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.
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.
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.
Transfer the little guys to the baking sheets.
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.