Sunday, October 11, 2009

Solid and Sturdy

I live in Texas now.

Those are the craziest five words I’ve ever written, but it’s a true statement.  Last Friday I spent 11 hours in transit from Chicago, Illinois to College Station, Texas, with a brief pitstop in Houston.  It’s been over a week now, and I’ve been checking out the place, discovering little treasures and small joys that ease my discomfort.  As the plane swooped into Houston, underneath us glittered downtown Houston like a set of jewels shimmering in the Texas heat.  En route from Houston to College Station, I met Jace Everett’s biggest fan, James from GroundShuttle.com, who has been following Jace’s career for four years and also happens to be one of the nicest men I’ve ever met.  When I arrived in Texas Friday evening, my apartment was supposed to be unlocked, with a set of keys waiting for me in the fridge.  Instead, I found the apartment locked, which meant that I had no place to stay.  Rather than abandoning me to the mosquitoes, James called in a favor and local law enforcement found the property manager, who drove over to meet us, apologized profusely, and let me into my new, empty apartment. 

Welcome to Texas,” said James.  “Don’t give up.”

Men like James make me feel less crazy for moving to Texas.  I don’t mind the idea of living in a place where complete strangers look out for each other.

Still, a move of this magnitude is enormously disorienting.  The simplest things are made complicated by my ignorance of the area.  Where do I go to buy toilet paper?  Am I getting on the right bus to go to campus?  Why does the water taste like bleach?  Did I really not pack a sports bra in my luggage?  Why does it rain all the time here?  I’ve been feeling out of sorts for months now, between job-hunting and thesis-writing, tearful good-byes and an 1100-mile move.  I steal moments of peace from the chaos, but I can’t remember the last time that I felt relaxed.  I want to remember that feeling.

I’m fairly certain, though, that there is no going back.  Finding some relaxation means embracing what is happening right now.  It takes a hearty soul to do that, someone with more resilience and tolerance for disorder than me.  Nobody does it better than Matt.

Matt’s schedule is so packed these days that just thinking about it makes me want to run and hide in a closet.  Nevertheless, he’d booked this past weekend for his first visit to College Station, and he was not going to be deterred by anything—not rain, not a lack of furniture, not even me, whom he could predict would be a little unhinged by the colossal transitions that had shaken my world like earthquakes.  Matt is solid and sturdy, and I felt like if anyone could make me feel good about the boxes inside and Texas outside, it would be him.

It was a grey and damp weekend, but we persevered in the interest of having a good time.  Together we discovered the farmers’ market in nearby Bryan, just a few minutes’ drive from my new apartment.  The Brazos Valley Farmers’ Market has all the appeal of a neighborhood potluck, except that the neighbors are selling things like local honey, homemade pickles, and fresh okra.  There was a coffee stand offering samples of their delicious brews, and if I hadn’t just bought a half-pound of coffee from It’s a Grind!, I would have taken a bag of beans home with me.  I’m very fond of coffee stands at farmers’ markets; I just think it’s such a wonderful way to ease into your shopping at the market.  Matt isn’t much of a coffee-drinker, but that cup of coffee hit the caffeine spot for him.

I’ll admit that the selection at the Brazos Valley Farmers’ Market is pretty slim compared to Evanston’s farmers’ market, but it was still wonderful to feel that sense of local connection.  Matt and I bought gorgeous, gorgeous okra and long, lovely green beans, tiny serrano peppers and jars of honey and pickles.  Best of all, at this laidback market, the vendors had P-L-E-N-T-Y of time to talk to us about the market, their farms, their coffee-roasting, and all the delicious things to do with local produce.  While I love Evanston’s market, it is usually very busy—the sellers have a lot of customers, and they work hard to keep up with them.  Bryan’s market felt more relaxed and homey, and everyone we passed had a smile or a “Howdy!” for us.  It was really quite lovely.

We put that produce to good use.  On Saturday night, Matt and I did what we do best: we cooked together.  Of all the things I have missed doing with him, cooking is at the top of my list.  Matt and I have complementary styles when it comes to food and cooking, so the meals we create together are unique and memorably delicious.  Several years ago, back when Matt and I were new friends, I threw a potluck party as a sort of last hurrah before he moved back to North Carolina.  His offering for the potluck was a tray of okra and onions, slick with oil and seasoned with fiery, addictive Indian spices.  At the time, we were both in Chicago, and okra was a rare and delicious treat.  Matt’s dish left such an impression on me that when we saw okra in Bryan, I knew exactly what we should do with it—assuming Matt knew how to recreate that dish in my new kitchen.  And with a little on-line recipe-checking, he did.  The result was even better than the old one I remembered.

With our Indian-style okra, we ate roasted chickpeas and an all-butter, skillet-sizzled version of this cornbread.  About that cornbread: I swear, it has never tasted better than it did this time.  I didn’t have any vegetable oil on hand, so I used a quarter-cup of butter, melted, instead.  It was unbelievably good!  And about that skillet: I am a convert to the ways of the cast-iron skillet.  For years I made my cornbread in a glass 8 x 8 pan because that’s what I owned, and it worked really well.  But the skillet was perfect this time because it kept the cornbread toasty warm while I roasted the chickpeas.  By the time we sat down to eat, everything was perfect—the chickpeas were crispy, the vegetables were succulent and spicy, and the cornbread was warm and crunchy.  Eating dinner with Matt makes everything taste better.

