Mediterranean Lemon-Potato Soup with Feta and Kalamatas

I remember a brick of feta drizzled in olive oil. That’s it? The concept seemed so foreign. Yes. Please. Yes, please.

Simple pleasures.

Purple buds on tree limbs. A guttural laugh.

When you will never let yourself put too much honey in your tea, but someone else does for you and you do not have to stop that person.

Curling up in bed in the afternoon. Seeing the ooze of a freshly made grilled cheese that has been sliced and gently pulled apart.

Sleeping twelve hours overnight, not on purpose. Realizing you would rather be alone today, anyway. Not apologizing for what you meant. <–erasing the rest of this sentence so it looks as you see it here and now.

Geranium oil from the night before still scenting your pajamas. Sitting down in the shower for three minutes. [Light, bright blue pouring over you.]

Miniature houses and artisan lollipops. Watercoloring one rainy, Sunday evening. Safe to answer sincere and thoughtful inquiries.

Steam above the bowl. Bright, citrus waft. Warm, lemon broth dyed and speckled purple kalamata. Red pepper flecks. Oversized [Yukon] golden polka dots. Bold, salt sponge feta.

Yes. Please.

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cream Pies

Don’t you believe in magic. Chubby fingers, a craving met in the cupboard from a cardboard box with singular packages of marshmallow-sandwiching oatmeal cookies. A voice. A statement. Always.

Who decides what is / what is not enough. When do we engage restraint. Why don’t we sometimes.

Is there a reason we feel entitled to understand? What kind takes ownership for another’s story.

Striking, the way we receive stories differently. My favorite kind of person to dispose of: the one that thinks they know better than you about you. But really, in the telling and retelling of certain stories, I have come to reflect that there is a sense of ownership for this kind of listener. Also: a lack of accountability for the interpretation. Of course. Because it was projected onto you. To them, it is still about you. Even when their portion of a story becomes Other.

No longer yours.

Mind-boggling, isn’t it, to think of all the ways that we collide. How we can stray from what felt right. How easily we can return to ourselves, and how challenging to reset all that has sprung from what was not aligned.

We are a strange group, as humans. Born into the world reliant on one another. We spend so much of our early lives being told what to do. Realignment. We might even come to expect an external redirection before considering our own. Sometimes, that’s necessary.

The external world, providing and observing and obtruding. Sometimes, unnecessary. Being told and told and told and told and so, you hide.

And then, one day. You are reminded of who you are. Colorful fields and visions. Hands arched over rocks to feel. Hair wet, eyes still sleepy, a dress to walk down the hallway and ask to look. Find: a watch that once belonged to someone who loved you and who made you feel loved, who isn’t here in form anymore. You slide it onto your left wrist upside down and you feel your chest become light and you see that the watch has begun to tick again. You sob on your way home to the one who birthed you that you feel like you are yourself again.

Then, the watch turns to 2017. Here, now. Years. It took years. What a long and a short trip home. In which: light from ground and up above meeting in the middle


and outputting this chocolate chip, chocolate chipped version of a thing your dad used to buy for you when you were a kid.

This story is mine. And it is magic.

Hello Darlings

On the second level of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, there are six eyes at the end of a long walkway. They surround the name, “Guillermo del Toro.” Through the entrance are pieces (big / small, spooky / scary, wonky / familiar) that encapsulate things that I have feared. Monsters, ghosts, abnormality, uncertainty. Things we do not want to sit near. Dark things.

There is an armless child suspended from the wall with wings and oversized, black eyes and a large hole for a belly button. A cuckoo clock marked with the words, Alle sind mein! A pepper’s ghost ghost from The Devil’s Backbone. Copies of The Sandman. Reinterpretations of Disney stories. Hands held. Hairy faces, hair faces.

Wide eyes. Flesh like geese. Tingling fingers. Thumping heart. Thinking: a spectacle can be more than a spectacle. A spectacle comes from a place. We forget that sometimes.

I saw a sketch of Frankenstein cowering, hugging his knees. It read, Cursed Creator! How did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? I knew someone, I think, who felt that way, who did not always do the un-monstrous thing. Still lovable. Out of sight, out of mind.

Twists and turns and shadows and figurines. Dark, unlovable things. Then, warmth. For there was no pretense.

I saw all these things we are afraid to look at, and there they were. In plain sight. As they were. The choice to accept was very palpable, and I began to think of all the times that loving has felt optional. Of course, it remains that we can choose one thing and decide a minute later it doesn’t work anymore. But think of all the things we view in ourselves as small and dark and gruesome, when really, they are human.

So I made us a metaphor.

Like many monsters, these bars have gone by different names. They are mutant, a spinoff of the Hello Dolly. 700 Layers, flavored by dark things that should be trashed; marked with ingredients found in places where they aren’t supposed to be.

Burnt butter graham cracker / espresso crust with coconut flake sinews and mini chocolate chip spots like burst capillaries. Hidden beneath caramel chips and chocolate chips and broken pecans. More coconut. Espresso-flavored sweetened condensed milk goop and flakes of crackled sea salt.

