Wednesday, May 30, 2012

CSA Opening, Karma, and Bok Choy Salad

Despite my healthy UU skepticism, there are times when I feel like there is karmic justice in the universe.

This is the third year we've been members of a CSA, and I feel like that this year I may have finally gotten it right.  The first year, we had a full share of (read: way too much) high-quality organic produce from a lovely farm that was also too far away for us to take advantage of the additional pick-your-own perks (e.g. we missed out the week they allowed members to pick ten quarts of strawberries each).  I was newly pregnant and anxious about it, and have not-too-fond memories of eating too much lettuce for lunch, and really wanting to toss my proverbial cookies, but not wanting my co-workers to find out that I was expecting.

Last year I was freshly unemployed, and was dealing with an infant who refused to nap, and a much more reasonable half share from more local farm that unfortunately insisted on giving us poor quality (and even rotten) produce, week after week.  I lost energy after a while because I couldn't stand the disappointment of bug-infested lettuce, worm-eaten squash, and rotten melons, on top of sleep deprivation.

This year, we have a half share (which I think is the right amount for a family with one young child, one picky todder, one carnivore, and one mostly-vegetarian) at a local farm whose owners I already love.  When we went to the farm for the open house/orientation on Saturday, I felt like I'd been invited over for mint lemonade.  We strolled through the fields and saw a large variety of beautiful-looking produce, got a tour of the greenhouse, talked about their farming practices and recent organic certification, and got a "practice" (free) pickup to take home, just because some of the veggies were ready.  We have a pickup day that will allow me to grocery shop partway through the week's share, and I have promised myself that I will try to be less stressed out about figuring out the entire week's menu by pickup time; I can let the share "speak to me" (and go rummaging around my refrigerator and the internet).  Even with a mound of greens confronting me, I went home and made kale chips and salads for our Memorial Day barbecue, and was reminded of why I love summer so much.

And--this is the amazing karma part--I *won* the half share.

We'd already signed up and paid for the summer on the recommendation of a friend, back in February, and I was feeling a little guilty about the expense, given the two less-than-fabulous experiences we'd had, especially since I'm still not working.  In March, the farm sponsored a raffle via Facebook, offering a half share to people who were willing to re-post the call for members on their own pages.  Being a believer in local eating, it was a no-brainer; I would have done it even if there weren't a raffle.  Months went by, and I forgot about the contest.  Until late last week, when I got an email letting me know that I'd won.

Would you believe me when I said I started jumping up and down, squealing with delight?

It couldn't have been better timing.  (Did I mention that we just found out we need an entirely new central A/C unit -- goodbye $4K, and that I lost my diamond from my engagement ring, and that we had a shampoo cap drop down the drain to the tune of $200 ...)

With apologies to my lovely readers from the southern hemisphere, for whom this will be all backwards, I present: the first CSA salad of the season.  It's not Perfect Moment Monday, but it sure feels like it.  I'm giving thanks for this bounty already.

Bok Choy Salad
The original recipe from the MACSAC cookbook Asparagus to Zucchini suggests that you salt the vegetables, let them sit for half an hour, and squeeze them dry.  I omitted that step, changed some things around, and it worked out just fine.  I've never used bok choy in a raw salad before, and it was a refreshing change.

1 bunch bok choy, sliced (leaves separately from stems if you have larger bok choy)
1 c. kolhrabi or daikon radish (both peeled and shredded)
1/2 c. red pepper, thinly sliced
1/4 c. thinly sliced green onion
2 t. chopped cilantro
2 t. chopped mint 
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
3 T. rice vinegar
2 t. honey (or agave)
1/4 c. slivered almonds, toasted

Toss together the vegetables and herbs.  Stir together rice vinegar, honey, and slivered almonds.  Pour dressing over salad, toss to coat.  Add slivered almonds and serve.
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Friday, May 25, 2012

Stop-Motion and Larb Gai (or Tofu)

Last night in yoga we practiced sun salutations in slow- and stop-motion.  Before putting a foot down, for example, we would hover it over the ground for a few seconds.  If this sounds like a huge pain to you practicing yogis out there, well, it was.  I've done sun salutations hundreds of times, and though my form is far from perfect, my body naturally glides through the flows of the asanas.  It was amazing to observe how different something feels, and how clumsy and unbalanced you become, when you take a habit out of practice, when you make yourself wait in an in-between.

