Saturday, September 24, 2022

News and Updates

1. It’s actually autumn here in Baja Canada, by both the calendar and the weather. I’m good with that. Summer only gets romanticized because for the first two decades of most Americans’ lives it’s the one part of the year when they have unstructured time to spend how they like, but the weather itself is miserable. Bring on the crisp nights and the cool breezes and the grey skies, I say.

2. We went up to see Lauren and Maxim last night, dropping off Maxim’s bookcase on the way and then finding a nice dinner right by campus. I’d never been to a Brazilian steakhouse before. There’s a salad bar full of lovely stuff that you can help yourself to at any time, and then there’s meat that they bring around, and that’s pretty much the set up. There is no menu. You just sit there with a large piece of wood on the table that has one end painted red and the other end painted green and if you turn it so the green end is up someone comes by with a skewer full of tasties – steak, pork, chicken, and in one case grilled pineapple – and slices some off for you and if you don’t do anything after that more people come by with more skewers. Eventually you turn the wooden thing over to red and they stop coming for a while. And then the cycle repeats. It was a very nice experience, yes indeed, though I suspect not one I will repeat frequently.

3. Tonight we will go over to a fundraiser dinner at the local historical society where Oliver is working, and I suspect I will be there with some of the kind of community leaders that I don’t get to see in person very often even if this is a fairly small town. Look at me, ‘obnobbin’ wi’ the upper crust! Well, it’s for a good cause, and somebody has to paper the house.

4. While I’m on the subject of food, I was very happy to notice last week that my local grocery store here in southern Wisconsin carries chinotto! It’s right there in the weird soda aisle, waiting for me to place my greedy paws on a four-pack and toss it into my cart! That store carries almost everything. Life is good.

5. I’m nearly completed the project I was supposed to have completed on August 31 and it will be an entirely frabjous day when that happens. I may celebrate irresponsibly if I can remember how to do that. At least I’ll sleep better, which at this point of my life is a celebration in itself.

6. My life is a constant whiplash between the fact that my everyday experiences are perfectly fine and yet the broader culture and society in which I live seems to have landed squarely in The Worst Possible Timeline. I have a lovely family, good friends, a job that I generally like with colleagues I enjoy talking with, a house full of books and tea, and at least at present no major health issues that I am aware of, and yet the prelude to WWIII is happening in Ukraine, the planet is melting down, and unapologetic Fascists have taken over one of the only two major political parties this country has and 46% of Americans are perfectly fine with that as we barrel toward what may well be the one of the last free elections in American history. Truly these are interesting times.

7. We are all held hostage by the delusions of madmen.

8a. So there is a story about a mermaid who can sing and dance, one where she and the other main characters break out into song at just the strangest times, accompanied by full, unseen orchestras. You might have seen it. Her best friends are a crab with a Jamaican accent, a flounder, and a seagull with bad hair whose main function in the story seems to be giving the mermaid incorrect names for flatware. The mermaid falls in love with a human prince who happens to be drowning nearby, and then a giant evil octopus swaps out her voice for a pair of legs so she can pursue him romantically. The octopus eventually turns into an eldritch god and is stabbed to death by a boat, after which the mermaid marries the prince. And the thing about all of this that strikes some people as being unrealistic is that … the mermaid … is … black? Really? Are those people receiving the psychiatric care they so desperately need?

8b. Seen online: “The sort of people who will forcibly load people they hate onto airplanes are also the sort of people who will load them into boxcars.”

9. It’s a strange and lovely thing to see adults that you knew when they were very young children all grown up now and interesting to talk with on top of everything. This whole getting older thing does have some advantages after all.

10. It’s Great British Bake-Off season again. It’s nice to watch a show where people genuinely seem to like each other and help each other out, where the stakes are fairly low and there really aren’t any villains. I haven’t quite figured out a favorite among the candidates yet – so far Janusz and Maxy are in the running, but we’ll see how it goes. That will come in time I suppose. Right now the main issue I have is that they broadcast the shows on Tuesdays in the UK but not until Fridays in the US, so for several days I just have to avoid my Instagram account – a good 15% of which is devoted to former Bake-Off contestants – so I don’t get spoilers. On the one hand, yay Bake-Off ! And it’s not such a bad thing to skip social media. On the other hand, Instagram is my primary source of funny memes and we all need funny in these parlous times. It’s a trade.

Friday, September 16, 2022


Sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind, laugh in the face of danger, and stare death in the eye until it blinks, which is a pretty impressive thing to do when you’re staring at an eyeless skull.

