Saturday, December 24, 2011

My Favorite Holiday Dish



      I must confess – I love holiday food. I love turkey, ham, potatoes & gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce…and baked yams. I’ve always loved the humble yam, and I have recently decided to get up-close and personal and do a little bit of research.



      The orange-colored yam is a variety of sweet potato, but different from the lighter variety that’s commonly known as a “sweet potato.” The "sweet potato" has lighter skin, light yellow flesh, and despite it’s name, it isn’t sweet. The one that’s commonly referred to as a yam has a dark reddish-brown skin, bright orange meat, and a sweet taste. 

So, even though the terms are used interchangeably, both of these tubers are sweet potatoes, just different varieties.

      True yams have a black or brown skin, and off-white, purple, or red flesh. They grow in tropical climates, like the Carribean, South  America, and Africa. There’s over 150 varieties of yam, and they taste generally sweeter than sweet potatoes.They are not even remotely related to sweet potatoes.

So, I want to share my enthusiasm for the orange-fleshed sweet potato, with a simple, yet delicious recipe:

Mashed baked yams (Orange Sweet Potatoes)

Ingredients:
·           4-5 medium yams
·         ¼ c dark brown sugar
·         ½ bag mini marshmallows

Directions:
     1.      Peel yams. Cut into chunks and boil until soft.
     2.      Put into bowl and mash yams with masher or fork.
     3.      When yams are mashed until smooth, mix in brown sugar.
     4.      Spoon mixture into 8x8 dish, and spread a generous amount of mini marshmallows on top.
     5.      Cover dish with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 5-10 minutes, or until the top of the marshmallows are brown and crispy.
     6.      Wait for it to cool. Enjoy!

 I hope you all learned a little something, and will enjoy “yams” as much as I do!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Russian Literature in General and Anna Karenina in Particular


Last week I finished reading Anna Karenina. It was tragic, depressing, passionate, inspiring – with a cast of unforgettable characters and many themes. This story is tightly woven, consisting of a few families that are related in some way, by blood or by marriage. There are many themes in this novel, including inevitable social change in Russia, farming techniques, family life, forgiveness, adultery, death, and marriage. It’s heavy, thoughtful reading – and it often led me to become philosophical and/or thoughtful at times. Be warned – my review/synopsis is rife with spoilers that give away the plot of the book. If you haven’t read it, this blog post might take the enjoyment out of the various surprises and plot twists.


      Levin, one of the two major protagonists, was the easiest character for me to identify with. His religious struggle, his search for meaning in his life, his social awkwardness, and his inability to understand (or tolerate) bureaucracy mirrored some of my own life experiences. His love for the country, for hunting, and for the general welfare of the peasants working on his land endeared me to him quickly. He’s a deep man; he likes to read philosophy – but he busies himself not with an academic occupation, but with a hands-on, labor-intensive one: agriculture. I almost cried for him when Kitty refused his first proposal – it speaks to Tolstoy as a writer that I felt Levin’s anguish at being rejected. Levin is independent and thinks for himself – but does not purposefully challenge society like Anna does.
      Anna, the second protagonist, looks to me like a woman who lets her feelings and moods dictate her life. She is led around by love, by hate, by the refusal of shame. She’s a victim of the double-standard that still exists in society today: if a man is unfaithful, it is ignored – when a woman is unfaithful, she meets with scorn and derision. Regardless, put up next to Levin’s search for happiness – which is for the most part spiritual - Anna’s search for emotional and physical happiness seems selfish in comparison. She eventually performs the ultimate selfish act – suicide – by throwing herself beneath the wheels of a train. She is a tragic character – one who desires love, but is never satisfied; one who desires happiness, but is never satiated.
Vronsky, Anna’s lover, is to me, a repulsive character. He is designed as a hero character, with flaws, yes, but someone to be admired. To be completely honest, I found him petty and shallow. He cared more about how Anna’s damaged status affected his rank in society than he cared about his proposed love’s pain. He cared much about making his child truly his – since their child was born while Anna was married to Alexy Karenin, the child is officially and legally a Karenin, not a Vronsky. He is self-centered and petty. He does have one outstanding quality – although his love for Anna eventually fades a little, he still does love her, and mourns at her passing.
      Anna’s husband, Alexei Karenin, is a high-level bureaucrat with little personality. He is emotionally self-contained and is not very affectionate towards his wife. He has a son with Anna, Seryozha, with which he is unable to truly connect. Anna loves her son dearly, which is much different from the new daughter with Vronsky – she doesn’t seem to be able to connect with her, and lets the staff take care of the baby. Alexei uses this love to his advantage – treating his son as a pawn in game that is the relationship between him and Anna. Later, Alexei is deeply influenced by a society woman who is interested in religion and spirit mediums to refuse a divorce – which influences Anna’s suicide.

