On Worry, Creativity, And Being/Having Enough

Balls. From Storm King. Balanced, unlike myself.

I am a born worrier.

I haven’t met a problem I can’t make exponentially worse by thinking too much, too hard about it.

As I start this blog, it’s November 7th, and given the way I work at my mercenary writing (how long it takes and how I budget my time), I could be done completely for the month by November 15th.

But I am WORRIED.

I worry it won’t be done, even though I have never missed a deadline.

I worry it won’t be any good, even though my clients are 100% satisfied and, at this point, obtained strictly from word of mouth for a steady income.

I worry I won’t make enough money every month, even though my total fixed expenses every month are less than some people’s car payments, and I was able to save enough money to send my child to France for a year (and pay off two credit cards) in six months last year. I can’t retire anytime soon, and I won’t be buying a Maserati, but since I don’t care about either of those things, it doesn’t really matter.

I worry.

It should be the first thing listed on the “About Me” section of this website, my skills on my CV, and my LinkedIn profile. I am, after all, a professional.

But what an incredible burden, the fact that I must, for everyone else’s sake, hold all of the worry and woe of the universe on my puny shoulders. That sounds histrionic, yes, but as Celie says in The Color Purple, sometimes it bees that way.

Sometimes I carry the burden of other people’s woe instead of tending to my own. It’s both a selfless act and a crutch. If I worry about other’s people shit, I won’t ever really have to address my own.

I won’t have to open up.

I won’t have to risk failure.

I won’t have to see the shadow.

The problem here is that eventually everything catches up with me, and I find myself in a situation that I have woven out of my own desire to not only care for other people but perhaps to not really care for myself.

It seems to me that female artists are destined to fail at either relationships or the pursuit of their art; they cannot have both (unless you are Frida Kahlo who was married to a serial cheater and a narcissistic fuck of a man who also happened to be grievously talented).

If you make art as a woman, must everything else fall by the wayside?

If you are in a happy relationship as a woman, must art then be put away as if a childish thing now that you are taking care of others?

I am not good at balance. I don’t know where the middle is.

I don’t know how to balance meeting my own needs with meeting the needs of others in my life.

I don’t know how to make mental and emotional space for the creative part of my life when I become engulfed by planning, scheduling, and otherwise coordinating the running of a household.

And then, of course, no one’s needs are met because who wants anything from a person who is visibly miserable, cranky, and generally hard to live with?

And that burden, too, becomes placed on my shoulders.

The challenges of a blended household are not to be trifled with, especially when there is so much history behind the two adults trying to do the blending. A dead spouse is no small matter, but a still-living spouse staring down the barrel of a dead 25-year relationship is no small potatoes either. What happens when children are added from both sides of that unlucky wooden nickel is nothing short of nuclear.

I often say that parenting is the worst best job, but really, if we are being honest with ourselves, which we should always try to be, parenting is pretty much just the worst job. The hours are long and arduous, the task itself thankless and neverending, and the end result completely up in the air – you can do the best you know how and it still not be enough.

Add to this, the age of 17.

I thought 15 was a bitch, but I had not yet met 17. In the rosy blush that comes with an ocean between us and a year abroad for The Child, I assumed she and I had moved past what 15 had wrought upon us (actually, 15 1/2 to around 16 1/2).

I assumed incorrectly. And that, too, feels like my fault. Heartbreak.

What wine pairs well with a dearth of creativity? The demons of relationships past? A child who is struggling?

Here is where I would segue into a recipe, but it’s hard to think of food in times like these, especially when the story that comes before the recipe isn’t lovely and filled with exclamation points.

I have said often (including here in this blog) that food is the way that I show my love for people, that if I am cooking for you, I must be caring for you. But food is also a comfort to me in a less usual way. It’s the place where I find solace, and the place where I have always been able to nurture some form of creative practice, even when the words dry up or are too painful to put on paper.

When I was in the first days of setting up my own household as an 18-year-old, I started the ritual of completely stocking my pantry and my bar on December 31st. I have been poor for most of my life, but when the last day of the year rolls around, I still take what I have and stock up to give myself the feeling of enough.

Because really what is lacking in this entire conversation about worry and balance and heartbreak is the feeling that I am, all on my own, enough.

I can fabricate that feeling in myself with a stocked freezer, pantry, and bar cart. It’s visible proof of enough. External proof, to be sure, but proof in its own way.

