Entries Tagged as 'Identity'

Miso Soup

Friday, May 22, 2015

I’ve been ruminating on this post for some time. When I decided to take a break from writing here for awhile, I didn’t know it was going to last six months. I made the sudden move of starting school again full time last semester, and classes started in January. If you consider that I’ve let the possibility marinate for almost five years, the decision doesn’t seem so sudden. It still felt that way. There was an adjustment period, a steep learning curve. There were some tears. But I’m on the other side of that first semester now, with twelve more credits under my belt. And dammit, it feels good.

miso soup

Every Monday at 7:30 a.m., I’d pack my safety goggles and graphing calculator and head to chemistry lab, where our instructor would meet us at the door, laced with coffee and true enthusiasm for the periodic table. The man could motivate, and he expected us to show up and keep up. We’d start each lab with a quiz on that day’s procedures, of which we had to get a certain score or be dismissed from class before it began. And then we’d get going on whatever experiment was planned. My lab partner David could roll out of bed, grab a pen, and ace every one of those quizzes. I, on the other hand, could study the night before and an hour in the morning and still forget how many times we’d be using the analytical balance that day, which solution we’d be titrating, or what color a reaction solution would turn in the presence of starch. We started meeting on weekends to power through each week’s load of assignments. I worked for that C. David got an A. After our last test, we toasted with beers at Eli’s, a dark watering hole that has probably seen as many victories as defeats. I was surprised to feel wistful and proud altogether. Work will do that, if it’s honest.

Going back to school as a grown adult is interesting. I’m not the same student I was ten years ago. (Ten years! Makes my chest a little tight.) This time I’m in it for more than the parties and the independence. I’ve got a much better idea of what I want today, and wider eyes for the possibility. And this time, it’s my money. I still fight the urge to skip classes, and to procrastinate. What worked in business school does not apply to science classes (found that one out immediately after our first biology test), and so I’ve had to learn spanking new study habits. You know what’s funny? The moment I let go of trying to learn every single concept, I started to absorb more information. Those fine little details were tripping me up, and I was failing to see the big picture. If that ain’t a metaphor for life, I don’t know what is.

There wasn’t a lot of time for cooking or writing, and I’ve missed both. I ate many meals of scrambled eggs. I craved the sodium kick and the full-bodied bite of miso, and I made a lot of soup with it, tweaking the ingredients here and there until I landed on a recipe that didn’t need to be changed. To make it, you do need two kinds of miso. Here’s why: by itself, either sweet shiromiso or brown miso will make a fine bowl of soup. It’s the way I’d been making miso soup all my life (or as long as I’d been making miso soup, which is about two years). The two types of miso together are better, I think. The salty, earthy lick of brown miso grounds the gentler, whimsical shiromiso. Soon you’re so accustomed to them together that you can’t really remember them apart.

Hopefully you’ve had a fulfilling few months of all kinds of stuff you love, or are somehow finding your way back to it with the onset of spring.

Miso Soup (serves 2-3)
4 cups water
1 3-inch strip kombu
4 mushrooms
5 oz firm tofu
green onions
2 tablespoons brown miso
1 tablespoon white miso

First, make the dashi. (Dashi is a basic Japanese stock made from water, dried kelp (called kombu), and bonito flakes. The bonito flakes can be omitted for a vegetarian dashi. I don’t like the smoky taste of bonito flakes, so I usually make vegetarian stock).
In a medium sauce pot, combine water with the strip of kombu. Bring water to a boil, then turn off heat and let the kombu steep for three minutes. Strain the stock (kombu can be kept for a day or two, sliced thinly and added to stir fries-otherwise discard it).

Chop mushrooms and tofu to a pretty small dice. Slice green onions.

Pour dashi back into the pot, and measure out 1/2 cup of it in a separate bowl. Mix both (both!) miso pastes into the 1/2 cup of reserved dashi, and keep it aside off the stove. Meanwhile, bring dashi in the pot up to a boil and add mushrooms. Simmer on medium heat for three minutes. Turn heat to low and add the reserved miso/dashi mix to the pot. Add the tofu and allow it to warm through, then remove from heat before it boils and ladle into bowls. Scatter lots of scallions on top.



