VisionQuest: Pumpkin Risotto With Chipotles In Adobo

Looks can be deceiving.

For my entire life, I have been nearly blind.

Since second grade my eyesight has been rapidly deteriorating, due in part, I believe, to a lonely childhood spent reading in near darkness and moving cars for hours on end.

My dad used to pick me up from school early (once a week? Once a month?) to go to an eye doctor who would give me eye exercises that I wouldn’t do. For me, this time with my dad was a good excuse for both of us to get forbidden mint chocolate chip ice cream from the High’s store in Meyersville and spend a little time together. The eye doctor really did seem like the perfect ruse to get more ice cream, especially since the only result was ever-thickening eyeglasses and an eventual prescription for contact lenses that I frequently lost, way before disposables and much to the chagrin of my parents.

As I have gotten older, my eyesight has changed so that now I can not only not see things that are far away, but I also can’t see things close up.

To wit:

my·o·pi·a
(mīˈōpēə)
noun
nearsightedness; also lack of imagination, foresight, or intellectual insight

and also:

hy·per·o·pi·a
hīpəˈrōpēə
noun
farsightedness

It’s a metaphor, y’all.

Not only have I spent my lifetime being blindsided by things that I never saw coming, but now I can’t even see what’s right in front of me.

It doesn’t even matter if a tree falls in the forest. I can’t see the forest OR the motherfucking tree.

It’s hard to reframe this stunning lack of clarity. I could break the words down to their parts: hyper = “beyond,” but myope means “shut”, so that ruins that attempt at positivity (off topic, a word I loathe and which I am not 100% convinced is actually a word).

I could envision myself walking through a softened landscape, all pleasant and blurry, like a vaseline-smeared Summer’s Eve commercial.

Mostly, though, I just feel dumb and perpetually set on my ass by things that happen, both large and small.

Thoughtfully, my inner voice confirms on a regular basis that I am, in fact, a total fucking moron. After all, “lack of imagination, foresight, or intellectual insight” is a feature of myopia. So there’s that.

But still.

We all of us walk around thinking how what we see is a confirmation of what we know. We rely on sight, that dumbest of all of the senses, to provide the most vital of information. But our vision is constantly changing, and it’s a known fact that eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable – the weak instrument of their eyes processing what is seen through the filter of their feeling and experience so that what they saw isn’t often what actually happened.

There is this thing in psychology whereby people recount their traumatic experience to help others heal, referred to as “bearing witness.” In this process, we share what we feel, not what we see, in order to lighten our load and to help others work through their own traumatic events. Psychologists believe that this practice not only helps patients heal from horrific experiences but also helps a community offer empathy and support.

When someone gets up on the witness stand, they talk about what they (think they) saw.

When someone bears witness, they recount their feelings and experiences.

In the first case, it’s nearly impossible to get right.

In the second, no vision – myopic or otherwise – is necessary.

Art is like this also, even the visual kind. Yes, it’s a medium seen with the eyeballs, but painting can provoke wildly differing reactions, like triggers. Same with literature, music, etc. It’s the feeling part of the experience, the experience of the viewing and everything that the viewer brings to that experience, not the projected upside down mirror image that the brain processes that is the thing.

When I am asked if I would rather be deaf or blind, I pick deaf 100% of the time because OH MY GOD MOUTH NOISES, but in thinking about sight these days and what it means to really not see something coming, I don’t know if it matters one way or the other. If I get surprised constantly anyway, perhaps it’s time to stop looking for things and just get on with the business of feeling them.

Experiencing them.

In the same way that what we see is often not what we get, risotto doesn’t look like much. My Particular Friend commented once about how it always looks so unassuming, this plate full of rice, until you fork some up and experience it firsthand.

This risotto is definitely like that.

First of all, it is the most basic of fall flavors – pumpkin – but if you find that objectionable you’ll have to build a bridge and get over it (see Recipe Notes). Then a little warming spice and some salty cheese. This isn’t just the plate of rice that you see at the top of this post. You will just have to experience it for yourself.

Pumpkin Risotto With Chilis In Adobo

Ingredients

6-8 cups vegetable stock

Splash of olive oil

1 medium onion, diced small

Splash cooking sherry or white wine (1/4 cup? ish?)

2 cups arborio rice

1/2 cup pumpkin purée (see Recipe Notes)

1-  2 T puréed  chipotle in adobo (see Recipe Notes)

Optional: 2 tablespoons butter

Cotija cheese (for serving; see Recipe Notes)

Method

Place stock in a pot and warm to near boiling.

Heat olive oil in a pan and add diced onion; season with salt and pepper. Sauté until nearly translucent, and then add arborio rice and toast, stirring constantly. Toast until rice is light brown and begins to release a nutty fragrance.

Add a splash of sherry or white wine and stir until the wine is nearly gone.

Add heated stock, a ladleful at a time, stirring constantly. Don’t cheat, and don’t listen to that “no-stir” risotto bullshit. It’s bullshit. Stir your rice.

Keep adding stock and stirring until just before rice reaches al dente. You can test this by tasting, but another way is to take one grain of rice and smear it on a cutting board. The rice should smear away except for one little white speck in the middle. That’s al dente. Stop just before that.

Add pumpkin purée and adobo purée and stir until fully combined. Continue adding stock until rice is al dente, and then remove from heat and stir in your (optional) two tablespoons of butter (leave it out and this dish is vegan, without the cheese). Season with black pepper and a little salt.

Crumble cotija and serve. Also optional to add a little fresh cilantro.

