*I spent this past weekend in San Diego visiting one of my best friends. We grew up in church together and stayed close throughout high school and college.
*With so many of my friends, I can recall a moment in the past when we moved beyond being mere amicable acquaintances (or "pals") into the realm of intimacy. This usually accompanies a shared experience or the special discovery of a shared interest or love or passion. With my best friend in San Diego, this moment occurred when we were fourteen years old in the small village of Ricaurte in Ecuador, on a muggy night when we were both wearing t-shirts, Bermuda shorts, and flip-flops.
*After a couple days spent in Quito - where my most salient memory was of the freezing cold hostel showers we had to endure every morning - we boarded a rickety old bus whose rusty, broken windows would not close. We were headed out of the city and up into the mountains, where civilization was dispersed much more sparsely. E and I sat next to each other on the bus, I by the window, she in the aisle, and we shared headphones and ate the plantain chips we bought through the bus windows from the tanned men on the side of the road. After one bus breakdown and several sightings of bloody hogs hanging like sacks off the shingles of roadside food stands, we arrived in a town where we were greeted by lonely and misplaced murals. As we stared out of the bus windows, blown-up faces of politicians stared back at us - unashamed remnants of propaganda from past campaigns; the roads we cruised along were without street signs and lined by barefoot kids who waved to us ecstatically because the fact that were were strangers or intruders was less significant than the fact that we were novelties in their small town. By the time we arrived, it was nearly dusk, and after a much-needed dinner of greasy fried rice, we were sent off to our host families. E and I went off with a young man named Pablo, who lived across the river from the town in which we had disembarked. On the way over, we struggled to communicate. I spoke the Spanish I knew and gestured when necessary.
*I know what it is like to be a foreigner, a visitor in a place where you clearly do not belong - physically, racially, ethnically, visually - and that feeling, when intensified to that of being an intruder - makes one vulnerable, and uncomfortably so. The feeling of vulnerability - felt so acutely by both E and I - escalated through the night as we realized how many stares were directed our way from old women, little children, and the teenage boys loitering on their scooters who were clearly scouting out girls, as we began to understand the departure from the familiarity and comfort of suburban America that we had committed to by having boarded the plane to Ecuador in the first place.
*That night, after we had kissed Pablo's sweet, citrus-scented mother on both cheeks and were sitting on our dusty beds in a room where cats lurked in the corners and shadows, where the wooden panels beneath our feet were dusty like outdoor patios, we were restless and itchy from the mosquitoes that had already began to attack us and from the thought that we had no bathroom - save a faucet on an outdoor balcony. We sat on our adjacent beds silently staring at one another, not knowing whether to laugh or cry - or sob violently - and it was in that very moment that the vulnerability and shock this new place had laid upon us was also blooming into an immense gratitude for each other and an empathic bond which found its strength in the knowledge that we would be the only ones to have this exact experience together. We wouldn't realize this until much later, when, back in the States we were laughing at the tears we almost cried together.
*Much has changed in the six years since our time in Ecuador. Now, she in San Diego, and I in Northern California and Boston and beyond, we are different people than we were then and our friendship has certainly grown and changed similarly. But this past weekend, as we spent hours sitting lazily in coffee shops, driving around, walking, sometimes chatting, often not, I saw how so much of what is between us has not changed at all - a fact that is as comforting as the fact that so much of us does and has to and will continue to change.
*I can only hope that fifty years down the line - even sixty or seventy - when the precariousness of our lives becomes increasingly apparent with each passing day - that we will still be laughing and crying and aching together, sitting silently and talking lovingly, with the kind of comfort and contentedness that can only spring from the vulnerability of a moment and the years of friendship that follow.
*When I am sad, I can't stand sound. All I want is silence. Music holds no allure, whether it is sentimental or heartfelt. I shut down, and I turn it all off. It's as if I want solitary confinement for myself, either for respite or for deprivation (I can't pinpoint it). But I know without music, I am a hardened person who does not like to be touched or moved, who is irritated by sensory stimulation, and who only wants to wallow in her own puddle of tears - silently.
*In high school, when I was angry, I would sit in my car with the windows rolled down and blast jazz. Something totally intense and incomprehensible, like Brad Mehldau. I'd lay my head back and let Brad blow off the steam for me. If things were alright, then it'd be a Ken Burns jazz CD, and if I was really feeling the love, I'd cue up Ella & Louie's silky duets. Music made me fall in love, but somewhere along the way, as a self-imposed separation or punishment, I fell out of love with music.
