(Long) Weekend Reading, 9.5.16
September 5, 2016

Weekend Reading | The Full Helping

Hi everyone, and happy Labor Day to those of you celebrating. Steven and I have had a mostly quiet weekend, with some scattered outings and some family time today. I’ve been taking it easy on purpose as I prepare to dive back into classes later this week, while doing my best to keep up with the recipe testing process.

Speaking of class, I so appreciated everyone’s thoughts on my weekend reading musings last week, particularly the newfound candor about graduate school and my feelings toward it. That post has prompted some interesting thoughts about authenticity and speaking my mind: in it, I mentioned being committed to “putting into words what I truly feel, and only that.”

We hear so much about “authenticity” these days; it’s become something of a buzzword, a concept that finds its way into articles and lists and pieces of self-help. It’s a theme that gets refracted in various ways, from relationship advice to career guidance.

Until quite recently I never thought of myself as someone who struggles with authenticity, though I wonder if I maybe confused authenticity with individualism, or with being independently-minded. I’ve always at least aspired to the latter, but I’m not sure how successful I’ve been with the former. There are probably many ways of defining authenticity, but to me, it’s an effort to allow one’s inner life–feelings, desires, intentions–to animate the outer life of words, actions, and gestures. It’s about bringing one’s sense of self to bear upon one’s way of being.

This is hard for me. As a teen, I found it incredibly easy to resist peer pressure and was largely unconcerned with popularity (thank goodness, because I was pretty unpopular). I developed strong points of view and nurtured my own intellectual growth. Still, I was a “pleaser,” even if it wasn’t my own peer group I was pleasing. A huge amount of my sense of worth derived from pleasing authority figures, from being a quintessential teacher’s pet. I desperately sought approval through grades and academic performance–and, I guess, from my quest to be thin, which was a huge part of my adolescent experience. While it wasn’t difficult for me to argue a point or to defend a point of view, it was difficult for me to assert what I wanted, especially when that happened to conflict with what I thought was expected of me.

The desire to please and yearning for positive feedback has not gone away, in spite of my being older and ostensibly a little wiser. Validation of myself and my work is still a huge part of what drives me–a disproportionate part, I’ll say, because I understand that to some extent we all crave validation. It’s part of why graduate school has been so hard: what I should frame simply as a means to an end continually assumes inordinate importance because I get carried away by grades and achievement. It factors into my work, too: as a blogger, I can’t help but be aware of the extent to which my content pleases people. Indeed, social media gives bloggers metrics–likes, pins, and so ons–that serve as a seemingly direct measure of popularity.

I know I can’t abolish my desire for approval and validation, and I probably wouldn’t want to. As constraining as the desire can be, it’s also an indication of wanting to reach others, to be seen and heard and appreciated, and this strikes me as very human. I do, however, worry that my desire for positive feedback can sometimes interfere with my capacity to be honest. And I’m learning that the risks of living inauthentically, of muffling feelings out of fear, are sometimes much greater than the risk of having validation withheld.

I don’t have a clear roadmap for all of this authenticity business, but I do know that it’s a muscle I’ve been trying to flex more often, mostly in the way that I communicate. I’ve risked being more intimate in my blog posts lately, for example. I know that what I say won’t always resonate, and I always worry that, when I write about my inner life, I’ll come across a narcissist or a drama queen or some unfortunate combination of the two. But I also know that if this blog and my relationships with the people who read it matter to me–and they do, very much–then I owe it to myself to show up fully when I sit down to write.

I’m also making small adjustments in my language and self-expression. I’m trying to speak and write a little more directly, to state what I want without too much wobbling or nervous qualification. I’m trying not to turn over decisions when I know very well what I’d like to suggest and why; I’m trying not to apologize for things that I’m not sorry for, or to say that I’m “so sorry” when in fact I’m only a moderate amount of sorry.

It’s surprisingly difficult, and it has shown me how frequently I disavow myself and my intentions in day-to-day discourse, even when I’m trying to be direct and upfront. To be very succinct or pointed will never be my way, and I’m not trying to change my basic communication style. I’m simply trying to cut to the heart of things without dissembling or working to fend off criticism before it’s even issued to me.

A few years ago, on New Year’s Eve, I wrote about a quotation that had struck me: “Before you speak ask yourself: Is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve upon the silence?”

What moved me about the quote, I think, was that it spoke to all of the issues I’m writing about today. What does it mean to speak one’s truth? How do we balance honesty and candor with the impulse to be kind, to respect and honor others? Does speaking our truth always “improve upon the silence,” and if not, what gives us the wisdom to know when it does or doesn’t?

I don’t have the answers here, but I know that in the two years since I wrote that post I’ve lost sight of the quotation that moved me so deeply and my resolution to use it as a beacon. Perhaps this effort to communicate more authentically lately is my way of returning to the goal of speech that is necessary, true, and an improvement upon the silence. Maybe, in giving more consideration to my words, I can bring more and more of myself into my voice.

We’ll see. In the meantime, it’s time for some recipes and reads.

