Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What I Learned From NaBloPoMo (And Pistachio Rosewater Ice Cream)

Well, it's been quite an adventure. It may not have been the best month to do commit to posting every day, given that I spent the first few days of July away from the internet, and then was stricken down by the Bubonic Plague for a few days in the middle, but despite that, I managed to crank out a post during the rest of the days in July. I'm proud of myself.

And because it's almost the season for those "What I Did This Summer" essays (remember those? ugh...), here is my version of the genre ... a top ten What I Learned From NaBloPoMo:
  1. I have more versatility as a writer than I thought I did. More than once since the inception of this blog I have banged my head against a virtual wall and talked myself into believing I have nothing to say, or convinced myself that I could only write about food or yoga or parenting. I've gone weeks (well, maybe no more than a week) without posting. But apparently, if I read enough elsewhere, I can come up with other things to talk about, and -- this was the biggest surprise to me -- people actually read what I've written and think it's worth commenting on, even if it's NOT about food or yoga or parenting. Either I'm better at this than I thought, or I have some very kind followers. Well, maybe a little of both.
  2. I don't have to post food every time I write. It's worked for me in the past, but it's not the end of the world if I change that formula every once in a while. People won't instantly stop reading my posts. And I may actually acquire new readers who are interested in the other things I write about. I may stretch my brain a little bit by trying something new.
  3. If you want to write, something has to give. Writing consistently requires reading, which sucks up time. And then writing itself requires more time, to draft, to edit. This month, I did practically zero hours in my consulting job. Which means that I gave up potential pay, small as it may have been, to do this project. There are a limited number of hours in the day, and giving up sleep will not get you more time to write. You need to decide what you are willing to sacrifice, if you're going to write.
  4. Sometimes you will write crap. There are posts I've done this month that I'm not particularly proud of. There are also posts that I think were pretty damn fabulous, if I do say so myself. There was probably more crap than fabulousness, but that's OK with me. Mostly, I had to write the crap in order to keep writing, and get to the good stuff.
  5. Which brings me to this: writing begets writing. If you sit down and write, you will write more. 'Nuff said.
  6. On the flip side: FB is a time suck. It is all too easy to scroll through pages of status updates looking for something interesting to spark your writing muse. You are probably safer going to read the NYTimes or the Huffington Post or the BBC or ... well, practically anything else.
  7. A list of prompts doesn't guarantee that you'll be able to write. You still have to come up with your take on the prompt, and sometimes a prompt simply won't resonate with you in a way that opens the floodgates to language. Writing prompts do, however, serve as a very useful guilt-inducing tool, especially if you know and respect the person who drafted the list.
  8. On a related note: writing in community makes a difference. Even if no one is writing about what you're writing about, and even if you're not really committing to reading or commenting on each others' work. Just knowing that you are supposed to produce for other writers, who are also producing something regularly, induces just enough stress that you may get off your duff and do it. And if you surround yourself by people who are writing intelligent, thoughtful things, you are also more likely to write intelligent, thoughtful things.

  9. If you are blogging often, and your writing invites comments from said community, you should build in time to respond to comments. See #2. Responding to comments creates better conversation, but it can feel overwhelming, especially if you're also reading and commenting on other blogs, as you really ought to do in order to be a good bloggy citizen.
  10. Committing to a writing project makes a difference. Having a goal, even if it's not a very lofty goal (post something every day! even if it's about your toenails!), can make you feel like a writer, and act like a writer. And thus? BE a writer.

SO: thank you, Kathy, for talking me into this ... thanks, jjiraffe and Kristin, for committing along with us ... congratulations to everyone who participated and finished (even if you didn't post every day) ... and thank you to my readers and commenters, who helped move me forward!  Cheers!  I'm saluting you all in Half Baked style: a bouquet of roses, for dessert.

There will be penance in August for the days I missed in July, because I was raised Catholic and that's how I roll, even if I am UU now, but you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the ice cream. (And thanks for the great flavor suggestions ... I had the ingredients for this on hand today, but up next: cardamom, peach, sweet potato, and much more!)

Pistachio Rosewater Ice Cream

1/2 c. pistachios, chopped and roasted or toasted
2 c. whole milk
1 T. plus 1 t. cornstarch
1 1/4 c. heavy cream
scant 2/3 c. sugar
1 1/2 T. light corn syrup
1 T. + 1 t. rosewater
1 1/2 oz. (3 T.) cream cheese
1/8 t. kosher salt

Fill a large bowl with ice water. In a small bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch. In another large bowl, whisk the cream cheese until smooth.

In a large saucepan, combine the remaining milk with the heavy cream, sugar, corn syrup, pistachios, and rosewater. Bring the milk mixture to a boil and cook over moderate heat until the sugar dissolves and the nuts flavor the milk, about 4 minutes. Strain through a sieve to remove the nuts and set the nuts aside. Return the milk mixture to the saucepan, and off the heat, gradually whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Return to a boil and cook over moderately high heat until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 1 minute.

Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Whisk in the salt. Set the bowl in the ice water bath and let stand, stirring occasionally, until cold, about 20 minutes.

Strain the ice cream base into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions, adding the nuts during the last five minutes of freezing/processing. Pack the ice cream into a plastic container.

Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the ice cream and close with an airtight lid. Freeze until firm, about 4 hours.
Pin It

Monday, July 30, 2012

Keeping the Old: Perfect Moment Mondays

I am a terrible correspondent.  You'd think, with all of the email that I send, and all of the time I spent on the evil timesuck FB, I'd keep in better touch with friends.  But the reality, of course, is that electronic communication is simply not a substitute for the kinds of conversations you have in the dark, or the laughter and tears that are spilled over coffee, or the times when you sit together with someone and say nothing at all.

Back in high school, I had three good friends.  One of them is now a FB presence; we grew apart, because we really had nothing in common any more, and though she still reaches out once in a while, I don't tend to initiate contact with her.  One of them I've lost touch with entirely, though her sister lives in my town, and I see her posts on her sister's FB page, so I have some peripheral sense of what's happening in her life.  The third lives about 40 minutes away, and has a son two years old than mine.  We seem to cycle in and out of contact every few years, getting together and then drifting apart.  Of the three, she was the one who shared my values, my convictions, my sense of humor, and though she too has changed since high school (really, who hasn't), she's the person with whom I can still pick up a conversation where we left off, and still feel like there's something to say.

It had been about two and a half years since I'd seen her last.  I think I'd lost only one pregnancy when I saw her.  We lost touch for the usual reasons: busy schedules, the tour of birthday parties and swim lessons -- basically, life got in the way.  But I got a text message from her earlier this year, and my heart leapt.  It had been too long.

Finally, this weekend, we met for coffee.  It was one of the few beautiful days we'd had in a while: not too hot, not raining.  We get our coffee and walked, finding a bench in the shade.  And we talked nonstop for over an hour, about kids, about changes in jobs, about changes in careers, about loss, about fear, about hope.  And then--and perhaps this is most noticeable because she is hands down the most talkative person I know--there were spaces of silence, when the breeze would blow, and the sky would brighten overhead, and we'd sip our drinks, and appreciate just being where we were, together.

In a few days, I'm going to BlogHer.  I'm looking forward to meeting in person, for the first time, some of the people with whom I've developed friendships online over the past two and a half years.  (*And yes, I'm still a little bit nervous, because despite my fabulous online personality, it takes me a little while to warm up in person.  I dread being left on the periphery of conversation, though, so please come talk to me if you see me.)  I'm going with the intention of learning about writing and about myself, becoming inspired, and making new friends, with whom--despite the fact that we are women of words--I can sit and sometimes say nothing, and be understood.  Because really, in an era of information overload, sometimes the silence, together, is really what you need.

Perfect Iced Coffee

The Pioneer Woman has a fabulous recipe for iced coffee.  I'm not going to reprint it here, because she has better pictures than I could ever hope for, but I'll give you the link.  Now you have no excuse: invite that friend whom you haven't seen in too long to come for a tall cool drink.
Pin It

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Small Packages: Vanilla Ice Cream

My son is obsessed with campers.  He points them out on the road, gawking at them, and often draws them, narrating their parts in great detail for whoever will listen.  He says he likes the idea of being able to take everything you need with you wherever you go.  And I agree with him: in a time when the size of the average U.S. home has practically doubled since the 1950s, standing at around 2,400 feet, it's sort of refreshing to think about living with just what you need.  A few weeks ago, I showed him pictures and a video about the Tiny House Movement, and it definitely made an impression; he's still talking about it.

