The lessons of vegan fried onions, the evolution of "traditions" & freeing ourselves from the myth of having it all
Vol. 1, Issue 14
This week, I offer a cautionary tale about vegan fried onions.
My in-laws joined us for Thanksgiving, which meant overhauling all of my classic Midwestern holiday recipes to be allergen-free. The most challenging (and most important) adaption was to turn every casserole and pie dairy-free. Ghee was the secret weapon for altering most dishes, but one side required a complete re-envisioning: the traditional French’s green-bean casserole. I’m nostalgic about it since it was always my grandmother’s favorite, so I didn’t want to drop it entirely. Instead, I found a highfalutin recipe that involved blanching the green beans and sautéing fresh mushrooms, among several other fussy steps. To top it off was supposed to be a generous amount of sliced onions soaked in almond milk, dredged in gluten-free flour, and fried in avocado oil. Perfect!
I attempted to make the crunchy onions the night before Thanksgiving, just to save myself a little time on the Big Day. But almost immediately, it became obvious that the recipe was … not going to work. The flour didn’t stick to the onions, no matter how long I soaked them, and when I tossed them in oil, they turned gelatinous rather than crisp. The whole batch was an utter loss, and worse, the gluten-free flour somehow turned into a substance stronger than cement on the bottom of the pot.
As I scrubbed furiously at my mistake, I also finally admitted to myself that the remote job I’d interviewed for the previous week had clearly passed on me in favor of another candidate. I’d been holding out hope that I’d get a call with good news just before Thanksgiving, but as the West Coast work day wound down, I realized that wasn’t going to happen. And so, I’d not only failed at frying allergen-free onions, but I’d also failed to land a job almost identical to the one I’d had right after college. Somehow, a decade more of writing experience and two master’s degrees had somehow made me less employable than I was at 22.
But the pot-scrubbing pity-party didn’t last long, simply because I didn’t have time to dwell. Instead, I spent the entire next day in the kitchen—and I do mean the entire day—and that evening, my family sat down to a big meal that was inclusive for everybody. The vast majority of my culinary experiments worked out, including the rest of the fussy green-bean casserole. And now this week, instead of enduring a stressful on-boarding at a new job, I made play-dough for my daughter, chit-chatted with my writing group, checked in with my agent, and wrote this newsletter, among other things.
It’s not easy, sometimes, for me to stay focused on the big picture of how I’m spending my time. Day-to-day, attempting to write novels while caring for a toddler is exhausting and even overwhelming, but it also often feels like “not enough.” And so sometimes, I’m tempted by opportunities and tasks that sound prestigious and important, but in reality would also take substantial time and energy away from both my creative work and my little kid.
The current structure of my life can make it tricky to recognize when I’m spuddling instead of truly progressing with my biggest personal and professional goals, but of one thing I am very, very certain: there is no reason in this world, none at all, to spend a single minute of your wild and precious life making vegan fried onions.
According to Spotify, this was my most-listened-to song of 2021. May it bring you as much eerie inspiration as it has me. Also, “nightmare on repeat” is a pretty solid description my fried-onion misadventure.
Tossing a Bird That Does Not Fly Out of a Plane, The Atlantic. “To paraphrase Joseph Stalin, one turkey thrown out of a plane is a tragicomedy; 46 million turkeys killed in a slaughterhouse is Thanksgiving dinner. You can hold the suffering of one being in your head and your heart, but the suffering of many becomes static.”
How to Blend in at an Alpine Krampus Parade, Atlas Obscura. Apologies for sharing one of my own pieces this week, but I can’t resist considering this weekend is Krampusnacht, an Austrian holiday I learned to love during my time abroad. There’s something deeply fascinating about encountering the remnants of pagan rituals still embedded in contemporary Christmas-time traditions—and a valuable reminder of how “traditions” evolve over time. All of this is just to say that the hyper specifics of our current holiday activities are less important than the miraculous act of simply gathering together and celebrating at all.
A Young Wife Becomes Pregnant—with an Owl, New York Times. “A spate of recent fiction about motherhood has helped broaden a canon that has been historically inaccessible to writers who, whether by raising children or working long hours or caring for elders, spend their days in service of others. Sometimes these books simply reiterate the sentiment that parenting—even when rich and white—is difficult, but at their keenest, they offer complex reimaginings of societal roles.”
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the constant challenge of balancing my writing with … anything else. In particular, I’ve been seeking out other writers who’ve somehow managed to publish while keeping small humans alive. A friend directed me to Writer Mother Monster, an absolute treasure trove of wisdom about this very topic:
“Like many women, I grew up with the message: ‘I’m a liberated woman; I can have a career and a family and pursue my passion,” writes WMM founder Lara Ehrlich. “If I just ‘lean in,’ I can ‘have it all’ … When I became a mother, I realized that’s impossible [and] I began looking for role models who were both mothers and writers, and I started taking mother-writers to lunch. ‘How do you do it?’ I asked. ‘How do you balance everything?’ Their answer was almost always, ‘I don’t. My life is a sh-t show.’ It was liberating to realize that the idea of ‘having it all’ is a myth I could abandon, and instead work toward ‘doing what’s important.’”
To get started, I highly recommend watching the episode of Lara’s interview with Rachel Yoder, author of Nightbitch.
We are always falling in love or quarreling, looking for jobs or fearing to lose them, getting ill and recovering, following public affairs. If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.
This week, in the semi-calm between holiday storms, I invite you to consider if any of your current commitments are, perhaps, not worth the time and energy you’re giving them. You may not be able to back out of those commitments right this minute, but at least identifying the vegan fried onions of your to-do list might help you feel a little more intentional and empowered during this annual time of mental and logistical overload. If you’re like me, your time is even more constricted than usual this month, and it may feel like your personal creative work is the necessary thing to give up in favor of doing so many things for so many others.
But maybe, just maybe, there’s one tiny thing you can drop this December in exchange for an hour with a notebook, colored pencil, etc. All I’m suggesting, all I’m prompting, is to simply ask yourself if there’s a little bit of when available right now for the things that matter most to you.