Saturday, May 28, 2011

Purging: Curried Chopped Vegetable Salad with Pesto Pita Wedges

I am not a hoarder.  I think this is partly reactionary: in the house where I grew up, there is so much food in the basement, for example, that I know it would be my shelter of choice in the event of a nuclear fallout.  My mother has bags of clothes she's never worn, in multiple sizes, crowding around the bed in her room.  Piles of magazines tower in the corners, dating back to the 80s.  When my father was alive, he was able to keep the clutter to a minimum, but now that he's gone, it's gotten progressively worse.

And so throughout my life, I've lived as minimally as possible.  Every week, by Friday, my refrigerator is almost completely empty, save a few standard condiments.  My wardrobe, such as it is, has not changed much in the past 12 years ... I hate to go clothes shopping.  And I seem not to accumulate things.

Except for books.

When I moved to LA, books took up most of the space in my car.  When I moved back, they took up three times as much room.  Each time, there were more and more boxes.  I couldn't bear to part with them: even the ones I never read again were like trophies, signifying some kind of survival.  Like Gravity's Rainbow.  God, I hated that book.

But in the past few years, we've been trying to purge our book collection every once in a while, to make room for new books, and to make some space on just a few shelves for children's things (I will say here that our house still looks like a house owned by adults, where children live, which I think is a positive thing).  And as I've emptied my office back into our house, I've had to make some difficult decisions about what will stay and what will go.  In the process, this time, I had to let go of a lot of books on English literary theory that I collected during my first graduate program.  It was hard -- I felt like I was shutting a door on a room that I would never open again.  I didn't want to let those books go: they defined a part of me.  But I chose a different path, and it's partly disingenuous of me to keep them.

The first time I went to the White Dog Cafe, I was being wooed by U Penn for graduate school.  (The White Dog is a pretty cool place, if you've never been there: founded by social activist Judy Wicks, it's known for its unusual blend of award-winning contemporary American cuisine, civic engagement and environmental sustainability).  I remember feeling very grown-up, and sophisticated, and intellectual.  These people wanted me to come join them badly enough that they would pay for my lunch at a nice restaurant!  Little did I know that though I would not end up there for graduate school, I'd find myself there years later with my to-be-husband, who would buy me the cookbook for my birthday.  And little did I know I'd befriend a woman who worked there, moved to VT, and then found herself living practically in my back yard.  Karma works in strange ways.

I made this dish from the White Dog Cookbook the other night for dinner, thinking about the beginning of that graduate school career, and the ending of my current career, and the transitions we make throughout life, but how, too, there are those strange constants in the background.  And that no matter what I've purged from my shelf, I am the same person who was wooed by Penn at the White Dog and who read Gravity's Rainbow in a bathtub filled with ice cubes in LA, in an attempt to cool off during a particularly hot summer day while preparing for my comprehensive exams.  And I don't need the trophy to remind me.

(What are the things that you find most difficult to get rid of?)

Curried Chopped Vegetable Salad

1 carrot, finely diced
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1 green bell pepper, finely diced
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely >diced
1 rib celery, finely diced
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 t. Dijon mustard
1 t. fresh lemon juice
1 T. minced red onion
1/4 t. minced garlic
1 t. Madras curry powder
1/2 t. granulated sugar
1/4 c. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

8 oz. chevre
1/4 c. purchased or homemade basil pesto
(or get a chevre with garlic and basil already mixed into it and skip the pesto)
2 whole-wheat pita rounds, each cut into 2 thin circles

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Combine carrot, bell peppers, green onion, cucumber and celery in a mixing bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together vinegar, mustard, lemon juice, red onion, garlic, curry powder and sugar. Slowly whisk in the oil to form an emulsion. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables; toss well. Set aside.

Divide the chevre between 2 of the pita bread circles, spreading the cheese over the surface of 1 side of each. Spread the remaining 2 pita bread circles with basil pesto, covering the surfaces completely. Sandwich each cheese pita half with a pesto-coated pita half.  Place sandwiches on a baking sheet and bake until golden, about 12 minutes. Cut each pita sandwich into 4 wedges.

For each serving, arrange 2 pita wedges atop 1/2 cup of the chopped dressed vegetables.
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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Roll With It: Lasagna Rolls

First, thanks for all of your supportive and encouraging comments on my last post.  It's funny: I remember the last time I left something, also on my own terms (though for more neutral reasons), I was driving back to the East Coast from LA, leaving my first graduate program.  It was exhiliarating, realizing that I was free.  And I felt the same way this time, practically skipping after I left the meeting where I handed over my letters.  I have to see those people one last time, and then no more.

