Forbidden Cookbook: Sneaky Vegetable Lasagna

The title of this recipe post might be a little misleading, because the lasagna I’m about to share with you does contain meat, though you could leave it out if you wanted.

This is a wonderful one-dish meal for families whose members include finicky kids who won’t eat vegetables. It has fiber, veggies, dairy, and meat all in one. It also goes nicely, if you’re feeding a hungry bunch, with ciabatta rolls or garlic bread. Add a salad and you have a delicious weeknight feast. But be forewarned: a serving of this stuffed lasagna can be really filling!

I admit the prep isn’t super quick; mine took about 20 minutes. And the cooking time could be about 45 minutes. So start this one as soon as everyone gets home from work/school. The good news is that this makes about 8-12 servings, depending on the size of your pan and how you slice the lasagna up, so it could potentially be two meals. I recommend a 9”x13” casserole dish, unless, like me, you have a brownie pan with walls in the middle. (If you use such a brownie pan, you reduce the risk of a soupy middle, but you will probably have to break and artfully arrange the noodles when you lay them in the pan, which adds a few minutes to your prep time.)


  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 1 can reduced sodium dark red kidney beans (drained)
  • SNEAKY PART ALERT: baby food purées of butternut squash, carrots, and green beans (though any orange-colored baby food will work well here, as they hide in the sauce undetectable by children on the lookout for Evil Vegetables They Refuse To Eat)
  • oregano (to taste)
  • 15 oz. ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg (slightly beaten)
  • SNEAKY PART ALERT: 1 jar (about 24 oz.) spaghetti sauce––with mushrooms and olives (So sneaky!)
  • 1 15-oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1 box no-boil lasagna noodles
  • at least 2 cups shredded Italian cheese blend (though plain mozzarella will work well here)
  • 3 tablespoons ground parmesan/romano/asiago cheese blend (though plain parmesan will work well here)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (Fahrenheit).

Brown ground turkey on stove in large skillet. When meat is browned and crumbly, add baby foods, kidney beans, spaghetti sauce, and tomato sauce. Sprinkle oregano on top. Stir and cook on medium high heat until bubbling, then reduce heat to low and let simmer. (You could also add any other finely chopped veggies to the sauce at this point, if you wanted. I imagine onions, portabella mushrooms, bell peppers, extra olives, zucchini, yellow squash, and eggplant would all be tasty here. Replacing the ground turkey––or whatever other ground meat you wish, such as beef or crumbled sausage––with these various vegetables could make this a good meatless entrée.)

lasagna sauce
yummy meat sauce with sneaky vegetables

Combine egg and ricotta cheese and more oregano in bowl. (If you wish to add basil here, do so. I don’t because I’m allergic to it.)

Spread a thin layer of meat sauce on the bottom of the lasagna pan. Spread a layer of noodles on top of this. Spoon some of the ricotta mixture over the noodles. Add a layer of meat sauce to cover the ricotta mixture. Sprinkle the shredded cheese blend over the whole thing. Spread another layer of noodles on this, then repeat the ricotta, meat sauce, and shredded cheese steps. Do it all one more time if you have room in the pan. Keep going until you’ve filled the pan about ¾ of the way to the top.

Add one last layer of noodles, then the remaining sauce, and finally the remaining shredded cheese. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese blend over the whole thing.

Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 10-15 minutes or until bubbling. Let the lasagna rest five minutes before cutting into it and serving.

baked lasagna
The deliciousness is resting before we dig in!

Forbidden Cookbook: Lemon Chicken Tagine

I love a tagine.

For the uninitiated: a tagine is a Moroccan-style stew; it’s also the vessel said stew is cooked in. A tagine can be a one-pot meal, containing most of your food groups in a single, easy-to-prepare dish. Served over couscous or rice, it makes an easy but comfortably complex dining experience, excellent for all weathers. If you really want to be balanced, add a salad or green vegetable on the side.

