Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Vegan To-do List

Here’s a funny thing about Texas: since moving here, I have become way more political and outspoken than I have ever been.  Yesterday, for example, I got into a very exciting, perhaps even heated, debate about human evolution, sexual monogamy, and vegetarianism.  I think we tread in dangerous territory when we justify our behavior by saying, “Evolution made me do it!”  At the same time, I study how genetics influence behavior, so of course I think behavior is constrained by genetics and thus by evolution.

For me, a common thread that runs through my thoughts about humanity is compassion.  We have the ability to make compassionate choices, whether the choice is what we put on the dinner table or how we conduct our romantic lives.  I feel really inspired these days, being able to voice loudly and clearly the fact that I value compassion, and it’s not just lip service or some sort of social pressure to look like a “nice girl.”  (Oh Lordy, how I hate that phrase.  I am not a nice girl.  A kind person?  Maybe.  But nice is such an insipid way to describe a female because it has such a tangled cultural history.  But I digress…)

I’m feeling ready to start my month of vegan eating.  I even told some friends about the project as we were waiting to eat dinner at Genghis Grill, and someone said, “We could probably come here if you’re eating vegan next month.”  And indeed, I bet we could!  Genghis Grill is one of those build-your-own-stir-fry restaurants, much like Mongolian Barbecue.  I had a really delicious bowl of noodles with tofu and tons of vegetables, topped with a DIY sauce combination of red curry peanut and teriyaki.  Yum.  I can’t be certain that it was vegan, but I hope it was.

I have a short to-do list for my month of vegan eating, which I thought I’d share with you.  Who doesn’t love a good list?!

* Buy The Vegan Table by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

* Buy a new jar of coconut oil (swoon!).

* Swap out dairy milk in coffee for Silk soymilk, almond milk, or coconut milk.  I may try all three (separately) and report back on the results.

* Take the plunge and try a container of nondairy yogurt.  Wish me luck…

* Buy a jar of Bubbie’s sauerkraut and/or pickles.  A girl needs her probiotics, and fermented vegetables are a vegan win.

* Buy or make some applesauce for vegan baking (and eating—I love applesauce!  And yes, I think I am five years old.  I did get carded at the grocery store last night when I bought a bottle of hard cider.).

Monday, March 26, 2012

Life, Lately: Grant-Writing Edition

Hello, again!

Thank you for all your insightful questions and comments lately.  I’m really enjoying our discussions, and I’ll try to offer my two cents’ worth.  I certainly don’t have all the answers, nor do I even think that there is one right answer to questions about compassion, sustainability, nutrition, and what we put in our mouths.

You know that saying, when it rains, it pours?  That’s how I’m feeling right now at work.  It’s a good thing, this flurry of activity, but it’s also overwhelming.  With my advisor, I’m trying to submit two grants, one under his name and the other a fellowship in my name.  I wasn’t sure that I would be submitting this fellowship application, and for a while it looked like I wouldn’t be.  But to make a long story short, I’m going for it!  The next two weeks are going to be hectic, but it will be worth it.  And hey, it’s only two weeks of upheaval, and after that, I think we’ll be done with grant submission for a while.

So, in the spirit of grant writing and the challenges that it entails, I present you a themed list of random thoughts about surviving the process. 

Life.  It’s so easy to become overwhelmed and burnt out by grant writing.  My advisor and I have been working on ours for three months, and while I would love nothing more than to send it on its way, I’ve managed to preserve my patience and professionalism.  Just like with running, it’s all about pacing yourself.

My main strategy is this: I focus intensely while I am working, then I goof off for a while.  I might goof off by going for a run or bike ride, or by cooking dinner, or by reading something for pleasure.  I might meet friends for happy hour, or I might go for a walk around the neighborhood.  While goofing off, I may think about a particular problem I’m having with the grant, but I might also just think about how nice it feels to be outside, with the sunshine on my back and the birds chirping.

If I’m feeling really toasted on writing, I prefer to cut myself some slack.  I know my working habits quite well, and for me, time away from the writing process is essential for producing quality work.  Everyone works a bit differently, and I think it’s a sign of maturity as a writer or creative person when you learn to respect your own processes.  I try to strike a balance between discipline/deadlines and listening to my brain and body.  If your brain or body are not happy with you, it’s going to be very hard to write something that’s worth reading.   

Love.  I try to make myself as comfortable as possible when I’m writing.  I love listening to Iron & Wine while I’m working, I keep a glass of water close by, and if I’m working at home, I’ll open the window of my study to let in the breeze.  Grant-writing is intellectually demanding, so I try to spoil myself with creature comforts.

