It’s the first few cold days here in Baltimore, so cue the inevitable references to the busy time of the holidays.
It’s less than a month until Thanksgiving, which means it’s less than two months until Christmas, which means it’s about to get primal in the Target over the last (fill in the blank) holiday toy.
I’m not buying it. Literally.
I am done with buying dumb shit for people who don’t need it. I have no interest in scurrying around to fulfill our country’s image of what the holidays are supposed to be.
But more importantly, I am not buying the conceit that the holidays are filled with merciless and driving good cheer, buoyed by copious amount of holiday punch and $5 trinkets from the White Elephant gift exchange.
Truthfully, I dropped the pretense of the picture-perfect holiday years ago, maybe around the time when I was younger and my brother and I told each other what the other was getting for Hanukkah and then it sucked a little, opening our presents, because we both already knew.
It may have taken me a little while to really exorcise the holiday demon because Dane was a huge fan of holidays and had an image in his head about what they should be, complete with overspending and overcommitting to holiday celebrations.
But this is not about that.
As the light fades from the sky and the darkness and cold return, I am starting to pay attention more.
How often do we grant ourselves permission to be deliberate? How often do we actually choose to consider what we are doing instead of simply walking through one big, long, knee-jerk reaction of a life?
What a gift it would be if we really paid attention to the people in our lives – close up and far away.
What if we slowed down enough to hear their hearts beat? To listen to them with both ears and our own open hearts?
I am not talking about sacrificing yourself on the altar of But They’re Your Family or Deep Down, They Really Love You.
I am talking about being deliberate and intentional with your chosen family – blood or otherwise – as a meditation, of sorts.
I am not here to give you suggestions about how to do this with your family.
Today is Easter, a time when I traditionally post about Zombie Jesus and tell a long, anti-climatic joke whose punchline is, “Peter! I can see your house from up here!” My dad, good Jew that he was and inveterate and unapologetic Teller of Terrible Jokes, thought my joke was excellent. Possibly he was the only one, unless you count seriously intoxicated patrons of the bar that I tended back when I first learned this joke. I always worked on major holidays because that’s where the money is, and my captive and inebriated audience rewarded me with drunken laughter and extra money.
But I digress.
I am non-religious to an almost atheistic degree, especially in that I find so much hypocrisy and contradiction in religion that it can really only be made up by humans. How can you preach one thing and act completely another?
This is not to say that I don’t have some certain thoughts. Feelings. Beliefs?
Let’s not get carried away.
I, like every single, solitary other person on this earth, have no idea about any of it – what’s true, what happens when we die, if there is a plan or a purpose or some kind of reason for being. So, like every other single, solitary person on this earth I make shit up.
It’s what we do.
I grew up in Maryland but moved huffily away back in 1995. Since moving back to Baltimore in 2014, one very strange thing has been happening, a very strange thing that has me making shit up sometimes.
I keep finding utensils on the ground. Forks and spoons mostly, with the occasional knife thrown in. I find them on walks in the woods, the random stroll to the store, and even embedded in a newly paved road (in East Baltimore by the Johns Hopkins campus where I teach yoga).
For some reason, I have been picking them up. There are a million things on the street in any major city, but I pick up silverware.
Initially I thought I might get arty and make a windchime or something, but I have not yet done that, and the stash of cutlery is growing.
Coincidentally, just before I really started writing about food, the pace of street cutlery acquisition increased exponentially. Everywhere I went, spoons and forks magically appeared. Plain, ornate, bent out of use, and perfect as if just out of the box from the bridal registry: eating utensils were everywhere.
It got a little ridiculous.
But now, as I continue to stockpile my growing stash of silver/not silver, I wonder.
Which is how all made-up human creations begin.
Is this The Universe telling me to start a food blog?
(pause here for that not-quite-serious question to sink in)
I just read an article on The Facebook about ten of the most overused phrases in yoga (this is not that article, but this is a good one, still with the same snarky bullshit, but the sting of truth is there. Get a Band-Aid and some tissues, hypersensitive yogis.), and while I disagreed completely with the snarky, my-yoga-is-better-than-yours tone of the article, one point struck me: the serious and continued calling upon of The Universe.
As in, “If I just tell The Universe what I want, then I can manifest it, ” or, “That’s The Universe telling me to____.”
We are tiny little specks in this overwhelmingly ginormous collection of dust, gas, and other material. To suggest that our tiny little lives merit even a moment of attention from any wisp of cloud or breath of wind is ludicrous and faintly ridiculous. The Universe frankly doesn’t give a rat’s ass about us and our tiny, insignificant human problems.
I have felt in my life that sometimes, if I could just make myself small enough (or, conversely, make myself open and big enough), I would be able to hear that little voice that is maybe me, deep down, or maybe something else outside of me. That whispered breath of something has been with me for a long time, and I don’t know if it’s on the wind or in my bones.
Whatever it is, it’s never wrong. Quite literally. I have tried to drown it with booze and outrun it by moving, but ultimately whatever is being said/whispered/transmitted/ WHATEVER gets through.
It sounds like a belief system, of sorts, but I promise you, it’s not.
But it’s something.
There really is no good segue into why this recipe made it into this post, except to say that I found the inspiration for it on The Facebook in the form of Jennifer, my cousin in Seattle. In truth, she is a cousin by marriage, related as she is to my deceased husband, but after Dane died we became (and stayed) close (like maybe The Universe thought we should. #Transitions) She posted on The Facebook, asking a friend in Washington to make these for her, and they seemed just the thing for a not-quite-atheist to have for a dinner celebrating Zombie Jesus’s (re)birth.
Buffalo And Bleu Deviled Eggs
Note: Like all things religious and spiritual, there are no hard-and-fast answers. Amounts are really subject to you and what it looks like. The filling should be creamy, so taste and keep adding until it’s how you like it. The original recipe has many exclamation points! And ranch dressing powder! Neither of which made it into this recipe, as exclamation points are an anathema to me, and I didn’t feel like buying ranch dressing powder. But do as you like. This isn’t a cult, for Christ’s sake.
6 hardboiled eggs, cut in half with yolks removed to a bowl
3 tablespoons softened cream cheese
2 teaspoons mayonnaise
Frank’s hot sauce, to taste
Splash of milk
Garnish: bleu cheese crumbles and celery
Place egg yolks, cream cheese, mayonnaise, hot sauce, and milk in a medium-sized bowl (or the bowl of a food processor) and beat with a hand mixer (or process on low) until ingredients are smooth a creamy. Taste, and add more hot sauce or milk as needed.
Spoon (or pipe if you’re fancy AF) into hardboiled egg white cases. Thinly slice celery and place artistically on top, then add bleu cheese crumbles (gorgonzola is also delicious here). Finish with some freshly cracked black pepper, and try not to eat them all in one sitting.
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.
“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.”
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 calledWabi-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.
“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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.