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.

All Fired Up

Roasted Harissa-Glazed Chicken Wings

When Pramod Thapa walked into the Sunburst Lodge at Sun Peaks Resort, the British Columbia ski hill I visited last weekend as part of a tasting tour of BC wine country, I recognized his gait immediately. He doesn’t have the typical cattywhompus walk of a kid with cerebral palsy; at 21, he’s been fortunate enough to progress into a more typical movement pattern that comes off as a young male swagger. Still, for someone familiar with CP, it’s evident. Yet Pramod also moves like a ski racer—shins pressing against the fronts of the boots when walking, using their natural support to avoid the awkwardness inherent to wearing ten pounds of metal and plastic on each foot.

Pramod (pronounced “promo”) stopped short when the woman I was skiing with, Canadian ski racing legend Nancy Greene Raine, flagged him down. She realized that as the mother of a budding adaptive skier with cerebral palsy, I might want to meet him. Pramod perched one Lange boot on its heel—a typical racer’s resting posture—and shook my hand. When he started speaking, I realized that unlike Graham, he has a major speech impediment. He can speak well enough to communicate, but only if the listener has had, say, a few years’ experience tuning in to how the general population with cerebral palsy communicates. Pramod struggles to hug his mouth around vowels, and stumbles over consonants. Listening to him speak requires intense concentration, but he has a lot to say.

As we huddled around the hot, cottony sticky buns the lodge pulls out of the oven mid-morning every day, Pramod and I talked about his ski racing history. About how after immigrating to Canada from Nepal as a kid, an adaptive ski instructor recognized that he might be the type to enjoy skiing. About how and whether we should go about transitioning Graham from a sit-ski guided by an instructor holding tethers to a sit-ski he guides himself using outriggers, which are like hefty ski poles with extra tiny skis at the bottoms. About how now, in a bid for the Canadian paralympic alpine team, Pramod is having to fight for the right to use kids’ skis, instead of the regulation (read: longer and heavier) men’s skis the other guys he competes against use.

Pramod comes from a long line of sherpas. He can’t be more than 5’2”, and he must weigh 100 pounds soaking wet. I can’t imagine a person his size racing on the same skis my six-foot-something brother and father use. As we talked through the issue, he used his hands—hands seemingly unaffected by cerebral palsy—to describe the methods he’d been using to pressure the smaller skis around the turns in that day’s slalom and GS training. Fingers straight, hands tilting in parallel to mimic the skis beneath his feet, Pramod looked like any other ski racer talking shop. I realized that in a world where his body and his speech likely often prevent him from participating in a typical way, he has found a sport where he can use his hands to communicate the same way everyone else does. He’s found his sport. I also realized that when it comes to my own kid, it’s more important to me that he learns to love a sport than that he learns to love what I’ve long considered my sport.

Which is why this weekend, along with something like a third of all Americans, we’ll be watching the Super Bowl. In an unpredictable combination of rare genetics, Graham has inherited a love of football. We don’t know how. We don’t know why. He “plays football” by knee-walking to and fro across the living room floor, hurtling his body against the couch or a chair or the dog occasionally, claiming touchdowns and wins according to rules we don’t understand in any way. But he loves it. So it seems like this year especially—when the Seattle Seahawks kick off their second consecutive Super Bowl—it makes sense to sit down and watch. And it makes sense for me to sit down and learn, the way Pramod’s parents are likely doing also, that it doesn’t matter what gets your kid fired up. What matters is that he’s fired up at all.

I’d have photographed this recipe on a Seahawks jersey if I could, but we’re not big enough fans to have that sort of thing. Nonetheless, when Super Bowl XLIX kicks off this weekend, we’ll be eating wings with millions of others, smothered, in our case, with butter and harissa. You can use a store-bought harissa for this, but the homemade kind from A Boat, a Whale and a Walrus works spectacularly. Note that each harissa will vary in spiciness, so you may need to adjust the heat to your own taste. I made this batch knowing there will be kids at our party on Sunday.

