I’ve been thinking about how to start this entry for a number of weeks. “I’m back?” Not exactly. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, “I’m here.” Today marks the first anniversary of events that have radically changed my life over the last year, resulted in my learning so much about myself, and question what my future might be. I have had to be vulnerable, ask for help, be less available to others, and accept (at least for the time being) a new sense of self. Had I known last year that February 5th is International Nutella Day, my whole year might have turned out to be radically different! Perhaps, on February 5, 2010, I would have been so focused on which Nutella recipe I was going to make, that nothing else would have mattered. It makes me smile to imagine that possibility. So rather than reflect on what this anniversary means to me, I have been focused on Nutella. For the first time in 30 years or so, I did not write in my birthday journal and I have not put my experiences of the last year down on paper, despite many people encouraging me to do so. Today is no exception. I want to write about food memory, Nutella, running with music, and the way that baking has remained such an important part of my life.

I remember the first time I tasted Nutella. I was in France, traveling at age 14 with my 9th grade French class, and staying in French college dorms during Spring break. We ate many, many horrific foods: rabbit pate sandwiches (the rabbit came out of a tin can), cafeteria coq au vin, and crème renversee that was more rubbery than you can imagine. However, we also had chocolat chaud, café au lait (my first experience drinking coffee and enjoying it out of a bowl), incredible omelettes and croissants, and most importantly, French bread and Nutella. We were allowed, actually encouraged, to eat chocolate at breakfast time. I don’t think my life has been the same since then. Ice cream for breakfast? Why not? Oatmeal cookies first thing in the morning? Sounds pretty healthy to me! If the French can eat chocolate before noon, I see no reason to limit myself in any way. I came back to my small town in Wisconsin…a changed girl. I stopped shaving my legs, I embraced all things French, and I took every opportunity to look for Nutella in small specialty food markets that had brie, French wines, and Pffffft sodas. I imagined that these loves brought me closer to being French, which I longed to become.

Over the last year, I have taken to making fresh crepes most mornings for myself and my daughters and filling them with Nutella. Each morning I will go upstairs into my daughter Cameron’s room, and whisper, “Honey, your crepe and hot cocoa are ready.” She sleepwalks downstairs, silently eats her crepe and downs her cocoa and begins her early day at school with either Latin or playing the viola in her quartet. She admits that what was once a “special day treat” is the necessity that pulls her into action each morning. How will she survive in college without her mom to make these crepes she wonders. Luckily we have a few years to figure out those details.  So, in honor of International Nutella Day, we had crepes with Nutella (what else?), I made David Lebovitz’s peanut butter cookies and added Nutella (1/4 cup) to the dough (they will be baked tomorrow), and I located a recipe for Nutella cupcakes that I will make tomorrow as well. More details on these efforts to come. 

One of my favorite ways to use Nutella is in the middle of cappuccino muffins. When I was pregnant with Cameron, I could not start out a day without cappuccino muffins with white chocolate. I made them several times a week, ate them daily, and whenever I make them now it transports me back to my pregnancy and the excitement and fear I felt as I was expecting my first child. It is no surprise that Cameron and Isabel love these muffins as much as I do. Isabel has chosen them as her official birthday breakfast muffin that we savor every year. Last year, I began changing the recipe and putting Nutella in the center of the muffins rather than white chocolate chips.

I have found that it is not only food that has the power to transport me to my past. While Nutella brings me to France (and Europe in general), I have started another habit this year that has the ability to give me small pleasures I never imagined. I have begun running with my iPod.  While this may seem like such a mundane activity not in anyway newsworthy, you have to know something about me to understand what this means. I am a very opinionated person. While in my work, I have a great deal of room for people to be whoever they might be, in my “real” life, I admit I have strong ideas of what is right and wrong. Running with music was always “wrong.” In my world, running was a way to be mindful, to clear my mind, and to just be. Now, as I set my iPod to shuffle, I am completely delighted as my machine chooses what I need to listen to at any particular moment. For some reason, my iPod chooses the Beach Boys every time I have to push myself up a particularly hard hill, and delights me with “Fly Me to the Moon” when I most need to hear it, or provides me an opportunity to smile as Mott the Hoople sings, “All the Young Dudes,” the most popular song at the first concert my parents knowingly allowed me to attend as a teen. Baking, music, and running are the parts of my life that allow me an occasional smile, something that I am more grateful for than anyone can possibly know. Happy International Nutella Day!