Pie, from a heroic little pumpkin

Y’all knew this was coming, didn’t you?

What’s remarkable, though, is that the pumpkin I used for this pie was just over one year old. I was hoarding the last of the little pumpkins from the 2017 pumpkin crop, which was much smaller than the 2018 pumpkin crop, which is now stored under the stairs for the winter. But it wasn’t just hoarding. I also was experimenting, to find out whether the last of last year’s pumpkins was as well-preserved as it looked. It was. When I cut it in half before baking it, it looked as fresh inside as a new pumpkin. I have previously blogged about these amazing little heirloom pumpkins here.

The little pumpkin that finally met its end today in the kitchen is the little pumpkin that I used as a photo prop last winter. One of its portraits, shot in December 2017, is below.

It had a good life.

I gave its seeds to the chickens.

October magic

Click here for high-resolution version.

Lots of things that come from the garden are magical, but First Prize for magic goes to the little pumpkins. This year’s crop is in, with a total haul of 90 pounds.

The friend who first gave me these seeds called it “the Kraken vine.” That’s because the vine is enormous and will keep growing until the first frost stops it. This year’s Kraken vine succumbed to the frost on Oct. 21. It’s best to leave all the little pumpkins on the vine until frost, then harvest them all at once. The crop started with only three hills, three seeds each. By harvest time, the vines were 35 feet long. The vines had jumped the garden fence in two places and were working their way across the yard.

Though I call them “little pumpkins,” if you buy the seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, they are called “Long Island Cheese Pumpkins.” I assume that’s because they resemble a wheel of cheese — and they’re just as heavy as a wheel of cheese. The 6.5-inch pumpkin in the photo below weighed 3.3 pounds. My pumpkins are smallish and rarely exceed 8 inches in diameter. Check out the rave reviews for these pumpkins at Baker Creek. The Baker Creek variety seems to be a slightly larger variety than my variety, which came from a friend. He acquired the seeds from a community seed bank.

Another remarkable thing about these pumpkins is that they will keep forever. I still have one left from last year’s crop! I plan to wash the new crop and store them under the stairs. They make an incredible winter food for storage.

This 6.5-inch pumpkin weighs 3.3 pounds.

The wheelbarrow was so heavy that I could hardly push it.

The Kraken vine, after it jumped the fence into the yard and headed for the house.

The authoritarian lust for scapegoats

Transgender teenager Ally Steinfield, who was murdered last year in Missouri. Her body was mutilated and set on fire.

We live in a strange society in which a rather sad, vulnerable, harmless teenager like Ally Steinfield is seen as sick and dangerous. Whereas the people who have a mysterious need to scapegoat people like Ally Steinfield are considered normal.

It blows my mind how effectively this society programs most of its young to think so rigidly about gender and sex. After she was murdered, Ally Steinfield’s body was butchered. Her eyes were gouged out. Her genitals were stabbed. The body was set on fire. Then the remains were put into a garbage bag and hidden in a chicken coop. Four people were charged. One of them was 25, one was 24, and two were 18. And this is just one example of violence against transgender people that occurred last year. By high school age, most of our young people will have acquired thoroughly crummy educations in most things. But they will have acquired the equivalent of Ph.D.’s in this society’s notions about gender and sex.

Once again, the difference between liberal and conservative minds makes all the difference. Liberals don’t feel threatened by harmless differences. Liberals don’t feel a need to police other people’s private lives. Whereas authoritarian minds are terrified that the sky will fall if their fetishes for authority, obedience, and conformity can’t be policed, and if their scapegoating of out-groups isn’t sanctioned. This terror is so prevalent that our dominant religion is desperate to be permitted to legally discriminate. The terror is so prevalent that billionaires will put big money into lobbying for the legal authority to discriminate. For more on that, see this piece in yesterday’s New York Times, ‘Transgender’ Could Be Defined Out of Existence Under Trump Administration.

The Republican Party, allied with fundamentalists, has retailed this sky-is-falling sex panic all the way down to the local level.

Last month at the county fair here, the Democrats’ tent was, as usual, close to the Republicans’ tent. A Republican candidate for county commissioner, accompanied by the Republican Party’s county chairwoman, were haranguing me about transgender people and bathrooms. They brought it up, not me. They are inflamed by the issue. The Republican Party has made authoritarian scapegoating into a key political wedge issue, and their preachers have made it into an urgent religious issue. I have had similar encounters many times. Nothing I’ve ever said has gotten through. A person’s sex, they will soon say, is “God given.” I ask if they’ve ever known a transgender person. They haven’t, of course. Even though they’re not aware of ever having met a transgender person, nevertheless they believe the threat is imminent, personal, and severe — the sky is falling.

