Back in Oslo

I’m fortunate that I’ll be on sabbatical in the fall. As a result, I’ve taken two drastic actions.

1) I died my hair blue. Well, technically, just a swath of my hair is blue, but it was still something I probably wouldn’t do during the regular school year.

Kathee with Blue Hair

Kathee with Sabbatical Hair

2) I’ve moved back to Oslo. I’ll be here on and off for a few months, escaping the heat, enjoying an urban environment, reconnecting with friends, studying Norwegian, and working on my project with very few distractions.

Although I’ve been back in Norway several times since living here, it feels different this time around. I suppose one of the differences is that most of my friends are on holiday for the month of July which means that I’ve been left to my own devices, to some extent. I’ve been reading a lot and started creating my sabbatical website today (I’ll be working on a digital humanities project)–but every day, I make sure to take long walks, exploring both the immediate neighborhood and other parts of the city.

Today, my walk was incredible. I worked most of the day, so this evening, I decided to retrace my favorite walk from when I lived here: down Drammensveien and then along the fjord. However, when I got to the part of my walk where I usually turn back towards Aker Brygge, I decided instead to keep walking on Bygdøy peninsula, taking a path along the shore, then venturing into the more rural landscape complete with cow pastures. It was incredibly beautiful and I felt some regret that I hadn’t taken these paths before.

Drammensveien and Bygdøy

Drammensveien and Bygdøy

Spaghetti Squash

I can count the number of times I remember eating spaghetti squash on two fingers. That’s right: two.

1) I was in San Francisco with a friend and we ate a late lunch/early dinner at Pizzeria Delfina (a restaurant that I also blogged about here). We ordered pizza (of course), but we also ordered a spaghetti squash/red pepper flake/pancetta mixture. It was perfection, actually: a light lemony salad that had enough pancetta to seem just slightly decadent.

2) Tonight: I had purchased a spaghetti squash a few weeks ago that I finally tonight decided to use. I microwaved half of it in a glass pan with water, covered with plastic wrap. After 8 minutes, I let it sit a bit while I grated asiago cheese. I shredded the squash with a fork, put the asiago cheese on top, and added red pepper flakes, salt, capers, sliced grape tomatoes, and sliced kalamata olives. I loved it. I’ll definitely be making this again.

Resisting Entropy

I’ve been re-reading Patti Smith’s Just Kids, a memoir about her early years in New York when she and Robert Mapplethorpe were growing into a sense of themselves as artists. The insecurity of that process strikes a chord with me-the idea of not being sure who you are or where you are headed. We don’t always know where our choices will lead us–but that shouldn’t lead us to entropy, should it?  The memoir reminds me that art often comes from doubt, that the artist wills herself into existence.

Life is so unpredictable. We are capable of transformation at any moment. I love this passage from a Mary Oliver poem, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Sometimes, we assign questions like that to the young. . . but I’ve been thinking about how–no matter what age we are–that question still applies. We still have choices about what we will do with the rest of our lives, no matter how many years remain.

Reading List 2015

Just finished my second book for 2016 and remembered that I haven’t blogged my annual favorites of the books I read this year. Yet again, it wasn’t a big reading year for me–but I did read some books that I really loved. Here they are in the order I read them:

  1. Jessica Santillan, Inheritance. (This was an MFA thesis–but I loved it and hope it will be published some day soon.
  2. Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See.
  3. Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train.
  4. Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace.
  5. Liz Prince, Tomboy.
  6. Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist.
  7. Paula Vogel, How I Learned to Drive.
To fill out the list, here are some books I enjoyed:
  1. Olen Steinhauer, All the Old Knives.
  2. Margi Preus, West of the Moon.
  3. Nellie Bly, Around the World in Seventy-Two Days.

And here are some facts related to last year’s reading:

I read 33 books.

11 of the books I read last year were 2nd or 3rd reads.

I can barely remember many of the books.

I still like to read.

Zucchini Noodles

The summer of eating healthy continues. I’m trying to eat a lot more fruit and vegetables–and I am loving so many different kinds of foods. I love that I live in a place that produces so much good produce.

