lasagna with lamb ragu

Ten years ago I still lived in my home state of Michigan. My role at work had changed so I was taking on new duties and responsibilities, and I had a totally opposite schedule than that of my husband. Years after graduating he had embarked on a new career path, which meant that I spent the majority of my evenings at home, working on multi-course dinners to serve when he returned late in the evening, drinking too much, watching a beloved kitty’s steady decline, and battling the depression that had landed me in the hospital a year earlier. I was also battling near-constant pain and fatigue that didn’t yet have a name assigned to it, shuttling between specialists for test after test, feeling utterly scared and alone.

Dinner: February 18, 2010

It was during that time that I came in contact with a community of people online: comic book and music geeks, pop-culture fiends, artists, writers, all gathered in a network of forums. It was largely because of these people and their friendship and support that I took a huge leap of faith, leaving my home state and unsalvageable marriage to move to a city I had never even visited. It was both terrifying and thrilling, and after an initial rough patch I settled into my new life in Boston. My online community of friends grew wider, and many of these friends became “real life” friends, too – there were drink-ups and dinners out, lunch dates, parties and other gatherings, one of which would really change my life.

bread salad a la Zuni Cafe

I walked, everywhere, in every kind of weather. I cooked for me and me alone for the first time since my vegetarian teenage years. I took myself out to eat, too, trying new things at new-to-me restaurants, falling in love with new flavors and techniques, determined to recreate them at home. In the bright, sunny Somerville kitchen I shared with my roommate, I began to really change the way I cooked and ate, and the way I thought about food in general. I lost a bunch of weight without even really trying, and was the healthiest I’d been in years.

do the bird

Before long I’d be making regular trips to New York City. You see, one of those Internet friends had become more than that, and for a year we carried on our courtship long-distance. I’d leave work early on Fridays, rolling suitcase in tow, and hop on a bus to spend most weekends indulging in good food and drink with my sweetie. Our first “real” date began over steak frites at a corner café in Brooklyn. Over time, I’d introduce him to oysters, escargots, and foie gras, and he got me back on pork – as a guy who grew up with family that had raised pigs, he knew how the good stuff should taste, and when we found it in New York, there was no turning back.

Dinner: February 23, 2010

Mike and I fell in love with the city’s Greenmarkets, with Chinatown, with the market at Grand Central Station, with the restaurants and specialty shops that served up all manner of deliciousness at the same time we fell so deeply in love with each other. After one long year of sucking the marrow out of every weekend we spent together, we decided to shorten the distance between us – I’d move to New York, a dream I had had since my first visit years earlier. My first six months there were spent rooming with a friend, her big, fabulous kitchen and back yard a rare treat in the city, and did we ever put them to good use. Toward the end of that six months, Mike and I started looking for a place together, landing in Bushwick, Brooklyn, in a big, airy space with wide plank hardwood floors, tons of great light, and to our delight, a big back yard just perfect for grilling and gardening. And it was while living in that space that we prepared the meals that led me to start this blog not long after we celebrated our first anniversary. Last Night’s Dinner is, more than anything, our story, through food.

the "clean out the cheese drawer" version

So very much has happened in the years since. We left New York and found an amazing home and community of friends here in Providence. We have had incredible opportunities and good fortune come our way over the last year, and I love that so many of you have been part of it. But change has always been hard for me. I had to laugh when I realized that so many of our recent meals – roast chicken, “Garbage Soup”, simple seafood and pasta preparations, and a rich and meaty lasagna – echo dishes I first posted about in the earliest days of the blog. I guess without even planning to do so, I’ve been going back to basics, to my comfort food, to steel myself for what lies ahead, but even I am getting really bored by it.

Dinner: February 28, 2010

It’s not lost on me that much of what is going on right now parallels things that were happening in my life 10 years ago. My role at work has changed. I have taken on new duties and responsibilities, and I soon will have a totally opposite schedule than that of my husband. He is embarking on a terribly exciting and challenging new career path, which means that I will soon spend the majority of my evenings at home, with a beloved kitty whose health is in decline, working on… who knows what. Cooking, I hope. Writing, when the words come. (Not drinking too much, obviously.) Savoring precious time (and hopefully a meal or three) with my husband whenever I can. I have no clue how I’ll feel 10 years from now when I look back at this time in our lives, but right now it feels overwhelming, and more than a little scary.

