Several weeks ago, I hosted a festive spring dinner party. Ben was out of town, and I wanted to take advantage of having the apartment to myself (with, you know, something more substantive than several solo glasses of wine and a Gilmore Girls marathon). I invited a bunch of my favorite women, and the ones who could make it did, a serendipitous group. I made a big batch of a spritz in punch form, and picked up a magnum of a favorite wine, a fresh Cab Fanc called Herluberlu. The meal was springtime perfection: chilled avocado soup, tortilla española, pea and ricotta crostini, a huge salad with radishes and toasted almonds and a mustardy vinaigrette. I baked a simple cake filled with a reasonable quantity of jam and an inordinate amount of whipped cream, which spilled out the sides and onto the cake plate in billowing waves. It seemed like too much cream but wasn’t, of course, and I was reminded how good it is to have girlfriends who eat.
My friends gathered in the kitchen and drank punch and ate cheese and chatted while I finished the salad and escaped to the other room to stand on a chair and take a picture of these toasts. Then we sat at the table and stayed for hours, talking and laughing and reaching for seconds.
It was glorious. It was a Tuesday. I felt so alive.
In How to Be Here, Rob Bell writes this:
You and I were raised in a modern world that taught us how to work hard and be productive and show up on time and give it our best…
We learned lots of very valuable skills, but we weren’t taught how to be here, how to be fully present in this moment, how to not be distracted or stressed or worried or anxious, but just be here, and nowhere else—wide awake to the infinite depth and dimension of this exact moment.
It’s not easy, of course. But I feel more hopeful after nights like that one in April, when I actually was in the moment without even trying, even though I hadn’t tidied up the apartment all that much, even though I was still finishing the meal as everyone walked in the door, even though that night’s attempt at a Spanish tortilla fell into the category of very, very rustic.
Sometimes I try so hard—at peace, presence, living well, etc.—that my effort, unconsciously, becomes the point. And yet, by some wild grace, I’m occasionally handed these rare, shining moments when, without even an ounce of effort, my mind stops working in overdrive and I’m reminded that I’m here and it’s good and that’s actually enough.
This exact interrelated web of people and events and places and memories and desire and love that is your life hasn’t ever existed in the history of the universe.
Welcome to a truly unique phenomenon.
Welcome to the most thrilling thing you will ever do.
The everyday stuff of working hard and doing the laundry and running errands and taking care of our partners/babies/parents and exercising and wrestling with the big questions and dreaming and gathering at the table with the people we love—this is it. This is the story. So let’s dig in and bear witness and do our very best to not miss a thing.
I can tell you this: putting tasty ingredients on good bread, well toasted, results in something that is far more than the sum of its parts. Sometimes, it really is that simple. This may be the only shortcut I know, but thankfully it is a delicious one. Here is my favorite springtime rendition.
Spring Pea & Ricotta Toast
Serves 4 – 6 as an appetizer or part of a meal
About 2 pounds English peas, shelled
Extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly cracked pepper
1 1/2 cup (about 12 ounces) fresh ricotta
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 stalk green garlic, thinly sliced (if available)
1 small bunch fresh mint, leaves picked and cut in a chiffonade
Sourdough or country bread, cut into 1-inch slices
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the peas. Cook for about one minute, until the peas are bright green, then drain and allow to cool slightly.
Zest about half of the lemon and stir it into the ricotta along with a tablespoon or so of olive oil, a sprinkling of salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Put the cooked peas into a medium bowl. Add a generous drizzle of olive oil, the juice of the lemon and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Stir to combine, then gently mash the peas with a fork or potato masher. You want to have a variety of textures, with some whole peas, some quite mashed and others in between. Add the green onion, green garlic (if using) and most of the mint, then mix again. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Toast the bread in a 400 degree oven, checking every 5 minutes and flipping at least once. When the slices are well toasted, remove them from the oven. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, tossing with your hands.
To assemble the toasts, put a big dollop of the ricotta mixture on each piece of bread, spreading it thickly to the edges. Top with the pea mixture and finish with extra mint, flaky sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.