Every day I want to speak with you. And every day something more important /
calls for my attention — the drugstore, the beauty products, the luggage /
I need to buy for the trip./
Even now I can hardly sit here /
among the falling piles of paper and clothing, the garbage trucks outside/
already screeching and banging. /
The mystics say you are as close as my own breath. /
Why do I flee from you? /
My days and nights pour through me like complaints /
and become a story I forgot to tell. /
Help me. Even as I write these words I am planning /
to rise from the chair as soon as I finish this sentence.
-Marie Howe (“A Prayer”)
By the time Friday rolls around, I usually feel like a big blob of lethargy. The week passes by both quickly and slowly; there are snippets of activity–teaching and meetings with students–and moments of intense thought about the academic task at hand (I am no longer referring to it as the dissertation; instead of thinking in terms of a ginormous final product, I’m now thinking about itsy-bitsy sections: Oh, this week, I’m writing on Blok, but next week will be Merezhkovsky madness! Yes, I have reached the stage where psychological trickery is essential, but coping mechanisms exist for a reason). If I could pick only one thing to represent each day of this past week, it would look a little something like this:
Friday: Taking a hammer to a coconut
Saturday: A salted chocolate chip cookie
Sunday: An illicit trip to Mrs. Dalloway’s Bookstore to order a book that I didn’t need, but am having a fabulous time reading (it’s fascinating to read about people’s food confessionals)
Monday: Trader Joe’s Mushroom Risotto for dinner
Tuesday: A cloudy afternoon spent reading a dissertation on masks from my alma mater
Wednesday: Verdi’s Requiem
Thursday: Evening yoga–shoulder stand meets earthquake 2 of the day
Friday: A wild swordfish dinner in Rockridge.
While I sometimes worry that I don’t spend nearly enough time working (keep in mind that for the average graduate student, weekends are not a period of respite; instead, they’re about catching up on everything and anything you didn’t get around to doing the previous week. If you’re lucky, they can also be used to plan ahead so that you can stay afloat), I also feel that self-care also has to have its moment or the whole carefully constructed house of cards (the guise of organization and productivity) will collapse. This message was driven home during Thursday night’s yoga class. As we stood in tree pose at the beginning of the two-hour session, the instructor asked us to close our eyes and think about “what we wanted for ourselves in that evening’s practice.” The first thought that came to mind was “no pressure.” I just wanted to do my downward-facing dogs, my lunges and plank poses without feeling that I had to push myself. I didn’t mind doing the poses themselves, but I didn’t want to have to care if my dog pose wasn’t as good as it could have been…if my lunges weren’t as deep as they ought to have been.
After many poses–and some that were more painful than others, despite my claim that I wouldn’t push myself–class ended and the instructor again asked us what we wanted for ourselves, but this time over the next few days and the weekend. What most surprised me was that this is not a question that I often ask myself; usually, my wants and wishes come last. Instead, I often find myself on auto-pilot, thinking about my students and my class, about the Slavic Library, about my Greek homework, about the dissertation (yes, at this moment, its ginormous nature asserts itself over my subconscious), about my friends, about my family, about the Greek, about the long list of things to do….And I suspect I’m not the only one. While I would hardly categorize myself as a 100% selfless individual (to be a little selfish is not always a negative, although the word is hardly ever used or perceived positively), the reality is that people often put themselves last, viewing their wants and needs as secondary–as the very thing that can be sacrificed.
But even though I generally follow this belief, there are moments when auto-pilot fades away. These days I don’t return my students papers to them as quickly as I used to; my belief is that they can wait. I also, even when I tell myself I’m going to come home on a Friday night and write perhaps brilliant things about Blok’s poetry from 1904-05, realize that there’s something a little crazy about that self-imposed expectation and instead find myself doing things like cracking coconuts. Turing off my mind and getting my hands (and making my floor) really, really dirty. Denting my kitchen table (oops, that was unintended). And all for the sake of green beans.
Ever since my friend kindly sent me The Essential New York Times Cookbook, I’ve been reading it and marking recipes that I want to try. Only after my accidental green bean instead of snap peas purchasing fiasco did I stumble on the recipe for “Green Beans with Coriander-Coconut Crust.” Obviously, given my love of coconut and coriander (cilantro), I was intrigued. I thought about them frequently, wondering when and if I would have the time to make them. Then, when the Greek and I were at The Bowl (i.e. Berkleley Bowl) a few weeks ago, he and I saw the coconuts, looked at each and knew what we had to do: we ended up buying not one, but three coconuts. I then headed over to the bean aisle and gathered a pound plus of green beans. I recognized that the moment had come.
They didn’t disappoint either. The coconut was toasted to perfection and the beans, thanks to the cayenne pepper, tingled a little on my tongue. Granted, after I made them, I was a bit sorry that I had relied on dried coriander instead of toasted coriander seeds (once I had the hammer in my hand, there were no way I was heading to the supermarket), which I’m sure would have made the dish more fragrant and spicy. But the whole experience did allow me to crack my very first coconut ever (surely, a milestone! It was with the help of this handy youtube video) and also to make ghee on the stove top (if you don’t have cheesecloth, I propose that you use a coffee filter; it worked beautifully for me). For a Friday night–my day of fatigue–it was quite the undertaking, but when I plopped down on the sofa with the finished product to watch an episode of Parks and Recreation, I felt like I had not only well and truly sung for my supper, but had done something nice for myself. And, in that moment, a new and green possibility for comfort food was born.
What foods do you make when you want to treat yourself? Do you stick to old favorites or branch out into uncharted-recipe territory?
If eaten as a side, this recipe yields about 5-6 servings. If eaten as a main with rice, it yields about 3-4.
Slightly adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook
1/4 cup yellow split peas
3 Tbsp. dried coriander (or, as the original recipe calls for, roasted coriander seeds)
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. cumin seeds
4 whole cloves
2-inch piece of a cinnamon stick
6 Tbsp. ghee
1 lb. green beans, washed and trimmed
1 1/2 cup coconut puree (I pureed the big chunks I peeled with the water from the coconut)
-Combine the yellow split peas, dried coriander, cayenne, cumin, cloves and cinnamon in a small skillet and, continually stirring, toast over medium heat until they are golden brown and aromatic (this should take about 3-5 minutes).
-Stir in the salt (about 1/4 tsp. kosher), along with 1 Tbsp. ghee.
-Remove from the heat.
-Heat the remaining ghee (5 Tbsp.) in a large pot or skillet over medium heat.
-Add the coconut puree, spices and beans and stir occasionally for about 15 minutes.
-Once the beans are tender and the sauce has thickened, remove from heat and serve.
-The beans can be eaten plain or can be served with brown rice; they would also make a lovely side dish for chicken.