defined.

I don’t like sneaky evil. I also don’t like people pretending to be Satan and his minions. They numb viewers to true evil, and they are uncreative. “The ‘danes” aren’t shocked by that, not after, oh, Madonna’s music videos, or the Killing Fields of Cambodia.

*Some people really enjoy literary fiction and prefer the slower pace and focus on the inner life, or on the beauties of language. Some literary fiction has clear good and evil divides. I like some High Literature. Just, not a lot of modern literature.

Strange but Cute: Gaudi and Hundertwasser vs. Brutalism

[Edited to add: Some images were copyright and had the watermarks stripped off. I was not aware of that. Those images have been removed.]

Can concrete buildings be attractive, or at least neat? I was reading an article lamenting the lack of historical preservation granted to 1950s-70s Brutalist architecture, and then started thinking about concrete. Which led to Gaudi and La Sagrada Familia, and because I’m Odd, the Hundredwasser Haus in Vienna. Personally, I will not miss most Brutalist structures, although in a few cases, what replaced them is less attractive, at least to me. I understand why some Brutalist structures were constructed, but that doesn’t improve the aesthetics.

Brutalism is the term applied to the heavy, grey cement and steel and glass structures built between roughly the Bauhaus period of the 1930s and the 1970s. The 1960s were sort of the heyday for the stuff. Officially, it began in the 1950s as a “modern” aesthetic to counter the nostalgia of the 1940s and the neo-Everything styles of the late 1800s-early 1900s. It tends to be mostly steel and concrete, with basic shapes (square, oblong, a few curves, or a lot of really strange curves) and no trim. It was not painted, and loomed in a morose grey way over the cities of England, Europe, and the US. It was very much form and function, without wasting materials on decorative features. It could be built quickly if the design were simple. Some later designs push the limits of materials and structure. It was considered very modern, the style of the future. Universities adopted it, although usually with more decoration and trim.

Not simple, but cold. That’s the library at UC – San Diego. Source:

From a CNN article about saving Brutalism. This is public housing in Warsaw.

Critics leaped to attack the new design style. It was cold, hard, boring, unhuman. The use of quasi-Brutalist as the preferred building style of Communist dictators didn’t help the reputation of Brutalism, and led to the joke that it was “Stalin Baroque” or “Khrushchev Eclectic.” As much as I loathe Stalin, his taste in building style wasn’t quite that bad. It wasn’t great, but he was old-school and favored grandiose and palatial. Those are terms not applied to Brutalism, although grandiose might fit (in the negative sense, often, if you are in the Eastern Bloc). Another flaw with the style is that running pipes and conduits and wires through the buildings is very hard, unless you build a framework inside and hang paneling. Or run everything outside, which has its own flaws.

However, concrete buildings are easier to make in a hurry, weather and location permitting. They are less expensive than steel and glass, much less than stone or wood or brick in many places. Concrete scales up easily, something not true of wood and brick. If you needed something relatively fast, relatively cheap, and pretty sturdy if done right, Brutalism it was. That described a lot of the rebuilding done in the non-historic parts of Europe after 1945.

In contrast, Gaudi took cement and did weird and wonderful things with it. It looks organic, flowing and touched with color. Now, his style is NOT fast or inexpensive, and required a lot of engineering to make work, especially the great cathedral of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain.


The interiors can be relatively sane (like in the apartment house) or off the wall.

Antoni Gaudi worked on commission, and was pushing the limits of what was possible in the 1900s-1920s. Casa Batllo is part of that.

And then there’s the cathedral, which is almost finished. Only a hundred years or so in the making, which for a cathedral is about average. Average if you go back to the 1000s, that is.

The drippy bit is NOT what people expected, but it’s cool.

It’s cool, and controversial. The source article for the above image goes into a lot of detail.

I think it is the curves and the playful sense in Gaudi’s work, and that of Hundertwasser in Vienna, that appeals to me. It’s not about being modern or industrial or powerful, but about playing with forms. It has the same problems as Burtalist in terms of materials and pipes and wires, and leaks. But it feels more human.

There are virtues in both, but I don’t care for Brutalism unless it is modified and softened.