It’s easy to find tagine cookbooks, and it’s actually not all that difficult to find tagines, either. My husband bought me this small and beautiful one for Mother’s Day a few years ago from Williams-Sonoma. It’s the perfect size for our family of four and sits directly on our gas stove. (If you have an electric range, tagines sometimes have to be handled a little differently; you can refer to the cookpot’s instructional guidelines for more information. They operate beautifully in an oven, too, which is what I used in our old house that had a glass cooktop.)





So the other night I needed to make dinner and didn’t have anything planned, but I did have a few simple ingredients on hand in the pantry (including canned vegetables, which means this was super easy to put together, though fresh ones will work beautifully too if you have the time). I made what I’m calling a Lemon Chicken Tagine. It ended up being delicious served over jasmine rice. Here’s the recipe.






1 lb. fresh (or thawed, if frozen) chicken thighs
extra virgin olive oil (for sautéeing)
butter (for sautéeing)
minced garlic
1 can button mushrooms, drained
1 lemon, scrubbed and sliced (discard the rind tips)
1 can chick peas (also called garbanzo beans), drained
1 can sliced white potatoes, drained
salt (optional)
pepper (optional)
garlic salt
lemon pepper




In a large pan (not your tagine yet), sautée the garlic and mushrooms in enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add butter to taste; I usually drop in a good-sized spoonful scooped from the spreadable butter or a tablespoon of stick butter. Add the chicken thighs, chick peas, and potato slices. Now is a good time to add a little salt and pepper, if you like, to taste. Cook until the chicken is done (internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit), turning the thighs now and then and stirring the vegetables around.

When this is finished, transfer everything to the tagine. Add garlic salt and lemon pepper to taste. Spread the lemon slices around evenly. Add water to the dish just until everything is mostly covered, then stir everything up to make sure it’s well mixed. Stir gently, though: this dish will be full!

Cook the stew until it comes to a boil. Refer again to your own cookpot’s instructions for heating guidelines; mine works well up to medium heat on the stove. Once the stew is boiling, stir once more — gently — then cover with the conical cover and simmer on low heat. Again, individual tagine manufacturers  will recommend individual timing guidelines. (If your cookpot doesn’t have an instructional guide, you can find all manner of resources online to go with yours by doing a simple search.)

Here’s what my Lemon Chicken Tagine looked like when it was ready to serve:


Lemon Chicken Tagine


Sort of a monochromatic meal, I admit, but the whole thing took less than 45 minutes to conceive of and prepare, and even my finicky-as-all-get-out children ate it and liked it, so I’m calling it a success! I served it over jasmine rice, and we even had enough leftovers for one hungry person to heat up for lunch or dinner.

Like I said before, there are all manner of tagine cookbooks out there. I even have a really good one. The thing is, a lot of the recipes in it don’t really work for my family most of the time. There’s always at least one ingredient that someone hates or is allergic to or that is impossible to find at the grocery store around the corner. Mostly what I’ve found is that these recipes are adaptable. Pick one that gets it mostly right for you and then pick and choose from the ingredients list as you see fit. Make substitutions with similar foods. Play around with it. Enjoy!


Women Writers Wednesday 5/13/15

About this time of year, my status changes from “crazy busy” to “my Fuxtagiv Meter (TM) is approaching the null set.”

The stack of papers I have to grade is taller than my forearm is long. (Repeated flippant suggestions to assign less work or to not actually grade it all are neither appreciated nor apparently aware of what the job of teaching is about.) I have a countdown of how many days are left in the semester on my white board, but the countdown of how many more actual teaching days (meaning, days on which I lecture or lead a discussion or present new course material) is on an hourly tick-down in my head. Students come by to ask me for their averages at least four times a day. One might assume I don’t enjoy my teaching job — which would be mistaken, I assure you — if nearly all of my colleagues weren’t feeling the same way. We have days to weeks left in the school year. We are too busy.

One constant pursuit for not just me but most of the people I know in a similar situation to mine is the persistent struggle for work-life balance. I’m not sure I even know what a work-life balance is supposed to be. I’m pretty sure I don’t have it, or else I wouldn’t be so stressed out.

