|Sunset, 16 September 2019|
Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.
|Sunset, 16 September 2019|
Gentle reader, how do you mark the new year? My family typically has a holiday dinner on New Year's Day, and we went to First Night celebrations when I was a child, but I don't usually do much in the way of celebrating. This year marks the first year I stayed up to see in the new year, and that was mostly because some people in my neighbourhood set off some midnight fireworks.
Like a lot of people, I often mark the new year by writing a set of resolutions. I rarely check back on or revisit these once I've written them in my journal.
|"Resolutions and goals" by creepyed is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0|
So much has gone upside down, why not change this? Inspired by Hank Green's hilarious (and amusingly not inaccurate) predictions for 2020, written in 1990, and John Green's rueful revisiting of his own goals for 2020, I am writing my goals for 2021 here for the fun of revisiting them in 365 days or so.
|"I <3 2 read" by katerha is licensed under CC BY 2.0|
|"Lincoln's Racing Santas" by Lincolnian (Brian) is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0|
But watched only a dozen or so movies and completed a mere handful of TV shows. The same has been true with my listening habits: over the past year I've become a big fan of podcasts but mostly stuck with listening to the few shows I'd followed previously. I hasten to add that not all of the books on the list were new to me this year: I returned to books by Lois McMaster Bujold, Patricia Briggs, Lisa Kleypas, Diana Gabaldon, and Madeline L'Engle as comforting old friends in an uncertain world.
Before I subject to you the full list, here is a best-of digest...
Season's greetings and I hope you and your loved ones are healthy and safe.
Like many people around the world, the Christmas of 2020 is the first one I will be spending entirely on my own. I've know this was coming since November, but still only managed to make myself pick up the phone and move my flight home less than twenty-four hours before it was due to depart. I've been coping in various ways: reading lots of romance novels, sleeping poorly, going for a run every day, and eating baked goods.
Specifically, mince pies.
|"Mince Pie Stars!" by Caro Wallis is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0|
Mince pies are one of those British traditions that, as a foreigner, I took awhile to really start liking. It helped that they start appearing in late November, and that I like going to carol concerts, Christmas parties, and other gatherings where mince pies might be served. (It also helps that I have a voracious and equal-opportunity sweet tooth.) What really cemented by liking for them was the mince pies I made with a jar of a friend's homemade mincemeat. Since then, I've found them a delightful part of the holidays.
This year, to cheer myself up during the festive season, I decided to make a point of trying all the mince pies sold at bakeries within walking distance of my house.
Rating: 5/10 (6/10 when heated up)
Curtis, a bakery and butcher shop, is a local institution. With a branch near the university where I work and two bakeries in my neighbourhood, I'm rather surprised this was the third mince pie I tried. I got their package of mince pie varieties: a mine pie topped with brandy cream, a traditional mince pie, and a pie with swirled topping. The crumbliness of the crust made them rather difficult to extract from their adorable wee mince pie tins, but in the interest of research I persevered. I think I might have enjoyed these even more if I had bought the fresh ones from their bakery case.
Like many American bakers, one of the first things I made regularly was pies, and from this I learned the importance of a good pie crust: it needs to have a crisp texture to offset what is usually a soft filling, it can't add sweetness to what is usually a hefty dose of sugar, and it needs to be sturdy enough to survive in good condition for at least a few days. Surprisingly enough, it was the crust I noticed most in my mince pie explorations--the fillings all tasted pretty similar, but my favourite mine pie (the one from Vine's) had a crust which I would happily eat as if it were a cookie.
This week I received two Christmas cards addressed to 'Miss Violist' and there's a furor in the news again about women with PhDs using the title Dr, leading to much reflection on the issue of titles for women here on the barbaricum.
To be clear from the outset, the barbarians hold the position that it is both proper and polite to call someone what they want to be called, without arguing with them about it. This goes equally for names, pronouns, and titles.
I am writing to
someone and am not sure what their preference is, I
will typically address the message to 'Dear First Name Last Name' to avoid irritating them by using the wrong title. If I
can see an email signature or a staff profile, I will use the title
indicated there. In a first email to someone I have not met who I know
has a PhD, I will always address them as 'Dr Last Name', or 'Dear First
Name (if I may)'--my intention is to express respect on 'meeting' them for the first time, and invite them to tell me what they
would like to be called. If their reply is signed First Name Last Name,
with an email signature that contains a title, I use that title and
their surname until I either receive a message signed only by their
first name, or I am explicitly invited to call them by their first name.
In sum, Dr Jill Biden introduces herself as Dr Biden? We call her Dr Biden. The barbarians have spoken.
Personally, I deeply dislike the title 'Miss', and will never use it for a woman unless I know that she prefers it. Why should a woman be introduced, before you even know her name, by the fact that she is not married? Oddly enough, I don't have the same aversion to 'Mrs'; in part because of the delightful essay Anne Fadiman wrote about her first awkward encounters with the title Ms, which she eventually came to prefer. One of the small bonuses of having a PhD that no one told me about beforehand was the ability to sidestep the Miss/Ms/Mrs question entirely--'Are you a Miss or a Mrs?' can be answered 'It's Dr, please.'