The outpouring of support from my colleagues and faculty members has also been pretty overwhelming.  I sent an email announcing my departure to about 200 faculty members, and so many responses came back saying things like "you were the heart and soul of this program" and "this is a terrible thing for XYZ University" and "say it isn't so."  I imagine that the experience is almost like being at your own funeral, listening to the eulogy: both wonderful and awful at the same time.

At yoga class this week, my teacher talked about how when we are wobbly in our asanas, we should relax into the wobbliness, instead of trying to stiffen our posture in an attempt to balance.  In life, we don't like change and uncertainty, she said, so we resist, we become rigid.  In doing so, we make ourselves more susceptible to falling, because we can't move to catch ourselves in time.  Acceptance of imbalance in order to achieve balance seems counter-intuitive, but it's strangely effective (I tried it myself in class), and it translates well to what I should probably do now.  Life is constant change and flux; what we perceive as stasis is only imagined.

I need to be employed.  But today, I was looking at my daughter thinking how incredibly lucky I was to be here with her, right now, here, to be given the gift of this small life.

This recipe is far from gourmet (and not terribly interesting), but it's a different way of doing the same old thing, and a little more free-form than the layers we're used to.  Accept the messiness and wobbliness, and you might discover what's really good inside.

Lasagna Rolls

Half box lasagna noodles (or however many you have left: 8-10)
1 T. olive oil
1 bunch chard, spinach, or kale, chopped (you can also use 1/2 lb. frozen, defrosted and squeezed)
1 c. ricotta cheese
2/3 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1/3 c. shredded parmesan cheese
1 egg
Salt and pepper
1 1/4 c. or more pasta sauce

Preheat oven to 375.  Cook lasagna noodles, drain, and lay them flat on a plate or over the sides of a colander in order to keep them from sticking together.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the greens and cook until wilted. (If you are using the frozen greens, skip this step.)

In a medium bowl, mix together the ricotta, half the mozzarella, egg, salt, and pepper. You can add the greens to the cheese mixture, or keep it separate – mixing them will reduce assembly time later.

Spread a spoonful of pasta sauce in the bottom of a casserole pan. Assemble the rolls by spreading a spoonful of cheese mixture, then greens (if applicable), and then pasta sauce on each pasta sheet. Avoid the temptation to overfill, as it might leak when you roll up. Leave the last inch of the pasta empty. Roll up pasta, ending with the uncovered edge. Place each roll in the casserole pan with the seam on the bottom. Continue until all noodles are rolled.

Pour remaining pasta sauce over rolls, then sprinkle with remaining mozzarella.  Bake for 35-40 minutes.
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Monday, May 23, 2011

When Life Gives You Lemons, II: Lemonade Layer Cake

For three years of my life, while I went to graduate school, I lived in a one bedroom apartment in West Hollywood not far from the Melrose strip.  It was an interesting neighborhood for lots of reasons (for example, I lived next door to a drag queen on one side and a rockabilly singer on the other, and upstairs from a large family of Russian Jewish people), but one of the things I still miss is a little bakery called Sweet Lady Jane.  It remains, to my knowledge, anyway, one of the few places that specializes in slices of gourmet cake.  You walk in, gaze into the case, choose your cake, order some tea, and sit down to revel in the lovely explosion of flavor in your mouth, taking in the other customers and feeling your cares melt away.

Some people drown their graduate school sorrows in Cuervo; more than once, I found myself drowning my sorrows (or joys or frustrations) in cake at SLJ.  When I found out that one of my college friends had died from cancer at the age of 25, I walked up the street and ordered a slice of the White Chocolate Raspberry cake, remembering him and his love of sweet and pure things, and mourning the loss of a life cut too short.  When I passed my comprehensive exams, I treated myself to a slice of Flourless Chocolate Decadence, savoring the rich, dark flavor of success.  When I made the decision to leave my first graduate program ABD (before I knew I would be getting my doctoral degree in something that was a much better fit), I savored a slice of Raspberry Lemon Cake: sweet, but also bitter.

