Gravitating towards beauty

The older I get the more I realize why an appreciation of beauty so often seems to deepen with age. We’re increasingly exposed to pain, grieving feels like a constant, disasters and wretched acts committed against other humans are impossible to ignore. Images from horrific atrocities are seared into our mind. We are not sheltered in the cocoon of youth and nobody reading this is living on the shores of Walden Pond. Sometimes all we can do is retreat for a day or two and surround ourselves with images of hope.

Hi! Welcome to September! I’m obviously feeling cheerful.

I experienced a few (relatively minor) traumas this summer, the one I wrote about earlier, and another that happened in the past few weeks that I won’t share about in detail here, but indelibly left it’s mark. I was very scared and immediately realized that feeling safe in your shelter is a privilege not to be taken for granted. Thankfully, a strong antidote was already built into our schedule. Two nights camping on San Juan Island, a retreat I can count on.

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It seems to me that counteracting the weight fear can bring to our lives is best done by pursuing love, gratitude and beauty, so I gravitate to them with increasing necessity. The delight of picking blackberries off bushes near our campsite, the smiles on my boys faces while they played with a never-before-seen furry friend, the joy of watching my youngest run without ceasing to keep his kite up, the excitement while spotting porpoises and harbor seals, the satisfaction of cooking over a fire. These moments brought peace.

This tart happened to be in the house before we left to camp, during the time we were feeling quite vulnerable. Having something delicious to consume and share in the middle of a fearful time was a gift. A little one, of a comforting and delicious sort. It’s one I provided myself without even knowing it was going to be needed. I encourage you make something and share it with someone you know who is going through a hard time. Maybe it’s you. Pick or buy some berries before the season is over. Some for yourself, some to share. Sometimes we just have to take care of each other one tart slice at a time.

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Macaroon Tart 

  • From Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day
  • Serves 8-16, depending on the generosity of the slicer

Crust

  • 1 1/2 cups / 6 oz / 170 g white whole wheat flour (or whole wheat pastry or spelt flour)
  • 3/4 cup / 2 oz / 60 g unsweetened finely shredded coconut*
  • 3/4 cup / 3.75 oz / 106 g lightly packed natural cane sugar
  • Scant 1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
  • 10 tablespoons / 5 oz / 140 g unsalted butter, melted

Filling

  • 2 cups / 5 oz / 140 g unsweetened finely shredded coconut*
  • 1/2 cup / 2.5 oz / 70 g lightly packed natural cane sugar
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 8 ounces / 225 g fresh blackberries, halved
  • 1/3 cup / 1.5 oz / 45 g pistachios, crushed

Preheat oven to 350℉ / 180℃ with a rack in the middle. Butter an 8×11-inch / 20cmx28cm tart pan (or equivalent- mine is a 9-inch round tart pan) and line the bottom and sides with parchment paper to make easy release of the tart.

For the crust, combine the flour, coconut, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Stir in the melted butter and mix until the dough is crumbly. Firmly press it into the prepared pan, forming a solid, flat layer. (This part is fun! Messy fingers!) Bake for 15-minutes or until the crust is barely golden. Let it cool for a few minutes before filling it.

Prepare the filling by combining the coconut, sugar and egg whites. Mix until combined. Lay the blackberry halves on the tart base. Drop dollops of the filling around and over the tops of the berries, filling in the spaces around them and covering some up.

Bake for 20 to 25-minutes, until the filling peaks are deeply golden. Let the tart cool, then sprinkle the crushed pistachios over the top. Slice & serve!

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*I used medium shred and it was delightfully sufficient.

** This tart works well with other fruit as well. Cherries and pistachios? You bet.

 

(Those connected to my personal account on facebook may have noticed that I deleted it because of what happened. My apologies that I could not leave up my notice long enough for everyone to see, but we felt the incident warranted a speedy deletion. Those without my personal email address may feel free to contact me via this blog’s facebook page message board. I will try to be in touch with many of you in other ways, too. For now, I am finding I really enjoy being off facebook, so I may not return to having a personal site. Email and phone are now the best way to contact me.)

