Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Still Flying the Flag: Tortilla Bandera

"I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail."   -Adrienne Rich, "Diving into the Wreck"

In the wee hours of the morning today, my minister and his wife welcomed a healthy little girl into the world, their second child.  It was a pretty uneventful pregnancy, as far as I can tell.  The mom is healthy, by any standards: I think she competed in a triathlon in her late first trimester.  I suspect that she'll be back on her feet in no time, gracefully chasing around their preschooler while she wears her newborn daughter.

My relationship to these children is complicated.  While I'm celebrating just like everyone else, I see the event through a different lens.  The couple's first child was born when I would have been due, too, and it was during her pregnancy that I was diagnosed (if you can even call it that, because really, it was more like a non-diagnosis) with secondary infertility.  I spent her first pregnancy watching her belly swell and her skin glow, feeling like I'd been robbed of my own child, but also like I had a constant reminder in her of what never came to be for me.  And though I've long since dealt with those feelings, and though we are done building our family, I find myself strangely envious of the ease with which this second pregnancy and birth transpired.  It's not a very graceful feeling, but I can't ignore it.

It's not, as my husband might say, that misery loves company.  It's more that I just wish more people fully understood what they seem to take for granted.

The "after" in "parenting after infertility and loss" is a tricky word.  Because there really is no "after."  It's not like something you can leave behind.  There is only "with."  And "through."  When you lose someone else you love, like I lost my father to cancer, people expect you to remember them, to be sensitive on certain anniversaries, though your experience of that loss changes with time.  Why should this be any different?

I've referenced my father here before.  I've been thinking about him a lot lately; something about Easter coming soon and putting in the garden has stirred memories of him in me again that make me smile, and that make me a little sad he never got the chance to meet his grandchildren.  Much as our relationship was a difficult one, sometimes I wish he was here to offer some of his officious (!) advice.  So I spent a week eating his kind of food (more to come in the next posts), appreciating the daffodil blooms with my daughter, and honoring him the best way I know how.

(I will add here that my husband is the one who performed the architectural feat that is this dish.  There was swearing in the kitchen, but I think it turned out great.  The colors are meant to symbolize the Mexican flag, hence the name.)

And to my minister's daughter: welcome to the world, little one.  May you know joy, and beauty, and the love of a community who will teach you to live a life full of grace.  Perhaps a little more gracefully than I do it.

Tortilla Bandera

3 small heads broccoli
1/2 large head cauliflower
olive oil
2-3 large peppers, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1" squares
salt and pepper
12 eggs

Separate broccoli and cauliflower into florets and cook separately in lightly salted boiling water until just tender.   Drain and keep separate.

Heat 1 T. oil in a skillet.  Cook peppers until soft, lightly sprinkling with salt and pepper to taste as they cook.

Heat 1 T. oil in a 10 inch heavy skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-low heat. 

Beat 4 eggs with salt and pepper to taste.  Combine peppers with eggs and pour into the hot oil.  Cook until set on the bottom.  Put a plate over the top of the skillet and invert the omelet onto the plate; slide it back into the skillet and tuck the edges under with a spatula.  Cook until set.

Beat 4 more of the eggs and combine with the broccoli.  It will seem that there aren't enough eggs, but don't worry.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Arrange egg-coated broccoli on top of the red pepper omelet, leveling it with the back of the spatula.  Cook for about 8 minutes.  Turn the whole omelet over again, using the plate as you did before.

Combine the cauliflower the the remaining 4 eggs, adding salt and pepper to taste.  Don't worry that there doesn't seem to be enough eggs.  Pour the cauliflower mixture over the omelet and flatten with the back of the spatula.  Cook for about 10 minutes, occasionally running the spatula around the edge.  Turn the whole tortilla over one last time using the pate, and cook until firm (you may need to turn it again so it becomes golden).

Serve warm or at room temperature.
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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Feminisms: More Thoughts on the Uterati, and Toyoko Bean Salad with Chili Lime Dressing

The other day, the NYTimes published a piece about the legacy, or its lack, of Gloria Steinem.   Steinem emerged as a figurehead for feminism in 1970, during the debate surrounding the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, and is often still the one people call for a sound byte when there's a "women's issue" on the table.

I've been thinking about the question the article poses, about leadership for the feminist movement, and about what people have been calling the War on Women.  While I'm not sure it's coordinated enough to be called a war, I do know that in recent years, I have felt more like being female is a liability.  It's been evident in my health care (where I've had to fight to be treated with dignity), in my workplace (where male leaders continue to tacitly condone sexist behavior, especially the sort that HR can't sanction), even at the grocery store (have you noticed that products for women almost always cost more than the equivalent products for men?  Someone else besides me noticed, too).  And I've found myself, especially after this past year, asking, who is speaking for us now?  (Though I know Mel is speaking for me at the White House, and that's comforting.)

