My Very First Cheese Soufflé

I made my first cheese soufflé a couple weeks ago. I guess I feel the same way about it that people do about their firstborns.

Except that unlike most people with firstborns, I forgot to tell you about it for two weeks. It’s okay, though- it doesn’t reflect how good it was or how much I think you should make it.

A cheese soufflé is a great project for people who are interested in French cuisine, or just people who are interested in doing fun things with eggs. If you get a kick out of making meringues or whipped egg whites, you’ll probably enjoy making this soufflé. It’s a little bit of a nail biter, but if you take deep breaths and persevere, you’ll be rewarded with a light and fluffy, yet rich and reassuring, dish that makes you question why you never made soufflé before.

A key to making good cheese soufflé is timing. I used this recipe, and you’ll notice that in Step 3, it tells you to beat the egg yolks immediately into the béchamel sauce. This is really important because you’re essentially tempering the eggs in the sauce, and you don’t want to be left with a scrambled, curdled mess. The recipe says to do it one egg yolk at a time, but I had all mine cracked into a bowl, so I just poured them in slowly and it worked well.

Also, you don’t want to overbeat your egg whites. You want the peaks to be stiff so they create a light, fluffy soufflé, but you don’t want to beat them until they’re too firm. Then your soufflé will be grainy.

Finally, it’s important to turn down the temperature of the oven right after you put the soufflé in. Whatever you do, *do not* open the oven to check on your soufflé while it’s baking. It could cause the whole thing to deflate or topple, which pretty much defeats the purpose.

So anyway, those are my tips as a novice soufflé maker. Now that I’ve made one and it turned out so well, I have my eye on my next soufflé. I’m thinking about doing a chocolate version for dessert soon.

Here’s a song to get you started on your soufflé journey.

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Wheat Berry Corn and Zucchini Salad

This wheat berry, corn, and zucchini salad was born, like so many great things, of necessity.

I was thinking about making a “zoodles” salad out of spiralized zucchini, corn, cheese, and cilantro. Then I got out my spiralizer attachment, which I haven’t used in five plus years, and started spiralizing zucchini. Everything went well until I tried to use the giant zucchini I got in my weekly farmers’ market box by cutting it in half. The attachment basically dug a hole in the zucchini, a feat I didn’t even know was possible.

I persisted because I’m the type of person who doesn’t go down without a fight. I was left with mutilated zucchini, plus a handful of zoodles. Then and there I decided that the zoodles trend is over and the next time I’ll use the spiralizer attachment, it will be to peel an apple (since apparently that’s a possibility).

I also decided to chop up the mangled zucchini, sauté it, and throw it into a wheat berry salad with cooked corn kernels, cilantro, queso fresco, olive oil, lots of lime juice, salt, and pepper. I added some red pepper flakes for spice.

I’m not sure if the salad tasted good because I was so proud of myself for rebuilding dinner after I almost destroyed it, or if it was because it was actually good, but either way, I’d highly recommend it. It’s a great way to use up leftover produce. You could also add some chopped tomato and it would taste delicious.

You could also sub in quinoa or another grain if you’re not a fan of wheat berries. If you’ve never tried wheat berries, I’d recommend them. They’re a little like farro except smaller, and they have a nice chewy consistency that pairs well with crisp vegetables.

Here’s a song to get you started on your wheat berry, corn, and zucchini salad journey.

Wheat Berry, Corn, and Zucchini Salad

Ingredients

1 cup dry wheat berries
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1 corn cob, sheathed and kernels removed
a handful of cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
queso fresco for topping
the juice of one lime
a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

Directions

Cook your wheat berries according to package directions. While the wheat berries are cooking, make your corn and zucchini sauté. Heat some olive oil in a pan over medium heat and add the chopped zucchini and corn kernels. Cook, stirring every so often, until the zucchini and corn is golden brown.

Remove the pan from heat and toss the wheat berries and zucchini and corn with cilantro, lime juice, a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and queso fresco. Toss together and top with more queso and cilantro as desired. Enjoy!

