Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Sparkles in the Darkness (+ a give-away!)

A stitched card to celebrate a wedding that filled me with grief and joy. I am learning to feel more than one thing at a time.
My loves! Today it is sunny here, and I am sitting with my coffee near the window, cats snoozing all around, one kid out walking in the woods with (i.e. 6 feet apart from) a friend, one kid still sleeping. Michael is filling the bird feeders. Both of my children are under my roof, they are finally resting enough, we are well, spring is coming, and we are counting our blessings. Sitting over a simple meal with candles lit. There is no reason that this should not be a perfect experience, even right now, and I am trying to center myself so that I don't miss the beauty. I leave my phone downstairs at night and fill my insomnia only with books and the sound of purring. When the drumbeat of panic gets loud, I try to go outside or breathe deeply or wrangle a cat into my lap or text a friend or . . . something corny. I'm not sure what to call it. Sending love out into the universe might be the best way to explain.

Our friend Ava painted this for us. Can you even?
What is it like where you are? Every day we say, "Was that just a week ago?" or even "Was that just yesterday?" Are you doing that too?

Somebody's child's artwork, as seen through a rainy car window in the Trader Joe's parking lot.
I have a goal, and it's being a better person when this is over than I was when it started. I'm not sure this is an attainable goal, but right now I am trying to shed some of my smallnesses: money worries; grievances of all kinds; the impulse to grab not only one roll of paper towels, but also the next roll, which is the last roll on the shelf. I have committed to not buying the last one of anything, if there is already one in my cart. How's that for a small victory? (Small is the answer. But still.) 

I thought I might share some ideas here, about things to do and read and make. Please feel free to do the same in the comments.

For example, if ever there were a moment to learn a yarn, string, or thread craft, this might be it, am I right? I might not actually be right. But I still have to use this occasion to repromote my friend Nicole's and my book Stitch Camp, with step-by-step instructions on all the fiber crafts: how to sew, knit, crochet, felt, embroider, and weave, and lots of little projects you can make with stuff you probably already have at home. Underground Crafter excerpted a little weaving project from it, which you can access here. And Storey has some previews of a few projects here. I need to plug the book Unbored while I'm at it. So full of good rattling-around-at-home things to do.

Meanwhile, creative folks are filling the school void so beautifully. The Kennedy Center is hosting the draw-along Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems every day at 1:00 pm EST. Wendy MacNaughton @wendymac is doing a drawing class every day on Instagram at 1:00 pm EST. Full disclosure: Ben and I tried it, and it skewed a little young for us, but we still loved her soothing and lovely Mr. Rogers way of being. (Note that both remain streamable online, so don't worry about the time conflict). My friend Kate Schatz is reading from her wonderful new book Rad American History A-Z and other books in the fab RAD series at 2:00 pm EST on her Instagram channel @k8shots.

I kinda panicked on my final library run. This is the last book I grabbed. Thoughts?
Not for kids, but posted a list of 450 Ivy League courses you can take online right now for free. And, if your public library is now closed (mine is, sob!) this might be a good chance to see if they have online books you can access. I have not yet myself read an online book ever in my life, but when I run out of Moby Dick, who knows? For now, Birdy has also started a neighborhood leave-it-on-the-front-step system of lending and borrowing books, games, puzzles, and art supplies. 

What are you reading? What is hitting the right spot for you? My friend Jennifer's brand-new book The Yellow Bird Sings is so achingly beautiful, and you don't have to just take it from biased me, since it's getting amazing reviews (I am the first person in the whole world who compared it to Room, though, I must unhumbly submit). Plus, not only that, but she's doing a give-away! Comment here for a chance to win! I'll pick a winner before Monday and then she will PUT ON GLOVES AND TAKE YOUR BOOK TO THE POST OFFICE. (She wanted me to tell you that!) I'm also in the middle of Lily King's new book, Writers & Lovers, and omg. I have waited tables AND been a writer AND dated imperfect men, so this book is banging into me in lots of places. Allow me also to recommend this crushingly perfect photo series and this brief and surreal little video by our beloved mustachioed Maira Kalman.

What else are you doing? We are playing lots of board games and music, going for lots of walks, putting some seeds in the ground, and doing the daily Spelling Bee on the NYT website (I recommend sucking it up and paying for their crossword subscription, honestly). We're trying to limit our news intake to one or two daily doses, texting a lot with our family and friends, telling our parents and kids we love them, smiling from across the street, checking in with our neighbors and friends who live alone, and eating regular, nourishing meals. In fact, the main reason I came here was to post a wonderful dal recipe, but then I kinda got carried away. Let me post it now. If you are at all interested in making the lovely fermented bean-and-rice pancakes, aka dosas, to go with it, then check out the recipe here (you can actually scroll through the preview pages for the full recipe, or you can buy Dosa Kitchen, which is the wonderful book).

