Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving--Our National Holiday

Thanksgiving is almost here.  It is one of our two major national holidays, the other being Independence Day, July 4. We have more, but these seem to be the two primary ones.

I think of Thanksgiving Day as part of an interesting progression of secular to religious holidays in American culture. July 4 is political without religious overtones. Thanksgiving is technically national, with thanks given, to God, for the blessings of being Americans in the most wonderful nation on earth. Christmas is technically a religious holiday, with celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and much secular activity.

I see something going on here.  Our national constitution long ago set the stage for separation of church and state. The first amendment clearly states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”  Today we have two religious/secular holidays that celebrate the Christianity of our nation, while celebrating secular issues such as turkeys, Santa Claus, home decoration, gift giving and much enhancement of our economic system.

Thanksgiving Day is a big day of patriotism. Schools are closed. People travel to be with their families. Big dinners are prepared and eaten. Sometimes we think about what Thanksgiving is about and why our nation celebrates it. The national mythology tells us that it is about the European settlers sitting down in peace with the Native Americans, to have dinner in friendship. Friendship prevails.

Well, maybe. The Europeans came to our continent with the assumption that they “discovered” it and it was theirs. Yes, but they discovered that people were already here. Here is a quote from a history book by James W. Loewen, in Lies My Teacher Told Me:  “Thanksgiving celebrates our ethnocentrism. We have seen, for example, how King James and the early Pilgrim leaders gave thanks for the plague, which proved to them that God was on their side. The archetypes associated with Thanksgiving—God on our side, civilization wrested from wilderness, order from disorder, through hard work and good Pilgrim character traits—continue to radiate from our history textbooks.” (pp. 95-96, paperback edition)

Thanksgiving is about giving thanks. Thanks for making us white, for our land takeover from the original owners (native tribes), for our immense wealth, and for our being the greatest people on earth (empire). It’s about a huge dinner, usually turkey. It’s also about shopping. The day after the holiday is the biggest shopping day of the year, the inauguration of the Christmas shopping season.

I notice that we have a group of candidates who want to be our next President. I see that religious credentials seem necessary for a President, and in particular, “acceptable” Christian credentials. Some people made much over the myth that President Obama might be a Muslim; he isn’t. Some people are worried about Mitt Romney being a Mormon.  People like to believe that our founding fathers were all members of established churches. I ask, why is faith being dragged through a country that has separation of church and state? Might some people rather want to see our national leaders acting on Christian principles rather than giving lip service to church membership while advocating violence such as two needless wars?  Is this what Thanksgiving is about?

Individually we have much to be thankful for. I am thankful for my family, my deceased parents and husband, and my children and grandchildren. I am thankful that we have enough to eat and a roof under our heads. I am thankful that I have enough money to sustain my life. I am thankful that we live in a society that doesn’t oppress me, although it oppresses some other people. Many Americans are not this well situated.

Bring on our next religious/secular holiday: Christmas.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Frittata For One Or Two

Frittata for One or Two

I like frittata. Frittata is an Italian omelet, according to Joy of Cooking (1997). I hope it is. I was glad to learn that pizza is an Italian pie, so maybe it is true. I give Joy of Cooking credit for telling me what frittata is. Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook didn’t bother. They just went ahead with telling us how to make it, whether we know what it is or not. What we have here are two ways to deal with life: learn what it is or just go ahead and live it.

Frittata has many good qualities. It is easy to make. It tastes good.  It requires no exotic ingredients unless you choose to use some. It is a good way to use up leftover meat and vegetables. Preparation takes little time, although it requires some vegetable chopping and cheese grating. There are two ways to make it: broiling or baking. Frittata is a good example of culinary flexibility. When we are cooking for one or two, we find that we can make a smaller version than the cookbooks offer.

On the other hand, if we don’t have an oven-proof skillet, we won’t be making frittata.

Here is commentary from Joy of Cooking, in its recipe for zucchini frittata, which is not the only frittata in the world. “Frittatas are cooked in a heavy skillet over low heat until they are firm—not runny like a French omelet—and they are left open-faced, not folded….we recommend popping it into the oven or under the broiler to cook the top side. Served in wedges, frittatas are delicious hot, warm, or at room temperature.”

