28 February 2013

Lunch in the Park is On Sale Now!

I have a problem, which is that I have a fear of talking about my book because people might think it's incredibly lame that I have written a book.  So for the last couple of days when I've seen people in real life and they ask me what's been going on I'm all, "Oh, you know, the usual . . . " and then we nod at each other like "Yep, the usual, yep."  I don't say "Hey, I wrote a book, and I'm going to get serious about publishing it soon and I'm very excited and nervous and some other things, too."

But it's true. I did get serious. I had it professionally edited and then professionally formatted so that it would look nice in people's e-readers and I swallowed hard and I sent it out into the world. And then I told Facebook about it and not one of my friends said "It's incredibly lame that you have written a book." At least none of them said it out loud, to me. What they said to me was that they thought it was awesome, and since my friends are awesome that means awesome people think my writing a book is awesome. Which is nice.

Enough blathering! On to the book!

Dragons may not be real, but Kate fights them anyway. Kate had always taught her niece that when a dragon comes along, you slay it yourself. She rescued herself Priscilla, her students, her friends, and everyone else who loved and depended on her on a daily basis. 

When a yellow Labrador bounded into her picnic in the park, Kate's life got even more complicated. She almost forgot that you don't always have to do the rescuing alone.

Lunch in the Park, a novel about love and family, is available for sale in multiple electronic formats at Smashwords, for the Kindle at Amazon.com and for the Nook at BN.com Wherever you buy it, it is DRM-free. The delicious recipes that Kate and Jeff cook up are right here on my blog.

I hope you'll read Lunch in the Park, you'll love it, and you'll feel the overwhelming urge to write a review on one or more of the sites above. And of course I'd love to hear from you here on the blog, too.

26 February 2013

Rice Cooker Lentils and Rice

Down the Hill
When I told Facebook that I was giving up driving for Lent, my yoga teach said "You're all going to be so strong!" That wasn't the point, of course, but it would be a nice side effect. Nearly two weeks in, I'm not there yet. I'll get there, I'm sure of it. I will come to a point where the last walk of the day will seem like a pleasant stroll.

For the time being though, the last walk has been something to endure. The boys have started asking to ride their bikes wherever they're going. It's a very sensible suggestion, except that they need some practice before the bikes become fast than walking. Younger son and I left a bit early to pick older son up from school so the walking bike could get a workout.  By the time we were on the downhill toward home he was gliding farther and faster than he ever had before and I see many more trips on that bike for him during Lent.

One of the consequences of walking is that we take longer to get home, especially when we have to stop at playgrounds on the way home, and then I'm tired and don't want to do anything elaborate for dinner. Obviously I'm a huge fan of beans and rice, but we've done some variation of tex-mex black beans an outrageous number of times in the last week. The menfolk may not get tired of it, but I do, so I force them to eat other things.

In the course of searching for a new, bigger rice cooker to replace the wonderful but will soon be too small rice cooker I discovered that you can cook soaked beans in your rice cooker. My head almost exploded.  Beans! In the rice cooker! I know you can do beans in the crock pot. I do beans in the crock pot frequently. But a crock pot needs to be fairly full to achieve "slow." If I'm making enough for a crowd, or I'm making enough for leftovers, then the crock pot is perfect. But sometimes I just want enough for the family meal and maybe one lunch. My rice cooker doesn't care how much I'm cooking.

So easy!

I thought I would ease into this radical concept of cooking beans in the rice cooker by cooking lentils. Lentils are small and cook quickly with no soaking at all. It's almost cheating.  I put the lentils and rice in the rice cooker, set the timer and forgot about it. At dinner time I cooked an onion with some spices, mixed it in with the cooked lentils and rice and it was dinner! Two of us were pleased and two of us admitted that it was an adequate dinner. I'm calling it a win.


For reasons known only to the gods of rice cookers, a rice-cooker cup is 3/4 of a regular cooking cup. I know this is terribly confusing. The point is that you can measure the lentils the same way you measure the rice and it will all work out. If you still have the measuring cup that came with your rice cooker, use that. If you don't, just just 3/4 of a regular cup.

Rice Cooker Lentils and Rice

Rice Cooker Lentils and Rice

1 1/2 rice-cooker cups lentils, rinsed, stones and discolored lentils removed.
1 1/2 rice-cooker cups brown rice

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon butter (or use just olive oil for a vegan dish)
1 small white onion
2 cloves garlic
1 Tablespoon garam masala (I use a salt-free blend)
1 teaspoon salt

Up to several hours ahead,  measure the lentils and rice into the bowl of your rice cooker. Add water up to the three mark for white rice. Place the bowl into the rice cooker and set the time for your desired dinner time. If your cooker doesn't have a timer, just turn it on and allow the cooker to keep it warm until you're ready to eat. (I'm told that in Japanese households they make a big pot of rice in the morning and keep it hot all day, so your food will be fine for a few hours.)

