Dishing on Invention

Necessity is the mother of invention, especially within the realm of cooking.

By this point everyone has probably heard about Gwyneth Paltrow’s ill-fated food-stamp challenge.  Personal thoughts aside, the actress did admit how inventive she had to be with the provisions bought.  In an average week, I usually spend about that much on groceries (except this week– it sucks to be sick), which is easy enough to do since I shop at ALDI, but figuring out something to do with my provisions once I get home is always tricky, especially since seasonings are so expensive.

One day, on a whim, I decided to season the chicken I was baking with maple syrup.  (Because, why not?)  It smelled terrific, but I couldn’t really taste the maple when the cooking was done.  I tried it again the next time I defrosted another chicken piece, using more maple.  The chicken turned a beautiful gold color, but I still didn’t really taste it.

Then I hit on the idea of chicken stew.  It smells great, and while the maple taste still isn’t as strong as I’d like, it’s better than when baked.  I don’t have the recipe down to a science yet (I’m more of an eye-cook, honestly), but here’s the gist of it.

Chicken (I’m a liberal seasoner), onions, potatoes, and some other vegetable like celery or carrots: I drizzle maple over the chicken before I brown it, and then again when I add the vegetables.  There’s water, too… enough to keep the stew from burning, but a light enough portion that it doesn’t drown the flavor.  That’s the ratio I’m still working on.

It’s probably kind of a lucky discovery.  Sometimes when you improvise in the kitchen, the results are great.  And the rest of the time… well, then there’s the Vegetable Soup Incident.  But we won’t talk about that.  But speaking of soup, leftover maple chicken stew turns into excellent soup.


How Not to Write a Term Paper

I may be a little late in the game for this, but hopefully it will be helpful for some.

Lately I’ve been grading a lot of upper-class, undergraduate term papers, and for the most part, they’ve been uninspiring.  That being said, very few were bad, but the bulk had way too many mechanical and grammatical problems for me to give the A’s and high B’s I’d love to see the students get.

Here’s a few helpful hints, and they’re not all negative.

1. There is no “I” in “term paper.”

A lot of the students put lots of I’s all throughout the paper.  Don’t do that.  The instructor knows your topic– you don’t need to remind them that you’re writing about the Ebola panic.  We already know that.  And unless your topic specifically calls for your opinion, leave yourself out of it, unless an anecdote helps you argue your point, but even then do so with extreme prejudice.  In a blog, I can refer to myself as much as I want.  In academic writing, the researcher only appears as a name on the byline.

2. Perdue Owl is your best friend.

A lot of papers were ruined by their inability to cite their sources properly.  My department has a zero-tolerance policy for plagiarism.  If a source is cited incorrectly, most professors won’t write the students up, but they will still lose major points for the error.  If you’re unsure of how to cite a source, start by checking this handy tool (  It got me through undergrad college and still helps me today.

3. Use your professor.  Nicely.

If you can’t find what you need on Owl, or wherever you’re looking, go to your professor or another professional.  They can point you in the right direction, and are often lonely during their office hours.  Plus, it looks better for you when they’re deciding whether to bump up that 89.6 to a 90 at the end of the semester.  Just saying.  But for God’s sake, be polite.  Don’t storm out in a huff in the middle of your meeting.  No, I didn’t do it.

4. Do not hog your paper!

Let someone else read it before you turn it in.  It can be a lifesaver, especially if you have a professor who considers typos to be a form of disrespect.  Or if, like me, your spelling skills atrophied after 8th grade.  Ask a parent, a roommate, a tutor… anyone.  As long as they don’t write your paper for you, do this.

5. Read aloud.

This is also a good way to catch typos and keep yourself on track.  It can be lengthy, but it saves you some embarrassment.  (Oxford-recommended method).

6. Use concentration aids.

For some people it’s peppermint.  For me, it’s Wagner.  I think it’s a time thing.  When I have a long Wagner CD going, I’m reluctant to stop work.  Do a little experimenting.


Good luck!


An MGM Musical Tragedy

They don't even look happy on the poster.

They don’t even look happy on the poster.

Recently Everyday Feminism posted a comic entitled “Your Cinematic Crush Is a Stalker (Um, and That’s a Problem).”  It’s a good read, and it made me think about the first movie I saw that raised some of the red-flags discussed there (

That movie was called Cover Girl.  It was made in 1944, starred Rita Hayworth and made Gene Kelly a star.  But it’s incredibly disturbing.

