How essential to stop, reflect, be grateful. For food. For family. For subtle joys, such as the feel of soft yarn on fingertips, for the sense of ease that comes, stitch upon stitch, from following the rhythm of the pattern. Honoring the spirit of the holidays can also be a celebration of the experience of crafting.
New York seemed to be a city made for celebrations, and Dakota Walker loved every moment of the holidays: from the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds breathlessly waiting for the lighting of the gigantic Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, to the winter-themed department store windows displaying postmodern Santas, to—her favorite—the kickoff to a month of fun with that ruckus of a parade on Thanksgiving morning.
Dakota's grandmotherly friend Anita Lowenstein—who, nearing eighty, could text almost as well as some of her college classmates— had escorted Dakota to the parade when she was small. Last Thanksgiving morning, in a fit of nostalgia, the two of them bundled up in layers, chunky handmade cable-knits over cotton turtlenecks, and staked out a spot near Macy's just after sunrise to watch the river of floating cartoon characters and lip-synching pop stars and freezing but-giddy high-school marching bands flowing down Broadway. Just as it should be.
But what Dakota most enjoyed about the beginning of winter was the crispness of the air (that practically demanded the wearing of knits) and the way that tough New Yorkers—on the street, in elevators, in subways—were suddenly willing to risk a smile. To make a connection with a stranger. To finally see one another after strenuously avoiding eye contact all year.
The excuse—the expectation—to bake also played a large part in her personal delight. Crumbly, melty shortbread cookies and iced chocolate-orange scones and whipped French vanilla cream cakes and sugary butter tarts: November through December was about whipping and folding and blending and sampling. Though she'd spent only one semester at pastry school so far, Dakota was eager to try out the new techniques she'd learned.
Still, she hadn't stopped to consider how it might feel to roll out crust, to pare fruit, to make a meal, back in what was her childhood home, as she adjusted her bulging backpack, groceries in each hand, and climbed the steep stairs two floors up to Peri's efficient little apartment situated one floor above the yarn shop her mother had started long ago, the tiny shop—the shelves packed to bursting with yarns fuzzy, nubbly, itchy, and angel-soft, its walls a kaleidoscope of cocooning pastels and luxurious jewel shades—that Georgia Walker had willed to her only child and that Dakota had, finally, come to truly appreciate.
The white-painted cupboard door creaked loudly as she opened it, surprising not because of the unpleasant volume but because Dakota realized, in that moment, she had forgotten the quirks of this particular kitchen. At the same time, overflowing bundles of yarn spilled—burgundies and cobalts, wools and acrylics, lightweights and doubleknits—from the shelves, tumbled to the grocery bags she'd just set on the counter, and then bounced to the linoleum tile floor below. Almost as an afterthought, a tidy pile of plush plum cashmere dropped noiselessly through the air, just missing her head, and landed directly into the small stainless sink.
"This isn't a kitchen!" cried Dakota, reaching out her arms as widely as was possible in her heavyweight white winter coat, trying to hug yarn and food and prevent all of it from rolling off the edge. "It's a storage facility!"
She hesitated. What she'd wanted was simply to find a bowl, something in which to pile up the apples she'd purchased, and she'd approached Peri's compact galley kitchen in the apartment above the Walker and Daughter yarn shop as if on automatic pilot. Distractedly running through a to-do list in her mind, Dakota lapsed into an old pattern and went directly to where her mother stored the dishes once upon a memory, back when the two Walkers lived in this same walk-up. And what did she find? Knitting needles of all sizes and woods stacked in the flatware drawer and oodles of yarn where the dishes ought to be, raining down from the cupboards. She wasn't sure she ought to risk a peek in the oven now that Peri lived here.
It had been a long time since she'd cooked in this location, making oatmeal, orange and blueberry muffins for her mother's friends, the founding members of the Friday Night Knitting Club.
"Seven years," marveled Dakota, her voice quiet though no one else was around. Seven years since she'd puttered around this kitchen after homework, smashing soft butter and sugar together as she contemplated what tidbits would go inside the week's cookies.
