Bittersweet Guilt

I did a couple of stupid things last night, and spent the better part of today ruminating on them, feeling wretched.

This morning, on the ferry ride home, I ran into an old friend. Her enthusiasm for her new camera, her ready smile, her delight in the beauty of the landscape, and her good old-fashioned kindness penetrated my cloak of shame and sorrow and made me smile, too.

I arrived home, collected my dog, and ventured out into the sun. I had a quick indoor picnic of leftovers (the day was too fine, and I was too hungry, to fuss with making an actual picnic. Sometimes – often, actually – the perfect is the enemy of the good).

haste meal
haste meal: boiled egg, matzoh with goat cheese and tzatziki, grilled asparagus, carrot salad, arugula

I met many people who were delighted by my dog. I wrote things while sitting in the sun, drinking coffee. I ate two big scoops of gelato (pistachio, coconut) and drank a beer.

I reflected on my transgressions, resolved to do better in the future. Guilt can be instructive. All those facebook posts would have you believe that guilt has no place in a healthy person’s heart, that worry is a waste, that anxiety, in all its forms, is a bad thing.

But if we felt no guilt for the wrong we did, what incentive would we have to do right? Sure, there is intrinsic gratification in performing acts of kindness, in bringing others pleasure and happiness, in helping people. But sometimes it is equally rewarding to disregard the feelings and needs of others. In matters of public interest, there are laws to keep us in check. But in interpersonal matters, feelings of guilt and shame act as a check on bad behavior and can serve as an indicator that we’ve been in error.

I think that morality is, to a significant extent, inborn, that feelings of guilt enable us to learn from mistakes and avoid future transgressions: For social animals like us, it’s adaptive to feel shame. We don’t need the rubric of religion to teach us what is right and wrong – we need only listen to the accusatory murmur from within. (What is considered “wrong,” is, of course, partially socially constructed, but there are a lot of universals.)

this is a "small"
this is a “small.” and my hand is really dry.

Of course, guilt can be paralyzing, and overly zealous self-excoriation can be a vice. So I had to back up off of it and eat some ice cream, sit in the sun and pet my dog, give my fallible self a break.

Incidentally, I love a cake cone: No sweet, crunchy waffle cones for me. The blank-slate neutrality of a cake cone’s flavor (or lack thereof), its airy crispness and the way it melts on your tongue, is the perfect foil for ice cream’s sweet, smooth richness.

And, in my experience, ice cream is a panacea for bad feelings.

styrofoamy goodness
styrofoamy goodness

Biscuit Rescue

Peanut butter banana biscuit. The only thing that would make this healthier is a big cup of coffee with booze (bourbon, Frangelico, etc.) in it.

buttermilk biscuit, banana, peanut butter
buttermilk biscuit, banana, peanut butter

In a perfect world, every biscuit would be eaten within twenty minutes of leaving the oven. In reality, biscuits often linger past their prime. There are those who would argue that a day-old biscuit doesn’t deserve the three-or-so inches of space it occupies. But I, ever loathe to waste food, find that to toast an old biscuit, and then amply spread it with something delicious, is a good compromise. It’s not a fresh biscuit, of course, but it’s still perfectly lovely if you approach it on its own terms. Plus, you get to hear it sizzling vigorously in the toaster as the butter heats up.

In addition to slathering them with peanut butter, you can top old biscuits with ice cream for a quick-and-dirty shortcake, cover them in gravy or soup, fry them into little buttery croutons. And, of course, there’s always Nutella.

 

Seder

As someone who doesn’t get too jazzed about holidays in general, I really like Passover. The themes of renewal and liberation,  the components of storytelling, cultural continuity, remembrance and gratitude are poignant and universally appealing. And, of course, there’s the food: Matzoh ball soup, charoset, horseradish, copious wine. Sitting around the table with friends and family, recounting the story of the Jews’ liberation from slavery in Egypt, celebrating our freedom and giving thanks for our blessings is a wonderful way to usher in spring, the season of rebirth. This year, I decided I wanted to host my family’s Seder.

seder table
seder table

When I was a child, I found the Seder itself somewhat excruciating: the reading of the Haggadah in Hebrew, the endless prayers, the seemingly interminable wait for food to appear. The highlight was when the kids got to hide the afikomen (a special piece of matzoh that serves as a symbolic “dessert” and must be present at the Seder’s conclusion) and then “ransom” it back to the person leading the Seder for a dollar.

explaining the seder plte
my dad explains the seder plate

The hell that my dad and his cousins raised during the Seder is part of the family lore; my cousins and I continued this tradition with scatological jokes, lots of giggling, and general irreverence. Now that I’m grown up, though, I find myself drawn to tradition and ritual, comforted by the familiar rhythms of the Passover feast. My family’s version of the Seder is mercifully abbreviated – we don’t read through the entire Haggadah – but this year, I found myself lingering on certain passages, wanting to read more deeply. I enjoyed every minute, and was almost sorry when the time came to eat (almost).

