staying awake in the darkness

The darkness is gathering around us.

I mean that literally. The sun seems more reluctant to rise each morning. Dusk settles in along the lines of the trees about 4:30. It’s pitch black by 6.

Yesterday, toward the end of the afternoon, we stopped our conversations when Johnny came running in. On his short, sturdy legs, he ran hard, on a mission. Once he crossed the threshold of the front door, he began shouting, “Storm’s coming, Mama! Storm’s coming!” And then he turned and ran back outside to investigate more.

We all burst into laughter.

But really, he’s right. Winter’s coming, folks. And it’s a big storm.

It’s easy to hibernate during the winter around here. By this time next month, the darkness around us will be deep at 4:30 pm. It’s going to rain. (Hey people of Seattle? This is Seattle. Let’s see if we can refrain from complaining this year.) There will be days of slate-grey skies, interrupted by angry clutches of even darker grey clouds. If we were bears, we’d be eating as many blueberries as we could to store up reserves for the winter. Two months of sleep ahead.

However, we’re not bears. We have to walk whether or not it’s raining; we need the vitamin D. And weeks in the house, never kicking off our slippers, leave us all a little moldy and quite a bit grumpy.

This year, I’m determined to drag myself out of the house in the cold and bring my friends with me. Cups of tea at Minglement, walks on KVI beach in the snow, time on the playground bundled up in hats and gloves — life is going to take me away from the computer.

At the very least, we would all do well with gatherings and potlucks, the house warm with conversations and laughter, the children bouncing on the bed and the afternoon stretching out before us.

Yesterday, that’s what we did. Friends gathered together, excited about a shared cooking project. We all cooked a recipe from Lisa Fain’s cookbook, The Homesick Texan Cookbook.

I should say that Lisa is a blogger friend of mine. I’m awfully fond of her dry wit, her kindness, her astute writer mind. If she lived here on Vashon, I think she would have been at this potluck. One of us. I’m damned proud of her for creating this book. It’s filled with enticing recipes and her quiet strength of a voice.

However, I also know that if I had never shared coffee with Lisa, or a meal in New York City, I would still buy this book. I want to make every dish. Honestly, I’m kind of a fool for good Mexican food. And since both Mexican places here on the island are mediocre to pretty crappy, I’m determined to become better at making this stuff for myself. We can make a mean carnitas now. Danny figured out the right notes for the pickled carrots and jalapenos for our cookbook. I can make homemade corn tortillas in my sleep now. But I want to learn more.

Lisa’s book is going to teach me more.

Here’s the list of possible dishes I sent out to the girls, when we decided to each make a dish from this book:

tomato cobbler
pork chops with salsa verde rice
tex mex meatloaf with a chipotle-tomato glaze
tacos al carbon (small-apartment style)
spinach and mushroom enchiladas with tomatillo salsa
cheese enchiladas with chile con carne
chicken-fried steak
Mexican shredded beef salad
pico de gallo
black bean dip
fried green tomatoes
roquefort and pecan cheese log
avocado soup
squash and pork stew
One-Hour Texas Chili (which can become Frito pie)
And if anyone wants to bake:

pecan coffee cake
date bars
chess pie
arroz con leche
Texas sheet cake


This was a good party.

The food was good but the company was better. I love these women in my life.

I’ve written about this group before, when I showed you the kids cutting strawberries for shortcake. Since then, we have gathered nearly every Sunday afternoon. Sometimes there are only a couple of us, with the kids quietly playing on the floor. Sometimes everyone shows up — there are ten of us women now, and I’m the only one with one child — and there is hilarious mayhem for hours on end. Sometimes we bake. Sometimes we make big pots of soup and divvy it up amongst ourselves for dinners during the week. We have worked on stuffed grape leaves, little pastries for Rosh Hashanah, and pie crusts. A few weeks ago, when I was having a tough time, two of these women showed up with a well-loved teapot, thin cups, and blood-orange tea so we could sip and talk it out. We started off as a baking club, but we have branched into any kind of food that makes sense for the moment. (And during the week, some of us will see each other one-on-one for cups of coffee or connected conversations or long walks.)

Long ago, when I first began this site, I wrote about my teenage love of Laurel’s Kitchen, and how I longed to find that belonging. For years I found that community in the far-flung world of food bloggers, people goofy enough to take photographs of their CSA haul and talk about their meals. Some of my closest friends happen to have food blogs too. But now, in this past year, I find I’m more connected to the women in my kitchen (or their kitchens), the women whom I know more every week through their laughter and kind questions.