The Tiny House Movement itself is nothing new, really, but it caught the public's attention back in 2006 when Dee Williams got herself featured in Time Magazine. Her 84 square foot house on wheels has a composting toilet, no shower, and space for only 300 items.  It costs her $8 per month to live there, for heating.

Tiny Houses aren't for everyone.  You can't really, for example, have a family in a house that's 84 square feet, at least not unless the weather is pretty good year round.  We can't all live in someone else's back yard.  But I do like what Williams says about living intentionally.  I suspect at some point you start to realize just what that old saying means, that good things come in small packages.

I don't have a Tiny House.  I will probably never have a Tiny House.  And that's OK with me.  In fact, I just bought something entirely frivolous that will eat up space in my kitchen cabinet, with a gift certificate that has been burning a hole in my pocket since I baked cakes for our friends' wedding last summer (thank you, M and H!).  Said new kitchen item would never come with me if I had to downsize, and it would not be among the things I'd put in my son's camper.  BUT ... tasting the first ice cream from our new ice cream maker reminded me that I didn't need to eat an entire pint in order to appreciate the treat, that good things often do come in small packages.  Or, in this case, bowls.

(So, dear readers ... what flavor to try next?  Rosewater cardamom pistachio?  A spicy chili cinnamon?  Or ... for Emily ... Chubby Hubby?  Blogger ice cream social at my house.  And: what good things have come in small packages for you?)

See those specks?  That's real vanilla bean, folks.
Vanilla Ice Cream
Jeni Britton Bauer is an artisan ice cream maker in Ohio.  Her ice cream cookbook, which I covet, debuted last summer, and I confess I checked it out of the library and salivated over the possibilities when S. was on his last business trip and couldn't talk me out of my madness.  This is her vanilla take on her foolproof standard base.  I am pretty sure that you could use less sugar, with equally good results, but haven't yet been brave enough to try.

2 c. whole milk
1 T. plus 1 t. cornstarch
1 1/2 oz. (3 T.) cream cheese
1 1/4 c. heavy cream
2/3 c. sugar
1 1/2 T. light corn syrup
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
1/8 t. kosher salt

Fill a large bowl with ice water. In a small bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch. In another large bowl, whisk the cream cheese until smooth.

In a large saucepan, combine the remaining milk with the heavy cream, sugar, corn syrup and vanilla bean and seeds. Bring the milk mixture to a boil and cook over moderate heat until the sugar dissolves and the vanilla flavors the milk, about 4 minutes. Off the heat, gradually whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Return to a boil and cook over moderately high heat until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 1 minute.

Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Whisk in the salt. Set the bowl in the ice water bath and let stand, stirring occasionally, until cold, about 20 minutes.

Strain the ice cream base into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. Pack the ice cream into a plastic container.

Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the ice cream and close with an airtight lid. Freeze the vanilla ice cream until firm, about 4 hours.
Pin It

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Giving, and Giving Back: Baba Ganouj

Sometimes I think I should have been born a Libra.  I have a tendency to mentally weigh gifts--both tangible and intangible--I've been given, and worry that perhaps I'm not giving back enough to measure up to what I've gotten.  (There is a less attractive flip side to this, that sometimes I stew over giving a great deal to someone who never seems to give back to me ... which makes me feel like a much more mercenary and much less generous person than I hope I am, even if all I hope for, most times, is appreciation.)

We have friends who have, over the past few years, generously given us enough hand-me-downs for the kids that we haven't really had to buy very much clothing.  This is a twofold blessing, of course, because not only have we saved the money we would have spent on clothes, but we've saved the sanity I would have spent on clothes shopping, which you now know is one of those activities that inspires dread in my heart.

But every time I put a load of new hand-me-downs into the laundry, and sort them into bins and closets, realizing that I will never be able to give clothes back to these people, because their children are older and larger than mine, I worry that maybe it looks like I'm taking the gift for granted. I try to give well-chosen birthday gifts, or find other ways to "compensate," but I never feel like it's enough.  The hand-me-downs often get another life beyond our house, but that doesn't seem like it's giving "back" either ... it's more along the lines of paying it forward.

My CSA is another good example of the generous giver.  Between winning our share this year, and enjoying the treats that are always waiting for me when I go to pick up our share, and feeling strangely cared for by the people who grow my food, I find myself fretting about the unequal benefit.  I'd thought about offering up social media services for them at some point, but it turns out that they're actually really good at it, and I could probably learn some lessons from them.  Event planning?  They have that covered, too.  Volunteering on the farm?  Would be ideal, but not with a squirmy one year old on my back.

It could be that I'm just not good at receiving gifts.  In fact, I'm sure that part of it is certainly that I'm just not good at receiving gifts.

I've been thinking about a similar equation in blogging, lately, too.  The giving and the taking.  The producing and consuming.  There are lots of variations on this, of course.  For example: there are some people who read, but never comment (please understand, my intention is not to inspire guilt here, but really just to pose a question).  Are we obligated to "give back" as consumers of blogs, either in the form of comments or in the form of our own blog posts, contributing to the conversation?  It's funny; I would never think to ask this question in relation to a reader and a writer offline, but somehow, online, because it's possible to give back, simply consuming without connecting feels irresponsible to me, somehow.  There are bloggers who take without giving, too, of course ... who take comments without responding to comments, or who collect commenters but never seek out new blogs.  Are bloggers who don't "give back" doing the blogging world a disservice?  Or is their writing contribution enough?

Are you good at receiving gifts?  Or do you have a mental scale, too, for better or worse?  And do you think that scale applies, in any way, to blogging?

This week my farm made Baba Ganouj for us.  In case you've never had it: it's a popular Middle-Eastern mezza dip made from eggplant and tahini., with a smooth, creamy texture and a slightly smoky taste. It's traditionally served with pita bread (toasted or fresh), but you could also serve it as a dip with cut fresh vegetables, potato chips, or tortilla chips.

Baba Ganouj

1 large eggplant
2 cloves garlic
1/4 c.  lemon juice (depending on taste)
1/4 c. tahini
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons olive oil

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 Tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 400.  Prick the eggplant all over with a fork and lie it in a baking tray lined with foil.  Bake, turning every 15 minutes.  One pound of eggplants will take about an hour.  They should flatten and turn very soft.  Allow to cool for 20 minutes. Cut open eggplant and scoop out the flesh into colander and allow to drain for 10 minutes. Removing the excess liquid helps to eliminate a bitter flavor.

Place eggplant flesh in a medium bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mash together. You can also use a food processor instead of by hand. Pulse for about 2 minutes.

Place in serving bowl and top with lemon juice and olive oil. Add other garnishes according to taste.  Or, if you're like me and you're in a hurry, skip that step entirely.

Serve with warm or toasted pita or flatbread. Enjoy!
Pin It

And the Livin' Is Easy: Tomato Tart

About mid-way through the summer, I get really sick of cooking.  Unfortunately, this always coincides more or less with tomato season, during which a CSA member must cook early and often, or face rotten tomatoes.  I've never really canned food, partly because I have an inexplicable fear of the process, and partly because canned things remind me of my mother's basement, which, unlike our basement or pantry, is well-stocked for the next nuclear fallout, and covered in a quarter-inch-thick layer of dust.

Luckily, tomatoes are often best when they're not cooked, so we end to eat lots of tomato and cream cheese sandwiches, and tomato salads.

There's also something like this, which is ridiculously easy and comes together in less than half an hour, even though it looks like you labored over it.  If you didn't want to be a cheater, you could make your own puff pastry, or use home-made pizza dough.  But who wants to do that?

What are your favorite ways to use fresh tomatoes from your garden or farm?

Fancy Tomato Tart

tomatoes, 5-6, sliced about 1/4" thick and laid on paper towels to dry a bit
cherry tomatoes, 6-7, halved, for color
fresh basil, about 6 leaves, cut in chiffonade
fresh parmesan, grated, about 1/2 c.
puff pastry, 1 sheet, thawed! (takes about 40 minutes)

Preheat oven to 400F.  On a sheet of parchment, roll out puff pastry a bit so that it's slightly larger than it was when you unfolded it.  Bake pastry for about 15-18 minutes or until golden brown and puffed.

