The sky is bright blue, cloudless. A bird sits in the big pine tree, both of them swaying calmly in the wind. The leaves are yellow and red and falling. The air smells like smoke, and salt, and freedom.
Here I can really be alone. It is peaceful and all-consuming — this kind of isolation — embodied by sweet coffee and fried eggs and soft words.
Here and only here, it feels like nothing else matters.
Childhood was an ice cream cone, melting and making my fingers sticky. Onion rings and chicken tenders and pancakes covered in syrup. A bag of candy secretly eaten before dinner. Potato chips kept on the top shelf, just barely out of reach.
My father’s old recipe book, spilling newspaper clippings across a flour-dusted counter. A grandmother I never knew, but who is found in all of the notes in the margins. Family recipes passed down, memories transcribed in measurements of butter and sugar. Snickerdoodles. Coffee cake. Banana bread.
A little girl, uncomfortable because her pants pull too tight around the waist and her bathing suit is too revealing. Her face cheeks are still round and red and happy, but she is becoming self-aware and insecure. She wonders what everyone really thinks of her, what they will say when she turns around to leave.
Afternoon snacks of homemade nachos, and strawberries with peanut butter. Cold mashed potatoes eaten in secret.
Months turn into years, and my age becomes much more than just a number. Adolescence is pungent, and painful. My fears turn into realities and expectations are too high. Being vulnerable is hard. Being disappointed is even harder.
Always trying to predict the future.
Summers were spent on a farm, away from it all. Surrounded by raspberry bushes and gentle friends instead of skinny girls with blonde hair and boys who will never know my name. I learned to play the guitar sitting on the grass next to a bed of snap peas, under the light of the moon.
An acquired taste for scallops and coriander and rhubarb became a taste for everything. Eating is exciting, and cooking is a relief.
The beginnings of adulthood are defined by hours logged in coffee shops and ice cream stores and prep kitchens, behind counters or bussing tables. I am told that it is not a “real job,” but good enough for now.
Judgmental small-town sidewalks were traded for anonymous crowds on the NQR train. A young woman terrified of being seen, but wanting to be heard. Unable to speak louder. Content with invisibility.
Still working to live and living to work. Working, and living, but always thinking.
It paid off, sort of. Jobs, money, friends, parties. Perks, like free beer and leftover churros. Coming home at 4 in the morning feeling satisfied. Tired and happy. It’s good on the surface, but that’s because everything looks good on the surface.
Still safely tucked away behind closed kitchen doors, afraid of being exposed.
Eventually, gut instincts fail. A midlife crisis at the age of 22.
Blind faith in unspoken words left me vulnerable for attack. She broke my heart, and told me it was all in my head. A lesson too deeply internalized. Seeds of doubt are scattered, germinating in an insecure mind.
I drove a minivan through the mountains of Spain, desperate to taste something new. Anchovies and manchego, espresso on the sidewalk. Alone in a crowded bar. Cider poured from the sky. I remember who I am again. I remember how to smile.
Life evolves into a menu designed from the soul. Bread and butter, pears and cardamom. Citrus with mint and burrata. Clams cooked in vinho verde, eaten straight from the pot.
More meals shared, flavors taking on more meaning.
And then, the world was ending.
Grocery shopping became an adventure, as if it wasn’t enough of one before. New friends can be found at the cheese shop and the Greek restaurant in the Lower East Side that turned into a convenience store. Playing aimlessly with ingredients is a good way to pass the time, even though time doesn't mean anything anymore.
Mornings are spent on the roof, drinking coffee on top of the world. Sitting, and thinking again. If only there wasn’t so much to think about.
It helps to write things down. My memories and fears and secret whispers are reflected clearly with ink on paper. It feels good to scribble a list — pistachios, lime, peppercorns — and to turn it into something beautiful.
Old fractures start to reveal themselves. The ugly truth comes out, with emotions collectively intensified. The surface is not so attractive anymore.
Paralyzed. Unable to wiggle free, and unable to ask for help. Caught in a spiral of “what ifs.” Consumed by the conflicts being faced internally and externally, and by all the ones that cannot ever be solved. Trapped inside a far too familiar mind, where I have not always been welcome. Always trying to break free.
Advice comes in the form of a good friend. “You know what to do,” he says. “Cook.”
Summer means nectarines on the grill. Vermouth and soda in the sun. Basil and tomatoes and jalapeños growing on the fire escape. A garden below, with string lights and a little orange cat who comes to visit often. We watch each other for a while, not wanting to make the first move. Not wanting to ruin the silence.
Words start coming naturally, and are finally being read. Writing for the sake of writing. Writing for myself.
Still worried about wasting time, caught somewhere between productivity and patience. I am scared of the future because something could go wrong. Trying to strike a balance between blind optimism and high expectations. One day at a time, no need to rush. Not overthinking the details.
Learning how to breathe, not letting impatience and anxiety become all consuming. It’s always there, and always will be. The simmering uncertainties and disconnecting paths. The endless stream of thoughts about everything, and nothing at all. The fear of not knowing.
But I am learning to live with it.
Now, I look at the way the early light hits the leaves of my monstera plant. Listening to Lester Young on the radio. Happy to finally be warm again.
Looking for nothing, but finding everything. Foraging for fragmented pieces of an identity. Walking for hours without a destination, drinking martinis and sharing secrets.
Cooking from memory. Shrimp scampi that tastes like sunshine. Risotto with lemon and parmesan. Peach and raspberry pie.
The fear of being let down, or let go. The hope of being caught.
No longer a little girl, or a young woman. Just a person. A recipe with notes written in the margins. Tattoos of oranges and garlic that make a foreign body feel like home. Changing slowly over time, as everything does. Developing gradually, naturally, effortlessly. Building a foundation. Building a dream.
A whole fish. A black bass. Forgotten at first in a cold oven, but still cooked to perfection. Patience rewards itself.
Its cavity is stuffed with meyer lemons, its skin rubbed with aji amarillo and pink peppercorns. Rice flavored with coconut, sprinkled with cilantro. Finished with yuzu salt and a sauce made from peppers and lime.
No such thing as a recipe—there are no rules to follow. Only instincts and intuition. Life that changes with the seasons.
Redefining anxiety as anticipation.
When I close my eyes, I am back on that porch, where silence was a part of the conversation.
Cold spring air and a rack of ribs on the grill. A guitar played softly, a never-ending song for no one’s ears but mine. The place where it is okay to just exist, where watching the trees is an activity. Going to sleep early and waking up quietly with the sun.
Mourning doves perched on the windowsill, getting ready to take flight.