Friday, March 31, 2006

Friday Food #12: Pasta with Sausage and Lettuce

Ick, that recipe title sounds pretty awful, doesn't it? It sounds a little better on epicurious, which calls it "Spaghetti with Italian Sausage and Mixed Greens," but I don't use mixed greens. Truth in advertising, that's what we strive for here.

A little history, maybe. Although my children are ardent segregationists about their food, carefully dividing the veggies from the meat, the pasta from the sauce, I am an equally committed integrationist. I love a mess on the plate, somehow. This has been known (avert your gaze, purists!) to extend to piling up spaghetti on top of a plateful of dressed salad. Spaghetti with a meaty red sauce, especially. I can't say what I like so much about this, but --though it looks disgusting, I freely grant-- somehow it tastes better to me than the already-delicious components presented separately. So when I found a recipe on epicurious that basically authorized my practice, I had to try it.

There's no red sauce in this one, though. You can click the link above to get the epicurious version, but here's mine.

One pound pasta, preferably something long and skinny: spaghetti, linguine, fettucine, etc.

1/2 cup olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
zest of that same half lemon
1 tbl. chopped or minced garlic

1 lb. Italian turkey sausage (my kids will eat the sweet/mild sausage, not the hot)

10-12 cups of romaine lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces

grated parmesan cheese

a very large bowl

Put up a pot of water to boil the pasta, and then start cooking the sausages. You can remove them from their casings and just fry up little lumps of sausage, or you can try to slice them nicely. I usually try to slice and end up with lumps, so you might as well start there.

While the sausage and the pasta cook, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice and zest, and garlic in the bottom of your very large bowl. (Yes, this is basically the dressing for the lemony potato salad as well. When I like something, I make it work extra-hard for me.)

Toss the greens with the dressing, making sure all the greens are coated. You can use mixed baby greens, as the recipe suggests, but the romaine retains its crunch pretty well and tends not to disgust people who hate wilted lettuce. Your call.

When the sausage is cooked, toss it in the bowl with the dressed greens. Drain the pasta and add it to the bowl when it's done. Toss it all together and serve with grated parmesan on the side, or mixed in, as you choose.

This also works with shrimp instead of the sausage, but the sausage makes it a pretty hearty meal for the end of winter when you'd like to be eating more salads but it's still not quite warm enough.

My kids do actually eat this, though they try very hard to pull the lettuce out and eat it first. Nick usually counts the number of leaves, too, but we are working on that.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Let's have a revolution! Does July 14 work for you? - Life

Anne Lamott wants to reclaim Bastille Day for a gentle revolution.

"In this revolution, there will not be any positions except kindness, and libraries. We will not even have a battle cry, as that can lead to chanting, and haranguing: Hey, hey, ho, ho, all that chanting's got to go! We would simply look one another in the eyes, shake our heads, and say, 'This just can't be right.' "

(I happened to be eating a banana as I read this, which seems appropriate. You'll figure it out.)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

reading lists

I like keeping the reading list here. I really do forget what I've read, sadly. I read so much, very little of it sticks unless I am teaching it. So, for instance, although I recommend Gilead to everyone I know, I actually remember very little of it myself right now, other than the overwhelming sense of beauty and loss with which it is suffused. Sometimes I wish I wrote little reviews right when I read stuff, so that I could remember it better. So, for instance, I might write of Welcome to Lizard Motel that the critique of the high school curriculum seems spot-on, but that merging that with a critique of YA literature is wrong-headed and misplaced. I might write of When Dad Killed Mom (one of the books Feinberg objects to simply on the basis of the title) that it's not Julius Lester's best work, but it's an interesting novel about, among other things, sibling rivalry. (I happen to be on a quest now for books about siblings, but that's another story.)

Then I'd write that Beyond Beowulf engrossed me through two bumpy plane rides, despite the fact that iambic pentameter usually puts me to sleep (sorry, Dad!). That it didn't is a tribute to the imaginative sweep of the storyline, which tracks Beowulf's followers from their home in Scandinavia to a new settlement in Britain, following the death of their hero. I love stories that consider "what happens next"--what happens after the ending, when those who live must carry on?

In an odd way that ties my last two books read together, I'm surprised to discover. The Time Traveler's Wife also considers how one lives on "after," though in this case one of the characters is always displaced from time, sometimes finding himself "after" and sometimes "before." But the novel for me is especially poignant with the title character's "after," which moves inexorably forward, denying her the movement her husband is afflicted with.

OK, so I just did what I said I might do. Maybe I'll do it again some time, too.

(I also get to remove an asterisk from this list!)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

evidence of spring

There's no snow on the cherry trees today. The sun is now breaking through after early morning clouds. We're told it may rain later, but it may not. And the weather is warming slowly, not all at once as it did the last couple of times. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this is really it.

