Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Something New

This is Kristina Gill. She is a cookbook author, and a food and travel photographer, she lives in Italy, and for the last month I have been riveted by her Instagram stories! She posts good stuff. I'm talking about potatoes, pasta, desserts, platters of food that make you want to get on a plane and go! It's a bit of a torture, but I keep coming back for more. I've taken to thinking of her posts as my bedtime story, and I settle in for the recipes, inspiration, the cute dogs, the mindful activism, the french fries. She tucks me in, and puts nice thoughts in my head, with all of her sharing.

When I learned Kristina Gill was doing an Instagram Live interview, with Black Food Folks, I had to tune in, and get to know her better. And somewhere in the middle of her talking with Clay Williams, she said something about artichokes, something about doing things in new ways, "In the United States people are always breaking off leaves and scraping them with their teeth." I felt seen: I was in middle school when I tasted my first artichoke, and since then I've only ever steamed them, then gnawed on every leaf. I commented, I have artichokes, please, what should I do with them that's "different?" And Kristina Gill replied! She DM'd me with a recipe, and encouragement! And how nice is that? It's as nice as Kristina Gill, that's how nice. She shares, generously promoting fellow cooks and photographers, engaging with them effusively, kindly. I like her easy manners, what, and how, she shares posts on Instagram, her modesty, even her smile... it's all disarming, warm. I saw that on IG, and watching the interview, it was a pleasure to see more of this gracious woman.

Though I did not have all of the ingredients on hand, and I soon discovered my artichokes were not super fresh, I decided to do what I could to try something new with artichokes. I began with soaking them in cold water with lemon juice, which I think helped to freshen them up a bit. Now, if you want the recipe, you should buy her book, Tasting Rome. And I will add... please try to buy it from an independent, Black owned book seller, and please please read about what a raw deal Black, Indigenous, and People of Color get in the food, and publishing world.

Peeling leaves from the stem and base, then revealing the dent... all new to me! And the dent is the spot to slice off the leaves, and expose the choke in the middle. I scooped all of that out, then quartered the heart.

I did have garden mint, garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil, and I added those to the quartered hearts in a hot pan, with a squeeze of lemon juice. Sadly, I did not have Pecorino Romano nor a crusty loaf of fresh baked bread. But the artichokes started steaming and bubbling under the lid, and smelling amazing. I texted her again, about not having good bread on hand, confessing I would probably serve the dish with crackers, and she totally put me at ease, again, replying "Trader Joe's ritz knockoffs ARE GOOD." Yeah, I like this woman. And I really like this new way of preparing artichokes.

My cookbook arrived. I am looking forward to making more new somethings.

Mr Williams, don't hesitate, don't be intimidated! Kristina Gill can walk you through cooking a worthwhile artichoke dish!

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Obscurity, Change, Grief, and Memory

There are nearly 33,000 photos on my phone, and recently the subjects are about 92% flowers, cats, and food, 6% political memes, and 2% family and friends. This is troubling to me. I notice how few pictures I have of my sons, of Geoff, and even fewer of friends. If Chickenblog is representative of our days, of what we are doing, what I am thinking about, then I suppose it's accurate, in a way, that there are no recent pictures of my Mom, or cousins, or aunts... not now, during a pandemic, while we are isolating. Then I question myself, What about the people living here, or even the friends that mask up and hang out? Where are those pictures?

I am certain that these days are changing us, altering our culture, our behavior. We move and act to cope, to manage living in the same space, for days, weeks, months on end. We compromise, and accommodate, we coordinate, cooperate, and negotiate. For all of the challenges, and self-regulating concessions we accept and practice, I believe we are doing well. We share the same values, and concerns, and we get along. So. That helps. Really, I can't imagine how it would feel to go through this if we didn't agree about wearing masks, or if one of us insisted on going places, taking more risks than necessary. Culture and behavior are not fixed, immovable, but it does take extreme measures, big shifts, to change how we act, what we do, collectively. I think the pandemic and social isolation have been significant enough events to change our behavior, our culture... not only in our home, but in the world. This likely, in part, accounts for the social revolution, the protest, the discomforts, and the insights and inspirations, we are witnessing, sharing, resisting. We are growing, or at least being challenged to grow, change, evolve, to adjust our thinking. We are in this together, literally, figuratively. It seems that this proximity, makes us aware of things that are wrong, things that are intimate, unfair, need attention, need care. For some, this imposes ideas that disrupt intrinsic, deep seated beliefs, and even forces us to examen what we know and compare and contrast it with truth, with what other people have experienced, or have been dealt.

