Sunday, August 22, 2010

HI: Wait, There's More!

Source: USGS
Note: Vertical scale of mantle is greatly exaggerated for this illustration, as is horizontal scale of Hawaii
To Pam's main post about Hawaii, I would like to add a few thoughts and links about the state that is the newest and at the same time the most like part of another country. Like many people who are fairly well-traveled within the continental United States, I have yet to make it to Hawaii, which became a state just four years before I was born.

Hawaii's islands are geologically young, and although the youngest is still about 700,000 years older than I am, the theory that explains their origin is quite young: the Canadian geophysicist J. Tuzo Wilson developed the theory of "hotspots" -- or thermal mantle plumes -- in 1963, the same year I was born in a tectonically tranquil corner of our nation's capital. The USGS This Dynamic Earth series includes a good introduction to the theory -- with Hawaii as the prime example -- in its "Hotspots" article.

Hot Rocks
When I wished one of my colleague's a "Happy Hawaii Day," he mentioned that he had recently been wondering about how the electricity demands of the state are met, as the state is far isolated from the North American grid and the islands are far too young to have their own deposits of fossil fuels. The Hawaii Energy Profile from the U.S. Department of Energy confirms what I suspected, based on my experience in other isolated places: as with Rondonia, most of Hawaii's electrical energy is generated by the burning of petroleum. Even though some conventional sources are more difficult to obtain in Hawaii than they would be elsewhere, the state does have some real advantages when it comes to renewable alternatives. In addition to wind and solar power, geothermal energy is already an important source of energy, and research into the expansion of geothermal-electric power is ongoing as part of a concerted effort known as Hawaii's Energy Future.

As Pam mentioned, coffee for our celebration was shipped directly from the islands -- in this case Maui. Who knew that Kona was not the only coffee-producing island in Hawaii? I didn't, until a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately, one of my barista sources mentioned the recent all-Hawaii cupping, with winners from eight different regions. So for our celebration I decided to get coffee from the Maui winner -- a smooth and flavorful, medium-roasted coffee from Kupa'a Farms. This is an excellent farm that produces dozens of organic food crops along with the coffee; it is a farm I really look forward to visiting. In fact, one reason I chose this coffee is that we are thinking Maui is the most likely site for a Hawaii visit in the next couple years.

We enjoyed the coffee straight-up with our chocolaty luau dessert; delicious! Pam had suggested brewing it with some of the macadamia nuts left over from the stuffing, but I resisted. Even though we played a small role in the expansion of flavored coffees, I generally resist them. I especially resist flavoring high-quality coffee, since I know that low- to mid-grade "flavor base" coffee is usually used for this purpose. Nonetheless, on the morning after Hawaii Day, I ground three madadamia nuts (native to Australia, by the way) with our trusty mortar and pestle, and added the paste to the Kupa'a coffee in our press pot. (I like that Kupa'a looks a lot like cuppa!) It actually was quite delicious, the nuts lending a buttery mouth feel to the already excellent coffee.

In a couple of days, I will be serving the coffee to the students who studied Kona coffee in my most recent coffee seminar. I think I will set up a blind tasting with and without the macadamia to see what they think. Hawaiian coffee, by the way, was introduced (i.e., sneaked out) from Brazil in 1825, reaching Kona three years later. The Hawaiian Coffee Association describes the history of coffee on the island, which is now found over several thousand acres on all of the major islands. Incidentally, Hawaiian coffee is by definition not Fair Trade, but fortunately it does not need to be. One reason the coffee is so expensive is that it is the only coffee in the world that is produced under U.S. minimum-wage law. Of course, it is also expensive because it is rare and excellent! Because it is expensive, people who buy it are sometimes tempted to store it long-term, in order to save it for special occasions. I suggest the opposite approach: get a small quantity, and drink it up over a few days. Those days of Polynesian coffee bliss will then be the special occasion!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hawaii - August 21, 1959

Of the eight states I have yet to visit, Hawaii is the one I most yearn to see. I am not interested so much in watching surfers, or visiting a resort, but in getting away to a place that has to be so completely different than anywhere I've ever been. The book Chicken Soup from the Soul of Hawai'i made this desire only that much stronger.

Although I have a somewhat cyncial personality, I am actually quite a sucker for the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series of books origniated in the 1990s by Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield. These anthologies of feel-good stories can be sappy, but I eat them right up. The special collection of stories from Hawaii did not disappoint, and it made me want to go to Hawaii more than ever. All of the mysticism of the islands, and the aloha spirit of the people came through. What was made clear through these stories is the true sprit of sharing that is an important part of island culture. This spirit goes way beyond boosterism for tourists, it is part of the fabric of life there. The true evidence of this was the sharing of proprietary recipes from three of Hawaii's famous chefs (Sam Choy, Alan Wong, and Roy Yamaguchi) as part of the book, two of which we prepared for our meal tonight.

