Weekend Reading
November 21, 2021

Weekend Reading | The Full Helping

This is my second consecutive Sunday away from home. A few weeks ago, sort of spontaneously, I decided to make good on two trips I had been hoping to take for some time now.

The first was to Washington, D.C., where I lived for part of grad school. The second, a one-on-one trip with my oldest friend, could have been to anywhere. But we chose Nashville, which was easy for me to fly to from D.C. and driving distance for her, from New Orleans.

I’m so glad that I made both of these trips happen. I have both family and friends in the D.C. area, and it had been too long. In addition, I have a lot of work to get through, which includes the developmental edit of my cookbook manuscript. It wasn’t getting done efficiently at home, and I often find that a change of scenery helps me to refocus and see things with fresh eyes.

That was true this past week. I think that I was able to do a little more work in D.C. than I might have done in New York. In the evenings, I was able to see my cousins and their kids (who are much bigger than they were since I last saw them) and some old friends.

Now I’m in Nashville, enjoying a laid back three days with Chloe. We’re catching up on conversation and rest, wandering around during the day and sharing meals in the evenings, and I think we’re both feeling transported from our everyday lives. We each needed to feel that, for different reasons. And while we see each other as many times each year as we can, these moments of solo friend time are precious and rare.

There’s much talk of gratitude and of giving thanks this week. I always try to greet the Thanksgiving holiday as an opportunity to truly notice and acknowledge my many blessings. Some years it’s easier to do this than others.

I spend a lot of time, especially lately, thinking about the things that I don’t have and the empty spots in my life. I try really hard not to do this, and it happens anyway. In the past few months I’ve asked myself what it would be like to stop trying—to let myself feel the various lacunae and to allow for whatever comes up.

At the same time, I’ve challenged myself to see the blessings that exist alongside of absence or imperfection. For example, I’ve struggled with my work this year. But a very obvious advantage of my professional life is that it affords me a lot of flexibility. Rather than fixate on its challenges, I’m inviting myself to be grateful for some of the unique perks that it creates. Working from another city for seven days was a perfect example of that.

And while I dislike how independent my life is—while I wish that it were more interdependent and connected—I’m trying to at least acknowledge the freedoms that I have. These include the ability to pick up spontaneously and meet a friend in another city, to go places and do things at a moment’s notice.

I had a deep, difficult heart to heart with my mother about the importance of embracing and trusting in one’s own journey in life a few weeks ago. It forced me to come to terms with my dissatisfaction and discontent, my regrets and self-rebuke. My mom said something to the effect of (I’m paraphrasing) “if you don’t respect your own life, no one else will.”

I heard her and the truth of what she said. But it’s difficult to embrace your own path when perspective is clouded by unhappiness. It’s hard not to second guess big choices when you’re struggling—professionally,  personally, or otherwise.

Much as I tend toward self-criticism, I’m trying to be as compassionate to myself with all of this,. I’m responding to myself as I would to one of my friends, if they described this experience to me. Gratitude is a powerful antidote to suffering and self-pity, yes, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always easy to summon.

And while it’s important to embrace ourselves where we are, as we are, I also believe that people are capable of creating new realities for themselves when the stakes are high enough and the desire for change is strong.

So here I am, sandwiched a little uncomfortably between wanting things I don’t have and working sincerely to embrace the things I do. Building a bridge, very unsteadily, between the life I have and the life I’d still like to have; trying to cultivate more love for the former while still honoring the latter.

Today I’m awake in a new city, enjoying the sight of a sunrise over unfamiliar land and treetops. I’ll walk to get coffee at a new coffee shop. I’ll wander around some place I’ve never been before, navigating my way alongside my oldest and dearest friend. I’ll practice yoga, as I do every day, with a new teacher in a new shala. Tonight Chloe and I will laugh and reminisce and probably find some good food. It’s what we always do, no matter where we find ourselves.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll fly home to my city. I’ll settle back into my routine. My mom and I will celebrate Thanksgiving in our usual way, with dishes that have become tradition for us. And it will be sweet. It’s always sweet.

Old and new. Familiar and unfamiliar. Things change, and they stay the same. There are blessings in all of it.

Happy Sunday, friends. Here are some recipes and reads.

Recipes

Jessica’s vegan dinner rolls couldn’t look softer or fluffier.

I love using shallots in place of onion—smaller, easier to chop and slice, more subtle flavor—so I’m excited to try Eva’s shallot gravy.

Sadia’s caramelized onion and feta pizza is a wonderful, festive appetizer for the holiday season.

I’ve fallen in love with miso Brussels sprouts, and I’m sure I’ll be equally into Lauren’s miso green beans.

Lisa’s whole kabocha gratin looks so cozy and hearty! I’d love to make it with vegan mozzarella.

Reads

1. Earlier this week, a reader invited me to consider context and the complexity of history when I share Thanksgiving-themed recipes. The holiday I experience as a celebration is considered a National Day of Mourning by some Indigenous people.

The exchanged encouraged me to look beyond my own experience, to broaden my consciousness rather than keeping it comfortably narrow. I hope to read more about this and to learn more about the work that Indigenous American activists, chefs, and organizers are doing to protect and preserve Native American foodways.

In the meantime, I appreciate this collection of first-person perspectives, gathered by Dana Hedgpeth, for Native American Heritage Month. I was curious to read about “A Gathering Basket” and the I-Collective that creates it. And when Owamni was named one of Esquire’s best new restaurants of 2021, I was inspired to read more about Sean Sherman, the chef who is at the restaurant’s helm, and his story.

Much to learn, much to better understand. Grateful to enter this holiday week with a shifted perspective.

2. Food writer Mayukh Sen has authored a new book, Taste Makers, about seven immigrant women who revolutionized food in America. This interview says a bit more about Sen’s intentions with the collection and the questions that drove it. I’m excited to read it.

3. The case for sheet cakes and snack cakes. No one needs to make this case to me, as I love both. But I smiled reading the article and was inspired by some of the recipe links.

4. I disclaimed my fondness for using pumpkin pie spice in fall recipes when I shared my favorite vegan pumpkin pie yesterday. Here’s some fun science on why the smell seems to be so comforting to a lot of us, including me.

5. Finally, The New York Times takes a look at how Liberian Americans reflect on their celebration of Thanksgiving.

I have some recipes to share this coming week, so more from me soon!

For now, from Nashville, I wish you a peaceful and restorative Sunday.

xo

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  1. Dear Gena, so glad you were able to get away and that it helped you both with a new perspective on work and emotional expansiveness. That last one can be a real challenge. I love the articles you shared about the Native American perspective on Thanksgiving, which I have been thinking about lately, and so I shared these. Thank you. Grateful for your presence in my life and for always inviting us to expand our comfort zones. Much love.

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