Almost but not really fruitcake.

I don’t like fruitcake, at least not most traditional fruitcake. I was tinkering around with my pumpkin-date bread, and wondering if I could make something that resembles fruitcake.

Well, it has fruit in it, but it’s not fruitcake. It is, however, damned tasty, albeit rich.  One of the things I like about this bread is that all the fruits, with the exception of the ginger, are dried, not “candied.” No bright green and red cherries for me, thank you very much.

I could just link to the recipe and indicate the additions, but that would mean that I would have to look at two different entries if I wanted to make it.  That  would be a nuisance.

Pat’s Not Really Fruitcake

3 1/3 c. flour
2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1 1/2 t.salt
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg (Alton Brown is right: freshly grated nutmeg is amazing)
1/2 t. ground cloves
2/3 c. vegetable shortening
2 c. mashed or pureed pumpkin (I roast my own)
2 tbls. spiced rum (or brandy,  or bourbon… scotch or tequila probably wouldn’t work, though)
2/3 c. milk
4 eggs, slightly beaten
2 2/3 c. sugar
1 c. Medjool dates, pitted and chopped (I found pitted Medjool dates in Safeway!)
1 c. chopped pecans
1/2 c. chopped dried pineapple
1/2 c. chopped dried apricots
1/2 c. dried cherries
1/2 c. chopped crystallized ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9 x 5 x 3 loaf pans (I use disposable aluminum when I can find it, which seems harder all the time). Combine dry ingredients (the first seven), stir and toss together with a fork or whisk. (Or put them in a large Ziploc and shake.)  In a large bowl, combine shortening, pumpkin, eggs, sugar, milk, rum and fruit. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, mixing until just blended; there should be no dry flour, but there will be small bits of shortening that will disappear in baking. Place in pans, bake for a bit over one hour until a broomstraw  or knife comes out clean.  Cool in pans for 5 to 10 minutes. If possible, let cool completely before cutting it. Goes very well with cream cheese or chevre.

I am thinking of tinkering more with this; I wonder if the batter would hold up to me doubling all the fruit except the dates? If it’s successful, I’ll come back and update this recipe.

So there it is. Your holiday Not A Fruitcake. Much better than something with fruit that looks like it was grown in Chernobyl.

Happy Holidays, everyone.

 

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The Al Franken Dilemma.

I love Al Franken. I have always loved Al Franken. One of my favorite lectures ever was the talk he gave on his fight against Fox News. (Hunt down The First Amendment Project; one of their episodes contains part of that talk.)

He broke my heart. I suspect he broke many others.

He broke my heart in the same way that Anthony Weiner did, albeit for less horrible reasons. Another champion of social justice brought low by behavior that I would have thought a champion of social justice would have known better than to engage in. (Weiner’s case had the added flavor of “how could he be so stupid?”.)

Franken has apologized, of course. But that’s not enough, at least not for me. I can’t help but feel that that apology was a political ploy, that Franken (who generally speaking is one smart cookie) is too intelligent to think that the allegations were going to go away. It’s a different tack than the Republicans take; they prevaricate, they lie, they slander women who come forward. They know they can get away with such behavior because their supporters will accept it. (After all, Roy Moore leads in the Alabama Senate race in spite of credible allegations of sexual harrassment and even rape of teenage girls.)

Democrats won’t. Representatives from both parties are pushing John Conyers to resign, even though he has given up his committee chairmanships and probably will not seek re-election.

This a sea change from the mid-1990s, when women charged that Bill Clinton had harrassed them, and Democrats for the most part questioned their motives and insinuated that they were all lying. Yes, some of them were Republican shills, but all of them? And even if some of them were brought forth by the Republicans, if the harassment occured, should that matter? It is incontrovertible that Clinton engaged in an illicit affair with an employee who was nearly twenty years younger then he was.

I was a lot more idealistic then. I wrote a letter to the White House urging Clinton to resign. (I wonder what would have happened had Gore ended up finishing that term: would the country have returned to normal or would the Republicans, seeking blood in the water, found something or made something up about Gore? Probably the latter. On the other hand, it might have given Gore a leg up in the 2000 election.)

