2008 was an incredible year for me.
It was, as the old saying goes, the best of times and the worst of times. It is not a year I would wish to repeat, but my oh my, it was incredible.
It was one of the darkest years of my life. The manuscript on which I am the first author spent a long time in what I now call “Paper Purgatory,” a place where science papers go when journal editors can’t decide if they should accept them. I myself fell into despair. I was in agony over the direction of my career and the aimless feeling that told me I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I deeply resented myself for choosing to pursue a PhD. I hated science and wanted to drop out so I could pursue a writing career. The only thing I liked about my job during those dark months was my paycheck, which was blissfully reliable and paid for my humble but comfortable lifestyle.
And then, like the first rays of sunshine at dawn, my paper made it past experimental revisions and on to textual revisions only. That’s when I knew it would be accepted, even though it would still be several more weeks before the paper was officially accepted. That’s when I could breathe again, and I knew that I would finish my PhD. I hope 2009 will be the year that I do finish my degree.
2008 was the first year that I finally felt at ease in a romantic relationship. 2007 was all wild flirting, disbelief, saying no and saying yes, then saying yes again. 2008 was calmer, and I have to admit, it was nice. It was a year of two canceled visits that tested our resolve. In July, with Matt, I finally met mountains. We got along splendidly. I also met the Sonora Desert, many cacti, horny toads and tarantulas, and too many lizards to count. That trip to Arizona was the single most breathtaking travel excursion I have yet experienced, but I hear the California coast is also quite lovely, and that’s where we’ve set our sights for 2009. I’m saving my pennies now to pay for a plane ticket.
2008 was the year that Daphna and I became close friends. Ours is not an unusual friendship except for our obsessive passion for food and all things food-related. With no one else do I compare such detailed notes about recipes and techniques, products and ingredients. This year I learned that D’s favorite course is dessert, yet she’s fickle about sugar and almost invariably decreases the amount of sugar except when Ian and I talk her out of it. She loves making beautiful cakes and pies. She’s tempted to make everything that appears on Smitten Kitchen. D and I couldn’t be more opposite in cooking style: I like to cook slowly and thoughtfully, stopping to sniff everything and savor the experience. D is a speed demon, whipping through her recipes in a whoosh of activity, practically counting the minutes until dessert is ready. Her speediness will serve her well when she’s got a gaggle of hungry kids to feed; for now, it’s just a race to the cookies. She’s shocked (and perhaps a little appalled) by my turtle-like pace, but I’m perfectly content to drink my tea and chat a while before nibbling on a cookie, fresh from the oven. I fear I lack her passion for dessert, though heaven knows I’ve got a long sweet tooth!
And oh, the food! 2008 was a very good year in the kitchen. It was The Year of the Onion. I fell in love with food all over again this year, and when I cooked with Matt, I fell a little more in love with him too. The stars were aligned just right when they brought us together in a warm kitchen because it’s one of our favorite places to be—together. It is an underrated blessing to find a cooking companion with whom you are highly compatible. I have lots of friends who like to cook, and I like to eat their food, but we don’t always cook well together. Some of them have cooked professionally; my slow and amateur ways make them roll their eyes in annoyance. Other friends are always cooking for big crowds and don’t understand that since I’m usually cooking for one, one doesn’t need to chop with lightning-speed efficiency. In fact, when you cook for one, some things, like a few leaves of kale, don’t even need to be chopped. You can just tear the tender outer leaves away from the tough spines with your hands. For me, cooking for myself is as much about preparing a meal as it is taking some time to putter in the kitchen. Not everybody understands that last part, either. D tells me the difference between us is that she cooks because she likes to eat, while I cook because I like to cook. I think she’s right.
Matt and I seem to get along just right when we cook together. I love that he’s as passionate about the process of cooking as he is about eating. He’s also passionate about high-quality cooking equipment, and now, I have seen the light. The light has lit up the truth: good knives, pots, and pans make cooking seductively pleasurable. One can get by with mediocre equipment, as I did for years, but the good stuff is worth every penny if you can afford it. A year ago, I was spoiled by Matt when he bought me (or should I say my kitchen?) a well-chosen set of new supplies, including awesome knives, a roasting pan I use all the time, and a pretty little garlic press. Now I wonder if that gift was an investment in our cooking happiness: he saw that I had crappy equipment, thought I’d be happier with some new things, and knew that he would be happier to cook with me if I had better knives. Matt, when he isn’t being hopelessly romantic, can be very practical. I appreciate his foresight about our cooking future.
Did I mention he bought me a tea kettle? Yes! The man bought me a kettle. That’s another thing we really like about each other: we love tea. I cannot count the hours we have passed drinking tea and catching up on our lives. This tea-drinking ritual is so lovely and so warm that it reminds me, every time, that our relationship really is that of an incredible friendship, glowing with the magic of romance. I like the hugs and the kisses and all of that, but sitting across from him while we drink tea, I could spend the rest of my life loving him.
Matt has been kind enough to let me write about him here. You’ll notice, dear reader, that he is still very much anonymous to you, and that’s the way he likes it. But everything I have shared about him and about us is the truth as I see it. It is a joy to write about Matt because it makes my feelings even more vivid, poignant, and heartbreaking. It is a way of feeling his presence even though we spend most of our time apart in very far-away places.
2008 was the year I wrote: a full year of writing at least once a week for this space. This commitment to writing has changed my life—there is no going back. I sometimes feel like writing has peeled away all my layers of self-deception and self-protection, and I am left with nothing but the bareness of honesty and truth. Writing has opened my eyes even wider to the beauty of everyday life, the small details that I would otherwise overlook. One of my favorite fantasies is to think about what I’m going to write next. I have no road map, no logical progression of thought from week to week: I just throw all my ideas together like clothes in a dryer and let them whirl around. I rather like the randomness of this type of writing: it’s more fun for me because even I don’t know what next week’s post will bring. I have an idea that I’ll be sharing with you my new favorite granola recipe, and I’ll be shooing you into the kitchen with my wooden spoon, but I’ve also got a new soup recipe up my sleeve, and oh, I made blueberry-banana muffins on Saturday and they were delicious! So you can see that there’s no shortage of new recipes tumbling around in my thoughts. I think 2009 will be a magnificent year for both of us. Thank you for spending a little time with me each week. I hope our conversations here leave you feeling refreshed, inspired, and perhaps a little hungry. I’m looking forward to another year of cooking, eating, writing, and loving every minute of this life. I hope you are too.