• injera and beef wat

    These days, I’ve been hankering after Ethiopian food. Which might seem a little odd, considering how hot it’s been. For the past week, it’s felt like someone has tossed a thick comforter over our stratosphere and is slowly squeezing it ever tighter and tighter. Doing anything physical feels almost insurmountable. One morning I slept in, so the sun was already up when I went running: I about died. Ever since then, I’ve made sure my husband and I leave for our runs while it’s still dark so we’re done with our self-inflicted torture before the sun crests the ridge. Because as soon as that wicked hot sun shoots a single solitary ray in my general direction, I’m good for absolutely nothing, huh.

    Then again, maybe it makes perfect sense, this craving for Ethiopian food? Ethiopia is hot, or so I hear, and flatbread with simmered greens and chunks of spicy meat might be just the sustenance a person needs to make it through the sweltering days.

    Actually, I kind of suspect my Ethiopian food lustings are a result of the book I’m reading: the memoirs of a Somali woman who spent her childhood moving between Somalia, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, and Ethiopia. (I keep mentioning this book, and really, it’s totally fascinating. I don’t usually read books by non-American/European writers and am finding the diversity to be delightfully refreshing and thought-provoking. I might make Infidel required reading for the older two kids. It’s that good.) The author is not a foodie writer—not at all—but even so, I find her countries’ exotic flavors and spices have permeated my thoughts. Fresh ginger, garlic and onions, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, oh, yum….

    My Ethiopian kick has one other influence, too: a failed tortilla recipe. I came upon a recipe for no-roll sourdough tortillas and had to give it a try. The resulting tortillas were most definitely not tortillas. Soft and spongy, they were more like savory crepes or— Oh, hey, Injera!

    We ate our most-definitely-not-tortillas with chili over rice. The flavor combo—sourdough with Mexican—wasn’t that compatible, but the kids didn’t seem to mind (though my younger son kept asking for syrup; the bread’s association to his beloved Farmer Boy pancakes was too great).

    But then I ate the leftover not-tortillas with greens and Korean beef and totally swooned.

    My husband had some, too, and was like, “Now that is good.”

    For lunch one day, I had a leftover not-tortilla with more greens, scrambled egg, and a little pile of feta.

    Again, score.

    And then I discovered some teff flour in the freezer and mixed up another batch of batter: a little leftover sourdough starter (maybe a quarter cup or so), plus flour (both wheat and teff) and water. The batter sat at room temp all day and then, right before cooking, I whisked in a little salt.

    The Injera—because I can call it that now that I’m using teff, I think—is cooked like a basic crepe: just a little batter in a non-stick, or lightly-buttered, pan, cooked like a pancake.

    I have no idea if the resulting Injera is authentic or not—do they even use sourdough starter in Ethiopia?—but you know what? I don’t even care! The texture is lovely—soft and slightly spongy—and the tangy flavor is a great counterpoint to all things ginger-cumin-paprika-cayenne-curry.

    That night, we ate the Injera with beef wat (though I used pork instead) and Morrocan carrot salad. Everyone (but one child and I’m not counting her) approved. And then the next day, my son’s friend—on home-leave from Kenya, and whose family will soon be moving to Ethiopia!—showed up and ate all the leftovers.

    With inspiration from Traditional Cooking School.

    I did a little research after writing this post and it appears that real Injera is made from all teff flour (generally the dark teff, not the light), with a little millet or barley flour thrown in. They let the flour and water (and sometimes a little yeast) sit at room temperature for a couple days which creates a starter and a slightly sour flavor. (So my sourdough starter might be spot-on after all!) The batter is not flipped in the pan (I used a basic cast iron skillet). Instead, after the bubbles form, the pan is covered with a lid until the Injera is cooked all the way through. I’ll be trying that next time.

    Feel free to play around with flours. You can use half teff and half whole wheat (or all whole wheat, but then it’s definitely not Injera), or teff with millet or barley flour, or whatever.

    1 cup teff flour
    1 cup whole wheat flour
    ¼ cup sourdough starter
    2 cups cool water
    ½ teaspoon salt

    Stir together the flours with the starter and water. Cover and set at room temperature for 8-12 hours. Whisk in the salt. Cook as you would a crepe, buttering the pan each time before adding more batter.

    Serve the Injera (makes 8-12 Injera, depending on the size of your pan) with spicy meat, lentils, vegetables (or whatever) piled on top. Eat with your fingers, tearing off bits of the Injera and using it to scoop up the meat and veggies.

    Beef Wat
    Adapted from Extending the Table…A World Community Cookbook.

    I reduced the called-for three tablespoons (!!!) of cayenne to one-half teaspoon and it was still plenty hot. Also, I used real ginger along with the ground ginger, added a bunch of smoked paprika to make up for the reduced amount of cayenne, and added water to make it saucy.

