There was a chair in the front window of my teenage bedroom, but I almost never sat there. It faced into the room, because all there was to see outside was the house across the street, with its dirty-blond buzz-cut of a yard and a security system sign staked by the door. The chair was next to my bookshelf, and as such, it mostly collected books I was too lazy to shelve. The only time I sat in it, that I remember anyway, was the day before I left for college. It was late afternoon, maybe early evening. My dad was standing in the doorway, one shoulder against the frame. He’d been keeping me company while I kneeled on the floor in front of a gaping black suitcase, the biggest one we had, folding clothes and stacking them into its corners. I was tired and cranky and nervous, preoccupied with how much was left to do and how little time there was for it. I clambered up onto the chair.
“This is too hard,” I announced, slumping over my thighs. I was afraid of leaving home and afraid of where I was going, but I never would have said it aloud.
“You’d better get used to it,” Burg replied. “Life is hard. That’s how it is.” He never talked like that. Surely, I figured, he was ribbing me. I looked for the telling smile. It wasn’t there. A weird, crackling silence filled the room. He shoved off the door jamb, walked across the hall to his office, and shut the door.
I was about to turn 19, and I had a plane ticket to northern California, where I would in theory start a new life, my adult life, away from my family. My father was 68. He was still seeing patients, in seemingly good health, living in the house that he and my mother had always wanted. He was happy. But the man wasn’t young. Born in the year of the stock market crash that ushered in the Great Depression, the oldest son of Polish Jews who’d immigrated to Canada and later an immigrant himself, he dragged around all the aches and pains and piles of personal garbage that a human accumulates over seven decades of living. I was supposed to believe him, even if I didn’t want to.
But that thing he said has stayed with me, and I wonder at it sometimes, bat it around, tug at it, like one of June’s hair ties in my pocket. I think I wrote about it in A Homemade Life, actually, though I couldn’t find the passage when I went searching for it. (Maybe one of you knows where it is?) I always think about Burg in the midst of Big Life Stuff: marriage, birth, death, divorce – the moments, I guess, when my story feels too big to hold by myself. I never mean to, but there he is. It occurs to me that I am haunted. I wonder what he would say about who I am now, about June, about Brandon, about the woman I love, about Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office, about Russia. Can you believe we are still talking about “the Russians,” like we’re stuck in a loop of Dr. Strangelove? I wonder why Burg walked away from me that day. Given everything, my life at age 38 and the world we live in, the abyss of which he seemed to be peering down that afternoon, do I get to be happy? How often? How?
I live in the house that Brandon and I bought six years ago last month. Until last August, I had never lived there alone, or as its only adult resident. I can hardly let myself think about what it must have been like for Brandon to leave behind our house and all the plans we had for it. He tells me it’s okay – that it was hard, but it’s okay. “You know me,” he says cheerfully, “I’ll have fun finding a new house someday. I like a new project.”
After the awful strangeness of our separation had started to give way to something different, still strange but strangely less awful, I started to move things around in the house, my house, to make it my own. I stopped waiting for someone else to take out the trash, change the lightbulb, put away the ladder. I threw out the expired prescriptions from the medicine drawer, and the creepy-looking earwax removal kit. I got tired of seeing the hose lolling next to the driveway like a reptile with wasting disease, so I went to Fred Meyer and handed over $29.99 for one of those plastic wheeled caddies you wind a hose around. No one has ever so jubilantly installed a hose caddy.
In January, there was a blockage in the sewer, and it backed up into the red-carpeted bathroom in the dungeon-slash-basement. There might be a metaphor in there somewhere, but I’m going to leave it where it is. Two months later, I can now correctly use the words water mitigation, asbestos abatement, concrete aggregate and trenchless sewer replacement in a sentence. It is not fun to spend money that you don’t really have on something you only appreciate because it means the absence of something you don’t appreciate. But I do now get to replace the carpet, and I don’t worry about the sewer anymore.
Last week, while scooping old ashes out of the fireplace, I noticed a thin, warped sheet of metal on the hearth, and when I lifted it, I found a rectangular hole set into the bricks. I texted Brandon a photograph of it, asking if he knew what it was. “You’re supposed to brush ashes in there,” he texted back. “And then clean them out in the basement by that little door.”
