What Happened

At Samovar 2 | Darjeeling Dreams

Samovar 2 | Darjeeling Dreams

The first two shots were taken at my favorite tea lounge. Just because tea is essential to me, and that particular spot is a place I find comforting.

It has been a while since I last wrote. What’s there to say? Everything and nothing. Do you think it’s possible to wake up one morning and be an entirely different person? A month ago, maybe more, on the phone with the ex, I was crying or panicking over something or other. He hardly pauses before telling me: “You were frozen and closed off for the last seven years. Now you’re starting to feel again. It’s like someone removed your skin – you’re raw. It’s going to hurt for a while.”

My reality is a little more complicated than that. Yes, the shell that hid me in some low-level depression is gone. I don’t know if I hurt, but there are times when I do. There are moments when I feel inhaling alone is enough to kill me. There are nights when I feel the most desperate existential loneliness I’ve ever known. I think this is to be expected: when you deliberately cut away almost everything that made up your life, you might feel moments of sadness and an existential crisis may threaten to engulf you. You will feel panic, doubt, and despair. Of course. This is part of it, of your becoming.

No one really explains what becoming is. I talk to everyone I know about being more yourself, true to yourself, and following your heart and dreams. Seems to me that I am saying I should go boldly and confidently towards my goals. But what else can I say to that when I just figured out what those are? Or when those dreams are still tender and brand-new and I am not completely comfortable with them? Has anyone ever told you how utterly ridiculous you feel talking about whatever this is? And yet you persist. And you feel absolutely, positively fucking crazy through this whole process. It’s exhausting. It’s thrilling and exhilarating. It’s the best way to live your life at this moment.

For that, friends, is the crux of this story. At this moment, I know in my heart of hearts that it has to be this way right now. That the next few months, the last few months of this year, will push and test me in ways I haven’t yet imagined. That there will be a lot of soul-searching and digging into the deepest parts of soul and self to find them and put them out in the light. There will be madness and happiness and fear and joy, and alllll of the feels will continue to ache and thrill and scare. I don’t have a clear picture of what it will be, and because I don’t know, I’m not sure how much of it I will be sharing. Right now, the other parts of my messy, messy life take precedence. I will tell you that at the end of it, I hope to be a kinder person, make new friends and strengthen old relationships, learn lots of new knowledge and skills, and most of all, very much to be my own person.  The person I should be. The person I want to be. But most importantly, to be the person actually am.

P.S. If you want to “see” me “in real life”HERE

Bestest Chocolate Chip Cookies

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies | Darjeeling Dreams

These cookies are in NO WAY healthy. What they are is sweet, comforting, and the best darn chocolate chip cookies I’ve made so far. And I’ve made A LOT of chocolate chip cookies in my day. They are also one of the few things I’ve eaten in the last week and a half. I’m dropping pounds like Dre drops beats (or at least Beat headphones, these days, I guess). Given the odd mental state I’m in, anything I write comes out sounding like a long self-pitying whine. Trust me, you don’t want to hear it.

Anyways, I hope you’re well, and that you try these out. I promise you that they are really, really good. I made them for a group of friends who told me so. Take their word for it if you don’t believe me.
 
Best Chocolate Chip Cookie | Darjeeling Dreams

 


The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about a dozen large cookies
1/2 lb good-quality chocolate*
1/4 lb butter (1 stick, 1/2 cup), softened
1 cup Turbinado sugar (raw sugar)
1 large egg
1 tbsp molasses
1 tsp vanilla extract (I used this)
1 1/2 cup AP flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
Fleur de sel (or other chunky/flaky good salt), for sprinkling on top

Use a serrated knife to chop the chocolate into roughly 1/2 inch pieces. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Prep a large baking sheet with Silpat, parchment paper, or grease with butter and flour.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Make sure it is light and fluffy.
Add the egg, molasses, and vanilla extract. Then, add the flour and baking powder and incorporate thoroughly.
Add the chocolate chucks, and stir to incorporate. Do not over-mix, or you’ll start breaking up the chocolate pieces (which are more fragile than store-bought chips).
To form cookies, scoop out 1/4 cup of dough, form a ball, flatten slightly, and lay about 1 – 2 inch apart on your baking sheet. Sprinkle with a pinch of fleur del sel.
Bake for 12 – 13 minutes. The cookies will look almost underdone when you pull them out, they will firm up as they cool.
*It is crucial that you use chocolate chunks, not waxy chocolate chips.

