e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


so far

The garden so far has yielded:

--Kohlrabi. One of my favorite veggies. Sliced and eaten raw, you can't beat it.
--Grape tomatoes. The full-sized are still green, but these tasty treats are turning red. So far we've eaten them in salad with...
--Cucumbers. I was starting to worry that the SPRAWLING vines were just going to sprawl. But today I picked four nice-sized 'cukes. Each time I eat a home-grown cucumber I swear I'll never buy one at the grocery store again.
--Berries. Thank you, former home-owner, for the awesome currants and rasberry bushes. Rasberries rarely even make it into the house, so I haven't cooked with them at all. Currants have made a nice mix-in for rice prepared with almonds and various herbs. I've also sauteed them with onions and greens. There are still loads of them out there too!
--Fresh Herbs. They've been good this year: cilantro, parsley, marjoram, mint, tarragon, thyme. Forgot to plant basil. Didya know that one cup of parsley has 100% of the daily recommended vitamins A and C? I had a bunch of barley in the cupboard and made a barley version of tabouli, using equal parts mint and parsley. Really good.

Favorite time of the year? Yes.


sublime jams

Ever experience a cultural event--a 'happening,' to borrow 60s lingo for a moment--so special that you know history is all around you? For those who believe that Detroit's musical heritage is something special, history happened last night.

At the annual Concert of Colors festival, storied record producer, performer, and multi-instrumentalist Don Was assembled what he called a Detroit Super Session, part old-time musical review (house band hosting a series of performers), part multi-act gig (think early 70s Detroit shows where some combination of Alice Cooper, the Stooges, MC5, Mitch Ryder, and Ted Nugent would share a bill), and part celebration of sonic and ethnic multiculturalism in Detroit.

I got to the Opera House early, brought some reading, and staked out a front-and-center seat. And the show didn't fail to bring together some of my favorite artists from the last forty years. Was played bass with the family punk band The Muldoons (hands down the best live act in Detroit right now), as the Muldoon brothers (9 and 14 years old) wailed through a version of "Chubby Bunny." The Was-led houseband hosted Mick Collins of the Dirtbombs, who sang a slow and soulful version of "Stop," during which I missed D'bombs bassist Ko's backing vocals and the loud and agressive stylings of the rest of the D'bombs but really appreciated Collins' voice (the guy's got some serious vocal chops). The houseband also backed The Sisters Lucas, Lola Morales, Mitch Ryder, and the poet John Sinclair of MC5 fame, feeding the excited audience some excellent Americana, soul, salsa, spoken word, and rock to chew on. One song per performer, no matter how legendary.

The houseband surrendered its spot for several performances. The reunited Black Merda--my favorite performance of the night--did a funky version of "Cynthy Ruth" and proved they're not just a great '60s band, not just "the first black rock band," not just a great psychedelic act, and not just a great Detroit act. They rock. Period. Was played bass with the Detrot Cobras on "As Long as I Have You," after which DC's guitarist took disposable-camera pictures of Was, John Sinclair, and herself posing with various musicians. Emblematic of the whole night's fun atmosphere. Black Bottom Collective brought its eight-piece fusion of hip hop, soul, and hard rock and clearly impressed the rock-and-roll-leaning crowd. And members of 70s punk outfit The Ramrods--another of the reunions--showed no "when in Rome..." decorum, Iggy-ing around the Opera House stage as if playing a cheap Cass Corridor pub.

I'm probably overlooking some of the acts. Not a weak link in the whole show. A great, great night for the city.


your old road is rapidly agin'

Jim Holley's editorial in today's Detroit Free Press invokes Bob Dylan's words, implicitly at least. Rev. Holley, a long-time civil rights leader, responds to Jesse Jackson's critique of Barack Obama by urging Jackson to "step back and let the new guard take control." Holley establishes his own credibility by connecting himself generationally and ideologically to Jackson: I'm one of you and I'm saying from the inside that WE need to defer. By way of justifying the step aside argument, Holley doesn't hesitate to point out the shortcomings of his own generation of activists:
The simple truth is that our generation -- my generation -- has not only failed to fulfill the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, but we have also failed this younger generation. We gave them nothing, and yet it is a member of this generation that is coming closer to fulfilling King's dream than any one of us ever thought possible.
Holley cites current economic conditions as evidence of this failure and concludes that new tactics and a new message are necessary.

It's an interesting and compelling argument. The major weakness of the piece lies in the shaky, shifting nature of the "we" pronoun. Throughout the piece Holley vaguely invokes the first person plural. Sometimes "we" refers to black America. Elsewhere, "we" refers to a particular social movement--i.e., civil rights workers of the 60s. Sometimes "we" refers to activists in general.

The thing is, social movements work in concert with electoral politics. They represent two different realms of the democratic process as we know it, so the idea that a political candidate could somehow replace a social movement strikes me as odd. Obama has moved from one realm to the other, first working as a community organizer then as an elected official. Has he worked on similar issues in both realms? Absolutely. Lots of politicians have made seamless or nearly seamless transitions from non-profit sector or activist community to public sector or elected office.

But the fact remains, the worlds have different norms and different objectives, and present different rhetorical possibilities. I think some of Jackson's statements may not have been politically expedient or prudent. However, conceiving of Obama's candidacy as a replacement for activist work seems wrong-headed. In fact, given Obama's moderate platform, it seems potentially dangerous.


cooking continues

One of the great things about plentiful herbs: less reliance on salt. I made burgers out of ground lamb using just the meat, a huge handful of fresh marjoram, an egg, and fresh breadcrumbs. No salt. Good stuff. I topped the burgers with a pesto of sorts made from almonds, white vinegar, parsley, mint, and lemon balm. Once again, no salt needed.

