When I am alone

And like that, the nights get cold and a new time comes in.

The girls are away for a good part of this week. They are on a last hurrah of the summer with my aunt and uncle who take them to a family camp to ride horses and shoot arrows and be in talent shows. We thought we would do something wild and crazy while they were away, something like New York City or some other such place where kidlessness can feel like taking off a backpack and walking free and unhindered, but in the end, it seems that Joey and I both have lots of work to do, and so he is at his desk, and I am at mine.

Parenthood is most of what we know. We have very few memories without car seats in the back of the car, and so, unglamorous as it might sound, this working, this quiet house and eating when we like and taking a break to walk down the street together–it’s all pretty delicious. At the same time, the girls are so much a part of our cells that I’m not sure we could take it for longer than a few days. It’s practice, I suppose, for what will come sooner than we think.

I feel like we are on the cusp of something big. Last week, Sadie picked up her bike (admittedly uncared for, and recently adopted from our friend’s farm where they just found it in the field). There have been years of trying to ride and not quite getting there. But on this day, Sadie strapped on her helmet and said she was going out. And hours later, bruised and happy, she rode that old bike all the way down the street. It felt huge and momentous, like a rumble of something coming, growing, changing, and becoming a new life where our children are entirely their own selves. I think my challenge in all this newness is to trust that we’ve helped to give them the tools that will help them along, and that they will come to us when they need us.

Last night, Joey was away. And so, hungry, it was up to me to decide what to eat.

What I cook is usually shaped around the people who are eating it. These days, that fact can get me stuck in the few dishes I know will make everyone happy, even if it’s not what I crave. But last night, I made one cup of white rice. I listened to the radio, I fed the cats, and I looked out on the sheets hanging on the line. After dinner, I said, I will fold those sheets and put them back on beds. And they will smell like the air and the world around them.

You don’t need me to tell you what a good idea it is to roast vegetables. I know that you know just what to do. But I want to tell you that last night, invoking my inner Tamar Adler, I roasted every green, yellow, and striped bean in the house. Strewn on a tray with a few tiny unpeeled cloves of garlic, I showered the whole shebang with olive oil, salt, and more pepper than any one else in the family cares for. Then I repeated myself with cherry tomatoes–these purple magenta heirlooms that Elizabeth’s been growing at the farm this year. Roughly halved with a little knife in my hand, again the olive oil, again the salt, and again the pepper. Both trays went in for 30 minutes at 425 degrees. The rice bubbled away in the rice cooker, and it filled the kitchen with that–well, that rice smell that is so wonderful. It was the first time I’d been in the kitchen in so long without hurrying, or stepping around someone, or trying to convince someone else that when food finally arrived on their plate they should give it a chance. It made me feel like singing, and like cooking more, and so while everything bubbled and roasted, I cleaned out the poor neglected fridge. I put foods into jars and blended a batch of salsa. I drank cucumber sake (swapped from Leah at this past weekend’s food swap). And then, when I had made a big mess and everything was ready, I ate alone.

Sometimes I need to be reminded of what is possible in a bowl. That rice and vegetables will make a meal, especially if the right sauce is involved. In this case it was this one, which, if it is not in your regular rhythm of sauces, I’m jealous that you still have that first time of discovery ahead of you! I brought my bowl outside to the picnic table and I watched the sheets fill with air on the line. I ate my rice and vegetables and ginger scallion sauce, and then, belly full, I went inside to clean up my mess.

I’ve been thinking a lot in these past weeks about my relationship to this kitchen. The pantry, the cooking ruts, the picky kid getting pickier, the trying to find a way for two families to share a kitchen, and the rushed and hurried getting it all out on the table–sometimes I feel like if I could just do that one thing, I could find a way to make it easy all the time. That one thing changes depending on the moment. If I could be more organized, or chop faster, or consistently keep a kitchen diary where I plan out every use for every thing in the fridge. Then I could share it with you, and it could be easy all around! But I think that when it comes down to it, it’s the space between the easy and the hard that makes the meals that taste the best. It’s the work and the challenges in your own kitchen that bring new combinations and sauces and techniques. It’s the work that brings you to the moment of quiet, of rice and vegetables and sauce. It’s the work that makes me do the thing I can share–to tell you that here I am in this moment, and I will chew and eat and enjoy and wash my dishes, here in this kitchen, with as much love and gratitude as if they were my very own children.

So, today, in these last weeks of summer before the world calms into Fall, I’d like to remind you to fill a bowl with the foods that you love. And if the moment comes, sit in the seat that makes you happy. Most of all, remember that whatever distance there is between who you are and who you feel you should be, or what you’ve actually done and what you wish you had accomplished–it is the space between these two that creates the best moments, and it’s a good place to be.



  1. says

    Sigh, I love this post. The weather has definitely changed and has made me want to slow down a bit and really enjoy cooking and eating and quietness. It was great to see you at the swap and dinner on Sunday! Be well.

  2. says

    Alana, I am imaging you singing in the kitchen singing while everything bubbles and it gives me such joy– as do your words. It’s true that theses spaces in between, and these connections (even the online ones) have this silken thread that runs right through them. Thank you for giving me such inspiration. Enjoy the last bit of summer.