45 thoughts on “Parallels

  1. Echoes from past lives can be scary, especially when they come in clusters. But I think they happen because we need to remember that we are different, better, stronger now, to nudge us into realizing how far we’ve come.

    All of your faithful friends and readers will be with you here on the blog — and we’re all very excited for Mike’s new adventure, and for the cool things we know you’ll come up with to fill your evenings.

    Many hugs…

  2. Sending you lots and lots of “comfort” energy across the miles. Change can indeed be scary, even when it’s exciting.

  3. Alice Lim says:

    I have goosebumps right now. From one Somervillian/Providence West Sider to another, you are not alone!

  4. Sometimes life provides an opportunity to go through an experience for a second time, and do it differently. And here you are, smart as all get-out, and in love, and secure enough to see it, write about it, and face it all head on. You have grown a wonderful family here on the interwebs, and we’re all rooting for you.

  5. That was so honest and so nice to read. Thanks for sharing a little snippet of your life. I am verrrry slow to accept change, as well, good or bad. But my hope for you is that this new lifestyle feels like your new normal as soon as possible, and that you’ll shift into a new routine happily and openly. As I am sure you will. 🙂

  6. What a beautiful post. Congratulations on where your life has been and is headed. It sounds like the journey is leading exactly where you’re meant to be.

  7. Stacy says:

    Life is always an adventure – isn’t it?

    I’ve read and so enjoyed your blog for the last year – and know that you are one together gal. If nothing else, you have shown your strength and knack for creating comfort when there is none. I guess, what I am trying to convey through all of this jumble is this: you rock, I love your writings and you’ve helped me as a reader take some cooking leaps – so we’re all here to support you through this life leap. Keep rockin’ it out!

  8. Oh, man. I’m crying. I just put some mascara on to go to Marlow & Sons, and now I’m crying. Such honesty, and faith. Thank you for writing this and sharing it. I know I’m not alone when I say I look forward to what lies ahead for both of you.

  9. gosh, what a beautiful post. so wonderful to have gotten a peek into your life. i love the way you and your husband are one and strong and together. it is beautiful. here is to many, many more “last night’s dinners” x shayma

  10. Dietsch says:

    Marlow, I’m happy to say, is the very place Jen learned to love pork.

    And no I won’t expect a meal waiting when I get home. I’m a pretty crafty dude. I’ll work it out.

  11. What a beautiful post. It sounds like you’ve come an awfully long way – literally and figuratively. I’m sure you’ll handle everything new that comes to you with aplomb. And with a honey who travels for work, I too spend many dinners alone, so if you’re ever looking for a dinner buddy, the East Side is small and walkable!

  12. El says:

    This is such a thoughtful commentary on change. It takes a lot of courage to work on yourself and take care of yourself. Bravo to you for having the confidence to make your life better. Here’s to your very bright future (and darn good recipes too!)

  13. Lynda says:

    I love your food stories and pictures and I look forward to every Monday. Of course I’ll sneak a peek during the week to see if you’ve posted something new. This is the first time though that I’ve ever commented. How open and how interesting you are. I wish you and your husband well. I love your pictures, I love the little tidbits into your life. Good luck to you and I hope to continue to see you here.

  14. Sending you hugs from Philly. Scary the way things cycle around. I’m wishing you lots and lots of happiness in these next new steps, scary as they may be right now. May you and Mike and the kitties be well.

  15. Russell Borogove says:

    Deep breath. Now is not then. You are not who you were. The way out is through.


