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The Five-Second Rule and Lemon Tarts

Sometimes, as a creative exercise, I like to write about what I'm doing that very moment; where I am, the things I'm thinking about, what I see and hear and smell or hope for from that day. I  grab my battered, glucose-stained, weather-beaten recipe notebook and turn to a new page. I hope I have a pen - if not, I'll use a Sharpie. If not a Sharpie, there might be a broken pencil in the detritus at the bottom of my purse. If I'm honest, I'm nearly always thinking about food. Whether because of work, or reading, or hunger, some of these pieces end up being food-centric. And it struck me that I could share any of it here, if for no other reason than to invite you to celebrate the occasional greatness of perfectly ordinary weekdays. Also, I believe in the five-second rule when it comes to docks, grass, or clean pavement. Just saying.

the tart in question from Hummingbird Macarons, Norfolk, VA


// stream of consciousness. october 18, 2018 . norfolk, va //

//

Today is a pristine day. Every street corner feels like the edge of the explored world; a day of infinite possibility and promise. I perch on the sea wall, squinting across the blue glare of the Elizabeth River to where Portsmouth lies moored among her half-built ships.
A boy with pretty blue eyes gave me my coffee for free. I'm almost sure he mistook me for my sister, but it was still nice. To encourage the unexpected holiday theme I put the unspent coffee money toward a lemon meringue tart which I am now munching as I sit on a sea wall and listen to the boats and the flags and the waves clapping lazily against stone.
Take big gulps of air today: big as your lungs can handle. For once there is nothing there but salt and October and pine or so. It is clean air - clean as the taste of the lemon tart and just as bright. Isn't it almost indecent to sit by the river at 10 AM, eating clouds of meringue and sipping coffee - free coffee from the blue-eyed boy? It is Thursday: a workday. But here I am: tart, coffee, olive green coat, cerulean river, ships half-finished in the background.
Perfection (even the distinct perfection of a lemon tart in the sun on a Thursday morning) does not last forever; one strong gust of wind and everything is upended onto the dock below. All but the coffee which I didn't pay for, but saved anyway. There on the bleached green pier lies the tart - meringue-side down, crisp pastry sticking jaggedly up from the spill of lemon cream. It could be worse - the tart could have dropped into the water. So I jump down, coax the pieces back into the box, and join the tart down on the dock where it's warmer and drowsier, sheltered by the wall at my back. I don't see any seagull poop. Or fish guts. Besides, I paid $7 for that tart. I am definitely going to finish eating it, who cares about weird looks from passing joggers.
Two men and a curly brown dog pass in a boat. They are sorting crabs; the crabs are lifted one by one, comically spread-eagled in midair for a moment, then flicked into the proper bin. I crunch on shattered pieces of tart and watch. Meringue is on my fingers. I'd like the draw that dog...meringue is on my jacket. I wonder where they'll sell those crabs? Does the dog always ride on the boat? Can the fishermen swim well if their crabbing boat tips over in the middle of the Bay?...meringue is in my coat zipper and all over the dock and nobody brought napkins. Then the boat is gone and the tart is gone, and it's time for me to wander back uptown and stow myself away in the restaurant for the night. I get up creakily, fold the empty brown box, wipe meringue from the worn wood, climb back up the sea wall to the brick walk above. We're all a mess: my hands, my coffee which ran in rivulets up my sleeve as I walked, the dock, my jacket. But I've never met a happier solitude.

//

Breakfast Bibimbap Bowl


"You only talked about my bike," Shannon said the other day while we prepped food in the still-sweltering heat of the "cold" kitchen. Shannon, up to her elbows in sordid-looking jars of egg yolk and squid ink, pulses pasta dough in the Robot Coup while I fill a pastry bag with beer caramel and try to keep sweat out of my eyes.
"Out of all the things that could have made an impression," she continues, "all you remembered was my cute bike. I am more than my cute blue bike!"

Harvest Apple Cake




Nothing says "October" to me like a well-spiced apple cake. I always forget that October is coming until October comes and gives me a delightful, visceral shock. October is a fairy tale to me: spun gold and jewel-colors on the trees and wood smoke on the air. It's a time of year that makes me feel steady and ancient and invincible, like I could very well exist in either 1218 or 2018 with very few differences between the two. As a month, October is free from all major holidays (who actually counts Halloween?), leaving ample time to lounge around campfires, hover over candles, and (most importantly) to lay flat on my back in dewy grass to look at the stars or the well-endowed hunter moon. I love it. I love everything about those thirty-one days bridging September and November. I love the food, the flavors, the temperatures, the fact that I can finally wear my favorite sweaters and not turn into a puddle every time I step out the front door.

Peanut Butter Cup Meringue Cookies



The woman in New York City's Upper East Side shouted to me as I approached.
"WORK that jumpsuit, girl!"
 At first I wasn't sure if she was speaking to me at all, but she waved her cigarette and smiled as I passed close to her on the sidewalk. It was only a random compliment from a total stranger, yet more than a year later I think of that beautiful, brown-skinned woman whenever I wear the black jumpsuit. She could have silently admired my fashion choices, but she chose to remark on it to my face. Because of her casual brand of kindness, a powerful aura of confidence surrounds that jumpsuit to this day. There's something to this, I think: although negative words stick around our hearts, kind words stay even longer.

Hurricane Florence Snacks: Molly's Yeh's Marzipan Mandel Bread


September is a beautiful month. The roads at home have stepped up their game, all spangled with bright gold Jerusalem artichoke flowers and purple asters. The fields are heavy with rustling crops, wide swathes cut into the landscape daily by dusty tractors. There's a feeling of anticipation in the air, of hurry - even though the afternoons are still so heavy with sun that it's hard to keep your eyes open if you sit down for longer than a moment or two. Anticipation whispers behind all the false sleepiness of September because apart from those beautiful back-roads and patchwork fields and bountiful produce and mornings that begin to hint at cool weather to come, September brings hurricane season.