Eleven years ago on New Year’s Day, I arrived in Cuba with a group of students from the University of Montana in tow. We were there on a hard-to-get educational permit. Our goal was to get a handle on the state of Cuba’s agriculture system, which, thanks to geopolitical circumstances, had been thrust in an aggressively organic direction. We also wanted to get our mouths around some Cuban food, and our minds around the enigma that is Cuba.
Now, with President Obama’s recent steps taken toward normalizing relations with Cuba, it will be interesting to see how the Cuban food system, as well as the rest of the country, changes.
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s agriculture system was characterized by monocultures of sugar and tobacco.
These crops were sent to the U.S.S.R. in exchange for gas, food, agrichemicals, and equipment. At the time, Cuba boasted the most tractors per capita of any nation on earth. When the Soviet Union tanked, Cuba suddenly had to grow a lot more than sugar and tobacco, but without the inputs and supplies on which it had grown dependent.
Politicians in the U.S. saw this as an opportunity to tighten the noose on Castro’s regime, and made the embargo more severe by passing the 1993 Torricelli Bill (aka the Cuban Democracy Act), which made it illegal for U.S. companies to do business with foreign subsidiaries that did business with Cuba. This isolated the nation even more. The average Cuban’s caloric intake dropped to as low as 1,000 calories per day. Fertility rates dropped and abortion rates climbed.
The Cuban government began breaking up the large state-owned plantations and putting them in the hands of the workers, who turned many of them into vegetable farms, orchards, and animal pasture. In cities, vacant lots, yards and rooftops were converted to gardens.
Agroecology, a powerful agricultural paradigm in which farms are treated as ecosystems, took firm root in Cuba. Farmers markets appeared, becoming one of the first signs of the emergence of a free market in Cuba.
The resourcefulness with which Cuba attacked its food issues was reflected in many other ways that Cuba dealt with scarcity. Cuba functioned as if the world was actually a finite place, with limited resources, and the mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle” went without saying. Broken tools, and appliances that most Americans would toss were repaired.
Anything with wheels was put on the road.
Despite long odds, the people were fed. Average caloric intake rose above 2,500 per day.
Infant mortality dropped to lower levels than in the U.S. But these impressive metrics came with a hefty price tag in terms of civil liberties. It was a common occurrence for members of our group to be pulled aside and told, in hushed tones, about the government spies, the threat of prison, and lack of freedom and opportunity.
Along with sharing their dissatisfaction with their own government, many Cubans also vented frustration with ours. In addition to the material hardships caused by the embargo, there was a widespread pain at the loss of contact with their neighbors to the north. Cubans, by and large, love and respect Americans, and the embargo hurt their feelings.
We made a lot of friends in Cuba, smoked some fine cigars, heard some amazing music, and ate some surprisingly bland food.
Given the agricultural strides Cuba has made, the underwhelming food surprised me. One of the world’s hottest peppers, the habanero, is named after residents of Havana, but the cuisine was devoid of spice.
“We don’t eat them here,” I was told.
Not that I’m conflating piquancy with flavor. But the food was largely so boring that any spice surely would have helped. This isn’t to say that Cuban food is inherently bland, but that the Cuban flavor has gone into hiding - holing up in some private homes, and offshore, but rarely found in restaurants. There were some very notable exceptions, like the El Romero vegan restaurant in Las Terrezas, a welcome and inspiring respite to the steady diet of pork we were fed. But more often, it seemed as if the years of repression had suffocated the culinary soul of Cuba, and most of the cooks who had grown up during the embargo didn’t really know what to do with the newly emerging diversity of produce.
Hopefully, along with increased freedom and opportunity, normalizations with Cuba will allow some flavor back into the lives of ordinary Cubans. But at the same time, the advances made in Cuban agriculture may be threatened by the availability of fossil fuel-based farming practices, and diverse, agroecological systems might revert to monocultures. I hope not.
I’ll leave you with a recipe for Sopa de Ajo, or garlic soup. There aren’t any hot peppers, but the paprika hints at the Spanish roots of Cuban cuisine. The recipe comes from the wonderful cookbook “Three Guys from Miami Cook Cuban” (Gibbs Smith).
Sopa de Ajo
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 slices white bread, cubed
12 garlic cloves, minced
1 28-ounce can peeled whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 teaspoon paprika
1 bay leaf
4 cups chicken stock
¼ cup sherry
6 eggs, yolks and whites separated
Sauté cubes of bread in hot oil in a pot until they begin to brown. Stir in minced garlic and sauté for another minute – just long enough to cook the garlic slightly. Mash the garlic and the bread together with a spoon.
Add tomatoes, paprika, bay leaf, stock and sherry. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for one hour. Salt and pepper to taste.
Separate the eggs, add three tablespoons of the hot broth to the egg yolks, beating constantly, to temper them. Add egg yolks to the broth and whisk in rapidly until smooth.
Quickly whisk in the unbeaten egg whites until mixed completely. Bring the soup to a boil, remove from heat. Garnish with parsley and serve.
Last Updated on Thursday, 01 January 2015 14:53
‘Twas a night before Christmas and all through Montan’
Not a cowpoke was pokin’, not one lonesome ranch hand.
We all had concluded our afternoon chores,
We had eaten our beans and had toasted s’mores.
We had washed behind ears and had slicked down our hair
And had flossed our brushed teeth with the greatest of care.
All our boots was arrayed ’round the dimmin’ camp fire
Hopin’ Santa would fill ’em with our hearts’ desire.
Now we all was bunked down ’neath our warm wool bedrolls
With our piggies a pokin’ through our stockings’ toe holes.
With our heads on our saddles and our backs to the ground
We was wheezin’ and snorin’ a Christmas time round.
When out on the prairie there arose such commotion
That it shook me from slumber with a perplexin’ notion
That somethin’ peculiar was about to begin
And I weren’t real sure o’ what trouble we ’as in.
So outta my bedroll like a rattler I sprang
And I grabbed for my rifle so as to take aim
At whatever was causin’ that riotous sound
When to my surprise ol’ Santa flew round.
He was driving a buckboard, the Xmas Xpress,
Nary touchin’ the ground with all its excess
Of presents and such stacked in and upon
And I gawked there before him with just my spurs on.
