Please, Sir, May I Have Some More?

Jump to Butter Rolls Recipe

Several things happened since my last blog post.  It got colder in Ohio, I’ve discovered that I have not outgrown my dependency on caffeine to be creative, the Super Bowl had the more-sexist-than-usual commercials, Charles Dickens‘ 200th birthday was a pretty big deal, and Starkitten demonstrated that she can write all her capital letters.

And since I’m currently caffeinated (so that I can try to churn another 3,000 words of creative prose in a few hours after posting this), I apologize if my post is too meandering.

The Super Bowl

I admit I do have a seething contempt for the New England Patriots and I hate the New York Giants as a matter of principle (but I also don’t let it get in the way of my personal relationships, so long as they are not playing the Saints).  But, even if I dislike the teams playing, I still watch the Super Bowl.  It’s one of the Great American holidays, right up there with Thanksgiving Day and Buy-Me-Expensive-Things (and maybe celebrate the birth of a God) Day.  I watch because the commercials are supposed to be entertaining and the halftime shows are always either extremely awesome or so terrible that it’s fun.  I think that’s why most Americans watch the Super Bowl, actually.

There were some hilarious commercials, but there were also a few political ones.  What really galled me were the growing number of sexist Super Bowl commercials.

Speed-dating babies?  Hyper-sexualized “naked” M&Ms (as if the Green M&M wasn’t enough)?  Those were sickening, certainly.  But they were nothing compared to the many women-as-nothing-but-sex-objects commercials.

There were the naked models (I have no earthly idea what a naked woman has to do with selling web space) and the cars-as-sexy-women–and that its okay to sexually harass a woman if she is beautiful–and the implication that a woman’s love is only physical in nature and can only be bought with overpriced flowers and perpetuating the social expectation that teenage girls have eating disorders.  These flowers, by the way, are grown in countries where the workers (usually women) develop diseases from pesticide exposure (including miscarriages), get raped by their superiors, and are fired, attacked, or even killed if they complain or try to organize a labor union.  This doesn’t just happen in South America, but also in Kenya (and maybe other countries).  I suppose here I’ll throw in my two cents about how much I hate cut flowers, and not just because they are a sign that the relationship is meant to wither and die.  If you want to get your significant other something for Valentine’s Day, don’t buy cut flowers.

But the sexism of the Super Bowl commercials this year was more insulting than usual.  Do the advertisers forget that women watch the Super Bowl, too?  Do they forget that women buy cars, trade on the stock market, manage websites, and, you know, do all sorts intelligent things?  I promise you, O Mighty Advertisers, the gray stuff between our ears does function.

I really loved the analysis of the commercials given on Jezebel.  The author’s conclusion says best all the things that are wrong with these commercials:

What’s striking about these ads isn’t their offensiveness, necessarily — let’s be honest, we’ve all seen worse. Especially in the case of Teleflora and Fiat, it’s their misguidedness, their commitment to appealing to a bro aesthetic even when studies make clear that this aesthetic dominates neither Super Bowl viewership nor purchasing. Leaving sexism aside, these ads were lazy, and they were boring, and they were outdated. Advertisers need to wake up and recognize that women are watching the game, and we don’t want more commercials about yogurt. We just want to be treated like who we are, which is actual people with actual brains who sometimes buy shit. While they’re at it, maybe advertisers should treat men like this too.

And that’s not even going into all the commercials celebrating only one kind of masculinity: that of barbaric, hulking, violent rage.  Do people realize that children see this stuff and it gets into their heads that this kind of behavior is okay (or that girls should all be straight women who marry this kind of man)?

I can only hope that enough buzz on the web about this kind of nonsense will eventually permeate the powers that be in the advertising industry and they’ll start making more intelligent ads.  And they can.

For instance, the Baby Darth Vader commercial appealed to the nerd in me.  But my absolute favorite was the Fat Dog commercial with the Tatooine cantina attache at the end (which references the Baby Darth Vader)–it won me with a great blend of self-improvement, cuddly dogginess, and geekdom.  You can’t go wrong there.

Charles Dickens Celebrates His 200th…  Only He’s Too Dead to Care

English: Detail from photographic portrait of ...

Charles Dickens - Image via Wikipedia (public domain)

So why do we celebrate Charles Dickens?  Because he is one of those authors whose work is timeless.  Because he wrote on social conditions and the great Human Condition without being sanctimonious or pedantic.  And he is celebrated.  Pretty much everyone in the English-speaking world has heard of him or is at least familiar with his characters: Pip, Ebeneezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Oliver Twist, and others.  Pop culture references them all the time.