I was also glad to see one story in which the school library, and librarian played a role "Blueprint for a Dream"  by Laurie Williams and Marc Lee tell of learning about a famous astronaut who graduated from Punahou school many years before them.

One final note is that I was actually uninspired by the sports stories. I am most decidedly not a sports fan, but I found the real problem was that sports "heroes" who write for the Chicken Soup series have a kind of wrap up of their story about believing in yourself and working hard to make your dreams come true. Believing in oneself, and working hard are good pieces of advice to be sure, however, almost all celebrity hopefuls started out doing just that. Only the very few who actually make it big will end up writing about it.

From Here to Eternity is a movie about Hawaii before it was actually a state. Most of the action takes place in the year before the Pearl Harbor attack, which is where the story ends. This is the movie with the iconic love scene between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr - the waves splashing over the lovers on the beach, which has been recreated in countless other places. This movie, surprisingly, really wasn't very romatic otherwise. The plot involves an attempt to get an army Private (Robert E. Lee Prewitt, played by the strikingly handsome Montgomery Clift) to box for his platoon. Said Private is essentially tortured by the other members, including his officer. The December 7 attack on the base only days before the big boxing match makes it clear how trivial it all was.  It was a bit surreal watching Donna Reed play a "hostess" at a nightclub. A job her character called "two steps up from the pavement."

We created quite a few Hawaiian dishes for our meal this evening. James cooked Sam Choy's Roasted Chicken with Macadamia Nut Stuffing using our new Deep Dish Tumbleweed Pottery Chicken Cooker. It came out delicious and tender. In addition to the macadamia nuts, which James had some trouble finding at the grocery, the stuffing included onions, bacon, celery, apple, mushrooms, parsley, croutons and other seasonings. For our vegetarian daughter we made Maui Sweet Potato Bake, and for dessert we had Roy Yamaguchi's Hot Lava Souffle (or a variation thereof, anyway). No matter, this recipe with semi-sweet chocolate, sugar, cornstarch, butter and eggs was delcious. We had two friends for dinner and every bit of this tasty treat was gobbled. We had some Hawaiian coffee, shipped direct from the islands, to accompany our dessert. James will post separately about that.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My Missouri Interlude

When I told my exuberant, wonderful 8th-grade science teacher that I was moving from the outskirts of Nokesville, Virginia to the metropolis of Kansas City, Missouri, he did the only think he could do: burst into song as he danced around the lab: “Kansas City. Going to Kansas City. Got some pretty little women there, and I’m a-gonna get me one!”

I was to live there for three years, while my father attended Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. In those days, it was considered among the more liberal of the six seminaries operated by the Southern Baptist Convention, but it was already in the throes of skirmishes between thoughtful, erudite professors and reactionary trustees with little intellect but much power (that is to say, money). Happily, I was able to take evening classes with some of these amazing scholars, completing a Certificate of Christian Education with courses on archeology, theology, and even ministerial marriages. (When the reconquest of the institution was completed years later, this opportunity was renamed the Diploma of the Ministering Wife, making the gender biases of the new bosses quite clear.)

Through the wonders of the Internet – and especially Facebook – I am now in touch with some of my friends from my days in Kansas City, but over the 30 years I have been gone, there have been days, weeks, and probably even months when I would forget that I ever lived there. I consider the seven years I spent in Nokesville – my “Opie Taylor” years – more formative, but I do not know why those three years in KC can drop out of mind sometimes.

They were certainly formative years in a lot of ways. After seven years in one tight-knit community (and fourteen in the general vicinity of rural, northern Virginia), we moved a thousand miles away. This was jarring, to say the least. During the summer and fall of 1977, KC boosters were trying, ironically, to build on the “Virginia is for Lovers” campaign. For the first several months I muttered “I HATE KC” every time I saw the “I HEART KC” emblem. I guess this eventually purged my homesickness. The next move -- to Annapolis, Maryland for my senior year of high school – was much easier, though our family did try to figure out a way for me to stay in the excellent North Kansas City schools. In the end, I really think this experience contributed a lot to my adult life as a nomad.

Missouri was only the beginning.

Barely noticed her
When I do make associations with Kansas City, I sometimes conflate time and space. By this I mean that a memory will be triggered – perhaps by the music of R.E.O. Speedwagon, Styx, Kansas, or even Boston – and I will be transported back to some night in Kansas City. Likewise with any reference to Star Wars. I only ever saw the original one, and probably only 2/3 of that, as the first theatrical release was the destination for my first real date. As far as I know, neither the movie nor any of these bands has anything to do with Kansas City, but there the association rests for me. And what began in Missouri continues in my travels: I associate certain pop-culture details or linguistic or political fads with the place I lived at the time I first noticed them. If such a detail is no longer present, I have no idea whether it is because I left it in place, or that I left it in time. My wife, fellow vagabond and co-blogger Pamela has had the same experience.