Remove from oven and sprinkle with a small amount of the grated cheese.  Lay tomatoes in a decorative pattern on top of the pastry, pressing slightly so they don't fall off.  Top with more cheese and fresh basil.
Pin It

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Summer Vegetable Soup

N. has taken to playing in the kitchen while I work there, making meals or washing.  Sometimes she simply empties cupboards, and often she demands to be up in my arms so she can "SEE?  SEE?  SEE?" but lately, she's also been "cooking."  When I ask her what she's making, she usually says, simply, "soup."

I'm not sure how she got the idea to make soup, since she's only really started talking this summer, and there hasn't been a whole lot of soup-making around here, what with the temperatures in the triple digits and all (yes, I know one can make cold soups; we tend not to).  Still, it's nice to be "fed" by my toddler.  I love it when kids "make soup," because they become so creative with the ingredients.  "BOK-key?" N. tells me.  "BEEEEn?" and then: "PAPAYAYAYA?"

Despite the record heat and humidity in these parts, I could have used a little comfort soup today.  The I-bug was still at home sick and will likely be home tomorrow, too; I had a job interview; and I am developing a complex about the fact that I really only have one pair of shoes--sandals!--to wear to BlogHer.  (My shoe-buying phobia is even worse than my clothes-shopping phobia. And I happen to really like wearing my one pair of sandals.)

If I did make soup, it would be something along the lines of the food we ate at a little B&B in Nominigue (now under different ownership, I believe) when we stopped there for a night during a bike trip through the Laurentians in Canada.  I've been thinking about our host Guillaume a lot lately as I've been using up CSA produce; the meals he made us were filled with produce and herbs from his garden, and inspired, he told us, by his grandmother.  His chickpea salad, which I tried to recreate the other day with some chickpeas, lemon juice, fresh ground pepper, and fresh herbs, practically leapt into my mouth.  I don't remember if he made tomato salad, but if he did, it would have been like the tomato, balsalmic vinegar, and fresh Parmesan dish I threw together to go with the chick peas. It's funny, but I think that those simple meals were some of the best meals I've ever eaten, anywhere.

Here's to you, Guillaume.  I hope you're still making wanderers feel at home.

French Vegetable Soup
adapted from Twelve Months of Monastery Soups
This is supposed to be a spring vegetable soup, but it could also work well with some of the summer produce arriving in a CSA share or at your local northern hemisphere farmer's market now (onions, potatoes, tomatoes, beans).

3 T. butter
2 c. cauliflower
1 c. fresh peas (or beans)
1 c. chopped spinach (or chard or kale)
2 carrots, sliced
2 onions or leeks
1 c. chopped celeriac (you could also use turnips or potatoes)
2 quarts water
1 c. sherry or white wine
2 bouillon cubes
2 sliced tomatoes, peeled and chopped
pinch mixed herbs
salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a soup pot and saute the vegetables (except for the tomatoes) for 1-2 minutes.

Add the water, sherry, bouillon cubes, tomatoes, herbs, salt, and pepper.  Cook the soup slowly, covered, over medium-low heat for about 1 hours.  Stir occasionally and add more water if necessary.  Let soup sit for 10 minutes.

When ready to serve, add more fresh finely chopped herbs.
Pin It

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Remember, when you were a kid, how you demanded a do-over when something didn't quite work out as you'd wanted it to?

Yesterday I.'s camp called, just as I was about to feed N. lunch.  It was the camp nurse; apparently I. wasn't feeling well, his stomach hurt, he was hunched over a bucket.  She surmised that it was the heat (it was 93 degrees and about nine billion percent humidity), but suggested I come pick him up and give him a day at home.  So I did.  Of course, S. is away on business.  Because that's when my kids get sick: when it's a federal holiday, or when S. is away.

This morning, I. was dragging his feet about going to camp.  He ate his breakfast, took his usual hour to get dressed, made pleasant conversation.  Then he complained about having a headache.  Which went away.  Then a stomachache.  Which he claimed was better by the time we had to leave.  I took his temperature, and it was 99.  Or 100.  Or 98.9, depending on which time I swiped the thermometer across his head.  Yay for temporal thermometer consistency.  Not.

I hemmed and hawed.  He looked a little under the weather.  But I wanted him to go to camp.  I knew that he'd be bored at home, and terrorize his sister.  I knew he wouldn't nap.  Or lie down.  Or do anything else that would potentially make him better.  I told him that I would be happy to have him stay home if he was really sick.  But that if he wasn't really sick, this would not work.  Then I worried I was guilting him, and asked him if felt OK, for the eleventieth time.  He assured me yes, yes, he was fine.  So, conscience nagging at me, I packed him in the car, and sped up the highway to camp.

And of course, the call came just as I'd put N. down for a noon nap, just as she had gone to sleep.  He'd thrown up all over his group's clubhouse.  Would I come pick him up?

Sigh.  I wished I could do the morning over.  Did I ignore his symptoms because I wanted him to go to camp?  Because it's a little harder to manage alone when the two of them are home all day, when they have such different needs?  Why didn't I listen to my nagging conscience?


Yesterday, I wrote a post about the Chick-Fil-A controversy.  I weighed my words very carefully, trying to said only what I meant.  I posted, and waited.  JeCaThRe commented, correcting me: that it sounded as if I thought all Christians denounced gay marriage, and that used the words "Biblically sanctioned" for marriage, when in reality, the Bible says all sorts of things about concubines and polygamy.  [Edited later to add: let me be clear, I happen to really *like* JeCaThRe, and respect her observations about language ... this story may have turned out differently if it was someone else.]

I fretted, and went back to edit my post.  Do-overs may not be possible in real life, but it's easy enough to edit something online (discounting cached copies, of course).  I know that not all Christians--not even all Baptists are anti-gay marriage.  I also know that the Bible is full of complication.  I wanted to make sure I didn't give the wrong impression about my beliefs.  I worried a little about whether editing it was OK, but decided to go through with it anyway, because the edits weren't substantial (just clarifying, and I included a link to Cathy's statement).  But it nagged at me anyway.

JeCaThRe deleted her comment, which no longer really applied to my post. One of the things she wrote, which I really wanted to preserve, was this: "We'd do better seeking out companies that match our ethics than trying to play "gotcha" with the companies that don't."  It's a good point.  And it's an approach that's a lot more manageable than combing through the records of companies to find out where they're spending their profits.

But having her delete her comment made me realize I was having second thoughts about do-overs in blogging, especially given my own ruminations lately about truth in our writing.

SO: What do you think?  Is it acceptable to edit a blog post to more properly express what you meant in the first place?  Or do you need to stand by what you originally wrote, even if it's not quite what you meant?  If so, do you need to make disclaimers?  Where?  How?  Is there a certain amount of time in which edits are OK?
Pin It

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Politics of Chick(e)n

So I wasn't going to post about the whole Chick-Fil-A debacle.  I don't eat much chicken, anyway.  Or much meat at all, to be honest.  But the Muppets keep showing up in my FB feed, and after my homage to Kermit in yesterday's post, I'm taking it as a sign.

First, let me make sure you understand my lens on this: I'm a Unitarian Universalist (UU).  Which means I subscribe to seven principles and take my wisdom from six sources, including Jewish and Christian teachings about love.  I'd be that way if I weren't UU, too, but UUism helps me to name what I believe.  And I am pro-gay marriage.

I've known since I was a kid that something was different about Chick-Fil-A.  I think my mother was the one who told me that they closed on Sundays, though that didn't matter where I grew up because of the blue laws that closed the entire mall on Sundays anyway.  I knew that it was a business owned by a particular group of Christians (not to be confused with Catholics, according to my very-Old-World-Catholic father, and at that point I didn't really understand the difference between Baptists and Lutherans and Presbyterians and other sects), who really believed that the seventh day was for rest.  Honestly, I never gave their politics much thought.  It stands to reason, though, that the values of Chick-Fil-A's Baptist leader would align with the majority of established Baptist congregations in this country.

Where this begins to get tricky for people, so it seems, is drawing the line between the beliefs and actions of an individual--who happens to be a business leader--and the product of his organization.  The Muppets say you can't separate the two.  Others say you can.