That night, I walked through this strange exhibit with people who have been there for me since we met, who have made me feel accepted in full, and at times when the parts of me that felt scariest needed love. The last we were in that exact spot was just before my life shifted in what has felt an un-relatable way. But we are here, now and still. Because we said forever way back when and forever means forever.

Days after, this flavored form of alchemy cooled on my table next to a newspaper cutout saved by one of those people. I drank my favorite coffee in a mug from another of the group, picked out because it holds an emergent squid [and weird things are neat]. All of these, surrounding a mess of ingredients housed in dark and unsuspecting flavors, sarcastically sliced Square. Unlovable, lovable things, given a name that could be something other. “Hello, Dark Things.” But only because we do not understand.


Chocolate Covered Espresso Bean Chocolate Chip Cookies

Can we ever really just walk into a room, or? I think that we forget sometimes to be receptive. I wonder what it must be like to arrive someplace and observe what arises. And sit with it. Instead, we greet it with all the things we carried along. No wonder things blow up in our faces.

I had a visitor last week. I was pounding Shirley Temples while the rest of us alcohol-ed. We meandered in the night to a dive.

I keep thinking about this poem I wrote a few months ago in which I compared a thing in my chest to an insect stuck in a web. Confined to what has trapped it. The web shakes.

But really, there have been two giant glass slides housing a specimen for microscopic evaluation, and it was filed in the space between my sternum and the back of my ribs, on diagonal. My chest has been a filing cabinet for this thing that was flattened for later examination, and that night in a dive bar, it was called upon for evaluation.

I was with my best friend and her best friend who became my friend because he asked why I wasn’t drinking once and I told him I was a professional soul crusher and I have to keep my wits about me. (really one reason is because I have severe Crohn’s Disease, but soul crushing sounds cooler)

We saw a girl I met once, and she remembered, too. We saw me tiptoeing down the street wearing two spring jackets. We saw someone I get awkward around. And suddenly, we saw a familiar-looking face. A twin. One that may as well have died. A ghost. I pushed my best friend’s best friend out of the booth and the bathroom was too full to examine what it was that spoke, and so I returned and that face was just feet away and finally I asked if we could leave and now I know what it would be like if I ever saw a face like that again because I slept three hours in spite of exhaustion but at least when I needed it we left and then to my left I hear,

“Why aren’t you asleep, Kelsey Cooke?”

from a serendipitous friend who also should have and shouldn’t have been where he was right then, who missed every bus in the night, who I met years and years ago in a different space and time, and who came here with me originally and we have grown and thank goodness he was there right then because are all accidents trying to be fortunate and is it better now because I think it is because there are people and I have a life I have built and reclaimed and it is mine

It felt like, that night, a giant hand lifted the slides from where they were housed. The next day, I spoke about it with my serendipitous friend and another fortuitous friend I have chanced to meet in the last year. I posed the question of what should be filed in its place, and we agreed that maybe I am the woman sliced in half in a magic show who was whole all along but also maybe I don’t need to think about it as we ate pie in the outside air that felt cold and warm all at once beneath colorful lights strung in this neighborhood I know but cannot always find and then quietly I realized: I have community. I have life. Interconnectedness. Even in small ways on nights when ghosts visit. I have never had this before. It is here. I belong. There were slides. Without, there is no void.

There is the roughhousing of espresso beans in dark chocolate. Suspended in chocolate chip cookie dough that once flirted with some espresso powder and princess emulsion. Each round of dough is sprinkled with sea salt before the heat of the oven transforms its contour into a flat round. One by one, every cookie is a small world of flavor. It makes me wonder what shape we thought the earth was before we discovered you don’t just drop off its edge when you reach the horizon. Was it square, before everything and nothing changed? Or did we think it a disc, ridged with mountains made of chocolate covered espresso beans and deep crevices of semisweet chocolate and teeny, tiny salt mines.

Cue the clinking of cookies: To (re)Discovery!


Warm Spaghetti Squash-ta Salad with Beurre Meunière, Tomatoes, and Feta

I have forgiven myself. I exhaled once, I am at peace.

Beurre Meunière is the kind of term reserved for a classical preparation. Though its origins are peasantry, it requires some level of technicality and execution. I say this, because I have seen burnt butter before.

[which is also delicious in certain circumstances, of course, but not suitable for Beurre Meunière]

Similarly, I am sure there are Frenchmen rolling over in brown buttered graves at my application of their beloved methodology here. To be fair, my introduction to the flavor of Beurre Meunière was backward, anyway. Most combine browned butter, lemon, parsley and/or thyme (and also sometimes capers), to form a sauce for fish. See Rachel Khoo do so here.

The fish is first dredged in flour. Hence, “à la meunière.” By the miller’s wife. Because flour was available in the home.

Gendered statements and heteronormativity, whew! I’m tired.