I have just submitted the following letter (names and places changed to protect the people involved, of course).  If there's one thing that pregnancy loss and infertility have taught me, it's that life is too precious a gift to waste.  If you know of anyone looking for a smart, thoughtful, visionary woman in the NY/NJ area who works her tail off for the right people and a good cause, please put them in touch with me, or me them, or something.  (Stupidly, I missed the cutoff for ICLW this time ... would have been nice to be in that mix.)  I'm jumping into an abyss, and it's not clear how far down I will fall; I'm hoping to land on my feet.
May 23, 2011

Dear Dr. Boss:

I am writing you to officially tender my resignation from XYZ University as Administrative Director of The X Center (I Built and Ran for the Last Seven Years, Which I Also Helped to Endow at $4 Million ... but I didn't actually write that part). My last day of employment will be June 6, 2011.

I appreciate the opportunities I have been given at XYZ and I wish you and the Center success in the future.

If I can assist with the transition, please do let me know.

A Half Baked Life

I have mixed emotions about what I have just done, but I hope you'll join me for a slice of cake.  When life gives you lemons, you might as well make lemonade layer cake.  Somebody hold me.

Lemonade Layer Cake

1 1/3 c. granulated sugar
6 T. butter, softened
1 T. grated lemon rind
3 T. thawed lemonade concentrate
2 t. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda
1 1/4 c. fat-free buttermilk
Cooking spray

2 T. butter, softened
2 t. grated lemon rind
2 t. thawed lemonade concentrate
1/2 t. vanilla extract
8 oz. neufchatel cheese
3 1/2 c. powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350°.

To prepare cake, place first 5 ingredients in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 5 minutes). Add eggs and egg whites, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda; stir well with a whisk. Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat well after each addition.

Pour batter into 2 (9-inch) round cake pans coated with cooking spray; sharply tap pans once on counter to remove air bubbles. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack.

To prepare frosting, place 2 tablespoons butter and the next 4 ingredients (2 tablespoons butter through cream cheese) in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until fluffy. Add powdered sugar, and beat at low speed just until blended (do not overbeat). Chill 1 hour.

Place 1 cake layer on a plate; spread with 1/2 cup frosting. Top with remaining cake layer. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Store cake loosely covered in the refrigerator.
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Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Virtual Baby Shower: Cornmeal Crusted Pot Pie

(With apologies for my absence ... I miss you all, but I promise, there is a good post coming soon ... and I've been pretty busy with N. this week.)

When I was in the last few weeks of my pregnancy with N., a wonderful friend organized a virtual baby shower for me.  The virtual gifts of food and love were overwhelming ... and so I'm pleased to participate in one for someone else this week!  I'm hoping I'm not late, but it's on Australia/New Zealand time, so hopefully this will count.

Haidee, may your birthing day be everything you hope for, and may your new adventures with your little one be many.  It won't always be easy, but remember that it takes a village to raise a child, and the village is there ... sometimes you just have to look for it.  All: go give Haidee some blog love!

My contribution to the virtual baby shower is not sweet (because Athena from A Field of Dreams has already contributed Honey Cookies, and I can't top those ...), but it's something that you can put in your freezer to bake for dinner when you're bone-tired and can't imagine how you're going to feed yourself.  We made this pot pie ourselves before N. was born, and froze it ... then one night, enjoyed a wonderful warm pie in just about half an hour.  If I were your neighbor, I would be bringing something like this over during the first few weeks you are home with your new addition.

If you're vegetarian, it's just as easy to substitute the chicken with something else (tofu, tempeh, more vegetables, beans).

Cornmeal Crusted Pot Pie


1 c. flour
1/2 c. cornmeal
3/4 t. salt
1/4 t. baking powder
2 T. chopped fresh herbs (sage, parsley, etc.)
5 T. butter cut into small pieces
1 large egg lightly beaten


3 T. butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1/4 lb. mushrooms, sliced
1 c. chopped cooked broccoli, drained*
2 1/2 T. flour
3/4 c. broth, heated
1/2 c. cream, half and half, or milk, heated
2 3/4 c. cubed cooked poultry or other
1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 t. chopped fresh thyme
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. fresh ground pepper
1 T. milk

In a small bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking powder.  With your fingers, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until coarse crumbs form.  Add the egg and stir with a fork until dough forms.  WIth your fingertips, lightly knead the dough until it holds together, 1 minute or so.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes before rolling.

