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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?

Beats/Beets

Beets My Pic

I have two offerings today… one was inspired by a vegetable garden; the other, by whatever algorithm Spotify uses to generate music that stirs a chord in me. Both — the fruits of the earth and that digital razzmatazz — inspire a small bit of wonder:

Beet & Goat Cheese Salad

  • Thoroughly wash, rinse, and pat dry raw beets; tear off bright green leaves and place in a salad spinner
  • Place beets in a baking dish. Rub with olive oil, salt, & pepper. Roast at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately one hour or until tender.
  • Let beets cool (approximately 10 minutes). Run under cold water and peel skin off.
  • Cut into chunks and place on top of fresh lettuce mixed with beet greens.
  • Add dollops of goat cheese.
  • Add any other raw veggies you like (such as celery or carrots) + lightly toasted walnuts or pignolis.
  • Dress with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, & pepper.

COVID-19 Choral Music 

I haven’t been to church since the pandemic hit, but I long to sing and hear choral music. I find catharsis in the gravity and somberness of these songs. What I mean is, they feel like an appropriate soundtrack for the times:

  1. “Wanting Memories,” The Concordia Choir, Beauty in the World
  2. “It Is Well With My Soul,” Audrey Assad, Inheritance
  3. Nunc Dimittis,” Paul Smith, Reflections
  4. “i carry your heart,” Eric Whitacre
  5. “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord,” The University of Utah Singers, A Jubilant Song
  6. Even When He Is Silent,” Texas All-State Mixed Choir, 2016 Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA): All-State Mixed choir and the University of Texas Symphony Orchestra

Peace,
Ginger

This Grief You Cry Out From

Black SquareYesterday I participated in a local march for Black lives.

As I screamed the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmed Arbery, Eric Garner, Mike Brown… with so many others unnamed… my eyes stung with tears and chills coursed through my arms and legs.

I have spent my entire career trying to learn and grow in my understanding of racial dynamics in this deeply broken country, and the BLM signs, the calls for justice, the rallying of my community… perhaps I should have felt hopeful, but it all felt like too little too late.

Last night, as another young man died in Atlanta, I broke down into sobs for all the deaths…

This morning I find myself drawn to Rumi’s poem, “Love Dogs”:

One night a man was crying,
Allah! Allah!
His lips grew sweet with the praising,
until a cynic said,
“So! I have heard you
calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?”

The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.

He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage.

“Why did you stop praising?”
“Because I’ve never heard anything back.”

“This longing you express is the return message!”

The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.

Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.

Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.

There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.

Give your life
to be one of them.

Amid my uncertainty about where this will lead, Goddamnit, I will keep crying out, not only through signs and chants, but through research, action, and humble listening.

I will embrace my sadness, my anger. You say “White silence is violence?” Then let this sadness, this anger, be my saving cup.

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