31 October 2017

Halloween — Pumpkin Carving Instructions

A piece of American culture, for those who have never participated before.

You will need
 your pumpkin (I bought one for $5, but prices vary) – larger pumpkins are easier to carve. Mine is about 12 inches or 30 cm diameter. (A little bigger is a lot heavier.)
 old newspaper to work on
  a kitchen knife with a long sturdy blade to cut the lid, and a large strong spoon to scoop the seeds and pulp from inside and to thin the walls (1 inch or 2.5cm is ideal). Hold the spoon by its bowl to get better control while scooping, and avoid bending the handle!
 a serrated pumpkin saw for cutting through the flesh and skin. You can find them at at CVS, Target, or a grocery store (individually or as part of a set) for approximately 3-5$. The alternative is a thin serrated knife or a steak knife. The serrated saw or knife is the most important thing. The scoop from a set is also useful.  For example:
 some large ziplock bags or large yoghurt containers for your pumpkin seeds and flesh (which is not very edible) if you want to keep them.
 some old supermarket bags for the discarded bits of pumpkin and soggy newspaper.
 some patterns, or you can do your own design
 some push pins to transfer the patterns to the pumpkins
 some tea candles to light your pumpkin.

Here are some basic instructions:

Place the pumpkin on newspaper for easy cleanup.
Cut a circle around the stem of the pumpkin, using a knife with a long sturdy blade. Leave a large enough hole to easily insert your hand. (Make the cut at an angle to keep the top from falling through when you place it back on.) Use a back and forth sawing motion to cut through the tough skin and thick flesh. It is possible to break a knife if you are not careful.

Use a large spoon, holding it by the bowl, to scrape out the pulp and seeds and to thin the walls to about an inch (2.5cm).  Cleaning and thinning can be messy.           

Don't throw out the seeds if you want to roast them.
Before making that first cut of the jack-o'-lantern's face, study all sides of the pumpkin to find the smoothest side.
Draw the design on a piece of paper or print out a jack-o'-lantern carving stencil.
Tape the paper to the pumpkin, then transfer the design onto the pumpkin by punching through the paper into the pumpkin flesh with a large nail or a push pin.
With your pumpkin saw, or a sharp serrated knife, cut out the design using the punched holes as a guide. Remove the cut-out pieces by pushing them out from the inside of the pumpkin.
The finished result is ready to be lit on that most eerie of nights!  

When you light the candle inside the pumpkin, remove or tilt the lid to allow the hot air to escape.  
Who knows, if you place your lit pumpkin outside your door as night begins to fall, you might answer a knock to some ghouls and goblins, or spiderman and a fairy princess, who can only be appeased with Halloween candy!

Preserving the cut pumpkin until Halloween
Unfortunately pumpkins rot, and much faster when they have been cut, so delay cutting until as late as possible.
If you cannot find room in your refrigerator, try to keep your pumpkin outside in the cooler air.
Vaseline (petroleum jelly) smeared over the cut surfaces will slow down the rotting.

Cooking the seeds:
Rinse the seeds, removing pulp with your fingers. Drain, spread out and allow to dry overnight.  The picture shows the final rinse of the seeds in a bowl of water.
Bake seeds about one hour at 250F on oiled oven tray, tossing every 15-20 mins, until golden brown.
Microwave: Heat a tablespoon of oil in a suitable baking dish for 30 seconds. Add seeds, toss to coat with oil and spread over bottom of dish. Cook on high for 7 to 8 minutes until golden brown. Stir every two minutes and watch closely.

When they are cooked you can eat the seeds with the shell, which is quite tough. Shelling them is slow work but the seeds will be more palatable.

30 March 2017

WomenExplore Lecture and Discussion Forum reflects on significance of media

The following is a reposting of Johnathan Kindall's review of a day at WomenExplore's lectures on 16th March 2017.  It was published on 21st March 2017 in the Daily Free Press, the independent student newspaper at Boston University.

Stephanie Leydon speaks Thursday afternoon at the Democracy Center
about how media acts as an informer and manipulator in today’s society. 