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Zucchini Tart with Basil Ricotta Filling

Tarts with puff pastry are one of my favorite things to make. They look super impressive and are deceptively easy.

I guess you could make your own puff pastry from scratch, but unless I’m making croissants or pain au chocolat, I always buy this frozen variety from Dufour. It tastes like homemade, it looks beautiful, and it bakes up well in the oven. It’s the perfect vehicle for whatever you want to put on top.

For this tart, I shaved some zucchini really thin using a mandoline peeler and put them on top of a basil ricotta filling. Slicing zucchini super thin is key because thick zucchini will make the crust too watery.

You can also eliminate some water from the zucchini ahead of time by tossing the slices in salt, letting them sit for a while, and then gently wringing out the liquid with a paper towel. Yes, it’s an additional step, but trust me, it’s worth it. The zucchini will hold its texture and not be so soggy after you bake it.

I really like the zucchini/basil/ricotta combo in this tart, but you could get creative with fillings. A pesto spread or even crème fraîche would taste good with some vegetables on top.

Tarts like this always go really fast in my house. My boyfriend and I ate almost all of it in one sitting, and then I had a slice the next day for lunch. I always wish I had more after I finish it.

Here’s a song to get you started on your zucchini tart journey. It’s a throwback that resurfaced earlier this afternoon as I was procrastinating work and browsing music.

Zucchini Tart with Basil Ricotta Filling

Ingredients

1 medium zucchini, sliced thin with a mandoline peeler
2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
½ cup full-fat ricotta cheese
1 handful basil leaves
2 tsp lemon juice
1 puff pastry sheet, thawed
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 Tbsp water

Directions

Place the zucchini in a colander and toss with 2 tsp of salt. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes, preferably an hour. This gives the zucchini time to shed excess water. When it’s done, gently wring it out piece by piece using paper towels and pat dry. Set aside for later.

Pulse the olive oil, ricotta cheese, basil leaves, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt in a food processor until smooth.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Unfold the puff pastry onto the sheet, being careful not to rip it. With a sharp knife, carefully score the pastry 1/4 inch from the edges, making sure not to cut all the way through the dough. Spread your ricotta mixture evenly over the pastry, not going past the border you made with you knife. Arrange the zucchini evenly over the top, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Brush the edges of the pastry with beaten egg yolk. Bake the tart for 20-25 min, or until the crust is puffed and golden brown. Cool slightly before serving. Enjoy!

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Watermelon, Cucumber, and Mint Salad

This is the most refreshing summer salad. I will not take any other nominations.

The inspiration for this salad came to me partly due to the abundance of fresh mint in my garden, and partly because it’s so hot in St. Louis. July is known for being hot and humid here, and yesterday was no exception. I went on a walk in the morning and I came back dripping. I didn’t want anything heavy for lunch, so I decided to make this watermelon, cucumber, and mint salad.

As with all things salad, it helps to use the freshest ingredients possible. For this salad, I used some local cucumber from the farmers’ market, mint from my backyard, fresh watermelon, and some really good cheese.

I also sprinkled on some sumac, which I think gives the whole thing a kick. In case you’re not familiar with sumac, it’s a reddish-colored spice used often in Middle Eastern cooking. A friend gave me a bunch of spices as a gift a couple years ago and I’m still using the sumac. It’s great to sprinkle on salads or yogurt dishes.

I think mint really makes this salad, so don’t be tempted to sub it with basil or another herb. However, you could get creative with the fruit you use. I bet cantaloupe would also work well, or even tomatoes.

Here’s a song to get you started on your watermelon salad journey. Have I mentioned how much I like the new Ellie Goulding album?

Watermelon, Cucumber, and Mint Salad

Ingredients

half of one small watermelon, cut up into cubes
half of one medium-sized cucumber, sliced and halved
1/2 cup of fresh mint
drizzle of avocado oil
sprinkle of sumac
sprinkle of flaky sea salt
crumbled ricotta salata for serving

Directions

Combine all the ingredients through the mint in a large bowl. Drizzle with avocado oil and sprinkle with sumac and flaky sea salt. Finish with crumbled ricotta salata. Enjoy right away.

