Saturday, October 31, 2009

GF Scalloped Potato Hotdish

Last night my supper turned out exceptionally well.

One of the big concerns when transitioning to Gluten Free cooking is how to replace the creamed soups in hotdishes. (For those of you who may not know, hotdish is the Minnesotan equivalent of casserole.) I had always tried to shy away from these processed products but as my family size increased I found myself adding a gradually increasing number of cans a month into my regular shopping lists.

But when I had to learn to cook Gluten free, I found myself reverting to homemade white sauces, flavoring them with whatever vegetables and stocks are well suited for my desired final product. About a year ago I discovered the pleasure of cooking with real cream instead of a thickened sauce. It sure saves time and lends a different kind of creaminess than a thickened sauce.

Last night I made potato/hamburger hotdish with cream. I didn't really measure anything, so this is more a description of the process than a real recipe.
  • Brown hamburger and season with salt and pepper (I had three pounds of meat, perhaps 1 tbs salt and 1 tsp pepper)
  • Cut up whatever vegies you want. I used an onion, four carrot sticks and three celery ribs. I don't like mine soggy, so I cut them into strips about 1 1/2" long and then slice the long way. It makes the presentation colorful. Sliced fresh mushrooms would have made a nice addition, but I didn't have any on hand.
  • When the meat is done browing, add these to the meat and stir together. I let this sit a few minutes so the meat fat and salt begin to penetrate the vegetables.
  • I layered this mixture with chunked potatoes (about 8 pounds, cut into about 1 1/2 " chunks) in two baking dishes.
  • Over this I poured almost 2 quarts of cream. Fill the pans until the potatoes are nearly covered, but leave at least 1/2" at the top or it will cook over when it boils.
  • I tasted a bit of the cream and thought it was a bit bland, so I sprinkled on another thin layer of salt (maybe another tsp total)
  • Then I baked the pans covered, at 350, for about an hour.
This was really creamy and good. We mashed the potatoes into the cream sauce and slurped it all up. Since Joe wasn't home, I removed the serving dishes from the table after serving and we even divied up a few slices of "real" bread I happened to have on top of the fridge to sop up the creamy sauce.

This wasn't any more difficult than opening a can of creamed soup and it tastes a whole lot better.

Cooking with Beef Tallow

About a year ago, I stopped buying vegetable oil. With what did I replace it? Mostly lard, butter and olive oil. I also use coconut oil, but although healthful and tasty, it's kind of expensive to use in large volumes and it smokes quite a bit at higher heats.

I've never even thought to try beef tallow. I don't really have a good reason why I didn't; probably just accessibility. I can grab a tub of lard at Wal-mart but I've never seen beef tallow.

Check out Kelly the Kitchen Kop for more information on healthy fats. She has many postings on the topic. Also may be of interest to any fellow tightwads is the recent post offering a chance to win a tub of rendered beef tallow.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Gender Oriented Gift-Giving

I had to kind of laugh to myself when skimming through the Cabela's Christmas gift catalog.

Mostly it highlights a range of products from each of their many departments.

It also includes several pages of "Gifts for Her" ideas. As I was looking at the featured items, it struck me that the gifts on these pages could be summarized as falling into one of five categories.
  • There are the typical girl gifts such as jewelry or candles.
  • There are also the regular Cabela's type fare for those women who enjoy outdoor pursuits or decor.
  • There are the "how to get my wife to enjoy my hobbies" gifts such as shooting ear protection muffs or a Lady Recon air rifle, each available in, yes, fashion pink.
  • There are the chivalrous "damsel in distress" gifts such as pepper spray, a pocket GPS, or a two way radio set.
  • And finally there are the "women sit around eating bonbons" gifts such as cheesecake and, well, bonbons.

Tendinitis Relief

A quick google search produced many listings for "tendinitis" and "poultice" as terms. Many of these were sites selling a miracle gel or paste that will cure one's tendinitis seemingly overnight. But since I was looking for a more economical option, I found a few sites that had recipes for concoctions one could make at home. The most entertaining had obviously been translated into English. Quirky word usage and grammar things.