Now get fired up, people. Two days ’til game time.

Roasted Harissa-Glazed Chicken Wings (PDF)

Active time: 10 minutes
Start to finish: 35 minutes

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup harissa, plus more if desired
1 1/4 pounds chicken wing segments or drumettes
Sea salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Stir the melted butter and harissa together to blend. Divide the mixture between two large mixing bowls. Add the chicken pieces to one bowl, stir to coat the wings, then spread them out evenly on the prepared baking sheet.

Roast the wings for about 20 minutes, or until the wings are bubbling and crisp at the edges. Transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate to drain for just a moment, then add them to the fresh bowl of harissa butter. Stir to coat the chicken, then transfer the chicken to a platter and shower with sea salt. Serve hot, with the yogurt on the side for dipping.

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Filed under appetizers, chicken, gluten-free, Lunch, travel

A Year Right Here

All those corks

In the fall of 2013, when we returned from a 3-week stay in Provence, my husband and I had a bit of a hangover. It was less from the 42 bottles of wine we’d consumed collectively with various visitors over long lunches and drawn-out dinners, and more from the extended thrill of exploring new things, from the heady combination of having the little Citroen that could and no schedule. We agreed we’d had the trip of a lifetime. And over the course of 2014, as we were reminded time and time again that the same magic mix of time and freedom and savings might not present itself again for years, we mourned. The downside of taking the trip of a lifetime is that once you’ve taken it, it’s over.

Then last fall, an east coast acquaintance visited Seattle. She’s someone I’ve met many times but haven’t spent much time with, and as she traipsed her way through The Emerald City—through my own neighborhood, at times—I watched it on social media with the same interest and bewilderment I felt as I watched another acquaintance journey through Morocco. It became clear that the Seattle visitor was treating her trip here the same way we’d viewed our time in France; she skipped from market to café to restaurant to farm, ending up, more often than not, back in her own rented dining room, with food from the region and a good bottle of wine. She made me realize that while Provence was lovely, we live in a pretty epic spot ourselves. (Isn’t that why we moved here?) That while I skipped with joy at the prospect of picking up fresh lamb from a local butcher across the Atlantic, I had grown blind to the possibility of buying crab off a dock so close to home. That while I swooned when our French hosts brought wine from a friend’s vines, I forgot I knew folks who make cider right here in Seattle.

And so it came about that rather than pining for a full year in Provence, that sabbatical from life so many of us began imagining with the publication of Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence, I began daydreaming about how I’d spend a year in the Pacific Northwest, writ large, if I could go anywhere within a day’s drive of Seattle. If I could learn about anything. If I could talk to anyone. And if about half the time, I could take my family with me.

This month, I started working on A Year Right Here: Essays on Food and Life in the Pacific Northwest, due out on bookshelves in (gulp!) the spring of 2017. And by “working on,” I really mean planning for, because at this point, my poor beleaguered calendar isn’t sure what hit it. I’ve signed up for a hunter’s safety course. I have a shellfishing license. I’ve sized my child for a wetsuit he may or may not permit me to put on, for a winter surfing trip also linked to a restaurant off the coast of Vancouver Island. I’ve planned a chicken coop for the backyard, which involved bribing ten friends into digging out iced-over waterlogged grass on a cold-for-Seattle January 1st, hauling flagstone til my fingers (literally) bled, and, tangentially, installing a fire pit where the grass had been. (You’re not the only one who has asked whether we plan on roasting old chickens in plain view of their former coopmates. We won’t.)

I don’t know how many wine corks I’ll collect over the course of the year, but I’ve started a bucket, right on top of the bookshelf. And on Saturday, we’ll make the long, winding, likely rainy drive up Vancouver Island from Victoria to Tofino, through the Douglas fir trees, to a crab shack whose supposed location I know only in relation to a Gas-n-Go, because it apparently has no address.

