18 December 2013

That's what I'm dancing about!

At last! I am seeing around me what I've been believing over the last few years: movement is medicine.

In retrospect, I can see that over the past decade I've made over many of my habits.

I stumbled across a dance class when my daughter was in her gymnastics classes and remembered having attended a couple of classes when she had first started teaching at my local rec center. The class was even better than I had remembered, and the music blew me away -- some days I knew 90 percent of the music we danced to and other days I knew hardly any of it, but the rhythms were good and the class always made me feel happy and loose by the end.

I tried to ride my mountain bike to work at least a couple of times a week. I'm a wimp in the winter, though. (Turns out this is probably a good thing. My sweetie crashed his bike on a patch of black ice on his way back to work at the beginning of the year and had surgery on his hand as a result. He's getting better now--phew!) One of the things I was excited about when I went back to work was my five-mile commute. I bought a hybrid bike and started riding back and forth, or when it was windy or stormy I'd put my bike on the bus home, and ride the last mile or so home. Then one day I rode my mountain bike and had so much fun riding but had this notion it was slower. So I timed myself on both bikes, and it turned out it took me exactly the same amount of time to get home on my mountain bike as it did on my hybrid -- but it felt ten times as fun to ride the mountain bike, so I hung the hybrid up on the garage wall.

Despite my few days a week at dance classes and my occasional rides to work, I was still having a lot of knee pain and decided to have my second meniscus surgery last year. I'd had one tear cleaned up about a decade earlier and now the other knee was yelling for mercy. I tried physical therapy but the exercises I was doing just weren't helping enough. One night I fell asleep weeping with pain and decided it was time to call the orthopedic surgeon. The rehab following my surgery made me feel like a fresh new human, stronger and more stable.

After I had done my knee rehab I was finally strong enough to go to the fitness training classes held at work (during the work day, amazingly), taught by personal trainer Judd NeSmith of Ser!ous Fitness. "I'm an exercise scientist," he would say humorously when he answered questions or explained a concept, such as why you work complementary muscle groups during exercise sessions. But seriously, in Judd's classes I learned so much about strength and stability, heart-rate training, and working complementary muscle groups with squats and band-walks. The fun and varied whole-body workouts incorporated freeweights, TRX straps (straps affixed high on the wall to support your weight as you use them for a variety of exercises), medicine balls, elastic bands, and foam rollers. I learned about raising your heart rate quickly and working toward intervals of high cardio output. I left the workouts sweaty and strong, the hour having flown past in a blur of exercises and playful banter between Judd and my endorphin-soaked coworkers.

On NPR's Science Friday radio show last week, Ira Flatow interviewed Jordan Metzl, M.D., who argued that exercise is at least as effective as many medicines but doesn't have the side effects of so many medications, and should be prescribed -- and dosed -- to support health. Dr. Metzl said exercise supports body health and brain health by reducing cholesterol, reducing depression, reversing hypertension, and reducing inflammation. And no side effects (except for the occasional injury).

Recent research supports the notion that exercise is at least as effective as medication in many instances. A recent story by Gretchen Reynolds in the New York Times poses the next logical question, which is why doctors don't prescribe exercise as much as they prescribe pills. Is it because doctors think it's easier for people to take a pill than change a habit?

Here are a few ways I changed my exercise habits:
  • I put all my dance classes and workouts on my calendars. This meant I got reminders for each one. It also meant I had the times blocked out, for others who can see my schedule. Sometimes if a meeting was scheduled during a workout class, I had to miss the class, but all those reminders help me prioritize the exercise as a nearly daily activity, and also nudge me to pack the workout clothes I'll need in the morning.
  • When I was just going to the gym to work out, I thought of it not only as fitness time, but also time to catch up on music or podcasts I wanted to listen to. I love grooving through my workout with my headphones on. (I did have to spend about $30 on earbuds that fit my ears better -- the standard earbuds that came with my mobile music player did not stay put through workouts.)
  • On days when I thought about skipping class, I tried to think about how I would feel after the workout. Often this was enough to get me there, and 99 percent of the time I was glad I'd gone after about 15 minutes of any given class or workout. 
  • I started using an online fitness tracker app on my smartphone. This motivated me in a surprising way: On days when I work out, I see how many calories I've used and feel free to eat a little more of what I like that day. 
Have you changed any of your habits? How did you do it? Did the changes stick? Tell me in the comments.