Something about the page programming wouldn't let me cut and paste, so I had to keep flipping back and forth to get the recipes onto a document file.

But after a few moments of typing, this is what I came up with.

Recipes for tendinitis care

Recipe One
Equal parts kerosene (or turpentine) and sunflower oil
Mix together and massage into affected area.

Recipe Two
1/2 tsp camphor
1/4 cup sunflower oil
Mix together and apply to affected area.

Recipe Three
A few cloves of garlic "pounded in the proper way" (whatever that is)
Unspecified amount of olive oil.
Make a paste and wrap affected area in poultice.

Recipe Four
1 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp tumeric powder
Spread liberally onto affected area and wrap in bandage. (This one must be for very small tendons)
Option: add a pinch of salt "for better and intensified inflammation". Hmm.

Recipe Five
5-6 eucalyptus leaves
4-5 cloves
8-10 mint leaves
a few small branches of coriander leaves
Grind together into smooth paste. One is to add "too hot coconut oil" just prior to application. Apply in a poultice.
When the warmth is "tolerant", it will provide "extreme relief".
So there you have it. Happy poulticing.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cultural Literacy and Friendship

I forgot about this other item I was going to mention in conjunction with Act of Treason by Vince Flynn. I write periodically about my propensity to want to know everything. And how uncomfortable it makes me to read and see things and not get it.

We don't have TV. We do, however had a DVD player upon which we watch a few movies a month.

This wasn't always the case. Prior to about 5 years ago, we had nothing in our home upon which to fry our brains while viewing the flashing images flicker on and off the screen. And so until that time, I depended upon the graces of our friends and relatives to keep me up to date with all the items of pop cultural import.

Char and Dave S would even periodically bring from Wisconsin their TV and VCR, when spending a weekend with us, since they knew we were lacking in this vital aspect of life. Thanks in large part to this bigheartedness, we were kept abreast of all the cult classics and "bonnet movies" of the 90s.

Another couple who contributed to my cultural literacy during this era is Tressie and Andy B. When we lived in Mankato we were frequently invited to their place for an evening. This may not sound like a big deal, but a family with five kids under the age of 8 years does not get invited out much and we really did appreciate the time spent with them.

Usually these evenings out would end up with us putting the kids to bed in Tressie and Andy's room and we adults would watch a movie. James Bond and Jackie Chan were frequent choices. Somehow we never did the bonnet movies with Andy and Tressie. I guess the guys did most of the choosing.

But I remember one night Tressie and I were visiting, I suppose, and putting the kids to bed and doing dishes maybe, and the guys called us in, "You've gotta come see this!" So we ended up watching the last few matches of UFC 4: Revenge of the Warriors, which culminated in 176 lb Royce Gracie winning an 15+ minute fight to submission against 250 lb Dan Severn.

I have to say I was impressed. It was an exciting match. While we were watching, Joe and Andy filled us in on the history of UFC and the Gracie family's Brazilian jujitsu.

Although I enjoyed the final match of UFC 4, I have never seen another Ultimate Fighting match. And I have to say, I've never even really thought about the Gracies since then.

Until last night.

From Vince Flynn, Act of Treason.
Rapp had been in a fair number of street fights as a kid, but it wasn't until he went to work for the CIA that he really learned how to fight. They'd started him out with karate and then judo. He had little difficulty learning both, and while the fundamentals were sound and the discipline was needed, he instinctively knew that in the real world, fighting was far more frantic. Judo and karate had too many rules. Too many constraints. It was on a trip to Fort Bragg for some additional training that he sat in on a jujitsu class. From the first minutes he knew this was a form that was more suited for real world combat. While karate used mostly feet and hand strikes, and judo used mostly holds and throws, jujitsu combined both and then added knees, elbows, head butts, choke holds, submission holds, and even a few more. Rapp began training in earnest, eventually spending several months in Brazil learning Gracie Jujitsu from the grand master himself, Helio Gracie. Over the years he added some Thai boxing to his regimen, but for the most part he focused on Gracie Jujitsu, eventually earning a third-degree black belt.
Call me a geek, but I love when I find a somewhat obscure reference in a book and it makes sense to me. Thank you Tressie and Andy for the cultural exposure. But more importantly for the friendship and the nights out.

