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Dear Shiv,

We took you to your first rally tonight, a peaceful protest.  We put on red shirts (yours new, acquired at Target just an hour before), held a homemade sign that read “With liberty & justice for all,” and stood in a public park with Houstonians of all shapes, sizes, ages, and colors.

You didn’t know what was going on, of course—I had told you on the way there that we were going to see a lot of people, for something important—but you were content to watch from my shoulder as half-a-dozen individuals got up to speak and tell their stories.  You peeked and flirted with nearby faces.  You made friends with a little girl and chased her around a tree.

When we got back home, I held you in your room and we sang “This Little Light of Mine” before going to bed.  You have always loved listening to music, but only in the last few weeks have you really begun to sing, renditions of tunes recognizable enough for us to join in.  Tonight, you kept repeating the line “I’m going to let it shine,” over and over and over again, your enthusiasm bending the words to sound like I nama nennit SHINE!

You didn’t understand why I started crying, fat tears rolling down my cheeks while I kept singing along with you, my mind a mirror that sees not my own face, but that of Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, tears rolling down her own cheeks as she deals with a reality that I’m terrified may some day be my own.  You didn’t know any of this.  But when you saw my tears, you held your hand up to my face, palm cupping my cheek, and said Mama.  Mama, heart.

Before you came into our life, when you were just an abstract notion, the sentence “We’re hoping to adopt,” I worried about becoming the mother of a black son.  I worried because I wasn’t sure if I were the right person to do it.  Could I do right by you?  Would you someday wake up and think What the hell am I doing with these people?  More than anything, I was determined to not be ignorant about the world in which we live, this world in which we would be raising a black son.

I am not an essentialist; I do not believe that your blackness defines you any more than my brownness defines me.  But I knew that, in the sight of so many, your color would define you, would become the only thing that people saw.  Black male equals threat, equals thug, equals less than, equals other.  I knew that you would be forced to reckon with realities that no one should ever, ever have to explain to their child.

I didn’t know the half of it.

Still, when it came down to actually filling out the forms, the one where they ask adoptive parents to mark which babies they’re willing to adopt, with boxes for gender, race & ethnicity, possible drug exposure, I didn’t think twice.  I was the one with the pen, and with your Gigi looking over my shoulder, I checked all of the boxes.  Every last one.  And then, against every odd & adoption industry statistic, your birth mother, Mama D, chose us to be your parents.

Tonight, I am heartened, if only for the briefest moment, as public outrage seems to have brought a shift to the situation in Ferguson. There are many people fighting the good fight—and so many people paying attention—that I can’t help but have hope.  That our tweets and our journalists and our witnessing and our solidarity can actually affect change—this has always been the promise of America.  It is a promise I still so desperately want to believe in.

My son, I can’t promise you that things will get better.  There are so many layers of hate and injustice and willful ignorance and systemic inequality that I don’t even know how to realistically envision improvement at this point.  Here’s what I can promise you, though; I will shout, shake with anger, write, pray, petition, protest, cajole, debate, inform, disseminate, rally, cry at my desk, and whatever else is within my power to do, for all the rest of my days.

And you, my son?  Promise me you’ll keep singing.  Nice and loud, so everyone can hear.

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

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THINGS WORTH SHARING

July 29, 2014

Last night I lay in bed trying to fall asleep but thinking instead about rockets falling in Gaza and the great luxury that it is to not live in fear the way that so many human beings on this planet do.

I keep thinking also about the bus loads of children and women showing up at our border and the people whose impulse is to stand there with signs and protest their presence, instead of offering them shelter and sympathy.

I thought about these things on Sunday, as Shiv fought off a little fever and wanted only to be in one of our arms, alternating naps on each of our chests while we snoozed with him or read, one-handed, the way we used to a long time ago, when he weighed a third of what he does now.  As I often do, I think about the strange lottery of birth, the hand of circumstances that each of us are dealt and which determines so much about what is and isn’t available to us down the line.

I don’t really know what to say, except that I am really freaking tired of people who try to imply that those of us with the privilege of having first-world problems have done something to deserve or earn them, and that those who struggle with more have done—or worse, not done—something to deserve their fate.  This mythology is so pervasive and so damaging that I’ve lost what little patience I might have once had for those who subscribe to it.  It takes decency and courage to own up to the fact that we have no earthly idea how hard it is to walk around in someone else’s skin, but I think it is the absolute least we can do.

Sometimes the wisest thing a writer can say is that she has no idea what to say: no conclusions, no answers, no sense.  That’s where I am today.  But I do have a few things that might offer some meaning, the words and work of others:

Sister Norma, director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, was quoted a few weeks ago in TIME magazine as saying: “Jesus did not say, ‘I was hungry and you asked for my papers.’”  You can make an online donation here to assist their refugee relief efforts.

(Non)Secular Girl took a blog break for the past year, to focus on book-writing and baby-making.  Joyfully, both are in healthy stages of development and she is back with her smart, poignant weekly sermons that will slay you in the best possible way.

