Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure – measure a year?
In daylights – in sunsets
In midnights – in cups of coffee
In inches – in miles
In laughter – in strife. – Jonathan Larson (Rent)
2016 has been a weird year–quite possibly, the strangest and most disruptive year of my 33.5 years on earth. After thinking about it all day, I was even almost tempted to begin this post with a nod to one of the wittiest women in English literary history by saying that “it is a truth universally acknowledged that anybody with a lick of common sense must rejoice at the prospect of saying goodbye to 2016,” but, despite all of the disruption, acrimony and fear, I just can’t see 2016 as an inherently bad thing. Politically, it was most definitely a bust; there’s no way of getting around that. Personally, however, the year was, more often than not, good–and, when it wasn’t good, it wasn’t even terrible: just your run-of-the-mill mixed bag kind of days, the type we’re all more than a little familiar with.
Besides the results of the election, my biggest disappointments this year primarily stemmed from my own inability to do everything I had set out to do: look for and find a new job, write more, read and go to yoga more often, call and visit friends…There were times when I would get into a groove, really accomplishing my to-do list, but then something would happen to destabilize the fragile routine I was creating for myself. When I wonder what I could have done differently, I ask myself if my loss of momentum (is it just 2016 or has my prose really been overrun by political catchphrases?) on these fronts occurred because of my own human inertia, the fact that I was genuinely busy getting ready for all of the weddings or because I was reminded that my life in Delaware, even while it increasingly felt permanent, was really only temporary?
It’s also possible that I’ve just judged myself too harshly this past year, that when I think of my list of blog posts still
to be written (23, including this one), books still
to be read (too many to count) and recipes still
to be cooked and baked (all while knowing I lack the stomach and freezer space to consume them all), it’s only natural that that I feel somewhat overwhelmed. But even if I didn’t manage to cross everything off my list, there’s no way I really managed to squander 2016’s standard paltry offering 525,600 minutes
In this case, I guess it just all boils down to my having had other important things to do. 2016 was not only the Year of the Weddings, events set in stone in late 2015, but also a time for spontaneity, creativity and travel. I can still myself, at different times of the year:
Brazenly deciding, in the middle of a cold and seemingly endless January, that, my job and responsibilities be damned, I would just go to Hong Kong and visit my college roommate for a week in late March;
Walking to the courthouse with the Greek to get our marriage license in late January, feeling triumphant and adult-like, only to be told that I couldn’t enter the courthouse because of the mace in my pocket;
Participating in the “Beyond Academia” conference in February; walking through the pouring rain to Berkeley Bowl and, upon arriving there, discovering the sweet smell of strawberries;
Wandering the balmy streets of an uncharacteristically hot Thessaloniki in June; boiling in my wedding dress and fantasizing about using it to one day, but not that hot day, to roast marshmallows;
Seeing and spending time with so many friends that I had never expected to be in the same place at the same time;
Honeymooning in the brightly tiled city of Lisbon, where I ate sandwiches on buns made of squid ink and found an excuse to eat pasteis de nata each and every day–and sometimes more than once;
Traveling to SF in late August for work and, while walking the streets inappropriately dressed
in a summery jumpsuit (even after living there for nine years, I can never manage to get it right), getting stopped by a woman who wanted to know where I had bought my jumpsuit; after answering her, she told me I had a “great energy” and that “career change was in my future.” Whether real or not, it was exactly what I had wanted to hear.
There are so many redeeming moments from this last year, even from this last lazy week in Pennsylvania: hearty country breakfasts with my grandparents, pineapples and pears being turned into a jam the color of sunshine
and evenings playing poker for nickels and dimes. Even today’s mountain adventure at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Kentuck Knob
, where we met and hiked through the snowy sculptural garden with an elderly couple from Brooklyn, seemed to cast the year in a hopeful light; somehow, in those chilly thirty-some minutes, there was so much good will and conversation. The woman and I discussed Moscow and St. Petersburg, the election, jobs and the hardships women face when pursuing both careers and families, editorials in the New York Times
…The cynical side of me says it was a fluke, the kind of thing that happens only in strange places and with strangers, but it doesn’t even matter if it was. The connection felt as real as any I’ve had or made all year. As we were saying goodbye, the Greek threw a snowball at me and, encouraged by my hiking companion, I retaliated and hit him squarely in the shoulder with nice round snowball. She yelled after me that female power would have its moment yet. Call me crazy, but I consider that an auspicious sign for the new year.
But since the new year isn’t quite here yet, I wanted to try to end the blog on a high note, to share a recipe from a book that was, if not my favorite cookbook of the year, definitely one
my favorites of the year (in addition to writing posts on the travel that I did last year and alluded to earlier in this post, I plan on writing a post on my favorite books and cookbooks of 2016 in the next few days), Samarkand
. It was a book that I never expected to buy, but right after my run in with the psychic in the streets of San Francisco, I decided to visit City Light Books, but just to poke around and to take advantage of my time in a city where there are lots of independent bookshops. Well, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m not one of those people for whom just poking around ever works out when in a bookstore. Before I knew it, I was downstairs in the cookbook section and flipping through Samarkand.
