June 2007

I need you to answer a question. It’s very simple, so it will not take you long. Please formulate your answer before looking at any other answers, and give me your first answer. You may also change your mind, after having viewed other responses, but then I will want to know your first response, as well as your changed one. Here it is:

What is the main theme of the book of Genesis? 

I’m very curious what people will think of this. And it’s really not because I just don’t know. It’s a question from an I.Q. test. No, not one of those airport news-stand ones, a real one. Does that change your answer? If so, I want to know that, too. So I don’t care who you are, for the sake of this discussion. (You know I love anyone who actually leaves a comment, but what I mean is that it’s not for specifically Christian, nor even necessarily religious people.)  And don’t worry, I will tell you the “right” answer.


Ahh, you’re wondering where we have been. Here we are! The chillins and I have been staying at our vacation home. Ha. My parents in law have been so graciously allowing us to take over their home for a week and a half, giving Derek some space (and full-nights’ sleep) to finish his dissertation without distraction or scheduled meals. And now behold, it came to pass that when Derek arose in the morning, he wrote all the day long, even into the night. And behold, he slept. And he arose in the morning, and began to write. And behold, he wrote for the space of 10 days without ceasing, only resting on the seventh day. And behold! His work is finished.

For those of you who are just too curious, here is an excerpt of the dissertation:

With the recent development of reliable autonomous technologies for small unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), the algorithms utilizing teams of these vehicles are becoming an increasingly important research area. In many cases, a team of small UAVs can accomplish tasks in a more efficient manner than a larger, more capable single vehicle. Of course, methods for cooperative control are used by a variety of autonomous robotic agents with a myriad of potential applications including: chemical spill monitoring [1]; forest fire fighting [2]; search and rescue; exploration (planet mapping); surveillance [3]; perimeter approximation [4]; manufacturing [5]; maintenance; inferometery [6]; cooperative manipulation/transportation [7]; power systems [8]; sensor networks [9]; cooperative target engagement [10]; radar spoofing [11]; and automated highway systems [12]. It is our intent to investigate the key elements of cooperative control systems and design algorithms that allow teams of UAVs to perform surveillance tasks.

I realize he used “myriad” incorrectly, and I’m going to talk to him about that. I have to have something to feel superior about, since there are some words in there that are not even in my lexicon. Inferometry? Radar spoofing? I married a smart man with super-powers that I am not likely to ever understand.

But he’s DONE! He’s not even 29, and he has done 3 degrees, gotten married and propagated the species by another 3, and he even took 2 years off school to learn Russian and go to Russia to tell people the Good News (Old English godspel “good news,” from god “good” + spel “story, message,” translation of Latin bona adnuntiatio, itself a translation of Greek euangelion “reward for bringing good news” ).

And today, instead of sleeping in, he took the boys to Lagoon.

The Salt Lake City Public Library is a glass house. A tall glass house. I took my kids there yesterday, along with my parents in law and Derek’s 3 youngest siblings. We first went to the frog exhibit at the University of Utah’s natural history museum, which was great fun. Then we headed down to the library, which was moved to a new building a couple years ago.

The new building is a beautiful structure, with a grand staircase on the outside that leads right up to the roof, ending at the pinnacle, where you can look out over City Hall and downtown Salt Lake. There are native Utah plants on the roof. It’s really lovely. The inside has a court with small stores, tables, and a glass wall that looks into the library portion, about 4 floors worth. The elevators are not in a shaft, and they are also glass. The glass elevator doors, when closed, look out into the court.

There is a purpose to my description. I was anticipating a fun outing with my family. I hadn’t been to the new library, even though the old one was my favorite haunt as a child, and I cannot resist libraries. I love reading. Love it. So I thought it would be a fun and exciting trip. Little did I know that vertigo would take hold of me and threaten my sanity.

We climbed to the very top of the roof, and there, my little sister in law tried to lift 3 year old Zeeb up to look out on Salt Lake. Terror. Then, when I reached them, I noticed the stairwell that went into the building, and down 6 or 7 flights in a corkscrew. I leaned my head over to look down, and was immediately seized by the vision of my baby girl leaping from my arms, and her little body being battered by the armrails as she fell to the cement below. I had to get down and out. I tried to make Calvin hurry, but he wanted to slide his feet on the metal rail that ran on the outside of the stairs. He wanted to climb.

