When we were kids, lunch was brown paper bags, maybe sometimes pizza from the concession stand. I loved lunch. By the time I was 13, I was packing my own, and it usually consisted of a sandwich (peanut butter and…
September 11, 2013 has been a beautiful day here in Nashville. Tim and I woke up early to grind popcorn kernels and make skillet cornbread. The cornbread was a dud, but Tim made a berry smoothie that wasn’t. Then, we drove through blue skies and bright sun to our car dealership, twenty minutes south, where a serviceman checked us in to get our air-conditioning fixed and asked the time: It was 9:11 AM on the nose.
Twelve years ago this morning, I was standing in a Wisconsin hotel, curling my hair, when my mom shouted from the TV in the main room, “Come look at this!” and I didn’t say anything, and we called my dad in Illinois, and he was crying. Today, I walked away from a serviceman and into a Tennessee car dealership lounge, where Tim and I would listen to someone making popcorn and watch a 10-month-old baby boy named John crawl around the room.
My mom and I were at that Port Washington hotel because I was scheduled for traffic court on September 11, for driving 24 miles over the speed limit a few months before. I remember telling the judge that day that I was sorry. “I don’t want to ever speed again,” I said to her when it was my turn. Everyone was talking about the planes and the towers, and there I was apologizing for something that was no one’s fault but my own. After court, we tried shopping, but our hearts weren’t in it. I wanted to drive back to school before dark. So my mom drove back to Naperville, and I drove back to college, and, when I got there, I returned to TVs all over campus, broadcasting live coverage of what was going on.
Today, Tim and I drove away from the car dealership and to the grocery store to pick up chicken; I had a dinner idea I told him I wanted to try. In the broad, bright Tennessee daylight, we cruised back up I-65 and then over to our house. We roasted spaghetti squash and tomatoes and chicken, and we boiled potatoes to combine with squash in a puree. We ate dinner by candlelight, the days shorter and the sun gone by before seven o’clock these days. And I exclaimed, over and over again out loud to Tim and Nathan, two men I’d never even met twelve years ago, about how much I liked the dinner tonight and how special it felt.
It occurs to me as I sit down on my bed tonight, fresh from this dinner, trying to write this post, how many people aren’t alive to be able to read it today. There are the ones killed by tragedy on this day twelve years ago, and there are the ones killed on other days by other things since then, from a Boston bombing to a Middle Eastern bombing to cancer to depression to kidney failure to old age. Even as I’ve been writing these thoughts, a mosquito has been bothering me, and I just, almost mindlessly, killed it between my hands and took it to the bathroom trashcan. Death is all around us. Life ends. We all know this, but there are a million ways to pretend it away—and in the pretending away, we miss something true. We are not promised tomorrow. Who of us knows when his or her life will end? Days like today, remembering and reflecting, it’s easy to see. We are finite. Our lives are short. And then, it’s easy to give thanks for the sheer blessing of living, of driving to the car dealership, of eating roast chicken in your dining room, of coming here to write about it in a blog post.
You would think, after nearly five years of regular blogging, a person would become immune to the kindness in the blog community. At least that’s what I keep thinking this week, after publishing Tuesday’s post, and hearing such kind, thoughtful responses from so many of you. You would think I would be used to this and, accordingly, that it wouldn’t mean much, but, in fact, the opposite is true. You guys. Thank you. Thank you for reading here, caring about what’s said, and writing quick notes in response. More and more, I see that it’s a gift for bloggers to let the world into their lives, to be “publishing parts of [our] li[ves] for the world to read, [thereby opening ourselves up] to judgement and critique,” as Kelsey put it. But, like she concluded, I also see that it’s a gift that people do, in fact, read. It’s a gift that you come to this space. I might not ever get over the fact that friends and strangers listen to our stories, or the fact that you’re reading this one, today, but thank you.
Around here, in the world of “cooking my feelings,” it’s been a round-the-clock-kitchen week of buckwheat chocolate chip cookies, vegetarian pot pies, haphazard salad dressings made with whatever I throw together in the Vitamix, summer rolls, peanut sauce, beet greens, roasted beets, bananas topped with peanut butter, Dutch baby breakfasts and, I could keep going, but I think you catch my drift. Also, Sunday, after we listened to someone talk about the idea of grace, which is, put simply, undeserved goodness, we came home and made these Sambal chicken skewers from Bon Appetit.
