My Superfriend, Bonnie, previously mentioned in a post that featured her incredible Toasted Cashew Hummus, has been making fun of me lately.
I hadn’t seen her in awhile, the result mostly of her traveling to two different countries in the space of two weeks (and staying there, and knocking heads together when necessary, and co-authoring a paper on a new method for treating – curing? diagnosing? I can’t remember – tuberculosis) while still organizing childcare for two of her three children and dealing with a broken water heater from another continent.
In the midst of all of this, she had (rather foolishly and perhaps to her deep regret) committed to cooking me my Second Annual Birthday Dinner, just one week after she returned to the States. When I stopped by the Sunday before the dinner and she asked me how I was, I spoke the truth.
“I’m tired, ” I said.
She looked at me in a way that could only be described as askance. And can you blame her, really?
I am a freelance writer who teaches yoga and cooks for people. The actual hours I work every week vary greatly, but they don’t come close to the 40 that many others routinely put in. I am also living a child-free existence until June 10th, which means that “homemaking” consists of making sure the dog hair doesn’t get any higher than the bottom of the couch and the toilets are cleaner than a truck stop’s.
But I have been exhausted these past three weeks, drained and sleeping poorly and feeling anxious and sweating pretty much every little thing that my brain can make up to sweat.
This is where a caveat about how I know how much harder everyone else has it, and I shouldn’t complain usually comes in. And make no mistake: this is not a complaint.
I feel incredibly lucky that this morning I got to walk to a coffee shop in Baltimore’s beautiful spring blossoming. And after that I got to sit on the floor of a bookstore and leaf through cookbooks for an hour. And after THAT I got to walk through a sunshower of cherry blossoms raining on the sidewalk on my way home to meet Khristian, where we ate breakfast together and I made bread.
So there is no complaint here.
But there is something important here.
Even if I don’t have a full-time job, I am still allowed to be tired. I am still allowed to feel, as has happened in the past three weeks with multiple projects, overscheduled and understaffed. I know what it’s like to work 80-hour weeks and be a parent, and certainly my fatigue now does not have the same feel to it as that.
Sometimes, though, I just get tired. Tired of meetings every day. Tired of being “on,” and tired of a schedule. People sometimes dismiss themselves and their feelings because other people have it so much worse than they do, and while I think that in the big picture that is the best way to operate, that can be taxing day-to-day. It’s okay to own your struggle, your fatigue, your frustration, your anxiety – even if others have more cause to feel those things.
And again, I have to put in a plug for not only Superfriend Bonnie but also the other people I know, parents or not, partnered parents or not, who are killing it everyday and are SO. FREAKING. TIRED. also. I don’t know how you do it.
I just want to be at home, puttering, and today is a day for that. Today was the first day in awhile that has been unscheduled and unclaimed from the moment that stupid bird woke me up with the sun at 6:04 a.m. until I lay my head back down on the pillow and my millennial neighbors pick up their ill-tuned guitars and start wailing.
The best way I know to stop time when this happens is to put something up, and preserved lemons seem like the way to go.
It’s a simple process that nevertheless takes 30 days to bear fruit (ha). And every day you visit your lemons and give them a little shake.
For the next 30 days, even if I am busy or tired or have too much to do or have to be less of my normal introverted self and more of the extrovert that some of my jobs require, I can look at my little pint jar of sunshine-y time and remember that day I sat on the back deck for just as long as I felt like.
What helps you stop time? What reminds you to slow down?
While everyone is nattering on about pumpkin this and pumpkin that, I am just trying to make the most of what’s left of my scraggly herbs. My little herb patch has been spotty this year, and the basil was no exception – leggy and gone to seed early. #StupidBasil
But a late hot stretch of weather and a bit of humidity produced some lovely leaves, and I used them to make The World’s Easiest Ice Cream.
I have used the same basic base and added whatever struck my fancy with spectacular results. Sure, you could make a fancy pants custard, but why would you if you don’t need to? A custard base can make the final product a little creamier and more lush, but tweaking the ratio of heavy cream to milk can help with that.