There are many other characters that come alive in this novel:
      Sergei Ivanovich, Levin’s half-brother, is a cold intellectual and writer. He and Levin often duel intellectually. While Levin’s arguments sound well-thought-out and well-rounded, Sergei’s seem cold and rigid, and not backed up by any serious thinking or experience. Levin’s brother Nikolai is sickly and thin – he’s an intellectual radical and a drinker. He is cared for by his reformed prostitute girlfriend, Marya. He is a short-lived character, but a pivotal one – his sickness and death is a catalyst for Levin’s spiritual anguish.
Stepan(Stiva) is Anna’s brother, a man who lives for enjoyment and thinks of responsibility later. He has constant money problems throughout the book, and he also indulges in affairs. The first affair starts off the book, with Anna being called in to reconcile the couple. His actions in this regard – the affair – highlight the double standard of adultery. He is chastised lightly, and continues to have affairs, while Anna does the same thing – and is shunned by society and disgraced. Despite this, he is a bright, happy character that it’s hard not to love. He is boisterous and charming, and I was delighted when I read that his wife lamented the rouble he spent sending her a telegram to inform her of some political matter that she could care less about. He sent it, she said, because when he has a few drinks, he can’t help but do it. Ladies and gentlemen, this here is a 19th century DRUNK-DIAL
      Stiva’s wife Dolly is a Shcherbatsky – and sister to another character, Kitty. Dolly has several children with Stiva, and seems to revel in motherhood - and although she does contrast her life with that of Anna (to be free!), she decides she loves her children more than she would enjoy the freedom that she would gain by leaving them. Sadly, Dolly spends most of the book as a victim – of her husband, his infidelity and irresponsibility- and not until later in the book do we actually hear some of her candid thoughts. By the end of the book, she transformed – she was caring, faithful and loving towards her family and friends – in fact, she was one of the only people who would visit Anna despite her ruined reputation.
      Dolly’s sister, Kitty is an interesting character. Although na├»ve and sheltered, she is loving, religious, and eventually, an attentive wife and mother. Her light, airy religious beliefs contrast to that of her husband, who is consumed with thoughts of death, the meaning of life, and his own mortality. Prince Shcherbatsky (Kitty, Dolly, and Natalie’s father) favors Levin for a suitor of his daughter in the beginning of the novel, while the Princess unwisely prefers Vronsky. When Vronsky fails to do what is expected of him – propose – it doesn’t take long for the couple to argue, then make up. The impression that I got of their marriage was positive – it was a healthy, loving marriage – they aren’t afraid to fight, and they make up quickly – they are very well suited for each other. I also believe that they have the best interests at heart for their children – even if they disagree on the action to be taken.
      In the end, Levin resolves his spiritual anxiety and delights in being a good husband and father, while Anna’s unhappiness drives her to a desperate act. They stand in stark contrast to one another, although what they were searching for was the same: happiness.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Martin Luther

For the past few weeks, I have been reading about the life and times of Martin Luther - NOT the civil rights activist, the 16th century German religious reformer that may have single-handedly shaped the Western world.

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Martin's parents wanted him to become a lawyer - after all, that would bring his family more prestige, and that meant quite a lot in 16th century Germany. But young Martin had a religious experience - he was on horseback during a thunderstorm and a lightning bolt struck near him. In terror, he cried out "Help! Saint Anna, I will become a monk!"
And he did.
But Luther was not content as a monk - he dedicated himself to monastic life, but was eventually ordered by his superior to teach theology at the University of Wittenburg. It was during this time that the Catholic Church began selling indulgences again - a practice that Luther abhorred, because it implied that you could "buy" your way into heaven by good works, or purchasing indulgences from the church. In 1517, Luther wrote to his bishop, Albert of Mainz, protesting the sale of indulgences. This was his famous '95 theses.' Legend has it that he nailed the 95 theses to the door of the church, but there is little to support this claim.
In 1518, friends of Luther translated the 95 Theses from Latin into German, printed and disseminated them. Within two weeks, copies had spread throughout Germany; within two months throughout Europe.
Luther, in the beginning, did not intend to attack the Church. Like many of his time, he was unhappy with the actions of the Church, and wanted answers. He got his answer: in 1521, he was excommunicated for his writings.
Luther claimed that a personal relationship with God was possible. This was revolutionary - for over a thousand years, the pious had to speak to God through a religious intermediary - a priest. The Church ruled spiritual life - it held the people at it's mercy, because without it's services, one could not enter heaven. The church performed baptisms, performed mass, offered communion, heard confessions, performed marriage rites, and death rites.
In Luther's new churches, the congregation sang the hymns. Sermons were read in German - NOT Latin. Pastors could marry. Luther himself even translated the bible into German so that laypeople didn't need to learn Latin to read God's word.

