Sunday, October 25, 2020


So, I finally narrowed down my recipes for American food, and I still threw out recipes because I could spend a lifetime highlighting dishes from every region and cultural community. I really wanted to make Maryland crabcakes or Boston clam chowder or San Francisco sourdough bread. I joked with my kids that I was going to make a Midwestern Tater Tot Casserole (which they hate but I love). But, I think I did a decent job at narrowing down my recipes, even though I still cooked these throughout my week.

A dish with some seemingly Japanese influences on it. And it's all amazing.

Earlier this week, I started with a Hawaiian dish called Loco Moco. In a bowl, I mixed together some ground beef, chopped onion, Worcestershire sauce, and some salt and pepper. I mixed it together and then formed them into patties, placing them on a plate, covered them with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge to cool for at least 20 minutes. In a skillet, I heated some oil and sauteed some sliced onions until they were caramelized and then I removed them into a small bowl. After that, I took the patties out and fried them in the same skillet. When I finished cooking the patties, I added in some sliced mushrooms, a little salt and pepper, the caramelized onions, some beef broth, soy sauce, a little Worcestershire sauce and brought that all to a simmer. In a small bowl, I took a couple tablespoons of cornstarch and added in a couple tablespoons of the beef broth sauce to it to stir into a slurry, then I added it back into the skillet to help thicken it (I had to add more cornstarch later because it just wasn’t thickening up). I also made some steamed rice and fried up four eggs separately too. To assemble this, you put some steamed rice on the plate, top it with a beef patty, then some of the mushroom gravy, then top that with a fried egg, and garnish with chopped scallions. This was amazing. Like, truly amazing. Everyone loved it and asked me to make this again. The gravy was actually the best part.

I don't know what they were thinking: the squash was the best part.

Then I made a Three Sisters Bowl with Bacon as an homage to Native American food. (The three sisters are hominy/corn, beans, and squash.) I amended this recipe I found to make it easier for a weeknight meal, and I added in bacon because I had some I needed to use up. In a large skillet, I fried up some bacon and set it off to the side. Then I took store-bought cubed butternut squash and cooked it in the bacon grease until it was soft and pierced easily with a fork. Using a slotted spoon, I removed it and set it off to the side, then drained off most of the grease, leaving just a bit in the skillet. Then I added in the sliced onions, some chili powder, chopped sage, and some salt and cooked until the onions were translucent. After that, I added a can of white hominy (with its liquid), a can of either Great northern or cannellini beans (with its liquid) to the skillet along with the squash, the bacon, and a handful of chopped greens (I used kale). I stirred everything together and let it cook for about 5 minutes until everything was heated thoroughly. I added a little bit of salt to it, and I really liked this. No one else liked it because they freaked out over the squash. Seriously, they’re a bunch of babies. This was good, and they just missed out. 

Perfection. Pure perfection.

Last night, I made a Southern Peach Cobbler, at my husband’s request. We cheated a bit because we used canned peaches instead of fresh. I drained off my cans of peaches (I used two 29-oz cans) and put them in a bowl along with some white sugar, some brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon juice, and cornstarch and mixed well. Then I poured this into a 9”x13” baking dish and baked it for about 10 minutes at 400ºF. While that was in the oven, I made the cake part: I mixed together 2 c of flour, white sugar, brown sugar, baking powder and salt. Then I cut in a stick and a half of butter into the flour mix. I added in a ½ c of boiling water and stirred until it all came together. When I took the fruit part out, I drop-spooned in some of the batter until the dollops covered most of the pan. Then I sprinkled a cinnamon-sugar mix on top of the whole thing before putting it back into the oven for about 40 minutes. My husband grew up in Chicago but his family was originally from Mississippi, so he’s very picky about his Southern Peach Cobbler, and this one passed the test. It was amazing, especially with a side of vanilla ice cream.

I'm about to put this on some nachos and call it a day.

My husband and I have differing opinions on chili. So differing, that I’m making two versions of it. The first (for him) is Texas-style Chili. This version has its roots in Mexican chili con carne. In a large pot, I heated up some oil and sauteed some chopped onion and green pepper and a little bit of jalapeño pepper for a few minutes before adding in a bit of garlic. Then I threw in about 2 lbs of ground beef and let it cook down until it was browned (you may need to pour off some of the drippings depending on what kind of ground beef you have). Then I added in my spices: chili powder, paprika, cumin, oregano, black pepper, and salt. After about a minute, I added in some tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, green chilies, and beer (if you’re using it, I left it out). Reduce your heat to low and let it cook for 30-40 minutes. To serve this you can add in your favorite toppings like shredded cheese or sour cream. And I have to admit that I really enjoyed this version. Even without the beans in it, which I’m used to.

I don't care what you say: I will always be on Team Pasta-in-your-chili.

As a more filling alternative, I also made Cincinnati-style Chili in the pressure cooker. This version actually has its origins from Macedonian immigrants to Cincinnati. I used the saute function and sauteed some onions in oil for about 5 minutes or so. Then I turned that off and added in the garlic, chili powder, oregano, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves. After stirring the spices together in the pressure cooker, then I added in the chicken broth, cider vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, a bit of salt and pepper, and then the ground beef pieces. I placed the tomato paste on top of it and locked the lid. Making sure to keep the vent closed, I set this to cook for 15 minutes on high pressure, and then released the vent when it was done. When I let the pressure completely release, I added in a small can of tomato sauce. It should thicken up after about 5 or 10 minutes (I had to spoon out some of the grease from the meat). Cincinnati chili is served over cooked spaghetti, and I prefer to serve mine “5-way” style: topped with chopped onions, dark red kidney beans, and shredded cheese. (3-way is chili, spaghetti, and cheese; 4-way is chili, spaghetti, cheese, onions or beans). It’s often served with oyster crackers, but I forgot to eat it with them. I was a little disappointed with this recipe. It just didn’t quite have the same flavor that I was expecting, like Steak N Shake’s version or something. But it was still pretty good. I am used to chili with pasta, but my family has always used elbow macaroni that we cooked into the meat and tomatoes.

