That feeling that the conversation has already happened. I already bumped my head on the glass mixing bowl drip, drip, drying on the rack. “Shit” already flew out of your mouth as your hand touched the cast-iron pan I can feel from arms length away. The moment in time – was it weeks, or months? – when I rolled over in bed and shook the activity of my dreams out of my head, fell back asleep, woke later without a trace of what had been, until it happened again, today.
Some people call it déjà vu. Sometimes it might even be. But sometimes – often times – it has already happened.
I tell people this. Or at least, I used to. I told you, one time, remember? You chortled and I think a shred of green roughage even fell from your mouth. It’s usually that, or maybe a half-smile and a nod – a gesture to placate the absurd. Or maybe you think I’m making it up, faking it, raking for attention with make-believe scenarios and hippy dippy hocus-pocus.
But really, it doesn’t matter. Does it?
To me, it is so true. It is maybe the truest thing. And also, these moments, these repeated moments of perfect simplicity, normalcy, that I dreamed before they ever happened, before you and I were “you and I” but just “you” and “I,” they are the moments I know – I have arrived. I am living the dream – my dream – that my deepest self dared not even think while awake. In these moments (the blurry double vision of your hand on red-hot black and the double wave of your shh shhhits crashing into my ears) my soul settles against yours, the dream and the reality merge, fate having delivered you to me and me to you to “you and I.”
There’s a great butcher here in Bernal Heights, Avedano’s Holly Park Market. Every time I pop in I get so excited to see the fresh lamb, goat, rabbit, duck, pork, etc. on display. We had our first lunch guests a few weeks ago, and so it seemed like a perfect excuse to finally make duck.
I bought two breasts and two legs, but once I arrived home I realized I had way too much for four people. I made the breasts for lunch; they were good.
But then, the next day I prepared the legs. Divine. We had a few ripe figs in the fridge, some good quality balsamic vinegar, and voila, duck legs like I didn’t even know I was capable of.
Heat an iron skillet to medium. While the skillet is heating, slice the skin on the legs, but don’t cut all the way to the meat. Add just enough olive oil to the skillet to cover the bottom. Once the oil is slick, put in the legs, less meaty side down, and cook for 3-5 minutes. Turn the legs over and cook for 2 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and continue too cook for another 3 minutes, spooning the sauce over the duck. Add the fig quarters and stir to coat with the balsamic glaze. Remove from heat after another 2-3 minutes. Savor every last bite.
I love whoopie pies. They’ve been a favorite of mine since I was a kid. What’s not to love, really? Chocolate? Frosting? Puh-lease.
Imagine my surprise when I arrived in CA and people looked at me as though I were sputtering absurdities, probably put off by the word “whoopie.” Apparently there are no whoopie pies on the west coast.
I vaguely remember hearing the history of whoopie pies - invented by fishermen’s wives in New England as a way for the gents to bring a sweet treat with them that wouldn’t get ruined in their lunch pail. Yup, tasty AND handy. Whoopie pies = perfection.
I decided I needed to bake whoopie pies. I did some searching for recipes and found a few that looked good. (Who knew that the frosting is made out of marshmallow fluff?! Yet another thing that the west coast is missing out on.) Here’s the recipe I finally decided on:
Disclaimer: this is really, really cheesy.
I guess there are actually only seven lessons I learned in Ecuador, and the longer I am back in the States, the more clear this last lesson becomes. In many ways I was very independent. I went to college far from my family and once I graduated I was financially independent. I traveled alone. I lived in Brooklyn and was in a Ph.D. program as a 22 year old. But I let myself believe these instances of independence transferred to all areas of my life.
The reality of it was that in high school, college, and grad school I was filled with typical (and terrible) girl/young woman insecurities. I depended upon the opinions of others to tell me how I should feel about myself. I was never happy with my body, and so I believed the teenage boys who called me “thunder-thighs” and the middle school friend who said I was too heavy to fit into her clothes (I wasn’t, I have photographic proof). I didn’t know if I was actually smart, or just really good at tricking people into thinking I was intelligent. Yeah, like I said, typical, yet terrible.
In Ecuador, I spent a lot of time by myself. I was almost completely cut off from my support network of family and friends. Especially at first, I could only communicate rudimentarily in my clumsy Spanish. I ate whatever food I wanted, often alone. I read whatever books I felt like. Ecuadoreans, having a very different “ideal” for women’s bodies, always said I was too thin and should eat more so that I would look like a woman. There’s a line from some Julia Roberts movie about how she never knew how she liked her eggs cooked. It’s so cheesy, so cliché, but I found out how I like to eat my eggs (over easy, sometimes hard boiled). I discovered that I am happy and healthy at 142 lbs, exercising regularly and eating healthily.
I also had a relationship in Ecuador. It was unlike any other I’d had before, but then, aren’t they always? It was intense and there was a lot of love and learning, but I also put up with things that I had never even imagined. I learned where my personal boundaries are and that cultural differences can only explain away so much of what I perceived to be bad behavior.
I was robbed and attacked. I slaughtered animals and ate intestines. And worms. And monkey. I learned to make jokes in Spanish. I drove a 4-wheel drive truck on washed out dirt tracks through the Andes. I climbed volcanoes. I got homesick. I danced a lot. I did interviews and collected data. I wrote a dissertation. At the end of it all, I have a strong faith in myself, and not because other people do. I’ve been to hell and back and above the clouds and back again, and when Ecuador ended, I was really just beginning.