Tasty, Tasty Cultural Appropriation

Cultural appropriation came up on a blog that I occasionally glance at (great pictures, some cool crafts, mildly useful book reviews), and I rolled my eyes. The quasi-debate centered on embroidery on a jacket. Could that be duplicated (jacket and embroidery) without committing the venal sin of Cultural Appropriation? The final group decision was a reluctant no, you shouldn’t because that would be theft if you didn’t get permission from the cultural group to which the wearer belonged, but using the color combination with different patterns and a more western-style jacket would be OK. The wearer of the item in question would never see the proposed copy of the garment, but it was the very act of copying that was “problematic.”

I glanced over at a the small mound of spicy pecans that I was having for lunch and rolled my eyes. American food is cultural appropriation. Western clothing is cultural appropriation. English, and German, and a lot of other languages borrow words, although English revels in it far more than most. Going back to the pecans on my desk, the chili pepper and pecans are from the Americas. The garlic, paprika, and savory came from Europe originally. G-d bless the Columbian Exchange that gave us cheese burgers, Tex-Mex food, anything European with potatoes in it, polenta, curries with tomato in them, milk chocolate and dark chocolate, apple pie, and so on.

Cheeseburger – the beef, cheese, lettuce, and wheat for the bread came from Eur-Asia. The tomato and french fries (potatoes) are from the Americas. Apples of the domestic kind came from Eur-Asia, as did the wheat, cinnamon, clove, allspice, ginger, and sugar. But apple pie in all its wonderful forms is “as American as . . . ” Now, getting a dozen Americans to settle on which kind of apple pie is the ne plus ultra of the American identity, well, good luck. By the time you sort that out, the rest of us will have eaten the pie and moved on to try the pecan and pumpkin and cherry and French Silk and grasshopper and Mississippi Mud and . . . 😀

What about when non-Americans borrow stuff from this hemisphere? Apparently peanut oil and peanuts have become staples in Asia, and potatoes and corn also appear. Chili peppers as well, although the local versions of many dishes were already hot before the “death-by-curry” types available today appeared. Should we complain when served satay because peanuts are not native to Thailand? You can if you want. I’ll eat your share. And your polenta, and anything with tomato, and the dark milk-chocolate, and . . .

Clothing is another place where the argument against cultural appropriation gets amusing for those of us who study history. Skirts are universal, as are shirts. Any usable fiber or material will be used, and some that no one really considers “clothing fibers” anymore, like some barks in Europe, and nettles. (Treat nettle stems as you would flax, but more so. Mind the leaves.) Trousers were rediscovered any time someone rode a horse, because unless you ride side-saddle, friction and saddle sores are also universal. Today, we have “national costumes” and ferocious arguments over if this pattern or that color is “authentic,” and who can or may not wear said item. The Japanese are delighted for people to try their “costume” and will happily sell you what you need, and giggle a tiny bit as you rediscover why Japanese kimono wearers take small steps when they walk. Germans and Austrians et al will assist with the wearing of dirndls and trachten suits, and lederhosen, although there is some pressure not to get too authentic unless you know what you are doing and why. Actual tracht, not the dirndl, is meant to conceal a woman’s “attributes” and to show social position and where she is from. It is a bit different from the dirndl, and not what you find in most stores. When was the last time an American balked at selling someone a cowboy hat or jeans, because of “cultural appropriation?” No idea.

Humans borrow and adapt. If someone strips a place of something edible that the locals depend on just because it is a trendy food, that’s a problem. Combining ideas, ingredients, and textile styles to create something fun is not a problem. If you recreate a copyrighted design from another culture and sell it as yours, that’s wrong. Borrowing an embroidery style and adapting it for your own pleasure? Not a problem. Go for it. Wasabi sauce [Japan] on your burger? Um, you go right ahead. I’ll stick with BBQ sauce, mustard [England], or catsup [England + Americas], thanks. Burgers that fight back are not my cup of tea [China and India].

Roots, Place, and Identity

A friend and I were batting around a question that’s puzzled both of us: What happened to the town we used to know? I didn’t see the change as sharply as he did, because 1) I’ve been here during the gradual shift and 2) when I came back from Grad School, some of the larger cultural differences matched what I’d been around at Flat State U, so the “fish in water” effect was present. But we agree that something changed and not for the better, at least to us.

