Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Public Administration as Social Justice

Public administration: it's not sexy. It's accountability, transparency, fiduciary responsibility, red-tape automatons with high-waisted jeans (oh wait, those are cool again?). When it's done well, nobody notices, and when it's done poorly, everyone chalks it up to the inherent ineptitude of public organizations. Change is hard-fought, takes time to implement, and is often hardly noticeable from the outside. 

My Facebook newsfeed is emotionally charged this week following the jury's decision in Ferguson, alternating between calls for civil disobedience, reports of riots, expressions of prayer, support for law enforcement, and just some straight-up racist sh*t. And reviewing the court documentation does not bring us (or, at least, me) clear answers on what happened, what should have happened, and what should happen next. 

Published before the decision was announced on Monday, this article from Time Magazine talks about a very promising program implemented during the Clinton era that equipped law enforcement officers with nonviolent tools for protecting the lives in their community alongside their own safety. Participants were provided with education on urban poverty, police work, and leadership, and developed mentorship relationships with at risk youth. 

The program was expensive, as training-intensive endeavors typically are, and ultimately cut despite its success. But maybe we can draw some inspiration from the Police Corps, apply and leverage some of its wisdom through partnerships with local community organizations whose missions align with those of police bureaus across the nation: making our communities safer. Maybe it's because I just read several thousand pages worth of case studies, but I believe in the power of public administration to fight systemic injustice. We haven't always used that power to its potential, and it's time.

There is a place for protesting, a place for prayer, a place for solidarity, and a place to talk about how we're going to use public programs and policies to bring about change. Public administration doesn't have to be boring or ineffectual. It can be creative and compassionate. It can - and should - be the power of the people coming together to support better policy, putting our taxpayer dollars towards smarter programs, and ultimately taking a proactive approach to fostering equity, understanding, and peace.

Saturday, September 20, 2014


 Yuba River - celebrating a long-awaited wedding with the whole family

 Mt. Tabor Park - mulling over the world with one of the kindest, most compassionate spirits I know

Multnomah Falls - watching the world through the eyes of a four-year-old

 Trillium Lake - stretching my soul

Santa Barbara - enjoying a new tradition with mom and baby sis

Fort Casey State Park - marinating in the gift of extended time with one of my favorite people

When I moved to Portland eighteen months ago, I was disoriented, to say the least. Not only had I ripped myself from the physical soil I called home for 26 years, several of the most significant relationships that had previously grounded my life and my identity were either radically altered or severed. I called myself a transplant, and that's how I felt: uprooted, tenuously connected to the ground beneath my feet, and in need of nutrients.

I've remained confident that the move was a good choice, probably the best choice. School has been great, and I've had the chance to work on (and get paid for!) several extremely cool projects. Portland is a fun city, and I love my weird and cozy garden apartment. It has become home, at least for now. 

Yet community has eluded me. Making friends has been slow, as I believe it often is when you move somewhere new, by yourself, in your mid-20s (my sister says I can still say that I'm in my mid-20s, so I'll take it). Even though I am fortunate to communicate regularly with friends and family around the world via text, email, and Skype, at once point I experienced loneliness strong enough to start talking to my produce (I'd be happy to introduce you to Squashy the Squash sometime).

This summer, however, has nourished this little plant. I felt the sun on my face (and am at least a whole shade darker than Casper now), sand beneath my toes, wind in my hair, water on my skin. I danced, swam, drove, flew, floated, hiked, snuggled, laughed, cried, ate, drank, and was very merry. I spent time with family, visited with old friends, formed and strengthened new relationships. I worked hard, played hard, slept hard, was challenged, encouraged, and revitalized. Seasons such as this are rare indeed, and I have enjoyed every minute.

I woke up this morning and reveled in how very rich the soil is that sustains my life. I am very fortunate to exist in a larger ecosystem of individuals who display great compassion, who seek justice, and who spark joy, laughter, and shenanigans. Thank you for being a part of my life.

Oregon Brewers Festival - sipping craft beers with old and new drinking buddies

dinner at the campground - a vegan success!

