Monday, April 30, 2012

On Cheating: Empanadas

When I was working full time outside the home, I spent a lot of time worrying that I was short-changing my son by not doing the things that most of the moms in his class seemed to do: go on class trips, show up unannounced to help with a project ... you get the idea.  Patient boy as he is, there were a few times he even called me on this, suggesting that perhaps I could work at his school so that this working thing wouldn't be such a problem.

Now that I'm home with his sister, though, I don't find that I have much more time than I did before for these kinds of commitments, and I feel as guilty as ever.

Which is why I volunteered to make Spanish food for his Spanish club every week during the seven week session, in which they are studying Spain.

Much as I'm looking forward to this, it's also madness, because when I cook, it's usually at night, after everyone has gone to bed; it's simply not practical to cook while Little Miss Squirm is hanging on my leg (and no, thank you, she is not interested in watching me work from the Ergo).  So if I'm going to prepare food for eleven children, plus enough to take home to share with family members (which is how the food portion of the club has been working), I will be cooking our dinner, and then someone else's dinner (because I. informs me that "some people in Spanish club think that it's dinner time").

I used to offer my students a lot of advice about time management, and until recently, considered myself sort of an expert.  I have always been able to juggle multiple priorities with ease.  I signed up for a part time remote opportunity to help a former colleague, thinking that I could certainly find ten to fifteen more hours in my week.  Which is why I keep thinking that I must be doing this SAHM thing wrong.  Where does the time go during the day?  N. wakes up between 5:30 and 6.  I wake up with her, feed her and her brother breakfast and make lunch.  The boys are out the door by 7:15, and by then I usually have my cup of coffee in hand.  Play for an hour and a half, then snack for N.  Nap for an hour, during which I get dressed, clear up breakfast dishes, catch up on email.  Wake up, play for another hour, feed N. lunch.  Go to the Y if it's a good day.  Back home, play for half an hour, naptime again for N., while I shower.  She's up in an hour.  Playtime, and in another hour, the boys are home.  Dinner prep.  Bathtime.  Play with I. for half an hour.  Bedtime.  Laundry (always, always laundry).  Empty the dishwasher.  Another possible email catchup, or blog commenting, or blog post writing, and an attempt to get in an hour of remote work, if I am really lucky (which, it turns out, is only a few times a week after all).  Dinner prep for the next day.  Job hunt.  Write cover letters.  Revise resumes.  Browse for recipes, or meal plan for the week, or do some other random thing I've meant to do that night.  Maybe read a chapter of a book for my book group.  By then, it's midnight.  Or one.  And I'm up in another four and a half hours.  What am I missing?  How do other people do this so well, and hold down a part time job, and write a novel, and ...

I keep thinking that this must be like graduate school; I was well into my second year when I realized that my classmates were not reading all of the assignments.  What?!  This was a revelation to me.  Was some of the work really, truly optional?  How did they get by with doing less?  Wasn't that cheating?

In the years since graduate school, I've come to think that maybe it's not really cheating after all.  Maybe it's about doing things differently.  What can I let go of?  What doesn't really need to get done, at least, not in the way that I do it?

Do you ever feel like you're cheating?  What do you let go of, so that you retain some shred of sanity?

Empanadas are excellent on-the-run food, because you can pretty much stuff everything you need into the crust, and off you go.  The Spanish version, which is served in tapas bars, is more like a stuffed pizza than the "turnover" variety you see in Latin American cuisine.  Though Spain is not exactly known for its vegetarian-friendly fare, I've included a vegetarian option here that will stay somewhat true to the original flavor and texture of the dish.  You can also use ready-to-use pizza dough if you don't feel like making your own.


4 c. bread flour
pinch salt
2 t. active dry yeast
2 egg yolks, beaten
1 1/4 c. warm milk
1 egg. beaten

1 lb. chicken, pork or tuna; you could also use mushrooms or roasted eggplant for a vegetarian version
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 large or two small red bell peppers, seeded and thinly sliced
2 medium Spanish onions, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 fresh thyme sprig
2 bay leaves
1/2 c. broth or dry white wine, such as Albariño
8 – 10 plum tomatoes (fresh or canned), cut into small dice
2 t. pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika; you can use regular paprika, but it's just not the same!)

