Monthly Archives: February 2009

Reasons to Support Public Funding for the Arts

26 February 2009

"Music has to be recognized as an … agent of social development in
the highest sense, because it transmits the highest values —
solidarity, harmony, mutual compassion. And it has the ability to unite
an entire community and to express sublime feelings."  Jose Abreu 

I recently was listening to the radio when the news reported that some national leaders in the USA had objected to the recent Congressional economic stimulus bill on the basis that it included funding for the arts.  The radio included clips where Senators and Representatives were speaking in scornful tones about fluff arts programs that had no real substance and didn’t create "jobs". 

Excuse me?  I just can’t take that sitting down. 

This is a long blog post with some in depth discussion of the many reasons why public funding for the arts is a good idea.  For those who want just a brief list, here is a summary of the reasons:  (1) the arts improve individual mental ability and personal skill that crosses into all other endeavors in life, (2) the arts elevate the individual from a mere animal existence toward a higher and more enriching experience of human life, (3) the arts strengthen social structures at the level of the family, community, nation, and world. 

The arts solidify and build social structures as follows:   by strengthening the individual within the family and thereby strengthening the family unit, by building local communities through community networks that are drawn together and unified through their support of the arts, by contributing to the development of the national consciousness through the medium of art and, ultimately, by enabling nations to contribute to the greater world of ideas and the general uplifting of mankind.  So, the detail follows: 

First of all, there is no merit in the claim that funds distributed through arts programs do not create jobs.  A job created by or for an artist is no less a job than a job created for a plumber or painter.  The fact that the job is in the arts does not diminish its economic effect.  I am reminded, as an example of value, of the art and social history created and documented as part of FDR’s New Deal package. 

But even more than this initial red herring error, of their argument, I find myself deeply disturbed by the implied message that arts are somehow an extravagance unworthy of public funding in and of itself.  What an impoverished viewpoint concerning mankind!  Art, music, culture, spiritual pursuits — these are the very things that elevate mankind and distinguish us from beasts.  Without art, without beauty, without an aim to a higher or more noble purpose, what do we have but a vain existence trudging along the path of life toward certain death?  

A. BENEFIT TO THE INDIVIDUAL:  Each Individual Participant Benefits From Art, Not Just Because It Strengthens the Mind and Academic Pursuits, but Because Art Pulls Us Toward Experience of a Higher Level of Existence than the Mundane

Certainly (as it is said in Ecclesiastes), whether or not we have beauty in our lives, we all toil under the same sun and end up in the same place.  Yet Art (in the broad sense of the word, along with love and laughter) makes the journey so much more meaningful and worthwhile.  While gruel with some roots added in will nourish the body, a sumptuous buffet makes life better.  In the same way, art adds both light and levity to an otherwise base existence.  Why should we settle for gruel if we could have a life full of sumptuous buffet, in the spiritual and artistic sense if not the material one? 

There have always been people who believe that art is not a worthy pursuit.  The Calvinists, for one, banished art from religious services.  Always at risk of being perceived as worthless vanity, art faces danger whenever schools facing severe budget constraints must decide which subjects or programs to cut. 

Some years ago, I remember hearing an educator fighting on behalf of continued funding of the arts in public schools.  She tried to justify art and music by pointing out that children who take these subjects do better in their other academic subjects.  This is true.  Children who participate in music have significantly higher scores in both math and reading.  As a result of studies making this very point (and written about in books like The Mozart Effect), some educators play Mozart in their classrooms or during school math tests. 

This is rather simplistic, because in actuality real benefit from learning Mozart comes from the diligence of practice, from experiencing and learning about the internal structure of the music composition, not just as a side benefit of the fact that the music is soothing and will help children concentrate.  Though children do, indeed, perform better on their math tests even if all they do is listen while they take the test, they get the most out of music when they actually become immersed, embedded, and live and breathe it for a time each day.  However, for all of its many benefits for other academics, I would vehemently disagree with the notion that music is nothing but a means to a higher math score or simply another tool to use in fighting dyslexia.  To me, this concedes the argument much too quickly. 

The arts — uniquely — foster an experience that transcends the mundane, our daily experience of the world.  Through this transcendence, we are ourselves changed, transformed into something better, into a new and better realm of existence.  It is this capacity deep within our soul, which we glimpse through art, that elevates us above skin and bones and hunger and toward experience of the divine.  Art gives us a window into a higher plane of existence.  

