Saturday, September 26, 2009

Dramas, big and small

My work schedule is still not finalized, but as it stands now, I'm a busy woman. I'm happy- this is the work I want to do. I am sincere that I want to make yoga and Pilates accessible to those who aren't normally able to get to it. All of the work I did last year is paying off, and taking the plunge and leaving a work environment that I'd grown out of was a risk worth taking.

In addition to running from place to place, I have also gone through my first manuscript for the umpteenth time, editing *again* and chaptering. I moved people around, got rid of some deadweight and, I think, made it a better, tighter story. I'm hoping that I was able to get to a lot of what my sister commented on a few months ago, because I still can't see her comments. However, I took some of her big comments to heart and went to town on them. Which I know is very encouraging to potential readers who might give me feedback.

I've been deeply satisfied doing this for the last two weeks in a way I can't explain (yes, I do want to write for a living). I've touched this level of self-actualization a few times in my life- when I was thirteen, seventeen, twenty-one and thirty-five. It's one of those wonderful moments in time when I can do exactly what I've fantasized about doing and get even more pleasure out of it than I thought I was going to. I think, on some level, this is why I programmed myself to start meditating regularly almost a month ago. I want to be able to hold onto this feeling even if I don't have as much time to spend on it in coming months. Not that that would happen.

That's my good news. My bad news: my candidate for Boston mayor lost by a stone's throw. Heart-breaking. However, he did well enough- without one union endorsement in this machine town- that even though he didn't make it this time, he's well-positioned to come back for the next cycle. I'll be there.

What broke my heart wasn't the loss as much as it was the places that he lost. My little hamlet of Boston, hands down the most progressive and "hippiest" in the whole city, was considered a lock for him. Unfortunately, much of my ward didn't vote. I kicked myself when I realized that. I had made a decision the day before to go to the polls in Chinatown rather than phonebank close to home, because they didn't need me here. Yeah, they did. Lesson learned: never take anything for granted.

But life goes on, even in the ways we wish it wouldn't. As of yesterday, five out of the six of us had a cold, the sixth one having just recently gotten over walking pneumonia. So exhausting- I cannot wait to sleep tonight, and I'm thinking about yet another nice hot back. But if that's the worst I have to live through, I'm not complaining, especially when others live through so much worse on a regular basis.

Yesterday, between one teaching gig and a run for "sick supplies", I ran into a friend of mine who lives in the area (and you know, that's happening more frequently these days. I like this social thing I've got going on now.). He had in tow his two adorable young children. He looked exhausted.

A month ago, he and his wife were looking for a live-in nanny, but the catch was that they were trading rent for childcare. I think that's reasonable, but many people were shocked at the idea of someone nannying without pay. My friend and his wife are in the arts, and they rent in Boston. I don't think I need to explain anymore. Fingers crossed, they found not one but two candidates who could provide the service, and they went with the older, more experienced one.

The day before the move in, however, the designated nanny backed out. Her father had diabetes and needed an emergency amputation of his leg. He had been all set to enter a rehab facility but was then told by his insurance company that it wasn't going to be covered. Understandably, his daugther felt that she owed a duty to her father to help him learn how to adjust to his disability. I wish them well.

My friend was able to secure the services of the younger person, and now he and his wife have some relief... to work that much more. You see, although my friend is a very talented painter (I've seen his stuff) and his wife has been said by some to be *the* best stage manager, they also have day jobs. He works 40 hours per week at one of the coolest stores in Boston and has for years. His wife works at a children's store about as long. They had done an admirable job working alternate schedules, but now they can work that much more (!) and maybe see each other a few times per week.

I have to confess, I have a little bit of a crush on this family. They remind me of my family, but about five/ten years younger. They work much harder than we do, but they have a better sense of humor about it than Michael and I ever did. They're good, nice, hardworking people, and they deserve a break even if they're not asking for one.

As hard as they work, the episode with the would-be nanny was not the first time they ran into problems with healthcare coverage. Although he works 40 hours and has health insurance, his family is not covered through the plan they offer at his place of work. They have supplemental insurance, but they are paying for all of it out of pocket. They are never going to be able to improve their standard of living paying at that level, and in fact we can expect it to get worse. And that's not fair.

Oh yeah. In case you're wondering, they're white. And college-educated.

I want someone to tell me- or them- that they are obviously not working hard enough. I want to hear someone say that they should have made different choices, gotten office jobs, chosen between art and family. Because they have tried. When she was in her third trimester with baby number two she secured employment in a retail setting, but only after she spent some time looking for such an office job, with benefits. And while he has the job with the benefits, it really wouldn't be wise for him to go anywhere.