Another strategy I use is prioritizing my writing work so that I’m not tired when I sit down to do it.  This means that I hardly ever write in the late evenings; I prefer morning or afternoon for writing so that I can relax (or do easier work) in the evening.  Plus I always feel better once I’ve attended to my grant-related work—it weighs on my mind until it’s done or I’ve exhausted myself.

Food.  It’s important to stay well-fueled and well-hydrated when writing a grant.  Maybe my athletic analogies strike you as funny or hyperbolic, but as a working scientist and a runner, the analogies are convincing to me.  Writing a grant is an endurance task; it can take months of work to craft the final product.  When you’re working on such a long-term project, it’s important to take care of yourself.  This weekend, I made a batch of this stew (an old favorite!) and enjoyed my tea and cookies after lunch.  I also restocked my fresh produce supplies and pondered how to use up that head of cauliflower…a curry perhaps?  Or a cauliflower and soyrizo stew?  These are the things I like to think about when I’m not thinking about specific aims or references or my hill of grant-related paperwork.

Sunday Lunch

Peanut Butter Cookie

I hope your weekend was lovely!  Have a great week, my dears.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Dairy-Free but not Desperate?

Hard to Give Up

If there is one barrier that stands between me and veganism, dairy is thy name.

I know, I know: milk is what mothers make to feed their babies, and what kind of adult animal drinks milk?  Well, cats will drink milk if you offer it to them.  I suppose that aligns human adults a tiny bit more with the obligate carnivores.  For better or worse, I love dairy and wish the production of milk for human consumption were less riddled with cruelty.

Three aspects of milk production are particularly awful to me: the idea of turning an animal into a milk machine (i.e., dairy cows), taking newborn babies from their mothers, and sending babies off to slaughter to become veal.  I feel ashamed that even though I’ve been a vegetarian for over ten years, I never made the connection between the veal industry and the dairy industry.   It’s hard to argue against the systematic relationship: milk production requires pregnancy, pregnancy produces a baby, and something must be done with all those babies!  It’s not uncommon for a mother cow to nurse her newborn calf for only a day or two before the calf is taken away, and the mama cow’s milk, instead of feeding her baby, is pumped out of her for human consumption.

It’s not hard to imagine how emotionally devastating it must be for dairy cows to lose their calves over and over again.  I believe that animals have emotions, and a mother’s desire to nurse, protect, and teach her baby is probably hardwired into mammalian brains.  I’ve always thought that the idea of eating veal is repulsive and cruel, but why did I never make the connection between dairy and veal?  My guiding vegetarian philosophy is a no-kill ideal: I eat animal products that don’t require the death of the animal.  I was fine with eating eggs and dairy (you need live chickens and cows for these things!), but I didn’t eat meat, animal-based broths, or gelatin.  And if on the rare occasion I did decide to consume one of those things, I wanted to know what I was consuming.  I never wanted to fall into a “don’t ask, don’t tell” pattern of ignorance because I needed to feel like I was making an informed choice.

All of this is to say that even though I love dairy, I am deeply troubled by the cruelty of dairy production.  I’m not sure that I’ll ever give up dairy completely, but perhaps I will eat less of it, which is better than nothing, I suppose.

Here’s my plan of attack for living without dairy for the month of April.

* Milk.  I’m already an enthusiastic consumer of non-dairy milks.  I like soy, almond, and coconut milk, and I’m getting ready to live without dairy milk in my coffee, thanks to Kate’s suggestion to try the full-calorie Silk soymilk (thanks, Kate!).

* Butter.  Two words: Earth Balance.

* Cheese.  Oh, boy.  I love cheese in its many tangy, creamy, stinky, funky varieties.  But I’m going to experiment with homemade nut cheeses, avocadoes, and tofu as cheese alternatives.

* Yogurt.  This one’s tough.  I’ve never tried any of the nondairy yogurts that are on the market; JD tells me that coconut milk yogurt is amazing.  I think I’ve seen it at the natural foods store, so I may give that a whirl.  I know that there are soy and almond milk yogurts too.  Are they any good, dear readers?  Do you have any specific brand or flavor recommendations?