Here's what I see when I look out my office window.

If I actually open the window, it looks like this. I notice as I do so that the heat is on. Hmm.

It's really not cold enough to have the heat on. I go outside to get this one.

If I have spring fever, imagine how my students feel. I love the slow build of spring, but it does get harder and harder to focus in class. No wonder our semester ends at the end of April.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Our Alice

It may not be immediately apparent from my blog, but I think it's a fact that in some ways, at least, I am pretty cheap. Not frugal--I wish I could claim that, because frugality implies a sensible rationing of wealth for a common good. Rather, I practice small meannesses most of the time--not buying books if I can get them for free, shopping at Target and the thrift store, clipping the occasional coupon--and then lament that I could really have done better if I'd just spent the money.

Because I am cheap I wait to renew my magazine subscriptions until the last minute or beyond. Often I cancel after the first, trial issue, but there are a few--and The New Yorker is one--that I really do mean to renew, but I keep thinking I'll get a better deal. So, in fact, I just inadvertently let my subscription lapse, and it won't re-up until May.

Which means--as being cheap often does--that I had to shell out more than usual for something I consider a basic necessity. (Let's not talk right now about why The New Yorker has become a necessity.) I bought the March 27 issue in the Charlotte airport, and read it en route to Gainesville, where I spent the weekend at a conference.

(I should note that I somehow think money spent traveling to and from a conference doesn't count. Next week's New Yorker may be harder to buy.)

I ended up in tears somewhere over Georgia, reading Calvin Trillin's lovely profile of his wife, Alice, who died almost five years ago. I am linking to Rebecca Traister's appreciation of this piece because she so beautifully expresses just what I felt on reading it. It says lovely things about marriage that I found both true and lovely, and I welled up with tears both at the loss that Trillin obviously still feels, but perhaps even more at the happiness he clearly had, and in some ways therefore still has.

Because I am forgetful, I left the copy of the magazine in the hotel room. And I am not so cheap that I won't go out and buy another copy just so I can read it again. It's that good. So, go, read Traister's piece--but then buy the magazine, too. You won't be sorry.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Dad's cherry tree sonnet

It's great to have relatives who will create content! This is one of my dad's first published poems, a sonnet on cherry trees that he recently sent me in response to my failure to take pictures of the tree outside my office window.

Who could believe . . .
Who could believe a cherry tree; its thin
Lines cracked against the glaze of winter sky
As if all hope had fallen leaf by leaf
And curled and died, leaving where life had been
Silent appeal, uplifted, cold and dry,
A black and twisted diagram of death:
Could work a miracle of sun and earth
And bring the glory in its arms to birth:
Could cast a haze of silver on the night
And cloud the eye with bursting cry of joy,
Soften the wind with drift of falling rain:
Could fall, and in its graceful fall of light
Leaf the green branches to fulfill the void:
Could show belief and truth are one again.

--C.L. Webber, first published in Japan Christian Quarterly, 1971

Friday, March 24, 2006

Friday Food #11: Lemony Potato Salad

Nick doesn't like potatoes, have I mentioned this? It's inconceivable to Mark and me that we made a child who doesn't like potatoes, but alas, this seems to be the case. Even as a baby, he spit out the mashed ones we lovingly provided. (At the time, he would eat sweet potatoes, which I guess aren't really potatoes, but since the verbal years I think he's rejected them as well.) He will, of course, eat french fries and potato chips, which bear no resemblance to actual potatoes, and occasionally he'll even eat a "potato wedge" that comes with the fried chicken, despite the fact that you can tell where they came from.

Nonetheless I persevere in believing that one day he will like potatoes. So I made up this potato salad a few weeks ago when it was very warm and we barbecued and it seemed as if spring was on the way. In fact it was, it was just dragging its feet, and it will be here soon. So I'm told. But you can make this potato salad even if it doesn't quite feel like spring.

I'm guessing a bit on the amounts here, as I just dolloped (dollopped? dropped dollops of?) sour cream and mayo in at the end. But my dollops are probably about 2 tablespoons, or so I figure it. If it doesn't look right, add more. Or start with less if you don't trust me.

Lemony Potato Salad

6-8 fist-sized yellow (in my grocery store that's Yukon Gold) potatoes, cut into slightly larger than bite-sized chunks. You can peel them first if you like, but I prefer just to scrub them well and keep the peels on.
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tbl. chopped or minced garlic
2 tbl. sour cream
2 tbl. mayonnaise
1/4 cup chopped parsley

Fill a large pot with cold water and drop the chopped potatoes in. (Or, you know, put them in the pot as you chop and then run cold water over them. Either way.) Boil until tender--stick a fork in and check after five minutes or so, and keep checking until they're the way you want them. This will depend on the size of the chunks and the heat of your stove. I don't mind if the potatoes get mushy in the salad, but if you do, drain them the minute they seem tender, and run some cold water over them to stop them cooking. When I do this, though, I end up with slightly crunchy potato salad, which just seems weird to me. So you be the judge.

