Monday, May 24, 2010

Delicious Ambiguity, Part II

I opened Friday's post with a Gilda Radner quote and suggested that a more in-depth discussion would frame Monday's entry. Obviously, I then followed that little nugget of intrigue with a review of the cheese and ground cumin available at Kountry Kitchen. Here's a refresher, however, for those of you who, for some reason, don't memorize everything I say: "Some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity..."

I will acknowledge upfront my uncertainties about this quote; not necessarily on the meaning, but on my thoughts regarding it. I'm just not sure which part resonates with me the most, if and how the various components even really do. I want to discuss, therefore, based on my peculiar interest in "delicious ambiguity" as opposed to some well-thought out analysis of or emotional reaction to Radner's words. First and foremost, what a great phrase, pure and simple - vague, yet vivid; arguably indulgent, yet potentially quite practical. It avoids the trappings of both tongue-twister and annoying alliteration. It sounds intellectual, but also playfully spirited. It seems appropriately said with a wry smile and scrunched nose. It is a two-word phrase I wish I had coined.

My initial interest in the quote stemmed from uncertainties in my life that arose over the past month or so. Even though at times, and under seemingly difficult circumstances, I am able to retain a "roll with the punches" attitude, this past month has been particularly trying for me. There have been pity parties - shared only with the two people who I trust the most and more so than not, with myself - where I willingly imbibed "woe is me." There has been curtness and avoidance and silence. There have been restless nights and 4:00 am frosted flakes and facebook adventures. And while the sugary, artificial grain puffs may have been, "not knowing" seemed far from delicious.

There came a day, however, when I just basically forced myself to examine how selfish I was being. I couldn't predict what other people were going to do, or what a bank representative might tell me, or even where I would be living in a month, but I still had complete control over my responses and my choices. Maybe my options weren't ideal, maybe my choices were limited, but they were mine nonetheless. Just as in the past when I have had jobs that I really didn't like, I would tell myself "you can do anything for 6 months," in this case, I told myself "you can work with what you have." I was not concluding that something good would come of it (in fact it might suck. A lot. - I 100% do not believe that things necessarily happen for a reason), but instead, embracing the sense of peace that came from acknowledging uncertainty, an acceptance that subsequently forced me to create or reevaluate paths less traveled. At that moment, I slept.

What I was doing, and what I think many people are tempted to do, was equating not knowing with having no sense of control. Let's reserve that emotion for those who may never voice it, but who so much more deserve it: those who, for example, live with chemotherapy and surgeries and doctors appointments and those who so unselfishly and lovingly support them, not a 29-year-old educated woman who may have to find another job or place to live. I realize that pain and anger and frustration can't always be relative; if something bothers us, it is a legitimate concern. Nonetheless, there's much to be said for getting over ourselves, for seeing the deliciousness, rather than the pity party potential, in ambiguity.
No ambiguousness here: Fried, sugar-coated dough can never be bad.
Doughnut Holes with Strawberry Jam
35 min (3 hrs. including dough rising); 8 Servings
3/4 tsp. active dry yeast
1/4 c. plus 1 tbsp. warm water
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. active dry yeast
2 tbsp. milk, warmed
1 tsp. salt
3 Large egg yolks
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
3 tbsp. sugar
1 pint strawberries (12 ounces)
1 1/2 c. sugar, plus more more coating
Vegetable oil for frying

1. Make the starter: In a medium bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water. Mix in the flour. Cover with plastic and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1 hour.
2. Make the dough: In a standing mixer (use dough hook if you have one), dissolve the yeast in the milk. Add the flour, salt, egg yolks, butter, sugar, and the starter mix until dough forms a ball. Scrape the dough into a bowl (greased with cooking spray or Crisco), cover and let rise (1 hour).
3. Meanwhile, make the jam. In a saucepan, simmer the strawberries (or any berry of choice) with 1 1/2 c. sugar over moderate heat until thickened, about 25 minutes. Scrape the jam into a bowl and let cool for 1 hour.
4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On a floured surface, roll out the dough 1/2" thick. Stamp out 1-inch round doughnut holes (in honor of this post, I used a shot glass:)). Reroll the scraps and repeat. Transfer to the baking sheet and cover with a damp cloth. Let stand for 15 minutes.
5. In a pan, heat 1" of oil to 325 degrees. Fry holes until golden (2 minutes - they cook quickly, be ready to turn them immediately). Drain and then roll in sugar. Serve hot, with jam.

*By the way, I had a great wrap for lunch today that you all should try: shaved pepper turkey (from the Marrowbone Marathon), spinach leaves from Mom's garden, homemade hummus from last week's post, colby-jack cheese, light miracle whip, sliced olives.


  1. So interesting - my parents and I had a very very similar conversation in the car about our respective opinions on the "my burden is but a paper cut compared to yours" dilemma. We should talk about it sometime. Our discussion boiled down to feeling as though if someone says that, it comes across as pity rather than sympathy - the latter being wholly preferred. I still say everyone has the right to feel down, not matter the size of the weight they carry. But I also agree that we must accept what is out of our control and be flexible, for life will never - for anyone - be exactly what they had planned.

