I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times).

I’m at my best when I’m cooking. By this I don’t mean that I’m the best cook; I am just the best version of myself when I’ve got a knife in my hand and a pan over a fire. There are few things in life that keep you focused as searing heat and a very sharp blade.

I think part of the reason why it’s so hard for me to diet is because I just love food so much, and I like to cook. There are millions of people across this world who feel as passionately — if not more passionately — than I do about food yet can remain slim and can moderate what they eat. To those people I say, without a single trace of irony and from the bottom of my heart, Good for you. I’ll never be one of you.

That’s all right, though. I am used to not being a part of things. I’ll just have to figure out how to do this my own way.

My own way, something I’m still sussing out, will have to include some sort of contingency plan because my downfall is always me. I’ll have a bad day, or a good day, or a bored day, and the remedy is always going to be food-based. And — let’s be serious — the food is likely going to be butter- or sugar-based. (An apple isn’t going to cut it, unless it’s floating amongst other fruit in a tumbler of white wine sangria.) Then, once I fail, I have a hard time getting back to making smart, healthy choices. I become lost in the woods of full-fat milk and a never-ending chain of garlic bagels and sneakily-purchased barbecue potato chips and raw cookie dough quietly eaten while my dog and husband sleep upstairs.

Something I need to remember: only I can do this for myself. If I lose track of myself, I can find my way back.

Something else I need to remember: I’m working towards an intangible goal. It’s hard to visualize what a healthy body looks and feels like when your mind —your thriving, boundless, wild mind — lives deep within layers of underutilized, settled and slumped-over mush.

So.

Here’s to looking ahead, keeping a mind open to success and failure, and moving on from both.

I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” by Jamie xx

I’ve Got Dreams To Remember.

Here’s a dream I have — and by dream I don’t mean the kind where you close your eyes at night and your mind takes you somewhere strange and unfamiliar against your will. When I say dream in this instance what I mean is the kind that you have when you rest your cheek against your palm and give life a solid ponder, like an angel.

I dream of going to LA. I dream that I rent a little apartment in the middle of the city. The apartment is white and tired, but clean, so although the linoleum is peeling and cracked like an old sunburn, it also seems fresh. In this LA dream I don’t tell anyone I’m in the city. Instead I anonymously walk the same streets as my grandparents: Harvard, Vermont, New Hampshire — names I never realized would conjure up entirely different landscapes for my adult self. In my dream I place my feet in the same exact spaces my grandparents’ once occupied on the concrete sidewalks and I follow their footprints to the grocery store, the pharmacy, the fruit stand. I buy apricots by the pound, bags and bags of them. When I get back to my clean white and empty apartment, I sit on the floor and swallow them whole.

I don’t know if my grandfather was a sweet man, since we were never really able to communicate. His English wasn’t a strength, and I was too embarrassed to use the Armenian I had when I was a sour and ornery teenager, but when I was a young child visiting LA he used to take me to buy fruit from a street vendor. The man had apricots, always, and he sold them from rectangular woven baskets on the sidewalk. My grandfather would let me pick as many as I wanted, and when we got back to the orange and brown apartment he shared with my grandmother, he and I would eat the apricots right out of the paper bag, along with baby almonds, which are encased in a fuzzy pistachio green shell and taste bitter. I didn’t know my grandfather well, and we were never able to get to know one another well, but he always fed me well.

When he died, I was in Hawaii with my mother’s family, embarrassed to be chauffeured around Oahu in a white Hummer limousine alongside eighteen relatives chattering away in Visayan. My brother and I eventually rented our own car, a marigold-yellow 4×4, because apparently mainlanders are forbidden from driving anything that isn’t laughable.

I’ve never seen my father cry, not really, but on the phone he keened and I imagined him sitting desolately on his great big brass bed, his sweatshirted arms around himself, the dog on a cushion in front of the TV. That day there were five thousand miles and five time zones between us and even if he had been five steps away I imagine my father would have felt just as alone. He forbade us from flying home. Years later I visited my grandfather at Forest Lawn, where his grave marker lay alongside my grandmother’s and great-uncle’s. There was a drought, unsurprisingly, and the grass was crunchy and brown underneath our feet.

