Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Stranded: Chicken Pot Pie Soup

Noon on a rainy Tuesday.  The towtruck pulled up in front of my neighbor's driveway and began to slide the bed back, inclining it to the ground.  N. heard the commotion and went running to the door, pressing her face to the glass, where her breath made frosty marks around her small nose.

I'd been expecting the truck; my neighbor told me the other day, in her matter-of-fact way, that the van was going to be towed.  My neighbor is almost ninety, and the van has been uncooperative for a long time; finally, it rusted out completely underneath, leavings its entrails exposed to the elements.  But uncooperative as the van may have been, it was the symbolic representation of her independence.  It was her escape.  To the Amish market.  To the salon.  To the doctor's office.  To wherever she needed to go, by herself.

As I watched her from our doorway, standing on her own porch, I tried to imagine the thoughts in her head.  About borrowing her daughter's car.  About juggling rides.  About not going places.  About having to ask for help.

She stood there for a long time, stoic, half inside, half outside, newly coiffed with an auburn bouffant.  There were no tears; it was as if she was standing watch to make sure it all went right, rather than offering her last goodbye.  Finally, as the driver loaded the van onto the truck, she closed the door.  Perhaps she could take no more.

I believe that part of what has kept her and her husband alive and healthy for so long is their sense of independence, their sense of freedom. I can only imagine how difficult it was for her to give up that freedom.  She was, effectively, stranding herself.

My mother is also now stranded here.  She has no car, no friends, no lunch dates, not even 24 hour access to the Food Network, because we have no TV, much less cable.  She is in some pain; she can walk from room to room, but prefers not to move from standing to sitting positions more often than she has to.  She has to ask for help, and it's as if she doesn't quite know how; she doesn't want to be a burden, and yet sometimes not knowing how to help her is more burdensome than a simple request.  Today I helped her wash her hair in the sink, and take a sponge bath, and felt an awkward intimacy, almost like I was intruding.  These are things I do for my children.

This is a difficult negotiation for us.  There were times, as an adult, when I wanted her to be there, to support me, to tend to me, and she wasn't.  At least, not in the way I wanted her to be.  And I couldn't ask her to be, because that is not the person she is.  And yet now, I find myself in the position of caretaker.  Feeling like I ought not to be feeling sorry for myself, because she is the one in pain.

In her 2001 book Bodhichitta, Pema Chodron writes
"Bodhichitta is [...] equated, in part, with compassion—our ability to feel the pain that we share with others. Without realizing it we continually shield ourselves from this pain because it scares us. We put up protective walls made of opinions, prejudices and strategies, barriers that are built on a deep fear of being hurt. These walls are further fortified by emotions of all kinds: anger, craving, indifference, jealousy and envy, arrogance and pride. But fortunately for us, the soft spot—our innate ability to love and to care about things—is like a crack in these walls we erect. It's a natural opening in the barriers we create when we're afraid. With practice we can learn to find this opening. We can learn to seize that vulnerable moment—love, gratitude, loneliness, embarrassment, inadequacy—to awaken bodhichitta."
The soft spot.  Our innate ability to love.  The crack in my wall.  Maybe this is the moment that Pema would call the "teacher."

There is more soup on the menu this week.  The sort of soup my mother would like.  Because when you're stranded, at least you ought to have something you like to eat.

Chicken Pot Pie Soup
adapted from no, 2 pencil

2 T. butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 large carrot, diced
2 T. flour
2 t. sage
1 t. thyme
6 c. chicken stock - plus additional to thin if soup is very thick
3 c. shredded and 1 c. diced potatoes
4 c. cooked, diced or shredded chicken
1/2 c. evaporated milk (or heavy cream)
1 cup of frozen peas

Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat.  Add onions, carrots and celery and saute until softened. Add flour; stir well and cook about one minute more. Add herbs and chicken stock, increase heat to medium high. Once chicken stock begins to simmer, add potatoes and let simmer for about 15 minutes, or until potatoes begin to break down and thicken soup. Add chicken and let simmer until heated through, then add milk and peas and let simmer about 5 more minutes.