Hayworth plays “Rusty” Parker, a dancer who enters a contest to model a wedding dress for a big magazine, against the wishes of her boyfriend and boss Danny (Kelly).  She wins because the head of the magazine, a man named Coudair, can’t get over the fact that her grandmother dumped him 40 years ago.  Coudair wants to relive his youth (and win this time), so he encourages his young pal Noel Wheaton to court Rusty.  Wheaton takes it up to 11 by stalking her– sending roses to Danny’s club every fifteen minutes and laying siege to the door so she never has a chance to say no to his advances– particularly when he’s clearly spending so much money.  Danny and the other dancers blame Rusty for the chaos Wheaton created, and finally she caves to the pressure and agrees to marry him.  Danny closes his theatre, and all the unemployed staff blame Rusty, who starts drinking.  Finally, Coudair’s conscience gets to him and he tells her about her grandmother, so she leaves Wheaton and goes back to Danny.

Happy ending.  But is it really?  Look at how Danny behaves.  He victim-blames her when she’s stalked.  Then when Rusty leaves him he closes his business and puts a large number of people out of work on the eve of the post World War II recession.  How do you think he’ll respond to the disagreements that arise in even the happiest of relationships?

The only characters who see the problems in this are Coudair’s secretary and the bartender.  Everyone else gangs up on Rusty.  And I guess the audience is supposed to as well.  There’s a Fred and Ginger movie, The Berkleys of Broadway, that has a very similar plot.

So why am I talking about the 1940s?  Well, for one thing, to dispel the stupid rumor that all movies were perfect until the 1960s.  Unhealthy movie relationships weren’t created by John Hughes or whoever’s directing James Bond movies now.  Come to that, Ian Fleming first started writing those in the 1950s.

And by looking at this problem (which goes back even further than 1944), we highlight just how much of a problem it is and how ingrained it is in popular culture.  We’ve got our work cut out for us, so it’s a good thing that we’re talking about it, raising awareness and trying to find ways to address the problem.


Let Them Eat… Oh, Screw It

Hot from the oven.

Hot from the oven.

I admit it.  I’ve been dying to comment on the Indiana debacle, but I didn’t want to interrupt my regularly scheduled programming.  Such as it is.  And then I injured myself and had a really bad 36-hour headache.  Don’t do that.

Like a lot of people, I railed against the different state governments, my jaw hit the floor when Wal-Mart spoke up against the “religious freedom” debacle, and I’m still shaking my head over all the insanity.  But on the bright side, I’ve read some really good analyses of the situation.  But it all basically comes down to how you view religion.  Christianity in particular.

Last week was Easter– the most important holiday in the church year.  It’s also an incredibly unpleasant time for Christianity on Social Media.  Anti-religious groups go all out.  The religious right goes all out.  Liberal Christians trying to salvage the situation go all out.  It’s probably a miracle that no one does get killed by mob rule and ineffective government… well, no one but the reason for the season.

So what does this all mean?  Well, me being an ELCA Lutheran, I’ll start by looking at the original reformer.  Martin Luther, pre-Tower Experience, perceived God as a merciless judge, always marking down his sins.  After the Tower Experience, Luther realized that God was merciful and loving– however, a lot of people still have the other image.  The merciless image is so powerful that those who see it don’t want anyone to see the merciful one, and they probably think they’re being helpful by so doing it.

And this is what it boils down to, no matter what kind of intentions they begin with.  “I’m free to play God and act like a corrupt judge.  I’m free to deny justice, even when the widow keeps knocking on my office door, asking for her case to be fairly decided.”  The road to hell, as the saying goes, is paved with good intentions.

After all, the disciples had good intentions when they drove off a different follower of Jesus, who was healing and performing other miraculous deeds.  They expected a gold star, but got one of the harshest rebukes from Christ.  Jesus, you recall, made a point to hang out with people the rest of society didn’t like, and he caught plenty of flak for it from the authorities and general populace.

The disciples sometimes really are the “duh-sciples.”  And we’re not talking about the twelve who had no mass communication.  We are all disciples, and we stick our feet in our mouths, are myopic to our own privilege and can be holier-than-thou, just like Peter, James, John and the rest.  Easter illustrates their foibles better than any other Biblical incident.

When these foibles are all the cynical general populace sees, religion (be it Christianity, Islam, or Buddism) becomes the mustachio-twirling villain.  Or whatever the appropriate stereotype is, because based on my knowledge of anti-Islam stereotypes, they aren’t allowed enough class to twirl their mustaches.

So… the law is horrible.  The pizza thing is ridiculous.  The Internet is a mess.  But if there’s a mustachio-twirling villain in this, they’re not found within the pages of my toasty Lutheran Study Bible.  They’re found among us.  Or even worse, they’re minions cowering before an imaginary harsh judge, mustachioed villain.  And that makes them more sad than sinister.  They should read Romans 1:17.


