Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The First Annual Out of the Binders Conference and the Power of Female Communities

Ten years ago, you'd never have caught me dead at a conference dedicated to "women and gender non-comforming writers." I thought I'd had my fill of female community after a terrible stint at an all girls prep school in my small Southern town. There I'd felt the emphasis on female-ness ghettoizing, a matter of reducing me (at the peak of puberty) to my breasts and ovaries and the way the world reacted negatively to those bits and parts, no matter how I identified or what other labels I might subscribe to. Yet the first annual BinderCon in New York City was a breath a fresh air, a space where women were celebrated no matter how else they might describe themselves and what other qualities they might possess. The goal was simple, to help women share their voices in the media, and achieve a fair and equal place in the professions where they earn their bread.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

People and place: What we dream, remember, live and love

I have been in New York City for just 24 hours, and I’m already filled with this electric sense that one lifetime isn’t enough to see and learn everything I want to.
New York is a loaded city. It’s the American city. It’s the city that many television, film and literary writers seems to think is the only one that can contain all the sheer volume of human experience that they, as artists, need to express. No matter where in the United States you live, you know its boroughs, its accents, its stock characters, its history, its neighborhood acronyms, even some of its bakeries and delis and coffee shops, thanks to things like "Sex and the City," "Seinfeld" and "When Harry Met Sally."
New York is loaded for me, too, on a more personal level. I have family here, and their history (our history) is tied up in stories of Washington Square Park in the '70s; scarfing down meals off hospital trays at Columbia; blind dates on Broadway; and, on one memorable occasion, getting to use Donald Trump’s limo. Walking to my cousin’s apartment, I went past a block-long discount shop that used to be the famous Strand Bookstore. The apartment was her grandmother’s. She’s dating a guy whose father was an iron worker who topped off the World Trade Center. He’s at work as I’m writing this, topping off the new Freedom Tower. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Kitchen Intuition: More on allergies and fermentation

Last weekend, Shawn Schuster’s column focused on reducing allergies with fermented foods. There are many good reasons to make fermented foods part of your daily diet. The study of our gut bacteria is an emerging science, but the evidence appears to indicate that a happy microbiome is good for your immune system, helps in maintaining a healthy weight and can aid in mood regulation. Fermented foods are one of the best ways to feed that system.
In his article, Schuster sagely advises us to use caution when selecting sauerkrauts and pickles at the grocery store, because many commercially produced products are not actually fermented. If you want to be sure of what you’re getting, making your own is a very quick, simple and money-saving process, which is very carefully explained in "The Art of Fermentation" by Sandor Katz (if you want to meet the author and compare notes with other fermenters, keep an eye out for the workshops he sometimes holds in the area; Katz travels a lot, but his home base is not all that far from Chattanooga).
If you don’t have the book, you can read an intro to fermentation and get a recipe for kraut-chi on Katz’s website. To make sauerkraut, the only ingredient you really need is cabbage, though most preparations also use salt (preferably noniodized). You can add more to it, of course, but you don’t have to. I would also argue, though, that one other thing you’ll need is some assurance that you’re not going to make yourself or anyone else sick with food that has been sitting out for days or even weeks on end.

Monday, October 6, 2014

My rapist told me he loved me: Why assault doesn't look like PSAs

There have been two big stories in the news recently, one national and one local. The first is the story of Rehtaeh Parsons, a Nova Scotian teenager who committed suicide after photos of her rape went viral. The second is that of a jogger who was raped in North Chattanooga. At first, they might seem to have nothing more in common than sexual assault. However, they each have a lot to reveal about how we react to stories of rape, depending on how familiar the narrative is.
Parsons' case was in many ways a story we’ve heard all too often. She was a young girl raped at a party, a Canadian version of Steubenville. I don’t need to repeat the details. It’s a story that is familiar from almost any movie or TV show featuring a high school party. Variations have happened in books like "It Happened to Nancy" and in a variety of public service announcements. It’s a horrifying but familiar tale—so familiar, in fact, that everyone from lawmakers to tech startups is trying to address the kinds of rapes we hear about most: those at inebriated parties or on college campuses.

Monday, September 29, 2014

On the edge of a knife: The quest for fleeting happiness

This time last year, I was struggling with the worst bout of depression I’ve had since high school. For the first time in my 20s, I was struggling to stay afloat, despite the fact nothing was technically wrong. I’d had other depressive episodes, to be sure, but this one I couldn’t blame even in part on a breakup, a toxic work environment or some other situational source of stress. I was suddenly underwater, and there was no obvious tributary to be pinpointed. The tide kept rising, and it seemed to come from all sides.
Things have gotten better since then. I’d say that right now I am experiencing the best mental health I have since childhood. It took a lot of hard work and self-forgiveness and paying attention to minute details to figure out how I could stop the flow of all that drowning water and install a few drains to clear out what had accumulated. It would be easy to say that I’m grateful to be happy. But I’m not sure if I can.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Kitchen Intuition: Quick pepper relish


One great problem to have at this time of year is to be overrun with peppers. The last time I picked up my farm share at the market, it was overflowing with them. There were sweet peppers, bell peppers, poblanos, habaneros, jalapeƱos, banana peppers and probably a few I didn’t recognize. Add to that the peppers that have been coming in from generous neighbors as they’ve been harvesting their own abundant crops, and I ended up with a whole lot of different kinds of peppers this past week.

What to do with them all? The August issue of Get Out Chattanooga features a great recipe for stuffed peppers that also takes advantage of the late summer’s wonderful cherry tomatoes and basil. The author says the dish is just a 10-minute prep, with 30 minutes of largely unattended cooking.
If you’ve got more than a few peppers, though, it’s probably time for pepper relish. That’s where I found myself this past week. After just a bit of prep, the peppers are gone, and I’m very well-stocked with some of the best pepper relish I’ve ever tasted.