(And my long-johns, o’ course, ’cause I always sleep in ’em;
I do hope their mention offends none o’ the women.)
With the stars in the heavens and the sagebrush around
He pulled up the buckboard and gently touched down.
Then quick as a rabbit round them boots he did spring
Fillin’ them to the brims with the nicest of things:
For Lefty, a lasso and pink bubblegum;
For Dusty, a stick-on tattoo of his mum;
For Cookie, a wine rack and a pan for bread dough;
And for Shorty, suspenders so his butt-crack don’t show.
And for Juan, the vaquero up from Mexico way,
The most amazingest gift that I’ve seen till this day:
A beach towel displayed with a luminous scene
Of Guadalupe, Our Lady, atop a moonbeam!
When having completed his cowboy camp chore
St. Nicholas chuckled and circled once more
Ticklin’ all o’ them piggies pokin’ out o’ them socks
And awinkin’ at me standin’ there still in shock.
Then mountin’ the buckboard, his Christmas conveyance,
He shouted out to his hosses that had stood in abeyance,
“Giddyup my bold broncos, my steadfast ol’ team,
O’er mountain and prairie and forest and stream
We have yet to travel this miraculous night
And we’re racin’ to beat the dawnin’s first light.”
Then he held fast the reins and he sat himself back
And he gave me a nod and a tip o’ the hat
And with a big grin gave this parting adieu,
“Merry Christmas to all o’ you ol’ buckaroos!”
Last Updated on Thursday, 25 December 2014 12:59
Ah, distinctly I remember,
It was in the bleak December,
And each separate, dying ember
wrought its ghost upon the floor ...
Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore.’
– Edgar Allan Poe
The raven is my friend. Memories and ghosts fill my Christmas, gifts from the past. And the most treasured gifts have been the kind that don’t come wrapped in sparkly paper.
I grew up in Detroit, so trees came from a lot, not the forest. I can’t remember anyone, back in the 1950s and ’60s, having an artificial tree. Christmas smelled like fresh fir.
At our house, there was no such thing as an imperfect tree. The salesman always threw in some extra branches, and my dad and grandpa would drill holes in the bare spots and insert a branch here and there.
Dad put the lights on with painstaking precision. We hung no ornaments until he was satisfied. Then we could take our turn. Tinsel back then was made of tin foil, and then a few years later, of aluminum.
This, too, we put on strand by strand. We were wildly extravagant, buying new packages every year. Some of our neighbors and used it over the next year.
My mother came home one year, a day or two before Christmas, with the best tree ever: a gigantic Scotch pine.
The tree salesman cut the price to practically nothing because it was so large that he hadn’t been able to sell it. We lived in a late Victorian home with 9-foot ceilings, but the tree was still too tall and too wide.
We took the leaves out of the dining room table and moved it to a far wall. After Dad and grandpa hacked off the bottom, the pine slid partly into the bay window, but it still took up half the room.
Another year, my brother and I created a faux stained-glass manger scene on the triptych of our front windows using tempera paints. The project took hours and hours. Our father then backlit the window with his photographic flood lights.
We entered our work in the Christmas lighting contest for the local paper, sure that we’d win. Predictably, first and second place went to electrical extravaganzas, but we took third. I was disappointed that we didn’t take first. The children in our family were expected to earn straight A’s.
Other memories have the bleakness of Poe’s raven. The Christmas I was 19, 1967, I had knee surgery. I was still in the hospital, in a ward, when my father came to tell me that my grandfather had died at the same hospital. After he left, I cried, whether from physical pain or grief, I don’t know. Probably both.
A nice, traditionally built, black nurse came to ask me what was wrong. I remember her compassion. She sat down on my bed and put an arm around me. I’m sure that she was flesh and blood, but sometimes God shows up with skin on. Was she an angel?
Most families have food traditions. We dined on oyster stew on Christmas Eve. The oysters were special order, to be eaten with equally special little round crackers.
But the name stew was misleading. It was whole milk topped with butter and salt and pepper. My dad relished this, but I can’t think of anything more blah.
I would call oyster stew the German equivalent of lutefisk. But we all ate it because that’s what we did. Tradition!
Also in the German tradition, we didn’t get to open our presents until Christmas morning. We were allowed one present after church, then had to go to bed and try to sleep. When we woke up the next morning, usually just after our parents had fallen into bed, we could open our stockings, and then we had to wait. We were not to get the grown-ups up until 7 a.m.
The gifts weren’t as important in my memories as the expectation. We took turns opening presents, but by 10 a.m. it was all over. I always felt let down, that whatever I’d been seeking hadn’t arrived. Surely there was one more box.
Now I celebrate Christmas with few presents, I seldom cook an extravagant meal, and I am often alone for the day. This year I have a small, hand-blown Christmas tree that I bought at St. Vincent de Paul. One of the tiny ornaments is missing, which is probably why someone donated it. I may or may not get out my crèche.
But nothing is missing any more. My hollow center has been filled with the Spirit and I have peace and a quiet happiness. It is enough. I am enough.
I know that there are many reading this who had childhood celebrations filled with anger and chaos. But just as you can start your day over at any time, you can reinvent Christmas as well.
Light a candle instead of cursing the darkness. Forget your age. Buy yourself the toy you never received and play with it.
If the turkey always resulted in a fight, shun that angry bird and have filet mignon. Or even sushi. It’s your choice. Be brave, live recklessly, be joyful.
We started with the Raven. Let us now finish with Tiny Tim. Merry Christmas! And God bless us every one!
Last Updated on Thursday, 25 December 2014 12:47
The French didn’t earn a reputation for culinary sensibility by accident. One example that comes to mind this time of year - and one in which eggnog lovers might be especially interested – is the French attitude toward Crème Anglaise. Namely, they consume it year-round.
Crème Anglaise, which translates literally to “English Cream,” is sold in liter-sized boxes at the store, and appears on many dessert menus, where it functions more as a sauce than a drink. When I’m in Paris, no matter the season, I guzzle the stuff like it’s the night before Christmas, even though unlike true eggnog it contains only yolk, but no egg white.
