Entries from September 22nd, 2014

Make it a mission

Monday, September 22, 2014

Yesterday, while my cousin Tippy and I were sitting at the bar of a favorite local watering hole, I told her I felt like I’ve lost a desire to shine in a group of adults. That’s because you’ve been spending so much time around kids, she said.

What do you mean? I replied.

She explained. Kids want the best version of you, and they want it upfront. Inherently, kids want to like you. Kids tend to like the things about us that we like about ourselves, and that happens because they expect an honest interaction with us–it’s what makes sense to them.

In the adult world, it’s the opposite. We play games to avoid what’s really going on. We wait for proof that we can trust each other. Adults are harder to impress. We tend to write each other off before we even realize it, and until we’re given a reason not to. We, as adults, search for ways we can fit in. When we meet people, we look for ways we can fit them into a mold that makes sense to us. When we can’t figure them out, or classify them, we’re thrown off.

It’s true. As we grow up, we become self-conscious of everything we do, and we spend a lot of energy trying to get back to the essence of ourselves. We forget to play for the benefit of playing: for the joy and the creativity play brings. We guard our hearts. We let our negative experiences chip away at our best parts, we blame each other for our behavior, and somewhere along the line, we adopt the ultimate, pervasive mistruth that we, as humans, are unlovable.

Tippy used to teach art, and she noticed a distinct shift at the fourth and fifth grade level. At this age, kids go from uninhibited, unique expression to more socialized behavior when they figure out pretty quickly that they’re better off if they can fit in. It is the great, dangerous disservice we give when we stop truly seeing each other. And alarmingly, this happens the first time when we’re very young.

I taught second grade last week. The class was a group of 25 native Spanish speaking students who spent our whole 20 minutes of recess catching ladybug pets and counting their spots and trying to pocket them without me noticing. After an ESL teacher came in to teach their science lesson, I read them a story in English about dim sum. If you listen well while I read this, I’ll read a second book in Spanish, is what I said, thinking they’d be motivated by the thought of watching me fumble through with my heavy American accent. Of course, they were sweet as pie during the very short English story. So I picked up the Spanish book and drew a very deep breath and whispered down to the cover of book, here we go.

Once I’d finished a page, I’d glance down at all their beady-eyed faces sitting cross-legged on a big multicolored carpet and they’d start softly clapping, encouraging me along. Man, that book was loooong. By the end, my tongue was tired. That was really hard for you! breathed a boy somewhere in the tangle of them as they all went back to being kids and wiggling out the previous ten minutes of stillness, which, to a second grader, probably feels more like ten hours. It was, I said. But you cheered for me, and I could feel it.

These pure and natural reactions from kids, untinged by the burdens of life experience, are what I wish we’d all have access to on a more consistent basis. What we can learn from kids by treating them with respect is, as it’s been said, a sort of earthshaking serum for our collective conscience. I guess what I’m getting at is this: if you take away anything from this post, I hope it’s that you’ll soon have the opportunity to make a child feel seen. Make it a mission. What you get back is beyond. When you’re done, go create something. Anything! Like a pizza, or a drawing of your rubber band collection.



We Can Create.

Turning the Soup Kitchen Upside Down

To make: Moroccan Roasted Beets, Gingerbread Man Smoothie, Slow-Braised Pork Belly

Still trying to master the perfect poached egg? Me too. Have you tried this?

Happy Sunday.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Last weekend, Mary Jo and her parents Mark and Diane invited me sailing. We drove up to Bayfield, Wisconsin on Thursday afternoon, and at twilight, all was tense as we kept a lookout for wild pairs of iridescent eyes. Diane sat shotgun, and she was the first to see the doe on the shoulder before we all shrieked and Mark turned the wheel while she stood frozen, flicking her ears.

Since it was dark when we arrived, we spent the first night in the slip.

We sailed and stopped at Otter Island, then Outer Island where we docked and had dinner and played 500, the game of 500 rules. We had gin and tonics when the sun set, mochas when the sun rose, and all the snacks Diane brought in between.

The smooth, flat rocks we plucked and flung across the water.

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Rippled water like panes of wavy glass from the days of a hundred years ago.


Triplet sailboats. A sky to match a lake.


Superior’s invigorating sting, our morning shower, and the quickest swim back to the boat.


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Ropes with purpose and their own names to prove it. Like this one. Blue dot. (Not really)

A boat named Peregrine. Islands named Raspberry, Cat, and Rocky.

Diane brought spanakopita for dinner on our last night, and it was so good that I asked her for the recipe as soon as we were home and made it a few days later. Spanakopita is a savory Greek pie traditionally made with airy layers of phyllo pastry, feta, cooked spinach and egg, but Diane swapped the feta with goat cheese and spinach with chard from her garden. The original recipe comes from Mollie Katzen’s The Moosewood Cookbook. I used kale instead of spinach (or chard) because I had it, and an equal mix of crumbled feta and goat cheese.


Spanakopita adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook
1 1/2 cups crumbled feta cheese
1 1/2 cups crumbled goat cheese
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup chopped onion
2 pounds lacinato kale (or spinach, or chard)
5 eggs
1/2 teaspoon oregano
3 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper
1 package of 1 pound phyllo dough
1/2 pound melted butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Clean, stem, and chop the greens. Salt them lightly and cook, adding no water, for five minutes. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, cook the onions in butter. Salt lightly. When soft, remove from heat and combine with cheeses, flour, oregano, 3 tablespoons butter, a bit of salt and pepper, and greens. When these have cooled a bit, add eggs and mix thoroughly.

To assemble:

In a 9×13″ pan, spread a bit of the melted butter. Place a layer of phyllo dough in the pan. It’ll outsize the pan–let the edges climb the sides and lay over the edges. Brush butter generously over the top of that first layer. Keep layers of dough coming, one on top of the other, brushing each with butter. After 8 layers of dough, take half of the filling and spread it on gently and evenly. Continue with another 8 layers of dough, spreading butter between each one. Then apply the remaining filling, spreading it evenly to the edges. Fold in the excess phyllo along the edges, making tidy little corners. (I skipped this step because it was late and I was delirious and didn’t understand what tidy little corners should look like. Fold them in toward the center of the pan, as if you were wrapping a gift.)

Pile as many more layers of phyllo and butter as your baking pan will accommodate. Butter the top layer and sprinkle with fennel seeds if you have some (“if you have some,” says Mollie. I love that).

Bake uncovered, about 45 minutes, until golden.