I'm back

After three whole months away, it’s hard to know where to begin, but then again, not really. With so many stories, photographs, and recipes to share, it would be simple enough to pick up right where we left off – which, incidentally, would be with a week of pastry school at the Culinary Institute of America! (I wrote that last post on the morning I shipped out. You know that bit about refilling the flour bin and dough beneath the nails? I wasn't kidding.) Or, I could tell you about how, a few weeks ago, Eli and I packed our bags and moved to Berlin for the summer, about the wonders of German bread, the dairy aisle to end all dairy aisles, the breezy balcony where we eat our every meal – and where I sit typing this right now – or my first encounter with fresh red currants, which I instantly declared The Best Thing Since Rhubarb. I’ve got plenty of recipes, too, including a few that followed me home from a long weekend with my family in Ohio at the end of May, and one that I made up myself right here in our tiny Berlin kitchen. There have been barbeques and birthday cakes, picnics and pastries, and when I sat down to write this today, my first impulse was to dive right in. But somehow, it didn’t feel right. I knew that, at the very least, I wanted to take a moment to assure you that things are a-okay! I should have known that when a girl with a history of a spontaneously exploding brain disappears for weeks on end without a word, people might, understandably, get a little nervous. So let’s get one very important thing out of the way: I am quite well! I didn’t mean to alarm you. And in the spirit of clearing the air of any unintended mystery that settled in here while I was gone, there’s something else, too: I realized that I had some things to figure out about why I’ve been away, and today, I’d like to tell you about some of that figuring. Then we’ll get right back to it, which I hope sounds as good to you as it does to me.

The truth is that, for a long time, I had trouble putting my finger on what was keeping me from this space. I could spin through any number of reasons that might possibly have been behind the long silence: Since I last wrote, I finished up my exams and requirements for my master’s degree (which we pick up on the way to the PhD here), and a few days later, I went in for reconstructive surgery to repair a pesky and uncomfortable dent that was left in my head after the surgery last August. Throw in that week of pastry school and the headless chicken routine of preparing for a summer abroad, and it would be easy to pin my absence on busyness. Except for the fact that busyness wasn’t the reason at all. How could it be, when busy is my natural state, when having a full plate has never kept me from blogging before? And that surgery surely couldn’t have been to blame, seeing as how the recovery was nothing – just one measly month – compared to recoveries gone by. I’ve blogged when I’ve been far sicker. I wasn’t “having a hard time” or “feeling quiet.” I was living happily and loudly, through the surgery stuff, too. So what, then?

When I posted about my illness and recovery last August, I told you that starting Sweet Amandine had been my way of saying to family and friends, “I’d like to talk about something else now.” It worked. So well, in fact, that I wasn’t sure I’d ever mention the aneurysm here. I decided to go for it for the simple reason that, one day, it just felt right. Still, I had my concerns. First, there was the obvious one: I had just singlehandedly destroyed my own self-proclaimed aneurysm-free zone. Instead of talking about “something else,” there I was talking about a big, fat, scary something. But moreover, that post complicated this space for me in ways that I hadn’t anticipated. When I wrote it, I assumed that I was coming out to my small audience of very dear readers, and that’s all. I completely underestimated the power of social media, and I was blown away by the gales of kindness and support that the internet sent my way. I was in awe, and so grateful for your cheers, and I still am. Just thinking about it makes my stomach do cartwheels. But frankly, I was also a little freaked out! Seven months in, this little blog was growing, slowly but surely – the best way to grow, in my opinion. There we were, you, me, and a baby Sweet Amandine, bopping along, finding our way, when suddenly, bam, I dropped one heck of a bombshell, and awoke from my surgery to an audience ten times the size it had been the day before.

Sweet Amandine began as a place for me to start writing again, for me. Then, about six months in, a funny thing happened. I began to take this writing thing pretty seriously, and I started thinking that maybe I’d like to do more of it. More and more, of it, even. And to work on doing it better, too. So when that jam-packed wagonload of readers showed up last August I was, above all, deeply moved and encouraged that something I had written had resonated with so many people I had never met. But on the other hand, I feared that I had hijacked myself, that I had horned in behind the wheel of this steady old pickup of a blog and floored it. I was happy for this space to grow but this, I thought, this is not the way. I worried that it was not my writing or recipes that had lured so many of you here, but the tabloid-esque tale of a girl with an exploding brain, the intrigue of a carefully guarded secret let loose upon the world. I wanted readers, not rubberneckers, and I feared that I had lost my chance. I cringed at the thought that I would be pegged as That Aneurysm Blogger – not the most appetizing epithet for someone who writes about food – and so I grabbed the spotlight and thrust it back onto my kitchen, where I was convinced it belonged. I had to reclaim my blog, to steady it after the blow I had dealt it. And that’s why, just as suddenly as I came out about the aneurysm and its aftermath, I abruptly shut up about it. It all seemed perfectly natural to me at the time, and it wasn’t until early spring, when I enrolled in a creative non-fiction writing seminar at my university, that I began to think otherwise.

It was a wonderful seminar, inspiring, to say the least. I got to meet other graduate students who are just as serious about their writing as they are about their academic work, and spend my Thursday afternoons with a group of extraordinarily talented and insightful readers and writers, who helped me think differently, and more bravely, about my own writing. (Also, I had my world turned upside-down by Joan Didion, whose essay collection Slouching Toward Bethlehem you should purchase at once, and park at the very top of your bedside book stack.) In April, during the weeks leading up to my last post, I wrote and workshopped an essay about some of the very things we’re talking about here today. It was called “The Stories I Might Have Told,” and in it, I discussed my ambivalence surrounding that doozy of a post, and my (questionable, I now realize) decision to move forward without another word. I explained that as I recovered and got reacquainted with my kitchen – and my life – sans helmet, sans hole in the head, I let certain stories slip by untold. There was the first time I walked into my kitchen helmet-free, and the stunning realization that I could stand again beneath the hanging pots without fearing that one might fall and kill me dead. There was my first long walk outside, to the farmers’ market, with my mom. I remember the cherry-lime sorbet, and the stoop where we sat to eat it, and I remember touching my bare head. It was warm from the sun. For a while, every time I would open the oven and lean over to lift a loaf of bread or a tray of cookies from the rack, I would brace myself for the sloshing and pressure in my head that, thanks to the missing piece of skull, had become the norm. To move about the kitchen without all of that made me feel so light. I remember thinking, I have a luxury head, now! That makes me laugh now, and cry a little, too. And speaking of crying, for what remained of that summer, I picnicked outside without bursting into tears when, out of nowhere, a tossed Frisbee glided dangerously close. I’m still not sure whether I’ll tell all of these stories here, but the important thing is that I’m no longer afraid to tell them.

It was also around that time in April that this last surgery became a real option, and I had some big decisions to make. Between the essay I was writing, and the surgery I was considering, I found myself thinking hard once again about the events of the last two years and the way I talk – or don’t talk – about them on Sweet Amandine. I wasn’t sure if or how to mention any of it here, and so I didn’t say anything at all. I think I just needed to let it all marinate for a while. And there you have it, dear, patient, friends of mine. That is why it has been so quiet around here.

Well. That’s enough blogging about blogging, or meta-blogging, or whatever you want to call it, to last us a lifetime, wouldn’t you say? Anyway, the bottom line is this: I’M BACK! And I couldn’t be happier.

Till very soon, friends. And this time, I mean it.