Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.



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  • Discussing Rights and Wrongs

    • Posted on Sep 28, 2014 by Scott Cawelti

    Who’s right?  Who’s wrong? Why?   Big questions.

    This semester I’m co-teaching a UNI class where we discuss morality and ethics, meaning those questions and all they imply.   

    A small group of honors students joins Jerry Soneson and me for 75 minutes twice a week to discuss rights and wrongs.  We examine characters in various literary works and films who face moral choices.  In their stories, they struggle with moral choices, and we analyze their actions.  

     By discussing morality within nonfictional and fictional stories we learn about our own choices, and learn to make better decisions. That’s our theory, anyway.

    These are smart, sensitive, articulate, and engaged students, who speak their minds with varying degrees of passion and clarity.  The classes have mostly flown by, and each session has left me with a buzzing brain.  That’s the sign of a good discussion.

    We’ve discussed Socrates’ choice to take poison rather than escape his death sentence.  Then in Dead Poet’s Society, we struggled with the young actor’s suicide. We moved to Huck Finn’s decision to help his friend Jim escape slavery, even though Huck knows he’s breaking the law.  And we wondered about “Rita’s” choice to become university educated against her husband’s wishes in Educating Rita.  A divorce ensues. 

    The  more we analyze and discuss morality, the more challenging it becomes.  Here are a few issues we’ve confronted:

    • The reigning politicians in 4th century (B.C.) Greece condemn Socrates to death seemingly for teaching young people that no one really knows anything of importance with final certainty.  It’s an unjust sentence, but Socrates obeys it.  Should he?  He has a chance to escape but turns it down.  We admire him now, but many of Socrates’ friends thought he should escape.  Did he do the right thing? 
    • Huck Finn says, “All right, I’ll GO to hell!” meaning he knows he’s committing a crime and a sin by helping a fugitive slave, yet his friendship and loyalty to Jim are stronger than human and divine laws against helping slaves.  So how do we know the right thing path when our entire culture, including our religion, say it’s wrong, as Huck’s pre-civil war Southern culture told Huck?
    • Who’s responsible when someone kills themselves?  This came up throughout the discussion of Dead Poet’s Society, and the answers ranged from solely the self-killer to the repressive society and school combined with an authoritarian father.  Who’s right?  What’s behind a choice to take one’s own life?                                                                                        

    More such questions arise every class, with other hard dilemmas coming under scrutiny.  Does everything happen for a reason, as Dr. Pangloss asserts in Candide?  Or are we all subject to bouts of good and bad luck?   Stuff just happens?

    Is there an  absolute to which we should all turn for all moral questions? Or are answers to moral questions relative, such as murdering a killer to save innocent lives?  

    And a major question nags at me.   Is the examined life worth living if all you get are more questions?  Wouldn’t it be more fun to just enjoy life and leave moral dilemmas to philosophers who can’t help themselves?  Or as the poet says, “When ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.” 

    Though the course has raised all these issues and more, some common themes and ideas are emerging: 

    • Happiness isn’t found by seeking it; rather, it’s a by-product of a productive and engaged life, which involves awareness of  moral choices. 
    • Education, when it works, transforms students into seekers, people who know how to evaluate morality, and remain willing to change when needed.  You never stop examining your actions.  
    • Without this element of questioning, education is little more than busywork, filling in blanks and gaining a credential for a better job. 

    I submit, this class raises those questions which all forms of education should raise.  Wrestling with them transforms students into critical, engaged thinkers.

    So far, anyway. 










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  • Angeleita's Amazing Tomato Pie

    • Posted on Sep 14, 2014 by Scott Cawelti

    Angeleita’s Amazing Tomato Pie

    Yes, you can find other “tomato pie” recipes, and yes, they have some of the same ingredients, and yes, they’re all savory with no sugar. 

    But none match Angeleita’s tomato pie, seen above in its fully baked glory.   

