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23 February 2007

may you have thyme

may you have thyme

"Wait, wait, come here," I heard him say, his voice fast and excited, as he scurried around the corner into the kitchen.

Normally, when I drop off the Chef at the restaurant in the early afternoon, we have a definite routine. We have driven and talked, laughed and slapped each other on the arm, listened to the radio, and kissed. These past few days, there has been sunlight through the trees as we wind our way through the Arboretum. We hold hands as I drive us down Madison. As soon as we can see the lake, I know: he's leaving soon.

Not just because I'm going to be dropping him off for his work day, a solid ten hours of prepping and cooking and planning and dancing. But also because, as soon as we round that corner, and the restaurant is in sight, he's gone.

The man loves his job. He loves me more. But when it's time to work, it's time.

He clambers out of the car, grabs the boxes of fish from U Seafood, slings his backback on, and walks to the driver side. He leans in the window and kisses me, deeply. And then, he walks into the restaurant, doing his little Charlie Chaplin walk. (Sometimes, I comment on his physique, but we'll leave that alone.)

I drive toward the coffee shop, two blocks away. When it is sunny, I look for a parking spot and dawdle there and back. Inside, I wait, for the line to dissipate, so I can talk to Kristin. We chat and laugh, and then she reaches for the cup, automatically. A venti drip. At least three inches of room for milk. Every day, I walk to the bar with the sugar and milk. I pour in his milk and watch the creamy whiteness swirl into his cave-black coffee until it is the color of caramel. And then, slightly embarrassed, and hoping no one thinks this is my coffee, I pour in half a pound of sugar.

Okay, I might be exaggerating, a bit. But seriously — I have never met anyone who takes as much sugar in his coffee.

Then again, it always makes his lips sweet when he kisses me.

I wave goodbye to Kristin, and then I wander back to the restaurant. Before I met him, I had never been to this part of Seattle. Now, I walk the streets of this neighborhood every day. I know all the characters. Life's funny that way.

Sometimes, the light on the lake is glimmering, hindering me from reaching him, because I have to stop and stare.

And then I walk into the restaurant. I know he's back in the kitchen, and I don't want to scare him. So I shout, playfully, "Hey Chef!" (I really do call him Chef in that moment. He's in his kitchen. It's a sign of respect.)

He comes around the corner, and smiles. "Hey pumpkin." And he kisses me as he reaches for the coffee. But there's a tightness in his smile, a little tapping in his toes. He wants to talk. Or, rather, his entire body language communicates to me: he wishes that he wanted to talk. But he can't. He's in his domain. And from that moment until dinner service starts, he will be back there chopping and searing, starting stocks and reducing them, preparing apple crisps and cutting down lamb. He never takes a moment off. He has not a moment to waste.

And so, normally, I throw my arms around him, hold him close, kiss him on his now-sugary lips (after that first sip) and walk out the door, trailing "I love you," behind me. I drive away.

But yesterday, I was jolted out of my routine.

When I returned with his coffee, he bounded around the corner, his face open wide. No ripple of wishing that he could start cooking in his kitchen. "Look at this!" he sailed over to me. New celery roots — almost the size of a small child's head. Red potatoes. Chanterelle mushrooms he had started to dry, since they were still damp from the forest. The new order of pork belly.

I gawked at it all, grateful to see all his orders come in at once. I was tempted to take pictures, but normally, he needs his space. He went back to the kitchen, and I turned my feet toward the door to walk out. But he kept coming out. "Look!"

After awhile, I couldn't believe my luck. I could stay? I could revel in every vegetable with him? And then, he had me close my eyes.

Smell, he said. And so, I did.

I lowered my nose into a bed of green. It smelled like green fields, something slightly sweet, a faint tang of anise. "Tarragon?" I said.

Yes, he said, looking excited. Close your eyes.

Pungent, summer, the patch of grass behind John and Tita's door in July, we are shaking dew from leaves to take them inside to make pesto.... "Basil," I say. "I'd recognize that anywhere."

Grinning, he kisses my closed eyes. "Try this."

A sweet mustiness, something of Italy, a pasta, a slow simmering.... "Oregano?" I guess, about to open my eyes.

"Ah, ah, no. Keep them closed."

I lean my nose in again, deeper this time, the little leaves tickling my nose. I smell stews and pork loins and our plastic cutting board at midnight. I smell the Chef. "Thyme," I say, opening my eyes, because I know it, now. This is one of his favorite herbs.

He puts the thyme in his hands like a wedding bouquet and hands it to me. It is much greener, far deeper, closer to the ground than the thyme we buy in grocery stores. I didn't recognize it, for its health, at first.

"We have to plant some herbs," I say, breathless with the joy of this.

"Yes, please," he says, looking like he's six years old.

And with the sweet smell of sugary coffee and the mingled scents of fresh herbs between us, we hold each other, relaxed.

And then I walk out the door.


At 1:41 AM, Blogger L Vanel said...

Tears are welling in my eyes. May you always have thyme, Shauna.

At 6:43 AM, Blogger Marce said...

I just continue to be amazed at your incredible writing, you have a true talent, and your approach and constant enthusiasm about life is quite amazing as well, I know I´m not like that at all times, but it must be a wonderful way to look at the world around you, definitely food for thought for me.

About planting herbs, go for it, it couldn´t be easier (I have basil, thyme and ciboulette and I have the tiniest patio), as long as you have some air and sunlight, it could be a balcony or hanging from a window.

At 7:25 AM, Blogger Megan said...

I love thyme. It, and mint, are the only things that grew well in my herb garden last year. We'll see if I can do better next time.
Your Chef sounds amazing to be around. How truly lucky you are to be invited into the kitchen. I dated a chef for 5 years, but I always felt he wanted me there for the rock star feeling more than the companionship. LOL.

