Pickled Pineapple

pineapples cannedChristmas is a time when I allow myself to get all “exotic” with the food. My favorite  Depression-era story about Christmas tells of children receiving oranges in their stockings. As a child, it was probably the first time I ever considered where food came from and realized that oranges grew far away and were once a luxury for Midwesterners like me. As a kid, I loved making ornaments by poking oranges full of cloves.

aaorangeNow we can buy clementines by the crate, as well as pineapples and my new favorite, pomegranates. I did have trouble finding whole pineapples for this recipe, but finally got two lovely, ripe ones at “the fancy grocery” in St. Cloud. (I also look forward to this store’s half-price wheel of brie special every Christmas.)

This does not really qualify as a project in “the year of ferment,” which was kind of underwhelming as a whole but did result in a new love of sauerkraut and the regular manufacture of kimchi in my kitchen. However, pickles are also not my favorite food, so expanding the pickling repertoire is kind of a bold new move for me.

I tasted these pickled pineapples in September at a cooking retreat at the retreat center where I work. I was really skeptical. Vinegar and fruit just do not go together. I expected some kind of sweet-and-sour flavor, but that is not what I experienced at all.

pineapplesThis is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted. I immediately resolved to make a batch when Christmas came around. I can’t wait to serve it to visiting family and even have three canned jars for gifts.

My main issue was finding star anise. I ended up having to buy more star anise than I wanted or am likely to use in two years. It’s best if you can find it in bulk, because you only need one little star.

As you can see, I left the spices in the jars. I really like these spices and think it’s great that the flavor will get more potent. Another option would be to let it sit on the stove for an hour or so (especially if you’re not going to can it– in which case, cut the recipe in half) with a spice bag and then remove the spices before putting it in a jar.

I tasted this recipe the day after I made it and you could hardly detect the vinegar (and I was trying). Over time, the syrup and spices will develop and it will get even better. It will also keep a long time in the fridge, though I suspect the jar will be devoured over Christmas. When Ward put it on the table at the House of Prayer, we all went back for seconds and thirds. I hope some of you will try it. And I hope whatever you do, you’ll try something new and even exotic this holiday season.

pineapples simmeringPickled Pineapple

2 medium pineapples (mine must have been large, because I had to take the other proportions up by 1/2 to get enough liquid)
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups water
1 cup vinegar
1 Tbs whole cloves
1 Tbs whole allspice
1 Tbs crushed red pepper (I used much less, but that pepper zing is really extraordinary)
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick, broken

  1. Peel and core the pineapple and cut into 1″ cubes or spears
  2. In a dutch oven, mix the sugar, water, and vinegar. Add the spices or alternately tie the spices into a cheesecloth, and add to the sugar mixture. Bring to a boil and boil for about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the pineapple and return to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the spice bag if using and discard.
  4. Pack the hot pineapple into hot, clean, half-pint jars and cover with the liquid, leaving 1/2″ head room. Screw on the lids. Process in boiling water to cover for 10 minutes. Remove and cool on towels. Store in a cool, dry place. If you’re not sealing the lids, store them in jars in the refrigerator.

*Note: If not removing the spices, the pickle will be more spicy and potent.

yield: 6 half pints (clearly I got much more from my two pineapples: 5 half-pints and two larger containers!)

 

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Carrots in December

december carrots
Last night I went down to the basement and rooted around in a bucket of sand until I had unearthed all the carrots I buried there in August. The sand was cold and damp. Some of the carrots had sprouted on top, and a few were bumpy, but all are bright orange and fresh looking.

I wish there were more. More! More! More! I had that greedy feeling I have when bringing up the last of anything fresh (potatoes, onions, garlic, squash, beans, beets, parsnips) from storage, that it sure didn’t last that long. I know this is actually a good thing because it shows I’m cooking more vegetables, cooking through, and next year I can always grow and keep more…. Next year I’m hoping to be harvesting carrots directly from the ground in December, out in raised beds in the greenhouse, the “candy carrots” Eliot Coleman writes about in his four-season harvest books.

