Saturday, November 21, 2009

Graham flour--a guest request

I'd like to say that I don't do guest requests, but actually, it's because almost nobody asks me to. I suppose they (wrongly) assume that the window of ignorance is quite small here and I am only patching in a few holes. However, it is pretty certain that if they, or you, post in, I will find some aspect of the subject at hand that I am truly ignorant about. So ask away, if you feel so inclined.

A request to know more about Graham flour comes, of course, from my sister, also so surnamed, at least at birth. She's recuperating from surgery right now, and made the easily fulfilled request that I find out more. In Graham solidarity, I must do so. I don't mean the solidarity of siblings--I mean the solidarity of all people who have had to go by the nickname 'Graham Cracker' everywhere.

Of course, we all know Graham crackers. Nice, sweetish brown crackers with a perforation down the middle both lengthwise and widthwise, so that they easily divide into four. That whole concept is an interesting idea in itself--what's the point exactly?--and I can't offhand think of any other crackers that followed down this evolutionary trail. The evolved state of the Graham cracker--a la Pokemon, is the S'more, the delectable campside treat consisting of Graham cracker, Hershey's chocolate bar and barbecued smashed marshmellow. Sublime.

But wherefore art thou Graham, cracker? Would not a Miller cracker or a Smith taste as sweet?

I have some vague recollection that Graham crackers may originally have been some sort of health food concoction, but maybe I'm thinking of Kellogg's cornflakes.

I don't think I've actually eaten a Graham cracker in some time. Perhaps they are on the cusp of a comeback. At any rate, here now is their history and lore:

Well, first of all I did have this right--there is indeed a health food aspect to it. Graham flour, which seems to have been produced mainly for the purpose of making the cracker, was thought up by one Sylvester Graham, a Presbyterian minister, in Connecticut in 1829. It was finely ground white flour mixed with coarsely ground wheat bran and wheat germ. So far so good, right? In the current era, none of us would say no to a little extra fiber, would we? I mean, if it was in a s'more or something.

But oh, dear. What was this health cure in aid of in 1829? The suppression of carnal urges, that's what. Sylvester and yes, John Kellogg, felt that eating bland foods could help control sexual desire. I'm pretty sure this is why the chocolate and marshmellow were added at some point, as, without savory food and without any sexual urges, what were sentient beings supposed to live for? Chocolate must have come as something of a compromise--or at least a gift from Divine Providence.

Okay, I'm making that bit about the chocolate up. I have no idea when the chocolate figured in. But in these, our degenerate times, Graham crackers are apparently often not even made of Graham flour! They use the very refined white flour that cousin Sylvester so deplored! What a slap in the face. I suppose I could attempt to start a back to basics movement, but the truth is, I don't really want to go there either...

To your good health, Julie! Though I'll leave that to you rather than Sylvester to define what that is.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Although there is no real reason I should know the meaning of this word from conversation, it does fit the central premise of this blog rather well. When I was traveling from Milwaukee to my cousin's house in Wisconsin this summer, we passed an exit for Tamarack Street or Drive along the highway. It was strange to see the name there, because it was actually a name from my childhood and adolescence. Our street in Dublin, California was a mere block away from Tamarack Drive. I crossed it constantly, and walked it every day for four years to go to high school. Yet to this day I have no idea what 'tamarack' means. And let's just say that high school is a long time ago now.

I am surprised that I had no interest in discovering a meaning, though I suppose in my defense, the names and meanings in housing tracts are often senseless. Less defensible is that when I saw this sign in Wisconsin I was struck by the common naming and resolved to post about it, yet summer has turned into fall and I've been too lazy to summon up even the idle curiosity that would give me an answer.

Dublin, though a tract development, was originally a tiny Irish community. There is, or was, an old Irish church--old by California standards at any rate--with an old Irish graveyard. I am guessing that 'tamarack' is an Irish word, though this may well be wishful thinking--the street it led out to was, after all, Amador, and not an Irish word at all. But you don't see many Spanish placenames in rural Wisconsin, so I'll stick to my theory. Although it could really be anything, I am going to guess it is some sort of shrub, and probably a tree. Any guesses before we plunge in? No? Well, here we go...

Uh, no, not Irish. The best I could find was, "possibly Algonquin". But yes, it is a tree. It's a larch, which again I have no idea of, but it is a conifer--a pine--and that at least I do understand. It turns out that the reason I would come across the name again in Wisconsin is that it is an Eastern sort of tree, whose range extends into the Lake States. So what was it doing, naming a street in California?... I wonder if the actual tree has made it as far west as it's names. We've no shortage of pines out here, so it would have a lot of competition.

