Friday, December 14, 2012

Enough with the guns, America.

Everyday I pass a sign like this on my way into work. It disgusts me each time. Not because I disagree with the message, but because we live in such a violent society that forces me to view this type of image daily. Because guns- violent weapons that kill- are so widespread that signs like this become a daily sight. Is this the type of violence above all world that we want our kids to live in? It's sick.

Today is a day of horrific tragedy in our country- an elementary school shooting. Twenty-seven families will be mourning this day for the rest of their lives. Twenty innocent beautiful children will not get to see all the joys of their childhood, teen years, and adult days unfold. Seven teachers lives were ended in senseless violence. Four hundred children will be terrified of their school for many years to come.

Could this have been prevented? Easily. Will we work to prevent it from happening again? Likely not. The NRA and other gun lobbies are extremely powerful in our country, and we as a people do not seem to have the collective will to do anything about the plague of gun violence in our country. Over 1,000 people die every month from gun violence in the U.S., yet we are relaxing gun laws and expanding open carry as I type this. Earlier this week there was a shooting at a mall in Oregon. There have been six major public gun massacres this year. Personally, in the course of my 30-something years, my father was held up at gunpoint, my mother had a gun pointed at her in traffic, and my university had five people die and twenty-one sustain injuries in the lecture hall where I took Math 101. A few years ago I had a student in one of my classes who had a restraining order against her armed ex-boyfriend who had threatened violence on campus. Campus security was on alert, and I was informed to keep my classroom door closed (as if that would do anything). It was terrifying. This year there were two occasions where I was in public and my mind raced to how I might escape or hit the floor when other people became agitated and reached for a bag or their pocket. We live in a war zone. All so some people can soothe their inadequacies with a deadly weapon. Why do their rights trump mine?

Why? So people with emotional issues can feel powerful when holding a weapon? So we can defend against the Queen? It's pathetic. Second amendment defenders often say that they want to be able to protect themselves against the government. This is, frankly, laughable. No matter how many arms you stock, you will never be able to defeat our military, which spends more than the next 26 nations combined. Nice try, but a sad excuse. Others say they need weapons for self-defense. When, exactly, was the last time you heard a heart-warming story of someone defending themselves against a perpetrator with a gun? Oh, never? Yeah, me neither. Certainly not in the time I've heard about the mass-shooting at schools, malls, and movie theaters. It's likely that there was someone with a gun in the audience in Aurora- did they have the time to react? No. Would they likely have shot innocents or been shot themselves by police looking for the gunman? Yes. Stand-your-ground laws (supported by the NRA) have been tied to the death of innocents in Montana and Florida- they are not helping us as civilians to be safer. In fact, the more guns a society has, the more homicides there are.

Early news reports are stating that the weapon used to kill small children and teachers was a semi-automatic rifle. It is completely indefensible to say that these, and the high-capacity clips that many mass shooters use should be legal, yet this is exactly what the NRA lobbies for. The only reason for these weapons is war, yet the gun lobby wants these deadly weapons to be legal and easily purchased. As far as I'm concerned, the NRA is as guilty as the shooter. Assault weapons and high-capacity clips should be banned. Period.

There are people who will say that this day is not one to talk about gun control. That we should mourn, not "politicize" the issue. This is bull$hit. If we had an outbreak of food poisoning, we'd talk about food safety. If we had roads collapsing, we'd talk about infrastructure. We have a crisis of gun violence in our country, to not talk about it is ridiculous. The gun lobby said this same thing after Columbine, VA Tech, NIU, Aurora, and the list goes on. If we had done something about gun control a decade ago, today's tragedy would not have happened. Over 5,000 people have died of gun violence since the Aurora shooting this past summer. That's more than died in 9/11. After that tragedy, we changed airport security, fought a war, and opened an entire government bureau dedicated to counter-terrorism. Yet, about gun violence we do nothing. It's disgusting, sick, and perverse. One person years ago tried to light his shoe on fire on an airplane, and another tried to mix up explosives with liquid. Now, we can't take anything over 3 oz on an airplane and have to take off our shoes every time we board a plane. Yet, we do nothing in the wake of innocent students, parents, teachers, movie goers, and mall shoppers being shot. To not talk about gun control in the wake of these tragedies is to disrespect the memories of those who died. The best thing we can do is to work to control this situation- to work to make sure it doesn't happen again.