Nor does Crème Anglaise contain booze, or spices like nutmeg. But if eggnog is what you’re after, you could do much worse than use Crème Anglaise as a base. And if you fold in stiff egg whites, as I describe below, in all likelihood your eggnog will rule the Christmas party.
“Crème Anglaise” was one of the few bits of the local tongue that I picked up in France, and being able to say those words took me to some very happy places. The phrase also got me out of a potentially sad place on one occasion.
At Charles de Gaulle airport I was confronted by security agents who noticed several packages of viscous fluid in a scan of my luggage. As I explained that the thick liquid was “Crème Anglaise,” the agents broke into excited chatter.
“Blah blah blah le Crème Anglaise
blah blah blah le Américain
blah blah oui oui, le Crème Anglaise.”
They sent me on my way with pats on my back, words of encouragement, and for all I know recipe advice. My bags were checked through, Crème Anglaise and all.
But I have no illusions over how close I came to losing my Crème Anglaise in Paris. Had there been a hot Moelleux au Chocolat in the vicinity - a French-style chocolate muffin with molten chocolate inside – those viscous liquids would surely have been deemed a security risk, one that could only be defused by a party in the break room.
Crème Anglaise is a thin sauce, and when poured over things it looks like spilled paint. For a neater presentation it is often served as a puddle on a plate, in which the likes of pie, or Moelleux au Chocolat, is placed. The French call this presentation île flottante, which means floating island.
This holiday season, perhaps the approach advocated on the “Menopausal Stoners’” blog is more your style: “After you make the Crème Anglaise, mix in the Five Dirty Browns: rum, bourbon, cognac, brandy and some other whiskey. We’re going to mix up a batch and invite that tasty boiler repair man over for cocktails.”
Indeed, Crème Anglaise tastes so much like eggnog that most people wouldn’t notice the difference. And many traditional eggnog recipes essentially start with Crème Anglaise.
Sans the spices and booze, Crème Anglaise is less committed than eggnog, with more ways in which it can be used. Whatever the occasion, from dessert to Christmas Eve to an evening on the Menopausal Stoners’ basement couch, Crème Anglaise is a good place to start.
Crème Anglaise, with Eggnog Anglaise variation
This recipe takes about 20 minutes, start to finish. For one cup:
½ cup milk
½ cup heavy cream
2 Tablespoons vanilla
2 inches of a vanilla pod, split down the middle and seeds
removed. (Alternatively, use 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract).
In a thick-bottomed saucepan, heat milk, cream and vanilla on medium. Stir often to prevent scalding.
Meanwhile, separate three eggs. Use a fork to stir the sugar into the yolks, along with a pinch of salt. Keep stirring until everything is fully combined.
When the cream mixture reaches a simmer, pour a thin stream into the yolk and sugar mixture. Stir vigorously while pouring slowly, a little at a time, in order to temper the yolks, so they don’t curdle when heated. Stir out all the lumps each time before adding more cream.
Once all the hot cream has been incorporated into the egg yolks, remove the vanilla pod, wash the pan, and return the mixture to it on low heat. Ideally, use a double boiler. It should heat very slowly, not coming close to a simmer. The sauce will quickly thicken. After 5-10 minutes, with much stirring, remove heat. If you heat and thicken it too much at this point it can form a pudding, which will curdle if stirred.
If you make it a day ahead of time, even less heating, and a thinner finished product is advisable, as Crème Anglaise will thicken in the fridge. Many recipes advise that the Crème Anglaise be prepared the day before.
Before cooling, some cooks will push it through a sieve with a rubber spatula, to remove any curdles. Just remember to lick the sieve.
Allow the Crème Anglaise to cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate until use. The whites of your separated eggs remain, and present some interesting opportunities. True eggnog contains egg whites, and who wouldn’t want to blend a puddle of thin, colorless protein slime into their Crème Anglaise?
Fortunately, there is a very good way to do so. Beat those leftover egg whites until they’re stiff, and fold them into the Crème Anglaise. The result is so puffy and airy that it hardly qualifies as a drink. The stiff whites provide a royal, heavenly body to the subtle, exquisitely pleasing flavor. It’s like sipping a sweet cloud.
Spike, and spice, as you see fit. In last night’s ‘nog, I went with a pinch of nutmeg and a splash of Frangelico Italian hazelnut liquor. That worked great.
And for the rest of the year, consider doing what the French do: enjoy Crème Anglaise any time you want, and maybe not always with booze (without the raw whites, it’s a cooked product). With so many ways that some Crème Anglaise in the fridge to bring someone closer to a happy place, it’s a good thing to have around. In fact, there’s Crème Anglaise in my coffee right now. Café Anglaise, anyone?
photos by Ari LeVaux
Last Updated on Thursday, 25 December 2014 12:45
“It’s a good country. Where a man can sit in his saddle and see … all across to the west stretch the Crazies, and, swinging in the stirrups, a man has to throw back his head to follow their abrupt shoulders up to the white crests of the peaks. A pretty clean country where a man can see a long way and have something to see.”
– Spike Van Cleve in “Forty Years’ Gatherin’s,” speaking of the view from his ranch
By RICK and SUSIE GRAETZ - University of Montana - Department of Geography
Considered an island range owing to their location separate of the main Northern Rockies, the Crazy Mountains of south central Montana are more akin to the Rockies than they are to the state’s other rounded and more forested isolated ranges. The valleys of the Yellowstone and Shields rivers set them well apart from the Absarokas to the south and the Bridgers on the west. They are only about 30 miles by 15 miles in size, but serve as sentinels on the horizon from many points east.
Here, the transition from prairie to mountains is dramatic. In a 20-mile span from the river bottoms of the Yellowstone to the pinnacle of Crazy Peak, the terrain rises more than 7,000 feet.
These “Crazy Woman Mountains,” as the Native Americans sometimes called them, are crowned by 11,214-foot Crazy Peak. With 25 pinnacles soaring to more than 10,000 feet, they are the third highest range in the state. Ice, wind and water erosion sculptured them and created the more than 40 jewel-like lakes scattered amongst the sharp saw-toothed ridges and alpine basins. Today, only one ice-age remnant remains, Grasshopper Glacier, which clings to a north facing headwall between Cottonwood and Rock lakes on the west perimeter.
