Monday, January 07, 2013

Steph's Infamous Moroccan Stew (plus one more recipe)

I say "infamous" because 1. I could live on this stuff during the winter, and 2. this recipe makes a LOT of stew. I typically end up using two pots for this. Seriously. And I always end up with enough for several people, or to freeze in batches for later.

[Please note: TBS = tablespoon; tsp = teaspoon]


1 TBS Allspice Berries (whole, not ground)
1 TBS Black Pepper (whole, not ground)
4  Cloves (whole, not ground)
1/2 TBS Coriander Seed (whole, not ground)
2 TBS Cumin Seed (whole, not ground)
1/2 TBS Fennel Seed (whole, not ground)

1/2 TBS Ground Ginger
Pinch Saffron threads, crumbled
2 TBS Sweet Paprika
1 tsp Hot Paprika (optional, to taste. Or use 1/2 tsp Cayenne pepper)
1/2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Turmeric

Grind the whole spices together (in small batches) in a food processor, old coffee grinder, or mortar & pestle until they are a coarse powder.

Pour the coarse powder through a wire mesh strainer to catch the larger pieces -- you can either discard these or re-grind them to a finer consistency.

Transfer to small, tightly sealable container (an old jam/jelly jar is great for this) and then add in the ground/powdered spices. Seal the container and shake well.

This spice mix can be stored in the refrigerator in a small, tightly sealed glass jar for several weeks or in the freezer for even longer. Also excellent added to couscous, any tomato-based dish, or as a spice rub for chicken, lamb, grilled eggplant, or tofu.


2 TBS Olive or Grapeseed oil
1 1/2 cups Onion, chopped (approx. 2 small onions)
1 cup Green Pepper, chopped (approx. one pepper)
1 cup Red Pepper, chopped  (approx. one pepper)
3 cloves Garlic, minced
2 cups Carrots, peeled and chopped (approx. 4 carrots)
2 cups Tomatoes, chopped (or one can of diced tomatoes)
3 cups Potatoes, peeled or well scrubbed and chopped (approx. 4-5 small)
1-2 cups Butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cubed (approx 1 medium)
1/2 cup Raisins (or dried currants)
1 cup Green Peas (frozen work best)
4 cups water or broth (veggie or chicken)
1.5 to 2 TBS Berber Spice Mix (to taste)
Salt (to taste)

Heat oil in large stockpot or Dutch Oven. Sauté onions and peppers together until soft, about 5 minutes. Add carrots, sauté for another 5 minutes.

Add garlic and sauté for another minute until garlic is fragrant. Dump in tomatoes, mix well, and cook for another minute or two.

Add water/broth, potatoes, butternut squash, and raisins/currants. Stir well.

Add the Berber Spice Mix, stir well, then turn down the heat, cover the pot and let it simmer for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are nearly done. Stir the pot occasionally to keep veggies from sticking to the bottom and burning.

Add the green peas and cook for an additional five minutes. Taste and add salt or more Berber Spice Mix as needed.

Serve over cooked barley or rice.


[I make this using one box of Casbah brand couscous mix -- the "Nutted with Currants and Spice" flavor.  If you aren't using that brand or type, go with approx 1 cup of plain couscous.]

1 box Casbah brand Couscous mix (Nutted with Currants and Spice)
2 TBS Olive or Grapeseed oil
1/2 Small onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup raw, unsalted sunflower and/or pumpkin seeds
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes

1 cup green peas, frozen
1/2 cup raisins or dried currants
1 TBS Berber Spice Mix (to taste)
Salt (to taste)

Heat up the oil in a small stock pot or Dutch Oven. Add the onion, carrot, and celery and sauté them until they are fairly soft. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute until the garlic is fragrant.

Add the sunflower/pumpkin seeds and the Berber Spice Mix to the pot and stir continuously while sautéing them for up to one minute (just until the spices are fragrant -- be careful during this step because it's easy to burn the seeds and spices).

Dump in the can of diced tomatoes (the juice included) to lower the temperature in the pot so that the spices and seeds don't burn. Add one additional can-full of water as well.

When the mixture comes back up to a boil, add the frozen peas and the raisins/currants. Let the mixture return to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for about 4 or 5 minutes. Now is the time to add salt if you need to.

Add the box of couscous mix to the pot and stir well. Let the mixture come back up to a boil, then give it another quick stir, turn off the heat, and cover the pot. Let the couscous mixture sit for about five minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

We all Leak Sometime (reblogged)

I found this poignant enough (but with just enough humor) to share it on my own blog.

