Saturday, March 29, 2008


I think I've posted an Easter reprise post for the last couple of (no, three!) years, so I've had it in mind to do this year, too, but the week has just flown by. So, belatedly, I give you Easter.

  • As usual, the best houseguests ever. All four of them, and only one emergency room visit! (Eli hit his head on the kitchen radiator, Easter Monday--two stitches and a good story.)
  • The cooking and baking started Friday, and never really stopped. Highlights included hot cross buns, birthday cake, tempura and sushi, and lemon-cornmeal poundcake. Photos below of Easter dinner. (The tempura and sushi, which were also lovely, got eaten as soon as made, and therefore were not photographed.)
  • The weather ranged from raw and chilly to warm and sunny. No snow (thankfully--we did that last year), and no rain, either. Lots of flowers.
  • Mariah had solos for Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday, and she and I had a duet on Good Friday. The Easter music was fabulous, too.
  • Mariah heard from one college right before Easter, and another two just after--so far, things are looking good, but I'm not saying more yet as there are still three to go.
  • Caroline got to talk to folks about Mama, Ph.D., which was a fun bonus event. (Go, pre-order it now!)
  • I finished one wrap (top photo) in time to mail it off for an Easter-birthday present for my mother-in-law, and another (second photo) in time to wear it myself, Easter morning. Hurray for quick knits!
And now for the food:

Mushroom Gallette, from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. A perfect vegan entree.

Nigella's Lemon Linguine, which is definitely not vegan but very, very, tasty.

Roasted asparagus, avocado salad. Mmmm.

Rosemary Filoncino. Mmm, mmm.

Lemon-Cornmeal poundcake, from The Cornbread Gospels, served with sliced strawberries. There was whipped cream with it, too.

And there you have it, the Easter feast. And feast we did--for several days afterwards, as well.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Children's Lit Book Group

This month I read Stephenie Meyer's Twilight books and write about vampire love in my Literary Mama column: "Vampire stories are . . .perfect for teenagers. Vampires stay out all night, scare the respectable citizens, take crazy risks, and live, seemingly, forever." You can read more about the books, and my take on vampires, here.

Friday, March 21, 2008

teaching and tae kwon do

At first I didn’t mention it at work. I think I felt a little silly about it: a middle-aged woman — an English professor! — taking tae kwon do. But then one day a colleague asked about a small bruise on my arm and, unthinking, I told him I’d blocked a kick with my forearm. It hadn’t been a smart move in tae kwon do, but as I told him about it, I could see the respect in his eyes. I began to think I should bring in my broken boards, leave them in the office, maybe mention how easily my palm had just gone through the wood. It couldn’t hurt.

Read the rest here..

(cross posted at Lessons from the Tortoise)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"A more perfect union"

I've been watching the HBO miniseries John Adams these last couple of nights. I was frustrated, when I first heard of it, to discover that it was scheduled opposite a new ESPN documentary, Black Magic, the story of African American basketball at historically black colleges and universities (HBCU). In the end I watched bits and pieces of John Adams on Sunday night, part two of Black Magic Monday night, and filled in some gaps from John Adams (things I'd missed while putting Nick to bed) last night.

Then I read Obama's speech. Now, bear with me, because I know it's a leap from founding fathers to HBCUs and basketball to contemporary politics. Except, it's not.

John Adams demonstrates, among other things, the ways in which the "original sin of slavery" pulled the colonies apart even as they were coming together. Black Magic demonstrates how the legacy of that sin continues to matter in the lives of real human beings. Taken together in the same week as Obama's speech, they demonstrate the importance of that speech, and of his candidacy: we have unfinished business in this country in dealing with race.* Obama gets that in a fundamental way, acknowledging both the distance we've traveled since the founding, and the distance we have yet to go; the damage slavery has done to African Americans, and the damage that racial and economic injustice have done to all Americans.

It's just a coincidence that these things came together for me--it really doesn't take HBO and ESPN to make Obama's speech matter. Read it for yourself--it's not just about one hotheaded preacher. It's about us all.

