A bit of a cheat

Lucas feetSometimes when I find that I can’t work through the words in my head, that I’m stretching to sift them onto a page, I put away my pen. A walk helps. But often I turn to someone else’s work. It’s a bit of a cheat, maybe. But depending on how I feel stuck, I have a medicine chest of writers close at hand, writers who can remind me of the many ways people make magic with words. In a lonely business, their voices can bring me back round to my own. 

There’s Wendell Berry (bracing, thoughtful, clearly connecting dots) and Alice Munro (spare, evocative, not afraid of the mundane). Calvin Trillin (rippling humor, flavor descriptions that defy belief, and always with so much love for his family) and Joan Didion (I love especially her essays about California and about writing – and always her ability to be simultaneously allusive and crystal clear). There is Toni Morrison (rich but nuanced language, narrative complexity, historical musing) and Marilynne Robinson (for the way she uses the space around her words, and for her willingness to be demanding of her readers, to make them work for her writing’s extraordinary beauty). The bookshelves back in my little office are encouraging, a bit crowded. In their company I don’t believe in writer’s block. Reading breaks, though. Reading breaks I depend on.

frisbee Lu

(And sometimes a game of catch.)


So: here are some of the words that have caught me lately. With them I wish you all beautiful weekends, with fresh air and warm hearts and plenty of time to read. Maybe a really good salad, too – I have just the dressing for you. (And – you might want to make the cheater’s garam masala even if you don’t need a zippy vinaigrette – we’ll be putting it to good use next week, I think.)


(And hey – if any words lately have been helpful to you, would you send them my way? InheritTheSpoon [at] gmail [dot] com, or feel free to leave them in the comments. Thanks friends!)

Because “there’s no good reason to show you this. I think I just want you to know that this happened.” (Oh, this one made me think.) 

Because the picture of her in the window, painting her nails, is worth more than words. (And for the two of them, with their beer bottles, which makes my heart ache.)

Because “that endless loneliness is what makes it so easy to root for Ender … It’s what makes the book essential reading for every kid who has walked away from the protective embrace of his or her parents, which is to say every kid who has ever hit puberty.” (Especially for those of us who love Ender but are feeling pretty icky about Card.)

Because sometimes laughing out loud is the best way to loosen my brain. (And because I do love Vows, perhaps for exactly this funniness.) 

Because “if you dread being made a fool of, you will steer clear of art altogether. But risking foolishness, and succumbing to it occasionally, builds up antibodies of wisdom.” (In response to this, which I also enjoyed.) 

Because “in memoir, where the writer tells the story from, the relationship between the writer and the story in time, is, in part, the story.” (This is a pretty brilliant radio interview with Dani Shapiro – thanks Kati for sending it my way.) 

Because “Did we buy the tea set anyway? Or can I re-imagine the memory slightly — but significantly — erasing my mom’s pregnant belly and adding a little baby girl in a stroller to the picture?” (Oh, April. There are just no words.)  

And because “there is no substitute for exploration, unconstrained by rules or expectations, when it comes to generating creative solutions to our problems.”  (For all you play-based mamas and papas out there.)

garam masala mustard vinaigrette

Cheater’s Garam Masala & Zippy Vinaigrette

Garam Masala (the quintessential Indian spice mixture) is obviously best made with whole spices, toasted and ground. But I mix up this version with pre-ground spices, and it’s always in my spice cabinet. Lately I’ve been shaking it into this mustardy vinaigrette; I drizzle that on a pan of wilted greens with lots of garlic, or over a bowl of lentils with a few capers, some minced red onion and a big handful of currants. (My right-now favorite lentil salad, this one not withstanding!) It’s also exquisite dolloped on a wedge of roasted cabbage. A bit of a cheat? Yes. But does it get me moving in the direction of cooking? Absolutely.

Garam Masala
Mix together in a bowl with a fork, then transfer to an airtight container (I just use an empty spice jar):

4 teaspoons ground cumin
2 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 scant teaspoon ground cloves
1 generous teaspoon ground cardamom
Generous grate of fresh nutmeg

This makes about half a cup, and will keep as spices do. I’ve taken the common spice assortment and adjusted quantities to fit our tastes; please do likewise as it suits.

Mustardy Garam Masala Vinaigrette
See above re: the lentil salad and the cabbage wedge. Also consider this the BFF of your roasted potatoes, roasted cauliflower, even your roasted beets. It has done well on a simple green salad with pomegranate seeds, and last week we even used it (thinned with water) to braise chicken and leeks. Let me know what you try.

Shake together in a jam jar with lid:

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar (or honey)
2 tablespoons grainy mustard (or your favorite mustard)
2 teaspoons salt
1 heaping tablespoon garam masala (see above)

Optional additions: 1 teaspoon tumeric (for anti-inflammatory purposes and that gorgeous kick of yellow) or cayenne pepper, to taste

This makes about 3/4 cup dressing. (Depending on what I’m doing, I sometimes double the recipe.) It keeps for a day or two at room temperature, or for much longer in the fridge.

garam masala vinaigrettewith cabbage and lentils

4 thoughts on “A bit of a cheat

  1. I’ve never thought about putting garam masala in a salad dressing, but suddenly it makes so much sense to me! I want to use this dressing for an Israeli couscous salad I made a few weeks ago – I think the flavors would really melt beautifully into the pasta.

    • Chelsea that sounds delicious! You’ll have to let me know if you give it a go. I find that with certain spice blends, once they are around, I put them in/on anything. Garam masala goes on all sorts of things, once you get going with it :)

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