Friday, August 7, 2020

Athena's Breastplate, and Cauliflower and Potato Masala

My daughter has already started making her Halloween costume.

I'm actually pretty happy about this, on the one hand, because she's been bored out of her little skull these past few weeks, quarantining at home all summer with little to no regular contact with other humans her size (besides a week here and there of half-day-masked-and-socially-distanced-dance-camp with two other girls in attendance). And there's a pumpkin growing in our garden, so it seems weirdly apropos. Maybe we'll carve it up and celebrate early.

Because on the other hand, who even knows if there will be Halloween this year? Things are changing at the speed of light, and schools that were opening are now not opening, and wandering around a crowded street during a pandemic taking candy from neighbors and SO MUCH TOUCHING of things other people have touched ... well, that seems ... unwise.

I hate to disappoint my daughter by telling her this. She's had so much disappointment these past few months, which she has handled mostly with grace, but also by sheltering in a little closer, by asking me to lie there next to her in bed while she goes to sleep, by patting me gently on the arm as she walks by, knowing that I'm stressed, too, asking me when it will all be over.

And there's something about this particular choice of costume that I don't want to discourage. My daughter has been deep into Greek mythology this summer, and has learned more about it than I ever knew, for sure. She loves the whole pantheon, is enthralled by the stories (which she can retell in exquisite detail), and has chosen Athena as her alter ego: the goddess of war, strategy, wisdom, crafting. It's not a bad choice for someone who is as active and creative and stubborn and determined as she is.

She's going to need a breastplate and sword for the fall.

And so might we all, right? I've been drinking Emergen-C and turmeric tea with ginger and taking Vitamin D like my life depends on it, because I worry that it very well might (anyone else in the room start experiencing all coughs and aches with a sense of panic? Yeah, me, too). I am deeply anxious about our kids going back to school, even though I know that they really want to be there and that our district has such carefully crafted plans to avoid and contain an outbreak. I worry about what will happen to families that can't afford to juggle the hybrid model or be remote when the time inevitably comes to do that, if their school district isn't already doing it in September. I worry about the families who are enduring ongoing trauma as a result of this situation. And in my darkest hours, I worry about the very real possibility of loss, which is always there, haunting you, which never really goes away after you've lost a child, no matter what they say about kids not getting as sick as adults do.

I am so very blessed to have the breastplates that I do have: a house, a job that will continue to pay and allow me to work remotely, caring colleagues who are friends, friends who are not colleagues. But we are not, like the Greek gods, immortal.

What are your breastplates? How are you taking care of yourself?

Cauliflower and Potato Masala
because we might as well eat turmeric and ginger, just in case.

1 c. potato, peeled and cubed
1 c. cauliflower, blanched
1 T. oil
1/2 t. mustard seeds
1/2 t. cumin seeds
1 t. chana dal
1 t. urad dal
1 pinch asafoetida (optional)
1 t. ginger (grated or paste)
1 cup onions, thinly sliced
1 sprig curry leaves
2 green chilies, chopped or sliced
1/4 t. turmeric
1/2 to 3/4 t. salt (adjust to taste)
2 T. cilantro, finely chopped

Steam cauliflower and potatoes until not quite cooked. Heat oil in a pan and add the mustard seed, cumin seed, and dals. When the dal turns golden, add asafeotida. 

Add the grated ginger and saute until fragrant. Add onions, chiles, and curry leaves, and saute until the onions are slightly golden.

Add the potatoes and cauliflower along with the turmeric and salt. Add 2 T. water, and saute well for about 2 minutes. Add cilantro and serve, in a dosa, with naan, with dal, with rice, or just as a side!

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Sunday, August 2, 2020

Vacation All I Ever Wanted: Cannellini Bean Salad

Ages ago, before children, S. and I biked the P'tit Train du Nord, a rail trail in the Laurentians in Quebec. I can't remember how we happened across the trail any more -- it was probably something S. found -- but it was a unique experience, and one of two times I've ever done a multi-day bike trip. When we did it, you could make arrangements with bed and breakfasts along the way, and a company would transport your luggage for you, so all you really had to do was keep pumping (it was entirely up hill) and enjoy the scenery.

