The Good Press — Issue #9

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Welcome back to another edition of The Good Press.

Thanks for reading, subscribing, and sharing thoughtful feedback. As always, I hope you find this and every issue of The Good Press to be worth your time.

Culture

As mentioned last week, I spent the better part of last week in the Poconos, at my partner’s family’s cabin, a little country house off the beaten path.

Before the pandemic, my partner and I would take little weekend getaways out there, spending time with her parents and their many family friends. We spent most of the holiday season out there this past year, from Hanukkah through Christmas and New Years, until we returned to New York in January.

One of my favorite things about spending time with my partner’s family is learning all about their culture and getting to share it with them. She is a first-generation Romanian-American, and her family and many family friends are from Romania, a midsized European nation of about 19 million people.

Before my partner and I met, I knew little about Romania. Most people who don’t personally know Romanians or people of Romanian descent probably first think of Vlad the Impaler, aka Vlad Dracul, a 15th-century Romanian ruler that much of the folklore of Dracula in modern culture is based upon.

In the year and a half (and counting) that we’ve been together, it’s been so fun and interesting for me to learn all about her family’s culture, everything from their personal stories, their ancestors’ stories, their food, their celebrations, holidays, traditions, and customs. I’m so grateful that they share it with me.

I’ve shared my meaningful cultural traditions with her, too. Sure, baseball may not be as deeply rooted as an ancestral homeland, but it goes back generations for my family, and I’m happy to share it with her all the same. In all seriousness, sharing cultures is one of the most beautiful things about meeting new people and getting their perspectives. As a lifelong learner, it’s fascinating to see similarities and differences between our respective worlds.

We’re back in New York City now, having returned from a week of fresh air in the countryside. We had some mail to get to, and I imagine we’ll spend a few more weeks getting affairs in order back here before we prepare to pack for another Poconos trip in July, potentially for a lot longer than just one week.

It was so nice being out there, though it’s tricky thinking twice about the hugs and kisses we’re used to sharing. It’s one of the unfortunate side effects of the pandemic, that we have to shy away from hugs, kisses, high fives, etc.

It’s hard not to hug your loved ones the way you’re so used to, but in these times, unless you can legitimately account for all of your social interactions the previous few weeks and the other person’s as well, better safe than sorry.

Thankfully for us, her parents have been safe and mindful of this as COVID survivors, and communities big and small are doing their best to look out for one another. It’s definitely a culture change here in this country, between the masks and social distancing when you have to run public errands, and the thinking twice about physical contact or closeness. It’s no fun to have to sacrifice some warmth, but it’s much better than losing someone you love.

Please be safe out there, even with boredom creeping in and the weather warming up. You may have an understandably strong desire to be close to one another again. Just remember that this virus will endure until a vaccine emerges and the majority of the population is inoculated. We’ve all been very patient. The virus is more patient and it often spreads very insidiously. We can and will get through this, but like baseball, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Recommendations

I previously recommended The PosCast with Joe Posnanski back in Issue #2, when I debuted the Recommendations section of the newsletter. This week’s episode was terrific, as baseball reporter extraordinaire Ken Rosenthal joined Joe and Ellen Adair as they discussed the state of baseball. It’s a great listen, some nice slices of the culture I love sharing: baseball and irreverence.

I’ve enjoyed the reader feedback I’ve gotten to recipes I’ve shared in previous issues (Issue #8 — banana bread, Issue #5 — chocolate soda cake).

Today, in the spirit of sharing cultures, I’m excited to share a recipe with you all that’s quickly become very near and dear to my heart (and my stomach).

It’s a Romanian dish that’s been a go-to favorite of mine ever since my partner and her family first introduced it to me a year or so ago.

“Salată de vinete,” aka “vinete,” a literal translation of “eggplant salad.”

Salată de vinete, topped with fresh tomato slices

I had her parents dictate the recipe to me to ensure it’s as precise as possible. It’s simple from an ingredients perspective, but it does take some finesse. Ideally, it takes a few hours or overnight for proper texture and consistency.