I guess what it comes down to for me is that an individual with a particular belief system, who chooses to use the profits from my chicken sandwich to support organizations that I would not choose to support, may be a little less offensive on the scale of business-antiheroes than, say, a company that overtly discriminates in its hiring practices, or creates a hostile environment for employees and customers.  But if I know that my money is, in the end, going to support organizations that don't represent my beliefs, then I feel that I have the responsibility to act on that knowledge.  Maybe that's where Kermit is coming from, too.

Now, as KeAnne points out (in her fabulously written post on the subject, which you should go read RIGHT NOW), there are a lot of other companies out there, and a lot of other politics to wade through.  Sure, Haagen Dasz seems pretty harmless.  And ice cream is always a good alternative lunch.  But if I go digging deeply enough, what will I find?

This isn't the first time I've had to come to terms with the thorny problem of putting my money where my mouth, and head, and hands, and heart are.  (That is, assuming I'm ever faced with the unlikely situation that Chick-Fil-A is a real meal option.)  And I'm sure it won't be the last.  I would love to say that every time I make a purchase of goods or services, I know exactly where my money goes.  But the truth of the matter is for the most part, I really have no idea.  We get hand-me-downs for the kids when we can, and I'm not about to turn them away because they were made abroad in a factory where unfair and even unsavory labor practices prevail.  Though I cook most of our meals from scratch, and can get local eggs and butter and honey, I use things like sugar and flour and other pantry staples that come from large companies whose profits could be spent in all kinds of unsavory ways.  There are two problems here: one of them is that the chain of commerce is infinite, that even if I know about official company policy, I can't ever hope to track the expenditures of every employee (sort of along the lines of my MckMama post, there does seem to be a point at which a private person's life is just that: private); the second is my own lack of time to do even the most basic research in the first place.  And I'm clearly not alone: why did it take so long for people to put two and two together to figure out where Chick-Fil-A's leadership stood on the promotion of the "Biblical definition of the family unit" (Dan Cathy's words, not mine)?  Unfortunately, in the end, I suspect that time--of more correctly, lack of time--will often make my decisions for me.  It does now.

Still, in the case of Chick-Fil-A: my research has been done for me.  And as a supporter of gay marriage rights, I can't support a business that nurtures other anti-gay marriage organizations like WinShape.  So Chick-Fil-A can continue to serve up its patties.  And if, in this mostly-vegetarian household, I get a craving for chicken, I'll continue to make my own souvlaki.  (Which, if you're really not into chicken, would also be tasty when made with some hearty mushrooms.)

How about you?  How do you make decisions about companies to support with your business?

Souvlaki with tzatziki is the perfect way to use up all of those summer squash and cucumbers now filling your CSA boxes and farmers' market stalls, for those of you in the northern hemisphere.   Southern hemisphere residents: your time will come soon enough.


1 c. Greek yogurt
1 cucumber, shredded, squeeze out excess water with hand
2 T. fresh lemon juice
1/2 t, salt
1 garlic clove, minced

Combine all ingredients together and stir well.


6 T. fresh lemon juice
1 T. fresh oregano (or 1 t. dried)
4 t. olive oil
1 t. salt
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1” pieces (vegetarians can use portobello mushrooms)
2 zucchinis or other summer squash, cut into 1” chunks, halved if large
cooking spray or olive oil
pita bread (I used whole wheat)

Combine lemon juice, oregano, olive oil, salt, and garlic in a bowl. Add chicken pieces and coat well. Marinate in refrigerator for 30 minutes, turning once.  Remove chicken from bowl; discard marinade.

Light your grill and set it to medium, if you have some control over it.  Thread chicken and zucchini alternately on metal skewers (or wooden if you don't have metal ones, but makes sure you soak wooden skewers well in water first).  Spray grill with cooking spray or olive oil, and grill skewers, turning ever few minutes, until chicken is no longer pink inside (about 8 minutes).   Remove from grill.

Serve skewers with tzatziki sauce and pita triangles.
Pin It

Monday, July 23, 2012

Just Put the Lime in the Coconut

In a completely different post than usual for me ...visitors from ICLW, don't judge me just yet.  And read yesterday's post for an intro.

I'm not exactly what you'd call a lush.

In college, while everyone else was going to frat parties, or smuggling kegs into their rooms, or whatever else people who want to get drunk do, my geeky friends and I were playing "psychologist" (this is basically a game in which one person leaves the room, the remaining people decide on rules for answering the absent person's questions, and the absent person returns to the room to figure out what the rules are by asking random questions.  Repeat ad infinitum with very geeky roommates).  At grad school parties, I wandered around with a glass of seltzer in my hand, feeling out of place while everyone else seemed to be on their third Corona.  We occasionally enjoy a glass of wine or a mixed drink around here, but it's not a regular event.

But tonight, I am sipping a cocktail. Alone.  Feeling sorry for myself.

There are two reasons for this.  One: I've been trying to recreate that drink I had at Ninety Acres since we were there two weeks ago.  Two: I'm solo parenting again, and I don't have a pint of ice cream in the house, which is my go-to consolation prize of choice.  (I continue to gain respect and admiration for those of you who do this alone all the time; I think I'd weigh nine hundred pounds.)

In some ways, I'm a better parent when I do it alone.  I have a system ... sort of, anyway.  I know what I need to get done and I become single-minded of purpose.  I can sometimes play on the sympathies of the five year old.  There is slightly less laundry.

And in other ways, I'm a much worse parent when I do it alone.  My fuse is shorter.  I become "all work and no play" mama.  No one likes this version of me.  There are more things I need to remember to do.  And there's no one to pry the clingy baby off of my hip or my leg or wherever she happens to have her death grip at the moment for JUST.  FIVE.  MINUTES.
You put the lime in the coconut, then you feel better ...
 If only it were that simple.

You're welcome.

What's your favorite adult beverage?  Or: if you don't drink, what's your favorite flavor of ice cream?

Curried Lime in the Coconut
My husband was nice enough to make curry simple syrup (though he also hopes to make some crazy drink with it in a month when his Royal Indian Bitters are ready ... they're apparently in the basement ... don't ask).  This still isn't exactly the same as what I had at Ninety Acres, but it's refreshing nonetheless.  If you play with it and come up with a variation you like, write and tell us so.  

2 ounces gin
4 ounces coconut water
3 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice
4 t. curry simple syrup  (see below.  start with less if you like.  You may also be able to use honey with curry well mixed in, if you're opposed to simple syrup)
1 sprig mint

In a shaker filled ¾ of the way with ice, combine gin, coconut water, curry simple syrup, and lime juice.  Shake until cold, strain into a glass filled with ice and garnish with sprig of mint.

Curry Simple Syrup

1 t.. high-quality curry
½ cup boiling water
A few cups of sugar (I've heard you can do this with Stevia)

Combine ingredients in a pot. Gradually add enough sugar while stirring to create 1 cup of liquid.

Pin It

Sunday, July 22, 2012

ICLW July 2012: Do You Want Fries With That?

It's been a while since I got my act together and put myself on the ICLW list.  But I'm glad to be back! Thanks for visiting here.  A bit of housekeeping:
  • If you want some background about why I'm on the ALI blogroll, you can read my post for the 2011 Resolve Bust A Myth challenge.  It's not for the faint of heart.
  • You could also start with the Things I'm Afraid To Tell You, which will give you insider information about my laundry habits.  Or you could just salivate over my cupcakes.
  • I'm doing NaBloPoMo this month.  Because I need more acronyms in my life.
  • Even before I had a blog, I wanted to go to BlogHer.  I wanted to meet the amazing writers I found online.  And this year, I'm going!

Which brings me to the meat of today's post.
From an early age, I thought of myself as a writer.  I spent hours in the ditto room during lunch in the fifth grade, with my best friend, inhaling purple ink fumes and co-writing an adolescent romance complete with hand-drawn illustrations which we actually--this is completely laughable now--sent off to a publishing agency.  In the seventh grade I authored a short science fiction story that my teachers swooned over, and which I was sure would sell hundreds of copies.  In eighth grade and in high school, I dominated the literary magazine with my poetry.  I majored in English in college, and even won a poetry award one year.

Like most of my fellow English majors, I tired of people asking me what I was going to do with my major.  How many times did I have to hear "do you want fries with that?"  Why yes, yes, I was preparing myself for a career in the food service industry!  How did you know?

Somewhere along the way, my passion for writing got swallowed up by term papers, and then a thesis, and then my dissertation: the ultimate writing killjoy.

Years passed.

