Archives for the month of: August, 2010

Dear one subscriber who no longer subscribes to this blog,

I was here but then I wasn’t.  Well the week flew by.  The real reason for my few days off was that I was camping.  No Appalachian Trail euphemism, but real, in-a-green-A-Frame-tent camping: the warm lull of a campfire, being outside all the time so that doing nothing qualifies as doing “something”, the loud rush of wind through trees, the strange threat of cackling racoons, the food.  Oh lord help me, I love campfire food.  I have to; I’m a vegetarian.

The amazing secret of the classic wood-fire camp flame is that it makes fake meat taste AMAZING.  I’ve been a vegetarian nearly 10 years  and I’ve suffered through some terrible faux meats.  Many of them microwaved (which is a great way for a fledgling vegetarian diet to permanently fail). At best, the most ubiquitous tend to be merely bland seasoned protein patties that cook all dry and rubbery.  But smokey campfire crisps away the rubberyness and encourages the substitute meat to crackle on the outside and to become, dare I say it, juicy on the inside.

The following  have led to some of my best experiences:

1. Tofurky Beer Brats

In vain I had searched for some kind of veggie brat that remotely replicated some semblance of the beer brats my father made for us when I was growing up.  Beer Heritage! These on a campfire were the first thing that came close.  I have yet to actually try marinating them in beer, but the fact that they taste decent without that process makes me quite hopeful of the result.  Please do not microwave or charcoal grill these after you have had them on a campfire.  That is a foolish, cruel thing to do to yourself.

2. Field Roast Grain Meat Co. – Smoked Apple Sage Vegetarian Sausage

Although I am a happy vegetarian (meaning, I enjoy what I eat and don’t get all bitter and make others miserable as I judge their lack of food ethics) brats are my Achilles Heel…my soyfood meat-substitute Achilles Heel. In fact, before I discovered that Tofurky Beer Brats were yummy on the campfire, I was starting to allow myself one well-chosen brat a summer so that I would no longer resent all my fellow Wisconsinites for their horrible, delicious lack of food ethics.  But the campfire changed all this.  I have food summers again!

Then this past weekend I tried Field Roast vegetarian sausages on the campfire and they might be even better than the Tofurky.  The inside was flavorful without the off-mark, almost peppery spiciness that I sometimes taste with other fake meats.  But the topper was that their vegetarian sausage actually was juicy on the inside, almost succulent.   More products like these, please!

3. Morningstar Farms Veggie Bacon Strips

These are one of those vegetarian-substitute products that may bewilder newbies with their almost inedible appearance.  As my camping partner described them: play food.  But didn’t you always want to eat your toy food as a child?  Now you can.  And it  gets nice and crispy on the fire.  The flavor is salty and similar to bacon-chips.  It’s a nice finger-food to compliment coffee and eggs on a slow morning in a collapsible canvas chair.  True bacon lovers may not be satisfied with the close-but-not quite flavor, but the advantages over the real thing: less fat and no grease.

4.  MorningStar Farms Veggie Sausage  Links

Similar in quality to MorningStar’s veggie bacon, this product appropriately replicates the taste of real sausage links (perhaps a little over-spiced, but not enough to be off-putting).   The smell is pleasant to wake up to, and again, not greasy so it’s easy to tool around your campsite while munching on these.

5.  Nature’s Bakery Veggie Burgers

I couldn’t write this entry without  acknowledging Nature’s Bakery’s scrumptious veggie burgers.  Complex, moist, flavorful–these are everything one could want in a veggie burger.  These don’t make the mistake of trying to replicate a meat-hamburger, but demonstrate that the otherness of veggie alternatives can be delightful when judged on their own merits. These are probably the best packaged veggie burgers I’ve had.  Nature’s Bakery is a local coop so their products are only available in Wisconsin and a couple of select locations in Illinois and Minnesota.  But do try if you have the opportunity.

