Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What's In a Name? Saag, How You Like It

Not much new happening here, it seems.  Bean continues to kick away in there, I continue to see my midwives every two weeks, and I actually took I's old baby clothes from the basement and pulled out the gender-neutral stuff, washed it, and separated it to give the "boy" clothes away.  (There's an interesting thought ... why is it that even some "gender neutral" clothes really feel "gendered" to me?)  The baby's room is mostly ready.  Two more hypnobirthing classes to go.  I'm trying not to think about what will happen at work.

The one thing we haven't been able to do, though, is settle on a name.  I keep joking that if the baby is born early, we're going to be stuck with "Baby Girl" as her name.  I'm not sure if it's my persistent hesitation to attach/believe that this is really going to happen, or the fact that I've had few really good female friends/role models in my life, or that I just don't like "girl" names ... but I think I'm the one causing the holdup.

Funny thing about names ... I don't know if any of you read Freakonomics, but I'm convinced that there's a connection between your given name and your lot in life.  And I suspect that it begins on the playground, where other children either decide that your name is normal, or rhymes with something funny, or just too weird.  Not that I have any hard data to back this up, of course. Anthropologists, sociologists, and economists among you, please weigh in.

We often eat things with funny names in our house, and I. enjoys turning the names over on his tongue.  (He, by the way, has very strong opinions about names.  Asked about the name Molly as a hypothetical baby name, he said, rolling his eyes disapprovingly, "but MOM, that's the name of the GOAT at my SCHOOL.")  This summer there was baingan bharta, and now, in the winter, there's saag.  I'm not sure why, but I love Indian food in cold, overcast weather.  Something to do, maybe, with memories of a cold and rainy day in England (which I know I've written about before) ... and a small, dingy, not-entirely-pleasant smelling room transformed by the aroma of takeaway curry in a styrofoam container.

This is one of our staples for the winter: the original recipe is a pressure-cooker recipe, but I have fear of exploding cookware, so we've modified it to work in the slow cooker, too.  The nice thing about the slow cooker version is that it simmers all day, and when you get home, your house smells like cinnamon and coriander and cardamom.  S. threw a batch together the other day, and I wanted to share it with all of you.  If you're vegetarian/vegan, the substitute is easy ... just brown up some firm tofu (which can stand in for paneer) and toss it in there when you'd toss in the meat.

Call it what you like; it's tasty comfort food.


2 20 oz. bags frozen chopped spinach
2 onions coarsely chopped
4" fresh ginger root -- coarsely chopped
14 cloves garlic -- peeled
1/4 c. vegetable oil
6 bay leaves
20 cardamon pods
16 whole cloves
Four 2" sticks of cinnamon
1 1/2 to 2 lb. stewing beef or boned lamb, cut in 1 1/2 inch cubes (or firm tofu, cubed and browned)
2 2/3 t. salt
2 T. ground coriander
2 t. ground cumin
1 t. cayenne pepper -- or to taste
1 t. garam masala

Microwave spinach until defrosted. Drain and squeeze out most of the water. Put onion, ginger, and garlic in food processor and pulse until finely chopped.

Slow cooker version: Saute spices in hot oil briefly (about a minute or two) and add onion, ginger, and garlic; saute for five minutes.  Add the spice/onion mixture to your slow cooker, and then add the meat/tofu and spinach.  Cook on high 4-6 hours or low 7-8 hours.  Add the garam masala at the end, and stir, letting some of the extra liquid boil off with the slow cooker on the "high" setting.

Pressure cooker version: Put oil in a pressure cooker and set over high heat. When oil is hot, put in bay leaves, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon sticks. Stir and put in onion, ginger and garlic. Stir and cook over high heat for 5 minutes. Put in meat, spinach, 2 cups water, salt. coriander , cumin and cayenne, Stir. Cover securing the pressure cooker lid and bing up to full pressure over high heat. Lower heat and cook at full pressure. The beef with take 20 minutes the lamb 15. Cool off the pressure cooker quickly with cool water and remove the lid. Put in garam masala and bring contents to boil again. Cook, uncovered, stirring gently over high heat for 5-7 minutes, or until sauce is reduced and thick.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Turkey Trot, Turkey Trot, Turkey Trot Pie!

This morning, at 7 months pregnant, I ran our town's annual Turkey Trot 5K, along with about 4000 other people.  The experience was oddly emotional; as the music played and the crowd cheered the runners past, I thought about where I was at this time last year, having lost our two pregnancies, being frustratingly unsuccessful at "trying again," not yet diagnosed with secondary infertility, not yet seeing my new endocrinologist.  I thought about where I am now, and marveled at what a difference a year can make, despite the fact that I'm so unsure about the future.  Even when I'm not pregnant I'm no marathoner, but my time was just a few minutes more than last year; though the run itself--even the little inclines--felt harder, I just kept telling myself I wasn't in a hurry, and ran to enjoy the morning, smiling as I crossed the finish line.  (Keiko and RunningMama, I thought of you!)  A few times during the race it sleeted just a little bit, and once we were home, it started to snow: large, sticky flakes--the first real snow of the season.  It was enough to take your breath away.

Even better, I didn't even have to cook a turkey this year, which I hate doing, partly because it's a pain in the neck to tend something for that long in the oven, partly because the smell permeates the whole house for days, partly because you ALWAYS have too much leftover fowl, and partly because I just don't really like turkey.  To the chagrin of my carnivorous husband, I donated the free one we earned at the grocery store to the food pantry, and my brother cooked a bird and half of the starches, my mother cooked the other half of the starches, and I brought Brussels sprouts and apple pie.  I ate mostly sprouts, pie, and stuffing, not necessarily in that order.