Recently, I bought a new cookbook with a gift card that someone gave me: Sara Forte’s The Sprouted Kitchen: Bowl + Spoon. Check out the link and you’ll find inspiration (and recipes) for some really good food. I decided to try a recipe tonight which I chose by assessing which recipe I could make using ingredients that I already had. I did have to go out and buy some basil, but other than that, I had everything in my pantry. I chose the recipe for “Double-Pesto Zucchini Noodles.”

I loved this dish. It was so beautifully green and the pesto added enough richness that the dish seemed indulgent. I basically made a single serving of the zucchini, but made extra pesto to use in the next few days. I think I might have to buy another zucchini tomorrow so I can do a repeat! Here’s the recipe, mostly following the instructions in the book (with a few notes on how I diverged from the recipe).

Double-Pesto Zucchini Noodles

**

5 large zucchini (I only used one zucchini so I scaled everything back except the pesto since I know I can use it in so many ways)

Sea salt

**

Pesto:

1 large clove garlic

1/4 c. toasted pine nuts

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2 t. sea salt

1/4 t. black pepper

2 c. firmly packed basil (I think I only had about a cup, so I used a little less of the other ingredients)

1/2 c. olive oil

1/3 c. grated Parmesan

**

1 pound vine-ripened tomatoes, stems attached (I detached mine since I was using the toaster oven to roast them)

2 T. olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 c. white beans, rinsed and drained

Freshly ground pepper

1/3 c. toasted pine nuts

1 c. basil julienned

3/4 c. shaved parmesan

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Slice the zucchini into thin strips (the recipe suggests using a julienne peeler, but I don’t have one so I used a knife). Place the zucchini onto paper towels and sprinkle with sea salt–and let them sit for 20 minutes, then blot and get rid of as much of the water as you can (but do so gently!).

While the zucchini sweats, make the pesto. Place the ingredients into a blender or food processor and blend.

Rub the tomatoes with olive oil, add salt and pepper, and then roast in the pre-heated oven until they begin to get soft. For me, this took a little over 15 minutes since my tomatoes were large.

In a frying pan over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and saute for about a minute. Add white beans, salt and pepper, and saute until the beans are warm. Add the zucchini and saute for ONLY another 5-6 minutes. Toss the zucchini “noodles” with 1/3 c. of the pesto, pine nuts, julienned basil, and parmesan. Make sure to add a tomato on the side of the dish.

The recipe suggests adding red pepper flakes and lemon zest, but I totally missed this step and the dish was still delicious.

Composed Salad

Recently, I read a New York Times article about the composed salad, in French, the “salade composee.” Something about this concept intrigued me, so Monday I bought a lot of beautiful, fresh, organic vegetables and made my first composed salad. It was the perfect summer meal: so fresh and delicious.

Yesterday, I was going to lunch at a friend’s house and decided to bring my second composed salad. Another friend had just given me a lovely dish to put it in. Here’s a photo:

Although one can put anything in this salad, here’s what mine contained:

Grape tomatoes, sliced in half

Cucumbers, peeled, halved, and seeded

Shredded carrots

Breakfast radishes, sliced thinly

Arugula sprouts

Capers

Shallots (diced)

A mix of feta and various olives

I sprinkled it with an Oliviers and Company herb/salt mix, squeezed lemon on top and drizzled with good olive oil.

I can imagine so many other ingredients to put in it: tuna or smoked trout, red peppers, peas, fava beans, lentils. This is such a versatile salad, one that I’m sure I’ll eat repeatedly throughout the summer!

Buy Local February

For a long time, I’ve wanted to do a buy local month–but it wasn’t until I found a locally owned grocery store that I finally decided to make February my buy local month. I happened to be talking about this with my friend Adrienne right after I made the decision–and she agreed to join me. As it turns out, February will be a really busy month for me–and I may face challenges in buying local when I go to Sacramento one weekend and San Jose another night for a conference. I’ve decided, though, to let myself have an out . . . if I absolutely have to buy from a chain, I’ll make a contribution to a local charity to make up for that. I’m hoping to avoid that as much as possible, though, as I really want to live up to this commitment.

I’ll try to blog when I can about the businesses I frequent during this month. For now, though, here’s a list of places I’ve found that will be part of my buy local efforts.