These guys just put another face on health care reform for me, and because of them I think I'll have a lot to say about it going forward.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Plugging away

This has been a productive week. I'm very satisfied, but I still feel like I'm getting my bearings.

This was the first full week of school for the boys. I immediately, happily, jumped into my writing. Or rather my reading and rewriting. My sister wants me to "chapter" my drafts and give a brief synopsis of each. That's reasonable. She also wants some things introduced earlier- and she wants me to get rid of a few people. Let's just say that for now I'm meeting her half-way.

I'm not as far as I want to be- the younger ones are gone for most of the day, but my oldest is at home with pneumonia- but I'm so happy to be back. I had to redo two sections yesterday and today, and I enjoyed the whole process: puzzling out what I'm really trying to get across, reorganizing and adding so I can do just that, not getting it quite right and then going back in again. Yeah- yeah. I'm hoping that by next Friday I can have both the edits and chaptering done on the first installment.

One thing, I think, that's helping me is that I have been meditating in the early morning now for about two or three weeks. I'm building up my time in minute increments. I'm up to 25 minutes. I have a goal of getting up to 40, by January if not by November. I didn't understand before the instruction to be consistent with the amount of time, and I resented the implications to increase the amount of time, but now I get it- I've experienced it. It's almost as if there are certain layers of consciousness, and getting in deep takes a longer amount of time and a longer period of practice. It feels good while doing it- the exercise is not just concentration, but returning your concentration- but the real work occurs when you're off the mat or cushion. Things bubble up, and then you can watch them dissipate. Sometimes those things are old and deep, and it's nice to let them go. Maybe not every past experience that we hold onto determines our present opportunities, but they can determine how we feel about opportunities or events that arise. As I feel some things dropping off, it's nice to be able to approach things as they are, without coloring them (as much) with past baggage. Do I need to explain how that might affect words I put on the virtual page?

There are other good things as well. I have the kind of work that I had hoped for, and close to the hours I want. My news might be even better than that, but I'm going to wait a few more days before I say anything more. It's tempting to posit that I am being karmically rewarded for my lighter perspective, but I'll refrain. I will say though that I am seeing the results of the hard work that I put in last year, and that's gratifying- even more so than if someone had just handed me the things I had wanted.

The timing of these professional developments is gratifying, because Michael's last day of working for someone else is two Fridays from now. Before I was nervous about this inevitable development, but now I'm excited. He, too, has been working very hard at what he's been doing, and he's earned the admiration of his colleagues and superiors. He's also honed his craft and, oh yeah, significantly aided his clients. I don't feel like I'm tempting fate when I say that he'll be working quite a bit once he's working for himself.

I'm hoping that the New Year will bring more exciting developments. I know at least one is coming: my sister and her fiancee will be getting married in the beginning of January.

It's all good,
Deb in the City
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Pumpkin chip cream cheese muffins (and fun with squash and beans)

Tomorrow is the boys' first day of school. Jaz started last week. There were the predictable school bus snafus- it doesn't make me feel better that other mothers and fathers across the country are experiencing similar or worse problems. I'm not going to ask for a bus stop change because I like getting the little (7 minute?) walk, but if it doesn't work out then I can (very) easily take the city bus to their school. I'll probably have more to say about that later.

Which is all to explain why I haven't written in the last week, and that I plan to be able to write much more starting tomorrow. And I'm going to have a lot to say... especially as of Tuesday night.

So about those muffins: on Friday, I'd asked my husband how he felt about pumpkin muffins. As usual, he felt very good about all things pumpkin. Unfortunately he wasn't crazy about pumpkin coffee muffins, and I'd already started prepping the instant coffee. So we went with banana coffee instead.

Yesterday, we ventured out into the pouring rain to get something from the post office- and some vegan chocolate chips from the food coop. We were drenched, but the kids thought it was worth it. To Hell with Mom and Dad if we return with chocolate.

The three younger ones were turned off by the addition of pumpkin, but Sam, Michael and I loved it. We needed to be stopped from devouring all of them. Next time, I just won't tell everyone else about the pumpkin- that tactic worked the night before (see below).

Vegan, agave, wheat-free pumpkin chocolate chip cream cheese-filled muffins

(Gosh, I'm a lousy food stylist)

Pumpkin muffins:

3/4 cup rice flour
1/3 cup potato flour
1/3 cup tapioca flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. flax seed meal
1/3 cup oil
2/3 cup almond milk (other non-dairy milk will work as well)
1/2 cup agave (honey or maple syrup will work as well)
1 tsp. vinegar
3/4 cup pureed pumpkin
3/4 cup vegan chocolate chips

Cream cheese filling:

2 tbsp. vegan cream cheese
2 tsp. agave
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a standard 12-muffin tin with paper liners.