Finally, as far as campfire failures…

I finally tried vegan marshmallows over the weekend and it wasn’t quite the revelation I had hoped.  They certainly tasted like marshmallows, but had nothing of the crispy-gooey combination that makes popping roasted marshmallows off a stick such a delight.   If anyone reads this and has recommendations, I would love to hear them.  Occasional gelatin (I try to limit it) is one reason among many other aged, cheddar-flavored reasons that I could never imagine undertaking veganism.  Go ahead and judge.


Dear Beer gods,

It has been a truly wonderful and blessed beer life. You hath been most generous in bestowing on me rare glimpses of the great mysteries of your centuries-old craft.  The Radler of Bavaria, the yeasty  wheat brews of wherever–somewhere in Germany, the Pilsner of the Czech Republic, the smoked beer of Bamberg, the tart Berliner Weisse, the fruit beers of Belgium, and scores and scores of great Lagers, Pilners, Stouts, Porters, Bocks, Ales–these are the monuments at your feet.

Allow me to be the light to your winter

Last year, I thought I met the paragon of brewing:  The New Glarus Crambic.  Based on the great fruit brews by Lambic, the Crambic used Wisconsin cranberries and was made as a limited edition “art beer” by Daniel Carey, the master brewer at the New Glarus Brewing Company.  So tart, rich, sweet, tangy and creamy–it was the perfect compliment to the heavy, holiday food of the fall.  Perhaps the perfect beer.  The treasure of the season.  One that I was unsure if I would ever see its equal when it forever disappeared off the shelves.

Then I met the New Glarus Enigma.  Another art brew by Daniel Carey.  This beer takes all of the great things of last year’s Crambic (the rich sweet-sour fruitiness,  creaminess) with a shadow of what I think is a barley flavor (something more traditionally beer-like–a deep sourness).  The result is a beer that actually causes different positive reactions on different parts of the tongue.  My tongue isn’t very gifted when it comes to this–but it was obvious.  This was a pleasant and amusing surprise.

Fruit beers are a favorite, guilty pleasure of mine, but they can be so gross if done poorly (I’ve had them taste like cool-aide with a shot of beer, or the opposite–a regular beer that tastes like someone simply poured in a pack of Crystal Lite.) But New Glarus has really masted the art of a well-balanced, complex fruit beer that doesn’t taste anything like a gimmick.

Here’s how New Glarus describes the Enigma:

A complex and intriguing original. The mystery began with wild yeast spontaneously fermenting a rich treasure of malted barley and cheeries. Unlined Oak casks breathe deep vanilla hues and chords of smoke into this sour brown ale. Our Master Brewer has forged a smooth garnet tapestry that defies description. Wander off the beaten path.

In  other words, I will be stocking up on these like a little squirrel with nuts in my cheeks–I want these to last through the long northern winter or until New Glarus decides to bring back the Crambic.

Long live the beer gods!

Yesterday, I resolved to finally throw myself into translating as part my much greater project of improving my German.  The poem selected (which I mentioned in my post yesterday) was a sonnet by Bertolt Brecht: “Entdeckung an einer jungen Frau” (or roughly “Discovery on a young woman”).  Here’s why this project is stupid and will surely be a disaster:

1. My German is so rusty, but it was once really good.  This means that my brain often gives me cues that it “knows” a word or a phrase, but it doesn’t really know why.  So many words seem familiar, but are often merely close to the correct word I want to use.  Idioms/turns-of-phrase are the worst because they aren’t easy to find in a dictionary and often can only be explained in context.

2. This poem is a sonnet (a Petrarchan sonnet), which means it has requirements regarding not only a rhyme scheme, but also the meter and pace of the poem.

3.  I have read some Brecht, but not a whole lot.  So I need to do a little research into his style of writing to make sure I’m making the appropriate decisions in terms of word choice.

4.  I can’t find an English version of this anywhere, so there’s nothing to check my work against.  For instance, even after translating closely, I’m still not sure I know what the last line means.