???????????????????????????????We started with these cocktails. I made matzoh ball soup (of course), charoset, rice pilaf, and a frittata with asparagus, goat cheese, and arugula. My mom contributed two gorgeous salads (a carrot salad with mint and coriander, and a green salad with satsumas and shallot vinaigrette). For the matzoh balls, I used a standard recipe from the Joy of Cooking, dressed up with ground coriander, dill, and scallions. I made the broth from vegetable scraps my last roommate and I had been saving in the freezer. When I made the frittata, I lined the sides of the skillet with parchment for easy release. It worked really well, but may have been overkill. I pan-grilled the asparagus that went into it, imparting a bit of delicious, smoky char. The charoset was a Sephardic/Ashkenazi-style hybrid of dried apricots, raisins, apples, toasted almonds, and lots of red wine, flavored with cinnamon, cardamom, and orange and lemon zest. Dessert was strawberry shortcake with biscuits I’d made at work (my family is pretty lax in our avoidance of chametz, or leavened foods), vanilla ice cream, and strawberries that I macerated with vanilla beans and cardamom.

carrots for soup
carrots for soup
legacy stock
legacy stock
matzoh balls!
matzoh balls!

 

frittata
frittata
i love a tiny jar (cardamom)
i love a tiny jar (cardamom)

It was a sweet and nourishing way to celebrate new beginnings, community, and delicious food.

Charoset

Charoset symbolizes the mortar that the Isrealites used on Egyptian building projects during their enslavement. It also represents the sweetness of hope in the midst of struggle.

1/2 cup dried apricots, finely chopped

1/2 cup raisins

1 apple, minced

1/2 cup toasted almonds, coarsely chopped

1 inch piece orange zest

1 inch piece lemon zest

1 T finely minced fresh ginger

1 cinnamon stick

6 cardamom pods

3 cups of red wine

Combine all ingredients except the almonds and ginger in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer on low for about an hour. Alternatively, you can soak everything overnight, as I did, and simmer the day of until it reaches a consistency you like. When the mixture is reduced and the fruit it soft, remove from the heat and stir in the almonds and ginger.

Matzoh Balls

4 eggs

1/3 cup + 1 T seltzer water

1 cup matzoh meal

1 t salt

1/2 t black pepper

1 T fresh dill, finely chopped

1 T thinly sliced scallions or chives

1 t ground coriander

Beat eggs in a large bowl. Stir in the salt and seltzer. Gently fold in the matzoh meal, pepper, dill, scallions, and coriander until just combined. Cover and let rest in the fridge, at least one hour or overnight. Scoop a scant tablespoon of the mixture and form into balls with wet hands, using a light touch. Set on an oiled plate and cover with plastic wrap or a wet towel while you form the rest of the balls. Drop into gently boiling salted water or broth and cook for 30 minutes. Serve in broth with the garnishes of your choice (I used rainbow carrots, arugula, and dill).

 

This is What 420 Looks Like Where Weed is Legal

I set out to talk to people about how they felt on 4/20 now that pot is legal in our state.

The first guy I asked was a guy named Luke. He was walking his Shiba Inu. He hadn’t realized it was 4/20 until someone had mentioned it at the Dubliner earlier that day. His dog was named Yuki, which he told me is a unisex name. Yuki is male. Luke is a professional dog walker.

Luke and Yuki
Luke and Yuki

I made my way to Fremont.

There were three young women sitting on the patio of 9 Million in Unmarked Bills (writing out the full name almost made me lose the will to see this post through. But 9 Mil sounds weird too. Curses!), drinking white wine. I put the question to them, and one hesitantly explained that KEXP had reminded her earlier. Other than that, none of them had thought about it. They all had on cool jackets and seemed to find me really strange. They let me take their picture.

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, I lost enthusiasm for my project pretty quick.

However: I did sit at the bar for a while, writing, and witnessed a truly impressive karaoke display courtesy of a guy named Connor, who’d worked alone all day, making and serving pizza. What a badass.