    I cooked the wat on the stove top, but when it’s not so hot outside, it might be nice to start it on the stove in a Dutch oven and then clap on a lid and finish it off low and slow in the oven, or in a crock pot.

    2-4 tablespoons olive oil
    2 tablespoons butter, optional
    2 onions, chopped
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    2-4 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
    ½ – 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    3 tablespoons smoked paprika
    ¾ teaspoon black pepper
    ½ teaspoon each ground ginger and ground cloves
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    2 pounds beef, tenderloin or boneless sirloin, (or pork) cut into ½-inch cubes
    ½ cup water, maybe more
    1 teaspoon salt

    In a large stew pot, saute the onions, garlic, and ginger in the olive oil and butter until translucent but not browned. Add the cayenne, paprika, peppers, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon and simmer for a couple minutes. Add the meat and salt and saute for 5-10 minutes. Add the water, lid the pan, and cook on low heat for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with Injera or over rice.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (7.28.14), rest and play, the girl and her friend, the boy and the bike ride, a quick pop-in, Indian pilaf of rice and split peas, and chocolate beet cake.

  • dance party

    Last week my older son and I took a tap class. By the end of each session, I was grumpy, irritated with my feet, the teacher, and the world in general because: tap is hard. The teacher was great, but she moved along at a rapid clip, not letting anyone’s stumbling put the entire class on hold. Which was good, but also very, very frustrating.

    So I’d go home and practice, pounding out my lindies, paddles, and shuffles on the kitchen tiles (and tripping over the grout) until my toes refused to lift and my taps slurred. The next day’s class would go a little smoother…until the teacher introduced yet another new step, at which point my confidence would drain right out of my clumsy toes, the frustration bubbling to the surface once again. 

    Every evening, tapping away in my hot kitchen, the fan sucking the slightly cooling air in through the window, the sweat would stream down my face, soaking my shirt, and dripping from my chin and nose until the tiled floor looked like it had been rained on.

    “Ew, Mom, that is so gross! You need to wash the floor,” my younger daughter would wail. 

    “Shush,” I’d say. “I’m concentrating.”

    On Friday night, the kids pushed back the kitchen table so I’d have more room to tap. And then my older son came downstairs with his Bose speaker, told me to move over, and cranked up the dance music. Before I knew it, all four kids had joined me on the dance floor. We did Crank It Like A Chainsaw (what the hey?), Cha Cha Slide, Macarena, etc. Shirts came off. Sweat flew. From his desk chair, my husband watched, laughing and occasionally snapping a photo.

    And then, as is becoming my post-evening tap custom, I disappeared upstairs to read my book while soaking my overheated body in a tub of cold water.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (7.27.15), the boy and the tooth, the girl and the tea party, corn day, classic bran muffins, banana bran muffins, spicy Indian potatoes, and internal warfare.

  • the quotidian (7.25.16)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace

    The first cherry tomatoes.

    What a few hundred sweet rolls looks like.

    I don’t want to see another sweet roll for….a week.

    Doorway trippers, but at least they no longer try to sneak in.
    Large pieces of meat are my nemesis. 

    This same time, years previous: vegetarian groundnut stew, a riding lesson, we’re back!, pumpkin seed pesto, cucumber lemon water, birthday revisited, limeade concentrate, and blackberry cobbler.

  • all practicality

    My older daughter thinks it’s crazy that girls’ shorts are so short. Actually, it’s not so much the abbreviated length that bothers her but the subsequent lack of deep pockets. “There’s hardly enough room to carry a cell phone!”

    She hates the t-shirts, too. The material is so thin that an undershirt is always required.

    “Why can’t girls clothes be like guys?” she’d fuss. “Their shorts are long, and the t-shirts are just plain t-shirts. Guys’ clothes make so much more sense.”

    And then she learned that one of her girlfriends bought her athletic shorts from the men’s section, and it dawned on her: there was no reason she couldn’t buy her clothing from the men’s section, too!

    “Mom, you gotta take me shopping!” she begged.

    So off to Target we went, marching straight by the women’s clothing and going all the way to the back of the store where she delighted to discover entire racks filled with long, elastic-waisted, deep-pocketed shorts and plain t-shirts.

    All practicality, that girl is.

    This same time, years previous: on his own, the quotidian (7.21.14), curry potato salad, rellenitos, the quotidian (7.23.12), how to beat the heat, half-mast, and braised cabbage.

  • in the kitchen

    I now have two batches of pesto torte squirreled away in the freezer. I thought I was doing pretty great by accomplishing such a delicious feat, but the rest of the family was like, “ONLY two tortes? That’s not nearly enough!”

