poetry

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some favourite titles

It’s been six years since I wrote a poem. The summer of 2010 I attended a writer’s colony at NYU for three weeks, and following that summer stopped writing all together. Or I guess I should say, I took a long break. I have always had a great love for poetry. I started writing when I was in middle school and continued my love for both reading and writing through high school and into university. Several years ago I had wanted to start a blog just about poetry. I remember excitingly e-mailing a friend informing him about it. Not surprisingly, I didn’t follow through. Probably because I wasn’t sure what it would do or mean. Images or written out passages of poetry, okay, sure… and then what? Does anyone care to read poems anymore?

But here I am, still wanting to share some of my favorite pieces or document them as a personal exercise. In my third year British Lit course, I remember my professor telling us a story of a friend who had memorized their favorite poems, in hopes that when they were very old and had lost some of their memory, the lyrical nature of poems, like songs, would ensure that he retained pieces that were special to him. I remember thinking that I too would memorize my favorite poems, and I did, especially during some difficult times. But my memory is shit and whenever I try to recite a poem, a few weeks or months after the initial memorization, it is gone. Perhaps they have to be recited daily or weekly, like the duas Muslim children are taught from when they are young.

The first poem I would like to share is by Emily Dickenson, titled “I died for beauty.” It may seem silly to do or even say, but the poems I share here will be retyped from my own books, clippings or sites versus merely copy-pasted.  There is something to be said for typing the words out one by one. So here is the first poem. It’s a bit morbid, yes, but also an exploration of the foundational values people base their lives on. Ever since I first read this poem, I often come back to the idea of a life defined by either truth, beauty or a relationship between the two.

I died for beauty by Emily Dickenson

I died for beauty, but was scarce

Adjusted in the tomb,

When one who died for truth was lain

In an adjoining room.

 

He questioned softly why I failed?

“For beauty,” I replied.

‘And I for truth,–the two are one;

We brethren are,’ he said.

 

And so, as kinsmen met a night,

We talked between the rooms.

Until the moss had reached our lips,

And covered our names.

 

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five recipes…six weeks

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stew

A couple Saturdays ago I made the last recipe of the five I had selected. My husband’s best friend was in town and was joining us for dinner. It was nice to share the dish with someone outside of our family, though he wasn’t aware of the pasta’s significance.

Each of the five recipes created little opportunities to experiment and grow my cooking skills. There were slights cheats (I didn’t make the caper-garlic dip) and I ran over my five-week marker, but in the end I did make them all in some capacity. I was surprised at how much planning a completely new recipe requires. There are ingredients to buy, recipes to understand, and dishes or pots to unearth. It is so much easier to stick to the little repertoire of recipes that I know, but learning to cook with new ingredients introduced me to some new flavors and thinking about incorporating more plant-based dishes.

Looking at each recipe individually, here are some comments and thoughts. I’ll share them in the order I made them.

Curried socca with cilantro coconut chutney

Chickpea batter is extremely versatile. In the past, I’ve used a similar batter to make Pakistani pakoras, which are essentially fritters filled with various ingredients such as potato, onion, green chillies and coriander. Chickpea batter has a deeper and earthier taste than flour batter. I had something very similar to the socca I made this past weekend at a local restaurant, but there it was called faranita. They served it piled high with a beet salad and it was light and satisfying – something I could recreate at home. I probably wouldn’t have ordered it had I not made socca at home several weeks prior.

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cilantro coconut chutney

Almond butter brownies with sea salt

Brownies without white sugar and flour that taste really, really good. I was so surprised at how good they were I went down a little “healthy” sweet rabbit hole and realized there is a whole world out there of people making delicious baked treats with alternative products. A couple of examples are The Minimalist Baker and Deliciously Ella. I ate a brownie every night for a week thanks to this recipe and it was pretty heavenly. I need to make another tray.

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brownies 

Crispy smashed baby potatoes with caper garlic yogurt dip

This was a cheat. I didn’t make the dip, which was really the whole point, because trust me, I’ve made a whole lot of potatoes if nothing else in my adult life. The specific technique is one that I haven’t done in a while, which requires first boiling the potatoes, smashing them and then baking them to get loads of crispy bits. I ended up shredding cheddar cheese on it for my kids and drizzling it with a little olive oil for myself alongside a piece of salmon. Nothing major here.

Spicy black bean stew

I loved making this dish because it was so new to me. I’ve never made a vegetarian stew or cooked with black beans or squash. It took a couple hours to make, particularly because of the need to roast the butternut squash, but I enjoyed all the prepping. My husband and son loved this dish, my daughter on the other hand was not impressed. I’m definitely going to be making it again, probably in different and less time consuming variations.

