Saturday, August 08, 2020

Croissant Dough Named Charlotte

Picture Perfect Croissants
Picture Perfect Croissants. (I didn't make these.) 

I've become a fan of the British Baking Show, which I learned about from my sister-in-law Laurie and have been watching on and off for a few years. It's a lot of fun, putting amateur bakers to the test making new and challenging recipes.

My friend Deb and I were chatting recently and said how much we both would like to try to make some of the more challenging recipes they attempted. One of the most challenging ones was croissants. There is a lot of rolling, turning and folding, and tons of butter, followed by chilling, more folding and turning, etc. So we decided to try our hand at it.

Deb looked up a bunch of recipes and we ended up going with one that came out of a 1961 New York Times cookbook. We started on Thursday at her house, making the initial dough, rolling it out and adding in all the butter. Then it chilled overnight in her frig, and we picked it up again at my house the following night. 

Deb arrived at our home and announced that the folded, flat bit of dough had been dubbed Charlotte. Charlotte was about to get a working over now that she was at my house. Deb continued the process of rolling, turning and folding, which is supposed to incorporate the butter through all of the layers so that when it bakes it puffs up into all those delicious flaky layers.

My favorite part of the recipe is when it says "cut into triangles," which I have determined is the most passive-aggressive direction ever written in a recipe. Do you have any idea how to cut 18 triangles out of a square piece of dough?I do, but only because I've purchased Pillsbury croissant dough in the past and saw how it had been scored and rolled so carefully into that little tube. 

We managed to get 19 little tiny croissants out of the dough, which was supposed to make 18 croissants, so we considered that a success. We put it into the oven with the temp sent to "proof" and waited for them to rise. And waited. And waited. And they rose...a little bit. You could tell by the seams that they were indeed attempting to rise, but alas, they were not doubling in size.
Ready to start rising! Aren't they cute?! 

Do these look like they're rising? 

After a couple of hours we heated up the oven to 425 and popped them in at their current diminutive size. Oh well.

They came out like little bread knots. No flaky layers, no puffiness. Just a solid, dense chunk of bread. They were good if you were expecting bread knots.

Later on I read some other recipes for croissants, all of which called for perhaps a teaspoon or tablespoon of sugar. I realized that the sugar was the "food" for the yeast. Poor Charlotte, we starved her!

I have a new appreciation every time I casually pick up a croissant from a bakery. I'm going to try a different recipe and see if I can succeed at this. It was too much fun not to do it again.

Monday, August 03, 2020

Anti-Racist in Training

Sign at the George Floyd Memorial, August 2020

I’ll begin with a parable by David Foster Wallace, as told in a commencement address in 2005:

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

This allegory, first spoken by David Foster Wallace at a commencement address in 2005, was referring to the important realities that exist all around us that are the hardest to see and talk about, that in the seemingly mundane work of “adulting,” we are choosing to make our lives important…or not important.

I would like to use the allegory to make a different statement:

All Americans are racists.

Someone first said this to me earlier this year as I attended the first of many rallies and protests in Minneapolis after the murder of George Floyd. I was taken aback and asked this person for an explanation. His short explanation? “We’re all swimming in the water.”

Our government was built on a basis of racism. When the founding fathers wrote “All men are created equal” they didn’t take “men” to mean all human beings, they truly meant all White men — women were not included in this statement, nor were Blacks or Native Americans. Women were not considered intelligent or unemotional enough to know what was best for them. The second were considered property, not capable of managing their own lives or living without a master. The third, Native Americans, were not included as belonging to the country because it was their country we would slowly annex to create our own over the next 100 years.

All subsequent systems were built out of this belief that White men were at the top of a racial and gender hierarchy. The banking system, justice system, healthcare system, the wrestling of state rights vs federal rights, all of it. It is all around us; so much so that as a White woman walking through this world, I never saw it.

“Oh yes,” you say, “But we’ve come so far, that’s ancient history now!”

Is it really?

In 2018, Wells Fargo was fined $3 billion for opening false accounts on behalf of its customers, taking out credit in their names falsely to “boost” reported earnings. While that was the action they were fined for, multiple cities across the United States have also sued Wells Fargo repeatedly for predatory lending practices, stating that Wells Fargo pushes BIPOC borrowers to take out riskier or more expensive loans than they should, costing many of them homeownership opportunities. Just this year the Trump administration stripped the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity of their enforcement actions, making them impotent. Moving forward, if someone believes a bank is not being fair to them on the basis of gender, race, religion or other status, there is no longer an office with any power that can help them. 

