January 17, 2011
Going to see a counselor was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
The first time, it was just weeks after my father had died. I was back in Tucson, completing my second and final year of graduate school, and at the gentle urging of several friends, I rode my bike over to Student Health Services and half eagerly, half gingerly sat through an intake appointment which led to a handful of meetings with the kind and straightforward Deborah.
Even though it made complete sense for me to see a counselor at that time and even to attend a small, student-run grief support group, which I eventually did, I was a little abashed about it at first. Grateful as I am to have been raised in an atmosphere of “You can do anything you set your mind to!,” there are ways in which I find this messaging of independence to be programmed so deep that it actually gets in my way. I do it to myself, of course—”I can do it!”—or, I should be able to do it alone.
With death, it was easier for me to be talked out of such insistence, to consider it an exception to my rule of stubbornness, to concede that it might make sense to consult a third-party who could help guide me through starkly unfamiliar territory. And, as it turned out, having Deborah to suggest ways of coping, assure me that what I was going through was normal, listen to me pour out the thoughts & emotions I was sure my friends were tired of hearing all allowed me to keep my sanity and move through grief with much sturdier footing than I would have had alone.
But I never would have thought that I’d be back in a counselor’s office, as I have been in the last few months. This time, nothing happened—nothing went wrong, no one died, no crisis was precipitated—but I found myself with some questions, some issues that were cropping up in my relationships (both with myself and with other people), some conversations that it made sense to have with a neutral third party, not to mention one who helps people comb over their lives for a living.
If I squint and tilt my head, I can remember a time when I would have been embarrassed to share this—there’s still so much stigma associated with counseling/therapy/psychiatry in this culture of ours. But the truth is that any chagrin I might feel has been completely supplanted by how freaking wonderful it has been to see a counselor for the last few months.
At any point in our lives, we are living from the hip; we’ve never done this before, whatever this may be. We’ve never been here, and nobody sent a road map. Feel free to stop and ask for directions.
What is shakshuka? An Israeli dish consisting of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce laced with feta and fresh parsley. When you cook it, you leave your yolks runny so that when you break them open, the cheddar-y centers will spill out into the dish’s base, making an unctuous, lick-the-bowl mixture.
I have no idea how to pronounce “shakshuka” correctly, but that hasn’t stopped me from becoming obsessed with it. What I do know is that a) it’s so freaking delicious and b) it’s a great and inexpensive way to feed a small crowd brunch or to feed your family a homey, ready-in-twenty-minutes dinner on a cold winter night. Make it, my friends, you won’t regret it.
The original recipe calls for serving pita bread with your shakshuka, but I like toasted slices of ciabatta much better.
1 yellow onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 jalapeños, minced (remove seeds if you’re nervous about the heat)
1 28 oz. can diced, fire-roasted tomatoes
2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. cumin
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
eggs (I’ve fit as many as 10 in one skillet, but 6-8 also works)
Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large, deep skillet. Saute the onion and peppers over medium heat until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and spices and cook a few minutes more.
Toss in the canned tomatoes, then run a little (no more than a half-cup or so) water back into the can and pour it into the skillet. Add salt to taste. Simmer the sauce until it thickens up, 10-12 minutes. Once it has pulled together a bit, crack the eggs over the sauce and cover the skillet.
After 5-6 minutes, your eggs should be cooked with still-runny centers. Sprinkle the shakshuka with the feta and parsley and serve, scooping the saucy eggs into bowls and tucking some bread in alongside, for sopping up the goodness.