*I used to sing in the shower a lot. I rarely do this anymore, though I'll still sing along to anything on the radio when I'm driving to work (my favorite: Picture by Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow). I used to strum my guitar and play my piano when I was sad. I used to write lyrics to show my sorrow. I don't anymore. In Italy, on the coldest days, I walked up and down the streets of Florence listening to Bach's inventions or NPR. That's the most I could I bear. Losing a love is a sad, sad thing.
*I've been thinking about my relationship with music because Amy Winehouse died yesterday and in the end, her love for music was not reason enough to live.
*At the same time, I've accepted that my life is a bit rough-and-tumble right now, constantly changing, constantly in flux. Last year I was in four different continents and at least nine different countries. I have no long-term plans in my head, and to be honest, I'm still trying to figure out who I am and what I love to do. I've been second-guessing my passions, trying out new things, and figuring out my emotions and desires - all of which collectively means that I'm really just growing up and trying to get comfortable in my own skin. So I know that there's not going to be consistency in my life for awhile, that I'm going to be changing and trying and changing again for awhile, and that blogging (which I've been doing since I was 12 years old - my first blog was on xanga.com and my username was xoxandyroddick, I kid you not) will be following suit.
*On an unrelated note, here's a pretty tasty kale salad:
Serves 2 as a side dish
1 large beet or 2 small beets, washed and scrubbed
1 bunch raw curly kale (washed, de-stemmed and dried) – 4-5 stalks
juice of 1 medium lemon (about 3 Tbsp)
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp liquid aminos (tamari or soy sauce would work too)
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
1 Tbsp tahini
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 large beet or 2 small beets, washed and scrubbed
1 tsp sesame seeds, to taste as garnish (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Wrap the beet(s) in foil and bake for one hour, or until soft.
3. Tear the kale leaves off the stalk, breaking up the leaves into smaller pieces as well. Put into a bowl.
4. In a separate bowl, combine the lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, liquid aminos, nutritional yeast, tahini, and minced garlic. Whisk until smooth.
5. Pour dressing over kale leaves and massage well with hands for 1-2 minutes. Let marinate for an hour (while the beets bake!). Make sure to marinate the kale because this makes the salad taste infinitely better!
6. Remove from oven, unwrap, and let cool 5-10 minutes. Then peel (should be very easy at this point) and dice into chunks.
7. Top kale salad with diced beets and sesame seeds before servings
*I'm not ashamed to admit I have strange tastebuds. They've been developed over the years, and some of my tastes have changed and evolved but there are a few "quirks" that have remained the same ("quirks" is a euphemism):
**I can't stand the the idea of raw fruit touching each other. It sounds weird, but I have always been averse to mixed fruit. I don't like it when the flavors of fruit mix. The only acceptable combination is honeydew with canteloupe.
**In fact, I prefer all of my fruit whole. Please do not cut it for me. Or do anything to it for that matter. I will only eat fruit in its raw state (mostly). I have never in my life eaten any kind of fruit pie or fruit cobbler or fruit crumble. No, I have not eaten apple pie or blueberry pie and do not plan to any time soon. I tried jam for the first time two years ago. Before that I would only eat orange marmalade.
*Ok, maybe "strange" was an understatement.
**I can eat 100% dark chocolate and I love it.
**I don't have much of a sweet tooth for typical desserts, such as cakes and ice creams and trifles and what not. I would much rather eat chocolate.
**Speaking of chocolate, a very dense flourless chocolate cake or torte is acceptable. Birthday cake is not. Birthday cake with fruit in it is abhorrent (I've never eaten this either. Maybe I'm a food bigot. I'll take it). Birthday cake frosting is equally abhorrent (I hated this as a child too - this was not an evolved taste by any means). As is whipped cream. As is marzipan. As is any kind of fluffy angel cake. I only like the densest, fudgiest cakes. Which are not really cakes actually. I don't like cakes.
*Have I written enough blasphemy yet?
**And let's talk about cookies. I've never liked cookie dough, and I'd much rather have a biscuit or buttery shortbread than a chocolate chip cookie. Like Italian frollini or biscotti or English tea biscuits. Am I American? Maybe not.
