Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Critical Mom's Favorite Marinade

Got some pork you want to make interesting?  Often a little tired of the stuff and think the sight of one more breaded cutlet will make you say something unprintable?  Here's a great way to spice things up deliciously and easily.

You will need:

Fish sauce (any Asian store will have this)
light soy sauce
piece of ginger the size of a man's thumb
garlic, garlic, garlic--the more the merrier
one fresh stalk of lemongrass (most good supermarkets will have this, but if not, an Asian store will)
Plant oil (corn oil or rapeseed oil will do)
A little sugar
pork--about three slices of pork cutlet with fat on it.

With a sharp knife, dice the ginger and put it into a large bowl.  Dice the garlic and add that.  Dice the lemongrass--you may wish to remove the outermost layer, if it feels very dry.  Everything should be diced very, very fine.  Add a tablespoon or two of fish sauce, same of light soy sauce and a teaspoon of sugar.  Mix well and add the meat.  Spread the mixture well over each slice.  Dribble over all this a tablespoon or so of oil.  Cover cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  (Alternatively, you can put the entire mixture, with meat, into a zip lock bag).  Leave in refrigerator for at least a few hours--overnight is better.

You can broil this, or fry it in a pan.  It's good with Thai sticky rice and steamed snow peas or broccoli.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Critical Mom's Guide to Basic Geography, Bombers, and Basic History

How many of you out there can find India on a map?  How about Iran?  Iraq?  The Czech republic?  Too many can still find a country that no longer exists, Czechoslovakia.  Here is the Wikipedia definition of that former nation:  

Czechoslovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe that existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until its peaceful dissolution into the Czech Republic and Slovakia on 1 January 1993.

Ever since January, 1993, the same piece of earth has been peacefully divided between the Czech republic and Slovakia.

Some 2,000 miles away (that's 3,066.7 km) is Chechnya, and both that nation and the Czech republic start with a "ch,"as in "cheese," none of you should be smiling.  You should all invest in a globe and spin it every day, letting your finger land on a country and remembering which one it is, where you found it, and what other countries surround it.

After that, consider planet Earth from the perspective of an astronaut heading back from the moon.  Earth is tiny.  Okay, not the smallest planet out there, but anything but big.  Let's not magnify differences between different countries and different nations, let's not tar all Chechens with the brush of the accused brothers.

Besides, although the accused bombers have expressed an allegiance to Chechnya,they did not actually grow up in that country.  They grew up in Kyrgyzstan, a former republic of the Soviet Union, in a town called Tokmok, where many Chechens lived.  The family left Krygyzstan and moved to the Republic of Dagestan, in the North Caucasus region (get out that globe, and while you are spinning it, remember that the Czech Republic is way far away in Central Europe).

In 2002, the family came to Cambridge, Mass. as refugees.

You want to blame somebody?  Don't blame the Chechens, and don't blame the Czechs.  Do take a tour through the past, when, after September 11, 2001, anybody who appeared to be ethnically Arab (and that included persons of Central American, Native American, and Japanese descent) got brutally attacked.  Before that, in the hysteria following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Japanese Americans (and sometimes even Chinese Americans, or anyone deemed to be of Japanese descent) got herded into internment camps in the deserts and deserted places of Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah.  Before all that came Cotton Mather asking "What Must I Do To Be Saved?" in a sermon that threatened hellfire and damnation, fueled the emotions generating the Salem Witch Trials of colonial America, and generally set a pattern for bad behavior.

We haven't come a long way from Cotton Mather.  But we could at least learn some geography.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Critical Mom's Guide to Basic Literacy

Are you a student?  Majoring in English, or Humanities, or History, or Cultural Studies?  Or maybe just a person who likes to read and wants to understand Western culture? 

Then you need these three things:

(1) The King James Bible

(2) Any good handbook of Greek and Roman Mythology; here are some favorites of mine:

D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths

If you want a quick fix, with pictures, this is a good one, but it is intended for children, so all the really gruesome stuff is toned down.  

Edith Hamilton's Mythology

Bullfinch's Mythology

The Meridian Handbook of Classical Mythology

You can get a used copy, as of this writing, for $6.26.  Forget the new, which is over $200. 

You can even take this free online course, complete with videos:

(3) Pilgrim's Progress, by John Bunyan.  One of the two books everybody owned when nobody could afford to buy books.

The influence of Pilgrim's Progress is just all over the place.  Subscribe to Vanity Fair?  Well, you wouldn't if John Bunyan hadn't invented that phrase as a place devoted to show-offy frivolous stuff.   Ever read Little Women--incidentally a favorite book of both Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush?  It starts with the four sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, reminiscing about playing Pilgrim's Progress when they were little girls.  If you have no sense of Pilgrim's Progress you'll be bored and also miss the philosophy of the whole book--that these girls expect to go through many difficult situations ("trials") like Christian in the book, and to persevere, and even to emerge victorious, in the next world if not in this one.  Like a lot of 19th century heroines, the March girls always had the idea of the next world to fall back on when things got too tough in this one.