After talking things over, and chewing on the idea for a week or so, I think it’s the problem of roots. If a place forgets or chooses to ignore its roots, the culture changes. Add a large influx of people who never knew those roots, or who prefer certain aspects of their home culture to what they find here, and you get more change. Federal influence might also play a role in some city policies that seem to have encouraged anti-social behaviors among part of the population, but that remains a large unknown. Without roots and a memory of the past, what gives a place an identity? Cultural features? Is New York City* nothing other than the Met, concerts, Wall Street, the Natural History Museum, and Broadway? OK, in that case, the Village as it used to be, perhaps?

I admit, there’s an element of nostalgia for me, not so much for my friend. He was looking at the rougher side of the city, one I only knew by reputation. Everyone knew about That Bar, the one where they frisked you for weapons and if you didn’t have one, you could rent one. (I kid, but just a little). If you wanted trouble, you went to these neighborhoods, or to that one area after about eight PM. During daylight and before eight it was happening and cool, and the bars kept things lower key. After eight? All bets were off. And everyone knew it. Crime happened elsewhere, to be sure, but there was “the bad side” and the rest of town. Today? Very different.

When I grew up, roots were part of the local identity. Ranching and the west were close at hand, and celebrated. Rodeos, pow-wows, cattle drives, ranching heritage, all played a huge part in how things worked. Local magnates were ranchers, bankers, some oil and gas men (and That One Guy, who eventually left town for greener pastures and was not missed.) Today . . . We’re supposed to be finding a new identity, bringing in lots of young people from Elsewhere (“if they come, they will build it” was the city government’s motto for a while. Thus far that hasn’t really happened that I can see.) Calls rose to spend more time talking about Hispanics and African-Americans, both their role in building the region, and the discrimination they suffered. They had a role in history, and certainly should be recalled in the city’s roots. But history is not a 0-sum story. We should be able to include all the area’s pioneers without kicking out any. This region was ranching and cowboys and farmers and oil patch and proud of it. And because of that, certain things were expected – civic participation, self-reliance (we’re relatively isolated and had to be self-reliant), helping neighbors, church participation, and self-governance.

Things are different now. “Bomb City” is supposed to be the new nickname for the largest city. Um, that should be Albuquerque or Los Alamos, in my opinion. There are still rodeos, but they’re not what they used to be. Native Americans are included in the history, but we don’t have many pow-wows, if any. There’s less about the good people of the past and more about the sins of the past. A lot of people from outside the region, state, and country have moved in, bringing new ideas and some serious challenges. What had been off-beat local shops are now variants on coastal boutiques, with more of a coastal vibe. The older western-ranching-cowboy past is not something the new people know about, or honor the way older people did and do.

What is the local/regional/state/national culture? Human geographers have begun talking about the negative aspects of “cosmopolitanism,” of being “a citizen of the world.” Citizens of the world don’t have roots, and they bring what they like to wherever they go – London, Paris, Tokyo, Singapore, Ft. Worth, Denver. That’s not entirely a bad thing, but neither is it a purely good thing. A sense of place, of common culture, provides strength when tough times happen, and gives younger people an identity to help support and sustain them. Americans are an idea people. We are based on a culture of ideas and shared heritage. Not blood, not soil, not common religious denomination, but an idea and shared heritage and mythology.

Who are we? What is $PLACE$? It’s not something most of us sit down and try to define, but perhaps we should. What makes the place you love, or like, or want to live in or near, what it is? The physical environment? The people? The culture? Yes?

I’m not sure we as a city/region/state/country have done that often enough, deeply enough. Mayhap we should. But how do you put roots into words? How do you get a community to say clearly, “This we are, this we believe, this we like. If you want to change it, you first must understand why we have kept it, and only then ask us to change.” I don’t have an answer, nor do I know how to go back to “the good-as-I-remember-them days” even if it can be done.

*I know that the boroughs and neighborhoods are different from Manhattan. I’m grabbing Manhattan because it is what most people think of when I say “New York City.”

In Praise of Pockets

A rerun, but still oh, so true. All my skirts have pockets. I’m spoiled. Then I put on some slacks/trousers and grrrrrr. You call that a pocket? 1/4 inch deep if that much?!? No.