I realize two days before Thanksgiving is not exactly the ideal time to post a Thai chicken recipe, not when the majority of cooking America is, at this very moment, abuzz with turkey, mashed potatoes, dinner rolls and pumpkin pie. But, forgive me, I have this habit of assuming all of you out there aren’t so different from me, and so I figure maybe you’re also two days away from attending a delicious Thanksgiving meal in another state, one that’s so completely out of your hands, you already know all that will be expected of you is to show up, maybe chop a vegetable or two. In that case, finding another Thanksgiving recipe is not the pressing issue on your mind, but, what to make for dinner tonight, the night before you fly home, is—and so here’s something easy and quick.
The truth is, even if I were in charge of the meal on Thursday, that would only mean remaking a dozen or so of the same dishes my family eats every year: turkey and potatoes and green beans, maybe a gelatin mold and some homemade cranberry sauce. Can you relate to this, too? Last year, my mom added sprouted dinner rolls she found at her natural grocery store, and I’ve heard stuffing has been taken off this year’s list, but, overall, our Thanksgiving meals are pretty predictable. In this social media world of the latest and greatest and newest and best, predictable can sometimes seem like a bad thing, but, in truth, when it comes to the holidays, predictable means the stability and security of annually gathering around the table to do the same thing we’ve done every year—and that’s something I find as comforting as looking through old baby albums or hearing my dad make his coffee in the mornings when we’re home.
Whether you relate to our routine or not, whether Thai chicken must stay off your radar until at least Friday or whether Thanksgiving isn’t even on your calendar, let me offer this recipe today anyway. If you’re leaving town tomorrow and want something foolproof for dinner tonight, this is the recipe. If you’re shopping all day Friday and want something easy to come home to, just have someone turn this on two hours before you do.
But mostly, if you’re that kindred soul I always write to, the one who has also tasted Thai chicken curry—and maybe, like me, for the first time with friends this summer—and found it to be so good, so just-the-right-amount-of-heat, that you regularly find yourself craving it, remembering the slight burn on your throat, you’re going to love this.
The recipe comes from one of my old Nashville roommates, Sara (not to be confused with my other old Nashville roommate, Sarah), who posted a picture of it on Instagram recently, and, in response to my comment, emailed me the ingredients and directions with a, “I hope you make this. like now! It’s AMAZING!” added on.
Tim and I ate it last week, shared some with a friend, and, then, ate the remainder for lunch the next day: every time, it had us reaching for water glasses with smiles on our faces. Quick and simple, with the fire of the curry paste, the kick of the ginger and the cool splash of lime squeezed on top, it’s going to be my go-to Thai curry recipe every time the craving hits from now on (and, Thanksgiving week or not, that’s always now).
Happy holiday weekend, friends! Hope you know how thankful we are for each of you.
Sometimes I don’t feel like talking about food. I feel like posting a pretty picture.
I took the above shot last month in Huntsville, Alabama, the town where my college roommate Kim lives and where I met her for the afternoon one Saturday. She treated me to high tea at this fancy little shop, and then she drove me around the area’s historic neighborhoods, letting me ooh and ah at the architecture, and to this park off the highway, where we climbed into the woods and looked out through leaves at the parking lot and, off in the distance, the hills of her hometown.
Tim was away in New York that weekend (you’ll remember his happy homecoming here), and I was missing him, so when I came back to the empty house that night, I was glad to be so tired from driving and touring and eating little scones, because at least that meant I would fall fast asleep, a skill usually reserved only for the male half of this little family, and fall fast asleep is exactly what I did. The next day, he was back, and we ate filet mignon and kale mashed potatoes, and by evening, he was sound asleep beside me the minute his head hit the pillow and, thirty to forty minutes of heavy late-night thinking later, so was I.
There are many things I tend to envy about my husband, not the least of which is his soft, wavy hair, but his sleeping ability is becoming one of the great marvels of our married life. Whereas I need to wind down after a day of work or social activity or drama-filled TV, Tim simply climbs into bed, shuts off the light, and he’s out. Gone. Dead to the world. It’s amazing. We’ve had many long, hilarious conversations about this, wherein I try to prompt him to describe for me what this feels like or how it works (or, ahem, see how long I can keep him awake with me). And over thirteen months of marriage, what we’ve essentially concluded is this: sleeping is one area in which he will likely always have the upper hand.
Indian food, on the other hand, is another story.
I may be the one who’s half Indian, but, in our marriage, Tim’s the one who first loved Indian food. When we were dating, he took me to Sitar downtown, and told me to order his favorite dish, Chicken Makhani (or, butter chicken), and garlic naan. The moment those glistening pillows of garlicky dough arrived on our table, followed by a creamy, spicy chicken mixture I all but licked off the solid white plates, I knew an important change had just occurred. I could never go back to the person I was, one who sometimes tolerated but never especially loved Indian cuisine. From that point and forever forward, I was all in.
