Losing my appetite

Brooklyn lox photo

Though it’s changing rapidly, I live in the kind of neighborhood where I often run into people I know— including people I once had something in common with who I may not have seen or spoken to for years. There’s something comforting about watching us all age from afar and watching our kids grow up. Now, many of the cars I see driving herkily-jerkily around the neighborhood are driven by kids I chaperoned on countless school field trips to the zoo. Daughter #1 and her peers have just committed to colleges to attend in the fall. Sunrise, sunset.

tevye sunrise sunset

Is this the little girl I carried?

A month or so ago, I ran into a person I hadn’t spoken to for years who, nonetheless, is part of my Facebook village. “I love all of your food postings,” she told me. “Believe or not, ” I confessed, “I haven’t felt like cooking much at all.” (In writing this post and reviewing my cooking photos over the past three months, I realize that “not feeling like cooking” for me, may not resemble “not feeling like cooking” for other people. But you get my drift).

Eat in my Kitchen Cake

Case in point: A cake from Eat in My Kitchen, produced during my “not feeling like cooking phase.”

Writers have writers’ block and cooks can have cooking block. Sometimes the two can happen simultaneously, which is a bad thing for those of us who enjoy reading and writing food blogs. In my case, the cooking block came on gradually. To coincide with upping my fitness game, I’d embarked on a healthier eating campaign, trying to limit sugar and carbs. I told you about The Food Lover’s Cleanse, which is a terrific book for foodies who don’t want to compromise taste in pursuit of health. Do yourself a favor while there’s still time and make this rhubarb applesauce for your morning serving of steel cut oats. You won’t regret it.

You readers were almost treated to an entire blog post devoted to sardines, a healthy addition to our diets that I am struggling to embrace. When Jeff is out of town, I eat them for breakfast with scrambled eggs.

sardines

When the cat’s away…

Even better is this recipe for sardine rillettes that makes you understand why French women don’t get fat, or at the very least gives you some insight into their mindset.

je ne regrette rien

Then my interest in cooking fizzled and I found myself wondering, “what’s the point?” Our family of four was often moving in different directions at dinner time and my kids are often not fans of my penchant for global flavors and healthy fare. We were in the middle of a stressful college decision swirl (which, I am happy to report, had a happy ending). Seattle experienced a record-breaking rainy season, replete with a persistent icy wind, which made venturing out to get ingredients unpleasant. For a number of reasons, from both a weather and a personal standpoint, it felt like spring would never arrive.

The return of inspiration came, as is often the case for me, through travel. Jeff, Daughter #1, and I went to New York on a college visit, and Daughter #2 went to France.

Though I grew up in New Jersey, this was my first trip back to New York City in 24 years and Daughter #2’s adventures in France brought back memories of my own personal, post-New Jersey awakening as a student there nearly 40 years ago. Before she left, I made gougeres and pear clafoutis for a French-inspired party, along with the aforementioned sardine rillettes, courtesy of Dorie Greenspan’s, Around My French Table.

There was no time in New York to taste everything I wanted, like giant soup dumplings, Brooklyn hipster Jewish food, or what is reported to be the world’s best rugelach (or at least the best in New York),

rugelach

or to pay a visit to Rao’s, Hot Bread Kitchen, Prune, or Blue Hill. I’m happy to report that we made it the iconic Katz’s delicatessen (of “I’ll have what she’s having” fame), where we enjoyed egg creams, pickles, blintzes, knishes, and Jeff dove into a fatty pastrami sandwich.

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Confession: I gave my leftover knishes to a homeless man outside of the restaurant. Jeff said he was probably hoping for pastrami.

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We went to Zabars,

and finally, FINALLY, my husband and daughter got to experience what pizza is supposed to taste like. No offense, Seattle. You do you.

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Enjoyed late at night in a Brooklyn pizzeria. Have I mentioned that I’ve rediscovered Billy Joel?

Back home again, inspired by getting out of my box and happy to have overcome one of three signficant hurdles we face, I slowly felt like cooking again. There were rhubarb scones  and almendrados for Easter and Passover,

inspiration from some newly acquired cookbooks (three scored at a sale table at a local bookstore and one which came to me for free from winning a contest)

and discovery of two new cooking communities.

