If You See Me Don’t Say Hi (short-stories unified by a single theme, and unique cupcakes unified by a base flavor)

The book: If You See Me Don’t Say Hi by Neel Patel.

Recently I read If You See Me Don’t Say Hi, a collection of fictional short stories by Neel Patel. Each short story is told from the perspective of a different character, most of whom are first-generation Indian-Americans. Individually, the stories are shocking, uncomfortable, and above all else, relatable. Collectively, they completely upend some of the commonly-believed stereotypes about Indian-Americans in the United States.

If You See Me Don’t Say Hi was a quick and engaging read. Like many short-stories, the plot in each story moves quickly: some stories span ten or more years in just 10-20 pages. My favorite stories, however, were the ones in which the plot moved just slightly slower; or the stories that provided more time to intimately know and understand the characters. The last two stories in the collection do an especially great job of this; and they are actually related to each other, giving the reader a more nuanced perspective of the characters and their relationship.

What I loved most about If You See Me Don’t Say Hi were the complex (and oftentimes difficult) characters. Each story features a character going through a challenging time in their life: a closeted-gay high school student struggles to cope with bullying and his father walking out on his family; a young doctor becomes completely unhinged and has a mental breakdown following the death of her parents; two young adults become isolated from their community as gossip wreaks havoc on their reputations. The characters behave in shocking, yet completely familiar ways in response to the challenges they are going through. It is through these surprising-yet-not-surprising behaviors that Patel so brilliantly debunks stereotypes of Indian-Americans. Patel’s characters react the way any human being might respond to heartbreak, trauma, isolation, and failure – they just happen to Indian-American.

Overall, I thought If You See Me Don’t Say Hi was a quick and wonderful read. As with most collections of short-stories, some stories are stronger than others. Personally, I liked the last two stories best, because they are connected to each other, and I liked the continuity and nuance of that. Each story is unique and important, though; and they collectively deconstruct the problematic stereotypes about Indian-Americans in the United States.

The bake: chocolate-tahini cupcakes with assorted frostings.

For If You See Me Don’t Say Hi, I was inspired by the cover art of the book, which shows varying shades of brown, caramel, and peach. In tribute to that, I decided to make chocolate cupcakes with frostings in various shades of brown.

Specifically, I made this chocolate tahini cake from flavor-genius Molly Yeh, but as cupcakes instead of a full cake. I frosted some cupcakes with the tahini buttercream that is given with the recipe, but I also made small batches of other frostings to achieve varying shades of brown: chai cream cheese frosting, chocolate cream cheese frosting, and coffee buttercream.

The cake was very straightforward to make – it is oil-based, which makes it much easier to prepare than a butter-based cake. It was also a great cake to eat! The cake itself tasted like a rich, complex chocolate cake. I couldn’t actually detect the tahini flavor, but I’m sure that the tahini added to the complexity. The frostings were also good, with my favorites being the tahini buttercream and the chocolate cream cheese. What I liked most about this bake was that the different frostings lent diversity, while the single cake flavor unified everything. This is fitting for If You See Me Don’t Say Hi, since it is a collection of unique stories unified by a single theme.

I also experimented with different frosting application methods – the frostings that were piped (as opposed to spread with a knife) definitely look neater.

(tahini milkshakes inspired by) Milkman

The book: Milkman by Anna Burns.

Earlier this week, I read Milkman by Anna Burns. Milkman tells the story of an 18-year old girl being stalked by a paramilitary man known as “Milkman” in the tense political climate of Ireland in the 1970’s. As Milkman becomes more persistent with his advances, rumors spread and lead to life-altering consequences for our unnamed narrator.

Compared to other fiction novels I’ve read recently, Milkman is a challenging read. The writing style wasn’t easily comprehensible to me, especially at first, and I found myself having to re-read sentences frequently. Also, some of the paragraphs in this novel are incredibly long. As in, there are paragraphs that span entire pages, or even three full-pages.

I also found Milkman to be a slow read: both in terms of how long it took me to finish the book, and also the pace at which the plot moves. A lot of Milkman isn’t active plot, but rather the narrator explaining events that previously happened in her town, or giving lengthy backstory about community members. I honestly found that background information to be annoying at first – I didn’t see its relevance – but I eventually came to understand and appreciate the way that these seemingly “irrelevant” details help to paint a very precise portrait of the culture and mindset of her community.

To me, Anna Burns’ ability to create this realistically detailed fictional world was the biggest strength of Milkman. Nearly every detail in the novel reinforces the strictness and tension of the community, and the self-conscious, repressed, and suspicious nature of its citizens. Surprisingly, I often found myself noticing parallels between the narrator’s community and modern-day America (though the latter is definitely not as repressed or tightly controlled as the fictional community described in Milkman).

The last thing that I want to touch on is how funny Milkman was. It took me a while to realize it, but amidst the darkness of this novel there is actually a lot of humor! Burns writes the conversation of gossipy, judgmental shit-starters in a way that hilariously calls them out on their “unintentional” drama-stirring. She also writes the monologues of the narrator’s overbearing mother in a way that is simultaneously funny and infuriating.

Overall, I liked Milkman, but it’s a book that takes time to get into. It is a dense read, but it’s worth the challenge of reading and re-reading paragraphs, because the book provides a moving glimpse into a rigid and repressed society where inaction and obliviousness have unfortunate consequences.

The (not-quite) bake: tahini milkshakes.

Recently, I’ve started going through books at a much quicker pace than usual. Normally, I read two or three books in a given month, but in just the past two weeks I have read four books. Why am I telling you this? Because my accelerated reading pace means that it’s currently not feasible for me to bake something for every book that I complete.

So, for Milkman, instead of baking something I decided to make something much simpler. I went the obvious route of making something milk-based, and decided upon milkshakes. Specifically, I made these tahini milkshakes from Molly Yeh’s amazing food blog (using oat milk instead of regular milk, though).

Approximately 6 oz of creamy tahini perfection!

Milkshakes are straightforward to make, and these tahini milkshakes were no exception: you simply measure the ingredients and blend everything together. In addition to being easy to make, these milkshakes taste amazing! They have a pleasant, but not overpowering, tahini flavor, and they are not excessively sweet. Also, the serving size of these milkshakes is pretty small, making this treat refreshing and indulgent…but not too indulgent. I would say that this tahini milkshake recipe is the perfect accompaniment to Milkman but, honestly, it’s just a perfect summer treat regardless of what it’s accompanying.