Founding Father John Adams shared a sentiment similar to parents throughout the ages. While leading the charge of revolution throughout the thirteen colonies, he knew that a war would be hard-fought, bloody, and he was certain sacrifices were going to be made on behalf of the new continent. The end goal – freedom – remained the ultimate victory. Even as a diplomat and eventually the 2nd President of the United States, he knew how his own life would suffer some sacrifice in order, as was written, “in order to build a more perfect union.”
“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy,” he said. “My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”
Not to harp on the professional football controversies, but I can’t help but think of how much this quote relates to our current dilemma with the players. There are a good number of NFL fans who are ethically torn when it comes to watching football. It’s like eating sausage. We like the taste, but do not dare to look to see how it’s made. I don’t want to address that morality because I’ve done it before.
For now, I’m concerned with the idea of choices.
Arian Foster, running back (a very good one, at that) for the Houston Texans, told ESPN, “It is what it is. It’s not good for you. That’s the risk I take to provide for my family.”
So, how is this dissimilar from what Adams wanted more than 200 years ago? See how our priorities, as fathers and mothers, hasn’t changed? We hear football players – notably future Hall of Fame QB Brett Favre – say they’re happy they have daughters, so that they don’t have to make the decision of letting them play football. Others, with sons, proclaim – and these are guys who are or were professional football players – an uncertainty.
These men of professional football, are they making the same type of sacrifices that Adams made? Is it dissimilar from a coal miner or oil rigger who work long hours so that their kids can afford college? Obviously, a major difference is the long-term health risks. The million-dollar contracts and the sponsorship money might swell a bank account, but I think a fully-functioning parent that lives a long time is much better.
That being said, I can’t see anything that sways me in the direction that suggests how football players ideals and motivations differ from fathers (or mothers) from any other generation. The consequences are (much) higher, but so are the salaries. If I’m an NFL player who grew up in poverty, maybe I must study tackling techniques, the kinesthetics of hitting or avoiding a hit, so that my son can study math or philosophy or poetry.
John Adams might get it.
We hear a lot about “personal choices” when it comes to decisions regarding health, deleterious behaviors, etc. Is there any way around this, or does personal freedom trump everything else? Thoughts?
Recently, Daniel D’Addario, a staff writer for Salon’s entertainment section, wrote an article suggesting the appearance on the charts of white musicians “mocking” African-Americans by eschewing, lyrically, the excess that has come to dominate, in some forms, rap music. Now, rap excess is nothing new, and I’d argue vehemently that rap music, or hip-hop, is not and never was solely about fancy cars, flashy clothes, and bottles of champagne. It’s simply a part of what happens when young people are given as exorbitant amount of money, especially, but not limited to those who came from dire economic circumstances. Remember: rock and roll certainly had it’s fair share of party ballads as well.
D’Addario claims that “Mackelmore (in his song “Thrift Shop”) seems to be rebuking the almost entirely black hip hop world for it’s concern with wealth.” It’s with this that I disagree. While – and I’ll never attempt or claim to be an expert with Mackelmore’s life or lyrics – the rapper may be lyrically expostulating what some believe hip hop has come to equate (excess and materialism), it’s far, I believe, from a mocking approach, for if, as he claims, truly wants to be as a part of the hip hop community, as a white man, I doubt that he’d want to further alienate himself from inclusion by ridiculing the people by whom he’d want to be embraced.
Likewise, Lourde’s claim to reject “Cristal, Maybach, Diamonds on your timepiece/ Jet planes, island, tigers on a gold leash” isn’t critical of African-American hip hop musicians, it’s critical of a larger cultural of materialism pervasive across the United States. If D’Addario hasn’t noticed, we’re a community of people that value our possessions more than our time. We’d rather record our lives than live them. We falsely worship the rich. That’s what I perceive as Lourde’s criticism. And it’s not because she’s white. This excess has been mocked and rapped about by musicians like The Roots, Common Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu, all black, for years. It’s cultural criticism, not racial ridicule.