*You can actually see in both productions something of our unfinished business with gender, too, in Abigail Adams's words and in the near-complete absence of women from the documentary. A topic for another day.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

brief update

The Neighborly Sweet Potato Muffins are pretty tasty, too.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Cornbread Gospels

How many recipes do you have to test out before reviewing a cookbook? I have to confess, I wanted to write about The Cornbread Gospels the day I got it, before making a single recipe--it was that much fun to read. Crescent Dragonwagon's new book is a treasure trove of recipes, stories, and cornbread lore, worthy of a place on the bookshelf by the bed as well as on the cookbook shelf.

Dragonwagon certainly has the resume to put this cookbook together. As chef/founder of the Dairy Hollow House Inn (and the Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow) she has been making cornbread in all its varieties for over twenty-five years. (She's also the author of The Passionate Vegetarian, as well as dozens of books for children.) After living for years in Arkansas, she now makes her home in her native Vermont--so she's got both Northern and Southern styles down. An aficionado of the hot stuff, she'll do southwestern-style cornbread, with jalapenos and the like, as well. She'll take you back to various Native American and Native-inspired dishes, including a tortilla how-to. And she's found recipes for cornbread from so much of the old World (Greece, Portugal, South Africa, India...) that you may forget that corn originated right here in this hemisphere. (Don't worry, though, there's plenty of good history in the book to remind you.)

But what about the recipes? So far, I have to confess, I've only tried three, but they were all keepers. There's a yeasted dough for rolls (Glazed Maple-Cornmeal Rolls), a fabulous multi-grain muffin (Janice Carr's Mixed-Grain Muffins), and a blueberry muffin so lemony sweet and tasty that I baked it as a cake (Lemon-Blueberry Babycakes; I left off the "Crumble-Bumble" streusel). I'm still waiting for the right occasion for the Neighborly Sweet Potato Muffins, the Miss Kay's Dark Secret Cornmeal Cake (it has cocoa in it), and Vermont Maple-Sweetened Cornbread, among many, many others. There are recipes for things to go with the cornbread, too--greens and soups and stews that look fabulously warming. (There are a few recipes here if you can't wait to find the book...)

I've never been one for single-ingredient cookbooks, though I've got a few cookbooks that focus on one particular part of a meal (soup and bread are my favorites). But this one satisfies both body and mind; I'll be coming back to it often.

[full disclosure: I received a free copy of the book for review from the publisher after writing this blog post]

Monday, March 10, 2008


Snagged this from Susan, though I know Violeta and Dawn have done it as well...

1. Who was your first prom date? I went to my junior prom without a date. Before you feel sorry for me, you should know that 1)my school didn't have a prom tradition, so it was no big deal and 2) most of us went without dates. My dress was hideous, though--think low-end Gunne Sax.

2. Do you still talk to your first love? Nope. We last saw each other at a high school reunion (we didn't date in high school, though), the summer right after he got married and right before I did. We had chosen a lot of the same music and that seemed somehow significant. (Oh, my goodness, that was over twenty years ago!)

3. What was your first alcoholic drink? Either a vodka tonic or a rum and coke.

4. What was your first job? I worked as a day-camp counselor the summers after seventh and eighth grade, and decided that I was not cut out for child-care work. I still haven't quite gotten over it.

5. What was your first car? 1982 Ford Escort, bought new right after I graduated from college. I learned how to drive a stick shift getting it home from the dealer.

6. Who was the first person to text you today? Nobody. I get about three texts a year, all from Mariah.

7. Who is the first person you thought of this morning? Mariah.

8. Who was your first grade teacher? Miss Hirooka, at Nishimachi International School.

9. Where did you go on your first ride on an airplane? When we moved to Japan in the winter of 1966.

10. Who was your first best friend, and are you still friends with him/her? My first best friend was Traci K, in Tokyo. Her family later moved to California and I met up with her once when I was living there right before grad school; it was something of a disaster. We couldn't figure out what we had in common anymore.

11. What was your first sport played? Sport? What is this sport you speak of?

12. Where was your first sleepover? Jo-Ann S, 4th grade. It was her birthday party, and it was a Friday during Lent, when I had given up chocolate and all kinds of other things that were served. I called home in tears and my parents said it was ok to eat what I was offered, that I shouldn't worry about it. Then I felt a little embarrassed for making a scene, but the choclate cake was really good and I got over it.

13. Who was the first person you talked to today? Mariah. "Your alarm went off fifteen minutes ago. It's time to get up."