Adieu, 2014

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

It is before noon on New Year’s Eve, and I am writing this from my sister T and my brother-in-law S’s place in the suburbs where I’ve been housesitting for the past four days. Their three small dogs are curled up in a line to my right, from hip to ankle. Four days feels like four weeks when you’re in someone else’s house, sleeping in someone else’s bed, and with three living things to take care of. When I lived here twenty years ago, there was a different dog, two cats, and two parrots who’ve since left this realm for another. I was an angry and grief-stricken middle schooler. T and S were newly married and the same age I am now. But we survived. It is negative four thousand degrees with a six-inch snow cover today, HOWEVER, the sun shines. Glory be.

Six months ago, I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do for a job, a place to live, a social life. Knowing that soon the answers would come, that there is little else we can guarantee, I tried to stay content with the unknown and without a longterm plan or an exit strategy from Minnesota. I started substitute teaching for public schools in Minneapolis. During the month of September, I cried at the end of the day on the car ride home at least three days a week, sometimes five, until I found a sweet spot and a handful of schools that clicked. This has been the toughest job I’ve ever had, but I needed it. I started some contract culinary work for a woman who is a respected nutritionist in the Twin Cities, and this has filled my well personally and professionally beyond expectation. My longtime friend Annie and I moved in together, and despite a few bumps in the road, we’re still close friends. In fact, we probably make each other better. It’s been a trip.

So here we are, at the end of another year. Whenever I make a resolution, I break it within the first week of the new year. This time, instead of thinking of resolutions, I’ve thought about what made 2014 distinct, what made it challenging, and which patterns were easy to repeat. Instead of resolutions, I’m setting intentions. I’m going to get them out now, and then I’m going to step away from this space for a bit to absorb a fresh start. More practice, less plan. More heart, less critical thinking.

Happy 2015 to you. I hope your new year overflows with light.

To work through the fear.
I’ve typically dealt with life through a prism of fear that the worst scenario is bound to occur. Since my mom died, I’ve believed and feared that I would eventually lose everyone important to me. This is especially true in relationships, and it keeps me trapped in a cycle of creating friction. By creating fiction, I’ve always got problems to solve, and when I can solve problems, I maintain an illusion that I am in control. Ouch. What if the boundaries were fluid? What if I rode the wave? What if I allowed something to happen without a timeline, an expectation, or an attachment to the outcome? The fear will always be there, but what if it were just a filter I learned to work with instead of against? What if I could remind myself that I have survived, and will survive again? All relationships have a timeline, and not all are meant to last a lifetime. Loss is painful, but those relationships are usually worth what they teach.

To own this experience.
I overheard a couple talking the other day. Fine, I was eavesdropping. He was telling her about experience vs. baggage, and how we can either shoulder one or carry the other. It’s so obvious, but yet so amazing how a small switch in vocabulary can make such a big difference to an idea. I wanted to high-five him, but instead I walked in the other direction a little lighter.

To continue to be flexible.
With my ideas of success, progress, stability, and purpose.

To attune to the underlying emotion.
It is so easy to react, but not so easy to respond. Most emotions that hurt are carried by pain–anger, disappointment, sadness. To have more patience with myself, and with others, and to try to understand this sequence.


To recognize when I am putting up barriers.
Up until about six months ago, I was having a lifelong recurring dream that I was running away from something with invisible weights strapped to my ankles. I couldn’t move with any kind of speed–it felt like the air was full of jello, like a force was pushing me back to the starting line. Six months ago, the dreams stopped. Since I surrendered, essentially. If I put up an intellectual barrier to a deeper heartfelt instinct, I give myself permission not to try. And if I don’t try, I won’t risk losing anything. This is when self-love comes in handy. Sweet girl, says this wiser, patient voice. What if you had a daughter and she was sharing these things with you? You would wrap your arms around her and whisper to her that she deserves to live, that she has felt the difference between an open and a shunted heart, and that whatever happens as a consequence of choice or circumstance, she will survive.


