Relish Redux

Editor’s note: I rarely re-print stuff, but I heard Susan Stamberg going on about her relish this morning, and felt it was worth dusting off this ten-year-old post.

Yes, it's really that color. If you listen to NPR, you may be familiar with the Thanksgiving tradition of Susan Stamberg sharing her mother-in-law’s cranberry relish recipe. She’s been sharing it and sharing it. Sharing it since 1972, in fact. That’s a long time, even in NPR years. Ira Glass was just 13-years-old when she started in with the relish.

I actually served the crazy pink mess of cranberry, onion, sour cream, sugar, and horseradish one Thanksgiving. While I sort of liked its tart-tangy-sweet flavor, nobody else touched it. Maybe it was the color. Maybe that it looks more like a desert than a side dish. Maybe they were not Morning Edition listeners.

Anyway, I thought I would give it one more shot and taste test it on my family before turkey day. Reviews were mixed.

My 22-year-old son said it was “unique and interesting” and said he’d like to see it on the holiday table. My 15-year-old called it “weird.” My wife said that it was “too oniony.”

And oniony it was. The trouble with onions is that they can vary wildly in their pungency, so even the small onion called for in this recipe can pack an unexpected wallop. I’d recommend going easy — or even using a sweet onion to temper the effect.

Based on my unscientific sample, maybe half the people might like this stuff — but since it only takes a couple of minutes to prepare, why not? Be prepared, though: the relish will signal you as an NPR geek. Depending on your family, they will either see you as worldly and enlightened or an elitist snob. But as they say, you can choose your radio station, but you can’t choose your family.

Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish Recipe

We’re Number One

Visitors to Albany probably look up at the Corning Tower and think that this is a place with an inferiority complex.

And they’d be right.

More confident towns laugh off minor offenses and move along, but throw shade on the Capital Region, and you’re in for a fight. And we never let it go, as seen in this Times Union piece where their columnist dredged up some ancient insults from a 1972 New York Times story. Seriously?

But today we can celebrate being better than anyone else in one thing: the Capital Region had the best cult.

No, maybe “best” isn’t the right word, but it’s certainly the most notorious. NXVIM has drawn the world’s eye to the area, what with the extensive media coverage of the Keith Raniere trial and the HBO documentary The Vow.  Finally, we’re known for something big — no, not something positive, but hey, stop your complaining.

This is not to diminish the evil done by NXIVM and Raniere, and he’s going to prison, where he belongs. Regrettably, we can’t also punish the local people and law firms who enabled his dark shenanigans. Many other folks in the area bought into his nonsense by taking NXIVM’s pricey “Executive Success” classes. This a small town, so I guarantee you know someone (or know someone who knows someone) who went through the program or did business with NXIVM.

So, hold your head up high Albany. The next time somebody calls you Smallbany, point to NXVIM and ask about the cults in their town. It’s not likely they can top this one.

Exile on Main Street

This headline in the Times Union caught my eye:

Wolf Road, region’s ‘Main Street,’ struggles in pandemic economy

In what godforsaken dystopian world is Wolf Road your “Main Street?”

Far from being our Main Street, other overbuilt retail areas in the region are described as being, “like Wolf Road.”

Don’t get me wrong: there is a place for the Wolf Roads of America. You may hate the acres of parking lots, soulless chain restaurants, and mind-numbing traffic, but for better or worse, big communities need big retail. But Main Street? I think not.

You want to talk Main Street? Walk down Broadway in Saratoga. Visit Altamont. Stroll down Warren Street in Hudson. Pick any number of spots in Troy. That’s Main Street.

Main Street is part of our collective culture. The greatest fictional Main Street may well be what we see in It’s a Wonderful Life, with it’s hometown shops and colorful characters. Wolf Road? That’s more like Mr. Potter’s nightmarish parallel world ,where George Bailey gets schooled on his place in the universe.

No, not my Main Street.

I hate to say this, but after decades of places like Wolf Road destroying Main Street, is it time for a little payback? It could be that this COVID mess will leave people wanting to shop close to home — on Main Street, even. We could do worse.

Don’t Be a Dick

Everybody has something they’ve missed most during the pandemic. For me, the biggest loss was the closure of my gym.

I started training with free weights last September and was finally seeing some gains when they shut everything down in March. If you’ve never lifted, you should consider starting. It will make you feel good and help you maintain strength and bone density as you age — but be forewarned: if they close your gym, it will affect your body and mind.

In the beginning, we all figured the pandemic would last for a month and we’d all go back to normal. Then another month passed. And another. So, what’s one to do?

The best solution seemed to be buying some weights for my garage. This seemed that it would be simple, but turned out to be impossible. Stores had absolutely nothing, nor did online retailers, so I turned to the used market — and what I found was troubling.

The prices for used equipment on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist were insane, but worse, I found a thriving market for new equipment at vastly inflated prices. New gear, still in the box, was routinely listed at two to three times the cost.

OK — a product is worth what someone will pay for it, but snatching up all the available inventory and reselling at an exorbitant price is wrong. You’re depriving other consumers of the opportunity to buy something at a fair cost. We’d never put up with people doing this with things like diapers or food.

And this is not a one time opportunity for some sellers, either. One guy was offering a kit that sells for $249 at Dicks for $649, and he told me he “sold three last week.” Nice work if you can get it.

