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.

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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

Laundry, Labneh and Lablabi

laundryThough it may be more satisfying when life imitates art, a person can derive a certain amount of pleasure when the equation goes the other way.

Art imitated life in a big way last month the night I returned home from a day that began at 4:30 a.m. and culminated in me having my gallbladder removed. There was the surgery prep, the surgery itself, of which I blissfully remember nothing, and the day spent in the hospital doing my utmost to pee out the copious fluids retained by my body so that I could go home.

Herman

They say hospitals are the great equalizer and it’s true that once you shed your clothes, don your scrubs and present your arm to have blood drawn, you could be anybody. Looking around the waiting room in the pre-dawn hours, I detected no racial, age or socio- economic divides. Those of us slated to go under the knife sat nervously surrounded by our loved ones, who looked even more nervous than we did. When the nurse called the name of the African-American mother sitting nearby in the waiting room, whose husband had chosen that minute to run back down to the parking garage, we shared a knowing look. What was she supposed to do with her son, old enough to sit by himself for a few minutes, but perhaps nervous that his mom was having surgery?

Later, I heard that woman cracking jokes in the anesthesia corral, a jolly circular set-up where we pre-opees sat behind curtains meeting our surgeons and anesthesiologists, donning our lunch lady-like surgical caps and getting our IV portals installed, amidst the cheerful banter between staff and patients.

anesthesiologist

I’d been told that surgeons are not known for their bedside manner, and in fact, what you really want is someone with nerves of steel, not a good personality. But, having never had surgery before,  I wanted a surgeon with a stellar reputation who I’d also be comfortable with. Selecting Mr. Right gave me a taste of what online dating must be like, but with much higher stakes. I  wanted my surgeon to be interested in more than just my body; I wanted him to think of me as a person. (I’ve since been advised that it’s better for surgeons to have laser focus on the job at hand, rather than getting distracted thinking about the person they are cutting open).

Must love dogs

Must love dogs

My post-surgery hospital roommate was a well-bred woman of a certain age in the midst of what she called a “clusterfuck.” A planned procedure, for which she had fasted, had been postponed and now she was trapped hungrily alone in the hospital with no idea when her test would be conducted. “They overbooked the operating rooms,” she complained to a friend on the phone, adding, “with gallbladder surgeries.” Had the woman been younger, this would have been the perfect opportunity for her to use the “vocal fry,” the new female speech phenomenon that’s currently getting lots of attention.

“I’m dying for an iced latte,” we heard her lament to her friend, “but they won’t let me leave my room to go get one.” Despite her gallbladder-inspired resentment, we decided to be the bigger people. “Excuse me, I couldn’t help overhearing,” Jeff said gallantly, pulling away the curtain that divided us. “I’d be happy to buy you a latte.”

As the day wore on and her latte kicked in, she was cheering me on every time I attempted to pee. When finally, I’d produced enough liquid to earn my release and was triumphantly getting dressed, she spied my trusty old black Dansko sandals, which I’ve learned over the years inspire cult-like loyalty, “I have those sandals! I love them!

danskos

Women’s shoes, another great equalizer

Exhausted after a long day and loopy on medication, I returned home to test-drive my gallbladder-free digestive system with blueberry pancakes, while watching Orange is the New Black, which does a great job of illustrating prison as a great equalizer. And that, my friends, is when I laughed so hard my incisions ached, my abdominal muscles ached, everything ached but I kept on laughing anyway.

SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T YET FINISHED SEASON 3: What are the odds that the night you return home from gallbladder surgery, you’ll watch an episode featuring a back story about the illegal trading of bear gallbladders on the Chinese black market? What are the odds that the concluding scene of the show would feature a scene in which henchmen, having beaten someone to a bloody pulp, would turn to their mistress and ask, ” What else should we do to him?”

chang gallbladder

Needless to say, I appreciated my deft and gentle surgeon, who really does have a nice personality, though when I told him about this funny coincidence at my post-op visit, he said “I’m not familiar with that show.” Barring any complications, he told me we would not be seeing each other again.

rose

In the weeks before the surgery, I’d delighted in cooking Lebanese dishes from Maureen Abood’s book Rose Water & Orange Blossoms, my pre-surgery present to myself. Can a person ever have too many Za’atar Roasted Tomatoes or too much Butter Lettuce with Walnut Vinaigrette?  I think not.

Home recuperating in a post-op haze during the first of Seattle’s summer heat waves, I wanted to take the opportunity to cook. Dork that I am, I’ve long been looking forward to a block of unfettered time so that I could make labneh, which is basically just Greek yogurt strained so that the whey is removed, yielding what some refer to as cheese and others call dip. It really doesn’t take much attention, just time.