Privilege

“I mean, you’re not going to adjust your own life for other people!” says an older white woman next to me at the coffee shop, sharing with her friends why she felt justified ordering an alcoholic drink at a table with a friend who is a newly recovering alcoholic. “That’s for damn sure,” says another friend.

These words hit me hard after immersing myself in the Ferguson accounts through people on the ground (via Twitter’s real-time feed) and watching a live stream last night, right at the point when a cop threatened to shoot the person holding the camera. I have not watched any mainstream media coverage of Ferguson and I don’t intend to do so. There is no real news there anymore and the sensationalized tone and lack of authenticity from their reporters makes me want to hurl so I avoid it like the plague.

What makes us get so comfortable that we’re unwilling to change for another person’s well-being? Just like I can close my eyes to suffering friends and neighbors, I have the option to ignore Ferguson. Its results do not impact my daily life. My family will not be directly impacted, either.

My life is overflowing with privilege. Everywhere I go I experience a particular line of treatment because I am white. I get an extra dose because I have an advanced college degree.  (Of course, privilege funded my education as well.) Top it all off with decent hygiene, respectable clothing, an ability to engage in conversation with strangers, and a healthy body and I get a free ticket past many people’s biases. I experience altered treatment because I’m female, of course, and in Seattle I might get some passive aggressive stares for having children and daring to take them grocery shopping, but that’s about all the bias I face on a regular basis.

The primary issue is not whether Michael Brown robbed the convenience store or not. It also doesn’t matter that he pushed the clerk aside. White people steal and shove all the time and they don’t get shot six times. It’s that clear cut. I am angry and heartbroken about the discrepancy between how a black boy and how a white boy get treated in America. I also have no idea what to do and get frustrated that I’m just sitting in front of my laptop, watching tweets tick by as brave teenagers block stores to prevent looting and peaceful protestors get teargassed.

Just as Ferguson won’t impact me directly, I know I can’t impact racism directly either. It would be far too easy to believe that I may as well stay quiet and do nothing.

First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

–Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail

I start by acknowledging my own privilege. I start by examining my own prejudice. I look inward. I acknowledge that sometimes protesting is required. In fact, it almost always is. Change does not come easily.

Since my boys are white, I do not have to worry about them playing with toy guns at Walmart. I will never fear for them walking down the street to a friend’s house. Their little faces don’t encourage suspicion now, but even in their teens I can’t imagine I’ll worry too much about police treating them poorly. I’ll have my concerns for their well-being, no doubt, but it won’t be because of their color. It will be because their brains won’t be fully developed and a not-yet-developed frontal lobe is an impulsive one. My fears will be that they will make one stupid, impulsive decision and pay an enormous price for it (like a car accident). Moms of black children don’t have this luxury. When their kids make the impulsive decisions that ALL teenagers make, they are immediately at significantly greater risk for steep consequences, including jail time and police brutality. I would be crushed by the constant anxiety moms must face each time they let their children of color explore this world. This world that sees them as dangerous. Labels them hooligans, thugs, or animals. Sees a hoodie over a black face as a threat.

I don’t come at this thinking I understand even an ounce of the black experience. I never will. All I can do is educate myself, keep examining my own biases, speak truth into the void, and fight for laws that create justice. There are too many laws that perpetuate the cycle of racism and our nation is paying for it. More importantly, individual people of color are paying for it. They continue to suffer the consequences of centuries of racism and white people are not making it any easier. Frequently, we make it much worse. There is, indeed, a serious case for reparations.

