The Horchata Proxy
Rock paper scissors
Last week I wrote about the Ongoing Lethargy, and we played a useful round of what’s true & what’s also true with the monsters of What’s The Point & It’s All Hopeless whose favorite story is that nothing is interesting or appealing.
They love that story, and all its variations, including: nothing helps, nothing can help, and why even bother trying.
Gotta say the hopelessness has been winning a lot lately in the ongoing rock-scissors-paper game in my head.
The other two players are melancholy and anxiety, so it’s not really fun when anyone wins, but I do kind of appreciate the break from anxiety. At least this way I get more sleep.
I don’t love rock paper scissors, as a game. It’s stressful and boring at the same time, just like my list of things.
So I have been trying to focus on different games entirely, different forms of play.
Actually I have been trying to get the band back together (enthusiasm on drums, inspiration on bass, maybe hope will show up too at some point), see if they’re interested in making some music or at least some noise.
The rule of “Follow the spark that is”
Last time we clarified that my ongoing story about Nothing Is Interesting was not entirely true.
While I remain deep in a state of INOWANNA vis a vis my list, there is in fact something very interesting to me actually, and that is making horchata.
Or, more specifically, the process of obsessively reading a thousand recipes, making way too many notes, compiling the specific methods and ingredients which feel the most resonant to me, and eventually pulling these pieces together to form a baseline recipe I want to experiment with. And of course a bonus list of variations I want to play with once I am happy with my baseline.
This is where my spark of interest is to be found, and I am a strong believer in Follow The Spark That Is, both because the spark is the spark, and also because the spark can serve as an excellent proxy.
What is a proxy
A proxy is a way we can utilize hyperfocus while elegantly side-stepping any potential stuck elements attached to the project you’re actually working on, or the problem you’re actually trying to solve.
Using a proxy allows me to follow the enthusiasm sparks and explore whatever rabbit holes might be calling to me.
And, because the point of the proxy is to take a detour, we also get to bypass the boring cultural rules in play that call this “avoidance”, or worse, that P-word word that rhymes with “flow-plastication”; it’s not any of that.
I’m just taking the scenic route. On purpose. That’s where the clues are.
How to proxy
I have written about this method here before, but if you want a short version of the basics:
When nothing is working, follow any enthusiasm sparks or focus on an entirely made-up project. Literally anything. Sometimes I frame this as an occupation, and sometimes as a secret mission or cover story, for example, “I’m a horchata researcher”. And go from there.
If you wish, you can always make a list of the questions you are actually trying to resolve and throw them into the pot, but the most important step is then to forget about them.
My best counsel
Here’s the best wisdom I have:
Don’t focus on any of the real stuff while engaging with the proxy, don’t bother trying to look for connections or seeing how you can make it make sense, or how it applies. You can do all that later.
Though probably you won’t even have to.
It’s the deep dive into the Something Else that we are going for. It’s the let’s see where this goes of it all.
Let’s see where it goes.
The Horchata Proxy
I have spent a week investigating horchata (not making it yet, my blender is in my trailer, and also I’m still in research mode which is the exciting part for me), so here is some of my learning from The Horchata Proxy…
History & geography
I think I’ve just been instinctually thinking of horchata as Mexican because I am in the southwestern United States, an hour from the border with Mexico, we drink it here at taquerías, so it lives in my mind with Mexican food.
Turns out horchata originated in Valencia, Spain, and there it was made from barley instead of rice. Who knew! Not me. This is why I love a good rabbit hole.
Horchata has traveled. It has seen some stuff. It has been on grand adventures, and everywhere it ends up, it changes…
The grand adventures of horchata
The Moors added almonds and tiger nuts (which are tubors, not nuts, and rich in magnesium). And, interestingly, there are drinks all over the middle east that sort of mimic horchata, more on this in a bit.
Anyway, Spaniards brought it to the new world where it is generally made with rice. In Venezuela, they add sesame seeds, in El Salvador, horchata is made with morro seeds, and in Puerto Rico they add coconut and rum.
Upgrades everywhere. How’s that for a superpower.
I’m going with the rice variation, steeped in cinnamon, so keeping to the Mexican version that far, though not taking the path of condensed milk.
