Archive for the ‘recollections’ Category

When I was growing up, one of my favorite summer foods was barbequed chicken.

I especially looked forward to the times when my mother made her homemade sauce — a sweet, tomatoey, fragrant barbeque sauce based on a recipe that she got from “a fellow-worker in the University [of Iowa] Hospitals when [she] was writing poems in the [Iowa Writers’] Workshop and moonlighting to keep body and soul together.”*

I’ve been meaning to make some of that sauce for a long time, and today, the first sunny day in what seems like months, seemed like the perfect day to try.

As with most of the things I make, I adjusted the recipe a little bit.  After reviewing the original ingredients, I decided to cut the sugar in half, use sherry vinegar and extra virgin olive oil (the original recipe doesn’t specify what kind of oil or vinegar to use), add a little lime juice and Aleppo pepper and increase the amounts of garlic, pepper and salt.  I hope that my mother would approve of this updated version of Blake’s no-cook barbeque sauce.

½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon celery seed
2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper
¾ cup sherry vinegar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
juice of one fresh lime
1 can tomato sauce (I used a small box of strained Pomi tomatoes)
1 medium red onion, grated
2 cloves garlic, minced very finely or pushed through a garlic press
a dash of Worcestershire sauce

Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
Add the vinegar, olive oil and lime juice and mix well.
Add the tomato sauce, and mix well again.
Add the grated onion, minced garlic and Worcestershire sauce, and mix until all of the ingredients are incorporated.

Pour into jars and refrigerate.

*quote (and original recipe) taken from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop Cookbook, edited by Connie Brothers and published in 1986.

Barbeque Sauce on Foodista

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Walking to school

One of the things I most look forward to when I am visiting my family is walking my nephew to school in the morning.

It’s not a long walk, but there is something peaceful about being out with all of the other parents and kids and dogs converging on the neighborhood school in the frosty morning air.

The other thing that I like about this particular walk is how familiar it feels.  Not only because I have done it many times before, but because of the uniquely St. Louis flavor of the sights along the way.

The limestone wall outside my nephew’s school is just like the one that surrounded the playground of my own elementary school

and the sweetgum balls that we kick aside remind me of the neighborhood where I grew up, just a few miles from here.

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Food memories

I am not sure why, but recently I have been craving stuffed cabbage.  It’s one of the dishes my mother used to make and I remember it as hearty and filling and flavorful; a wonderful one-dish Sunday supper.

If I cooked with meat it would be easier to recreate my mother’s recipe (which used ground beef and rice in the stuffing), but since I don’t I had to find a meatless alternative.   The recipe I finally settled on used Middle Eastern spices instead of the Eastern European flavors that I remember growing up.

Like my mother’s version, this recipe begins with rice; in this case, flavored with turmeric.

Instead of meat, I used lentils,

cooked on top of the stove and then mixed with the turmeric-scented rice, sauteed onions and garlic, toasted almonds and golden raisins.

I carefully unfurled the cabbage leaves and stuffed them with the rice and lentil mixture

(a little surprised that the recipe did not suggest that I steam the cabbage first) and laid the rolls gently in a baking dish.  I drizzled them with the simple, cinnamon-spiked tomato sauce and baked the casserole for about 40 minutes.

The result?  A hearty, spicy and filling winter meal.

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Learning to knit

Last week one of the commenters on my blog asked me about when and how I learned to knit and I decided to respond here.  It’s not a long story but it comes with pictures.

My mother was not a knitter.  Maybe in reaction to her own mother, who was a high school art and home ec. teacher, she didn’t sew or knit, though she had an eye for design and color that I envied.

One of my prized possessions, however, is this pair of socks, knitted by my mother for my father.

My mother’s sense of humor is clearly evident in the bell she sewed on the pointed toe of one of the pair; the socks’ lack of symmetry (and lack of similarity to the shape of a human foot) meant they were never worn and probably accounts for the fact that I still have them more than 50 years after they were made.

All of this means that I did not learn to knit from my mother.  Instead, I was taught by a dear friend when I was first in graduate school in Ann Arbor, MI in 1983, otherwise learning to be a geologist.  Knitting was something that I could do when I wasn’t studying that felt productive and didn’t make me feel guilty for avoiding school work.

Since that time, knitting has come and gone in my life.  Sometimes I knit every day, other times I don’t knit for months on end.  A return to graduate school (this time to earn a PhD in education) resulted in another period of intense knitting. This sweater was knitted during my first month in Madison, WI as I waited for classes to begin.

Living in Maine brought on another knitting phase.  I made a lot of things during that time, including this hat (knitted from a pattern designed by the wonderful knitters at the Green Mountain Spinnery in Putney, VT)

and this scarf that I dreamed up all on my own.

While in Maine I also took up sculptural knitting, enrolling in no fewer than three classes on the subject and creating all kinds of things including fruit

and eggs.

As regular readers of this blog know, I have been knitting a lot since moving to Portland.  One of my favorite recent projects is a collaboration with the grandson of a good friend.  Last spring I received the following detailed drawing in the mail

and made this hat based on his specifications (this picture is of the prototype — I made another, larger, one that I sent to the designer).

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Pizza memories

When I was in the eighth grade, at least a lifetime ago, my family spent a year living in a small town in the mountains of central Mexico called San Miguel de Allende.  At the time we lived there the town was still small and, while it did attract its fair share of tourists, somewhat sleepy.  Now San Miguel has become well-known as a retirement community for wealthy Amercans.

