Saturday, July 22, 2017

Blackberries and Pie Again

Blackberries and Pie Again

This is a new version of what I wrote in my blog during another summer several years ago when it was blackberry season.  The first line below applied then and today.

I picked wild blackberries this morning and made some of them into a pie. It’s the beginning of the wild blackberry season in Madison.

Pie is a wonderful part of Americana. For me, it is the all American dessert. When it’s good, it’s very, very good, and when it’s bad, it’s horrid. I make very good pie. Many grocery stores make very bad pie. Grocery store pies often have mass produced crusts that are not flaky and taste like straw. Since I believe that pies are more than fillings stuffed between soft cement crusts, I prefer to eat pies that I make.

My great aunt Lina used to make pie crust that was like hard cement; she mixed it too much. Needless to say, she didn’t teach me how to make pies. My mother did give a few pointers, although I actually never saw her make a pie. She gave me an important bit of advice, which I have followed with good results. She said not to mix the dough very much. My pie crust is flaky and delicious. Thanks, Mother.

My blackberry pie recipe is derived from my big fat falling-apart Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book, 1953 edition, for the crust, and adapted from a pie recipe on the box of Minute Tapioca, for the filling. The tapioca box doesn’t say how to make blackberry pie. It says how to make blueberry pie. Close enough. Since my cooking interest is in how to cook for one or two people, I cut the tapioca box recipe in half to make an eight-inch pie. If your kitchen does not have an eight-inch pie plate, you are likely to find one at a thrift store. Ditto for rolling pin.

Blackberry Pie – one eight-inch pie
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2 cups fresh blackberries
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons quick cooking tapioca

Mix fruit, tapioca and sugar in bowl. Let stand 15 minutes. Make an 8-inch pie crust while waiting. Use your recipe or the one here.

1 ½ cups all purpose flour (of course I think it is bad for us, but it makes good pie)
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup lard, butter or shortening; I use lard (I’ll have more to say about this later)
4 tablespoons cold water (approximately)

Stir together the flour and salt. Cut in the lard or other fat until pieces are the size of peas.  Sprinkle water, a tablespoon at a time, over the mixture. Gently mix with fork until all is moistened. Don’t mix too much. Form the mixture into a ball. Divide it in half. Flatten the first half slightly and roll it on a lightly floured pastry cloth or floured sheet of waxed paper. Roll the dough with light strokes, from center of the piece to the edges, so it makes a circle of dough about the size of the pie plate. Put the dough into the pie dish. I fold half over the other half, pick it up carefully and put it in the dish, and then unfold it.

Put berry/tapioca mixture into the pie plate on the bottom crust. Dot it with butter.  Moisten the peripheral edges of the bottom crust with water, all the way around. Roll the second half of the crust dough into a circle that will fit onto the pie plate. Seal the edges with fork or Fluting. I use a fork. Consult your cookbook to flute edges. Cut vent holes in crust with fork.  Bake the pie in a pre-heated oven at 400 degrees, for 45 or more minutes, until it is brown and done. If juices escape and drip onto your oven floor during baking, resign yourself. It’s still a good pie. You can put a cookie sheet under the pie dish to catch juices. I baked my pie in the toaster oven, so that option was not available.


Comment about fat:  fat is a big issue these days, but pie requires it. I think lard makes wonderful crust, but good lard is hard to find. The lard in the big box grocery stores is partly hydrogenated and not recommended unless you don’t care about your health. I can buy pasture raised, minimally processed local lard, frozen, at the Willy Street Coop (Madison and Middleton), which is the only place I have seen it. Lard contains cholesterol.  I don’t believe that cholesterol is bad for people, but that is another story. If good lard is not available, I recommend butter. A third choice is vegetable shortening, preferably not hydrogenated, although it does not lend flavor to the crust the way lard and butter do.  Purchased pie crust is available in grocery stores, and it is all right, but in my opinion, it lacks the character of homemade crust. I don’t know what extra ingredients are in it, such as chemicals and flavorings.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Two Kinds of People in the World