Philosophy, of course
There seem to be three methods generally speaking.
Some people want you to soak the rice in water, then add cinnamon sticks and bonus spices before blending. Some people blend then soak. And some people soak the rice first with the spices.
You will probably not be surprised to know that I am for the latter method. IMMERSION IN FLAVOR. That’s what I want. There’s also the two hours in hot water method versus the overnight soaking cool water method.
Some people add toasted almonds or hazelnuts, some people add cacao nibs, there’s some room to play but cinnamon is the one you can’t omit. Or at least that is the rule I am taking from this.
Not everyone strains. I am decidedly pro-straining. Some people are twice-strainers, blessed be the twice-strainers. We will see how I feel about second-strain in practice when I get there.
Let’s not even get started on the makhloket between the rice-washers and the non-washers, the non-washers say you need the extra starch for that horchata-ey essence. The rice-washers: 👀
Okay, I said I wasn’t getting started but proxy work is all about the valuable digression, so let’s digress.
In Judaism, makhloket, a conflict or a dispute, is a highly valued practice, a positive, not a negative.
Disagreeing (respectfully) is part of the process of study, you could even say it’s a devotional practice itself, and we keep records of all these disagreements among the rabbis, because being Jewish is extremely not about “this is the one right way, we found it”, and it is extremely about these loving, passionate, ongoing arguments and conversations, with ourselves and with the text, from generation to generation.
There is a phrase makhloket l’shem shamayim, a disagreement in the name of heaven, or a conflict for the sake of heaven, which is sometimes described as an argument of principle, something bigger than arguing to make a point. It’s more like disagreeing together in order to get somewhere, the intellectual challenge is as valued as the shared truth-seeking. You debate things because you care.
This makes me think of Sherlock in Elementary, a show I am conflicted about but he keeps coming up in this proxy experiment, and here he is again. He argues against himself as he works things out, and he’ll argue with anyone else too, but usually for good.
Anyway, for now I just want to say that there is much makhloket around how to make horchata, all the questions around what is “authentic”, what is delicious and what is right, and I enjoyed reading a variety of opinions, I enjoyed feeling a strong yes whenever one approach zinged for me, whether I knew why or not.
More history, geography, linguistics, you name it
So it turns out there is a Saudi drink, one I’m sure also exists elsewhere in the region, called Gahwat Loz with the same makeup as horchata, just with a middle eastern spin. You use rice water, blanched almonds and milk, all common horchata ingredients, except then you add cardamom and orange blossom water.
Gahwa is a pronunciation of Kahwa (coffee), and Loz is almond or nut, so the name is basically Nut Coffee. Loz actually comes from Aramaic, and if you are a Hebrew speaker, then you say it more like Luz, and if you speak modern Hebrew, you probably think of it as a hazelnut before you’d think almond.
Side note to the side note!
Side note that in Arabic, a nut is jawz, and in Hebrew it is egoz, for example jawz al kaju is the egoz known as a cashew.
You can not-always but very often switch out a hard G in Hebrew for a J in arabic, or if the word you want has a J in Arabic, try a G-sound in Hebrew. For example, najar in Arabic is a carpenter, nagar in Hebrew.
Hebrew and Arabic work almost in tandem kind of like Spanish and Italian, or German and Dutch, in that they are not the same but they’re also not not the same, or: they are so close that if you know one and know a bit about how languages work and have the ability to be patient and curious, you can generally figure things out.
(I am not an Arabic speaker, right now I have maybe three thousand words that I am figuring out how to smoosh together, but: working on it.)
So yes, the story that I am not excited about anything was in fact a lie. I am excited about WORDS! Words, vocabulary, etymology, connections, the process of learning, and delicious drinks.
That’s at least six things I care about! The story about Everything Is Blah remains a lie, but an interesting one, given that I am so invested in believing it. More likely, I’m just trying to stay numb enough to not feel how scary it all is.
So let’s play with words and with deliciousness. What happens if we make horchata with pistachio? Fistuk in Hebrew, Fustok in Arabic, le pistache in French…
A drink of
In Syria and Lebanon, they make this drink with rose water and a pinch of salt, and there they call it Sharab Al Loz, almond drink or nut drink, and it’s a celebratory, serve in a champagne glass kind of drink, as I understand.
