Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Counterfeit capitalism and the neomelodica scene in Naples

Street scene near Galleria Umberto, a public shopping gallery in Naples, southern Italy. Here, author Jason Pine discusses the city's neomelodica music scene that makes celebrities out of young singers—and the politics of gaining such fame.


Assistant professor of anthropology and media, society, and the arts at Purchase College, State University of New York

In 2001, the beloved Italian singer Mina ended a near quarter-century absence from public view when she released footage from her recording sessions, Mina in Studio, on the Internet. In the midst of fieldwork in Naples in 2002, I watched on a pirate TV broadcast an alluring music video in which a young boy, Giulio, sang the Neapolitan language song “Passione,” written in 1938 by Libero Bovio. Clearly referencing Mina, the boy’s music video was set in a recording studio. Like Mina, he wore headphones and sung into a mic, but he lip-synched the lyrics, staging liveness.

The gesture was endearing to me. The boy, with his pre-pubescent voce bianca (white voice), pulled it off well. He sang the classic Neapolitan canzone soul-style, set to a slow synth beat and peppered with auto-tuned flourishes at the end. He sang with confidence and verve. He was talented.

When I called the cell phone number that scrolled across the bottom of the screen, the boy’s father answered. I explained that I was researching contemporary Neapolitan music and wanted to meet with them to talk about his son’s experiences on the music scene. The man, exuberantly enthusiastic, offered to bring his son to my apartment at Piazza Garibaldi later that week. They lived in a provincial town outside of Naples over an hour away.

When the boy arrived with both his parents, I had pastries and coffee ready for them. We talked for a long time and enjoyed each others’ company, but I found it virtually impossible to make conversation with directly the boy. I learned little more than that his real name was Fulvio, he was 12 years old, he liked to sing, and loved Michael Jackson’s music, and even this meager information was filtered through his parents. Both mother and father spoke for their son, interrupting me each time I tried to initiate a conversation with him.

I followed the family for several years, getting to know them very well and learning a great deal about the neomelodica music scene. Fulvio’s father, a veteran musician from the milieu, was adamant about guiding his son safely through the treacherous territory it spanned—a contact zone with the organized crime networks called the camorra. The success that he believed lay at the other end of this precarious journey often appeared to me to recede into the shadows. On many occasions, at wedding and baptism gigs and at pirate TV stations, I watched dodgy impresarios approach Fulvio and his father with offers to “make the boy grow.” The errant trajectory of Fulvio’s “becoming a man” took a prominent place in the ethnography I composed. 


In 2011, the fourteen-year-old neomelodica singer Fortuna (fortune, luck), already one of the most talked about and favored singers on the scene, recorded “Lady Lucky”:

“Hollywood, for me, is ‘A Sanità,” (La Sanità is a comparatively poor central neighborhood of the Naples) she sings, “This street, for me, is the world.” They call her Lady Lucky, and like Lady Gaga, she sings for these people, “my people.” In an expansive gesture toward authentic Neapolitanness—a theme found in the repertoires of many neomelodici singers—Fortuna declares, “Not even for a million would I change my life; I want this life of mine to stay the way it is.”

The “authenticity” of neomelodica music has been a point of contention on the neomelodica scene and beyond it. Aesthetically, neomelodica music is decidedly local, saturated with the vernaculars (lyrically, melodically, performatively) of its milieu. Songs can become enormously popular among the hundreds of thousands of fans listening across many regions of southern Italy and among southern Italian immigrants abroad, particularly in Germany, France, and Belgium. But the “authentic Neapolitanness” of these songs tends also to be the very feature that restricts their circulation among other audiences both in the south and nationally. The mixture of worn-out synth disco beats, Neapolitan language lyrics, and microtonal melismas signals for non-fans obstinate, regressive provinciality.

At the same time there is very little to call authentic about a song that is but another note emanating from the massive song production that animates the scene year after year, decade after decade. In musical structure, melody, and in lyrical content and style, the song is quite like the many, many other songs young performers sing as they compete for the attention of neomelodica music fans. However, “Lady Lucky,” written by one of the most successful neomelodici singers to date, Gianni Fiorellino, is more polished than the average song—as is the music video. Fortuna’s success on the scene is most certainly linked to this higher grade in quality.