We went back to Sitar to celebrate a month of marriage and then again to celebrate two months. More than once over the last year, at random times when the fridge has been lean but the spice cabinet full, Tim’s whipped up a curried dinner out of celery and carrots and rice, leaving me speechless, every time, eyes welling up with tears that such a meal could come from the simplest ingredients and, more than that, that the man who could bring them together was the same one laying next to me each night.
But over time, he’s taught me a few tricks of the trade, and I’ve become more heavy-handed with heat in my cooking, and now one of our regular dinners is a bunch of chopped vegetables, sautéed on the stove and mixed with spices and cream, the kind of thing that just slightly burns your throat as it goes down, a mysterious proof that sometimes the simplest (and cheapest!) foods can make the best meals.
Similar to the butter chicken that first wooed me into this curried world, Chicken Tikka Masala is a classic entrée at Indian restaurants that relies on a tomato-based creamy sauce and a blend of fragrant spices. There is no shortage of recipes for either of these dishes online, but our version has one great advantage going for it: it’s fast. The day I wanted to make it, I had leftover roasted chicken in the fridge and a desire to make a meal as quickly as possible, so I wanted a nuts-and-bolts set of directions to use as a guide instead of a ruler.
Over at Serious Eats, I found this:
“The basics of masala sauce are simple: start with a base of aromatics—onions, garlic, and ginger are common—cooked in oil, ghee, or butter. Add a simple spice mixture, largely based on cumin, coriander, and chilis, throw in some canned tomatoes, cook them down, then purée the whole deal with heavy cream and fresh cilantro.” J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, Chief Creative Officer, Serious Eats
A bunch of chopping, a little sauteéing and less than an hour or so later, we had this meal on our plates, my version of following the general guidelines above. It was easy, it was spicy, and, by the end of the meal, it had us wiping the skillet and wooden spoon clean, wishing for more. I can’t believe how much of my life I wasted not loving this style of food—and I’m glad the one to open my eyes is the same one I sleep next to (OK, he sleeps, I think) every night.
If you’d been a fly on our kitchen walls this past week, you would have seen a lot of easy weeknight dinners going on. After we followed Tamar Adler’s advice and, in one big batch of cooking, filled our fridge with jars and Pyrex packed with roasted eggplant, boiled potatoes, roasted yellow squash and so on, we then began the daily task of putting her strategy to the test. There were vegetables tossed with quinoa, vegetables inside morning omelettes, leftover vegetable hash pureed with milk and water until it became a hot and creamy bisque so comforting, I almost cried. Roasted eggplant became baba ganoush. Boiled potatoes turned into mashed, soft and creamy and studded with garlic. Preroasting all your produce is not for everyone (and not for every week), but this last week, as we’ve tried it, Tim and I have seen firsthand how simplifying the strategy can be in helping to make dinner every night.
There are other things you’d see from your kitchen perch, too, though, like the failed cookie recipe I attempted, a sort of cookie rollup is what they turned out to be; or the truly amazing cookies I baked a few days after that. We’ve had our morning smoothies and thrown together a quick chicken salad, and listen, if you have two oranges, some Pellegrino and a bit of honey, go pureé it all in the Vitamix and remember what is good about life. Also, there’s been comfort cooking, like yesterday, when I made a new chicken recipe, taken from Luisa Weiss’s soon-to-be-released book, “My Berlin Kitchen.”*
Luisa Weiss is the blogger behind The Wednesday Chef, which, along with Orangette and Smitten Kitchen, is one of the first three food blogs I started reading back when I discovered food blogs five years ago. When I found her, she was a cookbook editor in New York, though today she lives in Berlin; I was reading the day she posted about getting engaged to the man she dated before her now-husband; the day she wrote about quitting her job, “leaping” as she called it, less than a year before I would end up doing the same thing; I remember reading about her sweet and beautiful wedding; I remember the first photo of her brand-new baby boy. Following along with her life the last few years, the way I do with so many blogs, the way I’m amazed some of you do with mine, I felt on some level like I knew her, and I liked that.
My friend Jacqui and I always say that the thing we most love about blogs is reading people’s stories. Sure, there are recipes and photos and nutrition info and giveaways—but what keeps me reading, what makes me care about any of it at all, is hearing someone else share their story, like she’s a friend. I started Luisa’s book two days after finishing “An Everlasting Meal,” and it only took me another three to get to the final page. She pours her heart out in the pages, detailing her cross-continental childhood, her search for identity, her eventual settling and family-making in Berlin, the city where she first belonged—and as an added bonus, there are recipes along the way.