Truth and Gratitude

Prepping veg for the week.

Three years ago, we almost lost our apartment. We were buried under medical and veterinary bills, we found ourselves owing a fortune in back taxes due to an accounting error – we were in the red in every single way possible. I had no idea how we would – or if we even could – dig ourselves out of that pit. But you wouldn’t have known about that, just from looking at these pages. That year I spent a few hundred bucks sourcing out food for a Thanksgiving feast for an article that would pay me about half that amount. It was a great meal, and despite everything, we still had a lot to be grateful for.

Two years ago, we spent an entire day cooking up a spectacular meal: a heritage turkey, cooked two ways, all sorts of trimmings and sides. Though we were a party of two, there was food and drink enough for an army, and after a bit too much of the latter and a huge fight, I threw my wedding band across the living room and stormed out into the night, dinner uneaten. The weight and wear of all we had been struggling with over the previous years, the losses we had suffered, some still fresh and raw, brought us to a breaking point that night. I wasn’t sure our marriage would survive.

But you wouldn’t have known that either. The next day, I pulled bowls and platters from the fridge, made up a couple of plates, and took photos by daylight while Mike made coffee. We ate in silence. He dug my wedding band out from behind the bookshelves later that morning.

One year ago, we had a 9-week old baby boy in our lives. We slow-roasted a duck, kept sides and drinks to a minimum, took a long walk through the crisp November air, snapped lots of photos. It was the simplest and happiest Thanksgiving we had had in years. It felt like the start of something. And when I look back at my posts from that day, finally, I see the truth reflected.

What to make when you miss your grandma. #fideos

One reason I took an extended break from posting here is because I was beginning to feel pressure to be something I wasn’t. I felt like I had to put on a false face, put forward some idealized vision of our life, to hide the fact that it isn’t always cocktails and charcuterie, thirty dollar pastured chickens and good bottles of wine. It was all too much. There are weeks when we’re flush and we can spend a fair amount on food and drink, but more often than not these days, I am trying to figure out how I can best spend thirty bucks on enough good food to last us all week.

But you know what? I am so grateful for that. We have so much.

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Our life has changed, is changing – every day, it seems. Just when we think we’re in a good groove, a routine, something happens to change that. A delayed departure from work, a late train or a cranky toddler can disrupt everything. We had a stretch where we were able to eat dinner together every night before putting Jules to bed. Then we lived in a hotel for nine days. Then we moved to New York, without our furniture, our belongings – it was a month before we were able to get them out of storage and into our new space. I went back to work, and Mike and Julian got back into their daily routine at home, and just as we were settling back in to a predictable schedule, things changed again.

But that’s life. That is our life, and I want to capture our reality, preserve it here. I want to remember these times, these meals.

And I want Julian to remember.

Comfort.

The dishes I make from night to night are tasty and nourishing, but there is absolutely nothing sexy about them. They wouldn’t be sexy if I had a DSLR to photograph them with and a wardrobe of twee table linens to shoot them against. And that has kept me from capturing them, from cataloging them like I used to. I’ve felt ashamed, in a way, like I couldn’t compete. But what I got away from is that this isn’t a competition, it’s our life. And I don’t want to hide it anymore.

I can look at the pale-hued Polaroids I swiped from my mom’s collection, and see the little girl I once was sitting on a couch at grandma’s house, surrounded by aunts and uncles who are beginning to fade away, and just by looking at them, I can conjure up the smell of grandma’s dressing, the flavors of my aunts’ creamy casseroles. I want my son to grow up with some record of the special meals of his childhood, and the ordinary ones too, something to spark his memories when he’s all grown up and too far away from home.

I want him to remember that the three of us ate together, as a family, every chance we got. Even if the photos aren’t perfect, and more of what’s on his plate ends up on the cats than in his belly these days, I want him to remember. I want him to remember when he looks at these pages that even if the meals were plain and unpretty, and sometimes mommy was tired and cranky, and some weeks we had plenty and some weeks we had less but we always had enough, that most importantly we had each other, and we loved each other fiercely, and we ate together, and we laughed, and we were grateful for it all.

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39 thoughts on “Truth and Gratitude

  1. Kristina says:

    I”m so glad I read this and that I’ve gotten to know you. It’s just going to be like old hat when we meet in “real” life.

  2. Thank you for this beautiful post! It makes me think about some advice Marshall and I got recently about finances and “keeping up with the Jones.” The advice was “live in your own reality.” That living up to your own standards within your means is more important than having a fancy car to show off. This also makes me think about my dad and how he cooked dinner for us every night. Some nights it was roast chicken marinated in soy sauce with rice and broccoli. And he always got the chicken on sale, 99 cents a pound. Simple and it was the best god-damn chicken I have ever eaten.

  3. Kathy K. says:

    A dozen or so years ago, a friend of my husband’s was staying with us for a couple of weeks. We had a two year old and an infant. The friend wanted my husband to go out drinking with him every night and because my husband instead elected to spend time at home with his family, the friend declared that I did not want him to ‘have a life’.

    And I thought to myself ‘But he does have a life – this is the life he’s chosen’.

