Sunday, January 29, 2012

Om Ali: Womanhood, Redefined

Over the past few days, some very talented and thoughtful bloggers have posted their thoughts about defining womanhood.  I've been giving their posts, and the topic, a lot of thought.  You should go read them first.

But I wanted to respond, too, and here's what I've come up with so far.

Today we went to the annual winter festival in a town not far from ours.  They have a host of fun events like ice carving and concerts and puppet shows, and the highlight (for us, anyway) is a parade that crosses the bridge between two states.  It's a pretty spectacular parade for the middle of the winter: there are girl scouts, of course, and people in classic cars, but there are also lots of bands, and performing arts groups, a guy on stilts, mummers, even a guy playing George Washington (because the river they're crossing is the Delaware).  And almost every group that passes has something to give away, whether it's candy (thrown at you from the floats), or caribeeners, or bubble pens, or magnetic clips, or flags.

While we were waiting for the parade, we happened to run into a family from I's school whom we see everywhere, it seems (they live around the corner from us and my husband plays poker with the father of the family, so it's not entirely strange that they circle through our lives so often), and even though they aren't in the same class or grade, I. sat and watched the parade with his schoolmate, giggling and waving his flag and pretty much ignoring us until the end, unless it was to hand over loot for us to hold.  N. watched the parade with some interest, too, "woooowww"ing at appropriate moments, and pretty much ignoring me.

It occurred to me, as I was watching my children watching the parade, that these little beings who depended on me for everything will need me less and less as time goes on, at least for the day-to-day things.  I won't need to entertain them any more, because they will want to entertain themselves with their peers.  I won't need to feed them snacks any more, because they will go rummaging through my cabinets.  Maybe they'll eventually do their own laundry and clean their rooms.  And then they'll go off to college, or out into the world, orbiting me with a larger and larger radius.

And yet, I will have spent the better part of my life defining myself in relation to them.  Which is not a bad thing, per se, but and interesting observation about the nature of womanhood.  Because despite what the Virginia Slims ads of my adolescence proclaimed, I feel like women are so often defined in relation to: in relation to their kids, in relation to their spouses, in relation to their parents.  Are we good daughters?  Good partners?  Good mothers?  Good career women (and, it should be added here, good career women who put others first?  Who use our careers to further others?  Because you know what they say about a woman furthering her own professional interests, don't you)?  These are the yardsticks that are used to measure women.  And if we fall short in any of those measures, or (heaven forbid) one of those measures can't be used at all, people are at a loss for what to do with us.

Mel asks: "when we write the definition for ourselves and state emphatically in our hearts what we do or don’t want to become, are we staying strong and following our dreams, or are we being sidetracked by self-doubt when others voice their opinions on our choices?  How can we tune out the judgment; which when we boil down judgment to its essence is simply other people trying to define our lives for us, to write the dictionary of our selves"?

As someone raised in a house with one parent whose first language was not English, I am particularly sensitive to the vagaries of translation.  I happened upon this recipe this week, trying to figure out how to use orange flower water (which has another story itself), and began to play with the words.

According to most websites, Om Ali literally translates to "Ali's Mother."  Woman in relation to.  But the "OM" that we chant at the beginning of yoga is made up of three Sanskrit letters, aa, au and ma which, when combined together, is believed to be the basic sound of the world, and to contain all other sounds.  It's said to be the sound of the universe vibrating, always moving and changing.  Chanting Aum is supposed to remind us about this movement of the universe, through the movement of our breath and the vibration we feel in our bodies.

And "Ali" means "exalted."

I don't know Arabic.  And perhaps I have no right to make my own translations.  And yes, there will always be families, and partners, and careers that help us to figure out our places in the universe.  But wouldn't it be interesting to redefine womanhood as the exalted movement of the universe?  As change itself?  As individual as we all really are?

Om Ali : Egyptian Bread Pudding
adapted liberally from here
The traditional way of making this dessert is with phyllo instead of bread.  I used bread because that's what I had.  It'll turn out a bit less solid with the pastry; don't be alarmed!

1/2 lb. day-old bread (or 6 sheets phyllo or puff pastry, baked/toasted; some people even use day-old croissants)
1/4 c. raisins
1/2 c. coarsely chopped nuts (I used roasted almonds)
1/2 c. sugar
1 T. orange blossom water (optional)
pinch of salt
4 c. milk
1/2 c. cream
ground cinnamon, for dusting on top

Preheat the oven to 425F. Lightly butter a 2-qt (2L) baking dish.