Sift flour and salt in a large bowl.  Stir in yeast.  Stir milk into egg yolks, and slowly pour into flour, stirring constantly.  Beat 5-10 minutes, until dough comes cleanly away from bowl.  Turn dough out into a lightly floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic (if you have a stand mixer, feel free to use your dough hook).  Form into 2 equal sized balls, place in an oiled bowl, cover and leave in a warm place about 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Cook chicken or eggplant/mushrooms any way you like (I grilled mine, but you could poach, too). Shred or chop well. In a Dutch oven or large saucepan set over medium-low heat, heat 1/4 c. of olive oil. Add the onions, peppers, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until very tender, about 30 minutes. Add the thyme and bay leaves, season to taste with salt and pepper, and continue to cook until the mixture turns golden, another 10 minutes. Add the broth or wine and cook until it evaporates. Stir in tomatoes and pimentón, increase the heat to medium, and cook until almost all the liquid evaporates, 10 – 15 minutes. Add chicken (or mushrooms or eggplant), cook for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat, discard the bay leaves, and season again with salt, if necessary.

Preheat oven to 400.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment or aluminum foil lightly sprayed with cooking oil.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to a thin rectangle the size of a standard cookie sheet.  Place one layer of dough on the cookie sheet.  Spread the filling to within about 1.5" of the edge of the dough.  Brush the edges with water, cover with the other rectangle of dough, and crimp to seal.  Glaze with beaten egg and poke in several places with a fork to allow steam to escape.  Bake about 20 minutes or until golden.  Serve warm, cut into rectangles or squares.
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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Don't Ignore: the Space Between

a post in honor of National Infertility Week

I don't write a lot specifically about infertility here any more.  Part of me feels like that silence, or that lack, is a betrayal, because it was such a significant part of the forward-movement of this blog for such a long time, and because the community that supported and continues to support me on this journey deserves a better advocate.  Part of me feels like that is the natural evolution of this space.  Part of me worries that people who come here for cupcakes or soup won't want to read about pregnancy loss.  Part of me thinks that maybe cupcakes and soup are excellent ploys to raise awareness for a disease that affects one in eight women.  Part of me knows that infertility is one of many subtexts for everything I write.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted an April Fool's pregnancy announcement on Facebook.  After he revealed the truth, most people thought the joke was funny, but it took him a long time to untangle the rumors that had spread.  He's a nice guy, and I was surprised that he would have done something so cavalier, but I felt that I needed to say something.  So I wrote him a private Facebook message, telling him that I didn't want to speak on behalf of the entire ALI community, but that a post like that might be hurtful to people in ways that he didn't intend.

To my surprise, he wrote back that his wife had also experienced recurrent pregnancy loss, fibroids, and other complications with her reproductive system.  They were no longer able to have children, and the two they had were hard-won, like ours.  He should have known better, he said, given their own experiences with grief and loss.

It was yet another one of the instances of my making assumptions about my own friends, wherein I was acting the part we usually assign to the unaware "Fertile."

In a conversation months ago with another friend whose first child was stillborn, she said that she often felt unwelcome in the ALI community, in the blogs that seemed to make assumptions about women who had children.  She reminded me that women on the playground, watching their children ... women in church ... women who are friends, neighbors, relatives ... may also have walked on this path.  I think about her words often when I catch myself making assumptions about the women I meet, reminding myself that the assumptions I make could stand in the way of deeper friendship, trust, understanding, and support.

In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week, my request is this: don't ignore the assumptions we make about each other.  Those assumptions support the wall of silence that surrounds infertility, that makes it so taboo.  Don't ignore the silences, the things that go unsaid because there is no safe space to say them.  Don't ignore the subtexts of strained or happy conversations.

Because ignoring these things promotes ignorance, and more ignorance is the last thing we need.

Thanks for reading, for listening, and for witnessing, both with me, and with so many others.
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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Syndicated! Starting a CSA at Work

Just a quick note today to say that I've been syndicated!  The awesome food section editor Genie Gratto over at let me do some research on starting a CSA at your workplace, and I came up with some great models and useful tips to share.  Eating local is a topic near and dear to my heart, and this is one way to make it even easier ... I hope you'll click over and take a look!
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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Lessons in Blogging from a Dandelion: Potato Collard Soup

It's dandelion season in my corner of the world.  Year after year we try to rid our lawn of these invaders, without much success.  It's a losing battle, especially if you have kids in your neighborhood.

