Author Archives: Marisa

The House Hunt Continues

We tried to buy a house in West Philadelphia this week. After nearly three years of looking and we finally found a dwelling that we both liked enough to offer vast sums of borrowed money for. But it didn’t work out. Another offer was accepted and the reason given was the terms.

Our agent thinks that must mean that someone came in with cash (because no person in their right mind would waive the inspection. It was being sold by an estate so there was no seller disclosure. No matter how good it looked on the surface, any number of ills could have been lurking below)

We don’t have nearly half a million dollars in cash, so we could not compete with that.

Despite having some lingering sadness that this house won’t be where I get to live (it had all of its original quarter sawn oak woodwork! The kitchen was dated but usable and enormous! There was a second staircase!), I can see that the exercise of making the offer has been useful.

On a practical level, all our financing is in place for next time. We’ve figured out more clearly what we will and won’t compromise one. I have a lovely letter to the sellers that I can tweak to go along with a future offer.

It was also helpful on a more interior scale. I’ve really struggled with the concept of leaving the apartment since it’s such a tangible tether to my grandparents and I’ve lived here so long myself. However, I could feel how the prospect of this house broke down many of my attachments. That process of detachment is going to be useful no matter where we end up living.

I still feel a little sad. But I also feel hopeful and excited for what comes next.

Updates and Musings

I just discovered a feature in my feed reader (Feedly, if you’re curious) that let me sort my various RSS subscriptions by how recently they’d been updated. As I scanneds through the list, I was horrified to realize that it has been more than seven months since I posted here. I’ve started and abandoned a few posts more recently, but I last posted in early January. I don’t think I’ve ever let this site go fallow for quite so long.

The other thing that I found striking as I scanned through the list of blogs that had gone dark was how many of them were my blogging people. The folks I discovered when I was just getting started and with whom I struck up real friendships. I miss those early days of blogging, when you didn’t need perfect pictures and a post didn’t require a vigorous social media campaign in order to find some readers.

It makes me sad.

I can’t imagine that there are that many people reading this blog (since it’s been inactive for most of 2017), but here are a few quick updates. I’m working on my 4th cookbook. I’ve become a morning workout person (this took quite a lot mental energy at the start, but is working out well now). Scott and I are still living in Apartment 2024, though we are ramping up our house hunting efforts. We recently spent two weeks out on the west coast, celebrating my mom’s 70th birthday and hanging out with my family. It was lovely.

Happy New Year!

mcclellan-mcnulty-pressman

Every year as the calendar changes over, I spend a little time pondering my life and habits. I’ve set many a goal and resolution over the years, to varying degrees of success. This year, I’m not setting any concrete goals. What I am doing is declaring an intention. And here it is.

In 2017, I intend to show up for the things that matter to me. I will allow myself to drop the balls that need to be dropped and celebrate the ones that remain aloft. I will place people above output. And I will love myself no matter what. 

Of course I also have a long list of things I want to do and be in the coming year. But carving the intention down to the most basic feels good and right for me at the moment.

Potatoes

Scott and I spent a week and a half in Ireland last month. We toured historic sites, drove narrow roads on the left side, and ate a huge number of potatoes. In one memorable meal, I ordered a potato-topped seafood pie and was served both mashed and roasted potatoes alongside the dish containing the pie.

Despite the fact that I love them dearly, potatoes are not one of the vegetables I often cook at home. Scott is often eating a low carb diet, which means that potatoes are outlawed. When he is eating a more extensive array of foods, I realize that I associate potatoes with an unhealthy diet and so eliminate them from my shopping trips.

However, they are delicious. And filling. And versatile. And they don’t necessarily have to keep company with sour cream, butter, and cheese (though god knows, that makes them infinitely more appealing).

I was in college when I had the best baked potato of my life. My parents were in town for the weekend visiting me and we drove from Walla Walla to a little town maybe 45 minutes north (the name currently escapes me). After wandering through the town, we ended up in a local bar for lunch. My mom was skeptical, but the only other restaurant was full and we were hungry.

In the end, it was one of the better meals of my life. All the food was homemade, and then there was that magical baked potato. It had a crisp exterior, but was entirely tender on the inside. It was topped with sautéed onions, peppers, mushrooms, spinach, garlic, and shredded cheddar cheese.

I’ve made versions of it many times in the years since, but it’s never quite as good as it was that autumn day with my parents.

The Monday Before Thanksgiving

2007-turkey

It’s afternoon on the Monday before Thanksgiving. We’re hosting a small dinner for the first time in years. The last time I cooked the full meal was in 2008, when Scott’s mom came up to Philly and we told her we were getting married. I ordered a heritage turkey that year, and in attempt to please all parties, made at least seven sides.