Heirloom Apple + Baby Kale Salad

Heirloom apple + baby kale salad 2 | Darjeeling Dreams

So, yes, a kale salad, a “natural and wholesome foods” cliche, isn’t it? Yet, this salad is fairly special. It has baby kale, which is more tender and has a nicer raw texture than mature kale. Besides, isn’t “baby kale” fun to say? I thought so, anyway. Other than the kale, there are heirloom apples, which are my favorite. I ate twenty varieties last fall and winter, and hope to top that number this year. Heirlooms are more flavorful, and less mealy than their ordinary year-around counterparts. They provide a nice contrast to the hearty and flavorful walnut dressing, the crunchy rye crumbs, and the cheese – I’m fairly sure that I don’t need to convince you how delicious cheese is, or how wonderfully it pairs with good apples and greens. I think this might become my go-to green salad.

Also, a simple, tasty apple cake that’s a rift on this. It’s topped with sweet Empire apples and tart Pink Surprise apples. It led to small adventures and fun times. Here’s to more of that.


Heirloom Apple + Baby Kale Salad
1 tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup day-old rye/whole wheat bread, finely crumbled
4 cups of baby kale, washed
3 heirloom apples, cut into quarters, then thinly sliced
Walnut dressing (see below for recipe)
1 oz. hard, aged cheddar, shaved
Heat the olive oil over medium-heat high. Add the rye/wheat crumbs, turn the heat down to medium, and fry the crumbs until browned (time will depend on how dry or fresh the bread is).
When ready to serve, combine baby kale, apples, and walnut crema in a large mixing bowl. Top with rye crumbs and shaved cheddar.
Walnut Dressing
Adapted from A-16 Food + Wine
salt
1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 cup + 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 small shallot, diced
1 garlic clove, minced finely
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tbsp thyme leaves
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add walnuts and cook for 8 – 10 minutes, or until the walnuts are tender through. Reserve 1/4 cup of walnut-water, and drain the walnuts.
In a saute pan, heat 1/2 tbsp of olive oil. Add shallot and garlic, and a pinch of salt, and cook until golden brown and tender – about 5 minutes.
Combine the lemon juice, clove, nutmeg, thyme leaves, shallot mixture, walnuts, and reserved walnut-water in a food processor, and grind until the consistency is similar to that of hummus. Slowly add the 2 tbsp of olive oil.


Heirloom apple + baby kale salad 3 | Darjeeling Dreams

Heirloom apple cake | Darjeeling Dreams


Heirloom Apple + Cardamom Apple Cake
Butter, for greasing pan
2 large eggs
1/2 c. sugar + 1 tbsp sugar
1/3 c. milk
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1 1/2 c. AP flour
2 tsp. baking powder
3-4 heirloom apples (about 1 1/2 pounds)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a circular 8-inch pan.
Cream the eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl, until lighter and fluffy. Beat milk and olive oil. Beat in cardamom, flour, baking powder.
Core and peel the apples. Thinly slice the apples (from top to bottom). Starting at the edge of the cake, arrange the apple slices in a circular pattern, making the apple slices overlap slightly. Make sure the slices completely cover the cake batter.
Bake, testing for doneness with a toothpick at 45 minutes.

Turmeric-Roasted Chickpeas with Black Quinoa and Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes | Darjeeling Dreams

Roasted turmeric chickpeas with black quinoa and tomatoes 2

There are times when I think I was born with this feeling of ennui. My mother can tell you that when I was little, I’d be complaining of boredom by the second day of summer vacation. Sometimes, she’ll still ask me if I’m bored. Nowadays, there’s more to it than boredom. Smiling, my mom will also tell you with of a small me who constantly, constantly asked “But why?” I’d bring home a pile of books from the library, looked for recipes to try on the backs of boxes, and studied the flowers as I wandered in our backyard. Looking for something, trying to learn some things.

You know, I have found it, that magical thing that makes me feel complete. It feels the other way other people say falling in love feels. Ecstasy and fear, and a kind of exhilaration. I know my writings have a melancholy, lonely quality, but after the frustration dies down, the writing fill me with a sort of a surreal joy. Something so big I can’t put it into words.

