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.


dilys said...

welcome back. so glad you have found a way back to your words. :)

Adrienne said...

Welcome back. We're very glad to have you :)

Rosiecat said...

Oh Jess. I know you said you were okay, but I was worried! I'm glad to have you back.

I wrote a longer comment, but Google just ate it and my eyes are bothering me, so I'll make it shorter and say that 1) this post was great in a writing-nerd sort of way, which is to say that I completely enjoyed it. 2) I am always so inspired by your writing. I'm no rubbernecker, just a word-lover. Keep writing, lady, keep writing. I'll keep reading.

lis said...

Yay! I'm so glad you're back. I stumbled on your blog in May and was taken by the skillful writing and the beautiful photos before I ever waded in deep enough to learn of your crazy, scary, courageous last couple of years. I look forward to reading more of whatever you decide to share.


janna said...

And we're glad you're back!

Anonymous said...

That's an amazing story. All best to you--a fellow Cantabrigian.

Rich said...

Great to hear from you, Jessica!

Shelley said...

Oh, welcome back, welcome back. I'm so happy to see your post.

A Plum By Any Other Name said...

So glad to hear you are back in action! It's amazing how therapeutic writing can be. Looking forward to more: welcome back blogger, welcome back.

linda said...

SOOO HAPPY that you are so WELL!!

with or without recipes... you always touch an emotional chord that resounds...your writing is inspirational...i thank you for that.

i am so glad that you feel happy & comfortable & that sweet amandine is healthy...welcome home!!!

Andrea [bella eats] said...

Oh Jess! You've made my week. I am so glad you're back, my dear, and that all is happy and well in your world.

I, too, took a Creative Non-Fiction seminar this past Spring. What a fun experience! Although, I feel like it has instilled a bit of writer's block in me...instead of writing freely I am now analyzing each word. Time to loosen up, and I am excited to have inspiration from Sweet Amandine to help me.

I do hope you will tell all of the stories that you are comfortable with. And I truly hope that we all have the honor to read a book of yours someday!


lmf said...

A little life lesson from the kitchen. Marinate, def.: 1. to soak 2. to wait calmly for something to happen --- and it has.

nina said...

miss jess -- welcome back! i've missed you in this space but really understand where you are coming from. i can only speak for myself when i say this -- but i would rather read the quality of your words where you feel they have come authentically as opposed to incessant posting where you felt you weren't being true to yourself and what you wanted to share.

i'm so glad you have opened your life up to us, warts and all, and as i've said before, i always feel like a better person for having visited.

can't wait to see what you are cooking up for us! happy rest of the week :).

S.Pell said...

I've been checking every now and then hoping I would see you back. I felt a bit like a little girl waiting for a big package to come in the mail or perhaps more specifically, it reminded me of myself in sleep away camp, those moments before the mail would come, hoping there would be something for me. Thanks for arriving. You've made my day.

cptexas said...

I too thought you were ill again and quietly hoped you were not. Yay! You are better than OK. God Bless. cptexas

Char said...

((hugs)) welcome back.

Nishta said...

you were missed, my love. and you are brave & honest & basically a badass.

Tracy said...

So happy to see you back in this space again :)

Liz said...

welcome back. i have missed you. looking forward to catching-up some more soon. hugs to you and eli.

Amy said...

You looked so happy when you stopped by the lumber yard.....glad you are back to writing more than just your thesis :) Can't wait to hear about your summer adventures and take a looksee at your new recipes. You have quite the devoted following here.
Aunt Amy

SD said...

Hurray! You're back! And in one of the three greatest cities on earth! I missed you and your food-ventures, madame.

El said...

Honey, this post has me so verklempt...teary eyed even. It's wonderful to have you back- luxury head and all. We welcome your writing, food, pictures and your spirit. So glad things are headed in the right direction. Here's to you - can't wait to read more!

Nithya said...

Oh Jess, it's so good to have you back. Honestly, you have no need to be insecure about this blog, we'll read whatever you choose to write about, and gladly. I for one, am here because I love how you write and that's it.

And I must tell you, since we last exchanged comments here, I've been accepted to Columbia University for a Masters in Journalism. I've been super excited at the thought of being visiting the same places as some of my favourite bloggers and actually experiencing some of the things you all write about. Now I find you've moved to a whole continent altogether.

I'm sure your Berlin adventures will be just as enchanting to read about as your American ones.

Rachel said...

Cambridge misses you and your luxury head! Enjoy Berlin -- can't wait to hear lots of stories when you return.

Susannah said...

Hi Jess, I commented once before, back in the early spring. Just wanted to say that I came here for your writing, not your circumstances. A good writer can get people interested in anything--whether it's measuring flour or suffering an aneurysm. Looking forward to more of your words.

-K said...

Welcome back!

cdelphine said...

Jess, I am one of the readers who came here because of your banana bread/hole in my head post. It made me cry and bookmark your blog. I hesitated, "Do I really need another food blog? It's an amazing story and all but is that all there is?" And then I started looking through the archives, and bookmarking one recipe after another. You are an amazing writer and sweet amadine quickly became the first one that I looked for when I opened google reader. You can never mention your brain or you can write about it every day, I'll be here either way.

