Site Meter

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Top 2nd Grade Chef!

My Traditional Turkey 

I have written before about food and cooking in several Suburban Familiar blogs. I have included the general attitude toward cooking in my childhood home where Peg Bracken’s “I Hate to Cookbook” had a place of honor. Our vegetables and crescent rolls came from a can.  My mother baked something called Hot Tuna Cups, which was absolutely disgusting, in spite of spawning an excellent rock band just a few years later. We occasionally had those horrific TV dinners -- sparking sibling battles because no one wanted the Salisbury Steak version, even after they added the coveted Apple Brown Betty desert. Friday nights we had Chinese food or pizza delivered but in her defense, my mother did squeeze fresh orange juice for all of us every morning, believing it possessed amazing restorative powers. 

In spite of such inauspicious beginnings, I love to cook and I am a terrific cook but I wasn’t always one. (I still feel I need to apologize to my brother and his friend Steve for almost poisoning them in the early 70s with an inedible meal from my first Wok.) But I practiced over the years and my evening audience is usually thrilled with the results. My repertoire now encompasses a gluten-free twist on favorites, no small accomplishment in my humble opinion.

Looking for something to do with all that leftover
Halloween candy?

There is, at least in my household, no holiday, which revolves around food more than Thanksgiving.  I make a great turkey but I am always open to getting tips and ideas from others. So it is in this spirit that I present the following Thanksgiving recipes, carefully transcribed from a festive bulletin board I happened upon, outside a second grade classroom. Only the names of these 8 year olds have been changed to protect the innocent.

On the making of Turkey:

First, shoot a turkey. Next burn off the feathers and take out all the insides. After that put it in the oven for 6 hours at high.  Last, take it out of the oven and eat it. Enjoy!     --Andy

First, buy a Turkey at Whole Foods. Put it in the oven for 7 hours at 60°F. Then let it dry for 3 hours. Finally, get it out of the oven and enjoy it.              --Julie

First, buy a Turkey at Kings. Then, cook it for 2 hours at 250°. After that check to see if it’s the right temperature. Take the turkey out of the oven. Last, eat the turkey.    --Eva

First, you get your Turkey. Then you put it in the oven for 6 hours. Next, you shoot some seasoning into the Turkey. Then you eat it.        --Mack

Another Traditional Interpretation 

Are the side dishes your thing?

Cranberry/Raspberry/Strawberry Sauce
First get jelly and cranberry juice and mix it together. Next put a teaspoon of sugar and add cranberries, strawberries and raspberries and mix it together. Then, put it in the refrigerator for 5 minutes. Then, enjoy!         --Brie

Sweet Potatoes and Marshmallows
First, get sweet potatoes. Then cook it in the oven for 4 hours at 120° F.  Last, put marshmallows on it and enjoy!    --Jack

Mashed Potatoes
First, get some potatoes at the supermarket. Next, take the potatoes and cut them into little cubes. Then add milk and mash!                --Leif

So no matter how much cooking you do or don’t do this Thanksgiving, remember writing clear directions for your recipes is an important part of the celebration. 

And to all of you, dear readers, a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Crafts of Creation


For the many of us who have worked in the communications arena in the last 40 years, we all witnessed the dramatic diminishing of the soiled-hands processes of creation.  There was something greatly satisfying about manipulating type, one letter at a time, in the curtained chamber of a machine called a typositor. You would look through a viewfinder at a kind of filmstrip that floated over exposable paper. You would then line up the right character in the right place, adjusting the knobs to move the letters closer or further apart, or adjust the slant of the italic, or raise or lower the bottom of the letter – all measured by eye – press a button, expose the image, and out came a strip of the most elegant and crisp version of a particular font you could possibly imagine. Such were the headlines I created back in the day. It was a painfully slow process, akin to chiseling type on a tombstone, yet remarkably fulfilling.

Once you had your headline, you would move on to the body type, which was created in a much more boring mechanical manner.  Then it was time to prep your boards used for printing. All those words needed to be put in their place.  For that, we used rubber cement. You might end your day covered with gobs of it, using it to make scars on your arms and the back of your hands. It was a nursery school finger painting moment. Whee!

