Saturday, July 28, 2012

Giving, and Giving Back: Baba Ganouj

Sometimes I think I should have been born a Libra.  I have a tendency to mentally weigh gifts--both tangible and intangible--I've been given, and worry that perhaps I'm not giving back enough to measure up to what I've gotten.  (There is a less attractive flip side to this, that sometimes I stew over giving a great deal to someone who never seems to give back to me ... which makes me feel like a much more mercenary and much less generous person than I hope I am, even if all I hope for, most times, is appreciation.)

We have friends who have, over the past few years, generously given us enough hand-me-downs for the kids that we haven't really had to buy very much clothing.  This is a twofold blessing, of course, because not only have we saved the money we would have spent on clothes, but we've saved the sanity I would have spent on clothes shopping, which you now know is one of those activities that inspires dread in my heart.

But every time I put a load of new hand-me-downs into the laundry, and sort them into bins and closets, realizing that I will never be able to give clothes back to these people, because their children are older and larger than mine, I worry that maybe it looks like I'm taking the gift for granted. I try to give well-chosen birthday gifts, or find other ways to "compensate," but I never feel like it's enough.  The hand-me-downs often get another life beyond our house, but that doesn't seem like it's giving "back" either ... it's more along the lines of paying it forward.

My CSA is another good example of the generous giver.  Between winning our share this year, and enjoying the treats that are always waiting for me when I go to pick up our share, and feeling strangely cared for by the people who grow my food, I find myself fretting about the unequal benefit.  I'd thought about offering up social media services for them at some point, but it turns out that they're actually really good at it, and I could probably learn some lessons from them.  Event planning?  They have that covered, too.  Volunteering on the farm?  Would be ideal, but not with a squirmy one year old on my back.

It could be that I'm just not good at receiving gifts.  In fact, I'm sure that part of it is certainly that I'm just not good at receiving gifts.

I've been thinking about a similar equation in blogging, lately, too.  The giving and the taking.  The producing and consuming.  There are lots of variations on this, of course.  For example: there are some people who read, but never comment (please understand, my intention is not to inspire guilt here, but really just to pose a question).  Are we obligated to "give back" as consumers of blogs, either in the form of comments or in the form of our own blog posts, contributing to the conversation?  It's funny; I would never think to ask this question in relation to a reader and a writer offline, but somehow, online, because it's possible to give back, simply consuming without connecting feels irresponsible to me, somehow.  There are bloggers who take without giving, too, of course ... who take comments without responding to comments, or who collect commenters but never seek out new blogs.  Are bloggers who don't "give back" doing the blogging world a disservice?  Or is their writing contribution enough?

Are you good at receiving gifts?  Or do you have a mental scale, too, for better or worse?  And do you think that scale applies, in any way, to blogging?

This week my farm made Baba Ganouj for us.  In case you've never had it: it's a popular Middle-Eastern mezza dip made from eggplant and tahini., with a smooth, creamy texture and a slightly smoky taste. It's traditionally served with pita bread (toasted or fresh), but you could also serve it as a dip with cut fresh vegetables, potato chips, or tortilla chips.

Baba Ganouj

1 large eggplant
2 cloves garlic
1/4 c.  lemon juice (depending on taste)
1/4 c. tahini
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons olive oil

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 Tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 400.  Prick the eggplant all over with a fork and lie it in a baking tray lined with foil.  Bake, turning every 15 minutes.  One pound of eggplants will take about an hour.  They should flatten and turn very soft.  Allow to cool for 20 minutes. Cut open eggplant and scoop out the flesh into colander and allow to drain for 10 minutes. Removing the excess liquid helps to eliminate a bitter flavor.

Place eggplant flesh in a medium bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mash together. You can also use a food processor instead of by hand. Pulse for about 2 minutes.

Place in serving bowl and top with lemon juice and olive oil. Add other garnishes according to taste.  Or, if you're like me and you're in a hurry, skip that step entirely.

