Author Archives: jess

About jess

Jess Thomson: Eater. Writer. Live-life-to-its-fullest-er. Hogwash: Recipes. Stories. Thoughts on food and life in Seattle.

Enough

It’s been a very delicious year in my house. I worked with Renee Erickson on A Boat, a Whale, and a Walrus: Menus and Stories, due out in September, which has been, hands down, the most rewarding, most thrilling work experience I’ve had in my career. (I’ll take spot prawning and crabbing as a day’s work over fact-checking any day. Same for traveling to Normandy to learn about oysters. Ditto for working with and writing about a chef who is as devoted to beauty, writ large, as she is about where she sources her ingredients.) In cookbook terms, we worked hard and fast–at least, it seemed fast to me, until I started Passionate Nutrition, which was the writer’s equivalent of running a marathon with no training. The overall effect feels like swimming to the ocean’s surface after being released by a submarine far, far below.

Now, though. I’m back at the surface, after a year under water. Boat comes out in September, and Passionate Nutrition comes out in December. I’m intensely proud of and excited for both books, and feel so lucky to have been chosen as the writer for each. And now, theoretically, I have time to pick my head up and look around for what’s next. (I’ve had time to read, which in and of itself is cause for celebration.) Only, reading The Map of Enough made me wonder what I’m really trying to see.

The Map of Enough, by Molly May, a woman three or four silky threads over on the web of life that seems to connect us all, is a lovely memoir about the significance of place and self-exploration. The book sees life through the eyes of a woman who spent her childhood and young adulthood identifying as a happy nomad—a person whose soul craved travel and adventure—who decides to build a yurt by hand with her now husband. After growing up in a constantly mobile family, she’d always needed to move. In fact, for the first part of the book, I didn’t think I’d be able to identify with her at all. I was born all settled down. I can’t take a two-hour car trip without unpacking myself properly into the front half of the car. To me, the concept of building a house you could just pick up and move anywhere seemed antithetical to the concept of having one in the first place. If you build a home, it means you want to stay right where it is, right? Building a yurt is pretty close to the bottom of my lifelong to-do list, right down there with visiting the Arctic (where my husband is now) and riding a bicycle across the country (which is where you’ll find my sister soon). I’m the girl who always had all her school supplies lined up and labeled a week before school started. If I’m going somewhere, I want to know when, why, where, and for how long. I make reservations. People who build yurts by hand aren’t reservations people.

Reading is funny, though. The more I read about Molly’s need (or lack thereof) to pick that yurt up and move it someplace new, the more I associated her Montana life with my own work habits. Every time she flashed back to childhood memories, living in Spain or in Mexico, I saw myself–but my in my working life, instead of my personal life. I saw myself jumping from project to project the way she’d jumped from country to country, sometimes, like Molly, self-defining more by the jumping (Higher! Faster! Over a new stream!) than by the projects themselves. It threw me into a tizzy over the definition of one word: enough.

I don’t want to go anywhere, like Molly did. (We also remodeled our basement in the last year, so we’re not moving anywhere.) But I have been wondering, the way she did, how to know when I’ve had enough of something. And what’s the difference between getting enough, in the sense of being full, like when you eat, and having enough, as in being sick of something? It’s a fine line.

For me, clearly, enough relates to cooking and writing and writing about cooking. Of course it does. We all want to do well in our work, and as a freelancer, there’s no annual review. There’s the wave of self-satisfaction and pride that washes over when the mailman brings a big blue cookbook to your doorstep, but there’s no promotion. There’s no real benchmark. There’s no paperwork that says, Well, Jess, that’s enough for this year, well done. I guess I’d like an owl to fly through the window with a letter that reads: There, now you’ve got three more until Success. Walk down Greenwood Avenue. Take your third left, then the first right. Your next idea will be hiding in a small box in front of the red house. Books bring me pleasure, but these two offer no more of a path forward–and no more real sign of enough–than the first did. Is it enough to write someone else’s story, rather than my own? Is it enough to work during the school year, but not much over the summer this year? Is it enough that I’m writing recipes for this blog every week or so, but that they never seem to make it onto the screen? Is it enough to make money writing for a corporate magazine no one reads?