So it’s a new year, and for us, that means new adventures, right nearby. This year, Hogwash will be full of outtakes–everything from our upcoming surf lesson, slated to take place in 40-degree driving rain, to the meals I can’t write about in the book, to the sad stories, like the one I’ll inevitably face when I mark the anniversary of a barn-burning accident with two lovely cheesemakers near Yakima, WA.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to go anywhere. Just stay right here.*

If just talking about surfing in January makes you cold cold, head for the hot-and-sour soup recipe I made this week for some of the generous backyard diggers, as repayment for spending the first day of the year hoisting dirt up into rickety wheelbarrows and piling it into big mountains on our front lawn.

And just think: you won’t even have to pick up a shovel.

*Or follow me on Instagram (@jessthomson)

hot & sour soup

Fresh Fall Hot and Sour Soup (PDF)

This is not traditional Chinese hot-and-sour soup, but it was born close by. Down an easily forgotten staircase near City Fish—the Pike Place Market’s oldest fish shop—Pike Place Chinese Cuisine serves fantastic fare with an astounding view of the Sound. Start your market trip with a bowl of its pork-studded soup, then march upstairs to gather ingredients for this brightly hued vegetarian version, which has the same punch of white pepper and vinegar but uses fresh fall farmers’ market ingredients, such as mushrooms, kale, squash, and carrots.

Outside of chanterelle season, you can use all shiitake mushrooms.

Active time: 45 minutes
Makes 4 servings

3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 teaspoons dark sesame oil, divided
8 ounces tofu (about ½ package)
3 leaves lacinato (aka dinosaur) kale
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 carrots, peeled and shredded
½ delicata squash, seeded and shredded
¼ pound chanterelle mushrooms, rinsed, trimmed and thinly sliced
¼ pound shiitake mushrooms, rinsed, trimmed, and thinly sliced
6 cups vegetable or mushroom broth
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon white vinegar
½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 large egg, beaten

In a small bowl, blend the cornstarch, water, sugar, soy sauce, and 2 teaspoons of the sesame oil together with a fork until combined, and set aside.

Cut the tofu into ¼-inch batons and set aside. Cut the tough ribs out of the kale and slice the leaves horizontally into ¼-inch strips. Set aside.

Heat a wok or large soup pot over high heat. When hot, add the canola oil and the remaining teaspoon of sesame oil, then the carrots and squash. Cook for 1 minute, stirring, then add the kale and mushrooms. Sauté for 2 minutes, until the kale has wilted. Add the broth, then the tofu, and bring to a simmer. Stir the cornstarch mixture, add it to the soup, and bring the soup back to a simmer, stirring occasionally until it looks a bit thicker and almost glossy. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the vinegar and pepper, and taste for seasoning—you’ll probably want a bit more vinegar and/or pepper. Stir the mixture around in a circle once or twice, creating a gentle whirlpool. Stop stirring and drizzle the egg into the swirling liquid—it will cook upon contact in long, thin strings. Serve immediately.

*(c)2012 By Jess Thomson. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Pike Place Market Recipes by permission of Sasquatch Books.

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When we weren’t looking

Kimchi Cream Cheese Dip with Crudites

It’s been a whirlwind, this year. At the start, when we knew 2014 would bring surgeries and leg casting and umpteen hours of therapy for 5-year-old Graham (“FIVE AND A HALF,” he’d scream), I’ll admit I wasn’t excited. I just wanted it to be over.

But a few Friday nights ago, Graham walked right across the living room floor. In our house, with no physical therapist in sight. And then he walked around the first floor, in the little circle you can make when you leave the dining room to get something in the kitchen, but forget it’s really in the office, then somehow make it back to the dining room without losing your mind. And then he did it again, over and over, giggling uncontrollably. And then he fell with control, which was really the most significant thing. My husband and I danced around him the entire time, hands on sharp corners, ready for the inevitable crash. It never came. He just walked and walked, like it was a game, until he decided he was done. It was a game—a game he suddenly seemed to know he might someday win.