Meanwhile, I found Beurre Meunière like Colonel Mustard once probably murdered a person. At Trader Joe’s, being avoidant, with a bag of popcorn.

Given that I started on such an untraditional note-and also, I am me-I gave in to my compulsion to reinterpretation here. Cayenne speckles the golden milk solids in the browning butter. We mix parsley, thyme, and oregano for our herbs. We substitute Castelvetrano Olives for capers in the name of Brine. All of it coats yellow tangles of warm spaghetti squash and grilled chicken. We serve it with juicy bursts of freshly diced tomato and salty bites of crumbled feta. Hummus, optional.

Tradition is a thing, but–

Doing as others told me, I was blind. Coming when others called me, I was lost. Then I left everyone, myself as well. Then I found everyone, myself as well. -Rumi

I’ve heard that well-behaved women seldom make history, anyway. Time to swirl a fork in a mess of squash. Warmth and texture. Cool bursts of juice and feta salt. Inhale sweet and nutty. Exhale cares.

You do you. Picked and chosen, tangled and crumbled, hot and cold, spiced and herbal, queer and colorful, soothing and delicious.

Clementine Snack Cake with Chocolate Glaze [gluten free]

Aren’t Clementines supposed to be out of season? My whole life, I have spent Christmases peeling plump wreaths of sweet orange-ness. It is now the end of March, and I feel like a chipmunk-cheeked, cake-baking and -eating fraud.

Wikipedia tells me that the ones I used to make this cake were birthed on the cusp of the season. Spongey, aromatic cake robed in chocolate silk–what a way to go out with a bang.

I didn’t enjoy every minute of making this cake, however. In fact, I almost quit. Yikes, this is starting to sound like whenever I exercise. Or do laundry.

I experience displeasure, I think, because the end doesn’t necessarily seem linear. In fact, the path we take to get there impresses with indirection. Even if those are, at times, the best kind of paths. Shhh.

To begin to make Clementine Cake, for example, one must first boil clementines. For hours. This is not an initiation prank. [Admittedly, I did laundry over the course of this portion of the recipe, which might explain any and all displacement of negative emotion.]

The air was warm orange juice, and the next step: squashing the boiled rounds to remove any seedlings. Then, puree. Peel, pith, fruit. All of it is ground to coral mush. It doesn’t make sense.

We whisk in too many eggs and almond meal. Pour into a well-greased square, and await the poofs of citrus air from the oven. At some point between the delicate rise of the batter with heat and the oozy gloss of chocolate glaze, it pieces together.

Sometimes, timing is irrelevant. The point is where you are now. The getting there got you here. And it wasn’t so bad, now that you’ve arrived (looking back).

In fact, there is unseasonably clementine-d cake waiting for you, if you have a couple hours. Free of gluten. Softer than the lips of someone you’d like to love. Cocoa robes. Raw honey sheen. Cubes of chocolate-draped, citric fluff.

Who says it’s boring to be square.

Cardamom, Blueberry, and Rosewater Layer Cake

This cake was supposed to have tahini in it. Tahini, rosewater, cardamom, and blueberries. Sounds like the makings of an intriguing type of halva. Doesn’t it.

I had it all. Softened butter. Yolks separated from whites. Ground cardamom. Rosewater. Thick, fatty, smooth tahini, and a cup for measuring. When it came time to include that last ingredient, I simply chose to refrain. I suppose what stands before you is representative of the fact that things do not always go as we intend them to.

It reminds me a bit of my life when I befriended the person for whom I baked this cake. She doesn’t know it. The bird you see in the pictures is now where it belongs: with her.

We knew each other years ago. I can remember the day we met for the second time. It was just after Bowie died. I came straight from practicing Ashtanga. I wore the same black dress every day. I brought a square of yellow cake with chocolate buttercream. We later baked the recipe again-in circle form, with sprinkles-to celebrate my 27th birthday.

That day, though, Minneapolis was as cold as ever. I don’t know why I went, honestly. I had just moved back to this city I had once called home. The in-between time. So much had been taken. My heart hurt.

I felt a horrible blast of frozen air when the door opened. I saw her silhouette first. I got out of line. She laughed, and I let her hug me. That was a thing I wasn’t doing then. People-hugging.

I remember the toilet paper selection in the bathrooms at Five Watt. I remember what we talked about. I remember the sweater she was wearing, which she both lost and found months later. I remember her hand resting on my shoulder when I gave a teeny glimpse into the weeks prior. I remember wondering if I’d see her again when I left.

To the person I am thinking of: Mitch Hedburg once said, I wanted to buy a candle holder, but the store didn’t have one. So I got a cake. You are the cake the universe delivered to me when I needed a candle holder. You arrived in a form I didn’t anticipate at a time when nothing was as I had planned, and I am lucky for it.

Your laugh is contagious. Your compassion is heartfelt. Your honesty invites honesty. You inspire me. You are the best friend. You are loved.