And really, garden carrots in December. These carrots, now being kept in the fridge, will be part of a couple pans of roasted vegetables I’ll make during Christmas week when I have a house full of 20-somethings.

photo-22I’m reading books on mini-farming, winter gardening, greenhouse keeping. I am skeptical about the talk in them of making money or of saving thousands of dollars on food. I actually think it’s more or less a wash for me, financially. But I also know what my food tastes like now that I get it from the garden, and what a bag of carrots from the grocery store tastes like. I am going to try to track more things next year: weigh produce, record how much I give away, keep a better list of expenses on seeds and amendments and equipment. The truth is, I spend more money on my garden than on anything else. But it is in little increments– what’s $30 for the seed potatoes in spring? What’s $50 for beautiful seed garlic in July? What’s $120 for seeds in January? Who can argue with money for new hoses and compost and some seedlings in May?

And who knows. I might just become a market gardener some day.

 

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Opening Night (Birdman 2)

birdman-movie-review-fbI feel like I could write blog entries only about Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s film Birdman from now until Christmas. But I’ll try to keep my discussion to just this second post. To see what I have to say about the choice of Raymond Carver’s stories for the play within the film, click here.

Last night I watched John Cassavetes’s film Opening NightI was tipped off to the connection between these two films by Richard Brody’s article on Birdman in The New Yorker. It’s a really ungenerous review, but it is wonderful for giving a film history context for Birdman.

I always face John Cassavetes’s films with trepidation. This one sat on the counter for a week while we looked for lighter fare to take us through Thanksgiving. Cassavetes’s films are slow and dark, and this one is nearly 2 1/2 hours long. Gena Rowlands (his wife) always gets put through the wringer, and filming her dissembling on screen is Cassavetes’s specialty. In this case, however, I found her mesmerizing to watch. She is so beautiful, and in a film about an aging actress, she is caught at a gorgeous moment of maturity. It is possible she is more beautiful in this film than when she was very young.

Opening-Night_1In the film, Gena Rowlands plays Myrtle Gordon, who is deeply troubled by the middle-aged character she is cast to play on stage. We follow her through the previews in New Haven before opening night on Broadway as she struggles to understand the role, what it means to her career to play an aging woman, and what it says about her personal and professional life, especially given her prior sexual relationships with her leading man (Cassavetes) and director (Ben Gazarra). She is also haunted by a young woman, a fan who was killed in a car accident after showering love and kisses on Myrtle outside the stage door. This young woman is Myrtle’s alter ego, like Birdman is to Riggan Thomas (Michael Keaton).

In Opening Night, Myrtle the great stage actress behaves much like the Edward Norton character, Mike Shiner, in Birdman. The audience applauds every night when she has her first entrance. She breaks character when she can’t light her cigarette on stage (reminiscent of Mike throwing his glass and shouting when his gin prop is replaced by water). She breaks character at other times, too, confronting the actors and audience with her own fragile reality.

People have criticized Birdman for being about a tired trope, the shallowness of fame. That idea is not very interesting. What is interesting, and what I think both these films explore, is the truly dark suggestion that acting is incompatible with real love and relationship. Not fame, but acting itself. Even the most “authentic” actors fall short off stage. Mike Shiner is impotent off stage. Riggan Thomas fails as a father, husband, and even boyfriend. Myrtle Gordon, a childless, middle-aged woman, tries throughout the play to seduce the director and leading man, who rebuff and/or manipulate her for the sake of her onstage performance. Everyone keeps praising her for being “a professional.” Riggan seems to want to connect, but ultimately chooses his Birdman fantasy over reality. Cassavetes offers Myrtle a kind of redemption, but it is only the redemption of a great performance.

Both Myrtle and Riggan, unable to resolve their crises, end up drunken messes, getting out of cabs to enter their respective theaters late on opening night. (Actually, Myrtle is in much worse shape than Riggan, falling down drunk, definitely not “flying” to the theater.)