Part of the point, my teacher explained (besides allowing us to concentrate on our form), was to become comfortable with in-between-ness, with the messiness that occurs when we are attentive to the process rather than rushing headlong to the endpoint or solution.

I am not good with in-between-ness.  It's not that I don't enjoy the journey from point A to point B, but rather that I generally live with my end goals in sight, and I tend to be hell-bent on arriving at them.  That's one reason this year has been a challenging one for me: the goals are fuzzier (though I suppose I could set more tangible writing goals), and the days less purpose-driven (short of the bullet pointed list of things to do that is always in my head, and which always includes laundry and making the next meal, sort of like a shopping list that always starts with bananas and milk).  I am less graceful in this state.  Sometimes it's downright ugly.

On the other hand, sometimes if we disrupt the "flow," the most wonderful, unexpected things can happen.  Not like hovering my right leg an inch above the floor before I put it down for a high lunge (which builds muscle tone but makes my quadriceps scream), but like discovering a new kind of tiny flower that grows in the cracks in the sidewalk, or having a conversation with someone you've never met, or gaining new perspective on how to resolve a difficult situation.

I used to travel internationally as often as I could; we were lucky to have parents who took us on vacation every year to some really remarkable places: Spain, France, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico.  I had relatives in two of those places, so it wasn't that surprising that we traveled to see them, but saving for those trips was a priority in our house.  When I started living on my own, I continued to make travel a savings priority, and I visited (some with my husband) Alaska (which might as well be another country for me, given where I live!), South Africa, Brazil, Thailand, Japan, Canada, and a host of other places.  And when I think back, I remember that the best trips were the ones in which I didn't, guide-book in hand, spend all of my time worrying about getting to the next place.

So I'll encourage you to do something disruptive today.  Live for an hour in stop-motion.  And become comfortable, for a moment, in the in-between-ness, the point of transition, that makes change possible.

Larb Gai or Larb Tofu
This refreshing salad is generally made with chicken, but the tofu will sop up the flavor and dressing beautifully.  And if the shallot bites, live with it for a minute or so. :)

2 t. jasmine rice*
2 t. coconut or vegetable or peanut oil
3/4 lb. chicken or firm tofu, minced/crumbled (I use my cuisinart)
1 stalk lemongrass, sliced
2 T. fish sauce (nam pla)
1/3 c. broth
3 small shallots (1-2 large ones)
4 green onions, sliced on the diagonal
1/2 c. cilantro, chopped
1/2 c. mint, chopped
3 T. lime juice
1/2 lb. lettuce, shredded
1/4 c. roasted unsalted peanuts

(PSA: this first part is a real p.i.t.a., and we will understand if you decide to skip the rice bit.)
In a small pan over medium heat, toast the rice until it's fragrant.  Grind to a powder using whatever means you have available: mortar and pestle, small and powerful cuisinart, etc.

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add chicken mince and cook thoroughly, stirring often to break up lumps.  Add broth, lemongrass, and fish sauce, and cook for another 10 minutes (but watch to make sure it doesn't burn; you may need to turn down the heat).  Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool.

Add shallots, green onions, cilantro, mint, and lime juice and stir to combine well.  Place lettuce on a serving platter, top with chicken mixture, and sprinkle with peanuts.

*You could omit the rice entirely, though I'm told that the flavor of the dish without the rice really makes it a different dish.
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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Belief, Discussion, and Dissent in the Cloud: Gazpacho

This past Sunday was the culmination of our Coming of Age class in the fellowship where we attend what some people call "church."  I'd been facilitating this group of six youth since January, along with two other adults in our congregation, and I was probably almost as proud of them as their parents were, as they conducted the service that they'd planned from beginning to end.

