Violets seem a little magical to me. Just a few days ago I looked around the yard, and there was no sign of them, though I knew it would be soon. Then I came home yesterday, glanced down, and low and behold, little purple buds peppered the landscape. A thick patch right outside the back porch door. Another cluster in the back of the yard, behind the garage. And yet more on the field next door which my neighbor graciously lets me and the girls use as our own. Continue reading »
It is said that we’re our own worst critics. I’ve always grappled with that thought. A healthy sense of self can only come with proper introspection. Seeking out our imperfections can be a fine line, though, and for me Mikey was always the one who helped balance the extreme standards to which I held myself. His belief and enthusiasm for my work was the wind my sail needed to keep going on, even when publishers and agents said I didn’t have the numbers needed to sign a book.
And then he died. My numbers soared. I wrote a book.
I learned a lot in that process. A lot. The most important takeaway was reaffirming what I already knew—I can’t put my heart into anything I don’t believe in 110%. I am incredibly proud of the work that went into Homemade with Love. I had a team of people who believed in me beyond the numbers. The book designer, Amanda Richmond, had a personal connection, having been a longtime reader here. She captured my essence so perfectly in the look and layout. The photographs, well, when I look at them, I see more than just food. I see myself in them, and I think that is something only a friend could’ve captured. Penny is my friend; she knew me, knew the importance of the story being told.
And then came the second book. I could tell early on, in fact after handing in the first draft of the first 40 pages, that something didn’t feel right. After a month of hard thinking, and trying to find a resolution that would satisfy both myself and my publisher, it became clear that the relationship had run its course. Better to leave on the high note with a beautiful book in hand.
My scheduled second book, a memoir, was one story that I couldn’t compromise on. I’m still living. My girls may one day read it. It’s about my life, and the only person capable of shaping that story is the person living it.
It left me in a quandry. How do I keep on doing what I love, and on my terms? Is it possible to straddle the line between the world of self-publishing, and traditional publishing, a toe in each one, to satisfy all the desires and needs I have as a writer? Just writing about this seems a bit taboo. What will other publishers think? We shall see. I’ve since signed with an incredible new agent, that makes me feel like Mikey’s in my corner again, cheering me on. Katherine has an energy, and excitement, for my work that is infectious, in the best of ways. Together we’re working on a proposal for a new cookbook that I know is one this world needs.
Before we met, and signed to work with each other, I had thrown all my energies into launching my own magazine-style journal. In a way, I think everything timed out perfectly. By time I met Katherine, my work on Simple Scratch Cooking: a homecook’s journal for making easy, everyday meals was well on its way to fruition. There was no turning back. I had to take this leap of faith on myself. Yesterday was the moment of truth. As I looked at the proofs, I decided to jump. I placed the first printing order, and made a “soft” announcement about it.
What followed has truly humbled me.The orders have been steadily flowing in, and I wonder if I’ll need to do a second printing. Could that really be possible? I felt a little guilty for not sharing it here first, but didn’t want to inundate all of you on my subscription list with too many emails. The first issue is in final production now, and will arrive at my house for packing and shipping around October 15th. Provided there are no delays with shipping, I’ll spend the 16th, the day that would’ve been our 10th wedding anniversary, stuffing, labeling, and sending out the first volume in what will be a quarterly journal filled with recipes, essays, and a peek at the memoir.
Before Michael passed away, I always imagined we’d have a celebration to renew our vows. It’s funny how the journal’s production schedule just so happened to work out like this. I suppose in a way the 16th will be a renewal of vows, a renewal of promises to myself, and a reminder that I need to keep believing in my own worth, and work, as strongly as he did.
Right now the journal is available for sale online only. If you know of a local store that might like to carry it, please feel free to put them in touch me with at firstname.lastname@example.org. I can discuss it further with them. Here’s the link to purchase it for yourself, and if you order before October 15th, I set up a special code to receive a 10% discount. Thank you. Thank you so very much for being the best readers ever.
Music Pairing: Roar by Katy Perry
***UPDATE: Thank you to everyone who has pre-ordered the journal. The demand was so incredible that the first printing has SOLD OUT. A second printing has been ordered. All magazine orders placed after 10/5/14 will be sent out the first week of November. Thank you for patience, support, and enthusiasm for this new venture.***
There’s so much I’ve been wanting to share since last week. I got through another anniversary—a big one. Last Thursday, just a week ago, I celebrated my 10th wedding anniversary. I feel like I should get a coin or chip to commemorate the milestone. I don’t mean to be glib, or gloss over it. On the contrary, it was a surreal day, especially with views like this one down the road from my house. I’m just having a bit of an off week at the moment. Pretty much every other person tells me it’s Mercury in Retrograde. I’m still not 100% clear on what that means, even though a few people have tried to explain it.