Fifteen minutes before you're ready to eat, place a skillet over medium heat. Dice a small white onion and finely mince two cloves of garlic. When the skillet is hot, add the oil and butter. When the butter is melted (or if using oil only, when the oil begins to shimmer) add the onion to the skillet and cook until softened, about five minutes. Add the garlic, garam masala and salt. Stir until fragrant. Remove from heat.  In a medium bowl (or in the rice cooker bowl if you have room) combine the lentils and rice with the onion mixture.  Makes a lovely simple supper or a hearty side.

20 February 2013

Like Riding a Bicycle

I was ten when I learned to ride a bike. That was late. Everyone elese I knew already rode bikes, except for my mother and my sister who had declared it impossible. There seemed to be some hope for me, so my parents bought me a bike, and one afternoon my father drove me and the bike over to the stadium parking lot so I could ride without fear of crashing into trees or cars. The fact that I might crash into the pavement was not a significant concern.

I honestly don't remember much about that day, except that we spent most of the afternoon in that parking lot. I don't think I did crash into the ground because I have a significant fear of failure. I hopped off the seat and planted my feet firmly on the ground whenever there was any risk that I might go so fast as to actually lose control.

I hate being out of control.

I would wobble, wobble, hop off, wobble, hop off. At one point I got some actual momentum going and ended up riding over a ditch which bounced the seat of my bike right up into my crotch and anyone who thinks that didn't hurt because I'm a woman is utterly wrong.

My father wouldn’t allow me to quit, so wobble, wobble, hop off, wobble I went until my father with his greater knowledge of both bicycles and angular momentum must have been near despair. What he knew was that once the bike was really moving it would be nearly impossible for it to just fall over. There would be no wobble if I would just surrender to the physics of the thing.

By the end of the afternoon I was gliding creditably, not yet convinced that the physics really worked in my case, but not a danger to my self or others on my quiet residential street.

The  "just like riding a bicycle" exists for a reason, and I've never really forgotten what I learned that day. But I am still afraid of falling and failure, and if I get on a bike after a long absence my three semesters of college physics and my years of practical experience don't quite overcome the fear, so that my first first few yards are forever wobble, wobble, hop off, wobble, until I learn, again, to surrender.

16 February 2013

The Practice of Writing

I just finished The Practice of Writing, a 5 week, online writing course run by Alice Bradley of Finslippy.  I first started reading Finslippy when I was beginning doula work, and I ran into the funniest birth story in the history of the world.  I knew then that Alice Bradley was destined to be my very good friend. She didn't know it yet, of course. After five weeks of a writing class she still doesn't know it. But whatever, she'll come around eventually.

Despite not yet being my very good friend, Alice Bradley is an excellent writer, a good teacher and a very encouraging critic. If you write anything: a blog, short stories, poetry, annotated shopping lists, then I strongly encourage you to give The Practice of Writing a try.

Our last assignment for the course was to produce fifteen writing prompts of our very own.  It was Alice's little nudge to get us out of the nest. I plan on sifting through what I've written for the course and looking for gold nuggets I can refine to share here, or expand into something more. So, as a first offering I give you my very own fifteen writing prompts. The rules: Don't think, just write. Give yourself fifteen minutes. You can write poetry or prose, fiction or non-fiction, in any format you like. If you use them, I'd love to hear about it.

  1. Write about a time when you believed you had magical powers.
  2. In the process of cleaning out a family member's home, you have found a beloved object from your childhood. What is it? What has it been doing since you saw it last?
  3. What keeps you awake at three in the morning?
  4. If you had to move your whole household into one room, how would you do it?
  5. In the process of changing the light switch covers in your home, you find a note from  the previous owners. What does it say?
  6. You have fifteen minutes to change my mind about a contentious political topic that is important to you. Go.
  7. On a walk in the woods, you discover a path of flower petals leading in a direction you've never been. What do you do?
  8. Write about a time when you wished the earth would open up and swallow you whole.
  9. What is the one thing that tells you that you are home.
  10. Once upon a time, there was a girl who lived in a small house next to a big river . . . 
  11. You have been given a four week, all-expenses paid vacation for four. Where do you go? Who do you bring? What will you do?
  12. Joey was sure the disco ball hadn't been hanging in the basement yesterday . . . 
  13. Write about a time when you made something better.
  14. Write a birth story.
  15. A stranger hands you fifty one-dollar bills and tells you to give them away one at a time, then leaves. What do you do with the money?

15 February 2013

Small Changes and Vegan Cornbread

A quick car-less update:

I have walked fourteen miles in the past three days.
The vests are very reflective, so are the straps on big boy's backpack.

On Wednesday, when dance classes were over, I picked up the small boy and said "Are you ready to walk home?"

