Magical Objects: My Great Grandmother’s Spoons

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Most modern meals require a fork, but they lack the simply beauty of spoons. Spoons are for stirring, scooping, serving, tasting. Spoons are symbolic: silver ones for prosperity, “spoon fed” for having it easy, “greasy spoon” for a diner. I collect spoons; for me they are a totem. It started with my Great Grandmother. She had two racks of decorative spoons hanging in her dining room. Some of them were from places she had traveled, others may have been gifts. When she passed my sister and I each inherited eighteen spoons.

My Great Grandmother lived 96 years. Until the end, she had rich auburn hair, wore pearls, and lived alone. She was the smartest woman in my family and the most liberal, an avid reader, news junky, who could beat anyone at cribbage. She was elegant, a dainty eater who loved beautiful serving dishes and always put a bendy straw in my Coke.

I wish I had started my own collection earlier, mapping out my travels with coffee spoons like J. Alfred Prufrock. Instead, there are haphazard additions: a spoon my sister brought from Rome, one decorated with a confederate soldier’s cap found by a friend at a thrift shop here in Georgia, a blue one salvaged from the beach at Dead Horse Bay.

When I inherited the spoons I examined each one, imagine the places they came from, noticing the fine details. One is adorned with a tiny pair of clogs, another has the raised veins of a leaf. Their beauty enchants me. I imagine them laid out on the tables of kings, traveling over the ocean, carefully wrapped in towels. I love the way they’ve aged, the dark rainbows of tarnish. I imagine their stories, as if each was a tiny world like a snow globe encapsulating a piece of my grandmother’s history.

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Blackberry Rhubarb Bran Muffins (Vegan) and Striving for Better-ness

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“In a time of destruction, create something.”
          —Maxine Hong Kingston

I’m job searching right now—or “on the market,” as they say in academia, which sounds a lot more optimistic. Revising my CV, compiling samples and writing cover letters raises questions about the line between self-acceptance and self-improvement. Is that article really cringe-worthy or am I just having a bad day? Should I include a photo? Do I need a more attention-grabbing format?

These are worthwhile questions, but under them lurks a sinister subtext: am I good enough? If I don’t get this job is it because I didn’t try hard enough/write well enough/present myself confidently enough? This self-doubt often comes when we strive to be better. Improving requires humility, an admission of flaws, room for growth. And there always is, but there are also pieces of every circumstance that are beyond our control.

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When it comes to my health, I generally try to accept my stomach issues. I stay away from trigger foods, but I try not to blame myself when I have a rough day. Still, I like to think that it is possible that one day I’ll be symptom free. So every so often I do something different, hoping for improvement. Currently I’m trying a month without dairy.

These muffins are adapted from a recipe shared by Deb on Smitten Kitchen. I’ve made mine with oat bran, whole grain spelt flour, a flax egg, and almond milk soured with a tablespoon of cider vinegar. For fruit, I chose seasonal rhubarb and not-so-seasonal blackberries. These feel just right for early spring, hearty enough for cold mornings with tart sweetness.  I eat them warm with a dab of vegan butter.

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Blackberry Rhubarb Bran Muffins
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 1/3 (315 ml) cups almond milk
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 flax egg (1 tablespoon ground flax + 3 tablespoons hot water, mixed and rested for 5 minutes)
1/3 cup (80 ml) coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup (50 g) packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 cups (90 grams) oat bran
1 1/4 cups (175 g) whole grain spelt flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon Turbinado sugar
1/2 cup chopped rhubarb
3/4 cup whole blackberries

Heat oven to 425°F. Put a dozen muffin liners in a standard sized muffin tin.

Stir vinegar into almond milk and prepare flax egg. Mix together in a large bowl with coconut oil, sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest.

In a separate bowl combine oat bran, spelt flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir wet into dry and mix until no lumps remain.

Scoop about 2 tablespoons of batter into each muffin cup. add a layer of fruit, sprinkle with half the sugar, then top with remaining batter and dust with the rest of the sugar.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, testing frequently with a toothpick. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before serving.