Serve with warm or toasted pita or flatbread. Enjoy!
Pin It


  1. My gift reception depends on the giver. If it's family or really close friends, well, that's fine. We all give back and forth in that group. I'm a little more uneasy when it comes to not as good friends, or acquaintances, or friends-of-friends. If I need and they give, it's harder to just thank them and let it go. There is that feeling of owing something. I'm okay with gifts from strangers, like freecycle or Craigslist.

    As for blogging, I think I hold myself to a different standard than I do others. Yes, there are blogs I read and read and read and never comment on, but if they don't read me, I don't feel guilty. If they do, then I do feel guilty. And then there are the blogs I read who do reciprocate; I absolutely make it a point to comment, not every post, but the ones that speak to me. If they don't comment on mine, well, that's okay, I know they're reading.

  2. I have always had a hard time receiving gifts, comments and compliments. I have been working on it with my therapist and I am getting so much better.

  3. That's one thing I love about working in Tanzania. Their culture is so generous. Cousins of my colleagues will spend an entire day doing something for me. It is crazy, and so incredibly kind. We never do that kind of thing here. And I kinda feel bad about it. I am learning to just say thanks and let it go, but it is hard not to feel guilty.

    As for the baby clothes, it brings me immense pleasure to pass on M's stuff. She can't wear it any more, and while many of those things are super cute, they do no one good sitting in a closet. I smile thinking that a friend's baby is looking cute in some particular dress. It makes me feel good. So, you are also doing your friend a favor in a way, taking the hand-me-downs. Enjoy them and don't ever give it a second thought. Hand-me-downs are a win-win.

  4. I love passing on our best loved baby clothes too - most especially the ones that came from my kids' cousins in the first place. Knowing the provenance of an article of clothing - so to speak - makes it something special.

    My attitude to commenting changed completely once I started blogging. Before, I felt I didn't want to waste the blogger's time with a comment from a stranger, or that it would be wierd when the other commenters all seemed to know the blogger already (IRL or online). As soon as I was one of those bloggers I realised how much comments mean, and I tried to give back, especially to smaller bloggers. Of course, the traffic it sometimes generates doesn't hurt either.

  5. Didn't realize baba ganouj was so easy to make. I should give it a try...

    And, yes, I think what you say applies to blogging.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Hmmmm, this post brought up some surprising stuff for me. On the one hand, I love being able to pass baby stuff on to others, though right now I'm mostly letting people "borrow" our baby stuff because I hope to use it again some day, but I look forward to actually giving it away some day too. We kept most of Isa's clothes too, also hoping we'd have someone to dress her in.

    At the same time, I'm sad that I've never had anyone who could give us clothes. Very few of Isa's clothes are hand-me-downs, we only have one set of friends whose given us anything and they have a boy so it's mostly pjs and stuff. But yeah, I wish we knew people with kids who could unload their stuff on us, that would be AWESOME, and save us a ton of money. But it just hasn't worked out that way.

    As far as gifts go, I've had to REALLY change the way I view gifts and their importance. I grew up in a family that LOVED giving gifts. It was absolutely expected that we would receive thoughtful presents on our birthdays and at Christmas and that we'd be giving them as well. Those expectations are still in place, actually. My partner, on the other hand, came from a family that didn't give gifts. It took me five years to realize that him not thinking to get me something didn't mean he didn't love me, it just wasn't a way his family showed affection. Now I like not having to give so many gifts. Christmas at my parents' house is still a huge gift giving extravaganza but at my in-laws it's just one present per person and I LOVE that.

    I think it makes sense to think a lot about gifts and such, how much you get vs. how much you give. Gifts are a way of showing people how much you care about them and it makes sense that people take notice of these things and consider whether someone is giving as much as they are getting. What is hard though is taking into consideration how much people have. Is it fair to expect someone with amazing crafting talents to get something as crafty from others as she is able to get them? My aunts just gave me presents for Isa's 2nd birthday and one needle-pointed this insane framed piece with her name and it was clear my other aunt was upset about it because there was a big "Don't judge my present against Auntie's" on her card. But I would expect something like that from my other aunt because she doesn't do those kinds of things.