We had to walk across a bridge to get back to the elevator, and I had to cling to my Kiki and stay exactly in the middle of the path. I begged Calvin to keep up, and finally Grandpa, who hadn’t noticed my unease, steered him in the right direction. Inside, we took the elevator, looking through the glass walls down on the stone floor of the court4 stories below, and came out on the second floor. Both little boys took off to climb the railings and go under the indoor waterfall. I had to stay in one place for a few minutes. Soon, Calvin returned to me and decided to try to pry the elevator doors open. The ones that open to nowhere. I knew, intellectually, that this could not be done, especially by a scrawny 5 year old. Nevertheless, I started to hyperventilate and cry.

More stairs, more glass elevators, and more begging and crying. I managed not to drop Kiki. Calvin and Zeeb did not fall to the depths. We didn’t even lose anyone. The ringing in my ears subsided, and my brain stopped the kaleidoscope of inventing ways my children might die.

The guilt of having imagined it is still there.

It seems like people don’t really do yummy summer refreshers just for everyday enjoyment. We go on walks in the afternoon, and by the time we get home, we are hot, sweaty, and lethargic. Snacks never sound good, but cold drinks are always desperately needed. Here are 3 of my favorites. These are especially great for serving to non-imbibing friends and children.

Agua de Jamaica

This is the deep red, sweet-tart drink served in Mexican restaurants. I love it so much that I buy a bunch of jamaica blossoms at a time, so I can make it all summer. It’s about as hard to make as a pot of tea.

2 ounces dried jamaica blossoms, aka hibiscus blossoms*
6 cups water
1 1/4 cup sugar

In a saucepan, combine jamaica, water, and sugar and bring to a boil. Lower heat and boil for 2 minutes. Transfer to a glass bowl or pitcher and let cool. Refrigerate overnight. Strain out the blossoms. Taste it, and dilute with a little filtered water if it’s too strong. Serve with ice.

*You can buy Jamaica flowers at Mexican and International markets, and at regular supermarkets in areas with a large Mexican population. They come prepackaged in 2 ounce bags, and are usually near the dried pasilla and ancho chiles, and all those little bags of spices.

Persian Rhubarb drink

This one is made from a syrup, or sherbet in Persian. And now’s  the time, since rhubarb is in season. You can also pick lots of rhubarb, chop it, and freeze for a later date. The frozen rhubarb gets a little mushy, so it’s not ideal for pie or crisp, but great for something like this drink.

1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, trimmed and chopped in 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup water
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup fresh lime juice
fresh mint sprigs

In a stainless steel saucepan, bring the rhubarb and water to a boil, cover, lower heat and simmer for about 1/2 hour. Strain, discard the fiber, and return to the pan, with the sugar and lime juice. Simmer on low heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Simmer another 1/2 hour, until it looks syrupy. Strain into a glass bowl and cool.

To make the drink, combine about 1 cup syrup with 4 cups ice water, stir, and taste. If it’s too strong, add more water, and add more syrup if you like it stronger. Pour over into ice-filled cups and add a sprig of mint.

Mango Lassi

Who hasn’t gone to an Indian Restaurant and ordered the mango lassi? If you haven’t, something is wrong with you.

1 cup chopped fresh mango, or 1 cup canned mango puree*
1 cup plain yogurt (be sure it is made with no gelatin)**
1 cup milk
1/8-1/4 teaspoons ground cardamom
ice cubes

In a blender, combine all ingredients except ice, starting with just a Tablespoon or so of sugar. Depending on the variety of mango you use, it will need different amounts of sugar. Yellow Manila mangoes are less fibrous and sweeter that the green and red fatter mangoes at the supermarket. I’ve seen similar yellow ones labelled Champagne. If you want a thicker lassi, add more yogurt. For thinner, more milk. When the flavor and consistency are good, throw in a bunch of ice cubes and blend until frothy.

*Mango puree can be found at Indian and International markets. It is always sweetened. It is pretty runny, so you may need less milk.

**If you use low-fat or fat free yogurt, you will probably need more sugar to offset the tartness of the yogurt.

Derek was pretty tired this afternoon, so after we put Kiki down for a nap, I took Calvin and Zeebie for a walk around the block. As we approached the sidewalk from our little walkway, Calvin asked which way we’d turn. I said we’d go left. He pointed one arm to the right, and said, “That way goes to the Hot Place.”

He didn’t actually say it with caps, but it still cracked me up. I had taken Calvin with me earlier when I went scouting for rhubarb, and he hadn’t worn shoes. When we crossed the street, he had to hot-foot it, because the asphalt had already been baking for hours.

So on our walk, Zeeb wanted to ride in the wagon. I pulled him. We mozeyed along to the house 2 doors down from us, where there are about 20 different varieties of roses, and we smelled every single one. It’s really amazing how much variation there is in the smell of roses. I love the really fragrant ones that have a hint of lemon.