Trim the crusts from the bread into ½ inch (12mm) cubes or crush the phyllo into a bowl.  In the prepared baking dish, alternate layers of bread or phyllo with raisins and nuts.

In a medium pot, whisk together the sugar, salt, and orange blossom water until blended, then whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil. Pour the mixture over the bread, dust with the cinnamon.  (If you're using bread, set aside for 20 minutes to moisten well. Tilt the dish occasionally to keep the bread evenly covered with the liquid.)

Place the baking dish in a bigger pan and pour hot water into the pan to reach halfway up the sides of the dish. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Carefully remove the baking dish from the water bath and let cool completely on a wire rack. Serve warm or chilled.
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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Making More Heroes: Banana Oat Mini Muffins

Today I got one of those calls that every parent dreads.

"Mrs. Half Baked?"


"This is Miss T., from I's school.  Do you have a minute?  I wanted to talk with you about I.'s behavior lately."

It turns out that I. has been using potty talk in the classroom, and today, no less than four times, called another child names, presumably using said potty language.  At my son's school, they work a lot on teaching respect for others, and though the teachers always try to find out what caused the child to behave inappropriately (treating each child with respect, as well), name-calling to this extent crosses the line.  I.'s teacher was particularly concerned because he's generally been a good kid.  I thanked her for calling, and promised her we'd talk with him.

I have to say a word about the bowl here, which
was made by my neighbor, who even makes
his own clay ... beautiful, no?
We had a long chat with I. about what happened from his perspective, why he has been acting this way (he claims that another child was saying mean things to him first), how he would feel if others treated him this way, and what he might be able to do differently if he finds himself in the same situation again.  It was one of those times when I've felt like I'm having an out-of-body experience, wondering whether I'm actually making any sense to a five year old, and wondering who in the world thought that I might be qualified enough to raise a human being.  It's a complex thing, helping your child learn how to strike a balance between speaking up and walking away from a situation that is just not acceptable, fighting back and deciding not to retaliate, being kind to all others and protecting themselves.  And it's particularly difficult when what you've got to teach the lesson is the five-year-old's version of what transpired.

The other day, after the Costa Concordia disaster, I read an article about heroism that described the general lack of human decency aboard the ship as people tried to evacuate, lauded the noble acts of a few people, and wondered whether it is possible to get more people to behave like the few heroes on that ship did.  One of the researchers mentioned that it's possible to give children the tools to make change and "build up social influence" long before disaster strikes, to help them to feel empowered.  But to me, that's not a recipe for altrusim.  This researcher also found that heroes tend to live in urban areas, be more educated, and volunteer.  Though it's unlikely that we're ever going to move to an urban area, we hope to give our children a good education, and model volunteerism for them so that they feel like it's an important part of their lives, too.

And as I'm having a discussion about name-calling and potty language, I'm thinking about the Costa Concordia, hoping I can instill in my son (and daughter, eventually) enough respect for himself, for his fellow human beings, and for all living things, that even if he doesn't leap in front of a subway to save a stranger (actually, I hope he doesn't do that), at least he won't fight over life jackets, push aside the elderly, or launch a life boat before it's full.  Because those seeds, I suspect, are planted very early.

We sent these muffins to I.'s school last week for snack for his classroom (each family takes a turn at providing snack for the week).  They're packed with all kinds of things that are good for you, and they're not overly sweet (you could even sub in apple juice concentrate for some of the sugar, if you reduce the amount of milk a bit).  Because the littlest heroes need the right kind of fuel to learn the important lessons of kindergarten--the ones that last a lifetime.

What do you think?  Can heroism be taught?  What would you have done aboard to Costa Concordia?  Do you think you'd risk your life to save a stranger?

Banana Oat Mini Muffins

3/4 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. rolled or quick oats
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. packed light brown sugar
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 egg (or 1 T. flax meal w/ 3 T. water)
3/4 c. milk
1/3 c. applesauce (or canola or coconut oil)
1 t. vanilla extract
1 c. mashed bananas (about 3)

Preheat oven to 400, and prepare two mini muffin pans: line cups with paper liners or spray lightly with oil.

Combine flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, soda, and salt. Beat egg lightly in a large bowl and then stir in milk, applesauce (or oil), and vanilla.  Add mashed bananas and combine thoroughly.  Stir flour mixture into the banana mixture until just combined, making sure not to overmix it.

