Saturday, December 18, 2010

Roast Leg of ... Pants?

Who knew a cookbook could create such family fun - without entering the kitchen?
 
Relaxing at home one rainy night last week, my husband and I discussed the leg of lamb we hoped to cook for an upcoming dinner with friends. We’ve never cooked a leg of lamb... Yes, we are aware that hosts and hostesses should not prepare new dishes for the first time at a dinner party. Fortunately, the family we’ll be entertaining are forgiving, good-humored people (who, thankfully, also have never made leg of lamb).

Our first stop was an old edition of “The Joy of Cooking.” Glasses of wine in hand by the Christmas tree, we reviewed various preparations for leg of lamb. Soon, however, our kids overheard my husband reading aloud from the cookbook and all three kids and the dog had gathered 'round to hear recipes for “sweet breads” and various other organs and body parts.

Given the "gross-out factor" that struck the kids upon hearing how to cook brains, kidneys or pig feet, I requested that my husband use another, non-anatomical noun to replace the body part names. Our youngest daughter suggested the word “pants.” Within seconds, we were laughing our pants off - not to mention our brains. Would our friends appreciate "Roast Leg of Pants" instead, we wondered?

The cooking lesson follows:

ABOUT PANTS (adapted from “The Joy of Cooking” – 1994 edition, page 504) *
Calf, sheep, lamb, pork and beef pants are listed in order of preference. Pants may be used in all recipes calling for sweetbreads, but as with sweetbreads, pants must be very fresh. Keep refrigerated, for pants are very perishable.
            To prepare pants, give them a preliminary soaking of 1½ to 2 hours in cold, acidulated water (p. 520). After skinning, soak pants in several changes of cold water for 1 hour to free them from all traces of blood. Then, as pants are rather mushy in texture, firm them by simmering in acidulated water to cover, about 20 minutes for calf pants, 25 for the others. Be sure the water does not boil. Let the pants cool in the cooking liquid about 20 minutes before draining. If not using immediately, refrigerate the drained pants. Pants are often combined with eggs or with sweetbreads in ragout and souffl├ęs. Because they are bland, be sure to give the dish in which they are used a piquant flavoring, as suggested below. Allow 1 pound of pants for 4 servings, or 1 set for 2 servings.

With laughing cramps in our sides, soon each one of the kids wanted to start writing a recipe using inanimate nouns in place of the word "brains."

Even the brain recipe, verbatim, brought some raucous laughs:

ABOUT BRAINS (from “The Joy of Cooking” – 1976 edition, page 504)
Calf, sheep, lamp, pork and beef brains are listed in order of preference. Brains may be used in all recipes calling for sweetbreads, but as with sweetbreads, they must be very fresh. Keep refrigerated, for they are very perishable.
            To prepare them, give them a preliminary soaking of 1 ½ to 2 hours in cold, acidulated water (p. 520). After skinning, soak brains in several changes of cold water for 1 hour to free them from all traces of blood. Then, as they are rather mushy in texture, firm them by simmering in acidulated water to cover, about 20 minutes for calf brains, 25 for the others. Be sure the water does not boil. Let the brains cool in the cooking liquid about 20 minutes before draining. If not using immediately, refrigerate the drained brains. Brains are often combined with eggs or with sweetbreads in ragout and souffl├ęs. Because they are bland, be sure to give the dish in which they are used a piquant flavoring, as suggested below. Allow 1 pound of brains for 4 servings, or 1 set for 2 servings.

Further suggested servings of brain in the cook book included Sauteed Brains, Baked Brains, Baked Brains and Eggs, and Broiled Brains. These prompted a few possible presentations, courtesy of this blog author:

Sauteed Brains might be those that of college students who have sizzled for too many hours in the sun on spring break. As for baked brains, although I personally have not experienced this type of brain, I did meet several baked brains between 1983 and 1989. The idea of Baked Brains and Eggs sounded good for breakfast after a particularly exhausting night.

The best part of our spontaneous gathering that night was that we all used our brains creatively. Without realizing it, the kids were learning and trying new ways to train their brains. We didn't spoil the fun by informing them of this fact. And we didn't even have to eat any brains.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Acceptance, Normalcy are Overrated

“You're mad, bonkers, off your head. But I'll tell you a secret - all the best people are.”

