January 19, 2017 - 2 comments
Grief does not work the same for everyone, but to anyone who’s experienced it, it’s universally recognizable. I know grief when I see it, and I see it in this moment. In the woman who caught my eye in the dressing room at the gym as we both looked away from TV coverage of you-know-what; in the texts between friends to share the acts of resistance and solidarity we have planned for the next 48 hours; in the deep exhalation of my mother’s breath as she hugged me goodnight.
This is my frame of reference, of course; there are lots of people who aren’t grieving, who are celebrating instead, because that’s how ideologies run: two ways. There are those who are “waiting and seeing,” those whose personal issues are so real and primary and in-your-face urgent that they can’t see or be concerned with anything else. I get that.
It’s complicated, and nuance matters more than ever; I know that there are legitimate concerns about the leadership and language and inclusivity of Saturday’s protest efforts; I know that there are many groups of people for whom this grief is old hat, who view these sudden and dramatic showings of outrage as privileged and lacking in self-awareness. I know that demonizing and painting with a broad brush, no matter which side is doing it, is dangerous.
But I’ve been listening to the voices who seem the wisest, both past and present; those who have stood inside of resistance for their entire lives, who have things to teach me and all of us who are interested in learning, who can offer some direction when many of us feel unmoored. Here’s one thing they all seem to agree on: calling things by their proper names.
I may lose some of you with this example, but hear me out. In the Harry Potter series, Lord Voldemort—the power-hungry villain—is commonly referred to as “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.” In the first book of the series, Dumbledore, Harry’s mentor, instructs him otherwise:
“Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”
That’s one thing we can do. Stop equivocating things that aren’t equivalent. Stop using euphemisms because we’re scared of the truth. Stop wishing our way into cheap optimism.
We are so obsessed with positivity in this culture, to the point that we have and continue to erase narratives of whole swaths of people and refuse to make room for facts that don’t fit inside of our relentlessly cheery outlook. That is part of how we got here, and we have to stop. According to Vincent Harding, and I’m pretty sure he knew, “What is needed is more and more people to stand in the darkness.”
The other thing that I think I’ve learned—and this will seem contradictory, but I find that paradox is usually where the truth of human experience is located—hope is essential. An insistence on joy: not as a blind looking-away, but as a choice. Call the dystopian clown show what it is, then refuse to let it grind you down. Resist the bullshit narratives that want to cocoon you in fear, then go make some art. Let yourself be outraged by that which should generate outrage, even if it happens over and over and over again. Write down what you value, what you believe in—do it right now—so that you will not be normalized into someone your grief wouldn’t recognize. Create community around those values, if you haven’t already, or find one to join. Remember that you are capable of great kindness, and that, while it may not seem like it, care for the self and care for the other is a radical act.
Grief is often monstrous, consuming. But it can also be a teacher. If we’re willing, it can show us that we are all braver than we think.
“Resistance is the secret of joy.”
“[M]ake yourself one small republic of unconquered spirit.”
“You defeat the devil when you hold onto hope.”
[Alice Walker / Rebecca Solnit / Run the Jewels]
Blog posts have been few and far between this year—this is my fifteenth post in 2016—and the era of consistent, twice-a-week posts (whaaa???) feels like it’s a lifetime away.
I love this space, even as I wonder why I keep it; the internet and my life have both changed a lot since 2009. Still, not a day goes by that I don’t interact with someone who I met because of Blue Jean Gourmet, and, from time to time, I hear from friends and acquaintances that they’re using one of the recipes archived here. That brings me so much joy.
Being a food writer may not be my ultimate calling, but I couldn’t have known that without giving it a whirl first. While I may eventually transition Blue Jean Gourmet into something else, this space has helped me determine which stories do feel like mine to tell, and that is a tremendous gift.
I know we’re mostly busy talking about what a dumpster fire of a year 2016 has been, but personally, I can’t write it off. This was the year that I signed a publishing contract, something I’ve wanted for as long as I can remember, and I am proud as heck for making that happen. Working on a book while teaching full time and parenting/life-ing is no joke, but it’s the best kind of problem to have, one of my own making and one that pushes me to live ever-more in line with what I say I want, and who I say I want to be.