Today I sat in traffic on 93 South, drinking coffee out of a paper cup and talking to my father on the phone. I let the conversation drift before asking him for a good memory of his father. Without even the skimpiest of pauses he said his father encouraged him to excel at a trade. Another great-uncle had been an exalted judge, my father explained; when he and his family arrived in Syria as refugees from the Armenian Genocide, the great-uncle had been unable to find work since he didn’t speak Arabic.

It was a cautionary tale my father took to heart, but he added his own addendum: education. His dream, as a man who never set foot in a high school as a student, was college. When he was unable to fulfill it, he adjusted his aspirations and instead imagined the colleges my brother and I would attend. He didn’t know us yet, of course, but he dreamed to one day be so successful he could send his theoretical children to schools of their choosing.

That, he told me, was the best memory of his father: learning how to plan for us.

* “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” by Otis Redding.

This Will Be Our Year.

Ten years ago today I stood shivering in pointy-toed flats on an icy Montpellier street. I wore Wolford Adelia tights under my jeans and a cashmere wrap sweater under my beryl-blue wool coat and a wine-colored scarf around my neck and it just wasn’t enough. My clothes, which seemed posh and chic at home, felt dowdy and unsubstantial in France, and like me they were astonished by the cutting wind whipping inland off of the Mediterranean. We were in Europe for a wedding and I spent the week simultaneously enamored by and uncomfortable with everything.

The groom’s sister had made chocolate mousse for dessert after a family dinner; it was the first time I’d ever eaten it outside of a restaurant and the realization that something so luxe could be made so effortlessly at home was astounding. Later I learned that she’d been making mousse since she was a child and the idea that this was a trifling little thing French children did as though it was as simple as peeling a banana — a task for which I sometimes need a knife or help, even as a full-fledged adult — all but bowled me over. I ate as much as I could without calling attention to my gluttony. Later in the evening I wrapped myself in the quilt at our chambre d’hôtes and swallowed one tablet of Pepto-Bismol after another, knowing full well that if the opportunity for more mousse presented itself tomorrow I wouldn’t have learned my lesson.

I wore a dusky slate-colored draped jersey dress to the wedding and a fuzzy off-white bolero-ish sweater with a hidden hook-and-eye clasp. Before the trip I had road-tested my outfit with opaque tights and a pair of tweed-and-metal Prada heels of which I was especially fond. In Boston, my reflection looked stylish and festive, perfectly dressed for a winter wedding; in France, I looked ridiculous, a girl playing dress-up in an incomprehensible mélange of clothes. Helpfully, the hairdryer at the chambre d’hôtes had gone against its nature; rather than blowing heat out, it sucked air into itself — along with a hunk of my hair. My husband of four months borrowed scissors from our host family and cut me free, leaving me looking like a second-rate Robert Smith impersonator. That said, even if I had managed to recreate the Thandie Newton curls I’d been going for, there’s no way I would’ve been able to come close to matching the natty elegance of French women.

Slim and hipless gamines, curvaceous and bosomy bombshells, all of them at once elegant and louche. Each smoking cigarettes and drinking champagne and speaking in nimble quick-fire English with ridiculously cartoonish and alluring accents. Later, in the bathroom, I caught one straightening after leaning over a sink, wiping powder prettily from her nose. Part of me was aghast, the prudish American, but a larger part of me, likely my insatiable and growling gut, was jealous of her recklessness, her audacity.

On New Year’s Eve we prowled the boulevards and alleyways of Montpellier, heading to a party. The streets were strung with a latticework of white lights overhead and everything was impossibly romantic. Strangers called out to one another — bonne année, bonne santé — waving bottles of champagne out of windows. In a crammed studio apartment on the top floor of a courtyard building, I sat with another ill-at-ease American. Neither of us had anything to say to the other. Eventually he pulled out a notebook and after a time I realized he was drawing pictures of penises. Dicks in coats, dicks riding bicycles, dicks eating pizzas, dicks kissing dicks. Most were uncircumcised. Two days prior, I had sat across the dinner table from this man’s mother, listening with a terror-stricken smile on my face as she genially told me how much of a disappointment he was to her.

“Yup,” he agreed, just as genially. “It’s true.”