Remember when Real Simple magazine first came out? I do. I picked up a copy in the checkout line at The Container Store — drunk off the atmosphere of organization and efficiency that store fugues into its shoppers, seduced by the magazine cover’s promise to streamline my life. I got that tome home and never had time to read it. Seriously? I thought. Who has time to read two hundred pages of non-plot-driven small print? (The magazine has since improved.)

As soon as I get some time to myself — assuming I get some of that — I intend to read the book that’s being reviewed here in the Women Writers Wednesday series today. Betsy Polk brings to our attention Julia Scatliff O’Grady’s Good Busy: Productivity, Procrastination, and the Endless Pursuit of Balance. Fortunately, it sounds like a short, quick read, which means the author, unlike the early creators of Real Simple, already has some intelligence about the topic. Polk’s review is brief, too, but meaningful. Enjoy.


I’ll admit it. I was feeling “busy” when the deadline for this review approached. In fact, I’d become one of those people who responds to greetings of hello, how are you with an eye roll, a sigh and a “really busy.”

How had this happened when I’d long held fast to the belief that busy was not an emotion? It was merely a general situational condition, experienced by most people at various life points. Nothing special, certainly not discussion-worthy.

And, yet, though I would have been loath to admit it at the time, there was comfort in my busyness. After all, it was the result of a series of positive happenings: the publication of a book after years of editorial rejection; a series of happy milestone family events that required extensive event planning and some exciting work and travel opportunities. This was all good busy. So, who was I to sigh and roll my eyes about it?

I needed help and I found it, in Julia Scatliff O’Grady’s Good Busy: Productivity, Procrastination, and the Endless Pursuit of Balance.

cover image from Amazon
cover image from Amazon

This 88-page, lovely little blue guide is the perfect companion for the busy. It’s small enough to go anywhere, short enough to be read in one, peacefully blissful afternoon, and compelling enough to stick. Each of the ten chapters promotes a one word practice – from Buffer, the practice of building in time, to Hunt, finding the source of one’s busyness. O’Grady knows her audience and throughout this treasure box of a book, she adroitly engages her too-busy readers with pocket-sized wisdom their overwhelmed memories can retain. (I, for one, am clinging to the practice of “buffering,” as I strive to rid myself of the anxious buzz of impending lateness).

Make no mistake, this is no time management or how-to book. There’s no judgement here, no shoulds, no lists, just a collection of stories and guiding practices that illustrate what it means to understand and best embrace our current states of busy.

Thanks to the insights gleaned from Good Busy, I’ve found my own practice and am calling it gratitude. From now on, no more sighs or eye rolls for me – just thank yous for the gifts good busyness can bring.


Betsy is an author, keynote speaker, workshop leader, facilitator, mediator and board certified coach for The Mulberry Partners, the consulting firm she co-founded with Maggie Ellis Chotas in 2003.  With Maggie, Betsy co-authored Power through Partnership: How Women Lead Better Together, a book that celebrates the benefits that come when women work together and debunks the myths that too often get in the way (Berrett-Koehler, 2014).  The message of the book has resonated for women all over the world, leading to Betsy’s and Maggie’s selection as speakers for the US Department of State’s International Information Program. This year, Betsy and Maggie represented the program in Fiji and Papua New Guinea as presenters for International Women’s Day. Power Through Partnership has been featured in Investor’s Business Daily,,, Durham Magazine, The Las Vegas Business Press, The Huffington Post, HuffPostLive,,, and The Dallas Morning News.

Betsy received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and a master’s degree in organization development from the American University/NTL program. She lives in Chapel Hill, NC with her lively, fun family. Find her online on Twitter (@Powership) and at these websites:; www.powerthrupartnership.com


To see more kinds of reviews like the ones in this series, check out these blogs by Melanie Page and Lynn Kanter. And of course go to the Sappho’s Torque Books page here to see other reviews by me and by other contributors to the Women Writers Wednesday series.

The Women Writers Wednesday series seeks to highlight the contributions of women in literature by featuring excellent literature written by women authors via reviews/responses written by other women authors. If you’d like to be a contributor, wonderful! Leave a comment below or send me an email, tweet, or Facebook message with your idea.

Mother’s Day Giveaway!

