The dying lawn has received its annual farewell with a confetti of fallen red and gold leaves. Our quiet street outside my kitchen window is slick with intermittent drizzle. The sky is a muted white, a complete cloud covering above–the underpainting for stark brown lines of trees. A skeleton sits in a shallow grave on our front lawn. Fun-sized chocolate candies are scattered among the house. It must be Halloween.

No where to go this Sunday. No place to rush off to. We stay inside while our bodies and minds are allowed the space they need (following a very busy summer into early fall schedule) to settle and restore; to quiet down.

Last January I submitted my last post to Madison Magazine, completing the end of my contract. For the first time in three years, I did not renew.  With the exception of continuing my daily journal-writing practice, I promised myself I wouldn’t write for several months. I had decided that I was constantly putting my words out, leaving little time for replenishment. Instead I read novels and put the cookbooks down. I read less of the New York Times Food section and more of the Science Times. I purged my cookbooks and sold what no longer suited me. I cleaned the house. We had a yard sale offering what we had outgrown.

I had coffee with friends without looking for a story about the shop. I let my subscription to Bon Appetit magazine run out. And I cooked plain food for my family–mostly without recipes and mostly from what we had on hand in the freezer or pantry.

I worked my shifts at the bakery and simply did the work that was in front of me, without stressing over deadlines or questioning what it was I was doing with my life (Ok, at first I did do a little of that). But mostly I just trusted myself and waited patiently for my hunger to return.

And now I am feeling hungry; for food I make with my own two hands in my home kitchen for my family and friends. I am hungry for the family table, for a little more slow-down time–for glowing candles and a wreath of pine, birch, acorns. For the scent of cider warming on the stove with cinnamon, nutmeg and orange peel. For apple cakes and beef stew.






All the little (dolce) things

Things are different now. The kids are getting older and don’t need me to remind them to shower, eat or even when to go to bed. The husband and I are still running them each to his and her activities: sports, music, a friend’s house. He and I see each other some days only in passing through this house, to drop off a bass, a baseball bag, soccer gear before making the next practice or game.

I gently ease my way out of this house before dawn, not unlike a cat burglar most mornings to make it in time for the opening shift of the cafe on the east side. I wash the floors and the toilets, put on the coffee, set out the pastries and switch on the open sign by 6:30. I note to myself that the kids and the husband are just now rising. The night before these shifts my bedtime is that of a well-scheduled toddler’s. I’m bathed and asleep most nights before 9 leaving the husband on the couch to watch a week’s worth of TV he’s DVR’d for us.

Auggie, our oldest, is about to become a licensed driver and is looking to have a summer job. Fritz and Harriet are still kids. All three now do their own laundry. And that, my friends, is going well. Except now there is chewing gum stuck to the inside of the dryer that the husband has been prying off for the past two days. I have since banned all gum from this house.

I am baking and cooking on my days off. I’ve recently purchased Dolce Italiano–Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen, a cookbook by the late Gina DePalma. I’ve made her baci di cioccolato (chocolate kisses) and pane di pasqua (Easter bread). In the past and not from this book, I’ve made her sausage and swiss chard soup, and her fig and walnut biscotti which I blogged about last year https://thelittleblueapron.com/2017/01/25/fig-walnut-biscotti/.

Her recipes bring me home to my Italian-American roots–to the family table. To a way of cooking and eating that I understand and know in my bones. Seasonal ingredients prepared simply by hard-working, thick hands. Nothing fancy, only good and made with passion, love and dedication to one’s family.

Whenever I feel lost or unsure of who I am, who I’ve become, I only have to go to my kitchen and I’m there with the women in my family wisely telling me to sit down and have a little something to eat. And asking “When’s the last time you went to the bathroom?” And when I reluctantly tell them, they say “Really? No wonder you have such problems. Go… try and go…you’ll feel better.”

And just when I think they’re all crazy–the problems of the world cannot be solved by a trip to the bathroom. I feel better and think maybe they’re on to something after all.