Will the real Jess Thomson please stand up?

Warning: I’m cranky today, and scattered. I am trying too hard to be all things to all people, including, most obnoxiously, myself. In my ideal world, I’m devoting everything to my husband and my family, being there when they need me, and listening when they call. I’m diving into work with as much breath as my lungs can hold, ten years old again and trying to get across the swimming pool underwater in one breath, striving to find that perfect combination of glide and effort that will allow me to keep going, even though I don’t know where the wall is. I’m walking and doing yoga and slowly enjoying the way the hot, jasmine-scented steam from my green tea collects on the inside of my nose when I breathe in too deeply. I’m eating outrageously delicious dinners, like the one the six of us shared last weekend at Araxi in Whistler (which I hope to tell you about eventually), and I’m at home, happy growing my own lettuce and eating small quantities and living simply on rice and beans and the occasional piece of fish. I’m a good friend, lounging at a coffee shop or chatting with a neighbor without the next thing on my mind, and when I walk my dog, I let her sniff anything she wants, for as long as she wants. I’m a sugarmama and a housewife, I work seventy hours a week and still do all the laundry, tend the yard, and scrub the floors. My health never wavers. I never lose my voice. I can fly across the country for a week every time a friend gets married, has a baby, or just needs a shoulder to cry on, and I’m home every weekend, being part of a community to which I’m only now just beginning to belong.

But I need to redefine “ideal,” because the inevitable impossibility of checking “all of the above” leaves me flashing from one ideal self to the next like Sybil with an ambitious to-do list.

And here’s what really happens: I answer the phone when my sister calls, intending to listen to anything she might want to say becuase I love her and want to hear about her life. But I’ve plunged into work and can’t come up for air until I turn in article X, and I’m still all nasty from the dog park, so I try to juggle the phone while I get my rubber boots off so I can press send on that last email that’s been sitting in the outbox since before I left with the dog. But on my way to the computer, I spill my green tea, which means my sister only gets half my attention while I mop everything up with the dog towel. Then my husband calls, and I’m frustrated with myself because the house is a mess, and he gets Cranky Jess, and we decide to go out to dinner with friends we haven’t seen in months, which means spending money when I wanted to be saving it, missing out on a night alone together, and getting to bed so late that my whole body aches the next day. Nothing gets done well.

Sometimes I feel like a chamelon, always looking outside to define what’s going on inside. I don’t have a long sticky tongue or anything, but I do wear camo from time to time, and I’m always taking things in from a 360-degree field of vision. This would be great if I were a reptile depending on my eyesight for survival, but as a human with a relatively stable food supply and no real predators, it’s less effective.

Anyway, it’s just one of those days. I’m sure you can relate. Today it seems like being all things to all people is a great way to make friends but a really terrible way for me to learn about myself, because I spend so much time fulfilling (self-generated) requirements that I never sit alone and wonder which of the requirements are most important to me. Is solidifying my career what I want most right now? Or is nurturing the friendships I’ve spent so long bulding more important? Which Jess is the most important Jess? And how do I choose one over another without alienating anyone who wasn’t part of the decision? And does a chameleon even know when it’s changing color?

Sigh. At least I discovered a stew that just might be all things to all people. Made with guanciale, kale, and all the tomatoey-shellfishy goodness typical of a San Francisco cioppino, it is a treasure of a stew for the days you want to space out and avoid deciding between, say, being a good wife, a “successful” person, or an attentive friend.

Tsk, you say. You can be everything! I’m sure I can. I just haven’t learned how.

Seattle Shellfish Stew with Kale and Guanciale

Recipe for Seattle Shellfish Stew with Kale and Guanciale
Recipe 78 of 365

I always use visitors as a good excuse to stretch a grocery-shopping trip into an afternoon-long excursion through Seattle. Fish and veggies from Pike Place Market and a big hunk of guanciale (cured pork jowl) from Salumi inspired this stew, which is a hearty, deeply flavored cross between a San Franciscan cioppino and wonderfully porky braised kale. You could substitute pancetta or thick-cut bacon for the guanciale.

Serve the stew with a simple green salad and good, crusty bread for mopping up the juices.

TIME: About 1 hour
MAKES: 6 servings

1/4 pound guanciale, cut into 1/4” cubes
1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 large shallots, halved and thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 (roughly 1/2 pound) bunch kale, rinsed and sliced into 1/4” thick ribbons
2 cups dry white wine
1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth (or water)
3/4 pound extra large shrimp (about 12), deveined
3/4 pound firm white-fleshed fish, such as cod, halibut, or monkfish, cut into 1” cubes
3/4 pound manila clams (about 18), scrubbed clean
3/4 pound mussels (about 18), cleaned and debearded
1/2 pound bay (small) scallops, white tabs removed
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

Preheat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the guanciale, and cook until browned and crispy, stirring frequently, about 7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the guanciale to a paper towel-lined plate, leaving the grease in the pot, and set aside.

Add the onions and the shallots to the pot, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and kale, season again with salt and pepper, and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring and turning as the kale on the bottom cooks down.

Increase heat to high, add the white wine, and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the clam juice, diced tomatoes, chicken broth, and the reserved guanciale pieces, reduce to a simmer and simmer the stew, partially covered, for about 20 minutes, or until the kale is soft and the tomatoes begin to break down. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Shellfish for stew

Stir the fish pieces and the shrimp into the stew, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the clams, mussels, and scallops, stir to distribute evenly, and cook, covered, another 5 to 10 minutes, or until all the shells have opened. (Discard any shells that do not open.) Sprinkle the parsley over the stew and serve piping hot in wide, shallow bowls.

Shellfish Stew - almost gone

5 Comments

Filed under farmer's market, fish, pork, recipe, Seattle, shellfish, soup

5 responses to “Will the real Jess Thomson please stand up?

  1. C

    Jess: Your beautifully written post spoke volumes to me, as I’m sure it did to many of your other female readers. I hate to be gender-biased, but this particular brand of angst seems to be all ours, and trust me, we all experience it periodically.

    Go easy on yourself. I’m proud to be friends with the Jess all rank from the dog park with the green tea stain on her shirt. The “ideal” Jess –the one with scrubbed floors who happily grows her own lettuce and eats small quantities — would be insufferable. Ick.

    ps – This line blew me away: “I’m diving into work with as much breath as my lungs can hold, ten years old again and trying to get across the swimming pool underwater in one breath, striving to find that perfect combination of glide and effort that will allow me to keep going, even though I don’t know where the wall is.”

  2. Thanks, Cheryl! Angst it is, and it’s always good to know I’m not the only one.

  3. Dave

    Jess, I really enjoyed this post as well- it was a good one to “stop by” on as I sometimes do on your blog (not being the avid cook). I’ve got a great one line blog entry for you next time when you get even crankier: just write GFY.

    No, seriously, you’re definitely not the only one who feels that way, so take heart in company I guess. But I do have to disagree with the other comment- men have just as many roles to fulfill stereotypically as women do. I think each gender has a hard time experiencing/knowing what the other gender is feeling. It’s like trying to understand what being a minority is like- you can’t understand that feeling until you are one.

    But don’t take that as advice to try a sex change. You’re cool as you are.

  4. Noah

    Well, I was going to reply with some touchy-feely response re: how wonderful of a person you are just the way you are (and of course, that’s true), but instead just let me say – wtf for not inviting me over for that stew?!?!? 😉

  5. Pingback: 100 Days « hogwash

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