“There’s nothing I love more than a YouTube playlist that makes me teary eyed.” My friend said as we settled into my couch. The pho from dinner snuggled up in our stomachs as it’s slow digestion created a coma that was to the liking of a warm blanket. We were just getting the first taste of winter and we had opted to stay in for the evening.
“Oh, well, you’ve come to the right place.” I said, becoming Vanna White. I played him some of my favorite YouTube deep cuts that I had collected over the years. Some lowbrow X Factor videos (but actually not lowbrow because Hannah Barrett needs a record deal) which naturally progressed to live Janis Joplin footage, Amy Winehouse in the studio, and Erykah Badu bolting aloud “believe in yourself.” Each one of these voices had carried me through a transitional period in my life and I was back at a place where the ground beneath me felt not sturdy nor shaken, rather not there at all. I wasn’t sure what had been going on with me lately, but something had changed and I felt I was a ghost within myself. And this time, this transitional period, was different. It felt sadder because I wasn’t sure I could visualize the end of it.
As my playlist continued and low quality videos from the 70’s to early 2000’s splotched the pixels of my television, I was revisiting each memory that the songs were linked to.
Janis Joplin was the presence of sound in my Kaimuki home back in college. She was bong rips and belly laughs on a lanai that painted only the best views of Honolulu. That home had been the first place I got to know myself. I was 22 and my room was the size of a walk in closet, but it was right off of the kitchen—my sanctuary. My friend and roommate Jessica and I would cook together often. We’d set the table, that was nuzzled just under the very edge of our lanai’s roof, and drink up the porous sights of Diamond Head and the miniature headlights of cars driving up and down Waikiki. Some nights, the remininats of dusty glitter would appear in the sky from Friday night fireworks. And because we were so high up, it felt like we were bigger than the fireworks, and the hills, and the buildings - we were safe on top of the steepest hill of the neighborhood. We’d packed a bowl, eat our meal, and laughed so hard it was like we hadn’t experienced sadness before. Janis was always in the background.
When I first moved back to Hawaii for college, I didn’t have a place to stay. My family had left Oahu and a lot of my friends lived outside of Honolulu. I checked in to a hostel on a side street of Kuhio Avenue, where I eventually lived and managed the establishment for some time. When I wasn’t working or at school, in my first year back, I was hanging out in the communal area of the hostel. In the middle of the open air hangout spot, I’d sit at a high bar and write or listen to music. “You can’t obsess over it anymore.” A guest once said to me as he noticed I had been watching numerous videos of Amy Winehouse performances. My eyes must have spoken for me. They’d react to the movement of her voice. He was a radical fairy visiting from Tennessee, a fellow queer—which didn’t happen often. “You are torturing yourself by watching those videos.” He was trying to get me out of my thoughts but I felt I was growing from her.
In 2014, I moved to New York, a year after leaving Hawaii. Badu was my cooking soundtrack, my cleaning soundtrack, my walking soundtrack—shit, my life soundtrack. The vibrations of her voice soothed me when boiled chickpeas and rice were on the menu daily. And if I was lucky or had some extra coins, I’d splurge on a marriage of flavors—the saltiness of the sea with miso, the aromatics of cilantro, and the nutty sesame. Alone in my kitchen, I’d sing along to Bag Lady and Didn’t Cha Know. Two forms of therapy combined, cooking and music. One I was good at… the other not so much.
Back in my Brooklyn apartment, the remnants of pho no longer comforted me. My stomach was suddenly being rung out like a damp washcloth meant to be dry. It’s ridiculous but had I lived the best years of my life? I had lived in ten different cities, traveled to seven different countries, and time had yet to become any sort of authority. What the fuck was I doing? The happy memories felt like burdens, as if they were mocking me. The years were stacked too high and my “aging” began to strangle me. What would make me feel fulfilled? What will make the next 50—hopefully —years feel like my life was worth it? What will keep me engaged, positive, and interested to keep living?
The measure of time overwhelmed me as my playlist continued. Chris had left for the evening and my mind was nowhere near ready to call it a night.
Roasted Beet, Chickpea, and Cilantro Shiso Salad
Flatbread (adopted by Joshua Mcfadden)
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more
1 cup plain vegan yogurt
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 bunch of beets, greens trimmed and quartered (you could also thinly slice them and do a vinegar soak if you’d prefer them fresh—that was my original plan)
Salt and pepper
A sprinkle of chili flakes
1 can of chickpeas, cooked in salted water
10 shiso leaves, chiffonade
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
1 tbs miso
2 tbs sesame oil
1 tbs lime juice
1 tbs vegan yogurt
Preheat your oven to 400°.
In a roasting pan, add your golden beets, salt, pepper, a generous amount of olive oil, and a sprinkle of chili flakes.
Allow to roast for about 45 to 50 min.
In a large bowl mix together all of your dry ingredients, add yogurt and mix until the flour is beginning to moisten and come together.
On a floured surface, pour out your dough. It doesn’t need to be perfectly formed. This dough is forgiving. Knead for a minute, until smooth.
Cut into four piece and wrap in a reusable “cling wrap.” Allow to sit for 15 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients. Set aside.
Once your beets are roasted, add to a large bowl with cilantro, shiso, salt and pepper, chickpeas, and sesame oil.
On a floured surface, roll out your four pieces of dough.
Heat up a skillet over medium high heat and add a tablespoon of oil. Once shiny and hot add one of your rolled our quarters and cook until both sides are golden and beautiful.
Once your flatbreads are ready, top with salad mixture, miso dressing, and seeds.