Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Adventures with fresh produce

September was a delicious month for me and my family. A friend was traveling this month, and we had the good fortune of collecting and enjoying her share of CSA crops each Wednesday. This gave me the opportunity to channel my inner Martha Stewart and try some new recipes.

People don’t have time to cook anymore, and I’m no exception. I have to make the time, literally carve it out of my schedule with a butcher knife (pardon me for the violent analogy, perhaps some buried anger is being activated). My motivation this month was a determination NOT to let these wonderful fresh vegetables go to waste. Their resilience during these drought conditions was nothing less than inspiring, and I felt it was my duty to honor them.

Following is a recounting of four of my kitchen adventures that I put in the success column.

Green tomato cake. I had offered to provide dessert for the big meal at our annual Labor Day Lake Michigan family get-together. That week’s CSA basket contained several green tomatoes, along with a recipe for green tomato pie. Until then, the only use for green tomatoes I knew of was to fry them, a la the movie starring Kathy Bates. There mere suggestion of using green tomatoes in a dessert made my stomach slightly turn, yet my creative side persisted. I Googled for more green tomato dessert ideas and found a promising recipe for Green Tomato Cake. This was a risk – could I dare try something that sounded so unappetizing and subject my extended family to it as well, possibly ruining the entire weekend with a dessert that would end up in the trash can? Why not, I thought. I owed it to the tomatoes. The risk paid off. It turned out to be the most delicious cake ever, moist and dense, somewhat like zucchini bread, perfect with cream cheese frosting. I presented the dessert to the family as a “mystery dessert,” and challenged them to guess the secret ingredient. They were as surprised as I was.

Applesauce. September’s CSA bounty included orchard-fresh apples, along with a recipe for “Easy applesauce.” The easy part got my attention. Peel and quarter 6-8 apples. Throw them in a saucepan with ½ cup of water, some cinnamon and a tablespoon of lemon juice. Simmer for 20 minutes. Mash apples (the fun part) then add ½ cup sugar and a tablespoon of butter. Pure heaven, served warm or cold.

Apple bread. To our delight, the fresh apples kept rolling in. In addition to my continued resolve to properly honor the produce, my motivation for making apple bread was to create an enticement to get my 7th grade daughter out of bed in time to catch the school bus the next morning. Cold cereal has not been doing the trick, nor have Quaker granola bars. I invited her to help me make the bread. As we were stirring and adding ingredients, she noticed the nutmeg was stamped with a date from 2002. That led us to an adventure in going through every spice in the cabinet and throwing out anything older than 2009, INCLUDING the spices in the rack we got as a wedding gift seventeen years ago. I couldn’t part with those, so I combined them in a Tupperware container to save for a yet-to-be-determined non-consumptive use.

Acorn squash soup. This is one of Autumn’s pleasures not to be missed. The tedious work is in the preparation of the squash. It has to be cooked and peeled, and one must exercise care not to burn one’s fingers when handling hot squash straight from the microwave (as she types with a still-tender right thumb). But it is so worth it, and I was obligated to honor the squash. Creamy, smooth, buttery, with a touch of ginger, nothing is better on a cool fall evening before bolting out the door for yoga class. I will be honest: I spent the entire class looking forward to getting back home to enjoy another bowl – how’s that for present mindfulness?

These have been my September adventures with fresh produce. As the month draws to a close and the fruits of the garden dwindle away, it’s good to remember the bounty in spite of the drought. And to the earth I say, “Rest well. You’ve earned it.”

– Kim for the Poplar Grove Muse

Green tomato cake recipe

Squash soup and Apple bread recipes can be found in the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (the one with the red and white checks).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010



