Weekend Reading, 5.14.17
May 14, 2017

Weekend Reading | The Full Helping

Happy Sunday, all, and a very happy Mother’s Day to those of you who are celebrating today.

This day has me thinking a lot about my mom and how grateful I am to her right now. I know I haven’t made things easy for her in the last year or so. I did a lot of soul searching last spring, as I waded through the mucky waters of depression, and much of that work involved delving into parts of my past I’d never really dealt with. There was no way to share that process with my mother without drawing her back into the past, too—a journey she may not have wanted or been ready to take.

In the last couple of months, post-breakup, my mom has seen me at my most vulnerable. It’s not a pretty sight. I’m sure she didn’t count on watching me fall apart this spring, and I hate the way I’ve had to depend on her at times. I’d rather my mom be getting a good night’s rest than getting hysterical phone calls from me, her thirty-five-year-old child, at 2am, because I’ve worked myself into a panic with anxiety and insomnia. I hate that I’ve lashed out at her at times, blamed her for not saying the “right” thing, heaped my grief at her feet—especially since she’s grieving, too. Like me, my mother had great faith in my relationship, had welcomed my partner into her (our) tiny family. She wasn’t ready for the the dissolution, either.

In spite of the fact that my mom would never want me to feel ashamed for needing her so much, I do. I always imagined that, at this point in my life, I’d be ready to take care of her a little more, and lean on her a little less. I thought I’d have more figured out, that I’d be in a sturdier, more solid place, and that she could take comfort in my competence and strength. I didn’t expect to so often feel like a scared, vulnerable kid, still trying to orient myself in the world and wanting a mother’s guidance.

But I know how deeply fortunate I am to have that guidance, that love, in the first place. Reading Lily’s essay last week was a reminder to give thanks for it. It’s not often in life that we’re given permission to fall apart by someone close, someone who will be there to help us when we’re ready to pick up the pieces. That kind of love is such a gift, something that comes around only in the strongest friendships and partnerships. If we’re lucky, we find it in our family—chosen or inherited family—too.

I have a small family, and many of the people I think of as family are not people to whom I’m biologically related. But I have been blessed many times over with the fierce friendship and bond I share with my mom. I know I’ve given her a hard time this year, that I’ve asked a lot of her, pushed her away sometimes, let her bear the brunt of a lot of angry feelings. She has never stopped trying to understand. I can’t really repay her, except to tell her again and again how grateful I am and how much I love her—and I know that, if she were reading, she’d tell me that there’s no debt to be repaid in the first place.

Whether you commemorate Mother’s Day or not, I hope you can spend time today with people who make you feel unconditionally embraced and accepted. On that note, onto some new food finds and reading material.


One of my own nutrition goals this year is to eat more fresh fruit. I know it’ll get easier as we move into warm weather, and salad is a great vehicle. I love the vibrant combination here: mango, roasted sweet potato, flaked coconut, and chopped herbs. This recipe is going on my list of summery food to make as soon as it actually feels like summer (right now NYC is still firmly planted in April/May drizzle and chill).

Having friends over for brunch anytime soon? Alissa’s chai coconut French toast will probably make you the most beloved host or hostess in town.

Babamesco is exactly what it sounds like: a genius hybrid of romesco sauce and babaganoush, garnished with parsley and za’atar. Nice one, Anya.

The Sarno brothers are working wonders in the kitchen (as usual!) with this recipe for vegan carbonara. Cashew-cauliflower alfredo sauce, sautéed shiitakes, peas, garlic…this is my idea of springtime comfort food.

More springtime goodness, and more za’atar spice. This bamboo rice and za’atar tempeh bowl is fully loaded, but the ingredient list totally manageable. And I really love the idea of adding za’atar spice to tempeh.


1. First up, an article about the need for greater PTSD awareness and treatment interventions in disadvantaged neighborhoods, especially those in which gun violence is common. It’s a fine piece of local reporting, yet I’d imagine that the issues journalist Grace Wong describes are widespread.

2. Fascinating information on how the “soundscape” of oceans—that is, the whole collection of sounds made by animals, waves, weather, and human beings—can give scientists clues about the health of a coastal ecosystem, especially in the face of climate change.

I’ve never exactly imagined oceans as being quiet, but the article paints a vivid picture of just how busy and alive they are. “People often assume that oceans are quiet, aside from the noises made by whales and dolphins,” author Roberta Kwok writes. “But small animals chatter too. For instance, damselfish open and close their jaws with a brrrp brrrp, triggerfish brush their pectoral fins against their bodies to produce a keek-keek-keek and drum fish contract muscles around an organ called the swim bladder to make a drumming sound.”

During toxic algae blooms and other natural disasters, these oceans go eerily quiet. It’s worth listening to some of the recordings in the article, which capture the web of sounds that Kwok describes.

3. A beautiful, surprising essay about how a prolonged experience of aphasia—the loss of speech or understanding of speech—gave one woman a drastically different experience of life. The author, Lauren Marks, had a stroke at the age of twenty-seven while traveling abroad. It left her with deficiencies in reading, writing, and speech—an event that might well be seen as catastrophic for an actor and PhD candidate. Marks’ experience, though, isn’t what you might think: in the wake of the stroke, she experienced a transformative “quiet” that she’d never known before:

Once-fixed concepts, like “wall” and “window,” weren’t as easy to identify anymore, and the differences between “he” and “she” and “I” and “it” were becoming indistinguishable. I knew my parents were my parents and my friends were my friends, but I felt less like myself and more like everything around me…
At this point I didn’t know much about my brain injury at all. I wasn’t in any pain, so my thoughts about my new condition were unfocused and fleeting. Instead of being occupied by questions about why I was in the hospital and what had happened to me, my mind was engrossed in an entirely different set of perceptions. The smallest of activities would enthrall me. Dressing myself, I was awed by the orbital distance between cloth and flesh. Brushing my teeth, I was enchanted by the stiffness of the bristles and the sponginess of my gums. I also spent an inordinate amount of time looking out the window. My view was mainly of the hospital’s rooftop, with its gray and untextured panels, though I developed a lot of interest in a nearby tree. I could only make out the tops of the branches, but I’d watch this section of needles and boughs intently, fascinated by how the slightest wind would change the shape entirely. It was always and never the same tree.

