French lentil salad with sherry vinaigrette

The sun is finally out after a series of rainy days. It feels like one of those childhood summer days, long and lazy, full of possibility. I am not going to work or do anything productive. My only plan is a bbq/birthday party with some of my most beloved friends. Maybe I’ll go to yoga. Or maybe not. We’ll see. I’ve been exploring the not doing lately, practicing what it means to live in a space of breath, open and not trying. Morning walks to my garden, listening to birds, beginning to recognize neighbors on morning walks, without or without dogs, children, with or without eye contact, smiles. It feels good. Easy. Ease.

The downside of this new approach to life has been a vast reduction in productivity. I don’t get very much done. But I think that’s okay. I am not in a race. This fact is underlined by the absence of panting, a form of breath that used to be my norm. Now, at worst, I sometimes find myself holding my breath. Old habits. They take a long time to die, particularly when you’re trying to replace them kindly. Again, ease. That’s my summer theme. Which translates well to food, if not to prolific blogging.

lentil saladI first made this salad a few years ago, when it appeared in Fine Cooking Magazine. (http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/lentil-salad-sherry-vinaigrette.aspx) And it’s since become a staple, not only for home but also for parties. Because, in addition to the facts that this salad is easy, make ahead, affordable, and safe for almost all categories of food intolerances, it’s absolutely delicious. Which, at the end of the day, is the scale tipper.

My version hews pretty tight to the original but for a few changes. First, I don’t use scallions. I’m sure they’re wonderful if you like scallions. But I really don’t. So I just leave them out. Second, I always use sherry vinegar. For me it is the essential ingredient that makes this salad. But I think it would be good enough with white wine vinegar. Just maybe not amazing. Finally, instead of layering all the various components of the vinaigrette into the salad separately, I whisk them together while the lentils are cooking then fold the dressing into the warm, drained lentils. I don’t detect any difference in flavor and I find this method, which I arrived at after many, many times of following the original instructions, much less fussy.

In addition to being delicious on its own, this salad is also good as a topping for crackers (the caviar of lentils), a bed for grilled meats or roasted vegetables, and a topping for salads. I especially love it over arugula topped with a poached egg, a quick summer dinner. So, while the recipe that follows serves 6-8 in a single meal, if you’re cooking for more than 2, you may want to double up to ensure enough for multiple incarnations.

2-1/4 c. French green lentils (lentils du Puy)
kosher salt
1/4 c. sherry vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
6 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 t minced garlic

1. Rinse the lentils  and put them in a large saucepan with two quarts of cold, filtered water and two teaspoons of salt. Bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat, cover partially, and simmer for about 25 minutes, until the lentils are tender but still intact. Drain, rinse with cold water, and transfer to a large bowl.

2. Whisk the oil, vinegar, 1 teaspoon of salt, a few grindings of pepper, and garlic until combined. Pour the dressing over the warm lentils and stir gently to combine, making sure not to mash the lentils. Let stand at room temperature for at least an hour and up to three hours. Taste for seasoning and serve.

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Vegan cassoulet from 29 Palms Inn

This past weekend I finally visited southern California, a place I’ve avoided for a very long time. Initially, when the first of many friends moved to L.A., I didn’t want to visit. Because I was certain I would hate it. Then, when I broke down and planned a trip, things didn’t work out because of the Rodney King riots, which resulted in LAX being closed the day I was to arrive.

Joshua TreeOver the years, as more and more friends moved out west, I have spent time in Northern California, which I love, and Seattle, a place I would eventually like to call home. Yet my affection for these other west coast cities, livable places full of air and space and nature, somehow only hardened my conviction that L.A. was not for me.

Eventually, that belief became part of my identity. I was a person who disliked L.A. Until recently, during my reevaluation of, well, everything. At some point in the last few months I realized that my beliefs about L.A. were based on nonsense, a vestige of old, unhealthy patterns. I’ve never been there. I don’t know what I think. There are people I love in L.A. It’s sunny. There are gorgeous beaches. Matador Beach, MalibuAnd the food is supposed to be great. So I booked a ticket. And I’m posting after spending a long weekend there. I didn’t fall in love with the city. But I liked it just fine. And the nature that surrounds the city is amazing. I will definitely return.