It was along that trail that I ate one of the more memorable meals of my life, in a little bed and breakfast (I think this was it) in the village of Nomininigue. The meal wasn't elaborate -- in fact, the beauty of it was its simplicity. There was celeriac soup, and vegetables fresh from the garden, and a bean salad -- chickpeas, if memory serves -- that made me wonder if I'd ever really eaten chick peas before. I remember the air being crisp and clear, with perhaps a hint of sharp wood smoke and pine. I marveled at how the bounty on my plate could all come from the garden out back, how our host (Guillaume) managed to turn next to nothing into a feast.

Our vacation plans have been thwarted multiple times over this year. First we canceled our trip abroad back in April, seeing the inevitable beginning to unfold. Then we canceled all of the kids' camps, with the exception of a two week part day dance camp for N, which kept her from climbing the walls, at least briefly. All the while we've both been working. And finally, when I thought I would catch a break next week and be able to take a long weekend away from my computer, my boss scheduled two important meetings for the days I'd just asked to take off. To say that I was upset about losing my most recent attempt at some mental health time would be an understatement.

But this weekend we somehow managed to slow down, just for a little while, and it reminded me of the magical night in Nomininigue, the way we stopped to watch the blue sky and the clouds, the things we marveled at growing in our own garden (including a full fledged pumpkin), a half an hour of wading in a creek when we'd been looking for a way to cool off for weeks. And at the end of the day on Saturday, there were heirloom tomatoes still warm from the garden, and home grown cucumbers, and a simply herby bean salad. And just like that, a weekend felt just a little bit like a vacation.

Here's wishing you some small peace in your little corner of a quarantined world.

Cannellini Bean Salad
h/t to Yotam Ottolenghi, whose recipe in Plenty More was the inspiration for this salad. He uses quinoa, which S. is allergic to (and he couldn't find any in the store), but double the beans worked out just fine.

2/3 c. flat leaf parsley leaves, finely shredded
2/3 c. mint leaves, finely shredded
3 to 5 green onions, green and white parts only, thinly sliced
2 cans cannellini beans, drained
1 large lemon, skin and seeds removed, flesh finely chopped
1/2 t. allspice
1/4 c. olive oil
salt and pepper

Add the parsley, mint, onion, beans, lemon, allspice olive oil, 3/4 teaspoon salt and some black pepper to a bowl. Stir together and serve. 

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Saturday, August 1, 2020

Pools, Being Neighborly, and Tres Leches Cake

I am six, maybe seven years old. I'm wearing a purple bathing suit and a fuzzy white beach cover up. My legs are hot and sweaty, sticking to the vinyl in my father's tank-like Mercedez Benz, the only car he would buy until late in his life, even if he did have to save up for years to get them third hand. My head aches. It's Sunday, a languid New Jersey summer day, the sun blinding me as it darts in and out of the trees. I'm imagining how good the cool water will feel.

We never belonged to a pool when I was growing up. I was never sure why, because I felt like everyone else in town did, and it wasn't like my parents were working during the summer and couldn't take us, since they were both teachers. Maybe it was too expensive. I longed for access to the local pool, though, for late evenings with the ice cream truck and sparklers and the company of kids my age, who all seemed to disappear there during the day. Luckily, occasionally the weekends were punctuated by a trip to my parents' friends' house in Montvale, where we would go swimming.

I could never tell whether we'd invited ourselves over or not, because I always felt welcome there. It didn't matter whether they had other people over. We'd arrive, there would be hugs and handshakes, and Leo (that was my father's friend's name) would look me up and down, squint, and tell me how much I'd grown since last time. He would know; at six feet, his ample hairy chest and stomach spilled over his red swimming trunks. He was a large man, in every sense of the word.

For me, summer will always be associated with the crystalline waters of Leo and Mimi's pool. I wasn't a good swimmer, but I would bob up and down, play with their pool toys, and then, lips blue, I'd finally climb out to dry off, and, while my parents looked on disapprovingly, they'd encourage me ("honey," they'd say) to go to the poolhouse refrigerator where there was always cherry soda and leftover vanilla cake covered in whipped cream frosting, likely left over from one of their famous parties, to which hundreds of people would be invited, covering every inch of their ample lawn.