I also talked to a really friendly PCC worker about fruit. I was contemplating shortcake, he suggested chirimoya or champagne mangoes, both of which the produce department had at peak ripeness. I wanted something more conventional and juicy and acidic, like strawberries or rhubarb. Apparently PCC will have fresh rhubarb tomorrow and I am excited.

I experimented with singing really loud in public and letting people think I’m “crazy.”

I talked to other people and other things happened but I’m tired now and need to go to bed so I can get up and cook a Passover feast.

A final note: Seattle freeze? Psssssssssssssshhhhht. Just be willing to engage people and they’ll engage you right back.

Easter Chocolate

I grew up Seventh Day Adventist, with little bit of cultural Judaism and scientific agnosticism thrown into the mix.

My grandfather was a preacher, and my mom’s side of the family was steeped in a deep Southern religiosity that circumscribed every aspect of life. By the time I came into the picture, the intensity was somewhat diluted: My Jewish dad wasn’t religious. I did go to church every Saturday as a kid (an agonizing experience occasionally brightened by a post-church potluck: Seventh Day Adventists, as a rule, are damn good cooks), and dutifully explained to my friends that Saturday is the real Sabbath. But holidays in my household weren’t invested with much religious significance. Ironically, the rituals that were the most moving and laden with meaning were Jewish ones: the lighting of the candles on Hanukah and Shabbat, the Passover Seder. Christmas was an occasion for presents, and Easter was an occasion for candy.

In many religious traditions, Easter’s sacredness and solemnity rivals that of Christmas. Which makes sense: Easter represents the culmination of the story that began with Christ’s birth, the fulfillment of the promise of the nativity. Many Christians attend midnight mass, break the Lenten fast, and partake in a range of rituals (many of which are delightfully bizarre and freighted with sexual undercurrents. See Dyngus Day). For me, though, Easter was about chocolate, and chocolate only (okay, bunnies too).

On Easter morning, the doorbell would ring. On the doorstep, there’d be a basket (presumably left by the cunning and secretive Easter bunny), filled with that springy bright-green paper that’s supposed to represent grass and festooned prettily with ribbons. Inside, there was candy. Chocolate bunnies. Cadbury’s Mini Eggs (oh, the Mini Eggs!). Maybe some other things? I only cared about the chocolate . Later, there’d be an Easter egg hunt. My family didn’t go in for hard-boiling and dying real eggs: Instead, hollow plastic ones were filled with yet more candy. Discovering a tiny packet of sugary treats nestled in the grass was an occasion for the kind of ecstatic pleasure that seems so accessible to children before a certain age.

My cousin and me, Easter morning ca. 1993
My cousin and me, Easter morning, ca. 1993

The last time I got an Easter basket, I think I was twelve or thirteen, just embarking on a tumultuous adolescence characterized by alienation, resentment and foolhardy impulse-following. My mom made me a beautiful Easter basket with a Care Bear plushy in it. (I had loved the Care Bears as a little kid.) It was a touching gesture, and the memory of it (and the accompanying memory of the anguish I caused my parents during that time) gives me a little pang of sadness.

This Easter, my chocolate isn’t cloying and waxy and fashioned into a gimmicky shape: It’s organic dark chocolate, rescued from a dumpster and eaten with almonds and raisins out of a jar lid that’s standing in for a plate. Dark chocolate’s deep funky richness is one of my favorite tastes. Chewy, tart raisins and crunchy, round-flavored almonds provide the perfect counterpoint to chocolate’s bittersweet smoothness. With a ready supply of really good free chocolate, I eat it pretty much every day.

I want to make an Easter basket for someone, to ring their doorbell and run away, to give them a little flicker of primal delight. But I won’t, because I can’t think of the right person. I want to hunt for eggs and wear a pastel dress and loll in the grass tomorrow, drunk on candy. Instead, I’ll don black, and go to work, as families celebrate the risen Christ and children revel in the opportunity to glut themselves on candy.

jar lid chocolate
jar lid chocolate

That’s okay, though: I’ve got Tom Waits to buoy my spirits with a sweet hit of earthy absurdity. And as for any need I might have to connect with the symbolism of spiritual and physical renewal: I’ve got Passover for that.

 

Fresh Ink

I was done with work, but I didn’t feel like going home. Instead I biked down the hill to see what was happening in the throbbing Pike/Pine corridor. Little drops of moisture stuck to my coat and the pavement shone slick with the lights of cars.

