Tag Archives: cooking

First ever cooking post: soda bread!

image of baked soda bread, with one end piece cut awayThis is a totally non-writing related post!

I mentioned, in today’s earlier post, that I’d made bread four times this past weekend — two soda breads and two batches of chapatti. Right now I’m enjoying the tail end of the first batch, toasted with a little butter. That plus a strong cup of (green) tea is making my whole morning.

Baking is one of my favorite things to do, and I’ve been experimenting a lot with wheat-free recipes because the Mr. and I can both overdo it on the wheat, and so we’ve been working to cut back. Still, homemade bread is a gorgeous thing — it brings a tremendous sense of ‘home’ for me, which, as you may know from reading earlier posts, is something I’m always searching for, so I hate to have to give up baking just because I’m trying to eat less wheat!

Some recipes lend themselves well to substitutions and experimentation — and soda bread is one of those. Soda bread is also a tremendously easy (in my experience) and rewarding bread. Mix up the wet ingredients, mix up the dry, mix the dry into the wet, knead for just a few minutes to form the dough into a nice ball, put the dough on the (just barely oiled) baking sheet, put in the deep criss-crossing cuts (to let the faeries out! :) and pop it in the oven. The whole thing can get done in an hour, once you’ve got your ingredients together, and then you’ve got fresh bread for your breakfast or supper. So good.

I’ve been using the Soda Bread/Spotted Dog recipe in Darina Allen’s Complete Book of Irish Country Cooking for years (another book of hers, The Forgotten Skills of Cooking, looks excellent, too!), adapting and altering as I go. Every time I make this bread, it’s different, because I’m always making substitutions based on what I have around when it’s time to bake. For instance, her recipe calls for buttermilk, which I never have occasion to find in my refrigerator. So I use yogurt or I sour the called-for amount of sweet milk (add about a tsp of vinegar or lemon juice and let it sit for a few minutes) or I just forgo the sourness altogether and use soy milk or regular (sweet) milk. Buttermilk powder is also good for this use — you can buy it in bulk at your healthfood store (I just got some at Rainbow — hooray for Rainbow!) — you use about three or four tablespoons of powder for every cup of water; mix the powder in with your dry ingredients and then water in with your wet. So, if the recipe called for 1 1/4 C buttermilk, I’d use about 5 tbsp powder and 1 1/4 C water.

(The difference between Soda Bread and Spotted Dog is that the latter includes an egg, some sugar and currants or raisins — now, I never add the dried fruit, because I think that’s an abomination, but I do often include the egg, and sometimes the sugar.

EDIT: Wait! That’s a lie! I do sometimes add chopped, dried apricots — so tasty! — but the raisins/currants: still an abomination. :)

Here’s her original recipe for soda bread. Here’s my adaptation:

2 C rolled oats (not quick)

1 C oat flour

1/2 C each barley flour and brown rice flour (so you end up with 2C oats and 2C other flours; for the flours, I’ve also done 1/2 cup each oat, spelt, barley, brown rice — note that this isn’t gluten free, because spelt is a relative of wheat, but some folks can tolerate it better)

1 1/4 C yogurt (please feel welcome to use buttermilk if you’ve got it!)

1 egg

1  – 1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

(1-2 tsp sugar, optional)

Procedure: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Put the oats into a medium sized bowl, and stir in the yogurt and the egg. Let this sit (so the oats can soak) while you mix all the flours, the salt and soda (and sugar, if using) together. Then gently mix the dry ingredients in with the wet; pour about half the dry ingredients  into the wet, then stir that all together with a wooden spoon or your hands, then mix in the rest of the dry ingredients. You want a dough that’s not overly sticky; sometimes I need to add a little bit more of one of the flours. Knead the dough for a few minutes, just to bring it into a round loaf.

Lightly oil a baking sheet (I like to use our old perforated pizza pan, because it allows the base to get crispier, but a regular baking sheet (like a cookie sheet) works well, too) and place the round loaf at the center. Take a sharp knife and make deep, crossways cuts in the dough — look at the image above for reference. Place loaf in the oven, and bake for ten minutes, then lower the heat to 400 degrees and bake for another 30-35 minutes (Davina Allen says to bake at 450 for 15 minutes, then at 400 for 25-30 minutes but I always forget and set the first timer for 10, and the bread comes out fine! Try it both ways and see what you think) — you’ll have a nicely browned loaf, and when you lift it up off the cooking sheet and tap it with your fingers or knuckles, you’ll want to hear a hollow-ish sound.