But some protagonists on the neomelodica music scene, like Fulvio’s father, allude to a kind of counterfeit success. This is when they say that some singers “have certain people backing them.” You can “sing like shit” and yet get plenty of gigs on the wedding and baptism circuit, they say. They are referring to singers who are affiliated with crime boss impresarios who apply pressure to the markets of their circumscribed territories by activating their networks to facilitate the circulation of some singers and the marginalization of others. The result is distorted markets, manually managed mini alternative culture industries each with their affirmative culture.

On the neomelodica scene there are always many morphing rumors that circulate speculations, suspicions, and “certainties” about who is who and how they got their success.

“Counterfeit success” is also the allusion discernible in the critiques of non-fans who describe the neomelodica scene in ways that make it out to be the bad copy of dominant music industry scene, in both its aesthetic and economic practices. Because neomelodica music is produced, circulated and consumed largely in the contact zone where the so-called “informal” and “illicit” economies overlap, it inspires reactions ranging from bemusement and outrage when people see local Neapolitan “stars” performing celebrity like uncanny imitations of dominant music industry icons. The mimetic gestures that conjure in Fortuna’s music video the young “Lucky starlet” (the name she calls herself in her song) operate at the threshold of parody (unwitting, of course) and perhaps threaten in some small measure to expose the artifice of mainstream celebrity and the sinister nature of its affirmative culture.


Jason Pine is assistant professor of anthropology and media, society, and the arts at Purchase College, State University of New York. He is author of The Art of Making Do in Naples. His next ethnographic research topic is methamphetamine and the biopolitics of performance enhancement in the rural Midwest of the United States.

"Exploring musical performance as a pathway to the Neapolitan underworld, Jason Pine shows how the improbable becomes persuasive as he passionately embraces the challenges of uncertainty and vagueness that mark a highly stylized but passionate arena of social interaction. In the intense theatricality of their shape-shifting kaleidoscope of relationships and identities, Pine’s vivid interlocutors challenge the realism of anthropological description through an aesthetic realism of their own, one that dissolves the boundary between art and life."
—Michael Herzfeld, author of
Evicted from Eternity

"With the eye of a cunning journalist and the descriptive skills of a fine novelist, Pine illuminates the murky world of the Camorra and Naples’ neomelodica scene. This is writing culture at its best."
—Fred Gardaphe, author of
From Wiseguys to Wise Men: The Gangster and Italian American Masculinities

Friday, December 14, 2012

Holiday recipe spectacular: Goodies by Beatrice Ojakangas

Our 6th (and final!) day of holiday recipes from our authors is upon us. Thanks so much for following. We hope you've enjoyed these recipes, and perhaps have been inspired to try a new dish or two.

Day 5: Cranberry tart from Brenda Langton.
Day 4: Hearty, healthful entrees from Jenny Breen.
Day 3: Corn chowder from Atina Diffley.
Day 2: Swedish pancakes from Helene Henderson.
Day 1: Sweet potato and walnut salad from Beth Dooley.


Holiday recipes from Beatrice Ojakangas (from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book)

Joulutortut. Image from

Traditionally in Finland, holiday baked goods are not served until Christmas Eve or, at the earliest, the eve of Christmas Eve. That's when these prune-filled stars come out, signaling the beginning of the Christmas holidays. The day after Christmas is a day for visiting and comparing the quality of the stars from one household to the next! Each baker has his or her own favorite recipe, varying from a flaky puff pastry to a rich and tender butter pastry like this one.

Makes 36 stars.

2 cups (8 ounces) pitted prunes
water to cover
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, whipped
1 cup softened butter

1 slightly beaten egg
2 tablespoons milk
pearl sugar or crushed sugar cubes for garnish

Cover the prunes with water and simmer slowly until very soft. Puree and add the lemon juice and sugar. Cool.

For the pastry, mix the flour and baking powder. Stir into the whipped cream and knead in the softened butter. Shape dough into a ball and chill one hour.

On a floured board, roll out pastry to 1/4-inch thickness. Fold dough into thirds, folding first one third over the center, then the opposite third over the center. Roll out to seal the layers. Turn dough and fold again into thirds, making the dough into a perfect square. Roll out, retaining the square shape, to make an 18-inch square. Cut into 3-inch squares. With a sharp knife, make cuts from the corners toward the centers of the squares, each about 1 1/2 inches long. Place a spoonful of the prune filling onto the center of each square. Shape into pinwheel stars by lifting every other split corner toward the center onto the filling.