Then, two and a half years ago, I started this blog.  I don't know when I started reading blogs, but something about the genre appealed to me.  Since its birth, it's been quite the wanderer, venturing into pregnancy loss, food porn, yoga, infertility, career uncertainty, parenting, mindfulness, even--though less frequently--politics.  I've often found myself wondering, sometimes aloud, where it's going.  And whether that matters.  Whether my meandering might lose me readership.

Last week, Jjiraffe posted something that rocked my world a little bit.  She suggested that maybe, just maybe, good writing wasn't about finding a niche, but about finding--and using--your voice.

The weird thing is that despite the fact that I write here, I often don't think of myself as a writer.  Which is sort of silly, right?  Every once in a while, someone like Mel waves a magic wand and BAM. I'm a writer ... but then something happens, I lose my glass slipper, and I'm back doing laundry again.

The funny thing is that in my own way, during these past few years, I've made myself a career in the food service industry, just as those jokers predicted long ago.  I feed my readership, one post at a time.  (My new business card says "food for the palate. food for thought." Congratulate me on my cleverness.)  But in the process, I think I've also started to find my voice.  Here's what NaBloPoMo is reminding me: if I just write (*thanks, again jjiraffe), I'm a writer.  The paralysis that comes from some overblown idea of what my writing should be, or consistency of topic, or impressing readers?  I never had that problem when I was in the fifth grade.  Because I wrote.  I was a writer.  And that was enough.

Our CSA has had a particularly successful potato harvest this year.  So like a good food services employee, I'm offering you some fries.  I hope you don't mind; I'll be serving them up with a side of prose.

Perfect Oven Roasted Fries
I don't usually even like fries.  But these?  Damn.

3 russet potatoes (about 24 oz. total), peeled and cut lengthwise into even sized wedges
5 T. vegetable, canola or peanut oil, divided
kosher salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 475F.  Place the potato wedges in a large mixing bowl. Cover with hot water; soak for 20 minutes. Put 4 tablespoons of the oil onto a heavy, rimmed baking sheet or a heavy baking pan. Tilt the sheet side to side to evenly coat the pan with oil. Sprinkle the pan evenly with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Drain the potatoes. Spread the wedges out on layers of paper towels or on clean kitchen towels. Pat dry with additional towels. Wipe out the now empty bowl so it is dry. Return the potatoes to the bowl and toss with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Arrange the potato wedges on the prepared baking sheet in a single layer. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 5 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the bottoms of the potatoes are spotty golden brown, 15-20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet after 10 minutes. Flip each potato wedge keeping them in a single layer. Continue baking until the fries are golden and crisp, 5 -15 minutes. Rotate the pan as needed to ensure even browning, and feel free to flip them again.

When the fries are finished baking, transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to drain some of the grease. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm.
Pin It

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Sound of Silence: For Aurora

I have been trying to process the tragedy in Colorado all day.

This is the largest mass shooting in American history.  The suspect had four weapons and 6,000 rounds of ammunition.  Seventy people were shot, 12 are dead. Maybe you are tired of reading about it.  Tired of hearing about it.  Maybe, like me, you wish it would just go away.

But the questions nag at me.  What causes someone to do commit such a senseless act of violence?  We mourn.  We rage.  Even if we don't have a direct connection to the victims, we think about our own loved ones, imagine how easy it would have been to have lost one of them.  And because we are human, we want answers.

The frustrating thing is that for all of our knowledge about neuroscience, for all of the awareness raised around issues of mental health since Columbine and Virginia Tech and the 26 other mass shootings since 1999, we still can't predict human behavior perfectly.  We can't forecast violence.  In cases like this, we search for consistency, for patterns, for signposts we might have missed--and sometimes, they exist--but in other cases, there is no sense to be made.

Some people are saying that Holmes was a recluse.  Does isolation make someone abnormal?  In the age of social media, of overconnectedness, does being a loner signal mental illness?  That feels like a frightening conclusion to me.

Some people will say that parents know their children, and will blame them for not acting on their instincts -- Holmes' mother reportedly said to the police "you have the right person" -- but how does a parent deal with the difficult and complicated truth of mental illness of a child, especially when the child in question is an adult, and no longer living at home?

Some people will blame the medical school.  Why didn't anyone find out more about why he was withdrawing from his PhD program?  Didn't anyone notice anything odd about him during those months of classes?  Having worked in higher education, I can say with some authority that this, too, is tricky; the school has no power to act unless the student seeks help or overtly threatens harm to himself or others.  And there are lots of odd people in the world.  Most of them are just that: odd.  Not dangerous.

Some people will blame a culture that promotes gun violence.  I walked into the kitchen a few hours ago and saw the water pistol my son got at a party last weekend, despite the fact that we don't generally allow guns in our house, and felt my stomach turn.  But I can't pretend for my son that guns don't exist.  And we try to teach him to use even this one responsibly, hoping that he will never feel the need to carry one that could hurt another living being.

As I commented on Mel's post about this tragedy today: there will be lots of words.  Because that's how many human beings process the world -- through language.  We name things so that we feel like we can contain them, like we can control them, even when we know better.  We will place blame unjustly.  We will try to create logic.

But despite the words, there will be silence in our hearts.

My thoughts are with all of the victims, their families, their friends, and all of us whose worlds have been shifted, again.  Shanti.  Shanti.  Shanti.
Pin It

Friday, July 20, 2012

Comfort and Red Curry

I went to yoga last night for the first time in about two months.  Between our own travels, my husband's travels, and missing a week or two to do something with my son, I lost momentum.  Knowing that there are more dates coming up in the next month that I won't be able to get to class was making me feel like there was no point in going, anyway, because I'd begin to practice and then backtrack again.

Of course, I become a much grouchier person when I don't go to yoga.  When I don't take time for myself.  Even when I go to the Y, I know that my daughter is in Child Watch and that all hell could break loose at any moment (most often this happens in the form of an emergency diaper change requiring that I leave my class at once).  And considering that I haven't been in weeks, and that I've been solo parenting on and off during that time, I admit, I have gotten grouchier than usual.  For me, yoga is a spiritual practice that offers me peace, and reminds me, as Rumi says, to "visit myself," but it also helps me to get out of myself, to think outwards, to gain perspective.  I love what Pema Chodron says about this:
For many, spiritual practice represents a way to relax and a way to access peace of mind. We want to feel calm, more focused; and with our frantic, stressful lives, who can blame us? Nevertheless, we have a responsibility to think bigger than that these days. If spiritual practice is relaxing, if it gives us some peace of mind, that's great-- but is this personal satisfaction helping us to address what's happening in the world? The main question is, are we living in a way that adds further aggression and self-centeredness to the mix, or are we adding some much needed sanity? (from Taking the Leap)
In the interest of potentially adding needed sanity to the world, I finally decided to go, despite feeling tired, and when I arrived, I discovered that there was a sub for my usual teacher.  Great, I thought.  I sacrificed the time and money and it's not even my favorite teacher.  I made my way into the room, unrolled my mat, and closed my eyes, feeling grumpier than ever.

I sat listening to my breath, and imagined what my regular teacher would say, about honoring the intention that brought you to class, about putting aside whatever you left to get to class and whatever you were going to have to return to after you left.  I heard her voice suggesting that I let the breath breathe me.  Slowly, the attitude melted away.

And the class was actually just what I needed.  It wasn't my usual teacher's pace, or her humor, but it was gentle enough to allow me to be gentle to myself.  I found myself grateful, in the end, that I'd gone, and that the sub was there after all.  And I felt renewed, able to tackle the world again.

It reminded me of my pickup at the farm two weeks ago, when I was just starting to get over being sick.  I didn't want to go; I almost called my neighbor to ask her to pick up my share for me.  I knew I'd have to carry N. on my back, in the heat, and venture into the fields if I wanted tomatoes.  I felt depleted, and wondered whether perhaps it would just be easier not to go.

But when I arrived, there were two curry dishes to sample, waiting inside the pickup space.  Our farm always has one or two seasonal dishes to sample at pickup, using part of the week's share, along with the recipe.  I've written here before about curry as one of my comfort foods, and it was as if they knew what I needed.  I don't even eat white rice much anymore, that small flowered Dixie cup full of warm rice and coconut milk and squash and red curry was like a small miracle.  It was the first real food I'd eaten in days.  I was grateful, and I told them so.  I know I was a better parent that night.