On the Other Hand

Vince Flynn includes in Acts of Treason a second mention of DCI Kennedy's neighbor, Mr. Soucheray. This time, Mr. Soucheray is walking his dog, Rookie. this time, a bit more obvious allusion to the Garage Logic radio show.

Author Disappointment

I just finished reading another Vince Flynn book, Act of Treason. I really like Flynn's writing. It is a good, quick, lazy read for me. An excellent escape from a busy life.

I've been wanting to request another Flynn novel ever since returning from vacation in August. I just didn't have time to get sucked into a book. I've been reading, of course, but nothing with the same propensity to "suck me in".

I am, however, somewhat disappointed. My fifteen year old son, Matthew, is beyond reading children's lit or even the young adult titles. Although it would be nice if he only read Dickens or Cooper or Stevenson, it just isn't realistic. (We have been doing Treasure Island as a family read aloud, however, so perhaps he'll start groovin' on Stevenson.)

There are so few adult books around today that are not filled with smut. And not just an illusion to some situation. But the graphic descriptions of s**ual interactions. I don't think a fifteen year old needs his or her head filled with images of such things. No one needs that. But it's extra important to protect our youth. A young person still has the ability to look forward to a beautiful, pure, physical relationship with his or her spouse some day. Although of course filled with original sin, he or she has not been polluted, so to speak, with graphically spelled out descriptions of humanity's depraved tendencies.

When I started reading Flynn books, I was pleased that there were fewer than usual s**ual situations and those few seemed to be mentioned in passing and not described in great detail. So I began previewing the books and I allowed Matt to read some of the earl6y ones. But then came one I let him read without previewing it and was frustrated when I read it myself, because it was more graphic than I would have liked to expose him to.

I apologized for not protecting him from such titillation.

But it seems Flynn eventually joined the ranks of authors I will not let Matt read. The last several books I've had to tell him, "No, sorry." And I am sorry. It is good to read. It is good to read books with more advanced plots and adventures and vocabulary. But why, oh why, do they also have to have "advanced" other things?!

I use advanced in quotes because, of course, there is nothing mature about this graphic writing style. It is a classic example of what Laura Ingraham would call the pornification of our culture. Specifically, there are two types of s**ual writing to which I am opposed. 1) An author describes in detail the progression of such a situation; and 2) an author includes images of aberrative behaviors.

The first complaint deals the titillation aspect of writing. This so obviously appeals to our baser natures. No one really needs any extra reasons to be tempted toward such thoughts.

The second complaint is because there are just certain things we don't need to think about. Does it really add to a novel to read, even in passing, about how the dominatrix was dressed? Give me a break! A simple acknowledgment that a certain character is a pervert would suffice.

Most of the situations in Flynn's writing from which I feel I need to protect my son do not seem to intentionally titillate. There are not lengthy graphic descriptions. That, in this day and age, is a rare thing. But in his later novels, there seems to be more mention of aberrant behaviors.

Sorry, Matt, you're cut off.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Apple Pudding Cake-Gluten Free

I did a recipe conversion (Wheat flour to Gluten-free) last night that turned out really well.
Apple Pudding Cake
  • 6 c sliced apples
  • 2 c sugar of choice (I used white and rapadura)
  • 1 T cinnamon
  • 1 t nutmeg
  • 3 c flour mix (my mix is 2 brown rice:2 sorghum:1 white rice:1 tapioca:1 potato starch)
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 t xanthan gum
Stir together.
  • 6 beaten eggs
  • 3/4 c softened fat of choice (I used lard
Stir into apples.
Pour into 2 greased 9x13" pans. (I used one 10x15 and it cooked over some).
Bake at 325F for 1 hour.
Spoon out and serve with drizzled or whipped fresh cream.