I find that, in some ways, we’re looking for new arguments to discuss race. We’ve come a long way in this country to find ourselves having the interracial relations we have in 2013. And, in my opinion as an almost 32 year old man, I’m fortunate to have grown up in a world where (most) of my friends who are of a different skin tone than I am have been able to enjoy the same advantages and opportunities I have. And there are plenty of problems still with the attempt to achieve racial harmony today, but starting an argument about whether lyrics in top 40 songs are subconsciously racist isn’t the way to start a meaningful dialogue.
This article is simply an attempt at starting a fire where there is none. D’Addario and the supporters he cites in this article should be ashamed.
Tell me, what do you think?
Editor’s note: Matt Osgood is a former hip-hop junkie who is jaded currently by the industry and still clings tight to his Reflection Eternal and Roots CD’s. It’s been a long time since he’s bought and liked a hip hop album.
- The ‘n’ word, and the demise of conscious rap (mediadiversified.org)
As I was walking my dog this morning through the Clement Farm Trails, I begun to consider how these trails, though making a comeback of sorts, are what I grew up upon. We had woods behind our houses and, while I’ll admit that I spent my boyhood more fascinated by footballs and baseballs, there was a reverence we had for the woods, the river, and the hills of wilderness upon which we played. In a world with continuing development and less space, I hope my children can have a similar experience with that raw pulse of the world, to feel the visceral connection that we have to this world. It led me to think of my favorite essay by Michael Chabon called “The Wilderness of Youth.”
What is the impact of the closing down of the Wilderness on the development of children’s imaginations? This is what I worry about the most. I grew up with a freedom, a liberty that now seems breathtaking and almost impossible. Recently, my younger daughter, after the usual struggle and exhilaration, learned to ride her bicycle. Her joy at her achievement was followed by a creeping sense of puzzlement and disappointment as it became clear to both of us that there was nowhere for her to ride it – nowhere I was willing to let her go. Should I send my children out to play? There is a small grocery store around the corner, not over two hundred yards from our front door. Can I let her ride there alone to experience the singular pleasure of buying herself an ice cream on a hot summer day and eating it on the sidewalk, alone with her thoughts?
Soon after she learned to ride, we went out together after dinner, her on her bike, with me following along at a safe distance behind. What struck me at once on that lovely summer evening, as we wandered the streets of our lovely residential neighborhood at that after-dinner hour that had once represented the peak moment, the magic hour of my own childhood, was that we didn’t encounter a single other child.
Even if I do send them out, will there be anyone to play with?
Art is a form of exploration, of sailing off into the unknown alone, heading for those unmarked places on the map. If children are not permitted – not taught – to be adventurers and explorers as children, what will become of the world of adventure, of stories, of literature itself
Read the entire piece here.
- Art & Exploration (swiss-miss.com)
My wife and I hold 4-5 parties a year that necessitate a large quantity of food. We’ll host BBQ’s or holiday meals at our home and my wife, being an over-prepared Italian woman, will ensure that we have enough food to feed most of Essex County for the next three weeks. After a Labor Day barbecue, we made hamburgers and/or hot dogs a weekly part of our diet for about six weeks until we finished them. Of course, barbecues are different because the food has less to do with craft and quality than the sheer number of mouths that need to be fed, with the exception of something special prepared like, what I did at that same party, four racks of ribs on the smoker and a slow-cooked pulled pork.
Holiday cooking tends to be a little more artisan. We carefully choose the menu by the following process: the choice of the entree comes first then is supplemented with appetizers, desserts and drinks. Well, in my family, the drink decision probably come right after entree decision, though we haven’t officially declared anything, and the drink hasn’t yet been the deciding factor in what we’re eating.
“Oh, we’re having a roast beef? Better get six, no, eight bottle of red wine.”
Preparing food for a holiday celebration is much different because of the care with which we treat our food. There are little extra touches of garnish for presentation. Think that rosemary sprig is finding itself onto my wife’s plate on a random Tuesday in October? No way, but I’ll be sure it ends up on my in-laws plates around Christmas time.
