Saturday, May 30, 2015

Saturday, The Sabbath

So it's Saturday, and this is as far as I have gotten with my day so far:

[caption id="attachment_1168" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Kitty This kitty could not be more relaxed. Note the belly flopping over the railing.[/caption]

Okay, so I am actually not lounging quite like that, but close. For someone who doesn't have a nine-to-five J-O-B, you'd think my days would be a bit more relaxing than they are, but with a 6 a.m. wake up and a day filled with furniture construction, recipe writing and testing, writing for The Man, general household sorting, and Teenager raising, by the time 10 p.m. rolls around, I am done.

Some days as I settle into bed to jot down some final thoughts, I just write a list of things I have done, just to prove that I did something. Time has sped up in recent weeks, and it's a way to hold things down, to anchor myself firmly in the present and what is happening. Turns out that the big moments are rooted in the little moments that lead up to them. As Ferris Buellar says, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

In an effort to not miss it, today is for coffee, farmer's market, and a brief period of navel gazing. There will be some minor outdoor furniture assembly, and maybe a stroll down The Avenue for some furnishings, and a graduation party later in the day.

A Sabbath, of sorts, except I have already turned on the oven and am technically working. It seems okay if it's something you love, though, right?

What are your Sabbath plans?


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Cooking Mojo

My cooking mojo is back, and I have no pictures, a cardinal sin on the interwebs because who wants to read all of the words?

But it's back, and along with it a frenzy of disorganized work on The Book That Shall Not Be Named or talked too much about, lest I scare it away. It's like a frightened stray kitten, but I want to be the one riding the kitten, like this:

[caption id="attachment_1163" align="aligncenter" width="300"](not my picture, so if you know whose it is, let me know and I will credit the photographer) (not my picture, so if you know whose it is, let me know and I will credit the photographer)[/caption]

But I digress.

I just sat down to a lovely bowl of Chipotle-like goodness, with the beef and the rice and the corn salsa, except I made it all, smoky and spicy and sweet and crunchy and lime-spiked with cilantro that I am growing to love. I just at this moment remembered that I forgot the peppers and onions, but it was still delicious.

In the past 24 hours I have also:

  • Cooked and canned strawberry rhubarb ginger jam

  • Made scones to go with the jam (they were delicious but flat. Working on that; see below)

  • Started almonds soaking for almond milk

  • Concocted a chicken tandoori marinade of epic fucking proportions (very excited about that)

  • Researched another two ways to make GF scones (one trial will happen tomorrow)

  • Mixed another batch of GF flour because PIZZA DOUGH is happening

  • Planted two types of tomatoes and four herbs (it's a crapshoot with not much sun anywhere in our tiny Hampden backyard, but I have to try because TOMATOES)

I recruited my new neighbors to be tasters because The Teenager hasn't been around much and has been eating her meals out with friends, and when she is here she is picky as hell. So there is a surplus of food to try and comment on, and they are close by.

So nice to be cooking again, in my own kitchen, with my own tools. It's about freaking time.

What's your mojo rising towards?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Strawberry Rhubarb Ginger Jam


That's a mouthful for a jar of springtime sunshine, isn't it? And yet it is the most delicious thing ever, and the first real cooking project in the new kitchen (except for a minor corn salsa, but I don't really count that so much).

Saturday at the farmer's market I was talked into buying rhubarb. I had been wanting to experiment with rhubarb a little, and with a week of 90-degree weather forecast, I figured this might be my last chance for the season. If my week got crazy and I ran out of time and couldn't make anything, rhubarb freezes beautifully, so I bought a pound.

I should have bought more.

This tart jam gets its sweetness from crystallized ginger and overripe, nearly-gone strawberries. Fresh grated ginger brings a little heat into the mix, and it sets firm without pectin or fuss of any kind. I am a fan of small-batch canning, but this is too small a batch for how much I love this jam. Usually I share what I make, as The Teenager is not always consistently appreciative of my efforts, and it's just the two of us, but this recipe made only two half-pint jars and a little extra, which I promptly slathered on scones this morning. I plan to stalk the market for more rhubarb this weekend and freeze whatever I can forage so that I can work on variations as the summer progresses (raspberry rhubarb? Blueberry rhubarb with cardamom and clove?).

