Every day, I feel blessed.
I have my health (thanks to discovering that I have celiac disease), I have work I love to do (you are reading it here), and I have the love of my life, the most adorable, gentle man I have ever met. How I found the Chef and a book deal in the same year is beyond me. Truly, every day, I count my blessings.
But some days, it seems, are more blessed than others.
Last week, I put up a post about eating a plum. Oh, it was more than that, of course. I wrote about the low-key but vibrant wedding that the Chef and I are planning, and the rings that we found, spontaneously, at Pike Place Market. They cost us less than $40, and we are thrilled. When I wrote that piece, I wrote it from my heart, which was spilling over with happiness. In a particular way, I wrote it for myself, and for the Chef, as a memory of that magic, mundane day. But I also wrote it as a way of giving back, to all of you who have sent us good wishes and come by here every day, to see what we are eating and how we are loving each other. It was a thank you, really.
I had no idea that I would be saying a huge thank you, an astounded thank you, just a week later.
You see, in the middle of that post, I put a link to a pair of red cowboy boots. As I wrote then, “…honestly, it’s not going to be a fancy wedding. We’re going to have paper plates and cups, blankets arrayed on the grass for instant picnics, and bouquets from the farmers’ market. No favors in matching colors, no garter or throwing of the bouquet. The rehearsal dinner will be a barbeque in our backyard, with both families and our closest friends eating burgers and potato salad. The day before, we’re having a miniature golf tournament. There will be no monogrammed cuff links or tuxedos, or matching bridesmaid dresses. I would wear red cowboy boots to my wedding, if the pair I want wasn’t so darned expensive.”
I have always loved red cowboy boots. There’s something so alive, so declarative, so fierce about them. Somehow, when I imagined getting married, I always pictured myself in red. It’s my color, the color of blood and laughter (you should see my cheeks after a belly laugh) and passion and life and summer flowers and everything that is vibrant and alive to me. I love red. But when the Chef asked me to marry him, he asked if I would wear white. It’s an allusion, you see, to a song we will have played at our wedding. Of course, I said yes. But what about the red?
So when I saw those boots, I imagined myself in them. That’s why I put up a link in the post. Because I wanted people to see the kind of day I would have if I could afford those dream boots.
Those red cowboy boots are sitting on the floor behind me as I write.
You see, in one of the most astounding acts of kindness ever given to me, one of you readers bought me the cowboy boots the next day.
I still have the shivers, thinking of this.
She wrote to me (and she has given me permission to publish this):
“Shauna – I LOVED your recent post about your low-key wedding plans.…you make me smile every day and I think the way you live your life and look at the world is just fantastic.
However, as a soon to be published writer of a gluten-free book and a [former] teacher, I realize that in our society you are not blessed with monetary wealth to the degree that you should be. If you were paid in an amount that directly reflected your value as a person and the beauty of what you create, you would be richer than you can imagine.…It pains me to think that someone who gives so much should have to marry her sweetheart wearing anything other than the exact shoes that make her heart sing.…
Enjoy them on that day (if you want to) and for years to come. I felt all warm and smiley and excited just thinking about doing this … I got the idea when I read your blog entry today and followed the link … and from the excitement I felt I knew that I just had to do this for you. It made me so happy to give you something, because you never ask for anything from your readers, you just share and share and create more and more beauty each day. Here is the universe bringing something back to you. You deserve it.
Someday I will come up with my sweetheart and dine at the Impromptu Wine Bar and say hello.
It has been a week since she sent me this email, and I still have not found the words. Astounded? Astonished? Dancing with pleasure? Humbled? Thrilled to my toes? Those aren’t even close.
It grew even more difficult to convey my gratitude when I found out what Kristin does for a living. I assumed that she had some extra cash, a comfortable life with lots of spending money. (Those boots were expensive!) But that’s not the story, either. You see, it turns out that Kristin is a policewoman. A uniformed cop. And she tells me that I am not paid what I am worth? My goodness.
