Category Archives: down time

Top Ten Posts of 2017!

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I usually post these lists during the winter holiday, but I’m feeling moderately celebratory today, so why not announce the top ten most read Words in Place posts published in 2017? From prize-winning students to accomplished alumni, from student projects to faculty research, we’ve covered it all. While the vast majority of our readers are located in Canada and the United States, we also reached people in 140 other countries. So what were they most likely to read? Did your favorite posts make the list? Scroll down to find out! As always, thank you to all who participated in the UWaterloo English blog in 2017.

10) Not another actuary: UW English alumni Dr. Kris Singh

9) Full STEAM ahead for English students

8) Four outstanding performance awards for English faculty

7) Alumna Marsilda Kapurani: Rhetoric, Art, and the Real Housewives

6) SNL, Trump, and more: Dr. Danielle Deveau

5) News from PhD grad Sarah Gibbons

4) What Professor Mom wants you to know, part 1

3) PhD student Kyle Gerber wins prize

2) Valedictorian Amy Zhou–one of ours!

1) On Confederate Monuments and American Literature


Harry Potter’s Butterbeer, a recipe for cold weather

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An hour after registration for winter courses opened, I had five emails from students trying to get into English 108P, our Harry Potter course. They were promptly dealt with, after pondering how much fun it would be to spend the holiday break re-reading the books in preparation for the course, perhaps accompanied by a glass of butterbeer. Since I’ve been sharing literary recipes for cold weather, why not try butterbeer? I’ve chosen the easiest non-alcoholic version from Babble, and an alcoholic version circa 1588, from The Good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin, courtesy of BBC History Magazine. (The image above is available at Etsy.)

Warm Butterbeer
4 tablespoons butterscotch sauce (Jaime used a recipe from SimplyRecipes)
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 bottles of cream soda

Divide butterscotch sauce between glasses. Top with cream. Heat cream soda until very warm and pour the cream and butterscotch.

Buttered beere
1,500ml (3 bottles) of good-quality ale
¼ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground nutmeg
200g demerara or other natural brown sugar
5 egg yolks
100g unsalted butter, chopped into small lumps

Pour the ale gently into a large saucepan and stir in the ginger, cloves and nutmeg. Bring slowly to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for a few minutes until the ale clears. While the ale is simmering, whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until the mixture is light and creamy. Remove the spiced ale from the hob, add the egg yolk and sugar mixture, and stir until all ingredients are well blended. Return to a low heat until the liquid starts to thicken, taking care not to overheat. Simmer for five minutes, add the chopped butter and heat until it has melted. Hand-whisk the liquid until it becomes frothy. Continue to heat for 10 minutes, then allow to cool to a drinkable temperature. Give the mixture another whisk, serve into a jug or small glasses (or tankards!) and drink while still warm.

Critical Media Lab and Handel’s “Messiah”

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Did you know UWaterloo English’s Critical Media Lab has been playing an important part in the Grand Philharmonic Choir’s performance of Handel’s “Messiah” this year? For months, the CML has been assisting in producing digital images of a hand-crafted and illuminated copy of the St. John’s Bible. The images will then be projected on the screen. According to Dr. Marcel O’Gorman, “For us, this project is about translating a complex literary text into a moving picture. It’s a dance between old and new media, big books and big data projectors.”

Handel’s Messiah Sat. Dec. 9, 7:30 pm
(Pre-concert talk at 6:30 pm)
Centre in the Square, Kitchener
Tickets: $30 to $82, with discounts for children, students and under-30s.
519-578-1570 or



Open House at the Critical Media Lab

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UWaterloo English’s Critical Media Lab is hosting an Open House on Friday, December 1, from 4pm – 7pm.
There will be demonstrations of new CFI-funded equipment such as a laser cutter, 3D printer, brain wave interface controller, and MYO armband developed by local startup Thalmic Labs. Come and join us in imagining how to critically deploy these instruments in a manner suitable to the arts and humanities. CML Lab Technician Matt Frazer will facilitate the demonstrations.

Three students from the English Department’s XDM MA programJulie Funk, Miraya Groot, and Caitlin Woodcock — will have their final projects on display in the lab, and they will be present to take questions and give demonstrations.

Students from ENGL 760: Things in Philosophy and Literature, co-taught by Dr. Kevin McGuirk and Dr. Marcel O’Gorman, will also be showcasing their “things.”

Finally, Professor Matt Borland, a CML collaborator from Systems Design Engineering, will invite us to play some of his experimental digital music instruments.

Refreshments will be served.

Hope to see you at the lab. 44 Gaukel Street, Kitchener, ON, adjacent to the Charles Street Bus Terminal.

Image: BasketCase by Caitlin Woodcock

Emily Dickinson’s Simple Gingerbread

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It appears I’m not the only one who feels that books and baking go hand-in-hand as the weather turns. As pumpkin spice is supplanted by gingerbread flavouring about now, it seems like the perfect moment to introduce Emily Dickinson’s very simple gingerbread recipe. In related literary news, have you seen this recently unearthed daguerreotype? It is believed to be of an adult Dickinson, as opposed to the teenager with whom we are more familiar.

