Apparently, my soon-to-be-13-year-old nephew is feeling apprehensive about the holidays. According to my brother, my nephew wakes up each morning worried. He hasn’t felt the holiday spirit yet. You know the unbridled joy you feel when you wake up every morning of December to run down the stairs and open the next window on the grocery store advent calendar? Even when there’s no small square of stale chocolate behind that cardboard, the anticipation is delicious. One day closer. We’re almost there.
When you’re 12-almost-13, however, the thrill is gone. There’s no going back on the Santa thing. You still want to believe. Oh, you want to believe. But the days of counting down to the 25th mean one more day of 7th-grade math and social studies projects due and a weekend play date with a friend who owns lots of video games. The days right before Christmas will be wonderful — the entire family gathering, the food filling the table, carols and Rankin Bass cartoons, board games and angel chimes, stockings soon to be filled — and we all love the season for those two or three days. Other than that, it’s winter time.
My brother told me that my nephew one morning last week bent down by their Christmas tree to plug in the lights and said, “I think I feel it. I can feel like I might feel the holiday spirit today.”
Oh kiddo. I hear you.
It has been a tough couple of months around here. Lucy had skull surgery in early November. She rebounded quickly — she raced down a snowy hill on skis 3 weeks to the day after her surgery — and we’re awed by her resilience. Still, the night I spent in the hospital with her, my hard cough kept me awake. My lousy cold had turned into bronchitis, but I was Mama, no time for myself. Three weeks later, when we were at 10,000 feet in Breckenridge, Colorado, I stood in the kitchen of Danny’s sister’s home, slicing apples for a Thanksgiving pie. My breath kept knocking me back, needing me to go deeper and deeper to find it. I had been suffering with the altitude all week — insomnia, headaches, everything dry — but it grew worse every day. Something told me to pay attention to the way the coughing kept thwacking its way through my body, my lungs burning with every breath. I went outside to find Danny, sat on the snowy steps, and cried. “There’s something wrong. We have to find a doctor.” Three hours later, we had a diagnosis: pneumonia.
(This meant I missed Thanksgiving dinner. I stayed on the couch under a blanket, alone, and watched The Godfather. Actually, it was pretty great, once I accepted it.)
Coming back to sea level helped. Antibiotics worked. But the inflammation in my lungs will take a few more weeks to work its way out. When we returned, if I moved very slowly and tried to not do much, I felt like maybe I could feel the healing coming.
And then, last week, the little guy started coughing. He barked like a seal in the middle of the night. We sat with him in the bathroom, night after night, the warm steam from the shower curling around our heads slowly, soothing him for the moment. When it grew worse, Danny drove him around the island with some of the windows down in the dark night air. We took him to the doctor on day two when he struggled for breath so hard we could see the skin between his ribs sucking in at each breath. What they gave him seemed to help a bit, but two days later he was worse again. So, a trip to the emergency room, to the same hospital where Lucy had been 5 weeks before. Poor Desmond — he had never been sick a day in his life. And now this terrible case of the croup.
Still, sweet little guy who could barely breathe said thank you to every nurse who came to help him. He sat with a mask on his face, breathing in epinephrine for 10 minutes without complaining. It seemed to do the trick. Within half an hour, he was trying to pull all the plugs out of the wall again. He was back to his toddler self. We were in the hospital all evening, then drove to the ferry, weary, grateful. And so tired.
It doesn’t help that Danny developed a hernia through all this, since he’s had to do the heavy lifting while I tried to recover from pneumonia. It might require surgery.
We are, quite honestly, a mess.
And when I think of our medical bills from this year….Well, let’s not talk about that.
However, since this is the holiday season, I will say there have been gifts in this. This time has forced me to look at my expectations. I seem to have been hard-wired to believe that I’m only succeeding at the holidays if I bake myself unconscious for days on end, have all the cards out by Thanksgiving, and prepare detailed gift guides for this website. It’s silly, really. What other holiday has to be celebrated for 6 straight weeks? Is it still the holidays if I don’t make dozens of cookies? If the presents are small and handmade this year, is that okay?
