Writing about life and lemons

On August 1, 2020, I sat down in a little cafe in the heart of Franklin, IN. With an abundance of coffee and pastries by our sides, my Plus One and I wrote for six hours straight. He wrote a movie analysis and I wrote this, a little reflection on life and lemons. We were participating in a competition, hosted by the Franklin Creative Council, called Art to Finish — a challenge to create something from scratch within a six hour period and in the location restraints of the downtown courthouse square. Six hours seems like a long time, and it is, but that day I was tired and I didn’t have that creative spark that I normally like to have when I sit down for a long stint of writing. Nevertheless, we wrote. Very unexpectedly, I was awarded second-place in the adult writing catagory for When Life Gives You Lemons. Maybe it’s just my inner critique or perfectionism, I know it’s not the best it could be. When I read back through it a week later, I want to add, edit, and polish it up, make it perfected. However, I’ve given it thought and to preserve the challege — the time and location constrants that we were given — I’m posting this here in it’s original form it was created, untouched from that specific day. I’m so greaful for the oportunity to have had six straight hours to do nothing but create something souly from my immagination. It’s flaws and imperfections are apart of it’s story and charm.

When Life Gives You Lemons

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Can a saying be so cliché that it loops around to being original again? I guess it would depend on who you asked, but I’ll make the stretch and say yes, at least for this unusual year. For me, 2020 has been the year of the lemon. Within the past five months, I’ve made more with lemons than I have in all my 23 years. Not only have I made lemonade, but numerous recipes have called for the yellow citrus. Ever since I was little, I love cooking in the kitchen. From baking in an Easy-Bake Oven to creating dinners and pastry dishes in my suburban kitchen, I love the sights, sounds, and smells of cooking. Maybe it is just a way of coping through these times of uncertainty. Cooking and creating bright, zesty dishes to lighten the days at home have been a way to make the most with what this life has handed me.

Lemons are naturally acidic with a touch of tart sweetness by nature. Although the origin of the lemon is unknown, they are thought to have first grown in Assam, a region in northeast India, northern Burma, or China. Lemons have so many uses that they have entered into many cultures’ food and drinks. Juice, peel, oil, and leaves — all parts of the lemon can be used to create bright dishes. Here are the dishes I have made numerous times this year.

Lemon turmeric tea cake – This was my first lemon endeavor. I had been self-quarantined in my home for about 30 days, it was a rainy mid-week day and a pick-me-up was necessary for my mental health. I received Alison Roman’s cookbook, Nothing Fancy, in the mail from Wild Geese Bookshop, a local bookstore in Franklin, IN, in the mail just a few days before and took the opportunity to flip through its glossy pages. I landed on the lemon clad recipe that when baked in the oven, made my whole kitchen smell what I imagine would be the color yellow if it was a sent. Turmeric dotted the counter, lemons rinds were zested, then the fruit was sliced in half and juiced. In with the flour, non-fat Greek yogurt, sugar, eggs, baking powder, butter, and salt a batter thick yet smooth was poured into a parchment paper-lined pan. Before placing it in the oven for an hour, I cut thin slices of lemons and placed them on top of the panned batter then sprinkled it with sugar. When pulled out of the oven, the lemon slices caramelized and the became a citrusy crust. It sat in the middle of my kitchen counter as a symbol of brighter days to come. I cake the whole tea cake in less than two days. 

Lemonade – It was a hot, muggy June afternoon when my Plus One and I broke out the stash of lemons in my fridge, sliced them open, and juiced them to make homemade lemonade. It was the first time either of us has made lemonade since we were kids. Using the juicer to squeeze the lemons took me back to the time I had a homemade lemon stand when I was eight, although I had to look up the ratios, of sugar to lemon juice to water. Most recipes I found instructed to boil water and lemon juice on the stove then add the sugar in until it dissolved into a thick paste. In that process, there was the multiple hour wait for the mixture to cool before serving. Being impatient and unwilling to wait hours for the lemonade to cool, we found one recipe online that said you could just add the lemon and sugar together and whisk until the acid from the lemon juice broke down the sugar. Which is what we did, and then we added water and instantly had room temperature lemonade that we could pour over ice and enjoy at our pleasure. It was a perfect way to spend the mid-June afternoon.