* Buttermilk.  This one’s easy.  Buttermilk shows up a lot in baking and pancake recipes.  To make a vegan buttermilk, all the recommendations I’ve seen suggest adding a sour liquid (such as lemon juice or vinegar) to a nondairy milk and letting it sit for 15 minutes or so.  I think the ratios can vary, but in The Cornbread Gospels, Crescent Dragonwagon recommends 1 tablespoon of lemon juice mixed with enough plain soymilk to equal 1 cup.  Stir with a fork a few times, and you’re good to go.

So I’m taking a few deep breaths and telling myself that soon I will be dairy-free, but with all the delicious options available, I will not be desperate.  I hope.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

On Not Eating Eggs

I have no qualms about admitting that I like eating eggs.  I think they are nutritious, delicious, and incredibly versatile.  From a chemistry standpoint, they’re pretty amazing too, and I love that they are a whole food—a tidy little package of whole food that can be held in the palm of your hand.

And yet.  I know I’m not alone in my horror when I hear about the debeakings of newborn chicks, the crowded cages stuffed so full of chickens that they can barely move, the way that waste from animals in the top cage rows just falls on top of the animals on lower rows.  Of course I’ve read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and I know that in theory, chickens could be allowed to live differently.  They could be allowed to wander around in the grass, pecking for worms, flapping their wings, enjoying the sunshine on their little feathered bodies.  I know we don’t have to torture chickens in order to eat their eggs (and yes, eat their bodies, though I have no desire to do that).  But when I buy eggs at the store, I buy them on faith.  The carton says things like “free-range,” “cage-free,” “vegetarian-fed,” but who knows if these claims are accurate?  (I’m also not sure about vegetarian-fed hens.  Shouldn’t those hens be eating worms?  Worms are not vegetables.)

I would hope, for the cost of my fancy eggs, that the hens from which these eggs come are being treated well because those eggs are damn expensive, upwards of $5-6 per dozen.  I’m willing to pay that price, but I’d better be getting what I think I’m getting!  And yet, how do I know?  I don’t, and that’s the troubling reality of eating eggs.

I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to live without eggs for a month.  I don’t think it will be too hard.  For example:

* Instead of scrambled eggs, I can make scrambled tofu or a chickpea salad.  I tend to make scrambled eggs when I’m tired and hungry and I’ve worked all day.  So I just need to stock my fridge and pantry with some good ingredients for quick dinners that will fill the scrambled egg niche.

* Instead of eggs in baking, I can use flax eggs, which I love.  I also think I should experiment with some applesauce or “bananasauce” (mashed banana) substitutions.  Easy peasy—just keep applesauce in the cupboard and some frozen bananas in the freezer.  Frozen banana thaws pretty quickly, too, so you can bake more or less on a whim with it, especially if you chop the banana up while it is still frozen.

* I don’t think I have a good substitute for my little baked eggs and egg-based casseroles…suggestions are welcome!  

Monday, March 19, 2012

Vegan Intentions

Zucchini Slices

Dear readers, you know that I have a talent for writing very long blog posts.  I thank you for sticking with me through so many of them!  Some might say that long posts are not the way to catch and keep readers, but I do not have a succinct writing style and I offer no apologies.  I like to meander, to think deeply, to engage myself in a discussion.  This week, however, I have decided to write a few short posts about the month of veganism that I’m about to start.  Today, I’d like to clarify my intentions for April.

I’ve already listed my reasons for this fling with veganism: compassion, finances, and ambition.  To be honest, I’m doing this to see if I can do it.  I don’t know if I can because I really, really love dairy.  Eggs—eh, I think I can live without them for a month.  But giving up dairy is going to be hard, and it’s going to force me to try new things.  Dairy is a daily habit for me: milk in my coffee, yogurt in my oatmeal, cheese and crackers with lunch, cheese in my quesadilla at dinner.  I know that I eat a lot of dairy.  I felt a sense of loss and frustration on Saturday as I stood in front of the refrigerated case of vegan products, trying to decide what to buy.  In the end, I bought more dairy milk and cheese.  After all, it’s not April yet…and I’m still getting used to the idea of no dairy for 30 days.  It’s a weird feeling.

I have no intention to continue a strictly vegan diet after April.  Of course I may change my mind—never say never!—but I am not committing to anything.  I have no desire to eat meat on a regular basis, so I remain devoted to vegetarianism.  But this veganism thing is an experiment, and as with all experiments, I remain open to the data and new possibilities.  Just please don’t remind me that I’m giving up my beloved cheese for a month!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Get Ready for It

I have an announcement to make: for the month of April, I will be challenging myself to eat a vegan diet.  No dairy, no eggs, and of course, no meat.