One influential philosopher of music, Schopenhauer, tied this notion of transcendence into the concept of Plato’s ideal forms.  The form of music, in the platonic sense of form (I rudely paraphrase), draws our mind toward the the Telos of pure thought, rationality, and a type of mathematical experience.  I’ve read other philosophers who discussed how music operates in the mind in another dimension beyond time and space.  While I’m not going to try and re-find the article I read one time, about multidimensional experience and thought, I think I recall that the advent of PET scans has enabled proof that music does expand the mind and mental capabilities, in and of itself.  It’s theorized that this multidimensional, nonverbal aspect of music is the reason that music and mathematical ability is closely connected.  Yet I would argue, vehemently, that while music’s stimulation of the mind may have positive effects on other aspects of thought, this is not the most important aspect of arts education.  The experience of music (of art generally) — in and of itself — is sufficient to justify arts education, without regard to the effect that art has on other subjects. 

That’s because Art is enriching as a means to its own end, not just as an adjunct to other academics.  My 97 year old grandmother can recite Chaucer she learned as a school girl.  Yes, the act of learning how to memorize Chaucer created a skill — the skill of how to memorize — which surely served my grandmother well for 90 years.  But as much as this memory trick, knowledge of Chaucer’s poetic form has also enriched her life by adding a dimension of poetry that influenced her entire perception of and relation to language for all of her days.  Without regard to effect on memory, poetry is worthwhile for its own sake, for the beauty that it brings us. 

But wait, there’s more!

B. BENEFIT TO SOCIETY:  The Arts Enrich All of Society by Strengthening Families, Building Communities, Strengthening Nations, and Inspiring the World

Beyond enriching academic pursuits and bringing beauty to life, the social and uplifting function of art also serves to build communities and move people out of not only cultural but also economic impoverishment.  "How could this be," you ask? 

Today, I stumbled upon an interview of one of the 2009 TED* prize winners which enunciates some of the profound factors which give art a transformative role in society, perhaps our surest arguments that art SHOULD receive public funding and support. 

This talk was eloquent, and so moving, that I transcribed it.  It wasn’t how I had planned to spend my afternoon, but I felt as if the speaker captured thoughts that I’ve struggled to form in my own mind, about why art has had such a profound influence in my own life. 

Music has been a part of my life since I was a small child.  My mother was a professional musician, and some of my earliest memories are of playing underneath her piano while she practiced.  In my own household, participating in music was not optional.  I was expected to choose an instrument and practice as part of my daily routine.  And in addition to French horn, my chosen instrument, I was expected to learn "keyboarding" (piano) because that was part of being musically literate.  In high school and in college, I played in various bands and orchestras.  As profoundly influenced as I was by the deeply meaningful experience I had of playing music in an orchestra, it was hard for me to express exactly what that experience had entailed for me.  Even now, when I have friends and family who devote very significant time to the arts, I wonder what driving force motivates them to work so hard for their art.  

But today, I found that explanation in eloquent form.  The interview I watched was a video of Jose Antonio Abreu, a 2009 winner of a TED prize.  I was so stunned by his words that had to share them. 

But before I share them, I will answer the questions, "Who is this man?" and "What does he do?"  Maestro Abreu is a Venezuelan who in 1975 started a project, called El Sistema, to bring music instruction to at-risk children in Venezuela.  Today, El Sistema is a nationwide program in Venezuela.  It brings music to 250,000 children through participation in 102 youth orchestras, 55 children’s orchestras, and 270 music centers.  His program began in 1975 with 11 boys and now boasts one of the premier symphonies in the world, the Teresa Careno Youth Orchestra, the national high school age youth orchestra of Venezuela.  (Click HERE for a link to a video of this orchestra.)

His words are so inspiring!  Hear what he has to say: 

[After discussing the beginnings of El Sistema and how it has grown into a national program  …  ]  "Today we can say that art in Latin America is no longer a monopoly of elites and that it has become a social right, a right for all the people. …

***

In its essence, the orchestra and choir are much more than artistic structures; they are examples and schools of social life, because to sing and to play together means to intimately coexist toward perfection and excellence, following a strict discipline of organization and coordination in order to seek the harmonic interdependence of voices and instruments. That’s how they [children in the el Sistema program] build a spirit of solidarity and fraternity among them, develop their self esteem and foster the ethical and aesthetical values related to the music in all its sense. This is why music is immensely important in the awakening of sensibility, in the forging of values and in the training of youngsters to teach other kids. After all this time here, music is life, nothing else. Music is life.