To put it all into perspective: Martin Luther reluctantly antagonized the largest, most powerful institution of his day - and WON.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Bad Case of the What Ifs

Have you ever had a time, where you truly doubted yourself? All of these possibilities flood your head, and you wonder...what if?

What if:

I don't know what I'm doing?
I can't find a job after college?
I can't handle a job, if I manage to get one?
I hate my job - if I get one?
this isn't what I'm good at?
all I'm good at...is being a student? What do I do then?

All of these went through my head. I know that I'm scared; that I don't think I can handle basic responsibilities. I'm pretty sure it's normal (even for a 28-yr-old) - but I'm still scared anyway.

Thanks for tuning in - hopefully the next post will be a little more upbeat.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The History of Libraries

This week, I've been reading about the history of libraries. I am going to college right now, to earn my AAS degree in Library Science, so that I may one day become a Library Technician. Out of all the subjects we have been learning - the Dewey Decimal System, the Library of Congress Classification System, etc., what most interests me is the history and evolution of the library.
First of all, in ancient times, not everyone could read - whether in Asia, Greece, Rome, or Egypt, education was for the rich, the privileged, and the clergy who advised them. Libraries in Europe were either private or connected to churches or monasteries until the Renaissance, when the love of knowledge that came from the Middle Eastern region flowed in to Europe.
The religion of Islam greatly influenced our book culture of today. They built great libraries, amassed monstrous collections, their scribes beautifully illuminated the texts, and the bindings were coveted for their richness and sumptuousness. They even collected and reproduced the literature of their rivals, the Greeks.
Libraries were, in general, open only to the higher classes, scientists, and the clergy for study and research. The first "modern" library, according to most historians, is the library at San Marco in Florence, built by Cosimo de Medici, a great patron of the arts in Renaissance Italy. This was only open to the learned and upper classes as well - but it also illustrated how libraries were used to show power and influence, especially of the Medici family. The books in this library were chosen carefully - they showcased the piety and the intelligence of the Medicis, as well as their views on humanism, culture, and custom. Also chosen were books that were once owned by illustrious individuals, people that the Medicis were all to happy to have their name associated with.
With the invention of moving type in Europe (the Chinese had invented this much earlier) literacy exploded, and so did the demand for books. A person would pick up the printed pages at the printer, then take them to a "binder" - to bind the pages together in the manner he chose - whether elaborate hard binding, or simple leather.
Books have been made from many materials - wood, metal, paper, papyrus, parchment, bamboo, stone, clay, and even wax. They have taken many forms - scrolls, writing on rock (for easy copying by rubbing), long bound bamboo books, the wax tablet, the codex, the wooden tablet, and the bound book with cover as we know it today. If you are more interested in the history of libraries, I suggest heading to your local public library and borrowing 'Library - An Unquiet History' by Matthew Battles:

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It's an entertaining read!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Crash Course in understanding the Polymath/Scanner personality

So - what is a Polymath? Polymath is Greek, and it's used to describe a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas. Many ancient scientists were polymaths: take for instance Leonardo Da Vinci, who was a painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer.
Yes, he did all those things. Our world has been shaped by polymaths - but it is now a world that benefits "specialists" much more. All polymaths - and specialists- have heard: "You better decide what you want to do for the rest of your life!"
I cannot - and will not - choose.
When I read the opening chapter of Barbara Sher's book 'Refuse to Choose', I cried. She calls us "Scanners" - because we just seem to scan subjects, and put them down again. When I read it, everything suddenly became so clear. I started to embrace the way my brain works, and I tried to understand why I do what I do. I seem to have a different interest every week - it was so hard to decide what to do - not because there wasn't anything to do, but because there was SO MUCH that I liked, I found it too hard to choose.

I have hobbies: drawing, painting, crochet, cross-stitch, reading, writing, blogging, gardening, home brewing, home canning, jewelrymaking and cooking.

I also have Interests: Civil war history, Victorian England, Russian literature, Viking Era history and dress, Medieval history, Zen Buddhism, cake decorating, home decorating, general physics, the childfree lifestyle, survivalism/practical living skills, etc.

I also have what I call "passing in-depth studies" into a subject, where I'll suddenly get interested in it, read all about it, and then never look at it again...until someone mentions it in passing, and I can dig up some interesting facts (usually broad strokes, sometimes more deep understanding)at the drop of a hat. Subjects as diverse as KP (Keratosis Pilaris), circumcision, urban myths, etc.

None of these are full lists. If I sat down to write about everything that I have ever been interested in, it would be an awfully long blog post.
So - does this sound like you? You might want to read the first chapter of Refuse to Choose. Maybe then, you'll get some answers.

Welcome to my new blog - I'll try to update it weekly.