Because you remember what you do with dandelions, don't you?  You pick the biggest, seediest, plumpest ones, you make a wish, and you blow.  You watch with delight as the seeds scatter in the wind, some settling back into the grass in front of you, some winging their way to a neighbor's yard.  It's immensely satisfying.

I've been spending a lot of time with the dandelions this year because my daughter just discovered them.  And though she hasn't figured out how to consistently make the air come out of her mouth when she wants it to (one particularly puffy specimen got a little too close to her mouth, and she spent the next five minutes crying because the downy seeds really just don't taste very good, and they get stuck on your tongue and in your throat like a stubborn hair), she loves the idea of the scattering.  Sometimes she ruffles her fingers through the down, watching the seeds leap into the air.  Sometimes she toddles from one to the next, picks them gingerly, and hands them to me, gesturing: Blow, mama.  So I do, re-seeding our lawn, ensuring that we'll never catch up with the weeds.

Yesterday I found myself thinking about what dandelions can teach us about blogging and about life.  Because that's how I roll these days.  Here's what I came up with:

Put in a good tap root.  One of the reasons dandelions are so hard to take out is because they have a thick, stubborn tap root.  They integrate themselves deeply into the soil.  You, too, should put in deep roots in the soil of the blogging community.  Leave comments.  Form relationships.  It's from those relationships that your own blog will grow and become fruitful.

Be adaptable.  Dandelions start out as those bright yellow flowers that signal the decline of your lawn, then go into hiding and suddenly come back as the cottony balls of fluff we all love.  Be willing to acknowledge when change might be a good thing, and might even allow you to reach a wider audience, or be a more effective writer.  Metamorphosis doesn't mean you've lost yourself, if you have deep roots.

Prepare to produce lots of seeds.  If every dandelion seed my children and I blew into our yard took root, we would have no lawn.  Somehow, nature has a sense of balance, and some of them never reach the soil, or die untimely deaths by the lawnmower, or don't get what they need to survive.  You'll probably write a lot; sometimes a post will strike a chord with your readers, and sometimes not.  Know that if you write enough, eventually something will take root.  (This is one piece of advice I really ought to follow more often myself.)

Cover as much ground as you are willing.  If you stretch yourself, you may find that you've taken root in new communities entirely, ones that will further pollinate your ideas. Take a risk, and go long every once in a while.

Weeds are beautiful, too.  Maybe they're an invasive nuisance, but have you ever been given a small bouquet of dandelion flowers?  They're as lovely and cheerful as they are hardy.   So maybe your post isn't exactly the perfect thing you thought it would be.  Chances are it will still be meaningful to someone.  Don't discount your "weeds."

Some people actually eat dandelion greens.  I haven't harvested our bumper crop yet, myself, but I give you this soup today, in which you could probably use dandelion greens, if you were feeling particularly brave.  I think I'll just keep making wishes, and watching the seeds fly.

Potato Collard Soup

3 T. olive oil
2 onions, chopped
10 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/4 t. salt
6 potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
7 cups water
4 c. collard leaves, stems removed, chopped

Heat oil in a large pot.  Add onions, garlic, and salt; saute over medium-low heat until translucent.

Add potatoes and saute for another few minutes until just starting to turn golden.  Add water.

Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are half done, about 10 minutes.

Add collards and cook another 10-15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.  Puree soup with a stick blender (it's OK if the collards don't blend in all the way; that creates a nice variegated texture) and season with salt and pepper to taste.
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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Freedom, Protection, and the Mixing Bowl: Vegan Lemon Lemon Cupcakes

My son has been my companion in the kitchen since he was born.  I have vivid memories of him as a small blob-like baby perched in his car seat, watching me make apple pie as I talked to him, flashing measuring cups, naming ingredients, dancing to some CD or another.  And now, even though he often has better things to do (like play Legos, for example), when I call him from the kitchen, he often comes to dump things into the mixing bowl, to stir or to turn on the mixer, and to lick the beaters.