Cover baking sheets with parchment paper or lightly grease them. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place filled stars on the prepared baking sheets. Mix the egg and milk and brush stars with the glaze. Sprinkle with pearl sugar or crushed sugar cubes.

Bake 7 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned.



This legendary pastry symbolizes Danish hygge, or the "comfortable and good" life. It is always served at Christmas and Easter, as well as on special occasions and anniversaries. Although Danes use any fruit or nut filling in a kringle, almond filling is the favorite.

Makes 1 large kringle

1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water, 105 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit
1/4 cup undiluted evaporated milk, room temperature
1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom seeds (optional)
1/4 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 cup whipping cream
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, chilled

Raisin-Almond Filling:
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups golden raisins
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 teaspoon freshly pulverized cardamom seeds
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 cup chopped almonds

Almond Filling:
1 cup, about 1/2 pound, almond paste
1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 egg white
1 teaspoon almond extract

Prune-Port Filling:
1 (12-ounce) package pitted prunes
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup red port wine

Glaze and Topping:
1 slightly beaten egg white
pearl sugar or coarsely crushed sugar cubes or granulated sugar
sliced almonds

In a medium bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Let stand 5 minutes. Add the milk, cardamom, 1/4 cup sugar, egg yolks, and whipping cream. Set aside.

In a large bowl, or in the work bowl of a food processor with the steel blade in place, combine the flour and salt. Cut in the butter until butter pieces are the size of kidney beans or process. Add the yeast mixture, mixing only until dry ingredients are moistened. Cover with plastric wrap and refrigerate 12 to 24 hours. Meanwhile, prepare the fillings and have them ready.

To make the raisin-almond filling, bring water to a boil; add the raisins, let stand 5 minutes, and drain. Cool.

In a bowl, cream the butter until soft, and add the cardamom, powdered sugar, and enough cream to make a smooth, spreadable mixture. Add the raisins and chopped almonds.

To make the almond filling, break almond paste into pieces and blend with the almonds, powdered sugar, egg white, and almond extract to make a smooth paste. (This may be easiest to accomplish in the food processor.)

To make the prune-port filling, cook the prunes in water to cover until tender. Mash. Add the sugar and mix until dissolved. Stir in the port. Return to the pan and simmer until mixture is thick, about 5 minutes.

Turn dough out onto lightly floured board, and dust with flour. Using a rolling pin, pound dough until smooth and about 3/4-inch thick. Roll out to make a 24-inch square. Fold dough into thirds to make a long and narrow strip. With rolling pin, roll again until about 1/4-inch thick and about 36 inches long.

Spread the length of the roll up to 1 inch in from the edges with the filling. Roll up from the long side, enclosing the filling. Brush roll with egg white, then roll in sugar.

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease and flour the sheet. Place the roll on the baking sheet in the shape of a large pretzel. Let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes. It will not double. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Brush kringle again with egg white and sprinkle with sliced almonds. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden.


Beatrice Ojakangas is the author of more than a dozen cookbooks, including The Great Scandinavian Baking Book (1999; winner of the James Beard Foundation award) and Great Whole Grain Breads (1993). Her articles have appeared in Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Cooking Light, Cuisine, and Redbook, and she has appeared on television’s Baking with Julia Child. She lives in Duluth, Minnesota.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Holiday recipe spectacular: Cranberry tart and apple sesame kanten by Brenda Langton

It's Day 5 of our holiday recipe spectacular, and we've got some delicious dessert recipes from Brenda Langton, author of The Spoonriver Cookbook (where the following recipes come from) and The Cafe Brenda Cookbook. Enjoy!

This week, we've also featured:
Day 4: Hearty, vegan-friendly entrees with Jenny Breen.
Day 3: Corn chowder with Atina Diffley.
Day 2: Swedish pancakes with Helene Henderson.
Day 1: Sweet potato walnut salad and snack cake with Beth Dooley.


Holiday recipes from Brenda Langton


Serves 10 to 12

This is a festive tart to serve for the holidays, but it is certainly welcome all fall and winter long. You can use fresh or frozen cranberries. There is no need to thaw frozen cranberries, and they are easier to chop when frozen. This is a very simple tart to make. If you have a tart shell already prepared, you can throw it together in just a few minutes.

