Why Does It Feel Like 1930s Germany?

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Why Does It Feel Like 1930s Germany?

We aren’t recovering from a war; we aren’t living through a crippling inflation; while things could be better, our citizens are not experiencing widespread deprivation and suffering. So I take on this topic with some disquiet. Because, for many of us, there are unsettling similarities. We have as our president a political newcomer, one who espouses policies of nationalism, of thinly veiled racism, of hostilities toward intellectuals, and who regularly condemns those who question his philosophy or his competence. His expressions of isolationism, of “America First,” his own grandiosity, while he continues to feed the fears and resentment of his bristling base, bring an ever-deepening divide in world views of our citizens, anger festering on both sides. With no thought or action of reconciling us under a common ethos, the rhetoric of Make America Great Again calls on fantasies of a glorious past that never was, at no time shared by the majority of Americans whom he claims to represent.

With a Congress that does not appear to represent its constituents, with newly-gerrymandered voting districts that take away the power of the votes of the those who might disagree with those in power, it is tough not to be discouraged, outraged, tired. I am all three.

And then I think of Sophie Scholl. It is her picture that you see at the beginning of this post. Sophie and the story of The White Rose, a lesson in dissent, in courage, of principle, of honor.

In 1942, she and her colleagues put together a leaflet, The White Rose, at the University of Munich, calling for Germans to rise up against their tyrannical government. Everyday citizens began distributing these leaflets and they spread throughout the country.

Three leaders of the movement were arrested and charged with treason in February 1943. A trial followed within days, and all were found guilty. Sophie was executed by guillotine on February 22nd.

I do not worry that my work, my calls, my writing will have such dire consequences. This is, after all, America, where such things do not happen. This is not 1930s Germany.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

On Hearing from Readers…

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On Hearing from Readers….

This week I did three presentations about my books. Since my psyche fills with dread in anticipation, I am always relieved when I can look back and say “did,” rather than “will be doing.” And these were lovely experiences for me, filled with readers who take my work seriously (always appreciated), most of whom had actually read the books, and who were interested in the characters presented. What a joy, to have the chance to talk about these inhabitants of the page, who are certainly real to me, with those who know who they are, with those who are interested in just why they made the decisions they did, how they managed to cope with life.

I’ve also heard from a few readers, a joy, since it definitely does not happen too often. One man – always a pleasant surprise when a man reads my books – noted that one of the characters in Echoes from the Alum Chine lived on Ensor Street. He wrote that his grandmother lived on Ensor Street and wondered if, perhaps, she had known him. Now isn’t that a delight for a writer to read!  I thanked him for writing, and did not remind him that my John Abbott was fictional, and, who knows, perhaps his grandmother did know him.

Another reader wrote that she saw herself and her daughter in two of Echoes’ characters, and that it helped her understand her daughter’s feelings that her mother was always there for someone else, some worthy cause, but never there for her. I was touched when she wrote, humbled that she trusted me enough to share these deeply personal thoughts, and glad that the character could bring a sense of understanding and love into the real life of a reader.

In a week where working on the next book has been problematic, these lagniappes have strengthened a resolve to push on through. It also reminds me how comments to the author area appreciated, and I try to pass on my praise. It never hurts.

So this post is a thank you – to my readers, to my friends, to everyone who has taken my writing seriously. You mean the world to me.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

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On Schmierkase, Baltimore, and Mornings After….

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On Schmierkase, Baltimore, and Mornings After….

Last Sunday I baked a Schmierkase. Now for those of you who may not be from Baltimore, for those of you who may not be German, Schmierkase is a very special kind of cheesecake. It is first a cake, and secondarily a cake with cheese – sort of like a cheese Danish on steroids. I posted a picture on a Baltimore Facebook page (Baltimore Old Photos) and received hundreds of hits. Obviously, this is something that touched memories.

Now, I am not a good cook, and I am even less of a good baker. But something called me to research this and give it a try. I’m sure you could find a more authentic recipe, I’m sure that the bakeries that sell them present a more professional image, but I was delighted with how mine looked.

As with most endeavors, the proof is in the tasting. So, that night, we had it for dessert. Alas, a disappointment. A bit over-baked, and not-quite-sweet-enough, even for my most-things-are-too-sweet palate. Undeterred, I, now with one attempt under my belt so to speak, pledged to try again.

But the morning after – ah, how often can we savor this? – the morning after, I cut a square (for a Schmierkase is traditionally cut in a square or rectangle) to go with my cup of black coffee. And, eureka! What a difference. I don’t know if it was sitting overnight; I don’t know if it felt my disappointment with my efforts; I don’t know if a cleansed palate is what you need, but it was delicious. And what a great way to start a day. A culinary disappointment turned around.

And I thought about mornings-after, how so often they are filled with recriminations for folly. Maybe we need more folly in our lives. I intend to work on that one. And I will try another Schmierkase. (And thanks to the Facebook reader who gave me the correct spelling.)

Here’s the recipe if you’d like to try it (along with my observations, of course):

Ingredients:

For the cake:

2 c flour

2 tsp baking powder

¾ c sugar

½ c canola oil

2 eggs, room temperature

Pinch of salt

For the filling:

16 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature

(I know, real Schmierkase calls for cottage cheese, but try this – and use the brick kind, not the tub spread)

12 oz. evaporated milk

¾ c sugar

1 T flour

2 tsp vanilla

3 eggs, room temperature

For sprinkling:

Cinnamon

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix all of cake ingredients together – it will look more like a dough than cake batter; press into a 13×9 baking dish, covering all the bottom and half-way up the sides.

In another bowl, mix all the filling ingredients until smooth – I used my immersion blender and this made it so much easier. The batter will be thin – pour over the cake and sprinkle with cinnamon.

Bake 60-70 minutes (when I do this again, I am taking it out at 60 minutes on the dot!) It should NOT be browned.

Cool, then cut into squares – or rectangles as the Schmierkase experts say!

Enjoy – and do let me know how it goes for you.

And if you like novels set in historic Baltimore, please visit my webpage and check out Another Sunday and Echoes from the Alum Chine.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com