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Two Bowl Cornbread for Super Bowl (Super Soul?) Sunday

Give me an excuse to imbibe large quantities of dairy and fried finger food and I’ll take take it! Honestly I can’t remember the last time I watched the Super Bowl, much less attended a Super Bowl party, but I do know that one alternative to a sit down with Brene Brown or the dalai lama or John Travolta or whatever the hell Oprah does on Super SOUL Sunday is to grab hold of a wooden spoon and stir some wet ingredients — eggs, milk, melted butter — into dry.

Working a simple, humble dough like that does wonders for my soul. I can, with some authority, declare that wielding that spoon in the sweet spot between undermixed and ever-so-lightly scooped together trumps all the insight I might glean from a talk therapy session. Making cornbread in the simple, unfrivolous way that cornbread begs to be made, is what some mental health professionals might call a “somatic” practice — that is, of the body, lifegiving in both a literal and figurative sense, not unlike rigorous exercise.

Ina Garten’s jalapeno cheddar version is unpretentious in that it only requires two bowls, but it is also thoughtful in its inclusion of 4 Tablespoons (or 1/4 cup) of granulated sugar and an extra 20 minutes of wait time while all the flavors — including freshly minced scallions and jalapeno — mingle before you spread into the baking dish.

If you are jalapeno-shy, like me, you can substitute extra scallions for the hot pepper. The result, dear reader, is a moist, cheesy delight with a hint of a… kick.

Reading Goalz 2.0

Dear Reader,

I ended up reading 32 books in 2020, having initially set the goal of #52booksin52weeks and then dialing it down to #40book2020.

I do not have children and the milestones that accompany them, so this project afforded me, in my 34th year around the sun, with a unique way to mark time during an incredibly slow-moving and stressful year for the entire planet.

In June I posted about my reading goals and dropped a list of titles I had explored thus far. Here are the rest of them and a few further reflections on what it meant for me to undertake this endeavor.

Quit Like A Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol by Holly Whitaker

Whitaker is the founder of Tempest, a modern, women-focused online recovery program. Her book outlines concrete tools for quitting drinking and explores the deceptive ways in which the alcohol industry targets female consumers. Overall it frames sobriety as an empowering choice in line with Feminist values.

The Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation

I read much of this sacred Hindu text over the course of a long night of insomnia last summer. I recall hyper-focusing on the pre-battle dialogue between prince Arjuna and an incarnation of Lord Vishnu as I fought my own interior battle with anxious thoughts. The spiritual wisdom of The Gita is stated with the gentle clarity of a blue sky… so much to revisit and absorb… That’s the rub with ambitious reading goals. This year, I look forward to reading and re-reading that is slow and deep.

Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin

Baldwin writes about race in America in a way that is depressingly prescient. I prefer his writing over some of the newer anti-racist literature that is trending right now. His is such a compassionate, nuanced voice while remaining truthful and unaccommodating to White fear.

The Overstory by Richard Powers

A friend lent me this book after I expressed how much comfort I was taking lying under large, broad-leafed trees during COVID. This is a rich, layered novel worthy of multiple reads — it interweaves nine narratives, all with trees at their center, and then builds toward Drama, reading almost like a thriller toward the end.

The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry & Writing by Richard Hugo

One of the most salient pieces of information I took away from Triggering Town was that all writers, poets, pushers of paper and pen, artists, creatives, have “obsessions” or certain topics, themes that they return to over and over and that’s OK. Hugo’s suggestion is to lean into these — that’s where the gold lies.

Good Poems: Selected and Introduced by Garrison Keillor

This is such a great book! It contains a wide range of contemporary and older poets loosely categorized under themes ranging from “Lovers” to “Day’s Work.”

A Spring Within Us by Richard Rohr

This book reads much like the daily emails Rohr sends from the Center for Action and Contemplation, which he founded in 1987. Each week has a theme, ranging from an introduction to the Enneagram to a series of reflections on “Transforming Suffering.” Each week ends with some kind of meditative or contemplative practice. Rohr is a Franciscan priest and prolific author; when I get annoyed/frustrated with the Christian establishment his writings renew my faith.

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Minds by Jen Wilkin, The Essential Jesus, and When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron are each part of a year of spiritual seeking.

