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.

Ingredients

  • 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.

Directions

  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!

Giving Birth to Light Part 2: Brigid’s Day

Jump  to Composed Couscous and Corn Salad

After enjoying five days of lovely weather (temperatures in the low 50s–that’s in Fahrenheit), and considering how I haven’t really adjusted to real “winter,” I must say I was excited to see an early spring in the forecast for Ohio.  And then I read that Punxsutawney Phil, the famous groundhog, saw his shadow, indicating another six weeks of winter.

Closeup groundhog (Marmota monax)

A groundhog - Image by Eifelle via Wikipedia

I scoffed at the groundhog.  Surely, a professional meteorologist, like the ones predicting an early spring (thank you, global warming!), and who has gone through years of school and training in the natural sciences, would more accurately predict the weather than a two-hundred-year-old rodent that whispers to a man wearing a top hat.

Well, science be damned!

As I sit and type this, the sky is dumping confectioner’s sugar onto the countryside.  At least two inches of that cold white stuff that so enthralls my girls has fallen, and by the looks of things, it won’t be stopping anytime soon.  Even more annoying (and equally amusing), the local forecast for the rest of February has–you guessed it!–changed to six more weeks of winter.

I’ve been tempted to be the Southern redneck stereotype (which I do sometimes become in moments like this) and go out and shoot me a groundhog and cook it out of spite.  It would make for an amusing blog post, certainly, but it’s not very nice.  So instead, I just shake my fist at the squirrels dancing around in the snow, mocking me and my dreams of spring.

Well, we enjoyed the lovely spring-like weather while it lasted.

I hiked with the kids on the nature trail.  My husband took them fishing.  I was able to spend two warm, sunny afternoons sitting in the grass, writing.

Since Vasant Panchami and Imbolc, I must admit, I feel like I have been channeling the creativity goddesses.  Between writing and coming up with creative projects for the rest of the year (I have a fantastic king cake idea, if I can find the supplies I need), my mind has been churning along at warp speed.

Imbolc falls on February 1 or 2, depending on the Gaelic or neopagan tradition.  It comes from the Gaelic word meaning “in the womb,” as it refers to the start of the lambing season.  Imbolc traditionally honors the Celtic goddess Brigid (or Brigit), who is the patron of poets, blacksmiths, and healing.  In some traditions, she is also associated with apple blossoms.  She is also the goddess of wisdom, physical and intellectual uplifting (like mountains and learning or prophecy), and the home and hearth.  She also is the protectress of newborns; Celtic women used to hang crosses fashioned from apple or rowan branches over their babies’ cradles to invoke Brigid to protect their babies from harm.  In Irish mythology, she was also seen as a warfare goddess.

Fire-bearers circle figures of The Green Man f...

Another way Celt descendants celebrate Imbolc: Fire-bearers circle figures of The Green Man fighting Jack Frost. Imbolc celebration in Marsden, West Yorkshre, February 2007. - Image by Steven Earnshaw via Wikipedia

Brigid was so important to the Celtic peoples that, upon their conquest and subsequent Christianization, the Roman Catholic Church came up with Saint Brigid, who still possesses some of the qualities of her pagan counterpart.

One side of her face was that of an ugly old hag, and the other was that of a beautiful young maiden.  This was to signify her role in the transformation of winter and death into life and spring.  In the pagan Wheel of the Year, Imbolc complements Samhain and signifies the lengthening days and nearness of spring.  Brigid is a personification of that.

Some traditions also referred to her as the Corn Bride or Barley Bride (“corn” in this case is the archaic word that really means “wheat” or any “grain,” as corn did not come to mean the yellow grain from North America until Europeans began to colonize it).  It was a reference to her role as a fertility goddess.  Additionally, since Imbolc falls at the end of the dark half of the Wheel of the Year (when the days are shorter, basically), the lunar month in which Imbolc falls is referred to as the Chaste Moon or Bride Moon (because the next lunar month is when spring starts and is associated with birth).

Imbolc altar

A neopagan Imbolc altar - Image by Christina's Play Place

I’m not sure how the ancient Celts celebrated Imbolc, but many Wiccans and neopagans generally celebrate by dressing a sheaf of wheat, corn, or barley in white lace and ribbons (like a bridal dress), laying it in a basket, and treating it like a baby or a doll bride.  At the end of the festival, they usually burn the sheaf for prophetic purposes.

