Friday, May 23, 2014

Memory, the Right to be Forgotten, and Turkish Lentil Soup

The internet remembers everything.  Or so we have been told.

Until last week, when the European Court of Justice (ECJ) required Google to remove "inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant" content from its search results, at a user's request. The ruling, essentially, gives European Google users the "right to be forgotten," as long as that forgetting doesn't harm the public interest.

The "derecho al olvido" case originated in the Spanish court system, where a man who had been married and in debt had long since resolved his debts and gotten divorced; Google search was still coming up with the old data, which was located in the archives of a Spanish newspaper.  The Spanish court ordered Google (but not the newspaper) to remove the results: i.e., the content could remain online, but the link to it had to disappear.

I can't imagine that the ECJ didn't fully appreciate the larger, more complex ramifications of their ruling.  How do we decide what's "irrelevant"?  And who gets to make that decision?  Is Google responsible for the privacy of internet users?  And perhaps most worrisome, what does it mean that we can simply erase links to the past, even if the past is still out there?  These are big questions that get to the heart of the way we remember, the things we are accountable for, and how we treat offenders.

The complications of forgetting are particularly poignant in Spain, where the historical memory movement is still working to unearth bodies from the mass graves of the Spanish Civil War, but in my travels, I've seen struggles to conserve and curate public memory of some truly horrific events: The District Six Museum in South Africa, the JEATH War Museum and the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum in Thailand, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.  There are many other places like this, all over the world.  In the U.S., plans to expand the Civil Rights Museum Requiring Google to remove the results from the search is like removing the links to the painful past, which remind us not to go back there again.

Maybe this is connected, somehow, to our unwillingness to forgive.  If we don't want to forgive, and we don't want to remember, the easiest thing to do is erase the connections to those memories that will make us angry.

Someone is bound to tell me I'm overplaying this.  But here's the thing: we try to teach our children that they're responsible for their actions.  We tell them to say they're sorry, and to forgive other children who hurt them.  And we tell them to move on.  If we're sending another message--that we can simply erase memory from public record books--then somehow people no longer need to be accountable for their actions, and we no longer need to forgive them.  Perhaps that's why undergraduates are so concerned about statements on their transcripts about suspensions.  Or leaves of absence.  What if, some day during a job interview or on a graduate school application, someone asks them what happened?  Will they have to talk about it?  Yes, I say, and you explain what you learned from the experience.

We all make mistakes.  Some of the mistakes are bigger than others.  Sometimes people have no remorse for their actions.  But I think we need to remember both how to be accountable and how to forgive.  Everything I've learned about therapy suggests that we need to remember in order to heal.  And I'm not sure that removing the connections to the past, no matter how "irrelevant" it is to us today, will help us.

What was your reaction to the ECJ ruling?

Turkish Lentil Soup
Full of folic acid and manganese, which helps form the  antioxidant superoxide dismutase, lentils are brain superfoods that actually strengthen memory.

2 c. red lentils, rinsed and picked over
2 t. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 t. cumin
1 t. paprika
4 1/2 c. vegetable broth
2 t. tomato paste
2 t. mint
1 1/2 t. thyme
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add onion and carrot and saute until soft, about 5 minutes.

Add  spices and stir to combine. Add in your red lentils and mix well.  Heat the lentils for a few minutes, and add the broth and tomato paste and mix through.  Allow the soup to come to the boil, then reduce to simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 30 mins or until your lentils have turned to a pulp.

Remove from heat, puree the soup with an immersion blender (or an old-fashioned blender) to your desired consistency, and add in the mint and thyme.

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Thoughts on Traveling Light, and Grilled Fish with Warm Fresh Mango Salsa

(with a shoutout to Ilene, who knows what I'm talking about.)

My parents may have been practiced globetrotters, but they weren't exactly light travelers.

