Lindsay Crandall

About Lindsay Crandall

http://www.lindsaycrandall.com

Lindsay Crandall lives in a small town outside Rochester, New York with her husband and two kiddos. When she was a kid, she wanted to be cartoonist, or maybe a poet and a painter. Instead, she became a writer and a photographer obsessed with finding goodness and beauty in her ordinary life. More often than not, you’ll find her with a book or camera in her hand (and sometimes a glass of red wine). She believes in gratitude and living with her heart wide open.

Posts by Lindsay Crandall:

Pizza Dough by Heart

I haven’t made pizza dough in over a year. I used to make it all the time, at least once a week like clockwork. I’d pull out the old Betty Crocker Cookbook because, even though I made the dough week after week, I never memorized the recipe. But I liked pulling out that old book. My father-in-law sent it to my husband, along with a half-dozen others, when Adam applied to be a firefighter. He hadn’t been hired yet, but my father-in-law must have had a hunch that he would. Every firefighter needs to know how to cook, he said. I suppose he’s right.

But firefighter’s wives don’t have to know how to cook. Or, at least, this one didn’t. Adam made all our food – his great aunt’s macaroni and cheese recipe, burgers he cooked on our tiny fourteen-inch grill. He learned to make chili and cook a full chicken with a beer can stuffed inside it. He made our first Thanksgiving meal in our tiny apartment – a full turkey for just the two of us. I made the cranberry sauce. It was easy, and I liked it.

Whenever I’d stand in the kitchen to assemble something to eat, I’d flash back to my bridal shower when my mother had laughed at all the kitchen gadgets I opened. “You’re going to cook?!” she gasped, incredulous. I was embarrassed. I wasn’t sure I even wanted to cook; no one ever taught me.

The first pizza dough I made was a recipe from Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I read it while I was pregnant with my daughter, almost nine years ago. I was curious about food then, about having a garden and eating conscientiously. The slow food movement was big, and I became infatuated with the idea of eating close to home.

And I was pregnant with my first child, which was changing my perspective on everything. A year earlier, I had been content eating pepperoni and sliced cheese on Ritz crackers for dinner, and washing it down with a few cold beers. Maybe my mom was right; I wasn’t the cooking type. But it was all coming into question – what kind of mother would I be? The kind that made dinner every night? The kind that grew her own veggies and baked her own bread?

I took care to follow Kingsolver’s Friday Night Pizza recipe, kneading the dough carefully, feeling its sticky springiness. I let it rise, then rolled out the crust on a baking sheet, covered it with toppings, and baked it. That night, Adam and I sat at the table and ate my first pizza. We talked about food and family, what was next for us and where we wanted to go. I told him I liked making the pizza from scratch, and he joked that he liked the night off from cooking. Maybe I can cook, I thought. All I knew was I wanted to do it again.

I made that homemade pizza every week, but somewhere along the way, I gave up on Kingsolver’s recipe in favor of our gold standard: the Betty Crocker Cookbook. I swapped out whole wheat flour for white, which stretched and squished as I kneaded it and rose to a fluffy gold when baked. That dough recipe stuck, and I used it with whatever topping combo suited my fancy: broccoli, tomato, and feta; zucchini with lemon zest; or (my favorite) salad pizza.

On pizza night, I would pull down the cookbook, flip to the most-worn page, and follow the directions: add flour, yeast, sugar, and salt; mix, then add a cup of hot water and some olive oil; mix again, and gradually add more flour as you feel the dough thicken and form a solid mass. It was a quick process, then the dough sat for a half hour to rise.

I knew the recipe well enough, but never memorized the exact measurements. Maybe it’s because I liked the ritual of taking out the book, one that people have relied on for years, one filled with tried-and-true recipes, no matter how basic or passé they might be. Maybe it’s because, even after my pregnancy-induced foray into cooking, cooking stressed me out and I didn’t enjoy it all that much.

Eventually, I gave up on making pizza dough all together. I started buying store-bought pizza and made it on nights Adam was at work. The kids didn’t complain. A slice of pizza and a few raw vegetables made them happy, and I was spared the work of making something from scratch.

But the other day, I got the itch. At the grocery store, I grabbed some pizza sauce and shredded mozzarella and decided Wednesday would be homemade pizza night.

On Wednesday, I grabbed the Betty Crocker Cookbook from its spot on the highest shelf in the cupboard. The book is tattered, old now. Some of the pages fall out, and the cover is worn around the edges. I held it for a minute before laying it on the counter. I had done this so many times before – held this book in my hands, opened up to the well-worn page with the recipe for pizza dough – but it had been a long time.

I pulled out each ingredient, trying to remember without having to refer to the recipe, and grabbed the large stainless-steel bowl that banged on the counter when I set it down. My daughter, Lily, came in and asked how she could help.

“Do you want to knead the dough?” I asked her.

She ran to grab a stool. “Yeah, I love that part,” she said, pulling the sleeves of her sweatshirt up.

I glanced over and watched her squeezing and rolling the dough, flour on her cheeks and the front of her sweatshirt. “You doing okay?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said, “but my hands are getting tired.” She placed the ball of dough in the bowl and itched her face with the back of her hand.