Today I completed the first step of the process, which is doing a word-by-word translation to see what I’m up against. It looks confusing but is very helpful.  I welcome any suggestions as I muddle through this experiment:


Title: [Discovery/Detection/Spotting]  [on /at]  a young woman

1. Des Morgens nüchterner Abschied, eine Frau

The morning’s [sober/down-to-earth/rational/plain/unemotional/objective]  [farewell/parting/resignation (as in from an employer)/discharge/Goodbye/], a woman

2. Kühl zwischen Tür und Angel, kühl besehn

[cool/calm] [(between door and hinge) I recall learning that this has a figurative meaning  related to being in transition. ], [cool/calm] to look at/look at oneself

3. Da sah ich: eine Strähn in ihrem Haar war grau

[Here/then/so/there] saw I: a [strand/streak] in her hair was gray

4. Ich konnt mich nicht entschließen mehr zu gehn

I could me not [decide/ determine/ resolve] more to go

5. Stumm nahm ich ihre Brust, und als sie fragte

[Silently/dumbly/mutely] took I her breast, and as she  asked

6. Warum ich, Nachtgast, nach Verlauf der Nacht

Why I, Nightguest (will have to look up whether this has some meaning as an idiom), after the course of the night

7. Nicht gehen wolle, denn so war’s gedacht

Not leave want to, when [such war/so was] thought/expected

8. Sah ich sie unumwunden an und sagte

Saw I she frankly on and said

9. Ist’s nur noch eine Nacht, will ich noch bleiben

It is only still [one/a] nicht, want I still to stay

10. Doch nütze deine Zeit, das ist das Schlimme

[But/Afterall/Any way/All the same] [use/be useful] your time, that is the worst

11. Daß du so zwischen Tür und Angel stehst

That you so between door and hinge stand

12. Und laß uns die Gespräche rascher treiben

And let us the [conversation/discussions/dialogues]  [faster/rapider/swifter/hastier] [drive/rush/push/pursue/carry on/have/create/commit/to beat/make rise/to bring]

13. Denn wir vergaßen ganz, daß du vergehst

Then we forget [completely/wholly/entirely/really], that you [to pass/die/fade]

14. Und es verschlug Begierde mir die Stimme

And it [staggered/lost] (?) [Desire/longing/yearning/burning] me the [voice/register/vote]

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956)  was a poet.  Most people know him as a playwright, but he was a true poet and it slithered its tentacles into his other (more famous) writing.   And yes, poetry is an octopus and its coming for your brain.

If some professor or other clammy-handed intellectual somewhere didn’t sit you down and teach you about Bertolt Brecht, here are some important things to know for your next cocktail party where pale, clammy-handed intellectuals might be in attendance:

1.  Brecht was one of the rare geniuses whose work is so different and creative and influential that it changes an entire art form–he did this for theater.  He experimented with a form of theater called “Epic Theater,” which (and some clammy-handed intellectual somewhere will claim I’m simplifying matters) essentially incorporated unconventional elements to keep the audience intellectually engaged.  Brecht did not want his theater to be a form of escapism.   Actors in his plays, for instance, might have held up signs or had strange songs at inappropriate times. Therefore, the next time you do something in a social setting that is inappropriate and distracting, you can tell people you were having a Brechtian moment and it was for their own good.

2.  Brecht was a Marxist and was questioned by the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee.  Afterwards he was offered and accepted his own theater in Berlin and lived there after his death.

3.  Some really famous songs come from his works:

From the Three Penny Opera (as performed by Lotte Lenya–there’s no actual video because they didn’t know about YouTube yet.):

The Doors did this one, probably because it’s about going to get whiskey. This is from the Rise and Fall of the City Mahagonny:

It’s easy to recognize only the strangeness of the Brecht operas and miss the actually poetry in his lyrics.  But it’s there, which I would show you if I could get my hands on a libretto. But alas, the tubes have failed me.  Below is a sonnet that floored me in one of my German classes.  It’s in German!