Base Camp Brewing Company - a not-so-vegan evening sharing fire and fellowship

someone left this flower at my cubicle - brightening the many, many hours I spent behind a computer divided over three jobs

sunrise over Mt. Hood - kicking off a new adventure

sunset over the Columbia - saying farewell to a special season

Monday, May 12, 2014

Kefir Mango Lassi

I think I only drank mango lassi once or twice in my two summers in India, but I started craving this sweet, creamy, and tart treat as soon as we had our first (and fleeting) warm day here in Portland.  After a week of gray skies and rain, including a freak hailstorm, this kefir mango lassi is ready to greet the sunshine.

All of the recipes I consulted used a combination of milk and yogurt to create the lassi, but I make mine with kefir.  I also like to add a splash of half 'n half to my smoothie, as it adds just a touch of creamy sweetness to the final product.  Depending on your personal preference, you can add honey, agave syrup, or raw sugar to taste.  I add just a bit of agave syrup.

Kefir Mango Lassi
Serves 1 as an afternoon pick-me-up, or 2 as an accompaniment to a meal

1 cup kefir 
1 cup frozen mango chunks (or one ripe mango, if that's an option where you live!)
1 splash of half 'n half (optional)
Sweetener, to taste: honey, agave syrup, or raw cane sugar
Cardamon (optional)

This one's really easy: blend all ingredients and drink up!  Sprinkle with cardamom before serving if you like.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Braised Kale Over Quinoa With Mustard Balsamic Vinaigrette

Quinoa is one of those once-crunchy, now more-mainstream foods I discovered in the last few years.  Naturally gluten-free, a good source of complete protein, calcium, and dietary fiber, I try to include these guys regularly in my diet.  But a few months ago, I discovered the dark side of quinoa.

I had just transferred several cups of quinoa to an old yogurt container after noticing a small hole in the original bag.  (That's what you get for buying compostable packaging, you dirty hippy.)  I set the container down to grab a measuring cup, but apparently had placed it on a not-quite level surface.  A couple of teaspoons spilled out onto the stove and the floor.  No big deal, right?

Except that it turns out that quinoa is the glitter of the culinary world.  The tiny volume of quinoa that escaped managed to slip down into the burners, behind the stove, under the counter, and under the kitchen door in about three seconds.  The shopvac scooped up some of the seeds, but not before a sizable number had suctioned themselves onto the bottoms of my bare feet.  Even after taking the vacuum to my tootsies, a few scragglers remained, which I then apparently tracked into the living room and onto the couch where I sat cross-legged.  When I stood up, there were quinoa seeds everywhere.

I was reminded of the great quinoa incident of 2013 while making this dish today, when I noticed a smattering of quinoa seeds taunting me from the small gap between the tile floor and kitchen wall.  Jerks.  But I will forgive them, because they serve as an excellent base to this meal.  Topped with braised greens, sweet chewy golden raisins, toasted pine nuts, and a soft-boiled or poached egg, this is my go-to lunch/dinner on days when I have class until 9:30pm (like tonight).  And while you're welcome to substitute your own favorite dressing, I think the mustard balsamic vinaigrette is what really makes this flavorful dish work.

Braised Kale Over Quinoa With Mustard Balsamic Vinaigrette 

Per Serving:
Half a bunch of kale
3 tbs golden raisins
1 tbs pine nuts, lightly toasted
1/2 cup cooked quinoa
olive oil, for cooking
salt and pepper, to taste
top with a soft boiled or poached egg

For the Dressing:
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp pomegranate balsamic vinegar* (or your choice)
1 tsp garlic olive oil** 
1/2 tsp agave syrup, or to taste

Wash and de-stem kale, then tear into bite-sized pieces.  You don't need to dry the leaves after washing.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, and add kale.  Toss in oil and cook for approximately 30 seconds, then turn heat down to low.  Cover skillet and let cook, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes.  You may need to add a little water to the pan if the kale starts looking dry.  The kale is about ready when the leaves just start to turn brown.  Add golden raisins and cook for another minute or two, until the raisins are plump.

In the meantime, in a skillet (or in the toaster oven!), toast pine nuts.  If you're using a skillet, toast over low heat, stirring frequently, until you can just start to smell the pine nuts.  Add pine nuts and quinoa to the skillet, and cook until heated through.  