In honor of Mother’s Day coming up this weekend (at least in the US, where I live), I’m giving away three copies of an excellent anthology I was fortunate to be included in, The Milk of Female Kindness–An Anthology of Honest Motherhood.

This book brings together women from many countries and cultures who have shared their writing and artwork on the theme of motherhood, and not just the concept of motherhood that mainstream media conditions us with. It’s an excellent, thoughtful project (and makes a wonderful Mother’s Day gift).

Milk of Female Kindness front cover

So how can you obtain one of the copies I’m giving away? Easy!

1.  In the comments below, write about your mother or some other woman in your life who nurtured you in a maternal way. I’m interested in your stories. They can be funny, poignant, bizarre. The first three people to do this will win a copy. (And if you’re planning to give your prize as a Mother’s Day gift, then the sooner the better so I can mail it to you before Friday afternoon!)

2.  Include your email address so I can contact you for your mailing address. (If I can’t contact you, I can’t send you a prize.)

3.  Finally, watch this space, because I’ll be confirming the winners here in the comments section. (Added bonus: you get to read other people’s stories!)

Here is a list of some of the reviews that have come in so far for The Milk of Female Kindness. (I wrote “some” because I know there are other reviews out there that I don’t have listed here.)

*  from blog The Reluctant Retiree

*  from blogger Carol Cameleon

*  from blogger Madhusmita Phukon

*  from Michelle Clements James at Book Chat

*  from Sharon Bonin-Pratt at Ink Flare

*  from Dale Newton at EllaDee Words

*  from blog My Train of Thoughts On…

*  several on Goodreads

I was so grateful to have my poems and essays included in this anthology. Kudos to Kasia James, the contributing editor whose brainchild it was, and to all the other authors and artists in it!

Women Writers Wednesday 5/6/15

Welcome the triumphant return of Women Writers Wednesdays! April’s Poet-A-Day series was so much fun again this year, and I look forward to its likely return next year, but I’m taking a well deserved break from posting daily and resuming a more typical course on the blog as we propel ourselves through the spring. Summer is coming, too, which means you’ll start to see more of my own original content here, because the school year will be finished and I’ll have more time for my multitude of writing projects (more on that later).

Today’s WWW review comes to us from Misty Urban, who has crafted a thoughtful response to What Is Visible by Kimberly Elkins.


I met Kimberly Elkins in the MA program at Florida State University, where it was clear from our very first workshops that she was a monster talent, even before the story which forms the kernel of her novel won a fiction prize from The Atlantic Monthly. She’s so good that I sneakily tracked down and then read her master’s thesis cover-to-cover. What is Visible is a novel a long time in the making and benefits from this careful incubation and thoughtful research as much as from Elkins’ excellent training, inimitable sensibility, and pitch-perfect voice. It is, in short, a stupendous book.

image used with author's permission, borrowed from her website
image used with author’s permission, borrowed from her website

The novel tells the life story of Laura Bridgman, a nineteenth-century woman and resident of the Perkins Institute who was Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe’s most famous student before Helen Keller. She had already been something of a showpiece for Howe’s philosophies and teaching practices before Charles Dickens described her in his American Notes (1842, free at Project Gutenberg). Bridgman outdid Helen Keller by the power of two; childhood illness deprived her of sight, hearing, and her ability to taste or smell. The only sense remaining to her was that of touch.

Writers depend on the senses to bring their world alive for their readers—taste, scent, sound, and sight. How do you tell the story of a woman of intense intelligence, spirit, understanding, and affections, who can communicate only through her sense of touch?

Elkins does it—brilliantly—by weaving Laura’s first-person narrative with narration from some of the key figures around her: Dr. Howe (nicknamed “Chev”), his wife Julia Ward Howe, and Laura’s teacher-companion, Sarah Wight, who has her own interesting and tragic story within the larger frame of Laura’s life. Aside from the demands of writing about historical personages whose outer lives are well-documented, the time period presents its own challenges: philosophical debates over religion, the Civil War, Lincoln’s assassination, and Julia’s career and influence (she of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” fame) all offer territory that a novelist can’t ignore.

