Danny and I were driving in the car yesterday, heading down the interstate toward Seattle. We had just been in a courtroom, for all the best reasons. The hour before, we had stood in front of a judge, raised our right hands, and swore that we truly — yes, and we mean it — want to be Desmond’s parents for the rest of our lives. The judge called Lucy up to his bench and had her sit down in his seat. He leaned down to whisper something in her ear, then she banged the gavel three times. “It’s official!” she said. “He’s your son.” Five years after we decided we wanted to adopt, and 8 1/2 months after this amazing little guy came into our lives, Desmond is now legally our son. The relief and joy is enormous.
So there we were, driving on the freeway, grinning. Desmond had fallen asleep in his car seat. Lucy had too. She danced as a mouse in the Nutcracker all weekend, happier than we have ever seen her, and the poor kid was tuckered out. As far as she was concerned, the freeway was boring, only a conduit to the ice cream the judge ordered us to get to celebrate. (She liked that part especially well.) So Danny and I were, for the first time all day, alone to talk as adults, quietly.
We talked about our joy, about the release after waiting all these years. I realized there was some part of my body that had been holding breath since Lucy was 18 months old and finally, that morning, finally I exhaled. We felt good.
A few days before, I had read an idea that had been bopping around my brain ever since. When you’re thinking about the work you do in the world, what are your strengths? And by strengths, this piece was not talking about the traditional human resources kind of stock answer, like what you think your talents are, or what you’re best at during the day. But literally this — what makes you feel strong?
So much of the time, we’re all focused on what needs improving, the gaps and cracks, the broken places. What about the moments in the day when we feel so clear and calm that we don’t think about anything else? What if we organized our days around those moments? What if the bulk of our work came from that place of strength?
So I asked Danny, because we’re always talking. We’re always comparing notes and readjusting and making changes on what doesn’t feel right. Always. Even though I know him better than any person alive, I still ask him how he feels and what makes him tick. So I asked, “Wait, what part of our work makes you feel strong?”
He thought for a bit, a tiny beat, and then said, “The silence that happens when people are eating my food.”
And I laughed, because I had been thinking about the moment after. “I love that happy babble of 20 people around a table, eating and talking, and laughing together.”
Did you deposit that check yet? We should make a list of all the tasks we have to undertake to get the flours shipped to people’s homes and assign dates to every one. Who’s picking up Lucy from the Nutcracker rehearsal today? Here’s an idea — what about doing a video series with Sam, teaching me how to make pastry? I really want to incorporate more greys into the photographs, now that it’s the low-ceilinged time of the year. What about a soup with sweet potatoes and coconut, tomatoes and chickpeas? Hey honey, can you make up a bottle for Desmond?
Standing at the island in our kitchen, I was preparing to make date-almond chocolate biscotti for the gift baskets we are sending out for Kickstarter pledges. (Thank you again and again and again.) The knife was duller than I wanted (add sharpen knives to the list!), and so I had to press down harder than I expected on the red cutting board beneath my hands. I had to pay attention. Within a few moments of the slow sashaying rhythm of the knife on the dates, I paused. Everything felt good, my body lined up. I looked down to see my battered clogs next to each other, planted. I looked up and realized I felt grounded for the first time all day. Too many practical matters on paper and in bank accounts and emails leave me feeling flighty. When I put my hands in the food, I can imagine again.
These days, my life feels likes a constant, slow — and sometimes sudden — shift between the pragmatic and the imagined.
Time slips away as the light moves from the window behind me in our kitchen studio — Desmond jumping gleefully in his jumper across from me with Michael Jackson playing — to weak glimmers in late afternoon through the window near the refrigerator. Claire and I talk, making plans, everything that needs a list and has to be put on the calendar. Danny moves through the kitchen, nimbly, cooking and cleaning. He’s always listening. Whenever we are stuck, he looks at us, says something pithy and true. Then he makes us laugh. And then he feeds us lunch. Some days, it’s carrots slow roasted with cumin, cinnamon, and honey.