Anyway, there will be lifetimes of study and reflection on the changes we are seeing, on the intersection of progressivism, politics, climate change, and pandemics, and how they marked this time, this era, and touched everything, everyone. In other words, it's a lot to think about, to express, to figure out.

I tend to recognize large issues, complex concepts and events, and distill them, simplify them... relate them to what I see close at hand. And I think I am not taking as many photographs of us, of my sons, and husband, of Bambi, and friends that come by, of Maria, because we are so close. I detect the intimacy and proximity of us, of seven people living together, working, studying, playing, everyday, for an indeterminate time. Blogging has always been a balancing act for sharing, and being personal, but not over-sharing, not being too personal. I'm sure I have erred in both directions. Indeed, I have been admonished, both, for over-sharing, and for being obtuse. However unsuccessful I am, or am not, I am sensitive to the issue, and want to be respectful, without actually giving up on writing, on being a blogger.

My brain plods on... how, when we are all here, together, am I taking fewer pictures of people? It seemed odd to me, a strange kind of omission. Sometimes, I recognize having few pictures of someone I love, and I worry that I have neglected to demonstrate my attention, my care of them, for them, when I don't have pictures of them. To me, it feels as if I have not been seeing them, and it makes me uncomfortable, sad. Have you ever been left out of a yearbook, a collage of family pictures, noticed when you aren't in someone's collection of photographs? I find it hurtful, and I take great care and worry a lot about not overlooking people when I make slideshows, or post images. I feel that who is missing from pictures can be as meaningful as who is included. Some patterns have simple explanations that make sense and don't represent a sad narrative. There can be, however, very truthful and revealing narratives in photographs. I think about this a lot, and I care very much about who is in my pictures, who is not, and why, and how they are represented. Initially, I was not aware of the change, or more precisely, why I changed... but I have considered this at length and I have realized that I am being distant because of our proximity. We are close, all of the time, and we cannot get away, so there is this gracious shift we have made, mostly unconsciously, to give each other room, to not notice even what is in plain sight. As a photographer, I am already aware of some people's discomfort about being photographed, and I want to be sensitive and respectful of those feelings. Now we are so much in each others' company, and have little choice about being seen, all of the time, I am more than ever taking care not to be invasive, not to ask too much of people. Candid shots are a delicate matter, a trust act, and I don't want to press. And posed pictures, asking people to smile, look at the camera, feels like asking too much.

I could be projecting. I know I don't feel the same, familiar to my own self. The world is strange, and I feel strange in it. And it's all so muddled! There is probably too much closeness and proximity between all of us living in this house, and then when we see friends, or neighbors walking by, we keep a safe distance, we hide our mouths, our noses, our expressions. What do the sociologists, and palm readers, make of all this? Who are we, when we live in this new way, with these new norms, and customs? I've started taking more selfies, even shared a selfie video... inexplicable choices, for me. I know these five months have been some of the most introspective of my life, and I have been jolted by thoughts of being very uncomfortable living with me. So, how have I become ok with sharing pictures I take of me? "Ok," but not good, not easy.
July 24, 2020

I was dabbling with all those deep thoughts when my cousin texted me, telling me about our Abuela. Along with a 1,000 other feelings and thoughts, I formed the impression that everything I had been trying to express here was senseless. I nearly deleted it, and wouldn't even read it. I suppose this is why they say don't make big decisions when you are mourning, and the other pearl of wisdom, don't make a permanent change because of a temporary feeling. I suppose this should have been taken into stronger consideration before I cut off my hair in four whacks. Sadly, the hair mess is the temporary situation, and the loss of all of my Grandmothers is permanent.

Saturn and Jupiter, my binoculars... very poorly captured with my phone. I don't mind "bad" pictures. Not when they recall good moments, when they can evoke the memory and wonder of an event, like seeing the moons left and right of Jupiter, of the cool July night when we hosted friends for a movie night and campfires, heard the owls, and saw bats.

