40 in four(ty): pals and nicknames and symbols

Well, damn. 40 in forty has quickly turned into 40 in four. Good thing I'm excited about it. 

I really don't have much in the way of wisdom left to share. But I have, as my birthday and party approach, been thinking about friendships and the many incredible people I'm lucky enough to call dear pals. About what it means to know and to be known. About how it feels to make our ways, both alone and together, through this thing called life.

About the nicknames we bestow to special people and the inside jokes we share over the years. About the importance of safe relationships in which you can ugly cry one minute and laugh hysterically the next; in which you can whisper to each other that your children approached asshole status earlier and also send each other photographs of and brag notes about those devil-angels later.

Yesterday, while one of my besties, C, and I were rearranging what furniture I do have (she grooves on that sort of thing which is one reason I love her), I received a mailing tube from Poland. I do not know anyone in Poland but I spied a fleur-de-lis stamp on the outside of the package and squealed a bit just as C said, "I bet it's a present." 

Friends, I did not think surprise gifts could get much cooler than the personalized knife of two weeks back, but the Polish treat is right on par with the blade from Japan. 

It is a LASER-ENGRAVED rolling pin, people. Peppered with FLEURS-DE-LIS. It wallpapers your cookies (or fondant or whatever) with fleurs! Say what?

Today after finally finishing a project I've been working on for the kids' school, I scurried to the kitchen and made some shortbread dough. As an aside, this is the only shortbread you should ever make. It is Ming Tsai's recipe, and it is off the hook. I sub vanilla bean paste for the vanilla bean innards. Same diff. If you have time, make the cookies several days in advance because they improve with age. Do NOT skimp on the salt.

Ok, anyway, back to the pin. Beyond the fact that it's just ridiculously cool and pretty, it is also exceedingly me, and that's what I love most about it. Amy, one of my dearest college besties, knows me inside and out, and she knew this was perfect and that I would adore it. Today on the phone, amidst my enthused goings-on, she said, "I mean, I looked on the woman's website and saw one WITH YOUR SYMBOL." 

Indeed. Why not have a symbol? You don't have to go all Prince about it, but rather, you can think about a symbol (or image if you prefer) as a nickname you give yourself.

I have always been an enormous fan of nicknames and feel quite happy when others start calling me something that seems to roll of their tongues without their even thinking.

In college, my best guy friend, Mike, and also my roommate, Rosemary, called me Emmy. Amy called me Ems (and still does), and I called her Ames (still do). My senior year boyfriend called me Emil. He's the only one to ever coin that one, and in many ways, that seems fitting. He was special and so was the name. Most everyone else called me Nichols (maiden name). 

My mom always called me Rascal, and now, most people call me Em. 

 seriously. how gorgeous are those cookies?!

seriously. how gorgeous are those cookies?!

My inability to completely let go of Nichols is the reason I took it back as part of my last name after briefly letting it go post-marriage. I realized that it was too tightly wound to the core of my identity to not use. Adding it back was like welcoming home a long-lost (in this case short-lost) friend. 

And now I have my beloved fleur-de-lis which is a state symbol of both Louisiana and Florence (where I grew up/my parents still live; where my sister lives) and also this blog and me. 

Forget about it with my kids. I call each of them at least a half-dozen different names including Doodle, Peaches, Onk and Bug.

Do you have an image that people connect with you? Something that makes people think, "Oh, that is SO her!" What about a nickname? Do you have one? More? What are your favorites? Have you ever been nicknamed something you hated?

I find that nicknames breed a greater familiarity and a whole lot of warmth. The world is nicer with those things in it. Go forth with symbols and nicknames and good friends!

40 in forty: find the pretty

I used to scoff when Tom said I didn't taking my plating seriously enough.

"Em, there's a reason plating earns you points on Top Chef. Presentation is important." 

He was right of course -is right- and while I've never used the tweezers I bought for strategically placing micro greens atop a just-seared filet (in fact, I used them to attempt to remove a tick from Nutmeg's neck and then rapidly disposed of them), I have started to pay more attention to how I arrange food on a plate.

 sautéed mushrooms with parsley, garlic, cinnamon and thyme; part of tonight's dinner.

sautéed mushrooms with parsley, garlic, cinnamon and thyme; part of tonight's dinner.

When I've spent a long time preparing a dish, it seems fitting to plate carefully. But I've also found that gussying up a sandwich makes it taste even better and that some foods are so drab that they need all the beautification you can offer.

There's a reason spectacularly designed and photographed food appeals to enthused Instagrammers.  There's a reason fancy restaurants don't send sloppy plates to diners' tables. There's a reason people sort through the apples on display, turning each over and around to check for bruises or blemishes, choosing those that shine and beckon with flirty eyelashes.

On a micro level, food has become about so much more than sustenance. From a macro perspective, beauty is always appealing. 

Beauty sometimes gets a bad rap, but I believe that derives from it being equated with or actively demonstrating vapid superficiality or false promises. 

Some beauty is utterly random: a double rainbow that seems to arc across the world; supermodels; children in unadulterated joy; the wild, vibrant hues of tropical fish and birds, colors humans can only try to replicate but never quite manage. Sunsets, the views from the Atchafalaya freeway, the way the light bounces off Roman exteriors, peonies.

Beauty often grows from passion or commitment too: to a canvas, a garden, the perfect stiletto, lacy underthings. A moment frozen in time by a patient photographer, the one cookie from a dozen that is perfectly round and whose chocolate chips are evenly distributed, the lily shoot I found today in my front yard, from a bulb I'd planted hopefully several weeks ago.

And a sense of what is beautiful often evolves with greater understanding of what any given thing can offer.

Take earthworms. I imagine I gave approximately zero craps about earthworms before I started gardening and composting. I sure as heck did not consider them pretty. But spend some time watching what they do, and how they make our earth and gardens infinitely healthier. Understanding that because of the worm's appreciation of decaying matter and the bacteria helping the rotting process along, we get aerated soil and an environmental means of disposing of our food waste. Those industrious annelids are, in fact, stunning.

 a tulip in my yard

a tulip in my yard

Beauty softens the heart, speaks to the soul, widens the eye, encourages imagination to soar. We are drawn to pretty things for a reason, and the more we pay attention and allow ourselves to be moved, the richer our lives become. 

An easy starting point is on your plate. Make it lovely, eat well, tend to yourself and your loved ones. Find the pretty.

 grilled peaches with burrata and mint

grilled peaches with burrata and mint