Vegan Sourdough Waffles

The sourdough enthusiasm all around me is inspiring! People are coming over to get starter, measuring their ingredients in grams, having a blast… and eating delicious bread! Along the way, they are encountering all the confusing websites and Facebook instructions that those of us who are sourdough oldtimers have already coped with. One question that keeps coming up is – what to do with discard?

Lots of things! I have a killer recipe for vegan sourdough banana pancakes. But thankfully, we now have a waffle iron! I bought this little number as a stocking stuffer for Chad in December and it works like a charm. There are apparently lots of things to do with a waffle maker–this is the latest craze – so it’s a useful appliance to have around.

The recipe is lightly modified from the one over at Holy Cow. I didn’t add sugar, and I didn’t mix my flax eggs properly. I also find that, with an active starter, you don’t really need baking soda. Finally, I simply forgot the vegetable oil, and it turned out delectable nonetheless, so I guess it’s unnecessary! Here goes:

  • 1/2 cup unfed sourdough starter
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup Oatly or other plant milk
  • 1 tsp kombucha (that’s what I had at home; apple cider vinegar would be preferable)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp flax seeds
  • 6 tbsp water

The evening before you hope to have this memorable breakfast, mix starter, flour, plant milk and kombucha/vinegar in a large bowl. Leave covered overnight to rise. In the morning, mix seeds with water (our grinder broke, so I just left them whole and they added a nice nutty flavor to the waffles.) After five minutes, add the salt and the flax/water mix to the waffle mix. Heat up the waffle iron and cook waffles according to the waffle iron instructions. Serve with maple syrup, cashew cream, and fruit, or with savory toppings.

These keep phenomenally well in the freezer, and can be quickly reheated in the waffle iron, which restores their toasty texture.

Shelter In Place: A Quarantine Mystery Novel, Chapter 1

shelter in place


It was only after he was halfway to the restaurant that John realized he had forgotten his mask. The string he tied around his middle finger to remind him was still tightly looped around the finger, untethered from the memory it was supposed to pull. The deliveries themselves would be fine; John wore a helmet and could wear it on his deliveries with the face shield down. What the clients would think, and then tweet about, tagging his boss, was a different story.

Not that John had developed fervent loyalty to FoodFairy in the two weeks since he had joined their august ranks; It wouldn’t have been his first choice of a career under any other circumstances. But after a couple of weeks at home, no prospects for the near or far future, and a growing stream of worrisome stories on the Chronicle of Higher Education, he could not sit on his hands hoping for some miracle to happen. The college was closed; his course wrapped up in the previous quarter; and none of his students, who were not exactly living in the lap of luxury, could be expected to angrily march across campus, surrounding the empty administration building (the Dean sent him the proverbial pink slip from the comfort of his St. Francis Wood mansion) demanding that his adjunct contract be renewed.

Ceci FaceTimed him to figure out what to do. They quietly and quickly went through a list of his skills. The problem was that everything he knew how to do—tutor people for their SATs, house-sit people’s pets, to mention just two–was not in particular demand because of quarantine. It was actually Fabian who came up with the delivery idea. “You ride every day anyway and you like it,” he said, “and this way you get to hang out outside, instead of getting bored at home.” The inflection on the last three words was perhaps a bit pointed, probably at Ceci; John regretted that they were not all together at this time, then remembered that his new job required special precautions and was grateful not to put them at risk. He and Ceci were much better friends than spouses, anyway, and Fabian was old enough that he didn’t need his hand held through the crisis. He was a much cooler boy than John had been at his age, and remarkably well adjusted; he could surf, skate, and play guitar, and even though he had lots of friends, they hadn’t turned him mean or cynical. Yet.

Given the alarmingly rising unemployment rate, and John’s apprehension about “being a good fit,” whatever that meant, he was surprised to have nailed the FoodFairy gig right away. The folks he worked with were a nice bunch, though he hardly saw them; most of his day was spent moving around the empty city, ambulating through quiet streets and boarded stores, entering the belly of a different beast every time to retrieve food, and heading off to deliver it to invisible, anxious customers.

The app—proprietary! Disruptive! Innovative! Designed to take the food delivery business to the next level!—was almost unnecessary for him, as he knew the city quite well. He lived in Mission Terrace, which looked just like the Mission in its pre-gentrification time. John considered himself a gentle, kind gentrifier, and quelled the social critic in his belly. After the divorce, which happened when Fabian was little and John was fairly gainfully employed, he managed to outmaneuver the young, shiny South Bay tech workers and land a small rent-protected house, paying a recession-set monthly rent that his adjunct salary from three different places barely covered. The neighbors were lovely; a million small businesses, including his favorite Salvadorean resturant, lined Mission Street within two blocks of his home. Best of all, within a comfortable trip on Ocean Avenue, over near Ocean Beach, lived Ceci and Fabian; Fabian, who was now thirteen, sometimes rode his skateboard between his parents’ homes.

