Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Racist Schools Without Racists? Research Says No.

Recently I was at a workshop with many adults who work in schools. Several high school kids who went to school in the district were also participating as assistant facilitators. 

We completed a "continuum" activity. You've probably done one of these before. One side of the room is labeled strongly disagree and the other is labeled strongly agree. The facilitator posts statements, and you move to the side of the room (or the middle) depending upon whether you agree or disagree with the statement.

One of the statements was: "Our school system is racist, classist, sexist, heterosexist and xenophobic." 

I moved over to the strongly agree side, along with one other adult (not coincidentally, she worked with kids who've been removed from traditional school settings due to behavior.) Almost all the kids moved to strongly agree as well.

This left most of the adults on the disagree side.

One of the students said to the group: "We're the kids. We're the ones living it and that's how we see it."

However, the adults didn't see themselves as racist, classist, sexist... and so they didn't see the system they were part of as being those things.

Research tells us that the kids are right. Most folks in education know that Black boys are 3 times more likely to be suspended than White boys, but fewer know that the disparity is even greater for Black girls -- they are SIX times more likely to be suspended.

Even well-meaning adults often believe that these facts are due to something in the children -- that because they are poor, or hungry, or living with trauma they act out more, hence they are suspended more often. These people don't believe the situation is right, but they also don't see themselves in the equation (or if they do, they see themselves as benign helpers.)

New research, however, shows us that it's not the kids. It's how we see the kids. (The research is new, but I think it will result in a big DUH from a lot of people).  The study published in Psychological Science, showed that teachers rated hypothetical students' behavior as more troubling if the imaginary kid had a typically Black name versus a typically White name.  The behaviors were exactly the same.

This echoes similar research related to grading, professional experiences, etc. And we can see links to today's current climate of police brutality toward Black men; it suggests that unconscious bias causes us to view behavior by Black people as more serious and dangerous than that of White people, despite evidence to the contrary.

Again, this is a big DUH to a lot of people, including those kids I met at the workshop who are living with that bias every day. 

There are no easy answers, but I think that we owe it to these kids to start admitting that the system is biased and that we are contributing to it. Our current cultural norms make it taboo to admit that we have biases of any kind. Calling out others' biases is similarly taboo. I've been lucky to work in a place where we are able to talk openly about race, racism, classism ... anything you can put an -ism on. 

It can feel hurtful and shameful when we admit that we aren't the people we think we are. The kids have already seen behind the curtain, though. And they are ready for us to come out.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Rain. The Frogs. And me.

We're having weather. We-interrupt-your-regularly-scheduled-broadcast, flood-warning weather. 

This is Texas. That's pretty common. Once you've lived here for a few years, a flood warning barely pricks your ears.

But it's spring, and the drip-drip-drop got all the frogs singing.

Sitting in my living room, the frog songs drowned out the thunder and lightning that was such big news that my mother in Washington state texted me that I needed to be careful.

No really. Mating frogs will drown out thunder.

I went out on my covered porch thinking that I would just stand and listen for awhile. Then, I got sight of a frog sitting out in the middle of the pavement. 

I barefooted it out to the middle of the street, watching this little creature sitting there breathing.

As I made my way back to the house, I realized where I was. I live on a half-acre in an urban oasis, a haven for baby doves and color-changing lizards and bees and hawks. The empty lot that's part of the property I rent shimmered in the night light, as a temporary pond formed.

I waded out into the field, sinking up to my ankles in mud. As I did, the water - two or three inches deep at least -- shivered and braided  away from me. Frogs. Hopping away at my approach, cutting patterns into the water with their wakes. 

I stopped to watch them, and was startled into laughter by a huge BURRRRRP just a few feet away. I looked to see one of the frogs, air pocket under its chin ballooned out, preparing for its song.

After a few minutes, soaked by the rain, I waded back to the house.

Isn't it magic, when a lawn turns into a pond, when the air is full of singing, and the night gives way to laughter?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

It's Complicated: Standardized Testing And Equity

Lately, there have been a lot - A LOT -- of thoughts about standardized testing in my Facebook and Twitter feeds. I get a couple of education briefing emails daily, and they are also chock-full of talk about testing.