Look. I don't even want to talk about these "biscuits." Maybe biscuits and gravy is all they're good for.

I usually have cornbread with my chili, but instead I wanted to make a bread that I’ve never made before: Southern Buttermilk Biscuits. (Biscuits and sausage gravy is one of my all-time favorite breakfast dishes. But I did not do these biscuits correctly.) For this, I combined 2 c of flour, some baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Then I cut in 6 Tbsp of cold butter into the flour until it was like course meal. I slowly added in just enough buttermilk (about a cup) into the flour mix to make it come together as a dough. It should be kind of wet before turning it out onto a floured pastry mat. The important thing to remember is to not work the dough too much. I patted the dough with my hand until it was about a ½” thick and then folded the dough about five times before pressing it down to about 1” thick and using a biscuit cutter (or something round) to cut out the biscuits. I placed the biscuits on a cookie sheet and baked them for about 10-12 minutes at 450ºF until they were golden brown on the top. These weren’t that good, to be honest. I ended up overworking my dough, and they didn’t rise. They were crunchy on the outside, but moderately soft on the inside. I clearly still have a lot to learn about biscuit making. This may be one thing I might continue to buy in a can. But I tried.

There are a ton of people who hate this salad. But, psht on them. It's good.

To go with this, I made a couple of salads (you know, for some fruits and veggies). The first is Waldorf Salad, named after the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York where it originated from. My mom used to make this when I was a kid and I loved it. In a bowl, I mixed some chopped apples, chopped celery, halved red grapes, and some walnuts together. Then I created a sauce of “mayonnaise” (I use the fake stuff: Miracle Whip), a little lemon juice and salt and pepper. I folded the mayo sauce into the fruit until it was all mixed together and let it chill in the fridge. This was great. I liked it. It was a little different than how my mother makes it, but still good nonetheless.

Delightful. So summery. I really liked the avocado and blue cheese combination.

I also made a California Avocado, Almond, and Romaine Salad. I don’t know how common this is, but I’m using it to represent California’s hotspot as a state that grows much of our produce, including avocados and almonds. The salad itself consists of romaine lettuce, sliced avocado, green onions, slivered almonds and blue cheese. The dressing is made of olive oil, white vinegar, lemon juice, salt, mustard, paprika, and a dash of seasoned salt. I mixed this together and let it sit, assembling it just before we ate. This was a nice salad. I liked the flavors in this, and the dressing was fairly light. It makes for a good salad if you need a quick way to add in some green vegetables.

Outside of those sad-looking biscuits, everything I made was wonderful. I may find faults with my country, but its home cooking isn't one.

So, I finally made it through cooking American food, something I’ve been thinking about for years. And now it’s come and gone. I tried to pick things I wouldn’t normally make, or versions that I hadn’t made before. Although I know quite a bit about American literature and American music, there were things that I did learn about my own country. So, all in all, it was a good experience to look at my own country like I have been at all the others.

Up next: Uruguay


This will be difficult to narrow down, but I’ll try. The music of the US is as diverse as the people who live here, although there are some genres that are uniquely American. Native American music is sometimes difficult to grasp for many people, but that’s because it doesn’t follow the same musical structure that Western music does. It can be quite complex with various chants and the use of quarter tones, for example. The next major influence on American music came from African musical traditions that were brought over from the Africans who were stolen and forced into slavery. These styles would go on to influence the blues, gospel, jazz, rock and roll, funk, or several other genres. And in Louisiana, these African styles were mixed with Cajun and Creole to form its own distinct sounds.

Bill Monroe and his mandolin

Folk music had its origins coming from several different immigrant groups. Blues, spirituals, and work songs came out of African styles. Bluegrass and Old Time developed from Irish, Scottish, English, and other Appalachian styles of music. (It was named after Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, who holds an annual bluegrass festival in Beanblossom, Indiana. I grew up just north of there and wasn’t interested in it until I recently found out that Bill Monroe was a mandolinist, and so am I, as of last month.) Depending on the region of the country, other musical styles may influence its folk music, like Mexican mariachi music and the use of German- and Czech-influenced accordion playing in Texan folk music.

Hula dancing from Hawaii

Several folk dances developed from traditional dances in England, Ireland, and other European traditions. The square dance, consisting of four couples arranged in a square, is often used as an official folk dance in many states. Clogging is also an official folk dance in a couple states, related to Irish step dancing, some African dances, but also tap dancing. Swing dancing is danced to swing music and sometimes uses wild, acrobatic moves for each couple. Hula dancing is the official dance of Hawaii and is kind of a storytelling dance. There have been quite a few dances that rose to popularity throughout the decades: breakdancing, the charleston, the two-step, country line dancing, jazz dance, harlem shake, turkey trot, the twist, jive, the jitterbug, among others.

George Gershwin

Classical music and classical playing was certainly taught in the US early on, but American classical composers really didn’t take off until the mid-late 1800s. I mean, it was mostly hymns and some choral pieces here and there up until that point. European-style classical music dominated the scene, and perhaps it wasn’t until the Czech composer Antonin Dvorak visited the US and mentioned that maybe we should be ourselves. The 20th century introduced us to well-known composers like George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Charles Ives, John Cage, John Corigliano, Leonard Bernstein, and Phillip Glass.

