I don’t write about him the way I used to: breathless, giggling, everything a discovery. The words tumbled out of me then, urgent, since I had to throw them down on the page, as fast as I could, still not believing my luck. Maybe, if I captured in words even a tenth of what I was feeling — giddy in love, bursting at the seams, grinning — it would start to feel real. Danny was the best thing that had ever happened to me and every word on the screen was a celebration of open-hearted falling into helpless love.
I don’t write that way about him anymore because I feel differently. I love him now, not just the idea of being in love. I love my husband’s kindness, the way he holds our son close when Desmond flings his arms around his daddy’s neck, the way he does the dishes again in spite of the fact that the dishwasher has run three times that day alone. He never stops cooking for us, happy in the kitchen, still aware of when the food needs to be on the table to forestall the hungry grumpies from the kids. I love Danny’s sleepy I love you as he turns out the light and kisses my neck. He would never miss the chance to say it first thing in the morning and late at night. I love that we have now spent 3650 days together and he has made me laugh in every single one of them, sometimes so hard I can hardly breathe.
Danny’s the kind of man who will watch Beyonce’s Lemonade with me, after the kids have gone to bed, because I babbled like I was in a fever dream about the artistry of the filmmaking and the message and I needed him to understand what was exploding in my head. Danny listens patiently to my Hamilton references, because I am like a woman possessed with the genius of this work. (And I feel like I might just burst if I don’t have the chance to see it in New York soon, and there’s just no way.) He calms me when I’m overwrought. He listens to my swarm of new ideas for our work and our lives with endless patience and an open heart.
And we have picked up each other’s clothes, and traded nights for getting up with the babies, and seen each other exhausted and needing coffee and gassy and crying and vulnerable and raw and quiet, day after day after day for 10 years now. I wouldn’t trade a minute of this mundane, imperfect, enormous love.
Yesterday was our 10th anniversary of meeting each other. Now, I know. I know there is no way to capture even a tenth of what I feel about this man I love. I’m much more quiet about him now. I don’t want to put it all on the page to prove to myself that it’s real. I know that it’s real. This is my life. And everything willing — and I know there is no guarantee, which makes it all the richer — I have another 40 years with him at least.
I will say this. The tumbling, wonderful writing I created about him at first isn’t anything as true now as this essay I wrote for our first cookbook together. In honor of our anniversary, I’m going to post an edited version of it here today. The best thing we’ve ever taught each other, throughout these past 10 years, is to pay attention to make sure the garlic doesn’t burn.
Sometimes, when Danny and I walk down the sidewalk, he stops as we pass a restaurant. “Do you smell that?” I do. Something acrid and pungent, a familiar smell gone wrong.
“Burnt garlic,” he says. “God, I hate that smell.”
Danny can spot the smell of burnt garlic from five hundred yards away. He has me noticing it too. There are few smells more bothersome to the nose.
“Burnt garlic smells like laziness. It’s not hard to catch the garlic before it burns. It’s about paying attention. And the thing about it is, if you do burn it, and think you can hide it, you’re deluded. Try wine sauce, more cheese, a ton of salt and pepper, whatever you want. It’s not going to work. Every bite of food will taste like burnt garlic.”
When I pick up Danny at the end of the night, most of the time we are ecstatic to see each other after ten hours apart. But some nights, we are exhausted. he might have spent the evening in the weeds, buried up to his knees, annoyed by servers who can’t seem to pronounce a dish correctly, and embittered by the perceived slight of one of his coworkers. That restaurant is tiny, with only a few employees, and they get on each other’s nerves quickly. Normally kind and accommodating, Danny can occasionally make a night of words held back and a quick angry glance into agony for the people working with him. Danny doesn’t shout. He’s not one of those television chefs who puff up their chests and bellow. He simmers.
And when he climbs into the car on those nights, tired and pent-up, it all boils over onto me.
“When you sauté mushrooms, you are supposed to cook the garlic first. But if you go too fast, you’re going to burn the garlic. So put the mushrooms in first, and then the garlic. It doesn’t go strictly according to the rules, but it works. You still have to pay attention, because you can still burns the garlic, but it’s not so easy.”
Maybe I’ve had a long day at the computer, alone, feeling inadequate. Staring at a blank screen and trying to create something from nothing kicks me in the teeth. Much as I love to write, this life leaves me alone much of the day. Most of the time, I love the fact that I keep the house in line, pay the bills, run the website, keep the car gassed up, and do the laundry. Bu there are days when I can’t write a damn sentence to save my life. Then I feel stupid for being so petulant, and there’s no one in the room to distract me from myself. I can’t call Danny, because he’s in the middle of dinner service, and I have a deadline I have to make. So I look forward to those reunions at the end of the evening. When he climbs in the car to complain about the same situation again, I sigh into the darkness as I drive us away.