Des Morgens nüchterner Abschied, eine Frau
Kühl zwischen Tür und Angel, kühl besehn
Da sah ich: eine Strähn in ihrem Haar war grau
Ich konnt mich nicht entschließen mehr zu gehn
Stumm nahm ich ihre Brust, und als sie fragte
Warum ich, Nachtgast, nach Verlauf der Nacht
Nicht gehen wolle, denn so war’s gedacht
Sah ich sie unumwunden an und sagte
Ist’s nur noch eine Nacht, will ich noch bleiben
Doch nütze deine Zeit, das ist das Schlimme
Daß du so zwischen Tür und Angel stehst
Und laß uns die Gespräche rascher treiben
Denn wir vergaßen ganz, daß du vergehst
Und es verschlug Begierde mir die Stimme

Basically, the speaker just had a tryst with a woman.  She’s about to leave and is indifferent to him. He notices she has a strand of gray hair and decides he doesn’t want her to leave. There aren’t really great translations out there…or any that I could find, so I’ll try to translate it in parts in multiple posts.  Stay tuned.  It will be fun.

Sometimes we just need a good pity party.  Join me:

Yesterday NPR’s Morning Edition ran a brief story on a Foreign Service Officer, Elizabeth Colton, who is suing the U.S. State Department over its mandatory retirement age of 65 for members of the Foreign Service (that’s our diplomatic corps).  As someone who is trying to get into the Foreign Service, it’s hard to avoid a strong reaction to such a story.  First, it sounds like Ms. Colton is an interesting person, has a huge range of talents and experiences and is, no doubt, using her experience to serve our country well.   It says something about a person when she is willing to give up what sounds like a successful career in order to start over in a career that is as much about service and sacrifice as it is about the perks of the diplomatic lifestyle.

Yet the article makes it sound like there is no one to take Ms. Colton’s place when she retires.  Here I am, NPR.  I am waiting in the wings.  If anyone reads this and happens to be aware of the craziness of the Foreign Service application process, I am in the limbo phase. This means I have passed the Oral Assessment, have a conditional offer of employment but am waiting on my security clearance and final suitability review to be put on a list of eligible hires.  I have a low score and would likely be on the bottom of any list of eligible hires until I can boost myself with language points.  This may mean I may never get hired off the list and my application will simply expire and I start the process over. As someone in this strange position, I can say, that there are hundreds of people currently on the registers who have all received clearances and are waiting to be hired. That is a whole crop of young talent waiting to be harvested.

Although I sympathize with Ms. Colton (shouldn’t people be able to work in jobs they love, so long as they do it well?),  it’s hard not be frustrated by the current job market for young professionals.  For many, these will simply be wasted years.  I feel fortunate to have the job I do have while I wait to see if I will become a Foreign Service Officer in the coming months.  Yet, it doesn’t seem like we are doing a good job of balancing easing young professionals into careers while easing out older professionals.  What is often not reported is that for young people (30 and under), unemployment numbers currently match those of our age group during the Great Depression.  We are the mini-depression within the recession and it is…uh…depressing.  Maybe the thought is that we are young enough to have parents willing to support us, but that certainly isn’t true for anyone I know. Although I’m all for Ms. Colton extending her “dream” life, it would be nice if there was a little more sensitivity to us bottom-feeders who are waiting for some semblance of the dream to start.

What up, Ladies!?  We’ve been voting for 90 years! That’s right, our favorite amendment (okay–maybe tied with a few others–whatevs this one rawks), the great 19th, turned a whopping 90 years old today, but is still as sassy and histrionic as ever…that sly bird!  So let’s hike up our skirts to reveal some ankle and give the old girl a hairy-legged salute!

By the way…the next time some paranoid lame-o starts fearing the unknown of change and pushes a No-Bama sign in our face, let’s remind him or her of this culture-shifting moment from 1920 and everything this country has achieved since then.  Also, refer to the Bilderberg Group as the Build-a-Bear Group.  That’s funny, right?