My husband and I had a disagreement recently about whether or not I. should be allowed to use the stand mixer on his own.  I wouldn't exactly call it "unsupervised," but there are times when I let him turn the mixer on by himself as I'm rummaging in the cupboards to get something.  S. thinks that this is not a good idea; that I. will stick his hands or arms into the mixer, and there will be disaster.  I feel like I've given him enough instructions and that he has good enough instincts that he can be trusted with the mixer now.  And while occasionally there is flour everywhere when he turns it on, he has not yet let me down, and he usually starts it at the lowest speed.  Still, S. does have a point; I. has occasionally done bizarre, impulsive things (like stick a bead up his nose), despite his usual rational behavior.

The question is, at what point do you decide that a child is ready for certain kinds of freedom--freedom that could give them a chance to offer their talents to the world?  For how long do you protect them?  What do you do to make sure that their encounters with others are as safe as possible--that they don't hurt themselves or other people?

The same kind of question comes up when we let people--even adults--use any social networking tool.  Mel recently called my attention (via the Prompt-ly list) to a project called The Listserve, which, when it reaches 10,000 subscribers (and it just has) will allow one of its subscribers each day to send an email, consisting of whatever they want, to the list.  The difference here, of course, is that while I have some sense of how my son will operate the mixing bowl, we have no idea who the other 9,999+ subscribers are, and how they will use this common tool.  Like the things that come from the stand mixer, a lot of good could come from this list.  New ideas.  Community.  Global goodwill.  Rallying around social justice projects.  It could help to overcome the silo-experience of social media, where we find ourselves talking to friend lists and reading blogs and following pinterest boards full of people who are just like us.  Then again, the users could send self-promoting advertisements.  They could send hate speech.  They could use it for cyber-bullying.  They could send suicide notes (though there's a hopeful article here from a few years back about how people responded to a suicide note on PostSecret; one hopes that the response would be similarly compassionate and constructive).  There's nothing on the site to indicate that the site owner will censor any email, no policy about what will or will not get sent (though an article I read says they will vet email for things like porn or viruses).

(This also reminds me of the "enemy" plug-in that was recently created for Facebook ... and in that case, you could do some real damage without, it seems, any of the positive payoff.)

When I've been reading around to see what other people think of the project, it seems more like people are thinking about what they're going to say, rather than what they're going to get.  It's a chance for people to say something with an audience who may actually listen, to say something that will--presumably--not get "lost" in the social media chatter.  But what does that focus on authorship say about being a responsible reader?  Are we so self-absorbed that we're not even worrying about what other people might say, but are, instead, interested in our own 15 minutes (or so) of fame?

On the one hand, I think that the responsibility for the emails that get sent will rest on the shoulders of the project owners, five masters' students at NYU.  Sort of like (though I realize that the analogy is far from perfect) giving your five-year-old power to turn on the stand mixer.  If you're going to set him loose, even if you're supervising from across the kitchen, you should make sure he's ready to handle that kind of responsibility.  You should give him training.  You should be prepared to spring into action if something goes awry.  (None of this, I should add, is evident from TheListserve's site.)  But maybe the analogy is more appropriate when conceived this way: the makers of the stand mixer, which is a tool, are not responsible for the quality of my cake, or for my five-year-old's fingers.  I also think that the responsibility rests on the users.  After all, they've signed up for this experience.  They've elected membership in this haphazard "community," for better or worse.  They are inviting the possibility of radical difference into their inboxes.  And opening yourself up to contact with radical difference entails taking a risk.

Maybe some people will say some awful things.  I suspect that most of them won't.  It's certainly an interesting experiment in social nature.

I signed up for the list.  Though I don't typically solicit email, I'm curious.  And a pretty large part of me hopes I don't get picked to say something to the world, because I'm not sure I have a gem of wisdom to pass on just yet.  I'm the kind of person who sits through many meetings before I speak up, and what I have to say is usually something I've been mulling over for quite some time.  I suspect I'd say something about compassion and social justice, and perhaps I'd hatch a project to promote those things, but I'm not going to commit to that today.

What do you think?  Who should be responsible for what gets posted to the listserve?  Would you sign up?  And if you got chosen to speak, what would you say?

And: these cupcakes are made with a whisk, for those days when the stand mixer really does feel too risky.

