Saturday, November 14, 2009

How We Eat.

It's think it's been a while since I sang the praises of our CSA, Johnson's Backyard Garden. Sometimes I take for granted how well we eat. Not that I'm not completely aware of how much joy I get from cooking and eating, but I forget that it didn't used to be as easy as it is now that we get a box of perfect produce every week, around which I base all our meals.

This week we got a bunch of small white Japanese salad turnips (I think they call them). They're best eaten raw -- they have a sort of radishy but sweeter and milder taste. I sliced them and threw them in a salad of mizuma, arugula, and various cut lettuces, with my standard vinaigrette (lemon, red wine vinegar, a little garlic, salt and pepper, Dijon mustard, and olive oil). I also threw in some shredded cabbage that was still crispy and fresh from last week's box, and a big handful of grated parmesan.

A few days ago I stewed some okra with tomatoes (we have a second tomato season in November, which, because I grew up in Indiana where waiting for the August tomatoes was practically a religion in my family, always seems like some kind of miracle to me), garlic, a chopped serrano pepper and a couple bigger sweet red chilies. We get tons of chilies of all kinds. Really almost too many -- they're supplemented by more jalapeƱos and serranos from M's garden in the yard, which is still producing on plants that went in last spring. I roast some of them, and peel and freeze them. Others I just throw right in the freezer raw.

We've also been getting a lot of okra, and the okra in M's garden also did very well this year, so I've learned how to make okra pickles (they're easy). We haven't had fried okra in a while, but that's a nice summer treat, too.

Tonight I stir-fried the greens from the turnips (they're very tender, so they really only need to be cooked till they wilt and turn bright green -- they're delicious, with a mild peppery flavor), a few kohlrabi bulbs peeled and sliced, a handful of raw peanuts toasted in the cooking oil, garlic and ginger, and we ate it over brown rice with tamari.

We've also been getting a handful of green beans the last few weeks, which I blanch and shock and freeze to use in various ways later: thawed and sliced in salads, or I might throw some in a minestrone I'm planning for later this week.

And kale. The season of winter greens is starting. By January, we'll be getting piles and piles of mustard greens, turnip greens, collards, lettuce, and kale. I usually blanch and freeze all the greens on the day we get them -- then they're ready to use in just about anything later, and we can have greens all year round. Once it gets a little cooler -- if it ever gets a little cooler, it was 83 today -- I'll start making big pots of Southern-style greens cooked until they're very soft with lots of garlic, and instead of the traditional ham hock I use chipotle to get that smokiness which complements greens so well. And hopefully by the time it gets cooler and I'm making those big pots of greens, our oven will be fixed so I can make some cornbread to go with.

We buy very little produce outside of what we get from our CSA. I usually need more onions than they grow, though this year we got a lot more onions than last year. And garlic. And we buy fresh ginger and lemons. That's about it. Oh, we buy some canned tomatoes. We get a lot of tomatoes from the CSA, so many that I seeded and froze a bunch this year to use for sauce. But it takes a shitload of tomatoes to make one quart of tomato sauce, so we end up buying a few cans to supplement, if I make soup or chili or pasta sauce.

One of my favorite things about belonging to the farm is that I don't have to make a lot of decisions about what to buy and cook. We don't have to keep track of what's in season, what's local, what's fresh. We cook and eat what they harvest every week.

Kids Today.

I hope that if and when I become an actual teacher, I will have at least some small bit of say in what materials I use in class. If I'm required to use approved materials, I hope I'll be allowed to supplement them with materials I choose.

The worksheets and workbooks and overhead transparencies and other pre-packaged lessons that I've been asked to teach from during my few days of subbing bring back all the feelings I had about these materials back when I was in school. They are either deadly boring or completely opaque, with very little in between. Oh yeah, and also infuriating because they're riddled with typos, mistakes, and unacknowledged ambiguities. That nagging feeling: does this not make sense because I'm not getting it, or is it because the book is wrong?

Yesterday's lesson plan for 6th grade ESL English included a 9-part phonics lesson on prefixes and diphthongs. I had 6 classes. When I would find a typo or mistake or something that didn't make sense to me, I would skip that part of the lesson with the next class. By the end of the day, I was only teaching 3 of the parts.

The bright kids look at this stuff and think, "I know what you're talking about, but why are you putting it in such abstruse terms?" (Okay, sixth-graders are not thinking "abstruse" but you know what I mean.) And the kids who are struggling with a concept or idea are pushed even further into the weeds.

Then I had to wade through a short reading selection about stress. Apparently, people of all cultures experience stress, and there's good and bad stress. Excuse me, where is the teacher's bathroom? And do you have a razor blade I can borrow for a couple minutes? Assuming 6th graders need to learn about stress -- and I'm sure someone with better credentials than I had good reasons for deciding that they do -- with all the great literature written in English at your disposal, you couldn't find an interesting, well-written passage about stress for a reading comprehension exercise for 6th graders?