“It’s hard work,” I told her. I pulled out the plastic wrap and tore a piece big enough to cover the dough. “You did a good job. Thanks.”

She stood at the sink, washing the sticky dough off her hands, and I kissed the top of her head before setting the timer for thirty minutes.

Lily sat down at the table to do her homework before dinner, her brother sitting beside her, mashing a ball of Play-Doh with a plastic fork. They sat quietly, and I turned on some music – an old album from high school I hadn’t listened to in ages. The music started, and I washed a few stray dishes beside the sink, then tucked the worn, red cookbook back up on the top shelf.

I knew what to do next – sit with kids at the kitchen table while they worked, answering questions and laughing with them; watch the blue hour descend outside the bay window; wait for the timer to summon me; kiss my husband when he came home.

I knew the rest by heart.

 

Words and image by Lindsay Crandall.

The Photos That Cheer Us Up

hello there, friend

On my refrigerator is a photograph I took of my daughter Lily right before she turned two. A few months ago, while my husband Adam was cleaning out the basement, he found it and handed it to me, a big smile on his face.

“Do you remember this?” he asked.

“Yeah, I do,” I said, taking the photo in my hand. “I took this at that restaurant on the Causeway. We were sitting outside, but they made us move in because it was too windy and the umbrellas were almost bending in half.” I looked closer at my daughter’s toothy little smile. “But we left and ended up going somewhere else. I can’t remember where.”

“I don’t remember that,” he said. He stood at the sink washing his hands, and I placed the photo on the fridge under a magnet.

“We were only there for, like, five minutes,” I went on, examining the photo again. “And look at this light. Look at the sun in her curls.” I sighed.

The photograph is a portrait of my daughter. She’s smiling with her big blue eyes and chubby cheeks, perfectly content and used to having the camera in her face often. Behind her, the sun is glowing, the light glinting off the wispy curls of baby hair she’d have snipped away a year or so later.

What I remember about that day is we had driven across the bay to the beach and walked along the sand. We were just looking for something to do, and I had off-handedly suggested a little adventure. I had packed two cameras – one digital and one film – because I could never make up my mind beforehand about which one I’d want.

I’d often take a photo with my digital camera, then try it again on film just to feel the difference. The digital camera was bulky and heavy, but film felt light. The lens I had was manual, so I took care to focus precisely, twisting the ring left and then right. I realized I liked the way it slowed me down, like an old friend tapping me on the shoulder, reminding me to pay attention.

I looked more closely at the photo on the fridge. “It’s like I had it in me all along,” I said.

“What’s that?” Adam asked.

“A knack for this stuff,” I said. “That was such a hard time, but this – this was here all along.”

My urge to take pictures came from a place of observation. I wanted so badly to love my life. I’d keep my camera nearby in the house, I carried it with me when I went out. I was constantly hunting for something beautiful, even in the most ordinary of places. I took photos of whatever interested me – sometimes my little daughter, sometimes something else.

What I knew was that the process of taking a photo made me feel something, and at that time in my life, I needed to feel something good. I didn’t care about perfect light or composition; I cared about moments and what I could see.

One afternoon, while I was still very pregnant with my son, Lily climbed up on the bed with me after her nap, her blond curls longer by then, spilling over her shoulders. I had spent all of nap time lying down, trying to rest but instead sorting through my feelings about bringing another person into our family.

I asked her how she felt about the new baby coming, but she was three years old and ambivalent to anything not directly in front of her. I grabbed the computer from the other room, and flipped it open on the bed. “Let’s look at photos of you when you were a baby,” I said.

A friend of mine had suggested that, on particularly bad days, I look through old photographs to cheer myself up. She insisted it works even if the photos aren’t very good. They bring back all those good feelings, she said, because you rarely take a photo of something you don’t want to remember.

I sat with my daughter, browsing through picture after picture. There were more than I remembered, but each one called me back to the moment I pressed the shutter: the time we went to the park and laid on the blanket I made, my husband holding our baby while he studied for his paramedic exam at the dining room table, going to the pumpkin patch or the beach for the first time. It all came flooding back, crashing over me and washing away the overwhelm.

Everything was going to be okay.

It’s a late afternoon in October, and I take my kids to a park by the lake. The sun will be going down within the hour, the golden hour when the sun is soft and low as it nears the horizon. I have no clue what to expect – we’ve never been to this park before and, though I’ve shot my camera at golden hour hundreds of times before, I want to try something new.

The edge of the park, near the water, is filled with smooth, flat rocks. Both kids stand there, throwing rock after rock, giggling as they kerplop into the water. I snap photo after photo, the light behind them, to the left of the frame. Lily’s hair blows back from her face and lights up, gold in the sun.

“Mom,” she calls, waving me over. “Come here!”

I walk toward her and she puts out her hands. “Look, it’s a heart,” she says, and she shows me a pink and gray rock with a dimple at the top. “Take a picture,” she insists.

I take more photos. I put my kids in the pretty light and sit back and watch. For a moment, I think of that photo on the fridge. I can still see that little girl in the big girl my daughter is becoming – the blue eyes the same, the golden hair, the smile. She is taller now, and slender, but that little girl is still inside her, standing in the same light. And I’m still here with my camera, taking photos that will someday cheer us up.

 

Words and photograph by Lindsay Crandall.