It’s not easy to keep a flame going when distance and time threaten to snuff it out.  Matt and I now live within driving distance, something that I hope will make our lives easier—no planes required, no restrictions on luggage, no airports to navigate.  I didn’t take a job in Texas specifically to be closer to Matt, but it sure helped me make my decision.  I remain amazed by us, but mostly I am amazed by him.  He is truly one of the kindest people I have ever met, and he showed me all over again this weekend that his love is as sturdy and solid as he is.  On Friday, he drove through the rain for over two hours to get to me.  He took (carless) me to Target, where he helped me pick out a vacuum cleaner for my apartment and he picked out wine glasses for me.  On Saturday, he didn’t complain that I hadn’t bought a shower liner to prevent the bathroom from flooding when someone takes a shower.  And he didn’t complain that I didn’t remember this when we were in Target the evening before.  Instead, we stopped at Walgreens, found a liner, and then he hung it up himself on the shower rod.  He didn’t bat an eye at the stacks of boxes piled in every room—boxes which had arrived less than a day before he did—but he did take bags of trash and empty boxes out to the dumpster.  On his last day here, we laid on the couch together while green beans slowly braised on the stove.  When I became sad about him leaving and tears forced their way out of my eyes, he just squeezed me a little tighter and let me cry, even when my tears made his face wet.  Nobody has ever loved me like he does—fully, deeply, without hesitation.  Lucky for me, love isn’t really quantifiable.  If it were, I’d have to take out a mortgage on my own heart to return what he has given me.  Instead, I just give him what I have and hope that it is enough.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

RA,

I love hearing (reading) you write the words "Brazos Valley". A short walk down country roads from my grandma's house takes you to an overlook where you can see the edge of said valley -- in a different spot from you, of course.

Regarding the water taste, the best way I can explain it is the water is "dead" or "flat". Great Lakes water was moving before it was tapped for drinking water -- rushing, flowing, alive. Texas groundwater is just . . . there. It is one of the few downsides of Texas. Continuing with the water track, if the rain gets you down, consider this: every drop of rain represents one snowflake you won't have!

AMPD

Rosiecat said...

AMPD, you would fit in beautifully with the sellers at the Brazos Valley Farmers' Market. Now I see your friendliness and kindness to strangers as a page straight out of the Texas storybook.

Oh, the water...I like your description. Matt tells me College Station water is even worse than the water in Austin, and truly, the water here is awful. It tastes like you are drinking bleach. But my wonderful family sent me a big present from Amazon which included a Brita filter/water pitcher. The Brita reports that it removes >90% of chlorine, and I can confirm that it makes the water taste so much better. Brita has made my life better (thank you, Amanda, Charlie, and Lydia!).

PS I'm looking forward to seeing you and the Husband down here! I'll have my guest bedroom set up in time for your visit :-)

Nicole said...

I'm glad that you're getting settled and finding some lovely treasures in your neighborhood. I'd love to see pictures of your new home, if you ever have a second to take some! :) I've never been to Texas, and I like to have a good image when I think about you there.

Lots of love and hugs from Boston. You are a strong, wonderful woman, and you will thrive!

Rosiecat said...

Aw, what a sweet comment, Nicole! I've been thinking the same thing about pictures. It would be really fun to share some pictures on the blog here. I'll see what I can do :-)

Right now I'm in a state of having a functional home with lots of boxes that still need to be unpacked. None of my rooms are really "done," but every day I make a little more progress toward settling into my new home.

The main image I have of Texas right now is rain. It has rained almost every day since I arrived, and when it's not raining, it's usually quite humid. My oatmeal cookies wilted in the humidity last night! They started out crispy from the oven, but I left them out overnight to cool, and by morning they had lost their crunch. Oh well--I like chewy oatmeal cookies too ;-)

Love and hugs to you, Nicole! I miss you and hope you are happy these days.

ammie said...

I'm so glad you had a good visit! Hooray!
I've never eaten okra, and I have a mental block that tells me I hate it. I think this may just be because they remind me of peppers. Perhaps I'll have to give them a try sometime.

Rosiecat said...

Ammie, that's so interesting that you put okra in the same category as peppers! I don't think they have much in common except that they are both green and grow in gardens. Flavor-wise, okra is a pretty mild vegetable. It's really the texture that sets okra apart from the other garden-growers. It releases a slippery, sticky substance once it has been cut, so sometimes people describe it as "slimy." Slimy sounds like such an unappetizing way to talk about food that I prefer not to use that word.

Matt's technique of sauteing it in oil for a while brings out the succulent quality without making it mushy or slimy. It's really, really good.

I have seen okra at Evanston's farmers' market, but it's always really small and expensive. But from what I hear, okra loves growing down here, so I'll be on the lookout for okra recipes to add to my collection. Maybe you and I can cook okra when you come to visit! :-)