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Sweet Corn Vanilla Pudding with Blackberries

Believe it or not, this is the one of the first times I’ve ever made pudding not from a box. Shocking, I know.

I think it’s because in the grand scheme of desserts, pudding kind of falls by the wayside for me. It’s great when I eat it, but I don’t crave it the way I do chocolate chip cookies or ice cream.

However, the best thing about pudding is that it’s a vehicle for pretty much any flavor. It’s an especially good way to show off summer produce, which I did in this sweet corn vanilla pudding.

We’ve all had, or at least heard of, corn pudding, but usually that’s a side dish at Thanksgiving. This pudding is the sweet variety. It has a good helping of vanilla bean paste, which pairs well with the savory and sweet flavors in the corn, and it has lots of cream and sugar.

There are also small flecks of corn kernels in the pudding. If you’re not a fan of this texture, I would recommend straining the pudding before you put it in the fridge to set. Personally I didn’t mind a few small pieces here and there, but you might want a smoother texture.

I topped the pudding with stewed blackberries but any summer fruit would work well here. I bet blueberries or strawberries would also be super delicious.

Whatever fruit you use, make sure that it’s top quality and nice and juicy. The dish is simple but it gets a boost from fresh, seasonal ingredients. Trust me; you can taste a difference.

Here’s a song to get you started on your sweet corn vanilla pudding journey. It comes recommend from my friend Julicia, whom I trust for most things music.

Sweet Corn Vanilla Pudding with Blackberries

Ingredients

for the pudding:
1 Tbsp cornstarch
3 cups fresh, uncooked yellow corn kernels
2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
1/4 cup honey
pinch of kosher salt

for the blackberries:
1 cups fresh blackberries
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Directions

Combine the cornstarch with 1 Tbsp water in a small bowl and set aside. Combine the corn, cream, honey, salt, and vanilla extract in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the cornstarch mixture to the saucepan. Reduce the heat to low and let the mixture simmer for a minute. Remove from heat and allow the mixture to cool to a warm room temperature.

Once the mixture has cooled, transfer it to a blender and puree until the corn is smooth. If you want an even smoother texture with no corn kernels, strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Divide the mixture between six pudding cups, cover them with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least six hours or overnight.

Make the blackberry topping well ahead of serving so it has time to cool. Add the blackberries and sugar to a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook them, stirring with a heatproof silicone spatula, until the sugar has dissolved. Remove the saucepan from heat and cool the mixture to room temperature. Put the cooked berries in tupperware and store in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.

Serve the pudding by placing some of the blackberry mixture on top. Enjoy!

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Peach Pie

Nothing says summer like a good peach pie. I got two pounds of peaches last week in my farmers’ market delivery, and then I realized I was a pound short to make pie, so my boyfriend saved the day and went and got more from the actual grocery store (a place I still do not go because of PTSD associated with zero social distancing at the start of the pandemic and other horror stories that I won’t repeat here).

ANYWAY. The point is that if you have a lot of semi-ripe peaches laying around (and you probably should…it’s summer), this is the pie to make. Notice I said semi-ripe. It’s okay if you use ripe peaches in a pie, but they’re going to be very mushy by the end. If you use semi-ripe peaches, they will still retain some of their original shape and consistency, which improves the pie’s overall consistency. Think about the difference between pureed berries and whole ones. They both have their time and place, but generally speaking, you don’t want to be eating soupy pie.

The real secret to this pie’s success is the crust. Once again, I used the crust recipe from Nicole Rucker’s Dappled cookbook. If you haven’t seen it, I’d highly suggest purchasing a copy, especially if you’re serious about baking. Rucker’s technique involves mixing pie dough by hand, which might scare a lot of people but trust me, it’s crucial. By using your hands, you get to spread the butter more evenly through the dough and create little flaky pockets that show up once you bake the crust. It’s flakier, crunchier, and all around better.