Sometimes it's hard to go where we need to go, or do what we need to do.  We don't want to go to yoga.  We don't want to write for the fifteen minutes we promised ourselves.  We don't want to see that friend who has been nagging us.  It's inconvenient.  We're tired.  We're grumpy.  But sometimes the nourishment we need is waiting there.

Where do you go or what do you do to nourish yourself?  Is it always easy to make that commitment?  Do you find that this practice, or this space, is self-centered, or does it help you to add sanity to the world?

Red Curry with Summer Squash 
This is slightly different from the previous red curry recipe I posted.  You can still make your own curry paste, but I like the convenience of the bottled kind.

3 medium summer squash cubed (I also tossed in 3 small eggplant)
1 sweet onion, sliced
2 cloves of garlic sliced
2 T. olive oil
2 T. red curry paste
2 c. coconut milk
1 T. fish sauce
1 T. brown sugar
Sweet (Thai) Basil

Saut̩ curry paste in olive oil 1 Р2 minutes to bring out flavor. Add 1 c. coconut milk; simmer 4 minutes. Add onion, garlic and squash. Cook until beginning to get tender. Add 1 1/2 c. coconut milk, fish sauce, and sugar. Add salt to taste, remove from heat and add sweet basil May use other vegetables as well
Pin It

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Choosing Difficulty: Chard Frittata

My husband often teases me that I make things unnecessarily difficult.  I belabor decisions, second-guessing myself and often initiating the same conversation with him several times in different ways to make sure the answers haven't changed; I do too many completely unrelated things at the same time; I create challenges (like signing up for a CSA when I know that it creates stress to figure out how I'm going to use all of the produce creatively and effectively in a week) ... you get the idea.  It's an expression of my tendency towards perfectionism, I guess, but also a way for me to test ideas and processes so that I can optimize efficiency.  In my own little mind, making things difficult temporarily makes them easier somewhere down the road.

In cognitive psychology, there is a concept called "desirable difficulty" which actually supports this approach to problem-solving.  The theory is that introducing hurdles into the learning process makes the lessons "stick" better: examples include spacing lessons farther apart, varying where the learning takes place, having learners generate material by creating puzzles rather than just reading it, making learning less clearly organized, even using fonts that are harder to read.  (See this article for more information about the theory and its applications.)

I choose difficulty, because I like a challenge, but also because I guess I've always suspected I'd learn more that way. And also because I'm a stubborn so-and-so.

Our farm continues to produce chard, though now the supply is dwindling and it's pick-your-own, and no one seems to be picking it.  I don't even really like chard all that much, and I've been feeling out of ideas for things to do with it, but I'm also a sucker for "free" (and "pick all you can" is about the same as "free" to me, even if I hadn't won our half share), so on Tuesday, when it was about 97 degrees, I set off with N. on my back in the huge Kelty backpack (I won't let her down in the fields because I can't chase a child trampling the tomato vines and pick vegetables at the same time).

My husband would have told me that I was a nut for going picking optional chard, which I don't love, on a day that was so hot, carrying N. on my back.  And then I asked him to go raid our garden for the usable chard when he came home.

But I love the CSA challenge.  It's like a puzzle, trying to figure out what to do with it each week.  I've learned a lot about cooking by having to cope with what the farm has made available.  And every year I get a little bit better at it.  One of the things I've learned this time around was also something that they covered in the NYTimes yesterday: that if you set aside time to cook some of your produce as soon as it arrives (or soon aftger), you'll be a bit less at a loss for what to do with it later.  For example: once you cook the chard, this frittata comes together easily.  And if you have a lot of chard, you could cook it all up this with the overabundance of green or spring onions that you may also have, and use some for the frittata, some for chard pie, some for a side dish, even throw some in a pasta or rice salad.

Do you make things "unnecessarily" difficult for yourself?  How so?  Do you think there can be a productive purpose for doing so?  When does creating difficulty become unhealthy and unproductive?

Chard Frittata

1 tablespoon olive oil or butter (sauteeing in butter seems to make the chard less bitter)
1 small yellow onion, diced
3-4 green onions
1 bunch Swiss chard, leaves removed, stems and leaves chopped separately
6 eggs
Pinch of salt
Black pepper to taste
1 1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
cooking spray

In a large (12-inch) skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the chard stems and cook over medium-low heat until just translucent, about 5-7 minutes.  Add green onions, cook a minute or two, and then chard leaves; cook until the chard is completely soft and water evaporated, stirring occasionally.  Allow to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the salt and cheese, then stir in the chard and onion mixture.

Spray an ovenproof medium skillet with cooking spray and heat over medium until sizzling, then add the egg mixture. Cook until the bottom and sides begin to set, about 2-3 minutes, then transfer to the oven and continue cooking until the center is solid, abut 12 minutes depending on the shape of the pan.
Pin It

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Critical Thinking, Public Education, and Granola Bars

In which I get all political on you.  Apologies in advance to my regular readers who are patiently waiting for mindfulness and cupcakes.  Also, you owe it to yourself to go read Garage Author's post on this subject.  Because she writes like a champion boxer.  KO.

My son is going to public school at the end of August, so I find myself paying even more attention than usual to discussions of education policy (which is saying something, considering that I'm the daughter of two teachers, and spent my entire career in higher education).  Back at the end of July, the Texas GOP released its Education platform.  Usually this doesn't cause much of a stir, but they made this objectionable little comment that got everyone up in arms, and provided some useful fodder for Steven Colbert:
Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.
Now, I do sort of understand the resistance to Outcome-Based Education.  OBE generally promotes curricula and assessment based on constructivism, which holds that people create meaning of the world through a series of individual constructs, or filters we choose in order to make sense of our reality.  While I consider myself more of a constructivist than not, and in principle this sounds like an excellent idea (and is the reason that we're beginning to see things like portfolio assessment of student work in addition to grades), in practice, it becomes a political morass.  How do you decide what the outcomes should be without getting all wishy-washy?  Where I used to work, that discussion resulted in a complicated core curriculum during the university's last revision of undergraduate education, which made no one happy.  I can't even imagine the discussion on a state level, especially when the state is the size of Texas.

But really? Challenging a student's "fixed beliefs" is a bad thing?  Should a child's lifelong beliefs be completely formed by elementary school?

A party spokesman later said ""[The chairman of the Education Subcommittee] indicated that it was an oversight of the committee, that the plank should not have included 'critical thinking skills' after 'values clarification, [...] And it was not the intent of the subcommittee to present a plank that would have indicated that the RPT in any way opposed the development of critical thinking skills."

Still, the fact that those words got written in the first place (which means they must have been spoken by someone, and read by many others before that document was released) is disturbing to me.  Isn't that what public education is about?  About encountering difference, about questioning your beliefs, about questioning what you've simply been told, about promoting democracy?  I'm reminded of the article that jjiraffe linked to the other day, about Mike McQueary, an assistant coach at Penn State who reported child sex abuse but is not being blamed for not doing enough.  At the end, the author writes, "[w]e need to find ways to teach Good Soldiers and Team Players to question authority while still respecting it. In fact, we need to go one step further and teach them that questioning authority is the best way to show respect for it. And any authority that challenges that notion isn’t worthy of respect."  As I wrote to jjiraffe, I'm not sure how we do that, exactly, but that kind of questioning is necessary if we're going to raise the next generation of heroes and whistleblowers, instead of people who stand by and watch terrible things happen.

The platform also opposes, among other things, early childhood education, sex education, and multicultural education, but supports “school subjects with emphasis on the Judeo-Christian principles upon which America was founded.”

Um ... excuse me? Wasn't it values clarification that motivated the colonists to travel here and stick it out against some pretty incredible odds in the first place?  And with growing populations of non-Judeo-Christian people who are influencing the future of the country, wouldn't it be important to discuss non-Judeo-Christian ideas?

You can read the entire policy here, if you're interested.  But I'm sorry, Texas GOP--as my son starts first grade this year, there is one thing I'm hoping he'll continue to learn: to think for himself.  And if he figures out that I've been wrong all along about something important, and can show me why in a way that is civil and respectful, more power to him.

