8/31/14

52 Books in 52 Weeks: 8/31 Beth Macy, Irene McKinney

Robin McCormack's book challenge continues.  (Reports are due every Sunday.)








I don't remember when I first met Beth Macy, maybe when she was giving some type of journalism workshop in Roanoke, while she still wrote for the Roanoke Times.  Now her first book, Factory Man  is out (here's my earlier post) and now that I've read it from cover to cover,  I can tell you it's full of heart and details. Even her unique format for the notes are readable and it includes an index (although her her descriptions are so memorable that I was able to keep the numerous characters straight without it. Highly recommended.  In the future I'll write a review and perhaps do an interview.



 While I was up to her home town to attend Irene McKinney's funeral, I spent time in the local library and ordered  some of her books used.  My favorite seller was Better World Book Club, which raises money from its sales of donated books for all sorts of literacy projects.  (I think Irene would have liked that.)  I re-read two of them this week.  Still on the list:  Vivid Companion.


I met Irene McKinney, who was the Poet Laureate of West Virginia, in 2006 when she and I both attended Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition's  West Virginia Mountaintop Removal Writers' Tour.  I next saw her at the West Virginia Book Festival in 2010 when she was excited to be starting an MFA program at West Virginia Wesleyan College.  And then, in less than two years she was gone.

Her poems feature surprising word choices whether she's writing about life in West Virginia or imagining new poems in the voice of Emily Dickenson.

I'm happy  that the Virginia Tech Library has The girl with the stone in her lap (Plainfield, Vt. : North Atlantic Books, 1976 and Unthinkable : selected poems, 1976-2004 (Los Angeles, Calif, Red Hen Press, c2009.)  I'm going to recommend that they also order her posthumous collection, Have You Had Enough Darkness Yet? (BuckhannonWest Virginia Wesleyan College Press, September 1, 2013)

8/29/14

Mary Anne Hitt: Labor of Love--How My Small WV Town Launched a Game-Changing New Model to Go Solar

Photo of Than and Hazel by  Mary Anne Hitt at a ribbon cutting for the solar project of the Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church

I met  Mary Anne when she was the Executive Director of Appalachian Voices and living in Blackburg. In 2008, she went on to direct the Sierra Club's national Beyond Coal campaign and lives in Shepherdstown, WV with her husband Than (a 10th generation West Virginian) and daughter Hazel, both environmental activists in their own right.

Mary Anne first posted this essay at the Sierra Club's blog and gave me permission to reprint it here.  Solar Holler's other projects in West Virginia are for the Bolivar-Harpers Ferry Public Library and the Lewisburg City Hall.

I first published this post at 5:26 pm on 8/29/14 and updated it at 3:22 on 8/30 to credit Mary Anne, after she got back to me and confirmed that she was the photographer.

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This week, my small town in West Virginia cut the ribbon on a solar project that isn't just the largest crowd-funded solar project in the state, but also launches a new model making it possible for any WV community organization to go solar. On a perfect sunny day, 100 elementary school students and dozens of community members joined my husband, Than Hitt, and my daughter Hazel, who cut the ribbon for a 60-panel solar system at the historic Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church. It was an unforgettable day that crystalized all our hopes for the future of West Virginia, and exemplified the power of regular people to change the world.

The genius of this project was that the church went solar for just $1, thanks to over 100 community members who contributed - but they donated their water heaters, not their dollars. Maryland-based Mosaic Power pays homeowners $100 per year to have smart meters installed on their home water heaters that save energy and, in the aggregate, operate as a safe, efficient mini-power plant. These community members are each donating their $100 per year to the church solar project, collectively raising enough money to pay for the solar system. The financing model was developed by our brilliant friend Dan Conant and his company Solar Holler, and now that we have proof of concept in Shepherdstown, he's taking it statewide.