Although my first trip was pretty quick, I managed to pack a whole lot in. On the first day, I went to Matador Beach, in Malibu. I would say that the beauty is indescribable. Except I have photos. So you can see for yourself. Matador Beach, Malibu 2Stunning, right? The photos don’t catch the sound, though, which was mesmerizing. Unlike the Gulf of Mexico, a soft background noise that lulls you, gently invites you to come into the water, this sound took over from the outside, strong and assertive, crawling inside my mind, body, until I was empty of everything except the rythmic beat. I laid on the sand for an hour or so, absorbed by sound of ocean hitting rock, over and over, taking over thought and leaving room only for being. There was no need for me to go anywhere or do anything. It was like a gong bath. But more visceral.

Unfortunately, the only dark spot of the entire weekend followed directly after that marvelous experience. When we left the beach, planning to head home and then go out, my friend Maria and I got caught up in the fabled L.A. traffic. It’s so, so much worse than I imagined. Because at the time I had not yet seen Chris Burden’s Metropolis II. (http://www.lacma.org/art/exhibition/metropolis-ii) Metropolis IIArt does indeed reflect life. Within the first ten minutes of sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, all of my pride at newly acquired ability to breathe through anger and irritation was shown up as nothing but veneer.  I managed to stay calm, did not become moody or difficult. But it took tremendous effort, leaving me with nothing much left to give. That meant we wound up staying home Saturday night instead of heading out to the bbq we’d been invited to. I wanted to go. I just didn’t want to drive. Or have to make an effort with people I didn’t know. It was sad. And, Maria assured me, completely typical. This was L.A.

On the upside, the earlyMaria 2 night at home made it super easy to get up the next day. The plan was to go to yoga and then to another friend’s house for a bbq. I was both excited and nervous. Excited because I’d never been to one of Maria’s classes. (http://www.yogaworks.com/en/Locations/California%20-%20South/Los%20Angeles/LarchmontVillage-CFY.aspx?tab=teachers&staff_id={FB54B179-3A37-484E-A64C-B90400C00383}) Nervous because I’ve never practiced Ashtanga. She assured me there was nothing to be nervous about, though. Which turned out to be true.

In addition to being a great friend, Maria (pictured left, in Joshua Tree) is a wonderful teacher, calm and thoughtful, pushing each of us to make the effort, to give everything without getting lost in struggle. This is an image of her that we shot in Joshua Tree. So gorgeous! I still am not a convert. The rigor and discipline of Ashtanga don’t draw me in. But I admire it. And I am no longer afraid.

After class, we made a quick stop at Whole Foods in Pasadena, where I nerded out on the bulk section of heirloom beans. Then we headed to East L.A. for another friend’s bbq. What followed was about 30 hours of pure joy with people I absolutely love.

First, we spent a few hours at the hostess’s awesome house, eating, drinking, laughing, and listening to music.Me and David It was perfect. My joy is apparent in this photo. Yes? But, at some point, we disbanded that part of the day. It was time to leave for Joshua Tree. The drive was delightful, full of more laughing and talking and reveling in friend love. The four of us hadn’t been together in 12 years, so there was a whole lot of catching up to do. Before I knew it we arrived at our hotel, the 29 Palms Inn (http://www.29palmsinn.com/). We checked in and then headed to the restaurant for dinner. I’d heard mixed reviews, so wasn’t sure what to expect. But I was hoping for the best. After all, they had their own farm. How bad could it be?

desert cassouletCassoulet isn’t something one typically associates with the desert. Or Southern California. But in addition to white beans, the menu promised garlic, greens, and tomatoes from the garden. Which sounded great after the bison burger and various forms of carbohydrates and dairy I’d eaten for lunch. When I overheard the table next to us ask for the recipe, I knew it was for me. And I was not disappointed. This reimagined version of cassoulet was fresh, vibrant, and deeply satisfying. So I, too, asked for the recipe. Here’s what the chef told me to do.

Heat some olive oil in a large skillet over fairly high heat. Saute garlic and shallots. Add fresh greens, whatever is in season (the chef used Swiss chard), halved cherry tomatoes, basil, oregano, marjoram, and a healthy amount of salt. Saute, stirring, for a few minutes, until everything is carmelized. Then add cooked white beans and about two cups of white wine. Cook for about ten minutes, until the liquid is reduced by half. Serve with toasted bread.