***

The structure of El Sistema is based on a new and flexible managing style adapted to the features of each community and region, and today attends to 300,000 children of the lower and middle class all over Venezuela. It’s a program of social rescue and deep cultural transformation designed to the whole Venezuelan society with absolutely no distinctions whatsoever, but emphasizing on the vulnerable and endangered social groups.

The effect of El Sistema is felt in three fundamental circles: in the personal / social circle, in the family circle, and in the community. In the personal / social circle, the children in the orchestras and choirs develop their intellectual and emotional side. The music becomes a source for developing the dimensions of the human being, thus elevating the spirit and leading man to a full development of his personality. So, the emotional and intellectual profits are huge: the acquisition of leadership, teaching and training principles; the sense of commitment, responsibility, generosity and dedication to others; and the individual contribution to achieve great collective goals. All this leads to the development of self-esteem and confidence.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta insisted on something that always impressed me: that the most miserable and tragic thing about poverty is not the lack of bread or roof, but the feeling of being no-one, the feeling of not being anyone, the lack of identification, the lack of public esteem. That’s why the child’s development in the orchestra and the choir provides him with a noble identity and makes him a role model for his family and community. It makes him a better student at school because it inspires in him a sense of responsibility, perseverance and punctuality that will greatly help him at school.

Within the family, the parents’ support is unconditional. The child becomes a role model for both his parents, and this is very important for a poor child. Once the child discovers he is important for his family, he begins to seek new ways of improving himself and hopes better for himself and his community. He also hopes for social and economic improvements for his own family. All this makes up a constructive and ascending social dynamic. The large majority of our children belong, as I already mentioned, to the most vulnerable strata of the Venezuelan population. That encourages them to embrace new dreams, new goals, and progress in the various opportunities the music has to offer.

Finally, in the circle of the community, the orchestras prove to be creative spaces of culture, the sources of exchange of new meanings. The spontaneity music has, excludes it as a luxury item and makes it a patrimony of society. It’s what makes a child play a violin at home, while his father works in his carpentry. It’s what makes a little girl play the clarinet at home, while her mother does the housework. The idea is that families join with pride and joy in the activities of the orchestras and choirs their children belong to. The huge spiritual world that music produces in itself, which also lies within itself, ends up overcoming material poverty.

From the minute a child’s taught how to play an instrument, he’s no longer poor, he becomes a child in progress, heading for a professional level, who’ll later become a full citizen. Needless to say, music is the number one prevention against prostitution, violence, bad habits, and everything degrading in the life of a child.

A few years ago, historian Arnold Toynbee said that the world was suffering a huge spiritual crisis. Not an economic or am social one, but a spiritual one. I believe that to confront such crisis, only art and religion can give proper answers to humanity, to mankind’s deepest aspirations, and to the historic demands of our times. Being that [arts] education is the synthesis of wisdom and knowledge, it’s the means to strive for a more perfect, more aware, more noble, and more just society.

With passion and enthusiasm, we pay profound respects to TED for its outstanding humanism, the scope of its principles, and its open and generous promotion of young values. We hope that TED can contribute in a full and fundamental way to the building of this new era in the teaching of music, in which the social, communal, spiritual, and vindicatory aims of the child and the adolescent become a beacon and a goal for a vast social mission. No longer putting society at the service of art, and much less at the service of monopolies of the elite, but instead art at the service of society, at the service of the weakest, at the service of the children, at the service of the sick, at the service of the vulnerable, and at the service of all those who cry for the vindication through the spirit of their human condition and the raising up of their dignity.

Wow.  He says so much!  I know that what I’ve written is far too long, but I hope, just hope, that if you have read this far, you will become or continue to be a passionate supporter of the arts in your community.  In your schools, in your home, in your own life.  Maestro Abreu was asking for the support of TED to build art in communities.  I would ask that you substitute the word "YOU" in place of TED in the paragraph above.  Won’t YOU support art? 