Divide the batter among cups of mini muffin pan.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.
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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Resolutions for Breakfast: Overnight Steel Cut Oats with Pears and Cranberries

So I still haven't posted resolutions for this year.  Keiko had the fabulous idea to set micro-challenges in six focus areas, mapping out something that she could do every day for a month.  In my experience, it's this kind of commitment, not the grand, sweeping resolutions, that actually promote changes in habits and--therefore--in lifestyle.  I still working on my list of micro-challenges, but so since I don't have one for January, I was hoping Keiko wouldn't mind if I borrowed hers ... because imitation is the highest form of flattery, right?

One of the characteristics of a successful resolution, I think, is that it's characterized not by deprivation, but contribution to your life.  Not "I'm going to lose 20 pounds," but "I'm going to be good to my body."  Because for each resolution like that, you can assign yourself a concrete task, like eating a healthy breakfast, for example.

Actually, quite a few people I know have resolved to eat breakfast this year.  I'm notoriously bad about this; though I feed my kids a healthy breakfast every morning, I tend to down a double latte made with almond milk and rationalize that I've eaten a handful of nuts and drunk a glass of milk.  Which is totally breakfast.  Um ... yeah.

The curious thing is that I really like breakfast foods.  I remember luxuriating over brunch when I lived in L.A., at the Kings Road Cafe or one of the places on Melrose whose names have since evaporated from my memory, feeling like I was epitomizing decadence.  There's something about breakfast that both fills you up and slows you down, putting you in a better frame of mind to face the day.

We let I. choose his own breakfast (from a few different options), and he's been eating oatmeal every morning of late, studded with dried cranberries, sprinkled with cinnamon, and kissed with maple syrup.  I happened to have some steel cut oats in my pantry that have been begging to be used for a while, and decided that it would be nice to wake up to warm oatmeal and snow, which was predicted for this weekend.

I read about toasting the oats years ago in a Cooks Illustrated article given to me by a colleague, and I've done it that way ever since.  It makes a world of difference, and it only takes a few minutes.  A few more minutes of preparation, and you've got yourself a week's worth of breakfasts that you can customize to your taste.  So that whether you're running out the door, or getting everyone else out the door, or both, you can still do something good for yourself.

Overnight Steel Cut Oats

1 T. butter
1 c. steel cut oats
2 1/2 c. milk
2 c. water
1 large pear (or apple), diced
handful of dried cranberries (apricots, raisins ... even candied ginger bits!)
1 t. cinnamon
3/4 t. cardamom
2 T. brown sugar or agave
dash salt
Nuts (optional)

Melt butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat until just bubbling.  Add your oats and stir to toast, until the oats begin to turn light golden brown and smell like popcorn.  Be careful not to overtoast them!  They will change color quickly.

Put oats, along with the rest of the ingredients (except nuts), into an oven safe bowl or casserole dish that will fit into your crockpot with the lid on.  Wad up a bit of aluminum foil to put on the bottom of your crockpot, to lift it the bowl a bit off the main crock; this will prevent your crockpot from cracking.   Fill the crock with water until the water level more or less matches the same height as the cooking liquid inside the bowl.  Congratulate yourself on your bain-marie.  (You've essentially turned your crockpot into a double boiler.)

Set the temperature to low, and cook for about seven hours.  When you wake up, your kitchen will smell wonderful, your oats will be ready, and you won't have to spend an entire day scrubbing burned oats off the side of your crock.

Add oats and whatever other toppings you might like.  If you're doing this in a regular double boiler instead of a crockpot, you'll want to cook the oats for about 1 1/2 hours over a double boiler.
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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Free Advice: Wave To Your Garbage Men (and Winter Vegetable Soup)

So you've heard about SOPA and PIPA.  And you've heard about the internet blackout today by many of the big sites protesting the passage of these bills.

Mel, over at Stirrup Queens, had an awesome idea (because she is full of awesome ideas, and full of awesome, in general): that instead of going dark in protest, she was going to sponsor a Free Advice Day, a positive alternative to the blackout, proving what good the internet CAN do when people are given the opportunity to put their heads together (which they should really do to brainstorm a better way to prevent piracy).

I realize that I give advice all the time on this blog.  I probably sound downright preachy sometimes.  Cook this, do yoga, love your neighbor.  Hopefully it doesn't come off sounding like I know anything about the answers to Life, the Universe, and Everything, because the best response I've got for that was 42, and I got that out of a book I read a while ago (I bet you've read it, too).