It's exciting to me to think more people are learning how to move for their health. Movement seems to bring with it so many benefits beyond stronger muscles. I am looking for ways to support folks in moving more. Stay tuned for new developments!

11 December 2013

Blurred Lines

It was the grief in the voice of the crying – no, wailing – young rhinoceros coming over my car speakers that put me over the edge. NPR reporter Frank Langfitt warned that the next segment contained graphic and disturbing sounds and 30 seconds later I had burst into loud sobs at the shocked and bereft sounds of a young animal who had just lost his or her mother to a terrible death. A poacher had killed her for her horn.
As I sat in my car weeping through the story about African rhino poachers, the questions came: “How can I eat chickens and cows if I feel this way about a rhinoceros? If my cats are so precious and intelligent” – each one has his or her own cat-ality, I like to say “how can I justify taking pigs' lives for the sake of my tasty bacon for breakfast?” I knew then I had to stop eating animals.
I had once tried being vegan for a month or so, about 15 years ago. My senses seemed sharper. Flavors were brighter, less murky – I didn't need to add so much spice or jazz everything up the way I normally do. I didn't crave salt and sugar so much. But it was often less than satisfying given the quality of the nondairy cheese and milk replacements I tried then. Veganism felt like a huge set of deprivations, and I quickly reverted to my meat-eating ways.
Even the word vegan suggests that all you get is vegetables – it smacks of asceticism, of martyrdom. Friends draw little “cuckoo” circles in the air up by their temples, asking you, “Isn't vegan about halfway to breatharian?”
Somehow a “plant-based diet” sounds far sweeter and more satisfying. In a recent interview on America's Test Kitchen Radio, veteran chef and cookbook author Mollie Katzen (Moosewood Cookbook, Heart of the Plate) said people often mistake her for being anti-meat. But she does eat a little meat occasionally if it seems like just the right thing, she explained. It's just that Katzen prefers vegetables: by the time she's put all the vegetables she wants on her plate, there's no room for anything else.
When a friend's Facebook discussion flitted onto the book The Engine 2 Diet, I requested it from the library and learned about a fire station in Austin, Texas that went completely vegan, and whose firefighters now rely on barely any seed oils and no animal products in their diets. My questions keep coming: “If a bunch of Texan firefighters can do it, why can't I?”
Before I heard the crying baby rhino, I had already been teetering on the fence, leaning toward giving up meat. One challenge is that my growing child has a surprisingly robust appetite for meat. She craves it. Since I announced to our family that I wouldn't eat meat or prepare it, my daughter and husband sometimes order meat when we go out for the occasional meal, but they don't always.
I've found I haven't been able to quit all meat cold-turkey, though. I became a pescetarian, giving myself permission to eat more protein since I was working out regularly and not trying to lose weight (ok, I admit I wouldn't mind losing just a few pounds). But I have not made peace with this new line I've drawn, this arbitrary one between creatures that live above the water and creatures who live beneath it, and I have continued to question my own wisdom.
Another line in these shifting sands is dairy and eggs. I am an ovo-lacto pescetarian, to get specific. Yet I am less and less comfortable buying the animal products that are available in my local markets. Yes, we buy organic chicken eggs, but this fact doesn't tell me much about the lives of the chickens who pump out all those eggs, day after day. For a while, I was buying eggs from a fellow at work who has chickens. But the supply was erratic, as various weather patterns and other mysteries influenced their egg production. This too has given me pause about buying eggs from large-scale operations.
But I find eggs and dairy harder to quit than anything. I can walk away from alcohol, or order a tonic and lime if I think people will give me a hard time about not having a drink with them. But please don't take away the milk or cream in my morning coffee, or my poached egg for breakfast! My mother says my grandfather – her daddysaved her life when she was a young girl. Her mother, who was anorexic (or who possibly had intestinal problems she never spoke of aloud) barely ate anything. My mother was failing to thrive. They had been moving around Europe and Mexico. Her father insisted on moving the family to Amsterdam and he saw that she got abundant butter, milk, cream, and cheese. She returned to health and has never forgot her daddy's advocacy, or the role dairy played in her recovery.
“I'm ok with being at the top of the food chain,” I used to say. But I no longer believe this. I am nowhere near the top of the chain, and everything I've learned tells me I'm not all that compared with animals. I may have abilities to conceptualize things animals can't (like past and future – “Here, now” is what my cats seem to say every time I see them), but that doesn't make me better, just differently abled.
Autistic author and speaker and inventor Temple Grandin asserts that as an autistic person, she thinks much the way animals think: in pictures of things and not in words – words are abstractions animals don't understand. We say the same thing to our daughter when we explain to her that the cats understand her tone of voice, but not the words she speaks. Grandin's work has had a huge influence on how people think about animals, and she has used her knowledge to make cows' journeys to the slaughterhouse less frightening. If you follow her logic, either animals fall somewhere on the so-called “autism spectrum,” which for human animals includes Asperger's Syndrome. Or it follows that, like people, some animals have autism, which could mean that others don't, or maybe some animals have lesser degrees of it than others.