Here's a great addition to a lunchbox for back to school, or to slip into your own bag, so that during that mid-afternoon dip in energy you can recharge your own power of critical thinking.  They're sort of like Luna bars, only more customizable and less expensive.  The basic formula from Brown Eyed Baker goes like this:

1. Rolled Grains (2 1/2 c.): Oats, Rye flakes, Barley flakes, etc.
2. Nuts, Seeds & Spices (1 c.) : Almonds, Walnuts, Pecans, Pistachios, Sunflower Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, Cinnamon, Ginger, etc.
3. Sticky Sweetener (1/2 c., can use a bit more if you prefer): Honey, Agave Nectar, Molasses, Maple Syrup
4. Dried Fruits (1 c.): Raisins, Apricots, Dates, Figs, Prunes, Cranberries, Pineapple, etc.
5. Binder (1 c.): Pureed Dried Fruit, Apple Butter, Peanut Butter, Almond Butter, Unsweetened applesauce, etc.

Here's my variation on the theme.

What did you think of the document?  And how do you like your granola bars: chewy or crispy?

Luna Bar Style Tropical Granola Bars 

1 c. apple butter
1/2 c. raw local honey
1 t. ground cinnamon
3/4 t. vanilla
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
3/4 c. chopped almonds
2 T. raw pumpkin seeds
2 T. sunflower seeds (roasted, unsalted)
1 c. chopped dried apricot
2 to 3 T. unsweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 325F. Line an 8×8-inch baking pan with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the honey, apple butter, cinnamon and vanilla extract. Stir in the oats, making sure that everything is mixed in well and that the oats are all moistened. Mix in the almonds, seeds, and dried fruit. Turn the mixture out onto the parchment and press into the pan, distributing it evenly and packing it tightly. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool in the freezer until the bars are firm, at least 1 hour. Remove from the pan and cut into bars. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.  You can even cut them into fun shapes with cookie cutters!
Pin It

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Massage, Massage: Kale Salad

If you have kids, or even if you occasionally care for kids, you know how hard it is to put sunscreen on them in the summer.  They're squirmy.  They don't like being smeared with slimy goo.  They run amuck and ensure that all of your hard work goes to pot about an hour after you've rubbed the last of the stuff in.  If you have given in to the spray sunscreen approach (which doesn't work as well as the goo approach, IMHO), they probably complain about getting it in their eyes.  Or the smell.  Or who knows all what else.

I don't remember wearing sunscreen much as a child, and when I did, usually at the beach, it certainly did not have a UV protection rating of 50SPF (in fact, I think it was more of the cooking oil variety, the kind that smelled like coconut).  I have an olive complexion, and I tend to tan in the summer, provided I pace my time in the sun and don't go whole hog on the first nice day.  I take after my father that way, who used to tell us that he was called "morenito" (little black boy) in the summer by people in his town, because he used to get so dark.

Every morning, before my son goes to camp, we have to put sunscreen on him.  He's five, remember, and is about as much of a drama queen as they come (case in point: once, in the shower, when he got water in his eyes, he screamed: "AAAA!  Help!  Help!  I'm BLIND!  I'm DYYYYYYING!").  So you can imagine the hilarity that ensues when we're trying to protect him for the day, knowing full well that they will not enforce re-lotioning at camp.  I've told him several times now that there are many people in this world who pay a lot of money to have their body rubbed with lotion, and that I should be charging him for my services.  He doesn't yet see that irony, unfortunately.

His sister watches this process with great interest. At this point in her life, she still actually likes sunscreen.  As I did with my son when he was an infant, I've tried to make it into a game, saying "massage, massage," as I rub it onto her arms, and she will occasionally, out of the blue when she's in the car or walking around the house, make motions like she's putting on her own sunscreen, saying in her inimitable little voice, "masssaaaaaage, masssaaaaage."  During the past week, she's taken to holding one of her toy cups in her hand, pretending that it's a bottle of sunscreen, patting my skin with it (presumably to get the lotion out), and then rubbing my arm, saying "massaaaaaage, massaaaage."  Which is pretty stinking cute.  And which almost makes up for the times she's screaming bloody murder because--heaven forbid--I've just fed her a carrot.

I learned this summer that kale also likes a good massage; that if you're eating it raw, if you spend some time massaging it with your fingers, until it almost resembles steamed kale (warning: this does take some patience, but it can be oddly relaxing), the end result will be a green that is a lot easier to eat than the poky, curly item we tend to put in soup.  I would have taken a picture of myself doing this, but since I had my hands in kale, it was sort of difficult to hold the camera.  You'll have to use your imagination.

Raw kale also likes a good raw dressing, and provided you're not allergic to nuts, soaked cashews make a lovely accompaniment.  You can do it like this:

Cover 1/3 c. raw cashews in water and let them soak. (The longer the cashews soak, the creamier the dressing will be. Soaking for a few hours is ideal, but not a deal-breaker.) Drain them and blend them with 1/4 c. water, 1-2 cloves of garlic (start with one unless you like a garlicky dressing), a splash of lemon juice, and a dash of soy sauce and/or tahini.  The longer the dressing sits, the thicker it will become.  I keep mine in a mason jar, because it looks pretty in my refrigerator that way.

Toss the massaged kale in the dressing, and sprinkle your salad with some toasted walnuts, and anything else you like.  Eat great quantities of it, and feel virtuous.

Have you ever had a massage?  Have you ever given one?  Have you ever given kale a massage?  Do you like getting sunscreened?  If you have kids, how do you deal with preparing them to be outside in the sun?
Pin It

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Lesson In Trust: Bring Me Food at Ninety Acres

We don't get out much.

I remember at time when S. and I were dating, when we would eat out (still not often, but more often than we do now), and travel, and even see an occasional movie.  Now, our evenings consist of email and laundry and grocery shopping and cooking and ... did I mention laundry?  Yeah, I thought so.

So it was a wonderful surprise when S. announced to me a few weeks ago that he'd gotten reservations at a place he thought I would really like, and he was going to leave it to me to guess where.

I decided that it had to be somewhere with fresh, organic, ingredients.  Check, he said.  Locally sourced? Check.  Things grown on the premises?  Check.  Personal conversation with the chef?  Oh, boy.

I'd read about Blue Hill at Stone Barns a while back, and was completely enthralled by the idea of showing up at a restaurant where many of the ingredients could be seen on your trip up the driveway, and then sitting down to a meal someone had decided they wanted to cook for you, a tasting menu created around the day's harvest.  It sounded a bit like being friends with a Michelin chef.  I never in a million years thought I'd end up going somewhere like that, though; dinner there is, as far as I'm concerned, way out of our price range, not to mention out of our geographic range, and we don't do overnights away from the kids.  S. said it wasn't Blue Hill, anyway, but that Blue Hill sounded a lot like the place we were going.

I happen to be very good at Google searches, though, and did enough sleuthing that I was able, through some creative Boolean logic, to figure out that there was another restaurant nearby that did something similar, and then remembered that I'd seen it posted on a friend's Facebook profile.  I asked S.: was it Ninety Acres at NATIRAR?  Yes, he admitted, it was.

Of course, then I was struck down by the five day version of the Black Death, and was starting to worry that I wouldn't be better in time for our reservation.  And honestly, I still wasn't completely myself, but I was well enough.  I'd lost enough weight during my enforced starvation to fit into the only Little Black Dress I own (of course I've since gained it back, let's be clear); I slipped it on, feeling very lucky indeed, and off we went.

When I was living in L.A., my then-boyfriend would take me to sushi restaurants, where he would order "Omakase."  The phrase, which basically means "I'll leave it to you," is from the Japanese word entrust, and the meal can be an invitation for the chef to do his most artistic and imaginative work; it also can get you a better deal on the highest quality ingredients.  I remember being impressed with this the first time I heard it (really, it sounded so grown up), and will also never forget the look of pure joy on the face of the sushi chefs who realized that we were not going to ask them to make yet another California roll.

At Ninety Acres, not everyone experiences "omakase"-style dining.  Most of the restaurant is your standard high-end restaurant, and a smaller room in the back, overlooking the open kitchen, is where the diners sit for the Bring Me Food (yes, that's really what it's called) option.  They present you with a list of ingredients (which you can customize according to your dietary restrictions and preferences), and scuttle off to start inventing your dinner.  As we were enjoying drinks (coconut water and lime with gin and curry simple syrup? Holy inspired cocktail, Batman), the chef, David Felton, came to our table and introduced himself, ending with "and my job is to bring you food."

