Heading to Europe, Captain America and Bucky Dress for the “Decadence” of the Continent.

Heading to Europe? Don’t forget to put a corset, wig, and dress over your costume, and to outfit your boy sidekick as Little Lord Fauntleroy.

This series of panels, from Captain America #2 (April 1941), is a great illustration of something that mainstream contemporary comics have for the most part lost, and to their detriment.

A lot of Golden Age comics really have this beautiful dream logic to them… It’s so uncalculated and absent of guile, too. A rich American, planning to give money to the British war effort, has gone missing, so (of course!) Cap and Bucky decide to go AWOL to find the abducted American millionaire.

They have to go AWOL because Captain America is really Private Rogers, and is supposed to be on base– remember that until December of 1941 US has not yet entered the War in Europe! Captain Rogers, while a patriot through and through, was never much of a rule-follower.

And they decide, to find the wealthy man, the best strategy would be dress up (over the Cap costume) as an elderly lady and her grandson. Because comics.

I’m not saying that every comics plotline would benefit from the strange dream-logic of early superhero comics, but I am saying that the superhero landscape would be richer if more titles continued it. There are some stories by Grant Morrison or Dan Slott that might fit the bill, but for the most part, it’s gone from modern super heroes.

I think I like it so much because it feels very much like the logic of a lot of children’s cartoons from the 80s that I grew up with– stories that go from plot point to plot point without ever asking if there’s logic to the sequence of events. It’s using plot simply as a glue to hold together a series of images or set pieces, and in exchange simply asks the reader for a little bit of extra suspension of belief. But, I mean, you already have super-strong men in tights who can shoot lasers from their eyes and fly… it’s not that big a leap.


Eugene McDaniels, “Love Letter To America”

Everyone should listen to Eugene McDaniels’s early 70s albums “Outlaw” and “Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse.” They’re psychedelic soul classics that deserve more wide attention.

“Love Letter to America,” off “Outlaw,” is a fucking gut punch of a song. It’s a love letter what America could have been, and what it chose to be instead.

Personally, I think it’s the perfect song to listen to on the Fourth of July.


Chicken à la Providence

Chicken à la Providence. An oldie but… obscure-y.

So I cooked I first learned about Chicken à la Providence yesterday. It’s pretty damn tasty.

My Colleague is out of town for a night or two and took Test Subject V with her, so I’m left to my own devices. Gloriously so. Any period of time to myself is such a luxury in these, our plague days, so I’m spending my time doing housework, grading, and cooking.

This might not sound like a relaxing respite, but believe me, it is.

Before My Colleague left, I asked her to get me a whole roaster chicken from Market Basket. (Since COVID, she’s taken over grocery shopping duty, much to both our frustration. She hates grocery shopping and I love it.) I didn’t know what I wanted to make, but I knew that with a whole chicken and what was on hand in the house, I could make something that would make several dinner’s worth of food.

I was reading through the poultry section of the Fanny Farmer 1896 Cookbook looking for inspiration. I stumbled onto that recipe. The name caught my attention because of its connection to New England. And it fascinated me because I’d never heard of it. After reading the recipe, I decided to look up some other recipes and figure out what I wanted to make from there.

Googling around, I was surprised at how few recipes can be found for the dish online. One website included several recipes, mostly historical. It even had the Fanny Farmer recipe that led me to look for the recipe in the first place. I was even more interested in was this recipe on Lt. Dan’s Kitchen that is adapted from the 1966 Woman’s Day Encyclopedia. Over the sixty years between, the dish had taken a decided turn for the more complex, but the tweaks all seemed like they would imbue so much more flavor.

The lemon chicken gravy had the addition of lemon, there was a bit more seasoning, some extra ingredients, and most fascinating to me, the process of boiling then browning the chicken. (Predictably, because I basically live for the Maillard reaction.)

There was also bacon, and bacon is always a nice plus. We didn’t have any, but I could walk to the closest deli and ask for three strips.