Living in Mexico was an eye opening experience for me.  We rented a modern, glass-walled apartment in a building that remained under construction the whole time we were there.  Our neighbors included American college students taking classes at the Instituto Allende, a local, bilingual art school, as well as Mexican families living in traditional homes built around open air patios.

As I became more fluent in Spanish I made friends with other kids my age, learned to cook a traditional Mexican comida (including how to make homemade corn tortillas) and how to shop and haggle for bargains in the daily market.  I still remember that year with incredible clarity.

What does all that have to do with pizza?  After our year there ended, we spent several additional summers in San Miguel and my parents eventually bought (and then, sadly, sold) a house there.  In those later years I became more familiar with the San Miguel restaurant scene.  One place in particular was a great hit with my brother and sister and me:  a small, somewhat touristy restaurant called Mama Mia’s, famous for, among other things, pizza.

My favorite pizza there was one that perfectly blended local flavors with traditional cheese pizza:  the avocado pizza.  Given my predilection both for making pizza and for translating favorite restaurant recipes into dishes I can make at home, avocado pizza is a current Sunday evening staple in our kitchen.

It’s not hard to pull this one off.  I make the dough in my bread maker (the best use for a home bread machine I can think of, since you can toss in the ingredients and set the timer before you head out for the day and have pizza dough ready to bake when you return), and a simple tomato and onion sauce on top of the stove.

Last night I also had some mushrooms that needed to be used, so I sauteed them and tossed them on before covering everything with cheese (I used an aged goat cheese last night, probably not a typical Mama Mia’s ingredient) and baking the pizza at 500 degrees for about 15 minutes.  I add the avocado last, after the pizza comes out of the oven.

I’m sure that different tastes, smells and sounds trigger memories of San Miguel for my brother and sister, but this does it for me every time.

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When we moved to Maine from Michigan one of the biggest adjustments I had to make was how far it was to a bakery that sold good, rustic loaves of bread.  There are great bakeries in Maine but all of them were at least a 40 minute drive from our house.  So I learned to bake my own bread.

Even now, when I live in a place with bakeries on just about every corner, I still love to bake my own bread.  There is something about creating food from flour, water and yeast that makes me feel happy.  Kind of like making cloth from two sticks and a string.

The first bread baking book I used was Daniel Leader’s book, Bread Alone.


The first recipe I tried, and the one I still turn to over and over again, was the loaf he calls “A Learning Recipe:  Classic Country-Style Hearth Loaf.”


Honestly, this recipe has never failed to turn out wonderful bread.  I still make it whenever my sourdough starter is not ready to use, and even sometimes when it is.

The recipe begins with a quick starter called a poolish that contains water, flour and a little bit of yeast.  The poolish ferments for as little as two hours or as long as overnight.  The longer it goes, the more flavorful the final bread.

Once the poolish is ready, it gets mixed with more water, flour, yeast and salt.  Leader likes you to knead the bread for a long time, but given my recent reading about little- or no-knead loaves, I decided to reduce the kneading time and instead allow the dough to sit (or autolyse) for about twenty minutes after all of the flour had been added.   A little bit of kneading after that point, and the dough was ready to rise.


Two hours later, I divided the dough into two loaves and set them to rise again in my banneton, willow baskets made especially for bread.



This second rise took about an hour at which point the loaves were ready to bake.


About forty-five minutes before the loaves were ready to go into the oven I had pre-heated a baking stone and a cast iron pan. I turned the loaves out onto a peel dusted with coarse corn meal


and slashed the top with a sharp razor, or lame.


I slid the loaves onto the baking stone and added about 1/2 cup of water to the pre-heated cast iron pan to create steam in the oven.  After about 10 minutes the loaves had risen even more (a phenomenon appropriately called oven-spring).


And after about 45 minutes, they were done!


The hardest part is listening to them crackle in a room filled with that sweet just-baked bread smell and knowing I have to wait for them to cool before cutting into them.

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Last week one of my heroes died.  Ted Sizer was an educator, author, school reformer, and the source of much of what inspired me in my own work in schools and with teachers.  That may seem like a funny start to a post about what keeps me going, but it actually makes sense.


My first teaching job (somewhat by accident) and my second (completely by design) were both at schools associated with the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES), the school reform network that Ted Sizer founded.  Connected by a set of Common Principles (there were originally nine, now there are ten), teachers and administrators in CES schools strive to help students do meaningful work, to develop equitable school practices that acknowledge and support all students, and to allow students to demonstrate their understanding in ways that honor both what has been learned and the uniqueness of the individual who has done the learning.


That is the context in which I learned to teach, and in which I developed my beliefs about what it means to be an educator.  Although I no longer teach in a CES school, those principles guide my work still.  I share them with my current students, and I keep them in mind when I plan and teach my university classes.

Talking about making schools better is popular these days and just about everyone has an opinion about what to do.  Ted Sizer’s opinion, and his work, represent what I think is a good start — one that respects teachers and what they know, that asks us to listen to our students and that places a value on meaningful learning that helps children develop into caring, thoughtful adults who can make society better for everyone.


I recently heard a story on National Public Radio about farmer, philosopher and environmentalist Wes Jackson that ended with this line:  “If you’re working on a problem you can solve in your own lifetime, you’re not thinking big enough.”  That’s how I think about my own efforts to change public schools for the better, and Ted Sizer’s life and work inspires me even though I know it’s a job that isn’t likely to be solved in a lifetime.


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