Back in Pink sounds better and is more accurate than back in black. I used to wear black all the time. Now, combined with my neglected highlights, it just makes me look severe and old.
I hope you missed me, if only a little. Despite my best intentions, I wasn’t able to juggle the demands of an assigned article with rambling on the blog last week. I spent about 12 days interviewing a few chefs with some urgency: how they feed those in hospitals and assisted-living centers during COVID-19. I figured we’d spend time talking about menus. But of course, people who have severe COVID cases aren’t eating. Instead, I learned a lot more: the special precautionary measures, of course, but also the sheer numbers of heroic folks who need to be nourished, and the creativity that springs from simply figuring it out when you gotta figure it out fast.
Speaking with the chefs uplifted me, and once again emphasized the concept I discovered thanks to the Peru experience, one I came to late in life. The chefs themselves were living this concept: that fulfillment doesn’t come from the shiny thing you imagine at the end of the path, the thing that answers all your questions. Maybe that thing’s a million bucks, or some career accomplishment, or the perfect partner, or the perfect anything.
Fulfillment is working with your whole heart, showing up for life instead of wasting the present by daydreaming about your other plans, or by creating a drama in your head about how indignant you are because someone didn’t act the way you think they should.
Story’s delivered. It was due on the 15th, and I’ve spent a few days recovering. I didn’t think I’d need it, but apparently I did. I’ll share it when it’s live online.
And now, I can dive back into life at home.
Back in Pink, sorta literally: Cuba, 2017
Steve and I were very fortunate to go to Cuba for 10 days in February of 2017. I kept a diary, written by hand, and can’t find it. Sigh. But we took tons of pictures. And I have a pretty good memory, though I continue to, somewhat mournfully, search for those scrawled pages.
Yet I’ve shared little about that glorious trip. Here’s why: Back in 2017, I didn’t know what my focus blog-wise was. I had begun a blog in the first place (it’s had two other names) to write about culture via two particular channels I love: cooking and movies. By the time I got to this third iteration, I had fallen for the conventional wisdom that success—measured in number of subscribers translating to revenue by various means—required cramming oneself into a niche. Sure, you could create that niche, but the focus had to be narrow. I figured I’d share pictures to my “friends” (snort!) on Facebook.
Well, that strategy left me frankly miserable. For one thing, there are of course a gazillion cooking blogs out there; that’s a precise count, by the way, not hyperbole. And this late in the game, it’s pretty impossible to break out, unless maybe you’re Kim Kardashian cooking things on your butt. Of course, I didn’t want to stop writing about food. I just didn’t ONLY want to write about it, and how to cook it.
More importantly, I just stopped giving a damn if I broke out or not. I realized that I wanted to create content for people who appreciated the way that I tell stories. The number I hoped to reach diminished dramatically. My hero is Patience Gray; in her 50s, she had a surprise hit book, Honey from a Weed, published after she’d stopped caring whether she published anything or not. She had about 35 people she wrote letters to. The connection was important. The other stuff just didn’t matter that much in her life.
Fasting and Feasting, Adam Federman’s biography of Patience—who wrote an early post-WWII cookbook with a woman named Primrose!!—is especially inspiring if you’re creative but wonder why you keep creating sometimes. I’m trying not to buy from Amazon, which would be a post in itself if I were here to scold, though I prefer not to. (Feel free to call me on any scoldiness.) I do urge you to seek out independent folks, like Chelsea Green, who sells this book and many others. Give it a look if you’re so inclined.
(I’m also finding all sorts of treasures on my local library site. Many libraries around the country are issuing online cards as they remain closed. Support your local library!! For me, a library is true north. I feel more serene than I do in most churches when I’m surrounded by all those books.)
Back to Cuba….
Actually, post-Cuba, pre-Peru, I had started 2020 with an eye to diversifying my blog and sharing my travels. I have a huge backlog, and I’ve kept good written and text records of my trips (despite losing that Cuba notebook; dammit!!). So I wanted to write very much on the ground from Peru. Then COVID happened. So I got that writing-on-the-ground wish. (If you’re late to the Chou Fou party, this link takes you to that fateful day when Peru declared a national lockdown with closed borders.)
