Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Thinking about teaching

As my sabbatical draws to a close I think about what I've learned about teaching in the year I've been away from it, over at Inside Higher Ed's Mama, PhD blog. See you there...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

In peace

As many of you already know, Literary Mama columnist Vicki Forman's son Evan died suddenly earlier this week. I've never met Vicki and her family, but I've been privileged to know them through her words, which have touched me repeatedly in the years she's been writing her remarkable columns. I've just read through her archive, and my heart nearly stopped when I read this:

After my twins were born, I understood how life could change in an instant, and never be the same.

I also understood the terror of the counterpoint, “Life goes on.” A friend made this remark shortly after Evan’s birth and Ellie’s death. She’d patiently listened to me talk about the suddenness with which my life had changed, of my inability to think of the future or of a time when I wasn’t bowed under by grief. “Life changes,” she said, “but life also goes on.”

What I could not tell my friend, but what I knew to be true was this: when life changes in an instant, it does go on for others, but not for you. Grief holds you tight, and only loosens its bounds slowly, in unpredictable bursts.

As grief holds you tight again, Vicki, I pray you feel its bounds loosening in time as well. I grieve your loss, and I thank you for sharing Evan's life with me, with all of us.

Evan David Kamida
July 30, 2000 - July 24, 2008

There's a brief tribute to Evan at Vicki's column site, and information about contributing to a memorial fund.

Vegan (or not) Zucchini Muffins

When I was in graduate school I shared an office for a while with a woman who had a son a year older than Mariah. She was smart and funny and I always liked chatting with her when we were in the office together. I remember once moaning to her that I wanted something (can't even recall what, now), but didn't need it, and she looked at me and said, "Need. What an interesting concept." I've repeated her words often over the years--mostly ironically, I hope.

Anyway. This does get to muffins, believe me. Once she told me that she'd taken her son to the pediatrician and, in the course of the appointment, had asked for advice on how to get more vegetables into him. The doctor had suggested that maybe she bake zucchini bread, carrot muffins, things like that. Deanna was outraged. "What a sexist!" she exclaimed. "How dare he tell me to bake!"

I didn't see it quite the same way. I liked to bake (you'll be surprised to hear) and it didn't strike me as sexist at all, but as practical. He was 15 years ahead of Jessica Seinfeld, after all. But in the moment I sympathized with her; she was a good office mate, after all, and if she didn't want to bake zucchini bread I wasn't going to insist.

I don't know if Deanna ever got her son to eat vegetables, but whenever I make these muffins I think of her. My kids know they have zucchini in them, and they love them. They are loosely adapted from a recipe at marthastewart.com, and if the flax seed meal and the buckwheat flour freak you out you can certainly try her version and let me know how it is. But this is how I make them:

  • 1 cup unbleached white flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. allspice
  • 1 tsp. salt (I use less)
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 tbl. flax seed meal
  • 3 eggs (or egg replacer, which is what I use: 4-1/2 tsp. beaten into 6 tbl. warm water)
  • 1 tbl. vanilla
  • 2 cu shredded zucchini (I think this works best in the food processor rather than the box grater, because you get a drier, firmer shred, but you can decide.
  • Preheat the oven to 375 F.
  • Mix the dry ingredients (flour through baking powder) in a bowl and set aside.
  • Mix the sugars, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl. Stir in the flour mixture. Stir in the zucchini.
  • Spray or grease your muffin tins, and fill them mostly full (the muffins don't rise a lot). When I do this, I get 15 muffins, which means using a second muffin tin. If yours come out the same, don't forget to put a little water into the empty muffin cups so they don't scorch in the oven.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when you poke it into a muffin. Allow the muffins to cool in the pan briefly before turning out onto a wire rack.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Vegan ice cream

(One small edit below...)

I have to say, one thing I didn't miss while we were on the barge was cooking. I love to cook, and I love to feed people, but a week of luxury was really nice, too. The first couple days we were back I was too jet-lagged to cook, and too brain-dead to plan (it was over 100 and brutally humid). But it's cooled off now and I'm back on schedule and now I'm making meals again--not as good as Charlie's (our chef on the barge), but they're just fine. And the one thing Charlie never quite worked out for Mariah was vegan desserts--she mostly got fruit salads, which were fine, but she did sneak a few ice creams here and there on shore when he wasn't looking. So she was delighted to come back and get vegan ice cream again.

I promised this recipe a while ago, but it's taken me this long to test it more than once and make sure I like it. Everyone in the family likes it, in fact--with "real" (store-bought) ice cream in the house, this is what everyone wanted for dessert tonight.

Make sure you have your ice cream maker's bowl well chilled. I just keep mine in the freezer all summer so it's ready.