Recipes

Vegan-Gluten-Free-Peach-Waffles-with-Mint-Coconut-Whipped-Cream-9

Abby’s beautiful vegan and gluten free peach waffles are a must-make before summer draws to a close. She uses a simple recipe (no complicated mixing of flours and starches), and she pairs the waffles with a creamy mint coconut topping. What a great way to wake up.

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Sasha’s baked bean sliders are a beautiful, wholesome take on everyday comfort food. I love the simplicity of this meal, the homey goodness, and I can’t wait to try the beans (bet they’d also be good in an English breakfast spread!).

Vegan_Moroccan_Carrot_Dip__600_800_70auto_s_c1_left_center

Two years ago, at just this time of year, I made a carrot hummus recipe that rocked my world, and it has become one of my favorite homemade dips. Now I’m taken with Tess’ creamy, flavorful Morroccan carrot dip; I love how she incorporates spices and onion for savoriness.

quinoa-superfood-salad-bowl-1000x1500

Recipes with the “superfood” label can often feel a little fussy and stuffy, but not so with Ania’s awesome quinoa superfood salad. It’s packed with color and texture, and it calls upon superfood ingredients that are accessible, like cabbage, olives, and quinoa. So pretty, too.

Bienenstich-Vegan

I’m continually amazed by Mihl’s capacity to bring the most intricate of desserts to life using vegan ingredients, and her vegan bienenstich cake–“bee sting cake” in German–is the latest shining example. As someone who finds simple quick breads and cookies to be enough of a baking challenge, I love watching Mihl veganize traditional German pastry. And this cake, with its layers of custard and almond brittle, looks divine.

Reads

1. First up, Marian Bull reflects on how viral cooking videos may be shaping the landscape of home cooking. It’s an interesting and thoughtful article, neither a dismissal nor an endorsement of the medium. Personally, I can understand the appeal of these videos–as Bull herself notes, they make creation of a recipe feel amazingly accessible–but I share her concern that the videos may gloss over the fine print that makes written recipes so valuable. She says,

…shoddily written recipes can only discourage a novice. It’s hard to make basic cooking skills (chopping, sautéeing, roasting) sexy; using mesmerizing visuals that focus more on showiness than skill is a far easier route. And while these videos almost always link to recipes, readers don’t always click.

Some of the greatest and most enduring joys of home cooking happen when you learn to go “off script,” greeting recipes as templates more than prescriptions and using them to spark ideas, rather than inform your own process. But I’d also say that, in the early phases of learning to cook, clear and well-written recipes can be invaluable. The cookbooks that have meant the most to me are ones I read cover-to-cover, not simply to get ideas but also to learn more about techniques and approaches to making food. It’s difficult to say whether videos can impart the same kind of lasting value.

There’s also the question of storytelling, which is an art that so many wonderful cookbooks and blogs keep alive. As Bull points out, many cooking videos are faceless, nameless, and often even soundless; they’re visually enticing, but they don’t tell stories.

This isn’t a knock against them, since storytelling doesn’t seem to be the intention. Yet when I think about what made me fall in love with cooking, it was so much more than recipes themselves. It was the voices of food writers who had something to say about why recipes–why food itself–matters. And, while I love seeing food captured in images and video, I doubt they’ll ever mean as much to me as food blogs, magazines, and cookbooks.

2. Last week, I shared an article by Amanda Hesser about the fine art of creating recipes that are both realistic and also uncompromising. This week, I was struck by Yottam Ottolenghi’s article in Bon Appetit about the whole question of using “exotic” ingredients in recipes. Is it too much to ask someone to spend, say, $12 on a bottle of pomegranate molasses if you know there’s a good chance they won’t have many ideas for what to do with it once the recipe in question is made? Or does presenting new ingredients, especially those that are commonplace in other cultures, help to enrich all of our pantries and tables?

Ottolenghi makes a good point, which is that what’s “exotic” is culturally defined. Ingredients that may be difficult to locate or pricey for us may be commonplace in another culture or place. Whether or not something is exotic is also plastic and ever-changing. He writes,

The whole notion of “exotic” depends on where you’re standing and when. When I first moved to the UK in the ’90s from Jerusalem, chickpeas and tahini—staples of my childhood—were considered “out there.” Making hummus at home would have been the height of exoticism. These days, the two ingredients are so mainstream that a container of hummus has a permanent place in grocery stores, and in kids’ lunches too.

I tend to agree that we should try, when it’s possible and practical, to open our minds to ingredients that are new to us. I say this as someone who was drawn into the world of cooking with a very narrow palate and without much openness to ingredients that I now love and use all the time: spices, chili peppers, and even alliums, which I had a strong aversion to for the longest time. My cooking is so much richer and more varied because I did overcome my resistance to trying new things, even when it meant ordering a spice or seasoning on Amazon.

And when it’s not possible or practical to invest in an ingredient that’s specialized (for us)? Ottolenghi has pretty good advice on that, too:

Rather than describing something as commonplace or exotic, I’d say every ingredient belongs on the world-food stage. And if an ingredient is too otherworldly for someone to track down, no need to worry. Behind every hard-to-find ingredient, there’s always a willing and able understudy ready to step in as a substitute.