Today, the United States comprises 5% of the global population but 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. Why is that? Do we really have that many criminals here in the “land of the free?” Do you know the difference between a White and a Black drug addict? A White drug addict goes to treatment — a Black drug addict goes to jail. When those White addicts end their treatment, they mostly go back about their lives, to their jobs, families and communities, while the Blacks who serve their sentence have lost some if not all of those things while they were away, and have lost the right to vote for their rest of their lives (in most states).

In 2018, when 65% of Florida voters emphatically voted “yes” to restore voting rights to convicted felons who had served their time, 33% of adult Black men seemingly had their voices restored to them. I say “seemingly” because even now, in 2020, the roll-out of this law has been stymied by a new wrinkle that now states that those felons must pay all fees and fines related to their convictions. The voice of the poor Black man is not yet being heard.  

In the United States, a Black baby is twice as likely to die by its first birthday as a White baby. Research published in 2018 determined that the reason for this gap isn’t the unhealthy behavior of Black mothers, which has been considered the underlying cause for 30 years. Instead, it points to the gap in access to healthcare for Black and White mothers, institutional racism and the increased stress that Black mothers suffer living in a racist society.

We are swimming in the water. And suddenly I see it all around me.

As Angela Davis says in Ava DuVernay’s stunning documentary, 13th, “It is not enough to be a non-racist. We must become actively anti-racist.”

I am working on becoming anti-racist. It is not enough to quietly walk through this world, accepting my guaranteed freedom while they are being denied to others in my own country.

I am starting where I believe I can make the most difference — here in my own city. I am taking my lead from the voices of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) communities who have been telling us for years what they need to be safe, to feel the same security I feel as I move about this world. In their neighborhoods the police are a menace, harassing them and brutalizing them for decades, robbing many of their freedoms for low-level crimes that lawmakers wrote years ago for misleading purposes.

I no longer want to live in two Americas, one built for people who look like me and one built for those who don’t. I hope you’ll join me in this change.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Quarantine Yoga

YogaFit offered virtual yoga classes during the stay-at-home order.
Our health clubs and yoga centers have been closed since mid-March. Marissa and I were in a good groove of working out at the club two or three times every week. I often made an extra trip during the week while she was at school. And then...nothing.

Our local YogaFit studio did an amazing job of creating virtual yoga classes. Their instructors would be in the empty studio with a laptop and a microphone. Every day they emailed the next day's schedule with links to the video and the Spotify playlist if you wanted the music the instructor picked in the background. They asked everyone to pay for classes they took online, even though it was really on the honor system as to whether or not you attended. They were really amazing and gracious at making yoga accessible during this time.

I took a few classes during this quarantine time, and realized how much I had missed yoga in my life. The long stretches, the muscles that you didn't know you had being sore the day after the session, it was awesome.

One day I picked up another class in the morning while both the girls were still in bed. (This could have been a 10 a.m. class, just to get a sense of how late my teens are sleeping in this summer.) I was in the basement where the only carpet in the house is located so that I had a nice cushy surface under my yoga mat.

In the middle of my class I hear Marissa get up. She comes down to the basement with a load of laundry, waves at me and goes to the laundry room to start her wash. Shortly after, I hear Lindsey get up.

How can I tell the difference, you ask? I have two words for you: Elephant. Feet.

Lindsey can be heard from two floors away when she gallops down stairs. Boom Boom Boom Boom Boom!! I think she hits every other step and takes all of the momentum and puts it all into the heel of her foot. Boom boom boom boom down two flights of stairs.

She peeks at me in the family room, then goes into the laundry room to get her laundry out of the dryer. I can hear Marissa still putting her laundry in the washing machine, and then, suddenly...a scream.

I'm not exactly sure how Marissa did NOT hear Lindsey's elephant feet coming down the two flights of stairs, but considering how well she tunes out the outside world much of the time, it was not surprising..but still surprising.

I hear the two of them laugh at how Marissa got scared. And then they start bickering.

"How could you not hear me coming down the stairs?"

"You KNOW how easily I get scared, why didn't you say something?!"

"Well I did, but you didn't hear me say that either!"

"You KNOW I have my headphones on, you could've done something else."

"Like what, turn the lights on and off? Like that wouldn't have freaked you out..."

And back and forth and back and forth. In the meantime, my yoga instructor is telling me to inhale slowly while doing some tricky balance move. Finally I yell out:

"Can you guys NOT? I'm doing FUCKING YOGA!"

Which was answered by a couple of giggles and then the two girls went back up the stairs together, laughing about how they annoyed their mother.

I was left wondering if they did that just to annoy me. I somehow managed to re-focus on my class and finish it out. We all laughed about it afterwards.

