Thursday, August 22, 2013

Presto! A Language Disappears, Recipes for Revival

Every day another language disappears from our world as its last speakers pass away. I received a rude awakening to that fact last week in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. Previously, I was unaware of this beautiful, historic town in southwest Wisconsin. It was originally settled in the 1840’s by miners from Cornwall, England who had been displaced when many tin mines closed. Some of them immigrated to Wisconsin to work in the lead mines. Many of the original limestone houses in Mineral Point have been preserved and maintained; it has become a center for local artists.                

In a bookstore, I found several Cornish language textbooks. When I asked the proprietor about them, she said, “We are not English. We are Celtic like the Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and people from Brittany, France, and Galicia, Spain.” Her anger pulsated with her response. Clearly, she sought justice for the English submerging of her culture.

Since that trip, I’ve tried to find information about Cornwall and its history and culture. As a sign of how merged into the general English culture it is, very little information is available about it other than it had a Celtic background. Cornwall occupies one county in Southwest England; its current population is about 500,000. While it used to be a center for mining, its main industry now is tourism. It boasts beautiful coastal areas, beaches, and the least cold climate in England. I apologize for being ignorant of its history.

Are the differences between the Cornish and English minor? Did the Cornish have a culture that was buried by the dominant culture around them? I suppose many smaller groups, as they strive to maintain their cultural heritages, are debating similar questions. The larger question is how to maintain one’s culture without becoming tribal to the point of warring with neighbors over surmountable differences.

The last Cornish speaker passed away in 1914. Nevertheless, in the last 15 years, people there have been reviving it. Once again, the Cornish language is taught in several of their elementary schools. High school students from Mineral Point have a yearly visitor exchange with their counterparts in Cornwall. There are now an estimated 300 Cornish speakers.

The European Union is aiding the revival by designating the Cornish pastie a heritage food. It can now only be made and sold legally in Cornwall. It has to be shaped like a ‘D’ and its opening has to be on the side. So much for living and letting live.

For fear of violating any laws, I won’t give you a recipe for the pastie. It looks too complicated to make anyway. There have been no restrictions placed on Cornish hens, however, so here’s a recipe for Cornish game hens. Preparation time 15 minutes. It serves two.

                                                  Herb Roasted Cornish Game Hens

1 large Cornish hen
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp coarse black pepper
1 tsp minced rosemary
1 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf
1 shallot roughly chopped
1 carrot chopped into pieces
1 celery stalk chopped
juice of ½ lemon

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Rinse the hen. Season with salt and pepper inside and out.
Stuff the cavity with the spices.
Place some of each of the veggies in the cavity. Place the rest of the veggies on the bottom of the pan.
Place the hen on top of the veggies.
Squeeze lemon juice over the hen and in the cavity.
Cook for about 45 minutes.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Reading Don Quixote in Modern America

Don QuixoteDon Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rating the book that was written 400 years ago and is held to be the first modern novel ever written on a one to five-star criterion seems plain silly. I'm giving it five stars to satisfy the computer program but it seems irrelevant to this classic. Now we can move on.

Mind-traveling across four centuries to understand the characters of another time and world was difficult. I read "Don Quixote" in episodic form and now that I have finally finished it, I feel as if I've accomplished something. Did I like it? That's a difficult question to answer. Don Quixote was unlike anything else I've ever read. Unlike modern books that have a definite plot with a beginning, middle, and a denouement leading to the end, it lacked those elements. It read as a series of adventures, treatises on the place of fiction in society, and commentaries on the nature of art in general.

For those who have seen the musical "Man of La Mancha" and are expecting to read a similar story, the book is nothing like it. One thing that I found very interesting was the attitude that people had about madness at that time. Most people whom Don Quixote encountered were well aware of his madness. Some were sympathetic and wanted to take care of him. Others mocked him behind his back which for large parts of the book I found so annoying I almost stopped reading it. Many people were enfuriated by him. In large part, nothing has changed in the popular perception of mental illness in four centuries.

Would I recommend that others read it? If you want to challenge yourselves or increase your knowledge about the history of literature, I definitely would. I read the Edith Grossman translation copywright 2003. She did a superb job of making the language accessible and readable. If you plan to read "Don Quixote" in English, I definitely recommend this translationl.

