Warm up with Sorrel Soup

October 29th, 2013 § Leave a Comment

sorrel

 

Sorrel is a lemony perennial leafy herb. It grows easily and is hard to kill. There are variagated varieties that are pretty, but are tough and don't taste as nice as the French culinary variety. It's worth growing, especially if you like this soup, because you can't usually find it in large enough quantities at the supermarket to make it. You can also use it as a nice bit of green in your garden when everything else is dead, or a little lemony kick in a mundane green salad. I've seen recipes for sorrel sorbet that look interesting, too.

There are just five ingredients in the basic soup recipe, not including salt and pepper:

Two leeks, white and light green areas sliced and well-rinsed

1 tablespoon of butter, olive oil, or canola oil

Three large waxy potatoes -- like Yukon gold or Red Bliss -- chopped. You can peel them if you want, but you don't have to

1 quart low sodium chicken broth, vegetable broth, water, unsweetened almond, soy or rice milk

6 cups (packed) sorrel leaves, no stems, roughly chopped.

Saute the leeks in the fat, until translucent and softened. Add potatoes and broth. When the potatoes are soft, mash them in the pot and add the sorrel. It will cook down to a kind of ugly greyish green. Puree with a stick blender or in a blender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

This freezes well and tastes even better. Make it creamier by adding some silken tofu or cream. Want to make it look pretty? Add a dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche and sprinkle with chopped chives and/or purple chive flowers.

Speaking of stick blenders, which I probably last mentioned way back when I started blogging in 2009, there's a great deal going at Sur La Table for a free Breville stick blender (or other Breville product) if you take one of their Thanksgiving side dish classes. They don't pay me or give me anything to suggest this. I've taken some of their classes and liked them all. But if you need a stick blender and some good recipes and have a hundred bucks to spare, it's a great way to solve all the problems. Or give it as a gift. Chanukah comes early.

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Book of the Week: An update on the Nobel Project

September 2nd, 2013 § Leave a Comment

I had some great English teachers in high school -- women who challenged my thinking and my reading. They exposed me to authors I'd never have come to on my own (Heinrich Böll), and spurred me to dig deeper into the writing of authors who are part of almost every high school syllibus (the entire Jane Austen oeuvre).

One thing was missing, though: poetry. Not one of my classes involved the study of poems, of rhyme or meter, of the great poets past and present. Beyond Shakespeare's plays, which are written in verse, and someone making us write haiku at some point, I had no coursework related to poetry until my freshman year in college.

In English 101, we studied poetry for a few weeks, doing a section on sonnets (hello again, Mr. Shakespeare!), and one on poems about death. The former included all the usual 14-line suspects: Let me not to the marriage of true minds/admit impediments. The latter: a little Dylan Thomas (Rage, rage, at the dying of the light) and some Dickinson (Because I could not stop for death, He kindly stopped for me).

As a child, I was as open to reading poetry as I was to prose.My mom gave me books of it specifically written for children -- Words Words Words by Mary O'Neill, Finding a Poem by Eve Merriam. And if I was bored she'd set me the task of memorizing a poem. I still have bits of Walt Whitman's O Captain! My Captain! running around my head (which would have been a good addition to the section on death in freshman English), and can recite the entirety of Sister for Sale by Shel Silverstein.

Like many intense youth (is that redundant?), I spend parts of my adolescence and young adulthood writing poetry, plenty of it bad. But I had a dear friend in college who encouraged me, and gave me books -- the complete works of Emily Dickinson, a book of poems by Robert Frost (so accessible -- unlike many modern poets). But I have never felt comfortable enough with my knowledge of poetry to be an avid poetry reader. I'm sure I'm missing something -- hidden meaning, nuance. It makes me feel stupid.

However, I have a longstanding goal of reading something by every winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. That means I have to read some poetry. So when news came last week of the passing of Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney, I took the opportunity to read some of his work -- not a whole book's worth, but a few poems. In retrospect, it's strange that I had never read him -- when I was doing my graduate work at University College Dublin, I was in a history class with his son Michael. And that was at a time when I was still writing my own verse.

