Whimper

I met T.S. Eliot in the twelfth grade, in a Boise High School classroom now probably used to teach my younger sister. It was sometime in late fall, I think. He just waltzed right in and plastered his poetry there on my English teacher’s wall, along with all the other literary graffiti Dr. Mooney had conned the school into allowing.

The last line of The Hollow Men was immortalized – it seemed permanent to me at the time, anyway – behind my desk. I don’t remember what color the words were, but I remember seeing them each day.

Not with a bang, but a whimper.

There was also F. Scott Fitzgerald. Why I remember his last line in The Great Gatsby is less clear, but it’s a good one: So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. Things change, but we continue, and we remember.

I haven’t touched early 20th century American literature since then, but as I thought about finishing my project – here, in Maine, where I started it one year ago – those two guys crawled into my brain.

It was the change part.

Dr. Mooney said we should recognize change, salute it. At the end of that school year, he asked each of us to announce what we’d learned. It could be something academic or personal, related to his class, or totally random. I raised my hand, shaking, and in front of two of my dearest friends, both devout Christians, said that I’d learned I didn’t believe in God.

I thought that would mean a change, with me, and especially with them, but it didn’t. It was never mentioned again.

Since Dr. Mooney, I’ve made a habit of considering, and contemplating, when the marks of time fly past. (See? You teachers. You’re remembered.)

Because change isn’t always bad.

My father has always reminded me that the only constant in life is change itself.

But really, in 2007, in one long year, not much has changed. Well, I got a significant haircut, then a bad version of the same, if that counts. And I started taking meth, which was scary, but not life-altering, for better or for worse.

My approach to cooking has changed, though.

You might call it falling out of love.

I’ve seen my kitchen brain evolve from that of a private chef, always yearning, curious, ready, to that of a tired home cook, interested in the easy way out. Before this year, I very rarely took the easiest path in the kitchen. But that word – chef – it’s gone for good, I think. I cooked whatever part of it I had right out this year. I’ve done things I’d never have dreamed of doing 18 months ago: I’ve thrown away roasting pans without nursing every last morsel of flavor from their fondful bottoms. I’ve made lasagna with pre-made pasta sauce. And I’ve leaned against my kitchen counter, seriously believing that take-out might prevent me from crying.

Just last week, I thought about making a savory, spicy marshmallow, but the thought of having to try four or five times to get it just right sent me into a panic. Before, I wouldn’t have hesitated.

Tonight, this last night of 2007, we will gather around a table at a rented house in New Hampshire with the same friends we’ve spent New Years’ with for the past nine years. Before the clock strikes midnight, we’ll begin our ritual: First, we go around the circle, and talk about the most important things that happened to us in the year we’re leaving behind. Then, we make another lap, talking about what we’re most looking forward to, or hoping for, in the year to come.

In the first round, I’m not sure I’ll mention my project. I’ll talk about finding a home in Seattle, a real (freshly painted) home, with friends and favorite places and familiar faces. I’ll talk about beginning to find my own voice as a writer, and using it. My husband won’t talk about his big grant, or any of his other successes, but I’ll make him say something, because it’s been a big year for him, too.

I don’t think I’ll mention the project, because I could never tell the whole story. I could never just say I wrote 365 recipes in 2007. It wouldn’t be enough. I might not know how to explain that now I’ll have to relearn how to really love cooking. I might not say how sad it makes me that I’ve spent a year of my cooking life without getting to know new cookbooks, or new food cultures. (It’s like cooking with blinders on.) And no one wants to hear how much money I’ve spent on food.

Anyway. It would also be selfish of me, there around the circle, if I took the time to talk about the good things, too: How elated I felt each time someone emailed, and said I’m not much of a cook, but I tried your recipe . . . That was the whole point, remember? You, the one who had never been to a farm stand before, and you, who had never made a crisp with ripe, fat berries. . .I wanted to lead people to the kitchen, and by golly, it worked. It worked with enough people to make me very, very happy. The non-foodies who watched with a mixture of awe and horror while I made a leg of lamb last year and informed them of my intentions for 2007 have found a good cheesemonger and their local farmers’ market. That’s why I did this.