The central component of our Coming of Age service is the youth's presentation of their credos, which are usually written statements, two to five minutes long, about what they believe.  As I've mentioned before, in Unitarian Universalism (UU), not everyone believes the same thing.  Some people believe in God.  Some people are atheist.  Some people are liberal, some are conservative.  Some celebrate Jewish cultural traditions, while some still consider themselves Christian, and still others self-identify as Wiccan or align themselves with other pagan religions.  You'd think that this would make for some pretty confusing conversations, but since we all agree upon seven principles and common sources of wisdom, it actually works out remarkably well.  Still, having to figure out for yourself, at age 16, exactly what your beliefs are, and then stand up in front of your church and explain why you believe those things, in your own words, is a pretty impressive undertaking.   (In some ways it reminds me a bit of that awesome project This I Believe, which was modeled after the 1950 radio series hosted by Edward R. Murrow ... if you haven't heard that on NPR, it's worth a listen.)

Most of the youth said something about still being in process, still figuring out what they believe, and being OK with that; that embracing uncertainty was part of their beliefs, not in the sense that they're wishy-washy, but that they are open to other perspectives to truly make an impression.  Most of them also said something about the preciousness of being in community, of living in support of each other, of giving back.

There's a lot in here, of course, that parallels my experience of blogging.  I've seen lots of my fellow bloggers stand up to say what they believe, and the ones I most admire also thoroughly read the comments section, responding, commenting, and sometimes even changing their ideas about what they believe as a result.  Certainly I'm one of them; the great thing about putting your ideas out there for people to consume is that you can be offered a perspective you hadn't considered before, that perhaps you would never have encountered in your own circle of friends.  In fact, that's part of the preciousness of being in community.

The trick, though, is to make yourself visible enough to people who don't agree with you in order to get that feedback, to solicit that civil discourse.  And I suspect that most of us tend to surround ourselves with people who encourage us, pat us on the back, and even--mostly--agree with us.  This is additionally complicated by the dispersed nature of conversations in social media; unlike my fellowship, where everyone can talk with everyone else, blog readers often take conversations out of the comments and have them elsewhere: on Facebook, on Twitter, wherever.  While this might be good for pageviews, it's less useful for the blogger, if that person isn't aware that the conversation exists.

I confess, I'm a comment-lover.  (Lori over at Write Mind Open Heart is going to post about this tomorrow, I think; you should go see what she has to say.)  But I do think that there's something to be said for continuity, despite the reality of information "in the cloud."  And until someone creates an aggregate social media tool (which I think would be very scary, to be honest), we're stuck with our limited linear way of reading.

So how do you find the outliers?  How do you draw out the would-be naysayers, or even people who see things a little bit differently than you do?  And how do you make their rich contribution part of the whole, especially if they're not leaving comments?

Gazpacho is an excellent dish for the summer, and I like this version because of its simultaneous simplicity and complexity: simple, because all you do is mix everything and throw it into a blender, complex, because it combines salt and sweet and tart and spicy all together, allowing you to taste all of the component parts as part of the whole.  An unlike a salad, which is the more standard metaphor for diversity, the whole actually sticks together.

(adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook)

2 c. tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped (canned is OK if fresh are not in season)
4 c. tomato juice
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped (seeded if you prefer, and you can also leave the skin on)
2 scallions
1 garlic clove
1 small onion, finely diced
1 c. pepper, finely chopped
1 t. honey (agave for strict vegans)
1/2 t. cumin
1 t. basil
2 T. lime juice
4 1/2 t. lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a big bowl and toss well to mix.

Puree in batches using a food processor or blender; you can blend to your desired consistency (some people like it chunky, but I prefer semi-smooth).
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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Women, Success, and Quinoa Cookies

The other day, Dr. Peggy Drexler posted over at the Huffington Post about the notable absence of female role models in popular culture.  Drexler writes that "strong, confident, accomplished women are out there by the legions. But they are going about building lives beyond the peripheral vision of popular culture."