I also learned the hilarious etymological detail that what we call a shrub in English, a vinegar-fermented macerated fruit drink often served with sparkling water, actually derives from the Arabic word Sharab, literally a drink.
Which means at some point, the following conversation had to have happened…
Non-Arabic-speaking person: What is this drink we are drinking? What do you call it?
Arabic-speaker: It’s a SHARAB. We’re drinking a drink.
Non-Arabic-speaker: Oh, it’s a shrub? What kind of shrub?
Arabic speaker: Um, grapefruit?
And that is how we ended up with shrubs, incidentally the drink I obsessed over last spring in pretty much exactly the way I am obsessing over horchata now. A Seasonal Obsession. How’s that for a good clue?
Variations upon variations
Anyway, needless to say I will be trying all of these variations.
I am also now wondering if Sahlab, one of my favorite middle eastern desserts that is sometimes a pudding and sometimes a drink, made with orchid flower flour, sachlav if you’re a Hebrew speaker, is itself a version of horchata, or could horchata have originally been a variation on Sahlab???
Okay, so wait, what’s the etymology of horchata then?
This is actually such a winding rabbit hole that I’m not even going to try to sum up, and instead will direct you to this fascinating and delicious atlas obscura article, let me just cover the most exciting bits.
The roots (haha, tuber pun!) go back to ancient Rome, and a medical elixir made from barley.
The word itself derives from the Latin hordeum (barley) and then you have hordeata (a drink made with barley). In Latin, the H was pronounced, in Spanish it is dropped, more on this if you’re interested, yes there’s a sub-reddit for Latin questions and yes, I loved it..
The short version is horchata means [a drink made with barley] that is not necessarily made with barley at all.
With or without
Here is my favorite line from the Atlas Obscura piece:
In northern Mexico, there’s a version still made with barley called horchata de cebada: literally “a drink made with barley of barley.”
So if it’s made with barley, it’s a drink made with barley of barley, and if it’s not made with barley, it’s a drink made with barley. Etymologically speaking.
But let’s get back to the part I am most excited about. Elixirs.
To come into the world for healing
Horchata was originally a medicinal elixir.
Horchata is for healing.
And right now, I am healing (ongoing), existing inside of Concussion Life and Long Covid Life, lethargy-depression-brain-fog life.
Healing and in the healing. Healing and obsessing over horchata.
Linguistic deep-diving too then becomes part of the healing experiment. Words are medicinal to me.
Sweet & medicinal / healing sweetness
So we have something that came into the world to be a healing, and I am in search of healing, and, who knows, maybe we all come into the world for healing (to be of healing, to experience healing, in service to healing), or maybe we don’t.
But for sure we get to experience pleasure while we are alive and embodied, and I absolutely believe in the healing powers of pleasure. So let’s make a delicious potion and imbibe its healing essence.
This is basically the opposite of a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down, the medicine itself is a pleasure, and pleasure is the medicine. A potion.
Potion-making by necessity involves an extended simmering
Horchata is a potion, a shrub (sharab) is a potion.
I am the Sorceress on a Sailboat, of course I am fascinated by potions.
Potions, potency, vitality, aliveness.
And I am proxying, depositing my various problems, mysteries and dilemmas into the pot, and what is the pot if not itself a cauldron, a designated vessel for transformation…
This must be why I like to let the ingredients soak together overnight, instead of blending first. It just feels more magical that way.
Sometimes, often, things need to simmer for longer than we think. This might be the hard part. It is for me.
The many mysteries, the beautiful clues
So where are we at for clues?
I know that I am EXCITED about seasonal menus, and April as entry for the summer drinks.
Even as I dread the big heat waves to come, I am excited to make my rosemary grapefruit shrub, and of course limonana — sort of a minty lemonade slushee, a play on words, limonada being lemonade, but made with nana, mint in Hebrew, el nae’neh in Arabic.
And of course I am excited for all the popsicles but especially to recreate the chai popsicles which got me through concussion summer last year when it was 111 degrees (44 Celsius) and the world was wavy lines.
