Saturday, May 28, 2011

Purging: Curried Chopped Vegetable Salad with Pesto Pita Wedges

I am not a hoarder.  I think this is partly reactionary: in the house where I grew up, there is so much food in the basement, for example, that I know it would be my shelter of choice in the event of a nuclear fallout.  My mother has bags of clothes she's never worn, in multiple sizes, crowding around the bed in her room.  Piles of magazines tower in the corners, dating back to the 80s.  When my father was alive, he was able to keep the clutter to a minimum, but now that he's gone, it's gotten progressively worse.

And so throughout my life, I've lived as minimally as possible.  Every week, by Friday, my refrigerator is almost completely empty, save a few standard condiments.  My wardrobe, such as it is, has not changed much in the past 12 years ... I hate to go clothes shopping.  And I seem not to accumulate things.

Except for books.

When I moved to LA, books took up most of the space in my car.  When I moved back, they took up three times as much room.  Each time, there were more and more boxes.  I couldn't bear to part with them: even the ones I never read again were like trophies, signifying some kind of survival.  Like Gravity's Rainbow.  God, I hated that book.

But in the past few years, we've been trying to purge our book collection every once in a while, to make room for new books, and to make some space on just a few shelves for children's things (I will say here that our house still looks like a house owned by adults, where children live, which I think is a positive thing).  And as I've emptied my office back into our house, I've had to make some difficult decisions about what will stay and what will go.  In the process, this time, I had to let go of a lot of books on English literary theory that I collected during my first graduate program.  It was hard -- I felt like I was shutting a door on a room that I would never open again.  I didn't want to let those books go: they defined a part of me.  But I chose a different path, and it's partly disingenuous of me to keep them.

The first time I went to the White Dog Cafe, I was being wooed by U Penn for graduate school.  (The White Dog is a pretty cool place, if you've never been there: founded by social activist Judy Wicks, it's known for its unusual blend of award-winning contemporary American cuisine, civic engagement and environmental sustainability).  I remember feeling very grown-up, and sophisticated, and intellectual.  These people wanted me to come join them badly enough that they would pay for my lunch at a nice restaurant!  Little did I know that though I would not end up there for graduate school, I'd find myself there years later with my to-be-husband, who would buy me the cookbook for my birthday.  And little did I know I'd befriend a woman who worked there, moved to VT, and then found herself living practically in my back yard.  Karma works in strange ways.

I made this dish from the White Dog Cookbook the other night for dinner, thinking about the beginning of that graduate school career, and the ending of my current career, and the transitions we make throughout life, but how, too, there are those strange constants in the background.  And that no matter what I've purged from my shelf, I am the same person who was wooed by Penn at the White Dog and who read Gravity's Rainbow in a bathtub filled with ice cubes in LA, in an attempt to cool off during a particularly hot summer day while preparing for my comprehensive exams.  And I don't need the trophy to remind me.

(What are the things that you find most difficult to get rid of?)

Curried Chopped Vegetable Salad

1 carrot, finely diced
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1 green bell pepper, finely diced
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely >diced
1 rib celery, finely diced
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 t. Dijon mustard
1 t. fresh lemon juice
1 T. minced red onion
1/4 t. minced garlic
1 t. Madras curry powder
1/2 t. granulated sugar
1/4 c. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

8 oz. chevre
1/4 c. purchased or homemade basil pesto
(or get a chevre with garlic and basil already mixed into it and skip the pesto)
2 whole-wheat pita rounds, each cut into 2 thin circles

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Combine carrot, bell peppers, green onion, cucumber and celery in a mixing bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together vinegar, mustard, lemon juice, red onion, garlic, curry powder and sugar. Slowly whisk in the oil to form an emulsion. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables; toss well. Set aside.

Divide the chevre between 2 of the pita bread circles, spreading the cheese over the surface of 1 side of each. Spread the remaining 2 pita bread circles with basil pesto, covering the surfaces completely. Sandwich each cheese pita half with a pesto-coated pita half.  Place sandwiches on a baking sheet and bake until golden, about 12 minutes. Cut each pita sandwich into 4 wedges.

