blackeyed pea salad with celery, mango, and peppers

black eyed pea salad with mangoThis is my version of a salad someone brought to the Easter party I attended this year. Which is hard to believe was just last weekend. It’s been one of those world shifting weeks. Before I get into that, though, let me tell you about the salad. Because (a) I want to write it down before I forget what I did, and (b) I’m starting to realize that I should always put the recipe first. That way people who just want the recipe won’t have to wade through a bunch of words about whatever else I’m interested in. So. Here’s how I made the salad. And trust me. This is one of those dishes that tastes a whole lot better than the crappy photo makes it out to be. Really. It’s delicious.

1 cup blackeyed peas, picked over and rinsed
1 ripe mango, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
2 T. red wine vinegar
1 T. honey
salt to taste

Bring  four cups of water to a boil, add the peas, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 45 minutes, adding about a teaspoon of salt in the last 15 minutes. (They may take a bit longer. Cook until tender but not so long they turn to mush.) Remove from heat and let the peas cool for a while in their cooking liquid while you prep the mango, celery, and pepper. Once everything is chopped, transfer to a large bowl. Then drain the peas, put them on top of the chopped produce,  and drizzle the olive oil, vinegar, and honey on top. Stir to combine. Taste and add salt, more vinegar, and honey as needed.

This is best at room temperature. But on a hot summer day I bet it will be pretty damn good right out of the fridge.

Now. On to the world-shifting week. Right now, as I write this, I’m in Tallahassee. I had to come down all of a sudden because my aunt died last Saturday night, in a car accident. I found out first thing Sunday morning. Which made for a weird, fragile, surreal Easter.

On the one hand, I was happy. A relatively new friend had invited me and another relatively new friend for Easter. I love spending time with both of these people. So I’d been looking forward to the party for weeks, feeling grateful for the direction my life has taken and thinking about what I could contribute. After I finally decided what to bring, I spent much of Saturday making pickled red beets and red onions, to complement the hostess’s lamb heart salad, something that sounded simultaneously brilliant and revolting. They turned out really well. Beautiful. Delicious. (I’ll write about them soon.) I was excited to share them with people. And ever since the class with Ana Forrest a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been working really hard to not fixate on how I think I should be feeling and instead just feel whatever is actually going on without judgment. So, on Sunday, I couldn’t just stop the happy feelings in their tracks.

On the other hand, I was in shock and, at times, overcome with sadness. My Aunt Alice, who married my mom’s brother, was a stay-at-home mom with two boys. Our two families grew up next door to each other. While I haven’t seen her much in recent years, she was a huge part of my life and someone whose presence I foolishly took for granted. She has always been there, a constant for my entire memory. And while I’m sure she sometimes wished I would not come over quite so often, I think m y aunt, who I adored, also loved having a niece who was almost like a part-time daughter.

All of this combined for a weird Easter Sunday. While I waited for it to be time to go to the party, I made a cake. This cake. honey ginger cakeIt’s a honey spice cake without gluten and refined sugar. Again, I’ll post sometime soon with the recipe. For now, it’s enough to say that I couldn’t have planned a more perfect way to spend that time. It was perfect because Aunt Alice was the one who taught me to bake, letting my cousin and I break eggs, showing us how to measure flour, separate the whites and yolks, and do all the things one does to transform individual ingredients into cooked food starting when we had to stand on stools in order to reach the counter.

Originally, that’s what I meant to write about. About the cake and about Aunt Alice teaching me to bake and about loss and life and grief and a million things. Hoping to articulate this as well as some of the ways in which my life has changed in the last year. But there wasn’t time to try. I had to go to the party. Then it was Monday. I had to work. Cope with the reality of my aunt’s death. Find an affordable plane ticket. Come to Tallahassee. Attend the funeral. See my cousin and the rest of my family. Grieve.

Now I’m here in my hometown, surrounded by my family and immersed in this nature that is so much a part of who I am. I’m breathing in the humid Florida air. Listening to the crazy loud insect symphony. Feeling the reality of all these feelings. Without analysis or cataloging. Just feeling. Somehow finding that there isn’t so much to write about. Instead I’m busy trying to live well. Spending time with people I love.  Doing my best to be grateful for every minute. And trusting that here will be time to write more later. For now, namaste.

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Overnight granola and giving thanks, in Florida

I’m writing this from one of the two couches in my mother’s tiny apartment in Tallahassee, a couple of hours before I leave to return to Chicago. I’ve been in Florida for two weeks. This is at least the fourth time I’ve tried to write a blog post. I’m not sure what’s going on. Maybe writer’s block? Must be. Because I have a lot to say. Too much, perhaps. But every time I try to write something happens, I freeze. Stop. Decide to wait until later, when maybe it will come. And now here I am, the last day, still without having posted anything. Oy. That won’t do. So I’m writing this. Which will have to be good enough. Hopefully inspiration for more will return soon.

Before vacation, there was a different problem. For a week or so after my last post, I was just busy and overwhelmed with life. Then I had the flu. Which took me out for almost two weeks. It was awful on so many levels, probably mostly because of the surprising emotional component. There’s nothing like being sick with no one around to make you feel alone. It was a good wake-up call. To what I’m not yet sure, but it was a call to something, if only to make sure I always have some chicken soup in the house. To be grateful for my health, I suppose. Which I am. It is nothing to take for granted.

Now, as I prepare to head back to Chicago, I am absolutely filed with gratitude for having been born and raised here, in Florida. It’s a strange place, yes. I left because I couldn’t live here, had to escape the racism and small-mindedness. Yet it is also the most beautiful place I know, mysterious and deeply, richly alive. Although I took about a million photos and videos, so many that my phone is completely full, I’m having trouble with the transfer. But I have a few.

This vacation started and ended in Tallahassee, sandwiching a week on St. George Island.  During my daily walks on the beach I fell in love with a tree that had washed up to the shore. Here it is, as it looked during the sunny hours on the one stormy day. As you can see from the barnacles, it  obviously spent some time in the water before washing up to shore. Maybe it came here from Cuba, a refugee. I don’t know.

tree with barnaclesbarnaclestree in surf

What I do know is how incredibly lucky I am. So, so privileged. It’s so easy to take everything we have for granted. Being alive. Able to get up and go outside, breathe air, drink water, walk. Cook and eat delicious, nourishing food. It’s impossible, I think, to be thankful every moment. Life would become overwhelming. Too serious. Sometimes you, or at least I, have to take things for granted. Yet it seems important to spend at least some time every day in appreciation. Noticing what we have that is good.

Right now, before I finish packing, I’m noticing how delicious this granola is. I made it before I left Chicago. Because I meant to blog about it. It’s my new favorite. Which I decided to share despite the fact that it has zero beans. Only oats. And nuts. And a few other things. Although my photo will not upload (serious technical difficulties are making me CRAZY!), here’s the recipe, which I adapted this recipe in Fine Cooking. (http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/dried-cherry-coconut-granola.aspx)

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups puffed rice cereal
1-1/2 cups dried, shredded, unsweetened coconut
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup halved or slivered raw almonds
1 teaspoon ground cardamon
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon table salt
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup extra-virgin coconut oil

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk the syrup, honey, and oils, then add to the dry ingredients. Stir to combine.

2. Spread onto a heavy-duty baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes, until just starting to brown. Turn off the oven. Stir the granola mixture, return to the oven, and close the oven door. Let the granola sit in the oven for 6 – 12 hours. Transfer to a large bowl, breaking up any large clumps. Store in an airtight container for up to one month. Enjoy!