Why do titles matter? As has been pointed out many times, women are typically addressed by their professional titles much less often than men are, and a lot of the pushback women who insist on 'Dr' get is linked to the dismissal of expertise this implies. One of the best pieces on the question I found pointed out that only a tiny number of the general population (of the US, anyway) actually have PhDs; most people don't fully understand what a PhD means or involves. As Dr Nichole Margarita Garcia point out, using one's title provides an opportunity to share knowledge about what a PhD is with others. Like Dr Garcia, I want to share my PhD with others, and so I prefer to use the title 'Dr' where I can.
We’ve all heard 2020—a grueling, endless year—described as a marathon. But that only sounds right if you’ve never run one.
This year has indeed felt like the longest of slogs, an endurance test notable mostly for its many varieties of exhaustion and pain. Pandemic and quarantines. Poisonous politics. Violence and rage. And on the West Coast, where I live in Oregon, real fires that fueled the societal ones. But that’s where the parallels end.
With a real marathon, runners know what we’re signing up for. We have months to get in shape. We can find training plans to follow, or even hire a coach. We are mostly in control of the situation, right up to race day—of the miles we log, the dinner we eat the night before, the number of gels we cram in our pockets at the start line.
Unlike a real marathon, we weren’t ready in the slightest for what 2020 has brought.
For me, as someone who has run two marathons and was most of the way through training for a third before it was called off due to Covid, the most apt comparison is not the marathon itself, but to a very specific part of it.
A marathon is 26.2 miles long, and for a slightly-above-average runner like me, the longest run you ever do in training is about 20 miles. Why? A marathon is hard, physically and mentally, and while you do a structured programme of runs to prepare to do it, you arrive on the start knowing that will be the first time you will try to run the full 26.2 miles.
I felt great for the first sixteen miles my first 26.2-miler, the 2018 Yorkshire Marathon. I was doing it! I was running a marathon! And then the rain got into its stride and I realised I had ten more miles to go, and by the time I hit mile 20, I was simultaneously bored and sore and incredulous--I had to keep going for 6 more miles? For real? (A note on being bored: the Yorkshire marathon course is mostly out in the countryside around York--you hit the Minster and the amazing high-fiving vicar within the first 5-10k, and then you are just plodding down flat country roads in rural Yorkshire. Which would be beautiful on a sunny day, but is less so in the rain.) By the time I got to Mile 23, I had reached a state of fatalism: I would be running down Yorkshire roads in the rain for the rest of time, and that was that.
Eventually, mile 23 turned into mile 24, and then seeing the mile 25
sign and hearing people start to yell about the nearness of the finish
line, I rediscovered some spring to my step, and realised that this was
going to end. I was going to make it. I finished in a time of 4:50:19.
|The sun came out in the evening, long after the race was over. The nerve!|
My second marathon, Manchester 2019, was a bit different. For one thing, Manchester is a big-city marathon (about 16,000 runners versus the around 5,000 who run Yorkshire), and a substantial portion of the course runs through various boroughs of the city. For another, I started doing speedwork in my training, which helped me get faster and stronger. And finally, I knew that Mile 23 was coming.
And yet. Mile 23 still felt like it was in the middle of nowhere--physically, emotionally, geographically--and also like it was never going to end. A welcome note of absurdity in the endlessness of Mile 23 came when I passed a guy wearing a white rhino costume.
And despite my firm belief that I would be running down the back roads of Manchester for ever and ever, Mile 23 did give way to Mile 24, and then Mile 25. If there was a Mile 25 sign, I missed it, which did have a moment of sending me back to endless-running-land; the race organisers chose to replace it with an enormous television screen showing runners finishing the race, which felt like it was taunting me. But then I looked down at my watch and realised that I had a chance of beating what I thought was my sister's best marathon time, 4:19, and legged it to the finish line, for a 4:18:38 marathon.
As I've had friends celebrate the tremendous good news of promising vaccines, the end of the second UK lockdown, and even the possibility of a return to normal life, I've been alternately bored and sore and incredulous. We're at Mile 23, I shriek silently, we'll be running this thing forever. And for some people--those affected by unemployment, by domestic and racialized violence, by long Covid, by grief and loss--2020 has no end.
Unlike a marathon, those of us lucky enough to be still on our feet did not train for 2020, but I know I am not alone at Mile 23. May we all reach Mile 24, and Mile 25, and sprint towards the finish line as it comes into view.
For my first Thanksgiving in England, I took over a friend's kitchen in Cambridge and cooked a meal for eleven. A few of the guests were vegetarian, so I made two main dishes: a stuffed pumpkin and a turkey. I've made this several times for gatherings over the years--something about a pumpkin stuffed with bacon and bread and cheese seems to please everyone who eats it. Thanksgiving 2020 marks the first time in nearly a decade where I haven't held a Thanksgiving dinner party, so posting one of my favourite dishes to make for others feels like a good way to celebrate.
|Looking forward to serving this to friends again when it's safe to do so.|
From Dorie Greenspan's Around my French Table, published in the Providence Journal on October 20, 2010
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (about 176 degrees Celsius). If you have a pot or pie pan that's a bit wider than your pumpkin, grab that, otherwise use a baking tray.