I wrote a friend with our holiday YouTube video recently, which chronicles how far Graham has come this year. She has a kiddo in a similar position with cerebral palsy, albeit much younger. “Tell me M will be able to pull to stand one day,” my friend pleaded. Her email exuded the same dangerous desperation I’ve felt so many times; waiting for the walking is wanting good strawberries in winter and healthy news from a doctor and the fat college envelope. But it’s all those feelings rolled into a bracing sweet-and-sour moment that pops up a thousand times a day, over and over, day after day. I said once that having a child with cerebral palsy isn’t disappointing, it’s disorienting, and that still holds true. But suddenly I’m much less dizzy. Suddenly, that persistent moment—the wanting moment—matters less and less.

It must have happened when we weren’t looking. Like fall does, when you’re busy looking at the things that happen in the fall, or, in my case, like a lupus flare does, when you’re busy doing the things you can do when you’re healthy.

Here’s a recipe that happens almost when you’re not looking, from Passionate Nutrition, which comes out next week. It’s not walking, but it’s still quite spiffy–a scoop of this and that, all whirled up into an easy dip that I package in small containers to tote around town for snacking when I’m on the go (think crackers, cucumbers, and carrots). It’s an intriguing thing to set out for guests, because few people associate kimchi with anything besides Korean food, and it’s also a great way to get a little dose of healthy bacteria into your body every day. And—the most shocking news of all—Graham likes it. On crackers, spread all the way to the corners, eaten off a cutting board that’s seen three generations of haphazard snacks.

Bring on the New Year, people. You never know what might happen. But at least you’ll know you’ll have a snack.

Crudites with Kimchi Cream Cheese Dip (PDF)

Not everyone likes kimchi straight, which is why when I help people start incorporating it into their diet, I often give it a little bit of a disguise. Blended into cream cheese, it makes a dip as addictive as the packaged soup mix dips of our youth. If you don’t have a food processor, just mash all the ingredients together with a fork. It won’t be as smooth, but it’s just as effective.

Since this travels well (and tastes great at room temperature), it’s a good go-to snack to leave in the fridge at work or bring on trips.

8 ounces cream cheese (cultured, if possible), at room temperature
1/2 cup unpasteurized kimchi (with juice)
1 teaspoon sea salt
Cut raw vegetables, such as cucumbers, carrots, celery, radishes, cauliflower, jicama, broccoli, or snap peas, for serving

In the work bowl of a food processor, pulse the cream cheese, kimchi, and salt until smooth. Serve with the vegetables or transfer to a sealable container and refrigerate for up to 2 months.

Change It Up:

Stir in 1 cup fresh crabmeat or drained, canned crabmeat. Transfer to a small baking dish, bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes, and serve as an appetizer at room temperature, topped with additional kimchi. (You’ll lose the dip’s original beneficial bacteria, but it tastes great.)

Add 1/2 cup cream and use as a dip for artichokes or a sauce for grilled chicken or salmon.

*(c)2014 By Jennifer Adler with Jess Thomson. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Passionate Nutrition: A Guide to Using Food as Medicine from a Nutritionist Who Healed Herself from the Insider Out by permission of Sasquatch Books.

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A new staple

Warm Quinoa and Radicchio Salad

If I could rewrite Thanksgiving tradition to include something a little more convenient and versatile than stuffing—a more colorful, more nutritious mixture of ingredients that really did stay perky overnight—it might look something like this fallish grain salad. Spiked with lemon and rounded with olive oil, it’s a colorful hodgepodge that comes together in about 20 minutes and passes as almost anything in my kitchen: as lunch on its own, as a bed for grilled tuna or roasted chicken, or as a nest for a poached egg in the morning. It’s wonderful warm, but equally delicious at room temperature, when the more subtle flavors of the parsley and pecans shine a bit brighter.