Enough seeps across the cracks to the rest of life, too. I’ve declared this The Summer of Graham, because before our kiddo starts kindergarten, we’re doing an intense amount of various therapies with him. There were three weeks in leg casts designed to increase his ankle flexibility, then a week in California for an alternative therapy, and now, where I sit writing and pretending not to watch at all, he’s working with his favorite physical therapist, learning how to use the crutches he’ll have inside his kindergarten classroom. Is it enough? Right now it’s three hours of therapy every weekday. Is it too much? Where’s the line? The kid clearly has the capacity to learn, physically, and in that sense the therapy is “working.” He can make sideways steps now while hanging onto something, which means he’ll be more successful going to the bathroom by himself. (Huzzah!) But he also needs to be a kid. It’s summer. He needs to run through the sprinkler and eat sand and fall down the stairs. (Check. Check. Check.) He needs to play Candy Land until he drives his parents crazy. (Check.) But are we summering enough?

Image-1

You have issues with enough, too, I’m sure. They’re different issues. But they’re there.

There’s a habit Molly has, explained in the book, of getting in the car and just driving when she’s feeling the need to move. Ultimately, to me, the habit was helpful; it signified that while we’re always looking to define enough, the definition changes when we step away. Last spring, I thought for a bit that I’d had enough of food writing. (Well, that, or I thought I’d never find a project as great as A Boat, a Whale, and a Walrus again, and I got depressed.) In the cracks, I wrote a story about skiing, and a story about noise, and a story about cycling, and now, food seems pretty lovable again. I got in the car and drove away–metaphorically, anyway. I came back, and now food seems like enough.

Now, I think, I need to explore–not just how to define enough, and how have enough, but how to not have enough, too. The other day, sitting on the couch while a random batch of fig jam bubbled away on the stove and Graham played happily, I got a little bored. I had a moment of (dare I say it?) summer. It felt so, so good. And in that small moment–hanging out with my kid, with the windows open, and only vague plans on the horizon but all Graham’s school years in front of me to work on whatever comes next–I felt like I’d found the recipe for enough.

Now, if I could just get that small moment of enough to last longer.

3 Comments

Filed under and a Walrus, commentary, Passionate Nutrition, recipe

The Uncle Josh Haggadah Project, v. 5.0

Uncle Josh uncling

The family I was raised in is not, by any stretch of the imagination, one based on coddles and cheerleading. We give gruff pats and solemn nods instead of hugs and high fives. We send each other photos of our gruesome cycling injuries. We make fun of each other and throw each other in the snow. But every year, no matter how close together or far away we find ourselves, we are silently united by Passover–or, more specifically, by the knowledge that we are all reading from the same proverbial book, laughing at the same jokes, stumbling over the same Hebrew words.

Each year, for now five years running, my brother Josh puts together a politically-inflected Haggadah that both shortens the Seder–because who are we kidding?–and makes it interesting and relevant. This year’s version tackles Obamacare and gay marriage (but, I noticed, avoids addressing the Super Bowl, which was hard for the family’s Bronco fans).

Enjoy, however you see fit. This year, my parents will be in Idaho, and my sister will be in Montana, and my brother will be in Oregon. We will introduce an uninitiated family to Passover here in Seattle, as we often do, and they won’t know how much we bastardize the blessings and possibly won’t care. We’ll drink plenty of wine (no way will it be Kosher), and enjoy a menu I’ve yet to plan, and children will run screaming, and we’ll remember, as we do every year, to simply be thankful for what we have–namely, for our families, and for those that step in as family when family can’t be around.

Click on the link below for the full Haggadah, 2014-style.