Beet Hummus

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Do you know what the overnight low was for the Twin Cities last night? Two. Two degrees.


Year after frigid year, Minnesotans soldier through winter with a steady kind of pride. There is a charm to their manic ways, even if it makes me feel inferior. I grumble to my car, shake my fist at another gray sky, and take note of their exuberance as they chip ice from their windshields and their beards. While they jog next to ice-slicked streets, cheeks flushed and ponytails swinging, I stand shivering from our tiny porch, puffing the one cigarette I allow myself each week, staring through a web of spindly branches to a setting sun that colors the sky ombre, until the steady pock pock of running shoes slices clean through the belly of winter silence. The sound draws my gaze downward to seek the perpetrator, this loony human being who dares to exercise in these extreme conditions. Smoke curls skyward from chimneys, lights glow from windows, and we all scurry like mice to keep warm and stay busy. After a fresh snowfall, this neighborhood is a living snow globe. I take walks for better views, because it’s the closest thing I will get to running in the cold, and because I like to look in the windows of people’s houses. From the sidewalk.

Until we emerge from this monochromatic stretch of gray, white, and slush, I say we search for color elsewhere. Are you in? Because I~~~’ve got something for YOU.

beet hummus

I’ve been tinkering with beet hummus for a few weeks now. Roast the beets or keep them raw? Roast. Puree them smooth or keep them textured? Textured. Blend the beets with the hummus? No, swirl them. And then there was the question of sumac. Sumac is a flowering plant that produces bright crimson berries, and these berries are ground into a tart powder often added to hummus, rice, salad, or kebab. Some sumac plants are poisonous. I bought a small jar of it (the un-poisonous kind) with the intention of making za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend of sumac, thyme, and sesame seeds. One day, za’atar will be made, but until then, I will stare at this jar and try to dream up other ways of working through it besides sprinkling it over scrambled eggs. The usual. Any ideas?


Onto the reason we’re here–the hummus. If you don’t make hummus from scratch, this will sound like a pretty simple recipe, and it is. I wanted it to be easy and pretty, but with a couple of optional twists that could be added at the end to make it special. Sumac is tangy, bright, and really nice against the earthy sweetness of the beets. A garnish of fresh rosemary would not be very pleasant to bite, but a few crispy fried leaves is something else entirely. If you want to skip either the sumac or the rosemary, or both, you’ll still have a pretty bowl of hummus. The olive oil, though, is a must.

Beets are in season when we need their nutritional benefits and stunning color the most. Folate is good for detoxification, and it promotes cardiovascular, neural, and psycho-emotional health. Manganese supports bone health, fertility, and memory. Potassium keeps our brains functioning, stabilizes blood sugar, boosts metabolism, and helps us naturally regulate stress. If you need more reasons to eat more beets, you might consider Tom Robbins’ ode to the root. From Jitterbug Perfume:

~“Of course, there are white beets, beets that ooze sugar water instead of blood, but it is the red beet with which we are concerned; the variety that blushes and swells like a hemorrhoid, a hemorrhoid for which there is no cure. (Actually, there is one remedy: commission a potter to make you a ceramic asshole­–and when you aren’t sitting on it, you can use it as a bowl for borscht.)

An old Ukrainian proverb warns, “A tale that begins with a beet will end with the devil.”

This is a risk we have to take.”~

Happy Thanksgiving to you, to the ones you love, and to the people with whom you’re ambivalent.

beet hummus

Beet Hummus with Sumac

hummus (store bought or homemade)
roasted beets*
extra virgin olive oil
fried rosemary leaves**

In a bowl, combine hummus with chopped roasted beets. Stir to swirl. Add a mandatory glug of olive oil. Sprinkle with sumac and fried rosemary, if desired. Serve with pita, blanched or raw vegetables, sliced apples, olives. Anything you’d like to dip with.