Give it a whirl.
Cinnamon-Basil Ice Cream
4 cups of dairy in any combination (half-n-half, heavy cream, milk, coconut milk – whatevs. The more cream, the richer the texture. I use whatever is in my ‘fridge.)
1/2 cup of sugar (again, you could add more, but why? This is just enough.)
Handful of basil (like a cup or so of leaves. More means more basil flavor.)
Splash of vanilla extract (a teaspoon or two. You could also use a whole bean, split and simmered with the dairy if you like.)
Tons of cinnamon (to taste, but I used probably three tablespoons. Maybe more. I like cinnamon.)
Place dairy in a saucepan and gently heat until it is warm but not boiling. Little bubbles will form around the edges, and then you know it’s ready.
Remove from heat and add basil leaves. Stir until they are submerged.
Let this mixture cool to room temperature, then strain basil leaves out. Add sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon, and stir until sugar is dissolved.
Process this mixture according to your ice cream machine’s directions.
I freeze mine in a bread pan lined with plastic wrap so I can make easier lift it up and out when it’s ready. You can freeze yours in whatever you like. Or you can eat it right out of the ice cream maker when it is more like a milkshake. #YourMove
Pro tip: The dairy, sugar, and vanilla make an excellent base for any flavor. I have made mint chocolate chip with fresh mint, blueberry cheesecake, chocolate, and the paw paw ice cream in the previous post. Next up is strawberry-rosemary.
It may seem silly, but I miss David Foster Wallace nearly every day since he killed himself on September 12, 2008.
I “met” him first through his novel Infinite Jest, a 1,100 page tome with 150 pages of endnotes (give or take, depending on the edition you have).
I read this book three times.
The first time it took me three weeks, as I was taking notes, writing down vocabulary lists (for real, and I am an English major), and looking up definitions. I also referred when necessary to the endnotes DFW created, including the complete movie catalogue of one of the characters (with plot synopsis and everything).
It’s the kind of brain-based focus that has not really occurred in my life for the past several years.
The next two times I read Infinite Jest, it was for the simple pleasure of winding myself up in his beautiful prose. His complex characters, modeled on real life people, perhaps, or mostly on autobiographical bits of himself, are deep and complicated and sometimes downright unlikeable.
The plot unfolds at a snail’s pace, which explains the book’s length, but every word feels necessary and in service to the larger purpose. I read it as a marathoner might pop out and jog a quick ten miles – to keep my intellectual muscles strong and engaged and with a type of joy that comes from already knowing what happens. In this way I could gather the little pebbles I missed along the way (which happens quite a bit, as I may already be a little senile, the most burnt out non-potsmoker one might meet).
Few books have called to me in the same way before or after. I don’t know what it is about the reward you get when you need to spend more effort on something to truly understand it. Infinite Jest was not an easy read any of the times that I read it. I read it at times when I was most preoccupied in my life (grad school, with a newborn, and when I started my school), almost as if the action of reading such a book pulled me out of the foggiest parts of my brain and made me sharpen my gaze, like honing a blade.
Sometimes, though, this steel-sharp focus is counterintuitive. Sometimes simplicity is what we really need.
Simplicity does not equal stupidity, although one could be lead to believe otherwise by the current state of everything in the U.S.
Simplicity can easily be achieved by allowing whatever is to be whatever it is without wallowing in it or reveling in it or otherwise complicating it with interpretation and reaction. Seems easy enough, right?
In another part of my life, I am a 500-hour certified yoga teacher, and one of the texts we studied during my training was The Splendor of Recognition. This is a study of 21 Tantric sutras (which, disappointingly, DON’T MENTION SEX EVEN ONCE).
Side note: One of my main issues with spirituality in general is that language is inadequate for its discussion, so I will keep it to a minimum here.
The Splendor of Recognition posits that not only are we in the universe, but the universe is also in us. All we need to become as limitless and boundless as the universe is to recognize that truth.
