No dress rehearsal, this is our life

We got back from Michigan a week ago, after a very short, very sweet visit with my grandma. Two days of driving for two days of sitting, talking, just enjoying being in her presence. It was lovely. 

The kids handled the long drive surprisingly well, and were smitten with their Gigi, and I was thrilled just to be with her again for a while after nearly 3 years away. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, given the chance.

She’s 95 years old, so “next time” is not a given. But we hope.

I’ve had a whole lot of feelings to unpack around this trip, around family and life and balance and priorities, and not a lot of time or opportunity to do so until now. I jumped right back into work when we got back to Virginia, assisting with a trial and trying to tame a furious flurry of stuff that had come through on my other cases in my absence. I missed some bedtimes and morning kisses, but overall we got through fine. 

It’s funny to think that after a year here, we are still adjusting to our new normal, but here we are.

And it has now been a whole year. That anniversary came and went this week, with memories popping up on social media of our Brooklyn goodbyes, our one-year younger kids curled up like kittens in the giant hotel bed, our stressed-out rants and the comforting words of family and friends, and then, the quiet slog of settling-in.

And now we are in September, which always feels big and important for the endings and beginnings contained therein, but which feels even more so this year. We’re on the cusp of one of the biggest transitions of our lives as a family:  Kindergarten, the start less then a week away now. We have bus schedules and supply lists and weekly folders to pay attention to now, we will plan our lives around school schedules for years to come. 

I’m thrilled for our boy but I’m desperately sad to be losing him to the education-industrial complex so soon. It feels like we held him for the first time just yesterday. I feel like I’ve missed too much of his life already. I want more time. 

Our arrival in Detroit happened to coincide with the last show of the farewell tour of a longtime favorite band of mine. (One thing some of you may not know about growing up in Michigan, is that you learn to love a lot of Canadian music.) So after Mike and the kids were asleep, I sat on the edge of the bed in our darkened hotel room, listening through headphones as Gord closed out the show in perfect fashion:

First we’d climb a tree
And maybe then we’d talk
Or sit silently
And listen to our thoughts
With illusions of someday
Casting a golden light
No dress rehearsal,
This is our life

***

That song has always been a favorite, but it feels particularly resonant right now. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since that night. 

You never want to think that any given time that you see someone, when you hold their hand or laugh with them or eat a meal they’ve lovingly prepared for you, that that might be the last time. But last times are sneaky like that. You just don’t know when you’re in one until the moment has passed, and then it’s too late to do anything about it.

This was the first time in my life that I can recall that I visited my grandma and she didn’t cook for us. And at age 95, she has absolutely earned that right – I’m not mad or upset in the slightest. But I am sad that the “last time,” the moment, has passed, and we missed it.

When we visited 3 years ago, Julian gleefully tucked into a plate of grandma’s migas. Mirabelle has never tasted my grandma’s cooking, and likely never will. 

So I am sad about that. And I’m sad that my biggest cooking inspiration and teacher, the person who taught me how to toast the rice in the pan before adding any liquid, and to cook the chicken until it looks drier than you think it should be because if you don’t, the tacos will be soggy, the woman who taught me the importance of sitting around a table and sharing a meal together, and who helped me realize the joy that could be found in the simple act of feeding people, has, for the most part, stepped out of the kitchen. She doesn’t have the energy to cook anymore, and she can’t eat a lot of the things she used to love, and I’m sad about that, too.

When we got back to Virginia, all I wanted to do was cook her food. I wanted to fill our kitchen with the smell of frying tortillas, onions and garlic toasting, chiles roasted until charred, their blackened skins rubbed away to reveal tender flesh. Pinto beans cooked in bacon fat in a black iron skillet, mashed to creaminess and dotted with cheese. Guacamole and pico de gallo and salty corn chips. 

Beer to wash them down. Bourbon to numb my sorrow. 

I often joke that my ability to cut onions without crying is my superpower, but that night, I was powerless to stop my tears. I tried hard not to let the kids see or hear me. I want the memories they associate with this food to be happy ones, of a table full of family, boisterous conversation, laughter, animated discussion, security, and love, not of mommy standing in the kitchen mourning someone who is not even gone. 

I want to figure out how to find time to cook again. I need to keep her food alive. 

I want my kids to grow up knowing this food, I want them to share this food with the people they care about, like grandma taught me to do.

I want more time to climb trees with them, to talk, or sit silently, or both. 

I want them to hear the music that kept me going through my darkest times, and that I celebrated my triumphs and joys with.

I want us all to spend more time with the people we love while they are still here, while we still can.  To appreciate the moments before they pass. 

No dress rehearsal. This is our life.

What kind of life do I want it to be? And how do I make it happen? 

(This post was originally published on jenblossom.com)

ain’t love grand

tree

I moved to New York for love. And then I fell in love with New York, and more specifically, with Grand Central Terminal. The guy I moved here to be with didn’t seem to mind (he loves it, too).

wildedibles

We fell into an easy rhythm our first go-round in the city. On Fridays, after work and before hopping on a train home, I’d stop off at the Market Hall at Grand Central Terminal, grab cheeses and charcuterie from Murray’s, perfect produce from Zabar’s stand, bread from Eli’s, maybe a steak or chops from Ceriello’s, or some oysters or sea bass or sardines from Wild Edibles, and a bottle or two from Grande Harvest Wines, then schlep it all home to Brooklyn. The Market became part of our routine, a way to treat ourselves after a long work week, and to kick off our weekend with some indulgent treats.

tomato mania

cheeses

Grand Central and its Market were so much a part of our lives, in fact, that when that guy and I decided to get married, we couldn’t imagine not swinging by for a few photos as part of our celebration.

