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Maxine Miller

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Cantonese Thanksgiving
By: Maxine Miller

In the operating room at a state university’s medical center, a team of skilled medical professionals came together to save lives. At the time, the University of Kentucky was still gaining notoriety for their widely unknown yet highly specialized medical care, provided by a new wave of medical personnel from bigger cities. Those bigger cities brought different cultures to the sleepy southern town of Lexington. Some of the Kentucky-born UK medical team complained that a Chinese anesthesiologist newly arriving from Chicago was giving out incomprehensible instructions, and his job was in jeopardy. His immediate supervisor was my mother, assistant professor of anesthesiology Dr. Jayne Miller, and she had an interesting solution.

My mom proposed that Dr. Yang and his wife come over to our house for American English class on Saturdays, and afterwards the Yangs would teach my mom how to cook authentic Cantonese dishes. Mrs. Yang did not speak any English at all, and it was uproarious watching my mom try to interpret her hand gestures. Even though their English was pretty rough, the Yangs were lovely people with a sense of humor, and we saw them religiously every Saturday with their boombox and kitchen pantry in tow. My mom even started shopping at the Asian market (there was only one in the entire town) to impress Mrs. Yang, and it was adorable.

Dr. Yang was pretty taken by how willing our family was to get to know them, but their food was incredible — how could we not be excited to see them each week? After a few months of lessons and stir-frys, Thanksgiving rolled around. Mom and Mrs. Yang went to town. Turkey wontons, turkey dumplings and turkey spring rolls, oh my. The most flavorful turkey I’ve ever had was Mrs. Yang’s soy sauce marinated version, and to this day it is my favorite recipe. Before roasting, the turkey takes a long soak in soy sauce before the bird gets completely injected with it. The result is crazy delicious, and is not overly salty at all.

At 14 years old, my mother and I were not exactly best friends. Her favorite expression, “I make the rules, and nowhere does it say that I have to explain them” was often matched by my filibuster on how unfair life was. Classic. Watching my mom teach this couple of essentially strangers helped change that. She wasn’t the wicked witch of the West I made her out to be when she enforced a curfew — she was kind, and generous. She said being of service to others in need should be second nature. She didn’t need to say it was second nature to her, she was showing it. At 14, this made an especially big impression on me.

Before long, I found myself helping out more instead of just sneaking in for a dumpling now and again. I even did the dishes voluntarily just to laugh at my mother’s terrible attempts at the Chinese language when they cooked. Mrs. Yang was quietly hilarious, and all of the laughter in the house was a refreshing change. Wait, was my mother not secretly out to ruin my life as I had previously claimed? Couldn’t be. My mom had reached out to help the Yangs, but in the end, it was the Yangs helping us. And that Cantonese turkey. Twenty years later and it’s still my favorite, just saying.

Hippie Food: How the Back-To-The-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed The Way We Eat
Book Reflection
By: Maxine Miller

Whole-wheat. Whole-grain. Oat-nut. Flourless whole-grain. My mother was fine with any variety of bread, as long as it was brown. The denser and heavier, the better. White bread was positively forbidden in our home. Growing up on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, that “no white flour” mandate was constantly challenged by my younger sister and me. Little did I know, Jonathan Kauffman had experienced a similar fate in growing up in Indiana during the 70s. Whole-grain everything, sprouts on sandwiches, and arugula in salads before the age of ten. And while it certainly felt like punishment at the time (Who eats a BLT on whole-wheat bread?!), it wasn’t. I now see that our conscientious parents were doing their research outside of the Food and Drug Administration guidelines, and they did not like what they were seeing.

Kauffman sets out on a journey to find out why his mom went rogue with the brown rice when he was just a boy in Hippie Food: How Back-To-The-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat. “Although I have been a fan of tofu since the age of eight, I have no interest in telling you why you should be eating it. (18) Part memoir, part research-findings, Kauffman’s story criss-crosses the U.S. looking for answers. Hippie Food took me right back to my own childhood and sometimes not-so-fond memories of my dear mother’s cooking.

In the 1970s, nearly every mainstream idea was challenged — from the necessity of war, to racial equality (or lack thereof), to the FDA’s recommendations for a healthy diet. Kauffman’s mother and my own mom were from relatively the same region of the U.S., were both of Pennsylvania Dutch heritage (although we are not Mennonite), and funnily enough both women never altered their traditional Pennsylvania Dutch pie recipes to suit their new lifestyles (thank goodness!).

My mom was a physician, but she was a scientist first. After attending college in western Pennsylvania on a double-major scholarship for chemistry and mathematics, she applied the scientific method to nearly every aspect of her life. Her daughters’ nutrition was no different. (Candy went out the window of our home and wasn’t allowed back after she read an article about sugar’s effect on a child’s attention span in the Journal of the American Medical Association.)

When Kauffman remembers the exodus of treats like Frosted Flakes leaving his mother’s pantry for the next decade, I could not help but giggle a little. Growing up, my sister and I were allowed a box of any breakfast cereal of our own choosing once a year — on our birthdays. Those Lucky Charms once a year were delicious, yes, but I was also developing a taste for whole grains those other 364 days out of the year. Other kids were eating instant flavored oatmeal, but my mom made steel-cut oats with maple syrup. I soon realized that while my meals were almost never pre-packaged, they were heartier and more substantial.

Have you ever tried carob? It is an acquired taste, at best. It tastes nothing like chocolate, though it was often touted as chocolate’s healthier cousin during its heyday. Kauffman has a highlighted section in Hippie Food devoted to it. He even wrote a story in the New Yorker about carob, lamenting “no one under the age of 12 could stand the stuff.” (Kauffman) Kauffman is hardly a fan of carob, but recalls the history of the legume that attempted to dupe America into believing it was cacao. It is sort of sweet, I suppose… but when my Mom swapped Hershey’s out with it to be “healthier” during her short run of going completely organic, carob was also wildly disappointing. My mother preferred carob-covered rice cakes in lieu of chocolate chip cookies for a time. They tasted like a cross between a date and shoe leather to me. Imagine the horror. At least my sister and I were not alone in the (albeit relatively short-lived) horror before the majority of adults admitted that carob was not for them either.

As an adult, I prefer whole-grains… the majority of the time (BLTs belong on white bread, never whole-wheat, am I right?). Although both Kauffman’s mom’s and my own mom’s diet regime would be a little too strict for me to follow these days, I definitely appreciate that I was not an adult before I tried bran for the first time. I even like bran, much to the dismay of my significant other. Kauffman and I were lucky enough to have parents who were willing to challenge the norm, and if nothing else, our digestive systems will be forever grateful for all of the extra fiber in our diets.

References:

Kauffman, Jonathan. Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat. William Morrow, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2019.

Kauffman, Jonathan. “How Carob Traumatized a Generation.” thenewyorker.com, The New Yorker, 2018, www.newyorker.com/culture/annals-of-gastronomy/how-carob-traumatized-a-generation

“What Is Carob?” Carobana, www.carobana.com.au/carob.html

The Gold Line
By: Maxine Miller

In the North Florida region, especially near the springs, we keep seeing these humans. Both men and women, even some older children, all shapes and sizes, and all ethnicities so we are unsure if they relate to one another just yet. While we are unsure of their relation, we all agree on their common fixation — the water. Their eyes light up, some start waving their hands and arms, and others make funny noises from their mouths when they are within eyeshot of it. The sight of the springs alone seems to excite them, weather permitting. In instances of poor weather, these groups seem depressed when they are forced indoors away from the elements.

There is no leader. It seems as though many people in this tribe pair off, perhaps for their physical ability? That remains to be seen. Some refuse partners, wanting to be alone. Although the majority of tribe pairs off, everyone seems protective of one another. The pairs of tribe members then look out for one another, making sure they are safe from harm during one of the oddest of the rituals occurring right in the various springs themselves.

Origin makes no difference to this tribe, only physical ability. There is a fair amount of work involved in this ritual, and it begins with all of the possessions they gather before making their way to the spring. For some, this can take hours, others only a few minutes. Giant steel cylinders are attached to a hose and there is a loud release of pressure every few minutes. The metal cylinders are placed in a small pool of water. Due to the specific nature of this process, one can deduce its importance to the group. For their ritual they wear black suits, tight and body skimming. Some suits are adorned with different colors as embellishment, for what reason we are unsure of. They carry giant pieces of steel on their backs, and the black suits they wear have tubes and lines running from several different places along the diaphragm. They cover their faces with glass wrapped in rubber, but only when underwater. They keep them resting above their eyes on their forehead when they are headed to the spring.

The ritual that we are by far the most taken by happens underneath the water. They don the black suits described above, and lug all of those pieces of equipment to the edge of the spring. Once in the water they are putting what appears like the end of a stethoscope in their mouths, with the rubber hose attaching to their bodies instead of an ear piece. After adjusting all of that equipment, they bounce a vertical fist off the top of their heads twice before disappearing underneath the water’s surface! The arm gesture must be some sort of signal, they do it and then look around for other’s recognition.

