Sunday, September 21, 2014

Variations: Tofu Vermicelli

Friday was my Sabbath day when I lived in Houston. Friday meant a day to myself, out of my neighborhood and into a different part of the city. It meant exploring, getting lost in the clearance section, the Women’s Studies section and the Metaphysics section of Half Price Books. It meant trips to Trader Joe’s to buy Dr. Bronners soap and my very own olive oil that none of my housemates were allowed to use because I wrote my name on it immediately after I got home. Fridays meant taking the 80 out of the neighborhood and down to either the Preston train station or to Walker so I could catch the 81 or 82 to Montrose (If you’re new to Houston and take public transportation, take notes!).
Towards the end of my time in Houston, I frequented a Vietnamese sub-shop that I never caught the name of. I always referred to it as, “That place that Rosliand and Van go to get 2.50 subs!” That’s right! Two co-workers introduced me and a couple housemates to this restaurant where they serve really simple and beautiful Vietnamese dishes that are pretty accessible to mainstream American culture-Vermicelli, Pho, and Banh Mi, which is like a Vietnamese po-boy sandwich-and all of it ranged from 2.50-7.00. This was an amazing place to go for someone like me who was living on a seventy dollar a month stipend for personal items-most of which I spent on good food and coffee. 
I fell in love with the “Vietnamese sub shop were they sell 2.50 Vietnamese subs”, and so when I got back to the woods of North Carolina where there were no bus routes, no Half Priced Books and no Vietnamese sub shops (at least as good as the one in Houston), I taught myself how to make them at home. 
Pictured above is my version of their Vermicelli. When I ordered it in Houston it would come out in a huge white bowl filled with bean threads, huge chunks of marinated tofu, lettuce, thinly sliced carrots, cucumber, cilantro and chilled broth. 
Today I made a much smaller version with a lot of variations based on what I had in the fridge. It has vegetable broth, bean threads, white button mushrooms, tofu, roughly chopped cabbage and cilantro. 
It’s one of my go-to dishes and I’m going to show you how to make it as well! It’s really simple and the ingredients are usually pretty easy to find. 
What you’ll need:
Bean thread (or rice noodles if you prefer those/are what you find instead of bean thread)
This is very similar to rice noodles and can be found in the “Oriental/Hispanic” sections of your generic grocery store. 
Sesame Oil
Can also be found in the “Oriental/Hispanic” section of your neighborhood grocery store. 
Mushroom sauce
Would be found by the sesame oil and bean threads. 
Extra firm tofu
Mushrooms (any kind you like)
One lime
Vegetable broth
Coconut oil
What You Do:
Bean threads usually are packed in sections. For this dish, I used one section (or handful) of bean threads and began to boil them in vegetable broth. I added about a teaspoon and a quarter of sesame oil and mushroom sauce for extra flavoring. While that’s boiling, you also want to add the juice from one ripe lime. You can do this by cutting the lime in half and squeezing all of the juice you can with your hands into the pot. 
As for the tofu and the mushrooms, I get out my grandmother’s iron skillet, slap on about a tablespoon of coconut oil and heat the stove to about medium heat. For this portion, I usually cut up four fairly thin slices of tofu and place them in the skillet, along with two hand fulls of mushrooms roughly chopped. I like my food nice and crispy, so I leave it on the stove till I see that everything is golden brown. 
After your threads are finished and your broth tastes more than acceptable to you, pour your threads into a bowl along with the broth. I usually don’t put in more broth than noodles. This isn’t supposed to be a soup. 
After your tofu and mushrooms are finished, place them on top of the threads, then chop up whatever vegetables you’d like and throw them in too. For this I like to go pretty simple and just use cabbage and cilantro. 
This dish is really good with some sort of chili sauce, whether that be Sriracha or chili paste.
*Traditionally this dish is made with chilled broth. That’s certainly an option if you’d like. If you want to do that, just cook your broth beforehand and cool it once you've got everything to taste.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Forests and Piss and Jelly Fish Growth

