Maddie writes and edits stories about food, health, the environment, and culture. She oversees Mother Jones' research department and manages its Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program. Email tips to moatman [at] motherjones [dot] com.
Cranberry salsa—that's salsa, not sauce—has been my Thanksgiving dinner contribution of the last few years. I gave up on the traditional stuff long ago, after too many Thanksgivings where the cranberry offering slides out of a can and plops into a bowl, maintaining its floppy cylindrical shape until someone mashes it into a gelatinous goo and sticks a spoon into it. I'd wager that secretly, only about a fourth of Thanksgiving eaters even like the stuff.
"Not so!" shouts Ian, my MoJo colleague from the next cube over. Ian hails from the fair hills of Connecticut. "In New England, cranberry sauce is an important marker of a good Thanksgiving," he tells me, glaring at me for questioning what he sees as an essential holiday coulis.
But I say, why suck the life out of this tart, crimson New England bead, reducing it to an insipid mess of sugar and limp berries? According to the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers' Association, the cranberry is one of only three fruits native to North American soil, along with the Concord grape and the blueberry. It's time to get to know the fruit in raw form, and salsa allows you to taste the tangy snap of fresh cranberries. In the recipe below, the cranberries' tartness pairs well with the heat of ginger and chilis. Orange zest pulls it all together. So what if we've wandered off the traditionalist's map? On a plate heavy with roasted, boiled, sautéed, and simmered vegetables, a bit of raw crunch is a welcome respite.
• 1 bag of fresh cranberries
• juice and zest of 1 orange
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 2 tablespoons minced ginger
• 1-2 serrano peppers
• juice of 2 limes
• a pinch of salt
• 1 bunch of chopped cilantro
Directions: In a saucepan, heat sugar, orange zest, orange juice, and ginger with 1/4 cup water until the mixture reduces and turns syrupy. In the meantime, chop the cilantro and serranos. Combine chilis and cranberries in a food processor until finely chopped. Transfer into a bowl, and add the ginger-orange syrup. Stir in cilantro, salt, and lime juice. Add a little more sugar and lime as needed; the salsa gets better after a couple of hours of soaking in its own juices. Eat with tortilla chips as an appetizer, or serve as a side dish.
I call myself a pescatarian, though when I do choose to layer lox on my bagel or slurp the occasional oyster, I prefer responsibly sourced seafood, or at least to know exactly what I'm eating. And sometimes when sitting down to a sushi dinner, that's not exactly clear. To everyone but the most discerning epicure, pink fish can be pretty easily mistaken for other types of pink fish. So it came as no comfort to read Consumer Reports' new investigation, "Mystery Fish," which found that more than 20 percent of seafood purchased at restaurants and stores in three US states was improperly labeled or identified. Among the most mysterious meats was red snapper, which, after going through DNA matching during this particular investigation, could never be positively identified as such.
Consumer Reports sent 22 samples of "red snapper" to an outside lab for DNA testing, where along with other seafood samples, their genetic sequences were compared with standardized gene fragments. Eight red snappers were deemed as possible DNA matches, but the rest were unidentifiable or simply mislabeled.
"The first day I stepped forth in this fair country,"Abigail Washburn's breathy voice wafted down over the grass, "border man took my paper, told me I would be free."A slight figure dressed in black gossamer, Washburn looked rather elegant when I caught her live at San Francisco's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. The crowd below lay drowsy and peaceful in the mid-morning sunshine, ready to be transported to wherever the singer wanted to take them.
And transport them she did. While the clawhammer banjo queen can fit right in at a hoedown like Hardly Strictly, she's become just as comfortable entertaining crowds on the other side of the globe. A Mandarin speaker and self-declared Sinophile, she's made a career out of bringing bluegrass to the far corners of China—and by the same token making Chinese folk music accessible to American bluegrass fans. Themes of migration and boundary-crossing pop up in her songs, as with the abovementioned tune, "Dreams of Nectar."
Jennifer Siebel Newsom (right) and Devanshi Patel (left) in Siebel Newsom's documentary, "Miss Representation"
Lately, it seems the entertainment industry is doing alright by women: Tina Fey won the Kennedy Center's top humor award in 2010, and Bridesmaids, written by and about two ladies, earned loads of accolades this year (and was actually deemed funny by male critics). But the dirty truth prevails that whenever women show up on TV shows and movies, they're usually seconds away from being objectified, degraded, or flat-out ignored. For every "Hermione," there are a dozen "Snookis" duking it out over the guy du jour. It's a reality Jennifer Siebel Newsom intends to make loud and clear in her new documentary Miss Representation, which airs on the Oprah Winfrey Network tonight at 9 EST.
A Stanford MBA graduate and former Hollywood actress, Siebel Newsom began making the film when she got pregnant with her daughter (daddy is California's lieutenant governor, Gavin). "I wanted my daughter or son to live in a world where women are valued," she says.
The documentary harnesses a wealth of clips, interviews, and statistics to show that women are being depicted on TV and online as poorly as ever, with dangerous potential side effects for girls sitting on the other side of the screen. Among the film's shocking stats is the claim that 65 percent of women suffer from disordered eating behavior, and many times as a result of comparing their own looks to those of airbrushed models. The problem lies behind the camera, as well: While the average teenage girl consumes upwards of 10 hours of media a day, women hold just 5 percent of clout positions in the industry.*
And yet, the energy surrounding Miss Representation suggests that plenty of TV and movie lovers want to see change. A stereotypically female quality—being social—may be the perfect secret weapon; Siebel Newsom cites the film's social media fans ("at one point people were tweeting about us every second") as a crowd force with potential to spark critical conversations about women in media around the world. "We're striking a nerve," she tells me breathlessly. "I'm optimistic."
Mother Jones: In terms of the attractive class of women that we are all often trying to measure ourselves up to, you sort of fit that mold. You're tall and classically good-looking. How has that helped or hindered you as you try to deliver a message of acceptance about all body types and appearances?
Born in Sri Lanka and settled in Toronto, author and poet Michael Ondaatje has been messing with genre for the past 40 years. In his 1970 hybrid novel, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, he layered lyrical poetry, news clippings, photos, and narrative fragments to create a palimpsest of a Wild West hero. Coming Through Slaughter's form echoed the improvisational jazz that its protagonist played. And while it is less apparently experimental, it's hard not to mention The English Patient, the book and later film that launched him into international stardom.
For The Cat's Table (in bookstores Tuesday), he reimagines his personal history, which would make great fodder for a memoir, but, as he puts it, "What is nonfiction? If a politician writes of his life, and he decides to talk about A rather than X, he's fictionalizing it. A book is full of omissions." Instead, Ondaatje offers a lush, imaginative account of three roguish boys wreaking havoc on a ship bound for England, amid a sea of circus performers, thieves, and outcasts.
Mother Jones: I've just finished The Cat's Table. It was more lighthearted than what I'm used to reading from you—very enjoyable.
Michael Ondaatje: It was a pleasure for me to write too. I wrote faster than my usual books. It felt different and looser.
MJ: You've called it a novel, but the main character is Michael, and you also moved from Sri Lanka to London as a kid. Can you tell me more about your own voyage?