I was actually relatively faithful to the recipe, with a few exceptions. One exception is that I didn’t have peas or carrots, but I had a frozen bag of “mixed vegetables” from Market Basket, so I used those instead. And then, the biggest other difference– white wine.

When I went to get the bacon, I also grabbed a cheap bottle of pinot grigio. I boiled the chicken in water and pinot instead of broth, letting the chicken imbue its own flavor. (And then, following Fanny’s recipe, I boiled it all to heck and reduced it significantly.) And when I went to add the veggies later on, I deglazed the pan in far more wine than necessarily.

I was shocked, when it came out of the oven, at just how rich and flavorful this dish is. It’s interesting, when you look at early 20th century American cookery, especially in New England, there’s not a lot of spices or herbs… It often strikes me, reading recipes from that period, that they seem kind of bland. And sometimes they are.

But it seems to me, looking at the food trends between the sixties and now, that Americans for a variety of reasons made a move toward more herbs and spices, and a more global selection of flavors, at the same time that they moved away from valuing richness as a quality in food.

This is incredibly rich. It’s the richest thing I’ve tasted in a long, long time. You are going to want to reduce your portion size. But it’s a heck of a meal.

Plated. It’s not pretty, but it’s pretty delicious.

Like most of my favorite foods, it tastes a hell of a lot better than it photographs.

It’s also simple but painstaking. This is not a weeknight meal. It’s definitely comfort food, but it’s something you have for Sunday dinner. I made it over two days, boiling the chicken and reducing the broth one day, and then refrigerating them overnight, before boning and browning the chicken and cooking the veggies and making the gravy the next day.

I’d recommend this to anyone who tries to make this, because a) chunking time is nice, and b) it’s so much easier to debone a cold, cooked bird than it is to endure the maddening wait for it to cool. (Also, cooling time is so unpredictable, so difficult to factor into getting dinner on the table at a specific time.)

I am curious about the connection to Providence, and the history of this dish. I might have to do a little more research.


So You Have a Topic… Now What?: How to Turn a Preliminary Research Question into a Well-Researched Paper

Every semester, I assign students a research project. I think that conducting research on a topic of your choice is one of the best ways to engage with a topic– when I look at my own experiences as an undergrad, research projects were almost always where I discovered what about a subject I was really passionate about.

Last semester, one of my students in particular asked a very insightful question that few students actually realize they need to ask. And it is one that I often forget students need answered. So I want to talk to you all about it now. This post is going to be a long one, but trust me, it’s worth it.

She knew she wanted to write about something related to women’s issues. After some back and forth, she landed on how Instagram can be (and often is) leveraged by women entrepreneurs. It wasn’t necessarily as narrowed down as I’d like to see it in the end, but it was a very good start. 

Her response, the question that really got me thinking, basically boiled down to “So I have a topic… now what?”

And it occurred to me that a lot of students don’t really understand the best method for writing a research paper. It’s not actually a natural thing, though that is easy for many professors to forget, after years of research and writing. I think that a lot of students think the process looks like this:

  1. Pick a topic
  2. Find the number of articles you need on the topic
  3. Read the articles
  4. Write the paper

This is a way to write a paper. But it’s definitely not the best way. By a long shot. What I’m going to describe below is the way tend to write my research papers. I’m not sure if it’s “best practices,” but it’s the best way I’ve found.

When you’re at that point, and you have a topic selected, the next step is to just start looking for articles, knowing that you’re not going to use every article you find. Go to reputable news outlets, scholarly databases, etc. and play with search terms. I’d probably start with different combinations of search terms– figure out what gets you more articles that look interesting. Maybe it’s “female entrepreneurs” and “Instagram” maybe you’ll find more stuff with “social media” and “women in business,” but are they closer to what you want or further from it? What’s bringing up stuff that seems recent and pertinent?

(I would strongly encourage you to try to use boolean search operators at this stage of the game as well. They can really help you find what you want and to separate the wheat from the chaffe.)

