Posts Tagged ‘Black History’


I grew up on Phil Donohue, watching my foster mom, Nell, hang on every word that came out of his mouth. She was a first generation American, who never learned how to drive and didn’t work outside the home because her husband asked her not to, politely. I would come home from school, tear off my Catholic school uniform and put on “play clothes” to join her on the couch, before tearing off into the neighborhood on my bike.

Yes, I was a tomboy, and proud of it!

We had a linoleum kitchen floor in our four room (not bedroom mind you), four room house in Victory Gardens. There’s a black and white picture of toddler me in a droopy diaper hiding in a space between the stove and the refrigerator, presumably during hide ‘n seek. We came from humble roots, coal mining families on Daddy Jim’s side and Slovakian dissidents from Nell’s; I knew they passed money to the mailman to fund the IRA.

My kids grew up on Oprah! So when I listened to her speech at the Golden Globes the other night, I knew something was afoot. She started off with a memory – sitting on her linoleum floor… “In 1964, I was a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother’s house in Milwaukee, watching Anne Bancroft present the Oscar for best actor at the 36th Academy Awards. She opened the envelope and said five words that literally made history: ‘The winner is Sidney Poitier.”

This is known as the Hook, the catch phrase memory of “humble roots” for every stump speech of every candidate running for any political office in our great land. See, I’m just like you, even though they’ve amassed tons of wealth, they started out with nothing, less than nothing…

I was recently talking with my sister Kay and our brother Dr Jim on a conference call, and listened as Jim recounted how he would go out with our late brother Mike on Christmas Eve to pick the prettiest Christmas tree. Because they were almost giving them away for a nickle. Because the Flapper was so poor.

“Did you also have to dumpster dive for food?” I asked him.

They laughed and said no, we hadn’t been that poor. The Flapper made it through the Great Depression and taught us never to leave a light on in a room. And after four years in the darkness (if he lasts that long), with this semi-literate, entitled, bone-headed purported billionaire in the People’s House, I’m willing to bet the pendulum just might swing back – way back toward the sunshine. With enough luck and organizing, we “might could” nominate a black woman, one who shines from within, for the White House! Yes Oprah, preach Oprah PREACH!!

And in the midst of a sea of black designer gowns that nobody wanted to talk about, she said this:

“Recy Taylor died 10 days ago, just shy of her 98th birthday. She lived, as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. And for too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men. But their time is up.”

Oprah brought this sad, compelling story about a gang rape of an innocent black woman in the Jim Crow South of 1944 to light. I felt my eyes filling with tears even as I registered that this sounds like a woman ready to run for office. She brought us the personal story, the anecdote about injustice, that made me remember why I was a Democrat in the first place. All the while we know that Oprah had been raped as a child, we know her story, and we know all those #MeToo stories that have been circulating about the abuse of power by powerful men.

And all I can think is that their Time is UP! They are fired! We have our very own reality TV star in the wings and she is fired up and ready to go. It’s as if a storm has swept through our country and we can now smell the beginning of new air. It’s the sun after a hurricane. We must fight against voter suppression, we must fight for basic human rights and one-payer healthcare. This is the time to take our country back! Please Oprah, I hope you will run. There’s “A new day on the horizon.”

Here is Bob with Berdelle, our 91 year old neighbor, at the TN State House today because you’re never too old to be a revolutionary!




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I’m sorry to say, that while perusing Twitter I lacked the energy and inclination to watch SyFy’s new show Sharknado. It was all over my Twitter feed, but instead I linked to @KosherSoul’s Washington Post article in the first person singular. The man’s name is Michael Twitty, and I somehow found him when he wrote an article about Paula Deen. He is a Southern culinary historian and food blogger http://afroculinaria.com with a remarkably astute point of view!


“No one had to tell me about “organic” or “sustainable,” because that was the tradition that was passed down to me. My authenticity is not based on food trends; my authenticity is based on what August Wilson once called the self-sustaining ground of the slave quarter.”

His intention is to bring an awareness to our white Euro-centric society of our gastronomic roots in Africa. Most food cooked on plantations in the Antebellum South was not done by French chefs – even though Mr Jefferson did have a French chef give his slave/cook Edith Fossett  instructions: “1862 He (Jefferson) had a French cook in Washington named Julien, and he took Eda and Fanny there to learn French cookery. He always preferred French cookery. Eda and Fanny were afterwards his cooks at Monticello.” So you can see how French cooking did influence Virginia and Louisiana chefs in the future.

But mostly today’s Southern cuisine is the result of black enslaved women, who created wholesome, real food;  locally grown and harvested. They raised the cows, chickens and pigs that were slaughtered without drugs. They grew the vegetables and fruit without pesticides.

So I began to think of my own culinary history, born in PA coal country and nurtured in rural NJ. How is it that I managed to raise 2 children who became healthy, real food-types despite my own upbringing? My foster mother Nell cooked by can, usually Campbells. She was of that new-fangled, post-war generation that was sold a bill of goods. Look, we created a frozen TV dinner for you to just “heat and serve” to your family! Marketing was focused on making the happy 50s housewife’s life simple and easy. Where do you think that canned green bean special swimming in soup came from on Thanksgiving?

