quick(er) french onion soup

And if the boy have not a woman’s gift
To rain a shower of commanded tears,
An onion will do well for such a shift,
Which, in a napkin being close convey’d,
Shall in despite enforce a watery eye.
– William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew

Bill Watterson 1996

I love onion soup. Sodden baguette rounds drowning under a congealing gob of blubbery cheese… not so much.
French onion soup should be about the onions, not the bread. Or the cheese. In fact, cheese is to French onion soup what oak is to wine and ketchup is to hamburger; injudicious application is often a camouflage for incongruent flavors or lacklustre broth.

Classic versions of this soup call for yellow onions, white wine, and repeated de-glazing of the pan… but unless you actually want to spend all morning tethered to your stove, try red onions and dry red wine. Caramelized red onions will add complexity and flavour to the broth in a relatively short period of time, while red wine will bring deep colour to the finished soup.

Onions are easier to peel after they have been halved. Take 3 large red onions and halve them pole to pole, (through the root and stem, not across the equator), cut off the stem end and peel the skin back towards the root. Leave the root intact (it will hold the onion together as you slice) and slice the onions thinly, starting at the stem end.

Depending on the onion (and your choice of knife), this might make you cry. Onions absorb sulfur from the soil and convert it to amino acid sulfoxides that, when triggered by a specific enzyme, act as a chemical defense mechanism for the plant. Just think of it as tear gas for alliums: when onion cells are damaged by chewing, chopping or slicing, the sulfoxides form sulfenic acids, which the enzyme breaks apart to form a sulfur compound that is  released into the air as a kind of naturally occurring (unlike tear gas) lacrimator. As the sulfur compound lands on your eyeballs, it mixes with your tears and breaks down into hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide and sulfuric acid, a volatile concoction that irritates your corneal nerves and makes your eyes water (very much like tear gas).

Actually, I have been gassed, thanks for asking, it’s one of the many delights of basic training, and it ranks right up there with being marinated in copious quantities of police grade pepper spray.

In any event, a sharp knife and an efficient chopping method will mitigate the tear gas effect, as will chilling your onions for a few minutes in the freezer, as the cold will significantly slow the rate of the chemical reaction inside the onion.

Alternately, you can buy onion goggles…

Maybe it’s me, but the fact that you can even buy dedicated onion goggles lends credence to the cliché that a fool and his money are soon parted.

But back to the soup…

In a large Dutch oven, melt 3 TBSP of butter over medium-high heat. After the foaming subsides, add the onions and stir in  1 tsp of sea salt. Cook the onions for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently.

The dark brown crust on the bottom of the pan (the fond) is what you’re after here, as this is what gives the broth its flavor.

After about half an hour, the onions will be glossy and caramelized and will have reduced to almost nothing. Add 1/4 cup of dry red wine to the onions; scrape the bottom of the pan vigorously as the wine simmers, loosening the fond. When the liquid has evaporated and the bottom of the pot begins to brown again (3-4 minutes), add another 1/4 cup of wine to the pot and repeat the process.

After the wine has evaporated a second time, add 2 cups of beef stock, 3 cups of chicken stock and 1/4 cup of dry sherry to the pot. Scrape up any remaining brown bits, bring the liquid to a simmer and reduce the heat to medium-low. Tie 4 sprigs of fresh thyme together with butchers’ twine (I don’t bother tying herbs together when I make stock, as I strain the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve, but in this case, it’s much easier to pick out of the pot if it’s tied into a bundle), add it to the pot and simmer for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F and set one rack set to the middle. While the soup is simmering, cut the baguette into 1 inch cubes, spread the bread evenly over a rimmed baking sheet, and bake for 20 minutes, stirring a couple times during the drying process.

This is a relatively recent addition to Costco’s bakery repertoire: portion-controlled baguette. Except that it comes in a six pack.

And, if you’re a die-hard traditionalist who advocates for naturally staled baguette rounds, take a minute to ask yourself why.

Because it tastes better? Produces better mouth feel?

Or… because it’s always been done that way.

But where was I?

Oh, yes, putting away my soapbox…

Back in the days when food was scarce and “waste” was a profanity, staled bread was used up in myriad recipes, including French onion soup, because throwing it out would have been the culinary equivalent of a deadly sin. In the western world, at least, modern food distribution has given us highly effective ways to prevent waste, which, (when combined with mindful shopping), should eradicate our need to use up stale bread in the first place. In the meantime, modern science also tells us that bread dried in the oven is molecularly different from bread staled on the counter, and that the former creates a better crouton, and therefore a better dish.

When bread stales at room temperature, despite appearance to the contrary, the moisture in the loaf does not evaporate. Rather, the starches recrystallize and the water in the bread migrates from the starches to the spaces in between, leaving the bread hard and crumbly, but not necessarily dry. When the loaf is reheated, the starch reabsorbs the water, turning the bread gluey. If, however, you heat a fresh loaf in a low oven, the moisture is actually driven off through evaporation, and the dried bread makes better stuffing, better bread pudding (if there is such a thing), and yes, even better French onion soup.

Next, remove the croutons from the oven, set the oven to broil, and divide the soup evenly between 4 French onion soup bowls. To keep the croutons out of the soup, (as an aside, I use croutons, not baguette rounds, because you can spoon them out one at a time with no need to repeatedly push the bread all the way under the liquid’s surface to break it into bite-size pieces. But that’s me; I can’t stand crackers in my soup, either, saturated crackers remind me of pablum, and not in a nostalgic way, either), layer one slice of Swiss cheese over each soup bowl before distributing 1/4 of the croutons over each slice. Sprinkle 1 TBSP of grated grueyere cheese over each bowl and run the soup under the broiler until the cheese is golden brown and bubbly, about 5 – 7 minutes.

Serve piping hot.

