Sunday, July 26, 2020

Ingenuity, Zoom Faux Pas, and Chicken Lettuce Wraps

My daughter was bored.

To her credit, she is has been a real trooper this summer. After the stay-at-home order was imposed in NJ she has seen almost no friends in person since March (except at a playdate in the park wearing a mask and staying 6 feet apart), she's had very little camp (except for two half-day weeks of dance camp, with a mask, dancing outside, six feet apart), and both of her parents are still working full time, albeit remotely. She reads incessantly, she cooks every once in a while, and she plays with her dolls, but as someone who thrives on social interaction, she's been starved.

And it's not like the boring summers of our own youth, that still involved friends and swimming holes and trips to the library ... this is really just boring.

So when she decided that she was going to start making clothes for her Barbie dolls out of balloons, we were fully supportive. My husband even ordered balloons. Anything to keep her busy.

You can imagine what these clothes look like.

Spandex. Very, very revealing spandex.

This has been making us all laugh, and so when I was talking with a friend on a zoom call over lunch the other day, I thought I'd share it as a parting image. So I'm describing this, and we're both laughing, and she says "Streetwalker Barbie!" and we're both STILL laughing when I realize that ... my student appointment has just joined us from London.

Because I forgot to re-enable the waiting room.

(We both stop laughing, wide-eyed, and she disappears hastily from my screen while I try to recover myself in time to have a serious advising conversation.)

What's your most embarrassing zoom moment?

Here's something my daughter made, NOT using balloons, based on a recipe that her principal made and shared via the morning video announcements back when she was in school. He is by far the coolest principal I know.

Mr. Friedrich’s Lettuce Wraps

4 t. extra virgin olive oil
1 c.chopped yellow onion (1 medium)
2 carrots, shredded
1 t. grated fresh ginger
2/3 c. sweet chili sauce
¼ c. low sodium soy sauce
8 cloves garlic minced
Big spoonful peanut butter
1 head lettuce
1 c. finely chopped cabbage
1 lb chopped boneless skinless chicken breast

Heat the pan, add the oil. Add the chicken, garlic and onion and stir until cooked. Add salt and pepper, stir. Add the ginger, carrots, and cabbage and keep stirring to cook.

In a separate bowl combine sweet chili sauce with peanut butter, soy sauce. Stir until smooth. Add the sauce to the pan, stir to combine. Then add the cilantro.Spoon into lettuce and enjoy!

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Friday, July 3, 2020

Independence Day, Freedom, and Koshari

I am a cisgender white woman who had a brown father with a Hispanic (and I use that word intentionally, because he was not from Latin America) last name, which became my last name. I grew up in a largely white suburban neighborhood in a house on a corner property where my window was the closest to the street for drive-by egg-throwing, teenagers—students of my mother’s—running away, laughing, shouting “Spic.” One of my most vivid memories from childhood is waking up hours after going to bed to a loud crackling sound, and realizing the bushes in front of our house had been set on fire, the flames leaping up towards my window. I am a cisgender white woman who grew up understanding that difference could be dangerous, and knowing I would enjoy the privilege of being white.

Maybe partly because of those formative years, I have spent the past 20 years of my career, getting on close to half my life, in higher education work, where I have tried to listen to and amplify the voices of less-heard people. I am not a constitutional law scholar, and I didn't take many politics classes, so perhaps my education is not as broad as it could be. I am a humanist, a reader and teller of stories. I studied with giants in the world of literary criticism like Cheryl Wall and Val Smith, Black women who cracked open the literary canon. My heroes of educational philosophy are people like bell hooks and Paulo Freire and Maxine Greene and John Dewey. I learned, through my undergraduate and graduate study, how the stories that we all grew up memorizing, the lenses we were given to look at the world, often did not represent the stories of people who had less power.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a resurgence of the outcry to defend free speech at our university. As some of our leaders have decided to break from the shibboleths of the past, unfortunately giving little credit to the protests of students from a few years ago, these students are clamoring for more due process, for the University to reconsider and do something different than other institutions who are rethinking and discarding their own historical giants.

Some students took to our student-owned listservs (intended for advertising student events and locating lost items or sharing rides) to express their opinions, to publish what amounted to political treatises. Others took up the mantle and offered counterarguments, trying to educate their peers about systemic racism as they feel they’ve been called to do time and again, without any official backing by the university, who typically stands neutral. A few responded to the messages in defeat, saying how much they hate it here. After much consideration, we finally decided to intervene, emailing our community to remind people of their responsibility to make our community a place where everyone feels welcome; without that element, the most vulnerable and marginalized people will leave the dialogue, and we’ll find ourselves right back where we started.