Because I have not yet had a chance to try this recipe, I’m not sure what to tell you about the amounts. And I probably won’t for a little while. Because I just found out that I have to find an apartment, pack up the condo where I’ve lived for the past ten years, and move, all in the next two weeks. Which will not permit much time for cooking or, probably, blogging. But I look forward to trying this cassoulet soon, once I’m settled in my new place, what and wherever that is. If you get around to it before I do, please let me know!

seed dreams

Beans are seeds. This isn’t something I ordinarily think about, much less dwell on. But it’s been on my mind since last Saturday morning’s Forrest yoga class with Anne Paulsen.  (http://yoganne.wordpress.com/)  Because while I always leave yoga feeling richer, more ready and willing to face life with equanimity and confidence, this class was particularly special. And even though I’m not at all religious, it seems appropriate to  write about it today, Easter, a day that symbolizes rebirth.

In celebration/recognition of the Spring equinox, Anne started last Saturday’s class by suggesting that we envision a seed of something we want to build in our lives. I, of course, immediately summoned the image of a bean, specifically an Ayocote Negro bean. black runner beansGlossy, dense, and full of possibility. As I held the image of this bean, this seed, in my mind, I focused on my breath, listening as Anne guided us through planting the seed in our bodies, watering it with our breath, and nurturing it with love.

I followed my breath as it moved, creating space, until I found the right spot within my body. I planted my seed in the open space I found inside my hips. Then, periodically throughout the practice, I returned, watering the seed with my breath. My intention was to plant the seed of authentic expression, not in any one specific form, but for my life. To stop trying to be what I think I’m supposed to be for others. To stop judging myself by some imagined yardstick held by others. To be myself. Whatever, whoever that is.

Since last week, I’ve experienced my usual mix of ups and downs, at moments feeling full of hope and optimism, at other times fairly certain that my life is an absolute disaster. Yet there’s been a difference. It’s subtle, and still very young, but I feel a sense of trust that was not there before. I first noticed it last Saturday night, during my second date with the much younger man. I enjoyed his company. He was smart and funny and interesting and interested and sweet. But there was no connection. My heart did not sing. So, at the end of the night, I thanked him and said goodbye, without any uncertainty or regret.

I noticed this new trust in myself again on Monday morning, when I woke early enough to go to Jen Shin’s 6:30 am Forrest class. (http://yoganowchicago.wpengine.com/teachers/?trainer_id=100000299) Like Anne, Jen is an intuitive, generous, wise teacher whose heart is wide open and full of love. Jen’s class is a space entirely without judgment. By the end of class, I found myself letting go, releasing in a way that traditionally has not come easily to me. Another shoot emerging from the seed.

Tuesdays and Thursdays I am lucky enough to practice with the remarkable Gwen Mihaljevich. (http://www.evilstrength.com/) Gwen’s style is much more abstract than either Anne or Jen, yet no less powerful. I do not remember what we did on Tuesday. On Thursday, though, the focus was on learning how to give ourselves what we need, how to be our own support so that we do not need to feed off of others. Which sounds obvious. Yet isn’t. It’s a goal. And a practice.

Yesterday, Saturday, I arrived to Anne’s class late, something that I abhor. In the past I might have abandoned class rather than be late, worried about disturbing others or that the teacher might not like me. On this day, however, I managed to overcome those self-imposed limitations, knowing that I am almost never late, that I would do my best to enter quietly, and that Anne would not judge me but that even if she did, it was not up to me to decide or control her thoughts or opinion about who or what I am.

When I entered the room and laid down my mat, Anne was talking about kindness. She suggested that we feel into the space in our body that felt content, at ease. If that was difficult, we should feel for any area that had some sense of open space. Breathe into it. Allow the space to spread.  So often we focus on what is hard, trying to melt, soften, change. Today, instead, we would focus on what felt good and easy, already soft. Celebrate what is. This, Anne suggested, was the path to rewiring from a place of negative self-judgment to a place of love and acceptance. Focus on what feels good. Be easy.

Today, Easter, I’m starting my rewiring project by focusing on everything I have that’s good as is. I’m cooking, of course, because it’s Sunday and I need food for the week ahead. But I’m not making anything new. So I’m not blogging about food today. And, although since childhood I’ve always celebrated Easter by sharing food and love with either family or, in my adult years, large groups of friends, this year I decided to stay home, alone, to take care of myself. To feed myself love. Breathe in gratitude. Celebrate this new life of mine, as it is, now. This moment is good. And that is enough.