The first provides practical practical tips for reading the Bible that you might expect from an exacting high school English teacher. I agree with Wilkin that many devotionals can have a “Xanax” effect in telling the reader what she wants to hear and so I appreciate the concrete tips she offers for the woman who longs to read the Bible for her own damn self. The Essential Jesus is the Gospel of Luke, and When Things Fall Apart is rooted in the Buddhist tradition, one that I could read ten or twenty times and still gain something new. It begins with a reflection on fear, including the bravery it takes to truly live in the present moment — “being present” is a truly vulnerable, groundless place to be, according to Chodron, and yet that is how we are called to live.

The Well-Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature by Sue Stuart-Smith

I found The Well-Gardened Mind through this article in The New Yorker. My husband has thrown himself into gardening since we moved to St. Louis in 2015 and though he has a very calm aura I’ve always sensed that tending to his vegetable garden offered him a profound and much-needed release. I bought the book for him and subsequently read it myself, curious about the psychological connection between gardeners and their plots. The author is a psychiatrist and psychotherapist married to a landscape architect… you can imagine where that takes her.

The Book of Genesis

Reading Women of the Word and The Essential Jesus sparked a hunger in me to undertake a different reading project altogether, that of making my way through The Good Book. The Book of Genesis, like The Gita, is written in a concise, assertive voice, inviting slow, patient reading.

The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner

A wise friend of mine once told me that there’s a direct relationship between feelings of personal powerlessness and the feeling of anger; for this and other reasons I have struggled against losing my temper during the season of COVID. This is another book intended to be ingested slowly. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on mothers and daughters, the description of “over-” and “under-” functioners in romantic relationships, and the hopeful outlook of effectively channeling anger versus somehow eradicating it.

We Are The Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life by Laura McKowen

We Are The Luckiest is another sobriety memoir or “quit lit” as the chicks say. The author used to co-host the Home podcast with the aforementioned Holly Whitaker and leads her own women’s online recovery program. One detail from this book that stands out to me is the reverence with which she speaks of paying her bills on time, making her bed, doing the mundane deal. Only a sober person who has worked hard for their recovery can understand this level of appreciation for the ordinary.

A Reflection & Recipe about Simplicity


Dear Readers,

Merry, merry Xmas, and/or Happy Holidays!  

Today I felt a pull to post, which came as a pleasant surprise. I have resisted writing in all its forms since submitting my poetry final last Saturday – and to be honest, I had been coasting in that class for quite a while, using poems drafted and revised earlier this fall.

So what landed me at my desk (er, couch + lap desk) today? Nothing more, nothing less than a festive potato recipe that feels fitting to share, given the prominent place of potatoes on most holiday tables, and the challenge inherent in so-called “food writing” of making some added meaning out of cooking instructions.

What I love about potatoes is their sense of possibility… they can serve as a blank canvas for different cooking techniques and flavors. The red potatoes in this dish take on a rich crispness after sizzling in Ghee and then steaming alongside rings of yellow onion. Salt and pepper plus fresh herbs such as thyme, sage, rosemary (or all three) finished off with chunks of fresh parsley round out the flavor palate.

It’s darn simple and darn good, kind of how I’m feeling about life these days – not that it’s all good, but that simplicity is the key to the goodness. I’ve done quite a bit of pruning and shedding since last Xmas – I am making less money, I have a different, arguably less impressive professional title, for example – and yet, I have, and I am enough. Yep, enough. I’ve been inspired by some of my friends to pick a word for 2021 and that’s my word: “enough.”

I don’t need to hide behind incessant productivity or busyness, behind a Xmas card perfect family unit, a chiseled physique or any of the other myriad ways many of us avoid getting comfortable with who we are and that we are inherently worthy. I am, quite simply, enough.

With that, I leave you with this sublimely simple potato recipe that leaves me satiated every time.

Red Potatoes with Clarified Butter, Onions, and Rosemary
Adapted from Cristina Ferrare’s Big Bowl of Love

Ingredients

12 small red potatoes or 6 larger ones
1/3 cup Ghee*
1 tablespoon fresh herb of your choice (or 1 teaspoon dried herb)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 medium onion, sliced into thin-ish rings
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley

Instructions

Cut small potatoes in half or larger ones in quarters.
Chop your herbs, measure out the salt and pepper and place in a small bowl.
Chop parsley, and place in a separate container.
Peel and slice the onion.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium high heat until very hot. Add Ghee, swirl to coat the pan, and let it warm up. Place potatoes white side down on skillet so that they sizzle in the butter.
Sprinkle your bowl of herbs, salt, and pepper over the potatoes.
Cover the pan, reduce heat to medium-low, and let everything cook for approximately 10 min.
Remove cover and flip each potato over with tongs, add onion, and cook for another 30 minutes or until potatoes are golden brown and nicely cooked through and onions are caramelized.
Sprinkle the finished product with chopped parsley!

