It is past four o’clock in the morning and I am still awake, up to nothing in particular except listening to a plunking blanket of rain beat and tinker onto the skylight above our bed, down the mansard roof. The man I love more than yesterday, less than tomorrow, more even than vanilla-peanut butter ice cream sleeps fitfully in the bed beside me, taking up more than his fair share of sheet real estate, but no matter.
We are in Paris, in the attic room of a narrow gray hotel tucked onto an unremarkable street in the 3eme arrondissement. The room is small, comically so, but in return we have a view—a true panorama of Paris’s shabby-chic, sprawling skyline, the expanse of grays, charcoals, and creams, the embarrassment of clay chimneystacks, like so many upturned flowerpots abandoned in a garden row. The Sacre Coeur stands alone, rising ivory on a distant hill, hazy at the edges in the somber light, a neat little postage stamp of a cathedral. We have a small balcony, and I move from the bed to stand outside as the rain softens, following the white lights that lick the wet road, slick as oil after hours of rain.
Two weeks prior found the Frenchman and me in a very different hotel room, this one in Hudson, New York, where we had traveled to celebrate five years together. Inclement weather meant a slow and arduous drive from the city, and so we passed that afternoon lazily in the room, lounging in front of a fire, talking and reading, eventually watching the light outside the window fade slowly, shifting from shades of dusty blue to incandescent indigo. The snow continued unabated throughout the afternoon so that by the time dinner rolled around, our car was buried in a foot of packed powder. For once, I was dressed and ready on time. I zipped my heavy down coat and moved toward the door to leave. “Are you ready?” I called over my shoulder.
The Frenchman did not respond. He was still standing stock still in front of the fire. “Cris,” he said, “I need to ask you something.”
“Right now? I said, “Can’t you just ask me outside?” I was already in my coat and the fire had made the room very warm.
“No. Please take off your coat, I need to ask you something right now.
“All right, weirdo,” I said.
I took off my coat and moved back into the room to face him, to look at him properly. Before blinking, he had procured a small, black box from his back pocket.
Even in the dim light of the fire, it was immediately apparent that the ring nestled in pitch velvet was the loveliest ring ever presented to any woman anywhere—an estate piece from the 1930s, I would later learn, and just my style. A center diamond hoisted squarely upon a slender platinum band, buttressed on both sides by three delicate, fanning, diamond leaves. Exquisite.
A handful of weeks have elapsed since that moment, and I must say I am still stunned—finding a ring on my left hand still surprises. But there is nothing better, nothing at all, than the love I feel for this man—ah! —This spectacular man who I met by utter accident. Is our love not a marvel? This quietly kind, deeply perceptive man who allows me sips of his stiff Manhattans when he knows I don’t like them, and every time shakes his head and laughs when I inevitably pull a face and say, “Ick. I don’t like that.” This man—he can match pitch on a violin. He pursues learning for the enjoyment and drive of it; he wears a leather jacket like a boss.
I know him, although not always completely, maybe never absolutely. I like that—there are still unknown depths. What I do know is that he values my comfort above his own, and this works, because my concern in kind is for his happiness and well-being. I know that we can endure museums for the exact same amount of time, and that we see eye to eye on The Big Issues. I know he is level headed, even keeled. I know he is a man I could spend the rest of my life getting to know. And so appealing was his offer that I think I will go ahead and do just that.
On our way back from the restaurant that evening, wine sodden and ecstatic, covered in snow that was still falling freely from the matte gray sky, we skipped, high kneed, down the center of the road. There were no cars or people to be seen, just the snow and the quiet and the intermittent change of stop lights, shifting for no one. All of the Frenchman’s nervousness dissolved by a Sazerac at the bar before dinner, now he took the ring back off my finger, sank one-kneed into the deep snow, and asked me again. The answer was the same. It always will be.