Combine oil, almond milk, agave, vinegar and pumpkin. Stir until combined. Add flax seed meal, then stir until emulsified. Set aside.

Combine flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir until combined. Add liquid ingredients and stir until well combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Set aside.

Combine cream cheese, agave and vanilla in a small bowl until smooth. Set aside.

Fill muffin tins about half way with muffin batter (try 2 tablespoons). You will have batter left. Add 3/4 teaspoon of cream cheese mixture on top of batter. Try to place filling in center, or at least not too close to edge. Divide remaining muffin batter to cover filling. You should be able to get almost 2 more tablespoons of batter for each muffin. Make sure to cover filling.

Bake for 25 minutes, or when a knife inserted into muffin comes out clean (cream cheese shouldn't cling too much to knife).

Let cool- if you can- before you eat. The filling is better when it's not piping hot.

I actually find these a little too sweet- you could play with more pumpkin and less agave. My husband and daughter thought it was just right though.

I wanted to add pumpkin not to be sneaky, but because my family genuinely likes the taste. The sneakiness is for savory food.

Earlier in the week Samantha, aka my fifteen-year-old conscience, blurted out that she was concerned that Jacob wasn't eating enough vegetables. I'm not as worried, because he does eat apples and he has been known to eat little bits of vegetables. He's coming along. However, he's not getting as many vitamins as his brother, and I think he looks it. So I reached back into tactics from Sam's early childhood, a friend's recent adventure with a picky child, and Jessica Seinfeld's controversial cookbook.

Jacob loves pasta. Since I told you he was a picky child, I'm sure this doesn't surprise you. Of course, he loves macaroni and cheese. My friend talked about white beans, and Seinfeld talked about squash. I thought both would be perfect.

I've shied away from winter squash for the past couple of years, more because it's a pain to prep than anything else. However, the boys are older now, which means they will let me take my sweet time in the kitchen, chopping, scooping and peeling away. Because the beans were boiling away- I didn't want to drag out my pressure cooker for such a small quantity- I roasted the squash. Boiling would have been fine, but roasting did help to bring out the sweetness.

Once they were both soft enough, I separately pureed both the beans and squash. I used about 1 cup of the squash puree and 1/3 cup of the white bean puree. Then it was pure guess work. I had salted the squash but not the beans, so I added about 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Then I added about 2/3 cup cheddar cheese, 3 tablespoons parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast and 2 teaspoons garlic powder. After the pasta was cooked, I added about 1/2 cup of the pasta water and mixed until smooth, then added the mixture to the pasta. The coated pasta was put in a greased baking dish. I added about 2 tablespoons of parmesan cheese over the top, then baked at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.

Verdict: Jacob (and everyone else) loved it. I'll do this next week as well.

I tried pizza last night using similar techniques for the cheese sauce, but decided to spruce up the tomato sauce as well with carrots, onions, garlic and spinach in the blender. The color was very different, but Michael and I decided to try it anyway. Everyone else ate it, but Jacob gave me a raspberry- after he'd eaten the equivalent of a slice. Okay, lesson learned. Next time, we'll try just the cheese sauce over regular tomato sauce, and then switch off to the enriched tomato sauce with regular cheese.

Some people advise not serving ersatz food to picky children because you're not helping them break their (usually unreasonable) aversion to a food. Those people are probably right, but I can tell you from experience that you *are* changing their tastes. While some sugar has seeped into our food- those chocolate chips in the above recipe must be loaded with them, and unfortunately I haven't been able to find any almond milk that doesn't include some of it- I haven't used cane sugar in any of my cooking or baking in months. The result? Three out of four of my children have eaten things outside the home and declared something too "sugary". That's a wonderful thing to hear from a ten-year-old, and even better from a five-year-old. The fourth child, meanwhile, has complained about milk products, because we don't use them that often. I fully expect Jacob to declare in a few months that the macaroni and cheese one of his grandmothers bought for him- or the pizza Daddy ordered- is too salty or cheesy. And then I'll happily make him some of my own, sneaky Mom that I am.

Deb in the City

Friday, September 04, 2009

Welcome to my (culinary) world

This has been a trying summer, and this last week before school is even more so. Things started coming to a head a few days ago, so I exercised control in the only way I could: I baked a lot of vegan gluten-free goodies.