    Actually, the tortes weren’t as complicated or time consuming as I thought they’d be. I made the cream cheese-ricotta part the day ahead of time. The next morning, I set up an assembly line: two bowls in which to measure the basil pesto ingredients and two bowls for the dried tomato pesto. Then whir-whir-whir-whir, the pestos were made, and all that remained was the layering and freezing.

    So why not go ahead and make two more? Hmm…..

    * * * 

    Silly me agreed to make sweet rolls for 250 people.

    There’s a pastors’ convention in town this week and they needed volunteers for the coffee breaks, so I said sure, and how about I make sweet rolls from scratch to keep life interesting?

    I’m making the buns small so I can get away with making less, but then I started feeling guilty for being such a cheapskate so now I’m making an extra hundred-plus rolls to assuage my conscience.

    Maybe I’ll get lucky and there will be leftovers.

    * * * 

    My daughter requested, once again, a red velvet cake for her birthday.

    I have yet to land on a good red velvet cake recipe. The one I made last time was too dry, and this one (from Ree Drummond’s cookbook), while wonderfully moist, was flavorless. Help, anyone?

    * * * 

    Birthday girl requested tostados for her lunch, “with refried beans out of a bag like in Guatemala.”

    The kids were unanimous in their enthusiasm and have requested that we eat tostados on a regular basis. Sounds like a plan to me!

    * * * 

    My younger son has been hounding me to let him cook. After putting him off for a couple weeks and reducing him to tears (shame on me), I finally allowed him to make a cake.

    He was beyond proud, and the cake was a smashing success.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (7.20.15), a tale of two children, statements, all partied up, whole wheat zucchini bread, in my kitchen, homemade shampoo, zucchini parmesan frittata, and salvation’s chocolate chip cookies.

  • the quotidian (7.18.16)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace

    Cut smarter.

    Books are meant to be shared.

    Willingly getting licked: she and I are so different.

    Really? Is this really necessary?
    Gift fatigue: when your little brother buys you a Costco-sized box of Pringles 
    and then individually wraps the cans.

    All done.

    Stay cool, friends!

    This same time, years previous: zucchini fritters, ouch, apricot pie, this new season, Saturday nights, roasted carrot and beet salad with avocado, in the woods, the quotidian (7.16.12), roasted beet salad with cumin and mint, Jeni’s best ever vanilla ice cream, and in the pits.

  • in which a pit bull bites my butt

    As I’ve said before (probably), sometimes dogs charge at me when I’m on my runs. My response—a top-of-my-lungs, “CALL OFF YOUR DOG”—is instinctive and very loud. It also happens to embarrass my husband to no end. But I don’t even care. I have no desire to have some dog take a bite out of my butt.

    This—a dog taking a bite out of my butt—is what I obsessed about while we were rehearsing for the last play. (Well, that and a bunch of other things, like slipping off the road while running and twisting my ankle, getting in a car crash, falling ill, and getting thrown from a horse. That last one was easily solvable: I just didn’t get on the horse in the first place.) So when I got attacked by a pit bull on Tuesday morning, two days before this play opens, I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony.

    Getting bitten was slightly less humorous.

    That morning, I hadn’t gone even a quarter mile down the road when the dog came tearing around the corner of the house and made a beeline right for me. This neighbor’s dogs have charged us before—cue multiple CALL-OFF-YOUR-DOG’s—but this time, for some reason (maybe because I just woke up and wasn’t yet fully conscious?) I stayed mum.

    I heard the owner call the dog from the backside of the house. Usually, one shout from the owner and these dogs freeze in their tracks, but since the owner couldn’t see me, he wasn’t calling the dog in all seriousness. The dog flew across the road and came screeching to a halt right in front of me. I stood there, frozen. The dog paused. Maybe she’ll just sniff my feet and go back to her yard? I thought. But then— BAM! A sharp pain in my hip, a scream (mine), and I was lying on my back in the ditch.

    “She don’t bite,” he called out calmly, tolerantly, as he rounded the corner of the house. He sounded almost like he was smiling, probably thinking, Silly woman, going into hysterics over nothing. Geesh. 

    Propelled by the shock of the bite, plus his patronizing tone, I rose up out of that ditch, spitting mad. 

    “BULL! SHIT!” I bellowed. And then I yanked my shorts down to show him the teeth marks on my hip. “LOOK.”

    “Oh my,” he said, taking a step back. “She ain’t never bit no one before.”

    The man’s daughter came outside then, and he called to her, “She says Jazzy bit her.”

    “Aw, she don’t bite,” she scoffed. “People just say that stuff because they don’t like these dogs.” 

    “Look,” I said,pulling down my shorts for a second time. “I’ll need to see her papers.”

    While the woman went back inside to find the dog’s vaccination records, I stood there, crying, holding my hip, and listening to him tell me what a fine dog Jazzy was. Briefly, I considered continuing on my run, but then common sense (and pain) kicked in and, paper in hand, I hobbled home.