And yet, even with the writing and living with what might be the world’s loudest little cat, there’s still a sort of loneliness. That loneliness is so much a part of me, for so long that it will probably echo eternally in my writing. If anything, it is less a part of me than it was for most of my life. Still. That adolescence desire to be understood hasn’t left me. I’d like find the sort of people who want to sit around late at night sometimes and talk about lonely Kawabata and Nabokov’s cleverness, about dreams and beauty, and the rest of big, important things. The sort of talk that would be forgotten by morning light and remembered again in quiet thoughtful hours or the next time we got together.

Heirloom tomatoes H | Darjeeling Dreams
About this recipe: Channa masala – or chickpea in masala sauce – is one of my go-to comfort foods. It’s one of very few dishes I prefer paired with quinoa instead of rice. This dish is a fresher, summery version of curried chickpea-quinoa combination. Chickpeas and quinoa together are a wonderful flavor pairing – and packed with vegetable-based protein. The tomatoes, tamarind, and goat cheese add freshness and tanginess to the hearty proteins, the parsley adds a fresh, almost mineral-like note, and the spices keep it interesting. It’s a great balanced meal in a bowl, and quite perfect for lazy late summer days and nights.


Turmeric-Roasted Chickpeas with Fresh Tomatoes and Black Quinoa
1.5 tbsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tbsp smoky chili powder (adjust for personal heat preference)
Salt, to taste
1/4 cup olive oil , divided (2 tbsp portions)
¼ cup minced shallots
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
½ tbsp. cumin seeds
12 oz. cooked chickpeas (about 2 – 15 oz. cans, drained; or ¾ cup dried, then cooked)
¼ uncooked black quinoa (approximately ½ cup cooked)
1 tbsp tamarind paste*
1/3 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
1 lb tomatoes, quartered
2 oz. of crumbled goat cheese (or not-too-salty feta)
Additional parsley leaves and salt, for serving
Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine the turmeric, garam masala, chili powder, and salt in a small bowl/jar. While the oven heats, heat 2 tbsp of olive in an oven-safe skillet**. Add the shallots, garlic, and cumin, and cook for about 3 minutes, or until the mixture barely starts to brown. Add the chickpeas, then about ¾ of the turmeric mixture, and mix together. Roast in warmed oven for about 20 minutes.

While the chickpeas roast, cook the quinoa***. Also, make the dressing by combining 2 tbsp of olive oil, tamarind paste, and remaining ¼ of turmeric mixture.

When the chickpeas are done, combine with quinoa, tamarind dressing, and parsley. Top with the quartered tomatoes and goat cheese. Add additional parsley, and salt (if needed – I didn’t find it necessary). Can be served warm or cold.
* FYI: Tamarind paste is the pulp of tamarind seed. It has a unique fruity-sour taste, and is common in Latin American, South Asian, and Southeast Asian cooking. It’s commonly used in fish/seafood dish. I used this brand. It’s much cheaper in a gourmet grocery store – you can also try a Latin-American, Indian, Southeast Asian grocer.

** If you don’t have an oven-safe skillet, cooked the shallots and garlic in a pan, and transfer to roasting pan, then combine with spices and chickpeas, and roast.

*** How to cook quinoa

Roasted turmeric chickpeas with black quinoa and tomatoes

Breakfast Cookies

Breakfast Cookies 5

No, no these are not mere oatmeal cookies. They include blueberries and apricots. They use dramatically less sugar and significantly more oats.  Which makes these cookies the closest thing to a hand-holdable, portable form of a bowl of oatmeal that I can imagine. They are like, totally healthy and balanced, or at least, that’s what I told myself when I ate three of them in rapid succession. So yes, they’re still pretty delicious.
 