“Wait. There’s a little door in the basement?” I yell-texted into the phone as I ran down the stairs, hoping to find my own private doorway to Narnia. Sure enough, I found a small steel door in the wall of the laundry room, maybe six inches square and rusty. And though it was full, absolutely overflowing with cubic foot upon cubic foot of fireplace ash from the previous owner, the first thing I thought was, Laundry chute! I’ve always wanted a laundry chute – mostly because I want to be tiny like a human Stuart Little and slide down said chute, but also because: laundry chute. For the past six years, I’ve called the stairs to the basement my laundry chute, as I gleefully heaved dirty clothes, towels, and sheets over the railing. As it turns out, I had one all along! Almost! And really not at all! But I have an ash chute, and it thrills me. I intend to use it.
A couple of hours later, as I was coming down from the ash chute discovery, Brandon texted me a photo of June in the living room of his apartment, crouched inside a plain cardboard box that she was calling a puppet theater. There was some sort of frothy tulle situation wrapped around her lower half, and she was waving one of the three dolls she’s named after herself. I guess we’re all building the houses we want to live in. Whenever I’m at the grocery store that stocks the dishwasher detergent that Brandon and I both like, I buy an extra box for his apartment.
I hung a portrait of my dad in the front hall, a black-and-white close-up in which he wears a straw hat and a very knowing, dad-like look. I like having it there, though I don’t actually see it much, the way we stop seeing the walls or the floor. I think he walked away from me that day because he had to. Otherwise, he would have had to watch his last kid leave home. Now he gets to watch me leave every day, and at the end of that day, he gets to watch me come back.
Today it’s been 14 years since my dad died, and in most ways, it seems like longer than that. I’ve done a lot of living – maybe too much? – in those 14 years. But I can still hear his voice in my head, and I can still feel the hug he gave me in our driveway before I left to drive to Seattle for graduate school, in September of 2002. Burg would be 87 now, and I’m sort of glad I never had to see him diminished by old age – or, at least, not more than he was diminished in his last weeks, as cancer had its way with him. He would be glad to know that Mom and I now…Read more
I’ve always been drawn to the things we’re not supposed to talk about. I remember the night when, toward the end of writing A Homemade Life, I got into bed, switched off the light, and suddenly was hit with a very bad idea, an almost electric impulse to write about my father’s death. I wanted to take it out of my head and put it somewhere else: the color of his skin, the strange percussion of his breath, the nurse calling up the stairs in the middle of the night. I wasn’t writing a book about my dad, and I wasn’t writing a book about death; I was writing a food memoir, tra la la, with fifty recipes and a…Read more
I started my Monday by listening to Blood Orange until my ears fell off, which was nice. Then my friend Jenny told me to watch this (old-news) video (that I somehow had never seen before), and with that, my week is off and running. Hi to you. Now, business: 1. The Guardian kindly invited me to write about a food that evokes home, and I wrote about a dead-simple, bare-cupboard soup that was first made for me by my aunt Tina. That’s her below, on the right, living the early-eighties hot tub life with me and my cousins. Most people thinks that June gets her hair color and texture from Brandon, but world, let it be known that I think she’s got my texture…Read more
Helloooooooooooooooo. I didn’t mean to be gone for so long. I know what some of you were thinking, and I am delighted to report that I did not give up on blogging. I also did not die. But it’s been a long, hard, dizzying summer, I will say that, with, among other things, Herculean staffing woes at Delancey, Essex, and Dino’s. (Did you know there’s currently a shortage of restaurant cooks in a lot of cities, including Seattle? I could tell you stories.) But now that June is in school again, I’ve been able to tiptoe my way back to writing, and that’s a relief. I turned 38 last week, and that too feels good. I’ve also been cooking again, after the lazy, happy ease…Read more
Today I come to you from Sitka, Alaska, where I’ve been since last Saturday, leading a writing workshop on memoir and place. I’m among the faculty for the first-ever Sitka Arts and Science Festival, a week of multi-disciplinary cross-pollination and collaboration dreamed up by the Sitka Fine Arts Camp and several local partners, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts. It’s been cool and misty almost every day, summer-in-Sitka-y. I didn’t bring enough clothing for this weather, even though, after fourteen years in the Pacific Northwest, I ought to know better. I’m re-wearing what I did bring. Today is day four for these leggings, day two for this sweatshirt. I’ve been wearing my cheap Uniqlo down vest, and it spits out tiny white…Read more
I am not, in general, someone who keeps a running catalog of her favorites: favorite movie, favorite book, favorite song, favorite color, favorite number, and so on. A couple of decades ago, if pressed, I might have offered The Shawshank Redemption as my favorite movie, because I have a thing for Tim Robbins, and I also have a thing for Morgan Freeman’s voice, and, of course, it’s also a first-rate story. But then I moved to Seattle and rekindled my teenage love for Singles, which you know all about because I mention it near-constantly, and because it’s the only movie I can actually quote lines from. Still, I don’t know that I’d call it my favorite. That’s a strong word, and it scares…Read more