Recipe Notes

  • I use vegetable stock because I am cooking for a vegetarian, but chicken stock works fine.
  • A word on pumpkin puree: I used this because I had leftover from a batch of ice cream, but you could make your own butternut squash purée or even use tiny diced cubes of sugar pumpkins or butternut squash. This is largely a matter of preference and time.
  • No one knows what to do with a huge can of chipotle peppers in adobo, so here’s a pro-tip. Open the can when you get it, dump the entire thing in a blender/food processor, and purée . Freeze in ice cube trays and use in soups, sauces, etc.
  • I didn’t have cotija, so I used crumbled feta from Prima Foods: hands down the single best feta I have ever had. You can use whatever you like, but don’t skip the cheese (unless you’re making this vegan). Tames the heat and adds some salt.

 

 

 

 

On Writing, Friendship, And The Perfect Pumpkin Doughnut

We probably could have used some doughnuts. #RoughNight


“The urge to write has to be stronger and more compelling than the belief that no one wants to hear your stories.”

I woke up this morning after a wretched night of sleep with this thought fully formed in my head. It was such a revelation to me, so astonishing in its truth, simplicity, and application to my current stage of life that I felt compelled to write it down and share it, thus proving the message itself.

Developing recipes, learning everything as I go (including some very basic cooking skills), finding new culinary projects: that has never been hard.

The hard part, as with everything I have written about life and grief and death and yoga and parenting, is the overwhelming doubt that anyone gives a rat’s ass about what I have to say.

I will pause here to assure my three loyal readers that I am not looking for encouragement or a pat on the back. 

The point is that the act of creation – of food, of words, of art – has to be so terrifyingly urgent as to make incomprehensibly unimportant the doubt of reaching an audience who cares. 

Creation doesn’t care about click-throughs, page views, and bounce rate.

(that has the rhythm of a poem to me)

What cares about those things is doubt, fear, and the thought that someone has done it first, better, and simply MORE than I have now or will ever be able to.

Creation doesn’t care because succeeding at the perfect pastry creme (ongoing) or developing a perfect gluten-free pasta (starting this week) is its own reward.

I continue to struggle daily with the feeling that my writing is not good enough and doesn’t matter, and I continue to try and do it anyway. I am learning, and this is always good.

And frustrating and infuriating and slow. 

But still.

Creation is its own reward. That, and a spicy pumpkin doughnut. Made especially for my oldest friend in the world, Kerry.

Yes, I know. Two doughnut recipes in a week. 

But Saturday we went thrift store shopping, and after tasting my apple cider doughnut, Kerry requested a pumpkin doughnut. Today is National Pumpkin Pie Day, a made-up holiday if there ever was one, but certainly better than celebrating the impending doom of 1.5 million indigenous people on this day in 1492 (or thereabouts). Other sources say it’s National Pumpkin Day or National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day, so split the difference and make these.

Kerry has been with me for my most joyful and tragic moments. Also some of my most drunken and ridiculous, which were sometimes connected to the most joyful moments. From in-school suspension together in middle school for a “food fight” consisting of throwing one piece of corn to midnight rides to being one of the first to arrive when my husband died in 2013 and the only friend to drop everything at the death of my father, Kerry has been in it with me from nearly as long as I can remember, not only listening to my stories but also creating a few right along with me. 

Seems like a doughnut is a small thing to ask for, yes?

This doughnut is for Kerry, the person who, no matter how ridiculous they are, not only always wants to hear all my stories but also wants All. The. Details.

Share this with a friend who is like this, then tell me all about them in the comments below.

Spicy Pumpkin Doughnuts

Ingredients

Doughnuts:
2 eggs
1 stick butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. vinegar 

1/2 cup pumpkin puree (NOT pie filling)
3 tsp. vanilla extract (you could also do a maple extract here)
1 3/4 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour blend
1/4 cup oat flour OR almond meal
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum (optional if your blend already has it. I use it anyway) 
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 T ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt 

1 tsp ginger 
1/2 tsp. ground clove 
1/2 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cloves

Topping:
1 stick melted butter
1/2 cup sugar 
1 T cinnamon 1/2 tsp each ground ginger, clove, nutmeg, and allspice



Method:

Preheat oven to 400 and grease two doughnut pans (either full size or mini).

Before you begin, combine the milk and the vinegar to make a buttermilk, of sorts. I chose this method over purchasing buttermilk because most people don’t have buttermilk handy. If you do, feel free to substitute 1/2 cup of buttermilk. If not, add the vinegar to the milk and let sit for 10 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the following dry ingredients: flours, baking soda and powder, salt, and spices.

In a medium bowl or stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add eggs and beat, then add vanilla, milk mixture, and pumpkin puree. Beat until combined, then add the flour and continuing mixing until it is smooth (just a minute or two).

If you have a pastry bag, use that to pipe the batter into the waiting doughnut tins. If not, scoop the batter into a Ziploc baggie, snip off a corner, and use that to pipe the batter into the tins. Fill about halfway up.

Bake for eight to ten minutes. Doughnuts are ready when they spring back from a light touch.

Turn out onto a wire rack. As soon as they are just cool enough to handle, dip each doughnut into melted butter and then roll in spicy sugar mixture. 

These may keep, but I have no experience with them lasting past noon on the day they are made, so let me know if they do.

Recipe notes:

  • Doughnuts are just as delicious without the sugar topping, and you can also just use it for the top if you want to keep sugar in check.
  • Initially I planned on frosting these with a cream cheese frosting instead of the sugar did not. That’s the next iteration.