Louis Armstrong

One of my favorite genres is that of jazz and swing. Characterized by lowered notes and swung notes, syncopated rhythms, and improvisation. Although its roots were in Louisiana, jazz and blues spread across the whole country. Some of the famous jazz musicians include Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, Dizzy Gilespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, and many others. Many jazz musicians played and led swing bands including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey, Cab Calloway, Louis Prima, and Artie Shaw. From there, it merged into other subgenres, like bebop and crooners (think Frank Sinatra or Bing Crosby).

Rodgers & Hammerstein

Showtunes, especially those coming from Broadway, had a great influence on American music. These shows produced songs that would become classes in popular music. Starting with the popularity of George Gershwin, many others would go on to join him as Broadway legends: Stephen Sondheim, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerry Herman, Frank Loesser, and many others.

Patsy Cline

Country music got its start in the rural South, merging Appalachian versions of Irish and British folk songs with African-American blues and other European styles. They made use of the banjo (which had its origins in Africa), guitar, and the fiddle. The ukulele and steel guitar actually derived from Hawaiian music. Nashville, Tennessee eventually became a sort of hot spot of country music. Some names that have really changed the face of the genre include Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Dwight Yoakam, Randy Travis, Reba McIntire, and Garth Brooks.

Aretha Franklin

Stemming out of the blues, came genres that highlighted African-American musicians. R&B, soul, Motown, and funk all had their own styles and characteristics but developed in a time when the struggle for equality was a key issue happening at the time during the 1960s (give or take a decade). Names that became household staples include Chuck Berry, The Temptations, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5, James Browne, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield. These musicians helped bridge the gap to pop musicians like Michael Jackson, Whitney Huston, Janet Jackson, Keith Sweat, Tina Turner, Prince, and hundreds more.

Rock music got its start through a mix of various Afro-Caribbean styles, blues, Latin music with some pan-European styles mixed in as well. Rockabilly, which was a mix of rock and early country, was popularized by Elvis Prestley and other musicians of his time. The British Invasion of the 1960s introduced The Beatles, The Who, and The Rolling Stones and had a profound influence on American rock. California popularized surf rock, psychedelic rock, and folk rock. (The hippie movement really latched onto the last two of those.) Punk music came on the scene during the 1970s as a rebellious form of driven rock and often focusing on the upbeats. This genre was more of a lifestyle and often addressed social issues. It started with bands like The Ramones and The Talking Heads, who paved the way for others like Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Bad Religion, The Offspring, Rancid, and NOFX. Likewise, metal music also got its start in the 1970s and was began with groups like Aerosmith and KISS, soon becoming harder in their sound like Quiet Riot, Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Guns N Roses, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Metallica. Metal broke into quite a few subgenres, and for some reason, Florida is where quite a few of these black/death metal bands originate from [side-eyes Florida].

Tupac Shakur, aka 2Pac

Hip-hop emerged in the 1970s in the Bronx, New York as a mix of rapping and DJing or producing. And since then, it’s become a lifestyle, often highlighting social issues as well. Hip-hop sometimes employs other elements like turntables, beatboxing, sampling, or vocal changes. And it also blends itself with other genres like jazz (which is my favorite), funk, soul, rock, techno, or pop. What started out as mainly an urban/African-American genre has now become popular in the mainstream, with many artists selling millions of albums like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 2pac, Notorious B.I.G, Wu Tang Clan, 50 Cent, Missy Elliot, Rihanna, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar.

Carlos Santana

My husband was on the forefront of the house music scene in Chicago back when it got started during the late 1970s as a merge of disco and electronic dance music. He was more of a sound guy, but he used to DJ back in the day and knew/worked with some of the greats like Frankie Knuckles and Bad Boy Bill. So, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it at all. And since the Latinx community is pretty significant in the US, I didn’t want to close this without giving them some attention. During the 1950s, many Latin musicians saw their ways into the jazz clubs with musicians like Tito Puente, Pérez Prado, Desi Arnaz, and Carmen Miranda. Various Latin and Afro-Caribbean rhythms and styles were used in other genres like jazz, pop, rock, and hip-hop. The Mexican-Texan fusion of musical styles created a specific style called Tejano. Some Latin artists of note include Carlos Santana, Gloria Estefan, Selena, Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony, Jennifer Lopez, Enrique Iglesias, Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, Bad Bunny, Cardi B and many more.

Up next: the food

Thursday, October 22, 2020


The earliest art forms in the United States were created by the Native Americans and can widely vary depending on the region they’re from. Rock carvings and rock drawings have been found in the southwest, in Alaska, on the eastern coasts and even in the US Virgin Islands. Artwork can also include blankets woven with geometric designs using natural dyes, beaded jewelry and design (including the use of feathers and other natural items), and leather work.

The first artists to visit what is now the east coast of the US were British artists, often employed as cartographers and explorers. Many times, they used watercolor to depict the native way of life here and to paint the scenery. The styles were chiefly British painting styles of the day. In Colonial times, portrait painting and historical paintings were still the big form of art, still keeping to the British styles. For most of these painters, they were self-taught, studying the European greats of the time. Artists popular during this time include John Singleton Copley, Robert Feke, Gilbert Stuart, Charles Wilson Peale and his brother James Peale, and John Trumbull.

Watson and the Shark, by John Singleton Copley

The early 1800s saw the first established American art movement known as the Hudson River School. Landscape painting showcasing the American beauty of its westward expansion. Its mountains, seas, flora and fauna, and the people who lived here became the subjects for their simplistic yet realistic paintings. Artists known during this period include Mary Cassatt, Thomas Cole, Albert Bierstadt, Robert S Duncanson, John James Audubon (yes, THAT Audubon; he got started by painting birds), and James McNeill Whistler.