So, from someone who doesn't really have the answers to anything, here's my unique, never-printed-anywhere-else contribution to Free Advice Day:

Wave to your Garbage Men.

This is actually a corollary to a more comprehensive piece of advice, which is Appreciate the People Who are Underappreciated and Underpaid, and includes administrative assistants, clerks, the people at the DMV, the people working the counter at your local post office, your mail carrier ... you get the idea.  But let me elaborate.

On garbage day, my street usually looks like this:

Note the upturned garbage cans, tossed to the side of the road.  This is actually an unusually good day, too.  More often they're rolling around, halfway down the street, especially on a windy day like today.  In fact, about a year ago we invested in a turn-over-proof garbage can, because ours became so damaged from the weekly abuse.

Now before you start thinking I'm critiquing the garbage men (and yes, they are men, so that's what I'm going to call them) ... this is not a job I would want.  Maybe it pays well, but it's smelly.  It's thankless.  People heap all kinds of stuff at the curb that they are barely willing to touch themselves.  And in the wintertime, like this morning, it's damn cold.

But, dear readers, I submit to you, our garbage can, post-collection, without any manipulation:

Yes, it has been rolled back up our driveway.

I have no idea whether it's legal for our garbage men to do this, but they do, without fail, every week, starting about two months ago.  So, what's my secret?  To what do I owe this remarkable garbage can treatment?


Every Wednesday morning, on garbage day, I stand with my 11 month old daughter at the door, and I wave to them.  And she waves to them.  Because I taught her to wave to them.  And I stick my head out the door and say thank you.  And they honk the horn, and they wave back, and they smile, and they roll my garbage can, right side up, back up my driveway.

Think about it.  How many people do you think stop to wave to the garbage men?  How many people do you think remember that the garbage men exist?  When was the last time you waved at the garbage man?

Or, to put it another way: when was the last time you appreciated the people who do the crappy jobs that make your life easier?  (I'd love to show you Pete Souza's picture of President Obama fistpumping a janitor here, but I'm not sure SOPA would let me.  So I will offer a link instead: ... )

Now, it's unlikely that if everyone waves at the garbage men, they will begin to roll everyone's garbage cans up their driveway, because it takes more time to do that, and they have a route to finish.  But perhaps they wouldn't toss them down the street.  Besides, would it really kill us to be thankful?  Even if they're "just doing their job"?

Recipes are an interesting form of intellectual property, because as I understand it, they both are and are not protected.  While all of the pictures and thoughts are my own, a lot of the recipes I share here are ones I've taken from somewhere else and tweaked.  Sometimes I attribute, sometimes I'm less diligent about attributing.  I suspect that if SOPA passed, I could be shut down, that is, if anyone cared about my blog enough.

So while the internet is still a free place, here's one that was simmering on the stove as we watched the garbage truck drive by.  Make it for people you need to appreciate, and make the world a little warmer place to live.

Winter Vegetable Soup
adapted from the New Basics Cookbook

3 T. olive oil
3 T. unsalted butter2 c. diced leeks
1 1/2 c. diced onions
1 c. diced celery
1 1/2 t. dried tarragon
1/2 t. dried thyme
smoked sea salt and pepper to taste
5 c. stock
2 1/2 c. diced potatoes
10 oz. frozen spinach, thawed (or 1 lb. fresh, cut into chiffonade)

In large soup pot, heat olive oil and melt butter, then add leeks, onion and celery.  Cook over low heat until the vegetables are beginning to become transparent.  Add herbs and spices, and stir well.

Add stock and potatoes; simmer until tender but not mushy (about 15 minutes). Add half the spinach, simmer 1 minute.

Remove from heat. Puree half the soup (a stick blender doesn't work as well here because the spinach doesn't seem to puree, so I recommend using a blender) and return it to the pot.

Simmer the soup over low heat and add the remaining spinach and the cream, being careful not to boil. Heat through, adjust seasoning, and serve.
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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Truth, Grace, and Rice: Crockpot Risotto

The drive to my Thursday evening yoga class takes about twenty minutes along a mostly dimly lit country highway.  After a day of being with N., of sounds and bright colors, of introducing and repeating words and phrases and sentences, the darkness and stillness is both welcome and overwhelming.  I don't listen to the radio or to a CD.  I don't make any phone calls.  It's twenty minutes of my week when everything else is stripped away, and I'm left with nothing but my raw self.  I've always thought it's a good preparation for class, which starts with a mantra, and with setting intentions for our practice.

Last week my teacher gave us a mantra that she said she wouldn't translate for us.  She told us to think about the thing that we consider our highest truth, whatever that might be for us, and to imagine ourselves in the presence of that truth.  And if we didn't have something like that, to ask that it be revealed to us, that we be ready to receive something that we might call grace.  The mantra was this: om namo bhagavate narayani namo stutey.  The closest translation I could cobble together was "Om (the vibration of the universe), the Personality of Godhead, I offer my respectful obeisances unto you; Exposer of Consciousness, I bow to you."  I can sort of see why she didn't translate, because imagining yourself in the presence of your highest truth, asking for understanding, feels a lot more powerful and humbling than those slightly pompous sounding tongue-tripping words.

When I asked myself what my highest truth was, I found that I didn't have a quick and easy answer.  God?  Not exactly ... at least not in the way I usually think about God.  Love?  Not quite.  There was something even deeper, even more pervasive than either of those concepts, that I couldn't put my finger on.  Whatever it was, it saw me, without everything I usually hide behind, and it made me feel both small and honored at the same time.

After class, the mantra stuck with me.  My world is so full of noise, of all kinds, and though I love a lot of it, sometimes my ears and eyes are too open, and my heart is too closed.  Sometimes I need to walk away from the Facebook and Twitter streams and shut down my computer.  I need to stand in the presence of my highest truth.  Why do I resist this?

I love Mary Oliver's poetry for its starkness, for its ability to bring me back to what is nearly primal, to strip away all of the lenses that distort the world.  Her poems remind us that the ordinary world is suffused with extraordinary wonder, and she demands that we look at it, and leave ourselves open to grace.  As I stirred the last ingredients into risotto for dinner this week, I remembered this one, and wanted to share it with you.  As you are picking up your spoon, take a moment to strip away everything else that complicates your world, fill your hands with mud, and stand in the presence of your highest truth.


It grew in the black mud.
It grew under the tiger's orange paws.
Its stems thicker than candles, and as straight.
Its leaves like the feathers of egrets, but green.

The grains cresting, wanting to burst.
Oh, blood of the tiger.

I don't want you to just sit at the table.
I don't want you just to eat, and be content.
I want you to walk into the fields
Where the water is shining, and the rice has risen.
I want you to stand there, far from the white tablecloth.
I want you to fill your hands with mud, like a blessing.

--Mary Oliver

Crockpot Risotto
This doesn't come out quite as creamy as regular risotto, but it's a good stand-in when stirring simply isn't an option.  Adapted from A Year of Slow Cooking.

1/4 cup olive oil
2 shallots -- peeled and minced
1 1/4 cups Arborio rice -- uncooked
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon salt
3 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 to 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese -- preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano
whatever else you like in your risotto: steamed vegetables, cooked chicken, etc.

Heat the oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat and sauté the shallots until they have softened. Scrape them into the slow cooker.

Toss the rice in the insert to coat it with the oil. Stir in the wine, broth and salt. Cover and cook on HIGH for about 2 hours or until all the liquid is absorbed. Just before serving, stir in the cheese.  Then stir in anything else you might like to have in your risotto.
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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Stewing: Cioppino (with a vegan option)

I've been stewing in my own Fail today.  Does this ever happen to you?

A friend and former colleague had invited us for lunch.  Playing with N. as biscuits baked, I realized that I'd forgotten to bring a gift, even a small token.   I never go places without bringing something, and instantly felt awkward, especially given that it's her birthday this week.  My brain decided that since I was worrying anyway, I might as well worry that perhaps I hadn't brought enough to entertain N, who, after half an hour, was starting to look for trouble.

Lunch was lovely: an omelet, a salad with beets and white beans and baby greens, a few pieces of fruit, a French aperitif.  Good china.  Crystal.  Feeling strangely like this spread was too fancy for me (yes, I know, JeCaThRe, the good china is for using), I ate with N. on one leg, who was mostly content to nibble on melon and cheerios, until of course I let the melon slip into her mouth and had to fish it out so it wouldn't choke her.  Ever tried removing a piece of food from an infant's mouth?  Yeah, they don't like it.

Sitting there with my still-sobbing daughter and a beautiful salad and a brilliant former colleague who was trying to make polite conversation, all I could think was that my brain had turned to mush, and I no longer had anything interesting to say.  In my self-absorption, I completely forgot to even offer to help clean up.  I realized this later as I was putting on my shoes on the way out the door, and felt awful.

