I am a believer.
Not so much in a religious sense of the word, mind you, but in a believing-without-having-much-proof sense of the word. I believe in my online horoscope and those tiny slips of paper you get from fortune cookies. I believe in cheesy movies. I believe in wishes made on stars and birthday candles and wayward eyelashes. I believe everything happens for a reason. (Even if the reason is annoying – like to teach you a lesson… especially a lesson that you’d really rather not learn.) I believe in fate. I believe everyone has a little bit of good inside (except maybe Hitler… and Ann Coulter).
And I believe in signs.
A sign doesn’t have to be big and fiery and come with the voice of Charlton Heston attached to it. In fact, it’s better if a sign is subtle and open for translation. For example, a morning rain shower could be a sign that spring is approaching… or it could be a sign that you should go back to bed rather than go for a run. Those adorable sequined sandals you’ve been eyeing are suddenly marked down? It’s definitely a sign that you should buy them! (Worry not that they are a half-size too small and cut off the circulation in your toes. These most definitely are not signs. But the two dollars off the original price? That is a sign, for sure.)
When I was rummaging through the shelves at my local grocery store this week in search of something to bring with me to my friend’s Thanksgiving Day potluck party, I spotted a single can of artichoke hearts. Among its exotic neighbors, cans of preserved lychees, palm hearts and pickled mustard greens, it stood alone – a beacon of familiarity, a harbinger of hope, a sign.
I knew in that instant what I would bring. No cop-out bag of chips or bakery cake for me! I was going to pull out the big guns — my spinach-artichoke dip.
I am not what you would call a good cook. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a bad cook, either. I’m just simply not a cook. After all, to be a cook, one must actually, well, cook. I’d rather focus on other things – like eating and conniving other people into cooking for me. Yet, despite my non-cooking ways, there are two things I make, and I make them well: breakfast sandwiches and my spinach-artichoke dip.
Technically, it is not my dip at all. It’s my friend’s dip – she gave me the recipe after showing up to one of my house parties in the States with a big pot of the stuff. It’s easy to make, and it’s delicious as only something containing countless grams of fat can be. Everyone who tastes it, loves it. It’s like bacon… only in dip-form.
And usually after tasting it and falling in love with it, they want to know the recipe, which I staunchly refuse to give out. First of all, if people knew what was in this (like really knew) they wouldn’t love it… or me. Instead, they’d probably accuse me of attempting to give them a coronary. Secondly, if I gave out the recipe all willy-nilly-like, I may cease to be invited to parties. Sure, I can be an entertaining party guest — but almost anyone can be entertaining when drinking directly from a box of wine! How many people can be entertaining and show up with spinach-artichoke dip? Not many, I tell you.
Not only does this dip ensure my invitation to future parties, this recipe is what I pull out to impress potential boyfriends. I wasn’t born with ankles or stomach muscles. I have the flirting prowess of a fourteen-year-old boy. I’m not capable of even sounding sexy as I was blessed with a voice that has been compared to the mating call of a humpback whale. While my high-pitched vocal abilities may be a turn-on for males of the whale species, I have discovered this is not so much the case for males of the human species. (Unless, I’m mistaken, and the phrase “Is that your real voice?” is actually a pick-up line.)
But I do have my spinach-artichoke dip.
Last summer I was at a friend’s barbecue party in the States when I ran into a guy I had been dating for a short while a few years before. To say our relationship ended badly would be something of an understatement. In fact, our break-up consisted of me leaving him stranded at a truck stop… in rural Ohio… in the rain… without a phone. We exchanged a few initial pleasantries (including, “How are you?” and “How was the truck stop?”). Then he asked me if I still made my spinach-artichoke dip.
Yes, people, it’s that good.
Upon realizing the portent embodied in that lone can of artichokes, I quickly grabbed it from the grocery store shelf and moved on to find the rest of the ingredients I would need to make the dip. I had no idea if I’d be able to find them. While not complicated, the recipe does call for a number of dairy-based items. Sadly, Asia is not exactly known for its abundance of milk products. Abundance of exotic fruits and cans of pickled mustard greens? Sure. But obtaining a block of cheese in these parts can cost you the equivalent of a down payment on a house and the promise of your firstborn.
As luck may have it, I managed to find everything I needed, including spinach. (Or at least what I thought was spinach.). I headed towards the check-out counter with my bounty of dairy products, leafy greens and the can of artichokes.
And then I started to get second thoughts.