My memories of day trips to the Jersey Shore when I was growing up involve a full day's worth of planning, an early rise time and Tetris-like ritualistic packing of the car, and upon arrival, a trek across the burning sand with a tower of coolers, chairs, blankets, towels, the blue and red Martin and Rossi umbrella and other sundry items precariously balanced on an upside-down folded chaise lounge, cinched around the middle by my father's belt and held by a chaise leg-handle on each side by one parent.  There was so much shit piled on that chaise lounge that we had to stop every twenty feet or so, allowing my mother to rest, heaving dramatically while my father, shirtless, shifted from foot to foot, looking impatiently at the water.

While it's true that once we settled in for the day, we used most of the shit we dragged with us, sometimes I looked around me at other people who seemed to have come with a towel, sunscreen, and a bag of chips, and wondered what that life might be like.  (Though to be completely honest, I also marveled at the people who pitched canvas wall tents with porch-like overhangs, wishing we'd thought to bring a small house with us, too.)

It will seem strange that, type A that I am, I don't like to plan trips.  I like to get up, shove some things in a shoulder bag, and go.  Maybe it's something about vacation representing distance from the planning, I'm not sure; whatever it is, though, I am resistant to large-scale orchestration of events that just don't warrant overthinking.  Like dinner at my mother's house, for example.

After surviving that particular overthought event on Saturday, and waving goodbye to S., who left on Sunday morning for a conference, I decided I was going to take the kids to the beach.  I knew that next weekend, the Jersey shore would be crawling with summer people, and we needed to get out, anyway.  I grabbed my daughter's now-tiny diaper bag, the camera, a few granola bars, and our jackets, and got the kids out the door in less than five minutes.

My favorite memories of the Jersey shore were not the beach days of my youth, but the spontaneous trips in the off-seasons, including one post-hurricane damage-surveying trip with a colleague, and another time during that last wild week at college when, after gorging ourselves on chocolate-covered-strawberry ice cream from Thomas Sweet, we drove to Point Pleasant to burn papers and notebooks, the funeral pyre of our short intellectual lives.  My father preferred Sandy Hook, and miles of uninterrupted sand; though we never got to ride on the amusements, I preferred the boardwalk at Point Pleasant, the people-watching and the smell of salt mingled with damp wooden planks and taffy.  And that's where I headed: south, and east.

The day couldn't have been more perfect: cool and breezy enough to wear a sweatshirt on the sand, warm enough to go barefoot, alternate sun and overcast skies.  We ate fish tacos and pizza at a beachside grill where the server played peek-a-boo with my daughter (who squealed with delight at the attention) and presented her with a bright pink pail and shovel (then, as an afterthought, a green one for my son); we went out onto the beach and tossed our few belongings on the sand, and the kids dug holes and filled buckets and collected shells and ran down to the frigid shoreline for a good hour and a half.  It sprinkled occasionally, rain mingling with the ocean spray, and fishing boats drifted by, followed by clouds of raucous seagulls.  I finally dragged the kids away with the promise of a few rides before we headed home--the ferris wheel and the roller coaster--and treated us all to Kohr's creamsicles and orangeade.

On the way home, two soundly sleeping children in the back seat, two buckets of shells tinkling in the front, Dylan on the radio, rain spattering the windshield, I felt completely content.

When I'm tempted to carry too much baggage, this is what I need to remember: the sun, the sand, the shells, and an empty stretch of time.  They're enough.

What baggage do you need to leave behind?

Grilled Fish with Warm Fresh Mango Salsa
Ideal fare for summer, without much preparation.

6 filets tilapia or other white fish
red onions, thinly sliced
cilantro, chopped
1 mango, chopped (1/2" pieces)
a little jalapeno pepper, minced (optional)
lime juice
olive oil
Parchment bags or circles of parchment about 1' diameter

Place 1 filet of tilapia in the parchment bag, or on half of the circle (you will fold the circle to make a half-moon).  Top with a handful of onions, mango, cilantro, a squeeze of lime juice, jalapeno (optional), and 1/2 t. olive oil.

Seal bag or fold the circle in half and curl the edges all the way around.  (Stapling works well, too.)