And that's quarantine yoga for you.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

A Pilgrimage

I've now been down to 38th & Chicago many times now since May 25th, the last day of George Floyd's life.

It feels important to do. I don't know how to feel every time I go, which is why I go often.

The community has blocked off the intersection by a block in every direction — no police in sight, citizens can manage this themselves, thank you very much. Depending on which direction you enter it from, your car could be stopped by pieces of art, by concrete blocks, or by cars parked sideways across the intersection, music blasting from the stereo.

At each entrance you'll find volunteers at a tent, handing out masks and spraying hand sanitizer on each visitor. We are in the midst of a pandemic, after all.

Today, I visited with my husband and both girls and we first visited the "#SayTheirNames Cemetery," an art installation a block away, in a green space that was previously empty. This art was created by two Penn State students and is made of tombstones of every Black person who lost their lives at the hands of the police. It is devastatingly large and not complete. While there I emailed one of the artists (per their sign) and gave a couple of names to add to it, the most recent killing happening just this past Friday.

"#SayTheirNames" Cemetery, 37th & Park Ave, Mpls
From there, we walked the half-block to 38th & Chicago. You don't need the signs at each entrance reminding you that you're entering a sacred place, and to be respectful of brown and black people who may be in mourning. You don't need that reminder, you can feel it.

The street is covered with the names of Blacks who lost their lives at the hands of the police and have not received justice. The names stretch across faded yellow dotted lines that used to direct cars along the streets which are now only traveled by foot. An oblivious person was walking over the names and someone else asked him to move off of them and walk alongside. It was the respectful thing to do.

We came to the corner where George lost his life. The place on the street where he died has been painted, his body filled in with blue paint, wings unfolding from his shoulders as he ascends to heaven. The area where he died is marked off by red velvet rope and entirely lined with flowers upon flowers upon flowers, signs and letters to George strewn among the decaying flora.

Around the corner is the beautiful blue mural that was painted just a couple of days after his death. Marissa and I were visiting while the artists were painting it. I have visited here when the flowers were so thick on the sidewalk that visitors had to take to the street. Now, the decaying and dead flowers from three weeks ago have been removed and a new layer of fresh flowers lain down by visitors, though everyone respectfully keeps their distance and gazes upon it from afar.

This particular piece of art hurt my heart the most. These are George's final words. All of them.
Tents are set up throughout by various groups. I purchased t-shirts from black business owners who are raising money to re-build their barber shop and the salon next door which were both damaged in the ensuing riots. There was a tent set up in the parking lot of the Speedway to register people to vote, one of few ways that people in these neighborhoods can take back their power.

The previous day I was in this same area, working the "Recall Freeman" tent to collect signatures to recall Hennepin County DA Mike Freeman, who was waiting for "more evidence" before charging the officers with George Floyd's death. The only evidence he could have been waiting for was that exonerating the police officers, as the public had already seen the overwhelming evidence of their guilt.

The center of the intersection has a large sculpture of a black fist raised up to the sky, surrounded by flowers and art. Art upon art upon art upon art. The street was filled with the original graffiti after his death, of people writing "murder," and "f12," and "say his name" directly on the pavement. And then this was supplanted by statues, murals, other art that overtook the graffiti.
Stunning art of George Floyd made up the protest signs his death inspired.
Black grief is not quiet. It is loud. It is sometimes profane. It is undeniable. It is contagious.

Each time I visit, I see something new. I talk to people and nod and pay respect to people who, outside of this sacred space, I may not have felt comfortable approaching. I've had conversations with people all of creeds and colors in this space and we are all there together, with a singular mission: to honor George Floyd's life, and to ensure that his death was not in vain, that his will be the one that will change our society forever.

Monday, June 08, 2020

As *NOT* Seen on TV

The intersection where George Floyd was murdered, now a massive memorial.

I have no idea what the national coverage is of the happenings in Minneapolis. Probably, most local news stations turned to what is happening in their own backyards, since the rioting caused by the murder of George Floyd has spread across the country and around the world.

All I know is what it's been like here for the past two weeks.

I can tell you that a little over a week ago I was anxiously awaiting nightfall, wondering what parts of the city would be hit next. The businesses at 50th & France boarded up that weekend in anticipation of rioting. I later found out this was because the DA, Mike Freeman, lives in the neighborhood and some group had planned a march from 50th & France to his house to protest his bringing paltry charges against the police officers responsible for George Floyd's death. The case was eventually handed over to Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (a black man), who then upgraded the charges against Derek Chauvin and charged the other three officers as well in their complicity.

