"As long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible." Ann Voskamp My body is tired but my heart is full as we step into this Thanksgiving week, which around here is the week my friend Jackie got married…
Picking up where we left off Tuesday, here’s a strawberry leek pizza—because nothing showcases summer strawberries quite as well as dolloping them onto a cracker-like crust, alongside sauteéd leeks and cheese. The strawberry-leek combo here came to us after making Sara’s quesadillas, which, yes, we already referenced in the last post but, trust us, they’re good enough to warrant at least one more nod. The combination of golden, oily leeks with sweet, sliced strawberries is one of those classic pairs that, after you taste them together, you’ll want to apply elsewhere again and again. The night I came home from strawberry picking, Tim and I were standing there in the darkening kitchen, eating our slippery, gooey quesadilla triangles, wondering out loud where else strawberries and leeks could belong, “Paninis!” one of us said. “Grilled cheese!” from the other. Then, “Tarts!” “Pies!” “Quiche?” when, like a giant “of course!” it came to us. Pizza. Pizza!
The month of August has been a quiet one for us. Expected guests had to cancel at the last minute, plans changed and, while you’d think this would be the sort of thing to discourage us, in fact, it’s been the opposite. We’ve been dealing with the wide-open weekends of Tim’s homemade pancakes, afternoons spent writing, evening walks in the park, impromptu trips to thrift stores or out for tacos. The weather’s even cooperated, moving from the abrasive 100s to more reasonable upper 80s, making it a little easier to enjoy cooking in the kitchen again. For years, Tim’s told me about his homemade Chinese food, and this August has been his chance to take a few hours in the kitchen to show me. I’ve baked cookies without recipes. We’ve slow-cooked vegetables via Marcella Hazan. And not once, not twice, but three times, we’ve made homemade kefir-soaked spelt pizza crusts, topped by peaches and spinach and goat cheese.
In so many ways, August has been a contrast to the months before it, in which we’ve hosted out-of-town guests or traveled ourselves, and, to make up for the hours we’d be missing, worked double-time beforehand. In the same way that you appreciate your sophomore English teacher so much more because you disliked your freshman one, we’ve been basking in the beauty of this August and its slow, steady schedules.
Most Tuesday nights, we share dinner with Tim’s brother, Nathan, who lives about a mile or two away, in the house where Tim lived before October. Every other week, by the time he arrives, we’re also unpacking our biweekly CSA haul, a tightly packed bushel box of yellow squash and watermelon and sweet corn and tomatoes and so on, which we pick up from the 12 South Farmers Market held late Tuesday afternoons. On one particular week, we’re pulling away from the market, not yet home, when I catch an image on Instagram of a peach-topped pizza. Despite the loot in our back seat, we beeline for the grocery.
At home, we launch into our biweekly routine, Tim slicing up watermelon that we snack on while we divvy up the goods. Meanwhile, I mix together a pizza crust, letting it soak in the warmest spot above our oven.
By the time Nathan arrives, the August sun is lowering, the house enjoying that late-summer twilight that turns everything golden and dim, and two pizzas are in the oven, one on a stone and one on a baking sheet.
That first time is magic: crackery crust, sweet and soft peaches, the tang of goat cheese mixed with drizzles of honey. We eat it on the sofa, piece after piece after piece, the three of us flipping through channels on TV, occasionally interrupting the programming to marvel at the way the crust holds up or the way the edges have a faint hint of Saltine.
When Nathan leaves, it’s barely 8 p.m., so Tim and I clean up the dishes and put away the leftovers and take a drive, headed nowhere in particular, off to enjoy a lazy summer night, with nothing to do. I say to him, This August has been like one long date!, enough that I almost feel guilty!, and he says to me, I know.
Here’s the thing no one tells you about change: it affects you, and in ways you might not plan for.
Every day, we’re surrounded by the details of our life, be they people or objects or geography, and, even when it’s by your own choice, when you start moving around a lot of those details—whether city, job, church, relationships, house, diet, marital status or say, all of those things—it can unexpectedly, out of nowhere, hit you hard.
Because when enough things around you begin to disappear, you may start to feel like you will, too.
This, as you already know, is a post about how I moved last week. It’s the story of how I left an adorable house in East Nashville that I shared with three roommates, a house I only moved into in February and had barely settled into, packed up all of my Tennessee belongings (there aren’t many) and together with Tim and one of our good friends, moved to another side of town.
This new house is nice. It has built-in bookshelves and hardwood floors. It has air-conditioning and a washer/dryer set. It’s the first place where I’ve ever signed a lease and the first rental to earn me my very own library card. More than anything, this house has the distinct privilege of being the first house we’ll live in, me and Tim—the initial place we’ll call home together.