So I read. And I found it lovely, evocative of Ireland -- the wet, the green, the pastoral life outside the city. He wrote of a time past -- In A Drink of Water, he writes of a woman pumping water for the day's use. "The pump's whooping cough, the bucket's clatter/And slow diminuendo as it filled". He wrote of the history of Ireland, touching on the Easter Rising of 1916 in Requiem for the Croppies, and of his pride in his Irish heritage in a snarky little untitled verse written after he was included in an anthology of English poets: 'Be advised, my passport's green/ No glass of ours was ever raised/ To toast the Queen.'

More than a poet, he was a scholar, publishing a new translation of Beowulf in 2001. I'm not up for that, but I have ordered a copy of Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966-1996.

Who is your favorite poet? What's your favorite poem? Why?

 

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Lisa’s Test Kitchen: Ceramic Knives Edition

August 26th, 2013 § Leave a Comment

I've mentioned before that people send me free stuff -- samples of food, items like butter bells, cookbooks. For the first time, I got something I was truly curious about: ceramic knives. I know about good knives -- I wrote about how to choose them for USA Weekend -- you can see the article here; the tips are still timely and helpful. But I've always been a steel girl and wondered what -- aside from how pretty they are -- was the appeal of a knife that could break if you drop it and can't stand up to a really tough skinned vegetable (think winter squash)?knives 3

Then The Edge of Belgravia gave me the chance to test out their latest product, a series of five knives (paring, slicer, chef, santoku and utility, ranging in price from $54 to $93 each) made with zirconium oxide ceramic blades sintered at 1400°C. The maker says this creates a blade "almost as durable as a diamond". It's supposed to stay sharp for years, without sharpening -- indeed, you aren't supposed to use sharpening devices made for steel blades. Despite all this greatness, the manufacturer still suggests not dropping it (like that won't happen in my kitchen; good thing I don't have stone floors yet), or using it on bones, frozen food, or really hard vegetables. Other experts note you should always use a cutting board -- and not a glass one -- when using ceramic knives.

knivesSo how did it work? Splendid. I must say I'm not a huge fan of hard plastic handles. I like to know the tang goes all the way through the knife. And it was strange slicing a cucumber and an avocado -- there is more resistance in the ceramic blade than with a steel one. The latter feels slippery in comparison. But I liked that. I felt I had more control.

They are attractive and not prohibitively expensive. They may not be the kind of knives that are handed down from generation to generation like a really good steel blade, but it would make a great graduation or wedding gift for someone.

What do you think of ceramic knives? If you've used them, do you find them superior for some tasks but still rely on steel for others?

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Book of the Week: The Late Great Rakoff, and a give-away

July 31st, 2013 § 1 Comment

I remember hearing David Rakoff on This American Life and thinking he was David Sedaris, one of my favorite TAL contributors and authors, with a distinctive voice that makes everything he says funnier.

I didn't know he wrote books, too. But after he died of cancer at 47 last year, there was a lot of talk about how he just managed to complete a novel. A novel written in verse -- rhyming couplets that told a story spanning generations. That novel, Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish, was released this month and has been getting a lot press and publicity, partly courtesy of the many friends and colleagues who loved and mourn him. I saw Sarah Vowell on The Daily Show mid-July promoting it.

Not a week later I opened to page one and finished the slim volume in one sitting. There are amusing pictures. There is clever language. There is story. There is almost mystery in the story (I had to go back a couple times to parse relationships, but that could be that I plowed through so fast I missed something. That happens when I like a book a lot, especially when I like the language used in that book a lot.)

The story is about a half dozen people whose relationships are twisted together, linked by blood or lust or past or even just some momentary connection. There is love and loss and sorrow and redemption.

It's got all the makings of good chick lit or a potboiler romance. Except with wonderful words strung together to rhyme and give rhythm. For example: At the wedding of his former best friend and former girlfriend, Nathan -- asked to give a toast -- ponders what to say.

"I won't wish them divorce, that they wither and sicken.

