Something happened

21-womens-march-pink-01.w710.h473.jpg

Dear Daughters #1 and #2,

You turned 18 and 16 this week — a week for the history books, and one that I hope marks your entry into a lifetime of civic engagement.

cupcakes-womens-march-website-620x620_1_

Thank you, Cupcake Royale

You are too young to remember much about your maternal grandmother and you never had the opportunity to know your great-grandmother, a beloved teacher, community icon, and an early believer in the global community, who set an example for her family on how to live a service and values-oriented life. She lives on in all of us, especially you, Daughter #2, because you look so much like her. Thank you for the daily reminder that she is the woman I strive to be.

What would she be thinking, or more importantly, doing if she were alive today?

ask not.jpg

Your grandmother was a political activist, a Jack Kennedy Democrat, active on her county election board and a delegate to the Democratic National Convention of 1960. She was invited to Kennedy’s inauguration in January, 1961 but there was a blizzard that week and my older brother had the mumps. Nine months later, I was born, the product perhaps of redirected political zeal and idealism.

What would my mother be thinking, or more importantly, doing if she were alive today?

Though I grew up with women who believed in politics and service, I also grew up in the wake of Watergate. One of my first political questions was to ask a teacher whether he thought Richard Nixon should be “impaired.”

Still-life-with-peaches-and-pears.jpg

an honest mistake

I’ll be honest with you. My peers and I were apathetic. Too young to protest the Vietnam war, though some of us wore POW/MIA bracelets, we were the first wave of the disillusioned. Watergate began the breakdown in trust of our political institutions. Ronald Reagan was elected the first time I voted for president. Many of us threatened to move to Canada then. Some of us disengaged politically, though concerns about nuclear energy and Africa sometimes united us. There were some memorable concerts.

nonukesmovie

we-are-the-world

Though it felt like breakthroughs had occurred, on the feminism front, there were still battles to be fought. You think I’m from the Dark Ages when I tell you about being discouraged from wearing pants to work or having to take typing tests for jobs that had nothing to do with typing (tests the male candidates did not have to take). You perk up a bit when I tell you about my own experiences with reproductive rights, though you have no idea how much harder it was to talk about and obtain birth control than it is now. I haven’t told you about my experiences in Thailand and Russia, when the men I was with, some of whom I respected, abandoned the values they practiced at home and acted disrespectfully towards women. I haven’t told you about the countless times, while at work, a man said or did something blatantly sexual towards me. I haven’t wanted to admit that I shrugged it off, laughed uncomfortably, and looked the other way.

tina fey.png

As planes crashed into towers on 9/11, we went to your toddler music class, Daughter #1, where we briefly drowned out tragedy through song and I tried not to think of the world I had recently brought your baby sister into. We drove around all day, avoiding the television, but I couldn’t resist listening to the car radio. Ever intuitive, even at age 2, you, Daughter #1, asked me what was wrong. “Something happened,” I told you evasively.

little-prince

I’m not shielding you anymore. You are 18 and 16 and this is your future. Something happened and I want you to be confronted by it every day. How you choose to respond is up to you.

Yesterday, while marching with 130,000 or so people of Seattle, I talked with a woman my age about how this march was affecting us. “I snapped at my family this morning,” she admitted. “So did I, ” I told her. We agreed that the march, that the need to march had stirred up so much emotion and urgency within us. As many a sign conveyed at marches around the country, women our age are incredulous that we have to fight for our rights all over again.

march.JPG

I’m interested in the multigenerational response to Trump and was lucky enough yesterday to have the opportunity to interview marchers of all ages, races, and genders to hear what they had to say. I heard anger and hope and pain and calls to action and solidarity and I felt better because of all of it. I have you both to thank for opening my eyes and my mind to what young people care about and the future they hope to create.

Maybe we have to have pivot points like this in history so that each generation can decide for itself what is worth fighting for. I can’t tell you what to fight for or how to fight for it. I can only tell you that I have been awakened from mid-life complacency and that I hope this is your political coming-of-age.

As you each take one step closer to adulthood, my hope is that you will never be apathetic and you will never allow anyone else to decide your destiny. Follow in the footsteps of your grandmother and great-grandmother and be the change you want to see in this world.

Happy Birthdays.

Love, Mom

Here’s one young  Seattle poet’s powerful response to our new government. You go, girl!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barack Obama and Me

There’s an urban legend that, in the wee hours of the night, as he works alone, striving for peace, prosperity, equity, and equality, Barack Obama allows himself to snack on seven almonds. Not six almonds and certainly not 10. Seven is the magic number.

If you’re a user of My Fitness Pal or any other calorie tracking system, you know that almonds are a virtuous snack. An ounce of them (approximately 24) has around 160 calories. They are chock full of protein and offer up the good kind of fat. At around 50 calories, seven almonds is a righteous snack. Very leader-of-the-free world appropriate.

“This is an example of the weird way that the press works,” Obama said, refuting the article that first raised awareness of his almond penchant. 

“All my friends were calling up, and they’re saying: ‘You know, this seems a little anal. This is kind of weird,’” he said. “And I had to explain to them, no, this was a joke.” He went on to say that when he leaves the White House, he may even eat up to 10 or 11 almonds in a sitting.

aj_bar

Whoo hoo!

I’ve been thinking a lot about Obama, not just because he’s leaving office soon and we’ll all be sad to see him and his wonderful family go, but also because we both just turned 55. It’s been a milestone for me to have a president who is my age. His kids are roughly the same ages as mine too. Maybe in part because I can imagine wanting to hang out with him in college (actually, I can imagine having one deep conversation with him at a college party  and never recreating that magic again), I find Obama’s values, his history, his hopes for the future, and his taste in music and books all eminently relatable. I’d certainly like to hang out with him and Michelle now.