March 21, 2017  by Johnathan D. Kindall

WGBH television and radio reporter Stephanie Leydon met with a group of Boston residents and students at the Democracy Center in Cambridge Thursday afternoon to discuss power, problems and importance of modern media and communication.
WomenExplore, a longstanding lecture and discussion forum, hosted the talk. The self-characterized charity with an educational focus was officially founded as the Theological Opportunities Program at Harvard Divinity School in 1973, but the origins of the group stretch as far back as the 19th century.
Every spring and fall, WomenExplore holds a 10-week lecture series. A different guest speaker is brought in every week, and the listeners discuss a topic for nearly two hours. The theme for the Spring 2017 sessions is “From Monologue to Dialogue: Building Community.”
Lindsa Vallee, of Brookline, has attended WomenExplore meetings for more than a decade. Vallee, who moderated Leydon’s lecture and discussion, said she finds every meeting uniquely stimulating.
The topics, speakers and discussion keep my brain alive,” Vallee said. “They keep me thinking and aware of new issues.”
Each guest lecture is preceded by a “focus talk,” a short presentation from a member of WomenExplore that opens up the floor and prepares the minds of the group for the topic at hand.
Barbara Villandry, from Nashua, New Hampshire, provided the focus for Leydon’s lecture.
Villandry reflected on the days of Walter Cronkite and Edward Murrow, and reminded many of the attendees about a time where it seemed as if the news could be wholly trusted.
She voiced her concerns with the current state of the media, going as far as to draw comparisons between now and the times of Joseph McCarthy and his Communist witch hunt.
The pendulum swings both ways,” Villandry said before giving the floor to Leydon. “And I hope that we will soon be back to a place where truth reigns supreme.”
The event then transitioned into Leydon’s lecture, which was centered around her recent attention to partisan divisions and the media following the 2016 presidential election. The title was “The Media: Informer or Manipulator? The Public: Discerning or Naïve?”
In the months since the election it’s been my professional obsession,” Leydon said to the audience. “I can’t get enough of the divide story.”
Leydon’s feature on WGBH, “Greater Bostonians,” often focuses on individuals and their personal stories. The show’s mission is to highlight those passionate about social change.
People let me into their homes and there’s a human connection,” Leydon said.
However, that connection isn’t always easy to make, she said.
We’ve moved beyond identity politics, to politics being our identity,” Leydon said.
She continued to explain how, when she is working on segments for “Greater Bostonians,” many of those walls thrown up in defense of political identity start crumbling.
She drew on these grounded, everyday stories in her lecture.
One such story was that of a New Hampshire couple named Ben and Laura. The two, who had never been particularly active politically, were faithful Trump supporters in the election.
Leydon talked and checked in with the couple at multiple points throughout the election process, and her coverage of real, hardworking and honest Trump supporters resonated with a lot of her Boston listeners, some of whom had never met an ardent Trump fan in person.
Leydon said she wishes the mainstream media would have paid more attention to smaller stories like this during and after the election. She characterizes stories like Ben and Laura’s as a “window to our collective identity.”
She also said she believes that such a focus would begin to bridge the gap between the two sides of the political spectrum. She emphasized the importance of a media-literate public that can recognize blatantly false news and has the skills necessary to seek out truth.
The basis for media literacy is critical thinking, she said, but specific and catered media literacy classes in schools could be a vital step in the process.
I don’t know how we have a discerning public without a media literate public,” Leydon said.
Vallee agreed with the necessity of starting a dialogue, which is exactly what WomenExplore is attempting to do with their lectures and discussions.
The election results tell us that there hasn’t been enough dialogue in our country,” Vallee said.
Vallee said she believes that anything that opens up a discussion can create a more united country.
Leydon does not plan to stop telling the stories of real, everyday people on either side of the political divide anytime soon, commenting that even the discussion following her lecture gave her ideas for new stories.
I’m a journalist,” Leydon said. “When I go out, I have a microphone and a camera. Sometimes I remember to bring a pen and paper. But most of all, I have my ears to listen.”