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Maureen Abood has a recipe in her book, which goes into some detail about the different methods of straining yogurt, yielding different consistencies and products. David Lebovitz has one too and so does Food 52. I made a hybrid of the three, though omitted the lemon juice suggested by Food 52. The whey accumulating in the bottom of the bowl as the yogurt strained made a good conversation piece.

Jeff and I had recently been to a Seattle restaurant with great outdoor seating (a rarity here). When he ordered a whiskey sour, he was told somewhat pretentiously we thought, that instead of the usual egg whites you find in deluxe whiskey sours (that’s not the way our indomitable Auntie Julia taught us to make them), the restaurant made theirs with whey leftover from their homemade yogurt. He decided to have a beer instead. When it arrived, I pointed to the substantial head of foam floating on top and suggested it was revenge whey. 

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While I had time on my hands, I also decided to make Lablabi, from a Wall Street Journal article I’ve been saving for the past four years. It was nurturing and good, but made me contemplate the road not taken. Recipe horder that I am, why hadn’t I been smart enough to come up with the idea of writing a weekly food blog featuring recipes I’d clipped from newspapers and magazines, like that smart and now famous Wednesday Chef?

The rest of the time I did laundry, my favorite chore, in a fruitless attempt to help Daughter #2 deal with her “floordrobe” and lay in the hammock reading.

I knew my recuperation was over the night I had to jump into the intrepid, indestructible old minivan to rescue Jeff, whose newer, fancier ride had conked out.  And just like that, life returned to normal.

In the wake of the broken foot and the gallbladder liberation, I’m feeling kind of like that minivan these days. My foot hurts, my side tweaks and… (you Jimmy Buffett fans can fill in the blank).  But as I get back into the swing of things and try to figure out what kind of exercise I can do, I’m fully confident I’ll be roaring again soon.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

It just goes to show you, it's always something.

It just goes to show you, it’s always something.

I remember the exact moment our luck changed. We were sitting in a Michigan airport getting ready to return home to Seattle when I learned that Paseo, the Cuban sandwich place located across the street from the beach near our house, was closing. Paseo signified everything that was right about Ballard, the neighborhood we’ve lived in for 20 years. I’ve written and ranted about the changes underway in Ballard and, more recently, about the changes brewing in our lives. When you have things that anchor you, like a pink shack with garlicky aioli-slathered pork sandwiches or a trustworthy drug store to buy lice supplies, school supplies, shampoo, chocolate and even wine (sadly, now knocked down to make way for a “mixed use” retail/condo behemoth), you can feel enveloped in a bubble of invulnerability. The destruction of those icons made my invulnerability bubble-wrap begin to pop, bubble by bubble.

The minor fender bender that occurred on the way to school/work left me grateful it was no big deal, but still a little shaky because I don’t, as a rule of thumb, have car accidents. Ditto the news that I had suffered a stress fracture in my foot, because I have never broken a bone.

So much for early morning boot camp.

So much for early morning boot camp.

But I rolled with everything, stylishly rocking the one shoe/one boot look for over a month and adapting each time a curve ball came my way. When Zayn Malik left One Direction,  I dealt with it better than some.

On a business trip to Chicago, I learned to tolerate lap swimming, thanks to the hotel’s 1929-era pool. Once home, I reveled in the fact that, instead of rising at 5:30 for boot camp, I could sleep in till 6:15 and hit my local (less fancy) pool at the end of the morning rush.

pool I made Yotam Ottolenghi’s carrot, apple and pecan muffins and I waited for a sign that this run of bad luck was coming to an end. muffinsThe first hopeful sign came in the form of  a package from my Chicago hotel. As proof that my stars were definitely out of alignment, I had discovered on my flight home that I’d left a drawer full of clean underwear and workout stuff in my hotel room. I do not, as a rule of thumb, usually leave anything behind when I travel (except for a black sweater coat left in a Grenada taxi. I blame my daughters for that). This was a fixable problem, and I jumped into action to get my items returned to me, convinced that when the package arrived, our luck would change. underwear Then, a setback. Daughter #1’s iPhone was stolen at a concert, to her perhaps the worst of all the mishaps that had befallen us. Heretofore, concerts were the ultimate bonding experience. Her faith in humanity was shaken. Worse, she couldn’t listen to music. headphones But a week later, we got great, life-changing news and we started celebrating. But then, unexpected, unwelcome life-changing (though to a far lesser extent) news came calling. So much for my attempts at pattern recognition. The latest news is that I’ve been advised to have my gallbladder removed because of a small growth that had been detected during the series of tests that followed my colonoscopy.