The Criterion Collection disc of Opening Night includes a conversation with Gazarra and Rowlands. In it, they make clear that the final scene of the film, in which Rowlands and Cassavetes perform the final scene of the play off script, was actually improvised on camera. Gazarra says to Rowlands that he assumed the couple had rehearsed it at home, but she says no, when John said the lines that night, cameras rolling, that was the first time she heard them. “Genius! Brilliant!” says Gazarra.

The “Broadway theater audience” is made up of people at the Pasadena Playhouse, ordinary people– way too young for an actual Broadway opening night, but just right for a group of Cassavetes fans answering a newspaper call! Their response to what actors Myrtle and Maurice are doing onstage playing characters Virginia and Marty is spontaneous. The audience loves the performance, of course– it’s Cassavetes and Rowlands!

rowlands and cassavetesIn this final scene of both play and film, the two perform a scene about aging and relationship, about people who have been replaced by older selves, a couple that is not sure they even exist anymore. It is clear they are “off script” and there is drunkenness and cigarette smoke and arch facial expressions and lovely stage projection and enunciation– it is theatrical and it looks like a hell of a lot of fun. It looks like they love each other, these two, and trust each other, making a total mess of the play and a great success at the same time. We stand with the audience at the end for a grand ovation.

There is a lot of overlap between these very different films. Ultimately, both characters have to come to terms with their “real” selves if they are going to successfully play the roles assigned to them on stage. However, both “real selves” prove to be missing. Myrtle is most real, Opening Night seems to claim, when she is off script but on stage. Riggan’s real self– uh … Drunk on the stoop? Fused to his Birdman persona at the end?

And the two films settle the value question very differently. Riggan ultimately makes the wrong choice– he follows his fantasy alter ego and also performs a self-destructive act for the sake of fame (he’d rather kill himself than get a bad review).

Myrtle Gordon says of her stage character at one point, “I want to know if she wins or loses.” In the final scene, Myrtle triumphs on stage by rejecting the play and “being herself” in all her glorious messiness. She kills off her alter ego before arriving on stage. She engages her fellow actor and the audience at the same time. They know what they are seeing is “real.” She rejects the part but triumphs as a complicated, real woman. Presumably, Myrtle wins. The audience definitely does.

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Grand Jury

images-4I’m on kind of a narrative kick these days. Interested in how true stories and fictional stories are being told. How we are making meaning. I took a hit on reddit for my Serial post claiming there are responsible ways to tell true stories and there are half-assed ways to do it. With Ferguson, there’s also been a basic confusion of storytelling– a struggle for the narrative.

Like many of us, I have been privileged to a “full account” of the narrative presented to the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri. Thanks to the “transparency” of the prosecutor’s office, massive amounts of material usually not released have been poured out and viewed, analyzed and packaged by the press.

images-3It is a story I hadn’t heard in all these months. (I admit, I have followed the protests but not the case very closely until recently.) The images I had of what happened were formed primarily by the protestors, mainly “Hands up, Don’t shoot,” as dramatic and compelling an image as any of police overstepping their bounds and shooting a young, unarmed black man in cold blood. The other primary image, of Michael Brown’s body disrespectfully left in the street for hours, fueled the sense that there was something wrong.

images-6Now I have quite a different story. It involves Michael Brown, 6’4″ and 290 lbs, rushing the police car, punching the officer, Darren Wilson, in the face through his car window, a struggle that ended with officer Wilson’s gun going off in the car. What happened next is disputed, but ended with Wilson firing a total of 12 shots. killing Brown. Then the body of Michael Brown was disrespectfully treated, left in the street for hours.

That narrative clearly represents Darren Wilson’s account of events. Wilson testified before the grand jury for four hours.

When I heard about that testimony, I was stunned. Why did the prosecutor put the chief defense witness on the stand? I’m sure most Americans don’t understand what a grand jury is or how it works. This was not a trial. Darren Wilson was not found “not guilty.” But most Americans believe that Wilson was exonerated by a regular jury. That the grand jury did not indict because it was clear from testimony and evidence that Wilson was justified in shooting Michael Brown.

I personally trust the people on this grand jury. I think they reached the best conclusion given the case they were presented and their instructions. But this is not justice. They were manipulated by the prosecutor, who did not do his job.