And as for this historic moment, congratulations to Maestro Abreu on his award!  His wish, granted by TED with funding of $100,000 for one wish to change the world?  His wish is this: 

I wish you [TED] would help create and document a special training program for at least 50 gifted young musicians, passionate for their art and for social justice, and dedicated to developing El Sistema in the US and in other countries.

May this wish come fully to life! 

Here is the video, if you’d like to listen to the entire interview for yourself: 

     


PARTICIPATE IN AND SUPPORT THE ARTS IN YOUR OWN LIFE, IN YOUR HOME, AND IN YOUR GREATER COMMUNITY! 

____

*TED stands for "Technology, Entertainment, Design.  TED is a new think tank, pulling together the best of modern ideas and communicating those to the rest of us.

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Why I Oppose Western Sanctions Against Myanmar (Burma)

25 February 2009

The Washington Post reports that Hillary Clinton says economic sanctions against Myanmar (Burma) have been a failure and the Obama Administration may consider other options.

Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/18/AR2009021800273.html?wpisrc=newsletter

I, personally, hope that some sanctions will be lifted, particularly to allow more trade that benefits sustainable industries and tourism, as these are more likely to benefit people rather than the government or large corporations.

I have had personal reason to consider the sanction issue carefully. I traveled to Myanmar last year in spite of the sanctions, but only after careful consideration of the issue of whether I could, ethically, go there. My experience highlighted, in my mind, the complexity of the issue but also the very real need to bring responsible economic development and dialogue that will eventually create an unstoppable force for free speech and human rights.

Sule Pagoda in Yangon

There are those who would say that my travel to Myanmar was ethically wrong. As a practical matter, even if one avoids government-run hotels, it is impossible, they say, for one to travel to Myanmar without putting tourism dollars into the hands of the Military Junta. The countervailing argument is that travel to Myanmar increases contact with and economic support of local people. Many who travel to Burma attempt, by catering to small, family run businesses, to tailor their travel in a way to avoid enriching the Junta and instead to put money into local pockets. The isolationists reply to this that the benefit to the Junta overwhelms the small support that local people receive from tourism; they also reply that the people of Myanmar do not need support or solidarity from outsiders who fail to understand and do not truly partake of Burmese culture. These views gave me great pause for thought before I traveled to Myanmar, but in the end I am very glad I went.

Parade for a young novitiate

In my view, the benefits of engagement between Myanmar and people from outside cultures result in more good than harm. First of all, my small engagement in dialogue with the people I met was extremely meaningful and educational for me, personally. There’s nothing like being in a place to spur development of deeper awareness and understanding. It gave me a deeper appreciation for and knowledge of people, culture, and situation.

Impromptu English lesson in a small rural school

This spurred me to do more research, to be more aware of the issues on an ongoing basis, to befriend Burmese immigrants in my own community. My deeper awareness and understanding, in turn, has made it possible for me to communicate to others, to raise awareness about what the situation is in Myanmar.
I hope that my trip also lent support and encouragement to the people I met, all of whom appeared to be ordinary citizens just trying to make it during difficult times. I pray that my continuing dialogue with them bis post and email does not jeopardize their personal security (recently a college age blogger who spoke in favor of free speech was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment), but on the other hand I’m aware that my support may be a force that can sustain through tough times.

Seamstress earning her living in Yangon

The second reason I disagree with sanctions is that they don’t work as one would hope. When Western countries pull out of an economic void in response to human rights concerns, what really happens is that other countries, from cultures less concerned with human rights, move in quickly to fill the void. Just because Western based businesses are not engaged in economic development activities in Myanmar does not mean that there is no economic development. Just as in Sudan, when western companies pulled out that left a vacuum that was quickly filled by China. Even now, the government of Myanmar considers China to be its friend while lack of engagement encourages mental vilification of the USA.
Even now, China is investing in an oil pipeline directly from Myanmar to China and selling arms to the Myanmar government. I believe that consumers from Asian countries could care less about working conditions in the mines that produce their rubies; and when I saw the throngs of people collected around Burmese jade or rare wood in the markets of Guangzhou, I don’t think I detected concern for the effects of strip mining or of clear cutting timber. (Full disclosure, I purchased a piece of jade in China without asking about its origin.)

