The Peeps Potential

Guest post from Marjolijn Kaiser:

Detailed contents of package:

  1. 6 packs Peeps
  2. 2 bags Coconut M&Ms
  3. 3 bottles vanilla extract
  4. 1 bottle maple syrup

The shipping information on the box I am sending to myself after a short trip to the US pretty much sums up my culinary experience of the past week and a half. I hadn’t been here in over a year, and I’d forgotten how much I missed some of these items. Before departure, I already decided I would eat only bagels for breakfast, since those are surprisingly hard to come by here in Germany (even a visit to the Jewish quarters in Antwerp, Belgium, didn’t yield much bagel-success, which makes me wonder if they are a typical US invention?).  But as soon as I arrived, I realized there were many other treats I needed to catch up on, and so began a week long diet that was dominated by round- or animal shaped foods: bagels, (giant) muffins, tater tots, burgers, ice cream, Goldfish (“fishies”), and of course Peeps.

A Peeps cake, created by Marjolijn "Mar" Kaiser from specially imported (to Germany) Peeps.

A Peeps cake, created by Marjolijn “Mar” Kaiser from specially imported (to Germany) Peeps.

 

Now, you should know that I generally consider myself a healthy eater – I cook from scratch most days, am vegetarian, and enjoy exotic cuisines – although I do have a mild chocolate addiction and a weakness for baking. While I was living in the United States, I often wondered about, and marveled at, many of its dietary and nutritional habits. There is the issue of size, of course, that I never quite got used to. To this day, I still have to remind myself to NEVER order anything medium or large, because it is just too much. With one exception: muffins. I know quality is more important than quantity, but boy does a jumbonormous Double Chocolate muffin the size of a melon for breakfast make me happy (and crash shortly after consuming it, but that’s another story). My dad is still talking about the giant muffins he had when visiting me in the United States. Compared to these monsters, regular size cakes here don’t even deserve to be called mini-muffins.

As I caught up with colleagues and old friends, my obvious excitement about being able to indulge on all these seemingly ordinary food items was generally met with an endearing smile or appreciative nod. It is hard to make somebody who has easy access to, let’s say, tater tots (and who is perhaps over-exposed to said item) see the beauty and genius of that crunchy-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside piece of potato (wannabe?) heaven. I made it my duty to remind those around me of the fact that these items were absolutely wonderful, if they are enjoyed in moderation, and I like to believe I generally succeeded in doing so, with one exception: Peeps.

If the people at Peeps see an unexpected and seemingly unexplainable peak in their sales numbers for the first week of April, in the Western Massachusetts area, I can solve that mystery for them: it was me. I do not know why, but these colorful, corn-syrup-loaded, gelatin-filled, cute animal-shaped marshmallows are irresistible to me. They are a guilty pleasure, like binge-watching trash TV or Katy Perry songs (which, for the record, go great with beer and tater tots at the end of a work week: we institutionalized this in the office as “beer o’clock,” every Friday afternoon at 4 PM). But I have not been able to convince anybody during my week long stay of this fact. Instead, I was met with rejection and contempt at the mere mention of these soft, fluffy candy friends. Even the attendant at the post office looked disapproving at my package list and said “Sending home Peeps, are you? I don’t really like them.” My offer to bake a Peeps-decorated cake for our office party was met with equal disdain, and instead I opted for a continental mocca-sour cream cake. They’ll regret it when I send them pictures of my Easter Peeps cake!

While waiting on my flight out of JFK airport, I saw in the corner of my eye the bright yellow glow that only a pack of fresh Peeps has. Instinctively I was drawn towards it, and my firm belief that Peeps could be the latest and most successful American export product EVER was confirmed when I realized that the woman eating them was an elderly Irish lady. Peeps have potential, mark my words. Why else would I have just have spent US$50 to send 6 boxes home….

UPDATE! The $50 was totally worth it. See here the results of a few hours baking and decorating fun: a double-layer sponge cake with lemon curd, butter cream, and a good amount of M&Ms and Peeps.

Marjolijn (Mar) KAISER

柯悠伦, China Projects Coordinator

How Big is the Crimea?

In all the news about the Crimea lately, one thing I couldn’t quite figure out was how big a place the Crimea is. I then remembered a website I discovered a while back called “MAPfrappe.com.

