“But like ivy, we grow where there is room for us.” – Miranda July

For probably all of my life, my father has been telling me the same advice: life is a series of imperfect options. We choose one, the best one we can and we deal with the outcome. The choices aren’t always fun and the certainty we imagined as children permeating all aspects of adulthood simply does not exist. Of course, there is privilege in even having choices at all. I recognize this. But I think we can all agree that this adulthood business is overrated. 

I say all of this because a few weeks ago Lindsey and I were having one of our usual late-night heart-to-hearts where, per her direction, I realized I haven’t been giving myself proper space. I had been expecting all my cards to line up, all of my dominoes to fall, and was holding my breath to make it so. Where is the joy in that? The exploration? The embracing of mistakes? Where is there room to stretch!? There isn’t any and there can’t be. 

Time to change gears and deal with those outcomes, right Dad?

That same weekend, Lindsey and I went to see Gregory Alan Isakov with The Ghost Orchestra and Andrea Gibson opened for him. It was some ethereal confluence of all my parts: the poetry, the sad songs, the hope, the sense of place I felt holding Lindsey’s hand with tears streaming down my face.  Andrea’s poetry echoes, reverberates within me: “I said to the sun, ‘Tell me about the big bang.’ The sun said, ‘It hurts to become.” I have to remind myself of this all of the time. And let me tell you, it felt so good to cry, to let everything else around me merge with the periphery, to know that I am centered on myself. I haven’t felt so refreshed in weeks. 

And so, goals: cook more, for more people. Take a food photography workshop. Read more poetry, in bed and out loud, even if it takes me away from social events. Visit a new city and fall in love with a new street food. Establish routines informed by greater goals. Run. Write even when it doesn’t feel easy. Take photos, even if everyone is waiting to eat what I made. Cry whenever the urge strikes. Remind myself, at every turn: You deserve all the space you need. You are worth it. You are worth it even when you don’t know how. Or why. 

Which is why, when Sunday rolled around with a few small reasons to celebrate, I invited Jordan and Isabel over for dinner. Mussels and baby bok choy in a ginger miso broth, a butter lettuce salad with pistachios and a snowy dusting of Pecorino Romano, and a crackled peach cobbler with cream.  This is my space. My home. Thank you for being here.

Mussels and Bok Choy in Miso Ginger Broth

If you’ve never made mussels, please do. They seem intimidating, but are actually quite easy and your guests will be delighted. Simply clean your mussels by giving them a good scrub and remove the stringy “beard” using a dry cloth and a firm pull. Discard any that are cracked or do not open after cooking.  

2 T. olive oil
2 shallots, finely minced
1 T. freshly grated ginger (about a 1-inch piece)
2 cloves garlic, finely minced or pressed
1 Thai chile, finely minced
3 lbs mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
1.5 cups dry white wine
3 T. yellow or white miso
4 T. unsalted butter
5-6 baby bok choy, separated into leaves
2 t. sesame oil
1 T. lemon juice
¼ cup parsley, finely chopped

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large pot with a lid. Once the oil is shimmering, add shallots and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Stir in the ginger, garlic, and chile and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add the mussels to the pot, pour the wine over the top, and cover. Turn the heat to medium high and cook just until the mussels begin to open, about 4-6 minutes. Once opened, transfer mussels to a separate bowl and set aside while the broth finishes. 

Turn heat back down to medium. Whisk the miso and butter into the broth and add the bok choy. Cook until lightly wilted, about two minutes. Stir in the sesame oil and lemon juice. Taste test and adjust salt or acid with more miso or more lemon juice. 

Add the mussels back to the broth and toss until they are all coated. Sprinkle with parsley and serve. Best with lots and lots of grilled bread for soaking up juices!