I still believe that moral relativism is repugnant. If we decry behavior on the right, we should be just as swift to condemn it on the left. If we believe Roy Moore’s accusers, we should believe Al Franken’s. After all, as Jon Stewart said, “If you don’t stick to your values when they’re tested, they’re not values — they’re hobbies.”

That we have come to a point in history where women feel safe enough to come forward makes me happy. It still takes a lot of courage to tell of the misdeeds of the rich and powerful: you get slandered, your privacy invaded, your motives questioned in the nastiest terms. The difference is that now you have a chance of being believed.

We can empower women.* Maybe the first cracks in the shell of toxic masculinity and rape culture which cover this society are beginning to appear. Maybe women are beginning to be treated as trustworthy human beings, not as the heirs to Eve’s supposed treachery to Adam. Maybe punishing our heroes for their bad behavior is the first step towards a more just world.

And yet… and yet…. and yet…..

There are grave consequences to pushing Democrats out of the Senate. The repeal of the ACA was defeated by one vote. If Franken had not been there, the bill would have tied, and would have been passed by Mike Pence casting the deciding vote.

I am privileged in this debate. I can afford to ride forth on my white horse of righteousness, knowing that am, generally speaking, protected from the worst that Congress is likely to do. Had the ACA been repealed I probably would not have been affected all that much. If abortion is outlawed or birth control restricted I am not going to be personally harmed. I’ll take a hit with the new tax plan, but nothing I can’t handle.

Others are not so privileged. Their finances (when they are barely holding on in the first place), their health, perhaps their lives, will be in danger from reckless and callous government disregard for their well-being.

Some of those others are women. They need the protection that a Congress truly dedicated to their welfare can give. Yet at the same time those women are the ones who work for bosses, or have customers, who think they can grope, fondle, flash, forcibly kiss, and even rape with impunity, believing that they will never be called to account for assaulting the women over which they have power.

So I’m torn. All I can do is what I think right, which unfortunately changes from day-to-day as I confront once again the reality I have always known, that sometimes men — occasionally even men I like or admire — engage in despicable behavior.

*Yes, I do understand that men can be victims of assault as well, and that in fact in many ways the impacts of sexual assault are even more difficult for men than women. Anthony Rapp, whom I have always liked, has my unmitigated respect for speaking out against the popular and powerful Kevin Spacey. Men are affected by rape culture and toxic masculinity just like women, but in different ways. I think that’s another post.

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Dear Alton Brown,

I cheered when Food Network ran The Iron Chef Gauntlet. I grinned when Stephanie Izzard won against the Iron Chefs.

I love the new format for Iron Chef. The Iron Chef Showdown reduces the amount of time watching the Iron Chefs cook. With the possible exception of Morimoto (“he made a smoker out of ice?”), the chefs are not intrinsically interesting to watch while they are cooking. Splitting the competition into two speeds things up.

When are you going to bring back Cutthroat Kitchen?

Sincerely,

A fan.

P.S. In my estimation you are still the sexiest man on television, even if you have shaved off all your hair.

P.P.S. You’re right about the nutmeg.

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All done.

[See sidebar disclaimer. These opinions are my own, and my employer — or recent employer — has nothing to do with them.]

To paraphrase H. H. Munro, it was a good job, as jobs go; and as jobs go, it went.

Years ago former operatic tenor turned Discovery Channel host Mike Rowe had a program called “Dirty Jobs.” According to Rowe, the son of a pig farmer, he was trying to shine a light on the unsung heroes who made life possible for the rest of us. A noble aspiration, indeed.

Over time, however, it seemed clear that Rowe favored jobs that had a definite physical component: sewer workers, chimney sweeps, reindeer farmers, etc. (I’m not sure that reindeer farmers have much impact on my life, but your mileage may vary.) Such jobs tended to skew male, but I am going to give Rowe the benefit of the doubt on this and assume that he wasn’t seeking out mostly male jobs. He did have a few primarily female jobs (candle maker comes to mind), but for the most part, they were definitely blue-collar (mostly male) jobs.

