No BS

Pistachio Baci Di Dama Cookies

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

I have writer’s block. I have too much on my mind to be creative, so whatever I write here to take up space would be a bunch of feathery BS. No one likes feathery BS.

I don’t think writer’s block is all bad—it gives me the headspace to create other things—but I’m not going to go too far into it since I’m not really a Writer writer.

I do still want to share this recipe for Pistachio Baci di Dama, though, for three reasons: 1. I’m sick of waiting for the words to come back. 2. I saw a two-pack of them being sold at Hell on Earth (Trader Joe’s, for the uninitiated), so I feel a trend coming on and I want to beat it. 3. Baci di Dama means “lady’s kisses” in Italian, and posting the recipe any closer to Valentine’s Day would be way too cute. 729 Layers, Inc. doesn’t tolerate treacle.

Continue reading

Bretagne Is for (Caramel) Lovers

Duck Fat Caramels


I was in Brittany once, but I can’t tell you too much about it. My French host family took me to Vannes, a commune in the Morbihan department, after a very early sweat-and-alcohol-soaked morning with my “sister” Aurélie and her friends at the discothèque. I was 16 years old.

The family must have told me where we were going, but even though the Visine made me look awake, I most certainly was not. And so, I didn’t know where we were until I saw the region’s reed-roofed houses out the car window. I failed to take in the scenery; my main focus was trying not to vom all over the back seat. That would have been just too horrifically American. The drive wasn’t long—I’d say about an hour and a half from the family’s home in the Haye-Fouassière commune of the Loire-Atlantique. (In fact, the Loire-Atlantique was a Breton territory pre-Vichy France.) But it was very uncomfortable, as I undoubtably smelled like a combination of some Jacques-ass’s armpits and the inside of the thong that I found stuck to my shoe as I walked out of the club hours earlier.

Brittany was so wonderfully Brittany that it was almost a parody of itself. We walked down Vannes center’s cobblestone streets, which were lined with medieval, wood-paneled buildings and dotted with vendors skillfully flipping lacy buckwheat crêpes. When we’d arrived, like clockwork, the bagadoù, a traditional Breton band of bagpipers, marched through the square, and children, playing tag or swinging wooden yo-yos, squealed and ran to the side to allow for their procession. It felt a lot like that scene from my favorite of the 1970s Rankin-Bass stop-motion TV Christmas movies, Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, in which the children playing in the streets scurry away to allow for the Burgermeister’s passing, except the scene in Brittany was much happier and less German.

Continue reading

Areligious Christmas

Sweet Potato Roast with Lemon, Pomegranate, Feta, and Herbs

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

My relationship with religion is complicated because it’s so simple. I have none. My mother is “Catholic”; my father is “Muslim.” Both believe in god. They both prey to him nightly for my health and well being, though they likely do it in two different languages. They don’t do anything else for him/her/it, so I’m not sure he/she/it will answer. I don’t think I believe in god, but I keep myself in the agnostic category, because I can’t know everything. I can know, however, that I believe in science and that people are picking up guns to maim on the regular. My mother doesn’t seem bothered by my disbelief; my father does, but it’s fine.

My parents come from a generation when it was common to self-identify as the faith you were born into, so just as my mother is French-Canadian, she is Catholic; just as my father is Iranian, he is Muslim. My maternal grandparents are staunch Catholics; they haven’t been to church in 30 years. Still, they probably resent that I wasn’t stripped and dunked in water by an old dude in front of an audience, though I suppose I could do that any night of the week if I choose to. I respect the practice, but it certainly doesn’t feel right to do it for the sake of doing it.

Continue reading

My Brain On Vertigo

Flourless Peanut Butter Blossoms
with Dark Chocolate and Torched Marshmallow
(Or, Stoner’s Delight III*)


When I was 12 years old, I became convinced I was going to die before I reached college. The idea presented itself in a dream and that was all the prophecy I needed. Thinking that it was my truth, I held my secret close; no one would understand. I reached driving age and still hadn’t died, so I delayed getting my license for a year; a car accident seemed like a reasonable way for a 16-year-old to go. That’s why I still hate driving.