Also, Berlin for the summer? That's frickin' awesome!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jess,
Welcome back. I was a new reader in spring 2010 and had just fallen in love with your blog when you took your hiatus. I'm a writer too, and I totally get the issues that led to your time away. Like other devoted readers, i worried about your health. And like others, I read not for sensational or morbid content, but because your writing is great. Thanks for returning to your blog and rest assured that your readership is still here because you write well and with passion. What you choose to share will be honored. Thanks for returning.

Fulton House B & B said...

I am so glad you are back! I was worried since I hadn't heard from you since our cooking days at the Culinary Institute. I have missed your blogs and chats about life, food and your experiences.
Wendy, Fulton House B & B Portland, Oregon

Jess said...

Thank you for being here despite the long silence, and for the very warm welcome back. You are so good to me.

Dilys and Adrienne – Thank you. It’s great to be back.

Rosiecat – “Great in a writing-nerd sort of way?” Now that is a compliment of the highest order. Thank you!

Lis – I’m so happy that you found us here! Thanks for letting me know that the scary stuff may not be as front and center in this space as I sometimes think it is. It’s good to hear.

Janna, Anonymous – Thank you.

Rich – Hello! I always smile when I see your name pop up here. Eli and I were just talking about you. All good things, of course.

Shelley, A Plum By Any Other Name, Linda – Thank you, thank you, and thank you for the kindness.

Andrea – Hi, friend! Thanks, as ever, for the encouragement and kind words. That’s very frustrating when you feel like you’re getting in your own way. Take a deep breath and go for it, girl! All of that good stuff you learned in your seminar is floating around somewhere in that pretty little head of yours, and I think you’ll find that it will inform your writing, even when you’re not consciously calling it up.

lmf – xo.

Nina – Thank you. Really, thank you.

S. Pell – What a fun and wonderfully sweet image! And what a nice thing to say about this post. You’ve made my day.

cptexas – Better than okay, indeed! And so grateful for that.

Char, Tracy – Thank you!

Nishta – Hey, you. xo.

Liz – Well, hello! It’s so fun for me that you check in here. I would love to hear what you’ve been up to. Amazing things, no doubt.

Aunt Amy – I’m glad that I was able to squeeze in that visit before we left. It was great seeing you. New recipes, coming right up!

SD – Hello, hello. Yes, Berlin is pretty much the best. We love it here, and I can’t wait to tell you more about it.

El – I don’t know what to say! Such a kind and generous comment. Thank you.

Nithya – Thank you and, more importantly, congratulations! What exciting news! I was an undergraduate at Columbia and I loved every minute of it. Oh, and by the way, I’m in Berlin only for the summer. I’ll be back in my Cambridge kitchen by the end of August.

Rachel – We’re having so much fun, but I have a feeling that coming home will feel pretty great, too. Say hi to Cambridge for me!

Susannah – Yes, I remember you! It means a lot to me that you spoke up again today, and that you enjoy what you read here. Thanks for your encouraging words.

K – Thank you!

cdelphine – This comment means more to me than you know. Thank you.

Anonymous – And thank you, too, for taking the time to let me know what draws you here. As I said to Lis, a moment ago, it’s reassuring to hear that perhaps I had nothing to fear. Thanks for returning? I had to smile at that, because the pleasure is all mine! I mean that.

Wendy – I’m so happy to hear from you! I’ve been thinking about you. Sending big hugs your way.

La Historiadora de Moda said...

I'm not sure if I've ever commented here before (I've lurked often after a friend turned me onto your blog several months back). I wanted to say welcome back! I'm not often jealous of someone else's writing style, but I am of yours.

dianne said...

I'm so happy you are back. I came for the writing, and the recipes, and stayed because you became a friend (although you don't know me from adam). Welcome back

Jess said...

La Historiadora de Moda - Thanks for speaking up, and for making me blush bright red this morning. Speaking of style, it looks like I have a lot to learn from you! What a great idea for a blog. We academics need all the wardrobe help we can get.

Dianne - That makes me so happy. Thank you.

La Historiadora de Moda said...

Jess, you're too kind!

Katie said...

You were missed. Glad you're back. :)

molly said...

It's not that I don't like eggs, good or otherwise, but I'm so flippin' happy to see the end of that darn ketchup. And the return of your stories, whatever they may hold. Welcome back. So glad you are well.

Jess said...

Thanks, Katie.

Ha! That makes two of us, Molly. (And thank you.)

Clarice said...

Sweet Amandine is where I come on Tuesdays, and I have continued to take a peek each week. I probably gasped when I saw your post.

Everything you said makes sense. I don't read your stories because of your experience and amazing recovery, but of course what you have shared can't be taken away. I find a certain cozy, comfortable intimacy to your stories and recipes, and I know that feeling is what draws me in. Thanks for coming back!

Gretchen said...

So glad you are back and well! You have been missed. And I want to assure you that it was your warm, approachable writing that drew me to your blog several months before that bombshell post, and what has kept me coming back.

Jess said...

I'm quite late in responding to these latest comments (we've been on the road), but I'm hoping you'll still check back!

Clarice - Thank you for your very kind words, and for speaking up about what draws you here. It means a lot knowing that you feel comfortable here, and that you keep coming back for more. Onward we go!

Gretchen - I've missed this space, and all of you, too! Thank you for your cheers, and for saying such nice things about what goes on here. I'm so happy you're reading.