Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Machoism vs. Interdependence

My husband left for a business trip to San Diego the day we were expecting Hurricane Sandy to hit, leaving me with three kids, two dogs, and a generator. Having lived in places like Guam and Florida, I don't scare easily at wind and rain. However, I still gave my kids a big long speech about what to do in the event of an emergency.

I have to say that my neighbors (the ones who knew my husband would be out of town) were all very kind about offering assistance should I need it. There was one offer of help, though, that has got me thinking.

We have one neighbor who, on the outside, seems like such an imposing figure. He's quite tall and stocky. He's obviously very, very smart, and he has the sort of profession that requires a lot of quick-thinking and the ability to speak extemporaneously with a great degree of fluidity. However, he came over Monday afternoon to let me know that I could come over anytime if we needed help. But the way he did it was so faltering and stumbling and so apologetic, that it seemed out of character and tickled me a bit on the inside.
"If you need anything, let us know, and I, uh, I'll be glad to help. I'm sorry... that sounds a little bit like machoism, but with John out of town and all...and you've probably got it covered, but... just so you know, we'd be glad to help..."
It was a genuinely nice offer, and I genuinely appreciated it (particularly since I'd already given my kids instructions to call 911 and go to his family's house in case I got knocked out or something). But then I had to wonder what I did -- me with my little self -- to scare such a big man into fearing he might offend me by offering assistance, to worry that being a decent human being might be misconstrued as "machoism." (Seriously, I think a lot of people in NYC and NJ would love a bit of "machoism" right now.)

Of course, I don't really think it was me. Even though I'm far from being mousy, quiet, or dependent, I'm not (or at least I hope I'm not) the brash, strident, me-against-the-world type, either. My husband suggested that he might be used to women, though, who are fiercely independent to the point that just the offer of help implies to them that they're failing. Hmmm... I don't know. Either way, I wish that things were different between the sexes.

I know some women who complain chivalry is dead and singlehandedly are trying to revive it. They insist on men opening doors for them, giving up seats, standing up when they leave a table, taking their hats off in buildings, and so on. Then I know women who complain that these old-fashioned manners are degrading and sexist and are trying to kill them off. To both of these groups, I just want to say, "Chill. Be cool."

I've had men hold doors open and give up their seats for me -- and I think it's lovely! On the other hand, when I see men with their hands full or elderly/disabled men, I gladly do the same for them. My point is that basic human decency and consideration for one another shouldn't be gender-dependent. I think it would be nice to live in a world where women (or men) didn't feel like they had to carry burdens all on their own. I'd like to see a world where men (and women) could simply be nice and helpful to each other without being misunderstood. I'm talking about interdependency -- serving others wherever we can, and graciously accepting help when we need it. To me, that would be the definition of real "liberation," for women and men.

Ok, ok, I'm getting preachy. Getting down from my soapbox now.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Scrolling through Netflix at 4AM this morning (not that I wanted to be up, just couldn't sleep), I noticed a film called Happy.  Its description read:

Happy takes viewers on a journey from the swamps of Louisiana to the slums of Kolkata in search of what really makes people happy. Combining real-life stories and scientific interviews, the film explores the secrets behind our most valued emotion.

It sounded fascinating. Then I skipped it so I could catch up on Doc Martin. But the idea of the movie has stayed with me all day. What makes my family happy?

Knowing how hungry my boys are when they get home from school, I made some pretzels this afternoon. As soon as they found out, my little one started a happy dance. Even the older, "cooler" one threw his image aside, jumped into my arms, and plastered me with kisses. He exclaimed, "My day was horrible until I came home!"

So this was the answer to the question I'd been pondering all day. In our house, happiness is a little bit of flour, yeast, and water.

Assistant baker hard at work

To share our happiness with you, here is the recipe I used.

Soft Pretzels (makes 18 pretzels)

  •  1 Tbsp yeast 
  •  1 1/2 c Warm water 
  •  2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  •  1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour 
  •  3 Tbsp canola oil 
  •  1 1/2 Tbsp Honey 
  •  6 Tbsp baking soda; in 6 cups water 
  •  pretzel salt; optional 

In a stand mixer, combine yeast, warm water, flours, oil, and honey. Using a dough hook, mix for about 5 minutes until you have a soft, smooth dough.

Place dough in a greased bowl; turn over to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double (about 1 hour).

When the dough is almost done rising, line two baking trays with parchment paper. Lightly oil/grease the paper. Set trays aside.

When the dough has doubled, punch down dough, turn out onto a floured board,and divide into 18 pieces. Then roll each piece into a smooth rope about 12-18 inches long (depending on how thick you like them), and twist into a pretzel shape. Place pretzels slightly apart on baking sheets. Let rise, uncovered,until puffy (about 25 minutes).

Meanwhile, in a 3-quart stainless steel or enameled pan (not aluminum), bring soda water to a boil; adjust water to keep water boiling gently. With a slotted spatula, lower 1 pretzel at a time into pan. Let simmer for 10 seconds on each side, then lift from water, drain briefly on spatula, and return to baking sheet. Let dry briefly, then sprinkle with coarse salt if desired. Let stand uncovered until all have simmered.

Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to racks; serve warm with butter or mustard.

We always seem to run out of pretzels immediately, but if you can't eat all of yours right away, you can cool them completely, wrap airtight, and freeze. To reheat, place frozen pretzel on ungreased baking sheets and bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until hot.
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