The tribe understands physics. Yes, they can all swim, but each individual has steel discs hidden in those black suits to help them stay underneath the water. They sort of meander down to a platform about fifteen feet down, where some of them hover horizontally, but one is standing on it. The tribe start a ferocious wave of hand signaling between them, they must be deciding where to go next. From the platform you can see one giant open area, with tunnels exiting from all different sides, similar to a spider with its legs. There are gold ropes everywhere. They line the different tunnels on each side. Many are marked with different color flags. The group makes their way down, and forms a single file line as they enter the one tunnel. Making an ‘o’ with their index finger and thumb, they all hold onto the gold rope line with their right hand, never once letting their hand leave that line. The color gold must represent something, because it is the only gold colored piece of equipment we have seen thus far. The amount of time, physical exertion and equipment needed to get to this gold line greatly highlight its significance to the members of the tribe.

Notes From A Young Black Chef
Reflection
By: Maxine Miller

“Did you hear about the rose that grew from the concrete?,” asked Tupac Shakur, in a song bearing the same name released in 1989 (Commonlit.org). In that second verse, Shakur was singing about kids who grew up in the projects and moved out as successful, professional adults.

Kwame Onwuachi is one of those roses.

Onwuachi grows up in the Bronx, the poorest borough of five in New York City where everything nefarious is accessible, and as a child he rides the line between troublemaker and good kid. Having a successful but abusive father, Onwuachi finds solace in the kitchen with his mother. The kitchen is a safe place, and a place to honor his heritage with traditional Creole and Nigerian recipes passed down from enslaved relatives. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Onwuachi is determined to make it in a largely white world, from the hats to the tablecloths to the majority of the back-of-the-house employees. Onwuachi is aware of the racial bias but never gives in to it. In Notes From A Young Black Chef, Onwuachi dishes on everything — his history, motivations, fond memories and brutal truths.

As a caucasian woman living in America, I’ll never know how it feels to be discriminated against for the color of my skin, even if I do know how it feels to be discriminated against for my gender and for my Jewish heritage. We are not forced to wear yellow stars anymore and Title IX gives women a little breathing room, but changing the color of your skin isn’t an option for many. Even Michael Jackson was never really “white.” It has been an eye-opening lesson to learn how much white supremacy has made my life considerably easier, when I have zero ties to slave ownership and am considered a minority myself. I have had to admit to myself and others that I too, had been systemically racist along the way without ever realizing it. I have never had to wear high-end designer sunglasses and shoes to fly under the radar of local police as Onuwuachi did, due to the color of my skin making me an automatic suspect of any crime committed in the area.

Just as Onuwuachi’s mother cooked with family recipes, so did my Mom. Her parents were German, and had settled in Western Pennsylvania making them “Pennsylvania Dutch.” My grandmother taught my mother how to bake many traditional German recipes, often by memory. Nearly everything they made contained walnuts. Back then, I did not know that walnut trees were common in Eastern Europe, which is why so many recipes included them. I just assumed all desserts had walnuts in them. When Onuwuachi recalls his childhood friends’ London broil dinner, the first bland meal he remembers in comparison to his mother’s recipes full of spices, I smiled. I remembered the first chocolate chip cookie I had that did not contain walnuts, and how foreign that tasted to me. Now I understand that my mother was teaching me about who I was by adding those walnuts to everything.

Both my mother and grandmother have passed on, but my fondest memories with them were always in the kitchen. They were happy there. Just like it was for Onuwuachi’s mom, I believe the kitchen was an escape from abusive husbands for them too.

I would be remiss if I did not speak of the inspiration drawn from reading Notes From a Young Black Chef. Knowing his path would be harder than others due to race and circumstance, Onuwuachi still pressed on. He was and is relentless in his pursuit of success, even after a dream restaurant closed after being open only two months. Giving up was never an option.

My adult life has not been easy. I have buried a parent, and two best friends. I was in an abusive relationship where I was viciously beaten. Just like Onuwuachi, I never gave up. Instead I got stronger. I overcame alcoholism and got a grip on my PTSD so I could go back to college. Like Onuwuachi, I did not have much in the way of help. I’m not angered by my circumstances, and neither is Onwuachi. We have both already achieved so much, and this is only the beginning.

“Proving nature’s laws wrong, it learned to walk without any feet. Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams, it learned to breathe fresh air. Long live the rose that grew from the concrete, when no one else really cared,” sang Shakur, finishing the verse from his 1989 hit single. To me, it is no coincidence that Onuwuachi was born the same year the song was released. Notes From A Young Black Chef reaffirmed in me that we can all be roses, concrete jungle or not.

Sources:

“The Rose That Grew from Concrete.” CommonLit, www.commonlit.org/texts/the-rose-that-grew-from-concrete.

