Aunty 2’s Boiled Chicken

Aunt Ghada made this chicken more than any other protein, and I never wrote the recipe down.

What was I thinking, there in the little wicker chair tucked into the corner of the kitchen? I hunched there with a notebook and pencil between the stove and the spices every day for nearly two months and never recorded the instructions. How many other recipes must I have missed? If I had it to do all over again. . .

I can only hope that I get another two months in her kitchen, two with my cousin down the mountain, and at least one with my aunt in Beirut.

Until then, here is a reproduction of the boiled chicken That is a supplement to multiple Lebanese recipes, some of which you will find in future posts.

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken, cleaned and dried
1 large pot of boiling water
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp salt
1 tsp allspice (optional)
1 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil (optional)

Directions:

Place chicken in a pot with salted water and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer chicken until meat easily pulls away from the bone, 30-90 minutes. I’m really sorry that I don’t have a more specific time reference. Aunt Ghada cooked this on a gas range and it took about an hour. Just be cautious. If you cook this too long or on too high of a heat, it will be very dry. Check the chicken with a fork starting at 30 minutes.

As it simmers, the “dust” of the chicken will rise to the surface of the water. Periodically skim the dust off the top.

When the chicken is cook, remove from water and allow to rest 10 minutes. Remove meat from the bones. You can leave the drumsticks whole if you like.

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-low heat. (You may need to complete this step in batches to prevent overcrowding the chicken.) Place chicken in the pan. Sprinkle the allspice over it. Saute the chicken until it begins to brown on the outside.

Serve with garlic sauce and pocket bread or over Lebanese Lentils and Rice. Enjoy!

Time Capsule (a prompt for unstacking writer’s blocks)

I keep a list of writing topics handy for those times when I get stuck. Because I write on difficult themes, I get stuck frequently. Sometimes, my list isn’t enough to burst my thought dam. In that case, I like to mine completed pieces from my writing history for phrases and inspiration. When even that fails to get my creative juices flowing, I trick my writer brain with the following exercise:

Time Capsule

Find a completed story, poem, essay or journal entry on a topic you haven’t worked with in awhile but meant to revisit. After reading the piece, rewrite it. The whole thing.

This exercise takes upwards of an hour. The point is to fully disengage from the piece that has you stuck, giving your subconscious time to sift through it. However, if you are on a deadline, rewrite one stanza or paragraph, or set your timer for twenty minutes and do what you can.

Return to the piece you are struggling with and read it beginning to end. You’ll be surprised at what new ideas emerge, and you’ll have a revision to show for it.

The Docks: Episode 12

Miss a web-isode? Click here.

“Hey, watch it!” Elric was in a foul mood. He still couldn’t uncover the answer to the question he’d been asking himself for the last month. It was crazy. He wouldn’t have posed the question—couldn’t have posed the question—if he didn’t already have the answer stored away somewhere in his mind. It was really about combining bits and pieces of Chronicles. He knew that. He had a formula for this sort of thing. So why was that answer still tucked away?

Jana reached out to him again. “Stop, I said!” He was tired of this, her prodding his mind. She had her own agenda. Big Sister Number Two was pulling the same tricks on him as Big Sister Number One was pulling on Helene. Poor Helene, except for some reason she wanted to have her brain prodded by Bria.

Okay, okay, Elric did want this. He wanted to be able to connect back with Jana the way she was connected with him. But did it have to happen now? His plate was so full…

“Elric, you have to focus!”

By the Creator, he could feel the frustration rolling off her. “Just stop already,” he said. “You’re so irritated you’re making my stomach hurt. It won’t work, alright?” He leaned his back against his sister’s. I’m never gonna get it. I’m just not like you.”

“What?” she said.

God, it felt like she was punching his brain. “Enough! And this is NOT funny. Why are you smiling like that? It hurts, what you’re doing.”

This time the intrusion was more of a massage. He sighed and relaxed into it. His head was aching, but Jana soothed all that. The house was quiet around them. Elric shifted his bare feet against the wooden floor. It sighed all the way into the earth, and the walls whispered. There were words he could listen to when he closed his eyes. There was a slip of a smile, Jana’s face with a smug expression. He stared at it, eyes closed. “Why are you looking at me like that?” he said softly. Her back shifted against his. Elric straightened up. His eyes popped open. He looked at the wall in front of him. He looked at Jana inside his head. “What?”

Jana jumped up so fast Elric fell backward into the space where she had been. She didn’t say anything but he heard the words just the same. “We did it!”

To himself, to her, to anyone listening Elric was shouting and, yes, crying. Those were happy tears on his face. “I can hear you! I can hear you! I can hear you!”

Later, after the clamor had died down, the family and Helene sat around the dining table and toasted Elric’s awakening.

“Who knew it was possible?” his father said.

“It hasn’t been heard of in ages!”

“I’d not even read about it except in the Fables. I thought it was all pointless…”

“Amazing is what it is.”

And there were Bria and Helene, smiling back casting sad glances at each other because it seemed that Helene was deaf to the bond she shared with Bria. Still, if Elric’s mind could be opened, didn’t there remain hope?

Truth, Lies and a Writing Prompt: The line between fiction and nonfiction

I have long thought of poetry as the gateway drug of writing. It is how I began as a writer, telling small stories in rhyme.