The web has also been abuzz with commemorations of Dickens’ birthday.  There was a Google doodle in his honor.  The royal family in the United Kingdom made a formal celebration of his contributions to the literary world and social thought.

I suppose, as so many have said, the attraction to Dickens today is that, despite progress we humans have made in terms of social and political reform and technology, things haven’t really changed.  Most people can identify with Bob Cratchit in “A Christmas Carol,” for instance.  Or have a skeptical view of the legal system such as Dickens portrayed in “Bleak House.”

Dickens was also a powerful advocate for education.  He believed that with literacy and education, people would be able to rise out of poverty and society would be all the better for it.  He was, however, not perfect.  By the tone of his writings, he was apparently intolerant of other ethnicites.  The classic example is Fagin, the Jew from “Oliver Twist.”  A lesser known fact is that he did change his attitude when called out on it, at least for the anti-Semitism.  Because of this, not everyone is a fan of his works.

But Dickens, like the Super Bowl, has a way of bringing people together.  Except on an intellectual level as opposed to an athletic/raw entertainment level.

Soaking up the Increasing Sun

The days have been chilly lately, but they were still sunny.  In the mornings, I’d pull up the blinds of the east-facing windows and open the inner front door, which also faces east.  I did this because I hate mornings, but something about the sunlight making everything feel warmer and brighter really did help my spirits.

And my Chihuahua seemed to appreciate it: he sunned himself like a cat all morning, each morning.  He became so spoiled that when we had our first gloomy day (yesterday, because it was going to snow that evening), he followed me around and kept scratching at my legs and trying to draw me to the windows.  I tried explaining to him that there was no warm sun that day, but he persisted.  When I opened the blinds for him, he glared at me like I ate the sun or something, and then snorted and walked away to hide in his bed.

The sunny mornings (and afternoons) were inspiring.  And not just for me.  The girls, who usually sit for maybe 15 minutes at a time to do something educational, would sit for an hour with me.  I worked with Sunfilly on learning to color in the lines.  Starkitten learned to write her capital letters and (I should have taken a picture of it) decorated a sheet of paper and wrote “I LOVE YOU” (I spelled it for her and the letters were jumbled together, but it was cute).  We then mailed it to her grandparents in Texas.

I think Dickens would have been proud.

Butter Rolls Recipe

Because it’s been cold, I’ve been trying to save on the gas bill by baking.  Baking serves two purposes: it makes food and it makes the house warm so the heater doesn’t have to kick on.  And electricity is much cheaper than natural gas here (I never used natural gas in the South, so I have no clue if the same relationship is true there).  I’ve baked enchiladas, fish, and breads.

I finally tried my hand at a rolls recipe that my little brother has been perfecting since before Starkitten was born.  He found it in one of our mother’s old cookbooks and tweaked the recipe over the years.  It’s simple, it’s buttery, and is just the kind if recipe Paula Deen would plagiarize (I am not implying that she has).  Here’s another interesting tidbit:  when we had that infernal (pun intended) heat wave in Texas this summer, he would cover the dough and let it sit in the sun outside to rise.  Those rolls, by the way, were the best he ever made.

Some tips to making yeast breads properly:

The yeast as it bubbles up. This is about as much as you'll want it to bubble before adding it to the dough. If it gets any more frothy, you've wasted your yeast.

  1. Don’t let the yeast sit too long in the prep bowl.  If it bubbles up too much before you mix it in with the bread, the yeast will have used up all its energy beforehand and won’t rise in the bread at all.  The bread will turn out hard and flat.
  2. Don’t let the bread over-rise.  It will loose some flavor.
  3. Yeast needs warmth to grow.  So if you’re in a cold house, turn on the oven before baking and make the kitchen warm and, preferably, set the bowl by a sunny window. Also, some ovens have a yeast-rise setting; if yours does, take advantage of it.

    The dough after it's been properly kneaded

  4. Knead thoroughly.  The kneading actually kick-starts the little yeast organisms by mixing them around and getting them access to new food so that they keep reproducing, which makes the dough grow.  Kneading also makes sure everything is mixed well and the bread will look and taste better.


  • 1-1/4cup of warm water
  • 1 package of yeast
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons shortening
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter

Here are before and after photos of the rolls when set for their second rise, so that you get an idea of how much they will grow.