Not one of them has a blog or is on the internet besides Facebook.

Sunday afternoons are my favorite time of the week.

Especially when there is arroz con leche with cracked hazelnuts.

There were so many hands reaching for chips and guacamole at one point yesterday afternoon that I could barely see the table. We dipped them into tomatillo salsa or black bean dip, as a little snack first, then reached for plates to pile with pork and squash stew or spinach enchiladas. It all tasted good.

There were moments all afternoon, as I filled plates or stepped over little kids sprawled on the floor drawing or sat close on the couch with two friends having an important conversation, that I just couldn’t believe my luck.

I read this little piece a few days ago about a man named Fauja Singh, who ran his first marathon recently. He’s 100 years old. Asked what his secret is to a long life, he replied:

“The secret to a long and healthy life is to be stress-free. Be grateful for everything you have, stay away from people who are negative, stay smiling and keep running.”

I’m not running anymore; I like walking instead. But this secret? Sounds good to me. I think I’m only going to add “…gather your friends around you with food.”

This is a great way to stay awake in the darkness.

30 comments on “staying awake in the darkness

  1. gluten free gift

    Great idea for a gathering – having everyone take on a recipe from a lovely cookbook (especially one written by a friend!). Sounds like the ideal potluck and everyone learns/tastes a new recipe! This idea will be especially appealing to me come February, when we’re deep in snow up in Toronto.

    The secrets to a long life… I think that we all need to try to move at least as much as we sit on our computers, and surround ourselves with the friends that bring out the best of what we’ve got inside of us.

  2. T

    Shauna, I loved reading about our Sunday tradition. What a great group. And yes, we will make it through this winter – together! I have only one contention. I like Casa Bonita. : )

    1. shauna

      Tami, you know I liked it well enough until you told me they mixed flour tortillas chips in with the corn! Still, it’s a good mediocre place sometimes. You? I like you.

  3. harsi

    More time being active outside and a group of wonderful people to spend time laughing/eating with are things I very much hope become my reality in Vashon. Reading your words makes me feel like it is possible, Shauna. I can always feel the warmth and joy of gatherings at your house — your life truly does sound blessed!

    When you described what the weather and feel of the days will be like a month from now, it sent a little tingle down my spine, knowing that we will be snug in our new place by then.

    Thank you for the link to your older post about Laurel’s Kitchen… Success! You’ve made me want to go grab my own yellowing, hand-me-down copy and rediscover what it has to offer.

    Also, thanks for the wisdom from Fauja Singh… his recipe for a long and good life sounds perfect. (BTW, the link needs a colon after the “http” — it doesn’t currently go to the article like you intended.)

  4. Victoria

    My grandparents were from the Texas/Oklahoma panhandle area. Sadly, my grandmother died many years before I was born, and my grandfather only a few after I was born. But it is all the talk of “Texas cooking” that I’ve heard over the years that made me buy this cookbook… although I still have yet to make anything with all the “too many good choices to try!”.

    But some echiladas and salsa may need to be cooked next week. A nice break from Thanksgiving preparations.

  5. franchesca Havas

    As a recent transplant from Texas to Carnation Wa I can share your want for better quality TexMex locally. I found however that the really good places make interior mexican food, not in anyway resembling TexMex. 🙂

    I too make my own! 🙂 I will search out Lisa’s book and look over it. There are some recipes that I learned watching my grandmother and grandfather (a cooke on the Chisholm Trail back in the day) that I still cannot get right. It would be a boon if I found them in her book! 🙂

  6. Kate

    The idea of a gathering of friends all making dishes out of the same cookbook sounds like such fun!

    I’m curious, are all of these women keeping a gluten free kitchen? If not, how has the concern with cross contamination been handled?

    And thanks for telling us about the book – love me some TexMex and am ready to stretch and learn new recipes 🙂

    1. shauna

      We all originally gathered because we wanted to bake gluten-free. All of these friends are either gluten-free or has a kid who needs to be gluten-free. So, no worries there!

      1. Kate

        Shauna – I love the idea that it started out just about the gluten free and has evolved into something much richer and deeper than that!