Alec Wilkinson has a piece in the August 4 issue of The New Yorker about poet Edward Hirsch’s forthcoming book-length poem, “Gabriel,” which is an elegy for his son, who died at age twenty-two.  I am anticipating a September afternoon, after the book comes out, in which I read it all in one sitting, with tea or coffee to start, and bourbon to finish.  (My friend Julie originally posted this, and I am grateful she did.)

This long read, Before You Know It, Something’s Over, captures, in perfect and sometimes painful detail, what it’s like to lose a parent young.  Should you share that experience, or know someone who does, I recommend it.  (Thanks to Jill for passing this along to me.)

Last but not least, the indomitable Anne Lamott, who somehow always knows what to say, even when the rest of us don’t, posted this status update yesterday.  I’ve read it through about three times in twenty-four hours.  (My dear friend Marynelle is responsible for sharing this one, because she is the best.)

And now, some food for the body.

THE DEFINITIVE GRANOLA RECIPE

I have abandoned my previous efforts at homemade granola in deference to this recipe–it is simple, it is perfect, it requires one bowl, and it is freaking good.   I’ve made and gifted it to several folks and they’ve all, to a person, asked for the recipe, so I figured I needed to share.  This is a barely-adapted version of Molly Wizenberg’s most recent granola recipe, so I can’t take any credit for it except for that I may now be disseminating it to folks who may not already know its glory.

In the original, Wizenberg measures her dry ingredients by weight, which allows for a wonderful flexibility and consistency, but in case you don’t have a kitchen scale, I’ve listed rough volume measurement equivalents.

I have halved her original recipe because the original just makes so damn much; I prefer this scaled-down version because cook it all on one baking sheet and still have enough granola to last us a good week with enough extra to pass along a few small jars to friends & neighbors.  Of course, you can easily double the amounts I’ve listed here and end up with a very generous amount of granola, either to hoard in your pantry or share with all of your friends.  Who will not mind, believe me.

ingredients:

300 g oats – approximately 3 ¼ cups

50 to 75 g unsweetened coconut flakes – approximately 1 to 1 ½ cups

200 g raw nuts or seeds of your choice (I like sliced almonds & pecan halves, but you can use whatever you prefer) – approximately 2 cups

1 tsp. Kosher salt (if substituting table salt, cut to ¾ tsp.)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/3 cup olive oil

½ cup good-quality maple syrup (I love the organic maple syrup from Costco—affordable & very flavorful)

*pro-tip: if using a glass measuring cup, measure your olive oil in first, then the maple syrup—the sticky stuff will slide right out and make the measuring cup a lot easier to clean.

Preheat oven to 300°F & line a baking sheet with parchment.

Stir the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  Pour in wet ingredients and stir very, very thoroughly with a spatula, being sure to scrape the bottom and sides; you want to make sure all of the dry ingredients are coated with the wet, and that the liquid ingredients are distributed evenly throughout.

Turn the mixture out onto the parchment-lined baking sheet and spread it out evenly, pressing down to form a tight layer.  Bake for approximately 30-40 minutes, checking on it a few times but leaving it alone.  Remove from the oven when the coconut flakes have toasted and the whole mixture is a nice, light golden brown.

Cool on a rack completely before breaking the granola into clumps and storing in airtight containers.  You’ll get crisper, tighter clusters if you wait until it’s truly cooled down before messing with it, but you can always snag an initial snack bowl for yourself (or for your two-year-old son, say).

I love this granola the most when it’s atop a bowl of plain yogurt & sliced summer fruit—peaches and blueberries in particular, as pictured here—but plenty of my friends prefer it plain, or swimming in a bowl of milk.

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GREEN & WHITE PIZZA

July 13, 2014

This woman of mine, she is rock. freaking. solid.

People overuse that phrase “He’s a rock” or “She’s my rock” but I promise you I am employing it perfectly in this case.  That Jill Carroll, she is steady as they come.  Dependable.  Honest.  True.  Damn near unflappable.

Sometimes I think she’s an alien.  Like, how can it be possible for a human being to operate this way, with such integrity?  In everything she does—really, I have been watching her for a dozen years now and she astounds me more and more.

Right now, Jill is knee-deep with the work of moving her parents to a house less than two miles from ours.  (If you’ve been playing along for a while, you’ve probably realized that this means that Jill’s parents will be living just down the road from my mother…pray for us & send wine, pleaseandthankyou.)

This has been no ordinary move.  My in-laws are 91 and 81, respectively, and have lived in Shreveport for their entire adults lives, and had been in the house they just left for almost 30 years.  And they probably would have stayed there had my mother-in-law not developed Alzheimer’s, which has robbed her of herself in the worst possible ways.  My father-in-law is tired and unable to meet the demands of caring for a confused and addled spouse, and keeping up with a household besides.