View all my reviews

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Great Recipe in the Immigration Debate

In California one morning, everyone wakes up to a startling discovery: All the Mexicans (one third of California’s population) have disappeared. In this movie, A Day Without A Mexican, directed by Sergio Arau and starring Yareli Arezmendi and John Getz, the people are at a loss when they realize that no one is left to do the work. With ironic humor, A Day Without A Mexican explores the real life perplexities of the immigration issue and gives us food for thought about what societal needs the immigration population is filling in American society. I won’t say any more about the movie for fear of being a spoiler, but I recommend that people view it on DVD.

At this point, the House of Representatives, in their usual modus operandi, is stalling on the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate. As the Nativists rear their ugly heads once again, let’s remember that except for those 5.2 million identified as Native Americans who still survive here, we’re all immigrants or their descendants. I’m glad that my great-grandparents left Russia over 100 years ago before our current laws were in effect.

And speaking again of food for thought, I continue to enjoy the plethora of foreign restaurants within a half hour ride of my house. I am also enjoying the various ingredients that are available for cooking that growing up I never even heard of. This week I tried another recipe from the ELL Parent Center’s cookbook, A Taste of Niles Township: Recipes from our Global Village. To order a copy, go to

Aloo Chaat came without identification, but I’m guessing that it’s from Southeast Asia. I found tamarind paste at a grocery store in the Asian Indian neighborhood on Devon Avenue in Rogers Park, Chicago. Aloo Chaat is good as a main vegetarian dish or as a side dish with fish or chicken. Preparation time is 20 minutes.


                                                Aloo Chaat

½ cups chick peas, drained
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 ½ teaspoons brown sugar
½ tsp mild chili powder
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro leaves
a pinch of salt
½ Tbsp tamarind paste
6 Tbsps water
chopped onion
Tomato julienne or pomegranate seeds (Lacking either, I used grape tomatoes.)

Boil the water in a pot. Add the potato and cook until a bit soft but not mushy. Remove potatoes from the heat, drain, and set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, mix the water and tamarind paste. Add chili powder, sugar, coriander, and salt. Pour the mixture over the chick peas. Combine the potatoes, onions, and cilantro. Mix them and add salt to taste. Mix with the chick pea mixture. Add the tomatoes. Serve.   



Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Missing ATM Card, Another Jean Valjean Moment

She first noticed that her ATM card was missing when she saw an item on her bank statement for a $6 purchase at the Punjab Convenience Mart, a store she’d never even seen much less shopped at. A quick look in her purse revealed that her wallet was missing. Days later, $200 more of purchases that she had never made appeared on her statement. Then she received the wallet in the mail in an unmarked envelope. Everything was returned except for the ATM card and whatever cash had been in her wallet. The identity of the thief will never be known.

In related/unrelated news, the workers from the East Coast to the Midwest at McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and about two dozen other fast food restaurants, organized by the Service Employees International Union, have been holding one-day strikes to demand a living wage of $15 per hour. Presently, the median wage for a fast food worker is $9.05 per hour. Many earn as little as $7.40 per hour and must choose between paying the rent or eating. While $15 an hour may be arguable, surely a wealthy company like McDonald’s can afford to do better for its workers. In 2001, in Nickled And Dimed,On Not Getting By In America, Barbara Ehrenreich describes in a very eloquent way the plight of low wage workers in America. The theme of the book is that it is impossible to live on a minimum wage job without government assistance in the form of subsidized housing, Food Stamps, and/or medical care. Years later, this situation has become, if anything, more acute.

During this summer, the House and Senate continue to stall on passing a bill that would continue the SNAP (Food Stamp) program. The House’s version would eliminate five million people from the rolls. As it is, countless people in America are increasingly turning to private charities to supplement their food supply taxing these charities' abilities to address the growing need. The House bill threatens to make this situation much worse.

To return to the stolen ATM Card: who but a desperate person who couldn’t feed his or her family would steal an ATM Card to buy $6 worth of merchandise at a convenience mart? Was it for a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk? Will more incidents such as this occur in the future? An elderly woman loses an ATM card and with it, her feeling of security. A person in desperate straits loses her ability to feed herself. The Tea Party and other Conservatives clamor for social programs to be gutted. Until they are stopped, we all lose.