Stay safe, my darlings! xo

I make this dal at least weekly but never remember to photograph it. This was leftover dal and chickpeas on a dosa, with a drizzle of the coconut-cilantro chutney from my favorite Instant Pot cookbook.
Masala Dal
This is based on a recipe from the spruce eats website. You don't have to follow it super exactly, but if you have a store nearby that sells Asian ingredients in general, or Indian beans and spices in particular, they might need your business right about now, and you can get everything you need for this recipe. The final sizzled spice mixture is called "tadka," and if really pushes this dal into the realm of the sublime. That said, go ahead skip it if you don't have the spices. The dal will be as close to sublime, still, as possible. 

This makes tons; feed a lot of people, eat it for multiple days, or plan to freeze some of it. 

1 cup moong dal (split yellow lentils that look like yellow split peas; alternately, use all red lentils)
1 cup masoor dal (regular split red lentils that are kind of coral colored)
1/4 teaspoon asafetida*
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 - 1 teaspoon cayenne or another red chili powder (depending how spicy you like it--or skip)
2 teaspoons kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
4 tablespoons coconut (or vegetable) oil or ghee, divided use
1 onion, finely chopped
3 quarter-sized slices of ginger, smashed and finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sambar masala (or curry powder)
1 cup canned tomato product (crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, or tomato puree)
1 teaspoon panch puran** 
2 finely slivered green chilis (optional)
Cooked brown basmati rice, chopped cilantro, lemon wedges, and toasted coconut shreds for serving (all optional)

*This is a wonderfully stinky, garlicky spice ground from a kind of dried sap. If anyone in your house has a gluten sensitivity, make sure you source it carefully, since it is sometimes cut with wheat flour. Also, if you don't have this, then simply leave it out!

**This spice blend is made of mustard seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, nigella seeds, and fenugreek seeds. If you have any of those, use them singly or in any combination to equal a teaspoon, or else skip this part. 

1. Rinse the dal(s) well and put them in an Instant Pot with the asafetida, turmeric, cayenne, and salt. Cover with water by about 2 inches and set the pot to the pressure cook on the "bean setting." (This will pressure cook them at high pressure for 30 minutes.) Alternately, pressure cook them in a pressure cooker, or put them in a pot on the stove and simmer over low heat, partially covered, until they are fully falling apart, around an hour.
2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of the coconut oil in a frying pan over medium-low heat and cook the onions until they are fully translucent and turning golden (around 10 to 15 minutes). 
3. Add the garlic and ginger and saute for a minute or 2 (until you can really smell them), then add the coriander, cumin, and sambar masala and cook just for a few seconds, until the scent of the spices hits you.
4. Tip the tomatoes into the pan and fry the mixture for around 5 minutes--until the oil kind of lifts up out of the tomatoes and you can smell the spices frying in it again, if that makes any sense.
5. Is the dal done cooking? If you've done it in a pressure cooker, then let the pressure release naturally, or go ahead and release it after 15 or 20 minutes. Stir the dal, stir in the tomato mixture, and taste it for salt. Does it need anything else? Does it need to simmer a few minutes with the lid off to thicken? Or does it need a splash of water to loosen up a little? Let it mingle, either way, for around 10 minutes.
6. The dal can stay on the warm setting for hours now, or you can eat it now. When you're ready, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of coconut oil in a tiny pan over medium heat and fry the panch puran and (optional) chilis until the they're very fragrant and they stop spitting, which will take just a minute or two. Stir the spices and oil into the dal.
6. Serve with or without rice and toppings.


  1. Always reassuring to see your posts - with thanks. Side q about lentils, have you found GF?

    1. Do you mean processed in a strictly gf plant? We talked to a nutritionist who told us not to worry about ingredients that are inherently gf but may be processed in gluten-containing facilities. So I'm deciding not to worry about that. But maybe that's not what you mean.

  2. Thank you so much for checking in! I miss you. Be well. xo

  3. Thank you for the post! Our online library resources have been great. Even if you're not excited about reading a book online, you could download audiobooks. I have been listening to these, as I take the dog on long walks to ease the angst!

    1. Good advice! I actually heard that there's a wonderful actor-read Moby Dick, which might be a little easier to choke down actually, ha ha!

    2. I will admit, I listen to them on "fastest" setting, so it sounds kind of like listening to a chipmunk read you a story. As a fast reader, I was getting too impatient with the normal speed!

