I’ve mulled over anthimeria’s fate for the better part of two years. Each time a domain renewal notice lands in my inbox, it weighs heavy. And I consider.
Anthimeria was born almost six years ago of a young and fiercely private girl who loved to cook. She was finishing school, moving to the big city, and starting work in a world where sharing stories on the internet, conversing with strangers over a screen, and making friends from anonymity made sense. It pre-dated the social platforms many of us use now without second blush. It was a time when blogging was still very much storytelling within a close community, and not a whole lot more than that.
I’ve darted in and away from this space since that first post in 2008. I slipped in when I had a story to share, a problem to reflect upon, or just to talk through my days and make sense of them. Over time, I shared less and less. The reasons are varied and multiple. Privacy, perception, other pursuits — of course, this is the alliterative, sanitized answer.
As a cook, I have found so many outlets beyond this space. Sharing a kitchen with the man I love, and with whom I love to cook, is my steadfast place. Writing a cookbook to serve as our wedding guestbook was one of the most fulfilling collaborative projects I’ve completed. And I still document our kitchen travels, relentlessly, to remember how delicious this all is.
But as a writer, to stifle my stories has been difficult. I yearn to share, as writers do, and to learn by putting words to paper and rearranging those words until they feel right. And the tickle when, here and again, what I’ve written resonates inside someone else.
I know this much. Anthimeria has served her purpose, and well. I treasure her archives that demonstrate to me I will never ever stop evolving and learning by stringing together words. I am reminded of her utility by this passage I wrote way back when:
There’s a line from Anatole France, about change and and its inherent melancholy, “for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” We all from time to time want to dichotomize in this way — to cleanly sever who we are now from who we were then. We’re shamed by our greener selves, we selectively remember the bits that pit us against her, we may wish away the actions (and inaction) that led to here. This space provides a record to guard against false memory. I’m kinder toward who I was a year, two years, three years ago because I kept note. Having time in writing shows that while last year’s me was someone else, I can’t dismiss her. I still carry a lot of her inside.
There is kindness and humility within these records against false memory. Perhaps that too is why we write.
So, hello to you who have stumbled upon this space. I’m keeping her alive to remember, and as I figure out where I will write next. It may be a much more private sphere that quietly keeps record. Or perhaps a place like this one that offers me the company of friends (and strangers who become friends).
We are human and we tell stories — with all their make-believe and truth — to keep on going. Thank you for sharing my stories and my recipes, and for reading along as a young woman found a voice and a way home.
Of the things that fascinate me but puzzle me most about humans, one is our capacity to wish away the hours and then beg time to stand still in consecutive breaths.
The most talented reader I know posted a review on goodreads recently about one of my favourite books – Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, a story that handles time and narrative in a unique way. Ben writes that he has “often lamented our slavery to linear time. It is a peculiar form of universal injustice, this fact that we can never revisit moments once they become ‘the past’, that the present is continuously slipping through our hands and solidifying into something we cannot change, except through the careful or careless manipulations of memory and history. What would lives be like if we could experience every moment simultaneously? What if we were conscious of time not as a line but as a point, all possibilities raging furiously and brilliantly at once.”
(You should probably stop here and go read what Ben has to say in its entirety. I’ll wait.)
I’m appropriating his words as a springboard to talk about time and perception. I’ve been long interested in the concept of linearity and how we actually experience different kinds of moments – Einstein’s hand on a hot stove for a minute and sitting with a pretty girl for an hour as one-and-the-same, when measured by feeling. Back in December, the tiny island state of Samoa skipped an entire day – poof! – to align with its primary trading partners. Where is December 30, 2011 for the Samoans – did it just never exist? And where do all those February 29s go, anyway? How do we make sense of an entire day gone missing from our calendar? Time doesn’t feel uniform. It doesn’t always meet our expectations of how hours and minutes and seconds should be neatly experienced. It’s relative. What’s a dog year? Heck, what’s a human year?
Neuroscientist David Eagleman has done a fair bit of work on this topic. His research interest dates back to a childhood fall from a rooftop – where time seemed to slow to a halt as he dropped through space toward the earth. He calls clocks “at best a convenient fiction… they imply that time ticks steadily, predictably forward, when our experience shows that it often does the opposite: it stretches and compresses, skips a beat and doubles back.” Pretty radical stuff from a scientist working with fMRI scanners to sort this all out at a neurological level.
This first part of 2012 has been a mental tug-of-war with time of my own making. I’ve been lost in the hilarity of countdown, knowing all-too-well that time-zero would bring with it fleetingness and the kind of moments that slip like sand through fingers, toward the impossibility of another countdown composed of all-too-slow days. As I shared with this emotional clock’s co-creator: what a shame that our finite hours can’t be stockpiled, to use later, tucked away for that coming moment when we want the minutes to stretch a little further, deeper, longer…
At times, I believe we are all little kids in the back of a station wagon, screaming: “Are we there yet?” But then we are snapping our fingers to freeze the next moment eternal, to no success.