*If you don’t have Ghee, you can make your own clarified butter by melting a stick of unsalted butter in a sauce pan over low heat (just let the entire stick sit there and slowly melt…) then skim the solid fats off the surface with a knife. Warning: it’s a bit of a painstaking process!

Book Review: An Honest Hunger

An Honest Hunger

An Honest Hunger, a new volume of poems written by poet and journalist Robert Lowes, is both a deeply satisfying and accessible read. Lowes writes in a wry, understated voice, deftly touching on a variety of existential matters including God, death, and the transcendent power of nature in a way that feels refreshingly light.

Some of my favorite poems, like “Falling Asleep” and “The Man with the Fresh Haircut,” playfully dramatize mundane aspects of daily life, taking the reader on a fun ride while inviting them to look at the world a little more closely. Others, such as “A Passion for Everyone,” and “My Daughter’s Breakfast,” are confidently straightforward in their commentary on big and expansive topics.

An Honest Hunger is a quick read that will have you coming back to reread and savor, and Lowes comes through as an experienced, seasoned writer at play with his own craft. His poetic playground draws us into a war between Jesus and a black hole, meditations on the sun, mousetraps, and hot summer tomato gardens, onto the face of a lost boy on a milk carton, and much, much more.

I highly recommend, and look forward to the next outpouring.

Easy Recipe for Baking Any White Fish

Chef Caroline

Wait… what’s that about fish? Just getting your attention real quick with a picture of my niece Caroline playing in her miniature kitchen 🙂

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m trying my hand at the pescatarian life. This recipe for baked salmon never fails, but I tend to fall in a major rut with it… fish at my house means salmon all the time, baked with lemon and butter and dill. I did attempt to liven things up this week with a recipe for roasted salmon with miso rice and ginger scallion vinaigrette, but by the time dinner rolled around I needed something quick and easy and chucked my plans for the no-fail mainstay.

That’s OK, because I have landed on another very simple way to cook white fish — of any kind. The recipe that follows is a dumbed-down, cheaper version of Ina Garten’s mustard-roasted fish, and it’s based on what I had in my fridge and a big filet of fresh snapper that my husband picked up at the store yesterday.

Easy Baked White Fish

Ingredients

  • Any kind of white fish, cut into one big piece or smaller filets
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 4 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 small onion, diced (or better yet, minced)
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Place fish in a baking dish, pat dry, and season generously with salt and pepper.
  • In a small mixing bowl, whisk together all ingredients + 1 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.
  • Pour the sauce over the fish!
  • Bake, uncovered, between 10 and 15 minutes, depending on how your fish is cut. Will be nice and flaky when done.

Heave a beautiful evening.

Ginger

Week’s Worth of Summer Suppers

Summer Suppers Pic

Shelter in place has its challenges, but I’ve got it pretty good. Finding the silver lining: I’ve been eating a lot healthier because… I’ve been cooking a lot more! Go figure.

How has the pandemic shifted things for you?

Here is what I’m eating for dinner this week:

(It’s not entirely pescatarian, contrary to a goal I shared in a recent post.)

Here’s everything you need:

Pantry Items

  • Long grain rice (1 1/2 cups)
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • Low-sodium soy sauce
  • White vinegar
  • Sesame oil
  • Onions (1 small white, 1/2 small red)
  • Fresh garlic
  • Black beans
  • Vegetable oil or Ghee
  • Panko bread crumbs
  • Dijon mustard
  • Mayonnaise
  • Worcestershire sauce

Shopping List

  • Frozen salmon fillets
  • Chicken thighs (bone in preferably)
  • Lots of eggs
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Lots of kale
  • 2 avocados
  • 1 large tomato
  • Cilantro
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 2 limes
  • Scallions (¼ cup)
  • Head of cabbage
  • Fresh ginger
  • Lemons
  • Flour tortillas
  • Miso

Enjoy! Hope you find some time between meals to sit under a tree.

What I’m Reading on Juneteenth

Happy Juneteenth.

I attended a life-affirming “expression of solidarity” on Grand Avenue — a group of white parishioners at the St. Margaret of Scotland Church with Black Lives Matter signs, others that read “Fight Systemic Racism” and others saying “Racism Is Ungodly.” Most cars that drove past sounded their horns, waved, and shouted in agreement.