Add salt and pepper to taste, and adjust consistency of soup with additional chicken stock if needed.
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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Changes: Thai Roasted Carrot Soup

It's that strange in-between here in my corner of the universe: the point in the fall when you're not sure whether to wear long or short sleeves, whether to pack a jacket or an umbrella, whether to pick up the branches and leaves or wait for the next gusty storm to do it all at once.

It's also that time of in-between for the local markets.  There are two weeks left in our CSA for the season (our end of season potluck is tonight), and some of the summer markets are closing, which makes me pine for the dog days of summer (which I hated when they were here).  But the fall and winter markets are starting; I discovered that this year one has opened in the old pottery factory just two blocks from our house, and, local foodie that I am, I'm looking forward to regular Saturday morning walks there for coffee and tea and bread and eggs and wine and cheese and honey and whatever else is on offer.  We ventured there this morning and noticed empty spaces where some vendors have had to staff two markets at the same time.  I hope that it thrives; I've offered them help with social media to get the word out.

I both love and hate this time of year.  On the one hand, I've never been comfortable with liminality.  I want to be either one place or another, to know where I stand.  On the other hand, this moment in time is so excruciatingly beautiful that I feel like I don't mind giving up certainty for the experience of being here.  And I know that the winter is just around the corner; if the wooly bear caterpillars I've been seeing everywhere are any indication, it will be a long and cold winter.

This morning I also got a call from my mother.  She fell down her basement steps, breaking several of her ribs and her scapula, and injuring her head.  They are talking about releasing her from the hospital tomorrow, and she will be moving into our house for the foreseeable future.  Which you know, if you've been a longtime reader, will be an interesting change, to say the least.

I've made soup.  Because there were carrots from the CSA share, and because soup is comfort food, and fall food, under any circumstances.

Are there changes--seasonal or otherwise--afoot in your corner of the universe, too?

For some reason my carrot soup
appears to be glowing.  It's not, really.
Thai Roasted Carrot Soup

1.5 lbs. carrots
drizzle of olive oil for roasting plus 1 T. for cooking
1/2 onion, chopped
1.5" piece of ginger, grated
2 stalks lemongrass, finely sliced (or 1 T. grated lemon peel)
2 cloves garlic, minced/crushed
1 Thai hot pepper, minced finely (optional)
2 t. cumin
dash of nutmeg
4 c. broth (vegetable is fine)
1 can coconut milk
2 T. lime juice (or less if you prefer)
Thai basil for garnish

Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray.  Add carrots to prepared baking sheet; drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast until tender and brown, stirring occasionally to prevent burning and sticking, about 55 minutes. Don't be afraid of brown; you want to bring out the caramel flavor in the carrots.

In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium and add onion through hot pepper (optional), sauteeing until the onion becomes translucent.  Add cumin and nutmeg and saute for another minute.  Add roasted carrots and broth, bring to a boil, and simmer about 20 minutes.  Add coconut milk and puree with an immersion blender (or transfer to a regular blender).  Add lime juice just before serving, and if available, garnish with Thai basil.
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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Feminisms, and The Diary of a Submissive: BlogHer Book Club

I confess, I'd been wanting to participate in the BlogHer Book Club for a while.  It seemed like a great way to read something different, and participate in broad discussion with voices I wouldn't ordinarily encounter.

So when I got the email about the BlogHer Book Club discussions about The Diary of a Submissive, I almost jumped at the chance.

Almost, I say, because I actually did read the book summary.  And honestly, I was a little nervous.  It's not my kind of book(I'm, you know, the kind of person who write about cupcakes, yoga, and my CSA.)

You see, Sophie Morgan--a pseudonym, the reason for which becomes clear not long into the book--is a successful journalist in her early thirties with a penchant for children, animals, books, DVDs, handbags, Marmite, and ... oh, right ... being on the "s" side of a D/s sexual relationship.  People claim that her memoir is the "real-life Fifty Shades of Grey" (which, by the way, I didn't read, and which Sophie Morgan herself lambasts in an article from a few months back in the Guardian).

I decided to review it because I consider myself a feminist, and I needed to understand how someone who willingly renounces her power in this way could be a self-proclaimed feminist, too.  In the midst of a highly contested U.S. presidential race where women's issues have been front and center, and as a woman who has experienced sexist treatment, the voice of women, and our ability to speak for ourselves and be treated like our voices matter, is particularly important to me.

