Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Devotions: Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

I've been terrible about posting lately.  It's funny; you'd think that I'd have more time, being a stay at home mom and all.  But life has had a funny way of catching me up in the current, and it's been moving pretty quickly.  I found myself nodding in agreement with Mel's recent posts about not being able to keep up: with Facebook feeds, Twitter feeds, blogging comments ... all of which I tend to put before my own writing.  Probably not ideal if you're aiming for regular writing practice, which was, once upon a time, the original purpose of this blog.

And then there's the job scene.  It turns out that I did, indeed, nail that interview.  I've had a tentative offer, and I'm going to talk with them about numbers tomorrow.  The down side is that the numbers are not good.  It's a grant, and they have a limited budget.  Like, $20K less than I was making limited.  And I'd need to pay for another child in day care (part of the craziness has been the search for, and interviews with, potential in-home day care providers), which makes the numbers look even worse.  And it's a grade lower, though that's a blow to my ego.  On the plus side, they are good people.  And it's an important project.  The question is whether it's the right decision for me.  I'm still not sure ... and am hoping I get some clarity, in a hurry.

In the meantime, one of our best friends was diagnosed with heart failure.  He is only a few years older than I am, and in incredible shape: runs half marathons without sweating, bikes miles and miles without a second thought, swims ... and is the energetic stay at home dad to two truly wonderful kids, aged 2 and 5.  It was such a shock to hear the news, and right now, it's hard to think of anything else.  Though today he's doing better, and his heart is beating on its own, there is still the possibility of a transplant, and even without that, the figuring out of what to do about help with the kids over these next few months.  Though this is going to sound ridiculous, part of me doesn't want to go back to work, so that I can help take care of his kids while he heals.  I've been watching my friends go through this, admiring their calm, level-headed strength, and wondering if I'd be capable of the same if I ever found myself where they are right now.

And in much more mundane news, our CSA continues to teach us to make do with what we're given.  As my son says (or rather, as his teacher taught him), "you get what you get, and you don't get upset."  It's been four weeks straight of not much else besides cucumbers and zucchini (and not even good produce, at that), and I've been trying to keep the menu interesting, with squash soup, zucchini frittata, calabacitas, zucchini crusted pizza, zuccanoes, zucchini pancakes (unlinked recipes coming soon) ... and these chocolate zucchini muffins.  They actually turned out quite well, and I froze them, and then ... well ... defrosted them and ate them.  Because they're, like, healthy.  Right?

In yoga this month, we were practicing Hanumanasana, which is basically a split.  Years ago, when I was taking regular dance classes, I could do splits; now, I am thankful for bolsters and blankets that my teacher surreptitiously places next to us as class is in session.  Hanumanasana teaches us to be completely open, but also to love where we're at instead of cursing ourselves for not getting it "right."  It symbolizes (and actually looks like) a leap of devotion, not necessarily to another, but possibly to ourselves, understanding that knowing deep love and knowing our highest selves is one in the same.  So much of where I am right now is mid-leap.  Perhaps that's the same for all of us?

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins
2 eggs
2 cups shredded zucchini
1 3/4 cup flour
1 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour or line 12 wells in a muffin tin. Set aside. In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, oil and buttermilk. Add in all of the dry ingredients, including spices. Mix thoroughly. Stir in zucchini. Fill the prepared wells about 3/4 of the way. Bake 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the center muffin comes out mostly clean.
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Friday, July 15, 2011

What's a UU? 7th Principle Muffins: In Which I Get Religion

I'm about to talk about one of the things you're never supposed to talk about in polite conversation.  Hopefully you'll stick around at the table.

I had the occasion, at a party the other day, to mention that I'm Unitarian Universalist (UU).  When I tell people this, they usually look at me like I'm Satan spawn, or at least like I'm a little less credible in the realm of spirituality.

It's sort of funny that I ended up a UU; my husband and I were married by a UU minister, simply because my husband was raised without religion, I was raised Catholic (and had long since left the church because it just wasn't a good fit for me), and we wanted something more than just a civil ceremony, but I never in a million years thought that I'd be a member of a UU fellowship.  I remember sitting in the parking lot of the church where the minister who married us was going to meet us, watching people come out, and thinking "hm, so that's what Unitarians look like.  They're sort of ... weird."  My father, old-world Catholic that he was, almost had a heart attack when we told him what we were doing for our wedding, saying that UU's didn't believe in anything, begging me to reconsider.  Luckily for him, I guess, he didn't live long enough to see me sign the book in our church.  (Though in all seriousness, he probably would be glad that I at least go to a church.)

After a long hiatus from organized religion, when I was pregnant with my son, about five years ago, we started to look for a spiritual home.  It was less that I felt like I needed one, and more that we both wanted a community of somewhat like-minded people to help us raise our child with the kinds of values we espoused.  And though we happened upon this particular community by chance (it was a potluck picnic day when we arrived ... how ironic is that, given what you know about me?), it's really come to fit us.  Our fellowship is full of young families like ours (though there are plenty of older members, too, and single people, and divorcees, and every other kind of family configuration you can imagine), and the people really do live their values: they're people I find myself looking up to, and wanting to be when I grow up.