I happen to know a lot of amazing women.  Some of them work outside the home.  Some of them are stay at home moms.  Some of them are accomplished writers.  Some of them do all of these things at once.  Few of them are traditional business successes (because that's simply not the circle I travel in).  But when we get together to talk, seldom do we seem to talk about our success.  More often, we tell each other stories of crisis, stories about things that don't go well.  I remember reading a blog post by Kathy Caprino, a career and life coach, a while back also on the Huffington Post, about this particular phenomenon, and I remember thinking to myself, why is that?

I wonder if it's the nature of our connections with one another.  Do women connect better around crisis, because it invites sympathy and empathy?  Are success stories too individual, and therefore not the kind of stories that build relationships?  Do they seem boastful, and women are less given to braggadocio than men?

I think about the blogs I read.  Though I haven't done a scientific study, most of their writers (all women) are most prolific when there's something going on that bothers us (I'm including myself here).  Something that's worrisome.  When writing can be a cathartic release.  And while it's true that we gather our tribe when we're in turmoil, why does it seem to be that we don't do so when have worked hard to deserve our laurels?

My yoga teacher talked tonight about strength, and about how in asana our consciousness usually goes right to the place of most sensation, and that we should try, sometimes, to bring our consciousness to a place in our bodies that might not be experiencing as much sensation.  Instead of the hamstring, notice our foot.  Our toes.  In life, she said, we are often consumed by pain, or distress, or crisis, because those things make the most "noise," when we could shift our perspective if only we decided to draw our attention--even temporarily--to the smaller, quieter things, like joy.  I wonder if it's the same for failure and success ... that we pay more attention to failure, because it's louder?

If any of this is true, that women don't talk about their successes as often as they do their failures, is it any wonder that popular culture fills the vacuum with celebrities, as Caprino suggests?

It's interesting ... I talk a lot about my kitchen successes here.  Every once in a while, I write about failure.  But I can't bring myself to publish recipes that I think are absolute flops, and sometimes I publish recipes that someone in my family didn't like, because taste is such an individual thing, that it's worth trying a recipe if someone thinks it's good.  Nor can I bring myself to take pictures of kitchen disasters.  And yet, when I'm not in the kitchen, I'm just as guilty as the next person of talking about the things that go wrong.

What do you think?  Is this just my perception, or have you experienced something similar?

Quinoa Fruit and Nut Cookies
I wouldn't count these cookies as disasters at all.  In fact, I thought they were pretty good, and they did the trick of using up the quinoa to which my husband discovered he is now allergic.  However, they do taste like "healthy cookies," as my husband calls them.  Which means you might give yourself permission to eat more than you'd intended.  Consider yourself warned.

1/2 c. coconut oil (solid)
1/2 c. date or coconut palm sugar
3 T. honey
2 large eggs
1/2 c. unsweetened applesauce
1 t. vanilla
3/4 t. almond extract (or more vanilla)
1 c. cooked and cooled quinoa
2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. rolled oats (not quick)
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t.baking soda
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground ginger
1 t. salt
1 c. dried tart cherries or dried apricots
1 c. whole almonds or walnuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 375F degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Beat the butter with the sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Beat in the honey and the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the applesauce and extracts.  Gently mix in the quinoa until well incorporated. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Gradually add the flour mixture to the batter, mixing on low speed until just combined. Remove the mixing bowl from the stand and stir in the dried cherries and almonds.

Drop the dough in generous 2-tablespoon portions 2 inches apart onto the prepared baking sheets.  Flatten slightly and bake until the cookies are golden around the edges and on the bottoms, 12-15 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool on the pans for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mother, the Verb