While the potatoes are boiling merrily away, whisk the lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic together to make a nice lemony dressing. As soon as the potatoes are drained, put them into a large bowl and pour the dressing over. Turn them over several times with a rubber spatula so all the potatoes are coated with dressing. If you like, let everything cool a bit at this point, while the dressing soaks into the hot potatoes. Or don't; I like warmish potato salad and I'm always running late, so I move onto the next step right away. Dollop in the sour cream and mayo, folding it into the potato/dressing mixture. Fold in the parsley and you're done.

I'm sure this would be good with tiny frozen peas folded in right with the dressing (so the hot potatoes thaw them and you don't need to cook them), or with chopped celery added along with the parsley, but I really liked the simplicity of this when I made it. I tend to prefer one or two-note salads rather than kitchen-sink ones; if you like more textures all together, though, go for it. Potato salads are pretty forgiving.

A note about potatoes: I think red ones would also be fine here, but just make sure you use something called "boiling" potatoes rather than "baking" ones. Baking ones get mealy, which is great in a baked potato but not so good in a potato salad. Go for the waxier ones. If they fall apart a bit when you boil them, they'll still taste good, I promise. But no, Nick didn't think so. He ate one bite under protest and then went happily back to the rest of his meal.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

no snow

The snow melted by noon, so even if I'd bought batteries after class there would have been no snow pictures, alas. (In the event, I didn't buy batteries anyway.) Lilian, though, has some lovely pictures of cherry blossoms, so you can head on over there and check them out.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


I brought the digital camera to work with me this morning, hoping to document for you the loveliness of the snow on the cherry tree outside my window. I got it out of my bag and turned it on...and the little green light went instantly red, and the lens cover refused to open. Dead batteries. I actually have a bag full of batteries sitting in my office--I've been waiting for a good time to drop them off over at the student commons for recycling--and I even went through them, hoping two of them might possibly have enough juice for just one picture. Just one! But nothing. I did, actually, take a picture of "my" tree once before, but the glare off the window and the sun over the roofline made for a lot of whiteness and not much else. So maybe I'm just not meant to photograph this tree. Instead, I'm reduced to words.

I'd been planning to get a shot of the cherry tree for a couple of days now--it bursts into bloom so suddenly, I never know it's ready until it's in full swing. And I usually like to throw my windows open during the week it blooms, though I know that means shriveled up petals on the floor--it's just too beautiful to keep a barrier between us.

This week, though, the cherry trees have been shivering along with the rest of us, and my window has stayed closed. They've bloomed, but they may be regretting it. I imagine the azaleas and tulips--still several weeks away--smugly whispering to the daffodils and forsythia: "See? I told you it was too early!"

Last night it snowed. The forsythia in the backyard is blanketed with snow, and when the snow melts I fear the blooms will be gone. The daffodils have been fading anyway, and the cherry trees...

Well, actually, the cherry trees look much as they did yesterday. Blobs of snow instead of blobs of blossoms, lacy branches outlined by pinkish white. Driving in to work this morning I was struck by the beauty this late snow brought us. The trees may not like it, but--despite the windshield-scraping, the cold, the inevitable mud to follow--I'm happy.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Nigella, Donna, and me

I love cookbooks. I read them in bed, bring them on vacation, fondle them in the bookstore, and greedily peruse them before dinner time. (I also spend far too much time on epicurious, but that's another story.)

Last night as I was looking for something to do with bananas, I pulled a representative batch of books off my shelf. I'd just recently made the delicious Nigella chocolate-banana cake, so that was out. There's a lovely lemony banana "breakfast ring" in Feast, but I really did want a dinner dessert. Fannie (who's really Marion) and Irma (who's really a different Marion) didn't have anything I wanted, despite being old standbys. So I ended up with Donna.

Only, the thing is, I'm not on a first-name basis with Donna. I have two of her books, Modern Classics I and II. That's the same number of books I have by Nigella. But Nigella, she's all over her books, from the picture on the front cover to the anecdotes throughout. I know Nigella. I know Irma/Marion and Fannie/Marion, too. Irma told funny stories which mostly had to do with her family's German cook, while Fannie wanted to make sure I was cooking things myself. And there are other women on my shelves, women who speak to me and help me out. Marion (of Fannie fame) wants me to eat dinner around the table every night, while Suzanne wants me to appreciate how they do it in Rome. Mollie and Deborah want to help me eat my vegetables, Mollie with cute pictures and Deborah with exhaustive--but never exhausting--detail. The only man in heavy rotation in my kitchen, I have to say, is Pierre, who makes me laugh with his stories of learning to cook in French kitchens and finding American ingredients that work just as well, except when they don't. Pierre also isn't above a little trickiness to look fussier than you are, as when he smears the fish fillet with mayonnaise instead of making a real sauce. It works; he's a little embarassed by it, but he's not above sharing the tip, either.