Whether you were compiling a fancy brochure or completing the layout for a quick flyer or an Ad for a local paper, the skills and tools required were the same. There were days when you mistakenly sliced off letters or burned yourself using the new fangled wax machines that quickly replaced the very inefficient but endlessly entertaining rubber cement.

And then there was a time I turned a middle-aged man into a zombie with my heavy-handed efforts with black and white retouching paints. It was all in learning curve of mastering your craft.

As my career blossomed, I spent less and less time doing hands-on work and became a supervisor of these efforts, which expanded to include video production. I now had more to do with the ideas behind the production than the actual physical creation. But having the actual hands on experience enabled me to speak to and direct the designers, artists and video crews with a real understanding of the processes and their limitations.

In this supervisory capacity some years later, in a be-careful-what-you-reap episode, I quickly learned the importance of providing these kinds of services within a large corporation. I had been on the job for less than 14 days; working in a converted strip mall along Florida’s Hwy 90 in Clearwater Beach, Florida. With a minimum of orientation and a maximum of responsibility thrust upon my young executive shoulders, I had, as one part of my charge, the supervision of a small in-house graphics department which provided services to a wide variety of corporate marketing and communications needs.  The staff consisted of a typesetter, 3 paste-up artists and an Art Director. The typesetter was from Chicago, over 60, and really funny and the rest of the crew was local and barely out of high school. The company had not yet commenced its national rollout, was not yet known coast to coast -- exploding in one year from gross revenues of $10 million to $780 million in the next.  I know it sounds ridiculous, but I was there. It was madness.

The company broadcast or cablecast 24 hours a day of live programming to homes across Florida and a few cable systems in adjoining states in the south.  We had just started broadcasting in the New York market. (For more chuckles on how that all worked out and then some, check out :
from July 2010
from August 2010)

We sold “schlocky” merchandise to those who called in to a massive sales room, housed in another building along Route 90. Those who called in and were lucky and somewhat articulate, were selected to speak directly to the “Show Hosts”, providing an endless supply of banter or “testimonials” about the merchandize and this new fangled experience of shopping via television while the camera remained fixed on the item for sale.


Part of the pitch frequently included showing Ads from catalogs, displaying much higher prices than we were charging for the same item.  Part of what the in-house graphics department did -- was actually create these catalog pages. I didn’t know this yet. But one day, when I walked into the studio, the art crew was in stitches. Our offices were filled with television sets so we could all watch the programming wherever we went, usually with the audio off.  I think it was part of some kind of mad indoctrination thing, that and the pale green shag carpeting was enough to make you insane. Anyway, the camera was fixed on a “catalog” page for an item -- I cannot recall what it was --that had just been comped up by one of the sloppier paste-up artists and apparently the type was not adhering to the board. My little art crew was yelling and laughing, “Stop the close-up! You can see the cut marks! Oh no, the type is lifting off the board!“ It was only then that I began to understand what they were talking about.

I called my boss, the Senior VP of Marketing. He returned my call several hours later suggesting I mention this to our new in-house legal counsel who suggested I come over to his office, which was housed in yet another and much fancier office in a much much larger converted strip mall further south along Highway 90.  I drove over in my convertible, music blaring, top down. I spent the bulk of my free time that year growing a tan while I drove from department to department. The corporate campus was still two years away.   As I explained to Mr. In-house Counsel how we were creating “sales collateral” for the show, his face kept getting redder and redder. He was brand new to the company as well. I explained that up until that day, my third week with the company, I didn’t know that we were producing this material, that we were, in effect, actually defrauding the viewers.

That was the last time we created this kind of material for the shows. No one in the Art Department had any sense that what they were doing might be wrong—or if they did, chose not to say anything about it. In the long run, the company didn’t need to do these Ads. There was enough money and endless credit in those days for anyone who wanted to buy something they saw being hawked, to just pick up the phone and call us. And they did. Creation can be crafty.  

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Hello again, It's me.

Fantasy advice I needed

There is without doubt, a sweet pleasure in seeing long lost faces from an idyllic childhood after many years. We were a tribe of little children united by our geography and similar socio-economic conditions. Like any other tribe in history, our connection was temporary. The ebb and flow of our shared educational experiences brought us together and apart in the intervening years. We grew up in the woody suburbs in New Jersey at a time when most of our Moms could stay at home and we played outside with our neighborhood friends till the sun began to set; a rite of passage that has come and gone in this post 9/11 world. But for one too brief night in an overdressed hotel, we were transported back to those beginnings; the occasion, our 40th High School reunion.