 

 

My Favorite Granolas

You’ve probably already figured this out but I love granola. I started making my own a few years ago and now I wouldn’t even consider buying a bag of the store bought stuff. Homemade granola is healthier, tastier, and makes your house smell amazing. And you can make amazing flavors that you’ll never find in the store.

Sometimes I like to keep it simple just oats, nuts and dried fruit. My go to base recipe is this one from Cookie and Kate. It has a good balance of salt and sweetness.

I love changing my granola with the seasons. In the winter I love this Grapefruit Cardamom Granola. Come spring I want something bright and fruity like this Strawberry Coconut Granola or my very own Fantasy Mango Granola. In the summer I sprinkle a big bowls of fruit with Berry Crunch Granola or stir some into my Magical Muscadine Chia Seed Jam. When the leaves start to change its time for Local Pecan and Sweet Potato Granola and during the holidays I crave Gingerbread Granola.

I also love coconut so I’m a big fan of this clumpy tropical one. And then there’s the decadent and so delicious Chocolate Peanut Butter Granola that I could happily eat every day for the rest of my life.

What are your favorite granola recipes? Any flavor combinations you’ve been wanting to try?

 

Scallion-Herb-Spelt-Einkorn Linguini and the Need for Needless Complication

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Sometimes it feels like I’m all alone in thinking “complicated” is a compliment. Many a man has dumped me with the phrase “I just want someone simple,” and I’ll admit that I’m not simple or easy. But really, I don’t think most people are. Some of us are better at hiding our internal mess, but complex is pretty much synonymous with human. I think that’s okay. In fact, I think that’s great.

We used to love mysteries and puzzles, but these days, simplicity is trendy. We like minimalist décor, meals that come together in 10 minutes, books that we can read just for the story. As a friend recently pointed out to me, in online dating “no drama” has become code for “I don’t want to deal with your emotions.” I understand the appeal of clean and simple but I must confess that I’m a lover of the complicated. I live for recipes that take half a day to prepare, books that reveal something new every time I read them, and friends that surprise me.

In that spirit, I recently took on a needlessly complex cooking project which involved 4 different kinds of herbs, a mortar and pestle, and a borrowed pasta press. The result were pretty, herb-flecked noodles. They were delicious. Honestly, probably not much more delicious than if I’d put the herbs in the sauce, but I enjoyed the complexity of the noodles themselves. It gave me a layer of flavor to play on top of. I topped them with melted butter, parmesan, shrimp, and kale.

Building flavor this way, in layers, is what makes restaurant food so delicious. Professional chefs find ways to use the same ingredients in different parts of the dish, to build flavor into every piece, creating intensity. Cooking at home, it isn’t always possible to make everything from scratch. There’s no shame in store-bought noodles or pre-made stock. But that doesn’t mean that doing it all yourself is useless. Complexity is beautiful, special, to be cherished.

 

Scallion-Herb-Spelt-Einkorn Linguini
(adapted from Gather and Dine )

 1/2 cup Italian parsley leaves, chopped
1/2 cup oregano leaves, chopped
1/4 cup chives, chopped
1/4 cup basil leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 cup (140 g) all-purpose einkorn flour
1 cup (140 g) whole spelt flour
1 cup (140 g) white spelt flour
2 eggs
2 tablespoon (30 ml) olive oil
1-4 (15-60ml)tablespoons cold water

Place herbs and salt in a large mortar and grind until they are broken down and softened.

Dump einkorn and spelt flours in a large bowl and make a well in the center.

Drop eggs, olive oil, and crushed herbs in the center of the well.

Slowly incorporate flour into wet ingredients until fully combined. If dough is too dry, add water, one tablespoon at a time, just until dough comes together in a ball; it should feel dry and not sticky.

Knead dough for 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic.

Wrap in plastic and rest for 1 hour.

Roll out on a pasta press, working down to thickness no more than 1/8”. Cut into ribbons and dry slightly while bringing a large pot of water to a boil.

Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring often. Drain and serve immediately, finished with desired toppings or sauce.