Of course, if this were served in place of stuffing at Thanksgiving, there would be gravy, and while this salad is many things, I don’t imagine it making friends well with gravy. Which is why someday soon, I will make both.

Warm Quinoa and Radicchio Salad with Pecans, Parsley, and Goat Cheese (PDF)

Note: You can toast the pecans on a baking sheet at 350 degrees F until sizzling and a shade darker, about 10 minutes, but in a rush I toast them by simply cooking them in the microwave for a minute or two.

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (preferably homemade)
1 cup raw quinoa (any color)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for seasoning
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Half of a medium (3/4-pound) head radicchio, chopped
Stripped zest and juice of 1 large lemon
1 cup toasted pecans
1 loosely packed cup Italian parsley leaves, roughly chopped
3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
Freshly ground pepper (optional)

In a small saucepan, bring the stock to a boil over high heat. Add the quinoa and 1/2 teaspoon salt, stir to blend, then reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, until the quinoa has absorbed all the liquid, 12 to 15 minutes, stirring just once or twice during cooking. Set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, then the chopped radicchio. Season the radicchio with salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, until the radicchio softens, about 5 minutes. Add the lemon zest and the juice of half the lemon and cook, stirring, for one minute more.

Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl or serving plate. Layer on the pecans, parsley, goat cheese, and cooked radicchio. Drizzle with the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, the juice of the remaining 1/2 lemon, and additional salt (and pepper, if desired) to taste, and toss all the ingredients together a few times. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The salad keeps well, covered in the refrigerator, up to 3 days.

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Filed under gluten-free, grains, leftovers, Lunch, recipe, recipes, salad, snack, vegetables, vegetarian

How it ends

IMG_1119

About a year ago, well before 7 a.m., I woke to the telltale click of the screen door being closed extremely carefully. We have a slammer of a screen that doesn’t fit its home squarely; the silent slam is a trick only the most well practiced guest can perform. I scrambled up the stairs, more curious than afraid. Half a pink salmon sat in a plastic shopping bag on the shoe bench just inside the door, right next to my XtraTufs. I picked it up, knowing one of our builders, Richie, had left it there for me. His wife had planned to fish that morning, and he knew I was jealous. “Hope you can use this,” said his note. I could still feel the warmth of his skin on the handles of the bag.

At the time, I was testing recipes for A Boat, a Whale, and a Walrus: Menus and Stories. Renee Erickson and Jim Henkens and I been tinkering with the smoked salmon recipe, and as I tested and retested, I relied on the builders to be occasional judges—of that salmon, and of the French-style apple cake, and of the braised pork shoulder I served to six or seven of the guys in that last week of remodeling. That final meal was a sort of congratulatory lunch that doubled, for me, as a way of testing a huge handful of recipes in one day and serving the food to a crowd piping hot at midday so it didn’t sag on the counter until dinnertime.

I’m not sure they realized then how closely I watched their faces as they ate, and how much I appreciated that salmon, and another guy’s homemade bacon, and that they somehow kept the water on at all the right times as they intentionally shattered and rebuilt the basement and all of its associated plumbing.

banana bread sliced

My hope, at the beginning, was to leave the builder a book and some banana bread as thanks. When the bananas had wilted sufficiently on the counter, I tweaked the book’s zucchini bread recipe to incorporate them. The zucchini bread, as it stands, is perfect. (I can brag like that because it’s not my own recipe: It’s perfect, people.) I like it for its spice, and for its fine texture, and for the fact that it uses olive oil, so you don’t have to wait for the butter to soften. But if you’re going to make a perfect banana bread out of a recipe for perfect zucchini bread, a few things about it need to change—the substitution of bananas for zucchini, for example. I gave it a bit more backbone with bread flour, omitted the lemon zest, and tinkered with the top. Ultimately, though, it’s just the same bread, all dressed up for fall. (Honestly, with the exception of my cousin’s killer homemade sugar pumpkin pie, I’ll take a pumpkin-seeded banana bread over pumpkin pie any day.)