In his most recent collection of essays, Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation, anthropologist Marc Bekoff says some humans feel they are superior to non-human animals and this can indicate that they feel superior or justified in treating other humans as lesser beings. In people, cruelty to animals has come to be an indicator to law-enforcement professionals and psychologists of a likelihood for cruelty to other humans. But, Bekoff continues, like people, it turns out animals have a sense of justice. This immediately rang true to me, having grown up with a violent father. I knew something wasn't right when my father treated my mother as if she was less deserving of the respect and freedoms he insisted on, and when he kicked our dog, who chewed holes in his socks. It felt like a matter of time before it was my turn to be treated badly, too.
In his new book, Bekoff describes a couple of studies that illustrate the notion that animals also have a sense of fairness. In experiments with Capuchin monkeys, known for being a social and cooperative species, "individuals who are shortchanged during a bartering transaction by being offered a less-preferred treat refuse to cooperate with researchers." And an Austrian researcher found that "dogs won't work for food if they see other dogs getting more than they do for performing the same task."
While I've been walking my path toward vegetarianism and possibly veganism, my daughter has been learning to ride horses. We have seen a variety of attitudes toward animals at the stables where she's learned. Her first lessons were at a Mustang rescue center. The staff were working with wild and sometimes traumatized horses but gentling them over time so they could work with children, some with special needs. One day when my daughter was in the middle of her first series of lessons, I was helping brush an Appaloosa named called “Shoni Pony,” short for Shoshoni. I felt Shoni flinch when I rubbed the curry comb across one of her flanks and said something about it.
“Oh, you noticed!” The trainer sounded surprised, and explained, “That's where Shoni got bitten by Prince. Prince is new and he's a lot bigger than she is, and they were alone in the corral yesterday for a while before someone noticed she was hurt.”
I thought I was in with Shoni after that, but then another day I was curry-combing and she nipped my arm. That time the trainer was really surprised: “She hardly ever does that! Huh, I wonder what's going on with her.” But I knew I had been up in my head, thinking about other things, and felt Shoni had noticed and given me a nip to bring me back to the here and now.
Another time, I was planning on going on a ride with my daughter and husband as a birthday treat, but when I saw the horses, I balked. My sore knee gave me a good excuse but it was really the horses' rheumy eyes and noses that stopped me – and the way they weren't curious about me like horses usually are when I walk over and try glancing at them and then walking away, a little behavior I picked up in a book by the real-life "horse whisperer" Monty Roberts. After the ride, my daughter protested to me, “Those people are mean to their horses. My horse kept stopping to graze, and the guide told me to kick my horse, hard. I didn't want to, but they kept saying 'The horse doesn't feel anything.'” She wasn't buying that either.
A few years ago, as a member of a selection committee for a film festival, I watched “The Path of the Horse,” an autobiographical documentary by a woman who had been a horse trainer for 20 years and had suddenly come to feel she was doing it all wrong. She quit her training business and sought out people who had different approaches to see if there was an alternative to the “I'll-show-them-who's-the-boss” training demeanor and her habit of bullying the horses into submission, yanking their bridles and jamming the metal bits in their mouths, their eyes rolled back in what looks like desperation at their brutal treatment.
What she found was beautiful, and so much easier. Alexander Nevzorov had done away with bits and bridles and, with only a loose piece of cord around their necks for the most gentle of suggestions, worked with his horses to earn their trust. As with many of the most exquisite interspecies interactions I have ever seen, you can watch these amazing dance routines and behaviors with them on YouTube. The filmmaker found other people who were finding the same communion with animals and building on it in kinder, gentler, and more productive ways.
Last summer, my daughter went to a summer camp at a stable that seemed fine at first, but then the young campers were given crops and encouraged to use them to lash their horses forcefully to tell the horses what to do and not to do. At the Mustang rescue stable, she had learned that horses have sensitive skin and you can only curry them in certain places and not others; now she was once again being asked to inflict pain on them.
It has taken me years to acknowledge the violence I grew up with and to see how I allowed some of it or perpetuated it into my adulthood, even when my father was no longer around. To protect myself and my daughter, I had to walk away from a relationship with my father because I couldn't trust him – not only did he lack any understanding of what he had inflicted on me and my mother and siblings but he also continued to tell stories and jokes that revealed the gaps in his empathy with other human and non-human animals, as Marc Bekoff calls us. As bit by bit I have weeded out these acts of violence in my life, I've felt more and more strongly that I and my fellow human and non-human creatures, and even the planet we all share, deserve better. Somewhere, whether down deep or up here at the surface, we all know we deserve kindness and justice.
And I really, truly hope no studies ever show that plants suffer when we use them as food.

