I’m not a big “feelings” person. Once upon a time I was, but now that I’m a grown up and have a quite privileged life that’s adjacent to a whole lot of suffering, I tend to just tamp down on the “feelings” side of things and get on with whatever needs getting on with. Or did, until 8 weeks ago when I first met my magnificent (if expensive) therapist, Sue, who is convinced that this “getting on with it” business isn’t making me very happy, and worse, will shorten my lifespan by 20 years from stress-related illnesses. Not on, brain, not on.
So now I’m trying to do more with the “feeling things” business. Which usually means paying attention to when I am smiling or teary or playful or pensive, and making a mental note of what’s under those feelings, and what excuse I’m using to brush them aside, and at least ask myself why. (There hasn’t been much answering.) There’s been a lot of writing. And a lot of running, because I can’t hide from my thoughts while I’m running.
But tonight, there was cooking. Because sometimes, making a whole mess of extremely simple but seemingly complex dishes is like an act of meditation that teaches me things while I don’t (really) notice.
First up: Homemade Preserved Lemons, from a recipe shared by the team at The Bitten Word this morning.
Five lemons (because it’s what I had on hand after an extra trip to the market), a pile of sugar, a pile of kosher salt, some mortar-and-pestled coriander seeds, and turmeric.
Boiled for 12 minutes, lifted out with tongs, sliced, tucked into a pickling jar, brined, and put in the fridge. If it took 30 minutes I’ll be shocked — including clean-up and the bleaching of spilled turmeric-water out of the countertops. And the entire apartment smells of lemony goodness.
And if you’re asking, “but what was one DO with preserved lemons?”, know that my plan is to use them in my homemade marinades for packeted fish, as flavoring and/or toppings for hummus, as a substitute for too-sweet lemon curd on pound cake, and as an addition for salad dressings. And in two weeks, when they’ve cured, I’ll let you know how that turns out.
Next up: seasoned lamb to use as a topping for a hummus main dish in tomorrow’s supper plan.
This is, perhaps, my new favorite “easy” meal:
Whip up a bowl of your favorite hummus. (Dried chickpeas are currently sitting in my crock pot with water and baking soda, doing their thing so that the hummus can be assembled tomorrow night.) Serve it at room temperature spooned over a shallow plate and topped with a very warm (but not hot) selection of this “ground lamb and sautéed onions and toasted pine nuts” mixture. Offer a basket of toasted pita bread with olive oil and salt, and a light cucumber-and-tomato salad.
What makes the lamb topping work is the fact that the whole lot has been richly seasoned (read: drowned) in cinnamon and black pepper, so it sings with flavor and warmth. Amazing.
And lastly, chai.
I have been addicted to Starbucks since I moved to NYC in 2009 — and possibly earlier than that. But in March of 2009, when I was living in a place where I only knew “work people” and didn’t have much of a social life because my job kept me hopping for 15 hours a day, Starbucks was a lifeline. First of all, the chai is made from heavily concentrated Assam-blended teas, so it’s quite strongly caffeinated. Then, the Starbucks mentality is “know your customer”, so within a few weeks the baristas knew my name and order and made small talk. Instant friends! (Good lord, talk about loneliness.)
Now? I’m getting a little tired of taking multiple coffee breaks per day. And I’d rather put the money I’m spending on Starbucks into a savings account for my someday-kid’s college savings account. So, I’m making chai at home. The Three Bowl Cookbook has a great recipe that I’ve adapted a little — a 1/2 gallon of very vanilla soy milk plus a mess of whole spices plus 7 tablespoons of earl gray tea (I know, it’s a leaf grown in China rather than a maltier Assam, but the bergamot and the vanilla do GORGEOUS things together, especially with clove and star anise). After straining and reducing, that yields 1-1/2 quarts of chai — which I store in the fridge in glass milk bottles — so that if my nephews ever come to visit me, I can teach them what Aunt Lissa’s “chocolate milk” is like.
And that is a lesson in Sunday night self-care. The kitchen is even clean, and breakfast is packed for Monday morning. Wow.