A lawyer friend wrote this in regards to the grand jury issue: “The only purpose of a grand jury is to determine if probable cause exists to proceed to a full trial on a claim that a law has been violated. That’s it. Ordinarily, a “no bill” results only when the facts surrounding the occurrence are largely undisputed.

If there is one thing we know about this case, there are disputes about what occurred. There are multiple narratives. In order for there to be justice, there needs to be a trial, with two sides presenting evidence and cross-examinations. And during the real trial, when there would have been plenty of transparency, the case for Darren Wilson could have been made– by his defense attorneys.

Instead, the prosecutor here put on a “show trial” and misused the grand jury system to present a defense of Officer Wilson. Probably he didn’t want to impanel a grand jury to begin with, but just announce that he had reviewed the evidence and accounts and found that Officer Wilson was justified. There was a lot of pressure, though, to charge Officer Wilson. Not wanting to prosecute and not wanting to recuse himself and let someone impartial prosecute, he used this jury, feeding them– and now the media and public– the narrative he had decided upon.

In the end, we did not get justice. We got a subversion of our justice system.

images-5Personally, I find the story that Darren Wilson felt threatened and acted from that threat, compelling. But also, that was just the beginning of this story. The force the police turned on that community– militarized– was appalling and not to be tolerated.

The protests that have taken place in Ferguson are not just about Michael Brown. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The anger, the sense of ongoing injustice in that community, of law enforcement having all the power and the people having none, has not been addressed through this process. At all.

Like many, many people, I hope the violence is over and done. But I also hope the conversations are not over. And I hope through them we can get to another place. A place that is more compassionate– to police officers and to people of color. I hope we can get to a place that feels more like truth.

As with so many issues in this country where I feel the stories are being wrestled away by the wealthy, privileged, and powerful, the systems of our democracy threatened by subversion and manipulation, I hope we can get through this time in history with our democracy intact.

 

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What We Talk About When We Talk About “Birdman”

imagesThere is so much to talk about in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film Birdman.  I have tons to say about the point of view of a single shot, for example.

Then there’s all the complicated references between real world/movie world/theater world. We’re aware Michael Keaton was Batman, and now he’s playing an actor who was Birdman. We’re wondering: “Is Michael Keaton a good actor? Was he a good actor in the ’80s or just a celebrity? Is he good in this film? In the play inside the film? What will this film mean to his career? And what about the character he is playing– is that guy a good actor?”

raymond-carverFor me, there was an extra layer, and another multi-layered story about art and celebrity, in the fact that the play being staged is an adaptation of the short stories of Raymond Carver. So all I actually want to talk about in this blog entry is Raymond Carver.

When I was in graduate school at Sarah Lawrence College for creative writing (1988-1991), Raymond Carver was a total celebrity. His work was everywhere. People who knew him told stories about him. It was a great tragedy that he had died, in August 1988, of lung cancer. There were strong connections between our program and Syracuse, where he had taught and lived with the poet Tess Gallagher. There was a strong cult around his stories and her poems, particularly poems about their relationship. Carver had gotten sober just before meeting her, and after almost killing himself with drink in the 1970s, he had turned his life around. He was portrayed, romantically, as both a terrific drunk in the mold of John Cheever, and a tragic hero, for losing his life after cleaning up and finding love, at the very young age of 50.

I still remember one story told about him. A writer had supposedly told Carver the story of taking a walk in a canyon and witnessing a hawk diving down and grabbing some small prey. In no time, the scene of a writer walking in a canyon and observing a hawk and its prey appeared in one of Carver’s stories. The writer confronted Carver, saying: “I told you that story, Ray. It was my story. You stole it from me.” To which Carver replied, “I take walks.” The moral of this story was, “Human experience doesn’t belong to anyone. Go ahead and use whatever you can get hold of.”

I read all the stories, and felt it was a great tragedy that, as a young, romantic writer myself, I had not gotten a chance to meet Carver or hear him read in person. After Sarah Lawrence, when I received a Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford, Raymond Carver was among the most revered former fellows. It made us feel important to be following in his footsteps.