Grill for about 3-4 minutes per side, or bake in a preheated 350F oven for about 10-12 minutes.
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Friday, May 16, 2014

Perspective from the Frying Pan, Thoughts on Jill Abramson, and Oatmeal Crusted Trout with Pan-Fried Leeks

The Times was actually my major news source for morning headlines, after my NPR listen on the way in to work.  I respected them as a brand.  Until the news broke about Jill Abramson.

First it was a story about salary: Abramson reportedly found out that she was making less than her predecessor, in both of her previous roles (executive and managing editor), and went to confront the management about the disparity.  She was allegedly told that her predecessor had more years at the Times, and that the pay was equitable, given that additional factor.

Today, the story is about Abramson's "pushy," overly aggressive" and "strong-willed" behavior in the newsroom.  And about how that became a source of concern for the newsroom management.

The Times may have been justified in firing Jill Abramson; I'm sure that it's more complicated and messy than the social media frenzy has made it seem.  But the question about normative behavior is an elephant in the room here, because I can't help but wonder how this entire situation would have played out if the employee in question had been male.

A few weeks ago, I attended a talk given by Deborah Prentice, a professor of psychology, about gender and normative behavior.  She has found, in years of longitudinal study, that male college students have a much narrower bandwith of non-normative behavior than females do; that is, that females have many more proscriptions and prescriptions that males do, when compared to a non-gendered "student norm," or what students would describe as the "typical college student."  It is much less desirable, normatively speaking, for a woman to be "controlling," "rebellious," "arrogant," and highly desirable to be "cheerful," "friendly," "polite," "warm and kind," etc.  On the other hand, there are no "highly desirable" traits for men, and only one "non-desirable" trait: being domineering.  (If you're interested in this, there are some great charts on pp. 277-278 of her 2002 article on the subject.)  Essentially, women have to work harder to be "normal."  (In case you're curious: she finds that this is the case on many other campuses too, though the effects are much more pronounced at private than at public schools.)  This sounds a lot like what Olga Kazhan wrote in her article about Abramson for The Atlantic:
"In 2007, New York University’s Madeline E. Heilman found in a clinical study that people tend to resist female leaders who are direct and assertive, but they warm to them if those same female bosses express “communal” characteristics that hint at more traditional gender roles.

For example, a memo about a female company vice president attesting to her “outstanding effectiveness, competence, and aggressive achievement focus” went over much better when the researchers appended this paragraph:
Although Andrea’s co-workers agree that she demands a lot from her employees, they have also described her as an involved manager who is caring and sensitive to their needs. She emphasizes the importance of having a supportive work environment and has been commended for her efforts to promote a positive community.
As I’ve written before, people tend to like female leaders best when they lead their organizations not unlike one would lead a casual weekend drum circle—cheerily deferring to others and giving everyone a chance. Meanwhile, people tend to resent female leaders more than their male counterparts when they behave authoritatively. And Abramson, by all accounts, was nothing if not authoritative."
In a nutshell: women who display "normative" male behavior make people uncomfortable.  But those same behaviors, which may be tolerated in a male, could actually end up getting a woman fired, and it could actually look legal.

Though I don't have much love for Sheryl Sandberg, I wonder where she is in all of this.  Abramson did just what she was supposed to: she leaned in, she made her demands known, she looked for opportunities to advance.  But that approach simply doesn't fly in environments still dominated by traditional values.  Most people in power like people whom they can control, and older, experienced women who rock the boat don't fit that profile.  I've been watching employment trends among my friends for some time now, and heard this from one of them yesterday, after the Abramson news broke: "when we had layoffs recently, all the female editors laid off were over the age of 35. When the vp opens his door now, he sees only his male buddies and the young (mostly pretty) young women who report to them."  I've seen it happen again and again.

Women may have "come a long way."  Certainly, we are no longer living an era in which there are only three professions open to us.  But part of what I find worrisome is that, like the conversation about racism in the U.S., the conversation about sexism has gone underground, out of the frying pan, and into the fire.  We think that we're post-racial AND post-gender.  From my perspective, though, we still have miles to go before we sleep.  

What do you think about the Jill Abramson story?