This line from Tim Burton's “Alice in Wonderland” – introduced early on by Alice’s dad, and repeated later by Alice herself – epitomizes a guiding philosophy not just in my daily life, but in my role as parent.

I’d rather be bonkers than normal.

Hopefully this philosophy explains why, 12 years after becoming a parent, I have twin 10-year-old daughters who aren’t afraid to act goofy or be considered “weird,” and a 12-year old son who is fearless of trying anything new.

Worrying about acceptance is a waste of time and energy. Some may consider it a personality flaw not to be interested in “belonging.” But acceptance isn’t really my thing.

My vocation as an opinion writer and humorist is quite possibly an extension of an inherent personality flaw: I get paid to make fun of myself and voice quirky, arguable opinions. In doing so, I hope to make readers think, or at least chuckle or gasp in frustration before calling me a complete idiot. And I’m thrilled when readers react; especially when they disagree.

How can a person know her capabilities if she doesn’t test the limits, personally, mentally, physically and  socially?

If everyone spent his or her life worrying about being accepted, whether by individuals, groups, or political parties, there would be no variation among humanity’s nearly seven billion members.

If everyone were normal, we’d be one big, happy – and agreeably stupid – bunch of androids.

Despite my aversion to normalcy, I don’t think I’m a selfish, social imbecile; I do cherish the value of a good reputation. Given nothing else, a person can forge a path for herself with intelligence and a good reputation.

Nevertheless, I hope people don't consider me “normal.” Normal is boring. The parts of reputation, however, that deserve the most attention, are the parts defined by personal values, ethics, humility, sense of humor, level of compassion, and the wisdom to know when and where to dive into a situation – or back off.

I’ll admit that when I enter a new situation, I stand back and observe for a range of time spanning anywhere from 2.5 seconds to 2.5 weeks, depending on the type of situation, the size of group, the frequency of gatherings, the location of gatherings, and how much beer is poured. On rare instances in which I don’t reach the comfort-level to be my true self, then the group is likely not right for me – or I for it. No love is lost by parting before we began.

It’s not worth it to live a life based on other people’s idea of normalcy.

In being bonkers, however, I have learned that when I’m able crack through others’ outer layer, most folks are not only amused but relieved to be in the presence of someone who doesn’t worry about fitting a so-called “normal” mold.

It's good to be "mad, bonkers, off your head."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Where does all the (school) funding go?

I'm no statistician. In fact, I try to avoid statistics. But some statistics are too frightening to ignore.

A chart developed by The Atlantic and re-published on GOOD.is, compares U.S. states to nations across the globe, based on achievements in mathematics. The chart compares 58 nations to the 50 United States and ranks each nation or state on an equal plane.

Ironically, the state-to-nation rankings aren't what frighten me most. Despite my aversion to numbers, it is the position of each state on the state-to-nation comparison that grabs my attention.

Food for thought: The state ranking 32nd in the above mentioned comparison, California (which would rank at 71 out of 108 when all states are treated nations), receives only 29% of its funding from local sources, versus state or federal sources.*

The highest-ranking state in the above-mentioned comparison, Massachusetts, receives 53% of its funding from local sources, per statistical results released this year for 2008 and 2009, from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), a div. of the US Dept of Ed.* Incidentally, on the chart from The Atlantic, Massachusetts, were it a nation, would rank at number 17 overall -- behind 16 other nations.

Some may argue that the dismal U.S. rankings may provide as "persuasive a case for national education standards as any currently out there," (per GOOD). If so, however, then shouldn't states like MA (where local dollars presumably lead to better achievement) be concerned about the possibility of nationalizing education?

There's no denying that the U.S. falls behind other nations in rankings for test scores. The greater concern should be that state-by-state comparisons beg for greater attention to how school funds are spent.

In a peculiar observation, if you closely compare observing the above three charts you'll find that the state of Missouri ranks lower than California in the comparison chart in The Atlantic but that Missouri receives a greater portion of its school funding from local sources than Massachusetts. With this possible false-dichotomy of school spending to performance, states and municipalities that effectively manage their funds should be worried about nationalized education.

Where does this place the highest-ranking school districts of the lowest-ranking states?

Coming Soon on the Candid Cameron blog: U.S. students may be failing, relatively, on tests involving rote-memorization. But are we teaching the critical thinking methods necessary for developing life skills that can advance our youth to leadership?

