Missing the Liquor
Well it’s practically March and oh my goodness do I miss cocktails.
I just finished the Dinner a Love Story cookbook (so good, so good, by the way) and Jenny frequently mentions her retreat to an evening gin and tonic whilst cooking, and especially while cooking with toddlers. Her loyal love of one good cocktail (with “only fizzy tonic”) made me like her all the more, but also made me desperate for my own.
“This is a tough time of year to live in Boston,” I announced to Joe.
“I think it’s a tough time of year to live anywhere,” he said, too moderately for my taste, especially at 8am.
“I don’t think it’s a tough time of year in Mexico.”
Joe gave up alcohol and coffee for Lent, which is extremely noble. I pretended to dither about it, but really I can’t give up another thing. Pregnancy is lent, as my dear friend and priest’s wife so nicely pointed out. Last night with the doulas we discussed what a mysteriously big baby Lux was (9lb 10 oz) and I blamed it on a protein shake I drank a lot while pregnant with her. “And no white sugar or white flour?” one asked. My mind blanked as I searched for something I was currently eating that wasn’t comprised mostly of white sugar and white flour. “Uh well, a lot of pasta,” I said lamely. “A lot of macaroni and cheese,” I clarified. “Oh.” she said. I mentally scratched off a few more items to feel confident about when eating.
My twenty-three-year-old brother Leighton offered to not drink for my entire pregnancy if, I also, did not drink. Imagine the audacity.
Like most modern conversation topics, whether you drink or do not drink is treated as a highly personal decision that one makes for themselves based on highly personal feelings. The conclusions on whether the fetus is affected by occasional drinking are bounced back and forth between opponents like a swinging ping pong game. Nonetheless, if you visit an OB office in America, a nurse will probably say something along the lines of “It seems silly to say, but of course you’re not drinking?”
Leave it to family to cross the safe line of modernity’s “It’s your decision, not mine!” politeness. I took him up on his offer because it was so thoughtful. This is a kid who, at the time, probably got a safe quarter of his weekly calories from beer. I couldn’t resist his offer of co-denial in its sheer chumminess…and because of a slew of other implications that seemed to lie within it.
It seemed implied, for example, what kind of barbarian was I? If he could go without a glass of wine now and then, why couldn’t I do it? In the past, a tiny part of me admired women who completely abstained, but a larger part of me held them off as a little juvenile. Like, if everyone’s having mimoas at brunch, is it really necessary to wave your hand and insist on only orange juice for yourself?
But it was pointed out to me by my dear, over-curious family (keep in mind I’m the first one to have a baby among them) that to decide to drink simply to satisfy my rebellious counter-cultural francophile streak was absurd indeed.
So I think I’ve texted him a total of five times for exceptions to our plan, i.e., very special occasions. Five drinks in 22 weeks is certainly a more moderate environment than Lux abided in. Soak it up, baby, and let’s see it in the SAT scores in 18 years, ok?
February 28th and it’s bleak folks, bleak! There are still small slumps of snow on the street, each protectively harboring its own disgusting pile of soggy trash. Mmm, this looks delicious, Lux says, as she picks through each one like a little alley urchin.
Mercifully we were at Formaggio Kitchen this morning for coffee and they had piled up a basket of the darkest cinnamon bread loaves I’d ever seen. You know how you want cinnamon bread, not some-bread-etched-with-cinnamon? This was it. As a rule Lux doesn’t eat bread (white carbs, Mom! she says reproachfully) but we both tore off hunks and ate it as we walked.
We’ll get through this yet.
Baby, Essay, Faith, Life Story
The Seeking Heart
I read Franny and Zooey, the book J.D. Salinger wrote after Catcher in the Rye and Nine Stories, every couple years to keep up with the dramatic little-sister-existential-crisis part of me. I remember first reading it in Italy and our residential program director handed me another book, saying, “Do you know what book she is reading obsessively in that? Here it is.” And it was the strangest collection of Desert Father writings I’d ever seen, and I hated it and read about ten pages (though I left it on my nightstand for weeks to prove my interest).