Of course, the answer is yes. Lucy and I had a long conversation about the Grinch last night, how his heart grew three sizes when he realized that the Whos down in Whoville still sang holding hands, even without any presents or the tiniest crumb of food for the mouse. Lucy nodded as she twirled around the room.. It feels like Christmas to her if we make hot chocolate and sip it by the tree together. That’s enough when you’re 7. It’s enough for me this year too.
With all this sickness and little sleep, we’ve been cooking simple, simple foods. Latkes for dinner with sour cream and apple sauce. Roasted chicken. Black bean soup. A quinoa salad with an extra-sharp apple cider vinegar dressing. Slices of apple with Manchego cheese. The days of making restaurant-worthy food are no more here.
I like these days better.
It feels clear to me now: most of the meals that make up a food life never show up in cookbooks. It only takes a few reasonable ingedients and slowing down to eat well. You don’t need much.
Every morning for breakfast these days, we eat scrambled eggs. Lucy and Desmond both enjoy them. Put them in a tortilla and call them tacos and Lu will eat three. Sometimes I make homemade tortillas. Sometimes there are store corn tortillas, still stiff from the refrigerator. Add some goat cheese, a little hot sauce, a side of sauteed kale — breakfast. We don’t rush to get out the door for school when we eat the same food every morning. It took us awhile to realize that.
And as we sit at the table, Desmond banging his fork on his high chair and Lucy laughing with every antic, we talk about our gratitude. We start off every meal around here by saying what we are grateful for in that moment. Even Desmond has the hang of it, his babbling becoming more clear every day. At nearly every meal, he has the same answer: “Sissy.” (My goodness, that boy loves his sister. And she him.) Lucy’s always grateful for the food, no matter how simple it is. Danny and I talk about a moment in our day, usually nothing to do with work. And then we dig in and tell stories to each other.
A plate full of warm, soft scrambled eggs is more than enough in those moments.
It took me about two hours this morning for me to allow myself to post a recipe for scrambled eggs. Is this silly? Shouldn’t I post a cookie recipe, for the season and the SEO? Sorry. I don’t have any new cookie recipes. There are plenty on this site. And lately, I have grown so weary of the way food has become a competition in this culture, timed for the most page views instead of connection. So, here’s what we’re eating. It’s giving us comfort. If you find something here that works for you, I’m happy.
So this isn’t really a recipe. It’s about technique and paying attention. Something really wonderful about making a simple food, day after day — I realize the tiny details that make a difference.
First, I set the egg pan on a small burner. I pour in a little glug of olive oil or clarified butter. I turn the heat onto medium and let the pan heat up, the fat melting slowly.
While the pan is heating, I pull out the bowl and 3 to 5 eggs, which I have sitting on the counter. It took me years to learn this but salting the eggs before I start to whisk them, and long before I cook them, makes a difference. I whisk and whisk and whisk until there aren’t any strands of clear white left. It’s all one thing.
I make sure the pan and the fat are hot. I hold my hand above the pan to be sure. If Desmond is in the kitchen, saying, “I cook! I cook!” I tell him that it’s hot. He stands to the side, in front of the counter, watching. I pour in the eggs.
And then I walk away for a moment, to hug the little guy or pour myself a cup of coffee. I let the eggs sit before I stir them. When the very outer edges have started to turn white, I take a rubber spatula and slowly, lift up the edges from the pan, then, from the center, start stirring clockwise. Slowly. Much more slowly than I used to do. A little nudge. Soft. And then I stop.
I let the eggs sit for another minute. Time for a sip of coffee. “Lucy, please set the table. Don’t forget the napkins.” We always use cloth napkins. After another time of reminding her to please stop dancing and do her work, it’s time to stir the eggs again.
And now I pick up the pace a bit, stirring clockwise, gently. As some parts of the eggs begin to set, I start lifting up the eggs and folding them on top of each other, softly, big clumps of still-wet scrambles drying in the heat. The eggs seem done to me when everything is set but the tops are still a tiny bit glistening. Turn off the heat and plate.
Scrambled egg time.