*SOURCES:
Table 1: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2010/2010326.pdf
Table 17: http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d09/tables/dt09_017.asp

Friday, November 5, 2010

"My Kid is Better than Your Kid!"


"My kid is better than your kid!" There. It's good to get that out in the open.
With most Pleasanton parents holding bachelor's or advanced degrees, we're bound to have a population of children with higher-than-average performance in many areas of life. But as admirable as this statistic may be, astounding achievements shouldn't be our only measures of children's success.
I'm happy for parents whose kids will be Rhodes Scholars, Olympic champions, runway models, professional athletes and maestros – all before the age of 10. Really, I am. But the parental bragging antics can go too far. People tell me the boasting occurs all across Pleasanton.
For instance, when I innocently displayed excitement to a friend over one of my children's good grades, I mentioned that it wasn't the grades that most impressed me but that my child had worked so hard for them.
My friend responded by saying, "Well, (my child) doesn't have to try! He gets straight A's anyway!"
I bit my tongue. If only I'd had the courage to respond the way I wanted to.
"If you think that's impressive," I should have said, "you ought to hear my child's armpit farts! Mark my words, we'll have a world-record holder one day!"
In a "Community of Character," the character is what should count.
Success should not be defined by a predetermined mold of test scores, number of extracurricular activities, and a child so committed to a singular sport that he misses out on new adventures.
It brings a smile to my face, however, when parents praise a child for success that results purely from passion, not the parents' pushing.  For example, my friend Shelley Casey's son, Nathan, runs faster than the wind and also manages to be a down-to-earth, clever 12-year-old with an uncanny ability to make fun of himself. So when Shelley showed good humor in posting Nathan's Hart Middle School cross-country triumphs in her Facebook status, the accolades came in waves. 
Shelley's excitement was for her son's devotion to an activity he loves, and it showed. Nathan, meanwhile, owns his accomplishment with a healthy, amusing attitude.
Another friend, whose children attend Fairlands Elementary and Hart and who asked that I not identify her, said omissions of compliments also are telling.
"I don't feel any competition when my kids either succeed or don't succeed in something," she said, adding that she always tries to compliment someone or their child whenever she can. "But sometimes it seems that it's people who are less secure in themselves who try to live through their children's successes," she said. 
I have to wonder if my friend has a point. I also believe that each of us is the sum total not only of our successes but of how well we adjust after failure. 
The child who can shrug off a bad grade or a poor athletic performance — and learn from it — is better equipped for life's inevitable challenges than the child who is pushed or spoon-fed through every activity and coddled after every failure.
Kelly Lensing, whose children attend Lydiksen Elementary and Hart, notices that some Pleasanton parents seem to propagate social stigmas by worrying too much.
"I've noticed – even with myself – that if parents have a concern that our children will have a negative experience in the future," she said, "then we'll try to protect them from our fear by bolstering them against possible negative exposure. But by giving them scripts to follow, we're actually lending credibility to the viewpoint we fear."
By way of example, Kelly spoke of children of mixed race or those who have special needs and whose parents provide them language to use should they be questioned about perceived differences.
"I wonder sometimes if we wouldn't serve our children better simply by making a conscious effort to remain staunchly in their corner," she said.
Perhaps the parental "one-upmanship" is not unique to Pleasanton. By what measurement does our community rate good parenting or children? Is there danger in rating either?
Although I'm not a perfect parent and have no illusions of raising perfect children, it takes conscious effort to resist the urge to protect my children from reality —even in this hamlet of Pleasanton that we know and love so much.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Androgynous history? Another way school systems fail our kids

As a linguist, I was thrilled when my middle-school aged child came home from school one recent afternoon and explained that the Language Arts and History teacher discussed root words with the class that day.

The ability to identify root words along with understanding how to read contextual clues is – after all – the next best way to find word meaning when a child is not asked to perform the extraordinary effort of flipping open a dictionary.

“There’s something about my teacher that some people are kind of annoyed by and that some people just think is funny,” said my child. “But once in a while my teacher gets off on a tangent about a topic and forgets what we were supposed to be doing!”

On that day, according to my child, after discussing with the class the root word andro- (meaning, man), my child explained that the teacher ended up on a tangent discussing androgyny. I stood up a little straighter at this revelation.