Now that I’m back in the US, I don’t particularly want to share my day to day. In Peru, it was reporting; I was experiencing life during an extraordinary time in another country, one with a hugely different response to the crisis than the one I call home. Here, keeping a diary online just doesn’t feel quite right.
Meanwhile, I’ve found that people are crazy about my posts with pix from around the world. And since we can’t travel, the imperative to share is greater.
So, over the next—honestly, I have no idea how long it will take—few posts, I’ll be retro-deep diving into February 2017, when Steve and I went to Cuba. I spent my 56th birthday there and had a home-cooked meal on a rooftop in Trinidad. A cat joined us. Birthdays don’t get much better.
(I didn’t get a good picture of my birthday dinner, but this was pretty typical of breakfast every morning.)
What’s Cookin’ Chez Chou
Another thing last week was that I barely cooked; I lived pretty much on quesadillas and….I don’t even remember. Oh, wait, one night I made these psuedo-felafel thingies. They were great. They were from a book I have, Clean Cakes. Author Henrietta Inman’s recipe for cauliflower-chickpea cakes is at this link. By “gram flour,” she means chickpea flour. Other than not having fresh turmeric on hand, I didn’t change a thing.
(I admit I did not bring any kind of styling to the following photos, much less an A game. It’s the problem of trying to photo your food when you’re really, really hungry.)
Steve and I were looking at Clean Cakes because at Christmas-time, I told my friend Joanna that Steve is a pastry freak. Wherever we went in the pre-COVID world, I could be absolutely sure to find him standing in a happy, anticipatory yet discerning dream in front of the window of the local bakery. Jo suggested a video series, Steve Eats Pastry. It’s an idea all three of us loved. Steve and I gave it a half-assed try in Vienna, but video on the fly is tough for me. Then I thought, let’s do Steve Eats Pastry that He Helps Nan Make in the First Place in the Comfort of Their Home, which is a lot easier to shoot.
So we have a couple of things in the works. Clean Cakes are, well, clean. When we’re in Germany or Austria, believe me, friends, we are not eating Clean Cakes. So we’ll balance the healthy stuff with some non-healthy but extra tasty stuff, and when we have a hit, I’ll share the recipe (as we’re digging through older cookbooks in search of old school decadence).
Already this week, I tried, just to warm up, an Almond Cake with Pineapple-Rum Filling from the May 2020 print edition of EatingWell magazine. (I can’t find it online yet, but typically the print recipes show up eventually.)
I’ll admit that I find the recipes in EW are not as reliable as some other sources. Still, this eggless cake is pretty good. It’s a dry-ish texture which works with the pineapple layer, though I didn’t follow the pineapple filling recipe as carefully as I should have and therefore didn’t get a nice jammy consistency; this is almost like a sweet pineapple relish. I substituted coconut oil for shortening in the frosting—they are not seriously advocating that one eats raw shortening??—which makes the frosting the best part.
So far this week, I’ve also really liked Tieghan’s Crispy Lemon Feta with Spiced Chickpeas recipe. I had some queso fresco on hand, which, like feta, is a harder cheese. With a giant handful of arugula on each plate, this was a big hit.
I also tackled black bean soup in honor of Cuba, but am still not happy with the result. But it looks pretty, right? Yam cakes on the side; also not quite ready for prime time, though edible enough.
I’ll continue to trouble shoot the recipe in time to present a fiesta Cubana. In other words, we are going to be mighty tired of black beans. You’re worth it, my clever and adorable cabbages.
The Marcus Aurelius Moment* for 20-May, 2020
From Joanna, that you never need to justify your desire to make something. That joy is different than feeling chipper, that joy is purpose. And that absolutely everything sounds better in a British accent.
*In the first part of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman ruler details what various people in his life have taught him. To read the full intro to why I care about Marcus Aurelius, click here.