Recipe: Spaghetti and Meatballs

Ingredients:

Sauce:

About a tablespoon of minced garlic

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

28 oz (a “big can”) of crushed tomatoes

16 oz (a “small can,” or if you want more sauce, another “big can”) of diced tomatoes

About a good tablespoon worth of your favorite Italian Seasoning

About a teaspoon of grated nutmeg (optional, of course)

Salt and pepper to taste, maybe a 1/2 tsp of each  (go easy on the salt because you’ll be adding the meatballs)

A half cup or so of wine, beef stock, or water (optional)

Meatballs

1/2 pound lean ground beef

1/2 pound ground turkey thigh or ground pork

Between a 1/2 and a full cup of bread crumbs

About a good tablespoon worth of your favorite Italian Seasoning

About a 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese

A handful of finely chopped parsley and/or basil (if you’ve got it)

A teaspoon of grated nutmeg (again, optional)

3 or 4 tablespoons of milk or cream to bind it all together

Salt and pepper to taste, maybe a 1/2 tsp of each (the cheese adds a fair amount of saltiness, so just a bit)

Cooked spaghetti or a similar pasta

This is a meal I make all the time and one where I never have to look up any of the ingredients or steps in the process, so why is it worthy of a recipe? And what if it’s something so common that it’s just another thing “everybody” makes? Who needs a recipe for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or for a hamburger? And since I can look up pretty much any recipe for anything nowadays, why write any of this down? I mean, it’s not like there aren’t already a zillion spaghetti and meatball recipes on the internets. What’s the point of any of this?

Didn’t mean for this to turn dark like that. Anyway…

When my wife wants a comforting and homey dinner, this is it. I make this at least once every two weeks, sometimes more often than that. This recipe with a salad and maybe some garlic toast or whatever can serve four people, though this is what I make for me and Annette, and the leftovers are good for lunch for a couple of days. This is one of those things where you can do from start to finish in about an hour and it’ll be good, but it’ll be better if you let the sauce cook on the back of the stove for closer to two hours. Obviously, there are a million variations.

Instructions:

  • Start the sauce. Put a large sauce pan on a not yet lit stove burner. Add two or three tablespoons of olive oil and a tablespoon of chopped garlic. Turn the burner on to medium, and give it a stir once in a while for three to five minutes. The idea here is to infuse a little garlic-flavor into the oil and what will be the sauce, but without really browning the garlic.
  • When the garlic starts to just barely simmer, add the tomatoes. Purists might say you should only use whole tomatoes canned in Italy or whatever. I do tend to buy not the cheapest canned tomatoes, but I don’t usually have the time or interest to hand crush them. So I tend to use one “big can” of crushed tomatoes, and one “small can” of diced tomatoes. Sometimes I want more sauce and I’ll use two “big cans” of tomatoes.
  • Add the Italian seasoning, nutmeg, and a touch of salt and pepper and bring it up to a simmer. It won’t taste right until it simmers at least 20 or so minutes while you make the meatballs, but do taste it as you go. I also suggest going easy on the salt at the beginning because once it simmers and cooks down for a while and once you get the meatballs and cheese and stuff involved, it’ll get more salty. Simmer that sauce for a minimum of about 45 minutes, and for pretty much as long as you want. You’ll simmer it some more after you add the meatballs.
  • While the sauce simmers, make the meatballs. Dump the ground meats into a large bowl. I always use at least half ground lean beef, and then half of either ground turkey thigh or ground pork. Either way, I do think the different meats do add a flavor you don’t get with just one variety– the same is true with meatloaf. Add the Italian seasoning, a bit of salt and pepper, parmesan cheese, and (if you’re using) fresh chopped parsley and/or basil and grated nutmeg. Then start with about a half cup of breadcrumbs– and either use some you’ve made yourself from leftover bread (and of course you should make your own breadcrumbs with your leftover bread simply by cutting it up in chunks, toasting it a bit, and then running it through the food processor), or just some normal/plain supermarket breadcrumbs. I wouldn’t use panko here–save that for the fried foods. And finally, start with about a quarter cup of milk or cream and mix in more if necessary.
  • With your previously washed and sparkly clean hands (and if you haven’t washed your hands yet in this process, what’s wrong with you?), roll up those sleeves and get mixing until everything is thoroughly combined. If the mixture is too sticky, add some more breadcrumbs– but be careful because no one likes meatballs (or meatloaf or crab cakes either) that have too much breading. I make them a little bigger than a golf ball, and I usually get 13 or 15 meatballs out of this mix. You can make them bigger or smaller of course, and adjust the cooking time accordingly.
  • You could pan-fry them, but I cook my meatballs in the oven because it’s a lot less mess. Put the meatballs on a sheet pan and broil them so they get a little browned on each side– about 3 minutes a side (I flip them over halfway through)– or until they feel like they’re starting to cook through. They don’t have to be done because they will cook in the sauce for a while. If you want, you can deglaze the sheet pan with a little red wine or beef stock and add that to the sauce.
  • Put the meatballs into the sauce and turn it down so it is barely or not quite a simmer. The meatballs should be cooked through in about the amount of time it takes to heat up a big pot of water and to cook the pasta, but I like to let the meatballs slow simmer in the sauce for 30 or 40 minutes.
  • Cook the pasta according to the directions. I of course like spaghetti with my meatballs, but any pasta will do. Put the pasta into bowls, top the pasta with sauce and the desired number of meatballs (usually 3 or 4), and grate on lots and lots of good parmesan cheese.

 

 

Clayton Eshleman, 1935-2021

My friend Clayton Eshleman died last week. He was 85 and I knew he had been in declining health for some time.

Clayton was an enormously successful and prolific poet, translator, writer, editor, and most of that is captured on the Wikipedia page about him. He published hundreds of chapbooks and books of his own poetry, a couple dozen translations, a couple more dozen books of prose and other writings, the best of which (IMO) is probably Juniper Fuseand lots of collections and anthologies of previously published works. He won a ton of prizes and recognitions, he and his wife Caryl were editors of a couple of important literary magazines, Caterpillar  and then Sulphur, he published other peoples’ books and chapbooks in different venues, and people have written books about him too. Like I said, that’s all there on Wikipedia.

