New Blog

January 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’m relegating all of my political musings to the 140 character limit of Twitter, with occasional spillover to Facebook.

The new blog to follow my culinary adventures is here. I can’t promise brilliance, just my attempts at learning more about how to feed my family and myself better.

November 16, 2011 § 1 Comment

At some point in the mid 1980s, the Sunflower grocery store in Noxapater, MS started selling Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia. My grandmother could hardly resist, and so I started receiving a few volumes each time she visited, or I brought a few home each time I went to stay with her. In retrospect, these were encyclopedias of the quality one would expect from the Sunflower. There were huge omissions, often discovered the night before some school project was due. And being the urbane sophisticate I was, I had already encountered the World Book Encyclopedia at school and was soon to encounter the Britannica once I began attending St. Andrew’s, the posh private school in Jackson where my great aunt’s bequeathed education trust fund eventually sent me. Between the encyclopedias and the annual almanacs that my grandmother kept in her living room turned library, I was awash in thousands of pages of knowledge tidbits. Dates, populations, world and state capitals, geography trivia, all of it was fascinating. I loved sitting down with these books and taking it all in. I’ve mentioned my father’s capacity for obsession with a single subject’s minutiae before. Really both of my parents shared that trait. I was probably the only kid in Brandon who grew up in a home with a complete copy of the Warren Commission Report (oh, the testimony! the photos!), the collected files of former MS Highway Patrol head T.B. Birdsong and prints of the autopsy photos of the 3 civil rights workers slain in Philadelphia in 1964 all within reach. Some kinds find their dad’s Playboy stash. I found my mom’s civil rights documents stash and used to sneak peaks at photos from the aftermath of the Ole Miss riots and the aforementioned autopsy photos (but fear not, I was a teenager.) All of this is to say that my home was rich with stuff to learn about and I couldn’t help but marinate in it.

The Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedias have gone by the wayside after many years of faithful service. But I’ve kept the included Hammond World Atlas. Many was the night as a child that I curled up in bed and flipped through it, marking the states I’d visited, the cities in those states and thinking of the places I’d most like to see again. I began tracking where I’d been in 1989, first by putting a checkmark next to the name of the state at the top of the page in the atlas, then circling the names of cities I remembered from my trip. It makes perfect sense, because in 1989 the 6th grade made a trip to Williamsburg, VA. We went up through Gatlinburg, TN, then over to Monticello/Charlottesville/UVa, then spent the night in Fredericksburg, then drove down to Williamsburg for several days, then across to Knoxville (where my roommates and I snuck a peek at Eddie Murphy’s Raw on HBO after lights out), then home again. In 1989, I had visited 15 states. By 1990, that figure had jumped to 21. After my 8th grade trip to England in 1991, I’d jumped to 23 states and 1 foreign country. By 1994, my junior year of high school, I’d visited 28 states and 5 foreign countries (England, France, Mexico, Costa Rica and a brief stopover for fuel in Nicaragua.) I added Belize in December 2002, and had visited 33 states. At last count, in 2003, I’d added Canada (7 countries) and 35 states. It’s hilarious to imagine the frantic return from a trip in middle or school and the rush to add to the tally, and I know I did it several times. Someday, maybe one of the boys will find it and laugh out loud.

My parents also subscribed me to the Time Life books series The Story of Flight. It was a deal where you could pay in installments and Time-Life Books would send you a collectible installment. I’ve kept my favorite one, Fighting Jets. It’s a wonderful book, filled with stories from fighter pilots from the Korean War and Vietnam, and these hand drawn color sketches of aircraft used by the American military and their various adversaries. Planes were supposed to be my trains, and my parents were both good about encouraging me. We’d stop at airports so that I could take pictures of airliners. We visited the Memphis Belle a number of times, went to the annual airshow at Hawkins Field and I got books. Again, I didn’t read these things cover to cover. I kind of marinated in them–finding something that was interesting to look at, and possibly reading what was written about it in the pages around the pictures. At one point I could have told you who the top two aces in Mig Alley during the Korean War were. To this day, the F-86 Sabre remains my second most favorite American military aircraft of all time (and how many kids or adults have a favorite American military aircraft? That’s surreal, isn’t it?) behind the P-51 Mustang, which is perhaps the most perfect military aircraft ever devised in all aspects of its being—fastest, sleekest, most euphonious. And I can’t believe the amount of time I spent just looking at pictures of these things, reading numbers (top speed 400+ mph, fastest non-jet aircraft in WW II) and committing this stuff to memory.