I got somewhere between 4 and 5 hours of sleep a night for a few nights in a row, sleeping with one ear alert for people or vehicles who shouldn't be out after curfew. I was awarded with a spectacle of watching a family of raccoons raid my neighbor's garbage cans around 2 a.m., and a lot of groggy days. And then I thought about the black people living in our city whose nights' sleeps are like that every night, 365 days a year, because of the continual unrest within their neighborhoods and I stopped feeling sorry for myself. 

The majority of property damage done during the protests/riots were not done by local groups but by outsiders who came to our city, attracted by the potential for violence. In our neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods, community members were been finding gas cans and other incendiary materials to start fires. Our assumption was that groups were leaving those in places during the day, then coming back to them in the cover of night to use them to start fires.

The local news ran a story asking for eyewitnesses or evidence to track down people who the ATF has footage of starting fires. Notice anything about the people they were seeking footage on? 

That's right, they are all white.

I see a lot of head shaking and mutterings of, "Why would they burn down their own neighborhoods?" The answer is, They didn't do it alone. White supremacists, anarchists and other groups came into our city and took advantage of the chaos to do those things. Whether their motivation was to discredit the Black Lives Matter movement or just watch a city a burn, they left town. They may have left in part due to the presence of the National Guard, but I can tell you that they also were thwarted at every turn by neighborhood watch groups who approached people and cars on the streets and told them to leave. 

Our grocery stores have been incredibly busy because the grocery stores in nearby neighborhoods have been damaged or looted, so more people are visiting ours. The shelves for staples like canned soup, toilet paper, laundry soap and others are as empty as they were at the start of the pandemic. Many of those are being purchased by people who are then donating them to organizations in the area helping families whose local grocery stores have been burned down. 

Same for our local Walgreens, the one where Beauty is a staff favorite. The other day Lindsey and I waited in a line that stretched to the back of the store to pick up a prescription. I've never seen a line that long there. An employee there told me that the four closest Walgreens to us were closed, either in anticipation of being attacked and damaged, or because they already had been. 

Yesterday I attended an event called "The Path Forward," sponsored by Black Visions Collective and Reclaim the Block, in which 9 of the 13 Minneapolis City Council members vowed to defund the police. They had the crowd of nearly 1,000 people break into small groups to discuss what that might look like, then provided an email address to send those ideas collectively to them for discussion. 

More on what "defunding" means and how that may look later. But...the overall feeling was hopeful, positive. We are moving beyond anger to action, and I'm excited to be a part of the change. 

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Living in Two Different Cities

I'm sitting in my backyard with the fire pit burning, a dog snuggled up next to me and the quiet sounds of urban wildlife settling down for the night. The sun is slowly setting, we can see it through the little window where our trees open up to the west.

5/30/2020, 9 p.m., Fulton neighborhood, Minneapolis 

A family having a birthday celebration earlier today at Bde Maka Ska.

Three blocks from us, our local shops are boarded up. The grocery store closed at 5 p.m., the liquor store closed last night at 6:30 p.m. and will not re-open until Tuesday. 

The jewelry store down the street is also boarded up and the message "all jewelry has been removed from the premises" spray-painted across the plywood.

Jewelry store at 50th & France.

On one of the businesses at 50th & France.

Our Walgreens, the one where Beauty is so beloved by all the staff members, was broken into two nights ago. One of their doors is covered with plywood. They are open for business because people need their prescriptions, but they, too, closed early.

It feels like the calm before the storm. 

Our family is feeling helpless — we wish we could do more, so we started looking around to see how we could help. Local food shelves are now serving families whose local grocery stores were damaged or are closed anticipating violence. A Minneapolis public school in the 3rd precinct, where all this began, needs help getting food to their low-income families who would normally still be getting free lunch food. So Lindsey and I wrote down the list of what they needed and decided to buy the items, put together the food bags and drop them off tomorrow.

The line at our local Lund's of people waiting to go in to shop was out the door. The grocery store was closing early and still limiting the number of people in the store due to social distancing. So we decided to drive further out, to Bloomington, to shop for these families in need.

The store in Bloomington was also closing at 5; we got there around 3:30 p.m. The lines to check out snaked all the way to the back of the store. It took us two hours to get the groceries needed that we'll donate, as well as the few we needed for ourselves. 

One woman was there to get grocery for her sister, since her sister lives in the area of the protests and can't get to a store. Another was stocking up just in case the store there was a target too and she wouldn't be able to get groceries later on. And then there were people like us, who thought that driving to Bloomington was far enough away for us to avoid a crowd. Silly us.

The line to check out at Cub Foods in Bloomington.

It is so frustrating that just as our businesses were opening back up,after months of being closed due to the pandemic, they are closing again due to civil unrest. Salons that were going to be opening on Monday aren't any more, nor are the restaurants and bars that were set to open June 1. This could send some small business owners over the edge financially. 