We were only kind of colleagues because I started at EMU in 1998 and he retired from EMU in 2003, and while I do have an MFA in Fiction Writing, my PhD and work at EMU has been in composition and rhetoric. So our paths really didn’t cross much professionally. I did know he was a “presence” in the department, so to speak, the kind of senior colleague/older professor/important writer who was quite capable of striking fear in students and younger faculty– probably a few older faculty too. He was challenging, difficult, practiced radical honesty far too often, etc. But I really have no memories of him in any sort of committees or other work things at EMU.

Mostly, our relationship was about food, wine, and web sites.

As far as I can tell from looking at some old journals/calendars of mine, the first time I interacted or talked with Clayton in any detail was at the 2001 department Christmas party, and I am sure we mainly talked about cooking. Somehow, he floated the idea that we should have a dinner party where I bring a dish or two and he makes a dish or two. I thought he was just trying to be nice after we’d each had a few glasses of wine, but several months later in spring 2002, that’s what we did at Clayton and Caryl’s house. I want to say it was close to twenty people over there total.

For many years after that, Annette and I would get together with Clayton and Caryl for dinner, usually a couple of times a year, usually at their house. Looking back at it now, I realize that while I was back then already a pretty decent cook, Clayton and Caryl introduced both Annette and me to a different level of sophistication with food. The meals he served weren’t showy or gimmicks of any sort– just really good and classic food, usually with a turn toward the French. He had a fantastic dish of rabbit stuffed with prunes. I think the first time I had duck confit ever was at Clayton’s house.

On the one hand, because Annette and I are so much younger than them (Clayton was five years older than my father), a lot of these affairs felt stiff and formal. If the evening’s events were to begin at say 6:30 pm, you were there at 6:30 pm– and whenever we had a party and invited them, they were always the first to arrive. The Eshleman’s house was an eclectic and eccentric space, and I often felt like a little kid just staring at all the stuff: all the paintings from notable artists they actually knew, an enormous wall of books in a case that filled half the living room, some preposterously giant decorative wine glasses on top of the sideboard in the dining room, an inflatable pterodactyl hanging from the ceiling. They had a teeny-tiny powder room tucked under the stairs, the kind of space where it took some careful maneuvering to use the toilet. The walls were completely covered with decades worth of snapshots of Clayton, Caryl, and all sorts of various friends usually sitting at large tables covered with empty bottles of wine: pictures from France, from New York, from trips to the caves he wrote about in Juniper Fuse and where he used to lead tours of classes studying the ice age paintings. So these dinners were often strange and intimidating affairs.

But mostly these dinners were fun and we kept going back because Clayton and Caryl both had such fantastic stories of decades of life as wholly committed to art and poetry and writing. I think my favorite Clayton story was the one he told about essentially stalking Allen Ginseberg in the early 1960s (or possibly late 1950s) in New York City. I never quite understood how that happened– did he just look him up in the phonebook?– but Clayton said he found him and he knocked on Ginsberg’s door and asked him to tell Clayton about poetry. Ginsberg said he would if Clayton bought him a hamburger, and so they had hamburgers and talked about poetry.

When Juniper Fuse was published in 2003, I volunteered to set up a web site for him. I did it as a friend, but also for some additional experience in making web sites– I teach this stuff so I need to stay up with the technology. Clayton did “pay me” in a matter with bottles of very good wine I would have never bought for myself and by taking me out to lunch once in a while. We went different places over the years, but we tended to always circle back to a Mexican place in Ypsilanti near campus, La Fiesta. The food was pretty good (it frankly isn’t as good as it used to be, unfortunately), but I think he liked it most because the owner would always dote on Clayton when he came in. We gossiped about EMU academic politics, about whatever events, and about the web site and what new things he wanted to put on it– new books, new chapbooks, another interview someplace, a series of readings in New York or wherever. One of the really extraordinary things about Clayton’s productivity as a writer is it actually increased after he retired; I think he wrote something like another 20 books in his last 20 years.

Annette and I did go out to some restaurants with Clayton and Caryl, but it was very tricky to find a place in Ann Arbor that satisfied them. Some of Clayton’s favorite restaurants didn’t strike me as very good– there was a Chinese place he was fond of in Ann Arbor I remember as mediocre, and it closed down years ago now. The last place I remember going with them that they liked a great deal was Mani Osteria, which is probably my favorite place still open in Ann Arbor. But even though he was a harsh critic and demanding customer, most of his restaurant recommendations were correct. On one trip through Chicago, we had a splurge of a meal at Rick Bayless’ Topolobampo which Clayton had recommended– he liked going to it when he had a visiting teaching gig in Chicago. Still haven’t made it to The French Laundry, but I learned from him about Thomas Keller’s cookbooks and his other more affordable restaurants like Bouchon. When Annette and Will and I went to Paris for about 10 days for a sort of working vacation, Clayton suggested some reasonably priced but more upscale bistro kinds of places that were fantastic.

In the last five or six years, we saw each other less frequently. I think Clayton’s energy and enthusiasm for making elaborate meals had understandably declined as he got into his eighties. As I got better as a cook, I would sometimes bring him some of the molé I had been trying to make (based on a Rick Bayless recipe), and he always seemed happy for those gifts. We talked less about what to put on the web site because Clayton wasn’t writing as much or giving as many readings as he had a few years before, but he still had good stories up until the last time I had lunch with him, which I think was about a year and a half ago.

So rest in peace, Clayton. You were a difficult, interesting, sometimes angry, eccentric, brilliant, and often a surprisingly kind friend.

What didn’t suck about 2020?

I usually write a post at the end of the year to kind of sum up highlights of the previous year (particularly highlights from blogging and social media posts), mostly as a reminder to myself of how things went. You know, like all these “the year that was” articles in MSM. And I had started here recapping all the ways that Covid disrupted everything and how it all sucked and all of that, and then I thought: who needs more of that? I am quite sure I’ll remember all the ways that 2020 was a disaster for the planet and for the country for the rest of my life, and I’m also sure I’ll get the chance to re-remember in movies and books and television shows for some time to come. I’m quite sure I’ll remember the ways 2020 hurt me and my family personally, and those are things I’d rather not go into in a blog post. Not now anyway.