This has been a year filled with a lot of examination around those categories—what I say I want, who I say I want to be—and some hard, important adjustments made in the wake of that examining. I’ve been a lot more honest with myself, which feels less painful and more powerful each time I do it; my bff Coco got me this awesome pin (side note: Emily McDowell’s stuff is so good) and it is an aspirational reach that I will take with me into 2017.
Ideally, I would have passed these recipes along before Christmas and Hanukkah came along, but they’re also both well suited for any New Year’s celebrations that you may be scheming, or you can just keep them in your arsenal for any time you may need to woo, placate, or dazzle someone with chocolate.
SALTED TAHINI CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
source: Danielle Orton, as shared by Food 52
You’ve probably heard about these cookies already, and maybe you thought, “Do I really need another chocolate chip cookie recipe in my life?” The answer is yes. But don’t make these unless/until you own good-quality tahini (ordering Soom online is worth every penny) and good quality dark chocolate (I used Guittard 66% semisweet baking wafers). Trust me, it’s worth the splurge;people will rave about these!
8 T unsalted butter, soft
½ cup well-stirred tahini
1 cup sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup + 2 T all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 ¾ cups good-quality chocolate chips or chunks (since I had discs, I gave them a rough chop before using)
flaky finishing salt
Cream butter, tahini, & sugar together on medium speed for about 5 minutes—the mixture should look light and fluffy when you’re done. Add the egg, yolk, and vanilla and mix for another 5 minutes.
Sift the dry ingredients into a separate bowl, then add to the wet ingredients on low speed. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold the chocolate in by hand, using a spatula.
From here, the original recipe instructs you to line a baking sheet with parchment, divide the dough into twelve scoops, and place the dough balls on the cookie sheet and freeze for 12 hours before baking. Either I wasn’t paying attention or I was feeling lazy, but I stashed the dough in the fridge, still in the mixing bowl, wrapped in plastic, overnight, then baked, and my cookies still turned out delicious. You do whatever feels right to you.
Whenever you’re ready to bake, you’re looking at 325F and about 12-15 minutes in the oven, until just the edges are getting brown. Don’t worry if the middle of the cookies looks a bit pale-that’s how they’re supposed to look. As they come out of the oven, sprinkle with salt. Cool on a rack, then move to a platter and watch them disappear!
PEAR AND BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE CAKE
an oldie-but-a-goodie from Smitten Kitchen
This is a “back pocket” recipe for me, one that’s simple enough to make but feels fancy, especially when served with some homemade whipped cream. It’s the technique here that really make a difference, so don’t ignore the instructions about making sure the eggs are at room temperature before you whip them for, yes, nine whole minutes. If you’ve never whipped eggs for that long before, you’ll be amazed at what happens when you do.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
3 eggs, at room temperature*
8 T unsalted butter
¾ cup sugar
3 pears, peeled, cored, diced small (I like using bosc)
¾ cup bittersweet chocolate chunks or chips
Pan: 9-inch spring form pan, buttered & floured (I’ve also used a 9-inch square pan in a pinch)
Whisk dry ingredients together and set aside.
Using the whisk attachment on a stand mixer, whip the eggs for NINE WHOLE MINUTES until they’re pale and very thick. While that’s happening, brown the butter; melt it in a saucepan over medium-low flame, stirring occasionally, until it begins to smell nutty and the color turns brown. Set aside.
Add the sugar to the eggs and beat for a few more minutes. Turn the mixer down to low and add the dry ingredients and brown butter to the batter, alternating like this:
1/3 dry mix
½ brown butter
1/3 dry mix
½ brown butter
1/3 dry mix
Mix until just combined—don’t overmix, or the eggs will lose volume! Scrape the mixture out into the pan, then scatter the pear and chocolate pieces on top.
Bake until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick comes away clean when inserted into the center of the cake; in my oven, that took a good hour, but you may want to start checking at 45-50 minutes, to be safe.
