This morning, I watched this man bend down to grab the hands of our daughter and slowly go around in a circle with her while they sang Ring Around the Rosie together.
(There’s no need to tell her yet how creepy that song really is.)
Right now, he is taking her on their morning date: the playground to go down the slide together, the exercise studio of our friend Amy so they can ride the bikes together, the grocery store so they can have cheese and buy food together, the playspace where they can do somersaults and read books together. These two are buddies. The late morning is theirs. I stay home and work for a couple of hours, and Lu gets her daddy to herself.
Every evening, when we eat dinner, she chooses the books we’ll read that time. Every evening, she stretches her fingers toward Daddy’s Girl by Garrison Keillor. “Dada!” I turn the pages, and we read about the daddy who feeds his daughter apricot yogurt, lamb souvlaki, Belgian waffles, and bananas, and Lu nods her head, smiling. “Dada!” she shouts at the last drawing, a little girl in a party dress with her head on the shoulder of her dark-haired father. “Dada?” she says, a bit sad. We have to talk, again, about the fact that Daddy is at work. She misses him.
He misses her.
I loved this man pretty much from the moment I met him. (I smacked him on the arm and teased him immediately. That’s a big part of who we are together.) However, the love I feel for him has grown in ways that I can never explain whenever I watch him hold our sleeping daughter against his shoulder and tuck her into bed. His love for her is enormous. So is mine. We love each other more because she is in the world.
Yesterday, we had Lu’s birthday party in the backyard. Nearly 20 children, most of them under 4, shouting and laughing, jumping and skipping, splashing and roaring with excitement about balls and cars and hide and go seek. There was a beautiful bedlam in the plastic pool. Our friends gathered on the front porch to sing Happy Birthday to Lu, who was amazed by it all. We ate carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, a recipe from our cookbook, coming out two months from now. We were surrounded by friends and happy people. It was the perfect summer day.
A little later, I gathered everyone in the backyard and asked them to face Danny. He sat near the tomato and rhubarb plants, on the grass, a little abashed. “Okay, on the count of three!” Then we belted Happy Birthday, in voices straining to hit the high notes, the sounds bouncing off the sky. Danny was a little mortified to be such the center of attention. I know him, though. I saw the way his eyes scrunched up behind his sunglasses. He was crying, to have all these friends around him, singing with happiness about him being here.
I don’t think he ever expected this.
You see, before Danny and I met, he was pretty damned lonely. He had his family, who adore him and all live in different states. He had a few friends in the city, but he was always too busy at the restaurant to reach out much. Restaurant work is hard work, all-consuming work. His connections came through the other cooks and servers, wherever he worked. When he was at Cassis, he had a great group. When he was at Impromptu, where he was executive chef when I met him, he was mostly alone in the kitchen. Thank goodness for Hortensia, the dishwasher. Shy by nature, Danny had spent almost all his life on the line, making food, instead of talking with other people.
When he lived in New York, and worked at Gramercy Tavern, Danny lived on the edge of Harlem, in a broken-down apartment that was still too expensive for his paycheck. He loved that restaurant, being in the kitchen, the camaraderie on the line. However, when he left work for the night, he climbed on the subway alone. After growing up in a small mountain town, surrounded by family and friends, he felt unnerved in the city. When he wasn’t working, he was alone.
I was only 12 blocks from him, on the same subway line. We must have passed each other on the street. We never met. Whenever he tells me about his time in New York, and I feel the aching loneliness I know he felt, I wish that I could have walked to his apartment building, walked up the steps, and knocked on his door.
How different his life is now. If I have been given joy these past few years — and oh, have I been given joy — so much of it comes from watching this man I love grow into himself, be confident, have friends, and feel loved on this earth.
His happiness is more important to me than mine. I love making him laugh, watching him throw his head back. I love watching him tear up when his niece and her husband stay with us, and he is amazed by her being 25 and married, then looks at his daughter, who looks so much like her cousin, and knows that Lu will be there soon. I love feeding him.
He and Lu are back now, and it’s time to make lunch. (He’s teaching her to say Ciao! as they come up the steps.) I could write for hours about him and still not be done.
Instead, I’ll stop here and say: Happy Birthday, my love. Thank you for being my hot coffee and cherry pie. You are the best. I adore you.
Danny’s Birthday Crab Cakes
Danny loves food — all food, with a few exceptions. However, ask him his favorites and he’ll answer immediately: crab, avocado, and artichokes.
And so, every year, we cook a birthday meal that showcases these three. Since they are three of my favorite foods, and now Lu’s, this is an easy task. This year? Crab cakes.
We have a recipe for crab cakes in the cookbook, a decadent version with shrimp mousse. Since today is a work day for all of us, we made the quicker version for today’s lunch. (And if you’re paying attention, you’ll notice there are no artichokes in this one. We forgot to pick it up at the store today! If you want to make these crab-artichoke cakes, replace the carrot and corn with artichokes and you’re set.) We all like crab cakes that are a little loose, because we love the taste of crab. Sometimes, binders can mask that beautiful flavor.
Danny, Lu and I enjoyed these in the garden before he rushed off to work. We always want more time with him. However, the few moments we had to eat together were sweet and enough.
16 ounces fresh crabmeat (we like Dungeness)
3/4 cup gluten-free breadcrumbs
1/4 cup mayonnaise (homemade is great, but the stuff in a jar works too)
1/2 large ear corn, kernels shaved off
1/2 large carrot, peeled and fine-diced
2 tablespoon fine-chopped fresh dill
1 heaping teaspoon fine-chopped shallots
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
dash Tabasco sauce
1 egg (optional)
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
Preheat the oven to 425°.
Go through the crabmeat carefully, picking out stray shells and cartilage.
Combine 1/4 cup of the breadcrumbs and the mayonnaise together. Add this combination to the crab meat.
Add the remaining ingredients, up to the salt and pepper. Stir well (or use your hands). If the mixture doesn’t feel bound enough to you, add the egg and combine.
Season with salt and pepper. Taste. Season again according to your taste.
Make 2-ounce balls of the mixture, then pat each into a thick cake. Coat with the remaining breadcrumbs, on both sides.
Bring a large skillet to high heat. Add the oil. Put the crab cakes into the hot oil (you might have to do these in two batches). When the bottom has browned, about 3 minutes, flip the crab cakes and put the skillet in the oven.
Cook in the oven until the crabcakes are firm and browned, about 5 to 7 minutes.
Makes 8 crab cakes.