MAPfrappe allows you to take the outline of one place and superimpose it on more familiar places. It’s clever enough to change scales as you get closer to the poles, which really excites the map geek in me.

Big thanks to MAPfrappe creator Kelvin Thompson for letting me post these examples.

To my surprise, the Crimea is actually a big place. The links below compare it to the New York / New England area (where I live), as well as to London, San Francisco, Switzerland, and Russia. I always find it’s helpful to visualize this kind of thing as I try to absorb the news. The Crimea is right about the same size as Switzerland.

Luckily, there are people out there who know a lot more about the political issues than I do. David Remnick of the New Yorker (last seen at Sochi for the Winter Olympics), had a good article about it the other day. As Remnick writes of Vladimir Putin, “his dreams of staying in office until 2024, of being the most formidable state-builder in Russian history since Peter the Great, may yet founder on the peninsula of Crimea.”

Below are the MAPfrappe maps. Just scroll down to the second image to see how big the Crimea is compared to the place shown at the top of each map.

My next thing to figure out: the Ukraine or just Ukraine? the Crimea or just Crimea? That’s the kind of problem an editor can wrap his head around.

 

-Bill Siever

Crimea compared to New York / New England

Crimea compared to London

Crimea compared to Switzerland (just about the same size)

Crimea compared to Russia (a LOT smaller!)

Crimea compared to San Francisco

Fun with “parallel constructions”!

Hey boys and girls! Today’s topic is “parallel constructions.” Why, in God’s name, do I want to discuss something with such a horrible sounding name?

Parallel construction is the art of keeping lists in your writing consistent, whether it’s a list of things you’re going to do on vacation, a list of things that drive you crazy about Microsoft, a bullet list of key things to go over at your next meeting, or eating things that make you happy.

Did you catch that? That last phrase, “or eating things that make you happy,” doesn’t belong with the rest. While I’m all for eating things that make me happy (fried chicken, calamari, and oysters take top honors there), the first three items are lists, while the fourth item is not. If I can think back to Mrs. Gilhooly’s 10th grade English class, I believe it’s called a gerund phrase, but don’t quote me on that.

“WHY THE HECK DOES THIS MATTER!?” you may be asking. Well, you may not know it, but using parallel construction in your writing makes things clearer to your readers. Parallel construction is like a good roof. If it’s done properly, you won’t notice it’s there. But if it’s not, you’ll get a ton of snow and your roof will collapse, opening it up to the elements (bats, geese, poltergeists, etc.), making you sad.

Here’s an example of some “marketing-speak” I am making up for a yet-to-be-made movie about Mars, using un-parallel construction in the first instance and corrected in the second:

  • The CGI-heavy special effects will leave you breathless!
  • The acting will leave you speechless!
  • The lack of oxygen in the theater, reproducing the feeling of actually being on Mars, will leave you breathless!
  • Featuring a marvelous film score by Ratt that will leave you breathless!

Corrected, employing parallel construction:

  • The CGI-heavy special effects will leave you breathless!
  • The acting will leave you breathless!
  • The lack of oxygen in the theater, reproducing the feeling of actually being on Mars, will leave you breathless!
  • The marvelous film score by Ratt will leave you breathless!

There we go – not so bad, right? Note that while describing the acting as something that will leave you speechless may be technically correct, if three out of four of your bullet points refer to breathlessness, you should stick to that. And the fourth item about Ratt’s film score has now been corrected to “parallel” the other three in its syntax.

William Strunk uses a familiar biblical example in The Elements of Style, which Berkshire will be reissuing soon as the Berkshire Elements of Style, updated for the weird world we find ourselves in today:

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
  • Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
  • Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

And now for my smart-alecky “unparallel” version:

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • They that mourn are great: for they shall be comforted.
  • Blessed are the meek: the meek shall inherit the earth, so they too are great.
  • People who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness are blessed: for they shall be filled, ideally with fried chicken.

Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it? Parallel construction is, essentially, making sure that your writing compares apples to apples. If you want your readers to understand your writing – especially people whose native language is not English – it’s essential to be clear and consistent.

I hope this has been useful to people! Please email us with any thoughts or questions you may have about this and other tips for better writing in English. We’re glad to hear them, and it will give us more grist for the mill when we’re considering things to add to The Berkshire Elements of Style.