"Yes!" he answered with great enthusiasm. "Mommy, will you carry me?"  His enthusiasm wavered when I explained that I would not be carrying him all the way home.

The reflective vests were the source of much excitement, and might have kept the boys cheerful all the way home despite the pouring rain, but big boy slipped on the wet pavement and banged up his head and his knee. Neither was serious, but they did away with all sense of adventure.

It's been better since then, because it hasn't rained and there's been less walking.

Walking means we can stop at the signs and trace the letters.

And we can use parking lots to practice balancing.

I have  a dinner meeting to attend this evening. My friend volunteered to make dinner for the group, and I offered to make bread. The dinner plans changed when we found out one of our new members is vegan. Out went the lasagna and in came chili. Out went the crusty loaf and in came the vegan cornbread. I packed everything into my largest mixing bowl and baked on site.

Baking supplies ready to go.

There is a phantom jar of baking powder in my house. I believe that I own an almost full jar of baking powder, purchased when I was on vacation last year. I've been using the dangerously-close-to-empty jar, because I can never find the full one. I'm sure I saw the full jar earlier this week, so when I was out buying ingredients today I didn't get baking powder. When it came time to mix the dry ingredients, I couldn't find the almost full jar. I made a double batch of the corn bread, which meant I needed two entire tablespoons of baking powder. The now-empty jar contained at most one and three quarters tablespoons.  In BakeWise, Shirley Corriher claims that most American recipes are over-leavened, so I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. It worked out fine, and everyone at the table was fed.This was a very wet recipe, so I think in future I will make sure that all of the baking powder is accounted for.

Vegan Cornbread

Vegan Cornbread
adapted from Supermarket Vegan by Donna Klein


1 1/2 cups stone-ground yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
2 (8.5 ounce) cans creamed corn
1 Tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit

Oil one 8x8 glass baking dish and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt. Stir for one minute to mix thoroughly.

In a large bowl, stir together water, creamed corn and olive oil. Add dry ingredient and mix until just combined. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow to cool for 15 minutes before slicing.

12 February 2013

Giving Up

Pound Cake

I am bad at Lent, just as I am bad at New Year's resolutions.  Specifically, I am bad at giving up bad habits, and at taking up good habits. I resist change, even change that is undeniably good. At least I am bad at the change that requires any effort at all. But I try again every year. I'm only half-hearted about New Year's resolutions, but I do usually mean what I say about Lent.

As of Sunday afternoon, I'd been fairly sure what I was going to do for Lent this year, but then on Monday I ran into this article about Austrian churches encouraging their congregations to give up their cars for Lent. Reducing the amount that I drive would be a net good: I'd walk more, put less smog into the air, and spend less on gas.

My kids are both in schools that are walking distance. The library, my yoga class, their dance classes, and a grocery store, all in walking distance. At the beginning of the school year when I was ambitious, I walked them to and from school regularly. But I've been slacking, and this is the push I need. Of course, Lent begins on a Wednesday, and Wednesday is dance class day, which means the first day will be the roughest day.  I told my friend about this scheme and she said "And you don't even own a stroller any more."  Trust me, I know that the walk home from dance classes is likely to be a trail of tears. I plan on having a backpack full of snacks and other enticements with me, and I bought the boys each a reflective vest, since we'll be walking home in twilight. I'm hoping the reflective vests will be novelty enough to keep them cheerful at least part of the way.  And if all that walking means they collapse into their beds and fall asleep quickly, well, that's just an extra-shiny bonus.

I can't give up my car entirely. Church is too far to walk. So is the farmers' market, the pediatrician, and the store that has the bulk bins. I'm trying to figure out the best bus route, but the fact is I live in the 'burbs and the buses out here aren't great. That's on weekdays. On weekends they're terrible. That's part of the challenge, of course. Just sitting down and figuring out what it would talk to use the bus instead of my car makes me think about folks who don't have cars, and about what kinds of changes we'd need to make. Would it be easier to fix the bus system, or to convince my local grocer to add organic bulk bins? Would I be better off getting a trailer for my bike? Should we subsidize bikes? Are there enough bike lanes? There is no single right answer, and the problem (Which problem? Poverty? Global Warming? Yes.) is complex. Giving up driving my kids to school isn't going to solve anything, except that it will make me aware, for the six weeks of Lent, that the car that sits in my driveway is a both a privilege and a problem.

This week my awareness is also drawn to the needs of others because it is my church's turn to host the rotating homeless shelter. About forty people, most of them working poor, some of them children, are sleeping on cots in the Parish Hall. I dropped off some dictionaries today because some of the guests are school age and needed dictionaries to do their homework.

Shelter Week
Yes, that is a crib. One of our guests this year is ten months old.

They eat breakfast and dinner with us, and we provide sandwiches and other lunch supplies.  It is a point of pride with us that the food is good food, home cooked, and ample. The shelter residents are our guests, and before we send them out to navigate a world that doesn't care if they don't have cars or roofs over their heads, we make sure they have their bellies and their hearts fed.  I made this pound cake for tonight's dessert.

(Edited to add that after the shelter was done, one of the kitchen workers hunted me down to let me know that while there was plenty of pound cake to go around, mine had been mostly devoured by the volunteers. Many of them come to the shelter straight from work, and this pound cake was too delicious to resist. I promised I'd make two for next year.)

Rose Levy Beranbaum's Perfect Pound Cake
adapted from The Cake Bible

1.5 ounces milk
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
5.25 ounces sifted cake flour
5.25 ounces sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6.5 ounces unsalted butter, softened.
ingredients should be room temperature before mixing


Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit.

Prepare a loaf pan by buttering, place parchment paper on the bottom, then butter and flour.

In a medium bowl, mix together the milk, eggs and vanilla.

In a large mixing bowl combine the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for thirty seconds.  Add the butter and half the egg mixture. Mix on low speed until ingredients are moistened. Increase to high speed (medium if using a stand mixer) and beat for one minute. 

Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Gradually add the remaining egg mixture in two batches, beating for twenty seconds after each addition. Scrape down the sides.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface with the spatula. Bake 55-65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cover with foil after the first 30 minutes to prevent over browning.

Allow the cake to cool in the pan for about 20 minutes, then remove to a wire cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

There are no good strawberries right now where I live, but if you make this during strawberry season, I suggest you chop some strawberries up and use them for topping.

11 February 2013

Powerful Winter Salad

Grains and Greens Winter Salad

I sent the first two chapters of my novel off to a respected author who wrote me back, told me my writing was beautiful but boring and those two chapters might need to be cut entirely.  The book I thought was almost ready for publication needs its nose cut off.  Even though I knew in my heart she was right, I was knocked sideways. I cried a little. I posted a flounce on Facebook, declared I would put the whole thing in a box and forget about it.

I felt that way for fifteen entire minutes before I blew my nose, squared my shoulders and went to read chapter three of my novel. It turned out that chapter three could be an excellent chapter one with only minor corrections.

In December I went back to yoga class after a long absence. I went with excellent intentions. And then in January we had weather-related school delays and I had a nasty head-cold and I was out of class for three weeks.  I had to drag myself there this morning, not because I didn't want to get back into the habit, but because the getting into part of a habit is hard, and I feel weak in chaturanga, and my balance isn't what is should be and if I'd only gone to yoga these last three weeks I would be so much better than I am now.

Yoga class was hard, but rising from forward bend into mountain pose I felt powerful. In that simple movement I was in control, stable, and stretched out to reach for something higher. I'm not where I was, or where I'd like to be, but there was a small victory, anyway.

I love green salads. I eat them regularly all summer long. But it is not summer, and the fresh lettuces and other veggies that make a summer salad delicious are some combination of foreign, expensive, tasteless, and ugly. Last week, I bought the last of the baby spinach at the farmers' market.  Even with global warming and frost covers there are just times when you can't get salad greens that haven't been shipped in from a million miles away.   The produce section of the local organic market is filled with leafy greens, kale, and chard, and dandelions, plants that can survive a mild winter, and are full of nutrients to support your body through the short days and germ-infested rooms that make up winter.

Wheat Berries

These are wheat berries, about as whole grain as whole grains get. They also take two hours to cook. They are the anti-fast food. But when they are cooked, they are chewy and delicious and if you want to get all excited about things being good for you, they're full of slow-digesting fiber.

Together they make this lovely winter salad. The wheat berries take time to cook, but otherwise this is fairly easy to make, and it's a nice thing to pack for lunch. I used ruby chard and dandelion greens, but you could use anything. Kale would be lovely, or spinach. Maybe skip collards which really do need more cooking.

It's a salad because it has salad dressing. I just used my usual dressing, which includes honey. If you're trying to make this vegan, you could sub in maple syrup or just sugar. Don't skip the sweetener though, since greens have some bitterness.

for the Salad:

1 cup wheat berries
3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 bunch leafy greens
1 medium yellow (or red) onion

for the dressing:

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
1 tablespoon honey (or vegan sweetener)
salt and pepper to taste

Put wheat berries and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until berries are chewy but not at all crunchy, about two hours. There's no need to fuss with them, and they're hard to over cook.

Whisk the dressing ingredients together in a large bowl.
When the wheat berries are almost done, half and thinly slice the onions. Put the onions in the dressing bowl, toss and set aside.

Wash the greens and chop them small, stems included. Put the greens in the bottom of a large colander in the sink.  Pour the wheat berries and excess water over the greens.

Add the well drained wheat and greens to the large bowl and toss until well mixed. The heat from the grains and the oil in the dressing will wilt the greens and soften the onion.  Taste and adjust seasoning. 


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