So we have clues about being in season, and something to look forward to, repetition and ritual.
Repetition and ritual, Feasts of the small gods.
Clues about magic, and word-magic, and letting things be in process for as long as they are in process.
In process (like a potion)
Yes. That feels important.
Right now I am not enjoying waiting because my brain doesn’t work, and I get frustrated, but horchata tells me that waiting is part of the recipe, and the recipe is a potion, so the waiting is part of the magic.
And also that I don’t need to wait as long as I think.
Waiting is part of the magic. Patience is the long game. And: I won’t have to be as patient as I’m afraid I will, the waiting is not forever, the waiting is what is indicated right now.
Wait, I have an even bigger clue.
Somehow one of these recipe rabbit holes had me researching cajeta de casera recipes, and I learned something that is absolutely blowing my mind.
Cajeta is kind of like a Mexican caramel sauce. I was looking for alternative sweeteners, and didn’t think I could make it because most versions use cow’s milk which my body doesn’t like, but that’s where the de casera comes in, there’s a goat milk version that is very intriguing.
Anyway, here is the most amazing clue of all time!
How do you know when your cajeta is done or when to stop cooking it? You pause it at al punto de cajeta. The point at which it becomes cajeta is when you stop trying to make cajeta.
Al punto de cajeta!
A thing is done at the point at which it is done, or when it becomes itself!
You make cajeta and it’s not cajeta yet so you keep making it until it reaches the point of being itself…
Al punto de cajeta!
I might be even more obsessed with this than I am with horchata.
A clue about everything?
This is a clue about anything? Or possibly everything?
It’s so simple, and also so complex. Elegant.
This also makes me think of Hebrew and Arabic, how they are so similar and so different, and the biggest way in which they are both similar and different at the same time is they both prize elegance over all other qualities.
Except the way you achieve elegance in Hebrew is by being as concise as possible, arrow-to-the-heart-of-the-point, and the way you achieve elegance in Arabic is with embellishment and flourishes. Same goal, different method.
Like making horchata actually.
Truly al punto de cajeta is like the ur-clue, a clue that leads to seemingly endless clues.
Okay but also
One digression among many possible digressions: al punto de cajeta made me think about gender identity, something that has been both unraveling and reconfiguring for me in pandemic life, possibly because I spend all my time with myself.
I am reasonably sure I am Havi-gendered. As my wise and talented friend Sarah put it so perfectly, I have no idea what what Shania Twain meant re “I feel like a woman”, so nonbinary feels more right than not…
Though is that word big enough, hmmm, maybe really all I know about my gender is that I am reasonably sure I am mostly not a he, whatever that means, except for those times when I am, whatever that means, again, so really all I can do with gender identity is be patient as I arrive at the point of being a Havi embodied, which is now, and also ongoing.
Always arriving, newly arriving. Steadily in arrival state.
Sometimes I am the femme-iest assassin, like Villanelle in Killing Eve, femme in a way that is deeply intimidating. Like Villanelle says, I was trained to be devastating. My gender is Devastating Assassin.
I think, in terms of gender presentation, my punto de cajeta is sort of a cowboy version of a nonbinary Jessica Rabbit, but again, everything is changing.
Identity is messy, dynamic, in flux, like everything else, so I just have to keep living and be alive, and let things simmer until some sort of al punto de cajeta, I’ll know when I know, I’ll get there when I get there, I am myself when I am myself which is both now and elusive.
Nothing to do but make horchata and sweeten the experience.
State! Of! Being!
Back to Elementary, the show I am conflicted about but also I am conflicted about so many things.
[Warning if you have not seen it that this show is extremely fatphobic and casually antisemitic among its other detractions, also pretty gruesome and of course pro-cop, and yet somehow despite its flaws, I still find it very compelling. See also: Lucy Liu!]
Anyway, here is an absolutely incredible quote that is also a clue, from Sherlock, who did not wish to attend a meeting and receive his one year sobriety chip: “It is absurd to measure sobriety in units of TIME, it is a state of BEING, you are either in it or not.”
State of being.
You are or you’re not, and in some cases you can change at any time, reasons are bullshit, etc, the end.