Vegan Kibbeh with Turkish cranberry beans

I was first introduced to Kibbeh (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kibbeh) at a tiny little restaurant in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago, Bethlehem restaurant, where I worked, briefly, as a waitress, back when I first moved to the city. I think the job lasted three weeks. I wasn’t fired. Nor did I quit. The owner simply disappeared, so that one evening when I showed up for work he simply wasn’t there. Which was fine. I was not a very good waitress. I was constantly convinced I was going to drop food. It made me nervous. And I don’t think I made enough money to cover transportation costs.

Because there were so few customers, I passed the time by talking to the owner. Or, rather, listening. Mostly he spoke of things I didn’t understand. He was Palestinian. I was a completely ignorant 22-year-old who at that time in my life (yes, I am ashamed of this) was wilfully disengaged from the political process and cared little, because I knew nothing, about the middle east. So I didn’t have any concept of what drove this man to drink various airplane sized bottles of alcohol at the end of each night. All I cared about was his food. He cooked delicious, intriguing food, much of which I’d never heard of or tasted.

I was familiar with hummus, of course, and falafel, both of which he made and made well. But kibbeh? Completely new. It reminded me of the aranciata I used to devour during the glorious bit of my life that I spent studying abroad in Florence, Italy. But instead of gooey rice and cheese, a relatively bland comfort food that one could sink into without thought, food as escapism, kibbeh required engagement. Analysis. One could not help but think about the contrasts in taste and texture brought with each bite, unfamiliar and intriguing. Yet, because of the unfamiliarity, I was overwhelmed. Plus, while delicious, the first kibbeh I experienced was more of an appetizer than a dinner. Not something I would ever cook at home. I therefore never asked for the recipe or thought much about how to make it.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when a friend and I were at Semirami’s, my favorite local Lebanese restaurant. (http://www.semiramisrestaurant.com/) We both ordered the special. kibbeh poached in tomato sauce. It was revelatory! And also inspiring. I was planning to cook dinner for a friend’s birthday the following weekend and had been at a loss for what to make. Because we were going to a play beforehand. Which meant the dinner needed to be made ahead. Yet, because I was cooking as part of a gift, I wanted it to be special. This would be perfect! And I was pretty sure I could it with beans.

Since I started this project, dreamsofmyfava, I’ve stockpiled quite a few beans. Some I ordered and others I received aTurkish beanss gifts, from supportive friends. So I had quite an array of choices to consider. None of them seemed quite right, though. Then I remembered–a good friend recently visited Turkey, where, apparently, beans are so popular that entire restaurants are devoted to them. So she brought me a sack of Turkish beans. Which I’m pretty sure are cranberry beans. Which are my favorite. (https://dreamsofmyfava.com/2013/01/03/cranberry-beans-with-garlic-sage-and-olive-oil/)While Turkey is not Lebanon, and I didn’t actually find any recipes for Turkish Kibbeh, it felt right. Decision made.

Now that I knew what kind of bean I would use, I faced the fact that in addition to making a version with beans, the challenge for this recipe was that I’ve never even made the traditional, tried and true kibbeh with lamb. And when I looked online, I could not find a single example of poached kibbeh. I therefore had no frame of reference beyond my single meal from Semiramis. But, having made the decision, I was undeterred. And perhaps a little manic. Because during that week I was also trying to write a tricky, long, and painfully fruitless brief at work. In my spare time, I was working on organizing a panel discussion on prison reform. And I was also texting back and forth with a much younger man who had asked me out on a date. Which, for where I’m at right now, was terrifying and exciting on pretty much every possible level. In short, my mind was overflowing with hopes and anxieties and dreams.

Thankfully, there was also yoga. Which enabled me to continue moving forward, non-grasping, through the hopes, past the anxieties, and without investing in any dreams. I focused.

First, I read several recipes. All shared the same ingredients of bulgur, lamb, onion, and pine nuts, flavored with allspice and cinnamon. I finally settled on this one from Epicurious as my template because it was baked, not fried. (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Baked-Kibbeh-107351)

Next, I cooked the beans. Because I wanted them to retain their shape, I brined overnight. (https://dreamsofmyfava.com/2013/01/05/brining-beans/) I added spices and olive oil in an effort to create a richer mouth feel and a deeper, more complex flavor.

Beans
1-1/2 c. dried cranberry beans
1/2 t. ground allspice
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
3 T. olive oil
1 thumb-sized piece kombu (for digestion)

Add all of the ingredients to the insert of a crockpot or a medium-sized pot. Cover with 1″ water. If using a crockpot, cook on high for 3 hours, or until done. If cooking on the stove, bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer checking the water level and testing for doneness. They will probably take about 1-1/2 hours. When they’ve done (or a little earlier, when they’ve given up but aren’t yet finished), salt liberally, starting with 1 teaspoon. I believe I used about 1-1/2 teaspoons. Cool in the cooking liquid and refrigerate until ready to use.