Preserved Lemons – In Morocco, lemons are preserved in jars or barrels of salt. One weekend in the middle of July, I decided to bring the salty and sweet citric acid ingredient into my kitchen. Preserved lemons require whole lemons, salt, and then additional elements to add hints of flavor. The lemons are quartered yet left attached at one of the ends, they look like yellow flowers starting to bloom. Each lemon is placed inside a jar until there are so many that the juices start to leak and cover the rinds. With lots of salt added into the acid and over weeks of preservation, the granules of salt soak into the cut lemons through osmoses, they become soft and the juice lightens into a semi-sweet liquid. The salt brings out the sweet flavors and light aromas of acidic citrus. In the end, I fit ten lemons into a 24-ounce Mason Ball jar, piling on the salt between each layer and then adding into it some bay leaves and peppercorns. The next step is to find an original Moroccan recipe for my newly made preservations. 

Blueberry lemon pie – My latest creation that has lemons in the ingredients is a blueberry pie. In the cold butter, flaky crust sat blueberries coated in a concoction of flour, sugar, lemon juice, and zest. The tartness of the lemon brought out the deep essence of the blueberries. When baked, the juices boiled out of the holes and leaked onto the top crust. After chilling for 24 hours in the fridge to solidify the juices in a jelly, served with vanilla Häagen Dazs ice cream, the pastry was the perfect way to end a summer night under the stars and comets.

Over the spring and summer, I’ve made many more lemon dishes, but these are just the few that have stood out to me in my endeavor to create with lemons in my kitchen. This year has taught me how to take even the bitter things and turn them into something bright. 

Number of times I’ve mentioned lemons: 34

Food for thought

I am not a food blogger, nor am I a professional chef, nor have I been to culinary school (although these past few months I’ve been thinking about it, more on that in a minute). Despite all those truths, I’m not going to let perfection be the enemy of something good. So here are just some thoughts about food, because it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot and I finally feel like have something to say about it. This will be my first imperfect step to writing something different, something new. Whatever this something is, it is a first draft that I know will continuously evolve and change with time. 

I’ve always had a love for baking in the kitchen. When I was in school, I baked for my county fair’s open class baking competition, just for the fun of it. I chose open class because the competition was looser than 4-H and I didn’t get to hear the judges’ comments, I only got to see the outcome—the pretty ribbon placement when I went into the only air-conditioned building the first day of the mid-July fair. (Many 4-H jugeds are harsh when it comes to critiquing work. Even though I did so many other projects in 4-H, I heard judges were even harsher when it came to food. I didn’t want to hear their comments on how I could’ve made my batch of chocolate chip cookies more even-colored on the bottom. Baking was purely for fun and enjoyment. I was determined to let it be only that.) When I was in level one French as a sophomore in college, I made my classmates chocolate French moose for our final class. We had to create a presentation in French and mine was on French cuisine. I decided to make the moose at the last minute. The night before my speech I stayed up until midnight, not practicing how to pronounce the French words correctly, but baking moose. (And I think it paid off. My presentation wasn’t the best but I got an A.) Within these past few months, I’ve baked to relieve stress and tension. Baking has almost been a way of meditation for me. Watching the dry ingredients mix in with the wet ingredients when making cakes or cookies or loaves of bread is mesmerizing. Learning skills and reading new recipe books is an escape from reality while still being present enough to be doing something practical—preparing food so you don’t starve. It’s been a way to bring the stressful things into perspective and bring my loved ones together by the warmth of food. 

When we were all told to stay home in March, one of the first things I thought to myself was “maybe this will give me more time to cook and bake.” Although my love for baking and cooking has always been apart of my natural human rhythm, only lately have I had the realization that food is close to my heart and I can explore that concept and further hone my skills. Maybe professionally, but maybe just as a self-taught baker who loves to cook for her family. And I could write about it. I was quarantined for over 50 days and through that time I discovered and acknowledged a lot of things, but this little nugget was one of them. 

It was my Plus 1 who brought it to my attention that I’ve been cooking a lot recently, and maybe I could pursue it further. I was sitting with him in my yard. We were trying to do yoga but as we sat, Sukhasana on our mates, letting Yoga with Adrienne continue without us, we faced each other and started talking about life. He wants to go back to school, and I think he totally should. Whatever path he chooses to take career-wise, if it leads to first going back for more schooling, he should hop on the train and go for it whenever he feels the time is right. I said that I’m still trying to carve out a place too, figuring out what I want to do with myself a year out of college. I remember saying that if I had to go back to school, I would pick culinary school, slightly joking since I’ve also said that I will never, ever, in my wildest dream go back to school again. And then he said: “Why not? You really could go back to culinary school. Or at least look into it. You love to cook, why not pursue it more?” But it was from that point that I looked into his face and realized that I could do something like this, even without a formal education, I could start now with the skill set I have. I’ve thought about it a lot since then, and by no means am I jumping into anything, maybe self-teaching is the way to go for me. But until now, I never thought the topic of cooking and food as something that I could bring to the table in my work. 

