11 November 2015

A good week to be an English major

Last week was a good week to be an English major in my world.

First there was Word Week, an event that Hallmark hosts every fall, organized by the Writing and Editorial community, in order to celebrate and venerate the craft of the writers and editors. We showcase our own skills and talents and we invite guest speakers to come enlighten us on their particular work. And each year I come away from Word Week with a keen appreciation for the work that my colleagues and I do.

Then, I left Word Week and headed to OKC for the weekend to attend homecoming at my alma mater, Southern Nazarene University. I typically don't attend homecoming but this year the school is honoring the Division of Cultural and Communication Studies so I made the trip down. Back when I was in school it wasn't called that; it was called the English Department. But nowadays the school has an entire division devoted to modern languages, literature, mass communication, and graphic design.

Since the homecoming focus was on the English department and our ilk, and since Word Week had just wrapped up at Hallmark, I found myself ruminating on all of us in that department - the storytellers of our day; the hard working word people wielding our rhetorical powers for good, not evil.

The writers and editors, yes, but also the broadcasters and bloggers ... the translators and interpreters ... the lyricists, the poets, the playwrights ... the advertising copy writers, the graphic designers ... the debaters, the PR folks, the speech writers and lawyers ... the professors and the presenters ... the VPs of corporate communications and the heads of foreign languages departments.

We are the ones who see the stories that others miss. Or we write the stories that others need to hear. We are the observant ones that find the patterns, the analytical ones that make you think. And the funny ones who make you laugh. We are the ones who ask the unanswerable questions and who don't shy away from trying to answer them. We are the ones that tell the narratives that help people find their place. We are the ones that make sense of a senseless world and find beauty in the darkest moments; we process the confusion and smooth out the rough spots and bridge the gap. We are the ones who write your greeting cards and who write the things you share on Facebook. We are the ones that write the songs, sermons, poems or prayers. We are the ones that know that just the right well-crafted message can make all the difference.

Everyone has the same set of 26 letters to work with. But we are the ones, the alchemists who take those same 26 letters and make some magic.

From the commercials that go viral for all to see ... to the blog posts that only a few people read - writing that matters is everywhere. Maybe we don't sign 4 year contracts for 80 million dollars, nor will we be welcomed home with a ticker tape parade and 800,000 attendees. But we know how hard we work and we know how important it is that we celebrate our skills.

Here's to all my fellow word people. Thank you for what you do.

03 November 2015

Halloween: the Colorful and the Contemplative

Halloween - 2015
Halloween is a little bit of a high holiday around here. I have been really getting into it since we moved to Brookside and since the girls have gotten old enough to love it. This year's preparations have been underway for a while.

Honey offered to make the Halloween costumes for the girls (certainly not the only time recently that my mom has brought Halloween to life) - a rainbow fairy, sometimes called Brite Rainbow, for Julia and "Clara Caterpillar" for Clara (from the book by the same name). The costumes were superb and I could tell that the girls felt like a million bucks as they embodied their alter egos. "I'm a cabbage caterpillar!" Clara declared many times with a winning grin (a frightening costume for all my farmers, I'm sure). And Julia with her rainbow fairy wand, abracadabra-ing everyone and everything. Because rainbows give you powers. Obviously.

We carved our pumpkins weeks ago; they had long since been consumed by decay and squirrels by the time the actual day arrived. But we've been decorating the house in other ways since early October. Ghosts in the trees and skulls on the mantel. We are slowly building a collection.

pumpkin carving
We're also talking a lot about Samhain these days, not just Halloween. Samhain (pronounced "sah-win") is a Gaelic festival (October 31 - November 1) that celebrates the changing of the seasons. Many of our modern Halloween traditions are rooted in Samhain traditions (for example, pumpkin carving came from making lanterns out of turnips with faces carved in them). Samhain also focuses on gratitude for the cycles of life, death, and rebirth.

altar or memorial

Sergio's recent interfaith work (and his familiarity with Day of the Dead traditions) spurred him on to create what in Mexican, Catholic, or Pagan tradition would be called an altar. You might also call it a memorial. This year felt like the right time to bring this element into the mix. Not only have we lost several close family members in the last year, but the girls are old enough to know about these losses and are certainly old enough to talk about them.

