Into the fire

caramelize

Last night over Indian food, I was telling my friend Anna about everything going on in my life and Jeff’s life, and I used the phrase, “out of the frying pan and into the fire” to describe why I feel cautious about analyzing all of life’s options and vetting them on a sort of Scoville scale lest I get burned.

Anna didn’t know what I meant. Jeff theorized later that maybe this is a Southern phrase, a theory that seems reasonable given the frying pan. But regardless of where it came from, I’ve heard myself say it over and over again lately, almost like a manta against rash thinking. Out of the frying pan and into the fire−it creeps into every “catching up” chat I have over coffee or cocktails in the same way the recently bereaved must find themselves saying “one foot in front of the other” or “we’re getting by.” So I explained myself to Anna: this fear of moving from peril to peril, blind to danger because of the impulse for escape.

“But you would just caramelize so beautifully and so fast,” Anna said.

And there it was. She hadn’t missed a beat, and the immediacy of her reply gave it weight in my heart: It was all so simple. So there’s fire−so what? I jump again, I caramelize, I transform into the best possible version of myself. That’s not an easy thing, but it is another possible outcome, an alternative that gives me power over my own narrative again.

Earlier this week, I saved the following quote:
Our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers. − M. Scott Peck, American psychiatrist

I’ve always believed in the truth of this idea−I’ve even written about it before−but clearly I needed to hear it again, in food terms I could understand.

Happy caramelizing, friends!

Street Finds: What tree?

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20th and 7th Ave., Brooklyn. 

 

There is just so much:

1) What tree? Was there once a tree or seed taped here? Does its absence mean that someone is, right now, trying to grow a giant sequoia in their Brooklyn apartment?

2) A giant sequoia?!

3) “Grow This Tree Alive!”

4) No instruction manuals, only a reminder that the internet exists.

5) I want that pigeon sticker.

 

In other news, last week I watched a tiny girl and her father tape a folded piece of paper to the side of my building that said “Noah” in crayon. There appeared to be writing on the inside on the folded page, but I resisted the urge to look. It was there for several days before it blew away. This world is full of mysteries.

Ellie on things: Her own bed

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Ellie’s birthday was a bit of a bummer this year. I planned on taking her to the park first thing in the morning, but it was raining and it kept raining all day. Rain is Ellie’s Kryptonite. I was also super busy at work, so I didn’t have time to create her annual birthday post, which is always an ode to her great talent for comfort. (See here and here.)

This year I thought I would feature photos of Ellie in her dog bed. Here’s the sad thing: Until about 18 months ago, Ellie didn’t have her own dog bed at all. My reasoning for this, which I still stand by, was that Ellie is allowed on ALL of the furniture and makes liberal use of it, as evidenced by the previous birthday posts. I didn’t see the need for her to have access to more furniture than we did or to have another thing taking up floor space. However it has been apparent for several years that she is a big fan of the cheap little dog bed we keep in her crate (the striped one above), which we actually bought for a foster dog years ago. So I finally broke down and bought her a bed of her own, then a second one to keep upstairs where I work. She loves them. She loves them so much that I feel like a jerk. Then I feel stupid for feeling like a jerk.

By the way, I’m pretty sure that in that last photo she’s watching for Jeff to come home. She’s a pretty good time keeper.

 

My best meal in France

Hailey and I had a simple goal for our 48 hours in Paris: Walk around and eat stuff. To some extent, that’s exactly what we did (we certainly walked around), but we ran into a few challenges when it came to eating stuff. 1) We had limited time, so we felt like we had to make every bite count, which led to paralyzing indecision. 2) We went without a plan for any specific meals or restaurants. 3) More money would have helped. 4) Restaurants and shops closed much earlier than we were expecting, especially in quiet Montmartre where our Air B&B apartment was.

But we did have good food. Here’s the story of our best meal in Paris.

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IMG_36571) First, we drank wine. About an hour earlier, after spending  eight hours walking all over the city, we completely ran out of steam in the tunnel under the Arc De Triomphe. Cold and tired, we stayed there, under one of the most famous monuments in the world, for a loooong time.  A long time, friends. We didn’t know where to go next, and, more to the point, we didn’t know where to eat. We decided to go back to Montmartre to retrieve warmer clothing and, hopefully, find something like a pastry shop where we could buy fabulous, wonderful things to take back to our apartment. On our way home, we bought wine. And we drank some. I think this informs what comes next.

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2) I love foreign grocery stores. I like seeing the eggs and milk on the dry goods shelf and the yogurt in glass cups.* Sure, I love seeing farmers’ markets and anywhere people buy food, but I have a special love for grocery stores. I like to see where people shop when it is late and they are out of other options, which is exactly the situation we found ourselves in. For about two seconds, I was sad that one of my three dinners in France would be from the equivalent of a bodega, then I got really excited. When I made it to the canned goods aisle and saw they had cassoulet with confit de canard (duck! confit! cassoulet! FANCY!), I could hardly contain myself.

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3) This was our haul: ratatouille provencale, cassoulet de castelnaudary au confit de canard du sud-ouest, bread, wine and strawberries. And yogurt, bananas and hazelnut cream for the next morning. This is the most proud I’ve ever been of canned goods I didn’t can myself. THEN, I opened the cassoulet and saw the duck legs were still on the bone. They canned the bones, ya’ll! But I guess you can do anything in France. Or with access to a pressure cooker. Best of all, it smelled good. Any doubts I had disappeared, and I went to take a quick shower while Hailey heated everything on the tiny stovetop.

4) From the moment we got to the apartment, I realized that the tiny shower had a little window that overlooked the kitchen, presumably so the otherwise interior space could enjoy a little light. Somehow, Hailey had NOT noticed the window. So when, a few minutes into my shower, I opened the window to chat with her while she was cooking, she completely LOST it. When she handed me the pan of duck legs and beans to demonstrate that one could conceivably cook while showering, well, neither of us could contain ourselves. I think it’s the hardest I’ve laughed all year. In other circumstances, it might have been a “laughed so hard we peed our pants” moment, but I, at least, wasn’t wearing any pants.

IMG_1916IMG_19185) Then we ate. And it was good—very good.

 

I’ve been thinking about this since March and pondering a few things:

1) Do normal French people ever eat canned cassoulet and ratatouille? If so, who and when? Under what circumstance?

2) This is why I love Air B&B. We would never have had this experience in a hotel because 1) we probably wouldn’t have been in a regular neighborhood with grocery stores for regular people; 2) we wouldn’t have had anywhere to cook food; 3) hotels don’t have windows in their showers.

3) As with my other most memorable meals (the naked spaghetti incident at my grandmother’s house; my first sangria experience in Spain; etc.), the quality of the food was inconsequential, almost an afterthought.  I attended a panel discussion a couple years ago at the International Culinary Center in which a researcher explained that, despite having consumed plenty of food, a French person might say, “I haven’t eaten all day” if the food she ate wasn’t shared with others, at a table, most likely with wine. It is by that standard that I deem this meal the best of the trip, by far.

 

* Don’t let me or anyone else tell you that the French have everything figured out. See that dairy shelf? That’s some kind of KitKat pudding cup there on the far left. They aren’t so perfect, those French. Or maybe they are—I like KitKats.