In a medium skillet, over medium heat, melt 1 T. of butter.  Add onion, celery, carrot.  Cook until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add mushrooms and cook another 5 minutes or so, stirring occasionally.  Stir in broccoli and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400.  In a medium saucepan, over medium heat melt remaining 2 T. butter.  Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, 2 to 3 minutes, until caramel colored.  Gradually add heated broth and cook whisking constantly.  Gradually pour in cream, whisking constantly.  Add vegetables and cooked chicken, parsley, thyme, salt, pepper.  Stir to mix.  Spread into a 9" deep dish pie plate or round 1 quart casserole.

Let dough site a room temperature about 10 minutes.  Roll out dough between 2 sheets of waxed paper to a 10 inch circle.   Cover the filing with the dough and trim edges so that there is a 1/2" overhang.  Lighly press overhand around the outside edge of the pie plate to seal.  Mark edges with the tines of a fork.  With a sharp knife, cut 3 slits in the center of the crust for steam to escape.

Brush the crust with milk.  Plate pie plate on a baking sheet in case of bubble-overs.  Baked until crust is golden and hot, about 30-35 minutes.  Cool 5-10 minutes before serving.

* Feel free to sub in peas, string beans or corn for the broccoli.  You can make the pie and freeze for up to two months in a freezer-proof pie plate.  Thaw in refrigerator overnight before baking as directed.  Alternatively, bake the frozen pie a little longer, 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until filling is piping hot and crust is golden.
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Sunday, May 15, 2011

What's Inside: Peanut Butter Chocolate Pillows

First, overdue thanks again to the following lovely ladies for the stylish blogger award!  I'm not going to repost the picture, or write seven more things about myself, but I encourage you to go show them some blog love.

Dawn at
Maria at
Tracy at
Esperanza at

I'm still not feeling particularly stylish, but I do feel a bit heroic this weekend.  It happened like this ...

My son is a particularly emotionally intelligent little boy.  He can read me better than almost anyone I know, and knows exactly what I need to hear.  Case in point: when I told him, before N. was born, that I was worried that I wouldn't get to spend enough time with him once the baby arrived, and that I would miss him, he said, very matter-of-factly, "Well, Mom, when the baby is old enough, we'll spend time together.  I'll still love you."

Mind you, my son is four.  He should charge for therapy.

Yesterday, I asked him if he'd like to go for a bike ride.  It had been a while since we've done anything alone together--since N's arrival three months ago, to be exact--and though the timing of children's naps didn't work out for me to go for a run, I thought this might be a good substitute to get me some exercise (not that I'm going to rid myself of my flab in time for bikini season, but whatever).  Last summer, we got, second hand, one of those fabulous trailer bikes, which is basically the rear end of a normal bicycle designed to turn your adult bike into a kid-friendly tandem (basically all the kid needs to do is balance him or herself on the bike; pedaling is completely optional).  When the kid does not pedal, it's a LOT of work, even though the attachment itself is relatively light.   This year it seems that I. actually understands the pedaling concept, though, and we were about two and a half miles from home, enjoying the misty afternoon when suddenly ...

thunk, clunk.

I felt my seat give way, and then,  I was sitting on nothing at all.


It turned out that the bolt holding the seat onto my bike had snapped in half, leaving bits and pieces of seat hardware strewn across the road.  I told I. to get off, and surveyed the damage, holding the seat in my hand.  "I don't know, kiddo," I said, "we may have to walk back."  My mind was reeling, thinking that at a four year old pace, we'd never get back in time for N's next feeding, and we had no phone to call home.  N. is refusing bottles.  This could be very, very bad.

"It's OK, Mom," he said, voice trembling, "I was tired of pedaling anyway."

I could have kissed him.  And something about the way he said it, so reassuringly, made me think that maybe I could be the hero here, make this work after all.  I gathered up the hardware, put the seat on the post, and held onto it with my inner thighs.  I told him we were going to give it a shot.

He seemed impressed by this, and climbed back on.  Though pedaling was even more of a significant challenge now than it had been before, I somehow managed to keep the seat on most of the way back, stopping twice to keep it from slipping out from under me.  After some harrowing run-ins with the downtown traffic, we arrived home, cheering, feeling like we'd survived a great adventure.  "We made it, Mommy," he said, beaming.  I handed I. the seat and told him to go tell his father that he'd lost me on the way.  He grinned and took off towards the back yard.

