OK; so, things are bad. They are actually pretty seriously bad. But there are also reality-based reasons to remain hopeful. So how about we agree to acknowledge that things aren’t rosy, but we’ll look for the good here, together, because it feeds the kind of hopefulness that, in turn, feeds action.
Game? Great. Let’s go:
I jokingly call them my pandemic boyfriends even though I’ve never met them in real life, and they wouldn’t know me from Adam’s off ox. But these two fine fellows have a way of making me feel happy down to my soul. I take one Sam on walks, and the other Sam joins me in the kitchen while I drink coffee and contemplate the day ahead.
My morning Sam, for many years now, is Sam Sifton, food editor for The New York Times and founding editor of NYT Cooking. The first time I read his weekly “What to Cook This Week” email, I abandoned (temporarily) the notion of ever again writing about food or cooking. Why would I bother, when someone else was doing a better job of capturing exactly the way I feel about food and cooking — better than even Ruth Reichl could do?
I’ve been a fan (like, super fan girl) ever since. His humor and humanity are inspiring, as are his cooking recommendations. He begins each entry with the food and ends with suggestions for reading, watching, listening — things that make life interesting and poignant and worth living. Over the past four years and past four months in particular, sitting down with his writing, seeing his perspective, feels like a dose of grace.
Here’s just one example of two that I’ll share. This one’s from earlier in the summer, and I’m sharing this particular one because of a detail Sifton includes about the Tanis recipe:
The clam pasta (I’ve written about it before) that my friend Martha taught me to make, the recipe she learned from her Italian family while living in Italy for the year? Canned clams. That’s the secret. And I’ve been reluctant to share the recipe either here or privately with foodie snobby friends because, canned clams. And then, there is it, right there in highfalutin realm of NYT Cooking.
It’s these little details and unabashed giddiness (“So it’s super exciting.”) that endear Sam Sifton to me. Ridiculous, I know. And if you’re not the cooking, food-loving, NYT-reading sort, then maybe you won’t get the same enjoyment from reading his writing. But maybe you’ll give it a try?
The other Sam is a newer discovery. I’ve enjoyed listening to Sam Sanders live on NPR since his arrival there, but I’ve only recently started listening to his podcast, It’s Been A Minute.
Hearing Sam’s Aunt Betty at the beginning and end of each episode? Pure delight. The listener recordings of what’s been good in the previous week? Pure joy.
But the interviews are where he really shines. His selection of guests, the way he carries on a conversation, guides it over easy and not-so-easy topics, is masterful. I’ve listened three times to the episode with James McBride, talking about writing and hope, and three times to the episode with Tracee Ellis Ross about joy. When she tells the story about getting her ultra-famous mother in the car to break the news that she sings in her new movie? It’s just fantastic.
And here’s the icing on the cake, for me — but I have to give the short back story first:
I was doing some research on USPS Informed Delivery for my work at Kindred Place. Some of our counseling clients are women in abusive relationships, and the Informed Delivery service is a potential safety problem for these women.
So I was going through various newspapers, including The New York Times, using the search string “USPS Informed Delivery,” and the top hit was Sam Sifton’s “What to Cook This Week” from February 2019. (I could not make this up.)
In February of last year I was deep in the middle of planning a big fundraising event, so I did not read this particular Sifton entry at the time. Sure enough, the last paragraph is about USPS Informed Delivery.
But here’s the kicker: Sifton learned about Informed Delivery from his friend Sam Sanders.
They’re pals. The Sams. My pandemic boyfriends.
They’re pals in real life, shining a light in the darkness for some of us who are struggling to make it through the days. How great is that?
Other Reading, Listening, Cooking, Etc.
Hate mowing the grass? Terrific; here’s an alternative: Designing An End to a Toxic American Obsession: The Lawn
Do you have, as I do, a box of family recipes in your kitchen? What Your Recipe Box Says About You
File under: hard to believe it’s true. The Ark at the End of the World
Maria Ressa (Princeton ’86) is risking everything for the sake of freedom and democracy, and her work matters to you more than you may realize: Philippine Journalist Maria Ressa: ‘Journalism is Activism’
Need some gallows humor? Your School District’s Reopening Survey
A podcast series for anyone interested in public education (particularly white friends who send or have sent kids to public schools): Nice White Parents
A lyrical, beautiful essay: The Mysterious Life of Birds Who Never Come Down
Because, cocktails: Blueberry Gin Mojito
I made Ali Slagle’s Ginger-Lime Chicken, but I did not actually use the recipe (this should come as no surprise). The gist of the preparation is this: mix mayonnaise, lime zest, lime juice, and grated ginger; soak some chicken breasts in this marinade overnight (or longer); when you’re ready to cook, pull the chicken from the marinade, sprinkle each piece with salt, and then grill for about 5 minutes per side until done; let rest and then slice and serve. Or let it cool to room temp, then chill overnight, and slice for a salad. Or shred it and make chicken salad. Get the idea? All good.
I took my kiddo to college this week. One day I’ll write about that, but for now I’ll share Geoff Calkins’s column that captures so many similar thoughts and feelings: The Surprising Truth About Dropping Your Freshman at College During Covid-19
And: August is my birthday month. As she does every year, my sister asked what I wanted for my birthday. Every year my answer is the same: “World peace. But in the meantime….” This year my “in the meantime” request was for a donation to CommunityLIFT, a Memphis-based nonprofit working to elevate neighborhoods. CommunityLIFT also serves as fiscal agent for the MLK50 Justice Through Journalism work.
This work is important to me for a reason that may seem surprising: I don’t always agree with it. Being challenged to think outside my little bubble of privilege is one important way to continue growing and learning. Maybe you’ll join me?
Awesome; thank you. Donate here.
Last but Not Least: Don’t Quit.
Remember that time, eons ago, back in January when I shared my 2020 resolutions, patterned after the advice of a physician friend who’d finally decided to take for himself the advice he’d been giving patients for years?
Yeah, I didn’t remember it either. Because January might as well be last century. So, for a refresher, here was my cheery, naive, plan for the year ahead:
Hilarious. Who knew the year would reach the point at which my sister and I would pledge to one another that we would do three things each day, just three, and that we would include, in the category of “things,” activities like: Brush teeth. Put on pants that button. Get the mail out of the mailbox.
So let’s try again:
Or, maybe, just the eternal resolution:
Seriously, don’t quit. In the infamous words of yoga teacher Brian Kest, “Be where you’re at ’cause you’re already there.” Don’t fret over where you were or where you should be. Wake up each day and do your best, whatever that looks like for you. Just keep going.
And even more seriously, if you’re feeling overwhelmed to the point that you’re worried about yourself, even for a minute, don’t shrug it off. Please talk to someone.
If you’re worried, even for a minute, about someone who struggles or lives alone or is prone to being overwhelmed or isolated: please call them, or coordinate with other friends to check on them, or something. Trust your instincts. Life is a lot to take right now, for everyone, everywhere. Reach out and say hello. No need to be dramatic about it; just check in on the people you love.
Give hope. Spread joy.
The end, for this month.