Thursday, August 30, 2012

Seven Years

Seven years ago today I was hit by a car while jogging. I broke my pelvis, tore the tendons in my left knee, fractured the back of my skull—and, as a result, lost my sense of smell. For a long time, I wasn’t okay. Not physically, not emotionally. In an instant, everything had changed. I was 22 years old.

I write about the anniversary of the accident almost every year. I write about it in the same way, even. Short, staccato statements. (Hit by a car. Fractured the back of my skull. Lost my sense of smell.) I’ve thought about the events of that drizzly late-August morning often. I’ve talked about them. I’ve written about them. So much, in fact, it’s difficult for me to remember what happened before all happenings began to exist in the concrete netherworld of typeset and paper.

But every year I like to take a moment to remember where I came from, and how far I’ve come. I recovered, of course, as you all know—slowly, cautiously, but completely. I’m lucky. I’m so lucky sometimes it hurts. For me, August 30th is an emotional anniversary. It’s also a physical one. If I close my eyes and take a few deep breaths, I can feel it in my bones—in the ridge of my pelvis, in the contours of my skull.

Last year, yesterday, I wrote about a dinner that I cooked for my father, stepmother, and Matt. A heaping bowl of spaghetti sauced with little more than the luscious raw tomatoes of August, the bite of a bit of arugula and red onion, a few glugs of olive oil and some grated Parmesan cheese.

I made the same dish again last night for some friends. I hadn’t realized the symmetry of the dates. But it’s not the first time this has happened. In 2009 and 2010 I baked the same plum cake, a simple butter cake that made my kitchen smell sweet and warm, like fruit and caramel and autumn.

And today, as I sit at my kitchen table on this sunny August morning, that feels right. Who am I if I’m not circling back to my past—to events in my past, to the people of my past, to the smells and tastes and flavors of my past? These are the things that have made me who I am. What I am. Where I am. Whether monumental accidents or simple late-summer meals: this is where I’ll return, even as I move forward.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


I walk to work each morning, an hour-long trek along the Charles River, over the BU Bridge, winding through the manicured lawns and vine-wrapped homes lining certain streets in Brookline. It has been a hot and humid summer. Prime time for smell. And as I walk, scents hit me—light but sharp, one at a time, pok pok pok, like ping pong balls. The cool river-scent of the Charles. The dark and earthy dank of bark mulch. Hot pavement. Car exhaust. Cigarette smoke twirling up into the air. I pass fellow pedestrians and, bam, deodorant. Perfume. Sweet, salty, sour sweat. There’s also grass, fresh cut. Coffee, fresh brewed. The promise of sun and sand.

The other night I had dinner with friends. I sat at their dining room table, close to 9pm, ready to eat: thick slices of heirloom tomatoes, roasted eggplant, anchovies, cheese, bread and wine. A veritable farmer’s market feast. Before we began to eat, the hostess walked over to her windowsill and plucked a few leaves off a small basil plant. The window was open, and right at the moment of plucking, there was a waft of warm wind. Some stray olfactory molecules hit my nose with the breeze—that fresh herbed scent. Such a familiar smell, but surprising nonetheless. It filled my mind with the color green, the lightness of summer.

On Thursday I read from Season to Taste at Porter Square Books. It was a wonderful evening, filled with friends and family and readers and writers and just a few people who wandered in to buy a magazine but stayed to listen and then chat. Afterward, I went out for drinks with a few folks, including one of my oldest friends, who lives across the country but just so happened to be in town for the week. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be here, in the present, in the moment, right now. I’m trying to pay more attention to the small things right in front of me. The tastes, the smells, the way it feels to laugh. But when my friend and I hugged for the first time in a long time, I inhaled, my nose right there by his head. And then there I was, immediately transported back. I no longer existed in that moment, but one far in my past. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Tonight at Porter Square Books!

A little last-minute heads up for you local Boston folk: I’m doing a reading tonight (Thursday, August 16) at Porter Square Books in Cambridge. 7pm. Would love to see you there!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

An Outlaw Wedding

I made another wedding cake. This time, for my mother. She and Charley were married last Saturday at their house up in Maine. 

(Well, they weren't “married,” not really, if we’re going to be legally exact. It was more of a commitment ceremony. They called it their “outlaw” wedding.)

The ceremony was simple and quiet. A handful of my mom and Charley’s closest friends and family members stood up, one at a time, to tell stories about the couple—some funny, others serious, all beautiful and touching in their own ways. Ben, my little brother, officiated. My mom and Charley each wrote their own vows. It was a clear, warm day, but thunder rumbled in the distance as they read them out loud.

They are a quirky couple, an unexpected match in many ways. But it works. They've made it work. They've been together for ten years. And listening to them read their vows, it struck me again just how perfect they are together. My mom and Charley know each other, every part of each other. The good parts and the bad parts and all the parts in between. And they love each other both because of and despite them all.

After the ceremony, we celebrated.

Now, I will admit that this wedding stressed me out for a number of weeks beforehand. After all, I was the wedding planner, a task I assigned to myself without thinking too hard about the details. And let me tell you: There were details. Rentals and hirings and food and drink and lights and taxis and hotels and schedules and music and flowers, oh my. But after a bit of hectic running around, a thick stack of “to do” lists illegibly scrawled on legal pads, and a few last-minute orders (kindly) barked at unsuspecting family members, it all came together. Miraculously, we made a wedding. A real un-real wedding. It was perfect in its imperfections.

The evening began with champagne toasts, moved on to dancing, and was filled with good food throughout. Bryan and Dan, two of my buds from Cook’s Illustrated, catered the whole thing. (If you’re in the Boston area and are looking for a great team of caterers, let me know!) There was tomato bruschetta with boquerones, and Spanish tortilla with preserved lemon aioli. Gravlax blini with red onion crème fraiche, and octopus and potato brochettes. Bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with almonds. Pork tostadas with queso fresco and radishes. When the plates of sliders came out of the kitchen, guests hovered around them like vultures, waiting to go in for the kill. 

And then the cake. I made the same cake that I made for my friends Ashley and Colin back in 2009. (If it isn't broken...) An almond cake sandwiching layers of lemon curd and blueberry jam. Frosted with a swiss buttercream. It was a rustic looking cake. A little splotchy. A tiny bit lopsided. We ate it in the dim, blue light of dusk. It tasted damn good.