Sophie's "awakening" is, thankfully, not a "diary," but the story of a submissive coming to terms with her identity, of finding herself empowered within a D/s relationship.  Oddly enough, or perhaps predictably, that sense of self comes through most effectively in the words of another, James, one of her lovers, when he writes, "the difference between [a D/s relationship] and any form of abuse lay in consent" (199) and "you like being pushed to do things you find difficult because you enjoy overcoming them" (201).  And unlike what I've heard about the Fifty Shades trilogy, for all of the juicy erotica, there's also a lot here about the negotiation that happens in a D/s relationship, about agreements (if not contracts), and about establishing and maintaining trust.

I do think that the book, though it could have used some tightening (it was released previously as a novel under another name, and I get the feeling that Penguin rushed it to press to capitalize on the success of Fifty Shades), is well-written overall.  While it does contain extensive graphic and--for me--disturbing descriptions of Sophie's sexual exploits, I feel that its strength is in the author's reflective commentary about her journey to self-knowledge and search for someone who will be able to be her partner, with all of the paradox that entails.  I thought that her portrait of James, the man who nearly ends their relationship over the extreme guilt he experiences for inflicting "punishment" on the woman he loves, and who has to come to terms with his own identity as a Dom, was well-handled and three dimensional.  Sophie--a well-chosen pen name--knows that her relationships are, as Facebook would say in its reductive way, "complicated."

While I tried to read Diary of a Submissive with an open mind, I still worry about what Sophie's story, and others like them, do for--or to--the voices of women, even though I know not all subs are female.  Despite, or perhaps because of, her experience in journalism, the paradox she presents of being feminist and still enjoying a sexually submissive role is highly nuanced, and could have been more deeply explored.  After all, we live in a world where "legitimate rape" was an acceptable phrase to use, even if only temporarily.  On the other hand, the book did make me wonder whether we talk enough about the need for deep trust, continuous communication, and empowerment of both partners in non D/s relationships; I suspect that the answer is "no."  And the personal is political; if these conversations and negotiations don't happen at home, how can they happen in the public sphere?  Perhaps that, for me, is the real food for thought. 

**This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club, but the opinions expressed above are my own.
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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Letting Go, Again

So much of living is letting go.

I have read some remarkable, brave, heartbreaking posts today for National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, and this year, I seem to have few words of my own.

But this is enough: to know that letting go is not the same as forgetting, and that letting go does not happen only once, but over and over again. 

My thoughts are with all of those women--the 1 in 4--who, like me, have lit candles tonight, whether openly, or in the privacy of our hearts.  May you find comfort knowing that there are others remembering with you, today, and every day.
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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Letting Children Go: The Limits of Freedom and Responsibility

One of the things that Facebook feeds are good for are links to Yahoo articles that leave you open-mouthed in disbelief.   I don't make a habit of reading Yahoo, but a few weeks ago one of my friends posted this bit of news, about a mother who was arrested for letting her kids play outside, unsupervised.

Really?  I thought.  Arrested?

I. comes home from school now at around 3:45, and dinner isn't until 5.  Most times we do homework and then I'm outside with him for a bit, but sometimes I go in with N. for a few minutes to make dinner, and I let him ride his bike up and down the sidewalk from our house to the corner of the street.  It's a distance I think is safe; I can still see him if I put my head out the door, and we have an agreement, which he abides by, that every few laps he'll come stick his head in the door and say hello if he hasn't seen me in the past several minutes.

Photo by flickr user vastateparkstaff
through Creative Commons license

Our street is a well-populated, not very busy suburban street.  We know all of the neighbors for two blocks in every direction.  I. relishes this freedom, I know ... he goes off on his bike, beaming.  I feel like it's a way to build trust; I give him a little bit, and in turn, he appreciates that trust and becomes more responsible.

But then things happen, like the horrible tragedy of Jessica Ridgeway, whose body, it was confirmed today, was found, not intact, in a park not even ten miles from her home.

To say that my heartfelt condolences go out to the family wouldn't begin to describe how I feel.  Jessica's community is in my heart tonight, and I know that tomorrow I will hold my children's hands a little tighter again.