Try and let it cool before you cut it to taste — I dare you… I can never make it that long!

my body still tries to become her body

graffiti: water + bread + home = basicsGood morning — it’s the day after the day after; it’s also the second day of Kwanzaa, Kujichagulia (Self-Determination). This time, for me, tends to be one of reflection: what’s happened in this year just passing? What are the possibilities, my dreams and visions, for the year to come?

(Aha – a prompt!)


I spent some of yesterday re-reading Women Who Eat, a collection of essays by women about food, cooking, eating — which, by necessity, is also a collection of essays about family, about mothers, about relationships. What do we eat and why? What don’t we eat and why? How did we learn to cook, if we did? How did we learn to feed ourselves, if we did?

This is a time of year with a lot of focus on food, on family gatherings around big meals, so it’s another reason to consider these questions — food brings up big associations and memories, and can be fertile ground for writing.

I learned to cook from my mom, watching her in the kitchen.

(How much of this writing am I really ready to do today, directly into the computer, like my hands could do something creative and generative on these plastic keys. )

She moved around the kitchen like nothing was outside her reach, she understood all the different machinery and what it was good for (juicer, food mill, blender, mixer). She was a vegetarian and a natural food aficionado when I was young, so I learned about kefir and homegrown alfalfa sprouts and carob (things she never learned in her own mother’s kitchen in the middle of southern Nebraska). What else did I learn? I learned about the possibility of joy and creativity in the kitchen, making things up and having tasty mistakes. I learned how flour and water and yeast turned into a live thing that grew in her pottery bowl and then became a brown warm smell that filled the whole house. I know how to knead now because I watched her, and my body still tries to become her body whenever I make bread.

Did I learn, too, that cooking could be an escape? That the kitchen could be a place of unassailable creative possibility — I mean, a place where we could open the fridge door and begin imagining what to do with all the leftovers that would be fresh and interesting and tasty and new — when there wasn’t money to make a whole new meal? My mother taught me about cooking (and eating) well and healthily on a budget — about coupons and carrying a calculator while pushing the cart through the aisles at the discount supermarket downtown, about how nearly every ingredient has a substitute you can use, about making due, making up, making good.

From watching her, too, I learned about perfection and rules and sublimating joy to someone else’s demands and desires.

One of the first poems I ever wrote was in response to an exercise called My Mother’s Kitchen — and the poem I wrote was a kind of a fairy tale, a wishing-to-remember, a child patting at a tiny loaf of bread while her mother kneads the big loaf for dinner. There’s a kitchen timer in the piece, toward the end, a kind of alarm: a terrible foreshadowing.

It can be interesting to revisit prompts, reuse them: I would write a different poem now. I would try to get into words the smell of my mom there in the first kitchen I remember her in, out in the country, with the wheat fields outside our window — you could see them beyond the alfalfa and avocado she had sprouting, erupting, on the windowsill — everything that mattered, everything she was fighting and offering when she ground us fresh peanut butter or pushed fat bright carrots through the Juicerator for lunchtime, everything she was pushing back and everything that was coming.

(Another poem, entirely, if I let myself write about my father’s kitchen.)

If I had a child, what would they say about their mother’s kitchen? The foods I cook tend to be simple, hearty, unpretty but tasty and filling. I am good at breakfasts, stir fries, beans, soups, salads, bread, pies, cookies, desserts. I am not good with meat anymore, or with fancy. I’m good with potatoes, though, and corn. I can do the things with flour and sugar and butter that my women relatives have done for generations. There’s lineage there, togetherness, assistance and honoring even when I feel like I’m in my kitchen all alone.


What about you? What do you remember about your mother’s kitchen? What don’t you remember? Take 20 minutes, start writing, let yourself remember the foods you loved, the foods you were ashamed of. If there wasn’t a mother in that kitchen, who was there? Follow your writing wherever it seems to want to go.


Thank you for your skilled memory, the way you take what you were given and you create power and joy and nurturing now. Thank you for your words.

this buoyancy: workshops, holding space, and the netting we create for one another

spilling tea graffiti

the description of this image says its spilled coffee, but look at the tea bag tag hanging off the side -- let's say it could very well be tea.

a lovely way to wait for the tea water to boil: wandering around the kitchen, grabbing allspice berries, clove buds, breaking off bits of Mexican cinnamon stick, cracking open cardamom pods and coriander, all to put into the tea ball for spiced green tea. Now it’s simmering next to me and smells like goodness, smells like cool mornings, smells like something clean and differentiating and sharp.