  4. Erin M.1:30 PM

    From your friendly neighborhood librarian: It's not just eBooks! We've got magazines, audiobooks, graphic novels, comics, streaming TV and Movies, etc. Lots of good stuff. And many libraries are providing virtual programming (storytimes! genealogy!. Thanks for pimping libraries. <3

  5. How lovely. It's great to hear from you right now. Thank you for all the ideas and the reminder to be grateful. I really am enjoying having my formerly busy tween home. My other child is homeschooled and I am grateful for the structure of his online classes, it makes things seem a little more normal. And it's definitely a great time to have cats around. I bought a Kindle, something I've never wanted, because our library system's Overdrive collection doesn't seem to be robust enough, but I like Birdy's idea better. I made a small $ donation to our food bank today and that seemed like a good thing. I look forward to hearing good ideas from the rest of the wonderful online community you've created.

  6. Oh! A couple of podcast recommendations: for adults, Nerdette. For kids, Wow in the World.

  7. "I have a goal, and it's being a better person when this is over than I was when it started." This made me cry. Love your writing - thanks for keeping us grounded.

  8. Good to know you and family are doing ok. Thanks for sharing link to photo series. Reminds me when I used to drive away from my parents house after I was grown with my own family. I would look back and see he comfort and love of my childhood in the lit front windows, shaded yard, familiar front door. Goes too quick - moms been gone over 12 years and house sold soon after.

  9. Anonymous1:43 PM

    ha ha, our library closure was unexpected and the last book I had ordered was "The Rise of the Third Reich." Not exactly comforting reading...Thanks for this list of cool things, I would never have thought online drawing classes exist. Be well,

  10. A new book would please me to no end about now. I love the idea of the masala dal. I have all the ingredients and most of the spices. Including fenugreek seeds. Let's just say this is going to be an opportunity to use up these odd ingredients I've been hoarding (see also mung beans).

  11. I am trying to appreciate this time. Here we all are. All the children are staying up late together playing card games, when two of them are supposed to not even be here right now. Soon two of them plan to bake cookies, because their dad somehow skipped the "SNACK CAKES!!!" I put on the grocery list for what turned out to be our last trip to the grocery store for awhile. Three of them went on a neighborhood walk with me today, and I tried to appreciate being able to do that. We are cozy together and this is time we weren't supposed to have together and I AM grateful for it.

    Periodically I remember something you wrote a long time ago about how a friend of yours said you always go from A to B, and B is always death---something like that. I am that kind of person too, and I am trying to stay as much as possible on A and as little time as possible going to B, even though all roads lead to B.

  12. Thanks for that! I ended up going on a tangent of watching several Maira Kalman videos - how have I not done that before?! She's a treasure. I walked to Sbux this morning, which is my own version of Cheers, and I am WFH (while also enjoying various animal webcams). And kissing the cat. And my husband. Also recently finished an amazing book called "The Master Plan: My Journey from Life in Prison to a Life of Purpose" by Chris Wilson, which I highly recommend.

  13. As usual, your words bring rays of light and a feeling of "it's not just me".

  14. I don't know how long the mail will be delivered but I am writing lots of postcards so people will get a little gift in their mailbox.

    I did not grab enough before the library closed but I am lucky to have all my old favorites with me. I would love to be considered for The Yellow Bird Sings to add a little something new to the mix.

    Thanks so much for the post and chance to connect electronically! Wishing all of you the best.

  15. Oh, I am going to try to appreciate this time, but it is hard. How to explain to two small children why they can't see their friends without scaring them? Our library is also closed and a new book would be excellent.

  16. Your sense of calm is rubbing off. The idea of a cup of coffee and kids walking in the wood sounds wonderful. Thank you for being in my life... - Kate

  17. I needed this post today! I just got a new job (or returned to my old job, actually) in a school district...and now all the schools are closed and I'm stuck at home. But I'm trying to make the best of it, which right now means a lot of reading and a lot of crafting and, admittedly, a lot of bad TV. And now I have more ideas for things to read and do, thanks to this post!

  18. Betsy Hamilton2:13 PM

    I would like to enter the giveaway, and I will retry my comment THAT THE COMPUTER ATE later. Hrmph.

  19. You're back! I've missed you so! Thanks for the sane words in this chaos. I am a high school teacher learning how to be supportive of teenagers from afar. The idea of coming through this mess a better person is the best I've heard. Thanks for always being a "sparkle in the darkness".

  20. Deirdre2:27 PM

    Love to you, Catherine, my dear friend who I have never met yet I always look forward to hearing from.

  21. Hooray, I got an email alert about this post! Your words are comforting now and always. Thank you.

    Is now a good time to commission a Catherine Newman cookbook? I know I’m not the only one who’d buy it. Or, check it out from the library until the renewals run out.