I still think that it's important to give our children small freedoms, in order for them to cultivate responsibility.  I talk with my son extensively about being safe, and going with people he knows, and staying close to home so that I can see him and yell for him.  But at some point, that, too will change.  If I'm looking over their shoulders all of the time, how will my children learn to feel independent?  So many of the students I used to see at the university where I worked had parents in tow, still looking over their shoulders at age 17.  They would come to campus at a moment's notice to stand up for their children, even if their children had been the ones doing wrong, or failing out of school; they would claim that their children were not responsible.  And you know what?  They were right.  Those children were not responsible; that was precisely the problem.

On the other hand, how do we make sure that they are safe?

We can't, of course.  So we do what we can do: we prepare them to live in a world where they can control their own actions, even if they can't control the actions of others. 
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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Time Warp Tuesdays: Hope, and the End of CSA Season

Kathy over at Bereaved and Blessed is doing the Time Warp Again!  Time Warp Tuesday is the monthly blog hop in which Kathy invites us to revisit an old post from our blog, and think about where we are now, how our thoughts about the post may have changed from its original writing.  This month, Kathy directs us to find an old blog entry about hope:
It might be a post where you wrote about something you hoped for, how hope got you through a difficult or uncertain time in your life or more generally what hope means to you. Then write a new post on your blog about why you chose the post that you did and what has happened in your life since.

I've written a lot about hope on this blog.   Much of it has been around issues of successful pregnancy and finding a new job.  But those posts were not as profound, to me, as the one about last year's CSA.

It had been a pretty horrible year.  Rotten produce.  Weeks on end of cabbage.  And in our own garden, decimation due to all manner of local herbivores.  I reflected on 2011 in general on that post, thinking about how so many people experienced it as a year of despair, uncertainty, and hardship.  And how, during the harvest time, which begins the Thanksgiving/Christmas season, it is sometimes hard to feel grateful.

But I believe now as I believed then that the human spirit is indominable, and that we hope anyway ... because it's in our nature to do so.  And that the hope itself is a gift to be thankful for, even when our well has run dry.

It's now three weeks away from the end of this year's CSA season.  We loved our CSA this year.  Was it perfect?  No; there were caterpillars in the broccoli that destroyed the crop, the squash were mostly killed off by a fungus, and there was still an awful lot of chard.  But a few things happened to make this year different: first, our farmers told us what was going on, so we were able to better manage our expectations.  Second, I have another year of experience under my belt, so dealing with the uncertainty of the harvest (or the bounty of a single vegetable) is a little bit easier.  And finally, our farmers are hopeful people, too; from the beginning, they've been talking about things they're looking forward to doing differently next year.

And that's what makes hope useful.  When we get stuck on the same things we've always wanted, in the same form: that's not hope.  That's obsession.  But when it can open our hearts wide enough so that we might be able to accommodate a different vision of that hope, and work--to the best of our ability--towards that new vision ... well, that can change us.

It turns out that I found a better CSA this year.  It also turns out that I have two beautiful children, that I left my job and am now home with my daughter until  I find something else.    We don't always get that we want, but often, we can achieve what we hope for.

Here's hoping y ou do, too.
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Monday, October 8, 2012

On Freecycling, and Healthy Pumpkin Pie Dip

I am the first to admit it: I have my father's frugal genes.

I hate being in debt.  I like a good bargain.  But I'm not a coupon shopper; rather than buying something at a discount, I will talk myself out of needing it or wanting it at all.  My husband often jokes that our relationship defies traditional gender conventions: he urges me to go buy myself some clothes, and I urge him to go buy a motorcycle.

The effects of my genes are further complicated--or perhaps even amplified--by a borderline obsessive desire to reduce, reuse, and recycle.  I'm the person who digs plastic bottles and toilet paper rolls from the garbage.  I save tissue paper and bags and ribbons from presents, to use again.  I write on the back of my shopping lists.

Which is why I love Freecycle.

If you've never Freecycled before, it works like this: you join a group in your region (a town, a county, even a workplace) where people post classifieds divided into three categories: OFFER, WANTED, and TAKEN.  The categories are self-explanatory.  People who want to give something away post it as an "offer."  Interested people contact the poster anonymously through the site.  The poster responds to the Freecycler of choice (usually the first one to claim the item) with information about location for pickup, and the Freecycler goes to pick up said item.  Quite often the item is left on the porch or in a mailbox or on a doorstep.  Sometimes the items are small: holiday decorations, lamps, salt and pepper shakers, DVDs.  Sometimes the items are large: exercise equipment, laptop computers, etc.