So instead, I thought I’d take a bit of time to write about/meditate about what didn’t suck about 2020, about what I still managed to do that was good, about what I learned about myself. Part exercise in living in the moment/mindfulness (which I think is mostly a bullshit way of looking at the world, but I’ll play along), part needing to Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

Here it goes (in the order it occurred to me):

I’m grateful I didn’t have any close friends or family members who became seriously ill or worse from Covid (knocking on wooden things). Annette and I both thought we might have had it several different times (who hasn’t wondered if that cold or cough was something worse?) and we’ve been tested a couple of times as well, but so far, so good. Same with Will, though he gets tested about weekly because of the stuff he’s doing at Yale. I have some more extended family members and friends who have had it, some with barely any symptoms and others who felt it like a hard flu. Given some of the terrible stories I’ve heard from some of my students, I am grateful and feel lucky about this.

I’m happy my day-to-day life and work carried on mostly the same. Don’t get me wrong– this has all been much different and it’s hard. I have been in my EMU office three times since mid-March. I haven’t been to a restaurant at all since things locked down– not even outdoor dining– and I have been to a coffee shop/beer garden kind of place exactly once when I met Derek for a beer at Cultivate Coffee and Tap House and then we sat a picnic table distance apart in the outside area on a lovely day back in September. I used to go to the gym at least four days a week and then often went shopping for whatever I was planning on cooking for that night, and I haven’t done any of that since mid-March. No movies, no shows, no museums, none of that. I go to the grocery store or places like Meijer about twice a week, and I make a point of trying to get outside to walk around a bit. That’s about it.

But the thing is I was already mostly working from home and mostly teaching online before Covid. Ironically, I spent a lot of January trying to make more use of my EMU office, which has kind of been a failed New Year’s resolution for a few years now. The short version: I keep thinking I need to draw a firmer line between my “life” and my “work,” this despite the fact that I’ve spent the last 30 years working from home and coffee shops with few boundaries (physical, intellectual, emotional, etc.) between life and work. Plus I have a very nice office that seems wasted with me not using it for much of anything beyond office hours and storing junk. So once again in January, I was trying to work more from my office, and once again, I had given up on working more at EMU by mid February. All of which is a long way of saying shifting to working at home and teaching online wasn’t exactly a big lift for me.

And of course, let’s not forget the basics: Annette, Will, and I all still have jobs, insurance, money in the bank, etc. Speaking of which:

Annette, Will, and I all are very lucky to be able to comfortably shelter in place/just stay home. Will started his PhD program in Cellular Molecular Biology at Yale in Fall 2019 and he had (continues to have) a nice (albeit student-y nice) apartment in New Haven, and since his work mostly shifted to working on qualifying exam/pre-dissertation portion of things, he was fine. With Will out of our modest three bedroom house (and this has been the case since he was living on campus at Michigan), there is plenty of room for Annette to do her thing in her work space/library downstairs and me to do mine in my hard to beat office/study/man cave area upstairs. Which is to say we just had each other, mostly: no pets, no really little kids, no school-aged kids, or none of the other things (many much worse than this of course) that made staying close to home challenging. Sure, having more people around means, well, having more people around, so there’s an advantage there. But let’s just say I think that having all three of us here would have made for a very difficult year.

Despite it all, we did get to travel a bit. We mostly got our travel jollies out in 2019 with trips that took us to three different continents (not counting North America), and we did have a couple trips we were going to go on in 2020 canceled. But we weren’t completely at home in 2020. We went to Las Vegas at the end of February, one of the nicest trips we’ve taken there. We had a room that was basically free at the Wynn (long story), saw some shows, did some gambling, stumbled across a Banksy exhibit in a shopping mall, and went to Red Rocks. Covid was just starting to leak into everything, though we didn’t think a lot about it then. I do remember seeing some people in masks (mostly Asian tourists, so I honestly didn’t think much about it), and I also did make a point of getting up to wash my hands about every hour while playing slots.

In July, we went “up north,” staying at a really cool cabin on Glen Lake– well, not on Glen Lake because that’s pretty much all multimillion dollar homes, but across the road from Old Settlers Park, which meant we kinda/sorta got a lake view. We didn’t get out to any of the fancy restaurants up there (a number of them were closed anyway) and we didn’t get into Traverse City or do a whole lot of shopping, but we did get to do some hiking, we looked at a lot of trees and nature, we got to see some friends who live up there, and we did a lot of relaxing and hanging out.

And then in September, we took a road trip to Maggie Valley, North Carolina to spend a four-day weekend with Annette’s parents– they rented a house there. Frankly, I wasn’t looking forward to making the trip (the driving, during the midst of the school term, an area of the country that isn’t really my cup of tea, etc., etc.), but it was a nice change of scenery, and it’s certainly not a trip I would have been willing to make with the current crazy spikes in Covid.

We watched A LOT of movies, and a lot of kind of weird and/or old ones too. I generally write down the movies we watch (I keep a list as part of my journal), and I think we saw about 170 of them last year. In normal times, we watch a lot of movies, but 170 or so is, well, A LOT. Mind you, that includes multiple viewing of some comforting favorites (The Big Lebowski, Dirty Dancing, A Knight’s Tale, Star Wars), rewatching of a lot of movies we’d seen before, and a few new ones too– got to see Parasite in the theater before Covid and again at home on demand during Covid, too. But it also included a lot of odd/weird/old movies, including True Storiesthe almost 5 hour long Until the End of the World, Killer Klowns from Outer Spacethe Sean Connery sci-fi flick ZardozFoodfight! (which is perhaps the worst animated movie of all time), the fantastic Forbidden Planet, Vincent Price’s Theater of Blood, Eating Raul, the fantastic musical Golddiggers of 1933 and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1927 silent thriller The Lodger. And more than that too, of course, not to mention a lot of other shows– The Queen’s Gambit, working our way through Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc.

Oddly enough, a pretty good year for me in terms of scholarly activity.  For me– which is to say it isn’t a lot compared to really prolific and famous scholars, but it’s plenty for me.

What will probably be my one and only single-authored book (at least in terms of academic writing) More Than A Moment: Contextualizing the Past, Present, and Future of MOOCs came out in January– actually, it was already available in December 2019, but it has a 2020 copyright date. Kind of a bittersweet moment because I think the book was published too long after MOOCs and of course Covid didn’t help, but still, it’s done. And it did get at least one good review, too.