Among the random things I remember learning in school, such as that Taiwan used to be called Formosa and that guano is bat dung, I have a strong memory of learning about the four cardinal humors. The ancient Greeks believed that temperament was derived from the presence of bodily fluids: blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. An imbalance of any of these could influence a person’s personality and their health. temperaments Blood was associated with a sanguine personality. Phlegm could make a person apathetic or phlegmatic. Black bile was associated with melancholy and yellow bile was associated with anger, aggression and gall. If you’re like me up until a few days ago, you probably don’t even know what the gallbladder does. Like the spleen, the gallbladder is one of those under-the-radar organs that rarely gets mentioned. Its main function is to store bile, a substance that helps the body absorb fat.

The words gall and bile don’t carry positive connotations, as they are associated with boldness (in a pushy, nervy sort of way) and bitterness. Personally, I prefer the Chinese interpretation of the gallbladder and its functions. The Chinese associate the gall bladder with courage, bravery and heroism. According to one ancient Chinese theory of medicine, not only does the gallbladder play a role in digestion, but also in decision-making.

Beyond my fears of the surgery itself, I worried. Would removing my gallbladder upset my four cardinal humors? Would it make it difficult for me to digest fat and other foods? gall bladder meme I’ve learned that cholecystectomy, or removal of the gall bladder, is the most common surgery. And, in a twist on the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, in which something you just learned about seems to suddenly crop up everywhere, in the past few days, it seems that everyone I talk to is either missing a gallbladder or knows someone who is. Chances are, if you are a woman reading this, and a mid-life woman to boot, you don’t have a gallbladder either.

Or, as Jeff’s cousin Deb, a research scientist whom I greatly admire and who cuts right to the chase said, “Some of my favorite people have no gall bladders.”

no gall bladder club

Apparently, penguins have enormous gall bladders, but lots of animals don’t have them at all.

The night after I got my gallbladder news, I went out for dinner with friends, one of whom, I learned, is gallbladder-free. It didn’t seem to stop her from enjoying a divine meal of Muscadet, oysters, crispy sardines, cucumber salad and asparagus. I noticed she didn’t touch the pate, but that apparently had nothing to do with her lack of a gallbladder. Good sign.

Daughter #2, whose heart is in the right place, has decided we need to have a fatty foods party before my surgery. I suggested we should make an emergency trip to Paris for a cheese tasting. She’s in.

Last night,  I wanted to cook, something I haven’t done much of lately, but which always returns my four cardinal humors to their correct balance.

Jan Brady meme I ignored my usual impulse to cook something Mediterranean and decided to make khao soi, a rich, Northern Thai curry that reminded me of my early days with Jeff (we met in Asia). Our cooking and eating lives together began with Asian food, before we migrated to Mexican flavors and later, I veered off into Mediterranean, Turkish and Spanish territory.

Jeff’s been with me through thick and thin. He’s famous for giving the kind of unromantic presents that endure (though his sister was furious when he gave me a toothbrush holder. Turns out, I needed one). It’s true, I appreciate my Soda Stream fizzy water maker more than the iPad that I wanted for Christmas that year. And I love my mortar and pestle.

I hadn’t gone on a treasure hunt for ingredients for a long time and that was fun. And it felt cathartic to grind the spices, shrimp paste, chiles, shallots and garlic to make the paste for the khao soi. pestle Shit happens and the writer in me realizes it’s all in the interpretation. This one six-month series of unfortunate events is just that, and is far eclipsed by the many six-month great runs we’ve had together. However, I did find it galling that at a particularly low point, Facebook chose to show me a picture of what we were during last year around this time — making merry in Seville. Maybe next year, when I have no gallbladder, that kind of thing won’t bother me.

Jeff is a physicist at heart and he might scoff at my attempts to find meaning through pattern recognition or chaos theory. But, I bet that if I asked him, Stephen Hawking might give me hope that when Paseo, or something like it, returns to Ballard (I’ve seen hopeful signs at the pink shack), I’ll be able to eat rich pork sandwiches slathered in garlic aioli with no problem.

Stephen Hawking gives reassuring news

I used the khao soi recipe in the Pok Pok cookbook. Pok Pok is the wonderful Thai restaurant in Portland, Oregon (and now, I think also New York) that is an essential stop if you visit that city (make sure to order the chicken wings). The cookbook is a commitment, with several recipes advising you to begin preparation weeks in advance. I chose khao soi because it was relatively quick, but we still didn’t eat till 9 p.m., which taxed everyone’s gall bladders. Here’s a somewhat simpler recipe to try. 