Why vegan?  I’m already a vegetarian, a long-time vegetarian in fact, over ten years now!  I am comfortable with my vegetarian habits.  I know what I like.  And I’ve finally become more comfortable asking for what I want in all areas of my life, including foodwise.

I have a few reasons for choosing this challenge now, and I’d like to share them with you.

* Compassion.  I am convinced, after listening to almost all of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s podcasts, that a vegan diet is the most compassionate choice.  I consider myself an environmental vegetarian, but there has always been an undercurrent of compassion in my decision, which I will talk about in a future post.  Veganism is a manifestation of compassion, a choice to not subject other sentient beings to suffering so that we may eat their bodies, their milk, and their eggs.  I also feel that right now, compassion is on my mind because of Matt.  It makes sense to me that at a time in my life when compassion is perhaps the key to protecting an important friendship from anger and bitterness, I want to engage in a higher level of compassion in my food choices.

* Financial.  I spend a lot of money on high-quality dairy and eggs.  I do my best to buy local, organic products from free-range, grass-fed animals.  I spend at least $35 a month on dairy alone, just for me!  Don’t get me wrong: the cost is worth it because I love dairy and dairy loves me.  But I am very curious to see if my budget will see the effect of eating vegan for a month.  I look at this as an experiment.  At the end of April, I plan to write a little summary about how April’s grocery bills compared to the average grocery bill for 2012 thus far.

* Ambition.  Spring is the time of blog projects for me.  Last year I did a 40-day yoga challenge on Feels Like Flying, and on this blog, I did a vegetarian challenge, which ended abruptly because I was traumatized by job stuff.  I have learned that blogging every day is too much for me, so for my vegan challenge, I’m going to try to post twice a week (Wednesdays and Sundays, perhaps?) to share my food, cooking, ingredients, struggles, and joys.

I am excited about this project!  Vegetarianism is a topic that is close to my heart, and I have a lot more to say about it in this space.  I am getting ready for the challenge, both mentally and in my kitchen.  I thank you in advance for indulging me with my blog projects.

Happy cooking! 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Life, Lately

I feel like my posts have been really disjointed lately, perhaps because I am feeling disjointed.  When I start feeling freaked out, I say to myself dramatically, “My life is unraveling!”  Job, romance—neither feels stable to me right now.  Then I think back to my word for this year, devotion, and it’s enough to keep me from losing it.  Devotion, faith, perseverance: these are the ways in which we build a life worth living.

In the spirit of order and updates and tranquility, here’s what I’ve been doing lately.

Life. Things are going well for me these days, with one rather large and obvious exception.  Yes, the future is uncertain, but I feel sure that I am doing the right things.  I had a great week at work: I finished the latest set of revisions on the grant, and I read and reviewed a manuscript that my advisor has been asked to review.  I love reading unpublished work—it’s so much more exciting to me than reading published papers!  And I love editorial and reviewing work.  This week I worried that I had bitten off more than I could chew, as I was feeling swamped by the grant and experimental work, but the pressure was exactly what I needed: everything got done, and I’m ending the week on a calm note.

I also filled out a silly bracket for March Madness.  I call it The Cat’s Meow, and it’s a funny idea that a professor in my department shared with us.  The strategy is simple: animals beat non-animals, and cats beat non-cats.  So, for example, I was forced to choose the UNC-Asheville bulldogs over the Syracuse orangemen (which I lost, of course, because a 16-seed has never once beaten a 1-seed), but I also chose the Cincinnati bearcats over the Texas longhorns.  Cincinnati won, though I feel guilty not choosing Texas (indirect loyalty, you know—Texas is Texas A & M’s sister university).

Anyway, I have no real interest in college basketball, and the randomness of my bracket picks makes me laugh.  So we’ll see how well The Cat’s Meow does this year! 

Love.  Oh, dear.  It’s so hard to be calm right now.  I have no news about Matt. Whatever he is going through, it is going to take time to resolve.  I feel utterly unprepared to handle this situation, so I am falling back on my decision to do nothing.  Nothing drastic, that is. 

I keep thinking about labels and the role that labels play in relationships.  Labels explain our relationships to the external world, to some degree, but they also explain our relationships to ourselves.  And I feel lost without a label that feels right to me.  My favorite label for Matt is companion—he is my companion.  Companion feels soft and comfortable to me, warm and not overtly sexual the way that “lover” is.  I also like “special gentleman.”  He will always be special to me.

