Every year at this time, I write some kind of “Three thousand things running through my brain! Can’t write a coherent thought!” post, slap it atop a recipe, and call it a blog post. This is 2014’s incarnation of that post.
School years create their own roller-coaster rhythm, with dips and crests, weeks that float by, weeks that you slog through, days you count down, time playing tricks with its passing. Somehow it’s almost June and I have to let go of another batch of students who have stolen my heart.
There is this crazy ratio between “days of school remaining” and “items remaining on the to-do list,” and me trying to lasso my wandering brain. There are the iron-on labels I just ordered because Shiv starts school next week (!), thereby beginning a life of his own, outside the context of his mamas, and I’m so, so excited to watch it happen. There’s the knowing how blessed we are to have found an educational institution with an approach that aligns with our beliefs, with tuition we can afford…there’s the desire to maintain awareness of this privilege, as I am so easily frustrated by lack of such awareness in others.
Then there is my own personal (bastardized) version of Nietzsche’s Eternal Return, an experience of reliving the weeks leading up to my father’s death that starts each May and lingers in the background of each summer. I remember it all freakishly well: my tiny, newborn godsons, my iced coffee obsession, the songs I had on heavy rotation, the meals I cooked, the runs I took around Rhodes campus, the drives to the hospital, my silver Razr flip phone ringing at all hours, the exact layout of my father’s room in the ICU. Sometimes it’s very hard for me to believe that there’s been any distance—let alone eight years—between those days and now.
So I don’t know if it’s the nostalgia, or the weird cycles of school-year time, or the fact that I am planning new writing projects (holy WOW does that feel good/scary/exciting/did I mention scary? and exciting?), but I am all over the freaking place these days. Sticky note lists litter my desk at work, I’m doodling & scribbling in two journals at once, jumping from book to book, brain running when I get into bed at night; just behind the tiredness is a wired eagerness, pacing.
I love it. I feel completely alive and like a total mess, which maybe is actually the same thing. Here’s to the summer, y’all.
THE BEST COLESLAW EVER
recipe source: Lauren Crabtree
I was introduced to Lauren’t blog via my friend Leslie, who has introduced me to all kinds of wonderful things over the years. With this recipe, Lauren shared about the health benefits of cabbage and the fact that it’s an incredibly affordable vegetable to keep in the regular rotation. My family has likewise been working on becoming both more crunchy and more frugal, making this recipe a perfect fit.
Jill normally won’t even touch coleslaw, but she is obsessed with this one. It is, in her opinion, the definitive coleslaw recipe; she sees no need to ever make another. My mom has also been converted, and Shiv loves to eat it out of a bowl with a spoon—how’s that for an endorsement? We’ve made it probably ten times in the last two months, and I can see it happening many, many more times over the course of the summer.
half a head of cabbage, sliced/shredded
¼ cup mayonnaise (we are obsessed with Duke’s in my house)
¼ cup apple cider vinegar (Bragg’s is my preferred brand)
2 T sugar
1 cup sliced or chopped almonds, toasted (I highly recommend the giant bag of sliced almonds from Costco; I throw them into granola, oatmeal, baked goods, etc.)
1 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
salt & pepper, to taste
One bowl recipe y’all! Mix the dressing in the bowl first, then dump in the cabbage, cilantro, & almonds, stirring to coat. Season & adjust as needed. That’s it.
I like to make this at least 15 minutes before serving, but you can make it even farther in advance and store in the fridge. Keeps well for several days and goes with everything—tacos of all kinds (black bean, fish, ground beef), burgers/grilled sausages/hot dogs, as a topping for quinoa patties, alongside beans & cornbread, etc. I had some today on top of leftover baked sweet potato fries & grilled veggies.
Because poems aren’t only for April, I bring you another poetry guest post, this one from brilliant poet Arianne Zwartjes. Ari and I earned our MFAs together; she is single-handedly responsible for me not completely losing my mind after my father died. I am so very lucky to call her my friend.