I’ve spent half of the past week sitting on the couch with a cold-y, not-at-school three-year-old, attempting to work while holding my neck cocked to the right at a 45-degree angle because she wants to hold a hank of my hair and smell it while she watches Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. We’ve all three got whatever’s been going around, the cough and constant need for Kleenex and now, naturally, a sore neck. It could always be worse, I remind myself; it could be the stomach flu. My hair could be shorter. I could, yet again, have that one Daniel Tiger song stuck in my head. After somehow forgetting about it for a couple of months, I made a fresh batch of Granola…Read more
I first tasted quince the first time I had dinner with my first editor, an exceedingly kind, thoughtful woman of whom I nonetheless was terrified, because she was very New York Publishing World, and because she was my first editor. She had let me choose the restaurant, which only ratcheted up the stakes. I’m surprised that I don’t remember what I wore, because I surely would have labored over the decision with a degree of care most commonly seen among people handling live explosives. The evening went better than I had expected: she told a funny story about her cat and gracefully ignored my elaborate, enthusiastic mispronunciation of the white wine she’d ordered. And when we arrived at dessert, she opened the menu…Read more
I woke up this morning with that itchy feeling I get when I’ve gone too long without writing. I have a writer friend who once told me that she didn’t feel right if she wasn’t writing regularly, that she woke up each morning needing to write, and until very recently, I didn’t really believe her, because it never felt that straightforward to me. (I also wanted, uh, just a little bit, to reach out and strangle her with my bare hands; she made writing sound so easy.) I never felt that kind of imperative to be a writer – or, really, to be anything in particular. Writing sneaked up on me. But now that I’ve been at it for a…Read more
The first time I went to the Oklahoma Arts Institute at Quartz Mountain was in the summer of 1995, a few months after a fire destroyed the lodge, its rooms and dining hall and library. I was sixteen, one of about a dozen high school students from across the state who’d been accepted to the summer program in poetry. Quartz Mountain is beautiful, an isolated chain of red crags along a lake in the southwest part of the state, but my introduction wasn’t poetic: because the library was gone, our class met in a trailer, with a limping air conditioner, folding tables, and a couple of electric typewriters that we shared. But our teacher was the poet Peter Fortunato, brought…Read more
This time last week, I was in a wood stove-heated cottage with no Internet, no telephone, and no television, reading my sixth New Yorker of the day. I am fully caught up with The New Yorker. (!) (!!) Those words may never again be assembled in that order by me, or by anyone, ever. Actually, I should already switch tenses: I was caught up with The New Yorker. Briefly. Past tense. Last week, I had the pleasure of spending two nights at Hedgebrook, a nonprofit retreat for women writers, located on Whidbey Island. It’s an incredible place: just six one-room cabins, a cottage, a farmhouse, a garden, and a couple of woodsheds on 48 acres, dedicated solely giving women the time, space,…Read more
Maybe you will remember a day, more than two years ago now, when I announced that I was writing a new book, and that, if all went according to plan, it would be out in the spring of 2013? And then maybe you will also remember that nothing went according to plan, in ways that were hard and good-but-hard and then great and really, really great, and here we are, with no book, in July of 2013. Maybe you will join me, then, in heaving a giant sigh of relief – more than that: a great wind, a hurricane-force gust – that Delancey is not only done, donedonedone, but that it now has a cover. A cover! This thing is ON. I will tell you…Read more
I am writing to you, once again, from my friend Ben’s dining room. When I was here last August, writing my brains out, I had a hunch that a return visit might be helpful before my manuscript deadline. Turns out, that was correct. In Ohio, there are no Brandons to distract me, no Delanceys to worry about, no Jacks or Alices to bark suddenly at absolutely nothing and, boom, scare the organs out of my body. In Ohio, there is just a Ben and his nearly empty house, and a twin bed under the eaves with my name on it, next to a window onto which the previous tenant’s child stuck two butterfly decals. My first day in town turned out…Read more
About three weeks ago, I printed out all the drafts I’ve written so far for my next book, and then I spent three weeks avoiding reading them. I finally got up the courage on Sunday night. I poured myself a beer, sat down at the dining room table, and read through all of it. Afterward, I wanted to stab myself in the eye. But that didn’t seem like it would make the manuscript any better, so I went to bed. I woke up at five the next morning. While I lay there in the dark, thinking about the injustice of being awake at such an hour on my day off, I remembered how rough and horrible my drafts were, and…Read more