I’m not sure what I would call him right now, as I feel that our relationship has shifted.  I hope he will be my companion again, in the future, as it makes me terribly sad to think otherwise.  He would probably call us friends, as friendship has always been the foundation of our relationship.  For now, I will be whatever he wants me to be.  For love, I will become a shape-shifter.

Food.  I’m nursing my broken heart with food, of course.  With coconut milk, to be specific.  Now, I’m not feeling vindictive toward Matt, but he really does not like coconut.  A few weeks ago, when he was visiting me, we were talking about where to go for lunch, and he said, “Anything but Thai.”  And do you know why he said that?  Because Thai food is notorious for its use of coconut milk in all the curries.  Matt and I do not eat Thai food together.

Which is fine with me, but I’ll keep the coconut milk for myself.

Making Hot Chocolate

I think coconut milk is a wonderful pantry ingredient.  I like its creaminess, of course, but I also like its versatility.  It works well in savory and sweet things, and it always adds an exotic touch.  I’d love to get in the habit of always keeping a can of coconut milk in the cupboard because then I could always whip up Melissa Clark’s delicious coconut hot chocolate.

The recipe comes from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, the cookbook that became my cookbook of the year for 2011.  It’s a terrific version of hot chocolate, pleasantly sweet and deeply chocolatey, rich and smooth and delectable.  It’s perfect for dairy-free folks, and I agree with Melissa when she says, “As any Mounds bar lover will attest, coconut is a fantastic match with chocolate.”

Yes indeedy!  This recipe reminds me of my friend Nicole, who shares my love for Mounds bars and is lactose-intolerant.  Nicole, this one’s for us.  Cheers!

Coconut Hot Chocolate

Adapted slightly from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite by Melissa Clark

Serves 2-3

Just one quick note about the recipe: I didn’t use an entire can of coconut milk.  I had about a cup of canned coconut milk left over from something else, so I used that and added water to get 15 ounces for this recipe.  It worked just fine, as canned coconut milk, even the “lite” stuff, is very rich.  So this recipe would be a good destination for leftover coconut milk.

1/3 cup boiling water

2 tbsp. cocoa powder

1 15-ounce can of coconut milk (see headnote)

1/4 cup brown sugar

Pinch kosher salt

1/4 cup chocolate chips, preferably bittersweet or semisweet

1)  In a small heatproof mug, whisk together the boiling water and cocoa powder until smooth.

2)  In a saucepan, combine the coconut milk, brown sugar, salt, and chocolate chips.  Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently, until the chocolate is melted and everything is smooth and combined.

3)  Stir the cocoa mixture into the coconut milk mixture and serve.  Any leftovers will keep well in the fridge, tightly covered. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Granted, I’m Exhausted

Rainy Weekend

If I had to name the single hardest part of science writing, it’s that the process of revision never ends.

Okay, that’s not true.  Eventually things do get submitted—grants get sent off to NIH, papers get pushed over to journal editors and reviewers, and for a month or two or three, you can shift your attention to something else.  For me, I usually go back to doing experiments, with a small amount of time spent reading papers.  When I’m writing, though, I become absolutely obsessed with whatever I am writing.  It can be very hard for me to tear myself away from writing (or reading so I can write).  Writing has an urgent quality.  Whereas experiments are the stuff of everyday science for me, writing means that I am doing Something Very Important.

My boss and I have been working on a grant for over two months now.  I have written and rewritten this grant, and then written and rewritten some more.  I am so tired of the grant, but I know we’re getting close to a final product.  Perhaps I am convinced because I am delusional, but I don’t care.  We’re getting close!

Perversely, it gets really hard and really easy at the end.  It’s hard because I am tired of revisions.  My writing muscles are fatigued.  My eyes would prefer not to read those words any more.  My brain is getting bored.  I’m easily distracted.  But it gets easier because some of the edits are just line edits—change this phrase, add a sentence or two about this idea.  Some of the edits are moving things around, which is also easy.  And I do get breaks too, when the grant is in my boss’s hands and I am temporarily free of it.  (Free to do experiments, that is!)

Despite all this, I still love it.  I love that I’ve been able to spend so many hours reading and writing lately.  I love the ideas that have emerged during grant writing.  This project makes me feel eager to do the science that I am proposing.  I think this love is the product of devotion.  I don’t think that science is religion—oh hell no!—but it’s more like I am an artisan of ideas and experiments.  I have faith is the process, and that is what is carrying me forward.