The girls and I went to see Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (did I really get that right without Googling the title?). I loved the movie, and wasn’t at all familiar with the books, though Isabella knew about them. I woke up Monday, and it seems since then my waking moments have been very Alexander-like. It started with Virginia’s backpack getting lost IN OUR HOUSE. How does that even happen? Then I left the house on a 35F day, drove 25 minutes to school only to realize Virginia didn’t wear a coat. Little insults to injury quickly piled up, and by 11:45am, I wanted to hide under my covers from fear of what else could possibly go wrong (Dear Gods: I am in no way tempting you. Really.)
Anyway, I’d been thinking of doing an apple recipe roundup since it’s ’tis the season. Mode Media, one of the ad networks I work with, gave its publishers a wide berth in choosing a theme this month—low and behold, apples were on the list! I was able to put them into a nice little slideshow for you all, and if you want more apple-centric ideas go visit Foodie.com.
I’ve got a few recipes I hope to share soon. Anyone in the mood for homemade bagels? Writing, recipe testing, and photography for the Winter Issue of Simple Scratch Cooking has been occupying much of my time, as well as a lot of volunteering at the girls’ school (I can’t say enough how much I LOVE this school). If you missed out on the print copies of Simple Scratch Cooking, I’m releasing a digital edition on 11/5, and you can pre-order it now by clicking here.
Disclosure: This slideshow has been sponsored by Mode Media. As always, the words and thoughts are my own.
Check out Favorite Apple Recipes
Lately, time has been a hungry monster, digesting every second of my days before I’ve had a chance to comprehend the passing hours. There are a few posts in my drafts, studded with snippets of recipes, and random thoughts trying to find a thread. Truth is even my journal writing has been a rambling of words, spilling from my mind to the pages of my powder blue notebook.
Two years ago, just before M passed away I started another blog, called Simple Scratch Cooking. I wanted a place to share recipes without the clutter of my personal life. I know, it sounds odd even writing that. I created this space for myself five years ago so I could write on my own terms. No deadlines, no schedules, no pressure except the self-imposed kind.
What I decide to share here is done so with a purpose, a selfish one at that. Perhaps this won’t come out right, but what I write here is more for me, than all of you. Can you understand what I mean in saying that? I don’t intend for it to come across as thankless. In fact, I feel incredibly grateful that so many of you have stayed with me on this journey, especially the last two years. The truth is, all my professional experience aside, publishers make decisions based on numbers and statistics these days. Homemade with Love was made possible because of the generous support, and interest, you’ve all shown in visiting me here.
A few days ago, something happened relating to the blog that has not sat well in my mind, and heart. Someone did not agree with my choice of words. They mistook something I said as coming off as being better than all of you. I’m not writing this in defense. In fact, that reader prompted me to do something I’ve been thinking about for a while. At the end of the day, this space is my space. I have no intentions of stopping what I do here, or how I do it. I question myself often as I press the publish button on every post.
This blog may be in the public realm, but the writing I do here is of the most personal kind. Crazy as it sounds, and I’ve said this in a few interviews during my book publicity, but each post I publish helps me free some space in a very crowded mind. A mind filled with a mish mosh of happiness, fear, love and loss. What I’ve been doing here the last two years is leaving a trail of breadcrumbs in a sense of my past, to help get me through the present, and into the future. I can only see that now as I reflect back.
I take no offense to people who fast forward past the post, and go straight to the recipes. My intention with every recipe I create is to make cooking easier, and enjoyable. What I am going to try and balance, though, is a reboot of Simple Scratch Cooking, so you have a place to go if you just want recipes without them being weaved into the personal aspects of my life.
I think this proverbial fork in the road is a win-win, provided I can manage it all. I get to keep writing what, and how, I want. Simultaneously, I get to follow my other passion, which is to continue showing people how easy it is to cook from scratch. Sometimes you might see a recipe on both sites, if it’s one that has a backstory connecting to something that’s inspired me in a more personal way. At some point, I might decide to give the design an overhaul, and maybe this will be a short-lived experiment, yet again. The second book manuscript is due next February, so this will be a delicate balance.
In the case of the blueberry kale smoothie recipe you see above, well, that one is going to live over at Simple Scratch Cooking. It was one of those “let’s clean out the vacation kitchen” recipes, but is sure to be on regular rotation when I get back home. So, go whip yourself up a smoothie, and let’s say cheers to moving forward, and new horizons.
Get the recipe for my blueberry kale smoothie here.
Music Pairing: Come Together by The Beatles
I bought a house. Upstate. In the country.
There are crazier things this city-slicker, born and bred Brooklyn gal could’ve done, but right now I’m drawing a blank. Towards the end of last year I started giving thought to buying a place I could plant some roots with the girls. Not necessarily a full-time, big-time move, but more a place we could recharge our batteries on a regular basis.
