When I was in school, I had a really hard time with critiques. It’s kind of a cornerstone of the art school experience and it loomed large in my mental landscape. There’s a lot of mythology around the value of critiques: how they prepare you to be able to speak about your work, how they throw you in at the deep end so that you learn to survive later, in that less kind real world, how you learn to grow a thick skin and receive criticism with a modicum of grace. None of that was true for me. I was way, way too sensitive, and it took me three years to learn how to speak about my work, and I did not learn how to effectively field criticism. Nor did I find that feedback outside of school was less kind. Instead it has been more kind.
This isn’t to say that I don’t see the value in a thoughtful critique or in receiving challenging feedback. It was just the context of the program I was in: often there wasn’t a lot of thought about the delivery and the remarks were guided by the first person to offer feedback; it would set a negative or a positive tone. What I have learned since is that we can choose to see the good in something, or we can choose to see the bad. There’s no accounting for taste, as they say. To see the good or the bad in any kind of creative work is a choice.
My last semester there, I decided to kind of own my critique. I loved the work that I had made so much, and I really fucking believed in it. So I went into that final critique and just made it a positive experience. My own enthusiasm was reflected in the feedback – I could see how that confidence quietly persuaded people out of a knee-jerk default towards negativity to one of curiosity and positivity and interest. It was a really powerful experience.
I’m thinking about all of this lately because I’m starting to ramp up the planning for my book tour. (!!!) And those critiques are really my only point of reference for standing in front of people and talking about my work. I had a period of panic – the shy, introverted part of me nearly convinced me to just not do a tour, not step outside of my comfort zone, not stand in front of a group of strangers stricken with panic and forgetting how to speak.
But I realized that there’s a striking difference: these events in support of my book aren’t about finding the faults in the work. They’re about celebrating a shared passion for cooking, and vegetables, and color, and farmers markets, and seasonality. They’re about community; this is where I get to emerge from the intensely private place where that book was made, and connect with y’all, face to face. And I’m really excited about that. It feels like the reward for the work that has been done. I’ll probably still be nervous, and I still have no idea what to talk about, but I’m figuring that out.
For a long time I was trying to work out a creative take on tabbouleh, one that used quinoa instead of bulgur and was flexible with the veggies and the herbs. But what I kept making fell flat. When I pulled this together last week, I had envisioned it as more of a grain salad than anything else. But tasting it, I realized that this was the tabbouleh that I was after. It stretches the definition of tabbouleh, sure, but it hangs on to its core elements: the generous parsley, the bright lemon tang, the grain that holds it together, the brightness. I love what both Sara and Ashley have done with the harissa; it’s a testament to the versatility of this bright, vivid sauce.
For the tabbouleh:
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1.5 cups water
2 cups asparagus, sliced diagonally into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups carrots, sliced diagonally into 1/4-inch pieces
2 cups quartered radishes
1 tablespoon olive oil
For the harissa:
1 cup coarsely chopped parsley
1/2 cup coarsely chopped mint leaves
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
1 or 2 jalapeños, coarsely chopped, and seeded if desired
Juice of one lemon
1 large clove garlic, pressed or minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Combine the quinoa and 1.5 cups water with a little sea salt in a small pot. Cover and bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and cook until water is absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.
While the quinoa cooks, roast the veggies. Toss them with the tablespoon of olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees until browned and just cooked, about 20 minutes. Toss once or twice to cook evenly.
Prepare the harissa. In a food processor, combine the parsley, cilantro, mint, jalapeño, lemon juice, cumin, fennel and sea salt. Pulse once or twice to combine. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil. Combine until a coarse paste has formed.
In a large mixing bowl, toss the quinoa and veggies with the harissa. I used all of it. You may want to start with 3/4 of the sauce and taste to see. Serve at room temp.