Perhaps devotion itself creates the faith we need to continue on our paths.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Question for the Vegans

A Flurry of Fennel

I was out with friends last night, and we wandered into the topic of vegetarianism.  Someone asked me, “So what do vegans think about vegetarians?  Do the vegans think vegetarians aren’t doing enough?”

I said, “I don’t know.  Honestly, I’ve never had that conversation with a vegan.”

Luckily for me, I know a number of you, dear readers, are vegans or are pretty darn close to it.  So I ask you: do you think that vegetarians, by continuing to eat eggs and dairy, aren’t doing enough to adhere to the principles that usually guide one’s decision to give up meat?  I invite you to be judgmental here—I’m asking your opinion, and an important part of opinion is judgment.

Personally, I really admire vegans for their bravery.  Because to choose, voluntarily, to give up all meat, dairy, and eggs is a daily protest against animal cruelty and waste.  It is walking the walk.  It is compassion.  And for many vegans, it’s a challenge that they relish with joy, a chance to prove that one can live a morally consistent life in a world that is dominated by greed and carelessness.

So vegans, what say you?  Do you feel like vegetarians are standing with you in protest, or do you secretly wish they would stop eating so much goddamn cheese?  (And non-vegans, feel free to chime in here.  I would love to see a great discussion happen in the comments.  I promise to hear all opinions with open ears and an open mind.)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Gratitude for Him

A Windmill Perhaps

I wonder if, during the course of every great long-term relationship, something extraordinary will be asked of one or both partners.  I can think of some classic examples: one person really wants children, but the other is ambivalent.  The ambivalent partner, in an act of love, decides to go for it, and they become parents.  Or what about all the examples of relocation to follow a job or a dream of living overseas?  Then there are foodie examples: one partner becomes a vegetarian or vegan, and the other, perhaps reluctantly, agrees to stop eating meat at home.  They become vegetarians, at least at home, together.

Matt and I have our examples of compromise.  The meals we cook together are fundamentally vegetarian (for me), with perhaps a bit of meat on the side (for him).  I never say anything snide or mean about what he orders in restaurants, and he looks out for me and my vegetarian palate.  He doesn’t really eat breakfast, but he will sit with me while I eat breakfast, and we’ll drink coffee together.  He loves wine and can drink a lot without ill effect, but he doesn’t make me feel bad for being a lightweight.

Our biggest compromise is the balance of intimacy and space that we maintain.  We don’t live in the same city and we only see each other every 3-4 months, but until recently, we wrote daily love letters to each other by e-mail.

A question that I get frequently is, “Three to four months?!  What?  Why?”  To which I can only reply, “Because it’s what works for us.”  There are scheduling reasons, such as Matt’s hectic travel schedule or my sometimes-erratic work schedule.  There are personal reasons, such as the fact that I am a loner by nature and like to be alone.  There used to be financial reasons, because plane tickets are expensive and I was not the one paying for them most of the time.  And I think that deep down, there are also romantic reasons: we don’t take each other for granted.  We don’t bicker.  Our time together is treated like vacation time.  We’re lazy and indulgent and we have a marvelous time together.  Like I said, it’s what works for us.

Or rather, it was what worked for us until recently.  We were happy with things, until we weren’t.  Matt isn’t happy, and he doesn’t know why.  To clear some space for himself to think about his life, he has put our relationship on hold.  It’s sort of like he dumped me, but without the nasty breakup.  He has put a wedge between us, whether or not I want it there.  I don’t know when we’ll see each other again (I do have faith we’ll see each other again!).  And we’re no longer writing daily e-mails.  I’m a free woman.  Hurray?

It’s a strange thing, to be dumped but not.  I tell myself that it’s not me, that this is temporary, but it still hurts.  I try to understand, but I don’t, not at a level that makes it easier to swallow.  He is asking something extraordinary of me: to not give up on him and to stick around, even though he dumped me.  To be honest, I am angry that he is asking this of me.  No, he’s not asking; he’s issuing an ultimatum: deal with it or leave.  And I’m pretty sure if I left, it would be over.

I’m angry with myself too, for not being more selfless.  I miss our daily intimacy, the words that sustain our relationship during the months we spend apart.  I miss feeling happy when I think of him.  Right now I just feel angry or sad.  I feel like anger competes with my empathy for him, which is to say: I feel conflicted.  I never signed up for this!

But today, as I was grappling with my anger, I felt my heart shift and I started thinking about the joy he has brought into my life.  We have been pretty happy together.  There is so much he has shared with me, taught me, and introduced to me.  My life is richer because of his presence in it.  And I would be a damn fool to walk away without trying to…trying to what?  Trying to love him while staying out of his way.