The Uncle Josh Haggadah Project, 2014 (PDF)

2 Comments

Filed under recipe

Dear Ms. Jones: Twenty Kindergarten Admissions Questions You Should Have Known to Answer

Dear Ms. Jones,

 

Thank you for submitting your child’s kindergarten application. Unfortunately, it appears you failed to understand the nuances of our admissions procedure. For parents like you, we have a special set of questions aimed more specifically at obtaining the information we really wanted, which you should have inferred when we said “Tell us about your child.”

 

Please complete the following questions and return the form to us by yesterday.

 

1. What is your child’s preferred second language?

2. Which code(s) does (do) your child use to write iPhone apps and new games (besides HTML)?

3. Is your hopscotch court mosaic made of hand-painted stones or seashells you gathered while volunteering in Thailand?

4. Can your child operate a 3D printer unassisted?

5. How many wells has your child built in Uganda?

6. Has your child recorded an album? If not, why not? And what is his/her instrument of choice?

7. What are you planning for your child’s next birthday party?

8. How does your child manifest his/her Chinese zodiac sign?

9. Is your anchor tattoo ironic or honest?

10. Describe your home’s most cherished artwork.

11. What is your child’s yogic mantra?

12. List all past and planned (future) Halloween costumes. If applicable, include notes on how you built/sewed/sourced/traded the materials.

13. If we send your child home with a live animal, how long will it survive in your home?

14. What is your child’s favorite ethnic food to cook at home?

15. Was your child raised in cloth or disposable diapers?

16. Has your child ever eaten an Oreo? (We value diversity.)  

17. What methods of renewable energy does your family depend on to offset your existence on the planet, and how does your child participate?

 

ADDENDUM 

18. Please attach your family crest or logo, and explain how and why it represents your family’s core values.

19. What did your child name your chickens, and why? Please attach photos; we would like to see their grooming habits.

20. Please attach your child’s educational mission statement.

 

Thank you for your time.

 

The Admissions Department

6 Comments

Filed under recipe

Beat.

IMG_7716

It hardly seems appropriate to say Happy New Year, but here it is, 2014. Thinking retroactively, here’s what was on my winter to-do list:

• Finish edits on a cookbook
• Take a time-out
• Gather every preschool germ Graham brings home and filter it through my system
• Pitch stories to magazines I’ve never worked with before (some Not! About! Food!)
• Do my taxes
• Finish details of our basement remodel
• Take a writing class
• See a kid through two surgeries
• Apply to private and public kindergartens for said kid

In my mind, two months in, the last thing is the only thing that really happened.

“It’s not the school that’s bad,” soothed my husband one wintry morning. “It’s the system that’s bad.” I sniffed over the phone, and tried to compose myself on the damp bench outside my gym, where an impromptu conversation with the principal of our local elementary school had reduced me to tears and snot and hiccups. My purse sagged open into the dirt of a giant potted plant. But Jim was right. The principal had never met Graham. And he hadn’t, as I’d insinuated, actually told me that my son didn’t belong in his halls. He’d just said he wasn’t sure, and refused to speak with me further, because I hadn’t followed the (totally top secret) prescribed order of operations.

In Seattle, where public schools are arguably better than those in many spots across the country, the process of enrolling a child with special needs in a typical kindergarten classroom requires patience, time, and emotional stamina. In the past week, I have been told to enroll, not to enroll, to fill out the special education form, not to fill out the special education form, that the special education form doesn’t exist, to fill out the school choice form, not to fill out the school choice form, that I need to appear in person to enroll because of the choice form, that I shouldn’t have appeared in person to enroll, that my special ed form will be shredded, that I’m already enrolled, and that RIGHT NOW I’ll be enrolled anyway even though I shouldn’t be standing where I’m standing and don’t need to enroll.

Now, Graham is officially enrolled in our local public elementary school. Will we end up there? Time will tell. At least we have a back up plan. Does that mean the system beat me? Or did I beat the system? This parenting thing is not for the weak.

Out of the blue this morning, when I was getting whiny over all this school nonsense, Graham decided to take the stairs to into his current classroom for the first time. A friend put him up to it and offered to take his walker to the top, and he just agreed. Like it was the most normal thing in the world. Like in his little way, he was saying Mom, I got this thing beat. See?