Roasted Barbeque Tofu
I will admit that I am one of those strange sorts who has to ration my tofu, lest I eat it everyday. I love tofu. The texture can be off-putting if it’s prepared improperly, but pressed and roasted, it’s a great base for all sorts of dishes – for dipping, adding to stir-frys, covering in a yummy sauce or stuffed cold into a sandwich… the options are endless. I often cook up a block on Sundays to keep in the fridge as a quick lunch addition (or: to pluck cold from the tupperware and dip into mustard).
This version takes those crunchy roasted slabs and douses them in oniony barbeque sauce – vegan comfort food, even if you’re not a vegan.
For the pressed tofu
1 block extra-firm tofu
1 Tbsp grapeseed oil (or other neutral cooking oil)
1/2-1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4tsp cumin (optional)
a liberal sprinkling of salt and pepper
For the sauce
1/2 medium red onion, sliced very thinly across
1/2 Tbsp grapeseed oil (or other neutral cooking oil)
1/2-1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/3c your favourite prepared barbeque sauce
a handful cilantro and lime wedges, to serve
1 large baking tray
something heavy to press the tofu (e.g., a bag of dry beans or can of tomatoes)
medium frying pan
For the pressed tofu
Remove tofu from packaging, rinse and wrap tightly in a few layers of paper towel. Sandwich between two dinner plates and press down with your weight of choice in fridge, a few hours up to overnight. Or, if lacking time, just give the tofu a few rounds of good squeezes with the paper towels until most of its moisture is removed.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Slice the pressed tofu block into four quarters, then into 1/4-inch slices (yield: about 28 pieces). Mop off any excess moisture with additional paper towels. Toss in a bowl with oil, cayenne pepper, cumin, pepper and salt to coat evenly. Arrange in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for approximately 30 minutes, flipping the slices half-way through cooking. You’ll know the tofu is finished cooking when it’s sizzling, golden and crunchy to the touch.
For the sauce
In frying pan over medium heat, sautee onions in oil until translucent and a bit crispy, about 5 minutes. Add cayenne pepper and barbeque sauce, salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low. Add the baked tofu, letting it sit for about 5 minutes to absorb sauce. Sprinkle with cilantro and drizzle with lime juice.
Serve tofu with something starchy – mashed sweet potatoes or squidgy white bread, for example – to sop up all the sauce.
Feeds two hungry people for dinner.
A little over a year ago, I had a breast reduction.
I’ve vacillated over whether or not I would share this information in a place so clearly attached to my name. But there’s no shame in talking about our bodies, these vessels that carry us. So, fair heeding: I am writing today about something private and something uncomfortable. Please look away if it isn’t for you.
Having a breast reduction consumed my thoughts for so many years, from the time I realized the difficulties that come from having a small body and giant breasts. It made me so unhappy, but I was resigned to my life of modified yoga poses, intense backaches, and swearing off strapless dresses. Make the best of the hand you’re dealt, I’d say. It’s selfish and vain to have an elective procedure when you’re healthy. It’s not your place to alter a genetic destiny for sake of convenience. What will people say? And aren’t all plastic surgeons so sleazy? I shamed myself – deeply – into indecision.
One day, this constant monologue quit. We put so much stock in what others will think – how they will judge – when we make a change, especially one that’s outwardly detectable. But nobody did. My family cheered me on (loudly), my best friends were extra-ordinary supports, and if semi-strangers noticed, I never caught on. When I finally put the pieces into action, the most difficult part was overcoming my fear of a very real and serious elective procedure for a non-life-threatening condition.
My breast reduction was one of the best things I’ve ever done. For my health, mobility and awareness of my body – things that matter to make a good life. I spent my first 24 years partitioning my vessel from my identity, believing my body was something other than me because it restricted me. Cutting away flesh made room for so much more in my life that has nothing to do with appearance. I found a surgeon who wasn’t sleazy. Rather he was kind and upfront and generous with his immense talent. He chose plastics because it let him create the most extraordinary invisible changes for people: he reconstructed bodies to help mend all the broken things inside of them. He told me: “I’m going to change your life, Maria, not just your rack,” and I still laugh because his words are so true, if a bit crass.
Perhaps it is most significant that the experience has made me less judgmental toward others and their decisions, made with the best evidence in their hands. I’ll never know the entire story.
As with so many things, my breasts are really a way to talk about something else – action. One of my favourite bands has a really poignant lyric: “But the time is never right / No it’s never right / To step outside her life / To find what’s been lost / She’ll sleep on it tonight.” How often do we vow to change something – a behaviour, a habit, a state of mind – but keep telling ourselves that we’ll sleep on it? Make the call in the morning. Wait for a tidy January 1st, for tidy resolution.