The Child's Bath by Mary Cassatt

The 20th century saw several different types of art movements and styles pop up. American realism was popular during the early part of the 20th century followed by the modernist movement, which included such styles like cubism, abstract art, and photography. The west and southwest became the place for artists to paint and draw, which inspired artists like Georgia O’Keefe, Walter Ufer, and Bert Geer Phillips. On the other side of the country, the Harlem Renaissance was pushing black artists to the forefront like Jacob Lawrence, Charles Alston, and Augusta Savage. The 1950s and 1960s introduced a number of other modern artistic styles, like pop art, Neo-Dada, minimalism, conceptual art, among many others. It was a time for artists to be completely free to express themselves, to try new things, to make a point or have no point at all. A few 20th century artists of note include George Bellows, Grant Wood, Edward Hopper, Jackson Pollock, Milton Avery, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Ansel Adams, Norman Rockwell, Mark Rothko, and Frank Lloyd-Wright.

American Gothic by Grant Wood

The vast majority of literature written in the United States is written in English, although there is some that is written in a few immigrant languages. Native Americans have a strong tradition of oral storytelling, and many of these stories have been written down to be preserved. There’s also been a push to preserve some of these native languages, especially since several languages are in danger of going extinct as the last speakers pass away.

Common Sense by Thomas Paine

During the earliest days of settlement along the eastern seaboard, the literature that was available was mainly brought over from Britain. Most of the first pieces written in the US were histories and accounts of explorers and settlers as well as religious texts. There were several attempts at translating the Bible into native languages like Algonquian. Two early pieces that had a great influence were Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac. Next came three works that would go to define the US as it is: The Declaration of Independence, The US Constitution, and the Federalist essays (any Hamilton fans out there?).

Edgar Allan Poe

The first novels were published during the late 1700s and early 1800s, at a time when literacy rates of both men and women were increasing. Thomas Attwood Digges’s Adventures of Alonso was published in London (most literature was still published in London at this time) in 1775, and Susanna Rowson published Charlotte: A Tale of Truth in 1791. Another big name from this early period is James Fenimore Cooper, famous for his novel Last of the Mohicans (1826), although I prefer his novels The Pathfinder and The Deerslayer. Washington Irving also greatly influenced early works with timeless short stories like “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Not to mention the spooky and macabre short stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Ralph Waldo Emerson helped push through a new literary movement known as Transcendentalism, which introduced other authors like Henry David Thorough (famous for Walden).

The mid 1800s saw a change in literature but still maintained a distinct American quality for which many of these novels would become classics and required reading. Nathaniel Hawthorne published Twice-Told Tales and The Scarlet Letter. Herman Melville would create his famous Moby Dick and Billy Budd. African American and Native Americans would also become title characters and subjects in many literary classics such as Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and John Rollin Ridge’s The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta. The latter part of the 1800s introduced more regional works such as the works from Mark Twain (introducing us to Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer), Henry Miller, Stephen Crane, and Theodore Dreiser (I highly recommend Sister Carrie).

Now to my favorite period of American literature: early and mid-20th century literature. Authors in the early part of the century took the opportunity to address certain societal issues going, stretching what was socially accepted to discuss, like the works of Sinclair Lewis (my all-time favorite American author) and Upton Sinclair. The Midwest and Western regions were common settings, as seen in the works of Willa Cather and Sherwood Anderson. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby encompassed the Jazz Age. Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner (who was known for his stream of consciousness writing, a style which I’m not really a fan of) introduced new styles of writing and used war and human flaws in character development. Writers like John Steinbeck, James Agee, Henry Miller, and Nathanael West maintained their craft even through the Great Depression years.

This was my favorite novel when I was in college.

The 1950s and 1960s saw the rise of the Beatniks, championed by writers like Allan Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, and William S Burroughs. Many of our modern classics came out of this time, including The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger), Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut), Catch-22 (Joseph Heller), The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath), and Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov). And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention African-American authors like Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, and Maya Angelou publishing works that would be read by the masses.

T. S. Eliot

When it comes to poetry, some of the early poets started to become popular in the early 1800s (you may recognize some of these names from having read them in school), including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson. As we headed into the 20th century, the rigidity of rhyme and meter went to the wayside; poetry became much more experimental. Poets like T.S. Eliot (my all-time favorite poem is his “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock”), Robert Frost, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Langston Hughes have indelibly shaped the fabric of American literature. Likewise, the same goes for playwrights like Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, August Wilson, Tony Kushner, Arthur Miller, and Eugene O’Neill.

Toni Morrison

There have been 13 American authors who have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature: Sinclair Lewis (1930), Eugene O’Neill (1936), Pearl S. Buck (1938), T. S. Eliot (1948), William Faulkner (1949), Ernest Hemingway (1954), John Steinbeck (1962), Saul Bellow (1976), Isaac Bashevis Singer (1978, he wrote in Yiddish), Joseph Brodsky (1987, wrote in English and Russian), Toni Morrison (1993), Bob Dylan (2016), and Louise Glück (2020).

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, October 18, 2020


I’ve agonized for years over what to write about and cook from the United States, my own country. And now here we are. I guess it’s time to put up or shut up. I grew up in a small town about 30 miles south of Indianapolis, the capital of Indiana. My Midwestern roots largely influence my cooking styles (why buy two tomatoes and chop them yourself when I can just buy a can of diced?). The recipes in this blog have been essentially adapted to how to make these international dishes and live in the landlocked Midwestern area of the country, with the vast majority of the ingredients being found in large chain grocery stores with the help of some of the ethnic grocery stores at times. This will be a challenge for me to write about my own country, as big of a critic as I am of it, in the same manner I’ve approached all the other countries. Perhaps I’ll learn something myself.

