I was at my friend J’s apartment near the beach, and we’d spent the day dilly-dallying, and we were half-watching the Oscars… this was almost 4 years ago to the day.
I had just moved to the United States from Spain, and I was trying to figure out where I belonged now. I didn’t feel like I was connected to anyone, but in the course of a month-long road trip to see friends and family, I was starting to reimagine what it meant to have close friends.
A video called “How to Be Alone” became a totem for me during those years abroad and the first year home – one of the lines that it used, talking about how people who are alone don’t have to experience it as loneliness, was “you can be surrounded in an instant if you need it.” Which was true: those who loved me weren’t everpresent while I traveled and studied and kept moving all the time, but they could be there, if I needed them.
On this watercolor map, I painted all the groups of friends I had, how they were inter-connected, and how they were connected to times in my life. It wasn’t a piece of art for the world, but it really gave me a visual, when I left J’s apartment and went back to living alone and reading books for most of my days in grad school, to remind me of those who could surround me if I needed it.
These days, recipes are often the ways I feel most surrounded.
This picture was taken in the most vibrant weekend of October; two close friends had come to visit and we went to a park where people had used trees and vines to create an elaborate shelter that you could climb around inside. The weather was warm enough to not worry about a coat, but cool enough to not sweat in a sweater. There was no rain – you can see the blue sky peeking out behind all those leaves.
I need photographs like these on days when March, when mud has been the norm for months now and the variety is only in how much mud and how frozen the mud is on a given day. I need to remember how delightful the world can be when there are no thunderstorm warnings and my hair isn’t ruined in the wet. Lately, in days when rapidly shifting weather seems to leave me with a sickness every two weeks, I’m having to reach back to memories about positive things for gratitude.
Gratitude is one of the things that slows down my frantic mind – gratitude makes me able to take the time to make a home-cooked meal when panic would have me order take-out and eat it all in gulps. Gratitude is hard to muster on days when my boots are covered in mud, but I’m doing it, one step at a time.
What are your favorite meals during muddy March?
Memory: a work lunch where, with my two co-workers, we order dessert. I very, very rarely order dessert at a restaurant, and no wonder; there’s enough calories in a dessert to be a whole meal, and I’ve already eaten a bowl of lobster bisque and half my sandwich and I really don’t NEED any more food.
Shared dessert is the perfect solution. The truth is that cannoli, a wonderful combination of crunchy wafer cookie and thick, ricotta-rich sweet cream with chocolate chips in it, is just too much for any one person. I am sure there are circumstances when cannoli, this particular pile of it, would be perfect to be relished alone, but it would have made me ill that day. 1/3 of it, however, was totally perfect.
That’s the thing about good, rich, sweet things in life: I’m so much worse at appreciating them when I’m alone. Instead, I need to look into another pair of eyes and share that bright feeling of “are you tasting this?” as we both dig in to something that has absolutely no vegetables in it. I can eat vegetables, fruits, and whole grains alone, feeling like I’m nourishing myself and thus the life I’m leading in community, but with dessert… mmm it’s just better to get 3 forks and dig in together.
In a month of health problems, grief, and overwhelming amounts of work, Husband and I took a weekend in a nearby city to cut the stress and try to recover a bit. I wasn’t feeling my best, but that is nothing that a plate of lemon ricotta pancakes couldn’t help. This memory is perfect for me – the most delightful crispy edge on the pancakes, the tart berry sauce they gave me, and of course the morsel of that amazing hash brown that I stole from Husband’s plate. Sometimes, especially on crazy Mondays, I like having pictures of past meals that have helped me to relax. This feeling of treasuring a sweet memory, a good moment in a good day, is so great for propelling me forward through the many tasks that lie ahead this week.
The weather has turned cold and the leaves have turned crunchy and I’m thinking, as the last of my tomato vines shiver out in their boxes, about next year.