Let’s Get Together

I’m feeling a real longing for community lately. I think it may have something to do with the current political rift, but it’s also a plight of the writer, creating in seclusion. To combat this writerly isolation I’ve decided to join bloglovin’. My hope is to follow my favorite blogs more consistently and to find some new ones, to feell more a part of the blogging community. Who are some of your favorite bloggers?

<a href=”https://www.bloglovin.com/blog/18505259/?claim=xvsrcpx3e6t”>Follow my blog with Bloglovin</a>

 

Tahini Chocolate Snack Mix (gluten free)

Tahini Chocolate Snack Mix (Gluten Free)

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Hi! It’s been a while. My apologies. I have no excuses. I’ve been busy, but despite that I’ve cooked and baked a lot over the last month. The problem is, none of it has felt blog-worthy. I have been sticking to comfortable favorites or relying on trusted books and blogs to provide me with recipes that don’t need adjustment. Our new head of state, a new year, and other, more personal changes have left me in need of stability, and cooking—an area where I usually expend creative energy—has become a haven of predictable results.

I find that happiness for me is about balancing security and excitement, having a life that feels both safe and adventurous. Sometimes achieving a reasonable equilibrium means subduing my own wildness when the world feels out of control. In times of upheaval my creativity becomes subtler. This recipe is far from avant garde, but it is my own.

Tahini is trendy, particularly and surprisingly in sweet preparations. Back in December I saw a recipe for Tahini Brownies on Brooklyn Supper and since then I’ve encountered tahini confections on many food blogs including Tahini Scones on Well Floured and Ginger Tahini Cookies on Vegan Richa. Tahini is slightly bitter, making it a perfect accompaniment for chocolate. It’s also subtly nutty (though made from seeds, not nuts) in a way that doesn’t dominate other flavor’s like peanut butter can.

This snack mix is a chocolatey, lightly sweet, salty, crunchy, and makes a very satisfying snack. I plan on bringing it with me to AWP (The Association of Writers and Poets Conference) where I anticipate the need for delicious gluten free snacks. I think it would even make a tasty breakfast.

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Tahini Chocolate Snack Mix

1/4 cup sorghum
3 cups rice or corn Chex
2 cups gluten free pretzels
1 cup almonds
1/4 c cacao nibs
3 tablespoons sesame seeds (white, black or a mixture)
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 cup chocolate chips

Heat oven to 175°.

Heat a heavy-bottomed sauce pan with a lid (glass is best) over medium-high heat until quite hot, but not smoking. (Test with a few drops of water, they should sizzle and evaporate almost immediately.) Add sorghum to hot pan and cover. Shake gentle back and forth over heat to pop, cracking lid occasionally to release steam. Stop when pops are 10 seconds apart and pour popped sorghum into a large bowl.

Add Chex, pretzels, almonds, sesame seeds, and cacao nibs to bowl with sorghum and toss to combine.

In a small sauce pan combine tahini, honey and butter and heat together until thoroughly mixed. Pour over Chex mix and stir until evenly coated.

Spread on a baking sheet and bake for 1 1/2 hours. Cool slightly and sprinkle on chocolate chips. They well melt slightly spreading around chocolate goodness.

Illness and Idleness

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(www.edwardhopper.net)

I’m sick and I’m reading Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City. The book is an exploration of loneliness, an examination of how loneliness informs art, how difficult it is to express. Laing writes about the isolation of living in New York, about the anxiety of Edward Hopper’s paintings, Andy Warhol’s awkward silences, all kinds of solitary experience. Laing talks about the repulsiveness desperation of loneliness, but by talking about celebrity examples she overcomes the distastefulness of her subject. She explicitly links the artists’ biographies to their work, making direct connections between experience and expression.

There is something comforting in it as I lie here in bed, head cloudy with congestion, intestines aching. What is more isolating than sickness? Illness is internal, impossible to share. But it isn’t just pain that makes illness isolating. Sickness is disabling. While other do, the ill rest, sleep, hurt. They must conserve energy that others use. The ill do not take chances, do not challenge themselves, do not strive. Illness is boring, stationary, inactive. From the outside illness looks like apathy, but from the inside it feels like war. Each of us inhabits a single body and our experience within that body limits and defines our interaction with the world.