Nearly vertical slopes lead to the highest summits and windswept barren ridges. Mountain goats find this terrain to their liking and frequent the steepest areas.
The northern flanks of the Crazy Mountains are gentler, and the vegetation more lush, than the rocky and precipitous southern reaches. The historic Musselshell River has its headwaters here in the north, and the Shields River begins its flow from the sheerer west ramparts. Sweet Grass Creek, heading toward the Yellowstone, rushes out of one of the deep eastern canyons.
There are several stories on how the mountains got their name. One was that a wagon train, coming through the Musselshell Valley, was attacked by Indians. A woman’s family was killed, and it is said that she ran into the mountains to haunt the tribe.
Another has it that a woman settler was separated from her wagon train and wandered into these peaks. People thought that she couldn’t survive without going mad, so the range was dubbed the “Crazy Woman Mountains.” Others claimed it was because they popped up in the middle of nowhere or because of the convoluted geologic formations found there. Take your pick.
The Crazies are significant to Native American culture. In 1847, Chief Plenty Coup, a great chief of the Crow Nation, climbed Crazy Peak to seek a vision so he might properly lead and guide his people.
Although they do not enjoy the lasting protection wilderness status would give them, the extremely rough terrain and the attitude of local ranchers – and lately of the Forest Service – has kept this country pristine and relatively free of roads. Checkerboard ownership places a good portion of the landscape in private hands, including favorite climbing places such as Conical, Granite and Crazy peaks and Rock Lake. Some owners will give permission to enter, but most will not allow motorized use of this wild country ... foot and horse travel only! The same goes for much of the public land.
There isn’t an access shortage, as most of the footpaths traverse Gallatin National Forest ground. One of the most popular routes into the Crazies is reached from Highway 191 between Big Timber and Harlowton via Big Timber Canyon. Beginning at Half Moon Campground, the trail climbs to the high areas around Conical Peak and the Twin Lakes area and then crosses a pass before lowering to Sweetgrass Creek and another trailhead. Tracks also lead to the west side of the range from Wilsall and Clyde Park. There are about 66 miles of horse and walking byways within the Crazy Mountains.
Last Updated on Thursday, 25 December 2014 00:00
“Montana 1864: Indians, Emigrants and Gold in the Territorial Year,” by Ken Egan Jr. Riverbend Publishing. Paperback, 223 pages.
Ken Egan Jr., executive director of Humanities Montana, used to teach at Rocky Mountain College, where I now teach, and his “Hope and Dread in Montana Literature” remains my go-to source when English students lack the right cocktail of those two qualities. Now he has written “Montana 1864,” a breezily readable account of a key year in Montana history.
Why key? Not only was 1864 precisely 150 years ago this year, it also was the year in which Montana became a territory. If Mr. Egan hoped to cash in on sesquicentennial nostalgia, that ship appears to have sailed. But he has much to say about a year when the Civil War was still raging, gold was beckoning, and Indians were still a force to be reckoned with.
It also was the year in which Henry Plummer, who seemed to regard law enforcement and law breaking as complementary trades, was hanged for his crimes. Future Copper King William Andrews Clark was shipping freight to the mines, Granville Stuart was on his way to becoming a prominent rancher, and Charlie Russell was born. Also that year, gold was found in Last Chance Gulch.
White settlers were pouring into Montana, making the people who already lived here increasingly nervous. Their voices, including those of Crow Indians Plenty Coups and Pretty Shield, also are heard here.
The book is filled with familiar names, but many of the stories and sources will be new to all but the most dedicated students of Montana history. A rich selection of photographs and quotations adds further depth.
Mr. Egan has an engaging style, and while his mix of original sources and his own present-tense narration can occasionally be confusing, time spent with this book is well spent, both entertaining and informative.
Last Updated on Thursday, 18 December 2014 10:45
“The Fallow Season of Hugo Hunter,” by Craig Lancaster. Lake Union Publishing, 286 pages.
By DAVID CRISP - The Billings Outpost
Craig Lancaster’s first novel about Edward Stanton, “600 Hours of Edward,” was a promising start. His second Edward Stanton book, “Edward Adrift,” was even better, with passages very near to poetry.
Between those two came another novel, “The Summer Son,” which struck me as predictable and derivative, and a fine collection of short stories, “Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure,” which I thought put him into the first rank of working Montana writers, and probably working harder than any of them.
Now comes “The Fallow Season of Hugo Hunter,” an inviting novel that is nevertheless a mild disappointment.
There is much here to like: the setting, which is in Billings; the writing style, which is as hard-boiled as an eight-minute egg; and the title character, a failed boxer struggling to put his life back together.
That’s about as clichéd a premise as American prose offers, but this isn’t “Requiem for a Heavyweight” (although Rod Serling’s famous teleplay does make an appearance). Despite years in the ring, Hugo Hunter is no punch-drunk fighter. He has a certain wit about him, and talents that stretch beyond putting on boxing gloves.
But he keeps fighting well beyond the point where it makes sense, another addiction in an armory of addictions.
This would be a stronger book if it contained more of Hugo Hunter and less of Mark Westerly, the fictitious sports writer who has dedicated much of his career to covering Hunter’s career. Westerly has long since abandoned all pretense of objectivity when it comes to covering his biggest story, and he has his own personal demons to jab against.
It’s just that his demons are far less interesting than Hunter’s. He gripes about his bosses at The Billings Herald-Gleaner; he suffers from a failed marriage; and he falls in love again, so we are told, but never quite believe it. I found myself wanting to skip past his scenes to get back to the guy the book was named for.
In fact, about halfway through, I suffered a Kafka attack, which can be treated only by abandoning everything else and digging into Franz Kafka for a few days. I don’t know why this happens; as Kafka himself said, it isn’t the song of the sirens that is so irresistible, it’s their silence. As with much of Kafka, I don’t know what that means. I just know that when Kafka calls, I have to go.
None of that detracts from Mr. Lancaster’s considerable achievements. He is a top-notch stylist, and his occasional missteps, it seems to me, point less to his limitations than to his still formidable potential. Keep punching, Craig.
Last Updated on Thursday, 18 December 2014 10:37
Shoppers for last-minute Christmas presents could do worse than to pick up one, or both, of these two quick reads by the creator of Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire, now the title character in a TV drama.