I first met my friend Maria in 2005. She had a blog then called port2port – maybe you remember it? – and I can’t remember who found who, but at some point, we started reading each other’s sites. She lives in Portland, Maine, but that fall, she came to Seattle to visit a friend, and we went out for doughnuts and had a drink at the Alibi Room, my favorite bar back then. I was nervous to meet her, because I admired her: her photography, her style, the quiet way she writes, the details she notices in her daily life. I remember feeling amazed by how creative she was, by the fact that she made a living through creative work.…Read more
I am writing to you today from my friend Ben’s dining room. If you’ve been around for a while, you might remember that he used to live in Seattle, where he was like a Kramer to us, but he moved away for a job. Now he’s in Ohio, and for a week, so am I. I needed to get some work done on Book 2, and I missed my friend, so I rolled the two into one and called it a writing retreat. I wasn’t sure how it would go, but turns out, it’s like summer camp – only there are no counselors to keep us down, and instead of doing archery and riding horses and gathering around the campfire…Read more
I’ve been out of town for the past week, helping with preparations for my cousin’s wedding in Oakland, and the whole time I was gone, I had the strangest feeling. It took me a long time to figure out what it was, because I’d never felt it before. Turns out, I missed writing. No offense to my cousin and her new husband. Those people know how to throw a party, the kind that blows out an amp and a subwoofer. But I missed writing. I missed writing! I know that probably seems like a perfectly normal thing to feel, given that writing is what I do. But the truth is, most of the time, I will do anything to avoid…Read more
I had a recipe post all ready to go for today, and then I woke up this morning and realized that there was something more pressing to say. That book proposal that I was working on a couple of months ago, it did its job. Because of it, I get to write a second book(!!). I’m so excited about it that my eye started twitching uncontrollably this morning, and several hours later, it’s still at it. I can hardly see straight. When a Paul Simon song came on the radio over lunch, my eye actually twitched in time to the music. This is how excitement feels: like my face is falling apart. Yes, the official announcement came today, in Publishers…Read more
November was nice, but what happened to it? Hi. Our visit to the East Coast was good and long and involved a lot of sleeping and pizza research, the common themes of our days off since Delancey came along. I wrote a story about stuffing for this fine newspaper – you know that it’s not just for Thanksgiving, right? You can eat stuffing whenever you want – and now I’m working on a story for this fine magazine. But lately, my head is very full of Possible Future Book. I want you to know that I thought long and hard before I typed that last sentence. Because now it means that I can’t chicken out. The idea of writing another…Read more
I’ve been wanting to put up a new post for ten days, but I haven’t, because I don’t have a recipe to share. I’ve spent a lot of time worrying, watching the clock do its tick tock tick tock thing, and feeling pretty terrible about it. If you have a blog, you will know what I mean: this stuff is fun, but it comes with a lot of pressure. For a long time – six years on July 29th – this blog has been about stories and recipes, and it always will be. Always. But somewhere along the line, I now realize, writing about stories and recipes began to feel like a rule, like all I was allowed to do.…Read more
Well. It’s hard to know where to start. I’m tempted to jump right in, to say that you should hurry up and put a pot on the stove and make the pasta recipe below and let’s get back to business, shall we?, but that doesn’t seem right. First, I need to thank you. I had no idea that Delancey would swallow me up like that, and I need to thank you for being so patient, so supportive, so good to me. This restaurant is up and running today because of you. I am not kidding around about that. I am also not kidding around when I say this: I’m ready to get back to writing. I can’t imagine not having…Read more
This morning, someone pointed out to me that it has been a month, exactly a month, a whole month, since I last posted here. I nearly choked. The truth is, I’ve been having a hard time. Nothing around here looks the same as it did, pre-restaurant, and to be perfectly honest, though I like this new life, I also miss the old one. There’s no point in trying to hide it. I’ve been dealing with a lot of exhaustion, and it’s been difficult to feel creative, eager to cook and write here – or do pretty much anything except watch Battlestar Galactica on Netflix. It’s a dire situation when you go to the dentist, as I did this morning, and…Read more
Hi, friends. I had the best intentions. I did. I was going to tell you about another cookie today, and a really good one too. But a visitor has been staying with us lately, and he won’t let me into the kitchen. He’s big and burly, 90,000 words tall. His name is Man U. Script, and he’s a bruiser. He’s bossy and demanding, and he makes me sit at my desk for hours and hours and hours. But the good news is that, at long last, he’s leaving on Thursday. He’s getting into a FedEx box and going to New York to hang out with my editor. I can hardly believe it. I don’t know whether to open a bottle…Read more