Pan-Fried Oatmeal-Crusted Trout

4 filets trout (5-6 ounces each)
1/2 c. milk
1 c. rolled oats
1/2 t. fresh rosemary
1/2 t. fresh thyme
2 t. grated lemon peel
1/4 t. pepper
pinch of salt
2 T. canola oil
2 T. butter
1 c. leeks, washed and chopped
1/2 c. unsalted pecans

Rinse the trout filets and soak them in a bowl with milk for 15 minutes. 

In the meantime, process oats, rosemary and thyme in a blender or food processor until you get a fine flour.  Place the flour in a bowl, and add lemon peel, pepper, and salt.

Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.  Dredge the filets in the flour mixture, and place in the saute pan, flesh side down.  Cook about 5 minutes, until the fish is golden, and then flip to cook on the other side for about 2 minutes, until heated through.  Remove and keep warm.

Melt the butter in the same pan over medium high heat, add the leeks and saute until just tender, stirring constantly, 2 minutes or so.  Add pecans and saute for another minute.  Spoon the leek mixture over the trout and serve.
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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Gigantes, and the Comfort of Home

Another house contract, gone.

This one was my fault.  Or maybe our fault.  After losing the first house, we were feeling stressed about the next possible purchase.  Time is running out if we're going to make a move this summer.  I have to get the kids settled in new schools, pack everything, unpack everything ... and that's taking into account that moving would essentially be my summer vacation.

The house was beautiful.  Backed against protected woods, custom built: someone's dream house.  There wasn't a thing wrong with it, really, except that it was at the limit of our price range (or beyond mine, perhaps).  We waffled, and waffled, sure that it wouldn't appraise for their asking price, a price I wasn't comfortable with.  Finally, we got it appraised ourselves, and it turns they were right on target.  I realized I'd been hoping it was wrong so we'd have an excuse not to buy it.

I realized that the marble floored entryway just wasn't me.  Nor were the slender columns outside and at the entry of the kitchen, or the large recessed ceiling in the bedroom, or the two dining rooms (one eat in kitchen, I guess) that you could see from the front door.  I wanted a place to host my book group, and a place for the kids to play away from us if they wanted to, somewhere that wasn't their rooms.  This wasn't it.

I wanted to like the house, in the way that sometimes you want to like a designer suit.  It's expensive and fashionable.  It's well-made and one-of-a-kind.  But really, when it comes down to it, you want your old yoga pants with the holes in them, or at the very least, something like them.  They're comfortable.  You know they fit.  Maybe, you think, you should just try on the designer clothes.  So you pull them on, realizing that they bulge a little in funny places when you sit down, make the parts about you that you don't like even less appealing.  Maybe they'll stretch, you think, wiggling.  Until you realize that if you wiggle too much, you'll ruin the suit, and you'll have nothing to wear at all.  These clothes weren't ever meant for you.

I don't like fancy cars or clothes.  I love to travel (something I desperately miss) and I do have a weakness for beautifully prepared meals, but they need not be in fancy restaurants.  In fact, one of the things I miss most about a restaurant in my old employer's town is a simple Greek bean dish called "Gigantes," giant white beans simmered forever in tomato sauce, with dill and oregano and ouzo.  I made it last night, and we ate it tonight, having cancelled the contract, and feeling a great weight lifted.  We'll keep looking, but there's nothing like home-buying to make you seriously question your values, your hopes, your dreams.  And maybe we'll end up right where we are after all, because the community is something we couldn't buy if we wanted to.


1 lb. dried gigante beans, soaked overnight or 3 cans butter beans/Great Northern beans
1/4 c. olive oil
3 c. chopped onions (about 2 medium)
3 garlic cloves, minced
6 c. (or more) low-salt chicken broth
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes in juice
2 T. tomato paste
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. ouzo (optional)
1 T. dried oregano (preferably Greek)
1 c. chopped fresh dill

Heat olive oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic, and saute until onions are turning golden.