Many, many years ago, a lady physician wrote into the Journal of the American Medical Association, JAMA with the following observation. “Freud was wrong. Women have pocket envy.” Mom read the letter aloud, I giggled, and had to agree. I had already reached the age where pocketage helped determine if I wanted the garment or not. And had experienced the frustration of women’s fashion and pockets. Continue reading

Random Selection of Fine Whines

Why do so many cars need to top off their blinker fluid? Is there a national shortage, or is this “National Don’t Signal Your Turn Month?”

My lawn has been reading the Book of Common Prayer, specifically the general confession. ” . . . For I have not grown where I should grow, and I have grown where I should not.”

Is using the last scoop of coffee in the building, then leaving the empty canister open on the counter, grounds for justifiable homicide? Asking for *glances over* about 4/5 of my (decaffienated) coworkers.

Egregious apostrophie’s’ are egregious. As are Now On “SALE!!” quotation marks.

The temperature says February, the calendar says December.

The forecast temps could double as lottery numbers, they are so random.

The only roads under major construction are the ones I need to use for my daily commute.

Rich, delicious, wonderful foods are not good for you when eaten in the quantity I desire to consume.

I just want clear blue skies and 18″ of rain. Is this too much to ask? 😛

Because You Know Darn Well that Someone Did . . .

Some things shouldn’t need saying. But no, no, someone did that.

The tag was clipped out of my new Akubra, Australian felt hat. You know, cowboy-type hat. Not a floppy hat, or stocking cap, or cloth cap. A semi-rigid, felt hat.

Someone must have put a hat in the dishwasher or washing machine, and then demanded a refund or complained to the management about the results.

I have never, ever seen a “do not wash” tag in a hat like this in the 40 or so years I’ve been wearing them.

Truly, the mind boggles.

The Pleasure of Finding: A Lost Joy

Dictionaries. Thesauri. Encyclopedias. Card Catalogues.

I used to have a large dictionary in my classroom, one that I inherited from the previous resident. The students disliked when, after they asked to use their “device” to look up a word, I’d hand them the dictionary, then teach them how to use it. That was work! It was so much easier to have $SEARCHENGINE$ do it. The dictionary vanished last year. I don’t know if one of the English faculty borrowed it and accidentally added it to her reference shelf, or if a student smuggled it out so that later generations might be spared the pain of looking up words in a heavy book.

I suppose link-hopping or WikiWandering are how the curious spend time, instead of reading what is around the desired dictionary word, or encyclopedia article. Both waste time, sort of, although learning isn’t always time-wasting. I suspect most of my readers grew up occasionally browsing dictionaries and encyclopedias and wandering through card catalogues out of curiosity. How much did we absorb as we drifted from the officially-sought topic to other intriguing (or useful “ooh, I can call someone this and he won’t have a clue that it’s an insult”) information. Grab a random volume off the shelf, or open the tome to a random page, and start browsing away. Yes, the information might be out-of-date. In a few cases, that’s the strength of older reference books. If you can get your hands on a pre-1920 set of the Encyclopedia of Islam, you have a goldmine of accurate information. After that? Well, there’s been some selective alteration and gilding, let us say. Likewise certain other encyclopedias and reference works. And people seem to retain what they read on page far more than what they read on screen.

I’ve written before about the advantages – for some things – of card catalogues. Those who had to maintain and update the files would disagree, as would most modern librarians. Especially in the early days of electronic library catalogues, the old system was far more forgiving of error and uncertainty than the hyper-precise systems. A keyword might not be enough – you had to know Boolean systems and terminology in order to enter what you hoped might lead to the book or journal that you sought. Some of us were not taught that, making finding things an exercise in unproductive frustration. Most modern library catalogues are better, or at least easier to start using, but it depends on how things are searched for and logged. One example: I was looking for books on Gypsies, or Roma. Using Roma led to romance novels, not the Library of Congress Subject. Romania? Also romance novels, or Roman history (and historical novels about Rome). I told the reference librarian, who sighed and added it to the list of complaints.

I don’t want to go back to the world of “we have to go to the library to find that,” not really, no matter how much I enthuse about things. And the electronic search systems are faster, and can lead to things not usually found in the older versions (like magazine and journal articles). There needs to be a balance, one I’m not sure we can easily find. The genii is out of the bottle, and making younger people go back to the paper versions of Dictionary DOT com could lead to rebellions. But I think some kids are missing a true pleasure, the thrill of discovery and exploration some of us get thumbing through reference books, never knowing what gems we might find.