Or tonight that they choke on their salmon (or chicken)

I'll stay mum on that time when the cottage lost power

In that storm on the Cape, and they left for an hour

And they thought it was just the cleverest ruse

To pretend it took that long to switch out the fuse.

Or that time you advised me, with so much insistence

That I should  be granting poor Susan more distance.

That the worst I could do was to hamper and crowd her.

That if she felt stifled she'd just take a powder.

That a plant needs its space just as much as its water.

And above all, not give her the ring that I'd bought her.

Which in retrospect only elicits a "Gosh!

I hardly deserved a friend like you, Josh."

It is hard to know what bit to share here, where to stop. It's all good, and although poetry can be difficult to read smoothly and still get the sense of all the author wants you to understand, Rakoff succeeds here. Mr. Right Now said describing the book as a love story in rhyming couplets doesn't recommend it to him. But I think he'd love it. If you like good writing, if clever use of the language -- and I use the word clever in its best sense -- makes you giddy, read it.

And here's a way to get it free: Share this post in social media and in the comment section, include the link to where you shared it in the comments below. Everyone who posts a valid link will be added to a drawing for a free copy of Rakoff's book -- postage included! I'll do the drawing on Tuesday, so that gives you a few days to share this post with your social media networks. You can put it on LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, Google+ or Facebook. Or all of them. That means up to five entries per person.

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Book of the Week: The Blue Book

July 24th, 2013 § Leave a Comment

I didn't have The Blue Book on my radar at all. But I read a review in the New York Times that talked about the author, AL Kennedy, as most closely akin to Richard Ford, whose book Canada I  loved and wrote about previously. So I put it on my list. It sat on the pile for a while; every time I picked it up and read the flap, it just did nothing for me.

When I finally picked it up, this paragraph greeted me on the first page: "And you're a reader -- clearly -- here you are reading your book, which is what it was made for. It loves when you look, wakes when you look, and then it listens and it speaks. It was built to welcome your attention and reciprocate with this: the sound it lifts inside you. It gives you the signs for the shapes of the names of the thoughts in your mouth and in your mind and this is where they sing, here at the point where you both meet."

Sheer bliss to read language like that. And on the first page! Here's another little darling I'm glad Ms. Kennedy didn't kill from much later in the story: "...any boys at all can still light her, trouble her with what they start in rushed and brave and slapdash kisses, in how they speak to her body, wake places she won't let them see, in how they work transformations, imitation magics, have blunt but effective hands. Boys will startle her too much at first, or make her frighten herself with herself..."

It was the author's use of language that kept me reading this book. Without it I would have given up because I didn't like either of the main characters. The last book I tried to read with such vile people as the leads was Bonfire of the Vanities. which I never finished because I disliked everyone in the book so heartily. I guess Beth and Art, the two "protagonists" in The Blue Book have some redeeming characteristics -- an ambivalence about their past, which they spent preying on the relatives of the recently (or not-so-recently) dead and beguiling them into believing that they had the ability to talk to their passed over loved ones.

Some of the story is told in interior monologues by Beth, helpfully italicized so you know she's talking to herself. Other parts of the story are narrated by the book itself. Which is interesting. But to be honest, I don't much like the book's character either. There are a lot of flashbacks, and they don't hold together or make complete sense until the book is three quarters done. It wasn't until the last 120 pages or so that I got the whole story to make sense, and thus became interested. Those last chapters flew by.

I like Kennedy's writing enough to give another of her books a try. I can hardly blame the writer in general for the failure of her characters in particular to inspire fondness, right?

Next up, something less literary and more fluffy: Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan. You'll be the first to know if it's worthy of a report.

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Pay Attention: We’re Going To Have a Quiz Later

July 21st, 2013 § 4 Comments

louie parkI spent this evening hanging out with the extended neighborhood. We were remembering one of the most colorful of our number, Jack McPherson, who died a couple weeks ago after a brave battle with cancer. A few score people showed up with food and drink and stories tonight. Most were from the immediate neighborhood, but some came from further afield, including his former girlfriend, with whom he stayed very close even after the romance was over. His kids were there, too.