(Thanks, kid. You sure do.)

Graham on the steps

Grilled Beets with Herbs and Preserved Lemon (PDF)
In my house, beets make excellent decorations, but they’re rarely the main event—mostly because I tend to chop them up and shove them into salads more quickly than they can stand up for themselves. Here, they shine between layers of crème fraîche and fresh herbs, punched up a bit with preserved lemon.

If I haven’t made my own, I buy preserved lemons at Picnic in Seattle, because the owners, Jenny and Anson Klock, do a consistently excellent job. To use them here, cut them into quarters. Push the lemon’s meat out of the fruit and discard it, then use a small knife to trim the thin white layer of pith away from the peel. Once you have just the yellow peel, it’s ready to chop and use.

Serves 4

3 fist-sized red beets, roasted, peeled, and cut into 3/4-inch rounds
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
1/4 cup lightly packed fresh herbs (leaves only)
Peel of 1/4 preserved lemon, pith trimmed, very thinly sliced
Chunky sea salt, for serving

In a large bowl, mix the beet slices together with the olive oil and salt until well blended.

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. (You can use a regular heavy-duty pan instead, if you prefer.) When hot, add the beets, and cook, undisturbed, until well marked on both sides, 6 to 8 minutes total, turning the beets once during cooking.

Meanwhile, smear the crème fraîche onto a serving plate. Pile the beets on top, then scatter the herbs and preserved lemon on top. Drizzle the beets with additional olive oil, sprinkle with chunky sea salt, and serve.

7 Comments

Filed under commentary, egg-free, farmer's market, garden, gluten-free, Lunch, recipe, salad, Seattle

Sunny Side Out

Golden Winter Breakfast Hash 2

It might surprise you to learn that I’m not a very voracious reader. I’m an airport fiction kind of girl, and the titles I’ve read aren’t Titles, in the classic sense, except where food is concerned. Like my taste in music, my taste in reading veers to the trashy, unless the topic is short enough to fit between the covers of The New Yorker magazine. Did you have higher expectations? I’m sorry.

Actually, I’m not. Because here’s the thing about expectations: they’re bunk. (I’m sure I’m missing a huge point here from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, but I didn’t read that book either, and late at night in my faded pink bathrobe, when I do what little reading I do, I don’t care.)

A dear friend recently wrote a sagging email of sorrow. It was a real whopper—the kind of thing that reeks of tears and ice cream, at the very least. She said a lot of the things happening in her life weren’t what she envisioned or hoped for. Her life isn’t meeting her expectations. I nearly exploded with frustration. It still astounds me when people hew to their childhood expectations—not because childhood dreams are bad, but because I think being an adult requires taking the time to dream up something new. It requires forks in the road, even if they’re sometimes dangerously pointy forks. It requires flexibility. It requires adjustment.

No one expects to have a child born with cerebral palsy, or to develop lupus, or to break her collarbone on the 4th of July. No one expects two speeding tickets in the same week.

Then again, no one expects to land her dream job at 25, or feel totally satisfied with her shoe collection. (My mother just sent me this pair.) I didn’t expect to spend the bulk of 2013 working with an incredible chef whose fingerprints will forever be found on my cooking and on the way I approach food. And clearly, I didn’t expect to suddenly have thicker hair at 35.

I guess what killed me about that email—I should probably admit that it was sent months ago, but it’s been tailing me since—was that there are so many things this person also didn’t expect of her life that are positive. She has a thriving career. She has a gorgeous, happy child and a supportive family. Somehow, though, none of those things seemed to matter.

So here’s your holiday assignment, if you’re an expecter: if you find yourself turning into Eeyore while you’re doing your Christmas shopping, or ruffling through your cookie recipes, or digging through the files that have been stored in the garage for five months (which is what we’re doing this weekend), make a list. Make a real list, on real lined paper, the way we did when we used the pads of our digits to communicate instead of just their tips.