Most of the talk is dichotomized: Tests = good. Tests = bad. I reject the notion that I have to be unequivocally for or against standardized testing. As an education advocate and teacher coach, I believe that intellectual complexity, while not part of the American political discourse, should be something that we strive for.

This means that if we are to find the best path for our kids, we have to be able to hold complicated ideas in our minds (as someone who is most familiar with people in education reform, I find that most of them actually do hold these sort of nuanced positions, but are mischaracterized by the opposing side, and I'm sure it goes the opposite way as well.)

We can believe that testing, as currently practiced, is biased WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY believing that right now, it is an important tool for equity.

If you look into the history of intelligence testing, you will find that it is deeply linked to the eugenics movement, to attempts at sorting people into those who deserve power and those who don't. We know that many standardized tests are biased - I recently read an SAT question in which the test taker was asked to edit a passage about skiing, which was really challenging if you couldn't picture what was happening in the passage. I mean, how many of us have the means or opportunity to go skiing regularly? Standardized test questions are often raced and classed to focus on background knowledge that is more commonly held by White, middle class kids (or even upper middle class - per the skiing example).

However, such tests are currently an important tool for uncovering the faults in our education system. In the state of Texas, where I work, the tests are minimum standards tests, which means that they test a fairly basic set of reading and math skills. If most kids are not passing them, it means that we are not doing our basic job as educators, and if there are gaps by race, class, language status, that means that we are failing children based upon those factors. Do the tests need to be improved? Yes. But do they give us important information about the continued racism and classism in our school systems? Yes.

We can believe that poverty needs to be addressed in our society WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY believing in the abilities of all children to succeed in school.

One of the most specious arguments leveled against ed reformers is that they don't take poverty into account when asserting that children from low-income neighborhoods can be successful. Anti-reformers charge that until poverty is solved and children are food secure, have medical care, etc. we can't expect kids to do well.

This is just false. I know it is because I've been in the classrooms where kids from low-income families are excelling (I estimate that I've been in several hundred classrooms by this point in my career). These classrooms are taught by a range of teachers - new in the profession, years in the profession. Traditionally trained and alternatively certified. They have been in schools that have huge numbers of resources, and schools that have very few. The common denominator is that they believe their kids can do it - more than that, that they believe students from low-income communities are uniquely positioned to be the leaders of tomorrow.

All of these teachers who are leading kids to excel would love it if a range of social supports were put in place for their students. In particular, in my community, mental health care is the hardest to find. However, this doesn't stop these teachers from finding ways to reach their students, to communicate care, and to teach rigorous curriculum. 

We can see the negatives of a "testing culture" WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY recognizing that people create the culture, not tests.

People, it's real that teachers and kids are feeling way too much pressure around testing. As a teacher coach, I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to help teachers navigate relationships with administrators who want to see test prep, test prep, and more test prep. These administrators are feeling pressure from their bosses. Through all of this, I coach teachers to find a way to do what is best for kids, which is to teach a rich, rigorous curriculum that goes way beyond test strategies.

Often, teachers who are committed to this idea find themselves practicing what Martin Luther King, Jr. defined as creative maladjustment. This means that they find ways to do what they know is right for kids, while doing it in ways that, honestly, keep them out of trouble in this testing culture. They do this because they believe in kids and families, and they know that keeping their jobs is the best way to be there for those kids and families.

It's these classrooms where kids excel, not the ones where kids are just learning testing strategies. Anyone who argues that "the test made me do it" in regard to teaching a low-rigor curriculum is just wrong. It's how we approach the tests in our schools that results in the crazy culture, not the tests (but since tests can't talk back, they make good scapegoats.)

We can believe in the power and wisdom of parents.

I'm not going to qualify that one. We need to listen to parents, and not all parents have the same interests. Unfortunately, the parents who are heard most often are not people of color or people from low-income communities.

While many White, upper middle class parents talk about opting their kiddos out of standardized assessments (which I totally understand), we have to realize that being able to make that choice comes from a place of privilege. If you can opt your child out of an exam, you aren't counting on a scholarship or a magnet school acceptance that results from a test score. You aren't worried that one act of opting out could hurt your child's entire future.

