Wednesday, July 23, 2014

CARTA Diaries: When I'm alone with you

Forget "Easy Like Sunday Morning" or "Mambo No. 5"—Lionel Richie and Lou Bega have clearly never taken the CARTA No. 4 at 1:45 on a Monday afternoon. I’ve written before about love on the bus, the kind of longing and sonnets and hope. This afternoon, however, I encountered love of a different sort—the kind where you mash your faces together out of the irresistible, intoxicating pull of having your special person just a few inches away, your elbows (and many other parts) touching as you are cradled in your individual blue plastic seats. 

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Rejecting perfection and reclaiming your best self

A good way to tell if you are really, deeply out of balance is if, on a perfectly ordinary weeknight, you find yourself sobbing into your wine in a lukewarm bath.
It had happened again. I’d gotten a bad case of perfectionitis, ignored all the symptoms, and crashed headlong into the awful, ordinary truth that I’m just a human who gets some things right and other things wrong. I woke up the next morning groggy, embarrassed and almost late to a doctor’s appointment.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Kitchen Intuition: The best sweet corn of the season

When I was a kid, my grandfather had a huge backyard garden where he grew all sorts of food. At one time, there had been a whole farm with his house at the center, but over the years, parcels of the property were sold, until all that was left was the house, the barn and that great big garden. The biggest portion of the plot was given over to growing corn, and when it was in season, meals were an event for me. We’d walk out to the garden together and find ears that were ready to be picked. He’d look at the tassels and maybe tug the husk back a little, pressing a kernel with his fingernail to see if it was swollen with milky flavor. We’d wait to pick it until just before cooking (my grandmother would already have a pot of water ready on the stove), and it always came out crisp and moist and ever so sweet. We’d sit at the kitchen table together while he cut his corn off the cob (he had dentures) and I ate mine typewriter-style.

As is often the case, when it comes to corn, the old ways are still the best. Whether you boil, steam, roast or grill it, cooking your corn as quickly as possible after it’s been picked ensures that it will be at its sweetest. As soon as corn has been pulled off the stalk, the sugars start to convert to starch; so the sooner you get to eat it, the sweeter it will be.

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Five things I learned at the annual Williams family reunion

I recently spent the weekend at my annual family reunion in Batavia, New York. Every year, we get as many of us together as possible and pile up in my grandfather’s house. No one wants to stay at a hotel because that means missing out on our limited time together. The bedrooms are all full, as are the living room couches, the floor, and sometimes the yard when we bring tents and campers. There are a lot of jokes repeated year after year that we all enjoy beating to death. Some of them have been getting an annual flogging since the 1970s, when my mom and her siblings were kids. We drink bad beer and eat good food and enjoy being with one another.
One of the things I love about my grandfather’s house, besides it being full of Williamses, is that it’s absolutely covered in inspirational quotes. Decades before anyone could even conceive of something like Tumblr, my grandmother basically turned her house into one. She liked to be surrounded by inspiration. She has a few framed prints, but mostly, she’d cut out little magazine snippets and tape them around the house at eye level or tuck them into books. My cousins have kept up the tradition. This year, an index card over the sink caught my eye with two lines from Philippians, the ones that go something like: "Do nothing from selfish ambition, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."
The Williamses, we like to keep it positive, and we like to keep it real. That’s one of my favorite things about my family. I feel like they’re always trying to be their best selves, right down to the motivational d├ęcor. In honor of their good attitude, here are five things I learned at my family reunion this year.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Kitchen Intuition: Okra—you might be eating it wrong

I have a friend who claims to not like okra. But I will forever maintain that she’s simply never had it prepared properly. That’s because just about every restaurant that features okra on a menu, along with almost every cookbook that includes an okra recipe, insists that it must be breaded and fried. If you don’t like that, you can be forgiven for thinking that you don’t like okra. But with apologies to my (adopted) Southern home, I don’t really like all that many fried foods, and if the only okra I’d ever eaten was the fried version, I’d avoid it, too. But I don’t, because okra is awesome.
If you think you don’t like okra, the first thing to do is to find yourself a good bowl of properly made gumbo. To qualify, the gumbo has to have okra in it; if it doesn’t, it’s not really gumbo. The name "gumbo" is actually derived from the African word for okra. Both the plant and the dish arrived in the United States via West Africans who brought them to colonial Louisiana during the slave trade in the 18th century.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

CARTA Diaries: A moment to meditate on convenience and compassion

There were two handicapped men on my bus this morning: one temporarily—his left foot was encased in a cast inside a hefty boot, and he had a small scooter on which to kneel while it healed, rather than using crutches—and the other had a nice motorized wheelchair with a padded headrest and was maneuvering it into the handicapped seating zone like a pro.
Despite his ease and familiarity, it took a few minutes to get everyone arranged. Two female passengers had to be shooed out of the seats reserved for the disabled. The man with the broken leg had to switch sides and arrange his scooter out of the way. Finally, the driver had to ensure the man in the wheelchair was settled safely, with all the appropriate hooks and straps and seat belts arranged just so.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Live life like it's your first day free

"Eggs, sausage, French toast …yeah, French toast. Definitely the French toast."
It wasn’t a breakfast order, at least not one that’s been placed yet. It was my cousin describing what he wants to eat the morning he gets out of prison.