Find SEVERAL articles that interest you. Find some specific thing that REALLY interests you in a couple of them, and go back to searching for sources, using new search terms inspired by what’s catching your interest. The hope is that in this way, by iterating through it a few times, you’ll have several articles that will sort of come together to make a thesis or argument. Once you have that, you can start writing, weaving material from your sources together (PROPERLY SOURCED) in order to lay that argument out.

In other words, as opposed to the system above that many students assume will get them to a good research paper, I would recommend the below:

  1. Pick a topic
  2. Find several articles on that topic
  3. Read those articles on the topic
  4. Identify a subtopic that really speaks to you in some way
  5. Search for articles more directly related to the subtopic, using boolean search operators
  6. Read those articles
  7. Look for commonalities or contrasts– how can these papers be woven together to make an argument?
  8. Write that argument out. Take bits of the different articles and use them to give authority to your argument 

I know this seems like a lot more, but I guarantee you that if you do it right, the paper should really feel like it’s writing itself. I’m not even exaggerating. It takes writing from being something difficult and painful to something that’s easy and kind of fun.

I believe, from my experience as an instructor, that students who don’t do the extra iteration of research really struggle finding something to say in their paper. If you do more work in the research and planning phases, the actual writing stage is just figuring out what order to put things in. 

Everyone’s different, and your milage may vary. But in twenty years of research and writing, this is the best method I’ve come up with. I hope you all find it helpful.


Time for a Hug…

V loves this book. I have to admit I do too.

Look, first off, America is a garbage fire right now, and it seems to get worse every day. We’re now months into the COVID-19 outbreak, and this week, with the police’s murder of George Floyd, there’s been riots all across the country. There were literal garbage fires on the streets of New York last night. It feels inappropriate to talk about anything else, but that’s not what this blog is for. I’ve said plenty over on my Twitter, as well as trying to boost the voices of Black activists all around the nation. Go there for that.

This blog, on the other hand, will continue to be a place where I talk about my journey through fatherhood. Which hasn’t just stopped due to national and international events. It’s actually gotten tougher, and more intense, and more profound. Being locked up in a small apartment with My Colleague and Test Subject V for months on end has left us all frayed and tired.

Last week, we had an opportunity to get out for the first time. My Colleague’s family has a camp up by Lake Winnipesaukee. We went up for the better part of a week. For the first time in ages, my family had some room. We had fresh air. We could go outside without worrying about running into anybody. It was beautiful.

Test Subject V has been insisting on falling asleep on the couch ever since I let her do that one night at the cabin. It’s annoying, but she’s doing the rest of her bedtime routine, so I’m not complaining.

Last night V was on the couch, and My Colleague was reading a book to her. In between books, V turned to me– I was on the floor next to the couch,– and handed me one of her books. “Hold on this dad.”

It was Time for a Hug, one of her favorites. It’s one of her top bedtime stories. I like it because every few pages, it says that it’s TIME FOR A HUG, and I get to give her a little squeeze. She usually giggles and pushes me away.

About a half a minute after giving me the book, she looked at me and said, “Dad go my room.” My Colleague asked her why Daddy had to go to her room, and she replied “My room nice!”

So I went to her room, just to humor her. And I brought the book with me, because she had told me to hold onto it.

I was playing around on my phone, lying on her bed for a few minutes. I assumed My Colleague would come back soon and tell me the baby was asleep. Instead, Test Subject V suddenly stumbles in, lies down next to me, points at the book she’d given me, and said, “Read me.”

So we read it, and then we read it again.

“Time for a hug! / A big bear hug / and a little hug, too. / Every hug says / I love you!”

And in no time, she had drifted off to sleep.


Wendy’s Spicy Bacon Jalapeño Chicken Sandwich Bisque

Finished results. Seriously delicious.

I follow a couple different food communities on Facebook. On one of them, there was a discussion of no-chew foods the other day. I think someone was having surgery or getting their jaw wired? I looked back and I can’t find it.