So what's a UU?  There are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote:
  1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  2. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part (more on this, and muffins, in a minute).

Sources of wisdom include
  • Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and love;
  • Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to love our neighbors as ourselves;
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
  • Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.
For me, those principles are a no-brainer.  They describe how I want to live my life. And the sources of wisdom are the things I've read all my life, that have shaken my foundations, or made me stop and hold my breath.

And it's funny ... I really do find myself thinking twice about my actions, sometimes, because of the community I belong to, and the way that it's required me to articulate my values.

The other day, I interviewed with an office, back at my previous employer, that seeks to recruit and retain women faculty members in the sciences ... to diversify the field.  I think I nailed the interview, though unfortunately, it would probably mean a drop in both salary and in title, if I were offered the job (not that I'm jumping the gun here). Thing is, I may be offered the opportunity to live my values.  To do something important for a change, besides cater mostly to people who would do just fine without me.  It's not often that such an opportunity falls into our laps, is it?  Do you get to live your values in your line of work?  (SAHMs are definitely included  in that question!)  Should I can this whole return to higher education, and just open a bakery already, or an online mail-order baked goods supply company (K, from Pull Up Your Potty Seat, says I should ... and even sent me a lovely gift toward my startup supplies ... thank you, K!)

These muffins are another way I get to live my values.  They're vegan (so they affirm the 7th principle of recognizing/appreciating the interdependent web of existence, and our role in tending that delicate web), and incredibly delicious.  This recipe is modified from one that was developed by one of our fellowship members; I promised not to reveal his secret, but I think I can share my version with you.

7th Principle Fruit and Nut Muffins

1/2 c. raisins
1 c. dried apricots, chopped
1 c. prunes, chopped
1 c. chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
1 c. chopped almonds, lightly toasted
4 T. flax seed neal mixed in 3/4 c. water, set aside to thicken 2-3 minutes
2/3 c. canola oil
2 t. vanilla
1/4 c. orange juice
2 c. white whole wheat flour
1 c. evaporated cane juice (fair trade, please)
2 t. baking soda
4 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ginger
1/2 t. salt

Place dried fruit in a small saucepan and add enough water to cover.  Bring to a boil, remove from heat and let sit 15 minutes to plump fruit.  Drain.

Preheat oven to 400.  In a large bowl, blend dry ingredients with a whisk.  In a small bowl, blend flax mixture, oil, vanilla, juice; pour into a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and mix until just blended.  Fold in nuts and fruit.

Line 12 muffin tins with large liners, and fill each cup with a generous helping of batter.  Bake at 400 for 20-25 minutes, until lightly brown and springs back to touch.
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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Pretzels with My Son, the Rock Star

A few weeks ago was the final week of "church" services before our minister's summer break, and our annual celebration of the cool people who make our fellowship function, which, once you start taking stock of what committees people are on, is pretty much everyone sitting in the pews.

There are awards, though: Angel (for someone who gives of themselves to others in the fellowship), Rock Star Youth (for someone who lives their UU values), and Rock Star Child (for general cool UUness, I think).

Well, you can imagine my surprise when they arrived at the child award this year and called I's name.  S. and I looked at each other, our jaws on the floor.  Really?  Our child?  Sure, he's a happy kid, but it's not like he's baking pies to raise money for the homeless or anything (as one child actually did last year ... no lie).

But really, truth is, he's a good kid.  They talked about how he always has a smile for everyone, and makes people feel happy and at home.  That's true; in fact, it's been true since he was a baby.  And though I will take partial credit for who he is becoming, I also suspect that a lot of it is hard-wired.  I've neglected him in this blog lately, but really, without him being who he is, I would be a lot less sane right now.  No, he's not an angel.  (See the mischievous twinkle in his eye?)  But he's a doting big brother (his sister adores him, and clearly thinks that he walks on water), and when he does listen to directions, he's pretty agreeable.  He says things that are funny as hell, and more insightful than many adults I've known.  He stands up for himself most of the time, in a way that is gentle but firm.  He's a follower, but he can also be a leader.  And when I finally recovered from hearing his name called from the podium, my heart swelled with pride.

I. often likes to help in the kitchen (and has been known to take pictures of his food recently, claiming that he's going to post them to my blog.  Then he deletes them from his camera.  Nut.).  Last week we made soft pretzels, as a means of keeping the neighbor's kid entertained for 20 minutes during the day while we were taking care of him.  Though his friend had a hard time sitting still for the activity and it's probably more frustrating than I realized to work with pretzel dough the first time around, I. really did beautifully.  I'm picturing him here, showing off his "house," which no longer has any doors or windows because they got eaten.  Actually, it doesn't have much of a foundation any more, either.  But who's looking that closely?