“Steamboat” is no mystery at all but a quick retreat in time to 1988, when a young Sheriff Longmire recruits the help of former Sheriff Lucian Connally to fly a desperately injured accident victim to Denver. It’s Christmas Eve, the weather is horrible, and the only plane available is a World War II veteran.
There’s no real suspense here, since we meet all the characters, still alive years later, in the first chapter. But Mr. Johnson can spin a tale, and he will have you on the edge of your seat as the plane fights its was to Denver.
“Wait for Signs” is a collection of a dozen Longmire short stories, drawn from stories Mr. Johnson writes every Christmas Eve. It’s a mixed bag, and an excellent accompaniment to “Steamboat” for Christmas.
This may look like one of those recipe books designed for the coffee table instead of the kitchen, but don’t be fooled. Mr. Shaw, a food writer, has compiled a serious volume of recipes and techniques for cooking ducks and geese, both wild and domesticated.
That duck on the frontispiece is carved out of wood, but those inside are seriously edible. Sections are included on buying, storing and hanging birds, in whole or in part, with extra chapters on giblets, charcuterie, fat and eggs. From basic smoked birds to barbecue, soup, casseroles and gumbo, it’s all here.
Year after year, C.J. Box cranks out successful and highly readable novels – 14 novels about fictional Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, plus four standalone novels.
So perhaps it’s to be expected that on occasion he might slip a notch or two. That seems to be what happened in “Stone Cold,” the latest Joe Pickett novel and a bit of a disappointment.
The opening is promising enough. Nate Romanowski, Joe Pickett’s shadowy but loyal friend, always has lurked around the edges, and sometimes beyond the edges of the law. In the opening pages of “Stone Cold,” he appears to have gone completely over the edge. As the novel opens, he is sneaking up on a log home on the banks of the Bighorn River near Fort Smith with mayhem on his mind.
Romanowski blows past security guards and a technician and shoots the cabin owner, Henry P. Scroggins III, through the heart. Scroggins, we learn, is a corrupt and criminal businessman, and we are assured that the world will be better off without him.
But has Romanowski gone from being an outlaw on the side of justice to a cold-blooded murderer? I have to be careful here not to give away the ending, but the answer never becomes quite as clear as one would like.
The result is strangely unsatisfying, with an occasional plot hole and a mystery not quite solved. Well, there’s always the next book.
This should have appeared last Christmas, but we never quite managed to get that issue out. James Southworth is best known as a former state legislator, frontman for the bluegrass group Southbound, and a prolific writer, including a number of stories that have appeared in the Outpost.
Some of those stories are reprinted here, along with tales of his life and career. Mr. Southworth is a diligent researcher with a wry and self-deprecating sense of humor that holds him here in good stead. Ms. Grosskopf, an experienced writer and editor, restrains some of his grammatical enthusiasms, with good results.
A collectioi of photos from a rich life round out the book.
This really is a coffee-table book, a lavish and rich collection of some of the best-known works by Montana’s best-known Indian artist. Chapters are included on his childhood, stages of his career, and his approach to art, but the real charm is the many pages of color plates of his work.
If you are a fan of Mr. Red Star’s work, that’s all you need to know. If you aren’t, then it’s time you took a look.
Mr. Wendelboe attempts to tread the same ground that C.J. Box and Craig Johnson have walked before him. We get an FBI agent who witnesses a murder right at the reenactment of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
His search to find the killer takes twists and turns, with occasional flashbacks to the original battle. There are plenty of suspicious circumstances, a lovely woman and a corrupt businessman.
But Mr. Wendelboe has not yet acquired the craftsmanship of Mr. Box and Mr. Johnson. The humor often falls flat; the prose creaks along. Reading it reminded me of watching Brooks Robinson playing third base on TV back in the 1960s.
Nothing to it, I thought. Then I became a public address announcer watching 12-year-olds trying to make those same plays. Quickly, I figured out why everybody said Robinson was so great.
Here, Mr. Wendelboe’s book serves as a foil to show off just how good Box and Johnson are.
Last Updated on Thursday, 18 December 2014 10:36
This year’s theme is “Christmas Around the World.” The first of 100 floats leaves from the corner of North 26th Street and Third Avenue North at 7 p.m. During the parade, Christmas lights radiating outward from Skypoint at Second Avenue North and Broadway will be lighted.
Expect color, music, friends, food and drink, and kids and adults from one to 92.
And above all, expect to have fun. Most downtown businesses stay open, giving you a chance to find unique gifts as well as get a head start on Small Business Saturday.
Downtown Billings businesses offer a welcome relief to the boring sameness of the mass-produced merchandise in the box stores: Downtown you’ll find handmade chocolates, antiques, stained glass, clothing, one-of-a-kind jewelry, art of every genre, gourmet food baskets, hand crafted leather goods and more.
Numerous street venders offering food and handicrafts will be stationed along the parade route, and businesses will also have treats and drink specials, so be sure to carry a little cash.
As we all know, Santa shows up for every Christmas Parade in the world and he’ll be here in Billings as well. It’s part of his magic.
Santa would love to have you perch on his knee for a photo.
But beware! He might ask you if you’ve been bad or good.
The National Weather Service predicts a pleasant day on Friday segueing into a nose-nipping 15 degrees with a possibility of snow by Saturday morning. But who knows? This is Montana where the weather changes rather abruptly. So join the scouts and come prepared.
One final reminder. It is illegal to park on the parade route one half hour before and through the duration of the parade. If you stay away from the area between Second and Third Avenues North, from North 26th to North 34th streets, you’ll be OK.
May you have a Happy Hanukkah; blessed Bodhi Day (This recalls the date when Buddha attained enlightenment.) Glad Yule, Wiccan; Happy Kwanzaa, African American; Shabe-Yalda, Iranian solstice celebration, originally Zoroastrian; and last but not least, Merry Christmas! See you at the parade.
The Downtown Billings Alliance office will host free gift wrapping, sell Wine Tree raffle tickets, and offer pictures with Santa before the Parade from 4-6 p.m. Pictures with Santa will be for the suggested donation of $5 and people may either use their own camera or have the photo taken and printed on site. For more information on raffle tickets for the prize of 100 bottles of wine, please contact the DBA at 294-5060.