But lately, like Franny I’ve been reading curled up on the couch, in the bathtub, and just before bed, reading something that feels like her ascetic text, but actually it’s a French theologian who was a sophisticated advisor to King Louis XIV. My dishelved copy of his three hundred year old writings is one of the books my mom sent me when I had Lux, with a simple annotation, “These helped me when I was at home with all of you kids.” My mom was home with seven kids and there are several books.
Fenelon says things like “let your anxieties flow away like a stream” and “do not listen to the voice that suggests you live for yourself” and “the pain you feel at your own imperfections is worse than the faults themselves.” He writes very simply and his words ping like drops of hard alcohol into my subconscious muddy puddle.
Becoming a mother has not come easily always. I’m not stir crazy. I’m not bored. Mostly I’m delighted. But at times I miss the narrative of the self propelled life. I’ve never been more aware of my urge to live for myself, aware of what Fenelon would call my self-love.
I heard a quote about motherhood in the most unexpected place the other day. Joe and I were watching a documentary about the bizarre performance artist Marina Abramovic (“The Artist is Present”). I wasn’t really listening, and then I perked up at the first sentence, and then I thought this! is! it! Because people ask what being a mom is like, and how it’s going, and I have trouble explaining it.
The hardest thing is to do something that is close to nothing. It’s demanding all of you because there is no story anymore to tell. There’s no objects to hide behind. You have to rely on your own pure energy and nothing else.”
Of course there is an object, you might say—a tiny human. But in the day to day there isn’t a narrative. The work is slow and breathtakingly repetitive. There are rarely moments of great completion. The demands feel illogical and relentless.
And yet I do feel as if this child might have chance of helping me get rid of my blossoming trifecta of impatience, arrogance, and antagonism toward sympathy. Like Marina says, I realize that the wave of selfishness that crashes when I wanted her naps to fall in line perfectly with my plans, that wave that frustrates me so, does come from the lack of anything to hide behind. Here I am, I’m selfish, and I want to do want I want. At the heart, it is not Lux that frustrates me, it is my own frustration that infuriates me.
Fenelon would say this happens to all of us, from a variety of sources. Mine happens to be Lux, yours might be a family member, an illness, a job, a quiet call that persists. I guess the turn I’ve taken lately, for the better, is to hear what else he says, this:
Learn to see yourself as you are, and accept your weakness until it pleases God to heal you. Your goal is to be as patient with yourself as you are with your neighbor. If you die a little bit every day of your life, you won’t have too much to worry about on your final day.
Does any of this ring true to you these days? Thanks for returning and reading, despite the intermission. : )
Photos of watching the rain, something we’ve been doing again lately, from this summer.
Warmth and cold
We’re learning how to put on clothes for cold weather here. Feeling confident that Lux is warm when we’re outside makes an enormous difference in how I relax and enjoy the time. After an hour or two at the playground on an afternoon that was much colder than I realized, Lux was bone chilled and crying as a result. Clearly my internal temperature was no metric of hers. I wanted to rush back home and declare, we’re never going outside again!
But of course we went out again, only a few hours later. Long underwear, cotton t-shirt, sweater, jacket.
Hat, thrown to the ground. Plopped back on. Cheerfully tossed. Just as cheerfully tied, though not a strangle knot, let’s hope. Tugged, tugged, off again. “What’s the secret to the hats?” I ask my mentor-friend who runs our waldorf playgroup. “Repetition repetition repetition,” she replies. Ah.
When Lux was a newborn I found myself experiencing cloth on a new level of delight—this one is so soft, this one is so cozy, this one is so carefully stitched. Now again this happens to my senses, but this time I notice only: warm? Oh, is this one lined on the inside? Thick corduroy on one side, soft flannel on the other? I’m at consignment shops across the city spinning through the racks, digging into the bins, grabbing bits of sleeves between my fingers asking only: wool? But it’s thin thin cotton, 100 renditions of the same.
