I baked bread again last weekend. That’s not all that unusual; I don’t think I’ve bought bread since March or April. It kind of came up on Instagram and Facebook because my long time friend and colleague (and fellow baker/cook-type) Bill Hart-Davidson commented that I should post some pictures. So I did. More than necessary. And now here I am writing about baking bread, also more than necessary.
Pizza is interesting in that you have connoisseurs who fetishize all aspects of this relatively simple food, and you also have people whose concept of pizza is limited to Dominos or Little Caesars. If you are a connoisseur, chances some of what I’m talking about here has some elements of sacrilege and I apologize in advance for that transgression. I work with what I’ve got– at least until I can embark on that fantasized backyard pizza oven project.
On the other hand, if you are someone who makes a decision regarding a pizza order based on whether or not the crust is double-stuffed and/or if you get an order of chicken wings with it, there is nothing for you to read here. Move along.
Dear Ticketmaster, Tony Bennett, and Deathcab for Cutie;
I’m writing about a concert my wife Annette and I attended on August 24 at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, a show that was supposed to have featured the band Deathcab for Cutie as the opening act for Tony Bennett. Why didn’t DfC appear, and don’t you think you owe me at least an explanation, if not some of my money?
Don’t get me wrong: Tony Bennett was great, as I’ll get to in a moment, but one of the the delicious appeals of this show was that pairing of an indy band that’s made it big with the man who is perhaps the last of the great “old standards” singers, unless you count Harry Conick Jr. and Michael Buble and so on, and I do not count these people. Imagine the possibility of Tony coming out to sing duet on “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” or Deathcab backing Tony on “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” And imagine the crowd! Finally a show that teens and hipsters might be able to attend with their grandparents!
Alas, that was not to be, and I guess we started to see the signs of what was wrong by lack– a lack of reference anywhere to Deathcab, a lack of merch (and you would think that Tony Bennett would at least be selling some CDs if not t-shirts), and a complete lack of anyone who looks like they had heard of the would-be opener. Somehow, we were the last people who didn’t get the news that the bill had changed– or maybe it was never actually meant to be that way, and it was some sort of odd snafu in the Ticketmaster systems.
In any event, the show started oddly on time and early with Antonia “so-so singer who happens to be Tony’s daughter” Bennett followed immediately– and I mean “immediately,” as in the same band playing and no break between sets whatsoever– Tony was on the stage, giving his daughter a kiss on the cheek, and getting a standing O just for appearing. Which was great, don’t get me wrong, but again, where were Deathcab for Cutie?
Bennett immediately launched into song after song after song, told a few stories he had obviously told many times before (how Bob Hope was the one who came up with “Tony Bennett,” for example), did a little dancing hear and there, and continually and masterfully worked the crowd over like a warm handful of play-dough. At one point, Annette said to me “there’s no way he’s 85,” and I looked it up again on my phone on Wikipedia, and damn it anyway, he really is 85. Eighty-five freakin’ years old and still doing somewhere around 200 shows a year and bringing down the house with a version of “Fly Me to the Moon” he sang in the enormous Fox with no microphone to show off both the acoustics and his voice.
Again, it was a great night all-around. Annette and I had a lovely dinner at the meat-intense Roast restaurant, had no problems walking around the mostly empty mid-week/early-evening downtown Detroit streets, and hey, how many more chances are we likely to have to see Deathcab for Cutie coming somewhere near a college town like Ann Arbor versus Tony “did I mention he’s 85?” Bennett. So, okay, I don’t need any money back.
But still, what happened to the opener? If you could just give us an answer to that, I’d appreciate it. Thanks,
Gawker has published a couple of stories about disgruntled and generally former Whole Foods employees, here and here. The short version is some of these folks are not happy about Whole Foods behavior toward its employees, the environment, recycling, and so forth, how it’s bad to eat the prepared foods, about how WF fights unions, etc., etc.
This is kind of scattered because I started it over a cup of coffee Monday morning and finished it Wednesday morning before meeting meeting meeting/grading grading grading. I’m super DUPER busy with wrapping up the winter term. The last day of classes was yesterday, and I’ve got at least four stacks of things I need to/want to assign grades to by the end of the day a week ago. I know.