These workers do need to be recognized — they’re part of what makes society tick. Just look at the streets during a garbage strike. But many other people allow us to live the lives we do but don’t have to get their overalls dirty.

Pink collar clerical workers are not just unambitious pencil pushers. I know: I — and my coworkers — fall into that category. And people like me make government in the United States possible. It is hard — occasionally tedious — and unrecognized work, in occasionally unpleasant conditions.

We worked in a crappy structure that sweltered in the summer and froze in the winter. In the VBM (Vote By Mail) rooms, the floor was made of varnished plywood that buckles slightly when you walk on it. There were rumors last fall that the building had fleas. (That’s a distinct possibility — the area where we were located was pretty close to the street called “Alameda de la Pulgas” (Avenue of the Fleas) supposedly because the Spanish found them such a nuisance.) Because of security concerns, janitorial staff didn’t  come into the VBM area, or at least not very often, and we had to empty our own trash cans. Also for security reasons, nobody was allowed to be by themselves in any area where ballots were. This meant that if you forgot your cell phone at your desk at the end of the day, you had to find someone who could walk you back to pick it up.

Our hours were entirely at the whim of the voters of the county; this year, because it was a small off-year election that only affected half the jurisdictions, turnout was low, and our hours were cut. Last year, during the presidential general campaign, of the ten weeks I worked, I only worked less than fifty during one week (I worked 48). I worked more 60 in four weeks, and election week I worked 72. I did not even work as much as a couple of my co-workers and permanent staff; the somewhat bitter joke was that they were working lawyers’ hours but not getting lawyers’ pay.

The work is seasonal: you get called every few months to help. (“Extra help” is our official designation.) Because this election was so small it seemed to me like only the best workers were called in. I suppose I should be flattered. I have already been told that if I want to come back next year they would be happy to have me.

In between, I have to decide what to do. And I grapple with the “I’m a failure because I don’t have a career.” After all, aren’t people with my educational advantages supposed to be off making deals or making policy?

Except that I love this job. I love the surprisingly artistic aspects of verifying signatures. I love feeling like I am connecting with voters, even at an anonymous remove. I love being part of making democracy work, even if I am simply one small ant in a very busy hill.

It’s not all beer and skittles: there is some seriously tedious grunt work that nonetheless requires very close attention. All those ballots have to be extracted from their envelopes in a manner that preserves their secrecy. I am slow at this because it requires exceeding precision and my attention issues make that difficult. The people who excel at ballot extraction have my unadulterated admiration.

I love my coworkers, from the tall guy who makes the runs to the post office to the cute young woman who sits two cubicles down verifying signatures to the two guys who run the machines that scan the envelopes when they come in. They are friendly, often funny, and they care about what they are doing.

In political campaigns, you find people dedicated to a partisan cause. At the elections office, we care about something even more ambitious: representative democracy itself.

That is certainly a job worth doing, and worth doing well, and worth celebrating.

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Just stuff, Halloween edition.

Although work is not nearly as grueling as last November (not even completely full time, some weeks — it’s an off-year election), it’s still work, and I’m writing even less than I was before this month. Sue me.

You know the difference between a Christmas tree and a Halloween pumpkin? The damn squirrels don’t try to eat the tree. Last week the Rocket Scientist and I went on a trek across the hill to the coast to find the best pumpkin, and I left it outside in an artistically arranged group with the sugar pie pumpkins we also bought, and the stupid squirrels ate a hole into the flesh that is already starting to rot. I am hoping enough of it will stay good so I can carve it into a Jack-O-Lantern. (At least they left the sugar pie pumpkins alone: I have a plan for those that revolve mainly around pumpkin date bread.)

I was NOT going to drive all the way to Half Moon Bay to get another pumpkin, and the closest Safeways only had ugly “fairy tale pumpkins.” I went to a “pumpkin patch” — you know the type: the pumpkins are secondary to the little train and the hay rides and the ponies. Great for kids, but I would have had to lug a full-size pumpkin up a steep grade to get to my car. Not gonna happen. I did manage to find a Safeway a couple of towns over that had regular (if large and sort of scarred) pumpkins, so I got one of those. At this point, we are looking at one, possibly two, Jack-O-Lanterns, a couple of small pumpkins, a couple of small ears of decorative corn, maybe a pomegranate, and several pine cones, which I purchased along with the pumpkin.