And there we are, never stepping outside this life made up of our little decisions and their multitude effects.
This leap made me vow to grab future opportunities rough and hard, and run fast with them, and to be my own judge. To not ponder so darn much over the pros and cons and consequences that are mostly in my head.
Meyer Lemon Curd
Meyer lemons are fleeting – they come in December and January and then poof! Gone for another year. If you find a bag, as they are most often sold at the grocery store, this is the perfect use. I love the tangy curd layered with unsweetened cream, sandwiched between shortbread, or freezing cold and right off the spoon from the fridge.
Method based loosely on Alton Brown’s Lemon Curd.
5 whole, very fresh egg yolks
1 cup white sugar
5 meyer lemons, zested and juiced (yield: about 1/2 cup juice, 2 Tbsp zest)
1/2 stick unsalted butter, cut into pats and chilled
pinch of salt
1 medium heatproof metal bowl
1 medium saucepan
To a medium saucepan, add about one inch of water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.
Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks and sugar in medium bowl until smooth. Add meyer lemon juice and zest and whisk until very smooth and bright yellow, about a minute.
Reduce heat to low and place mixing bowl over saucepan (like a double-boiler). Whisk constantly for about 10 minutes, until the mixture is bright but mellow yellow and coats your spatula. Promptly remove from heat and add butter, stirring completely to melt after each pat. The final product should be very glossy and smooth.
Store cooled curd in a clean glass container with a layer of cling film directly on its surface. It keeps refrigerated up to two weeks.
Makes about 2 cups of curd.
This has been a quiet year, a private 2011, a passage of time tucked away, mostly. And already here is 2012 – to keep making this life, to gather new bits, and to figure out what matters and what doesn’t as best I can.
I self-servingly love year-end retrospectives for their future use, to see where I was in a moment long gone. To examine the ways that I was different from me, now, and what caught the light; whether it still catches.
There’s a line from Anatole France, about change and and its inherent melancholy, “for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” We all from time to time want to dichotomize in this way – to cleanly sever who we are now from who we were then. We’re shamed by our greener selves, we selectively remember the bits that pit us against her, we may wish away the actions (and inaction) that led to here. This space provides a record to guard against false memory. I’m kinder toward who I was a year, two years, three years ago because I kept note. Having time in writing shows that while last year’s me was someone else, I can’t dismiss her. I still carry a lot of her inside.
Here are some ideas that caught my light in 2011. As always, thank you for reading along another year.
Some things I wrote in 2011
From dime stores spring prehistoric wrapping paper and notebooks filled with family history. Stuff, unexamined. We assign value in the game of toss or keep, but value is driven by meaning and context and future memories. Objective assessment is impossible. How do we separate the trinkets from the treasures, so the best recipes don’t get thrown away?
But nothing is shameful about setting goals and starting anew, however arbitrary January 1 is as a beginning. In a way, I think my humble, pared-down kitchen fare has been an unintentional resolution of sorts: to eat simply, to make uncomplicated and delicious food, and to honour my body.
Perhaps it is a product of my particular breed of introversion, but I don’t dream of becoming a mom like many women I know. If anything, the notion of responsibility for another life makes me want to run far, far away from the opposite sex. I have terrible fears of dropping babies or stepping on them or the worst case: not knowing how to love them right.
Our teenage protagonist might attend a concert and end up backstage, where the lead singer sees her through the crowd love-at-first-sight and whisks her away, happily ever after. Teenage dreams, with lots of adjectives.
Have you ever followed closely someone’s movements – watched how he lifts a utensil, the way he switches off knife and fork, or how he places the napkin when he leaves the table? That we each cradle a water glass or clink to a toast differently?
But it is helpful that most days I’d rather grocery shop and cook and eat what I’ve made at my own table. Cooking is really the best hobby, no? I mean – we have to feed ourselves, anyway – usually three times a day. Three occasions to satisfy our needs exactly as we please. That’s pretty fantastic.
Train 79 (December)
He will smile and wink and tell you he’s not supposed to refill your coffee cup. But he will anyway. And you thank him, because the coffee on Train 79 is not the murky dishwater that non-train-takers would expect to find aboard.
Some things I read in 2011
All the Single Ladies by Kate Bolick, The Atlantic (November)
What my mother could envision was a future in which I made my own choices. I don’t think either of us could have predicted what happens when you multiply that sense of agency by an entire generation.
Do you Suffer from Decision Fatigue? by John Tierney, The New York Times Magazine (August)
Remember that Jewish Israeli prisoner who appeared at 3:10 p.m. and was denied parole from his sentence for assault? He had the misfortune of being the sixth case heard after lunch. But another Jewish Israeli prisoner serving the same sentence for the same crime was lucky enough to appear at 1:27 p.m., the first case after lunch, and he was rewarded with parole. It must have seemed to him like a fine example of the justice system at work, but it probably had more to do with the judge’s glucose levels.