For this purpose, one of the things I like to make is crackers. I eat them warm straight from the oven.

They won’t make the road we are on smooth, with straight, even lines and clearly marked directions. They won’t make my relationship with my child go back to what it was before 15 1/2.

But they are easy to make and eat when the world inside and outside of the house is overwhelming and too much. And sometimes that is enough.

Everyday Crackers

Ingredients
3 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour blend (you can also use store-bought GF flour, or regular AP)
1 ½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
4 T. olive oil
4 T. butter, frozen and grated
1 cup water
Add-ins: 2 tsp. fennel, 2 tsp. sesame seeds, ¼ t. cracked black pepper, toasted and cooled

Method
Preheat oven to 400⁰. In the bowl of a food processor, combine dry ingredients (including add-ins). Pulse to mix. Add olive oil and butter, then pulse to mix (the mixture will resemble cornmeal). Add water and mix until dough comes together. The dough will be sticky.

Pick your cracker shape.

Shape 1 (huge time saver): Turn out half the dough onto a floured surface. Roll to approximately 1/16” thin. Cut into squares with a bench scraper or pizza cutter. Proceed as below.

Shape 2 (rustic crackers): Working the dough as little as possible, pinch a bit of dough out of the food processor (approximately 1/4” balls). Place on the cookie sheet. Pinches of dough should be an inch apart. When you have filled the cookie sheet, lightly flour the flat bottom of a glass (or a measuring cup, or anything flat), and press each pinch of dough to 1/16” thick. The thickness is not as important as evenly pressing the dough is; uneven crackers will brown on one edge and not the other.

Poke each crackers three times with a toothpick (this is important!).

Place cookie sheets in the oven and bake for a total of 12 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through for even browning. Remove immediately from cookie sheets and cool on a wire rack. These crackers will stay fresh in an airtight container for three days, but you can pop them in a hot oven for a couple minutes to re-crisp if necessary.

Recipe notes

  • Oven temperatures vary and can greatly affect your outcome. Keep a close eye on your crackers, especially towards the end, to see if modifications to the bake need to be made.
  • These crackers can also be rolled out and cut into rectangles or squares with a pizza cutter. Toppings should be pressed into the rolled out dough so they don’t all end up on the counter (or the floor). Try to work quickly and not handle the dough too much.
  • Between batches, place the dough in the refrigerator.
  • Use all olive oil instead of butter to make these vegan. They may be slightly tougher.
  • Topping options are nearly unlimited, and you can also add fresh herbs into the dough when you add the water.
  • For a most delicious variation, add the zest of two lemons, ½ cup of dried blueberries (no sugar added), and 1 T of chopped thyme. Makes a beautiful, subtle, purple cracker. Serve with soft cheese.
  • These crackers can be made in a large bowl without a food processor. Work the dough as quickly as you can, and make sure all ingredients are incorporated.
  • For easier clean up, these can also be baked on parchment paper.
  • Store crackers in an airtight container. I have had them for as long as a week with no loss of texture, but I ate them all before I could experiment further.

 

 

Just FYI, The Road Is Lined With Peach Cake With Pecan Crumble

I have made Peach Cake With Pecan Crumble this morning for breakfast and am now listening to the rain and waiting for it to cool. It is the kind of rain that is the harbinger of a change in the weather, and I am ready for fall.

August always seems to be this way: a headlong rush and flurry of busy-ness that only begins to calm down as the mercury drops and the sun dips below the horizon a few minutes earlier every night. I don’t subscribe to the status-seeking cult of busy-ness (also known as the “busy trap”) that surrounds people in the U.S., and yet I have a distinctly difficult time actually relaxing. It is hard for me to sit and just be.

Even as I put a period at the end of that last sentence I was rising to get a slice of still-warm cake because I just couldn’t wait anymore.

I have also, in the time that it has taken to write this little bit, texted with a friend and checked my calendar to see if there is anything pressing this week.

What happened to me?

Growing up, bored and lonely on the side of a mountain in western Maryland, I used to while the days away reading, making art, walking in the woods, and writing. My brother and I were not especially close, and when we were it was often because I was receiving a punch for some unknown transgression (or perhaps because he was, himself, bored and lonely and without any particular outlet, and I happened to be handy). I learned early not to approach him unless I was so bored that it was worth the gamble of a blow or a game.