But Nell was first generation Yugoslavian, and she talked about her father keeping barrels of sauerkraut in their basement. Sometimes she would fry pork chops, but for special occasions, she would make “halupkes.” These are the most delicious little pillows of ground pork and rice, rolled in a cabbage leaf and simmered in sauerkraut. I adored this Slavic stuffed cabbage, with a passion. Even today, comfort food usually involves pork. But lucky for me, the Flapper loved to cook.

The Flapper was married first to an Italian man, then widowed and married to my Father, an Irishman. She married my step-father, who was Jewish, after I moved back into her house. Consequently, she was a proper global chef de cuisine. My pre-teen and teen years were filled with lovely aromas and real food. She baked banana cream pies, deviled eggs and put together a proper meatball and tomato sauce. She could roast, fry and broil just about anything using her Fanny Farmer cookbook. In fact, I think she only opened a can to get at some stewed tomatoes for her famous Depression-era mac and cheese, with bacon!

Nell taught me to cook with love on special occasions, and my MIL Ada taught me how to make a proper seder dinner. But the Flapper taught me to cook with alacrity, with whatever is in season, using the freshest possible ingredients. And this led to the Bride winning her Kindergarten Mother’s Day essay by “writing” about my mac and cheese and how I cook “from scratch,” even when I make PB & J sandwiches! Here are my herb planters on the deck.


The best thing I learned from the Flapper was always adding some TLC to any dish. What is your culinary history?

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Women are making history left and right. Today Rosie Napravnik, a 25 year old Jersey girl, may just be the first woman jockey to win the Kentucky Derby. When she started out as a teenager, she was told to list herself as “A R Napravnik” in 2005. “A trainer suggested that listing so as not to advertise she was female and perhaps diminish her opportunities to get mounts. He said, ‘We can’t let anybody know that you’re a girl.'” Even after Julie Krone won a Triple Crown race in 1993 by finishing first at the Belmont Stakes; Rosie still had to go all Victor Victoria.

And for another first, an American woman has landed on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List. Joanne Chesimard (aka Assata Shakur) was a Black Panther and later a leader in the Black Liberation Army. In 1979 she fled to Cuba after making a daring prison escape. She was serving a life sentence for her involvement in a police officer’s death on the NJ Turnpike. “The FBI is offering a reward of up to $1m (£640,000) for information leading to her capture, while the state of New Jersey is separately offering another $1m. FBI agent Aaron Ford said that the agency would ‘pursue justice, no matter how long it takes.'” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-22397295

I’m figuring she must be a grandmother by now. In her defense, Chesimard argued that she was shot with her hands up in the air, and so she didn’t – or couldn’t – pull the trigger. The medical evidence seemed to validate her view of that fateful traffic stop. She was shot in the right arm and collarbone: “Dr. David Spain, a pathologist from Brookdale Community College, testified that her bullet scars as well as X-rays supported her claim that her arms were raised, and that there was “no conceivable way” the first bullet could have hit Shakur’s clavicle if her arm was down.” Still, in NJ to be an accomplice in a shooting is enough to be found guilty.

So all my feminist hackles have been raised this week, a first running in the Derby and a first to run from the law… and live. And I thought I’d share a chuckle from an editor at Upworthy, a talented young writer I’ve started to follow on twitter. Rebecca Eisenberg writes a blog called “Never Sarcastic.” She tweeted

“How to dress for your shape? Are you human-shaped?” which led to one hilarious riff back and forth regarding women’s magazine headlines. This was one of mine: “How to get a hot body? Run outside or take a hot yoga class.” http://ryeisenberg.tumblr.com/post/48204810905/agentotter-islandofmisfitt0ys

“Want a bikini body? Put a bikini on your body!” And RUN Rosie RUN!

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It’s Book Club time again. Tonight we’ll be discussing Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. In our club, the woman who hosts that night at her house gets to pick the book, and I’m excited to discuss this 1930’s African American coming of age novel. Born in 1891, Ms Hurston grew up in the country’s first incorporated Black township in Eatonville, Florida. By the time she died in 1960, penniless and working as a maid, this Harlem Renaissance author had published several short stories, screenplays, eight novels and four childrens’ books.

I had trouble digging into this book simply because of the language. Her dialogue is pure early, Black Southern vernacular. “Speakin’ of winds, he’s de wind and we’se de grass,…he’s got uh throne in de seat of his pants,” is a good example of how grammar is exchanged for metaphor which I finally loved to read slowly and savor. Because I could identify with Janie, who was in some ways Hurston herself. Her grandmother wanted her to marry well and sit up high on the porch, listening to the stories of others and never giving voice to her own.

It was wonderful to see on CNN this morning our Black Congresswomen coming to the aide of a white Florida delegate, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, after a Black male delegate, R- Allen West called her out in an email to shut her mouth and start acting like a lady! Are we still talking semantics or is there something more sinister here? The numbers of women in our Capital building are dwindling partially because of this patently absurd culture.

My first post-college job in 1973 was at the Fremont Street Head Start Pre-School in Jersey City, NJ. My four year olds were precious, and their parents wanted only the best possible education for them, not unlike any other Caucasian parents. But we had to deal with drug users and sellers in the alleys, broken glass on the cement playground where the equipment had to be hauled inside every night, and burnt out buildings in the neighborhood instead of parks. My eyes were opened as I began to understand their dialect, and the multi-generational language of poverty.

We’re having a heat wave right now on both sides of the mountains. Tonight will bring some cooler heads to this porch of smart Southern women.

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