Serves 4

3 large red onions
3 TBSP butter
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup dry red wine, divided
2 cups beef stock
3 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup dry sherry
4 sprigs fresh thyme
8 inch chunk of fresh baguette (or one demi-baguette)
4 thin slices Swiss cheese
4 TBSP grated grueyere, divided


  1. Halve onions pole to pole; slice off stem end and peel back skin. Starting at the stem end, slice the onions into 1/8 inch slices.
  2. Melt butter in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When foaming subsides, add onions and stir in salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions are glossy and reduced, and bottom of pot is covered in deep brown crust, about 30 minutes.
  3. Add half the red wine; bring to simmer and scrape up all the brown bits. Simmer until all liquid is evaporated and pot begins to brown again, 3-4- minutes. Add the rest of the wine and repeat.
  4. When the wine has evaporated a second time, add the stocks and the sherry; bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
  5. preheat the oven to 300 degrees F and set one rack to the middle.
  6. Chop the bread into 1 inch cubes and toast for 20 minutes.
  7. Remove the croutons from the oven; switch the oven to broil. Divide the soup evenly between 4 French onion soup crocks; layer 1 slice of Swiss cheese over each bowl, divide the croutons evenly over the cheese, and sprinkle 1 TBSP of the grueyere over the croutons.
  8. Broil until cheese is golden and bubbly, about 5 – 7 minutes.
  9. Serve piping hot.

© copyright 2012 ingrid baier all rights reserved

public speaking and the Art and Science of being a fraud

“It’s quite simple, public speaking. Say what you have to say and when you come to a sentence with a grammatical ending, sit down.”
– Winston Churchill

The Alberta Teachers’ Association is sponsoring its annual Science Conference this November in Banff, and I have been invited to present:

“I would like to invite you to share the project that you developed as your independent inquiry, on Saturday (November 17). Conference registration is free to those who present. Conference is Nov 15-17. Bill Nye is the keynote on Saturday!”

As in Bill Nye, the Science Guy?

Okay, I’m flattered to be asked—really I am—but me and Bill??

I don’t think so.

Safely ensconced in my shell on the couch, I write back, trying my best to be diplomatic:

“Thank you for the offer, I am tentatively interested, but would like to confirm approximate audience size before committing…”

This is what I get back:

“Thank you, Ingrid, for your response, I am so glad you will be participating…”


The first thing I do is panic.

The second thing I do is ask my husband for advice on how to extricate myself. He raises one eyebrow in that way he has and when he speaks, his voice is calm: “You know you have to do this.”

Case closed.

I phone my PhD-toting, neuroscientist sister (she know what’s really going on here), and ask her the same question, but she’s no help at all. She too can do that annoying eyebrow thing, and I can practically hear one silky brow as it whisks along her hairline.

“I concur. You have to do this.”

You concur? What are you, a Supreme Court Justice?

I revert to panic, and the “what ifs” paralyze me on the couch as I contemplate everything that could possibly go wrong:

I’m not that great with Power Point. Prezies make me nauseous. My hands will shake. I’ll drop my paper. WHAT WILL I WEAR??  

And as I wallow in my fear, the real issues start to come up…

What if I’ve made a mistake in the science? What if my research is unsound?

…quickly followed by the mother of them all…

What if they realize I’m a fraud? What if they notice that I know nothing at all about science? What if they see right through my long words and recognize me as an intellectual poseur, laying claim to a scientific authority I don’t actually possess…

Like the pauper in love with the princess, I have always worshiped science from afar, surveying her fortress with the furtiveness of a stalker whilst the whispering waters of the moat mock the absurdity of my feelings:

“…science isn’t for you… science is for smart people…”

I’m not sure where, exactly, I picked up this intellectual inferiority complex—I know I am not unintelligent—yet I have spent a significant part of my academic career feeling like an imposter, believing, for whatever reason, that if I was good at something, it must not be very hard.

Science was hard.

I fell in love with science as a child because of Madeleine L’Engle, a children’s author whose fiction departed from the usual fairy tale, illusion and magic, and drew instead from cutting edge biology and physics; whether she was transferring regenerative strategies of adult somatic stem cells from newts to humans, redefining mitochondrial function as the fulcrum balancing cosmic good and evil, or reconstructing a tesseract as a medium for time travel, my child’s imagination was captured by the sheer possibility, the utter coolness of science…

But there’s the rub… science and science fiction are not the same thing, and when I turned in school to science itself, I discovered an academic disconnect that haunts me to this day.

I have no recollection of science classes as a young child, and—having skipped a grade in elementary school—high school science labs always seemed to get bogged down in behavioral issues as I struggled to fit in with kids who were, in my adolescent mind, so much older and more socially adept than I. In physics, I was the kid in the back playing with the laser; in chemistry, the kid who got kicked out of class for reversing the lab directions, just to see what would happen.

After so many days locked out of class in the hallway, or caged in the principal’s office, science and I parted ways—she as the idol, myself as her unworthy suitor. As much as I loved the concepts, I couldn’t grasp the practice, and even when I truly believed I understood something, my teachers insisted otherwise. Unfortunately, my young mind conflated difficulty and superiority, with the result that I placed Science on a pedestal, later concluding that Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences must be a myth, a heroic fiction created by humanities majors in a robust attempt to defend their own lack of scientific prowess; a valiant attempt to equalize cognitive ability, to be sure, but ineffective nonetheless, because all it accomplished was to create a hierarchy of intelligences in lieu of a genuine plurality.

The visual representation of such a scheme is, in the pathos of western culture, a pyramid, with “Logical-Mathematical” at the pinnacle, and “Intrapersonal” intelligence—that bastion of the New Age Universe—shoring up its massive, swollen bottom. In a world in which physics is truth (and chemistry is lies that work), we worship at the altar of hard science, and the fact that Gardner is a psychologist, not a physicist, isn’t lost on the congregation. Indeed, my undergrad years as a philosophy student were filled with such flippancies:

Q: How many psych majors does it take to change a light bulb?
A: One, but he gets three credits for it.

