A burgundy leaf fell from the Japanese maple and landed upright in a spinach artichoke dip. It was chilly in the shadow under the tree. Soon, there would be the long winter, cold and white. An erasure of this night, the garden. -Lauren Groff (Fates and Furies)
When I last left you, it was high summer. Mosquitoes were the bane of my existence, my garden was flourishing, and, some days, the air was so thick it felt like you were wading through a just-set pudding. Now, now it is finally and appropriately fall chilly, with flannel sheets on the bed and mugs of hot chocolate and hot toddies again de rigueur. I would ask where the time has gone, but that would be disingenuous. The truth is for a long time I debated whether to return to this blog. I know, I know; I do this a lot. But doesn’t it somehow feel these days that blogging is, if not dead, being replaced by the Instagram caption? I know that bloggers aren’t supposed to say these kinds of things, but blogging isn’t my livelihood, and I’ve always been of the opinion that social media could use a good old injection of realism. Life can’t be only adorable puppies and unicorns and perfectly crimped pies (I don’t know about your Instagram feeds, but, save for the unicorns, that is a pretty apt description of mine)! Lurking somewhere behind all of those happy images, there are dogs that aren’t so cute (they do exist; I’ve seen them), pies with soggy bottoms (I know because I unfortunately just baked one) and, instead of unicorns, the disappointment that occurs when, at times in life, things don’t turn out as you would have liked.
You see, while the Greek and I had an absolutely lovely time in Italy, from the never-ending bowls of pasta (truly, we ate so much pasta, I think there must have been some flour in my blood) to the constant supply of good wine, gelato, and art, we were both dreading our return to Delaware. It’s nothing against Delaware; people always seem surprised when I say this, but, despite its small size and relative remoteness, there is a lot to be charmed by here. Our disappointment stemmed from our discovery at the conference in Florence that, while it had seemed that a job offer had been pending for the Greek, this offer was not actually going to come to fruition because of funding (I blame the fiscal conservatives and, as this job would have been in Texas, those who decided that solving the wild boar problem, i.e. shooting them from hot air balloons, was more important than both public education and improving maternal mortality). Granted, as this job wasn’t just in Texas, but Houston, Texas, I was also somewhat relieved because, just as we were discovering this news, the devastation of Hurricane Harvey was dominating the headlines. It was, however, all in all pretty disappointing and, as our magnificent Italian adventure was coming to an end, we started to realize that this offer’s failure to materialize meant that we were again in limbo, with more questions than answers about our future: Where would we be going in 2018? What opportunities would be out there for people in the Greek’s field? How much longer would I continue to work my own job, which I have been itching to leave for forever now, etc., etc.? It can be exhausting not to know, but, more importantly, as we had considered this to be at least a 75% done deal, it also proved a good reminder that while you may be a proficient architect of an imaginary and hoped-for existence, it is always a good idea not to count your chickens before they are hatched.
But clearly we hadn’t sufficiently learned this lesson, as, shortly after our return, the universe again decided to offer us what my old academic adviser would refer to as “a teachable moment.” Physically, I had started to wonder if something wasn’t quite right and, as women can have a certain intuition about these things, I took a test and discovered that I was pregnant. Exciting? Yes, we were excited! Indicative of a successful outcome and viable life? No, unfortunately. What they don’t teach you in sex ed or middle school health class is that, while pregnancies (planned or unplanned) can and do happen, there is, despite the rampant fear-mongering about young lives being ruined by untimely babies, no promise that any pregnancy will result in a baby. While this may seem silly to say, as miscarriage is a known thing (even Mark Zuckerberg has done his part to make it part of the mainstream conversation) and impacts about 20% of all pregnancies, the word pregnant somehow quickly takes on a life of its own…You begin to imagine all the things you might do with this child, talk about it as if it is real, calculate how old you will be when it is graduating from college and this is even if you’ve done your homework and read up on all the things that can go wrong with pregnancy because, yes, it just so happens that you studied Russian literature and know the various ways in which life can be ugly and cruel. In situations like these, it probably also doesn’t hurt to be a fatalist.
That said, even when a fatalist definitively realizes that something is really wrong and that none of these things are going to come to pass, it is, forgive the cliche, a fairly bitter pill to swallow. And this isn’t just because the whole existence you’ve constructed for this would-be child collapses around you, but also because you realize how you foolishly got excited during the ultrasound when you thought you saw life and what you actually saw was something that had never developed. On the one hand, I’m a gardener; I know that not all seeds take and that a lack of growth says nothing of the color of the planter’s thumb, but it’s one thing to wait a month for shiso sprouts to appear and another to think you are pregnant when you technically are, but also aren’t–at least not in the way the term is commonly used. For me, that has been the really surprising thing: that, even when you are no longer pregnant, if you were to take a test, you would test positive, as bodies, like smartphones using the autocorrect function, simply aren’t as swift on the uptake as one would hope they would be. This is why it’s not uncommon for your doctor to ask you to have blood work every seven days, as pregnancy hormones don’t just disappear overnight, but slowly decompose. In my mind, I have been referring to this as the insult to injury phase, which officially came to an end for me only yesterday. Perhaps this is what has inspired this post, or maybe it is the need to write about this experience as an act of closure and recognition? I’m not really sure, but I do know that this kind of thing is, despite not being discussed as openly as it should be, as common and everyday as baking a pie in the month of November. And, although a more personal post than I usually write, whatever this post is, it definitely falls into the life portion of the blog’s description, although there has, in the past few months, been a lot of food and literature in my life as well.