(Vegan) Lemon Cupcakes
(makes 18-20 cupcakes)

2/3 c. canola oil
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. soy yogurt
2/3 c. soy milk
1/2 c. lemon juice
2 T. lemon zest
2 t. vanilla extract
2 1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt

Preheat over at 350 degrees, line pan with cupcake liners. Stir together oil, sugar, yogurt, and soy milk. Add the lemon juice, zest, and vanilla. Mix to combine. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the flour to the liquid mixture in two batches, mixing very well in between each addition. Fill the cupcake liners 1/2 to 3/4 of the way full and bake for 20-22 minutes. Let cool, then frost.

Lemon Buttercream Frosting

1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup earth balance margarine, softened
4 c. confectioners’ sugar
1/4 c. + 1 T. fresh lemon juice
4 t. finely grated lemon zest
2 t. vanilla
1/4 t. lemon extract

In a bowl, cream the shortening and margarine and then add the sugar 1/2 cup at a time. After each sugar addition, add a splash of lemon juice and beat well with mixer. Add vanilla and lemon extracts and beat for another 3-5 minutes until smooth and fluffy.
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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Mindful Eating: Spanish Spinach

I've never really considered myself a food blogger.  Though I appreciate beautiful and tasty food (I think this is the definition of a foodie for me), and I like taking pictures of food to help people imagine that they are there to appreciate it too, for me, food is a metonym for other things: for comfort, for memory, for family, for community, for values (e.g. my CSA soapbox), even for identity.  Those are the things I write about.  I don't think I'm the only person who feels this way: my friend the lovely and talented JeCaThRe is writing a novel with characters who cook (I keep meaning to ask her for the password so I can catch up, and you should, too), and even publishes their recipes in her other blog; I feel like somehow, their food can stand in partially for who they are as characters.

Seeing food as something besides either fuel or art becomes problematic, though, when your eating becomes emotional.  Which, unfortunately, it is for me.  Though I cook healthy, beautiful meals for my family, I am a late night cabinet- and freezer-stalker.  Which, of course, feeds right into my overdeveloped sense of Catholic guilt, and makes me think I ought to be starving myself in compensation, which of course leaves me hungry at night all over again.  I am a yo-yo.

It's not even really an issue of having junk in the house: I do all of the shopping in the house and cook every meal during the week, so my cart contains mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, milk and cheese, cereal, and paper products.  Still, even when I've been particularly virtuous about the weeks' worth of groceries, I wind up eating a half a jar full of almonds, or peanut butter, or sheets of matzoh with butter.

Esperanza wrote a brave post recently about her relationship with food (and how it is complicated by her prescription medication, though, not emotion), and it resonated with me.  Why do so many of us, I wonder, have such difficult relationships with food?  What are the strategies you use to make sure that your relationship with food is a healthy one?

One of the things I need to do more consistently is bring my practice of mindfulness to eating.  Often I eat while I'm doing something else.  When I was pregnant, I was eating and drinking lots of water, but doing so with my full attention focused on the act of eating or drinking.  There have been times in my life when I've cut out sugar entirely, or gone completely vegetarian, or grain-free during certain parts of the day, so I know that mindfulness works.  Am I hungry?  And if not, why am I grazing?

Keiko had a great post a while back about mindful eating and the most delicious oatmeal raisin cookie. Thich Nhat Hanh has written extensively about the practice of mindfulness, and has some wonderful wisdom about mindful eating.  He writes:
"Each morsel of food is an ambassador from the cosmos. [...] Some of us, while looking at a piece of carrot, can see the whole cosmos in it, can see the sunshine in it, can see the earth in it. It has come from the whole cosmos for our nourishment.  [...] When you chew it, you are aware that you are chewing a piece of carrot. Don't put anything else into your mouth, like your projects, your worries, your fear, just put the carrot in.

And when you chew, chew only the carrot, not your projects or your ideas. You are capable of living in the present moment, in the here and the now. It is simple, but you need some training to just enjoy the piece of carrot. This is a miracle.

I often teach "orange meditation" to my students. We spend time sitting together, each enjoying an orange. Placing the orange on the palm of our hand, we look at it while breathing in and out, so that the orange becomes a reality. If we are not here, totally present, the orange isn't here either.

There are some people who eat an orange but don't really eat it. They eat their sorrow, fear, anger, past, and future. They are not really present, with body and mind united.

