This has been about the hardest week of my life. I’ve endured my fair share of suffering along the way, but nothing like this. A little life was taken from us, along with all the hope of one day holding it in our arms, close to our hearts. Only knowing about this growing life for a little more than a month, we were barely beginning to dream of what joy might be coming into our lives in just under a year. Over the course of a few weeks, we were excited to tell our families and closest friends. We wanted to bring those closest to us along on this journey. We realized it was still a little early to spread the word, but knew that if the unimaginable happened, we would want these people near us to help us through. Now, on the other side, we are so happy to have our loved ones around to do just that.
As we grieve the loss of life, we don’t lose hope, we trust even more in the One who creates life. We cling to the promise of restoration and to the fulfillment of joy that only comes from God. We are so thankful to those who have prayed for us, offered us a shoulder to cry on and have encouraged us to keep going. We love you all.
This soup is the first meal I’ve made in almost two weeks. To me, it signifies the beginning of restoration and the fading away of grief. It’s comforting and refreshing all at the same time and perfect for sharing with those closest to you. If you have someone in your life who is grieving, throw together a pot of this soup, sit with them, and allow them to feel the warmth of your love. (more…)
We have been back for a little over a month, but it feels more like a distant lifetime. So much has happened in the last five weeks that it seems like we came home to a different life, not the one we had planned on, or anticipated, but the right one. I’m not sure why our lives play out the way they do, but I hope and trust in the One who is orchestrating it all because I know His intentions are enveloped in love and they are undeniably perfect. I look back on our time in Paris and I remember how alive we felt, how free, and how we anticipated what turns our lives might take next, not really knowing what those turns might look like in the flesh. They have manifested as more tortuous and sharp than we had dreamed, but are producing within us a deeper sense of who we are and what really matters in this life. Reflecting on the story I’m about to share puts my life and these trying times into perspective. It reminds me to be thankful for each and every gift, even if it doesn’t look like a gift at all and to be generous even in a time of great need.
There was so much I loved about Paris. The City of Light ended up being more magical than I had dreamed, beyond any postcard or photograph I had ever seen. It felt, somehow, like we were not there at all but merely seeing it from above, in exactly the way we had always hoped. Everything they say is true, with the exception that the French are rude. They proved to be the most generous, loving, and kind hearted people we had the pleasure of coming into contact with. One, in particular touched my heart, deep to it’s core. Still, weeks later, I can’t get his face and his sweet, gentle voice out of my head. I don’t know his name, but he changed me and I’m eternally grateful for that.
We had been in Europe for two weeks already. It was our last full day in Paris, so we spent the morning shopping along the grey damp streets for souvenirs to bring home to our family and friends and of course, some things for ourselves too. My stomach was full from the large pot of moules meunières that was followed by a heaping pile of salty, crisp frites at a bistro on popular Rue du Baci. The street was busy, maybe more than normal, as neighbors spent small fortunes on fresh oysters and champagne for their late night New Years Eve festivities. We were running late for a macaron class with at least two Metro trains and a brisk ten minute walk to go, so Paris was flying behind us in a blur. We sprinted through the wet streets, weaving through the skinny space between the foot traffic and the dime-sized cafe tables that fill the already slim sidewalks. Racing toward the descending steps of the metro station, we slowed down enough to wait for a red pedestrian light and that is when I saw him. His limbs were crippled, with a make shift prosthesis made out of fabric, wire and some indeterminable pieces of what looked like plastic, winched tightly to what remained of his left leg. His clothes were barely able to be called as such, merely keeping him from being considered nude. He had a filthy worn paper cup placed in front of his malformed extremities, with a single coin in it.
In a city like Paris, beggars are everywhere. I was warned before leaving the states that it is not uncommon for people to beg for money only as a distraction for lurking pickpockets. It’s a manipulation game used for theft and less to feed the forlorn faces that plead for a few small coins. I did my best to walk past them on the street, each with their own tattered cup, tossing a few clanging euro coins together to draw attention or divert it, whichever the case. There were many, some with small children on their lap or a malnourished dog at their feet. With each one I passed, I reassured myself that it was perfectly moral to just walk by, rationalizing that they are not actually starving, they are merely a decoy for the sly character behind the next tree waiting for my hands to leave my pockets so they can help themselves. In fact, I was convinced I was doing my part by not perpetuating the cycle. I have an interesting way of self soothing, I suppose.