After lunch we went for a walk to a local knitting store my friend wanted to show me, and N. started to get antsy in the Ergo.  I let her out to stretch her legs.  Predictably, she wanted to eat yarn balls.  Well, what infant wouldn't?  They're soft and colorful.  When I took them away, she had a mini-tantrum.  As I scooped her back into the Ergo, all I could think was that this visit wasn't going as I'd hoped.  Why did I let her out of the carrier?  I worried whether I should be buying yarn.  And why couldn't I make intelligent conversation?

On the way back, wanting to give her something, I asked if I could buy my friend coffee.  She agreed, and we circled back around to a small local cafe.  I glanced at my watch, thinking about N's naptime, and decided we had time.  Then, after sitting down, I realized I hadn't nursed her.  Of course she was getting antsy.  The cafe was crowded, and N. was quickly distracted.  Then even more antsy.  I was sure my boob was hanging out for the world to ogle.  It was clear that I'd misjudged N's nap schedule; I asked if my friend minded getting our drinks to go; she graciously said of course not.

N. fell asleep in the Ergo on the way back to her house.  Which meant I had to wake her up to put her in the car seat.  Unhappy baby.  Oh, and did I mention I'd also forgotten to change her diaper?  We said our goodbyes and headed home, me wondering what my friend would think of the afternoon, feeling like I'd been pretty lackluster company.

I arrived home to hear a message on our answering machine from my friend, who had called after I left, not even knowing for sure that we were coming today, and felt even worse.

Then I opened my email to find a note from the new president of our fellowship, asking for my availability for a meeting to discuss merging the committee I chair with another more active one.  I've been worrying for a while that my leadership of this committee has been less than stellar, and today it was easy to imagine I should get the boot.  I forwarded the email to my committee members, and within minutes received one upset response, demanding to know why she was being notified about this for the first time via email.  She was right; I should have called everyone, even if the idea was just a germ of a possibility.  I rely too much on electronic communication.  I should boot myself from leadership.

The little voices of self-doubt who spout negative self-talk have sat on my shoulders for years.  They take small blunders and turn them into disasters.  They freeze time, turning minutes into years, and when time finally moves, they take to the stage, performing awkward and embarrassing moments over and over again so I won't forget.  They take up residence in my heart, and they thrive on my anxiety.  Being unintentionally unemployed has made me more vulnerable to their taunts.

In a letter to his daughter, Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote: "Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense."

You're right, Mr. Emerson.  The only kind of stew I should have around here is cioppino.

Easier said than done, though, isn't it?

(Cioppino is a traditional Italian fish stew.  You can vegetarian/veganize it, though, by adding tofu along with a piece of kombu (Japanese seaweed) instead of the seafood, and 1 heaping T. miso at the end.)

3-4 c. tomato juice
1/2 c. onion, chopped
1/2 c. celery, sliced thin
1 t. garlic powder
1/4 t. rosemary
1/4 t. marjoram
1/4 t. oregano
another 1/2 lb. fresh fish, boned (or tofu)
1 c. mushrooms, sliced
1/4 c. red wine
6 clams in shell
6 lg. shrimp in shell
1/2 lb. fish chunks, bite sized (or tofu)

Bring tomato juice to a summer.  Add onion, celery, spices, add the first 1/2 lb or fish (or tofu) and simmer for an hour.  Add the mushrooms, wine, and remainder of ingredients (and miso if doing the vegan version); simmer until seafood is cooked.

Top with fresh Parmesan, parsley, or lemon.
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Monday, January 9, 2012

Community, Yoga, and Vegan Gin and Tonic Cupcakes

(You're intrigued by the title of this post.  I know you are.)

This past week I got back to yoga class for the first time in weeks, and it felt really, really good.  Not only to practice, but to be back in that room, part of the community, the sangha, of my yoga studio.  Sure, I could practice on my own (and sometimes do).  I could watch yoga videos.  But I've come to the conclusion that my practice of yoga both is and is not about me, a lot like blogging, and quite honestly, a lot like everything in my life that is meaningful to me.

A friend of mine posted this video caricature about yogis to her facebook wall, and I've now watched it at least five times, laughing out loud every time.

I probably don't need to tell you that most yogis aren't really like that.  Shallow.  Self-centered.  In fact, every class at my studio ends with the chant Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu: may all beings everywhere be happy and free.  My teacher talks about practice as something that is for us, but also something that we do with an intention for something greater ... that our yoga touches everyone we touch, which again touches everyone they touch, and so on.  Because yoga is about allowing prana, the life force, to flow better through you, out into the world and back ... not about achieving some kind of smug satisfaction from turning yourself into a pretzel.