Mark Levin Interview

For any other Mark Levin fans out there, I stumbled upon this interview with him in the Talk Radio trade journal, Talkers.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pie Making 101

For school the last week or so we've been doing a unit study loosely based on a Five in a Row study on the children's book, How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman. In this story, an enterprising girl goes around the world to gather ingredients for her apple pie after she finds the local market closed.

The idea behind the Five in a Row homeschool curriculum by Jane Claire Lambert, is to read a single classic children's storybook five days in a row. Each day the teacher will use an aspect of the book for a different part of early elementary learning. The subject areas are Social Studies, Language, Art, Applied Math, and Science. After a week's worth of lessons, we continue to a different book.

I used this curriculum quite a bit when my oldest were younger. Out of necessity, with so many ages to teach, I gradually got further and further from anything "fun" for school. School had somehow turned into drudgery for all of us. This year with the three oldest learning from others, I'm trying to make school a little more enjoyable.

I am loosely basing our current lessons on the Five in a Row lesson How to Make an Apple Pie... I printed up a bunch of "just for fun" apple themed worksheets: word search, math problems, dot-to-dot, coloring sheets, identifying letters,...several at each level for two kids at each of three levels, since the littler ones want to "do school" too.

We did mapwork, first of all identifying and marking all the locations at which the heroine of our story found her products. Then, since there were three countries in Western Europe mentioned, we did a more detailed lesson to mark all the European countries; and we worked on memorizing the several Europe songs on our Geography Songs CD.

We went to Maple Hills Orchard, outside of Detroit Lakes on Friday. Boy, is it hard to find an apple orchard this far north! We went to the orchard expecting nothing more than a trip to see an orchard and buy apples. I figured that even if Maple Hill had a u-pick option, we would be too late in the season to pick, since we'd had several hard frosts already. Upon arrival, the kids immediately ran to the green house to see the pumpkins housed within. Before I even had the littlest ones unloaded, I was met by Friendly Gary (who later fallaciously claimed to be Crabby Gary). Gary offered us a hay ride after he had finished unloading the pumpkins he had just brought in. The kids had fun helping him unload.

Then we went on a ride around the orchard. Maple Hills is a young orchard; most of the trees are quite small yet. But that did not detract at all from the views of rolling hills with their lovely fall scenery. Among and within the rows of trees we saw the corn and pumpkin patches and the apiary.

After the ride, we went inside. Within the store building, we were treated to samples of apples drizzled with caramel, comb honey, and hot apple cider. They had a school desk with a selection of children's books to look at. There was a "guess the weight of the pumpkin" contest. A table with a jigsaw puzzle to work on. And an empty bee hive with the beekeeper's garb that Gary showed the kids. He let them squeeze the smoker and try on the hat and gloves.

Outside there were tables and chairs scattered about the spacious yard; and a little decorated side yard with more activities for the kids. My kids helped Gary wash the previously unloaded pumpkins up by the greenhouse. (Perhaps more help than he needed?) They had a chicken tractor with a stool the kids were able to climb upon, while Gary opened the roof for them to peek inside at a freshly laid egg. There were several wheel barrows for use in hauling the pumpkins during the "pick your own" season. Since that time was past, Gary encouraged the older kids to give the younger ones rides around the green. The several flower gardens were past their prime, but still held a faded glimpse of the glory they had held a few weeks earlier.

We had a lovely day and a big 'Thank You!" to Gary and Jonna for your warm welcome.

Today was pie making day. We actually made pie. I wanted to take advantage of Joe being gone to make a real live wheat crust pie. Sometimes I like to teach my kids how "normal" people bake. Unfortunately we were out of wheat flour, so we ended up doing the gluten free crust after all. Am I ever glad we were limited to that option. Flour everywhere! We made an apple and a pumpkin pie. One of the pumpkins we used was a white pumpkin Clara had bought by herself at the orchard for the expressed purpose of learning how to make a pumpkin pie. The other was also a white one, from our friend, Laura. Clara had baked them and scooped out the meat on Monday. She made the crusts today, so Elsie was in charge of the fillings. Sophie, Clara, and Elsie all helped with the peeling and cutting of the apples.