In the years between then and now, our Thanksgivings have been focused on Joan and doing our best to make it festive for her. Three or four times, we went to Scott’s aunt and uncle’s house in Virginia, where I’d bring all the baked goods redo dishes for hours after we’d finished eating, in an attempt to prove my worth to the family I was still trying to join.

There were a couple trips up north to Long Island, as well as the years when we ordered complete meals from Whole Foods and brought them to Joan’s suburban Virginia apartment. Every one of those meals was an exercise in surrender for me, as I had no control over the food or the flow.

I was supposed to cook last year, but that was when Joan got so sick. Instead of spending the day blissfully engaged in culinary activity, Scott and I drove to New York. We took a couple hours away from sitting with her in the hospital to eat Thanksgiving dinner at a diner on Long Island with Scott’s brother and girlfriend.

This Thursday, Sean, Liz, and her mom are driving down from New York to spend the holiday with us. I’ll cook turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and gingery squash (a creation of my cousin Jeremy). I’ve made lists, I’ve shopped, and I’ve cleaned the kitchen. Though I’m cooking and feeding people on my turf, I’m still actively reminding myself to curtail my expectations and my ever-present desire to control how things are unfolding.

PS – I am continually grateful for the fact that nearly every year, I get to have two Thanksgivings. We have traditionally spent Thursday with Scott’s family, while my family celebrates on Saturday. This meal is served potluck style and I traditionally bring a slow cooker full of mashed potatoes and enough gravy to satisfy a legion of hungry eaters. This is a gathering at which I feel no need to prove myself and my need for control somehow takes care of itself.

Crazy Times

I feel like the world is going crazy these days. Now, I know that crazy times are nothing new, but there’s something frighteningly different happening at the moment that I don’t know how to work with.

Not half an hour ago, a woman in the elevator smugly announced to the rest of the passengers in the car that she didn’t believe that climate change was real. She insisted that the scientists said it wasn’t happening. When one of the other riders gently pressed her on this point, she had no detail. It was simply what she believed and the idea we would challenge her was rude and outrageous.

The events unfolding at the Republican National Convention are a larger, more troubling example of this societal insanity. Patent untruths are being told from the stage while people cheer unstintingly for an egotistical narcissist whose organization openly admits that he’s not actually interested in the work of being president.

I am worried. As a woman (and the member of a family who was touched by an illegal abortion). As a Jew. As a person who counts many members of the Islamic faith among her community. As someone who respects science and the pursuit of knowledge. As a friend and family member to immigrants, people of color, and those who identify as part of the LGBTQ world.

Even if Trump doesn’t win (and goodness, I hope that he does not), the ideological divide in our country that his popularity demonstrates is troubling. How will we ever heal these rifts?

My Working Self

I sometimes wonder what I was thinking, choosing this life as a food writer. I spend my days trotting a path between kitchen and desk, doing battle with piles of produce, always trying to imagine them into new combinations and applications. The dishes are endless and the words necessary to tell the tales never come as easily as I wished.

I think about my previous life, working in an office, going to meetings, dashing downstairs to grab a salad before returning to my desk, and I am filled with perverse longing. I was desperately unhappy there, but at least the physical work of it wasn’t so unrelenting. The kitchen sink stayed clean for days at a time. I was occasionally praised for my ideas. There were other people with whom I got to share the work.

However, as I reflect more, I realize that I’m exactly where I should be. The idea of turning myself over to whims of an employer again feels dangerous and despairing. All I have to do is brush my imagination over the possibility, and I know that it would break me to try that again.

I was never able to be my full self at work. It was as if I had to put a piece of me aside in order to walk into the office building. I always envied my co-workers, who seemed to be able to occupy the entirety of the personalities while sitting in front of their company-issued machines. It was impossible for me. Every evening, as I left for the day, I would gulp the outside air and try to shake off the feeling of constriction.

The dishes, my poky old stove, and the struggles with words that I face every day don’t feel so dire in comparison to that putting aside of self that I did each day.

Summer in the City and Time Travel

During my early childhood years, my sister, mom, and I spent a portion of every summer in Philadelphia. The three of us would take up residence in my grandparents’ den, sleeping on an array of foam mats and pull-out couches that were made up at night and put away again come morning. Some years, our visit would be no more than a week or two, other years we’d be there for a month or more.

The years when we stayed for many weeks, my grandmother would enroll us in various day camps, so that we’d have structure and entertainment. She and my mom would shop, have lunch, visit relatives, and take walks around the city. In the evenings, we’d either have simple meals made at home by my mom and Grandpa Sid (Tutu did not cook much), or we’d walk to Little Pete’s or Mandarin Palace so that no one had to bother with the dishes later.