The restaurants were still sprinkled throughout the city, though many closed their brick-and-mortar facades and operated from back kitchens. The food was the same; menus had shrunk, but people were ordering in a frenzy, and favorites were a comfort. Lots of pizza, lots of dumplings, lots of fries—the smells enveloped him even though the food was safely nestled behind his back—and lots of Indian curries. When he was off his shift, John would read articles about people rediscovering cooking and baking and making staples from scratch, but given how busy his day was, he couldn’t fathom who was doing it. What really stunned him was the newly discovered penchant for delivered homemade cocktails; John detested those deliveries, feeling like the princess and the pea as he drove gingerly up and down hilly Dolores street hoping not to spill any of the precious ingredients, separately packed for the customers to mix at home for an added sense of agency. He chuckled about it now, as he opened his throttle, ascended Monterey, and appreciated the glorious day and the strange times that placed him outdoors for much of his workday.

John parked the scooter and backed it neatly into the curb in front of Dumpling King. Keeping his helmet on, so as not to alarm the staff, he walked in. Millie, the owner’s daughter, raised her eyes toward him; he could not discern a smile under her mask. He said, “How ya doin?”

“Crazy today,” Millie said. “But these two, every day at noon, like clockwork. Are you here for the same ones?”

“Yeah,” said John. “The two regulars, the one for Persia and the one for Baden.”

Millie picked up two plastic bags emblazoned with Thank You Thank You Thank You in glaring red letters. She quickly checked them both (to make sure there was soy sauce and vinegar, John assumed) and handed them to him. She lifted the one in her left hand a bit. “This is the one for Persia: the two orders of bao, Mongolian beef, dried green beans with mock chicken, rice. The egg rolls and chow mein are for Baden.”

“How do these people not get sick of eating the exact same thing every single day?” asked John.

“Beats me,” said Millie. “But they are keeping us in business. We’re down to just the family cooking now. As far as I’m concerned, they can go on ordering the same dishes for the rest of their days.”

John nodded, smiled—she probably couldn’t see his smile through the chin guard—and carried the food outside. He opened the Velcro attachment to the cooler and placed both bags, side by side, in it. The bigger lunch rush wasn’t happening yet, or maybe the boss did a less equitable division of labor. Tip-wise, it didn’t matter, he remembered as he slid the key into the ignition; the boss decided early on that, as long as this was going on, they would share in the tips. The app—miraculous! Customizable! Considerate!—did the calculus automatically before they got paid. This was advertised to customers looking to assuage their guilt as “taking care of our community of committed drivers.”

John flipped on the kill switch, squeezed the brakes, and pressed the start button. The scooter responded with a pleasant hum. He pushed any thoughts of minimum wage, exploitation, and the growing sensation of bitterness further into his belly and turned into the road. First stop would be Baden. The new protocol required them to leave the food outdoors and text the owners. Some delivery workers rang the bell; in the first two or three days, John did that instinctively, then considered that, even with his gloves on, this could unnerve customers. He parked the scooter under the house, placed the bag in front of the door and, as he expected, was greeted by no one. He texted the number listed on the app–though the boss encouraged it, he didn’t have it in him to add a food emoji or even the obligatory exclamation mark–and headed back to the road.

The next stop was the house on Persia. Here, too, he had never seen a soul, and never received a reply to his text. Ascending the obligatory San Francisco steps, he thought he’d seen movement in the bay window—a flicker of a face. The door had a stained-glass feature, perhaps an orchid, and through the colorful, textured panels he could discern a figure moving in the living room. He whipped out his phone, and within a second realized the text would not be necessary, because through the stained-glass flower he saw the face of a woman.

Half a face, actually—the woman was wearing a mask inside the house. Her eyes were dark and large, and they seemed to communicate something—sadness?—as a reply to what was likely John’s puzzled expression. To each their own, he thought; battles were raging on his neighborhood’s social media page about the appropriate etiquette for mask wearing, running, jogging, shopping, you name it. Boomers bickered with millennials; millennials bickered with boomers; and Gen-Xers like John read it all, nauseated and despaired and unable to tear themselves from it. Then the obvious explanation hit him: there was likely a sick person inside the house. The woman was taking a break from some harrowing caregiving duty to eat her lunch. She said something, muffled by the door and her mask. It took John a moment to process it as “thank you.” He smiled, said, “you’re welcome,” and walked down the stairs. His phone pinged; time to pick up chicken korma from the Mission and head over to Bernal.

As he drove up San Jose, the darkness of the tunnel and the danger of Muni cables called his attention. But as he emerged from the tunnel and rode into Guerrero, the image of the woman floated back to his mind. The amount of food could have a simple explanation: there was more than one healthy person in the house clamoring for dumplings and main courses. But he was surprised that someone caring for a sick relative did not order plain soup. The reports he’d heard were that severely ill people could not manage a thing and lost their appetite; yes, that could be it. Yet there was something about the woman’s expression that flew in the face of this explanation. Something about the sadness in her eyes—not sadness, exactly. Fear, maybe? He turned right into 18th Street, moved into the curb and killed the switch. Looking at his phone, he saw that the order was made by a Phoenix Williams. Peculiar name, though by all means not the only peculiar name in San Francisco. John shrugged and walked toward the restaurant, allowing the fog in his brain to gently settle over anything that was not the next delivery.