The truth, though, is that this is the type of event that I love preparing for. Again, the over-prepared Italian wife and I bicker over most of the microscopic details of the house in the days leading up to the event. There was one time where she called me on the ride home and said, “Start cleaning the house before the guests come,” so I did. I scrubbed and swept and fluffed cushions. I wiped counters and lit candles. The downstairs was immaculate. She came home and said, “Okay, I’ll do upstairs and you can finish downstairs.”
But we never fight about the food other than the quantity. Every year, I try to keep a tally of what we made too much of. Every year, she tells me to shut up and just listen to her. And, it’s through this that I learned “husband 101,” which is to simply say, “Okay” to most suggestions or ideas. It’s not to placate, I swear, but because she’s usually right (even when she’s not).
Being the cook is much easier than being the host, as I can simply slip away into the kitchen with a glass of whatever and observe, check, monitor, measure, assess what’s happening within those kitchen walls. No one bothers me in there aside from the essentially polite requests from guests asking if I need any assistance. “Nope,” I want to say, “Just go in the other room while I drink alone.”
The cooks, seemingly having the stress that accompanies preparing food for a large group, actually have it easier than the others. If done right, most of the food is essentially prepared beforehand, ready to be placed in the oven, or garnished with that stunning sprig of rosemary. All it needs is some warmth and plating. The subtle nuances of cooking a meal for other people seamlessly smooth themselves into mindless tasks, effortless exercises easy to sew up with a drink in hand. But, I do believe, there’s got to be some practical measure, too. I can be obsessive about cooking, making sure turkeys are the right temperature, or, if we’re doing Italian, the crisp on the cheese just the perfect shade of brown. Call it perfectionism, maybe, but it’s a well-deserved satisfaction of having no real responsibility.
Cooking is an acquired skill, for everyone, really, but the ability to cook is a expertise that must be actively pursued, I guess, much like anything in which a person wants to succeed. But, in that manner, it’s a little trickier to define. I enjoy writing and wish to make it my actual profession one day, so I work hard at the craft. I’ve networked and taken workshops; I write daily. I read the works of writers who have mastered the craft. Same goes for teachers or construction workers or baseball players. But that work produces tangible results, for which people get paid a sum of money. For a passion to pay is a culmination of drive, natural talent, luck, acumen, and capacity for learning, education and hard work.
But cooking is not like most of these things because, for the most part, all of the good cooks that I know are not professional chefs. They’re moms and dads, accountants, physical therapists, and exterminators. They have nothing invested in the profession of cooking, so why do these people – including myself – look to improve their skills in cooking, read cookbooks, watch the Food Network, get mad at Guy Fieri, and buy fancy cookware? Why chose such an artisan hobby? Why choose, after a long day in front of students or writing or killing bugs, to take an extra hour to prepare a beurre blanc to accompany the fish?
Evidence has been mounting that there’s a simple answer to what seems a complex question that I just asked. The answer is that people have been coming to the conclusion that what we put into our bodies should matter more than anything else we do. It’s a matter of mindfulness, too. Where we used to scarf down a hamburger in three bites, we’ve begun to take more pleasure in the process, not just of cooking, but of eating, of actually tasting our food, looking at the presentation, discussing the ingredients. In this way, it’s not that dissimilar from the way Americans have begun to choose craft beer over big beer. Ingredients and craft matter, but more, I think, that anything, we wish to replicate the dining experience of being out at a restaurant from the comfort of our own home.
I wonder how restaurants feel about the average American cook – like me – who has the ability to cook really well and the desire to try recipes labelled “difficult.” This is not a claim I can cook like any chef who gets paid to do it. I will say with 100% certainty that there are many, many restaurants serve food that’s better than I make in my kitchen nightly. That being said, I can do a meal like sirloin steaks really well. And I have the ability to make my steak – and my wife’s steak – exactly the way we like it, 100% of the time. Most restaurants cannot do this with consistency. I like to think that the influx of home chefs have pushed restaurants to evolve to a point where they’re making newer, more innovative dishes in a way people like me cannot do. There’s a technical skill, palate superiority, and understanding of what just works that I do not possess, or that most of the good cooks I know do not possess. Restaurant eating, I’m sure, is probably on the ascent, but so is the number of home chefs, who know, that regardless the cost and quality of what I buy at the butcher or market and fish market, I will always be spending less money than when I go out. That’s got to be a little scary to restaurant owners. Maybe not, though. I do know people who eat out almost every night of the week. But, surprisingly, it’s no one my age.