I spent many happy days this summer running while listening to Obama’s summer playlists on Spotify. Whether you agree or disagree with his politics, there’s no denying: the man is cool. (Though Joe Biden has a surprising reputation as a teen heartthrob, I have to say that I found his playlist rather stodgy.)

la-et-ms-white-house-launches-spotify-page-wit-002.png

55 is its own milestone and it makes turning 50 seem like child’s play. I’ve watched Obama poke fun at his graying hair and gaunt appearance, no longer the young agent of change he was when he took office. He’ll be an unemployed empty-nester soon, contemplating how he will fill his days. If he were like many older Americans with great career credentials and years of productivity ahead of him, he might struggle to find a job. And he might find some of today’s job titles bewildering, especially those that include the word “senior,” which often means two to three years of job experience.

Age discrimination is alive and well and it starts earlier and is more pervasive for women (surprise!).  The good news is there’s a budding awareness underway regarding views about older workers and the skills, experience, and clear-headedness they can bring to the workplace.

(I probably just damaged my own job prospects by admitting that I’m 55, but I’ve decided to own it).

Chris Rock 2.jpg

As I contemplated 55, I decided to embark on a health and fitness challenge to deal with the slow creep of pounds that have affixed themselves to my mid-section each year since I turned 50, made worse by a series of injuries that curtailed my workout routines.

I started eating almonds in groups of eight (Now I see I may have been misguided). I tried to drastically limit the amount of sugar I ate (so long, Skinny Cows and cocktails) and avoid most carbs. I bought a scale and discovered that the fancy new digital scale accuracy is just as erratic as the old school dial model was. Most important, I joined a new bootcamp.

private-benjamin

I’m an early morning outdoor bootcamp veteran, having spent a few years running around at 6 am, rain or shine, until a stress fracture in my sesamoid bone caused me to quit.This bootcamp takes the intensity up a notch or more. For one thing, it starts at 5:30, instead of 6:00. For another, it features lots of stairs.

FYI: Barack and Michelle get up early to work out and apparently Michelle can hold a four-minute plank.

michelle-obama

Admit it. You’re going to miss those arms.

Though getting up and out the door that early is a colassal drag (and is only going to get worse when the weather changes), and it’s hard for me to be present with my family after 8 pm, I’ve found the benefits of boot camp to go beyond the physical.

First, there’s the sunrise.

boot camp.JPG

Then, there’s the satisfaction of having accomplished a challenging feat long before most people have stared bleary-eyed into their first cup of coffee. I’ve noticed that I feel better equipped to deal with life’s challenges on boot camp days, for example, having the wherewithal to go through two years of parking receipts to prove to the collection agency that the parking ticket they claimed was unpaid (and for which I never received any notice) had in fact been paid on time.

I couldn’t have done that without bootcamp.

seinfeld-parking

We all know that exercise alone won’t get rid of those added pounds, sad news for a foodie like me. So I was thrilled to discover that the Bon Appetit seasonal cleanses, which I’d heard about but never tried, have been compiled into a wonderful book by Sara Dickerman.

bon-appetit-food-lovers-cleanse-book-hi-res-940x600.jpg

I don’t follow the plan, I just use these recipes and they are terrific. Think Ottolenghi light.

A benefit of aging is that I can see how far we’ve come from the days when I would eat absolutely awful tuna and tofu sandwiches while sitting in a closet watching a 16mm version of Purple Rain on my lunch hour at the film office where I worked.

Now, I can put delicious tofu chipotle mayonnaise on everything, sitting on a comfy living room couch binge-watching whatever I want on demand.

Here’s the recipe:

Chipotle Mayonnaise adapted from The Food Lover’s Cleanse by Sara Dickerman

3 black garlic cloves or 3 fresh garlic cloves (I just used fresh garlic. Black garlic is a caramelized version)

2-3 T canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (roughly 1-2 peppers)

2 t rice vinegar

8 oz. silken tofu (I’ve made it with regular tofu and it’s fine)

1 t fine sea salt

3 t canola oil

If using fresh garlic, boil a small pot of water, add garlic cloves, and blanch for one minute. Drain.

In a blender, whizz together the chipotles, garlic, and vinegar until chiles are roughly chopped. Add tofu, salt, and oil and blend for two minutes until smooth. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. Trust me, it won’t last that long. 

The night before my birthday, we made an impromptu visit to a friend, who in turn, provided us with an impromptu healthy feast. She stuck a lit candle into a cucumber round  (but only because it would have melted the Terry’s dark chocolate orange ball she happened to have on hand) and she and Jeff serenaded me with the birthday song.

“Don’t worry about turning 55,” she advised. “It’s just a speed limit.”

It took me a few blissful minutes before I remembered… so is 35.

I’ll say it again: the man is cool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lemonade

I can’t predict how many times I will forgetfully attempt the innocent act of turning on the faucet in the kitchen sink and end up feeling like an urban kid seeking relief during a sweltering summer in the 1950s.

fire hydrantWhile others are sipping cafe cortado in Spain, hiking the Pacific Crest trail, or otherwise enjoying leisurely pastimes, we are experiencing The Summer of Broken Things (to drive that point home, as I typed Summer, the R on my computer keyboard came loose).

faucet

Todays’ surprise; tonight’s fix-it project.

To put things in perspective, none of these things are dire and they pale in comparison to the truly devastating tragedies that have befallen a number of people we know, and the horrifying events that have occurred around the world and in our country this year.

But they are wearying nonetheless and require a roll-with-the-punches, good-humored optimism (and lots of duct tape) that can be hard to sustain. These challenges kind of remind me of the aches and pains that interfere with my exercise. Go to boot camp or go running and end up with a stress fracture in the foot. Substitute swimming laps, only to become a landlubber recuperating from gallbladder surgery. Recover from everything, start doing the elliptical and barre classes, and suddenly wake up each morning with painful middle finger knuckles.

When the faucet went crazy, after a nice sunny afternoon at a lake and an amusing car ride home listening to Jessi Klein’s hilarious breakup story on The Moth, Daughter #1 said, in a world-weary way, “That’s just the kind of thing that would happen to our family.”

I get where she was coming from, but nonetheless, I was taken aback.