Elkins makes a valiant effort with the Civil War material, summarizing where she can and focusing instead, poignantly, on the inner conflicts: Howe’s involvement with the rebellious John Brown, Julia’s attempt to console herself with public works as her marriage disintegrates, Laura’s change of heart regarding the plight of the slaves after she reads Uncle Tom’s Cabin in raised print. The intensity and vividness of these internal conflicts are the book’s great strength and beauty. Elkins portrays with equal care and precision Howe’s self-congratulatory airs as the beneficent patriarch and his “romantic friendship” with Charles Sumner, Julia’s bridal hopes and maternal woes as she establishes herself as a poet, Laura’s struggle to evolve spiritually and independently even though Doctor doesn’t wish to encourage what he sees as her fervor for religion.

But in a book full of vibrant characterizations, sly wit, and line-by-line beautiful prose, the centerpiece, of course, is Laura, and the language becomes truly transcendent when Elkins focuses on how Laura uses her single remaining sense to examine and interact with her world. She creates in Laura a memorable character who comes completely to life as a curious, sarcastic, jealous, perceptive, longing, occasionally vindictive, wonderfully clever and wounded person who can never get enough of physical touch, especially from other people. Just one example appears in this moving passage, in which Laura has just introduced the new servant girl, Kate, to her horse Wightie, and is feeling Kate’s hair:

I slide one finger into the mass. When she doesn’t recoil, very slowly my whole hand enters, fingers first, an inch at a time, until it is suspended in that soft forest.

            She doesn’t move away from me, though she doesn’t move toward me either. I can tell from the thrust of her shoulder that she is stroking Wightie’s mane. My hand in Kate’s mane, hers in Wightie’s; nothing has prepared me for the perfection of this moment. I am careful not to pull, though I want to, and am ready to bury my whole face—the tip of my nose already in, my lower lip so close a tendril vibrates in my sharp exhale—when my arm is grabbed and wrenched away. My fingers tangle in Kate’s hair, and she twists against me.

            Jeannette has made me hurt the girl. She grips my forearm and shakes it free of all that beauty. We are separated, and when I put my hands out in front of me, there is nothing but briny wind against my palms. (171)

Far beyond the pleasure of stepping into the inner lives of these historical characters, the reader learns to experience the world as Laura does. She is so perfectly realized in the way she adores the Doctor and competes with Julia for his attention, or how she feels superior to the “blinds” at the school who only lack the one sense, but at night crawls into bed with them, in punishment for which she is not only confined to her own room but, in one of the most painful scenes of the novel, forced to wear gloves. Laura loves but never belongs to or with her birth family; she struggles with religious feeling and makes a final break with the Unitarian Doctor when she insists of becoming Baptist; she has a different relationship to sensations and pain, given they are how she translates the world; she even enjoys and then loses a lover. For all the unique imagination that makes this book so (to borrow Bob Shacochis’s word) mesmerizing, the most memorable, the most compelling aspect is the fierce spirit of stubbornness, independence, passion, and individuality with which Elkins imbues this historical woman who would otherwise be completely defined by her limitations. As the strong-willed Laura declares, “I refuse to be anything but myself, whatever that is” (240). Good fiction trains its readers in empathy and understanding; in liberating the inner world of this remarkable woman, Elkins cultivates compassion and insight with a force that is heart-breakingly relevant, and breath-takingly real.


Misty Urban is the author of Monstrous Women in Middle English Romance and several works of short fiction appearing in national journals and Sisters: An Anthology from Paris Press. She holds a Ph.D. in medieval English literature, an MFA in fiction, and she went to Florida State University with Kimberly Elkins. Find her blog on women and literature, Femmeliterate, at


To see more kinds of reviews like the ones in this series, check out these blogs by Melanie Page and Lynn Kanter. And of course go to the Sappho’s Torque Books page here to see other reviews by me and by other contributors to the Women Writers Wednesday series.

The Women Writers Wednesday series seeks to highlight the contributions of women in literature by featuring excellent literature written by women authors via reviews/responses written by other women authors. If you’d like to be a contributor, wonderful! Leave a comment below or send me an email, tweet, or Facebook message with your idea.