Shockingly, this man was different than all the others. I couldn’t compartmentalize my feelings for him. This was not a game, but a gruesome reality as bare as his wet, exposed limbs. There was no one waiting around the corner, no alternative motive, and no manipulation, only the glowing, brazen truth. His head drooped, avoiding eye contact with the hundreds of rain soaked shoppers bustling by, considering their plans for ringing in the New Year, almost as if he were a permanent fixture there, like a lamp post, or a dirty garbage can. I too, passed him by, walking toward the metro with bags of expensive chocolate, caramels and books in hand. Moments before, I had a conversation with my husband about how I wanted a new pair of comfortable shoes for the trip home, even though I had three perfectly functional pairs in my suitcase, somehow none of them seemed to be acceptable. Was €120 too high for a pair of traveling shoes? We could possibly make an exception, we were on vacation after all. As I faced the crosswalk with him behind me, with visions of a pair of new French booties dancing in my head, I couldn’t shake the sadness in my heart regarding the plight of this man. Reconciling the dueling images in my head of new expensive shoes and a man drenched, leg-less, and crippled, begging for a few coins to stay alive, was impossible. I lost it. Those two images were irreconcilable. How could I complain about not having a pair of new shoes when this man was struggling to merely stay alive? I took a small €5 bill from my husbands coat pocket and walked back to hand it to him. As I walked toward him, he looked down at his cup expecting to see a few small coins dropped in like all the others but I came in closer, looking at him, stretching out a bill toward his hand. Surprised, he looked up at me with sweet, tired, and humble eyes grabbing the bill with his twisted hand. He held it to his chest and with a soft, honest voice said, “Merci.” I responded with a poorly pronounced, “Bon année”, wishing him a happy new year. Never in my life have I ever meant those words more than they did at that very moment.
As I walked away, I wished I had given him everything in our wallets and more. I cried all the way to our class, unable to get his sweet voice out of my head. Even now, weeks later, I find it difficult to think of him without the companion of tears. After our class, we went back to that spot to find him, this time prepared to offer him literally all we had and to tell him that he is cared for, but he was gone. In a way, I’m relieved he was not still out there begging in the cold, but I really wish I could have done more or offered him something to hope in.
For most of our trip, we delighted in the opportunity to spoil ourselves, sparing no expense as we were filled to the brim with all sorts of delicacies. It was a glorious time that we will remember for the rest of our lives, but on our very last day, this man put it all into perspective for me. There is a time to give and to be utterly thankful for the blessings in our lives. I’ll never know why this man had to suffer through life so relentlessly and why I get to sit in a warm house with more blessings than I can count. I do know for sure however, that I’ll never forget his sweet voice, and when I find myself in Paris again, I will make my way to him, with as many euros as my hands can hold.
The past six days in Rome, Italy have been a whirlwind of complete bliss. We have indulged in some of the best food we have ever had and have fueled our waking hours with many a cappuccino. We have walked on marble that once was the foundation for a thriving civilization and have witnessed astounding works of art and architecture. We have walked around for hours upon hours, enjoying the best the city has to offer being consistently amazed by one giant building after another that dates back to a time unimaginable to me. The large scale of the city has been even more astonishing than I thought it would be, although after getting to know the ancient Romans a little more this week, I imagine that is exactly how they wanted it. Everything they built was larger than life and was a reflection of their place in the world as the largest empire of their time.
The Italians we have had the pleasure of spending any time with were some of the warmest people we have encountered. On the second full day we were there we took a cooking class and gourmet tour from a local chef named Fabio. He was funny and knowledgeable and a darn good cook. We spent the first hour or so touring the Jewish ghetto where he showed us the best places in the city for bread, cured meat, pizza bianca and this incredibly tasty and super secretive ricotta chocolate cake. Apparently the little old ladies that make the cakes are famous for them. Legend has it that the most famous chef in all of Israel came to them asking to trade recipes and they told him it would better for him to keep his and they’ll keep theirs. I have to say, I now understand the reason he would be willing to give up all of his recipes for just that one, that cake is absolutely unforgettable.
After our tour, we ended up at Fabio’s apartment where we suited up and started cooking right away. We made beef stock that would be the seasoning for our sauces and risotto later on, we mixed up two types of pasta dough, one with eggs and one without, and we prepped side dishes to accompany the main entree. It was a lot of work, but felt nothing like it as we constantly had our eyes peeled for what Fabio would do next.
When it came time to form the pasta we were split into couples and were each assigned a different pasta. It was so much fun to see how easy it is to make incredibly delicious pasta with just a couple of ingredients. We rolled and cut and shaped until we had enough pasta to feed the whole building.