On the second go around the circle, I’ll bring up the meth. It really hasn’t made me feel better (in fact, I could almost argue it’s made me feel worse). I’ll talk about going off it, maybe, and about making my health more of a priority. If I found the time to write a recipe each day in 2007, I can find the time for a nap every day in 2008. (I know, you’ve heard this song before. . .but I’m still singing.)

I probably won’t talk about what 2008 brings in my kitchen: Peeling vegetables without weighing them. Eating dinner without taking a photograph of it, every single time. Letting Tito cook me dinner. Trying all the take-out places within a ten-block radius, then settling back in front of the stove, and relearning what it means to enjoy every step of the cooking process. Then coming back here, back to you, and sharing my life with you, but only when I really have something to say.

But I’ll think about all that, there in the circle.

Then the clock will strike, and we’ll go out onto the porch in the cold, and sing Auld Lang Syne until no one can remember a single word. Then we’ll sing Living on a Prayer and probably Like a Prayer, not because we have some strange, strong collective religiosity, but because, well, some things just don’t change.

But that’s what it feels like, finishing today: A whimper. A door closing on an empty space. Sounds and smells and tastes echoing around that space, wondering why they were ever there.

I wonder what T.S. Eliot would think, if he knew I was talking about his whimper.

Today’s recipe is for my husband, whose real name is not Tito, but Jim. (Sorry. Maybe it was exciting to think I was married to a cross between Don Quixote, Al Capone, and Steve Zissou.)

Thank you, Jim, for supporting me unfailingly, in everything. And for eating, for doing so many dishes, for telling me I could when I really thought I couldn’t, and for reminding me (starting in – what – March?) never to do this again. May I someday return the favor in some way, and may your dishpan hands survive the rest of a long, happy, delicious marriage. I can’t wait for your dinners.

I thought a bit about what to make for the last recipe of the project, of course. Thought of roasting a goose, or cooking New Year’s Eve dinner, and sharing it with you. But none of that seemed fun. And fun is what’s been missing.

Our friend Jeff used to make Pigs in a Blanket each New Years’ Day, just after the ball fell. This year, he won’t be around, and they’re Jim’s favorite. When I found a package of organic Lil’ Smokies, I knew I had to cook up a fancy version for posterity. Because, as Jim is so fond of saying, vegetables is what the meat eats.

Right now, this seems fun to me.

So Happy New Year.

I’ll be back here in a couple weeks, and the recipes will no longer be numbered.

And hopefully, I’ll fall in love all over again.

Bigs in Blankets 2

Pampered Pigs in Puffy Blankets
Recipe 365 of 365

Believe it or not, there’s such thing as organic Lil’ Smokies. They taste exactly the same, as far as I can tell, only they don’t leave an orange oil spill on your fingers.

Buy some, and a pound of puff pastry, and thaw the pastry according to the package directions.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and set aside. Whisk a large egg with a couple teaspoons of water in a small bowl, and set aside.

Cut the pastry into roughly 2″ squares.

Puff for Pigs

Brush the pastry with the egg wash, and place a smokie in the center of each square. Fold the pastry over and pinch it together well to adhere (this is the only way it will stick together), like you’re making . . . uh, pigs in blankets.

Folding pigs in blankets

Transfer the little guys to the baking sheets.

Prepped pigs in blankets

Brush the outside tops of the pastries with the egg wash, and bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until deep golden brown, rotating baking sheets halfway through.

Serve hot, with ketchup, or ketchup spiked with sriracha, for Jim.

32 Comments

Filed under appetizers, Beef, Breakfast, pork, recipe

32 responses to “Whimper

  1. I have so admired your perseverance in keeping up with this project and enjoy reading your writing, not just the recipes. This year has been totally a tired home cook year for me and your blog was really the only thing that inspired me to try new things at all. I am looking forward to reading your writing in the new year. So from this mom, thanks for your sacrifice (I do not even want to know what your food bill looks like for the year) and do take more naps in 2008.