This phrase might need a few rounds of What’s True & What’s Also True, which I would especially recommend if you don’t like it. You don’t have to like it, and it doesn’t have to be your clue, but sometimes it is interesting when we feel reactive about something. I absolutely felt reactive about it, and I feel reactive about the entire show but also I am still watching…
State of being a Havi, for example
I am a Havi. I have brain damage.
Time will help or it won’t, or it will but not as much as I want, or it will help more than I think it will, though maybe not enough for me to notice.
What’s true and what’s also true? I am a Havi who has brain damage and I’m still really fucking smart.
Also, I am a writer even when I am not writing, a dancer when I am not dancing, a sorceress making delicious healing potions whether I am actually doing this or sorting through ten thousand recipes and thinking about it.
Horchata is a drink of barley even when there is no barley in it.
Horchata is horchata, its essence remains horchata.
Can I trust that my Havi-essence, the suchness of Havi, persists and perseveres, glows its glow even when I cannot feel it, even when seemingly everything is broken, even when I forget to ask, is everything in fact broken or is that another monster story…
My Havi-ness is still there, even when lethargy takes over, or the hopelessness wins rock paper scissors an illogical number of times in a row. I am still here.
We begin again and keep beginning again
I learned via Jessica Dore, tarot reader, about theologian Catherine Keller, who posits that there are no fresh starts, just endless beginning-agains: “We begin again, or not at all.”
We are addicts, we are injured, we are re-beginning, recovering, healing and becoming (cajeta, or more ourselves).
This also brings to mind something my teacher Esther Gokhale says about how forgetting is an integral part of learning, we forget-and-remember, we forget to remember. Without the forgetting, we wouldn’t get the remembering, which is where we learn how to be embodied.
I have reached the point of being X, and so here we are. Al punto de cajeta. I forget and remember, and re-embody myself.
To forget and remember, and re-embody myself
Yes. I am reconfigured, re-inhabiting, rebuilding, renovating the imaginary guest house again…
What else can I think of in these terms of always-beginning-again, except not in a depressing Sysiphean way.
Beginning again as a renewed choosing towards myself, and that is always a triumph.
Keep going until you see the gate
My mechanic is a very country mechanic.
I don’t know his last name or the name of his business or the address of his shop. I just drive the country road until I get there. There’s no sign. You go until you are there. I don’t think he knows my last name either.
Last week I went to see him because packrats built a nest on top of my engine and ate a bunch of important wires, and also my poor Star Car was making a sound that did not sound like a good sound.
I haven’t gotten around to dealing with the enormous crack in my windshield, because of reasons that range from no executive function to an estimate I got in Tucson that made me gasp and then cry. But mainly just not feeling it, no energy, can’t move.
A lot of people would frame this as “avoidance”, or, even worse, they might use the hated P-word that rhymes with flow-plasticating; a cruel, judgmental and unnecessary word that assigns a negative value to Not Doing, something which can just as easily be neutral and is in fact often good.
But guess what, all those people would be wrong, because it ended up being excellent news that I hadn’t been able to force myself to deal with that particular stressful thing on the list of stressful things.
The superpower of I know a guy who knows a guy
Turns out my country mechanic knows a guy in Nogales who can do it for half the price of the Tucson estimate.
Solved by not doing anything. Solved by not trying to solve it.
Solved by the superpower of IT SOLVES ITSELF.
Resolving instead of solving
One of the reasons I vigorously reject 97% of suggestions for people with ADHD is that these suggestions prioritize doing things at any cost above what they should actually be prioritizing (process, flow, witchiness, excitement, side quests).
People idolize the culture of Get It Done so hard they miss out on the good stuff, like Connections Everywhere, or making room for things to solve themselves while we obsess over a new interest.
And yes, for better and/or for worse, we do live in that culture, and sometimes, frustratingly, things do need to get done in the time they need to get done. But quite often they get done better in their own time. You have to kind of let them al punto de cajeta themselves.
Put the projects and mysteries in the cauldron with some quality ingredients and let them go through that process of becoming.
Blend when it’s time to blend, strain when it’s time to strain. So much of the magic is about not rushing it.
Things resolve themselves sometimes
Things resolve themselves, beautifully even, sometimes.
