simple lentil soup

AKA we have too many veggies from our CSA and are trying not to waste any!

as mentioned above, each week we get a half-share of a CSA (community supported agriculture) from Rock Steady Farm, a queer worker-owned farm co-op. the veggies are always fresh and delicious but we aren’t always the best at daily cooking — this is where recipes like these come in! i easily used up the lion’s share of our fresh vegetables and made a delicious, healthy lentil soup. ingredients and instructions below — notably, i think any fresh veggies you have could easily be used in place of what i had!

ingredients:

  • 2 bell peppers
  • 3 whole fresh tomatoes
  • 5 carrots
  • 5+ cloves of garlic
  • olive oil (or preferred oil)
  • 2 cups of red lentils
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • 1 can of chickpeas
  • 2 cups of water
  • garlic powder
  • TJs onion salt
  • salt or herb salt
  • turmeric
  • cumin
  • smoked paprika
  • oregano
  • pepper
  • NOTE: cayenne would have been good too, and an onion if you have it! (we didn’t)

steps:

  1. prepare your vegetables. wash everything thoroughly and peel the carrots, if you like to do that. chop the bell peppers and tomatoes into cube-like shapes. slice the carrots into thin rounds. peel and chop the garlic finely.
  2. heat the olive oil or whatever oil you prefer in a soup pot. sautée the garlic in the oil briefly but don’t allow it to burn. add the bell peppers and carrots and mix around. let cook for a few minutes then add tomato.
  3. add spices/seasonings to taste, do whatever spices you like best! i prefer to just add a bunch of big shakes for each spice — i never measure, but i think people err on the side of less spice so definitely lean into adding the spices!
  4. let this all cook for a few minutes, then add the cans of coconut milk and chickpeas.
  5. add 2 cups of lentils and stir around, then add 2 cups of water and stir that in too.
  6. bring everything to a boil, then put on a lid (you can keep it so steam escapes) and lower to a simmer.
  7. let cook, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t stick, for 20 minutes.
  8. using a blender, whatever sort you have, blend the soup until it’s sort of mushy and combined (or don’t if you don’t have a blender!)
  9. serve with a splash of olive oil on top, avocado slices, black garlic or everything bagel seasoning.

the goal of schooling

(painting by Elaine Duras)

as it is…

what are the goals of modern education, as it stands today? generally i think people know that schools provide skills and organization to children. people think of school as the place children go to prepare them to be productive, functional adults, and this is definitely true. less explicitly, they serve as childcare to the working class — which is why free pre-k has been such a big movement. childcare costs in this country are inaccessibly high, and free care is needed so that people can do the work they need to do to survive.

what does it mean to prepare children to be productive and functional adults? what does it mean to be productive, to be considered functional? i would argue that productivity is measured by how much we labor for our bosses under capitalism. to be productive means to be working — to hold down a job, to labor all day and then do the labor of living at home. perhaps to have a “side hustle,” to monetize even those cherished few hobbies to make ends meet. to be functional means to do this without pause, without complaint, without question. disabled folks, mentally ill folks, anyone who cannot function in our grind-forever culture, are considered non-functional and therefore a drain, unworthy of support.

a primary goal of The School has always been social reproduction, i.e.: schools necessarily must create citizens that function as the ruling class needs them to. in our world, that means creating worker-bees and bosses. children are used to punishment and confinement because those things are employed by schools. school is an incredibly structured day where students move quickly from subject to subject (often spending as little as 30 minutes on each subject) unable to delve into content deeply or explore their own interests. science and social studies are taught at the elementary level in an incredibly cursory way because learning math and reading (as vacuum subjects somehow assumed not to interact with other topics) is paramount. content is completely subsumed to skills, though research shows that children pick up skills best when learning interesting content. children of the working class go to school in particularly regimented, punitive environments, as they are being trained to become worker bees like their parents (or forced into the carceral system through the school-to-prison pipeline). these are primarily low-income children of color, and the schooling system both reflects and reproduces the racism that is a central tenet of capitalist america’s functioning. children of the bourgeois, primary white wealthy students, go to schools which support their independence and primacy, as they are being trained to follow their parents as the next CEOs, financial planners, and so on — the bosses.

students are expected to sit still and be quiet, and are rewarded when they do so and punished harshly when they cannot. cultural expectations in families vary greatly; generally speaking, the type of students that “thrive” in this environment are white girls, who are trained at home to sit still and be quiet from a young age. anyone who is not a white girl (and not all white girls, anyway) is punished for behavior that is natural to children, like socializing, focusing deeply on an interest, or moving their bodies. race and class are part and parcel with this dynamic — high poverty schools are the most punitive environments, and punitive in the highest stakes way, as in-school cops take punishment from something being doled down by a (generally white woman) teacher and turn it into a punishment from the state, which forces children to engage with and be punished by the carceral state.

all this to create the ideal capitalist citizen: either those who exploit the labor of others, or those whose labor is exploited (the far end of which is the free labor extracted from incarcerated people). under capitalism, workers are worked to the brink of complete exhaustion to prevent them from agitating for a more equitable system. laws are created to punish those who do manage to agitate (hence why union strikes are illegal in many states, etc.). bosses maintain their power and wealth because it affords them comfort and stability. they are critically aware of the suffering the working class faces and know that within capitalism, they must either choose to continue to exploit others or to give up their own comfort and suffer as well.

