“I come to a tree so rich with autumn’s golds and reds it makes for a mild ache. I lie down under it, close my eyes, and let my mind wander. I think of all that is happening elsewhere, as I lie here. Nearby, I can hear the sounds of a road crew. Somewhere else, monkeys chatter in trees. A male seahorse becomes pregnant. A diamond forms, a bee dances out directions, a windshield shatters. Somewhere a mother spreads peanut butter for her son’s lunch, a lover sighs, a knitter binds off the edge of a sleeve. Clouds gather to make rain, corn ripens on the stalk, a cancer cell divides, a little league team scores. Somewhere blossoms open, a man pushes a knife in deeper, a painter darkens her blue. A cashier pours new dimes into an outstretched hand, rainbows form and fade, plates in the earth shift and settle. A woman opens a velvet box, male spiders pluck gently on the females’ webs, falcons fall from the sky. Abstracts are real and time is a lie, it cannot be measured when one moment can expand to hold everything. You can want to live and end up choosing death; and you can want to die and end up living. What keeps us here, really? A thread that breaks in a breeze. And yet a thread that cannot be broken.” – Elizabeth Berg, Never Change
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Garlic scapes are the green, curly cue shoots that grow from hardneck garlic plants, where flowers might otherwise sprout. Farmers cut away these scapes regardless, so that all growing energy is diverted to the garlic bulb growing underground. Scapes make for delicious eating on their own though, so they need not go to waste.
In the northeast, garlic scapes appear in June and July. Raw, they taste like a fresher, greener, less astringent version of mature garlic. Cooked, they have a garlicy, lemony-leek flavor.
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.Read more
It’s been an odd week. On Sunday, I woke up with a sore throat that petered out by Wednesday, but then flared into a brief fever. Since, I’ve nursed a persistent stomachache that I can’t seem to shake. I’m a kaleidoscope of maladies over here. I seldom get sick, and rarely do I get so sick that I can’t work. As a result, I’ve found myself with a surplus of down time to just sit and think.
My 10-year high school reunion was a couple weekends ago. I attended with a clutch of dear friends and when I really think about that, it astonishes me–I’ve counted these women as friends and confidantes for almost half a lifetime. And although we’ve been largely separated by time and distance, we remain closely bonded by those invisible threads of shared experience and deep affection. At this point, conversations rarely need prelude–we know each other on a level that I think only happens with time.
It was wonderful to be back on campus (even if our class was relegated to the freshman boys’ dorm), to see old classmates, and visit with old teachers. Walking around campus was a minefield of half forgotten memories–names and events I’d tucked away until I returned to the physical place, until we were all together. High school was not all sunshine and roses for me; I suspect this is true for most people, but I can’t deny it was sometimes very sweet, and certainly formative. Being back, it was easy to remember the good (sledding in the dead of night) and the bad (slipping on black ice on my way back from swim practice and flashing probably the whole indoor track team).
Both nights we stayed up too late and drank a little too much, but that’s what was required. I made us a strawberry tart, a fancier version of the dessert we used to buy for birthdays from the local A&P and eat with our hands in a huddle on the dorm room floor. We followed tradition and devoured it in the most uncivilized manner possible.
On Sunday, my friend and I walked down to the dorm where we served as prefects our senior year. I didn’t expect to be as moved as I was. A current dorm parent let us into our old room–the room that is still gargantuan in my memory. There’s a picture of us at seventeen, dressed up for halloween, in the common room. (I’d forgotten that the whole dorm dressed as characters from Peter Pan that year.) A photograph I took in class, developed (underexposed) in the darkroom still hangs in the hallway.
If you had told me then that, in ten years, I would be performing maid of honor duties for her October wedding, and she mine the following May, I would have had a million questions. What would I tell my eighteen year-old self? It’s been an eventful decade. I am grateful for the milestone, and for the opportunity to celebrate the start of important, buoying friendships in the best possible way, with strawberry tart and plenty of wine. Read more
The spring night is bitterly cold, but still I insist we bike across three neighborhoods, to that new restaurant I want to try, because it is fortifying to leave the house at least once on a Sunday. I have spent all day barefoot and messy in the kitchen, laboring over new recipes, and it feels wonderful to put the responsibility of dinner in someone else’s capable hands.
In the dining room, the wavering light of tiny votives ghost the brick walls and spare wooden tables. We order drinks and sip them and watch the cooks as they pass in front of the wood burning fire, slinging tarte flambée across the hot oven floor, pulling casseroles piled high with gruyere and raclette-laced potato purée.
