22 June 2015

The Charleston Shooting and Making Medieval Bodies

I've been thinking a lot about Charleston this week, and all the other recent shootings and cop-on-civilian violence. Trying to figure out how I can engage beyond ranting at friends and family.

I'd already been thinking about making my (MA-level) Middle English literature course about bodies -- normative bodies, "other" bodies -- and it occurs to me that I can push that in the direction of figuring out how we got to this place where we believe some bodies are more important than others.

Potential texts for the syllabus:

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Canterbury Tales: General Prologue, Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale, Miller's Tale, Prioress's Tale
Troilus and Criseyde?
The Second Shepherds' Play
Sir Orfeo
The Knight with the Lion
The Hereford Mappa Mundi
The Tale of Two Married Women and the Widow
The Book of Margery Kempe
Travels of Sir John Mandeville
Maybe one or two of Marie de France's Lais

selections from The King's Two Bodies
Karl Steel's essay on making the human
something by Carolyn Dinshaw
selections from Metzler's book on medieval disability
excerpts from Lisa Lampert-Weissig's book on medieval poco
Asa Mittman's essay, "Are the Monstrous Races Races?"
Gillian Rudd on Sir Gawain
An essay from Medieval Masculinities
Something on medieval anti-semitism

It's probably too much. Maybe I'll ask each of the students to choose two of the essays, and report on them for the rest of the class.

I'm open to suggestions. I'd love suggestions, in fact.

19 June 2015

Dylann Roof and Mainstream Racism

Dylann Roof: "you've raped our women, and you are taking over the country."

Donald Trump on Mexicans: "They're rapists.... I will build a great, great wall on our southern border."

Jeb Bush on what he likes to read: "I like Charles Murray books to be honest with you." Murray is the author of The Bell Curve. He claims:
social inequality is caused by the genetic inferiority of the black and Latino communities, women and the poor.... disadvantaged groups are disadvantaged because, on average, they cannot compete with white men, who are intellectually, psychologically and morally superior.
The rationale for the Confederacy:
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth...
South Carolina still flies the Confederate Flag. Still think Dylann Roof is a lone wolf?

12 June 2015

Most Commonly Used Words: All the Presidents

Luke DuBois at Hindsight Is Always 2020 has charted the most common words used by each of the presidents. The results are historically embedded, but the differences are fascinating. Here's the most common word used by each president:

Washington: gentlemen
Adams: France
Jefferson: limits
Madison: enemy
Monroe: parties
Adams: mutual
Jackson: bank
Van Buren: results
Tyler: Texas
Polk: Oregon
Taylor: empire
Fillmore: deem
Pierce: central
Buchanan: slavery
Lincoln: emancipation
Johnson: republican
Grant: products
Hayes: coinage
Arthur: likely
Cleveland: treatment
Harrison: wages
Cleveland: reserve
McKinley: Puerto
Roosevelt: corporations
Taft: procedure
Wilson: processes
Harding: relationship
Coolidge: veterans
Hoover: unemployment
Roosevelt: democratic
Truman: Soviet
Eisenhower: nuclear
Kennedy: alliance
Johnson: tonight
Nixon: truly
Ford: barrels
Carter: US
Reagan: deficits
Bush: idea
Clinton: 21st
Bush: terror

DuBois doesn't include Obama in his analysis, but the Boston Globe made "wordles" for several of his speeches. His most commonly used words in speeches from 2009 to 2011: nation, people, Americans.

Interesting contrasts among back-to-back presidents: limits / enemy, mutual / bank, slavery / emancipation, alliance / tonight, terror / nation, truly / barrels. Other than that, no comment.

09 June 2015

Vegan (Gluten-Free) Pantry

If you're trying to prepare vegan meals at home, it helps a lot to have a well-stocked pantry, supplemented with shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables once or twice a week, so you're not inventing the wheel every time you need to get supper together. Here's what I usually have on hand.

  • dried lentils, split peas, navy beans, chick peas
  • pasta, rice, quinoa, popping corn
  • canned tomatoes, black beans, kidney beans, chick peas, baked beans
  • baking: unrefined sugar, gluten-free baking mix, baking powder, baking soda, corn starch, cocoa powder, dark chocolate chips, chick pea flour, pectin, baking chocolate
  • jam
  • rice cakes, corn cakes, corn chips, potato chips, GF bread
  • cereal
  • nuts and nut butters
  • sunflower oil, olive oil
  • coconut milk
  • vegetable bouillon
  • coffee and tea
I keep canned beans on hand as well as dry ones for the days when I don't have the time or energy to cook dry beans from scratch, but since the cans are all lined with plastic, I avoid them with possible. I don't use bouillon very often, but it's handy to have on hand. I use a lot of red split lentils because they cook fastest. To cut down on cooking time for the dry legumes, I bring them to a rolling boil in the evening and let them sit overnight. The Mate and I usually make enough jam in the summer and fall to last all year -- strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, blackberry, apricot, peach, plum. Last year after Sukkot I made jam out of the etrog, with a couple of oranges mixed in to sweeten it a bit. I used to think it was some kind of arcane process requiring lots of specialized tools ... but it turns out it's pretty easy.