The amazing thing is, I don't think I would have tried to jury-rig the seat if he hadn't been there.  I confess, I surprised myself.  I didn't want to disappoint him; I wanted to make it right, to fix it.  All I had to do was decide I could.

In food blog world these days, stuffed desserts seem to be all the rage.  It's sort of like the turducken approach applied to sweets: brownie stuffed cookies, cookie stuffed brownies, etc.  I think the reason we find this concept so appealing is that we love being surprised by what's inside.

And why wouldn't we be?  Here's to the surprises in all of us.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Pillows
makes 2 dozen cookies

Chocolate dough:

1/2 c. canola oil
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. pure maple syrup
3 T. non-dairy milk
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. + 2 T. unsweetened dutch processed cocoa powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt


3/4 c. natural salted peanut butter
2/3 c. confectioner’s sugar
2 T. non-dairy milk
1/4 t. vanilla extract

In a large mixing bowl combine oil, sugar, maple syrup, non-dairy milk and vanilla extract and mix until smooth. Sift in flour, cocoa powder, black cocoa if using, baking soda and salt. Mix to form a moist dough.

Make the filling. In another mixing bowl beat together peanut butter, confectioner’s sugar, 2 tablespoons of soy creamer and vanilla extract to form a moist but firm dough. If peanut butter dough is too dry (as different natural peanut butters have different moisture content), stir in remaining tablespoon of non-dairy milk. If dough is too wet knead in a little extra powdered sugar.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line bakings sheet with parchment paper.

Shape the cookies. Create the centers of the cookies by rolling the peanut butter dough into 24 balls. Scoop a generous tablespoon of chocolate dough, flatten into a disc and place a peanut butter ball in the center. Fold the sides of the chocolate dough up and around the peanut butter center and roll the chocolate ball into an smooth ball between your palms. Place on a sheet of waxed paper and repeat with remaining doughs. If desired gently flatten cookies a little, but this is not necessary.

Place dough balls on lined baking sheets about 2 inches apart and bake for 10 minutes. Remove sheet from oven and let cookies for 5 minutes before moving to a wire rack to complete cooling. Store cookies in tightly covered container. If desired warm cookies in a microwave for 10 to 12 seconds before serving.
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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My Dad, and Chickpea Soup

It's garden season.  Outside, during the day, the hum of lawnmowers and weedwhackers and rototillers is almost constant now--something I'd never really noticed before, since I haven't ever been home during the week in the spring and summer.  Our back deck is populated with small tomato plants, getting a good start in pots before being transferred to the yard where they will grow wild and become like long spindly aliens, leaning--but only partially--against the wire fencing meant to guide them to upright positions.

I think a lot about my father at this time of year, because he was always working in the garden or in the yard.  An immigrant from Spain by way of Cuba (which he left after being the next one facing a firing squad, before they decided, somewhat randomly, to stop for the day), he came from a family of farmers, and was sent to a charity boarding school in France so as to ease the burden on the family of nine children.  Though he became a teacher, his love of the earth never really left him, and when I was growing up we were known for our beautifully landscaped property, and for the small roadside table where I was charged with selling tomatoes and zucchini in the summer.  Later, after he retired, he had an off-the-books landscaping business that seemed to grow by leaps and bounds, and I still have to chuckle to myself, thinking about him driving around the neighborhood with lawnmowers and weedwhackers sticking out from the trunk of his old, impeccably maintained (but tank-like) Mercedes Benz.  My father died of stomach cancer in 2003 at the age of 75, and in many ways, I felt like I never got to know him.  He was very private about his life before he started a family, especially about his life as a Marist brother before he met my mother.

Not many people can say that they have an ex-clergy member as a parent.  My father was an interesting blend of frugal and spendthrift, which I see as a parallel to his split between his devotion to God and his desperate need (for reasons he never made clear to us, unfortunately) to have a family.  He met my mother on a trip he was running for students and teachers of Spanish to go to Spain, and, legend has it, the rest is history.  He was also torn between his workaholic tendencies and his ability to completely zonk out in front of the TV at the end of the day, watching nothing for hours on end.

I miss him more now than I used to, I think, now that I have children, wishing that he could have seen them, knowing that for all of his faults, he would have been a wonderful grandfather, and his grandchildren would have mellowed whatever austerity and severity was left in him.   And I especially miss him when I'm weeding in the yard, listening to the sound of the chimes tinkling in the breeze.  He would have appreciated the crossroads where I am right now, and would have felt quite free to opine about it, even if I would have also felt free to ignore his advice.