Imagining the experience of another body is the ultimate form of strangeness. Most of us simply can’t do it, like the narrator in Raymond Carver’s short story “Cathedral.” His encounter with the blind man in the story makes him uncomfortable and combative. When the blind man invites him to close his eyes, he chooses to keep them open, opting for the comfort of his familiar sight over the potential revelation of experiencing the world without it. He chooses not to engage.

It’s a privilege, this choice. The blind man doesn’t have the option of seeing; he is separated by something outside of his control. He cannot experience the world as the other man does. Sometimes empathy is not an available option. The sick cannot choose to inhabit the experience of the well, as much as they may long to.

Illness limits choice; it removes options. Often from the outside, these limitations seem negligible, they also seem like fussiness or obstinacy. Sometimes even from the inside it can seem that way, especially when symptoms are at a minimum and self-care means saying no to your job, friends, or family. With IBS, I can no longer be spontaneous. Feeling okay throughout the day requires a 3.5-hour morning ritual of exercise, hot drinks, a light meal, supplements, and a heating pad. It’s a rigid ritual, and it has taken away morning, which used to be my favorite time of day.

Difference is loneliness, lacking shared history, shared language, shared interests. As Laing points out in her discussion of Andy Warhol’s use of repetitive images, sameness is comforting, or in Warhol’s own words “all the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good.” Conditions that make conformity impossible feel antagonistic, oppressive. When one is too ill to do, and must simply wait, it is easy to feel not only lonely, but purposeless.

In these moments of inactivity, to fight despair, I think about fairy tales where the heroine is frozen in place or locked in a tower, where she searches the earth or becomes lost in a forest, for years, decades centuries. For all that time, she is simply lost, waiting, dormant. I try to wait just as patiently.

Girl Food: Fennel Carrot Soup

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I’m sure there are plenty of men who love salads and women who would pick a steak over a brownie, but I don’t know any of them. There are certain foods that seem to appeal only to women: Buddha bowls, taco salads, and soup. Men categorically dislike soup. I have no idea why. I could eat soup every day from October through April, and all the women in my life seem to feel the same way. This particular soup has a rich caramelized flavor that comes from oven roasting the vegetables before adding them to the pot.

 

Adapted from the now-defunct Gourmet Magazine, this recipe epitomizes what I loved about that publication: it’s easy to make, has a short ingredient list, and yet it’s impressive enough that I’ve made it for dozens of special occasions, the most recent of which was a holiday lunch with my mom, aunt and sister. My sister and I both have IBS, but our symptoms and problem foods are almost opposite. This soup, however, works for both of us.

 

The original recipe, which appeared in the November 2008 issue of Gourmet calls for an onion, which I’ve replaced with a handful of scallion tops, because I don’t tolerate onion well. I also microwave the fennel oil because it intensifies the flavor and aroma. I make this soup with an immersion blender which produces a chunkier texture that I love. If you want a silky smooth puree a traditional blender is best.

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Fennel Carrot Soup

2 large fennel bulbs with fronds
1 lb. carrots, broken into 2” pieces
2 cloves garlic
1 bunch scallions (green onions), white bulbs removed and discarded
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon fennel seed
sea salt

Heat oven to 425° with rack in the bottom third of the oven. Slice fennel bulbs 1/4” thick and spread on a rimmed baking sheet along with carrots and garlic. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil, sugar, and about 1/2 tsp. salt. Roast for 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so. After 20 minutes, add the scallion.

Meanwhile, chop about 1 tablespoon fennel fronds and set aside, discarding remaining fronds and stems. Grind the fennel seed in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Mix with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small bowl and microwave 30 seconds, until fragrant.

When vegetables are caramelized and tender, transfer to a soup pot and add stock. Use an immersion blender to puree to desired consistence. Season with additional salt to taste and heat for 5 minutes or so on stovetop. Serve in wide bowls garnished with fronds and fennel oil.