If you have little people in your life, whether they live with you or not, this is a great activity for rainy days or hot days when you're stuck indoors (yes, I know, I shouldn't be turning on my oven on hot days, because my air conditioning works harder, sapping energy from the grid, etc. etc. ... trust me, this is not an every day occurrence).  And if you don't know any little people, it's still fun to play with the dough as an adult; it can take a pretty good beating, and it's not as temperamental as a loaf of bread.  The nice thing about this recipe is that you don't even have to wait for the dough to rise ... which can be difficult for people with a short attention span (no matter how old you are)!

Soft Pretzels

1 T. active dry yeast
1 ½ c. warm water
1 T. sugar
1 t. salt
4 c. flour
1 egg, beaten
kosher salt for sprinkling

Dissolve yeast into water.  Add in sugar and salt, mix well. Slowly add in 4 cups of flour. Mix and knead well for about 5 to 10 minutes. Add flour as needed to reduce stickiness.  The dough is finished when it is smooth and elastic. Now you can begin shaping pieces of the dough.  Place on a cookie sheet covered in parchment and/or lightly sprayed with old, brush with beaten egg* and sprinkle with salt.  Bake at 425 for 15 minutes or so until golden brown.

*you can also dip pretzels in a baking soda bath (½ cup hot water and 1 ½ tablespoon of baking soda), which is a nice option if you're vegan.
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Friday, July 1, 2011

Finding My Tribe: Vegetarian Tortilla Soup

There have been some interesting posts around the blogosphere lately about friendship.  Mel wrote a great post about female friendships that has inspired quite the lively discussion and remembrance of friends past.  Trinity has been writing about her efforts as a relatively new SAHM to forge new relationships with others in that position, about how different she suspected they might be, and how, later, she discovered that they might not be so different after all.  Esperanza wrote about her relationship to the blogging community, and her difficulty finding friends in "real life" that she connects with in the same way she connects online.

All of these have had me thinking about my own friendship history, or lack thereof.  It's not that I don't have friends, but rather, that I've never had the kind of female friends that Mel describes, the ones that "profoundly change you" and set you on a new life path.  In elementary school, I was too smart and too different to be included.  I did have a series of "best friends" back then, but they were more like "only friends" than anything else, other social misfits like me.  In high school, I had another series of "best friends," but I've drifted apart from nearly all of them, for geographical and ideological reasons, though we now stalk each other on fb.  In college, I had a group of great friends, many of whom I'm still in touch with, but I connected better with the males than the females--so much so that I had a "dude of honor" at our wedding, instead of a maid or a matron.

Soon after I had my son four years ago, I joined and was soon kicked out of the stay-at-home-moms group because I wasn't attending enough of their meetings, despite the fact that I actually took days off to attend playdates--talk about neurotic!  They weren't really my tribe anyway, and I started a working moms group in my county, in the hopes of finding other women who were dealing with the same challenges I was.  Now, four years later, oddly enough, though I do count many of those women as friends, I feel like it's created more close relationships for the other members of the group than it has for me.  To be honest, I've always been a little bit jealous of those women for whom those relationships seem to come so easily, and wondered what I was missing, what I was doing wrong.

In the past year or so, I've noticed that I finally seem to be developing more friendships with women.  I still don't think I would call them at three a.m. for a two hour conversation, but they're people I trust, and to whom I relate.  I don't know what's precipitated the change, other than the fact that maybe I'm becoming more willing to let down my own guard; it could just be that I've finally met the right people.  It could also be that technology has given me a platform that allows me to build relationships in a safer space, strange as that may sound.  We've all read about the ways in which social media isolates us, but in other ways, I suspect that it enables relationships that would never otherwise exist.

I adapted this recipe to my own tastes and dietary leanings from one originally published by the one and only Pioneer Woman.  It's particularly apt because as I was enjoying a long walk with a friend this past week we discovered that we'd both just been looking at it recently.  This soup is good for summer: unfussy, but filling, a little spicy, and highly adaptable ... just like good friends should be.

Tell us: do you have a "best friend" as Mel describes?  How did you find your "tribe"?

Vegetarian Tortilla Soup

1½ t. cumin
1 t. chili powder
½ t. garlic powder
½ t. salt
1 T. olive oil
1 c. diced onion
½ c. diced red bell pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (10 Oz. Can) Rotel tomatoes and green chilies
32 oz. (4 c.) low sodium vegetable stock
3 T. tomato paste
4 cups hot water
2 cans (15 Oz. Can) black beans, drained and rinsed
½ c. frozen corn
3 T. cornmeal
5 corn tortillas, cut into 2-3" strips

sour cream/greek yogurt
diced avocado
diced red onion
grated monterey jack or cheddar

Heat olive oil in a pot over medium high heat. Add onions, red pepper, and minced garlic. Stir and begin cooking, then add the spice mix. Stir to combine.

Pour in tomatoes, stock, tomato paste, water, and black beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes, uncovered.

Mix cornmeal with a small amount of water. Pour into the soup, then simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Check seasonings, adding more if needed—add more chili powder if it needs more spice, and be sure not to undersalt. Add the frozen corn. Turn off heat and allow to sit for 15 to 20 minutes before serving. Five minutes before serving, gently stir in tortilla strips.

Ladle into bowls, then top with whatever garnishes you like!
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