Today I took the dog for a long walk while I waited for my chicken to come out of the oven. I had crushed garlic, rosemary, sage and thyme into butter, which I’d then spread in a thick layer underneath the bird’s skin. The chicken would roast over potatoes, sunchokes and carrots; my hope was that the chicken would be generous and share its herbs and fat and seasoning with the vegetables. It’s an easy dish to make, and one that requires little effort from the cook, so the dog and I went for a really long wander, rambling through our neighborhood without a specified path.

This has always been my approach to resolutions and the new year and life, really. I think obliquely about what I want, or about what I think will make me happy, but I rarely have a solid plan in place. It’s not a system that’s gotten me far, though I have accidentally stumbled upon success and a degree of prosperity by sheer happenstance and luck.

I met my husband at a college I chose arbitrarily — I was waitlisted for my top pick; my second selection was in the-middle-of-nowhere Wisconsin and as a New Yorker that kind of terrified me; my “safety” school was truly a last resort option. So I chose a college in Boston that proclaimed everyone was welcome, the weirder the better.

And people were weird in college. They were weird and strange and bizarre and like every other college student in America, except this group had more green hair and nose piercings. They threw parties and hooked up and smoked clove cigarettes and were pretentious and used the phrase post-modern way too much and worked hard and slacked off and were ambitious and wrote papers and missed class and had grand ideas and talked late into the night about everything and everyone and nothing and no one all in one big collective breath as though if their thoughts didn’t come out right that very second they would dissolve like the sound of a siren suddenly screaming to life and fading just as quickly into silence.

Silence is something I’m familiar with. It’s easy to not say anything substantial when you don’t have a set objective, and from there it’s easy too to be a disappointment, even if you don’t spend a lot of time drawing anthropomorphized dicks. So it’s time to establish some goals, after so many years of doing a unintentionally great impersonation of a dust mote. (A loveable dust mote with decent hair and excellent eye liner, but a dust mote nonetheless.) I’m putting them out there, and trying not to think of any of you who may be reading this — no offense, but in order to write this, I can’t think of anything but honesty, and sometimes being honest means being selfish.

Get healthy. I am lazy and I am fat and I am too old for this. Also, I’m tired of catching sight of my stomach reflected back at me in a floor-to-ceiling window and being both embarrassed and surprised. And I would like, for once, to choose to not to get my picture taken because I simply don’t want to, as opposed to feeling too fat to.

Write something. I was going to say write more, but write something is more accurate. I have had a partially formed idea in my head for years now and it’s time for me to do something about it. It could be something truly great. It could also be something truly mediocre but considering that right now it’s truly nothing I figure there’s nothing to lose.

Make bread. Yeast is scary, you guys. Not scary in a it’s-got-a-lot-of-teeth-and-is-evolutionarily-perfect like a shark, but it creeps me out. And, unlike a shark, I’m pretty sure I can conquer it.

There they are. Three seems like a good number. It’s a place to start. Let’s see what I say about 2016 in ten years.

* “This Will Be Our Year” by The Zombies.

After an Absence, Some Thoughts.

We were at home, painting the house, slopping primer all over the wooden trim and ourselves, when our phones just started going off.  Some people would say that our phones “exploded,” but after today’s events that phrase just doesn’t seem right.  Keith’s office overlooks the finish line, and his colleagues were under the impression that he had been in Copley Square when the bombs were detonated.  He wasn’t, but still his phone kept on ringing and buzzing, and alerting him that people cared.

I am a New Yorker, born and bred. Up until this point, I’ve allowed Boston a sliver of space in my heart because it raised the man I love. Still, “I’m not from here,” I’ve said. I’ve bemoaned giving up my New York license. I’ve called its people provincial. I’ve scorned its awkward and archaic laws. I’ve derided its class system. I’ve begrudged the bagels.

Today, I’m telling all of you that I’m from Boston. I’m from here, and I’m mad. I’m mad and confused and troubled and upset and pissed off. I’m frustrated with the breathless affect of the news media. I’m sick thinking of all the athletes who were running for a cause, or for a charity, or a for purpose that didn’t include hate or fear or pain or terror. I’m shaking with anger because I need someone to explain to me the point of this.