The funny thing about Dublin is that, unlike a lot of American towns that I have lived in, it did not have that divider strip between the sidewalk and the street, which are typically planted by the city with trees of some uniformity. By rights there should have been tamaracks, shouldn't there?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Tenerife, Part 2

This is just a little side note, but I decided that I shouldn't let it pass.

Close readers of the last post may have noticed that one of the highlights--in my eyes--was that the capital of Tenerife is Santa Cruz, which also happens to be the name of my own metropolis. No big deal, really--I'm sure that pretty much any region the Spanish colonized has a Santa Cruz, as the name simply means "Holy Cross".

Or so I thought. Today, I was sitting in the break room, thumbing through one of our free local papers and came across this:

The sky's the limit when it comes to Cielo/Sky, a cultural exchange project between sister cities Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands and our very own Santa Cruz de California. The multivenue exhibition features artistic renderings of the sky through the use of countless media..

One of the venues up at the university was having an opening literally as I read the words, and there were two or three other sites that were hosting events as the night went on. I regret to say that I wasn't able to attend any of these events on such short notice, but I feel almost duty bound to try and check out all of these installations before the month that they are up runs out.

Anyway, I just find it a bit odd that I was prompted to write about an island on the other side of the world during the very week that our sister cities were attempting to forge a connection.

Must have been something in the air.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Whenever I get a couple hits within a few brief days on something that I don't really know much about--okay nothing--I think it's probably time to do a post here.

Tenarife first came up in my recent, totally non-sequential read of Adrian McKinty's The Dead Yard, second in the fabulous Michael Forsythe trilogy. This one begins with Michael in Tenarife, hoping for a for a little R&R. "And here his troubles began" would probably sum up this opening about right.

Michael soon leaves Tenarife, but I did not. Immediately afterwards, a current event popped into view. A sailing couple was last seen in Tenarife before disappearing into Somali pirate
waters. All too timely, alas. In the last couple of days this "ransom note" has appeared. Apparently these are not 'pirates' but a self-described 'voluntary coast guard' protecting Somali waters. Good luck, Paul and Rachel Chandler.


From the novel, I got the sense that Tenarife is a vacation destination for the Brits, particularly the football fans among them. It's definitely influenced by Spain, though whether or not it's a possession of Spain we will soon find out. I also learned that it is one of the Canary Islands, though whether the largest or smallest, I don't know. From the news of the Chandlers, I saw a map, so I do know that this island lies somewhere east of Africa. In fact, as it must be obvious, somewhere off the coast of Somali. So what else? I will now attempt to enlighten us.

Tenerife is indeed a Spanish territory, the largest of the Canary Islands and the one with the largest population. Wikipedia has quite an extensive and interesting article on it, which there is no point in my recapping in detail, but I will just mention a few things that caught my interest.

First of all, its capital is called Santa Cruz, which I suppose makes it a sister city to mine.

It has one of the largest active volcanoes in the world, El Teide, which, as is appropriate for a prominent volcano has its own legend. In the myth of the native people there, the Guanches, the devil tried to steal the god of light and sun, but his plans were foiled and he is imprisoned within the mountain. Locals set up bonfires to ward off the devil when the volcano erupts. The devil and his minions are supposed to appear as black dogs, which kind of sucks for any black dogs on the island. I'm guessing that at this point, there aren't many.

I should mention that El Teide is thought of as a gateway to the Underworld, which seems to be appropriate to this weekend, celebrated in many cultures as a time when the veils between the living and the dead are at their thinnest.

But that's not all! We also have the Auditorio de Tenarife, designed by one of the world's preeminent architects, Santiago Calatrava Valls. The auditorium reminds me just a bit of the Sydney Opera House. I'm sorry that I can't post a picture, as I am still in a transitional mode of my computer, but you can click through on Wikipedia and see what I mean if you want.

Okay! We've also got a reference from Pliny the Younger for our antiquities fans about an expedition here by King Juba who apparently named the fair isles not after canaries, but after some ferocious dogs or 'canaria' encountered there. I'm betting that canaries actually hail from there, but that's another post. Tenerife, by the way, stems from a native name for El Teide, namely Tene Ife, or 'white mountain'.

Well, there is much, much more, but I will conclude with this small piece of trivia, namely that Admiral Horatio Nelson lost an arm in the Battle of Tenerife in 1797. Although the Wikipedia article doesn't actually spell this out, I'm guessing that Tenerife was strategically important because it was a fueling stop on the way to Australia's infamous Botany Bay.

There's a wonderful picture that I would have liked to head this post, but as I can't at the moment, you might like to take a peek here.

Search Results | Delete Forward | Reply | Reply All