Category Archives: Vegan

Changing Seasons

I feel it happening, somewhere in my bones, the change from summer to fall. Summer is still roaring, the temperatures often above 90, the humidity frizzing my hair and causing makeup to weep off my face, the sun bright and baking. Somewhere, though, the seed of fall has cracked open. Maybe it’s the early morning air, the coolness that’s creeping in. Maybe it’s the beginning of a new semester: new faces, familiar faces, essays I’ve read and essays I’ve not yet read. I can feel it, the change that’s going to come. I’m savoring every moment of summer while it is still with me, but at the same time anticipating the crisp breezes and the smell of cinnamon and dead leaves drying on the lawn. Making pots of chili and baking apples and sitting outside with a hot cup of coffee and a book.

I also feel the change in a more symbolic sense.

There have been a few times in my life when I felt great life changes before they happened, when I knew something was coming before knowing just what, when I could tell something had altered inside of me, knowing that the alteration would eventually ripple its way outward. I remember coming back to Wilmington after my first trip to Congo in 2009. Everything felt shifted. Something in me was moving somewhere, and I wasn’t sure where. Friendships that had seemed vital to me lost something, felt increasingly more hollow. The church we felt was home felt less and less so. I felt unmoored.

In 2011, it was the month in San Francisco. I came home from that more centered in myself, more alive to my own internal being. Maybe it was the fog in the Inner Sunset, where I lived that month, maybe it was the fog that grayed everything out and gave me permission to be introspective, to be alone, to be quiet. Every time I took the N-Judah to downtown, I could almost tell you the exact street where the fog would lift and the sun would break through, and I still remember passing the bakery where that happened, and the park just past it; I stared out that train window and watched people play Frisbee with their dogs, the grass impossibly green, the sky impossibly blue, the houses pastel and perfect, and I knew life was delicious in ways I had never imagined.

When I came home from that month away, I had only a few months before we received Tom’s diagnosis. I would learn that life is painful in ways I couldn’t have imagined either.

Now, in 2014, after China, after those two months on the other side of the world, I am back home, and I am different yet again. I don’t think even I myself will understand it for a good, long time. I am more excited by things—by the blueness of the ocean, by the taste of eggplants. I am feeling bolder, feeling less apologetic for what I think and what I love. I am feeling decisive.

I have taken up cycling. My sister-in-law is training for the biking portion of a triathlon, and she’s letting me train with her. We get up early to ride a nearby neighborhood with wide paths snaking by houses we’ll never afford. The sun is buttery, beautiful at that time of day, and I breathe deeply as I work the bike, as I see what my legs can do, as I learn to balance myself and the bike. It feels good, it feels deeply good. Because I like the changes, I love every change I’ve made, and I feel more myself now than I ever have been in the past.

Last night, Jesse’s band played a show on a nearby island, and I stayed home and cooked and read and took a bubble bath. I made myself chapatis and baba ghanouj. I ate a peach that was sweeter and juicier than any I’ve had in a long time. The peach was a shocking color, so rich and so bright. The juice ran down my fingers, and I sat at our little kitchen table, eating alone, and I felt very happy.

Madhur Jaffrey’s Baba Ghanouj (Creamed Eggplant)
From World Vegetarian

 Ingredients:

1 large eggplant
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt

 

Directions:

 Prick eggplant with a fork and roast in a 450-degree oven until collapsing and very soft inside (mine took an hour). Peel and roughly chop the eggplant. Blend or process eggplant with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt, until creamy and smooth.

Welcome Home

I remember a day the week we left for China, a bad day. It was hot—unseasonably hot. Way too hot, way too early. I had errands to run, a chiropractor appointment, books to pick up on campus, a hundred thousand items on my to-do list and a rapidly shrinking window of time in which to complete them all. The night before, I hadn’t slept well, and I woke up to a distressing text from someone I loved very much who was in trouble. I panicked. Called her therapist, who suggested I call the police, which I did. Put in the call to 9-1-1 on my way to the chiropractor.

She was okay. Things turned out fine. My fears weren’t realized, much to my great relief. But by mid-morning, I was jarred. My nerves felt frayed, jerky. For this point in the semester, the very end, as I was catapulting toward China, the feeling was not new. Spring 2014 had been the hardest semester I’d ever faced, for a number of reasons, the workload, the preparations for China, the added weight of the budgets and the checklists and everything that goes along with making sure twenty people have the time of their lives in China for a month. And my dear friend, who was struggling, whom I was trying to help. Stay, please, stay.

After the chiropractor appointment, I ran my errands on campus. Acted like a perfectly normal person. Smiled to everyone I saw. But I felt like my body wasn’t able to contain me, wasn’t able to keep all of the emotions in one place, as if I might tumble out of myself, spilling all over the concrete. The sun bore down on me, as if it the sky were sinking down, ever closer, ever hotter.

By the time I got home, I was exhausted, dehydrated, hungry, and spent. As soon as I walked in the door, the air conditioner cold, I stripped off my clothes and fell onto the couch, facedown, and sobbed. I sobbed like I was breaking. I was breaking.

I remember repeating, I can’t do it, I can’t do it.

Jesse brought me water. Something to eat. I calmed down, cooled down. Rested. Dressed myself. And pulled it together.

Got to China. No one died. No one was lost. I think, even, some people did have the time of their lives.

And two months later, I am back. I am back in the same house, with the same living room, the same job. But I am changed. Those two months were healing for me. There were tears—so many tears—there were hours of writing, and talking, and thinking. About my life, about what I wanted to be the same when I got back, and about what I wanted to be different. About how much I can—and cannot—help other people. About how much I needed to help first myself.