Last night I met Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka–I guess revisited him for the first time since becoming an “adult.”  What a sad, strange man.  I suppose that’s the whole point.  But it was truly refreshing to see the movie again after more recently seeing the Johnny Depp/Tim Burton version in the the theaters.  Although the new version was fine and entertaining–and it was a nod to the genius of Roald Dahl that his book finally had a movie treatment that followed it more closely, which was his preference–but I didn’t love the movie.  There was no “pure imagination” moment for me–no moment of transcendent bliss as the elevator breaks through the glass ceiling.

What was interesting about this viewing is how well the movie spoke to me now as an adult.  There were certain grating moments (like every time one of the parents of the four naughty children opened their mouths) but the subtleties of the movie were also more apparent.  For instance, take the low card that is the first big musical number, “The Candy Man Can:”

I had heard this song and some parodies  many times since seeing the movie, but I didn’t really remember the actual number from the film.   That’s why it was surprising to see the slouchy Aubrey Wood version–all lurching  and smiling with his mouth (but not his eyes!).  What I expected was something much more raz-a-taz with kids tap-dancing with the candy shop owner on the counter.  Instead we have a tired, middle-aged man willing excitement after a lifetime of hard work.  It’s all so workman-like, but catchy.

The other great treat was Gene Wilder’s performance of “Pure Imagination” (follow link):

To hear this song out the scene from the movie might mean missing the layers buried beneath the schmaltz.  From the moment he begins to sing, Wilder’s Wonka stares ahead vacantly with virtually no interaction with the other characters, who demonstrate a range of emotions while experiencing the chocolate room for the first time.  The characters are initially awed by room (matching the viewers own reaction) but immediately begin to excitedly interact with the space. One could say Wonka has entered his own internal world of pure imagination–one that is freeing because it does not involve connecting with other people.  In fact, Wonka’s detachment is quite startling when juxtaposed against the rabid consumption of the others in the room, who are in fact devouring the products of Wonka’s imagination and, one could say, Wonka’s very self.

Yet, Wonka’s authority over the space is reaffirmed visually in a few key moments.  For instance he is seen “solving” the problems others have within the room–he helps both Violet and Mike TeaVee access the candy they are struggling to obtain.  He also controls the space for the viewer by surprising us with his interaction with objects: picking up a mushroom and using it as an umbrella and then pulling a tea cup from a plant to drink from and eventually eat it.  Here Wonka has authority over us because he has knowledge about the objects in the room and seems to effortlessly command them in a way that we could not do.

The mushroom umbrella and tea cup are also important because they signify a certain level of refinement, which is especially ironic giving the varying degrees of feeding-freezy taking place all around Wonka–Veruca Salt’s violent destruction of a giant ball and then her gobbling up of its innards is an especially jarring, somewhat animal-like, contrast to the neatness of her outfit.

Then there’s the whole stroking of and ripping out of Mike TeaVee’s hair.  It would be interesting to pick apart, but it’s late so let’s enjoy the strangeness for the sake of strangeness.

It is also worth noting that after all that analysis of the scene, I still love “Pure Imagination” the song for its unbridled schmaltz.  It’s this and the original theme song to Reading Rainbow and Muppet Babies and I’m in a happy space for a long, long time.  Join me:

Today was such a fortunate, glorious day–perfect blue sky spotted here and there with little puff clouds. By far the best thing was the temperature (upper 70s) and low humidity. After days and days of heat advisories it was nice to have a perfect summer day with no obligations. My big treat was getting in a bike ride around one of the lakes.

It had been over a week, maybe two, since my last bike ride and it’s always striking how the vegetation changes so quickly. In Wisconsin we are currently at our most overgrown and overleafed and it something to be savored.  To be out and about with a crisp breeze this time of year is to be amazed at how loud everything is: the leaves, the bugs, the grass, the flowers, the branches, the lake water.