Do you know which items stand out on these hunts? The funny rumpled homemade sweaters, the ones with goofy rainbow yarn and crooked buttons. Those beam the promise of warmth as if each haphazard row captures a little more heat, kept close by your side.
Did you know they make smartwool socks for toddlers?
And the hunt does make you treasure what you’ve got. Shoes from a cousin that finally fit. Thin, yet soft sweaters, and why not just top it with another one? A red wool hat I picked up at a consignment sale. In a chance of 1/20 ,the register I ended up at was run by the woman who had brought the hat. “I’m so happy to see you take that,” she said “both of my children wore it for years.” A good one.
Do you have a few warm things you’re tugging out from under the bed, glad to see again?
This blog has been documenting many fun things of a carefree and cheerful nature in the last two months.
I feel the need to tell you that lately, I’ve been walking around muttering, “the luck’s run out.”
It all started with a letter from the IRS. How frequently do you get important information in the mail these days? Never? Me too. Surprise! This was one fat letter from detailing how many thousands (5+) Joe and I owed them from two years ago (when we ran the market as self-employed business owners). Of course if they’d called and asked us for the money when we first screwed up our taxes, two years ago, we would have had it. But now we don’t, not even close. Before you have a panic attack about your own chances at getting audited: ours was an easy screw-up. We did not pay self-employment tax for that year. I definitely cannot blame it on TurboTax, but I will say I will never use their software again. Too easy to slickly answer questions in a different way and think to yourself: “same difference. This is what the millionaires do, right?” I’ll stick with the paperwork, like my grandparents did.
Then while driving back from new jersey we heard the sound of an airplane engine and realized it was coming from our car. The muffler was slowly easing its way off the ol’ exhaust system, hoping to catch a ride to Mexico. We shimmed it back into place for awhile. But our mechanic rather pessimistically gives the ’99 Honda crv another six months or so before it needs a major overhaul that would be more than half the value of the car.
Then, last week at the playground, I lost my favorite jean jacket. At the time I bought it in high school, to me, it was really expensive. And it still fit and still looked chicly cowboy with everything, these 10 years later. How often do I make good buying decisions like that jacket was? Never. Do you have that very short mental list of things you’ve really loved, and lost? Me too.
I want to write all this down, and not think of it any more. Because once you start listing things that weren’t lucky, you see it everywhere. A friend once said to me, “things just always work out for you.” After she said that, I marched forth thinking yes! things always work out for me. And I’d like to go back to that, as unscientific and selfish as it was.
Of course I don’t tell you this because I think I have the worst life ever, plagued by flying gremlins who insert “worst ending here” whenever possible. But just to, you know…balance the picture? On the one side, here I am taking these great roadtrips, baking bread, getting tan, and leisurely eating grapes with Lux. But also, on the other, I’m an old worried wart that can’t let someone else have a jacket for a little while. And when you don’t tell people these things, you don’t have a chance for them to tell you the bad luck they’ve had lately. And then you miss your chance to say, wow, that sounds really tough too.
Photos by Paul Octavious, who is also fun to follow on Instagram.
Shiitake Mushroom Strata and Sophistication
I moved to Somerville from Michigan four years ago. Within two months of moving to Boston I got a job at a ritzy flower shop in a ritzy college town, Wellesley. My coworkers had been working in the flower business for almost longer than I’d been alive. They knew how to dress so the walk-in refrigerators wouldn’t chill you to the bone. They knew how to grab a pair of scissors and trim an enormous box as tall as me, just shippped from the Netherlands, down to size and fit it all into an enormous 10 lbs vase in minutes.
One girl I worked with was only a little older than me, but much more sophisticated. She could bundle better hand-tied bouquets than me, she’d worked for the same flower shop in college, and she was constantly giving me advice. When I wanted to make something delicious for a dinner party, she went home during her lunch hour and wrote out her favorite strata.
