November 17, 2016 - No comment
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!
Well hello there, a month after my last post! It’s been quite a month around here – me back to school, Shiv out of school for a few weeks, Jill out of town for one. I’ve made lots of “survival” meals—big batches of versatile food, like slow-cooker roasts and veggie-laced black beans. We’ve blown through plums at an alarming rate (Shiv has taken to eating two in one sitting, as a snack). I’m well into my giant Costco bag of quick-cooking steel cut oats, my school-morning-breakfast-of-choice. Jill used the internet and an electric knife to break down the half a wild hog that cousin Paul sent to us courtesy my in-laws. And I’ve made these cookies three times.
The recipe below yields a large amount, which is great because these cookies are delicious—wonderful texture, sweet but also salty, soft but not crumbly. After Shiv helped me put together the dough, we baked off about a dozen cookies for our family’s Labor Day feast, then froze the rest on parchment-lined cookie sheets; I’ll move those to a Ziplock bag for future use. From there, they’ll stand ready to serve as an easy dessert or a take-something-over-to-someone’s house item. My father-in-law likes them so much he thinks I should sell them.
Here’s a thing that’s true about me: I give good advice. Here’s a thing that’s also true about me: I’m not always so good at taking my own advice. (My friends reading this right now are nodding.) But I am trying, trying to listen to the voice that advocates for sanity, just as I urge others to listen to–and heed–that voice.
I signed a publishing contract with Picador/MacMillan this week. I keep saying that sentence aloud just to hear it and absorb that it’s real. Speaking of real, “AUTHOR will deliver THE WORK to PUBLISHER on 1 JUNE 2017” has to be both the most terrifying and exhilarating collection of words I’ve encountered maybe ever? “The work” in this case is a collection of essays with the working title Making Space: On Parenthood, Family, and (Not) Passing. I started working on it this summer, and boy does it feel good.
In short—I have some work to do. I have a lot of work to do. I don’t know how this blog fits into that work, except that I know that the thought of shutting this thing altogether makes me very, very sad, so I’m not going to do that. Maybe I’ll continue to throw recipes your way, things we’ve made and loved and managed to photograph before consuming. Maybe I’ll want to share links or poems or playlists. Maybe I’ll need to be quiet for long stretches because only so many things fit into a given day. But every time I think this blog has outlived its usefulness, I hear from someone who tells me that they regularly pull this website up for ideas on what to make for dinner. That makes me glad.
You ever have that feeling that you have no idea what you’re doing, but you also know exactly what you’re doing? A little disconcerting, but not at all a terrible way to live. Not terrible at all.
(Yes, that’s a little skulking terrier in the background. He knows a good thing when he smells one.)
DOUBLE PEANUT CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES Recipe from King Arthur Flour, source of so many good things
2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter, softened 1 cup tightly packed dark brown sugar 1 cup white sugar 1 ¼ cup peanut butter – original recipe calls for “mainstream” PB with sugar & salt; I’ve made them that way, they were great; this time, I only had homemade PB, so I added some additional sugar & salt, cookies were still great 1 tsp. vanilla ½ tsp. each baking powder AND baking soda ½ tsp. salt 2 eggs 2 2/3 cup all purpose flour* 1 ¼ cup dry roasted, salted peanuts, chopped 1 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
oven temp: 350°.
pans: Line two baking sheets with parchment.
Use a stand mixer to combine the butter, sugars, peanut butter, vanilla, baking powder and soda, and salt. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides in between. Stir in the flour, chopped peanuts, and chocolate chips.
Shape dough into rounded tablespoons and place on the prepared baking sheets. I like to sprinkle the tops with a little coarse salt at this point, too. Bake right away, or freeze for later. Check cookies at the 10 minute mark, but they’ll probably need closer to 12-15 minutes. You want them to be a little brown around the edges; if under-baked, they will be extremely crumbly and difficult to handle. Move baking sheet to a cooling rack and allow cookies to come to room temperature before moving them around.
*The original recipe recommends weighing the flour, in which case you are looking for 11.25 ounces of it. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, be sure to aerate your flour before measuring, and to level off your cup measure with the back of a butter knife—too much flour, the recipe warns, will lead to dry cookies.
It’s the last few days before school starts back up—in-service, at least—which means my brain is ceding territory that has, up to this point, been reserved for the book project I’ve been lucky enough to spend the summer working on. In creeps thoughts of the classes I’ll be teaching this year, how I want to structure and improve them, new approaches I want to try, goals for myself and my students. Because I am someone who thinks in academic calendar years (2016-2017), this is a season of scheduling, making sure all of the dates are written down and cross-posted, birthdays and play dates and travel dates accounted for.
