Lemony Fava Bean Tartine | On Self-Doubt, Success & Creating Meaningful Lives

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you do not have to be a fire
for
every mountain blocking you.
you could be a water
and
soft river your way to freedom
too.

— options

                                - nayyirah waheed

I went on a run today, for the first time in over a year and a half. Okay, it was more like a 67% walk, 33% jog, but still. I was proud of myself. Proud of myself for listening to the tightness of my body and its yearning to move, for honoring my heart’s desire to get out of the house and absorb the extending light of these imminent summer days.

On the loop back towards my house, I took a slight detour to the Berkeley Marina. Headed down a narrow offshoot of a dirt path, got as close as I could to the water without clamoring down its jagged shore. Found a bench and sat, taking in the expanse of ebullient water, the Golden Gate, the city of San Francisco hovering off amidst the fog. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and began to meditate. Felt my body tall and rooted against the pressure of the aggravated wind.

There has always been something compelling to me about vast bodies of water. Their host of contradictions, serene and agitated, methodical and unpredictable, familiar and unknowable all at once. Never either/or; always both/and. The Bay was feisty tonight, its entire surface cast in vigorous ripples as far as the eye could see. As I watched the waves coalesce and rise and crash against the rocky shore, I saw the water transform from an elegant, smooth, dark mass to a mess of foamy white, splaying itself over and between the crevices of that which stood in its way, only to settle and reincorporate itself once again. Changed, yet still the same.

I sat and meditated on the effortlessness of waves. The way they are never anything but themselves, moving always with grace and sometimes immense drama, separating and reintegrating endlessly. I thought of their poetry, and then of the poetry in nayyirah waheed’s words. Wondered how I can better soft river my way to freedom, too.

I often wonder—in a very doubtful kind of way—if this blog will ever lead to anything significant for me professionally. If it will ever touch the tender hearts of large numbers of people and inspire them to be kinder and gentler with themselves, to find a bit more softness and joy in the often challenging minutiae of living. If the recipes I create and share will make it into scores of kitchens that are not my own. I wonder if my writing is too wordy, too heavy or dark. I wonder if and how I will ever stand out in this insanely saturated industry of food and wellness. And not having resolute answers to these questions makes me wonder if it’s even worth doing, when the goal is to achieve those things and they all, for better or worse, feel kind of impossible.

I struggle with myself a lot sometimes. Less than I used to, but there’s still a lot of self-doubt and negative talk within me. A lot of feeling like I’m not where I “should” be by now, especially professionally. Worrying that I’m never going to get to where I want to go. And yes, there is trust, too. The kind of trust that comes from the experience of making big choices that have been potentially risky yet always aligned with my intuition—choices made from a place of trust rather than fear—and witnessing them always work out. Or work out so far, anyway, in their ways. I am trying to lean into that trust more, to grow my patience more, but I’m going to be real with you: sometimes it’s hard.

This self-criticism and self-doubt recently brought up a question, while in conversation with a close friend: How do we change our personal barometers of worth in a society where the success = money = happiness model is so pervasive that we end up believing it’s true—and that it is what we truly desire? How do we keep showing up for ourselves in our passions and creative pursuits—especially if they are also the things we wish to become our livelihood—when opportunities for comparison and, by extension, self-judgment abound? 

As these ideas surfaced, Alicia offered a potent musing: What if, instead of collectively aspiring towards successful lives, we aspired towards meaningful ones? Or if we redefined “success” as measured by meaning rather than professional/material gain? Our entire world would be different. Success, she astutely observed, is directed inwards, towards ourselves; we seek personal achievements, be they money or status or other forms of external recognition. And we grasp for these things, believing that the having or lacking of them is correlated to our worth. Meaning, on the other hand, is achieved most often through a selfless or connective energy; we make offerings, sit in wide eyed curiosity and compassion with one another or our intrinsic selves, commune with nature. And it is truly in this giving of and connecting to ourselves that we grow. Become full.

In vocalizing my frustration and slight resignation around the potential of the blog to Alicia the other day, she challenged me by asking why it has to lead to anything. Why it can't just be valuable for the process of its creation. For me. And I know she is right. That I do it because I enjoy it and love creating the recipes and taking and editing the photos and writing, even if it is hard. But it is also, and has always been, an externally facing endeavor. Created for the purpose of connecting with and inspiring other people and hopefully, eventually, serving as a springboard for a career. And so, yes, it is difficult to detach from that aspect of it—from the yearning for it to be successful on those terms.

