The Uncertainty of Mental Illness

Acknowledging Uncertainty

Collective hours, days, weeks, and months of my family members’ lives have been spent trying to understand and unpack my brother’s inexplicable decisions and lack of reaction to consequence. Alex dropped out of high school, but the classroom doesn’t suit everyone. Alex was discharged from the Army, but they were just drug tested to make an example of his platoon. Alex lost his left leg in a car wreck, but everyone has a false sense of immortality and drives drunk when they’re 22. Alex shot himself in the head and lived, but “god has a plan” for someone who’s survived so much. Alex lives under a bridge, but that fabled rock bottom must be imminent.

Silence falls over the family analysts, downcast eyes resting on a coffee mug handle being pushed back and forth between someone’s thumbs. There isn’t much crying anymore. Those salty reserves were depleted long ago.

Accepting Uncertainty

When I moved to NYC I packed my Diane von Furstenberg, Wellbutrin, and mounting guilt for leaving so much tumult back in Texas. The unidentified seeds of my depression and anxiety sprouted in childhood, their insidious, invisible tendrils choking me through high school and college. Because my mental illnesses were finally able to be identified and medicated, I became able to live some semblance of a normal life.

Alex has not been so fortunate. There has been so much anger bestowed upon my brother due to his inexplicable mental state, including from me. My failure to consider he could not help himself lasted for several years, and it’s only been just recently that I’ve let anger evaporate and acceptance rain down on us both. When I think of my brother, it is with sadness, but it’s mostly with love and mercy. Our genes come from the same pool, and it just so happens that the combination he got created a long-suffering mental state that is either not yet defined in the mental health community or is shrouded in obscurity, yet to be matched and applied to him. It is not his fault.

Embracing Uncertainty

As an orderly person, it is a joy to classify and organize things, physically or mentally. Accepting the uncertainty of my brother’s co-occurrence of mental illness and addiction has been a paramount, unanticipated challenge. For so long family members have been hoping for the proverbial lightbulb to turn on in Alex’s mind, his final pivot toward a healed, “normal” life. Alex inspires me to reconsider normalcy, expectations, and success, because those things look different for every person. For my brother, it’s a sister who accepts and loves him from 1500 miles away. As if we were sitting next to each other, it is a virtual embrace, and for now it’s the best we can do.

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Recipe: Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Sweet potatoes are fabulous for you, and gnocchi is delicious and can easily be made vegan. If you’re intimidated by the idea of making your own gnocchi, well, so was I. Fear not! I was delighted by the ease of this recipe. Also, orange food makes for a good October dish. #spooky

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Ingredients

2 medium sweet potatoes
1 T ground flax
3 T water
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 t sea salt plus a pinch
1/2 t nutmeg
2 c flour

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  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  2. Pierce each sweet potato several times with a fork and bake for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
  3. Combine ground flax and water and allow a few minutes to congeal. Mix well and set aside.
  4. Once cool enough to work with, remove potato peels and mash potatoes in a large bowl.
  5. Mix garlic, sea salt, nutmeg, and flax egg into the potatoes. Finally, mix in the flour a little at a time until you have soft dough. I recommend the dough blade in a food processor for this part.
  6. Bring a large pot of  water and pinch of sea salt to boil.
  7. Roll dough out on a floured surface and cut into pieces, roughly 1″ (see photos).
  8. Drop pieces into boiling water, allowing them to cook until they float to the surface. Remove floating pieces with a slotted spoon.
  9. Serve with organic Earth Balance or a vegan cream sauce.

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Serves 4-6.

Adapted from Sweet Potato Gnocchi.

Recipe: Malai Kofta

Malai kofta is my all time favorite Indian dish. I knew it was vegetarian, but didn’t know much else, ingredient-wise. I learned that it usually has heavy cream, so here’s a vegan version to make at home.