Incidentally, I have taken a couple of geographic oddities for granted. Kansas City, Missouri (KCMO) is bigger than Kansas City Kansas. It is not the biggest city in Missouri, though: that is St. Louis (which I only know from numerous pass-throughs and a stop -- we really splurged -- at the former Noah's Ark restaurant in St. Charles). Also, North Kansas City is a separate city that is, well, north of Kansas City. But when the regional airport was built (halfway, it seems, between downtown and the corner of Nebraska), Kansas City, which had been south of the Missouri River, annexed every unincorporated bit of land between the river and the airport, adding scores of square miles, thousands of people, and not a few cattle to its tax base. So we lived in Kansas City north and had to go south to reach North Kansas City. I attended the excellent Northgate Junior High School in Kansas City and the even more excellent North Kansas City High School in NKC. Just north of us (but to the south and east of the airport) was the independent little city of Gladstone, which included a cleverly named park: Happy Rock. Get it?

I should not mention the Missouri River without pointing out an additional geographic oddity, which I learned from William Least-Heat Moon's excellent travelogue River Horse. The book describes his coast-to-coast journey by boat, which includes a harrowing journey during high floods along the lower part of the Missouri River. He makes a convincing case that the Missouri and Platte Rivers should properly be considered the upper reaches of the Mississippi, even though they enter the "main" stem at a right angle, and that by this measure the Mississippi is the longest river in the world.

Be sure to read Pam's main entry for Missouri, either by scrolling down or by clicking here.

Missouri - August 10, 1821

My experience in Missouri is limited to two short visits with James' Uncle who lives in Kansas City, and a drive across the state on our way to moving to Arizona. I do remember quite a few fountains in Kansas City, and I know that it is home to Hallmark Corporate Headquarters, which according to its website, is celebrating its centennial this year. James, however, lived in the "Show-Me" state for three years while his father attended the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and he will write a supplemental post about his experiences in short order.

Orphan Trains to Missouri
From 1854 until the late 1929 hundreds of thousands of street children from New York City (often referred to as "street arabs" by the police) were taken off the streets, or in some cases from their parents' homes, and sent to rural areas in what became known as the "Orphan Trains". Some children were sent to loving homes, others were simply looked upon as farm hands, and still others ended up abused and neglected, not much better off than they were on the streets. Children were often separated from their siblings and sent to live in places they knew nothing about. The "adoption" process was sometimes as lax as parading the children in front of prospective parents on a train platform who then chose a child or children. Those not chosen were put back on the train and sent to the next stop. As time went on committees formed to vet would-be adopters, and there was some recourse for both parents and children if a placement did not work out.

Over 100,000 of these children ended up in rural Missouri, and these were the focus of the research of Evelyn Trickel, Michael Patrick, and Evelyn Sheets (who died before the research was complete). Thier work, Orphan Trains to Missouri, includes historical backround explaining how European immigration caused the population of New York City to grow in the 1850s, why many of the children ended up on the street and how they survived in the area that came to be known as Hell's Kitchen. The book also tells the stories of several of the children who found their new homes in Missouri, some of these were positive, and some were negative, but it seemed that the authors, like the Children's Aid Society who were in charge of the children, focused more on the good stories.

The World's Greatest Fair
When the St. Louis World's Fair opened in 1904 the automobile was a novelty item, the Wright Brother's first flight had been only months before, and seeing electric lights was a first for many of the Fair's visitors. The documentary The World's Greatest Fair tells the story of this enormous exposition through still photographs, historian interviews, along with a bit of grainy footage. The Fair boasted exhibits of arts; science; and anthropology, which featured native people from Asia and Africa on display. To call  these exhibits "un-PC" would be an understatement. Racism was clear as tribes from Africa were called cannibals, and others were left "displayed" in their native dress, meant for warm climates, even as the fall weather set in in Missouri. The Fair, however, was indeed majestic and excitement in riding the first Ferris wheel (which had a 70-ton axle, and could hold over 2,000 people at a time) would certainly have stuck true awe in the people of the time. For many going to St. Louis for the fair would have been a "once in a lifetime" trip. The 1904 Olympics ran in conjunction with the Fair. I was especially taken by this part of the story. The 1904 Olympics was truly an amatuer sporting event. The story of the Cuban contestant who ran in his street clothes, including shoes, and who had hitchiked part of the way to the games was in such stark contrast to the stories of today's Olympians, who in many cases, really can no longer be called amatuers in any sense of the word. This was a fascinating film that gave a great snapshot view of the United States of 100 years ago. For more information about the 1904 World's Fair see the 1904 World's Fair Society page.