Restaurant at a quarterly night market

In my view, Myanmar presents the West with a golden opportunity to help a fledgling economy build itself in a sustainable way, even if to do so requires an end run around the Junta. If the populace is engaged, and as the country becomes woven into the web of the global economy, the Junta will have to give way. This policy has been largely successful in China, as one example. While there is much room for improvement of human rights in China, its economic engagement with the West has made it much more of a challenge for a totalitarian government to control information, contacts, and awareness of global issues. This has resulted in a government that, while still totalitarian, is in fact more responsive to public opinion than it would at times prefer to be. I hope for a policy change in Washington, D.C.!

A worker in a textile factory near Lake Inle

On the other hand, I would hope for a policy that would be carefully and sensitively tailored in such a way as to benefit local people in sustainable ways. The world does not need more colonial powers exporting ideology from the top down, nor does Myanmar need huge capital projects wrecking the environment and traditional culture, financed by large corporations fueled solely by greedy stockholders. Myanmar presents an opportunity for investment in small scale, sustainable micro-enterprise that directly benefits people, operating within and accountable to local communities. I hope that future U.S. economic policy will be directed toward this aim.

Building a road outside Mandalay

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Vegan Sweet Potato Casserole

10 February 2009

In South Carolina, we are familiar with the legend of The Swamp Fox, whose real name was Frances Marion.  Hiding out with his men in the swamps of the low country, he and his rag-tag band of men managed to stage surprise raids on the British during the Revolutionary War.  They waged a type of guerrilla warfare, staying in the swamp until they attacked, and then disappearing back into the swamp from which they emerged.  Using the strategy of hiding in the swamps, they "outfoxed" the British, hence the name "Swamp Fox". 

The British were not able to follow Marion into the swamps, for three main reasons.  They did not know the geography of the land, they had no supply of food there, and the swamps were infested with deadly malaria-carrying mosquitoes.   Food in the remote, swampy wilderness was a major issue, as indeed it was across the entire frontier. 

I once visited the remnants of a British outpost in the low-country of South Carolina.  It was built upon a high "Indian Mound" in the middle of an expansive marsh.  The literature at this outpost stated that the supply chain was a crucial, and ultimately fatal, issue for this particular outpost. 

The Patriots (those seeking independence from Britain) were able to defeat the soldiers at this outpost only after they broke the supply line and stopped the supply of food reaching it from the British garrison at Charleston, about 100 miles away.  What was most interesting was the presence in that museum of letters which had been written by the commanding officer of that outpost to his superiors concerning their food supply.   

The commanding officer, basically, said that the British soldiers could not be expected to eat the same wretched, inferior, local food which was relied upon upon by the Patriots.  The Patriots, it was said, lived on native tubers which were most distasteful and base.  It was implied that the Patriots’ ability to eat the native foods was evidence of their crude and lowly way of life, a lifestyle scorned by the more upper class British soldiers who were disgusted by this kind of diet. 

What were these native tubers?  The food that enabled Frances Marion and his fellow patriots to survive in the swamps (and which was scorned by the British) was the yam, or sweet potato. 

I understand that sweet potatoes are remarkably nutritious, particularly when combined with some dairy.  (And while there was not yet any cure for malaria, it is said that the Swamp Fox improved the odds for his men somewhat by having them mix in a teaspoon of vinegar into their drinking water.  This caused a slight alteration of their blood chemistry so that they were less prone either to being bitten by mosquitoes or to developing malaria.) 

Since the sweet potato was crucial to the Patriots ability to function, and since the disruption of the food supply chain was a critical component of the British inability to defend its frontier against the Patriots, I would say that this little tuber has also had a role to play in the formation of the United States!  The sweet potato continued to be a staple of the pioneer diet long beyond the time of the Revolutionary War.  In records of my own family’s farm dating from the mid 19th Century, sweet potatoes and corn were the two staple food crops, accounting for about 90% of the land under cultivation. 

Needless to say, then, sweet potatoes are a significant component of traditional family dinners in the American South.  Particularly at Thanksgiving, practically no Southerner considers her table complete without the presence of a casserole made from sweet potatoes.  These casseroles generally fall under the category of being sinfully rich — usually mixed with sugar and eggs and cream, then sprinkled on top with a crust and baked so that it resembles a dessert more than a vegetable.  (Yum!  Just thinking of my Aunt Barbara’s casserole makes me covet her recipe!)  But, my goal of cooking yummy food for my family must be tempered with the need for healthiness and nutrition. 

