Since the riots of hatred last Wednesday, it’s hard to get my bearings. Like most of the people I know, the word “unbelievable!” peppers many conversations which are often about despair, fear, insomnia, and especially how little we can do to change this situation at the moment. This is not to say that we-the-people don’t have some power and agency overall, but between now and the inauguration, there’s just a fog of foreboding and uncertainty.
What do when I don’t know what to do? Something/Anything, to riff off the name of one of Todd Rundgren’s old albums. I broke through some of the stagnancy Sunday by cutting colorful things up or out: fabric and vegetables. Finding a quilt pattern involving 128 triangles helped tremendously even if the pre-requisite was searching through my fabric collection, then ironing a whole lot of things. Slicing and dicing cauliflower, pears, potatoes, onions (for a great soup recipe), apples for an apple crisp, and a mess of tomatoes, eggplant, mushrooms, onions, and zucchini (for a veggie lasagna) helped enormously.
Yesterday, I played with color in designing some memes for upcoming workshops, and later, I immersed myself in the chilly sunset sky by walking the wetlands with Kris. I remember how, in much more dire circumstances depicted in Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved (also one of the best books in the universe), Baby Suggs — anything but a baby and dying — could only find meaning in the colors of her quilt. “Took her a long time to finish with blue, then yellow, then green” is a line that stays with me.
Right now though, I look across my room, thankful for the blues and golds in the quilt on the bed and the sky-filled windows. And that’s enough.
I stood in the East Village Friday morning, marveling at a Langston Hughes quote I’ve never seen about falling in love with the energy of New York City each time he returned here. The quote was on an electronic kiosk, and while I got my phone out quickly, it wasn’t quick enough, so I waited for it to re-appear. After over 15 minutes, during which time I calculated that each ad, factoid about the Yankees, or weather update, displayed for 12 seconds, I gave up, figuring I could Google it later.
Things tend to happen fast and vibrantly in NYC, and sometimes a flash of truth vanishes without a trace only to surface again at a time beyond our control. Such is one of the charms of the city of my childhood. While I grew up in Brooklyn and New Jersey, my dad and grandpa had a stamp store in the Nassau and Fulton Street subway arcade, a place I spent hours dreaming of where I’d go and what I’d do while drawing endless pictures of trees, skies, and for some reason, very long snakes wound in crazy patterns. Then I would go above ground and walk.
Which is what I keep doing although the drawing turned to writing (without much mention of snakes but plenty of twisted and wound-up meandering). Walking still takes me above ground, although in Kansas, that’s more metaphorical. In the city, such walking is interspersed with eating (bagels, knishes, Italian pastries, street pizza, and other NYC wonders), and the more I walk, the more I want to walk.
I just got to share all that walking and eating with two long-time friends — Judy, a fellow New-York-to-Kansas transplant, and Denise, a tried and true Kansan who ended up recently moving to California. We wandered extensively through the East Village, often ending up at Veselka (Ukrainian soul food — even if you don’t know what it is, you want it) , sang in the rain while dancing our way to the fabled Veniero’s bakery (greatest Italian bakery on the planet, at least that I know of), subway-ed ourselves to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden (oh, the marvelous Shakespeare garden!), and taxied our tired bodies to a great Italian restaurant and a Broadway Show (go see Come From Away!).
Back home, I’m tired after a long travel day, but I’m also vibrantly refreshed, as if a quote to lift up my life flashed across my heart just long enough for me to fall back in love not just with the city but the gift of being able to wander it so freely with such beloved friends.
P.S. Never did find the Langston Hughes quote on Google, but something better happened: we got to tour Google and visit Glen, a wonderful young man we’ve known most of his life.
Okay, a confession: I wander through my days with great anticipation for the next meal. Even if it’s just a hot cup of strong tea and bowl of brown rice cereal, envisioning what I get to eat next is a great motivator for getting out of bed in the morning and getting off the computer in the evening. I just love food and always have, and eating is surely one of the most fun things a person can do sitting down.