I can’t even fathom what I used to eat. I was never a poor eater, to be sure. My family ate at home, more often than not, and when we did go out, it was to just one or two other local places that served the basics. I can’t remember ever heading into the North End of Boston for authentic Italian food, nor did we ever head into a fine steak house. Tomato sauce was store bought, as was the meat. But the food was always good (and always there) and my mother still makes the best eggplant parmesan in the world. I never really ate fast food out of a preference, not some ethical or health-based stance, and probably more of a testament to the quality of burgers that were made at home.
With that said, my mom or dad never taught me to cook, nor did my grandmother possess some otherworldly skill in culinary arts, passed down through generations like some families I knew. I never learned or leaned over a bubbling pot of tomato sauce and played around with ingredients, tasting the difference between a sauce that’s too hot or just hot enough, too garlicky or just garlicky enough (for the record, I think “too garlicky” and “too hot” are impossible achievements).
In my life, though, there were hints of fine dining and cooking. In college, I did a semester’s internship working with the Walt Disney World College Program. One of my roommates was a chef – and still is down in Orlando – and he was making dinner one night. We all splurged on steaks. It makes me laugh to use the word “splurge” on steaks because they probably cost $8 each at a local market.
“How do you want yours done?” my roommate asked.
“Medium well,” was my answer.
“I refuse to make your steak over medium.”
He told me actually facts about medium rare meat. It’s not blood, it’s the juices from the far. Anything over medium is too dry, and the flavor has been cooked out. I’d never known that you could cook meat under medium well. It changed my world.
Also in college, one of my roommates my senior year came back to our apartment with many pounds of venison meat, which I didn’t mind preparing. Another roommate and his now-wife would make us Sunday dinners. The two of them did come from Italian households where there was the learning over a bubbling pot of sauce. It was from these people I learned that I didn’t want to be the idiot who just ordered take out, or baked a frozen pizza for dinner every nightSo I did what most people do, which was to start exploring recipes and under-cooking chicken, burning sauces, throwing out crock-pots full of some gross noodle and cheese recipe that I got from a homeless guy, and finishing homemade meals that my dog wouldn’t. To be honest, I was never that bad partly because my difficulty level was set at “moron.” Most of the recipes were basic and, from that, I started getting a little more exploratory.
But then something happened. That exploration turned into an activity I really liked to do. I looked – and still look – forward to new recipes or “classic” recipes. The best day of the week in the fall is Sundays, where I do what I call a “long cook.” A long cook is essentially what it sounds like: a long cook. I’ll do ribs or a pulled pork or full chickens on the smokers or I’ll make sauce with meatballs and sausage or soup or a chili. The house fills with the smells of a long cook.
For a while, I started telling people that, should I be put in a hypothetical time machine, please tell me to go to culinary school. Take writing classes, but go to culinary school. But now I take that back. I wouldn’t change anything about what I’ve learned through the process of failures and successes in the kitchen. There are recipes I share with others, recipes I’ve thrown out; Ingredients I thought I’d never use are now staples.
We should care what we put into our bodies. Sure, some of my recipes aren’t the most health-conscious recipes, but I think the care and craftsmanship involved in the cooking promises a dining experience as opposed to just eating. Call it Buddhist, call it mindfulness, but food should be something we enjoy, not something in the way of social media or television. The hours I spent cooking, the minutes I spend eating are important because I’m doing something I love for and with people I love.
And that careful gaze that I’m giving our dinner in the final hour of preparation at those big holiday parties we host, it’s being done with a mindfulness that I want the dinner to be a success not just from a fun standpoint, but from a culinary standpoint. It’s an intent, watchful gaze aimed at making sure guests have the gustatory experience of the week or month, but sometimes, just sometimes, that look is the look of someone just drunk enough to be impressed with himself.
Any recipes, cooking tips to share? Share them here, or link them. Anyone think I should compile a list of my favorite recipes?