But the early crispness in the air also reminds me that autumn is only a few weeks away. There were surprising few people out, which triggered some feelings of loneliness.  I recalled all the last glinting days of childhood summers:  the excitement of starting a school year, the the anxiety of holding on to fleeting time.   I also recalled my first summer after college when I worked into September, well after all the school years had started. I was starting an opportunity in October, but missing my first school year after nearly two decades worth, made me feel as those the entire world was populated with school children who were starting something new and leaving me behind. Perhaps that loneliness was a first burden of adulthood, the anxiety of entering it in the first place and knowing that I would never leave.

Here’s where I begin to write a poem. My little bike-ride and the images conjured triggered strong feels with many possible meanings. If I were to write a poem, I would start by compiling images. I would think about the sounds I heard: the leaves like breaking waves, the creaking branches (one that sounded like a screen door). The blue of the lake–surprisingly it was the same color as a porta-potty parked next to it.  What kind of images–how do they set the tone?  I would let them write themselves and see if they could answer that for me.

This is also when I would think about the sounds this poem should make (do I want it to feel jagged, or smooth–to move quickly or stutter when read out loud? Should I mimic the sounds I hear or play against a reader’s expectations?). From there I would just take time to put down words (I would work with a dictionary to help keep myself surprised) and to see if those words lead anywhere.

But when it comes to nature, do I really need to write when everything’s been written already, the emotions already so well conveyed? As one of my bosses would say: something to noodle on.

Here’s a nature poem from the 13th or 14th century–my Norton anthology is not very sure. The notes (in parenthesis) are annotations courtesy my Norton anthology:

Fowls in the Frith (Birds in Woods)

Fowles in the frith,
The fisshes in the flood,
And I mon waxe wood: (must go mad)
Much sorwe (sorrow) I walke with
For best of boon and blood.

(According to the scholars at Norton, the final line could read “the best” or “beast” of bone, which means it could be religious or erotic or both!)

So the beast of burden here is our mortality, our limitations, the futile desires we walk with that the natural world, in its instinctual perfection, never encounters.  Humanity is once again betrayed by its complexity.  This was seriously written 700 years ago and this is essentially the question behind nearly every nature poem ever.  Although I wonder if anyone has ever taken on a porta-potty.

Tonight, I say good bye to a friend whose company I have enjoyed this summer.  As I type, I am finishing my last Stock Ale from the Mill Street Brewery in Toronto.  I was in Toronto over Memorial Day weekend and, for nearly three months, have savored my souvenir Stock Ales up to this last orphan.

This beer certainly won’t change anyone’s perception of what beer can be.  But it’s a crisp, smooth beer with no excessive, bitter  finish–perfect for a summer evening.  Yet, it never feels light or watered down.  It really has a full body.  In the brewery they said that this beer is what Ale would have tasted like 100 years ago. Uncomplicated, but almost creamy.  I tried maybe six beers before I found this one (and to the bartender–thanks for your patience!).

This trip was also my first time in Toronto, and Canada for that matter.  The whole experience was great– the people were hospitable and funny, the city livable but cosmopolitan.  Here are some of my favorite pictures.  Enjoy!

Paul Yarrow is a Brit whose avocation is putting himself behind news reporters during live news reports.   He has done this 100 times in the last year during broadcasts for the BBC, Al Jazeera, Sky News, among others. Although perhaps a nuisance to the reporters and camera crew, Yarrow sees himself as something of a folk hero, according to the Daily Mail:

There are too many beautiful people on television, he argues. The people who run television companies are happy to put blonde lovelies on air but seem curiously averse to filling the screen with balding fat men in wrinkled white sweaters.

And it has to change.

‘It’s a serious issue and I’m trying to make a statement: “Be who you are.” I’m just a common person in the street,’ says Yarrow.

‘People say we live in a fairer, more understanding society these days, but elderly and overweight people still get pushed aside. The camera crews try to move me out of the way but I’m a human being.’

Although, it’s not all about making the magic teevee world appear more like the aesthetic wasteland us proles confront everyday in the mirror:  Mr. Yarrow may be misleading people about his grammar school pedigree.  The horror!