Friday, June 18, 2010

The food thing

I'm still thinking about summer reads, but wanted to go in another direction for a bit.

Food is on my mind a lot lately.

I know that I don't eat the right things or the right amounts and probably not even at the right times. So I've admitted that.

Now I'm trying to eat better and take care of my body. To that end one step I've taken is to make more smoothies.

That sounds ridiculous if smoothie makes you think of what I call candy smoothies - the super sweet drinks that may or may not have fresh fruit in them that we pay $3+ for from chains.

But that's not where I am on the smoothie continuum. A few weeks ago an herbalist I know recommended that I eat more dark, leafy greens to address a health issue. She suggested kale, spinach and collard greens. And she mentioned that I could cook them.

And while I am a Black woman from the south, I cannot cook greens. Well, I don't cook greens. I could, but I don't.

Because I wanted to start changing my life right away - and cooking a pot of greens wasn't going to be the quickest route, I looked up recipes for kale and found green smoothie recipes.

Greens in a smoothie? Sounds like something I would try. (I'm a veggie dabbler - love the idea of being vegan - but am so easily tempted by bacon, *sigh*)

So I tried a green smoothie - with a big leaf of kale, banana, and some other fruit - can't remember - with soy milk and honey. I added the honey because I was afraid I'd need to cover the taste of the greens.

It was great. It is not a candy smoothie - and my kids tried it, but after timid sips decided they would pass.

But I kept making them for myself, every day. Sometimes with kale and spinach. I have used apples, frozen mango, frozen blueberries, strawberries, peaches and grapes in the smoothies.

And I think it is helping me. But continuing to overeat and eat meat and dairy is not. So I need to try harder.

All this to say that Sistah Vegan, edited by A. Breeze Harper (@sistahvegan on Twitter), is on my reading list. As a Black woman who wants to eat better (healthier, slower, more ethically) I'd like to read what the racial/social perspectives are on vegan living.

And Soul Vegan Kitchen, by Bryant Terry (@bryantterry) has been on my list for a year. I need to just stop playing, buy it and make time to cook. He has another project in the works and mentioned that the African diaspora will be in full effect in the new cookbook. Can't wait to see that one as well. I love to look through and try things from cookbooks - it always feels like so many possibilities for joy.

Tonight - by grabbing the links above from Amazon - I saw By Any Greens Necessary, by Tracye Lynn McQuirter. Yes, I want to buy it from the title alone. Here's the product description:
* The first vegan guide geared to African American women
* More than forty delicious and nutritious recipes highlighted with color photographs
* Menus and advice on transitioning from omnivore to vegan
* Resource information and a comprehensive shopping list for restocking the fridge and pantry

Selfishly, I'd love to see these three books bundled with a membership to an organic food co-op. And a Vita Mix blender. That would be dreamy - and yes, drinking green smoothies has made me have joyous thoughts about green leaves and beautiful fruit.

There's so much more in all of this - how far we've moved from not even ancestral diets, but just the basic vegetable staples we had growing up - or some of us had. How much difference it makes what kind of stores, restaurants and advertising are in your community (I'll have to come back and post about my recent grocery story experience and memory) and how we've become a foodie culture but we're ruining it by slathering on cheese.

Not that I don't like cheese - I do. But I know I need to walk a different way.

Anyway, I'll leave you with a few smoothie ideas:

Basic -
1 big leaf fresh kale
1 banana - frozen if you can
1 - apple
1 teaspoon honey
1 cup soy milk

Take the basic and tweak it - add a cup of fresh spinach leaves or leave out the apple and add a cup or two of berries and another cup of mango or peaches.

Through in grapes or blueberries for a purple/green smoothie.

Tonight I threw in one small carrot stick. Add more or less or make a carrot focused smoothie.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Summer reading

At the beginning of summer (which technically doesn't begin until next week) many publications do a story about great summer books that are coming out.

These are the books that will fill beach bags and lazy summer afternoons. Even for the many people - the majority - who won't have lazy anything this summer, those lists help push books and give readers a way to sort through the mass of books online and in stores.

I like to read summer reading lists and recommendations to get titles in my head for my own reading. Obviously I love books, but I hate being in the library or in a store and not have some highly desired title in my head. I can always find something to read, but I love the anticipation and celebration of grabbing a title that I've been looking for.

Recently Professor Blair Kelley (@profblmkelly on Twitter) asked for summer reading recommendations of smart fiction by and about Black women. And that's exactly the kind of list I'd like to see somewhere.

So, here are some titles that are on my reading list:

Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor
International award-winning author Nnedi Okorafor enters the world of magic realist literature with a powerful story of genocide in the far future and of the woman who reshapes her world.

In a post-apocalyptic Africa, the world has changed in many ways, yet in one region genocide between tribes still bloodies the land. After years of enslaving the Okeke people, the Nuru tribe has decided to follow the Great Book and exterminate the Okeke tribe for good. An Okeke woman who has survived the annihilation of her village and a terrible rape by an enemy general wanders into the desert hoping to die. Instead, she gives birth to an angry baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand. Gripped by the certainty that her daughter is different—special—she names her child Onyesonwu, which means “Who Fears Death?” in an ancient tongue.

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, by Heidi Durrow
The Girl Who Fell from the Sky reveals an unfathomable past and explores issues of identity at a time when many people are asking "Must race confine us and define us?"

In the tradition of Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John and Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, here is a portrait of a young girl—and society's ideas of race, class, and beauty.

It is a winner of the Bellwether Prize for best fiction manuscript addressing issues of social justice.

Whoops! I'm out of time. More summer reads later. If you have one ... put it in comments.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Eleanor Taylor Bland, mystery author

I love mysteries.

Whodunits and detective stories have been among my favorite reading pleasures since elementary school.

I remember a third grade teacher trying to dissuade me from reading Encyclopedia Brown books because they were below my reading level. I didn’t care one bit about the reading level – I loved those little mysteries. He was my first fictional sleuth.

And I read a few Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries along the way.

Because I majored in literature and eventually got a graduate degree in literature, many of my adult reading years were focused on more “serious” titles. So I didn’t read many mysteries.

A few years ago, I “rediscovered” my love of mysteries. I think the credit for that goes to Walter Mosley and Valerie Wilson Wesley. Black private investigators and rich storytelling, FTW.

There was only one problem. Once I’d read all of Valerie Wilson Wesley’s Tamara Hayle novels, I was jonesing for another Black woman detective to follow. So I went searching and eventually found a site that listed Black mysteries. And I began to read books by the women I found there.

One of those writers was Eleanor Taylor Bland. She wrote the series featuring Detective Marti McAlister. Marti is a widow with two children who is on the police force in a small town outside of Chicago.

She became one of my favorite characters. There are many books that feature lone investigators and detectives with no family ties or obligations. They endanger themselves and take incredible risks. But the inclusion of family life in Bland’s novels kept me interested. I wondered how the character’s life would develop and knew that she had motivations beyond solving the case. And I’m interested in how family life affects the character’s decisions, information gathering and thinking. How would a mother approach a case differently than an unencumbered man?

Bland wrote Marti in a way that kept her out of the cozy side of the genre (which is where sleuths tend to face those issues, more, I think).

Several of my favorite female sleuths face those family questions, including Marti McAlister, Tamara Hayle, Charlotte Justice (novels by Paula Woods).

Bland died at age 65. I’ve only seen one long obituary on her. It makes me think that there are many readers who have missed out on her work. And that makes me sad. I had to look for her work, but when I found it, I loved it.

If you love mysteries, female sleuths, stories about justice-loving working women - go read one of her books. Here's a list.