There’s Two Kinds of People in the World...
This is a guest blog post by my daughter.
At the library today, we were talking about one parent’s reaction to a book whose presence in school and public libraries is frequently challenged. Banning/challenging books is one of those behaviors that gets me thinking about human nature. There are as many different ways to split us up into two camps as there are people to split up, but this one has been much on my mind lately.
When something makes people uncomfortable, they either examine their reaction or they push the irritant away. ‘Why does this make me uncomfortable’ vs ‘I don’t like it make it go away.’ This isn’t just about art, of course, it happens with any sort of idea and in many different contexts. Another version, one which is on display all over our public discourse at the moment, goes like this: when presented with information that challenges their world view, some people will re-examine their world view in light of the new information, and some will reject, deny, or attempt to discredit the new information.
People in the first group tend to respond to people in the second group by throwing more facts at them, and then fail to understand why that doesn’t change their minds. When people are clinging to a belief, opinion, position, whatever, in defiance of the facts, more facts are only going to make them more defensive. Being able to ‘prove’ that they’re ‘wrong’ doesn’t prove anything to them except that the person with the ‘proof’ is their enemy and must be stopped, condemned, ridiculed, or ignored.
We’ve all experienced cognitive dissonance. You learn something that contradicts something you’ve already incorporated into your version of reality. To pull a handy example or two from my own life: you find out that your spouse is lying to you, systematically and habitually. I willfully looked away and pretended not to know, because I could not handle the implications, and it took several years to fully integrate that truth into what I thought I had known about my marriage. Another: you find out someone you like, admire, consider a friend, is abusing his/her partner/spouse. This has happened to me a couple of times, and I understand why some people just withdraw from situations like that rather than give the abused person the support they need. I don’t condone it, but I understand. It’s hard to face and accept the fact that someone who has always seemed like a decent person can be false and cruel.
It’s hard to accept that things you believe to be true might not be, and people that you believed were going to do the right thing, aren’t. It’s easier for some people to pretend that whoever is challenging their belief is wrong, malicious, or misguided. Sometimes, even when the truth is right in front of you, it’s easier to look away.
Here’s the thing - most of us spend time in both camps. Most of us can be flexible and adaptable about some things, and blindly rigid about others. Perhaps when we’re dealing with someone who is on the opposite side of this divide from us, it might behoove us to remember the times when we were being that way, ourselves -- if we’re actually interested in bridging the divide rather than just satisfying ourselves that we’re right and they’re irrelevant. Trying to shout each other down is getting us nowhere, and ignoring the other side until they go away isn’t much of a strategy, either. I’m not saying that those reactions aren’t justified - I don’t care if they’re justified. I care if they’re effective.
If something makes you uncomfortable, sometimes you just have to learn to live with discomfort. Some cognitive dissonances don’t ever resolve. Some people are nice to their friends and assholes to their family. Some ideas are scary. Some works of art are disturbing. Some arguments can’t be won, at least not by arguing.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Washington Island Forum 2017

“Remember matrix,” John Dominic Crossan told an audience of more than two hundred people at the Washington Island Forum that ended Friday. Matrix, he said, is the key to the consequence and punishment traditions in the Hebrew Bible. Matrix was one thread that went through three and a half days of lecture and discussion; another was distributive justice. The forum’s attendees comprised about ninety percent clergy representing many Christian denominations, and some laypeople including me. Crossan is professor emeritus in Religious Studies at DePaul University in Chicago.

We were given a boatload of big words during the week. Matrix, distributive justice, Deuteronomic, eschatology, and more. Matrix, the first, was defined as common sense of time and space, or what everyone else knows. He said that to know the matrix is to know what is going on throughout the Bible. Once one knows the matrix, questions become possible. The matrix he presented included tradition, vision, time and place. He began with Adam and Eve and went through eight great traditions that are likely to be more familiar to clergy than to ordinary people like me.