No surprise that food looms large in all my memoirs and novels, whether it’s the hunt for the best fried chicken in Kansas (in the memoir, Poem on the Range), or a vivid description of the magical rotating dessert case in a New Jersey diner (in
About a month before the manuscript was to mosey on over to my publisher, I couldn’t sleep at night because the idea of including recipes kept waking me up. Luckily, Steve Semken, owner of Ice Cube Press, said yes, and then so did some marvelous food geniuses in our community: Nancy O’Connor, educator director of our long-standing food co-op, The Merc, and author ofThe Rolling Prairie Cookbook; Jayni and Frank Carey, who have gathered and created many quintessential Midwestern recipes, particularly in The New Kansas Cookbook;Janet Majure, not only my weight-lifting coach, but a cookbook author with an eye for good dishes; and Lauren Pacheco, Kris Hermanson, and owner of the Ladybird Diner, Meg Heriford, who happens to make some of the greatest pie in the cosmos.
Close to 40 pages of recipes later, the cooking and baking in Miriam’s 40-plus-year journey through America becomes recipes for some of our journeys too. Here’s a sneak preview of two recipes, each named for a character in the book: Batty is Miriam’s mother, originally named Matilda, nicknamed Matty, and then called Batty for reasons you’ll see in the novel. The Acadian Dream Inn is a resort on — where else? — Mount Desert Island of Maine where Miriam and her sister-in-law Cindy commandeered the kitchen to the delight of guests.
Batty learned this recipe from her parental grandmother, who died before Miriam was born. It was a dish the whole family, especially Miriam, loved, so Batty made it often. The smell of this baking filled the kitchen with such warmth and comfort that Batty was drawn to keep making on a regular basis long after she moved to the Southwest, and she even brought it to various potlucks, where others fell in love with the dish.
1 large green cabbage
1 lb ground beef
1 cup uncooked rice
1 large onion chopped into large slices
2 large cans stewed whole tomatoes
1 cup water
1/8 cup lemon juice
1/8 cup honey
1/2 cup golden raisins (optional but highly recommended!)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Boil or steam cabbage until soft enough to roll. While the cabbage is boiling, combine the rice and beef, and season with salt and pepper as desired. Lay out cabbage leaves, and roll in the meat/rice mixture, placing the meat at one end, rolling, then tucking in the sides. Place seam side down in casserole dish. For the sauce, brown chopped onions in pot until softened, add in stewed tomatoes and water, and mix well. Coat the bottom of a casserole pan with sauce mixture, place the cabbage rolls in, seam side down, and add in the rest of the sauce and water. Cover tightly with lid or foil. Bake for approximately three-four hours until done to your desire Add in lemon juice and honey and raisins in last half hour of cooking. Note: this dish can also be prepared in a crockpot.
Makes 6 servings.
Recipe by Lauren Pacheco, based on a recipe from Caryn and Lauren’s grandmother, Molly Prusak.
The Acadian Dream Inn’s Chocolate Zucchini Cake
Miriam and Cindy together created this recipe one year at the inn when they had too much zucchini. It turns out that the zucchini made for an especially rich, even sinful-tasting, cake that everyone loved so much that they kept it on the menu until the inn went under. Both Miriam and Cindy continue to make this on a regular basis just because.
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups unsifted, all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dark cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups zucchini, finely shredded
1 (10-ounce) bag dark chocolate chips, divided
Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.
Place the butter, oil, and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer until well blended. Beat in the eggs, vanilla extract, and buttermilk. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, dark cocoa, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the batter, and blend until well combined. Stir the shredded zucchini, and half of the dark chocolate chips (5 ounces) into the batter. Spoon the batter into a greased and floured 13” x 9” baking dish. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Transfer the cake from the oven to a wire baking rack and, while still hot, sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips over the top. Let them melt and spread evenly over the cake. Variation: dark chocolate frosting can be substituted for the chocolate chip topping.
12 to 16 servings
Recipe by Linda Wilson, from Jayni and Frank Carey’s The New Kansas Cookbook