The poet I first fell in love with was Langston Hughes. It was eighth grade. I was in Mr. D’s history class, not my favorite class, partially because it was dry and involved memorizing lots of war-related dates, and partially because he was accused of being overly interested in his female students. But. In that terrible eighth-grade public-school history textbook, someone in the authorship pool had mercifully thrown in a poem. And the poem was this.
THE NEGRO SPEAKS OF RIVERS
I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I was captivated. I loved his language: simple, clear, a bit mournful, and lyrically beautiful. It made me feel things I couldn’t put into words. I had written a few poems before but never experienced what it is to fall in love, really in love, with a poem you encounter.
This was all back in the day when, given our textbooks at the beginning of each school year, we would take them home and make brown paper covers out of grocery bags—do public school students still do that?—and then decorate them. I can still picture my enthusiastically-handwritten copy of Hughes’ poem in large letters on the brown-paper cover of that text, where I read and re-read it each day as I sat in class.
I soon found a book of his selected poems, which I still have to this day, full of poems more racially outspoken than—unsurprisingly—the one chosen for that history textbook. I was drawn by his refusal, in the words of Poets.org, “to differentiate between his personal experience and the common experience of black America,” a refusal to “turn inward, [to write] obscure and esoteric poetry to an ever-decreasing audience of readers,” as so many other poets of his time were doing. The book is dog-eared, a few pages stained pink from some disaster I don’t remember, others water-marked and thumb-printed. Well-loved.
An interesting twist is that this year I taught his poems for the first time in my English class. Because my old copy was so raggedy, I ordered a new book of his poems: his entire collected works, with all the poems he’d ever published. And I discovered that that little Selected Poems book I’ve cherished all these years left something out. A big something. Langston Hughes started his career publishing poetry that spoke from and to the African-American community and their collective experience. But a decade or two in, his writing shifted: the collective experience he began to focus on was that of all workers, and of the socialist and communist revolutions happening around the world. Later in his career, he became dispirited with the targeting and marginalization he experienced while writing with this provocative political bent, and perhaps-cynically shifted back to a less-radical focus on “the black experience.” That little selected-poems volume I loved for so many years had neatly excised those more politicized decades from his writing career, as though they never existed. Not a single poem from that era, referencing workers’ rights or collective movements, could be found there.
I was surprised to find that this poet whose work I’d loved for so long—who was responsible for me going on to read the poetry of Alice Walker, and then June Jordan, Nikki Giovanni, Gwendolyn Brooks, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, and Sandra Cisneros, and even, much later, going on to earn an MFA in poetry—had an entire side of his written work that I’d been completely unaware of. It was a good lesson in the redactive power of the “selected works.”
At any rate, my English classes, with students from Mexico, the Bahamas, Germany, Nigeria, Denmark, Uganda, China, Lebanon, and the US, seemed to love Hughes’ poetry; at the very least, they read it aloud with gusto, in impressive performances of Hughes’ passion. I harbor the unvoiced hope, of course, that he will do for one or two of them what he did for me so many years ago: foster an early spark of love for the vast field of diverse voices, and the appreciation of small details in the world around us, which poetry has to offer us.
After receiving her MFA in Poetry at the University of Arizona and teaching English and creative writing there for six years, Arianne Zwartjes is now in northern New Mexico serving as the director of the wilderness program at the United World College. She won the 2011 Gulf Coast prize for nonfiction, and her writing has appeared in Ninth Letter, DIAGRAM, No Tell Motel, Cue, and elsewhere. The University of Iowa Press published her essay collection Detailing Trauma: A Poetic Anatomy in the fall of 2012. Her previous works include Disem(body), The Surfacing of Excess, and (Stitched) A Surface Opens: Essays.
Damn, I’ve been riding this train longer than I thought.
A lot of living has happened in the past five years; I guess you could say that of any five years, but a bunch sure has been packed into this particular five. I went from being 26 to 31, from being in my second year of teaching to my seventh, from teaching sixth grade to eighth grade, and soon, onto eleventh and twelfth. I became a parent. I wrote a book.