For many people this involves feats of physical derring do, adventurous visits to risky places, or open defiance of the laws of nations or physics, but for us it meant going into a mid-20th-century recipe book to look for a cheesecake recipe.

Let me tell you, ol’ Betty Crocker does NOT fuck around when it comes to cheesecake.

Dustin has been staying with us for a week now and it turned out that yesterday was his birthday so we figured there ought to be a celebration. Oliver said that back at Small Liberal Arts College they usually would have a cheeseboard for dinner on the occasion and that was pretty manageable for us – we often do that, though we call it “Swedish Breakfast,” and we had just been to the local Sheep and Wool Festival last weekend and very quicky located the cheese booth where our friend Karen was working. You have to buy some cheese if you’re going to monopolize someone’s time that way, and it was good cheese after all.

So, we asked, what kind of cake do you want after dinner? And the answer was “Cheesecake.”

Kim found the recipe and after our eyes popped back into their sockets we thought, “Yes, Yes, YES – this is absolutely the cheesecake recipe we need to make.”

It calls for two and a half pounds of cream cheese, which is rather more than a kilogram in metric. Nine eggs total – five whole and four yolks. Sugar. Heavy cream. The zest of two lemons and an orange. The barest hint of flour, because there must be some legal requirement about that. A few other things that I no longer recall because I was still kind of reeling from the cream cheese requirements. It’s quite a cake.

Clearly the American Heart Association had not been invented when this recipe hit the presses.

It was, as you would expect, remarkably good.

We feasted on cheeses, meats, crackers, fresh bread, olives, and jams (including a bergamot jam that we found at an Italian deli in Kenosha) for dinner, and then after a suitable period to allow for digestion, we hauled out the cheesecake, sang “Happy Birthday,” and dove in.

We cut the pieces pretty narrow. Betty Crocker herself says that the recipe – which is supposed to fit into a 9” spring-form pan though in the end we were very glad to have substituted a 10” one – feeds 20 people. The four of us got through about a fifth of it, so that works out about right. There were no moves for seconds.

The rest of the evening was spent poring over other mid-20th-century cookbooks, reading the most striking recipes out loud and wondering how anyone survived, although to be fair you never know how things will turn out until you actually make them.

We’re all big fans of Dylan Hollis, who has gathered a following of several million people by putting out 90-second TikTok videos of himself making vintage recipes, about a third of which he ends up liking, often against his better judgment. If you’re over 40 you can also find the videos on YouTube. They’re worth it.

“Floof powder!”

Someone once told me that recipes made in the 1920s through the 1940s tend to be fairly reliable because they were made by people trying to feed their families, while recipes from the 1950s through the 1970s are to be treated skeptically until proven otherwise because too many of them come from companies trying to get you to buy their ingredients. I’m not sure when this recipe was created, but it’s definitely a winner. It had the feeling of something you’d keep in reserve as a special treat in hard times – a blowout sort of thing that would use up scarce resources for a celebration and then you’d talk about it for the rest of the winter.

There’s still a lot of it left.

There will just have to be further feasting. It’s a dirty job, and we get to do it.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

News and Updates

1. The first two weeks of the semester are basically madness for advisors, as we try to get all of our students in to see us at least once before the deadline for adding classes passes. My whole calendar is “Outlook blue” until at least the 19th. But that’s good, really. It means my students are coming in and getting what they need.

2. The first two weeks are generally pretty light for faculty, though, as things ramp up. And then everything switches: advising gets calmer as schedules are set and financial aid issues get resolved, while teaching gets more stressful as assignments start coming in and classes start in on more substantive material rather than just going over the syllabus and getting the foundations laid. Good thing I get to have both kinds of stress!

3. It’s a cool autumn day here in Baja Canada, grey and rainy and perfect. This is the weather I live for.

4. Oliver’s boyfriend Dustin is visiting us for the next week or so. There was a moment of panic when Oliver realized that he had misremembered the landing time for Dustin’s flight and we had to go hurtling out the door to get to the airport, but all ended well. It’s nice to have him here. Midgie has decided that Dustin is an acceptable person to sit on, which for a cat as cowardly as this one is quite an endorsement.

5. I’m not sure how both of my children ended up dating Texans, but there you have it. It seems to be working out just fine so far.

6. The Queen of England died the other day and so far I can’t figure out who is annoying me more – the raving royalists who insist that the world come to a halt until proper obeisance is made or the screeching grievance choir insisting that she was personally to blame for every evil of imperialism going back to James I. We had an entire revolution to allow me to be not overly concerned by what happens to the British royal family, for one thing, and for another if I wanted to listen to a screeching grievance choir I’d head over to the latest fabrications vomited forth by our unlamented former president and his lunatic cult. I’m sorry to see her go – she was a calm and dignified presence in a world sorely lacking in such things, and by all accounts had a fairly sharp sense of humor – and really that ought to be enough.

