A few things I love lately are surprising, and others wholly unsurprising. I hope they brighten up your October in some unexpected way. I hope something here makes you smile, or feel a pang of the good kind of nostalgia, or gives you a little shiver of comfort. The sort of comfort that makes you sink into yourself: The same sort of sensation you get when it's chilly outside and you wrap your sweater tighter around yourself, or when you're cold and you step into a warm storefront, or when you smell the aroma of garlic and olive oil cooking on the stove.
I've always been a Mary Oliver fan (you probably know this by now if you've spent any time here). I'll think I've read everything of hers I can get my hands on (I consume her poetry the way the 8-year-old me consumed ill-gotten sleeves of Oreo cookies: voraciously), and then something new turns up. Today brought me this poem, with which I just want to sit silently and mouth the words, over and over again:
Coming Home by Mary Oliver
When we’re driving, in the dark,
on the long road
to Provincetown, which lies empty
for miles, when we’re weary,
when the buildings
and the scrub pines lose
their familiar look,
I imagine us rising
from the speeding car,
I imagine us seeing
everything from another place — the top
of one of the pale dunes
or the deep and nameless
fields of the sea —
and what we see is the world
that cannot cherish us
but which we cherish,
and what we see is our life
moving like that,
along the dark edges
of everything — the headlights
sweeping the blackness —
believing in a thousand
fragile and unprovable things,
looking out for sorrow,
slowing down for happiness,
making all the right turns
right down to the thumping
barriers to the sea,
the swirling waves,
the narrow streets, the houses,
the past, the future,
the doorway that belongs
to you and me.
As an avid reader, I tore through books growing up. I was, and remain, a fairly equal-opportunity book lover. I won't turn up my nose at a solid beach read, and any story that can pull me in is worth my time. That being said, I can't articulate enough how much I relish the sensation of reading a book that fully consumes me. You know the kind, where you're completely transported to a different world, and you carry the characters around with you.
These books all stand out to me. I remember reading "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand during my first real post-college job in New York. I'd take it on the subway with me, and when I got to my stop at Times Square, I'd slowly make my way onto the platform, up the stairs, through the throngs of commuters, and through the turnstiles in my huge office building, all while holding the book open in front of me and barely glancing up. I couldn't put it down!
It's not just the big, important, critically acclaimed books that get me that way. Recently I read "Standard Deviation" by Katherine Heiny and the main character felt so real to me I almost had the inclination to whip out my phone and text her about funny moments in my day.
Very well-written fantasy/magical realism/science fiction has always captivated me since I was little. I've read Harry Potter more times than I can count, and I love each sentence more each time around. As an adult, I still savor curling up with books like "Howl's Moving Castle", and tucking my feet under me on the couch while absentmindedly munching on a plate of cookies and disappearing into a world of magic.
This is all to say that I've made such a discovery! Sorry if I'm the last person to know this, but I just started reading "Greenglass House" by Kate Mitford and it is endlessly comforting. It's a mystery, but with none of the horrid and scary badness that most adults consume these days on television or in movies. It's the sort of mystery that keeps you turning pages. The main character is a boy named Milo, whose parents run an inn, and it all takes place amidst a deep snowy winter backdrop with fascinating characters as the inn guests. Milo's parents are always bustling about lighting a fire and making him pancakes doused in maple syrup or putting down mugs of hot chocolate in front of him with encouraging words. I just want to escape into each page.
To be clear: The book is aimed at children. I am thirty years old. But if you're anything like me, you'll think about it all day and race home to climb into bed after dinner and open up to your bookmark.
Today I let myself read a little bit during the low hours of the afternoon. I took a short break from work, and biked to the big expansive lawn in Central Park. I brought a cold can of mango-flavored La Croix seltzer and a perfectly ripe D'Anjou pear. I read a chapter, then two. Stop reading! I scolded myself. I read one more chapter, then made myself get up.
I wandered home slowly. As dusk fell, I started on dinner. The Alabama Shakes Pandora station played in the background as I tossed together a salad of:
a big bowl of baby arugula
minced rind of preserved lemon
a handful of golden raisins
roughly chopped cilantro
chopped toasted almonds
dressing of tahini whisked with lemon juice and olive oil
In a large skillet, I cooked carrots (peeled and chopped into 2" chunks) in olive oil with salt and pepper and a generous spoonful of baharat spice. When the carrots were browned and golden (this takes about 10 minutes over medium-high heat), I added them to the bowl of salad and tossed it all together so the greens wilted slightly.
In the same pan (I don't bother wiping it out, and you shouldn't either), I added a bit more olive oil and enough ground lamb for two people (in our household, that is a lot of lamb). I sprinkled some salt, pepper, cumin, and smoked paprika over it and cooked it until it was browned. I like it to get some real crispiness; it helps to constantly break up the meat with a spatula while it cooks, so the pieces get smaller and smaller and turn a bit crispy on the edges.
I spooned the cooked lamb over the salad and stirred it all together with a fork.
POP! went the welcome sound of opening a bottle of Prosecco, which I poured generously into a glass and then added a hefty (one...two...) splash of cassis.
In the oven, spiced maple sugar cookies are baking. This recipe is stellar; I'll write it up here soon. The cookies are kind of like a cross between snickerdoodles and sugar cookies, but I used Vermont Creamery's cultured butter with maple and sea salt, so they have a nice depth of flavor.
In the interim, here's another fantastic cookie recipe for you to add to your baking back pocket list. When I make cookies (of any sort, unless it's a "slice and bake" dough), I like to scoop the dough out onto a cookie sheet, then transfer the dough balls (once frozen) to a plastic ziplock bag and keep them in the freezer. They take up very little room, and allow you to bake a single cookie at a time if you have an individual dessert craving, or a batch when you need warm, just-baked cookies, or the frozen dough makes an excellent dessert on its own. My better half has been known to request "dough balls, please, 3 of them" for dessert even when there are baked cookies in the house.
Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
12 ounces chopped semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup cacao nibs (optional, for crunch!)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and salt and mix. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat after each addition until smooth and fluffy.
Add the flour and baking soda and beat until just combined, scraping down the bowl as you go. Fold in the chocolate chips and cacao nibs (if using).
Drop the batter by big spoonfuls (I used a tablespoon cookie scoop) onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Leave at least 2 inches between the cookies as they will spread a bit.
Bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown on the edges. Let cool on the sheet until firm enough to transfer to a cooling rack.