Speaking of nutrition, sweet potatoes are packed with it.  Because of this, they continue to play a role in nutrition around the globe.  One sweet potato, by itself, has only 95 calories but delivers more than twice the daily requirement of Vitamin A.  Sweet potatoes are also rich in Vitamin C, manganese, copper, fiber, Vitamin B 6, potassium, and iron.  They are often baked and sold by street vendors in China.  People purchase them, peel them with their fingers, and eat them as a street food.  Indeed, for a tourist concerned about germs in food (food poisoning) sweet potatoes are a pretty safe bet as long as one is sure they are fresh and hot. 

In South Carolina, I was only familiar with one kind of tuber we call the "sweet potato," but when I got to China I encountered many, many more varieties.  Orange, white, blue, yellow, large and small.  Some are sweeter, some more tender, others more starchy.  I don’t have a complete sampling, but here are two shots from one food market in Guangzhou: 

Indeed, I think I purchased some of those sweet potatoes in the upper photo and used them to make the recipe which I will now give instructions to make — Vegan Sweet Potato Casserole.  The good thing about my casserole is that by eliminating some of the animal fat and reducing the sugar, it’s still pretty healthy, yet addition of some vegan butter, fruit, sugar and spice means it’s pretty tasty, too.  Because it’s so light and fluffy, I venture to call it Sweet Potato Souffle. 

Ingredients:  3 large sweet potatoes (about 1 and 1/2 pounds total), 1 cup fresh, chopped pecans, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup granola, 1/3 cup vegan margarine, 1/2 cup white flour, 4 teaspoons baking powder (preferably Borwicks brand), 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 orange, 1 teaspoon vanilla, Egg Replacer equivalent of four eggs.

First, boil three large sweet potatoes until they are soft enough to mash easily with a fork.  Use a variety that is large and orange colored.  While these potatoes boil, peel an orange and remove the pulp.  Then, chop the orange flesh into pieces the size of the tip of your finger. 

There is also going to be a topping on top of this casserole.  To make this topping, mix 1/3 cup vegan butter, 1/2 cup granola, 1/3 cup brown sugar, and 1/2 cup chopped, fresh pecans.  Place this mixture aside. 

In another bowl, mix together 1/2 cup white flour, 4 teaspoons baking powder (preferably Borwick’s brand), 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 cup pecans.  (This will be mixed in with the potatoes after they are mashed.)  Set aside.   

After the potatoes are soft, mash them with a fork.  Add in 1 teaspoon of vanilla.  Then, mix up enough "Egg Replacer"* brand powder to make the equivalent of four eggs, and add this into the sweet potatoes.  Then add in the oranges, and finally add in the dry ingredients which you had previously set aside.  Mix together.  If the mixture seems too dry, add some oat or soy milk until it is soft like congealed pudding. 

Spread this into a casserole dish, then spread the brown sugar topping over the top of the dish.  Finally, bake at 350 degrees F for about 40 minutes or until it has risen and set. 

Now, enjoy some good, Patriot roots and tubers! 

 

*If you don’t have access to Egg Replacer, mix 3/4 tsp rice vinegar into some soy milk and use that as a leavening agent.  It won’t work as well to lighten the sweet potato, but it will work a small amount.  The casserole will still be tasty but just not as fluffy. 

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Vegan cornbread stuffing

9 February 2009

When my daughter became a vegan, I made a commitment that there would always be food on the family table that she could eat. 

Thanksgiving that first year was a real challenge.  All but a few of our traditional family recipes had animal products in them.  Sure, a vegan can eat a veggie wrap, but who wants to eat a veggie wrap all the time, especially at Thanksgiving or Christmas?  So, I began to experiment.  By stretching my mind and being creative, I gradually developed vegan variations of many of our favorite holiday foods.  Even the most creamy, luscious ones! 

This year, I realized that some of these recipes were turning out pretty good and even, in a few cases, barely distinguishable from or better than the non-vegan variety.  I decided to write down a few of them.  Here is my recipe for Vegan cornbread stuffing. 

First, make a vegan cornbread.  (So, I guess my recipe for vegan cornbread stuffing is going to also include a recipe for vegan cornbread.  Two for the price of one!) 