The best part is that once that recognition happens, it’s always there. There is no backsliding. So you can still do the things you love (like drink and have sex and whatever else it is that you love) without thinking that your soul is in jeopardy. The universe springs forth from the heart, and you can dive into it whenever you want.
This is, of course, deceptively simple. It’s not so easy to truly believe that you are in the universe and the universe is in you. And we are all of us human beings (I think), and human beings like to react and interpret and make it ALL ABOUT OURSELVES. That’s the rub.
Putting up summer produce, however, is about as simple as it gets, and it’s also meditative as hell for those of you that wish to skip sitting down and thinking about nothing (HA. Good luck with that.) for 30 minutes a day.
In just three hours, I canned 13 pints of tomatoes, three 1/2 pints of cowboy candy, and an experimental quart jar of sauerkraut.
Some things that made this so simple:
I didn’t make more work than there had to be. The standard way to skin tomatoes is to boil a huge vat of water, plunge the tomatoes in there, and then plunge them in an ice bath to easily remove the skins. This is 100% effective. You know what else is 100% effective? Using a box grater. I turned 16 pounds of tomatoes into pureed tomatoes in less than 20 minutes by cutting off the stems, cutting the tomatoes in half, and rubbing them on a box grater until all I had in my hand was a little wisp of skin. Simple, and no messy boiling water or skinless-tomato chopping.
I used what I had. I had six cups of jalapeños, some sugar, and some vinegar. This is perfection for cowboy candy (recipe below).
I just thought about what was happening in front of me. For three hours, all I did was cook and can. I didn’t worry about the fact that I have not yet found mercenary writing work to replace the writing job that ended two weeks ago (I am for hire – FYI.), or about the dog who may or may not (but probably does) have an ear infection, or the kid many thousands of miles away, studying in France until June 2017 (2017, people. TEN MONTHS.).
I just grated tomatoes, chopped jalapeños, sterilized jars, and massaged cabbage.
You, too, can live simply.
Cowboy Candy (a.k.a, Candied Jalapeños)
Note: This makes three half pints but can easily be doubled. You can also mess with the ratio (1:2 vinegar to sugar) just a bit and make an even two full pints. #YouAreTheUniverse
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
4 cups jalapeños, sliced about 1/4″ thick (more or less)
Before beginning, make sure you have your canning jars are ready to go. “Ready to go” means washed in hot soapy water and sterilized. You could kill many birds with one stone by washing them in the dishwasher right before you begin. Then they are clean AND sterilized. Otherwise, clean by washing by hand and then sterilize by submerging jars in boiling water for five minutes.
Remove with tongs, and for fuck’s sake be careful. That water is boiling.
If you are planning to be legit and can these to last for a year, use new canning lids and dip them in the boiling water for a minute. Set all of this aside.
In a large pot, combine vinegar, sugar, celery seed, and jalapeños. Stir to dissolve sugar over medium heat, then bring to a boil. Boil gently (not a rolling, vigorous boil) for five minutes.
Add jalapeños to the pot and simmer for five minutes. Try not to inhale the steam coming off the pot. You will be very, very sorry if you get a lungful of that, and you may cough until you puke. I did not, but this is also not my first rodeo.
Use a slotted spoon (or a fork or whatever is handy) to remove jalapeños from the syrup and pack into jars. Don’t push too hard, but make sure each nook and cranny is filled.
Return the syrup to a boil, and boil for six minutes.
Ladle HOT SYRUP into the canning jars, leaving space at the top (about 1/4″ or maybe a little more if you are making pints.).
Wipe the rims of the jars and place lids on top, screwing the metal band of the canning lid until it is just a little tight (not all the way – canning books sometimes call this “fingertip tight,” which I think is super odd, but whatever makes you happy).
At this point, you could let these cool on the counter before placing them in the ‘fridge and then waiting at least three days to start eating. This way, they will last about two weeks.