The owner of the house, a tiny, 90-something man with almost no voice came out and asked if we wanted to see the ones in the back yard, too. So back we went, and there I found a row of lush, tall chard. Ahhh, how I wish those dang quail hadn’t eaten the chard sprouts out of my garden. They ate 2 rows of chard, 2 rows of spinach, and 3 rows of mixed salad greens. Now I have none.

Well, my neighbor said he was just going to throw away the large leaves, to get to the young, tender ones, so I offered to take them off his hands. He gave me a grocery bag full of lovely swiss chard, which will undoubtedly go into something like this this week. Luckily, there are still several tiny pockets of cilantro that I will be able to use. I guess the quail don’t like cilantro. Or any of the other herbs, for that matter. Which is good, since the violence I feel towards them for eating my greens would have been impossible to contain, had they robbed me of my herbs. I would have had to borrow the neighbor kids’ BB gun. And then I would have been sent to the Hot Place.

Do you read all the mail you get? Even if it looks like junk mail, and says across the top, “Open Immediately!” or “Do not discard!” What about if it says, “Check enclosed?”

I’m in the habit of tossing anything that wasn’t addressed by hand. I’ve always been pretty sure of my junk mail judging capabilities. If it’s from Wilmington, Delaware, it’s a credit card solicitation. We get lots of those. If it has a window through which you can see coupons, I don’t need to open it to know the coupons are from such fine establishments as carpet cleaners, auto detailers, and seedy chinese buffets. If it’s from Deseret Mutual Benefits Administration, I can be sure it’s a detailed list of all the money they won’t pay towards our medical bills.

But this week, I’ve come to be proven lacking in my junk mail judging skills. A representative from Men’s Wearhouse called to inform me of the current sale, and to tell me that my time was running out to use the $50 gift certificate they had sent me, a valued customer. I was not aware I had received a gift certificate. Which is sad, because when Derek starts his new job in August, he will have to wear a shirt and tie every day. And he has a shortage of nice, clean ties. We realized a couple of years ago why ties are such popular gifts for Father’s day. Because fathers don’t have ties that are clean and haven’t been beaten to a pulp by their loving children. So, no new tie, because I tossed the Men’s Wearhouse junk mail without opening it.

The other day, I was looking at our auto insurance policy, and I realized the card we keep in the car is expired. We get a new card every 6 months. We also get updates on the policy, solicitations to buy more insurance, loan opportunities, and personal birthday cards from our insurance agent, who once went to far as to drive two hours to meet us and invite us to purchase life insurance. We get a lot of mail from the insurance agent.

This morning, as I was cleaning off the piano (my repository of junk), I found an unopened insurance envelope, and since Derek was standing right there, I handed it to him to deal with. He opened it, and there were our auto insurance cards. They’d been on the piano for a month. (I know, I have a problem. The piano is sort of a void. If you set something on it, you won’t see it again. Derek handed me my insurance card, I set it down to continue de-cluttering, and he said, “No, go put it somewhere safe, now!” I laughed, kept working, and he said, “Right now!”)

I came across another insurance letter, and this time I was sure it was something worthless. It said, “Policy information enclosed.” How important could that be? There haven’t been any changes in our policy for several years. I handed that to Derek as well. He opened it, and there was a check for $27. I know, that’s barely enough to cover dinner for 2 at Bombay House, but sheesh, I was gonna just throw it away.

I think I’ll start reading my mail. Cause what if it’s not Junk Mail? What if it’s Treasure Mail?

Calvin went shopping with me a couple months or so ago, and at the health food store, spied the goat cheese in it’s tiny, round package. He asked what it was, and proceeded to beg for some the rest of the shopping trip. I felt sure in my heart that he would not like goat cheese, and I didn’t really have any good ideas of how to use it if no-one in the family liked it. I have had a dessert of goat cheese, toasted walnuts, and honey, but I don’t really make dessert that often, so it seemed like too much of a burden to buy the dang cheese.

Well Calvin didn’t let up. He asked for chèvre every day. He reminded me, any time I went to the store, that he really wanted some goat cheese. Sometimes, he’d forget what it was called, and he’d ask me for “that stuff that’s white, and round?” I took him on another shopping trip to Costco about a month ago. In the cheese aisle, he asked what all the different cheeses were. This is a child who loves a good cheese. Among his favorites is aged Gouda. I don’t buy it because it’s so freaking expensive, but if we ever do have it, he wants it. Anyway, he spied the 1 pound log of chèvre, and commenced with the begging.