For each serving, arrange 2 pita wedges atop 1/2 cup of the chopped dressed vegetables.
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  1. The things I have the hardest time getting rid of are the ones with sentimental value. And I give sentimental value to many things. If it contains a picture of some kind? Fuggetaboudit. I am planning on tackling our bedroom next and I'm terrified of all the keepsakes I will be forced to reckon with. How do I throw away the Nalgene bottle with stickers from every place I visited on my trip around the country?! I honestly don't know if I can. Some hard decisions must be made.

    The other things I struggle with giving away are things I want to share with my kids. This is mostly movies and books. We'll see how I do when I'm cleaning out our TV room...

    When you mentioned moving your office home I thought about what would happen if I ever had to leave my classroom. I have bought so much there with my own money, things I'd want to keep for future teaching jobs. I probably have a small storage unit worth of stuff in my classroom. It will be a DISASTER if I ever quit teaching completely. Oh my. I really can't even think about it...

  2. In one graduate seminar I took we read Gravity's Rainbow one week and Silko's equally large Almanac of the Dead the next. I do not remember that month fondly, but I finished them both.

    Can't wait to see what the next installment in your life story brings...

  3. Things that other people value.. heirlooms. Things my mother gave me that belonged to my grandmother. I have so many of them I almost can't stand to be in my house at this point. I'm doing my own purge as we speak and the house is in complete upheaval because of it. ugg.. but you have inspired me to push through to daylight.

  4. Oh my goodness were soul mates. I hate clothes shopping and all shopping actually except grocery shopping and I love donating and pairing down and I am sooo attached to my books. Babe has her own bookshelf cause apparently my love of books extends to kids books as well. And we recieved those cookies... mmmmmmmMMMMMMmmm nom nom nom nom nom. Such a sweet surprise! I adore you, now move closer now!

  5. Well I think we may be related somehow. I have serious fears that my mothers hoarding tendencies will go wild if my dad passes away first. My dad and I actually had a conversation about it recently.

    I'm not sure what I have a hard time getting rid of. I guess the sentimental things of course. But every couple months I start to freak out that we have too much stuff and try to get rid of a lot of it. We are no where near where I would like to be but when the baby stuff goes we will be much closer.

    I really like when I travel to third world countries and reset my clutter meter. I need to do that ASAP. Alas not sure when I will.

    The recipe looks devine. Here is one I tried yesterday and it was great.

    1 can chickpeas
    1 package frozen spinach
    3 tomatoes chopped
    1/2 onion
    2 cloves garlic
    even amounts of cumin, yellow curry pwdr
    little salt and pepper

    Sauteed onion, garlic, chickpeas. Add spices then add tomatoes and spinach.

    I also added some left over brown rice and 1/2 a piece of chicken cut up. Yummy and super easy.

  6. @N: thanks for the recipe! That looks yummy, too!

    @K: my kids BOTH have bookshelves. Not that we don't visit the library, too ... egad.

    @Tracy and Esperanza: funny, but I don't seem to have any heirlooms ... except one piece of china. My mother has things that I'm sure will get passed on to me someday, though, and I confess, I'm dreading it ... there are a LOT of statues. *boggle*

    @gwinne: *sympathy*. Or perhaps *empathy*.

  7. books books books books books.
    I have 7 full bookshelves, and a dozen huge moving boxes full of them in storage. I just cannot bring myself to part with a single one! I keep telling myself that "one day" we will have a big house with a library...a whole room dedicated to my loves :)

  8. "Like Gravity's Rainbow. God, I hated that Book." Hee!! I've never met anyone who enjoyed it, although my brother claims he's enjoyed other work by Pynchon. Claims being the operative word ;)

  9. I find it hard to get rid of books too. My daughter's high school has a book swap though, which gives kids from underprivileged homes access to books. That's the only thing that has made it easier for me to give them away!

  10. I also love books and would say they are the thing I have the hardest time parting with!
    You my friend are too thoughtful and sweet!!! Thank you SO much for the lovely package and gifts. Your card completely had me in tears (in a good way) and I love, love, loved the gifts! Thank you so much for thinking of me, for going out of your way to send something so thoughtful and for continuing to support and encourage me throughout our journey. You are such an amazing, lovely woman and I'm so blessed to know you ((hugs))


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