Goodness. Maybe that’s the only word for all this.
There is such goodness in this world.
Thank you, Kristin. For the rest of my life — at my wedding, on the book tour, on our honeymoon in Italy, and all the adventures yet to come — I will be wearing those red cowboy boots. And every time, I will be telling the story of your kindness.
And as you might imagine, those of you reading, I have invited Kristin and her sweetheart to our wedding. The Chef immediately agreed. I hope that she will be dancing with us in July.
* * *
One email like that would be more than enough for a day. However, I put up that piece, I received a bombardment of beautiful comments and an equal number of lovely letters. That day, I did nothing but read and sit at the computer, open-mouthed. Truly, I don’t know what to say.
One, in particular, however, left me sobbing. The following letter has changed my life, in ways I cannot (nor will not attempt to) explain. I know that, if you read it, this letter will change your life too.
The author of this letter has chosen to remain anonymous, but she has given me permission to print this.
Please, read this letter. Not all gifts come wrapped in boxes. Sending this to me was one of the kindest acts this writer has ever performed. And she didn’t even know it.
I came across your blog when doing research for a friend diagnosed with Celiac, around the time you started writing about the Chef. I keep coming back because of your love story, and the amazement you describe when you talk about your relationship with the Chef, resonates so deeply with me. I just feel compelled to let you know that I know that feeling. I don’t have the way with words that you do — but I want to try to explain — I just feel compelled to, I hope you don’t think that’s odd!
My first taste came when I met and fell in love with Mike — a man who made me laugh so hard my ribs ached, and who had a way of looking at me that made one eye crinkle up and it made me melt. I swear I fell in love with him and knew I’d marry him on our first date — at a quiet cocktail lounge in the West Village. I remember sipping my drink (an apple martini — how 2000!) and listening to his stories and his jokes… I had never been so content to listen to someone talk about places I’d never been and people I’d never met. And then he stopped short — midsentence — and said, “I talk too much.” I laughed — no, no — keep going. And he said, “I want to know everything about you… tell me your story.” I eeked out a few awkward basics, and for each one, he greeted it with such acceptance and wonder and he made me feel like anything I had to say about where I came from and where I grew from was important, and sacred… funny and meaningful.
That was in early 2000. In June of 2001, we returned to that same cocktail lounge and he proposed to me. Of course, I said — “yes.” (but no tatoo, thank you!)
In September of 2001, I lost my wonderful Mike in the terrorist attacks in New York… 5 months before we were to be married. I have no words to tell you the feeling of that day, and the days and weeks and months following. After a routine morning — a leisurely walk with the dog together (what a crystal blue day it was), a latte enroute to the subway, a quick and rushed kiss goodbye to make it to work on time — and I was alone, and Mike was gone.
Acquaintances sometimes have a strange curiousity about my story, although they’d never ask questions of me for fear of hurting me, I suppose. Sometimes I just wish they would; because it helped (helps) to talk about him. Instead, they would ask my big brother, and he has become the narrator of my story, it seems… recounting that day and my panicked phone call to him (when I could finally get through.) The way he walked across the Brooklyn Bridge (against the sea of people walking away from the city) to find me and help me… and the way I collapsed on the sidewalk after having to call Mike’s parents to tell them he had not been heard from. My brother picked me up out of my crumpled, crying heap and almost chanted, breathless and shaky, in my ear, “You are strong. You are strong. You are strong.”… over and over … because, as he remembers, he had no idea what else to say and it was the first thing that came to mind. After all, what do you say to your little sister when something so unthinkable has shattered everything, and you are the only one there in the moment to pick up her pieces?
He and I walked the city and checked every safe list, every makeshift triage, every hospital.… strangely, I don’t remember this at all. I don’t remember where we went, or what I saw or who I spoke to. I don’t remember coming back to my apartment that night… but I do recall sitting on the couch, staring at the muted TV, while my brother made all the phone calls I could not bear to make.