There is no mistaking one’s God-given gender, authoritarians say. Apparently they have never heard of the list of birth conditions that blur physical gender. Those conditions include ambiguous genitalia and gender indicators that don’t match up (external parts, internal parts, or chromosomes). In such cases, gender is often “assigned” at birth, based on a guess. But we have learned that children — and certainly adolescents — will let us know how they experience themselves from within, regardless of how they came to be that way. Who would argue with that? Authoritarians, of course. Mere argument wouldn’t be a big deal. But authoritarians are compelled to go much farther than that — policing, scapegoating, persecution, and sometimes violence — because for some mysterious reason they feel threatened, and because their politics requires scapegoats.

Even in discussions with other liberals whose lives and identities fit comfortably inside the range regarded as normal, it’s difficult to get them to see just how strange and rigid our training in gender and sex is. It isn’t difficult to compare that training with other human societies or even with our own society’s history. We didn’t have to be this way. And there are better ways to be.

One of the things that I found striking in in Ronald Hutton’s Pagan Britain (which I recently reviewed here), is that our prehistoric ancestors in western Europe seemed to see very little difference between the sexes. To a considerable degree, this attitude can be reconstructed archeologically, from images such as cave paintings, carvings, stoneware, and metalware, and also from burial rites. Writing about relatively recent (728 to 352 B.C.) statues found in the British Isles, Hutton writes, “The one from Scotland is of alder wood, and may be female, although the sex is hardly emphasized, while that from Devon has been called male and is of oak; sexual ambiguity seems the case at Roos Carr.” Writing about much older images, from the Paleolithic, Hutton writes, “Modern Western culture has long drawn a sharp distinction between human and animal, and female and male but, in pictures at least, the Paleolithic did not.”

Historian Miranda Aldhouse-Green, Hutton writes, “… has shown how the blurring of lines between species was accompanied by an equivalent ambiguity in representing gender, and a disinclination to distinguish clearly between the human and divine. When human and animal were combined, special types of beast were chosen, namely horses, dogs, stags, and bulls, and the stag above all: indeed, its antlers were sometimes given to female human-like figures as well as male. At the least, all this plausibly suggests a spirituality which depended on a regular sense of crossing ‘natural’ boundaries and of fluidity of identity.”

Sociologists have found a similar fluidity around sex and gender in Native American (and other) societies. Sex and gender weren’t a big deal. Those who were different actually were valued for their differences, and those who were different often took on special roles that were helpful to the community. Not only that, but those who were different were often consulted for their different perspective on tribal or personal issues. It could work that way today, if only we’d listen.

Instead, our society continues to insist on stark gender boundaries, though much (such as who can wear pants, or earrings) has been renegotiated. But where renegotiation is not complete, those who are different are somehow threatening and, through some strange psychological mechanism that is somehow trained into us, arouse fear. Then there is identity, which, we are learning, is a double-edged sword that can both liberate and obstruct. The authority of authoritarians is worth a whole lot less than it used to be, as people come out of the shadows to demand fairness and to defend their right to self-respect — and to not be scapegoats. Authoritarians aren’t used to that, and they don’t like it. It used to be that gay men and lesbians were the scapegoats. But unless Trump’s new Supreme Court can overturn gay marriage and Lawrence v. Texas (authoritarians will surely try), gay men and lesbians are not nearly as vulnerable as they once were, thanks to the law. Transgender people remain vulnerable. This move by the Trump administration is an attempt to make transgender people even more vulnerable and thus to increase their value as scapegoats. Republicans don’t want another good set of scapegoats to slip away by giving them — gasp! — basic civil rights.

When authoritarians choose a scapegoat, it has to be someone vulnerable. That vulnerability needs to be not just vulnerability under the law, but also vulnerability like Ally Steinfield’s vulnerability, the vulnerability generated by social training that set her up for violence by marking her as disgusting, threatening, deserving of punishment, and weak. Just one thing alone — the fact that authoritarians rely on their lust for scapegoats to keep the sky from falling — reveals how wrong, and how wicked, they are.

