Long Story Short: Thanksgiving edition
Some of the shovel-wielders at the Buffalo AKG Museum ground-breaking
Something to be thankful for
You can certainly make an argument that there are more important things to be grateful for than the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s long-awaited renovation and expansion. But I for one, am thankful as hell that it’s begun.
In 2001, the board of directors of the Albright-Knox created a Strategic Plan calling for “a major architectural project on the museum’s campus.” It was another four years before they produced the 21st Century Space Study, which identified options for greater visibility of the collection, including a possible addition. A year later Vision for Growth expanded on this. Three more years went by, and, in 2008, the board’s building committee developed a Campus Master Plan, with a Land-Use History and Museum Operating Financial Model to assist in the hiring of an architectural firm to design a new addition.
In 2010, Gluckman Mayner Architects were hired to develop a Master Plan for Growth, with options for expansion, and, in 2013, the architectural firm of Snøhetta produced another Master Plan for Growth that included three possible general approaches for the future. A year later, the Albright-Knox launched the AK360 Campus Development and Expansion Project, and a series of community outreach sessions were begun to give the public an opportunity to share ideas about the museum’s future.
The campaign and angel donor
In 2016, the museum announced an $80 million fundraising campaign that might have taken years to complete, had not Buffalo-born Jeffrey Gundlach, chief executive and founder of DoubleLine Capital, contributed $42.5 million right off the bat.
The museum quickly began a search for a design partner, and eventually selected the award-winning OMA architectural firm. Then there were more outreach sessions, followed by a proposed plan that failed to please preservationists and the public in general. It was back to the drawing board.
Finally, in 2018, the board of directors approved a design and building footprint that includes more than 25,000 square feet of new gallery space, a reimagined education wing, and underground parking. Anticipated costs grew to $165 million, more than double the original goal. Gundlach upped his donation to $52.5 million.
Ceremonial shovels come out
On Friday, November 22, the newly named Buffalo Albright-Knox-Gundlach Art Museum held a groundbreaking ceremony, with twenty politicians and other dignitaries on hand, all wearing hardhats along with their business suits and dress overcoats. Ceremonial dirt was placed in a neat pile on the lawn, so the shovel-brandishing VIPs had something easy to scoop up for the photo op.
Silliness aside, I couldn’t be happier.
$10 million more
Gundlach was happy too, so happy that he kicked in another $10 million, "so that the beautiful serpentine connector between the 1905 building and the 2022 building will be named the Albright Bridge, or the John Albright Bridge, or the John J. Albright Bridge, whatever the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy thinks best."
The Buffalo AKG Art Museum only took eighteen years. Additional funds still need to be raised, but the work has started, and you know Gundlach doesn’t want his name going on an unfinished project. In two more years, the new and improved museum reopens, making it an even two decades from strategic plan to reality. Like I said, I’m thankful.
It’s mashed potato time
(with apologies to Dee Dee Sharp)
Since it was a light news week locally, I’m writing today about something of importance to everyone: mashed potatoes. After turkey, mashed potatoes are right up there with stuffing as the most noteworthy sides on the classic holiday menu. And while there are plenty of articles on how to cook the perfect turkey—most of which result in dry white meat anyway—you don’t see as many articles on how to make perfect mashed potatoes.
It is with humility that I claim mastery of this important skill, and I’m willing to share my secrets so you too will be asked by family members to bring the mashed potatoes every year, instead of the relish tray.
Begin with the perfect potato
You don’t want to end up with a gluey mess that serves up like wet concrete, so you need to start with a high-starch potato. The spuds of choice for the fluffiest results are Russets or Yukon Golds, with Yukons delivering a slightly more-buttery flavor, giving them the edge.
Cook wisely and with love
There are reasons for the following tips, mostly to do with cooking the potatoes evenly. First, cut them into smaller pieces. You’ll read elsewhere that this causes the potatoes to absorb more water, which is partly true, except that when you cook larger pieces, it takes longer, and the outsides absorb lots of water and become overcooked while you wait for them to cook inside. The water should cover the potatoes and be cold, with plenty of salt, which brings out the flavors in starch and fat. Bring to a boil, then turn to the lowest temperature at which the water continues to simmer; do not rapid boil. Stop cooking as soon as they are tender throughout when poked with a fork.
Now, this next part is really important. When the potatoes are just done, drain them and put them back on the stove! Cruel irony: the water necessary to cook potatoes is the enemy of a perfect mash. Turn them over in the pot on low heat until the last bit of clinging water evaporates. (To avoid water altogether, you can bake the potatoes in their skins, but liberating them from their casings is literally a game of hot potato.) Then complete the dish while the spuds are still hot; you don’t want to reheat them.
Don’t mash your mashed potatoes
If you want velvety spuds without lumps, there’s only one tool that will do the job, and that’s a ricer. Of course, it takes a bit longer this way, but the results are silky smooth and devoid of lumps. The ricer presses the spuds through small holes, keeping them light and fluffy, with minimal mixing, mashing, processing, or whipping. Another cruel irony: the starch that makes mashed potatoes light turns spuds to rubber if released from the potatoes by over-mashing. Buy a ricer, and you’ll use it at least once a year for the rest of your life. A food mill is almost as good.
What to add and why
It’s all about dairy; if you’re vegan or lactose-intolerant, forget about perfect mashed potatoes. Butter and milk beat all other ingredients, including heavy cream (too rich) and cream cheese (too heavy). But there is one secret ingredient that adds both zest and creaminess to mashed potatoes: sour cream. Try it; you’ll thank me.