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Ingredients

Part One: Kofta
3-4 russet potatoes*
14 oz extra firm tofu
1/2 c arrowroot**
2 T cilantro leaves and stems, minced, more leaves for garnish
1 T lemon juice
2 t garam masala
1 3/4 t sea salt
1 c frozen green peas
coconut oil for baking

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Part Two: Sauce
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 32 oz can diced tomatoes
1/4 c cashews
4 cloves garlic, minced
1″ piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 1/2 t garam masala
1 t ground turmeric
1/2  t cayenne pepper
1 t sea salt
1 t fenugreek
1 15 oz can coconut milk

*Or 4-6 yukon gold potatoes
**Or cornstarch

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  1. Cover potatoes with water in a pot, then cover with lid. Bring water to boil over high heat, then turn heat down to medium for 10-15 minutes until potatoes are fully cooked and easily pierced with a fork. Drain water from the potatoes, mash them smooth, and set aside.
  2. In another large pot add onion, canned tomatoes and their juices, cashews, garlic, ginger, garam masala, turmeric, cayenne, sea salt, and fenugreek. Cover and bring to a simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Transfer onion / tomato mixture to a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Make sure to vent so hot air doesn’t build up in the food processor or blender. Pour mixture back into pot and add coconut milk. Mix together, cover, and set aside until kofta are ready.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, mash the tofu by squeezing it in your hands until it’s creamy or blend it in a food processor until smooth.
  5. Preheat the oven to 425 ºF.
  6. Mix potatoes, arrowroot, cilantro, lemon juice, garam masala, and sea salt into mashed tofu. Test consistency by forming a ball. It should hold together and might stick to your hands a little, but if it is very sticky and falling apart add a bit more arrowroot.
  7. Mix in frozen peas.
  8. Line a baking tray with parchment and spray or brush with oil.
  9. Shape kofta mixture into balls, about one tablespoon each. Arrange kofta so there is about an inch between each, then spray or brush the tops with oil. Bake for 40 minutes and flip halfway through, until both sides are golden and the edges of the kofta are crispy and chewy.
  10. To serve, pour sauce over kofta and garnish with cilantro, if desired. Enjoy with naan or brown basmati rice.
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tofu post-food processor

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Omnomnomnomnom.

Serves ten.

Adapted from VEGAN MALAI KOFTA: INDIAN DUMPLINGS IN CURRY TOMATO CREAM SAUCE.

Recipe: Greek Quinoa Salad

If stanning for my own cooking is wrong, then I don’t wanna be right. Addictive, easy Greek quinoa salad, right this waaay!

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Ingredients

3 1/2 c vegetable broth
2 c quinoa
1 c grape tomatoes, halved
3/4 c fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 c Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1/2 c red onion, diced
4 oz feta cheese, chopped
3 T olive oil
3 T apple cider vinegar
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 lemon, juiced
sea salt and black pepper to taste

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  1. Combine broth and quinoa in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover and lower to simmer about 15 minutes, until broth is absorbed and quinoa is fluffy. Transfer to large serving dish.
  2. Stir all other ingredients into quinoa, tossing until evenly coated.
  3. Eat warm or pop into fridge for an hour to let flavors meld. It’s good both ways… I’ve done the legwork.

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Apollo

“Every salad you make, every thing you bake. Every drink you shake every breath you take I’ll be watching you.” – Apollo Aldrich

Serves ten.

Adapted from Best Greek Quinoa Salad.

Recipe: Roasted Garlic Cauliflower

In my head, an ideal dinner is 4-6 different vegetarian sides that people can pick, choose, and build a plate from. This roasted garlic cauliflower is delicious and everyone will eat it, even those who don’t typically like cauliflower.

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Ingredients

1 cauliflower head, chopped
3 T olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
sea salt and black pepper to taste
1/3 c freshly grated parmesan cheese, more to taste*
1 T fresh parsley, chopped

*For a vegan dish, leave out parmesan cheese or replace it with a vegan substitute. From my experience with vegan parmesan cheese, I prefer the real deal or none at all over the alternative.

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  1. Preheat oven to 450° F and lightly oil a large casserole dish.
  2. In a bowl, toss the cauliflower, garlic, olive oil, sea salt, and pepper until evenly coated.
  3. Bake for 25 minutes, stirring halfway through cook time.
  4. Top cauliflower with parmesan and parsley, then broil dish for about three minutes until top is golden brown.

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Mmm. Simplicity.

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Serves four.

Adapted from Roasted Garlic Cauliflower.