Though I already have standing arrangements to pass down my kids' clothing, I've been Freecycling a lot more lately, trying to find homes for things we don't need (we recently gave away N's pack and play, and crib, and some toys, for example), and trying to find things I do need that others might not.  And one of the things I could use are some new fall/winter clothes.

Don't get me wrong.  We are not impoverished, and my husband has encouraged me to go shopping.  He doesn't understand my fascination with, as he puts it, "clothes you find on the side of the road."  I joke that at least I haven't yet found a dress at the dump, as his aunt did for her daughter's wedding.  But I'm also aware that I'm not currently adding income to our household, and I hate buying something new that would be perfectly good used.

So I jumped when I saw the post.
OFFER: Large bag of women's clothes.  Most size M and some S.  Tank tops, long sleeved shirts, pants, shorts, a few gym clothes.

It was in a town about 15 minutes' drive away.  Totally doable.  I emailed the poster and said I'd be happy to come by if she didn't have any takers yet.  To my delight, she informed me that I "won," and that she'd leave the bag outside for me.

After I put the kids to bed, I left S. holding down the fort, and ventured out.  The house wasn't too hard to find, though it was dark, and I walked up to the door, squinting to see if I could locate said bag.  In the dim light, I made it out, sitting on a chair.  Much larger than I'd imagined.  And, picking it up, I thought, heavier, too.  WOW!

I drove home on winding country roads, listening to the radio, enjoying the crisp fall air, feeling extremely satisfied with myself, looking forward to the surprise of unpacking the bag.

And I was not disappointed; it was like Christmas!  What great taste this woman had!  What perfect colors!  I began to sort things into piles of "RIGHT SIZE" and "NO WAY IN HELL CAN I WEAR THIS," already thinking about how I was going to keep the cycle going with the second category. Wouldn't it be great to bring some of these to the next women's clothing swap at church?  Small, medium.  Small.  Small.  Medium, but ... er, nope, that doesn't fit.  Small.  Medium that really ought to be marked as small.  Medium that is skin-tight.  Suddenly the "NO WAY IN HELL" pile was much larger than the "RIGHT SIZE" pile.  And then, it had only two things in it.  Well, shit.  So much for Christmas.

I frowned, poking and prodding at my belly, which is a bit doughier than it used to be.  I still love Freecycle, though.  At least I'll have some great things to bring to the next clothing swap.

Maybe I'd better lay off the cake and eat more of this.

Healthy Pumpkin Pie Dip
Remember that really bad-for-you dip with the cream cheese and powdered sugar?  Try this instead.  Much more satisfying, and absolutely good for you.

1 c. canned or fresh pureed pumpkin
1 c. plain nonfat greek yogurt (vegans can also use coconut greek yogurt here)
1/2 t. to 1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. to 1 t. ginger
dash nutmeg
sweetener of choice: a few drops of stevia, a squirt of honey or agave
apples for dipping (though you can also use graham crackers or animal crackers or gingersnaps)

Stir together all of the ingredients except the apples.

Add spice and sweetener as necessary.  Serve with apples to dip.
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Friday, October 5, 2012

Working Mama: Crockpot Southern Greens with a Kick

I can't remember exactly how the conversation started.  We were eating dinner together, my kids and I; S. was at an important dinner meeting for work.  Maybe my son had asked about S.'s recent spate of late nights.

"But you don't work," he objected.  "You just hang around here all day with N."

Hello, what?

"VERY interesting," I said, trying not to reveal that he had pushed my biggest button.  "That is one of the things that not even adults agree about.  You've hit on a very sophisticated conversation.  So: changing diapers, making meals, making snacks, entertaining your sister, teaching her things ... none of that is work?"

"Nope," he said, confidently, crossing his arms and shaking his head.

"Well then how do you define work?" I asked.

"Something you get paid to do," he replied.

"Huh," I said.  "So when you rake leaves in the back yard, is that work?"


"How about when we ask you to make your bed?"


