Sunday, August 30, 2009

Аз обичам домати

In general, I'm not a huge fan of August. It's hot, it's sticky, congress is in recess. But one thing I absolutely love about this month is the plethora of tomatoes. The rest of the year it's hard to find decent ones that aren't mealy and tasteless. This year, in between the food co-op, the farmers markets and our own plant I have been overloaded with great tomatoes. Here a few of the things I've done with them.

Rosemary Flatbread with goat cheese

Bruchetta Salad with locally made mozzarella, fresh toasted bread crumbs,
and a balsamic reduction sauce.

White sauce pizza with arugula

Enjoy them while you can, soon enough it will be butternut squash season.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Transport is arranged

Today Liz told me that mornings make her miss Bulgaria. She said she misses seeing goats, old women in the gardens, and small shops long her walk to work. I completely get what she is saying. Waking up to the decor of new cars, vinyl siding and parking lots doesn't give me the same gumption.

I've been trying to narrow down what it is about other places and cultures that makes them seem so much more charming or interesting or whatever you want to call it. And the biggest factor I can see is space. We have a problem with space in America, we have too much of it. We spread out big houses over vast amounts of land, our cities cover more ground than others, but hold fewer people.

This space issue has lead to, and in some ways is caused by what has been called our Car Culture. Walking, biking, or taking public transportation is, in many other places, the norm. Here, it is the exception. And so, if everyone is driving everywhere, why not spread out? And when everthing is spread out, why on earth would you walk anywhere? Just drive.

One thing I loved about Bulgarian cities, towns, and even villages is that they almost always have a town "center" that was blocked off to cars, and was full of businesses. People would go there to do their shopping, eating, banking, and other business, all on foot. It was so much more communal. You got to see everyone else who lived in your town, because everyone else was there too. There's something so isolationist about drive thru services, or even private parking lots.

This is one reason I enjoy living in Ypsialnti. I can take a bus or bike to work, I can walk to a food co-op for groceries, great coffee shops, bars, and restaurants, and also my friends' houses. The only time I drive is when I leave town or have to do laundry.

It's still not like waking up to goat herds and mountains, but it's about as good as it can get right now.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Gap

So a new report out of University of California shows that in 2007, economic inequality in the United States hit and all time high.

As of 2007, the top decile of American earners, Saez writes, pulled in 49.7 percent of total wages, a level that’s “higher than any other year since 1917 and even surpasses 1928, the peak of stock market bubble in the ‘roaring” 1920s.‘”

Beginning in the economic expansion of the early 1990s, Saez argues, the economy began to favor the top tiers American earners, but much of the country missed was left behind. “The top 1 percent incomes captured half of the overall economic growth over the period 1993-2007,” Saes writes.

I'm not surprised. I knew that the CEO to employee pay gap had shot up from about 40-1 in the 1970's to near 600-1 in the last few years. But to know that such a small portion of people own half of the countries money makes me a little sick inside. A recent paper by Will Wilkinson made the case that inequality really doesn't matter, and his arguments have more holes than a tennis net. The New Republic did a good job of calling him out.

Here's pretty good visual of what we're talking about

I'm not a Marxist, I don't believe you can ever have a classless society, but I also think there can be a balance, and that capitalism can be run a lot more responsibly than this.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


A couple weeks ago Liz finally had an entire weekend off so we went out of town and stayed at a Bed and Breakfast in Marshall, Mi (which is apparently antique shop capital of the world. Seriously, like half the stores in the town.) The reason for picking Marshall is our all time favorite brewery, Dark Horse. They have some of our favorite beers including five stouts, two porters, a black bier and some great IPA's.

Not only do they have great beer, but amazing pizza too.
As usual, we took home a growler.

The following day we stopped in Spring Arbor to see off Seth before he left for Germany. We had some smoked salmon his dad made and devoured a few growlers in the sun.

This is Seth's "I can't wait to get out of Spring Arbor" face.

He also busted out a really great port circa 1927. It was rich and creamy and tasted like really luscious raisins. When it comes to dessert wines I think I prefer late harvest Sauvignon Blancs and Sauterns, but this made me want to have port a little more often.

Then his parents made us a great early dinner of grilled lamb kabobs, ratatouille, lentils, and brown rice. To me, lamb is so much tastier than beef. It was a great spread.

Back at home, the most interesting thing I've cooked recently was some creamed Shitake and Portabella mushrooms with asparagus over farfalle. It was really earthy and delicious. We also had a bottle of Michigan Merlot from Lone Oak. I had this once before and was pretty impressed, but this time around I found it a little more mediocre. It has a big, fruity nose and strong notes of dark cherry. Still decent, especially for grapes grown in southern Michigan, but still leaving a little to be desired, although it may have just been overpowering the creamy pasta. It did open up well after a while and was good to drink after dinner.

I suppose that's all for now.
Goodbye kittens.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


My friend over in Bulgaria posted this and I found it really interesting. It's the results for the 2008 Biennial Peace Corps Volunteer Survey. Specifically it's the responses to the question "How personally rewarding is your overall Peace Corps service?"

There are 67 countries with PC volunteers, Bulgaria ranked #61. Almost as many people said their experience was minimally rewarding (10%) as did those who said exceptionally rewarding (13%). The rest were somewhere in the middle. I'm not going to say this is surprising. What did surprise me was the ranking of our original first choice, Jordan. That was even lower at #64.

These kinds of polls have their flaws, and I'm really not sure how I would have answered. It probably would have depended on just how bad my students were that day. But I still think it says something. We were not the only ones to end up leaving. In fact now, over a quarter of our original group is gone, and there's still another year to go.

Good luck kids.

Monday, August 3, 2009

All this self-awareness is making me woozy

Descartes might disagree with me here, but it seems to me the only real way to prove you exist is to Google yourself.

I've been musing a bit about the nature of this. It all seems a little too repetitive. A little too egocentric. A little too silly. I like to pretend that this journal's purpose is to share myself and my thoughts with the rest of the world, but really? It's just for me. Honestly, I probably don't care what you made for dinner last night, so why should I expect anything different from you? (Just how self absorbed can this get? Here I am, blogging about the nature of my own blog.)

But without so-called-social-media one starts to disappear. It starts with being left out of parties that everyone else was invited to on facebook, it continues with never being talked to because you don't have a phone, and it ends with being left out of history because you left no digital record. It seems that the more photos and tweets there are out there, the smaller the Orwellian memory hole becomes, but the easier it is to fall into. All you have to do is stay offline.

I guess the whole reason for updating the world on my dinners and weekends is that I lack a sense of purpose. I started blogging while in Bulgaira, volunteering for the Peace Corps. I felt that was worth writing about. Maybe that's why I still make vague reference to it so often. I'm trying to reconnect with a time worth blogging about. (This is the new standard for meaning, "Is it worth blogging about?")

My head is filled with these thoughts in part because my good friend Seth is leaving for Germany today for another year. He started a new blog. There's something about the challenges of living overseas that just seem worth reading and writing about. It makes you grow.

But alas, I cannot allow myself to slip down the memory hole, I have to prove I exist somehow.

Still, Google ergo sum just doesn't have the same ring to it.