We All Leak Sometime

Getting older and falling apart. I am terrified of both. And yet, I know it will happen -- if I'm lucky enough to hang around for it to happen. Riding a motorcycle, that is not necessarily a given.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Re: My November 14th Post

I have heard from a couple of different people who actually read that post. I'm honestly surprised that anybody reads my blog at all, so I'm stunned that two people read the post and felt moved to comment about it. Thank you to you both.

I don't share that story about how my dad passed away very often. I'm not sure I've told any of my friends the whole story; hell, I'm not even sure that I've really shared the whole thing with Alan. I've spent a lot of time since November 14th second-guessing my decision to leave it posted to my blog, especially since I'm so reluctant to tell people the story in person.

I guess I posted it because I really do have to work things out in text form. For some reason, I cannot process feelings or make certain obvious connections on the fly as events happen in my life. I literally have sit down and write out the situation in detail later, so that I can begin to figure out the feelings I was having (if any), and make the connections between events that should have been obvious at the start. In short: I have to write it down to organize it and figure out how I feel about it. Why? I have no idea. I joke that I'm not from this planet, but sometimes the joke feels a bit too close to the truth. It seems I'm really wired differently from most folks. (I am not sure if that's true, but since I never talk to people about these things, I guess I won't know whether it's common or not.)

Some of my weirdness has to come from my upbringing. My father was an abusive alcoholic whose addiction started shortly after I was born and spiraled out of control until he died in 1979. I'm sure he must have been bipolar, but of course, at that time there were no effective treatments for most mental illnesses, never mind addiction issues. And at that time, society itself thought very differently about things like addiction and  mental illness. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, it was tacitly understood by everybody that "Nice people never talk about these things openly in polite conversation. EVER."

Of course, such socially-enforced secrecy only led to isolation and desperation. Knowing the statistics as I do now, I realize that my family couldn't possibly have been the only one dealing with these issues, but I don't ever recall anyone else saying anything about having a crappy home situation of their own. I came to believe that we were the ONLY family wrestling with the horrible degenerating cycle that comes from the conflation of untreated alcoholism and mental illness. I thought my brother and I were the only kids who had to put on the brave face every morning and head out the door into the world while ignoring the despair and the rage and the frustration and the hurt and the abandonment; and who felt such anxiety about going home in the evening, wondering what the hell was going to happen tonight. It was like living in a war zone -- we never knew or where the bombs were going to explode, what would trip my dad's temper or my mom's rage, or what would happen next. In that sort of environment, it's best NOT to feel anything. It's the only way to cope.

There's a line in a Pink Floyd song that resonates with me to this day. In "Wish You Were Here," Roger Waters asks:

"And did you exchange
A walk-on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage?"

Oh yes. Yes, I did.

I began to live in a cage of my own making almost immediately after my dad died. That particular night I decided I would never ever plan anything ever again, since it was so patently obvious that disaster could happen at any moment. But a bit later on, I also decided that I would never let anybody get close to me ever again. (Because they can so easily be taken away, you know.) I also consciously decided that I would do my best to be self-sufficient and self-contained and never need anybody ever again. I decided I would never be weak enough to share myself or my feelings with anybody ever again, because my interior critics assured me that I had nothing to contribute and nobody really wanted to hear from me anyway.

And I carried out these decisions beautifully: I became invisible through high school. I had no friends. I got high grades because all I did was go to school, go to work, go home. I had no social life, no interests, no desire to do anything fun -- hell, the whole concept of "fun" was completely foreign to me.

And I felt so desperately alone and trapped in my own head, with no respite from the interior voices that continually reminded me how useless, how terrible, how much of a failure I was and always would be.

Like I said in the previous post, I made it to almost 21 before I broke down. I was living in Albuquerque, attending UNM and working part-time at a law office as a file clerk. It was a Wednesday in January of 1987. I had decided that I had had enough pain. I was ready to kill myself, so I decided to drive out to the Sandias and disappear. I didn't want the whole drama I had experienced with my dad's death. I didn't want anybody to find me.

But on the way out of town, I felt compelled to stop in at the office where I worked. And my boss (who later became my friend) was still there. He asked me why I was there. I told him this was just a brief stop before I left and never came back. He said, "Sit down. Let's talk." And he spent the next four hours talking to me about his own depression and his own struggles. And he said something that I just could not wrap my head around: "There can be life without pain. And you can have one yourself."

Floored me. What a vastly strange, unlikely, but incredibly intriguing concept. Me? Have a life where I'm not in excruciating emotional pain or complete numbness? How is that even possible?

It was possible, eventually. He got me in to see a therapist. He paid for my initial sessions until I could afford them (I had no health insurance). I owe the man my thanks and my life, literally.

