Saturday, February 27, 2010

Perfect Mashed Potato Quest Continues [Bryan]

My unrelenting quest for the perfect mashed potatoes continues. I was watching Cooks County TV on PBS today and it rocked my mashed potato world. Apparently, one should not boil the potatoes in water and then drain off the water. You lose flavor that way. They suggested cooking the garlic in sugar and butter (making a caramelized garlic). Then, in the same pot, you add the potatoes and just the right amount of water and half-and-half. When the potatoes are soft, you then add large amounts of butter and more half-and-half and simply mash the potatoes with that and the liquid that remains. No draining.

So, the keys seem to be a lot of butter and cream (already knew that), but also caramelized garlic and the no-drain method. They also said a lot of garlic (12 cloves!) is necessary to overcome the regular blandness of potatoes.

I'm going to try it and keep you posted.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Where I come from [Bryan]

It has been dawning on me that we will probably spend the rest of our lives in Columbus. This has never really been the plan. Five years ago, I could have told you nothing about Columbus. It was not that I had a bad impression of Ohio, it was more that I had no impression of Ohio. I had never imagined that living in Ohio, or raising a family in Ohio, would have been even a remote possibility. When I took the job at The Ohio State University, I always imagined in the back of my mind that we might move elsewhere. Again, it is not that we haven't liked Ohio -- we have -- it is just that we haven't really thought of ourselves as Ohioans.

That is all starting to change. My tenure review is going well so far. Tenure, of course, will provide permanent job security in Ohio if it materializes. In addition, I am becoming convinced that there won't be many new faculty positions in other places. For various reasons, few seem to care about my field anymore, so I doubt more attractive possibilities will be available in the future.

Thinking of myself as an Ohioan is major shift in identity. I have always enjoyed telling people that I am from Sat Lake City, Utah. People usually seem interested. Sometimes they get a curious look in their eyes ("Is this guy Mormon," I can hear them wondering); sometimes they regale me with tales of their recent vacation to Utah; sometimes they say they've never met anyone from Utah. To be from Utah is to be (slightly) foreign and exotic, in both good ways and bad ways. Moreover, I have a visceral connection to the looming Wasatch mountains and tree-lined neighborhood I grew up in, a fact that becomes more apparent each time I visit.

At the same time, when I go "back home" I recognize changes in the city and landscape. Some of these changes are good, some are bad, but they all scream that the place is not mine anymore. I also recognize problems that I simply didn't see before, for example, the unholy and offensive mixtures of religion and capitalism that dot Utah's ubiquitous advertising spaces.

On this side of the country, my children know little besides Ohio. They were born here, and are connected to this place, just as I was connected to the mountain valleys of Utah. When Nora went back to Utah a few years ago, she wanted to know where all the trees were. They are true Midwesterners. In addition, it is getting awkward to say, "I live in Ohio right now, but I'm originally from Utah." It seems a slight, almost a personal offense, to the good people of Ohio and the opportunities the state has offered me. As I watch the mist coming off the Scioto river in the early morning, see the beautiful rolling green hills, peppered with old red barns, and watch the people chant excitedly "O-H-I-O," I begin to sense a connection to this place. But what does it mean for me to claim this place as my place? Is it the same me, just located in a different place, or is it a fundamentally different me? Is place radically or just incidentally tied to who we are?

I guess, in the end, I am starting to say goodbye to my identification as a Utahan. It will always be a part of me, to be sure, but a part that exists in the past, in memory, rather than in current and future possibility.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Exciting budget blogging [Bryan]

I think I will blog about something exciting the federal budget.

Now, a case could be made that Obama could do more about long-term deficits. Just to be clear, though, Obama's proposed budget does not increase the medium or long-term budget deficit. His budget would actually reduce deficits by $1.25 trillion over 10 years, compared to what they would be by continuing current policies. Under his budget, spending is scheduled to fall a bit from 24.7 percent of GDP in 2009 to 23.7 percent in 2020. Obama probably pushed the limits of what is politically possible at this point. Notice that the President's deficit (red line) is lower than current deficit projections. Alas, I doubt he will get any credit for this.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Two types of people, times two [Bryan]

There are two types of people when it comes to vacation. First, there are those people who view vacations as a time for relaxation. These are people who like to go to resort destinations and spend a lot of time frolicking on beaches. These are people who like the idea of a cruise, where they float around in a boat for awhile, overeat, and sleep in. They also like to go to theme parks, where the goal is to "have fun." The idea behind the vacation, for these folks, is to take a break from real life and recharge the proverbial batteries. In the other camp are those who see vacations are opportunities for self improvement. These are people who travel for self-discovery or for individual learning. Such people tend to travel at a rather frantic pace, with a travel agenda filled with historical and cultural sites, especially museums. Natural wonders are also high on the list. They prefer not to be wined and dined, as in a cruise, but to figure out meals and travel arrangements on their own. Figuring out a different city, after all, is part of the challenge and attraction. They often come home from travel exhausted, but with a different view of themselves and of the world.