Whole-wheat fettuccini with kale, caramelized onions, and marinated goat cheese

This recipe called for marinating the goat cheese for at least a week. I hadn’t accounted for this, which is why this recipe went into week six. I found the layering process really calming, adding thyme, peppercorns, garlic and bay leaves atop each layer of goat cheese as I alternated between the two. The end product was a beautiful medley of caramelized onions, wilted kale, garlicky goat cheese and ribbons of pappardelle. So, so good. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of the dish as I was too busy in the moment setting out the meal and catching up with our friend.

I enjoyed the momentum of this small project and have been playing around with what to do next. Perhaps five dishes that would work well for entertaining or five dishes that are kid friendly? Let’s see.

podcasts

Two years ago I discovered podcasts and fell in love with the medium. One of my favorite parts of the day prior to my work leave was my morning half hour commute, drinking my coffee and listening to a podcast. Now that I’m home, I might put one on if I’m going to be doing a longer drive, while I’m cooking or in the evenings after the kids have gone to sleep. I usually listen to 4 to 5 a week, and I wanted to share here a couple of my favorites from the past few weeks.

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“Design Matters with Debbie Millman” (Feb 27) | Sam Winston

I recently purchased Sam Winston and Oliver Jeffers book A Child of Books for my children. They were fascinated by the beautiful images consisting of illustrations and type. A Child of Books recently won the Bologna Ragazzi Award for Fiction. In this podcast Sam Winston shares stories about his childhood, how he came to his love and obsession of typography, and the process of creating the book with Oliver Jeffers. Sam Winston’s website is also a great space where you can look closer at his artwork which is unique and powerful.

“The Tim Ferriss Show” (#231) | How to Be Creative Like a Motherf*cker –  Cheryl Strayed

I can’t say that I loved Wild as so many others, though I did enjoy it and appreciated the powerful message of her journey. This interview of Cheryl Strayed was really interesting. She talks about the act of writing, being creative, and some of her life history. I found her to be incredibly articulate and thoughtful. She also shares some fun writing prompts she uses with her students which may be neat to try.

“Pardon My French with Garance Doré” Sep, 29, 2016) | Looking Back to Look Forward

This is a light podcast where Garance Doré reflects on the last 10 years of her blog. She answers questions and shares lessons learned. I love her light hearted and honest answers. Her blog is a beautiful, inspirational space which explores fashion, design, style and beauty.

 

 

a few things I’ve learnt about parenting

I’m not sure if motherhood comes naturally to anyone, but it definitely didn’t to me.  It took me several years to feel like I knew what I was doing. Along the way, I’ve turned to my family, friends, books and blogs for answers to so many of the questions I’ve had. Turning inwards and listening to my instincts has also been part of the learning process – a more complicated one for sure and a topic I would like to write about another day.

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I don’t believe you need to read tons of literature, or any really, on child rearing to be a good mother, father, aunt, uncle or grandparent, but personally, books have helped anchor me during difficult times with my kids. They have also been a source of knowledge and wisdom when I’m feeling curious about my children’s minds and I feel lucky that in this generation we are able to access good quality information on parenting if we choose to.

I wanted to share some of the most important lessons I’ve learnt thus far. This will probably be a series of posts because I could write essays on each one.

Reflecting feelings.

I’ve seen how important it is to empathize with my kids. There is a tendency when a child is upset or angry to downplay what they’re feeling or to straight out deny it. An example is if my daughter is crying because she doesn’t want to go to sleep. I could say and sometimes do say something along the lines of, “It’s not a big deal, there’s no need to cry” which essentially denies the fact that she’s upset. Instead I try and say something along the lines of, “I know it’s hard to go to bed when you want to stay up with me and your dad, but it’s time for bed.” Of course, if she is crying every single night, I would have to look closer at the situation and figure out the root of the issue – is she over tired and needs an earlier bedtime? Am I not giving her enough one on one time before bed? and so on.

I think some people have concerns with this type of parenting because they’re afraid they’ll raise kids who are over emotional or not tough enough. Of course, I don’t have the long range experience to say what the outcome will be. However, if my son is crying because I told him he can’t take his friend’s dinosaur home and I say, “Stop crying, it’s not your toy” versus, “I know it’s hard when you really like a toy, but it’s not your toy and you can’t take it” I haven’t found that the former statement achieves a better outcome. The latter feels more peaceful for me and aligned with the situation. There is also a developmental piece here. If my daughter was crying at the age of five about not being able to take toys from a friend’s house I would need to probably pre-empt visits to people’s homes with a conversation about it and just take a second look at the situation as a whole to understand what was going on. But a two-year-old isn’t fully able to grasp why he can’t take things home, so it doesn’t need to be a source of embarrassment or anger from my side.

