23 August 2008

Birthday Party Recipes

Today is the last day of my forties. It’s been a good last day. Went to the Farmers’ market, which was jumping. (The college students are back in town and are buzzing about, getting ready for school to start.) Then I picked up a friend who’s escaping the Phoenix heat, and we drove up to Trinidad for lunch and a brief walk on the beach. From there we went (organic!) blueberry picking at Wolfsen Farm – picked 3 pounds of blubes, all of which are now washed and in the freezer.

And then I began cooking for my birthday party tomorrow. Made three dips: spinach (sour cream, spinach, and Simply Organic’s onion soup mix); a smoked salmon spread (salmon smoked by one of the local tribes blended into cream cheese, seasoned with fresh dill, the juice of half a lemon, and a teaspoon of horseradish); and baba ghanouj. I apologize upfront for the inexact measurements, but I didn’t measure when I made it. Still, it came out so good that I thought I’d share this recipe with y’all.

Baba Ghanouj

Bake two whole eggplants and one large red bell pepper at 350 until they’ve collapsed (about an hour). You’ll want something underneath them – they get juicy/drippy/messy. (Save the juice!)

Once the baked veggies are cool enough to handle, remove their meat and put it into a blender. Add in:

3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 lemon (the juice of)
¼ cup (approximately) sesame tahini
¼ teaspoon salt
2 (or so) Tablespoons olive oil
the juice from the baked veggies

Blend until creamy. Taste, and adjust seasonings as desired.


The other thing I made, last night, was a White Chocolate Cheesecake with Raspberry Swirl.

Melt ¼ cup of butter. Mix in a heaping cup of graham cracker crumbs and 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon. Pat into the bottom of a springform pan, then put in the fridge to set while preparing the rest of the cake.

In a Cuisinarte, blend:

20 ounces cream cheese
4 eggs
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
8 ounces white chocolate, melted at a low heat in a double boiler

Pour this on top of the graham cracker crust. Swirl in a few Tablespoons of raspberry sauce (raspberries cooked over a double boiler with just enough sugar to take away the tartness).

Bake at 325 for 45 minutes to an hour – until the cake has set.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool before refrigerating.

Serve with the remaining raspberry sauce (which you reserved and kept in the fridge) drizzled on top.

21 August 2008

A Gift to Myself

Listening to a radio show yesterday, I heard the question:

If you were dying soon and had only one phone call to make, who would you call and what would you say?

Normally this kind of question doesn’t work for me. I’m not good at choosing a favorite this or a best that. But the answer came to me immediately.

Anthony. I’d call Anthony and tell him I was sorry, that I never meant to hurt him, and that I love him deeply and dearly.

The radio host ended her show with the obvious question: Then why haven’t you called?

Well, in my case, it’s because he’s clearly asked me to leave him the hell alone. And because I love him, I am respecting his desire not to have contact with me.

But I miss the daylights out of him. Not as my partner/boyfriend. I still believe that our differences and desires were such that being a couple wasn’t the best configuration for us. But Anthony was also my best friend, and I miss his friendship. I miss his playfulness and humor and kindness. I miss our shared history. I miss his companionship, his voice, his silly notes, his cats. I miss being a part of his life, and his participation in mine.

I also remain convinced that breaking up was the best thing for both of us. I hear reports of his life and, from what I hear, he is indeed finding his wings. Which is what I’d hoped would happen when I removed my mothering self from his day-to-day life.

It’s an interesting combination of emotions, to be living with Ronnie and still missing Ant. And it’s hard, knowing that Anthony feels so strongly against me. I never, ever, meant harm.

On a related note: Melanie, my teacher, made an intriguing suggestion to me in class last night. We were discussing which attachments are holding us back. I realized that my biggest challenge was my attachment to how other people think of me. (This probably goes back to growing up with a volatile mother, and becoming hypersensitive to other people’s moods as a survival mechanism.)

Melanie suggested giving myself a birthday present. (I turn 50 this coming Sunday!) She says she does this every year. One year she gave herself the gift of not having to participate in boring conversations for a year. Anyway, she proposed that I gift myself with not caring what other people think of me.