Donna doesn't tell stories. Compared to Nigella, she's a sleek Danish modern coffee table next to an overstuffed couch. I love to look at Danish modern. It looks so clean, so calm, so peaceful. But my life is overstuffed, not sleek at all, and I want someone who recognizes that. Donna not only doesn't tell stories, she assumes I know stuff, like that stirring the caramel sauce will keep it from thickening. (I figured that out well after her specified eight minutes were up). Now, of course, I did know that once--which is how I figured it out again--but in my overstuffed life I need constant reminders, maybe even stories of how Nigella forgot once too, and made something else instead when it didn't work out.

Donna's banana cake was very good, by the way, as was the caramel sauce on it. Maybe a little fussier than I would have liked--did it really matter that I used extrafine sugar in it? Does she know that my grocery store doesn't offer both single and double cream? But still, very good. Nonetheless, I'd rather sit down with Nigella any evening. Donna intimidates me, just a bit, and there's nothing I like less in cooking than intimidation.

Really, everything you need to know about Donna and Nigella--or everything I need to know, anyway--is expressed by their book covers. Donna's is all sleek and modern and beautiful. Even that artfully-placed drip is, well, artful. I want to make food that looks like this, though I know I won't. I don't know anything about the woman who made it (except to suspect that she's just a little obsessive). Nigella's is all her, her proffering food and making me want to take some, even though that sleevey thing is really dumb. She may wish she'd worn something else on that cover a few years from now, but the food inside, and the stories, will still be good.

Monday, March 20, 2006

reader-response theory

We heard a sermon yesterday about sin and grace, appropriate topics for Lent. Or, really, any time. So the preacher told a story about when he was a kid and stole comic books from the corner drugstore/soda fountain. ("Must have been the olden days," Nick later commented. Ouch. That hurt.) Nick, who was not sitting with me but was in fact up front, buried in his own comic book (actually an anthology of Superman comics from the library) looked up when he heard the word comic book, and seemed to be paying close attention throughout this part of the sermon. The preacher went on to say his dad caught him with his stash, and marched him back down to the drugstore to confess to the owner. "Longest walk of my life," the preacher said. The drugstore owner, as expected, gave him a little talking-to about stealing. But then he asked him "what's your favorite kind of sundae?" The preacher said he didn't really understand the question, but finally admitted that yes, he loved hot fudge sundaes. So the drugstore owner proceeded to make him a hot fudge sundae: "the sundae of grace," the preacher said, "the sundae of redemption, the sundae of forgiveness." He can still taste it now.

I asked Nick later what he thought the story was about. "It's about how it's bad to steal," he said promptly. He knows how sermons are supposed to work, after all. Then he thought for a minute. "But you could say it's good to steal, because when he did, he got a hot fudge sundae."

This is why I tell my students authorial intention is only part of the story; once the reader/listener gets involved, all bets are off.

what she said

On the third anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq war, Becca nails it.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Friday Food #10: Rhubarb Apple Pie

I don't make a lot of pies. I get nervous about the crusts and make a crisp or a cobbler or a cake instead. I'm all about easy food.

But it's starting to be spring in Richmond. Spring means a few days in the 80s, then a few back in the 40s, a repeating cycle that creeps slowly upward until, suddenly, it feels like summer and you realize the cherry blossoms are gone. During those up-and-down days there is rhubarb in the grocery stores, and the first strawberries, trucked up from Florida. Ignore the strawberries; find a couple of last fall's apples, instead, and make this pie. In some places rhubarb is also known as pie plant; one taste of this and you'll see why.

Start with the easiest pie crust ever. I don't use the crisco anymore, as earth balance has a nice non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening in sticks that works really well. Again, half and half with unsalted butter. And if you have a few hours, don't put the crust in the freezer. Put it in the fridge, go and pick up the kids at school or whatever you have to do, and then come back and roll it out after you've put the filling together.

Preheat the oven to 450 F.

Then prepare the filling:

1-1/2 lbs. rhubarb, cut into 1-inch chunks (more or less). If the stalks are big and stringy remove the strings.
2 medium apples, cut into 1-inch chunks as well. Peel or not (I never do).
3 tbl. instant tapioca
1-1/4 cups vanilla sugar (or plain granulated sugar. Vanilla sugar is made by putting a vanilla bean into your sugar canister, but it takes a few days. Don't sweat it.)
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. grated nutmeg
dash cloves

Let all those ingredients sit together in a big bowl while you roll out the crust.