2 eggs
1/2 cup honey or sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 partially baked tart shell (recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the eggs, honey, butter, orange juice, vanilla, and salt. Beat with a whisk until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the cranberries, walnuts, and orange zest.

Pour the filling into the prepared tart shell. Bake in the center of the oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until golden. Place the tart on a wire rack to cool. Let it cool completely before serving.


Makes enough dough to line an 8- or 9-inch tart pan.

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 egg
1 to 2 tablespoons ice water

Combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Cut the butter into  small pieces and drop them into the flour. Work the butter into the flour with a pastry blender or two knives until the  mixture resembles coarse meal.

In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg. Add 1 tablespoon of  ice water and stir to combine. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture while stirring with a fork. The mixture  should be moist but not wet and should hold together in a ball. If the mixture seems too dry, add more water  a little at a time until the dough comes together. Gather the dough into a ball. Flatten it into a disk and wrap it in  plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes.

Flour a work surface. Roll out the dough, starting from  the center and moving toward the edges. Turn the dough and flour it as you go to prevent it from sticking. Roll until the tart dough is 1⁄8 inch thick. Carefully lay the dough in the tart pan.

Trim the excess dough, leaving about an inch beyond the  edge of the pan. Fold in the extra dough and press it against the sides to double the thickness of the sides. 

Chill the tart shell for at least one hour before prebaking or filling it.

To partially bake a tart shell, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line the shell with aluminum foil and fill it with dried beans, rice, or aluminum pellets. This keeps the sides  from caving in and the bottom from bubbling up. Place the tart pan on the bottom shelf of the oven and bake for  15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, remove the weights and the foil, and return the shell to the oven for 5
more minutes to dry the bottom crust.

To bake a shell completely, follow the above steps but bake  it for 20 minutes before removing the weights. Return the shell to the oven for an additional 5 minutes. The crust should be a light golden brown.



Serves 6

Kanten is a traditional Asian fruit dessert. It is like a refreshing, creamy fruit pudding. Top it with nuts and fresh fruit. You can vary the juice used to make many different flavors. Apple juice with almond butter is a good combination, and pineapple-coconut juice with sliced oranges is very refreshing. Kanten is pretty served in goblets, and using goblets makes it easy to layer two different flavors.

4 cups apple juice
5 heaping tablespoons of agar flakes
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons tahini

Pour the apple juice into a saucepan. Add the agar flakes and the salt and bring the juice to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until the agar dissolves.

Pour the mixture into a bowl and refrigerate the kanten until it sets, approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Using a blender, blend the kanten with the tahini until it is smooth and creamy. If necessary, blend in batches. Tahini varies in thickness. If you have very thick tahini, you may need to add a little more juice to get a smooth creamy texture. Pour the kanten into individual serving dishes.

Serve the kanten cold. It's pretty served in stemmed glasses. Garnish it with fresh fruit: try berries, grapes, kiwi, or citrus.

Variations: Use apple-peach or apple-cherry juice and substitute almond butter for the tahini.

Use coconut milk in place of the tahini.


Brenda Langton has been a presence in Twin Cities dining since 1972. She started her first restaurant, Cafe Kardamena, in St. Paul in 1978, and then moved it to Minneapolis and renamed it Cafe Brenda in 1986. Cafe Brenda operated until 2009. In 2006, Brenda opened Spoonriver and founded the Mill City Farmers Market. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota and an educator and consultant on healthy eating.

She is author of The Spoonriver Cookbook and The Cafe Brenda Cookbook: Seafood and Vegetarian Cuisine.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Holiday recipe spectacular: Hearty, healthful entrees from Jenny Breen

Day 4 of our six-day holiday recipe blowout continues with heartier, vegan-friendly recipes from professional chef Jenny Breen, co-author of Cooking Up the Good Life: Creative Recipes for the Family Table.

Day 3: Corn Chowder by Atina Diffley.
Day 2: Swedish Pancakes and Sweet Potatoes with Pomegranates by Helene Henderson.
Day 1: Sweet Potato and Walnut Salad and Cranberry Snack Cake by Beth Dooley.


Holiday recipes from Jenny Breen



Serves 8 to 10 

Brussels sprouts intrigued me as a kid. We only had them once or twice a year, but they were like fun little mini cabbages—slightly bitter and light and leafy at the same time. This sauce is what makes them work here. The Brussels sprouts combine with the mellow flavor of the sweet potatoes into a beautiful balance of spicy and sweet.