I switched to unrefined sugar after I learned that the white stuff is filtered through charcoal, sometimes made from bones.

Herbs and spices: 
  • herbes de province, Italian seasoning, basil, oregano, marjoram, thyme, rosemary
  • cumin, coriander, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon
  • curry powder, chili powder
  • peppercorns in a grinder, unrefined salt
I buy spices as whole seeds and grind them as I use them; they last a lot longer that way. For small quantities I use a mortar and pestle; if I need more, I grind them in the coffee grinder (and then wash thoroughly).  

  • vegetables and fruit
  • prepared soups
  • sorbet
  • compost
  • freezer jam
  • applesauce
Sometimes I buy frozen vegetables and fruit at the supermarket. But I also freeze a lot of my own. When fruit is in season, I buy extra for freezing: it works best to freeze them on a cookie sheet and then put them in bags or containers so they don't clump together.  Apple sauce is super easy to make: cube the apples, boil in a large pot with a couple of tablespoons of water until they're completely soft, run through a food mill, spoon into clean jars, and freeze.  When bananas go brown, I skin them and freeze them in chunks for smoothies, banana pancakes, and banana bread. 

Same with vegetables: I buy lots of kale, spinach, swiss chard, beet greens, and leeks in season, cook them, and then freeze in bags, flattened for easier thawing. (It's worth every penny to pay extra for the heavy-duty brand-name ones, because they last for many, many uses.) I make soup or baked beans in big batches and then freeze extra servings in pint mason jars. 

When freezing soup or jam or applesauce, use wide-mouth jars. Anything that gets narrower at the top will crack when the contents freeze. Leave a half inch or so of extra space at the top to accommodate expansion, and rest the lids on top of the jars when you put them in the freezer. Screw them on after the contents have frozen.

  • margarine, milk substitute, vegan mayonnaise
  • condiments of various sorts, including red and green chili pastes, tamari, pickled ginger, ketchup and mustard
  • maple syrup
  • tahini, for mashed potatoes and creamy soups
  • non-dairy cheese, yogurt; hummus
  • potatoes, carrots, onions, celery
  • greens
  • leftover soup, cooked vegetables
Greens have to be cooked pretty quickly after shopping, whether they come from the farmer's market or the supermarket. If I'm not going to use them right away, they go in the freezer. Root vegetables and celery keep for quite a while, so you can stock up at a farmer's market every couple of weeks.

  • fresh fruit
  • tomatoes
  • fresh ginger, garlic, hot peppers
I buy oranges, lemons, and bananas, but otherwise stick mostly to whatever is local and in season or I've managed to freeze when it was. Apples last for a long time if they're stored correctly, so in New York I can get local apples late into the fall/winter. Right now I still have some blackberries in the freezer, left over from last fall, foraged in the fields outside of town.


It helps to join a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm: you pay a few hundred dollars up front, and then you get a share of whatever vegetables and fruit the farm can produce all summer long and into the fall. Another alternative in New York City is Urban Organics, and some other cities have similar schemes where you get a weekly delivery, and fresh vegetables and fruit appear in your home every week. The variety is usually better than what's available at my neighborhood urban supermarket or farmer's market. With parents and grandparents who lived through the Great Depression and the hungry post-war years in 1940s Germany, I have a deep aversion to throwing food away -- so I cook. 

The Mate and I do a lot of cooking on weekends -- steaming, baking, and roasting vegetables, baking quick breads, cooking up big batches of soup and stew. Some goes in the fridge, some in the freezer, and then on a weeknight when one of us is teaching late and the other is riding herd on the pre-teen while trying to finish grading essays or prepare for a class, we reheat some leftovers and bang, there's a healthy dinner on the table.


We buy fair trade when we can -- chocolate, coffee, tea, bananas. Hershey has committed to making sure all of its suppliers avoid child or slave labor ... by 2020. Yes, you read that right: the people who brought you the Pennsylvania theme park buy chocolate from suppliers that use slaves and children, and sometimes enslaved children, to pick the cocoa beans.


But here's the thing: unless you can buy yourself a farm, or you can devote a significant amount of time to your food, you're not going to be able to eat locally grown organic food cooked at home from scratch all the time. So do what you can and keep moving -- and instead of indulging in guilt, use that energy to advocate for better resources. Or go for a nice long walk while you remind yourself of all the things that you're already doing to curtail climate change.