Some were faces I had not looked at in over fifty years, never even expected to see again. Some evoked poignant memories long forgotten.  While those moments may be fleeting, they are the touchstones that chisel and define us in our journey.

I could write about the memory of singing “I’m ‘Enry the Eighth I am” on the blacktop with my classmates or sharing a fascination with those handsome men from U.N.C.L.E.. I could write about learning the truth of the birds and the bees with my playmates Linda and Jayne from a new girl on the block seeking our friendship, from whom we were then collectively forbidden to play with. I could relive with witnesses that moment in Mrs. Berg’s fifth grade class when we learned our beloved President Kennedy had been shot and we saw that our teachers could cry. There were the field trips to Becker’s Farm, the air raid drills where we hid under our desks to avoid deadly nuclear fallout, the brightly colored S.R.A. leveled readers or the gender defining assembly when all the girls and their mothers watched “Growing Up and Liking It”, a salute to menstruation and none of the boys were invited. But there was barely time to say hello again, how are you?

We were some of the last representatives of the Baby Boomer generation at a time before political correctness had constrained the structure of public education. There was no dyslexia, no ADD, no processing issues. There were only kids who were dumb -- evidenced by our trading in our grammar school meritocracy for an academically stratified Junior High School with three other tribes from neighboring schools. It’s hard to imagine what was in the minds of those educators who thought chopping all of us up and labeling us 7-1 (the brightest) to 7- 10 (the least) was somehow beneficial to all the learners. This first demarcation into haves and have nots was based solely on what our teachers thought our potential and destinies were to be.  Those relegated to 7-10 became the dropouts and the bullies. How else might one defuse the humiliation they must have felt being placed in the “dumbest” class?  We all knew what the numbers meant. We had spent hours in classrooms with these children. Awkward!

Thankfully, in high school the tracking was somewhat mitigated by our after school interests. The competition for grades or scholarship had nothing to do with these experiences. It was here that we might find like-minded friends. As the Art Editor of our High School Newspaper and Yearbook, as well as a very active member of the Drama club, the friendships forged from these efforts were ones that I carried forward. It was the in the spirit of collaboration, of teamwork – whether on the field or not – that a person’s true mettle might be measured. It is no surprise that those are the people I most wanted to see at this event or continued to see or had already reconnected with somewhere down the line as our lives went off in all kinds of different directions.  There were too few of you there on Saturday night, but we will talk again soon.

A classmate remarked at the reunion that it was like Facebook LIVE! And I think for many it was just that. Facebook took away some of the surprise as well as some of the need to reconnect.  We came armed with information about one another already.  What was really left to talk about? I was “friended” by close to 30 of my former schoolmates before I even walked into the stuffy hotel.

Nonetheless, seeing all these faces again, in one small space was sweet for they are the keepers of your early memories. Reliving moments with first loves, first play dates and sleepovers is a special treasure while we still have the health and good spirits to do so. Nothing is funnier than laughing about our crazy neighbors (We had so many!), kooky siblings, and wacko parents with people who experienced them as you did. This is a time to share those we lost in the intervening years as well. There is no small comfort in this.

My advice? Should you choose to attend your own 40th reunion, come with an open heart and mind. Be kind. Be thoughtful. Stay in touch with those who touched your heart and reminded you of those sweetest times. Don’t bother with those who hurt you or offended you. Life’s too short. Then go home and hug your family. And remember, your kids will probably be laughing at you at their own reunion. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Occupy THIS!

"Democracy doesn't come from the top. It comes from the bottom. Democracy is not what governments do. It's what people do."  ~ Howard Zinn

I'm old enough to feel a deja vu
Having successfully reached what is euphemistically called middle age provides one with a wider berth and a broader and hopefully more informed perspective on the world.  So I watch the OWS sit-ins with both anxiety and hope for our collective futures. I’m a parent and that comes with the territory. I know enough about the history of the world to reflect that all great changes in any society began as a disorganized, rather disjointed effort to refocus values and sensibilities. I also know that real change takes time, often decades, to infuse itself into a culture, of the mindset, and that it is never an easy path.  The media has provided us with a group of political pundits, who take great pleasure in devaluing and minimizing the OWS group by pointing out its lack of leadership, its convoluted message, and general disorganization.  But it is these very factors that give me pause, that make me take this committed collection of malcontents seriously.  