And again in grad school:

Q: What’s the most frightening aspect of being a parent?
A: The realization that your children are being taught by people who majored in education.

And yet… and yet… the draw of science has persisted.

I collect layman’s physics books. I indulge my passion in private, where no one can catch my mistakes. I write science fiction stories that never see the light of day.

And still… and still… the feeling of being an imposter endures.

The truth is, I have always lacked confidence in my ability to understand bona fide scientific principles, and while a précis of scientific concepts (courtesy of amazon.com), arrests my interest, to my chagrin, “real science” always seems to lie an inch or two beyond my grasp. Even as I recognize this flaw, I can’t seem to change it. While I realize that my own distorted conceptualization of science as loftier than all other disciplines isn’t a strength, particularly in light of my own lack of foundational scientific knowledge, I continue to feel disenfranchised in the presence of “real scientists.”

And because I feel like a fraud, I assume I will be viewed as one, as well. My intellectual hangover from high school, influenced by both teachers and family, has left me with an acute awareness of the uneasy relationship between science teachers, humanities teachers, and pedagogy today. In essence, it boils down to a question of accessibility. While scientists may dabble in creative writing, sing in the Bach choir, and earn certificates in cordon bleu cooking, English majors don’t typically set up ad hoc labs in their garages so they can tinker with the human genome at the weekend. As John D. MacDonald once said, “if you want to write, you write. This would not be a useful approach to brain surgery.”

I found this perceptual disconnect between academic faculties particularly noticeable during my  years in education, for while the “science people” in my professional seminars clearly understood the pedagogical concerns of the “arts people”, the reverse was not the case. I’d like to believe that we are two sides of the same coin, but my inner high school physics student—who is, perhaps, still sitting in the principal’s office—is wont to disagree.

The ATA Science Conference is, for me, about more than getting through a Power Point presentation without going into myocardial infarction, it is a clarion call for me to deconstruct my own self-criticism. I have no idea how to do this, but this much I know is true: I have to start by getting up off the couch.

© copyright 2012 ingrid baier all rights reserved

abandoning the space shuttle… a lesson for educators

A Space for Learning

The U.S. Department of Education, and more than a few state-level departments, could take a lesson from NASA.  On a recent evening, I had the opportunity to again hear one of my favorite local celebrities; Kathy Thornton, engineer, professor, UVa associate dean, and a 4-mission retired space shuttle astronaut. Kathy doesn’t hold back when it comes to sharing her informed perspectives on space. She’s earned that right, having been key to several major payload deployments into space including the first service work on the Hubble telescope. She’s a real-deal spacewalker. And, she’s fascinated with the human narrative of exploration. She began her talk with an image of one of the earliest maps of the globe in existence.

So, what does Kathy’s focus on the narrative of human exploration have to do with education?

Kathy Thornton created a metaphor in my mind as she spoke. Here’s what she shared…

View original post 673 more words

when good blogs go bad; or… When. No. One. Gets. Your. Point.

If assessment is textured and finely-grained, and is supportive and diagnostic, I’m all for it. If it’s coarse and simplistic and judgmental and uninformative, then it seems to me always to be negative and have the wrong sort of effects in education.
– Sir Ken Robinson

We talk a lot about creativity in education—what it is, whether it’s innate, how it can be fostered—sprinkling our dialogue with the nauseatingly ubiquitous “think outside the box.”

But we don’t mean it.

Not really.

Much of what we do in education is to model the concept of the one right way, justifying social convention as good citizenship and pedantic conformity as academic rigor.

But is this really in the best interests of students today?

Although we take public education for granted in modern western society, it hasn’t actually been around for all that long; philosophically rooted in the Aristotelian model of deductive reasoning and logical analysis, it emerged a scant 150 years ago to complement the economic underpinnings of the industrial revolution. This model worked extremely well for the Ford Motor Company in 1908, but will it serve our children as they move into the bleak, resource-challenged future that economists and environmentalists predict?

Consider for a moment the social and technological change of the past two decades. My first university papers were painstakingly typed on an antiquated, cast-off Underwood typewriter in my cracker-box dorm room; my first computer had a processing speed of 25 MHz; my first cell phone was the approximate size and weight of a breadbox. The digital natives entering kindergarten this September will graduate in 2025 and will retire in 2072. How can we possibly predict the knowledge, skills and attributes that will best serve them on their time travels? As we move from the information to the conceptual age, our kids will seek employment in an increasingly complex economy that demands innovation, creativity, and the ability to think in divergent ways. They will require “sophisticated talent with global acumen, multicultural fluency, technological literacy, entrepreneurial skills, and the ability to manage increasingly de-layered, disaggregated organizations.” [1]

In short, they will need the ability to think outside the proverbial box that we know and love so well.

Unfortunately, public education is designed to corral kids inside that very box.

Divergent thinking is the ability to depart from conventional thought, to consider a multiplicity of aspects, to make unique connections, and to generate novel ideas and innovative solutions. In their groundbreaking book, Breakpoint and Beyond, (1998, Leadership 2000 Inc), Beth Jarman and George Land document the results of a longitudinal study involving 1600 children tested for divergent thinking in eight categories over a ten-year period. Between the ages of three and five, 98 percent of these children scored in the “creative genius” category for divergent thinking. When they were re-tested five years later, only 32 percent scored in the “creative genius” category for divergent thinking.  Five years later, a mere 10 percent scored within the “creative genius” category for divergent thinking.

What happened to these kids between the ages of five and fifteen that we lost 1,408 creative geniuses along the way?