Should the Unanimous Jury Verdict Requirement Be Retroactive?

In a recent decision, Ramos v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court found that Louisiana’s rule allowing convictions by a majority of 10 to 2 jurors was unconstitutional. Except for Louisiana and Oregon, all states (and, of course, the federal government) require a unanimous jury verdict, though not all states require twelve jurors (Florida requires only six, except in capital cases.)

Now, the Supreme Court faces a subsequent question: Is Ramos retroactive? As Josh Blackman explains in this brief entry in Reason, some Justices in Ramos itself opined on this: “Justice Kavanaugh said it could not be applied retroactively. Justice Alito’s dissent faulted Justice Kavanaugh for reaching an issue that was not briefed. Justice Gorsuch’s plurality leaned towards it not being-retroactive, but it was non-committal.”

Now, the Court has an opportunity to address this directly. Edwards v. Vannoy, recently added to the calendar, is a habeas case with facts very similar to Ramos. The facts, as reviewed in the petition, make a compelling case that this is not merely an effort built on a technicality. Edwards was apprehended on suspicion of several robberies and a rape, even though the description of the perpetrators (“black males with masks”) did not identify him, and at his interrogation (while chained to the wall!) was dissuaded from consulting an attorney. Here’s how the petition describes the rest of the evidence against Edwards:

The perpetrators of these crimes were young black males wearing black caps, gloves and bandannas covering their faces from the nose down to the chin. The police dusted for prints and collected DNA samples from the various crime scene locations and none of that forensic evidence implicated the accused. The police executed a search warrant at the residences of the accused and his codefendant but did not recover any stolen property, weapons or clothing involved in these crimes. In fact, the alleged weapons and bandannas were found in a vehicle driven by three black male acquaintances of the defendant, none of whom testified at trial. The defendant’s photo lineup was presented to five witnesses and only one was able to make a positive identification. This identification is best described as a “crossracial” identification made by a victim that had only a few seconds to view his assailant’s face. Another witness made a tentative cross-racial identification of the accused. Regrettably, the three individuals in possession of the weapons and bandannas were not placed into a photo lineup for viewing, although one of the victims did participate in a show up identification of these three, but that procedure failed to produce identification.

Edwards v. Vannoy, Petition for Writ of Certiorari

Assuming this is a fair description of the evidence, the case against Edwards was not particularly strong. To complicate matters, the prosecution removed all but one of the African American jurors from the panel during voir dire, and Edwards’ convictions, on all counts, were non-unanimous.

A brief primer on retroactivity: In the diagram below, imagine three defendants: No. 1, whose case begins only after the new rule is in effect; no. 2, whose case was decided before the rule change, but is still “alive” in the sense that it is not final–it is under direct review; and no. 3, whose case is already final, but who, encouraged by the new rule, tries to reopen it via collateral review.

The new rule is always going to apply to defendants 1 and 2, but whether or not it will apply to defendant 3 depends on three questions. The, first question is whether the rule is substantive or procedural. If the new rule is substantive, it will act retroactively; that’s what the Supreme Court decided in Montgomery v. Louisiana, which applied Miller v. Alabama retroactively, leading to reconsiderations of life without parole sentences for many people who have spent decades in prison for crimes committed when they were juveniles under statutory schemes that are now impermissible under Miller (to learn more about these folks, read James Garbarino’s superb Miller’s Children. But I digress.) In our case, however, the rule is procedural; it’s about how the jurors are to decide on a person’s guilt. Under Teague v. Lane, new rules cannot be applied retroactively on habeas, only on direct review, and therefore only defendants 1 and 2 (and not 3) will benefit from the rule change.

The second question is whether this is truly a “new rule” or an application of an old rule. In Davis v. Jones, an appeal of the Orange County federal judge’s decision that the death penalty is unconstitutional because of the delays in its application, respondent’s attorney tried (unsuccessfully)to argue that the new rule was merely an application of Furman v. Georgia.

Even if this is a new procedural rule, it might apply retroactively in the rare case that the third situation applies: if the rule is so fundamental that it can be considered a “watershed rule of criminal procedure.” So far, no habeas petitioner has been successful in arguing retroactivity this way.

How should the lawyers in Edwards approach this? Arguing that this is a substantive rule is a nonstarter, but the other two arguments might have merit, even though each requires a bit of creativity.