  2. Kyle

    Good luck, I hope you find what you need to find.
    If it’s any consolation, some of your simplified recipes are what allowed me to cook some new things without using up a lot of time.
    We had a baby this year and I don’t have a ton of time to cook, so finding your website has been great as I not only use your recipes, but they also inspire me to make up my own stuff.

  3. Many, many congratulations! I’m quite new to your blog (my loss) and only noticed in the last few days that you were nearing a huge milestone.

    And I understand, some: I also did the ‘recipe a day’ for an entire year and now, looking back, wonder just how and yes, even why. But at the time it developed great importance for me, accomplishing something I didn’t know I’d set out to do, but during which I learned so much.

    It took me some weeks to separate from the blog, to discover what if anything it would become once the ‘venture’ was over. And I ‘missed’ it, too, the hunt, the exploration, the discovery.

    Good luck. I for one will look forward to Year Two, whatever it brings.

  4. Erin

    Congratulations for making it through the year! I’ve really enjoyed reading all of your recipes. Those I’ve cooked were delicious, and I have flagged too many to count to try at a later date. Thanks for sharing your kitchen and inspiring us and hopefully your love for cooking will be quickly rediscovered!

  5. Pat Morrison

    Jess, I first met you as a friend of my daughters, then read your articles in the local Seattle magazines, then started reading your daily comments and recipes. Your recipes are really fun – but, what I have enjoyed most has been your writing – your distinctive and creative way of expressing your thoughts and feelings.
    Congratulations on your accomplishment and best of everything to you and Jim in the New Year!

  6. I’ve been thinking how the one thing I’ll miss about this year is checking in with your blog every day (really, I actually thought that on the bus the other day). It’s so wonderful to read what creative thing you’ve come up with, and to sometimes commiserate when I don’t feel like cooking either.

    I actually think your shift to being a home cook is a good thing- it gives you perspective as to how most people cook. Hopefully, you’ll be able to tie the home cook mindset and the chef mindset together in future projects.

    I wish you all the best in the New Year!

  7. Cathy

    Well done! When the exhaustion clears I hope you’ll be able to enjoy the accomplishment of it, as others do after completing a marathon or childbirth. Cook or not, as you wish, but please keep blogging. And there’s no shame in photographing beautiful food to come, be it takeout or Tito’s (or microbrews). Cheers from Stumptown.

  8. Well Jess,

    Didn’t discover your blog until we shared the stage in November, but it’s been a fixture of my daily reading since then. Don’t know what I’ll find to replace it.

    One great thing about this much content is that thanks to links anf Google, it will draw visitors for years to come. If you leave it online, people will keep finding it, keep reading it, and it will stand as a testament to this year of adventure. Even without the sense of immediacy, the Christmaslike joy of finding a new blog post under the tree each day, people will enjoy poring through it.

    As for that lesson you learned in 12th grade? Did you ever change your mind? It’s almost a requirement for any intellectually curious person to be an athiest in high school, but things change with time and experience. For example, a few days ago I had a cheese so magnificent, I could consider it proof of God’s love.🙂

    Good luck, and don’t quit updating the blog just because you’ve finished the recipe project. You have many well-wishers who will want to keep current with where your adventures take you.

  9. Ax

    Congrats on the finale. Now let’s go chase some taco trucks and whine about book proposals together!

    Happy new year … Amanda

  10. Jess,

    I do hope that your burnout can transform itself back into love. I admire your persistence in completing your project, but it’s not worth it if it destroys your sense of fun in something.

    I look forward to seeing what your blog turns into in the new year!

  11. deb

    Congratulations on finishing your project. I am only filled with regret that I didn’t find it sooner so I could have followed through the year, though on second thought, it will give me a tremendous amount of reading to do while you take a much-deserved break. Enjoy your rest!