Still, given the Turkey Trot and tradition, I felt compelled to post a turkey recipe today.  The great thing about it is that you can use leftover turkey for it if you're not vegetarian, and if you are vegetarian, tofu crumbles would work just as well.  It's stick-to-your-ribs food, but it's also a lot better for you than it could potentially be, between the nonfat milk and whole wheat flour.  You can fill it with any kind of veggies (par-boiled) that you like, or whatever happens to be in your refrigerator (provided it's not too crazy).  I use the same crust that I use for apple pie, because it's not fussy, you don't need any special equipment, and it comes together pretty quickly.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone ... here's wishing you a happy and healthy start to the holiday season!

(Turkey) Pot Pie

1 double-crust pie crust recipe of your choice (I use this)

2 medium potatoes, thick diced
1 lb. ground turkey or tofu crumbles or a little less than that amount of cooked turkey
2 T. butter + 5 T. butter
1 small onion, diced
1 t. chopped garlic
1 c. flour
3 c. chicken or vegetable broth
1 T. chopped parsley
1/2 t. thyme
1/2 t. oregano
1 bay leaf
1/4 t. poultry seasoning or sage
1 c. fat free evaporated milk
10 oz. frozen mixed vegetables

Preheat oven to 375.  Boil the potatoes in a small pot until about 1/2 done, drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.

Melt 2 T. butter.  Add onion and garlic; if using ground turkey or tofu crumbles, also add this and brown it, seasoning with salt and pepper.  If using cooked turkey, cook the onion/garlic until just translucent, and add the turkey to brown just slightly.

Add 5 T. butter, melt.  Add flour and stir constantly until mixed.  Cook for about 2 minutes.  Add the stock and seasonings to the turkey/tofu mixture with the potatoes, and bring to a slow boil, stirring often, and keeping the heat low.  Add the evaporated milk and return to a boil.  Add the mixed veggies and heat through; pour the whole thing into your pie crust.  Cover with the top crust, and coat with egg.

Bake the pie for about 40 minutes, and cool for about 10 minutes.  Dig in!
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Monday, November 22, 2010

Gratitude: Chocolate Toffee Cookies

(This post is part of a Holiday Recipe Swap: come join the fun at the My Baking Addiction and GoodLife Eats, sponsored by Scharffen Berger!)

This time of year in the U.S., it seems everyone starts being thankful.  On my Facebook friend list, a number of people posted a "gratitude a day" during the month of November.  On the one hand, I like the renewal of appreciation for things we take for granted, but on the other hand, it can get a little tiresome and trite-sounding.  I love it when kids answer this question, because they say things like "cheese" or "my blanket."  Adults say things like "family" and "friends," which is lovely, but really, what's not to like about cheese?

Me, I'm thankful for chocolate.  Chocolate and hot air balloons, which fly over near our house with some regularity (I happened to see some yesterday, so they were on my mind when the question was posed.  Asked why I'm thankful for them, I said something silly like "because they're uplifting ... in a manner of speaking").

On a more serious note, of course, I'm thankful for my son (who, in truth, makes me laugh more often than he frustrates me) and husband (who puts up with me), for friends (who are my "adopted family"), for the blogging and commenting community, and for the people who remind me that my contribution to the world so far has been of value.  Sure, it made my week when, the other day, a former student came with her entire high school class, to introduce them to "the dean who changed my life."  But I'm not just defined by who I am at work, or by any other single dimension of my identity.  The connections I've made are important perspective, as I'm trying to figure out what comes next for me, along with a new addition to our family.

The other day, during an online conversation about the bad coffee shop options near our home, a woman I know in passing from a charter school founders' board in our area (who runs a healthy/organic catering business from her kitchen, on the side) asked me if I'd be interested in opening a cafe with her.  I'd mentioned to her at one point that I'd like to do something like that, and it turns out that she's now in a position to seriously consider a small place that deals in fair trade coffees and teas and in baked goods, and wants to know if I'm on board ... and if so, when we can start putting a plan together.  As I mentioned to a good friend, the idea is simultaneously attractive and completely daunting.  It would be a lot less risky to enroll in yoga teacher training next year ... that's for sure.  Or to simply appreciate chocolate.  But maybe ...

These are not vegan, and they're not even remotely good for you.  (Apologies this time around to my gluten-free, sugar conscious, and otherwise-restricted readers.)  But ah, the endorphins ... these are a standard on my Christmas cookie plate.  I hope you enjoy them, too.

Chocolate Toffee Cookies (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 lb. good quality bittersweet (not unsweetened) chocolate (like Scharffen Berger!), chopped or chips
1/4 c. unsalted butter
1 3/4 c. light brown sugar, packed
4 large eggs
1 T. vanilla extract
5 1.4-ounce Heath bars (or other similar chocolate covered toffee bars), coarsely chopped
1 c. walnuts, toasted, chopped
Sea salt for sprinkling (optional)

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl; whisk to blend. Stir chocolate and butter in top of double boiler set over simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Cool mixture to lukewarm.

Using electric mixer, beat sugar and eggs in bowl until thick, about 5 minutes. Beat in chocolate mixture and vanilla.

Stir in flour mixture, then toffee and nuts. Roll the dough into a log 1.5 inches in diameter and chill  for at least 1 hour.*

When you are ready to bake the cookies, Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment or waxed paper. Cut the log into 1/2-inch slices as the oven preheats. Place sliced cookies two inches apart on a lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with a pinch of flaky sea salt, if you’re using it. Bake just until tops are dry and cracked but cookies are still soft to touch, about 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on sheets. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)

Resist the temptation to eat these immediately when you remove them from the oven; they really taste a lot better when they're cool, since they continue to bake after they emerge.

*You can store the dough log in the freezer, wrapped in waxed paper and then two layers of plastic wrap for up to a month, just baking the cookies off as you need. Cookies baked straight from the freezer may need an additional minute or two in the oven, depending on their thickness.
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Friday, November 19, 2010

Back to Our Roots, II: Rutabaga-Cauliflower Soup

So the good news is that I haven't heard back from my doctor's office, which, I guess, means I don't have gestational diabetes.  And in a moment of brave and calm diplomacy, I talked today with the person whose comment initiated the "attitude problem" meeting, and it turns out that it was a misunderstanding (with damaging consequences, but at least I know where it came from now).  And I've survived the work week: tomorrow is Friday, and I'll be in an all day meeting where I don't have to say much unless I want to. 