Why are kids not learning? Take a look at the pedagogical materials.

(By the way, crappy workbooks aside, I had a great day yesterday with some very smart and fun middle school kids. It was the first time since subbing that I felt like I could see some way into it. I could see myself teaching. The first part of the lesson was vocabulary. We discussed the spelling and definition of 10 words, we put them in sentences, came up with examples of how they're used. It was kind of a heady experience witnessing kids' faces suddenly illuminated by the meaning of a word or the recognition of a concept. After the discussion, I gave them a spelling quiz on the 10 words, and almost all the kids in every class spelled all or most of the words correctly. Seriously, I was close to tears.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pick Something.

I've been thinking about that post from last Saturday with the list of things I want to do. It helps me to make a list like that because the ideas accumulate and get hard to sort out mentally. Mainly what a list helps me do is cross stuff off. There are always too many ideas, too many bits of inspiration to follow. And that can be paralyzing. I spend a long time doing nothing because I can't decide, can't pick. I want to draw and paint, I want to sing and write songs, I want to write plays and stories and essays and a memoir and a novel, make movies, music videos, and a Broadway musical, write screenplays, and illustrate children's books. I want to study history and become fluent in Spanish. I want to play the piano. My latest thing is that I think I should write poetry because I think I'd be good at it.

Most people pick something at some time in their life don't they? Sometimes before they even go to college. I always planned to be an artist, from the age of 5 or 6, but I didn't narrow it down.

When I do one thing for a while I always know that there are dozens of things I am not doing. It's as if there's a missing connection in my brain, that part of the brain that picks something to do is deformed or missing. I could never pick. It's my fatal flaw. It drives me crazy.

Monday, November 9, 2009

I Used To Be Innocent Enough.

My parents were strict about bedtime, so if I was watching the Midnight Special it was on the TV in the basement with the lights off and the sound low. Other things I associate with that secret late-night pre-teen TV time are Love American Style ("Please let it be an episode about a nudist colony! Please!!") and The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder, who absolutely mesmerized me no matter who he was interviewing, but I especially remember when his guest was a transexual woman (whose name escapes me now -- I think she was Scandinavian but I'm pretty sure it wasn't Christine Jorgensen because she was too young) which blew my world apart in a good way in the early seventies.

It's hard to reconcile the feeling of danger that washes over me while watching this clip now. It's so gentle and innocent. But many of the artists I loved then, who were making such sweet, lovely music, were also activists of one kind or another, first anti-war, then environment causes.

I loved John Denver when I was 12 or 13. Of course, he was very uncool for a number of years, but now I love him again, the child-like generosity and effortless love in his songs, and that crystalline voice. And more recently, John Denver makes me think with longing of my friend R who is a big fan and who I haven't seen in years and miss terribly.

And I'm crazy about Cass Elliot, not just because she has rick-rack on her muumuu, but that doesn't hurt.


I'm not sure what forum is best for expressing my thoughts about this facebook group called, "Against Gay Marriage? Then Don't Get One and Shut the Fuck Up." Every time a friend of mine joins it and it pops up in my Live Feed, I feel angry and frustrated. It's a serious bummer to have friends of mine -- for the most part, my facebook friends are really my friends -- tell me to shut the fuck up. I would guess that the people who are joining this group, supporting this sentiment, are the same people who roll their eyes at the Fox News crowd constantly calling Obama supporters communists, fascists, and Nazis. So take a look at your rhetoric. Is it seriously your position that people who disagree with you (for instance, me) should "Shut the Fuck Up"?

I've pontificated plenty here on my views regarding marriage, so I'll give that old tune a rest. It's too much for me to boil down into a pithy few words for a status update. I feel like starting a facebook group called "Don't Tell Me To Shut the Fuck Up. You Shut the Fuck Up!"

Lizzie Borden Update, Not.

Friends keep asking me what's up with Lizzie Borden, because I haven't said or written anything since the New York run closed a few weeks ago. Sorry that I've left everyone hanging, but I don't have anywhere but hanging to leave you right now. I'm hanging, too. There's some rumbling, there's some people talking, there's "interest," but it's way too early to say anything. Because there are so many ifs. Because toes get stepped on. Because the more public one's excitement, the more public the disappointment later. Sad to say, I've been doing this long enough to know that it's always much more likely nothing will happen than something.

The take home: Cross your fingers; I'll let you know when there's something to know. Call me pathetic, but somewhere in that big shithole of disappointment and pessimism my big dreams still bob their little heads up.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

One Is Only Poor Only If They Choose To Be.

Maybe it's just that it's 6 in the morning and I haven't slept a wink because I've been coughing all night, or maybe it's because I was pondering last night that I am still where I was 8 years ago -- no home, no job, no career, no plans -- in a hole that I can't seem to climb out of, or maybe it's because there is so much love in my life every day, but this clip (which, I know, is bizarre in many, many ways) just made me bawl: