Monday, July 31, 2006

Mama Sez

Mama Sez:
write for the Literary Reflections section of Literary Mama. Check it out!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Friday Food #25: More Muesli

Like Caroline, I can't leave a recipe alone. So though I love my dad's muesli, which he's been making pretty much the same way for years, I found myself tinkering. It didn't help that Nigella had another way of doing it (or maybe it did). The key difference, I found, is that Nigella toasts the ingredients--and that, if you've got the time and the inclination, is well worth it.

So here's how I made muesli yesterday, even though it was too hot to turn on the oven.

Preheat oven to 375.

Mix in a large bowl, or simply on the rimmed baking sheet:

3 cups rolled oats
1 cup mixed cereal (or another cup of oats)
2 cups chopped mixed nuts (I used almonds and hazelnuts this time)
1 cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup sunflower seeds

Toast on the baking sheet for 20 minutes, stirring after 10 to make sure everything toasts evenly.

Remove from oven to cool when the nuts look a little toasty. When the cereal is completely cool, add 1-2 cups dried fruit (I used "craisins," but raisins or chopped dates and apricots would also be good) and 1-2 tablespoons of brown sugar. Stir the sugar and fruit in thoroughly, then store in an airtight container.

See, that wasn't too hard, was it?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

not a paid political advertisement

If you are anything like me, you have avoided seeing Al Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth. You figure you know it all already--global warming is real, the government isn't doing what it should, we can do better. You figure you know him already--after all, there were those eight years as vice president and then an endless campaign which, though he didn't lose, he let get too close so the other guy could win. And you don't want to be depressed.

So here's the surprise (which shouldn't be a surprise, because you're really not like me and you already saw it): none of the above makes any difference. It's a good movie, you don't know Al Gore like you thought you did, and the movie's not depressing.

It's the last point that's really what makes the difference, of course. I know it feels like buying energy-efficient lightbulbs and driving a slightly "greener" car won't make a difference, but now I'm convinced it will. Not enough of a difference, all by itself, but maybe enough of a difference to make more of us work at making a difference, at holding our politicians accountable, at educating our kids. (Here are more suggestions.)

Mark and I went to the movie when we had an unexpected gift of free (i.e., no kids) hours. But I think we might go back, with them.

essays by the numbers

It's always fun to figure out the formula for a certain kind of writing. Miriam Burstein, aka The Little Professor, has done so now for the "First Person" column in the Chronicle of Higher Ed. I find myself nodding in agreement, even though I think the categories, and certainly the issues, are worth talking about. Sigh.

Thanks to Dr. B. for the link.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


I spent last week at a workshop for college teachers and I'm beat! I haven't spent this much time talking about teaching since my "pedagogy class" in grad school--I put it in quotation marks because mostly it was a desperate effort to keep us from quitting mid-quarter, I think, and didn't offer nearly as much helpful content as the title might imply. Not that the folks teaching it were inept or corrupt--far from it--it's just that pedagogy gets, or got, very little attention in my graduate program. And while I've certainly tried to keep up with things over the last twenty (gasp) years, it's rare that one really gets a chance to sit down and talk about pedagogy while in the thick of the teaching year. So it was nice to talk about what we do and why we do it, and whether it works.

And now I have plenty of new ideas to try out, and a backlog of work to do here, and a family to catch up with, and blogs to read, and...well, you know the drill. I've got a few things in mind, and (I hope) a recipe for Friday, but things may be a little sparse here for a while.

Friday, July 21, 2006

yes, I know it's Friday

but I'm out of town and I can't get wifi (grr) and so all the fabulous recipes on my laptop--or that I am imagining are on my laptop--that I might have shared with you, will just have to stay there. I do have computer access, as you can see, but the no wifi thing is starting to get old.

I should say, though, that my biggest hit as a cook last week was "make your own salad" night. Lettuce, hard-boiled eggs, marinated chick peas (there's a nice gingery chick pea recipe in the very first Moosewood), olives (only for me), crumbled feta, leftover grilled steak and peppers, carrots, tomatoes from the garden, and a nice balsamic-basil vinaigrette. A loaf of good bread. Everyone took what he or she wanted and piled it up on a plate and they were all happy. This is what hot weather does to us.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I've got some siblings who are going to be surprised...

