I know; it’s been quite a while. My favorite ballpoint pen, the one I always seem to go to when I want to jot-down my thoughts for this little corner of the web, dried out after sitting for so long, requiring scrawling encouragement on the corner of the page. Coming back is both relieving and petrifying at the same time. It’s like opening a door with hinges that have rusted over– it’s not only difficult to push open, but the bone-chilling shriek of the heavy metal portal sends shivers through my entire being.
My very long absence was both intended and unintended. I’ve received many emails and messages asking about where I am. Explaining all that has occurred over these several months will be quite difficult because a lot has happened. Some of it good and some of it tear-inducing, to say the least.
You know, writing a cookbook has kept me on my toes when it comes to writing; however, I’m a little unsure of where to begin. It’s difficult to condense so many months into a few pages. During my lengthy vanish, I’ve experienced a lot– confusion, love, loss of love, and battles with life that will always be remembered. But I guess that’s life, isn’t it? Life is about experiencing all of these things and more. And if you haven’t experienced such things, you’re not living. And living is so important.
Over the past several months, I’ve sat down to write this entry more times than I can honestly remember. And during each occasion, I immediately poured my feelings onto the page at a rate comparable to that of any deafening cataract. For some reason, I’ve always felt it’s necessary for me to keep my prose somewhat jovial on this blog. After all, I call this my “happy place.” Or I like to think of it as such, anyway.
However, a friend reminded me several months ago that sometimes, “we just need to let it out.” Who knew that what started off as an “I doubt anyone is going to notice this, but I just need a happy place” sort of blog, has turned into something visited by more than just my best friends, where I pour out my feelings for the entire world to see? I guess it’s only natural for these things to happen eventually, or maybe it only is for me . . .
So, what’s happened? A lot, to say the least, and I’ll probably be scatter-brained and emotional by the time I finish writing this, but please stick with me!
During June of last year, I celebrated my birthday; it was far from lovely, but I learned that a bad day doesn’t mean the rest of my year– or my life, for that matter– should be sucky. The beginning of July seemed to make up for my iffy birthday experience; a couple weeks in July were spent with my aunt and uncle. July involved some retail therapy, thankfully so. I shopped at a food store run by Mennonites located in the middle-of-nowhere in Pennsylvania; the tiny shop has various sections– a deli, a restaurant, a general grocery store, a candy shop, and a bakery. The baked goods, though simple and homey– were some of the best I’d had in a long time, outside of my own kitchen. The rest of July was spent swimming, visiting tiny speciality shops, running around on a boat, and picnicking. I thought July made-up for the so-so previous month, but during the third week of July, I received news that flipped my entire world upside-down.
It was nearing midnight, I’d gone for a long run, and after coming back, I saw four missed calls on my phone. It was from my father. I knew something was wrong, so I went back outside and tried to remain optimistic. One ring was all all it took for my dad to pick up the phone. “Son,” he said he said with a soft spoken sorrow in his voice.
“Dad, what’s wrong?”
He took a deep, timid breath. “A- has cancer”
I was speechless; I fell to the ground gasping for air. Those words were a strong blow to the stomach.
“Dad, please tell me you’re lying. Please!”
“It’s stage four.”
A huge flow of tears followed. We listened to each other cry over the phone, we screamed “Oh God, please!” We wished it away, questioned God, and we cried for our loved one. After an hour, we hung up; I had to gather myself, stop crying, and make sense of it all.
My 19-year-old cousin, my partner in crime, the person I thought of as my little brother, was in a battle for his life. A battle that very few win. According to science, he was losing. The next day, more bad news followed. It was as if the universe couldn’t have planned it more perfectly (and I say this with every sarcastic bone in my body). “Grandma’s in the hospital, and she needs surgery.”
Both sides of my family were struck with emotional chaos, and all I could do was go with it. I had to press pause on everything, and sort through and make sense of it all.
My grandmother was in need of emergency surgery– surgery that, at her age, could leave her lifeless on the operating table. My cousin was in need of support; that and prayer was all our helpless family could give him. His team of doctors were confident that with emotional support, a few surgeries, and several sessions of chemotherapy and radiation, he’d make it through the fight for his life: stage four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
A couple months passed; my grandmother’s surgery went well– she received a couple months of therapy and she’s been her normal self ever since. My cousin was still sick, but he was fighting. And in the midst of the chaos, all I could do was wonder how my aunt was getting through all of this. Each time I thought about it, I was an emotional wreck, yet she kept holding A-’s hand and fought this battle with him.
