Danny and I were driving in the car yesterday, heading down the interstate toward Seattle. We had just been in a courtroom, for all the best reasons. The hour before, we had stood in front of a judge, raised our right hands, and swore that we truly — yes, and we mean it — want to be Desmond’s parents for the rest of our lives. The judge called Lucy up to his bench and had her sit down in his seat. He leaned down to whisper something in her ear, then she banged the gavel three times. “It’s official!” she said. “He’s your son.” Five years after we decided we wanted to adopt, and 8 1/2 months after this amazing little guy came into our lives, Desmond is now legally our son. The relief and joy is enormous.
So there we were, driving on the freeway, grinning. Desmond had fallen asleep in his car seat. Lucy had too. She danced as a mouse in the Nutcracker all weekend, happier than we have ever seen her, and the poor kid was tuckered out. As far as she was concerned, the freeway was boring, only a conduit to the ice cream the judge ordered us to get to celebrate. (She liked that part especially well.) So Danny and I were, for the first time all day, alone to talk as adults, quietly.
We talked about our joy, about the release after waiting all these years. I realized there was some part of my body that had been holding breath since Lucy was 18 months old and finally, that morning, finally I exhaled. We felt good.
A few days before, I had read an idea that had been bopping around my brain ever since. When you’re thinking about the work you do in the world, what are your strengths? And by strengths, this piece was not talking about the traditional human resources kind of stock answer, like what you think your talents are, or what you’re best at during the day. But literally this — what makes you feel strong?
So much of the time, we’re all focused on what needs improving, the gaps and cracks, the broken places. What about the moments in the day when we feel so clear and calm that we don’t think about anything else? What if we organized our days around those moments? What if the bulk of our work came from that place of strength?
So I asked Danny, because we’re always talking. We’re always comparing notes and readjusting and making changes on what doesn’t feel right. Always. Even though I know him better than any person alive, I still ask him how he feels and what makes him tick. So I asked, “Wait, what part of our work makes you feel strong?”
He thought for a bit, a tiny beat, and then said, “The silence that happens when people are eating my food.”
And I laughed, because I had been thinking about the moment after. “I love that happy babble of 20 people around a table, eating and talking, and laughing together.”
That happened for both of us on Sunday.
On Sunday, we hosted a book celebration at our studio. Diane Sanfilippo, Caitlin Weeks, and Nabill Boumrar, the authors of Mediterranean Paleo Cooking: Over 150 Fresh Coastal Recipes for a Relaxed, Gluten-Free Lifestyle came to meet people, talk about the food they love, and eat with everyone. Danny and I made six dishes from their book, part of the price of admission for the event. (Brittany Angell, author of Every Last Crumb: Paleo Bread and Beyond made an appearance too.)
I love a crowd that gathers together to celebrate vegetables. That’s roasted garlic cauliflower hummus behind the carrots and cucumbers there.
This is a fig and ginger chicken tagine, inspired by the dishes Nabil grew up eating in Algeria. He’s quite the character: voluble, funny, a natural storyteller. He went around to so many people at the party, bending his head down to listen. (He’s a big guy.) I like the man and I like his food.
These are cinnamon-apricot breakfast cookies, which were quite the hit at the party. You’ll have to buy the book to get the recipe. They contained chia seeds, coconut flakes, dried apricots, sunflower seed butter, and coconut flour. No gluten, grains, dairy, or even eggs.
I’m working on my own version now. I gave some leftover cookies to Lucy and she gobbled them up after a dance performance. I’m thinking about dried cherries, hazelnuts, maple syrup, and maybe a bit of dark chocolate. Maybe.
The food was good but the company was better. One lovely guy came all the way from Vancouver for this event, riding his bike the length of the island to find us. (Hi, Matt!) Michelle and I discovered we have wonderful friends in common in Seattle and we started the makings of a playdate. (Thanks for the honey, Michelle.) There were connections and conversations all around the room, the laughter bouncing off the high ceilings of our studio.