    No life is picture perfect, but you live the life you’ve chosen and battle through as best you can, no matter how difficult that may seem at times.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

  4. You know, well… You DO know. You have captured what is really important in this all too short life. I look forward to your posts-frequent or infrequent they resonate with me, and I am sure with many others. I don’t care about the others stuff—it is the life stories that you tell that bring me back.

  5. Thank you. No I mean it. I have decided that social media has skewed reality for many and I have distanced myself (ok, deleting my twitter account was a bit melodramatic but it felt good). Thank you for this post. I love it. You are a perfect you.

  6. I have always loved your honesty and the clarity of your writing. When you gave birth to Julian, I think I was almost as happy as any of your fans could be. Stay true to yourself and I know your talent will only continue to bloom. Best, Liz

  7. This is a beautiful post. I admire your honesty and look forward to reading your posts–past and future [as frequent or infrequent as they may be]. Happy Thanksgiving!

  8. Harriet says:

    We often speak in our cat’s “voice” in our silly household. She would say “true dat” to this post (she was very influenced by watching The Wire with us). Thank you for a lovely and honest post. I have been reading since your Brooklyn food safari days and am glad you are back. Happy Thanksgiving!

  9. I’ve typed and deleted and retyped and deleted my comment on this post more times than I can count. Each time I try to put into words the feelings this brings up for me I fail miserably. All I want to say is this. You are amazing, your family is amazing and your outlook is amazing. I love your family even though we’ve never met “in real life”. I will read faithfully until there is nothing left to read. Happy Thanksgiving to you, Mike, Julian, Kirby and Junie. <3

  10. and so it begins… the tears of Thanksgiving! you’ve set them off. this is a good thing. my thanksgiving tears are (almost) always happy ones because I, too, feel so, so lucky. grateful. I love this post, jennifer. beautiful. have a wonderful day tomorrow, the day after, and the day after that. happy thanksgiving.

  11. Emily says:

    previous to this post, i had a hunch that you were the kind of person with whom i’d mesh well. i had a minor, “i look up to you!” friend crush. this post confirms and exponentializes that. i adore you for this bit of brave transparency, riddled with both generosity and foible, and evidence of the human will–or the good human will, at least–to keep bloody well going and to make it better. i am so very fond of you, and i hope one day we can have coffee, a stiff drink, cook dinner, or whatever together. with michael and the little man, too, of course.

  12. So brave and well said. It’s never a mistake to cherish the time you have together. Your son will be the richer for it, no matter what you’re eating. A very happy Thanksgiving!

  13. Your blog, way back when (2007?), was the best I’d read. Or seen. It was very inspirational.

    The lives we lead and the lives we blog are often at odds. I understand that very well. I have missed your regular blogging, very much.

    Forghe the linens and the styling, as le chat noir, might say. Take the pictures you take, when you can; you have such a good eye, they will always be good. And I think you’ll find that doses of ‘the truth,’ (it’s just one truth, anyway) while hard, will win you even more readers and friends.

    I hope you keep writing, and keep posting, as time allows. It will bring good things to you. I guarantee it.

    xox

  14. I appreciate the honest beauty in this piece. I look forward to seeing your simple meals. You’ve always been an inspiration for me in the kitchen and I don’t see that changing. Simplicity is a virtue. It sounds like you’ve got your priorities straight.

  15. Billie says:

    Amazing Post, and you are an amazing woman. I have enjoyed your site for a long time, always felt like you were down to earth, you always captured the hometown feel with the market shops and the home cooked meals. Missed you while you were gone, so glad you are back. We all need to be reminded now and then what really is important to us. And for me it is sharing time and meals with my family!

  16. Era says:

    Absolutely! Isn’t it crazy the pressure we put on ourselves? And how the hard times are just as formative as the good times? I find that I, and so many of my friends, are looking forward so much that we forget to look back, to remind ourselves of the journey so far and just how much we have achieved in making the journey in the first place.

    In food terms what is most valuable is how we nourish ourselves and each other through cooking. And that shines through here.

    Thank you for posting, over the years, and being brave in this post. There are cookbooks that are oh so pretty, and sit on my shelf, uncooked from, because the lists are too long, and the procedures just don’t seem to take account of my life. Some blogs are the same (perfect looking kitchens, perfect seeming lifestyles). And then there are the cookbooks with stained covers, and worn edges, folded pages, and splattered recipes. These are the recipes of our lives. I enjoy the former, but I am grateful for the latter.

  17. Steph says:

    Lovely post, touching.
    I like real a lot better than shiny and fancy.
    And I can’t tell you how many a time I’ve thrown my wedding band across the room. :)
    It’s life, and life is hard, and that’s ok.

  18. sherry k says:

    oh jennifer!
    the thing i always enjoyed most about your posts (besides your egg pictures) is how you talked a bit about not always feeling great and how that affected your cooking. like other have said here i was so happy for your happiness at the birth of your son. it was like we were cousins or something.
    i’ve been married 33 yrs. so it’s not too tough to read between the lines when jobs are lost, pets are sick, there’s one income, inlaws are visiting and life goes on and on and on, that it isn’t always wine and roses.
    i like you. i like your writing. i enjoy your pictures. i bet your meals are tasty. i know it must be hard to share into the void, but it must have it’s rewards in these disconnected and sometimes scary times. so share with me if you can. i miss you when you are gone and think of you often and fondly.
    your pal,
    Sherry K.

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