Most of the parents I work with want their kids to do well in exams because they know that these are door openers for their kiddos. Is it fair that so much rides on these tests? No. But it does. Parents want us in the education field to do better for their children, and that includes helping them to excel on these types of standardized tests.

As a teacher, I hated testing. I won't lie about that. My students did well AND I taught them a curriculum that involved social studies simulations of the Oregon Trail, class-written plays, writing digital books, reading Narnia books. You might say: hey, you must have had a ton of resources. Nope. When I started teaching I had a case of phonics readers from the 70's and a box full of dittos and silverfish that my predecessor left behind. I created almost everything we had, or slowly acquired it over time (this was before Donors Choose allowed teachers to easily get donations). My students were almost all English language learners and many came in several years behind -- most of the classrooms I currently coach have similar demographics.

I would have loved it if I didn't have to worry about a standardized test, that my students didn't have to sit for days, bubbling in answer books with their No. 2 pencils. However, I knew that it was critical both to their futures and to my ability to gauge whether I was doing right by them. When their parents showed up at the classroom door, asking: "Did she pass?" I had to be able to say yes. And if the answer wasn't yes, I had to tell them what I was going to do to change my practice and help their kiddo succeed in order to go to the next grade prepared.

Until we find a better way of determining whether we are doing right by kids in our schools, such tests are going to be necessary. I'm worried that current anti-testing movements are going to turn back the clock to a time when we pretended that everything was OK in our schools. Yet, I still want to find that better way. It's complicated.

Monday, February 16, 2015

This is What a Feminist Looks Like

On how we can elevate the pop dialogue about feminism

Lately, there's been a pattern repeatedly taking place in the pop-o-sphere. A reporter asks a woman (usually a young actress) if she's a feminist.

If she says, "Yes, unequivocally," there's some cheering from the feminist camp and some grumbling from others about how she probably hates men (or if she says more than that, she could be subjected to online terror like name-calling, threats, and doxxing). And a lot of people will comment on how she looks.

If she says something like, "Well, I believe in equal rights but I don't think I'd consider myself a feminist because, you know, I like men," then a bunch of people shout at her that believing in equal rights makes her a feminist and isn't she ignorant. And a lot of people will comment on how she looks.

Sometimes men are asked if they're feminists, and a lot of the time they're all: "Yeah, my mom/girlfriend/wife/sister is a really strong woman." Then everyone goes, aww, that's so sweet.

I'm glad that the word "feminism" is getting play in the popular dialogue, but now that it's having a moment, it's time to elevate the conversation. The types of dialogue described above help no one. At least, no women. Whether women do or do not claim feminism, they face ridicule or worse.

So how can we shift the conversation in a more productive direction?

1) Avoid reductionism

When Gina Rodriguez was asked if she was a feminist
and said no, this was the reply.
I love how open-minded Gina is,
but wonder if we're making
being a "feminist" too simple.

Photo credit: here.

I've noticed a trend of people claiming that feminism just means "equal rights" for women, so if you believe in equal rights, you're a feminist. While that is one way the dictionary defines feminism, for most feminists, the movement goes beyond equal rights. 

Let's imagine that we woke up tomorrow and the ERA had passed, and women and men were completely equal under the law. Also, in this magical night, women's paychecks became equal to men's, and all laws that privileged men were taken off the books. Would feminism become unnecessary?
I would argue no, because the cultural patriarchy would still be intact.

If we pass laws so that rapists are prosecuted fully, will that mean we're free from rape culture? If women are given equal rights within the military, will we stop killing women and children in other countries? If men and women are completely equal in marriage, but our lesbian sisters can't marry in all fifty states, are we truly equal?

Besides the fact that feminism is about more than just equal rights (although it's definitely about that), there are lots of different brands of feminism... as many as there are women. 

So let's stop trying to convince women who don't identify as feminists that they are "really" feminists by getting them to accept a reductionist definition of a diverse and complicated movement. Instead, let's engage others in a dialogue about what the systems of patriarchy really are, how they are intertwined in all aspects of our society, and how we can work together to dismantle them.