Billings artist Susan Germer will show new creations during the Downtown Billings Christmas Stroll on Friday.
Her fine silver and fun, colorful, abstract-designed jewelry, watercolor note cards, pastels, bead embroidery and framed photography will be shown.
Germer’s (susang) studio located in the historic Carlin Hotel, 2501 Montana Ave., 2nd Floor, Suite 8, will be open from 5-9 p.m. for the event.
Her fine silver jewelry and note cards are also shown at Tompkin’s Fine Art on Montana Avenue in Billings. Also visit susangdesigns.com.
Last Updated on Thursday, 27 November 2014 12:38
You probably got the memo that Thanksgiving, as is currently celebrated, is a far cry from what probably transpired at the original feast. Rather than a cross-cultural love fest, the first Thanksgiving was more like a poker game where each player has one hand on his cards and the other hand on his pistol, under the table, aimed at another man’s lap.
The party did not include a quick game of tag football while the turkey cooked, because there wasn’t even a turkey. Or a pumpkin pie. Or women and children at the dining table.
One aspect of the Thanksgiving story that appears to be true is that the Wampanoag tribal members, who vastly outnumbered the Pilgrims, actually helped them survive the cold winter that followed the feast. The collective regret that followed for not snuffing out the colonists must have been as fierce as it was short-lived, as it died with the few Wampanoag that caught smallpox, or were slaughtered a few years later in King Philip’s War.
This year, Kmart workers have been instructed report to work at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving day, which gives you a hint at the modern day function of Thanksgiving: to usher in the holiday shopping season. So, yeah, we have every right to be cynical, not to mention wonder why anybody would want to eat a Tofurky.
But at the same time, who can’t get behind a holiday that, stripped to its bare essence, is about being grateful for what one has? In this sense, every day should be Thanksgiving, as far as I’m concerned. And there should always be pudding. Pie is optional.
I have nothing against pie, especially pumpkin pie. In a previous life I even ran a pumpkin pie business, which boomed around Thanksgiving. But during that time I realized that I’m too lazy to make crust, and it isn’t necessary. Most of us don’t eat pie for the crust, but rather, the filling, also known as pudding. And pudding is not only the best part of the pie, it’s the easy part. And since, as far as Thanksgiving tradition goes, we’re making up the damn thing as we go, there’s no shame in skipping the crust. Or in skipping ahead to eggnog either, for that matter.
In this spirit, here are some pudding recipes that you can be thankful for in these chilly Autumn days, whether or not you believe the Pilgrims and Indians sang Kumbaya around a turkey.
Little known fact: a tablespoon or two of tapioca will improve any pudding or pie filling immeasurably. Tapioca operates on the textural level, adding a toothy elasticity to the finished product, and bestowing it with the body you’re looking for. My mother-in-law uses tapioca in apple pie, and since I started messing around with the tapioca trick myself, it hasn’t failed me. And for what it’s worth, tapioca has long been a food of indigenous peoples of Central and South America. So there’s an obtuse Thanksgiving Indian angle for ya.
This recipe also includes corn meal, which thickens the pudding, while adding more complexity to the flavor. It also adds a pinch of indigenous authenticity.
I use molasses here because I really like the dark, intense flavor, especially this time of year, and combined with these ingredients. I opt for the extra-intense blackstrap variety of molasses, which is less sweet, and has a bit of bitterness thanks to a higher concentration of minerals. But if you’ve got a sensitive palate, you should probably avoid blackstrap, and perhaps skip the molasses altogether in favor of sugar or brown sugar.
Final note: this dish is unquestionably better after a night in the fridge.
2 cups cooked squash (preferably kabocha), or 1 cup each of cooked
squash and sweet potato
2 T granulated tapioca (aka cracked tapioca)
2 T cornmeal
2 T molasses
1 can full fat coconut milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine ingredients in a food processor or blender. Whizz until smooth. Pour into a buttered baking pan. Bake at 300 until an inserted knife comes out clean. Let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate overnight. It’s not an overly sweetened dish, but the inherent sweetness of the squash/sweet potato and coconut combine with the molasses for a truly amazing pudding experience. Or pie, if you’re crusty.
The next recipe comes from an old recipe booklet, Apple Talk, which was published by the Northern Pacific Railroad in the early 1900s, apparently in an attempt to boost its apple shipping business by giving people more ideas for how to eat apples. My copy of Apple Talk was found in an old homestead in Missoula, Montana, beneath a dusty stack of recipes.
Apples, like squash, are in season during Thanksgiving.
The recipe for Indian Pudding with Apples has an indigenous sound to it, but there’s nothing Indian about Indian pudding. Still, it’s old, and it’s authentic to the settlers, and it’s cool that this recipe was unearthed in a homestead.
When finished, the pudding will bear a black hue on top, as if you burnt it. Don’t worry, it’s just the molasses.
“Scald two quarts of sweet milk [also known as whole milk]. Stir in one cup of cornmeal until the mixture thickens. Remove from the fire. Add one and one-sixth cups of molasses, one teaspoonful of salt, one-half teaspoonful each of nutmeg and cinnamon and two cups of sweet apples, pared, cored and quartered. Pour into a deep pudding dish and bake for four hours. [A temperature recommendation here would be nice. I went with 275, and it was perfect.] When the pudding has baked for one and one-half hours, add without stirring one pint of cold milk. Serve with cream and sugar and syrup.”
I’ve played around with variations like doubling the apples or corn meal, which makes it sweeter and thicker, respectively. It’s a forgiving recipe. Maybe not as decadent as your average serving of tiramisu, but it’s better for you, and closer to what may have been served in the original feast, for whatever that’s worth. Like the squash pudding recipe above, this black pudding, as I call it, is exponentially better the next day, so plan ahead.
Last Updated on Thursday, 27 November 2014 12:29
Call it 670 miles or perhaps more precisely 674 miles, but either way, the Yellowstone River remains the nation’s longest undammed waterway. It’s a great river that gathers some of the finest mountain and prairie topography on the planet as it passes peaks reaching 12,000 feet in elevation, the largest high-mountain lake on the continent, dense evergreen forests, buttes, colorful badlands, deep canyons and sweet-smelling sage and juniper covered hills. A good portion of this wondrous river flows in Wyoming, but Montana claims most of it and gives it a home.