I heard that plants grow in a similar pattern as a jelly fish’s tentacles move when it swims. The plant will grow a little bigger and then shrink a little, grow and shrink, grow and shrink. I feel shrunken. For the the time being. Until the season comes when I grow big again, only to shrink again and then grow and shrink and so on and so forth. A pattern of death and resurrection. Light and dark. Lost and found. Neither bad nor good. Just nature’s habits that naturally stick to creatures of nature, animals that are in denial of who they truly are. 
Have you ever held your heart? Aside from pledging allegiance to a bloody flag when you were small, when was the last time you thoughtfully and lovingly pressed your palm to the walls of your soul? When was the last time you made that connection? I like to hold myself in that position. I like to remember that I am transcendent and timeless. 
Today I went trespassing onto land that is rightfully mine anyways. It’s rightfully yours too. I sang to butterflies and green hues lit up my eyes and the trees covered me from the drizzling rain. I felt at home in one of my many homes. From the streets of Asheville where it’s conventional to be unconventional, to the streets of Houston where it smells like piss and men’s voices yell out for your number and mothers blow bubbles for their daughters on trains and old women walk to the convenience store to buy fish. From Asheville to Houston to Shelby where the dogs keep getting fleas and none of us can hear the other and we laugh when the other farts and flip each other off when we’re being made fun of, to the forest where it is still and quiet and primitive and the pine needles and spiders give permission to exist in your Truest form; to listen to your intuition, to embrace what lives in the forests, the quiet places of your own heart.
When will my eyes cleanse me with holy water? When will this well be emptied so it can be filled again? When was the last time you held your palm to your heart? What is a home? 

Friday, August 8, 2014

An Excerpt

…though even here, just that one word, “aside”, makes me shudder, for what is ever really just put aside?-and you’ll cary on, eat, drink, be merry and most of all you’ll sleep well. 
Then again there’s a good chance you wont. 
This much I’m certain of: it doesn’t happen immediately. You’ll finish and that will be that, until a moment will come, maybe in a month, maybe a year, maybe even several years. You’ll be sick or feeling troubled or deeply in love or quietly uncertain or even content for the fist time in your life. It wont matter. Out of the blue, beyond any cause you can trace, you’ll suddenly realize things are not how you perceived them to be at all. For some reason, you will no longer be the person you believed you once were. You’ll detect slow and subtle shifts going on all around you,more importantly shifts in you. Worst, you’ll realize it’s always been shifting, like a shimmer of sorts, a vast shimmer, only dark like a room. But you wont understand why or how. You’ll have forgotten what granted you this awareness in the first place. 
Old shelters-television, magazines, movies-wont protect you anymore. You might try scribbling in a journal, on a napkin, maybe even in the margins of this book. That’s when you’ll discover you no longer trust the very walls you always took for granted. Even the hallways you’ve walked a hundred times will feel longer, much longer, and the shadows, any shadow at all, will suddenly seem deeper, much, much deeper. 
You might try then, as I did, to find a sky so full of stars it will blind you again. Only no sky can blind you now. Even with all that iridescent magic up there, your eye will no longer trace constellations, You’ll care only about the darkness and you’ll watch it for hours, for days, maybe even for years, trying in vain to believe you’re some kind of indispensable, universe-appointed sentinel, as if just by looking you could actually keep it all at bay. It will get so bad you’ll be afraid to look away, you’ll be afraid to sleep. 
Then no matter where you are, in a crowded restaurant or on some desolate street or even in the comforts of your own home, you’ll watch yourself dismantle every assurance you ever lived by. You’ll stand aside as a great complexity intrudes, tearing part, piece by piece, all of your carefully conceived denials, whether deliberate or conscious. And then for better or worse you’ll turn, unable to resist, though try to resist you still will, fighting with everything you’ve got not to face the thing you most dread, what is now, what will be, what has always come before, the creature you truly are, the creature we all are, buried in the nameless black of a name. 
And then the nightmares will begin. 
Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves

Sunday, August 3, 2014


It’s so hard to meet yourself in your own pain and hold yourself in its presence. It is an obnoxious friend who will never let you forget that you loved. And I think that's okay. I never want to get over what it was like to sit across from God on the bus and watch Her blow out Her candles for Her birthday; eat beside Celeste at dinner and listen to her talk about how dry the macaroni is. Language will never explain how it feels to be known, to be entirely accepted, even when you're in disagreement, even when you're pissed. I am so afraid of knowing what my Deepest Self feels about these people and the life that we gave one another. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Heel-Click

The moonlight was spying on us last night. It played sort of a peeping-Tom, or maybe more of an estranged relative that was stopping in to say hi. It peered so brightly into our room, like a helicopter’s spotlight, that we had no choice but to stay up until one or two in the morning and be vulnerable with one another, making us late for our morning devotionals with our housemates. I read, “Until All-One We Are!” from my shampoo bottle and afterwards, everyone else went back to bed and I stayed on the couch reading Harry Potter. 
"You can’t be free if you judge people". The well of judgement has pooled so deep within me and I just recently have gotten so tired of swimming in that murky water. The darkness there is consuming. 
My judgement towards others has always first begun with myself.