2) Don't make it about dudes

Look, as a straight feminist woman, does my heart go pitter-pat when I see a favorite male celebrity wearing a feminist-themed t-shirt? Sure. 

Do you think, "I'm attempting to
dismantle patriarchy" would fit
on a shirt?

Photo credit: Elle UK
However, feminism isn't about guys. The fact that we make it about the benefits guys will reap from dismantling patriarchy is just evidence of how our society defaults to men's voices, even when we're talking about lady stuff.

First, while it's great that campaigns like #heforshe point out that patriarchy hurts men as well as women, we need to make it OK to argue that even if it didn't, we should still dismantle it. We need to argue that it's right and moral to consider women's rights without reference to men's feelings, desires, or needs. You know, because women are people.

Second, I love it that lots of men consider themselves feminists. I believe that men can be feminists, which is in itself sort of controversial among feminists. Yet it has to be the prerogative of women to confer this status on men. Just as, as a White person, it is not my right to name myself an ally to people of color, or as a straight person, to call myself an LGBT ally; men should let women confer allyship to the feminist movement.

Instead of men saying, "I'm a feminist," how about: "I'm trying to be anti-patriarchal." I know it's not as cool on a T-shirt. But it will elevate women's voices and acknowledge that men benefit from the privileges of patriarchy whether they want to or not.

Another way that men can be allies: make the internet safe for all of us to talk about feminism. Call out your brothers who doxx, threaten, and bully women online. Refuse to be silent when other men joke about rape, call for women's submission to men, or when women are called ugly and fat (or beautiful and elegant) in conversations about issues.

3) Make it inclusive
Photo credit: here (if you know the original illustrator,
please let me know so I can credit!)

I believe that the patriarchy is deeply embedded in a system that is White supremacist, hetero-
normative, and oppressive to well... do you have all day? 

Yet feminism often refuses to hear the voices of women of color, trans women, religious women, etc. A woman shouldn't have to feel like her feminist sisters will criticize her if she decides to wear hijab. Trans women shouldn't be barred from feminist spaces. And no woman should have to choose between her family's culture and her own equality. When we make feminism only about White, upper middle class women's lived experiences, we reinforce the patriarchy, rather than taking it down.

I recognize that these three things are not easy. Yet I believe they are worth doing, so that we can take advantage of the resurgence of discussion about women's rights. If we don't do these things, I fear that the moment will pass, and we will be in the same place we were before the word "feminism" began popping up all over the internet.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Holiday Letter You Didn't Get From Me

Dear Friends and Family,

Hello! And happy holidays.

Yes, I know that Christmas is long passed, and you may have received a card from me with no personal message written on it. Not even a signature. Or maybe you thought you'd get a card, but then I got side-tracked and never made that second trip to the post office. Feel free to call me names.

If you were remembering the clever little missives of the past, just know that I didn't manage to get myself together in time to do that this year. To those of you who did, you earned your humble brags just by having the foresight to write your Christmas letter (I actually like these Christmas letters, although that seems to be an unpopular sentiment. But keep them coming!)

And if you didn't get a Christmas card out this year, no sweat. Your great-aunt is probably silently judging you (or not-so-silently judging you, or not-so-silently comparing you to your cousin Eileen  - Did you see Eileen's Christmas letter? She has four kids and an organic hand soap business and SHE managed to send a letter... (dramatic pause).

2014 brought me travel and adventure! To recap:

Flight map of the South on the day we were trying
to get to Birmingham. I'm not sure what that little plane
was trying to do, because there was
nowhere to land.
Winter 2014
The year started off with a trip to Nashville, TN: Music City! Of course, I had originally been attempting to go to Birmingham, AL, but due to a freak storm we were re-routed. 

If you have never been to Nashville, I can recommend the airport, where you can while away the hours in such pursuits as sitting, listening to country music stars give pre-recorded messages about how great Nashville is, and talking to the pleasant Southwest staff members about which cast members from the show Nashville they have seen in the airport.