Outside of the Wild Rose, a woman flagged me down, suggested I step inside for a beer. It was karaoke night. I shrugged and locked up my bike, went inside. The crowd was thin. I ordered a Ranier; it was $4, which seemed kind of steep, but I guess is pretty normal.

(When I was in Idaho last summer, my friend and I stumbled into a small-town bar that could’ve been frozen in 1975. Beers were $2, shots of whiskey (good whiskey), $4. The jukebox took quarters, and was stocked with Hank Williams, Marty Robbins, Charlie Pride, Pasty Cline. There was a pot-bellied stove, a strict cash-only policy, indoor smoking. The proprietor was a half-deaf old guy. The only other patrons were three young men and one woman. It was her birthday. She crossed her arms and complained that she was tired; she just wanted to be in Twin Falls, with her kid.

My friend and I played pool against each other, then shuffleboard with the locals. We listened to one of them rambling about his desire to go to culinary school, interwoven with a vague story about a recent arrest. When we’d been there a while and everyone was standing outside, passing a pipe, I remembered that I had presents in my car.

I’d sent a care package to a soldier in Afghanistan a couple of Christmases before, but it had gotten sent back (my pen pal was fine – she’d gone home). I’d left it, unopened, at my grandparent’s house in Colorado and retrieved it on this trip. There was a little fancy pad of paper, a Calvin and Hobbes comic, some Oreos, all prettily wrapped. I gave the Calvin and Hobbes book and a jar of almond chocolate spread to the woman for her birthday. She exclaimed, over and over, that this was the most random thing that had ever happened to her.)

At the Wild Rose, I sang one song (the Doors, “Backdoor Man”) and left before the karaoke contest started. I went into Big Mario’s to get a slice. I was hoping to find an appealing stranger to banter with, but all I got was a guy commenting on the steam rising from my pizza as I wadded it inelegantly into my mouth. Everyone was with someone, and the bar was loud and crowded.

I ate my pizza and drank a Hamm’s and watched a closed-captioned Mark Wahlberg get slapped around by apes on the TV. Hamm’s tastes like passion fruit. It’s good with oily hot pizza.

I thought about getting another slice, decided against it. A guy out on the sidewalk cheerfully touted his wares (weed, blow) to passersby. I got back on my bike, coasted down the sidewalk towards downtown. At Third and Pike, the usual nighttime assortment of addicts in various stages of decay. The D Line to Ballard was 15 minutes out. Still restless, I biked down to Second, thinking of the Clever Bottle and vinegary cocktails in frosty copper cups.

On the way was a tattoo studio I’d often seen from the window of a bus. I’d always thought it looked pretty dubious: stridently glowing against Belltown’s darkness, open late. I walked in. There were three people working, all women, all really nice in a refreshing no-bullshit way. Even though it was 11:30 pm, they gave me some paper and a pen. I signed forms, used the bathroom. A sign above the sink read “employees must carve Slayer into forearms before returning to work.” I realized that, as of this year, I’ll have been tattooed for half my life. I remembered a time when having a tattoo was still sort of edgy. I lay down on the table.

 

A Cocktail for Spring

Spring’s the time for celebrating freshness, vivid bright flavors and colors. Tender baby vegetables make their long-awaited appearance, new leafy greens invite you to make big salads strewn with torn herbs. In terms of fruit, though, citrus still rules the day.

I created this cocktail to celebrate the bounty of spring, while using fruit that’s available year-round.

Persephone’s Promise

For one cocktail. This recipe can easily be multiplied and served by the pitcher!

3/4 ounce thyme simple syrup

1 0z Meyer lemon juice

2 oz gin (I used Counter Gin from Seattle distillery Batch 206, but any mid-to-top-shelf gin will do)

Meyer lemon twist

2 big thyme sprigs

Make thyme simple syrup: In a small heavy saucepan, bring 1 cup of water and 2 cups of sugar to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add a handful of fresh thyme (6-8 nice big sprigs). Simmer five minutes, then let steep (at least 30 minutes and up to an hour). Strain out thyme and pour into a clean jar. This syrup will keep, refrigerated, for a couple of months. You can use it in sodas and desserts as well as cocktails.

Muddle one thyme sprig with ice in jar or cocktail shaker; add gin, juice, and syrup and shake. Strain into a tumbler or highball glass over ice (preferably a single big ice cube). Garnish with the Meyer lemon zest and thyme sprig. For a refreshing cocktail to drink all day, add a splash of soda.

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