Healthy is not Enough by Allison, Always Something (November)
I was eight both the first time I called myself a feminist, and the first time I cried because my stomach stuck out… My mixed ideologies meant I would be a modern, working woman who was empowered, but I would also be thin and lovely.
The Possibilian by Burkhard Bilger, The New Yorker (April)
If Eagleman’s body bears no marks of his childhood accident, his mind has been deeply imprinted by it. He is a man obsessed by time. As the head of a lab at Baylor, Eagleman has spent the past decade tracing the neural and psychological circuitry of the brain’s biological clocks.
What Kind of Happy are You? by Susan Cain, The Power of Introverts (December)
It’s not an exultant kind of happiness. It feels more like a marveling at the fragile beauty of the human condition, and a pleasure in having someone articulate it so sensitively.
The Wedding by Shannalee T’Koy Mallon, Food Loves Writing (November)
…and I held his hand and I looked at his ring and I called him my husband and he called me his wife, and we knew this was big, this day, this commitment, this new family we had made. And just like that, it was over. Or just like that, it begun.
Champagne flute in hand – see you in 2012!
Previous years-in-review on anthimeria.com
Warm thanks for the above images, all on Flickr:
I have taken the train to Windsor a dozen times each year starting in 2004, when I began university in a city far, far away.
When you take the train enough, you acquire certain train-taking skills. You know just when to leave work in time to catch the subway and collect your ticket and secure a spot in line for the best people-watching vantage. You know about finding a favourite seat (half-way up the car in a window’s back half for the widest view, and on the south side traveling toward home so you can see the skyline and the lake and the crumbling brick stations and the people-catching-people as they spill off the train). You’ve learned how to wedge your ticket stub in the plastic crevice of the seatback in front of yours for the ticket collector to collect. And once you reach London, if you still have your now-empty paper coffee cup from the coffee you bought just before Oakville Station, you smile and ask the attendant for a refill when he returns with the snack cart. He will smile and wink and tell you he’s not supposed to refill your coffee cup. But he will anyway. And you thank him, because the coffee on Train 79 is not the murky dishwater that non-train-takers would expect to find aboard.
Always, London Station signals half-way home.
When you take the train enough, you get to know the other people on the train – out of your large sample, you establish a Typology of Train Takers. Most of these train-takers fit your first type, the Distracted Ones. With two little white buds growing out their ears, their perpetual springtime blooms.They are listening to music or movies or maybe a book on tape. They are lost inside a dome of noise – sometimes it spills over to where you sit, and hopefully not with a pulsating bassline.
In the seat next sits the Serious Business Man with his ThinkPad and loosened tie. He likes the leg room and the young lady next (you) who looks (fingers-crossed) particularly untalkative. He’s too busy for conversation, what with his spreadsheets and blinking BlackBerry: counting his stars for money. Before he counts he feasts. He orders a turkey sandwich with baby carrots and ranch dip, and a cheese plate, and a little green canister of sour-cream-and-onion chips, and a can of Diet Coke. He pays the attendant $16.50 for his cellophane banquet. As he chews, he casts dire glances at the Family with Children in the four-seater, with the infant whose scream will soon distract from his sky accounting.
The Gazer packed her very best library book to while away the hours. As she reads, she listens to pieces of conversations and the clack-clack-clack of wheels meeting track and inevitably, she reaches into her seat-pocket for the in-train magazine – to see if anyone has completed the puzzles, and if he used pen or pencil, and to check his answers. She’s abandoned her book to stare out her carefully-chosen window at the land and the lake and the escarpment, and more times than not, she spots most of the farm animals on her standard list of farm animals (a game of “Where’s Waldo?” with livestock). Especially now beneath the dramatic early-winter sunset and its unearthly glow that illuminates each beast. Cow. Horse. Sheep. Pig. Check.
When you take the train enough, you know to call dad just outside Chatham to deliver your boilerplate message: “Hi! We’re running 15 minutes behind. I will see you at 11:30?” And because this is the Toronto to Windsor route, and all the truly billingual attendants go north to Montreal, the final call rings over the loud-speaker as you approach Windsor Station, first in English and then in very butchered French nous vous souhaitons une agréable journée. You note the offended Francophones aboard.
Always, when feet meet platform, dad waits in his usual parking spot, and he intercepts your cream-and-brown-and-navy plaid bag, and you breathe the breath you keep deep inside for these first minutes home. Because Windsor Station is next to the brewery with its billowy fermenting yeast clouds that mingle with the car exhaust and damp asphalt and river. The air of reunion pools in your nostrils and it’s the best bad smell you will ever know.
P.S.: Thanks, Lan, for the nudge.
[Image: Train Window by Chambo25 on flickr]