It’s not often that things on TV are pretty much exactly the same in real life.
Last week I sat on a jury for a five-day trial. The defendant was accused of 24 counts of crime, including first-degree rape and possessing a weapon when he wasn’t allowed to possess a weapon.
(Fun fact: the defendant’s last crime was prosecuted by Ruth Bader Ginsberg in 1993. Federal drug charge.)
I have never sat on an actual jury; I have been called for jury duty three times in my life, and mostly it’s just lots of sitting around and watching movies like How To Lose a Guy In 10 Days and Avatar. This time was different, and I was quickly seated as Juror #4 by noon on my first day of reporting, then sent home until Monday when the trial would begin.
Everything about the trial was pretty much what it looks like on TV: the dramatic opening and closing statements, the cross examination, the witnesses getting testy with the defense attorney, and, finally, conflict (and resolution) in the deliberation room.
Time seemed strangely fluid as well; hours would pass in the courtroom in what seemed like minutes, but in the deliberation room, every minute was an agony of waiting. At the end of the day we would emerge from our windowless room, cram ourselves into the elevator, and then emerge at the corner of St. Paul and Lexington, blinking against the too-bright sunshine of the late afternoon, at the height of rush hour to crawl our way home.
Of all the things that stuck in my mind that week, one in particular stands out. Whenever the lawyers had to gather something or find something that meant the action had to pause briefly, they would say, “Court’s indulgence,” and the judge would nod, indicating that she was cool with the wait.
I don’t know why, but I love this saying. It’s a respectful request for permission to pause while you gather your thoughts, something we could all use every now and then.
One day when I came home it was stuck in my head like a mantra, playing over and over as I fed the dogs and made dinner. On that night, it was hot outside and the back door was open, letting in a feeble breeze (and lots of flies, which drives The Black Dog crazy, an admittedly short trip). It had been an especially long day, nine to five listening to a case about rape and gun violations, and I wasn’t particularly interested in making something complicated for dinner or turning on the stove.
Court’s indulgence: I remembered my preserved lemons, which were ready and waiting.
Court’s indulgence: There were some small, sweet yellow, red, and orange peppers in the crisper, along with half a red onion and some arugula that I wouldn’t even need to wash.
Court’s indulgence: A bomb shelter’s worth of canned beans in the coolness of the basement.
Et voila. Dinner, eaten with the court’s indulgence, on the balcony in the back of the house as the evening wore on and the sun sank low.
White Bean, Sweet Pepper, And Arugula Salad With Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette
2 tablespoons minced preserved lemon (rinse to remove salt and also strip away the squishy flesh)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup best-quality olive oil (it matters)
1 heaping teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 to 1 teaspoon black pepper (I like a lot of pepper)
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
One large red pepper, chopped, or five small multi-color pepper, chopped
1/2 large red onion, sliced
Handful of arugula per salad
Make things easy on yourself and mix this all in the same bowl. I used a medium-sized round white Corningware bowl.
Place first five ingredients in bowl and mix together. Add beans, peppers, and onions and stir to combine.
To serve, place a large handful of arugula in a bowl, then top with beans. If you feel the need, you can drizzle with more olive oil and a squeeze of lemon, but mix it all around and taste before you do that.
Beans are even better the next day, chilled and then brought to room temp before serving.
I certainly have the temperament for it – I am an introvert, and I over think everything. At a minimum I think writers need to be comfortable alone, stuck in their head for substantial periods of time.
But for as long as I can remember I have been jotting words down on scraps of paper and hoarding them. Sometimes these words come together with periods and commas and semicolons (my favorite form of punctuation. #TotalDork), sometimes they are occasionally formed together on the wings of a poem, and sometimes they remain just fluttering scraps of thought that I save, maybe waiting for their chance.
I have always loved journals and pens and the accoutrement of writers, but bar napkins, receipts, and matchbooks (from back when there were such things readily available) are all a part of the flotsam of my writerly (if not always writer’s) life.
I even remember my first typewriter: an IBM Selectric. I didn’t write much on that beige beast except for papers and other undergraduate work, but I lugged it around with me for years before finally donating it to Goodwill where I am sure it languished on a dusty shelf until someone decided to recycle it.
My behaviors are those of a writer – seclusion, procrastination, and moment- and memory-hoarding.
That writing is tragically hard for me is an unfortunate irony of my chosen profession. Writers complaining of the pain of writing is not unusual and indeed seems to be part of the job description. Every word you put on the page is a reflection of yourself shining glaringly back at yourself, like a mirror that doesn’t really allow for whitewashing of flaws or highlighting of assets. Writing is radical honesty, only self-inflicted.
If I am honest with myself, which I always try to be, writing is the most painful and precious and cutting place I have ever visited because, as a writer, even if I don’t write it down it stays humming around in my brain, and even if I do write it down and never read it, I know it’s there. There are blogs from the early days of Dane’s death that I simply cannot read now. They are raw streams of emotion poured on the page, the very essence of grief distilled in a paragraph or two when keeping it inside was not a viable option.
So there’s that physical pain of writing the truth as I see it.
And then there’s the intellectual pain. Not the mental struggle to choose the right word or really be honest with what I mean to say and not give in to the urge to have some sort of flourish that is not me. Although this can be excruciating, in many cases time, work, and careful attention to words and the craft of assembling them can help with this, as can copious amounts of reading and patience and careful editing.
I am talking about that odious bitch, the Anti-Cheerleader. The constant mental struggle against feelings of inadequacy and doubt.