One approach could be that the rule in Ramos is not actually a “new rule”, but rather an adaptation of Batson v. Kentucky. The holding in Batson, many readers remember, was that it is unconstitutional to disqualify jurors on the basis of race, and making a prima facie showing of a Batson challenge starts with a pattern of exclusion. Well, in both Louisiana and Oregon, the nonunanimous verdict thing has been intended to function, and indeed functions, as a bypass of Batson. A representative example is Edwards itself: Knowing that you only need 10 jurors to convict, the prosecutor will disqualify all African-American jurors but one or two, thus escaping the need to answer to a Batson challenge but achieving the same outcome: disenfranchising African-American jurors through a combination of a sneaky voir dire tactic and an exploitation of a state rule designed for the very purpose of racist disenfranchisement. As Justice Gorsuch explains in the very beginning of Ramon:

Why do Louisiana and Oregon allow nonunanimous convictions? Though it’s hard to say why these laws persist, their origins are clear. Louisiana first endorsed nonunanimous verdicts for serious crimes at a constitutional convention in 1898. According to one committee chairman, the avowed purpose of that convention was to “establish the supremacy of the white race,” and the resulting document included many of the trappings of the Jim Crow era: a poll tax, a combined literacy and property ownership test, and a grandfather clause that in practice exempted white residents from the most onerous of these requirements. Nor was it only the prospect of African-Americans voting
that concerned the delegates. Just a week before the convention, the U. S. Senate passed a resolution calling for an
investigation into whether Louisiana was systemically excluding African-Americans from juries. Seeking to avoid unwanted national attention, and aware that this Court would strike down any policy of overt discrimination
against African-American jurors as a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, the delegates sought to undermine
African-American participation on juries in another way. With a careful eye on racial demographics, the convention delegates sculpted a “facially race-neutral” rule permitting 10-to-2 verdicts in order “to ensure that African-American juror service would be meaningless.”
Adopted in the 1930s, Oregon’s rule permitting nonunanimous verdicts can be similarly traced to the rise of the Ku
Klux Klan and efforts to dilute “the influence of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities on Oregon juries.” In fact, no one before us contests any of this; courts in both Louisiana and Oregon have frankly acknowledged that race was a motivating factor in the adoption of their States’ respective nonunanimity rules.

Ramos v. Louisiana, 590 U. S. __ (2020)

In other words, one approach to the retroactivity question could be that the rule in Ramos, which found this practice to be unconstitutional, can be readily understood as the Court’s effort to undo a tricky loophole in the application of Batson, which dates back to 1986. This reading would date the rule not to 2020, but to 1986, and would apply it to any case that was still in the appellate pipeline when pastels, neons, and shoulder pads were all the rage. Edwards’ appeal was denied only in 2009, so he would benefit from this reading.

Another approach would be to argue that the Ramos holding is a watershed rule of criminal procedure because, in the words of Teague, it “”implicat[es] the fundamental fairness of the criminal proceeding.” An easy probabilistic calculation shows the risk of conviction rises with non-unanimous juries. Think about it this way: with a unanimous 12-person jury, you need one person to insist on acquittal to get to a hung jury. With a non-unanimous 10:2 rule, you need three. With every reduction in the number of people who have to agree to convict, we are decreasing the voice of an unpopular opinion–which, as Henry Fonda reminds us in Twelve Angry Men, is essential for the functioning of the system.

Consider the following analogy between the Ramos holding and the rule announced in in re Winship: Before Winship, the burden of proof in juvenile proceedings was preponderance of the evidence (more than 50%.) The Court found this burden to deprive criminal defendants of their fundamental constitutional safeguard against the possibility that their fate be incorrectly decided due to fact-finding errors–the heightened burden of proof required for a criminal conviction. Ramos “implicat[ed] the fundamental fairness of the criminal proceeding” in a very similar way. Suppose, for example, that beyond reasonable doubt requires 90% certainty in each individual juror’s mind. Introduce non-unanimity and you’ve reduced the aggregate burden of proof to 90% certainty in 10 minds and 0% certainty in 2 minds. Those are significantly different odds, and in the aggregate they result in different odds of conviction–in much the same way that reducing the overall burden of proof does.

So much for the legal arguments. Policy-wise, I can see the Court contemplating the scary prospect of invalidating an entire history of trials in both Louisiana and Oregon–new trials for people whose cases have been final for decades! This prospect might have been what propelled Justices Kavanaugh and (to a lesser extent) Gorsuch to jump the gun and offer dicta in Ramos about it not being retroactive. Some of the concern with the mess retroactivity will wreak upon convictions in these states might be ameliorated by requiring, as for any reversal, a harmless error test. Moreover, there is another important policy argument that cuts the opposite way: because this rule has such an obvious racial animus behind it, applying it retroactively, as in Batson, would have a cleansing effect akin to the destruction of a confederate monument.

Is It True? Questioning Rigidly Held Beliefs

For the first few weeks of the pandemic, we were advised by CDC and WHO not to wear masks unless we were sick. The masks, they said, were for health care workers, and would not protect us or others against COVID-19. Social media was awash with expressions of anger and outrage at the selfish, inconsiderate, cruel people whose effrontery venturing outside wearing masks showed their indifference to others’ suffering.

Then, a New York Times op-ed changed the regulatory course of the pandemic. The CDC and WHO changed course, now advising people to wear masks whether or not they were sick themselves. Part of this involved the gradual realization about asymptomatic carriers and the infection cycle. Overnight, we all sewed masks. Because the N-95 masks many of us have from the great fires in California were reportedly scarce, even if we had used ones at home, we did not dare wear them in public for fear that others would (mistakenly) judge and scold us for taking these precious commodities away from frontline workers. And, predictably, social media was awash with expressions of anger and outrage at the selfish, inconsiderate, cruel people whose effrontery venturing outside WITHOUT wearing masks showed their indifference to others’ suffering.