    The bite isn’t that bad—and the dog was up-to-date on her shots—but I went to the doctor anyway, just to be on the safe side. They filed a report (my husband had already filed one with Animal Control that morning when he came flying home from work to make sure I was okay, sweet guy) and put me on antibiotics.

    This morning my husband and I went on a run again. Well, I ran and he rode bike (because he was suffering the consequences of dropping a seventy-five pound door on his big toe). I intentionally chose the route that went by The Pit Bull House. Two dogs were out, but they didn’t even bark. Jazzy was nowhere to be seen.

    Now here’s where I could show you a whole series of bite-wound photos. We’ve been documenting it daily. The colors are rather artistic: a circle of bright red with an outer ring of dark purple. Like some sort of mystical tattoo. But I’ll spare you the bloody photos—you’re welcome—and settle for a nice, bandaged one.

    ANYWAY. The play opens tonight!

    Isn’t life amazing? I managed to get bit on the butt (okay, okay, hip) and still the show goes on.

    PS. If, during the show when I’m lying on the floor being all dramatic, you see me wince and shift my weight from my right hip to my left, you’ll know why. Jazzy.

    PPS. Tickets! Tickets!

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (7.13.15) and the quotidian (7.14.14).

  • the quotidian (7.11.16)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace

    For the pesto torte.

    What the little one wanted for his (second) lunch.

    What a softball looks like after getting mowed over.

    My daily workout.

    Mama, after I get my bath, can we sit on the sofa and read together? Picture books?

    At work: the master birthday-chain maker.
    In honor of his sister’s 15th (today!): decorated.

    Practicing for his driver’s test.

    On his first solo trip: watching him leave.

    This same time, years previous: let’s talk, a tale, er, tail, the quotidian (7.9.12), splash, what my refrigerator told me, tempero, and strawberry cake.

  • nose spots

    Remember those glasses I bought? They’re mostly for reading, but they’re also progressives so I can wear them all the time, if I like. Which I often do. My days are heavily sprinkled with bursts of reading and writing so it’s often easier to just leave them on.

    Except there’s a problem. The glasses leave bright red indentations on either side of my nose.

    Here, I’ll show you:

    Oops. Out of focus. Let’s try again.

    Getting closer. Hang on….

    There we go! See it?

    I wouldn’t mind the marks so much if they faded after five or ten minutes. But they don’t. Just one hour of wearing the glasses earns me a good two to three hours of violent red markings. Granted, this is peanuts in the grand scheme of things. I’m not in pain, nobody is loving me less for my spots, and I can see, for crying out loud.

    But still.

    I was fussing to my blind-as-a-bat husband about my nose spots and he said, “That’s weird. I’ve never gotten marks on my nose and I’ve worn glasses for years.” And his glasses are about an inch-thick and super heavy. What is up with this, people? Why do some people get marks and others don’t?

    I feel like I have two optionseither wear my glasses all the time, or don’t wear them at allneither of which is acceptable. Is there a middle ground? Have any of you glasses-wearer people hit upon a solution?

    (And please, don’t suggest “stop being vain” because that’s just not going to happen.)

    (Another no-no: telling me to adjust my perspective. That’s just bad punnery. Don’t do it.)

    This same time, years previous: the puppy post, the quotidian (7.8.13), zucchini skillet with tomatoes and feta, rain, and peanut butter cup ice cream.

  • one weekend only

    Back when we were in the middle of Outside Mullingar, one of the other actors tossed me a script. Want to do this play with me?

    I read the entire thing on a Sunday morning while the rest of the family was still in bed. A few pages in, I was crying so hard I had to set it aside for a few minutes so I could get control. Good grief, I thought. If I can’t read it without crying, how will I ever act it?

    Jessica Dickey’s The Amish Project is a fictionalized account of the 2006 Nickel Mines shooting in which a local milkman entered an Amish school house and shot ten girls. The play was originally intended to be performed by one actor but has since been adapted for an ensemble. I play Carol, the wife of the shooter. (When the guy first mentioned that I do this play with him, I thought he meant the one-actor version and about blew my top. Put that on top of my then-current crazy and I would sail right over The Edge for sure.)

    The play is about much more than the horror of the shooting. It’s about the underbelly of humanity, gut-wrenching suffering, and the power of forgiveness. No one is demonized, not even the shooter, and the result is a profoundly moving piece of art, raw and heartbreakingly beautiful.

    The play opens a week from today and runs for one weekend. The house—a community center that’s being transformed into a black box theater—only seats about sixty people and fills quickly, or so I’ve been told. Last time they did a play at this location, they were turning people away fifteen minutes before curtain. Tickets are five dollars and reservations can be made here.

    Note: for mature audiences due to disturbing content and some language.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (7.7.14).