May 5, 2016 - 4 comments
This little piece of the internet turned seven today. Kids, man, they grow up so fast!
It’s so humbling for me to think about all of the things that have resulted from this blog, which I started at the urging of friends and family who thought it would be a great outlet for me as a writer; I was two years out of my MFA program and two years into teaching middle school English and I hadn’t been writing much beyond lesson plans. That break was necessary in some ways, I think—it was also a period of mourning for my dad, who died in the middle of my two years of graduate school—but I don’t do very well when I’m not writing. I don’t feel like myself.
This blog became a way for me to return to writing on my own terms, to puzzle out my voice and audience, and to wed myself to a regular writing commitment. Little did I know that, through this outlet, I would also meet people who would become close friends in real life, connect with a whole community of amazing online readers, finish my first book, and start working on another.
Though this space has evolved over the last seven years in tone, approach, and even content, the core of it remains the same—an extension of me. It’s changed as I’ve changed, and I feel so lucky that those of you out there reading have been willing to go along for the ride.
To celebrate, I’ve got a drink for you…I mean, have I got a drink for you. My friend Greg introduced me to this one, a riff on a drink they serve at Lucy’s Fried Chicken in Austin. The original calls for rum and Domaine de Canton; Greg used bourbon and homemade ginger liqueur instead—the results are ridiculously drinkable and so, so gingery. I served these to Jill & our dear friend Courtney, who’s visiting us right now, and they both quickly asked for seconds. As you can see, I subbed in whisky from South Carolina for the bourbon, since Courtney had just gifted us a bottle and this seemed like the perfect reason to open it! Therefore, Courtney is also responsible for coming up with a name for this cocktail, stolen from what she claims “just might be the best Willie Nelson song ever.”
THE RED HEADED STRANGER
Originally, I wasn’t planning to make my own homemade ginger liqueur, because that just sounds like something a crazy person does—sorry, Greg—but it turns out that the whole process only takes a few days, unlike other infusions, saves you a fair amount of money (as opposed to buying Canton outright), and yields an incredibly delicious end product that I plan to use in all kinds of drinks all summer. In short, I recommend doing it, unless you already have a fancy bottle of Domaine de Canton on hand.
2 parts bourbon
2 parts ginger liqueur
1 part simple syrup*
1 part lime juice
ginger ale or ginger beer (we used the latter and it added extra ginger spiciness)
lime wheels, to garnish
Combine the above ingredients in a shaker over ice and shake vigorously, to cool everything down. Pour into a pint glass or tall water glass (strain if you’re feeling fancy) and top with ginger ale/beer. Garnish with a lime wheel and enjoy!
*I used the leftover orange syrup from this dessert, which really complemented the flavors of the ginger liqueur.
I forgot to remember from last year, what it feels like when my seniors are about to leave. Probably I forgot on purpose, the kind of amnesia that allows you to do something hard all over again a second time, and then sign up to do it a third. As Michael Pollan discusses in The Botany of Desire, which I just finished this weekend and highly recommend, pain is difficult for us humans to remember. We hold on to vague generalities, but dispense with specific, excruciating sensations, yielding a system that “help[s] us endure (and selectively forget) the routine slings and arrows of life.”
Some forgetting is necessary—that’s clear. Were we to keep impeccable records about every painful experience from the past, we might opt out of human life altogether and disappear never to be heard from again. (And we probably all know at least one person who’s done the metaphorical equivalent, keeping themselves at an emotional arm’s length so as not to have to relive a painful past.) But there is something to be said for selective remembering, or maybe reminding; in a very different but also highly recommended book, Pastrix, Nadia Bolz-Weber talks about the quarterly events her church—the House For All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado—holds for new members of their community:
I am always the last to speak at these events. I tell them that…I have learned something by belonging to two polar-opposite communities…and I wanted them to hear me: This community will disappoint them. It’s a matter of when, not if. We will let them down or I’ll say something stupid and hurt their feelings. I then invite them on this side of their inevitable disappointment to decide if they’ll stick around after it happens. If they choose to leave when we don’t meet their expectations, they won’t get to see how the grace of God can come in and fill the holes left by our community’s failure, and that’s just too beautiful and too real to miss.