Ian's class is having a Thanksgiving feast tomorrow.  Even if you don't have a child, if you live in the U.S., you remember these from your own preschool and elementary days: half of the class dresses up as Native Americans, the other half dresses up as Pilgrims, and you pretend that everyone got along just fine over turkey, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes, which parents send from home.  (For his class, the menu includes chicken nuggets, a vegetable and fruit platter, muffins, and turkey and cheese sandwiches--at least it's not complete junk, I guess--but the point is the same.)  This is a beautiful little lie, of course; while the Native Americans did help the colonists survive, especially during the harsh New England winters, we all know how complicated the relationship really was, and that it was not always friendly, or even civil.  As much as we like to give our children the foundation for acceptance and tolerance, our own family dinners are probably a better indication of what colonial America was really like.

One of my favorite faculty members at our university does research on interpersonal communication through analysis of Thanksgiving and other "ceremonial' dinners.  She looks at food complaints and compliments, and considers the ways in which those complains and compliments both interrupt and support the way in which a family tells stories about itself.  As someone who has sat through her share of not-exactly-cordial Thanksgiving dinners, I have to confess that what we say about the food speaks volumes about the way we relate to one another, too.  For example: my mother, for many years now, need to make mashed rutabaga.  It's not clear to any of us why she needs this dish, and no one else really likes it all that much; so every year, I chide her about the rutabaga.  My mother has become more self-involved over the years, and the rutabaga makes perfect sense in this context.  It doesn't matter if no one else wants it or likes it.

As I've mentioned, my brother is cooking our Thanksgiving meal this year, and I'm thankful to be spared the headache of cooking everyone their favorite dishes, which only they want.  But I had to laugh when I pulled a rutabaga out of our last CSA box.  It was like the universe telling me that I should make a good faith effort to get along, even if we are as different as Native Americans and colonial settlers.

Of course, I turned it into soup.

Rutabaga Cauliflower Soup

3 tbs olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 cups vegetable stock
1.5 c rutabaga, peeled and roughly chopped (you may substitute 1 medium or 2 small peeled, chopped potatoes or sweet potato)
1 large carrot, peeled and quartered
1 head cauliflower separated into florets
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 -1/2 tsp cayenne powder (optional)
black pepper and paprika for garnish
Parmesan cheese

In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil. Once hot, add the curry powder and salt. Stir in the onion and sautée for about five minutes. Stir occasionally to keep from burning. Add the garlic and continue to sautée, until the onion is golden in color and translucent. Add your vegetable stock (or water with bullion cubes) and bring to a boil. Once boiling add the rutabaga and carrot. Turn heat down, but maintain a feisty simmer; cook until the rutabega is beginning to soften- about 10 or 15 minutes. Add the cauliflower, again bringing to a boil, turn the heat down and continue to simmer until it is soft. Remove from heat, add black and cayenne peppers. Blend until creamy with an immersion or regular blender. Taste, adding salt if you like. Ladle the soup into bowls, garnish with paprika and black pepper; add several slivers of parmesan to the top. Enjoy!
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Monday, November 15, 2010

When Life Gives You Lemons: Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemony Frosting

I was going to post another soup recipe today, but I had such the day from hell that I couldn't possibly think about celeriac and cauliflower.

This is how it went:

4:00 a.m.: sudden powerful leg cramp in my right leg, going up the length of my thigh.  Thank you, pregnancy.  (But I guess I shouldn't be complaining, right?)

4:30 a.m.: continued tossing and turning, unable to get pregnant self comfortable, even without considering leg cramp.

5:00 a.m.: heart pounding.  Can't get back to sleep.  Consider going for a run, but decide against it, since husband has to be out of the house early this morning, and I have to take child to school (adding an extra half hour to my commute), and it would mean risking not being back in time to get child ready AND take shower.  Watch minutes tick by, one by one.

5:50 a.m.: finally get out of bed, fetch child, make lunch and snack, make breakfast, go shower.

7:10 a.m.: out the door with child, note that it's raining, so a run at work is also unlikely.
(interlude: traffic on highway, hooray for Mondays and trucks.)

8:25 a.m.: arrive at work, decide to go for a run anyway, despite a late morning meeting with new boss.  Take usual route, and realize that I need to find a bathroom half way in.  Luckily, know all port-a-potty stops on all run routes.  Stop at the next port-a-potty, do business, discover: no.friggin.toilet.paper.  Goodbye, bandana.  Mentally note that this had better not be an indication of how the rest of my day will go.

9:15 a.m.: try to bathe in the ladies' room at work, feeling completely disgusting.  Decide to go without underwear today because of the whole no-toilet-paper ordeal; stow underwear with sweaty running clothes.

11:00 a.m.: boss-in-waiting (New Boss) arrives for meeting we had scheduled over a month ago, with no follow up questions about his responsibilities in the spring (he will "figure it out," he says, and I realize that he is going to get someone else to do this work for him, and that I will have to train this other person), but announcement that he will be attending a meeting I'd previously scheduled with Boss' Boss.  Not good.

2:00 p.m.: meeting with Boss' Boss and New Boss.  Informed that they will be hiring a faculty director to work in my program alongside me, because they are concerned about "faculty involvement" (never mind that I correspond with close to 100 faculty members currently, on a regular basis, and both seek and implement feedback).  Informed that New Boss will be using my office while I'm gone, and that a student will be using the old (currently unoccupied) faculty director's office, meaning that a recent graduate with no experience will have a private space, while my program coordinator/assistant has no space of her own and is treated like a receptionist/secretary.  Know that this will be a slap in the face to said program coordinator/assistant, and that I will have to break this news to her.  Then informed, by Boss' Boss (who has never been anything but supportive of me), in front of New Boss, that we need to discuss my "attitude" towards faculty members, whom someone said I think are lazy.  Here is where I lose it: never, in my 12 years of working at this university, of building this program from the ground up, of recruiting a few hundred faculty members to work with me, of earning the respect of faculty members with whom I now work as colleagues, have I been accused of having an attitude problem, and NOW?  Break into tears, in front of New Boss and Boss' Boss.  Epic fail.