It baked up big and beautiful, just like it does at The Whale Wins, so that when you cut it into slabs, it eats more like cake than like a breakfast bread. I carefully sliced part of it for us to keep for snacking, and wrapped the rest in foil for the contractor.

signed book 2

When I signed the book for the contractor to pick up and share with Richie, I suddenly felt like the process of writing this particular book came full circle. Perhaps strangely, it’s often not the book’s release or its appearance on store shelves that makes me feel like a project has grown proper wings. For me, a book’s real launch happens when I thank the people who helped me get ‘er done. When I mail a huge stack of books media rate to the book’s recipe testers, and send copies to my siblings, and bring what I’m starting to call The Big Blue to the coffee shop that offered me a seat for at least three quarters of the project’s writing. The book’s circle will close next week in New York, when I’ll give my last book to a tester coming to the event there on Monday night, and I’ll hug her in person and say thanks for the invisible hours she put into it, too. Only then, to me, will the book be finished.

Yesterday morning, as I twisted the doorknob to put the book and the bread on the bench on the porch, my husband announced that our cantankerous gas stove had shot up a plume of blue large enough to trigger the gates on the emergency stove-buying portion of our bank account. We’ll be getting a new unit (suggestions welcome!), which means we’ll have to saw away the two-inch granite apron securing the existing stove in place, which means we’ll need to call our contractor. I put the banana bread on the dining room table.

“Maybe I’ll just leave him the book,” I told Jim. “Otherwise it would be bribery, right?”

No, it was most certainly not appropriate to leave the contractor a book and banana bread before calling him in again. And, well, clearly I’ll need strength for stove shopping.

IMG_1096

Pumpkin-Seeded Banana Bread (PDF)

In the world of zucchini breads, Renee Erickson’s rules all. This banana bread, made by adapting the zucchini bread from The Whale Wins that appears in A Boat, a Whale, and a Walrus: Menus and Stories, has the same sweet, spiced background that makes the zucchini bread so addictive—plus a crunchy layer of shelled pumpkin seeds that, for me, act as a harbinger of deep fall. Note that at The Whale Wins, the zucchini bread is pan-roasted in butter and served with crème fraîche and sea salt. That’s not going to hurt this banana bread, either.

Use a good extra-virgin olive oil for this recipe; you’ll taste it in the final product.

Active time: 30 minutes
Makes one 9- by 5-inch loaf

Unsalted butter, for greasing the pan
2 cups (about 256 grams) bread flour, plus more for dusting the pan
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 very ripe bananas
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons demerara sugar
1/2 cup shelled pumpkin seeds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan, and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, ginger, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt, and set aside.

In another bowl, mash the bananas with a large fork until only pea-sized pieces of fruit remain. Whisk in the eggs and the vanilla. Add the olive oil in three stages, whisking it in until completely incorporated each time.

Gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until no white spots remain. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the top evenly first with the demerara sugar, then with the pumpkin seeds. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 70 to 80 minutes, or until a skewer inserted between seeds in the center of the loaf comes out clean. (It should rise right to the top of the pan.)

Cool the bread in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn it out onto a cooling rack and let cool completely before cutting into fat slabs.

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Filed under bread, Breakfast, Cakes, fruit, recipe

Balance

IMG_0639

“Balance isn’t something you just get,” said my favorite yoga instructor. She’s forever coming up with these isms that sound so obvious rolling off her tongue I feel silly for never having thought of them myself. “It’s something that comes and goes.” We’re crouched in eagle pose, one of flow yoga’s hallmark awkward balances, where the arms are completely intertwined at shoulder height and the standing leg gets all tied up by the free leg. There’s nothing elegant or agile or birdlike about it for most of us, but as our wobbles get smaller and the grunters stop grunting, we relax into relative calm. We are not eagles, we are warped, panting humans. But we are finally still. The teacher continues. “Balance is what comes when we let go of needing balance. When we normalize the fear of falling.” My mind reels. How can I not need balance when I’ve morphed into a human twist-tie? “Remember, falling is okay,” she promises. Good thing, I think.

