Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Memphis Life: My Day Job: Visiting Speaker Dr. Andrew Zimmerman

A couple of weeks ago, the student organization I'm president of, Transcending Boundaries, along with the Department of Foreign Languages and the Marcus W. Orr Center for the Humanities, hosted an amazing visiting speaker, Dr. Andrew Zimmerman.

Here is the write-up I did for his talk, featured on both the MOCH blog and the history department's website:

On April 17th, Dr. Andrew Zimmerman, professor of history and international affairs at George Washington University, spoke at the final Marcus W. Orr Center for the Humanities lecture of the year, delivering a lecture titled, “Radical Life on the Mississippi: A Global History of the American Civil War.” Dr. Zimmerman, an historian of German intellectual history, examined the Civil War with a transnational perspective, focusing on the impact German émigrés had on social radicalism, particularly in the Union army. Taking several unique approaches, Dr. Zimmerman reimagined the history of the Civil War through Marxism, socialism, radicalism, and transnational events. For example, rather than examining the Civil War as an east to west war, or a war focused in the east, Dr. Zimmerman’s work focuses on the Mississippi River Valley and the gradual move south of ideas and Union forces, particularly in the “Little Dixie” area of Missouri, Helena, Arkansas, and the Davis Bend Plantation in Mississippi.

Tying together the ideology of the Civil War and the arrival of German émigrés after the 1848 revolutions in Europe, both in Germany and France, is an innovative approach. As Dr. Zimmerman noted, the “story is more complicated” than previously understood. German émigrés brought a unique viewpoint and intellectual culture that manifested in German language newspapers, large numbers of German soldiers fighting in the Civil War, German generals, and the spread of very diverse and radical social and economic ideas. For example, when discussing “Socialism and Slavery on Davis Bend,” Dr. Zimmerman discussed the case of the Davis Bend Plantation, where slaves conducted a socialist experiment after the plantation owners and overseers fled. This exploration of the impact Marxism, the 1848 revolutions, and German language press had on the Civil War is very important new scholarship, as it revisits and reimagines the history of the Civil War, the Union stance on slavery, the global impact of revolution and rebellion, and the history of German-Americans and German intellectual history. Dr. Zimmerman also examined the use of the words “transnational,” “global,” “revolution,” and “rebellion,” challenging historians and other scholars to think more carefully about the ways in which we discuss the Civil War and historical categories.

After his talk, Dr. Zimmerman took a series of questions, expanding and elaborating on his work. He noted that part of the Confederate plan was also transnational, involving France and a Confederate alliance with Mexico. This new geography of space and power is directly related to French sympathies for the Confederate cause, making it a global issue. Dr. Catherine Phipps, of the history department, asked Dr. Zimmerman about his methodology and choice of sites of focus. Dr. Zimmerman noted that it is important in global history to focus on places that stand out in some way, in this case, as points of conflict among Union leadership between radicalism and conservatism. Dr. Zimmerman was also asked about the origins of the German soldiers and officers. He stated that their origins and places of birth in Germany were diverse, and that while the number of Germans in the Union armies may seem high, it was not disproportionate; there had been a large number of German immigrants in the United States, particularly around the Mississippi River Valley. The German language press was very large, and quite radical, and, for Dr. Zimmerman, serves as an important source in bridging the gap between the military and social history of war. German newspapers, gymnastic societies, and social groups all made comment on and participated, in a variety of ways, in the Civil War and the spreading of German intellectual thought.

On Friday, Dr. Zimmerman met with graduate students and faculty to discuss his article, A German Alabama in Africa: The Tuskegee Expedition to German Togo and the Transnational Origins of West African Cotton Growers (American Historical Review 110:5 (2005), over pizza. The discussion ranged from methodology questions to using theory in publications and research, to teaching methods and writing processes, and served as an introduction to the theoretical questions behind Dr. Zimmerman’s work and his book, Alabama in Africa: Booker T. Washington, the German Empire, and the Globalization of the New South (Princeton, 2010).

Dr. Zimmerman was brought to the university by the Department of History, the Marcus W. Orr Center for the Humanities, the Department of Foreign Languages, and the student group Transcending Boundaries.

Thank you to Dr. Zimmerman, and I hope to see some of my local Memphis readers at future events! The Marcus Orr Center puts on great programs, and they're open to the entire Memphis community.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Memphis Nosh: Dino's Grill

My friend Michael (who is graduating tomorrow! So now he's Dr. Michael!) and I went to lunch at Dino's a couple of weeks ago.

One of our professors turned him onto the all you can eat spaghetti for $7.49 on Thursdays, and I hadn't been since...2008 maybe?...so we decided to grab some lunch and hang out.

We're the smartest kids in class.

Dino's is a kind of unassuming building on McLean. Parking can be a challenge because of the school across the street, but I found street parking pretty easily. 

The inside is kind of a bizarre mish mash of signs, photos, and even a little shelf of used books!