05 December 2013

TED talk of the day

I was watching TED talks this morning to help me think about my passions and pursuits. I was going to write about the New York City traffic talk because I was so excited to have found someone who had spent her whole career figuring out what is just starting to take shape in my head, which is that traffic and design can help people make cities more livable, easily. But the talk that hit me where I live is a talk by Eleuthera Lisch on Becoming immune to violence.

That one made me cry, and made me worry, too. I live in a very violence-free environment: the kind of violence I am most likely to be present in the vicinity of is a fight between drunken college students outside a restaurant or more likely a bar (but I so rarely find myself out late late at night anymore), or a car crash. (Not one caused by me, to clarify.) I don't take my daughter to CU football games because neither of us particularly wants to surround ourselves with loud drunk people. If we want to watch a game, there's always TV, which we can control. We don't go where people are likely to be out of control, but every now and then someone gets too drunk and gets belligerent (I wonder: will this guy remember what a dick he was being or will he just think he was having a good time?).

I worry because my daughter is entering a phase in her life where she is more likely to be in places at times when she is more vulnerable to violence, and I hope she stays cautious as she has throughout her childhood. That is, I hope caution is one of her traits, and not just a reflex. And I worry my mom is vulnerable because she is alone so much of the time and she is getting so frail.

What did I do that made me unsafe as a kid? Besides living in a household where violence toward others was commonplace? Trailed after the wrong people for the sake of novelty, for the thrill. Went places with people who weren't sober. Sometimes I chose to; it wasn't always my parents. On the other hand, I had become habituated to it. My daughter would be boggled at the things that were going on around me then, if she were to compare my world with her environment today.

Today, I choose to stay fairly safe but keep alert. Several years back, we were berry-picking with friends in northern California when I suddenly feared for my daughter's life: a set of hunting hawks seemed to be spiraling toward my daughter's shiny dark head. We hid in the car for more than five minutes before the hawks lost interest and flew away. This incident frightened us and told us that anything can happen, anytime. But knowing that helps, in some funny way, not to keep us hypervigilant, but to keep us open-hearted and light on our feet. If we need to fight or flee, we can,  -- but we might also need to take a breath and try compassion first.

The talk culminates with the Alive and Free movement, with four rules for living:
1. Respect comes from within.
2. Change begins with the individual.
3. A true friend will never lead you to danger.
4. There is nothing more valuable than a life.

How will this affect your choices?

20 August 2013

Learning from cognitive dissonance

Wait, what? you ask. Cognitive what?

Cognitive dissonance is that phenomenon in which, simply, what's in your head is not matching up with what is going on around you.

I'd say cognitive dissonance has had a presence throughout my life. It has made my life feel out of control and frightening. As a kid, I couldn't trust my thoughts and feelings because the people around me were counting on me to get all the good stuff and skate away past the bad, like Rollergirl in the old Dire Straits song. But really, it was tough to be me in a lot of ways. When they say kids are forced by circumstances to grow up fast, they're talking about kids like me who saw and did a lot of things kids shouldn't have to see and do at tender ages.

Only now becoming clear to me -- so surprising at my advanced age! -- is how much I have contributed to the amount of cognitive dissonance in my life as an adult. Time after time, I have chosen situations that challenged me and confused me at the same time, and I have taken it upon myself to bridge that gap.

To quiet that dissonance, I have had to learn to do some difficult things.

I had to stop riding in cars with anyone I thought might not have my best interests in mind.