At 7:45 AM, Blogger Lynn Barry said...

Reminds me of LOVE STORY but make that "love means never having to say I am out of thyme."
Suweeeeeeet! HUGS

At 8:11 AM, Blogger Slacker Mom said...

Something happened to my post..not sure you got it so here goes..

*sigh* You make me mis my herb garden. Everything here is crusted over with snow and ice, it's down there somewhere..waiting.

A surprise happened this year though...I was able to use fresh rosemary from it for my Christmas Eve lamb. Quite remarkable for upper New England.

Yes, you need to plant an herb garden. A space saving idea...a strawberry pot, with a different herb in each pocket.

At 8:28 AM, Blogger Lacey said...

Great post; I could smell it, feel it, taste it... ahh.. fresh Spring cooking is just around the corner

At 10:01 AM, Blogger melanie said...

Would it be inappropriate to tell you that your posts totally turn me on? :) You are marvelous.

At 10:09 AM, Blogger Jean Layton-GF Momma said...

I love how you convey the power of work and love of food. I remember my days getting into the kitchen and accepting orders. I loved checking all the herbs and tasting all the greens. Thank you for the memories.
I can relate to the sugar too. Way back then, I took 4 packets in a tiny espresso. Called it rocket fuel.
Not any more, now I love tea and milk without sugar. Realized just how much of a strain I was putting on my pancreas, didn't want to creep toward diabetes.

At 11:12 AM, Blogger nika said...

"Yes, please" wow, so now you need to find some fertile ground and grow some herbs. I do not know if you have that already. In Boston, they have community gardens where you can loan a garden plot. Herbs are so easy to grow (weeds that they are).

At 11:26 AM, Blogger Katherine said...

. . . because of this post, when i was at the market, i bought a big bouquet of basil . . . it smells like spring and oh how i long for spring :) thank you . . . from your fellow gluten-free blogger :) kate

At 3:57 PM, Blogger Bekah said...

Your writing is so amazing and great. I love it--it is so inspiring.

But, I have to ask...and you don't have to tell if you don't want to. But does your chef work at that amazing looking and small restaurant at the end of Madison--the one right next to the park and the water? I had to ask because my dog and I always walk down Madison on Saturdays and after he has had his fill of ducks near the water we stop and peer into that restaurant and look at the fantastic menu.


At 4:19 PM, Blogger Shauna said...

Ms. Vanel (May I call you Lucy?),

Thank you. Your photographs are simply splendid, by the way.


Thank you, so much. It's amazing to me — I just focus on capturing the moment, alone here in front of this computer. I'm thrilled that it reaches you.

We don't have a patio, at all. We do have a little ledge outside the windowsill. We'll do it! And ciboulette — I had to look that up before I realized you meant what we call chives here. As the Chef would say, "Yes, please."


You've captured it, one of the reasons I fell in love with him in the first place, and continue to do so every day. For him, it is truly about the food, not his ego. He's clearly my teacher in the kitchen, but he is a kind one.

Lynn Barry,

Oh dear, didn't one of them die in that lugubrious movie? Oh no!

Slacker Mom,

Oh yes. Rosemary at Christmas Eve. That sounds spectacular.


Yes, yes. It must be spring soon.


Oh my goodness, your comment made me laugh out loud. I read it to the Chef, and he laughed out loud. I have a feeling that one's going to be in our vernacular for awhile.


I'm so happy I could provoke those memories for you! As far as the sugar goes, I worry about it, a bit. But he just doesn't eat sugar anywhere else. Strangely, he has no sweet tooth. Slowly, he's dampening mine, as well.


We have p-patches, but they all have waiting lists. However, I want to put us on one now for next year!


I'm thrilled! At the end of the day, if I inspired anyone to buy fresh herbs, then I have done my job. Enjoy that basil.


Yep! That's the one. I think I may even have seen you and your dog near there, once. (Funny old world.) You should go in sometimes. Thanks for saying the menu is amazing — it gets better every month.

Stop in sometime and tell the Chef about this connection. He would be delighted.

At 7:29 PM, Blogger vegetablej said...

Herbs make a home. When I first came to Japan and started to settle into my corner of the old house I live in, about the first thing I wanted, both for the cooking of foods from "home" and the longing to reach back to the family tradition of keeping a garden, was a ready supply of herbs. So, in the tiny round bed outside my front door and in the pots spread all along my porch, I have herbs winding through, perfuming and spicing my life with their beautiful gifts. I can overwinter Apple mint and Lemon Balm and I have established a beautiful Rosemary bush, growing in health and size, a bit more each year, that happens to be blooming right now.

May you have a happy and healthy herb garden; I look forward to all the delicious experiments you and the chef will make.:)

At 8:13 PM, Blogger Claire said...

I just love this...your writing is beautiful! I may try my hand at herb gardening this year, too!

At 4:06 PM, Blogger Kristin said...

Oh, I was thinking about this post last night when I got home. Feel free to NOT post this comment if you feel it's inappropriate, and it's not meant to be disrespectful ... but a man who is passionate about his job and is great at it ?? That's just downright sexy !!!

I wasn't sure how you'd feel about a total stranger declaring that YOUR Chef is sexy. But I know you agree !!

At 9:32 AM, Blogger nika said...

Shauna, dont wait till next year!

I love to do container gardening.. and last year I did one that was easy on the back (due to my being pregnant, that was needed)

see these links for what I did:

At 10:52 AM, Blogger NuttyMeatfruit said...

That kind of romance gives me goosebumps! Lucky girl :)

At 6:27 AM, Blogger Kelly said...

aaaaaaack, me too with the tears!

such a lovely slice of your day, your heart. thank you for sharing.


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