Not that there’s anything wrong with androgyny. I hold no opinions or prejudices whatsoever regarding men or women who may be androgynous, whether their androgyny comes by way of social identity, fashion expression, sexual or social proclivity or even as a result of biology.

“It was funny. He got so sidetracked talking about androgyny that we didn’t have enough time to finish class. We had to skip history!” my child added.

“What did he say about androgyny?” I asked, sitting down across the kitchen table from my child.

“He said it’s when a person looks and acts like both a boy and a girl at the same time or they’re part girl and part boy,” my child said, pointing to the lower part of the body. “You know, like down there. He said it’s actually becoming more common. And then he said he knows a lot of people who are androgynous. It was kind of weird and funny at the same time.”

I asked my child to elaborate some more.

“The weirdest thing was that after class I realized it was kind of ironic that we were talking about androgyny, because there’s actually someone in my class who’s androgynous.”

“What do you mean?” I was sure to steady my voice and appear calm.

“There’s a person in my class who I know is a girl, but she always looks like a boy.”

“Sweetheart,” I told my child. “The term androgyny might refer to a person’s ability to represent themselves as both feminine and masculine – or neither one nor the other. But in terms of a middle-school aged child, I’m not sure the word androgyny is the best choice. Most twelve-year olds are still figuring out who they are, experimenting with their identity."

I then asked if the teacher had discussed what the word “hermaphrodite” means.

When my child said, “no,” I explained that that the part of the teacher’s definition of androgyny that indicated androgynous people have both male and female sex organs  - not just appearance - has a medical description separate from androgyny.

I also asked if the teacher had discussed the root word gynous – the other half of the word androgynous.

My child said “no.”

Always looking for the positive, I decided that it’s good my child felt comfortable speaking openly about the topic with me. Because of my child's openness, I was able to provide information that the teacher omitted, regardless of the fact that a casual conversation about androgyny is wholly inappropriate for seventh-grade history class. Other parents I asked said their children had not yet discussed the in-class conversation on androgyny at home.

There's a pretty good chance that the Rise of the Roman Empire will be on the seventh-grade standardized test. Perhaps they ought to add androgyny to the packet so some seventh graders at one local school can show what they learned in history class. Then, our school district (which sits in the top 5% of California schools) can publicize the diverse education it offers its student.

And we wonder why even the best schools are failing our children.

.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

On Politics and Middle Fingers

It's one of the hottest Congressional battles in the country.

In California's 11th Congressional District, which comprises a large, meandering swath of geography just east of San Francisco, Bay Area businessman and attorney, Republican David Harmer, is aiming to unseat incumbent Democrat Jerry McNerney for the 11th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Today, Harmer joined ultra-conservative talk show host G. Gordon Liddy on the air.

Whether you love them both or hate them both, you can’t argue that segments of their dialogue were hilariously brilliant:

Harmer: “Your good (listeners), who would like to help me send [Speaker of the House] Nancy Pelosi [D-CA/San Francisco] a nice big middle finger - right here in her own backyard - could go to harmerforcongress.com. Pitch a bit into the treasury and we’ll put it to good use!"

Liddy: “I can’t think of anything better than to fire Nancy Pelosi. I mean, that woman is dangerous!”

a bit later, from Harmer: “… In fact, this [the 11th Congressional]  is the last true swing district in California. Through gerrymandering, most of the incumbents, Republicans and Democrats, are absolutely safe. But this is our best chance to flip a seat on the West Coast. And again it’s right in Nancy’s backyard, so it would send just a lovely signal of extreme dissatisfaction to... uh… the Madam.”

Liddy: laughter 

Cameron: Vote.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Toad and the Plastic Fool (or "Novel writer's conundrum")

Writing is far more enjoyable than revising.

Creating is far more enjoyable than cutting.

It's Sept. 1, 2010, the start date of what I hope will be the last major revision of my YA historical fiction novel before I submit the first 15 pages for another professional critique (due Sept 15) and begin to send queries to specific agents in hopes of publication.

Trouble is, my efforts were thwarted this morning. When I opened my documents to pull up the latest revision, I came across an unexpected document saved among my files. Written yesterday by my 10-year-old daughter, Mary, the document presents the opening to another of Mary's frequent short story creations.

Now this novel writer wonders: Which would be more successful: Revising my YA historical fiction for the umpteenth time after several reads and critiques by writers, editors, et al, or encouraging Mary to finish her story, and then sending agent queries on Mary's behalf?