3:00 p.m.: leave meeting, feeling like I have been slapped in the face, mentally composing letter of resignation.  Wonder if any of this would have happened if I hadn't been pregnant, realize that the answer is "probably not."  Feel completely dumbfounded.

4:00 p.m.: leave the office to begin the hour and a half drive home so that I can pick up child on time.  Try to compose myself so that I don't get myself or child killed on the way home.  Apologize to Bean for suggesting that she has a role in this mess.  Bean kicks back, agrees that we need to go to yoga teacher training together.

9:00 p.m.: spill seltzer all over myself while writing this blog entry.

OK, I get it.  I should not have gotten up this morning.  So much for the bright side of life.

I'm really hoping that this week gets better.  Luckily, on Friday I'm getting together with some other women from a working moms group I co-founded over two and a half years ago, for a dessert recipe swap.  I think I'm going to make these cupcakes again, which I made for my class last week.  All I need to do is make it through four more days at the office.  I can do that, right?  Boy, I hope so.

Gingerbread Cupcakes

1  1/4 c. flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
3 t. ginger
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. cloves
1/4 t. salt
1/2 c. canola oil
1/3 c. molasses
1/2 c. maple syrup
1/4 c. soy milk
2 T. soy yogurt
1 1/2 t. lemon zest
1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, line the tins, and break out two medium bowls.  In the first, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and salt.  In the second, whisk together the oil, molasses, maple syrup, soy milk, yogurt and lemon zest.  Mix in the dry ingredients in two batches.  Then, fold in the chopped crystallized ginger, pour into the tins, and bake for 18-22 minutes.

Lemony Frosting

1/4 c. shortening
1/4 c. margarine
3 t. lemon zest
1 t. vanilla extract
2 c. powdered sugar

Cream together the shortening and margarine, and add in the powdered sugar in half-cup batches.  After each batch of sugar is mixed in , add a splash of lemon juice.  After 2 cups have been added, beat in the vanilla and lemon zest.  Add powdered sugar to get the right texture, and frost the cupcakes.  The lemon goes beautifully with the ginger; you could also do a lemon cream cheese (vegan or not) frosting, which I imagine would also be a good complement.
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Saturday, November 13, 2010

On the Bright Side: Cranberry White Chocolate Chip Cookies

It's been a pretty entertaining few days around here.  On Tuesday, our first Hypnobirthing class.  More about that in a minute.  On Wednesday, my glucose test (from which I have no results yet, so I'm still eating under the assumption that I have no GD).  And yesterday afternoon, for reasons we cannot fathom, my brilliant, thoughtful, generally sensible four year old son stuck a bead up his nose at school, resulting in a three hour visit to the ER where they were unable to extract the thing, and a subsequent visit to the ENT today (where they were much more successful, having done this "hundreds of times" said the doctor), effectively killing a day at work.  S. said that someone in our Hypnobirthing class mentioned how they're looking forward to the pregnancy being over so that they can relax ... and while I'll be glad to be out of these particular woods, too, both of us had to laugh.  Honey, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

In our Hypnobirthing class, we were broken into small groups to make lists of the positive things about our pregnancies.  At first, I felt like I didn't have much to contribute.  I started thinking back over the pregnancy, over the tenuous first trimester into the second trimester, constantly expecting this to end.  I thought about how much has gone unsaid between me and S. about this pregnancy and this baby, partly because of the specter of the other pregnancies that have come before it.  I thought about my job, and the current arrangement to replace me while I'm on leave, and implications for what will happen when I finally return.  None of these things seemed terribly positive.

But once the others started talking, I found I had some things to say.  "No AF," said one.  "Being welcomed into the circle of mothers," said another.  "New friends," I added, thinking about the IF blogosphere and other followers here.  That has less to do with pregnancy, but the support I've gotten from readers has definitely been one of the "bright sides" of these past few months.

Hypnobirthing is largely about removing the fear of birth and looking on the "bright side" so that one can relax in childbirth, allowing the body to do what it knows how to do.  I'm hoping that these next few weeks of class help me not only to have a more positive (even if not pain-free) birth experience, but also to be a better parent and person.  Perhaps even to be more calm when my child does something stupid that lands all of us in the ER waiting room.

There's a completely irreverent scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian where they're on the cross, right before the credits begin to roll, singing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life."  The scene is ironic, because of course the main character in the movie is destined for his demise, but Britons have adopted the song, and it was even sung by the crew of a destroyer during the Falklands War, as they were waiting to be rescued from their sinking ship.  There's definitely power in looking at the "bright side" ... not in being a Pollyanna, mind you (people like that drive me nuts), but in finding the thing that keeps us going during our darkest hours, even if the end of the tunnel is nowhere in sight.

I'm not going to say that baked goods are my "bright side of life," or that my kitchen has pulled me out of despair at any point in my life.  Cookies are only magical in Alice in Wonderland and in Alexander and the Magic Mouse.  But when I think about my reasons for baking--which, most times, have to do with giving people something to smile about, it does sort of relate.  The "bright side," for me, has always been about human connection.  And as I continue to amass the holiday cookie hoard in our freezer, I'm looking forward to sharing these, either on a well-wrapped plate, or over a cup of tea pr hot mulled cider, with a generous side of conversation and companionship, hopefully a little bit closer to a full term, completely relaxed and joyful positive childbirth experience.
Cranberry White Chocolate Chip Cookies

2/3 c. butter, softened
2/3 c. packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 c. rolled oats
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1 1/4 c. dried cranberries
2/3 c. coarsely chopped white chocolate
orange zest (about one orange, zested)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Combine oats, flour, salt, and baking soda; stir into butter mixture one cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in dried cranberries and white chocolate. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in preheated oven, or until golden brown. Cool on wire racks.
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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What I've Learned from my CSA: Moroccan Root Vegetable Stew

As I mentioned, this past weekend marked the last delivery of the season from our CSA.  I have mixed feelings about it: on the one hand, I'll miss the fresh produce, and knowing exactly where my food comes from, down to which plot of dirt it was grown in.  Heck, I probably walked by my own heads of lettuce and cauliflower more than once while I was visiting the pick-your-own fields.  On the other hand, I won't miss the frenzied Friday search for recipes using oddball ingredients before my late night Friday shopping trips (which have become a ritual for me since Ian was born).