We had enough apples to freeze filling for another pie, and filled two four-cup containers of pumpkin to freeze. I was hoping to make a batch of green tomato mincemeat from the apples also, but gradually, since Friday, the bag of apples has dwindled. Funny how that works, isn't it?

We all helped with rolling out the crusts. This is always a learning process, since I haven't yet found a gluten free pie crust I like. Each combination of flours and oils and eggs has slightly different properties. Sometimes they fall apart, sometimes they stick, sometimes we give up on rolling entirely and end up pressing the crust into the dish with our fingertips.

I think this will be a good recipe. I forgot to cover the edges half way through, so they got a little darker than I'd prefer. I think next time I'll cut the amount of fat by at least a third. It was very sticky and I didn't even add any of the water the original recipe called for. I noticed some of the recipes call for cold fats. Perhaps that would make it less sticky.

I used a recipe from Gluten Intolerance Group. I adapted it a bit. You can check out the link to see the original recipe. I tripled the recipe and had enough for three crusts and three for the freezer. There was even extra to cut off the edges to bake as pie crust cookies. Follows is what we did.
1 cup white sorghum flour
3/4 cup potato starch
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 cup fat (I used a combo of lard and coconut oil)
4 ounce cream cheese
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla (oops, I just noticed we missed this.)
  1. Combine dry ingredients. Cut in shortening and cream cheese with pastry cutter until the size of peas.
  2. Add eggs, vanilla, and water. Stir into flour mixture until smooth.
  3. Form 2 or 3 balls. We rolled them out on heavily floured foil. We tried at first without the flour and they stuck like nuts. The parts that didn't stick just broke apart. But with the heavy flouring, they rolled out nicely, and dropped nicely onto the pie plates. They still were a bit crumbly at the edges, but with a little coaxing, we got the pies to look pretty nice.
  4. Makes two 9-inch deep dish pie crusts or three 8-inch pie crusts. Bake as you would for the fillings you choose.
In order to tie up our How to Make an Apple Pie... study, we still plan to make salt and sugar crystals, and incorporate some kind of art. All in all a "fruitful" unit.

Writing Pleasant to the Heart

This excerpt appeals to me at some inner level. It's from The View from Saturday by K. L. Konigsburg.

Ethan Potter likes his silence and solitude. He doesn't have many friends. Ethan has just been at a party with some new acquaintances, one of whom, Julian, pulled a puzzle piece from another's hair via sleight of hand.

Ethan is realizing he likes these new friends.
Mrs. Gershom had offered to drive me home, but I wanted to walk. I wanted to walk the road between Sillington House and mine. I wanted to mark the distance slowly. Something had happened at Sillington House. Something had made me pull sounds out of my silence the way that Julian pulled puzze pieces out of Nadia's hair.

Had I gained something at Sillington House? Or had I lost something there? The answer was yes.


From Merriam Webster's online dictionary
Main Entry: evis·cer·ate
Pronunciation: \i-ˈvi-sə-ˌrāt\
Function: verb
Inflected Form(s): evis·cer·at·ed; evis·cer·at·ing
Etymology: Latin evisceratus, past participle of eviscerare, from e- + viscera viscera
Date: 1599

transitive verb 1 a : to take out the entrails of : disembowel b : to deprive of vital content or force
2 : to remove an organ from (a patient) or the contents of (an organ)intransitive verb : to protrude through a surgical incision or suffer protrusion of a part through an incision

evis·cer·a·tion \-ˌvi-sə-ˈrā-shən\ noun

I'm still trying to figure this one out in context. This is by an Annie Gottlieb in a letter to Camilla Paglia's recent article. I think Ms Gottlieb is responding to something Paglia wrote. But here it is, "Superb evisceration of the Democrats. I, too, have indelible memories of the risky, ecstatic mysticism of the late '60s." Hmm. Perhaps Ms Paglia had written something scathing about today's liberals?