The reality is that we may not ever have another Gloria Steinem.  And perhaps, as Steinem herself thinks, the movement never should have had a first one.  What we do have (and have had for a long time, of course -- I had plenty of courses on feminist theory) are feminisms: the lived experiences of the diaspora.  We are telling our stories in more ways than ever before.  More women have access to the megaphone.  Certainly, there are a lot of great blogs and blog aggregates out there: Jezebel, Feministe, Slate’s Double X, BlogHer are among what I consider to be the "big" ones, and then there's a host of others -- the ALI blogging community is a perfect example of this phenomenon, and I came across one the other day which sports the fabulous name "Team Uterati."  (Among her recent posts is a gut-wrenching story about a woman in Texas who had just discovered that her baby had severe irreversible health defects, and who was forced to have three ultrasounds in a single day and endure a tortuous description of her son-in-utero before she could have an abortion, partly because of a morass of laws and guidelines that didn't get passed at the same time.)

The Times calls it "a matrix of voices, an antic and hyperlinked conversation in which no one figure dominates."

So has social media erased the need for feminist leaders?  Is populism the new social activism?

With all of this chatter, I confess I'm left with nagging doubts.  Does this broad approach to feminism cause diffusion of its message?  Is telling our stories enough?  And, asks Pat Mitchell of the HuffPo, "In a globalized, media-saturated world, are we as aware of the range of experiences, conversations, and considerations?"

There's this, a group launched on Facebook that plans to coordinate marches across the country on April 28th.  And that sounds promising.  But I don't feel like marches in 2012 have the same effect as marches did in 1970.  I feel like what matters is capital: where women spend their money.  And maybe how women can get past the feminisms to send a unified message that things need to change.

I'm publishing this recipe today because it was given to me by my husband's aunt, who married into a very feminism-oriented family (and who is a pretty vocal feminist herself).  It's a potluck-y sort of thing; it's also the sort of salad in which you can taste all the vegetables while you're appreciating the flavor of the whole.  And it's got a surprising kick that you might not notice at first bite.  Sort of like those of us of the double X persuasion.

Toyoko Bean Salad 
with Chili Lime Dressing

2 c. green beans, chopped
1 (19 ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 (19 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 c. corn kernels (frozen is fine)
2 green onions, sliced
1/4 c. fresh coriander or 1/4 c. parsley, chopped
2 T. olive oil
1 t. lime rind, grated
2 t. lime juice
2 t. chili powder
1 t. sugar
1/4 t. salt

In saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add green beans and cook until tender crisp, about 5 minutes. Drain and chill in cold water; drain and set aside.

Drain and rinse chickpeas and black beans thoroughly; place in a large bowl. Add orange pepper, corn and onions; set aside. (If using frozen corn, make sure you do this enough in advance for it to defrost, or run it under some hot water for a few minutes.)

CHILI LIME DRESSING: Combine the ingredients; pour over the beans and toss to coat (Dressing can be made ahead: cover and chill for up to 24 hours, but don't add it to the beans until you're ready to serve it). Adjust seasoning to personal preference.
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Friday, March 16, 2012

Something Old, Something New: Barley Risotto

It's been a pretty crazy few weeks here at A Half Baked Life, though you wouldn't know it from this blog, which has been quieter than a dormouse.  (Did you know that common dormice may spend up to three quarters of their lives asleep?  You're welcome.)

N. started walking independently.  I started trying to fit in some part time remote work, and discovered that the only time I can put in real hours is at night, after I've cooked and done the never-ending laundry, leaving no time for blogging, and falling asleep at my computer.   And then, I had an interview for a real job this week, which I spent the past week trying to prepare for, and which went not as well as I'd hoped, to put it delicately.

For a week in there I had no mental energy to come up with anything new to cook.   I am almost ashamed to admit that I picked up a make-your-own-taco dinner in a yellow box.  I gaze at foodgawker, my usual go-to for foodie inspiration, and feel like everything new is the same old thing, none of which sounds all that appealing.

I struggle to find balance between the old and the new.  I admire Keiko, who started her new blog and business this past week (which, by the way, is awesome; you should go visit).  There's Trinity, who left her job and sounds like she's reoriented well.  And Serenity, who just left her job, too, to start a new adventure.  In many ways, I think experiencing the loss of one's own potential future children or difficulty conceiving them can make you a little more likely to take risks; maybe it offers some of us a sharper picture of our values, and in doing so, motivates us to pursue a happier version of our lives with a little less attention to the cost of that pursuit.

I felt brave when I left my last job.  I knew the my family and my integrity and my dignity were the most valuable things I had.  But part of me is still risk-averse.

It's sort of like being in a hot air balloon.  You've got a great vehicle, but all you do is move up and down; you and the wind become one force, and you allow it to take you wherever it's going.  It's not all bad, traveling that way.  You can see some beautiful places, just drifting through them.  But it's not exactly brave.  And being dependent on the wind does sort of limit your control over your journey.