Ten of years of modeling the one right way.

We are drilling divergent thinking out of our kids, and then, oh irony of ironies, simultaneously trying to relearn it as adults through creativity seminars and professional development, typically with dismal results (in fact, only 2 percent of adults score in the “creative genius” category for divergent thinking).

This doesn’t surprise me.

One of the most interesting things I have noted about school is in the area of special education, where young children with myriad developmental “disorders” (including autism) have individual learning plans that specify daily, monthly and annual goals. Here’s my favorite: “This week, Little Johnny will play with a toy in its intended manner, without verbal prompts, 3 out of 5 times, on 3 out of 5 days.”

If divergent thinking itself is the ability to depart from conventional thought and connections, then isn’t this going in the opposite direction?

Standardized curricula and standardized assessment are set up from the get-go to promote conformity. Indeed, that’s what standardization means: to conform to standards. And when you’re talking about railroad track gauge, this is, indubitably, a good thing. In education, however, the result is a marked reduction in our children’s ability to think outside the box.

Convention, which is nothing more than the way a thing is usually done, reclines comfortably within that box.

So why, you might ask after my last post, (or not) do we follow certain conventions when we write academic papers?

Because people who have more education than we do taught us that writing with a certain scholarly gravity is the right thing, indeed the only thing, to do. Ergo, when we omit a sufficiently reverent tone while discussing The Western Canon, we are subject to a red-pen-spanking.

But think about it.

When people are afraid to challenge their cultural norms, that culture stagnates. If no one ever challenged convention, we wouldn’t have rock ’n’ roll, steampunk spec fiction or Cubism. We’d all be reading Dickens instead of Fifty Shades of Grey (yikes, don’t you hate it when you accidentally unravel your own argument?).  If The Bard himself (arguably the greatest English-language writer in history), were to manifest in London today, he would understand no more than five out of nine words of modern English; language, it’s syntax, vocabulary and style, is—must be—dynamic.

Ultimately, however, this isn’t about an English paper; it’s about the message we are sending students when they fail to conform to convention.

Am I afraid to challenge literary norms and try something new after my Archetypal Whore debacle?

Absolutely not.

But I’m middle-aged and (relatively) secure.

What if an eighteen-year-old frosh got slapped with “excessive vitriol,” on a lower-level English paper? Would she be likely to color outside the lines again?


Maybe not.

The point isn’t the paper itself, the point is that teachers and professors wield enormous power and it behooves us to examine the nature of that power in the context of our own vulnerability. Simply put, our species is in trouble. Planet Earth will undoubtedly survive the next millennium; Homo sapiens may not. As such, educators must consider the unintended consequences of that power for our survival. By carrot-and-sticking kids into intellectual conformity, we are educating them out of the very creative capacities they will need to navigate the next century.

In the meantime, I’ll put my money on the kid who’s playing with his toys in a way not intended by the manufacturer.

(BTW… this is what I was trying to say in my last post; I guess it’s a lot to read between the lines. Mea culpa).

© copyright 2012 ingrid baier all rights reserved

[1] Robinson, Ken. (2001). Out of our Minds: Learning to be Creative. Oxford, UK: Capstone Publishing. (41)

the beauty of summative assessment; or why i love english class…

If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.
– George S. Patton

The Archetypal Whore: Hemingway’s Women in The Sun Also Rises

Notwithstanding cameo appearances by waitresses, concierges and loud American tourists, only three female characters populate the pages of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. These characters, in order of appearance, consist of Robert Cohn’s fiancée, Frances Clyne; a “poulet” named Georgette whom Jake Barnes picks up on a Paris street; and Lady Brett Ashley, the woman whom Jake loves passionately but with whom he cannot consummate a physical relationship. Hemingway’s unflattering portrayal of these women ventures beyond his usual domineering harpy DOMINEERING HARPY?? INGRID, TRY TO AVOID STRONG, BIASED LANGUAGE (you mean, avoid the literary equivalent of fire-engine red, capital letters in your critique?) .  ALSO, YOU SHOULD EXPLAIN WHAT YOU MEAN BY “USUAL” BY REFERENCING OTHER TEXTS BY HEMINGWAY (YOU SHOULD ALSO NOTE, TOO, THAT THE CRITICAL READING OF HEMINGWAY’S PORTRAYAL OF WOMEN IS COMPLEX), however, as he brands all three with that most damning of female epithets, the archetypal whore.

While the word ‘prostitution’ naturally conjures up cultural stereotypes of the nocturnal streetwalker, the concept itself is by no means limited to a romanticized vision of the Parisian red light district; prostitution can and does encompass any relationship in which sex is exchanged for financial compensation, whether that compensation takes the form of cash, rent, theatre tickets or fabulous emerald earrings.