  1. Mix the yeast, sugar, and water in a large mixing bowl.  Add in shortening, salt, and two cups of the flour.  Mix until it’s smooth and you can see the little bubbles forming inside the dough.  Remember to scrape the side of the bowl frequently.
  2. Put in another cup of flour.  You must do the mixing and kneading by hand, as the dough will be too thick for the average mixing machine to handle.  Add more flour once it’s all mixed if it’s still a little gooey, 1/2 cup at a time; the idea is to put enough flour in that the dough no longer sticks to your hands.
  3. Cover the dough and let stand 40 minutes.
  4. Grease a glass pan or something similar.  Take off pieces of the dough and roll them into sphere of roughly half the size you want the rolls to be.  Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and brush it onto the rolls.
  5. When finished, cover and let rise again for another 40 minutes.  Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and brush it onto the rolls again.
  6. Preheat oven to 375 ˚F.  Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown on top.

If you want to go all-out with the artery clogging, slice these babies open and stuff them with more butter when you eat them.  You can use this same recipe to make homemade hamburger buns; just make larger sized rolls.

These rolls also go great in the morning with some jelly and a cup of coffee.

The rolls fresh out of the oven and slathered in butter. Yummy!

All Saints Day, Samhain, and the Amazing Pumpkin

Jump to Pumpkin Bread recipe

October 31 has many different meanings to many Americans, depending upon each individual’s background.

dia de los muertos display.

A Día de los Muertos display. - Image via Flickr by wolves4moe

To most everyone, it is Halloween, which nowadays means kids dress up like their favorite characters and go house to house begging for sugary sweets and, if they are lucky, they will accumulate enough to be so hyper that the combined energy of a classroom full of such children could power New York City for a week.  It’s also when adults decide to dress up as witty puns or sexy versions of something or really obscure sci-fi references and consume “grown-up candy”–alcoholic beverages and desserts displayed so as to appear to be entrails or brains.  To Mexican-Americans, it’s also El Día de los Muertos, which honors the dead in celebrations as boisterous as Mardi Gras.  To Catholics, it’s the day before All Saints Day, a day of spiritual reflection.  To pagans, it’s Samhain (pronounced “sow-en” or “sow-ayn”), which celebrates the last harvest and those who have departed this life; it’s also the pagan new year.


Pumpkins are synonymous with American fall holidays. - Image by DrBacchus via Flickr

And, to most Americans, October 31 reminds them of pumpkins.  Of all the gourds that grow in the fall, pumpkins have become symbolic of this season.  Kids think of jack-o-lanterns; adults think of food.  Even typing this, I can almost taste pumpkin pie or pumpkin bread or pumpkin lattes in my mouth.

They are ubiquitous in grocery stores, hobby shops, farmers markets, and magazines this time of year, and I’m not complaining.  It’s an awesome fruit.

When it comes to edible gourds, the pumpkin is the most versatile.  You can brew your own beer in it.  You can eat the seeds.  There are hundreds–or maybe thousands–of ways you can cook it.  Yes, I may have an unhealthy fondness for pumpkins.

As a multi-faith family, our children get to celebrate two sets of holidays: Christian holidays and Wiccan ones.  So our kids were able to go trick-or-treating, celebrate Samhain, and then the humility associated with All Saints Day.  And because we are also a multicultural family, and my husband’s tribal traditions emphasize honoring one’s ancestors, the October 31-November 1 holiday season is especially important to us.  (I must emphasize that the assumption that East Africans actually worship their ancestors is a mischaracterization; ancestors are more like guardians or saints who watch over or intercede with the divine on behalf of their living progeny, or they may curse relatives who have done something terrible.  It’s a lot like East Asian ancestor veneration.)

In some ways, the three traditions are very similar.  All Saint’s Day, Samhain, and ancestor reverence all share honoring and remembering the dead in some way.  And the fact that All Saint’s Day and Samhain (and its descendant Halloween) share the same harvest-time spot on the calendar is no coincidence: when the Catholic Church was seeking to convert the pagans living in the European countryside, they aligned the timing of holy days with those already celebrated and that shared a similar meaning to ease conversion.

Green Man

A representation of the Green Man. (Image via R~P~M via Flickr)

Samhain also honors the male aspect of the divine (depending on the neopagan tradition, he is Herne, the Green Man, Pan, the Lord, just to give a few examples).  It marks the final harvest because in places above the Mason-Dixon line, this is when frost sets most nights and has effectively killed the summer grass and many plants.

Contrary to some hate rhetoric that circulates in the media this time of year, Samhain is not about human sacrifices or orgies with Satan or any other such nonsense.  The theology behind Samhain is that the male aspect of the divine dies with the harvest (to be reborn later in the Wheel of the Year on midwinter, when the days grow longer again) and the crone goddess mourns his loss.

In neopagan traditions, Samhain is said to be the day that doesn’t exist, when the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead are nonexistent, making communicating with the dead easier (“the dead” isn’t just limited to people–many pagans will honor their departed pets as well).  Many pagans will light bonfires and set elaborate dishes for their departed loved ones; others may light up their homes with candles and leave west-facing doors and windows open to welcome the spirits or to help guide lost spirits towards the next life.  It’s usually a joyous celebration that typically lasts late into the night and involves feasting and music.