But beyond that, I once again was reminded that the weird thing about blogging is it is very much like writing the proverbial message in a bottle: every once in a while, someone somewhere picks up that bottle on the beach, reads what’s inside, and reaches out to find the writer. Startled and confused by the number of faculty who have decided to teach online synchronously with Zoom, I wrote a blog post, “‘Synch Video is Bad,’ perhaps a new research project?” Not a lot of people read it, really (I think my most popular post of this past year was “No One Should Fail a Class Because of a Fucking Pandemic”), but the right people read it– namely, someone at Media & Learning, which is a Belgian group promoting “the use of media as a way to enhance innovation and creativity in teaching and learning across all levels of education in Europe.” They invited me to submit a version of my post as a newsletter article, and also invited me to participate in a panel discussion for a conference they had in November (all via Zoom, of course). And this is all motivating me to kick off a new research project about teaching online during the 2020-21 school year– see this post here to see what I mean and maybe take my survey.

So like I said, kind of small potatoes in the general scheme of academia and scholarship, but I don’t often get to add a short publication and an invited presentation to my CV just as a result of a blog post.

And last but not least, Biden won and a cure is coming. Last but far from least, imperfect and incomplete as of this writing for sure because who knows what craziness Trump and the Republicans are going to attempt before January 20, and we’ll likely see another 100,000 or more deaths in this country before the vaccine is widely distributed. But still, it could be much, much worse. Developing a vaccine so quickly was far from a foregone conclusion back in April and May, and if Trump and his administration had done an even half-assed job in dealing with the virus back in the spring, I’m pretty sure he would have won a second term. So yeah, I’m thankful that what is a terrible time now and what will probably be a terrible time for a few more months at least is not being made more terrible by another four years of Trump.

So let’s hope that 2021 continues on that path.

2019 was quite the year around here

I wasn’t going to do the usual “end of the year” blog post this year (kind of clichéd, isn’t it?), plus with Trump and impeachment and guns and climate change and global crisis and with the whole world feeling like it’s on fucking fire most of the time, it doesn’t exactly feel like a time to be celebrating anything– despite the admittedly good points in the big picture of things Nicholas Kristof makes in this column.

But as I was looking over my Instagram account, I was reminded that A LOT of stuff happened for me and the family this year, and most of it was good.

So, more or less in order:

After some of the typical January/February events (our annual Mardi Gras party, for example), Annette and I took our first of what would turn out to be three (well, two and a half) trips to New York and, among other things, I managed to order a cocktail brought to me on fire.

I went to the CCCCs in Pittsburgh in March— probably the most unpleasant version of that conference I’ve ever attended, frankly. My 8 am Friday morning panel– which included the completely pleasant and always interesting Alex Reid— had a total of three people at it: myself, Alex, and an audience of one, though it happened to be the also pleasant and interesting John Gallagher. So we chatted for a while, Alex and I went off to have breakfast together, and after a bit of wondering around the halls, I actually went back to my room, packed my things, and left a night early. I’m going to the CCCCs in Milwaukee this year; I’m definitely not going to the CCCCs in Spokane in 2021; and we’ll see what happens after that.

Probably the biggest bit of family news of the year– at least the first part of the biggest news– is Will graduated from the University of Michigan and various graduation hijinks were had with both sets of grandparents. Originally, Will wanted to just do the small group graduation event for his major, and that was nice in and of itself:

 

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Probably my favorite graduation weekend moment: “oh! William Krau-Z!”

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But in the end we went to the “Big House” commencement too, and I’m glad we did.

 

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Oh yeah, then we went to freakin’ China, which I blogged about here. Amazing trip, got a chance to cross some stuff off of my list, and it introduced us to Gate 1 for travel stuff.

After a summer that included many of the usual things (a Krause family get-together in a weirdo house in Wisconsin on the Minnesota border, a quick anniversary trip to Traverse City, front-yard gardening, a little golf, no more summer teaching, etc.), we packed Will up and moved him out to New Haven, Connecticut, which brings me to the second part of the biggest family news of the year: Will began a PhD program at Yale in a version of biology I don’t really understand. Needless to say, we’re incredibly proud of him. We went out to visit him in October– this was the first part of the “half” trip to New York because we flew into LaGuardia and then rented a car to drive to New Haven– and got a chance to tour around campus and the town a bit. My personal favorite highlight was the Cushing Center (aka the brain room).

But I’m getting ahead of myself: after we got Will all moved in, Annette and I went to Sweden, Norway, and Amsterdam (aka continent #2 of the year). I’m not quite sure why I didn’t blog about that trip, but the very short version: Annette had a conference in Stockholm to go to plus Annette and I both were on research fellowships this past fall, which meant neither of us had to spend time in August preparing to teach and our schedules were a lot more flexible, so we decided to make it a longer trip. After Stockholm (I had some solo tourist time there while Annette conferenced), we took a cruise along the Norway coast basically because I had heard or read someplace a long time ago that a cruise is one of the best ways to see it all. And then, because we could, we spent a week in Amsterdam in a lovely apartment at the top of the steepest stairs I have ever seen. We hung out in the apartment and read and wrote, went to lots of art museums, wandered around the groovy streets, ate good food, etc. Here’s a bunch of pictures.

Meanwhile and/or around the same time as all this, we both worked on our research projects (I’ve blogged about mine a fair amount over the year) and I also had the time to review proofs and such for More Than A Moment: Contextualizing the Past, Present, and Future of MOOCs. I guess that too is an event from 2019 because that’s the copyright date and all, but I basically finished my work on the book back in 2018 and it’s not going to be for sale until 2020 (next week, I think), so it kind of doesn’t feel like 2019 to me. Still, my first and only single-authored book; like I said, a lot of stuff happened around here this year.

And then, after a typical Krause family combined Thanksgiving-Christmas and before a typical Wannamaker family holiday that included a visit to the beach on Christmas day, Annette and I went to Morocco (continent #3 for the year), with a stop before and after in New York. I just blogged about that a couple of weeks ago.

Inevitably, there will be less on 2020– I’m guessing fewer continents. And hopefully less Trump come November or before.