Yes, the oven is broken and (because I’m currently unemployed) Jeff has decided we should wait until the end of the summer to replace it, so we can recover from the unexpected car repair bills for his high-maintenance European ride and my stalwart cockroach of a 16-year-old Toyota minivan, which defies death time and time again, remaining more cost-effective to fix than replace (despite the fervent wishes of Daughters #1 and #2 and myself).

The gas grill died a while ago too, so our cooking options have been reduced to stovetop and our old charcoal Weber grill, resurrected from the shed and ceremoniously adorned with a new cooking grate.

homer bbq.jpg

Heroic Jeff has spent many a night watching DIY videos on YouTube and then taking apart the clogged dishwasher, and replacing the headlights and taillights (which went out on a harrowing rainy night five-hour drive home over the mountains) and dome light in my minivan. To be fair, at least once I cleaned out and scrubbed the refrigerator in a show of moral support.

A bunch of little appliances, like our home phone and the all-important hair straightener, have been on the fritz. The computer no longer talks to the printer and Netflix comes and goes. I’ve glued the R back on the computer keyboard several times.

By fixing these things ourselves or doing without, I thought we were modeling resilience and prudence, defying the disposable society. Michelle Obama (and even Melania Trump) would applaud the values we are passing on to our kids.160719005412-melania-trump-michelle-obama-composite-large-169

After all, summer is the perfect time to get creative and be oven-free, finally getting around to grilling fava beans and making panna cotta instead of baking berry pies and cobblers.

favas

panna cotta

 

 

Summer calls for experimentation and improvisation, as in the fig, orange blossom, and cornmeal pancakes I concocted one morning  (But the scones, something inside of me still cries on Sunday mornings. What about the scones?). You can be lazy in the summer, or you can kick it up a notch and make cardamom rosewater ice tea.

Most important, summer is a time of simple pleasures.

Mosier Mt. Hood Mosier sunset Bow hike Palouse falls Eliote Fideos Mirror Lake

pets

One night, after a disappointing day, I cried bitter, frustrated tears and watched Inside Out with my family. Had the oven been working, I would have baked brownies, which are the just the thing at a time like that. But I knew I could always rely on a microwave baked chocolate chip cookie in a cup. The next morning, I dusted myself off and moved hopefully onward.

I had intended to ask Daughter #1 what she meant by her comment about being “that kind of family,” when I picked her up from work, but we were listening to Donald Trump’s acceptance speech and somehow, an overzealous, undirected kitchen faucet seemed like the least of our worries.

But her words made me reflective. 2016 feels like an annus horribilus on so many levels, I can see why a person might feel pessimistic. From a personal standpoint, I remember how guilty I felt when we were the ones enjoying cafe cortado in Spain. Given the current state of the world and some of the personal challenges we’ve weathered over the past two years, I no longer feel guilty, just grateful, lucky, and glad to have those memories (and my tinto de verano recipe) to fall back on.

How sweet it is.

How sweet it is.

So how does resilience differ between midlife and emerging adulthood?

In her book, Life Reimagined: The Science, Art and Opportunity of Midlife, author Barbara Bradley Hagerty suggests that attitude and perspective make all the difference. I’d add history to the mix. I can look back over our 20-year marriage and recall that Jeff and I have owned three dishwashers, battled rats and raccoons, survived the chronic illness of a toddler, handled my mother’s terminal illness, and battled lice several times, including discovery of an infestation on the day of my mother’s death at our home, when the cat barfed on the only remaining untainted bedsheets and I spent that day mourning and doing laundry. We DIY remodeled not one, but two bathrooms, and replaced a shattered refrigerator shelf, yet our marriage survived intact. I thought all was lost when Ronald Reagan was elected president. I had no idea…

For a 17-year-old, who has lived in the same 100-year-old house her entire life, it’s easy to focus on what’s broken. The current inflammatory rhetoric and shocking displays of violence reinforce that mindset. With growing political awareness and just a few months shy of being able to vote in her first presidential election, D #1 is disgusted and scared about the future. My daughters’ cohort has loosely been coined Generation Z or, more hopefully, “The Founders,” serving as the bridge to a more hopeful era.  For their sake, I hope that’s true.

At 11:30 one night, huddling mournfully together, having attended a poignant, beautiful memorial for a boy who left his family and friends much too soon, Daughter #2 remembered the lemonade that had been served at the service. Shaken by loss, she hadn’t been able to eat for several days, but had been able to manage that bittersweet lemonade.

I heard a whirring sound from the kitchen and walked in to find this, courtesy of Jeff:

lemons

I’d like to think that that’s the kind of family we are.

Speaking of history and perspective:

soup

  1. There is a garden vegetable soup I used to make when we and our friends found ourselves in times of trouble. Recently I had the occasion to make it again. It comes from The New Basics Cookbook, a compendium of standards from the brains behind The Silver Palate gems. I hope you can read this recipe:

garden soup

2. When I was a frazzled new mother, on the cusp of 40, with a baby and a toddler, one of the many books that gave me solace was The Bitch in the House: 26 Women Tell the Truth About Sex, Solitude, Work, Marriage, and Motherhood. Among other things (like the companion book, The Bastard on the Couch: 27 Men Try Really Hard to Explain Their Feelings About Love, Loss, Fatherhood, and Freedom) it spawned the New York Times Modern Love column, which now has a terrific podcast

I recently learned that The Bitch is Back: Older, Wiser, and (Getting) Happier, will be published in late September. I can’t wait to read it.

3. Escaping the ills of the world, I went to Pike Place Market the other day and, among other things, bought a romanesco.

foodie tear

Do yourself a favor and make this dish from the Los Angeles restaurant, Gjelina.

4. Happy 20th anniversary, Mr. Fix-it!  Wanna go oven shopping with me?

mr fix-it

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advocacy and Conflict Around Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

MaslowsHierarchyOfNeeds

Last weekend, the TED Radio Hour devoted its program to psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. Maslow developed his ideas as part of a 1943 paper on human motivation. Though the rankings have been criticized since then (note that apparently Maslow himself never actually used a pyramid to represent them), breaking down the different components of human motivation can be useful.