This was early into my season of dinner parties, before I was invited to many parties hosted by Joe’s fellow graduate architecture students, some in their early thirties, who knew just how many flowers and candles would look festive and just how much food to make. Before I learned that it was ok to be half done with the cooking, but take a break with the cocktails when guests arrived anyway. Before I learned you should probably have one bottle of wine per person. Their effortlessness seemed like trained skill, and I wanted whatever book they were reading.
Now I know you learn all that from hosting party after party, and seeing how it goes.
I pulled out that recipe she wrote down for me years ago for a baby shower brunch this weekend. The first time I made it, the guy who was actually throwing the dinner party went all Thomas Keller and disappeared into the kitchen making noodles by hand, after the guests showed up. So I pulled this out of the oven and everyone over-ate their cheese portion and drank too much wine.
It went much better with Sunday’s menu of baby excitement, mimosas, herb biscuits, greek yogurt, maple bacon, and fruit tart.
It’s a show stopper and always will be. It’s delicious because of the ingredients, not the work, so it’s more expensive but quite easy to make. Wish I could write it out for each of you and send it along on monogrammed recipe cards.
1/4 C. butter
1 lb. Shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced (you can substitute cheaper mushrooms, but taste will tell)
1 French Baguette, cut into 1/2″ pieces
2 1/4 C. whole milk
1 1/2 C. Half and half
3/4 C. chives or green onion tops
2 Tbs chopped fresh thyme
3 cloves garlic-minced
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. pepper
9 oz. goat cheese crumbled
1 1/2 C. grated parmesan
1 C. grated fontina
Combine the chopped baguette and milk in a large bowl. Let it stand until milk is absorbed, approximately 30 mins, with stirring.
Melt butter in a large pan. Add mushrooms and saute until tender. Season with salt and pepper and let cool.
Whisk half and half, and the next six ingredients in a medium bowl. Stir in goat cheese.
Place half of the bread mix in a single layer along the bottom of the dish. Top with mushrooms, parmesan, fontina, half and half mix. Repeat layering with all ingredients.
Bake uncovered until firm in the center, puffed and golden. One hour at 350.
You can use whatever type of pan you want for this, depending on what would be prettier, or if you want more dense layers.
Pintos with Lux
She still doesn’t speak any words I recognize. But delight is her noisiest emotion and her palette has no expectations. For breakfast we can have oatmeal swirled with grated apple and heavy cream, or cold brown rice sprinkled with sesame seeds, or slices of roasted sweet potato dredged in lime juice and cilantro.
But it’s the lunches that I look forward to: at last they are the lunches I’d read about in my favorite food memoirs: lazy and slow with many plates crowding the table. My fellow diner has no compunction about being served from a pyrex from the fridge; and she loves to watch me trim and chop our food in front of her at the table. New ideas of simple combinations come to me as we eat, and I jump up to try them on the spot.
Inadvertently, it comes in courses. Begin with enormous slices of avocado and move to a plate piled with soft pinto beans doused in olive oil, bits of green onion and topped with a snowy layer of feta. Square of homemade bread, hers spread with olive oil or tahini, mine toasted and slathered with Justin’s chocolate peanut butter. We share gooey bits of camembert, spoonfuls of fig jam folded into greek yogurt, and tiny slices of strawberries, the red juice dying both of our fingers. A small plate of fluffy scrambled eggs and brown bits of potato. A sautéed pile of bitter greens with olive oil and slices of garlic. I chop up spoonfuls for her, wondering if suspicion of green things is inborn. It isn’t, she loves it more than the strawberries. Back to the avocado we go, for a final dessert slice. My kitchen has tripled its former avocado capacity—we eat the whole fruit in one meal, daily. She smears it in her hair as she eats, and why not? She has justified the ritual bath time yet again.