Morocco (and NYC), December 2019

“Why (and how did you) go to Morocco in December?” Well, when Annette and I found out we were getting research releases for the fall term, we knew we wanted to take a trip someplace in early December because that tends to be an inexpensive time to travel. A friend of ours had gone on a tour to Morocco and said good things, and then we found a tour through Gate 1 (the “how”) with a great price and that fit our schedule. Plus going to Morocco would mean that (counting home) we would have been to four continents this year. So off we went.

A slight tangent: while we went when we did because we didn’t have any teaching or things to worry about, I do think we could have gotten away with this trip during a regular semester if we didn’t keep blabbing about it on social media. This trip would have taken some planning while teaching, but we had regular and robust wifi and we both easily handled minor work email and similar work things. So maybe next year….

Here’s a link to a while bunch of pictures; here are some thoughts and memories:

  • Once again, Gate 1 was great. Here’s a link to the trip we took to Morocco. Once again, it was a very diverse group in terms of age (but no kids on this trip), race, careers, etc., etc., though this group wasn’t as “tightly knit” as the group for our trip to China. I think that’s because it was a big group– 41 people– and also because this tour didn’t include as many group meals and activities. But again, a great deal. It’s not luxury travel, but the hotels we stayed at were solid (sort of the equivalent of Hampton Inn kinds of places), the optional things (we signed up for all of them) were all great and worth it, and the tour manager and guides were excellent– especially the tour manager and the local guide in Fes.
  • We went to Rabat (the capital of the country), Fes, Marrakesh, and Casablanca. Rabat had some cool stuff, but the heart of the tour was Fes and Marrakesh (Casablanca is mostly a business center with an international airport). The tour was technically eight days but the first and last days were flying, so really six days, plus one of those days was mostly a bus ride between Fes and Marrakesh (not ideal, but it was kind of an interesting way to see the countryside).
  • I was expecting more desert and camels and stuff like that, but that’s a different tour. This was more the central and Atlantic coastal region of the country, and the geography felt to me a lot like rural places in Northern California/Southern Oregon or Italy. Marrakesh is on the north side of part of the Atlas Mountains range (snow-capped peaks in the distance, and apparently ski resorts opened for a few months in the winter), and on the other side of the mountains is the Sahara. That’s where we would probably have ridden a camel. There’s a region in the southwest on the coast (we heard about because our guide lived there) that’s popular with Europeans in the winter, and there’s a northern region with Tangier and right across the straits to Gibraltar. But again, different trips.
  • Oh, and Morocco is a much more touristy place than China, especially Marrakesh. Heck, we even went to a casino there! It was easy to find people who spoke English, and almost everyone speaks French as well as Arabic. If we went on vacation in Spain, I’d want to include a trip to Gibraltar, Tangier, and probably the “blue city” of Chefcaouen, and depending on the options, I’d be comfortable doing those arrangements without a tour company. In contrast, there’s no way I’d go back to China without a company or some other kind of local “fixer.”
  • I don’t know if I’d call Morocco “second world” or “developing world” or what, but it’s a study in contrasts for sure. It’s a Muslim country, but it’s also an extremely moderate and tolerant country, and it had a large Jewish population at one point. Morocco didn’t give anyone up to the Nazis in World War II, though after the war, most Moroccan Jews migrated to the new state of Israel. It’s a post-colonial country that seems to maintain good relations with its colonizers. There were lots of French and Spanish influences in the food and language, not to mention a lot of French and Spanish people. It’s a “constitutional monarchy,” but I got the impression that the king of Morocco is a lot more involved in the day-to-day running of the government than say the Queen of England. It’s a country with lots of the same modern features of countries in Europe (and, unlike China, the Internet wasn’t blocked or slow), but also one where a lot of the people still live simple lives. On our drive from Fes to Marrakesh, we went by lots of big and presumably corporate farms, and we also saw lots of shepherds tending to small flocks (inevitably while on their cell phone) and farmers planting fields by tossing seeds from a bag. There was a large shopping mall near our hotel in Fes, and we went in there a couple of times to look around and to buy hotel room snacks and wine– oh, and while Morocco is an Islamic country, it does grow grapes for wine, most of the restaurants we went to served beer and wine, the hotels we stayed in had bars, and there was a liquor store in this mall. Anyway, it was a big and modern and busy shopping mall, but at least twice, I saw locals getting on the escalator in front of me in a way that suggested that this person did not go on escalators often– for all I know, ever. I mean, I don’t want to get all clichéd and suggest “the highs and lows,” “the best of times, the worst of times,” and all that, but there were a lot of things I expected and didn’t.
  • Two things I learned about Islamic (or at least Arab/North African) culture I didn’t know before. First, we saw several “blind houses,” which means they look like pretty much nothing at all on the outside (they usually have no or only a few small windows) but are quite lavishly tiled on the inside, usually with a big courtyard in the middle. This was certainly the case with the “fancy meal” we had in Marrakech at place called Lotus Privilege. Our tour guides lead the group down what looked like an alley perfect for getting mugged and we entered into an opulent courtyard with a pool and lemon trees. Second (and I guess I should have known this before), you don’t wear shoes in a Mosque, which kind of explains to me why slippers are extremely popular footwear.
  • On the last day, our guide/tour manager asked the group “what was your favorite part,” and pretty much everyone said Fes. The sites and sounds and smells of the Medina were intense, navigating down “streets” not much wider than a hallway with guys leading loaded down mules going the other direction. In the food market, the way you bought chicken was you picked out one of the live ones in the crate in the back and the guy killed and dressed it for you. And then there was the Chouara Tannery, which has been in operation for about 1,000 years, the process still about the same. The smell of the vats of pigeon shit they used to treat the leather, that was intense.
  • And then there was the haggling for stuff. I don’t particularly enjoy this kind of shopping, but I kind of got into it by the end of the trip and I did have a pretty memorable moment in a shop on the last night in Casablanca. I was looking over a box for sale for 450 Dirhams, which is about $45. I knew that was too much, so I said “200.” The sales guy fakes outrage, and says “for you my friend, 350.” “Hmm, that’s still too much,” I said, “How about 325?” “Okay, 300!” And all the other sales guys in the shop looking on to this crack up laughing. “Wait, wait! He said 300!” But I ended up giving him 325– no point in cheating the dude out of $2.50.
  • Oh, and New York: we went a day early to go see Moulin Rouge The Musical, which was great and as a bonus, Hillary Clinton was in the crowd. On the way back, our flight from Morocco got into JFK too late to get a flight home, so we decided to splurge a little bit and got a room at the TWA HotelThat was a hoot.