Crossan talked about Adam and Eve, with the question of deciding to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and pointed out another tradition, the Mesopotamian story, which gave the first couple the choice of eating from the tree of immortality and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He said that people see the Adam and Eve story as about original sin and sex. Then he pointed out that many people stop with the first couple and sex rather than talk about Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. Cain and Abel gave us the beginning of escalatory violence, which continues in history to today. Cain and Abel were the farmer and the herder. It was the beginning of civilization, which he said wasn’t always very good.

Sabbath was shown as the crown of creation. Human beings are the result of creation, not the crown. Crossan said that females and males were created in the image of God to run the world for God as agents or stewards, with no hint about covenant, sanction, punishments and rewards. This began the consequence tradition. The Sabbath God in Torah is about distributive justice. Distributive justice is primary. Sabbath is the metronome of time; even the land and wild animals rest. Sabbath sets up the rhythm of distributive, not punitive, justice.

Non-violent resistance was another theme of the talks. Crossan talked about covenantal law with rewards and punishments as a deuteronomic idea that comes up in the Bible in many circumstances. Israel was situated between two superpowers who fought wars.

And so the story of Israel in the Hebrew Bible continued. God was the householder of the world house, with everyone getting a fair share, and their rights to enough were taken for granted. The radicality of God was contrasted with civilization, with God’s radicality affirmed and subverted repeatedly through time.

Crossan talked about prophetic and psalm traditions, which he said are repeatedly about distributive justice and group identity; Sabbath means everyone gets a fair share. Amos is about divine distributive justice; Amos said you will be destroyed if you don’t do distributive justice.
People made a mess of things, and the idea of atonement came up. Crossan talked about sacrificial atonement, to be good for fixing up your mess. He said that the idea of substitutionary sacrificial atonement is not in the New Testament. He favored participatory sacrificial atonement. Sacrifice means to make sacred. With elaboration that I am not including, he said that Jesus is about sacrificial atonement but not substitution. Without the matrix the sacrifice of Jesus makes no sense.

He pointed out that in baptism the person is dying to Roman values and born into the Christian world, dying with Christ. Grace, he said, is the free download of God’s character. He mentioned the kingdom of God as being among the people in the present, and it was to be realized through non-violent resistance.

We heard about the Book of Daniel, which switches into the eschatological tradition. Eschatology refers to the end or the last things, not the end of the world. Daniel has three empires with exponential increases in weaponry; the fifth kingdom/empire is the Kingdom of God. Rome called itself the fifth kingdom. Rome and the God kingdom were in an eschatological collision course. Rome vs the Kingdom of God was peace through victory vs peace through justice. The Kingdom of God was human-like, not beast-like. It was not armed revolt.

In the last talk Crossan talked about Jesus. He said that resurrection is all of humanity, a rising. Jesus in the Easter vision never rises alone (in art). The original vision of Easter is that the people who have been raised should be leading risen lives. The descent of Jesus into hell in the western tradition is going in the wrong direction; victory is raising up. Escalatory violence is our sin. The crucified one liberates us from death, not hell. Crossan said that there are two visions of Jesus, riding triumphantly on a donkey, and in Revelation riding on a war horse. He said that Jesus on a war horse is a failure of the Incarnation, getting there riding through blood. The Gospel Jesus is not the apocalyptic Jesus.
Crossan’s final message is if we separate justice and love, it goes wrong. Don’t separate them. Justice is the flesh of love and love is the spirit of justice.

The forum was held at Washington Island, Wisconsin, June 26-30, 2017, and was sponsored by the Wisconsin Council of Churches and Christian Century magazine. The talks were based on Crossan’s recent book, How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Peanut Butter Cookies

People like these. Just ask my (adult) kids, who grew up eating them. Homemade is better than any other way to have ttem, including Girl Scout cookies. My cookies are easy to make and worth the time. My sentiments are stated in this quote from the late Peg Bracken: “When you hate to cook, you ask a lot of a cooky recipe. It must call for no exotic ingredients. It must be easy. It must not, above all, call for any rolling out and cutting. It must produce extremely good cookies. And quite a lot of them.” (The I Hate to Cook Book, 1960)

These peanut butter cookies fit that description. They are from my 1948 cookbook that has never failed me: The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, by Fannie Merritt Farmer, 8th edition.