And, like everything else in my life over the last six months, this house is new. It’s something I don’t know very well. It’s something that will take time to feel familiar.
There are so many things I love about Nashville: the great food (Marche, Margot, City House, Silly Goose, Burger Up, Baja Burrito, Mas Tacos), the great coffee shops (new favorite: Edgehill Cafe), the rolling hills south of the city, the beautiful cliffs to the east. I love that it hardly snows. I love that it will be warm in November. I love, most obviously, Tim.
But every now and then, I’ll be driving down a street and wish I saw a Dominick’s on the corner (who says that?). I’ll meet someone for the first time and wish they already knew my name. I’ll see the regular reminders that I’m still new here in my Illinois driver’s license or matching license plate. And sometimes, amidst missing some old details and observing the new, I’ll wonder if I’m not gone, too.
it’s the kind of thing that has me asking, What is it that makes us who we are anyway? Is it our income? Our house? Our family and friends? Do our jobs define us? Our life’s work? Our relationships? Our connections? Our family?
I think I am learning that really, anything that can change isn’t what makes us—not our age or our savings accounts or our things or our hobbies. Not our spouse. Not our friends. What makes us who we are is something deeper than all of those things—something that remains even when all our life details change and however many times they change.
Our identity may often get lost in the details around us, and because of that, it is a sort of gift to lose those details, so at least in the midst of it, you see your soul—that eternal, imperishable part of us that knows it’s made for something more than this life. That’s who I really am, in Illinois or in Nashville. That’s who you really are, too.
Living in my new house, living in the next.
They took away what should have been my eyes,
(But I remembered Milton’s Paradise)
They took away what should have been my ears,
(Beethoven came and wiped away my tears)
They took away what should have been my tongue,
(But I had talked with God when I was young)
He would not let them take away my soul,
Possessing that, I still possess the whole.
– Helen Keller
I’m not going to ask where the time went. That’s what everyone says, halfway through summer, after the fireworks and before back-to-school, when we’re finally settled into the heat and humidity, when our arms are bronzed and our long-daylight days have begun to seem commonplace, when we’re looking at the calendar and saying, July 20? July 20! More than halfway through 2010? I am just getting used to it not being 2009! and we think of all the things we still want to do and we think of all the people we want to do them with, and our hearts start to race a little bit. OK, hang on.
How about instead of rushing ahead we just stop, right here and now, and take a look at this day, this July 20, this Tuesday we have and will never get again, and appreciate what’s brought us here?
I’ll start. With chocolate babka.
Brace yourself: this is kind of a bad story. Well, it starts off bad and then it gets good but then, it turns bad again. I’m going to tell it anyway because (a) it’s honest and (b) it involves bread (and don’t you think all stories that involve bread should be told? I do).
So. I’ll start by saying, there was a week back in early January, a dark week, when I must have tried at least four different bread recipes. Four different recipes. And thing was, whether I used bread flour or regular flour, made rolls or loaves—heck, even when I used a bread maker, which requires you to, I kid you not, dump things inside and press GO—the results were the same: failure.
Big, fat failure.
Thankfully, that awful week culminated in a near success or, if you had talked to me the night I made them, SWEET! VICTORY! by way of no-knead baguettes, not to mention a vacation away from here, both of which helped me to forget about bread for a while.
But, as is often the case with things you distract yourself from, eventually bread came back to mind. (Cue good part of story!) Two months seemed like a long enough separation, it was time to try again and, by serendipity maybe, my old friend Jennifer, who’s known me since preschool (or longer?), posted her favorite bread recipe on Facebook.
The first time I used a waffle iron, I was a freshman in college. The dorm dining hall at my school had a designated table with an iron and a bowl of batter with a ladle in it, and one night when the tacos or chicken surprise on the menu didn’t particularly appeal to me, I walked over to it and, using that adult independence I had newly acquired, made myself buttermilk breakfast for dinner.
In the years between then and now, I’ve eaten homemade waffles in my friend Sue’s kitchen at a different college in a different state, telling her what a good mom she’d make someday as she handed me a plate (by the way, turns out I was right); I’ve had blueberry waffles and pecan waffles and waffles covered with berries and whipped cream and chocolate syrup; in October, my brother and I split a waffle at Sola that was topped with goat cheese and strawberry-rhubarb compote; but it wasn’t until recently that I had the kind of waffle I bring you today, one that defied any preconceptions or previous taste experiences, which works to combine what we know as the waffle with something else entirely, the moist, dense sweetness of a banana bread.