  16. j
    Jen–I’m so happy that your first place in NYC was actually a leap of faith–and that you came to Long Island City. You and Mike braving the weirdness off the Triboro, and making your way to Hunters Point. A zip and area code away, but still within 5 minutes of Midtown, Manhattan. I know all your cooking stuff was in storage, but I saw glimmers of your great creativity in the meals and parties you pulled together. Meeting your parents and knowing that they felt great that you were safe “in the big town” meant a lot to me. You’ve continued to grow, your marriage is strong and based on 100% friendship and trust. You have one another’s backs, and that is uber important. Schedules will shift. Your foundation is strong enough to weather that. Work, play, rest, cook, relax…it’s all good! Please tell us soon about your secret meeting!! Good luck to Mike as he launches his new career!!

  17. One difference is that this time around you are making these changes with someone, instead of despite someone. So the change is happening for both you and Mike together. That makes all the difference in the world. Remember to carve out some time for each other, even when it seems impossible. It will keep you grounded. And you’ll get through it, I promise.

  18. Most records of a life lived (well or otherwise) do at some point that feeling of dread that comes from cracking open the journal you kept in middle school, and food blogging can be that way even more so — not only do you scrutinize every work you wrote, just like in that journal, but also the food you made, the way you lived, everything. It’s more of a complete snapshot of a being in time and space. So oddly intimate and energy-consuming.

    I for one think your blog — your writing and your cooking both — is beautiful, and I hope you find your way back to really loving it again. In the meantime, I hope that this very transitional time for you has its share of beautiful full moments and lively little adventures.

  19. Lolo says:


    I think you know how I feel about you and Mike, I think it so often and so hard that you must hear my thoughts. But. Just in case you’re not telepathic, yet, I want to tell you how much I admire you two.

    What the two of you have done together is remarkable. You both get up every day, soldier through, carve out a life filled with moments of joy and hope and commitment. No small task from where I live in my own little life. As you know, your story has parallels to mine, ours, and I know how much work it can take. I would say more, and perhaps I should, but I just wanted to tell you I’m delighted to call the both of you “friend”.

  20. Margie says:

    I love your blog. I’ve been reading this for a long while now and I treasure your words, your photos of yummy food and the love you have for your kitties.

    Change is tough because it’s change and you have to go with it. However, do so at your own pace and find your own niche. You’re going to be fabulous in whatever you do. As for your poor kitty, my hugs. I recently moved and October 2008, a day after my husband’s beloved grandmother died, I had to choose to put my Boochie down. I still cry about it. Before we moved, we dug up his precious body and had him cremated. I couldn’t leave him with other people and he’s now back with his mommy who still misses him a great deal. However, his death has prepared me for when I may be faced with that decision again with my other babies whom I know miss their brother immensely.

    So, Jen, I hope you receive my hugs for you. You are not alone. That is quite evident with all the people who have followed you from Michigan to NY to RI. We love you, we support you and, should you need anything, just let us all know.

  21. Jen, what a wonderful post. Circles in life are daunting, but you seem to be in a much better place now than last time. Enjoy it all!
    Thanks for your wonderful blog!

  22. bill p says:

    You are Strong and Amazing. This is the best post I read today, and you should be so proud that you can confront things from your past and try to look at them in a new light. Good luck to you.

  23. I am so excited for what is to come in your future. You and Mike are such awesome people that I know only the best will happen. I will follow you wherever you go, you are the reason that I started to give more thought about what I was eating and where it came from.

    Many hugs to you, Mike, Kali, Kirby and Junie.

  24. Erina says:

    Jen – I’ve been reading your blog for a few years now, and want you to know that you’re such an inspiration to so many other home cooks out here. Your style, your writing have personally inspired me to rethink about the way that I cook and where I source my family’s food.

    I hope everyone’s encouraging words show you that you are warmly supported, that these changes you’re going through (and parallels you’re experiencing) are not a solitary venture.

  25. wonderful things are in store for you, my sweet kind friend. because you are truly amazing and i adore you.

    btw – i’m in nyc march 13-17. i have room for you….

  26. It may be scary, but this time you have the love of your fabulous husband and you’re in it together! I believe that there are nothing but bright things in your future!

  27. I read this last night on my iPhone and therefore couldn’t easily comment. I am stopping by again today to say that I love this post—everything about it.