Here’s another secret: let your milk and sour cream come to room temperature before you add them, and gently melt the butter over the stove. Fold the ingredients gently as you add them, starting with butter. Add the milk slowly, giving it time to absorb. You may need to salt again.
Two discretionary extras add notes of flavor. Put garlic cloves in the cooking water and press them through the ricer with the cooked potatoes. Done this way, the flavor is subtle. Infuse your milk with thyme sprigs by adding them ahead and warming gently. Both add background flavor.
I haven’t included quantities here, because so much depends on personal taste, and of course, how many you are serving. Presentation is part of great food, so a few pads of melting butter on top with some thyme sprinkles looks umm, umm good. Mashed potatoes are simple, but easy to ruin. Try these tips, and you’ll be delighted with the results.
The world you want
A friend of mine posed the following question on Facebook recently: “If you personally worked hard to educate yourself, worked equally hard at your career, and saved all that hard-earned money, ending up wealthy through wise investments and savings, would you want your wealth redistributed by the Government?”
This was obviously prompted by recent chatter about socialism in the news and social media. There is a disturbingly wide gap between rich and the poor worldwide, which is driving political populism in Europe and the US. (Ironically, a self-proclaimed billionaire capitalized on this to become US president, then proceeded to help the rich become richer.)
First of all, there’s no plan currently being proposed that dramatically impacts any but the wealthiest of the wealthy. We’re talking about people with many millions or billions of dollars. A large portion (forty-three percent) of living billionaires were born into generational wealth, rather than earning it. Those who did start from nothing often had exceptional educations, Harvard being the most popular school among billionaires by a wide margin. Most self-made billionaires—Bill Gates for instance—enjoyed family support. And they didn’t become billionaires by themselves. Henry Ford, for instance, pushed his engineers to develop the V-8 motor despite complex technical challenges. Ford did the pushing, but the engineers did the work.
As my friend’s question was posed, it implies that the entire fortune of the very wealthy would be redistributed. But even the most draconian proposals being floated would leave billionaires with millions or billions of dollars to enjoy, and the ability to continue building wealth. Sweden, which is often cited as a socialist country (it’s not), has very high taxes and a generous welfare state and other social programs, but it has more billionaires per capita than the US.
What you want vs. what the world needs
My friend’s question asks whether you would "want" your fortune redistributed. Of course not! There are many things in life we don’t want that are nevertheless necessary: paying taxes, caring for sick family members, recycling our trash, wearing pants to work, you name it. You don't have to want something for it to be necessary. And you don’t need—or deserve—everything you want, no matter how hard you work or how lucky you are.
There is only so much wealth produced on the planet, and a whole lot of people must share it. If, through hard work and good fortune, you manage to acquire an excessive amount of that finite wealth, don’t you owe society something? There are lots of people who work extremely hard, but lack the good fortune to become rich. The wealth you hold could be used to properly educate everyone from birth through college, build infrastructure, provide health care, daycare, elderly care, and so much more. And all these things benefit everyone.
Some people argue that those with immense wealth already use it to create jobs for others, which in turn creates wealth for the lower classes. This is called trickledown economics, or supply side economics, and it sounds good, but in United States it’s been tried for long periods, ever since it was rebranded as Reaganomics under Ronald Reagan. Research demonstrates that it simply doesn’t work, yet it continues to be promoted as the solution.
Pretend you are not born yet. You’re not you. You’re just a soul, with no human form, no brain, waiting for a homo sapien shell to slip into on earth. Maybe you will be born to a billionaire! It’s unlikely though, since they represent only 0.00003 percent of the world’s 7.3 billion population. You have a much greater chance of being born to a poor Appalachian family, or a meth-addicted mother in a crime-infested neighborhood where you grow up surrounded by despair. You might be born to a family living in a trailer park, or, much less likely, Beverly Hills.
You might be black, white, Hispanic, Native American, or Asian (in the US, it's now approaching a coin toss as to whether you’ll be white or non-white). You might be born male or female, with all the expectations that accompany each gender (if you want to be a billionaire, hope you’re a male, because women account for an extremely small percentage). You might be born an only child, or part of a family of ten. You could have a low IQ or suffer from depression, anxiety, or a more serious mental illness. You might be born to a single mother working three jobs.
You could be born to college graduates or eighth-grade dropouts. You might be born in a city with poor schools and limited education options, or you might be among the relative few who go to a costly private school. Your future parents might talk and read to you from birth or use the TV as a daylong babysitter. You might be Olympic athlete material, or inherit a weak heart, have underdeveloped lungs, or failing kidneys. You might be born handicapped, or genetically predisposed to becoming disabled later in life.
None of this is your choice. You can’t be blamed for being disadvantaged or applauded for any advantages you receive. It’s pure chance.
You've got to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky?
Now, pick the world you want to be born into. Will it be one where an extremely tiny percentage of the population holds the vast majority of earth's finite wealth, while much of the population struggles to get by, without healthcare or quality education, fending for themselves when life deals them a bad hand? Or would you prefer a world where you can become very wealthy with hard work and good fortune, but limits are set as to how much of the world’s wealth you can keep for yourself? This world has social safety nets for the less fortunate.
Maybe you’ll win the lottery of life. But in this thought experiment, you pick the political, economic, and social system into which you will emerge, and then spend your life with that decision.
A final thought
When you sit down for Thanksgiving dinner, give thanks for whatever you have, whether it’s billions in the bank or a hot meal at the Buffalo City Mission. Think about the wide wealth disparity in the world. Then ponder the question I’ve posed above. And, while you’re giving thanks, pray to the deity of your choice to grant us the world you would like to be born into. Or, better yet, help the people who are working to create that world.
Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.
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