The day after I finished The Fault in Our Stars, the New York Times bestseller written by John Green and given to us as a gift New Year’s Day, Tim, my husband, and I were in the kitchen mixing and rolling homemade gnocchi dough. He with the camera, me with flour-covered fingers, watching the sunlight streak across our dining room table and the giant bamboo cutting board I gave him as a gift two years ago.
This should come as no surprise because, at least according to Instagram, most of you already know about this book, one of those classic star-crossed love stories that, at the end, leaves you looking at life in a different way from when you’d started. In my case, this meant grabbing Tim and sobbing about how thankful I am to have him and about how I hope he knows, like really knows, that I feel so remarkably blessed and happy to share his life.
There’s this one line in particular, towards the end of the story, that’s stayed with me since I turned the last page Friday night, one that sort of echoes a theme reoccurring in the book:
“The real heroes anyway aren’t the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention.”
I know I’m giving you the quote without much context, but for some reason it’s the quote I keep thinking about when I scroll through the photos in this post—the balls of dough, the nine-inch logs, the rows of sliced gnocchi ready to be cooked.
Even without knowing the 16-year-old cancer patient Hazel Grace Lancaster who narrates Green’s book, even without knowing the character who loves her and says this line about her, I like to think you can read that quote and, in our world of do-do-doing, go-go-going, checking stats, and keeping on task, still read those words and sense the freedom in thinking, “Wait, actually, it’s not how many recipes you make this week or how many Facebook friends you have or what long list of accomplishments you can say you’ve achieved in your life.”
It’s not your scope of followers or sphere of influence or money in the bank account.
It’s looking, stopping and looking, at the task you’re doing today. It’s considering the thing in front of you in this moment. It’s plopping one sweet potato gnocchi after another into water, watching the liquid turn cloudy, waiting for the dough to float.
I have this growing need in my heart for this. I have this growing need to tune out everything around me—the iPhone, the to-do list, the relationship drama—and to focus totally on one thing, just one thing, so I can pay attention to it. It’s stunning how infrequently this happens.
I’d like to blame our multitasking culture with its plugged-in, tuned-in, connected lifestyle that makes so many of us operate at half-speed most of the time, half-interacting and half-remembering what’s going on around us. But on a deeper level, I know it’s my own heart that’s at work.
Nobody forces me to check Facebook while I’m working. I don’t have to keep my phone out while I’m driving in the car. I could clear more space for reading and for quiet. But it takes intention, and intention doesn’t happen on its own.
So here’s what I’d like to move towards, intentionally, more and more in our life:
To sit with Tim at dinner and give him my full attention, no laptop or TV allowed.
To read a book in bed and put my phone in the other room.
To go for a walk and just be there, really there, on the walk, looking at the waving branches and smelling the crisp air, quieting my soul.
To be honest with you, a lot of times I feel I have a noisy soul, one that is restless and hurried. I’m constantly jumping to the next task, even if just in my mind. And to always be rushing like that sort of sucks the life away from living.
I’d also like to be more thankful, to take moments to stop and think about how good the good things are.
I’d like the people around me to know I appreciate them because I say so. I’d like to notice every time something is sweet or kind or lovely and call it out, like habit, like breathing, like it’s something I can’t stop myself from doing.
And along with that, I’d like to fight fiercely for the joy in food, for the raw pleasure of combining pureed sweet potatoes and flour and forming that mixture into a dough, for seeing something entirely new come into being before your eyes.
You who read here understand this; you know the way that moving to the kitchen with a recipe and ingredients can be so comforting and calming and rewarding, especially when you finish with a plateful of sweet potato gnocchi swimming in a brown butter sauce, a meal you made with your two hands while you mixed and heated and created and cooked.
I know you know it.
Sometimes people say things like they cook to save money or they cook to be healthy or because it’s something they know they can do well; but along with all those things, can I just submit?
I think one of the best parts of cooking is the fun you can have while you do it.
What about you? Do you take an introspective look when making your own homemade comfort food? Let us know in the comments below.
About Shanna Mallon
Shanna has a Masters in Writing through Depaul University. Her mantra? Restoring order and celebrating beauty through creative content, photography and food. Shanna's work has been featured in Bon Appetit, The Kitchn, MSN.com, Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Houzz.com, Food News Journal, Food52, Zeit Magazine, Chew the World, Mom.me, Babble, Delish.com, Parade, Foodista, Entrepreneur and Ragan PR.