But one of the respondents said that one of her favorite things when she was in a similar situation was simply to take a pulled chicken sandwich, bread and all, and put it into the blender with chicken broth. She swore it was delicious. My reaction was… complex? It sounded wrong some how, but at the same time, kind of delicious?

My mind also immediately went back to a trip to Wendy’s with my sister and her kids last week when we were visiting our parents in Ohio. I had a Spicy Bacon Jalapeño Chicken Sandwich. Have y’all tried this sandwich? It’s so good. Spicy chicken patty with bacon, fried onions, and this jalapeño cheese sauce… I mean, it’s definitely a “sometimes food,” but damn.

Test Subject V and her older cousin await their Frosty.

When the lady on Facebook mentioned the blended chicken sandwich, my mind immediately went to the idea of a Wendy’s Spicy Bacon Jalapeño Sandwich Bisque. I don’t know why, and I had no idea if it would be good. But I wanted to try it.

So today I decided to try out my potentially horrible idea. Around lunchtime I went to Wendy’s and got the sandwich. They were out of jalapeños, so I drove over to the nearest grocer with parking and when I couldn’t find the canned pickled jalapeños that people like to put on nachos. I paid sixteen cents for a fresh jalapeño and was on my way.

My Colleague played prep cook today and set everything up so it was all ready when I got home.

This image is basically the recipe. The only thing used not in the image was a medium size pot.

I sliced the sandwich into smaller pieces, sliced up the jalapeño, and tossed them into the blender with a can of chicken stock. I blended it for under a minute– though I think it would be even better if I had blended it longer. Blend it for a good long time. Then I poured the contents of the blender into a pot on the stove and cooked it on medium-low until it heated up. I added roughly a cup of heavy cream, and stirred it frequently as it went to a boil.

The moment of truth had arrived. I tasted a spoonful of my potentially disgusting creation. Reader, it was pretty damn good. I was over the moon. It was a little less spicy than I’d expected, with the cream and the broth diluting the fire, so I drizzled some Thai sriracha from the “ethnic foods” aisle of Market Basket that we had in the house. It kicked up the heat and added a little visual embellishment.

Please forgive the poor lighting– I don’t do a lot of food photography. Also, please ignore the weird use of a sheet as a backdrop. I didn’t want to show the whole world how dirty my kitchen is.

My Colleague enjoyed it too. The bisque had just the right amount of fire, it was rich and creamy and weirdly, kinda subtle. It was very rich and very filling. We agreed that it would make a great soup course in a small bowl, or could even be good in a small ramekin, served as an amuse bouche.

Frankly, I was surprised that something that tastes so “white tablecloths and a dress code” could be made with something from a fast food restaurant. It made me wonder what other transformative ways you could use fast food as an ingredient.


How Do You Explain Christmas to a Two Year Old?

V in her happy place, drawing away.

Test Subject V is two now.

Two is not always fun.

Her favorite three words are, in no particular order, “no,” “mine,” and “me.” Often in long strings. For example, “No no no MINE MINE MINE Daddy MINE.” She’ll do that when nobody is even touching anything of hers.

Her birthday was a few weeks ago, and for the month or so beforehand, all the way through this week, she has been having a ridiculously tough sleep regression—this kid has always been a good sleeper, and suddenly we were living with a teenager who wanted to be up past midnight and sleep all morning.

She has been emotionally very raw, and we’re both exhausted. She has not been handling external stressors—or even internal ones—well at all. And toddlers in general… they just have such big emotions inside such tiny little bodies.

Before her birthday, we read a book called Corduroy’s Party that really helped her understand what a birthday party was. She knew there was singing and cake with a candle and gifts and friends, and she was ready for it.

In a way it was similar to when we flew out to Dayton last summer, when I had her watch several videos of planes taking off and landing, and one video made by a father for his son who had ASD that really tried to prepare him for how boarding a plane etc. worked. V watched it for days before the flight, and she knew what to expect. She was a great passenger, and I attribute it to that video.