For now, here is this lovely jam.

Strawberry Rhubarb Ginger Jam


2 c. sliced strawberries

1/8 c. (ish) grated fresh ginger (pro tip: freeze the entire knob of ginger and grate as needed)

1/4 c. chopped crystallized ginger

one pound rhubarb (about four 18" stalks), trimmed of leaves and chopped into 1/2" pieces

1 1/4 c. sugar


Combine all ingredients in a  heavy saucepan and simmer on medium heat until rhubarb and berries break down and thicken into jam. Stir frequently to prevent scorching. This process varies wildly from 20 to 45 minutes, depending on altitude, berries, alignment of the stars, etc.

Caution: At this stage the jam is like molten lava. Keep the simmer low and be mindful of spluttering spatters.

To test if it is done, spoon a bit onto a cold plate and cool to room temperature (use the 'fridge). The jam is ready if, when you drag a finger through it, it does not seep back together.

This will keep in the 'fridge for a couple weeks, or use a water bath canning method to process for 10 minutes and keep it fresh for up to one year.

Enjoyed on gluten free scones this morning, but delicious on conveyance of any kind, to be sure.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Buddhism, Sand Mandalas, And Cowhide Rugs

On Wednesday night, The Teenager and I attended the closing ceremony for a sand mandala that had been made over five days at the yoga studio where I study.

On Thursday, I practiced the art of attachment and went shopping for baubles and trinkets for the new house. One of my purchases was a cowhide rug.

As I was checking out, flipping the cowhide onto the conveyor and then flipping it back into the cart, feeling its cow-y leather underside and soft hair, I felt the irony deeply. Perhaps not as much as the cow might have, had s/he been able to point out the extreme nature of attending (and being very moved by and filled up from) a ceremony to mark the completion of a Green Tara mandala, the Mother of Compassion, and then the next day condoning the slaughter of an animal.

This makes the ceremony no less moving but certainly reinforces the idea that Buddhism is truly a practice, not a perfect, and we are all just bits of dust in the universe, hopefully trying not to hurt others (minus a cowhide rug, a pair of leather shoes, and a burger every now and again, right?) in our quest to figure out what it all means.

The Teenager and I were talking about the ceremony on the way home, what struck us the most. The monk who explained the mandala stressed (through an interpreter who was dressed in white pants, white socks with white flips flops, and a Nirvana T-shirt, the one that looks cartoon-y with the eyes X-ed out so it looks dead) that when praying or meditating, it is fine to meditate on Green Tara and all her qualities, but it is also fine to meditate on yourself, imagining that you are invested with all of the qualities of a Buddha.

This is the way with yoga also. You don't need to chant "om" or speak Sanskrit, although both of those things, when offered up authentically and by a person who really means them, can be lovely. Real yoga, not the kind that features bendy white girls in sponsored athletic gear but the kind that offers each practitioner a path that is unique as a fingerprint, doesn't force you to worship a god or change. Real yoga meets each person where they are and helps them discover the truest, best version of themselves. Sometimes you have to wade through a lot of shit to get there, including self-doubt, discouragement, and tight hamstrings, but again, it's a practice, not a perfect.

I would not do the ceremony a bit of justice, but here is a glimpse into the sweaty, 90-minute ceremony that featured, chanting, a cacophony of music that sounded to my ears like toddlers fighting in a tin can, a few dumb questions (and a few good ones), and the shining face of the one monk who speaks English, standing up at the end and saying with a little impish grin, "Okay. All done."

Each picture is captioned.