Either type of travel works well, although it may not work so well if traveling companions have different styles of travel. Although, sometimes, people with different approaches can help each other overcome the weaknesses of the other's approach. I am more in the second camp, while Ellie seems to be fine with either type of travel. We make pretty good traveling companions. She is always good at helping me to slow done.

This distinction roughly holds for reading habits as well. There are people who view reading as a form of entertainment. They see reading as a chance to check out, or escape, the world in which they find themselves. A book is a good book if they get engrossed in it, and if they lose track of time as they read it (a "page turner" is high praise). Such people largely focus on fiction, particularly modern novels, where it is relatively easy to get into a story. In the other camp are those who see reading as an act of self improvement. Reading is more a form of learning than entertainment. Such people prefer non-fiction, and often struggle through big books because it will be "good for them" to read those books. Often, such books are left unfinished. Fiction, when it is read, is usually in the form of "classic" literature. Books are judged by how much information they give or how they change the individual reader.

Again, I'm probably in the latter camp. When I read a novel just for fun, I get a bit restless. With so much to learn about the world, with some many interesting true stories out there, why spend time in a world of imagination?

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Winter storm warning [Bryan]

A big winter storm hit this weekend. We got pelted with about 13 inches of snow. Good times for the kids, though.

The Old Order Changeth [Bryan]

Ellie and I have been reading the Harry Potter books to Nora and Andrew. They absolutely love them, particularly Nora who begs to read more chapters every night. Given this excitement, we decided to let them stay up last night to watch the first Harry Potter movie, which was being shown on ABC. Nora and Andrew, who rarely see non-animated movies, were transfixed.

Anyway, here is the interesting thing. Andrew and Nora have been raised in a world of DVDs and PBS. The idea of commercial television is largely foreign to them. Thus, when a commercial break would interrupt the movie, they did not take kindly to the intrusion. Andrew simply could not understand why we couldn't just skip over the commercials and go back to the movie. We had to repeatedly assure him that the movie would return in a few minutes.

It struck me that my kids are already living in a different media world than the one I was raised in. The world is changing.

Announcing Stephen's First Word [Bryan]

I always knew that "firsts" were a big thing for parents: first teeth, first word, first steps, and so forth. What they didn't tell me was how subjective it sometimes is to actually determine a first. For example, what actually constitutes a first step? A vaguely forward movement ending in a heap of falling baby? A step forward where balance is achieved? Actual forward movement? Consistent forward movement? The first word is an even tougher call. What counts as a "word"? A noise that sounds vaguely like an English word that is used repeatedly? A non-English sound that is used under similar contexts?

In my wisdom, have determined that a first word (a) must be a noise remotely resembling an English word, (b) must be used repeatedly and not just once or twice, and (c) must be used in a context that signifies some understanding of what that word means. Unless a baby's sound meets these three standards, it does not qualify as a first word.

Now, using these completely objective criteria, I am pleased to announce that Stephen has now said his first word. That word is -- wait for it -- Daddy! Actually, it is "Da-duh," which more or less resembles the English word. He uses it consistently, and in a context in which I am usually present. Now, of course, Ellie will claim that my application of these criteria have been distorted by my selfish desire to have Stephen's first utterances be directed at me, his dear father. But she is definitely wrong about this. This was a completely impartial, objective, scientific judgment.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Startin' 'em young [Ellie]

Stephen's turning one next week, and we can hardly believe it. Our families have been asking what to get him, and the only thing we can think of that he consistently likes to play with are books. Board books, novels, printed dissertations. Anything with covers and pages. He likes to chew the covers and turn the pages. All our board book bindings are gnawed. His favorite right now, and what Bryan took with him to entertain Stephen at the grocery store today? A little bright green hardcover copy of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.

We like to develop their literary tastes (pun intended) early in this family.