On my own, and with the girls, I’ve traveled a lot this past year. I watched pita bread being baked in an outdoor, clay oven in the mountains of Morocco. I had a snowball fight in Paris at midnight. I walked the snow-covered beaches of Normandy, listening to razor clam shells crackle under the heels of my boots. Continue reading »
I’ve written dozens of lines on this screen, and deleted them all, not knowing how to describe what I’m feeling. Being a tightrope walker sums it up a bit, at least the last few weeks. Don’t look down, that’s the key, right? Keep my eyes focused on the path ahead, and getting across to the other side.
But what is the other side of grief?
It is so hard to shed the cloak of being a widow. It’s a double-edged sword, not wanting to be identified as the girl who’s husband died, our story being interrupted so abruptly. And yet, when people start to see me as I am today, on my own, it saddens me. I have to remind myself they’ve not forgotten him; it’s just the natural progression of things. I’m just becoming comfortable with being seen as a single mother, even though that isn’t exactly how I feel. Yes, I do the daily job of parenting alone, but he is always in my heart, guiding me in the decisions I make for our family.
I am alone, but not really.
Until the memories start to fade…
and the sound of his laughter becomes a distant echo I struggle to remember.
It’s almost two years since that moment, and I’m still standing. I looked down at my boots the other day and realized they’ve strolled the streets of Paris, walked the beaches of Normandy strewn with razor clam shells and a thick layer of snow, and clocked many miles making my way up a mountain in Morocco.
Two years almost down; the rest of my life to go.
Oh dear May, your exit feels as abrupt as your entry. Time feels like a treadmill full speed ahead. Much as I try to keep up, I always seems to fall behind. In some ways it’s a good salve. One day you pluck your head from the fog and realize in just two months, it’ll be two years since a jagged gap was suddenly inserted into your life.
How did that happen? How is it I’ve managed to live almost two years since that moment? I suppose it’s resilience and determination. But mostly, it’s the fact that I learned very early that bad things happen to good people. Life is fickle, and the same day that brings immense joy and happiness can also wield deep heartache.
But still I keep going because deep down I do want to be happy. I’m an incredibly independent, headstrong woman, but oh did I love being part of a couple. Michael and I were about as opposite as two people could be. The fact that we spent almost 17 years together is often perplexing. As I read his journals, though, what I’m beginning to understand is we weathered all of our differences because we were both hopeless romantics deep down. We believed in love, longed for it, and intrinsically understood that love is a living, breathing thing that requires respect and care. Love is susceptible to the elements, and left unattended it will simply wither and die.
Having said this, what I’m about to admit next may seem contrary. Yesterday I resumed my weekly date nights with myself. My recent Paris trip reminded me that I need that weekly outlet to nourish my mind and soul. I’m not good when I’m forced into any one role 24/7. I never just identified as being a wife, mother, or even writer. Before I can be any of those, I need to first be Jennifer. She is the foundation upon which all those characters are built.
I’ve wandered far from my goal of sharing a few things that I’ve really been enjoying lately, so before I lose you all together, here it goes…
— I saw this on my recent date night…Before Midnight. I hate movie spoilers, so I won’t say anything more than if you loved the first two movies, you will not be disappointed in this last installment.
— I read Let’s Talk About Owls with Diabetes during my trip to Paris, and like every David Sedaris novel it was the perfect cure when laughter is on short supply.
—I started reading The Forgotten Gift: An Interrupted Novel a couple of moths ago, and only turned my attention away because it’s on my kindle. Sometimes, most times actually, I just want a real book to hold and read, to feel the pages turn between my fingers. Well, that’s a silly excuse once you start reading this compelling novel. The back story is it was written by a friend’s sister-in-law while she was dying of cancer. It’s a captivating story, and the proceeds go towards helping her son come to terms with the loss of his mother. Good news is it’s now available in paperback too. Definitely add this to your summer reading list.
—This video I captured while strolling through Paris.
—Of all the interviews I did for the book, this one is perhaps my favorite. After a month of being on the road, and doing dozens of radio, print and TV interviews, I finally felt like I hit my stride.
—These muffins Luisa wrote about recently. Once this heatwave breaks next week, I’m so making them.
—Spring and summer means the farmers’ market brings back some old friends…strawberries, asparagus, and peas, oh my! I’ve linked to a few of my favorite recipes, and here’s an oldie but goodie below to nudge you into the kitchen.
Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble
serves 8 to 10
For the Topping:
1 cup (125 grams) old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup (45 grams) toasted hazelnuts
1/4 cup (49 grams) coarse natural cane sugar (like Sugar in the Raw)
1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) fine sea salt
Leaves only from 3 sprigs of lemon thyme
Dash of ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) butter, melted
For the filling:
1 pint (10 ounces) strawberries, stems removed
4 stalks (12 ounces) rhubarb, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 tablespoon (10 grams) cornstarch
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated natural cane sugar
Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
To make the topping, add the oats, hazelnuts, coarse sugar, salt, lemon thyme and cinnamon to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until it forms a coarse, sandy mixture. Pour in the butter and pulse 3 to 4 more times until the mixture comes together into little clumps. Set bowl in the refrigerator to chill while you prepare the filling.
Cut the strawberries into quarters and place in a deep bowl. Add the rhubarb, sugar and cornstarch to the bowl. Using a spoon to stir together until well coated. Scrape fruit mixture into a 10-inch deep ceramic pie plate or 8-inch square glass baking dish.
Sprinkle the oat topping evenly over the fruit and bake for 35 minutes, until the juices bubble and the topping is a deep golden color. Remove from oven and let sit on a wire rack until cooled, about 2 hours. May be prepared and baked the night before—just cover the top with plastic wrap and let sit on the counter until ready to serve the next day.
Dairy-Free Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble
Omit the butter in the crumble topping. In its place, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and 2 tablespoons (30 ml) pure maple syrup.
I love a few generous spoons of this over thick, creamy yogurt, especially for breakfast when I’m feeling a little decadent.
The crumble is fine covered with plastic wrap overnight at room temperature. Anything longer than that, I suggest popping it into the fridge.
Seven years ago we planted a tree in our old yard. It was a Japanese maple, Michael’s favorite. Our marriage had hit a crisis point, and while we did the necessary work to put our relationship back on track, that tree served as a symbol of our love and strength. As Michael patted the soil around the base of the tree, beads of sweat slowly slipping from his forehead to his shoulders, he said “if this tree survives, then so will we”.
When I planned my move from the old apartment, I couldn’t imagine leaving that Japanese maple prey to a new owner’s like or dislikes. What if they decided to re-do the garden and toss the tree? My friend tracked down this organization that would find the tree a new home for a modest donation. Our Japanese maple was supposed to spend its days nestled among one of the city’s community gardens. They were going to tell us where exactly, so the girls and I could go visit it. See, having had him cremated (his wishes), we have no place to escape to, where we can deposit some of our feelings of loss. Not that it ever leaves you, it’s just that having a resting place allows loved ones to stop, reflect, yet remove themselves a little with each visit from the feeling of loss, if that makes any sense.
Right now, his ashes sit in a box next to my desk, a post-it note tacked to it that reads “JP don’t forget me”. Across the street from my current apartment, there’s a large pot with a little Japanese maple like the fledgling one we planted, and it sends a pang to my heart. Every time I see a Japanese maple like the one that used to enjoy a shady corner in my old backyard, my loss feels heightened. Is my tree thriving, or is struggling to survive? When the tree was first removed by the New York Restoration Project in the winter of 2012 it was placed in a greenhouse because they said spring was a better time to plant it. Last time I checked in, I was told the tree was moved to a community garden, and they would get back to us with the exact location. Follow up phone calls and emails went unanswered. I’m sure to them it’s just a tree, but to me it was so much more.
That Japanese maple was a symbol of our love, of our commitment to each other and the life we built together. I’m starting to come to peace with having lost track of the tree. It’s out there somewhere. I just can’t touch it, or feel it.
I can’t see it.
But its roots are buried deep within my heart forever.
Music Pairing: Roadmovies by Bettie Serveert
I’m not really sure where to start. See, this is my inherent problem. A million things always seem to be whirling in my mind, and I can’t keep up with them, let alone prioritize which ones to focus on. A couple of things suddenly became quite clear in the last 12 hours.
The less serious, and kind of funny one, was the realization that I was actually correct is saying “c’est fin” in my last post. As I made my way up the Metro stairs in search of caramels, a conversation Isabella and I had at dinner one night popped into my head. Saying “je suis fin” is the incorrect way of saying “I’m done”—that actually means you’re dead. “C’est fin” is akin to saying “that’s it”. It can be used interchangeably, depending on the inflection in your voice at the end of the sentence—either saying it with a period at the end, or with a questioning tone, as a waiter will often ask when he sees you’ve finished eating.
I know, this doesn’t seem significant. I mean, who hasn’t stumbled in a foreign language? For me, this was a bit of a revelation. One of those lightbulb moments, where you say “aha!” to yourself. I knew all along the correct phrase to say, and doubted myself the rest of the day, feeling foolish, as if I’d made some colossal mistake. I profess that mistakes are a part of life, both to my children, and to the crowds of people that came out to support me the last six weeks. Like many others, though, I’m good at doling out wisdom, but not always capable of applying it to my own situation. Continue reading »