Though I studied international relations and diplomacy, a field that benefits from a frank understanding of the drivers of human behavior, I’d never encountered Maslow or his theories until fairly recently. I was introduced to them while editing a paper written by a brilliant out-of -the-box thinker in the education technology field.

Recently I’ve found myself thinking about the hierarchy of needs and what happens when the different needs of different groups conflict. Though I’d encountered this many times in passionate debates about education reform, this time my reasons for considering the clash of human motivation were more personal.

A few weeks ago, I was attacked at around 10:30 in the morning in the parking garage of our neighborhood library. The perpetrator had attacked a woman in an office building before coming into the garage, menacing a mother with two young children on the way to story time, and then trapping and groping me. The attack drew my attention to the increase of crime and homelessness in my previously sedate neighborhood and to the plight of addiction and homelessness in Seattle that has led our mayor to declare a State of Emergency. Last May, I was frustrated by our efforts to have the den of heroin-using squatters evicted from the vacant house next door, which was slated for development. Eventually the people were kicked out, but the police refused to remove the drug paraphernalia. Now, as a matter of course, you can find used syringes littering the green spaces of our neighborhood.

In the days and weeks following my attack, a drug-addled man tried to cut the throat of a local business owner with a shard of glass, a beloved elderly school crossing guard was attacked at a grocery store and later died from his injuries, a body was found near a dumpster, and there was an increase in car and house break-ins. One sunny Saturday, around ten days after my physical attack, I was verbally abused without provocation while walking my dog near the woods where I often go running alone. Shaken by the experience, I confided in a neighbor, who put me in touch with another neighbor who has been speaking out about public safety. I learned that neither of them goes running in the woods anymore. For the record, I haven’t either since the attack.

A small thoughtful group in my neighborhood and its environs has been speaking out about public safety, and this has earned them the derision of a local blogger who accuses them of suffering from a NIMBY (not in my backyard) mindset towards troubled populations. As is typical these days, the fights on social media can get vicious. During a neighborhood walking tour with one of those advocates and our city councilman’s legislative aide, he challenged her when she asked what sort of outreach and monitoring the city had in place for its growing homeless population, especially when lawlessness ensues. “We have to respect people’s right to self-determination,” he told her. Following that line of reasoning, preserving one person’s need for self-actualization could threaten another person’s need for safety.

For the record, the city does reach out to the homeless population, but lacks adequate resources for everyone. Some have called for a mind shift in determining  the hierarchy of needs of at-risk populations.

The hierarchy of needs plays out in so many domains. My 11th grade daughter complains that her Humanities class is less interesting this year because it’s a repeat of the constant cycle of suppression and uprising that has played out around the world since time immemorial. Whenever my kids complain about a peer’s objectionable behavior, I remind them that most people want to feel “important and included,” advice about the youthful hierarchy of needs that we learned years ago in a class about weathering middle school.

Nicholas Kristof and others have penned mea culpas for contributing to the meteoric rise of Donald Trump. The media bears responsibility, said Kristof, not only for giving Trump unprecedented airtime and not adequately fact-checking him, but also for failing to take seriously the concerns of working class Americans, who have felt marginalized.

The 1 percent versus everyone else. Black versus white. LGBT versus straight. Law enforcement officials versus citizens. Freedom of speech versus racism and oppression. Everywhere you look it seems that to meet the needs of one group you must sacrifice the needs of another.

Writer Gregg Easterbrook, author of  The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse, says that pessimism has became mainstream, despite the fact that, for the most part, things are getting better. He’s calling for a return to progressive optimism. Easier said than done.

Accused of being an optimist recently, I now wear that badge with honor. What helps me retain my optimism is that, however you want to categorize and prioritize our needs, the common threads that bind humanity are the desire for safety, shelter, food, freedom of expression, love, and a sense of belonging.

My attacker is back on the streets, so I avoid the park where he hangs out, which is across the street from a mission that serves breakfast to the homeless and a nearby urban rest stop, both of which are trying to deal with ballooning populations. The library is adding lighting to its parking garage, but notes that several patrons have said they don’t feel safe in the building anymore. I’m educating myself and speaking out about the need to coordinate our city’s approach to addiction, homelessness, and public safety, so that everyone’s needs are taken into consideration.

Until we adequately address marginalization, in its many forms, we’ll have bigotry and shootings and bombings and Internet trolls, and lawlessness, frustration, fear, and pessimism.

There’s no immediate solution, but as a start, maybe we should all carry around pocket-sized copies of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bruuuuuuuuce!

springsteen still

I’m sharing a piece I just published revisiting the America Dream through the lens of a Bruce Springsteen concert and presidential politics.

http://crosscut.com/2016/03/in-seattle-bruce-springsteen-resurrects-an-old-american-dream/

Here’s a snipped from the show, which was packed with happy mid-lifers. It was four hours of unadulterated joy.

 

 

 

 

 

Standing out from the Crowd

 

Jon Stewart meme

My father-in-law and I like to read the personal ads in the New York Review of Books. Actually, I like to read them aloud. He humors me by listening. I don’t, as a rule, read personal ads anywhere else and I have never participated in online dating, so I don’t know if these ads are typical. I suspect they are singular in their unabashed frankness.

Picture the smart, intellectual, urbane women who are represented by most of these ads; gutsy women who don’t apologize for their accomplishments or their education. They’ve  worked at staying attractive and fit and aren’t shy about saying so. These “women of a certain age” know what they want (a guy to travel and go to the opera with) and are willing to give a little too (most profess a willingness to learn golf). They inject a touch of self-deprication in their ads (they’re not very good at golf) but their bottom line is: Be yourself and go after what will make you happy.

sylvia personal ad

In contrast, the men who advertise in the New York Review of Books are far less specific than their female counterparts. Unless they are artists, they don’t advertise their professions. Some are unapologetic about the fact that they are married. They don’t feel the need to say where they like to travel or what kind of music they enjoy. My favorite ad is from a Los Angeles man, now 71 (he was 69 when I first noticed him), who simply proclaims that he is “ready to share his life.”

