The coffee shop I find myself holed up in these days is a six-block walk from my house. I cross two one-way streets, then a busier intersection between a 24hr diner and a yoga studio. On my way home today I kicked up dead leaves that seem to suddenly have engulfed the sidewalk since Monday and considered calling my mom on speaker phone just so she could hear how pretty the crunching and swooshing sound was in the moment. I have a feeling she heard it, without the call. She usually does. Mom-thoughts generally lead to other gratitude thoughts, and today was no exception. Gratitude for friends who let me interrupt their work-day to speculate if the person sitting next to me is either a hit-man or private investigator based on the prolific mess of records, security camera footage, and license plate captures strewn about the table. Gratitude for the way the Universe ushered an amputee-veteran to my check-out line at Target yesterday while I was purchasing pimple-cream alongside halloween candy with even the slightest grudge against my otherwise perfectly functional body.
I heard an echo of crunching and swooshing behind me as I stopped to cross the last street before our house and looked over my shoulder to catch a glimpse of the situation. Just a teenage-girl carrying a violin case. We acknowledged each other and crossed in tandem when there was a break in the traffic. She carried on ahead of me, swinging her case down the walk and I watched her from our porch for a minute or so, tossing my keys between my palms before going inside. There is an unspoken language between women that had been expressed between us in crossing the street and I wondered if she even knew it had transpired or the power it holds. When I was her age I don’t think I did. We are stronger when we cross together. I was a wildly independent in my youth. The sort of, I-don’t-need-anyone-to-help-me, I-can-do-it-all-on-my-own, type. In those days I associated feminism with unbreakability and ferocity, reserving all my tenderness or vulnerability for those in my inner circle. My relationship to my own femininity (and femininity at large) in those angst-y teenage years has softened as I’ve aged. With each passing season I find myself coming closer to a place where I can honor my emotional expressiveness, impulse to nurture, and keen sensitivity as having equal value to my fiery determination, independence, and fearlessness. Today I actively seek crossing the street with another, not as a crutch, but as a way to understand the female species and learn my place and call within it.
I set down my backpack on the couch and thumbed through the mail before kicking off my shoes and heading upstairs to check on Shaun. He was at his desk, just as I had left him several hours ago, reading Supreme Court documents for a new film project while sports commentary played in the background. I hugged him from behind, and closed my eyes. Earlier in the day I had confessed to a friend that I felt like I had nothing profound or compelling to write about my life or the world these days in this space. I get to wake up next to my best friend, I am involved in challenging and fulfilling work, and my friendships bring me deep and profound joy. Am I possibly too content to write? Is that even a thing? Contentedness, what is this witchery? Is it possible? Can I only create art when I feel melancholy or restless or at dis-ease? If good writing is a product of emotional carnage then I might be wise to consider a new career path. I kid.
Along these lines, said friend reminded me that I’m a normal human living normal days, as we do, and that I have permission to set poignancy on the shelf every now and again. “Some days you’re just a girl living her life.” And I’m cognitively very aware of this truth. Anyone who knows me will assure you I’m TEAM REAL-LIFE. And, even though the work I’m most proud of is born from some less-than-awesome mental states, the less-dramatic and emotionally stable days are the ones I like best and know you do too. The ones with walks and thoughts of pimples and hit-men and femininity and questions if I should go to therapy and if we should buy a second car and why my sweater smells like curry and when there will be enough snow to snowshoe and if brie or camembert cheese is a better accompaniment to squash and flaky crust.
And so it goes. This is my life, and I’m just happy to be in it.
Butternut Squash and Brie Galette
For the pastry:
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup ice water
In a bowl, mix the flour with the sugar and salt. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut in half of the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Cut in the remaining butter. Pour in water then begin to mix and knead the dough until a ball forms and the mixture is no longer shaggy looking. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
For the filling:
- 3-ish lb butternut squash
- 2 apples (honeycrisp, pink lady, or fuji)
- 2 cups brie cheese, rind removed
- olive oil
- fresh thyme
- 1 egg
Preheat oven to 400.’ Peel the squash. Cut 1/4 inch vertical wedges up to the rind. Halve discs. Place on a baking sheet and coat with olive oil, salt, and pepper. It’s okay if wedges overlap. Bake for 15-20 minutes until just softened and a little al dente in the thicker regions. Set aside and cool. With a mandolin or pairing knife, cut apples (with peel) into 1/4 inch slices. Set aside. Cut or tear brie into strips and chunks. Set aside.
On a floured work surface, roll the dough out into a 12-inch round. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Begin layering cooled squash, apples, cheese, and a bit of salt and pepper leaving a 1 1/2 inch border for folding it all up. Repeat until you run out of ingredients and can top with more cheese. Fold the border over your squash-apple-cheese tower pleating the edge to make it fit. Finish outside exposed dough with an egg wash. Bake for 30-40 minutes in the 400′ oven. Cut into wedges and serve warm.