I decided to humor him, because I didn’t want to drive to the health food store for one little thing. We bought the cheese. We also bought the 3-pack of Boursin garlic-herb cheese, as a backup. We took them home, and the boys, including the Derek, devoured on of the Boursins, but I was reluctant to break out the chèvre.

Then, about 3 weeks ago, I went to dinner with some lovely girls, and I ordered the special salad. Arugula, strawberries, pine nuts, and goat cheese, with vinaigrette. It was a decent combination. So I came home with goat cheese on the brain.

For the next few days, I experimented with our salads, using baby spinach and arugula stolen from a neighbor’s garden, toasted pine nuts, and dried cranberries, since I’m unwilling to purchase those baseball sized, white-cored “strawberries” they sell at the supermarkets around here, and balsamic vinegar.

When we spent the weekend with Derek’s parents, I made them a couple variations of the salad, which were eagerly devoured, in spite of them being pre-dressed. I personally prefer salads as an ensemble, with the dressing being a main ingredient. And I cannot abide the dressings that come in a bottle, so I always make my own. But Derek’s parents didn’t have any goat cheese, so I went to the Costco around the corner from their house and picked up a log, figuring I’d leave it there for them to deal with. Except they didn’t want it.

So with my 2 logs of goat cheese, I resolved to find delicious ways of consuming them before the dreaded expiration. (The expiration of a cheese is where, with one last dying gasp, the cheese heaves itself onto it’s haunches, staggers, and collapses into a sweaty, smelly heap.) So I give you two salads and a spread. Do not be afraid of the log. Go buy yourself one, and discover the beauty of a mellow, slightly tart, slightly sweet, soft cheese.

Salad with Strawberries and Goat Cheese

1 bunch arugula
6-8 ounces tender baby spinach
mixed greens
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1-2 T balsamic vinegar
a handful of fresh strawberries, sliced, or a handful of dried cranberries
3 T toasted pine nuts
1-2 ounces goat cheese, in small pieces

Rinse and spin the arugula and spinach, and place in a salad bowl with the mixed greens to fill the bowl. Add the oil and the vinegar, and gently massage the leaves until mixed and coated with dressing. Add the remaining ingredients. I like to put the small stuff on top, instead of tossing it. I hate it when you get just a bunch of lettuce, and all the nuts and fruity things fall through to the bottom.

Salad with Hazelnuts and Goat Cheese

10 ounces mixed salad greens
1/4 cup chopped dried pears*
1/4 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
2 ounces goat cheese
1 1/2 T hazelnut oil
1 T olive oil
2 T red wine vinegar
1 t Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

In a jar or small cup, mix the oils, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Place the greens in a salad bowl and pour the dressing over. Massage to coat. Add the nuts, pears, and cheese.

*My dried pears are extremely leathery. I think I dried them about a day too long. So I put them in a small bowl with water to cover, then microwave them for one minute. They get soft enough to chop without giving me carpal tunnel syndrome, and are just slightly juicy, but not hydrated. You only need to do this if the pears are hard. If they’re soft, like raisins, just chop them without the soak. (Then I use the pear water to mix the baby food for Kiki.)

Goat Cheese Spread

4 ounces goat cheese
2-4 T Trader Joe’s India Relish, or some other spicy chutney
3 T currants

Mix all in a bowl. This stuff is great on crackers. I had something like this once at Trader Joe’s, when they were giving out samples. I bought 5 jars of the India Relish right then, because I liked it so much. I guess if you don’t have goat cheese, you could do it with cream cheese, but it wouldn’t have that tang.

Back to the food-snob issue. I love food. I try new stuff all the time. I read cookbooks like novels. I’m the neighborhood go-to girl when anyone has a question about a spice, a substitution, an ethnic cuisine, or bread, or when there’s a random ingredient someone can’t find, since I have such an odd collection of foodstuffs that are not commonly used. Here’s a non-comprehensive list of what you might find in my pantry:

1. Hazelnut oil. I used this last night on the salad of spring greens with baby sweet peppers and crumbled feta. Yummy. Speaking of oil, I also have a jar of coconut oil, some ghee that I clarified, 3 kinds of olive oil, mustard oil, sweet almond oil…

2. Trader Joe’s Marion-berry Blueberry fruit sauce. I’ve had this one for a year. It sounds yummy, but I don’t really make desserts often, so what do I do with it?