You can sign a petition asking the White House to take action here:

When our Founding Fathers wrote the Second Amendment, it took over 30 seconds to load a gun. The Second Amendment has nothing to do with our gun culture today, or with Assault or Semi-Assault Rifles. The Founding Fathers also denied women and non-whites the right to vote, and allowed for slavery. We've evolved our laws on those, why do we hold on to the antiquated Second Amendment? And why do we insist on expanding it into the realm of Assault weapons and high-capacity clips? Even the gun owners I know think these weapons of war should be outlawed. Why can't we have a gun registration system? I have to register my car, but not a gun? Why can't we have more extensive background checks? Mental health checks for gun purchases?

In the time I've taken to write this post, at least one person has died of gun violence in America. Let's stop pretending like it's 1779 and ban assault weapons. We need reasonable gun control in America so more innocents are not killed.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Grading Week

 Ah, finals week.

The stress level on campus is high, the coffee flows freely, and students are dressed in pajamas for class (even more than usual). For me this means the beginning of the grading marathon. Papers, tests, calculating, oh my! The tough part about grading is that a) it always takes ten times longer than you think it will, and b) it can be very monotonous. For my Museum Studies class it wasn't too bad- they researched, curated, and designed mock exhibitions on a variety of topics. So, it took more than a full workday to complete marking  binders of labels, annotated bibliographies, and layouts, but it was pretty enjoyable. For my other class it's a bit more draining- over 60 student exams.

So what does this mean? Well, it means about 3,000 i.d. answers (10 questions with 5 parts each =50 answers per paper x 60= 3,000). Yikes. Checking for spelling/exact titles/dates for 3,000 items takes a while. Then there are six short answers at about 5 sentences a piece- so 360 of those. Finally, two long essays at about a page or more, 120 of those. And, don't forget these are handwritten. Usually I read through them, add comments, pencil in grades, and then re-read once sorted by high->low marks to ensure consistency. Perhaps you can see where this takes about a week to complete? At least I have afternoons at the neighborhood coffee shop, where the mochas are beautifully crafted, and the windows sunny and bright.


Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Leftover Joy

Long after most of the Thanksgiving leftovers have gone, some of our Spiced Cranberries remain.

Each year this is true- we make one bag of berries worth of cranberries- which is plenty for the big day, plus too many to eat with leftovers. I'm a huge cranberry fan, but it's tough to figure out what to do with two cups of tart berry goodness, despite their long fridge life. Enter Joy the Baker.

Joy the Baker is a food blog that I like to follow. I enjoy her photography and witty humor, and after Monday night I completely worship her recipe for Cranberry Brie Grilled Cheese. I'm not a big fan of plain grilled cheese, as melty cheese is not my favorite texture, but this was fabulous. The brie was smooth and creamy, and the whole grain mustard and cranberries were the most heavenly accompaniment. I was hesitant to serve sandwiches for dinner, as they seem so casual, but with a big salad and a side of slow-cooker Potato Pesto Soup, this was one of the better dinners of our week.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Oppenheimer Catalogue, Nerman Gala, and Asad Faulwell

Ok, I'm about ten weeks late on this post. But, today my second copy of the Oppemheimer Catalogue came in the mail, though so it's not totally out of line.

Last spring I wrote a handful of catalogue entries for the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art's Oppenheimer Catalogue. The collection of contemporary art housed at the museum is fantastic, and most of it can be traced back to the Oppenheimer collection. In any case, I wrote on four amazing contemporary artists, and the catalogue in it's hardcover-hundreds of pages-color plate-glossy paper-glory was published this past fall. In conjunction with the catalogue release, the museum hosted a gala. A fabulous-lavish hors d'oeuvres-champagne-truffles-gobs of shrimp cocktail-ice sculpture kind of affair. One of the benefits of being an author is that I got two tickets. So cool!

We went with a few friends who were also authors, and enjoyed the fabulousness of the entire event.

And-- It. Was. Fabulous.

In addition to all the amazing food and drink there was a commissioned performance by the contemporary dance troupe Quixotic, roving electronic string players, and a neat video piece in the central hall of the museum.

Then there was all the art. And the artists! One of the artists I wrote on, Asad Faulwell, was in attendance. It was really great to meet Asad, he was super friendly, and we had a nice chat about his work, the art scene in KC, and the Nerman Museum. Here is a photo of his painting Mujahidat #11, me, and him. The thing you can't tell from this photo is how detailed his work is. From a distance it appears like a geometric pattern, but upon closer inspection there are tiny news photographs of women who fought with the National Liberation Front in the Algerian War of Independence (1954-62). I love the subtle political message- one needs to be aware of the women, their plight, and their appearance to fully understand the work- but the overriding aesthetic beauty of the piece allows for appreciation on any level. Definitely an artist to watch, Asad is young and up-and-coming.