There are two sides - it's actually really big inside.

So the inside is interesting. 

Now on to the food. 

So I know where I'm gonna be every Thursday ever...

They even have breakfast!

Michael and I both got the Chicken Parmesan - he got butter sauce with spaghetti, and I got red sauce (they also have meat sauce, but I just like tomato) with ravioli. 

So these ravioli were stuffed with spinach and cheese. SO GOOD.

We also got a nice little basket of buttery bread to sop up that insane amount of sauce.

Was this the best chicken parmesan I've ever had? 


I like mine more spiced, and this was kind of bland - although once I added spice it was great. The chicken was a little overcooked, but there was so much of it that even with discarding a few bites I was stuffed. And the ravioli was awesome. 

So is the be all end all of good Italian food? No. But it's cheap and fast and a ton of food, and it's pretty damn good. 

Plus, this happened.

One of the top 5 best banana puddings I've ever had. 

Seriously, it took us about 3 minutes to eat this whole thing. 

I'm only a little ashamed.

Dino's is a really good little place with huge portions, good food, great desserts, nice service, and a really local feel. 

So who's in for all you can eat spaghetti? Ready to be horrified by how much I can eat?

Recipe: My Mom's Cavatini

So, just a quick recap.

My family is not Italian.

At all.

But when I was growing up, we were kind of poor really poor.

We were always fed. And happy. But sometimes things got...creative.

Like this dish, which I'm pretty sure my mom copied from Pizza Hut/invented by throwing together everything in the fridge and praying.

And it worked!

This dish was a staple of my childhood, and we make huge batches of it to freeze, share, or just gorge ourselves on. It lasts forever frozen, the leftovers reheat well, you can put really anything into it, and it's so good.

So here's how to make My Mom's Cavatini!

First, here's my mom:

Now, the ingredients!
This is endlessly customizable. If you don't like something, or really like something, add more or take it out. I won't judge!

Rotini pasta (depends on how many people you're feeding how much you need - we used 2 bags for a giant buffet pan full)
Tomato Sauce (again, depends on how many people)
Diced Italian Tomatoes
Mushrooms (we use fresh, but canned are fine)
Green Peppers
Black Olives
Canned Green Chiles (I know these aren't really Italian - but they're so good!)
Pepperoni (you COULD use turkey pepperoni I guess, but it's gross and you're a bad person for thinking about it)
Garlic (or garlic salt or powder)
Italian Seasoning
Crushed Red Pepper

So you want to have a large pot to make the sauce in.

Start by chopping everything to roughly the same size.

First we did the pepperoni and onion.

(Sausage would be good, or chicken - we just always do pepperoni because it's cheap!)

Then the green pepper:

Just throw everything in as you go.

Then the mushrooms.

(We used about half this package.)


Next the olives.

I love olives.

So much.

You can can chop them:

Or, you can be like my mom. She crushes them "like they're the heads of her enemies."

(In the background, you can hear my dog and my parents' dogs squeaking a toy, then playing. General chaos, really.)

Also, does anyone else feel like this when they hear their own voice recorded?

Is that my voice?


Next the diced tomatoes. We used 2 cans.

Then the chiles and tomato sauce. About 1 can of chiles and 2 of sauce. Really you're just trying to get a consistency you like, so sauce or don't sauce as you please!

Then stir it all together!

Then take a picture of the dogs begging!

You want to stir it, maybe add a bit more sauce, and put it on low-medium low heat. You don't want to turn the heat up too high because you'll burn the sauce. Low and slow baby, low and slow.

Stir for a bit, then add the salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and crushed red pepper to taste. We like spices, but it's a matter of taste.

Then cook this for about 30-45 minutes or so. Longer won't hurt it, just remember to stir. The longer it cooks the more the flavors come together. Low and slow means you won't get squishy onions or peppers, so keep an eye on it, taste it every once in awhile, and just let it go.

So this results in some liquid, clearly. What my mom does, which is genius, is drain the sauce but save the liquid, then just add water to it to cook the pasta in. So all of that veggie liquid is getting cooked into the pasta as well. Doesn't use as many pots AND flavors the water.

It looks disgusting.

But this adds so much flavor!

Here's the sauce with no pasta.

When the pasta is just cooked (I like my pasta almost undercooked - and remember, you're going to bake this!) the pasta gets drained and then goes into the sauce.

(Also, we use rotini but you can use whatever.)


Then you put a bunch of cheese on top!

Grated mozzarella is what we use, but fresh would be good, or an Italian blend.

Bake at 350 until the cheese melts.

We serve cavatini with garlic bread to mop up the sauce.

And here's the finished product about to be eaten!

So basically this is the perfect meal. And, really, yeah pepperoni isn't that good for you, but if you used whole wheat (which I hate) or veggie rotini, and cut down on the cheese, this is super healthy. As is, there are a ton of veggies, and it's cheap, filling, and a great meal that I've never EVER had anyone dislike!