I want to be a better friend than those ladies. If we are ever to move beyond this gross racial divide, a proactive stance is required. I will not stand by passively, holding my drink while an entire race struggles, even if it means the painful examination of my own heart, why I may feel nervous in certain parts of town, or assume something about someone because of how they look. Or if it means sharing my voice, risking making people uncomfortable by challenging their assumptions. It is 2014 in America and we are still (mostly) separate and certainly not equal. I used to get really angry when I’d ask the white adults in my life what they did to contribute to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and they’d fumble their response, “Well, I don’t know. I watched the news.” They did nothing.

Ferguson may very well be the beginning of a new civil rights movement that is desperately needed. I will not do nothing. I start with my voice.

White chocolate raspberry brownie bars

We’ve hit the point of summer in which I must suppress my alter ego, Nighttime Ninja Harvester. On our block alone there are two huge raspberry patches covered with berries, most of which are rotting on the canes. My berry-loving, food-waste-hating heart races every time I pass them. In another decade or two I could easily find myself knocking on doors saying, “Hi, may I harvest these for you?”

We don’t have a problem eating the berries at our house, partly because my canes are young and don’t yet have huge amounts of fruit. Still, I could set Miles loose on enormous urban patches and they’d be cleared in no time. We were lucky enough to have about a cup of berries enter the house every couple of days for the past few weeks because I cared for our neighbors’ garden. There was just enough to prevent Nighttime Ninja Harvester from getting into trouble. IMG_4760Did you know that if you’re a fruit tree owner in Seattle you can request to have your fruit harvested and donated to food banks? (Many other cities have similar organizations.) The first year we moved into this place, the Italian prune plum tree was overflowing. I was overwhelmed enough by the one-year-old and four-year-old. I signed our tree up and a friendly man came to harvest the plums, leaving us a box and taking the rest to food banks. We’ve since been able to handle our harvests, but I continue to donate a hefty amount to food banks.

Knowing that we are lucky to have an abundance, I work hard to use what we have or share it before it goes bad. Nonetheless, I experience food waste guilt quite regularly. While I’m not a depression-era baby, I was raised by WWII babies who subsequently enrolled their children in the Clean Plate Club. I also blame Tamar Adler. Reading An Everlasting Meal provided countless ideas for how to use food more efficiently and economically, but it also plagues me a bit. Now I sometimes feel guilty throwing away kale stems and radish leaves. I’ve contemplated taking all our discarded produce parts around to the neighborhood chickens and goats. Looney, I know. I really am just a decade away from being that person. (Buuuut, come on! I could dump kale stems at the chicken coops and come home with handfuls of berries in a period of ten minutes!)

Since emptying our veggie CSA box completely covers my kitchen counter every week, it is an act of kindness towards myself to immediately cut off the carrot tops and say, “Not this year.” Otherwise I’d nod to them in the fridge all week, debating about what I would do with them until they rot and I, of course, feel bad. That’s the pattern. So, this year I’m declaring it Good Enough to cook the normal parts. Maybe next year I’ll make kale stem pesto and carrot top purees. Or own chickens.

IMG_8619Now, back to raspberries. I rarely bake with summer fruit because it tastes so amazing raw. Raspberries are one exception because I find their flavor is often enhanced with baking. I first made these bars for my parents’ 50th anniversary party. While flipping through Dorie Greenspan’s Baking (my desert island baked goods book), this recipe caught my eye. I really wanted to make cake for the party, but we decided in favor of finger food because of logistical challenges, so these helped scratch the pretty cake itch. Plus, my mom loves raspberries, oranges and chocolate, so I was hopeful she’d like these. (By the way, Dorie has a new book coming out and recently posted another alluring raspberry recipe from it as a sneak peak.)

While Dorie refers to these as brownies, I haven’t quite accepted them as such. They might belong in a class of their own. They are extremely moist, significantly more than a typical brownie. Also, the meringue dresses them up so much they’re like mini-meringue pies. Minus the pie crust. I still don’t know what to call them, so I’m sticking with Dorie but adding bar. Suggestions, anyone? IMG_8620White chocolate raspberry brownie bars
From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking. Makes 32 bars.