I think about Leo's pool a lot these days, in this long dry pandemic summer. Usually my kids go to day camp where there is some kind of pool access, and in years past we've had some friends who owned a pool and would invite us over on the weekends sometimes, like Leo did, and we'd go bearing chips and sangria and cake, grateful both for good company and a chance to cool off. But this summer, there's none of that. Just endless days of stepping outside into a sauna or being stuck inside while I'm working long days. I know they--and I--should be grateful for our air conditioning.

Our neighbors down the street have a pool that my son and I can see when we go walking at night, and I will confess that I've become a little obsessed. Sometimes they're using it, but often they're not. This baffles me. I fantasize about sneaking in through the back gate that opens onto our street and leaving twenty bucks on the umbrella table for an hour of submerging myself in the clear blue water. Sometimes I wonder if I've said something to make them hate me so much that I'd never be invited there anyway. Sometimes they're there with other neighbors with whom we're friendly, not socially distancing, and they all wave to us, almost like we're waving to each other from different planets. I find myself--unreasonably--hating them for this. I think to myself that if had a pool, I'd make sure the neighbors felt welcome there, whether I was using it or not, even--especially--in the middle of a pandemic.

S. had heard enough of my complaining about our lack of pool the other day, and found, which is essentially, it seems, like Air B&B for pools. People can put their pool up for use by other people when they're not using it, and make a few bucks. We haven't tried it yet, though this seems pretty brilliant, even if it's a little weird to be swimming in water where people you don't know were just swimming hours ago. I mean, the chlorine kills anything anyway, right? Right?

Still, it's not the same as the magical pool of my childhood summers, the open welcome to share the water with friends, the refrigerator perpetually full of soda and cake.

Do you have a pool? Do you have a friend with a pool? Would you lend yours to a stranger for an hour, for a price?


Tres Leches Cake

With gratitude to Brown Eyed Baker for the original. While this isn't exactly what they had in the poolside refrigerator in those lovely days of shared poolside snacks, it's about as close as I'd come.

For the Cake
1½ cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
For the Three-Milk Glaze
12 ounce can evaporated milk
14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup half-and-half
For the Whipped Cream
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

Beat the butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy, about 1 minute. Decrease the speed to low and with the mixer still running, gradually add the sugar over 1 minute. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl, if necessary. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and mix to thoroughly combine. Add the vanilla extract and mix to combine. Add the flour mixture to the batter in 3 batches and mix just until combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and spread into an even layer. (This will appear to be a very small amount of batter.)

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cake is lightly golden and reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees F. Remove the cake to a cooling rack and allow to cool for 30 minutes. Poke the top of the cake all over with a skewer or fork. Allow the cake to cool completely and then prepare the glaze.

In a 4-cup measuring cup, whisk together the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and the half-and-half. Once combined, slowly pour the glaze evenly over the cake. Refrigerate the cake for at least four hours, or overnight.

Using an electric mixer, whisk together the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla on low speed until stiff peaks form.

Increase to medium speed and whip until thick. Spread the topping over the cake and allow to chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Leftover cake should be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 day.
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Sunday, July 26, 2020

Ingenuity, Zoom Faux Pas, and Chicken Lettuce Wraps

My daughter was bored.

To her credit, she is has been a real trooper this summer. After the stay-at-home order was imposed in NJ she has seen almost no friends in person since March (except at a playdate in the park wearing a mask and staying 6 feet apart), she's had very little camp (except for two half-day weeks of dance camp, with a mask, dancing outside, six feet apart), and both of her parents are still working full time, albeit remotely. She reads incessantly, she cooks every once in a while, and she plays with her dolls, but as someone who thrives on social interaction, she's been starved.

And it's not like the boring summers of our own youth, that still involved friends and swimming holes and trips to the library ... this is really just boring.

So when she decided that she was going to start making clothes for her Barbie dolls out of balloons, we were fully supportive. My husband even ordered balloons. Anything to keep her busy.

You can imagine what these clothes look like.

Spandex. Very, very revealing spandex.