Once you've got the bottom crust rolled out and fitted into your pie plate, dump the filling in. Then roll out the top crust. If you want to be traditional, cut it into 3/4 inch (or so) strips, and weave a lattice crust. (The Joy of Cooking has a very clear diagram for this--it's easier than it looks, and very impressive!)
Or simply roll a top crust, place it over the bottom and seal up the edges, and cut vents in it.

Place the pie plate on a cookie sheet (the juices will boil over and make a mess of your oven) and place the whole thing in the oven. After 15 minutes, turn the heat down to 350 and bake for another 1/2 hour to 45 minutes. My pie took an hour altogether, and even then the middle wasn't bubbling up as much as I thought it should; keep checking to make sure the juices are bubbling and the top is not burnt.

And enjoy! This is a little less sweet than the traditional rhubarb-strawberry pie and tastes just like spring to me.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Books every adult should read

This list came from The Guardian, which is the newspaper we read when we read a newspaper in England. It cares about literature, it publishes Annie Proulx and Germaine Greer, it's fun to read. They're reporting on a survey of librarians and archivists in England (amusingly, they're the MLA, for Museums, Librarians, and Archivists rather than for Modern Language Association, as it is in this country).

Here's their list. I put an asterisk next to the books I haven't read, and bolded the books I've taught, just for fun. These are in rank order, by the way--do you agree that To Kill a Mockingbird is the one book every adult should read before dying? (Can we just see the movie?)

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Bible (portions--more read than taught, but I've taught Genesis, Matthew, and Luke)
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by JRR Tolkien
1984 by George Orwell
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
All Quite [sic] on the Western Front by E M Remarque
His Dark Materials Trilogy by Phillip Pullman (I've taught book one)
*Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
Tess of the D'urbevilles [sic] by Thomas Hardy
Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger [edited to remove asterisk 4/1/06]
*The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
*The Prophet by Khalil Gibran
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
*The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
*Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Middlemarch by George Eliot
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
*A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzenhitsyn

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Fun with logic

Laura over at 11D has a great discussion of this David Brooks piece from the NYTimes.

I'm just struck, though, by this one little bit here (this is Brooks, not Laura).

"Lareau says working-class children seem more relaxed and vibrant, and have more intimate contact with their extended families. 'Whining, which was pervasive in middle-class homes, was rare in working-class and poor ones,' she writes.

But these children were not as well prepared for the world of organizations and adulthood."

Here's what I want to know: Does this prove that whining prepares children for the world of organizations and adulthood?

For another fun example of this kind of false logic (correlation does not equal causation) check out the Literary Mama blog right now and the comments.

Monday, March 13, 2006

just the links

Here's something that's so cool, I just have to link to it...juggling to the Beatles. Why not?

My tiny moment of fame (hardly!). I always want my references to Literary Mama, and to Miriam's book, and to all the hard work other people are doing in thinking and writing about motherhood to make it into articles like this, and they rarely do. Still, it was fun talking to the reporter.

Finally, my dad's latest book, Beyond Beowulf, is now available for purchase from a variety of sources. I have a copy at home, but alas, it arrived at the end of spring break so I won't be reading it for a while. But I'm looking forward to it!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

spring cleaning, home edition

1. Even if you think the kids should be helping out, the job is really easier if you do it when they're out of the house. This may be poor parenting but it's more effective cleaning.

2. Or you could at least reduce a job or two to manageable size while they're gone.

3. That little rechargeable floor sweeper that came with the vacuum cleaner can't really handle the accumulated detritus of the last three months.

4. But it makes things look a little better, anway.

5. Isn't there something you should be doing outside?

6. Turning the music up makes the job go faster.

7. For a while.

8. Where are those kids, anyway? Why aren't they pulling their weight? You've got to go pick them up in a bit anyway. It's probably time to stop. Don't want to overdo things.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

spring cleaning, office edition

1. Those book catalogs that you were going to look at "when you have time"? You're not going to. Toss them.

2. Even the ones with really cool pictures.

3. Students who graduated before 2000 are not going to pick up their papers. Toss them.

4. Even if you think they might be famous some day. You'll never be able to find their work again when that day comes anyway. (I have in fact, years ago, taught athletes who later made it into the pros. No one cares.)

5. Manuals for computer equipment you no longer own do not have historical value.

6. When the recycling bin is full the job is done, even if you can't yet see the top of your desk. (For the record, I can, at least in patches.)

7. Remember all those things you saved "for later" and then threw out? Do yourself a favor and don't do that anymore.

(Famous last words.)

Friday, March 10, 2006

Friday Food #9: Sesame Cabbage

I can't believe I'm going to post a recipe for cooked cabbage, the idea of which is enough to send me screaming in the opposite direction. It conjures for me notions of dank tenement hallways, crying babies, and depressed women in housedresses. Not that I have ever experienced any of the above (well, except the crying babies). I don't know where I got this idea.