Something that has really struck me about these events is not how much people hate and want to hurt, but how much people love and want to help.  The Red Cross website was inundated for hours with people trying to glean information on when and how and where to donate blood.  Residents across the Boston Metro Area and beyond are opening their homes to strangers stranded in a maimed city.

This is what’s important to remember: in times of terror, there are moments of triumph, and those moments are made by people.

Wrapped Up in Books.

I’m many things, but a New Years resolutionist I am most certainly not.  That said, I am trying to be a bit more positive-minded, as opposed to my regular the-glass-isn’t-just-half-empty-but-also-about-to-fall-off-the-table-and-smash-into-a-million-pieces-on-the-floor mentality.  So rather than lamenting how I spent barely any time last year on writing posts, I’m instead going to focus on the fact that I spent a good amount reading books. And since I know there’s no way I’d be able to write proper-length posts on all of them, but I’ll give some simple summaries of each, along with my opinions.  Since I started recording what I read last year in April, that’s where I’ll begin.  I’ll keep writing these bookish posts and finish with the last book I read this month.

April

  • Winston had just died, and all I wanted to do when I got back to Boston from New York was reread the beautifully-written novel Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, about the titular geisha’s life before, during and after World War II.  I found the following apropos passage on grief, which I then emailed to my mother: “Grief is a most peculiar thing; we’re so helpless in the face of it. It’s like a window that will simply open of its own accord. The room grows cold, and we can do nothing but shiver. But it opens a little less each time, and a little less; and one day we wonder what has become of it.”
  • Not Becoming My Mother: and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way by Ruth Reichl has been renamed For You, Mom. Finally for paperback, which is not unusual but still something that surprises me.  Something else that surprises me is that I don’t remember much of this memoir.  This is incredibly odd for me, as I have a remarkable memory.  I’m sure the writing is fantastic, as Ms. Reichl’s always is.
  • I do remember The Report by Jessica Francis Kane quite clearly, as I am fascinated by World War II and found this debut novel about a tragedy in the Bethnal Green tube station/air raid shelter to be ridiculously and enviously well-written.
  • A Polish emigrant and a New York adolescent are the sad and cynical narrators of Nicole Krauss‘s The History of Love.  Strange as it is to say, I didn’t care either way about the plot, but since I loved Leo the Pole so much, I managed to overlook everything else.
  • I’ve been obsessed with Suzanne Collins‘s Hunger Games trilogy for a while, and reread The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay for the first time in April.  It held up.
  • While I did enjoy Lynn Barber’s memoir An Education — which was made into the multi-nominated film with a star-making performance by Carey Mulligan — I wonder if part of the reason why I flew through it was because it was so short or because I was on a plane en route to Asia and therefore trapped.  Regardless, Ms. Barber is a perfectly fine writer who recounts her life in the heyday of 1960s England in a refreshing, straightforward way.
  • Ugh, I did not like An Evening of Long Goodbyes by Paul Murray, a hardback book club read that I lugged from Massachusetts to Manila, Vietnam, Cambodia, Hong Kong and back again.  Protagonist Charles Hythloday plays at being a nobly-born country aristocrat outside Dublin; when he’s forced to eke out a living, it was no surprise to me that this insipid loon struggles to find a place for himself in troubled modern-day Ireland.  There’s another storyline involving explosives and actresses, but I can’t be bothered to go into it.
  • Another novel I brought along on my Asia trip was The Missing by Tim Gautreaux, which set me down a path of kidnapping, violence and crime — in my readings, that is.  Mr. Gautreaux’s book is the truly compelling story not just of abduction, but also of redemption and revenge.  Oh, and there are riverboats.
  • I finished reading Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction That Changed America (by Les Standiford with Det. Sgt. Joe Matthews) in Siem Reap, and that night in my hotel room I used the dodgy Internet connection to Wikipedia Adam Walsh’s 1981 kidnapping.  From there I read about Ottis Toole, Henry Lee Lucas, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy and pretty much every other serial killer I could think of until I was too freaked out to open the door for room service.
Wrapped Up in Books” by Belle + Sebastian.

Memories Are Made Of This.