So here we are.  After months of resistance, Jill’s father finally relented to the idea of moving, and from there everything happened fast—house selling, house buying, house packing.  Jill has handled every detail, from contracting movers to fixing refrigerator tubing to wrapping every dang figurine and piece of china in bubble wrap.  And she still manages, somehow, to be this incredibly joyful parent and loving spouse and working woman and well-informed intellectual and patient, patient daughter.

I’m proud of this woman, proud of being partnered with her, proud to witness the way she lives our her values even (especially) when it’s inconvenient and exhausting.  She teaches me so much by living, as all the best people do.

ROBERTA’S GREEN & WHITE PIZZA

This is Jill’s new favorite thing that I make; she’s requested it half-a-dozen times since spotting the recipe on the New York Times website.  I’ve started making the accompanying pizza dough recipe as my standard; measuring the ingredients by weight really does yield a more consistently good dough.  For the topping, we use the spicy arugula we’ve got growing in the backyard (Another thing Jill manages to do—keep our garden growing.  Sheesh.  JILL, STOP BEING GOOD AT EVERYTHING.).  The heat of the arugula mellows a bit when it meets the hot pizza, but it still retains a lovely bite, tempered just enough by the cheesy pizza & crust.

The original recipe calls for you to top the dough with cheese before you put it in the oven, which I think would work fine if your oven gets really hot, but mine tops out at 500° F, so I find it works better to pre-cook the dough first, in order to get the bottom nice and crisp.  Also, while I love fresh mozzarella for eating raw, I find that it gets kind of watery when I cook it on pizza, so I prefer the shredded kind.

ingredients:

pizza dough of your choice, stretched/rolled into a 10-12 inch round

~ 1 cup shredded mozzarella

~¼ cup shredded/grated Parmesan

extra-virgin olive oil

2-3 cups baby arugula

1 lemon

salt

If you have a pizza stone, put it on the middle rack of your oven and turn the heat to the highest setting.  Let it heat for at least an hour.

Prick the dough all over with a fork before sliding it onto the pizza stone.  Cook for approximately 5 minutes, or until you see browning around the edges.  Slide the dough back out, drizzle lightly with olive oil, and top with cheese.  Gently slide the pie back into the oven and cook for another 4-6 minutes until the cheese has fully melted. (At this point, I usually turn on the broiler to brown the top of the pizza, and get good color on the crust—you may not need to do so, depending on how your oven heats.)

While the pizza cooks, dress the arugula lightly using the zest & juice of half the lemon, a good drizzle of the olive oil, and some salt.

Once it’s cooked to your liking, pull the pizza out of the oven and immediately top with the arugula.  Serve and enjoy!

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JULY RECIPE FAVORITES

July 4, 2014

In any given year, July is a big month for my family, with three birthdays—my mom’s, Shiv’s, Jill’s—and the anniversary of my father’s death.  But this year, we’ve got an especially big time going, as we are in medias res of moving Jill’s parents here to Texas.  They’ll be moving into a house just down the street from my mom, which means that you should probably expect to see announcement of a Carroll/Mehra family reality show forthcoming in fall of 2014.

It’s a nutty, wonderful time around these parts, and to pile on the crazy, we’re getting onto a plane today to travel to Memphis to celebrate Shiv’s mundan ceremony, a traditional Hindu rite of passage that we’ve been planning for the last year.  There will be more pictures and explanation of the weekend to come, but for now, I wanted to share a few season favorites, as I did for June, in the hopes that some of them might find their way into your kitchen this month!

Much love for a safe and celebratory Fourth—

DUTCH BABY

This giant, puffy pancake is sure to be a crowd-pleaser, and is especially delightful when topped with berries or sliced peaches.

GAZPACHO

Cold soup is the ultimate summer lunch.  For a spin on this recipe, I recommend roasting the tomatoes, onions, peppers, & garlic ahead of time—adds a really excellent depth of flavor.

CARROT-AVOCADO SALAD

This salad has made the internet rounds, and for good reason; it’s fresh, unusual, and goes super-well with grilled steak or fish.

TOMATO-CORN PIE

A blue-ribbon recipe if there ever were one; make it now while the corn and tomatoes are in their prime!

OKRA, PICKLED & FRIED

This guest post from Jill features two tried-and-true family recipes to help you enjoy the summer’s okra bounty.

MUSTARD SEED SHRIMP WITH CUCUMBER RAITA

A spicy dish with Indian flavors, using the sweetness of summer cucumbers as a cooling foil.

ALMOND PUDDINGS WITH BOURBON CHERRIES 

These are a bit involved but totally worth it—cool, creamy pudding topped with warm, boozy cherries, need I say more?  Plan ahead, as the puddings need to chill in the refrigerator for a few hours before you can eat them.

RASPBERRY CLAFOUTI

Fun to say (clafouti!) and really quite simple to make, this dessert is sophisticated and good for a crowd.

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