Archive for September 2008

Raising ’em right

Or Left, in fact:

I had promised to offer matching funds on his proceeds, so thanks to the generosity of our neighbors, we mailed a check for $65.60 to the campaign today. (I had suggested perhaps “Good luck” as a more appropriate sign off, but Ben, with less experience of losing than I, thought that sounded lame. I like the boy’s confidence.)

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Enchiladas

When I switched blogs (over two years ago now!) I thought I would transfer all those old recipes over to this blog. Good intentions and all that. But this, an invention of Tony’s is a good one (even though our kids won’t eat it); it’s a nice meal for crowds (it’s very easy to scale up or down) or, as I’m doing tomorrow, to bring to a family who needs some meals in the freezer.

3 sweet potatoes, medium-sized
1 15 oz. can black beans
10-12 Flour tortillas
1 package jack cheese, grated (grate it as big as you want — truly whatever is fastest and easiest… it’s all going to get melted)
1 big (28-32 oz.) or 2 small (~15 oz.) cans of plain tomato sauce (just not “Italian flavored)
1 jar of salsa … thinner is actually better than thicker — I use “Mrs. Renfro’s” which is in a lot of supermarkets
(or if you find a can of “enchilada sauce” that would be fine too)
ground cumin
dash of cayenne pepper or hot sauce, if desired

Peel 3 medium sweet potatoes. Cut them into large chunks and boil them until you can easily stick a fork in them. You’re going to mash these, so they’re pretty forgiving.

Drain the water, and put them back in the pot or into a big bowl. Mash the potatoes well, with a fork or potato masher.

Drain most of the water from a can of black beans and add them to the sweet potatoes

Add a liberal amount of cumin (maybe 2-3 tablespoons? Start with two and you can taste it and add more if you like )

If you’re so inclined, you could add a little heat — a dash of hot sauce or cayenne pepper. That’s the filling.

The sauce I usually just make from plain old canned tomato sauce (since it really kind of wants to be thin… not all homestyle-y like a good homemade pasta sauce). But you do want some kind of mexican flavor in there… so essentially I just spike it with something…

Some salsa from a jar (Mrs. Renfros, enchilada sauce, or some other not-too-chunky salsa) It doesn’t need a ton –just a little something, maybe 1/2 to 3/4 cup. As far as quantity goes, for a big dish of enchiladas, you probably want like a 32 ounce can of sauce to start with. That’s the sauce. NOTE: you don’t even have to cook this… just mix the plain tomato sauce and whatever you’re spiking it with into a bowl.

Then it’s just putting filling into flour tortillas (I’m sure corn would be great, too, but we usually do flour just for size, if no other reason) — maybe 1/4 cup or so… add a little bit of grated cheese (jack is what we usually use), roll ’em up and tuck them in real close to each other in a big rectangular baking dish with the seam down.

It’s nice to have a tight fit… sometimes I use baking dish that’s a little smaller than the tortillas and just slice of 1/2 inch from two sides of the tortillas to “square them off” –but that’s not really necessary. Pour the sauce over and around… add some more grated cheese on top.

You can easily split this into two pans if need be… I probably get maybe 8 enchiladas in a big baking dish.

Then just bake it until it’s nice and bubbly… maybe 30-40 minutes at 350 or so… it’s all cooked, so you really just need to get it nice and hot.

I usually start with it covered with foil and then sometimes finish it with a few minutes under the broiler to let the cheese get nice and brown. The broiler’s not necessary, but you could at least just take the foil off for the last 5 minutes or so.

We usually have this with Slammin’ Rice — a really simple spanish/mexican rice.

I’m showing 3 cups of rice here, which is a lot… good if you’re serving 8.

3 cups plain-old white rice… ideally medium or long-grain rather than short grain like you might use for chinese food.
1/2 onion chopped fine
1-2 cloves garlic chopped fine (if you want)
olive oil
3 cups veggie stock
2 1/2 cups plain tomato sauce (just like above for the enchiladas)
1/2 cup “thin” salsa, enchilada sauce, Mrs. Renfro’s — again same as above… you’re just “spiking” the plain tomato sauce with a little flavor.

(the key is 6 cups liquid for 3 cups rice… and you’re essentially doing half veggie stock and half spicy tomato sauce…)

So, this starts out like risotto, but just gets a lot easier because you don’t have to stir. Essentially you’re just making plain rice with 1/2 stock and 1/2 tomato sauce instead of water.

In a good size pot, saute the onion in olive oil (medium heat) until it starts to get brown. Add the garlic, if you’re using it and just saute that for a minute. You might need to add a touch more oil when you put the garlic in so it doesn’t stick.

Add the rice to the onion and garlic… stir them together and cook for 15-20 seconds.

Add all the liquid: stock, tomato sauce, and whatever you’re using to spike it (the key is to use 6 cups liquid total)

Cover the pot, turn the heat to medium high until it starts to boil, give it a good stir (Scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon and make sure nothing’s stuck) and then turn the heat really low and cook for 20 minutes with the lid on.