It’s almost enough to make a man want to banish the internet from his house, or to turn a man into an internet addict because of the rabbit holes that he can chase at will.

Great Discovery

November 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve found that you can get a whole duck for a little over $12 at the local Asian grocery. This has resulted in a cornucopia of autumn meat dishes. After reviewing a video of how to break down a duck, which is much easier than breaking down a chicken, I did so. First, I took off the breasts. This is the only drawback on these inexpensive ducks. Unlike the pricier gourmet ducks, these are definitely A cup ducks. Then I cut the legs off. Finally, I rendered the fat from the skin and leftover bits (the neck, back, wings, etc.)

The Legs
There’s one move with duck legs as far as I’m concerned: confit. You get luscious, flavorful meat that can be chopped up for rillettes, reheated and served with salad greens, put into a croque monsieur or removed from the bone and cooked with beans in something like cassoulet. Plus, you can reuse the fat you use to confit the first pair of legs to confit others. I confitted the legs from this duck, let them ripen over this past weekend. I softened a little mirepoix in some duck fat, added some borlotti beans, rosemary and garlic and let that simmer till the beans got tender, then added the chopped up meat from these two legs. I had originally planned to make cracklins with the skin from the legs to garnish the beans, but the cracklins never had a chance once they came out of the skillet.

The Breasts
I cured them for 24 hours in kosher salt, then rinsed off the salt, dusted them with white pepper and wrapped and hung them. They’re due to come down today or tomorrow, giving me my first batch of duck prosciutto, which will allow me to use prosciutto in dishes from Hazan’s cookbook but still please the people in my house who don’t eat four legged animals.

The Fat
I’ve now got two labeled crocks of fat in the bottom of the fridge: bacon and duck. The entire body gave me about a cup of fat which retails for about $11 per 10 oz container. It’s good for frying potatoes, adding to beans, really anything that calls for fat that you want to be flavorful.

October 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

I should add that said useless assembly involved the Dean of the College of Education at the university where I work and his director of Grants and Special Projects. The Director showed a video that due to technical difficulties was 8 minutes of soundless images of people talking about our university. The Dean gave a “motivational” speech, the kind that kids in failing, mostly black schools hear all the time. You know, “get your life together, learn your school work, study hard or bad things are going to happen to you!” I kept waiting for “you’re going to end up dead or in jail,” but he was smart enough to know that you should only imply that a la, “get a plan for your life or someone else will plan it for you!”

Needless to say, the kids were nonplussed by both speakers. What they loved was the Greeks stepping.

I HATE assemblies. HATE HATE HATE. Today they’ve got a faculty-8th grade volleyball match. That’s two days in a row with that kind of thing. You’d think that in a school labeled as “failing” there’d be a premium on instructional time, right? Bread and circuses, friends. Bread and circuses.

It was everythi…

October 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

It was everything I remembered about Kramer Middle School. I had three good classes and one class that went sideways, broke up a fight, had a hilariously over formal old woman as a co-substitute teacher and was even called into a ridiculously useless and unannounced assembly last period.

October 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

Tomorrow is going to be a very hard day and I am still preparing for it. I agreed to substitute teach at a local middle school (labeled failing by the MDE). I’ll teach four eighth grade science classes and one seventh grade science class. Then I’ll help facilitate the after school science club.

I went today to see a couple of the eighth grade classes I’ll be teaching tomorrow. It was horrifyingly familiar, just a hair’s width away from the school I taught in my first year in D.C. There were arguments in the classroom, a girl kicked out, a fight in the class across the hall that caused the lesson to be disrupted, people walking in and out of the classroom all during the lesson. Not utter chaos, but pretty damn close.

They’re good kids, though. I’m hoping we’ll have some fun tomorrow.

October 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

The world can be a very loud place. We live close to the intersection of two major streets in our part of Jackson: Ridgewood and Northside. In the evenings, I enjoy sitting outside on our back porch, reading, watching H play in his sandbox, drinking a beer, listening to music. Usually, at least a couple of times while I’m doing this, I’m interrupted by a siren or a horn, or a car with a bad muffler, or a motorcycle. We’ve got a privacy fence up, which I think helps mitigate some of the noise, but it’s still loud sometimes. It can be especially frustrating when I’m trying to go to sleep and someone drives by or stops at that intersection and is very interested in sharing their bass heavy music with everyone in the neighborhood. This is especially true late at night on the weekends, when there’s lots of bass heavy music sharing to be done. So be it. It’s the hazard of living in a city. It goes with being able to live most of your life in a ten to fifteen minute drive’s radius, which is a distinct advantage to not living in the country.

There’s noise beyond the sound of traffic. For a while I’ve listened to the local FM conservative talk radio station’s midday program, The JT Show. I’ve even called in once to tussle with JT and his producer, Bob. I can tolerate them so long as I realize that most of what they’re doing is crisis manufacture/fear mongering for the purpose of selling advertisements. If they honestly believe in the apocalyptic vision of our country that they spout daily, then they really both ought to consider moving out west and committing seppuku. I’ve stopped listening to them for a couple of reasons. First, they’re wrong. Second, they’re loud. And just when I think that nobody would ever want to listen to a reasonable conversation about current events, I remember that there’s Diane Rehm and Talk of the Nation. It’s not the liberal slant that I appreciate as much as the fact that there’s very little raising of voices, lamenting the destruction of our country and counting down until the end of the Obama presidency.

For many of the same reasons, I’ve successfully lobbied against cable television in our house. Yes, I miss many live sporting events that aren’t broadcast on ESPN3 or the networks that can be received through our antenna. However, I don’t miss the evening rundown of shootings/stabbings/childbeatings/political corruption/high school sports and the weather. And I don’t miss the fact that CNN/FoxNews/MSNBC continue to be in perpetual crisis mode 10 years after the last real physical threat to many of us. Every hour, there’s a “NEWS ALERT,” or a “BREAKING STORY.” It’s more stressful than it is enlightening or enjoyable. And as someone with a genetic predisposition to high blood pressure, I don’t need all that, and I don’t want it for my family. Again, it’s noise. It’s not helping make my life any better. If I can minimize my exposure to it, I will.

There’s noise that’s worth hearing. I think of the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests, and the marches and associated events around the country. People are upset, not because they feel a simple sense of entitlement, but because many of them have played by the rules, done what they were supposed to do (went to school, got a job, etc.) and still they ended up on the short end of the stick for whatever reason. And they are angry because they believe that the financial sector isn’t the only part of the economy that’s worthy of substantial financial support from the government. All of this comes amidst calls from the right that our country’s debt burden is unsustainable, that we should retrench, cut support for people who need it, and that this will prevent some massive calamity. I want to reemphasize what I said before: most of the people who are protesting are not simply asking for a handout. They did what they were supposed to do and still ended up in dire financial circumstances. This isn’t some generational apathy that’s the result of being spoiled. It’s a symptom of a broader, and unjust set of circumstance. And it’s noise that’s worth hearing, even if you don’t agree with it.

I should add that at the other end of the spectrum, there is noise that’s worth hearing as well. I don’t think that the Birthers, or the people who argue that the president is a socialist plotting to destroy the country are worth hearing, but the conversation between many of the Occupiers and Tea Partiers is one that we need to have. It’s democracy at work. It isn’t always pretty, but more importantly, it (the conversation) and we, as citizens, would be more well served if the noise was kept in the streets and off the airwaves. Less FoxNews/MSNBC, more PBS is better for the nation as a whole. (So give today!)

So, my current goal is the elimination of all extraneous noise from my life. If it’s noisy and not worthwhile, I’m casting it aside.