  7. AmandaonMaui

    This book has found its way onto my wishlist. Your potluck tells me that I won’t be disappointed by it. Even here on Maui, during our rainy season, I just want to stay in and cuddle in bed with my partner. Yet, I know I have to go places, do things, and get some physical activity in. It’s worth it though. I lived in Seattle for a period, so I know what the winters are like there. I think physical activity would be a good way of keeping people’s endorphines up so the cranky S.A.D. wouldn’t get to everyone so much. Plus those special lights too.

  8. tracy & kim

    YES! Cooking together, laughing together, sharing together. That’s what we all need. In fact, we can’t have enough of it.

    I’ll be adding this book to my list, as well. I used her recipe for Tomato Jam this year. It was SPECTACULAR!

  9. Yuri @ Ingredients We Choose

    LOL! I was just talking with a friend of mine about the northwest darkness and she said, “the turning point is almost here – soon it is going to get lighter each day”! I loved her attitude. The darkness is hard for me, I definitely have SAD. My determination this year is to do something about it NOW rather than wait until February or March when I am dying. ^.^

    What wakes me up:
    Bopin music – I’ve got a 70’s funkalicious station I created on Pandora that really gets me going in the morning.
    Walking to work everyday even when I don’t want to. Ugh, I am such a weather wimp, but I feel a thousand times better when I walk. Besides, then I don’t have to wait for the car to defrost!
    Writing. Every day. It clears my mind, and revitalizes everything around me. Nothing outside of me will have changed, but everything inside me changes.
    Making a conscious effort to focus on the things that matter. My partner forgetting to feed the cat AGAIN, doesn’t really matter. Treasuring each other and enjoying each other as much as possible does matter. A lot.

    Randomly, I decided to click on the names of people who left comments so I could see their websites. I’ve only looked at a few so far, and I feel like I have found such treasures! I’m almost in tears from some of them. So many wonderful people out there struggling beautifully and sharing their challenges. I have a sign on my desk at work that says, “Be Kind, for Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle”. This is so true, and one of the things I love about the blogging community – we open our hearts to each other and share the struggle. Connecting heart to heart with somebody also keeps me awake!

    Thank you as always Shauna – your posts and the community you bring together are so inspiring!

    1. Shannon

      I just read this comment after leaving my own, and it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. I feel just as you do – such treasures await beyond a simple click!

  10. Yuri @ Ingredients We Choose

    Oh, and I _*LOVE*_ the idea of having a gluten free potluck group! (actually, a grain free group – I pretty much can only have rice 🙁 ) I want to do this in Olympia, where I just moved back to!!! (anybody in Olympia or nearby? Click on my name and leave a comment and lets get together!! ^.^)

  11. Shannon

    I was recently reminded how important it is – how instrumental it can be to tell people how you feel about them and how they play a role in your life.

    While we haven’t met – haven’t even talked before, I do want you to know that I admire you a great deal. Not just your blog, but the person that is reflected within every post you write.

    I do believe you are one of the good ones. Thank you for inspiring me to try to be one, too.

  12. Sherri

    Thanks Shauna – A good article to read today – thank you for the reminder (passed on) by Mr. Singh and with your add … it made me smile. Good thoughts …

  13. Leila

    The food looks great! But I’m so surprised to see you eating off paper plates. Even if it’s convenient, I think someone like you, who is so concerned about the environment and so dedicated to eating local food, wouldn’t want to do something wasteful like that. Real plates next time, please! 🙂

    1. shauna

      Oh goodness, really? So much judgment? We had a house full of people and not enough dishes to feed them on. Life’s imperfect.

  14. LSL

    What a delightful coincidence! I bought this cookbook on the recommendation of a friend from Texas who now lives in NYC like the author. I am making the sour cream enchiladas tomorrow to welcome my sister who is arriving from the NW for a visit.
    Still miss the NW even after living in VA for 20+ years.

  15. Hal |

    I re-read your post, paused and then read it once again. Now I am thinking as a grey Northwest day resides in my mind, made warm by your thoughts of a non-digital community, and interactions made honest by their simplicity. My 89 yr old neighbor is a very non-digital person, but her acuity and presence always impress me. Lately, I have begun thinking these qualities are directly linked to not being at the computer, as my neighbor is always doing tasks in the real world, whether cooking, gardening, or even listening to me. I will check out the cook book, but what is important are the human interactions that are spurred on by this way of thinking and simply being.

  16. Jennie

    Sweet. My book club has become that way-kind of an oasis. Parties with friends are one of the best things in life.

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