Here are a few of the ways in which he has made my life better.

* Music.  I like music, but I’m lazy about it.  I don’t really seek out new music, but Matt brings new music into my life.  Gillian Welch, Dan Cohen, Iron & Wine, and Jace Everett are a few examples of musicians whose music is woven into my everyday life, thanks to Matt.

* His compassion.  His care and empathy for others is unparalleled.  For me, to love Matt is to love his kindness.

* Wine.  We have shared many good bottles of wine over the years, all picked out by Matt.  I love trusting my palate to this man.  Most recently, it was Cabernet Franc, my introduction to this particular grape.  I like that Matt knows a lot about wine, but I really like that he enjoys sharing this hobby with me (and others, too).

* His sense of romance.  I don’t know how to describe this, other than to say that he makes magic happen.

* Travel.  We have a portable romance.  Over the years, we’ve met up in Illinois, North Carolina, Arizona, California, and Texas.  Now that we don’t require airplanes to see each other, I’ll admit that I miss the sweet thrill of airports and planes and the way they served as portals to him.  Those were exciting days.

* His humor.  He makes me laugh.  This may be the sexiest thing about him.

* His sense of abundance.  Our conversations have opened my mind to the way that our sense of abundance and opportunity can shape the way we experience our lives.  Matt is generous, and he makes me want to be more generous.  Certainly he inspires me to indulge him because I like to make him happy.  And he does the same for me.  Outside of our relationship, Matt sees a world filled with opportunities, possibilities, and interesting challenges.  He doesn’t see limits.  He is someone who says yes.  His attitude and his confidence made our relationship possible.  I want to be a yes person, but I fear that I’m more of a no person.  I see limits and possible failure.  I am often anxious.  But Matt…Matt pushes those feelings away for me.  He believes in me and us, our friendship and our connection, without doubts.  He is amazing.

Perhaps you can see now why it’s so hard for me to leave him alone right now.  But I’m going to take my cue from Matt, and write it on my heart that I believe in him and us.  I’m not going away; I’m just stepping out of the way.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Few Good Things: International Edition

Spring Against the Sky

Happy Saturday, my dears!  I am procrastinating about doing work this weekend while mentally preparing to run 13.1 miles tomorrow morning.  I do love races, but why must they always be so painfully early?  Let us hope I can pry myself out of bed in time for the Armadillo Dash.

I wanted to share a few cool, thought-provoking, or delicious things with you today.  Consider it another list of good things, and this time, it’s international!  Well, mostly international, as you will see.  Texas is not an independent nation, no matter what anyone tells you right now.

Onto the list!

* Norman Finkelstein.  Dr. Finkelstein is a scholar and political activist who is famous for his opposition to Israel’s aggression and the use of the Holocaust by today’s Jews as a way of making money off the suffering of those who lived through or died during the Holocaust.  What I like about Dr. Finkelstein is his refusal to be silenced by his opposition.  Despite being a respected scholar and well-liked teacher, he has never been able to secure tenure at any of the institutions where he taught.  Most recently, he taught at DePaul University, where, despite the faculty’s vote to grant him tenure, he was denied tenure by the university.  That decision is highly suspect to me.

As an academic, I believe that skepticism is a virtue.  Academics probe evidence and the methods by which evidence is obtained in order to build the best arguments we can.  Dr. Finkelstein is disliked by many people because he has dared to criticize the efforts of people who invoke the Holocaust as justification of their actions, no matter how questionable those actions are.  I believe that nobody gets a blank check for their actions, and as the old saying goes, an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.  We should all be skeptical of Israel’s history of aggression.  Violence begets violence.

If you are as intrigued by Dr. Finkelstein and his work as I am, you can watch American Radical, a movie about his story.  He’s published a number of books listed here, and he has a detailed entry on Wikipedia.  I can’t wait to read his work—his courage in the face of devastating professional loss is inspiring.  We should all be so brave as to speak our truth as clearly as he speaks his.

(And now, onto some lighter topics!)

* Monna’s Interiors Project.  Monna has been inviting international educators to share thoughts and images of their homes and lives spent living and working in exotic places like Japan, Thailand, Argentina, and Lebanon.  It’s fascinating to read about the ways in which they create homes so far away from their native countries, and the photos are stunning.  Stunning.  I’ve really enjoyed all the issues.  The newest issue is Karen Fish’s Mumbai, India issue.  Check out the gorgeous children in the photo right above the “Travelling” section.  I can’t get over how radiantly beautiful their faces and smiles are.  As I wrote in my comment on that post, Karen’s optimism bubbles through her issue—it’s infectious!