Plus, it’s not that hard. By now I sound like a Dappled acolyte, but maybe that’s because I am. As long as you have a good pastry cutter for when the butter is really cold, you’ll be fine. Trust me; your hands can do more than you think they can.

I’ve included my recipe for the filling below. It has a bunch of spices to compliment the sweet peaches, plus a little vanilla bean paste to seal the deal. It really highlights the fresh fruit, which is the star of this dessert.

Here’s a song to get you started on your peach pie journey.

Peach Pie Filling

Ingredients

3 pounds semi-ripe peaches (yellow are best)
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 ground cinnamon
a pinch of ground cardamom

Directions

Toss the peaches with the rest of the ingredients and let sit for five minutes. Put the filling in your prepared crust, top with another crust, and freeze the whole pie for 15 minutes before baking. Enjoy!

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Watermelon Strawberry Lime Popsicles

I’ve always wanted to make popsicles at home. The process seemed straightforward: Blend some fruit together, pour it into molds, put a stick in, and let it freeze.

The good news is, that’s exactly what it’s like. Popsicles are one of the easiest and most satisfying, summer desserts to make. They’re a lot less work than ice cream, which involves cooking custard, cooling it down, churning it, and freezing it.

You can get creative with your base. I decided to do watermelon, strawberry, lime because I love summer melon, I had a bunch of frozen strawberries from peak strawberry season in May, and lime adds a little tang. I would highly recommend this combo. It’s sweet, tart, and refreshing.

The hardest part about making these popsicles is waiting for them to freeze. Depending on your freezer, this could take anywhere from a few hours to overnight. I would recommend erring on the side of caution and leaving them in the freezer longer. If you use a silicone popsicle mold like I did, you can also test their doneness by poking the mold and seeing how firm it feels.

I used this silicone mold, and I’d highly recommend it. It’s cool (pun not really intended) because you can fill up each mold and then put a “lid” on top (a top layer of silicone) that prevent the mixture from sloshing over. There are holes in the top layer to put a stick through. Overall this model decreases the potential mess and makes sure your popsicles freeze evenly.

Here’s a song to get you started on your popsicle journey.

Watermelon Strawberry Lime Popsicles

Ingredients

6 heaping cups cubed watermelon
2 heaping cups frozen strawberries
juice and zest of one lime

Directions

Blend the ingredients together in a high-power blender until smooth. Pour into popsicle molds, put a stick in, and freeze for at least three hours (but probably more) until completely frozen. Enjoy!

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Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins

The inspiration for these muffins came partly from the six-pack of Bob’s Red Mill Cornmeal I accidentally ordered online, and the abundance of summer blueberries in the back corner of my fridge.

It’s the time of year when I buy as many fresh farmers’ market blueberries as possible. They’re *so* much better than the Driscolls ones. Don’t even get me started. They’re tart, juicy, and slightly firm, so they explode with flavor when you eat one. They’re nothing like the mushy, almost moldy ones we have to settle for in the winter or early spring months in the Midwest.

I love blueberry and cornmeal together because they compliment each other really well. The cornmeal has an earthy flavor and crunch, and the blueberries are tangy, tart, slightly sweet, and bursting with juice. Heating up blueberries increases the juice factor so when you bite into one of these muffins, the berries explode in your mouth. It’s basically all you could ask for in a muffin, and more.

If you don’t have cornmeal, you could just sub in extra AP flour. But I’d encourage you to explore cornmeal, even if you don’t accidentally order six bags. It lends a flavor and texture that sets these muffins a step above.

You can also play around with fruit. I bet strawberries or blackberries would also work well here. Go for berries that are juicy and fresh, the kind that look like they’re about to pop. The better the berries, the better the resulting muffin.

Here’s a song to get you started on your blueberry cornmeal muffin journey.

Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins

Ingredients

3/4 cup whole milk
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup fresh blueberries
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon
1 stick unsalted butter, melted

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin tin with paper cups, parchment paper, or silicone baking cups.

Mix the milk and lemon juice and set aside for 10 minutes. In the meantime, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Place the blueberries in a small bowl and toss them with a little bit of the flour mixture.

Whisk together the eggs, vanilla extract, and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the dry ingredients and melted butter. Gently fold in the blueberries in flour until everything is just combined.

Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tin, filling each cup to the top. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the muffin tops are golden brown and puffy and spring back to the touch. Let them cool for a few minutes in the tin and then let them cool the rest of the way on a wire rack. Enjoy!

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Blackberry Pie

I’ve wanted to make a pie with stars on it for the Fourth of July for years, but I never got around to it, probably because I didn’t want to invest in star shape cookie cutters that I only use once or twice a year.

This year, in the spirit of frivolity, I decided to splurge on the cutters and make a blackberry pie full of stars. It’s one of my favorite baking projects to date. I had so much fun rolling out the crust for the top layer and turning it into different-sized stars. I was a little nervous about how it turn out, but as you can see from the above picture, everything turned out for the best.

This pie was one of the best I’ve ever made thanks to an amazing crust recipe from “Dappled,” a cookbook by Nicole Rucker that is devoted to dessert recipes for fruit lovers. Rucker is all about pie, and in the cookbook she gives a bunch of crust recipes including the one I used for flaky pie crust.

I learned the hard way that it’s basically a blogging faux pas to reprint a recipe from a cookbook, even with attribution. I’m not sure why it’s a no no, but I get it; people who write cookbooks want people to buy the books, instead of doing an easy Google search and landing on the recipe for free.

Before I get carried away talking about copyright issues, I’ll just say that “Dappled” is a great investment and if you’re serious about making pie, you should get it. The crust recipe is all done by hand, which sounds intimidating. Truth be told, I usually make my crust in a food processor because the original recipe I found calls for that. But doing it by hand results in a flakier, more tender crust.

Also, I really like Rucker’s recipe because it calls for vinegar and brown sugar. Both of those ingredients help with the caramelization process and result in a golden brown crust that’s both sweet and savory.

For my blackberry filling, I winged it. I provided a recipe below in case you want to use it, but generally speaking, a little cornstarch, lemon juice, and sugar go a long way when it comes to making blackberry pie filling. Blackberries are tart and sweet, so they need a little balance. They’re also really juicy, which is where the cornstarch comes in. It binds everything together and makes a cohesive filling.

Here’s a song to get you started on your blackberry pie journey.

Blackberry Pie Filling

Ingredients

6 cups fresh blackberries, rinsed and patted dry
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
3 Tbsp cornstarch

Directions

Gently toss the ingredients in a large bowl and let sit for 30 minutes while you prepare the pie crust. Enjoy!

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Response to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery Killings

I’ve been debating whether or not to write something on my blog in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, not because I don’t have anything to say, but because I’m worried that what I say won’t be good enough or truly get to the heart of the matter. Then I realized that speaking up in favor of justice, even if it’s inadequate, is always better than silence.

The killings of Floyd, Taylor, and Arbery deeply unsettled me. I don’t have many illusions about racism in America. I know it exists, and I’ve seen its destruction. I grew up in St. Louis, a place that has deeply entrenched racial issues dating back hundreds of years and continuing in the present. The killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014 highlighted the hatred and racism that has festered here for years. I lived in Washington, DC at the time of Brown’s murder, and I remember feeling ashamed that I was from St. Louis. I didn’t want to have any attachments to a place where a Black man is chased and killed.

However, over the years I’ve come to realize that this could happen anywhere in the U.S. St. Louis is known for its race-related crimes, but we’ve seen Black men and women killed across the country. These senseless and brutal murders underscore a deep-seated problem in the U.S., which is bigotry and hatred toward Black men and women.

