being part of a team

orange-almond cake with lemongrass ice cream

Today is the first day of the new menu at the restaurant.

Normally, we call this the Chef’s time of the month. Normally calm and cuddly, he grows a little twitchy, a little restless in the mornings, these few days before the new menu makes it onto people’s plates. All I have to do is listen to him say one word (“Yep.”), said fast, the end of the word rushed out of his mouth, and I know what’s going on. He’s dancing. His feet are moving fast, his mind is set on the restaurant, and we need to leave the house a few minutes earlier than normal. Time to go to work.

When I was younger, I might have complained. I probably would have asked him why he was so anxious, why he couldn’t just be in the moment more calmly. But one of the gifts of finding the love of my life at nearly forty? I know when to be quiet, now.

Once, I used to worry that I would have to give up too much of myself to be married. That dreaded word: compromise. Who would win the moment, the day? Would my needs come first? Or would I have to put him first more often than I liked?

Really, it’s a good idea to wait until your late thirties to get married, sometimes.

What I did not understand in my earlier relationships comes naturally now. If I have to set my plans aside to drive to the spice store earlier than I had thought, or make a dent in our morning time together to stop at the farmers’ market for fresh herbs, I do it. Why? Well, it’s not as if I’m suffering by going to the farmers’ market. But it’s more than that.

It’s the relationship.

My relationship with the Chef is a living entity. It’s not about my needs or his. It’s about what’s best for our relationship, in this moment.

We’re a team.

We have an unusual situation: our schedules afford us the time to have long mornings together, to run food errands around noon (and thus avoid most of the horrid traffic), and to eat our dinner together around midnight. If I had still been teaching high school right now, I don’t think we would be nearly as close as we are. We are for each other.

This is why I was up at 8 this morning, making coffee and simmering oranges and lemons in slow-boiling water. After testing the orange-almond cakes a couple of times, I found the recipe I liked. (It turns out my first instincts were right: I cut the 5 1/2 cups of almond flour down to 4, and added sweet rice flour, potato starch, and amaranth flour instead.) Moist and citrus-swirled, these cakes cling to the fork when you cut them. Reminiscent of orange juice and pound cake, these mighty little cakes cast a shadow on gluten treats. Who needs gluten when you can eat a cake with the taste of sunlight? (Okay, I know this is going to sound strange, but the texture is a bit like Play-dough, somehow, which I find immensely satisfying.)

Why was I making them, at home, for the restaurant? Because they needed to be done. The first day of the new menu is a full-court press for the Chef, working in his tiny kitchen with his entire intensity, for hours at a time. Normally, he spends days preparing and tasting, planning and changing his mind. During this week of the month, I don’t expect to have his entire attention.

But this week, I needed him. The manuscript was due. The recipes needed more testing. The computer broke down. He was such a champion that I sort of forgot that he had a new menu to do until yesterday.

“Wait!” I said to him in the shower yesterday morning. “You’ve been incredible. You haven’t been grumpy. You haven’t been dancing. You just did the work and you’re ready to go.”

He grinned at the recognition. And then he did what he always does: he stuck out his pinky. I wrapped mine around his, and we looked at each other. “Team Ahern,” we said. And then we kissed.

I love being part of this team.

So I volunteered, yesterday, to make the first round of cakes for the restaurant. I intended to make them last night, but I goofed around with my new camera so much that I didn’t even make dinner for us. Frankly, I could have slept another two hours. But I promised him. And so I rose.

This afternoon, when I came back to the restaurant with a cup of coffee, he poked his head around the door of the kitchen. “I have a present for you,” he grinned. And then he set this saucer down in front of me. A slice of the orange-almond cake, with a soft scoop of the lemongrass ice cream he invented yesterday. It wasn’t entirely frozen yet, but he wanted me to taste it.

I took one bite, and I closed my eyes. That ice cream — layers of flavor. A wave of vanilla bean, and then the sharp tang of ginger. But that’s not ginger. A soft assertive song of lemongrass, sweeter and more demure than ginger. Bright and clean, the breeze through the door in that moment. I didn’t open my eyes for a moment.

When I did, I saw him in front of me, grinning. “See? Your cake, my ice cream. And whoever comes into the restaurant to eat tonight will have this because of both of us.”