The church is going to generate nearly half of its electricity from the sun, reducing pollution, saving money, and living out the congregation's commitment to caring for the Earth. I'm a member of this remarkable church, where we've spent many a Sunday morning lamenting the destruction polluting energy development has wreaked on our state, from mountaintop removal mining to the coal chemical spill in Charleston earlier this year.
By going solar, we’re not only reducing our reliance on dirty energy, but we’ve demonstrated a model that other WV nonprofits are lining up to replicate. Making this project work was a labor of love three years in the making, dating all the way back to 2011 when my family was the first in our historic town to go solar, which helped get the community talking about how we could do more. Take it from me, when you go solar, it's like creating ripples in a pond - you may set into motion changes bigger than you ever imagined.
Now that we've figured out the details of this community-supported solar financing model, Solar Holler already has two more projects on deck in West Virginia communities, and those are sure to be followed by many more. And the project is being noticed around the country, with press coverage including... the Associated Press, and this great piece by Think Progress. I'm so proud of my husband, who led this project for the church, and so proud of our community.
At the ribbon cutting, our pastor Randall Tremba offered powerful remarks that have stayed with me, because he beautifully captured why the church undertook this groundbreaking project, and what it means for the community and the nation. I'd like to close the post with an excerpt from his remarks:
I am the pastor of SPC, which now stands for: Solar Presbyterian Church.
These solar panels symbolically and actually reconnect this church to an old and long Presbyterian tradition of respect, reverence and connectedness for and with Mother Earth - a reverence sadly forsaken several hundred years ago. We are happy to reconnect to Mother Earth. 
That old reverence is reflected in a poem composed by St. Francis in 13th century and addressed to Mother Earth, Sister Water, Brother Wind, and Sister Moon. But it begins this way. 
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,especially through my lord Brother Sun,who brings the day; you give light through him.He is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!Of you, Most High, Brother Sun bears your likeness.
This project will make a lot of Presbyterians, living and dead, very happy. Let me explain by taking you back through time a ways. 
The Fellowship Hall is attached to the Meeting House out front which was built in 1836 by a community of Presbyterians first organized on the banks of the Potomac in 1743, which was 33 years before there was a United States of America. 
These solar panels would make our 18th century founding Presbyterians very happy for, in case you didn’t know, most of them were Scots and the Scots like nothing more than saving a penny. Think Andrew Mellon. 
Scots love saving a penny and these panels will save us many of those.
As much as frugality, the Scots also love technological inventions. Think Alexander Graham Bell. 
As much as inventions, the Scots also love the natural world and work to keep it whole and holy. Think John Muir, son of a Scottish Presbyterian minister. Love of nature is in SPC's DNA....As happy as this project makes Presbyterians, I hope it makes our civic community just as happy and proud. For this project could not have happened without ecumenical and communal support. 
On behalf of SPC, I thank Than Hitt and Dan Conant along with their blue-ribbon committee who successfully guided this project through thick and thin, over humps and bumps, on sunny days and cloudy days, and around twists and turns more than once. But I also thank the citizens of this community. For it takes many hands to make light work and work light.
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Graphic from Solar Hollow via Public News Service.


8/25/14

Savory Skillet Veggie and Feta Cornbread




Photo by  Donalyn Ketchum of The Creekside Cook.

The August 26 farm share for Glade Road Growing is slated to include paste tomatoes, colorful sweet and hot peppers, tomatillos, summer squash and Rosa de Tropea onions. The tomatillos (Mexican husk tomatoes) would be excellent in a salsa verde (puréed with hot pepper, onion, garlic and a bit of water in a blender, simmered for about 15 minutes and cooled and then seasoned with chopped cilantro, lime juice and salt to taste.)

As for the tomatoes, summer squash, onions and peppers, here's my recipe for a savory cornbread inspired by Christine Gallary for Chow.com (She's now the food and cooking editor at TheKitchn.)


Photo from Chow.com (maybe by Chris Rochell, since no credit given and he's the staff photographer)

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1.  Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F, with one of the racks set in the middle.

