Things I Have Learned:
It feels good to be the one to shave your spouse’s head when her hair starts falling out in chemotherapy-induced clumps. You’ll come up with (new) goofy little nicknames for her in her baldness, and—cliché as it is—you will find her as beautiful as ever.
It also feels good to go to the gym, or for a run, or for a bike ride. These things will, in fact, seem like the very things keeping you sane, and for the power and ability of your body, you will be grateful. After a particularly excellent workout, you may well feel like you can fly.
When you get up early Saturday morning in San Francisco while attending a work conference and go for a run from the condo you and your colleagues are renting to the waterfront where the seagulls squawk cheekily at you, the only folks you will encounter are pot-smoking bums and old Chinese ladies walking their poodles, plus a couple of fanny-pack-wearing tourists. You’ll be able to smell the bean paste they’re making in Chinatown, to be stuffed into little balls of sesame-seed dotted and fried dough, like the ones you had the day before.
A friend will visit for the weekend and surprise you with a sonogram photograph so that you’ll squeal to wake the dead, serve her and the tiny one a big ole mess of breakfast and be so, so, so happy.
You will conclude over and over again that there isn’t any good language for anything. Because you want to tell the people in your life just how much you love them and how much they make your life better, but you can’t really manage with language and you’re afraid you’ll freak them out with trying, so you offer hugs and hand-written notes instead.
All of your plans will be laid out as close to perfectly as possible, because hey! You’re really good at planning, but then something like a low blood cell count will change all of your plans in an instant, but instead of that freaking you the heck out, like it normally would, you discover that it doesn’t really matter to you anymore. You decide it must be a result of that thing called “perspective.”
Your mom is coming to town soon and you can’t wait to see her. Because nothing will be more comforting than her presence and nothing will ever, ever taste as good as food that she makes.
Fairly straightforward but possibly my favorite way to consume kale. We Indians know how to make vegetables taste good without a ton of added fat. Go us!
2 bunches curly green kale
approx. 2 lb. red potatoes
a few sprinkles asafetida
1 tsp. whole cumin
1 tsp. each, ground cumin & coriander
pinch (or more, if you like) red pepper flakes
salt to taste
Prep the kale by rinsing it and stripping the leafy parts off of the middle rib. Chop the kale into small pieces. Peel and chunk the potatoes.
Pour a good tablespoon or two of oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, toss in the whole cumin seeds and let them sizzle a bit before sprinkling in the asafetida.
Swirl oil and spices around in the pot before tossing in the kale and potatoes—be careful, they will splatter! Cover and let the kale wilt a bit before adding the rest of the spices: ground cumin & coriander, red pepper flakes, and a good teaspoon of salt.
Cook, covered, over medium heat until the potatoes are done. Then uncover the pot and turn the heat down to medium-low in order to evaporate any water. You want the sabji to be quite dry; it’s done when the vegetables begin to stick a bit to the bottom and sides of the pot.
I have a very distinct memory of one of my godsons, three years old at the time, shoving me back as I sought to assist him with the fastening of a shoe or the connection of a toy part. “No!” he said determinedly, “MY do it.”
Last week, I promised you a pizza and a pizza you have here. It is a delicious one—wonderful wintry combination of ingredients, beautifully colored and the perfect choice for those who eschew tomato sauce-y things. The funny thing is, I feel almost disingenuous posting something I made so many weeks ago; I’ve barely been in my kitchen since the month of February began.
I, like my godson, like most toddlers, like a lot of really stubborn people, tend to think I can do all things on my own. I have perfected the art of politely turning down offers of help: in my kitchen, at work, even when I really need it.
Forget that. There’s no way Jill and I could have made it through her first round of chemo without all of the help we have received in the last few weeks. For the first time in my adult life, the refrigerator in my house is full of food that I didn’t make. And that’s okay. Because I’m too freaking tired to push anyone away right now.
At some point you realize that the amazing people in your life (turns out there are many of them) really, honestly, genuinely want to help you, and that shoving them aside would not only be stupid but selfish. You also realize that there is a part of you that you will always have to fight, a perfectionist self who thinks asking for or accepting help is betraying weakness, an insecure self who feels she has something to prove, a three year old inside who wants to impress everyone by showing just how much help she doesn’t need. I’m trying to get her to shut up for a while.
BACON & BUTTERNUT SQUASH PIZZA
A word about pizza crust: it is so, so gratifying to make at home. I honestly believe it’s one of the best bread items to start with for people who are intimidated by yeast. Pizza crust is very forgiving and people are going to eat it anyway.
At this point, I no longer measure when I make my crust, but I began with the good-old-fashioned Joy of Cooking recipe and learned to tweak and adapt it from there. Often, I’ll make a big batch and freeze half for another day—very convenient!
butternut squash (peel, seed, cube, & roast)
bacon (thickly slice & skillet cook)
onions (peel, slice, & caramelize)
goat cheese (crumble)
sage (rinse & chop)
pizza dough (homemade or purchased)
oven: 525° or as hot as yours gets
Roll out your pizza dough to desired thinness. Dimple with your fingers and rub with a little olive oil. Pre-cook the crust only on a baking stone or baking sheet, for 3-4 minutes or until bubbles and a bit of color appear. Remove the crust carefully from the oven with tongs and spread with the caramelized onions. Top with squash, bacon, & goat cheese.
Return the pizza to the oven for another 7-10 minutes or until the edges of the crust have browned. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with sage and a little salt. Slice and serve hot.
Why does my kitchen make me so happy?
There are a lot of things I cannot control, but steel cut oats? I can coax them into a warm, toothsome breakfast, with a sprinkle of cinnamon, Demerara sugar, and chopped almonds. Give me chocolate and butter and my kitchen scale and I can conjure a batch of my brownies. Set out a pile of vegetables, some bay leaves, peppercorns, & juniper and I shall render broth for Jill whose appetite has been thrown for a loop by chemotherapy.
I don’t know if love can be made liquid, if care and concern and hope and gratitude can make their way into a dish, but my time in my kitchen is my way of trying. It’s also nice to feel shockingly competent at something after spending the week being new; I’ve never been the spouse of a cancer patient before.
What brings comfort? For my mom, it’s the garden. For Jill, it’s hunting in the field. For others in my life: painting, computing, running, knitting. For you?
No new recipe today, just a list of dishes that have been here before, plus a last-minute link to last year’s round up of Superbowl Sunday favorites. Back soon, with a pizza!