“Hey sweetie?” I called from the couch into the kitchen. I rubbed my eyes, trying to wake up.
“Yes, my love,” he said as he stood in front of the coffee pot.
“What day is it?”
“Thursday,” he said, coming toward me with a cup.
“Danm.” I reached for the warm cup he stretched toward me.
“What’s the matter with Thursday?” he plopped down on the couch and reached for the newspaper spread out on the coffee table.
“Blog post day. And I don’t have anything. I just completely forgot.” I could feel the tears rising from my throat.
“It’s okay, love.”
I gulped them back, these tears that had nothing to do with a lack of recipe. “It’s just that I’ve been thinking more about the post I’m putting up next week than the one for today. I’ve been reading asparagus ideas, and making more arepas, and I just don’t have anything for today.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, hon.” He put his hand, warm and strong, on my shoulder.
I put the heels of my hands on my eyes to shrug back the tears.
“Sweetie?” he asked.
I sat there, silent for a moment, feeling overwhelmed.
“What is it?”
I stuttered and stumbled, always comfortable with him. “It’s just that….there’s so much going on. I have the appearance at Met Market tomorrow, the speech in Lake Chelan this weekend, the writing class on Tuesday, the reading on Wednesday, and the conference in LA next weekend.”
He blew air through his lips, slowly, feeling for me.
“And I’m happy about all of them, honored really. But I’m tired.”
“You’re pregnant,” he said, putting a hand on my belly.
“I love that.” I put my hand on top of his. “I just wish I could slow down a little more.”
“You will. Start saying yes to that,” he reminded me.
“I will.” I felt better, just letting the tears come.
“Well, there was another nasty review on Amazon. And I know I shouldn’t pay attention, but some of them are so vitriolic, and personal.” I shook my head, not wanting to let it bother me. No use in pretending. It did.
“Oh man,” he sighed. “I hate that.”
“Me too. And this one went on and on about how I’m a food snob, because I said I want to eat local asparagus, in season, instead of through the year.”
“But sweetie, you know that’s ridiculous.” He leaned in for a hug, his arms folding me in.
“I know. And I hate truffle oil, and people keep claiming that I’m espousing a life in which everyone must buy some. I just don’t understand.”
He held me for a moment, close.
“You’re just like me, you know. A dining room full of happy people, and one person wants her fish cooked more well done, and I’m convinced that everyone hates the food.”
We laughed at ourselves, the vibrations in his throat trembling the top of my head.
“What else?” he said, waiting for me.
“Oh, I don’t know. I mean, the house is a mess, and we never got time to finish putting together the barbeque so it’s sitting in pieces in the kitchen, and I haven’t had time to do laundry in days. And I don’t know if we’ll ever get to Little Bean’s room. I mean, I’m 25 weeks tomorrow, and LB will be here in 14 weeks, and fuck, that’s just around the corner.” I stopped for a breath, my head ducked into his chest.
He breathed, without talking, waiting.
“And, it’s grey outside again, and reading the newspaper is all doom. The aftermath of Pennsylvania primaries, and stabbings in south Seattle, and the world is running out of food.”
He pulled my head up and looked at me.
“And then I just feel dumb for complaining about any of this, when people are starving for lack of rice. I sound ridiculous right now!”
He held me again, trying not to laugh at my hysterics and my doubt of it all. At least he resisted tickling me. Because he didn’t say anything, I heard myself.
“Wow,” I said, pulling away to look at him, wiping away the tears. “I really must be hormonal, right?”
“Probably,” he laughed softly. “But that doesn’t mean it’s not real. You just need some time off.”
“Actually, I just need another hug, and some breakfast.”
He hugged me, of course. And then he stood up to put some asparagus in to roast.
I breathed. I try to live in gratitude. In that moment, I was swept away by the gratitude I felt that he was in the house with me. How long had I lived without him?
“Hey you,” he said, settling down again. “Feeling better?”
“Yeah,” I said as I put my feet up on his lap.
“Good.” He leaned down for his coffee cup.
I reached for the paper again. And then stopped. “But I still don’t have a blog post.”
“Oh yeah,” he giggled. “It did all start with that.”
“Are you making anything at the restaurant I could share?”
“Well, there’s the crab salad, and the blue cheese cheesecake…”
“But we have to save those,” I said immediately.
“Hm….” We both sat and thought for a bit. We had been eating homemade corn tortillas all week, lots of cheese, asparagus at nearly every meal, roasted chicken, poached eggs, black bean soup, salads with goat cheese and sunflower salads, oatmeal with prunes (that one was for me)….. All of it too mundane to share, or done before.
“Did you get anything in from Charlies’ that inspired you?”
His eyes went wide. “Strawberries. First of the season.”
My nose perked up. I could almost smell them. And then I stopped. “Oh, but they’re not in season here yet.”
“They are in California. At least it’s not Chile.” He taunted me with this, his little teasing voice.
“But I so much prefer when they’re from Skagit Valley. You know that I just like supporting local farmers…”
“Shauna,” he stopped me, his voice commanding. “I agree. And we’ll eat those all June. But sometimes you have to bend. You need strawberries.”
I laughed. What a funny thing to be rigid about. And we always seem to cheat a little, about a month before fruits and vegetables arrive in the farmers’ markets, and have a single plum in April, or strawberries from California, just as a taste of things to come.
“Okay,” I said laughing. “But what are we going to do with strawberries?”
“You leave that to me,” he said, as he leaned his face down to my belly. “Let me surprise you.”
I surrendered. I trusted him.
“Besides, Little Bean needs some strawberries too.” And he put his lips near my belly button and shouted out in his silliest voice. “Hi Little Bean! Would you like some strawberries?”
I felt that kick inside me, a pulse like a gulp, somewhere near my bladder.
“I guess that means yes,” I said, laughing.
“Well that solves it then,” he said. “Strawberries.”
He kissed my belly and rested his head there for a moment, eyes closed in pleasure.
I put my hand in his hair and patted his head. In that moment, everything felt like a yes again.
STRAWBERRIES, BLUE CHEESE, AND BALSAMIC REDUCTION SAUCE
When I came back to the restaurant after buying him a cup of coffee, he flourished a martini glass at me. “Here you go. Strawberries.”
I looked down in amazement. He had been right. It was just what I needed in that moment.
Pt. Reyes blue cheese is one of the few artisanal blue cheeses I have found that’s gluten-free. Funny that the Chef doesn’t care for blue cheese, and he can eat any of them. And me, who hungered for it, went without it for years because of the gluten. Bless you Pt. Reyes cheese people.
The longer I cook, the more I realize — with the Chef’s help — that it’s just about the ingredients. A smidge of good cheese, ripe strawberries, balsamic vinegar reduced down to a thick syrup: tangy sharp bites with sweetness and a prickle of seeds. It’s not intended as snobbery. This really doesn’t cost that much. But such a distinctive taste. It sweetened the rest of my day.
½ cup decent balsamic vinegar
1 cup ripe strawberries, tops off
¼ cup blue cheese
Put the balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan. Simmer it gently on medium-low heat until it has reduced to 1/8 cup. Remove from heat.
(If you happen to own some aged balsamic, the great stuff that is already its own syrup, use that instead.)
Chop up the strawberries and put them in a bowl. Crumble the blue cheese above them. Drizzle with the balsamic reduction sauce.