Peanut Butter Cookies

½ cup butter                            1 egg
½ cup peanut butter               ½ teaspoon vanilla
½ cup white sugar                   ½ teaspoon salt
½ cup brown sugar                 ½ teaspoon soda
                        1 cup flour

Cream butters, beat in sugar, add other ingredients and more flour, if needed, to make mixture still enough for drop cookies. Arrange by spoonfuls on buttered cookie sheet, press flat with floured spoon and mark with floured fork. Bake in moderate oven (350 degrees).


My comments: I suggest mixing the flour, salt and soda together before mixing them with the other ingredients. This recipe makes about 24 cookies, but the number will depend on size.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sugar Nation

How would you like to read a book that upends a lot of today’s standard advice about diabetes and prediabetes? Not another one! Well, here it is. Jeff O’Connell has written a book for American sugar eaters of today. He is a fitness writer and bodybuilder who tells about sugar and prediabetes and their impact on his life. The subtitle of the book Sugar Nation gets to the core of his memoir: The Hidden Truth Behind America’s Deadliest Habit and the Simple way to Beat it.

O’Connell tells his story about discovering that he has prediabetes. His father died of diabetes.  O’Connell didn’t just take medication or give up, but rather did research about this disease that showed him where many Americans eat the American diet, get minimal exercise and get sick. The culprit is the huge amount of sugars and carbohydrates that we are eating combined with sedentary lifestyles. He shows that diabetes brings with it complications including heart disease, kidney shutdown, nerve damage, and amputations.

He says that we have the tools at our disposal to prevent and reverse the disease, but many people aren’t using them. He says that many doctors know little about diet and nutrition and focus on treatment rather than prevention. He presents interviews with and data from many doctors who work with diabetics. He takes us into the lives of people with diabetes who follow the standard medical advice and see their disease advance. He sees his diabetic father suffering at the end of his life.

The tools are low carbohydrate diets and fats, and keeping physically fit. Diet and exercise. He weaves his own story through much of what he presents, which makes it readable and easy to understand. There was a lot that he says he didn’t know at the beginning of the story, particularly “I didn’t know that the best way to lose weight and keep it off is to do the exact opposite of what the majority of mainstream weight-loss experts recommend.” (p. 3.) He says also, “What I did know? That my limbs, heart, and kidneys were worth a hell of a lot more to me than hamburger buns, French fries, and glazed doughnuts. So I changed my ways with a vengeance.” (p. 3.)

O’Connell gives information about reactive hypoglycemia, a condition that happens to some people who are normal weight or thin but have prediabetes. He is one of them. He says there is not a lot of good data about it. But it occurs in a lot of diabetic patients.

A lot is packed into this book It’s worth reading.


O’Connell, Jeff, Sugar Nation: The Hidden Truth Behind America’s Deadliest Habit and the Simple Way to Beat it. 1st ed., Hyperion Books, 2010.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Pick List: More Than You Ever Wanted to Know

Volunteering in the library is worth doing. I began my library volunteer life after I retired from work as, you guessed it, a librarian. I was barely out the door after my retirement party at the Edgerton library when I walked into the Meadowridge library near my home and asked them to give me something to do. They said to come in on Mondays. They gave me the pick list. What’s that?

In case you are wondering how those books, videos and other items show up for you to take home from your library when they aren’t in its collection, here is the answer. The magic of automation and a real person get together to find them and send them to your home library, thanks to the pick list. Your job is to interact with your library’s catalog, find the book or other item, place a hold on it if it isn’t on the shelf where you are, and then wait. If you are catalog challenged, you ask a person who works in the library. You can place holds from home, too. Your library will notify you when that terrific novel arrives, so you can pick it up. How good is that?

The library’s automated system produces the request list daily. Someone, such as me or a library employee, finds the items. The staff people then pack them up and send them to the appropriate libraries to check out there.  If you have asked for the latest novel by Janet Evanovich, and it has five hundred people ahead of you on the list, you must wait your turn. That novel has many copies owned by various libraries, but just like your children, you must wait your turn.

Thomas Jefferson invented a system for organizing his many books, which became the beginning of The Library of Congress. Organizing materials is an old idea. Public libraries mostly use the Dewey Decimal System. They are cataloged and shelved according to call numbers on the spines of the books. Who determines the call numbers? Librarians, of course. Call numbers tell shelvers where to put those items and people like you and me where to find them. Those DVDs, books and other things don’t just jump into my little basket like a puppy. I must find them with the help of those call numbers on the printed pick list.

Of course we have some challenges. The books on the shelf may not be in good order. The music CDs are never in perfect order. Browsers often don’t think about the Dewey Decimal System when they stuff materials back on the shelves. Sometimes we are unable to find items on the pick list. Kids often leave books on the floor. I hate to say this, but sometimes library users are impolite even though it’s a good thing for them to be comfortable in the library. Silence is old school.

Many libraries use volunteers in addition to the people who work there. Before I retired I worked with volunteers in several libraries, including teenagers and people with disabilities. Typical volunteer jobs have included the pick list and shelving. Sometimes volunteers presented children’s storytimes in libraries where I worked.

The pick list has broadened opportunities for people who once had to travel to other libraries to access their collections. I’m glad it’s there.


Friday, December 30, 2016

Year End 2016

Another year is ending. A lot of events stayed the same as other years, and some didn’t.  That’s my year end summary. Here are the fascinating, or boring, details of my year.

What do I remember most? We had a presidential election and Donald Trump won the electoral vote. That wasn’t the same as other years. It was a large upheaval. The campaign seemed to go on forever, with many Republicans and two Democrats entering the contest. My candidate was Bernie Sanders. He didn’t win, but he continues to extend influence. The two finalists were Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The race featured much hate and many lies plus some occasional truth. The media pundits whom I heard said that Clinton told the truth more than Trump. We continue to wonder what the President-elect will do after he takes office. I still believe that Bernie Sanders would have served the American people best. It appears that the Democrats are trying to figure out who they are.

What did I like most? (1) My annual multiple day trip took place in June at Mackinac Island. My bus trips are always enjoyable, and this one was notable for taking us to the Grand Hotel. We were told that the island has five hundred horses during the summer to transport island residents and visitors. No cars are permitted there, although a fire engine is. We were treated to a visit to a restored fort on the island, with colonial soldiers reenacting the guard rounds of yesteryear. This fort was important due to its location on Lake Huron where it protected a large area of wilderness from our enemies. We also enjoyed great food at the hotel (of course it wasn’t memorable enough to recall today what the food was.) and some live music. We had plenty of time to walk around the island.
(2) A long weekend in Maryland with Mary and Gareth (daughter and husband) was very good. I don’t see them often.

What did I do that I do every year? (1) I had numerous summer visits to Washington Island, mostly by myself. Daughter Sarah camped with me on the island and at Sturgeon Bay. Granddaughters Andrea and Laura camped with Sarah and me at Washington Island once. This year we didn’t have bats in our cabin in the woods.
(2) I did some day trips on buses, and I went to the usual church gatherings.
(3) I continued do volunteer work at the Meadowridge library, the Madison Senior Center, and St. Dunstan’s Church. It seems that the church continues to be the hub of my social life.

What surprised me most? In October I took part in speed dating for single people over age 65. I didn’t know what it was, but my senior center showed a movie and brought in a psychology professor to give us information about it. It was great fun, and channel 3 television covered the part when the eight women and eight men met one another. Subsequently I dated four men and am continuing to date one. I would say that speed dating has been a success for me as 2016 comes to an end.


2016 has been a good year. We will see what Donald Trump does next year. Yikes.