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.
* * *
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.
Healthy Comfort Food
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.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)