Brown County State Park, Indiana (about 13 miles south of my hometown)

The name America is named after the guy who figured out that this landmass isn’t Asia, but a whole different place. Amerigo Vespucci was an Italian explorer and navigator from Florence who traveled for both Spain and Portugal. But it wasn’t until the German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller made a map of the area in 1507 and named it America, after Vespucci (why he changed the name, I’m not sure). However, we go by many names: United States of America, United States, US, USA, US of A, or just America. But I take some caution with using America to refer to the country because technically, all of North and South America is considered “America” (just visit any Spanish- and Portuguese-focused polyglot group). And any reference to Columbia (as in the District of Columbia) or Columbus is weird to me since Christopher Columbus never set foot in the US at all. And he was also a jerk.

The US takes up a pretty large portion of North America and consists of 48 contiguous states along with two exclaves: Alaska (located off the northwestern corner of Canada) and Hawaii (an island group in the middle of the Pacific Ocean). We do have five other island groups that make up our territories in the Caribbean (Puerto Rico, United States Virgin Islands) and in the South Pacific (Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa). It borders Canada to the north and Mexico to the south. Because the US spreads out, there is quite a range of climate from tropical climates in Hawaii and our territories to the Arctic climates of northern Alaska.

The earliest people arrived in the Americas via a land bridge from Siberia and other points in Asia. Quite a few Native American tribes developed in pretty much all points in the United States. Christopher Columbus landed in Puerto Rico in 1493, but it wasn’t until 1513 when Ponce de Leon landed in Florida. The French arrived and set up trade posts throughout Northeast, the Midwest and down the Mississippi River to Louisiana, while the British and Dutch settled along the east coast in 13 colonies. Growing tired of not being represented in British parliament even though they were paying taxes, they declared their independence in 1776, and the next five years were spent fighting for it. With the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the land nearly doubled for the US. Not long afterwards, the US acquired Florida from Spain, and after a war with Mexico, added much of the southwest. And with the first sighting of gold in California in 1848, hundreds of thousands of people made their way west to try their luck at striking it rich. In 1860, 13 states in the south broke away and created the Confederacy over their state’s rights to own other humans/slaves. [I can certainly go into more detail than this, but this is a blog post, not a dissertation. But I highly recommend A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn to fill you in.] The US president Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, and the war ended not long after that. Things didn’t get better for African Americans just because the war was over. Or the Native Americans for that matter, seeing how they were forced to move out west and killed off in the process. The late 1800s brought about urbanization and the industrial revolution along with increased expansion into the west. The 20th century was met with women’s suffrage and labor laws that were established. And then the US entered into WWI, the stock market crashed in 1929, sending the world reeling into the Great Depression, only to be followed by our entrance into WWII with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. After the war, the interstates were created and suburbia thrived; the US entered the Space Race as well as the Cold War. We entered the conflict in Korea and then again in Vietnam. By the 1990s, we were at war in Iraq. In 2001, the World Trade Centers were attacked as well as the Pentagon, and we were back in Iraq again, but this time we invaded Afghanistan too. And in 2008, the US finally elected its first mixed-race president, Barack Obama, who was elected in the midst of the 2008 financial recession. And I don’t even know what happened in 2016 when enough people supposedly elected an
incompetent, racist TV show host to run this place (into the ground).

The capital of the United States is Washington, D.C. The D.C. part stands for District of Columbia. However, it’s not the largest city; that goes to New York (followed by Los Angeles and Chicago). It’s not just a city, but more like a federal district, but it does have its own leadership and is often added into states lists. It’s located right between the states of Virginia and Maryland on the banks of the Potomac River and named for George Washington, the first president. The city is a planned city, charted and created by the French-born architect Pierre L’Enfant. Today, the city is the center of the federal government and has many well-recognized structures and monuments: the Washington Monument, the White House, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, the Mall and Reflecting Pool, Smithsonian Museum system, Capital Building, Library of Congress, and the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts. There are also several famous universities here like Georgetown University, Howard University, and American University among several others.

The United States is one of the world’s richest countries. Its economy makes up almost a quarter of the world’s gross product. Even though the US is the world’s largest importer and second-largest exporter, its workers aren’t guaranteed paid vacation, universal healthcare, paid parental leave, and there’s often a widening income inequality (especially with minorities and women). And many states can fire you at will, for no reason whatsoever. Science and technology make up a large portion of business, including technology in manufacturing, automotive, electronics, and pharmaceuticals.

Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, New York City

This country is a religiously diverse country and not a “Christian nation” as some may claim. In fact, Protestants, Catholics, and Mormons only make up about 65% of the population, with the religiously unaffiliated coming in at 26%: the second largest “religion” is actually nothing in particular. There are also smaller followers of Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and others.

The United States doesn’t have an official language, but the de facto language spoken here is English, and more specifically, American English with several varieties (New England, Midwest, Appalachian, Southern, West Coast, etc). However, a few states and territories have recognized the significance of indigenous language: South Dakota (Sioux), Hawaii (Hawaiian), Alaska (there’s like 20 indigenous languages), Guam (Chamorro), Puerto Rico (Spanish), American Samoa (Samoan), and Northern Mariana Islands (both Carolinian and Chamorro). Spanish is the second-most spoken language in the US, followed by Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, French, Korean, and German. As a polyglot myself (or aspiring, depending on how I feel about my abilities), I’m embarrassed that only 18-20% of Americans are bilingual (compared with nearly 56% of Europeans).

Yosemite National Park

I might be critical of my country, but there is plenty that is great, too. I am constantly in awe at some of the natural beauty found all over this country. There are 12 areas that are on the UNESCO’S World Heritage Sites list and 62 national parks. But there are also many other national monuments, historical parks, preserves, national rivers, memorials, seashores, lake shores, etc, totaling 421 of these protected areas. I do complain at times, but I always think of the first few minutes of the HBO show The Newsroom, which is one of my favorite scenes of all time. It is truly masterful writing.