In honor of James' time in Kansas City we ordered Barbeque Sauce from Arthur Bryant. Due to his family's financial constraints, James says he actually never ate in one of the Arthur Bryant restaurants while he lived there, but he knew how famous they were, and that Jimmy Carter liked to eat there. We intended to have a couple of families over for a barbeque to celebrate, but the two families we wanted to invite could each make in on different days, so we had two separate barbeques, one with chicken, and the other with steak. Arthur Bryant's sauce works equally well on both. 

Monday, August 2, 2010

Colorado - August 1, 1876

I didn't much like my job as a cataloger at Hispanic Books Distributors in Tucson, Arizona, but one thing it did allow for me to do was travel a bit to conferences. I believe it was the mid-winter meeting of the American Librarian Association (ALA) in Denver that brought me to Colorado for the first time in 1993. It was also my first time attending an ALA conference. My name tag was blue which identified me as a "vendor". I even went to a special workshop on ethics for vendors who were members of the ALA. I remember another vendor, who also lived in Denver, asking me if I had noticed that the beer I drank hit me a little faster "here in the mile-high city". Indeed I had.

Fatally Flaky by Diane Mott Davidson

When I was a Public librarian I knew about bestselling authors, so I probably knew about Diane Mott Davidson once upon a time, but I really don't remember now. I read her latest book Fatally Flaky for my Colorado book because I wanted to try something in the Maxwell Library's new "leisure reading" collection. Davidson's book fit the bill. I don't read many mysteries, and this book reminded me why. The formulaic storyline, and the two-dimensional characters don't actually put me on the edge of my seat. I could tell which characters I was supposed to be sympathetic with by the way they were described physically. With few exceptions, ugly people were bad, beautiful people were good.

Fatally Flaky revolves around the wedding of one Billie Attenborough to Dr. Craig Miller. Billie is a difficult client for caterer Goldy Schulz, having changed her wedding date three times and the venue once. The word Bridezilla is used with wild abandon throughout the book. Billie is probably the least likable character in the story, we never see any redeeming features in her. Since the book is told from Goldy's point of view, I guess I can understand this device, but the constant negative portrayal began to wear on me. And I really should just stop reading things that involve weddings. I just don't see the appeal of a big white wedding. People should spend more energy on their marriages, and less on their weddings, imho.

Clues are provided throughout the book, but not in such a way that a reader could actually solve the murder , or maybe people who read a lot of mysteries would have been able to, but even our protagonist Goldy does not put all the clues together until the actual murderer "tells all", just as he is about to off her as well. Do criminals really do that sort of thing? Is it a pathological narcisiscm that leads them to tell how smart they were? Or is it just a fictional device after all?

Perhaps the saddest part of this book is that Goldy had to cater Billie's wedding at the Gold Gulch Spa, where "there is no coffee in the whole place".

About Schmidt
It took two tries for me to succeed in watching a Colorado movie. I had first selected Continental Divide, a 1980s romance with John Belushi and Blair Brown. When I searched the Internet Movie Database for the keyword "Colorado" Continental Divide was among the results, specifically under "Colorado Rockies". While the movie was filmed in the Colorado Rockies, it turns out that the setting was really Wyoming, so I did not count it as a true Colorado movie. I turned next to Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt. Only part of this movie takes place in Colorado, but a significant enough portion that my concience allowed it. Nicholson plays Warren Schmidt, a recently widowed, and recently retired, actuary from Omaha, Nebraska whose only daughter is about to get married. He travels to Denver for the wedding where he stays with the grooms eccentric family, and tries to convince his daughter to cancel the nuptuals - "these people are not up to snuff" he tells her. Kathy Bates is perfectly matched as the aging hippie, mother of the groom, opposite Nicholson's character. Again with the weddings - the wedding and reception scenes were well done as stereotypes of what the wedding industry has convinced Americans that weddings should be, up to and including the belief that the father of the bride should pay for all, even if bride and groom are in their 30s and have real jobs. The whole scene was done just this side of tacky.

I made a most delicious Spinach and Sundried Tomato Quiche with a recipe I found on the Colorado Department of Agriculture website. There was one instruction that didn't makes sense which I changed. The directions indicate to use raw spinach, and never mentions cooking it before putting it into the quiche. There is no way 10 oz. of uncooked spinach will fit into a 10 inch pie shell, even if nothing else were going in. The spinach needs to be cooked before being mixed with the other ingredients. Anyway, I shared this at a Sunday brunch and it was the only thing that was completely cleaned out. A definite hit - a least among the adults.