Once you have absorbed the art, your next question might be, why are you standing so strangely? Gripping your bag with an iron fist? Oh, that.... well, the photo below is your answer. I wore the cutest little-wrap your feet up like a gift-amazing match for my dress-sugar sweet- kill your feet shoes. Ouch! But they looked so adorable.... and I even matched the nail polish and lipstick. Snazzy! And I match the painting!

 Here's Joe with the video work looking swanky and getting some drinks. Because I had to sit down.
Awww... KU art history in action. And a shoe shot!

Monday, November 26, 2012


 Ah, Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday of all. A day of cooking and drinking, no commercialization, family and friends, and lots of food from scratch. We usually have a big to-do at our place, but this year we wanted to scale it back. We had seven adults, a toddler, and a baby, so a pretty easy meal.

One thing we did this year to mix it up was to skip our traditional Butternut Squash Ravioli. This is an amazing addition to the table, but making pasta, rolling out dough, cooking the filling (usually starting with roasting the squash), and making up tons of tiny ravioli can be very time consuming to say the least. With both of us swamped with work the weekend before the holiday and up to Wednesday evening, it felt overwhelming, so we skipped it this year. I'm thinking ravioli will make an appearance on our Christmas table instead.

What we had in place of ravioli was a tart, but a last minute one at that. I love tarts and went through a serious tart phase a few years ago, but I think my pâte brisée skills have improved since the mid-2000s. The tart and a bonus chocolate pie were actually the result of a baking error I made the night before Thanksgiving. In a rush to bake my pumpkin pie crust I didn't spend the time to seek out my pie weights, and tried to use dried couscous instead. Not a good idea....and I totally should have known better. The crust shrunk down without the proper weight, leaving not enough space for the pumpkin filling, and looked a bit funky around the edges. After a bit of sulking and panic late at night (the best pâte brisée takes a few hours of on and off refrigeration, even pre-chilling the flour) I decided to try the pumpkin pie again in the morning with a basic crust (meaning a lower flour-butter ratio). As a result I had two pâte brisée crusts that weren't beautiful to look at, but still tasted fantastic. Joe had the idea to make a chocolate pudding pie for the kiddo, a great and super easy solution. For the other crust, I decided to wing it with a tart. Tarts are kind of fussy, so this was a bold idea, but it worked out.

Alison's last minute rustic mushroom tart:

One pâte brisée shell (the internet has a million versions, none of which I used, but this one is interesting)

16 oz mushrooms, I used half baby portabellas and half button

1 large shallot
2 cloves garlic
1 egg
Heavy cream- about 1/4 cup- I winged it on this one too
1/8 cup grated Parmesan (or so, again, I used up what I had)
Generous amount of thyme, dash of basil, dash of oregano
Fresh ground salt and pepper
Olive oil
Fresh parsley (about 2 tbsp)

Simple as can be- sautee the garlic and shallot in olive oil in a pan, add the mushrooms, sautee until they start to release their juices, adding a generous amount of thyme (maybe 1/2 a tsp), basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Cool. Add the mushroom mix to the prepared tart shell. Mix together the cream and beaten egg and pour into the shell. Top with cheese. Bake for about 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Top with parsley. Tart perfection!

 Other dishes at our table were our Spiced Cranberries, A standard stuffing, garlic mashed potatoes, Joe's veggie gravy, roasted Brussels sprouts, and our favorite centerpiece, Tofu Roulade (from the Chicago Diner cookbook). We realized that we only had recipes for the roulade and the cranberries, everything else was invented (fun!).

 The croissants were brought by friends, and came from the always fantastic Wheatfields Bakery in Lawrence.
 There was a non-natural not-from-scratch addition to our table this year- cubes. As Joe and I were preparing for our meal, we were reminiscing about the holidays of our childhood. My Dad's family meals always included this bizarre better-living-through-chemistry-era concoction called cubes. Frozen cubes (literally from the ice cube tray) that consisted of canned fruit cocktail, Miracle Whip (I kid you not), and cream. They were usually served with dinner as a side, often next to the cranberries. As a child, these things freaked me out, but my Dad and his siblings loved them. I had never eaten one, but thought I'd wing it as a surprise, which was also part of my Thanksgiving morning grocery run (we do not stock fruit cocktail or Miracle Whip in our house). I guessed at the recipe (and didn't know about the cream, turns out the internet does not know about cubes), and they turned out not too bad. We added whipped cream once I learned about the cream part, which took off the bite of the Miracle Whip. My Dad ate about six of them (!), so I'm guessing they weren't too far from the originals, heehee.
I have so much to be thankful for this year, most of all being surrounded by such great friends and family and having such bounty in our lives. I hope you had a great holiday, and the leftovers are treating you well!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Friday afternoon

