Years ago, when I was still living in the Bay Area and dating Sam, I had a phone call with a literary agent (who is now my literary agent) about writing a memoir; she was impressed by our love story and thought I should start writing it all down. I didn’t think twice about my answer: no, it wasn’t the right time. I was living that story. For years, I used to roll my eyes when young writers came out with a new memoir, judging them by the date on their drivers license, I suppose — questioning what they could really have to offer in terms of life experience. But lately I’ve been thinking a lot about time, experience and writing about our lives: when is the right time? Do we wait until we’ve lived more of our story? How much more? How will we know when we’re ready to start writing it all down?
I was so encouraged by your response to my last post on motherhood, and just wanted to thank you all for reaching out to say hello in the comments or by email. I’m so glad it struck a chord with many of you, and I’ll set out to write some longer-form blog posts here and there as it seems some of you still stick around to the end! On one hand I always question if now is the right time to start writing about motherhood or if I should wait. I guess I feel much the same about it as I did about the unfolding of my relationship with Sam: maybe things needs some space and room to breathe before they’re ready to live on the page. But I’ve been interrogating this more and more, especially as I realize I forget so much about the day to day life with Oliver if it’s not written down. All of those cliches about the days being long and the years being short, it turns out, are true.
I just finished a book you may like, this memoir by Dani Shapiro, and in it she talks a great deal about time and writing. While the book is on the surface about a marriage, it’s really more about time than anything and the slow rippling effect it has on a relationship. Nothing catastrophic happens; you won’t be gripping your seat thanks to plot twists and turns: instead, it’s a subtle, quiet, moving exploration about two people coming together in this Life Thing. I finished it last night with a glass of Vinho Verde on our couch while Sam worked upstairs in his office and Oliver slept in his crib booty-up as he’s known to do.
In an interview I read with Shapiro, she talked about this question of timing when it comes to writing. She, too, felt like perhaps this was a tough subject as she was still very much married to her husband, M (as she refers to him), and maybe it’d be too hard to write about their marriage with any sense of remove. But then she came around to the fact that there’s a certain power in writing in the “white hot heat” of something. I haven’t been able to get that phrase out of my mind, and it’s made me rethink my previous hasty judgements on writing memoir or non fiction at a younger age or, simply, while living that thing. Especially with the topic of motherhood, writing in the white hot heat of it is perhaps the only way. Otherwise, with time a certain dullness or mutedness settles in as the details slough away. And it’s the details we all crave. Shapiro talks about the “onrushing present — the only place from which the writer can tell the story.” She goes on to explain:
“Our recollections alter as we attempt to gather them. Even retrospect is mutable. Perspective, a momentary figment of consciousness. Memoir freezes a moment like an insect trapped in amber. Me now, me then. This woman, that girl. It all keeps changing. And so: if retrospect is an illusion, then why not attempt to tell the story as I’m inside of it? Which is to say: before the story has become a story?”
And so: I’ve broken out my journal again. And I’m going to start writing down the details of our day to day, even if they’re incredibly mundane, even if they’re just a quick list before bed. I won’t worry if they don’t seem to take shape as an actual story and won’t concern myself if the beginning and ending aren’t at all clear. Because maybe someday, born from the white hot heat of things, something will take hold and take shape.
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This tahini dressing is from Samin Nosrat’s brilliant new cookbook, Salt Fat Acid Heat. I had the privilege of taking Samin’s cooking class a few weeks ago when she was in Seattle and we made the best Caeser salad I’ve ever tasted. This woman knows her way around a salad dressing (and most things, really). What I loved about the class was the relentless tasting: we continued to taste and taste and tweak and futz with that dressing until it was just right: more acid, more salt, more Parmesan, more acid still. Constantly tweaking until it was just where we wanted it. And of course, our first attempt at the dressing was lackluster. But if we never had the first attempt, we couldn’t have made it, ultimately, sing. I’m on board with more first attempts — on the page, in the salad bowl, or out doing what it is that you do (or want to do). We’ve all got to start somewhere.
The nice thing about this tahini dressing is its short ingredient list and versatility. Make it thick if you’d like to use it as more of a dip or thin it out with a little water for a creamy sesame dressing to spoon over roasted or grilled vegetables, fish or chicken. I cut back on the cumin just a little (Samin called for 1/2 teaspoon), and ended up adding an extra squeeze of lemon at the very end; I know Samin would approve.
Recipe slightly adapted from: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat
Place the cumin seeds in a small, dry skillet and set over medium heat. Swirl the pan constantly to ensure even toasting. Toast until the first few seeds begin to pop and emit a savory aroma, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Immediately dump the seeds into the bowl of a mortar or a spice grinder. Grind finely with a pinch of salt.
Place the cumin, tahini, lemon juice, oil, garlic, cayenne, 2 tablespoons water, and a generous pinch of salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Alternatively, blend everything together in a food processor. The mixture may look broken at first, but trust that it’ll come together into a smooth, creamy emulsion with stirring. Add water as needed to thin it out to a desired consistency – leave it thick to use as a dip and thin it out to dress salads, vegetables, or meat. Taste then adjust salt and acid (lemon juice) as needed. Refrigerate leftovers, covered, for up to 3 days.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.