God, why are you eating so much fucking pasta? Turn to the side, look at how much weight you’ve gained. Why did you say that? Can’t you hear how stupid you sound right now? You don’t know enough, your words are inadequate, you are inadequate. He doesn’t want you. Why did you go to that wedding to see him? He didn’t want to see you. He doesn’t care. Everyone here thinks you’re stupid for doing this. 
And my self-judgment has just gotten all over everyone else too.  I have judged everyone with the same, unfair, dishonest and unloving measurements in which I have learned to judge myself. 
But food is such a holy gift and enjoying it is what helps me to survive. A full tummy is a blessed tummy and I can learn to swallow these blessings with gratitude rather than guilt and resentment. I have worth because I exist. Words are not adequate homes. I am so much more than strings of boxy words. My goodness can simply not fit into them. I don’t have to prove myself to others in order to protect myself from feeling shamed by them (or myself). I can be a safe place for myself. Maybe he really doesn’t want you, but it wasn’t stupid to make yourself vulnerable and available for someone that you absolutely loved. That was risky and beautiful and don’t stop seeking those that you love just because you’ve experienced rejection. Sacrificing your comfort and safety for someone that means something to you is courageous and I am sorry that that wasn’t received as such. You did the beautiful thing. You loved even when you were unloved in return and I am proud of you for being so brave. 
I figure that once I learn to interact with myself with compassion and kindness that I can interact with others with compassion and kindness as well. I can be free.
Today I did a heel click. A dread-headed woman adorned with bones, dressed in a witchy skirt and salvaged boots in the hot Texan heat, heel clicking in the middle of the road because heartbreak and bitterness and shame no longer becomes me. I, and a few trust-worthy others, have loved me back to health. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Two Years Condensed

I do not have enough words. I try to conjure something. I try the voodoo of sentence structuring to communicate what these two years have been like. But I can't. Words are not perfect enough to describe these perfectly and terribly messy two years with these perfectly and terribly messy people. Words cannot tell my entire truth because words are just as broken and unstable as any system-just boxes that cannot contain a universe of experience. But here, I will try words and they will fail as they always do and I will be okay with that. I will still treat them as friends. 

I begin with plenty of dumpster dives, cheesy homemade cards, kisses, one dollar breakfast burritos, turning my nose up at people because I live in Asheville, "Portland of the East". There was a lot of arguing, a lot of failing and a lot of self-judgment for that failing. Here is where I fell-down the steep stairs of a church that preaches men first, women second, no chance for salvation unless their beliefs match ours. Here is where I fell into a love that I was not prepared for (but are we ever prepared?), a love that hurt. It was here that I loved the way that I knew to love and there was no other way to do that but to possess, worry, push away in hopes that I could be pulled closer. It is here that tears came often, that heaving sobs gave me sore stomach muscles the next morning. This is where I was hallowed. I fell flat on my back into my depths and got the wind knocked out of me.

I called my sleeping mother once at two in the morning and she put enough money into my bank account to buy gas and she ran to meet me in the driveway to kiss my cheek and put a ring on my finger and she welcomed her runaway daughter back into her home because, No matter what, you can always come home, Taylor. 

And home is where I landed, or maybe crawled or drove twenty miles over the speed limit to as I descended the mountain, into the foothills and out of the depths of my own hell; a place that I needed to be, a place that didn't want to consume me, but deepen me. I wrote plenty of sad letters and desperate e-mails, I felt the emptiness of being empty. 

But I fed myself. I fed myself back to health and shared diners with my mom when she came home from work and we spoiled ourselves with fresh kale and cilantro. I cooked with colors, good fats and good friends and we sang. We sang, No, IIIIII don't wanna fall in love (love is only gonna break your heart), and we laughed all the way to Amiele's to eat French pastries and drink black iced coffee in the city. We experimented with spaghetti squash because, let's face it, cooking is as much a religious ritual for us as is the Eucharist at Catholic mass.
 I made the decision to be present. Present with my pain and my friends and family who loved me, and my crafting and cooking, harmonizing and sobbing because, I still have things to learn here before I go to Houston. 

Houston wasn't as hot as I thought it'd be (little did I know...) and riding the bus was glamorous, simple and sexy until I began realizing how long and inconvenient it was to wait for the always late 80 and how taking public transportation takes three times longer than taking a car.