Museum Studies class field trip to the Nelson-Atkins Museum on a lovely Friday afternoon.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


 Hard to believe this was two weeks ago.... Trick-or-treating this year was great fun, despite the munchkin's initial hesitancy to put on his costume. Once we got going, it was great. We like to do the Brookside business trick-or-treat, lots of kids and the businesses are close together, so there's a high reward for one's efforts. We received many compliments on our homemade Thomas the Tank Engine costume- which admittedly was constructed late into the night on October 30. Now, 14 days later the candy stash is nearly depleted, and we're looking forward to concocting ideas for next year. Happy (late) Halloween!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Il Trovatore

When it rains, it pours.

The last few weeks were filled with much work and much play. The work part has left blogging to the back burner, the play part has left much to catch up on. Halloween, a birthday, museums, I hope to get caught up on all of it in the coming days.

For now I'll write about the opera Il Trovatore that we saw on my birthday weekend. For as minimal and singular Madama Butterfly was (and I mean that in a positive way), Il Trovatore was full and plural. A huge cast, a bountiful drama, dark passion, gypsies, castles, this is what one thinks of as opera in the fullest sense of the term. Verdi's score is brooding and heavy in the best 19th century way (the anvil chorus is part of Il Trovatore), and the dark visuals of the Lyric's performance contributed to the intensity of the opera.

I'm still an opera newbie, so before we go I like to read various blogs and summaries so I better understand what we're about to see. In the case of Il Trovatore, I was definitely glad that I did so. Some of the summaries left me confused and wondering if I'd be able to follow the plot on stage over the course of three hours, but the stage direction and dialogue left no confusion (the Italian is translated into English subtitles on discreet little digital screens in front of each seat). My snazzy new opera glasses (above photo!), which were my birthday gift from Joe, also helped in keeping track of the performers and stage action.

Overall, I'm finding that as we attend more opera I'm learning to better distinguish my appreciation for the score, the performers, and the stage direction each time. I think Il Trovatore is high on my list of operas, and the performers were fantastic, but I'd like to see a different stage and art direction on this ambitious drama before passing judgement on the sparse, eerie direction we saw at the Kauffman Center.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Halloween Hooplah

 This past weekend we had a small Halloween get-together complete with karaoke, pumpkin painting, snacks, and decorations. I think we had as much fun preparing for the party as we did with our friends- stringing lights and fake cobwebs, making up funny names for the snacks, finding the amazing goth tablecloth pictured above at Target. I recycled an old high school formal and dressed as a flapper, Joe was a Classified Document. Our guests included Mrs. Mia Wallace (a la Pulp Fiction), Tobias and Lindsay Funke (a la Arrested Development), Rosie the Riveter, and Minerva, as well as some non-costumed pals.
 The buffet included Waldo Witches Brew (white wine sangria punch), Mummies Toes (cheese puffs), Dried Bat Wings (preztel flats), Witches Fingers (dried peas), Troll Toenails (peppitas), and a Bloody Mary Bar, which included Vampire's Kiss (the Bloody Mary base), Frankenstein Fingers (celery sticks), Goblin's Eyeballs (olives), Cat's Tongue (peppers), and Owl's Brains (mini pickles).
 We also had Beware Brownies and Reese's Pieces. Some of the mini-pumpkins we painted are below. Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Baby Brancusi

 The ways we project onto our children are fascinating.

Above is one of little man's latest drawings- he called it a face. The composition instantly reminded me of Constantin Brancusi's sculpture The Newborn from 1915 (below). Although my pre-schooler likely knows more about art history than most Americans, I am realistic enough to know that he doesn't *really* know early twentieth century art well enough to be referencing Brancusi. I should also say that I'm not comparing his drawings to the fully developed work of a modernist master. I am left wondering, what does my projection say about me?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Pumpkins from patch to porch.