But before I get to more detail than you want to know, I thought I’d make four general comments:
- Partly in response to Derek and Alex and Kyle and I am sure others: I’m not particularly grumpy about the quality (or not) of the panels or anything else at this year’s conference. Yeah, the hotel was too expensive, but that’s why I didn’t stay at the conference hotel. Yeah, there was no decent wifi and I think that should indeed be addressed, but most major conference hotels have the same problem and I always plan ahead and assume I won’t have decent wifi anyway. Yeah, I kept running into the same people, but I kind of like that and I always have the odd experience of running into the same people at a particular year of the CCCC and not others– for example, last year I ran into Brian McNely everywhere, but this year, I didn’t see him once. Etc., etc. I think I preferred the Louisville location to Atlanta for a variety of reasons (though I had a lot of fun in Georgia), but Atlanta was a lot more reasonably priced than New York or San Francisco. And I don’t want to be too critical because….
- … I don’t want to get involved. While I do have some complaints about how the CCCC and the NCTE do business in all sorts of ways (its conferences and a lack of willingness to offer alternative formatted presentations like poster sessions, its publications and its confusion about the paperless publishing world, its view of what an organization is and how it ought to fund itself, its dumb as a bag of rocks view of anything resembling the internets, etc., etc.), I feel like I more or less give up my right to complain too loudly when I am unwilling to do anything about it by getting involved in the organizations’ governance. I’m not willing to run for the Executive Committee of the CCCC or anything else involving the NCTE. I thought about it at one point, but it just isn’t the sort of administrative/service work that interests me– at least not now. So if I’m not willing to pitch and and “make a difference,” so to speak, then I can’t complain too much about the people who are willing to do that.
- I don’t know if the conference has changed that much or not, but I know I’ve changed. The first CCCC I went to was (I think?) in 1995, and I attended and presented at the conference pretty consistently through about 2005 or so. When I was a graduate student and first starting my career down the tenure-track, listening to what people had to say at the CCCC was part of my education and presenting at the conference was real scholarship. But this year wasn’t my first rodeo, and I’m all tenured/promoted -out. I still learn some things from panels; but mostly, it’s variations on things I’ve heard before, simply by virtue of the fact that I’ve been around long enough to have heard a lot of stuff before. I still propose to the CCCC so I can get on the program (and thus some funding for the trip), but I need another CCCC presentation on my CV like another hole in the head. So sure, the conference isn’t as “new” and as “exciting” as it once was; but neither am I.
- Having said that, I do think there’s more that the CCCC could do to reorganize itself (more like– dare I say it?– MLA by having subject areas organize panels instead of assuming that we’re all there to talk about freshman comp in some variety; have a wider variety of presentation-types; have published proceedings; etc.); and, in an era in which I can communicate with like-minded scholars all over the world via email and the blogosphere and I can publish a media-rich version of my presentation for free, I think the fundamental purpose of the “academic conference” has to be questioned. Why do we spend the time and resources to do this anymore? The answer to me is not panels; it’s being in meet/meat -space with other scholars in the field.
The biggest thing I get out of the CCCC at this point is the incidental contact. So, along with the actual and direct activities, here’s more or less the order of things as I remember it:
We had a later than usual Pepper Nuts session here at the Krause-Wannamaker house today. We were in Florida for Christmas proper this year, and, because of changes on the Krause side of things at Thanksgiving and less than great planning on our part here before our southern trip, we ended up actually making my family’s classic Christmas cookie after Christmas. Oh well.
Still, a good time was had by one and all. Will and Annette definitely did as much as I did this year with the rolling and cutting– good team work, and we all enjoyed remembering relatives from Christmases of the recent and distant past. Most of this batch will be accompanying us to Iowa in the coming days. In any event, here’s the annual reprinting/reposting of the recipe, as told to me by my Grandma Krause (and re-written by me):
Grandma Krause’s Pepper Nuts
1 cup dark karo syrup
1/2 cup molasses
1 cup butter, softened (or margarine or crisco or, in the old days, lard)
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1/2 cup hot water
2 tsps baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp anise oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
7 cups (or so) flour
1.In your trusty KitchenAid standing mixer mix together the syrup, molasses, butter, sugar and hot water until well combined. If you lack a standing mixer, you can do this with a large bowl and a hand mixer.
2. Add everything else but the flour and continue mixing until combined.
3. Start adding the flour, about a cup at a time, mixing each time until the flour is well incorporated. If you have a trusty KitchenAid standing mixer, lucky you! You can keep mixing this until all seven cups of flour are combined. I shifted from the regular mixing paddle to the bread hook attachment after the fifth cup of flour.