Sure, not always. Sometimes we need to take an action step or break into the mainframe (my favorite technique for doing a thing that needs doing, more on that next time, or soon).
Quite often though, when we remove the judgment and the stories about “avoidance”, it turns out that the not-doing was neutral or positive, and we were wise to wait it out and tend to the cauldron.
This piece simply did not want to be written until it did, and nothing was gained by stressing over my inability to make words do things.
The wisest thing I did this week was let myself read every horchata recipe that appealed to me, follow every rabbit hole, even the ones that seemed entirely off-topic. The least helpful thing I did this week was try to make myself write which just resulted in ongoing panic episodes about my brain fog.
The winding path
Off-topic is where the magic is, the path that takes you away from the trail might in fact be the trail that the original trail wanted to show you to begin with…
I wish for less worship of neurotypical goals, and more appreciation for the winding path.
I wish to be less frantic in my attempts at solving Perceived Problems X and Y, and devote more attention to allowing them to resolve. Elegant simple solutions, you are invited to the horchata party, you are invited to bless the cauldron.
More, and then less
There was more I wanted to say here, but my arms have stopped working, which is always a sign that I have been pushing myself when that is not the answer. So I will add three small realizations and call it.
Realization about what The Horchata Ops are about
Emerging from depression, recommitting to season-centric living, trusting myself, slowing down, Do Less To Get More, keep calling on the powers of It Solves Itself, keep playing where the energy is.
Elegant simple solutions, come in, come in.
Realization about April
Had an obvious realization the other morning about the April-ness of my April depression, that is to say that my April Sluggish Melancholy Blues are actually probably specifically about April.
Last April I spent counting down the days until second 2nd vaccine (april 28), a limbo period of trying to hold on and stay well enough just a little longer, believing or hoping things would be different once I crossed that threshold.
Now this feels like an anniversary of the great betrayal of [vaccines kept me alive but they weren’t the answer], things are less awful but not less-awful-enough.
And the previous year, April 2020 was when I was free-falling into depression realizing things were only going to get worse and worse with no end in sight. So okay, April is hard. We can add that to the calendar of feelings.
Realization about why I seemingly only care about recipes
A conversation with a wise friend helped me see that my obsession with [Delicious Food, Beautifully Plated] as the one thing I am able to get excited about is related to Nihilistic Optimism, aka the only approach left when everything is terrible and each month brings new doom.
What can you do when the bad news keeps multiplying, and you are determined not to hide from it by ignoring it and not to hide from it in some kind of zen “baby that’s how it is” way, but also you can’t be in it or you will lose your mind. You make horchata, or at least I do.
As my friend said, “Yes, everything is meaningless, let’s plate food!”
I laughed and that helped.
I am going to keep making horchata until it is unbelievably delicious, until it ruins all other experiences because now they need to level up to horchata magic, until I reach some sort of al punto de cajeta of Optimistic Nihilism, until I am fully committed to the Small Joys.
Can we drink to that?
The elegance of compact simplicity. The elegance of elaborate flourishes. A sweetness to weep over. A sweetness of embodiment. Following the yes sparks with no agenda, other than permission to pursue deliciousness.
Come play with me, I love company
You are welcome to play with any of the concepts here in any way you like.
You can brainstorm appealing topics that might end up as your own proxy explorations, you can find things to be excited about, you can join me in being excited about horchata (I will share pics once I make it, promise!).
And as always, you’re invited to share anything sparked for you while reading, or add any wishes into the pot, into the healing zone, as a friend of mine said, who knows, the power of the collective is no small thing, and companionship is healing.
If you received clues or perspective or just want to send appreciation, I could use some miracles right now with my emergency situation that has now been compounded with new situations.
I am accepting support (with joy & gratitudea) in the form of Appreciation Money to Barrington’s Discretionary Fund. Asking is not where my strength resides but Brave & Stalwart is the theme these days, and pattern-rewriting is the work, and it all helps with fixing what needs fixing.
Or buy a copy of the my Monster Manual & Coloring Book if you don’t have it!
And if those aren’t options, you can light a candle for support or light one in your mind, share one of my posts with people, tell people about this work, that all helps, and I appreciate it so much. ❤️