Much like our apple excursion a few weeks ago resulted in apple cakes and snacks, our pumpkin patch outing took the veggies from farm to home. We visited Shaake's Pumpkin Patch near Lawrence on a chilly day a few weeks ago- perfect fall weather- overcast and cold enough to warrant hot apple cider. Each year we go here for our pumpkins and enjoy the hay rides, farm animals, and pumpkin picking. Sadly, we've had a warm front this week, so when we carved our pumpkins on Sunday it was humid and not even cool enough for sweatshirts. Today was even hot (in the 80s, more gross climate change weather), so I'm worried about the jack-o-lanterns rotting in the heat. Hopefully the weather forecast is correct, and tomorrow will be the last day of this icky weather. In any case, we had a great time out at the farm, and an even better time carving our jack-o-lanterns.
 This is an annual tradition for us. Joe and I have been carving pumpkins for over a decade, and we always get into the spirit- Halloween music, hot apple cider (with a shot of rum, of course), snacks, it's truly an event. This year I went for a witchy Hello Kitty, and he went for Jack Skellington. We collaborated on little man's with a traditional face that he helped design with the assistance of the Disney Junior pumpkin decorating game. In addition to the jack-o-lanterns that will grace our front porch for the next week, we also have roasted pumpkin seeds to snack on for the next few days. Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Apples from tree to table

 A few weeks ago we spent a Sunday afternoon out in the country, apple picking with a group of friends at the Pome on the Range Orchard. The half peck of apples we gathered didn't seem like much while we were out among the trees, but back in our kitchen it seemed like a ton. In the week after we went apple picking we had apples for snacks and Apple-Walnut Cake with Caramel Glaze. This past weekend we made Apple Sauce, which was really easy and surprisingly tasty, and which made a great ingredient in the Apple Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting which graced our table this evening.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fall foliage hiking

We wanted to go camping this weekend, but the weather wasn't with us. Saturday brought heavy thunderstorms and rain to the area, so we passed on our hopes of a fall camping excursion. Instead, on Sunday we took a day trip up to the beautiful Weston Bend State Park, about an hour from KC. The leaves are gorgeous this week, and the park has a system of hiking trails that can be connected for varying lengths. We went about three miles, not far, but far enough when climbing hills with a thirty pound kiddo on your back, or controlling a rambunctious dog. Interestingly, this is the same area through which Louis and Clark traveled over two hundred years ago. After hiking along the Missouri River bluffs and through the forest, we had a cookout in the lovely day use area, prolonging our time outdoors. I can't imagine a better way to spend a cool autumn afternoon.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Green tomatoes

 Last weekend brought the first frost to KC, and therefore a huge harvest of summer veggies from our garden.

The above photo shows the bounty of produce that we brought in from the yard on Saturday afternoon- green tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelons, cantaloupes, Anaheim peppers, jalapeno peppers, green beans, chard, and basil. This led to a good deal of processing. We made juice with the melons, and froze three huge batches of pesto with the basil, as well as one batch of just basil. I can't wait for the bright flavor of summer basil to come out of the freezer in the depths of winter.

The one thing I wasn't sure what to do with were the green tomatoes. I have had Fried Green Tomatoes once, and enjoyed them, but wasn't really ready to jump into this myself. A few ripened in a box with shredded newspaper, but most were still green. So, we found a soup recipe that sounded interesting, and which we made tonight. The soup tasted like a BLT in a bowl- fresh and like the flavor of a warm summer day, an especially nice meal on a rainy fall day. It's worth seeking out green tomatoes at the farmers market just for this fantastic soup!

Green Tomato Soup:

Heat about 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large, heavy stock pot.

Saute one and a half cups of scallions, two cloves of garlic, five ounces of ham (we used veggie "ham" slices) and one bay leaf for about five minutes.

Add two pounds of chopped green tomatoes (keep seeds and skins on), two cups of water, one cup of vegetable broth, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for about 25 minutes.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream and a side of fresh bread.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Fall leaves

My favorite season is here.

The weather has been beautiful this week, cool and crisp, chilly in the morning and evenings, just enough so to wear a light jacket. Yesterday's drive home was filled with beautiful fall scenery, and as I drove through my neighborhood in the early evening, I was struck by the color on all the beautiful old trees. Happy fall!

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Hot sauce

 Of all the crops I grew in the garden this year, the jalapenos were the most prolific. We used them in various dishes throughout the late summer and into early fall. I made baked poppers for the first Sunday of NFL games. I gave some away to a friend. We've dried some for later. But, there are still a few pounds of peppers left. So, I decided to try to make my own hot sauce. I took about one pound of peppers (above) and blended them with about a teaspoon of freshly ground salt in the food processor, what you see below. When I processed the peppers they were so spicy that just breathing the air made my nose tingle and my eyes water a bit.
 The pepper blend sat in a mason jar on the counter for 24 hours. The next evening, I added about a cup of vinegar to the jar, and allowed this bright green mixture to sit for two days, letting the flavor deepen.
 The final step was to re-process the blend and put it through a sieve, thus making hot sauce- success! It should have a fridge life of about four months- spicing up our lives well into the cold winter months.