Lately, I’ve had ample opportunity to reflect on how we present ourselves to the world and, in an algorithm-driven society, what we have to do to stand out. Daughter #1, age 17, is looking for a college. I, on the other side of 50, am looking for a job. Neither one of us relishes the shameless self-promotion required to get noticed, though with a few more years and experience under my belt, it comes more naturally to me. We both hate the demoralizing feeling of being one of a million seekers, though sometimes the depersonalization can be comical.

D#1 receives oodles of snail mail and email every day from colleges and college prep programs hoping to catch her eye. They try all sorts of interesting gamuts to make her feel special, but sometimes they fall amusingly far from the mark. She’s currently suffering through Chemistry. One particularly miserable day, this illustrious certificate in her name, which now hangs proudly on our refrigerator, provided comic relief.

science 2

Last month, daughters #1 and #2 and I went on a Southern California college road trip, where the schools worked hard to distinguish themselves in our eyes. It felt good to have the illusion of control, however fleeting,  in the college application process.

Los Angeles is one of the great food towns and I was looking forward to sampling some of the local standouts.  Day 1, we hit the ground running with a visit to Santa Monica bakery Huckleberry. I’ve got the Huckleberry cookbook on my Kindle and, in particular, have enjoyed making these rich and yummy vanilla pancakes. The book also features a great recipe for multi-grain pancakes. The hint of shredded cheddar cheese in the recipe elevates them from merely healthy to sublime.

Huckleberry

The line was long, made even longer by the ravenous runners from the just-completed Los Angeles marathon. We limited ourselves to one pastry to be shared among the three of us. At 2:00 p.m. we finally sat down to breakfast, in my case, Green Eggs and Ham.

Green eggs

In L.A. we were lucky enough to be staying with extended family  — foodies of the highest caliber. The family’s intrepid son was more than happy to accompany me to Mapo Galbi, where, before your eyes, this:

Mapo Gali pre

is transformed into this:

Mapo Galbi

and if that isn’t enough, you get a nice pile of rice to scrape up the leftover bits.

mapo rice

Though Cafe Gratitude’s vegan food was creative and tasty, my attempt to order “Vivacious,” and have it misconstrued as “Dynamic,” made me feel like a fish out of water.

Woody Allen source screen shot

“I’ll have the alfalfa sprouts and mashed yeast.”

All in all, we ate well in Southern California and several items made an impression.

There were bananas,

balboa

and burgers,

 

and Zankou chicken. And then there was “that cake.”

In the annals of family recipes, “that cake” is legendary— a standout from the pile of hundreds and thousands of recipes that I’ve come across over the past decade.

I didn’t actually eat that cake in Los Angeles. Long buried, it came to the forefront of my mind as a suggested dessert for a dinner party our aunt was planning. Everyone remembered it fondly.

The cake we  all appreciate comes from Amanda Hesser’s (of Food 52 fame) book, Cooking for Mr. Latte. It’s rich with almond paste and sour cream but doesn’t feel overwhelming. When I got home I made it for a party, and worried that it wouldn’t live up to my memories. It did not disappoint.

A week or so after we returned from Los Angeles, I made an unexpected trip to Michigan to hang out with my father-in-law, while his wife was on an overseas trip. “Make sure you bring recipes,” warned Jeff, who’d pulled the shift just before mine and had done a similar stint last year. Lovable, yet precise in his food desires, I had long ago nicknamed my father-in-law after the exacting coffee bean taster from the television commercials of my youth.

 

Savarin

The biggest compliment after he tastes something? “El Exigente approves.”

Jeff, who only makes around ten different dishes, all of them spectacular, was riding on a wave of good will. He’d fed El Exigente well from his small recipe reserve. I’ve made around 10,000 dishes, and maybe 100 of them have been designated “keepers.” Which ones would rise to the top, as worthy of El Exigente?

I brought options. The first night, after my long journey and a meal of leftover Hainanese Chicken Rice made by Jeff, my father-in-law and I got down to business and chose the menus for the week.(There are a million recipes for Chicken Rice. I think ours comes from the Washington Post or the New York Times from 10 or 15 years ago. Whichever recipe you choose, make sure the sauce feature copious amounts of ginger.)

top-chef__140130164225

In what I came to think of as a friendly family competition, each night I waited to see how El Exigente (who I should stress, was very grateful for every meal) would react to my concoctions and I shared the results with Jeff.

Night One: A calculated risk. I persuaded El Exigente, a midwestern meat eater, to try pasta made with Marcella Hazen’s famous tomato sauce with butter and onion, our family’s favorite comfort meal. In a nod to his preference for meat, I paired it with Food 52’s Absurdly Addictive Asparagus, which features pancetta. In his eyes it was a good, though not a great meal. I told Jeff the crown remained squarely on his head. The next day, I happily ate the leftover asparagus for lunch.

Night Two: I opted for a surprise move. Though my penchant for European chicken has been well documented in this blog, I’ve made my reputation as an ethnic cook. Lacking a tried and true recipe among the thousands for Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic, I used this one from Saveur, and made it my own. El Exigente described my Chicken with 38 Cloves of Garlic as “thorough,” meaning the chicken was permeated with flavor. This was high praise indeed. I told Jeff I’d earned points for versatility.

Night Three: Back to my comfort zone. El Exigente didn’t just have seconds of my Lion’s Head meatballs, he had thirds. And from the very first bite, he proclaimed (in English because he doesn’t speak Spanish), “I like this.”

The first time I made Lion’s Head meatballs, I used this recipe from Food 52. For my father-in-law, I used this recipe from Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian recipes. (Ever since they introduced me to the Mapo Galbi I had in L.A., I’ve had a foodie crush on Lucky Peach. Check out their  website and their book, in which you’ll also find recipes for Chicken Rice, many delicious noodles, and more).

Miss America

The crown was mine. Until my brother-in-law arrived to take my place.

I’m back home now, where the college and job hunts have resumed and good meals keep our spirits up, as we study for the SAT and write cover letters, hoping to be noticed.