  22. Midori2:44 PM

    Ava is magnificent.
    Thank you for being the you who posts unexpected things that make me want to be a better person, too.

  23. I'm literally going into withdrawal from my library (and the lovely librarians) and would love a free book! I pre-ordered YOUR book so can't wait for that.

  24. Jennifer deRosier3:09 PM

    I always look forward to reading anything you write, and I've also tried many of your recipes. I resisted the e-books for a while, but once you start, they are addictive. You can hear a review on NPR and have the book in your hands 10 minutes later!

  25. That photo series of the parents on the driveway made me ugly cry/sob. It's so beautiful!! I still haven't figured out whether this is or will be an exhibit or book or what. I will do my best to see it if it is exhibited. Thanks for this post. Much love to you. My youngest son is 9,000 miles away in Brazil, with my very elderly parents. Sigh... We don't know when he can come back. He was studying abroad there until May 26, but now his school is closed. :( Thankfully my husband is here when he was supposed to be completing his sabbatical in Denmark. Crazy, I know. Sigh...

  26. Our first social distance homeschool project was/is your fabulous fearless five-minute bread. We’re through two loaves and are doing taste tests as the dough ages. My 2nd grader, Kindergartener, and preschooler are fascinated by yeast. Thanks!

  27. Thank you, Catherine! This brightened a pretty gloomy and panic-y day. The walk helped as did finding your comforting words in my in-box. May you and your family be well.

  28. Oh there you are - Phew! yours is one of my most loved online presences, ever since you had just stopped waiting for Birdy. As always, but particularly in this quarantine time, I appreciate your calm, your recommendations and humor. Love to you and yours X

  29. Thank you for all of this! I always love your posts and glean such inspiration and tips - especially appreciated right now.

  30. I just posted on Facebook an offer to buy Stitch Camp for any friends whose kids are younger than mine (16yo) and searching for much stuck-at-home fun.

    Thank you for everything, including this post.

  31. So glad to hear an update from you Catherine! Thanks for your calming words in these crazy times.

  32. Catharine5:44 PM

    All of these things comfort and delight me. Thank you.
    And I wanted to selfishly suggest something else that delights me enormously at the moment. There is a group of women in Australia who run an excellent beast called Pub Choir (there are similar versions elsewhere, like Choir!Choir!Choir!). All of the things cancelled for them (they were on your fair shores and needed to skedaddle quicksticks), so they have made Couch Choir! For everyone all over the world. Find them on the fb, it is the absolute best.

  33. Thank you for the check in and the update. I was delighted to get the notice in my email and rushed over here to read what I knew would be comforting and also give some direction for what to do during this time. I am technically working from home so the days are going by quickly as we try to balance work and "school". Whatever. It will work all work out. I am excited about the Ivy League classes. Thank you! I'm off to check that out.

  34. Marina9:28 PM

    Oh how very excellent to hear from you! i am a midwife and will be working working working while all my lovelies are spending time together at home
    But catching babies is the most anti-depressive activity of all (I just shower and wash and think about bleaching myself before I get home each day/night)

    I would also like to enter the give-away: your recommendations have always been superb

    I suggest _Girl, Woman, Other_ which won the Booker and DESERVED IT GREATLY.

    Love from West Virginia

  35. What a treat to see your name in my inbox! I am a lonnnng time reader - my kids are 19 and 17, so I remember your fantastic posts on BabyCenter back in the day. Your writing is, in a word, sublime. Comforting, inspiring, moving. So glad you continue to share your talents with us. Thank you.

  36. My daughter would love to read this...

  37. Thank you so much for taking the time to write. I've been following the Moby Dick Twitter account for awhile, and it's almost inspired me to read it again. The last time was 1994....

  38. Your comment about *sending love out into the universe* got me. It encapsulates what I realized I've been frenetically trying to do with my waking hours -- making connections, being sure that my loved ones do realize that they are loved. Everyone seems so far away and that is just so difficult. Thank you for this post.

  39. Amy Ranger6:52 PM

    Your post was just what I needed today! Thanks as always for the recommendations and the inspiration. Sending love to everyone! We are trying to figure out how many acts of kindness we can collectively do during this time, either by mail or drop-off or FaceTime or just energetically.

  40. Oh, I had come here this week looking for your warmth, wit, and wisdom. Thank you for posting. Glad that your family is all together, and that you are keeping well. You are so right about limiting the news and not limiting the love.

  41. I have missed you so much.

  42. That dal looks great! I always love to hear from you, and look forward to it.

  43. I look forward to your posts for so many reasons, but especially for your book recommendations. I’d love to win a copy!