"Let me tell you something, Buster," I said, looking him square in the eye, "taking care of your sister during the day is quite possibly the hardest job I've ever had.  And I've worked for some pretty challenging people."  I paused.  "So tell me this: what if I took N. to day care, and the person there did all of the things for her during the day that I do, and the only difference is that she gets paid.   Is that work?"

"Yes," he said.

"Well," I said, thoughtfully.  "I guess if what I do isn't work, if it's just for fun, and it's not hard, and it doesn't have value, then it won't matter if I stop, right?"

He looked at me quizzically.

"I mean, I'm not going to bother to bus your plate.  Or run your bath tonight.  Or do laundry."

"Whoopeee," he said, running into the living room, full of six year old glee, "no bath!"

I ran N's bath, and collected her from her booster seat.  About two minutes later, my son came back into the kitchen, hopping around, with his shirt stuck on his head.

"Moooooooom," he called from under the folds of striped fabric, "help me, I'm stuuuuck."

"I'm not working," I said, amused that he was clearly going to take a bath anyway.  "And I have to go tend to your sister."

Horrified silence.  "But Mom, I'm stuck."

"You'll have to get yourself out.  I love you, and I'm happy to help you, but I'm on strike until you recognize that I work."  I make like I am going to head into the bathroom, where N. is calling for me and drinking the bathwater.  sigh.

A beat.  He calls after me.

"On strike?  There's no such thing as being on strike."

"Sure there is.  When you don't like your working conditions, you can strike to request better ones."

"You can't go on strike."

"Well, I'm not helping you take your shirt off."

I can see him chewing his lip, from under his shirt.  Then: "okay, OKAY, you're WORKING."

"Right," I said, removing the entangled button from its hole.  "And don't you forget it."

Southern Greens with a Kick
I made these with the new tsunami of kale and chard coming in our CSA share these days.  Or rather, my crockpot made them.  Because I wasn't working, right?  Right.

2 bunches greens (collards, kale, mustard or turnip)
1 large sweet onion, sliced
1 T. olive oil
4 -5 garlic cloves, pressed
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, minced
1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 turkey leg, or 2 ham hocks, or for a vegetarian version, use a T. or so of Spanish smoked paprika/pimenton and salt more liberally
2 -3 cups water
salt and pepper
balsamic vinegar

Tear the greens into large pieces, wash under running water to clean well, drain.  Preheat a heavy skillet with olive oil, add sliced onion and garlic; cook stirring frequently until onions begin to lightly brown, add minced jalapeño peppers.

Place the cooked onions in the bottom of the crockpot, add the drained greens, pimentor or turkey leg or ham hock, crushed red pepper and water. Cook on low for 5 to 6 hours or until greens are tender. Remove meat from bones, discarding bone and fat. Shred the meat and return to pot, mixing well; adjust salt and pepper to taste. Top each serving of the greens with balsamic vinegar to taste.
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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Being There: A Blog(h)er Ice Cream Social (and Oatmeal Cookie Ice Cream)

When I went to BlogHer'12, the thing that most moved me was meeting the women that I'd gotten to know online over the past two and a half years.  For all of my commitment to social media, because of its ability to connect people from across the globe around common passion and purpose, there's something about making a face-to-face connection with that somehow solidifies those connections, and makes you feel a bit less like you're alone behind your computer screen (not to mention that the women I finally met up with there are just as amazing in person, if not more so, as they are online).  I firmly believe that there are some times when there is no substitute for being there in person, for being present together even in silence; being online doesn't allow for that presence, because when you're silent online, you are invisible.

I've made a habit of connecting people.  You might call it an obsession.  When I worked at the university, I connected students with students like them through peer mentoring programs that I created.  I connected faculty with students through faculty mentoring programs.  At home, I connected working moms with one another through a working moms' group, the only one like it in my county, which, unlike so many moms' groups I encountered, appreciates the different balance of a 9 to 5 commitment outside the home with all of the other things that need to get done when you have a family to manage, too.   So it seemed only natural that the wheels started spinning when I couldn't find a generic organization of bloggers in my state.  I started to become curious about other bloggers out there who lived near me, especially those in the ALI blogosphere.

