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.
Winter Comfort Food
I intended on baking holiday cookies to share with you today, but when I sat down to brainstorm all I could think about, truly, was the morning porridge I've been making and how that's really what I wanted to send you away with. The holiday season always seems to zoom on by at its own clip with little regard for how most of us wish it would just slow down, and this year feels like no exception. We got our tree last week and I've been making a point to sit in the living room and admire the twinkle as much as possible. I have lofty goals of snowflakes and gingerbread men and stringing cranberries and popcorn, but I'm also trying to get comfortable with the fact that everything may not get done, and that sitting amongst the twinkle is really the most important. That and a warm breakfast before the day spins into gear. This multi-grain porridge has proved to be a saving grace on busy weekday mornings, and it reheats beautifully so I've been making a big pot and bringing it to work with some extra chopped almonds and fresh pomegranate seeds. While cookies are certainly on the horizon, I think I'll have this recipe to thank for getting us through the busy days ahead.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
If I asked you about what you like to cook at home when the week gets busy, I'm willing to bet it might be something simple. While there are countless websites and blogs and innumerable resources to find any kind of recipe we may crave, it's often the simple, repetitive dishes that we've either grown up with or come to love that call to us when cooking (or life in general) seems overwhelming or when we're feeling depleted. While my go-to is typically breakfast burritos or whole grain bowls, this Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard would make one very fine, very doable house meal on rotation. The adaptations are endless, and its made from largely pantry ingredients. I never thought I'd hop on the cauliflower "rice" bandwagon, but I have to say after making it a few times, I get the hype.
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
It's been a uniformly gray and rainy week in Seattle, and I'd planned on making a big pot of salmon chowder to have for the weekend, but then the new issue of Bon Appetit landed on my doorstep with that inviting "Pies for Dinner" cover, and I started to think about how long it's been since I made my very favorite recipe from my cookbook, Whole Grain Mornings. I'm often asked at book events which recipe I love most, and it's a tough one to answer because I have favorites for different moods or occasions, but I'd say that this savory tart is right up there. The cornmeal millet crust is one of my party tricks; when we need a quick brunch recipe, this is what I pull out of my back pocket because it's so simple and delicious. This is a no-roll, no fuss crust with a slightly sandy, crumbly texture thanks to the cornmeal, and a delightful crunch from the millet. In the past, I've used the crust and custard recipe as the base for any number of fillings: on The Kitchn last year, I did a version with greens and gruyere, and I teach cooking classes that often include a version heavy on local mushrooms and shallot. So if you are not keen on salmon or have some vegetables you're looking to use up this week, feel free to fold in whatever is inspiring you right now. Sometimes at this point in winter that can be hard, so hopefully this recipe may help a little.