How To Care For Others: Biscotti And Golden Milk

On my 30th birthday, my father asked me to shave his head.

He had just started a round of chemo and was beginning to lose his hair, fine tufts of fine hair that were beginning to come out in clumps and clog the drain. He figured he would head the eventuality of baldness off at the pass and just shave his head to see what kind of egg he would be dealing with.

He carried the stool out to my parent’s deck in Peachtree City, Georgia. They lived at the very back of a wooded cul-de-sac, cut through with golf cart paths. It was March, and fairly warm. He had already sharpened and oiled the clippers and draped an old towel over his clothes.

He turned around to look expectantly at me as he walked through the screen door.

I told him no. I couldn’t do it.

So now, instead of my 30th birthday being the day that I shaved my father’s head, it’s the day I refused to shave his head. I can still see my stricken look reflected in his eyes. He was trying to make the best of a situation, and I was not quite able to ride shotgun for that.

For many people around me, the holidays seem like that this year. Like me with my dad and his shaved head, many people are trying to be cheery and go along for the ride, but cannot quite get there. Behind their eyes I can see the despair and anguish and quick darting glances, looking for an escape hatch. Literally. They have in their looks the knowing of a deeper, harder, longer road ahead, no matter how sparkly the tinsel or bright the lights.

All things being equal, and with my personal year of hell and death in 2013 being the high bar for awful, this year has not been terrible for me. I fell in love, worked hard enough and saved enough pennies to send my kid to France, and started a new business cooking for people. I have had a couple parties with really wonderful people, and I will ring in the new year with one of my oldest friends and his wonderful wife and kid(s). On an individual level, things have been okay.

Nationally and internationally, the world is folding in on itself. Implosion isn’t the right word for this descent into hell that humanity is experiencing. Hate crimes, genocide. Violence and fear.

Things feel desperate and washed out at the same time. If the water is rising but there are no boats and you can’t swim, what the hell are you supposed to do?

I think the only thing for me is to alternate between taking care of myself by turning off the internet and social media so that I can read, write, and engage with myself and welcoming people into my home (or, in the spirit of the crappy dinner party, popping in to theirs).

After the holidays, I have Galentine’s Day on the horizon in February, but in the meantime I have started to line my nest with comforting food-type things. I baked cookies and caught up with my friend Terri at her house last week, and this week I have been sipping Golden Milk and making biscotti.

I know, I know: the last thing people need is another holiday cookie. I prefer to think of this as Winter Breakfast.

This biscotti recipe has infinite variations and is very, very forgiving. It takes a little over an hour, most of which is baking, but the flavors just get better as they sit, so make a double or triple batch and let them sit on the counter for whenever you want a snack.

As I am overly fond of rosemary, I have used it liberally. Feel free to modify any and all amounts to your taste; suggestions are listed below the recipe.

Make sure and take good care of yourself and keep the connections to your people strong; ask for and offer help. Notice when someone isn’t doing well and make some sort of gesture to lighten their day.

And if all else fails, feed them biscotti.

Biscotti With Rosemary, Lemon, and Cherry

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour

1 cup almond flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 spring rosemary, finely chopped (about 2 tablespoons)

zest of one lemon

1/2 cup olive oil

2 eggs

1/2 cup white sugar

1/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar

1/4 to 1/2 cup dried cherries chopped

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine flours, salt, and baking powder, rosemary, and lemon zest and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine sugars, olive oil, and eggs and mix thoroughly. Use a spatula to add flour, completely incorporating both mixtures.

Add cherries and mix.

Divide dough into two and place on parchment paper. Shape into six-inch logs that are about three inches wide.

Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes until firm and golden brown.

Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 200 degrees.

Using a serrated knife, slice each log into one-inch slices. Place sliced side down on the parchment paper and bake again until fully crisped, turning over once, for a total of about 20 minutes.

Let cool thoroughly. Store in airtight container, or give away. You can’t really go wrong.

Recipe notes:

  • Add ginger, cinnamon, and chopped chocolate for gingerbread/chocolate biscotti.
  • Orange zest and cranberries (and maybe toasted chopped walnuts) are very festive.
  • Dried blueberry, lemon zest, and fresh chopped thyme are also ridiculously delicious.
  • No need to use best-quality olive oil.

Golden Milk

In the beginning, there were spices…

Note: Many claim that this will cure what ails you. Improved digestion, decreased inflammation, and improved sleep are just three of the many touted benefits. I find it warming and comforting and delicious. Whatever is good for me is a bonus.

Ingredients

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ginger

pinch black pepper

2 cups milk of your choice

agave, to taste

Method

For best results, place all ingredients (except agave) in a blender and blend until smooth. Place this mixture in a pot and heat, adding agave to taste.