- Bill Siever

Weary of Winter #diewinterdie

I was determined to change my tune this year and learn to love ice and snow. My plan was to write a paean to the pleasures of winter in the Berkshires: ice skating, evening drinks in front of a woodstove, the brilliant northeast skies after a big snowstorm.

Thermometer reading cold!Bill Siever, managing editor at Berkshire Publishing, was going to be my guide. Bill is gung-ho about cold weather. He likes it when the temperature dips so low that the trees start to pop. And he’s always got ideas about where to go and what to do outdoors. Here’s a link to a blog post he wrote about places to cross-country ski – something he whipped off when one of our authors happened to mention that his family might visit the Berkshires last winter.   But even Bill is complaining now about the winter that won’t end. We’re actually eager even for the time in early spring known as “Mud Season,” when dirt roads thaw into a kind of sucking mud that is as treacherous for car tires as snow and slush. I blame Bill for my current predicament: exactly two months ago today I slipped and broke my wrist. I can only type for a few minutes without pain and I’ve been slowed down on a bunch of big projects.   Bill’s penance? He had to translate computer-transcribed emails that read, he complained, like something written by a person who’s spent a week in the desert eating peyote buttons. And he has had to ghost-write this newsletter for me, and deal with my cranky verbal editing.

Yak TraksMany friends have asked how I broke my wrist, assuming it was a glamorous skiing mishap. No such luck. I bought treads (“Yaktrax”) to be attached to ordinary shoes, as part of my “get out and enjoy the cold and snow this year” resolution. I wore them in icy Philadelphia during the American Library Association Midwinter conference without mishap. Bill and Tom dropped me at home in New York City on their way back to the Berkshires, and when I popped out to get milk, seeing the slushy streets after the latest snowstorm, I put the treads back on. My winter adventures came to a crashing end when I stepped off the street and onto the smooth threshold of the grocery store. My feet went flying out from under me—the coiled-wire treads turned my boots into ice skates. I broke my wrist – what is known, I learned today, as a FOOSH, Fracture On Out Stretched Hand. Winter casualties have been high, here in the Berkshires and in New York where emergency rooms have done a record business.

dragonThe medical assistant heard my story and said, “But Dr. Cohen just bought them for all of us!” Lesson number one: DON’T WEAR TREADS ON SMOOTH SURFACES!

Click here to read some tips on voice recognition and other tech tools for broken wrists.

forsythiaFinally, something more uplifting! Here’s a link to an article on my personal blog, about how I’ve filled my house with flowers this winter. My paperwhites (水仙花) bloomed in time for the Lunar New Year, which is considered good luck. I’m grateful for all the kind words I’ve received and want to share a favorite passage from The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson appropriate to this time of year. You’ll find it below. I feel rather like the sluggish copepod right now, but I know the renewal of spring is not far off.

Warm regards,

Karen Christensen

Karen Christensen 沈凯伦, CEO & Publisher

“Everywhere are the assurances that the cycle has come to the full, containing the means of its own renewal. There is the promise of a new spring in the very iciness of the winter sea, in the chilling of the water, which must, before many weeks, become so heavy that it will plunge downward, precipitating the overturn that is the first act in the drama of spring. There is the promise of new life in the small plantlike things that cling to the rocks of the underlying bottom, the almost formless polyps from which, in spring, a new generation of jellyfish will bud off and rise into the surface waters. There is unconscious purpose in the sluggish forms of the copepods hibernating on the bottom, safe from the surface storms, life sustained in their tiny bodies by the extra store of fat with which they went into this winter sleep.” –Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us
Asia 2001

Seeing the World (published in the Berkshire Savant, 2005)

The story below explains what happened when an American family travelled to China, Kazakhstan, and Japan in April 2001. I wrote it for a magazine called the Berkshire Savant published when we launched the independent Berkshire imprint in 2005. When the trip took place a few years earlier, we were working on the Encyclopedia of Modern Asia for the reference division of Charles Scribners, a  major New York company that is now part of Cengage.

“We have to go to Central Asia,” I said in December 2000.  My husband response was to buy me a book called The Most Dangerous Places in the World.

“You’re an anthropologist,” I argued, “you should want to see all these places for yourself.” But I lacked allies. The kids started clipping articles about kidnappings and nuclear testing in places on my Possible Destinations list.

“Kidnapping would be an adventure,” I countered.