On one side of the page, you can whine. I didn’t expect my dog would become such a pain in the ass. Let it out, sister. Why did the contractors forget to put heat in the bathroom? Bitch and moan. I hate that my husband has started to snore. But really give it your best, okay?

Then, when you’ve wrung out the bad stuff, turn the paper over. On the fresh side, jot down the good things. I didn’t expect to write a cookbook using recipes from this website that could theoretically raise money for lupus research. Dig deep. I didn’t expect to be able to do a chin-up at all, even if my husband was holding enough of my body weight to make him sweat. And include the small stuff. The glue is holding on the teapot that shattered on the way back from France!

Are you done yet?

There. Read both sides again. Now, put the paper up somewhere where you’ll see it fairly often, sunny side out. This is how I live; the hard things are there, but I only look at them when I need to.

On the harder days, I turn the paper over, and scribble the most recent offense down with a dull pencil, so the lead smears into the cracks of my left hand. Then I get out the cast-iron pan and make a bacon-studded hash that looks like just potatoes and eggs, but is really made with golden beets and celery root. It’s a sneaky sort of breakfast, and it looks a bit homely, but the flavor always beats my greatest expectations. And it reminds me, like I wanted to remind my friend that day, that there is always, always a bright side.

You just have to get good at finding it.

Golden Winter Breakfast Hash 1

Golden Winter Breakfast Hash (PDF)
Simmered until almost tender and seared in bacon fat, golden beets and sweet celery root make a delicious, golden-hued alternative to the traditional potatoes in breakfast hash. Add a bit of goat cheese and a poached egg, and you’ve got a breakfast that will turn any dull day around before it even starts.

To peel celery root, use a heavy-duty peeler to get every bit of skin and dirt off, or simply use a small, sharp knife.

If you’re concerned about timing, cook the hash completely and let it sit in the pan, covered, while the eggs poach. The hash won’t mind.

Serves 2
Active time: 20 minutes

1/2 pound good bacon, cut into 2” pieces
3 medium yellow beets, peeled and cut into 1” pieces
1 baseball-sized celery root, peeled and cut into 1/2” pieces
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more, to taste
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
Freshly ground pepper
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves (no stems)
2 large eggs, poached

In a large cast-iron pan, cook the bacon over medium heat, turning and rearranging occasionally, until crisp, about 15 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate, eating about half of it casually as you cook. (Seriously. Who can wait?)

Meanwhile, combine the chopped beets and celery root in a saucepan big enough to hold them comfortably and add about a tablespoon of salt. Add cold water to cover, then bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the celery root is almost tender but not ready to fall apart, about 8 minutes. Drain the vegetables and set aside.

Drain about half the fat off the bacon pan and discard. Reheat the pan over medium heat. When the fat begins to sizzle, add the shallot and cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, about 1 minute. Add the thyme, season with pepper, and stir to combine. Scoot the shallots to the edges of the pan and add the cooked vegetables. Cook, undisturbed, for about 5 minutes, or until the beets and celery root have formed a nice brown crust. Stir the vegetables and cook again for 3 to 5 minutes, undisturbed, or until the mixture is nicely browned all over and the celery root is soft.

Crumble the remaining bacon and add it to the vegetables, along with the goat cheese and parsley. Season to taste, if needed, and serve in two heaping bowls, each topped with a poached egg.

17 Comments

Filed under recipe

Chemin St. Martin

Clock Tower

I cut my toenails twice while we were in France. I did it slowly and carefully, always before it was too late, which is the opposite of what I do at home. And that’s how our three weeks in France went—slowly, carefully. The days unfurled. We found our route before starting the engine of our little Citroen rally car. We watched the ivy on our stone house turn from emeralds to fire as October progressed. We wandered. Time passed at a thick liquid pace, each day surrendering into the next not with the violent crash of fatigue we know at home, but with a shrug and a lazy turn of the covers. I relearned how to live.