My brother called our parents to update them because I couldn’t… sitting near him I could hear my mom’s wail come through the phone. I couldn’t bear to speak with them myself just then… I couldn’t bring myself to listen to my own father cry upon hearing that his 28 year old daughter was likely a sudden widow — before she even got married. That Mike — the one he could talk sports with, the one who liked to help with the yard, the one who brought good beer when he visited, the one who asked him for my hand in marriage “as any good guy should out of respect to a father” — was probably gone.
I do remember in the days and weeks after, there was an almost magnetic attraction between people who had lost loved ones. I would be on the subway, lost in my own thoughts… when someone would put their hand on my arm and say, “Who did you lose?” The lump in my throat would make it difficult to speak; and I would just say, “Mike.” I’m sure they were looking for a response that was some label — brother, friend, husband, co-worker.… but to me, Mike was Mike.
Mike’s remains — fragments, really — were identified with DNA taken from his toothbrush. That toothbrush that had seemed so symbolic and meaningful the first time he left it — made him a fixture in my apartment and served as the first suggestion of permanency between “us.” Soone after he left it there, “my” apartment became “our” apartment.
I couldn’t bear to be there. My best friend took an unpaid leave from her job in Atlanta to come and move in with me for a month. She slept in my bed with me just so I didn’t have to feel the emptiness of “his side”… she walked my dog when I couldn’t gather myself enough to get dressed… she force fed me nutritious food and quite honestly, even completed my work for me so that I wouldn’t lose my job, which believed I was “working from home” for a while. When I received the phone call about Mike’s remains; and allowed my mascara-ed tears to ruin her shirt. She helped me synch with her deep breaths when I thought I would choke crying… “In… and out.… in… and out… that’s it, Aim…”
She took half of what I was carrying saying, “it’s not as heavy if we both carry some.”
Have you ever known such a gift? It is humbling.
Eventually, I was able to function — almost normally on the surface. But as you can probably imagine, I spent the next couple of years post-9/11 grieving profoundly… trying to understand why, missing Mike terribly… trying NOT to allow fear and grief and anger to make me less amazed at the world around me, what it offered, and what I could offer to it.
In 2003, I was slowly moving on, but quite certain I’d never find what I had with Mike. I would “settle”, I decided, for dating… for working… I bought fabulous shoes and acted all Carrie Bradshaw…
And then… I met Matt in December of 2003. He changed everything.
Everything you write about the Chef is how I feel about Matt. And, how I felt about Mike — and how I thought I’d never feel again when I lost him. How incredible, how amazing… that I was blessed with this feeling twice.
To sum up Matt is so hard.… one way to describe him is to tell you how he reacted to being with someone who’d experienced the loss I had. He never thought twice of the framed picture I have of Mike and I in my apartment. He allowed me to talk about him — ASKED about him sometimes, even. He came to dinner with me when Mike’s parents were in town. He remembered his birthday, the passing of our “wedding date” that never happened… he allowed me my space, my memories, and my grief. He suggested that a candle be lit and a prayer be said in Matt’s memory on our own wedding day. He is patience and compassion personified.
In a way, it reminds me of the acceptance you felt when the Chef recognized, acknowledged your need to be gluten-free. It was a sense of taking me “as I am”, and seeing what I could offer despite (or maybe because of) everything.
He helped me realize that loss doesn’t mean you don’t love again. And that the “second gift”, so to speak, doesn’t have to be any less sweet, surprising, wonderful, as the first.
Sometimes, in my dating days, it felt as if everyone I went out with treated me with kid gloves… afraid I was too fragile, too broken… maybe wishing I’d get over it already… hoping they’d be the one to help me forget and move on. Matt never required that I “forget” or “move on”… only that I live in the moment with him. Rather than treating me like I was the “young and frail almost-widow”, he treated me like a strong, capable woman who had overcome a lot and was still positive… still looking to love and be loved… still able to be open, and still able to live fully.