2.  You're going to be using either a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan, an 8-by-8 inch baking disk, 2 7 inch cast iron cornstick pans (Lodge makes the ones I've used)  or a 10 " cast iron skillet.  I prefer the corn stick pans or the  skillet because it makes a crunchy crust and you can serve the bread while it is still warm. For this method, you can heat the skillet in the oven for at least 15 minutes and then grease with extra virgin olive oil or unsalted butter right before pouring in the batter.  Don't do this with the baking pans!  Just grease them  set them aside on the counter until you're ready to pour the batter.

3.  Grate into a medium bowl, enough summer squash (about 1/2 #) to make 1 cup and 1 small onion.  Cut two small tomatoes in half and drain juice and seeds and then chop finely and add to bowl.   Removing the stem, membrane and seeds from a sweet pepper, chop it finely to make 1/2 cup--or you can use mostly sweet peppers with a bit of the hot peppers.  If you use the latter, be sure to keep your hands away from your eyes!  Add pepper to bowl.   Finely crumble 2/3 cup (3 oz.) feta cheese into the bowl and use a rubber or silicon spatula to fold until mixed.

6.  In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients and whisk together:
1 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp ground sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 1/4 teaspoons dried oregano

7.  In a second large bowl beat two large eggs and whisk together with 1 cup Greek yogurt until smooth. Fold the veggie/cheese mixture into the egg and yogurt mixture until evenly combined.

8.  Pour veggie/egg/yogurt/cheese mixture into flour mixture and stir until flour is just incorporated.  Be careful not to overmix this batter--it's fine to have a few streaks of the cornmeal.

9.  Use the spatula to scrape the batter into the prepared  pan or skillet, pushing it into the corners and smoothing the top. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees F and bake 20-25 minutes until the bread is golden brown all over and a toothpick inserted into it comes out clean.  It will take about 30 - 40 minutes in the square pan.  It will take longer to cook in the loaf pan.   You'll want to test it in several spots, because if you hit the cheese, it might appear the bread isn't cooked. Place the pan on a wire rack to cool (5 minutes for the corn sticks, 10 minutes for the skillet, 10 - 15 for the square pan or loaf pan, then turn the bread out onto the rack and transfer to a wooden cutting board.

10.  You don't need to do anything with the corn sticks.   If you've used the skillet, you can cut the bread into wedges as shown below.  If you've used the square pan, cut into 2 x 2 inch squares.  If you used the loaf pan, you need to let it cool for at least another 15 minutes and then cut it in thick slices.  Serve (with lots of unsalted butter, if you want to be decadent!)





Photo from Steve Gordon.

8/24/14

52 Books in 52 Weeks

The book editor of the Roanoke Times pointed me to Sacramento blogger Robin McCormack's book challenge.  Reports are due every Sunday.

I was a member of an book group started by Harriet and Sig Davidson that met in Roanoke  from 1980.  Harriet died in March of 2007, but we continued using the same format of a book dinner until July of 2013.  When the format changed, I attended one last meeting on August 15, 2013. Since I've been limited to reading on my own for the last year and change, 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge seemed like an opportunity.

I need to go back and check my records for the books I've read from January through July, which I will record here later,  but tonight I'm listing the books I've read so far in August.  Because I received review copies for the first three, I'll be posting separate book reviews, but I wanted to make an entry here, so I could link to the virtual reading group.

Henna House, Nomi Eve, Scribner, August 12, 2014, 320 pages (ISBN 978-1476740270)


August  16, Eve was one of the seven featured authors for the Doylestown Bookshop's  first annual August Authors' Fest. (Others were Robin Black,  Rachel Cantor, Pamela Erens, Elise Juska,Violet Kupersmith  and Maya Lang.)