I saw this on Lilian's blog and I had to post it here. Um, because it's wrong. Second of four, actually. Though I have to say, I think the descriptions are reasonably accurate. Hmm. Maybe I should go work on that self-help book!

You Are Likely an Only Child

At your darkest moments, you feel frustrated.
At work and school, you do best when you're organizing.
When you love someone, you tend to worry about them.

In friendship, you are emotional and sympathetic.
Your ideal careers are: radio announcer, finance, teaching, ministry, and management.
You will leave your mark on the world with organizational leadership, maybe as the author of self-help books.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

hottest day of the year... far. It's officially 98, with a heat index between 100 and 104. The affable weather guy on the radio assures us that temperatures will drop "into the more normal 90-degree range tomorrow." Gee, thanks.

Monday, July 17, 2006

the post about purses

Becca seems to be done with her fashion posts, but I am just getting started. Or maybe not. Maybe it will just be this one. In any event I need to begin with a bit of personal history.

This happened many years ago. Probably more than thirty, but less than forty. My parents were out, and my (older) brother and I were exploring. We found ourselves in our parents' room, looking (I guess) for something to do. We must have been bored. I opened a drawer in my mother's bureau and collapsed on the floor laughing. There in the drawer were, it seemed, a dozen or more purses, different colors and sizes. Could they have been wrapped in tissue paper? So memory says, though my memory is faulty when it comes to things like this. In any event it struck my brother and me both as the funniest thing ever: "she's got 100 purses and no money to put in them!"

Fast forward 30-40 years. I don't have a drawer dedicated to purses, and mine don't match my outfits. For years I carried black purses on the theory that they didn't call attention to their non-matching-ness. But the matching thing was always at the back of my mind. And the need for a purse. I've never really resented the "need" to carry a purse; just as skirts seem like a nice additional option, rather than an oppressive requirement, so purses seem like a sensible way to carry your stuff. But if you don't want to, well, that's what pockets or backpacks are for. No sweat.

Anyway. I carry a purse. And I am shocked to discover that I have, well, let's say a lot of them, squirrelled away in various places in my house.

There is the lovely brocade one made for me by a skilled craftswoman and artist who was trying out a new style and used me for a guinea pig. I carried it for several years. It doesn't match anything I own, which (I figured) meant I could carry it with anything. But it's a little big, and if I put too much in it the strap hurts my shoulder.

There are the two felted bags and the two non-felted knitted bags and the one crocheted bag, all roughly the same size and style. One of the non-felted bags was my belated Knitting Olympics project; one of the felted bags was just finished in May. Here it is:

The problem, I have finally decided, with all the bags I made, is that they are too small. I was trying to force myself to carry fewer things in the purse (this is a perennial problem for me, especially since my back hurts when I carry too much) but the small-purse-method was defeating me. I just overstuffed them and they looked it.

So now I have a new bag. (Oh, and have I mentioned that since I can't knit things that have to fit, but I like to knit, I end up knitting a lot of bags--well, you guessed that--and then I feel that I can't really buy a bag, because I could just, you know, knit another one...) So I made this bag, using more of the recycled sari yarn, finishing it last week. I even lined it (sewing is not my forte) so that things won't just fall out of it. And, you know, it works for me. It's big, and it's pretty shapeless (unlike in the picture) but I made the strap short, it holds all my stuff without getting over full, and it's not too heavy. So now I, like my mother before me, have many many bags, and little money to put in them. But at least I have one I can carry my stuff in.

We'll see, though. I thought the pink felted bag was the bag to end all bags. The moral, I suppose, is that there is, as Nick would say, no such.

Saturday, July 15, 2006


I have in mind a long post about home and how that's a complicated concept for me, but at the moment I just want to say it's nice to be home, at this home where I now live. And yet it was nice, this past week, to visit family in homes that I've never lived in, too.

And one of the most fun things about staying at my parents' house was having Mariah go through photo albums and even a trunk or two and explore my past, and even my mother's past, through our pictures and clothes. She scored some "vintage" outfits from Mom, and tried to convince me that my 12-year-old self was cute...Nice try, honey!