When did the name Yellowstone first appear? Actually the answer is a bit fuzzy with several possibilities. Overall though it’s agreed that the earliest designation for this major tributary of the Missouri River originated with the Indian tribes who lived and hunted within its bounds. An early map produced sometime in the 1790s showed the name Crow or Rock River labeled on the stream. In 1797, another map showed “R. des Roches Jaunes” as its moniker. Translated from French into English, that meant “Yellow Stone.”
Our own research shows that this French name came about because the early French explorers noted a yellowish color to the silt-covered rocks along the banks of the lower Yellowstone River and hence the name. When the Corps of Discovery passed through the upper Missouri in 1805 and again in 1806, they already knew this French name for the river and used various forms of it. Clark’s journal entry of July 15, 1806, when he reached the “Big Bend” of today’s Yellowstone at Livingston, referred to the river as “Rochejhone.”
Another suggestion is that the French name was a literal translation of a Minnetaree Indian expression that possibly referred to the yellowish sandstone bluffs that are prominent along many parts of the river.
The Crow Nation called Yellowstone the Elk River because it was a migration route for the elk moving from summer range, high up in present-day Yellowstone National Park to their winter habitat along the river’s reaches out on the Montana prairie.
When President Grant designated Yellowstone National Park on March 1, 1872, the act referred to “a tract of land in the territories of Montana and Wyoming, lying near the headwaters of the Yellowstone River.” It was only later that discussions between the secretary of the interior and the superintendent of the park finally lead to the name place being called Yellowstone National Park.
Let’s switch years and talk about Hellgate Canyon near Missoula. Today, many people passing through this Missoula gap take the name for granted. At one time, it was quite a different place. French-Canadian trappers and missionaries (take your choice depending on which legends you read) have it that the mountain Indians, especially the Flathead (that’s what Lewis and Clark called them, although they were actually the Salish), traveled through the canyon in pursuit of bison out on the prairies beyond the mountain front. The Blackfeet, who lived on the prairie side, were jealous of those trying to hunt on their lands and attacked them. Many times, the Blackfeet ventured into the mountains and ambushed the western tribes as they came through the canyon. The gruesome evidence of these raids was the “Gates of Hell.”
Hell Gate also was the original name for Missoula. In 1860, entrepreneurs Higgins and Warden established a trading post at the confluence of the Bitterroot and Clark Fork rivers. Later, the town site was moved closer to Hellgate Canyon at the confluence of Rattlesnake Creek and the Clark Fork River and renamed Missoula.
Today, cold Hellgate winds can traverse the canyon in winter. Brought about when deep, cold arctic highs flood the eastern prairies, the winds seep into the Clark Fork River canyon, where the constricting canyon walls force them to pick up speed before exploding into the unsuspecting and usually gentle Missoula Valley. Many a University of Montana student walking to classes will attest to their low wind-chill temperatures.
Last Updated on Thursday, 27 November 2014 11:53
BOZEMAN – Montana State University has launched a new, multidisciplinary center that is designed to help improve diagnosis and treatment of mental illness throughout Montana.
The new MSU Center for Mental Health Research and Recovery was approved today by the Montana Board of Regents. It will draw on MSU’s research strength in neuroscience, electrical engineering, computer science, biochemistry, psychology and nursing, among other disciplines, to address pressing mental health challenges in the state.
“The goal of the center is to create a hub in Bozeman, on the MSU campus, that will take advantage of expertise we have at MSU,” said Frances Lefcort, the center’s interim director and head of the MSU department of cell biology and neuroscience.
The center is being established in collaboration with the National Alliance on Mental Illness for Montana, or NAMI Montana. It will be funded by public and private grants, contracts and gifts.
Lefcort said the center’s work will focus on four areas: basic science, which will be focused on neural mechanisms underlying mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia; translational research, which will be focused on developing new neurotechnologies for diagnosis and treatment; clinical research, which will be focused on prevention, intervention and identifying populations at risk; and outreach, which includes soliciting information about mental health needs while also providing information about advances in diagnoses and treatment strategies.
Specifically, the center will do the following:
• Work to give health care providers in Montana access to cutting-edge, research-driven techniques for diagnosing and treating mental illness;
• Focus research efforts on the specific challenges presented with accessing treatment in isolated rural communities with limited treatment providers;
• Serve as an information hub for the understanding and treatment of psychiatric conditions that lead to suicidal behavior; and
• Create educational opportunities and jobs through the development of a regional “innovation cluster” based upon advances in neuroscience and psychiatric treatment.
In addition to collaborating with NAMI Montana, the center will draw from the expertise of more than 20 MSU departments or colleges, as well as other offices and entities, Lefcort said.
One of those entities is MSU Extension, which is positioned to help share the center’s findings with the public. MSU Extension has a presence in all 56 Montana counties.
The state of Montana desperately needs a research-based center that is focused on mental illness treatment systems, according to Matt Kuntz, executive director of NAMI Montana.
“We work with Montana families every day, and it’s clear that technical challenges in diagnosing and treating these conditions need more focus,” Kuntz said. “They need a multidisciplinary collaboration.”
He pointed to high suicide rates in the state as evidence of the need. Montana consistently ranks as one of the states with the highest rates of suicide and attempted suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Kuntz added that it’s important that research is targeted specifically to Montana, which is largely a rural state.
“The solutions for families dealing with mental illness that work in New York or Boston or Los Angeles may not even be possible in Montana,” he said. “NAMI Montana believes it is really important that neuroscientists and engineers and clinicians work together to come up with cutting-edge tools and techniques that can work here in Montana.”
Lefcort said that in addition to generating important research and outreach, the center will also provide valuable educational opportunities for MSU students.
“Students who are interested in going into some aspect of mental health will be able to do internships in the center and be involved in basic or clinical translational research,” Lefcort said. “We view this as a great learning vehicle.”
As the center grows, Lefcort said it will require additional faculty and staff who can provide expertise in cognitive neuroscience, clinical psychology, psychiatry, human neurophysiology and psychopharmacology.
In addition, there is a potential to collaborate with additional organizations across the state, including public awareness groups and clinical mental health care units.