I walked into the office this morning, still a little dusky with sleep, and went to move yesterday’s mail off my chair.  In the mail was a priority mail package, a little battered, something boxy inside.  More flyers for the Power of Words conference?  Something else to be hung up or spread around?  I opened the package after getting the computer warming up (this poor old kid needs warming the way cars do in Maine in winter — in, like, thick winter, when you go out a half-hour before you have to be on the road and crank the engine, get it finally rumbly and alive, and then you put on the defroster to high and run back inside thru the snow and chill,your breath already iced, to eat your oatmeal. Ok, maybe a little it of an exaggeration — sorry computer; you’re not so cold in the mornings, I know — but, still, an easy remembering to sink into) and inside the package I found a review copy of a book. The first unsolicited review copy I have received (I think, unless any of you out there suggested that the folks at Seven Stories suggested that they send this book on to me,in which case, thank you!) and I’m extremely excited. Like, heart-thumpy, bouncy-house-on-my-birthday, first-date excited.  Like, talking back to that young Jen who wanted to be a writer, and before that, who wanted to spend all day reading (much to my sister’s chagrin (I’m sorry!)): look, I say to the young Jen, all that’s what we get to do now.  Reading and writing: that’s our job. And we both get a little clappy-excited, grinning into each other’s eyes, our own.


faded, scarred blue spiral graffitiThe chai is pretty well spiced now. No milk or sugar with this one, but maybe I’ve got some soymilk somewhere.  The spice is good with some emollients flowing through to soften and smooth the bite at the edge of my tongue.  I’m not sure why I’m giving you a play-by-play of my tea drinking experience — but I think it’s because I’m feeling good this morning.  Like, I woke up feeling ok. That’s a time for sharing, for gratitude and celebration: look, the cycle’s gone around again, and brought with it this buoyancy. Thank you.


It’s Tuesday, and I want to start a weekly blog calendar, or routine: like, on Mondays I freewrite (we get a pass at 5:30 on a Monday morning to write about whatever we want to because it’s a reward for getting ourself out of bed) and on Tuesdays the topic is Write Whole (WW) and Wednesdays the topic is Declaring Our Erotic (DOE) and Thursdays the topic is Voz Sutra and on Fridays, maybe, writing about the business of workshops or how strange it is to find myself running a business (such as it is) and growing it, or working to, and so on.  We’ll see how this all shakes out, but that’s it for today, and so it’s Tuesday, which means Write Whole.

The Write Whole workshops were the first workshops I facilitated for survivors of sexual trauma where we didn’t also (only) write about sexuality.  Initially, I’d offered the Declaring Our Erotic workshops, which were sexuality/erotic writing workshops for women survivors of sexual abuse, incest, rape — spaces where we who’d been wounded, trampled, split apart exactly at the same site as our desire lived, in/on our bodies — could write our adult, lived, consensual and complicated desire. I focused on writing fantasy, imagining new possibility in these bodies or in/for the bodies of others; we wrote the now, the future, the possible — we rarely wrote the past in those workshops.  We wrote the way the past infused our now, we wrote some of our struggle with sex, yes: we wrote our fully complicated longing, which included loss, triggers, fear, body memory, flashbacks sometimes. But more often than not, in the survivors DOE workshops, we wrote an enraptured erotics of the possible in a space where everyone knew how fragile that rapture was, how easily ruptured and torn, and there was so much beauty in the collective holding of that space.

(Note how I am writing DOE on a WW day: sneaky!)

It took a number of years after starting those workshops before I felt ready to hold a survivors workshop where the focus was our sexual trauma, and not our desire — and by hold, I mean be capable of holding the energy, holding the workshop focus, being present with the stories without being so scared that I can’t do my work as facilitator. Over and over, at the beginning, I had to go through this internal conversation: but I’m not a therapist; what makes me think I can/should do this work? And I’d respond to me (or my good good friends and colleagues would respond to me, when I was smart enough to talk these fears out loud): folks come to the writing workshops because they want a writing workshop,  not because they want a therapy group.  There are lots of therapy groups for survivors of sexual trauma.  There aren’t that many places where we can write just exactly as much as we want to tell of our stories (however we want to tell them: through memoir, fiction, poetry, sci-fi…) and be met as resilient survivors and strong, fierce, worthy writer-artists. My job was to trust that, and focus on the method, and come up with prompts.

Over and over, at the beginning (both of the DOE workshops and the WW workshops) I walked into the workshops afraid I wouldn’t be enough, and then got reminded, through the doing of the work, that it wasn’t me alone who would be enough: first, each one of us as folks living in the aftermath of trauma knows how to take care of hirself, and by holding our focus on the writing, we get to honor our instincts, our resilience, take care of ourselves and one another; and here’s the other thing: in the workshops, we net our energies together — it’s not just one person ‘holding the space.’ It’s something we do collectively, out of care for one another’s being and stories.

I get to be a part of that net, that holding, thank goodness.

