At first glance, 2021 appeared to be a 7” version of 2020, the single (kudos to anyone who is old enough to understand that reference). And that distills down to a tale of opposition – heated, angry, fractious opposition…fact/science/proof/experts vs. anecdotal evidence/conspiracy theories/personal (internet) research. When I think of a personification of America today, an image of “Bison Guy” from the Capitol mob attack, rather than Uncle Sam, springs to mind. Our collective New Year’s Eve was again spent in isolation (thanks Delta), anti-vaxxers still refuse to get vaxxed, Global warming continues its march as glaciers melt, fires burn and wildlife suffers – starving, homeless, and unable to escape inevitable extinction. In Texas and other states, old white men still insist on regulating my body. Black men continue to get killed for minor or non-existent infractions of the law.
And yet, for me, 2021 provided me with a clearer focus of who I am and where I’m striving to go. A major shift, 2021 was about GROWTH. I started the year by finding my voice – my loud, outdoor, “I matter” voice – as I recounted my uncensored personal struggle to survive the aftermath of a toxic relationship. I felt ill as I hit the “publish” button each day, afraid of the repercussions, emotional and potentially physical, yet forged ahead irrespective of my fear, buoyed by friends, fellow victims and a therapist. I burned a few bridges in the process, telling my truth – what happened to me and my subsequent healing. If others were incensed by my brash decision to speak out, that’s their burden. Overall, however, the response was overwhelmingly positive – counselors, educators, and victims thanked me for sharing my experience and assured me my words matter.
That farce of a relationship compelled me to take a stark look at my own culpability. I chose to pursue him, to not ask questions, to ignore the red flags which, in hindsight, waved furiously in front of my eyes throughout my time with him. Life doesn’t allow do-overs. I couldn’t return to the time before, start over, make better choices, but I could sure as hell ensure it never happened again. So, using this specific tragic coupling along with other previous disastrous relationships as guides, I created a list of eight must-have, line-in-the-sand characteristics the next man would possess. No longer would I be blinded and distracted by charm, superficialities, or the dark, damaged men I inexplicably find so appealing. I created a roadmap for the type of love I deserve.
In addition to romantic love, 2021 offered fertile ground for nascent buds of new female friendships to bloom and grow as well. A few years ago, I developed an inkling that my inner-circle, my sounding-boards, my confidants, didn’t always have my best interests in mind or, when they did, didn’t fully understand my perspective. Taking the quote, “You can’t change the people around you, but you can change the people around you,” to heart, I began developing friendships with an expanded circle of women who shared my lifestyle, goals and perspective; women who built each other up instead of competing; women who were smart and funny and lived full lives. I’ve enjoyed connecting with this new pussy-posse, building friendships, and supporting them as much, I hope, as they’ve supported me. Two of these fabulous women, in fact, encouraged me to write the cookbook I began in March, a humongous exercise in personal growth.
The recipe below is an additional testament to my 2021 evolution. This time last year, I was baking up Gourmet S’mores and Rocky Road Pie, while my kitchen staples amounted to whole milk, whipping cream, butter blocks, eggs, and cheese wedges. Then, in July, I met Mr. M. – a vegan (gasp!). Food avoidance is ordinarily a deal-breaker in my book, and vegans…well, vegans, no matter their laudable motives, are culinary self-flagellators and should be avoided. Yet, before I closed the door on us permanently, I perused my new “must have, line-in-the-sand” list referenced above and also pinned prominently on my bulletin board. I scanned the list for mention of dietary restrictions and found none. This culinary quirk was obviously not as important as I thought. So, I gave us a chance, with happy results. Shortly after we became a couple, my annual blood test showed alarmingly high cholesterol levels (see previous list of kitchen staples – is it any wonder?!) prompting a choice – statins or a diet overhaul. I chose the latter – while not vegan or even vegetarian, the beginning of 2022 finds me with a refrigerator full of vegetables, “plant based” bacon, creamer, mozzarella, pepperoni, and butter – and a 13 x 9 inch pan filled with the remnants of our New Year’s Eve dinner – my version of vegan lasagna. Growth, indeed.
Happy New Year!
Layers of vegetables and plant-based ricotta result in surprisingly satisfying Italian comfort food – you won’t miss the meat. It tastes even better the next day, after the flavors have had time to meld.
- ½ onion, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced
- 10 oz. package sliced cremini mushrooms
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 6 oz. package baby spinach
- 12 oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts, chopped
- 24 oz. jar tomato basil marinara sauce
- 12 sheets no-boil lasagna noodles
- 16 oz. vegan ricotta, divided in half
- 4 oz. vegan parmesan, divided in thirds
- 2 Tablespoons vegan butter
- 2 Tablespoons flour
- 1 cup oat milk
- pinch nutmeg
- Make Lasagna: In a large pan, sauté onion and red bell pepper in olive oil until beginning to soften. Add cremini mushrooms and sauté until mushrooms have released their juices and onions are beginning to brown. Add garlic and baby spinach and sauté until spinach is wilted. Remove from heat, stir in artichoke hearts and approximately ½ cup marinara sauce. Season with salt and pepper.
- Cover bottom of a 13” x 9” pan with about ¼ cup marinara sauce. Dip lasagna noodles in additional sauce and cover bottom of pan with one layer of noodles. Spread ½ of vegetable filling over noodles. Cover noodles with half the ricotta and a third of the parmesan. Continue with another layer of marinara dipped noodles, vegetable filling, ricotta and parmesan. Cover parmesan with one more layer of marinara dipped noodles – you should have 3 layers of noodles, and two layers of vegetables and ricotta.
- Make Bechamel: Melt butter in a small sauce pan. Add flour and whisk until thoroughly combined. Continue whisking for another minute, but do not let the “roux” brown. Add milk and bring to a simmer. Cook bechamel until it resembles a thin pancake batter. Remove from heat and season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Pour bechamel over lasagna and sprinkle with remaining parmesan. Cover with foil and let lasagna rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow noodles to soften.
- Preheat oven to 375° F. Bake lasagna, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes or until lasagna is bubbly and edges are beginning to crisp. Remove from oven and let rest for 20 minutes to ensure it slices cleanly when cut.