This has been making us all laugh, and so when I was talking with a friend on a zoom call over lunch the other day, I thought I'd share it as a parting image. So I'm describing this, and we're both laughing, and she says "Streetwalker Barbie!" and we're both STILL laughing when I realize that ... my student appointment has just joined us from London.

Because I forgot to re-enable the waiting room.

(We both stop laughing, wide-eyed, and she disappears hastily from my screen while I try to recover myself in time to have a serious advising conversation.)

What's your most embarrassing zoom moment?

Here's something my daughter made, NOT using balloons, based on a recipe that her principal made and shared via the morning video announcements back when she was in school. He is by far the coolest principal I know.

Mr. Friedrich’s Lettuce Wraps

4 t. extra virgin olive oil
1 c.chopped yellow onion (1 medium)
2 carrots, shredded
1 t. grated fresh ginger
2/3 c. sweet chili sauce
¼ c. low sodium soy sauce
8 cloves garlic minced
Big spoonful peanut butter
1 head lettuce
1 c. finely chopped cabbage
1 lb chopped boneless skinless chicken breast

Heat the pan, add the oil. Add the chicken, garlic and onion and stir until cooked. Add salt and pepper, stir. Add the ginger, carrots, and cabbage and keep stirring to cook.

In a separate bowl combine sweet chili sauce with peanut butter, soy sauce. Stir until smooth. Add the sauce to the pan, stir to combine. Then add the cilantro.Spoon into lettuce and enjoy!

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Friday, July 3, 2020

Independence Day, Freedom, and Koshari

I am a cisgender white woman who had a brown father with a Hispanic (and I use that word intentionally, because he was not from Latin America) last name, which became my last name. I grew up in a largely white suburban neighborhood in a house on a corner property where my window was the closest to the street for drive-by egg-throwing, teenagers—students of my mother’s—running away, laughing, shouting “Spic.” One of my most vivid memories from childhood is waking up hours after going to bed to a loud crackling sound, and realizing the bushes in front of our house had been set on fire, the flames leaping up towards my window. I am a cisgender white woman who grew up understanding that difference could be dangerous, and knowing I would enjoy the privilege of being white.

Maybe partly because of those formative years, I have spent the past 20 years of my career, getting on close to half my life, in higher education work, where I have tried to listen to and amplify the voices of less-heard people. I am not a constitutional law scholar, and I didn't take many politics classes, so perhaps my education is not as broad as it could be. I am a humanist, a reader and teller of stories. I studied with giants in the world of literary criticism like Cheryl Wall and Val Smith, Black women who cracked open the literary canon. My heroes of educational philosophy are people like bell hooks and Paulo Freire and Maxine Greene and John Dewey. I learned, through my undergraduate and graduate study, how the stories that we all grew up memorizing, the lenses we were given to look at the world, often did not represent the stories of people who had less power.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a resurgence of the outcry to defend free speech at our university. As some of our leaders have decided to break from the shibboleths of the past, unfortunately giving little credit to the protests of students from a few years ago, these students are clamoring for more due process, for the University to reconsider and do something different than other institutions who are rethinking and discarding their own historical giants.

Some students took to our student-owned listservs (intended for advertising student events and locating lost items or sharing rides) to express their opinions, to publish what amounted to political treatises. Others took up the mantle and offered counterarguments, trying to educate their peers about systemic racism as they feel they’ve been called to do time and again, without any official backing by the university, who typically stands neutral. A few responded to the messages in defeat, saying how much they hate it here. After much consideration, we finally decided to intervene, emailing our community to remind people of their responsibility to make our community a place where everyone feels welcome; without that element, the most vulnerable and marginalized people will leave the dialogue, and we’ll find ourselves right back where we started.

We were lambasted for our email, and informed that we’d created a “chilling effect” on speech.

I don't ever claim to have everything right, and I've been thinking about our decision to write what we did over and over again, second-guessing myself and then finding reasons to justify what we did. It seems fitting to reflect on on all of this going into the weekend when much of our nation will celebrate, in whatever limited way we can during a global pandemic that demands our attention to public health, our Independence Day.