Sprout season begins, with an eye on the election

Good kitchens roll with the seasons. When fall sets in, and the summer tomatoes and basil have been mourned, greens and sweet potatoes appear as compensation. Peppers will keep going until the first frost. Come winter, we’ll have nothing fresh other than what is shipped in. So sprouts are a winter thing, especially if you have a sunny kitchen window.

Sprouts are cheap, too. These days, Amazon has all the sprouting seeds and apparatus you need. Growing sprouts is no trouble. The only moderately pesky part of sprout farming is the final washing and rinsing away of the seed husks. You want not just salad sprouts, but also bean sprouts for Asian dishes.

I’m not turning into a food-only blog. It’s just that it’s also political season at the moment, and I have political duties almost every day, such as making sure that our county’s Democratic headquarters are open during the hours we’ve promised. Political responsibilities have cut into my time for doing and thinking about other things. After the election on Nov. 6, that will change.

There are other cycles in good kitchens — not just seasonal cycles. Just now I’m in a healthy-kitchen cycle. But there are times when a good kitchen turns out comfort food, calories be damned. I’ve been there, and you probably have been, too. After all, we have to look after our psyches, not just our bodies. The aftermath of the 2016 election was such a time.

Let’s hope that, the day after election day, Nov. 7, 2018, progressive people and their progressive kitchens will be celebrating, while deplorable people’s kitchens will be turning out even more deplorable things. We have just over two weeks to figure out the menus. I promise to post about whatever fare seems appropriate for Nov. 7.

Sweet potatoes again

After all, it’s high season for sweet potatoes. I was trying to figure out what to do with a sweet potato for breakfast. The only thing that seemed appealing was a sweet potato cake. It’s just like the potato cakes you might make from white potatoes. There is diced onion, with an egg, some wheat germ, and some food yeast to make the cake set. I slowly fried the cake in butter, then fried the egg in the same skillet to give the egg that bacon-grease look. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any bacon.

Buffalo: Who knew?

Quorn cutlets in Buffalo sauce with mozzarella

I was Googling for ideas for what to do with Quorn faux-chicken cutlets. I came across chicken breasts in Buffalo sauce with mozzarella. Hmmm. But what the heck is Buffalo sauce?

A little Googling revealed Buffalo sauce to be a zesty sauce served with chicken wings. It originated in Buffalo, New York. I put two and two together and also surmised that “Buffalo wings” must have gotten their name from Buffalo, New York. Googling showed that to be true.

The Quorn faux-chicken cutlets are the most difficult form of Quorn to deal with, I’ve found. It’s hard to overcome Quorn’s dryness and mealy texture. The faux chicken nuggets, and the faux ground beef, are easier to deal with — if nicely sauced.

Except for the Quorn, the supper above is very local. The greens and peppers came from a neighbor’s garden. The sweet potato came from a sweet-potato farm just up the road.

That’s Buffalo china in the photo, in addition to the Buffalo sauce. Buffalo china was made in Buffalo, New York. My post on Buffalo china is the most Googled post I’ve written here in more than ten years of blogging. Buffalo china is simply the best commercial china ever made. The abbey’s everyday dishes, bought piece by piece on eBay, are Buffalo china.

Way to go, Buffalo.

Chicken pot pie, Quorn version

Click here for high-resolution version.

The Quorn chicken nuggets make a very fine chicken pot pie. I previously wrote about Quorn here, and Scottish meat pies here.

I am acquiring the opinion that crusts for pot pies and meat pies don’t need to be flaky, and that lower-fat hot-water crusts work just fine. The 4-inch non-stick spring-form pans work great. The pies come out of the pan free standing and intact.

Seasoning for the chicken pot pie needs a good bit of celery, some peas, and maybe a bit of carrot. I used a white gravy made with olive oil.

I bought the sweet potato this very morning from a local farmer. In fact, I bought five pounds of them. He was selling potatoes at a local fall festival. The Brunswick stew was free. Consequently they made the biggest pot of stew I have ever seen. I used the word “pot,” but “cauldron” would be equally valid. I also wrote recently about what archeology tells us about the prehistoric Celts of the British Isles. We know that cauldrons were a status item, and we know that cauldrons were used for feasts. I strongly suspect that the local tradition of serving chicken stew and Brunswick stew to one’s neighbors at harvest festivals is a very old tradition. That tradition is still very much alive here.

The Democrats’ table at the local harvest festival

Scottish meat pie — Quorn version

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In Oban in the west of Scotland, I got a good look at a Scottish meat pie. Unfortunately, I neglected to get a photo of it.