When you practice mindful breathing, you become truly present. If you are here, life is also here. The orange is the ambassador of life. When you look at the orange, you discover that it is nothing less than fruit growing, turning yellow, becoming orange, the acid becoming sugar. The orange tree took time to create this masterpiece.

When you are truly here, contemplating the orange, breathing and smiling, the orange becomes a miracle. It is enough to bring you a lot of happiness. You peel the orange, smell it, take a section, and put it in your mouth mindfully, fully aware of the juice on your tongue. This is eating an orange in mindfulness. It makes the miracle of life possible. It makes joy possible."

My father, who lived through the Depression and all sorts of other horrendous conditions, used to say "eat to live, don't live to eat."  I don't think that's the answer, at least not for me; simply eating to live means you may be missing the opportunity to appreciate what goes into your mouth before it reaches your bloodstream.  Instead, I'm proposing to eat more consciously, perhaps to "eat to live well."

This recipe is wonderful for mindful eating because of the complex flavors and textures, despite the simple ingredients.  The nutty crunch of the pine nuts balances the chewy sweet of the fruit (this version is a bit different because of the addition of apricots) and the potential bitterness of the greens.  Whoever said that Spanish people can't be vegetarians clearly never had Espinacas a la Catalana.

Spinach with Pine Nuts and Raisins

3 bunches of spinach
1/3 c. pine nuts
1/3 c. raisins
1/3 c. apricots, chopped into pine nut-sized pieces
1 1/2 T. butter (I used salted)

Thoroughly rinse spinach and place in a large pan. Cover and cook until just wilted, about 5 minutes. (You won't need to add any liquid if the spinach has just been washed.)

Drain the spinach. Cool and squeeze dry with your hands. Chop and set aside.

Heat butter in a skillet. Add pine nuts, raisins, and apricots, and cook over medium heat until the pine nuts and apricots are golden and the raisins plumpted. Stir in spinach and toss to combine. Cook until heated through, and serve immediately.
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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Risk Aversion: Tomato Soup Extremadura

If you had the chance to do things over, professionally speaking, would you do it?

Imagine that your work situation (this is really more for people who work outside the home, but play along with me if you can) has become untenable.  Toxic.  That you wake up in the morning and know that if you go to work, you will lose your integrity, your dignity.  Imagine that you have the freedom to leave that situation and start over.  What do you do?

Do you leave, and apply for jobs in your previous field: the presumably safe(r)* bet?  (*obviously not exactly safe given the current economy)

Do you leave, and start something entirely new?  Would you strike out on your own, knowing that you have to help provide for a family, even if you can afford to spend a year in professional limbo?  Do you trust that things will just work themselves out?

Do you stay in the untenable situation, and make the best of it?

My father left Spain at the tender age of ten, and went to a Catholic boarding school in France.  He became a Jesuit brother, and was sent to Cuba, where he taught for years before becoming a principal at his school.  He left one night, diamonds hidden in the handle of his suitcase, after a firing squad had been picking off students and teachers one by one, and stopped for the day just as he was next in line.  He escaped to Miami, where he taught again, then to Bayonne, where he met my mother on a trip to Spain he was running for students and teachers.  He left religious life to marry my mother, saying, on the way back from a first date at the beach, "I think we should get married."

It amazes me to think about the things my father did.  I wonder if he was just more willing to take risks, or if life circumstances conspired to change things for him, or if he was simply just able to trust that things would work out because of his own clarity about what he wanted from life.  Either way, those decisions--because they *were* decisions, even if they were made under difficult circumstances--make me look completely risk-averse in comparison.

Then again, at that time, he didn't have a family to worry about, or a mortgage, or any of the things that tie so many of us down: the things that make us grateful, but also perhaps a little more cautious.

I'm curious: what would you do over, given the chance (limited to things over which you have control)?  *Amended later: what would you do if you had to start over from where you are right now?  Would you opt for a risky, untried path or less-risky path?

This soup is definitely not a risky one.  It's plain, belly-warming food, the sort of thing that fortifies you for the journey ahead.  Because it's not always easy to try something new.

