Last week on Instagram Shauna Niequist mentioned a book in one of her photo descriptions. Something about how if you start with an onion something will come to you when you’re stumped about what to make for dinner. The photo didn’t hurt either, waxing poetic by one of my favorite writers, and she had just suggested a book: and the subject matter was food.
I bought that book based on her recommendation in 200 characters without blinking. It arrived today.
Thanksgiving break started today and while I was amped and ready to go this morning, all of a sudden it was 8:30 am and I realized I had a good 12 hours left to go. I was out of ideas. I panicked and started texting friends who have kids the same age as me: were they surviving? Why was this hard?
I made a split decision to go get coffee and detour to the grocery store alone. With my 20 minutes of silence I did some bargaining with God. Like, if He could just please get me through the next few days, I would, you know, say thanks.
It took fresh air and a walk and about 5 more hours but I did get there. After our long walk to the library for some new books and Christmas movies (and more coffee, always more coffee) we drove into the driveway and there it was: the brown package.
All day I’ve been making turkey stock from Thanksgiving bones (one party down and one unfortunate defrosting fiasco with the extra freezer in the garage), I decided earlier today that I’d be making bolognese tonight for dinner. And, because I love the idea of something simmering, I wanted it on the stove all day too. I bought pappardelle noodles last week at Eataly and I’ve been day dreaming about this meal for just as long.
And then I sat down. Cook books, especially the newer versions of them, where the recipes read like conversation – I can’t get enough of them. Food is such a story, the dinner table: It’s the entire reason I started a company solely based on gathering around a table to eat. Every page I read I’d sit up and giggle. There’s just so much packed in one recipe, one chapter.
It made me think about the story of our own dinner table. Of how even though I’m estranged from my birth-dad and we don’t speak, I still remember the venison sausage and eggs he’d make for us for breakfast during hunting season. I still make, and am teaching my daughter how to make my step-mom’s homemade white sauce for ravioli. How she taught me how to make a vinaigrette.
It reminds me of making scones, the gentle rise of the baking soda batter. How easy they are, but how complicated they seem. Breakfast is one of my favorite meals to make, we love eggs and hollendaise sauce (Barefoot Contessa’s cheater version is life changing). Mozzarella and tomato caprese salad is a summer staple, and how different the basil out of my own garden tastes compared to the stuff I can find fresh at my grocery store.
It’s Thanksgiving tomorrow and yesterday I made my first turkey (see above for the garage freezer situation). I guess it was good timing? But I don’t like turkey. Or stuffing, cranberries, or pumpkin pie. I love mashed potatoes and the green bean casserole and I love the way that every Thanksgiving feast I’ve been a part of for the last 10 years the green beans have been my staple dish to bring. Not because I make them any better or even because it’s a crowd favorite – but because the people asking me to show up know that this is the casserole that spells home for me on a day when home is so far away.
I start to think of when my mom was away this summer, in Washington, how much I was hurting because my brother and his family had just moved away. I felt a million miles away from someone who connected me to family, I felt alone and afraid and this new horizon for my future looked really lonely. But I opened the cookbook my mom had hand-written for me before I got married and fingered each recipe until I found the Red Sauce for Salmon, I knew there would be a salmon cook out while my mom was away – it’s the one thing we always know will happen in Washington when we go to visit. Grandpa grills salmon and Grandma makes the red sauce.
So I found the worchestershire sauce, cut the onion, opened the tomato sauce, spooned out the brown sugar and I set to making my home smell like the place I wanted to be the most: with them.
I’ve chronicled my story with food on this site for a long time. Oftentimes I’m fighting my way through making peace with food, when really food is the peacemaker for me. Food is what always brings my family back together. Every night we crowd around something warm on benches by the table and in about 10 minutes all the preparation and time I’ve spent making something to feed us becomes a memory. But these are the memories I get to keep reliving.
When I was in high school my mom tells me I spent a good chunk of one of my relationships baking for a boy. I don’t remember this but I love the idea of it – and maybe that’s why I did it then, too. Because I grew up listening to how my mom was a baker as a young child. How she would bake for her family, later her boyfriend. I loved the idea of showing someone you loved them by using your hands to literally fill them with something good. After my parents divorce was final my sister and I threw my mom a “Divorce Party!” – we invited her girlfriends and made orange jello that didn’t set up and chocolate chip cookies (I think we swapped salt for sugar in that recipe, too) but I remember just knowing that when it was time to celebrate or love someone, you fed them. I was only eleven.
One of my kids’ favorite stories is of when I had just started dating Aaron: I asked him if he wanted me to bring him lunch and he answered, yea, Lobster. Like the smart-ass he was. So I made him Lobster. And now every year on his birthday we have lobster. (He also takes me seriously now.)
Food is tangible memories for me. When I buy salmon I always think of my Grandpa and fishing with him on Silver Lake. I’ve perfected my own chocolate chip cookie staple recipe, we make hot chocolate mix every winter, I know my family loves tacos so I’m never without a white fish or ground beef and recently another mom shared a chicken recipe (frozen to melt in your mouth in 20 minutes … I’m not kidding) that has made it’s way into our “oh shit! whats for dinner!?” rotation of dinners. It’s also a crowd favorite over here.
I know that Jessica will open up about almost anything over a freshly baked loaf of sourdough. Oliver will linger just a little longer if you offer him tea, or a nutella sandwich, and he makes some mean scrambled eggs. Every Christmas I make cinnamon rolls but the store-bought ones in a can are the simple extravagance my kids love through out the year. I love that as a kid my favorite part of a birthday was that whoever’s birthday it was got to pick out a box of cereal (any one they wanted!) at the store that week and I’ve carried that into my own kitchen. We don’t have store bought cereal very often and it’s not reserved just for birthdays, but the times we let them pick a box – it’s always so funny to watch them shop. Jessica will always pick Cheerios and Oliver is a shoe-in for something with marshmallows.
Right? Why have I been so hard on myself. Not only in the food department but the writing one? I’ve been racking my brain with writers block wondering what the hell I have left to say? Not wanting to tell some of my stories, wanting desperately to tell others. I’ve been frustrated with how to get back into a rhythm of writing. Of practicing.
And when I get to the point of throwing my hands up, I go in the kitchen and turn on the burner under my kettle. I fill it with water and wait for it to steam. I pick my favorite tea and thumb through a cook book for dinner ideas. Then I hunt in my pantry for the staples needed to feed my family and I start chopping onions, browning butter, salting meat.
It’s what spans the distance from memories to reality. And because of that, I’m never alone when I’m in my kitchen.