The thing is, my kids like cabbage. Especially red (or purple) cabbage, which is pretty, crunchy, and sweet. What's not to like? We shred it and use it as the lettuce for tacos. But then we forget it's in the fridge.

So the other day I found most of a head of cabbage and it was still perfectly fresh. (Another plus: it keeps much better than other greens.) And I had some rice, and some steak that needed to be cooked up that day. So I thought: stir-fry!

This recipe is adapted from New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant. I think their version may be a little bland, but of course kids (my kids, anyway) don't mind that at all. Mine is a little zingier than theirs, and the kids were fine with it.

Here's what you need:

One head of cabbage, more or less. Shred in the food processor or chop into bite-size bits.
3 tbl. vegetable oil
2 tbl. sesame oil
3 tbl. rice vinegar
3 tbl. soy sauce
a pinch of sugar (optional)
1 tsp. minced garlic
2 tsp. minced ginger

2 tbl. toasted sesame seeds

Heat the vegetable oil in a large saute pan or wok, and add the cabbage when it is hot. Stir-fry until tender, moving it around constantly so the bits on the bottom move up to the top, etc. Mix the next six (through the ginger) ingredients together, and pour them over the cabbage when it is cooked. If you prefer, you can saute the garlic and ginger in the oil until fragrant, before you add the cabbage, but you do run the slight risk of burning the garlic if you do that. I did it anyway because I prefer the garlic cooked. Toss with the sesame seeds and serve over rice. If you like, make Caroline's caramelized tofu to go with this, or do what I did and stir-fry some beef (I think pork would be good, too) in a similar marinade and toss it together with the cabbage before serving.

You can also use other greens for this, of course. Spinach won't take very long at all; chard or kale would take a bit longer, and cabbage takes the longest.

By the way, I wasn't going to post a food thing today; I've got a bunch of stuff to do and I was thinking I could skip it. But then Kate linked to me and I figured I'd better do it! Peer pressure strikes again.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

worth watching the ad

Even if you're not a Salon Premium subscriber, do read Dawn Friedman's lovely piece here: Life | Open adoption, broken heart

Nick makes lunch

We've been having something of a "treat" week, since I'm on spring break and feeling expansive. Still, when Nick makes his own lunch sometimes I need to exert a little control.

This morning he was unusually cooperative--clothed, shod, lunch made long before he needed to be done. (OK, I had to remind him to brush his teeth--nobody's perfect.) He agreed to make his lunch when I suggested it, since I wanted time to shower. But when I asked what was in his lunch I wasn't quite sure what to expect.

"Cheese stick. Jelly bagel. Apple."

Hey, not bad!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Independence, Fear, Mothering and Writing

Please read this fabulous interview up on the Literary Mama site right now--Susan Ito's interview of Rachel Tzvia Back. Here's a taste of it:

[RTB] One of the things my siblings, who all are raising children here in America, envy is that the culture at large [in Israel] puts its greatest emphasis on family. Everything is structured to promote and sustain family life. Family time in Israel is sacred, while the culture in America doesn’t promote it. There is plenty of rhetoric but it doesn’t happen.

SI: I’m intrigued. Can you give a specific example of that?

RTB: In practical terms, there’s every expectation that everyone is home at 6:30 and they will have a meal together. You’re supposed to be in your family and in your community, both together. There are no sports practices or anything that anyone needs to attend at that family dinner hour. There is also less of this kind of obsessive structuring of time, like "playdates." Children in Israel are much more independent. I don’t need to take them anywhere. There’s a bus that takes them back and forth from school, and they’re completely independent. My six-year-old takes herself to and from the bus and to her afterschool activities. I don’t ever pick them up. These things do not seem to happen here in America.

SI: It’s ironic. There’s much more fear here, and yet the real danger is actually more present where you live.

RTB: It’s true. We really allow children much more independence. We step aside for a moment and everybody grows, and that’s the way it should be. They’re growing, you’re growing. Just yesterday, when I phoned Israel, my husband said: "Wonderful things happen when you go away." They stretch a little, when I am not there taking care of everything. He told me that my 11- and 6-year-old took a 90-minute train trip, which included a transfer, to visit their grandparents, on their own. They did great. The train was full of soldiers, and they had to stand half the way, but they were so proud of themselves and I was so proud of them, and glad for them.


Here's my latest column: The Reading-Aloud Years

Monday, March 06, 2006

better than spam

Somehow this summer I got on Virgin Train's email list. I never actually traveled by train in the UK, but I guess I was thinking about it and signed up for something that I've been too lazy to stop.