I think that daydreaming about the garden next year may be a substantial part of how I get through the winter, now that I’ve seen gardening for a season and know what I like about it. Some thoughts that are with me now include:
- How to be smart about space? I have a whole box now that really gets only enough light to be a patch for greens, and a strawberry bed that sustains tomatoes beautifully, if crazily. Our potato barrel yielded some potatoes and would probably yield more, with better drainage and fewer potatoes crowding around. I want to add another box, if Husband will agree, and add small, thin window boxes on our front porch for herbs, to take advantage of all the sun we get up there. He also wants to put in some blueberry bushes up there, where we already get a ton of bees.
- How to grow in a timely way? I need to make sure I start mostly greens early next year, not all my seeds at once, and then start my summer peppers and tomatoes at last frost. I want to grow greens early and late, not just early this time, and I would like to choose a spot for some winter squash plants and some sugar snap peas so that my Fall harvest can be a little new and not just more of the spring crops. Mid-summer was a grand bounty this year, but I want to make sure I focus on the book-end seasons in 2017.
- What new plants to grow, and what to give up? I wish my strawberries were more bountiful, but they were a small harvest this year. I want to keep potatoes, tomatoes, butternut squash, carrots, and green peppers… I want a more robust planting of cilantro, dill, basil, and chives this coming year, and add some oregano, which we eat by the handful anyway. While we planted onions and they sprouted, they didn’t grow, so I’d love to find a place in the yard where they thrive. Now that I list it all… we really grew many of the things I wanted to grow. It feels good, actually, to know that I mostly want to boost production, not change it.
What other veggies or fruits would you recommend adding? I need fresh produce to daydream about as the days get short and cold and I spend most of my time indoors.
My family are not big partiers, and they don’t need a lot to keep them entertained. I have great memories of how we all often stayed up till midnight when growing up to watch music and fireworks and the Times Square ball drop on the television. Since my parents don’t drink, we would pour sparkling apple cider into fancy cups and cheers each other about each new year. These memories, simple and comfortable and without any need to impress anyone, created the level of love that I have for the holiday of new beginnings – there’s something undeniably hopeful about New Year’s Eve, when we are trying to be better than we were the past year, even if we hate resolutions. It’s worth a sparkly drink to mark the occasion.
I sometimes think about the composite parts of things we think are appropriate for breakfast – starches in toast, cheese in omelettes, sugar in muffins. For some reason, cupcakes aren’t breakfast and pizza isn’t breakfast, but their parts reconstituted make some timeless breakfast foods. Such was my thought process when, at a brunch place in Texas, I was told I could have tortilla chips and spicy queso for breakfast. I dove right in – queso is one of my favorite foods, if it counts as a food and not a condiment. The crunch of chips, creaminess of the cheese, and spicy kick of the melted-in peppers makes for my favorite combination. For something this delicious, I’ll buck tradition any day, and if the Texans say I can… more’s the better!
My friend LJ graciously allowed me to stay in her home for 4 nights when I had a conference in her town; this graciousness was especially amazing because her first child was only 5 weeks old! She was a wonderful but frazzled mother; she now has two little ones and continues to impress me with her love and dedication all the time. The morning that we picked up a couple donuts together as we were out running errands, I got mine in this bag, which I photographed and then left standing on the counter, because mothers need to be reminded of what they deserve: they deserve donuts, and veggies, and hugs, and words of encouragement, and laughter and rest and love.
One time, Husband and I stayed at an AirBnB, an accommodation where people rent out a spare room for a night or two. It was inexpensive, and these people were so kind while still being so busy: we spent a whole evening together watching extreme sports videos while the hostess worked on a painting and chatted with us, and her husband showed us all the improvements they were in the process of making to their old farmhouse. This breakfast (I swear they gave us more than bacon, but they were quite generous with the bacon!) made me feel like I was staying with friends, not just with people who wanted a little extra cash.
The combination of rain and sunshine didn’t do our bell peppers that well this year, but in early October a few late and small peppers came from the plant before frosts took it. They were bitter, like all the thick flavor of a full sized bell pepper had concentrated into these tiny versions, but they made me smile because they seemed awfully tenacious. I hope to help my garden need less resilience next year, but it makes me smile to think at how the plants were fighting to survive, not fighting me. It puts me on good terms with Mother Nature on these frigid days.