This has been a difficult summer for my family and me. I spent late July and most of August in the home town I had gladly fled when I was 19. The circumstances that caused me to be there were stressful, my 89- year- old father’s illness and surgery, my step-mother’s fall and fracture of the C2 vertebrae in her neck and the accident I was in just as I was nearing their subdivision on my way to help take care of them after they were both released from the hospital. I felt like life had been smacking me in the face all summer; when someone turned in front of me, I couldn’t avoid hitting him and the air bags deployed on impact. I was smacked down. Again.
My summer literally started and ended with a bang. Beginning with Dad’s emergency surgery and ending with my accident. When you are taken suddenly away from your life the loss is cumulative. The things you miss build up. At first, there was no time for me to think about home. I was just in the moment of whether my dad was going to survive. Then as he passed the crisies stage, I had time to think. My step-mother was dealing with her own fears of losing Dad and then her own injuries; my four step-sisters were worrying about how to care for their mother if my dad was no longer here to do that for her. And there was me, so scared and feeling totally cut off from my support network. I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite that lonely.
I have worked hard to build a life in Bloomington, reinventing myself many times, my latest incarnation: writer. The writing community that Women Writing for (a) Change has provided me has been a soul nourishing source of support and encouragement for five years, my Wild Women group of kindred spirits who know my secrets and love me unconditionally, the amazing women who have been my friends here in Bloomington for over 30 years and my work family who care about me and what’s happening in my life all were suddenly not available to me. Even in this world of instant communication, it felt like the bottom dropped out.
My home town is very small, economically depressed, and (basically) conservative. I’m used to Bloomington with its liberalism, embracing of new ideas, and cultural diversity. I know I’m spoiled by the riches that Bloomington has to offer, but I don’t care if I sound like a spoiled brat. I want what Bloomington has to offer. I don’t like being in a place that is small-minded, that isn’t willing to accept “the other”. I’m well aware that it’s not good to generalize and not everyone in my home town is narrow-minded. There are wonderful people there who are good and decent. It’s more a feeling of suspiciousness of anything new or different. The air there seems heavy, weighted down with the fear of change, of “new fangled” ideas. I swear that I can hear the piccolo from the Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western s when I walk into a restaurant there, everyone whispering behind their hands, “stranger in town”.
There is one person there who offered her friendship and her home as a much needed place of respite. Terri and I have been friends since the first grade. Her parents were like second parents to me and their home was a safe haven when I needed a break from my mother. She shared her sweet dogs, her beautiful patio with the plants, butterflies and hummingbirds. Terri listened to me vent and we reminisced about old times. She is open and loving. She gave me the healing gift of laughter and probably saved what little was left of my sanity.
I would occasionally get to make brief forays back to Bloomington and although it was wonderful to be home and reconnect with my community, it felt a little cruel to have a brief glimpse of what I had been missing so much. Many of my writer friends had the same reaction I did when I was relaying the stories of the summer; “you’ll have so much to write about.” And that is what kept me going. I had neither the time nor the energy to write, so I just kept scribbling down lines, people’s names, vignettes, and ideas.
My parents are slowly recovering, my injuries have begun to heal and I have replaced Old Blue Jeep with New Blue Jeep. I truly believe there are no accidents. The wreck that I was in is going to leave me better off financially than I was before it happened. And the irony of all ironies is that the gentleman’s name who caused the wreck is Vason Rujiravireyapeno. He is from Thailand and has lived in my home town for more than thirty years. And from what I understand has never been accepted there either. We came a long way to bump into each other and we have a lot in common.
If things remain steady, I won’t be traveling to my home town as often and am ready to resume my writing life. And what does resuming my writing life (my life) mean? Well, I’m sitting in Border’s cafĂ© with my dear friend Alwiya. She is a Muslim woman from Zanzibar who has a PhD; she’s a mother, grandmother, a professor, writer and one of the most interesting people I know. She is good to her core. She’s writing the riveting story of her father. And as we sit here in quiet community, I look up and see two young women strolling along the sidewalk as they look lovingly at each other while holding hands. None of this would fly in my home town. It would be stared at and clucked at. Here, no one even blinks. Being back in my home town put me right back in my childhood place of not being allowed to be myself, it felt way too familiar. In Bloomington, I can be the me I want to be, not the cookie cutter version of small town expectations. Here I am truly a woman with wings.

Rebekah for The Poplar Grove Muse

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Facebook Hot 10

I’ve learned it is bad form to be grumpy about Facebook. I tend to run to extremes with it, hot or cold depending on my mood and –well,my sociability quotient and tolerance for distraction mostly. I will leave unsaid all the things that get under my skin about this phenomenal social networking tool and will, instead, offer a list of what warms me; what feels affirming to me and life-affirming in the communal sense ever since I reluctantly registered myself about a year ago now. I keep coming back to Facebook as I keep trying to figure out what it’s all about. The best of it is connection.