What would Bertrand Russell say?

Snow geese in the Skagit Valley

Snow geese in the Skagit Valley

April already? Before I go any further, I want you to know that I have fulfilled all but one of my New Year’s resolutions. I started and maintained a diet. I had a mammogram. I had a colonoscopy for Pete’s sake and, as icing on the cake, a CT scan and ultrasound to boot. And, I wrote my last installment of this blog on January 31, which is pretty much February, so technically two months, not three, have elapsed. But there’s no escaping the fact that I didn’t fulfill the resolution to write this blog once a month.

I didn’t think anyone but me had noticed, but then my friend Peggy said something. Peggy is one of those super-involved, super-organized people, who does a million things, including writing a weekly column for our neighborhood newspaper. Peggy is from New England. She’s one of those pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, no whining kind of people. Recently, Peggy successfully lobbied the producers of the David Letterman show to allow her 80 year-old mother a spot in the studio audience before Dave rides off into the sunset. Peggy started a new organization to combat the out-of-control development in our neighborhood. Peggy gets shit done. I have disappointed Peggy and for that I am truly sorry.

Seen on a dry, 60 degree Seattle day. Was Boston selling off its surplus signs?

Seen on a dry, 60 degree Seattle day. Was Boston selling off its surplus signs?

In my defense, we have been living through what I think of as the winter of our discontent. This is not weather-related for, here in the Seattle area where we like to ski, this winter the big complaint was not enough snow, unlike the concerns of our friends back East.

Our discontent has been lifestyle-related — a knock-you-for-a-loop potential change that sent us scurrying to California contemplating a move.

In February, the principal of Daughter #2’s middle school, about to embark on a sabbatical, sent this quote from the philosopher Bertrand Russell out to families: “In all affairs, it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.”

Do a little sleuthing and you’ll discover that Bertrand Russell had a lot of provocative things to say. I suspect  (and have since confirmed) that Daughter #1 would appreciate this quote: “The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” As the mother of two teenagers, I feel compelled to beg to differ. (And I highly recommend you read this evocative description of the sea change that happens when you raise teens.)

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But the quote about not taking things for granted, well, we lived and breathed that quote. Jeff had a job offer in California. Our family pendulum swung from “there’s no way we’re moving” to “maybe we could have a better house and better weather (we hadn’t considered California’s drought) and escape all the Seattle construction and traffic.” The next thing you know, we were on a plane to check things out. It was, I might add, the day after my colonoscopy. I’d kept myself busy during the fasting and prep periods by researching real estate and schools. Jeff was incredulous that I would choose to have a colonoscopy during such a stressful time, but that’s how I roll. Not a lot of people would say this, but I can honestly say that the colonoscopy was the high point of my week.

During the White Food Diet I was required to follow prior to the fast and cleanse, I indulged in two items of note: French toast made with King’s Hawaiian Sweetbread — a family favorite introduced to us years ago by my mother after many sojourns visiting my brother and family at their Maui home — and labneh, basically strained Greek yoghurt which is great as a spread for pita bread, especially if you garnish it with za’atar and sumac. This after a few weeks of very controlled, mostly vegetarian, mostly Ottolenghi eating, which was my way of controlling my life, which seemed to be spiraling out of control.  “Mom is starving us,” my daughters complained to their father, who was out of town. “She only makes spicy rabbit food.”

The post-colonoscopy meal washed down with a sense of humor.

The post-colonoscopy meal washed down with a sense of humor.

And then, just like that it was over. The White Food Diet, the fast, the colonoscopy, the California possibility and winter. We came home, back to our lives, a few new condominiums that had sprung up across the street from us seemingly overnight, and to spring.

spring

Though I appreciate it more now that I’m older, spring has always been my least favorite season. It confuses me and makes me nervous. Unlike summer, which has a devil-may- care feel to it, accompanied by margaritas and guacamole, spring has expectations that I don’t feel I can meet. It always takes me a while to find my footing in spring and this one has had many false starts.

That’s where the Corpse Reviver #2s come in.

corpse reviver

 

Jeff and I were introduced to them a little over a week ago, courtesy of our classy friends G and C, and they have given shape to spring. Last weekend, I whipped up some Corpse Revivers and I cooked, reveling in lemons and herbs and asparagus and fava beans and all of the lighter, sharper flavors that, like spring and the sunshine that comes with it, bring life into focus.

The snow is beginning to clear in the East, in our minds, in our lives.

Bertrand Russell spoke of his personal vision — to allow moments of insight to provide wisdom during mundane times. Spring is a little like that, providing a sneak peak of clarity just when you need it most.

Anacortes