The holiday season is about spending time with families. For a lot of families, it comes with conflict as well as cheer.
For Diane Abu-Jaber, author of a memoir on food and family called The Language of Baklava, her grandmother's annual arrival for a Christmastime visit meant lots of cookies and a boatload of bickering between her German-American Gram and her Jordanian immigrant father.
The cookie it all boils down to, Abu-Jaber told All Things Considered's Melissa Block, the is the wurstcake - a not-too-sweet slice'n'bake cookie her grandmother made with lots of spice - and perhaps a hint of spite. Grandmother Grace Belford just didn't approve of her Jordanian son-in-law.
"She saw him as an interloper. He was this Muslim menace, you know, who was coming to steal her only daughter," Diana says. "And so this manifested itself in their conversations whenever they would get together on the holidays."
It would start slowly, Diane recalls, but would come to a boil.
"She would pick at him and peck at him and talk about Jordanians and Muslims and eventually he would break down and jump into the fray," she says.
Gram would insult his Jordanian heritage, imply Muslims were savages. "And my father would say 'Actually the Muslims invented civilization,' and he would go away into these long disquisitions about the nature of reality the history of the world as seen by Gus Abu-Jaber," she says.
Diane says her grandmother found the fights upsetting, and left her agitated and exhausted. To her father, she says, they were merely a more exciting form of conversation.
"Dad would kind of sigh contentedly and say, 'Ahh, do you have any more of those Catholic cookies? (That's what he called the wurstcakes — Catholic cookies)," she says. "And my grandmother would be furious and storm off."
From the sharpness of their battles, Diane and her sisters always assumed their father and Gram really couldn't stand each other. But when their grandmother died, they watched their father kneel by her coffin and weep.
"He missed her, he missed his old adversary," Diane says. "It was a great lesson to us because it taught us that enemies can come to rely on each other, and even to love each other. ... I think of it as the lesson of the wurstcake, because you realize from something like the wurstcake that cookies don't have to be too sweet — that all things find their balance and need their balance. And for my father, my grandmother was his balance."
Grace Belford's Wurstcakes
Makes about 12 dozen
3 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tablespoon water, plus additional if necessary
2 large eggs, beaten
8 tablespoons butter, softened
2 cups confectioners' sugar
Sliced blanched almonds, for decorating (optional)
Red and green sanding sugar, for decorating (optional)
In large bowl, mix flour, sugar, brown cinnamon, allspice, and clove. In small bowl, dissolve baking soda in 1 1/2 teaspoons water. Stir into flour mixture, along with eggs and butter. With hands, knead well until dough forms smooth ball.
Divide dough into 3 even pieces. Shape each into 2-inch-diameter "wurst" or sausage shape. Wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight or up to 1 week.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease cookie sheets.
With sharp knife, cut dough into 1/8-inch slices. Place on prepared cookie sheets, spacing 1 inch apart.
Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.
In small bowl, combine confectioners' sugar and 1 tablespoon water. Stir until smooth, adding small amounts of additional water if needed to achieve creamy consistency. Spread icing on cookies. If desired, press almond slices into icing or sprinkle sanding sugar onto icing. Let harden.
But an intriguing thing happened on an image search today: I came across a set of photos I'd never seen before. Tucked away on the far end of Long Island, about 70 miles east of New York City, is the Calverton Executive Airpark.
It's where tens of thousands of vehicles damaged by Superstorm Sandy were lined up in neat rows at the beginning of the year.
Insurance Auto Auctions, I learned, is a salvage company that specializes in vehicles that are in really bad shape. They secured the airport to temporarily hold the damaged cars and trucks deemed a total loss by insurance companies. The vehicles were then auctioned off online or junked.
Eric Consorte with Insurance Auto Auctions on Long Island said that his company dealt with more than 50,000 cars from all over New York after Sandy, and many of them ended up here. But all the cars are gone now. Consorte says the runway has been clear of cars for at least six months.
Old Man Luedecke makes his first appearance on Mountain Stage, recorded live on the campus of East Tennessee State University. A native of Nova Scotia, Chris Luedecke isn't actually old, but his music clearly draws from his remarkable ear for the music and melodies of years gone by.