Our trip began in April 2001, an interesting historical juncture: the United States was negotiating with China over a grounded U.S. spy plane and its twenty-four-member crew, and this was following on the heels of a U.S. nuclear submarine’s having sunk the Ehime Maru, a Japanese fishing boat.

As we drove to the airport, David said, “Do you realize the country we’re on best terms with that we’re visiting is Kazakhstan?”

From the time we started work on the Encyclopedia of Modern Asia in 1998, we had intended to go there, see it for ourselves. And we would take Tom and Rachel, then 12 and 15, with us. They had been born in London but had spent most of their lives in a small town in Massachusetts. This was the chance, I thought, to make sure they grew up with a global perspective. Asia would be increasingly important throughout their lifetimes, and we wanted it to be somewhere real, truly a part of their world.

We arrived in Beijing after twenty-four hours of traveling, late in the afternoon. Within an hour of arriving in China we were in taxicabs organized by a Chinese friend, hurtling through Tiananmen Square, that granite plain dominated by a huge picture of Mao.

Later, watching Tom and Rachel nod over the Peking duck at a restaurant where we were the only Westerners, I worried that my plan wasn’t working. Rachel whispered, “I feel so strange. I want to go home.”

David and I didn’t fit any tourist category. We were too young for the tour crowd, but too old for backpacking and flophouses. We had business meetings, but we also had our children with us. We went as so-called independent travelers—a misnomer if you don’t speak the language—and much of our day-to-day planning consisted of winging it and hoping for the best.

There was the time in Urumqi, a city in the very west of China, when the hotel doorman helped us negotiate a cab to take us on an outing to Heaven Lake, a two-hour trip into the mountains. “Tian shi,” I said, remembering the guidebook. The driver nodded confidently but we had a moment of sinking hearts when the doorman called his farewell: “Hoping to see you again some day!”

We visited Dunhuang, a tiny desert city along the Silk Road, now on the tourist trail because of the Mogao Caves, which are filled with a thousand years of medieval Chinese religious paintings and statues. I had packed chocolates and a dozen small sugar eggs, hollow eggs with a tiny icing scene inside, for Easter. The girls working in the hotel were about the same age as Tom and Rachel. “Want to give some of our Easter treats to the girls in the restaurant?” I asked. Through a series of embarrassed signs and hand motions, and with much giggling, the gifts were handed over. Much of our communication was accomplished in this manner; pantomime being our improvised universal language.

Of course many people spoke English. The taxi driver we hired in Xi’an, Hank, had excellent English that he had learned from CNN. He was upset with the Chinese government because “they are sending some soldiers, American soldiers, back to America.” He thought China should stand up to the new U.S. president, George W. Bush. “Tourists here, about half support Bush. Half do not like him.” He didn’t understand why Clinton wasn’t still president. “In China, if someone does a good job, he can be president for a long time.”

Tom and I were in the back, listening. Tom joined in with an obvious question, “When do you hold your elections in China?” I motioned to him not to take the conversation that way, while Hank ignored the question and blithely continued his conversation about Clinton, whom Chinese women, he said, found very attractive.

Before we left home, everyone had said, “It’ll be so educational for the children.” But educational hardly conveys the mind-expanding quality of being in another culture. The benefits aren’t primarily in having seen the terra-cotta soldiers or the Great Wall. Questions flowed naturally from things we saw and had to deal with: “What are tariffs?” “What form of government does Japan have?” “What’s the relationship between the Kazakh and Russian languages?” “Which came first, the Roman or Cyrillic alphabet?” And, from Rachel: “Why don’t you ever see any books by Karl Marx?” It turned out that she wanted to read Marx for herself, to see what Communism was really supposed to be. “We’ve got Mao’s little red book, in English,” David offered. Rachel was offended. “I don’t want to know what Mao said. I want to read the original.”

As the end of the trip approached, we began to panic a little. Home would be boring. Everyone talking in English. No bicycles on the sidewalk. No dumplings for breakfast. 

“Next time we come to China…” said Tom as we walked through a crowded market one day. I don’t know what exactly what he said next, because it didn’t really matter. It could have been: “We’ll speak some Mandarin.” “We’ll know about hiring taxi drivers.” “We’ll stay for longer.” I gulped with relief. He was having a good time. He wanted to come to China again.