-1 pound Brussels sprouts, halved
-3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly (if you don’t have sweet potatoes, any other root vegetable or tuber works great-beets, turnips, parsnips, potatoes, etc.)
-2 leeks, cleaned and sliced thinly
-2 tablespoons olive oil

For horseradish sauce:
¼ cup olive oil
1/4 cup mustard
1/4 cup horseradish
2/3 cup honey (you can substitute ½ cup apple or orange juice)
1/4 cup cider vinegar
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch ginger, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine sauce ingredients and set aside. Clean and cut Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and leeks and coat with olive oil. Place in large baking pan, pour sauce over vegetables and coat well. Bake in 385 degree oven for about 20 minutes, until vegetables are tender and bright colored. 


[vegan option]

Serves 8 to 10 

Not only is this dish beautiful, it is incredibly nutritious and delicious. Winter squash, including pumpkin, perfectly complement any seasonal green. You can use broccoli, greens, cauliflower or green beans depending upon the season. The coconut milk is creamy and rich, but not overly so, and it is a fun and creative way to use squash and pumpkin.

-2 medium squash such as butternut, red kuri, or pumpkin, peeled and cubed into 1 inch cubes
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
-2 large leeks, cleaned and sliced into rings
-6 cloves garlic, minced
-2 inches ginger, peeled and minced
-1 tablespoon cumin
-1 tablespoon coriander
-1 tablespoon turmeric
-1 tablespoon chili powder
-2 teaspoons cinnamon
-2 tablespoons fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons dried
-¼ cup lemon juice
-¼ cup sugar or maple syrup
-2 bunches broccoli, cut into bite sized pieces—about 6 cups
-2 teaspoons salt
-1 16-ounce can coconut milk
-2 cups brown rice cooked in 5 cups water

-1 cup toasted cashews
-1 pound mock duck or chicken breast, chopped and stir fried until browned

Steam squash in large covered skillet until tender, not mushy—about 6 minutes. Remove any extra water. Heat olive and sesame oils, add leeks, garlic, ginger and squash and sauté until leeks are soft, then add the seasoning, juice, and maple syrup. Mix well until pumpkin is coated, then add broccoli, salt and coconut milk. Cover and allow to simmer until broccoli is bright green, then uncover and mix well so all vegetables are coated and tender. Add cashews and mock duck or protein if desired. Serve immediately over brown rice. 


[vegan option]

-3 tablespoons olive oil
-1 medium onion, diced
-4 cloves garlic, minced
-2 tablespoons fresh thyme, minced, or 1 tablespoon dried
-1 tablespoon ground cumin
-2 teaspoons salt
-2 teaspoons pepper
-2 carrots, diced
-6 cups assorted root veggies/tubers, diced (use turnips, parsnips, peeled squash, beets, etc.)
-2 pounds stew meat, diced OR meat alternative (tofu, mock duck, or tempeh)
-1 cup red lentils
-1 cup wild rice (hand-harvested)
-1 32-oz. can diced tomatoes, or 1 quart from your pantry
-8-10 cups stock or water

Heat olive oil and sauté onions until soft, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, spices, carrots and other veggies, and beef or alternative to coat and then add diced tomatoes. Bring to a rolling simmer and cover for about 15-20 minutes stirring occasionally to soften vegetables and cook meat.

Add red lentils and 4 cups of stock and simmer another 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. If stew begins to thicken too much and stick to pan, add more liquid. After about 20 minutes, add the wild rice and remaining liquid. Simmer again another 15-20 minutes, stirring regularly to prevent any burning or sticking. Continue to add small amounts of liquid to prevent sticking and thickening too much. Adjust according to your preferences. When lentils are full and wild rice has opened, turn heat down to low and keep stew warm and cooking slowly until serving. 



These cookies were born out of my love for Greg Reynold’s cornmeal. I keep trying to think of new ways to use it. They are not dissimilar from the maple cornbread recipe—just a cookie version. The walnuts add a great crunch, and slight bitterness to balance the sweetness of the corn and maple. Try this with other nuts for yummy variations.