Top with egg and serve with dressing.  Enjoy!

*This is my favorite balsamic vinegar, discovered at the Davis Food Co-op a few years back.  I consider it to be a pantry staple around here!
**If you don't have garlic olive oil (another pantry staple of mine), use regular EVOO, and then either add minced garlic to the dressing for a more powerful punch, or cook along with the greens for a more subtle flavor.  

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Turns out that Monday's pancakes were the highlight of my week.  Sometimes life is like that, and it can really make you homesick.  So, here are a few snapshots from an all-too-short trip back home at the end of last quarter. Not pictured are all of the beer and rice crispy treats consumed with family, the epic catch-up sessions with old friends, and the warm quiet of spring in the foothills.  Looking forward to spending a little more time in California this summer - only seven weeks to go!!

Miss this pup!

I'm pretty sure we actually ate this as our lunch at Treats

I live in Portland, which loves it's breakfast - but it ain't got nothin' on South Pine Cafe!

I'm on the left, wearing my dad's jacket - the weather went from summer to winter in just a few hours!

It's so hard to be patient...

Even though my grandpa is no longer with us, when I look at this view, I feel like he's there, too.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Vegan Maple Pecan Pancakes

It's Monday.  Couldn't we all use some pancakes?

I started making pancakes on the regular when I went on a crazy elimination diet almost two years ago.  Without corn, wheat, soy, dairy, gluten, yeast, sugar, etc. (and while trying to still eat a vegetarian diet), my options were pretty limited.

Enter the humble pancake.  It's such a flexible food, easily adaptable to any dietary restrictions or preferences.  Also, has anyone ever felt unhappy while eating pancakes?  They're just so cheerful.

I started experimenting with vegan baking when I moved to Portland, partially inspired by the need to come up with a good cookie I could share with my classmates while working on a group project.  One of the team members was vegan, though a few months later, I saw her snacking on goldfish crackers.  Still, I've found vegan baking to be a fun challenge, trying to create recipes that look good, taste great, and use (mostly) healthy ingredients.

Even though pancakes are supposedly one of the easiest foods to adapt to a vegan diet, I've found the texture to be tricky.  In previous attempts, my pancakes never seemed to get quite "done."  I realized that the lack of egg was probably the culprit, and decided to see if a chia egg could help bind the ingredients, as well as add the crispiness that I love in a good pancake.  It did!  

After some tweaking, I think I've finally found the elusive vegan pancake recipe.  What a great way to start the week!  Ready?

Vegan Maple Pecan Pancakes
Makes 8-10 pancakes

1 tbs chia seeds + 3 tbs water
1/2 cup spelt flour
1/2 cup barley flour
OR 1 cup your choice flour (buckwheat and oat flour are both nice gluten-free options)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup almond milk
1 tbs maple syrup
2 tbs melted coconut oil (plus more for pan)
1/3 cup lightly toasted pecans (plus more for serving)

Mix together chia seeds and water; let sit for about 15 minutes, or until ingredients form a gel.  This is your chia egg!

With a fork or whisk, lightly fluff together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Create a well in the middle, and add the almond milk and maple syrup, followed by the melted coconut oil.  Fold with a spatula to combine until just blended.

When the chia egg is set, add to batter, and stir to combine.  Add the pecans last.  You want to avoid over-mixing; we don't want a totally smooth batter.

**Alright, so this is where I've experimented, failed, and come up with my preferred cooking technique for vegan pancakes that are actually cooked all the way through, slightly crispy on the outside.  You may find that something different works with your stove and cooking equipment!**

Heat coconut oil in pan over low heat.  I use a gas stove, and turn the flame to slightly above low, but not quite medium low.  I find turning the heat any higher results in pancakes that cook too quickly on the outside, leaving mushy centers.  This is not the ideal outcome.  I also like to use a cast iron skillet, but this isn't necessary.  Give pan a few minutes to heat through completely, and don't skimp on the coconut oil!  Otherwise, the batter tends to stick to the pan.