Anyway, I found one of those $249 weight sets — in Syracuse. Long drive, but I won’t get caught short when the virus hits hard again. Be back in five hours, folks.

Blowin’ In the Wind

I’ve never been part of a protest like the ones we’re seeing around America lately. It’s not that I don’t care about important social issues, but I think it makes more sense to pay attention to the circle immediately around you and the things that you can personally affect.

A lot of people who walk around with a cardboard sign never do anything to improve their community, like commiting their time or treasure to make a real difference. But hey, protests are fun and they make you feel good about yourself. And they’re probably great if you’re single, too.

But I do like those leaf blower dads.

They’re a contingent of activists in Portland who have been showing up at protests to fight tear gas with lawn machines. When gas is deployed they muster up and deploy it back in the other direction with their leaf blowers. Nifty. It was such a good idea, that the cops started carrying their own leaf blowers to blow the fumes back in the intended direction. It’s a Mexican standoff of sorts. Sorry — is that culturally insensitive?

So, yes, maybe I could be persuaded to join a protest if I can bring a leaf blower. Waving around a sign is not my style, but a leaf blower? Now your talking.

Recovery

I woke up this morning and realized that my recovery is complete. It’s not drugs or alcohol that were my problem. Not gambling or sex or any of the usual addictions that plague our brothers and sisters. No, my issue was local talk radio.

I never agreed with anything I heard — quite the contrary. I listened because it stirred a dark part of me and made me fill up with contempt. Contempt for the viewpoints I heard from the host and callers.

The funny thing is that even though it sucked me in, I knew all along that it was all just a bullshit act.

Local talk radio is a sham. A guy like Paul Vandenburgh at Talk 1300 may not even believe a word of the garbage he spews every morning, but but he doesn’t have to, because it’s all theater. He’s playing a character, and if he thought he could make more money playing a far-left liberal character, he’d do it in a second.

The worst part is that I wasted time on something that wasn’t even very good.

For the sake of comparison, consider Rush Limbaugh. You may dislike his position on things, but there’s no denying that he’s a brilliant communicator. Even public radio legend Ira Glass tips his hat to Limbaugh:

“Rush is just an amazing radio performer. Years ago, I used to listen in the car on my way to reporting gigs, and I’d notice that I disagreed with everything he was saying, yet I not only wanted to keep listening, I actually liked him. That is some chops.”

There’s nothing amazing going on at Talk 1300, but I guess in a small upstate town like Albany, it doesn’t take much to amuse people. Or fuel their rage.

You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Quote

This song by Brandy Clark, We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat, is all over the radio.

The duet with Randy Newman is pretty catchy — and certainly timely in these crazy times — but it’s sure to make Jaws fans cringe. As so many people do, she misquotes the iconic line, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Does the one word make a difference? Yes.

Chief Brody’s use of “you’re” instead of “we’re” is telling. It seems to be him saying, “OK, let’s get the hell out of here and come back when you get yourself squared away with a proper boat.” But in Quint’s world, that’s not an option. There is no bigger boat, and more importantly, here we are — and now we’re all in this together. This is no longer about me, it’s about we.

The subsequent scenes in Jaws show Brody, Quint, and Hooper coming together as a team, forming a bond that is one of the beautiful things about the movie. You’re boat is now our boat.

So, I’ll stop being an annoying purist with my complaining about a silly movie quote. And if there’s one thing we need now, it’s a bigger boat.

Random Notes

Membership Has Its Privileges
The Times Union has taken to calling readers “members.” Does this give us access to the gym at the TU headquarters?

Good Lord
Among the rules for mass at my church this weekend: Masks all the time, no singing, four seats between individuals or family groups, no touching hands, limited seating capacity, attendance by reservation only, do not enter without an “ambassador” to seat you, do not leave until instructed to do so by the ambassador, stand at your seat to receive communion, no communion on the tongue, no books or paper, no mingling in common areas or the parking lot, bring hand sanitizer. Peace be with you.

Oh, Canada
Usually at this time, we’re getting ready for a week in Canada, to a quiet island where Lake Ontario spills into the St Lawrence River. Not this year. The border remains closed until July 21, at the earliest. Got to keep out the filthy Americans.

On the Media

Hold on to your hats, because this will surprise some of you: Local newspapers used to have columnists and reporters who covered area media.

They’d document the comings and goings at the TV and radio stations, write about the ratings, talk about radio formats and new programs — but sometimes, there was more. Now and then, they’d take a sharp look at the journalism done on local TV and the marketing that sold it.

There was certainly an appetite for that sort of news. In a town this size, radio and TV were influential. People like news anchors and meteorologists were our celebrities. By the way, there was never critique of local newspapers on TV.

It’s just one of the things that are gone forever from your newspaper, and this is a time when we could sorely use some media literacy.

Local TV news has not improved in the decade since I left. There is good work done, but the quality of reporting has declined. You’ll still find old hands telling you the stories, but many of the jobs are filled by transient youngsters who have more ambition than knowledge and skill. I love ’em all — but the truth is that they don’t know what’s what around here or in the world at large. Did you know what’s what at that age?

And that’s the sort of thing you might have read about from your newspaper’s media/broadcasting reporter. Before social media, shrinking ad dollars, smart phones — it was another time another place.