Spicy Ground Pork and Cabbage Bowl + Wedding Dress Blues

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The Orange

At lunchtime I bought a huge orange—
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—
They got quarters and I got a half.

And that orange, it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park.
This is peace and contentment. It’s new.

The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all the jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I’m glad I exist.

–Wendy Cope, from Serious Concerns

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Best Veggie Burger Ever, V2

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I’m not sure whether this feeling is universal or not but, I’m finding twenty nine a very odd bird. It’s been a liminal time: I know what I want now (for the most part), but I haven’t yet figured out how to bring what I want for myself to fruition. It’s incredibly frustrating. Twenty nine is not not twenty four–I’m not trying to discover who I am. And it’s not thirty either, which in my mind is the mythical year when you are unequivocally not a child anymore.

Twenty nine has been planning a wedding, now only a few months away. From a distance, a wedding seems like a concrete action, an objective step forward. But in fact, being married isn’t a hurdle to conquer; instead, it’s a symbol (and symptom) of something much longer-brewing. In future, I don’t think we’ll think of the day after the big day as the start of our “real” relationship. Our relationship, the one that brings me comfort and joy and security every day, began six years ago. The slow work of those six years carried us here. One day isn’t a beginning or an end, but instead a (special, special) punctuation mark in the story of our life together.

But in my head, I’ve detached the symbol from the practice. I’ve spent so much time scheming and dreaming this huge party we’re throwing, this party I’m looking forward to so much. But even still, the event feels like an intangible monolith. My subconscious seems to agree, because I dream about it almost nightly now. These aren’t nightmares, but they are strange and highly vivid, so that when I wake up it takes me a full minute to realize the that dream does not reflect reality.

So many of the big questions have floated to the surface this year. Where will we live? The US and France are possibilities, but the nature of the Frenchman’s work opens up other domestic or international options, too. Will we continue to rent our narrow Brooklyn apartment, or should we buy? And if so, where? And when? If you’d asked me five years ago, I would have suggested starting a family at twenty nine. Now, that idea seems ludicrous and impossible. But if not now, then when?

Reading this over, I can see that I’m in need of an herbal tea, some yoga, and the cleansing purge of an Arrested Development marathon. I get that I’m more plan-obsessed than most balanced human beings. But even when I remind myself to forget the big things for a while, the fact is, they aren’t phantoms. The realities of twenty nine cannot be wished away, whether I like it or not. Whether I like it or not, I possess no crystal ball, and there is a limit to my agency.

Twenty nine is all the balls in the air. Twenty nine is waiting for them to fall down again, to see where they land.

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Roasty Cauliflower + Butternut Squash Tartine with Sultanas and Pepitas

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One night last week, when the Frenchman was away on business, I dominated every single one of our wedding invitations. I stayed at the table late into the night, five hours in fact, watching Gilmore Girls for company. I painted the inside of each envelope with gold foil liners–Has anyone else done this? The liners should come with a “tedious work ahead!” label. My first five attempts were embarrassing, but I quickly worked out a system. And then came the actual invitation-stuffing. (The Frenchman and I designed our invites based on watercolors of our wedding flowers, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the towers of La Rochelle, from where the Frenchman hails.)

But now I’m frightening our doorman. You see, the only thing still standing in my way are the stamps, which are taking their sweet time arriving in the mail. Every time I go downstairs I bound toward the desk: “Do we have any packageeees?” Like a demented puppy. It isn’t dignified. Doesn’t he know that stamps are the only thing separating me from the oncoming rush of rsvps?! And eventual table seating charts? With post-its? (Actually, yes he does, since I bring it up regularly.)

If you think I sound a little left of center at the moment, you’re right. In my defense, I’m mostly planning the wedding myself. Also, to say I’m a list-obsessed micromanager is a bit of a gentle understatement. You should see the joint excel files the Frenchman and I have going! I try to show them to people–“Look! Look at our color-coded wedding excels!” And then the person has to say to me, “No, Cris, no. This isn’t a thing. I don’t want to see your excel files.” Can you believe that?!

We have twelve weeks to go. There are so many details, so many little tasks to be completed. But despite my basket case tendencies, the whole process has been really enjoyable. And it’s lovely working with the Frenchman in all sorts of creative ways.

I paused the wedding madness long enough to make these tartines for lunch. I thought they were delicious. I hope you will too.

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Basque Cheesecake

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There’s a reason this space has been quiet for nearly two months. At the end of May, the Frenchman and I are getting married. It’s going to be an awesome party, but because I’m a nutso micromanager, I’ve taken on the brunt of the planning myself. In an effort to personalize the occasion, I also ended up creating extra work for us: together, the Frenchman and I self-designed every bit of stationary. (Who knew that weddings require so.much.stationary?) We built a website. Eleven months ago, I bottled vanilla beans into two cases of vodka, the results of which will soon become wedding favors in the form of extract, vanilla sugar, and vanilla bath salts.

This is all to say that, although I’ve loved the process of planning this wedding, it’s also been majorly time consuming. It’s been a pleasure, but sometimes it feels as if planning this wedding has become my second full time job. This is all to say that, while I have boatloads of ideas swirling around my mind grapes, half-recipes or ingredient lists I’ve jotted down and vow to return to, the fruition of these ideas may have to wait until May 31st.

I’m still cooking, but lately this has taken on a quieter form–simple, healthful dinners to fortify the Frenchman and me against the cold. Often, the seeds of one night’s dinner sprout from whatever I have left in the fridge from the last night’s dinner. On and on it goes.