* Coconut milk ice cream.  Coconut, I find, is one of those flavors that people either love or loathe.  I love it, and I’m especially loving So Delicious’s cookie dough coconut milk ice cream.  It’s vegan and delighfully coconutty, with fat slivers of chocolate and hunks of cookie dough.  Yum. 

* This necklace in the shape of Texas.  It’s gorgeous and fun and totally out of my budget right now.  Oh well.  Michigan is pretty cute too. 

Happy weekend to you, dear reader!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

At Least There Was Cheese

Cab Franc Night

Oh, poor Matt.  He is at once the most talkative person I’ve ever met (at least he’s that way with me—my ears, they are ringing with his words) and yet he is also a very private person.  Somehow he found himself dating me, who likes to write about her life, and her love life (GAH!), and share it on the internet.  Today I am going to do him a favor and I will say no more nothing too specific about the difficult waters in which we find ourselves swimming.  Actually, there isn’t anything too specific to say other than that things are not okay for him, and he doesn’t know why.  I don’t know why either.  As far as I can tell, there isn’t anything wrong with our relationship—nothing specific I can say or do differently.  And it breaks my heart, his sadness and this helpless feeling.  I feel lonely without him and the comfort of our routines.

He visited me last weekend, and it was bittersweet.  It was bitter feeling helpless and uncertain about the future, and it was bitter not knowing how to comfort him.  And yet it was still sweet to see him.  Even the worst moments had some sweetness, whether it was a bare-faced honesty, a stripping away of certain illusions (he makes everything look so easy—it turns out it’s not), or even a few good-bye hugs after a conversation that dangled on the edge of becoming a fight, as I grew more panicky and his irritation became palpable.  There were also some nice walks and a really lovely dinner at a restaurant with a very nosy server.  Our server’s endless curiosity about us made me laugh: “Are y’all celebrating something special?  How did you meet?  Is that Dr. and Mrs.…” to which I replied, “Doctor and Doctor!”  I didn’t earn a PhD to be called Mrs., I can tell you that much.  (Never mind the fact that I’m not married, either.)  I’m making fun of our server now, but really, he was kind of charming, if slightly intrusive.  And he was certainly eager to please.

What I really want to tell you about today is the cheese.  Oh, the cheese!  It was so delicious.  If you ever wonder why my tastes are becoming more and more decadent, you can be certain that it’s all Matt’s fault.

Mmm Cheese 

On Saturday night, we stayed in and made dinner.  Our dinners have always been one of our best collaborations.  We discussed dinner plans during our morning walk, with me tossing out ideas and Matt vetoing the ones that didn’t interest him.  We knew we’d be drinking Cabernet Franc that evening, so we needed food that would go well with a bold wine selection.  Luckily, we were walking slowly so there was plenty of time to settle on what seemed like a promising menu: a green salad (Matt makes the best salads) and roasted acorn squash stuffed with a mixture of soyrizo, onion, celery, and kale.  All to be washed down with plenty of red wine, of course.

Matt has a passion for all things complex and savory, and he’s a thoughtful shopper, too.  So when he wandered off to pick out some cheese to go in the salad, I felt a ripple of curious delight, knowing that whatever he chose, it would be a treat.  To go with the pear in our salad, he picked out a big wedge of Parmesan SarVecchio.  It had the wonderful savory depth of a good Parmesan, but with a more buttery texture.  In my memory now, it seems like it wasn’t quite as salty as a typical Parmesan, like it wasn’t relying as heavily on salt to produce its flavor.  Its savory quality was more subtle, more interesting and nuanced.  It was really good, and I’ve been using it all week in my green salads, just a few shavings on top of some greens and orange slices dressed with good olive oil and vinegar.

His Choice  

Matt and I have had a lot of time now to wear grooves into our relationship, those familiar feelings of trust and contentment.  It’s unsettling right now, not knowing what to do other than to wait for him to figure things out.  So that’s what I am doing: I am waiting.  Also, I fully intend to codify a recipe for our stuffed acorn squash because it was really, really good, and I want to remember as many good things about him and us as I can right now.

Thanks for reading, and I apologize for my vagueness.  It’s not my intention to be coy, but I have to say something without saying everything.  I hope you understand.