You may never want to leave the airport, but if you do, the airport area has many fine hotels where you can attempt to get some dinner from the single waitress on staff. Get up early to get back to the airport to return home, never having reached your final destination.

Spring 2014
As spring rolled in, I was excited to find a special offer in my mail, that you can see at right. It really is amazing all the wonderful things that you can get these days, if you just pay attention to the coupons in your weekly mail. Personally, I enjoy redeeming free cremations as often as possible. You never know know when you'll need one!

Summer 2014
Ah summer! There's nothing like a Houston summer, when the air coats your skin like a hot wet blanket has been wrapped around you, tighter and tighter until you  think that you might need to redeem a free cremation any minute. When the weather is so delightfully warm that your thighs stick together every time you walk down the street, it's the perfect opportunity to explore the activities that summer brings.

My friend Melanie and I decided that we would try the wooden roller coaster at Kemah Boardwalk, little realizing that people in their thirties are perhaps not the target audience for a contraption made of match sticks which tosses you back and forth  at high speeds. While we had a great time, we also came out looking like car crash victims due to the gigantic bruises we acquired. I'm not sure if there's a ride at the boardwalk that involves sitting and drinking wine, but if there is, next time we'll try that.

Photo tip: When taking pictures of
sidewalks, make sure that your shadow
is not in the picture. You'll treasure
these sidewalk pictures for years to come.
Fall 2014
Fall brought the trip of a lifetime, as my Mom and I visited our ancestral homeland of Spain! We enjoyed the fine cuisine, such a chicken stew surrounded by French fries, chicken on a bed of French fries, and French fries with hot sauce. And ham. We also enjoyed the many cobblestone and tiled streets and alleys, which my mother urged me to document in photos as often as possible. 

There's nothing like foreign travel to test the mother daughter bond, but luckily we passed with flying colors. So... to all of you who asked, "You're spending how long with your mother?" I can tell you that it was amazing. As long as I agreed to get to the train station an hour or more before every leg of the trip, nothing could come between us!

I hope that you had as wonderful of a 2014 as I. As for 2015, I give you the words of Warren Zevon:

"Don't let us get sick
Don't let us get old
Don't let us get stupid, all right?

Just make us be brave,
Make us play nice,
And let us be together tonight."

Love, your friend

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What Are Police For? And Other Questions Of Justice and Protest

It would be lovely if it were true...
If you happen to be four or five years old (target audience for this blog) I can predict at least one thing you will do in school this year: you will learn about "community helpers." You will learn how firefighters save kittens, how doctors give scary shots that keep you healthy, and how police officers can help you if get lost.

"Community helper." Sounds quaint, doesn't it?

Let's consider police officers. Without the context of knowing what most police officers actually do , if I was to imagine someone who has the job of "helping" to ensure community safety, I would imagine someone who deeply knows the people of the community, investigates situations that would cause breaches in safety of community members (such as unlighted areas, abandoned houses, etc.), and works with other community leaders (clergy, doctors, teachers) to address threats to the community's well-being.  These community safety helpers would understand the context of the community and the history of its residents.

Maybe there was a time when some of these things happened, when beat cops walked the streets and whistled happy tunes. I know that there are many amazing programs going on throughout America to bring back community policing, support the mental health needs of communities through police actions, and more. 

It's time to face facts, though. These types of programs are not the norm. North America is in crisis today, and part of the reason is that  we have military forces trained on our citizens.

I imagine (hope) if you're living in the United States, you're familiar with the situation in Ferguson, MO. A young Black man got into an altercation with a police officer and was shot to death. The details are clouded in controversy, but what we do know is that the young man, Michael Brown, was unarmed. Despite conflicting witness testimonies that should have signaled the need for a trial to suss out the truth of the situation, and despite the very low burden of proof when it comes to indictment, the officer was not charged by a grand jury.

Given that grand juries almost always return an indictment, the message was clear: if a Black man is killed by the cops, he probably deserved it.

(The many, many internet comments I have read over the past few days have confirmed that lots of Americans believe that defying the police means that you asked for your own death.)