After several chemotherapy sessions, after infection battling, after countless surgeries, after head shaving, and after experiencing more pain than anyone would wish onto another person, he’s ended chemotherapy and finished radiation. He’s fought a battle that has left me inspired, puzzled, and left me with a lesson about life: that life is truly precious, and that love is our strongest weapon in any battle. Those long, dreadful months of constantly battling with life allowed me to mature in so many ways. I learned that you discover a person’s true colors in the midst of chaos. I learned that love, despite being so simple to pronounce and spell, is powerful– it can heal. I learned that sometimes a long cry whilst being embraced by a loved one is one of the greatest things to experience. Emotional pain is never fun to experience, but the love that follows to heal such pains is so pleasing that there aren’t any words to properly describe it. After a long rain fall, comes life– warm sunlight, bunnies hopping through endless fields of green, smiles, and lots and lots of “I love you”’s.
I know that if you’re still reading, you agree with me or you resent every word I’ve shared. Some of you might’ve rolled your eyes here-and-there, and others may have nodded; I can only speak for myself and tell you that I am a firm believer that love, in all of its forms: a long embrace, a kiss, a conversation– whatever it might be– is strong. It can help us get through life, especially when we’re stuck in a whirlwind of unfortunate events. Fast-forwarding through being featured in a spotlight on The Cooking Channel, a move during the Springtime, and finishing the manuscript and photos for Hand Made (more on that in another post), I also found love sometime earlier this year. Or, at least I thought I did.
After taking a trip to the UK in October, and arriving back sick, reality hit me with a hard blow. It felt as if my heart was taken out of my chest and stamped on in front of me. I felt like love was a hoax that love is some cruel scheme from the heavens created to drive humanity mad. I was beside myself in these moments; I locked myself in my bedroom and tried so desperately to wake myself up from this nightmare. I kept saying, “it’s just a bad dream, all you have to do is open your eyes, and everything will be okay.” It wasn’t. Reality hit me so hard in the stomach that I remained motionless, shocked, and out of breath.
I’m still here, and my breathing went back to normal– whatever that is. It’s been a few weeks since my break-up and I’m still hurting. The wounds on my heart are still fresh and I keep thinking about the multiple definitions of love and if it really does exist, or if it’s really is all a hoax. For someone like me who isn’t used to saying, “I love you” so easily to a person, it feels like I was betrayed by the one thing that I thought that was so perfect. But after a lot of pondering and several pints of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream, I realized that love is like life– it’s not perfect and it gives and takes from all of us; it’s just not been my time yet, I guess.
What’s funny is that the thing that I thought betrayed me, was around all this time. Love was around; I just wasn’t looking at the big picture. My best friends and my sister have constantly been around to make sure all is well– they’ve been my ears when I need to read poems that I’ve written during moments when I feel countless emotions rush through my entire being. They’ve been there to hug me and remind me to stay strong– to not let the closing to this chapter of my life bring me down. They’ve been around to remind me that love does exist and that I will eventually find it, and that when I look back on all the poems and journal entries that I’ve written about these moments in time, I’ll be able to tell myself, once I’ve found love, “all is well now, the fight is over.”
These past few weeks, I’ve sulked and cried my heart out and then forced myself to be productive and get things done– putting my emotions and feelings on the back burner for however many hours I needed daily. It might be considered both a healthy and unhealthy thing to do– to forget about one’s emotions, but I was a hot mess (for a lack of a better term).
I keep reminding myself that writing it all down is a good way of expressing myself and trying to make sense of it all. I’ve also learned that I need to accept that sometimes the opera arias of one’s life are meant to come to a stop in order for a new one to be heard. There’s no telling what fate has in store, and when this new aria will commence, but when it does, I know this much: the opera house will be booming with the sweetest song, and I’ll be listening for it in the meantime.
I’m almost two-thousand words into this and I’m realizing your eyes are probably as tired as my fingers, so I’ll spare us all for now because we can still catch-up in the near future. If you’re in the same position I’m in, or if it’s been a day or week after your break-up, or if you’re a couple months past your break-up and you’re still feeling the heartbreak, just remember to breathe– we often for get to do this–and surround yourself with positivity. Call up your best friends, go out to eat, go for long walks and let the cold of winter shock you back to life. All will be okay, I promise. Remember: love will heal what is broken. It will take time, you and know this, but in the meantime, don’t mistreat yourself– love yourself with all your might and remind yourself that you’re amazing, because you are.