Sometimes Matt will look at me in a way that wraps me in warmth and acceptance and kindness… he makes me feel equal, whole… with him, I was never damaged goods… and to boot, he has a really cute British accent.
It seems silly for me to share all this with you. But I guess your posts about the Chef — and today’s about your planning your wedding — made me remember. Made me think. And made me so grateful for the gifts I’ve been given that I needed to share. The way that your posts make me well up with joy and recognition made me want to tell you that I KNOW, gosh do I really, really KNOW the feelings you describe. There was a time when I never thought I’d know them again, and now I do…
And, we are expecting our first baby — due in September. If that doesn’t make you amazed with the world, I don’t know what would.…
I wish you and the Chef all the happiness in the world as you celebrate the incredible gift of each other.”
There are no words.
Buttermilk Currant Scones, adapted from The Baker’s Dozen Cookbook
Daily, I am astounded by the generosity of this community. The mere existence of food blogs is a beautiful gift. How else would we be able to peek into each other’s kitchen, grab a whiff of baked goods, and gather ideas for our own meals? Without food blogs, we would have to buy cookbooks, all the time. My wallet, alone, thanks you all for doing the work you do.
A few weeks ago, I checked The Baker’s Dozen Cookbook out of the library. Filled with fascinating recipes, this book is a compendium of great ideas from some of the country’s best bakers, including our own David Lebovitz. Every page intrigued me, including recipes for warm pear tart, five-spice angel cake, and applesauce gingerbread. I was so excited by the idea of chocolate budini — a flourless Italian pudding — that I showed it to the Chef, and he promptly put his own version of it on the March menu. Reading a book like this may seem like cruel torture for someone who is gluten-free, but it is the opposite. Whether we use gluten-free flours or all-purpose white, we are baking. And in many ways, I feel like a far more creative, involved baker now than I did when I could just dump some wheat flour in a bowl and go from there.
Even before I went gluten-free, I had never attempted scones. They felt too daunting, a task for a more experienced baker than I considered myself. Now, I don’t let anything stop me. In fact, I awoke one Sunday morning, read the paper with the Chef in bed, and then turned to him and said, “I’m going to go make us some scones.”
After eating these, he said that he felt blessed.
Buttermilk Currant Scones
1 cup sweet white sorghum flour
1 cup almond meal
½ cup tapioca flour
½ cup cornstarch
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup currants
several pinches of turbinado sugar
Combine all the dry ingredients together and stir them well. Sift them into a large bowl. Set aside.
Cut the butter into small pieces, dropping the pieces into the flour mixture as you cut. The pieces should be no larger than your thumbnail. Once you have cut all the butter, combine the butter pieces and dry ingredients with a pastry fork (or your fingers). Once they are all blended well, and the mixture feels like bread crumbs, then you are done.
Combine the buttermilk, apple cider vinegar, and vanilla extract together. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the liquid in. Slowly, stir the liquid in a counter-clockwise pattern, from the center out, until all the dry ingredients have been incorporated into the wet. When everything feels combined for the first time, stop. Add the currants.
Put the dough into the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours. This is important.
Preheat the oven to 425°.
Take the scone dough out of the refrigerator. Divide the dough in half with your hands, and then divide it again, until you have a ball about the size of the palm of your hand. Flatten the ball, slightly, and shape it into a scone-like shape. (That might mean something different to each person.) Sprinkle the top with a bit of turbinado sugar, and put that scone onto parchment paper (or silicone mat) on top of the baking sheet. Repeat until you have finished with all the dough.
Slide the baking sheet into the heated oven and bake the scones for fifteen to eighteen minutes. (In our oven, it was more like eighteen.) The scones are done when you can put in a toothpick and have it come out clean, as well as when the top is warm and browned. Allow the scones to cool for about five minutes. Serve immediately.
Makes about eight scones.