  12. Leslie

    Jess,
    I too am one of the late comers to your blog having met you this fall when you stopped at the Inn for an article you are writing. Busy is my middle name, but I did take one of your recipe ideas, played with it a bit and came up with the best stir fry I’ve ever done – in fact I’m now a bit obsessed with it and want to try variations! Thanks for that inspiration.
    Since I am new to this site I’m reading everything from the beginning – it’s like reading the ending of a great book cuz you just can’t stand not knowing how it ends…

    PS – the wood floors throughout the lower floor of the Inn are done -fabulous – wood stove to be fired up tonight for the first time.
    Happy New Things and thanks for your project.
    L

  13. Dear Jess,
    As someone who stumbled upon you in August, I too will miss checking in nightly. I’ve loved your vivid and lyrical writing and the incredible diversity of your recipes.

    Your basil chocolate torte still dances in my dreams.

    Sleep for a week!

    Cheers and thanks!

  14. allison

    Congratulations and thank you once again for letting us all share in this project with you. Your olive oil/vanilla cake is my favorite recipe so far, but I have dozens more of your recipes that I want to try that will vie for that top position, I’m sure.

    Hats off to Tito/Jim for being such a supportive partner. He must be a huge fan of yours.

    I love that you shared in this post the words that you can’t share around the table with your friends on new year’s eve. It’s nice to have the proper venue, don’t you think?

    Take care and have a fantastic new year – here’s to finding enjoyment in cooking once again!

  15. You will recover from the burnout and maybe that process will take you into a new part of being a cook/writer/creator/thinker/philosopher. I hope you have a nap every day until you cant fall asleep in the daytime anymore! I feel sad for my part because I have loved your blog and fabulous recipes and all your generosity. Sniff. THANK YOU xxx

  16. Pat

    Brava, Jess!!! Here’s to another (or several?) projects to fill the void in 2008!

  17. kathy

    I am speechless. This is so beautiful. You may have fallen out of love with the rigors of the kitchen, but you have clearly fallen in love with words. I am wiping tears (what else is new) reading your last entry and everyone’s response. what a victory! I think you can safely say you have touched many…..and I for one am grateful. Congratulations on setting goal, achieving it so well, and moving on to bigger and better. Here’s to 2008–may it be a healthy, peaceful, joyous new year!!!

  18. Sheryl Lajoie

    Hi Jess,
    Thanks for a wonderful year! I keep telling Scott how much I enjoyed your project. I have tried many of the recipes and will make some of them many times over. I have added chili paste, quinoa and flax seed to my grocery list because of you. Trader Joe’s is a necessary stop in Hyannis due to “the project”.
    I’ll keep going to hogwash to check out your blog, but will miss my morning email. Keep on writing. Take a daily nap. Have your husband cook for you.
    Thanks again. You’ve made me enjoy cooking and trying new tastes.

  19. Roxanne

    Many people pay institutions to put them through writing or journalism “boot camp.” You have done that on your own. So incredible! The Jess Thomson home school of writing. And instead of having teachers critique your works you have a real audience. And we are all applauding.
    You have won the hearts of your readers not just for your recipes but for the energy your writing gives to the world. You capitave your audience; you have created your own niche in the writing world in just one short year. This was a great project; it was worth the sweat and I believe you will see the return on the investment also.

  20. beth

    Congrats on accomplishing a huge goal. Daily discipline is not easy(at least for me!!)

    I have so enjoyed all your e-mails and editorial comments….. it’s been wonderful to be part of your journey.

    If you are ever in Vermont; ;please let me know. You must visit our local coop!!

  21. Congratulations! Of course, I (we) are big fans of your incredible output, and can’t wait to see what comes in the next year.

    I love the idea of recounting big things from year past and year to come – I do a list of the year past, to reflect on things I’ve accomplished or things that happened. On my list of things to do this year will definitely be to cook more – though I could only aspire to your output!

    Congrats again, and best wishes for a wonderful 2008.

  22. It’s the end of an era! Jess, I’ve become addicted to your blog, and I don’t even cook! (Though I sure did enjoy eating all of those savory blue cheese shortbreads at the Solstice Gargle…) Congratulations on finishing this enormous project, and best of luck with all the new projects that await you in 2008. Happy new year!

