Saturday, December 31, 2011

Mid-December ecumenical wishes

I offer my favorite winter holiday poem as a gift to anyone who happens upon this page. The poet is a dear friend who loves words almost as much as she cares for friends and family.

Perhaps you'll agree that these lines capture the joys and warmth of the winter holidays. If I were Garrison Keillor, I'd read this one aloud.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year

Mid-December, 1998

Our two wise cats stay close to home,
Content to let the sun's rays roam
Over their somnolent forms,
Hunt dust-bunnies, play 'catch-the-comb.'
The sun retreats at half past four,
The chipmunks chatter at our door.
The moles break into squirrel's store,
The crows berate them: "Nevermore!"
And as the darkness wends its way
In your direction, come what may,
We hope your heart and home are bright
As star and lamp on miracle nights.

Rebecca Ritke

Monday, June 27, 2011

Vegan Polenta-Tomato-Spinach Towers

This summer, I have totally changed my view about veganism. It was originally my idea of a straightjacket. Now, I don't see it that way at all. Even if I don't adopt it on a permanent basis (that might be more extreme than I want to be right how), I think it might actually be my ticket to longevity (Dr. Katz agrees.).

Two events have effected my recent interest in a vegan diet. First, I plowed through Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, so I am highly uninclined to eat animal products. Secondly, I'm so proud of myself for lowering my bad cholesterol by 17 points in six months with some serious dietary changes that I've been reading up about the vegan diet for that reason as well--many experts believe that a vegan diet will cause your cholesterol numbers to take a drastic plunge.

The way I do things is that I take in a ton of information and then try to make it my own. In this domain, this means that I've been inventing vegan recipes. My first invention just passed a serious test by pleasing the picky palate of my French husband!

Give it a try, and let me know what you think. It would probably be best if you view it--as I do--as a starting point. For instance, I created it with fresh, organic spinach. Since some of the sauces were left over, I made it on the second day with organic broccoli raab from our CSA, Red Wagon Organic Farms-- it was a huge hit two days in a row! This is meant to be served as a main dish (it has ample protein and fiber), but if you modify it into a side dish, I'd love to see your comments on that. And an added bonus: you can put the polenta, marinated sun-dries (if you DIY), and light sauce together to day before. On the second day I made this (with leftovers on both), it probably took me 20 minutes or less from saucepan to table. With a kitchen kibbitzer, you could easily serve this to guests.

Serves 4

For the polenta:

2 c water

1 c cornmeal (polenta), uncooked

1 T olive oil

1 tsp minced garlic

1/4 t salt (sea salt would be nice)

few turns of black pepper

In a medium saucepan, combine water, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Bring to boil over high heat. Whisk in cornmeal, stirring or whisking continually, reduce heat and simmer, stirring, for 8-10 minutes until mixture thickens but is still spreadable. Brush a 7-9” pan (or 9” pie pan) with oil and pour in mixture. Optional: Sprinkle with chopped tarragon, or oregano and) chill in ‘fridge for 2 hours or overnight.

For the marinated sun-dried tomatoes: (buy ‘em already marinated, or marinate (rehydrated, if nec) yourself:

1/4 c sun-dried tomatoes, julienned

1/8 c olive oil

1 tsp minced garlic

1/4 t Italian spices

Marinate the tomato pieces in the oil, garlic, and spices for 30-minutes or overnight.

For the spinach (or other greens that you like; chard should work, maybe borage? collard greens, mustard greens, kale?)


6 oz fresh baby spinach

in microwave for 3 minutes. Before serving, chop into smaller pieces with kitchen scissors.

Light sauce:

In blender or food processor:

1/3 pkg silken tofu

1 T sun-dried tomatoes

1/3 c Pasta Sauce of choice (I used Safeway Select Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce)

Blend until smooth.

Finishing the polenta:

Heat 1 T canola oil in medium saute pan on medium-high heat.

Remove polenta from refrigerator and cut into squares of about 3” square.

Fry squares in the pan until browned (about 5-8 minutes per side, maybe up to 10 mins).


Plating directions:

On each plate, place a square of polenta. Spoon about 1/8 of the chopped spinach (thin layer) on top of polenta. Add 4-8 pieces of the marinated tomato julienne slices. Spoon about 1/8 c of the light sauce on top of that. Drizzle the dark tomato sauce around the plate and criss-cross over the top of the polenta tower. Top with a sprig of oregano or whatever you have on hand. Cut up a few leaves of fresh basil and sprinkle over all.


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Thoughts on the passing of my big brother

I grew up as the middle child of five and over the years, I have come to realize how each of us grew up in a totally different version of the family. This has a lot of implications in any family, and mine is no different. The implications seem to be multiplied now that there has been a death in the family. Our oldest brother passed away a few days ago.

