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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.

Corona Cooking: 2+ Pastas for the Casual Pescatarian

Shrimp Dish

 

Who doesn’t love the power of food and cooking to evoke fond memories from the past.

My husband and I are trying our hand at a pescatarian diet (with a few cheats here and there), which prompted me to revive an old favorite of ours, Ina Garten’s linguine with shrimp scampi. I followed the recipe to a tee and then felt like it needed a little something more, so I dusted off the finished product with generous handfuls of grated Parmesan cheese.

Padraic lifted a forkful to his mouth and immediately went nostalgic on me, reminiscing about the time we made this together in my shoebox studio apartment in Chicago, splurging on large and expensive shrimp from the Whole Foods around the corner. Then, another time on a lakeside vacation, when my younger brother watched us pull everything together in a large skillet and told us “we made a good team.”

This is a romantic, special meal indeed — and not just because you’re shelling out some bucks for shrimp. It’s the richness of the noodles, the decorative lemon slices, the deceptively simple flavoring of olive oil, butter, lemon, red pepper flakes, garlic, and the way all the ingredients take just a few minutes to cook in a skillet, especially when there are two cooks in the kitchen.

Savor this dish on a summer night with your S.O. and bring some beachside vibes into your home.

A second, far less sexy supper is this New York Times recipe for the thoroughly GREEN “kale-sauce pasta.” Think of it as pesto, with voluminous amounts of blanched kale leaves standing in for the traditional basil.

Don’t be fooled by its simplicity — it’s a bit of an undertaking to clean and stem and blanch all those ever-lovin greens, but it’s a good staple made all the more satisfying if some or all of the kale comes from your backyard.

And then… when you’re sick of the kitchen (and perhaps each other), how about a pasta sauce for the ages that never disappoints.

Onward and upward, friends!

Corona Cooking: Roasted Vegetables Over Polenta

Corona Cooking: Roasted Vegetables Over Polenta

How are you feeling today? I’m keenly aware that I am taking a privileged walk through this global pandemic… and yet I often find myself seized by a vague melancholy borne of solidarity with those who are suffering, the surreal vibe of this whole thing, and the uncertainty of what is yet to come.

I’m sure there is a great deal more I could be doing for the world, but last night I went back to basics and took care of myself and my husband with a soothing bowl of fontina-flavored polenta and roasted veggies. I fight the idea, but caring for me and mine CAN be enough on a Saturday night during these difficult times. At times, it may be the best thing we can do to hunker down and make a satisfying meal. Let’s get to it:

Roasted Veggie Ingredients

  • Veggies (I used two small butternut squash and a pile of Brussels sprouts, but go for what you’ve got on hand — broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, turnips… hmm…)
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Salt (preferably Kosher salt or sea salt)
  • Pepper

Instructions

  • Chop the veggies into chunks
  • Plop into a bowl and season generously with salt and pepper
  • Mix with 3 parts olive oil to 1 part Balsamic vinegar
  • Pour on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper
  • Roast at 450 degrees Fahrenheit until browned and cooked through, 20-25 minutes

It’s a beautiful transformation… Raw veggies with some seasoning:

Raw Squash

Brussels Sprouts

Become better versions of themselves… roasted!

Roasted veggies

Polenta Ingredients

  • One cup loose polenta
  • One Tablespoon unsalted butter
  • Small wedge of cheese, shredded (I used Fontina, but go at it, Asiago, cheddar, even dollops of goat cheese would be tasty)
  • A few tablespoons of Parmesan cheese
  • 5 cups water

This is what we’re looking at, minus the water:

Polenta prep

Polenta Instructions

  • Bring water to a boil
  • Add polenta, stir, bring back to a boil
  • Turn heat on low and simmer and cook, stirring often, for 40 min (yes this is a dinner to linger over)
  • Mix in cheeses and butter at end once polenta is already cooked

Combine all in a bowl, throw a chopped fresh herb on top, and you get a version of this, courtesy of School Night cookbook:

Cookbook pic

Once you purchase (or find) a container of loose polenta, let your creativity take the reigns and repeat with different veggies or try serving with protein… something in the red meat department would appeal to me…

We capped off this quiet evening with a trip to Forest Park and took comfort in this view: Forest Park view

Peace.

Corona Cooking: Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Hey there! I’m inspired by the simplicity of #QuarantineCooking to share my favorite way to cook and EAT sweet potatoes:

Ingredients

  • Two sweet potatoes
  • 2 T. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 T. Olive oil
  • Two large garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 T. shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Herb of your choice, fresh or dried

Instructions

  • Peel and cube potatoes and dump into large mixing bowl.
  • Dump all other ingredients into bowl and coat the potatoes.
  • Pour seasoned potatoes onto sheet pan lined with foil or parchment paper.
  • Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for approx. 20 minutes.

Enjoy!

Sweet Potatoes

Corona Cooking: Perfect Chicken Breast

Corona Cooking: Perfect Chicken Breast

Hi friends! It’s been a while. So COVID-19 has hit. Whew. Simplicity is key for me in the kitchen right now. I’d like to share a recipe from a cookbook called The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom. 

It’s called “perfect” chicken breast. Minimal ingredients, healthy, can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner… or a snack!

Ingredients

  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Cooking fat (olive oil, butter, or my preference, Ghee)
  • 2 chicken breasts

Cooking Process

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Pat chicken breasts dry and season both sides with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat cooking fat in skillet on medium-high.
  4. Add chicken breasts — rounded side down — and sear for 5 min. Meanwhile, prep a sheet pan with a piece of aluminum foil or parchment paper.
  5. Place chicken breasts on sheet pan and bake for approx. 13 min. (Cookbook says between 10-15 but I’ve found 13 min. to be the sweet spot.)
  6. Test middle of chicken breast with knife and fork and tweak baking time to your liking 🙂

Namaste. May food bring you some peace and comfort.

XO,
Ginger

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