Tag Archives: middle school

For Simona

Dear Simona,

I remember the day I stopped believing in best friends. It was winter of seventh grade, the time of tipping from one age to the next, those years of middle school, which felt very much transitional, and very much awful.

I had had the same best friend since first grade. We were like sisters. Her family was mine, her little sisters my little sisters. We regularly slept at one another’s houses, hers a beautiful two-story house in the neighborhood just across Carpenter Road from my subdivision. Her father was a businessman. He wore suits and went on business trips. My father worked at Cape Canaveral on the solid rocket boosters of the Delta IV rocket. Her side of the neighborhood was where the chiropractors and dentists lived. Mine was where the hourly workers lived, the union members.

Anchovies for the curry paste. 
Anchovies for the curry paste. 

By the time we were in middle school, my friend had outgrown our friendship, had outgrown me, but it took me probably a solid year to figure it out. The day I realized what was happening, I had caught her in a lie. A blatant lie she didn’t even need to tell. It doesn’t matter what about now. What matters is, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t call her out on it. I hung up the phone and sat alone in my room.

I remember the windows were open that day. Mom was cleaning, and the house smelled of bleach and dryer sheets. The wind brought the smell of orange blossoms inside, the line of citrus trees blooming in our backyard, the tangy green leaves brushing each other in the wind. I remember this as clearly as anything: the coolness of the air, the lovely sunshine, the smell of a clean house, and the sick feeling in my stomach, the heavy knowledge of being very alone.

My all-time favorite cookbook and cookbook author ever. 
My all-time favorite cookbook and cookbook author ever. 

After that, I made two attempts at having a best friend. Both those attempts ended much the same way. And I knew then that I would never have a best friend. I didn’t believe in best friends. I would not allow myself to be hurt like that again.

It was ten years after that day that I met you, Simona. But it would be years still before I realized that I had found my best friend. That I could even have a best friend. Years before I even realized what a best friend really was.

You were patient with me. You waited, as I very slowly opened myself up, as I very slowly began to trust. You told me your secrets and asked me to share mine. I kept you at arm’s length for a long time, but you were persistent with me. It took me probably five years to realize we could be best friends, that you weren’t going anywhere.

Homemade curry paste. 
Homemade curry paste. 

I remember one weekend last year that you and Darren came to visit us. It was early May, and we went to Oak Island, and the boys played bocce ball while you and I walked the beach, telling each other our secrets, letting the waves wash over our toes. We lay on beach towels until the sun had nearly set.

I remember the salt air, our hair blowing in the wind—yours light, mine dark—you, the poet, me, the prose writer, the sun soaking into our skin, the clear beautiful beach air filling our lungs. Everything about that weekend was perfect: the Mexican food we ate the first night, while talking about art and God. The beach. The dinner we cooked that evening together, hours in the kitchen.

Coconut cream for the curry.
Coconut cream for the curry.

It was that weekend that we cooked up the idea for this blog.

Once the sun had gotten low enough to let a chill in the air, we left the beach and went home to cook from Madhur Jaffrey’s Ultimate Curry Bible. We drank red wine, our messy hair pulled back from our faces, aprons tied around our waists.

The day was perfect, as was our food.

This past weekend was cold and gray and rainy and cold, so far from that day at the beach, the sun’s glow the color of butter. You are in Atlanta, and I in Wilmington, a six-hour drive away. We are both nearly buried under our work this semester. We have been busy, too busy, and I miss you desperately. So I made a yellow curry from the cookbook we cooked from together, and I thought of you. I thought of your sweet soul, how you were willing to chip away at my defenses, how you were willing to love me as I stayed distant and self-protective.

You know things about me no one else does. I take a long time to open up, and you are one of the few who have been willing to learn. You know what my tone of voice means, you know the punctuation I use when I’m happy and when I’m sad or distracted.

What a beautiful surprise this friendship has been, what a beautiful surprise you are. I admire you so. You are pure brilliance, a loving teacher, a passionate artist. A poet who always knows the perfect words. A soul that loves justice and mercy and goodness. You inspire people to be better, to notice what’s lovely about life. You are complex. You’re fashionable, with an eye for design. And you give. You give of yourself and your talents, to your students and to your friends. And we are all the better for your presence. 