Years later, I now fear the opposite—I fear that I’m cursed with never-ending life. I’ve had too many scares to still be here and my body constantly surprises me with how strong it is, so I must be immortal. This is a much scarier truth.

These irrational thoughts on my own mortality were going through my head as I sat on the floor of my cubicle at work on a Saturday, Halloween, two weeks ago, my knees clutched tightly against my chest, the pulsating beats of my music reverberating violently against my tympanic membrane; like when I have migraines, I was trying to drown out the hollow white noise of my own between-the-ear nausea. I didn’t know what was wrong, but I kept the trash near me in case of emergency, and I just sat there, alone, turning up the volume every so often until I feared my eardrums would burst.

Continue reading

Cover-up

Wine-Baked Apples with Fennel, Peanut, and Pecorino Filling


While summer is about shedding layers, uncovering patios, and pointing our faces toward the sun, fall, this devastatingly short transition period, is about covering things up in preparation for the hell that’s to come.

We cover things up, literally, by adding layers and sealing windows. Multicolored leaves litter the streets and walkways, obscuring the cold concrete beneath. We paint walls and exteriors now that summer’s dewy humidity is largely broken and we can air out our homes; whatever drab color that was previously there is just a memory. We burrow ourselves in fleece blankets and fluffy comforters since we resist turning on the heat. “It’s only October,” we say. “We have a long winter ahead of us.” And at the end of October, costumed trick-or-treaters come knocking, their true character hidden behind constructed whimsy.

Continue reading

Food for the Transition

Deconstructed Kashk-e Bademjan

mezze

On a Saturday afternoon just a few weeks ago, I left the gym and retreated to one of many neighborhood parks to sit on a bench under the sun with a good book. We have a lot of these little parks in my town. They’re just fenced-in grassy islands in the middle of residential streets. It was a hot, subliminally sunny day. I was already warm and dewy from my workout, but the light, and the knowledge that I had little time left with it, beckoned me to sit and absorb even more heat, for strength and nourishment. Once I did, I wanted to sit and sweat forever.

When I walked into the park, a radio played lackluster late 90s/early 2000s pop/rock songs from bands like 3 Doors Down, but the music was drowned out by laughter. There were folks in a small gathering with food on a table cloth–cloaked card table and beer and balloons.

“I say I’m turning 30 and people lift their eyebrows and sheepishly turn away—as if I’m just repulsively old,” a girl says.

“But see, you know, when you’re 40 now you’re 30 and so on; science keeps us younger now,” a woman in her 50s replies.

“I’m not so sure. If that’s true I should look 20. I do not look 20.”

We all fear transition, I thought

Continue reading

Solo Sojourn

Scallop Ceviche with ALL the Veg

Vegetable Ceviche
Seven months ago, I lived in a town of white. I left my white house, shoveled white off my stairs so I could get down them, and navigated treacherous white streets, surrounded by tall white walls. Within those white walls, I felt about 3 inches tall, and the weight of that winter was heavier than a 3-inch-tall person could carry; I couldn’t breathe. I was cold and I was tired and I was sick, always sick. The only green in this world of white was knowing that I wasn’t alone. I had 650,000 people with whom I could commiserate. But that small patch of green wasn’t enough to nourish me and on a cold February day, as I cursed at my immune system, I craved warmth so badly that I did something pretty out of character: I booked a trip. Just like that. The trip was for April, when it would still be frigid and when the white would still be present.

It would be my first vacation in years. I had kept a list of places I would go. My top 5 international locations: 1. Peru/Chile 2. Istanbul/Greek Islands, 3. Morocco, 4. Back to France, 5. Mexico. Plus, there’s still a lot of this expansive country I want to see.

But I did not go anywhere on my list. I did not go anywhere I ever intended to go. I needed to go where the heat was inescapable, where the white wasn’t cold, and, most importantly, where I could do absolutely nothing. I went to Turks and Caicos, alone, with my books, music, and podcasts. And, for three short days, I did what I desired: nothing.