The engagement is still new. It is still as shiny as a diamond, as bright as freshly fallen snow. But when that excitement inevitably melts away, when the novelty has faded, what will remain is this: I get him. At the end, we get each other. And there is no better prize than that. There is no ring, no wedding, and no expression of “Congratulations!” I would trade for that. The real thing, the simple, quiet truth of the matter—that most basic, exultant knowledge: us, together. We are partners, and now we will continue to be, but in new and deeper ways. My darling love, you are my absolute favorite, the only one for me. We are the best team I could possibly imagine.
I won’t soon forget this holiday season. I hope that you too are happy, wherever you are, warm, well, and loved.
These hors d’oeuvres are inexpensive to make, especially if you don’t bother with the sausage. Alternatively, you can substitute other squash mashes or different sorts of mushrooms. The bundles can be made in stages and, once done, frozen and then moved directly from the freezer into the oven–perfect for when you want to impress guests, but don’t relish toiling in the kitchen on the day of your party. (Freeze them on a tray, bundles not touching. Once the puff pastry is frozen and won’t stick, you can toss them into a large plastic bag.) Just make sure not to overfill each half moon–it’s tempting, trust me.
Makes 48 bundles. These can be made 1 day ahead and refrigerated. Or, they can be made 2 weeks ahead and frozen.
2 packages good-quality puff pastry, from the freezer section (I use Dufour)
1 punnet mushrooms
5 cloves garlic
1 medium sweet potato
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper
2 chicken sausages
1 small white onion
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons sriracha
4 ounces fresh goat cheese
2 tablespoons za’atar
prepare the mushrooms, garlic, and sweet potato: Heat the oven to 425F. Wash and dry the mushrooms; slice them each in half. In a large bowl, toss the mushrooms and the garlic cloves (skins on) with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and a couple cracks of black pepper. Slice the sweet potato in half crosswise, and spread 1/2 teaspoons of the olive oil across both exposed faces. Scatter the mushrooms and the garlic across a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Place the sweet potato halves, exposed sides down, on the baking sheet, too. Roast the mushrooms and garlic for 25 minutes, and then move them to a cutting board. Allow the sweet potato to cook for another 15 minutes, or until a knife slides in without resistance. Set the sweet potato aside to cool. Remove the skins from the garlic cloves and then, using a chef’s knife, mince the mushrooms and garlic together. Set aside in a small bowl. Remove the skins from the sweet potato. Using a fork, stir the cooked sweet potato into a mash in a small bowl, along with 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt. Set this bowl aside.
prepare the sausage and onion: Meanwhile, remove the sausages from their casing and mince the onion. Heat the remaining olive oil in a wide saucepan over medium heat, and when it is hot, add the sausage. Using a spoon to break up the sausage, cook until the chicken is no longer pink. Move the sausage to a small bowl. Sauté the minced onion in the same pan, adding a splash of water if the onions start to brown or dry too fast. When the onion is translucent, move it into the sausage bowl.
build the bundles: Empty the egg yolk into a small bowl, along with a splash of water; mix to combine. Remove the puff pastry rounds from the refrigerator. Using a pastry brush, brush the edge of one half of each pastry round with the eggwash–this will help the pastry stick together. Place a little bit of the mushroom mix, the sweet potato puree, the sausage mix, a dab of sriracha, and a dot of goat cheese onto one half of each pastry round. Fold the pastry in half, and press down with the tines of a fork to make a half moon. (You don’t want the contents to spill out; if you overfill the first one, adjust as you go.) When you are finished filling the bundles, brush each half moon with the eggwash. Dust each with the za’atar. Refrigerate the bundles on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet for 30 minutes-1 hour. (Alternatively, freeze up to 2 months ahead.)
cook the bundles: Heat the oven to 400F. When the bundles have relaxed in the refrigerator, bake them for 11-13 minutes, until the bundles puff up, and are golden brown in spots. (You can also move them right from the freezer into the oven; increase the cooking time by 2-3 minutes.) Serve warm.