  3. Nao says

    Alana, I am so glad you like “that rice smell” too! I grew up in Japan and that smell means home to me. And thank you for your wonderful book and this blog.

    • alana says

      Yup, my mom was of the hippy macrobiotic persuasion (all rice and tofu and seaweed), and so (as you put it so well) that smell means home to me too. There’s nothing like it.

  4. says

    I love the last few lines… thank you so much for the reminder that we can be happy with who we are and what we’ve accomplished, while looking forward to what’s ahead, yet also while not feeling guilty for what we haven’t done. Thank you also for the yogurt ideas! I’ve done another batch today, so let’s see how it goes! Enjoy your time with Andy and especially enjoy when the kids come back!

  5. says

    How AWESOME is that sake? I have tried to swap it twice now… but no joy.. so I swapped for cucumbers this time and I’m going to make it myself!

    Recently, my spouse was away and I was left to my own devices.. in a moment of desperation and a need for comfort food (I don’t do well on my own) I made up some mac and cheese from scratch and chucked in some cut up hot dogs.. not as elegant as your choices (nor as nutritious!) but it hit the spot.

      • Leah says

        Thanks for the Sake love ladies!!! No magic cucumbers here.
        Alana beautiful post-I love to cook this time of year, letting myself be inspired by what I pick in the garden or what looks great at the market. My unplanned “throw it all in the pot meals” tend to turn out the best, no stress of what ingredients are missing, more of a focus what is there “this eggplant is so beautiful I must cook it now”…enjoy

  6. says

    There’s something about learning to ride a bike that is pretty amazing. I have a new bike rider in my family this summer as well. The speed! The independence! The mobility! The riding-away-from-me-so-fast! I think it’s been said before, but they grow up so fast.

  7. says

    This reminds me of a favorite kitchen meditation, from Edgar Espe Brown, called Working on How I Work:
    I do this chore
    not just to get it
    out of the way,
    but as the way
    to make real
    kind connected mind.

    May I awaken to what
    these ingredients offer,
    and may I awaken best I can
    energy, warmth, imagination,
    this offering of heart and hand.

    Another thoughtful musing, thank you!

  8. Amanda says

    I don’t have children, but I have had the exact same feelings upon the opportunity to cook and dine alone. And I’m loving Tamar Adler, reading and savoring in pieces.

  9. Doris Coper says

    I love this so much. There is something called the thin place in Irish and I learned about it at my wedding. You invoke it here.

  10. says

    This post, was beautiful… I’ve been quietly reading, not ever replying… I have your blogged propped up on my toolbar. The only one stuck there for keeps for moments when I need a quick break. Some days I click it and the post isn’t new, and some days, like today, I open it up only to be inspired by some delicious idea… and today inspired to just sit back and enjoy the ride, and my fresh off the line sheets, and all of the moments in between. Thank you.

  11. Lisa says

    I love reading your posts! I especially could relate to this one because I love that little “alone time” at home while at the same time missing my family. My 2 are 18 and 21 so they are out and about most of the time. It goes by so quickly! I made rice last night and you’re exactly right—it fills the house with such a lovely, warm hug.
    Thank you for your posts! I always leave your site with a smile and inspiration.

  12. says

    This is such a great post. I like the sentences about the ‘easy and the hard’ the ‘work and the challenges’. Fortunately I am at a time in my life when I have the time to approach cooking this way and I think I am cooking the best I ever have. If it is okay I would like to quote those 2 sentences in the next to last paragraph in a post on my blog? I will give you full credit and a link. Let me know.

  13. Amy says

    Last year we picked up our family and moved into a small condo sight unseen. I can completely relate to enjoying working in a (galley) kitchen without a child underfoot. Tonight though I had a wonderful time blanching tomatoes with my daughter. Thank you for the ideas and recipes.

  14. Michael Schneider says

    More love here for that final paragraph—for you, your family and your blog in general, of course, but especially intensely for that paragraph—from Santa Fe.

  15. says

    i miss being alone. this post makes me even more aware that i miss being alone. maybe there’s something in that that is a good place to be, but mostly i just crave with every fiber of my being the time and space to fill a bowl of something that i love, and to eat it. i’ll live vicariously through your beans and tomatoes, i guess, and imagine the smell of rice…

    • alana says

      Oh, it will come sooner than you think, Emily. Those little ones are going to grow so fast. (Cliched I know, but only because it’s really really true!)

  16. Jennifer in BC says

    I echo the ‘sigh’ from Christine’s post. That place where I imagine where I want to be and that place where I believe I’m at can sometimes feel so far apart and at other times, the two are so close together that I feel like I can reach out and touch it! Our lives are a series of constant journeys sometimes consecutive (maybe even with a little breather in between) but most times we’re taking several roads at once. I think about that alot. You have basically told us to remember to be in the moment, something we need to constantly remind ourselves. And for those of us that love our kitchens as an extension of ourselves and the centre of our universes, it’s a reminder that I should take time to be in the kitchen for me whenever I get a chance. Fuel me, nurture me, love me. Makes us so much better at doing the same for our families. Ah Alana, you are my kitchen muse these days.

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