Don’t want a manicured front lawn? Perhaps you should move

 

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A week or so ago, I came across this New York Times Sunday column, “I’m Done Mowing My Lawn” by Ronda Kaysen. It’s a pretty good “pushing back against convention” piece and why obsessing over lawns is bad for all kinds of different reasons. I nodded along as I finally got around to reading it today. Then I got to this paragraph:

Every summer, I imagine a different landscape, one that I do not have to mow. My sunny front lawn would be a great place to grow a vegetable garden: tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and maybe some chard. But if my dandelions raise eyebrows, imagine the reaction I would get to a raised garden bed just a few feet from the sidewalk.

Seven years ago, we decided to tear up about half of our front yard to plant flowers and vegetables. It wasn’t because I had some kind of problem with a lawn; if anything, I am a product of my upbringing in suburbia and my admiration of well-manicured golf courses. We did it mainly because we were tired of seeing the front yard– the only part of our lot that gets full sun all day long– go to waste. I remember at the time hearing a few stories of affluent Detroit suburbs where growing vegetables in the front yard was some kind of code violation, and I also remember my mother worrying it would be tacky.

It’s never been a problem. At all. If anything, it’s been a great opportunity to informally chat with neighbors walking by while Annette and I are out their weeding or something. People always compliment us. Little kids look for the dragon Annette put out there and sometimes pick cherry tomatoes. It’s a cheery exchange, which I think also says a lot about my neighborhood, too.

This year’s version of the garden is going to be a bit more modest because of a busy summer. The ideal/generally agreed upon time when we’re safe from frost is the week after Mother’s Day, but we’ll be gone that week (China, of all places– more on that later I am sure). Plus we have some other travel plans and getting Will ready for the next post-UM steps in his life. So this year, I’m keeping it to a few tomatoes, some pole beans (along with some creeping flowers that I think might not make it), kale, and sunflowers. I planted a flat of marigolds with the (probably misguided) thought that maybe it’ll deter the critters a bit. After we get back, I’ll plant some basil, maybe some other things, some more flowers. perhaps some more herbs.

We were thinking about a move to Ann Arbor in the next year or two; we decided last summer to not do that for a variety of different reasons, and one of those reasons is I don’t think I’d want to move to a neighborhood where it was against the rules to plant a few tomatoes and such in the front yard.

Recipe: Salmon and Lentils (w/bonus leftover lentils)

 

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Ingredients:

  • About two cups of dried lentils (preferably black or French green ones)
  • One medium-ish carrot, diced
  • One small onion, diced
  • One medium-ish potato, peeled and diced
  • Two or so cloves of garlic
  • At least a tablespoon Herbes de Provence seasoning (or about 2 tsps dried thyme, 1 tsp dried rosemary, and 1 tsp dried oregano)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Two to four portions of salmon filet cooked how you prefer, about six to eight ounces per person (This amount of lentils would work well for four servings and with enough leftover lentils to repurpose for a side dish, soup, etc.)
  • Lemon wedges, plus parsley to garnish

I’m not likely to ever open a restaurant, but if I did, it’d probably be some kind of riff on a French bistro, and if I did open Cafe La Steve, I’d probably have this dish on the menu. I can’t say I remember ever seeing this on a menu in a restaurant– French or otherwise– but it does feel like a good French bistro recipe to me.

This is based on the recipe in Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything, which is a good book for finding basic recipes for, well, everything. You could definitely jazz up the lentils with some bacon or maybe chicken stock or some more fresh herbs or what have you. I keep it simple both because it then is a weeknight (when you have a little extra time) kind of meal, and also because it’s easier to repurpose the leftover lentils into different forms.

Steps:

  • Put the lentils into a Dutch oven or other large heavy pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, and cook them for around 15 minutes, not until they’re finished but just until they are starting to soften. If you’re pretty quick about dicing up the vegetables, you can do that while the lentils cook. If you are slower (like me) about dicing vegetables and/or you’re trying to do more than one thing at a time in the kitchen (also like me), it’s probably a little less stressful and easier to dice the vegetables before you cook the lentils. Use your judgement on that. I like to use black lentils for this because they keep that cool black color after they cook, but French green lentils are easier to find.
  • If you want, rinse your lentils. Now, this is probably a completely unnecessary step and I’ve never seen it described in any other lentil recipe, but I do it this way because it makes the final version seem less “muddy” to me. So give it a try if you want and see if it makes a difference, or just skip it. To rinse the lentils: after they’ve cooked have cooked about 15 minutes, set up a fine mesh strainer in the sink and carefully drain your hot lentils into this strainer. Rinse off the lentils and rinse out the pot.
  • If you don’t drain the lentils, then just add the vegetables into the pot, and make sure there is enough water to cover. If you do drain the lentils, add a little olive oil to the bottom of the now drained and rinsed out pot and sauté the vegetables with a little salt and pepper for a few minutes, just to get them beginning to soften, stirring pretty much the whole time. If they are sticking a bit to the bottom, add a little water and stir to unstick them from the pot. Put the drained lentils back into the pot and add enough water to cover.
  • Stir in a heaping tablespoon of Herbes de Provence. I just use a mix I always have on hand– it’s a very handy seasoning– but if you don’t have that, you can just try a combination of about 2 tsp thyme, 1 tsp dried rosemary, and 1 tsp dried oregano. There’s a lot of lentils there, so you can be aggressive with the amount of herbs you put in.
  • Cook the lentils and vegetables on medium heat, allowing them to just barely simmer and reduce to a thick consistency but without letting them dry out completely. Check on them and stir the pot about every five minutes or so. This takes around 20 to 30 minutes, though you can turn the heat down to warm and keep it on the stove after it’s done for an hour or more while you get everything else ready.
  • While that’s going on, this is a good time to slice a lemon into wedges (and get rid of the seeds) and chop up a bit of parsley.
  • When the lentils are almost done, taste them and add more salt and pepper as you see fit. I usually turn the pot down very low and then prepare the salmon. You could also easily do this ahead of time (up to several days ahead if you put the lentils in the fridge) and simply reheat the lentils and vegetables when ready to eat.
  • As far as the salmon goes: how you want to cook it is up to you. If you like the skin crispy and don’t mind a bit of smoke and clean-up hassle: put a bit of salt and pepper on top, and heat up a non-stick pan with just a bit of oil in it. Put the salmon in skin-down, allowing the skin to crisp up and render some of the fat. This will make a fair amount of smoke and sputtering, so open a window and if you’ve got a splatter screen for your pan, have it handy. After they’re crispy, flip over the filets to brown a bit. Turn down the heat to let it finish to your liking– or if you like your salmon on the rare-side, take the pan off the heat and let it finish in the cooling pan.I don’t do this often because Annette doesn’t like the crispy fish skin and also because (like I said) it’s kind of a mess. So instead, I usually turn on the broiler and set up the oven rack so it’s not too close to the heat. Then  I put the seasoned salmon on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil (it just makes it a lot easier to clean), and then put it under the broiler for just a few minutes, until the skin is crispy. Then I take them out, peel off the skin and discard it, flip over the salmon, maybe add a little olive oil to the top of the filet, and put it back in until the top of the salmon is just beginning to brown. This whole process takes maybe 10 minutes.
  • Plate by ladling a nice pile of lentils and vegetables in a nice shallow bowl, place a piece of salmon on top of those lentils, garnish with lemon wedges and parsley, and eat.

