Every year without fail, our lives look entirely different than they did the year before. At this time 12 months ago I was flying across the country with a wild-haired, newly-minted 3-year-old who was mostly amenable though always hungry and unpredictable. If a stranger complimented her curls she was liable to shout “No!”, or worse, “Dutch!” and hide beneath me for an hour. It’s like why they tell you not to keep a monkey as a pet. They are mostly charming and adorable but can, when the mood strikes, totally rip your face off. And there too was 6-month-old Mina, a dollface baby who had an epic screaming meltdown somewhere over Chicago. Both she and Violet lost their minds for an excruciating 15 minutes then fell asleep ’till landing, Mina attached to my exposed body and Violet on the floor under her seat.
When Malcolm arrived with our Jeep five hazy days later, we moved into a small house in Rockland, very snug, with high hopes and woolen socks. But that didn’t last and so we moved way out to the end of a peninsula. I always wanted to live in a white farmhouse with a wraparound porch. This one sits slightly elevated on a hill and looks like it knows it will outlast us all and will allow us to stay for a while. It is creaky and drafty, with an attic full of spooky, pall-covered furniture and an extended family of squirrels. I can see the ocean from my bedroom window and every day we drive past coves now half frozen, sometimes deer and foxes and the occasional eagle scoring a fish, taking his prey mid air. It’s quiet. The air is sweet and salty and I’ve never seen so many stars. In August we crouched down in the field where the paved road turns to dirt and picked tiny wild blueberries. There were late summer and fall apples on trees up and down the road, some small and mealy but one tree stood alone in a field and bore golden fruit, which we stole without consequence. We have neighbors who share their garden bounty and we sat outside watching fireflies until the past the children’s bedtime and shooting stars with friends after ten.
Violet has grown into a girl here, tall and whip smart and one of us. Mina is now a hilarious, independent, snaggle-tooth 1-year-old. She had her first birthday in the yard with confetti and lemonade and a blueberry cake. In many ways it’s a magical place for raising wild girls who build fairy houses under trees and look for worms after the rain and gather pine cones and unusual rocks and have hot chocolate picnics on a bed pine needles and follow turkey tracks in the fresh snow. The quiet doesn’t trouble me though the distance to town can bring waves of anxiety. Other days the ride is a long exhale sung to the tune of pop songs. I can breathe out here, unlike in New York where there were too many bodies and Yucatan where I often felt an end of the Earth vertigo.
Violet still talks about adventures small and large from our year in Los Angeles. Looking at photos from her 3rd birthday party the building we lived in looks drab, but we were surrounded by family and friends who rallied around us while we were there. And even if we never live in the same city ever again at least we got to go to Disneyland and eat dim sum and spend sunny Saturdays on the carousel in Santa Monica. I would never trade that year of experience, even though we lost some things along the way and it wasn’t what we needed or wanted and we ended up back here, somewhat exhausted and worse for wear. I took Violet to so many museums; we people watched in Silver Lake and Downtown and Burbank; we ate a lot of really good Mexican food; we navigated the freeways and beaches, parks and playgrounds and gardens. Mina was born there, in Pasadena, in a very pretty hospital I still owe a lot of money. Mistakes were made. But we’re learning from them. We’re still learning.
I can’t tell you where we’ll be next January. 2017 is all possibility, a mystery of our own making. Some fate, some action, like every year, I guess. Part of me wants to dig in and establish roots, but I will not be surprised if we’re gone again, onto another adventure. I’ve got these people, a small but reliable posse and I am grateful for them every day. They are hilarious and beautiful and mine. We’re deeply into winter home life, with lots of crafts and baking, rearranging the art work on the walls and making blanket forts with all the blankets and pillows. It’s cozy. Records are spinning. Sometimes we order Chinese food and drink wine after the girls are in bed. I am happy to be cooking more, and look forward to sharing more kitchen successes as the year progresses. Here goes everything.
Shakshuka is one of those recipes that’s suddenly ubiquitous on the internet. It’s a pantry supper, a simple, meatless dish that’s slightly exotic yet totally familiar. This is what’s good about shakshuka in random order: It cooks in one pan with minimal mess. It requires a bit of tinkering with spices. It is hearty and homey. It’s delicious. It’s fun to say. Your kids won’t eat it, so there’s more for you. Eggs are the greatest. It is known as “eggs from purgatory” in some places. And, a note on Harissa powder: this Tunisian spice blend contains cumin, chile powder, and coriander, among other things. If you don’t have it/can’t find it/aren’t interested use a combination of those spices. But seriously, add harissa to your spice rack; it’s excellent in everything, especially chicken soup and salad dressing. Shakshuka!
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ large yellow onion, diced
- Kosher salt
- 1 bell pepper, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, grated
- 1 can chopped tomatoes
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons harissa powder
- 6 eggs
- ⅓ cup crumbled feta
- Handful of parsley and mint
- Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Cook onions until translucent and season with salt. Add pepper and garlic, cook 10-15 minutes. Pour in wine and tomatoes. Season to taste with sugar, pepper, and harissa. Stir in the feta. Make 6 wells in the surface of the mixture, and crack in the eggs. Cover and cook for 10-12 minutes until the whites are set. Garnish with parsley and mint.
- Serve with baguette