If you don’t have a standing mixer (unlucky you!), you’ll probably have to give up on the hand mixer after the fourth or fifth cup of flour and knead the rest of the flour in as you might with the making of bread or pizza dough.
Either way, you may have to add a little more or a little less flour to get a dough that is moist but not sticky.
4. Take about a handful of the finished dough and roll it out on a lightly floured surface in long snakes that are about the width of your pinky. Lay these out on a cookie sheet. You can create different layers of the dough snakes by separating them with parchment paper or plastic sheeting.
5. Chill these dough snakes. Grandma Krause’s recipe said to chill “overnight or for at least a couple of hours.” I have done this before by putting them in the freezer or outside in a place like Wisconsin or Michigan or Iowa (which is as cold as the freezer, of course) for an hour or so, though in the movie, I left them out overnight with no adverse effect. They do need to be chilled and even a bit dried out.
6. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350-375 degrees. (It kind of depends on your oven, but while Grandma Krause said 350, I think 375 is probably more accurate). Take each snake and cut them into tiny bite-sized pieces of dough. Put the little dough pieces onto a cookie sheet, being sure to spread them out so they don’t touch either. The cookies will expand slightly in size.
7. Bake about 9 or 10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool them on a clean counter or a clean cookie sheet and store them in a sealed container. Serve them in little bowls as if they were nuts. Makes a pailful.
Annette and Will and I had a Thanksgiving of just the three of us and at home for the first time in…. heck, I think the first time ever. There was one year quite a while ago where I recall Annette’s parents coming to visit us, but otherwise, it has been a 10-12 hour drive to Iowa to see my family or a 12-14 drive to see Annette’s family in South Carolina. That’s a lot of time to spend in a car in the span of four or five days under any circumstances, but since Thanksgiving comes at what is often the worst possible crunch point of the semester, it is even worse. Not to mention all the other drivers, the often dicey weather, etc.
Anyway, for circumstances I won’t go into (mainly because they aren’t that interesting or dramatic), what would have been a Krause get-together this year was changed to a New Year’s Christmas, and we were able to spend the time at home. And I gotta say: I love my family– both my side and Annette’s side– dearly, but the luxury of having a (relatively) small Thanksgiving at home was excellent. Among other things, I worked on an overdue movie project, I graded lots of things (almost done with that), we did almost all the laundry in the house, we cleaned, ran errands, winterized the backyard a bit more, and slept in. We watched a lot of different movies, from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles to a couple of 1940s Tarzan flicks to Doctor Who, we had a lovely dinner with friends tonight, we watched football (dang Lions, dang Hawkeyes), we worked out at the gym.
And, of course, we ate and cooked. I can’t remember the last time I cooked a turkey– probably the last time that we had Thanksgiving at home years ago.
It turned out okay. My timing was off, so I think I ended up overcooking it a bit, and while I did a brine for about 36 or so hours, I’m not convinced that on this size of bird it was actually worth it. And I’m not all that crazy about turkey anyway. Maybe next year, if we’re home again like this (I hope we’re home again like this), I’ll make a Thanksgiving chicken, or maybe Thanksgiving lasagna.
I also attempted a fancy version of green bean casserole by using a really excellent homemade mushroom soup (a Thomas Keller recipe), adding cream to that, and then adding fresh green beans and topping it all with homemade fried onions. That was a fail, I’m afraid. The lesson learned here is sometimes the simple things are best, like the humble version with cream of mushroom soup, frozen green beans, and canned fried onions. Like canned cranberries.
Well, “my farm” may be a bit of a stretch, but just the other day, someone via Facebook posted this New York Times article about Tantré Farm, “Field Report: Will Work for Food.” Tantré Farm is where Annette and I (along with Steve B. and Michelle) get a “Community Supported Agriculture” share. Basically, CSA means we buy a “share” which entitles us to a produce from the farm for about 20 weeks of the year.
Besides being a good thing in terms of the produce and the experience of going out to the farm (and remember, for me going to the grocery store is an aesthetic experience) and a good thing in terms of the community, it’s a pretty good deal. This time of year, we get a TON of stuff– I’ve pickled pounds and pounds of green beans, and I probably could have canned some tomatoes too. Plus there’s the experience of going out to the farm itself, which is always kind of fun and reminds me why I don’t want chickens.