I had to call myself a woman instead of a girl. (My blogger name is vanillagrrl for a reason. Grrrr. Tangent: I was so upset when I heard an NPR Science Friday segment last week about women studying STEM -- science, technology, engineering, and math -- and one of the callers talked about her experience in school, adding that she dropped out and had a baby. Then she called herself a girl, as in, "Lots of times I am the only girl in the room." If you've had a baby, surely you have earned the right to call yourself a woman.)

I had to stop doing things that hurt my own feelings, when I stopped and felt my own feelings. I had to stop laughing reflexively about the joke about women being bad drivers. I had to stop getting into an automobile I didn't really want to ride in because it was easier than making some kind of scene about it. Now I am incredulous that my own father told that "joke" with me standing there, not only a woman, but also his daughter! The moment I noticed that I have a father who tells jokes disparaging my half of the population in my presence was a moment I knew I couldn't have a relationship with him because he didn't see me as an equal, as a whole human being.

Now I'd make the scene and refuse the ride, or say something about women being good drivers (thank you, Danica Patrick).

I like to think that I also wouldn't put myself in any of those positions in the first place, but I am not convinced it would be so simple. For I still have things I have to stop doing, because the cognitive dissonance still costs me something very dear every time I experience it. It takes a lot of energy to think one way and act another.

That means I can't say, "I stopped doing those things," because it's an ongoing assignment. I have to keep stopping. When my daughter says, "I don't like riding the bus" and the bus ride is only three minutes long, plus the time they have to interact with the bus driver while the bus is loading, I can hear her cognitive dissonance loud and clear and help her do the right but uncomfortable thing. I can help her stand up for her feelings and figure out how to act on them. But truly, it's not always easy to know when to stand up for my own feelings.

Most recently I stopped eating meat -- well, I'm making an exception for fish, but I am not sure that is defensible given the reasons I stopped eating meat. And still there's more to do. More noise that necessitates adjusting the frequencies to something harmonious instead of the static that consumes my attention and, like kryptonite to Superman, robs me of my strength.

I hope you will wish me strength for this next phase of weeding out the dissonance and finding the sweet harmonies in my world.

10 August 2012

Behaving Badly and B'stila

Sorting through my recipe box tonight, I found a recipe for B'stila from a California Moroccan restaurant called Dar Maghreb that plunged me headlong into a series of memories of an amazing food discovery and some wild nights long ago.

John and Lizzie, from exotic England, had blown into town on a crooked wind and livened our little  Boulder hippie scene right up. They told us about their wild adventures in Morocco and Kenya, unpacking from colorful cloth bags and carved boxes hashish and tobacco and clay chillums, which we all smoked, even me now and then. John and Lizzie were fun and cute and tan and had English accents. What was not to love?

Of course, I, 12 that summer, developed a terrible and obvious crush on John, with his lovely accent, for which he teased me, aping my pouts and such. I loved Lizzie too, so sympathetic and petite and clearly tough as nails but with a weakness for her partner. I still remember her telling me, "You're going to have humongous tits!" (This never came to pass, like a lot of their promises.) Oh, what a complicated package they were, inviting us to fall in love with them and I suspect grabbing anything they could get their hands on.

Fortunately, I was off-limits to John as a kid (my hirsute and tough parent would have pounded him flat) but there was plenty of tension between John and the men in the room over the other women in the room. I felt that same vertigo I felt with my mother with Lizzie, wondering why she went along, and trying to comprehend what this gave them, all the women like my mother and Lizzie, and later my stepmother. Years later I saw my stepmother and she said "I had to leave your father because he couldn't stand to see me be happy." John and Lizzie had come along when things were especially dire; my parents wouldn't be together for many moons after John and Lizzie blew out of town a few weeks later. I suppose my father's controlling fury had something to do with why John and Lizzie were able to come along and get us in their sway, as the Rolling Stones put it in the song. My guess is when they'd wheedled and borrowed and cadged and downright swiped as much as they could get away with, they hit the road again.

Eight or so years later, my mother and stepfather and I had moved out to L.A. We had all been yearning to go to California for various reasons. When I wanted to go to school on the west coast, my parents figured it would be a good time to go too, so we went together. I lived with them for the year, having broken up with my high school sweetheart (and having a fling with our mutual best friend).