*I could probably go on forever, but I will pause the shock and awe for now. Of course, all that being said, it means that people are usually happy to share with me, because I usually like what other people don't like (the orange and yellow starbursts) and they like what I don't.
*And luckily most people like cookie dough and chocolate chip cookies (or variations of such), otherwise these pretty little cookie dough truffles and these trashy cookies wouldn't fly.
*But they did, and they were good. Even I thought they were good. Now that's saying something.
(I baked these for a friend's wedding dessert bar as seen above in the first picture)
Pretty Little Cookie Dough Truffles
Makes 40-45 small truffles
(Adapted from The Food Network)
1/2 cup butter, softened (I microwave cold butter for about 20 seconds)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar (do not use white; you need the moisture of brown)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup mini-chocolate chips
11 oz white chocolate chips
1/4 cup neutral-flavored oil
1/2 cup assorted sprinkles
1. Cream butter and sugar together until smooth (I did this by hand because I like love creaming butter and sugar together manually - sounds like a pain and it is, but I like it; if you don't, use a stand mixer).
2. Add vanilla. Mix well.
3. Gradually add condensed milk, stirring well as you go. Then add flour, 1/2 cup at a time. Stir well until mixture reaches a dough-like consistency.
4. Add chocolate chips. Mix into dough until chocolate chips are well-dispersed.
5. Line multiple baking sheets with parchment or wax paper. Roll the cookie dough into balls (about 1.5-2 inches in diameter), using extra flour to prevent stickiness if necessary.
6. Place baking sheets in freezer for at least 2 hours.
7. After two hours, bring water to a boil in a double boiler set up. Pour white chocolate chips into the double boiler and turn down heat to low. Continuously stir as the chocolate chips melt. Slowly drizzle in oil while stirring.
8. Using chopsticks or tongs, dip each frozen cookie dough ball into the white chocolate, covering only half of the dough ball; then immediately dip into sprinkles (which should be in a bowl on a plate for easy dipping). Place back onto paper-lined baking sheets. After dipping entire batch, put baking sheets back into freezer and let set for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Natalie’s Trashy Cookies
Makes 40 small cookies or 20-30 medium-sized cookies
(inspired by Momofuku's compost cookies, adapted from here)
3/4 cup butter (1.5 sticks)
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
2 Tbsp instant coffee (I HIGHLY recommend Trader Joe’s brand)
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 cup oatmeal
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup crushed potato chips
1/2 cup crushed pretzels
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup crushed oreos
1/2 cup crushed butterfingers
1. Preheat Oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cream together butter, sugars, and coffee.
3. Whisk together egg and vanilla separately; then add this liquid mixture to the butter-sugar mixture. Mix well.
4. In large bowl, combine the oatmeal, flour, and baking soda, and then stir in the add-ins until evenly distributed.
5. Combine wet and dry batters. Mix well.
6. At this point, you can either chill the batter for about 2-4 hours OR you can go ahead and roll the dough into balls (about 1-2 Tbsp depending on the size of cookie you desire). If you choose to roll the dough into balls immediately, place on greased cookie sheet and freeze for 2 hours. Otherwise, chill first and then roll into balls.
7. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes (10 minutes for chewier cookies, 12 minutes for crispier cookies). (Note: if you look into the oven (like I do) a few minutes into baking, your cookies might look like Frosty the Melting Snowman but don’t worry, they will come out looking fine).
8. Let cool for 10-20 minutes before serving!
(adapted from the Candle Cafe Cookbook)1 cup quinoa (I used 1/2 c yellow, 1/2 c red), rinsed and drained
2 1/2 c water
2 ears of corn1 can black beans
1 red bell pepper, destemmed + deseeded + diced
1 cup hominy
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
juice of 1 lime
salt + pepper to taste
1 cup toasted chili pumpkin seeds*
1. Bring water to a boil in a pot. Add quinoa to the pot, then lower to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes until fluffy. Set aside to cool.
2. Boil (or steam) corn in a large pot of water for about 8 minutes. Remove and let cool.
3. In a large bowl, combine black beans, bell pepper, hominy, chopped cilantro, and lime juice.
4. Using a sharp knife, cut the corn from the cob into the salad mixture.
5. Add quinoa to the salad. Toss well.
6. Season with salt and pepper to taste.