Georgette, of course, is a prostitute in the narrowest sense of the word, “an actual harlot” who openly trades sex with strangers for cash. And while Frances and Brett are painted with warts of varying size and shape, they do share one basic common denominator with Georgette: all three women are portrayed not only as sexual objects, but as parasitic sexual objects. Coming from Hemingway, this is not a compliment; in Hemingway’s world, there is no “hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold” and the women in the novel are ultimately portrayed as selfish, self-serving and destructive to the men around them. YOUR LANGUAGE IS SIMPLY TOO HARSH FOR WHAT NEEDS TO BE AN OBJECTIVE CRITICAL DISCUSSION.  I AGREE WITH YOUR NOTION OF HEMINGWAY’S OBJECTIFICATION OF WOMEN, BUT YOU ARE STRETCHING THE HOOKER/WHORE ANALOGY TOO FAR.  ONE THING YOU MIGHT WANT TO KNOW IS THAT HEMINGWAY BASED HIS CHARACTERIZATION OF BRETT (AND OTHER SUCH WOMEN) ON HIS ACTUAL UNREQUITED LOVE AND ADMIRATION OF GRETA GARBO. (and this has what to do with anything? Greta Garbo was a hooker with a heart of gold?) YOU MIGHT ALSO NOTE HIS USE OF THE QUOTATION FROM GERTRUDE STEIN (CERTAINLY NOT SEXUAL OBJECT).  HEMINGWAY’S MISOGYNY IS A LARGE ISSUE IN CRITICISM OF HIS WRITING, SO YOU DO HAVE QUITE A STRONG CASE TO MAKE HERE.  HOWEVER, YOU NEED TO TEMPER IT WITH A LARGER READING OF THE TEXT ITSELF, NOTING THE WOUNDED NATURE (because a wounded nature justifies misogyny?) OF THE CHARACTERS THEMSELVES, THE POST-WAR EFFECTS OF TRAUMA, THE EVOLVING NOTION OF WOMEN’S INDEPENDENCE, AND ALSO SUCH THINGS AS THE NARRATIVE PERSPECTIVE ITSELF (ALL CHARACTERS ARE PRESENTED THROUGH THE BIASED LENS OF JAKE—AND THIS IS CRITICALLY PROBLEMATIC (why, yes it is, which is why I refer specifically to it later in the essay…)

Consider first the light in which Hemingway casts Frances Clyne. On at least three occasions, he makes it crystal clear that Frances has pursued the hapless Robert Cohn for reasons that have nothing to do with love—or even sex—and everything to do with personal gain. He bluntly tells the reader that “Cohn had been taken in hand by a lady who hoped to rise with the magazine” (13). This sentence describes a woman who has chosen her mate for the singular purpose of furthering her career, and the use of the overtly sexual expression “taken in hand” is unlikely to be coincidental. When the magazine fails and Frances feels disgust for Cohn, she nevertheless pursues the relationship in order to “get what there was to get while there was still something available” (13). Frances’s intentions are clarified further when she finds her looks going and her attitude changes from one of “careless exploitation” to the determination that Cohn should marry her. Once again, Hemingway’s choice and placement of vocabulary underscore his meaning when he follows this information immediately with the sentence, “during this time Robert’s mother had settled an allowance on him…” (13).

Most telling of all, however, is the conversation Frances has with Jake after Cohn has ended his relationship with Frances: “…he’s got money, and he’s got a rich mother… And I haven’t got any money at all” (54). Although she is being abandoned after a three- year relationship, Frances is unconcerned with the loss of the man himself and her distress stems solely from her lost financial security. Shortly thereafter, her final scene with Robert involves a direct referral to his money: “I’m going to England… Robert’s sending me. He’s going to give me two hundred pounds” (55).

In a corporate setting, this would be called severance pay.

The most significant female character in the book, Lady Brett Ashley, on first examination appears to be the antithesis of the prostitute, sleeping with whomever she wants, whenever she wants, with no regard or consideration for her male counterparts, but this prima facie conclusion is misleading. While Brett appears to be motivated by an overactive libido, this appearance is undermined by the fact that she never sleeps with waiters or steer handlers or leather-faced Basque peasants. She sleeps with money and with roués who have the expectation of money. INTERESTING OBSERVATION (in the nicest possible way, of course) Even her bankrupt Scottish fiancé is “going to be rich as hell one day” (46) when he comes into his inheritance.

Consider her lovers: her ex-husband is rich and titled; Count Mippipololous is rich and titled; Robert Cohn is merely rich; Pedro Romano, who tries to give Brett “a lot of money” (246) is, at the very least, well-heeled. PARAGRAPHING

Hemingway clearly establishes that Brett has no money of her own. Her fiancé, Mike Campbell, states that “she never has any money” (234), and Brett herself confirms this when she summons Jake to Madrid because she “…didn’t have a sou to go away and leave him” (246). Despite having no visible means of support, Brett manages to trot around the continent in the lap of sybaritic luxury, primarily in the company of men who are more than happy to pick up the tab. Indeed, Brett’s very infidelity underscores her subtle sex-for-support mentality: that Mike fails to satisfy her emotionally and/or sexually is implicit in her string of affairs. Why then, is she engaged to him in the first place? Bankrupt or not, he foots the bill.

To dispute this proposition, one could argue that Brett’s refusal to accept money from her lovers on at least two occasions automatically excludes her from the prostitute archetype. Brett refuses the Count’s offer to go to Biarritz for $10,000 (41) and she refuses Romero’s money when he leaves her at the hotel in Madrid (246). What she is actually rejecting here, however, is not the role of harlot, but the label. She shrinks from being treated overtly as a prostitute, just as she shrinks from the notion of explicit solicitation involving a direct financial transaction. Indeed, Hemingway’s use of the concept of prostitution, as opposed to the word itself, is deliberately understated; he uses a finer paintbrush to portray Lady Ashley, but ultimately her picture is the same.

As real people, these three women would undoubtedly amount to more than the sum of their faults, but through the biased observations of his protagonist, Jake Barnes, Hemingway deliberately presents them as financially dependent social leeches.

GRADE:  80 (yikes, that’s barely a “B”)


and that, boys and girls, is what you get for having an opinion…

© copyright 2012 ingrid baier all rights reserved


Hemingway, Ernest. (1926). The Sun Also Rises. New York, NY: Scribner.

improvising with lamb shanks


Always remember: If you’re alone in the kitchen and you drop the lamb, you can always just pick it up. Who’s going to know?
– Julia Child

Today my husband unexpectedly came back from the market with lamb shanks. I order these regularly when we eat out, but I have never made them at home as they have never been readily available in my small town grocery store until now (this is, after all, the heart of cattle country). In the spirit of trying something new, here is my braised duck-leg recipe adapted for lamb shins, the cheapest, toughest and decidedly most delicious cut on the lamb.

To start, coarsely chop up a large red onion, 2 ribs of celery and 2 large carrots, and throw them all into a large oven-proof, flame-proof pot, preferably one with a lid.

Okay, this is the wrong kind of onion; it’s a Walla Walla, sweet and mild, too sweet and mild, in fact, for a long braise. Red onions have more complexity and flavour when caramelized.
Too bad…
It’s what I have.

And the baby carrots aren’t quite right, either…

Actually, “baby” carrots, the Hollywood-has-beens of the vegetable world, are not baby carrots at all, but mature carrots that have been nipped and tucked and plumped with filler (in this case, water) in order to masquerade as baby springs.

The magnum opus of California carrot farmer Mike Yurosek, (who grew weary of culling the two-thirds of his crop that failed to meet exacting consumer standards for root vegetable rectilinearity), this trend towards flawless orange vegetation started back in 1986 with a second-hand industrial green-bean cutter that transformed Yurosek’s crop of cock-eyed carrots into the diminutive, uniformly tapered glossy tangerine cylinders that we know and love today.

I buy these for one reason: my kid will eat them.  In my house, this is not trivial.

The extra water they absorb during processing, however, makes them less than ideal for roasting—or even imparting flavor to a braise—but does that mean I’m going to make a special trip to the store to buy unrefined, rudely proportioned garden carrots with their root hairs still intact?



But I digress.

Imagine that.

Using a small saucepan, squash 8 to 12 cloves of garlic to pop them out of their skins.

Why, yes, that is a lot of garlic; in contemporary post-Twilight pop-culture, one can’t be too careful…

Rinse the garlic off the bottom of the pot with cold water. While you’re at it, rub your hands over the pot’s surface, the molecules in the stainless steel will bind with the sulfur in the garlic and take the smell right off your hands…

Throw the garlic into the pot.

Speaking of pots, finding a covered pot large enough to hold six lamb shanks in a single layer had me in a bit of a quandary; they wouldn’t fit into my regular Dutch Oven and my turkey roaster is a little too flimsy to de-glaze on a gas flame.

So I raided my husband’s camping gear.

The enamelled (red, of course, because red is best) cast-iron Staub Dutch Oven holds four lamb shanks and retails for about $300. The matte black, cast-iron Camp Chef Dutch Oven holds six shanks and cost us less than $50 at our local camping store.

The downside? With the lid on, it weights 25 lbs.

Where was I?

Right. The vegetables.

This is what you have so far:

Throw in a sprig or two of fresh thyme and rosemary, liberally season the shanks with salt and pepper and set them on top of the vegetable mixture.

Adjust the oven rack to the lowest position and roast the shanks, uncovered, in a 425 degree oven for 45 minutes, turning them over half-way through. Keep an eye on the vegetables; if they start to scorch add 1/4 cup of water to the pot.

Once the shanks are nicely browned on both sides, take the pot out of the oven and set it on the largest burner on your stove top. Temporarily remove the  shanks from the pot (another advantage of the Camp Chef Dutch Oven, the lid doubles as a shallow roasting pan, it’s the perfect size to hold the shanks, and it’s going to get dirty anyway).

Add half a bottle of dry red wine and 3 cups of chicken stock to the pot.

$9.98 $8.87 from Costco. And, as an added bonus, you can actually drink it.

Turn the heat to medium high and bring the liquid to a simmer, scraping all the brown bits up off the bottom with a wooden spoon.

Return the shanks to the pot (the liquid should come half-way up the shanks), cover the pot with a layer of aluminum foil (this will make a better seal), and anchor it with the lid:

Put the pot back in the oven, reduce the heat to 275 degrees, and braise for about 3 hours (or until the meat yields easily to a fork, which will vary slightly, depending on the size of your shanks). Turn the

shanks over half-way through cooking, and if the liquid gets scant (less than 2 inches), top it up with 1/2 cup of chicken stock.

Remove the pot from the oven, and transfer the shanks to a large, pre-warmed serving platter. Strain the remaining liquid through a fine-mesh sieve, (here we begin to see the disadvantage of a 25 pound Dutch oven; on the other hand, even straining the liquid out of a Staub is a four-hand endeavour that should require a double indemnity accident clause on your insurance policy), pressing on the solids with the back of a spoon to extract every last drop. Skim the fat off the liquid, transfer it (the liquid, not the fat) to a gravy boat and pass it at the table with the lamb shanks.

Drink the remaining wine.


  1. 1 large red onion, roughly chopped
  2. 2 ribs celery, roughly chopped
  3. 2 mature rectilinear carrots, roughly chopped
  4. 8 – 12 whole cloves of garlic, skins removed
  5. 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  6. 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  7. 6 lamb shanks, liberally seasoned with salt and pepper
  8. 3 cups chicken stock
  9. 1/2 bottle dry red wine


  1. pre-heat the oven to 425°F; adjust the rack to the lowest position
  2. add the onion, celery, carrot and garlic in an even layer in the bottom of a large Dutch Oven; top with the rosemary and thyme
  3. liberally season the shanks with salt and pepper, set shanks in pot on top of vegetables. Roast for 45 minutes, turning half way. If the vegetables start to scorch, add 1/4 cup of water to the pot
  4. remove pot from oven, and set on largest burner on stove top; temporarily remove shanks from pot; turn heat to medium high
  5. pour wine and stock into pot and stir to de-glaze
  6. replace shanks back in pot, cover with foil, anchor foil with lid, and return pot to oven; reduce heat to 275°F and bake for 3 hours, turning shanks over half-way through cooking time. Add up to 1/2 chicken stock if liquid reduces to less than 2 inches
  7. remove pot from oven, transfer shanks to large, pre-warmed serving platter. Strain braising  liquid through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing on the solids with the back of a spoon to extract all the liquid
  8. skim fat off braising liquid, transfer it to a gravy boat and pass it at the table with the shanks