Hmmm… Is this possible? I’ve been told that, at 50, women do exactly this. They stop giving a rat’s ass what others think and step into their own power. I like the idea. Of course, I still care what I think of myself – my integrity remains intact. I guess the idea is to become my own mirror, rather than looking to others for validation.

It’s worth a try!

20 August 2008

Those Special Folks from Our Past

I got a very special phone call today, one I never anticipated receiving.

A former student of mine, from the year I taught sixth grade (1989-1990), found me on the Internet and called. He’s pushing 30 now, has a young family and a career. But he’d run across one of those “who was a special teacher in your life?” questions and, once again, as he has over the years, he thought of me. So he looked me up and called, just to tell me that I had made a difference in his life, that I wasn’t like all the other teachers and that was why he and his classmates liked me – I was a real human being, more like a friend.

Oh my God – what a blessing! I remembered that year – my last year as a classroom teacher – as my year from hell. The principal had it out for me, and one of the students made life difficult because he’d really wanted to be in the other sixth-grade classroom with the “cool” teacher. I liked the kids, and I like to think I was an okay teacher. But never in my dreams did I think I’d made a memorable impact on those kids.

And a couple of weeks ago I received a shy “hello” from an old college colleague. I spent my senior year at Sonoma State as second-in-command on the school paper. My colleague was the editor the second semester, so we worked side by side for several months. And haven’t heard from each other since graduating in 1981. I’ve thoroughly been enjoying exchanging emails with him, and am looking forward to his visiting (with his wife) in the fall.

All of which has me thinking about former teachers who made a difference in my life. I can think of four.

Mrs. Fortman – a formidable English teacher at Analy High. It was because of her that I read Chaim Potok’s The Chosen and Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun. She appeared gruff and stern, but her classroom library was filled with thought-provoking (and somewhat radical) novels.

Russ Reade – also at Analy. Russ taught Social Biology, which was one of the two classes I actually showed up on campus for that year. He had us researching and thinking about issues like cryogenics and euthanasia – it was really more like a class on scientific ethics. He retired a short while later to buy a whore house in Nevada.

Cott Hobart – was my Humanities teacher at Santa Rosa Junior College. I hold Cott personally responsible for gifting me with my spiritual path. He introduced us to Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, and taught about the Eleusinian Mysteries. These have been my spiritual reference points ever since.

Gerry Haslam – taught English and linguistics at Sonoma State. He’s also a writer, and I own several of his books. (I keep very few books.) Gerry was also the faculty advisor on the college paper, so we got to know him reasonably well. He’s one of the most decent human beings I’ve ever met.

Who were your special teachers? And have you let them know?

13 August 2008

Summer Recipes

Seems all I’m doing these days is cooking. Which isn’t literally true, but it sure feels that way! Sunday I made veggie lasagna and two kinds of bread. Monday I made my sugar-free apple pie. (See “Apples” for the pie recipe.) Yesterday I made a version of my Southeast Asian shrimp/rice noodle salad. Today – in addition to clarifying almost a pound of butter – I finally dealt with the substantial donation of zucchini that my neighbors brought by on Sunday. (Grated it up, froze some of it, and turned the rest into a cake. Oh, and dedicated the two largest zukes to being stuffed. (See “Cooking Caveat” for the stuffed zucchini recipe.)

One of my readers recently told me that he’s tried several of my recipes – both here and in Following Raven, Finding Ground – and that they’re good. (They are!) Encouraged by his positive feedback, I’ve decided to share the recipes for my recent culinary endeavors. Enjoy!

Light Rye Bread (made in my bread maker on basic setting)
11 ounces water
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons (packed) brown sugar
3 cups unbleached white flour
1 cup rye flour
¼ cup flax meal
1 heaping Tablespoon dried dill
2 Tablespoons (or so) caraway seeds
1 Tablespoon active dry yeast

Challah (made by hand in my wooden bread bowl)
1 cup milk
3 Tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
½ stick of butter
2 eggs

4 cups (plus) of bread flour
¼ cup flax meal
2 teaspoons yeast
(poppy seeds)

Knead until satiny and springy.
Cover and allow to rise.