In the spirit of easing myself back to the blog, I figured the best way to start would be with a good old collection of links, as I have been a bit of a reading machine lately. That said, I promise there will soon be some recipes, maybe even those you could make for Thanksgiving? I’ve got some vegetable dishes up my sleeve and have also been on a real pie kick lately; I’m even devising an apple pie with a Greek twist. Until then, happy reading and know that I believe that 2018 is going to be a wonderful year (I think we’re all probably ready to say goodbye to 2017):
Lately, books have been my salvation: It all started with my finally finishing Fates and Furies and continued through the strangely sparse and fascinating The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the seasonally appropriate and charming (and nothing like the movie) Practical Magic, and the creepy and un-put-down-able Sharp Objects, which caused me to underproof a loaf of bread since using a razor blade made me feel nothing but horror inside. Now, I am slowly savoring The Book of Dust, hoping to make it last for as long as I can.
I was inspired to read Sharp Objects after reading the New York Times Style Magazine feature on Amy Adams, who will star with Chris Messina in the HBO limited series.
It is hard to classify this piece by Marilynne Robinson, but it is as eloquent a defense as any that you’ll ever find of humanism, reading, thinking and of valuing the fragility of life.
I have yet to read Manhattan Beach and never read the famous The Visit from the Goon Squad or any other novel by Jennifer Egan, but I thought the recent article about her and her work in The New Yorker offered an interesting glimpse of her methods and path to writing fiction. It also made me a newly born fan.
On the perils of lawn disputes.
We may not be moving to Texas, but Tex-Mex will always have a special place in my heart; these soft cheese tacos are a little over the top, but they are wonderful for a small dinner party; just don’t expect leftovers!
Given that I first ate and adored Georgian food back in the early 2000s, I now find the fact that its status as the current “it” cuisine to be both well deserved and more than a little annoying. That said, I think a life without khachapuri is a sad one indeed.
For anybody who needs a pie tutorial (I told you I’ve had pie on the brain lately; there is something rightly soothing about rolling out dough and, quite frankly, I like the challenge of achieving perfection), the recent New York Times video is as stylishly modern as it gets. But for those who have their dough rolling down and want to change things up a bit, a very old article by Melissa Clark offers lots of dough variations, as well as a few interesting recipes. The Brandied Pumpkin Chestnut Pie will be making an appearance on our table this holiday.
As somebody whose favorite restaurant growing up was Olive Garden, I can relate to this article in more ways than one…Fettuccine Alfredo was always my go-to dish, but I’m pretty certain that, just like the author, I wouldn’t love now like I did then.
I’ve been on a real Indian food kick lately, cooking from the lovely books of Meera Sodha (the NYTimes feature on her was excellent) and recently deciding to join in Saveur‘s virtual cookbook club this month, which is featuring Madhur Jaffrey’s A Taste of India.
If you don’t watch The Good Place, you should remedy this immediately. When I recently found it hard to laugh, The Good Place succeeded–and intelligently; there are few shows out there that can tackle ethical dilemmas in such a compellingly approachable way.
I was recently reading something by Nigella Lawson and found myself admiring her wit, as there are few food writers who would be so bold as to refer to quinoa as a “middle-class staple.” It turns out that even she, femme fatale of the food world who long ago, on her many cooking shows, would supposedly slither down the stairs (supposedly after midnight) in a silk robe to steal a bite of chocolate cake from the fridge, finds Instagram to be overwhelming.
It’s beyond clear that I’m no member of Team Trump, but I find articles like this one to be the absolute worst of the liberal media. Sometimes I can take or leave Slate (it depends on the article and the writer), but I think that suggesting that Ivanka Trump needs a thesaurus is not only tacky, but not at all worthy of news coverage. Frankly, I’m ashamed that I even clicked on it, but, as somebody who experienced the harshness of academia, I was curious. I do know, however, that it’s not nice to suggest that a person use a thesaurus, nor do I think, despite the catchiness of the headline, that a thesaurus would solve the problem being “analyzed” (or mocked) here. Call me a tree-hugging, soft-hearted liberal of yore (or, in today’s parlance, a snowflake), but we could probably all aim to do a lot better.
As a final note, there are tons of cookbooks published every single year (many of which I do not even understand the need for or the appeal of) and at least a few usually attempt to cover the wide range of American food. I don’t know that a person needs more than one of these books, as there tends to be a lot of overlap, but, in this particular case, the proceeds from the America the Great Cookbook help to benefit No Kid Hungry. And the recipes sound pretty great, too.