Karen Christensen is CEO of Berkshire Publishing Group and coeditor of the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Global Perspectives on the United States. Her memoir of work on the T. S. Eliot letters, “Dear Mrs. Eliot,” was the cover story in the London Guardian Review magazine, 29 January 2005.

Backwoods or not? (2005)

The Berkshires is no longer backwoods, and getting attention in all kinds of publications these days. The coverage is no more accurate, and the challenges that face the Berkshires remain substantial, with falling and ageing population and too few jobs. But I now have the Train Campaign as a vehicle, so to speak, for action. Great Barrington was recently listed as the best small town in America in Smithsonian magazine and the Guardian included in a list of the six “coolest” cities in the USA:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/The-20-Best-Small-Towns-in-America.html
http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2012/oct/12/cool-us-cities-lesser-known

9 July 2005: I was getting used to people expecting a publishing bumpkin when we first meet, but the Berkshires–a range of small mountains, in fact, as well as the westernmost county in Massachusetts–is starting to appear on urban mental maps. This weekend’s Financial Times has an article about the Berkshires which calls it “the thinking person’s Hamptons.” Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal reviewed “Follies,” the Barrington Stage production we’re seeing Tuesday. And this morning’s New York Times has a review of “Rinaldo,” the opera we are seeing tonight in the Mahaiwe Theater, which is in the same building as our offices.

The question on my mind is how this new awareness of the Berkshires, admittedly as an alternative to the Hamptons, will affect business. Will it make it more likely that talented people will want to move here, and that companies like ours will be able to expand and form a more extensive professional job base? One of my goals has long been to create career opportunities in the region, as well as to build the intellectual and human capital of Great Barrington so we can more easily tackle the challenges that face this community.

Things could go either way, I think, to the Hamptons model (the rich and those who provide services to them), or to well-managed development (‘smart growth’) and diverse, engaged community life(‘social capital’). I’m busy planning, with some friends and colleagues, how to steer us on the latter course.

Let the Games Begin!

Ski jumping

A young ski jumper at the annual Salisbury, Connecticut Ski Jumps, February 2013. The record jump for the day was 71 meters. Photo by Ryan Siever.

The Winter Olympics start today in Sochi, Russia!

While many in the Western world view Russia as a bewildering place of vodka and extreme cold, those who know better know the host country as a place with a deep cultural appreciation of the arts; a place where people spend all day on New Year’s Eve perfecting dishes such as “shuba”—the delicious (and bright purple) layered beet, egg, potato, and herring salad that is translated in English as “herring under fur coat salad”—to be shared with loved ones.

And while most of Russia is indeed cold, Sochi is not. The selection of Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics was controversial for several reasons. It is one of Russia’s southernmost cities—it is an extremely popular summer getaway, where mountains meet the sea—and thus was a strange choice for hosting winter events. As a result, the city has undergone extensive renovations to accommodate the events. As The Guardian newspaper put it, “The race to turn the beach resort of Sochi into a Winter Olympic host venue has been described by critics of the Kremlin as one of the most corrupt projects in Russia’s history.”

Here’s some sports-related trivia gleaned from the Berkshire Encyclopedia of World Sport to wow your friends and colleagues:

  • Lieutenant (later General) George S. Patton participated in the modern pentathlon at the Stockholm Olympics in 1912; he might have won had he not done so poorly in the shooting event, where he insisted on using his service revolver while the rest of the pentathletes      used target pistols.
  • The entire first day of the original modern Olympics was devoted to religious rituals—a kind of prolonged opening ceremony when religion mattered more than patriotism or commercial glitz.
  • Prior to 1937, the national flags of Lichtenstein and Haiti were identical by coincidence; a fact neither country discovered until they competed in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany.
  • The  earliest recorded attempt to move skating from the winter ice was made by Joseph Merlin (1735–1803), a Belgian maker of musical instruments. He introduced roller skating to the public at a reception in London in 1760. As he played the violin and skated about for the crowd, Merlin, his violin, and a large mirror discovered that he could not turn or brake on his new invention.
  • Commonly viewed as a genteel sport for the well-heeled, croquet was originally a sport played by French peasants using altered broomsticks for mallets.