We made five courses in all and finished with the ricotta chocolate cake as our sixth. By the end of our meal no one could move. I really wish I had worn stretchy pants, that’s for sure.
Romanesco with sausage and hand rolled short pasta
Red wine and sausage risotto
Artichoke and sausage stuffed ravioli
Chicken stuffed with smoked mozzarella and sausage, wrapped in speck (served with cheesy baked potatoes)
The famous ricotta chocolate cake. What I wouldn’t do for a slice right now!
I hope your Christmas holiday is delightful. As much as I am enjoying my time here with the hubs, I must say I miss being with all of the family for Christmas. I’ll have to try to pull it together as we now walk the streets of the city of light. I’m sure we’ll manage, just know we will be thinking of you!
Until next time, au revoir!
The gift giving season is upon us, which means we will spend much of the next few weeks thinking about how to bring joy to our family, friends and neighbors. What a wonderful time of year! It is important for us to look outside of our undoubtedly busy, stressed and sometimes overwhelming lives to see those around us who need to know that there is some one who appreciates them. This expression can take many forms, either in a material gift or in an act of kindness requiring only an open heart. They can be humbly handmade or lovingly purchased with abundant wealth, either way, they are from the deepest part of who we are and express a desire within us to bring happiness to those we care for.
My favorite way to give gifts is from the working of my own hands. In actuality, that is my favorite way to receive them as well. There is something hidden in gifts that require a labor of love that just doesn’t seem to come through with something store-bought. Knowing that I am able to create something for someone is the ultimate giving experience for me. Naturally, I’m best at creating things that are sweet and edible and so I tend to bake a lot during the holidays. It is a great (and sometimes inexpensive) way to give to those around me who I wouldn’t normally be able to give purchased gifts to when Christmas comes around. Cookies, bars and small cakes in jars are some of my standbys while quick breads like pumpkin spice and banana nut are wonderful wrapped up in waxed paper finished with a neatly tied bow on top. This applesauce cake would be a great item to bring to one of the many parties you’ll be attending this season, and could also be transformed into a wonderful gift if placed into a mason jar with frosting and nuts filled to the top. Tie a ribbon around the lid and secure a small spoon in the bow and you’ll have a gift anyone would appreciate.
I hope this season is filled with joy while you give to those around you and that the gift you receive in return is a heart full of unending gratitude. (more…)
The words I’m about to write are hardly conceivable and make my heart race. We are leaving for Europe in two weeks(!). I seriously can’t believe it. I feel like we have been planning this trip for years and now it’s right around the corner. We begin our trip in Rome and then we’ll move along to Paris for Christmas and New Years (I know!). It sounds like a dream, and I imagine it will feel that way for the duration of our trip, only to awake as we descend on SFO on New Years day.
In preparation for our time abroad I have been reading books, blogs and just about anything I can find on our destinations. Admittedly, I’m mostly focussed on the food culture, being sure not to miss one succulent morsel. While searching for places to eat in Paris, I’ve read quite a bit from blogger and previous Chez Panisse pastry chef, David Lebovitz. As I was searching around on his blog I came across a peculiar recipe for a pear and almond tart with a very interesting dough as the base. Since I wanted to make something with pears for Thanksgiving this year, I decided I’d give this strange tart a try, and as a bonus, it would get me even more in the mood for all things Parisian. (more…)
Every year it seems that Thanksgiving sneaks up on me. I mean, I know it’s coming, but for some reason it just all seems to happen so fast. One day it’s the middle of August and the next, BOOM! I’m buying a turkey. (Are the years moving faster some how?) I guess it’s possible that the weather around here has stunted my seasonal clock. I grew up in an area that has distinct seasons and by this time of year there has been at least one snow storm and everyone has already swapped out their summer clothes for winter ones. In contrast, I walked to the farmers market today in cropped pants, no socks, no jacket and broke a sweat on my way home. Granted, I was carrying a very heavy basket of goodies, but still, I suppose I’ll need to find different cues for reminding me that the holidays are coming.
The best indicator I can think of to remind me to start planning ahead for the holiday season is the local harvest. Right around this time curly kale fills the stalls at the market and farmers are sampling the sweetest valencia oranges. Those just happen to be two ingredients in one of my favorite winter meals, raw kale salad. I could eat the stuff by the bucket full, and in the winter months, I do. It is a great way to get a heavy dose of vitamins to help fend off seasonal illness and as a plus, it tastes fantastic. So much so, that it will be on my Thanksgiving menu, right next to a heaping pile of whipped potatoes (and of course, a glass of wine).