I write to you from sunny Spain where we’ve been eating, swimming, strolling, and sipping our way through the end of 2019! When I get home I plan on starting a new holiday tradition, paella for Christmas. What a way to share one big pan of homemade love with our people. I hope the last month of the decade brings you joy!
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying T Kira Madden’s, Tribe of Fatherless Girls. There are loads of reasons to tout this memoir: beautiful sentences, at times harrowing narrative, interesting shape and structure, Madden’s use of time, the surprises along the way, her grit. Many of the chapters can stand alone, and one in particular, “Can I Pet Your Back,” I found very moving. It’s use of repetition reminded me of Jamaica Kincaid’s flash fiction, “Girl,” and Rick Moody’s short story, “Boys.” The repeated phrase, “I found pretty,” is deeply sad and powerful, exploring the loss of self to suit a toxic worldview of womanhood. Here, finding pretty involves a complete erasure of individuality to fit the bleached teeth, dumbed down, tanning beds, dyed hair, permed eyelashes, G-strings, anorexia, back seat blow jobs for a ride to the mall, expectations of girlhood.
Because we’ve been so close to Madden prior to her finding pretty, the losses tangled up in her “discovery” are more profound. Consider this early moment, when fishing for trout with her mom as a young girl. They catch and release and she has a singular and specific view of the world.
“I wrestled with the hook to free it; I was in a hurry. Easy like this, said my mother, and she did it in one motion, a popping sound…I tossed the fish back into the mud of the pond, and the two of us watched it shoot off like a single strand of tinsel in the sun before it disappeared.
What I mean to say is, it lived.”
Living, in Madden’s world, is slippery, no easy feat, and a glittering thing to be celebrated.
Sometimes not writing is the best way to write. In Madrid, I spent a good bit of time at the Reina Sofia museum. It is huge. A labyrinth. Of course there is Picasso’s Guernica to see, which we did, and what we also found incredibly inspiring was the temporary exhibit by Ceija Stojka, “This Has Happened.” The show is a series of paintings that tells the story of her Lovara Gypsy family, Hungarian horse dealers who had settled in Austria. The first paintings in the series are bucolic, the paint joyfully applied in a way that invokes a happy childhood. Lots of color and flowers, caravans, chickens, horses, the cycles of nature. The next paintings deal with the Nazis discriminating against the Gypsies, whose movements were restricted, her father was taken to Dachau, later she and her mother were taken away as well. The colors change in these paintings, the flowers are replaced with recurring frightened eyes crouching in brambles. Canvases are filled with dark, abrupt slashes of paint, and coiling barbed wire. There is a motif of crows, as both harbinger of evil, and a message of hope, for the crows can fly over the fences into freedom. Studying how Stojka applied paint, changed her hues and perspective, her use of repetitions and motifs, was relevant to writing, for all are tools at the disposal of the memoirist, the novelist, the short story writer, the poet.
Another great way to write is to give yourself the gift of time. I will be participating in and guest teaching at a spirit boosting retreat with my friend, Jen Louden. If you need time to hang out with 20 or so fabulous women, if you want to dance to funny and fun playlists in the morning, write in the afternoon, participate in inspired talks, get in touch with what may be holding you back in your work, spend time in beautiful Taos, eat delicious food, move ahead in your current writing project or discover what’s next, this is a wonderful, restful, replenishing experience. Check it here: Jen Louden.
And, if you want to get an idea of what Jen is about, I loved this recent blog post from her about self recrimination, merciless expectations, and forgiveness during the potential shit-show of the holidays.
I’ve bought so many little packets of saffron for gifts my entire suitcase is redolent. My socks reek! Please stay tuned for some rice/paella news in the future, but for now, I’ve got this perfect nibble for a cocktail soirée.
Before Spain, we spent a couple nights in NYC. I grabbed a quick lunch with one of my all time favorite students/friends at one of my favorite over-priced restaurants, ABC Kitchen. There are quite a few recipes from ABC Kitchen up at NYT’s cooking that I make again and again. Amy and I shared three: roasted carrots with avocado, micro-greens and crème fraiche, the winter squash toast, which is a fantastic dish, and the kale salad with perfect tiny croutons and jalapeños. All of it delicious.
If I’ve already shared my version of the Squash Toast with you, forgive me, I’m doing it again. Yes, it is that good.
One 3-pound butternut or kabosha squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (you can place in a 250 degree oven for about 15 minutes to soften the squash enough to cut, otherwise it’s a struggle!)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
1/2 teaspoon dried chile flakes, more to taste
Kosher salt, to taste
1 yellow onion, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup maple syrup
Bruschetta/toasted baguette slices (why not buy them pre-made and save yourself a little work? 😉)
1 cup ricotta
Flaky salt, for finishing
1/4 cup chopped mint
- Dump the squash onto a heavy sheet pan and toss with a 1/4 cup of olive oil, the chile flakes, and a generous pinch of salt. Roast the squash at 425° F until tender, about 20 minutes.
- While the squash is cooking, make the onion jam: In a small saucepan, heat the remaining 1/4 cup of oil over medium heat, and add the onions, stirring, and cook until they begin to soften and darken, about 15 minutes. Add the vinegar and syrup, and reduce until everything is jammy. Depending on the surface area of your pan, this could take as little as 15 minutes or as long as 30. When it looks as though it’s ready to be spread on toast and it tastes tart-sweet, it’s ready.
- Add the onion mixture to the cooked squash, stirring gently so as to preserve a few chunks of squash. Taste, and season with salt or more chile if needed — the mixture should have a nice heat.
- Spread a layer of ricotta on the bruschetta, and then the same amount of the squash-onion mixture. Sprinkle with a bit of flaky salt, then scatter the chopped mint and pomegranate seeds on top.