Out of the blue, in L.A., we finally got a letter from John and Lizzie. For years after their first disappearance, we wondered where they were. We would think to ourselves, "In prison?" We would say to each other, "Maybe we should print an ad in the Rolling Stone." I think my mother might have even gone ahead and done it once, knowing perfectly well they'd never see it, whether they had landed on the Steppes, the Spanish Steps, or in Stepney. John had shared with us a calling card printed all in blue that read "Expeditions" with their names, John and Elizabeth D____, and bore a printed drawing of a Land Rover loaded with gear on it. Pre-mobile phones, there was no way to keep up with nomads, unless you knew which post office to send mail to their attention in care of General Delivery.

But back to Dar Maghreb, which is what launched this reminiscence. When I was 18 and living with my parents in L.A., guess who should turn up but John and Lizzie, a little older and more careworn, and us a little wiser but no less surprised and happy to see them. We had a blast partying with them. They introduced us to new drug experiences, and told bawdy, titillating stories of getting people to do other things new to them as well. They fascinated me and repelled me, in part because they seemed exactly the same as they had been before, but also like people acting a role. I studied them and wondered if they'd been acting before and I just hadn't noticed, or if their act had grown a little stale to them.

We went to Century City and bought sweatshirts at Heaven after a day lazing in the sun and bodysurfing at Santa Monica Beach. We hot tubbed on the deck in the humid night air, the evening fog permeated with the pyrethrin the landlord had sprayed to control the fleas and keep my mother's Persian cats from being eaten alive.

A couple of years back, when visiting L.A., we had been to this amazing Moroccan restaurant, Dar Maghreb. This had been our first immersive experience with the Moroccan restaurant, a particular form of hospitality with the reclining pillows and the big tray in the middle, the tea poured from astonishing heights without spillage, the sweet mixed with the savory in tender lamb and prunes and in the B'stila, everyone's favorite. B'stila is an appetizer of flaky sheets of filo wrapped around a custardy cinnamony chicken dish that we ate with our hands and wished that's all there was to eat. That and the mint tea, poured by waiters numerous and professional, like soldiers, interchangeable in their fancy trousers all alike.

The first time we went to the Los Angeles Dar Maghreb, we were astonished by the atmosphere and the foods and ate and drank and some people did cocaine in the bathroom and came back for more food and belly dancing. The check was huge but we were with rich people and felt rich ourselves and I wasn't caring who was paying because I was 16 then and still a kid.

When John and Lizzie came to visit us in L.A., a plan hatched to go to Dar Maghreb. We wanted to impress them. Then someone had the brilliant idea: Let's go to Palm Springs for dinner. So we drove out to the Dar Maghreb in Rancho Mirage, where Frank Sinatra used to live, and it dazzled us all over again. And again the B'stila was the best part.

By the end of our epic night, we had eaten and drunk with reckless abandon, people had tucked folded bills into the belly dancers' outfits, and some people had snorted lines of coke from the ornate tray in the center. And we all put in cash for our dinners, even me this time, as I was working 50 hours a week to save money for school in northern California starting in the fall. A minute after we were out the door, John and Lizzie were hustling us toward our cars. A minute later, a waiter emerged, hollering. We had stiffed the waiter. He had found our check with a measly couple of dollars on a check that totaled hundreds. John tried to talk his way around it, but failed. People from our party pulled cash out of pockets to settle the injustice and stop the embarrassment. I didn't have any cash left to add by then.

John and Lizzie left shortly after that, our last visit to Dar Maghreb. I have a vague memory of hearing they were no longer together. I haven't seen John and Lizzie since, but I was ecstatic to find this recipe in Great Recipes from Los Angeles. I have made this recipe once, and since have made a simplified version of it that was almost as good and half the work. This is the original recipe. You will need all day to make this version.


The Chicken:
2 chickens (3 pounds each), or 8 pigeons
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup chopped onions
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup chopped coriander leaves (also called cilantro)
1/2 teaspoon safron
2 cups water

The B'stila:
1 pound butter
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped coriander leaves
1/2 cup chopped onions
12 eggs
10 ounces blanched almonds (about 2 cups)
Confectioners sugar
1/2 pound clarified butter
1 pound filo (also called phyllo) dough

To make the chicken, put the whole chicken's [sic] breast down, in a Dutch oven, with the giblets, salt and pepper, oil, butter, ginger, onion, garlic, parsley, coriander, saffron, and water (or enough for the liquid to reach 1/3 the depth of the chickens).

Bring the mixture to a boil, and after it boils, turn the chickens breat side up and stir to mix the spices. Bake at 450 F. for approximately 1 hour. Baste the chickens from time to time so they are thoroughly marinated with sauce (if the chickens are still slightly pink, remember they will be cooked again inside the B'stila).