As a freelancer, who works from home, often not speaking to another human creature all day, (until my daughters come home and core dump the outrages and triumphs of their days), social media is my portal to the outside world. Some time ago, I joined the Cookbook Junkies Facebook page, where I could cavort with my own kind, and I am a haphazard member of Eat Your Books (which is how I won Turkish Delights). Cookbook Junkies and Food 52 both have established Facebook cookbook groups, in which each month people share their experiences cooking from selected books. Food 52 happened to be cooking from Diana Henry’s Simple, a book I’d recently scored on sale. Usually a solo peruser of cookbooks, I never seem to get around to making even half of the recipes that catch my eye. I found it inspiring to see others’ postings, which stoked my creative juices and got me cooking again. Whatever else happens on Mother’s Day, I will finally get around to making Diana Henry’s Lemon Ricotta cake, which everyone has raved about.

After a promising day of sunshine, it’s another blah rainy day in Seattle, where today’s paper reports we’ve had nearly four feet of rain since October. Up much of the night fetching grass for a dog with indigestion, I missed morning boot camp, which usually fuels my day. It’s almost noon, I’m still in my PJs, I’ve got work to do, exercise to cram in (that ship has sailed), and a messy house and a crotchety computer to contend with. And don’t get me started on health care. I will take solace in the fact that I’ve got Lemon and Apricot Cinnamon Chicken with Orzo from Turkish Delights on the menu tonight and feel grateful that I’ve always got cooking to ground and comfort me. Even if my cooking muse sometimes goes on vacation, it’s nice to know she’ll eventually come back home.

Divorce: Balancing Between a Rock and a Hard Place

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I’ve just returned from Boulder, Colorado, where I’ve gone to visit my dear friend L., whose son is in college there and who is recovering from the breakup of her 25-year marriage and preparing for her impending divorce.

I was last in Boulder 29 years ago, on a cross-country camping trip with my then-boyfriend.  We stopped in town to visit a friend and probably to take a shower.  I don’t remember much about the place except the smell of patchouli and the crunchy granola vibe.  The aroma and vibe are still there, especially on the Hill, the neighborhood around the University, but Boulder is decidedly more upscale. L. and I ate in several high-end restaurants, where there was nary an alfalfa sprout in sight. The most noticeable change is the preponderance of medical marijuana dispensaries, eyebrow -raising, given the youth and overall health of the population in a city that usually ranks among the top five healthiest in the U.S.


I've heard they even deliver




This has been a year for going back in time.  In the spring, I returned to Paris, where L. and I and her husband first met as students 31 years ago and in August, I returned to Washington, DC (first time back in 13 years), where I lived and worked prior to moving to Seattle to get married. Each of these retrospective trips has been cause for introspection – a bittersweet mélange of memories, roads not taken and the joy of rediscovering people and places that once were central to my life.

L and I have history together.  In my mind, she and her husband were the stable ones, marrying young while I remained single and uncertain until my mid-30s, achieving wealth while I still struggled to pay the bills, and successfully launching three kids and anticipating being youthful empty nesters, while I would remain tethered to soccer schedules and PTA meetings, long past menopause.

For all the times I sought refuge on L’s couch, it’s time for me to provide her emotional support.  We talk about fresh starts over gin-and-tonics. We take a cold, high-altitude hike. We do hot yoga.

On Mt. Sanitas, somewhere around 7,000 feet, we are caught unprepared by a sleet shower that sends us running down the trail, L’s frostbitten hands clasped to her broken heart.  At hot yoga, while attempting to shift from one balancing pose to another, I slip in my own sweat and fall on my ass.  These inescapable metaphors for the newfound instability in L’s life are so obvious, they’re not even worth remarking on.   In the locker room at the yoga studio, another middle-aged divorcee and mother of a college-aged son regales us with her tales of reinvention, which involve neuro-feedback, hormone injections and pole dancing.  “I practiced some of my moves for my boyfriend.  He told me I need to take more classes,” she says wryly.

I introduce L to another friend, also named L, who lives in the area and is a few years ahead in the post-marital breakup recovery process.  L and L have so much in common. They both worked hard to have different lives than their mothers. They were supportive spouses. They read What to Expect When You Are Expecting and became doting mothers.  They were not expecting divorce.

We take their three sons out to breakfast. The boys, who give little thought to the future, eat beignets and biscuits and mounds of rich eggs.  Their mothers, who have learned you can’t be too careful, eat eggs scrambled with tofu and shredded carrots.  And I, somewhere in the middle, eat vegetarian Eggs Benedict.

Some things are timeless:  friends will always be there to pick you up when you stumble, college boys will always live in oblivious squalor.

There will always be a Marley to perform and an audience to appreciate the “don’t worry, be happy” mantra of reggae.

On my last afternoon in Boulder, L and I are taking a walk and we see a message written on a yellow, sticky note that someone felt compelled to place on an area map.

Be grateful for the wonders of your life

Permanent in its impermanence, this is a message we can’t ignore.