However, later, as a teacher I began to see Carver differently. Carver was always hailed as a great minimalist, a Hemingway. His stories of mostly working class people, of their relationships and experiences– losing a child, finding a girl’s body on a fishing trip, talking around and beyond each other as a marriage cracked, making money on a sex hotline while raising small children– were trimmed to their essences. The stories were spare and real.

images-2But it was the editor Gordon Lish, not Carver,  who made them that way. No set of Carver stories was more heavily edited by Lish (you could even say excised) than What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, the volume that gives its name to the play by Michael Keaton’s character Riggan Thomson. Carver so objected to the changes made by Lish that he later broke off his relationship with the editor. Tess Gallagher fought for the rights to the original stories and later had them published under the title Beginners. (Really too bad since the original title is SO good!) I used to discuss companion stories, Carver’s draft and Lish’s draft of the same story, with creative writing students. It was a great lesson for revision and also discussions of the role of an editor. It also clearly showed that Carver was not a minimalist.

birdmanmovie-600x338So I watched with great fascination an early scene in Birdman, where Riggan (Keaton) and younger, respected stage actor Mike Shiner (played by Edward Norton) are rehearsing a scene from the play. Mike has all the lines memorized already (he’s been practicing with his girlfriend, who is also in the play, an insecure actress played by Naomi Watts), and he is taking over the role from an actor whom Riggan cruelly sabotaged. Shiner is contemptuous of the celebrity Riggan and, in fact, he’s contemptuous of the play Riggan has written.

As they start to do the scene, Mike interrupts. He doesn’t like Riggan’s line. It’s repetitive. Why say something three times when once will suffice– and then Mike can come in quickly. His changes immediately improve the scene. Now it feels like real dialogue, like real people at a dinner party. Mike is good. Mike knows what he’s doing. But also, in that scene, it feels like he and Riggan have established a rapport. They will be able to work together.

As rehearsals progress (in previews, so all these rehearsals are before a live audience), we see that Riggan has given himself some juicy parts, and some big speeches. This is the comeback role he has written, produced and directed for himself. Mike continues to throw a wrench in things, dashing a glass to pieces and breaking character when he realizes Riggan has replaced his onstage gin with water, and strutting around with a giant hard-on after the (in real life impotent Mike) is turned on by his girlfriend playing his mistress on stage. This “realism” messes with the “art,” and builds to the ultimate reveal on opening night.

Riggan’s taste is also called into question when we see from the wings, multiple times, one of the four actors in the ensemble standing on a wintry stage festooned with sparkly trees and reindeer to give her own dramatic monologue about losing a child. It is so at odds with Carver, so full of spectacle, that even the actress draws attention to it. We have to at least suspect that this might not be a great play, though it is certainly an attempt at a highbrow vehicle. And I believe “vehicle” is the right word, because in the end the film sets up a bunch of dichotomies: celebrity vs. actor; plays vs. film; real life vs. fantasy; realism vs. artifice; superhero vs. human; actor vs. role, and so on, that are either not resolved, or are resolved in a number of contradictory ways by the multiple endings of the film (I count three endings). In the end, we’re left with all sorts of judgments to make given the raw material of the film (which can also be taken as a series of short stories, really amazing gems of scenes, like the ones in Riggan’s dressing room with his ex-wife (played by Amy Ryan), or the ones on the roof with Mike and Riggan’s daughter (played by Emma Stone).

UnknownAnd, of course, there is yet another layer of references here. Robert Altman did a film, Short Cuts, that adapted and interwove nine Raymond Carver Stories. The main criticism of that film (a fantastic film, IMHO), was that he set the stories in Hollywood, and gave them a Hollywood frame, when Carver’s stories are set in the Pacific Northwest. It was star-studded and also broke up the stories (edited them), to interweave them, in ways people didn’t like. As I remember it, the most controversial and talked about scene in the film was the same scene we see enacted in Birdman. But in Altman’s film a husband and wife are getting ready for a dinner party and the wife, played by Julianne Moore, takes off her skirt and irons it. She is not wearing underwear– brave, brave, Julianne! Such a thing to do on film!!