For about ten years while I was employed at my last job, I spent Mother's Day poring over the transcripts of about 2,000 seniors with eight other colleagues, locked in our office building together, deciding which ones of them would be able to graduate and which ones weren't.  It was a job that my husband would say, year after year, ought to be done by a computer, but somehow, never was; there were simply too many variables for a computer to understand, even if a student had been cleared to graduate pending successful completion of their spring term courses, and too many ways to make it either work or not work by changing majors to minors, or requesting transcripts from other schools, or any number of other things.  We would start the day with coffee (lots, and LOTS of coffee) and donuts, break it midway with a catered lunch, and stave off insanity during the late afternoon and evening with cookies, brownies, and any other form of sugar we could get our hands on.  We would work in pairs for most of the day, joking with our partners as we flipped through the pages again and again, pulling files, cutting ourselves on the paper.  It was a day when despite our differences, we valued each other, and we took care of thousands of students ... some of whom we would push out of the nest into the world in just four days, some of which we would spend hours trying to console, strategizing with them about what came next, trying to help them see the obstacle of not-graduating as just that: an obstacle, surmountable.  It was an intense day, followed by an intense week of both jubilation and many tears (and curses, and violent outbursts) in our office.  One of my colleagues likened it to being in a lifeboat, out on the ocean in a storm.

In a way, it was a relief to me to spend Mother's Day that way every year, because my relationship with my own mother was such a complicated one (yes, I love her, but no, she does not occupy a place on a pedestal for me), and then during the years of our pregnancy losses and my own infertility diagnosis, when I did it not because my job required it but because I was helping out former colleagues, it was another way to contain the day, not letting it take over.  And working gave me an excuse not to celebrate what I felt was an arbitrary day, like Valentine's Day was arbitrary ... when if what we felt was genuine, we should be celebrating motherhood every day, shouldn't we?

During the last two years, thanks first to a new computer system (which turned that day into a week) and second to my maternity leave, I no longer had the excuse of reviewing transcripts.  In 2010, I celebrated Mother Earth with photos of a walk along the canal towpath not far from our house.  Last year, in 2011, I was on the verge of resigning from my current position, and celebrated the mother within, and reminded myself that we should allow ourselves to be mothered by our innermost selves in that way.

This year, when my mother called me to ask me what we were doing, I confess I felt annoyed.  I have two beautiful children, and we are done family-building.  But honestly?  I didn't want to go out to dinner.  I didn't want to have to find a gift.  I wanted to tell her we were doing nothing, but how does one say that to one's own mother in this country, and not be accused of treason?

But perhaps that's precisely the problem.  Motherhood, as it's celebrated on Mother's Day, is bizarrely perfect--bizarrely, because we can't even agree on a single definition of what that perfection would entail.  Women are judged for having no children ("how selfish" or "just adopt!"), for having too many children ("oh, those welfare mothers!"), for breastfeeding ("those attachment parenting fools!"), for not breastfeeding ("they're poisoning their children!"), for sending kids to school ("those high-stakes dupes!"), for keeping them home ("those hippies!"), for going to work ("those cold bitches!"), for staying home ... especially with an advanced degree ("what a waste!").  I don't want to celebrate a holiday that pretends we don't make these judgements.  And maybe that's why I liked the Mother's Day at work so much; because we were all doing the best we could, together.

So what to do?

I'm going to remind myself that mother is a verb.

This year, I'm going to celebrate the imperfect mothers in my life, the women who do the work of mothering, which is not an achievement but a lifelong journey, even if we never have biological children of our own.  I'm tired of the judgment; part of not judging is accepting that we're all doing the best that we can, for our families, whatever they may look like, and for ourselves.  The imperfect mothers include my friends who are struggling to balance life with children (whether they work outside the home or stay at home), the women who are deep in the trenches of loss and infertility, the grieving childless not-by-choice who have mothered more people than they probably know, those who look like they're holding it together but are really just one second away from unraveling, and so many others.  And me.  I'm a work in progress, too.

For Mother's Day, I'm going to ask you to do something, too.  Write a letter to an imperfect mother.  Maybe it's your own mother.  Maybe it's not.  Tell her how she has touched your life, and the lives of other people.  And tell her that it's OK to be figuring this whole thing out as she goes.  Because there's no such thing as a single perfect apple pie, either.

