Friday, June 22, 2012


I am reproducing the following letter to the editor printed in the current issue of The New Yorker in which the author hits a new note in the on-going discussion regarding the "value" of college education. More to my purposes is to point out his concern regarding the vast numbers who won't live as "prosperous" as their parents. This has become such an accepted proposition that it needs to be examined.
A letter in response to Nicholas Lemann’s article (May 28, 2012)
JUNE 25, 2012
Nicholas Lemann concludes his piece on student debt with a few words extolling the societal benefits of higher education (Comment, May 28th). Perhaps, but the dollar value of a college degree for many students is not clear. While there is considerable debate over the numbers, it seems that about half of all jobs in the foreseeable future will require a four-year college degree. If our society needs half our workers to do skilled work that doesn’t require four-year degrees, our obsession with making college available to all seems destined to disappoint. There’s a flip side to the studies that promote the benefits of college: if college-educated workers are now making eighty-four per cent more than high-school graduates, up from forty per cent more in 1983, it means that those who can’t afford a college degree have fallen radically behind. We need to respect the fifty per cent of workers who do so many essential jobs, and we need to pay them a living wage. Part of the desperation for a college education is that the gap between the rich and the rest of society has grown so large that everyone except the very few winners in our brave new economy will lead lives that are much less prosperous than those of their parents.
Tim Butterworth,Associate Fellow.Institute for Policy Studies,Chesterfield, N.H.

My father owned a succession of Jew Canoes. His last was that 1972 Eldorado which he kept in its own house in Florida. When I met Carrie her daddy drove a 1956 Coupe-deville. Her grandfather drove a Chrysler 300. They all consumed an average of 7 mpg. Our first vehicle was a Lambretta motor scooter. Our first car, a Fiat 500. 

My father was a home builder. His house was a 2400 square foot rambler. He built much larger houses. Today they would be called McMansions. He referred to them as "Big-Mothas". Carrie's parents built a three level split with a two car garage.

My father would answer when asked, "how was the restaurant?" "It was fantastic, the steaks fell off the sides of the plate." My parents favorite restaurant was Momma Leones in NYC where you could order an antipasto that just kept coming, "and the shrimp. they never stopped bringing those shrimp". They lived large. It was the motif of their generations' lives."Do you want to be Queen for a Day?"

We met in college. Carrie stopped after her second year to earn the bread to keep us going. We studied liberal arts. I majored in American Thought. We were the first people in our families to go to college. We borrowed the money and paid our own way. 

Our first apartment was advertised in the Washington Post as a studio at a very uptown address for $75 a month. It was on the ground floor, past the laundry. A dentist had offices on this floor and controlled more space then he needed. He sub-leased a triangular space to us. The walls were 17 ft long leading to a bathroom at the apex. No kitchen. We put a "bar" piece in as a room divider and stored a hot plate, rotisserie (which blew fuses on the entire floor), and pots and pans on the one shelf. We did dishes in the shower. We had a cat. When we invited our parents over the first time, we cued the doorman to help with the joke. This building had a turnaround drive. It is still a prestigious address. Neither set of parents could believe we lived here. The doorman showed them in. They entered the apartment, "living room" and when they asked to see the rest, were led into the tiny bathroom. I remember my father's reaction, "people can't live like this."  We did until the city insisted that it was a non-conforming space and we had to leave to move into our next one room studio. 

When we bought a house it was 768 sq ft.We had a dog, a cat, and a child.   We expanded it to 1100 sq ft. over the thirty years we owned it. 
We ate ramen, mac and cheese, and a lot of iceberg. We never, here comes the cliche', ever, felt poor. Our fortunes rose and fell, we moved. We ate better. I don't know how to measure our "prosperity". Clearly we didn't share our parents life style. Today you would measure our btu footprint as a fraction of our parents and it would be celebrated in some quarters as ecologically correct.