*To roast beets:
Rub unpeeled, whole beets with salt, wrap in foil, and roast at 400 degrees F until a knife can easily pierce through the center of each beet. Let them cool, then peel them, then pulse in a food processor or chop by hand to a small, rough dice.

**To fry rosemary:
Pick leaves from a branch (about 12-15, or more if you want to have extra on hand to sprinkle over soup–highly recommended). Set a plate with a paper towel next to the stove (this is to drain the oil from the rosemary once it’s done frying). Heat a skillet, then pour in enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Use avocado oil, coconut oil, or another oil that can withstand higher temperatures. When the oil is heated, add rosemary leaves. Stir them to coat in oil, then let them get crisp. This takes seconds, so be sure to keep a close watch. Carefully transfer to the paper toweled plate to let the excess oil be absorbed.

Make it a mission

Monday, September 22, 2014

Yesterday, while my cousin Tippy and I were sitting at the bar of a favorite local watering hole, I told her I felt like I’ve lost a desire to shine in a group of adults. That’s because you’ve been spending so much time around kids, she said.

What do you mean? I replied.

She explained. Kids want the best version of you, and they want it upfront. Inherently, kids want to like you. Kids tend to like the things about us that we like about ourselves, and that happens because they expect an honest interaction with us–it’s what makes sense to them.

In the adult world, it’s the opposite. We play games to avoid what’s really going on. We wait for proof that we can trust each other. Adults are harder to impress. We tend to write each other off before we even realize it, and until we’re given a reason not to. We, as adults, search for ways we can fit in. When we meet people, we look for ways we can fit them into a mold that makes sense to us. When we can’t figure them out, or classify them, we’re thrown off.

It’s true. As we grow up, we become self-conscious of everything we do, and we spend a lot of energy trying to get back to the essence of ourselves. We forget to play for the benefit of playing: for the joy and the creativity play brings. We guard our hearts. We let our negative experiences chip away at our best parts, we blame each other for our behavior, and somewhere along the line, we adopt the ultimate, pervasive mistruth that we, as humans, are unlovable.

Tippy used to teach art, and she noticed a distinct shift at the fourth and fifth grade level. At this age, kids go from uninhibited, unique expression to more socialized behavior when they figure out pretty quickly that they’re better off if they can fit in. It is the great, dangerous disservice we give when we stop truly seeing each other. And alarmingly, this happens the first time when we’re very young.

I taught second grade last week. The class was a group of 25 native Spanish speaking students who spent our whole 20 minutes of recess catching ladybug pets and counting their spots and trying to pocket them without me noticing. After an ESL teacher came in to teach their science lesson, I read them a story in English about dim sum. If you listen well while I read this, I’ll read a second book in Spanish, is what I said, thinking they’d be motivated by the thought of watching me fumble through with my heavy American accent. Of course, they were sweet as pie during the very short English story. So I picked up the Spanish book and drew a very deep breath and whispered down to the cover of book, here we go.

Once I’d finished a page, I’d glance down at all their beady-eyed faces sitting cross-legged on a big multicolored carpet and they’d start softly clapping, encouraging me along. Man, that book was loooong. By the end, my tongue was tired. That was really hard for you! breathed a boy somewhere in the tangle of them as they all went back to being kids and wiggling out the previous ten minutes of stillness, which, to a second grader, probably feels more like ten hours. It was, I said. But you cheered for me, and I could feel it.

These pure and natural reactions from kids, untinged by the burdens of life experience, are what I wish we’d all have access to on a more consistent basis. What we can learn from kids by treating them with respect is, as it’s been said, a sort of earthshaking serum for our collective conscience. I guess what I’m getting at is this: if you take away anything from this post, I hope it’s that you’ll soon have the opportunity to make a child feel seen. Make it a mission. What you get back is beyond. When you’re done, go create something. Anything! Like a pizza, or a drawing of your rubber band collection.