So much witnessing of these big events has taken place here—Jill’s cancer especially comes to mind—and it’s hard for me to remember what I did before I had this space to document and share. This blog has afforded me countless opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise, gifting me a whole host of new people to be connected with and teaching me: about myself, my tendencies, my voice, yes, but also about discipline, about the kindness of strangers (which, it turns out, you actually can depend on), about community and about storytelling.
I had the pleasure of being part of a panel on food writing this past weekend, and in answer to the question “Why food writing?” one of my fellow panelists, David, said it best—food is a lens through which we can examine nearly every aspect of the human experience. Whether at the global or the individual level, we track our evolution through food, we create containers for our memories, we comfort, we cajole, we delight, we explore, we seduce.
In honor of my blog’s little birthday, what the hell, let’s do a little giveaway. I’m so not on the ball—I realized yesterday that my blogaversary was today, oops!—but I’d really like to say “thank you” for being out there and reading and witnessing. It still feels like a miracle to me that there are people actually reading this who are not, say, my mom. (Hi mom! You’re the best!) So let’s say this giveaway is open until Friday at midnight, then Shiv & I will head to the Farmers Market on Saturday morning, pick up some of our favorite local products, and mail ‘em out next week, along with a signed copy of my book. I might even bake you some cookies, you never know.
One of my favorite things ever in the whole world is when someone tells me that they’ve made one of the recipes from my blog, so to enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment letting me know which recipe(s) from this blog you’ve enjoyed in the last five years. If you haven’t made one of the recipes from the blog, but plan to, you can say that as well. Or if you’re really just here for the writing and not the recipes, let me know which past post sticks in your mind. Or you can just say hello.
UPDATE: Congratulations to Jennifer! I hope you enjoy the little box of treats I sent your way. Thanks to all of your for your lovely notes; they really mean so much to me.
recipe barely adapted from Roberto Santibañez, as shared by Food 52 (side note: if you’re not familiar with the “Genius Recipes” feature on Food 52, I can’t recommend it highly enough – the recipes are always winners)
This recipe has become the new standard-bear in our house. For years and years, I made it the exact same way—the subject of my very first blog post, in fact—but ever since trying this recipe, the Carroll/Mehra clan has sworn allegiance to this garlic-free (!) version. I think it really allows the lushness of the avocado to come through, without overpowering it.
As the original recipe notes, texture is key, so don’t skip the two-part avocado treatment. To get perfectly ripe avocados, I’ve taken to buying them unripe, in bags, usually at Costco or Trader Joe’s, and letting them ripen on the counter near the bananas, then stashing them in the fridge once they give just a little and reveal green when you pull away the stem. Given the sheer amount of guacamole Shiv can eat by himself, when I make a batch now, I have to use AT LEAST four medium-sized avocados to feed the three of us, because he basically eats two avocados worth of guac himself. Sheesh.
½ small white onion, chopped
½ Serrano chile, minced fine (I remove most but not all of the seeds; if you want more heat, leave the seeds in, if you want less, take all seeds out or use a jalapeño instead.)
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
juice of ½ a lime
½ tsp. Kosher salt or coarse sea salt
4 medium-sized Haas avocados
Transfer half of the chopped onion to a large bowl. Add the flesh from two of the avocados and mash with the back of a fork, just breaking up the avocado pieces but leaving plenty of structure. Cube the remaining avocado flesh and add it to the bowl. Set aside.
Place the other half of the chopped onion, all of the chile, half of the cilantro, lime juice, salt into a mortar and pestle, mashing all ingredients into a wet paste. Add this to the avocado mixture and very gentle fold everything together, leaving the cubes of avocado intact. (At this point, the original recipe says to think about properly dressing a salad in a vinaigrette, a comparison I find very helpful.)
Top guacamole with the remaining cilantro, then test for salt, and adjust if needed.