I remember the pain of opening up to that therapist and telling him the horrible things I saw, felt, and did. It hurt like hell at first, but it also lifted a tremendous weight from me mentally. I learned from that experience that sharing my past isn't necessarily a bad thing, sometimes.

And that is why I'm posting all of this, and why I've left the November 14th post still up. I still have to remember that my first instinct -- which is always to ignore, to bury, to not say anything -- is not necessarily a good one. And I'm still learning how to share and how to talk about my past, and realizing that it's a necessary part of me that should not be buried or ignored. That I need to embrace it to get past it.

A friend who read my November 14th post sent me a message in which she encapsulated the most important thing I've never even considered about my experiences:

"What you wrote really captures some important aspects of being human and certain human experiences that some humans have to live through, live with, and somehow live despite."

I'm guess I'm living right now despite everything that should have made me dead by now. I hope that's a good thing. I think it is.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wake Me Up When November Ends

Frankly, I hate this time of the year. It gets dark too early. The upcoming holiday season, particularly since I'm surrounded by people who celebrate and actually enjoy Christmas, just adds to my stress levels.

And today is the 33rd anniversary of my dad's death.

On Wednesday, November 14, 1979, I saw him walk through the house with a .22 caliber Colt Peacemaker revolver. He walked out the back door with it in his hand and closed the door behind him.

My mom screamed. "Oh my god, he's shot himself!" She was completely overwhelmed. She dialed 911 and tried talking to the operator.

Meanwhile, I went outside to check on him. He was lying on the ground in the backyard, on his right side. A pool of blood surrounded his head. I took a pulse at the wrist. Nothing. I took a carotid pulse, nothing. The life was leaving his eyes as I watched. There was nothing else to be done. The sun was going down and it was getting steadily darker and harder to see.

At this point, my memories become a series of individual film clips, taken in small, regular intervals over the course of the next two days. 

I take a blanket outside and cover him with it. I call 911 again and say something to the effect of "No hurry, guys, it's too late."

I wait for the ambulance to arrive and meet the EMTs. Carrying a flashlight, I show them the way through the side yard to the back yard, tell them over my shoulder that it's too late, but here he is anyway, you can take it from here.

I take my brother back to my parents' bedroom and keep him occupied while police descend upon my mom. I also call my mom's friend and ask her to come over.

The police come back to the bedroom and take us to the living room. They tell us he is dead. I tell them I already know that. I get the strangest look from one of the detectives.

A neighbor comes over and takes my brother and me to get some food at McDonald's. I don't remember what we get. I don't recall if I eat or not. While we are gone, my mom calls family members to let them know.

My dad's body is gone when we get back home. Another neighbor is out in the back yard with a bucket of water and a sponge, cleaning up the blood. I watch dispassionately.

We end up leaving the house for the night, staying at my mom's friend's home. I spend most of the night staring up at the ceiling in the dark. I wonder how on earth we go on from here. How is the world continuing to spin? How on earth can the sun rise and things just go on, when my life has just been turned completely upside down? How can anyone go on when this happens to them?

At some point, I decide it's completely worthless to make any sort of Plan ever again -- because when complete and utterly-life-changing disasters can come out of left field like this, what is the point of Planning to Do Something with Your Life? How is it even possible?

The next set of memories involve being back at the house, doing my weekly housecleaning chores, because People Are Coming Over and The House Has To Look Good. And watching the piles of food accumulate:  food cramming the refrigerator, food spread across all the counters in the kitchen, food covering the dining room table and card tables. So much freaking food. And I wasn't hungry at all.

From there, numbness sets in. I have sporadic memories of people trying to talk to me. I don't know when or if I finally cried. It may have taken weeks because that's how I work: I stuff the emotions down and deal with the situation at hand. There'll be time for emotions later. I would have made an excellent EMT or ER doctor, I think.

Of course, the longer the emotions are stuffed down, the harder it is for them to come out, and the more damaging they are when they finally do....

When I was almost 21 years old, I finally broke. Badly enough that I went into therapy for the next seven years. It helped immensely in putting most of the pieces back into place -- but it didn't get all of them. There are still a lot of gaps and cracks and holes in me. As I get older, those holes become more apparent. The failures loom larger and larger as the time ahead grows shorter.

People have always told me I'm smart. They've always told me I could do whatever I wanted to do with my life. I've always looked at them like they're insane. They don't see what I do when they look at me. They don't see the person who failed to stop him. The person who failed to save him. The person who decided that there is no point to planning anything beyond the next few minutes because disaster is always waiting around the corner. They don't see the person who is broken beyond repair. The person who will never amount to anything, ever.