Punch down, knead briefly, and allow to rise a second time.

Punch down, knead briefly, and break into three equal pieces. Roll these out into ropes, braid them, and allow to rise a third time, this time in a warm oven. (You can brush the top at this point with egg wash, and/or sprinkle on seeds.)

Bake at 350 until done, about 45 to 50 minutes.

Veggie Lasagna
A few hours before assembling, I start the tomato sauce, as follows:
One onion, diced
Lots and lots of chopped garlic (a whole head if you dare!)
Sliced mushrooms (about 1 cup)
Cubed zucchini (2 smallish ones)
Chopped tomatoes (I used two good-sized Brandywines)

Once the veggies have softened, add a 15 ounce can of tomato sauce and about ½ cup of red wine.

Season with (fresh if you have it!)

Cook, covered, over low heat for a couple/three hours, stirring occasionally.

Shortly before assembling, add 1 pound of cleaned spinach and a small bunch of fresh basil to the sauce.

Assemble in layers:

Enough sauce on the bottom to keep noodles from sticking
Lasagna noodles (cooked)
More sauce
Globs of Ricotta cheese (I use one pint total)
Globs of Pesto
Repeat: noodles, sauce, ricotta, pesto
Top: noodles and lots of sliced mozzarella cheese

Bake at 350 until bubbly and deep gold in color.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

½ cup butter
¼ cup oil
1-1/2 cups sugar

Blend in:
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

¼ cup cocoa
½ cup whole wheat flour
2 cups unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
sprinkling of cinnamon

Mix in:
2 cups grated zucchini

Bake in a spring form pan at 350 for about 50 minutes.

Remove the side of the pan, allow to cool, then top with a chocolate glaze. (I melt about 1/8 cup of coconut oil over low heat, then remove it from the stove and mix in equal amounts of liquid sweetener (agave nectar or maple syrup, usually – sometimes both) and cocoa – about ¼ to ½ cup each. Adjust sweetener and cocoa to taste, then pour over the cake.

Southeast Asian Shrimp/Rice Noodle Salad
Chop and lay out on a large platter:
One small head of lettuce (I use red butter)
A healthy handful of fresh cilantro
A smaller handful of fresh basil
Several sprigs of fresh mint

You can also add a grated carrot and/or sliced green onions.

Top the vegetables with approximately 4 ounces of cooked rice noodles (Maifun).

Cook shelled shrimp in a dry skillet. (I am generous with the shrimp, usually allotting 9 or 10 for each person. Wood’s Wild American White Shrimp is especially delicious, and wild caught.) Place the shrimp on top of the cooked noodles.

Drizzle dressing over the salad, and sprinkle with toasted peanuts.

Dressing: (adjust to taste)
2 Tablespoons fish sauce
6 Tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon sesame oil
4 teaspoons sugar
minced ginger
fresh chopped mint

04 August 2008

A Whole New Mind

I recently finished reading Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. His premise is that, because of the influence of Abundance, Automation, and Asia, jobs that were traditionally mastered by left-brain people are becoming obsolete in our culture and right-brain skills are coming into demand. His opening paragraph reads:

The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind – computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBAs who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind – creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people – artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers – will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.

These people, these right-brainers, sure look a lot like what gets called ADD. Which feeds into my ongoing thesis that ADD is a difference, not a disorder, and that it is an evolutionary shift toward wholeness. (For more on this thesis, see my other posts labeled ADD.) Not only is there an increase in people who are labeled ADD, but Pink shows that these people will actually be the ones most likely to prosper as our economy shifts. (He’s quick to point out, though, that romanticizing right-brain qualities as better than left brain is bogus, that what we need is an androgynous brain.)

To determine whether your career choice is a good fit for our current culture, Pink proposes three questions to ask yourself:
1. Can someone overseas do it cheaper?
2. Can a computer do it faster?
3. Is what I’m offering in demand in an age of abundance?

(Whoo-hoo! My work as a professional organizer meets the criteria!)