Here are some things I learned from my CSA this year:
    1. What they say about the effect of weather on crops is absolutely true, and can be felt by the end consumer, provided that the end consumer doesn't have the option of buying the Guatemalan version of the produce in question.
    2. Things really do have harvesting seasons.  Some are short, some are much too long.
    3. Fresh cut flowers really are lovely, especially when you pick and arrange them yourself.
    4. I like fewer vegetables than I thought I did, and the vegetables I do like tend to be heavy: zucchini, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, squash, tomatoes, pumpkin.  
      1. Corollary: I could probably never be a full-time vegan.
    5. I really don't love chard.  But I like radicchio and other bitter greens even less.  
      1. Corollary: there are more varieties of greens than I thought there were, and I was pretty well-studied in greens (including several Asian varieties) even before this summer.
    6. You can turn almost anything into soup.
    7. Spinach and kale and collards and chard are actually fairly interchangeable when you're faced with cooking a mountain of them.
    8. Have I mentioned that I don't love chard?
    9. I like the challenge of cooking new things; I dislike feeling pressured to cook them.  (Hm, maybe no Iron Chef competitions in my future, eh?)
    10. We eat more curry than I thought we did, and my four year old seems to be most amenable to eating new things when they have curry in them.

      The last box had a bunch of root vegetables in it, so you can expect to see them featured over the next week or two.  There was rutabaga, turnips, carrot, celeriac.  We were having some friends over this past weekend, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to get "back to my roots."  This stew was hearty, fragrant, and nice for company without being terribly fussy; I also made it ahead of time, and it reheated well.

      Here's to eating local, but also to the freedom of choice.

      Moroccan-Style Root Vegetable Stew

      1 T. olive oil
      1 lb. boneless skinless chicken (or two cans chick peas)
      1 1/2 c. chopped onion
      3 garlic cloves, minced
      1 T. curry powder
      1 T. ground cumin
      1 cinnamon stick
      2 c. 1/2-inch pieces peeled red-skinned sweet potatoes
      2 c. 1/2-inch pieces peeled parsnips
      1 1/2 c. 1/2-inch pieces peeled turnips
      1 large carrot cut in 1/2-inch pieces
      1 c. 1/2-inch pieces peeled rutabaga
      4 c. low-salt broth (vegetable or chicken)
      1/4 c. dried currants or raisins
      1 14-oz can diced tomatoes, drained
      Juice and zest from one lemon
      Chopped fresh cilantro

      In a small pot, bring broth to a boil, continue to boil until reduced by half, then set aside.

      Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. If using chicken (otherwise, proceed to the onion step below): Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Add chicken to pot and sauté until light golden but not cooked through, about 1 minute. Transfer chicken to bowl.

      Add onion to pot and sauté until golden, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and stir 1 minute. Add curry powder, cumin and cinnamon stick and stir 30 seconds. Add sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrot, rutabaga, broth and currants. Cover and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Add tomatoes, lemon zest with juice, and chicken (or chick peas) to pot. Simmer until flavors blend, about 5 minutes longer. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve over couscous.
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      Tuesday, November 9, 2010

      Fruits of Labor: Fruit-filled Pinwheel cookies

      Last night I had one of my m/c nightmares.  I hate these nightmares.  They remind me that even if everything is going wonderfully, there's always the chance that it won't.  And the nightmares are always so real that I wake up in a sweat, screaming "nooooooo" silently, convinced I've lost this pregnancy.  Luckily, there is plenty of kicking around in there to prove me wrong, but it doesn't make the feeling of complete panic and despair dissipate much faster.  And of course, fellow bloggers have been on my mind ... Melissa over at You Found What In There has just been put on bedrest, and they've been giving her little girl blood transfusions at 26 weeks (go give her support and a hug, OK? and if you live near her--she's getting treatments in Akron--go bring her and her family a casserole).

      Last night's dream may also have been related to the fact that S. put up the crib on Sunday ("no reason not to," he said, in his assured-engineer-matter-of-fact kind of way), and my friend T. delivered over an exersaucer, high chair, bumbo, and bassinet.  Put that together with the stroller I won this weekend in a local giveaway, and the car seat and bouncer we borrowed from T. earlier this month, I think we're pretty well outfitted, at least for the big stuff.  There has been some hushed talk at work about the folks in my building (none of whom I work with directly or report to, so the relationship is purely spatial) throwing me a baby shower, but part of me hopes they don't; while I'd still like a baby carrier and some new towels, and I wouldn't mind a nursing pillow to replace the one I lent out (and maybe some clothes, but I haven't gone through the stuff in the basement yet to see what we can use), I don't want to be treated like a "happy go lucky" new mom-to-be ... not everyone here knows the back story, and with the spate of recent pregnancies and births in the office, not to mention December just weeks away, people have had their hands full keeping up with gift-giving, anyway.

      Ian and I continue to churn out cookies for the upcoming holidays, though, because our kitchen oven is a reliable thing, and these whimsical ones were next in line after the sugar cookies, because they keep well in the freezer, too, and you can make about 75 of them at one fell swoop (the original recipe says 100; I say, yeah, whatever).  You can't help but feel cheerier, looking at them, and I won't say how eating them feels, because that implies I was eating them.  (Which I would never do, of course, considering that I'm baking for completely altruistic reasons, right?  Don't answer that.)