I know it's been 33 years. Some years, the anniversary passes almost without my noticing it. This isn't one of those years. This is one of the years where the whole thing plays out in my head like it happened yesterday. Because to the 13-year-old still living inside me, it just did.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lonely Stranger
Eric Clapton
from the album Unplugged

I must be invisible;
No one knows me.
I have crawled down dead-end streets
On my hands and knees.

I was born with a ragin' thirst,
A hunger to be free,
But Ive learned through the years.
Don't encourage me.

Cause I'm a lonely stranger here,
Well beyond my day.
And I don't know what's goin' on,
So I'll be on my way.

When I walk, stay behind;
Don't get close to me,
Cause it's sure to end in tears,
So just let me be.

Some will say that I'm no good;
Maybe I agree.
Take a look then walk away.
That's all right with me.

Cause I'm a lonely stranger here,
Well beyond my day.
And I don't know what's goin' on,
So I'll be on my way.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
from the album Deja Vu

Four and twenty years ago, I come into this life.
The son of a woman and a man who lived in strife.
He was tired of being poor,
And he wasn't into selling door-to-door.
And he worked like the Devil to be more.

A different kind of poverty now upsets me so.
Night after sleepless night I walk the floor and I want to know:
Why am I so alone?
Where is my woman? Can I bring her home?
Have I driven her away? Is she gone?

Morning comes the sunrise and I'm driven to my bed.
I see that it is empty and there's devils in my head.
I embrace the many-colored beast.
I grow weary of the torment -- can there be no peace?
And I find myself just wishing that my life would simply cease.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Regular Day. Until It's Not.

You get up and go to work. It's routine: You commute in, you get your coffee, get to your desk, turn on the computer, start up the databases and the email client, and off you go. It's just another day at the office, nothing special, everything as regular as clockwork.

Except that, a little while later, nothing is regular, or ever will be again.

A little while later, you'll be standing at the blown-out window of the 90th floor of your building, agonizing over the choices you've been left -- between burning to death slowly, or jumping out and ending it quickly. Imagine how stunningly surreal this moment must be: All you did was come to work this morning. And now, you realize, this will be your last morning ever.

Why? How could it have ever come to this? And who would ever have expected to face this kind of choice on a clear, bright Tuesday morning in New York City? Just by going to work?

Think about this -- because I have, a lot.


The other thing I think about on this day every year is a kid.

I imagine a kid, waiting outside a school or a daycare or standing at a bus stop. Waiting. And waiting. And waiting. For parents who will never come. Because both of them worked in the Trade Center. And now lie under tons of rubble. Imagine being that kid: not knowing what happened to your parents, or why; not knowing where to go or what to do. Whether or not you know or understand it on any level, your family is now utterly and completely gone. Forever.

I don't know if this actually happened -- I don't know if there were kids who lost both parents that day. Honestly, I don't want to know. Just my imagining of it wrecks me every time I allow my mind to go here. I don't think I could stand knowing that this was someone's reality on September 11, 2001.


The third thing that always comes to mind on this day is the paper: The vast quantities of paper flying everywhere after the first plane hit. Offices are made of paper more than anything else; they always contain more paper than people, furniture, or anything else.

I'm sharing this here, because music always expresses my emotions so much more deeply than I can in words, and this video in particular really resonates:

One of the comments (made today) underneath this video says everything I could:

Never forget that each one of these softly falling papers represents a human life. Never forget that each whispering voice was silenced unjustly. Never forget the black sky represents the void left in the lives of the victim's families and friends. Never forget that hammering in our chests as our hearts pounded in panic, sorrow and rage. Never forget that, if only for a short time, we came together in concert and created something beautiful out of madness.

11 years. Like yesterday.


Friday, September 07, 2012

It's Personal

So I was checking out a blog post by Charlie Pierce (whom I adore) about his reaction to Obama's speech at the DNC last night. And I happened to run across a different blog post that really grabbed me.

The one that got me was this:

I'm a child of the 1960s. I was 3 years old when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, and I have a vague, grainy memory of seeing him do so, bouncing around on the screen of a black-and-white television between the fingers of my little hands placed to either side of him.

During the 1960s, we were one of several white families living on the Zuni Indian reservation. My parents both taught at the high school. This was the time when the American Indian Movement was taking hold and trying to build political power for the tribes. My father was a history/anthropology major (I can't remember what degrees he held, but my brother has said that Dad was only a few hours or a dissertation or something away from his Ph.D.) So we had lots of books in the house having to do with Native American history. I knew from these books about the slaughter at Wounded Knee and other places, about forced relocations of tribes (The Trail of Tears, The Long Walk), and that the basic policy of the American government for a great many years was "the only good Indian is a dead Indian" -- in a word, genocide.