Brownie base

  • 2/3 cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (50 grams) finely ground almonds / almond meal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
  • 4 ounces coarsely chopped premium-quality white chocolate (This came out to be a little shy of 1 cup of Ghirardelli white chocolate chips, which were what I could find.)
  • 1 cup (200 grams) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1+ cup (4 to 6 ounces) fresh raspberries

Meringue

  • 3 large eggs whites, at room temperature
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 325℉, with a rack in the center. Butter a 9×13 inch pan and line the pan with parchment or wax paper so that the sides of the paper extend beyond the sides of the pan a bit. Butter the paper and dust the bottom and sides of it with flour, tapping out any excess. Place the pan on a baking sheet.

Make the brownie base by whisking together the flour, ground almonds and salt. Place the butter, topped with the chocolate pieces, in a double boiler (or set a heatproof bowl over a pan) to gently melt them together over barely simmering water. Stir frequently until they’re just melted. Watch this step carefully because they will separate if they get too hot and the white chocolate needs special treatment to not burn. Once they’ve melted, immediately remove the pan from the heat.

In the base of a large mixing bowl, rub the sugar and orange zest together until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Add the eggs, beating on medium-high speed about 3-minutes, until pale and foamy. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low and blend in the butter-chocolate mixture. Continue on low, adding the dry ingredients until they are just integrated. Do not overmix. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and place the raspberries evenly over the batter.

Make the meringue by beating the egg whites with salt on medium speed until they are foamy and just turning opaque. Increase the speed to medium-high to add the sugar in a slow, steady stream. Whip the whites until they form firm, but still glossy peaks. (I test for firm peaks by stopping the mixer and pulling away the whisk attachment up away from the whites. If they remain standing and don’t flop over, they are firm enough.) Gently spread the meringue over the brownie batter.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the meringue is browned and crackly. (In my home oven, this took 40-minutes. In a much newer and more reliable oven in Colorado, they took 30-minutes. But altitude was at play there, too, so who knows. Just watch them for some good light browning and crackles in the meringue.) The brownies will pull away from the side of the pan. Allow them to cool in the pan on a rack.

By carefully lifting the sides of parchment paper, lift out the bars and place them on cutting board. (Alternately, you can turn them out onto a rack and then invert them onto a cutting board, but I found this extremely difficult to do without squishing the meringue, so I changed course the second time I made these.) Dust them with confectioners’ sugar. Cut into bars.

Voila! Enjoy!

Here’s to independence

photo1 It’s been a few weeks, but I’m still thinking about the Fourth of July. I’m not alone. Tonight at bedtime Miles proclaimed, “Fourth of July is when I shoot Fluffy out of my bottom!” Fluffy is Charlie’s favorite stuffed animal, a white cat that survived my childhood but probably won’t theirs. Clearly, it’s going to be exciting here next year. Consider this an invitation to our potluck.

This year we decided to embrace the crowds at Seattle’s biggest Fourth of July event. More significantly, we opted to forego bedtimes. Fireworks are shot off from a barge in Lake Union at 10:15pm, while thousands crowd the shores of Gas Works Park for viewing. (My favorite comment of the night was Miles’, “Fireworks are rockets that shoot lasers!”) We forged our exit with the masses around 11, and then walked a couple miles to get home. Charlie stayed up past midnight, Miles conked out in the stroller somewhere along the way.

For years I would’ve rather gouged myself in the eye with a hot poker than keep them up late. Our exceptionally sleep-sensitive kids would undoubtedly attempt to continue partying throughout the night (the kind of partying that comes with wailing and the need to suck), only to wake at 5:30am for the day. This happened 99% of the nights they missed an hour or two of sleep. Lest you think this ridiculous night-waking would cease after one night, oh no. It would continue for at least a week, likely two, until we got them back “on schedule.”