When a toddler is in one of these raw phases, or at least when V is, anything that is not part of her routine can be deeply destabilizing. With Christmas coming soon, and after a week in which many days involved literally hours of crying, I was starting to get worried about the holiday, and started trying to look for a video that explained Christmas.

I couldn’t find any videos that quite did what I wanted—something that just explained the very basics of Christmas, that there’s a tree and decorations and family, and that unlike her birthday, everyone gets gifts, not just her. So My Colleague and I sat down with V while she was drawing today to have a little talk with her.

V loves to draw, and can occupy herself for an hour or more, just drawing with her colored pencils, or markers, or crayons. She’s starting to make shapes, now, too. She’s been drawing circles lately and telling us they were balls.

I thought it might be a good time to talk to her because she was quiet and focused. My Colleague had the brilliant idea to draw with her. It brought V into the conversation in a way she wouldn’t have been otherwise. She began to draw a Christmas tree with a Crayola marker.

And as she did that, we talked to V about Christmas, and how it’s a day in our culture where families get together with people they love, and everyone sits by a tree, and under the tree everyone puts presents.

I drew three little red presents with a green bow on each. And one of the presents was for V, and one was for Mommy, and one was for Daddy.

A somewhat crude and messy drawing of a Christmas tree with three red presents underneath it.

Then V took the red marker and drew a crude square and colored it in. I hadn’t seen her draw squares or rectangles, really before. I asked if it was a present like the ones I had drawn, and V nodded. I started to draw a green bow on her present, like I had drawn on the presents I drew, and I asked her who that big present was for.

She looked at me with a look of almost euphoric pride and said “ME!”

We might not get past the “MINE MINE MINEs” before Christmas, I know. But I think she got some of the basics. I asked her which present was for Daddy and she pointed to the one I had said was for me. So maybe she might understand that other people might get gifts.

I’ll probably do that again for the next couple days. She’ll at least make a few associations, and hopefully, the day will be just a little smoother for it. Anyway, that’s the hope.

I hope everyone who celebrates the holiday has a wonderful, warm, and merry Christmas. And for them that don’t, I hope you at least get a couple days off to rest and do some self-care, or barring that, you know, time-and-a-half.

The Christmas tree drawing again, this time cropped less so that you can see V’s enormous present.


This is 40

Poster promoting Judd Apatow’s This is 40.

You know, I used to say things like “I don’t feel 35,” or “Even though I’m 38, my life hasn’t changed that much since my late 20s.” I had an illusion of continuity, of age not being much more than a number.

But right now—in a room at a Marriott in Tampa that My Colleague’s work paid for, getting photos of Test Subject V from her grandmother, putting on some workout clothes and downloading a potty training book to listen to while I’m in the hotel fitness center…

I really feel 40.

Children age you. It’s weird because you don’t even notice it until you’re so far gone that you can’t even figure out how the change happened.

And because I know people are here more for V than for me, here’s an image of her at the same place My Colleague and I got married, yelling at some ducks today:

Ducks are awesome.

Things that look better actually work better: A guide for students

The below is a slightly edited version of an announcement I just posted for my COM 110 students at CUNY. Credit where credit’s due: this is all me channeling my advisor, Dr. Paula Petrik, who taught me the value of an easy, clean text.

As you are working on your first major assignment, I would like to share with you something that will almost definitely improve at least some of your grades, not just on this assignment, or in this class, but throughout your entire college career, and beyond. It sounds silly, but I guarantee you it works.

I know this announcement is going to be a bit long, and I want to apologize. But I guarantee you, the information I’m giving you here is worth it. 

It’s a seemingly simple little thing, but I cannot overstate how important this is: Things that look better actually work better. Or at least people are more likely to perceive them as working better.

