Two weeks ago, I left Paris and took a train to the South of France, the landscape spreading out infront of us as we left the city, then gathering up in rolling hills. A few hours later, when we were all settled and soothed by the pastoral scenery- pastures, herds and small lakes; repeat- an older man in a buttoned-down pink shirt stood up and asked to switch seats, exclaiming quite loudly: “la Mediterranee!” As he settled into his window seat, the train seemed to slow, so as to let us savor these fifteen minutes or so, the Mediterranean sparkling in the sun before us. From the train station, I made my way, by car, through winding roads up to a tiny village, perched snugly against a lush green mountain, a little creek running at its feet, and tall mountains blanketed by forests looming up close, reaching high up to the sky, and obstructing the horizon. As I sit here, on my terrace, at sunset, swarms of birds fly above me in the powder blue skies, and in front of me, the mountains forming a luxuriant green backdrop. Their gentle humming is the only noise I can hear.
A year and a half ago, I felt a door opening in the distance- I could barely hear the creak of its hinges as it pulled ever so slightly ajar. But, all of a sudden, there was a sense that I could opt out of a life that felt at times, and then, more and more often, stifling and suffocating, and not mine. Until I finally crawled towards that door, now wide open, with all of the strength and courage I could muster. Which is to say: Yaki and I are separating.
It’s one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, and I’m still in the midst of it, and it all feels very, very raw. It feels like my skin has been pulled off, at first very slowly- tentatively, the way you would with a bandaid, lifting up one corner, pausing, starting again- until, in one last, final yank, it all came off quickly and painfully, forming a puddle at my feet.
It’s chestnut territory down here, the dark green trees everywhere, furry light green orbs festooned on the branches. Yesterday, on my way to write by the river, I picked figs growing wild on the sides of the road, the fruit plump and warm from the afternoon sun.
Earlier, while doing the dishes, and looking out at the street below, I watched neighbors stop to chat with each other. As the discussion grew lengthy, they began picking grapes growing on the terrace of the house across from mine, and eating them out of hand.
It’s a beautiful environment to be facing my fears in- this verdant, fertile, peaceful bubble. No one locks their cars here or their doors, and I take a leap of faith as I leave my cottage unlocked, the ancient brass keys hanging from a hook outside my door. As I fall asleep in the dark, alone, the only sound is that of the river gurgling as it makes its way between the mountains.
Pasta with Stinging Nettles
adapted from this recipe by Francis Lam for Gilt Taste
Be sure to use gloves when handling nettles. The quick blanch will take away their sting, so they will be easy to prep at that point. I find their taste to be similar to spinach, but slightly sweeter and with an almost minty flavor. I auditioned a few nettle recipes, as nettles grow wild and in abundance here in the village, and I liked this one the best- the nettles really shine, their flavor complex and intriguing, while the sauce is rich, creamy, and comforting.
Note: This recipe contains raw-ish eggs.
1 pound stinging nettles, washed
1 onion, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
¾ teaspoon smoked paprika (pimenton), or to taste
Fish sauce or soy sauce, to taste (or salt)
12 ounces spaghetti, tagliatelle, or other long pasta
½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated (plus more, for serving)
¼ teaspoon sugar, or to taste (if necessary)
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the nettles for just 20 seconds or so, until they wilt. Remove with a slotted spoon; leaving the water in the pot to boil the pasta. The nettles will have lost their sting, so you can now strip the leaves from the stems easily, discarding the stems. Finely chop the nettles, and set aside.
2. In a bowl, beat together the eggs with the cheese, a pinch of salt, and a generous amount of black pepper. Set aside.
3. In a large sauté pan or Dutch oven, warm the oil over medium-low heat and add the onion. Let it sweat slowly, stirring occasionally. Once the onion has softened, turn the heat up to medium-high and add the smoked paprika. Stir well, then add a few shakes of fish sauce or soy sauce. Let the sauce sizzle off and stir in the nettles. Sauté, stirring, for just a minute or so. Taste them and adjust seasoning with fish sauce, salt and / or sugar, smoked paprika. Turn off the heat and reserve, covered.
4. Cook the pasta until al dente and drain, saving a cup of the cooking water. Reheat greens over medium heat, and toss in the pasta—mixing well. Turn off the heat, and add the egg mixture, stirring as quickly as possible, so that the heat from the pasta thickens the eggs. Add a little of the cooking water to loosen things up and form a smooth sauce. Taste, adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, fish sauce, or cheese, and serve.