And if all else fails, go into the kitchen and make these Profiteroles. Just keep in mind that the chocolate sauce shouldn’t be left out– it’ll assist in the healing process; trust me, I know these things. As for the ice cream, that, of course, is of the greatest necessity to sandwich in between the cream-puff pastry. Use your favorite one. The homemade kind is fantastic; however, I refrain from a lot of homemaking during these times (and I’m sure you do too), so I stick with good ol’ Ben & Jerry’s or any of the good stuff that’s on sale in the supermarket.
Take care, dear friend!
Makes 24 small-ish puffs
The recipe that follows is very basic; I received it from my Uncle Paul’s mother, Alice. I’ve modified the method a bit to make it more fool-proof, and I’ve added a couple important notes below for the sake of clarity.
The dough for these is quite simple to make; it will appear as if it’s separating at certain stages, but fear not– it’ll come together. Just keep mixing!
This note is for those that are making this to assist in healing a broken heart, or those that don’t have the stomach to eat 24 puffs filled with ice cream (I wouldn’t encourage doing so, by the way). There’s a do-ahead strategy to this recipe: prepare the dough as if you were baking it (spacing the mounds closer together), then place the baking sheet in the freezer for an hour or until frozen. Then, remove the frozen dough mounds and place them in a resealable plastic bag, and keep frozen– this will allow for baking on a whim. And when you’re ready to bake the dough off, bake as many as you feel you can eat. Just be sure to add a couple minutes onto the baking time if baking frozen dough. Usually three puffs does the trick for me, but if you’re having your best friends over and want to vent over profiteroles definitely make more.
In regards to the pastry bag situation: There’s absolutely no need to run out to buy a 1/2-inch (1.25cm) pastry tip (any will do, really) and pastry bag for this recipe; you can simply use a Tablespoon or a 1/2-ounce cookie scoop to place the dough onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, or do as I did . . . For the sake of trying to remain somewhat neat– “somewhat” being the operative word–I used a 1/2-inch pastry tip placed in two resealable plastic bags with a corner cut off. [Kamran note: If you happen to be like me and rarely keep reusable pastry bags on hand and want to do the zip-lock trick, be sure to use two bags as one would be far too weak for the warm mixture and everything will spew all over the place; it’s happened to me. You don’t necessarily need a pastry tip, either, but it makes the process a little easier.]
1 recipe for Chocolate Fudge Sauce (can use store-bought, but this is better!)
1 cup / 120g all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1 cup / 250ml water
8 Tablespoons / 113g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
4 large eggs
Ice cream of your choice
Chopped nuts of your choice (I used pistachio, walnuts, and sliced almonds; optional)
Prepare the chocolate fudge sauce if you haven’t done so already.
Position a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat the oven to 425ºF / 220ºC / Gas Mark 7. Then, line two rimmed baking sheets with baking parchment.
Prepare a pastry bag with a 1/2-inch tip (optional; refer to headnotes).
In a small bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour and the salt, and set aside. In a medium heavy-bottomed sauce pan, place in the water and butter cubes and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
Once the butter and water have reached a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and add in the flour mixture. Vigorously beat in the flour with a wooden spoon for several seconds until the dough has formed into a ball and has pulled away from the sides of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat.
Allow the dough to cool for 3 minutes. The mixture doesn’t need to be completely cooled; it should be cool enough so that the eggs don’t scramble when added to the dough.
After the dough has cooled off some, using a handheld electric mixer or a wooden spoon and some elbow grease (great to get any anger out!), vigorously beat in the eggs one at a time, until smooth and glossy.
Transfer the warm dough into the pastry bag (alternatively, use a tablespoon / scoop, as mentioned in the headnotes). Pipe / heap 24 mounds of the dough onto each baking sheets (each should be about 1 1/2 in or 4cm in diameter), spacing them 1-inch (3cm) apart.
Use wet fingers to pat down any peaks of dough that may have formed from piping. The dough can be frozen at this point, simply space the mounds a bit closer and freeze as described in the headnote above.
Bake for 22-25 minutes, rotating the tray half-way through baking, until puffed and golden-brown. Remove the pan from the oven and use a small knife or skewer to pierce, once, into the side of each profiterole. Place the pan back into the oven, leaving the oven door slightly open, for 4 minutes.
When done, the puffs should be light, firm to the touch, and dry inside. Once baked, cool completely on the baking sheet.
After the puffs have been cooled, cut each puff horizontally, sandwich a scoop of ice cream (your favorite kind) between each half and drape languorously with the chocolate sauce and a smattering of the chopped nuts.