Here's something old and something new for you.  Risotto, made with barley.  It's got a bit more crunch than usual, but it's hearty, and filling, and better for you than white rice.  Maybe I should take a lesson from my kitchen, and accept a happy medium of both.

Barley Risotto with Roasted Squash

1 medium butternut squash (about 2 lbs.), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2" cubes
1 T. olive oil
4 c. low-sodium broth
4 c. water
1 onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 c. pearled barley
1 c. dry white wine
3/4 c. grated Parmesan
1 t. minced fresh sage
1/8 t. ground nutmeg

Adjust an oven rack to the upper middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Toss the squash with 2 t. of the oil, 1/4 t. salt, and 1/8 t.  pepper and spread out over the prepared baking sheet. Roast the squash until tender and golden brown, about 30 minutes; set aside until needed.

Meanwhile, bring the broth and water to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and cover to keep warm.

Combine the onion and 1 t. of the oil in a large saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in the barley, increase the heat to medium, and cook, stirring often, until lightly toasted and aromatic, about 4 minutes. Stir in the wine and continue to cook, stirring often, until the wine has been completely absorbed, about 2 minutes.

Stir in 3 cups of the warm broth and half of the roasted squash. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed and the bottom of the pan is dry, 22 to 25 minutes. Stir in 2 more cups of the warm broth and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed and the bottom of the pan is dry, 15 to 18 minutes longer.

Continue to cook the risotto, stirring often and adding 1/2 cup of the remaining broth at a time as needed to keep the pan bottom from becoming dry (about every 4 minutes), until the grains of barley are cooked through but still somewhat firm in the center, 15 to 20 minutes longer.

Off the heat, stir in the remaining roasted squash, cheese, butter, sage, and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Thoughts on Post-Feminism: Just How Far *Have* We Come, Baby?

I've always considered myself a feminist.  But that label has been controversial, even among my friends.  Some of them see feminism as a movement of the last century, something we ought to be "over" by now.

Like many other women, I was deeply troubled by the comments Rush Limbaugh made about Sandra Fluke and, by extension, about all women.  I'm not usually bothered by Rush Limbaugh, because I know who his audience is, and I don't care what they think.  But these sexist comments went too far for me this time; they're the tip of the much larger and scarier iceberg that I've been worried about for a while.  First, there's the fight over women's bodies.  The refusal to provide women coverage for contraception in insurance (which is also used to treat a variety of other conditions including endometriosis, amenorrhea, and acne, thanks, Rush).  The Right To Know Act, legislation currently tabled in Pennsylvania which would require women to have ultrasounds (most likely trans-vaginal ones) prior to abortions, whether they want them or not.  The political quagmire of the Susan G. Komen/Planned Parenthood debacle, which temporarily (until Komen came to its senses) cut off funding to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings, and the lack of assurance about the future of grants to that organization.  Then there's the persistent sexism I'm seeing, and that I experienced myself.  Women getting demoted or having responsibilities removed during maternity leave.  Women being excluded from conversations about the future of their organizations.  Women still earning less than men, doing the same jobs, and mothers earning less than non-mothers, even controlling for other variables like education and time away from the workforce.  It's as if the feminist movement accomplished a veneer of acceptance, but underneath the shiny exterior, things haven't changed at all.

Part of me wonders if we became too complacent.  Did we decide that feminism had accomplished what it set out to accomplish?  Have we stopped trying to make change?  If so, why?  Have we gone backwards?  If so, how did it happen?  And what role, if any, have women played in that regression?  Or were the accomplishments of feminism really a sham?

It so happens that I like to bake.  And that a good portion of the time, you will find me in the kitchen.  This is one of three things I sent to our church's coffee hour this past Sunday, even though we weren't going to be there ourselves; I did it because I like feeding people, and sometimes cake is spiritual food, too.  But I'm not barefoot, I'm not pregnant, and I'm not afraid to use my pen, my keyboard, or my frying pan.

No matter what happened to the movement, I am still a feminist.

How about you?

Cinnamon Streusel Coffeecake

1/3 c. chopped raisins (or nuts)
1/3 c. firmly packed brown sugar
3 T. flour
1 T. ground cinnamon
Cooking spray
1 1/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. vegetable oil
2 large eggs
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 c. low-fat buttermilk
1 T. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a small bowl, stir together the first 4 ingredients to make streusel. Coat a 12-cup Bundt pan with cooking spray; sprinkle 1/3 cup of the streusel mixture into pan. Set the remainder of the streusel aside.

Combine regular sugar and vegetable oil in a large bowl, and beat at medium speed until well-blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; stir well. Add flour mixture to wet ingredients alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix after each addition. Mix in vanilla.

Measure 2 cups of batter; set aside. Pour remaining batter into prepared pan; sprinkle remaining streusel over batter. Pour reserved 2 cups batter over streusel. Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pan. Let cool completely on wire rack.
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