So, though he would never in his life have eaten a vegetarian (or--heaven forbid--VEGAN!) meal on purpose, I'm going to dedicate this post to my father, a man who, despite my difficult relationship with him, made things grow in the springtime in a way that I always admired, a man who had a hidden passion for landscape architecture, and a man who struggled with balance and parenthood as so many of us do.  I'm looking forward to making meals with the bounty from our garden and CSA again, but until then, this simple soup will do.

Saint Joseph Chickpea Soup

2 c. dried chickpeas
10 c. water
15 oz. can fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 large onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, minced
2 carrots, sliced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 red pepper, diced
1 bouillon cube
1 bay leaf salt and pepper to taste

Soak chickpeas overnight. Boil them in plenty of water, add all the remaining ingredients, and cook slowly over medium heat for about 1 hour, until the peas and all the vegetables are tender.

Add salt and pepper. Simmer the soup, covered, for about 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaf before serving. Serve hot.
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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Motherhood and Lentils with Zucchini

Over the past few weeks N's schedule has settled enough that I've been able to get to yoga at least once every other week, and it's been such a wonderful thing.  I am reminded how much I love my teacher, but also how much I love the sangha, the community, of my class: everyone asks me about the baby, asks how I am doing, and really means it.

One of the wonderful things about my yoga studio is that the classes are more than just exercise; there is always a focus for the month, both in asana and in intention, and in the same coincidental way that horoscopes always seem to read your life like an open book, the intentions seems to speak to where I am spiritually with an uncanny precision.  During the month of May we are focusing on the lunar asanas and on mothers, both in the form of Kali, fearful and ferocious form of the mother goddess who destroys and takes away what is not necessary, and Durga, the mother of the universe who comes to care for us in our time of need.  And lately, that kind of mothering is just what I have wanted.

The celebration of motherhood in May is complicated for the IF community.  Many of us celebrate our own mothers, though of course those relationships have their own challenges; I know for sure mine does.  Many of us feel conflicted about motherhood, being blessed with children, but knowing loss.  Many more are waiting to become mothers, feeling robbed of what seems to come so easily for other women.  But I love the way my teacher has been talking about mothers in our class, reminding us that Kali and Durga are aspects of the mother within us, and that we should allow ourselves to be mothered, to be cared for, by our innermost selves.

I've been in a position lately to make some difficult decisions about what is and is not necessary in my life.  And as I stood there in ardha chandrasana (half moon pose), I thought about how I am taking steps to take away the things in my life that are not necessary, the things that are hurtful to me, and how I am tending to my own heart.  Part of this is eating healthily, part of it is practicing mindfulness, and part of it is something I won't yet reveal here because it's too terrific for a spoiler.  Suffice to say that change is coming, and that it will be good.

Happy Mothers Day to all of you -- the women who are biological and adoptive mothers of living and nonliving children, the women who will some day mother children of their own, the women who have mothered others--sometimes without even knowing how much they mattered, the women who wanted to be mothers but have put that dream aside, but also to the mothers, the nurturers, in all of us.

Kali, Durga, namoh namah.

(The Harvard Medical School Nurses study found iron rich foods like lentils to support ovulation and fertility in women ... whether that's true or not is up for discussion, but it doesn't hurt to include more of them in your diet.)

Spiced Lentils with Zucchini

1 or 2 T. olive oil
1 c. sweet onion, finely chopped
2 1/4 c. thin zucchini, 1/2" dice
1/4 to 1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. dried red lentils, picked over Water
1 to 2 t. garam masala
2 T. cilantro, chopped

Add just enough oil to coat a medium saute pan or skillet; place over medium heat.

Add the onion and cook, stirring often, for 2 or 3 minutes, until it starts to soften. Add the zucchini and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes, until the zucchini softens and starts to brown. Adjust the heat as needed so the zucchini cooks but the onion does not burn.

Meanwhile, place the lentils in a small pot and add enough water to cover them by 2 inches, plus a pinch of salt. Place the pot over medium-high heat; once the liquid comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes; start checking for doneness after 6 minutes.

When the zucchini is tender and has started to brown, add 1 teaspoon of the garam masala; stir to combine, then taste and add garam masala and salt as needed.