We didn’t have a TV until I was older, and even then it was a black-and-white set with rabbit ears wrapped in tinfoil perched on top, so reception (and even just plain old power) was sketchy at best. We had animals and chores and two parents who worked, so I was left to my own devices more often than not. There was nothing much to do and an endless amount of time to get it done.

After many years of busy doing, I find myself now in a position where I can take my time to do what it is that I am doing. I have mercenary writing that people pay me to do, and then I have my own (which pays nothing but is one of those things like breathing that is necessary and reflexive and vital, even when words don’t make it onto the page. But I digress.). I have yoga teaching and a new job as the assistant manager at my lovely studio, both of which do not take much time either.

So I find myself at loose ends, again, as the calendar and the weather indicate that it is, indeed, decorative gourd season, motherfuckers.

What to do? How to fill the days?

Technically, I have completed all of the duties of a productive member of society: I have (nearly) raised a child to adulthood (a good one, I think); I have started a school and taught over a thousand children; I have been married to a man I loved and lost; I have been lucky enough to love another man in a way that is breath-taking to me – we are building a life together that I could not imagine in the years following the death of my husband.

I have volunteered my time, donated my money, rescued animals, helped others. I have paid taxes.

But what is it about my need to feel like I am doing something? Who cares what I am doing? Who cares how fast it gets done?

Lots of folks, turns out. I have been the recipient of some judgy looks and comments, for sure, about my lack of “busy” on a daily basis. On many days my presence is not required anywhere. I can sit with two dogs at my feet and a cat lazily twining in and around my ankles until I am damn good and ready to do whatever it is that I feel like doing (or whatever it is I have put on my calendar; I am an inveterate procrastinator, but I have not missed a single deadline, and my written calendar is the reason why). This seems to be offensive to some. If I am not worn out by work I don’t enjoy and shopping with the madding crowd every Saturday morning, my life is something of a millennial’s, and perhaps I should grow up.

We are conditioned from birth to do, go, and be. We are to be productive members of society. We are to graduate from schooling (and childhood) and earn money to buy All Of The Things, and we are to have a career or something that we do for 40 hours a week. We are selfish if we choose to art or write or travel or bake or otherwise defy the American Dream (which has itself become a nightmare).

In my graduating class at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, there were two philosophy majors who matriculated with the whole class of several thousand. I still remember wondering what, exactly, that degree would translate into as far as employment goes. Even when I got my English degree, the first question was always if I was planning on teaching. What would I DO with my degree?

Side note before I continue my white-privileged exploration: I am well aware that the color of my skin has allowed me to even think about not doing, going, and being. It is a source of much trouble in my mind and in my writing that I get to write from a place that many people (women) of color will not be able to experience. It is also true that I am exploring ways to support people of color in my work and in theirs. 

Side note, part two: I would not be able to indulge in this type of under-employment were it not for a few life-changing events, specifically the death of my husband in 2013, which put the process of living into perspective, and the closure of my school, HoneyFern, shortly thereafter. 

But here I am now, scoffing at my own self a bit, just as if I was one of the philosophy majors who has no real prospects for gainful employment.

I am trying to make peace with the fact that I there is no earthly requirement (or heavenly one for that matter) that I be constantly and consistently on a path of someone else’s design.

Trouble is getting myself to relax into a path of my own design. Or to even find a path. Or know how to start thinking about design.

We are most of us morons when it comes to listening to our own selves and shutting out all of the noise. It is challenging to find out if what we are doing is actually something we want to be doing or if we have been so corrupted by the influence of the world around us that we are just utterly convinced it was our own idea in the first place.

I am trying to shut up and listen to that little voice, not the Anti-Cheerleader, that raging bitch who insists I am unworthy and ask how dare I, but the voice that is still capable of awe and pure joy. The one that is unconnected to anything but itself. When I can shut up everything – The Facebook, Instagram, the people who would still treat me as if I were a child, the expectations of the world, my own doubt and anxiety and worry – I find moments and glimpses of the road ahead of me. And it’s a peaceful, gravel-lined walk that is meandering and has lots of benches with cushions lining it (I like a soft place to land).

For now, though, seems like I am still in the place of learning to unclench. The anxiety and worry that has gripped me this summer still squeezes me like a fist. It’s rainy days, with peach cake, that maybe help that ease up just a bit.