It nearly kills me to actually purchase pine cones when I can get larger and prettier ones in the public park about a mile away, but these are cinnamon-scented. REALLY scented.  I was starting to get a headache from them. Usually, I put bags of groceries on the seat next to me, but this time they went in the trunk. I am hoping they will deter the rats with the furry tails.

Speaking of scents…. Part of my costume this year (I am actually dressing up!) involves a fishing net. So I went and blew $22 at Michael’s on a “real recycled fishing net.” When I took it out of the package, it smelled about how you expect a recycled fishing net to smell.  My cat took an immediate interest. After a few hours, I thought it had aired out enough, but when Railfan came in from work he yelled: “What is that stench?” I suggested putting it outside, and he quickly said “No! It will attract wild animals!” I had to admit he was right.

The net is airing outside now, and I am hoping it will get better before tomorrow night when I wear it to trivia. People are encouraged to dress up, and I am actually going to do so. Not to mention for work on Tuesday. Last year one of my coworkers came in a Nine-Tails outfit (ask your local Pokemon nerd) that he had made himself, but which looked professionally produced. He was pleased that I actually recognized what he was.

I seem to be taking Halloween seriously this year. I haven’t done so since college. I am bemused by myself, but that hasn’t stopped me from dropping forty bucks on various makeup and temporary hair dye, not to mention the net and the seashells I am going to hot glue to it.

You’ve heard of a sandwich? I am going as a seawich.

I was going to wear a skirt but decided that getting up on a barstool wrapped in a net would be hard enough. So I am wearing pants and…. my electric blue Victorian sweetheart corset. (Hey, it’s a bar.) I decided that maybe wearing the corset to work on Tuesday would attract unwanted commentary, so I am wearing a corset shaped top: It looks like a corset, sort of, except it has shoulders and sleeves.  I have also made long pearl and blue crystal earrings, and I will wear my pearls and all my blue and pearl bracelets.

I might get someone to take pictures (although probably not of me in the corset).

So, as I said, I have not been posting much. I may end up not posting at all in the month of November — I am thinking of doing NaNoWriMo again. If so, wish me luck. I can’t write fiction at all well; NaNoWriMo is really more an exercise in seeing how much I can type in one month.

Finally… If any of you live in areas having an off-year election, and you are a vote-by-mail voter…. Mail your damn ballots, already.

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Treachery.

I have talked about my love of the ocean. The wild exuberant Pacific, the solemn Atlantic. The exotic Caribbean.

The gentle Gulf.

The Gulf is my ocean, the waters I grew up in and near. The ocean I love more than any other.

Oh, I have walked along the Pacific, listening to the roar of the waves crashing against the rocks. (I once swam in the Pacific, in Hawaii, which was the only place other than San Diego that I have ever been where the Pacific was warm enough to swim in.) I have waded the shores of the Atlantic at dawn, helping release baby sea turtles to hopefully help a species decimated by human activity avoid extinction. I have stood on the beaches of Key West and St. Croix, looking at the Caribbean waters which were a shade of blue more wonderful than anything in the world, except the brilliant cornflower of a San Francisco fall sky.

But the Gulf… The Gulf spoiled me. I once told a group of women, most of whom had grown up along the Atlantic Coast, that any temperature under seventy degrees was simply too cold to swim in. My pronouncement was greeted with derision; one young woman declared that that was “bath water.” They were, of course, wrong.

In my neck of the woods, the Pacific is showy: look at me, it seems to say: I am spectacular, I am dangerous. It is an ocean that could have been precisely designed for car commercials. Crashing waves and dramatic rocks – and the lighthouses, of course – show up in calendars. Nobody ever made a calendar of the Gulf: it would be too boring.

The Gulf is gentle. Until it’s not.