Add batter 1/4 cup at a time, and cook until slightly browned on each side, approximately 3-4 minutes.  Serve with maple syrup, most toasted pecans, blueberries, or your favorite pancake topping!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

International Women's Day, 2014

Kolkata, India, circa 2007

Today, I feel 

Almost seven years ago, I swore I would make the world a better place for these beautiful young women.  I promised that I would get the education needed to make a sustainable difference, as too many communities have suffered at the hands of well-intentioned idealists imposing their own agenda. But working through my master's degree, I realize that I still don't have the answers - just more questions about why and how and when and where.  And these sweet faces deserve someone more qualified than me; won't a smarter, stronger, wiser woman take the reigns?

Maybe there aren't any answers.  Maybe the journey only requires that we keep asking questions.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Growing Up Ford

It was really weird seeing my dad on TV.

Alright, so J. K. Simmons is not my actual father, but he's playing a character remarkably like him on NBC's Growing Up Fisher.  My dad also wields a chainsaw, kicks ass in the courtroom, and taught me how to parallel park.   And like Mel Fisher, most people don't realize that my dad is blind - at least, not right away.   

I kept texting my sister while watching the pilot.  He has a talking watch!  He runs into the coffee table!  (In our case, it was a piano bench, and we were always the ones who left it out.)  They're playing catch in the yard!  I had to recount all of these little moments from our childhood that I never expected to see played out on TV.

Neither did the show's creator, I imagine.  DJ Nash shared how the series came about:     
"I was telling a story about my dad cutting down a tree with a chainsaw — because I thought that that was not a big deal, I really did — and this other writer had this look like, 'Should I call child protective services five years later?' And I realized there's a show here."
Yep.  It's a bizarre sort of normal that very few people experience, and aren't we lucky to have superhero fathers?   DJ, I doubt you need any further inspiration, but feel free to contact me if you want to swap stories.  I've got some good ones.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Kale Chips

Every so often, I get a text from a friend asking for a refresher on how to make kale chips.  I can't tell you how much these messages make me smile, particularly when they come from a previously skeptical convert.  

The first time I heard about kale chips was from a cousin, who was living with her husband in a trailer on a small organic farm.  With her long blond dreadlocks, she looked very much like a wood nymph, the sort of mystical creature that would turn kale into chips and delude herself into thinking that they actually tasted good.  When I finally made my first batch, I was as surprised as anyone that kale chips are not only delicious, but addicting.  They're not potato chips, but they do satisfy that salty-crunchy craving - AND, you don't feel awful after eating a whole bowl.  Before you know it, you just ate three servings of kale...and liked it.

So I spread the word.  I got my coworkers in on the action, made large batches for my friends and family, and even posted a recipe on my old blog.  The reaction was the same from almost everyone who tried them: kale chips are really good, and  you don't have to be a hippy or health nut to enjoy them!  If you don't believe me, take our First Lady's promo on Thursday's "The Tonight Show: "Kale chips are not 'ewwwww!"

Kale Chips
Serves 2-4
or one, who will totally enjoy them at the time but might regret the decision a few hours later…not that I'm speaking from experience or anything

1 bunch kale - you can use any kind, though curly kale is my favorite for chips
1/2  tbs olive oil
salt, to taste
optional seasonings: sesame seeds, smoked paprika, lemon pepper, chili flakes, seasoning salt or sandwich sprinkle - use your imagination!  See below for some additional suggestions.

Heat oven to 275 degrees.  In the meantime, wash kale and remove leaves from stem.  Tear leaves into bite-sized pieces.

Dry leaves thoroughly, and then mix with olive oil and any seasonings - except for salt.  I've found that sprinkling salt on after the chips are done allows you to use less salt with more taste.    

Arrange leaves on a baking sheet, and bake for approximately 18-25 minutes, checking at regular intervals.  The range is wide, because this recipe is really sensitive to oven temperatures - I've made these in many different ovens, and the time can vary quite a bit.  If you add more oil and raise the heat slightly, these will cook faster.  You'll know that the chips are done because they're crispy and dehydrated.  It's a short leap from chip to burnt offering, so pay attention!   

Chips are ready to eat right away, though you can also store them in an airtight container or Ziploc bag for several days. 

Here are a few other variations if you're feeling adventurous!

