Doro Wat


I first discovered Massawa when I worked at Planned Parenthood decades ago and a bunch of us got together after work—a mix of card carrying liberals, closet socialists, all feminists—washed down some spicy Doro Wat with Ngoma.  I know I just said a couple words there you may have never heard of but trust me when I tell you that hot, spicy Ethiopian food eaten without utensils and only the aid of spongy bread injera to shovel it all into your mouth, and then grasping a now slippery beer bottle with greasy fingers is probably one of the richer and more memorable food experiences you’ll ever have.  I took Pru to Massawa on one of our first dates and after his initial hesitation and recounting that awful (awfully funny, to be specific) line from When Harry Met Sally about ordering empty plates at an Ethiopian restaurant, he thoroughly enjoyed his first foray into Ethiopian food.

Moment of silence as we mourn the loss of this now defunct Ethiopian eatery…

massawaHere we are, 25 years later and I tried my hand at the spicy chicken stew Doro Wat, and it was actually fairly easy to make.  The most exotic thing about it is the spicy berbere spice blend which you can either buy or prepare yourself.  If you make it yourself, you can control the spiciness because Ethiopian food is notoriously numbingly spicy.  I made my own.

  • 2 ½ to 3 lbs chicken thighs and legs
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cups yellow onions finely minced to a chunky puree in food processor
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced ginger
  • ¼ cup berbere (see recipe below)
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • ½ cup garbanzo beans
  1. Place the chicken pieces in a bowl and pour lemon juice over. Let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a saute pan or dutch oven.  Brown chicken pieces turning over twice to ensure it’s browned on all sides.  Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
  3. In the same pan, add the onions and saute, covered, over low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add the garlic, ginger, and 1 tablespoon butter and continue to saute, covered, for another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add the berbere and the 2 remaining tablespoons of butter and saute, covered, over low heat for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add the browned chicken, garbanzo beans and broth, bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  7. Adjust the seasonings, adding more berbere according to heat preference.
  8. Serve hot with injera bread or rice.

Berbere spice, adapted from The Daring Gourmet

  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 2 whole allspice berries
  • Seeds of 4 green cardamom pods
  • 4 cloves
  • 5 dried red chilies, seeded, broken into small pieces
  • 3 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  1. In a heavy skillet over high heat, toast the whole spices (seeds) and chilies, shaking the pan regularly to prevent scorching, until very fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and let cool completely.
  2. Grind the cooled spices in a spice or coffee grinder. Add all remaining ground spices and salt and grind everything together.
  3. Store in an airtight container in a dark place.



New Beginnings


So this particular post is not about food, it’s about new starts.  As noted previously, we moved J to a new school after a month of agonizing deliberation.  I couldn’t write about it earlier because it was too painful and fears of being an inadequate mom were hard to come to terms with in the past month, but thankfully after some distance I’ve made peace with it.

Out of respect for his other school I will leave out details and show this picture instead, taken the first week at his old school.

Suffice it to say that Js forced smile is atypical and falls somewhere between constipation and repressed misery

IMG_0776And then we met Principal Jocelyn.

IMG_0767The first time I talked to her on the phone, we spent a happy few minutes laughing and talking about the origin of the name we shared.  I had almost forgotten that we were in crisis mode that day as Pru and I were trying to schedule appointments and tours for potential schools to move J to–it was a Friday and we had made a decision remove him from his current school so we didn’t want to wait much longer.  Jocelyn normalized the whole experience and made us feel at ease from the moment we first talked.

By the way, this was taken at JJs last Halloween parade, hence the reason for our attire.  We look like we’ve all known each other forever, right?

So, to make this post useful and not so much a rant or a rave, I will share some key lessons I’ve learned:

1)  When interviewing teachers and administrators, trust your gut.  First impressions are important so if you don’t get a warm and connected feeling to the school and people in it, pay attention to that.

2) Parents are just as much a part of the school community as the children are.  Get involved, help out and learn about the culture of the school through that involvement.  Not all parents have this luxury or the flexibility in work schedules, but if you have time off or vacation days spend at least part of it volunteering at the school.

3)  Not all kindergarten teachers will be warm and fuzzy.  That’s OK; I didn’t necessarily need warm or fuzzy but patience combined with an appreciation for innovation and technology are essential.  A teacher who doesn’t like to email or use the computer is a yellow flag.

4) Interview and tour your potential school.  Attend open houses (mostly scheduled during the week-ends) and bring your child along.  Kids are so often used to having things done to or for them, we forget to do things with them.  Have them sit in the classroom and let them get the feel of the environment they will spend the next 5-9 years of their lives in.  It’s only fair.  Then ask them questions about how they felt, what they liked or didn’t like.  You’ll be surprised at how useful these little people are in this process.

5) During that interview ask about things like support available to teachers for large class sizes, resources available to parents and students if or when the child starts to struggle.  How often do you communicate with parents and what’s the preferred mode of communication.  Do you welcome visits to the school and how are they scheduled?  What are appropriate learning and developmental milestones for incoming kindergarteners, 1st graders, etc?  In other words, what do you expect them to be able to do or how to act?

6) Don’t be swayed by your ideal of what a school should look like.  I fell in love with the beautiful building and surroundings of the first school because it looked like the school I attended as a kid.  I also thought that my child will benefit from this environment but remember, it is just a building.  It’s the teachers and the staff and principal that set the tone and foster the learning and growth of the kids–nostalgia and pretty, not so much.  That was a parenting fail on my part by the way.

7) If your kindergartener tells you they don’t like school and it’s only been two weeks, listen to that.  Investigate, ask more questions and meet with the teacher.  Have the principal involved in that meeting so everyone is on the same page.  In the end, we are all on the same side.

8)  Lastly, if it’s not a match between the school and your kid, move them.  Don’t wait until relationships suffer  and communication breaks down.  There was mutual courtesy, we gave them notice and were very transparent with the principal on the reason for our move, giving her some pretty candid feedback that we hoped would benefit the teacher and ultimately her students.  Begin that feedback with, “I hope you take this feedback in the spirit in which it is intended.”  In turn, she was gracious, tried to talk us out of moving and thanked us for our honesty.

This is the after to the before picture

IMG_4864-1Most importantly, I’ve learned once again that we are all works in progress.  Just because we moved schools doesn’t mean that we as parents are devoid of responsibility for the learning and growth of our children.  If the kid acts out in the old school, chances are he will act out in the new one.   Constant vigilance and reinforcement as well as discipline at home go a long way towards helping teachers do their job.  We don’t just drop our kid off and expect the school to do all the work.  Pru and I look at it as a partnership where we all work towards a common goal.  Yes he still misbehaves and gets in trouble but we feel comfortable addressing them head on with the knowledge that he’s not perfect, teachers are human and in the end we’re all in this together.