The thing about recipes, just like the thing about people, is that there’s so much more to them than what you see on paper. You never know which ones will stand out, given the opportunity.

air book

Today I was the beneficiary of a random act of kindness, courtesy of a Good Samaritan (I suspect my friend Peggy) who left this wonderful book in the locker room of our gym. If you haven’t heard about Drs. Paul and Lucy Kalanithi and the diagnosis that led to this book,  I encourage you to read this book. From everything I’ve heard, and the few pages I’ve read so far, it’s a bittersweet counterpoint to our algorithm-driven world.

 

 

 

 

I Can’t Wait to Read This Book!

Greetings, Slice of Mid-Life friends,

I have another blog installment almost ready to publish, but in the meantime I couldn’t resist telling you about my latest discovery.

In yet another instance of art imitating life, today, the last in my current job, I read this article by former NPR journalist Barbara Bradley Hagerty.

Turns out, she’s about to release on new book on midlife called Life Reimagined: The Science, Art and Opportunity of Midlife. 

In the immortal words of Carole King and Gerry Goffin, something tells me I’m into something good.

If you read the book, please let me know what you think. It comes out on March 15.

 

Foam Rollers, Feminists, and Feeling the Burn

Whatever else you may feel about the current Presidential race, one of the more interesting aspects is where feminism fits in.

Many (but not all) diehard feminists (many, but not all of them older) support Hillary, pointing to her longstanding commitment to equity — not just for women, but for children, the poor, and the uninsured. Many (but not all) feminists (many, but not all of them younger) are uneasy with the once-idealistic Hillary’s questionable ethics and say they refuse to “vote with their vaginas.” They support Bernie Sanders, an unwavering idealist, one whose contemplative delivery reminds Daughter #1 of her grandfather.

larry and kate

It’s nice to have a reason to watch SNL again and even nicer to DVR it, so I don’t have to stay up late.

Last week, feminist elders Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright added fuel to the anti-Hillary fire, while Beyonce dominated the Super Bowl halftime show with her “take no prisoners” form of self-expression. The contrast in these feminist displays points to the generational differences in the way women experience feminism— fidelity to a movement vs. fidelity to oneself.

As a woman of a certain age, who fought my own feminist battles  (I’m a veteran of the days when women, but not men, had to take typing tests, no matter what job they applied for; was the first woman in my Foreign Service training class to wear pants; I suffered at the hands of unsupportive female bosses, whose attitude about balancing work and family was, “no one made it easy for me…;” and I have lived through the “Mommy Wars,” pitting working women against stay-at-home moms), this battle for feminist “street cred” bewilders me.

I now live in a household with an emerging  feminist and I’ve had interesting conversations with my daughters about the feminist issues that concern them: rape culture, dress codes, freedom of expression, to name a few. When they ask what feminism means to me, I say “equal opportunity and equal pay for equal work,” and then remind them that women still earn 75 cents to a man’s dollar, and we still don’t have paid family leave, subsidized childcare, and other reasonable practices that enable women to support themselves and raise families.

The continuum from idealism to pragmatism and the accommodations we make over a lifetime is something I had a chance to contemplate when an unusual package arrived in the mail:

cassettes

It contained cassette tapes I had made in 1978, as a 17-year-old exchange student at a French high school in Evian-les-Bains, France. Sent to me by my high school buddy, CC, whom I’ve only seen two or three times since high school, listening to them made for some entertaining rides in the minivan with my daughters, especially D #1, who just turned 17.

That’s right. My 17-year-old daughter got to hear from her 17-year-old mother. Back when I was a kid, that would have been fodder for an ABC after-school special.

message to my daughter

Once we got past all the boring stuff (and the girls got done making fun of my hybrid New Jersey/Valley Girl accent), the meat of the tape had to do with my excitement and trepidation over traveling alone in Europe. I recount some “test runs” I took —weekend trips to Lausanne and Geneva, during which I fought off the unwanted advances of North African men, who had the impression that American women were “easy;” learned how to enjoy eating in a restaurant alone; and gained confidence navigating unfamiliar terrain in places where I did not fluently speak the local language. I drop hints about a longer solo trip I hoped to take, hitchhiking around Scandinavia.

My girls know the rest of the story:  I took that trip, which led to more trips, and an international relations degree, which led to me wearing pants at the Foreign Service Institute, where one seasoned female diplomat who spent her career in the Middle East, told us that in that region, she was treated like a third gender: “woman in pants.”

My preoccupations as a 17-year-old budding feminist who wanted to safely explore the world were different from my preoccupations as a 37-year-old new mother, who gave up a career to stay home with her babies.

Now, as a 50-something career woman, who has seen ten 50-something friends (male and female) lose their jobs over the past year, and who worries how we will be able to afford to send D#1 to college and still have money left for retirement, my preoccupations have changed again. Greedy developers are razing the houses in my neighborhood and replacing them with expensive condos, yet we can’t afford to move anywhere else in the city I’ve called home for 20 years. My city is in the midst of an unprecedented economic boom, but we don’t have the infrastructure to support it, and longtime residents are being pushed out.

development.JPG

In the cacophony of commentary about the Presidential candidates, two recent pieces have stuck with me. One was Rachel Maddow’s reflections on what it feels like to be a liberal voter when no candidate has your back.  The other is a piece by David Brooks reflecting on Obama’s qualities of integrity, leadership, and humanity.

Maybe it’s because we’re the same age, but with Obama I never felt I had to make the difficult choice that many Democrat voters, myself included, are now grappling with. He had my back with his blend of idealism, optimism, and pragmatism. The fact that many are disappointed that he did not live up to his initial promise speaks volumes about our broken system of government and the costs of pragmatism.

After I discovered that my injured knee was actually the result of an IT band problem, some young women at work told me about foam rollers, cylindric torture devices that loosen tight muscles, which everyone below the age of 40 seems to know about. (Madeline Albright’s “special place in Hell” probably is well stocked with foam rollers). After a barre class (my new favorite exercise, which has a throwback feel to it), I gave one a spin.

foam.JPG

Call it a stretch (no pun intended), but where would we be if Jane Fonda hadn’t popularized exercise, making working out and feeling the burn a part of many people’s daily routines?  Trailblazers deserve respect, as do the people and things that come after them.

leg warmers

Leg warmers are back!