Southwest "Nacho" Kale Chips: smoked paprika, garlic salt, cumin, and nutritional yeast

Sesame Kale Chips: sesame oil plus soy sauce or liquid aminos

Spicy Kale Chips: add some hot sauce to the oil of your choice

Super Healthy Hippy Kale Chips: coconut oil plus chia seeds

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Portland Snowpocalypse 2014: Life is Cancelled Until Further Notice

This is actually 78th street, which has been turned into a sled run for the weekend.  I tried using a roasting pan as a makeshift saucer.  (I failed.)  

We don't get a lot of snow in Portland, so when it hits, life is cancelled until further notice...

...unless you're a graduate student.  Back to studying. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014


with thanks to mother nature 
for sending me some birthday snow!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

26: My Year of Hot Sauce

I could say a lot about being 26. 

26 is when I realized both how very fragile and how incredibly resilient we can be.

26 is when I understood what it meant to be betrayed, and what it means to have to forgive. 

26 is when I started trusting my intuition. 

26 is when I practiced listening more, judging less, and asking better questions.

26 is when I learned how to mix cocktails and apply liquid eyeliner. 

And 26 is when I discovered my love for hot sauce.

I actually spent my 26th birthday here in Portland, most of it alone in a hotel room that smelled like yesterday's grilled-cheese sandwich.  I ended up having to rearrange travel plans to meet my advisor before starting school in April, in lieu of spending the day at home with the people I loved.  Instead, I opened a new bank account, signed a lease, and panicked about this major life decision that had suddenly become much more real.  Over the next month, I donated a good chunk of the crap I had accumulated in the previous few years (it feels like it shouldn't count if it's from a thrift store, but it adds up), said goodbye to hopes and dreams for my previous life, packed up the remains, and hobbled into my new life in a state where it turns out that hard alcohol isn't sold at regular grocery stores.

I was still bleary-eyed that morning at the Tin Shed Cafe, watching the black lab and potbelly pig share a dish from the restaurant's dog menu (welcome to Portland).  When the waiter brought out our orders, he asked if we'd like to try some Secret Aardvark Hot Sauce.  I'd never been a hot sauce person, or so I thought, but the name was enough to intrigue me.  I carefully shook a few drops onto my eggs, took a bite, and had a profound realization.

I liked hot sauce.  I really liked hot sauce.

Somewhere along the line, I'd gotten the idea that I couldn't handle spicy foods.  I think this was a gastronomical side effect of my reputation as a "rule-follower," the straight-A people pleaser who was afraid of standing out.  It fit with my "delicate constitution," my thin, pale, broken body.  Quite frankly, the girl in the mirror doesn't look like someone who should travel the world, lift heavy boxes, or even try to open jars of peanut butter without supervision.  And these conceptions were reinforced by particular individuals in my life whose proclamations about my abilities - or inabilities - became ingrained as truth over time.  In many ways, I saw myself as weak and inadequate.

As I doused my plate with hot sauce, I felt my inner badass come into the limelight.  She has been there all along, largely unrecognized, but quietly working.  She is the part of me that isn't afraid of taking risks, making mistakes, or sharing her ideas.  She is the warrior who has persevered through illness, the adventurous spirit who has traveled to faraway places, and the outgoing side of this introvert that works to bring others along for the ride.  She is the voice who tells me to dream bigger and better, and the hand giving me a shove forward when the meek perfectionist drags her heels.   I'm happy to say that she and I have become much better acquainted over the last twelve months.

In the upheaval of unexpected change, I found freedom from some of the guilt, expectations, and lies that weighed me down.  It's scary to lose your anchors, but I think my ship is on a better course - even if the waters have been a little rough, the journey is worth getting drenched every once in a while.  27, I'm ready for you: bring on the hot sauce. 

picture from Denali National Park this summer
with thanks to William Shakespeare!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Schrödinger's Cat

On Wednesday nights, I have class from 6:40 to 9:20.  It's rough.  We're in the computer lab, so no food or drinks allowed - that's right, no caffeine in a night class on research methodology (which is actually pretty interesting, but would be a lot easier to follow at, say, 4pm).  And anyone who has been around me after a long day knows that caffeine is the only thing that enables me to keep the verbal filter firmly attached.  