Notice how quickly we pivoted from raging at our friends and neighbors for doing something to raging at them for doing exactly the opposite?

We still do not know nearly enough about COVID-19, its infection patterns, and the appropriate public policy measures that would undoubtedly reduce the contagion. But reading your local social media outlet, you could be forgiven for thinking that a lot of us seem very resolute in our opinions. Everywhere we go, we scrutinize our fellow humans with eyes freshly attuned to mask violations, outdoor exercise choices, and sidewalk etiquette–and if we don’t confront them directly, we go home and unleash our frustrations on the keyboard. I cracked up reading a tweet evoking the hysteria of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible: “I saw Goody Proctor shopping without a mask at CVS.”

Our voracious appetite for criticizing others and telling them off publicly is undeterred by the fact that, for a lot of the choices we have to make every day, we don’t actually know what to do. A few days ago, a probably well-meaning neighbor accosted my partner (who was wearing a mask) in the street and scolded him for not having our toddle wear a mask (children 3-12 are exempt from masks under the San Francisco ordinance, and children 2 and under are required not to wear masks because of the risk of suffocation. My son is 2.5 years old.) A friend posted a week ago of being told off by a stranger about bringing her sons to the grocery store and having them stand on a sidewalk–she honestly did not think it was a good idea to have them set foot inside the store.

Much of the confusion is due to the fact that, in public policy, there are often big trade-offs. Just as one example, ordering a delivery from your neighborhood restaurant keeps a small business afloat–crucially important, because we might not recognize our city when this is over–but it also endangers the delivery workers who bring the food to you. We all agonize over these decisions, but the agonizing, doubting, and reflection, seem to happen much more privately than the scolding and the shaming. I had a big belly laugh of empathy when I read this fantastic piece on Corporette. You should read the whole thing, but just to whet your appetite:

Actually she never leaves her house because she only orders groceries by contactless delivery. She tips generously so it’s ok for the delivery person to be at risk.

Until she’s overcome with guilt from having someone deliver her groceries so she decides to pick them up herself. At the grocery store, she shops alone. Never with children. She has a husband who watches them. Or if she doesn’t have a husband she utilizes an elaborately and meticulously researched system to ensure her children never go out in public. She shops from a list, with haste and with gloves and a mask. She has backup items for each item on her list in case the store is out. She has backup items for her backup items. She would never complain about a shortage because her planning has made any shortage impossible to affect her. The mask is naturally homemade because any surgical or N95 masks she has she donated to the local hospital last month, obviously. She hasn’t touched her face in years.

The Ideal COVID-19 Quarantine Woman, Corporette

Along the same lines, I got a wry chuckle or twenty out of reading Dave Eggers’ excellent piece in the New York Times. Again, read the whole thing, but this should give you an idea:

P: Where should we go for a run?

A: Ideally some place where you can spread out, where you aren’t in close proximity to other people.

P: Like the beach? A park?

A: Sure. Beaches and parks are wide-open spaces. They’re about as safe as you can be.

P: We just went to the beach and the park. There were hundreds of other people there.

A: You went to the beach? The park? What were you thinking? There are hundreds of people there! Go home. Be with your kids. Do you have kids?

P: Yes.

A: Well, make sure they keep up with school. Keep up with their worksheets and Zoom, and check their work, and keep them off screens, and go outside, and don’t worry about school. It’s a pandemic, after all.

P: Um. Many of the things you just said sound contradictory.

A: Not at all. I’ll rephrase: Your kids are living through a crisis. It’s all right if they feel anxious, or if you can’t maintain routines or keep up with regular school schedules. Just make sure they don’t fall behind, and remember that kids thrive on routine. So stick to a schedule, but give them space, and stay inside, and go outside, and use technology to connect with teachers and friends, and limit screen time.

There is nothing wrong with staying informed and trying to do our best. But when we become overly attached to our beliefs and opinions, our rigid grasp of them can stop us from examining the possibility that we might be wrong. This increases the suffering of others whom we judge, scold and humiliate, often publicly. Especially now, as the world quiets and slows down, an unkind word from you can ring in someone’s ears for days–and, contrary to what some of us think, shaming is not an effective strategy for incentivizing people to change their behavior. Moreover, scolding increases our own suffering, because feeling full to the brim with the fire and brimstone of self righteousness provokes upheaval and preoccupations that exacerbate our already turbulent internal experiences of this crisis.

Friends, we are not Bad People (TM) for doing this. The last thing I want to do is scold you for scolding others–that just compounds the problem! It is understandable and human for the inchoate fear and confusion that we feel these days to incessantly look for a “hook” to hang to. Tibetan Buddhists talk about this as shenpa. Pema Chödrön, with her usual crystalline quality, offers a description of this quality of being “hooked”:

At the subtlest level, we feel a tightening, a tensing, a sense of closing down. Then we feel a sense of withdrawing, not wanting to be where we are. That’s the hooked quality. That tight feeling has the power to hook us into self-denigration, blame, anger, jealousy and other emotions which lead to words and actions that end up poisoning us.