Protests following the murders of Floyd and Taylor are promising, as they show that people are sick and tired of watching innocent Black men and women killed simply because of the color of their skin. I think we’ve reached a point in history where this behavior is no longer tolerated. Every time you turn on the TV or open a newspaper, you’re confronted with images of protestors, memories and portraits of Floyd, Taylor, and Arbery, and heart wrenching testimonies from family and friends. I’m happy that people are speaking out. We as a society need to be woken up to the realities of the situation and hear about the impact of these killings.

Last Friday, I called my friend Julicia, who runs a great lifestyle blog called The Ainsley Life, for our weekly lunch date. When I got on FaceTime with her, she looked exhausted. “How are you?” I asked. “Not good,” she said. She told me that she was deeply shaken by the murders of Floyd, Taylor, and Arbery. She couldn’t cope with the situation like she usually would by going to walk through local gardens because people always stare at a Black person wearing a mask. Julicia also told me that she was scared to take walks around her neighborhood because Arbery was killed while running through his neighborhood.

Hearing this shook me to my core. As a white woman, I rarely worry about going out in public wearing a mask or taking a walk through my neighborhood. I worry about my safety as a woman, but I don’t have the additional burden of worrying about being attacked because of my skin color. We should not live in a society where this is a concern for anyone.

However, we do live in this society. The first step is acknowledging this difficult truth, and the second step is taking responsibility for it. The third step is educating ourselves so that we can take the fourth and final step — enacting real change. If you think about it, many of us were probably never educated about the realities of race in America in school. I know I wasn’t. I learned just enough to have a basic understanding of Civil Rights and racism, but I didn’t learn about white privilege, brutal killings, hate crimes, and other concepts that rarely make it into history textbooks or classroom discussions. If we haven’t learned about it before, it’s up to us to educate ourselves.

I did research. I told Julicia that I’d already ordered some books to educate myself including “How To Be An Antiracist” and “Stamped from the Beginning” by Ibram X. Kendi. After buying these books, I asked her if there was anything else I could do. Julicia asked if I would be willing to do a workbook and recommended “Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor” by Layla Saad. I said of course. “Thank you. That means so much to me,” she said. “You don’t have to thank me. This is what everyone should be doing,” I said.

It’s important for white people to do their research and take action first before asking Black friends what they can do. Black friends and coworkers can be one resource, but they can’t be the only resource. Black people are already tired and drained. If a white person does zero research and then comes to their Black coworker or friend and asks “What can I do? What resources are out there? Where should I donate?” – they are putting the entire burden of eradicating racism on their Black friends’ shoulders.

Whether you realize it or not, you need to educate yourself. I’ve seen a lot of messages on social media from white influencers about how doing the work to educate yourself about becoming antiracist makes you depressed, uncomfortable, and exhausted. But put yourself in the shoes of people who have suffered and will suffer from racism for the rest of their life. I did. My suffering is minimal compared to theirs. It’s a privilege getting to learn about racism versus having to experience it firsthand. I should be depressed and uncomfortable to live in a society where racism exists. Everyone needs to move out of their comfort zone. That’s the only way we’ll enact real change.

There are so many ways to help. You can patronize Black-owned businesses in your community. You can have difficult conversations with friends. You can participate in protests. You can respond creatively, because creativity is a powerful tool. You can donate to different causes including Unicorn Riot, a nonprofit news organization that covers social and environmental issues, and the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

You can also watch movies to learn more about racism in America. I recently watched “Just Mercy,” which is free on Amazon right now. It tells the story of Walter McMillian, a Black man wrongly accused of murder in Alabama, and Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard educated Black lawyer who fights to exonerate him from death row. At one point, McMillian tells Stevenson that he doesn’t understand what it’s like to be born guilty. The words stuck with me.

Change will likely happen slowly, and real progress takes time, but we should not sit back and watch it idly. We need to participate, first by listening and then educating ourselves. We should always speak up for what is right. I made a vow to myself to consciously move beyond my privileged perspective and keep my eyes and ears open for injustice. When I see it (not if I see it), I will speak out. I hope you do the same.

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