The Market (grocery store)

Kristina’s Ranch Market (grocery store)

Vineyard Farmer’s market

Sam’s Deli (for prepared foods and some grocery items)

The Farmer’s Daughter CSA (community supported agriculture)

Las Palmas Supermercado (1405 W. Shields)

Tower Gas and Mini Mart (gas station)

A Book Barn (bookstore)

Food, gas, and books. Do I need anything else? (Stay tuned for my next blog entry which will be a guide to locally owned restaurants)

Reading List 2014

So, yeah, this hasn’t been a year for blogging. There are many reasons for that. I’m busy, I’m doing other things, I’ve lost interest. But here’s my traditional list of my favorite books I’ve read this year (in the order in which I read them).

  1. Benjamin Alire Saenz, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.
  2. Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch.
  3. Chimamanda Adichie, Americanah.
  4. R. J. Palacio, Wonder.
  5. Linn Ullman, The Cold Song.
  6. Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast.
  7. Willa Cather, A Lost Lady.
  8. Rainbow Rowell, Attachments.
  9. Lynn Darling, Out of the Woods: A Memoir of Wayfinding.
  10. Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven.
One of the things I find interesting about the reading experience is that I have lingering impressions of the place I was when I read some of these books. For example, I read The Goldfinch and Americanah curled up on my couch while I was recuperating from foot surgery. Similarly, I’ll now associate Out of the Woods and Station Eleven with hotels in Annapolis and D.C. since I read those books while traveling.
One night in DC, I had tickets to go to an interview with Dorie Greenspan. I’d already walked a lot that day, said goodbye to friends, but arrived quite early to the venue. I sat on a bench in what was a combination of hallway/lobby/art gallery reading Out of the Woods and thinking about the adjustments I’m making at this particular moment in time. The metaphor Darling uses in her text really spoke to me–learning to find direction again after big changes in life. I’m glad to have read that memoir this year.
Opposite of this is my experience reading The Cold Song, a novel about a dysfunctional family in Norway. I don’t have vivid memories of images in that book–which seems appropriate since there’s something about the plot that is ghostly and insubstantial.
I enjoyed reading at a more leisurely pace this year after 2013’s frenzy to meet my goal of reading 50 books. In 2014, I read only 36 books.
So that’s my year in books.

Full Professor

I started graduate school right after I earned my B.A., in part because I wasn’t ready to face “real life” yet. I moved from Utah to Arizona, not exactly sure that it was the right move for me, but absolutely sure that I needed to leave Utah and experience something new.

That first year, I immersed myself in American literature, loving everything about being a graduate student. I read and researched and studied and wrote–and I didn’t quite care what would happen to me at the end of that process. But somewhere along the way, I acknowledged that ambitious part of me that wanted a career as a professor–at the same time that I came to understand how difficult it was to get that type of a career as an Americanist.

Would I have pursued graduate school if I had really known how challenging the job market was? I don’t know. All I know is that I worked hard and strategized about how to get a job. And, miraculously, at the end of graduate school, I was hired as an assistant professor at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. I felt so lucky that this happened to me, that I was one of the lucky few to get employment as a tenure track professor.

Fast forward 16 years to today–I just found out that I have been promoted to full professor. Over the years, I’ve thought about the tenure system, job security, and the inequities of a system that focuses so much on publication over any other sort of dissemination of information. I don’t like that about my career–and yet, at this particular moment, I have to pause, reflect, and enjoy the moment. I know I have worked as hard as anyone I know to get to this point in my career. Although I don’t believe that I deserve this more than anyone else, I do believe that I deserve this moment, this time to feel proud of my career, and to appreciate how unlikely this seemed so many years ago.

So I rest, I accept the congratulations of colleagues, friends, and students. I consider how many people have helped me get to this point. And I’m grateful, so very, very grateful. I can’t express how much I am grateful and humble and appreciative that this job worked out for me.

And then, I contemplate my next steps and the kinds of differences I can make given the position I am now in.

Downtown at Night

Fresno at Night

Fresno at Night

“The city is wilder than you think, and kinder than you think. It is a valley and you are a horse in it. It is a house and you are a child in it, safe and warm here in the fire of each other.”

Robert Montgomery

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