Continue reading

Dairy Queen

Labneh Tart with Blackberries and Walnut-Cardamom Crust

labneh blackberry
My father uttered some unintelligible word to the waiter and in minutes the young man returned with a tall, skinny glass of white liquid flecked with green. The beverage was thick but not so much so that it held the straw in place. “Have a sip,” my dad encouraged, as he pushed the glass next to my Coke. “What is it?,” I asked. “Yogurt.”

Yogurt? I hesitated before pursing my lips around the straw to drink. Sour, herbaceous, intensely savory yet very lean-tasting. The excessive saltiness surprised me and I did what I could to keep from spitting out the bubbly brew. “ICK. How can you drink that?”

I couldn’t have been older than nine or ten that first time I tried doogh, the Persian yogurt-and–carbonated water drink. It was at Mirage, a restaurant in Framingham, MA that was owned by dad’s friend. Though not hurting for Lebanese or Greek, Worcester County, where I grew up, lacked Persian restaurants. So on weekend nights when my mom was working, the two of us would travel, mostly silent, to Framingham for big platters of steaming rice adorned with crunchy browned tahdig and sumac-dusted kebabs, accompanied by charred whole plum tomatoes. I avoided doogh for many years; it tasted like watery mast-o-khiar (a Persian cucumber dip similar to tzatziki but made from a much thicker kind of Iranian yogurt). Every time my father ordered it, I recalled the unpleasant way it coated my mouth.

Continue reading

Why Pancakes Matter

Cornmeal Griddle Cakes with Wild Blueberry Sauce

Blueberry Pancakes
My journals are all filled with intelligible-to-only-me scribbles; I need new ones. All I have left are a couple of pocket-size notebooks with kitschy donuts on the front because who doesn’t need pocket-size notebooks with kitschy donuts on the front? The headspace between lines is cramped. The notebooks are good depositories for tested then retested then axed then recovered recipes, but they lack the wide open spaces needed for my overworked mind and my overactive pen. I’ve delayed buying new ones. I haven’t written. I haven’t written when I might need to write most. It’s okay; I’m not a writer. I make a living bitching about other folks’ writing. Writing and editing use two different sides of the brain, I think. My craft won’t suffer. Why should I write when I have a to-do list that never ends? Why write when I can read and temporarily obscure my story by burrowing myself in the stories of others.

This morning—just like the last, and the one before that, and almost every morning for the past 5 weeks—I awoke to bright artificial light shining from behind swollen eyelids. The lids don’t lift; the heat of that light glues them shut and I have to make my brain move my forehead to force them open. My thick-framed glasses, folded fortunately, are wedged between the mattress and the small of my back. My comforter is on the ground, my bottle of prescription eye drops on my belly, held in place by a heavy, lifeless hand. In fact, neither of my hands, or arms or legs, can move for a good minute. My brain sends the signal; I concentrate hard, imagining the creaky bending of a robot’s joints. But the arms can’t keep up with these mental efforts. My cell phone is my sorry bedmate, sharing the pillow with me and threatening to die. “Low battery. 10% of battery remaining,” it passive-aggressively announces. The alarms on it are not set. I’m lucky I wake up without its buzzer.
Continue reading

This Right Now

Cucumber and Gooseberry Salad with Feta and Mint

toss salad

You can only eat this dish right now. Well, you can most likely eat it a week from now, and you could have eaten it a week or two ago. But this salad will taste good for only a short amount of time. That’s a lot of pressure.

Summer dishes have an urgency to them. If you mark the passing of time by the produce calendar, they can incite anxiety. But that’s what makes them special. That they are fleeting makes them worthwhile. A winter supermarket tomato may look like a tomato but it doesn’t eat like one; it’s not a tomato. An in-season one is sweet as a ripe peach and its walls are just as tasty as its guts. Winter storebought herbs are brittle and musty. Summer herbs are tender and supple and so fragrant you can’t quite get their smell out of your kitchen, even if they’re stashed in the fridge. The allure of these short-lived flavors provides me with the energy to make a balanced meal at the end of exhausting, sun-soaked days. If I don’t eat all the things now, I won’t get my fill. It will turn cold and I will stare at mountains of just kale and beets for months.

Continue reading

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 254 other followers