Breakfast Cookies, or A Bowl of Oatmeal in Cookie Form
Makes about one dozen
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup AP flour
1 1/4 c quick-cook rolled oats
1/2 tsp fine-grain salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground clove
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/3 cup turbindo sugar
1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped into roughly half-inch pieces
1/4 cup frozen wild blueberries *

Preheat oven to 350°F. Toasted the chopped walnuts on a large Silpat/parchment-covered baking sheet for 10 minutes, or until lightly toasted and very slightly tanned. Use the prepped baking sheet for baking the cookies.
In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Add the ground cinnamon, clove, and vanilla extract. Set aside to cool for a few minutes. While the butter cools, combine the AP and whole wheat flours, quick-cook oats, and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the egg and sugar. Once the
butter has cool, whisk it into the egg-sugar. Whisk the wet butter mixture to the dry flour mixture. Fold in the chopped walnuts, chopped apricots, and frozen blueberries. Let the mixture sit for 10 – 15 minutes.
When ready to bake, scoop a generous 1/3 cupfull of batter, form a ball, flatten the ball, and place on baking sheet. Repeat until the batter is finished, but make sure the cookies are about 1 inch apart. Bake for 12 – 14 minutes, or until the cookies are set. Cool on the baking sheet for at least 5 minutes before handling the cookies.

*Wild blueberries are smaller, which makes them less likely to burst while mixing or baking.

Roasted Shiitake + Tofu Spring Rolls

Roasted Shiitake Tofu Roll - Filling

I only met my maternal grandmother once, when I was two years old. We – my parents and I – went back to my mom’s hometown because her mom was in hospital. My parents said that they booked an emergency flight, and no one in her family knew we were coming. My dad got out of the taxi first, much to the confusion of my mom’s family. They had no idea how he – or I – looked.

Roasted Shiitake Tofu Roll 2

There’s a bit of a gap in the story, the way my parents tell it. I don’t know when we made it to the hospital. I think it must have been relatively quick, because I do know that my grandmother hadn’t been told we were visiting. My grandmother was in the ICU and I was a little, germy being, so the hospital wouldn’t allow me to see her. Specifically, the nurse on duty wouldn’t allow me to visit. The way my parents tell it, I picture her to be plumped up with a sense of importance, an over-bureaucratic type. Of course, they’re biased against her, because she wouldn’t buy into any of their arguments of how they’d come all the way from America, how I’d never met my grandmother, or how I might not have another chance to do so. My parents and the nurse argued, so intensely and for so long that they’d forgotten about me. The two-year-old me got bored, and wandered off. I think it took them a while to notice, and raised a hue and cry – so I’d imagine, a toddler missing in a foreign land – and go searching for me. And – can you guess where they found me? Somehow, I’d climbed up the stairs, found the right room, and was sitting in my grandmother’s bed.

The story always ends there. I have been told that it was the only time I saw her, because she did not make it out of the hospital. I’ve only seen a few photographs of her, snapshots that are faded or blurry, or with her face turned half away. I have no memory of that day, or of her. No idea what I was thinking, or how I found her. Was it a chance meeting, mere coincidence? Or one of those magic instances of things that were “meant to be”, was it something that had to happen so that we would meet? Who knows? It’s a tiny reminder, to me, that sometimes the amazing and miraculous happens, and everything works out perfectly, just as we hoped it would. Just as it should.

Roasted Shiitake Tofu Roll HRoasted Shiitake Tofu Rolls

 


Roasted Shiitake + Tofu Rolls
Makes roughly 12 rolls
1 lb. firm tofu
1 ¼ – 1 ½ lb shiitake mushrooms
¾ lb. carrots
¼ lb. lettuce (I used little gems)
¼ lb. cabbage or other dark leafy green
1 bunch basil
1 bunch mint
2 tablespoons white miso
¼ cup hot water
1 large garlic clove, minced
About 12 rice paper wrappers (Amazon carries them, but I found at at Asian grocery store for 1/4 of the price)
Wrap the tofu in paper towels or a clean dish cloth, and weigh down with a heavy item for at least 20 minutes. This will squeeze out the excess moisture. Preheat oven to 400°F. Cover a large rimmed baking sheet with a sheet of foil.
In the meantime, slice the shiitakes into roughly ½ inch thick slices. Use a mandoline or vegetable slicer to cut the carrots into thin noodle-like strips. Wash and separate the leaves of lettuce basil, and mint. Wash and thinly slice the cabbage or other leafy green.
When the excess moisture has drained from the tofu, cut it into ½ by 2 inch pieces. In a small bowl, dissolve miso paste into hot water, and add minced garlic. Put the tofu and sliced shiitakes into a large bowl, and toss with the miso-garlic combine. Pour onto the prepped baking sheet. Roast the tofu and shittakes for about 20 minutes, or until the edges have caramelized.
To make the rolls, gather all of the filling ingredients near a clean work surface. You’ll have to fill each roll quickly. Fill a large bowl with warm water. Soak a rice paper wrapper for about 15 seconds, remove from water very carefully and lay as flatly as possible on your clean surface. Work as fast as possible: lay down the lettuce in a row, then the sliced greens, then the tofu and shiitake, then the herbs, lastly the shredded carrot. Clean surface, and repeat until the rolls are assembled. Serve with the sesame sauce (below) and sriracha.