    And I believe you have one of the most colorful, most character-ful personalities and lives I know of on account of your the roadblocks you've hit, the detours you've taken, and subsequent treasures you've discoverd.

  2. I am so extremely proud of you LIZA, you said many things that people never come to realize in their entire life. I am taking what you said to heart and using it for myself. I am in BG tonight with the family and life is so fun. LOVE you! Caroline, your comment was so thoughtful and on track. Life is so unplanned no matter how hard we plan. I would love to sit in the background and listen to you two talk sometime , silly or serious (Lindsey with you all)

  3. Oh yes , I want a doughnut hole when you make them. I really want to be your taste tester on everything.

  4. C - You are so articulate and thoughtful. I agree with you - the argument I made does seem a little surface level and perhaps I should've explored the "relative nature of pain/frustration/drama" a bit more. Nonetheless, I know at least for myself, the "when it comes down to it, I have it pretty good" sentiment is a healthy reminder to be a better person. This is coming on the heels of a discussion I had with Dad last week. I was talking a little bit about not being able to sleep and just having so much on my mind that I felt was "out of my control." I was basically saying how I would like to have "stability" in my life, the ability to make plans down the road. I was telling this to someone who never complained or asked for my pity or sympathy, yet, someone who has such a more keen understanding of this desire for stability and long-term plans. It was just a wake-up call. I hope it doesn't come across as pity, because as I've told CLT, he is and will always be the man I knew 10 years ago; it is instead just differentiating between not liking your circumstances and not being able to change them.

    One of the greatest treasures: the love and laughter that started in Yerkes 306:)

    Carolyn - We all need a girls weekend soon. I have such smart, funny, interesting women in my life - you, Mom, Mama, Caroline, Lindsey, Leigh, Adrienne - and I wish we could all sit around and chat about stuff like this or the completely random and insignificant. And yes, you must have some. I haven't been crazy about some of the things I've cooked lately, but I have to admit, the doughnut holes were pretty doggone good.

  5. Liza
    I agree with most all of your points here. However, I take great issue with your casting aspersions on the great institution of alliteration. Liza, I've long loved the linguistic lullaby of alliteration. But, I suppose that I have to accept your attack on the most wonderful of poetic tools...since everything happens for a reason.

  6. When I read Radner's words it made me want to know more about her and what was going on in her life at the time of the quote. As much as I am intrigued by what she had to say, it is your post (your story and analysis) that completely resonates with me. You are an incredible person and I am blessed to be connected to you by friendship and family. I understand struggling with choices, changes and most of all uncertainty, it has somewhat been a theme in my life for the past several months. Perhaps it is the hard earned lessons that ambiguity has delivered to me that in the end make it so "delicious". During the past 6 months, I have struggled with feeling weak and selfish- "why should this this be getting me down, when others deal with so much more than this." I think that is a perfectionist talking, expecting too much of her 30 year old heart and mind. One delicious lesson it has all taught me- to go easy on myself. I have decided that it is completely possible (and okay) to be both grateful that "life is good" and to, at times, lose sleep, have a knot in your stomach for days, or cry over a Sugarland song- due to your own "selfish" circumstances. My second delicious lesson-all of us will experience pain, depression, uncertainty, anger and anxiety at some point in our life, sometimes all of the at the same time and it may not be short lived. It is important to develop a tolerance to all of the above- to develop a "winter state of mind," as Vivian Swift talked about. It also makes me be even more in awe of those we love (dealing with chronic illness/disability, loss of freedom, loss of family) that have perfected this "state of tolerance" and at times even thrive in the midst of it. One of my favorite parts of your post and my third delicious lesson-we CHOOSE our actions, words and thoughts. I have the following words written down in a journal that I look at often- Life is a Choice. Choose happiness. Choose love. Choose trust and optimism. Choose relaxation and peace. This very basic concept of choice is quite profound when you are actually faced with a choice to make in the midst of ambiguity.
    Love you!! :)

  7. A - I kinda love you, Wiggins....linguistic lullaby of alliteration - that's just good stuff.
    L - That settles it...I really do have the most thoughtful, most insightful, most honest friends in the world. I always appreciate your comments (on my post and on Dema's) because they are obviously not lip service. You internalize our random thoughts and really put them in the context of your own life. I so enjoy reading your thoughts and value your incredibly articulate and wise (don't roll your eyes) reflections. And, what a perfect reference to instantly made me want to go back to When Wanderers Cease to Roam. I am the one who feels lucky to be connected by family and friendship. I plan to work on cultivating that state of tolerance. Thank you for making it seem okay to do so. Love you bunches:)

  8. The "roads" you've traveled have had their share of ruts, but you have managed to become such a "wise beyond your years" person. Adversity builds character. Life is not always easy or fair, but it is life just the same.
    I find your writings so inspirational. The next time I feel a pity party coming on, I'm going to read this blog. LOL, Mom

  9. Thank you, Mom. That was the perfect thing to say. LOL.