3. Sake Wasabi Mustard. Why did I buy that? If I needed sake wasabi mustard, could I not have gotten some sake, some wasabi, and some mustard, mixed them together, and not had a whole jar to deal with?

4. A bunch of spices most of my friends have never heard of: Kalonji, Aamchur, Black Salt, Asafoetida, Galanga powder, Achiote, Agar agar, Garam Masala, Tamarind pulp. I use these every so often, but I wish someone around here used them too, so I could share.

5. A bunch of more normal spices, but in quantities the average American cook has never even seen: 7 ounces of coriander – that’s the size of 4 hamburger buns, 1/2 pound of cayenne, same of ground ginger, cumin, bay leaves, black mustard seeds. I get my spices at Indian markets, where folks know what food is supposed to taste like.

6. All the weird whole grains that the health food people love to tout: Quinoa, Millet, Kamut, Rye berries, wheat berries, Spelt, Bulghur, Polenta, Steel-cut oats, whole oats, hulled barley. Not all of them are yummy. Millet, for example. Always a tiny bit crunchy. I also have flours made from all of the above.

7. A hundred kinds of rice. Mongolian red rice, Forbidden black rice, sweet rice, arborio rice, glutinous rice, basmati rice, brown basmati rice, long grain white, long grain brown, short grain brown, sushi rice. We eat a lot of rice.

8. A 25 ounce bottle of capers. I like capers, but what was I thinking?

9. Interesting varieties of sugar:  jaggery (palm sugar), honey, creamed honey, raw honey still on the comb, agave syrup, stevia (ever tried it? It’s not sugar, but it’s a weird kind of sweet that I don’t really like).

10. All the fixin’s for Halu-Halo. That’s a Filipino snack/dessert that has any combination of the following: Macapuno strings (strips of young coconut), marble sized tapioca pearls, Langka (jackfruit), Nata de Coco (sweet coconut jellies), red beans (or red mung beans or kidney beans), corn, rolled oats, coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, and shaved ice. Yum!

11. Oh, and don’t forget the Pig’s Feet!

Can you top me?

Chasing. Losing. Stumbling. Wounds are festering. Kids are yelling. I’m yelling back. Plate crashes, omelet goes in the trash. I’m losing.

I’m too mad at words. (Worms, Roxanne.) People’s words. My words. God’s words. My brain doesn’t think in words. Words are not the best medium of communication. There are too many interpretations of words and combinations of words, too many languages, alive and dead.

I want God to read my thoughts, and give me something. Something.

I want to understand why people say their words, when they are clearly not the words they want to say. I want people to understand the words I’m trying to say, not the ones that come out of my mouth.

I’m chasing. I’m teaching the use of words that are elusive. I’m teaching meanings that are not pumapasok (entering). They lick the icing off, but don’t delve into the cake, never realize the whole for the sweetness of the glaze. They see what it looks like, round and tall and snow-capped, but never experience the spongy, squishy, pocketed interior. Never understand the complexity of the entire combination. They say “hate” and think they are saying “dislike” or “anger.” They say, “I just have to…” when they mean, “I am unwilling to stop for you or anyone.”

They ignore me. (They are ignorant?) They do not respond, if my words are not to their liking. I yell. Then my words are surely not to their liking. I yell, threaten. My threats are meaningless, even to me. I say things I do not intend. I think things I do not say.

I am afraid of my thoughts. They are not my friends.

I love pumpkin muffins. I make them year-round, in spurts. I buy the big can of pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling), which will make 3 or 4 batches of muffins. These ones are sort of detox muffins. They have lots of fiber, no dairy, and they’re yummy.

Pumpkin Muffins

1/4 cup ground flax seeds
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2-3/4 cup sugar
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup plus 2 T soy milk (or regular milk)
1/2 t vanilla
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup oat bran
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1 t cinnamon
1 t ground ginger
1/8 t ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350o, and grease a muffin tin with cooking spray. Add the water to the ground flax, and mix until viscous. Add the sugar and oil, mixing well. Add the pumpkin, mix, then add soy milk and vanilla, and mix again. In a separate bowl (or just on top of the wet ingredients), milk the dry ingredients, and add to the wet. Stir just until incorporated. Quickly divide into the muffin tin and bake for 35 minutes, rotating after 20 for even baking. Let rest in the tin for a few minutes, then release onto a cooling rack.

Each muffin has about 160 calories, 6 grams of fat (omega-3 kind), 3 grams of fiber, and 3 grams of protein. Two of those for breakfast and you’ve got a pretty good start for your day.

And for the bonus, here’s a picture of the blanket I made for my brother’s new baby that was born on Wednesday.