I only listened to snippets of last night’s debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, because I was in my minivan on my way to volunteer at a school event. But what I heard was encouraging: a real discussion of the issues and the best way to deliver on promises.

I hope we can stop pitting women against each other and move away from making the contest between Hillary and Bernie a battle over feminism, because it should be so much more than that.

In laying out their plans for achieving economic equity and stability, and international peace and security, may the best candidate win.

I don’t have a recipe for you, but Daughters #1 & #2 and I are heading to Los Angeles, where I hope to participate in a food crawl, in between looking at colleges. Thanks to Lucky Peach, I’m itching to try Mapo Galbi. I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miles to Go Before I Sleep

still life icepack

Still life with icepack

Welcome, 2016, from my perch on the love seat in my sun room, where I lay, knee elevated and iced, following an ill-considered evening body circuit class at my neighborhood gym.

This isn’t a case of overzealous New Year’s resolution implementation. In fact, my resolutions, such that they are, are to 1) make peace with and enjoy the aging process; 2) try to eat whole foods and exercise every day; 3) not make a big deal about it if I don’t.

My current injury is the result of mixing things up a bit. Formerly a dedicated early morning exerciser, I’ve been having trouble bouncing out of bed at 5:30, as I did last year, to attend chilly and dark outdoor boot camp, or 6:00, as I’ve been doing this year, to swim at our grimy neighborhood pool. Frustrated at not “catching the worm” these first few days back at school and work, I decided to sleep in and give evening exercise a try.

Sleep has been eluding me. At the risk of oversharing, but in keeping with the truthful spirit and subject of this blog, I’ll confess that night sweats are keeping me awake. In a funny sort of role reversal, my “chill” husband and I remain temperature incompatible, only these nights he’s the one snuggled up under blankets and I’m the one who has thrown them off, as if sleeping in a tropical paradise.

Phyllis 2

When insomnia strikes, I know some say you should get out of bed and be productive, but the looming 6:00 a.m. alarm is a deterrent. Instead, I prefer reading. And in deference to the aforementioned chill husband, I read on my Kindle so I don’t wake him up.

This fall I happily read my way through the four books that comprise Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Stories. Once I had finished them, I was at a loss for what to read next. Though the Kindle was full of tantalizing possibilities, I just couldn’t commit to any one of them. Instead, I indulged in my favorite dorky night time habit — trolling the Kindle daily deals for a $1.99 book that would catch my fancy. I found it in former New York Times food writer Mimi Sheraton’s massive compendium, 1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die.

1,000 foods

Want to cure your insomnia? Try reading about baked calves’ brains with seasoned bread crumbs, apparently an Italian delicacy, or Ezra Tull’s gizzard soup (inspired by Hungarian bechinalt). Did you know the Swiss have cookies named for ladies’ thighs (one wonders how this was received by the wife of the chef who created them) or that schmaltz  (rendered poultry fat) used to be highly desirable? As desirable as wild pistachio tree sap, as a matter of fact.

The 1,000 page tome is arranged geographically, starting with Europe (broken down by language groups). Next comes  a transition section called “Jewish.” I read that section in early December and was inspired to bake my own bialys (Mimi Sheraton, who has a taste for interesting book projects, is also the author of The Bialy Eaters, and you can find her recipe for bialys at saveur.com).

bialys

Each sleepless night I bounced between disgust, boredom, fascination, and inspiration, as I made my way through the world of food. It won’t surprise you to know that the Greek, Turkish and Middle Eastern section is one of my favorites in the book. It was there I discovered Ash-e-Anar, Persian Pomegranate soup. How had I overlooked that recipe in my copy of Louisa Shafia’s The New Persian Kitchen? Two nights before Christmas, as the wind and rain howled and hammered outside, four soothing, tangy bowls of this unctuous delight graced our dinner table.

pomegranate soup

I can’t say for sure, but I imagine  I slept like a baby that night.

Last night I was awakened at 3 am, not by night sweats, but by the pain in my knee. I knew I should ice and elevate it and take some more Ibuprofen, but my cat had just settled on top of me and I feared I would not be able to get down or back up our stairs.

So I turned to that guy with whom I made vows 20 years ago and whispered his name. He was snuggled up under the covers in a deep, untroubled sleep, but he instantly awoke and uncomplainingly went downstairs. He returned with Ibuprofen, water, an ice pack,  a towel, and pillows, then got back into bed and instantly fell back asleep. Must be nice.

As for me, I’m up to the Caribbean now. While I waited for the drugs to kick in, I read about callaloo, a spicy dish of stewed greens that apparently has the power to induce any man who eats it to propose to the woman who prepared it.

i-married-marge17

Pay careful attention to the vows

I believe in the power of food. I lured my man with mangoes. And tonight, I’ll soothe my throbbing knee and tired soul with Persian Pomegranate Soup. Later, if I can’t sleep, I have conch fritters and pina coladas to look forward to.

At the start of the new year, the Kindle Daily Deals were particularly good.  I scored Jonathan Franzen’s Purity and Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, two books I’ve been longing to read. I took a break from my nighttime culinary roaming to read Elizabeth Alexander’s beautiful, poignant memoir of marriage, friendship, and loss. The Light of the World features a few recipes from Ficre Ghebreyeus, Alexander’s Eritrean husband, who passed away unexpectedly at the age of 50. Realizing that she and her children must leave the home they’d shared with Ficre, Alexander turns to a recipe for comfort. Though Ficre is no longer there, she can make his spicy red lentil and tomato curry and retain a part of him, wherever she goes.