1 quart flour (about 4.65 cups)
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup cream
1 tablespoon ginger
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon salt
Make up with molasses (a little more than a cup is about right)

Cream the butter and mix with lightly whipped cream. Sift dry ingredients together and combine with the other ingredients. The dough is stiff and needs to be pressed into whatever pan you choose. A round or small square pan is suitable. Bake at 350 degrees for 20–25 minutes.

For more on the image, see A New Daguerreotype.

Emily Dickinson’s Fruitcake: A Recipe

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This is a literary post of sorts, one inspired by a conversation with my graduate students, who felt this was exactly what they wanted to see on the blog as the weather cooled, and the December break neared. Many don’t know that Emily Dickinson liked to bake–famously she would lower cakes out of her window to eager children below. In honour of the season, I decided to share her black fruitcake recipe. My thanks to Margery K. Eagan of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., who updated the instructions, ingredients, and measurements to suit a contemporary kitchen.


Have a bottle of brandy on hand—you’ll need 1/2 c. to pour over fruit plus approx. 1 cup more for cake-soaking syrup. Two large cardboard cake boards will be helpful if you are making a large cake.

The day before baking the cake, if possible, prepare brandy syrup: In a 2 qt. saucepan over medium heat, mix 3 c. sugar with 2 c. water until sugar dissolves. Let cool and add brandy (approx. 1 cup) or to taste. The brandy can be a Cognac-type by itself, or a combination of flavors including amaretto or hazelnut liqueur. Your taste buds can guide you here. (See notes about storing any leftover syrup.)

1 3/4 lbs. raisins
8 oz. currants
8 oz. dried apricots, cut in 1/2″ pieces (size of raisins)
8 oz. pitted prunes, cut in 1/2″ pieces
2 oz. dried pears, cut in 1/2″ pieces
4 oz. pitted dates cut in 1/2″ pieces

In a large bowl, toss fruit with 1/2 c. brandy. Let stand overnight, preferably, or an hour, or just while you get the other ingredients together.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Butter a 13″ X 18″ X 2 1/2″ pan and line with wax paper or parchment: butter paper or parchment. (See notes about using different pans–you don’t have to make just one cake.)

1 1/2 lbs. soft butter (salted or unsalted: if salted, don’t add salt to dry ingredients)
1 1/2 lbs. granulated sugar
13 eggs at room temperature
3/4 c. molasses
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Sift together:
1 1/2 lbs. unbleached flour
4 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt (or none if using salted butter)
1 1/4 tsp. each cinnamon, cloves & mace
1 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cardamom
1/4 tsp. ginger

In a very large bowl, cream the butter and gradually add the sugar, keeping mixture light. Add eggs 3 at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping sides of bowl several times to keep mixture uniform. Add vanilla. With mixer going, pour in molasses. Mixture might look broken, but that’s ok. On low speed, gradually add sifted dry ingredients, mixing just until flour is incorporated. Place fruit on top of batter, leaving any liquid at the bottom of fruit in the bowl. (Save the liquid and add to the brandy syrup.) Fold fruit into batter, taking care not to overmix. (Note: with this much batter, make sure your spatula is sturdy; otherwise, your hands are your best folding tools.)

Turn batter into pan, smooth the top, and bake for at least one hour, or until the middle top of cake is firm to the touch. The cake will be very dark on top and slightly sunken.

Let cake cool in pan. (Note: if you want to present the cake with a smooth top, level the top of the cake with a serrated knife. It will be inverted later, making the bottom the top.) Invert cake onto large wax paper-covered board and back again onto another board. The paper should prevent the top of the cake from sticking to the board. With a skewer, poke several holes through the cake at 1″ intervals. Begin brushing/tapping the brandy-sugar syrup evenly over the cake, allowing a few minutes for the syrup to soak in before brushing on more. If the cake seems moist enough, it may not be necessary to use all the syrup.

Wrap cake well in plastic wrap (or slide it into a large clean plastic bag) and allow to stand for at least 1 hour—or, preferably, a day or two, in a cool place. Slide cake carefully onto a large serving platter. (Or, for a smooth top: invert onto platter.) Keep the cake covered until presentation time. Fresh greens and flowers around the cake add a festive touch.

Notes This recipe makes about 20 cups of batter. Since an average loaf pan uses between 4 and 5 cups of batter, this recipe would make about 4 large loaf cakes. In 9″ round pans: probably 5 or 6 layers. Or, in a 12 x 2″ round, perhaps 2 layers. You get the idea, though: you can bake the batter in any size and shape. Butter and paper the pans, and fill them about 2/3 full for proper baking.

If freezing cakes: Remove cooled cakes from pans and wrap well. After thawing, and at least 1 hour before serving, brush/soak with brandy syrup.

Leftover syrup: Tightly-covered, the syrup will keep, refrigerated, for several weeks. If you’ve made small cakes and have frozen them, use the syrup as you need it.

Extra! Extra! Fall newsletter is here

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The UWaterloo English department Fall Newsletter is now available, featuring an update from our chair featuring exciting updates about the department, as well as information on faculty awards, publications, and events.