We look out the window, listen to the subway trains coming and going, and sip water. She loves to drink out of the glass. I watch as she eagerly sips and then lets the water trickle back out of her mouth, she looks thrilled with the experience. It’s quiet: our neighbors are at work, and the table in front of her has been stratified with everything we’ve eaten: all of it tasted, smeared, examined, and shared. It was a good lunch.
Heirlooms in the closet
Last night we planned to go listen to the orchestra that plays outside. I roasted the chicken, spread bread with salty Irish butter, and went to Savenors to buy a packet of those crispy Tate’s cookies.
Then Lux’s mood seemed suspiciously explosive, like we might traipse over to the park put down our blankets settle in with our paper cups of wine and then she would start shouting and pointing with no reasoning whatsoever, just shouting and pointing.
So instead we invited our friend and her boston terrier over to have dinner at our house. We ate the chicken sandwiches at the table and poured the wine into real glasses and Lux tried to feed the dog, Murray, her spicy sesame noodles. After Lux was asleep we started talking about trends lately and the crafting trend of Brooklyn came up. You know, the one where studios have opened and beautiful watches are being made by hand, and crazy inventive sweaters are being knitted, and fine cloth is being tie-dyed in the best way possible. Whenever this comes up I begin reviewing my closet in my mind; wondering if I own anything of that caliber—that I would save for years to come—and more importantly: that would last for years to come.
I have a dress that I bought for my rehearsal dinner four years ago and I’ve since worn it to parties of all sorts, and some weddings, and just recently I wore it to the party we had in the park. The funny thing about this dress is that it’s from Anthropologie. In general I have a very difficult time shopping at Anthropologie. The trouble is that almost every item in that store is so heirloom. Usually there are two floors, both of them brimming with beautiful clothes, every single item could be that dress, or that sweater, or that jacket that you are known for, that embodies your style and makes you the richly dressed girl with lots of character.
I end up not shopping because I have this collision of “who am I?” thoughts: am I the bookish artist? am I the frivolous gardener? am I the spirited crafter? And I leave after admiring the lace bralette and examining the embroidery on the sweater and watching how the skirts’ soft cotton falls just so. And I also might have twinges of fear that say: that dress will try to make you, instead of you making it.
But nonetheless once I got my dress out of the store and into my closet, it became the clutch piece that I rely on and hope to wear for years to come. I’m grateful to Anthropologie for this lovely dress that was available to buy when I needed it and I’m especially grateful for how easygoing and accommodating it has turned out to be. Do you have these pieces like this in your closet? That despite the trend of $10 dresses from H&M or awfully sewn editions from Target, that you’ve managed to get home and love and make part of your life? Or are you considering investing in something truly made by hand?
The loveliest illustrations taken from Danielle Kroll’s blog.
the good nap
I like to have my first cup of coffee after Lux wakes up from her first nap. This nap is a retreat from the world that became too tiring almost immediately after she woke up, two short hours of liveliness: pulling back the curtains and peering out the window at the gray dawn, cackling next to Joe until he opens his eyes, poking at the bookshelves until a book falls on her face, looking in all our mirrors and joyously admiring her toothless gums.
Lux falling alseep on her own is absolutely clutch to our system. Once I’ve laid her down in her crib and left the room, she shouts, she makes little cursing noises, she grumbles like an old man. A little stuffed seal that keeps her company often takes the brunt of her frustration, usually ending up on the other side of the crib. After a few minutes of noisily documenting her progress for me, listening from the next room, she silents falls asleep with her arms sprawled in front of her and the flannel blankets piled around her.
Many mornings after she falls asleep, I sneak back and take a nap of my own on my bed, just across from hers. A fan blows and hums from the corner, the white curtains are still closed against the drippy black Beacon Hill rooftops outside. She wakes from her nap completely refreshed, of course, and crows with glee to see me asleep in front of her. And that’s how I awake, like the blearly unexpected host of a surprise birthday party, with my honored guest animatedly gesturing for us to begin.