Jack graduated from Lake Washington High School, not three blocks from the house he lived in for the bulk of his 76 years. He loved dogs. He sang with a barbershop quartet. He liked Gunsmoke. He owned more tools than a single man needed, but happily, the wider community was around to justify the fact that he had them in his garage. He would help anyone who asked for it. He had a wicked sense of humor that extended to trying to abscond with a neighbor's vintage car when it was left unattended for a moment. His favorite saying? The eight words at the top of this post.

I didn't know that much about Jack before tonight. What I knew was that he had the most bow-legged gait I've ever seen. I walked about a block behind Jack on many mornings, me with my dog, him with his stick. I didn't see him for a few months when he was sick. One day, I walked a block behind a skinny guy I didn't recognize. Except for the bow legs. It was Jack, in the midst of his cancer battle.

Jack's quartet-singing compatriots share music at his memorial.

Jack's quartet-singing compatriots share music at his memorial.

The other thing I knew about Jack was he had a dog named Louie who died a few years back. Louie was a curly coated chocolate colored retriever of some sort. When I met Louie, he was already old. And every time someone asked Jack how old Louie was when he died, the dog got a year older. The neighborhood seems to think he was about 18. Jack loved that dog, and he named the vacant lot across from his house Louie Park. Everyone in the neighborhood knows Louie Park. There's a bench there that Jack built to sit on and accost people as they walked by. You were meant to stop and chat with him. There is a fire pit. A barn. A picnic table. The land is mostly wetland, and unsuitable for more than one house -- not worth it for a developer, and Jack said he valued the space as a neighborhood communal spot more than he would value the money.

There is hope in the neighborhood that it will become an official park, and a petition was going around at the memorial pot luck tonight. It's a favorite place for dogs and their people. In the winter, half of it is a swampy muddy mess. Like I said, a favorite place for dogs. It's also one of the homes of the local coyote couple. At least one cat has met its demise there. Ruby killed a bunny at Louie Park. (Don't be upset: it was a stupid bunny that escaped and then came back out to gloat.)

I live around the corner from Louie Park, and am sad that I didn't know Jack like the people on his street did. I'm sad that I didn't make an effort to catch up with him when I walked behind him. I know some of you, my 20 loyal readers, will scoff, but I can be shy, and I often felt -- still feel -- that there is an established hierarchy of neighbors here, and having come here only 13 years ago, I haven't got the street cred to talk with knowledge to and of the people who have been here for decades.

But if there one thing a death will do it is make you re-evaluate the way you do things. So I will learn more names, more history. I will say hello not just to the dogs (Georia, Miley, Hudson, Manny, Lizzy, Louie, Lucy), but the people (Larry, Rosie, Amanda, James, sweet Calla, Joy, Bob, Carol). I will not walk behind and marvel at the bow of a man's legs or in a girl's hair. I will make an effort to walk beside.

Godspeed Jack. You will be missed.

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Cooking with Mia: Summer salad edition

July 9th, 2013 § Leave a Comment

Quinoa-Tabouli

I have a buttload of parsley in my garden. Also, a ton of mint. What do you do with too much parsley and mint? You make tabbouleh. It's possible that in a couple months, I'll have tomatoes and quinoa (I'm growing quinoa!!!) and can make a batch of this from all my own ingredients. But for now, I had to make due with quinoa and tomatoes I bought. It's easy, healthy, and tasty -- especially the second day.

There are a whole lot of ways to skin the tabbouleh cat. I've made it with bulgar wheat, parsley and no mint. I've made it with quinoa and no parsley. I've added cukes and tomatoes and also just tomatoes. The recipe I used for this batch was based on one from The Vegetarian Kitchen Table Cookbook, by Igor Brotto and Olivier Guiriec. It has 275 recipes, pretty pictures, easy to follow directions.

This recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups quinoa -- use red, white, or a mix. Bring it to a boil in a cup and a half of water and simmer until the seeds are popped -- you'll know what I mean when you see it. It takes 10-15 minutes. Leave it covered off the heat.