And I met Heather and Red and Tarrin and Charlie and Kira and Caleb and I knew that these eleven months with them would heal me. We ate quinoa and eggs for our first dinner and sweated our asses off as we set up bunk beds and arranged our living room how we wanted it. Together we learned the metro system, learned to navigate the streets of downtown Houston on foot, set up a chore list, dish washing expectations and the like. I learned very quickly that 119.00 for seven people in a food desert whose only grocery store offered high prices and little variety was not the place to expect fresh kale, olive and coconut oils, pesto and hummus. Instead it was vegetarian lasagna and burritos, taco skillet and Campbell's Tomato Soup. 

One time Kira baked her jean button right off of her pants, baked zits right onto our faces. And we ate. We ate holy meals of baked ziti and baked potatos, miniature apple pies and brownies smothered in cream cheese icing. We talked about race and privilege, poverty, systematic oppression, debated Biblical inerrancy and learned to love one another in our disagreeing.

I stopped fearing God because God asks to not be feared, but to be known as The Great Unknown. My first lesson in this was coming to realize that God does not hate women and God did not create women to serve men and that God is not a man and I threw the "He" pronoun into the fire as soon as I figured these things out. And I jumped right into the mystery of God and God since has no longer been concrete, but dark and bright and deep and unknown and I am free to be honest and authentic here. I am free to ask questions and embrace I don't know as a good answer. 

I began to understand the Holiness of both laughter and tears. 
I cried when no one wanted to buy fucking cheese for the week's breakfast! I cried because I was furious that I was born with whiteness and that I could not escape my privilege by emphasizing my color. I cried because I missed my mom and my dogs and all that is beautiful about home. I cried because I forgave myself for all of my self-judgement. I cried because thanking my arms for helping me to hold and love instead of resenting them because they aren't as toned and slender as I feel they should be was like salve to a deep wound. I cried because I still missed my ex and finding out that he had a new girlfriend was too much. I cried because our cat died and one of our friends left us all in the same month. And God collected those tears in a vial and labeled it “holy water” and from then on I began acknowledging tears of sorrow as baptism; dying to self because self is always dying when you choose to share something as complicated as life with other people, and then rising because death is never the end and new things are always waiting for old things to pass.

And as I cried, I also laughed my deepest and fullest laughter yet because Caleb has the loudest laugh I've ever heard and Charlie’s dance moves are too hard for me to synchronize with. I laughed because it was healing to laugh in the face of my own oppression as a woman. It was healing to laugh, period. 

Here it has been mutual vulnerability and mutual trust, it has been knowing and being known. Here I have existed so consciously in the heart of God.

Two years of whip lash, consistent change and the constant death and resurrection of false and true self has given me the belief that whether dark, scary and heavy or light, wholesome and healing, absolutely everything about life is nothing but sacred.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


I read the other day that many of us, if not all of us, have large blind spots in our eyes. We only see so much of what is going on and our brains fill in the blank or gray areas with things that we think we should be seeing. 
We sat in the dining area at Phoenicia and spelled out for one another the painful memories we have from our experiences as people of color. She told stories of being overlooked and misrepresented. I shared stories of feeling confused from being swung from one identity to another. We both lamented with tears in our eyes and apologies in our mouths.
I’m sorry that you have had to feel the pain of swinging from one identity to another and not knowing where you belong, she said.
I’m sorry that you have been overlooked and misrepresented and that I have contributed to that, I responded.
Take a sip! We giggled and both grabbed our coffees and took a big, warm, caffeinated sipthe healing waters of reconciliation and forgiveness flooding our eyes.
In this sacred moment, Red gave me sight. Red gave me freedom.
Story-telling has risky qualities. There are possibilities of being misunderstood, rejected, slandered, and misheard. If, however,we can move past the fear of feeling that our experiences might sound invalid, beautiful vulnerability can happen and when we open up and share with someone something that deeply hurt us or is sacred to our souls, we can then connect, empower, heal, bless and encourage one another. 
I think that story-telling is gift-giving, is healing. It’s mud and spit, hurt and pain, sacred and reality being rubbed in our eyes and in-turn, our sight is restored and we are no longer blinded by our privilege and ignorance, but awakened and the eyes of our hearts are no longer filling the gaps with hurtful assumptions. Receiving the truth of another’s experience through their stories has the capability to widen our vision and give sight to the blind spots of our hearts.