I’ve struggled with what to write on this blog for some time now. Honestly, I’ve struggled to write since college. I don’t know whether it’s a craving for perfection, lack of motivation or inspiration, or just being in that post-college funk where I’ve been given the education of how to write mixed with the freedom of writing anything I want without a professor guiding me with assignments for the very first time and I don’t know what to do with myself. This world is big and scary and a lot to take in all at once, then finding a place in it all, it seems almost impossible. But food, I think I could write about food. Putting the perfectionism aside, letting this evolve as it would on its own, taking inspiration from the food writers I love to read and then letting my creation changing into something of its own, into my voice that will speak out into this little corner of the internet. 

I’m letting this shape itself as I go, you’ll more than likely find stories of food, because food always brings people together and when people are together, stories happen. It’s just a given. Maybe at some point, you’ll find my recipes here, but for now, you’ll probably find links to other recipes that I’ve learned to cook from books and websites I’ve tapped into. You probably won’t find food reviews, lavish articles on technique, glossy-magazine foodie photos, or the inside scoop on what is the hottest dish during this season, because there are other platforms out there for those things. I’m not perfect or all knowledgeable about this subject, I’m learning as I go as much as you or anyone else is. I’m also keeping this space as pure enjoyment, not space for judges to come in and tell me how I could’ve made my batch of chocolate chip cookies more even-colored on the bottom, at least not just yet.

I know one thing for sure, that I will stay true to myself, my stories, the food that is connecting me to the people around me, the people I love.

Pictured above is the remains of Alison Roman’s coconut braised chicken with chickpea and lime, you can find the recipe in her book, Nothing Fancy.

Staying Home, No. 1

A little introduction to this series and a note one wellness, what’s on my plate, something related to the news, and a playlist.

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So this is twenty three

This past week was my golden birthday — I turned twenty-three on the twenty-third. 

I spent the day with my mom because, low and behold, it was her birthday too. We have always spent our birthday together. It’s been that way for the past twenty-two years and, even with a job and a full to-do list, this year was no different.

For our day, we went out to brunch at a local restaurant named Milktooth, which was dubbed one of the top 207 restaurants to eat at around the globe according to Conde Nast. I’d heard about the restaurant so often while I was an intern at Indianapolis Monthly this past spring, so I was so happy to finally try out their menu.

Both my mom, my brother, and I ended up ordering the same thing: Brochedi Donuts with bacon and eggs. Needless to say, it was delicious.

While driving this afternoon, I thought about how twenty-two was a good year. It was a year of learning, of surviving my last year of college, of figuring out what it was I wanted and didn’t want. A year of healing and finding patience in the unknown. Thinking about this next year, I can’t tell you where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing or how I will get to wherever ‘there’ is. I think that’s okay sometimes, not knowing your next step but trusting your gut, where the universe unfolds and leads you.

So far, twenty-three has looked like adding more business professional clothes to my wardrobe, going on a cleanse, and writing. Lots of writing.

Regardless of what I know or don’t know about this upcoming year, there are a few intentions that I know I want to move through. Here are a few:

  • Listen: to myself, to God’s soft whisper, to the voice of my mom and brother, to my friends, and my body. 
  • Read full books, finish them, stick with them, contemplate over them. Not rushing myself, but taking it slow. 
  • Focus on creating vs consuming. Scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, passively streaming a show, getting lost down the rabbit hole of YouTube. I spend way to much time with these consuming activities. It’s time to turn the table and start creating instead of constantly consuming media. 
  • Be mindful: about what I eat, about the quality of my breath, about listening to people, about each moment I find myself in, about what I’m working on and what I’m creating. 
  • Prioritize my health and the food I eat. Cook at home and bring lunches to work. Continuing my yoga practices. Be aware of what I eat and put on my skin. College was a good ride but I focused more on grades while my health was neglected. It’s time to change that. 
  • Have a heart of gratitude. 

No matter where I end up or what I do, I know that this next year is going to be a good one. A one of thriving, learning, seeking… and maybe hitting up Milktooth again.

Here’s to twenty-three.