Just so you know, gluten-free isn't entirely what I'm about, but it's the closest term I can use. In case you didn't already know, I have developed sensitivities of varying degrees to wheat, corn, oats, chickpeas, soy and black beans. I'm crossing my fingers that I don't develop something worse. I can tolerate very small amounts of soy- e.g., non-hydrogenated soy margarine- but even a speck of flour will make me feel like I'm choking. So I'm avoiding all of those ingredients.

Further, my husband and one of our daughters has an allergy to tree nuts. Michael is fine once they're cooked- for the most part- but Jazmyn's lips blew up when she ate a cookie with hazelnuts, and her throat became itchy when she ate a muffin with walnuts. That's enough for me to shy away from nuts for most things, but they're both fine with almond milk in baked goods. However, if they weren't, I could always grab some rice milk.

Oh right- possibly the best restriction of all is the one on sugar. Samantha has been told not to use it, and my life has improved greatly since we took that advice. So I'm all about agave here. However, you could also substitute maple, which I've done with excellent results. Honey would probably work, but I don't use it anymore.

Eggs, schmeggs. I don't know how everyone got blackmailed into using so many of those things in common baking- I pretty much delete those without any problems. Of course, I haven't attempted puff pastry under my new restrictions, but still.

I've used Isa Chandra Moskowitz's and Ani Phyo's work as a jumping off point. However, I've made enough changes that I feel pretty good about calling these recipes mine.

Alright, here they are. Easiest first.

Coconut Vanilla Ice Cream

1 can coconut milk
3 tbsp. agave
1 tsp. vanilla

Combine all ingredients. Add to ice cream maker, following manufacturer's instructions. If you don't have an ice cream maker, pour mixture into a container and freeze. Take out every two hours and stir. Coconut milk won't get as icy as dairy or other nondairy milks.

This is *so* easy and so good. Use this as you would a standard vanilla ice cream recipe and modify to change the flavors.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Muffins

Chocolate Muffins

3/4 cup rice flour
1/4 tapioca flour
1/3 cup cocoa
1.5 tbsp. flaxseed meal
1.5 tbsp. arrowroot powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. baking powder
2/3 cup almond milk (or other nondairy milk)
1/3 cup oil (I use olive oil, but others should be fine)
2/3 cup agave (or maple syrup or honey)
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla

Peanut Butter Filling

3 tbsp. peanut butter
1 tbsp. agave
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. oil

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Line a standard muffin pan (twelve muffins) with paper liners.

Combine filling ingredients and mix until smooth. Set aside.

Combine liquid ingredients for muffins and stir to emulsify. Add flaxseed meal and arrowroot powder and stir to combine. Be patient and stir well. If there are persistent lumps, wait a few minutes before you stir again.

Combine dry ingredients and stir well. Add liquid mixture and stir until everything is smooth. Don't overmix.

Fill each liner about halfway with chocolate batter. Add about a teaspoon of peanut butter filling to each muffin, then evenly divide the remaining batter and cover the peanut butter filling.

Bake for 17 to 20 minutes. Test for doneness (the peanut butter should not be too moist). Allow to cool completely before eating.

Mostly Raw Chocolate Cupcakes with Almond, Raspberry and Chocolate Sauces

This one I can't have very often because of the nuts, but it's delicious and easy.

Raw chocolate cupcake

2/3 cup cocoa (if you can find raw cacao, use that. Otherwise, it's still very good with cocoa.)
3 cups ground nuts (Trader Joe's sells preground almond meal- no food processor required)
1.5 cups dates
1/8 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla

Almond sauce

1.5 cups almonds
1 cup water
3 tbsp. agave
2 tsp vanilla

Raspberry sauce

1/2 cup frozen raspberries
1/4 cup agave
Up to 1/4 cup water

Chocolate sauce

1/4 cup cocoa
2 tbsp. agave
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. olive oil

Line a standard muffin tin with paper liners.

If you have a food processor, combine all cupcake ingredients in processor and mix until smooth. If not, chop nuts (or buy ground nuts). Mash dates together with a fork, then add chopped or ground nuts, cocoa, salt and vanilla and combine until the mixture resembles a crumbly dough (this is easiest with hands). Divide dough evenly into muffin tins, pressing firmly and filling about halfway. Place muffin tin in freezer.

To make almond sauce, combine all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. Set aside. (This sauce can also work well with walnuts, but it won't be as smooth. This can work very well with cashews, and will be smoother and richer.)

To make raspberry sauce, combine raspberries and agave in blender and a tablespoon of water. Blend until smooth, adding more water only if needed. You can strain the sauce if you like, but it's optional. Set aside.

To make the chocolate sauce, combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir until smooth. Set aside. (This is also good on ice cream, as is.)