I remember when I was younger my old world Catholic father telling me that nuns did good for the world by praying, and thinking that being a nun must be a good gig (discounting the poverty and chastity bits, of course), since it looked to me like what they were doing was a pretty self-centered form of nothing.  But I think now that I see it a little bit differently: that the most inward-facing activities, the most mindful activities, can be the ones that affect us, and therefore everyone else, the most.  I suspect that's why some of us self-censor a bit in our blog writing: because we know that there is an audience out there, and if we're lucky enough to get comments, we begin to know who they are, and how our words become larger than ourselves.

My husband sent me a link to a NYTimes article about how yoga can wreck your body.  I told him that my teacher wasn't like the teachers in that article; that she doesn't push us to go deeper (though she does "adjust" our asanas).  In fact, what she says is that we know we're doing it right when we don't feel depleted after class, but renewed and rejuvinated.  To me, the community is part of what makes that renewal possible.

Today was my husband's birthday.   When I asked him what kind of a cake he'd like, he told me that he wanted a "custom" flavor: gin and tonic cupcakes (because gin and tonics are one of his favorite adult beverages, and because I've done adult beverage cupcakes before) ... and then he said that if it was too much trouble I shouldn't worry about it.  The thing is, when I bake, even late into the night, as I'm wont to do, I'm not depleted.  I'm renewed.  Because I know that what I'm doing is going to make other people happy.  It's why I used to bake for my classes, or for my colleagues.  Feeding people feeds me.  In both the literal, and the not-so-literal, sense.

Yoga doesn't exactly go with adult drinks, unless you're doing wheat grass shots, I guess.  But I'm posting these in the hopes that you'll know we're not lushes.

Lokah samasta sukinoh bhavantu, and happy birthday, S.

Gin and Tonic Cupcakes

1/4 c. tonic water, stirred vigorously for about a minute to get some of the fizz out
1 1/2 t. lime zest
a few drops of lime juice
1 c. unsweetened soy milk
1/4 c. vegetable oil
1 T. gin
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1 c. sugar
1 1/3 c. flour
1/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Fill a 12-cup muffin tin with liners. In a large bowl, mix together tonic water, lime juice, lime zest, soy milk, oil , gin, vanilla and sugar. Sift in flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Whisk until just combined. Divide evenly into muffin tins. Bake for 20-24 minutes, until a tester comes out clean and the cakes spring back when lightly pressed. Cool completely before frosting.

Gin and Tonic Frosting

1/2 c. butter (or equivalent), softened
2 T. vegan nonhydrogenated shortening
2 t. gin
2 t. tonic water
a few drops of lime juice
2+ cups confectioners' sugar

Cream together butter/nonhydrogenated shortening (depending on whether you want the frosting vegan or not).  Add confectioners' sugar.  Add lime juice, gin, and tonic.  Beat well and add in more sugar as needed to make frosting desired consistency. Spread or pipe on cupcakes.
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Thursday, January 5, 2012

(Not)Hibernation Day: Baked Potato Soup

On the day before winter break, my son's school celebrates "Hibernation Day."  All of the kids come in their PJs, and they learn about the ways in which animals hunker down for the winter.

Now that the holiday madness is over, I'm ready for hibernation, myself.  I've probably gained at least five pounds, and I'd like to just sleep for a long, long time, preferably under a mountain of blankets.

But that doesn't really work very well when you have an 11 month old who demands to be picked up and fed at 5:30 a.m., and a laundry machine and stove that continue working well into the night.

So yesterday I went to the YMCA to claim the free month membership that I won in a raffle back in October, and this morning, I dropped N. off at the Child Watch and went to kickboxing class.

The memory of the physical body is an amazing thing.  If you've ever danced, or done gymnastics, or done aerobics of any kind, you'll know what I'm talking about: even years later, you remember your form, you move without thinking.  I'd pulled out my old kickboxing wraps from before I was married, and as I pulled them onto my thumbs, I was impressed to discover that I still remembered how to wrap them.  And as the class began to bob and weave and punch and kick, I was brought right back to that sweaty basement room where I first took kickboxing classes, more than ten years ago.  It felt good to be sweating, even if I did spend a good chunk of the breaks in class peering into the Child Watch window to make sure N. hadn't melted down.  (Truth be told, it was probably as good for her as it was for me.)