I believe that with power comes responsibility. And because of that, I believe that free speech should be couched in humility. I believe that free speech should be accompanied by a generous helping of empathy. And I believe that our free speech should come with the attendant curiosity about the human experience that makes for rich and fruitful dialogue that is the hallmark of a healthy liberal arts institution and a healthy democracy. I don't know; maybe what I believe is flat-out wrong, and maybe that makes free speech less "free."

I believe that we should appeal to our right to free speech with appreciation for the fact that there are some who enter that arena with much less power, carrying hundreds of years of generational trauma. No matter what we might think, no matter how it might look, the table is not yet round, and not everyone gets to sit up close. Witness, for example, the differential treatment of largely white protestors with weapons in front of statehouses, arguing about their rights to open bars and salons, and diverse but largely Black and non-white unarmed protestors who have been physically abused and tear-gassed at Black Lives Matter protests.

I believe that our free speech comes with responsibility for deep listening. Otherwise, it’s just grandstanding. And I happen to think that kind of speech is best served chilled.

My education is probably biased in a different way. But if free speech comes without the other stuff—without humility, empathy, and curiosity (and in our national case, without appreciation of intergenerational trauma) and without all of the things that make us such a unique community—I'm less sure it's worth celebrating after all.

This morning, I happened across Frederick Douglass's speech, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" Written nearly 200 years ago, it's a poignant reminder of who has the rights we so cherish, and how far we still have to go. May it not be too late to make sure that other folks are free.

I was originally going to post this dish right around the time the protests started in the wake of George Floyd's murder, but then decided that as a white woman, I didn't need to take up more space and talk about my experience of protests. This dish is a dish of colonization, a dish that the British brought to Egypt, since neither rice nor pasta is native to those places, but that Egyptians made their own (and is now the national dish). My daughter learned about it during remote schooling this year, when she learned about a few non-Western cultures, and asked that we make it. As we ate it, she talked about Islamic traditions of charity, and recounted a story about children who took up a collection for their bus driver. I love all of its layers, and the colors, and the ways that the flavors blend together, just as I love the empathy, the curiosity, and humility my daughter brings to her education.


Spice mix:
1 T. cumin
1 t. paprika
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/2 T. coriander
1 t. lal mirch (or a sprinkle of cayenne)
1 t. black pepper

Tomato sauce:
14.5 oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes or 4-5 blanched tomatoes
2 T. olive oil
1 med onion, chopped
1 t. garlic, crushed
1/2 t. salt
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
1 T. vinegar
1 t. lal mirch (or a sprinkle of crushed red pepper)
3-4 T. water

3 T. olive oil
1/2 c. basmati rice
2 c. water
1 t. salt

1 1/2 c. black beluga lentils, soaked and boiled until done
1 c. boiled elbow macaroni
15 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 onion, sliced thinly and fried in a bit of oil (see below)

In a small bowl, mix cumin, paprika, nutmeg, coriander, red chili powder, black pepper; blend well and set aside.

Add tomatoes to a cuisinart or blender; puree and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium heat; add onion and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and mix well. Now add 2 T. of prepared spice mix, salt, cinnamon stick, and bay leaves and mix well. Add tomato puree; mix well and cook for 4-5 minutes. Add vinegar and crushed red chili; mix well. Add water and mix, cover and cook on low flame for 10-15 minutes and set aside.

In a medium-large pot, heat oil over medium heat; add rice, mix well and cook for 5 minutes. Add remaining spice mix and mix well. Add water and salt, mix well, and bring it to boil over medium heat. Cook until water is reduced, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover and steam cook for 5-6 minutes. Set aside.

In yet another small saucepan, add the oil and heat over medium high heat. Add the sliced onion, stir and fry until crispy.

In a serving plate, layer the cooked rice, then boiled black lentils, macaroni, chickpeas, prepared tomato sauce, fried onion and serve.
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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Re-Entry, and Biscuits

I haven't left the house much in the past two months, except to go to the doctor for my follow up surgery appointments. Oddly enough, as those have become less frequent, the world is simultaneously starting to open back up, and we're being asked what we want to make of it.

The weirdest part of it all is that I feel like there is no road map for this. Some call it a vacuum of leadership. Some call it regional discretion. Despite the ridiculous amount of reading I do, I just feel confused. I have a mask that someone made for me, which doesn't fit me particularly well. I have a few masks I bought, in different shapes and sizes, so I could try to figure out what DOES work, in the case that I have to go back to work with a mask on, which seems both likely and unlikely at the same time.