[caption id="attachment_1144" align="aligncenter" width="720"]Working on the mandala on Tuesday before the ceremony. Four monks laid sand for five hours a day. Working on the mandala on Tuesday before the ceremony. Four monks laid sand for five hours a day.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1149" align="aligncenter" width="960"]The completed mandala the following day. Photo by Gretchen Van Utt. The completed mandala the following day. Photo by Gretchen Van Utt.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1145" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Detail. It looked like felt, not sand, and it took a lot of self-control for me to not touch it. Detail. It looked like felt, not sand, and it took a lot of self-control for me to not touch it.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1147" align="aligncenter" width="720"]There were approximately eleventy million people in the studio, It was, as my friend Luke would say, hotter than a Shiite Muslim. These little kids watched through the windows. There were approximately eleventy million people in the studio, It was, as my friend Luke would say, hotter than a Shiite Muslim. These little kids watched through the windows.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1146" align="aligncenter" width="720"]Shiva looks over all, and the previously mentioned impish monk. Shiva looks over all, and the previously mentioned impish monk.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1150" align="aligncenter" width="960"]There was an audible gasp and everyone leaned forward when the monk first drew a line through the sand. He drew four lines (through the four gates?), and then two other monks used wide paintbrushes to brush the sand towards the center. There was an audible gasp and everyone leaned forward when the monk first drew a line through the sand. He drew four lines (through the four gates?), and then two other monks used wide paintbrushes to brush the sand towards the center.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1148" align="aligncenter" width="2048"]Finally out of the sweaty room, we followed the monks to Robert E.Lee park and listened and watched as they poured the blessed sand into the Jones Falls sot hat it could spread through Baltimore. Funny hats are funny. Finally out of the sweaty room, we followed the monks to Robert E.Lee park and listened and watched as they poured the blessed sand into the Jones Falls so that it could spread through Baltimore. Funny hats are funny.[/caption]

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Tilting At Windmills


So this past week I have had two major anxiety attacks. So major that they required a double dose of anti-anxiety meds to knock them back, and even that took twice as long as usual.

I feel like I am not meant for this world sometimes. It seems like all of the vibrations in the universe travel across the plane of existence and settle in my bones. It's too much, too overwhelming: the pain, the sadness, even the happiness sometimes. I remember cowering undeneath  a seat at a Washington Bullets game when I was young, maybe six, covering my ears and crying as everyone around me roared their approval at a come-from-behind victory.

The hate spewed online and seething below the surface of many interactions this past week in Baltimore has been unbearable. As the news about Freddie Gray unfolded, changing from weeks of peaceful protest and calls for action to two nights of violence and rioting, I scrolled Twitter obsessively.

This week, I have deleted my subscription to multiple news outlets and blocked several "rebuild Baltimore" groups on Facebook. I am contemplating deleting my Facebook page altogether and archiving my Twitter feed.

Maybe it is cowardice that forces me to take actions to protect myself, but I am really struggling to cope with what is going on in this city and the deep history of racism and discord and the massive leaps of faith it will require to change, leaps of faith that I am not ultimately sure the bulk of humanity is capable of making. Certainly not many residents in Baltimore, when many in the northern neighborhoods recite standard white privilege mantras ("I can't believe they destroy their own neighborhoods!") and in southern and western neighborhoods where crime unrelated to the unrest has seen a spike as police and National Guard forces were engaged in concentrated areas of the city.

Tilting at windmills. Spitting in the wind. Bailing out the ocean with a teaspoon.

That's how changes feels. Impossible.

I am breathing. I go to yoga. I am trying to sleep (on an air mattress with a hole that lands me hovering above the floor by the time my alarm goes off in the morning, but a mattress is coming in less than two weeks so I suck it up). I write down what I am grateful for (and there is so much), but the world seeps into my skin through my pores, and I can't stop it.

I dream nearly constantly of the ocean, a beach with the water in front of me and no sound but the wind and the waves. No people, nothing electronic, nothing, just the sand and the water and the wind. You can't take a vacation from yourself, as much as you try (my early 20s proved that to me), but I am struggling to find equilibrium in the city. I am nesting in the nearly-finished rehab, and it feels like I am building a fortress. This can't be healthy, but it feels necessary.

What do you do when it's too much?