We were lambasted for our email, and informed that we’d created a “chilling effect” on speech.

I don't ever claim to have everything right, and I've been thinking about our decision to write what we did over and over again, second-guessing myself and then finding reasons to justify what we did. It seems fitting to reflect on on all of this going into the weekend when much of our nation will celebrate, in whatever limited way we can during a global pandemic that demands our attention to public health, our Independence Day.

I believe that with power comes responsibility. And because of that, I believe that free speech should be couched in humility. I believe that free speech should be accompanied by a generous helping of empathy. And I believe that our free speech should come with the attendant curiosity about the human experience that makes for rich and fruitful dialogue that is the hallmark of a healthy liberal arts institution and a healthy democracy. I don't know; maybe what I believe is flat-out wrong, and maybe that makes free speech less "free."

I believe that we should appeal to our right to free speech with appreciation for the fact that there are some who enter that arena with much less power, carrying hundreds of years of generational trauma. No matter what we might think, no matter how it might look, the table is not yet round, and not everyone gets to sit up close. Witness, for example, the differential treatment of largely white protestors with weapons in front of statehouses, arguing about their rights to open bars and salons, and diverse but largely Black and non-white unarmed protestors who have been physically abused and tear-gassed at Black Lives Matter protests.

I believe that our free speech comes with responsibility for deep listening. Otherwise, it’s just grandstanding. And I happen to think that kind of speech is best served chilled.

My education is probably biased in a different way. But if free speech comes without the other stuff—without humility, empathy, and curiosity (and in our national case, without appreciation of intergenerational trauma) and without all of the things that make us such a unique community—I'm less sure it's worth celebrating after all.

This morning, I happened across Frederick Douglass's speech, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" Written nearly 200 years ago, it's a poignant reminder of who has the rights we so cherish, and how far we still have to go. May it not be too late to make sure that other folks are free.

I was originally going to post this dish right around the time the protests started in the wake of George Floyd's murder, but then decided that as a white woman, I didn't need to take up more space and talk about my experience of protests. This dish is a dish of colonization, a dish that the British brought to Egypt, since neither rice nor pasta is native to those places, but that Egyptians made their own (and is now the national dish). My daughter learned about it during remote schooling this year, when she learned about a few non-Western cultures, and asked that we make it. As we ate it, she talked about Islamic traditions of charity, and recounted a story about children who took up a collection for their bus driver. I love all of its layers, and the colors, and the ways that the flavors blend together, just as I love the empathy, the curiosity, and humility my daughter brings to her education.


Spice mix:
1 T. cumin
1 t. paprika
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/2 T. coriander
1 t. lal mirch (or a sprinkle of cayenne)
1 t. black pepper

Tomato sauce:
14.5 oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes or 4-5 blanched tomatoes
2 T. olive oil
1 med onion, chopped
1 t. garlic, crushed
1/2 t. salt
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
1 T. vinegar
1 t. lal mirch (or a sprinkle of crushed red pepper)
3-4 T. water

3 T. olive oil
1/2 c. basmati rice
2 c. water
1 t. salt

1 1/2 c. black beluga lentils, soaked and boiled until done
1 c. boiled elbow macaroni
15 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 onion, sliced thinly and fried in a bit of oil (see below)

In a small bowl, mix cumin, paprika, nutmeg, coriander, red chili powder, black pepper; blend well and set aside.

Add tomatoes to a cuisinart or blender; puree and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium heat; add onion and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and mix well. Now add 2 T. of prepared spice mix, salt, cinnamon stick, and bay leaves and mix well. Add tomato puree; mix well and cook for 4-5 minutes. Add vinegar and crushed red chili; mix well. Add water and mix, cover and cook on low flame for 10-15 minutes and set aside.

In a medium-large pot, heat oil over medium heat; add rice, mix well and cook for 5 minutes. Add remaining spice mix and mix well. Add water and salt, mix well, and bring it to boil over medium heat. Cook until water is reduced, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover and steam cook for 5-6 minutes. Set aside.

In yet another small saucepan, add the oil and heat over medium high heat. Add the sliced onion, stir and fry until crispy.

In a serving plate, layer the cooked rice, then boiled black lentils, macaroni, chickpeas, prepared tomato sauce, fried onion and serve.
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