Though my sister and I would be reminded to be on our best behavior every time we visited, the apartment was like a second home and we treated it as such. We helped ourselves to the after dinners mints stashed in the bar when no one was looking, and we dug through Tutu’s closet, looking for shoes and hats to use for dress-up. When we had energy to burn, we’d slip out into the hallway and run up and down it’s block-long length until we were panting for air.

For the last 14 years, I have lived in the very same apartment where I spent those happy summers. The den where we once slept is now my husband’s domain (though the same couch still stands sentinel) and though much of the art on the walls remains the same as in their day, the traces of Sid and Tutu diminish with every passing year. However, both building and the neighborhood at large still harbor wisps of the past strong enough to regularly stop me cold.

My most recent bout of time travel happened yesterday. After a very long, cool spring, the heat and humidity of summer is here, draping itself down around the city like a sheer, damp scarf. I had walked to Trader Joe’s to pick up milk, fruit, and a trio of romaine hearts, and was on my way home with reusable bags balanced on both shoulders. Bangs damp and frizzy, and tee-shirt sticking to my back, I was singularly focused on getting through the back door and into the blessed relief of the air conditioning.

As I crossed the threshold of the building, I was hit with heady, memory-laden cocktail of scents. There was the slightly metallic tang of the cooled air as it met the steaminess of outside. A hint of griddled onions from the food truck half a block away. A whisper of garbage from a nearby dumpster. The ineffable medley of cleaning products and 50-year-old building.

The collection of those city scents made my head tumble and pull, as if the gravitational center of the universe had shifted slightly. I felt as if I was being thrust out of my life in 2016 and backwards 30 years into my seven-year-old self. Just for a moment, I slipped back three decades. I stopped walking, wanting to stretch the feeling and hold on to the possibility that behind me walked my mom, the same age as I am now, and my grandmother, still living, breathing, and offering fashion advice.

I stood there, feet frozen to the sloping ramp, alive and well in two different eras.

Soon enough, the doors slid open again to admit a neighbor and the spell was broken. My feet carried me forward into the lobby and back into the last day of May, in 2016.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

For the last year, Scott and I have been looking to buy a house in West Philadelphia. It’s more my plan than his, though he is now a willing participant in my campaign for larger, slightly less urban digs. And while the move to a home with doors that open directly onto the outside and a kitchen large enough to hold more than two people is what I want, I confess that I will miss living in a place that holds so much of my family’s history. And it will be these unprompted tumbles back in time that I’ll mourn the most.

Cat Naps on the Floor

I have always been able to nap when tired or just overwhelmed. In high school, I used to escape to my car or tuck myself into the sound equipment closet for a quick 15 minutes. In college, I’d dash back to my room or stretch out on an obliging couch for a little between-class snooze. During my years as a nanny, I could always manage a little siesta while my charges watched TV next to me.

At my very first real job, we had an unused office that held ancient files and I’d often tuck myself halfway underneath the desk during my lunch hour in order to rest my brain and catch 20 minutes of shut-eye. Once, my supervisor walked in during a nap, saw me laying there, and offered a string of babbling apologies while backing out. We never spoke of it.

These days, I work from home and have any number of cozy places to take uninterrupted cat naps. However, when I feel the need to take a rest, I prefer to stretch myself out on the floor behind my desk, set an alarm for 18 or 20 minutes, and close my eyes.

Now, as floors go, ours is quite comfortable. Though the carpeting is getting on in years, it was the top of the line when my grandparents installed it in 1986 (good lord, my carpet is about to turn 30), so it’s not as if I’m settling down on hard wood or linoleum.

But the thing that’s so nice about opting for the floor rather than the bed or couch is simply what it communicates to my body and mind. It says that this is just a short term rest. Don’t dive too deeply, just let go for a moment. Relax quickly so as to maximize your sleeping time. And When it’s time to get up, there’s no cozy comforter encouraging me to flip over and sleep some more.

Figs

california shrubbery
Sitting in front of my computer, eating a messy late lunch out of a serving bowl, the thought occurs: I didn’t eat enough figs this summer. Thinking back, there is only one that is memorable, which seems a shame. I am grateful that that fig was an exceptionally good one.

It was plucked off a heavily laden tree while on a meandering walk with my cousin Serena and her baby Lamar. I was in California for a weekend of professional happenings and booked myself a little extra time to see these particular members of my family.

Serena spotted the tree first, it’s branches reaching out from a fenced backyard. I pulled a sticky fig off the tree and offered to share it with her, but she had found her own. We stood there in wordless companionship, eating these ripe, impossibly sweet figs, and feeling appreciation for the wonders of Oakland.

*The picture above was taken on that walk, but is not of the fig tree. I was too engrossed in the eating of the fig to take a picture.