 

 

All Better

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When we say someone has healed, there’s an implied permanence, a sense that the sickness or injury is gone forever. Like “happily ever after,” healed is an impossible promise. And yet, we believe in healing. Healed is a word doctors won’t use with diseases like cancer that may return. For tentative restorations, there’s a different vernacular. We talk about remission, reduction. We fear false hope, being caught unawares.

But does impermanence negate recovery? My IBS symptoms wax and wane, and every once is a great while, they disappear. Yet even in symptom-free times, in my mind, my condition lingers. I don’t think of myself as well.

Unlike the relief I feel waking up after a lingering cold and finding that my head is clear and my breathing easy, with my stomach, feeling well is not enough.  I cannot shake the worry that I may get sick again. I do not simply enjoy being well. I get fixated on permanence.

It isn’t just in matters of physical health that fixedness matters. When it comes to loss, grief, or heartbreak we also speak of healing as if it is a single process, something that leads to a definitive moment when we are cured. But I’ve found that much like my IBS symptoms, my emotional discomforts increase and lessen, but are never wholly negated. I learn to deal with certain triggers, but the underlying tendencies find new outlets. Things improve for a while and then get difficult again.

Obsessed with patterns, I track these recurrences, their cyclical nature. Sometimes I feel that I have improved, matured, but this may be more a matter of stabilizing my environment than developing internally.

It’s the holiday season, a time of traditions and memories, when past and present blur. As adults, we return to our childhood homes. We return to our pasts, old symptoms, old habits, old feelings, return. My parent’s house evokes complex feelings. Sometimes I enjoy the familiar rooms, other times I find myself angry or forlorn. Uncertain of what to do, of how much freedom I am allowed, I lose confidence. I lose maturity, insight, autonomy. I feel old pain. Wounds that I thought had healed reopen.

Does this mean that I never healed, that my mettle is a matter of distance, that my poise is only a lie? If my answer is no, then I must rethink what healing is, to allow the possibility that to be wellness is always momentary, that a relapse of sickness does not negate the moments of health and comfort. Instead, it makes illness and wellness transitory states, both of which, will pass.

Let’s Tell True Stories; Hear Our Voice

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It is tempting to tell happy stories, to bend our lives into pleasing shapes and end them with happily ever after, but these stories, though well-meant often do more harm than good. They isolate us, shame us, silence us.

Here is a story: I hosted thanksgiving dinner at my apartment. Friends from near and far joined me, each bringing a dish to share.

On social media this story is a picture of me trussing the turkey and another of two dogs begging, a recipe for cranberry sauce, a joke about tryptophan-induced comas.

The true story is a bit more uncomfortable. The day before the holiday I get into an argument with my boyfriend. It’s not a new fight, but it sends me into a crippling bout of flash-back fueled anxiety. I’m so anxious that even playful disputes between my two canine guests leave me shaking and anxious. I stay busy because I know that if I let myself process the whole dinner will fall apart and I want desperately not to ruin the day for myself or any of my guests. I cook, and play hostess, and the guests come, but instead of enjoying the meal I critique and criticize myself. I am frustrated with everything that isn’t just how I planned, just what I wanted. I hide how I feel as well as I can and hope that no one can tell I’m not at my best.

There is nothing particularly compelling or noteworthy about this story, but it illustrates the dissonance between our lives and our stories, between the narratives that we tell and our authentic experience.

We need to return to the truth, to tell stories that matter. I believe that the upcoming Women’s March on Washington (https://www.womensmarch.com/) is a story that needs to be told, which is why I’ve signed on as the producer of a film documenting the event, Hear Our Voice.

 

Hear Our Voice is not just the story of one person’s perspective on the march, it’s a story of diverse perspectives. We are seeking footage from people attending the march and those who cannot attend. We are seeking true stories about women’s issues, inequalities, and injustices. We need your help. Learn how you can get involved https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/hear-our-voice-a-documentary/x/15560188.