The easiest way to make a vegan cornbread is to use a vegan cornbread mix.  You may not find a mix that boasts "vegan" on the label, but you can ascertain the ingredients by reading the label.  In place of cow milk, substitute soy milk.  In place of egg, use a product called Egg Replacer.  Here is a photo of the Egg Replacer box:

T

The only thing tricky about using this product is that you must measure exactly.  Mix the powder with the water in exact amounts, and then add this to the mixture last (after the other wet ingredients) just before you bake it. 

If you have to make a cornbread from scratch, or if you don’t have access to Egg Replacer product, it’s a bit trickier to make the cornbread but it’s still possible. 

Here’s how to make a vegan cornbread from scratch (without a mix and without Egg Replacer): 

Preheat an oven to 425 degrees F.  Take a normal sized (8 inch) skillet, or else a square cake pan that is approximately 8 x 8 x 2 inches, and place 1/4 – 1/3 cup vegan margarine into it.  Then, place the pan in the oven to get hot.  As it melts, the margarine will coat the bottom of the pan. 

Mix together one cup corn meal with one cup white flour.  Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and about 3 Tablespoons of baking powder.  Many cooks put just a bit of sugar into the mixture, but I do not (especially not if the cornbread is for use as stuffing).

Next, mix 1 teaspoon rice vinegar into 1 and a half (1.5) cups of soy milk.  Then, using a spoon or rubber spatula, quickly mix the liquid into the flour mixture, stirring just until it’s mixed.  Immediately pour the batter into the hot, preheated pan.  When using this recipe, time is of the essence because the reaction between the baking powder and the vinegar is what makes the batter rise.  You want it to get hot and set quickly, while there are still bubbles in the batter. 

Hopefully, the pan will be hot enough that the oil sizzles when you begin to pour the batter into the pan.  This makes for a nice crust on the cornbread bottom.

Once poured, place the batter back into the preheated oven.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes for a 10 inch skillet or 25 – 30 minutes for an 8 inch skillet or pan. 

The way to tell if a cornbread is done, really, is to look at a couple of different clues.  For one, the cornbread should separate a bit from the edge of the pan all the way around.  If it hasn’t shrunk back from the edge of the pan at all, then it’s probably not ready.  Second, it should rise in the middle.  But cornbread (and cakes) will rise before it "sets" in the center, so rising alone is not enough to tell if it’s done enough.  If it rises so that it cracks, then you can peek down into the crack to see if it appears to be firm.  Third, look at the color and see if it has browned.  Fourth, go by the time in terms of having been in the oven for a reasonable amount of time.  Fifth, you can insert a knife into the center of the bread.  If the knife comes out clean, the cornbread has most likely set and you can take it out.  

Whatever you do, however, do not continually open and shut the oven door when you bake.  This lets all the heat rush out.  Not only do you lose your heat so that you set the cooking time back, but also when the bottom burner comes on repeatedly it will cause your pan to overcook on the bottom.  Best to shut the oven door, set the timer, and not look again until the timer goes off. 

Okay, let’s assume now that you have a cornbread in the oven.  While it’s cooking, dice up 1/2 cup onion and 1/2 cup celery, then saute them together in a skillet or wok.  Sauteeing is when you cook something in a little bit of oil at a medium rather than hot temperature, so that it turns translucent but doesn’t turn color.  You want these veggies to get translucent but not burnt. 

After you’ve done sauteeing the veggies, add in 1/2 cup fresh, chopped pecans.  Avoid "last year’s" pecans if at all possible, because pecans do get rancid and it affects their flavor even after a month or two!  Next, remove the crust from and then dice up four slices of vegan white bread, and add to the mixture.  Put this veggie-bread mixture aside, to be mixed with the cornbread after it comes out of the oven.

When the cornbread is done, let it cool, then crumble it into crumbs.  Add 2 teaspoons dried sage, 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper to taste, and toss it.  Then, add the other ingredients. 

This mixture will be rather dry.  Add vegetable broth to reach a desired level of moistness.  (This is the only flavor difference between this stuffing and non vegan, since the liquid in a traditional stuffing would come from the turkey broth.) 

Finally, place into a casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees F until brown on top.  Considering that you have added an 8 x 8 inch cornbread together with about 2 1/2 cups of other ingredients, this should be enough to fill a fairly large casserole dish!  It serves about 8 people.  Enjoy! 

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