Bonus leftover lentils!

Inevitably, this recipe provides me with leftover lentils, which is actually a good thing. I’m not much of a leftovers kind of person, but I think these leftover lentils are quite good. I’ll sometimes just heat them up in the microwave as a kind of “side dish” to a sandwich or something like that. Usually though, I’ll make them into soup simply by adding however many lentils I want with broth, either vegetable or chicken, and if I want to get really “fancy,” I’ll cook up a slice of bacon, cut that up, and add the crispy pieces to the soup.

The beginning of my basement gardening experiment

 

First of all, no, it is not weed. Though it’s now legal in Michigan to do so, I have no interest in growing marijuana. And besides, if I was actually interested in growing marijuana, do you think I’d be posting about it online? C’mon now….

No, this is my effort at a DIY indoor LED garden for herbs and such. Here’s the deal:

I usually buy a rosemary bush/tree in the spring because it’ll live just fine all the way into fall and with not a lot of care. The problem/challenge is it’s too cold in southeast Michigan for rosemary to live through the winter. In the past, I’ve tried covering it up under one of those styrofoam insulators that are for roses and I put a potted version in the garage a couple years ago. Neither approach worked. When it started getting too cold this year (and I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this before), I put my potted rosemary in the basement and didn’t think about it much. It got at least a little sunlight through a tiny window for some of the day, and I managed to remember to water it once in a while too. It wasn’t exactly “thriving,” but it wasn’t dying either.

A couple months ago, I stumbled across an article about the growing (no pun intended) business of indoor farming thanks in part to advances in LED lighting, and that got me to thinking about helping out my little rosemary bush and beyond. I took a look on amazon both to find out how much these lights cost and also to find any sort of book/advice on indoor gardening. The price for the lights are all over the map, and I didn’t find any useful books. So, deciding to just wing it and I bought a couple of 50 watt LED grow bulbs. I stuck one bulb in an old clamp-on utility light shade-thing-a-ma-bob, clamped it on to something, and turned it on once in a while for my rosemary. Lo and behold, it started growing and bending toward that light.

So I decided over winter break to go a little more “all-in,” and that’s what’s in my Instagram photos. Besides that rosemary bush, I am trying to keep alive the Norfolk Pine we got as a stand-in for a Christmas tree– another plant that I’ve had a hard time keeping alive after the holidays in the past. I bought a storage tub, the kind of thing designed for clothes and to be kept under the bed, and filled that up with just normal potting soil. In that trough of dirt I’ve planted seeds for butter lettuce, arugula, basil, dill, cilantro, and parsley.

I have no idea if this is going to work. I’m kind of pessimistic about the seedlings, frankly. But what I think probably will work is to grow some herbs this summer in pots and then take them down to the basement in the winter, things like thyme and chives and tarragon and what-not.

Just how offended are you by the word…

… motherfucker?

I ask because of the dust-up over Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib’s statement about Trump that is in the news, “we’re going to impeach the motherfucker.”

To back up a step: here’s a link to an article and with a five minute or so video of the event. I think this was a Move On sponsored thing and it looks like it was in some kind of bar/party room filled with supporters. It was a fiery speech all about how her progressive and activist campaign worked, and how that strategy worked for other progressive candidates– notably many women and/or POC. It looks to me like everyone in the crowd had a cell phone recording the speech in one hand and a beer in the other. It was a private party. There was ton of cheering and whooping it up and she closed with that line “we’re going to impeach the motherfucker.”

This matters. A LOT. It’s not like Tlaib was on the floor of the house or on Meet the Press or whatever and said “we’re going to impeach the motherfucker.” And the sentence that is getting all the attention now wasn’t even the first time she said “fuck” in that five minutes.

As far as the politics go, I am in the same camp as Nancy Pelosi and the more moderate leadership in the House: it’s not time to call for impeachment and while Pelosi said she wouldn’t have made that choice in words, she’s not going to get into the censorship business. But Tlaib is not the first member of congress to say Trump should be impeached now, and, as I heard Tlaib say on the news the other night (this is a local story because her district is parts of Detroit, Wayne county, and “downriver”), fighting for impeachment was a campaign promise. So it makes sense that Tlaib would bring up that campaign issue/promise at a party celebrating being sworn in.

Anyway, while I do not like the phrase “clutch their pearls,” I cannot think of a more accurate metaphor in the reaction to this. Never mind Fox news; This tweet from The Washington Post called Tlaib’s choice of “motherfucker” a “slur,” though the article to which it links is all about civility and the moral problems of vulgarities. The moderately liberal Detroit Free Press (well, compared to the Detroit News) published a Mitch Albom screed/editorial where he condescendingly laments Tlaib’s sinking into a “new low in a cesspool of human relations we call politics,” she is merely sinking to Trump’s lows etc. My stars, I do declare!

All of which brings me back to my original question: just how offended are you by the word “motherfucker?” I’ll take Albom at his word and agree he is personally offended at the use of such salty language. This isn’t surprising since  Albom has made his nut from schmaltzy feel-good books (Tuesdays with Morrie, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Have a Little Faith, etc.) which end up as Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movies.

