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Archive for December, 2010

Party in the Rec Room

Monday, December 27th, 2010


Local author and actor Lorna Landvik hosts her annual post-holiday show at Bryant Lake Bowl starting January 1. In Party in the Rec Room, Landvik creates different characters on the spot based on prompts from the audience--guaranteed to result in a different show each night!

Landvik is the author most recently of The View from Mount Joy. She also wrote the introduction to Susan Lambert Miller’s photo book State Fair: The Great Minnesota Get-Together as “the Fair Maiden, unofficial historian of the State Fair.”

Enjoy the video from 3minuteegg.

Celebrating Local Asian Cuisine

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Crying Tiger660 CurriesEveryday Chinese CookingCooking from the Heart

The Twin Cities is home to celebrated chefs and authors specializing in Asian cuisine and cooking with Asian ingredients. The Asian Pages features a roundup of culinary gifts from local resources including cookbooks, classes, and products from Raghavan Iyer, TeaSource, Leeann and Katie Chin, Supatra Johnson and Sami Scripter and Sheng Yang. Check out their websites for sample recipes and more gift ideas. Have a happy, spicy, solstice!

Editing the War Correspondents

Friday, December 10th, 2010

phpugTcOvWe asked Hamp Smith to comment on a recent review of his book that appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

I enjoyed George Killough’s review of Brother of Mine and appreciated his astute reading of the Christie brothers’ letters. He also raised a well-founded point of criticism with which I basically agree. He asked why all 275 letters were not included in the book. Following from that question, he wondered how I chose one letter as opposed to another. I’d like to take this opportunity to describe my editorial method.

As the MHS Press staff will attest, I, too, wanted to publish more of the letters. I transcribed and annotated the whole lot, so it was painful to omit any of them. But publishing is a business, and its economics do not favor very large books, unless you can be sure of selling a great many of them. So I surrendered to the necessity of cutting down the manuscript’s size.

I selected letters based on several criteria. Since Thomas and William often wrote at about the same time regarding the same events, I sometimes cut one letter if it essentially duplicated the other. In cases where one brother had a different perspective on events or added information not mentioned by the other, both letters were used. I also tried to see the letters as a kind of narrative of the First Minnesota Battery. Letters that concerned mostly family matters or otherwise did not contribute to the story of the battery were candidates for cutting. Long letters on fairly narrow topics also went. An example of the latter: a four-page epistle from Thomas to his father describing in great detail the procedures for sentries at Benton Barracks. All the minutiae of guard mount are there and it is a fascinating letter (to me at least), but I had to part with it. Similarly there are a number of letters regarding the proceedings of the Union Literary Society in Vicksburg, including verbatim minutes of meetings. Although they offer an unusual glimpse at the intellectual life of Union soldiers, I did not include all of them.

In general, most of the letters cut were written while the brothers were in camp for long periods of time, including at Fort Snelling, Benton Barracks, Lake Providence, and Vicksburg. I tended to include those that discussed significant events, like major battles or incidents such as the destruction of the steamer Madison, which William described in detail. I also tried to balance these with a selection of writings describing camp life, family relations, and political opinions. But, given that soldiers spent far more time drilling in camp than fighting in the field, a larger number of the camp letters were left out.

Finally, I selected letters that seemed to reflect the writer’s personality: William’s self-mockery of his writing style and lack of grammar, or Thomas’s reflections on his religious beliefs, for example.

I hope readers will find the letters entertaining as well as instructive and will enjoy the company of Thomas and William Christie as much as I did.

Hampton Smith, Minnesota Historical Society

Winter Book Clubs for Kids and Teens

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Winter Book Clubs for Kids and Teens Hennepin County Library offers a series of book clubs for kids this winter. I can’t help but think that Minnesota winters contribute to our state’s higher than average literacy rates and strong book community. What else is there to do besides stay indoors and read? The library offers a variety of kids’ book clubs in categories such as manga, teen guys, teen girls, girls only, and even a teen daughter-mother pairing.

The Minnesota Humanities Center also has a great site devoted to family reading programs, including info on how to start a dads and kids book club, complete with book suggestions and materials for discussion.

Happy reading!

A Heart Connects Us

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

phpSmEJwGLeaving a life behind—and then struggling to keep in touch with loved ones: immigration is a wrenching change, and the letters between family members give a moving and intimate view of the process.

Latvians Edward Paikens and his mother, Anna, were the only members of their family to survive World War II. After the war, he immigrated to Minnesota from a displaced persons camp in Germany; she stayed behind in Latvia, unable to leave. He wrote in 1957 to assure her that he had no objections to her remarriage: “I am happy that you will be able to find a spouse for the latter half of your life . . . As you have mentioned it in your letters several times, we don’t have much hope to meet again.”

This letter and thirty-nine others are now available online in “A Heart Connects Us: Immigrant Letters and the Experience of Migration,” a pilot project sponsored by the Immigration History Resource Center at the University of Minnesota. Correspondence between eight non-English speaking immigrants and those they left behind, with English translations, opens the project. But surviving letters usually show only one side of the correspondence. The project’s organizers hope to find the missing letters in archives around the world, reuniting the stories of families and communities.

You can look at some letters for yourself, listen to Minnesota Public Radio’s story on the collection, and read more about Minnesota’s immigrants, either in our classic 1981 work, They Chose Minnesota: A Survey of the State’s Ethnic Groups, or in our People of Minnesota series, which includes books on the Norwegians, Swedes, Germans, Irish, Jews, African Americans, Mexicans, Poles, Chinese, and Hmong, as well as the Ojibwe, whose immigration story took place much earlier.

The Talent of Eating Lutefisk

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Lou T. FiskPerhaps because I’m not from Minnesota, I am a bit obsessed by people’s willingness to eat lutefisk in an age when refrigeration is available, and so I was very happy to see this new video posted by MPR about the Norsefest in Madison, Minnesota, Lutefisk Capital of the USA. While I love fish, shellfish, raw fish, oysters, and clams, I have not been able to get myself to try lutefisk.

As one woman preparing the Norsefest meal says in the video,

“A good piece of fish is flakey like when you get really good walleye after it’s been cooked … A bad piece of fish would be if it’s like jelly or, excuse the expression, like snot.”

According to the book Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land by Kathleen Stokker, the widespread eating of lutefisk grew out of Norway’s adherence to Advent fasting, which continued even after Lutheranism was adopted as the official state religion.

Legend  credits the origin of the recipe to the Vikings (from Keeping Christmas):

“Why lye? Legend attributes this to the Vikings. What is no doubt an apocryphal account reports that while raiding a certain fishing village, the Vikings burned down some wooden racks on which cod was drying. When one of the inhabitants poured water over the fire to douse it, the fish was left soaking in a solution of ashes and water–that is, lye. Poking through the ashes days later, villagers noticed that the once dried and hardened fish now appeared fresh. Rinsing and boiling it, they discovered that–at least by some accounts–it was edible.”

One of the highlights of Norsefest is the lutefisk eating contest, also deemed a “talent competition,” which makes perfect sense to me.

You can read more about the Norwegian history of eating lutefisk in this Keeping Christmas excerpt.