Next I started working on the kibbeh, which is a bit of a process.

KIBBEH

Filling
1/2 medium, sweet onion, finely chopped
2 T. olive oil
1 c. cooked beans, drained but not rinsed
1/2 t. ground allspice
1/4 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. dried crushed chili pepper
1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
1/3 c. pine nuts, toasted
salt, if necessary

Bulgur mixture
1 c. fine bulgur
1/2 medium, sweet onion, coarsely chopped
1-1/2 or 2 c. cooked beans, drained but not rinsed
1 t. ground allspice
1 t. salt
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. black pepper

1.  To make the filling, heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet over moderate heat. Cook the onion until golden, 8-10 minutes. Add the beans and spices, stirring gently to combine, and cook until heated through. Remove from the heat and stir in the pine nuts. Salt to taste.

2. To make the bulgur mixture, first cover the bulgur with 1 inch of cold water in a bowl. After the dust and chaff rise to the surface, pour off the water. Repeat twice. Then cover the rinsed bulgur with 1″ of cold water and let sit for 10 minutes. Drain in a fine-meshed sieve, pressing down on the bulgur to remove excess liquid, and transfer to the bowl of a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients and process until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.

3. To assemble the kibbeh, I used an ice cream server to scoop about an egg-sized portion of the bulgur mixture into the palm of my hand. I pressed an indentation in the center and added a scant tablespoon of the filling. I then formed the bulgur mixture around the filling. Transfer the filled kibbeh to a lightly oiled plate and repeat until you’ve used up all the filling and bulgur mixture. Refrigerate, uncovered, while you make the tomato sauce.

The tomato sauce at Semirami’s was delicious, unctuous and sweet with definite chunks of tomato and onion. Although I did not identify the spices when I was at the restaurant, from my research I was pretty sure it was flavored with allspice and cinnamon. So that’s what I decided to use. The Semirami’s sauce was also very sweet, almost certainly made with a generous amount of sugar. Since I try not to cook with refined sugar, I decided to use honey.

Tomato Sauce
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 28-oz can whole plum tomatoes, chopped
1 medium, sweet onion, chopped medium
1/4 c. olive oil
1 T. honey
salt to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet, over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until golden, approximately 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the honey and salt to taste. Simmer for another 10 minutes.

Okay. Here’s where I took a misstep. What I should have done was bake the kibbeh for about 40 minutes at 350. That’s what I did with this one. And it’s what I’ll do next timebaked kibbeh. As you can see, you then have a cohesive little bundle, which is presentable. But, of course, I, being impatient, over confident, and generally overwhelmed, did not take that route.

Instead, I took the carefully formed, uncooked kibbeh from the fridge and nestled them directly into the tomato sauce. The little guy overhead got the special treatment only because he wouldn’t fit into the skillet with his friends. Who, after cooking on the stove for about 10 minutes and then in the oven, covered for another 45 minutes, looked like this. poached kibbehNot pretty. I tried a bite. It was delicious. But I had to transport this dish to my friend’s house. And then serve it for her birthday dinner. By which point it would bear no resemblance to kibbeh. It would be stew. Which might be okay. But I was not going for stew. I wanted kibbeh.

At this point, the person I was until very recently would probably have been freaking out. So I’m very proud to report that I wasn’t at all stressed. It was improv. The original idea didn’t work. The possibility remained, however, for something new. So. Onward.

In an act of bold desperation, laughing, I took out a baking sheet, lined it with parchment paper, and carefully scooped each fragile kibbeh from the sauce to the baking sheet. Then I crossed my fingers and jumped in the shower. 20 minutes later things were smelling good. They weren’t quitcranberry bean kibbeh poached in tomato saucee firm, but something was happening. And, after an additional 25 minutes, I had these. Not the most beautiful dish I’ve ever made. Not what I intended to make. But, hands down, the most delicious food I’ve ever created. Complex flavor, toothsome bite, and deeply satisfying. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to recreate that magic. But I plan to try. Because even if it doesn’t turn out the same as the first time, I can’t imagine that it will be bad. And even if it is bad, I will have fun. Living love. Full of gratitude for the ability to feed myself and people I love. And, through creating delicious, healthy food, manufacturing joy.