Serve with some barely sweetened whipped cream. If you’re feeling fancy, a drop of almond extract or a couple of drops of Amaretto in the whipped cream would also be nice.
Ten years ago, I hosted my first Diwali party. Less than six months after my father’s death, I threw myself into preparations, calling my mom for consultations on the proper way to cook the dishes I’d watched her make, but never made myself, my whole life. I lived in Tucson, Arizona at the time, in my second year of graduate school, and I’ll never forget what it meant to me that my classmates, who I knew in certain ways through their writing but who were strangers to me in other ways, turned up to enthusiastically not just to celebrate a holiday but to bear witness to me as I fumbled my way through grief and an attendant longing to still be engaged in and hopeful about the world.
I couldn’t have guessed, a decade ago, how my annual Diwali party would come to structure and witness so much shared history within the community Jill and I have built for ourselves. Over the years, the celebration has gained significance because of so many attendant life events: marriages, losses, babies, cancer. Each year, we gather together and take stock of what has transpired, making time for gratitude and reaffirming our faith in the power of goodness.
The Carroll/Mehra Diwali celebration has become a truly communal effort, a testament to the ways I have grown and changed, learning to actually ask for—and receive!—help. My friend Maconda makes the most beautiful flower arrangements (even this year, when she couldn’t actually attend the party due to the flu), Megan plays wine fairy, Burke brought candles and napkins, Bonnie toys for the kids, and Greg & Sharon once again served as my last-minute, willing-to-do-whatever-is-needed helpers. I throw the party because it’s tradition, because it is an important part of my identity and culture, because it is a strike in the “hope” column that I so desperately still want to occupy, but it would be worth it to throw the party each year simply to be reminded of the wonderful people who fill my life. In the days since the part, lyrics from a song that I haven’t listened to in years filled my mind: “And I act like I have faith / and like that faith never ends / but I really just have friends.”
Diwali, like all religious holidays, has a powerful story at its core. The villain in the Diwali story is Ravana, who is spoken of in the tradition not as a cosmic demon but rather as a man who achieves demonic status via his greed, arrogance, ego, and lust for power. In the myth, Ravana is eventually slain by the hero Rama, but the arc of Rama’s story includes fourteen years in exile.
In its etymology, exile comes from a root meaning “to wander” and is a derivative of a verb meaning “to take out to the root.” There is something potent for me in that image, of pulling something out of the earth, the way that my mom taught me to weed, not the lazy way—simply tearing at the visible green parts—but to go down into the soil, to get dirt under my fingernails, to pull up under stubborn tendrils, to tug until they gave way. It is exhausting and sometimes back-breaking work. It is slow. Sometimes you have to pull up the same weed over and over and over again.
Maybe we are in exile, in darkness; or perhaps we have always been here and the light is just now being shed on it. Either way, we all have some digging to do.
This year, I served vadouvan spiced cashews, pav bhaji & saag paneer (both made by my mom), Indian-spiced sweet potato latkes (improvised & maybe the hit of the night, served with strained & salted yogurt instead of sour cream), the ever-beloved and oft-requested grilled halloumi, tamarind-glazed lamb meatballs, and mini cardamom-and-rosewater-flavored cakes (adapted from this recipe) and these super-delicious coconut-brown-butter financiers, half of which I dipped in dark chocolate.
PREVIOUS DIWALI PARTIES ON THE BLOG:
*We skipped a year because a bunch of our friends got married all at once! (It was the best possible reason.)
I’m so glad it’s November. Yes, I’m biased because it’s my birthday month—and this year, I get to share my birthday with Thanksgiving, which is maybe the best celebration mash-up I can imagine!—but I also feel like November comes as a much-needed sign post along the road, a reassurance and a relief: “You will make it to the end of the semester.”
October was a doozy and there were days I felt like I was drowning. I am not someone who sees inherent virtue in being busy, but there I was, super-full plate and all cylinders firing, lists and schedules and ever-so-many Post-It notes. I think it may just be the nature of the beast, of weaving book-writing into an already occupied life; I feel like I am operating at full capacity and it is exhilarating, exhausting work. There is literally a green index card taped to my mirror with the word “DISCIPLINE” written on it in two-inch-tall letters.