First our brother appeared to have mastered the role of the big brother-- he claimed to have ridden us around as infants in the basket of his bike; he taught me to play 'catch' across the broad avenue that our house faced; he was the slap-hands champion, and we foolishly thought we could beat him though we never did. Even before our mother died at a relatively young age, our brother, being a lot older than any of his younger sisters (11 years ahead of the oldest, 21 years ahead of the youngest), took on a not surprising parental role, on top of the big brother one he had seemed to relish. One-by-one, we took the train to visit him, his wife, and their children several hours away in Ohio. These visits served as the vacations our parents had never been able to afford, and we looked forward to them with zeal. He and his wife played even more of a parental role for us as time went on. We loved them dearly.

But, as in so many families (at least, according to my unofficial survey of friends), a rift developed--for good reason, we experienced a profound betrayal. Those on one side of the rift knew they were being true to their feelings, and those on the other, well, they knew about the betrayal. It doesn't matter, exactly, what it was, except that we were definitely betrayed by our brother (no one claimed it was vice-versa).

Fast-forward several years to our brother's diminishing health over the past year. We have moved from rancor and bitterness, silence to acceptance and, yes, to love, and everywhere in between, no two sisters in the same spot on that treacherous continuum. As we grapple with how to respond and how to remain true to our own feelings of the moment, I am reminded of a funeral I attended, which I will now relate.

It was the funeral of a friend's mother. My friend was one who, everyone could see, had been stuck in anger and bitterness for many years. She had taken responsibility for caring for her mother in the waning years, and she made daily hour-long trips to visit her mother in the nearest big city where she lived, with assistance, in the Jewish Home for the Aged. Her only sibling came into town for the funeral when their mother died. It was obvious that there was no lack of ill-will between brother and sister (both of whom were, I'd say, well into their 60s and had clearly not spoken for years). Near the end of the service, after the rabbi had finished with her formalities---the eulogy pieced together from memories shared by brother and sister, Hebrew prayers, perhaps a poem---and progressed to the point where anyone who wishes is invited to speak. I am pretty sure my friend opted out, but the brother stepped forward I will never forgot what happened next.

First, he expressed regret at how, having done his best, he wasn't sure it had been good enough for everyone in the family. But he wished to move on. You could not tell whether he had been angry with his now-deceased mother or with his sister, or both, or whether they had designated him persona non-grata. He said he had spent all the time he was going to spend on resentment, that it had already been too long, and, to speed the process, he had written notes of all these resentments that could embitter a person and that had worked their evil magic on him over the years. Somewhat to the surprise of all in attendance (friends of the sister; none of us had known their mother personally), he reached into his pocket and pulled out a sheaf of paper strips, each one about 2" x 6". Then, he read off the word or phrase written on each sheet as he tossed it into the grave, on top of the pine box, traditional at Jewish burials, which contained the body of his recently (by Jewish tradition, also, very recently) deceased mother. I can't say I recall the phrases, but I felt that, if we had polled the mourners in attendance, we could've put them together amongst ourselves without too much difficulty.

My silent hope was that this would actually work for the brother, that he could cast his resentments into the ground on top of the casket and move on. But now, thinking about my own brother, I seriously wonder about that.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Balance the Budget -- if you dare

Mark Udall, one of our ostensibly DEM senators, recently sent me his periodic newsletter which attempts to cow-tow to the wishy-washy undecideds in my wanna-be-RED state of Colorado. You can tell he was not speaking to me because he was pitching his work on a so-called budget-balancing amendment while our state sucks $$$ from K-12 education, higher education, and workers of all kinds (is Wisconsin just the beginning?).

Anyway, I told him this:

If you really cared about fiscal reform, you would've tried harder to block the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the top 1-2% of this nation's wealthy. Because of your weak efforts when push came to shove about two months ago, your newsletter seems disingenuous, at best. The real solution--one that really is For The People you represent--would include more of the following:

Stop defense overspending, tax people fairly, bring troops home, stop the madness of glorifying** the use of minority youth in our crazy foreign wars, and THEN see how easy it is to balance the budget.

Before you attack me for maligning the military (which I didn't), by 'madness' I mean: waving the flag at sporting events, having lines of uniformed people at those events, at music concerts, while simultaneously repeating 'brave men and women.' Yes, they ARE brave; but if this were really the Land of Opportunity, is "foreign-soil, life-threatening military career" the opportunity these people would be choosing?

Senator, PLEASE take steps to provide equal opportunity for all and then let's see what happens--I assure you, the budget will be balanced. Perfectly.