Berkshire Encyclopedia of World Sport 3rd EditionThe third edition of this groundbreaking work brings the study of sports into the 21st century by integrating Berkshire’s past work on women’s sports and extreme sports into a complete sporting library. The encyclopedia features over 300 new and updated articles on:

  • sports management and marketing
  • every sport from cricket and baseball to buzkashi and motorcycle polo
  • six kinds of football: association (a.k.a. soccer), American, Australian Rules, Canadian, Gaelic, and flag
  • the history and globalization of sport
  • the Olympics, past and future
  • environmental and economic issues

Click here for a list of events at the Winter Olympics. Update: there will indeed be women’s ski jump for the first time this year!

The end is in sight!

Weird-pics-from-Asia5.jpg

The email message below, to a reviewer, was copied to me by managing editor Bill Siever, who has been working almost round the clock to finish the Dictionary of Chinese Biography on time, at about the same time he sent the image you see at left, which came with the subject line “My brain.” If I had spent the last two weeks, over Christmas and New Year’s, reading and rereading the whole of Chinese history, and checking endless details as Bill and Mar Kaiser and Anna Myers have done, or indexing the lot as Amanda Prigge did, my brain would be hurting, too. I have a truly awesome team. Here’s Bill’s email (and I’m glad to report that he has now gone home, though he’ll probably be crunching through the snow at 6am to get back to work).

Dear Mark (if I may),

I am losing my mind somewhat and can’t remember if I sent you this; but in any event, I have attached the almost-final section on the Qing. I would be happy to send you the Ming, too, if you’d like to see them. I’m sorry I can’t do anything about the plane ticket to Sydney – that does sound pretty nice right about now!

Here is the website for the opening (sorry, I know it’s not the same thing as being there): http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/calendar/chinas-history/

Also, I am going to send you in a separate email (this one is bulky enough already) the appendices – I am particularly proud of the timeline of Chinese history, which starts on page 1633. I think a student will be able to learn a lot about Chinese history in about 20 minutes with this.

I hope you like these samples; please let me know if you’d like to see anything else.

Thanks again! Will follow up shortly with the appendices from Volume 3.

All the best, Bill

Recipes for an American Thanksgiving

This week is the busiest travel time of the year in the United States, as we Americans travel far and wide to be with family and our closest friends. It’s the holiday where we celebrate our history and reaffirm our sense of American identity and community by (1) eating a meal based around foods native to the Americas and (2) watching a colorful ritual called American football. A couple of nights ago, the New England Patriots narrowly defeated the Denver Broncos in an outdoor game where the temperature was a balmy 6 degrees F / -14 degrees C. Now that’s dedication!

Click here if you want to go straight to the recipes.

Related Berkshire articles

Thanksgiving began, the story goes, here in Massachusetts in the seventeenth century with a feast shared between the Pilgrims (immigrants from England seeking religious freedom) and the native Wampanoag Indians.  Thanksgiving almost disappeared in the early nineteenth century but was revived during the US Civil War (1861-1865), when it was celebrated twice a year for a brief time. Congress made the fourth Thursday of November the official date of Thanksgiving in 1941.

This Is AmericaBerkshire’s new book This Is America is designed to explain other complexities to today’s students, both those born in the USA as well as the increasing numbers of those who come from other countries. We are announcing the book here with a special offer, naturally, because Thanksgiving is also the day before “Black Friday,” the biggest shopping day of the year. (“Black” not because it is an experience sure to sink the spirits of any sensible person but because it puts businesses “in the black.”) You can preorder This Is America now for only $11.95 and shipping is FREE this week only.

All of us at Berkshire Publishing are passionate about food, and most of us are keen cooks. Some of us are competitive, too: a mashed-potato-making contest has been scheduled. The results will be posted at our blog after tempers cool down. Tom is said to be writing both an acceptance and concession speech. We will also get the opinion of William H. McNeill, the renowned historian who has been writing since the 1930s about how the humble potato shaped European and world history. He may have to be the final arbiter, given the heat around this particular dish.

Click here if you want to go straight to the recipes.

Immigrants to the United States learn to make traditional American dishes, and Americans living abroad go to enormous lengths to recreate the special foods of Thanksgiving. I cooked a turkey and fixings every year when I lived in England, even in 1984 when the gas company hadn’t yet connected the lines in my new flat. I had started an MA at University College and invited my fellow students to Thanksgiving dinner. Most were American and they were all bringing along a dish – in the “potluck” fashion that Americans like and that made my British friends uncomfortable – so I didn’t feel I could cancel. In any case, the Gas Board said they would get us connected that day, and I’m the perennial optimist. When it was time to get the turkey into the oven, the gasman still hadn’t turned up, so we squeezed it into the tiny oven of a Blackwell Science colleague who happened to live down the street.