Perhaps I should try for both.

Following is Mary's latest WIP. I'll update as she progresses:

The Toad and the Plastic Fool
by Mary Sullivan (Work in Progress)


There was a pond in the middle of Algae, a town settled by frogs, toads, and animals of that nature. And on a rather small rock in the middle of the pond sat a small, interesting house that belonged to a rich toad named Fred Dixon. The house was 3 stories high and had a tiny bedroom on a 3rd level. And that was all that was on that level, so it looked a good deal like a giant chimney. Fred Dixon died a few years ago and gave his house to his son Robert Dixon.

One day Robert (or Bob as he preferred to be called) was walking to the grocery store. Suddenly a plastic man jumped out from a bush and said “Oh look at this guy, he

[to be continued]...

Friday, June 4, 2010

Forget Fear & Greed: I'm a Lover!

I am no billionaire investor, but I’m sure glad I do not conform to a common analysis of personality traits ascribed to investors of all levels: My primary motivating factor is neither fear nor greed.

When famed investor Warren Buffett asserted that people are either motivated by fear or by greed, he was speaking of investors. Sure, a smart person can twist that concept to make it suit any aspect of life, thereby categorizing all people, in all aspects of each of their lives, as either motivated by fear or motivated by greed.

Buffett's fear-greed comparison was not intended not to supply fearful people with the excuse of a “personality type” that they could use to justify fear-driven actions in parts of their lives outside financial investments.

In the stock market, on a very basic, initial level, perhaps a person can be categorized as such: Motivated either by fear or by greed.

In life, however, a set of circumstances and environments unique to every individual creates an analogy that is not as cut-and-dried as the “fear versus greed” analogy.

Consider the possibility of being motivated by fear and/or LOVE, for instance; this philosophy is far more promising than fear versus greed, especially as related to matters of the heart, or any part of life outside the bank account.

What are matters of the heart, anyway? Everything is a matter of the heart. Even the stock market, I'm willing to argue, is affected by matters of the heart. Not to digress, however... I'll research and elaborate on that concept in another post.

Mr. Buffett, when it comes to investing, there may be no other like you. And your advice for folks in the business world to look at investors as either motivated by fear or by greed is sound – but it stops when the bell rings at the end of the day.

I choose to be motivated by Love and I do so shamelessly.

If someone who is motivated by Love is labeled by fearful persons as greedy, then the fearful need enlightenment.

If, instead, people can remember that Love is more powerful than greed, and more freeing that fear, then they understand how to live life to the fullest.

There are many cycles people can choose for their lives; some also are the results of happenstance. But imagining we can choose a cycle, which, of these general types, would you choose for yourself (and, I admit, my wording below is a bit manipulative, but this is my blog after all!):

1) Fear leads to anger which leads to resentment which leads to frustration which can lead to success, but which can also lead back to fear.

2) Greed leads to frivolity which leads to carelessness and recklessness and buries the truth in superfluous living.

3) Love leads to freedom which leads to expression, which leads to sharing, which leads back to Love.

I’m all about #3. But fear not: I am sensible enough to leave a little room for fear, when necessary, to allow the production of adrenalin in times of emergency.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

No more Mrs. Cleavers, please!

As seen on Facebook earlier this week after a parenting moment I was less-than-proud of but still decided to forgive myself:

Cameron Newman Sullivan: "Yup. It's true. I'm no "Leave it to Beaver" or "Good Housekeeping" mom. Never have been; probably never will be. One day I hope my children will thank me for not fitting the mold.

Five FB friends replied saying they "liked" my post. Others egged me on:

From my friend Lindy: "Do you think your kids know what/who "Leave It To Beaver" is? I never kept Good Housekeeping in my house so my kids never knew what they were missing . . . . :)

From my sister-in-law, Joan: "Me neither! I hope you had a Happy Mother's Day! xoxoxo"

From me: "@Lindy - They don't know what "LITB" is nor do they ever see "GH" sitting around, but there are an awful lot of June Cleavers in this town. On the flip side, John thinks I'm WAY hotter than June Cleaver!!!

From Lindy: "Yup, wayyyyyy hotter!"

This discussion has not ended. After a productive but harried April and May (thus far), I have a fresh, renewed outlook on motherhood and life as a multi-faceted woman.