Diller, Nathan. “Kwame Onwuachi Has Joined The Upcoming Season Of 'Top Chef'.”

DCist, WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio, 28 Sept. 2020, www.dcist.com/story/20/09/28/kwame-onwuachi-judge-top-chef

Onwuachi, Kwame. Notes From a Young Black Chef: a Memoir.
VINTAGE, 2020.

“Proven Recipes for Traditional Pennsylvania Dutch Foods.” Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking, www.gutenberg.org/files/26558/26558-h/26558-h.htm.

Due Amici: The Jewel in Ybor’s Crown
By: Maxine Miller

It’s no secret New Yorkers love Florida. Maybe it’s the sunshine, or the lower cost of living that entices folks from the Big Apple. Maybe their grandparents live nearby. Whatever the reason for the great expedition down the Eastern seaboard, New Yorkers just can’t get enough of the Sunshine state.

And while 1200 miles away isn’t exactly a birthright trip, moving nine states away from anywhere could leave anyone missing the familiar.

Ethnic food, the latest food craze, is food that members of the ethnicity consider the cuisine a part of their identity. Who says that has to be international?

True New-York-style pizza has specific criteria to meet to appease the discerning Big Apple transplant. Some of them even claim the distinctive taste of their pizza comes from the use of New York City tap water, making the authentic New York version impossible to duplicate entirely. (The Department of Sanitation uses many carcinogens in their cleaning process of NYC tap water. And then they suggest you use an at-home water filter before drinking. Just in case you were on the fence.)

Clearly the NYC tap water enthusiasts haven’t been to Due Amici.

Genti Bujaku, owner of Due Amici and native New Yorker himself, understands the pressure and doesn’t disappoint his harshest critics.

Simple walk-up counter service in the restaurant is met with attentive and friendly staff to deliver food and drinks to your table.

New Yorkers do not have to be foodies to know that pizza is judged on three elements: cheese, sauce, and crust.

The base for several of their pizzas and pasta dishes, Due Amici’s marinara sauce made with San Marzano tomatoes is so simple yet so perfect in that simplicity.

Tasting the sauce for the first time, you would have no idea the sauce is made in massive quantities in-house (not only to serve the restaurant, but also to jar and sell for home use)!

You’d think it just came off Nonna’s stove after simmering all day.

The pizza crust has a nice bite to it, and is NYC-foldable. No knife and fork required.

The cheese is creamy and salty, but never stringy.

Barely messy for a slice, I dare to say this pizza is even date-night appropriate!

Specialty pizza slice prices range from $3-$5. Varieties include not only the usual suspects like pepperoni and vegetable, but also fan favorites such as the Buffalo chicken or the Lasagna pizza.

That might sound high for a slice of pizza, but considering Due Amici’s exemplary flavors, you know the restaurant has to be using top-notch ingredients.

Due Amici beat out thousands of family-owned restaurants to be recognized by restaurants.com during their Plate of Thanks campaign in 2015, a 4.5/5 rating on grubhub.com, a 4 star rating on Yelp, and has a 4.6 star rating with 1465 reviews on Google.

New Yorkers will always demand authenticity and quality, regardless of where they live. And if they happen to be in the Ybor City area, they have until 3 AM every night to hit up Due Amici for a little taste of home.

Due Amici does subcontract out delivery services with various providers, but the pizzeria doesn’t have any delivery drivers on staff.

Why? They don’t need them.

The food is that highly sought after.

The name of the restaurant is Due Amici, “two friends” in Italian.

But with food like this, they should have named it Molti Amici, “many friends.”

The Legacy of Dr. Gilbert H. Leggett, D.D.S.
By: Maxine Miller

Dr. Gilbert H. Leggett was a beacon of hope on the South side of St. Petersburg.

In 2011, Leggett was named one of Pinellas County’s most influential five people in the city’s first 100 years by the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). He is on the same list as Mary R. Grizzle and George Gandy.

In 2014, the city of St. Petersburg unveiled the African American Heritage Trails to honor and preserve the history of South St. Pete. Notably missing from the trails is any mention of Dr. Leggett. This is curious after considering his many contributions.

Reflective and meticulous, with an unrelenting determination, “He [Leggett] was a quiet force to be reckoned with,” his grandson, Gilbert H. “Rickey” Leggett II, said in an interview with USFSP’s Neighborhood News Bureau (NNB).

Although he was a successful businessman with many accolades over his lifetime, Leggett never sought notoriety for his achievements. Instead, he sought a better life for his children and the community.

Growing up in Key West, Leggett learned how to tailor clothing by trade. Using those tailoring skills, he paid for dental school in Nashville, Tennessee before heading back down south to St. Pete in 1926.