Farinata (chickpea pancake)

This morning, for the first time in over a week, I woke up feeling well rested. I suppose I’m finally used to stupid Daylight Savings Time. But it’s more than that. I feel like I’m back. First, I’m writing about beans again after what feels like a long time not. And second, more importantly, I’m cooking beans again. Which feels good. Not only because I want to write about beans. I want to get back to a bean-centric diet. It is important. Because both my body and my mind work and feel better when I eat mostly beans.

Don’t get me wrong. Although I have not been writing much about or cooking many beans, I’ve still been eating plenty. My freezer is always stocked with a selection of bean-based dishes. But for a little while there the balance shifted. Meat became not quite the center, but probably a quarter of my diet. I felt heavy. Full. Weighed down and not creative. Then I caught the flu.

My physical recovery from what was a very mild flu was fast. But the mental and emotional effect lingered. I was maybe a little depressed. Not a lot. But enough that I found myself suddenly snappish and irritable, rising quickly to anger over the smallest thing. Forgetting about gratitude. Deflecting my emotions. Getting stuck in my head. It was awful. And I realized that this used to be my norm. Which was both sobering and incredibly exciting.

In realizing that this state of rising quickly to anger, feeling ungrateful, and being stuck in my head used to be my norm, I recognized how much I’ve grown and changed for the better in the past few years. And especially in the past few months. Somehow, having my life fall apart has made everything make sense. I’ve learned how to make myself happy, how to manufacture my own source of joy.

Honestly, I think it’s mostly because of yoga. But the time I spend doing improv, writing, cooking, and eating certainly doesn’t hurt. Especially eating. Because of all these things, eating is the only one that I do several times a day, no matter what. After all, if you don’t eat, you die. And my body is especially tricky in that if I don’t feed it pretty much constantly, I faint. So it’s a good thing that this basic requirement for life also provides (or should provide) such rich pleasure. Which brings me to the ostensible subject of today’s somewhat rambling, positive self-help-speakish post. Farinata!

farinataAccording to Wikipedia, farinata, which is also called socca and cecina, “is a sort of thin, unleavened pancake or crêpe of chickpea flour originating in Genoa and later a typical food of the Ligurian Sea coast, from Nice to Pisa.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farinata) I first heard of it a couple of years ago when I read Skye Gyngell’s My Favorite Ingredients. (http://www.powells.com/biblio/2-9781580080507-2) Unlike Gyngell, I have not yet dreamt of farinata, but I am with her in loving this delicious chickpea pancake. It is delicious. Also healthy, quick, easy, and adaptable

I’ve tried several different recipes, including the one in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (http://www.powells.com/biblio/1-9780764524837-0), but I like Gyngell’s the best. My version is hers in every way except the cooking method: Gyngell starts things off on the stove, whereas mine is cooked entirely in the oven. Here’s my recipe.

1-3/4 c. chickpea flour
1 t. sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
3 or 4 rosemary sprigs, leaves only, chopped
1 c. sparkling water
1 T. olive oil
Dolcelatte cheese, for serving (omit to make vegan)

1. Place 1 T. olive oil in a well-seasoned, 12-inch, cast-iron skillet. Put the skillet in the oven and preheat to 425.

2. Mix the flour, salt, and pepper in a bowl, forming a well in the center. Whisk in the olive oil, rosemary, and sparkling water. Let the batter rest for 20 minutes.

farinata with kale salad3. Remove the skillet from the oven and transfer the batter. Bake for 17-20 minutes, or until lightly brown and firm. Flip on to a plate.

To serve, cut in wedges and, if you wish, top with crumbled Dolcelatte (blue) or other cheese. Today I had this with a side of kale salad, minus the cheese and almonds. (https://dreamsofmyfava.com/2013/01/30/kale-salad/). It was terrific. Enjoy!

Saying “Yes”

This post is about beans. Really, it is. Just not about cooking beans, or eating them. Instead it’s about the dream aspect. Except, as an aside, I did eat some beans last night, at Ed’s Potsticker House, where they’re served in small bowls, waiting on the table when you first arrive, a snack. Unfortunately, though, I can’t tell you what those beans, which were glazed with some deliciousness, tasted like. Starving, talking to the people around me, I reached for what I thought was a piece of lotus root. I should have looked more carefully. What I saw was not lotus root. It was star anise. The spice. Which I realized only when I actually bit into and chewed it. My first bite therefore kind’ve overpowered the subtle flavors of, well, everything else. Not smart. But funny. And awesome.