Slacking Off

OK, I just did the tabulation for my exercise ticker. If I still want to meet my goal, I must do about 2 hours of exercise a week until then. That's four days of 1/2 hour each. But sometimes I just do 20 minutes. Oops, that's six days. But then, I occasionally do 40 minutes and that, um, 3 days. So I guess there's still hope.

But I really better get a move on. No more sitting around doing nothing for me.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Lack of Creative Energy

Sometimes I feel like there is just too much to do to choose one thing. Like writing on a blog. Worse still, when I'm feeling this way, if I do sit down to write, I can't seem to choose just one thing to write about either. Is this adult ADD?

Since I'm not very interesting lately, and my friend, Char is, you could check out her Jack Squat System of Accomplishment. I think it's very funny.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Little Fun for Your Contemplation

There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza,
There's a hole.

Then fix it dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
Then fix it dear Henry, dear Henry, fix it.

With what should I fix it, dear Liza, dear Liza,
With what should I fix it, dear Liza, with what?

With a straw, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
With a straw, dear Henry, dear Henry, with a straw.

But the straw is too long, dear Liza, dear Liza,
The straw is too long, dear Liza, too long.

Then cut it dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
Then cut it dear Henry, dear Henry, cut it!

With what shall I cut it, dear Liza, dear Liza,
With what shall I cut it, dear Liza, with what?

With an ax, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
With an ax, dear Henry, an ax.

But the ax is too dull, dear Liza, dear Liza,
The ax is too dull, dear Liza, too dull.

Then, sharpen it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
Then sharpen it dear Henry, dear Henry, sharpen it!

With what should I sharpen it, dear Liza, dear Liza,
With what should I sharpen, dear Liza, with what?

With a stone, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
With a stone, dear Henry, dear Henry, a stone.

But the stone is too dry, dear Liza, dear Liza,
The stone is too dry, dear Liza, too dry.

Then wet it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
Then wet it dear Henry, dear Henry, wet it.

With what should I wet it, dear Liza, dear Liza,
With what should I wet it, dear Liza, with what?

With water, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
With water, dear Henry, dear Henry, with water.

But how shall I get it?, dear Liza, dear Liza,
But how shall I get it?, dear Liza, with what?

In the bucket, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
In the bucket, dear Henry, dear Henry, in the bucket!

But there's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole.

There's a hole.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Whole Grain Fermented Pancakes

I adapted this recipe from a blender recipe by Sue Gregg. Since I don't have a blender that can handle the volume I needed to make, I did a few things differently. There are a few other changes as well, so try both recipes, and see which you like best.

About the word fermented, this refers to the old-fashioned concept of soaking grains before using. This breaks down the phytic acid which is difficult to digest (some theorize it is toxic to our systems). I add whey to the batter, the lactic acid of which starts to ferment the concoction similar to what a sour dough starter might. This allegedly renders the nutrients more easily absorbed in the gut.

The rice I used is not the brown rice one would buy in the grocery store, but the stuff from a health food store that still has the outer seed coating on. I don't know what other differences there are. I should find out.
Whole Grain Fermented Pancakes
  • 2 cups each, whole grain brown rice and sorghum
Run through food processor on high for three minutes or until mostly ground. one of the grains was a bit resilient to this, and I ended up with small round balls of grain, similar in texture to coarse almond meal or finely chopped almonds.
  • 4 c raw milk
  • 1/2 c whey
Add this to the milled grains. Stir together and let sit at room temperature overnight. I mixed mine up about mid-day yesterday, so it actually soaked for about 20 hours. I stirred it before bed. It was kind of thick by that time, the grain had soaked up the liquid and there was some foam and curds on top. It may sound gross, but this is what it is supposed to do.