Detach. In Buddhist thought, attachment is taught to be the root of all suffering. So what if I wrote Pollinate with the wholehearted intention of creating beauty and growing my own self, in both skills and thought, and with the hope that it might resonate with some people but not attached to the idea that it must? What if we pursued the things that make us full, savoring the process of them rather than being motivated by an idea of what they might bring us in our unwritten future? What if we were water, fully and always only what we are in any given moment, coalescing and differentiating when tides rise and waves crash, moving around boulders with deft grace rather than resistance and self-doubt? What if we trusted our hearts and paths enough to exist fully in the present and, ultimately, get out of our own ways?

We may find a bit more freedom in that, I think. And a bit more happiness, too.

*Notes about the recipe: This is a super simple celebration of spring. As the bounties of the season begin to pour in, we are blessed with vibrant and delicious produce that often requires little to no cooking. I also love the revelations that come with tasting fresh foods straight from the pod or the cob that you might eat from frozen at other times during the year; there is no comparison! Fava beans are less common in the standard American diet than, say, peas, which is a shame because they are suuuuper delicious. They also happen to be crazy nutrient dense, containing an array of vitamins (folate, thiamine, vitamin K, vitamin B6) and minerals (iron, manganese, potassium, copper, zinc, magnesium) in addition to fiber and protein! 

I used dill and tarragon in this recipe because I seem to perpetually have leftovers of those herbs in my fridge as of late. This would also be delicious with mint, basil, chives, chervil, parsley, or some combination thereof. You can have it on toast or off; with an egg or without. The basic equation here is fava beans + herbs + lemon = yum. It's pretty much that simple.

Lemony Fava Bean Tartine
Makes two toasts

Ingredients
1 1/2 cup fava beans (from about 1 lb. favas-in-the-pod)
1 unwaxed, organic lemon, zested
1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
3 Tbsp. cold-pressed, good quality olive oil
1/8 tsp. pink or sea salt
2 handfuls pea shoots
1 Tbsp. dill fronds, fresh
1 Tbsp. tarragon leaves, fresh
Two slices sourdough, rustic or multigrain boule
Soft boiled egg (or cooked to preference)
Fresh ground pepper, to finish

Directions
1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Fill a medium bowl with ice water and set aside. Cook fava beans in the boiling water for 1 minute, then strain and transfer to the ice water. Peel the waxy outer coating from the fava beans.
2. In a medium sized jar with a lid, shake together the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Add the fava beans to the jar and gently shake to coat.
3. Toast your bread — a toaster is great but a grill pan with some olive oil would be extra delicious.
4. Place one big handful of pea shoots on each toast slice. Pour the favas and their oil on top of the greens (you may have a bit of oil leftover; it makes great salad dressing!). Sprinkle 1/2 Tbsp. of each herb onto each slice. Top with an egg if desired and a few twists of freshly cracked black pepper. Enjoy!

Asparagus, Caper & Toasted Almond Tartine

A native of Los Angeles, I grew up with a rather skewed experience of the seasons. Winter to me was orange, yellow and red tinted leaves that clung to their branches well into December, suburban streets lined with hues that I thought were vibrant until the East Coast taught me otherwise. To my thin California skin, the marked chill of a day that peaked in the low 50s drew my puffy purple jacket out of the closet, which I then layered over a sweatshirt and long sleeved tee. Aside from the eventual trickle of the foliage and its indistinct renewal, seasons in Los Angeles were subtle. The sky grew grey and sometimes poured rain, but the landscape always looked pretty much the same.

My first year in New York was a shock to the system, to say the least. I will never forget how impossibly long that first winter felt—truly, like, It's April, how the hell is it STILL snowing?! It got to a point when I almost couldn't remember the particular sensation of sunshine on skin. But slowly the thaw did come. And slowly, then seemingly all at once, new life began to emerge. In the early stages of spring, the tulips struck me most. Vibrant and elegant, they covered my school's campus, a proclamation of what was just around the bend: a world overcome with rich renewal. For the first time in my life, springtime was more than just a concept, a nondescript string of months between the chill and the heat. Not only could I see spring, I could feel spring in my bones.  