If you want to get old school, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil (the same pot you sterilized the jars in) and place your jars in that pot of boiling water for 15 minutes (with at least an inch of water covering the top of the jars) before removing them to a counter. Let them sit, untouched, until completely cool. If you hear a little “pop,” your jars have sealed and will be good on the shelf for a year.
If you don’t hear the pop, and the little button in the center of the lid still moves up and down, they have not sealed properly and should be placed in the ‘fridge. You could try to re-process, but that’s a pain in the ass and completely unnecessary since you will be eating all of these pretty much ummediately anyway.
Botulism is NO JOKE, but canning is not actually rocket science. I was trying to find a solid guide to link to, but honestly, lots of them are either trying to sell you something or to not get sued (that’s the USDA canning guide). A can lifter is helpful, as is a wide-mouth canning funnel (but strictly speaking neither are necessary). You do not need a special pot or anything fancy. The Serious Eats guide to canning is pretty good for method, and it links to the sites trying to sell you something or not get sued so you can make up your own mind.
Slicing jalapeños is also no joke. Wear gloves if you are very sensitive (which I am) or cheat (as I did) and just hold on to the stem while you slice them. If you touch the juice of the jalapeño, wash your hands immediately. Do not touch your face or, heaven forbid, go to the bathroom. #YouWillBeSorry
You can submerge a towel or a wire rack in the bottom of your pot of boiling water before you place your jars in the pot. This will keep the jars from dancing around and potentially cracking.
I cook when I need to be the universe. If you require some simplicity, what do you do?
Say it straight or it will come out crooked. ~Dane Kolbeck~
Sometimes you just have to say it straight. And sometimes that is terrifying. Well, for me, always it is terrifying.
That’s not 100% accurate.
There are some things that will always be easy to say. To wit, for me, I have no problem speaking up about the following:
Fundamentalists of any religion attempting to witness
General assholery that includes but is not limited to elitist bullshit, overt hipster cynicism, high-brow condescension, etc.
Some things are very, very hard for me to say. Can’t you tell by the veiled terms of this post?
Get at the point, you might be saying. Just spit it out.
The problem is this: in the past I have just spit it out, with sometimes-disastrous results. Speaking off-the-cuff and on-the-fly is not necessarily the best course of action for me these days. I like to be more measured in my responses, lest I send a nuclear warhead to settle what might best be handled by a fly swatter.
Or some such.
I want to say what I mean. Make promises I can keep. Be kind. Be honest and true to myself and the person I am speaking to. Recently, I have been unable to speak when spoken to in certain situations. The context of this does not really matter. What matters is that I have lost words in much the same way as I have continued to lose memories, a slow leaking of the past (and now the present) sliding away from my brain.
When I try to force myself to speak, everything comes out wrong. Like speaking-in-tongues wrong, quite literally – garbled sounds, half-started sentences, a mash of sibilant consonants and murky vowels sliding across my lips. #Confusion
So then I get quiet.
You know how you aren’t supposed to be afraid of the dog that barks? It’s true. The one that is barking is not the one you worry about. It’s the silent one, slinking towards you, that should be feared.
When I stop talking, people worry.
There has to be a way for me to come to the middle. At the risk of being one of those douches who quotes their therapists, if she were here she might ask me what happens to trigger this sudden loss of words.
To begin to consider this is also speech-defying.
Thus, we find ourselves again at an impasse. #DamnedIfIDoDamnedIfIDont
I find in these cases, as in most cases, that a cocktail works wonders. Not multiples. Just one.
And since you are having just one to get things flowing, it ought to be delicious. Although I am a fan of bourbon, neat, for conversational lubrication it is best to sip something slightly less boozy.
Enter Lillet Rouge.
My friend Kerry introduced me to Lillet, a crisp, slightly fruity libation that is delicious when teeth-achingly cold and sipped by itself or with a splash of similarly-chilled gin.
Lillet Rouge is Lillet’s redder, earthier, spicier cousin. Perfect for the heart of darkness that is winter and deep conversations that must be had, reluctantly, haltingly.