In the morning,
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 c melted lard
  • 1 c flax meal
  • extra liquid if necessary (I used about 1/2 c additional milk, the batter still seemed thicker than my regular pancakes batter, but it spread out readily on the griddle.)
Mix these into the soaked grains.
  • 1 tbs baking soda
  • 1 tbs xanthan gum
  • 1 tsp salt (I actually forgot the salt; it seemed fine without, but I'll probably try it with next time, just to determine the difference.)
Stir together and then sprinkle in a bit at a time to avoid clumping.

Fry on a hot griddle.
These were very good. Kind of nutty tasting. The kids at first were joking* about the crunchiness. But I think we all decided we liked them by the time we were finished with our first ones. This is a much smaller batch of pancakes than I generally make, but I think we were well-filled.

*For other movie lovers out there, the kids came up with a couple of movie related "crunchy" jokes. From Nacho Libre, "Crunch, crunch, crunch. Good pancakes." And from Mousehunt, "Crunchy, I like the almonds." And if you don't get the jokes herein, you'll just have to check out the movies from your local library.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Prejudice, Bigotry

I just finished reading Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffin. In 1959, Mr. Griffin medically darkened his skin and lived among the Negro population in the deep South as part of a research project on the prevailing state of racial prejudice and race relations at the time. His premise was that he would get a true picture of the situation in no other way. The Black people at the time, he feared, would not trust a white man enough to give him a true picture of how things were; nor would a white man in most cases be able to fully give his opinions in their truest sense.

The book, Black Like Me, was published in 1960 and is a journal style narration of Mr. Griffin's experiences, some of them quite shocking and dismaying.

The edition I read includes an epilogue written in 1977, in which Mr. Griffin elaborates on how the publishing of his book changed his life, how it fit in with the path the civil rights movement ended up taking, and the state of racial relations in America at that time.

One of the things that struck me throughout his narration, and then again while reading his epilogue, is that we all hold to prejudices. But not only racial prejudices.

From Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary
2 a (1) : preconceived judgment or opinion (2) : an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge b : an instance of such judgment or opinion c : an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics

: the state of mind of a bigot
: acts or beliefs characteristic of a bigot

a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance
Some thoughts about the above definitions,
-The noun, prejudice, also, does not specifically imply a negative notion or opinion. It simply means that one holds a certain opinion toward someone or something. But it has the added connotation of having been primarily used to refer to race relations and the negative assumptions one people group makes toward another.

-The word, bigotry, however, seems to include only the negative attitudes of a person or group of people toward another.

We all hold prejudices. It is the natural aggregate of our life and societal experiences. Prejudice is not only our opinions with regard to people or races. Prejudice is not always a wrong, or evil.

We all hold certain ideas of what proper clothes or habits are, for instance. Some people would refer to this kind of prejudice as a societal construct. Adhering to societal constructs in many cases is an act of love; it is something we do out of courtesy toward our friends and acquaintances. These societal norms can sometimes be irritating or binding. On the other hand, there are times, if a societal norm goes against God's laws, when we are compelled to go against those norms. Our adherence to such norms or constructs can be prejudice. And again, this is not always bad.

Some examples from my own experience.
  • The relation who said to my mother-in-law, "Oh, Joe homeschools his kids? I hope they immunize." The prejudice: no one who homeschools immunizes and those who don't immunize always homeschool.
  • My daughter's new friend who said, "You don't look like you were homeschooled." Apparently all homeschoolers look a certain way.
  • Myself, when I assumed that my eco-friendly brother-in-law was a vegetarian. Everyone who is strongly green is a vegetarian, right?
  • Or how about when I got to the hospital to deliver my last baby. Nurse: And what pregnancy is this for you? Mary: It's my tenth. Nurse: You're kidding, right? Mary: Why would I joke about that? Nurse: Well, you don't look like this is your tenth pregnancy. (I'm not sure what "10-kid mom" is supposed to look like.)
We all do this. All the time. Unintentionally. An most of the time it is not mean-spirited.

