Posts in "Essays"
Humidity and Lightning Bugs
Humidity and Lightning Bugs | Freckled Italian

I was at Costco the other day, looking at salami and prosciutto when a man walked by wearing Ralph Lauren cologne and I swear my entire morning stopped in its tracks because of the combination of that familiar fragrance combined with rotisserie chickens and whatever warehouse smell bulk grocery stores all have in common.

I stood there, transfixed and temporarily brought back to summers in Roanoke. Of living on Smith Mountain Lake, driving into town with my mom in her black Suburban, of buying what seemed like way too much food and wine and soda but always ended up being just the right amount, because friends were always filtering in and out of our house every day in June and July, and because (most importantly), we really only seem to be friends with people who can eat.

It’s so much more than the house, though.

I’ve been missing summer in the south lately--that deep, humid heat that settles into your bones and gives your hair texture you didn’t know it had. The way that long after the sun goes down and the fireflies come out it’s still 85 degrees and sticky. Summer in the south is big and magical for more than just the humidity and the lightning bugs.

It’s s’mores and cheap beer around a fire pit; it’s bug spray and sunscreen residue on your skin and the shocking splash from a backyard pool or even just a sprinkler to run through as it cools you down and rinses the watermelon juice from your wrists. It’s a late-night Blizzard from Dairy Queen with friends, and pup cups for the dogs who played all day together in the yard.

It’s the way I think of my late friend Zach and cry every time I hear “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” It’s fireworks and sparklers and hot dogs on a grill. It’s the way a leather couch feels on your bare legs as you slide in to watch a movie after a day outside in the sun. The deep, almost overwhelming greenness of the forest as I-81N opens up suddenly to mountains on the way from Charlotte to Roanoke.

When I was working on my first cookbook I would come home after an early morning rowing workout and pour cold brew over ice, opening the back door to the yard as Ender wiggled through my legs to roll around in the grass. I’d sit there with bare feet, in leggings and a sweaty tank top with my coffee and my laptop, under the shade of an oversized umbrella, taking in the morning before that North Carolina heat crept in for the day.

But now I’m here, in what feels like a different world sometimes. Sleeping with open windows as the chilly eucalyptus-scented Bay Area air cools our house down every night. Wearing a sweater every morning, working almost only through nap-time, putting together a 3PM toddler snack--sitting at our kitchen table with an afternoon cup of tea, planning our next trip to the coast to pick strawberries by the ocean as our daughter stacks her blocks and moves her stuffed animals from their woven basket to my grandmother’s light blue armchair. So happy to be where we are, and so sad to be so far away from other places. On days like this I somehow feel homesick and content and melancholy and joyful all at once.

Life is an incredible tangle of feelings and experiences and I’m so grateful for each and every one of them.

But I could use a drive down a country road.

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From Sea to Shining Sea

Lately I've been looking at Charlotte through the lens of leaving it.

We have moved so much that every now and again, a memory of a previous home will drift through my mind. Growing up in Roanoke, going to college in Farmville (yeah that's real), back to Roanoke for my first real job and grad school, then Charlottesville to write my thesis and work in a coffee shop while Rob got his master's degree. Back to Roanoke once more before Minneapolis, and then, finally to Charlotte, North Carolina; where we started to put down the roots that will have to be gently pulled in September when we move to California.

So sometimes when I'm driving on a freeway in Virginia or North Carolina, suddenly I'm on the road from Bloomington to Eden Prairie or Minnetonka, where I'd work temp jobs that first autumn in Minnesota while trying to turn my blog into my full-time job. One of my first days was on Halloween, and it snowed as I answered the phone and transferred calls.

There were pink skies and blue sailboats and coconut soft-serve milkshakes from The Wedge Co-Op in the summer, and when I first looked it up I accidentally misread it as "wedge coop," which is what we still call it in a funny little voice. We lived for outdoor happy hours and the spiciest chicken wings you will ever eat in uptown Minneapolis every week, and sometimes we'd stay home and order takeout from the best little hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant I've ever encountered. We planned our wedding and we got married and we came back from our honeymoon to a place that really did feel like home even though we hadn't lived there very long.

And sometimes when I'm elsewhere, getting coffee or meeting a friend for dinner, I already think about Charlotte and my favorite seat at the bar of Not Just Coffee in Uptown; or the burgers we eat almost every weekend at Bad Daddy's (I always get the 'shroom burger in a bowl, pretty much for the truffle aoili). Our Monday evenings at Sycamore and the occasional rooftop cocktail at Fahrenheit when we had something to celebrate. Oddly enough we went there after I got my BRCA2 gene mutation results, because I was in tears all afternoon and somehow we found a way to clink our glasses and happily wish for a long future together, with a little surgery thrown in eventually.

I want to remember all of it: the apartment in South End and long walks down the Rail Trail with Rob and Ender; that time Rob, Corri, Siobhan, Evan, and Alfie the cockapoo all piled into an Uber and went to Triple C Brewing Co. for beers before walking to Mac's Speed Shop for hush puppies and BBQ on a really hot summer night. How my mom always seemed to visit on rainy weekends and we'd sit on the patio in the morning with hot cups of coffee. The drive from Charlotte to Roanoke, and how the green mountains seemed to pop up out of nowhere the minute you crossed the border into Virginia.

And the way it felt coming home, with the Queen City skyline rising up slowly in the distance as we barreled down 77.

Charlotte was a quiet home where we were able to thrive. My blog grew and I thrashed my way out of what had been some pretty rigid comfort zones. I lived my most tumultuous two years here, but all of the trauma happened elsewhere. My parents' separation; my mom's breast cancer, surgery, and recovery--all of that took place hours away, so I would go and be there and do my best but then I would return to North Carolina--tired and sore and full of feelings that sometimes didn't even make sense--and I could rest in the quiet safety of Rob's arms.

I'm going to miss it here. 

But I know I'll be able to access all of it on a chilly, Bay Area morning that I can't even imagine yet. The way we felt, the things we ate, the friends we made. Like every other place we've called home, we'll take as much of it as we can with us when we go. 

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