All posts by Erin Bond

By the Ocean

This week is my last week on vacation, my last week before the new semester begins. 

I’ve been on a sort of perpetual vacation since May. I’ve traveled more this summer than any other summer in my life. First, the time in China and then a week in Maine with my family and Simona (pictures, recipes, and videos to come!). 

It’s funny, but now that I’m home, I’m finding myself in love with the little seaside town where I live–in love with it in a way I’ve never been before. When I first moved here, I thought it was a beautiful place. Everything was fun and new and exciting. Everything was a delight, a discovery. I came here for grad school and meant to stay for three years.

Fast forward almost ten years later. I’m still here. And in between then and now, I’ve felt a range of emotions about this little city. I’ve resented it. Felt trapped, stuck. It was too Southern, too small, too hot. We were too far from our families. 

But over the past couple years, my feelings toward my home have softened. Shifted. 

Now that I’m back, I’m realizing that I haven’t been looking at this place with clear eyes in a good, long while. Funny, how months away from this place can bring me home feeling entirely different. The city hasn’t changed–it’s me. 

Now that I’m back, I’m seeing this place the way a tourist would. I’m delighting in the ocean, the turquoise waves and the broken shells and the pier. The bike paths that lead me from campus, where I work, to the shore, to the waves, to the forever ocean, in six short miles. 

It’s been raining for days now, our yards and streets flooding, but today the sun broke through. I got in my car and drove to the beach, to a little seafood shop selling local fish, mussels, clams, and shrimp. I bought a beautiful fillet of snapper and a couple bags of mussels.

I thought about a bike ride to the ocean we took a week ago with a friend. We sat on the sand and watched the waves, and I realized, somewhere very deep inside my bones, that it is not an accident that I have not been able to leave the ocean. I grew up twenty minutes from the Atlantic Ocean, for all but the first four years of my life. And I have stayed about that far from it. There is something in this view, in the crashing waves, one after another, in the salt spray, in the gritty sand, in the blinding sun, there is something in that vista that I crave, that I need, that sustains me. 

So today I bought my fish, a piece of fish so fresh it smelled of nothing but the sea at its best, and walked to my car in the sun.

I thought to the beginning of this summer, just before the semester ended, when Simona wrote a post about sound and listening and fish tacos. I decided to revisit the dish, using recipes from the August issue of Bon Appétit for fried fish tacos this time. It felt fitting, a beginning and an end, the wrapping of one semester and the beginning of another. I am still in the same place, physically yes, but not very much is the same.

 

When I came home this afternoon, I pickled jalapeños and made hot sauce with gorgeous red Fresno chiles. I made slaw and cut into a ripe avocado. And fried up the snapper that not that long ago was swimming not too far from where I live.

And I loved it.  

Fish Tacos
Adapted from 
Bon Appétit

Make the batter by mixing the following ingredients:

1. 1 cup all-purpose flour
2. 1 cup white rice flour
3. 2 tsp. salt
4. 2 cups club soda (plus more as needed)

The consistency should be thick enough to coat the fish, without being lumpy or too thick. BA recommends the consistency of “thin pancake batter.”

Dip chunks or slices of skinned fish in batter and fry until golden and done (about five minutes). Top tacos with cilantro-lime slaw, avocados, pickled jalapeños, and hot sauce.

Click here for pickled jalapeño recipe.

(Hint: these are super easy and fabulous.) 
 

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.

Seven Thousand Miles

As I write this, I am sitting in a crowded café on the ground floor of our hostel in Xi’An, a city exactly 7,674 miles from home. At home, seven thousand miles away, Jesse’s mom and sister are moving most of their belongings into a house they’ve rented about ten minutes from our house. When we return in two weeks, it will be the first time we have lived that close to anyone we’ve been related to in almost a decade.

This past week, we spent two nights in a city just south of Beijing. Renqiu is not a place tourists visit. There isn’t a restored temple there, nothing old to show off, nothing sparkly or shiny. No markets of souvenirs await Western pocketbooks. It’s a town of 300,000—a “small town,” our friend Faye calls it, though it is several times larger than the city we live in—and most people there work for the Petrol companies. We passed several flocks of sheep on our way into town.

In the apartment complex where Faye’s parents live are both of Faye’s aunts and uncles. In the apartment complex next door, a short walk away, live Faye’s grandparents. We spent the afternoon with Faye’s grandparents, playing mah jong, listening as Faye’s grandfather played traditional Chinese music. And then, as he whipped out a harmonica and started playing “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

Faye’s grandmother let me help make dumplings. We crowded around a small table—Faye, her sister, mother, aunt, father, and I—and spooned meat and vegetable filling into delicate dough rounds. We pinched them closed, and Faye’s family was too polite to make fun of my clumsy offerings, which sat next to their perfect ones. These people have been making dumplings their whole life, and I thought then of my grandmother and her pie crusts, the way she knows the exact right measurements, the way she knows the texture the dough needs to be by touch, the way her fingertips have been trained by decades and decades to know how to make it perfect.

I thought of my mother making buttermilk biscuits. By sight, by memory, by touch. Perfect every time.

I wonder what I will perfect over the course of my life. What dishes will become my staples? If I have children, what food will they remember me by?

I am loving almost every moment of China, but the one thing I am looking forward to about coming back—above all others—is living close to family. Knowing that ten minutes away will be people who are connected to us by blood and history.

Now, I just need you to help me convince my parents to move to Wilmington.

But until then, I will think of my mother’s buttermilk biscuits and my grandmother’s pie crusts, and I will come home from China in two weeks, and I will try to recreate these dumplings myself. 

They spoiled us forever. 
They spoiled us forever.