Everyone sat on the floor and played Trivial Pursuit and drank wine while the gasman crawled around looking for the line, and eventually we bore the rather charred bird up the street and put it into my oven for a final roasting.

At Berkshire Publishing there has been a big exchange of favorite Thanksgiving recipes this year and you’ll find a few of them below. These are not “twists” or “spins” on the classic Thanksgiving dishes, but instead some side dishes and special treats. Among my own favorite recipes are several from British cookery writers, and I’ve included a recipe for vegetarian “tofukey” sent by Mar Kaiser in Germany and published here in spite of the protests of managing editor Bill Siever. I’m also enclosing a special recipe for “Peking Turkey” from our Washington, DC-based friend Dimon Liu that I’m looking forward to trying sometime after Thanksgiving, when I have a chance to cook at home. (For the basics, this interactive feature from the New York Times is as good an introduction to the meal as any I know.)

I’ve found lots of ideas for Thanksgiving in British writer Nigella Lawson’s Feast and see that at the attractive Random House website you can purchase ebooks directly from the publisher. A few of the Lawson recipes I’ve come to depend on:

Lawson has some regrettable lapses. She praises the traditional but hideous Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows, which we offer here only for educational reasons, suggesting a classroom discussion question, “Why do Americans put marshmallows in savory dishes? (Including “salad” Jell-O molds). Perhaps I wouldn’t find this dish quite so offensive with her addition of lots of lime juice. My own favorite alternative for its place at the table is roasted pumpkin from one of my favorite books, The Vegetable Book by the late Jane Grigson, available in the USA from the University of Nebraska Press.

Recipes from Berkshire Staff and Friends


Note: Although we at Berkshire generally use the metric system, the following recipes use the “English” measurements still standard in the United States – the reasons for this are discussed in This Is America!

Popo’s Green Beans
Tom Christensen’s Mashed Potatoes
Bill Siever’s Mashed Potatoes
Lisa Sabatini’s Curried Apple Pumpkin Soup
Mar Kaiser’s Stuffed Tofurkey
Dimon Liu’s Peking Turkey

Popo’s Green Beans

Popo is the Cantonese grandmother of Berkshire designer Anna Myers. This is a simple recipe, but Popo’s green beans always turn out perfectly!

Enough green beans to fill about 2/3 of a frying pan or wok (3/4 pounds should be enough for 4–6 people)
One or more cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
Cooking oil (canola or high-temp cooking oil)
1/2 cup water
Salt to taste

1 large deep pan or wok with cover
bamboo chopsticks (or cooking tongs or a wooden cooking spoon)

1. Rinse the beans, then snap or trim the ends of the beans off; particularly long beans should be snapped in half.
2. Heat a little oil in deep pan or wok on medium-to-high heat, to check the temperature, wet ends of chopsticks, press the ends in the oil. It’s hot enough if it causes sizzling.
3. Add green beans to pan, stir-fry for a minute or two until the green beans are coated in oil, and just start to turn a darker green.
4. Add garlic, stir until mixed.
5. Pour in half cup of water and cover pan. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, for exactly 8 minutes. Resist the urge to remove the lid early!
6. Spoon beans and garlic slivers into serving dish, leaving remaining water in pan. Add salt to the dish to taste.

Tom Christensen’s Mashed Potatoes

1. One bag Yukon Gold potatoes chopped into small cubes, boiled with salted water and a large head of peeled and slightly crushed garlic.
2. Cook until very soft, and drain. Don’t worry about them becoming too soft, cook until they start to fall apart after a light poke with a wooden spoon.
3. Keep on very low heat.
4. After draining, mash in milk and 1 stick of unsalted butter. Mash until slightly too runny in consistency (it will thicken).
5. Mash with a slapping motion, making sure to whip in as much air as possible. You are essentially trying to whip the potatoes, like whipped cream.
6. Mix in two tbsp. of Dijon mustard and one large egg yolk.
7. Mash more.
8. Stir in salt and cracked  black pepper to taste.