…and as it could be

knowing this (and the above absolutely does not cover the many dimensions of white supremacist capitalism and its education system), what would schooling look like in a radically equitable, community-oriented, ecological future? perhaps it is clear that i advocate for an anarcho-communist future — one in which people own their own labor, are in charge of themselves, and work together in consensus-based cooperatives to make the things and organizations we need to thrive.

in radical imagining thought exercises, one often starts from the end (what does X type of society look like?) and moves backwards (what do we need to get to that point?), which i find extremely helpful in planning how we can move forward in the present moment.

i asked myself the following questions: what are the purposes of life? (community, pleasure, and creation.) what are the challenges our world faces? (health challenges, climate challenges, lacking social and physical infrastructure that allow us to thrive.) why are we facing these challenges, i.e. what root things must change? (global white supremacist capitalism is the economic and social structure from which all of this flows, so we need to build a new economic/social system.)

here is what i imagine schooling to look like in an ideal case scenario, and i invite you to share your thoughts (or poke holes in mine!) as well:

  • i picture a model based on unschooling and anarchist principles. basically, schooling based on the understanding that children are people who are capable of making the choices that feel good to them and that help them learn skills and content that interest them. the caveat to this is that, as adult facilitators (using that word intentionally in place of “teachers”), we should actively guide children in their interactions with one another. working cooperatively, supporting one another, being kind to others, etc., are natural instincts of humans but ones that are subsumed by the natural self-centeredness that occurs developmentally in children. we should also ensure that the content available reflects the radically equitable new world we are trying to build (books, learning materials, etc.)
  • adult facilitators should reflect diverse skillsets (emotional, technical, artistic, scientific, mathematical…) so that children have a number of people who can help them develop the skills and capabilities they need.
  • the things i imagine useful to know: engineering, plumbing, cooking, baking, woodworking, painting, sculpting, crafts, building websites or models, music, dancing, statistical analysis, empathetic listening, city planning, cleaning, healthcare work, reading, writing, mathematical models, growing foods and plants and herbal medicinals, chemistry, physics, biology, botany, ecology, animal science/husbandry and land management, psychology, storytelling… and so on. hands-on, practical things, in addition to creative work, all geared toward creating a thrive society not based on exploitative capitalism.
  • school days could be shorter, though children would always have the ability to rest when they need. if labor changes to be voluntary association-based, then children would not need to remain in on school grounds for a specific period of time as they do now, but would be able to spend time with loved ones more freely.
  • children should always be actively engaged with the broader community. older children would apprentice with local adults in the community to learn further skills and find out what they might like specialize in. elders would be invited to share in the school, creating crucial inter-generational bonds between children and elders. the adage “it takes a village to raise a child” is utterly true, and our modern nuclear-family structure doesn’t allow us to engage in collective child rearing. raising children in a collective, communal structure gives them access to people with all kinds of social-emotional and practical skills to share — children can’t get all they need from 1-2 parents, and 1-2 parents cannot alone do the labor of raising a child.

these are the beginnings of how i think we should begin to restructure our schooling system — as one single person, i don’t pretend to have all the answers or the best ideas, but this is what i am thinking and i’d love to engage with others thinking about this too. the reality is, our current education system isn’t “broken” in the sense that it is doing exactly what it should be doing under white supremacist capitalism. but we do need to question whether the way education works is capable of building a better world, or only able to recreate more of the same exploitative, inequitable systems we have now. if our education system as it stands can’t be part of building something better, it’s time to start building a new education system.

late summer peach cake

with toasted coconut & pepitas

i baked a cake yesterday, adapting this recipe from Smitten Kitchen for a strawberry summer cake. we got peaches in our CSA, and while in summers past i would have just eaten them fresh, i recently developed a (stronger) allergy to birch pollen, which is commonly found on tree fruit. i’ve had the allergy for a while (i was allergy tested as a child) but now i get hives and itchiness in my mouth when i eat tree fruit, which is quite sad because i love fruit! anyways, cooking fruit alleviates the allergy, which is what led me to making this peach cake.

the original ingredients versus what i used, below:

  • Original:
  • 6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pie plate
  • 1 1/2 cups (188 grams) all-purpose flour (can swap 3/4 cup or 94 grams all-purpose flour with 3/4 cup or 75 grams of barley flour, see Note)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 cup (200 grams) plus 2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup (118 ml) milk
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
  • 1 pound (450 grams) strawberries, hulled and halved
  • My recipe:
  • 8 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, browned in a pan (i did this for the flavor and because i always fail to soften butter before baking — it’s always frozen)
  • 1 1/2 cups (188 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 cup (200 grams)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup (118 ml) milk (i used oat milk because we didn’t have regular)
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
  • 5 peaches, cut into 12 slices each
  • allspice and cinnamon
  • 1/2 to 1 cup of flaked coconut
  • 1/2 cup pepitas
  • powdered sugar, for topping

recipe from smitten kitchen below, with my adjustments included:

  • Preheat oven to 350 F, 180 C
  • Butter a glass casserole dish (or any pan that is on the deeper side or wider side, 9-10 inches recommended for rising)
  • Thoroughly mix flour, baking powder, salt, allspice, and cinnamon together in a bowl
  • Brown stick of unsalted butter in a pan
  • Add browned butter to a larger bowl with sugar, mix together until fluffy
  • Mix in milk and vanilla until combined, then mix in egg (i am always afraid the egg will cook if i add it to a hot mixture, ha!)
  • Add dry mixture gradually, mixing just until smooth
  • Pour into prepared baking dish
  • Toast coconut and pepitas separately
  • Press coconut and pepitas into the cake batter, evenly spread (could also try mixing in before pouring the mixture!)
  • Arrange peach slices to cover whole top of cake, pressing in slightly
  • Bake cake for 10 minutes at 350 F, then 50 minutes at 325 F
  • Test to ensure a fork pressed in comes out clean, and it’s done!
  • Coat lightly in powdered sugar to serve

climate change in nyc

what happened, what’s coming, & what we need to do

last night Hurricane Ida hit the NYC metro area, causing widespread flash floods, the shutdown of every subway line (!!), and a tornado. 9 people are dead as of this morning — and I worry, realistically I think, that this doesn’t include those from the city’s unhoused community that haven’t been found or counted missing.

i live in uptown manhattan with my partner and our cat. last night, we experienced: intense lightning, leaking from our windows (particularly those with AC units), brief flashes of the power going out. our building’s hallway leaks and our garden-level neighbors in the building almost always get flooded. outside of our building, the intersection we live on completely flooded. i’m talking from buildings on one side of the road to the other — completely flooded, the sidewalk under water, cars driving through at least 6 inches of water, people wading around in water that was surely toxic. there was a tornado further downtown and a few in New Jersey too. and as i mentioned above, every. single. subway. line. either flooded or had to shut down because the flooding in other parts of the system was so extensive. this is extremely rare. the last time i believe something like that happened was hurricane sandy in 2012, almost a decade ago. the city is under a state of emergency and news outlets are framing this as the worst disaster since hurricane sandy. according to new york mag, every person who is known to have died so far in NYC was in a ground/garden level apartment, and the death count includes a 2-year-old child.

this is obviously a huge disaster. much like the pandemic over the past 18+ months, this is a disaster that has revealed life-threatening cracks in the system.

first: it’s clear this won’t be the last time climate change brings unmanageable flooding to our city. we’ve experienced lesser flooding, including flooding on the subway lines, several times prior to Ida this summer alone. this impacts not only our public transportation, but also our ground and garden level apartments. any apartment at or below street level is at risk of flooding, which not only threatens people’s belongings and living environment, but also their health (due to mold and the toxicity of flood waters) and their lives. let’s repeat: every. single. person. who is known to have died last night died in a ground/garden level apartment.

this means we need to realize that these apartments are fast becoming unlivable. complicating matters is the fact that a vast swath of NYC apartment buildings lack elevators — perhaps the majority! this makes garden and ground level apartments the only accessible option for many people who can’t manage stairs (though ground/garden apartments do often require some steps for access too) and can’t afford to live in an elevator building, which are often more expensive. people in these apartments need a rehousing plan that takes into consideration the maximum rent they can comfortably pay, their accessibility needs, and their ability to stay in the neighborhoods and communities they love. people are going to need this ASAP.

next: building upgrades. more buildings in NYC need elevators so that buildings are accessible to the disabled, the elderly, those with children, and just generally everyone! if this sounds impossible, know that it is not. excavating the room for an elevator within an existing building is difficult and incredibly costly, yes, but elevators can be built outside of the existing footprint of the building as well for far cheaper. realistically speaking, we aren’t going to tear down all the old buildings in new york to build newer, updated buildings with elevators, in-unit laundry, etc. this would be costly, wasteful, time-consuming, disruptive, destroy beautiful architecture that we have the right to maintain, and so on. so instead, we must forge ahead with retrofitting old buildings with the upgrades and necessities required by New Yorkers, especially elevators!