Recipe notes

  • Coconut milk is often suggested for its benefits. Whatever you choose, use the unsweetened variety.
  • You can also use fresh ginger and turmeric instead, but powdered is a fine substitute.

 

 

 

Cocktail Hour: The Black Manhattan

Smoky, dark, and bitter.

What a complicated mess this life is.

No one said it would be easy, and I am not really talking about ease.

It’s just so complicated, and we, as humans, seem to thrive on making things even more complicated.

Once it was simple enough to have a patch of grass to grow something. A small family (or a bigger one if your patch of grass was bigger) and a little homestead.

It’s easy to romanticize that life, but I know it was hard. Grueling days. Hunger. Not naming your kids until they hit three so you didn’t have to experience the pain of losing an actual person (which, I believe was a false hope because mostly you love them the second they draw breath. But I digress.).

It was hard, but it was simple. Wake, work, food, rest.

Sometimes, when days were short, some music was made, or some other such diversion.

Now we make it way harder than it needs to be, everything, all of it.

Perhaps it comes with living in proximity to so many others whose desires are often at odds with your own.

Perhaps it comes with the fact that we have lost most (all?) of our connection to the natural rhythms of the world. We sleep late, or rise way before the sun. Then we stay up way past the time the sun dips below the horizon. #FearOfMissingOut

We eat when we aren’t hungry.

We don’t even call anymore. We text.

We have lost our rhythms as creatures on the earth, in a very fundamental and elemental way.

This disconnectedness from the basic rhythms of our human-ness is why we are unable to really find the root of the huge problems the US is facing right now; we don’t even know where to begin to identify the core of what’s wrong, much less find solutions – real, long-term solutions – to problems that have plagued our young country since its birth. We slap a Band-aid on it, cover the immediate wound, and then move on to the next.

Trouble is, this results in a spider-thin web of scars criss-crossing our hearts/souls/psyches/consciousness. Sometimes they are so faint we almost forget they are there.

Then something happens that turns them angry red, and we have to start again.

Last week Khristian and I attended a lecture at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. The speaker was Wendell Berry, poet, novelist, and general excellent human, reading his latest essay, “The Idea of Limits in a Prodigal Age.”

To be honest, neither Khristian nor I really knew what to  make of the lecture, as all he did was read his new essay and answer a few questions with Eric Schlosser (the Fast Food Nation guy). But among other things, Berry talked about the importance of touch, as well as the importance of asking, as the Amish do, “How does this affect the community?” before making any moves or decisions.

Berry called us “cousins to the bees” to stress how connected we are, whether we like it or not.

He talked about the idea of limitlessness as, in fact, quite limiting and unsustainable. We need to understand where our outer edges connect with everyone else’s, and instead of drawing a line between those boundaries, really taking each other in, in a very human and powerful way in which all interests are considered.

A radical idea, it seems, in this day: that you and I have equal right to exist.

That we are both bounded by one another and boundless within the universe.

To be honest, after this talk, I wanted a drink.

Partly to take a moment to savor the ideas while gazing into a glass of alcohol, and partly to drown my sorrows, just a little bit.

Fortunately, there is the Black Manhattan. Strong, complex, and very simple to make. Slightly bitter, but with just a touch of sweetness. Sort of like life, if I’m being honest.

The Black Manhattan

Note: My jigger holds 1 1/2 ounces on one end, and 3/4 of an ounce on the other. You can use a shot glass to follow the proportion of 2:1, and you’ll be fine.

Ingredients

2 parts bourbon

1 part amaro

2 dashes angosturo bitters

Garnish: Brandied cherry (or Luxardo cherry if you have the cheddar)

Method

Mix bourbon, amaro, and bitters in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Serve with large format ice in a rocks glass or simply chilled in a martini glass or coupe. Garnish with a cherry or six.

Recipe notes

  • I used Buffalo Trace. Good bourbon matters, and BT is my “house bourbon.”
  • Cherry bitters might also be outstanding here.
  • Amaro is the Italian word for “bitter,” but the flavor varies wildly among amaros. The one I chose (Ramazotti) has lovely rootbeer and vanilla notes. Whichever amaro you choose will necessarily influence the flavor of your cocktail.
  • I am going to make my own amaro this winter and see how that goes.

What Value, Art?

A makeshift memorial.

Right now I should be researching how to get my site indexed on Google, or a million other things that deal with researching recipes and driving traffic to my site, but I can’t really focus today.

It’s not the horrible nights of sleep I have gotten the past three nights or the dog poop and pee that welcomed me downstairs this morning (although to be honest neither of those things help and they both make me want to kick the dog WHICH IS JUST WRONG I know but still. #Asshole).