Let me explain:

In the mid-90s, two researchers from Japan, Masaaki Kurosu from the University of Japan and Kaori Kashimura from Hitachi, were doing research on user experience. They had subjects use 26 different user interfaces to get money from an ATM. These ATM interfaces were purposely designed to go along a spectrum, from technically efficient but ugly to visually pleasing but inefficient. They then had the subjects rate how the machines looked and how they worked. 

You might think that the people in the test would prefer the bare-bones, ugly, but efficient machines. But in fact, they preferred the better looking machines, despite their being (very deliberately) poorly designed in terms of utility. The study found that people think that good-looking things work better, even if it’s very much not the case. 

By now, many of you are likely asking, “why is my Digital Literacy professor talking about ATM designs?” Here’s the thing: this applies to your homework and your papers, too. The easier you make your work to read, the better the grades you will find you get with it. 

And I’m not just saying that because I’m a weird prof with a burr in my saddle about design. You will find that this is true of all of your professors, and at work as well. People have an unconscious bias toward aesthetically pleasing things. This includes all of your professors, who at the end of the day just want to quickly and easily get through your paper and give you as many points as they possibly can. It applies to your boss and your coworkers, too.

We all like to talk about valuing substance over style, but at the end of the day, that’s just something we like to tell ourselves, because it feels like our priorities are in the right place. We’re supposed to care about substance, right? We’re not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover. But we all do.

On a practical level, what does this mean in terms of your current assignment, and your future assignments? The below list is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a good start.

  1. Paragraph breaks are very useful. Use them thoughtfully and frequently. They break up your ideas, and give visual clues to what you are saying. 
  2. Likewise, keep most of your sentences short and concise. Long, run-on sentences confuse the reader. Don’t make your grader, or your reader generally, go hunting for your point!
  3. While it is good to be somewhat more formal, especially in papers and bigger projects, stick to language with which you are comfortable. Don’t use idioms that you aren’t 100% certain of, and try to keep it straightforward. Avoid purple or flowery language. The Federal plain language guidelines are worth looking at for advice on how to keep your prose straightforward and easily readable.
  4. Include a thesis statement in your paper. Tell the reader what you are arguing, clearly, in a sentence or two. That sentence should preferably be at the end of the first paragraph. Because that’s where people will be looking for it. 
  5. To that end, formula is your friendThe five-paragraph theme can be formulaic and boring, yes, but it is also a good starting point. Any teacher will instantly recognize it, or a variation on it. Similarly, there are formulas for different types of letters and emails, different types of memos, documents, resumés… You don’t have to follow them religiously, but be aware of them, and know if you are sticking to what is expected or subverting it.
  6. Leave breadcrumbs for your reader. An essay for a class shouldn’t be full of surprise twists. Let your reader have an idea of where they are going at the beginning of the essay and then give clues about where things are going throughout the essay. By priming the reader’s pump, as it were, you prepare them for what comes next. You help them read the essay, and they will in turn find it easier to read.
  7. Formatting matters! Once you have completed an assignment, make sure that it is formatted correctly. Blackboard has a bad habit of inheriting formatting information when you copy-paste from somewhere else. My personal solution to this is to copy and paste everything into a plain text file  in TextEdit (Mac) or Notepad (Win) before copy-pasting into Blackboard. It’s a pain, but it fixes the problem. In this way, you can avoid weird text, off background colors, and that thing that forces readers to scroll right forever before your line breaks.
  8. Do as I say, don’t do as I do. I’ve got a ton of bad writing habits, and you can catch me breaking all of these rules at times here. Just believe me that it really will help…

This is something that nobody ever explained to me until I was in a PhD program, and it had a profound impact on my writing. So much that I turned in as an undergrad could have been so much better received if I had kept these principles in mind. 

And with that in mind, I pass them along to you. Do with them what you will.


This is why I suck at blogging…

I can’t believe I forgot to include a mention that my previous piece on Sesame Street has been (heavily, at some points) revised and published on the website Current.