Peach Cake With Pecan Crumble

This is a breakfast cake, like coffee cake, only with fresh fruit, so technically a serving of fruit. 

Ingredients

Dry:

2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar

1/4 cup almond meal

Wet:

2 large eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

2 cups fresh peach, peeled, pitted, and chopped small

Crumb topping:

1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons melted butter

Optional: 1/2 cup pecans (or type of nuts like almonds or macadamia), chopped small

Method

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a square glass baking dish (butter, oil, or cooking spray). You can also use mini bundt pans (see Recipe Notes).

In a large-ish bowl whisk together dry ingredients.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together wet ingredients (I used a 2-cup measuring cup, adding the eggs last and beating them in).

In an even smaller bowl, whisk together crumb topping ingredients while you melt the butter.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Add peaches and stir to combine.

Pour into glass baking dish.

Use a fork to add crumble ingredients to melted butter and mix to combine. It should be somewhat clumpy, which is what you want. Add pecans, if using. Spoon/pour/use your hands to distribute crumble on top of your cake.

Bake for 50-60 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick comes out fairly clean or with maybe a crumb or two clinging to it.

Best cooled completely and then maybe warmed slightly. If using gluten-free flour especially, cool completely for the best texture.

Recipe Notes

If using mini bundt pans, press crumb topping gently into the top of the batter and reduce baking time to 20-25 minutes. This can also be baked in a large bundt pan, with the same guidelines and a longer baking time (watch carefully). Cool for ten minutes in bundt pan, and then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

 

Fail Forward: Pistachio Macarons With Rosewater Filling

These were an abject failure.

I was born to write.

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.

#Check

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

Ingredients

Macarons

1/2 cup finely ground pistachios

1/2 cup finely ground almond meal

1 cup powdered sugar

3 egg whites

1/2 cup sugar

Filling

2 egg whites

1/2 cup sugar

5 tablespoons butter, softened

1-2 teaspoons rosewater (less or more, to taste)

Method

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.

Recipe Notes

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.

The Art of Colossal Failure: Gluten-Free Baking Edition

Looks can be deceiving. This was a big fat failure.
Looks can be deceiving. This was a big fat failure.

Here’s the thing. I don’t want to be an influencer.

It’s the new trend now to sell yourself as an influencer when you are applying for writing jobs; employers want to know how many Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook followers you have before they even want to talk to you (hence the rise in the market for fake followers on all social media).

As an influencer, I make a pretty good dogwalker. Although I often claim to my friend Kerry’s husband Mark that I know 10% of everything, we all know that it’s actually closer to 7.5%.

Just kidding.

(Or am I?)

Anyway.

When I develop a recipe, and share it with you, I’m not trying to influence you.

At least not yet. I have a few things in development that I may run by you eventually, but I won’t put them on my site unless they’re amazing and I think you’ll love them and if you don’t want to buy, make, or use them it’s no skin off my nose because you know what you want better than I do and I am a wretched salesperson in that regard but have no desire to get any better.

No, when I put something on this website, I do it because I made it and it’s delicious and I think you should know all about it and make it for your family so that they can tell you how delicious it is, too.

I put stuff on this site so that you can see that cooking gluten-free doesn’t mean tasteless and horrible. It doesn’t even mean health food. All of these recipes happen to work well with regular flour, too. That’s on purpose so everyone can eat good stuff.

I cook because food is one of the most wonderful things that you can share with another human being.

I cook and I write about it to share a little bit of my life. It’s an instinct and an impulse that I can’t quite explain, but it’s part of the deep down core of the person that I am. I have cooked as a creative outlet since I left home at 17, and I have been writing since I could hold a crayon. This blog brings those two things together in a way that is deeply satisfying to me.

I post. Sometimes you click on the link in your email or on your Facebook wall, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes the fact that you don’t hurts my feelings a little bit, but I continue to post anyway. And here’s why.

I’m not trying to get you to change your life or steer you in a different direction. All I want to do is share what I know. I want to share the things that work for me in my kitchen, and I want to share the things that have gone wrong and wonderful and incredible and amazing in my life. It’s the way that the (predominantly) introverted part of me can reach out and really connect with people.

I write because I love it. I cook because I love it. I continue to learn about cooking because it’s fascinating, and it’s the one thing that everyone can access. Everyone has to eat. It might as well be delicious.