Having pictures of our loved ones out for us all to see was a wonderful reminder. And the beautiful white display that Sergio created was a striking spot of clarity and calm that encouraged a pause and a moment of contemplation. Halloween goes hand in hand with All Saints' Day (November 1 on the liturgical calendar in the Episcopal church - a day to recognize those who have gone before). In Day of the Dead tradition (as well as in the Jewish Yarzheit tradition) you light a candle as the spirit of your departed loved ones returns for just a moment. As we discussed each photo with the girls, we brought everyone back if only for just a moment. 

Halloween day arrived and we had way too much to do, far too little time, a major distraction threatening to spoil everything, and a hell-bent determination on our parts to have a fun Halloween party despite it all. Miraculously we pulled through. Friends and family gathered and we joined the entourage of little ghosts and ghouls and Annas and Elsas all traipsing up and down the sidewalks of Morningside. We came back home and put Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin on for the kids, and we ate chili, taking turns handing out candy at the front door.

There's nothing like a Halloween party to infuse your life with delight and to entice you to be like your children who don't have to try very hard to be happy. After the revelers had all gone home (or fallen asleep on the floor next to a pile of legos), I began cleaning up and discovered a drawing that Julia had made in the early morning when Sergio and I were far too preoccupied with worry and concern to have a clue what she was doing. It is a drawing of a rainbow (not surprising these days; she does a lot of those) but this one came with a caption. Some days we don't have to try very hard to be happy. But there are other days when we need all the rainbows we can get.

08 October 2015

Complex Choices

“The more we know about our food system the more we are called into complex choices.” 

- Barbara Kingsolver

Wow! What a great experience and a fascinating conversation. I was so honored to be included in the discussion on the environmental impact of our food choices today on KCUR’s Central Standard. I learned a lot from the other guests, Tim Crews of the Land Institute and Mykel Taylor from KSU, and I appreciate the way that their specific perspective on agriculture really enriched my own take on things.

It is so true that we face very complex choices as Barbara Kingsolver says. And isn’t it fascinating that choosing what food we eat - which is such a personal decision - necessarily involves so many other people? But I hope that as individual consumers we can find a way to do a little bit at a time - to not bite off more than we can chew, if you will (pun intended). As we pay close attention to what kind of negative impact our choices have on the environment, I think we can also look for ways to have a positive impact on the world around us and on our KC community. Buying from local farmers means choosing to support the people who are taking good care of the soil and the land in and around KC. You can also keep more food dollars in our community rather than sending them to far-off companies and marketers and other entities. These are positive environmental and economic impacts.

As Mykel Taylor suggested - there may not be just one thing that will solve our problems. There might be a variety of solutions to address our great strain on the earth. I'm glad to know that there are groups that are laser focused on finding solutions for the parts of the system that they can impact. And I hope that the KC Food Circle can inspire folks to focus on what they can impact most directly - which is - what's on your plate.

Or bowl as the case may be. And speaking of which, here's my bok choi soup! 

I posted it once before but when I made it again last night I included lemongrass, which was a very nice touch. I also like to add a fresh garnish along with my sriracha. At lunch today I had scallions - tonight when I eat this soup again for dinner (because it's just that good) I'll add some very finely chopped radishes. I made a big batch of it last night since last night was CSA pick up night so I have plenty of soup to keep me going.