It is critical that we challenge the generally accepted definitions of "prosperity". The facts are that all over the world, the desire to live large as individuals, and to grow as nations looks all too similar to how our parents, and most of my gen live. We can't sustain that life-style. We have to change the paradigm. It begins by challenging the terms that set the tone, for what constitutes a prosperous life. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Latkes by any other name

Potato pancakes are commonly associated with traditional cuisines of Luxembourg (gromperekichelcher), Latvia(as kartupeļu pankūkas), Lithuania (as bulviniai blynai), Austria, Belarus (as draniki), Germany (e. g. as Kartoffelpuffer), Poland (as placki ziemniaczane), Ukraine (as deruny), Ashkenazi Jewry (as latkes or latkas (Yiddish: לאַטקעס, Hebrew: לביבה levivah, plural לביבות levivot)), Hungary, Slovakia, Persia and the Czech Rep. (as bramborák or cmunda), although other cuisines (including those of India and Korea) have similar dishes, such as Gamjajeon. It is also the national dish of Belarus. In Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian cuisines, potato pancakes are commonly known as deruny (Ukrainian: деруни) or draniki (Russian: драники, Belarusian: дранікі). Throughout Germany, potato pancakes are also very common under the names Reibekuchen or Kartoffelpuffer, and they are eaten either salty (as a side dish) or sweet with apple sauce, blueberries, sugar and cinnamon; they are a very common menu item during outdoor markets and festivals in colder seasons; a traditional favorite in southern Indiana during holiday festivities.

The Rösti from Swiss cuisine differs insofar as it never contains egg or flour.

In the North-East of England (particularly County Durham), there is a popular dish known as tattie fish- "tattie" being the local slang for potato, and "fish" because the pancake resembles a deep fried piece of fish. The pancake consists of flour, eggs, shredded potatoes and onions. Some people add tomato or cheese to the mix, depending on taste.

A form of potato pancake known as boxty is a popular traditional dish in most of Ireland. It is made in a similar way but using more starch.

The Swedish version of unbound potato pancakes is called rårakor. When prepared with a batter of wheat flour, milk, egg, and shredded potatoes and fried like thin pancakes, they are called raggmunk, the word "ragg" means crispy and "munk" derives from the Swedish "munkpanna", which is literally translated as donutpan. Both kinds are enjoyed with fried pork and lingonberry jam.

As I was perusing an otherwise great food book, "From Harvest to Heat", I came  upon a recipe for "hash browns" that resembled latkes. I know hash browns and as you read in the above there are many variants of latkes but hash browns ain't one of them. To further the insult the recipe has you grate the potatoes. I found that many recipes for potato pancakes begin with; grate some potatoes. Think of the difference between a shredded carrot and grated parmesan and you get my point. You want to shred your potatoes. There is a shredding disk in most food processors. The manual square steel combo kitchen tool has a shredding side, a slicer, and a grater. Use the shredder for long, an inch or so, crispy threads. 

I make latkes from any potato but russets which are just too starchy. Gather a pound, three or four medium or two large potatoes. Shred them and cover the shreds in a bowl of water. Swirl with your hands for a few seconds and drain into a sieve. Dump the shreds into a large clean tea towel. Gather up the corners and form a tight ball. Over the sink, squeeze the towel until most of the water is expelled from the potatoes. 

In a large mixing bowl crack and stir an egg. Add a tablespoon of flour. Now things get interesting. I add a couple tablespoons of my favorite dried thai shallots, you can add shredded onion raw or fried, scallions, a shredded carrot, some shredded celeriac or zucchini,  crumbled cheese, s/p. paprika, garlic, herb, you get the idea. Add the potatoes to your bowl and stir throughly. We use two non stick pans so we can do many at once. Crank to medium high heat and add lipid of choice. We use duck fat but any fat will do. Gather a large spoonful or ice-cream scoop of mix and gently plop into pan, press with spatula. Repeat leaving space between to make flipping easier.

 When edges start to turn brown (the crispy bits are critical) flip and let finish, browned. Drain on a paper towel, place in warm oven while you finish the rest.
 I double this recipe and have leftovers refried with a poached egg for breakfast. As many variants as there are for flavoring you can have just as much fun with toppings. Sour cream and applesauce are standard. Consider minced corned beef, or bacon, smoked salmon, caviar & creme fraiche,  melted cheese topping, or a burger (an open faced sandwich). And for a real open ended option consider using any shreddable veg; beets, parsnips, sweet potatoes, for the pancake. Or, and I do this, make some spaghetti, drain it, season it and cook as above. 
Recession, what recession?