Seriously?  I couldn't think of many better things for someone to say to me.

crappy phone camera picture of my sea bass in
pea shoot puree with braised radishes and nasturtium
We feasted.  First, a light broth of tomato water (who knew there was such a thing?) with an oyster, saltwort, and some other herb whose name I can't remember.  Then, a charcuterie plate with the most outstanding salami I've had in my life--and that's coming from a quasi-vegetarian.  Then, an egg over easy perched atop perfectly toasted potatoes and bacon with purslane (have I told you that one of the few things I won't eat is a segregated egg?  Well, I snarfed that sucker right down).  Fish course: a sea bass with a puree of pea shoots and fresh herbs, with a bit of fennel.  Then: squab, with braised chard and roasted beets in a demiglace.  (Yes, the quasi-vegetarian in me was weeping by now.  I wasn't listening to her.)  A cheese course: a dry aged jack drizzled with honey, served with grilled bread.  Finally, dessert: a ginger scone with fresh peaches, vanilla pastry cream, honey ice cream, and lavender.  And a small plate of hand-rolled ginger truffles and two small chocolate chip cookies.  Chef Felton brought every course, described the ingredients, answered questions.  It was, in short, amazing.

The thing about eating this way is that you have to really trust the chef.   Which isn't necessarily easy, especially if you've never eaten at the restaurant in question before.  It makes one think about trust in general.  Are you a generally trusting person?  What are the limitations or conditions of that trust?

Would you ever be willing to trust someone to prepare a five course meal for you?  Are there circumstances in which that would be the case?
Pin It

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Practicing Compassion: Kale Spoon Bread

Apropos of my recent Things I'm Afraid to Tell You post, yesterday the NY Times had an intriguing article on the science of compassion.  It turns out that feeling compassion for one individual actually makes us more likely to feel compassion for other people, even people we don't particularly like or people who have wronged us somehow.  Moreover, drawing even a simple association between ourselves and someone else (such as walking in step together) can increase the amount of compassion we feel for that individual.

DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University and the author of the article, suggests that the "meditation, prayer, or moral education" practiced by the world's religions, may therefore not, in fact, be the only way to cultivate compassion; rather, a simple "recategorization" of people, to see how they are similar, may help us to feel more empathy.

I had a few reactions to this.  The first was "well, of course."  Of course the more we identify with someone, the more compassion we feel towards them.  The ALI blogging community is a perfect example of how this works.  Despite the fact that we are a diaspora, that we have a wide variety of experiences that we bring to our blogs, we tend to express empathy when another member of our community is going through an especially difficult period.

But the first finding was the one that I found more thought-provoking.  The Dalai Lama teaches that the experience of compassion at the level of the individual increases our capacity for compassion and has ripple effects that create greater harmony in the world.  That always sounded sort of loosey-goosey to me before, sort of like the ripple effect of the butterfly flapping its wings, but now it makes more sense: that practicing compassion, getting better and better at it, makes us more likely to act compassionately towards other people, even when it is more difficult to do so.  And in fact, I think it's happened to me, as I've become more involved in the ALI blogging community over the past three years.  It's not that I wasn't a compassionate person before.  But the more I read, the more I reach out, the better I am at reaching out, and the more, perhaps, that outreach finds its way beyond my own comments.

Have you found blogging and commenting changing the way you interact with other people?

Cornmeal and Kale Spoon Bread
This recipe makes something more like custard than bread, but it would be great with the onions, corn, and peppers that are now in season here.  Spoon me.
Adapted from the original at epicurious 

1 pound kale, thick ribs and stems cut away
1 T, olive oil
1 bunch sliced green onions (white and green parts)
1 c. white corn (frozen or fresh)
1/2 c. chopped red peppers (roasted)
1 garlic clove, minced
2 c. water
1 1/2 c. yellow cornmeal
2 1/2 c. reduced-fat (2%) milk
1 t. salt
Cooking spray
4 large eggs

1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese

Cook kale in large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain; cool. Squeeze dry. Finely chop kale.

Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, corn, red peppers, and garlic; stir 3 minutes. Mix in 1 1/2 cups kale. Remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 350F at this point. Spray 13x9x2-inch baking dish with nonstick spray (I use a small piece of wax paper to evenly spread the non-stick spray over the bottom and sides of my baking dish).

Whisk 2 cups water and cornmeal in bowl to blend. Bring milk and salt to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Gradually whisk in cornmeal mixture. Stir until mixture boils and thickens, about 5 minutes. Be very careful; as the mixture thickens, it will start to “pop” and the batter will splatter a bit. Cool slightly.

Whisk eggs in large bowl to blend; gradually whisk in warm cornmeal mixture. Stir in kale mixture, cheese, and hot pepper sauce. Transfer to prepared dish; smooth top. Bake until set and golden, about 35 minutes. Test with a toothpick in the middle of the dish. Serve warm.
Pin It

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Politics of Cookies

I have clearly been living under a rock for the past twenty years, because I hadn't heard about the Family Circle Magazine Presidential Cookie Bake-Off until I read Grace Hwang Lynch's post about it on BlogHer.  In case you hadn't, either, here's how it works: the two presidential candidates' wives are supposed to submit their best cookie recipes for judgement by the American cookie-baking public (this year, on Facebook).  The tradition started in 1992 when Hilary Clinton made an off-the-cuff remark about not staying home to bake cookies and make tea, appearing to snub SAHMs, and needed to save her reputation.  So she and Barbara Bush went spatula-to-spatula, making themselves Middle America-Friendly.

Apparently every winning woman so far (save one) has gone on to be First Lady, so the stakes seem pretty high.  Slate has gone so far this year as to critique Michelle Obama's recipe, citing its lack of oats (which seems to be a surefire way to win, according to their highly scientific study) and use of Crisco as the fat.  (Gee, how would Americans react to a gluten free recipe, I wonder?  Or a vegan recipe?  Heaven forbid.)  And the New York Times reported that Ann Romney has been serving homemade cookies to prominent donors at the Romney home on Lake Winnepesauke, a "personal touch" that has earned them some serious campaign finances.

I like cookie recipes as much as the next person (oh, heck, even more than the next person), but I'm sort of stunned that this kind of antiquated contest is still happening, in 2012.  I mean, come on.  What if the candidate bakes cookies, rather than the spouse?  What if "home made" cookies in that house are the kind you squeeze out of a tube?  What if the candidate is a female, and the "First Spouse" would be a male?  Would we still hold the bake off?  And why do we care that the First Lady can bake?

I mentioned this to my son on the drive to a birthday party today, and while he liked the idea of a cookie contest, he was (1) confused that only two people were participating ("but mom, why can't other people try to win, too?"); (2) confused that this was a contest that had anything to do with winning the presidency ("don't we vote for the president?"); and (3) concerned that the contest might not be fair ("but what if they don't bake good cookies?  Maybe they should have another kind of contest.").  Exactly, kimo sabe.

Grace Hwang Lynch points out that what bothers her about the contest is that no one ever expects her to bake cookies.  She does it because she likes to, not because she has to.  And this whole thing reminds her of the 1950s expectation of dinner on the table and a cocktail in the shaker when a woman's husband arrived home from work.  What bothers me most, I think, is that both of these women are intelligent and well-spoken, and neither one of them has said anything about the stereotype that this perpetuates.  Which suggests that despite all of our clamoring for feminism and liberation as a nation, we really want highly visible women who can find their way around in a kitchen, who symbolize the hearth and the cult of domesticity.

I made these cookies yesterday.  Not because I was expected to, but because my son saw the recipe on the side of a cheerios-equivalent box, and wanted to try them.  It was a collaborative effort.  In the end, I decided that they're not really my favorite kind of cookie: they're crunchy rather than chewy, and they're a little too sweet.  They really do taste the way you'd expect a fancy moon rock might taste.  Luckily, I am not trying to please the majority of the cookie-baking and cookie-eating American public, nor am I trying to win a bid for the title of First Lady.

What do you think about the contest?  Am I completely misreading this?  Overreacting?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Moon Baubles

1/2 c. butter
1 c. sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 1/2 c. Cheerios or similar O-shaped cereal
1/2 c. candy coated chocolate pieces (MnMs, preferably dark)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl cream butter and sugar. Add egg and vanilla; beat until fluffy. Stir in flour and baking soda; mix well. Add cereal and chocolate pieces; stir just until blended.

Drop by rounded 2 teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheet 2 inches apart. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool 1 minute before removing from cookie sheet. Makes 4 dozen.
Pin It
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...