Books also taught me that after the tribes had been stripped of their ancestral lands and confined to reservations and were no longer the physical threat to white settlement that they had been, the government policy toward Indians changed only slightly, to "the only good Indian is an assimilated Indian." The idea was to focus on the kids, to separate them from their families, their culture, their customs, their language, by shipping them off to boarding schools. In fact, I knew several older people in the Zuni tribe who had been shipped off to boarding schools as children. I heard their descriptions of being sent off into an alien world, hair cut, forced to wear school uniforms, being ridiculed or beaten for speaking their native language, missing family and friends back home. I heard the sadness and pain in their voices as they described these things. So I understood AIM's rage and the reasons behind it.

After I turned 9 or so, we moved off the reservation, ending up in Roswell, NM. And so I was introduced to the joys of cable TV. There were four California stations on our cable system, all of which showed old movies at various times. KTLA would have Weeks -- a Gene Kelly week, a Marx Brothers week, a Fred Astaire week, a Humphrey Bogart week, a Drama week. And so I fell in love with old movies. (And with Lakers basketball, when Kareem, Magic, James Worthy, Michael Cooper, and the like were playing, but that's another story for another time.)

I was Utterly. Devastated. the first time I saw the movie To Kill a Mockingbird. I could not wrap my mind around the injustice of it all. I agonized over it: How? How could they do that to Tom Robinson? How could people be that... that... MEAN? That cruel? That EVIL?

So I learned about the Civil Rights struggles, about Dr. King, and watched old newsreel and news footage of black people in Mississippi and Alabama -- who had the simple temerity! to believe they were fellow human beings -- being beaten, sprayed with water cannon, and attacked by police dogs as they sought to make us all recognize that they had the right to an equal education, the right to vote, the simple right to be seated and served at a restaurant. (That these things would even be in question was something that I still have trouble wrapping my mind around, to this very day.)

Sexism was another big thing to really be addressed in American society during my formative years. I was just old enough to benefit from Title IX when I was in middle and high schools and played basketball. Nancy Lopez, the boundary-shattering female golfer from Roswell -- and who played a large part in the passage of Title IX -- went to my high school. Her team trophies and photos were displayed in various cases around the school. There was even a big mural painted on the wall of the cafeteria.

But there was another, more personal experience with sexism that bothers me to this day: My own mother, upon graduating from UNM in 1963 with a B.S. degree in chemistry, applied to be a forensic chemist with the FBI, only to be told that "we don't hire women in that capacity -- but we'd be pleased to consider you for our typing pool, or as a receptionist."

I still shake my head at this. I truly don't get the thinking (if indeed there is any) behind "Oh, you're just a woman. Only a man can do (fill in the blank)." Frankly, unless it's being able to write your name in the snow with your own urine, I feel that there ain't nothing a man can do that a woman can't.

So I'm watching the political process in this country during the last year with increasing dismay. This whole thing about disenrolling voters to "protect against voter fraud"? And the political rhetoric saying that women shouldn't have access to birth control or abortion? Um, hey people: we *solved* these things already. People DIED to get us to acknowledge the basic reality that these rights belong to everyone. And now certain political interests (who appear to me to be mainly white men?) want to roll back these rights in their nostalgia for the bad old days when minorities and women "knew their places"?

In response, let me give you this one simple answer: Hell, NO. (Another, more primal answer also springs to mind:  Fuck You.)

This is apolitical. This is not about the left or the right. It's about making sure everybody GETS a fair chance. To me, this is personal.

Resurrection Achieved in 3, 2, 1....

I'm finding that I need a space to write stuff down. Thoughts that come to me as I'm riding down the road on a motorcycle, in the shower, walking around with my headphones on, wherever.

I don't have any close friends in real life to whom I can talk to on a regular basis (probably should fix that, maybe?) so it's become increasingly important to me to have somewhere to just put things down in text form.

I actually think in text form. It's weird. I see words printed on pages as I think, so this is somewhat of a natural extension of my brain's thought processes. I type faster than I can talk, really. Words get jumbled when I talk. I can talk around what I mean, but I can actually zero in on what I really mean when I write.

I considered many different ways to do this. Just a daily diary, on a thumb drive? Yes, okay, I'll do that -- and already do, as well as a written diary -- but sometimes I think I want some sort of external input on my ramblings. Some form of Tumblr blog? Um. No. I'll visit various Tumblr blogs, but no, it's not a viable e-habitat for me.

So after pondering for a few weeks, I decided to resurrect this blog. It's easy. It's already in existence. And it's familiar to me. So here we go.