Sometimes, though, it’s really great to see the failures. One thing that really chaps my ass is seeing perfection on every food blog I come across. The food is perfectly cooked and beautifully plated, shot with perfect lighting and accessorized with happy, well-dressed, and obviously prosperous folks gathered with friends or their impeccable family.

Turns out, not every recipe works out. And not everything tastes great. And definitely not everything looks beautiful.

You wouldn’t know that by Instagram with its glossy pictures of perfection. But here’s the thing: perfection isn’t real, or even real desirable. Sometimes the food isn’t even real or is enhanced with non-edible garnish (that enticing steam may be a microwaved tampon. #TrueStory).

I just got this new tart pan that I’ve been wanting for a really long time. The first tart I made was delicious. The second tart (pictured above) leaked and the crust was horribly soggy and fairly tasteless.

If I was 100% living the dream, I would have posted a picture of my soggy bottom, but that might be a whole other type of blog (#CueLovemakinMusic)

Cooking and writing for me are more about the process, and less about the flawless product (although HOT DAMN I like it when it all comes together). Failure is infinitely more valuable as a learning tool than success, but failure is a taboo subject. When I mentioned to a couple of people what I was writing about today, they were minorly horrified at the thought of failure. A standard response, I think, but the instinct is misplaced.

Fear of failure holds us back.

Fear of failure stops us from trying.

Fear of failure makes failure inevitable.

It’s not the failure that’s the issue: it’s the fear.

So today’s blog isn’t about the failure that is the soggy-bottomed tart pictured fuzzily above. It’s about the fact that in spite of this failure, I will try again. And maybe the next time won’t work out either. But I won’t be scared that it will taste bad or you won’t read my recipe.

Because there is a lot of fear in the world, but moving through fear gets to the other side of failure. That’s what we are all about here at Charm City Edibles (in a shaky-kneed way at times, but still).

What do you think about failure? I’d like to know how failure (or fear) has influenced you (or not).

 

On Words, Love, And The (Im)Perfect Crabcake

(Im)perfectly delicious, hon.
(Im)perfectly delicious, hon.

So I have been avoiding words. Words like these ones right here.

And yes, I am aware that I just used the phrase “these ones.” #IBlameTheSouth

I don’t know what it is about words. I find them alternately an abiding comfort and a deep frustration. I have hurled them as invective, used them like a lover’s caress, and felt them/rolled them around in my mouth, through my heart, and on the page.

But sometimes of late words have [quite literally] failed me. I have said the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong way.

I have received hurtful words from someone I love, most recently unintentionally (but intentionally in the past).

Sidebar: They both feel bad.

It’s enough to make me clam up altogether, which I am getting especially good at. Seems easier to say nothing than to say something I don’t mean or that will leave a lasting wound.

And then a few weeks ago I ran across this from Thich Nhat Hanh, the Fourth Mindfulness Training Guide:

“I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations.”

The idea is to monitor yourself and your words so that they are not harmful or rooted in anger or misunderstanding that will make things worse.

In short, “Seek first to understand, then be understood.”

Excellent idea.

Except we are all of us only human beings, yes? And as I like to [gratefully] acknowledge, this is a practice, not a perfect. I am still at the grasshopper stage, keeping my mouth shut and walking away.

But this is patently unhelpful in some situations where silence would only serve to deepen the rift or misunderstanding or hurt others, especially those who have had silence wielded like a sword in their past.

Which brings me to my recent connection of wabi-sabi as it pertains to humans. My particular friend lent me a book recently called Wabi-Sabi For Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. Wabi-sabi is the Japanese philosophy/practice/way of life focused on accepting and celebrating the beauty of impermanence and imperfection in everything. That’s a thumbnail, but it gets to the root in a nutshell.

Richard Powell sums it up as this:

“Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”

Certainly true for the wabi-sabi qualities in humans, human communication, and human relationships.

The trick here is to determine if you are willing to do the work anyway, to acknowledge the impermanence and imperfection and love (accept) all of that anyway.

According to Wabi-Sabi for Artists,

“The simplicity of wabi-sabi is probably described as the state of grace arrived at by a sober, modest, heartfelt intelligence.”

This is a far cry from the passionate, loud, and impulsive words being hurled around of late, in my house and in the rest of the world. Wabi-sabi requires more contemplation and reflection and acceptance, but the last is hard to come by. It seems that acceptance is the thing that allows the words or the art or the love to flow.