While I no longer reside in a climate with such dramatic shifts, living back East taught me not only to notice the particular markers of springtime but to relish this wondrous time when the world jolts back to life. Even during distinct environmental transition, it is so easy for us not to notice. We live such busy, plugged-in lives that we become disconnected from our surroundings and focus our attention solely on our personal dramas, obligations and narratives. Yet these cycles are not separate from us. They dictate what we eat, what we wear, how we move, when we sleep, how we feel. They provide opportunities for us to turn inwards, to hibernate and reflect and then to turn outwards and grow anew with the world.

While it may be doing so more rapidly in California than in other places at present, the thaw is approaching and new life is beginning to emerge. As beings who not only inhabit this Earth but are connected to it, it serves us to tap into this natural regeneration and use it as momentum within ourselves. The days are getting noticeably longer and new, less hearty and heavy crops are popping up, both of which offer us opportunities for more buoyant and sustained energy. Spring is the perfect time to sow seeds, set intentions and bring new projects and goals into fruition. So, here is my invitation to you: set a springtime intention. Something that will bring you joy, that will help you grow. And then do it. Notice the beauty that is emerging in the natural world around you, harness the energy of that new life, and set something enlivening for yourself in motion.

It's a little crazy that I spent four paragraphs talking about the changing of the seasons with only a fleeting mention of the food that comes with the turn of spring. Living in California, the seasonal transitions are almost marked more by the rotations of produce that adorn farmers' market stalls than by drastic shifts in weather. Each season has its show stoppers, the fruits or vegetables that define a particular time of year. For springtime, it's asparagus. (Okay, and green garlic and probably a few other things, but asparagus is definitely high up on that list.) Some people probably wait all winter long to see those lean, green stalks appear at the market. No offense, but these people seem absolutely nuts to me.

Let's be real: asparagus is a challenging vegetable. It is potent (some may argue pungent) in flavor and scent. I hated it until, um, last year. I still don't love it. But! I have been introduced to methods of preparing asparagus that compliment or mellow its taste in ways that make it palatable if not even, dare I say it, delicious. The most recent method—which was so good that it is now the subject of this post—came by way of my boyfriend, who (conveniently for me) is a pretty spectacular cook. I was decidedly disinterested the evening he excitedly proclaimed he had bought a bunch of asparagus and I remained so when he later departed to the kitchen to turn it into a "snack". Twenty minutes later, drawn to the kitchen by the sweet smell of toasty almonds and browning butter, I found my anti-asparagus resolve melting away. I leaned towards his plate to examine its contents, was offered a bite, and succumbed. I was immediately dumbfounded. Staring at T in disbelief, I demanded to know what he put in that thing to make the asparagus taste so delicious. And then I ate half the food on his plate.

I knew immediately that I needed to share his divine and startlingly simple concoction with you. At the start of spring, so you can make it for yourself and then for your friends and then for your family and then for yourself again, all before the season ends. So, what are we waiting for?

Springtime Asparagus Tartine
Makes four generous tartines

Ingredients
1 bunch asparagus (preferably skinny stalks)
1 Tbsp. ghee or butter (sub cold-pressed olive oil if you're vegan)
1/2 Tbsp. dry white wine (or juice from half a lemon)
1/4 cup raw almonds
2 Tbsp. capers (preferably salt preserved), rinsed
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, minced
2 large slices of fresh, crusty Boule (whole grain blend & sourdough are great), cut in half
salt & pepper, to taste

Method
1. Heat oven or toaster oven to 325°F. Spread almonds on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant, 10-12 minutes, tossing halfway through.
2. While the almonds are roasting, prep asparagus. Cut the woody bottom third off all the stalks and discard. Cut the remaining stalks into 1 1/2" segments.
3. When the almonds are toasted, remove from the oven and roughly chop. Set aside.
4. Heat the butter or ghee in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. When hot, toss in asparagus, reduce heat to medium low, and sauté, gently stirring, until the spears start to become tender and acquire a bit of color, about 5 minutes.
5. While the asparagus is cooking, brush your bread slices with a bit of olive oil and toast them (or char them on a grill if that's accessible!).
5. Add a generous pinch of salt and some fresh ground pepper to the asparagus and stir.
6. Add your glug of white wine or squeeze of lemon juice to deglaze the pan. When stirred, it should emulsify with the oil and create a sauce-like glaze over the asparagus. Taste for doneness; you want the asparagus to be cooked but still have a bit of crunch to it.
7. Remove the pan from the heat. Toss in the capers, minced parsley and chopped almonds. Toss to combine.
8. Pile the asparagus mixture high onto each slice of toast. Enjoy immediately.