Up next: art and literature

Wednesday, October 14, 2020


Fall is upon us. We’ve had some cool days and I am finally able to pull out my hoodies without sweating to death. But now we’re back to Second Summer, which is nice. The kids are finishing up their first quarter of school, but we don’t get Fall Break this year, which kind of sucks. But now it’s time to cook food from the United Kingdom. I tried to cook one dish from each country, but some of the recipes I chose might not be solely authentic. [EDIT: As I was getting ready to cook the food for this, a transformer blew in our neighborhood, and we didn’t have electricity the entire afternoon, so I ended up having to spread this out over a couple of days after work, which I hate doing.]

This was the real MVP. I love this so much, it's practically perfect. I may try it with frozen cherries next.

Clearly the best part was when I represented Scotland with a variation of traditional scones: Glazed Cranberry Orange Scones. First of all, I’d like to air my grievances at this pandemic because I went to four grocery stores, and no one had frozen cranberries. I mean, Thanksgiving is next month. Get it together. And I wasn’t sure how “Scottish” this version was, but cranberries are grown in northern climates, and they sounded good. Anyway, I mixed together 2 c of all-purpose flour together, ½ c of granulated sugar, 2 ½ tsp of baking powder, ½ tsp of salt, and about 2 tsp of orange zest. Then I grated ½ c (one stick) of frozen butter into the bowl and combined it all until it was pea-sized crumbs. I put this in the fridge while I made the wet ingredient mix. In a separate bowl, I whisked together ½ c of heavy cream, an egg, and 1 tsp of vanilla extract and drizzled that over the flour mixture. Then I added a heaping cup of frozen cranberries (I ended up buying a couple cans of whole cranberries in jelly and painstakingly separated the two.) Then I stirred everything until it was mixed together well. I poured this onto a floured pastry mat and worked the dough into a ball before pressing it into an 8” disk and cutting it into eight wedges. I brushed the scones with a bit of heavy cream and sprinkled a little bit of sugar on top. Then I arranged them on a plate and put them in the fridge for at least 15 minutes to cool again. The real key in making scones is to keep the dough cold throughout the entire process, I think. At this point, I preheated my oven to 400ºF and lined a baking sheet with parchment paper. I took the scones out of the fridge and placed them a couple inches apart on the lined baking sheet. I allowed them to bake for about 25 minutes until they were golden brown on top. While they were baking, I made a simple glaze: in a small bowl, I mixed together 1 c of confectioner’s sugar with 4 Tbsp of fresh orange juice (I just juiced the entire orange that I zested earlier). When I took the scones out of the oven and let them cool for a few minutes, I drizzled the glaze over the scones. This was amazing. Like, the best thing on earth kind of amazing. One kid rated it a 12/10 and the other a 14/10. 

Interesting. I'd like to try it made by someone who knows what they're doing.

However, the first thing I made as an appetizer was Welsh Rarebit. I thought this represented Wales, but after researching a bit, there’s not any hard evidence that this dish originated in Wales. It’s a dish I’ve heard of and thought it said “Welsh Rabbit” for years, haha. In a medium saucepan, I melted a little butter with some flour in it and kept whisking it a few minutes until it turned brown but not burnt. Then I added in a bit of Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper and whisked until it was smooth. Now for the liquids: I poured in a bit of porter beer, whisked until it was smooth, followed by some heavy cream, and whisked again. Then I slowly added in a cup and a half of shredded cheddar cheese until it was smooth. Finally I added in a few drops of hot sauce to the mix and stirred, and then I set it off the heat. To serve this, I toasted some rye bread and drizzled the cheese sauce on top of the toast. I thought this was alright, the kids were sort of meh about it. I think it would be good with a big soft pretzel, though. 

The parsnips kept making me think they were potatoes, haha.

Now is time for the big meal, representing England: Beef, Ale, and Parsnip Pudding. Pudding in this sense is different from how we use it in the US, which we know as a sweet dessert (and they call custard). In this sense, pudding seems more like a pot pie to me, although I think technically the pastry and method of baking may be different. I started off with cooking some onion and fatty bacon (it called for lardons, but I substituted for bacon) for about 5 minutes. Then I scooped it out and set it off to the side. Adding a little oil to the pan, I dusted some stew beef with flour and then browned over high heat. Next, I added in the sliced parsnips, some brown ale, beef stock, cranberry jelly (that I saved from my cans of cranberry), a few thyme sprigs, and the onion-bacon mix. I brought everything to a boil and then covered it to simmer for the next hour to an hour and a half until the meat was tender. I buttered a round ceramic baking dish (about 1.5L big) since I don’t have an actual “pudding basin.” And now I made the pastry by mixing together 2 ⅜ c of flour, 2 tsp of Dijon mustard, ¾ c of shredded suet (I used frozen vegetable shortening that I grated), and ½ tsp of salt. Then I added enough cold water (about 150 mL) to make a soft dough. I removed about a quarter of this dough and set it off to the side (this will cover the top). On a floured surface, roll out the remaining dough to make a round disk big enough to line the basin. As I laid it in the basin, I tried to make sure there was a bit of overhang on the rim of the basin, but it was really stretching it. Then I rolled out the quarter piece of the dough big enough to cover it. After pouring off the cooking liquid from the beef into a small pan, I set it off to the side and threw out the thyme sprigs. I carefully spooned the beef mixture into the lined basin and then poured in about 100mL of the cooking liquid into it. When it was done, I brushed the edges of the pastry overhang and then pressed the top pastry to it. I took a piece of parchment paper and buttered one side of it and put it on top of the pastry. I found a larger pot that I could balance the handles of pudding basin on and filled the larger pot with hot water until it was high enough to cover the basin halfway. I covered it and set the whole thing to simmer for nearly 2 hours. When it was almost done, I reheated the cooking liquid with a little bit of flour to thicken it until it had cooked down into gravy. I also ran a knife around the edge of the rim, loosening the pastry and served this with the gravy. This is often served with greens as well, which I intended to sauteed some kale to go with this but it didn’t get done. I thought the stew itself was kind of tasty, but I didn’t like how the pastry part turned out. It was almost too moist, like a dumpling. I think if I do this again, I might bake this instead.