Oddly, there wasn’t much kale this year.
Anyway, if you get a chance to support your local CSA, I’d encourage it.
School starts again next week (after Labor Day), and I’ve mostly been figuring out the classes I’ll be teaching this coming term, along with a few other miscellaneous new term things. But I thought I’d pause for a moment to discuss what I think will become my food causes for the rest of the year, pickling (well, canning) and pizza making.
We have returned from just shy of a week at “The Inn” at “The Homestead,” which is up in Glen Arbor, Michigan. Here’s a link to a Flickr set of pictures. Some thoughts more or less as they occurred on the trip/occur in the photos:
- We stayed at The Homestead, where Annette made a reservation back in May or June in a fit of “Argh! I need a vacation!” It is a huge property of condos, cottages, time-shares, private homes, and a couple small hotels which is part real estate scheme/part resort, a place where many things are named with a pretentious “The” (e.g., “The Homestead,” which includes a few shops and such in “The Village,” an area of rentals called “The Cottages,” and the small hotel where we stayed called “The Inn.”) I was sort of prepared to not like it because it’s too expensive and a lot of the reviews online are mixed at best. But just about anyplace in this area of northern Michigan “in season” is too expensive, and since we wanted a comfy room with Internet access and close proximity to the beach (maybe 200 yards away from one of the best in Michigan) and a pool, this worked out great. We had a room with a gas fireplace, a nice sitting area, plenty roomy, and it also included a great patio. It was quirky though– for example, none of the doors quite opened or closed right.
- This was designed to be a “vacation,” as opposed to a “trip” like the one we took to California and Oregon in June. Will was away at Camp Lookout just down the road, so the idea was to mostly do nothing– sleeping in, hanging around the beach and the pool and the patio, reading, going out for nice dinners and drinking cocktails. You know, camp for grown-ups.
- We did go on a hike that was about seven miles long one day along the Bay View trail. It was quite nice because it was beautiful views and because it gave us a chance to try out our new picnic/wine backpack (we bought at “the store” or whatever it was called at The Homestead– a good deal, too). But that was the hottest day up there, so not necessarily the best timed trip.
- That night we met with a friend from our PhD program who teaches up at Northwestern Michigan College, John, and his wife and all-around groovy person, Karen. We also ended up out there with John’s parents, who were visiting, and some local-yokel friends of theirs too. Low-key up-north fun: sit around, drink a little wine or beer, light a fire, and wait for the stars to come out. And we saw lots of stars, including the Milky Way pretty clearly. It’s nights like that which make me think that the ancient’s belief that the sky was a roof high above the earth was logical under the circumstances.
- But there was work on this trip. For starters, I was (and am!) still teaching two classes online and Annette, despite her best efforts, just couldn’t stay completely away. We had ethernet connectivity in the room, but no wifi (note to self: next time I go on an extended trip like this, bring one of my Airport Express modems). But there was wifi in the lobby area, which was probably better because we pretty much had the place to ourselves, room to spread out, and a tremendous view. Older vacationers would look at us scornfully and mumble how we were “wasting” such a pleasant time. Younger vacationers asked questions about how they too could get good wifi in this place.
- We had a couple of hours of “drama” on Thursday when I thought I had lost my keys to the car, the only set of keys we had. We turned the room upside down, looked through every stitch of clothing, walked on the beach and searched under chairs by the pool. I had called a lock guy with the theory that I could get to a valet key in the glove box, though we were dreading that key not being there and having to get towed to Traverse City and spending lots of time and hundreds of dollars to get back on the road. And then I picked up a bluetooth keyboard that was on the desk area, a keyboard that I am certain that both Annette and I had moved in the course of the last two hours, and there they were. We both gasped as if I had just pulled off the greatest magic trick of the century.
- We ate well on this trip: two times at a place at The Homestead called Nonna’s, mainly because it was close, very good, and reasonably priced for this quality of food. And then the last night we went to a place in Glen Arbor called Blu that was really really good, certainly as good as any really good restaurant I’ve been to just about anywhere. Don’t tell Will, but that even includes Bouchon.
- We picked up Will on Friday a little early, and then made a stop at Cherry Republic for him (and us too) before getting back on the road.
And then as soon as I got back to town and was running errands, I sensed the end of summer. The grocery store had fall plants for sale out front. A pile of end of the term grading awaits. Fall term will start soon….