  23. Jess,

    I am among those mourning the loss of one of my most enjoyable daily reads. You have opened your life and shared your culinary and literary skill with a flock of strangers, and as a result 2007 will go down in history as a year of triumph for you. My most sincere congratulations. I raise a glass to your past, present, and future successes!

  24. Tea

    Congratulations! I only found you towards the end as well–through our mutal friend Shauna (Gluten-free Girl). I’m looking forward to traipsing through your archives in 2008, enjoying and admiring your accomplishment.

    I can so relate to ending with a whimper. I’ve had a bit of that with my writing this year. But after a month off or so, I find that the love comes back. I’m sure it will for you–whenever you grow weary of takeout:-)

    Congrats again. May 2008 bring you new and exciting projects.

  25. Bethy

    Jess, you have an inner strength that I’ve always admired. Congratulations on making it! (and baking it!) I came across the cookbook you made for Christmas 2000 and was reminded of all the great memories that have revolved around food (guacamole, hot Rice Crispie treats on the kitchen floor, my fake need for a peanut butter cookie recipe). Why we can’t seem to be on the same coast at the same time escapes me…

    You have inspired me to try new things, to step outside my comfort-food zone. Thank you.

  26. First of all, congratulations!
    Second of all, last time I got in a “rut” and couldn’t stand cooking anymore, I got takeout/ went out/ cooked microwave meals. Every day. For a full week. Then, I eased back in slowly– but after that long of a break of not making anything, it *felt* different. I, personally, want you to keep cooking (because, well, I love reading), so I hope you figure it out. Not that I’m selfish or anything.
    Those marshmallows seemed amazing, too. I may have to figure something like that out. My problem is that I could see dusting it in curry or chili powder, and maybe some ground crystalized ginger… but how do you do the inside without powdered sugar?

  27. Kirsten

    I don’t comment much, but just had to say something. I feel so sad that you fell out of love! I have thoroughly enjoyed your recipes, stories and encouraging words. I admire your perserverence despite your companion the wolf, and will truly miss the frequency of posts. I am touched by your honest and vulnerable telling of the ending to such a remarkable accomplishment. You should be proud, and I hope you find your passion again in 2008.

  28. I’ve just found your site via an unrelated search. I am certainly not as experienced as you are in the kitchen, but I really do love to cook… so it’s from that standpoint that I say this:

    You can’t be passionate to a schedule. Just forcing yourself to blog, let alone post a recipe every day for a year was bound to suck the fun and spontaneity out of cooking…. out of anything, in fact.

    I can only hope that you recover your zest for it in time, but I’m concerned that once passion becomes a chore it doesn’t recover easily.

    Perhaps it’ll help to recognise that it’s not the cooking that’s the issue – it’s simply that you were forcing it. As you’ve said yourself – take a good long break and perhaps in time you’ll feel inspired to grace the internet with another masterpiece…

    … but don’t feel obligated to.

  29. I was searching google for beet caprese and came across your site. The more I read the more curious I became. I find your blog to be quite interesting.

    Wishing you best of luck and tons of fun in 2008…

  30. Pingback: Let’s do the numbers « hogwash

  31. sarah

    oh thank goodness, jess. that last line from The Hollow Men has also impressed itself on my memory, but i had been suffering for years upon years for not having any idea where the line came from. i never managed to ask the right person, either. but here is the answer, read many many months after you posted it. my physical and mental person is heaving one big, satisfied sigh right now, thanks to you and your inclusion of the T S Eliot thought. ahhhh.
    phew.
    so relieved that i couldn’t even finish reading past that paragraph in your post before i commented. now back to the rest of the goodness….

  32. Erin Ogden Green

    This is strange. I found your blog while combing the web for Dr. Mooney. I was the student who painted the line of Eliot behind your desk. That was back in 1994. Incredible. Unfortunately, finding Dr. Mooney has turned out to be difficult. It saddens me since he was a huge inspiration to me.

    At any rate, I’ll be checking back in on the blog now that I’ve found it.

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