More on home another time. That's all for now.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Friday Food #24: Crepes

I'm not a fancy or an elegant cook, but I can put a good meal in front of a family relatively easily most nights of the week. When I get too tired Mark cooks or we go out. Sometimes Mariah even cooks, and I keep meaning to encourage that. But the fact is that I like to cook, so it's usually not a big hardship.

But I do get bored with our usual stuff. Doing these recipes has been a nice way of reminding myself of some old favorites that I haven't made lately, and also of coming up with new things.

Last Friday night was a new thing: I made crepes for dessert. Who knew they were so easy?

Here's the story:

In a blender, put 1 cup flour, 2 tablespoons of sugar, 2 eggs, 1 cup milk, and tablespoons of melted butter. Blend until you have a thin batter. Now let it sit for twenty minutes while you do something else.

In my case, that was peel and pit three peaches, dip the cut halves in sugar, and place them in a heated non-stick pan over medium heat for about five minutes: sugar-grilled peaches! Yum! I also pitted about a dozen cherries and cooked them along with the peaches, then cut the peaches into bite-sized chunks and put the whole mess in a bowl.

Then: I heated a small non-stick skillet over medium heat (I sprayed it with non-stick spray because I don't really trust the pan). Poured about a ladleful of crepe batter in, swirled it around a bit, and waited for it to look dry on top. Flipped it (this was the only hard part: I loosened the edges with a metal spatula and then carefully lifted and flipped) and cooked the other side until the whole thing was dry and lightly spotted with brown in places. Put it on a plate, spread a little nutella on it, and folded it up. Repeat until the batter's gone (or, in my case, until you have two crepes per person. I had leftover batter which made one nice breakfast the next morning.)

I did these just before we sat down to dinner, and put them in the oven (along with the peach/cherry mixture) with the door closed while we ate. I didn't turn the oven on, though I might have put it on "warm" if I thought we'd take a long time over the meal. We didn't, though, and I served each person two crepes with some fruit on top (or, in case of picky children, on the side). Everyone was delighted, and it was so easy I felt almost guilty. Why haven't I been doing this for years?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Family vacation

Top three reasons to visit the northwest corner of Connecticut in July (other than the very top reason, the ability to spend time with family):

1. Fresh asparagus from the garden (Nick points out that this is a special treat for us because we are visiting someone who has an asparagus patch...)
2. Ten degrees cooler than Richmond
3. Badminton and croquet on the lawn (including expert coaching from Granddad...)

Top three reasons NOT to visit the northwest corner of Connecticut in July:

1. The gnats
2. The gnats
3. The gnats

To be fair, the rain today seems to have kept the gnats away.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Nick is nostalgic

I liked Oxford because we got to bike around all the time. And it was a really nice house. And candy was inexpensive and I got to buy it all the time!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Friday Food #23: Quick Fish Dish

We don't eat a lot of fish, but I always think we should: it's healthy, it's low fat, it cooks quickly. But I don't much like cooking it or think I do a good job of it.

Then a friend gave me this recipe. She made it for my birthday, in fact, and I liked it so much I asked for it. How the story is supposed to go now is that I've been cooking fish all the time, weekly maybe, because the recipe is so good and easy.

It really is that good and easy, but I don't always remember to buy fish. So in fact I made it yesterday for the first time. I'll give it to you as she gave it to me, and then I'll note a couple of easy changes, too.

You'll need as many fish steaks (or fillets) as you think will feed your family adequately. I made it last night with a single swordfish steak and a largish piece of halibut. I think they were each about a half pound. Everyone would have eaten more, but there was enough.

Mix together 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise and 1 tablespoon each of honey and dijon (or, in my case, Gulden's Spicy Brown) mustard.

Spray a baking pan with nonstick spray and lay the fish in it, skin side down (if there is skin; the swordfish steak only had it on one small side, of course). They can be pressed up pretty close together. Smear the mayo/mustard mixture on the top of the fish. Sprinkle generously with chopped parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper (I only used pepper).