      I like the little bit of whole grain in them, which gives them a slightly nutty flavor, even without nuts.  You can also skip the first part (making cranberry apple butter), and just use blackberry jam (all-fruit, please! the kind sweetened only with fruit juice) or apple butter (watch the sugar here, too ... you can get perfectly good natural apple butter without corn syrup in your natural foods section), or Nutella (the sugar rule no longer applies here, of course), or whatever strikes your fancy.  Unfortunately, I don't have a vegan option this time; I'm just not sure how to replace an egg yolk (though you could try the 1 T. ground flax plus 3 T. water, mixed, for every egg, and just see how it goes).  Coconut cream/milk would be fine for the heavy cream, and vegan margarine for the butter.  Agave for the honey.

      And when you're done, make sure that you fully appreciate the fruits of your own labor.

      Fruit-filled Pinwheel Cookies

      1/2 c. fresh cranberries, (2 ounces)
      2 Red Delicious apples, peeled, cored and diced
      3 T. honey, to taste
      1/2 vanilla bean, slit lengthwise
      1/4 c. water
      1 egg
      1 egg yolk
      1 c. sugar
      1/2 t. almond extract
      1/2 t. pure vanilla extract
      1 c.unsalted butter, at room temperature
      4 c.all-purpose flour
      1/2 c. whole wheat flour
      1/4 t. baking soda
      1/4 t. salt
      3 T. heavy cream
      1/2 c. shortening

      For the cranberry apple butter: Using a paring knife, scrape and gather all the grains of the vanilla bean.

      Wash the cranberries. Pick out and discard any bad ones (discolored, shriveled or bruised). Place the cranberries, apples, honey, grains of vanilla bean, 1/8 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 cup of water in a non-stick saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Skim off any foam that develops on the top. Cover and cook for about 25 minutes, until the cranberries have burst. Using a wooden spoon, stir frequently to prevent the cranberries and apples from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Allow to cool, then blend the mixture in a mini-blender (or a regular blender if you don't have a mini).

      For the cookie dough:

      Preheat the oven to 375°F.

      In a mixing bowl, beat the egg and egg yolk with 1/2 cup of sugar for about 5-6 minutes. You'll get a pale, yellow foam and the texture of the eggs will be thicker. Add the vanilla and almond extracts.

      In a bowl, combine the flours, salt and baking soda. Sift all the dry ingredients.

      Cream the butter with 1/2 cup of sugar (whisk using a stand-mixer to get as much air as possible in the butter). Add the egg mixture, the dry ingredients and the heavy cream. Finish with shortening. Mix well. Divide the dough and roll into 3 (16 x 6-inch) rectangles.

      For each rectangle of cookie dough, spread about 1-1/2 tablespoons of cranberry apple butter stopping 2 inches before the end of the rectangle (the cranberry apple butter will spread eventually until the end). The layer should be very thin so it doesn't burst on the side when rolled. Roll the dough the long way so that it forms a 16-inch log.  Repeat for the next 2 logs of cookie dough and wrap them in plastic wrap. Chill them in the freezer until firm. It'll take at least 30 minutes to harden. Slice the logs into ½-inch thick discs. Place the cookies on a baking sheet previously lined with parchment paper. Make sure they are spaced out so they don't touch each other when they expand.

      Bake for about 5 minutes at 375°F, then lower the heat to 350°F for another 8-10 minutes. Allow to cool completely.
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      Saturday, November 6, 2010

      Coming to the Dance: Curried Celery Soup

      Most pregnant women in their third trimester seem to start nesting.  They go out and buy cute baby clothes, they coo over strollers, they paint nurseries.  Me, well ... I've moved my son up to his new room in the attic, I'm digging out the old stuff and giving away things we won't use, I'm starting to collect hand-me-down baby gear, since we borrowed much of what we had for Ian.  But I feel like I'm doing so less exuberantly, less joyfully, than your standard pregnant woman, and I've been trying to figure out why, especially given what I've been through before I arrived here.  I should be happy; I should be ecstatic.  Instead, I feel ... conflicted.

      I was walking in the rain today, to meet another mom for lunch --a woman whose daughter is in Ian's class at school--and it finally occurred to me that part of me is--as strange as it sounds--in mourning. I know that once this baby arrives, everything will change again.  When Ian came, things changed ... but I was also certain that I would get back to my career, get back to working out (even if it was going to be at 10:30pm), get back to the things that made me, well ... me.  When I was pregnant after Ian, each time I felt like I could plan for the change; I was mentally projecting myself into the future.  And then I had to readjust when that future didn't materialize, when there was no baby.  This time, though, I feel much less settled, much less like I'm on solid ground.  I know that the cost of day care for two will be slightly less than my take home salary.  And if I'm going to commute over an hour each way to work in the morning, without making much extra money, without the promise of a raise next year (by the way, haven't gotten a raise in two years; yes, I work at a public institution), I need to be pretty fulfilled by what I do.  And no one is saying to me "we value you; let us think about the next challenge for you here"; instead, they're saying "we think you're great, but if you leave, do you think Q would want your job?"

      Either way, I'm mourning the loss of my career as I know it, and I'm also mourning the loss of my comfort zone in the small nuclear family of three, with a little boy who has been my only "baby," perfect in every way.  I'm standing on the precipice of the abyss of Change, and I can't see down there.  It's too damn dark.  And that would be the same, regardless of how I got here: IF, loss, or plain luck.

      Maybe, I thought, as I walked, getting wetter, I don't have a career.  Maybe I never had one.  Maybe I've had a series of jobs, and where I am now is just another job, and being a mom to another little one will be my next job, and that's not a bad thing.  Maybe I've been looking at this the wrong way all along, seeing life as a series of leaps forward in a hierarchy, an arc that will eventually land me higher than where I started, with a better salary, more responsibility and respect, more flexibility.  Maybe the path is not as straight, or as clear; maybe it's not a path at all.  Maybe it's more like a dance, around a large space, where I meet many partners, and move forward and back and across the room, spinning and twirling in time to the music.