When the chickens are cooked, let the cool, reserving broth. Bone them, leaving the skin on. Separate the chickens into bite-size pieces and put them aside.

To prepare the B'stila, boil the reserved chicken and add the 1 pound of butter, the parsley, the onions, and pepper. Beat the eggs as for an omelet. Pour the eggs into the chicken broth and whip over a moderate fire until the eggs are scrambled to large curds [not certain; my copier omitted some of this]. Add salt to taste.

Heat a film of oil in a skillet and fry the almonds until they reach a deep golden color. Watch them carefully, as they burn quickly. Remove them from the heat and allow the almonds to cool. Grind them coarsely in a food processor. Stir in sugar and cinnamon.

The steps preceding may be done ahead, and the eggs refrigerated until needed.

To construct the B'stila, grease the bottom of a 14-inch skillet with a thick coat of the clarified butter. Place 2 sheets of the filo across the bottom, letting it overhang 6 to 8 inches all around. Spread a ... three-quarters of the eggs. Sprinkle on half of the toasted almonds, then add half of the chicken. Layer on the remaining eggs, then the chicken, then the almonds. Fold over the filo across the top, adding another sheet of filo if the bottom sheets don't cover the top. Brush the filo with clarified butter. Bake at 450 F for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Remove the B'stila from the oven and flip it onto a large serving plate. Sprinkle more confectioners' sugar over the top and make a crisscross design with 1/4-inch wide bands of cinnamon.

Makes 12 servings.

NOTE: B'stila is eaten with the fingers in Moroccan restaurants. Use only the right hand, and just the thumb and first two fingers, pinching a bite at a time. But be careful, the filling is steaming hot.

17 July 2011

Sleepaway, away away

My kid has had first-time jitters about going to sleepaway camp for a while now, and is on her way there, with her dad to drop her off and a best friend to bunk with for a week, which is all happening as I write this post. As coincidence has it, they're riding there with another girl who is adopted and who goes up to Snow Mountain Ranch in the summer for a heritage camp as well, which we have been doing with our daughter each summer for more than half her life. The difference is that we all go to her heritage camp together, but she is doing this on her own.

I feel terrible on one level about letting her go to camp -- nay, encouraging her to go -- given that she's experiencing such mixed feelings about entering the rapids of hormonal flux. I have parental jitters about the worst happening because I am not there. I feel our house and our routines and our adjacent rooms have become a talisman in and of themselves. At home, we can watch over each other constantly, but this is an untethering. I think we share the feeling that we are launching her up into space without a plan by sending her away from us like this.

I have to remember, when I'm feeling anxious that my daughter and knows how to stand up for herself. She was the one who said "No" when Will The Creepy Bus-Driver asked her to say things into his cellphone about another boy on the bus. Thank heavens, and thank me, too, for taking her absolutely seriously when she said she felt nervous around that person. Of course she would feel weird around an adult who was playing unexpected games in the few minutes he had with her every day, and turned and said to my face and hers that he was "just playing along with her and her friend, who had started it." As if he were supposed to be their big bus-driving buddy, their playful pal, not the guardian we expected to escort our tender darlings safely home from school every day. My point is that my daughter does know right from wrong and can take a stand when she needs to.

She really loved the sentiment "Take things in stride," from a framed picture containing "Lessons from a horse." I hope she can internalize more and more of that feeling of taking things in stride, adjusting as she goes, not necessarily stopping but skirting obstacles and continuing on as we all do.

I know too that my daughter has great untapped reserves of strength, and more resilience than she sometimes believes she has. She relies heavily and continuously on us, her parents, for support, which is fine and good, but I think it will be healthy for her to rely on herself, too -- to see and hear up close how other girls in the same situation do and don't rely on themselves.

I love her and worry about her but also trust her and have a huge amount of faith in her that I hope buoys her when she's feeling heavy. So I send her a wish and a prayer: I wish her a great first camp experience! May she make many great memories and friends and always be safe.

Oh, but here's what made me sit down and write about this in the first place. She goes off to camp, I sit down at the computer to start catching up on some writing, and this I find a document my daughter has written. It reads:

I still think she's going to be all right.