Consider for instance women with shaved or unshaved legs and armpits. In America, we women like our legs smooth and armpits hair free. (I think most American men like women that way, too.) In fact, it can be a bit embarrassing or even seem gross to see someone with hairy legs or armpits. It is a prejudice, "Hairy armpits are gross." This is fairly innocent. Hopefully we do not judge someone's person by this standard, however. That would cross the line between one's opinion of a particular habit, and basing one's entire opinion of a person who has such a habit, upon that habit. Most of us would probably say to ourselves something like, "This is a little weird for me. It kind of grosses me out. But I must give this person a fair shake."

Now take this same idea of shaven legs in a slightly different direction. Let's pretend we know a woman from Germany who does not shave. So when we meet someone who does not shave we might assume that person is German or European. This may or may not be the case, but it is a symptom of a prejudice we carry, based on our experience, "European ladies do not shave their legs, Americans do." Not always a true situation; a prejudice. Not necessarily evil or bad, but an opinion based on a limited experience. We would not be wrong, in the sense of evil, to hold this opinion, but we might appear ignorant or small-minded in some situations if we voiced this idea.

How about another angle. "Lesbians don't shave their legs." So when you meet someone who does not shave their legs, you assume she is a lesbian. This might be a bit more troublesome. Or you find out one of your friends is a lesbian and you say something like, "But you can't be a lesbian, you shave your legs!"

You see, these are all perceptions a person may carry without meaning any harm, but based upon our experiences. They can be hurtful, when applied improperly. But they are not necessarily wrong. We can't make ourselves more experienced than we are. We can't add to our life experiences just by saying we want to.

But we can be open to learning more about others, whether people of other races, or those of our own race with different habits and traditions than ourselves. We can listen to others and judge them on who they say they are and what they like and dislike. And we ought to approach people and attitudes that are different than our own with humility. We must use kindness in our dealings with others.

Now how about those times when we must address a prejudice because it is sinful to hold such a notion. There is right and wrong in the world and increasingly some are trying to blur the line that divides right from wrong.

As a Christian, I base my morality upon God's Word, the Bible. That is the foundation from which I must examine any prejudice I am called upon to judge.

"Is it wrong for a woman to work outside the home?" "Is it wrong for a man to shave his beard?" No, no, and no.

Some lifestyle choices are closely associated with behaviors that are wrong. "Is it wrong for a woman to glue spangles on her eyelashes or a man to put gems on his teeth?" This one is often associated with prostitution and pimping. Don't assume. Not everyone fits the stereotype.

When I was in college, I always wore my cross necklace. I was somewhat adrift in those years, but that was kind of my anchor. A concrete reminder of who I was, really. I remember when one of my friends told me that crystals were affiliated with some sort of holistic healing. I don't even remember what variety of healing. Pain relief or something, maybe. So I hung one around my neck on on the chain that had my cross. When later I found out that crystals were closely associated with New Age Religion, I was really embarrassed. Here I had symbolically equated Christianity with New Age mysticism. I'm glad none of my friends judged me because of that silliness.

About 15 or 20 years ago baggy pants and baseball caps on backwards was associated with gangstas. Perhaps still is, I'm kind of out of the loop on that one. But these clothing choices became mainstream. It would be wrong of us to assume every young man who wore baggy pants and a backwards cap was selling drugs.

"Is it wrong for a woman to sleep with her boyfriend when they are not married?" "Is homosexuality wrong?" "Is murder wrong?" Yes, yes, and again, yes. those are things we can judge on. They are not societal constructs or prejudice. But, when called upon, we must engage in judgments lovingly and with humility.

How about smoking or drinking? Women wearing pants? What about hunting? Or eating meat?

The list can go on and on. Judging a person based upon our own prejudice is wrong. Judging someone according to God's laws is not.

It's interesting that much of society today attributes stereotypes and bigotry to people of faith. People of faith have a foundation upon which to base their judgments. Those who don't, can only and always base their judgments upon one or another kind of prejudice.

May we as Christians never give fodder, by sinful prejudice, to those who want to label us as bigots. I pray that we only and always base our judgments of people upon God's holy law and apply them in accordance thereof.