After 20 minutes, take the lid off, give it a good stir and scrape and see if the rice is cooked. If it seems like it needs a little more time that’s fine… once the rice is all cooked you can just leave this on the stove with the lid on and it will stay hot for awhile.

You can garnish this with the obvious — sour cream, guacamole, chopped cilantro — whatever sounds good.

Train Time, Appropriately

On Wednesdays, a friend drives Ben to school and Eli gets a little extra play time at home. This morning, he decided to rebuild the chair-train that he and Ben used to make all the time; it’s been so long, he’d forgotten about this arrangement, and was clearly delighted with his own creativity. The blue plastic coal tender is a new feature, but then he needed coal. “Mama, what would be appropriate coal?”

I paused, a bit surprised by his fancy new word, and then handed him a ball.

He pounded it between his hands once or twice, and then put it in the “tender,” deeming it appropriate. I handed him another ball. Same response. I found another ball; into the coal tender it went.

Then we ran out of living room toys so I went to scout the play kitchen. “Would this make appropriate coal?” I asked, really unsure of his requirements, as I handed him some plastic scoops of ice cream. He regarded them carefully. “No. They are NOT appropriate.” “How about these?” I suggested, offering up the cupcakes that his godmother Libby made him. “Yes! These are appropriate!” He ran them into the living room one by one, shouting happily, “These are ap-pro-pri-ate! These are ap-pro-pri-ate!” The vacuum-sealed bag of coffee beans: appropriate (shiny and black, it’s arguably the most appropriate, despite its shape). The empty box of Hershey’s cocoa powder: not appropriate.

We had time for one ride — Eli, his little blue bear, and me — to the zoo, and then it was time to leave for school, where I expect he was able to continue his train play in some other appropriate way.

Mama at the Movies: The Red Balloon

I’m way behind on my “movie minutes” posts, and will update soon, since I’ve seen lots of good (Frozen River) and bad (The Women) lately. But in the meantime, it was nice to get back to writing my column this month with a reminiscence of our trip to Paris this summer. Here’s an excerpt:

When the chance came to spend a week in Paris this summer, my mind filled with visions of Nutella crepes, red wine at sidewalk bistros, and sunset walks along the Seine.

“What Paris, Mama?” three-year-old Eli asked, bringing me back down to earth and replacing my romantic thoughts with more prosaic concerns: getting two kids through a 10-hour flight; finding vegetarian food in the land of steak frites; navigating the Metro. We needed to prepare.

You can read the rest of my column, plus Stephanie Hunt’s gorgeous column, Core Matters, a swan song from 12-Step Mama, and lots of terrific fiction and creative nonfiction, over at Literary Mama.

This Week at Literary Mama

It’s always gratifying to update Literary Mama on Sundays and see pieces–some of which I first read several months ago–find their broad audience. I try to give each just a quick final read–they’ve all been through a couple rounds of editing and copyediting, but sometimes I might catch a stray typo–still, inevitably I forget myself and get drawn into the essay or story or poem as if for the first time.

This week, there’s Hilary Meyerson’s beautiful Voice: A Study in the Writer’s Art, which begins with a nightmare like one I’ve had myself:

The night before my daughter started kindergarten, I had a nightmare. . .that I was nine months pregnant with a third child. Not just pregnant, but in labor. In typical dream-reality, I had missed the pregnancy signs until labor was imminent. My dream voice broke as I told my husband that this child would be born September third, two days after the crucial September first enrollment cut-off date. Didn’t he understand? It meant that it would be almost six more years before this third child started kindergarten. Six more years before I’d have all the kids in school, before I could finally begin my new life as a writer. I woke in a sweat, grasping my belly, relieved to find it still less firm than I’d like, but not in fact, housing a third child.

In Children’s Lit Book Group, Libby writes about a different transition, as kids finish school and move away from home:

It’s back to school time around here. Four of my friends have packed sons or daughters off to college for the first time and are learning how to reconfigure patterns set over the last eighteen years of parenthood. As my friends face their new version of parenthood, their children have the gift of an extended transition, a prolonged adolescence as they negotiate the four years of college.

This month’s poems focus on a place dear to my heart: the kitchen! In Elizabeth Bruno’s Kitchen Daffodils: “their necks tilt Vincent-gold toward the glass.” In Cookie Bakers, Lois Parker Edstrom listens to “radio tuned to Queen for a Day”. I empathize with Yvonne Pearson who writes, in Eaten Alive, “All day I feed and I feed.” And finally Ann Walters notes, In the Kitchen, “A gingham tablecloth makes a fine parachute.”