Drain the lentils and add to the zucchini-onion mixture. Cook over medium-low heat for 2 or 3 minutes, until the excess moisture from the lentils has evaporated; the mixture should still be moist.

Remove from the heat and add 1 tablespoon of the cilantro; mix well. Transfer to a serving dish and top with the remaining tablespoon of chopped cilantro. Serve immediately.
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Monday, May 2, 2011

Here Comes the Rain Again: Tom Kha Gai

(Thanks for all of your kind, supportive comments on my last post.  I took a deep breath when I hit "publish," and worried that I'd lose all of my followers ... I'm glad that didn't happen!  And now for something completely different ...)

Of all of the things that have taken a back seat in my life these past few years, I miss traveling the most.  As summer approaches, I start to dream about places I'd like to go, perhaps because that was when my family traveled when I was growing up.  I love experiencing new cultures that make me think differently about my own: I've been to South Africa on a study tour of post-apartheid education; I've gone to Brazil with students presenting their undergraduate research at five campuses of the University of Sao Paolo, I have family I've visited in Spain and Puerto Rico, I've biked through Umbria in Italy.  And in all of these places, I've eaten well, mostly because I make an effort to stay with (or at least talk to) locals.

The year after we were married, my husband and I decided to travel to Thailand.  I'd never been to Asia, and I wanted to go before we started trying to have a family, and S. agreed.  We settled on a two week block in July, and started making plans.

The trip was amazing; it was the first time I'd experienced being illiterate, being unable to speak or read anything, even street signs.  It gave me a perspective I'd never had before, and made me completely dependent upon other people.  But in case you've never been to Thailand in July, there's something important you need to know: it's wet.  Monsoons?  Are no joke, my friend.  We're talking wall of water, advancing across the landscape, drenching everything in its path.  You might as well go scuba diving, without the mask.  Being silly Americans, we didn't think this would really be a big deal, until we arrived, and found ourselves wringing our clothes out to dry on an hourly basis.  You haven't lived until you've ridden on top of an elephant in a basket of sloshing water, as it crosses a raging river in the pouring rain.

One of my most vivid memories from that damp week was a cooking class we took with a woman named Apple, who runs Apple's Guest House.  We'd spent the morning at the market, learning about and purchasing ingredients, and were going to spend the afternoon cooking.  I remember Apple as sort of a mix between someone's wide-grinned grandmother and a drill sergeant, barking orders at us as the flames leapt under our woks.  Like every other day, it rained that afternoon, and her instructional kitchen wasn't yet finished ... it was missing a wall.  Important detail when you're dealing with monsoons, na?  The rain pounded on the corrugated metal roof, making a deafening sound as we tried to scribble down and follow Apple's directions.  It ran down on the slant, creating a waterfall that ended in a growing puddle in the kitchen.  Soon we were cooking in ankle-deep water.

We made Pad Thai, Green Curry, Chicken with Cashews, and Tom Kha Gai that day, and I still have the recipes I scribbled down, though I've altered them a bit to reflect availability of ingredients here and our own taste preferences.  I pull them out every once in a while on rainy spring and summer days, thinking fondly of the adventure, and hoping that some day I will travel again, with my children, testing their assumptions and mine, and eating well.  For now, reading blogs will do.

Tom Kha Gai

1 stalk lemongrass, diagonal cut 1 1/2"
4 slices galanga (or ginger)
4 keffir lime leaves (or grated zest of 1/2 lime)
2-3 mushrooms, quartered
1/2 c. water (or 1/4 c. lime juice and 1/4 c. water)
14 oz. can coconut milk
pinch salt
1/2 lb. chicken or extra firm tofu
1 T. fish sauce
1/2 t. sugar
2 c. water

Boil 1/2 c. water (or water and lime juice) in a wok with lemongrass, galanga/ginger, lime leaves (or zest), stirring constantly.

When boiling well, add 1/2 can of coconut milk, mushrooms, and salt, and continue to stir.  Bring to a boil.

Add the second half of the coconut milk and boil for 2-3 minutes without stirring.  When boiling well, add the chicken/tofu and cook the chicken thoroughly.

Add fish sauce and sugar and boil for 2-3 more minutes.  Add the extra water to make it your preferred consistency for soup (it should not be too thick).  Remove from heat and let sit 2 minutes.

Add to your taste: a splash of lemon juice, 2 small ground chiles, fish sauce, more sugar, etc.
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