You are the best friend I always wanted but never had. Never—not even when I thought I had a best friend all those years ago. It was always meant to be you, Simona, you my sweet Romanian friend, dear soul, my best friend.

Thank you.

Love always,
Erin

 

Chicken in a Yellow Curry Sauce (Gaeng Kari Gai) – Thailand
Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Ultimate Curry Bible

Ingredients:
14 oz. can of coconut milk, left undisturbed for 3 hours or more [I used a non-canned version of coconut milk, so I substituted coconut cream later on]
4 Tbsp. peanut oil
2.5 oz. shallots, peeled and very thinly sliced into slivers
5 Tbsp. Yellow Curry Paste [see below]
1 tsp. hot curry powder
1 lb. boned and skinned chicken thighs, cut into small pieces
1.5 Tbsp. fish sauce, or to taste
1 tsp. thick tamarind paste or lemon juice [I used lemon juice]
1 tsp. palm sugar or brown sugar

Directions:

If you’re using the canned coconut milk, carefully open the can and skim off thick cream at the top (4 Tbsp). Stir remaining contents and set aside.

Pour oil into large lidded pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add shallots and stir. When the edges start to brown, reduce heat to medium-low. Stir as they fry, reducing heat if needed, until they are golden brown and crisp. Remove and place on a plate lined with paper towels.

Add coconut cream and curry paste to the pan with remaining oil from the fried shallots. Stir until oil separates and paste is slightly browned. Add curry powder and stir a few times. Add chicken and stir for a minute. Reduce heat to low and add fish sauce, tamarind, sugar, and 6 oz. water. Bring to a simmer, then cover and cook on low heat for about 15 minutes. Check to make sure chicken is cooked through. Stir in coconut milk and adjust seasoning to taste. Cover and simmer gently for another few minutes.

Serve topped with fried shallots.

 

Yellow Curry Paste
By Madhur Jaffrey

Ingredients:

7 dried hot red chillies (cayenne)
5 oz. shallots, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon grass, thinly sliced
10 small or 5 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1/2 tsp. white pepper powder
1 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. shrimp paste or 3 anchovies from a can, chopped
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric

Directions:

Soak the red chillies in 5 Tbsp. hot water for 1-2 hours, or microwave them for 2-3 minutes and let sit 20-30 minutes.

Blend or process chillies, with their soaking liquid, with all remaining ingredients. Push mixture down with a rubber spatula as many times as necessary, until you have a smooth paste. 

Love Letter to Myself at 14

“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

1. Saved

When I was seven, my family and I started going to a big Baptist church in our little town, and I was told I needed to be saved. This was easily remedied: walk down an aisle in front of my Sunday school class, pray a specific prayer, and then you’re in. If I did this, I would go to heaven instead of hell when I died.

Only problem was, I had never thought I wasn’t going to heaven. I had always loved God. All my life. I never started believing in God. I didn’t even really understand the concept of “believing in” God. I didn’t “believe in” my parents. They just were. And so was God. Since I was a toddler, I had loved God, and He loved me. He was close to me. I was special to Him. I never questioned this. This was my reality, this was who I was.

Until I was seven. I had never said any specific prayer, had never “asked God into my heart.” I asked my parents over dinner one night if you would go to hell if you died before you said the prayer. There was a little pond a few streets over from my house, and there was an alligator that lived there. I thought of that alligator then. I thought of being pulled into the lake and never coming out. It seemed to me the most likely way I could die.

I can’t remember their answer, but I do remember that the more we went to that church, the more I realized that I was in the hell crowd because I’d not said the prayer. So, one night I asked my mom to pray it with me, and I did, I fulfilled the requirements, got myself on the heaven list.

And felt—somewhere deep inside—betrayed by God. I had loved Him all my life, but my eternal destiny was decided not by Him, but by a stupid prayer. If I hadn’t said those words that night, He would have sent me to hell.