And finally, I confess I got as caught up as the next girl in the gossip and hoopla surrounding Sarah Palin’s nomination as VP on the Republican ticket: I was up late reading blogs, looking at pictures, wondering what to make of the story, all the while feeling increasingly queasy about the way she and her family were being portrayed — and all my reading about it. So, since I’m in the fortunate position of knowing lots of good and thoughtful writers, I suggested to LM’s columns editors that we put put out a call for some op-eds on the topic, and I’m delighted with the pieces we received this week.

First, we have our own Subarctic Mama, Nicole Stellon O’Donnell, unpacking “The Sarah Myth:”

I never voted for Sarah Palin. Politically, we don’t get along… But I did like her. I’ve never liked any politician so unlike myself so much. Many of my liberal pro-choice mom friends liked her too. She was an Alaskan after all–a mom like me, bundling babies in snowsuits and dragging them around in sleds. She nursed and governed. She seemed real, someone who, despite our differences, I could talk to. Like everyone else in this giant, small state, I was on a first name basis with her. “Sarah,” I’d say if I ever ran into her at the airport, “Hello.”

And in a terrific complement to her piece, Mama, PhD contributor Rebecca Steinitz writes about “Sarah Palin’s Kids, Our Kids:”

On the third night of the Republican National Convention, Sarah Palin finally spoke up. The next morning I woke up to a front-page article in The Boston Globe, announcing that Sarah Palin has reignited the mommy wars.

No kidding. Birth plans, breastfeeding, working moms, teenagers and sex: it’s like the national conversation has become one big mommy kaffeklatsch. Or one big mommy driveby, as women across the country wonder how Palin does it–when they’re not condemning her for doing it.

I couldn’t be prouder of all this writing if I’d written it myself; click on over to Literary Mama to check it out!

The MotherTalk Blog Tour Wrap-Up

The MotherTalk bloggers have wrapped up their reviews of Mama, PhD, and I want to thank all of them for reading the book and spreading the word! Here are excerpts from the last few reviews; follow the links to read the complete post.

Review Planet says, “…I’m in love with the new book Mama, Ph.D. It’s a collection of stories from academic mamas who lay bare their souls about the hard times, the good parts, the special challenges (pumping in a maintenance closet — and then the dean walks in!), and why it’s all worthwhile. I think it’s also a good casebook of the situation today in many departments, and I hope that it will be used by someone or somegroup to start making changes. I hope.

Go check it out. Read about the theater director who takes her son to see the plays she’s directing, from backstage, with crayons. Meet the mom who adopted a child after years of infertility and a brain tumor, who found her balance at a nearby women’s college. Learn from the mathematician finding balance with three kids and a promising career. Gaze at the woman women with burgeoning bellies who still find strength to teach five classes and hold office hours.

I admire these women, for the lives they lead, and the sacrifices that they make to be fulfilled, to support their families, and to bring education and truth to the children that we raise up too. I only wish that the world would make it a little easier to both follow a passion and raise children passionately.”

Viva La Feminista writes, “Mama PhD is heart wrenching and heartwarming at the same time. It shows how far we have to go as a society to truly value families and the contributions of working moms. I think this book could be replicated for almost any industry as well as with subfields of academia.”

Writing in the Mountains says, “I loved reading these essays. They offered a personal view into these women’s lives and a voice that tells everyone this situation needs to change.”

And finally, Everyday Stranger writes, “It was well-written and engaging, and more than once I wanted to raise my fist in the air and shout “I know where you are!” (I wanted to say “Amen, sister”, but am aware of the idiocy in further contributing to stereotypes. Still, first thoughts and all that.)

Monday at the MotherTalk Blog Tour

The Black Belt Mama Review gave the book a black belt! She writes:

“At times, these essays enraged me… women who are mothers, the world’s best multi-taskers, are made to feel like failures because they choose to procreate. At times these essays inspired me…hearing the tales of those who have done it, who have laughed in the face of these archaic institutions and said, “screw you!” At times, it just made me sad that there even has to be this discussion.

This was a great collection of essays. Heartfelt and poignant personal tales of women, mothers and scholars. Some have chosen one role over the other and some manage both despite the opposition. All of these women inspire me for their candor. Over the past year I have often thought about going back to get that PhD. Mama PhD has proved that I can do this…and I’m thinking I just might.”

Tales from the Diaper Pail says, “The stories often draw from humor, sometimes dark, to highlight themes of loss and triumph through various stages of the academic path. Several themes resurface – the mind-body schism that seems even more poignant in an academic career as well as the feeling of ‘never enoughness’. The stories are well-written and at times, heartbreaking. … Although these pieces are particularly relevant to mothers pursuing or in academic professions, I found themes through the book that were pertinent to women in all professions, where the pull to “perform childlessness” is quite real.”

And finally, Mama(e) in Translation liked reading about our three biologists who have found fulfilling work from home: “I felt mightily comforted to read about the experiences of the three authors, Susan Bassow, Dana Campbell, and Liz Stockwell, and I can’t wait to participate in the website and resource for NTA (nontraditional academic) parents that they are planning to set up!”