Let’s add third voice to this conversation: the Buddha’s. I’ve been teaching about Buddhism the past two weeks, super-conveniently I might add (fellow teachers, isn’t it amazing how often we end up teaching exactly what we ourselves need to hear?). At the core of the Buddha’s teachings is the assertion that it is not in the nature of impermanent things (which we are naturally surrounded by—humans, animals, relationships, objects, feelings are all impermanent) to cause permanent happiness. This is logical; we know this. We know that things will change, that nothing lasts forever, that our bodies will age and die, that we’ll lose stuff, that we’ll break stuff, that we’ll hurt other people and other people will hurt us. But, as the Buddha points out, we often expect impermanent things to lead us to permanent happiness. And that’s just not how it works.
I’m as guilty as anyone—I forget. For the first two weeks of April I was SO READY to say goodbye to the senior class, and believe me, they seemed plenty ready to leave! Then I looked at the shrinking number of days on the calendar and realized that these creatures, who shape I know so well, who tolerate my earnestness and bad jokes, who trust me with their authentic selves and bring me smoothies and babysit for my child, were actually leaving. It knocked the wind out of me.
These are the terms of engagement, right? It’s only when we let others impact us, when we offer up our vulnerable, authentic selves, that they can impact us in such a way that it hurts when they go. You don’t get the joy of connection without the pain of separation. You don’t get to have awesome coworkers who teach and mentor you and improve your quality of life without it being really hard to see them move or leave or retire. Fall in love with someone? There’s a good chance they’ll hurt you someday. The real question, as Bolz-Weber so deftly points out, is—will you stay when they do?
We have a choice—disengage, minimize risk, and turtle ourselves in cautious isolation OR put our pads on and jump in the game, knowing that we’re opening ourselves up to tremendous pleasure and also real heartache. Though I have been tempted at certain times in my life to choose the former, I really don’t know how to live other than to do the latter. It’s messy, it’s complicated, but I wouldn’t trade it. Everything and everyone that I love best has been a risk, has pushed me to learn painful things about myself, has frustrated me, has taught me tough lessons. But they’ve also taught me everything I know about beauty and about love, about what a holy thing it is to live in such a way that we let the people in our lives mark us so—that we carry the history of our time with them, that it becomes part of who we are.
BAKING WITH SHIV:
The kid and I have been tackling one baking project per weekend, and it’s pretty damn fun. I highly recommend this post from Molly Wizenberg about cooking with kids; while I already shared her ethos, she offers some great, specific suggestions that I found really helpful and inspiring. Case in point: Shiv now knows how to crack an egg all by himself, a thing that I totally wouldn’t have thought he could do without making a big, giant mess. But I was wrong! And I’m so glad! Because competence is one of our core values for raising this human, and he feels like a badass every time he acquires a new skill. Another reminder that I should never underestimate this nugget.
[matching aprons courtesy Aunt Megan; yes, Shiv is wearing an Elsa wig, and please know that it was I who imitated his pose, and not the other way around.]
Here are yummy things we’ve made that we recommend:
Alice Medrich’s Tiger Cake [Food 52] — far & away everyone’s favorite, this one is a bit time-consuming but not at all difficult. Bonus: it calls for olive oil so you don’t have to remember to soften any butter! Note: we skipped the white pepper.
Oatmeal Cacao Nib Cookies [600 Acres] — these were quite good as well, and kept nicely in an airtight container on the counter for several days. If you don’t have cacao nibs, I’d substitute toasted walnuts or pecans.
Cardamom Apple Bread [Gluten-Free Girl] — as-written, this recipe is gluten-free, but we played around using the flours we had (a smidge of AP, white rice, spelt, & barley) and the texture of the bread still turned out wonderfully. It wasn’t quite sweet enough for Shiv’s taste, but once I swiped it with some apple butter, he was down. To me, it paired perfectly with tea!
My friend Courtney’s mama died yesterday. The news did not come as a surprise, rather more like relief, for it meant the end of a particular kind of suffering, the, tangible, physical pain that comes when a body’s systems break down, the kind of pain that doctors treat with IV opioids and pain patches. It is not pretty when a body stops working, because it usually doesn’t happen right away. There is waiting. There are uncomfortable chairs. There are people—so many people—who have no idea what to say to you or how to be with you, so they say and do profoundly unhelpful things. If you’re lucky, there are nurses (maybe a doctor, too, but it’s almost always the nurses) who do know what to say, or at least know what not to say, and they make things even just the slightest bit better. Strangers offer kindnesses that feel so extravagant you fear you might break into pieces.
