The air above the stove is hot and thick with the scent of cumin and fish sauce. The wooden floor feels cool against my bare feet, which are sticky and rubbed red from wandering the city streets in sneakers and no socks (I know! Not wise. It was the consequence of rushing out the door. I also wore a tank top all day printed with the words tacos + tequila so clearly today wasn't tops, sartorially speaking). Wednesday is an unpredictable day. On this one, too many cherries were consumed (I can't learn my lesson here). I drank a decent amount of coconut seltzer and ginger kombucha. My skin stings with sunburn.
I'm making a Vietnamese-inspired steak stir-fry. He is sitting on the couch, in a red t-shirt and boxers. His hair is damp from the shower and he's telling me about a documentary he wants to watch soon. It's called Icarus, he says. I tell him that the name reminds me of a poem I read recently by Jack Gilbert. The final line stuck with me, because I like how it repositions a traditionally negative event (in Gilbert's case: his divorce) as something constructive. The poem goes:
Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.
I like those last lines. Maybe we aren't always failing when we fall, but perhaps coming to the end of a triumph.
I hand him a plate: a fluffy pile of white jasmine rice—steaming with that distinctively comforting and nutty scent that just-cooked rice has—topped with stir-fry. Slices of steak, crisp and browned on the edges. Vibrant red bell peppers coated in a sheen of sesame oil. Slivers of carrots. Summer squash, yellowed and spiced with curry powder. A splash of fish sauce. All of it laced with the heat of a spoonful of sambal oelek (a southeast Asian chili paste that is a little kickier than sriracha) and brightened up with a squeeze of lime juice and a handful of fresh cilantro.
Two wine glasses sit on the table: one filled with a lightly effervescent vinho verde and one with a lemon-y, mint-y vodka cocktail topped with sparkling wine. (Guess which is which!)
After steak, there are cookies. The washing machine hums in the background, increasing in noise until it reaches a deep thumping thrum as the spin cycle ends. Outside is dark and quiet. Now and again, a cab drives down our block. I'm wearing my oldest sweatshirt, the pale blue one that's faded and ripped at the edges of the sleeves. I'm thinking about bed: the crisp sheets, the cool room, the new book waiting on my bedside table.
Are ordinary days meant to feel this delicious? The end of the day always thrills me in its quietness, its gentleness compared to the rush of the morning and heat of the afternoon. I wish to always appreciate it this much: life—its simple ebb and flow—its very existence.
Not that every day feels this good! Or even this calm. It's hard to imagine on a good day but I make myself consider this: I know days ahead, probably one soon, will feel bad, or frustrating, or off-kilter. I know this as surely as I know the sun will rise tomorrow.
This is all the more reason to soak up today. And to remember that cookies taste just as nice on good days as bad ones.
Note: I've become mildly obsessed with soft-batch cookies. We never had them in our house when we were growing up—but I loved them with a ferocity unbecoming to a lady of age 8. I'd sneak them from friends' pantries when I was at their houses, or from the snack table after soccer games, or save up quarters to buy the pre-packaged Grandma's brand chocolate chip ones from the vending machine in high school. The store-bought ones have that deliciously addictive soft chewiness but also an unpleasant taste of preservatives. Making your own at home is the perfect solution. This sprinkles-strewn recipe is a great one, but you can leave the sprinkles out for a plain sugar cookie version. I've been playing around with cookie butter-flavored ones, a chocolate chip version, and more. Stay tuned!
Soft + Chewy Funfetti Cookies
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
3 teaspoons cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoo salt
1 cup rainbow sprinkles
Cream together the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy (about 3 minutes at least in a stand mixer).
Add the egg and vanilla and beat for another 2 minutes, at least. You can't overdo this step! The mixture should look very pale in color.
Add the flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt and mix until just combined. Do not overmix here.
Fold in the sprinkles with a spatula.
Using a large cookie scoop (an ice cream scoop works well), scoop balls of dough (about 2" wide each) onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Leave a few inches between each as they will spread.
Freeze the sheets of dough balls for at least 20 minutes, or refrigerate them for a least 1 hour. Don't skip this step!
When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the cookies for about 10-12 minutes. They should be barely golden brown around the edges and will look and feel very underbaked (but I mean hello, we all eat raw cookie dough so what's an underbaked cookie between friends). You can bake them for longer but they won't have that nice chewiness.