I’m getting a lot of good advice these days. I think I unconsciously asked the universe for a wee bit of perspective and the good ideas are flowing in. I checked in on the new Tim Byres website. He’s the chef behind Dallas’ SMOKE restaurant. I was just poking on the internet between bouts of mild-first-world-crisis and puppy pee. And there it was in plain form: “You don’t have to take yourself so seriously.” That is an excellent start to any bout of introspection.
Yesterday morning, after having to go three rounds with my conscience over whatever, and how I handled this-and-that, and what to do about such-and-such comes an email announcement from one of my favorite art photographers, Josie Iselin. Quoting a painter, she was writing about reminding herself to “tolerate chaos” and “attempt what is not certain” in her photography.
Again, all my problems are good ones, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t spend a lot of time worrying…about everything, especially where my children are concerned.
I wrote her an email to just say thank you. I explained that although she was talking about art, I had applied it to a child rearing worry, and it had righted my ship of perspective. She responded that she had always believed that the art making guidance of several of her favorite masters was completely applicable to parenting. It is messy, gut-wrenching, creative, and inspiring all at the same time.
I would add to the list of good insights that you cannot cause people see with your eyes. You cannot make them see what you see or know what you know, but you can try to describe it in a fashion that does not completely alienate them before you get near the result that you are seeking. That is my random thought for the day.
There she stood in all her school-girl splendor, all dressed for school in her uniform and leather shoes. Lily was out in the yard with an umbrella over her head, just enjoying the rare treat of standing in the rain with an umbrella, because in case you don’t remember, it is fun and wonderful.
What was my first impulse? “Get your little butt out of the rain in those leather shoes. We are about to leave for school. You are going to be a mess.” The Mack truck of reality, structure and school crashed into her VW bus of joy. I think we all have those two sides. We glory, at least theoretically, in the poetry of life. We dream of standing in the rain. If we are a child, we might actually do it. And then the alarm goes off, the dog pees on the floor, and for some reason the living room smells like a fish died…and the poetry is poof.
At least I told her as she walked through the door, happy with herself that she had gotten out there before I noticed, that I too, once…a hundred and fifty years ago…loved to stand in the rain with an umbrella. That made her happy.
What does this have to do with food? Nothing and everything. Nothing, in that all my free cooking time has been spent slaying real and imaginary dragons (and going to lunch with old friends…I can admit to a fair amount of goofing off, too). But I mourn that I haven’t had meditative kitchen time, because in so many ways cooking is so elemental and it grounds me. A yoga instructor tells you to feel your feet connected to the mat, or someone tells you to take a moment and…breathe! I stick my hands in a bowl of flour and butter and feel the silky texture of the ground and sifted grain, and the cold slick butter, and it does the exact same thing. So when I’m not cooking a little bit, I’m a little bit disconnected. Does that make sense? I hope so. Cooking grounds me and attaches me to my family and my home and to the essential truth that at the end of every day we are all nourished, we are all together and it is all OK.
But, a little something sweet goes a long way. So, given a small ray of sunshine called “an hour,” I found a way to cook a moment of joy. I had two beautiful nectarines, I used some of that “I’ll never use this in real life” math and I figured out how to make just enough crust to top two ramekins. Truly, fifteen minutes later I had these beautiful little pies in the oven. Oh, they don’t really get to be called pies. They lack the required simple grandeur of complete two-crust, three-hour pies, but they contain all of the heart, and fruit, and wheat, and sugar that I needed to re-connect to that which makes me so happy…my home and family.
We all had a few bites and we all smiled. These are good for you. No, not in that way. But they are good for you. Taking a moment…putting your hands in the flour, standing in the rain, meditating, eating a bite of something delicious, creating art…cooking up life thoughtfully…it is good for you. So even if life is a little crazy, make time…even just a little time…to do something elemental, something that brings the world to heel for just a moment. Tolerate chaos, attempt something with an uncertain result, and don’t take yourself too seriously.
½ cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in small chunks
Pinch of salt
1½ tablespoons cold water
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
Pinch of cinnamon
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, grated
1 egg white
1 tablespoon water
Pinch of granulated sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. To prepare the crust, place the flour, butter and salt in a small bowl. Work the butter into the flour with your fingers using a pinching sort of motion. Work quickly and stop when the flour and butter chunks are the size of small peas. Sprinkle with the cold water and toss the flour and water together until it is uniformly moistened. Form the dough into a ball, adding water by the teaspoon if needed. The less water the better. Place it in plastic wrap and smash it into a disk shape and place it in the refrigerator while you prepare the nectarines.
3. Cut the nectarines in half and remove the pits. Cut the fruit into chunks. Place it in a small bowl and toss with the sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Divide the fruit between two ramekins (approximately 1 cup capacity, each). Top with grated cold butter.
4. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. On a floured surface roll it out in an oblong shape. Choose a glass or cookie cutter that is roughly the same size as the ramekin. Cut two circles out of the dough. Place the dough on the ramekins. Slice a few vents in the top of the dough. Mix the egg white with the water and brush the tops of the dough. Sprinkle the dough with a pinch of granulated sugar.
5. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 and continue to bake until the tops are golden and the fruit is softened, approximately 30 additional minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Serve with vanilla ice cream.
Yesterday I wrote this, tongue in cheek of course, to a friend. I thought it was hilarious. You might just think I’ve dropped my basket.
“Alas…I shall just rise to the challenge and continue to champion my boy (somehow without being a helicopter parent or denying him the benefit of learning through mistakes), simultaneously protecting his fragile self-esteem, but also ensuring that his self-esteem is based on achievement and not a doting parent’s inflated sense of superiority…all while keeping the house impeccably clean, and being a size two. I would very much, please, like a Valium and a nap, now!”
Perhaps this can be the opening line to my new book called Dallas Private, an exposé of a deep dark conspiracy to make perfectly capable college and graduate school educated women feel stupid in every way by marginalizing their educations in favor of a constant barrage of messaging about inadequacy, and improper nourishment of the bodies and minds of children. Chapters to include: 1) Planning your pregnancies to coincide with private school admissions calendars to give your egg the best chance of becoming a well educated child; 2) I can’t believe you had an epidural; 3) Who brought this evil Styrofoam cup? 4) What happens when you give a 10- year-old an i-Phone with a video camera; 5) Boyhood and the DSM-V; and 6) Perhaps if I wear yoga pants, people will think I exercise.
This is probably not a good idea. And I am completely joking. I swear.