Remember the fairy tale in which toads hop out of the princess’s mouth whenever she starts to say mean words? That’s how being hooked can feel. Yet we don’t stop—we can’t stop—because we’re in the habit of associating whatever we’re doing with relief from our own discomfort. This is the shenpa syndrome. The word “attachment” doesn’t quite translate what’s happening. It’s a quality of experience that’s not easy to describe but which everyone knows well. Shenpa is usually involuntary and it gets right to the root of why we suffer.

One way to work with rigidly held beliefs is to create a quiet, safe space for yourself to investigate and question them with curiosity and kindness. I find that Byron Katie’s The Work, and especially her Judge Thy Neighbor Worksheet, can be helpful here. I confess to having some ambivalence about the way Katie works with people at her seminars, especially after having seen some videos; the spectacle is not tempered with enough compassion for my taste, and I also worry that shaming people publicly for rigidly held beliefs replicates and compounds the judgment embroiled in their own beliefs. But as a tool of personal exploration, it can be a useful way to soften your grip around what you strongly believe is “right”, consider the possibility that there is a broader context, and play with some turnarounds to learn more about yourself and others.

As I understand it, engaging in this kind of exploration is not intended to numb you to the ills of racism, social inequality, environmental destruction, or interpersonal cruelty. Accepting that something is as it is is not tantamount to burying our head in the sand and pretending that everything is fine. It does, however, offer you an opportunity to view your adversaries in a new light. Joanna Macy’s Work That Reconnects, which is infused with tireless advocacy for environmental justice, includes a fantastic exercise called Bowing to my Adversaries:

You, who destroy the natural world for profit, you show me how much I respect and honor our planet home and fellow beings. So I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.

You bring forth in me the love I feel for this life-bearing land—its soil, air and waters—and for the community that rises in its defense.  Because of the strength with which I resist your actions, I learn how strong my love really is. I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.

Because the pain I feel when I witness the pain of the world is no less than your pain–you, who perpetuate destruction and cut yourselves off from the web of life—I bow to you in compassion and touch the Earth.

Because the pain of greed, alienation and fear is no less than the pain of sorrow for what is lost, I bow to you in compassion and touch the Earth.

For the power of my anger, arising from my passion for justice, I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.

Because we all want to be happy, to feel intact and part of a single whole, for that shared longing, I bow to you in compassion and touch the Earth.

Because your actions challenge me to see the limits to my own understanding, they free me from holding my view as the only correct one.  I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.

You who teach me that the mind is a miracle, capable of manifesting as love, as greed, as fear, as clarity or delusion—you who show me what I myself am capable of when I am governed by fear and greed—O great awesome teachers, I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.

Understanding that we all belong to the web of life, and with love in my heart, I bow to you and touch the Earth.

Give yourself the gift of letting go of the blame game; drop your case and invite in some fresh air and a broader perspective. It can bring new freedom into how you are in your own being and in the world. Take a moment to tenderly, kindly, question your rigidly-held beliefs, and reap the rewards of spacious awareness in your mind. Real courage lies in starting the revolution within ourselves.

Two Salads, One Sauce

Two salad images

With grocery trips getting stressful and fraught, we all try to play ingredient Tetris with whatever we have at home. Our vegetable inventory has dwindled, and even though we have a delivery coming from our friends at Albert & Eve on Tuesday, a shopping trip soon seems inevitable.

In the meantime, I’m doing some fridge archaeology, finding some cool things in jars and some nice frozen vegetables to use. Some of what I found was disturbing and unidentifiable to the point that it reminded me of the great Faith Petric’s When Did We Have Sauerkraut? but some was useful. It’s a good exercise to see how I can optimally use my leftovers to feed my family tasty and nutritious meals. It helps to have the magical Nama Shoyu Ginger Sauce on hand–instant salad joy.

The salad on the right was made on Friday, when we were a bit more flush on ingredients. The main ingredient is a packet of frozen peas. To that I added leftover quinoa, leftover Brussel sprouts, radishes, tomatoes, some herbs, spring onions (I dig the green parts), and mushrooms.

By the time this morning rolled in, things were a bit tighter, so I used cannellini beans, celery, tomatoes, celery, olives from a jar (shudder! they are horrible! I hope the sauce masks their awfulness), and the white part of the spring onion.

We’re so lucky to have even the ingredients we have! Vegetable drawer is empty now, but we still have oranges in a basket and dry grains and beans in the pantry. How’s your food Tetris going?

Adventures in Sourdough

Sheltering at home has encouraged people to pick up various cooking projects, and I hear a lot about new sourdough enthusiasts! I may have even helped one or two of them bake their first loaf. I’ve been baking sourdough for some years now and it’s been a marvelous learning journey; with every loaf I learn more about the science and art of the process and gain more respect for wild yeast.

The loaf in the picture, which I baked this morning, is actually what started the whole thing. I used to be very sensitive to wheat, until I discovered that I can eat long-fermentation sourdough breads to no ill effect. I then developed an expensive habit: the amazing oatmeal porridge loaf from Tartine Bakery. It made me feel a bit like a chump to stand in line for a $12 loaf (!!!), and so I decided to learn to bake bread and be my own hero.

