The Toes Knows (featuring Brussels Sprout Skewers with Bacon Jam)
The toes tell you everything you need to know. My eyes lock on the pointy wingtip, the pedicured nails peeking out of a strappy sandal, the rounded rubber crown of a basketball sneaker, and my body responds reflexively. Focused only on the sea of feet in every direction, my hips sway, my weight shifts and my own toes find their way through hordes of strangers.
It’s a skillset I developed in my teens when I fell in love with the art of aggressive, almost competitive, speedwalking through swarms of New York pedestrians at rush hour.
Though my days of zealous strides have slowed (a result of geography more than anything), I still focus on people’s toes when I’m on a stroll.
It was a sunny afternoon last week when I returned home from delivering an anniversary dinner to clients. I walked in and Amelia was sitting by the front door, eyes focused on her leash, tongue bobbing up and down in an eager pant.
“I know, baby girl, but I don’t think I’ve got the big walk in me today.”
I have been experiencing the fatigue of late pandemic blues—the sort that taunts you with freedom then bashes you with social insecurity. It’s no longer Corona Virus I’m afraid of, you know… sickness, hospitalization, and death? That feels strangely manageable now. I feel a bigger, more encumbering anxiety. I fear other people. I’m not emotionally ready to intermingle with the world so my energy remains slothlike.
Amelia leaned against my shin in solidarity.
“Ok, a few blocks it is,” and I cinched the harness around her skinny wagging frame.
A walk always makes me feel more optimistic, even when I don’t work up a sweat. On our almost empty neighborhood streets, Amelia and I gulped the fresh air down, grinned under the petal lattice of blooming sakura, and peed on a few daffodils (her, not me, and it was near, not on, I promise.)
My head a little clearer, we meandered back to our block. I looked up and saw two people walking on the same side of the street as we were. We were all unmasked. They were walking toward us, equidistant from our front door and coming at the same pace as Amelia and me. There were about 200 feet between us. I was focused on their toes which were letting me know that these two people were considering going out into the street to not get too close to a stranger and her dog. But then their toes adjusted. They were making a beeline forward. Now we were about 150 feet apart.
I started pointing at our house as if to say we would be going inside there and if they just slowed down none of us would have to go out into the street. But they kept coming. Toes, advancing quickly, right at us. Now each pair of us, me and Amelia, and the two coming forward were about 50 feet away from our front door. I really didn’t want to go into the street to avoid them—it had been a long day, my brain was whining, I’m so tired of getting out of people’s way– but I could tell from the toes that the couple wasn’t considering a different route anymore. They were coming straight, no deviation.
I made the only choice I could…
Right at them.
In the blink of an eye, I decided that if we could get to our front door faster we would avoid any close contact.
Oh my god, if you had seen the looks on their faces!
They stopped dead in their tracks, frozen in fear for the millisecond before they realized my intentions.
I swear I wasn’t trying to be funny… or scary. It was a move borne of laziness more than aggression. I didn’t want to walk in the street when we were so close to the front door, but I know it must have seemed like an attack for a teensy weensy second.
Amelia thought it was the greatest thing I’ve ever done, producing more sprightly forward motion than I have in over a year. When we got home I couldn’t stop laughing. I was giddy and joyful, Meals was barking and jumping in agreement. And then I realized that my toes had made an unconscious choice to run toward strangers—that last thing in the world my conscious brain thought it wanted. Maybe my toes know more than the rest of me about what I need.
The next day I received my first vaccination where I stood with hundreds of strangers on the same roller coaster as I am. I felt inspired. We will get through this. And all the ups and downs are part of the process. Fear is real, joy is too.
Since we’ll all be socializing normally soon, you should have this recipe.
Brussels Sprout Skewers with Bacon Jam
Makes ½ cup of jam that can live in your fridge for 2-3 weeks and your freezer for 2-3 months
- 6 ounces bacon, chopped into ½ inch squares
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 shallot, (approximately ½ cup) chopped fine
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- ¾ teaspoon Aleppo chili powder (optional but recommended)
- 2 tablespoons water
- In a skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until it’s crispy. Strain cooked bacon onto a paper towel-lined plate, reserving one tablespoon of bacon fat.
- Heat the bacon fat with the unsalted butter over a medium flame in the same pan. Stir in the shallots and garlic and saute for 20 seconds. Add the salt and saute for another 1-2 minutes to gently cook the shallots. Add the brown sugar and maple syrup and let cook for 30 seconds. Add the sherry vinegar, the chili powder, the water, and stir. Add the bacon into the mixture, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes or until the mixture looks gently gelatinized, though it will be more bacony than jammy.
- ½ pound Brussels sprouts, halved
- 1 tablespoon vegetable, not olive oil
- Salt to taste
- 2 tablespoons water
- Place a skillet over medium/ high flame. Add the oil and swirl the pan so that bottom of the pan is slick. Place the Brussels sprouts, cut side down, onto the hot oil and cook over medium/ hot flame for 2 minutes. Sprinkle with a dash of salt. Add 2 tablespoons water into the pan, cover, and steam for 2 minutes.
- Serve Brussels sprouts with a ¼- ½ teaspoon of bacon jam.
And if you’re the strangers who I ran at last week, I’m truly sorry if I startled you!