3. A really heartwarming article about new, 3-D printed prosthesis options for injured animals. The artificial limbs can save animals from being euthanized, and in spite of sounding incredibly high-tech, they’re actually inexpensive to make.

4. NPR’s coverage of Jane C. Desmond’s new book, Displaying Death and Animating Life: Human-Animal Relations in Art, Science, and Everyday Life, raises some good questions about our uneven and morally contradictory treatment of non-human animals. I haven’t read Desmond’s book, so I can’t say what the particular arguments are, but I do like the inquiries that it seems to have prompted, including the book reviewer’s closing thought:

This is an important and moving book. Reading it is a bit like catching an unexpected glimpse of yourself in a reflection and being worried about what you see. How is it that we remain, as a culture, so largely unreflective about animals and their place in our lives?

5. This New York Times op-ed on the cost of “holding on” caught my attention earlier this week, and I tweeted it nearly right away, though as I continue to think about it I wonder how much I actually identify with it. Certainly I love the author’s suggestion that we all tend to trudge around with too much baggage that simply doesn’t serve us: grudges and anger over little slights, resentment that has simply turned into dead weight. The cost of hanging on can be considerable:

We have only so much bandwidth. We have only so much time. We only have so much energy. Do we really want to invest any of our precious resources – financial or otherwise – into something that will return nothing but misery?

I agree, and I love the parable that begins the op-ed.

The more I thought about it, though, the more an important stipulation came to mind, which is that “letting go” is something that should be done with true consideration for the whole process of experiencing and acknowledging pain, grief, and anger. It’s one thing to cling to tiny, perceived slights and petty grievances; it’s quite another thing, I think, to hang on to true pain or anger at having been deeply hurt. And while I would hope that everyone who has been injured can find his or her way toward healing, I don’t think it’s a process than can be forced or rushed, and it can’t necessarily be served by the simple suggestion that we “let go.”

I know that it wasn’t the author’s intention to suggest that we not grieve or fully experience our hurts. I just worry that sometimes all of the advice we get to let go or move past our grievances fail to acknowledge that anger, outrage, and hurt are important emotions, too; they may eat up bandwidth and take up space, but they can also point us toward the issues we have yet to work through. With any luck, working through will allow us to let go with true authenticity (there’s that word again)–which is to say, without feeling as though we’ve rushed through the process for the sake of trying to appear noble, detached, or mature.

Maybe I just feel this way because the last few months of my life have shown me how much stuff I’m still carrying around–stuff I didn’t consciously acknowledge–and I suspect in my heart that letting go will continue to take time. And I sometimes read about “letting go” with a mixture of admiration on the one hand, and longing on the other for something that still feels inaccessible to me.

On that note, this has been a long weekend reading for this long weekend. I wish you all a great start to a slightly abridged week.

xo

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    8 Comments
  1. I agree with Stephanie! I always enjoy hearing your insights about yourself as I can relate to a lot of it. Really liked the topic of authenticity, as it makes a lot of sense but isn’t something I’ve thought about before. Thank you for the delicious recipes!

  2. I have to tell you that these Weekend Reading posts are one of my favorites that I look forward to every week. I love your open and thoughtful words. You share the greatest stuff and I love hearing your perspective on everything. Thank you for this weekly gift!

  3. I’ve been loving the honesty in your posts recently. Please keep sharing! And please know that DC and I miss you. Reading your (beautiful) words isn’t the same as hearing them in person. xo

  4. Gena, please keep speaking your mind. I don’t think you could ever be a narcissist or a drama queen.

    I deeply appreciate how you show that recovery is “messy,” as you say. I think that too often recovery is portrayed that this almost magical thing where one moment you decide to shrug off your eating disorder and from then on you never struggle again or have any of those thoughts or habits.

    Hearing the truth makes me realize I’m not alone. I’m not the only one feeling this way or having these thoughts. And it also gives me hope and helps keep me determined to recover, as much as that is possible.

    So thank you and keep it up!

  5. Thank you for this post. Very thoughtfully written and gives us all something to think about. i always enjoy your weekend reading!

  6. Beautiful thoughts Gena, as always. I especially appreciated the last paragraphs about holding on and letting go. I’m currently assessing why I struggle with letting go (right now, of summer!), and it’s lovely to know I’m in good company!

  7. Dear Gena,

    I just wanted to say how much your last few posts have resonated with my own personal journey right now. My mind is constantly ringing with “aha!” moments, while I read, as the thoughts I have harboured within connect to something (—someone) outside of the private tornado going on in my own head. I truly appreciate and respect the risk you have taken to share in the way that you have. In my own eating disorder recovery, and much larger healing journey that has unfolded through this process, it has been so humbling to realize that many of the worries/fears/insights I have been experiencing are also shared by others. Thank you so much for these posts – I hope you know what an impact they have on those around you.

    B xx

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