When I was 14 years old, and staying with my Abuelos in Tacupeto, I saw something beautiful in the night sky. There was a star, or so I thought, that was lingering so near the crescent moon, it looked almost affixed to the tip of the moon, like a set jewel. A Kodak camera couldn't capture it, I had no binoculars, or even the notion that we can see both stars and planets. I doubt I even realized how ideal the circumstances were for stargazing, where we were, far from city lights, pollution. I've longed to see that again... to understand what I was seeing, to share the beauty of it with others. It would have been summer, July or August... it could have been Venus, not a star. And on this August 15th, before sunrise, I am going to watch for the crescent moon with Venus shining nearby.
Is it funny-strange, or ironic, meaningful, or plain coincidence, that I was thinking so much about pictures, taking them, what they tell us, what we miss, what we hope to capture... when I learned that my Abuela died? I am in that frame of mind, looking for signs and connection, feeling adrift, and wanting to find meaning, not merely coincidence. I don't have very many photographs from my childhood, of me with family, of places we were. And as many pictures as I took, when I was 14, and 37, of Tacupeto and Abuela, of her kitchen, and the places we hiked to, I am heartbroken for not having more.

I wish I had more pictures. I wish I could put the words to the heartache and longing, and make some sense of all this hurt. It's too terrible to comprehend that so much goodness is gone, and gone forever.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Pura Fe

Fortunately, I have written about her before, because, for now, I am not ready to say much more. My Abuela has gone to heaven. She was pura fe, pure faith. I want to add thoughts and impressions: I couldn't do her justice, because I'm too raw, too sad. I've been reading lovely tributes, and heartfelt accounts of her faith, her cooking, her ceaseless prayers, and I am so thankful for those recollections and reflections from the family... it's nice to see her from all those points of view, to be reminded how far and wide her love reached. There are seemingly countless good things to say about her, to cherish about her. She blessed us. What a gift she has been.

Up to now, I have had living Abuelas, Grandmothers... truly beautiful, loving, inspiring women. I am so thankful that I knew them and loved them, that Eunice, Nancy, and Antonia lived long, interesting, generous lives. That should be enough, or more than enough, but it's a terrible, sad thing to be in the world without them.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Thinking of You

My Aunt Liz shared a post on FB, about dementia and "ambiguous loss." Ambiguous loss is loss without closure, without clear understanding, and it can happen in many ways, including through dementia, Alzheimer's, infertility, depression, disappearance of a loved one, and I think a failure of justice, extreme disruption of "normal," like in a pandemic, or because of systemic racism. I imagine, a lot of us are experiencing some degree of ambiguous loss these days. I think about friends and family who are isolated, who have suffered trauma, who are anxious, and when I expand these thoughts to the world, to all of us... well, it's too much! I think of our needs, for compassion, for support, for aid, and relief, for justice, for simple kindness. I think of how thin we are spread, each of us in our own ways. These are not easy times, and I think that even when we do get real leadership, and some respite from violence, division, this pandemic, and tyranny, we will need even more healing and good will than ever.

The world feels fragile, and problems are too many, too big. I've had conversations with friends where inevitably one of us apologizes, aware that our troubles might be a burden on the other, because everyone is struggling, everyone is having a hard time, and it might feel selfish, or asking too much to share what we are feeling, our worries. I feel so fortunate, because whether I am expressing my unrest, frustration, or someone is sharing theirs, we have taken turns, listening, reassuring, comforting, supporting each other. And that, simply listening, acknowledging one another, makes all the difference. I wish there were a bigger solution, a bolder insight, but this will have to do, for now... it helps to be heard, to be seen, and it helps to listen, to acknowledge. We cannot fix everything, and we can't manage everything... I remind myself, sigh, and resolve to keep it simple, listen, make small differences, do what I can, as best as I can. I think of love, and kindness, and resolve to make my choices and actions motivated by those.