      That didn't make me feel much better about what I may leave behind during these next months, or less anxious about starting this new journey, and it left me wondering why, when I look around me, so many other people seem to be moving in one direction.  But at least it made me remember that I have left things behind before, and I have landed on my feet. I have come back to the dance.

      Days like this--wet days in which I feel like the ground is shifting under my feet--call for comfort food, and short of making macaroni and cheese (which I've also been craving lately, and not the kind from the box), that means soup.  I got a bunch of celery last week in the CSA, and while celery is something we use occasionally, I always end up throwing leftovers away.  Determined not to do that this time, I went looking for a recipe where I could use the whole head at once and be done with it, so I could move on to conquer the next things in the box.  Maybe I shouldn't be so afraid to do that outside of the kitchen, too.

      Curried Celery Soup

      2 t. olive oil
      1 onion; chopped
      1 leek; washed and sliced
      1½ lbs. celery; chopped, leaves reserved
      1 T. curry powder; such as Madras or a milder yellow curry
      8 oz. potatoes; chopped, with peel left on (Yukon Gold would work best here)
      4 c. vegetable stock
      1 bouquet garni (optional)
      2 T. chopped fresh mixed herbs

      Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add onion, leek, and celery, cover and cook gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the curry powder and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the potatoes, broth and bouquet garni, cover and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

      Remove and discard the bouquet garni. You may want to set the soup aside to cool slightly before pureeing in a food processor or blender, though if you're using an immersion blender, the soup doesn't need to cool. Puree until smooth. Add the mixed herbs, season to taste and process briefly. Return to the saucepan and reheat gently until piping hot. Ladle into soup bowls and garnish each with a sprinkling of celery seeds and some celery leaves if desired, or, if you're not vegan, stir in some Greek yogurt for added creaminess and tang.
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      Friday, November 5, 2010

      The Home Stretch (?) In the Oven: (Optionally Vegan) Sugar Cookies

      First, thanks to all of you who entered the giveaway!  I'm lucky to have such wonderful readers, and I so appreciated the things you said about me and about my blog.  I wish I could give you all a prize ... some day, you will have to come over for tea and biscotti.  But in the meantime, congratulations to Rebecca, who is the winner of the $25 gift certificate to King Arthur Flour! (Do go visit the site; they were nice enough to actually sponsor this giveaway, and they are a terrific company.)  Rebecca was lucky number 15.  You should all go read her blog ... she's an amazing woman and a powerful writer. After losing her precious daughter Lillian Grace at 22 weeks, she and her husband are now pursuing embryo adoption. You will read her story, shed tears with her, and be inspired by her ability to hold on to hope.

      The start of my third trimester seems to be coinciding with the start of my winter holiday baking here at A Half Baked Life.  It's sort of fitting, I guess, given my tendency to multitask, to have things in multiple "ovens."  My 28 week appointment is next week, along with a glucose test (which I'm sure I will fail, considering how much apple pie and Halloween candy and other junk I've been snarfing down of late ... I'm just waiting for them to tell me I'm pre-diabetic), and then I start going to the doctor every two weeks.  I'm also starting our hypnobirthing class next week (I went with the full class instead of Lamaze refresher, despite my guilt about leaving Ian for another night during the week, on the theory that it would be better suited to my approach to birth, and that it would require S. and I to schedule time to be together).  Ian is pretty much moved up to the attic now, and I'm entering "dumbfounded" mode.  It seems easiest not to think about the reality that's about to hit (is this really going to happen? I'm so not ready ...), and focus on what's cooking in the kitchen instead.

      Each year I hold an open house for the students in my undergraduate research program.  There are just shy of 200 of them in the academic year-long program, and by December, I'm usually pleased to see that they're really beginning to get it ... most of them are sophomores, and started out the program with little, if any, knowledge about research (and keep in mind that this encompasses all disciplines, from philosophy to aerospace engineering).  As the program has grown, it's become harder and harder for me to get to know all of the students, so the open house is one of my rare opportunities to get feedback from them as a group, and to start feeling out prospective peer advisors for the following year's program.

      For the past few years, I've been baking for this event, inspired by a colleague of mine who hosts a technology showcase in December and bakes literally thousands of cookies (what makes it even more incredible is that she's observant Jewish, and she does "Christmas" baking better than most Christmas-celebrating people I know).  While I don't bake thousands of cookies, I do bake a few hundred, in about six different varieties.

      These sugar cookies are always my first go-to cookie for the holiday season, because they're easy to make, freeze well, and are most popular with the undergrads.  They're pretty adaptable for vegans, and if you don't have a rolling pin and cookie cutter, you could always just roll them into 1" balls and flatten them to about 1/4" discs, or roll them out and use a glass to cut them into circles.  We usually make stars and trees, which seem fun and festive without being too "Christmassy," something I tend to be wary of, considering the vast diversity of ethnic and religious backgrounds my students represent.  (One year I made cows and lobsters, but the students just thought that was too weird.  I also have an umbrella cookie cutter, a lighthouse, a fire truck, and a U.S. map.  Ian likes that one.)

      What's in your oven?

      Sugar Cookies

      3 c. flour
      1 c. sugar
      1 1/2 t. baking powder
      1/2 t. salt
      1 c. butter or vegan margarine (in this case, lose the salt) or 2/3 c. canola oil
      1 t. vanilla
      1 slightly beaten egg or EnerG egg replacer
      2 T. cream (vegans use coconut milk or vegan cream cheese thinned with just a little bit of water)

      Preheat oven to 400.

      Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt (a Cuisinart is great for this if you have one; if not, just use a large bowl and a whisk).  Cut in butter, and add the remaining ingredients.  Continue to mix until you have a big, fairly stiff ball.  Roll out cookies as desired to about 1/4" thickness, cut and decorate with sprinkles if you want (you could also frost them afterward).  Place cookies on a baking sheet and 5-8 minutes, or until the edges are just begining to turn brown.  Let cool for a minute or two on the baking sheet, and gently remove with a spatula.  Eat any of the ones that break as you're taking them off the sheet.  It's OK; the calories all fell out of those ones.
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      Monday, November 1, 2010

      Reason, Civility, and Carrot Fennel Soup

      (Warning: the foodie turns somber in this post.  You can read a cheerier post and enter the $25 King Arthur Flour giveaway here until November 3 at 10pm!)

      I've been pretty quiet on this blog about the recent suicides of gay teenagers, and about conversations in the media and in government about civility, and schools being stripped of federal education funds if they are doing nothing about bullying.  But after a friend posted yet another one of the "It Gets Better" videos on his Facebook status the other day, I felt like I couldn't be silent any more.

      It so happens that I have first hand experience of the gay suicide tragedy, because of where I work.  Saying this will "out" me, in some ways, but hopefully not in obvious enough ways that people I know will find this blog too easily.  The response of my workplace has been swift, in general: there was already a two year initiative underway to sponsor a series of conversations about civility, bullying, and in general being thoughtful human beings, from the perspectives of journalism, philosophy, political science, and much more; student groups organized protests and vigils; there have been conversations between the president and student leaders and faculty about safe spaces on campus.

      But honestly, I have felt very little palpable change.  Few people hold the door for each other.  Students still cluster in groups, talking about this person or that group of people, who don't fit their idealized version of normalcy.  Hordes still shove themselves and others onto buses, not thinking about letting others off before they get on.  People still look for excuses to jump down the throat of another person who is expressing an opinion.  Students still saunter into class 20 minutes late without an apology.  There's a deeper problem that I'm not sure can be solved by campus dialogue.

      Mel posted recently on the Rally to Restore Sanity, and wanting to return reason to our conversations.  I'm glad that I was represented there.  And yet, I'm kind of wondering ... what can a rally do?  When I was in high school youth group, we'd spend a weekend in retreat, all together, and come out feeling like we were going to change the world.  Problem was, the world was still there when we got back to it, and we hadn't made any concrete plans for world domination.

      And the Anti-bullying Bill of Rights doesn't seem to me like a huge step forward, either.  You can't legislate niceness.  It's sort of like rape laws.  As of 2005, it was estimated that 60% of rape cases go unreported.  Why?  Because of the stigma of being victimized.  So all of those rapists go unprosecuted, and unpunished.  In a culture that tolerates violence as "part of growing up," and given parents that encourage the cliques and cold shoulders and taunting by their own example (those people I was taunted by in grade school are still, unfortunately, among the people I find cruel today), I don't have much hope that a law--which puts the onus of detection and punishment on the schools--is going to turn things around.

      The thing is, we do a lot of talking.  Even the YouTube videos, well-meaning though they are, are talking heads.  And what I posted in my Facebook status, in response to some of the other statuses I've seen lately, is that while I'm glad about the "It Gets Better" videos, I want to know why our kids--or why we--have to wait for it to "Get Better." Why can't we create an environment that is safe and loving for the next generation right now? Why do we have to tolerate the behavior of adults and children that make others feel like they are alone, unloved, or different?

      Honestly, even "it gets better" feels a little bit disingenuous to me, because yes, while most of us do find our communities, and grow out of the awkwardness that leaves us feeling isolated as teenagers, the world is still not a perfect place, and people still forget to treat others with dignity and civility.  There are a lot of thoughtless people out there.  I read this in others' blogs all the time ... about people who post hurtful comments, about people who say things without considering how others might feel.  This certainly applies to the Land of IF ... how many times have people said things to us that show us they're just not thinking?  And maybe they're not bullying, but they're missing the civility boat, big time: all it takes to be kind is a little bit more awareness and empathy.  It's part of why I feel connected to the IF blogging community.  People here get it.  Even if we don't share the same viewpoint, we are here for each other.

      So I guess I want to know ... what are we doing to make it better?  What are you doing to make it better, to make the world a safer, more loving, more tolerant place where people don't feel alone and unloved?  I don't want to start with Bills of Rights and rallies and vigils--though those are all good things.  I want to start with small actions, directed at individual actors, which I believe are much more powerful than bullying awareness training for teachers and principals (c'mon, do you think we don't recognize the signs?  and honestly, how, in a university of 50,000 students, lecture halls of 250+, are we going to catch them?  More effective, by far, to cultivate a culture of not just tolerance, but acceptance).

      This soup seems fitting today: fennel is not the most universally loved of flavors, but I had to do something with the bulb that was in our CSA box.  There were also carrots, and I happened to have some orange juice.  And there's almost always Greek yogurt in the fridge.  My goal wasn't to hide the fennel taste--after all, fennel doesn't taste any better if you just keep eating it--but to change it by giving it a new context.  We can't dismiss the bullying and the incivility by telling people it will "get better," and I suspect that we can't legislate it away.  We can make it better now, together.  One ingredient, one blog post, one person at a time.

      (OK, let me have it ... you know you want to comment ...)

      Carrot Fennel Soup

      1 medium fennel bulb, stalks trimmed flush with bulb, and bulb sliced thin crosswise
      2 tablespoons unsalted butter
      1 1/2 lbs. carrots, sliced thin (about 4 cups)
      1 garlic clove, sliced thin
      6 c. water
      1 t. salt, or to taste
      1/3 c. fresh orange juice
      1/4 c. sour cream or plain Greek yogurt or plain soy yogurt
      In a 3-quart heavy saucepan cook fennel bulb in butter over moderate heat, stirring, until softened and beginning to turn golden. Add carrots and garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add water and salt and simmer, covered, 20 minutes, or until carrots are very tender.

      In a blender purée mixture in batches with orange juice, sour cream/yogurt, and salt and pepper to taste until smooth, transferring to another heavy saucepan. Heat soup, stirring, just until heated through (do not let boil).
      Serve soup garnished with chervil leaves or fennel fronds.
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