Today I was glad I'd been lazy, when this arrived in my inbox:

(Because, see, the train goes so fast...ah, never mind. You got it. I'm just glad to have TLOTR reduced to three panels.)

not an Oscar post

I missed the first half hour of the Oscar telecast, putting Nick to bed, so I missed George Clooney and the monologue and the gay cowboy montage. That is, I apparently missed the best part of the show. Though I did love the woman who thanked the academy for seating her next to George at the nominees' dinner.

Unlike Lizbeth I did actually enjoy Lily Tomlin and Maryl Streep, mostly because they were so obviously having fun, when so many of the presenters and recipients seemingly weren't. And we don't get to see Jon Stewart on The Daily Show since we don't have cable, so I enjoyed his snarkiness when he allowed it out.

But mainly I was annoyed by the ridiculous hypocrisy of the repeated "go see movies in the theatre" mantra. After all, even the academy voters now get to watch most of the films at home on DVD. The (desperate?) injunction was most obviously ridiculous when they showed the montage of clips from "epic" films (which weren't all epic by any stretch--The Sound of Music, epic?). Just as we were told these scenes wouldn't translate to TV, we were showed them all...on TV. Hmm.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

crazy cake update

Remember how I said not to use the good vinegar in crazy cake? You certainly don't have to. But last night I made it with raspberry vinegar and valrhona cocoa powder, and oh, my is it tasty.

more places I've been...

And here are the countries I've visited. (10 countries; 4%.) "Visited" is a nice, ambiguous word, don't you think? I've lived in two of these countries, spent weeks in one or two more, and spent more than a day in several. Two of them I only stopped in long enough to shop. I do have a spoon from Iceland, bought at some strange hour of the night when the sun was out and our plane stopped over; I don't know if I actually have anything from Germany, but I know I spent several hours there when our ship was docked. Both those visits come from my big adventure, when our whole family (Mom, Dad, and four kids under 11; I was 8) traveled from Tokyo to the UK via the USSR in the days when it was the USSR. If I remember rightly, there was a ship from Yokohama to Nahodka, a train and then a plane to Moscow, another plane (?) to Leningrad (now Petersburg), then a ship that docked briefly in Bremerhaven before leaving us in England. After six weeks in England there was a plane to the US, which involved the Iceland stopover. After some time on the east coast there was a train across the states and then a ship from San Francisco back to Japan. I missed the end of third grade and the beginning of fourth, and it was all worth it. I still have the scrapbook, too!

create your own visited countries map

Friday, March 03, 2006

Friday Food #8: Pizza or Focaccia

I make my own pizza, and not because I'm too good for pizzeria pizza, though I am perhaps too cheap. Rather, as long as I've got an hour or two before I need to eat, I find this is easy and makes everyone happy. The recipe is adapted from my favorite source for bread recipes, No Need to Knead, by Suzanne Dunaway. Sadly, the book seems to be out of print. If you can find a copy, though, it's worth the price just to make the rosemary filoncino, which will make you the hit of any potluck and is ridiculously easy.

This same dough makes great pizzas and also makes the easiest focaccia I've ever done. For this one you need a food processor and maybe a gallon-sized ziplock bag. And yeast, flour, water and salt.

Basic Dough Ingredients:
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
4 –4 1/2 cups unbleached white or all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

In a container that pours easily, measure the water and sprinkle the yeast over it. Stir the yeast until it dissolves. Put the flour, olive oil, and salt in a food processor (use the metal blade). Blend for a few seconds, then add the yeast and water with the motor running, blending just until the dough begins to pull away from the sides. It will be sticky. Dip your fingers in a little olive oil and lift the dough from the food processor, shaping it into a ball. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rise in a warm place for about an hour.

Oil two cookie sheets or jelly-roll pans. Divide the dough in two pieces and place one on each sheet. Gently push the dough away from the center, stretching it to fit the pan (or nearly so). The thicker the dough, the thicker your pizza crust or focaccia (and, of course, the smaller). Push it up around the edges to form a little "lip" at the edges. Do not knead, toss, or roll out the dough: handle it gently, and as little as possible. It will take some work to stretch it out, but be patient and gentle.

Also--for pizza, we like to make four individual ones rather than two big ones, and everyone gets to top their own. Use cake pans (8-9"), pie pans (ditto), or the bottom of a springform pan instead of cookie sheets or jellyroll pans. The smaller the pan, the thicker your crust will be.

Preheat your oven to 525° F.

If you're making pizza, top the crusts as desired with a thin layer of tomato sauce and whatever cheese and toppings you like. One of my favorites is caramelized onions with smoked mozarella (no tomato sauce with this one). I have to confess that I am not a purist about fresh mozarella for pizza--the shredded stuff in bags is easier for the kids to handle and makes something closer to pizzeria pizza, actually. But by all means use the good stuff if you like. These are not pizzas to load up the toppings on, though--they will get soggy. Choose one or two, no more than three. Another reason to make four small ones rather than two big ones, if you have a hard time limiting yourself on toppings.