But what I noticed about the meat pie was that it stands alone, that the sides are straight, and that the top crust was loosely fitted.

I’m not sure what was in my friend’s meat pie at Oban — haggis, maybe. After Googling and reading up on Scottish meat pies, it seems that lamb is preferred, that mutton is possible, and that you might even find pork. For my first homemade effort at a Scottish meat pie, I used the ground beef version of Quorn, which I previously wrote about here.

All pies with a top crust are somehow magical. I’m not sure why. Maybe because such pies were around in the Middle Ages, and somehow we respond to that ancientness. It’s what I call oldvelle cuisine.

For this pie, I seasoned the Quorn with chopped onions, olive oil, pepper, garlic salt, and a gravy made with vegetable bouillon. The crust is a hot-water crust, the first hot-water crust I’ve ever made. The hot-water crust is not very flaky, like a French crust. Rather, the hot-water crust is a touch more leathery. But it’s very good, tender, and works well with the filling.

If you Google for recipes for Scottish meat pies, you’ll find several ways for supporting the crust during baking. Some people use tin or ceramic pans. Some use parchment tied with string. I opted for 4-inch nonstick spring-form pans, which I ordered from Amazon. The little spring-form pans worked very well.

I’ll do more of these little pies this winter, including a faux chicken pot pie version using Quorn’s fake chicken. With chicken pot pies, the seasoning is all about celery and peas, with a white gravy. Quorn should work very well with that.

Heathen enchantment … and Alexander Borodin

Don’t click to listen yet!

Maybe we could use a little music right now to take our minds off of politics. A few days ago, I was writing here about the project of the re-enchantment of the land. And then tonight, while YouTubing to hear the voice of a Russian mezzo-soprano recently mentioned in a New Yorker article (Anita Rachvelishvili), I ended up listening to parts of Alexander Borodin’s opera “Prince Igor,” which Rachvelishvili has sung at the Metropolitan.

Those of you who are my age will be familiar with the song “Stranger in Paradise,” which was very popular in the 1950s. The song came from the Broadway hit “Kismet.” The song’s words are from the Broadway musical. The music is from Borodin’s opera. “Stranger in Paradise” has long been on my list of favorite songs. When I was a child, first hearing Broadway harmonies and Broadway melodies put a spell on me and ruined me forever as a normal Southern boy. Church just didn’t have anything like that. From there it was a slippery slope to Mozart and other heathenry. (The word heathen, an insult word which is found 140 times in the King James Bible, is of course related to the word heath. Heaths are enchanted places. Do you suppose there might be clues there to how disenchantment happened?)

Here are the words to the opening lines of “Stranger in Paradise.” These words occur in the song’s introduction before the main theme of the song begins:

Oh why do the leaves of that mulberry tree
Whisper differently now?
And why is the nightingale singing at noon
On a mulberry bough?
For some most mysterious reason,
This isn’t the garden I know;
No, it’s paradise now that was only a garden
A moment ago!

The answer to these questions, of course, for why a mere garden has turned into a paradise, is that the garden has suddenly become enchanted. Borodin somehow captures that change.

I listened to many versions of “Stranger in Paradise,” including the original cast version, the movie version, and versions done by many popular singers. But Borodin’s melody is just too sublime to be sung by singers who don’t have operatic training. One needs to stick as closely as possible to the original Borodin. I came across the undiscovered gem above on YouTube. And who knows. Maybe only Russians can sing this song. I settled on the version above. Why don’t you listen now and see what you think…

For extra credit, here is an orchestral version by the Berlin Philharmonic. Oh, if only Borodin had been born a little later, the films he could have scored …

For extra-extra credit, here below, excerpted from the oboe score, is the introduction of the “Stranger in Paradise” main theme by the oboe, accompanied by the harp. The theme is then picked up by the clarinets and bassoons and, at last (and of course), by the strings. Of particular interest, as the oboe introduces the theme, are the ornamental notes. I’ve circled those notes in red to help you follow them in the oboe score as you listen. Also listen for the repeating triangle tings after the strings pick up the theme at 2:07. In orchestration, triangle tings almost always invite enchantment.

Start at point “A” in the score at 0:58 in the video:

More extra credit: Look up the meaning of the word “kismet,” from which the Broadway show got its name.

Privilege and humiliation

The American people are getting some excellent — and I suspect lasting — new insights into the ugliness of unearned privilege. But unearned privilege is only half of the problem that requires fixing. The flip side of that coin is undeserved humiliation. The two things together — the increasing humiliation of the many and the also-increasing privilege of the few — are tearing the country apart.