At the same time as this has been going on, protests have ignited in Mexico over the disappearance of 43 students who were taken into police custody and then reportedly handed over to a criminal syndicate and killed.

If I sit back and listen, I can hear the blustering objections. How could the convoluted tale of the death of Mike Brown be compared to the obvious sins committed by the Mexican police?

And to that, I answer: what are police for, if not to ensure the safety of the community? to help the community, as our little ones learn during their social studies time?

Instead, our police have become a military force, set to enforce systems that do not serve the community. As income inequality grows, I expect this will only get worse. And this will put the men and women who join police forces because they actually do want to help the community in the tenuous position of protecting systems that are not serving the best interests of middle- and lower-income people of any race, but particularly people of color.

Americans are deeply divided in how we think about the police.

When I've gone through jury selection, they have asked us, "do you believe someone is more likely to tell the truth just because they are in law enforcement?" Having been raised with a healthy skepticism of authority, this question has seemed odd to me. Yet the last few days have brought home the number of people, mostly White, who unequivocally believe that police accounts of events are true (even when, in the case of Ferguson officer Darren Wilson, they contradict the physical evidence of the case, and, you know, basic math.)

On the flip side, many Black Americans mistrust police forces and the courts. Which is hardly surprising, when you think about the numbers of Black men who are incarcerated compared to Whites; when you think about stop-and-frisk policies and racial profiling in traffic stops; drug laws that provide greater penalties for drugs that are used more often in Black communities than White;
school police who begin ticketing Black and Latin@ youth at greater rates, putting them in contact with the justice system at an early age ... the list goes on and on. 

Again I ask, what are police for? What is a justice system that protects injustice?

I'm a pacifist. In fact, I'm such an extreme pacifist, that I don't watch sports because I believe they contribute to a culture of war. I don't believe in violent revolution. 

Yet I understand the impulse that drives the violence we've seen over the past few days. When faced with a system that is patently tyrannical - when the police force can kill an unarmed citizen and then be protected from even a serious inquiry into whether it was appropriate force, and your city is filled with paramilitary forces, then what do you do? What do you do with that much rage when all promises for uncovering the truth and for safety are broken, when the state clearly communicates that you are not worth justice?

If you believe that we must come together in order to invert systems of power in our country, as I do, and you believe that these actions must be non-violent, one thing you can do is look over the list of 198 non-violent methods of protest and persuasion that fill the armory of peaceful protest. Ask yourself, which of these am I uniquely positioned to do? Non-violent action is not just about street protests. It consists of writing (like this blog), art, symbolic acts, theater and film, consumer actions, non-cooperation ... well, there are 198 (and that list was created before social media, so there are definitely more things you could do). If you disagree with what is happening in our country, if you want a justice system that is fair for all Americans, then do what you can to subvert the current paradigm.  You can be like my friend Jamar, who is sharing petitions on Facebook to influence Congress to require body cams for police officers. Or my friend Ceci, who is using art to comment on the situation in Mexico. Or Dhathri, who is urging others to participate in Black Friday boycotts.

But what we can't do is ignore the opportunity presented to us to ask for the police force and justice system we need, so we don't have to explain to our pre-schoolers that we were wrong when we told them about those community helpers.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Favorite Vegan Resources (for non-vegans too!)

Lately, I've been looking for some new cooking challenges. I feel like I've cooked a chicken every way possible, and because I don't eat mammals, this cuts back on my potential cooking explorations. There are only so many things you can put an egg on before you've exhausted the list.

I've also cut way back on dairy products. Aside from the splash of milk in my morning coffee, I'm eating dairy only once or twice a week.

Which brings me to vegan cooking.

Eww, you might be thinking. Isn't that a bunch of twigs and leaves in a bowl?

Luckily, vegan cooking has come a long way. Even better, there are now lots of resources for vegan recipes that are also made from whole foods. I don't know about you, but a lot of vegans I've known have eaten as much processed crap as carnivores. As whole foods become more popular and readily available, vegan recipes are popping up more often to use them (and it's easier to find recipes without soy products, which I try to avoid because a) gross; and b) there are questions about how healthy they are for women).