Not only did I like the photography (call me a sucker for the food styling that involves steaming tea pots in the background and perfectly chosen plates), but the recipes were like a mash-up of everything I love about Middle Eastern and Eastern European food: pistachio halva, apples baked in phyllo, breads stuffed with feta and herbs, plovs (or pilafs) with fruits and nuts. And when I saw the recipes for pumpkin manti with tomato sauce and Afghan pink wedding chai, I knew that there were at least two things in this book that I hadn’t seen anywhere else.
When I got home from my trip, the Greek and I cooked from this book extensively, making chicken kebabs, the pumpkin manti and tarkhun (tarragon soda) for a BBQ with friends. I quickly recognized that, while I still found the recipes to be exciting and the kinds of thing I wanted to make for dinner, that the proportions in the book weren’t always spot on (if the recipe invites you to use more chicken in order to make more kebobs, it should also specify, though it is also common sense, that you should make more marinade) or that the directions (in the case of the manti, which can be tricky to shape since they are tiny) aren’t always as clear as they could or should be. That said, the final dishes in each case were incredibly tasty; both just required a certain level of attention and kitchen savvy that tighter editing might have avoided. When I again cooked from the book, riffing on the Jewish Mountain (chicken and onion) omelet, I modified things according to my tastes and pantry, and we ended up with a fantastic dinner. I’ve decided that, when it comes to cookbooks, some are instructive, others are aspirational, and some are inspiring in the sense that they make you want to cook and combine flavors that you would otherwise never think to. This book, for me at least, is largely the inspiring kind; plus, the evocative photos and the stories that the authors tell make me nostalgic for the melting pot of Russian cuisine, which is where I first encountered a lot of these flavors.
I had planned, long, long, ago, in what feels like another life, to post about the Afghan pink chai on the eve of the Pennsylvania wedding and not just to mark the event, but to memorialize the official end of the Year of the Weddings. However, as with so many things this past year, it just didn’t work out that way. So here I am, on New Year’s Eve (a holiday that I hate anyway because it’s absurd to pin all of your hopes for the new year on one midnight every year), finally writing this post and saying goodbye to 2016. It seems fitting, though, since this tea, qymaq chai,
is served on formal and special occasions (mainly weddings). While chai, spiced tea, is popular throughout the world (I have written about Kashmiri chai
in the past), what makes this particular chai special is that after baking soda is added to it, it is poured from one pan, held high in the air, to another, which aerates the tea and transforms it from green (it is made with green tea) to dark red. It really is something to behold, a little bit of kitchen magic (baking soda for the win!). You then mix in either creme fraiche (or, if you can find it, qymaq
, or kaymak, which is made from the milk of water buffalos and is similar to clotted cream) or whipped heavy cream, which turns it a lighter pink. After adding the milk and whipped cream, to my eye, the tea had the appearance of only a dusty pink, which I’ve decided is really just a pretty way to say light brown or a rosy brown. Whatever the color, the flavor is fantastically rich: creamy and fragrant with notes of licorice (star anise), warm spice (cinnamon) and sweet citrus (cardamom). Even if no celebrations are in order, it’s easily the kind of drink I find myself reaching for on cold winter nights–nights like tonight, in fact.
On that note, a happy new year (new year, new horizons is what I am calling this one) to you all!
Afghan Pink Chai
Despite my love of green tea, I didn’t have a plain green tea in the cupboard. I had oolong and jasmine, both of which would probably have worked just fine, but, for some reason, I opted to use a fruity green tea blend from Mariage Freres. In part, this was because the recipe didn’t specify which kind of green tea to use, but it was also because I thought the fruity flavor of the tea would complement the spices that would infuse it.
I also used almond milk, instead of the whole milk the recipe called for, again because it was what I had on hand. Because the almond milk was sweetened, I added only two tablespoons of sugar to the finished tea, so if you use whole milk, you might want to add more to make it sweeter.
2 tablespoons, loose-leaf green tea (use your preferred blend)
1 star anise
5-6 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup almond or whole milk
2-4 tablespoons sugar, to taste
pinch of salt
1/4 cup heavy cream, whipped
Bring four cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan and then add the green tea and spices.
Simmer for 5-10 minutes until the tea is fragrant and the liquid has turned green. Add the baking soda (the liquid will foam, but not dangerously) and let the mixture boil for another two minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and strain the tea, using a fine-mesh strainer, into another pot or bowl. Continue to pour the tea, holding the pot or bowl with the tea higher, from one vessel to another. This process of pouring the tea from on high will aerate the tea, changing its color.
Add the milk to the tea, which will turn the tea a dusty pink. Add sugar to taste, a pinch of salt and then pour into teacups. Dollop with whipped cream and serve.