To be honest, I didn’t really like that class on Saturday. There’s something about walking into a darkish yoga studio when it’s 75 degrees and sunny that feels inauthentic for me. But I did really like that toward the end of the class, Leisha focused on balance. Because her words, spoken and digested when I was really supposed to be not thinking at all, helped me process the fears and worries of my previous weeks.

See, we just started kindergarten. (I know: I’m not in kindergarten, my son is. But the process is certainly family-wide. Ask any new kindergarten mom; we’re all crying or screaming at our husbands or getting hit by our normally gentle children.) I wasn’t worried about Graham when he settled in for his first day. Sure, there were details–where he could put his new walking sticks, and how he’d get to the playground, and whether he’d need help in the bathroom, and why he seemed for forget, so suddenly, how to write his name–but ultimately, on the first day, I didn’t worry a bit about his safety or happiness. He stumbled off excitedly after his classmates, falling occasionally, oblivious to how the school’s well-intentioned mind–and heart-balancing slogan, Got Balance?, mocked him from the back of his school t-shirt as he tottered town the hallway.

The start of kindergarten was much more of a personal crisis for me. On the second day, the assistant head of school called us into her office. “This is going to be more difficult than we expected,” she admitted, eyes grave. She wanted to strategize about how to be patient with Graham’s slower pace without sacrificing the academic time the other kids deserve. My husband and I nodded, smiling, trying to strike the right chord between We told you so and Oh God, what happened? On the fourth day, she called us in again. They’d paired Graham with an intern every day that first week. We think it would probably be best to hire a movement aide for Graham. He’s a trooper, but traversing this school is just too exhausting for him and too time-consuming for the class.

Ultimately, it was the obvious choice. Having someone sweet and strong and kind and interested in Graham’s success dedicated to helping him would make kindergarten work not just for Graham, but for the whole class. But when we heard those words–the ones telling us that despite making huge leaps after a summer of huge efforts he still wasn’t going to hack functioning in a classroom full of typical kids without some serious help–we sagged. How could we tell them that we were thrilled with how fast he was moving? That Graham’s physical therapist said he’d never seen a kiddo adapt to forearm crutches so quickly and easily? That given what we’ve seen from Graham, we were sure the weeks to come would bring big improvements? We were pushed off balance. It felt like we were falling down, all of us together.

My friends didn’t seem to understand. “He’ll be fine,” they assured me. Of course he’ll be fine. Graham is nothing if not a trooper. We’ve found the best aide I could imagine, and Graham seems to understand that he now has permanent support. But he’s also clearly old enough to begin grasping that he needs extra help where other kids don’t, and that hurts a mom’s heart. It hurts like falling.

The question, for me, is whether (and when) I’ll be fine. Whether I’ll find the balance that now, in hindsight, we seemed to find so gracefully and easily within Graham’s preschool. Whether the aide will gain his own instinct with Graham, the way so many other parents and teachers have in the past. Whether every single one of the new kindergarten parents will eventually be able to look me in the eye (and when it will stop mattering to me what they think). Whether I’ll fall every time Graham does, and whether I’ll be able to stand back up as quickly–and with as much courage and as big a smile–as he does so many times every day.

These are the twist-tie days, when I feel like I’m falling almost all the time. Every morning now, I do a little yoga. It’s not the physical kind. (There’s not even any sweating, which is nice.) I just repeat my little mantra: It’s okay to fall.

Then I start a new day, hoping I can let go of needing balance at all. Knowing that someday, I’ll find it again.

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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?

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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.

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