I love and value this space, but I also think it’s time for a change. In the past, I’ve been very strict with myself about the structure of a post, and adamant about only posting original recipes. However, I don’t think this model is sustainable for me in the long run. Even after the wedding, the Frenchman and I both work full time, and we still have plenty of adventures on the horizon. Plus, there are so many stellar recipes I’ve grown to love which aren’t mine. I want the option to share smaller, not limiting myself to a big project every time I hit publish. I hope this is ok with you.

In the meantime, there’s a winter trevisano salad with toasted hazelnuts, parsley, cara cara oranges, hot honey, and pecorino cheese that’s burning a hole in my pocket. I send you all warm, knee sock, hot chocolate kind of wishes.

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New Years in San Sebastián

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A Drinking Song

  • Wine comes in at the mouth
  • And love comes in at the eye;
  • That’s all we shall know for truth
  • Before we grow old and die.
  • I lift the glass to my mouth,
  • I look at you, and I sigh.

W.B. Yeats

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Christmas in Lanzarote

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We spend Christmas, my fifth with the Frenchman’s family, in Lanzarote–the easternmost island in the Canary chain. I eat the best pulpo of my life. I’ve developed a tan.

The island is largely covered by volcanic rock, remnants of an eruption as recent as 1730. In December, the sun shines bright and warm, but the constant, insistent wind carries a chill, and sometimes it’s necessary to change from a bathing suit into many layers in a matter of minutes. The island is stippled with cacti and aloe plants. There are palm trees too; not the willow-trunked variety–these are low, compacted trunks, as if hunkered down again the wind. For days at a time, a film of sand blown in from the Sahara blankets the sky–calima, it’s called–and hazes the atmosphere. Driving in the car, past villages, each building white-washed, low, and square, each door and shutter painted the same, gem olive green–we pass unusual vineyards: vines winding through volcanic gravel, each plant protected from the wind by semi-circles of black rock.

I’ve passed the time here uncharacteristically disconnected from all my electronic devices. Meals with the Frenchman’s family are communal events, and we play games after dinner, or walk along the water. I’ll have a small glass of wine with lunch. My French and Spanish is all jumbled together now, and I have to pay attention not to weave both languages into sentences. I’m grateful for this trip–it’s been restful in a way I forgot was possible. For once, my mind isn’t running one hundred miles per minute. I give myself over to books for hours at a time, and writing isn’t just another item in a long list of to-dos. I have time to let the words roll around, time for them to percolate. It’s a joy.

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A Winter Salad of Fennel, Celery Root, Lemon, and Pecorino

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I have never met a group more reliable to have a good meal with–and it should be said, a few drinks with–than poets…Poets tend to love the details, the process of food, the languid hours of a good meal–meaning not just the vittles but the talk, often loud, that accompanies it.

This may also be because the best poems, like the best meals, are made from scratch. Both rely on the seasons, but also human history; both also consist of tradition, on knowledge passed down either from books or from generation to generation, hand to mouth. In poetry, there are few shortcuts, but there are secrets. Food and poetry each insist that we put our own twists and ingredients in the mix: we make each dish, like a good poem, our own. With any luck, the result is both surprising and satisfying, exactly what we wanted, perhaps without even knowing it.

However, we know well the ways in which our society has abandoned good food, and too often poetry entirely–as if it grows without water and light, and that our neglect won’t reveal itself. “Can one be inspired by rows of prepared canned meals?” asked Alice B. Toklas, who knew her way around both poetry & a kitchen. “Never. One must get nearer to creation to be able to create, even in the kitchen.”

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Whole Wheat-Kitchen Sink Tart

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This is the longest absence, by a long shot, I’ve taken from this blog since its inception more than three years ago. It’s been a struggle, to put into words exactly why I needed a break. I still have no solid reason. Nothing happened. It was just a persistent feeling: the need to sit peacefully for a minute, to take time away from constant, frenetic connection.

It’s been a season of sea change. I am re-learning how to focus on what’s actually, concretely important, instead of attempting 100% all the time, running myself into the ground in the process. I’m rejiggering my expectations: drinking a cup of tea and staring out the window doesn’t have to be a lazy act; often it is restorative and necessary. I put so much pressure on myself, both in this space and in life, and it’s only served to make me bone tired. Constant activity, trying to please everyone—it’s simply not sustainable.

I’m working to figure out what I want. I’d like to come out the other side a more joyful person. Like anything worth doing, progress is slow, but for the first time in a long time, I feel like I’m no longer swimming under water.

I don’t have any Thanksgiving material this year (but oh boy, did I ever last year. Check it out here, here, and here), but here’s a small summary of things-that-make-me-happy lately:

The woman across the restaurant in the big hat, who smacks her lips unembarrassedly and pronounces her wine “delicious.” Serial. Sandy Kenyon’s movie minute. The apartment-filling smell of caramelized onions. Walking along the Manhattan bridge alone on a brisk November Sunday, listening to a book on tape. Sauce, copious sauce, in almost any variety. The port-in-a-storm quality of the international foods section in the otherwise hectic Bed, Bath, & Beyond on 6th avenue. The earth-sweet-pungent smell of Concord grapes at the market. Homemade hot chocolate. Sitting alone at the kitchen table, licking oozing goat cheese slowly off a dull knife. Pulling a slim volume of Mary Oliver poems off the shelf and carrying it to bed.

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