Quick! Before the leaves are all gone! Make some soup and pack yourself a picnic! At least that’s what we did on Saturday, right in the middle of a day when we should have been getting ahead with work projects and, I don’t know, balancing the checkbook. Even though it was raining and the skies were gray, we practiced hope by loading up a picnic basket, hopping in the car, and driving 20 minutes east where, miraculously, we found ourselves in the crisp fall day that was The Hermitage.
I wish you could have seen Tim and me in our little galley kitchen on Saturday, October 12, at around 2 p.m. in the afternoon. There we were, side by side in front of the sink, each of us with a plate of slow-cooked artichokes to our sides. Barely speaking, the both of us stood there, rhythmically pulling tender, wilted leaves of artichokes off their softened, deep green bulbs, scraping the flesh with our teeth, oil and juices dripping down our hands and arms and over everything.
“These are the best artichokes I have ever had,” Tim finally said to me between slurps, halfway through his dish.
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Two days ago on our morning walk, Tim and I put on sweatshirts. Yesterday, I pulled out my boots for the first time since May. Today, the window’s open in the bathroom, and even from the next room over, I can smell the fresh air and feel a cool breeze coming in (the high today in Nashville was 72 degrees). What’s more, down the hall and in the kitchen, the oven is on, and I have a pot filled with root vegetables boiling on the stove. Fall is here, officially and obviously, and I’ve been dressing, eating and, what I’m trying to say, I guess, is enjoying this new season, even when it means summer’s gone.
But before we get too deep in changing leaves, could I get one last hurrah for summer? I hate to say it as a lifelong October lover, but sometimes I’m nostalgic for the season that ends (besides winter). And while I was all set to pack away this late summer squash recipe for next year, our Monday CSA pickup brought a few more of the yellow squash we’ve been seeing the last few weeks. So I thought maybe you wouldn’t mind if I slipped this late summer squash quinoa dish in? You could, of course, swap out the yellow squash with a nice winter one, cubed and roasted with oil until it’s caramelized. You could, also, decide to go elsewhere for a recipe featuring pumpkin or apples. I’ll understand.
For now, here’s a quinoa dish we enjoyed before the temperatures dropped and the days shortened. It’s a reminder of the beauty that was, even as we walk forward into the beauty that is and the kind that is to come.
They say that love shows in the gestures–
A dash to the airport, a big diamond ring;
They say that this is what’s romance–
All that glitters,
All that sparkles,
All that’s bright and glossy,
(You know, those sorts of things).
True, you proposed: it was poetry,
All of your neat lines of verse, for me, arranged.
You made me a picnic and hid it,
A cooler packed with food and a ring,
Then you asked me,
And I said yes, and remember?
Right there, how everything changed?
It’s true, life is beautiful,
(We are happy,
We are together,
But, also true, life is painful,
And we’ve walked through dark times just the same.
What of the times pacing the halls?
The nights of long talks?
The physical pain,
The wounded hearts,
The crying out, over and over,
To God’s name?
It makes me think it’s love in the small and the hard things,
(Maybe the small and the hard things the most).
The dishes, the laundry,
The trash, the yard.
The kind words,
(When you want harsh words),
The soft words,
(When you want hard).
The long talks,
(When you are tired).
The stretched out arm,
(When you want to run).
Could love look like nights in the kitchen?
Like daily dinner?
Like, simply, life?
She said, “What we need is love that’s not tired*,”
What she said is, I guess, what I think.
Love shows itself in daily somethings,
Somethings as simple as this.
One a hot September day when you drive around town in your car with the broken air-conditioning, your shirt sticking to you and the sun beating down beautiful and hard, it’s nice to come back to your kitchen, pull herbs from your windowsill, nuts from the cabinet, and assemble something fresh and simple to eat.
That’s what I did today. I returned to the kitchen not just after a morning out working, but also after, for the most part, four days away from it altogether. After four days of no appetite and lots of fruit and lots of juice, I came back to one of the most normal things in my routine, one that always feels so strange to be away from—I came back to make something to eat.
I’ve noticed in my life, and I wonder if it’s true in yours, that when I’ve been away from food for a little while, whether because of fasting or because of traveling or because of illness or because of something else, the things I want most are simple things. There’s as much joy in an apple, sliced thinly on a plate, as there would be, on other days, in an elaborate four-course meal. I’m as thankful for some small-batch pesto, whipped up during lunch, as I was the week before for a three-layer cake. Going without something makes you see its value. Going without something simplifies what you think you need.
So today, I found great joy in two red tomatoes from our farmer, sliced onto two of our vintage wedding plates, topped by a quick pesto, a few breadcrumbs and balsamic. I got to assemble the meal, I got to want to eat it and then I got to take it, bite by bite, and bring it to my lips.
When Tim and I visited my family earlier this year, my brother loaned me the book The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. The story, if you don’t know it, is about a man who accidentally begins a long journey to a friend, and along the way, both he and everyone he knows is affected. I reached the last chapter on a Sunday night at Sevier Park, stretched out next to Tim on blankets beneath the setting sun. When I closed the cover, I turned to Tim and sighed.
“Did you like it?” he asked me.
“Yes,” I said to him, my head propped up in my hand. “This book reminded me that people can change.”
And people, I need to be reminded of that.
It seems to me that one of the kitchen’s best gifts to us, aside from being a place to connect and find nourishment, is that it is a place that reminds us of truths we forget. Like the book I finished, the kitchen vividly demonstrates that life is dynamic. Things are in flux. Like the green beans we braise on the stovetop, we are, all of us, ever transforming and moving and being made new.
There is such satisfaction in bringing together a meal, especially on a dreary day. Where most people crave blankets and movie screens on cloudy weekends, I am the type to crave the kitchen. The kitchen is a place of birth and discovery–a space for testing ideas and seeing what works, for creating combinations that nourish and delight–and when the dreary day you’re facing stems from more than the weather, discovering new things is like medicine for the soul.