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.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.