  28. My Mr.Mr. and I also work opposite schedules. I’m the nine-to-fiver. He’s the bartender/manager. We’ve been at it for almost six years. I do feel that the limited amount of time we’re together encourages making the most of the moments we do share. I know how scary it is, believe me. But, you two are taking on exciting pursuits that will feed your personal growth as well as that of your relationship. There are great things to look forward to!

  29. Billie says:

    Warm hugs of comfort come to you from Florida! You have been an inspiration to me for some time now, I have learned thru your cooking to experiment more, eat fresher, really enjoy cooking. You have come across as a very strong person, who by the way I feel is very blessed. These changes in your life now are just more blessings, and I am sure you will embrace them and grow with them. I look forward to your posts and will continue to watch your life grow stronger!

  30. laura says:

    Whew! WHAT a post! And what a slew of magnificent comments to complement it. From Anita’s “despite the parallels, it’s NOT the same” to the posts by Cathy and Lydia and so many others. It is clear to me that you, your writing, your photographs, your recipes and your honesty have quite a number of fans. I’m grateful to be one of them. But I had begun to hope (missed posts or misinterpretation on my part?) that Kali was better and so am very very sorry to read that she isn’t.
    As for your feelings, thank you for sharing them and making us feel less alone.
    Hold fast.

  31. Jennifer Hess says:

    With each comment, tweet, and message that came in in response to this post, I cried. And I mean that as a good thing. I am constantly amazed by the love and support I – we – get from you guys, and I am so, so grateful. Thank you.

  32. Thanks so much this last post. I actually was brought to tears. You know the truth when you hear it and I applaud you for your honestly and thank you for it. I, too, grew up in Michigan, in a multi-generational restaurant business and felt there was no room for me to thrive there with “the men” in charge, so I went into a different profession. The journey of starting my own blog as been one of embracing my passion and letting go of perfectionism. The community that I am just starting to tap into has been so affirming and supportive to keep going forth in this journey of self discovery. Bravo! Keep inspiring!

  33. Like many of your readers, your post brought tears to my eyes. You are such an inspiration, sweetie. While there may be some parallels, the differences are infinite.

  34. Holy cow – I had no idea your life and mine had been so similar before we met our – ahem, current – husbands! Parallel parallels.

    Hang in there, Jen. Try to keep doing what you love, what you are (very) good at, and I believe that rewards will follow.


  35. Thank you for being so honest and sharing your fears – I think we can all relate to that terror that you are somehow repeating your own worst experiences. But as long as the two of you are there for each other, even if you feel like ships passing in the night sometimes, you’ll be fine. And with all of us hanging around, you’re definitely not alone.

  36. Kate McDonough, The City Cook says:

    Dear Jen — Brava for this candor, so compelling and beautifully written. Just keep that seat belt on and keep writing. And remember what Heraclitus wrote — that you can never step in the same river twice — each day is unique and brings new wisdom.

    all best, Kate

  37. I thoroughly enjoyed your story. You are one gutsy lady to move to a city you have never visited and look at the path it took you! Incredible! Warm hugs to you from Chicagoland and here’s wishing you many happily wedded years and all things good! Thanks for sharing your story!

  38. Jennifer Hess says:

    Thanks again, everyone. I can’t believe this is really our last week before the final push to C&B opening… Mike and I have had a great weekend so far, and hope to really savor the dinners we have planned for the week ahead. Next weekend he’ll begin training, and after that, it’s game on. You can be sure I’ll turn back to your wonderfully kind and supportive words here for strength when I’m feeling vulnerable. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  39. Hey Jen, I feel badly for jumping into this so late, as I read your post at work the other day but have been going through my own personal crap (parallels too, though they are just from two years ago and just physical, but my back injury is back and worse than ever…) so didn’t stop to write. But I want you to know how much I admire you… as a foodie but more importantly as a person. And how much I love the little tidbits you leave here about your relationship with Mike — I’m always telling Jim that you are Mike are our favorite couple on the internet (well, favorite tied with Anita and Cam!) and one of these days we’ll actually get around to meeting! But anyway, it’s crazy how differently things can all turn out, even when everything is seeming to parallel, when you have that little extra somethin’ in the way of love. Good luck to both of you and remember to try and have LOTS of fun!

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