I must admit that I have not done this, pretty much for lack of a ceremonial sheaf.  My tradition, instead, is to cook something where grains play a prominent role, to honor the Corn Bride, and usually with something white (like potatoes or fish or turkey), to honor the Chaste Moon.  I’d also prepare something that hints at warmer months ahead.  And, instead of invoking Brigid for prophecy, I usually invoke her for creativity (and when I was in college and law school, I’d also invoke her for educational purposes).  This I’d do by lighting candles during the dark of night and burning some incense that would remind me of the coming spring (like lavender, my favorite herb).

Sprouting Garlic

I was in a creative writing frenzy yesterday after my husband came home from work, but, naturally I took breaks for coffee and snuggle time.  During one such break, I noticed one of my globes of garlic had sprouted.  I took it as a sign from Brigid:  the white papery outside of the globe is like a bridal veil, and here is new life–hope–sprouting from within.  I’m not sure what it might be a sign of, but it was refreshing to see while happily writing.

Composed Couscous and Corn Salad

Since I’ve been experimenting various recipes from the newest addition to my cookbook library, The Vegetarian Family Cookbook by Nava Atlas (and, by the way, after testing so many recipes, I have found that I love this book!), I decided to try something that involves wheat and/or corn as a primary ingredient for my Imbolc dish.  I decided to go with this recipe, because it involves wheat (in the form of couscous) and corn.  It really serves 6, but since I was cooking it as a feast (translate:  I wanted leftovers for the next day), I was cooking it alongside some simple baked chicken.

The ingredients of this dish are more summery in flavor, but I wanted something that made me think of warm days (and, to be honest, I sorely miss Louisiana springtimes, which start in February and are sunny and florid).  What I love about this recipe is that it can be dressed up for any occasion.  In fact, I plan to make it for the Super Bowl, but I’ll be adding various cheese slices to the spread.  It looks fancy, so is a great dish for entertaining.  This can also be an eat-with-your-hands group dish.

Ingredients

  • 4 medium potatoes, any variety, or 2 medium-large sweet potatoes
  • Ranch dressing or vinaigrette
  • 3/4 cup couscous
  • 2 cups cooked fresh corn kernels (from 2 to 3 medium ears) or frozen corn kernels, thawed
  • 1 tablespoon light olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • minced fresh parsley for topping (optional)
  • 1 red or green bell pepper (or half of each), cut into narrow strips (I diced mine, as my kids prefer them that way)
  • 1 cup baby carrots, or to taste
  • 1/2 cup black olives, preferably cured and pitted (I omitted these, as my kids are not fond of them; in my opinion, kalamata olives would work equally well)
  • 1 cup red or yellow cherry tomatoes, halved (or 1 medium red tomato, diced)

Directions

Cutting the Potatoes

  1. Bake the potatoes until done but still firm.  When cool enough to handle, peel and cut into bite-size chunks and place in a small mixing bowl.  Toss with enough dressing or vinaigrette to moisten.
  2. Pour 1-1/2 cups boiling water over the couscous in a heatproof container.  Cover and let stand for 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
  3. Combine the couscous with the corn in a mixing bowl.  Drizzle in the oil and toss well.  Season gently with salt.
  4. Mound the couscous mixture in the center of a large platter.  Sprinkle with minced fresh parsley, if desired.
  5. Arrange alternating piles of potatoes, bell pepper, baby carrots, olives, and tomatoes around the couscous mixture.
  6. Each person can make up his or her own plate.  Serve additional dressing or vinaigrette to drizzle on the raw vegetables as desired.

As you can see, it’s a fairly simple recipe.  The longest part is the baking of the potatoes, but you can shorten that time by opting to nuke them in the microwave.

Composed Couscous and Corn Salad

So my review on Nava Atlas’ cookbook is a stellar one.  Most of the recipes involve ingredients that are inexpensive and easy to find, even when you take into consideration that I live in rural Ohio, where eating tofu is equated with godless fascist hippie communism (I wish I were exaggerating).  The recipes are very simple, and she gives options and alternatives to many of the recipes, if you want to kick it up a notch.  She also writes to those who are new to vegetarian cuisine, sharing recipes and tips for adjusting away from meat.  And, as I have demonstrated in this and some of my other recent posts, it’s easy to build upon her recipes to add your own personal flair to them.

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