Over those three weeks, I realized how many things I’d plum forgotten how to do, like listen for birds and make paper airplanes and walk down stairs softly and eat just cheese for dinner. Now, as my last day here dawns at the airport and I break out my husband’s computer to type for the first time in three weeks—not to actually work, but because the words just seem unavoidable—I wonder what I’ll take home.

First, there will be memories of the house in Provence, including the crumbly mortar between the stones that formed one wall of our little bedroom there. The house was old, clearly—although in France, 1904 is practically infantile for a residence—and it since the wall used to be the outside of one building, before the home we rented was tacked on, it clearly wasn’t meant as a morning headrest for an American coffee drinker. When the wind blew, the mortar sometimes loosened a bit and I had to pick it out of my hair.

Chemin St. Martin

The houses, which look like Siamese twins from tiny, narrow Chemin Saint Martin but don’t have any awareness of one another from anywhere inside, are collectively called Mas de la Laiterie. They sit on land that was once the town diary, and until the 70’s, when modernity stomped in for real, folks picked up their milk in what’s now our living room. Then the whole place was purchased by an old French Resistance fighter who had retired and, with 3 buddies, apparently started a little travel business called Club Med. The owner lived in our house, and the offices were in the original house next door until the firm outgrew the space and sold the older house to the current owner, our landlord. The resistant lived to a ripe old age before passing, at which point our landlord bought the house we’re in as a rental property. In typical French fashion, the two houses technically have the same address, and save the entrances, which are on different streets and are a good 500 yards apart, it’s difficult to describe the difference between the two if the landlord’s dog, aptly named Caffeine, isn’t home.

Anyway. That’s all to say that we came to France with one plan, which was to rent a fantastic place and spend time with friends and family. It worked. We lived just outside the medieval walls of Pernes-les-Fontaines, a town known for its 36 working fountains. It has an old-school boulangerie with a giant indoor cast iron oven—the kind Bob Cratchit must have bought his bread from—and a single popular café, called Café de la Place, where we spent lunches drinking cheap, delicious local rosé and feeding our child his abominable but dependable French diet of frites and ice cream.

Cafe de la Place

Some days, we’d wander the town, hitting one of the two local aire de jeux with Graham, but more frequently, we’d start the morning with a map, tracing our fingers over the towns we’d seen and the towns we still wanted to explore. We consulted the market calendar and scouted parking and packed the car and left, mostly in quest of a view and something to eat for dinner. It was an ideal existence. We had time to talk, the three of us. We all read books, including one on raising kids with special needs that will, we think, lead to a sea change in the way we’re approaching cerebral palsy. We slept enough to make up for the last decade.

Paris was busier. We had a tiny hotel room and a short list of things to do and friends to see and places to eat. We walked and walked and walked, and rode enough escalators to satisfy Graham for at least a month. We taught Graham to drink out of a teacup. When Jim and Graham pulled away in a taxi, leaving me to go to Normandy for a few days to finish the last photographs for the book I’m working on with Renee Erickson and Jim Henkens, I burst into tears. We had fun, our little family.

Today, honestly, as I see the pink tinge on the puffy clouds outside, it’s all run together a bit. My muscles are sore today—more from drinking wine, I think, than from actual athletic use—but my brain isn’t tired. And that was the other goal, if I remember. We wanted to stop thinking so much.

I wonder how I’ve changed, flying back. I have a bit more luggage. My French is certainly better than it was when I arrived. And in my back pocket, stuffed between the list of antiques markets I found in an old Gourmet magazine and the receipt for my carrot and duck mousse sandwich, I’ll carry the memory of the three weeks we spent as a family in Provence, paying attention to where we were going, and what we ate, and to each other.

I hope I don’t lose it.

Family

8 Comments

Filed under recipe

The Village

photo

Fifteen people helped me function normally yesterday. I probably only know ten of their names, and I’d only really call five of them friends, but nevertheless, these days, all 15 are essential. See, I broke my collarbone on the Fourth of July. It was a classic bike accident—despite enough city riding to have a solid awareness of the problem, I fell for the old bike tire in the railroad tracks trick—but it’s left me with 3 good breaks and a not-so-classic problem: how does one cook with just the non-dominant hand?