Reimagining Camelot: Wheelwright, Kentucky in Memory and Folklore, Lisa R. Perry, Create Space, July 28, 2014, 206 pages (ISBN 978-1499607901)
I first "met" Lisa through the Appalachian Studies listserve on 12/27/10 when she was inquiring about Carl Sandburg and "Company Town" for her dissertation.  Turns out it wasn't one of his poems, but a song he sang, at least according to his daughter.

A Few Honest Words: The Kentucky Roots of Popular Music, Jason Howard with a foreword by Rodney Crowell, University of Kentucky Press, September 18, 2012272 pages, (ISBN 978-0-8131-3645-5)  The paperback is coming out in January, 2015.


Young Thurgood: The Making of a Supreme Court Justice, , Larry S. Gibson, 
Prometheus Books, December 4, 2012, 413 pages, (ISBN 978-1616145712)




8/23/14

Paul Corbit Brown: Rapt in Red, White and Blue - The Enthrallment of Appalachia


Image from the Facebook page for Mari-lynn Evans and Jordan Freeman's Blood on the Mountain. (I've asked for an attribution.)  Photographer Paul Corbit Brown wrote the following essay on August 7, in response to an August 4 story by Marcus Constantino in the Charleston Daily Mail, "Dirt airstrip in Logan tailor made for training Guardsmen for war." Alpha Natural Resources   has "reclaimed" a mountaintop removal site in Logan County WV by letting the Air National Guard use it as a  a 3500 foot  "unimproved, or unpaved runway" when pilots could earn their landing certifications. Alpha acquired Don Blackenship's Massey Energy in 2011 following the Upper Big Branch  mine disaster in Montcoal.

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Wrapping it in red, white and blue doesn’t change its color-coal will always be black. Likewise, Patriotism isn’t simply an idea wrapped in red, white and blue. Patriotism, is not sacrificing a poor segment of our citizenry for the comfort and ease of the rest of the country. Patriotism is not the construction of a military complex on an MTR site. More than 500 mountains have been leveled by mining. Are we really to believe the only suitable location for an airstrip is the one that strips us of our history, our culture and our contributions to humanity in order to profit a handful of individuals?

Our heritage is not so much what we did, but how we did it. It wasn’t that we were coal miners as much as we were hard workers. It wouldn’t have mattered what the industry was, all that really mattered was that we were loving and we took care of our own, that we were compassionate and always lent a helping hand, that we were resilient, that we were, and still are, survivors.

The workers who mined these mountains all those years ago could have just as readily been ranchers or sawyers or stone masons. The job title was merely a byproduct of our environment. Most folks mined coal simply because they needed a job. I have met countless folks who feel the same today, “Give me another job and I’ll crawl straight out of that black hole and never look back,” they say. I know many who have done so.

It’s disingenuous to question our integrity, given our true character and heritage, if we now understand that mining is killing us far more than it supposedly helps us. There is no altruism in "giving" us mining jobs. We don’t accept them because we have a need to live in the past, we simply want to live.

The coal industry doesn’t exist as a mechanism to make jobs, it exists to create a profit. It makes this profit largely by externalizing its costs. The primary cost being the detriments to the health of the workers as well as those who live in the communities where coal is mined, processed, and/or burned. The secondary cost being the toll put on the environment which amounts to robbing subsequent generations.

When the true history of West Virginia is finally written, it's pages will be printed in blood. It will be the blood of the men and women who took up arms and laid down their lives at the battle of Blair Mountain. It will be the blood of the many lives that were carelessly taken by the lawless and money-grubbing attitudes of coal operators like Don Blankenship. It will be the blood of the children born with birth defects as a result the toxins in our water. It will be the blood of the 4000 people who die early deaths every year as a result of the poisons the extraction industries pump into our communities. That same blood is already upon the hands of the politicians who uphold these processes and who continue to ignore our pleas for help. Make no mistake, the day has already arrived in West Virginia, there is no clean water to wash that blood from their filthy hands.