Paul Krugman’s column today shines a light on privilege: “The Angry White Male Caucus: Trumpism is all about the fear of losing traditional privilege.” Krugman writes: “And nothing makes a man accustomed to privilege angrier than the prospect of losing some of that privilege, especially if it comes with the suggestion that people like him are subject to the same rules as the rest of us.”

In thinking about this issue, I need to return once again to the “moral foundations” theory of Jonathan Haidt and how the world looks very different to liberals than it does to conservatives. The high value that conservatives place on authority, hierarchy and in-group values blinds conservatives to the humiliation of others while inflaming conservative rage when their privilege, their authority, and their place in the hierarchy are challenged. Whereas, to liberals, with their emphasis on fairness and caring, undeserved humiliation begs for succor, and unearned privilege cries out to be taken down a notch.

Twenty million people, I believe, watched Brett Kavanaugh’s horrifying performance on television last week. Conservatives saw a dangerous assault on their highest values of in-group power, authority, and hierarchy by a threatening rabble of inferior out-group people such as Democrats. Liberals saw how privilege responds with rage and disbelief at the notion that fairness, caring, and justice matter enough to stand in the way of entitled elite power.

It has been sickening to watch the mainstream media, because of the notion of “balance,” trapped into reporting on this spectacle as though what conservatives see is somehow just as legitimate as what liberals see. The real story is the increasing depravity of a conservative minority driven to the last ditch, struggling to use entrenched power to preserve the status quo. The Supreme Court is their last hope to preserve their world a little longer, as the political backlash against right-wing overreach — and an increasing awareness of the ugliness of right-wing intentions — builds.

If you do a little reading on the psychology of humiliation, you’ll soon come across the word revenge. When people are humiliated, they long for revenge.

But there are two kinds of humiliation. There is undeserved humiliation, such as being made to sit at the back of the bus. And there is deserved humiliation (which unfortunately is much more rare), such as the Trumpian thrashing of Brett Kavanaugh’s humiliation as he discovered that there are limits to his entitlements and that questions relating to justice (as with Trump) are questions that (at least in a nation of laws) must be answered. Kavanaugh has earned humiliation, not the revenge he wants. Justice does not contribute to the happiness of the unjust.

Once upon a time in America, humiliation was for the most part a minority experience. Humiliation was reserved for those with dark skin, and for those on the lowest rungs of the economic and social ladder, and for those who would not or could not play their assigned “normal” roles. But, as far as I can tell, humiliation in the workplace is now the rule, almost regardless of the type of work or the level of income. Friends with Ph.D.’s in high-paying jobs sometimes tell me shocking stories of humiliation, powerlessness, and abuse by employers. This workplace humiliation, of course, started with those with more modest educations in more modest jobs. But the culture of humiliation has steadily worked its way upward and outward. Merely being white and playing by the rules is no longer enough to guarantee meaningful work and a life of dignity.

But the humiliation of the newly humiliated — many of them white people who supported Trump — contains an element of justice. If you tolerate (or, worse, participated in) the humiliation of those whom you consider beneath you, then don’t be surprised if the rising tide of humiliation spreads and eventually sucks you in, too. As the truly elite know, there’s not a thing in the world that’s special about white church people, though a great many white church people are having a hard time figuring that out. If the arc of justice does not bend toward justice, then it will bend toward injustice. Or the arc may stall, blocked by those who feel threatened by anything other than the status quo, or by those who believe that any improvement in the lives of out-groups necessarily comes at the expense of in-groups.

Therein is a lesson that conservative minds just can’t seem to learn. The conservative mind always wants to assume that anything threatening comes from beneath them in the hierarchy, or from an out-group. The idea that the very in-group authority they glorify is the source of the threat is unthinkable. The right-wing propaganda machine — always demonizing them and always glorifying us — works constantly to reinforce these ideas. This pattern of delusion in the conservative mind is the key to the power of the Republican Party.

I confess that watching Brett Kavanaugh squirm last week was a beautiful thing, insofar as I could bear to watch it. It felt as good as revenge, but it actually was fairness and justice at work. Still, bringing down the Trumps and Kavanaughs of the world is only a small part of the job, and probably even the easy part. That’s because the wholesale humiliation of the American people will continue — until we have a politics that can do something about it. Look at how long black people have been waiting. If white people insist on clinging to a world view that is exactly ass-backwards, then they may have to wait even longer.