Sopa de Tomate Extremeña
(Tomato Bread Soup, Extamadura Style)

2 T. olive oil
1 large onion, minced
1/2 celery stalk, thinly sliced
3 tomatoes
3 c. stock (vegetable or chicken)
1 bay leaf
2 cloves
salt and pepper
1 c. 1/2 inch cubes day-old bread

Heat oil and slowly cook onion and celery over medium-low heat until very tender but not brown.  Puree two of the tomatoes and stir them into the onions.  Cook quickly over medium-high head until the tomatoes form a paste.

Pour in the stock and add bay leaf, cloves, salt, and pepper to taste.  Cook over low head for 30 minutes, partially covered.

Peel, seed, and cube the remaining tomato (I did this by cutting a small x into the bottom of the tomato and submerging it in the hot soup for a few seconds until the skin began to come apart).  Add to the soup just before serving and heat through.  Stir in the bread cubes and serve.
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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Props To You: Falafel Pie

I have always been a competitive person.  When I was younger, my competitive spirit manifested itself at school, because that was what I spent most of my time doing (and because I avoided competitive sports).  But as I grew up, it began to extend to every part of my life. This becomes problematic when you realize that you can't do everything better than everyone else can, especially if you're not particularly athletic.

My addiction to competition has been fueled, recently, by what my husband calls "electronic 'attaboys."  My car, a hybrid, congratulates me when I have get particularly good mileage: "Excellent!" it says, as I'm powering down.  My husband got two free fitbits from work, and I've been wearing one the past two days; one of its displays is a flower that grows as you are more active during the day, and of course, I had to compare the length of my flower with my husband's flower.  (There's probably something deeply and bizarrely Freudian in there that I am not going to explore.)  It also says "walk me" and "climb on" and "cheers" whenever I pick it up.  Because, you know, I need the motivation.

All of this goes away, though, when I'm doing yoga.*

When I first started practicing yoga--or more honestly, up until quite recently in my yoga practice--I refused to use blankets and blocks, thinking myself (I am ashamed to admit this) somehow "superior" for a more "authentic" practice.

But in my current class, my teacher requires us all to use props sometimes, in order to improve alignment, to rest some parts of the body in order to allow others to work more effectively in an asana, or just to improve our focus on the flow of prana or on the breath.

At first I resisted.  I didn't need props.  I could do this asana AllByMyselfThankyouverymuch.

Then, giving in, I felt my body shift.  I felt new awareness in my muscles and my joints.  I felt hips and shoulders opening.  I was able to pay better attention to what I was experiencing.  It was like focusing a beam of light on the part of the body that was moving, helping me to cultivate sattva, or (very loosely translated) harmony, not just a stretch.  Ohhhhhhh, I thought.  Now I understand.

How many times have we done this?  Refused props, or support, because we want to do it ourselves?  Because the competition, the doing it "better," is more important than the experience of doing it, whatever "it" is?  Because we have this twisted idea that doing it without help is somehow more authentic than using our props?  And how many times has that support actually helped us to see things differently, perhaps, if we were able to accept it, rather than trying to compete, or get ahead (which is, in case you are interested, the rajasic way of approaching things, rather than sattvic)?

On the other side of the question, perhaps it's time to support someone, rather than trying to beat them at a game you may both lose?  Perhaps it's time to offer perspective, rather than one-upsmanship?

Sattva is a philosophical principle that also influences diet if you're into ayurvedic cooking.  I give you this (mostly) sattvic, not entirely beautiful, dish, adapted quite liberally from The Vegan Stoner (which you really must go read, because their cartoons are as fabulous as their food, if you're not vegan).  Props to you, friends.

*Except for the fact that I realized I was jealous of Mel's tripod headstand today, having only ever been able to do a headstand of my own against a wall.

Falafel Pie

1 c. falafel mix (which is on the one hand totally cheating, and on the other hand, just a prop)
1/2 c. water
1 c. (or so) hummus
1 cucumber
1 c. plain greek (or soy) yogurt
1 T. lemon juice
1/4 t. salt (or to taste)
dash garlic powder (optional)
1 tomato, sliced

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix falafel mix with water, and spread evenly into a 9" pie plate.  Bake 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the cucumber in half.  Blend one half of it with the yogurt, lemon juice, salt, and garlic.  Slice the other half thinly.  Set aside the blended cucumber mix.