Place the topped pizza on the two lowest racks of the oven and turn it up to 550°F. Bake for 7-10 minutes, rotating the pizzas halfway through the baking time. (It may take longer—watch until the cheese is bubbling & beginning to brown.)

Dunaway says if the top is browned but the bottom still seems a bit underdone you can put the pizza pan on a burner turned up high and move it around until steam stops rising, or until the bottom seems brown. I have done this once or twice, and it does work, but I am also willing to eat slightly floppy pizza or to turn the heat down a bit towards the end so the top doesn't burn. I also have a pizza stone that just lives in my oven, and putting the pans on the stone does seem to help crisp the bottom crust up a little bit.

Immediately after removing the pizza from the oven brush exposed crust with olive oil. You'll thank me later.

If you're making focaccia, brush the dough with a little olive oil after you've stretched it into the pan, then top the breads with (easiest) chopped rosemary and kosher salt, or caramelized onions, or shredded mozarella and parmesan, or whatever other focaccia topping you like. Bake as above. Brushing with olive oil after the breads are baked is still a good idea.

For arugula focaccia, simply brush the crust with olive oil before baking. Immediately on removing it from the oven, brush with a little more olive oil, then sprinkle fresh arugula over it all.

To start it the night before, put the dough in a big ziplock bag and let it rise in the fridge. It can stay there a day or two. Take it out a couple of hours before you want to use it so it can come to room temperature.

apparently I'm related to Ira Glass

From today's Writer's Almanac:

Ira Glass said, "There are people who are fundamentally lazy, who only get anything done because they put themselves under dreadful deadline pressure. Those people are all my brothers."

Thursday, March 02, 2006

where I've been

create your own visited states map

I included states I've only driven through, though I may have missed one or two of them. I wasn't going to, and then I realized that I'd spent the night in many of them, visited a hospital in one, and certainly looked out the window and taken pictures; I figure that counts as a visit.

I had forgotten Ohio, but looking at the map made it clear I'd obviously been through,since I drove from Massachusetts to Wisconsin once (don't ask!) .

(Edited to add: seen on Raising Weg and Republic of Heaven.)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Happiest Wives - New York Times

(Thanks to Laura for the link.) The Happiest Wives - New York Times:

From a report on a recent study of 5000 married couples:

"Having an affectionate and understanding husband was by far the most important predictor of a woman's satisfaction with her marriage.
(what a shock!)

But it turns out that an equal division of labor didn't make husbands more affectionate or wives more fulfilled. The wives working outside the home reported less satisfaction with their husbands and their marriages than did the stay-at-home wives. And among those with outside jobs, the happiest wives, regardless of the family's overall income, were the ones whose husbands brought in at least two-thirds of the money."

OK, is there any chance that this was the most common arrangement anyway, and that there were simply more happy wives in this largest group?

Even if not, Tierney raises but then fairly quickly dismissed the sensible suggestion that it's hard to be a "social pioneer." But really, it is. It's hard to have people assume the mom does the pickups when in your house it's the dad. Hard not to be the one who does the pediatrician appointments if you always expected you would. Hard to want to cook the dinners and not have time to do it. And equally, hard to have to cook the dinners, do the pediatrician visits, do the pickups, and not have the training or the role models for it.

I'd say I'm fairly happy (I know I whine a lot, but really). I bring in most of the family income. Would it make me happier to bring in less of it? Sure it would: it would allow me to slack off every now and then. But, as Laura notes, the "two high earning model is too difficult to maintain." When we both worked full time, that was rough. No time for cooking, for cleaning, for just sitting around with the kids--what kind of life is that?

seesaws and sandals

It's the first day of Lent and I haven't decided what, if anything, to give up. I'm not inclined to fast in any significant way this year, for some reason. I would like to let some things go, but most of them don't feel optional right now. Grading? Chauffeur duty? Housecleaning? (Oh, yeah, already gave that up...)

I like the idea of discipline, spiritual or otherwise. It's good for me to think about what to do, and when, and why, instead of just going through the motions. Practice is another useful word in this regard; too often we just do, especially as adults. We don't think (or I don't, much) about practice, about repetition, about improvement. Even in writing, I focus much more on product than process/practice, despite my training as a writing teacher. The blog may be process of a sort--but is it practice? Is it a discipline?

Lent interests me as spiritual practice because it feels so counter-intuitive. It's the time of year things are springing back into life, the world is reawakening, hope rekindles--and yet the church says, ignore that (for a moment, for forty days) and focus on what's going on within, on the tension between yes and no, on the in-betweenness, the not-yetness, of so much of our lives. Now that I think about it, though, maybe it is precisely the right season for that, as we seesaw between cold and warmth, sweaters and sandals. Focusing on the seesaw, not the sandals, might be just the way to go.