07 June 2011

Two things:

One: I had been giving myself a hard time about not having made photo albums but finally realized that I have all of my photos online where my daughter can (and often does) browse them. Sure, there are still a zillion notes and charming bits of art or artifice I will want to sift through and preserve in a more organized fashion. But now she can see herself through time, even if time is relative for us: for her, it started at birth. For us, her time started later than her birth, so there are gaps in our chronological records.

"We are awash in images," wrote A.O. Scott in a recent essay responding to his contemporary dilemma -- and Susan Sontag's notion that we should control the flow of images lest we become addicted to them. But I and I see and I know my daughter sees something worth looking for in the pictures of the past.

Two: A fun short film idea: The Band-Aid. A Band-Aid's journey through a dance class. Even the paper wrapping could play a role, so to speak.

14 April 2011

A Runway Success!

I just got back from the sweetest event to benefit the Boulder Valley School District's School Food Project: "Recycled to Runway," a fashion show by kids in a class at Common Threads who made their clothes out of trash. Anthropologie hosted the event, delicious food was catered by Whole Foods, and some very nice wines were donated by Frasca Food and Wine and The Kitchen.

Most of the girls were a little keyed-up and rushed up and down the runway. The MC repeatedly had to ask them to stick around at the end of the runway for a second and turn around once more, and it was great when they stayed to chat a little or answer a question about their process. Waylon Lewis, editor of Elephant Magazine, asked one of the designers, “Is your dress comfortable?” and got an honest answer: “No, not at all.”

Watching them zoom up the runway and back in their creations I thought how brave they all were. Even the designers competing on Project Runway didn't have to model their own fashions like these kids were doing!

A couple of the dresses were made with colorful candy wrappers, one was ingeniously decorated with Izze cans cut into interesting shapes, and another girl who said she was “inspired by prom dresses, and really nice dress-up dresses,” wore a gown made of plastic trash bags and dryer sheets, and carried a clutch made of gift cards, the magnetic-stripe kind. “It was hard to use the hot gun just right,” she said. “Too hot and you'd melt a hole in the dress. If it wasn't hot enough, the bags wouldn't stick.”

Another girl, wearing a well constructed dress made of brightly colored plastic shopping bags from Whole Foods said, “I broke three needles making this.” One described her material as “food boxes.” A high school boy used layered newspapers and paint to create an interesting, fashion-forward, graphic tunic shirt with a laced spine and wings painted on either side. One girl made a cocktail dress decorated abundantly with loops of VHS tape for a fabulous spangly effect (her clutch was a VHS cartridge—awesome!). Can you tell a) who I hoped would win (I couldn't help it: girl with the spangly VHS tape dress) and b) that I left early, before the winner was announced?

15 February 2011

Wannabe connected

New playlist: Want to be connected

Inspiration: In Lisa Jones' book Broken: A Love Story, Jones tells about making friends on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming with people and animals. At one point in the story, someone teases a young man about being a "wannabe." Her friend Stanford says, "Want to be connected." Don't we all?

"Braided Hair," featuring Speech + Neneh Cherry, from 1 Giant Leap
"Breathe Together," by The Mothers, from The Township Sessions
"Nu" by Timbuktu, from Afrikya Vol. 1: A musical journey through Africa
"Bryn" by Vampire Weekend, from Vampire Weekend
"Loco de Amor" by David Byrne, from Rei Momo
"Tukka Yoots Riddim," by US3 (with samples from "Sookie Sookie" as performed by Grant Green), from Hand on the Torch
"Strange Apparition" by Beck, from The Information
"The Main Thing" by Roxy Music, from Avalon
"Magick Carpet Ride" by The Brooklyn Funk Essentials, from In The Buzz Bag
"The Big Sky" by Kate Bush, from Hounds of Love
"Shanti/Ashtangi" by Madonna, from Ray of Light
"Llegare" by Sidestepper, from 3 am: In Beats We Trust
"Let Love Rule" by Lenny Kravitz, from Let Love Rule
"Until the End of the World" by U2, from the Until The End of the World soundtrack
"Rock On Hanuman" by M.C. Yogi, from Elephant Power

10 December 2010

Beautifully different

What is the first thing I think of when I ask what makes me "beautifully different?" Dressing for beauty and fun! I love the way I find interesting combinations of things to wear. Other people say nice things about that, too. I was wearing my shiny-threaded overcoat that has such a great drape over a long sweater and a wacky top and got some really nice compliments. It's so much fun to cheer people up just the way I like to be cheered up by seeing someone dress inspiringly. And it's a continuing positive feedback loop. I'm going to go put on something fun right now!