This means, of course, that some things have had to go; not everything fits. I’ve made several recipes in the past two months that I wanted to share here, but I never got photographs or a post together so I just kept a list of them on a virtual sticky note on my desktop. But tonight, I had actually managed to prep dinner in the morning because I didn’t have to go in super-early because I actually already knew what I was doing in my classes today and because I actually wasn’t facing down a giant pile of grading (there’s a pile, still, but it’s medium-sized), so when Shiv & I came home, I was able to cook, catch up with Jill over a glass of wine, and take a warm sheet pan of chicken schwarma outside for her to photograph before we ate it up. Which was very kind of her, as she had been looking forward to chicken-for-dinner all day. Seriously, the woman loves chicken. I don’t know that I appreciated to what extent, even, until very recently. Almost fifteen years in and still learning about each other! Ha.
This NYT chicken schwarma recipe is simple and very, very convenient—you can marinate it in your fridge for up to 12 hours before you plan to cook it, or for just 1 hour if that’s all you got—and it’s reliably tasty. You can easily play with the quantities listed here and make a BUNCH of chicken to have on hand for leftovers, for which you will thank yourself later. Also, if you’ve never cooked with chicken thighs, you should start; they are cheaper than chicken breasts and far less likely to dry out.
If you have the time/energy/inclination, you can trick this recipe out with lots of sides/accompaniments: a cucumber-and-onion salad or a tomato-feta salad or this marinated eggplant. Put hummus out on the table if you’ve got some. Or, if you need to keep things super-simple, just do 3 things: buy some pita bread, add carrots to the sheet pan along with the chicken and onion, and make a simple yogurt sauce while the chicken is cooking. For the sauce, mince up a fat clove of garlic, stir it into 2 cups of plain yogurt, thin that with some fresh lemon juice, fold in a palm-full of chopped, fresh dill, then salt & pepper to taste. Boom. Done.
A few more recommendations/endorsements—no pictures for these, so I guess you’ll just have to trust my good judgment!
* Cranberry harvest muffins – fresh cranberries went on sale at Costco a couple of weeks ago and I couldn’t resist. Instead of designating them all for Thanksgiving purposes, I hunted around for a muffin recipe that would taste like fall, even if it feels nothing like it around these parts. Since I didn’t have any figs on hand, I ended up fudging a little—some applesauce here, some apricot conserves there—but they were delicious nevertheless. Keeping this one in my back pocket!
* Saltie’s focaccia – this recipe has made several rounds around the internet, and for good reason. There’s absolutely zero kneading involved—mix the dough, store it in the fridge overnight, then bake it off when you’re ready. The result is chewy, salty, oily, and delicious. This has become my go-to when I have to sign up to bring something to Shiv’s school for an event; the kids love it, and it doesn’t require a stop at the store for any special ingredients.
* Sweet potato pancakes – the original recipe calls for cooked & pureed butternut squash, but both times I’ve made it, I’ve used roasted, mashed sweet potato with great results. I’ve also subbed in a combination of different flours for up to 1 cup of the AP: whole wheat, buckwheat, teff. And while I haven’t made the maple butter that accompanies this recipe, we’ve found that plain maple syrup + butter works just fine.
Not food, and not sponsored, but an honest endorsement for the Headspace meditation app. While it may sound contradictory to use an electronic device for meditation, I’ve found that the guided exercises on Headspace have really helped me solidify my practice and deepen its impact. I love the various topical series that are offered: motivation, pregnancy, kindness, patience, creativity, focus, and anxiety, to name a few. I’m currently halfway through the series on anxiety and can honestly say that it has made an appreciable difference in my quality of life. And the sleep exercise is revelatory, especially if you’re someone who has trouble falling asleep.
That’s all from me for now. Our annual Diwali party is coming up this weekend, so I hope to be back before Thanksgiving with a post and some pictures from that. In the meantime, I must go watch the most epic baseball game of the modern era!