I have lost many words of late. I don’t know if that’s a reflection of my lack of acceptance, but it is certainly highlighting my imperfection. Wabi-sabi is the fine line between something starting and ending, that moment when there is a shift. Maybe that’s what is happening.

So what’s with the crabcakes? How is this wabi-sabi?

Well, to start, crabs don’t give a fuck about decay and imperfection; they are one of the few bottom feeders that I will actually eat, mopping up whatever’s rotten on the bottom of the Bay.

They accept whatever is lowered into the depths at the end of a piece of cotton twine. Throw a ripe chicken neck off a dock and you will invariably hoist a few crabs from the murky depths.

In this pairing, they are also a continuation of experimentation in my kitchen, which is a good thing, and they represent a foundational element in my life. I grew up in Maryland, crabbing off the docks at Assateague as a child and picking crabs in someone’s backyard at least once a summer every year. When I am feeling at loose ends, it is a great comfort to me to come back to these touchstones in my life when I can reliably remember feeling at peace and without struggle.

So along with these words, here is some food for you.

Maryland Crabcakes With Green Papaya, Carrot, and Jicama Slaw

With Pineapple Vinaigrette

Ingredients

Crabcake

2 tsp. Old Bay

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 T Dijon mustard

2 slices bread without crusts, torn into bits

1 T mayonnaise

1 egg

Optional: 1/2 tsp Worchestershire (I am not convinced, but many would say this is essential.)

1 pound jumbo lump crab

 

Green Papaya, Jicama, and Carrot Slaw

1/2 cup green papaya, shredded

1/2 cup  jicama, shredded

1/4 cup carrots, shredded

1 large jalapeno,  finely sliced (keep some seeds for heat)

a handful of fresh pineapple, julienned

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

juice of one lime

1 oz.  pineapple vinegar (recipe below)

2 oz.  vegetable oil (or other light oil)

1/4 tsp. ground cumin

small garlic clove, finely minced

1/2 tsp. celery seed

salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Crabcakes

Combine Old Bay, parsley, mustard, mayonnaise, egg, and Worchestershire (if using) in a large bowl. Stir well to combine.

Add crabmeat and mix with your hands very, very gently. You want the crab to stay in big, fat, delicious chunks, barely held together.

Form into something resembling a cross between a meatball and a patty. For ease, I greased ramekins and packed the meat in there. Place in ‘fridge for 30 minutes while you make the slaw.

Heat a generous amount of butter (couple tablespoons) in a heavy frying pan. Place crabcakes gently in pan and fry until they have a nice crust and are warmed all the way through (about four minutes to a side.

Move to paper towels until serving.

Slaw

Combine the first six ingredients (green papaya, jicama, carrot, jalapeno, pineapple, parsley) in a medium bowl and squeeze the juice of one lime to coat the veg. In a small bowl, whisk together the last five ingredients (vinegar, oil, cumin, garlic, celery). Pour over vegetables and herbs, then season with salt and pepper.

Pineapple vinegar

In a saucepan, combine 8 oz. white vinegar, 8 oz. of fresh pineapple, and 1 tsp. of sugar. Bring to a rolling boil, mashing the pineapple a bit as it boils. Remove from heat and let cool, then strain to remove solids and place in ‘fridge.

Recipe notes

  • I used GF bread, but white bread is traditional, or Saltine crackers. If using Saltines, use about eight crackers.
  • JM Clayton crabmeat is the way to go if you are buying it. If you aren’t going to pick it yourself, don’t fuck around with crappy crabmeat in a can. This is an expensive recipe, to be sure, so save your money if you need to, but do it right. Or, do what I did and eat rice for a week for dinner so you can afford to test the recipe. #LifesFullOfTradeOffs
  • Fresh peaches make delicious vinegar as well. Swap the white vinegar for white balsamic and sub peeled, chopped peaches for the pineapple and proceed as above. Much more delicate flavor.
  • Turns out, I hate cabbage and cabbage hates me, so that’s why none is present. If cabbage loves you and vice versa feel free to add it in.
  • If you cannot find green papaya at your local Asian grocery store, feel free to use cabbage instead. It will change the flavors a bit, but using a lighter-flavored cabbage like Napa cabbage should keep things balanced.