He opened a dental office on Central Avenue. Leggett was known to work on anyone in need of dental services, whether they could afford to pay or not.

When the City of St. Pete announced its red-lining plans, Leggett was pushed out of his highly profitable dental office’s location to the current building in question on Ninth Avenue South.

Losing the location meant losing patients, but Leggett pressed on.

Although his new dental office would prove to be just as vital as his previous, Leggett’s attention turned to his community.

In 1944, after realizing the Black votes in Pinellas county did not contribute to election results, Leggett campaigned for the Black vote to be counted as well in the Democratic primary and won.

He also founded the St. Petersburg NonPartisan Voters League in an effort to bring people together by crossing party lines.

Leggett did everything he could to improve the quality of life for his community in a calculated and thoughtful manner, never succumbing to anger or hate.

He was inspired by the possibility of change.

He always had one eye on the children of the South side. He was instrumental in the development of the Melrose Park YMCA, making significant financial contributions.

Leggett considered the Y an essential addition to the neighborhood.

“We went every day to learn how to play sports,” Leggett II said.

As stated, the building known as the Leggett Building on Ninth Ave S still stands today “Setting is somewhat diminished though still perceptible, especially with the side of historic interpretation such as the African American Heritage Trail, which features a signboard in front of the subject property noting Dr. Leggett’s contributions,” According to a 2019 building’s historical designation application by the City of St. Pete.

As of Oct. 22, 2020, his former building on Ninth Avenue South has a trail marker for the Ambassador Club, but there's no mention of Leggett anywhere on the marker.

“The designation application for the Leggett Building was approved by the Community Planning and Preservation Commission on Nov. 12, 2019, and by City Council on Dec. 12, 2019,” said Laura Duvekot, a preservationist with the Urban Planning and Historic Preservation Division of St. Pete in an email to the NNB.

The City of St. Petersburg, however, says differently.

According to a report by the City of St. Pete about the property, “The request for Leggett’s office building to be designated as a landmark was denied in December of 2019. The decision was based on (among other things) the disrepair the building had fallen into, making the historical site’s current appearance too different from the original.”

Ms. Gwen Reese, President of the African American Heritage Association of St. Pete agreed. She felt that some signage was appropriate, but not the City’s responsibility because the current appearance of the building was so different from that of the original.

Leggett II found the oversight to be especially troubling. “I was told that if I could provide private family photos, an additional sign could be placed for my Granddad,” he said. Those photos exist but were dispersed among relatives, so it was hard for Leggett II to deliver on short notice. He feels that the small window of opportunity to honor his namesake is gone.

The question is, is it?

References:

“COMMUNITY PLANNING AND PRESERVATION COMMISSION REQUEST FOR LISTING IN THE ST. PETERSBURG REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES.” Www.stpete.org, Community Planning and Preservation Commission, 2019, www.stpete.org/committee%20packets/Community%20Planning%20and%20Preservation %20Commission/2019-11-12%20Staff%20Report%2019-90300004.pdf

“Hidden History: Remembering Dr. Leggett.” theweeklychallenger.com, The Weekly Challenger, 6 Feb. 2014, theweeklychallenger.com/hidden-history-dr-legget-pinellas-florida/

Hubbard, Jacqueline. “The History of Black American's Right to Vote.” theweeklychallenger.com, 3 Aug. 2018, theweeklychallenger.com/the-history-of-black-americans-right-to-vote/

Manning, Margie. “Deuces Developers Take the Wraps off Renovation, Introduce New Businesses.” St Pete Catalyst, 30 Aug. 2020, www.stpetecatalyst.com/deuces-developers take-the-wraps-off-renovation-introduce-new-businesses/

Moore, Waveney Ann. “St. Petersburg Couple Seeks Historic Status for Dentist's Building.” Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Bay Times, 4 Dec. 2019, www.tampabay.com/news/pinellas/2019/12/04/st-petersburg-couple-seeks-historic-status-for-office-building/

“Public Hearing Minutes.” Www.stpete.org, 12 Nov. 2019, www.stpete.org/committee%20packets/Community%20Planning%20and%20Preservation%20Commission/2019-11-12%20Minutes%20-%20Approved.pdf

“Tampa Bay Times from St. Petersburg, Florida on February 5, 1967 • 15.” Newspapers.com, Tampa Bay Times, www.newspapers.com/newspage/320302215/

“Tampa Bay Times from St. Petersburg, Florida on July 1, 1976 • 35.” Newspapers.com, Tampa Bay Times, www.newspapers.com/newspage/318675718/