Bill Siever’s Mashed Potatoes

1. Take a bunch of white potatoes or Idaho golds. Peel them. Chop them roughly into fairly big, 1 1/2 inch cubes. Put them in a huge pot of cold salted water and bring to a boil.
2. Meanwhile, very slowly heat up a ton of butter and a ton of milk. I’d say a stick of butter and at least 3 cups of milk for a decent amount of potatoes.
3. When the taters are just starting to become soft, drain them in a colander, then put them back in the big pot.
4. Add a ton of kosher salt, and WHITE pepper. White pepper is key. It just is.
5. Using a hand masher, mash the living hell out of them until there are absolutely no lumps at all.
6. Repeat step 5.
7. Repeat step 5 again.
8. Repeat step 5 again until your arm is about to fall off.
9. Repeat step 5 again, just to be sure.
10. OK they should now be properly lump-free. Check the seasoning and hold in the pot with the lid on until everything is ready to go.

Lisa Sabatini’s Curried Apple Pumpkin Soup

2 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 medium apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
2 teaspoons mild curry powder
3 cups water
1 can pumpkin  (15 oz.)
1 whole bay leaf
1/3 cup half and half
3 tablespoons honey
chives for garnish

1. Melt the butter in a medium-sized soup pot.
2.  Stir in the onion, celery, and apple.
3. Partially cover the pot and saute the ingredients over medium-high heat until the onion is clear, about 8 minutes.
4. Stir in the curry powder and saute the mixture for another minute.
5. Stir in one cup of the water and saute for 1 minute more.
6. Pour the contents into a blender or food processor, add the pumpkin, and puree the soup unThanksgiving Tofurkeytil it is smooth.  Pour it all back into the pot, then stir in the remaining water and the bay leaf.  Set the soup over medium-high heat and bring it to a simmer, stirring occasionally.  After 5 minutes, stir in the half and half and the honey.  Simmer it for 2 minutes more, remove the soup from the heat, and serve it hot.  Sprinkle with chives.

Here’s the Stuffed Tofurkey (click for recipe), promised. The photo you see here was taken at the meal prepared by our Dutch China projects editor Mar Kaiser in Germany. Finally, to round out this global Thanksgiving collection, here is Dimon Liu’s Peking Duck Turkey.

She writes, “Eating turkey is a must on Thanksgiving Day in the US, but the way a turkey is usually cooked here, I find too tough and lacking in taste. In the early 80′s, while living in Hong Kong, I forged my own way with a turkey. I have been cooking it for friends ever since.”

Peking Duck Turkey

One turkey — any size of your choice. Defrost, wash and pad dry. Leave the bird on a rack to air dry for 24 hours, so the skin will be crispy when cooked.

Sauce — 2/3 cup of dark soy sauce. 1/3 cup of sherry (or French brandy, which I prefer.) 1/4 cup of maple syrup, (better than honey, which chars too easily.) Ginger, enough to match the size of your palm, and more if you like — grind as fine as possible. Mix well all above ingredients to make sauce.

Brush sauce on bird, both inside and outside. Let dry, and brush on more sauce. Repeat until all the sauce is on the bird. Tedious process, I know. Here is a short cut, but you need to have a hair dryer.

After the bird has been defrosted, washed and padded dry, blow hot air on the bird until it is dry, (no need to air-dry, but you will need about five minutes of hair dryer on high.) Brush on sauce, and blow-dry for about a minute. Repeat until all sauce is on the bird inside and out.

It usually takes me about half-an-hour to do this, instead of 24 hours to air dry, and another two to three hours to apply the sauce the long way. I have to say that with the long way, the bird tastes better. If you are in a hurry, which I am usually, the short cut is not bad at all.

Turn the oven on to the highest — in some ovens, it is 450 degree, in others 500 degree. Cover bird in tin foil, (so the skin wouldn’t burn,) and put it in the oven. Check it after half-an-hour, and turn the bird over. Check it again after 15 minutes — this time poke the bird with a chopstick. If the chopstick goes through the bird easily, it is cooked. If not, give it another 10 or 25 minutes, depending on the size of the bird you have chosen.

Take tin foil off bird when chopstick goes through the bird easily, and turn the oven off. The residual heat will brown the bird nicely without burning the skin. Leave the bird in the oven until you are ready to serve it. Cooking time is about an hour, more or less depending on the size of the bird. If you like stuffings, you will have to cook it on the side. Peking Duck Turkey cannot be stuffed!

Enjoy and happy holiday!

Knowledge for our common future