Editor’s Note: This also appeared on Review Brews. Read it here, or on that site, but visit there anyway. Tons of great craft beer-related news and content.
Allow me to get nostalgic here. There was a time when trying every new beer, getting to every brewery, and immersing myself into the culture of beer was the primary focus of my craft beer hobby. I browsed message boards and looked up breweries, planned visits. It was all very exciting, very fun. It was new for me, a honeymoon of sorts.
I didn’t know much about the brewing process, nor did I know much about different styles, but I knew something different was happening within the walls of the industrial park or farmhouse breweries I was visiting. My palate improved. I began to distinguish not only styles, but types of hops and types of yeast.
I made friends in the industry. Brewers, salespeople, public relations, bloggers, journalists, and beer drinkers all become part of some cache of people I knew. As many people who have been writing about beer can attest, it’s pretty cool to walk into a brewery, brewpub, or even a good craft beer bar and have people know your name, what you drink, and be as excited to see you or have you try a new beer as you are to be at that place, drinking that beer.
It’s a very six-degrees of separation industry, too. Everyone knows everyone else, has worked with someone else, or took over for that person at X Brewery. Writers collaborate, share information and contacts. We trust going blindly into a brewery tasting at a place we’d never had their beers simply on recommendations from Twitter friends.
Being a part of the craft beer world – and I firmly believe I am, to some degree – is, for lack of a better word, cool. It’s almost as if I’m on the ground floor of some cutting edge industry, one that is revolutionizing the culture in America, even if it’s in a niche area like beer. Truthfully, I think I may be. Craft beer is running a parallel line to the food revolution in America. Sure, there will always be a section of Americans – probably the larger one – that prefers Big Beer and fast food, but people are beginning to care about, for one part, the quality of what they’re putting into their bodies. That’s where well-prepared dining and craft beer collide. By eating well and drinking craft beer, we’re promoting quality eating and drinking. I don’t think that’s going away any time soon.
That being said, I find myself at some odd crossroads. My desire to take trips to breweries I’ve never visited is waning. Take Trillium, for example. Trillium, and I’ve had their Fort Point Pale on tap at The Kinsale and I’ve had their Dry Stack Farmhouse Ale. These guys make terrific beer, but I’m less likely to visit their brewery now, not because I don’t want to try their beers, but because I’d rather they be more accessible to me on the northern part of the state. (Note: I see my logic failing here because I do champion local, fresh beer, I just wish I didn’t have to travel into Boston to get it).
Too many times I go to the local beer store and I find myself leaving empty handed, which is bizarre because the amount of beer – craft beer, from breweries I’ve enjoyed and even visited – available to me is staggering. I just find that I’d rather drink a couple 750 mL growlers than a bunch of bottles that are overpriced at the store. Maybe in that regard I’m being snobbish. But these trips to breweries like Tree House or Blue Lobster (or somewhere else I really enjoy their beers) to fill these growlers, when they happen, are the special ones and they don’t happen all the time. These are the trips for which I find myself excited to be a beer drinker again, as opposed to simply going to a store and picking up a Stone IPA six-pack, or even something seasonally awesome like a Nugget Nectar.
So, am I “over” craft beer? No, probably not. But I am maybe lacking the excitement of the newcomer, who is essentially learning as he goes. I don’t know everything about craft beer, and I hope this doesn’t sound like I think I do. That’s not my intention. When I travel, I spend probably too much time researching my beer options – breweries, bars, beers to try – than I should. Since I “discovered” Barrier Brewing, there hasn’t been a trip to Long Island where I haven’t had one of their beers (and I go to Long Island a lot).
Maybe my life is effectively changed in my habits of eating and drinking, inasmuch as I care very much what the source of my food and beverage is. I don’t eat McDonald’s like I don’t drink Coors. And my lifestyle has changed to the point where I only drink craft beer, but it’s not the only thing that I drink. I enjoy red wine and bourbon and drink these as much as I drink craft beer (well, maybe I don’t drink straight bourbon as much as I drink beer, but you get the point). But craft beer isn’t the defining characteristic of my drinking life as it was two years ago, maybe even one year ago.
It’s a weird feeling.