On the recommendation of my dad, I sauteed some zucchini flowers. I dipped the beautiful orange and white petals in flour and then egg, and did them in a pan with a little olive oil. Subtle, fresh taste.

Detroit's been hot and humid this week. High 80s, mostly. Lots of working in the garden, bike riding (Nicole and I got new mountain bikes and we're having a ball), and reading out in the backyard. Oh, and at church I helped out in the "community garden" (an urban gardening site--completely organic) building a gazebo yesterday. Kind of like an Amish barnraising. I know when the schoolyear kicks in, virtually all my exercise comes in the rec center on campus, so I'm committed to taking advantage of the outdoors in the next two months.



This is a kind of a Part II to yesterday's post about what's happening in the garden...or, rather, in the kitchen. I made tea with lemon balm leaves last night. Very relaxing. I boiled a little saucepan of water and dropped in about half a dozen leaves to steep for five minutes or so. I stirred in about a tablespoon of honey from my sister's hives and, voila, a nice evening beverage.

Today, I was hungry for a healthy late lunch. I had gotten up early, biked to Caribou (about a thirty minute trek), spent the morning and early afternoon writing at the coffee shop, and biked back home. Sweaty and tired. So inspired by that Mario Batali escarole recipe, I sauteed: a couple handfuls of romaine lettuce, half a diced onion, and a handful of currants in some olive oil. I sprinked some crushed red pepper and stirred in a tablespoon or so of Anna's honey. Most excellent.

If anyone has more suggestions for good things to do with currants or lemon balm, leave me a comment!



The yard's starting to produce some tasty things. The eggplant and zucchini plants are getting big and my mouth's watering already, but in the meantime our rasberry bushes runneth over with berries. Excellent. In the herb department, both the mint and parsley seem to be in their prime, so the last few days have seen salads with equal parts lettuce, mint, and parsley.

The currant bushes also have loads of fruit right now and I'm wondering what to do. I'm not a big fan of jams and jellies. Any suggestions? This escarole with honey and currants sounds nice and, well, you can't go wrong with Mario Batali.

How about lemon balm? The previous owners of our house must have loved the stuff, because we've got beds full of it. Any suggestions re: cooking with lemon balm? Tonight I think I'm going to try to make some tea. And--once again, thanks Sgr. Batali--Mario suggests making a pesto with half lemon balm leaves and half mint (which we've got boatloads of).


on headwounds and pasta fasool

I capped off a travel-packed May and June with a trip to Cleveland's Little Italy. My parents, my sister and her kids, and I hit the road for the great Mama Santo's, one of the two or three coolest restaurants I've ever experienced. Pizza? It's great there. Pasta? Some of the best you'll eat. Atmosphere? Right on Mayfield Road, which is lined with bakeries, gelato bars, shops with balconied upstairs apartments where old Italian couples always seem to be sitting. I almost did my Ph.D. at Case Western Reserve just so I could live in one of those apartments and walk to school.

So on this recent trip we're cruising Mayfield's side streets looking for a place to park. Out of a little garage walks a little old man named Frank, wearing the requisite undershirt, looking disoriented, and covered with blood. I mean covered. My sister and I hopped out of the car. Anna got Frank to sit down on his stoop and I called 9-1-1. He had a massive headwound. I'm told headwounds sometimes look worse than they are due to the amount of blood that's usually involoved. I guess Frank was in that category. The white undershirt--saturated by this point--certainly contributed to this visual intensity of the whole scene.

Anna did a good job of keeping Frank still and calmly got some pertinent info. E.G., he had fallen and hit his head. Useful to know there's not an ax murderer hanging out in the nearby garage. I handled the ridiculous barrage of questions from the emergency operator. From what height did he fall? Are you kidding me? Do you have a different ambulance that you dispatch for people who fall from the third rung of a stepladder vs. the second rung? Just send the ambulance!

My dad, in what had to have been his most resourcesful moment EVER, suddenly walked up to Frank's stoop WITH A NURSE. Yeah, we were close to University Hospital, but, still, pretty miraculous that a nurse happened to be walking by and my dad happened to find her. She cleaned his wound with gauze packets that I unwrapped for her ("your hands are really shaking, honey," I remember her saying to me), which helped a lot, except for the fact that when she sopped up enough blood, you could see the guy's skull. No joke. Frank's elderly wife came outside and kind of freaked out. Anna chilled her out and got her to bring a clean shirt, which helped a lot and made the scene seem less grisly. The nurse assured us that Frank was fine. Sigh. Thank God.

The ambulance finally showed up and by then my mom had found a parking space so we walked to Mama Santo's. Hey, crisis situation or not, you gotta eat, right? Leave it to nieces and nephews to find the humor in moving from medical-emergency-involving-copious-amounts-of-blood to a lunch-involving-copious-amounts-of-red-sauce. What's the coolest thing about Mama's? The menu has a whole pasta fasool section. That's "pasta e fagioli" if you're fancy pants. My dialect-reared grandparents always called it "pasta fasool." You can get your pasta fasool with white beans, kidney beans, or a host of other legumes. I got mine with peas. Delicious, especially with lots of black pepper. They use a thin sauce for their pasta fasool so it's like a cross between a soup dish and a pasta dish. You can opt for ditalini, but the best pasta choice is the broken up spaghetti pieces. My dad says both his grandmas made it that way, with the spags broken into four or five small lengths.