Despite his affinity for old-time bluegrass and folk, Luedecke isn't afraid to incorporate subtle, hummable pop hooks into his songs, as heard in his opening number "Kingdom Come." His fifth album, Tender Is the Night, was produced by West Virginia native Tim O'Brien, who recently appeared on Mountain Stage. Here, Luedecke plays banjo and guitar alongside Joel E. Hunt on mandolin and violin.
- "Kingdom Come"
- "This May Hurt A Bit"
- "Johah And The Whale"
- "Song For Ian Tyson"
Deer Tick visits the WXPN studio to perform songs from its fifth album, Negativity. Of all the material the band has released over the past seven years, this record contains some of lead singer John McCauley's most personal songwriting yet.
McCauley has matured considerably in recent years: The musician curtailed his oft-cited heavy drinking after his engagement collapsed, and had to watch his father serve a sentence in federal prison. From all this, Negativity was born. A reflective McCauley describes how those difficult moments translated to his writing on Thursday's episode of World Cafe.
- "The Dream's In The Ditch"
- "The Curtain"
- "I Can't Help It"
The Jazz Institute of Chicago and the city's Park District teamed up in December 2012 to present this free family concert with Dee Alexander. As we air it on JazzSet a year later, Alexander is just back from performing the show in Poland where, she writes, "everyone was on their feet."
The first half is a non-stop, 30-minute tribute to Jimi Hendrix followed by a hearty South Shore Cultural Center countdown to 2013. "Auld Lang Syne" morphs into "Ain't It Funky Now." See photo No. 5 in our gallery for Alexander's costume change ("I'm wearin' hot pants!") for the James Brown half. As she yells to the crowd, "Everybody down here on the floor. I don't want to dance by myself!" we have evidence of the people's compliance in photo No. 6.
DownBeat's David Whiteis points out that the Evolution Arkestra is 50 percent a string ensemble "alternating between furiously picked pizzicato runs and stuttering arco groans, and occasionally joining forces to create window-rattling sonic booms. Guitarist Scott Hesse invoked Hendrix's visionary fury by using precision, dynamic flexibility and rhythmic drive to build intensity and create music almost as riveting as anything Jimi could have summoned with his fabled high-velocity fusillades."
In the mid-1960s, Hendrix sang a heart-stopping plea for restraint: "Hey, Joe, where you goin' with that gun in your hand?" Alexander revisits "Hey Joe" only days after the school shootings in Newtown, Conn. She cries out, "Stop the violence! Put the guns down!" It's unforgettable.
Alexander is a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Chicago magazine named her the singer of the year 2009. This past August, she sang her new show Songs My Mother Loved at the Newport Jazz Festival.
Our guest host is Toast of the Nation's Rhonda Hamilton, and we note NPR's Suraya Mohamed's great post-production of the live concert for New Year's Eve 2012. It airs with minimal changes, this week on JazzSet.
- Dee Alexander, voice
- Miguel de la Cerna, piano
- Tomeka Reid, cello
- Harrison Bankhead, bass
- Junius Paul, bass
- Scott Hesse, guitar
- Yusef Ernie Adams, percussion
Jimi Hendrix Set
- "The Star-Spangled Banner"
- "Little Wing"
- "Who Knows"
- "Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire"
- "Purple Haze"
- "If Six Was Nine"
- "Hey Joe" (Billy Roberts)
- "Auld Lang Syne"
James Brown Set
- "Ain't It Funky Now"
- "I Got the Feelin'"
- "Licking Stick"
- "Living In America"
- "Soul Power"
- "It's A Man's Man's Man's World"
Timothy Powell/Metro Mobile Recording, recording and mix engineer; Dayna Calderón, field producer. Recorded at South Shore Cultural Center, Dec. 7, 2012. Special thanks to the Jazz Institute of Chicago, Lauren Deutsch and the Chicago Park District.
- "The Dream's In The Ditch"
- "The Curtain"
- "I Can't Help It"