I had a problem. The recipe requires that the dip be baked in an oven – an appliance not found in most homes in Asia. In fact, when visitors would spot the small built-in oven I had in my apartment in Japan, you’d have thought they’d seen a unicorn. “You have an oven?” they’d say in the way that expressed their simultaneous wonderment and jealousy. My apartment in Thailand didn’t come equipped with a cooking device of any kind. (Unless my toilet contains some kind of magical cooking properties that I’m not aware of). I bought a small hot pot upon moving in, which promptly broke. These days it’s hardly fit to cook ramen noodles in – I certainly wouldn’t be able to entrust it with the task of making my famous spinach-artichoke dip.
Before cashing out, I called my friend who was hosting the Thanksgiving party to find out if I could bake the dip at his place. He informed me that his kitchen only had a small two-burner range and a toaster.
I stopped in my tracks. “Maybe I shouldn’t try to make the artichoke-spinach dip after all?” I thought to myself. I had no idea if I could make it on the stove. (Plus I had my suspicions that the big bag of leafy greens in my basket was not actually spinach).
Then, I spotted the can of artichokes. It winked up at me menacingly. “Maybe,” it seemed to say, “You shouldn’t mess with signs.”
I proceeded to the check out. After handing over a princely sum (along with, you know, promises of my firstborn… after all, there was cheese involved in the purchase), I headed to my friend’s house to make the dish.
Later, I was to find out that the leafy greens were not, in fact, spinach at all. What they were remained a mystery, but it didn’t matter. The dip turned out awesome. It wasn’t nearly as bubbly and crusty and delicious as it would have been had I been able to bake it in the oven, but it was still pretty freaking good.
My friend and his roommate threatened to eat the entire pot of the stuff before the guests even arrived. When the guests did arrive, they oohed and ahhed and begged me for my recipe. When a second wave of guests showed up an hour after the party had begun, the dip was gone… but definitely not forgotten.
Long after the dip had been demolished and the turkey picked clean and the one and only pumpkin pie was scarfed down, the party guests assembled on my friend’s balcony. I heard one woman suggest we should all take turns saying what we’re thankful for. Nobody took her up on her offer.
But I will… now.
I am thankful for my family, who have always been supportive of my ideas. (Like ridiculously so. I mean, when did this whole quit-your-job-to-go-live-in-Thailand-and-eat-cookies thing become a good idea?).
I am thankful for my mom, who sends me pairs of pants when I call to complain that I can’t find any in my size here. She could just tell me to come home (or to, ummm, stop eating so many cookies).
I am thankful for my dad, who is unflaggingly enthusiastic of my travels. When speaking to me on the phone, he says stuff like, “You’re having the adventure of a lifetime!” (Even when he knows I’m just eating cookies).
I am thankful for my friends both in the States and around the world.
I am thankful for my health (even if I can’t fit into my pants).
I am thankful to the people who take the time to write nice comments on my blog. Heck, I’m even thankful for the spam comments on my blog. I mean, how can you not appreciate a comment that reads like this: “So I am pleased to convey that I have a very full imprint. I faltered onto whatever I was ready for.” Pretty awesome stuff, right?
I am thankful to the people that have sent me emails after reading my blog and told me that I’m an inspiration to them. It’s these emails that make me think that maybe quitting my job to travel around Asia and blog about it wasn’t the worst idea I’ve ever had. (Of course, it’s also these emails that make me think that maybe these people have me confused with another blogger… like one that actually does inspiring stuff… rather than, say, eat too much and whine about her pants).
I am thankful for the twenty-five dollars that a total stranger gave me last week after clicking on the donate button on the side of my blog. (And, of course, I’d be really thankful if you did the same. No pressure or anything. But, uh, my cookie supply is getting awfully low.)
I am thankful for the chances that I’ve had to live and travel abroad.
I am thankful for every single person that I’ve met along the way. (Well, maybe not every single person. But, you know, most of the people…)
I am thankful for a year that didn’t turn out at all like how I had planned. In a way, this year has been like that spinach-artichoke dip (bear with me here, people). You see, I started off with the right ingredients and a good plan. I had a little money saved up, a list of destinations I wanted to see and a set of rules on how I was going to make things work. But I was never sure if I’d be able to pull it off. My plans have changed, and a lot of my original ideas have been swapped for other ideas. And I’m still not so sure if I’ll be able to pull it off.
But, in the end, the spinach-artichoke dip turned out pretty awesome. And, so, I believe, will this year.
After all, I’m a believer.