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Monday, May 7, 2012

Warrior II: Vegetarian Tamale Pie

We spent a significant part of last month in yoga class doing hip openers in order to practice our virabhadrasana II (warrior pose).  I've always loved that pose: it's named after an incarnation of Shiva, described as having a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet, wielding a thousand clubs, and wearing a tiger's skin, and when I'm standing there, grounded, arms out, feet spread, I feel powerful.  To practice it correctly, though, is a challenge.  I consider myself pretty open in the hips (I have a dancer's "turnout"), but even for me, after the third week of holding a block against the wall with my knee in vriskhasana, I was actually having a hard time walking around after class.

The practice of the month made me appreciate, though, the necessary coexistence of the seemingly antithetical positions of openness and either defense or aggression.  We often think of warriors as people who take a position and hold it firmly, who are closed-minded, driven, bent on their own goals.  But yoga reminds us that the strongest warriors are also people who are open to their opponents; who stand firmly, feeling the ground firmly under their feet, but who can accept otherness and perhaps even respond based on the actions of their opponent.  There's a definite vulnerability to virabhadrasana II; while you focus on what's in front of you, and your arms and legs are spread wide, your body is completely open.

How many times have I assumed "fight" stance in a closed way?  And how much more powerful might I have been if I'd been flexible, open, strong but still willing to be vulnerable?

We were talking about leadership and conflict in the youth group I work with on Sunday, and one of them said something truly inspiring: she said that she used to be a much more angry and aggressive person, but she's come to believe that if something or someone is persistent enough to find its way into her life, that she should receive it as a gift, with thanks, even if she doesn't like them and doesn't agree with them.  It was an impressive, inspiring thing to say for someone who is only 15, even if she doesn't technically live that belief all the time.

I'm waging quite a few battles of my own these days.  Perhaps a change of stance is in order.

What are your battles?  Have you tried being open?  And if so, have you found it a more effective approach?

(This recipe is good for the days when you're battling against the clock to put dinner on the table.  My husband didn't like it because it has coconut oil in it (though you could easily sub in another fat), my son wanted to eat mostly cornbread, and my daughter picked out the black beans, but I still think it's a good recipe for "clean" eating, which is another war many of us wage on a daily basis.)

Vegetarian Tamale Pie
(a recipe for the crockpot)

3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz box diced tomatoes
1 8-oz pkg sliced baby Portobello mushrooms
1 cup diced yellow onion
1 large zucchini, diced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 tsp ground cumin
3 tsp chile powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 cups whole-grain yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups skim milk (almond milk or soy milk is OK)
1 1/2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp melted coconut oil
1/2 cup low-fat shredded cheddar cheese

 In a 5-6 quart slow cooker combine garlic, tomatoes and accompanying juices, mushrooms, onion, jalapeƱo, zucchini, bell pepper, beans, chile powder, cumin, oregano and salt. Stir to combine, cover and cook on low for 6 hours.

Increase slow cooker heat to high. Meanwhile, prepare cornmeal batter: In a medium bowl, whisk cornmeal and baking powder. In a large glass measuring cup or small bowl, whisk egg, milk, oil and vinegar. Add to cornmeal mixture and stir to combine. Stir in cheddar.

Remove lid from slow cooker. Pour cornmeal mixture over top of vegetable mixture and spread evenly to form a crust. Place a clean dish towel over top of slow cooker and replace lid, resting over top of towel (this will prevent condensation from wetting the surface of the cornmeal crust). Cook for 1 hour, until cornbread sets. Remove lid and towel and slice into wedges.
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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Here's My Card, with a Side of Croquetas

I met Adam when I was a senior in college.  I remember him as a large, round-faced, clean-shaven, slightly older-than-college-age guy with medium-length wavy black hair, big black-rimmed glasses, Hawaiian print shirts, and beads: the kind of long-flat, ziti-shaped beads that you used to find on jump ropes to make them heavy.  Let's just say that he stood out in a crowd.  Adam was also an English major.  We had a few shared classes, and we would sometimes walk from one to another together.  Or, I should say, he walked me.  I never would have initiated the relationship, because he wasn't my type, but he was an extrovert, and he saw something in me that made him decide he was going to befriend me.