Keith and I were supposed to spend last Saturday night at Eleven Madison Park, a favorite restaurant of ours in New York, but Irene threw a wrench in our plans.  Mayor Bloomberg shut down the city, and Eleven Madison Park followed suit.  I can’t say I blamed them, regardless of how much I had been looking forward to dinner.  The restaurant has never failed me in the past, and I know we would have had a spectacular meal.  I was able to get us last-minute back up reservations at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, but they too closed because of Irene.

So, reservationless on the eve of a hurricane, we stayed at home with my parents and ate reheated-in-the-microwave rotisserie chicken from Costco.  A few hours later, the power went out.

And that is how Keith and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary.

I am not the kind of girl who cares about anniversaries, or Valentine’s Day, or if my partner stays out late with The Guys.  Frankly, I don’t give a damn about any of it.

Does Keith love me?  Do we still enjoy each other’s company?  Are we happy?  Yes to all of the above.  Isn’t that all that matters?

Okay, take all of that in and then scrap a third of it.  I mean, sure: love, company, happiness… I want to go to there, and most of the time, I do go to there.  But my relationship with Keith moved so seamlessly from platonic to passionate that until we got married, neither of us had a clue as to when it was we actually got together.  It was springtime, we agree, when I was nineteen and Keith twenty-three, but that’s it.  Was it March?  Or May?  Or in between, in April?

This is my point precisely: we have no idea.  And that’s why finally having an anniversary meant something to me.  Valentine’s Day can get bent.  It has nothing to do with me.  But a certain day in August…

It’s just plain nice to have one day marked in Keith and my lives that celebrates us, even if most of the time I don’t think about it unless someone asks or if the end of summer looms.  I feel that with Keith I’m part of something special, and though we take care to appreciate each other often, it’s important to take a minute once in a great while to formally acknowledge it.  Often with cocktails.  So when August 27th does come around, I like stepping into a dress and a favorite pair of heels, sitting across from my husband in a thoughtfully decorated room, and drinking a French 75 while talking about absolutely nothing related to our wedding.

Which is why I was pissed off at Hurricane Irene.

Now about those chickens…

My dad is a horrible snob.  He’s opinionated, and he’s particular, and sometimes — let’s face it — he can be a little racist.  That said, he loves Costco rotisserie chicken.

This is alternately bizarre and hilarious to me because my dad scorns places like IHOP and Outback Steakhouse (though he does like the occasional Red Lobster).  My father likes Peter Luger, drinking oghi on warm summer days and talking about life in Beirut.  Most modern American things are worthless, or a disappointment.  Case in point: Burger King.

In the seventies, when my parents were still dating, they went to a fancy dinner that neither of them enjoyed very much.  As my father drove my mother back to her apartment, he spotted a Burger King.  Still hungry, he pulled into the drive-thru.  They each ate a Whopper in the car, parked in the lot.  Now when my father talks about Burger King, what he has to say is all past tense, what Burger King used to be like.  He pinches an inch of air with his index finger and thumb and says, “The burgers used to be thick, like this.  And the lettuce was crunchy, and green.  The tomatoes used to be so fresh the juice would come out of it!  Now the hamburgers are so thin, like paper.”

For my father, the memory of something is always far more delicious than the reality.  So I can’t help but wonder, what’s up with the chicken?

To be clear, I fully admit to sometimes cheating a recipe and using a store-bought bird rather than poaching or roasting my own.  When I do that though, I feel like such a culinary con man.  My mother raised me better than this, I think guiltily as I hide the chicken’s take-out container deep within the recycling bin.

Of all the social stigmas in the world, the ones we’ve associated with food have got to be the strangest.  I mean, we have a whole category called junkBut is there anything junky about a rotisserie chicken?  If there is, like Valentine’s Day, does it even matter?  They’re flavorful and nutritious, and my Republican dad loves them.  And when I think about the day that marks my sixth year married, what I’ll think about is this: eating chicken with our crybaby puppy tangling himself up in the now-tattered quilt I made for our bed over a decade ago, while my parents — once so disapproving of Keith — tease and cajole my husband to eat some more as they piled more white meat onto his still-full plate.

And, for me, that’s what’s up with the chickens.

* The most popular recording of “Memories Are Made Of This” is by Dean Martin, but I’m quite fond of Johnny Cash‘s.