My goodness, you years do seem to leap along, don’t you?
A decade ago, I read this book by Paul Monette, one of my favorite writers, and something he wrote has always stayed with me. Melancholy about the passage of time, he asked one of his older friends if every year went faster.
“Only the summers,” she said.
When I was in my 20s, that seemed true already. A high school teacher at the time, I felt most free in the summers, when I had hours every day to write. The list of expectations for my accomplishments was enormous then. Those warm months flew by like mammoth jets leaving trails that disappeared within a moment. How true, I thought.
Now, however, I know better. All the year long rushes by so fast that I can’t even think of a simile for it. Every day now, the Chef and I look at each other, as we lie on the bed with our kicking baby between us, and say to each other, “How did it get to be the evening already? How is it almost time for her to go to bed?”
Our friend Alison and I looked at each other today and said, “Six months? How is she going to be six months old this month? That’s half a year. How did that happen?”
I don’t know.
All I do know is that Little Bean’s giggles, ringing out from her car seat as I walked her around the grocery store, are the best sound I have ever heard. Her kicks, this time last year, were in my belly, jiggling me. Now, she kicks against the mat on the floor and propels herself backward. We once dreamed of her as we ate our meals, and now she is spitting pureed food out of her lips and laughing at it.
2008 changed me.
Without a doubt, this past year was the best one of my life, of our lives. Little Bean was born. Everything else feels small in comparison, even the looming manuscript deadline for my second book. Once — all of two years ago — a book deal seemed like the biggest deal in the world. Now? I’m thrilled to be part of this book (the evocative recipes are the Chef’s, the photographs tell the story in a spectacular fashion, and my writing plays only a small part). I really want to share it with you all. But I think it will be a much better book for the fact that it’s really not the most important focus of my life anymore.
A little girl who rolls over and giggles with her face planted on the floor, chases light with her eyes, kisses her stuffed animals, and smiles wide as the possibilities of her life when I enter the room — that’s the focus around here.
It feels so damned good to not come first in my own life anymore.
And so, 2009, as much as we love you, already you feel small. Last year, I wrote a letter to 2008, hoping for great things. (To be fair, I already knew I was pregnant and hadn’t announced it yet. Much of the letter is imbued with the hope that the little one would be born.) This time last year, I had so many hopes, a lot of plans, and a list of foods I wanted to create. Some of them happened. Most of them I had forgotten until I read the piece again.
This year is different. Oh, there will be big moments: two books to complete; two surgeries to endure; the Chef’s eventual return to a restaurant; possibly a move; a paperback coming out. In fact, on paper, it’s another enormous year.
But here’s one way 2008 has changed me: I’m not thinking too much about any of them. I’m here, today.
In the mornings, I’ve learned to pour myself only half a cup of coffee. That way, when Little Bean needs me, unexpectedly, and the coffee goes cold, I don’t feel I’ve missed anything. Those expectations of accomplishments I once had for myself? They’re fairly well gone. Life has never been what I planned for, anyway. I just want to welcome it all.
And the other way 2008 — the year of shattering mortality questions and big-scary-adult situations — has changed me? I don’t want to meander my way through it here. Once, I filled giant black sketchbooks with my thoughts, every sentence important. Now, I write less and live more.
I’m not much interested in the future, other than hoping that the ones I love are in it. I’m only interested in now: the sound of Little Bean’s hands grabbing the plastic rings above her seat and tossing them about; the Chef sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of her, making faces; the mess on my desk that I have learned to embrace; the trees bare of leaves in the park across the street.
2009, all I want are long mornings filled with a kid with smooshed bananas on her bib and a husband with stubble who forgot to change his socks. It’s not a bad way to live.
Some French toast might be nice too.
GLUTEN-FREE FRENCH TOAST
It’s hard to go wrong with French toast. Sweet and milky, chewier than pancakes, love with crusts — this breakfast always makes me happy. Last week, with half a loaf of gluten-free bread left, the Chef turned to me and said, “Tomorrow, French toast.”
Our friend Tita taught us a trick to make the French toast puff up even more. When she told it to us, we thought she was crazy. But, as is always true, Tita was right. After you have soaked the bread in the eggy liquid, and browned one side, remove the slices from the pan and soak them again. When the bread returns to the pan, it will puff and swell pleasantly. More room for maple syrup, as far as I am concerned.
1/4 cup milk (soy or rice milk would be fine here)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
6 slices of gluten-free bread (we used this sandwich bread), at least 1/2 inch thick
4 tablespoons canola oil
4 tablespoons butter
Preparing to cook. Slice the bread at least 1/2 inch thick. Mix everything from the eggs to ginger together with a whisk. Bring a large sauté pan to medium heat. (Not screaming hot, says the Chef. Just enough to be nicely warm.)
Soaking the bread. Soak the bread in the liquids for 3 to 4 minutes.
Browning the bread. Put in 1 tablespoon each of butter and canola. Lay 3 pieces of the soaked bread in the pan. Brown each on one side. Put the slices on a plate, browned side down. Add more oil and butter. Brown the last 3 pieces of bread. Lay those slices, browned side down, on the plate as well.
Re-soaking the bread. Place the first 3 slices of bread in the egg mixture and let them soak for 1 more minute. Lay them down in the pan and brown on one side, and then the other. When they are lovely caramel brown and tempting enough for you to eat, place them on a clean plate. Repeat the process with the last 3 slices of French toast.
Slather with butter and maple syrup. And if you want, you can sauté some bananas with butter and brown sugar and put those on top, as we did here.
Feeds 2 or 3.
Slather with maple syrup and butter.