    I know this because I’m married to her, and have seen her bake dozens of them over the years, changing the recipe to fit her unerring instinct for what tastes and textures work.

     She has perfected the tomato pie but only makes it when fresh tomatoes, locally grown, are available, usually our own.  For us it’s a late summer, early fall dish, and compliments other harvest meals nicely. 

    If you can’t find fresh, meaty, ripe tomatoes, don’t bother.     

    I’ve also seen plenty of friends swoon when they finally taste the exotic warm mix of basil, fresh sliced tomatoes, Vidalia onions, and three cheeses mixed with grapeseed mayonnaise.

    It takes a bit of time, since it involves two layers of four ingredients per layer.  But it’s more than worth it.

    Here’s what you’ll need:

    1.     A Pillsbury pie nine-inch crust, the kind that comes in a box that you unfold to fit into a quiche dish.  If you prefer to bake your own crust, great.   Angeleita says that using the store-bought crust saves time and the Pillsbury version works well.  Note: the “pie” needs to be deep enough to accommodate all these ingredients, so we use a deeper ceramic dish rather than a standard pie plate—technically a quiche dish, 9-10” across.     

    2.     Fresh basil leaves, enough to cover the crust twice, in two separate layers. 

    3.     Thinly sliced Vidalia (sweet) onions, enough to cover crust twice.

    4.     Thinly sliced fresh tomatoes, enough, etc.  NOTE:  Make sure that you drain the tomato slices for several minutes onto paper towels; you do not want a soggy tomato pie.  Also, salt and pepper each slice.    

    5.      Grapeseed mayonnaise. Do not use sweet versions of mayo; this will ruin the savory character of the pie.  “Vegenaise” makes the kind we prefer. 

    6.     Three kinds of cheese, all freshly grated.  We prefer (1) sharp white cheddar, (2) regular mozzarella (not the kind that comes in a moist ball) and (3) smoky gouda—about eight ounces each.  Experiment with jalapeno cheese, or whatever you prefer, except do not use cheeses that don’t melt well, such as feta (goat) or parmesan.   For freshness, grate immediately before using. 


     We decided to make two, since once you have all the ingredients, it isn't much trouble to double it.  However, all the instructions and ingredients are for one pie.  
    Now, here’s what you do:

     First, bake the pie shell and let it cool completely.  Do not put the basil leaves on a warm crust; they will turn black.  

    Second, place the first layer of basil leaves (washed and dried) in the bottom of the cool shell.


    Third, place a layer of dried, thinly sliced fresh tomato slices over the basil leaves.  

    Fourth, place a layer of thinly sliced Vidalia onion slices over the tomato slices.


    Fifth, place half of the grated cheeses mixed together over the onion slices.          Note:  NO mayo with this first layer.  


    Sixth, repeat the basil, tomato, and onion layers above, then for the final layer, dollop in about two tablespoons of the grapeseed mayonnaise with the second half of the three-cheese mix.  Spread the final cheese mix in chunks over the now-completed pie.  


    Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and bake until brown and bubbly—75 (or more) minutes, depending on your oven.  

    Remove from oven and let cool several minutes before slicing.  Here's how it should look: 

     If you choose to store the pie, let it cool completely, cover well with foil and/or parchment paper to refrigerate, and when ready to eat, heat it again until bubbly.

    This may take up to 45 minutes.  Cover lightly with foil when reheating so the cheese doesn’t burn; remove foil for ten minutes toward the end to make sure the reheated pie is bubbling hot. 

     If you follow this recipe carefully, I wouldn’t be surprised if you too swoon at having created the perfect tomato pie.  Let me know how it works, especially if you try variations with bacon, different cheeses, etc.   And of course do comment with any suggestions or corrections to this recipe.  

    Believe me, this is a dish that causes paroxysms of pleasure from everyone who tries it--especially hot, right out of the oven, with fresh ingredients.   



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