I seemed to collect guys like that, so I didn't think much of it.  Until the poetry reading.

I'd submitted my work to a contest at my university, and won honorable mention.  As part of the award, I was invited to share my work at a real poetry reading, with a real academic audience.  The idea was enough to make me swoon, but also quake in my boots.  My poetry had always been intensely private, and I'd entered the contest on a lark, just to see what might happen.

On the night of the reading, I showed up in my best black pants and dark shirt, trying to look literary.  Stepping to the podium, I saw him standing in the back, wearing his brightly colored jump rope beads.  He flashed me a goofy smile, and I couldn't help but smile back, as I took a deep breath and started to read.  After it was over, he came up to me with a sweet bouquet of wilting pink grocery store roses, and a small envelope.  "Open it," he urged me.  Inside were a few printed plain black business cards: the kind of cards you used to be able to make yourself at a kiosk at Kinkos or Staples.  One of the cards, featuring a small truck graphic, had my name in bold letters, and under it,  "Poet.  I Truck Words."  One of the others pictured a jewel, and under it: "J.  Writer.  A Real Gem."

I swallowed hard, at loss for words.  Something about those business cards made me feel more authentic.  Like maybe I really was a writer.  He smiled.  "Don't forget who you are," he told me.

Years later, sadly, I no longer know where those business cards are, and I lost track of Adam as soon as we were no longer taking classes together.  But I was looking at business card sites the other day because I've been thinking about ordering cards for BlogHer, feeling like I couldn't get them to look quite right, like I should have a designer, like they were another expense, and I couldn't help but remember him.  I really should bite the bullet, I thought.

"JHL.  Writer.  Blogger.  Philosopher.  I Truck Words."

When I'm not browning croquetas, of course.

Do you have a business card?   If you had to make one for yourself, what would it say?  Has someone's external validation of your work ever changed how you perceive it yourself?

Because they're fried, these are not exactly health food.  Some people bake them.  I've compromised by reducing the amount of oil used for frying, and lightening the recipe.  They're pretty ubiquitous in the tapas bars of Spain.

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts (you could also use 3/4 lb. chicken and 1/4 lb. Serrano ham ... or even your favorite diced vegetable ... broccoli might be nice here)
1 small yellow onion, minced
1/3 c. all purpose flour
2 1/2 c. milk of your choice
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
pinch of cinnamon
1 egg, separated
1 additional egg white
fine dried bread crumbs (no seasoning)
olive oil for frying

Cook the chicken or vegetables as you like, by either frying, poaching, steaming, or roasting.  Chop finely.

Add about 1/4 c. olive oil to a frying pan and saute the onions over medium heat until golden, about 12 minutes.  Add the flour and stir until the mixture thickens, about 3-4 minutes.  Slowly add the milk, stirring constantly, then cook, stirring, until thick and creamy, about 5 minutes.  Add chicken (and ham, or vegetables, if using), and season with salt, pepper, and cinnamon.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly.  Lightly beat the egg yolk, then stir well into the mixture.  Let cool. This will be your filling.  (This step may take a while; I recommend refrigerating the mixture for at least an hour once it cools slightly.  You want it to be firm enough to scoop into balls.)

In a shallow bowl, beat the egg whites until frothy.  Place the bread crumbs in another shallow bowl.  Scoop up an egg-shaped ball of the filling.  Dip it into the egg white and then into the bread crumbs, coating evenly.  Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Repeat until all of the filling is used.

In a deep frying pan, pour the oil to a depth of about 3/4 inch (The original recipe says to deep-fry in 3 inches of oil, so you can do that if you are so inclined) and heat until almost smoking (about 375F).  Working in batches, fry the croquetas until golden, about 4 minutes.  Transfer to paper towels to drain; keep warm.  Serve hot (the filling will get harder again as it cools, but will become creamy when warm).  If you need to reheat them, it's best to do so in a 300F oven for 5-10 minutes.
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