Life revisited

I just spent the evening going through my old fanfic journal, tagging entries for easier sorting. At this point, it’s been more than five years since I was intensely involved in fandom, so it’s strange to go through the entries and see patterns I didn’t recognize at the time, or that I did recognize but later forgot.

I remembered how much I wrote in the four years I was most deeply involved in fandom, but I’d forgotten how much I used my fanfic to experiment and stretch myself as a writer. There’s a bunch of entries that start out, “I have no idea how this will turn out, guys, so be gentle while I figure this out!” and each time, my friends list responded with real encouragement that kept me going.

I wrote a lot more there about my personal life than I had remembered doing. My friends list was made up of kind, wise people who I could trust with very personal things. I’d forgotten how deep that closeness ran. I’d remembered putting a lot of time and energy into fandom, but I’d forgotten how much fandom gave me in return.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get back into fandom in the way I was before. I’m really trying to work on original novels now. The fandoms I used to focus on are all off the air, and I don’t know if there are any fans left who will care if I ever review the old seasons well enough to be able to finish writing the massive Sentinel/SG-1/SGA/Torchwood/Dr. Who fic I got stuck on. And in terms of new fic, I’m just not getting story ideas for the fandoms I’m into now, like Sleepy Hollow or Sherlock. But who knows? Maybe I will wend my way back someday. For now, it feels important just to acknowledge how much I owe to fandom, and what a big part of my life and my growth as a writer it was.

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Butternut squash burritos

One of the most useful skills I’ve developed since I started cooking for myself is knowing how to separate the ingredients/concept from the vehicle of a recipe. I hate risotto, but since risotto is a starch, I can take the asparagus, lemon and parmesan from a risotto recipe and mix them with a starch I do like, such as pasta. I keep kosher, but I can take a goat cheese and sun-dried tomato baked chicken recipe and change it to a goat cheese and sun-dried tomato baked fish.

So I saw a really interesting galette recipe on Smitten Kitchen and instantly thought, “Hey, if I can turn this into mini galettes or hand pies, that would make an awesome lunch!” Two problems with that idea: the pastry dough is way too fattening for everyday food, and working the dough when you have no pastry cutter, rolling pin, or counter space is a bit challenging.

Hence, my invention of the butternut squash burrito: much simpler to make and much less fat to feel guilty about.

1 small butternut squash (about one pound)
1 T butter
1 large onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 t salt
1/8 t cayenne, or to taste
1 cup Swiss cheese, grated or cut into small bits
1 T chopped fresh sage leaves (or 1/2 t dried)
2-3 cups cooked rice
Soft tortillas

Preheat oven to 400. Cut squash in half, scoop out seeds, and place cut-side-down on a cookie sheet coated with nonstick spray. Roast for 1 hour and set aside to cool.

While squash is roasting, saute the onion in the butter and cayenne over low heat, stirring occasionally, until caramelized. Let cool.

Scoop the butternut squash out of its shell into a mixing bowl with a spoon. Stir together the squash, caramelized onions, sage, and cheese.

To assemble burritos, spoon equal amounts of rice and squash mixture into tortillas and fold up. Since the squash mixture will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for a week, I assemble the burritos one at a time before work every morning so they’re fresh.

Mandela, Suzman, and All Those Who Stand Together

(This article first appeared at jwa.org.)

It was beautiful, last month, listening to the many tributes that went out for Nelson Mandela in the wake of his death. I wanted to say something about my own feelings about the loss of this man who embraced his enemies and helped transform a country, but I felt like I didn’t have the right.  What could I—a Jewish-American white woman—have to say? Then a colleague suggested that I write about Helen Suzman, whose death we remember this week. I drew a blank. Helen who?

Helen Suzman was a member of the South African Parliament for thirty-six years, and for thirteen of those years she was the only member of the Progressive Party, a lone voice speaking out against apartheid from within the government. In an era of strict censorship, her questions in parliamentary sessions helped illuminate for South Africans the terrible situation that was unfolding in their own country. In one famous exchange, when Suzman was accused by a cabinet minister of embarrassing South Africa in the world’s eyes, she responded, “It is not my questions that embarrass South Africa, it is your answers.” Calling herself “an honorary ombudsman for all those people who have no vote and no member of Parliament,” she not only advocated for the rights of blacks, she also fought for women’s rights and for humane treatment of political prisoners. After meeting Mandela during a visit to Robben Island prison to inspect conditions there, she told Parliament that he was the one man who could bring a peaceful resolution to the problem of apartheid. At a time when Mandela, still in prison, could not be quoted or have his photograph published, Helen Suzman played a valuable role in drawing attention to his plight and making the country and the world aware of him.

So why isn’t she better known? Perhaps it’s due to her insistence on struggling to change the pro-apartheid government from within instead of fighting the system head-on. A more obvious reason Helen Suzman is less well known than many of her freedom-fighting counterparts is that, in the long narrative of black South Africans fighting for equality, there isn’t an obvious place for the story (or voice) of a white Jewish woman.

We need to focus on the emerging voices of black heroes. But something is lost when that becomes the only story, when the voices of those outside of that group are erased from the narrative. Jewish South Africans, because they were both white and not-white, straddled the boundary between outsiders and insiders, able to both see the injustice of the system and use their “white” privilege to effect change. We saw the same thing happen in the US Civil Rights Movement, when young Jews and other liberal whites went South to register black voters and participate as Freedom Riders, sometimes at the cost of their lives. When we forget those stories, we forget that we have a responsibility to speak out for others as well as for ourselves. We begin to think it’s not our problem, or we worry that our offer to help will be seen as intrusive outside interference. We forget that every successful revolution is wrought by hundreds and thousands of invisible hands, not just by the towering heroes. Remembering that is the best way to honor not just Mandela’s life, but Helen Suzman’s as well.

On JWA:

Encyclopedia entry for Helen Suzman

Remembering Helen Suzman

On the Web:

BBC interview

Legendary Heroes of Africa

Statement from Nelson Mandela Foundation for Helen Suzman’s death

Lime Cilantro Rice

I had my first taste of lime cilantro rice in a little Mexican restaurant in Colorado. Light and fluffy, sweet and flavorful, it balanced whatever it was paired with: fish tacos, black bean burritos, fajitas. Since then, I’ve been trying to recreate the magic of this deceptively simple starch at home with little result, but I think I’ve finally cracked it–adding lime zest as well as the juice of the lime helps punch the flavor up enough without weighing the rice down with too many spices or ingredients.

1 t oil or butter
1 cup white basmati rice
1 lime, zested and juiced
2 cups hot water
1/2 t salt
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced

Heat the oil or butter in a medium saucepan/pot. Add the rice and stir to coat grains with oil. Add the salt, lime juice and zest, and water, turning up the heat to get everything to a boil. Once the water starts boiling, turn it down, stir once, cover, and cook for 15 minutes or until water is absorbed. Add cilantro and stir. Cover again until ready to serve.