Remove and let cool a bit; spread with a thick layer of hummus, and layer the sliced cucumbers and tomato on top of the hummus.  Pour blended cucumber mix over the top, and serve.
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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

You're Beautiful: Carrot Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

It's nice to know that despite some of the frightening legislation being passed out there affecting women, there was one bright spot last month: the Israeli law banning underweight models in ads.  We're not talking about women who are just skinny, but who would be considered malnourished by World Health Organization standards.   The other interesting piece of the law requires that advertisements disclose when they use altered digital images, Photoshopping women into something they're not.

Then again, this is another attempt to legislate women's bodies, positive though it might be.  Should I be more concerned than I am about a slippery slope?

I've struggled with weight and body image for my entire life.  While I'm not "fat" by most standards, I also don't fit into Ann Taylor skirts.  I have curves.  I grew out of my "chubby" phase later than most other girls did, but I was a dancer: muscular on the bottom, small on top.  In graduate school in LA, I starved myself--for a variety of reasons, I guess, some of which had to do with how much money I had to spend on frivolous things like food, some of which had to do with feeling a lack of control about everything else in my life, some of which had to do with the skinny, beautiful people who seemed to be everywhere around me, swilling their lattes without a care in the world.  I came back to the East Coast weighing in at about 20 pounds less than I had in high school, and gained it back (and then some) once I settled into a job and a place of my own.  Since then I've become more fit: I used to kickbox, I run (my paltry little 5 miles on a really good day), I do yoga, I work out regularly when I can.  Still, I've gained and lost and gained weight again with my pregnancies, and grown, intelligent, self-confident woman that I am, I still poke and prod at myself, frown disapprovingly in the mirror.  I wonder, would a law about the images of women that get portrayed in the media do anything to change that?

Should women be able to choose how to treat their bodies?  (Please note: I am not suggesting that anorexia is healthy; this is a much larger question, I think)  A few days ago Pinterest also banned pro-anorexia images: it now expressly forbids content that “creates a risk of harm, loss, physical or mental injury, emotional distress, death, disability, disfigurement or physical or mental illness to yourself, to any other person, or to any animal.”  How does one measure this kind of risk, especially risk to others?  Who should decide?  While I don't want my daughter to grow up looking at images that make her doubt her body (heaven knows there are already too many internal, invisible reasons for women to doubt their bodies: see Kir's great post yesterday about accepting our bodies despite infertility), should people have the right to look at these images and share them if they want to?  How do images of anorexic women compare to, say, pornography? 

I'm teaching a class at my church for the young people who will be celebrating a coming of age ceremony, and as part of the journey, they all undertake a small social action project.  One of the young women wanted to do a day of post-it blitzing around her school with positive self-image messages for other young women.  We all thought it was a good idea, but worried about the follow-up.  What effect would a single day of anonymous messages have in the long run?

I've been baking a little bit less lately in an effort to eat better.  After my daughter was born, I gave myself permission to eat pretty much anything, and (in case you couldn't tell) I have a weakness for sweets.  And breastfeeding only balances out so much cheesecake and chocolate.  The problem with baking, of course, is that unless you're baking for others, you wind up eating what you make ... and when there are a lot of homemade baked goods in the house, my willpower goes out the window.  My son has noticed the dearth of cake and cookies, though, and plaintively asked the other day when I might be making more.  I decided that if I made something half-healthy, maybe I wouldn't feel so guilty about eating it.  Kir, these are for you.  And for everyone.  In case no one has told you today: you're beautiful.

And, for the record, I will be pinning chocolate chip cookies on my Pinterest site, not anorexic women.  Because I have a thing for beautiful, and not always entirely good-for-you, food.

Carrot-Chocolate Chip Cupcakes
adapted from Cooking Light, August 2003

1 lb. carrots, peeled and sliced
1 1/2 c. sugar
6 T. vegetable oil
1/3 c. low-fat buttermilk
3 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 oz. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (you could also use about 1/4 c. raisins)

Preheat oven to 350.

Process carrots in a food processor until finely minced.

Combine carrots, sugar, oil, buttermilk, and eggs in a large bowl. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, level with a knife. Combine flour, soda, and salt, stirring with a whisk. Add flour mixture to carrot mixture, stir until smooth. Stir in chocolate.

Spoon batter into 22 muffin cups lined with paper liners. Bake for 22 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack, and remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack.

Frost with cream cheese frosting or dust with powdered sugar.
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