Witnessing pain is its own form of suffering, and I’m glad that one is over as well; not only that Mikie doesn’t have to suffer anymore, but that Courtney doesn’t have to watch it happen anymore. Yet, death is always the start of something, too—it is the beginning of an existence that necessarily contains absence. An existence built on the ground of grief—ground that, for a fair while, feels much too shaky to support anything but despair, apathy, and rage.
Yesterday I went to the gym and took a shower and had lunch with my mom and bought my son a sugar cookie in the shape of a ladybug. I broke a head of orange cauliflower into pieces with my hands, coated those pieces with olive oil, sprinkled them with salt and two kinds of paprika, slid them into the oven under the broiler. I stood with my oil-slicked and spiced hands for a minute, watching my son out the window as he played in the backyard. Paprika made the cut on my right thumb sting. This body will not last forever. The laundry needs to be folded. It’s everything, all at once.
We do badly in this culture with death. We do not look endings in the eye. We distract and offer platitudes or turn and run out of sheer avoidance; we are too antsy to bear witness. We fill with chatter rather than sit in silence. Courtney and her mama have reminded me what a disservice we do when we walk through this life and ignore what it is we’re all inevitably walking toward. Death is not the enemy. Rather, mortality is the the reality that grounds us all, and to live estranged from or in denial of such truth only robs us of the chance to be fully present for all of what life brings.
“[T]he more you’re here and the more you’re alive, the more you realize you’re a mortal human being. And that you’ll pass from this place. And will you actually turn up? Will you actually have the conversation given that it’s so — will you become a full citizen of vulnerability, loss, and disappearance, which you have no choice about?” —David Whyte
adapted from Food52
We really loved this dish—Jill had it as a side to go along with a pork chop she’d grilled, and I, who am in the middle of a Hindu holy week and not eating meat, enjoyed it without the sausage component and with some plain yogurt on the side. Shiv ate a whole bowl full of it, too.
I’d never broiled cauliflower before, and I think it might be my new favorite way to cook it! I adapted the original recipe to suit what I had in the house, and it turned out beautifully, but no doubt the original is delicious as well.
1 head cauliflower, approx. 2 lb
5 cloves garlic, peeled & halved lengthwise
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 T sweet paprika
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1/4 cup olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled & cut into wedges
2 carrots, peeled & coarsely grated
2 oz. cured chorizo or other cured/smoked sausage, cut into pieces (I used some home-smoked duck sausage that Jill had made & warmed it up in some olive oil before adding)
1/3 cup toasted nuts of your choice (original recipe calls for pine nuts; I used sliced almonds. I think walnuts would also work well here.)
1/4 cup fresh, flat-leaf parsley, chopped
dash of something acidic—fresh lemon juice, red wine vinegar, etc.
Break/cut the cauliflower florets and stems into small pieces. If the green leaves on your cauliflower look fresh, set them aside for later.
Place the cauliflower and sliced garlic into a large bowl and drizzle generously with olive oil, turning with your hands to coat. Add the spices and turn again until everything is well-combined. Turn out onto a rimmed baking sheet, then slide into the oven under the broiler. Broil for 7-10 minutes, or until you start to see some color on the cauliflower.
Pull the baking sheet out and add the cauliflower leaves and the onion. Return the sheet to the oven and broil for an additional 3-5 minutes. Slide the cooked cauliflower & onion into a large serving bowl, then add the carrot, nuts, sausage, and parsley. Toss well, then taste and add your acid accordingly, plus any additional salt & pepper you may need—I used just a dash of red wine vinegar and a little extra sea salt. Serve warm or at room temperature.
I want to share this carrot top pesto idea (more of an idea than a recipe) with the world, because it’s been kind of revelatory in my house these last weeks, and I don’t want to let the fact that I don’t have anything revelatory to say keep me from doing so.