How much I need to be good to myself. To care for my body and my soul. To nourish myself, physically and spiritually. I am back with a peace and a calm inside that I haven’t had for a good, long time. I am back with a strong desire to listen to my body, to listen to my spirit, and to give myself what I need, when I need it. Everything else has to be secondary.

These last two months, I’ve taken nine flights. Nine times I was told to secure my oxygen mask on my own face before helping anyone else. Nine times. And it has begun to sink in. It is not selfish to turn my phone off when I go to sleep. It is not selfish to take the time to exercise, even when I have other things I ought to do. It is not selfish to feed myself well, to take the time to cook a meal, to chop the vegetables, it is not selfish to love who I am becoming, to appreciate myself and what I am good at, it is not selfish to surround myself with beauty, it is not selfish to live a life of desire, to seek out what I love, to seek out the people I love, to collect in this life what makes me happy.

The day after I returned from China, my sister-in-law brought me to a nut and seed milk class with her at a beautiful space called Grub, where two lovely women talk about how important it is to listen to our bodies, to give ourselves what we need, and what nourishes us. They talked about the joy of food, how eating transcends a collection of nutrients and minerals, the act of fortifying our bodies, about how it becomes an act of love.

I thought about my semester, the healing that began in China, and how I would like that to continue. It struck me that food could be a primary vehicle for communicating with myself—my self—hello, dear one, what delights you today? And how may I provide that for you? What will make you strong? What will empower you and others?

Since then, I’ve been making coconut milk and hemp seed milk at home, and these simple acts have been bringing me such delight.

I bought a huge bag of hemp hearts at Costco. Hemp hearts, or hemp seeds, are tender and nutty, sweet and earthy, almost like a tiny, earthier pine nut. I’ve been putting them in my oatmeal in the mornings, in addition to making milk with them. (They won’t get you high, by the way, in case you were wondering. They will give you a ton of nutrients, though.)

As I walked out of Costco that day, the sun bright but not overbearing, cradling a bag of hemp hearts in the crook of my arm, the man who checked my receipt at the door said, “Enjoy your hemp.”

I pulled on my sunglasses and smiled, genuinely happy. “I will.”

Hemp seed milk
Recipe adapted from GRUB

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup hemp hearts
  • 4 cups water (filtered)
  • 2 dates
  • pinch of salt (preferably sea salt or Celtic salt)
  • maple syrup to taste (optional)

Directions

Blend all ingredients in a blender until the dates are fully broken down. There’s no need to strain the milk, though you can if you want to.

Spring

On the final Friday of Spring Break, I went to hot yoga, and for an hour I twisted and sweated and worked and let go. Early spring is chaotic, my teacher said—the weather is chaotic, hot-and-cold, windy-wet-placid-windy, and our lives can reflect that, our bodies can reflect that—and her words resonated with me, in my own season of chaos. This semester has been a complicated series of tight deadlines, of endless paperwork, of snow days and the work that comes with making up for snow days, of grading-grading-grading, of pouring everything I can into my students, while still staying married and somewhat sane.

I’m co-leading a study abroad to China this summer, and what that means is it’s my job to make sure seventeen of the very best students on our campus get their paperwork filled out correctly, get their visas on time, get on the right plane, and spend over a month in China having the time of their lives (without getting bird flu). It’s been much more demanding—and even more rewarding—than I could have anticipated.

But the season has taken its toll on me. I am the kind of person who internalizes stress, who gets everything done, who meets every deadline, but then who crashes physically. I have done this as long as I can remember. But I am getting older now, and I realize that my ability to do this is waning.

So I take breaks. I go to yoga. I slow down. I do my best.

And I’ve been trying to feed myself more vegetables, trying to be better to my body, trying to give it what it needs to repair itself. To restore itself.

This week, we got our first Produce Box of the season, and I was delighted at the return of our weekly vegetables. This week, we received sweet potatoes, kale, tangerines, pea shoots, and the softest lettuce I’ve ever had. So this weekend, I made salads. Tender, sweet vegetables, lots of color, tahini dressing.

The pussy willow in our front yard is blooming, its delicate fuzzy catkins a promise of milder temperatures and calmer weather that surely must be on its way. In the air is a feeling of promise, of renewal, and I cling to this feeling. I can’t wait to be on the plane to China, to be so singularly focused. To put the cold and wet of the winter behind me, to thaw out and let the sun warm me to my bones.

Pussy willows are sometimes used in Chinese New Year decorations (the name translates to “silver willow” and sounds like the words that mean “money flowing in”). They’ve also been connected to Palm Sunday celebrations, and in Latvia, the holiday is even called “Pussy Willow Sunday,” the branches of the plant a harbinger of spring, of new life. Resurrection. A new beginning.

So this spring, I cut pussy willow sprigs and bring them inside. I eat my salads. I go to yoga. I untangle myself from the icy, brittle winter, and prepare for summer. The season is still chaos, and will be chaos until the middle of May, but I know it’s a season. And every season ends.

For this salad, I used the vegetables and toppings I had on hand: lettuce, pea shoots, cucumber, red pepper, red cabbage, toasted cashews, golden raisins. I made this dressing, and it was delightful.

Smoky Lemon Tahini Salad Dressing

Adapted from Bon Appétit

Ingredients:

1/2 cup tahini
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice (about one lemon)
1 garlic clove, grated
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp smoked paprika

Purée all ingredients in a blender, thinning with more water if desired.