We Can Create.

Turning the Soup Kitchen Upside Down

To make: Moroccan Roasted Beets, Gingerbread Man Smoothie, Slow-Braised Pork Belly

Still trying to master the perfect poached egg? Me too. Have you tried this?

Happy Sunday.

Tomatillo Salsa

Thursday, August 28, 2014

tomatillo salsa

I started writing this post from Annie’s couch in Harlem. A breeze would pass through the apartment, carrying the sound of someone’s saxophone or the distant wail of a siren, and if you folded yourself into her living room windowsill, you could gaze down on her neighbors’ plant-filled, walled-in urban retreat of a patio. We hadn’t started packing her things yet, and she was all knotted up over her decision to leave New York. On the inside, I was pitching a fit over the possibility of returning to Minnesota alone, with the deposit on our apartment already paid. Those eight days were tough. Toss together two longtime friends, both of whom have their own complicated relationship with New York, as anyone with New York history does, add in the weight of moving, quitting jobs, saying goodbye, starting over, seeking closure, and the probability of a blowup is all but marked in stone. Today that trip seems part of a past life, which makes it all the harder to believe that I’m writing this now from our new apartment in Minneapolis.

minneapolis apartment_1

minneapolis apartment_3

minneapolis apartment_4

When Annie and I decided to live together, I wasn’t positive it was the best move. I’d been living with people my whole life, and I was very much ready to have my own space. Annie, on the other hand, was used to living alone. Above all, though, we both saw it as a now-or-never type of chance, a challenge, for sure, but one that we both wanted to risk taking rather than missing. I’d stalk Craigslist for apartments, she’d send me links to places she’d found and I’d make appointments to view them. On Google Chat one day, we sent each other the same link at the same time for a duplex in South Minneapolis. Six weeks later, we moved in.

First we had to get her out of the clutches of New York. And what the hell, I thought, why not make a trip out of it? I booked a one-way ticket and flew out on a Tuesday, the first of eight consecutive days of summer perfection. She met me at the corner of 125th and Lenox, and when I saw her standing there, she was a woman who’d melded to the city’s pace.

One night at dusk, we crossed the Triborough Bridge in her friend Bri’s car to eat Peruvian while Bri called every fifth driver a motherfucker for driving like one. I liked her immediately. Bri is all heart, tough as nails, and just shy of a hundred pounds. She came over the next night and taught us how to fry cabbage the Deep South way with bacon and onions. Cal and Brandon came too, and Cal made his mother’s famous fried chicken, a recipe he’s known how to cook since he could reach the counter to season the flour. We piled on Annie’s couch and chowed until it was time to fry a second batch. Annie and I got dressed up on Sunday morning and loped to Abyssinian Baptist Church, craving gospel music and ice water and sweating buckets in the heat before we’d even arrived. When we finally did, a straight-faced woman wearing pantyhose and bifocals told us services were finished for the day, so we hailed a taxi for Bloody Marys at Vinateria instead.

At the end of the week, we celebrated our survival at Red Rooster over shredded lamb tostadas topped with rosy pickled onion and dabs of grainy mustard. We drank a Savoy and a PYT and watched a wave of characters pass through the doors. The food was good, not great, but you felt the place come alive as the night wore on, and when Annie asked, “How can I leave this?” I had no answer. New York is panoptic, hypnotic, and much sexier when you’re away or on your way out. Like any love/hate relationship, New York is a place you can’t fully appreciate until you no longer wake up to it everyday.   