Marks attributes much of this experience to the fact that she was “no longer the narrator of my own life.” She notes that she is still reaching out for language, working to gain it back day by day. But “the quiet” was illuminating in its own way:

The constant stream of language, which I had always assumed was thought, had stopped. It’s hard to describe this voice exactly, and even harder to describe its lack. It is the internal monologue that turns on in the morning, when we instruct ourselves to “Get up” and “Make breakfast.” It’s a voice we use to monitor ourselves, to criticize or to doubt—and it can be pernicious this way. However, it can be an effective tool as well. We can motivate ourselves with it, understand our environment better, and sometimes modify our situations as well. My inner speech returned very slowly, not on a certain day, but in bits and bobs. In the hospital, though, I didn’t realize that I no longer had access to it, only that something in me felt substantially…different.

The essay gave me so much to think about; I can’t imagine going a moment without the narrative voice Marks describes (which for me is often a very busy, boisterous chatter), but I was fascinated by her account, and I’m definitely interested in checking out her new book.

4. Also thought-provoking: Sarah Todd’s reflections on what it’s like to have a very popular name. Todd’s main point is that having a common name can be freeing, a way of moving through life without having too much significance or connotation attached to one’s moniker. She writes,

I may not have a name that feels particularly descriptive, but it has made me feel free. As a kid I knew Sarah’s who were bookworms and Sarah’s who were bold and popular, Sarah’s who could do tricks on the jungle gym and Sarah’s who were class clowns. I read about people with my name who were inventors and musicians and activists and writers. And so I grew up understanding that I might not have to choose. In this way, perhaps parents who give their children a common name are making their own kind of wish. Keep your options open, they’re saying. You could be anyone.

I have an unusual name (Eugenia) and a nickname (Gena) that tends to confuse people because it isn’t spelled the way it’s pronounced (like “Jenna”). I don’t mind any of it, but I’ve definitely wondered what it might be like to have a name that’s more inconspicuous, and Todd’s essay is fun food for thought.

5. Finally, I’m super proud of Abby—whom some of you may know as the author of Abby Has Issues—for speaking up about her struggle with exercise addiction. It’s a struggle that doesn’t get enough attention, but I see it all the time in my work. Kudos to Abby for having the guts to share her story and shine some light.

On that note, I’m off to spend some time with my mom and to deliver her weekly loaf of peasant bread. See you soon, with an easy, flavorful, crowd-pleasing pasta salad recipe.


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  1. Hi Gena I am here for the first time. found your blog in some random search for cooking blogs. I have read 3 of your posts and found they are really good and your unique ideas make me try cooking your recipe in my home. I will try it this weekend. wish me good luck !! 🙂

  2. Gena,

    My thoughts and prayers are with you. I relate to so much of what you say about feeling lost in this world. I often feel like a failure at life being 32 and still not being where I thought I would be, where others my age and younger are, and where I know my mother wished I was. Yet, like you, I am so grateful for her and to have her help me through this time. And as much as I have grieved deeply over many things in life the last decade that have crippled and confused me, I am also so grateful for my mom–and to her–by being there for me. I hope you know you aren’t alone. Thank you for sharing yourself with the world, with us. Love the finds this week, too! XoXo

  3. Love this list, Gena, and thank you for including me! Boston is still very much stuck in the cold, dreary drizzle too. Trying to force summer by making the most colorful, vibrant food I can! xo

  4. I never knew your name was pronounced “Jenna” either, but now I know. 🙂 What an honoring and beautifully written tribute to your mom- she sounds pretty special. Having someone to lean on in our most joyful and also ugliest moments is a gift. I am in constant awe of how you think and find the most thought-provoking articles (and also interesting recipes)!

  5. Happy Mother’s Day! That was a lovely piece about your relationship with your mom. Sounds like you two have been through a lot together and come out stronger for it.

  6. What a beautiful and raw tribute to your mom, and I’m both ashamed and not ashamed to say that I’ve had plenty of those thoughts myself. Although I pride myself on being so independent, I am a 35-year-old woman who still calls her mom every day and knows that she’ll always be there. My depression and anxiety and eating disorder cause her to feel helpless and worried a lot of the time, and while I would do anything for her, the fact that I struggle to recover at times speaks to the strength of the illness.

    That brings me to thanking you for sharing the CNN article, as it’s something that doesn’t really get as much “validity” as a disorder. How can exercise be unhealthy? Where should I begin…

    I’m just catching up on what you’ve been going through, and my heart hurts for your pain. But I also know that this is just another season for you to learn and grow from, and the good in you is much stronger than any of the bad that has happened.

  7. What’s with this NYC weather? I’m so ready for it to be warm. Thank goodness this coming week is supposed to be sunny and in the 70’s and 80’s. Yay! Sounds like you and your mom have a beautiful relationship. No one is perfect or does all the right things all the time. Especially when you’re going through a difficult time. Your love and appreciation for your mom is so strong in this post. That’s what sticks out to me the most. <3

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