e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


from the market

Yesterday my friend Jim had free tickets to the Lions' pre-season game. Though I am fighting off a cold of some sort, I was glad to accept Jim's invitation to join him. Earlier, though, my parents had decided to come to Michigan for a somewhat impromptu garage sale at my sister Anna's. Nicole and I did a quick cleaning of the basement and filled a couple boxes with stuff for the sale and Nicole took Hyatt and Smokey (to hang out with their canine cousin--or possibly niece--Molly, not to sell!) down to Anna's bright and early in the a.m. for the sale. Jim and I joined the sale in progress later in the afternoon. The sale was mostly a bust, though we had fun passing the afternoon outside. For my dad's birthday, Anna made a pretty spectacular boston cream pie, not to mention a post-fast feast of chicken, lentil soup, and fatoush. We non-fasters ate with equal gusto.

Before Jim and I got to Anna's, Nicole and my dad ran to the farmer's market near Anna's that tends to have give-away prices, especially late in the day. Jam as many ears of corn as you can into this big bag for a buck. That kind of thing. N. went a bit overboard, but I have to admit her purchases have resulted in a fun Sunday. After all, what's better than cooking on a Sunday? Nicole likes freezing stuff, so she's made stir-fry kits with onions and various kinds of peppers. She's also done a couple bags of blanched green beans, ready to be steamed and eaten. Nicole also got a peck of banana peppers for one dollar (!), so I'm marinating pepper rings for a version of my dad's pepper salad. Tonight, eggplant parmesan, as soon as Nicole gets back from Costco with the fresh mozzarella. I've got the slices of salted eggplant draining in the colander right now.

A day of cooking comes a day or two after finishing Frank Bruni's Born Round, a memoir that I loved. You might know Bruni as a restaurant critic at the NYTimes and if so you'll probably appreciate the book's later chapters which give insight into the funny and high-stakes relationship between restaurants the elite media that can make or break them. My favorite parts of the memoir came earlier, though, when Bruni describes growing up in a food-obsessed, extended, Italian family. He walks readers through holidays when his grandmother and mom would spend weeks planning, shopping, cooking, and trouble-shooting humongous meals. Every detail had to be perfect. Meals were about quality and quantity, almost in equal measure. Throughout, Bruni describes his struggles with his weight, with body image, and with several eating disorders. His bizarre career trajectory alone makes the narrative interesting, but if you can relate to a familial life centering on food or if you routinely go to more than two or three stores to buy ingredients for a meal, then Born Round is a must read.

Nicole's home. Back to the parmesan.


Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino has always had lots of fun writing playful dialogue for bad guys, sadists even. The criminal who tortures the cop in Reservoir Dogs had some charm, to say nothing of a sense of humor and a familiarity with pop culture. Those mobsters in Pulp Fiction who love to talk about the ins and outs of European fast food make their living killing people. Tarantino's never been especially interested in pursuing the morality of his characters or the morality of his own representations of criminal life.

The minutiae of everyday life (long conversation about tipping practices, anyone?). The way a fetish-like obsession (for Tarantino, an obsession with movies) creates an alternative universe. Those things interest him a great deal.

Inglourious Basterds--which let me say I absolutely, positively loved--has mostly gotten very positive reviews for its ambitious scope, playful approach to narrative, and most of all the performance of the actor playing Nazi Colonel Hans Landa. A few reviews, notably the N.Y.Times, New Yorker, and the Orlando Sentinel have pointed out not only the film's violence but also called into question the ethics of representation involved in parallel stories (obviously fiction) about a band of violent American Jews who hunt Nazis in occupied France, as well as the aforementioned Nazi Colonel who--like many Tarantino baddies--has urbane charm.

First, the Landa character. How many sadistic bad guys in fiction and film have been represented as cunning and charming? Of course a *Nazi* bad guy is worlds apart from a "purely fictional" bad guy a la Hannibal Lecter. The ethical dynamics shift when the characters have roots in history, especially THAT moment in history. But in my view Landa is never defined by his charm at the exclusion of brutality. No, this is not a film interested in moralizing (and that in and of itself might be a problem for some viewers), but neither is it a film that fails to balance the urbane with the vicious. That balance creates the film's suspense, in fact.

Second, the band of "basterds." They combine the expected and the unexpected. As viewers, I think we expect the genre tropes they represent: the war movie (the basterds have both a 'gee whiz,' all-American, baseball fan G.I. thing as well as a cigar-chewing, Dirty Dozen thing going on) and the gore movie (not for nothing does Eli Roth of Hostel fame play one of the basterds). We don't necessarily expect the global historical revisions or the over-the-top spectacles the basterds help to orchestrate. In other words, they defy simply categorization. And that helps the representation go beyond something merely pornographic (as in, one intended outcome only) or exploitative (though a bit of the latter is part of what Tarantino mashes up to create his unique vision). As the AV-Club points out, Inglourious Basterds is among other things an antidote to sterile middlebrow representations that teach us that Nazis are bad.


cedarland during ramadan

Ramadan began yesterday, so shout out to family members, students, UMD colleagues, and friends who are fasting during daylight hours this month. Nicole and I made a last-minute decision to head down to Dearborn tonight to grab a bite. Naturally, we ended up at our favorite place to eat in all of the greater Motor City area: Cedarland.

Detroiters should know that for the rest of Ramadan Cedarland has great specials around dusk to sundown for fast-breakers and non-fast-breakers alike. Each night they have three or four items not found on the menu, served with lentil soup and either fattoush or tabouli. I got kibbeh served in a warm, thick yogurt. Nicole got stuffed squash (basically, dolmas) cooked until the squash was falling apart in a lemony tomato sauce. A lot of familiar flavors in both dishes: lemon, parsley, cumin, and so forth, but definitely a change of pace from usual Cedarlad stuff like shawarma and garlic sauce.

Plus, the breaking of the fast creates a happy and interesting atmosphere, even for non-Muslims like us. We always feel welcome at Cedarland, which feels a bit like an American diner: well-lit (to a fault), lots of families, friendly waitresses.


final hurrahs

As in "final hurrahs" before the academic year commences.

In place of a full-blown vacation, Nicole and I have enjoyed some small weekend get-aways that have been fabulous. We put our passports to use and made the drive over to Stratford. Mostly we walked the town, browsed bookstores, and ate bruschetta. Also saw a performance of "Three Sisters." That weekend was the semi-official celebration of our tenth anniversary (tomorrow's the "real" day).

We also went down to the Paint Valley Jambroee in southern Ohio. Our friends Jim and Janice joined us for the road trip (highlight of the drive: the obligatory hot dogs at Toledo's world-famous Tony Packo's) down and we met my parents and good family friends Kathy and Bob. PVJ is in Bainbridge. Each Saturday night, world-class musicians gather in a little theater (no drinking, swearing, or smoking allowed) and crank out oldtime Americana. Great, great stuff. The houseband stays on stage and, like an old-fashioned review, a series of singers take the mic for two numbers. Always a unique musical experience. It's like stepping into a time machine. The guy who owns the place said next time we drive down we can stay in one of his cabins. Wild.

Other than that, I've been prepping syllabi for the Fall, planning our Civic Engagement (our campus' service learning center) programming for the year with our new VISTA volunteer, and getting a decent amount of writing done. Wish I blogged more often. Put that on my list.