Baby Bok Choy and Garlic Soup

7 c veggie broth
4-5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 piece of ginger, peeled
*a stalk or two of lemongrass! Hard outer leaves removed and just chopped into a few long pieces - remove before eating the soup.
handful of brown rice (between 1/4-1/2 cup; PS this is a great recipe to use up leftover rice)
1 kohlrabi or turnip, peeled and chopped
1 lb bok choy, trimmed and chopped
salt to tast
sriracha or other hot sauce, to taste
1-2 eggs
garnish with fresh scallions and or radish and or mint

Boil the vegetable stock and add the crushed garlic and ginger and lemongrass in a big pot. Let that simmer over low heat for about 5 minutes.
Add the rice and kohlrabi (or turnip); cover. Simmer for 20 minutes (unless rice was previously cooked.)
Add more broth if you need it and add the bok choy. Taste and season with salt and sriracha.
Cover and let the bok choy cook down - should only be 5 minutes or so.
Ladle a small portion of the broth out into a bowl and add the egg(s). Stir vigorously with a fork and then pour it all back into the pot. Give the soup a good stir and serve.

01 August 2015

Chez Panisse

I don't really have a bucket list, per se, but if I did, eating at Chez Panisse would have been on it. I can't even remember when I first heard of Alice Waters or her trend-setting approach to food. But once I read the book Alice Waters and Chez Paniesse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution, by Thomas McNamee I knew I had to come. So when we started planning a trip to San Francisco, I started planning a jaunt over to Berkeley.

We opted to go just a few of us adults to Chez Panisse rather than all 9 members of our traveling party (including small children who I'm sure would have left a lot of crumbs to be scraped up by the crumb scraper).

It ended up being a lovely outing for me, my mom, and Tyler. We ubered over the Bay Bridge, saw a tiny bit of actual fog (finally!), and arrived right on time at the unassuming restaurant where we were greeted by a peace sign fashioned out of innumerable heads of garlic.

We ate in the café upstairs instead of the restaurant downstairs which is a prix fixe menu. In the cafe we were able to order a la carte which meant a chance to sample a variety of options.

What struck me about the entire dining experience - the food, the wait staff and host, the decor and music and even the wallpaper - was how simple and unassuming it is. Very straightforward and clean, without gimmick or frills, without complication or distraction. Very plain. Refined, I suppose. But also delicious (the food) and inviting (the ambiance).

first course
chilled beet soup with yogurt, chives, and dill
fattoush: tomato, purslane, cucumber with mint and flat bread

second course
pizza with wild nettles and sheep's milk ricotta
grilled eggplant with garlic cream, Provençal tomato, stuffed squash blossom with tapenade, and mesclun salad
hand-cut green noodles with Elliot Ranch lamb ragu, marjoram, hot pepper, and Parmesan

third course
blackberry sherbet with Zee Lady peaches and an ossi die morti
summer berry shortcake with mascarpone
Ruby Grand nectarine galette with vanilla ice cream

12 July 2015

Radish Salsa

Michael Pollan would have us believe that we are a nation more obsessed with cooking shows than with cooking. And I think he's right to some degree. But I'm proud to report that my hours and hours and hours of watching Chopped is not for naught because it is on that show that I first heard about Radish Salsa.

Radish Salsa!

I jotted that down in my mental notes back in the winter when I was watching that episode. Now that radishes have been abundant and I've had my fill of my all time favorite Radish Sandwich, I decided to try this salsa at last.

I googled it and used the first recipe I found because it was a Mark Bittman one, so I thought it was reliable. Also, It was 6:00 when I was googling and I and my children were hungry so I wasn't about to go researching a bunch of radish salsa recipes and variations. Ain't nobody got time for that.

Mark Bittman's is nice and simple and makes a large portion - I made a much smaller portion, went easy on the crushed chiles in the hopes that the girls would eat it and wouldn't find it too spicy (ps: they did NOT eat it but Julia did tell me, unprompted, that she thought it was beautiful).