(And I don't have to tell you that diets high in plant foods are way better for the Earth. Activism on a plate).

Recently, about 2/3 of my diet has been vegan. This means new techniques to learn and new cooking questions to answer, such as: how do you make foods full of vegetables not turn out mushy? And: how many ways can you actually use a cashew to mimic a dairy product?

Along the way, I've found some favorite resources that anyone, even carnivores, can enjoy:

Oh She Glows (cookbook and blog)

My mom bought me the cookbook for my birthday, and when she handed it to me, she said, "I don't mean you have to become one." Vegan, she meant. She just thought that the recipes here looked healthy and delicious. And boy, was she right. Every single recipe I've tried has been great - easy, interesting, and filled with wholesome things. Many of the recipes are gluten-free as well as vegan, meaning that they have all kinds of fun alternative grains. I've cooked fewer things from the blog than the cookbook, but author Angela Liddon has filled it with variations on some of her popular recipes, including lots of yummy-looking desserts.

Smitten Kitchen (cookbook and blog)

This is not a vegan or even vegetarian site, but author Deb Perelman was once a vegetarian and she continues to elevate humble vegetables into delicious and creative meals and sides - her website has both vegan and vegetarian categories in the index. Simply the recipe for slow cooker black bean ragout would make it one of the most highly used resources in my kitchen. (The recipe is from the cookbook and you can also find it here). I make the black bean ragout every few weeks, doling it out into zip-locs and freezing portions for use in any recipe that calls for black beans. Canned black beans seem positively blah in comparison.


Pinterest is a home cook's best friend. Not only can I peruse the recipes for hours on end, but it allows me to keep my recipes organized. Every week when I make my weekly meal plan, I get out my favorite cookbooks and my Kindle with Pinterest open on it -- I often find that I'll plan a whole week of meals just from Pinterest. It makes it easy to find recipes for any kind of special diet, and it can lead you to great blogs that you never would have discovered otherwise. (My veggie/vegan board is here).

The Post-Punk Kitchen (blog, and author Isa Chandra Moskowitz has also written some cookbooks and made videos and done all kinds of fun stuff).

Have you ever had a cookbook where everything you make from it is always a success? That's how I feel about the recipes I've made from the Post-Punk Kitchen. Ancho lentil tacos (see here)? The bomb. Brussels sprouts fried rice? To die for. Red lentil Thai chili? So warm and delicious. I admit, I haven't gotten as deep into the playlist on this site because I keep coming back to these awesome favorites. Isa loves to play with interesting flavors and the spices, and lots of her recipes are beloved by non-vegetarians as well. I'm pretty excited to try the stout shepherd's pie with a potato biscuit topping...

These are the resources that have gotten me started in this new cooking adventure. Any others I should know about?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Recipe: Overnight Oats, 2 Ways

I think I've mentioned before, I'm a super-cool urban hipster who is always up on the latest trends.

Oh, wait, what was that? You're snickering at me?

OK, fine. If you don't believe me, check out this lunch I recently packed for myself:

Why, yes, that IS a green smoothie in my lunch.

See, that's THREE Mason jars in one lunch. Other hipsters tip their waxed moustaches at me (yes, I spelled it the French way!) when they see that.

One trend that I've been enjoying recently is the rise of overnight oats. This is oatmeal that you don't have to cook; it's vegan-friendly (I'm not a vegan or even a vegetarian, but sometimes I play one on TV) and it tastes delicious ... if you are someone who likes things that are the consistency of rice pudding. I say this, because there's a large segment of the population that doesn't like pudding-type things with chunky bits. However, if you LOVE rice pudding or other types of chunky pudding (tapioca, bread), then you will like this a lot.

There are a lot of overnight oats recipes out there, from simple to complex. The basic principles are these: You put 1 part oats to 1 part liquid (I like almond milk) and an optional 1/3 part chia seeds in a container and put it in the fridge overnight. The oats and chia seeds soak up the liquid, and become a kind of pudding.

PUDDING FOR BREAKFAST!! And it's pudding that's ready the moment you wake up!