My version of frittata is based on, but not identical to, the one in Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook, 1989 paperback. It requires a medium size oven-proof skillet such as an old fashioned cast iron one.

3 eggs
About 1 cup chopped vegetables (I used celery, green pepper and onion today) (whatever you have in the refrigerator);
Meat (optional); I used one leftover bratwurst, cut in small pieces
1-2 tablespoons fat such as butter or bacon drippings (cholesterol isn’t an issue here)
About 1 cup grated cheddar cheese (I know, more cholesterol)

In an oven-proof skillet, saute the vegetables and meat in the fat over medium heat.
Beat the eggs and pour them into the skillet. Distribute the cheese over the top. Bake at 350 degrees about 15 minutes, or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.

That’s the easy way to do it. For cooks who like to do it with other cooking methods, Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook gives directions (paraphrased):

1.        After putting the eggs into the skillet, over medium heat, cook it and run a spatula around the edge, lifting the mixture to let uncooked eggs flow underneath. Do this until the mixture is almost set and then put it under the broiler, 4 or 5 inches under the heat. Broil it until the top is just set, about 1 to 2 minutes.

2.       You can microwave it. I do not recommend doing this and have not tried it; I prefer real cooking. Cook the veggies in a pie plate in the microwave oven until they are tender. Pour the beaten eggs over the vegetables/meat mixture. Cook on high for 3 to 5 minutes, lifting cooked eggs every minute and letting uncooked portions flow underneath. Let stand for 5 minutes.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Packer Fandom

It’s football season. Wisconsinites are crazy about the Packers. The Packers are the religion of Wisconsin. I like the Packers, even though I think professional football is ritualized violence. Our Super Bowl champion gladiators are very popular.

Packer fans are loyal. It’s impossible to get a season ticket for home games. Lambeau Field is always filled, and the fans stay until the end even when the team loses. The traffic jams in and on highways leading to Green Bay on game day are enormous, except during the game when no one is to be seen on the roads. I have heard that area churches rent parking spaces to handle the stadium’s overflow crowds. People without tickets sit at home and in the bars, huddled in front of their television sets and radios.

At this time of the year,  stores abound with Packer merchandise; a few days ago I had no trouble finding a team keychain. Even the babies are decked out in Packer clothes. People of all ages go about their business wearing shirts with their favorite players’ numbers; quarterback numbers are best sellers.  I’m still waiting for merchandisers to bring forth a Packer toilet seat; they haven’t done it yet as far as I know, even or especially during losing seasons. I have seen Packer crying towels.

Broadcasters love the Packers, and I think the Packers love sportscasters. When Rick was in radio broadcasting, the team gave him a free spot in the press box with plenty of food, a seat for me where everyone else sat, a golf outing, other public relations events, and plenty of interviews. Vince Lombardi kicked Rick out of the dressing room, which meant he was one of them. I still have Rick’s press credentials for the Ice Bowl. He went; I didn’t have a seat for that one. I have heard that broadcasters no longer receive free seats for their loved ones, but I am sure that the Packers continue to romance the media. In return, we hear about the Packers 365 days a year in Green Bay, and almost as often in Madison, on our local television stations. (We have the Badgers in Madison to talk about, too.)

Bret Favre took the team to the Super Bowl; everyone loved him until he decided to retire, which became an annual event for him. When he unretired and became a Minnesota Viking, Wisconsin’s ire overflowed. He became another Benedict Arnold. (Read your history book to learn about Benedict Arnold; he wasn’t a football player.) The formerly beloved Favre took some much publicized sexual missteps, and his popularity among fans disappeared. No more annual retirements for him.

How soon we almost forget. Now Aaron Rodgers is the hero, along with the long haired Clay Matthews. News media reported recently that some people want to name a Green Bay street for coach McCarthy.

We’ll have another game in our winning season Sunday. Be sure to tune in.