This recipe is adapted from an old Cooking Light issue.  I stopped subscribing years ago because its name no longer seemed to reflect the calorie content of its recipes, but at least this one isn't quite as bad as the original you sometimes see around the web.  You could probably veganize it by using soy products, but I haven't tried that; let me know if you do with any success.  As it stands here, it's comfort food: the sort of thing you eat in your winter cave, hunkered down over a fire and watching the snow fall, but can also feel not too badly about when you're sweating away in the gym, fulfilling your New Years' resolutions.

Baked Potato Soup

4 baking potatoes (about 2 1/2 lbs.)
2/3 c. all-purpose flour
6 c. 2% milk
1 c. reduced-fat shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese, divided
1 t. salt
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper
1 c. nonfat greek yogurt
3/4 c. chopped green onions, divided
6 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled (optional)
cracked black pepper (optional)

Preheat oven to 400°.  Pierce potatoes with a fork; bake at 400° for 1 hour or until tender. Cool. Peel potatoes; coarsely mash.  (You can also microwave the potatoes; I did this and it worked out just fine.)

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Place flour in a large Dutch oven; gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk until blended. Cook over medium heat until thick and bubbly (about 8 minutes). Add mashed potatoes, 3/4 c. cheese, salt, and 1/2 t. pepper, stirring until cheese melts. Remove from heat.

Stir in greek yogurt and 1/2 c. onions. Cook over low heat 10 minutes or until thoroughly heated (do not boil). Ladle 1 1/2 c. soup into each of 8 bowls. Sprinkle each serving with 1 1/2 t. cheese, 1 1/2 t. green onions, and about 1 T. bacon. Garnish with cracked pepper, if desired.
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Monday, January 2, 2012

Handmade Sekret Exchange: A Guest Post!

Happy New Year, friends!  We're just back from a week of visits and visiting, and I look forward to catching up on blogs, but in the meantime, I have a wonderful guest post for Audrey's Holiday Handmade Sekret Exchange!  I signed up for the exchange thinking that it would be fun to send and get things in the mail from amother blogger, and then panicked when I started to think I couldn't possibly be good enough or crafty enough to send something to one of the fabulously creative people on the list (more about THAT in a post to come ... and about thinking differently in 2012).  Suzanne sent me a truly amazing package with a tea cozy, tea, and a lavender neck warmer, all of which I'm using today on a blustery day in my little world.  Thank you, Suzanne!! :)

Without further ado, here's Suzanne!

Hi! I'm Suzanne from bebehblog, my corner of the internet where I write about my two red-headed kids, our adventures, what I cook, what I knit, what I take pictures of and what I love. I've been online friends with Audrey for a really long time now, so I was excited to participate in her Holiday Handmade Sekret Exchange.
My crafty skills have definitely improved over the years, but stop just this side of my sewing machine. AND YET for some reason I decided a knitted gift just wasn't going to be enough. I happened to have a gorgeous bouquet of dried lavender a friend gave me from her garden and I've been looking for something to do with it. I saw this DIY heating pad floating around Pinterest and figured it couldn't be that hard.

HA. No wait, it actually is a super easy project. I am just incompetent when it comes to any kind of sewing, especially the part where I have to thread and set up my machine. After a few attempts, some frantic tweets and a few extremely bad words I finally got it to work.

It is definitely not the prettiest sewing project you've ever seen, but I'm proud of myself for finishing it.
To go with the heating pad, I knit up a quick cup coozie. I searched for a pattern online but couldn't find something easy enough and ended up making my own.

Easy Button Cup Coozie
Yarn & gauge doesn't really matter, just pick something washable in case of spills. I used a few yards of worsted I had sitting around and knit on size 9 needles.
Cast on 12 stitches
Knit for 5 rows (garter stitch)
Next row, knit 4, cast off 4, knit to the end of row
Next row, knit 4, cast on 4 (I used the backwards loop method), knit to end of row
You should have 12 stitches again
Continue knitting every row until it measures about 10 or 11 inches - remember the yarn stretches and you want it to be tight around your cup to avoid slipping.
Cast off and sew on a button about an inch from the end

I figured I'd cheat a little on the "handmade" part and throw n a box of tea to make it a relaxation kit.

I really hope J enjoyed her gifts - the pillow smelled fantastic even if it WAS shoddily made. And thanks again to Audrey for setting up this super fun exchange!
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