Eat Simpler

My friends Megan and T.J. gave me a book called Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison a while ago. It’s part cookbook, part gardening book, and part manual to plants. It’s a gem, and you should add it to your bookshelf immediately. You can learn the scientific names for all your favorite vegetables as well as an abundance of fun facts like this: the tomato was thought to be an aphrodisiac when it was introduced to Europeans, earning it the name pomme d’amour (love apple).

Last night, I made Deborah Madison’s cauliflower with saffron, pepper flakes, parsley and pasta. I was looking for a simple, comforting dish that wouldn’t require too much prep. I have found saffron to be difficult to cook with in the past because it is so easily overwhelmed by other flavors. However, not only did this dish allow the delicate saffron to shine through in flavor, it also imbued the meal with a lovely yellow hue.

Madison suggests using shells, but since I’m making a feeble attempt to eat gluten-(almost)-free, I used Trader Joe’s brown rice fusilli.  Here’s my version, slightly modified. I used a bit less than a full head of cauliflower, and I didn’t boil it first as Madison suggests because I wanted to keep my dishes to a minimum. I also didn’t have fresh parsley on hand, so I used to a heaping helping of dried parsley.

Deborah Madison Cauliflower Saffron Pasta

Saffron Cauliflower Pasta

Ingredients
1 cauliflower (about 1 lb), broken into small florets
2 Tbs olive oil, plus more for tossing the pasta
1 onion, finely diced
2 pinches of saffron threads (I was pretty liberal with my saffron)
1 large clove garlic, minced (I used a cube of Dorot)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
sea salt
1 teaspoon dried parsley or 4 Tbs finely chopped fresh parsley
8 ounces of pasta
Grated aged cheese such as parmesan or crumbled feta

Directions
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and prepare the pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saffron and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft. Add the garlic, pepper flakes, and the parsley. Give everything a good quick stir, then mix in the cauliflower, making sure it gets coated in the seasonings. Add 1/2 cup of water, and season with salt. Cook until the cauliflower is tender.

When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain it and add it in with the cauliflower mixture. Turn off the heat, add a little more oil, and integrate everything together. Add parmesan and season with additional salt and red pepper flakes as desired.

 

 

The Wind Brought Them to Texas

My friends Caitlin and Jed are on a world tour for the next 365 days. They quit their jobs. They sold their condo in Chicago. They packed up 6 pairs of underwear each (no, seriously…I’m not joking).

And one of the first stops on their journey was to visit us in Texas!

So this past weekend, we gave them our best Texas tour (within 200 miles). We took them to First Friday in Downtown Bryan where we introduced them to our College Station friends and to Big Red margaritas. We took them to Bryan’s only gay bar, Halo, for a night of dancing and drag queens. We took them to Lexington for BBQ (Caitlin and I ate kind bars and yogurt, since we’re both not the beef-consuming kind).

Along the way, we stopped and took obligatory bluebonnet photos.

Caitlin and Jed at Snows

lingandme

CSC_0229

On Saturday night, we took them to the eastside of Austin to enjoy food truck pizza and beers at Violet Crown Social Club. We showed them a little of 6th Street. After no luck finding a decent place to stay, we threw caution to the wind and settled on a Super 8. It was not so super (particularly the plethora of cop cars in the parking lot when we got back from our evening out), but it worked out. On Sunday afternoon, we gnoshed on vegetarian vittles at one of my favorite Austin restaurants, Bouldin Creek Cafe, and then parted ways in the parking lot.

bouldincreekgroup

Caitlin and I have been friends since freshman year of college. She was one of my bridesmaids. This girl is like family to me. I’m in awe of her courage. Not everyone has the cojones to give up the life with which they’ve grown comfortable and go out in search of the unknown. If there’s anyone who will be a pro at it, it’s Caitlin. In college, she studied abroad in Belfast. After we graduated, she was in the Peace Corps in Zambia for two years. I was always amazed by her enthusiasm and her adaptability. And, really, anyone who can poop in a pit deserves some kind of award.

I am hoping to take a page from her book as I prepare for my trip to Brazil. Thanks to her infinite knowledge, I’m learning about things like traveler’s underwear, which I’ve already purchased three pair of. I’m hoping that I can be as easygoing as she is, as willing to open myself up to new experiences… as willing to go wherever the wind takes me.

Safe travels, my friends. Hope to see you soon, perhaps on the other side of the world.

 

scrapsheader

 

Lately I feel like my patience has worn thin. I feel judgmental and harsh and quick to take a negative stance. And as a result, I’m angry at myself.

I consider myself an open-hearted person, someone who sees the good in others and tries to give people the benefit of the doubt. I’m someone who chooses to trust before I cast doubt, even at my own expense. But certain things can easily set me over the edge: I don’t have much patience for carelessness, laziness or–perhaps worst of all–bad pet owners (who frequently embody the former two traits).

The other morning, I went to a gas station before work to fill up. My parents always warned me to never let get my car down to E, but I didn’t heed their advice this time–shame on me. Low and behold, I swiped my card to get an error message. So, I got back in my car, drove to a second pump and got the same message.

As I walked inside to ask the attendant what caused the problem, I had to silently tell myself to be kind and compassionate. It wasn’t her fault, after all. She told me there was a technical glitch and all pumps were down. But that didn’t quell the riptide of rage that rolled inside of me. “Why the hell didn’t you put a note on the pumps?! Now I’m going to be late to work!”

If you close your eyes, you can hear the fabric of my patience ripping every so slightly.

And now for the bad pet owner part of this post.

Recently, a good friend found a dog in the park. She and her husband kept the dog for three days and tried to find the owners, posting pictures on every public message board in town and making calls to the local shelters.