Here’s a few articles I have flagged for myself in my ongoing effort to educate myself about issues of racial justice. I’m keenly aware that my white privilege affords me the quiet space and time to do so, as well as the option to ignore this information altogether.

As we hold up signs, declaring ourselves to be allies, may we continue the inner work.

 

Reading Goalz

George Thomas Open book test. Get the point? CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

When I wrote this article about individualized approaches to reading instruction, I learned that an effective way to get students reading is to have them set “volume goals” for the number of pages they will read each week.

In Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers, Kittle explains that reading should be taught a little more like math. In other words, out with selecting a novel for an entire class — reading is a complex a skill that needs to be practiced, over and over again, requiring individualized choice and pacing for each student.

Reading does not come as easily to me as it once did. I’m not sure why; I used to spend hours buried in classics like Moby Dick, Anna Karenina, or Madame Bovary.

I’m told that my grandmother realized I could read when I started dictating birdfeeder instructions to her at age four.

I am blessed to have what Kittle calls “a reading memory,” in other words, positive associations of pleasure with reading, such that I will go to great lengths to maintain “a reading life” as an adult.

This year, I challenged myself to read #52booksin52 weeks. I have since amended that goal to #40booksin2020, but let me tell you — I highly recommend setting a “volume goal”! It is so much fun and it shoots so much energy into your reading life!

(If you read 40 books in a year, you basically have to read 10 books every 3 months).

Here are some of the books I have enjoyed so far in 2020:

Thanks for reading. Back to my book.

Craftivism, Sidewalk Chalk, and Soup

I was recently listening to a podcast about women and creativity. The guest, who was interviewed about her efforts re homemaking and all things domestic, said something to this effect: “Get out your cauldron and make that witch’s brew!”

Hell yes!

I am working on (or more accurately, actively avoiding) a book project related to race and education in the United States. The eruption of Black Lives Matter protests across the country and the redirection of the national media spotlight on long-neglected issues of systemic racism has somewhat paralyzed me. Well, I’ve sent a few emails. Arranged some interviews.

I’m honestly so… exhausted. I think of Eliza DooLittle in My Fair Lady: “Words, words, words; I’m so sick of words!”

There’s a saying, “The briefest sermon never ends.”

Some are interjecting their voices via cross stitch. @pixeledstitching sells these for $25 dedicated toward Communities United Against Police Brutality:

Craftivism

Others are using sidewalk chalk:

Sidewalk Chalk

About that witch’s brew… there’s a Rumi poem called Say Yes Quickly with two lines that encapsulate my feelings about making a bright green pot of vegetable soup:

“Inside you there’s an artist you don’t know about.

Simply follow directions and you’ll make some pretty pictures:

Brew 1

Brew 2

Brew 3

Brew 4

And another line,

“If you’ve opened your loving to God’s love,
you’re helping people you don’t know
and have never seen.”

The recipe below for pea, bacon, & mint soup, featuring many of the same ingredients as Ina’s but with the addition of a little meat flavoring, channels the spirit of my great grandmother. It does nothing for the world but fill your house with the smell of bacon and love.

Ingredients

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 oz bacon slices, chopped coarsely
  • 1 medium leek, sliced thinly
  • 1 stalk celery, trimmed, sliced thinly
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 cans (15 oz each) peas, rinsed, drained
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup firmly packed fresh mint leaves

Directions

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat; cook bacon, leek, celery and garlic, stirring until onion softens and bacon is browned lightly.

Step One Recipe

Add peas, broth, the water and mint to pan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes. Cool 10 minutes.

Step Two Recipe

Blend soup (ideally with an immersion blender.) Season to taste. Serve with a sprig of mint and a drizzle of oil.

Bacon Pea Soup

 

Cultivating a Joy Practice

Sycamore Tree

During these tough times, tapping into our innate sense of joy and play can require, oddly, a bit of self-discipline.

Recently, I have taken myself on a date with a sycamore tree in a local park. I simply lie under its broad, curved branches and watch its large leaves move in the wind and sun.

I find a peace and contentment in the embrace of that tree that comes so naturally, without any effort on my part. No fervid prayer, no restless attempts at meditation, just me.and.tree.

Yesterday, out of curiosity, I logged a mood entry on Sanvello (great app!) just to see how I was feeling, lying there. The words that felt right were “creative, inspired, in love.”

Praise God for my beloved tree! What brings YOU joy today?

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