“Lovers, keep on the road you're on
Runners, until the race is run”
Coldplay, “Lovers in Japan”
This song has been playing on my CD player nonstop for weeks. It’s just a gorgeous, gorgeous song—full and lush, a little exotic, haunting in words and melody. But it’s those first lines that really grab my heart. Those lines describe my life in thirteen words. The road is what lies between Matt and me. We make the journey so that the distance between us can be as small as possible for a few sweet days. Then we return to our homes and resume the e-mails and phone calls that tell the other person, “Even though I am not with you now, I am always with you. In my heart, I am always with you.”
When Matt is with me, I pause the race. Otherwise, I feel like I am at the end of a marathon called graduate school. I’m practically within spitting distance of my PhD, which means the clock is ticking on decisions like where to go and what to do next. But these decisions can’t be made in haste, so I’m also facing possible unemployment come September, which sounds scary but it may be just what I need to pull myself together for my next big career move. In the meantime, I’m running until the race is run.
Lovers, keep on the road you’re on. It’s funny: sometimes the road away from an old lover leads you right into the path of a new one. I’ve been thinking about how it is that romance can sculpt our hearts into new shapes—what we call failure can be the catalyst for success and happiness beyond our wildest dreams. The nicest thing my ex-boyfriend ever did for me was to let me go. I was clinging so tightly to a fantasy of who he could be, who I wanted him to be, that I didn’t accept him for who he was. It’s been about four years since K and I said good-bye to our romance and began the slow, painful transition to friendship. He’s the only ex-boyfriend I have who gets to be called a friend, which speaks highly of him. K is a smart, funny, caring man, but his emotional landscape was not a place that was habitable to me. We tried hard to make it work, but too many times I found myself feeling utterly alone in the sea of my emotions. I offered him comfort and empathy, hoping that he’d learn to reciprocate, but each time I found myself feeling emptier and more alone than the time before. When he disappeared, only to resurface one last time to end the relationship, I was overwhelmed with feelings of disappointment and grief. To my surprise, though, I was also deeply relieved about the end of our romance. I no longer had to provide emotional support for both of us. I was free to take care of just me, which is something I’ve always done well.
I feel I owe K a thank-you. The shape he left on my heart opened it to a person who I didn’t meet until many months after our break-up. I liked Matt from the first moments of meeting him, but what really drew me to him was his warmth and empathy. He reminded me of other incredible men I had met, people who had seen enough in this lifetime to know that our empathy is the greatest gift we can offer to others. While we can’t control what hardships lie ahead of us, we can offer a listening ear, a gentle touch, a peaceful heart, in the hopes that maybe that will be enough to get us through.
I hurt for a long, long time after K and I broke up. The concept of dating sounded repulsive for about two years after we split. For much of those two years, Matt was around in person or by e-mail. We never ran out of things to discuss, and I loved being his friend. It was nice to have a sabbatical from dating. It was nice to drink wine with Matt. Our relationship was, in my mind, not a romance waiting to happen. It was just a friendship: simple, beautiful, fun. I’m not sure we even hugged during that time. I don’t know why. We just didn’t.
And then? Then came a Brazilian, and it was all downhill from there. It was a classic bait-and-switch: the Brazilian shows a passing interest in me, I’m jolted out of my wormhole for one, I start crushing hard on the Brazilian, the Brazilian never returns my feelings. Matt, poor Matt, reads a novel’s worth of e-mails from me about the luscious, elusive Brazilian, and convinces me I’m not crazy or unworthy of love. He drops hints about how he wants to love me. I resist, I decline, and then, finally, I say yes. We make soup together and live happily ever after.
Or not. Sometimes I’m still haunted by the ghosts of old relationships, ghosts who whisper to me that it can’t possibly work with Matt, that one of these times he will leave and never come back. Matt’s been around for a while now, but only I can exorcise the ghosts. At this time in my life, a time when I’m struggling with seasonal depression and a boss whose actions mystify me, a time when I’m told a routine medical test has come back abnormal and I need to return for more tests, a time when my future is a question mark, it’s hard to believe that Matt would want to return to the mess that is me. My sense of security starts to unravel; the ghosts tug at the strings and convince me that if Matt does return, it will be just one last time to say good-bye. I am tempted to break up with him myself to pre-empt the pain. At last: I will be alone, really alone, and then I’ll be safe: nobody can break up with me if I’m alone.
The problem here is that it’s just me and the ghosts. Matt has never given me a reason to doubt his affections. He’s steady and solid, reassuring in ways that make me wonder how he puts up with me and my insanity. He knows the lay of the land when it comes to love, and if he needs to put on waders to navigate my lake of tears, dammit he’ll do it!
Yes, it’s hard that our relationship is long-distance. Long are the days without him. It’s too easy to brood about how much I miss him. It’s too easy to forget that I am responsible for my own happiness; I can’t rely on him or anyone else to make me happy. I want to be happy here and now. If there is one thing that Matt does well, it’s living in the moment. He’s got plenty of things to brood about, but he is resiliently happy to be HERE NOW, wherever HERE is. It’s one of the reasons I adore cooking with him: the pleasure of cooking is being here now, whether we’re slicing onions or rolling out a pie crust. In the kitchen with this man, I am fully present, and I love him as much as I love the food we are making, the wine we’re drinking, the happiness we are creating.