Add the beans, chicken broth, tomatoes, vinegar, tomato paste, ouzo (if using), and oregano, and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender and flavors mingle, about 2-3 hours.  Make sure the the beans don't dry out; you can add more broth if you need to, 1/2 cup at a time.  If the mixture is too soupy, you can uncover the pot and simmer the beans until tomato mixture thickens, no more than about 15 minutes.

Stir chopped fresh dill into beans, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Out of the Box: Chinese Lettuce Wraps

My Facebook feed has been overtaken by advertisements for boxes.

The Conscious Box.  The Love with Food Box.  Nature Box.  The Plated Box.  The Blue Apron Box.  The Little Passports Box and Kiwi Crate, because Facebook knows I have kids.  Stitch Fix.  And yesterday, even a DIY craft box--someone apparently didn't read my "I'm Not Martha" post.  (I'm not even counting the person who posted her positive review of Einstein in a Box, which, admittedly, sounds pretty cool.)

I have a love/hate relationship with boxes  I freely admit to being first in line for the Foodzie box, before it got swallowed up by Joyus.  Much as I don't like surprises (what Type A person does?), I love unpacking a thoughtfully-wrapped package of small things.  Especially a package involving food.

But I resist things in boxes, too. 

My mother cooked by the box.  Rice a Roni.  Uncle Ben's Pilaf.  Boxed stuffing for our turkey.  Boxed cake mix and brownies.  She was a teacher, and during the week, when we got home at four, she had just over an hour to get dinner on the table.  Boxes were her solution to the problem of time, though my father berated her for it.  "What's for dinner?" he would ask.  "Box," she would reply, only half-apologetically.  (Or "igakiblibins," which was some Yiddish-like word for "leftovers.")

As I grew older and started cooking on my own, I realized that most times, I prefer my brownies made from melted chocolate and butter and sugar.  The boxes in my pantry include mostly staples: cornstarch, crackers, Cheerios, and mac-and-cheese, because my kids prefer it.  My freezer has a few more: pancakes (I have no excuse for these, since I am capable of making pancakes), fish sticks (the fact that they are organic and gluten-free doesn't absolve me of their existence, either), phyllo (because home made phyllo scares me, and I needed it quickly).

And as I think about the boxes I've known over the years, the ones that were the best were the big ones that you could turn into just about anything with a little imagination: the stove box that we turned into a house/car/airplane/boat.  The diaper boxes that I pushed my children around the house in.  The box that my son colored for days.

I nurture a fairly healthy guilt complex, and while some of the boxes on my Facebook feed sound like fun, they also make me worry about the things I'm not doing: teaching my kids structured geography and science lessons, getting advice from a personal stylist, cooking enough fancy meals, doing enough crafts. 

Wouldn't it be great if we could box up everything, get it all delivered to us?  Marriage in a box.  Family in a box.  Work-life balance in a box. Effortless perfection.

Except we can't.  Life is messy.  Sometimes we make eggs for dinner.  The extent of our home science is going for a walk when we're home on the weekends, or turning ingredients into cake.  Sometimes my kids take out paper and crayons and tape and make things that they have to explain to me.  I never look like a stylist has chosen my clothes for me.

It's probably best to come to terms with that as often as I can.

Do you order subscription boxes?  Are there other things in a box that you can't live without, or do you take an "out of the box" approach to life?

Chinese Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Quick, easy, and out of the box.  Except for the sauces.

1 lb. ground chicken
1 red bell pepper, cored and chopped fine
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 c. hoisin sauce
2 T. soy sauce
1/2 t. freshly ground ginger
1/4 t. kosher salt
1/8 t. freshly cracked pepper
4 oz. sliced water chestnuts, finely chopped
1 c. cooked brown rice
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1 head Bibb, Romaine or iceberg lettuce, rinsed and pat dry
Heat 1 T. oil in a large saute pan, add onions and peppers, and saute until just translucent.  Add ground chicken, ginger, and garlic and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through. Add hoisin sauce, soy sauce, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Stir to combine.  Stir in water chestnuts, rice and scallions and continue to cook, stirring often, until heated through, about 5 minutes. Serve with lettuce leaves.
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