So much of what many of us publish online, especially if we blog anonymously, erases our geographic uniqueness, sometimes with good reason.  I wanted to see if, given this erasure, I could still identify and gather together a group of women bloggers from my area, and see what might happen.  I decided to host an ice cream social.

As luck would have it, Mel was happy to help by publishing a blurb in the LFCA, and six women responded: Emily from A Blanket 2 Keep, the anonymous blogger who writes With Just A Little Help, S. (who has taken a break from blogging to focus on her own family), Lauren from What's In Lauren's Tummy (formerly also from What's In Lauren's Uterus), and Lisa from the Mommy Gauntlet--three of whom I'd never read before.  I went to work making honey lavender ice cream, oatmeal cookie ice cream, and my own version of Chubby Hubby (a special request from Emily, the secrets for which I will never reveal here).  Though Lauren couldn't make it at the last minute due to a minor catastrophe, and Lisa had an unfortunate significant family emergency, the other four of us spent two hours talking as if we'd mostly known each other for years.

It made me think a lot about something I have posted a lot about here before, about women supporting each other, taking care of each other, looking out for each other, even if we can't assume that we know what every woman needs simply because we share elements of our anatomy.  (I'm well aware that Feminism has become feminisms--heck, that was already true back when I was in grad school and reading the anthology du jour--and that women are not a monolith but a diaspora, thank you very much.)  We were all very different women, coming from different stages in our lives.  But there in my living room, we talked about the things that connected us, even despite our differences.  We talked a little bit about whether there might be a way to make bloggers who wanted to be resources more visible to other women in their own region, without compromising anonymity.  Sometimes we didn't talk at all.  And as everyone was getting ready to leave, we talked about getting together again.

Things We Don't Talk About: Women's Voices from the Red Tent had its world premiere on September 15th.  There are a host of upcoming screenings around the country.  The film summary says: "Spontaneous and organic, a Red Tent is a red textile space where women gather to rest, renew, and often share deep and powerful stories about their lives. The Red Tent movement is changing the way that women interact and support each other by providing a place that honors and celebrates women, and by enabling open conversations about the things that women don’t want to talk about in other venues. Things We Don’t Talk About weaves together healing narratives from inside the Red Tent to shine a spotlight on this vital, emergent women’s tradition. The film provides us an opportunity to remember, to listen, to know, and to find what it is we need to bring back to our communities to help awaken the voices of women."

Yes, there are places we do this all online now, too.  BlogHer, for example.  But sometimes we need to just be there.

Most of you know that it's National Breast Cancer Awareness Month here in the U.S.  I'll talk about that in a later post.  But it's also Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  And Pregnancy and Infant Loss Rememberance Month.  And while none of these things affect only women, they, along with the fact that the election that is practically upon us, are reason enough for us to talk about about ways we might be able to better have each others' backs, not just on the internet, but in the "real" world, too.

Oatmeal Cookie Ice Cream
with thanks to Jeni Britton's practically foolproof ice cream base, which I have altered a bit here

1 T. plus 1 t. corn starch
2 c. milk
1 c. heavy cream
1/3 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. sugar
1 T. corn syrup (optional, really)
1 stick cinnamon
3 T. cream cheese (or goat cheese)
1/4 t. salt
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/8 t. nutmeg
3 oatmeal cookies, crumbled
1/2 c. raisins
dash of vanilla

Mix about 2 T. of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry.  Whisk the cream (or goat) cheese and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. In a third bowl, soak the raisins in about 2/3 c. water and a dash of vanilla.  Fill a large bowl with ice and water.

Combine the remaining milk, cream, sugars and cinnamon stick in a 4-quart saucepan, bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, and boil for 4 minutes, Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Bring the mixture back to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and remove the cinnamon stick, but don't discard it yet.

Gradually whisk the hot milk into the cream (or goat) cheese until smooth. Add the ground cinnamon and nutmeg and return the cinnamon stick to the mixture. Submerge the mixture partway in the ice bath. Let stand, adding more ice as necessary, until cold, about 30 minutes.  Drain the raisins.