Chop a big tomato, a halfcup packed mint leaves, and a couple cups packed parsley leaves. If you like onion or shallot, add about half a cup to three quarters of a cup, finely diced. I like to add a half a chopped seedless (English) cucumber. To me, tabbouleh needs cucumber.

Toss all the chopped goodies with the quinoa in a big bowl. A really. Big. Bowl.

The recipe in the book calls for 7 tbsp of fresh squeezed lemon juice. I say start at half a cup. That extra spoonful is necessary. Mix it with some salt and pepper and a quarter cup of olive oil and pour over the tabbouleh. Mix it well, and ideally, refrigerate over night. It's best served at room temperature.

It makes a lot. Trust me. And feel free to halve the recipe.

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I’ve become “that lady” in my neighborhood

July 5th, 2013 § 1 Comment

Today there was a strange truck parked directly in front of, behind, and next to three "No Parking Any Time: Fire Lane" signs. Two men were in the empty lot next to where they parked. I heard the pling whoosh thunk of arrows hitting target. I'd never seen them before. Usually, the neighborhood uses that space for playing fetch with our dogs or staging doggy play dates. I've used it for training my beast and was there with balls and treats to continue schooling Ruby on dropping the ball after she fetches it, ideally somewhere near me. Possibly even at my feet.

I didn't stop at the lot and Ruby was unhappy. When we came back by the men with their bows and arrows, I called to them, "You can't park here. It's a fire lane. There are signs all over the place. You have to move your truck." I was pee:ved at not being able to play with the dog, and really pissed that they felt so deserving that they could park in a forest of no parking signs without worry. I called the non emergency police line to report the parking problem and the two men playing at archery. I don't know if they heard me making the call, but one of them moved the truck as I was on the phone. In the end, I told the police the problem was resolved.

This happened the day after people of all stripes decided that the rules aren't for them, and despite a ban on fireworks throughout most of the greater Seattle area (including my hometown of Kirkland) they were going to have a little fun with gunpowder. Folks travel to the Indian reservations here to purchase big boxes of the stuff. I don't like the noise, which persisted into the early morning hours today. My dog doesn't like lit either. What bugs me most, though,. is this attitude that rules don't apply to them.

Yeah. It makes me sound like "that lady" -- the one who yells at kids to get off the lawn. I haven't done that, but I did yell at some teens once who dropped fast food litter right in front of the house. I had  the dialogue down pat for the role: "Is that what you do at your house? Is that how your parents taught you? Can I come toss my garbage in your room?"

I figure we live in a civil society and agree to abide by certain rules and laws. If we don't like them, we change them. I don't judge the validity of the legislation banning fireworks in towns and cities. I have lived in some areas where the dryness and heat of summer made it downright dangerous to use them. There are stories every year of people hurt and property damaged by illegal fireworks. It's been pretty dry in Seattle, but fire danger isn't one of the reasons why I objected last night as fireworks banged and whistled and shot into the air, sending showers of sparks to land on neighboring roofs. There are fine, upstanding citizens who see nothing wrong with going to a rez, purchasing items that are illegal in their city, and then lighting them off for their children to enjoy, all the while the TV in the background is showing news segments and ads reminding folks that fireworks are illegal here. I think it sends a bad message to those kids. It says that rules are for other people.

When those kids are teenagers, they will be the ones speeding down my street -- how fast can they go before they get to the digital speed sign five blocks down? And it's okay, because the rules aren't for them. They are for other people. But I bet if I were to speed down the tony streets of the some of the families who were lighting off fireworks last night, I'm pretty sure they'd be pissed. If I were to go light a string of firecrackers in front of their house at midnight or 2 a.m. as their children tried to sleep, I'm guessing they'd call the cops.

Mr. Right Now spent part of last night trying to coax me into saying that the fireworks ban was stupid. He brought up civil disobedience and whether I thought sending young men to war was okay while a few little firecrackers weren't. But that's not my concern or my arguement. If you disagree with the law, change it. If you want to hold a protest, don't do it in my front yard in the wee hours of the morning. All I'm saying is that there are rules, and we are supposed to all follow them. And if we don't all follow them, why have any rules at all?