Take the cupcakes out of the freezer, still in the tin. Smooth about 1.5 to 2 teaspoons of the almond sauce on the top of each cupcake. Drizzle on raspberry sauce and then chocolate sauce. You can let it firm in the freezer for a few moments, or you can just devour. *So good*

Vegan, gluten-free English Muffins

2 tsp. yeast
1.5 tbsp. agave
1 cup warm water (don't let it get warmer than skin temperature)
1 1/2 cups rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. flaxseed meal, plus 2 tbsp. for coating
2 tbsp. arrowroot
1/4 cup non-hydrogenated vegan margarine (ie Earth Balance), plus 2 tbsp. for pan frying

Combine yeast, agave and water. Add flaxseed meal and arrowroot. Check after five minutes- the mixture should be foamy, and the flaxseed and arrowroot should be dissolved. If not, stir until it is.

Combine rice flour, tapioca flour and salt and stir to combine. Add yeast mixture and margarine, and knead until the margarine is well-distributed and the dough is smooth. This will come together very quickly because of the rice flour. Knead for a few more minutes (I knead in the bowl), oil the dough and bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a towel and allow to rise for an hour.

Preheat oven to 350. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or silpat.

Punch down dough and knead for a few turns. This will come apart slightly- don't panic. Place on a clean surface (it doesn't need to be floured, but you could use rice flour if you wanted to) and pat out to a thickness of 3/4 inch. Don't roll- the dough will catch. Use a glass or metal ring of about 2 1/2 to 3 inches diameter to cut out six rounds. The scraps can be combined quickly to form the last one or two- because there is no gluten, it won't toughen. Pat both sides of each round into flax seed, then set aside.

Heat a skillet and melt margarine. Make sure the pan is hot enough to be non-stick but not so hot it will burn the margarine. Pan fry each round on both sides for a moment to crisp the outsides. Set aside.

Place each round/muffin on the cookie sheet. Bake for about ten minutes, then let cool for about twenty minutes (if you can wait that long).

These will not be much thicker than the 3/4 inches you started with, but they will be thick enough to split open and will have small nooks and crannies- enough to catch any melted margarine.

Vegan, gluten-free bagels

Someone said that gluten-free bagels weren't possible, and I took it personally.

3/4 cup warm water
2 tsps. yeast
1 tbsp. agave
1 1/4 cup rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. flaxseed meal
2 tbsp. arrowroot powder

Combine water, yeast, agave, flaxseed and arrowroot. Set aside for five minutes, then check to make sure the mixture is foamy and the flaxseed and arrowroot are well combined. If not, stir until combined.

Combine rice flour, tapioca flour and salt. Add yeast mixture and knead until well-combined and soft. Oil dough and bowl, and cover bowl with plastic wrap or towel and allow to rise for about an hour.

Preheat oven to 450. Set a pot of water to boil. Once boiling, add a teaspoon of salt OR two teaspoons of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or silpat. Set aside.

Punch dough down and knead a few more turns. Divide into six pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. Make an indentation in the center no larger than 3/4 inch. Press dough back into shape if there is fraying. (This is different from the wheat flour recipe, where you want to make a hole as large as you can because it will shrink as it boils. This dough is easy to make a big hole for, but the bagel will split as it boils.) Place each piece on the cookie sheet and set aside.

Once all of the bagels are shaped, add pieces to boiling water. Don't overcrowd- add only enough that each piece has room to float. If the dough sticks to the bottom of the pan, carefully move it with a spatula. Boil on one side for one minute, then turn over and boil on the other side for another minute. Remove with a slotted spoon, shaking out excess water, and place on the baking sheet.

Once all of the bagels have been boiled, bake for 16 to 20 minutes. Remove and cool for five minutes or until cool enough to handle. Remove bagels from parchment paper and allow to cool for about 15 minutes more before eating.

These are small bagels (about the size people ate before 1987). The recipe can be multiplied, and larger pieces of dough can be used to form bagels. Add about one or two minutes to baking time.


Deb in the City

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The almost-week in review

The good: I've been doing a lot of yoga and meditation this week; Jazmyn actively wants to be homeschooled; the Boston mayoral candidates finally had a debate; and I got an unexpected lead for something this year.

The not-good: The other shoe was unlaced at Michael's place of work, and the shoe is dropping; all of the financial disarray that goes with that; my boss at one place just left; I still don't know when I'm leaving my other job; and Samantha is now voicing regret about leaving her toxic school.

I have more to say, and will say it when I have more time on the computer. But I'm striving: I just made vegan, gluten-free english muffins and bagels (ha!), and the chocolate peanut butter cup muffins are a huge hit. Must be all the meditating.

Deb in the City