And lest we forget, the film Robert Altman made before Short Cuts was The Player. Like Birdman, it is a black comedy (the blackest) about the film industry. And it opens with a very famous, very long, single shot…

Birdman opens with a quote that is engraved on Raymond Carver’s gravestone. It is as poignant a quote about love vs. celebrity as one can find, and in this context reflects on Carver as well as Riggan Thomson:

“And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?”
“I did.”
“And what did you want?”
“To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.”

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Serial and the Art of Storytelling

stuff_serial_46[1]I have turned against Serial, the podcast from This American Life that has been sweeping the nation. Oh, I’m going to listen to every episode, but I don’t understand why a quick search of the Internet turns up only praise for this project. I don’t understand why everyone seems willing to accept it without question. I don’t understand why the discussion is only on social media, not known for analysis. News outlets and cultural commentary is on the level of the Pittsburgh City Pages site where I got the photo above, in a feature called “Stuff we like.” The only story out there is: “look how popular it is.”

For those who don’t know, Serial takes a single story and broadcasts it over the course of a season. The story is of Adnan Syed, who was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his high school girlfriend, back in 1999. He has always proclaimed his innocence, and the case against him was weak. Over the course of the podcast, reporter Sarah Koenig is reviewing everything and discussing the case and trial with everyone (friends, acquaintances, experts) and even reenacting some key aspects. It is predicted that it will run 12 hour-long episodes. And there’s the first red flag. Why don’t they know how many episodes it will take to tell this story? (More on that later.) (And yes, that is a reference to one of  Serial’s most common techniques.)

Actually, a search of the Internet turns up nothing but accounts of the show’s popularity and how many people are listening to it. There’s not much meaningful discussion of the form or content at all. If you want to know if people think Adnan is guilty or innocent, go to Twitter.

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a considerable amount of time on the Serial website blog and Facebook page. There’s nothing on there that’s worth much– a bunch of chatter and love for the show, and images of some of the pieces of evidence that have been discussed on the show. But that is where I learned that they are still working on this program. They are still interviewing people and editing and so they aren’t sure how long the series will run. Which is kind of interesting if you’re doing what Charles Dickens did in the earliest serialized fiction (I actually believe Dickens always knew where he was going and how he was going to get there).

I think it’s a real problem if you’re doing investigative journalism and presenting a “true crime” story. Also, Sarah Koenig might be a perfectly good journalist, better than average, but she is not doing a good job, in my opinion, of telling this story! Maybe she doesn’t know exactly what the story is, but really the story is suffering as she gets more conflicting information, as she tries to keep neutral, not project guilt or innocence onto Adnan. (She does not give him the benefit of the doubt ever. For example, despite the fact that her reenactment of the timeline for the murder shows everything would have to go like clockwork and the murder would have had to happen very quickly, she says basically you could do it. But really, it is so unlikely as to be meaningless to use that timeline to convict him. Why not just say that and be done with it?)

She is not doing anything that I expect an author of a story (or a documentarian) to do. She is not filtering much and she’s not choosing a hierarchy of experts, let alone information. For example, I am so much more interested and invested in what the lawyers from the Innocence Project have to offer than anything random people who were on the track team with Adnan 15 years ago have to say. sarah-koeinig[1]Also, since when is this about Sarah Koenig? She seems to want to have things both ways– I am an objective journalist and I am a person experiencing this story as I uncover it. (for the source of the photo above and a story that continues to prove my point that the medium is the message, and misspells her name, click here.)

adnan and friends

Serial, for me, is a product of the wired world. It seems to owe its form and life to social media. There are no experts, really, or no hierarchy of experts. We won’t hear a word from the police detectives (a shame, she says, but let’s just keep moving…). We won’t hear (unless something happens while the story is still being made) from the murder victim’s family. Though there is this interesting post from Reddit, another social media site where the show is extensively discussed, by someone purporting to be the victim’s brother. It’s the only negative “article” of any length I’ve seen, and the headline “brother slams popular podcast” doesn’t really reflect his comments– hey, he thinks Sarah Koenig is doing a good job! He just wishes (totally understandably) that she wasn’t doing it. Twitter commenters of this post by the brother say Sarah Koenig’s e-mail asking him for an interview is a good example of how to broach difficult issues in e-mail. Huh?