When the dog owner eventually turned up, she was rude and ungrateful. Ultimately, she refused to reimburse them for the vet bill my friends had incurred to make sure the dog was healthy. Instead of gratitude for not taking her pet to the shelter, the woman posted hateful comments on her public Facebook feed. That same feed, by the way, was bereft of any “LOST DOG” posts.

Rrrrrippppppp. Another tear, this time much wider.

I’m also not very patient with myself. With every subtle change in my weight, I find myself making self deprecating remarks out loud–at the very least I should censor myself.

I become exasperated when I don’t keep up with housework as I should, instead of accepting the fact that three animals create a junkload of fur that blows around my baseboards like tumbleweeds. I’m not getting rid of my pets, and I’m not shaving them, so fur is inevitable. I might as well deal with it and move on.

Last night, I found myself sitting in my friend Astrid’s living room talking about beauty and creativity. She is an expert quilter, and I had asked her to help me learn the art of quilting. As we sifted through her overflowing scrap bins, I felt a bit calmer.

The serene feeling continued to envelope me as I started sewing; the gentle hum of the machine connecting unmatched segments of fabric became an Om. Yellow to gray to striped to spotted. The monotony of the needle going up and down. The refilling of the bobbin. The cutting and connecting of cloth.

Quilting is tedious and time-consuming and it hurts my back… but it’s a perfect exercise in patience.

The castaways of past sewing projects and torn pillowcases become reborn into a beautiful blanket that will keep you warm for years. What a glorious reminder and a true labor of love.

Hopefully with continued practice, I will gradually stitch up the tears of impatience I’ve created within myself. After all, every soul needs to be wrapped in a patchwork quilt. And I have quite a lot of scraps that need to be mended.

Words

I have always loved words. In school, the vocabulary portion of my English classes was always one of my favorites. Today, I keep a Google doc of words that are new to me to try to amplify my vocabulary. Today’s addition: bivouac. I discovered it in Scott Stossel’s eloquent prose in The Atlantic, a heartbreaking but also empowering tale about his lifelong struggle with crippling anxiety. It’s inspiring that Stossel writes such a candid exposé of his mental illness, even if I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when he described clogging a toilet at the Kennedy estate. I wish more people would be so brave–to write so honestly, that is, not to clog powerful political potties (insert “they’re already filled with plenty of shit” joke here).

Perhaps related to being a logophile is the thrill I derive from learning a new language. I’m currently learning Portuguese for an upcoming trip to Brazil. Throughout the process, I’m frequently amazed by the way the human mind works. Words I didn’t know I knew form in my mouth inexplicably. There are so many theories about learning a new language–the number of times you must repeat a word before it’s cemented in your brain, the amount of time you can practice a new language daily before the exercise is futile, the association of a word with a picture to create a better linkage in your brain. For me, it’s a combination of all of these things.

Portuguese is a beautiful, lilting language, with a cadence at times reminiscent of Italian. I try not to get self-conscious about how slowly I speak or the fact that I frequently butcher grammar. And my new Brazilian friends are always patient and encouraging. Como se diz, “I forgot how to say…?” Even with my constant blunders, the process of learning the words is fascinating–as I type the word words, my brain is buzzing palavras palavras palavras. 

In my opinion, the best part about learning a language is the way it makes you relate to yourself and shapes how you interact with the world. As I speak another language, I find that I take on a new persona, and I think this is true with any bilingual or trilingual person. I’m sure my mom, who was born in Poland, reinvented a part of herself through language during her transition to America at the age of 18. English gave her a chance to start over.

For me, the careful, calculated way I attempt to speak Portuguese serves as a reminder to me to be more selective in the words I choose daily. I’m more attentive to what I’m saying, how I say it, and the message I want to convey. Sadly, this is something I think most people (myself included) fail at daily. Comment sections on websites and YouTube always reinforce the fact that most people don’t think before they speak (or type). Sorry for so many poop references in one post, but we’ve become a world of verbal diarrhea. We don’t think before we excoriate others with our words. We call people ugly, stupid, bad parents, and worse at the drop of a hat. A journalist posts something we disagree with and there are those who tell him to kill himself. I’m not yet a parent, but I struggle with the idea of bringing my children up in a world where cruelty has become so convenient.

I don’t have an easy ending to this post. It’s been a lot of ideas in one, and I apologize for the stream-of-consciousness. But that’s the great thing about words–they eddy in all directions, and like fireflies, we catch the ones that sparkle most when they come along.

Yarnage

So we got a dog. Six months ago to the day I picked up Libby at the animal shelter. Simba and Fish Taco were like, “What the hell, man?” And, I’ll admit, initially I was asking myself the same question. Adapting to a dog is kind of a big deal. There’s a lot more fur to clean up. Your tiny objects are all in sudden peril of becoming chew toys. The cat litter becomes a sacred space that you must protect with your life lest it become puppy breathmints. Truth be told, though, she’s been great, and Patrick and I are both madly in love with her.

However, we’re still getting used to some of her antics. Over Christmas break, my mom taught me how to knit. I had left out several balls of yarn while I went to run errands one day.

And I came home  to find this.

yarnage1

She did NOT think it was a big deal.

yarnage2
Apparently, she had ripped the wrappers off each ball of yarn and then run through the house with them like she was laying a trail.

yarnage4
It only took me about 45 minutes to re-ravel (is that a word?) the yarn, and as I did, I thought about some metaphor I’ve since forgotten.

yarnage3
And the whole time, Libby looked at me like I was crazy. Why was I putting away the neverending toy?

yarnage5
Later I found a ball of yarn in my bed. Libby says Fish Taco did it.