On Saturday night, in between my tears born of stress and fear and loneliness, we cooked out of a cookbook given to me by K for my 23rd birthday. This is the other gift K gave me: he gave me Crescent, she of the funny name and bowl of vegetables on top of her head on the cover of Passionate Vegetarian. Crescent’s presence in my life, at least in book form, has been as steady as Matt’s. It’s really hard for me not to post dozens of recipes from Passionate Vegetarian on this site because I think it’s such a great cookbook. I restrain myself, allowing my adaptations of a cornbread or a brownie recipe to slip out here and there, but on the whole, I secretly think everyone should own this cookbook. It’s a wonderful reference book for any cook. Every time I flip through it, I find a new reason to be inspired. But it’s also a heartbreaker of a love story, a tale of love found and love lost. Few cookbooks are also love stories, and even fewer are as powerful as Crescent’s story about her life with her late husband, Ned. Crescent tells her story with grace, and her present-day story of finding love after losing Ned, of “walking into love,” speaks of the astonishing resilience of the human heart.
She amazes me.
But I digress. In the kitchen that Saturday night, Matt and I made Crescent’s Zwiebel Kuchen, or German Onion Tart. This recipe had caught my eye years ago, but alas, back then I lacked a pie pan. This weekend, with a brand-new Emile Henry pie pan in hand and an onion-loving man by my side, we made pie. This recipe has a number of interesting features. For one thing, the crust is a cross between pizza dough and pie crust. The Yeasted Pastry Crust with Poppyseeds comes together easily in a food processor, even a tiny one like mine, and then it gets plopped in a bowl and left alone to rise for an hour. Now, I don’t know why this is true, but for some reason, my yeasted doughs refuse to rise when Matt is around. It’s really annoying! Do they feel threatened by him? Am I not showing them enough love when he’s here? Matt has suggested that he should make the yeasted dough next time, as plenty of breads have risen in his presence. It’s so embarrassing! Anyway, so while the dough was “rising” (or not), Matt caramelized a mess of onions in a cast-iron skillet, coaxing them to a perfectly brown sweetness. I prebaked the crust for ten minutes, and then Matt layered the onions into the crust, poured a custard made of buttermilk, yogurt, eggs, and a touch of salt and flour over the onions, and into the oven the tart went for an hour. While it baked, I had to make a little foil collar for the crust, which was browning way too fast for comfort. While it baked, Matt made his new Brussels sprout recipe for us. I would have taken notes for you, but I was too distraught by the on-slaught of tears that overcame me. Suffice to say, the sprouts were tasty, cooked with a combination of sautéing and steaming, enhanced with garlic and shallots, made special with some fantastic Parmesan cheese, and served with affection. I don’t fantasize about eating Brussels sprouts the way some people do, but I do like Matt’s sprouts, mostly because he made them.
And so we ate. The Zwiebel Kuchen was definitely a tart onion tart: all that yogurt and buttermilk made it quite tangy. The crust was overbaked—no question about that—but Matt and I agreed it has great potential as an all-purpose crust for quiches. Pie crust doesn’t do much for me, taste-wise, with the exception of the pie crust on Daphna’s Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie, which is, hands-down, the best pie I’ve ever had. Oh Lord. D and I agreed we need to make that pie again, ASAP. I’m hoping she’ll let me post the recipe here. I think that would be just dandy.
The Zwiebel Kuchen holds great promise in my cooking future. Matt thought it was perfect, minus the overbaked crust, but he was coming down with a cold and, by his estimate, was tasting at only 70% his normal level. I thought the custard was a bit too tart for my taste. Next time, I think I’ll try substituting some heavy cream for the yogurt. Cream, while a more indulgent ingredient than low-fat yogurt, will reduce some of the tartness while adding its own sweetness, which I think will be delightful with the onions. The other option, which just occurred to me, would be to subsitute some ricotta cheese for the yogurt. The ricotta would be less indulgent than heavy cream but similar in texture to the yogurt. Hmm, perhaps I’ll have to try both options and see which one I like best! Oh, such a rough life I lead.
The next time I see Matt will be in California three months from now. For a girl who likes the pleasure of anticipation, this is just perfect. And when my plane touches down, and I find Matt, as solid and happy as ever, I will be grateful that once again, love prevails.
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A few memos today. I hope you’ll forgive me for not posting the recipe for the Zwiebel Kuchen. Matt and I enjoyed it, but I just don’t feel comfortable enough with the recipe to present it here in full recipe form. But if you are interested, I encourage you to track down a copy of Passionate Vegetarian—if you’re fortunate, you’ve got a copy sitting in your kitchen right now! Try the recipe. I’d be interested in hearing your stories about this recipe.
In other news, Life, Love, and Food was mentioned on slow blogs! I’m just delighted to be part of Monna’s Valentine’s Day post. My favorite thing about slow blogs is the Slow Blog Manifesto, a brilliant set of ideas about how blogging with care, consideration, and, yes, turtle-like slowness, can lead to brilliant blogs.