    Anyway, it's all so hard to figure out and what I've decided to do is just stop caring so much about it. I try to make sure that others will feel like I've reciprocated their efforts but if I haven't I hope they will just alter their gift giving with me accordingly. That is what I do when I feel slighted in some way.

  8. Ah, sweet friend. Your blog posts always promote such good thought...and kind answers. I love reading both your words and those that comment. I have learned to receive gifts in the past few years. With all the loss, I just had to open my arms and let people bless me. It was a hard lesson to learn, but I'm so thankful I did. Now, I try to give to those that are around me. Thank you for giving us your words...and this recipe

  9. This is a really interesting post. I'm not much of a gift giver but am working to improve on that. I like the idea of paying it forward, because trying to give back with a gift equal to the one you received feels too much like tit for tat to me. Our neighbor takes it to the extreme: when she needs help with something, she knocks on our door bearing a gift. As soon as we see the gift, we know she's asking for something. Not a fan of that and it makes us feel bad, like we wouldn't help her unless she offered us something in return. So I think it's so important to be good at receiving gifts.

    Hmm, I don't think I believe that blog readers owe the blogger a comment. But I feel like there needs to be some reciprocity in commenting; if I comment often on someone's blog, I expect a comment here and there. So apparently I do believe in tit for tat with blogging but not as much IRL...

  10. I am horrible at being gifted. I felt weird at my wedding and baby showers and don't feel like I deserve any of the good things. I am trying to pass on some of D's outgrown toys and clothes. I'm keeping special newborn and infant outfits, but there is no way that even my pack rat self can keep everything. Also, my husband's family is bad about giving gifts for the sake of giving gifts, and I would really rather they save their money.

    I am trying very hard to be a better commenter because as (Not) Maud said, I have realized how much I value the comments I receive.

    I don't think a blogger needs to respond to every comment, but I don't like it when a blogger fails to acknowledge her readership at all. I also don't like it when bloggers disable comments because it destroys the dialogue-aspect of blogging and turns it into a monologue. There is an interesting give and take in regards to the blogger-commenter relationship.

  11. Baba ganouj (mtabel) was my all-time favorite food when we lived in the Middle East. And yet I've never tried to make it myself. Easier to just complain about the store brands.

    So once again you have a rockin post. And I'm behind in giving to you.

    Seriously, though,I know that keeping track only serves to take away my happiness and I aim to not do it, but on occasion I do notice when someone takes much more than they give.

    I suppose sometimes that someone is me.

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. How did I miss this one? Another thoughtful post with some great insights, questions and comments.

    I am more aware than I probably should be or is healthy about what people give and take vs. what I give and take both IRL and online.

    My biggest problem, as you may have noticed, when it comes to comments (and writing posts for that matter) is being concise. If a blog entry really speaks to me, than I have a lot to say in return. Thus commenting is very time consuming for me. I try to write less, but I struggle.

    I blog first and foremost for me, but I also care about community and try to at the very least return comments, but I have been inconsistent over the years.

    We did a whole Time Warp Tuesday topic on this awhile back, which was very interesting. Here's the link:

    As for the hand-me-downs thing, for years we didn't receive and didn't share. We had plenty of Sean's old clothes and things saved, including my maternity stuff, but I couldn't bring myself to lend it, as dealing with SIF, I always thought we might need it at any moment. Then when we had Abby, I wasn't sure if we'd ever use the all boy stuff, though I knew there was some gender neutral stuff. We also started receiving hand-me-downs from her older girl cousins and then started lending her used stuff to her younger girl cousin.

    Anyway, I finally lent my maternity clothes last year to a friend for the first time. It was bittersweet, but I felt good about it. Also, now that my sister just adopted a baby boy, we will finally be lending Sean's old clothes, after 9 years of saving them.

    I know in my heart that we will likely never use any of the clothes we saved for another baby of our own, but I am not quite ready to get rid of it all yet.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...