 (as an aside, I am not writing anymore on the ways in which Baltimore needs to be fixed. I have three other blogs on the subject but just have to step back. Part 1 and part 2 are still up. For now.)

(image source)






Friday, May 1, 2015

Where Do We Go From Here: Part II


As I write this, Marilyn J. Mosby, one bad-ass State's Attorney General, is busy outlining the exact timeline of what happened to Freddie Gray on his 45-minute trip to jail and lining up charges against the six officers responsible for his death.

All six officers will be prosecuted with charges ranging from false imprisonment to depraved-heart murder to 2nd degree murder, and warrants have been issued for the arrests of all officers.

On several levels, these charges are revolutionary and can result not only in justice for Freddie Gray and his family but also deeper and long-lasting changes in Baltimore.

There are two specific charges that I want to address, two charges that strike at the very heart of the problem in Baltimore.

First, false imprisonment. It was widely reported by the Baltimore Police Department that Freddie Gray had a knife on him when he was arrested, and he did. A pocket knife. The same kind of knife that many people carry around daily for all-purpose type uses. This knife is entirely legal. It was closed, clipped inside his pocket, and at no time did Freddie Gray reach for it.

Officers initially said the knife was an illegal switchblade and used that to justify Freddie Gary's arrest. That the knife was legal and the officers were charged with false imprisonment signals a potential end to the too-common practice of officers stopping, searching, detaining, and arresting black men in this city for no probably cause. Walking while black, standing while black, and, in Freddie Gray's case, running while black will no longer be a reason for arrest (and abuse or death).

The second charge that gets to center mass of what needs to change in this city is depraved-heart murder, a callous disregard for human life. This occurred when Freddie Gray was shackled and not seatbelted in. This occurred when Freddie Gray asked for medical help and was rewarded with ankle shackles. This occurred when Freddie Gray took his rough ride to Central Booking. This occurred when Freddie Gray asked again for medical help. And it occurred one final time when the second prisoner in the van was processed before a now-unresponsive Freddie Gray was attended to.


We shouldn't have to explain which lives we mean when we say that life matters, but the treatment of Freddie Gray clearly illustrates that Baltimore Police (and others in the city, if we are being honest), hold a depraved-heart, a callous disregard, for the life of black people in the city. This is the thing that needs to change first, or everything else is superficial.


As with the first part of this series, I acknowledge that hearts need to change before anything truly changes, but as hearts are changing, it is important to put into place policies and procedures that provide practical support on the ground. Today we talk about police.

Disclaimer: again, these are generalizations. There are actual people behind these numbers. It is important to look honestly, without politics or division, at the truth of what simply is in Baltimore City.

Let's understand the extremes on both sides first. 

1. Police in Baltimore City (and all over the country) have a history of targeting black men. To that end, black men make up almost 40% of the prison population in the U.S., many of them incarcerated for minor crimes that a white man would receive probation for. Which is interesting because whites are far more likely than blacks to abuse drugs.

But I digress.

The point is that black men have an historical target on their back, pursued and prosecuted with a fervor that borders on fanatical.

2. Police in Baltimore City (and all over the country) have an extraordinarily difficult job. They have to make split-second decisions that are often life-or-death. They are charged with protecting a public that frequently has no respect for the job. Just as police are accused of treating black people like animals, they are referred to as "pigs" and dehumanized as nothing more than a badge and a gun.

That being said, there are ways to repair and heal relationships between these two groups. There is a way to reconcile the pain and anguish from the past with vital and important changes in policing procedures. I suggest these as a starting point, and I recognize that some of the groundwork has truly been laid over the course of the protests and as a result of the charges made against the officers.

Point #1: Police need to live in the communities they police. While you cannot force a person to reside where they work, and there is value to separating work from home, especially in such a stressful job, officers should at least be required to reside in Baltimore City. Currently, 75% of Baltimore City police officers live outside of Baltimore City. They are not vested in their community. They may never have lived in the city. They don't understand city-specific concerns.

Understanding what people are going through is crucial in deciding how to approach each situation.

