A few weeks ago, I was talking with a friend about how I got started as a food writer. I was going through my whole wacky, completely nonlinear career -- the philosophy degree; the years in the Justice Department; my time as a nanny in Paris when I had to watch Beauty and the Beast every single day; my Peace Corps service; grad school; and on and on. None of it made sense, not from any angle. There was no cohesion, no logic, no way to pretend point A influenced point B influenced point C. Frankly, it didn't. My career to that point was a happy mess, a colossal grab bag of experiences whose contents, while colorful and lively, were disconnected from one another in every conceivable way.
And that was all pre-1998. Then came the tenure research, and the babies, and the early years of motherhood during which I struggled to find my place as an at-home mom who yearned to be two places at once -- in a career, and on the floor with my boys. I wanted to be home, but more than that, I wanted to WANT to be home, and that part was the hardest. Because those years were tough. They were tough not in spite of, but precisely because of the relentless activity in that preceding decade. I also felt that, while some women could successfully navigate domesticity as a full-time gig, I, perhaps, might suddenly be out of my league.
I would ask myself, looking at my boys, does this count? Can I actually do this and have it count, not just to them, but to the outside world? Am I fulfilling the role I set out to fulfill, or failing, somehow, to achieve some nebulous goal? I would reflect back on the bosses from my earliest jobs and wonder: would they be disappointed to learn that I'd stepped off the career-track, even though the track I'd been on was shaped like a curly fry?
Let me just say this: I loved those years. I questioned every little possible thing, and I second-guessed often, and deeply, but I loved those years, and I would not for a second grab Father Time's hair and yank him around so I could re-do it. No way. I treasure those years at home with my boys. But they were hard, dude. They were hard.
I spoke with a young woman recently. She's 24, and uncertain about how to fulfill her ambition. She knows she wants to be successful, but her path is shrouded in mystery. Well, yes, of course it is. Hello, young me. There's fog ahead, I hear you, but you just step into it, find your fulcrum, and do your best to wade on through. The fog will lift, eventually, so take your time. The years you spend tiptoeing, then leaping, first left, then right, watching Beauty and the Beast, staying home, changing diapers, feeling scared and unsure and uncertain that what you're doing is the right thing for you, those years count. They count.
The fog will lift.
And you'll have that journey.
And be grateful for it, too.
Recipe for Ouzo-Steeped Calimyrna Figs
I recently had a few couples over (my first dinner party since the Stone Age), and I wanted to put out something simple to accompany the baklava I knew a friend was bringing for dessert. I didn't want to compete with her, or to make the meal end on a heavy note. A few hours before the gathering, I filled a few glasses with ouzo and dropped in some Calimyrna figs. I decided it counted, even though it took about 6 seconds to prepare. By the time the meal was finished, the figs were nicely drunk, and plump, and crazy, crazy good.
Dried figs, preferably Calimyrna
Fill a few glasses with ouzo and drop in some dried figs. Let steep for several hours. Serve, passing around skewers or fondue forks so guests can fish out the fruit.
Refrigerate leftovers, covered, in glass jars, topped off with additional ouzo to cover. These will taste terrific for days.