Across the table, we hold hands and bicker, bicker and then hold hands. We are half joking tonight, half pushing, to find the edges of what is possible to say. We share a whole roast chicken, its heat wilting a nest of watercress and fennel, and a pot of creamy white beans rich with duck confit. We talk about the wedding, and about the week ahead.
At home, we take turns brushing our teeth and filling water glasses. Our evening has been both supremely ordinary and tinged with newness–the promise of a fresh season, the hatching of future plans. I rest my head against the Frenchman’s chest, on the spot where I have rested my head uncountable times before, and tuck my icy feet between his warm ones. I am asleep before he switches off the light.
You arrive home late. Work was horrendous and so you are a coil primed to spring. The Frenchman is on the couch, waiting to say hello, but right away you would like to know why he has not prepared dinner. Nevermind that you did not technically ask him to make dinner (isn’t he just supposed to know?) and that he has likely had a long day himself (but you left before him and came home after him that day, so you win). He expresses his sympathy over your difficult day, and sits you right down to massage your weary shoulders. But the whole day, when you think about it in hindsight, has primed you for anger. All you needed was this tiny little spark to set you off, and so here you are, sitting at the kitchen table with anger building to a boil. Off you go. You say things. You are at least 39%, but up to 68% right. You hate to feel resentful about cooking for the Frenchman, because you actually love it very much, but in this moment you are just so mad about it all, about everything. Later, you insist upon eating your toaster oven-Amy’s-pizza dinner by yourself. You are not a perfect person, and sometimes it is necessary to act like a child. Read more
Is this sacrilege? At the same time I’m buying blackberries in bulk–lay them on a baking sheet, move to the freezer; in a few hours, you’ll have un-clumped berries you can toss into baggies for winter–I am starting to flip through the fall chapters of my favorite cookbooks. Nigel Slater, David Tanis: they are already nudging me towards fall, what with their talk of hunks of pork roasted over beds of thyme, deep apple crisps cooked in earthenware pots, Dutch ovens full of lentils gemmed with sturdy vegetables. I am looking forward to mushrooms in cast iron: cook them in salty butter flecked with parsley, until they’re deep and warm and nutty; twist into strands of pasta bejeweled with crisp-fried nuggets of pancetta, sprinkled with a dusting of some hard, sharp cheese.
But I digress.
We are living in the strange, liminal time where the Fall Season has been trumpeted, and yet: I’m still picking weighty tomatoes off the farmers market pallet, and also melons, and silky husks of corn. I’m still carting home the peaches, the zucchini, the eggplant. Did I miss the figs entirely? (More on that next week.) I’m buying peppers of all sorts by the armful, and cherry and pear tomatoes (why are tiny tomatoes named after other fruit?) Toss those baby tomatoes in olive oil, salt, and pepper; roast for 2 hours at 250F, and then for another hour at 200F. The result will be burst-in-your-mouth, crostini-or-pasta-perfect tomatoes. Add garlic, and a spoonful of ricotta. Read more
A couple weekends ago, the Frenchman and I absconded from the city to the country. It was a necessary escape. New York in the summer is stifling, the heat gets trapped between the buildings and it makes you crazy. It took us two hours just to get out of the city, but it was all worth it, when we crossed the Rip Van Winkle Bridge (yes, it’s a real thing), high above the broad band of the Hudson, straight toward the dusky outline of mountains.
We pulled into the farm past 9pm, and it was so dark we had to use our brights as flashlights. There was a rib eye from the farm store waiting for us in the fridge. I flicked on the chef’s range and seared that baby over hot, hot heat with just a bit of Maldon sea salt and black pepper. I stirred olive oil and lemon juice and more salt into mixed diced tomatoes for a quick salad, and the Frenchman poured us tall glasses of red wine. We ate dark chocolate for dessert, over a fierce game of Scrabble.
Kinderhook Farm is impossibly bucolic, verdant, and lovely; such a stark contrast from the noisy, rush-about city. The renovated barn where we stayed had soaring ceilings and stripped wooden floors that creaked slightly, satisfyingly under bare feet. We spent much of our time shuffling languidly between the wide, open kitchen and the picnic table/double hammock situation in the yard, although I won’t soon forget the view from the shower: yawning pasture, stretching greenly in three directions. Read more