Fellow craft beer nerds: Have any of you ever found yourself at that lull where you found yourself unenthusiastic about the choices at the beer store? What does this say about our relationship to the craft beer world? Do we have to be super enthusiastic about craft beer 100% of the time? Call it an existential crisis.
One of the facets of being a full-time writer (besides perpetual poverty), especially in the social media age is the rash of writing advice that people are giving online. There are more websites devoted to helping people become writers than actual writers writing. Obviously, that’s hyperbole, but a “writers to follow” search in Google will often bring you to a site of a writer offering tips. I wonder how many of us spend more time on those sites than writing, or even reading.
Why are we so fascinated with other writer’s processes? We’re all guilty of it, especially me. I have (or had) a book of pictures of writer’s offices. I see daily articles on topics like what time of day to write, or wresting meaning from your daily life. I saw an article recently about the things we DON’T do. For example, “since I began writing, I don’t have time to cook or maintain a garden.” In the comments section, someone wrote that they don’t clean the house anymore. Someone wrote church (church!).
I don’t think embedding yourself into a writing life should necessarily preclude a person from doing the things they enjoy doing. In fact, I’ve found myself being a better user of my own time, as opposed to someone who needs to cut hobbies. I’ve eliminated most TV, but I was never really a TV watcher anyway. But, since I began living a life solely dedicated to writing, I’ve become more likely to read, more likely to make sure the menu is delicious for my wife, more likely to help around the house with chores, more likely to want to walk the dog.
That hasn’t hurt my writing one bit, either. It’s enhanced it. I’m not sitting at a computer, watching a cursor blink while I wait for inspiration. My writing is enhanced by the regularities of life. I write in the morning, stopping occasionally, when I’m stuck, or when I want a coffee refill or when the dog wants to go out. I eat lunch. I take a walk with the dog. I come back in the afternoon and write. Sometimes I’m more successful than other days. But it’s never because I gave up doing something. Writing is fueled by our lives. If we’re not living our lives, our writing is going to be boring.
A writer friend of mine told me “agoraphobia can be bad in writers.” Simply put, push back the horizons, seek the meaning in every day events. Don’t see walking the dog, or taking the car for an oil change as a chore as much as an opportunity to examine the world. Watch the people, take notes. The best way to cure writer’s block is not to keep writing. It’s to stop writing and, instead of putting information out, let it come in.
In the past two days, this website has seen traffic like it never has in it’s infancy. We’ve been up for a little over a month. The design is pretty bland, the URL is long and choppy, but I feel like the writing has gone well, as I’ve been able to explore a diversity of topics. This is, essentially, how my mind works. Some days I want to write about sports, sometimes life; sometimes it will be about technology, other times I’ll write about my dog.
My goal, I think, is to demonstrate the idea that writing 1,000 words on the state of our minds, our feelings, and opinions isn’t a dying art. I read an article the other day entitled something like, “How to make your writing more readable,” one of those links that a writer sees and his/her hand immediately travels toward it. One of the snippets of advice was (and I’m not verbatim here), “Keep it short.” Readers, always on the go, like an article to be short and sweet.
Maybe – perhaps, probably – this is true. Someone posted on this very blog, “People love lists,” and there may be a list or two here and there, mostly when I feel like taking shortcuts and making a joke out of something. But short was never a type of article that I liked to read or write. I can’t explain why, but, to me, there is something inherently interesting in telling and hearing (or reading) a long story. A good, long-form journalistic piece succeeds because storytelling is the oldest art form. Those are the stories I want to tell.
And whether the stories I tell are 3,000 word recollections of babysitting two children, or 1,000 words on why I’d rather live at the end of a dead-end street, straddling that invisible line that separates Massachusetts from New Hampshire, or 15,000 words about why I like buying local beer, that’s what you’re getting.
I hope the articles of the last couple of days only whet your appetite for coming to visit the site. Not all of the topics will speak directly to your interests – after all, they’re mine – but I hope that the quality of writing will triumph over topic. Our goal – my goal, the collective universal goal – is to improve ourselves, to be a better person each day. And I truly believe that good writing – reading it or writing it – can promote this ideal.
Come back soon.