Sesame sauce

1 tablespoon miso
2 tablespoons warm water
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
Juice of ½ lime
2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
½ cup tahini*
1 – 2 serrano chilis, minced and seeded and depithed according to your heat preference
2 tablespoons minced chives

In a small bowl, dissolve the miso paste into the warm water. Add the vinegar, lime juice, soy sauce. Whisk in the tahini, ginger, minced chilis, and chives.

*I  used homemade, unsalted tahini – so much cheaper – see this recipe

Maple Gingerbread Biscotti

maple gingerbread biscotti 10

The day after my finals, second year, a small cat followed me home. I saw her a few blocks away from my apartment, in the nicer part of the neighborhood, near the Victorian houses. The cat was so little I thought her half-grown. She was friendly, so I petted her head. When I left her, she decided to follow after me. It was a bit frightening – traffic, city streets – so I walked slowly when we crossed streets. This went on for about four blocks, and when I got home I went inside my building alone. Guilt drove me back outside. There she was, waiting as if she knew I’d come back for her.

After a night in the bathroom, I took her to the vet. She had fleas, several half-healed battle wounds, was underweight, and had probably been on the street for a week or so, or so thought the vet. She did not have a microchip. As silly it as sounds, I knew she didn’t. Maybe “suspected” is the better term, or “secretly hoped”. I left contact information with two veterinary offices, the local shelter, and checked lost pet ads for a month. Nothing. It was just a feeling, but I did not think anyone would come forward for her. I worried about someone worrying about her, but simultaneously I liked having her here. You see we’d become friends instantly. We understood each other’s language, that silent sort of sensing of moods and feelings. We have lived together for a year and three months now. For the longest time, I wouldn’t commit to a name, because of a twinge of fear that someone would claim her once I did. Instead, I called her Little One, then Coco, which somehow became Cookie, which has stuck so firmly and sounds so oddly right that I can’t change it. Maybe because she is kooky and eats cookies.

maple gingerbread biscotti 9

I shouldn’t read anything into the story of how Cookie the cat and I came to be a family. It was just a coincidence that I found her the day after finals ended, the logical side of me says. There are so many possible reasons as to why no one turned up for her, a young probably purebred cat. What I do know is this: the timing was impeccable, even if we ended up being a cliche. She saves me from feelings of emptiness and loneliness. What is certain is that we humans need some sort of companionship, someone (even a cat!) to need us and to affirm our existence. And whether it is coincidence or the work of a universe with a mysterious master plan that brings people (and cats, and dogs) our lives, I don’t know. I’m happy and grateful that I’ve got something that works for me.

Maple Gingerbread Biscotti 5


Maple Gingerbread Biscotti
Makes roughly 15 pieces | Adapted from Tartine, and originally from Chez Panisse
Heaping 1/4 cup of sliced pecans
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, very soft
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 – 2.5 tbsp maple syrup
1 large egg
1/2 cup each AP flour and whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp butter (melted) and 1/2 tbsp maple syrup for wash (optional, if you would like a little more sweetness)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Toasted the sliced pecans on a Silpat/parchment-covered baking sheet for 10 minutes, or until lightly toasted and very slightly tanned.
In a large bowl, cream the butter. Add the sugar, and beat until light and fluffy. Add the ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, maple syrup and egg and beat until smooth. Add the flour, salt, and baking powder and mix until just combined. Stir in the toasty pecans.
On a lightly floured surface, shape the dough into a log of roughly 2 inch diameter. Set the log on the Silpat/parchment-covered baking sheet . Glaze with butter and maple syrup if desired.
Bake the biscotti for 20-25 minutes, or until lightly browned and firm to the touch. Cool the biscotti log for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cutting board and cut on the diagonal into 1/2 inch slices. Return the slices, cut side down, to the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, or until the edges are toasted. Cool completely.
The biscotti can be stored for weeks in a airtight container.

 


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