Carefully cut the top off the pumpkin using a sharp knife, just as you would when carving a Halloween jack-o'-lantern. You want a hole that's big enough for you to scrape out the seeds and stringy bits from inside the pumpkin, and off of the top. If you like toasted pumpkin seeds, set the seeds and pulp aside to deal with while the pumpkin is baking.
Make sure to salt and pepper the inside of the pumpkin generously--if you're using a salt of pepper mill, most of the seasoning will fall to the bottom, so you want to get your hands in there and spread the seasoning up on the sides of the pumpkin too. I once skipped this step and regretted it, so make sure you do it--pumpkins, like potatoes, taste good with lots of salt and pepper.
Mix your garlic, bacon, bread, cheese, thyme, and nutmeg in a big bowl. Add pepper to taste. The bacon and cheese may give you enough salt, but taste the filling to see if it's to your liking. Mix in the cream--you don't want the filling completely soggy, since the pumpkin exudes liquid as it cooks, but you don't want it too dry either. It's a bit like stuffing a turkey--a clump of filling should stick together when you pick it up and lightly squeeze it in your hand. Stuff the filling inside the pumpkin.
The precise amounts of bread and cheese and cream you need will depend on the size of your pumpkin. You want to be able to get the lid back on but the pumpkin should be quite full. If you need more filling, just toast and chop some more bread (or just chop it if it's stale), cube a bit more cheese, and add it, with some dribbles of cream, until your pumpkin is filled.
Put the cap on and bake the pumpkin for somewhere between 90 minutes and two hours, or until the filling is bubbling and it's easy to poke a dinner knife into the side of the pumpkin. I usually check the pumpkin and rotate it (my oven has a hot spot) after about the first 45 minutes to an hour of cooking.
After 45 minutes to an hour (for a smaller pumpkin) or an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes (for a larger pumpkin), take the top off so the pumpkin juices can bake away and the top of the filling gets a bit browned. If you forgot to set a timer, this is around when you can poke a knife into the pumpkin but there is still some resistance. The skin of the pumpkin may be golden and blistered in a few spots. Bake the pumpkin with the top off for approximately 20-30 minutes, or until done.
The pumpkin is ready when you can easily stick a dinner knife in its side. Carefully carry the pot to the table or transfer it to a serving plate. If you've got it on a baking tray, take care when carrying it--the pumpkin is very hot and may be a bit wobbly. Cut into 2-4 pieces (small pumpkin) or 4-8 pieces (large pumpkin), and enjoy.
Number of servings depends on the size of pumpkin and diners' hunger levels. Dorie Greenspan says it serves 2-4. I've found that a large pumpkin can serve at least eight, especially if there are other dishes on the table.
Pumpkin seeds are edible and tasty. I like to separate them from the pulp under running water--don't worry about getting them 100% clean, but it helps to remove some of the pumpkin goop.
Put your pumpkin seeds in a pot and cover with several inches of water. Add LOTS of salt (seriously, if you have a good number of seeds from a large pumpkin, you can use a whole tablespoon) and bring to a boil. Or boil the water in your kettle and pour it over the seeds and salt.
Boil the seeds for about 20 minutes or so. I have done as few as 15 minutes and sometimes over thirty, the timing doesn't have to be exact. Pour off all of the water and spread the seeds out on a baking sheet.
You can blot the seeds with a paper towel so they're mostly dry but I don't always bother. Pour over a few teaspoons of oil (you want the seeds to be coated but not swimming) and season to taste. I typically use a little salt (you don't need much after boiling them in salt water), pepper, and about 1/2 tsp paprika or chili powder.
Bake the seeds in the oven with the pumpkin. Check them, and give them a little stir, every 10-15 minutes. It can take them about half an hour to bake--they are done when they look dry and are golden.
Enjoy a nice snack while you're waiting for your pumpkin to finish baking.
Unlike in the United States, there doesn't seem to be much of a distinction between jack-o'-lantern pumpkins (said to be stringy and tasteless) and varieties of pumpkin grown for eating. I have made this recipe with carving pumpkins from a grocery store or vegetable stand and found them to be excellent eating.
Finding pumpkins in the UK can be challenging--they typically start
appearing a few weeks before Halloween and then vanish from stores on 1 November. I get around this by buying my first pumpkin as soon as I see them in stores, and then buying a second (or third) one right before Halloween. Provided the pumpkin skin is free from nicks or soft spots, I've been able to keep them in the kitchen for cooking for at least a week or two--and sometimes as long as a month.
I have found that this recipe also works well with a crown prince squash (which is shaped like a pumpkin and has a light green skin). Actually, I've had good results with any pumpkin shaped squash--just make sure to choose one you can safely carve a lid in.
|Both of these pumpkins were used to make stuffed pumpkin.|