“If you’re making a big batch of tomato sauce and you burn the garlic, you’re f-ked. If you continue on like nothing happened, and it’s a ten or fifteen-gallon of tomato sauce, that’s a lot of money you’ve wasted. Not just the product, but the prep time. If you have a dishwasher going the prep work, that’s a lot of time from that other person. It’s not wham-bam thank you ma’am. That’s time.”
Danny starts complaining after a quick kiss. Someone sent a plate of fish back. His assistant stood with her back to the refrigerator, watching him instead of working. Hortensia was in a bad mood. The manager, who has threatened to quit a dozen times, bitched at him all evening and came back trembling with sudden nervous energy and no attention span.
I’ve heard it all before, this evening just a variation on an old theme. Shy since he was a child, Danny never learned to stand up for himself or say anything confrontational straight out. Most nights, I feel for him and listen. However, sometimes I just want to shout, “You always focus on the one person who doesn’t like your food. You need told your assistant to get to work. Hortensia was grumpy because you were fuming and ruined her mood in the kitchen. And you suspect that the manager does coke but you’ve never talked to the owner. Why don’t you say something?”
I know the yelling won’t change anything. I grew up in a family where people yelled, and I’m determined not to copy that. I remember what Danny told me they taught him in school. “1. Chef is always right. 2. If Chef is wrong, refer back to rule #1. Say ‘Yes, Chef,’ and move on. Talk to him or her about it later.”
Danny says, “Some people in restaurants aren’t really the best equipped to deal with tough emotional situations. A lot of us are hotheaded, depending on the chef and the kind of mood he or she is in. I’ve been screamed at. Some of the people who work in restaurants have a fairly high divorce rate.
One of my chefs 86ed the rack of lamb at 7 pm one night, even though nothing else was getting sold. He was pissed that no customers were buying the specials he had put together that day, and he figured that he wouldn’t let them buy the lamb, they would have to buy his creations. His wife, who worked the front of the house, was so furious at him that he slept at the restaurant that night. He grabbed himself a bottle of Scotch, drank most of it, and passed out on one of the banquettes.
I don’t want that, my love.”
Neither do I.
“When you burn the garlic, you have to stop what you are doing and start all over. You can burn the garlic in a relationship too.”
We are almost home and we aren’t really talking. I can feel the snit building up, and I start to follow it, even though I don’t feel good in my stomach. We’ve had a few fights over the time we have known each other, and neither of us felt good about them. The rest of those days tasted like heirloom tomato sauce made with burnt garlic.
Early on, I shared this quote by Karl Jaspers with Danny, something that has informed me every day since I first read it. “Grief appears when communication fails.” We’ve been teaching each other how we want to be treated.
“You have to throw out the burnt garlic and start over. If you try and mask the burnt garlic, and work on that dish like nothing happened, then it’s going to be a shitty dish.”
Danny looks over at me, takes a breath, and says, “I smell burnt garlic.”
I let go of my breath and turn toward him.
roasted garlic bean dip
Originally, the recipe for this dip in our cookbook called for you to cook dried beans after soaking them overnight. That sure isn’t hard. In fact, braised white beans were the first recipe in Feeding Our People and the folks who have joined keep saying they’ll never use canned beans again. However, there’s nothing wrong with throwing together a quick dip with a couple of cans of beans if you want a healthy snack for the afternoon.
This recipe teaches you how to roast an entire head of garlic. You won’t need all of it here, but you can keep roasted garlic cloves, covered in olive oil, in the refrigerator, for pasta or soups or anything where the softened, familiar taste of roast garlic would work.
Roast the garlic. Heat the oven to 350°. Cut the head of garlic in half, horizontally. Drizzle both halves with 1 tablespoons of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Put the garlic in a small sauté pan and cover it with aluminum foil. Roast in the oven until the garlic is soft enough that you can squeeze the cloves out of their skins, about 45 minutes.
Cook the shallot. Set a small pan over medium heat and pour in 1 tablespoon of the oil. Put the shallot and rosemary in the hot oil. Sauté the shallot until it is soft and translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Do not allow it to brown.
Make the dip. Put the beans into the bowl of a food processor, along with 6 cloves of the roasted garlic, the shallots and rosemary, the lemon zest, lemon juice, and parsley. Puree the bean dip. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in the remaining olive oil. Season the dip and serve immediately.
Feel like playing? When you drain the beans, be sure to keep the liquid at the bottom of the can. It makes a great egg replacer!