Elis bread

When we moved back to the city after our years in Providence, Grand Central was one of the first places we visited. Julian has come to love the terminal’s soaring ceilings and bustling halls as much as we do.

so much fruit

As time and money have allowed, I have resumed our tradition of a Friday market stop, for cheese and charcuterie, tiny tomatoes and jammy figs, burrata and bread and sweet treats for the kids.

indoorpicnic

And now, once again, we are leaving.

one last visit

I know, of course, that New York is not the only great food city around, and I look forward to exploring all that the greater DC area has to offer us, but I don’t know if any place will ever give me the same thrill as the one I get when I walk up from the 6 train and into the main concourse, or when I pass through the doors on Lexington Avenue into the cool, fragrant air of the Market.

veggie tales

sherriedmushroomseggs

For those of you who are wondering, our meat-lite(r) regimen is going pretty well so far.

homemade ricotta

This week was a little challenging, what with Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras, and a two-day loss of heat in our apartment building, but we still managed to find a good balance of foods that were hearty and comforting, while heavy on plant matter.

veg pizzas

stracciatella and jersey tomatoes

I made pizzas for the first time in ages using dough that Mike prepared in advance. One pie featured roasted broccoli, red onions, and fresh ricotta that Julian helped me make; the other a simple tomato sauce, stracchiatella (from Brucie, via Good Eggs), and piles of peppery arugula.

IMG_4484

Lunches have mostly been bean & grain bowls, brightened up with pickled vegetables and hot sauce, and crowned with an egg or avocado or both.

IMG_4411

Mike was inspired to warm our cold apartment by baking bread, these 4-hour baguettes, to be exact.

IMG_4485

They were perfect with a smear of butter, as well as alongside this zippy Lemony Gumbo Z’Herbes – a light and lovely dish to celebrate Fat Tuesday (and to warm my belly at lunchtime on Wednesday).

IMG_4498

I tried my hand at a Beet, Greens & Cheddar Crumble, which while tasty, could use some tweaking. We liked the dish enough to want to repeat it, though, and soon.

IMG_4482

The highlight of this past week, however, was making Marcella’s lasagne for our Valentine’s Day dinner, and preparing it with my little kitchen helper.

IMG_4478

I love that Julian is showing more and more interest in cooking with us, and I was delighted that he was so into helping me put together this meal in particular. Making a classic lasagne bolognese – from mixing and rolling out the fresh spinach pasta, to building the bolognese and bechamel sauces – is truly a labor of love, and I was so happy to share the experience with him.

IMG_4479

IMG_4480

He couldn’t wait for the finished dish, so I cut up a couple of our pasta sheets for him and tossed them with a little butter and cheese. He ate two bowls (!), giving me hope that this age 3 finickiness may be temporary after all. Here’s to the green stuff!

14261251230_1b857e080d_o
pico de gallo

feeding a family

tomatoes at market

It seems like just yesterday that we were bleary-eyed parents of a newborn, struggling to figure out how to keep this tiny little dependent creature fed and clean and happy, while taking care of ourselves, too. We didn’t have family nearby, and we had a very limited amount of freezer space, so we ate a lot of sandwiches from the deli down the street, and a lot of what I call “stuff on toast” – sardines and avocado, ricotta and jam, pretty much anything we could prepare quickly and eat one-handed.

peppers, pickled

We’ll be in that situation again soon, this time with a hungry toddler to feed as well, and you’d better believe Mike and I are already talking strategy, testing out new one-dish meals, and planning a rotation of things we can have around to keep us all nourished and happy. Some local friends of ours, whose son is one of Julian’s buddies, are in the same boat, having just welcomed a new baby girl to the world. Some of the other neighborhood moms had the wonderful idea to organize a sort of “meal train”, with everyone signing up for a night and taking over a meal to the family, and of course we were happy to contribute.

pico de gallo

My original thought was to send over a roast chicken dinner, which is great hot or cold and is so versatile – but with temperatures on our selected day still in the 90s, something a bit fresher and brighter seemed more appropriate. And since our friends said they were pretty much game for anything, I thought a taco dinner would be fun.

whole lotta brisket

I picked up a 5 lb. slab of brisket and braised it low and slow in the oven for the better part of a day in a mix of mild chiles, smoky spices, and a splash of coffee, then I carved the super-tender meat into shreds and chunks. I reduced the braising liquid by about half on the stovetop, returning the meat to the sauce and finishing it with a good hit of fresh lime juice.

borrachos

I made a big pot of Borrachos with some Cayuga Farm pinto beans and home-pickled jalapenos, and a big pot of Mexican rice as well. We had a ton of juicy, ping pong ball-sized tomatoes from the farmers’ market that made a terrific pico de gallo, and a wee head of red cabbage that I shredded for a cilantro and lime-spiked slaw.

care package

I packaged everything up and packed it into a tote with some soft tortillas, fresh lime wedges, and some beer for the grown-ups.

brisket tacos

I set aside a little of everything for us, too. Quality control is important.

Untitled

Mike and Julian took our care package over early the next day, and Mike reports the food (and beer) were very much appreciated. I’m just happy we could make one of those early, bleary-eyed days with a new baby a little easier for our friends.