I also know that except in times of crisis, like the Great Depression or a world war, government leaders are paradoxically too responsible for things as they are, too invested in the status quo, to actually take on the responsibility for making changes in the “system”, however inequitable or malfunctioning they may be.  It takes the unrest of the educated but under utilized, under employed, and under valued masses – the people – to demand change.  To those in control, those for whom equilibrium is essential, that is discomforting and frightening.  In that group I would include all of the following: Politicians, Economists, University Presidents, Power Brokers, and Bankers. 

I love Political Graffiti!  

I wonder if they understand that history is not destiny -- as much as they would like it to be. Certainly our war efforts have made money, just like it did in World War II, only this time not for the American worker. Privatizing the efforts directed profits only to those companies able to participate. History doesn’t ever tell us where we’re going, only where we have been.

I’ve thought a great deal about the responsibility that historians take on. Imagine the daunting responsibility for interpreting the past through the lens of the present!  How does history and our definitions of progress, peace, growth, and development, change through time?  Just consider how Christopher Columbus is treated in schools today versus forty years ago. Today he is presented as the person who is responsible for the genocide of millions of Native Americans. In my time, he was treated like a hero. Is that a form of Progress?

Consider first the notion of “Peace” as a worldwide concept. John Lennon’s “Give Peace a chance” kind of Peace. When I was in grammar school, we had drills where we hid under our desks in anticipation of some imagined worldwide nuclear attack from our red counter super-power, Russia.  How many of our neighbors built bomb shelters in their suburban backyards? Today’s public school students, who have actually died in their local schools at the hands of classmates, conduct mandatory lockdown exercises every month. A real threat may be sitting in the next desk. What does Peace mean to this generation? What did Peace mean to my generation?

I might have defined Peace as military alliances between nations under threat from mutual enemies. It was -- Us versus Them. But is that definition of Peace still relevant in a world filled with millions of more literate and diverse populations living within single nation-states? Are our borders going to remain even relevant when technology links us all in an instant? Will our distinct cultures provide a better demarcation of on which side of any political question we may fall? Should we allow ourselves to be reduced to our differences?  

More fundamentally, isn’t it less expensive to live in a peace filled world than in a world at war, and shouldn’t that be the goal of our leaders whose vision must transcend the needs of the few for the needs of all?

Even kids know this. Since I frequently have the opportunity to work with teenagers, I asked a random collection of 14 to 17 year olds how they would define Peace and Progress. Here’s a sampling:

Romi age 16 –“I believe peace is economic and societal stability. I believe progress is expansion and a fairer but looser system that protects workers from the decisions of big banks but also allows those who are driven to make a profit from their ideas and talents.  Progress also allows those less fortunate into the market and to have a larger hand in the economy.”

Ellen age 15-  Peace is…  “When there is no war because war costs money. Progress is when new aspects of technology and business are created.  This allows the world to move forward and grown into a new version of society.”

Dan age 16 – “Peace is no involvement in wars inside or with foreign nations. Progress means competition in inventive technological and practical developments. Keeping checks and balances in commerce and avoiding monopolies.”

Greg age 14 – “There is no war, no draft and all militarys (sic) home. This is an obtainable progress. The government has achieved the goals they set forth. Progress is a state in which the economy prospers and commerce increases. A state in which money and assets are generally equally spread out and most are content.”

Those participating in OWS protests across the nation and the world are, I predict, only the first wave in what will be a long hard road to a new future in which Free Trade becomes Fair Trade and in which education stresses collaborations and critical thinking to build a better tomorrow for everyone.  Our youth already understand this. For everyone that leaves the site of a protest, I predict that they will be replaced.

In 1792 the brilliant Thomas Paine said, “My country is the world and my religion is to do good.” 

The time will come when leaders will emerge, when the message will be heard, and real changes will happen, because that is what history is. And it starts now.