14. Whose wedding were you in the first time? Mine. I've been in three or four since then, though.

15. What was the first thing you did this morning? Woke Mariah up.

16. What was the first concert you ever went to? I think it was Jackson Browne, the "Running on Empty" tour, summer of 1978.

17. What was your first tattoo or piercing? My mother pierced my ears for me when I was in sixth grade. The left one was off-center, and she re-pierced it a year later; both holes are still open.

18. What was the first foreign country you went to? Japan when I was almost five.

19. What was your first run-in with the law? Hmm, a speeding ticket in 1982 or 3, maybe?

20. When was your first detention? I never had detention.

21. What was the first state you lived in? New York.

22. Who was the first person to break your heart? I don't think anyone's ever broken my heart, thankfully. A couple of bumps and bruises; I've been very lucky.

23. Who was your first roommate? Betsy H, at Kent. Her sister was a senior and that somehow meant she was too cool for me. Or something.

24. Where did you go on your first limo ride? I don't remember ever riding in a limo.

Monday, March 03, 2008


The university where I teach has a fabulous arts center, bringing in wonderful acts all year round. They offer discounted subscriptions, too, and often Mark and I have bought one, choosing five acts (or so) to attend over the course of a year. Usually one or two are great, most are fine; I think we've only left one at intermission thinking we'd made the wrong choice. This year we didn't subscribe; there were a few things I thought were interesting, but the only event I really, really wanted to attend was the performance of Bobby McFerrin and Voicestra (try clicking to play the radio). If all you know of Bobby McFerrin is "Don't Worry, Be Happy," (which is fabulous, but overexposed), you may be surprised to hear how much I wanted to go--but then again, you're probably not reading this if that's all the McFerrin you know. (I've been searching for a while for his Psalm 23 and his amazing music for a reading of "The Elephant's Child" done by Jack Nicholson, but I can't find them online. Take my word for it, they are worth buying.) Anyway.

It sold out before we could order our subscription. In fact, I canceled the whole subscription when I found out that show was sold out--I just didn't see the point. And I've been slightly mourning that decision, because it's always, really, a good thing to go out and experience live performance--but I forget that repeatedly, and then wander around the house glumly wondering why my life is so boring. Sigh.

So I was in that glum, bored state yesterday. I've been glum and bored for a while, actually, which I attribute to the length of February, the grey skies, and an unusually extended "hangover" from big projects that came due at the end of January.

All I wanted to do was go hear Bobby McFerrin. I knew the concert was that night, and that it had been sold out for months. I started fantasizing about it in the morning (when, coincidentally, our choir sang the McFerrin setting of Psalm 23). As the day wore on the idea became a bit obsessive--I began to think the only thing that would snap me out of my glumness was Bobby McFerrin, and that if I couldn't go, I would just collapse into a heap. Nonetheless I knitted, watched a basketball game, got dinner underway--and watched the clock for when the box office would open.

The basketball game went into a surprisingly exciting overtime, and I lost track of time for a few minutes. So it was about fifteen minutes after the box office opened that I finally called. And, yes, they did have some tickets, and yes, I could have them. The show was in about an hour and fifteen minutes. We gulped down dinner and ran out the door, leaving the kids to finish the cleanup. (Remarkably, in a special bonus gift, they did it!) And then we sat in amazement, joy, and wonder as McFerrin and Voicestra played --and I mean played-- in front of us for two hours. They improvised the entire show, with no intermission, including dancers and singers from the audience for a while, giving the lead to various different singers, always coming back to the power and the purity of the voice.

It was astonishing. It was uplifting. And now I feel as if spring really is on the way.

(Edited to add this video of Bobby McFerrin on Sesame Street)

Saturday, March 01, 2008

I'm a dash--

Susan's a comma, which I think is a very good thing to be. I'm not so sure about the dash, but I'm not surprised--I use them a lot, after all! (Good with money, though? That one's weird...)

You Are a Dash

Your life is fast paced and varied. You are realistic, down to earth, and very honest.

You're often busy doing something interesting, and what you do changes quickly.

You have many facets to your personality, and you connect them together well.

You have a ton of interests. While some of them are a bit offbeat, they all tie together well.

You friends rely on you to bring novelty and excitement to their lives.

(And while you're the most interesting person they know, they can't help feeling like they don't know you well.)

You excel in: Anything to do with money

You get along best with: the Exclamation Point