The other piece here is understanding that reflecting feeling doesn’t mean being overly indulgent. Just because I can empathize with why they’re crying or angry doesn’t mean they get to eat dessert before their meal, walk outside in -10 without a scarf, hit me, throw toys, yell at the top of their lungs, stay up past their bedtime on a school night, or buy gum in the grocery checkout aisle. Empathizing doesn’t mean I’m a push over. This took me a while to really understand and act upon, but it is the lynch pin. Just because I understand how my child feels doesn’t mean they can do whatever they want.  Over time I’ve seen that my daughter understands what is acceptable and unacceptable and there are definitely less tears and yelling in general – thankfully! Sometimes we tell kids not to cry or get angry because we’re afraid that if we don’t come down hard on them now they’re always going to be like this. I definitely struggled with this fear and still do worry with my son, but I just tell myself, that if I’m parenting them thoughtfully and consciously, creating consistent boundaries and generally doing the best I can, hopefully it will all be okay. The more I continue on this path of motherhood, the more I crave an inner peace and alignment with my outward behaviour as a parent. It is so, so hard, but definitely something I strive for when I’m my best self.

I feel a little nervous writing all this out, because I don’t want anyone to think that I am judging how they parent, particularly my close friends (who may or may not read this). I also don’t have the answers. I just want to share little things that have worked for me and my family. I have learned and continue to learn so much from others that I would like to pay it forward and share some of the wisdom and strategies that are working for us. People vary in so many ways that there cannot be a one shot way of doing anything when it comes to raising children and I would never assume or claim that there is. I’m just really interested as both a mother and an educator on how to raise well-adjusted, kind, respectful, emotionally aware and curious-minded kids. How kids can be supported to be their best selves is fascinating to me.

Thanks for reading.

almond butter brownies with sea salt

This past Sunday I spent the afternoon baking with my daughter. I had been looking forward to tackling the almond butter brownies from Amy Chaplin’s book, and it felt like the right day to do it (and the last possible if I was going to stick to my pact of making one recipe a week).

Cooking or baking with kids is an interesting experience. It often involves a lot of mess and mistakes. I already find baking to be a bit of a messy affair, butter smeared over counters, egg yolk dripping down the sides of bowls, flour on your face, clothes, the floor…add a child to that equation, or god forbid two kids, and you definitely have to be super patient and zen. In the past I’ve been more uptight, hovering a bit too much, exclaiming, “Oh no!” when things drop on the floor, but I made a promise to myself on Sunday that I would take it easy and just enjoy the experience with her. Messes can always be cleaned up and I don’t want my daughter to feel like making a mistake is a big deal, because truly it isn’t.

We started soon after I put my son down for a nap, which gave us a clear hour and a half. I made a point as we went along to look for natural moments to teach her little things. I showed her the difference between a cup, half cup and quarter cup, we measured the pan together to check it was the right dimension, I taught her how to sift and she did the majority of the stirring and pouring. Doing the whole process with her took so long that by the time we transferred the batter into the pan my son had woken up. He helped out by sprinkling the chocolate chips, toasted almond slivers and flaky salt before they went into the oven.

Being in the kitchen with my daughter (and son) feels pretty special and I know how excited she gets to bake together. Izzy is a lover of all things sweet so trying to find healthier alternatives to the constant barrage of processed sugar is fun. I’m not averse at all to giving my kids white sugar or flour, but I know there are other alternatives. I also get tired of hearing, “Can you buy me a cookie? Can you buy me a timbit?” (that’s a little doughnut for all you Americans). I want them to know that if they want to eat something, yes they can buy it of course, but they can also make it with their own two hands and with ingredients that are a little better for them.

Here is a link to the recipe:

http://blog.foodnetwork.com/healthyeats/2014/10/21/dessert-of-the-month-almond-butter-brownies-with-sea-salt/

I’ll definitely make these again. I’m a brownie lover and my kids really liked them too. The recipe has a bunch of ingredients, so if you don’t have some or don’t want to go out and buy them all, feel free to substitute with whatever you have on hand. In some cases you can also just leave an ingredient out. For example, if you don’t want to go out and purchase a flaky sea salt, you can do without it. I try not to worry as much about following recipes to a T and and make do with what I have if something is missing.