For some perspective, these days Miles typically heads to bed at 7pm and Charlie around 7:30 or 8. They both usually rise around 6am, 7 at the absolute latest. Every time we’ve tried to push their bedtimes later, they’ve woken up earlier. So, while not worrying about the bedtime schedule was indeed fabulously freeing, the really magical part was that they SLEPT IN next morning. We considered opening a bottle of Champagne. It was 8am.

Until this year we’ve endured Seattle’s very late hours of darkness on Independence Day cringing with each firecracker that popped by our windows, hoping to Jesus that our boys would continue sleeping while simultaneously cussing (in our minds or with each other) at the teenagers setting them off at 2am. The trauma of years of significant sleep deprivation will make one a teensy weensy bit anxious about explosives detonating nearby. Even if the kids slept through the bangs, WE certainly couldn’t. No luxury of earplugs, of course. We needed to hear our babies cry! So, instead we lay in bed with deer-in-the-headlights expressions on our faces, patriotism dwindling by the second.

photo3 By the way, the next time you hear someone giving a parent a hard time about maintaining a schedule, recommend trying this:

1) Lay in bed at 9:30pm. Just as your eyelids start to droop and you fade away, have a partner yell loudly in your ear, simulating a wailing baby. They must yelp for at least ten minutes while you bounce them, pat them, rock them, or walk with them. To be fair, though, it really should be at least twenty minutes. Once they’re quiet, hold them and rock them for at least another ten. (It might feel awkward doing this with an adult. Use a dog or a stuffed animal if you prefer. Or simply remind yourselves, this is all worth it to build empathy!) Next, set them down carefully. Don’t sneeze, fart, burp, sniffle, step on a squeaky floorboard, trip over a toy car, or move your fingers away from their body too quickly as you gently lay them down. If make any startling noise or jostling body movement, start again from the beginning.

2) Repeat the entire routine again in two hours, this time taking time to warm up a bottle and feed the “baby.” (Unless you happen to be randomly lactating, which is odd enough that you should get that checked out.) Once the “baby” is asleep, set your alarm for 2:30am and try to fall asleep even though you know you’ll get two hours more shut-eye at best.

3) At 2:30 complete a half hour of simulated diaper changing, bouncing and shushing. The stuffed animal option is probably best for this.

4) You’re not done yet. Treat yourself to a final wail at 4am that continues until 5. At this point your mind will be racing because you know that you probably only have a half hour left to sleep. You’ll battle with yourself for awhile as to whether or not you should try to sleep more, thus wasting precious time. Eventually, you’ll convince yourself that this will be the day they’ll sleep later, and just as you close your eyes, your partner must babble loudly and immediately demand breakfast. (You now have two children. Just so this this experiment is highly effective.)

5) Repeat this routine nightly until you experience deep compassion for parents of babies who don’t sleep well. If it takes you more than a few nights, borrow someone’s kids to care for during the daytime hours, too. All screentime is off-limits. Grocery shop, do laundry, and cook at least once.

Now you probably get why I’m still thinking about the holiday. My husband and I gained a little independence this Fourth of July. It feels like we just might’ve made it through.

Summer PSA: My scariest parenting moment to date

Generally one of the best ways for me to process a horrible event is to share it with friends and write about it. This particular one was witnessed by a friend, and I was comforted to have her immediate empathetic, non-judgmental response as my first. When I told my husband he also responded lovingly and graciously, understanding how this could happen. That’s the only type of response I can handle right now. Here, I’m requesting virtual hugs while simultaneously providing a PSA.

While visiting a friend’s pool today, a common summer event for us, I did as I usually do: walked into the courtyard, placed our gear and food on a table, and turned to help get the boys ready for the pool. But this time I turned around and my youngest was bobbing up and down, silently drowning. (I can’t yet write this without crying.)

I jumped into the pool, cover-up dress still on, and placed him on the side. I held him, kissing him and holding him for a long time while my hands shook. He was breathing. Thank God. He didn’t cough either, so I suppose he did a decent job keeping his mouth closed each time he went under.