Ash-E-Anar (Pomegranate Soup) from The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia

serves 6-8

Soup:

3 T grapeseed oil ( I often use olive oil)

1/2 yellow onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 c split peas

1 t ground turmeric

2 t ground cumin

8 cups vegetable stock or water (I’ve used chicken stock)

1/2 c pomegranate molasses

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

seeds of 1 pomegranate

1 c thick Greek yogurt

Meatballs:

1/2 yellow onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 lb lean ground lamb (I’ve used ground turkey and ground pork)

2 T minced flat-leaf parsley

2T cilantro

2 T minced mint

2 t sea salt

To make soup, heat oil in a large pot and cook onion for 10 minutes, until it starts to brown. Add garlic, split peas, turmeric, cumin and stock and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, partially covered, for 1 1/2 hours, until legumes are tender and soup is slightly thick.

To make meatballs, combine all ingredients in a large bowl, then form into walnut-sized balls.

When split peas are tender, add pomegranate molasses to the pot, then drop in meatballs and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, till they are cooked through.

Season soup with salt and pepper. Serve in bowls garnished with pomegranate seeds and yogurt.

Vegetarian option:

Follow recipe, omitting meatballs. Along with split peas, add 1/2 c lentils, 1/2 dried mung beans, 1/2 c pearled barley, and 1 large bee, peeled and diced. Use 12 cups stock or water. When beans and barley are tender, add pomegranate molasses and 1 bunch chopped cilantro.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Toll Booths on Memory Lane

Four years ago this blog was born on a crisp October night when my husband was on a business trip in Asia, my kids were already becoming well versed in ignoring me and I was thinking about chicken and France. There’s something about autumn that makes a person (well me, anyway) tap into her inner, not-fat French woman and think about preparing exquisite chicken and apple dishes eaten en famille, with everyone savoring the meal and the kids displaying good manners and open-minded palates. This was before we had books to taunt us that not only don’t French women get fat, but their kids are better behaved than ours too.

japanese book

And thus, a cottage industry was born.

My first post detailed a plan (which I remained somewhat faithful to for several seasons) for us to eat European chicken once a week. A post about my favorite apple desserts followed shortly thereafter.

Since then, I’ve written about teenagers and puppies and hamsters and perimenopause and work-life balance and gallbladders and colonoscopies and perfume and Tony Soprano, with lots of recipes and bewilderment about aging thrown into the mix. Where does the time go? I’d planned to write this post in August, on the heels of a trip we made to the East Coast to attend the wedding of the son of college friends of mine and to visit New England colleges for Daughter #1, who was still in middle school when I started this blog. Now it’s almost Halloween, that trip has nearly faded into memory along with my tan and Daughter #2 has started high school. Luckily there is a European chicken in the oven.

Nostalgia is a funny thing. It’s no accident that wedding bands choose music the elders can dance to. I never thought I’d hear, much less dance to Meat Loaf’s Paradise by the Dashboard Light ever again. But it was a highlight of the party. “We can dance to your music,” explained the groom, who doesn’t have a patronizing bone in his body. “You have more trouble dancing to ours.” For the record, Daughters #1 and #2 were mortified that we danced at all.

old dancing couple

We spent a week tooling around New England on what is apparently a pretty traditional college road trip. When you’re from the West, like we are, you feel a frisson of excitement every time you cross a state line, which in New England seems to happen every five minutes or so. The girls indulged me each time we crossed a frontier and sang my grandmother’s made-up song which bids farewell to the old state and welcomes the new one.

national lampoon vacation

Visit colleges with your kid and you’re bound to relive your memories. In my case, I was bound and determined to leave the East Coast for the West Coast, which I did via France (where I met the parents of the groom). Now, nearly 40 years later, my West Coast daughter has admitted she has a taste for the exotic East.

My kids make fun of me for being from New Jersey but they also are a little bit in awe of  the classic Jersey “in your face” attributes — the polar opposite of Seattle nice (aka passive/aggressive behavior). So when we arrived at the rental car kiosk at Logan airport and an altercation occurred in line (or “on line,” as we say in New Jersey), my kids, who were fascinated, thought I was in my element and would jump right into the fray.

taxi driver

When I held back and even politely let someone cut in front of me (others had jumped to my defense, which was the reason for the altercation), they were disappointed. “You’ve lost your East Coast skills,” they said and I knew that my feet were becoming cemented in clay.

I worked hard to redeem myself.  I took them for cannoli in Boston’s North End.

cannoli1

I explained the expression “old money.” The Howells

My kids experienced a lot of things they’d never seen before like

men in pink pants;

preppie

flash thunderstorms bringing down sheets of rain in such volume that we Seattlites, used to a more passive/aggressive kind of rain, were unprepared and got drenched;

sky

and tollbooths.

tolling

Though they’d been East before, this trip felt different. My daughters assessed everything with the eyes and attitudes of people who would soon choose where they wanted to live and found everything to their liking, even though I didn’t manage to find them any decent pizza. A particularly sumptuous post-wedding brunch sealed the deal. “I’m going to school on the East Coast too,” announced Daughter #2, whom I’d pegged an L.A. girl.

For me, mixed in with the delight of the once familiar were reminders of all the reasons I’d left. I kept most of these to myself, remembering that a trip to California in1968 had kindled my dream to go West and stay there and my mother never dissuaded me. Who was I to rain on their parade?

We returned home and in the last days of summer I made eggplant parmigiana, a nod to my East Coast heritage. School started and we began the roller coaster ride of college fairs and PSATs. There are more college road trips in our future, including at least one to California. Next year will be Daughter #1’s last with us. Daughter #2, who has begun studying French just like I did, hopes to spend part of next school year in France, just like I did when I was in high school. Those soccer Saturdays and all the driving I do will be over in the blink of an eye. Our house will be much cleaner and I will always be able to find a phone charger when I want one.

But not yet. Until then there are rituals like European Chicken Night to hold us together, even if they happen infrequently now.

Tonight we ate Poularde Farcie en Chaponnade Comme en Correzeor Roast Chicken Stuffed with Garlic Croutons in the Style of the Correze, from Paula Wolfert’s lovely book, The Cooking of Southwest France. Come to think of it, I cooked it in the roasting pan my mother bought me when I was in college.

Here's to new horizons

Here’s to new horizons