Hello. I’m writing to you from Tokyo, Japan. Adam and I have been here for about a week now, and we’re almost too dazzled to sort out our first impressions. It’s unlike any city we’ve ever seen, and I’m pretty sure we love it. We left Los Angeles when the weather finally, finally decided to cool down. (In case you haven’t heard, our “fall” began with a heat wave dreamed up by Satan himself.) I celebrated our first week of crisper weather by sprinkling cinnamon into my coffee and roasting all the squash and root vegetables I could get my hands on. If you’ve never roasted celery root with olive oil and salt, by the way, I recommend you try it.
This time of year, I always wonder if my choice to live in LA has deprived me of something essential, something that people who live in places with four seasons have that I don’t. A greater sense of nostalgia for place, maybe? A deeper awareness of time’s passage? I remember one of my college friends, who grew up on the East Coast, grumbling about how her first Christmas in California just didn’t feel like Christmas without the promise of snowfall. Right then, I wondered if she felt sorry for us here on the West Coast—our pleasant weather continuing monotonously into the fall and winter, all those sentimental, cold-weather rituals rendered pointless under clear blue skies and bright white sunshine.
Yes, fall in Los Angeles looks like every other season here. There’s no reason to drink hot coco or curl up by the fire with a good book (even now, I’m sweating at the thought of a fire). But, I absolutely will not forego the food of the season. Even in the midst of our recent heat wave, which felt suffocating and deeply exhausting (not a time when you’d want to use the oven), I made thick pasta sauces, roasted root vegetables, and lots of things involving lamb and cinnamon. Warm, comforting flavors for cold weather. To peak inside my kitchen any given evening, you’d have no idea it was still eighty-plus degrees outside.
I'm especially into roasting chicken around this time of year. A few Decembers ago, on a trip to Paris, I ate a version of roast chicken that I will forever be trying to replicate. That herbaceous, perfectly salted flesh, that crispy, buttery skin... I'll never get it quite right. But turning humble ingredients, like chicken and onion and thyme, into something more feels like a worthy endeavor. “Why?” my brother asked me over the phone one Sunday when, for maybe the third or fourth week in a row this season, I told him I had to hang up in order to go roast a chicken. Stubbornness, I explained to him. But it’s more about the ritual, about feeling a deeper connection to that fall in Paris, to this fall in Los Angeles.
Cooking is many things to me. Among others, it’s a meditation—a way to consider the present without the burden of the past or the expectations of the future, a way to just be for the moment. From spending a winter break in Amsterdam and Paris, I know there’s something about the weather, too, that heightens awareness of the present. The cold, the biting wind, the frosty, slushy, almost-snow in the air and on the street, like many uncomfortable things, forces you to fully realize where and when you are, to be in the moment. Maybe we don’t have those things in California, those forceful reminders of time and place. But I can roast a chicken with sage and brown butter in my kitchen, air conditioning turned up, and still feel like I’m welcoming the season. And maybe that’s enough.