And since it is February, a month that simultaneously screams love and death in the Kolbeck household, red seems a perfect color. And ginger beer is appropriate anytime of year, but the bite of this one will wake you up, keep you focused, and make you talk.
Coming hard on the heels of the last post about a particular vegetarian, one might be tempted to interpret this post.
Do as you like.
It’s nearly Valentine’s Day, that most commercial of Hallmark holidays, and I prefer mine a little grubby.
A little gritty.
Don’t get me wrong: hearts and flowers and romance are all exquisite. Expressions of love in any form are always welcome and definitely needed in the world, at the mico- and macroscosmic levels.
But there is something…raw, vulnerable, visceral…about waking up feeling the previous night’s whiskey and then…feeling the previous night’s date next to you, warm. If you are lucky enough to be unencumbered by children or dogs or any type of responsibility for the day, the possibilities of how to spend that sharply fuzzy morning time together are…endless.
But you’re going to need some food.
When I am feeling the effects of overindulgence, my breakfast usually consists of an anti-nausea pill and some coffee, followed by a long nap and some Gatorade. This has been my MO of late also because I have not had a sleepover in, well, FUCKING FOREVER.
In theory, though, slumber party friend or no, when dinnertime rolls around, it’s on. I need fat, I need carbs, I need strong flavors and lots of them.
Lucky folks in Hampden might convince their sleepytime partner to trot up the The Corner for some kimchi fries to go. If I am being honest, which I always try to be, that place is hipster as fuck, annoyingly so, but I could take a bath in their kimchi fries. They are the perfect combination of salty, spicy, and not too greasy (but still), and one order is never enough.
If I can’t have fries, and I have very little food in the house (which is usually what happens), pasta is the business. But not just any pasta: cacio e pepe. Pasta with pepper and cheese.
Simple. Lusty. Roman peasant food.
The sauce, if you can call it that, is simple: pecorino Romano, freshly cracked black pepper, a little pasta water, and pasta.
In a recipe this basic, ingredients are important. The pasta is important.
Sure, you could go for dried pasta. This is a respectable option, especially when you may possibly be just a little bit drunk still. Fresh pasta from the refrigerated section of the grocery store is another way to go.
That. Yes, there. THAT.
Fresh pasta manages to somehow be an everyday staple food but still sexy as hell. It is simple to make, delicious, not time-consuming once you can figure out how to work the pasta machine (or eliminate that altogether by rolling out your pasta and hand cutting it), and infinitely satisfying in a recipe with such a simple sauce.
Infinitely satisfying, as in how all things should be the morning after the night before, yes?
Combine dry ingredients in food processor and pulse to combine. Add eggs and olive oil and mix until dough forms. You can also use a big bowl, a fork, and some muscle. Or have your lover do this while you watch.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it feels a bit smooth (you aren’t developing gluten, so don’t overdo it. Just really incorporating all ingredients). Shape into a six-inch roll, then cut into six pieces.
Work with each piece individually to either hand cut, or use your pasta machine.
Pro tip #1: Dust pasta with flour before sending it through the pasta machine.
Pro tip #2: Send it through two times on each setting, starting with the widest and stopping when you can see your hand through the pasta.
Technically, cacio e pepe is for spaghetti, but I like linguine, so I use the linguine cutter on my pasta machine.
After you cut your pasta, you can freeze it in little bundles and drop into salted, boiling water for two or three minutes wheneverthefuck you want some fresh pasta, or you can let the little bundles sit around until you’re damn good and ready (about two hours before you need to make a decision about those little bundles).
Damn good and ready?
Bring a pot of salted water to boil. While you are waiting, grate about two cups of pecorino Romano. Boil your pasta for two minutes, reserving about a cup of pasta water. After you drain the pasta, add it to the cheese, and gradually add pasta water, a little at a time. If your sauce is too wet, add cheese. Too dry? Add water.
Salt to taste (even though the cheese is salty you will need more) and grate a TON of black pepper into the bowl. You can finish with a drizzle of best-quality olive oil if you like, then eat it off your fingers (or each other) when you head back to bed.