now let’s talk about transit in NYC. the subways flood. they flood and then they mold. where i live, one of the nearby stations flooded and a back room subsequently molded, creating a noxious smell that lasted weeks before the city sent people to clean the mold. i know this because i literally watched clean-up people in hazmat suits open the door to this back room, and i saw the black layers of muck and mold they cleaned up, and the next day the foul smell was gone. i’ll hazard a guess that this was unsafe for human consumption — how many people walked through that station, breathing that air? what about the MTA employees who sat down in the station for hours a day?

i don’t think it’s unrealistic to think of a future day when the below-ground subway system will experience flooding so consistent and debilitating that the entire system is rendered defunct. even if this day is 50 years off, it serves us well to make advance plans to ensure that people are safe and can travel and move the way they need to around the city. that said, the subway as it is is already lacking in many ways. trains are delayed, slow, crowded, unhygienic, and often serve as housing for the unhoused (another major issue that could be resolved by simply providing adequate free housing for the unhoused community). we are all experiencing the pandemic and no doubt can fill in the blanks for the issues this brings up in terms of community health and safety. that said, the subway remains the best form of public transportation offered by the city in terms of speed, reliability, and capacity.

if you look at a map of the subway system, below, you will notice that all subway lines lead to lower manhattan. lower manhattan is the focus of the entire system because the system was built to serve capitalist economic interests — AKA a lot of people work in lower manhattan, so all the subways take you there. you will also notice that there are few lines that connect, for example, queens to brooklyn, or that go across the bronx in a way that allows people to travel from the east to the west. i live in uptown manhattan and work in the bronx, so there are no direct routes via the subway, making buses my “best” commuting option.

this configuration of subway routes has many major impacts on people’s lives. as i mentioned above, i believe the subway is objectively the best way to travel around NYC. buses are slow, mostly-local, and subject to traffic. they hold less people and emit more carbon emissions than the subway system. this is the assumption i move forward with.

configuring the subway this way prevents people from easily moving within their boroughs (east-to-west in the bronx, manhattan, and staten island, and north-to-south in queens and brooklyn). people don’t only work in midtown — restricting subways this way means that people must use buses as their main mode of transportation for commuting. people don’t only have friends who live in their neighborhood — this configuration also prevents people’s free, convenient movement for pleasure and community. many people live without access to subways at all, which also forces them to rely on buses.

given these factors: that the subway is poorly configured for optimal commuting and pleasure movement for most people in the outer boroughs, and that the subway is at risk of being rendered obsolete by climate change, i have a proposal. i don’t claim that this is the only or best plan, just what i think could be a workable solution.

my proposal is creating a trolley-like system in NYC, AKA an above ground rail track that fills in the gaps that exist in our current subway configuration, and could eventually replace the below-ground system. the trolleys should exist on their own roads, but they don’t have to disrupt the existing roadways in the city (though they would replace some). see proposed diagram below (i didn’t come up with this intersection idea, but i can’t find the original image — please do comment if you have it so i can update). alongside the trolley tracks would be greenways — trees, bike and walking paths, outdoor space for restaurants, community garden and food forest space. this would add a huge amount of green space to the city, which has countless benefits.

^the diagram above reflects a roadway that passes under a slightly elevated trolley and greenway lane at an intersection. cars go under, trolley goes over — far less excavation is required than building a below-ground transit system.

citibike has seriously expanded biking accessibility in the city, but people often complain about the parking space it takes up. parking is a big deal in the city! we don’t have enough garages, and street parking is losing ground as we expand green and open streets and add citibike stops. here’s the thing about parking. people have cars as part of their jobs (uber/lyft/etc.), to fill needs unmet by public transit, and as a means of escaping the city. we probably won’t get rid of the need for cars in NYC, but certainly filling the gaps in public transit will help reduce folks’ need for cars. the best solution to changes in parking availability that i can think of is to add more garages — i’m coming from the perspective that it’s a net good to reduce parking spots on the street in favor of green spaces, bike lanes, and citibike stations. an average city block has spots for perhaps 40 cars, maximum. an average parking garage holds anywhere from 350-500 cars (approximately 10 city blocks’ worth of space). adding parking garages to reduce the need for street parking obviously has pros and cons, like, for example, the fact that the land used for those garages could go to housing or community spaces. since most of these garages would need to be built from scratch, i propose including space on top for community gardens, community centers, or even free-or-low-cost housing.

these are just a few ideas that may or may not hold water. in the end, climate change is undoubtedly here, putting lives and community functioning at serious risk. we need to be thinking of how to live and thrive through this (and also, of course, build towards a society that isn’t based on constant reckless consumption and the complete ruination of the planet, and where people’s ability to thrive is paramount) and everyone’s ideas matter as we move forward. if you have any thoughts or ideas or responses, please do share below!