2. Middle School

In seventh grade, I lost my best friend. She had been ushered into the “popular crowd” and there was no room in her life for me. Nothing about me was cool. My frizzy, uncontrollable hair, my big glasses, my sense of style—I wore baggy clothes, vests, long beaded necklaces, bright colors. Nothing about me matched. Most of my clothes came from thrift stores. I had not yet realized how important clothes were in how people treated you, had no sense of the importance of appearance. I was who I was. But when my best friend—who had been closer than a sister since first grade—stopped returning my calls, started pretending I didn’t exist, when that happened, I needed to find out what happened. And how to fix it.

And that meant fixing me.

3. Live Wire

I’ve always felt like a wire without its casing. I felt everything too much. Happiness was elation. Sadness was deep depression. There wasn’t anything in the middle. I was all extremes. Everything about me was sensitive, and I felt everything with a depth and a suddenness that I only later realized not everyone felt.

4. What You Learned in High School

This is what you are learning: that there are two of you, the person people see and the person you are.

You read your Bible. You memorized every verse for Sunday school. You always had the right answer. Once, you won a new Bible in some church contest. Its binding was stiff, and your Sunday school teacher remarked, in front of the other girls, that knowing you, you’d soon have it worn and creased.

After middle school, you changed your hairstyle. You wore different clothes. You started wearing makeup. You maintained status as teacher’s pet. You played piano at church.

You started watching what you ate. You got rid of all that baby fat.

You felt strong when you were hungry. It meant you were in control. It meant you were making the decisions. It meant you were invincible. You didn’t need anyone, you couldn’t be hurt, you didn’t need anything—you didn’t even need to eat. Desire was the enemy, and you were winning.

You were always alone, even when you were surrounded by friends. The real you—the inside you—was always alone.

5. Surfacing

In college, I started writing about my eating disorder. The fog of my adolescent depression began to lift, and I found other ways of being in control, of mastering my destiny. I became busy. Every hour of the day was scheduled. I made straight A’s. I was president of the English honors club. I made good friends and fell in love with food again. It felt like waking up.

6. Love Letter

Sometimes, I wish I could talk to myself at age fourteen. I wish I could take that girl by the hand and tell her not to change herself for anyone. I wish I could tell her that by the time she was thirty, she really wouldn’t care about anyone who had been in the popular crowd in high school. I wish I could tell her that her value was inherent, was integral—it was always there, God had always loved her, she had always been what she needed to be, in every moment, just what she needed to be. And it has nothing to do with what words you said and when, what clothes you wore, what you weigh.

If only I could tell her those things.

For years, I have either tried to forget I was ever that person, that sad little girl, or I have taken pride in how I had changed, how I had conquered my eating disorder, how I had gone from starving myself to taking great joy in preparing food. I pitied my former self and was glad I was no longer that person. I learned to harness the sensitivity and make it work for me. I wrote and wrote and wrote and found that vulnerability could be power when it found its way onto the page.

Now, instead of rejecting my old self, I am learning to embrace her. I love that little girl, the one who felt too much, who overanalyzed everything. The sensitive girl who wanted to be loved.

And I am beginning to realize that there is no “if” in the statement “If I could tell her.” Because though I am older now, I am still her, I am still that girl, and though I know a whole lot more about depression now than I did then, and though I’ve learned a lot about true friendship, and though I know a lot more theology than I did then, I am still myself, will always be myself. I carry around my former selves, because none of them are really former, not really.

7. Pudding

I don’t know if I can explain the connection here. The thread that connects pudding to learning to love myself. I won’t try too hard, as I run the risk of making this seem silly.

I will say, however, that I love to make myself this pudding (raw, vegan avocado chocolate pudding) by Laura Miller, and to me it feels like a gift, a way of nourishing myself, of giving my body something good. I will never diet again, will never restrict my food the way I did when I was young; though some could see this as a “diet food” because it’s raw and vegan, I don’t see it that way at all. I think of the avocados and the way they’re good for my heart and brain, the way they prevent cancer.

The pudding’s full of vitamins, nutrients, all that good stuff, it’s a little present, a little comforting package that says, hello, you are not just fine the way you are, you are not just acceptable, you are beautiful.