The fact that I actually bit into the star anise in a mistaken belief that it was food is awesome because it was so completely ridiculous. The reason I’m writing about it, however, is to celebrate my recognition and appreciation of the ridiculousness in the moment.

What does all of this have to do with beans, you ask? Or saying “Yes”? Everything.

Six months ago, had I mistaken the star anise for food and therefore temporarily destroyed my sense of taste just before what was expected to be a marvelous feast with friends, an event that I’d been looking forward to for days, I would have beaten myself up, embarrassed and angry and sad. I would also have recognized the humor, of course, but it would have been tainted. Last night, however, I didn’t have to sort through any complicated barriers to get to enjoyment.

The difference, I believe, is that six months ago a dear friend and I started taking improv classes. Everyone who knew me well was shocked, as I was universally considered to be, as one person put it, the very last person on earth one could imagine taking–or doing–improv. I’m a planner. An analyzer. An over thinker. I make lists and ponder and agonize, plotting out my life years in advance in a series of short and long term goals. Of course few if any of these plans have ever worked out exactly as anticipated, but that does not stop me from trying.

My original plan for improv was to take a single class, both as a diversion from grief over my failed marriage and also as a tool to overcome my terror of oral argument. I had no interest in performing. In fact, the thought was absolutely horrifying. But at the time I was in the process of drafting a cert petition that actually had a chance of being granted, and figured that I needed to do whatever I could to prepare myself for a possible appearance in front of Justice Scalia.

To some extent, the plan worked. I discovered a whole new world within Chicago, one that had nothing whatsoever to do with the life I led with my then-husband. Diversion. And, while my cert petition was denied and therefore I don’t have to worry about arguing in front of the U.S. Supreme Court anytime soon (or, probably, ever), I have grown more comfortable with oral argument. I’m no longer so afraid.

The part of the plan that didn’t work, or, rather, worked out much differently than what I expected, was that improv changed my life.

When I started Level A, I had been practicing yoga for about 15 years. The entire point of yoga as I understand it is to stop thinking, to be in what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has called “Flow.” (http://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow.html) In all my years of yoga I’ve rarely experienced Flow. Yet I found it in my first night of improv. And since then I’ve found myself connecting more deeply in my yoga practice.

This past week was the first class of Level D, my fourth term of improv. I don’t know whether I’ll keep going after this, whether I have any desire to perform. The idea still terrifies me. Yet this past week also reminded me of how short life is. Two people I know, one a colleague, one a very close friend of several of my close friends, died. Neither reached the age of 50. Life is short. It must be lived, fear and all. Which is why I signed up for a free workshop tonight,  with Sirens, an all-female improv group. (http://www.sirensimprov.com/upcoming.html) After the workshop, we, the students, will open for Sirens. Eeeeeek! I’m petrified. But I’m saying yes.

I can’t claim to have found flow in every improv class. In fact, much of the time I’ve been actively miserable. It’s terrifying to be so exposed, doing and saying things without time to think. Yet I keep going. Because I feel myself growing and stretching, learning that the more I risk failure, the greater the reward. Which brings me to my point. I decided to write about this today after reading an article (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/12/tina-fey-30-rock-star-success_n_2458102.html) about Tina Fey’s secret to success: say “Yes.”

“There are limits of reason to this idea of saying yes to everything, but when I meet someone whose first instinct is ‘No, how can we do that? That doesn’t seem possible,’ I’m always kind of taken aback. Almost anyone would say, ‘It’s Friday at two in the morning. We don’t have an opening political sketch. We can’t do it.’ Yeah, of course you can. There’s no choice. And even if you abandon one idea for another one, saying yes allows you to move forward.”

The article resonated with me because, like Tina Fey, learning to say “yes” has changed my life, has made me less afraid to move forward even when I have absolutely no idea of where I’m going. I still plan, because that’s what I do. But I now do so without rigidity, knowing (or at least trying to remember) that I can’t control the outcome, that things may not turn out as anticipated.

As I wrote in my very first post, on January 1, “[t]his is the year I’m embracing the possibility of failure, trying new things, overcoming my fear of change.” So I started this blog. Which is pretty cool. I don’t know whether it will actually result in a cookbook, as per my plan. But regardless of what happens, I’m enjoying the process. Because, really, that’s what it’s all about.