It’s not the complete lack of holiday cheer outside of my home, or the fact that every single person in the world seems to have forgotten how to drive (I have been nearly T-boned three times in the last two days from people running red lights).

It’s art.

I am deeply troubled by the fire at the Ghost Ship in Oakland. So many lives lost, so much creativity and spirit of Other-ness out there literally gone up in smoke.

And why?

It’s because we (America, in general), don’t value art.

We don’t value art beyond paintings to be hung over the sofa, tchotchkes for the mantle, and the occasional sculpture in the garden.

Moreover, we don’t value the creative life. We don’t value the people who have chosen to leave the daily grind in favor of living communally so that they can surround themselves with like-minded, creative people who really just want to make art and live a life that doesn’t conform to the norm.

We don’t value the outsiders, which can include anyone non-white, non-normative of gender or gender identity, or who just colors outside the lines in any other aspect of life.

They don’t want a new car every three years or a fancy house or the latest electronics or clothing with labels.

But here in America, that type of thinking doesn’t make money. So the same artists that suburban moms come into the city to ogle and feel cultured about cannot afford to live in the city that only has an actual real culture because of these artists.

Ya feel me?

When we talk about the loss of human life in the Ghost Ship and the recent eviction from The Bell Foundry here in Baltimore, we don’t talk about the fact that these artists cannot afford to live in the cities in which they make art. Some of them moved to the city to gain more acceptance than was available in their small towns; once here, the only affordable housing option is living cheek-to-jowl in unregulated warehouse spaces.

Now cities, fearing litigation, are cracking down, evicting artists with mere hours’ notice on fire code violations.

Don’t get me wrong: they should. No one should live or work in a space that is unsafe.

But these are basic human rights: food, safe housing, and clean water.

This should be available in every area of the country. Flint. Oakland. Baltimore. Appalachia.

Artists should not have to choose between a safe space to lay their head and practice their art or living in a small rural town with safe spaces but no access to acceptance or shows or support.

Why aren’t we talking about this?

Because America doesn’t give a shit about the creative life.

They don’t care about art that can’t be turned into a mug or a meme or a sweatshirt.

The people who practice art in these spaces are fighting to claim their right to exist in rapidly gentrifying cities that only welcome certain types of culture. If your art is transient or too wacky, it’s not really art.

If you are gay or trans or non-white or uneducated or poor, you don’t really belong in the neighborhoods filled with craft beer halls, restaurant incubators, and live/work community arrangements that favor only middle to upper-income residents who trend white, straight, and upwardly mobile.

Big secret: many of the workers in these places live in unregulated, unsafe spaces, too. Spaces that are increasingly rare and being bought up by investors who own property in a dozen cities across the country.

Pretty soon, helped along by corporate investors and communities that hang large-scale painting in elevators and coffee bars on the first floor of new high-rises, our acceptable artists will be so smoothed over and generic, our cities so same-same that we won’t even need identifying city names; we can simply say City 1 and City 2, just to differentiate where they are on the map. With Whole Foods, Lululemon, and megaplexes replacing small performance spaces and artist warehouses, the soul is rapidly draining from our country’s cities.

Oakland’s average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is around $2,400. The Ghost Ship residents paid around $700.

Baltimore’s average rent is about $1,500 for a one-bedroom apartment in the city. A 2015 ad on Reddit listed a Bell Foundry “rafter room” (unfinished) for rent at just $285.

You can see how an artist who just wants to create might choose cheaper rent to stay off the wheel of commerce.

You can see how a landlord with a shitty building and a muddy conscience might feel okay renting to “outcasts” who wouldn’t make much of a stink to keep rents low.

You can see how most of the country just shrugs and moves on when these same buildings burn down, taking lives and life works with them.

This is unrelated to the food that this blog generally focuses on, but I find it deeply troubling. I have chosen to close a school that I started and in which I worked 80-hour weeks to make it successful. I have chosen not to get a 40-hour a week job and even have the most tenuous of assorted jobs that one could perhaps cobble together (personal chef, writer, and yoga teacher).

That we are so far gone down the rabbit hole of More and Better, that we are gentrifying the core of our cities and funneling the Middle and Upper Classes into pre-approved art museums and other cultural arenas, that we don’t give a rat’s ass if out-of-the-norm people who make out-of-the-norm art live in dangerous buildings, matters.

Food, safe housing, and clean water.

This matters.

These are basic human rights.

Let’s all start there.

Oakland’s mayor has just announced a nearly $2 million initiative for safe artist space. That’s one step.

A GoFundMe page has been set up for the evicted artists of the Bell Foundry.

There are many resources for families, loved ones, and artists affected by the fire at the Ghost Ship.