I've started to walk a little farther each day, most days anyway, just to get some exercise and make my foot remember what it's supposed to do. Generally speaking people seem to give each other a wide berth, which is nice. A lot of people wear masks around their chins, and yesterday I even saw someone wearing one around the back of his neck. I'm really not sure what he was planning to protect with that approach.

Today, S. and I went to get our wills signed. Sort of morbid, but honestly, a lot of the reading makes me worried because it seems like there are quite a lot of people who are healthy and on the cusp of middle age just like me who are fine one day and intubated the next. So I finally got around to making a phone call I'd been putting off, to a former student turned lawyer, someone I've always thought of as a genuinely nice human being.

We had our first appointment via zoom, and that was fine, but there are things like notaries involved in will-signing. So we pocketed our masks, and headed out.

Have you noticed that in a lot of parking lots, even the cars seems socially distanced? Admittedly, I don't get out much, but it's seemed that way to me. So it struck me as strange to see all of the cars huddled together in the parking lot of the law office when we pulled in.

It was probably an omen, though, because we masked up, walked in, and quickly discovered that we were the only people wearing masks in the building. I immediately felt both a little uncomfortable, and a lot conspicuous, but even more determined than before not to remove it. I thought about all of the people whose lives these people touch. I thought about the super-connectedness of the human race that thought of ourselves as individuals. And I confess, I was stunned and a little bit horrified by the dish full of Hershey kisses still out the for the taking.

My former student turned lawyer greeted us, and reassured us that we were welcome to wear masks, but they don't. I wondered what it would take for the office to mask up, like the articles I've been reading by health professionals suggest we should do to slow the spread, not just now, but for a long time.

I still like my former student. He's still a nice guy. I don't regret asking him to prepare our wills. He donated a huge amount of KN95 masks to nursing homes recently, where a lot of his clients and clients' parents live. The visit was friendly, and we made small talk about our favorite restaurants in my town, and agreed that the biscuits at one of them really just don't measure up. But the experience gave me a small taste of what life will be like for a while if it remains the case that there is no universal guidance, like we're all flying blind. And I confess, I was more than a little glad to be back home, with the door shut, and where I didn't have to worry about the choice any more.

How about you? How are you making sense of the choices before us right now, if you happen to have one where you live? How are you coping with the choices that other people get to make?

These biscuits are way better than the biscuits we both agreed were terrible at our local restaurant. I was feeling like we needed bread with soup one night, and it was too late to start something in the breadmaker, so this is what we ended up with. And best of all, we don't need yeast, which you can't find anyway. For best results, chill your butter in the freezer for 10-20 minutes before beginning this recipe. It's ideal that the butter is very cold for light, flaky, buttery biscuits.

Better Biscuits

2 c. flour
1 T. baking powder
1 T. granulated sugar
1 t. salt
6 T. unsalted butter very cold
3/4 c. whole milk

Preheat oven to 425F and line a cookie sheet with nonstick parchment paper.

Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a large bowl and mix well. Set aside.

Remove your butter from the refrigerator and either cut it into your flour mixture using a pastry cutter or use a box grater to shred the butter into small pieces and then add to the flour mixture and stir. Cut the butter or combine the grated butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Add milk, use a wooden spoon or spatula to stir until combined (don't over-work the dough). Transfer your biscuit dough to a well-floured surface and use your hands to gently work the dough together. If the dough is too sticky, add flour until it is manageable.

Once the dough is cohesive, fold in half over itself and use your hands to gently flatten layers together. Rotate the dough 90 degrees and fold in half again, repeating this step 5-6 times but taking care to not overwork the dough. Use your hands (don't use a rolling pin) to flatten the dough to 1" thick and lightly dust a 2 3/4" round biscuit cutter with flour.

Making close cuts, press the biscuit cutter straight down into the dough and drop the biscuit onto your prepared baking sheet. Repeat until you've gotten as many biscuits as possible and place less than 1/2" apart on baking sheet. Once you've gotten as many biscuits as possible out of the dough, gently re-work the dough to get out another biscuit or two until you have at least 6 biscuits.

Bake for 12 minutes or until tops are beginning to just turn lightly golden brown. If desired, brush with melted salted butter immediately after removing from oven. Serve warm.
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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Abby Normal, and Rustic Cabbage Soup

I don't know about you, but some days I feel like I've become, a Vonnegut puts it, a little "unstuck in time." Other days I get up and think, OK, I can do this. I've been having more of the latter kinds of days recently, and I feel my sense of normal shifting a little bit.

Yesterday, at a meeting with some senior administrators, it became clear that there was a real possibility that we wouldn't be back at my university in the fall. I guess that had always been a possibility, but I guess I've been coping pretty well because I'm living in denial. And suddenly I felt like the ground moved out from under me.

It was a familiar nausea, a small part of something like what I felt when I lost my second pregnancy. I had all of these plans, plans that were made not just with me but with other people -- family, colleagues, friends -- and then the plans suddenly were not-plans. I didn't know how to live in the world any more, when the reality I'd imagined for myself was suddenly no longer even possible. And further, it was never going to be like it was "before."

My yoga teacher wrote something the other day that her teacher taught her about patience, and that really struck a chord for me. She wrote that "patience is not when we're sitting and waiting for something to be over" (that's more like tolerance); rather, patience is "staying present while knowing you don't know when, or how, or even if it (whatever it is) will end. What you do know is that you can't do anything to speed the process along." And what happens in the course of that kind of patience is that we emerge, from whatever it is, changed.

Like many of you, I suspect, I've felt frustrated and sad that the world I'm used to moving through isn't here, and from all indications, it's not likely to be back to that kind of normal any time soon. Or ever. People will die. People will lose jobs. Our whole economy is likely to change. That realization is sort of like being at the top of a roller coaster, and knowing that there is no way out but down; frankly, it makes me a little queasy, as unknowns tend to do. But maybe there's something to be gained from the practice of patience in the way my yoga teacher describes it. Normal wasn't working all that well anyway for a lot of people; if nothing else, COVID has laid bare those failures. Maybe we begin to cobble together something different, and eventually something better, than the normal we had before. Arundhati Roy has written about the how the Pandemic is a Portal: “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next…We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”  And Ruha Benjamin reminded us in a talk she gave at our local independent bookstore Labyrinth recently, hope isn't something we have, but something we do.

You may not feel like you have the energy for that right now. I don't consistently have the energy for that, either. As a blogging friend said to me: there are "no words of wisdom or inspiration that are going to spiritually bypass us out of this one." But instead of waiting for it all go to back to the way it was, maybe there are small ways in which I can reimagine what's normal. Being present, being patient, showing up for whatever the hell this is, and being willing to be changed.

We've been making a lot of soup around here, because they're filling, comforting, and not too expensive. Good pandemic food, and good for a different kind of normal. This one is easy, uses things you are likely to have in your pantry or can find in a store.

Rustic Cabbage Soup
courtesy of 101 Cookbooks

1 T. extra virgin olive oil
a big pinch of salt
1/2 lb. potatoes, skin on, cut 1/4-inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
5 c. stock (I used chicken stock)
1/2 c. soaked dried white beans (you can also just use 1 15 oz. can, see note)
1/2 medium cabbage, cored and sliced into 1/4-inch ribbons

Warm the olive oil in a large thick-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Stir in the salt and potatoes. Cover and cook until they are a bit tender and starting to brown a bit, about 5 minutes - it's o.k. to uncover to stir a couple times. Remove to a bowl.

Stir in the garlic and onion and cook for another minute or two. Add the stock and the beans and bring the pot to a simmer. Cook for about an hour and a half, and then add the potatoes back in. Cook for another 20 minutes or so or until the beans are soft.

Stir in the cabbage and cook for a couple more minutes, until the cabbage softens up a bit. Adjust the seasoning, adding more salt if needed.

Serve drizzled with a bit of olive oil and a generous dusting of parmesan cheese.

*Note: if you want to use canned beans, just add them into the potatoes along with the stock, and then add the cabbage without the long cooking time in between.

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