1. There are friendly faces in this book I haven’t seen in 40 years. Their waves to me across the virtual room warm my heart in surprising ways. I see other people waving to one another and most of the time, that friendliness heartens me.
2. Goodwill and birthday greetings, pats on the back, celebrations of birth, condolences, invitations to the dance, to the cause, to the stage, and to the windows looking in on growing lives . These notices and subsequent notes offer opportunities for generosity and an acknowledgment of some real GOOD we human beings are capable of offering to one another.
3. Along these lines, there’s the opportunity in all of this for many random acts of kindness. Being on the receiving and giving end of this energy feels really good.
4. Great book/movie recommendations, art posts and photographs.
5. You-Tube posts that inspire belly laughter and tears when you need a good cry. The Laughing Baby, and Antwerp Train Station Do-Re-Mi come to mind as does the one about the Olympic Runner who tore a hamstring in a critical heat and whose Dad rushed down to the track to help him finish his race. Lions and Tigers and Bears –OH MY!
6. Quick connections to blog posts and journalistic links I’d never have discovered on my own. Some of them are listed in our favorites here at this site!
7. The opportunity to share information and help spread word about the work of the world that feels important to me. This was my motivation for joining FB in the first place. It has proven to be a terrific tool to help grow our writing project.
8. The awareness it brings to how so many of my friends are doing meaningful, creative, healing work and how very very many of us care about the planet. Subsequent alliances and collaborations.
9. My children became my friends –willingly, after an appropriate period of disdain for my joining their generation’s thing.
10. Recipes, song lyrics, vintage film clips, a place to share passion and heartache, somewhere to go at 3:30 in the morning to find out who else is awake on the other side of the street or on the other side of the world. Reminders that we’re all here. Alone and together.

BLR --Poplar Grove Muse

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Look Up!

For September the book group associated with WWfaC Bloomington is reading Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. The opening is a technical tour de force. I love how, in the opening pages, McCann uses synecdoche to great effect, enumerating the body parts, briefcases, umbrellas, discarded trash, you name it, of the fragmented and astonished Manhattanites witnessing Philippe Petit's historic 1974 tightrope walk between the World Trade Center towers; he literally embodies the human response to this incredible defiance of boundaries in prose. (My children and I have long marveled at this feat, now made ever so much more poignant by the disappearance of the twin towers post-9/11; we love both Mordecai Gerstein’s childrens’ picture book The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, and the astonishing film Man on Wire.)

I was struck by one of the teasing quotes on the back cover of my paper edition: “Brilliant…a reminder to look up—and to look into one another’s eyes,” from the New Orleans Times-Picayune. I was struck by this, in part because I have been conducting a kind of secret, personal experiment, of sorts, as I walk into work each morning on the edge of the IUB campus, and later in the day.

I have long played around with the usual boundaries of eye contact. I grew up in South Dakota, making eye contact with those I passed, everywhere, usually including a brief-but-friendly verbal exchange. As I moved to progressively larger cities, my natural inclination to greet those I encountered was squelched by the prevailing anonymity of big city culture. However, when I worked in Amtrak’s Onboard Services out of Chicago, one of few whites and fewer women, my co-workers taught me a different, and invaluable lesson in the importance of making eye contact with those with whom you cross paths, acknowledging the humanity of your fellow travelers in life. I will always be grateful to these co-workers, who took me as I came, estimated me according to my willingness to work and learn, and reaffirmed my upbringing as far as looking into my fellow travelers’ eyes.

Lately, in Hoosier Bloomington, I have been sneaking a peek at the people I pass on my way into work. At this relatively early hour, I find, folks are even less interested in making eye contact or interacting with their human surroundings than usual. As a result, I feel I get a secret glimpse into their usually guarded inner beings. Sometimes, passing a bleary student, I swear I can feel his sleepy consciousness trailing behind him all the way from his rumpled bed (and see what his mother adored in his younger self). The young women, with a heightened awareness of presentation, do a slightly better job of disguising their drowsy inner sleepers, but the eyes may yet betray exhaustion or a wistfulness to dream a bit longer. Some older gentlemen, mostly contained in suit and tie, still bear the imprint of the pillow on one side of a balding head, and perhaps, a hint of one last dream image in their otherwise focused eyes. The work- and delivery-men, however, are all wide awake, eager to exchange a look and a word; they have been up for hours, and are well into their day’s labors and the social interactions that lighten them.

What’s your practice regarding eye contact and your fellow travelers? How have your own journeys shaped it? If Philippe Petit tiptoed across your skyscape, would you catch a glimpse?

Mary, for the Poplar Grove Muse