True patriotism, as it concerns our nation’s need for energy, would be for each and every citizen to roll up their sleeves and dramatically conserve energy while working to create energy sources and economies with liberty and justice for all. That’s the way a nation at war becomes victorious. And we are at war. It is not a war on coal, nor is it a war on terrorism. We are at war with ourselves and our horribly skewed sense of what it means to be a great People and we are at war with a terribly flawed idea of what freedom really is. We do not own freedom through the enslavement of others. We do not bask in freedom by surrendering to fear and giving up the personal liberties that our forebears paid for in blood- blood that is ironically symbolized by the red stripes on the American flag. We have confused the toll of funeral bells for the ringing of freedom. We do not let freedom ring for all with the knell of funeral bells for Appalachia, her people, her waters or her air. In Appalachia, Patriotism and Profit couldn’t be any more diametrically opposed. Appallingly, the two are very often misconstrued as one-and-the-same, and as the Truth.

Paul Corbit Brown
President/Chair
Keeper of The Mountains Foundation




Photo by Bob Wojcieszak for the Daily Mail.


8/19/14

Money pours in to Virginia State Senate Race in Southwest Virginia


Money has been pouring in.  My friend Katrina reminded me that you have until 7:00 to vote in the special election to replace Puckett (D) in the General Assembly in you live in District 38.


Puckett's resignation was controversial, and came with accusations of deal making to help the Republicans control the Senate, in addition to the House of Delegates in the Virginia General Assembly. You can see why the R's are hopeful, since they consistently draw about 2/3 of the vote according to the Virginia Public Access Project.


As my friend John reminded me, VPAP let out the 3 voters in Montgomery County in the above chart.  (See Mike Gangloff's "Montgomery County to hold election for three voters" in the July 16, 2014 Roanoke Times. The money shown as raised is through August 8.  Updates are here.  Live returns will be here.

In order for the Democrats to regain  control the Senate, via the tie-breaking vote of Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam., they would have to hold the Puckett seat today, and then hold the Richmond-area seat of former Sen. Henry L. Marsh III in a Nov. 4 special election.

8/18/14

Gingered Fennel, Peach, Tomato and Red Onion Salad





Photo by Jen Smallwood of Portsmouth, Virginia

The 8/19/ farm share for Glade Road Growing is slated to include:  lettuce mix, parsley, fennel bulb, potatoes, Rosa de Tropea onions, tomatoes, delicata and summer squash.  There are so many ways to combine these ingredients that I hardly knew where to start.  I thought, though, that since my recipes  last year's recipes featured roasted fennel (see below) I'd go with raw fennel while peaches and tomatoes are still in season.

Serves 4 to 6

The first step is to make a fennel frond and ginger pesto:

1.  Squeeze one lemon or lime (2 - 3 TB juice)
2.  Finely chop 1 TB fresh ginger and peel and chop one clove fresh garlic.
3.  Shear the fronds from the fennel bulb and chop roughly to make about 2 cups.
4.  Combine in a blender or food processor with a drizzle of 2 - 3 TB of extra virgin olive oil.  Scrape into a medium to large bowl.

Prepare the salad:

1.  Trim the fennel root and the tender portions of the stalk and slice thinly.
2.  Slice 2 medium peaches in half, remove pit and slice into wedges.
3.  Slice half of the onion into thin rings
4.   Remove the stem core from two tomatoes and cut each into 1/8ths.

Add to bowl and toss lightly. Sprinkle with fresh ground pepper and sea salt to taste.  You can serve this over a bed of the lettuce mix, if you like.  If you'd like for this to be a main course, you can include goat cheese and walnuts or cooked white beans.

You can also chop the salad more finely and serve it as a salsa with black beans and yellow rice.

Here's are a couple of other fennel recipes:
*roasted fennel and white beans
*roasted chicken with fennel

and here's a recipe for the squash and tomatoes, combined with eggplant:
*Moroccan squash and egg plant stew