New Orleans Saints Logo

All Saints Day isn't about honoring the players of the New Orleans Saints. Instead, the New Orleans Saints get an entire season, from September through January or February. Celebrations are never solemn and typically require massive consumption of artery-clogging foods and alcoholic beverages. - Image via Wikipedia

All Saints Day, similarly, honors the departed.  Depending on the Christian denomination, it can vary from honoring those who have been beatified  because of their devotion to the Christian faith, and/or those whose souls are lost in purgatory or otherwise awaiting judgment, and/or all Christians who have passed on.  It’s significantly more solemn than Samhain.  People may or may not attend church on this day, depending on their faith and cultural background.  In some cultures, people light up their homes with candles (or even the graves of their loved ones).

All Saints Day Ceremony [Image 1 of 9]

All Saints Day can be a community-wide holy day or a quiet, personal time of remembrance and reflection. (Image via DVIDSHUB via Flickr)

Earlier I mentioned that many autumn holidays share a lot of similarities.  Because my husband and I are of different faiths and we wish to educate our children on both traditions (and actually all religions, in general), we have learned that it helps to point out how we are the same and embrace our differences.

This time of year is great for that.

This year, Starkitten is actually old enough to understand that it’s harvest time.  We walked around outside and observed the plants dying and the grass turning brown.  We observed the neighboring farms wrapping up harvest season.  She doesn’t really understand the concept of death in terms of loved ones (fortunately, we haven’t lost any close relatives or pets since she was born), so I spoke to her in general terms about ancestors and how this is a special time to honor them and then proceeded to give her the preschool explanation of All Saints Day and Samhain.

This time of year also great for cooking pumpkins.

And since it’s been a hectic autumn for us, I decided to cook one of my favorite comfort foods: pumpkin bread made from fresh pumpkins.

Making Pumpkin Bread

When choosing pumpkins for baking, you want to look for medium-sized ones with darker skin.  They will have the richest flavor and still have plenty of meat.  If they are too large, they will have lots of meat and seeds, but they don’t taste as pumpkiny.  The smaller ones really aren’t good for eating, although they are wonderful for painting for Halloween decorations.

The easiest way to prepare pumpkin meat for baking is to:

  1. Cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out all the seeds and stringy “guts,” and rinse thoroughly.  Then cut the halves into quarters.
  2. Place the pumpkin quarters with the meat side facing up on a baking sheet and bake at 300˚F for about an hour.
  3. When the meat is soft, pull out the pumpkins and set them on a rack or dish to cool.
  4. Once it’s cooled enough that you don’t burn yourself touching it, scoop out the meat (or cut it into 2-inch squares if it’s being ornery) from the shells and discard the shells.
  5. Puree the meat in a blender.

If you have any meat left over from making pumpkin bread, you can freeze it.  I typically pre-measure portions of pumpkin meat so that I can thaw out exactly what I need when I feel like making pumpkin bread later on.

While the pumpkin is baking, you can separate the seeds from the “guts” and then soak the seeds in salt water.  After you remove the pumpkin from the oven, leave the oven on.  You can drain the seeds and spread them out on the baking sheet.  Sprinkle a little cooking oil over them and bake for about 40 minutes (or more–you want them to be crispy).  When they are done, let them cool and you have a quick snack.

Ingredients for Pumpkin Bread

Pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are rich in antioxidants, dietary fibers, vitamin E, and tryptophan--nature's sleeping pill. Serve them up as a side to a turkey sandwich for an extra-drowsy afternoon. - Image by Sei via Wikipedia

  • 2 cups of fresh cooked pumpkin
  • 3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1/2 cup water


  1. Pre-heat oven to 350˚F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, soda, sugars, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and ginger.
  3. Add the eggs, water, oil, pumpkin, and molasses.  Stir until well blended.
  4. Pour into two lightly greased and floured 9”x5” loaf pans (or, if you wish to make cupcakes, into papered cupcake pan).
  5. Bake for about 1 hour (25 minutes for cupcakes), or until a knife stuck in the center of the bread comes out clean.

You can wrap the bread and freeze it if you decide to make large batches.  Pumpkin bread tastes well frozen because the longer it sits in the freezer, the more it brings out the pumpkin flavor.

If it's made from pumpkin--a fruit--it must be good for you, right?

Treat yourself and your significant other to a little coffee shop decadence with some pumpkin bread and chai that you made yourself.  Then you can stay in your jammies, listen to your own music, and know that you didn’t have to spend $15 to indulge yourself.

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