If you’d like to start, particularly if you dig the idea of whole grains and seeds, I would strongly recommend picking up Tartine Book No. 3. It has the Tartine recipe for a starter, the recipe for a basic white country loaf, and many variations on the theme, including breads with porridges and sprouted grains. While you get an easier rise out of bread that is at least in part made with white bread flour, the loaves above are 100% whole grain: 1000g hard white wheat (whole grain) and 250g steel cut oatmeal (leftover from breakfast) with 800g water and 25g salt.

Many of my fellow sourdough enthusiasts swear by Elaine “Foodbod” Boddy’s master sourdough recipe. It’s easy and beginner-friendly, and her gear list is great, though I think the instructions neglect to properly teach shaping (a crucially important skill to put some surface tension on the loaf so that it rises nicely.) Here’s the gear I use with some common household substitutes:

PurposeGear I use and likeSolid substitutes
starter storagenice handmade jar by Mark Campbellany Tupperware. When you’re starting out, clear containers with a rubber band around them will help you see how much the starter’s risen)
flour storagebins from The Container Storeany bin or bag.
dough mixingany large kitchen bowlprofessional bakeries use giant plastic bins. Anything really big you own will do.
coverI have a couche, which is a bit heavier than a tea towel, and comes in handy if you ever want to make baguettes.a tea towel will do just fine (that’s what I used in Cambridge.)
dough cuttingEven though I own a nice bench knife, I often just use my Cutco kitchen shears. Kitchen shears will serve you well. You’ll notice that it is really hard and sticky to cut dough with a knife!
shapingI use two well-floured cutting boards.You can go fancy here and buy or make a baker’s bench. I don’t have one–a girl can dream!
storageI use banneton baskets, which come in various sizes and shapes. I own a round one with a liner and an oblong one with a liner, both from Breadtopia. I put the full baskets in plastic bags to prevent the loaves from drying. At Cambridge I simply used round kitchen bowls, and you can do the same, provided that you cover them with well-floured kitchen bowls.
inversion into baking vesselparchment paper.No substitutes here. I would not bake without it–it’s a nightmare to release a stuck loaf from a baking vessel–nor would I use wax paper, which is terrible and sticks to your bread.
scoring toolbread lame and sharp razor bladesyou can rig a nice lame from a razor blade and a cheap chopstick.
baking vesselI bake my round loaves in a 3qt Cuisinart Dutch Oven and my long ones in a clay cloche from BreadtopiaYou’ll need something that can withstand a 500F degree oven, and I’d recommend sticking to a 3-3.5qt size. This Lodge Combo Cooker, which I used when were were in Cambridge, is a great value.

If this seems like a big to-do, at the beginning it kind of is, but it tends to settle into your weekly routine quite nicely. I bake once a week and find that the starter does most of the work for me. 🙂 There are a few hours where it’ll want about 30 seconds of your attention every half hour or so, but other than that, a lot of it is about patience.

If you find yourself looking for a new project to embark on, this might be a fun one for you! Let me know how it goes.

Motivation Without Grades: An Open Letter to my Students

Growing up, one of my favorite books was Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It’s everything you want in a 1970 philosophy/spirituality diatribe. The book is a fictionalized autobiography of a 17-day motorcycle trip Pirsig made with his son Chris and, for part of the way, with friends. The journey experiences are interspersed with stories about the past of the protagonist, Phaedrus, whose relentless inquiry into the nature of Quality end up driving him insane. Phaedrus’ story reveals this inner journey, his descent into madness, and his destructive experience with electroconvulsive therapy (like Pirsig himself). Eventually, Phaedrus regains his personality and reclaims his close relationship with his son.

I don’t love the book now as much as I did back then; the main character is difficult to like, the classicism-over-emotions conclusion does not align with my values, and a lot of the stuff rings more pretentious to me now that I’m less impressionable than I was in my teens. But there is one fantastic gem in the book that I want to tell you about.

A starting point for Phaedrus’ journey has to do with his job. A professor at a small college, he tries to motivate his students to write well, but finds himself dismayed with the quality of their essays. He concludes:

Schools teach you to imitate. If you don’t imitate what the teacher wants you get a bad grade. Here, in college, it was more sophisticated, of course; you were supposed to imitate the teacher in such a way as to convince the teacher you were not imitating, but taking the essence of the instruction and going ahead with it on your own. That got you A’s. Originality on the other hand could get you anything…from A to F. The whole grading system cautioned against it.
He discussed this with a professor of psychology who lived next door to him, an extremely imaginative teacher, who said, “Right. Eliminate the whole degree-and-grading system and then you’ll get real education.”