Yep. I'm "that lady". Embarrassed, but not ashamed.

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Book of the Week: Reinvention Edition

July 3rd, 2013 § 2 Comments

I belong to this amazing organization for freelance writers and editors called Freelance Success. It has been instrumental in all of the work I have done for national publications and websites, and at about a hundred bucks a year, my membership over the last decade or so has paid for itself many times over.

Every year, the organization runs a few marketing challenges, where members are divided up into teams to see who can fine the most new work over a specific period of time. There are no prizes but new clients and the money that comes with them. But this year, a lot of us were struggling with how to reboot our careers to be better in sync with the times. Most of us were weened on newspaper and magazine journalism. We moved to websites fairly easily, although blogging doesn't pay as much as print journalism, which itself hasn't seen an increase in pay for most writers since the '80s. Some of us are doing more corporate work, others are looking to break into what may be the most lucrative kind of writing jobs there are going.

So this year, the Powers that Be decided to have a reinvention challenge. Those interested were divided into teams, and each team is assigned reading and tasks that are supposed to help us hone our search for something new into a sharp stick we can use to force the world to notice our genius. This is week two.

We read an interesting article in Forbes that challenges readers to focus more on "why" than "what" when revamping their careers. I told my 11 member team that I'm pretty sure most writers who ask themselves why they write would answer that they do it to be seen, heard, noticed. We are attention hounds. And we like to teach, inform, and opine. I'd bet those reasons resonate with 90 percent of professional writers. Alert me in the comments if I'm wrong.

Our book assignments include Reinventing You: Define your brand, Imagine your future by Dorie Clark and Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters 3.0 by Jay Conrad Levinson and David E. Perry. I don't think the second is really good for my needs, so I'm not going to spend time on that. Reinventing You, though, is a great tool for helping to define your strengths and weaknesses and figuring out how to best present them. I'm only on Chapter 4 so far, so I can't tell you all its wonders. But it got me thinking about how well self-help books work when it comes to making big changes in our lives.

I remember my mom reading I'm Okay, You're Okay (Thomas Harris, MD) in the 1970s, and I was a fan of  All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten (Robert Fulgham) and When Bad Things Happen to Good People (Harold Kushner) in the 1980s. My first husband was a problem drinker, so I made use of Codependent No More (Melody Beattie), too. But I don't know if any of those books every changed my life in a way I can clearly see. Aside from I no longer have Husband Numero Uno.

So here's my question: What self-help books have been life changers for you? If you've rebooted your career, what books were helpful? Bonus points if you're a writer or other creative professional and have a book suggestion that specifically addresses the needs of people like us.

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Shout louder and they might hear you

July 2nd, 2013 § Leave a Comment

Like a lot of people disgusted by the Wesboro Baptis "Church" -- I won't link to them, but rather to the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center pages about the hate group -- I signed the petition at the White House website to make that reprehensible organization a hate group.

All petitions at the site which get 100,000 signatures within a month get a response, and the response posted today is thoughtful and explains why what the signers of five petitions about Westboro wanted to happen won't. One of the most gratifying things was the map posted on the site that shows the progression of signers by location. Most every place in the country had some people sign. And the deepest blue? Well that was from Kansas, were the hatemongers are based.

wherethepeople-cropped2

I like this feature of the Obama government -- that we can make our voice heard and expect a response. So I created a petition of my own that brings pay-for-performance to Congress. If they don't work, they have their pay reduced to minimum wage, with similar benefits that the average minimum wage slave gets (nothing). If they don't actually filibuster when they invoke filibuster, they lose pay and benefits. If their lack of action leads to cuts that impact people who make less than a congressional representative, they lose pay.

I need 100,000 signatures by August 1. Pass it on. I'd love to see what the White House says about putting a bill before Congress that makes their inaction apparent. I'd be more interested in what happens when the bill makes it before Congress, ideally, with a lot of press and public attention. So, help me out. Sign and share. Let's see if we can see something pretty happen on a map of signatures for this petition, too.

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