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.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
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.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.