Why do you need these things?  And why the King James, which was produced way back in 1612 and is filled with strange, archaic, and above all inaccurate language?  So that half the time you don't even know what the heck is going on, which you would know if the teacher would just tell you to read the New International Version (2011) to which there exist many handy links?  Like this one:

Now, just make sure you do get the regular old King James--not the "New" King James, which takes all the joy out of reading and lobs in new stuff that the folks whose books you are reading did not read.

For further details on why you should read the plain old 1612 King James, see this handy article:

You want accuracy, we got accuracy--that's the NIV, above.  You want poetry, the best in the English language, with the possible exception of Shakespeare, then you take the King James.  You take the original, not the "new" King James, however, for a far more pragmatic reason:  every single English and American writer worth their salt born anytime after 1612 read the King James.  They didn't read the "New" King James" or the Revised Standard or any other translation that wasn't around when they were alive.

Just to make it extra convenient for you, here is the dang thing online, and you even get to look at a facsimile of the original:

Why am I writing this?  Because the semester just started, and I went in to teach my university students, and I asked them what happened in the book of Exodus, and they did not know.  I asked them who Athena was, and they did not know.  I asked them who Aphrodite was, and they did not know.  I asked them who Hermes was, and they did not know.  I felt like one enduring the trials of Job, and one student actually did have some idea who he was.

Take up your cell phones and read, oh ye of little faith.  And lo, ye shall be saved from illiteracy

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Critical Mom and Scientology

The British have aired their ideas about Scientology.  The Guardian describes it as a "neat reflection of the worst aspects of American culture with its repulsive veneration of celebrity; its weird attitudes toward women, sex, healthcare and contraception; its promise of equality among its followers but actual crushing inequality . . . it is, in its own dark way, the inevitable religion to emerge from 20th century America."
Really?  Do you think the repulsive veneration of the English royal family (simultaneous demonizing of same); the weird English attitudes toward women, sex, healthcare and contraception ("What's the coldest place in the world?  The English bedroom!"); the English pretense of loathing folks who strive for an aristocracy of talent and virtue rather than one of birth and wealth (as Thomas Jefferson put it)  .  .  . makes Anglicanism the inevitable religion to emerge from 16th Century England and continue to dominate to the present?
The real American religion is still Puritanism.  Puritanism, yes, Puritanism just as H.L. Mencken described it, the "haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."  Where would Clinton and Monica Lewinsky be without Puritanism?  Not to mention John Edwards.  (Indeed, where would John Edwards be without Jonathan Edwards, the hellfire Calvinist preacher who assured us in his sermon, "Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God," that at any moment, God would be happy to let Satan reach out and grab one of us miserable sinners?)  The French don't understand it.  The Germans shake their heads--their presidents get married four times, and they kick people out of office for plagiarizing their dissertations or letting colleagues offer the use of their country houses (which falls under the verboten category of accepting favors from business executives) not for having affairs, selling drugs or guns, or starting wars.  No, American Puritanism is the endlessly invokable religion, the one that elects presidents, starts scandals, motivates citizens.  Put that in your pipe and smoke it, and understand that recent exposés of Scientology--by Lawrence Wright, the Pulitzer prizewinning journalist, and by Jenna Miscavige Hill, a former Scientologist, point to a  streak of indoctrination and fear-mongering that crossed the Atlantic with the Puritan divines on the Mayflower and other leaky vessels.

Scientology as the Puritanism of our time?  Yeah, maybe.  It's big business in bed with religion, in other words, it's Puritanism and the First Amendment, the one leaning toward separation of church and state, in bed all snuggled up yet again.

Anyone surprised?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Critical Mom's Salmon De Luxe

When everybody's tired of Yet Another Asian Dish with Ginger and Tofu, this is what I make.  You will need:

Salmon for three or four
Black spaghetti (yes, the kind with squid ink)
Garlic (lots)
Shallots (several)
Yellow or red bell peppers (Why not both?)
Olive oil
Dash of butter
Lemon Pepper

(1) Turn on the broiler.  Arrange the fish in a baking dish.  Add a dribble of olive oil, lemon pepper, garlic sauce.   Set aside.

(2) Put spaghetti in boiling water.  Meanwhile, put a few tablespoons of olive oil in a pan; add chopped garlic, shallots, sliced bell peppers.  Sautée until soft.

(3) Put the fish under the broiler--it will need up to ten minutes, but probably less.

(4) An option: steam some broccoli as a side dish.