All Minneapolis residents are under curfew start at 8 p.m. It is estimated that 10,000 agitators from out-of-state are in our city now, causing chaos and using this unrest as a cover for looting and destroying our city. In today's press conference, Mayor Melvin Carter of St. Paul said that of the 120 arrests that took place in St. Paul last night, 100% of them were from out-of-town. Gov. Walz says that their surveillance is estimating that 80% of the protestors are not from here, many from known white supremist groups. 

I am saddened by what is happening, moreso because we seem to go through this cycle every few years. Brutal murder, followed by outrage, followed by a promise for change, followed by a slipping back to old ways, followed by a brutal murder. And the fact that white supremacists are using this opportunity to besmirch the work of the black community legitimately protesting yet another unjustified death in this country angers me to no end.

I hope for peace. I hope for change. I hope for equality for all and protection under the law.

More later. Thank you for reading.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

From "Stay Well" to "Stay Safe"

A crowd gathers at 38th and Chicago where George Floyd was murdered, watching artists create a mural to honor his memory.

On Monday of this week a black man named George Floyd was pinned to the ground and a white police officer knelt on his neck with his full weight, asphyxiating him until he died. A crowd of people gathered and cried mercy on his behalf to deaf ears.

George had been accused of forging a $20 bill at a local grocery store. He was unarmed, was already in handcuffs and had been placed in the back of the squad car. He was then removed from the vehicle, placed on the ground and the officer placed his knee on his neck for nearly 9 minutes. George stopped moving at 3 minutes in. The officer didn't remove his weight from George's neck until after the ambulance showed up and the gurney rolled out.

The gross abuse of power was captured in a 10-minute video shot by a 17-year-old girl on the scene. I cannot imagine the horror she experienced as she watched a man lose his life through the lens of her phone.

We are on night three of what we expect to be protests and riots. The first night was bricks through car windshields, some minor damage. The next night an apartment complex under construction was burnt to the ground, as was the local Target and AutoZone. Other businesses were broken into and looted. Last night the 3rd Precinct building of the MPD was set on fire, along with a host of other businesses. Violence is spreading to St. Paul and the suburbs, and solidarity in other cities is resulting in protests in Los Angeles, Denver, New York and more. 

At first I was angry and frustrated why communities respond to injustice by looting and hurting business owners who live in their neighborhoods. But then I read a few things that made so much sense to me, this one makes it the easiest to understand:
"A riot is the language of the unheard." — Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 
This was first said in a speech on April 4, 1967 called "The Other America" given at Stanford University. He paraphrased this and used it in many interviews until his death exactly one year from when he first spoke them.

His full speech can be found here. It is disheartening that it is just as relevant today as it was when it was first delivered 53 years ago.

I read about the work of MPD150, which did a comprehensive study of the history of the Minneapolis Police Department over the past 150 years. Its roots in racism are deep, and its culture has not strayed far from those roots. Their comprehensive report, released in 2017, makes a powerful case for defunding the police department and diverting those dollars to community organizations that can help reduce poverty, address mental health and drug dependency and other issues that will make communities safer, thus reducing the need for police patrolling.

I also perused this sobering dataview produced by the Star Tribune of every death after a physical confrontation with police across Minnesota. They documented the race of the victim, of the officers, whether or not weapons were involved, and the final result of justice, be it charges or a conviction. It doesn't take long to see why George Floyd's unnecessary death is the final straw. 

Finally, I began learning from the Hampton Institute, a think tank in D.C. providing analyses on a variety of subjects affecting the working class. And they had this to say about the events in Minneapolis:

This event and the fallout has been the only talk of our home for a couple of days. The girls and I have talked about our society, white privilege, the history of oppression and what it would take to fix it all.  Today Marissa and I visited the corner where George was murdered to pay our respects and be with others who feel this loss upon more loss. We don't have answers. But blacks in this country have waited too long to no longer be oppressed, to not be killed for driving while black, jogging while black, shopping while black. 

I am using my voice to call our officials, speak out on social media, and support the fight for justice and the end of inequality. I'll be supporting local organizations as well which are working to fight for change by donating to Communities Against Police Brutality, Minneapolis FreedomFund, MPD150 and others.

Please, educate yourself by following the links in this article. Here's a listing of other resources:

"The Warmth of Other Suns," Isabel Wilkerson
"The New Jim Crow," Michelle Alexander
"I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness," Austin Channing Brown
"The Hate You Give," Angie Thomas
"Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City," Matthew Desmond
"13th," and "When They See Us," documentaries by Ave DuVernay

Not. One. More.