The clear knowledge that millions of people are writing AT THIS VERY MOMENT, and most of them are doing it better than me. That someone has already said what I am saying, and way better. That somehow, everyone’s thoughts are better than mine, and I am foolish to believe that anyone gives a rat’s ass about what I have to say.
Do you see the trend? The Anti-Cheerleader assures me that I am unworthy, that my work is not worth the price of the ink used to print it out, and that I will never be able to find any value – monetary or otherwise – as a writer. And, finally, that I should not even be calling myself “writer.”
It seems masochistic to willfully undertake something that continually reminds you how bad you are at that thing. And then to tangle your identity (“I am a writer”) all up in that thing? Well, that is certainly madness.
As it is a well-known fact that many artists are batshit crazy, I suppose a tinge of madness comes with the territory. But still.
Every time I sit down to write or I avoid sitting down to write or I read about someone who has sat down to write I am forced to confront all of these feelings over and over again.
But I was born to write.
I was born to the struggle of shaving words onto the page. I was born to turn the things I experience into sentences that mean something, even if they only ever really mean something to me.
I love words. I love the way they look on the page. I love the way they sound when they are spoken. I love the way they connect to each other and disconnect from each other and connect the people who read them with an invisible thread.
I love trying to figure out which word is exactly the right one, even if the word is simple and small and not flowery and worth 50 cents on the SAT.
Language matters, and it happens to be the currency in which I traffic.
For me, food is like this, too.
Food connects people in ways that even language cannot. I have been fascinated by food since I was young, especially the ways in which it brings people together. Aside from having to eat to sustain life, special moments are marked with food, and that food becomes the shared experience upon which lives are built.
But, as with writing, there are millions of people cooking better than I am. And developing better recipes. And just in general knowing more that I do, latecomer as I am to the whole business of cooking and eating, and with no formal training or work in the back of the house.
Writing + Food = Food Writing, which also = Nearly Paralyzing Feelings Of Inadequacy
And then there is this:
“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Hell, YEAH, it is.
Because there is ALWAYS someone who is better. Who knows more. Is funnier. Has tighter abs. Better hair. Whatever. Name it. Someone is better.
Which can be, I suppose, a bit of relief. There is no such thing as “the best.” Maybe it might be “the best right at this moment..whoops…not anymore,” or “the best for you with what you had at the time.”
I say this “can be” a bit of relief because most days, if I am being honest (which I always try to be), that doesn’t really help. I still feel like a huckster and a fraud selling skills which, if I actually possess them, are ephemeral and difficult to regulate and duplicate.
Then some days, quite accidentally, there is a shining bit of joy, when the Sunshiney Rays Of Competence dart through the Clouds of Self-Doubt And Despair with a crepuscular golden light.
Today is not that day.
My particular friend Khristian works with a lovely woman, Linar, who you all just WISH would teach your kids someday. Seriously. Her classroom (and her manner with the children and pretty much every person who crosses her path) is so lovely and loving and supportive that every time I see her, even my introverted self leans a little closer. Linar gave Khristian a bottle of rosewater, and he turned it over to me. I promised her a recipe using that, so here it is. Pistachios and rosewater is a classic combination, and macarons have been my archnemesis.
Turns out, they remain my archnemesis.
While the macaron flavor was delicious, they did not rise on glorious feet. The filling tasted like a mouthful of flowers, even though I was very sparing. Some might like it; for me, it was overly perfumed and not pleasant.
This is not the end that I expected to have, but there it is. It is important, I think, to discuss the hard parts, the failure, in cooking. It’s easy enough to make something look delicious; that’s only so much smoke, mirrors, and microwaved tampons.
Failure isn’t pretty, but it’s necessary. If you must fail – and rest assured, you must – fail forward.
For the curious, here’s the recipe. I would advise you make these at your own risk, and if you do, let me know how it goes.
Pistachio Macarons With Rosewater Filling
1/2 cup finely ground pistachios
1/2 cup finely ground almond meal
1 cup powdered sugar
3 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
5 tablespoons butter, softened
1-2 teaspoons rosewater (less or more, to taste)
Line two baking sheets with silpat mat or parchment paper. Set aside.
In a large bowl, sift ground pistachios, almond flour, and powdered sugar. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whip attachment, whip egg whites until they begin to gain volume and become bubbly. When this happens, slowly add sugar until fully incorporated and egg whites are thick and holding soft peaks.
Add egg white mixture to nuts mixture and fold in vigorously with a spatula until thoroughly incorporated.
Place macaron batter in a piping bag fitted with a round tip (or use a large freezer bag with the end snipped off) and pipe into circles onto silpat (which may have guides on them already). Bang cookie sheet on the counter to settle the batter (just a couple good whacks) then let macarons sit for 30 minutes to an hour. The macarons need to dry and form a skin, of sorts, in order to get a good lift while baking and have visible “feet” (the frilly part on the bottom of the cookie).
When the top of the macarons are dry to the touch, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Bake for nine to 12 minutes or until they are crisp outside. Cool completely before removing from silpat and filling.
To make the filling, combine egg whites and sugar in a metal bowl and set over a pan of simmering water, beating with a hand mixer until it thickens and is hot to the touch. Remove bowl from water and, still mixing, add butter one tablespoon at a time, mixing until incorporated.
Continue to beat this mixture until it thickens and has the texture of light frosting. Add rosewater to taste and stir to combine.
Pipe a circle of frosting on the flat part of one macaron, and top with another.
I do not use food coloring, but if you do, the macarons can be colored with two drops of green, and the filling can be colored with one or two drops of red.
Macarons should be stored at room temperature and eaten within a day or two. They also freeze well.