minneapolis apartment_2Annie wavered between staying and going up until the very morning we left. I told her I’d be okay if she changed her mind, and that was mostly true, or would have been eventually. She told me she’d made a commitment to me. That meant something, even if it felt heavier than what I’d bargained for. In the end, we packed up the moving truck with the help of Bri and three guys from Bri’s security staff. With Annie at the wheel, we pulled away from the curb and sailed down Seventh Avenue to Iggy Azalea like the whole trip was already in the bag. Ten minutes later we were in a tunnel, then a bridge four or forty lanes across when the first of several truck drivers honked and yelled that our back ramp was down. Within seconds, we were protected on all sides by a fleet of semis until we could exit, pull off to the shoulder and assess the situation, first panicking, later cackling like a couple of once-wild grandmothers with stories of skirting the law. After nine hours of driving, we stopped somewhere in northern Ohio, checked into a Super 8, and walked to the Lone Tree Tavern next door through a field of grass with a walking path carved for truck drivers who likely kept both places in business. Tom was the front desk manager and a retired principal with a few opinions on migrating west, all of them favorable. At that hour, whether or not Annie found them comforting was moot.

It took another fifteen hours to reach home, and it was after midnight at the start of the third day when we did. I told Annie I felt like I’d left a critical piece of my heart behind. She said she thought she’d made a mistake, and we laid in bed staring at the ceiling, exhausted, dejected, and confused. We slept hard, woke up early, and drove the truck to the new apartment to meet a crew of family and friends who gave up their Saturday morning to help us move. My brothers got straight to work by opening all the windows in the house for fresh air. My dad pulled the refrigerator from the wall to plug it in and tore two holes in the vinyl floor, battle scars that are going to remind us of that day every time we see them. Annie’s friend Jessie did most of the heavy lifting, while her dad loaded up his car with bags to donate and came over later to hang curtains and put together chairs. We unloaded Annie’s stuff, drove to my youngest brother’s apartment to pick up some of the stuff we’ll store while he lives in Phoenix, then drove back to Mary Ellen’s to load up the truck with my stuff. Brian bought us welcome back burgers and beers at Pat’s Tap when it was time for a break. Brad and Megan brought their baby over in the afternoon, Tony and Niki came with felt pads, a power drill, and a reading chair, and Tippy brought us our first plant. Long after the sun had set, we spread out at the front of the house and ordered delivery for dinner. That all of these people were so happy we were home was impossible to ignore, and I think we both fell asleep feeling lighter, protected even, which makes a hell of a difference in any sort of big life change.

Grandpa's cactus

Now that we are here, a new brand of culture shock is settling in, and that’s the kind related to stuff. Buying a sofa last week, you see, felt major. Annie keeps telling me I’ve been able to wait 31 years without buying any furniture, as if this is some stroke of good fortune! At IKEA, it was my turn to panic, and if she hadn’t have been there, I might’ve left a full cart in the checkout lane and bolted for the horizon. At this rate, I guess I should be ready for marriage by age 62?

Speaking of commitments, I walked forty-five blocks from Annie’s stoop on 133rd and Lenox to Kitchen Arts and Letters one day, and that’s where I found this recipe for tomatillo salsa. More specifically, where I found the book with this recipe, and where I decided it would be our kitchen’s bible for the upcoming winter. Annie loves Mexican, and so do I. All this late blooming must have put me in the mood to start something early, as I assure you I’m not at all ready to think about colder days. Salsas are great because you really can’t fuck them up, so long as you use prime ingredients. It never hurts to have a recipe to reference, however, and this one’s a definite keeper.

Tomatillo Salsa (makes 1 1/2 cups) from Truly Mexican
1/2 pound tomatillos (5 or 6), husked, rinsed, and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 fresh serrano or jalapeño chiles, coarsely chopped, including seeds
2 tablespoons chopped white onion
1 good sized garlic clove, peeled
3/4 teaspoon fine salt, or 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

Add the tomatillos to a food processor or blender, then add the rest of the ingredients. Blend until salsa is very smooth (you’ll still see the tomatillo seeds, and that’s good), at least a minute. Season to taste with additional chile and salt, and blend again. If you can make this ahead of time to let the flavors meld, do it–a few hours or an overnight makes a big difference. Serve with tortilla chips, black beans and rice, salmon, pork, chicken, roasted vegetables, or an omelette with cilantro and goat cheese.