Renee Reijo Pera, MSU’s vice president for research and economic development, said the university is pleased to use its research enterprise to address pressing mental health challenges in the state.
“Montana State has a history of research excellence, and we are confident that the university has the ability to use research to better understand and diagnose mental illness,” Reijo Pera said.
Last Updated on Thursday, 20 November 2014 13:40
An original theater production created and performed by Montana State University Billings students premiered this week on the university’s campus.
Showcased by Let’s Talk Billings, “Under the Blanket” with a cast of five, explores suicide, depression and mental illness among youth and young adults as part of an innovative suicide-prevention campaign that pairs student actors with the world of performing arts.
Free and open to the public, two performances were held Nov. 18-19 in the Liberal Arts Building’s Black Box Theater. A discussion led by performers, directors and mental health professionals followed the play.
The production director Patrick Wilson said the performance drew from participants and their experiences. The cast included Casey St. Clair, a junior English and creative writing major; Sadie Turner, a pre-pharmacy major; Julie Lanmore, a junior health and human services major; Megan Blanco, a theater major; and Moriah Southard, a freshman communications organization major.
“The students wrote the script based on their own personal experiences of mental illness and suicide,” Wilson said, who is also an adjunct communications and theater instructor at MSU Billings. “It’s a powerful message.”
St. Clair said that after years of battling suicidal thoughts and attempts, she hopes to help others who struggle.
“There is no shame in fighting the battle,” St. Clair told a group of students during a rehearsal performance. “The shame is in not fighting.”
Turner said she felt a strong calling to reach out after her brother took his life.
“Suicide affects everyone around you,” Turner said. “It hurts. It’s real. This performance gives an opportunity to speak out and relate to others who have experienced this kind of loss.”
For more information and resources, visit www.letstalkbillings.org or contact Sarah Keller, chair of the department of communication and theater, at (406) 896-5824.
Last Updated on Thursday, 20 November 2014 13:33
BOZEMAN – An MSU Extension MontGuide provides information about the benefits of opening a Montana medical care savings account before Dec. 31.
The guide, “Montana Medical Care Savings Accounts,” offers advice on who might benefit.
Have you had any medical expenses during 2014 that are not covered by a health insurance policy or a flexible spending account (FSA)? If so, you can open a Montana Medical Care Savings Account (MSA) by Dec. 31 to cover those expenses. Up to $3,000 of your deposit in the account, per taxpayer, is deductible from your 2014 Montana adjusted gross income, thus reducing your taxes.
“This tax advantage does not apply to your federal income taxes and should not be confused with the Federal Health Savings Accounts (HSAs),” cautions Marsha Goetting, MSU Extension family economics specialist.
People should contact their financial institution, such as a bank, savings bank or credit union, to establish an MSA. A Montanan with taxable income over $17,100 could save about $207 in state income taxes by depositing the maximum $3,000 in a Montana MSA.
“It doesn’t matter if you have already paid your 2014 medical bills either by check, credit or debit card,” Goetting said. “You can add up those expenses and make a deposit by Dec. 31 of this year and reimburse yourself for those eligible medical expenses from your Montana MSA as late as Jan. 15, 2015.”
The key word is paid. You can reimburse yourself for paid eligible medical expenses as late as Jan. 15, 2015. But if you haven’t yet paid those bills because your health insurance company hasn’t sorted out what it will pay and what you still owe, you still can reimburse yourself for those 2014 expenses after Jan.15.
The amount you can use to reduce your Montana income is the total deposited, not the amount used for medical expenses during the tax year. For example, if you deposited $3,000 in an MSA but only used $100 for eligible medical expenses during 2014, you still get to reduce your income for Montana income tax purposes by $3,000. The remaining $2,900 is available for paying medical expenses in future years.
A husband and wife who each establish an individual MSA can receive a $6,000 deduction if they file a joint Montana income tax return. They will save about $414 on their state income taxes. Joint accounts for an MSA are not allowed. Only individual accounts are eligible for the Montana MSA deduction, thus husbands and wives must open separate MSA accounts.
MSA amounts held in the name of a husband or wife can be used to pay the medical bills of either spouse or their dependent children, Goetting said.
“If a husband had $6,000 in medical expenses during 2014, $3,000 from his own MSA and $3,000 from his wife’s MSA could be used for his bills,” said Goetting.
Eligible expenses include medical and dental insurance premiums, long-term care insurance, dental care (including orthodontists), eyeglasses or contacts, or prescription drugs that are paid during the year. Not covered are medical-related bills that have been already covered by a supplemental, primary or self-insured plan. Basically, Montana accepts as eligible expenses any that are listed in the IRS 502 Publication, “Medical and Dental Expenses,” which is on the Web at www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p502.pdf.
An MSU Extension MontGuide will help you decide if you would benefit from a Montana medical care savings account. The publication (MontGuide 199817 HR) is free if picked up from your local MSU County Extension office. Or, download it free from the web at http://msuextension.org/publications/FamilyFinancialManagement/MT199817HR.pdf.
Last Updated on Thursday, 20 November 2014 13:32
HELENA – Ninety-seven percent for oil and gas, 3 percent for everything else.
An analysis from The Wilderness Society shows that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has made almost all its land within Montana available for oil and gas development. Nada Culver, director of the society’s BLM Action Center, said the stats prove that the oil and gas industry has an unfair advantage.
“If you want to manage for conservation, for recreation, for wildlife, all of those things are really difficult when we’re faced with such an unbalanced situation in current management,” she said.
BLM resource management plans in western states were examined for the report, which found that the agency has strict standards for deciding which lands should be managed for recreation or the environment, but the same standards are not applied to oil and gas leasing decisions.
Culver said the BLM should address imbalances, identify areas for conservation and recreation, and incorporate Master Leasing Plans – which the agency is beginning to do.
“We want to support a direction that the agency is going and can go to really embrace the way the public feels,” she said, “that they’re their lands, that we all have an opportunity to value them and use them.”
She cited another detail from the report: Of the 36 million acres of BLM land under oil and gas leases throughout the West, only about 12.5 million are in production. The report, “Open for Business,” is online at wilderness.org.
Last Updated on Thursday, 13 November 2014 09:36