Point #2: Communities need to step up and police themselves. From the mother who got so much attention for grabbing her son and smacking him during the riots to the parents who urged their son to turn himself in (which he did, and was rewarded with a $500,000 bail), communities need to take the lead on holding themselves and their children accountable. While I can't say I agree with hitting your kid (there is a serious cognitive dissonance to hitting your kid as a response to violence), that mom saw her kid and went and got him. Her blows were probably more about fear than anger, but the point is she went and took responsibility for her child. In another instance, a local football coach recognized some of his players and went to get them. The men in the Nation of Islam stood between local shops and rioters, pleading for calm. Many in the Baltimore community, black and white, have begun to organize and call for real change, change than cannot be legislated or mandated. It must come from the people, and it must reach across race and income level. White people cannot swoop into Sandtown-Winchester and expect any change to stick (see again #1: if you don't actually live there it is difficult if not impossible to truly understand).

And make no mistake: change can't just occur in Sandtown-Winchester. The night after the riots, I stood in line for coffee and listed to a young white girl talk about how refreshing her sleep was the night before. While the city burned, police and young people were injured, and stores were looted, she slept like a baby. This clueless response to what occurred is endemic in certain parts of the city, and some deep reflection is necessary. If you slept well in Baltimore on Monday, April 27, you may be part of the problem.

Point #3: Police need better training. It needs to go deeper than physical training and learning how to shoot a gun. They need to learn about poverty. They need to learn how to communicate. And they need to be rigorously screened for any indication that they may not be able to protect and serve without bias. Current police officers need to go through screening, regardless of experience or record, and anyone who is unable to remain unbiased in their job should be immediately reassigned or given early retirement if necessary.

Point #4: Police and communities need to work together in the city on things that do not involve policing. A community project would do wonders to develop relationships and humanize each side. The reason that both sides can treat the other with disregard is because they manage to keep their distance. Working together would help communities get to know their police, and vice versa.

Ideas for positive community projects include:

*Rebuilding houses for occupation or sale (with proceeds going directly back into the community, or residents of the community offered the opportunity to purchase the houses they work on);

*Designing and creating community gardens, a place where residents in food deserts or food swamps can grow their own vegetables and a place for community gatherings; and,

*Tutoring projects or afterschool programs in the community for kids so that children can meet and get to know the officers in their lives.

It is easy to hate and fear people you don't know, and the black community has ample and justified reason to hate and fear anyone in a uniform. Taking steps forward to build trust and relationships goes a long way to begin to heal the wounds that we have made as a society over the back two centuries.

Point #5: All pending cases of police brutality need to be accelerated. There is a backlog of police brutality cases against the Baltimore City police department, some of which have been open for over a year. These people deserve answers, one way or another, and the department and the State Attorney General's office need to devote all their energy to clearing the deck and moving forward. Again, this does not erase what has happened in the past, but as long as these cases are open and unresolved, the city will have a hard time moving forward.

Point #6: What do these two phrases have in common - "the blue wall" and "snitches get stitches?" They both maintain the status quo by continuing a practice of fear, intimidation, and lies. The blue wall protects officers regardless of what happens, and the practice of intimidating potential witnesses prevents neighborhoods from feeling community and protecting themselves. They also keep each side - the police and the community - from coming together to solve any problems that exist in the community. Let's not kid ourselves - there are serious violence and drug issues in Baltimore. Planting a vegetable garden and giving a police officer sensitivity training is making a silk purse from a sow's ear and only scratches the surface of the change that needs to occur. We cannot help neighborhoods progress without working together. We cannot let real criminals and dirty cops dictate what happens in our communities.

It should be noted that the changes I suggest are not necessarily revolutionary. They may even have been attempted half-heartedly before. The difference needs to be in the execution and the longevity, and the commitment to devoting time and resources. essentially, all parties need to decide that change is worth the effort and go from there.

Please add to the conversation below. Our city is a work in progress, and it takes everyone.

(Part I of this series can be found here)

(image source)