For some years, I thought I had grown beyond poetry, as though it was a genre of incomplete thoughts. This assertion was passed around as a joke in conversation during the years I pursued my MFA. The barbed retort was that fiction writers were all liars, all of us unable to glorify the truth as the poets did.

Most of my early fiction is nonfiction. I pulled heavily from my childhood and family experiences when creating my graduate thesis. My undergraduate stories were worse–stream-of-consciousness rambling in which I poured out my anger at someone in my life who was “doing it wrong.” I wrote stories because I couldn’t bear to face my life straight on. I wrote poetry because I was afraid to flesh out my stories. It makes sense that what I mostly write now is nonfiction. I am no longer afraid of myself or the potential consequences of accepting myself. For the most part. (It also makes sense that my poetry was mediocre at best.)

But knowing why we write what we do is not the same as knowing how to write what we want.

In a class I teach, I was asked about the difference between fiction and creative nonfiction. Due to metaphor and faulty memory, it is not always obvious.  One of the writing prompts we undertake is a three-parter designed to dig into this query:

Truth to Tale 

1. 20 minutes. Choose an event that you can see very clearly. Use the five senses (taste, touch, smell, sound, and sight) to indulge the scene. Write what happened from your point of view (first person; I, me, we).

2. 20 minutes. Rewrite the scene/story you just completed by changing the point of view and/or perspective. So, you might now write in second person (you) or third person (s/he, they). You might also choose to write from the perspective of someone or something else in the space where your story happens.

3. 20 minutes. Change what happens. Lie. Tell it differently than you remember it. Make it a conscious choice. For trauma writing, I enjoy requesting students write what “should have” happened or what “could have” happened. I will talk in more detail about that in context with healing our own stories in another post.

The goal of this exercise is to help the writer find the line between their truth and their fiction. Creative nonfiction can be tricky. Just as the media spins news stories, memoir writers must also choose a framework that informs the reader, nudging them toward the most important takeaway. In my experience, the biggest obstacle is rarely telling the truth; it is which truth to tell.

Here is a poem by Hannah Notess which beautifully explores truth and fiction through storytelling: Water Under World. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Stress-Free Green Tea

My best friend Martha makes this tea that can wash all my stress away in just one sip. Maybe it’s because the tea is made with anise seed, the base for licorice. Yensoon (anise) is what I was given to drink when I experienced stomach upset in Lebanon. In addition to having calming properties (it put me to sleep the first time I drank it), it also greatly relaxes the stomach. This recipe doesn’t use enough anise to knock you out. Martha brews it with a decaf green tea. Add some sugar or honey for a real treat. Either way, prepare for a hypnotic effect.

This tea is fantastic for little tummies during the stomach bug season.

Makes 2 cups

Ingredients:

2 cups water
1 tsp anise seed
2 (decaf) green tea bags

Sugar

Directions:

Place anise in water and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add tea bags. Allow to steep 3-5 minutes. Pour through strainer into each cup. Add sugar if desired. Enjoy!

If you are looking for anise, consider this source.

Wishing for Home in Lebanon (wherever mag)

I was solicited by wherever mag to write a piece for their web publication addressing my experience with place and Lebanon. I agreed. This piece is for everyone who knows how difficult it is to exist in the between spaces, and for those who have yet to find out. You will find an excerpt of and link to my published piece, Wishing for Home in Lebanon, below.

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“This visit to Lebanon was my second. The summer before, I had travelled with my parents. My father, returned to his native country, served as a buffer between me and the half of my culture I did not grow up in. We stayed one month. But this visit in 2002 was different; I arrived as an adult, husband in tow. I made a study of my aunt’s cooking. I made the appropriate social calls to friends and relatives, despite my inability to hold much conversation other than niceties. I even managed to make and serve Arabic coffee to guests—an act by which hosts and hostesses are judged, and one which established my status as a Lebanese woman despite my lack of language skills. It was difficult, this cultural immersion. But there was a heavier sickness that plagued me: longing.”

Find the complete story on the wherever mag website by clicking below:

Wishing for Home in Lebanon

Turkish Shells with Yogurt

This is another recipe I learned from my local Turkish community. It is very easy and quite tasty. I once served it at a multi-ethnic potluck. I walked away from the table only to return when I noticed a group of Turkish friends hovering around the dish. Apparently, sautéing of the tomato paste is an important aspect of this dish, and I had executed it perfectly.

Here I will confess that my sisters are much more talented in the kitchen than I am. My older sister instructed me in the making of this dish when I first learned it. I attribute my success to her patient demonstrations and this dish’s similarity to a Lebanese dish I make called Macaronis bil Laban.

What I love about this dish is the sweet intensity the tomato adds to the creamy yogurt. Texturally, this dish is also very satisfying. I hope you try and enjoy it.

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Serves 6-8

Ingredients

1 package pasta shells (gluten free or standard)
3 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp red pepper, optional
1 stick butter or margarine
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 container whole milk yogurt
1 crushed or minced clove garlic
dried mint, optional

Cook shells according to package instructions.

Mix the garlic into the yogurt and refrigerate. Melt butter with olive oil in a sautee pan. Add tomato paste and red pepper. Sautee until tomato paste is fragrant and begins to look like little dots. The butter and paste should separate.

Put shells in a bowl. Top with a bit of yogurt sauce and sprinkle with a pinch of mint, if desired. Add a dollop of tomato paste and a couple spoonfuls of the butter.

Serve warm or at room temperature with a salad on the side.