This salsa was the perfect high pitch accompaniment to go with the low tones of the Golden Summer Squash soup I made for dinner into which I added beans and lots of smoked salt. The soup was earthy, the salsa was bright. It was such a delicious combination that all my exclamations and exaltations while I was eating it convinced Julia to try the soup, even though she had initially refused it. And even though she never did try the salsa, she happily ate two full helpings of soup. I credit the salsa for that.

from Mark Bittman

Radish Salsa
Makes: About 2 cups
Time: 30 minutes
Radishes are a classic salsa ingredient in Mexico, and the technique—mixing a vegetable (or fruit) with onion, an acid, chiles, and fresh herbs—is downright common. 
2 cups chopped radishes, like daikon, red, or a combination (about 1 pound)
1/2 English cucumber, peeled and diced
1/2 small red onion, chopped
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh chile (like jalapeño or Thai), or to taste, or hot red pepper flakes or cayenne to taste
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, or more to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Put all the ingredients in a medium bowl and mix thoroughly.
2. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more chile, lemon, or salt as needed. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to a day.

11 July 2015

The Odyssey

I really hope I can convince Sergio that we should name our van "Homer." 

About a week ago we became a two-car family. This is something we've been scheming for a long time. We held out as long as we could, enjoying our one car status for 11 years; especially enjoying our no car payments for 12 years. Having just one car was simple and clean. Well, maybe the car wasn't always clean. But the having of just one car was clean. You know what I mean. Anyway - it was very simple before we had kids. 

It has become increasing more complex with the addition of two children as well as (let's not blame the kids for everything) the addition of a number of extracurricular activities on the part of me and Sergio. In the last two years we would occasionally think, wouldn't it be nice to have two cars. But those moments were few and far between and not worth a car payment to solve when - with a moderate amount of planning ahead and some dependence on friends and public transit - we could get by just fine. 

This year we reached our transportation planning capacity. Not only did we run out of ways to solve our limited transportation hiccups on a regular basis, we also decided we would prefer to be able to travel in large groups on occasion. Whether it's grandparents visiting or cousins (out-of-town ones and in-town ones) - it seems there's often a good reason to seat 8 people in our car. 

Enter: The Honda Odyssey. Ours is a gently used 2013 LX model that still, if I'm honest, feels like a rental. A really nice rental. I still can't quite absorb that it's actually ours. Even though we've already smudged up the clean floor mats and learned how to work all the fancy doors, I'm still adjusting to A) having such a nice car (our other car is a fantastic, but quite minimally appointed Honda Fit) and B) having two cars. 

This morning I took Clara in the van with me one direction and Sergio took Julia with him in the Fit in another direction. These were short trips and we weren't apart that long, but this was perhaps the first time that we've split up like that. Maybe ever. The four of us are together a lot and, what's more, the girls are together a lot. So when Clara climbed into the van she asked where Julia's carseat was and said to me, sort of sad-like, "I can't talk to my sister?" Having two cars will be an adjustment for all of us. 

But a good adjustment. Last week, when I told Julia we were buying a minivan, the very first thing she said was, "you mean my cousins can ride in our car with me?!" She was delighted. 

And that's just what they've been doing as we've been tooling around town together as a family - especially this week - cousins, aunt, and Grandma Joyce visiting from Mexico, Sergio and the girls and me. It's nice to be able to all be together. 

23 June 2015

Old Friends and Fathers - a weekend in OKC

The hilly part of Kansas. Not that you can tell. 
Many months ago my friends from high school and I decided to gather from all four corners of the earth (and by that I just mean Boston, New York, Kansas City, and Oklahoma) for a mini reunion. (We have been friends for 20 years now. How is that possible?) We didn't intentionally choose Father's Day weekend as our timeframe for this event. But I'm glad it worked out this way.

The road to OKC was long - as always - but the drive was well worth it. At the end of that road was a very happy Honey & Papa, a couple of delighted cousins, some very dear old friends (and some new babies to meet!) ... and quality time with my dad on Father's Day - a treat not to be overlooked. 

On the way there, Sergio was able to get in a little early Father's Day affection when we stopped on the turnpike to get our wiggles out and the girls tackled him with a hug. Also en route, Julia whispered to me, "Mommy - you picked a good guy to marry." 

And of course she's right. 
Getting our wiggles out and our hugs in. 

mini harvest at my parents' house

Old friends. We are very old friends. 

my dad and me circa 1996