Today, we maintained the tradition we started after Shiv was born, of going to see our friends on their beautiful farm to celebrate the day, hiding cascarones and eating ham. I came home two nights ago from a five-day school trip, during which I got to hang out with wonderful colleagues and students, enjoy some gorgeous California weather and meaningful programming, and also, along with most of my colleagues and many students, got sick as a dog. The week before my trip was Spring Break, shared by me and Shiv, which meant lots of adventures and play dates and also the home project of moving Shiv into a new room, complete with new floors (done by Jill), walls painted the color of his choice (done by me), and big-boy bunk beds (because the toddler bed was no longer cutting it!).
And, somehow, it’s almost April.
I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved a few weeks ago, a book I can hardly believe I managed not to read until now, although a part of me knows I wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much out of it had it made its way into my life sooner. That novel is astonishing.
Right now, I’m enjoying Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, which is my book club’s selection for this month, suggested by Jill, who read and loved it a few months ago; I was handed down a friend’s copy of The Girl on the Train, which everyone says I shouldn’t start until I’m in a position to be sucked in for a few days…I think I shall reserve it for this coming weekend, as a reward to myself for weathering the return back to school and the grading/planning/emailing/meeting that will accompany it.
The last person I spoke to on the phone is caring for a dying parent; the last person I received an email from is nearly 39 weeks pregnant, waiting for her first child to be born. Those are some appropriate bookends, seeing how it’s Easter and all.
CARROT TOP PESTO
Sometimes Jill comes home from class on Mondays with a big box filled with beautiful, homegrown veggies from her student Will, who just happens to be a very generous master gardener. Last time he sent some lovely carrots, and in my desire not to waste a single thing that he had grown and given, I decided it was the time to try carrot top pesto, which I’d heard of as an idea but never eaten. The result was so successful that I’ve made it twice since; neither time was it a precise, scientific endeavor, so what I’ll offer here is more method than recipe—but pesto is forgiving, and fiddle-able, so I hope you’ll still give it a go.
The first time I made this, I used a handful of basil leaves as the “accent” herb; tonight, I used flat-leaf parsley from the garden, because our basil is in sad-awful shape. Both ways were tasty, though I think I prefer the flavor the basil adds, if you have or can get some.
One last note about this method—the almond butter seems really weird, I know, but it TOTALLY WORKS. I saw the idea on The Faux Martha and decided to give it a whirl with the first batch of carrot top pesto I made a few weeks ago since, honestly, I wasn’t expecting it to be very good. Shows what I know, right? The almond butter adds body, creaminess, and, duh, nuttiness, and it’s genius because I always have a container of almond butter in the fridge, whereas pine nuts are so dang expensive that I never buy them. So—almond butter in your pesto, my new favorite kitchen hack.
greens from one bunch of carrots, blanched* (remove the leaves from the stems if you can, but don’t be too finicky about it)
a handful of basil, flat-leaf parsley, or another fresh herb of your choice
1-2 T almond butter (start with 1 T and judge as you go)
1-2 cloves garlic, depending on your preference
Parmesan, if you have it
Whir it all up in a food processor, tasting and adjusting for flavor/texture as you go. Some people like their pesto more runny, which means more olive oil. Some people prefer theirs more chunky, which means less olive oil. If you’re adding Parmesan, hold back on the salt.
Once prepared, the pesto will keep for about a week in the fridge, much longer in the freezer. We like to use it on pizzas, in lieu of sauce, or, our latest thing is dicing Yukon Golds, roasting them in the oven with olive oil & a little salt, then tossing them with the pesto when they come out of the oven. Pesto is also a friend of pasta, of course, either hot or cold!
*To blanch the carrot tops, wash them thoroughly first, removing any brown or yellow parts. Set a colander in the sink and a bowl half-full of ice water to the side of the sink. Bring salted water to boil in the pot of your choice (making sure you’ve got enough clearance that the water won’t spill over when you add the carrot tops). Once it’s boiling, use tongs to add the carrot tops, pushing the greens below the surface and allowing them to hang out in the water for a minute or two until they are bright green. When they’re ready, dump the greens out into the colander, then immediately plunge them into the ice water to keep them from cooking any further. At this point, you can dry and refrigerate the carrot tops to use later, or you can go ahead and make your pesto.