This is preparatory time, and that extends to food, too; things are about to get really busy around here, and I know myself well enough to know that it makes a huge difference in my sanity and overall health to have easy, appealing options in the fridge, ready to go. (And conversely, *not* to have certain other things around that I am not-so-great at resisting, particularly when I am in a rush or stressed.)
Hence this humble little lentil salad. My mom served it to me a few weeks ago, and I immediately asked for the recipe—it couldn’t be simpler, but is definitely more than the sum of its parts and keeps beautifully in the fridge. I love pairing it with muhammara dip, another current fridge staple, some cheese and crudités for a light lunch. There’s a recipe for muhammara on this blog, but these days I’ve been using Heidi Swanson’s recipe over at 101 Cookbooks, with a few tweaks. First, I add an onion in along with the red peppers—I love the sweetness it brings. Second, instead of roasting the peppers, as Heidi suggests, or leaving them raw, as my old recipe calls for, I cut them (and the onion) up into chunks, drizzle them with olive oil, and place them under a low broiler until they become blackened in places. This way you get char and softness without having to spend a lot of time prepping or heating up your oven. If you have a gas stove, you could certainly char the veggies over one of your burners instead.
Another thing I’ve been doing, inspired by Heidi, is making fresh turmeric-infused honey to keep on hand for sweetening teas, both cold and iced. I grate fresh turmeric with a microplane into a mortar filled with local honey, add a few cracks of black pepper and a generous pinch of cardamom, then bash it all together. It’s a really delicious, different flavor profile, and since turmeric has been touted forever by my people as a treatment for inflammation, I figure it can’t hurt.
Other recipes I wanted to share—and I realize we are getting into “hodgepodge post” territory now—were a few of the things I made for Shiv’s birthday party in July that were super well-received:
-Boozy Arnold Palmers, which I made using this Serious Eats recipe. Seriously worth what may seem like extra-fussy steps, and actually very easy to do for a party because you prep it all ahead of time. I doubled the recipe as written here, then added 2 cups of bourbon. Yeehaw! I could have easily made more than I did, because it disappeared *fast*. It bears mentioning here that I trust Serious Eats recipes to be well-tested and reliably delicious, which is why I went for this one. We also have this pepperoni pizza currently on heavy rotation. Even with store-bought sauce, it tastes like the roller-skating rink pizza of my nostalgic childhood dreams.
-Watermelon aguas frescas, for the kiddos (and also non-imbibing grownups). I did this last year, and it couldn’t be easier: you process big chunks of watermelon in the blender, adding some lime juice and simple syrup to taste. Strain to remove any seeds, DONE. You can make this ahead of time, too, just know you’ll need to shake/stir the liquid before serving.
–Lemon-glazed madeleines! Shiv has long favored this cookie, and is also fond of the children’s book character of similar name (“To the tiger in the zoo, Madeline just said ‘Pooh-pooh.’”) If you read too many madeleine recipes on the internet, you’ll scare yourself into thinking you can’t pull them off, but thanks to the encouragement of Stella Parks, who is probably one of the nicest people I’ve ever encountered on Twitter and a fountain of pastry chef knowledge, I talked myself into tackling them. Shiv helped—cracking the eggs and learning to fold gently, gently—and, even with the chaos of party day, our madeleines came out just fine. Now that I know that they aren’t the bogey-man everyone says, I plan on trying other versions, like maybe a pistachio and also a chocolate? Just know that you need a little lead time to freeze your molds and chill your batter so that your cookies will puff prettily. They’re best eaten the same day, and that wasn’t a problem for us—ours disappeared so quickly that there wasn’t a single one leftover.
SUMMER LENTIL SALAD
2 quarts water, chicken stock, or vegetable broth
2 cups green lentils
1/2 cup finely diced celery
1/2 cup finely diced red onion
1/3 cup Balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup white vinegar (or substitute red wine vinegar)
1/4 cup olive oil
salt & pepper, to taste
Combine lentils and liquid; bring to a boil. Cook until the lentils are tender; drain. While the lentils are cooking, combine the onions, celery, & wet ingredients in a large (non-metal) bowl. Add the lentils and toss to combine. Taste & add salt + pepper as desired.
Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving; the salad will become more flavorful over time.