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fresh out of the oven
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sifting
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little guy helping out

 

I made a few minor adaptations:

  • I used semi-sweet Ghirardelli chocolate chips instead of the 85% dark chocolate. I was afraid they might taste too grown up for the kiddies. Maybe next time I’ll try dark.
  • I used a hazelnut and almond butter spread instead of just almond butter because that’s what I had in my fridge. I guess that changes the entire title of the recipe 🙂
  • Almond slivers instead of chopped almonds
  • I buttered the pan (small cheat) instead of using parchment because I was all out

 

Good luck if you decide to try them!

 

 

 

 

discipline and beets

You’re wondering how these two things relate? I’ll try and explain.

One of the reasons I created this space was to give myself some creative momentum. I’m used to the imminent nature of a professional job. Whether you like it or not, you have to set your alarm, get dressed, pack lunches, eat breakfast and get out the door. Once you’re there, the school day has its own energy. The students arrive to class, and despite your mood or particular desire to be “on” that day, you find the will to smile, act really enthusiastic about the similarities between apes and humans (well actually, I kind of love that lesson), and teach some important curriculum, and life, lessons.

I’ve never been the most disciplined of people. Prone to a wandering mind, I often start things and leave them unfinished because I’ve moved on to something else. That’s why I’ve always enjoyed and done well in structured environments: school, work, etc. When I know that there is an expectation or a deadline, I’m great.  I guess a lot of us are like that. But lately I’m drawn to seeing if I could create my own structure, my own deadlines, and be responsible to myself. I’m doing this in a lot of different areas of my life, and the blog is just one of them. Knowing that it’s there motivates me to write. My five recipes in five weeks project forces me to actually try something new.

I’m not sure how this exactly segues to beet juice, but here we are. I get delivered a box of local produce every other week, and I have been drowning in beets. There are only so many roast beets a human can eat, so I decided to juice them. I was a bit scared, which is why I’ve never done it before. I mean beets are a pretty hard vegetable, how could they possibly be juiced? For the last month I’ve thought about juicing them, but been too intimidated to try. This morning I decided this was ridiculous. They’re just beets!  It’s just juice! It was a little bit of a mess for sure, but the final product was a very refreshing drink.

A general recipe below. Makes about 4 cups.

8 to 10 small beets

4 large carrots

2 grapefruits

I juiced from hardest to softest: beets, then carrots, then grapefruit.  I stored the juice in an airtight jar in my fridge and I think it’ll keep at least for another day. They say you should have fresh juice immediately to reap all the health benefits, but cleaning out a juicer isn’t the quickest task, so I made enough for tomorrow as well.

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Pretty, right?

recipe # 1 | curried socca and cilantro coconut chutney

The first recipe I attempted to make from Amy Chaplin’s cookbook At home in the whole food kitchen was curried socca and cilantro coconut chutney. I dusted off my fancy cast iron pan for the endeavour; my pan which I had excitedly purchased a year ago and then proceeded to never ever use…

Socca for those wondering is essentially a chickpea flour pancake originating from Provence. The batter is made by mixing chickpea flour, water, salt, seasoning, and some form of oil (I used coconut) together and then frying them as you would a pancake. Chaplin’s recipe called for cooking one side for a couple of minutes and then placing it into the oven to broil. Broiling always requires a little bit of extra attention, and I ended up burning the first one a bit, though it was actually pretty delicious with the charred bits. The following day I tried to make the whole thing on the stove, but when it came time to flip the socca over, the bottom was stuck and it ended up being a bit of hot mess. I still ate it.  So the moral of the story for me was: either figure out how to use my cast iron or use my non-stick instead. The socca itself was really quite good. I can say this because both my husband and son loved it. My husband had it with dollops of coconut cilantro chutney spooned onto the triangular pieces and my son had it plain. My daughter also had a quarter piece that she dunked in copious amounts of yogurt – she does this whenever she doesn’t love what she’s eating, but regardless, she ate it. Anything that works as dinner for (almost) the whole family is definitely a win for me.

I did a little bit of researching afterwards and realized that once you have the socca making down, you can do a lot of different things with it. For example, you can have it as a gluten free substitute to naan, roti or bread or as a pizza topped with whatever you like, goat cheese, tomato sauce, pesto, veggies, etc. The batter also keeps in the fridge for a couple of days. I highly recommend giving it a try.

Here are some recipes to make socca:

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1014757-socca-

farinatahttp://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/cheese-recipes/socca-pancakes-with-broccoli-cheese/

http://www.davidlebovitz.com/socca-enfin/

Happy cooking! 🙂