By 8:30, I was mentally switching between trying to paying attention and daydreaming about pie (which the professor had mentioned about five minutes earlier, so that's on him) when I refocused on his discussion of the difference between experimental and quasi-experimental research design.  

Prof: Some people will tell you that it's either experimental, or nothing.  There's no such thing as quasi-experimental research.  It's like, you can't be alive and dead at the same time.

Me, out of nowhere: What about Schrödinger's Cat?

Classmates: Silence/confused stares.

Me, trying to recover/provide context: I mean, uh, all I know about Schrödinger's Cat is from the Big Bang Theory, so, ha...

Classmates: Continued silence/confused stares/apparently people in Portland don't watch the Big Bang Theory because this is not the first time this has happened to me.

Prof: Well, actually, I once had a student in a seminar give a whole presentation about leadership and Schrödinger's cat (continues anecdote…).

Classmates: More silence.

And THAT is why they should allow us to drink coffee in the computer labs.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Seattle Escape

Today, I need to escape a little.  I'm wearing three hats this quarter - four, if you count the beanie my sister got me for Christmas: graduate student, teaching assistant/program coordinator (which is one of those hats with the propeller on top), and research assistant.  I feel very fortunate that I'm getting such a robust graduate experience, and seriously grateful for the financial support that goes along with these opportunities.  But it's a lot of emails, a lot of meetings, a lot of juggling, a lot of hard work, and some days, a lot of frustration.

I realized that I never shared any pictures from my trip to Seattle in early October, and looking back at some of these memories has put a smile on my face.  It also made me realize that it's been too long since I left Portland.  

view from the Seattle Great Wheel - worth doing once for the views, but maybe not if there's a long line...

My mom and I took the train up from Stumptown to Seattle, which saved us the hassle of paying for parking (which is pricey) and navigating insane traffic.  Seriously, Seattle is not much bigger than Portland in terms of numbers, but the energy is completely different.  Next time, I'll still opt for public transit, but will take a look at the Bolt Bus, which is both cheaper and faster.  Live and learn.

We made it into the city just in time to drop off our bags, jump on a bus, and catch the end of happy hour over at Plum Bistro, where I consumed the best mac 'n cheese of my life.  And, by the way, it was vegan.  Chef Makini Howell's dishes are fresh, indulgent, and completely plant-based.  No matter what your food philosophy or restrictions - vegetarian, vegan, freegan, omnivore, carnivore, soy-free, gluten-free - if you have the chance to eat at Plum Bistro, it's fantastic! 

We stayed at the City Hostel Seattle, which is perfectly located in the Belltown neighborhood within easy walking distance of the Seattle Center, and close to a number of bus lines.  The staff were friendly, the accommodations clean (which is good, because I forgot my shower flip flops), and we met some fascinating travelers from around the world.  The Hostel offers options for a range of prices and group sizes, and was a very affordable way to spend a few nights in the city.

For breakfast, we checked out The Crumpet Shop.  I never considered the fact that crumpets are an actual food, instead of simply a line in an old nursery rhyme.  And these crumpets (and cappuccino) were delicious, especially while enjoyed at Pike's Market overlooking the water.  We spent the morning wandering the market, and stocked up on tea and spices at MarketSpice.  Their Knockout Tea is amazing!

Good food, hot coffee, marine air, and best of all, live music: Josh Groban (and the guy playing the accordion).  He (now we're talking Josh) is incredible live.  (And funny.  And gracious.  Swoon).  Judith Hill was the opening act, and also sang with Josh in a few duets - she has an amazing set of pipes, and Christian Hebel was incredible on the violin.  I love me some Pandora and belting out tunes in the shower, but nothing replaces the rejuvenating power of live music, does it?

I guess chocolate comes close.  These Chocolate Truffle Cookies from Dahlia Bakery were voted "Best Cookie in Seattle" (I read that somewhere before we visited, but can't seem to find the "source" now), and they deserve the title.  Perfect snack for the train ride back.  Or right now.  Hmm.

Even though the weekend sojourn made me question my decision to move to Portland instead of Seattle, I remember coming back and thinking that it was good to be home.  And that was the first time I ever thought of Portland as home.  Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to try out the rejuvenating power of chocolate...