facebookTwitter. Reddit. Facebook. This serial is playing out in a different world. (And if there is any critique of the podcast, it is a series of YouTube parodies that mostly make fun of people’s obsession with the show.) This is a world Dickens certainly couldn’t have imagined. I for one am not willing to just go with the flow and love it love it love it. I don’t want someone to pretend they are telling more of the story, the whole story, when really they’re just giving me what they could get. I want someone to shape the story before giving it to me. I want there to be a point of view that is not floundering around in the hours and hours of tape. Tell me a story.

And then there’s another question. Is it entertaining? Hell, yes. But is it enough for this story to entertain? And is that the right thing to do with a real life murder case? Is that something different than a documentary? Do different rules apply to fiction and documentary?

For more on that subject, stay tuned…

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like…

ski path with oakI am sure the Eskimos have a word for this kind of snow. I believe it can be translated as “January snow.” I went out for a little ski yesterday, my sister-in-law being kind enough to blaze the trail through the prairie. I was surprised by how mature the snow felt. It was not only over a foot deep, it was nicely packed and had a great texture. It wasn’t icy or mushy or crunchy… it was premium snow.

Premium snow definitely helps with the insanely early onslaught of winter. It’s true that we’re all having trouble adjusting. Even people who own snowblowers kind of went out o their minds and started looking for snow removal services, which are in short supply. We just don’t want to clear the snow! It fell on November 10th!!

november ski trailI trudged out through the snow on Tuesday and harvested the last of the kale in the cold frame. This was just in time, as last night was our first sub-zero night. Yes, that is when the temperature has a minus in front of it.

Maybe it was the ski, or maybe it was the sheer beauty of every branch and tree encased in frost and ice this morning, and the bright sun today, but I do feel better. I do feel like things are going to be OK. I’m not cruising Groupon for deals to Costa Rica.

But there was something else about that ski in that gorgeous snow. The whole landscape looked different. I’m not sure why, but the prairie, that mature prairie, was just so much more full than it seems during usual skis. I wondered if the trail had been altered from last year. I was skiing between high walls of dead prairie grasses and plants. There’s still so much poking through. Also, the wetland seemed closer to the trail, and more defined.

We have plans, which started this fall with an attempt to make some big inroads into busting buckthorn, to do more restoration of the wetlands. (FYI: The roof did not get onto the greenhouse, so there won’t be any winter experiments in there.) Now that the prairie is in good shape, we can move out farther and eradicate invasive grasses and improve the quality of the wetland. On my ski trip, I got a view only possible in winter when the ground is frozen. And because it’s so early, it looked more like the wetland it is, not just another snow field.

kale saladLast night I made a salad with some of the last of the fresh kale. It really is stunning to have a plate of such deep green leaves when there is snow on the ground. And this one, paired with lamb burgers, with pomegranate, feta, and roasted walnuts, was like Christmas.

kale salad dressedKale Salad with Pomegranate, Feta and Roasted Walnuts

6-8 cups kale, ribs removed, sliced to ribbons
2 lemons
1/2 cup roasted walnut pieces (or pine nuts)
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup feta cheese (or blue cheese or gorgonzola)
1/4 cup yogurt
1/4 cup olive oil (or walnut oil)
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp tahini (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Massage the kale with your hands 3-5 minutes until it starts to break down. This will just make it more tender. Mix the kale with juice of 1/2 lemon and marinate for 1-3 hours.

For the dressing, whisk the oil into the yogurt, then blend in the juice of the other lemon half, mustard, and tahini. Season with salt and pepper. Roast the walnuts ahead, too, so they have time to cool down.

Put the kale in bowls and top with the walnuts, feta cheese and pomegranate seeds. Drizzle with the dressing.

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