The truth is, I haven’t been cooking. Or typing for more than ten minutes at a time, or exercising, or lifting my 44-pound child, or putting him into the car, or getting him out of the car, or bathing either of us if not absolutely necessary. This was all well and good when my husband was home, mostly waiting on me, but he’s off to sea again, so I’m either begging for help or learning to do things a little differently. Here are the fancy things I can do with just my newly promoted right hand: open jars (if braced properly between my hip and the counter), pick herbs off their stems, pour wine, slice cheese badly, make scrambled eggs, help my son pee on someone’s lawn because I can’t carry him inside in time, clean up after my cat’s mousing habits, put on anything with an elastic waistband, sit in a boat holding liquor while other people drag crabs off the bottom of the ocean, use an ice cream scoop, win at corn hole, pick up my telephone.

Here’s what my right hand can’t handle: cracking eggs, writing, wiping my child’s face, helping my child walk, pulling my child’s pants up, putting on make-up. When I’m alone, I just deal; I do things that I probably shouldn’t, like make my son’s lunch, or cut a nectarine, or put on sandals with two hands, or (the worst idea ever) dry my hair. But watch out; if you walk into my home’s general vicinity, you’ll get nabbed. Which means that yesterday, for example, members of the fantastic crew rebuilding our basement helped me get my kid into and out of the car. My neighbor’s daughter came over to water the garden, cut food and do dishes, put Graham’s shoes on, get him into the car while he threw a tantrum, and then later, when he finally sacked out, carry him into bed. One friend undressed my child for swimming lessons; another redressed him when the lessons were over. Graham’s therapist put on his shoes, and the preschool teachers helped me navigate transportation details into and out of his school. Mark carried my coffee when my useful hand was full. The baristas at Top Pot offered me ice for my injury. Whole Foods made me lunch. Jackie wiped the construction dust out of my house. And later, when Graham was finally asleep, I poured the rosé all by myself.

Today will be a totally different cast of helpers. Richie will probably get the kiddo into the car again—hear hear, Moms, hire a builder who’s had six kids—and the process will start anew. I’ll go back to the coffee shop where the barista knows how to put my barrette in, and to the gym, where I’ll ask a random old lady to help me put on my clothes in exchange for her bad collarbone stories. Tami will bring dinner and Dan will wrangle 3 kids at bath time. JJ, a guy I’ve never met, will pick up the tile for the downstairs for me, because it would be silly to lift all 3,000 pounds’ worth when I can’t drink out of a Nalgene bottle with either hand, and my in-laws will collect a week’s worth of laundry to take back to their place, because, naturally, the washer and dryer in the basement are disconnected and the plumbing is a bit spotty these days.

The whole experience has made me feel like a tornado of need, traveling through every village of friends that’s ever helped me, leaving a trail of appreciation and debt two (left) arms wide and three dinners deep. And since, for me, the path to paying it forward has always started in the kitchen, it feels like a rather irresponsible way to live.

Curiously, breaking my collarbone hasn’t seemed to impact my whining ability in the slightest. I seem to tolerate alcohol just fine, and I’m perhaps a bit better at sitting still to watch sports (although now that the Tour de France has finished, I may consider rescinding that claim). But two weeks ago, when the novelty of breaking what shouldn’t break was still all new and shiny, I was being very tough and resilient. Which is why, five days after my all-too-dramatic crash, but two full weeks before I could comfortably type, I made cookies.

I’m not normally one for contests, but Drew laid it out flat: this wasn’t a bake-off. This was a “cookie on,” because no one was allowed to enter unless they promised to get their cookie on for reals. I’d committed to entering the week before the Fourth, when Drew—another patient with (much more severe) cerebral palsy at Graham’s therapy center—had announced over her sparkle-tied Chucks that I was invited to join.