1 can coconut milk [ETA: best if this is well chilled. I just store it in the fridge.]
1/2 cup soy milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
4 oz. silken tofu
1 tbl. instant espresso powder (optional)
1 tsp. vanilla

Put all ingredients in the blender and blend until well mixed. Pour into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the machine's directions--mine takes about 20-30 minutes. Then remove it from the machine into a freezer container; freeze for as long as it takes to eat dinner. The next day it will be a bit hard to serve (maybe--once mine never really thickened up and it was like very cold mousse--also delicious, but not what we expected), but leave it out while you eat dinner, or nuke it briefly in the microwave, and it will be fine.

This is very rich--small servings are plenty.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


I blog about my reflections on our trip today over at the Mama, PhD blog at Inside Higher Ed. Follow me there...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Back again

I am back from the most fabulous family vacation ever, and all I can say is, if you ever need to make 13 people ranging in age from 3 to 70+ happy, take them on a barge trip in Southwest France. There was something for everyone, from the jacuzzi to the wines, the beach to the ruins, the high culture to the low. We saw bull games in the Camargue and fireworks over the water the night before Bastille Day, swam in the Mediterranean, ate gourmet food on the barge and off, drank and tasted some of the most famous wines in the world, and relaxed and enjoyed each others' company.

For those of you keeping track, I did not read one word of The Water-Babies (you were so right, Becca!), but I did finish one entire knitting project and made a little progress on another. (I also had two pairs of knitting needles confiscated out of my luggage in Vienna--argh!) I've "marked all read" for most of what was on my google reader, caught up on a few other blogs, checked in on facebook, done the laundry, and deleted most of my email--all the kind of low-brain-power activities that I can do while still feeling mightily jet-lagged. Things don't ramp up until later in the week.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

what stays, what goes

I'm packing for a trip and I'm trying to be ruthless about fitting stuff in carry-on. So the extra bottle of hair conditioner is out, as is yet another pair of black sandals. But what do I do about books I desperately want to read, but I only have in hardcover? What do I do about knitting--don't I need more than one project, in case I finish? (Or, more likely, get bored or frustrated?) So far the books and knitting are in, though I may regret it as I schlep through airports. I have a little while yet to decide, and no more time to shop, so I doubt I'll be adding more. But what if I'm not in the mood for The Water-Babies (which I have assigned in my fall semester course and must therefore reread)?

I'll be away from the blog for a bit. Back with details...

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Not Indispensable

I'm blogging over on the Mama, PhD blog at Inside Higher Ed again today. This week I'm thinking about indispensability, and why it's a dangerous myth for both teachers and mothers to buy into.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Five Years

Today's my fifth blogaversary. So here are the first lines of the posts on July 6, from 2003 to 2007 (or as close to July 6 as I can come, if I didn't blog on the day...)

Today Nick swam.

Nick had his first day at summer camp yesterday.

I'd been planning a post about cooking in someone else's kitchen, but it seems a bit callous to go on with that when we're 100 miles from London.

A year ago today I was in England, in the midst of my first week of classes.

I think I may again be competitive for bad mother award--who else takes her kid to the library and won't let him check out books?

Today is also my brother and his wife's 22nd 23rd wedding anniversary--and this weekend, we leave town for the big celebration of my parents' 50th!

Friday, July 04, 2008

How I spent my Fourth

Mariah and I went out today and registered voters as part of the Obama campaign's Independence Day registration drive. (They're at it all weekend, actually.) We met up with a group in the morning and were sent out with a map, a packet of flyers, registration forms, and volunteer sign-up sheets, and an experienced worker (she's an Obama organizing fellow).

I can't say we had a lot of success. Most of the houses we approached were empty--or at least the folks there weren't answering the door. We registered one new voter and informed one felon of his right to have his voting rights restored, and that felt good. But the real reason we weren't all that sucessful is that most of the people we met were already registered. And every one of them told us she (or he, but they were mostly shes) was voting for Obama. Everyone was friendly, though one woman reminded us that she'd been voting longer than I'd been alive, and she was plenty well informed and didn't need me to teach her anything. Fair enough. Another woman gave us each a cold bottle of water, and that may have been the nicest thing anyone's done for me all week.

My feet are tired and I'm still feeling the heat of midday, even now, but I'm glad we did it. We didn't get to go watch fireworks tonight--it's been raining off and on, and Nick has a sore throat--but we did our patriotic duty. And I'd do it again.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

for the train-lovers among you

I have two nephews who love trains. One of them dresses as an engineer as often as possible, and both know arcana about trains that I could never in a million years master. Neither of my kids ever really went through that obsessive stage (though Nick does know an awful lot about dragons...), but I remember my brother going through a dinosaur stage that was somewhat similar. I'm always impressed by the way kids absorb knowledge about the things that interest them, and it's been fun to watch my nephews with the trains.

But it may be a good thing they don't live in New York; the subway system offers a whole new level of obsessiveness, at least for some kids. This is a fabulous picture-book tale of two boys and the subway--check it out!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Mothering at Mid-Career

Did I mention that I just finished my annual report? Why yes, I did. It's put me in a reviewing mood, it seems; over at Inside Higher Ed, I speculate on what it would be like to report on my work as a parent.