Make it in a funky jar for extra street cred -
if the street is in Portland and is lined with artisan barrel makers
and food trucks selling Korean-Finnish fusion food (kimchi herring - yum!). 

In experimenting with overnight oats, I've come up with two variations that are my favorites. 

The first is Cherry Vanilla Almond. I am a huge fan of dried cherries, particularly of the sour variety.

The second variation I've dubbed "Funky Monkey." The first time I ever had a smoothie, it was at a little shop in Santa Barbara, and the drink I had was called the Funky Monkey - peanut butter, chocolate, and banana (hence the monkey).  I've named my concoction after this perfect combination of elements.

Here are the easy-peasy recipes.

Cherry Vanilla Almond Overnight Oats

Ingredients (per serving)

1/3 cup rolled or steel-cut oats (steel-cut make a chewier texture)
1/3 cup vanilla almond milk
about 1/8 cup chia seeds
1/3-1/2 banana, mashed (optional)
a dash of cinnamon
a handful of dried sour cherries

Mix all the ingredients in a container (or Mason jar!), making sure to incorporate the banana well. Cover and put in the refrigerator overnight.

When you take it out of the refrigerator, it will look pretty firm and the chia seeds may be resting on top. Add a splash of the almond milk and stir. Garnish with your favorite fresh berries or sliced almonds (blueberries are especially delicious).

Funky Monkey Overnight Oats

Ingredients (per serving)

1-2 tablespoons peanut butter (I find 1.5 to be the sweet spot)
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1/3-1/2 banana, mashed
1/3 cup vanilla almond milk
1/3 cup rolled or steel-cut oats
1/8ish cup chia seeds
a squirt of honey or other sweetener, if you want (I don't like very sweet things, so I often omit this, but the pudding isn't very sweet without it - especially if you're making this for a kid, I would add it, at least until you have them hooked)

Whisk together the peanut butter, cocoa, banana, and almond milk until well incorporated. Then mix in the other ingredients. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Splash with almond milk and stir to serve. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Funeral Blues for Ferguson, Missouri

"Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos ..."
                                                        W.H. Auden

These words keep running through my head as news rolls in about Ferguson, MO. It feels like everything should just STOP and pay attention to what's happening. I read the news, Twitter, so choked up that I can hardly breathe.

But the world just keeps going.  At least, it does for White America. I see a sharp division between my White and Black friends in how much headspace this story is getting. I'm not talking about everyone, but let's be really real for a second: I've seen more Facebook coverage of the ice-bucket challenge than the fact that real tyranny is happening not just in Ferguson, but throughout the U.S. 

And I've been thinking a lot about two little guys I know, just on the cusp of teenagerhood. They are best friends. They love Minecraft, rap music, and have secret crushes on girls. I'll call them H and J. H is White. J is Black.

They are going to do a lot of dumb stuff over the next few years. That's what you do when you're a teenaged boy. It's the result of a partly-developed frontal lobe, a growing body, and more freedom.

But the results of those dumb teenaged choices could be harrowingly different. 

J is more likely to be stopped for things like walking and driving than his friend H.
When he is, he is more likely to be subjected to unconstitutional searches.
If, during these searches, he resists, he is more likely to have force used against him.
J is more likely to be arrested, and if he is, to be convicted, and sentenced more harshly.
The list goes on.

And it can all start with just ... walking down the street.
Memphis, 1968

I've seen a lot of articles like "10 (or 12 or 8) things White people can do about Ferguson." I don't have any good advice. But what I know we have to stop doing? We have to stop acting as if there is ANY justification for killing a young unarmed Black or Brown boy in the street. 

Not his clothes.
Not his past crimes.
Not Facebook photos of that boy doing dumb, teenaged stuff.
Not holding something in his hand, be it a cell phone or Skittles.
Not talking back to authority figures.

When we try to argue about whether that boy was a good boy, or a troublemaker, or a scholar, or a criminal, what we are really saying is this: Black lives only matter to us if they conform to some standard that we White folks have set up.

A boy is dead. Not just one boy... but many.Many more are in prison.

Let's mourn that, and that turn our eyes to the justice that is the only thing that will bring peace.