7. There is a fine line between a literary biography and a fanzine.

8. The more we hear about what stolen documents were retrieved – and not retrieved – from der Sturmtrumper’s lair, the worse it gets. This is a Category 5 national security disaster that will take a generation and probably tens of billions of dollars to recover from if it can be recovered from at all, and it is extremely illuminating to see who finds this troubling and wants it thoroughly and properly investigated and who is doing their absolute best to make sure that doesn’t happen. Makes you wonder what each group is thinking, really. Remind me, what is the penalty for stealing secrets and imperiling national security? Let’s look at historical precedent and find out, shall we?

9. One of the joys of autumn weather is that you can cook slow-simmered dinners without worrying about making the entire house into an oven. Red beans and rice, here we come.

10. Now is the point where all of the things that I meant to do over the summer come home to roost and I spend the next two weeks trying to figure out how many of them I can move to the fall and how many of them will just have to get tossed onto the large and ever-growing pile of things labeled “Oh well.”

Monday, September 5, 2022

An Adult Cat

You should wish this cat happy birthday! She’s legally old enough to vote today.

There is a part of me that thinks we should try to get her registered, but if we did that some humorless right-wing idiot would come by screaming dimwitted conspiracy theories about the 2020 election at me and I would be forced to exercise my Constitutional right to remove from the planet through blunt force anything that annoys me and then there would be one less right-wing idiot cluttering up the US and there was a train of thought I was following as to why I should not try to register the cat to vote and I seem to have forgotten why doing so was a bad idea.

It will come to me.

Oh, right. Cats are by nature libertarians and nobody outside of a college dorm lobby at 3am on a Tuesday thinks that’s a good idea so going out of my way and possibly committing a felony in order to create another libertarian voter is just a stupid plan from the get go, so we’ll pretend I never brought it up.

It’s pretty impressive that she’s that old, though.

We got her from the local animal shelter after our most recent earlier attempt at owning a cat ended in ignominious failure. The cat Kim had when we got married had been moved to Grandma’s a couple of years before this in order to spare her having to deal with toddlers (when your two-year-old comes up and says, “Hey, Daddy, I’m a cat! HISSSSSSS!” it’s probably a sign that the cat just isn’t happy with small children) and eventually a friend gave us a new one who ended up hiding in the basement for two months and then running off in the dead of winter, never to be seen again – much to the heartbreak of Oliver and Lauren who just wanted a pet – so when we went to the shelter for a new one our priority was to find a cat who was friendly.

They let you play with the cats before you make any decisions, and it didn’t take long for us to choose this one. She played with us.

They told us her name was Smokey and we thought we’d keep that until 5-year-old Oliver started calling her “Smokes” and we thought this might give people the wrong impression of our parenting skills so we batted around ideas for a new name for a while. I finally suggested Mithrandir, which any Tolkien nerd can tell you means “grey wanderer” – it seemed fitting for a grey cat we found at the shelter after they took her in as a stray – and Kim agreed as long as we shortened it down to Mithra. She often goes by Pookie for some reason. I assume it has something to do with her secret double life of crime and I don’t pry too much.

She’s been a good and faithful companion. She likes her people and will be reasonably friendly to visitors, unlike Midgie who is the most cowardly animal I’ve ever owned (up to and including the turkeys) and will hide at the slightest suggestion of company. She’s utterly incapable of sitting still in your lap unless she walks all over you for a while beforehand. She’s put up with 4H Cat Shows, innumerable veterinary visits, and even Midgie, who is a sweet cat but a bit of a noodge. She was a good hunter in her day.

She’s old now, and mostly blind. She can see shapes and shadows but we’re pretty sure that’s about it, and whenever we come home from work she echolocates at us until we find her and let her know we’re there. We have accepted that we will not be rearranging the furniture for the foreseeable future. She’s also a bit arthritic and we’ve put little staircases up to the taller chairs and the sofa. The things you do. Other than that, the vet says she’s in pretty good health.

Mostly she likes sitting with you, warming her old bones and generally hanging out with her people.

We’re not really sure when she was born, of course. The shelter told us how old they thought she was when we got her and we did the math and figured Labor Day 2004 was close enough, so that became her birthday to us.

And here she is, legally an adult in person years.

Happy birthday, Mithra.