© copyright 2012 ingrid baier all rights reserved

taking the community out of community policing

No good decision was ever made in a swivel chair.
– General George S. Patton

On August 10, 2012, Foothills Municipal District peace officer Rod Lazenby was beaten to death during the lawful execution of his duty on an acreage near the hamlet of Priddis, about fifty miles from my home. A 35 year veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Lazenby retired from the RCMP in 2006 and for the  last three years, worked as a community peace officer where he often dealt with animal complaints.  Last Friday, Lazenby attended the home of dog breeder Trevor Kloschinsky regarding a complaint about the latter’s thirty-plus Australian Cattle Dogs, and in a bizarre series of events, Kloschinsky (allegedly) ambushed and severely assaulted Lazenby, loaded the injured officer into his own patrol car and drove him to the nearest Calgary Police Service office where he directed a CPS officer to arrest Lazenby for trying to steal his dogs. Lazenby was rushed to hospital with life threatening injuries and pronounced dead upon arrival. Kloschinsky has since been charged with first degree murder.

Recognizing that a peace officer had been killed in the line of duty, Calgary Police Service lowered their flags to Half-mast at all their districts. Local fire departments followed suit.

Not so the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The flags at the Duncan Building (RCMP Southern Alberta District Headquarters) in Calgary, as well as several RCMP detachments that actually operate within the Foothills MD remained staunchly upright this past week.

The reason?

According to RCMP provincial spokesperson Sgt. Patricia Neely, “because he wasn’t a serving member, we have no say on that…. That’s a decision made for the RCMP by the Alberta premier’s office. Besides,” she added, “ we have thousands and thousand of former members—our flags would always be lowered.”

Is that what’s known as thinking on one’s feet?

Because we aren’t talking about all former members of the RCMP (of which I am one), we are talking about Rod Lazenby, a retired member—with ten more years of service than the current commissioner, I might add—who was killed in the line of duty while working for a law enforcement agency that partners directly with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

As a municipal police force, operating out of a municipal building, Calgary Police Service has the luxury of making its own decisions regarding Half-masting in the wake of a peace officer’s death. As a federal organization, however, wherein the national flag is affixed to a federal building, the RCMP takes its directive from the Department of Canadian Heritage in Ottawa, and in the case of a non-federal peace officer such as Lazenby (who was granted peace officer status through the Alberta Solicitor General), the Alberta premier’s office must, on behalf of the RCMP, seek special dispensation to Half-mast the national flag at any Alberta RCMP detachment. The premier’s office obviously followed up with this, because the Department of Canadian Heritage recently posted their decision to allow all federal buildings within the Town of High River (population 12, 920 – how many can there be?), on August 24, 2012, the date of Lazenby’s memorial service.

Not only does this directive exclude Southern Alberta District Headquarters in Calgary, it prevents a handful of other RCMP detachments that actually partner with the Foothills Municipal District community peace officers from Half-masting their flag at any time, before or after the service.

This ridiculous chain of command through which the premier’s office in Edmonton must petition Ottawa on behalf of a federal law enforcement agency that is nearly four thousand kilometers away not only by-passes the interests of local RCMP Detachment Commanders operating within the physical boundaries of the Foothills Municipal District, it is symptomatic of the rusty federalism and disintegrating internal mechanics that plague the RCMP today. Deliberately handcuffing local and regional police agencies with bureaucratic inter-agency red tape not only strips RCMP Detachment Commanders of their right to make timely decisions regarding sensitive local community issues, it prevents members of the Force, regardless of rank, from publicly articulating what they intuitively know is wrong, to wit:

I’m not allowed to make opinions on policies.”
-Inspector Joe McGough, Commander, Rural RCMP Southern Alberta District.

And after reading the way in which RCMP Commissioner Paulson blasted a senior, front-line RCMP officer for actually having an opinion earlier this week, I can’t say I’m surprised. Rank and file members of the RCMP are deemed trustworthy enough to carry a sidearm and make intelligent decisions regarding the deprivation of personal liberty, but when they wish to implement an ethical, timely and appropriate public response to a tragedy within their own communities, they are straight-jacketed by Ottawa.

Talk about taking the “community” out of “community policing.”

© copyright 2012 ingrid baier all rights reserved

refusing to admire the emporer’s new clothes

The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.
Friedrich Nietzsche

Loath as I am to admit it, before I had children of my own, I identified with the precociously perceptive child narrators that litter English literary fiction. You know the type; those ubiquitous, dewy-eyed prodigies who contemplate the nothingness of being by the age of six and critically unpack political rhetoric before they cut their back molars. Back in my Lamaze days I secretly coveted such a child, and I didn’t immediately appreciate the irony when fate blessed me with a son who couldn’t string four words together by the time he got to kindergarten, and whose first complete sentence consisted of asking me in the line up at the bank—in those high-pitched ringing tones that only a five year old can muster—“mom, do you have a hairy vagina?”

Subject, verb, indefinite article… I should have been thrilled.

My son, you see, has Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Back when I was Feng Shui-ing the nursery and gossiping over steam-fired decaffeinated ginger tea with my new-mother friends, I didn’t even realize that autism was a spectrum disorder. Back then, I just thought I was a bad mother.

“That’s it,” I said to my husband, the fifteenth time our toddler trashed his room. “We should skip the education savings plan and start a bail fund.”