Remove the cinnamon stick again and pour the ice cream base into the frozen canister and spin until thick and creamy.  During the last five minutes, add the raisins and crumbled cookies.  Pack the ice cream into a storage container.   Press a sheet of parchment directly against the surface and seal with an airtight lid. Freeze in the coldest part of your freezer until firm, at least 4 hours.
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Monday, October 1, 2012

First Grade Homework and Chicken Chili Verde: The Dilemma of the Overachiever

Last week, my son came home with his long-anticipated first homework assignments. I'd been hearing parents talk about homework for two years already, and was dreading this transition for all of us. Luckily, I. seemed to take it all in stride, and sat down on the first day immediately after he arrived home from school, and set about doing his homework. (He doesn't know enough yet to complain about it, I guess.)

I debated for a bit whether I hang out with him to help, or if it would be more helpful for me to keep his sister occupied in another room. I finally came down on the side of peacekeeping, and left I. to his own devices in the kitchen.

About half an hour later, I peeked in, and was surprised to see him still plugging away at the spelling worksheet I'd left him with. Words are his strength: he reads two levels ahead of his grade, and can write fairly well for his age, though his spelling is definitely ... creative, at best. One glance over his shoulder, though, revealed why: instead of writing the words twice, as the directions stated, he'd written each word multiple times, filling the page as he went, and getting a little more sloppy with each iteration.

I bit my lip. Should I rebuke him for not following the teacher's directions? Or cheer him on for going above and beyond what the assignment required? What would the teacher be looking for? And what would she think of me, the parent who was supposed to be supervising?

Yes, I was totally overthinking first grade homework.

I decided to first congratulate him on his ambition, then point out how the writing suffered when he was getting tired of the assignment and tell him it was OK to take a break, and then ask him if/how he thought it might have been different if he'd followed the directions. I'm not sure if covering all of the bases was the way to go, but the incident made me realize just how often we're given directions that place limits on our own creativity or industry. I know that children need structure, but it would have been just as easy for the directions to say "write the words at least two times." Or "write the words two, three, or four times."

Because these children, the ones given limits, are the ones that turn into the college students who used to ask me, "how long does that paper have to be?" and who are stymied by the answer, "as long as it takes to make your point."

That's one thing I love about cooking. You start with a recipe, and maybe you follow it the first time. But once you're comfortable with the ingredients, with the process, you start to take liberties with it. You get creative. You end up with something completely different. The best recipes actually encourage that experimentation, rather than stifling it.

What do you think? Have you ever been given a structure that actually limited your creativity? And do you think that there are ways to give people structure that makes them more creative?

Chicken Chili Verde
The original for this recipe, located at Grubarazzi, is fabulous. But I like my small variations, and the original also inspired me to make a similar green sauce with the first roasted ingredients that turned out to be excellent as a base for chicken/white bean and spinach enchiladas. Somehow, I am embarrassed to admit that I completely missed taking a picture of both dishes, which sort of suggests how they were devoured here.  (Luckily, there is a picture at Grubarazzi.  Go salivate there.)  I would recommend making double the amount of green sauce, and saving some for a future experiment of your own.

1 large red onion, peeled and quartered
7 garlic cloves
2 green bell peppers, cut lengthwise
2 jalapenos, cut lengthwise and seeded
15 tomatillos, husked, cut in half
Pinch of salt
Drizzle of olive oil

3 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
5 tablespoons stone ground corn meal
Pinch of salt, oregano, cumin, and pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
5 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 avocado, thinly sliced (for garnish)

Preheat the oven to 450. Place onions, garlic, bell peppers, jalapenos, and tomatillos on a large baking sheet in a single layer, cut side down. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast for at least 20 minutes, or until caramelized. Remove and allow to cool, about 10 minutes. Transfer the roasted vegetables to the blender, and blend until smooth. Set aside.

In a large bowl combine corn meal, salt, pepper, oregano and cumin. Toss the chicken in this mixture until coated.

Heat olive oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add half of chicken to pot and sauté until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat browning process with remaining chicken. Return all of the chicken (including its juices) to the stock pot. Add blended vegetables, chicken broth, corn, oregano, chili powder, cumin, paprika and cinnamon to pot. Bring liquid to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until mixture thickens and flavors blend, stirring occasionally, about 2 hours. Season with salt throughout the cooking process to taste.

Mix cilantro into chili. Garnish with slice avocado (or your garnish of choice) and serve.
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