Honestly, what's better than creamy mashed potatoes with butter and onions?

And finally to go with this, I made Irish Champ. I peeled about 2 lbs of potatoes (about 5-6 of them, I guess) and cut them into cubes. I placed them in a pot of water and boiled them until they were tender. I drained them well and then returned the pot to very low heat to let them dry off just a bit. In a separate pan, I heated my milk and green onions together until it was warm. While that was heating, I mashed the potatoes with a little salt and butter until it was smooth. Then I stirred in the milk and green onions until it was smooth, and I seasoned it with a bit of black pepper. The family loved this, and it was such a comfort food. My husband was just disappointed I didn’t make more of it.

Overall, this was a fantastic meal! Cheers!

As I was reading through a lot of material over the past few weeks about British culture and its impact on world history, so much can be attributed to some of its most talented citizens. I came across an article similar to one I’ve read in college about the number of words and phrases invented by Shakespeare. There’s some dispute over when he was actually born (or even the legitimacy of who wrote his works), but there’s no debate the impact he’s had on the English language. I’ll leave you with 45 Everyday Phrases Coined by Shakespeare.

Up next: United States of America

Sunday, October 11, 2020


Music from the United Kingdom spans back many centuries. Celtic chants were very important in the early church prior to the 12th century, mainly based in Irish and Scottish churches. As the Renaissance spread into this area, the English Madrigal School was instrumental in bringing the madrigal to England. This style of music originated in Italy, so it was mainly an a capella version of Italian madrigals.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the British composers started making a name for themselves in chamber and classical music. Generally British composers followed the same musical movements from the rest of Europe (well, Western Europe, I suppose). Some of the top classical composers include William Byrd, John Dowland, Henry Purcell, George Frideric Handel, Arthur Sullivan, Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughn Williams, and Benjamin Britten.

Pretty sure if he wore glasses, Ralph Vaughn Williams would be the old man in the movie Up.

There’s a long history of folk music in this area. The folk music from the UK included styles like sea shanties, jigs, hornpipes, ballads, laments, and carols. Many of these are also tied in with folk dancing. Dances like jigs, reels, waltzes, and strathspeys are commonly performed to folk music. Some of the dances that we know as folk dances in the US and elsewhere originated in the UK, like barn dances and square dances for example. Ceilidhs are a type of social gathering in Scottish and Irish culture that consists of folk music and folk dancing. There are also ceilidhs in England, but they’re a little slower than their Celtic counterparts. Quite a few modern bands merged folk music with rock, metal, and punk music.

Instruments vary across the region, but share many in common with many of the instruments throughout northern Europe. Bagpipes have become a symbol of Scottish folk music as well as Irish music. You’ll also hear the fiddle (some evidence shows it’s been in use since the 8th century), various harps, several kinds of flutes and woodwinds, and several brass instruments. Brass instruments found their place in military music. The lute (and similar instruments) was often used in early music, especially during the Baroque period and prior to that. (I’m learning the mandolin right now, and I’m dying to get to the point where I can learn some John Dowland, William Byrd, and other Renaissance pieces.)

The Beatles

In modern music, there have been a ton of bands that have hit the international scene when it comes to commercialized music. With the development of rock and roll in the 1950s, it led to the British Invasion of the early 1960s. This included bands like The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who, The Zombies, The Animals, Black Sabbath, and more. It had a huge impact on the American rock scene.

David Bowie

A second wave of the British Invasion occurred later in the 1980s and 1990s. This brought along well-known names such as Dire Straits, Elvis Costello, Soft Cell, Duran Duran, Billy Idol, Annie Lennox/Eurythmics, Boy George, Queen, David Bowie, Phil Collins, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Spice Girls, Oasis, Robbie Williams, and others.

Little Simz

By the 2000s came, there came another wave of British musicians who would impact the world of soul, R&B, hip-hop, and rock. Musicians like Adele, Amy Winehouse, Joss Stone, Jessie J, Estelle, Taio Cruz, Michael Kiwanuka, Jay Sean, and many more. When it comes to hip-hop, I also have to give a special shout out to Little Simz since she’s one of my absolute favorites, and I just discovered Ocean Wisdom who amazes me with how fast he can rap. And I have to give a special mention to Lack of Afro, who mixes ‘60s soul with funk and hip-hop. I love everything he’s released.

Up next: the food

Monday, October 5, 2020


One of the most identifiable and iconic works of art is Stonehenge. Built around 2600AD, no one knows with 100% certainty the purpose, but it was most likely used for some kind of ancient ritual associated with burial grounds. Other early objects of ancient Celtic art include the Battersea Shield. These early Celtic motifs merged with Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, and Roman art styles as these cultures all began to merge and meld together. Elaborate illuminated manuscripts were another artform that thrived during the early stages, especially after Christianity spread to these islands.

Around the turn of the 18th century, art was divided into high art (art made for courts and rich people) and low art (art for everyone else). Portrait painting was mainly a high art since they were ones to commission these works. Landscapes, seascapes, hunting scenes, village life and other scenes from daily work became quite popular among painters. Other artforms like printmaking and silversmithing grew in demand as well during this time. The Classical Age of English painting (the latter half of the 1700s) was dominated by a few painters who became household names: Thomas Gainsborough (my grandmother had his “The Blue Boy” hanging in her living room), Sir Joshua Reynolds, George Stubbs, and Joseph Wright of Derby. Arts societies and art schools began to take on more students and organize themselves as a movement. Many painters were also going abroad to France or Italy to learn their craft from the masters and then return home to hone their skills. Porcelain factories were also popping up across England, and quickly expanded into making bone china and transfer-printed and hand-painted wares. Likewise, furniture making was another artform that led itself to new designs.