Bake at 350 for 40 minutes, or, as I did last night, at 400 or so for about 20 minutes. Pierre Franey has a version of this for which he uses flounder fillets and broils very briefly. Just check to make sure the fish is flaking and it's done. It's really pretty flexible: the mayo/mustard mixture keeps it moist and as long as that gets brown on top you're probably fine. Squirt some lemon juice over the fish when it's done if you think of it (I didn't), or serve with lemon wedges on the side.

Both kids loved it. Nick scraped most of the sauce off of his but ate the fish happily. My friend says it works with all kinds of fish: best if all your pieces are roughly the same thickness, but after that all bets are off.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


A year ago today I was in England, in the midst of my first week of classes. We'd made it through the first two weeks abroad, battling the weather and the new surroundings, and things were looking up.

Two years ago Mariah was away at camp, Nick was in day camp, and he had a swim meet.

Three years ago we had a French exchange student living with us, Nick was taking swimming lessons, and I began the blog with this entry.

Four years ago we were in CT for my nephew's baptism, and five years ago we were in the middle of a bathroom renovation. Six years ago Mariah and I were just back from England and the family was getting ready for our trip to CA for Caroline & Tony's wedding later that summer.

Seven years ago I didn't have a palm pilot, so I don't have daily entries, but I was recovering from the previous year's tenure anxieties. Eight years ago I was putting the tenure portfolio together.

And 21 years ago, on this date, my brother and his wife were married. Happy Anniversary, Mike & Muzz! Wow, 21 years! I guess you guys are legal now.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Celebrating the Fourth

I don't think much about the 4th of July, or other national holidays. In fact they often seem to sneak up on me and I'm unprepared. As I was this year: we didn't invite anyone over, didn't make plans, didn't stock up on beer and burgers and corn and all that. I've never put up a flag, and even if I ever had I'm not sure I would this year with the silly debates over "flag desecration" going on. Sigh.

Sometimes I envy Stephanie the Yarn Harlot, who twice a year manages to post something entertaining and heart-warming about being Canadian. (Of course if we had Homo Milk, which I also saw in England, I'd be pretty proud, too.)

There are things I love about the US, and one day I'll find time to post about them. But for today I have a line I came across this morning, in a review of a book of Ishmael Reed's poetry. The review's author, Joel Brouwer, calls Reed "among the most American of American writers, if by 'American' we mean a quality defined by its indefinability and its perpetual transformations as new ideas, influences, and traditions enter our cultural conversation."

OK, that's a kind of "American" I can proudly be.

Monday, July 03, 2006

movies and more

Did I already mention going to see The Break-Up while we were at the beach? Probably not, because it really is hardly worth mentioning. Not a bad way to spend two hours or so of an evening--Judy Davis and John Favreau are especially delicious--but I really wanted more about real estate and less stupidity about relationships. That is, the Aniston and Vaughn characters are supposedly breaking up because he's a selfish boor--and that is so well-established in the first few minutes that you're with Jennifer, agreeing with her as she enumerates the reasons she just can't do it anymore--but then she changes her mind, and not just because they share a fabulous condo. It's one of those relationships that works only for mysterious reasons--they really seem to have nothing in common--and so when it stops working that makes total sense. It would have been much funnier if the break-up had been real, if they had both really wanted to break up, but they couldn't give up the real estate. As Caroline said, they were acting like they were in their twenties when they were obviously not, and that made the whole thing just fall apart in places. Oh well. As I said, John Favreau=very funny.

Then this last weekend we went to see Cars, which I didn't hate. I even liked some parts of it--especially Paul Newman parts--but overall I found it predictable and a bit tedious. There's just something a bit weird about glorifying the open road, Route 66, automobile travel, in an age of global warming and gas shortages, don't you think? And then there's an interesting critique of corporate America (="Dinoco," a fuel company), except it turns out that really Dinoco is run by a big-hearted Texas oil man who values loyalty and friendship above winning. Yeah, right.

OK, so I'm cynical and jaded and I overthink my entertainment. But really, when my entertainment asks me to think and then wants me to stop thinking, all in two hours, I get annoyed.

The best part of Cars is the closing credits where a bunch of Pixar hits from the past are recast with cars. That was genius, well worth staying in the theatre and annoying the people trying to get out and go on to the next thing.

I'm ranting over at LiteraryMama today as well, this time about kids' books by celebrities.