You Are What They Say You Are



A full 75% of my household loves the musical Jesus Christ Superstar.  It was a tradition to play the record, and later the CD of the original Broadway cast several times during Holy Week, and sometimes even on Easter, as well.  My mom, brother, and I know the words to all the songs included on the soundtrack, and our favorite is without a doubt “King Herod’s Song.”  (Who doesn’t like a bit of levity before the torture starts?)  But my dad doesn’t like the musical.  He doesn’t mind the fact that they’re mixing rock with the New Testament, or the Mary Magdalene subplot, or the fact that when the show premiered Pilate’s costume included a silver jock strap… his problem with the musical is that he thinks it’s “too agnostic.”  Because the highlight of the musical is “who are you/do you think you’re what they say you are?”

Fair enough, I guess, except he’s the only person who’s brought that up.  Most people I know who don’t like JCS got their underwear in a bunch over the Magdalene subplot.  But that’s a different argument.

The musical takes place in the last week of Jesus’ life, more or less.  It begins right before the events of Palm Sunday and ends after 3 PM on Good Friday.  This past Good Friday, the pastor offered this thought after station 7… on that first Good Friday, probably no one present at the Crucifixion be they Peter, James, John, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, or Joseph of Arimethea were thinking about the theological implications of the days’ events.

They were scared.  They were confused.  They were horrified.  They were devastated.  The last we see of Peter on Good Friday, he was weeping bitterly after the cock crowed twice.  Mary the mother of Jesus had to witness her son being tortured and subjected to the humiliating and excruciatingly painful death that kept the Pax Romana going.  That he rallied to tell the Beloved Disciple to look after her like he would his own mother (that was huge– a widow without a son was screwed) must have been like a knife through the heart.

And Judas was going through the mental turmoil that led to his suicide.

With all that in mind, the question “do you think you are what they say you are?” Makes that much more sense.  In a traumatic situation confusion and doubt happen.  That’s how Peter came to screw up.  That’s why the other disciples ran away when Jesus was arrested.  And that’s why poor St. Thomas was slow to believe after the Resurrection.

But after Jesus rose from the dead (and first appeared to the women– who very notably did not run away), he forgave them all.  He would have forgiven Judas, but because the former disciple gave into despair, that encounter went unrecorded by the authors of the New Testament.

The journey to faith is not smooth-sailing.  There are many stops and starts, and bumps in the road.  That Jesus Christ Superstar spends so much time on the biggest, and arguably most important bump in the journey of Christianity does not make it agnostic.  It makes an otherwise incredibly stylistic musical realistic.  What would any of us done had we been with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane or standing outside Pilate’s balcony while he offered to release either Jesus or Barabbas?  Would we have been hiding with the disciples?  Would we have shouted “Crucify him!”  “Would we have been with the Marys?”  We’d all like to be in the latter category, but it’s statistically unlikely, and if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that.  For God’s sake.

We spend our whole lives asking that question, “Jesus– who are you?”  Or “God– who are you?”  And we are dealt with patiently and lovingly… every time.  It makes Jesus’ sacrifice all that much greater… we humans are still stiff-necked a millennium later.  Such love is truly beyond our comprehension.  Awesome music helps remind us of that… and we should say “Hallelujah.”


Top 10 Disney Supporting Characters #1 Rafiki

"It is time!"

“It is time!”

I said we’d see Rafiki again, and voila!  Our beloved baboon takes the number one spot, and it isn’t hard to see why.  Besides being awesome, he is easily one of the most recognized Disney characters aside from Mickey Mouse.

This friendly (see what I did there?) primate seems to be in charge of the Pride’s spiritual health.  The ceremony where baby Simba is presented to the animals during “The Circle of Life” is highly reminiscent of a baptism, although Rafiki’s other actions allude to his job being more shaman, as opposed to, say, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Like the other Prideland inhabitants, Rafiki was initially duped by Scar’s explanation of the stampede and the death of Mufasa.  It can be gathered that he distanced himself from Scar’s reign, though no explanation is given as to why.  Maybe it was because he disliked Scar and wanted to keep out of trouble, or maybe Scar, now guilty of murder, didn’t want the baboon’s spiritual presence breathing down his neck.  Or maybe it was part of the “new era” he spoke of.  Hyenas in.  Primates out.

But once he discovered the truth, Rafiki immediately began working to get Simba to overthrow Scar and reclaim the throne.  Such as it is.  And it’s during this course of events that we get to see all the shades of Rafiki’s character.  He’s clever (wise, even), spiritual, and skilled in mystic arts.  But he’s also eccentric, has a wicked sense of humor (hitting Simba on the head), and is pretty darn tough!  Though he has to be old (by baboon standards, anyway) he is incredibly agile and strong.  He hit Simba hard enough to hurt, and later used his stick to coldcock a bunch of hyenas.  Then there’s his epic battle cry and kung-fu skills.

Is it any wonder that he’s a recurring favorite?  He doesn’t have all that much screentime, really, but he takes it all up to eleven.  Not bad for an animated ape.