Everyone always told my sister and I that we would become good friends when we got older. I’m not sure if they said this because we fought like cats and dogs, or because they really believed it. By the time we were teenagers, we barely spoke to each other, and when we did it was usually in a passive aggressive tone. When I went off to college, I barely saw her, other than a few times when I was home for the summer. Throughout our 20’s (we are merely 17 months apart) I waited for the intimacy that everyone said would magically happen to us. It never did.
Heidi, my sister, and I couldn’t be more different. As a teenager, she ran with the “wild” crowd–she smoked, drank, and listened to heavy metal. I, on the other hand, found her world to be a bit scary and intimidating. I was drawn more towards the funny, smart kids, and listened exclusively to pop music. I have to believe that our troubled home life informed both of our worlds at the time. Perhaps she gave in to the hopelessness of it all, or maybe it was just her way of coping. I desperately wanted to believe that there was a bigger world out there, and tried to find people that had access to a brighter reality. I remember getting all A’s in the 9th grade, for the first time ever, and understanding that somehow this was key to me transcending whatever it was I was trying to escape.
One of the characteristics that make us so different is that I really enjoy having thoughtful, in-depth conversations with people in general. I am fascinated by human behavior and relationships between human beings. Of course, I realize that not everyone is comfortable with intimacy. And I have always gotten the sense that this type of conversation makes my sister squirm, that true intimacy in general makes her uncomfortable. Again, it might have something to do with the way we were raised. Perhaps she is merely trying to survive out there, but I am often times searching for meaning and connection with other people. Because of this dissonance, our relationship has always felt stagnant.
My sister recently went through a divorce, and I think her heart has been cracked open a bit. Leonard Cohen sings, “There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” I do think that some people’s hearts have to be cracked wide open by life before they can start feeling joy. My sister and I have grown closer since her divorce, and I think we are both making an effort at our relationship. We are still polar opposites in so many ways, but I think we are both becoming more accepting of our differences. Instead of waiting for us to develop this incredibly affectionate relationship, I am trying to appreciate that we are two distinctly different individuals who just happen to be sisters.
I don’t think I knew what haricots verts were until I was in my late twenties. I had a friend who was a Francophile and made them for dinner one night. Simply because of their fancy-sounding name, they seemed so much more appealing than regular ol’ green beans. And if fact they do have a much more complex flavor than their American counterpart. They scream spring weather to me, and so I made this recipe a few weeks ago in hopes that it would help Mother Nature induce warmer climes. It’s a nice, crunchy vegetable side that is packed with flavor from the garlic, hazelnuts, and orange.
Haricots Verts and Snow Peas with Hazelnut and Orange
Adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook
14 oz. (about 2 cups) haricots verts
14 oz. (about 2 cups) snow peas
1/2 cup unskinned hazelnuts
3/4 oz. chives, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. hazelnut oil (or another nut oil, if unavailable, or simply olive oil)
coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Using a small, sharp knife, trim the stalk ends off the beans and the snow peas, keeping the two separate.
2. Bring plenty of unsalted water to a boil in a large saucepan. You need lots of space for the beans, as this is crucial for preserving their color. Blanch the beans in the water for 4 minutes, then drain into a colander and run them under plenty of tap water until cold. Leave to drain and dry. Repeat with the snow peas, but blanch for only 1 minute.
3. While the beans are cooking, scatter the hazelnuts over a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 minutes. Leave until cool enough to handle, then rub them in a clean kitchen towel to get rid of most of the skin. Chop the nuts with a large, sharp knife. They should be quite rough; some can even stay whole.
4. Using a zester, zest the orange, being careful to avoid the bitter white pith.
5. To assemble the dish, mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, toss gently, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve at room temperature.