I don’t know how long he was in. Probably just a few seconds, certainly no more than a minute. He had to walk down a couple stairs to get to the deeper part and he was already a few feet away from the stairs when I got to him. Given the outcome, it doesn’t matter. I can replay it all I want but I’ll never know exactly how it happened. I just know that he got in over his head.

For the past few summers he’s worn a puddle jumper to swim “independently.” He’s never tried to get in without me holding him or wearing that. I assumed, after several years of safe behavior, that he understood he could not float without assistance. Obviously, there was some cognitive shift in which he no longer understood that he wasn’t floating by himself. Or he simply didn’t understand the consequences. Even immediately after the incident he tried several times to get in the pool without me or the puddle jumper after we’d removed it for bathroom breaks and lunch. Having learned my lesson, I was vigilant at that point and didn’t allow him out of my line of sight, but I was surprised that he tried entering again so quickly.

I simply want to add to the chorus of water safety PSAs, specifically to remind parents of young children that our little ones may demonstrate safety over months of time, even years, and then immediately disregard the rules. (I certainly could’ve used a gentler reminder.) After it happened I recalled that my oldest tried to cross the street without me when he was four, also after years of always waiting for an adult’s hand. There just might be something about this age, as they shift from babies and toddlers to more independent little kids, that they overestimate their own skills. Don’t assume a history of consistently safe behavior will continue.

We will now establish a routine that prevents accidents. I will be putting his puddle jumper on prior to entering the pool courtyard. Or I will hold his hand until it’s on. Or I will not take my eyes off of him. But even writing that idea feels dangerous. Another kid falling or crying can be a big enough distraction to take my eyes off of him, just long enough for a him to get in the pool. So, I think I’ll stick with putting it on the minute we have access to the water.

Right after it happened I would’ve spent a thousand dollars for amazing swim lessons to get him 100% water safe. I’ve talked myself down a bit, but I feel increasingly horrible about it. I will never forget the look on his face. I couldn’t be more thankful that this ending wasn’t different.

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Carkeek Park

As the tides are at their lowest, Seattle schools go on summer break. Kids flood the beaches searching for sea stars, lifting rocks to pester crabs, and poking at anemones. Moats get built, feet get sandy, hands smell like seaweed.

One of my hopes for our summer is weekly beach visits and hikes. The boys will pick Carkeek nearly every time if I let them and I find few reasons to negotiate. With a wide flat beach that looks out over Puget Sound to the Olympic Mountains, it is hard to beat. My boys adore watching trains from the bridge over the railroad tracks, and the salmon slide is irresistible to the younger crowd (also sure to elicit at least a few poop jokes from all kids five and up).

When we first moved back to Seattle, I experienced a solid six months of “pinch me” moments. I’d visit a favorite bakery and squeal with delight. I’d hop on a ferry like a kid in a candy store. While I remain thankful that we moved back, those highly salient moments of gratitude have tapered off. Mostly I feel deeply anchored, gently swaying in the comforting knowledge that we’re home. Yet Carkeek, especially when the sun is shining and the clams are spitting and the boys are happily digging, always seems to return me to a more conscious level of thankfulness for the city I love.

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Absorb

IMG_8584 IMG_8585Gray skies, droplets lingering, snails gliding. I find comfort on misty mornings when browning petals drop from the dogwood, covering our nearly dormant grass with the semblance of autumn. Does this seem odd since artichokes await harvest, blueberries deepen their purplish hues, the smell of peaches fills my kitchen? IMG_8609 IMG_8611 IMG_8612 The clouds, the spent flowers. They console me. Grief is almost always present, even when surrounded by blossoms. Sometimes it’s a forgotten seed, buried for years, germinating after disruption. Often is arrives overnight, weighing down petals, penetrating layers.

It must wash over, soak in, absorb. Shelter from it leads to bitterness, drought, fruitlessness. I find comfort in the hope that eventually, like the rain, grief may provide nourishment. IMG_4676 IMG_8592