-1/2 pound (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
-1 cup maple syrup
-1 teaspoon vanilla
-2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
-2-3 cups cornmeal
-1 teaspoon salt
-½ cup walnuts, chopped

Cream together the butter, vanilla and maple syrup. Add the pastry flour and 2 cups of the cornmeal. Mix until well combined. The dough should be soft, but not sticky. If it is too sticky, add more cornmeal, ¼ cup at a time until proper consistency.

Remove dough from the bowl, and on a floured surface, roll into a log about 15 inches long and 1 ½ inches in diameter. With a sharp knife, cut slices about ½ inch thick. Lay these flat on oiled pan (or silicone pan liner) and bake for about 15 minutes. They will not spread so you can place them fairly close together. Remove from oven when slightly browned and firm.


Jenny Breen has been cooking and baking professionally in the Twin Cities for more than twenty years. She is a co-owner of Good Life Catering (previously Good Life Café) and is a passionate advocate for local and sustainably raised foods. She received a Bush Leadership fellowship in 2009 and returned to school to study public health nutrition and continue her pursuit of healthy food for healthy families in healthy communities on a healthy planet. When not biking or canoeing with her family, she is in her home laboratory, passing along the pleasures of food to her husband, Jon, and their daughters, Solana and Frances. She is co-author with Susan Thurston of Cooking Up the Good Life: Creative Recipes for the Family Table.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Holiday recipe spectacular: Atina Diffley's Corn Chowder

Day 3 of our holiday recipe phase features a nice winter corn chowder from Atina Diffley, author of Turn Here Sweet Corn.

Day 2: Helene Henderson's Swedish Pancakes with Cranberries and Sweet Potatoes with Pomegranates.
Day 1: Beth Dooley's Sweet Potato and Walnut Salad and Cranberry Snack Cake. 

Four generations of the Diffley family come together in August to freeze corn for winter eating. Here, Martin Diffley (left), his grandchildren Emma, Chase, and Blake, and daughter, Eliza, prepare to husk just-picked sweet corn.

Atina Diffley's Corn Chowder

Makes 8 servings

During the corn-growing season, Martin and I eat most of our sweet corn in the field uncooked and fresh. During the holiday season we use our frozen sweet corn to bring the stored sun and warmth into the short winter days. When I was a kid I was taught how to cook “farm-style,” which meant using whatever one has on hand, and knowing how to swap out ingredients because “you wouldn’t be having free time to just run into town to pick up something.” How did my childhood cooking mentors know I’d be so busy! To this day, recipes are simply starting places for me, and most ingredients (and amounts) are fair play for substitution. Feel free to adapt this recipe to use the ingredients you like to eat or that you have on hand.

2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
An additional dollop of olive oil or butter
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 sprigs fresh thyme, or 2 teaspoons dried thyme
¼ cup flour (Use your favorite kind. It’s fine to leave the flour out. The soup will be a little less thick.)
6 cups vegetable or chicken broth or water
2 cups cream or milk or soy/nut/coconut milk

1 cup potato, diced
1½ cup sweet corn
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped

Heat the butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and thyme, and sauté about 3 minutes. Sprinkle the vegetables with the flour and stir it in. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Add the cream or milk and the potatoes, bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the potatoes start to break down. Add the sweet corn kernels. Season with salt and pepper and simmer until the corn is soft, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat, stir in the parsley and a dollop of olive oil. Garnish with chopped parsley.


Atina Diffley is an organic vegetable farmer who now educates consumers, farmers, and policymakers about organic farming through the consulting business Organic Farming Works LLC, owned by her and her husband, Martin. From 1973 through 2007, the Diffleys owned and operated Gardens of Eagan, one of the first certified organic produce farms in the Midwest. She is author of the memoir Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Holiday recipe spectacular: Swedish Pancakes a la Helene Henderson

This week we're enlisting in some of our finest Minnesota authors to give us their favorite holiday recipes. We kicked off this holiday recipe spectacular on Friday with a few goodies from Beth Dooley. Today, we feature Helene Henderson, author of The Swedish Table.


Holiday recipes from Helene Henderson


I always make Swedish Pancakes (from The Swedish Table) for Christmas Eve breakfast, followed by the opening of one gift.

3 eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 ½ cup milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted
Additional butter for cooking
Powdered sugar, simple syrup cranberries (recipe below) and/or whipped cream (optional; for garnish)

Blend all ingredients in a food processor until combined. Heat a 7-inch nonstick or cast iron skillet until hot, or alternatively, if available, use a mini pancake pan. Add a small amount of butter and immediately pour in one ladle full of the batter: quickly tilt pan to spread batter evenly over the bottom. When pancake edges are dry and bubbles begin to appear in the center, flip it with a spatula and cook the other side until lightly brown. Repeat with the remaining batter, stacking the pancakes on a plate. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, simple syrup cranberries, and whipped cream.

Simple Syrup Cranberries

Blend 1 part sugar with 1 part water, and heat over low heat until sugar dissolves.

Place your cranberries (amount can be adjusted to your liking) in a heat proof bowl and pour the sugar mixture over the berries to cover. Place the syrup-covered berry bowl on top of a double boiler and cover with a lid, and cook under low heat for 45 minutes. Cool and serve at room temperature.


To get the perfect texture and color I usually do a 60% sweet potato to 40% mashed potato combination.

Ingredients and instructions:
-Take 2 large russet potatoes, peeled, boiled in salted water until soft when pierced through. Mash in a ricer.
-Take 2 sweet potatoes or yams, baked in a 400-degree oven until soft when pierced about 45 minutes. Remove from skin and gently mash.

Combine mashed potato and baked sweet potatoes.

Next ingredients:

4 tablespoons butter (or more)
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon hot sauce of choice
1 cup pomegranate seeds
¼ cup chopped parsley

Stir the butter into the warm potato/sweet potato mixture and add the cream and the hot sauce. Season to taste with salt. Stir in half of the maple syrup.

The potatoes can be made one day in advance up to this stage. To serve, reheat and garnish with remaining maple syrup, pomegranate seeds, and parsley.


Helene Henderson is an African American, Swedish-born chef who was raised in Luleå, Sweden, where she learned how to cook. She is author of The Swedish Table. She currently runs Malibu Farm, an organic farm where she and her staff offer fresh catering, host special events, and teach cooking classes. You can visit her online at

Friday, December 7, 2012

Holiday recipe spectacular: Utilize holiday leftovers with Beth Dooley's Sweet Potato and Walnut Salad

We're in a festive spirit this month at UMP and looking for some great recipes to match. We've enlisted in our finest Minnesota authors and cooks to divulge their favorite holiday foods.
Today we're launching a Holiday Recipe Spectacular in which we'll feature one Minnesota author per work day. We'll resume Monday, and by next Friday the 14th, we'll publish a printable document with all recipes included in this blog extravaganza. Please check back for more!


Holiday recipes from Beth Dooley
Author of The Northern Heartland Kitchen and Minnesota's Bounty: The Farmers Market Cookbook (forthcoming this spring), and coauthor of Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland.

Serves 6 to 8

When you're making those holiday sweet potatoes, bake a few extra potatoes to have on hand for this salad. You may also use any leftover sweet potatoes or squash if they are not heavily glazed or topped with marshmallows. To make this an entree salad, toss in leftover turkey.

1/4 cup white wine or raspberry vinegar to taste
1 small shallot, minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup walnut or olive oil
1/4-cup cranberry sauce, fresh or canned
2 medium sweet potatoes (about 3/4 to 1 pound), baked and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 fennel bulb, diced
1/2-cup sliced scallions
1/2- cup toasted walnuts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, shallot, mustard and honey. Whisk in the oil in a slow, steady stream. Stir in the cranberry sauce.

Turn the sweet potatoes, fennel, and scallions into a large bowl. Toss in enough vinaigrette to lightly coat. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Toss in the walnuts just before serving.

Makes one 9-inch cake

Everyone will bet you for this recipe. It’s one of those old-fashioned crowd-pleasers, tender and moist yet not too sweet. It’s terrific with coffee or milk, or even a light beer or sweet wine.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1-1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 cup plain Greek style yogurt or sour cream
1 cup fresh cranberries, chopped
Confectioners sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Lightly butter and flour a 9-inch square baking pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking power, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt until blended. In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy then beat in the vanilla. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Fold the flour alternately with the yogurt into the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Fold in the cranberries.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly then tap the pan to release the air bubbles. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes up clean, about 50 to 55 minutes. Remove and cool. Dust with confectioners sugar if desired.


Beth Dooley has covered the local food scene in the Northern Heartland for twenty-five years: she is a restaurant critic for Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, writes for the Taste section of the Minneapolis and St. Paul Star Tribune, and appears regularly on KARE-11 (NBC) television in the Twin Cities area. She is author of Minnesota's Bounty (forthcoming this spring), The Northern Heartland Kitchen and coauthor with Lucia Watson of Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland, both published by the University of Minnesota Press. For more of her recipes, check out her blog:

Thursday, December 6, 2012

World-Making and World-Devastation in Adrian Piper's Self-Portrait 2000

Adrian Piper's Self-Portrait 2000 (2000; Scroll-Down Website Artwork) is featured in the introduction to The Reorder of Things by Roderick A. Ferguson. Here, Ferguson explains the significance of this piece to his book. Collection and copyright Adrian Piper Research Archive Foundation Berlin.

Professor of race and critical theory at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

I’m not entirely sure how I found Adrian Piper’s Self-Portrait 2000, the piece in which she “depicts” herself as a downed airplane and traces her descent to Wellesley College’s alleged attempts to “service” her to death as the school’s “only tenured black woman.”

I do know that it was early on in the writing of The Reorder of Things.

I also know that it felt like more than serendipity, like it was supposed to happen.

After writing two books, I now know that I begin writing a new book by imagining it as my version of some classical text. Aberrations in Black was my version of Marx’s Capital: Volume 1. The Reorder of Things is my version of Foucault’s work. Foucault begins The Order of Things with Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas. The painting depicts Velázquez as an artist at work in his studio. He is painting King Phillip and Queen Margaret of Spain, but we can only see them through their reflection in the mirror at the back of the room. The viewer bears witness not to the King and Queen, but to the painter at work, the maids of honor (las meninas), the princess that they attend, a little person, a dog, and another child. A nun is chatting away with a man. There is also another man in the doorway at the back of the studio observing the scene. For Foucault, Las Meninas signals the rise of Man and the downfall of the Sovereign as the subject of modernity. Hence, he was interested in the painting because of the way in which it depicts the scene of representation and the painter—a commoner, not a sovereign—as the designer of that scene. To paraphrase Foucault, we can observe the painter and ourselves being observed in this scene of representation. As the painter, Western Man is the force of representation. As the viewer, he symbolizes the object of analysis and its threat of dissection.

Self-Portrait 2000 in many ways seemed to be akin to and critical of Las Meninas. In both portraits, the subjects are absent. Both pieces also signal the rise of a new subject, signaled by the recession of a prior authority: For Las Meninas, the Sovereign; for Self-Portrait 2000, presumably Western Man himself. Both artworks “depict” the conditions for their subjects’ representations. For Las Meninas, Man can only be represented and analyzed in the wake of the sovereign’s downfall. For Self-Portrait 2000, Piper, a minority, could only be represented in the academy because of the social movements of the fifties and sixties that changed U.S. society, movements that—more pointedly—tried to put “the Man” in his place. Both are meditations on what happens when the subject becomes the object of observation and in the case of Self-Portrait 2000, of destruction as well. This aspect of Piper’s piece is what compelled me to open the book with it.

From my first encounter with Piper’s piece, I could see so many people in that portrait. I could also see the dangers of an institution—the academy—that offered both the pleasures of observation and the reality of destruction. When Audre Lorde died I was a sophomore at Howard and remember listening to the report of her death on NPR. When Sherley Anne Williams died, I was finishing up my dissertation at the very university at which she taught. I started teaching at the University of Minnesota the year that Barbara Christian lost her life to cancer. When June Jordan and Claudia Tate fell, I was well into my second year at the U, and Nelly McKay and VeVe Clark passed not long after I completed my first book. Like many of my colleagues who had also been shaped by the worlds that these women created, it seemed that many of the junctures in my life at universities had obituaries appended to them. After a while, I realized that I began to see these deaths as my own version of “where-were-you-when-Kennedy-was-assassinated?”

In this sense, the portrait seemed to diagnose a historical situation—how the conditions within the academy and the struggles that took place on campus yards way back when occasioned the rise and the demise of minorities, in general, but racial minorities, in particular. Self-Portrait 2000 says that the American academy set the conditions for all those things—our entrance, our representation, and our troubles.

It’s the scene of world-making and world-devastation all in one.


Roderick A. Ferguson is professor of race and critical theory at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. He is author of The Reorder of Things: The University and its Pedagogies of Minority Difference (2012) and Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique (2003).