Phaedrus ends up inviting a student to write an essay about what it would be like to study without grades. After thinking about it, she becomes a convert to the cause, but her classmates remain skeptical:

Phædrus’ argument for the abolition of the degree-and- grading system produced a nonplussed or negative reaction in all but a few students at first, since it seemed, on first judgment, to destroy the whole University system. One student laid it wide open when she said with complete candor, “Of course you can’t eliminate the degree and grading system. After all, that’s what we’re here for.”
She spoke the complete truth. The idea that the majority of students attend a university for an education independent of the degree and grades is a little hypocrisy everyone is happier not to expose. Occasionally some students do arrive for an education but rote and the mechanical nature of the institution soon converts them to a less idealistic attitude.

Intrigued, Phaedrus runs an experiment: he simply stops giving his students grades. Here’s how the experiment goes:

[A]t first almost everyone was sort of nonplussed. The majority probably figured they were stuck with some idealist who thought removal of grades would make them happier and thus work harder, when it was obvious that without grades everyone would just loaf. Many of the students with A records in previous quarters were contemptuous and angry at first, but because of their acquired self-discipline went ahead and did the work anyway. The B students and high-C students missed some of the early assignments or turned in sloppy work. Many of the low-C and D students didn’t even show up for class. At this time another teacher asked him what he was going to do about this lack of response.
“Outwait them,” he said.
His lack of harshness puzzled the students at first, then made them suspicious. Some began to ask sarcastic questions. These received soft answers and the lectures and speeches proceeded as usual, except with no grades.
Then a hoped-for phenomenon began. During the third or fourth week some of the A students began to get nervous and started to turn in superb work and hang around after class with questions that fished for some indication as to how they were doing. The B and high-C students began to notice this and work a little and bring up the quality of their papers to a more usual level. The low C, D and future F’s began to show up for class just to see what was going on.
After midquarter an even more hoped-for phenomenon took place. The Arated students lost their nervousness and became active participants in everything that went on with a friendliness that was uncommon in a gradegetting class. At this point the B and C students were in a panic, and turned in stuff that looked as though they’d spent hours of painstaking work on it. The D’s and F’s turned in satisfactory assignments.
In the final weeks of the quarter, a time when normally everyone knows what his grade will be and just sits back half asleep, Phædrus was getting a kind of class participation that made other teachers take notice. The B’s and C’s had joined the A’s in friendly free-for-all discussion that made the class seem like a successful party. Only the D’s and F’s sat frozen in their chairs, in a complete internal panic.
The phenomenon of relaxation and friendliness was explained later by a couple of students who told him, “A lot of us got together outside of class to try to figure out how to beat this system. Everyone decided the best way was just to figure you were going to fail and then go ahead and do what you could anyway. Then you start to relax. Otherwise you go out of your mind!”
The students added that once you got used to it it wasn’t so bad, you were more interested in the subject matter, but repeated that it wasn’t easy to get used to.

Robert J. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974.)

I’ll leave it to you to read the book and find out what happened next.

The reason I was reminded of these captivating passages: Today I recorded the review session lecture for my criminal procedure students, who are taking my exam early next week. Under our College’s pandemic grading policy, everyone will receive a credit/no-credit grade for their efforts.

When we voted on this policy, there were many opinions among the faculty and the students about which grading system would accomplish the most in terms of fairness, compassion, and support of our students’ success. Excellent arguments were made on all sides in good faith. And now I’m running a twisted version of Phaedrus’ experiment, with my previous cohorts as my control group. I say “twisted” because this isn’t an experiment, or a game: we are facing extremely unusual circumstances. Financial, medical and psychological factors impact our students in a variety of ways, weighing heavier against students who come to us from less social/financial advantage to begin with. I am committed to reading all the exams with great attention, and I think they have much to teach me, but because there are so many unknown factors, I’m going to take the outcomes with more than a grain of salt.

But I do have a message to students–not just my students, but anyone who finds themselves toiling this final exam season without the usual external motivator of getting good grades. Even though writing a good exam (which I will read) and doing well on the course can eventually pay off in the world of external rewards in the form of, say, a recommendation letter to a future employer, you have been given a much bigger gift.

The only person you have to impress is yourself.

You have three hours to impress yourself with how much you’ve learned this semester, with your knowledge of the doctrine, with your analytical skills, with your creativity, with your penchant for problem-solving, with your organizational skills. Amidst the fear and anger and grief, there will be a bubble of freedom from assessment, in which you can grow and thrive–just for the pleasure of witnessing your own accomplishment. You have been gifted an interesting and challenging puzzle to work at quietly, on your own, without anyone critiquing you or breathing down your neck. You have been gifted the thrill of quietly marveling, without an audience, at your own mastery. You have been gifted the opportunity to shine unseen, where your spark is its own reward, in a time and space free of expectations.

I know some of you are facing very real difficulties this exam season: even having a quiet spot to take an exam with working Internet is not a given. And I also know that it is extremely emotionally hard to take on projects, and that it can feel like a huge presumption to tell you that a scary, negative experience is a gift. Only you know what it means *for you* to excel, or to rise to the occasion, given what is on your plate in this scary time. But to the extent that you have control over your circumstances and surroundings, and to the extent that your emotional bandwidth allows, ask yourself: Do you want a grade and a degree, or real education?

It’s completely up to you. No judgment from me or from anyone else.

What will you do with this gift?