Of course, I also have to think that Albom and others wouldn’t have had any real reaction to the vulgarity at all if it had been uttered at a similar campaign event by a 60-something Republican white dude.  But I’ll just leave that right there.

I mean, I take it as a given that the kinds of conservatives who think Trump is doing a great job and who think liberals are evil and anyone non-Christian is suspicious object to Tlaib calling Trump a “motherfucker,” but these people probably would have been just as upset had she called him a poopy-head. But beyond that, I have to wonder how much of this is kind of generational, kind of a lack of familiarity with a certain strand of contemporary culture.

Take some of the movies I like, for example.

I probably watch The Big Lebowski three or four times a year. It’s a movie that is both comfortingly familiar and still full of surprises, and it’s the kind of thing Annette and I will sometimes put on as “background viewing,” something on the TV while we are each putzing around on our laptops doing other things (writing a blog post, for example). In The Big Lebowski, there is some variation of word “fuck” 260 times, at least according to Wikipedia.

Also according to Wikipedia: that 260 different fucks doesn’t even put The Big Lebowski in the top 25 of the most fucks in a movie (though I don’t know how accurate this list is, and who has the time to count all those fucks?) Interestingly, there are a lot movies on this list of 135 different titles that I’ve seen and liked a great deal– The Wolf of Wall Street, Casino, Goodfellas, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, True Romance, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Superbad, Monster, Bad Santa, Sorry to Bother You, etc., etc.

I mean, don’t get me wrong: for Tlaib to call Trump a “motherfucker” was insulting. But I don’t know, it sure seems like the Alboms of the world think that calling someone a motherfucker (at the end of a rally-styled speech in a bar full of supporters– don’t forget the context, folks) is a whole lot worse than I do. Maybe I watch too many movies with bad words in them. Maybe Albom et al don’t watch enough of these movies.

The year that was 2018 (according to Instagram)

‘Tis the season for thinking back on the year that was 2018. In looking back over my blog, I was surprised I wrote as much as I did last year. I posted a whole lot more on social media of course. I don’t think it’s worth the effort to look back at Facebook and Twitter both because there is too much there. But I found looking back at my 2018 Instagram posts kind of fun.

 

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Working windows.

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 Here’s a sort of an “action shot” of me working on the MOOC book manuscript, probably shortly before I sent the manuscript for review to Utah State University Press. I had kind of forgotten about how I spent a fair amount of 2018 working on this off and on, actually. But long story short: the book, which is now titled More than a Moment: Contextualizing the Past, Present, and Future of MOOCs, should come out some time in 2019, though I have no idea when. Stay tuned for more on that in the coming new year I am sure.

 

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Neon Museum. Awesome!

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Annette and I had a nice winter break trip to Las Vegas and one of the highlights for sure was the Neon Museum. As far as I can tell, most people I know think that Vegas is kind of a level of hell, but we think it’s fun– for about four nights/three days every few years. February was a pretty good time to go too.

 

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I baked a lot of bread again this past year. I’ve been making sourdoughs from a starter that’s been “living” in my fridge since about April 2017. I thought I kind of screwed up and killed off my starter at one point over the summer, but, as they say in Frankenstein, IT IS ALIVE!

 

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Alas, this was the last year my friend and colleague Derek Mueller was at EMU before moving on to the Chicago Maroon and Burnt Orange grassy fields of Virginia Tech. Happily, Chalice still is my local friend and colleague who sometimes comes to my office to eat candy and chips.

 

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Fuzzy, lonely Trump supporter.

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For “birthmonth” in 2018, Annette and I went to New York City for a long weekend. We did lots of fun stuff– saw Spongebob Squarepants the Musical (surprisingly good), went to see the David Bowie exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum with friends Troy and Lisa, and we also marched in/went to a gun control rally, one of the March for Our Lives pro-gun control rallies. It was an inspiring and even festive event– and I am pretty sure we walked about 10 miles that day. Here’s a photo while marching of one of the Trump people in front of one of the Trump buildings. Sad.

 

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Andy Warhol’s Amegia desktop computer circa mid 1980’s.

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I ended up for a weekend in Pittsburgh in April and, among other things, went to the Andy Warhol museum. Who knew Warhol was an Amegia fan?

 

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Found a few of morels growing in the backyard in May, and after perhaps too much research (because after all, who wants to end up dead or sick from some weird mushroom thing they found in their backyard?), I cooked these up in a little butter and Annette and Will and I ate them. Holy-moly, they were spectacular. Hope they come back this spring.

 

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The Computers and Writing Conference last year was at George Mason University. Bill HD and Steve Benninghoff and I drove out and stayed in the dorms– with (among many other people) Doug Walls. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with CWCON in the next couple of years. I won’t be able to go to it at all in 2019 (probably) even though it’s going to be at MSU because of some family plans, and I don’t know how confident I am that there will be one of these conferences in 2020. Stay tuned.

 

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Will and Annette ahead on the way down the climbing dune.

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Made the often enough trip “up north” in the summer, which of course was lovely as always….

 

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Annette and I made a point last summer of trying to make more trips into Detroit to do stuff, including a trip to the Hitsville, USA museum. I like all those Motown artists and songs, but I’m not really much of a fan, but I have to say the museum and tour was great.

 

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Will moved back into the dorms as a Resident Assistant for one more year– he’s set to graduate in May and then off to graduate school. Again, stay tuned.

 

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arch rock terror selfie

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Annette and I took a September trip to Mackinac Island to take advantage of one of these “discount” (still too expensive) deals at The Grand Hotel, and we lucked out with legitimately nice weather too. Not quite sure what this photo says about us though.

 

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My father’s little “man cave” Xmas tree.

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Pretty much the same patio view I had last year too.

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And finally, we once again are still in the midst of our typical too much travel over the Xmas break. Had a “quick trip” to Iowa for my side of the family (though I don’t know how accurate it is to call a three day trip that involves around 20 hours in a car particularly “quick”) and then down to Florida for Annette’s side of things, and here I am with almost exactly the same view I had about a year ago.

So that is pretty much that. I left out a lot because honestly, while I think 2018 had a lot of good stuff about it, there was also a lot of shitty stuff about it too. Here’s hoping 2019 has more (or at least as much) good and less bad.