How to make “salată de vinete,” aka “vinete,” as dictated to me by experts:

Ingredients:

4–5 medium-sized eggplants*

Some canola oil, as needed

One medium sweet onion, or to taste

Some salt, to taste

*Selecting the eggplants: This recipe is best with dark purple eggplants, ideally long and not round, firm but elastic enough to bounce back when you squeeze them. Once you have four to five good ones, fire up the grill, because this requires heat.

Directions:

  • Peel the leaves around the eggplant stems to expose as much of the purple eggplant skin as possible to ensure even cooking.
  • Puncture eggplants with a fork all around to aerate them throughout (Note: if you don’t do this, they can explode from the heat and pressure).
  • Roast the eggplants on an open fire or a grill, turning them often; keep them on the heat until the entire skin of the eggplant becomes black and brittle. It should break off when you hit it with your fingertip.
Eggplants on the grill, aerated and ready to roast
  • Turn the heat off and cut the eggplants lengthwise with incisions to allow them to drain, but don’t cut them all the way through into pieces.
  • Take the eggplants off the grill, let them cool by putting them on an inclined tray/cutting board in the sink so that they can drain completely.
  • Once eggplants are cooled, peel them, scoop out the insides with your hands, and scrape the flesh off the skin interior with a soup spoon.
  • Discard all of the burnt skin fragments and put all of the eggplant flesh into a colander/pasta strainer to drain for a few hours or overnight.

Once the eggplant is fully-drained, chop/crush it finely with a large wooden spoon, or a thick wooden cleaver, (pictured below). Most people don’t have a handmade wooden vinete cleaver, and that’s why most people need to have properly-made vinete in their lives. Nevertheless, a wooden spoon will do. (Note: Do NOT blend or food process the eggplant as it will ruin the texture).

The wooden cleaver that the true vinete connoisseurs use to chop up the eggplant
  • Chop and stir until the eggplant is a uniform consistency.
  • Chop the onion very finely and add it to eggplant and stir some more
  • Start adding canola oil, gradually, and stir the mixture to incorporate the oil evenly. You’ll probably use about 0.5–1 cup of oil, but keep tasting it until it gets there. More oil makes it smoother or sweeter, but don’t add enough for the oil to float on top, just enough for it to be incorporated.
  • Add salt until you reach desired taste, start with one or two pinches.

Once your vinete is cooled, you can serve it with optional tomato slices and bread to your liking. It’s a perfect side dish for any meal, and it can be enjoyed on its own or with bread or crackers. It’s delicious, nutritious, and I hope everyone who tries it out enjoys it as much as I do.

I’m not a big eggplant eater, or at least I wasn’t until vinete came into my life. Now? I humbly request it every time we visit her parents. I can’t get enough.

Enjoy, bon appétit, or as they say it in Romanian, poftă bună!

Parting Thoughts

It goes without saying that culture is something that affects the way we perceive the world. I truly believe that when we can see things from one another’s perspectives and get a sense of where someone is coming from, we can truly understand each other and come together in a much deeper way.

Last week, I got some heavy thoughts off my chest about racial and social injustice, and this week I want to share this thoughtful essay my partner wrote recently about racism, antisemitism, privilege, and prejudice.

She’s so brilliant and eloquent, and she expresses her thoughts more beautifully and thoughtfully than I ever could. I’m glad she wrote this, and I’m excited to see the various artforms she explores on her new blog/portfolio. There will be lighter fare to come, but the fight for justice deserves sustained attention, and I’m grateful that she chose to tackle such a thorny subject.

Be mindful of the world around you, do not be afraid to challenge conventions when they are a threat to justice, liberty, and freedom. As Dr. King wrote nearly 60 years ago, in words that ring as true now as ever:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”.

If you have a voice, speak up. Make it heard loud and clear at the ballot box. Be safe, be wise, be informed, and be purposeful. Remember to maintain your balance when you feel overwhelmed. We are living through the most interesting of times, and we all have a chance to change the course of history.

Take care of yourself and take care of others around you. Be well, do your best, and remember that we are stronger together than we are divided apart.

Until next time, I’ll do my best to continue spreading love and rejecting hate.

I know you can, too.

-Jon

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