I put down my fork and put out my pinky. He wrapped his around mine, and we looked in each other’s eyes. “Team Ahern,” I said.

And we kissed.

8 comments on “being part of a team

  1. Hannah Rose

    Shauna,

    I’ve been following your blog for a while now, and I just wanted to let you know what an inspiration you are to me.

    Being an aspiring writer I’m always looking for ways to improve, and your blog has been my muse as of late.

    When my mum and sister and I were diagnosed with Celiac (Three years ago for my mum and sister, and one year for me) I thought the world was ending. I have ALWAYS been the baker in the household. Finding out that this was no longer to be was the worst kind of heartbreak.

    The first months were torturous, but I’ve discovered how much I like using rice flour, potato starch and so on. I haven’t baked in a while because I have been very sick, but my fingers are just ITCHING to get in the kitchen.

    Thanks for reminding me how much I love to cook. My mum and I might be taking a trip to Seattle soon, and now we know a restaurant we can eat at! Tell the Chef how much I love him for that.

    I can’t thank you enough for the inspiration.

    –Hannah

  2. JLHesse

    Beautiful picture and beautiful story! Thanks for sharing your heart. I feel the same way about my husband — we view life as a team! I think it’s crucial to a strong marriage. God Bless!

  3. Peyton's Mom

    …again…loving the way your words paint a portrait…thank you for continuing to inspire!

  4. Kath

    Hey Shauna!

    Discovered your blog just a couple of weeks ago and broke speed records starting from the beginning to catch up.

    I so love your positive spirit!

    Have been referring all sorts of blogger buddies to your site.

    Thanks for sharing your amazing writing and equally amazing pix with us. Am so thrilled you found your ‘Chef” and that you share your happiness with us. And when I read you are buying a house, well I just cried. Having a home you both call your own and cherish is really as good as it gets. And you get to build equity!

    Can’t wait (crossing fingers) for the day you come to Denver for your book-signing!

  5. shauna

    Hannah Rose,

    Thank you so much for this lovely message. If you do come to Seattle, please let me know in advance. I love coming into the restaurant and meeting readers. And I can promise that you will eat well!

    jlhesse,

    I agree. And you two certainly look happy in that photo!

    Slacker Mom,

    Yes. There’s no guarantee the happy days last. That’s why we try to enjoy them as fully as we can.

    Peyton’s Mom,

    Oh, if I could inspire you, my dear, I’m happy.

    Kath,

    Oh my god! You read the entire blog from start to finish? You deserve a medal my dear. Even the Chef hasn’t read every entry. Thank you so much!

    I fear I gave the wrong impression with my enigmatic writing. We found a house to rent, but it feels so much like home that we feel as though we have that glow. There will be more on this soon.

    Oh, and the Chef is from Colorado! So we’re going to push for Denver, as much as we can!

  6. Eva

    Making compromises, not struggling for some sort of power in a relationship — that’s the really hard stuff. Being 30 now, I can at least realize what’s going on but maybe it’ll take me another 10 years to master this skill… Thanks for showing me that there is still time for improvement!

  7. Amanda

    I made this cake, or something like it, from a recipe in the Outstanding in the Field book. It was simpler though:

    2 oranges, simmered to pokeable which is about two hours; cooled; seeded; pureed;

    2 c ground almonds, toasted on a baking sheet at 375 for 5–10 minutes;

    6 egg whites left in a stand mixer on low, then medium, then high until they form peaks.

    6 yolks whisked for a minute and then combined with 1 1/4 c sugar and whisked for another minute or two. And then folded with the cooled almonds and the orange puree, and then folded into the egg whites, or vice-versa and baked at 325 for about an hour, maybe less, in a 10″ springform pan, buttered on the bottom.

    So no extra flours. No baking soda. Just every baking sheet, mixer, blender, whisk, food processor and bowl in your kitchen.

    It was excellent. And I thought of you, and then realized that of course I should search your archives because of course you probably already have tried this cake. And yeah, making stiff peaks is a pain in the duff at least in sofar as it means your stand mixer is consumed with that task and you’re going to be mixing everything else by hand, but it came out really, really light.