Our son missed every milestone. We waited with baited breath for his first words, but they never came. When he finally started solid foods, he would eat only three things. He still eats only three things. He stripped off his clothes on a regular basis, and he couldn’t tolerate footwear of any kind. The day he woke to find our west coast yard covered in snow, he sobbed for the rest of the day.
Repeated trips to the doctor didn’t shed much light on things. Our kindly old GP would smile at me encouragingly and pat me on the back. “Don’t worry dear,” he would say, “boys develop slower than girls.”
Eventually I grew tired of meaningless platitudes and battered my own way into the local psychologist’s clinic.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Ms. Baier, but your child has autism.”

With those words, I took my first tottering steps towards relinquishing my hold on the idea of “normal.” And then a few more, three months later, when my daughter lost her language and her eye contact, and started walking on her toes. Here we go again, I thought, do not pass go, do not collect $200, go directly back to square one…

On we soldiered, naïve to the fact that the things you push hardest against have a way of pushing back.

With intervention, my kids began to close the gap between reality and representation. Together, we made the connection between a physical apple, and the spoken word “apple” although we paused on every single stepping stone along the way, bridging the journey with half an apple stuck on a piece of cardboard, a photograph of an apple, a painting of an apple, a line drawing of an apple, and finally, the written word “apple.”

Eventually—it felt like decades, although it was in reality just a few years—we made enough “progress” for both kids to transition from their respective special needs programs into the regular school system.
That was our first foray into the abstract world of religion. If I remember correctly, it was my decision to enroll them in the Catholic school. We had to jump through a number of hoops to accomplish this, the first of which entailed having them baptized in the Catholic Church. My daughter actually let me dress her up in scratchy white lace, a miracle in itself, but once we got to the church, the set of her lips eclipsed her limited language. She didn’t need syntax; the steely glint in her eye said it all. First came the flapping. Then the rigid set of the shoulders. Next, the screams. Rough translation:

…there is no way in hell the old fat guy in the black dress is going to stick my face in the water fountain, thank you very much…

The baptism coincided with an invitation for my husband and I to re-enter the church. We had wed years earlier on the beaches of Maui in a private ceremony where a vagabond we found sleeping on the beach agreed to be our witness. But it had been a civil ceremony (ie, godless), and not recognized by the Catholic Church, and naturally the priest took advantage of the baptism to try and strong arm us back into the flock.

(Baaahh, baaaaaahhhh…)

That’s sheep for “no thanks”.

I myself worship at the altar of red wine. It’s far more soothing on the psyche.

But I digress. Where was I?

It happens all the time since I had kids. I am like that dog in the Loony Tunes cartoons, endlessly chasing balls from a pitching machine,

(…awhere did it go, awhere did it go… there goes another one… awhere did it go…)

except that I am chasing my own thoughts, unable to pin any one of them down for more than a paragraph.


Back to the Catholic school.

What a disaster. Ever tried to explain Jesus on the cross to a kid with autism? Allegory is lost on autistic kids. Where Christians see the resurrection and promise of life everlasting, my kids just can’t grasp the metaphysical concept of a crucified God—they insist on seeing what’s right in front of them: the gruesome reality of a medieval torture scene.

Easter that first year was the start of the “why” questions at our house. We had skipped the whole pre-school “why” phase, because for years, both my kids lacked the neural connections required to understand the complex linguistic concept of causality.

There was, of course, a plus side to this: for years I had managed to avoid that banal perennial catch phrase, “because I said so, that’s why.” We worked on “what” from age three to age five, and only tackled “when” once we got to kindergarten. So I missed the requisite training in handling “why is the sky blue?” or “why do the birds sing?” Instead, I got “do you have a hairy vagina?” in the bank. And by the time my son finally reached the “why” phase in the second grade, the questions had taken on a philosophical depth that had no answer, and certainly not an answer that could be couched in language accessible to an autistic seven year old.

“Why did Jesus get nailed to the cross?”

Because I said so, that’s why.”

But that is the nature of autism. What my kids see, by definition, is—must be—the way things are. I made the mistake, once, of buying my daughter a seven pack of panties with the days of the week printed on the front, each day corresponding to its own Disney Princess.

“Get dressed, kiddo.” I hand her yellow panties with a primping mermaid on the front.

Her eyes fill with tears. “But it’s not Wednesday.”

There is no other identifiable group in the world for whom getting dressed is a twelve-step program. But let’s face it, I have no one to blame but myself; I bought the panties. They were on sale.

But then something happened that I hadn’t anticipated: I started running interference in my children’s “therapy”. Psychologists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists and behavioral interventionists whirled through my house on a tornado of “shoulds,” leaving in their wake an acute feeling of inadequacy. Despite their well-meaning intentions, the message of all these professionals boiled down to one single idea:

Hey, kid, you’re doing it wrong.

I began to balk at the therapists’ repeated efforts to force my beautiful square pegs into proverbial round holes. I found myself actively countering their valiant efforts to turn my kids into paragons of the North American moral majority. I looked more closely at all the cool, quirky and creative things my kids could do, because of their “disability,” not in spite of it, and I began to value autism. I began to value diversity over conformity, uniqueness over homogeneity.

And I began to teach my children to do the same.

When, I asked myself, did the right to original thought become the exclusive property of those individuals deemed socially adept enough to “handle it?” In devising educational strategies for so-called difficult students, why did we divorce “how to think,” from “what to think,” along the fault lines of traditional intelligence?

Watching my children over the last sixteen years, I have come to realize that non-conformity is directly proportional to courage and conformity is inversely proportional to creativity. My kids simply don’t see the value in pretending to be someone else, and they refuse to admire the emperor’s new clothes. Not for a sticker. Not even for an “A”. For kids with autism, things don’t represent, they simply are. They incorporate Zen living into their lives without even knowing what it’s called, and it makes me wonder—who should be modeling who?

Yes, children with disabilities need to understand, to the best of their ability, the physical and social world that surrounds them, but when we insist they embrace that world as superior, we disenfranchise them all over again.

© copyright 2012 ingrid baier all rights reserved