The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough

The 19th century Romantic period brought along names such as Samuel Palmer, John Constable, J.M.W. Turner, and William Blake (yes, the same Blake as the poet). Landscape painting and other traditional styles were still also widely done during this time, but other European styles like Impressionism also had its influence over some of the British artists during this time. By the mid 1800s, Victorian art took over with its colorful attention to detail. British history remained a popular subject matter to paint, but also their fascination with various places in Asia and the Middle East. Another key art that grew out of the Victorian era is the use of stained glass, especially in churches and other large, important buildings. Impressionism and other modern art movements took Britain into the 20th century and generally followed what was popular throughout the rest of Europe. Abstract art became prominent during the 1950s in England and Scotland. Certainly in the contemporary age, there’s been many abstract paintings and sculptures. Not to mention other kinds of artistic styles, like the graffiti works of Banksy. There are just too many great artists out there who are so creative with what they do, I could have a whole blog just on art in the UK.


When I was in college, I took a History of the English Language course along with a British Literature (BritLit) course and loved both of them. In the earliest days, there were a number of Celtic languages spoken throughout the area before the Anglo-Saxons arrived and then the Romans introduced Latin as well. Vikings and Norse made their way across Scotland and brought along their languages. As these languages merged and changed over time, it became what is now known as Old English. Oral tradition was very strong, and one of the most famous examples of Old English is the epic poem Beowulf. (I had to read the opening page of Beowulf in Old English as a class assignment, and we also got the opportunity to see Benjamin Bagby perform it in Old English at Indiana University.) Caedmon and Bede are two other poets from this era. Then came the Norman invasion, which introduced a slew of French words into English.

The Middle Ages and its feudal society set the scene for various folklore stories, like King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, and Robin Hood. Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales were also from this time period. English and Scottish Renaissance was highly affected by and influenced by the Italian Renaissance, and new styles like the sonnet and blank verse found their way into the canon of literature. Sir Edmond Spenser (known for The Faerie Queene), William Shakespeare (probably THE most famous British author), Christopher Marlowe (known for Doctor Faustus), Ben Jonson (known for Volpone), John Donne (known for his metaphysical poetry), Sir Francis Bacon (known for New Atlantis and the phrase “Knowledge is Power”), and John Milton (known for Paradise Lost) are poets and playwrights who are regularly studied and read. John Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress in 1678, which would go on to be referenced in other literary works, such as Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

The Augustan Age began in the early 1700s, named after the Roman emperor Augustus since writers were drawing parallels between British society and Roman society. Some of the authors from this era include Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, and Samuel Johnson. The novel really solidified itself during this period, too. And this is the beginning of where some of my favorites start. Writers like Daniel Defoe (known for Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders), Henry Fielding (known for The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling), and Samuel Richardson (known for Clarissa) set this in motion. Poet Robert Burns set the stage for the Romantic period and is highly regarded in Scotland. Romantic poetry was super popular with poets like William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, and Walter Scott leaving us with timeless poetry that is still read and studied today. And then came the second generation: John Keats, Lord Byron, and Percy Bysshe Shelley and of course, his wife Mary Shelley, famous for writing one of the first sci-fi novels, Frankenstein. Jane Austin and Sir Walter Scott’s novels were also of this period.

One of my favorite periods is the Victorian period, which was from 1832-1900. Authors writing during this time include Charles Dickens (known for Oliver Twist and Great Expectations), William Makepeace Thackerary (known for Vanity Fair), Charlotte Brontë (known for Jane Eyre), Emily Brontë (known for Wuthering Heights), George Eliot (known for Middlemarch, one of my favorite novels), Thomas Hardy (known for Tess of the d’Urbervilles), Joseph Conrad (known for Heart of Darkness), Robert Louis Stevenson (known for Treasure Island and Kidnapped), Wilkie Collins (known for Moonstone and The Woman in White), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (known for his character Sherlock Holmes), H.G. Wells (known for The War of the Worlds), Jules Verne (known for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), Bram Stoker (known for Dracula), Lewis Carroll (known for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), and Beatrix Potter (known for The Tale of Peter Rabbit). Poets during this time include greats like Alfred, Lord Tennyson; Robert Browning; and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Well-known playwrights include George Bernard Shaw (known for Pygmalion) and Oscar Wilde (known for The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray).

Some of the Romantic writers spanned into the 20th century as well. Poets and novelists from this time include T.S. Eliot (my favorite poem is his “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock”), Rudyard Kipling (known for Jungle Book and Kim), E.M. Forster (known for A Passage to India), Virginia Woolf (known for Mrs Dalloway and A Room of One’s Own), George Orwell (known for Animal Farm and 1984), Aldoux Huxley (known for Brave New World), Graham Greene (known for The Third Man), Sir William Golding (known for The Lord of the Flies), Agatha Christie (known for her detective novels), Samuel Beckett (known for Waiting for Godot), Roald Dahl (known for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), and J.K. Rowling (known for the Harry Potter series). And there are so many other authors who have been made famous from screen adaptations of their novels.

Kazuo Ishiguro

There have also been ten British recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature: Rudyard Kipling (1907), John Galsworthy (1932), T.S. Eliot (1948), Bertrand Russell (1950), Winston Churchill (1953), William Golding (1983), V.S. Naipaul (2001), Harold Pinter (2005), Doris Lessing (2007), and Kazuo Ishiguro (2017).

Up next: music and dance