"Careful now," murmured Georgia, the shop ledger in front of her on the cramped kitchen table. "Maybe don't put in everything that's on the shelf. We went through two bags of coconut last week."
"Uh, those muffins were my best ever, Mom," said Dakota, prancing around in a victory dance on the worn linoleum. "The supreme moistness I've been searching for! You can't stand in the way of a chef."
"As long as this chef remembers that we're on a budget," Georgia said mildly, brushing away some bits of eraser from the page before her. "I think I created a monster the afternoon I taught you how to measure flour."
"Okay, Mom," said Dakota, sliding into a chair at the table. "Should I not make so much?"
Georgia's eyes crinkled as she regarded her lively daughter, whose ponytailed hair was falling loose from the neon-pink scrunchie she'd knitted herself.
"Never stop," she said, gently tugging her daughter's hair. "Don't give up something you love just because there's an obstacle. Find a way to work around it. Be open to something unexpected. Make changes."
"Like what?" "Like if you run out of sugar," she said. "Use honey." "I did that last week!" "I know," said Georgia. "I was proud of you. We Walker girls are creative. We knit. You bake. But above all, we never, ever give in."
Dakota surveyed the room. The kitchen was almost a relic, one of the few places in the apartment undamaged by last year's flooding, the bathroom down the hall being the source of the water that ruined the yarn shop in its previous incarnation but reminded all of them—and especially Dakota—of the importance of a mother's legacy. The store reopened soon after with a clean-and-simple style, with basic shelves for the merchandise, though she and Peri planned a massive remodel to begin in the not-too-distant future. That was all they'd talked about for months. The idea was to devote the shop space to a boutique for Peri's couture knitted and felted Peri Pocketbook handbags, and to adapt the first floor from a deli to a knitting café. Dakota's father, James Foster, was in charge of the new architecture but—due to frequent changes from his, ahem, difficult clients—hadn't finalized the drawings. It was a grand plan, a vision that required Dakota to hurry up and graduate from culinary school. Peri had been keeping everything under control for a long while, and the strain was showing.
"I don't want to miss my moment, Dakota," Peri reminded her, though she admitted she wasn't sure what that moment might be. Indeed, as Dakota grew older and struggled to keep her schedule in check, it had gradually begun to dawn on her how much Anita and Peri and even her father had worked tirelessly to fulfill her mother's dream of passing the store to Dakota. And even though Peri had a small ownership stake, even though Anita had helped out financially eons ago when Georgia bootstrapped her shop into being, even though James was her dad, everyone's sacrifices of time and energy belied self-interest as motivation. Amazing, truly, to know that one woman—her mother, who always seemed just so regular and everyday with her reminders to zip up jackets and sleep tight—had the grace of spirit to inspire such devotion.
Still, changes were coming all over, it seemed. Since leaving the V hotel chain, James's focus had been on his own architectural firm. Unfortunately, business wasn't exactly booming. The knit shop was also facing smaller revenues this quarter. Dakota didn't see the adventure in uncertainty. Too much change, she knew, could come to bad ends.
She eyed the clock, assessing the tidying she still needed to complete in the apartment. Dakota knew Peri was downstairs in the shop, finishing up the day's sales and awaiting the arrival of the club for their regular get-together. Those same women who were now Dakota's very own friends and mentors. The big sisters and, on some days, the surrogate mothers who were around whenever she needed to talk. The group would be gathering in the shop in a few hours to knit a little and talk a lot, catching up on one another's lives and prepping for the upcoming holidays.
To be fair, Peri had warned her, when the two of them struck their deal last week as they went over the bookkeeping for the week, that she had nothing in the kitchen. Absolutely nothing. Dakota was accustomed to that style of New York living, had other friends whose refrigerators held only milk and bottled water, a selection of cereal at the ready for every possible meal or snack. She had shopped for staples today, even salt and pepper, knowing full well to expect very little. The turkey and produce would come Wednesday, when she planned to make all the dishes and leave them for day-of reheatin...