The Gulf usually only creates some of the storms: the rest are spawned thousands of miles away in the eastern Atlantic. (You want a dangerous ocean? Hurricanes, icebergs…The Atlantic has a lot to answer for.) But the Gulf and her sister the Caribbean caress them, feed them, grow them into monsters that can destroy cities. She gives her water for the surges that wash over islands and seawalls. The water that floods houses, that collapses buildings. That devastates lives. That warmth that I so love turns into a power source making the storms ever larger and longer-lasting.

The results of the sisters’ handiwork can be seen in the aftermath of Irma and Maria: in the houses stripped of roofs, the impassable roads. In islands that may not be habitable for months, perhaps (in the case of Barbuda, years, if ever). In people scrambling for food, water, fuel, power. In the Florida Keys, which straddle both seas, now being nothing more than a glorified sandbar, at least for months to come.

In Puerto Rico, people struggling all the while the U.S. government can not​ get its act together enough to provide adequate help. It’s Katrina all over again, made worse by the fact that, even though they proclaim otherwise, Trump and his people seem to not really believe the Puerto Ricans are American citizens. (Look at the disparate treatment of the Texans slammed by Harvey. Tell me that the Puerto Ricans are not being treated as red-headed stepchildren.)

And Harvey… The Gulf fed energy and moisture as Harvey sat for hours – days – driving more and more rain into Houston, a city already threatened by climate change.  You could see the pictures on the nightly news of people being carried from their flooded houses into waiting boats. (And in one unforgivable case, Immigration and Customs Enforcement grabbing and deporting an undocumented kid doing rescue work.)

Betsy.

Donna.

Camille.

Katrina.

Every year St. Croix (an island I love and whose destruction at the winds of Maria upsets me) and many other islands celebrate Hurricane Thanksgiving Day on November 14. I’m not sure that they will have much to be thankful for this year.

After the devastating winds, and the driving rain, and the killer storm surge, the Gulf will return to her deceptive gentleness. At least until the next storm, be it in two weeks or two years. And if you stand on the white sand beaches on the Pinellas barrier islands or the Florida panhandle and have the waves lick your toes, you might be unaware of her deviousness.

The Gulf is treacherous.

I still love her.

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Democracy. I love it.

Standard disclaimer: See sidebar. These are my views, not those of my employer, for whom I am in no way authorized to speak. I am writing from my experience working for an elections division, a worker bee who gets to see up close and personal how elections happen.

I’m back at work this week, upholding the finest traditions of government in America. That’s right, I am an election worker. The local county I work for is having an off-year election.

I work in the vote-by-mail department. My particular job is “signature verification,” which is pretty much what it sounds like: we check the signatures on the ballots that come in against the signatures on file from people’s voter registration cards. We’re not conducting forensic analysis, and our determinations will never show up in court. We’re simply looking for lines in the signature that indicate that one person signed both documents.

In addition to the philosophical happiness of working for the common good, I love the work itself. I tell myself that this means that all my many hours joyfully wandering through art museums has finally had a practical application, although an expertise in finding Waldo would work just as well.  (A former supervisor, agreeing with my art analysis, said looking at signatures was sometimes like “looking at Jackson Pollacks, albeit really crappy Jackson Pollacks.”)

Technically, this work could be done by about anyone. It doesn’t call on skills developed in my expensive undergraduate and professional education. All it requires is a good eye, comfort around computers, and decent problem-solving abilities. It’s not glamorous, or exciting: nobody exits college thinking, “I want to do signature verification” for a living. (For one thing, it’s seasonal. For another, it can be stressful during a big election: the 2016 general election was crazy.)

My job is just one of many required for an election to go smoothly. Elections are one of those things that people never stop to consider how complicated they are until they break down. (I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I heard the Russians had hacked into the voters’ rolls of some counties in the Midwest, I gasped in horror. Everyone else I knew expressed concern, but until you’ve worked an election I don’t think you appreciate just what a huge impact that could have.)

What I do matters. Although right now I am working on a small off-year election, last year I was one of the anonymous hundreds — thousands, across the country — that made representative democracy possible. We worked very hard to make sure that government of the people, by the people, and (hopefully, although sometimes I have my doubts) for the people survived.

This makes me happy.

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