I am thinking of you, friends, and strangers. I am wishing you well, and I am looking forward to gatherings, to an ease of tension, and a restoration of the good pastimes and traditions we have shared, and a rebuilding of things that should have been made fair, just, and good for all, in the first place.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Cilantro Life

Even though I love having lots of fresh cilantro from the garden, I don't despair when the hot weather makes it bolt. Sooner or later cilantro wants to fulfill its destiny and make seeds. You'll know this is happening because the stems lengthen and thicken, and the new leaves stop growing flat and wide; they become narrow, feathery. Then come the flowers, sprays of tiny, white blossoms. Enjoy the flowers, and enjoy the bees that will come, too. They love cilantro flowers. All parts of the plant are edible, and you don't want to miss out on what comes next!
These are coriander seeds, and they came from my cilantro plants. In cooking, the dried fruit we know as coriander is the seed of the cilantro plant, and it's a wonderful and popular flavor in many dishes, including garam masala, albondigas, sausages, and pickling. I keep mine whole, until I am ready to cook with it. Toasting it will heighten the intensity of the citrus-spicy flavor. I crush and grind the dry seeds in my molcajete, a traditional Mexican mortar and pestle.
When cilantro has bolted, the plant gets surprisingly tall, and I love seeing it in the garden, white flowers floating in the breeze. The flavor of the leaves intensifies, though there are fewer to collect. That's ok, I am looking forward to seeing the seeds form. Each tiny white flower, with help from the bees, will make fruit, the coriander. I want them to stay on the plant as long as possible, so they have time to mature, ripen, get round, and full. And as this happens, the plant will look pretty scraggly, acabado. Don't be too hasty to pull it up!
I let my cilantro hold the seeds for as long as possible, and about when the plant keels over, I pull it up from the roots, and find a place to hang it, so the seeds can dry and harden a bit more. I pulled mine out on July 5th, and by the 8th, I saw they were turning from bright green to a pale green, almost golden color. Also, they were attracting birds! Time to save the seeds!
I snipped off the umbels... the stalks of short stems. The seeds are still holding on and this is, along with the hint of green, a sign that they should dry a bit longer. They will dry and harden in this old pan.
This pan has been sitting in my kitchen for seven days. Most of the seeds are golden to toasted brown, and you may notice the distinct ridged texture of the globular fruit... it is a schizocarp. It's time to collect the seeds, a favorite activity of mine. I simply roll or pop the seeds from the stems. They are dry and ready to come off easily. Tiny bits of dried flower parts come off, too, and those can be seperated with a metal strainer. I'm not too concerned about it.

If I am lucky, some of the seeds stayed in the garden bed, and the cilantro will reseed itself. But just in case, I will be planting seeds in a cooler part of the garden, since hot summer days are coming. And I will have plenty of coriander left for cooking with, as well.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Oh, Just Ugh

1. I am sad. I started to list the reasons why, and... ok. yeah. nevermind. Or is it never mind? 2. Even though I committed to crocheting a blanket using the yarn I have on hand, I have already broken with my virtuous scheme, and ordered a few more skeins of yarn. I mean, please, it's no good using all the colors on hand, if they're going to clash. It's bad enough I use cheap acrylic yarn, I don't want to make a green, lavender, blue, yellow, teal, burgundy, and grey blanket. I was progressing at a happy rate, then realized that I don't want to get much further, before introducing the colors that I ordered, because I am still going for "harmonious, scrappy, pleasing, random, organic, unassuming, yet very pretty." Good grief, that sounds like a trope... the young woman in the movie that wears glasses, and scrappy shoes, has no idea she's beautiful. She's plucky and resourceful, a misunderstood outsider on the verge of greatness, brilliant, yet humble, poor, yet not weary enough to look down-trodden. Yeah, that's the blanket I am shooting for!
3. Here's something I wanted to share on Instagram. In Stories. Stories is a nice place to test something out, because it can be deleted, and it disappears after 24 hours. But it turned out longer than expected and I can't get the whole thing to load. I want a tech wand. A wave of my wand and I would understand why one time I had a very long video, and an IG window popped up and asked, "Would you like this long video to upload?" No pop up window option, this time. I'll post it here, instead. No. Nevermind. Never mind. No spellcheck. No autocorrect. No paragraph breaks. And no videos over five minutes. Back to point 1: I am sad.