Thank you for being there, a part of this netting, this holding us up: all of us.

pay attention to all the different facets that truth has

crying is ok here - graffitiI’m afraid to start writing again this morning. There’s this fragile peace within me, something inside that’s just barely standing on its own two feet, and I don’t want to shatter it or shake it up or push it back over.

I didn’t blog last Friday — I got up, overwhelmed and sad, and didn’t have any words to meet me once I sat down at the page. That happens sometimes, and often I write through it anyway. What am I doing here, I type — why aren’t I asleep, I could be in bed, what’s the point of this? Then I get tired of that sort of writing and I move into something else, something more interesting. On Friday, I couldn’t get to something more interesting. Everything fell away from what words could do for me. I hate that place. So instead I went online, I read my email, something I try never to do before doing my writing, because it’s always easier to read than to write, at least for me.

There’s a mailing list I’m on, STAT (Society for Treating Abuse Today), for survivors of extreme and ritual abuse and also for therapists who work with survivors of such abuse. Someone had posted a link to the Franklin Scandal. I followed the link, and found myself reading excerpts from a book about a man, Larry King (not the television star). Larry King ran a credit union, where kids from Boys Town worked. There was a contract between Boys Town and Franklin Credit Union. Larry King also flew kids from Boys Town to Washington DC, where the kids had to have sex with/get raped by prominent public officials, at sex “parties.” This went on in the 80s, and I don’t want to go back to the page again to get all the details — I don’t want to get sucked in again. He provided kids for the parties, and also a photographer — he wanted to get pictures of these politicians that could be used for blackmail. In this scenario, the kids were stage makeup for a higher game — political jockeying between/among adults. These kids were pawns, tools, utensils in a bigger game. Their individual humanity didn’t matter — what mattered was getting a photo of this particular individual, this career politician, this power broker, having sex with some kid. Any kid. The humanity of the kid doesn’t matter to the adults running the game.

One of the kids who finally found themselves able to come forward with information about the abuse, the trafficking, the parties — she was found guilty of perjury and sentenced to 27 years in jail. Larry King went to jail for embezzlement at the credit union, but never charged with, never held to account around, the crimes he committed against kids. Investigators came up murdered during the investigation, and one official body found that the entire thing was an elaborately crafted hoax, envisioned by the young woman who was found guilty of perjury and another person, who’d also been trafficked to the sex “parties.”

Of course I believe this story. There’s nothing at all about it that’s implausible to me. Here’s what happened as I was reading — this wondering: did my stepfather know about this thing? He worked with Boys Town, both he and my mom both, as therapists. Did he know about it and want in? Was he too late and just trying to recreate something similar in his own home? Or is it all just coincidental? I read through the book excerpts, then did some more searching for related pages, looking for his name, any charges made against him and the work he was doing to supposedly help the sexually-abused youth at Boys Town. He said he met his connections from the CIA (he said, yes, he said he’d once been a part of the CIA — because how does a girl from the middle of Nebraska get away from someone who can find her anywhere on the planet?) out at Offut AFB; there’s that connection in this book, both with the CIA and Offut. Yes, coincidence. Or not.

Then I got up away from the computer and I turned it off for a couple of days. There’s no escaping the spinning that starts, there’s no logic-ing myself out of it, once I start slipping down into the “everyone’s a potential associate of some sex abuser and you can’t trust anyone” pit. Because it’s true, of course, and it’s not true — there’s no way to prove, is the point.

I don’t want to be typing this

When I walk out into the world, and meet people casually, there’s no way to prove who knows what, who doesn’t know, who’s safe. There’s no way to know who’s hurt a kid, who’s hurt a woman or a lover, who’s done something stupid and awful (or intentional and awful) that they regret or they don’t regret.

Knowing that, I can either step completely outside the world and live in a cave (I nearly wrote cage), or I can take a deep breath, know how much I can’t know, and move back into the world with my boundaries in tact, listening to my intuition, and attending, too, to how much generosity and kindness exists within humans, even alongside our capacity for horror.

But in the in between, I took some time away from words and hung out with a different creativity. I worked with food, and both remembered and didn’t think about my parents, my family, where this capacity for creativity came from. Apple-Zucchini-Carrot bread, green lentils and quinoa with coconut milk and green onions, kidney bean refritos, soup stock, apple and peach crumble.  It was a good weekend. A weekend of attending to different languages, the subtle interactions of tastes, paying attention to the drift of nutrients in my body, which meant paying attention to my body’s wellness, though not directly.

We learn to listen on a slant, to pay attention to all the different facets that truth has, and sometimes we can use that for our own wellness, right? What do you listen to when all your usual channels have gone to static?

Thank you for being there — I’m so grateful for you.