When I was out flat after the Fourth, slathered between ice like a freshly-caught salmon while my family stripped the basement naked in preparation for all that construction, I privately resigned from the contest. But the day before the cookies were due, I saw Drew again. She’s a gorgeous, spunky, bright-eyed, smartly dressed kid heading into 7th grade at the top of her class. She has severe cerebral palsy. She’s still learning to talk, walk, and write. Yet somehow, despite unimaginable obstacles, she cooks. She has major opinions about what tastes good and what doesn’t. And she wanted me to enter. How can you tell a girl who can’t stand at a counter that a broken bone is stopping you from turning on an electric mixer?

Good butter

I started with 3 sticks’s worth of butter, because it meant opening a single large package of butter instead of multiple smaller ones. I weighed instead of measuring wherever possible, because my right hand’s dexterity hadn’t yet gone through its latent puberty. It was so awkward. I made a hell of a mess. But in the end, I wound up with crunchy, chewy cookies with the tang of summer cherries.  I was satisfied.

My entry was the first on the cookie table the next day. Graham and I left the therapy center, and I waited. And waited. I never got to see the other cookies, but I felt like I’d made a good specimen. But alas, among the plethora of categorized prizes available—prettiest cookie, best-named cookie, tastiest cookie, etc.—I got nothing. Well, except an honorable mention, for Best One-Armed Baker.

I get it. Nothing beats a Husband Getter. (When Stephanie tells me what exactly a Husband Getter is, perhaps I’ll be able to explain why she won.) I never tasted that, or what Drew made, or what Drew’s mom made, but they were apparently all wayyyy better than mine. I’m working hard to avoid losing confidence over a cookie-baking contest instigated by a 12-year-old. And I get that I should have added chocolate, even if it might have meant figuring out how to axe into a block of Callebaut with my non-dominant hand.

But what I also get, as I dole out lumpy scoops of dough every other day from the bucket in the refrigerator when the need for a cookie calls, is that no matter how annoyed I get about needing and asking for help, I’m both lucky to be whole and lucky to have a village. And I understand that I’ll have ask and ask and ask for help, and be okay with it, until this whole episode is over, which, someday, it will be.

And some day, when I’m all patched up and she’s perhaps a little older, I’ll ask Drew how she does such a good job giving back with just her smile, and how she’s okay with not giving back sometimes. Because if there’s ever a contest to get your gracefulness on, or to get your spark on, or to get your ability to inspire people 25 years your senior on, those are the ones she’ll win.

Super-Powered Cherry-Millet Oatmeal Cookies (PDF)

These cookies have a distinct advantage over every single other cookie recipe I’ve made before: they can be made with one hand. My apologies if you don’t have a scale to measure out the dry ingredients properly. You’ll understand, I hope, that since Hogwash is about food and life, there is naturally a category for recipes made with a broken collarbone.

If you have the pleasure of the use of both of your arms AND a food scale, add a couple handfuls of chopped dark chocolate to the mix right at the end.

Makes: About 4 dozen

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
350 grams/12 1/2 ounces all-purpose gluten-free flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch salt
150 grams/5 ounces old-fashioned oats
100 grams/3 1/2 ounces raw millet
1/2 pound dried sour cherries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats and set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and sugar until light and fluffy on medium speed, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs and whip again on medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping the sides occasionally.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the machine on low speed, add the dry ingredients to the mixer in a few separate additions, mixing until thoroughly combined. Add the oats, millet, and cherries, and mix on low until evenly distributed, scraping the bottom of the bowl if necessary.

Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop (or a big cereal spoon), form the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls and place them on the baking sheets at least 2 inches apart. Bake for about 15 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through baking, until the edges of the cookies are browned but the centers are still light. Let the cookies cool 5 minutes on the baking sheets, transfer to racks to cool, and repeat with the remaining dough.

Cookies are best eaten the same day.

9 Comments

Filed under Cookies, gluten-free, grains