Danny is the most grounded person I have ever met. I’m full of ideas and talking it out and hands weaving strands of fabric in the air. Danny stands in the kitchen and makes food. And when he cooks, he thinks. He imagines. He listens. He knows far more than I do. And he’s kind enough to let me flutter, ever the writer, imagining, poking at ideas, trying them out by talking, and then watching the silly ones disappear out the door. Danny is all practical actions. And then he imagines. And he knows.
These past few weeks, as we have been pondering the intricacies of starting a small business, I’ve been trying to be pragmatic all day long. I have constant to-do lists in my speckled composition book, in green sharpies and stubs of pencils I find on the dining room table after Lucy has been drawing. They rattle in my head, those to-do lists, startling me awake at 3 in the morning with their noise. I’ve been thinking that what I need to do is buckle down, set aside my writing, quiet all those ideas, and just be practical.
I can’t, though. There’s no point in going against my essential nature. It never works. If I flutter my ideas into my hands, and make bread once again, just a bit better this time after my late-night thoughts about hydration made it onto the page, then I’m happy. My emails get answered after I have baked. After I’m done with this piece, I’m tackling a proposal I have to write, something quite exciting that scares me at the same time.
And here I am, writing yet another non-traditional, far-too-rambly piece of writing for a food blog. I’ve broken all those rules again.
Fine. I’m not much good at rules that make no sense to me. We have too many of them in this culture anyway.
Now that we are in the midst of starting a small business, I have been working on the assumption that our success lies solely in the pragmatic. And I make lists of those practical things and tackle emails and cross off lists. And then an entire day goes by, the light moving from limpid bright to those faint glimmers, without me making up a recipe or imagining a connection I hadn’t seen before or writing a piece like this. And then I go home defeated. Exhausted.
Those ideas that flutter out of my hands into the air around me, to the ears willing to listen or scared by them? They are the most practical things I do.
This morning, I read this piece about the founding of Top Pot Doughnuts, here in Seattle. I used to love those thick, sugar-crusted treats before I had to give up gluten. And to my delight, this piece is the story of how haphazard and sometimes chaotic the building of the Top Pot empire actually was. It was always about the vision, the design sensibility, the way they tried to make people feel when they were in a Top Pot shop. This is my favorite passage from Michael Klebeck:
“’Along the way, there have been ups and downs. But mostly, it feels like growth. Organic, authentic, and solid rather than ephemeral,’ Michael says. ‘The idea is the most important thing. The idea is everything.’ He pauses for a moment. ‘It was never about the doughnuts.’”
The idea is everything.
So I’ll keep dancing that line between the pragmatic and imagined, trying to find my balance new each day. Give me the chance to learn and keep my brain awake with fire, to deal with chaos, to go home exhausted some days and wake up ready to go the next morning. I’ll take that over tidy and too pragmatic any day.
Our lives are not neat. But as long as I’m dancing, and Danny is cooking, we’re going to be fine.
roasted carrots with cumin, cinnamon, and honey
5 large carrots, peeled 2 teaspoons ground cumin 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil kosher salt and cracked black pepper 1 teaspoon cinnamon (we like the fresh cinnamon from Cinnamon Hill) 1/4 cup raw honey
Prepare to cook. Heat the oven to 425°.
Cut the carrots. Lay a whole carrot down on the cutting board. Cut a 1-inch piece on the diagonal. Twirl the carrot and cut again. This will give you carrot wedges. Repeat with the remaining carrots.
Toast the cumin. Set a small skillet over medium heat. Add the cumin. Toast the cumin, stirring frequently, until the smell of the cumin fills the air, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat.
Season the carrots. Toss the carrots with the olive oil, and then toss them with the toasted cumin and cinnamon. Season with salt and pepper.
Roast the carrots. Roast the carrots until they are tender to the knife, 20 to 25 minutes.
Finish the carrots. Toss the carrots with the honey. Serve.
Feel like playing? You might want to try this with parsnips instead of carrots. Depending on their size, they might take less time to cook. Also, if you make these carrots without salt and pepper, and puree them, a baby you know might be very happy eating this dish. Just leave out the honey, as it is recommended that babies less than 1 avoid honey.
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