For the past year, Danny and I have been thinking about teaching classes and doing book events in our space. It’s our second home now, this studio. We adore it. It’s big and filled with light, even on grey days. Our landlords have a 12-acre farm, with sheep, rabbits, and chickens squawking near the garden. It’s a real, working farm. We have a professional kitchen, an island around which a clutch of people can gather, and a 24-foot-long table made for eating.
But for the past year, we’ve been thinking that we needed to make the place even prettier before we could begin. Work just kept getting in the way of having the right napkins or even buying enough chairs to seat everyone. There was, of course, a Kickstarter campaign, all the research and work to make that possible, a new cookbook to write, and a darling baby who entered our lives. If the place wasn’t perfect, I understand now. Still. Wouldn’t we have to bring a design consultant in to spiffy up the place — build spare white shelves filled with perfectly placed pastel dishes or make everything reclaimed teak and marble countertops — before we could start teaching people there?
Somehow, lately, we’ve come to our (imperfect) senses again. The best parties are always the ones where the hosts are relaxed and happy to be there.
This event on Sunday? Our landlord is fixing the water heater and he had left it in front of the closet. We didn’t have chairs that matched. We didn’t even have enough for everyone to sit on. (We were expecting a sort of cocktail party, everyone stand and chat kind of experience.) Someone who came to the party had four folding chairs in her car from Thanksgiving still. Everyone gathered around the table. As you can see from this photo, we left the calendar of Kickstarter rewards — the force that is driving our lives right now — up on the wall for the party.
No one seemed to mind.
And so, we’re paying attention to our strengths again.
Starting in January, we’d like to invite you into our working space to cook and eat and laugh with us. We’ll be posting a schedule of classes soon. We’d love to feed you, to gather together, to laugh.
We’d like to share with you that silence while everyone is eating. That happy babble.
jicama salad with pomegranate seeds and a citrus vinaigrette
I love jicama during the winter. It’s not only deeply refreshing with a watery crunch most vegetables cannot provide, but it is also considered a prebiotic, which means it’s good for gut health. I’m always thinking about gut health, since I have celiac. But don’t present this dish at a holiday party and announce, “This is good for gut health!” Focus on the cool crunch of the jicama, the pop of pomegranate seeds, the way the citrus segments slide between your teeth, and the sweet acidic taste of this vinaigrette that brings it all together. Or, just put this jicama salad with citrus vinaigrette down on the table and let people eat.
(Also, putting together this recipe, we realized how many techniques we know by heart but you may not. It’s time to go back to videos again too. Soon.)
1 large jicama (or 2 medium-sized jicama)
1 navel orange, peeled
1 white grapefruit, peeled
1 ruby red grapefruit peeled
seeds from 1 pomegranate (watch this video from our friend John at Food Wishes!)
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
prepare the jicama. Peel the jicama with a sharp knife. Slice the jicama into 1/2-inch pieces. Cut off all the rounded edges and slice the straight wedges into matchsticks.
supreme the citrus. Put an orange on a cutting board. (Make sure you place a damp towel underneath.) Cut the ends off. Start at the top and slice the peel off. After you cut the first part of the peel, you’ll be able to see where to cut — where the white part ends and the fruit begins. Slice off the entire peel. Hold the orange in your hand, over a large bowl. You’ll be able to see the membrane, the tiny sliver of connecting tissue between the segments of the orange. Carefully slice into the membrane and cut all the way to the center of the orange. Slice into the membrane on the other side. This will release the segment of orange. And the juice will fall into the bowl. Finish the orange. Repeat this with the two grapefruits. (If this doesn’t make sense, watch this video on how to supreme an orange.)
make the vinaigrette. You should have about 1/2 cup of juice in the bowl. If you don’t have that much, juice another orange to make 1/2 a cup. Mix the citrus juice and the white wine vinegar. Slowly, whisk in the olive oil until the dressing is emulsified. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
compose the salad. Toss the jicama pieces with the citrus segments, pomegranate seeds, and cilantro. Drizzle a thin stream of the vinaigrette around the edges of the bowl, then toss to coat. Add salt and pepper to taste.