While cooking, listen to this: Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City by Bobby "Blue" Blay
Being a book publicist is so similar to dating in New York City that sometimes it scares me.
There's that blind period, waiting for the other person to respond. There's the game of either making them sweat it out or scrambling to make sure your window of opportunity doesn't slam shut. You have to reach out, wait, reach out again, get frustrated, use interest from somewhere else to get interest from the place you really want. Read and re-read email drafts. Force yourself to push send. Get anxiety. Put it off. Distract yourself. Go bother a coworker who's doing the same exact thing for her author. Return to your desk. Radio silence. Until *ding* that dopamine hits. With each incoming email, you hold your breath hoping it's the producer or editor saying they're interested in your author. And then, if you're lucky enough, you're in. You do a little happy dance in your chair. If not, you bang your head on the desk and try to take calming breaths. I've had it both ways.
The highest of highs and lowest of lows, no? Isn't that what being in your twenties is all about? There's this book I got through work called Am I There Yet? by illustrator Mari Andrew and it hits so close to home that sometimes, it's too hard to read (i.e. the section about disappointment, where an illustration indicates the before and after of a relationship, one of those being the songs that are impossible to listen to anymore). I was flipping through this book the other day (putting up targeted media outreach), when I realized that I have it together just as much as the next person. Frustrations, anxiety, love, loss, stress - we all feel those things and we're too busy comparing each other on social media to realize it.
Rina and I don't really use social media that often, though we know we probably should use it more for this blog. We just don't care enough to obsess over liking photos we didn't even really look at in the first place. It took some time, but we developed a pretty healthy system of thinking when it comes to this blog - we write what we want to write. We write honestly, and truthfully and hope that people read this and realize that, we might seem like we have our shit together, at times, but really, we both struggle with the same things every other young person does, just in different forms. Sure, we count our lucky stars in that we have things many others don't - our health, loving families, the means to live in the most expensive city in the country - but we also don't spend our days editing ourselves on social media, just to prove that we are, in fact lucky.
Mari Andrew could have written a book about anything. She could have drawn beautiful photos and told stories with feel-good positive vibes. But she didn't. She didn't really write the book for you and I. She wrote it for herself. And that's what makes her book, at times, hard to read. It's so relatable, it's almost private and you feel like a snoop just looking at it. But at the end of the day, that's what makes it so beautiful. And that's what we hope to achieve with this blog. We're not going to sugar coat our posts telling you that *lentils are a superfood* and that you should be eating *this much of that* (though those things are important, we're not in the least qualified to give you diet advice!) Life is life and if we're having a shit day, we'll tell you about it here. Similarly, if something wonderful happens, we'll also share that here. Because at the end of the day, we're all in this together.
Which brings me to this mejadra - one of my favorite dishes Middle Eastern dishes growing up. Filled to the brim with savory, salty and even a bit of sweet deliciousness, I would always order a big platter of it and dig in with a spoon. I never really thought I'd be able to make mejadra quite as good myself, but was proven wrong by none other than Yotam Ottolenghi, the genius behind Jerusalem, Plenty and Sweet. To be fair, Rina led the way on this joint food journey, but the recipe was actually quite approachable and not all that intimidating. And let me tell you, it was certainly an ends that justified the means. At the end of the day, there was no doubt that the foraging and frying and simmering was worth the wait.
I probably have to tell myself that once every few hours. It's worth the wait. Patience is not my strongest suit, but I find myself realizing that this pressure we all put on ourselves to reach some unknown "goal" is unfair and, frankly, ridiculous. All good things, truly, come at a time when you're able to appreciate them and savor them the most. I like to think that waiting 1.5 hours for this dish to come to together is well worth it and a great reminder that I'm a bit more capable than I give myself credit.
Deep breaths, friends, deep breaths.
1¼ cups green or brown lentils
3 cups water, plus more if lentils are looking dry
4 medium onions
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sunflower oil
2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
1½ tablespoons whole coriander seeds
1 cup basmati rice
2 Tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1½ teaspoons ground allspice
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1½ cups water
Cook lentils: in a small saucepan add the lentils and water and bring to a boil. Cook for 12-15 minutes - lentils should be soft but but a bit al dente. Drain and set aside.
Fry the onions: cut the onions into very thin slices. Put on a large plate with the flour and salt and toss to coat. Heat the oil in the heavy-bottomed skillet on high heat and line a colander with paper towel while you wait. Pick a piece of onion to be your sacrifice and put it in the pan - when it sizzles and bubbles form around the sides, you're good to go. Add about a third of the sliced onion to the oil (and watch out!) and cook for about 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally so nothing burns, until the onions are golden brown. Place in the colander and sprinkle with a bit of salt. Repeat with the remaining onion.
Cook rice: wipe out the skillet - do NOT put cooking oil down your sink, always throw it out - and add the cumin and coriander seeds. Place over medium heat and cook for a minute or two, until fragrant. Add the rice, olive oil, turmeric, allspice, cinnamon, sugar, salt and lots of pepper. Stir to coat the rice evenly, then add the water and cooked lentils. Bring to a boil, cover with a lid, then reduce to a simmer over very low heat and cook for 15 minutes.
Finish dish: turn off the heat, remove the lid and quickly cover with a clean towel. Stick the lid back on and let sit for 10 minutes. Gently stir in half of the fried onions, then either serve directly from the skillet or place in a shallow serving dish. Top with remaining fried onion and go to town.
To keep: the onions won't be as crispy, but you can keep this in the fridge for a few days. It's best eaten immediately, though.