When the pasta is done, drain it and add it to the garlic-shallot-bell pepper mix.  Toss.  When the fish is done, slice it into bite-sized pieces and add to pasta.

Toss.  Top with grated parmesan or grana. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Critical Mom's Crisis, Part One: How To Answer The Eleven-Year-Old's Question about Artificial Insemination

I knew a thirty-three-year-old psychiatrist who really believed that their parents endured sexual intercourse on a total of three occasions:  once, to conceive her older brother, once to conceive her younger brother, and once to conceive her.  They put themselves through the ordeal for very important reasons, namely to have a family.  Everybody else was different of course--but she felt sure she knew her parents.
I wasn't surprised to encounter the same attitude in my son, who just turned eleven.  I was just about to enter the room when, through the door, I heard him telling my husband that he'd just read on the net about a couple who wanted to have children but couldn't, so they got themselves a sperm donor.  What was that?  Did that hurt?  Did they, like, have to cut the donor open and operate on him?  Or, like, did he have to pull it out, like peeing or something?
I know that feeling of being sideswiped by a child's awkward question--rather, by the question or by the moment that makes you, the mom, feel awkward.   Like the time the critical mom's husband forgot to lock the bathroom door when he was taking a shower.  The daughter, then three, raced in, made observations, and ran out to announce the important news to a roomful of guests:  "Guess what?  Daddy has a peanuts!!"
We let her know we were glad to hear this, and changed the subject.  Standing on the other side of the closed door in which my eleven-year-old had just asked his dad how the sperm got out, I could hear my husband clearing his throat in that desperate way one clears it when trying to buy time.  I stayed outside the door, thinking the kid probably preferred to talk to his father about this stuff.  Naw, to tell the truth, I was a coward, ready to let my husband handle the tough stuff.  Finally my husband said, "Well, I'd rather tell you about that when you're older."  Silence descended, and then an "okay, daddy."  Maybe both of them are relieved, I thought and entered the room.  My husband developed a sudden need to brush his teeth, as he said, and left.  
"Say, mommy," said the eleven-year-old conversationally, "When a man and a woman can't have a baby and they hire a sperm donor to get the baby, then how does the semen get out?  Do they have to cut the guy open or something?  Or does he have to pull on his penis like peeing?  They must have to operate on him, right?"
"Uh," I said, "Just a sec," and I left the room on the pretext of finding something I'd left in the bathroom.  In the hall I met my husband, asked him if I should just give an honest answer I thought he could understand, since the kid thought he could be injured by being a sperm donor.  Yes, thought my husband.  So then I went back in and said, "Well, it doesn't hurt at all, it's a natural process.  You know what an orgasm is?"  Yes, he had heard that word in school, in the sex education class that he had hated, reading the book the teacher made all the eight-old-boys read and which gave him stomach aches and made him say "Yuck," because "it's all about tickling breasts and hairy penises, mommy."  I didn't go on to define the term again; I just let it register as that unpleasant topic he'd had to study in the third grade.
"Well, that's what it is.  It's like Aladdin's magic lamp," I added, "You know, he rubs it and he gets three wishes?"
At this point the fourteen year old in the corner started to chortle and I shot him an evil look.  So what if I'd mixed up my folk tales:  I'd answered the kid's question, sort of, in an age-appropriate way, right? A good thing I read Freud when young.  He does occasionally help with awkward questions. The eleven-year-old was relieved to hear that sperm donation remained a painless and harmless process, and the fourteen-year-old relished his broader knowledge and appeared to be enjoying a few minutes of smug reflection on the topic.  The eight-year-old daughter was otherwise engaged visiting some cows and cats of whom she is particularly fond in her uncle's barn, and I was glad of that.
Later that day, the kids were discussing names of characters in the Harry Potter books.  "Narcissa," mother of the nasty Malfoy, whose name means "bad faith,"  obviously came from Narcissus, the guy who dies because he starves to death when he cannot tear himself away from the beauty of his own reflected image in a pool.  Andromeda, I told the kids, was a beauty chained to a rock but rescued by Perseus, and then a galaxy got named after her.  And what about Bellatrix, they wondered.  Well, the Latin word for war is "Bellum," and she's warlike.  "Bella" is also beautiful, and her looks make her dangerous.  And trix? Well, she's tricky, or maybe that part of the name is inspired by "vixen," a woman who is dangerous or foxy or very attractive.   Sharp gasp from my German-speaking eleven year old.
"Mommy!"  What did you say!"  
The fourteen-year-old explained that there was a German word that, although spelled differently, sounded just like the English word "vixen," but was not a noun but rather a verb meaning "to masturbate."
"Oh," said the monolingual critical mom.  "I didn't know.  Let's get back to reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  And so we did.
Distraction, a great book, for instance, is another wonderful way of avoiding those awkward conversations you will someday have to face.